Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary


October 2011

Echo Lake

Remember Lonesome Pine?

She was a giant Eastern White

that towered above the Cedar,

Jack Pine, Spruce and Hemlock,

and could be seen for miles.

Not too long after you passed that,

you turned off the two-lane

onto a narrow, twisting, rutted path

that was overgrown and, in places, blocked by deadfall.

Branches whipped the sides of the station wagon

as it crept along. The path sloped very sharply

as it descended towards the lake.

Eventually you came to a rustic cabin

with no electricity or running water.

Propane fueled a cook stove and powered a generator

that ran a water pump and icebox.

At night you lit kerosene lamps

and the Coleman lantern that hissed

and bathed everything in harsh white light.

The kids slept upstairs in the loft

while the adults stayed up half the night

playing cards, telling raucous stories and drinking beer.

Bears and giant spiders came to life

in the long shadows cast by flashlights

on a trip to the outhouse after dark.

Half way around the lake there was another place

known as the Preacher’s Cabin.

A green wooden rowboat tied to a rotting dock

lay submerged to the gunnels.

Brass oarlocks stuck up out of the water.

You went hunting for snapping turtles

amidst the lily pads in Beaver Bay

and fished for Perch and Blue Gills out on the lake.

Jack taught you to shoot the gun,

a double barrel 12-gauge shotgun

with a deafening blast and a recoil

that could have knocked you on your ass.

You shot at porcupines,

blew up coffee cans with M80’s

and played Capture the Flag and Kick the Can

until it was too dark to see.

It was a 20-mile drive to Kenton for supplies.

You headed back down the two lane,

flanked by deep forests of tall timber,

past scrubby outcroppings of rock, red with copper ore.

The general store was also the post office and gas station.

You read comic books, ate candy bars and drank Orange Crush.

Dad and Jack drank beer.

On the way back home, you stopped at the railroad switchyard.

A long train of freight cars loaded with freshly cut timber

sat on the tracks.

A red tailed hawk soared overhead.

Crickets sang in the dry grass of high summer.

You climbed up the ladder of a freight car to play on the logs,

jumped from car to car, all the way to the end

and made your way back again.

When you got down,

Dad and Jack coaxed a wood tick out of your skin

with a lit cigarette.

Then you went right back up to play some more.

Some nights everyone went to the dump to watch the bears.

On a walk through the woods, you stumbled on a spotted fawn

newborn, still wet with the dew of afterbirth.

When it was too hot to be up in the loft,

you fell asleep on the screened porch

to the unearthly calls of loons out on the water.

Blue Spruce







Please excuse me

while we stop what we are doing

to listen to the sound of coyotes

on this cold and moonless night.


At first it could be mistaken

for the high pitched laughter of the neighbor girls

playing volleyball in the yard

just up the road from the house,


or the giddy sound of hysterical revelers

at a party on somebody’s back deck;

but, then again, perhaps more like

some freaky version of the music of the spheres,


or the shrieking of locomotive brakes

on a runaway train

hurtling down the tracks

under a blank midnight sky.


Really – a sound so primal and so wild

it will make the hairs on your neck stand on end.

Even the dogs hasten to come in

from the dark, cutting short

their usual bedtime routine.

In the Cool of the Evening

Open Water

Open Water

Passing the Last Buoy

Passing the Last Buoy

The Fashion Police (Revised edition)

The door was ajar so they didn’t use force to enter the house. However, the stealth of their entry was compromised when one of them tripped on the deep pile, orange, shag carpet and pitched headlong into a beanbag chair. They fanned out through the house. A purple lava lamp cast an eerie glow on the living room ceiling, which was flocked with popcorn-textured paint. Slivers of light from a disco ball danced across iridescent baby blue and pink wallpaper.

 An eight-track tape deck blasted through giant speakers. Insipid guitar riffs from a late 70’s, skinny tie New Wave band seared his brain. “Turn that shit off!” said the Inspector, “It’s making me nauseous. Get some lights on in here, I can’t see a thing.” Someone flipped a switch and black light created a blinding sheen of fluorescent colors on soft porn music posters, featuring all-girl bands from the 80’s. “My God, there’s no end to it. I took this guy for a disco freak. This just keeps getting worse!”

“He’s not in the house…looks like he skipped out in his father’s Oldsmobile right before we got here.” They looked through the bedroom, searching for items listed on the warrant. A plastic ukulele hung on the wall. A mood ring, pocket protector and heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses lay on the nightstand. There was a Polaroid photo of the suspect striking an iconic John Travolta Saturday Nite Fever pose. He sported a perm, mutton chop sideburns and glasses with thick, black rectangular frames; and wore a skintight polyester, floral body shirt that ended several inches above his flabby waist and exposed navel. A wide tie printed with images of smiley face musical notes adorned his hairy chest. Diplomas from Clown College and the Mime Academy hung on the wall. “The diploma from Clown College explains the shoes and wig collection. This mime thing is a shock to me though. He really didn’t have a reputation as a quiet guy. I’ll bet he drove people nuts with that “trapped in a box” routine.”

Whistling an old Bee Gee’s tune, the Inspector opened the closet door, revealing the contents. They stumbled back with a collective gasp. “This guy’s a real perv. This kind of sicko deviance just makes me want to puke! Look at all this stuff. He’s got a regular arsenal here!”

The closet overflowed with a cornucopia of tragic fashion choices, cheesy fabrics and garish accessories. It burst forth a dizzying array of body shirts, long pointy collars, Nehru jackets, bell bottoms, clashing patterns, sansabelt golf slacks, bolo ties, white belts, beige shoes, velcro fasteners, florid blazers and a vulgar bathrobe from a seedy casino in Atlantic City. There were scarves in loud paisley prints, polka dot ties and a powder blue tuxedo. The crown jewel of the collection was a lime green mohair leisure suit with white piping. It was a gruesome monument to poor taste and depravity.

His dresser drawers were crammed with white tube socks, striped hankies, floral print boxer shorts and sleeveless, “wife-beater” tee shirts. There was a small collection of plastic mesh-backed, one-size-fits-all baseball style caps hanging on hooks. It was a motley assortment from truck stops, NASCAR races and strip clubs.

“Mind if I smoke?” asked the rookie officer. The Inspector was taken aback.  “Are you out of your mind? There’s enough cheap polyester in this place to blow us all sky high if there’s even a spark!”

A voice called from the other room. “We may have a haz mat situation in here – the fridge is filled with peach flavored wine coolers!” The Inspector replied dismissively. “Save it for the boys in Bunko down at HQ, we’re the Fashion Police. That other shit ain’t our game.” The rookie looked at the gruff and jaded Inspector with awe and respect. “That dude is one hard boiled dick!” he whispered to his partner. “He should be. He’s been at it since the Fashionistas overthrew the government in the last coup.” “OK boys,” said the Inspector, “we got work to do…start baggin’ and taggin’ and get these vinyl records down to the lab. He won’t get far in his father’s Oldsmobile.”

Mr. Paul






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