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Thunder Pie | Dame’s Rocket

Dame’s Rocket is everywhere I go this time of year. I love it so much. I wish it would last forever. I wish some of this would last forever too. This life of mine.

In my part of Pennsylvania, the Dame’s Rocket is out. On various roads/ I zip by small waves of it on rolling hillsides/ the whites and the pinks and the subtlest violets cresting and capping before they crash down onto the country road in a heap of beauty I always seem to miss. I always manage to pass the scenes, no matter what, as the waves are just breaking/never right after they’ve broken: when the damn road would be flooded with petals and stems like a casket in the old days/ in the parlor/ to mask the stench of death and decay.

Spring’s green here is lush and deep. The flowers of Dame’s Rocket stand out radically. It is a natural pairing of such enormous power that I sometimes find it all hard to believe, that the biology itself, that forces of dirt and water and sky and light could all paint a masterpiece so immensely satisfying and yet so… common.

The plants are abundant. Down the road, up the lane, wherever I go/ there they are.

But, soon they will be gone- and with their disappearance- a somewhat insolent reminder that all is temporary. And that everything is hardly forever. It pisses me off. First, the eastern redbud trees explode the pink insides of their veins all over the hilltops and creek bottoms and the spring announces itself with some sort of electrified grandeur and I am rendered breathless, astonished. In my older age, I snicker at the reality of it all. I used to smoke cigarettes in the skyscraper wind tunnels of scattered metropolis across a 10,000 mile stretch of Earth. Now, I nudge a weathered Honda up and down the exact same roads/ passing the same places/ considering the same farms and fields and barns and distant front porches and faraway kitchen windows from a local distance that both welcomes me and makes me feel at one with a much smaller piece of this world, but also shuts me out as all but a mere visual witness/ my presence forbidden in the rocking chairs of places that have never welcomed me to approach directly. And never will.

Why do these wildest natives, or these Cezanne-ish natives, show up just a short time before they slip back into the omnipotent green of summer, when everything is hot and still, melted emerald jelly dripping down off of all the trees, off of all the dark forest edges out past the creek and off behind the outbuildings and along the roads and in the isolated slashes of disconnected woods where I take the recycling. 5pm bugs that sound like hissing power lines. Sun sparks from a fleck of broken glass. The cool dark hollow of the newly emptied aluminum can hole. I could climb in here if I wanted to. I could squat off to the left of the metal door and hide in here completely unnoticed when people showed up here to dump their crushed and empty cans of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Mountain Dew and organic black beans and Busch Light and microbrews and tuna fish.

I could scare the shit out some old Christian farmer as he throws his cans into this abyss. I could pop out of the dank and just scream at him as loud as I could:

BuhSHAWWWW! Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yiiiiiiiiii!

He could die. I could end up standing there over him laying dead on the ground, I guess. Or I could get hit too. He could slam me with a sunbaked loaf of wrinklefist and I could go reeling back into the can with my ears ringing and my eyes fluttering. Blood worming down out of my nose as I sit there in the salad of empties. I imagine him racing back to his truck to grab his pistol under the seat. At long last: a real bonafide reason to shoot a man in the chest.

I’d deserve it too, honestly. I mean, what the fuck was I thinking? You don’t do that kind of shit. You don’t scare another person just because you can/ just because it might fill some kind of erratic void in your own soul.

Imagine the Dame’s Rocket bobbing, weaving, ever-so-slightly, in the faintest afternoon breeze. Growing up out of discarded grist dirt. Growing up out of old construction sand dirt. Three feet high, dressed in Easter colors, like Victorian church girls huddled on the side of the road, staring down at a dead cat, it’s head smashed in with a rock that looks like the crescent moon laying there in a small cracked pond of baked blood.

Dame’s Rocket everywhere I go this time of year. I love it so much. I wish it would last forever. I wish some of this would last forever too. This life of mine. These kids as kids. Me and Arle in the bed in the Sunday morning sun. The backyard on Saturday evenings, this time of year, with the white pine oozing eerie sap and the pile of brush waiting to be burnt in the fire pit.

The blown out circle of dirt where the big dog as has torn the grass to nothing.

The peachy orange picnic table. The purple porch swing. The new outside chair cushions from Wal-Mart, the classy floral patterns the same on every one. Not too gaudy, not too retro.

The Dame’s Rocket in the narrow front garden where Arle planted it.

A small clump of it from down by the trout stream.

I remember the day we went looking for some, Pandemic Times.

And now it has arrived, at our home, a thing of beauty.

