J.B. Toner studied Literature at Thomas More College, holds a black belt in Kenpo-Jujitsu, and struggles with level one autism. He has published two novels, Whisper Music and The Shoreless Sea. Toner lives and works in Massachusetts.
Pumpkin-flavored coffee: an abomination against all things holy. And yet, lord help me, I love the stuff. I know, I know, I’m part of the problem. I thumbed open one of my two flasks and poured in some pumpkin-spiced bourbon. It was Thanksgiving morning, but it’s Mardi Gras somewhere.
No Man's Land
“Conjunctions.” “That’s why some wanker shot Ferdinand.” “Well not directly, obviously. But it’s the little things, y’see. Everything’s so big now, we forget ’em.”
Time and Space in Steubenville
You get in the habit of trying doors. They’re locked, of course, forty-nine times out of fifty; but you have to give luck a chance to operate. The front door of that old Ohio corpse-barn was locked, and the windows boarded up—the cellar door, not so. The knob came off in my hand, and I pushed my way inside through the drifted snow.
Dringin'? Di' sumb'dy say dringin'?
I didn’t drink till I was twenty. Not for any moral reason; I just never felt like it. Liked my Dr. Pepper and my Combos. Still do. But then came the day my friend Domingo and I were hanging around his dorm room playing Mario Kart (more accurately, he played and I commentated), and this kid Neil from up the hall came by and asked if we could hide his bottle of Smirnoff. Seems he’d gotten wind that the RA was doing an inspection, and he somehow had the notion that Domingo was 21. A false notion—me and D. are the same age to within a couple of days—but we didn’t bother correcting him, and fortunately it turned out that he was wrong about the inspection too. There happened to be a bottle of OJ in the fridge, and I had my first screwdriver that night. Also my fourth. Thus was born the age of Mario Kart DUI, and half a lifetime of alcohol appreciation on my part.
Two deep slow bongs, the steeple’s song That keeps a long night vigil here O’er slain conclaves in rainswept graves And saints’ stone glaives and granite spears.
Everyone has at least seen a fire; everyone can visualize an explosion. When the Earth’s most powerful minds were corralled at Los Alamos to kindle a dark star in the desert, they all knew roughly what they were hoping and dreading to see. White light; black flame. But breaking matter into energy was only half the equation.
The Kindly Dark
No bleakness is complete without a crow. A ruined church, a barren moor, a graveyard by a grey and empty sea—without the brooding shadow of a solitary rook, their desolation lacks its full potential. What old forgotten skull could molder properly without the croak and mutter of a murder overhead, the hop and flutter of black wings?
Battling Toward Peace
After the machete dance—after the bonfire and the drums—he took us to a secret place and threw us in the river. When we emerged, grinning and steaming in the moonlight, we took a knee and he gave us our belts. The black represents a filled page: in the old days, young warriors wore a single white belt which they never took off but to bathe and sleep; by the time they finished their training, the blank page was scrawled with grass and dirt and blood, and no spot of whiteness remained. Christians call it kenosis, emptying the self; Zen masters tell you to “empty your teacup.” It comes down to the same thing—you achieve mastery by the way of being humble, and graduation is only a commencement. Just when you think your work is complete, it starts. And your second birth, like your first, transmogrifies by the way of water and blood.