In the thing I sent out to all my Thunder Pie subscribers last Friday, I asked what people thought of my Substack so far. Did they dig my work? Did they have any suggestions? Would it make it better if I did this or that? And if so… how?

I didn’t have anything real specific I was looking to accomplish when I sent it out. Mostly, I think, I wanted people to tell me they love me. Love my writing. Think I’m a fucking star when it comes to obscure-as-hell internet memoir people. Along the way, though, on a deeper plane perhaps, I was also hoping to hear what people felt when they saw me in their inbox on Fridays.

Are they excited to read the new shit? Or do they ignore it because they’re busy. Do they sit around thinking about things I wrote after they read them? Or do they power through 5 or 6 paragraphs before they simply drift off into something else/ something less demanding than these goddamn essays from this guy.

Who does he think he is? Why does he think I’d want to spend a half hour reading about his life when I can hardly even follow what he’s saying half the time?!

I got a good amount of response too. Not as much as I had hoped but I think that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to art these days. There’s just so much of it. So much to pick from. So many documentarians and influencers/ so many cameraphone comedians and slice-n-dice video masters. Chances are, your kids have a couple followers on their own YouTube channel. And that they want to feel adored just as much, or maybe even more, than I do.

What does it matter, you know? I’m not questioning our inherent organic tendency, as humans, to crave the accolades and approval of our fellow peeps. It’s just that I don’t really understand why I long to be understood, you know?

Why is it, I think I’m asking, that I am so feverishly willing to risk so much ridicule and mocking and bullying from an unseen, and often anonymous, American public who are renown for destroying their fellow countrymen and women simply because they smell death.

They hold their noses to the screen and they breath in deeply and if what they sense is blood; or fear; or worst of all: desperation; many of them must simply attack. Not so obviously, of course. Overt cyber bullying is crude at best. More enlightened people tend to gravitate towards lesser ways of ripping another person’s throat out.

They say things that judge the work as if they have been asked to judge the work. Even if they haven’t been asked.

Or, in some cases, even when they have been asked. Such as in my case. I asked you to judge my work!

Why would you do that?

Why would I do that?

Am I fucking mad? Do I LIKE being brought down a few pegs? Am I one of those dirty, dirty motherfuckers who finds self-sabotage kinky? Am I turned on by the prospect of being knocked down?!!


I don’t know. Why are you even asking me that?

How the hell should I know certain things.

Like what my essays are about.

Like what I’m trying to convey to the reader?

I mean. I don’t fucking have the slightest idea.

I’m trying to convey to you that I’m crazy as a shit house rat, I guess.

That I am in possession of a Dad Bod infested with wild strange jolts of creative aspiration. And that any talent I may possess is raw honey in the hands of the bear. I spread my dreams and visions all over my face like a fucking punk-ass 3rd grader. My fingertips are filthy. My past is riddled with idiots and fools and legendary mentally ill people who swore that they loved me. I have eaten a chocolate-covered scorpion and a chicken’s fucking foot and the flesh of a sunfish. People have hurt me. I have been insulted and lied to like a baby bitch. Suffering has made me crazy but it has also made me more likable because I can taste your sweat in the middle of the day – if you let me- and I can tell if you have been hurting somehow too. It’s all in there.

But here’s the thing.

I’m also really happy a lot of the time. I talk to myself and sing to myself and I crack myself up when I’m all by myself because I know, deep down, that unless we can spend time alone in peace with the present company, we won’t ever be able to show up for the select few who truly need us to do that in this life.

And I’m vulnerable and I admire that but I also fucking hate it because I am an American man and I am tough as goddamn barn wood and I am part Civil War soldier and part wild turkey and part dark alley up-against-the-dumpster drunk fuck energy and part dad carved out of redwood tree and part Bigfoot cave painting and part western trail rut and part eagle fight sky tumble.

I’m liberal and I’m commie and I’m also North Korean. I believe in social justice and freedom and human rights.

I also believe in hanging racists and people who hurt kids from a tall tree. Like literally. So I guess there’s some conundrum in all that.

I’m street-smart.

I’m super redneck country.

I’m tried and true.

I’m rock and roll as fuck.

I mostly listen to jazz and bluegrass.

Where am I going with all of this?

I don’t know.

I only know that I know that I’m on to something. And it’s something really, really big. And if you don’t have the time to putz around with that, I get it. I’m not like all the other writers. I’m looser. I’m unhinged but loving. Some are curious, others get furious.

None of that is my concern.

To read the rest of this essay and more from Serge Bielanko, subscribe to his Substack feed HERE.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah