Category Archives: poetry & literature

Positive Proof – A Short Story by Henry Cleage

Henry W. Cleage – about 1936

Proof Positive

By Henry Cleage

Before Jones placed the evidence before me, I was doing all right with my paper “The Gaylord Gazette.”  I wasn’t getting rich, mind, but I was holding my own in a comfortable fashion.  I was even approaching that beloved stage where a man can begin accumulating those little extra things, those cultural folderas of gracious living—like, for instance, a fireplace.I was going to put one in the front room of my building.  There are two rooms altogether, a large room in the back for my press and linotype and a small room in the front for my desk and Jones’ desk.  A rail runs across the front room separating our desks from the waiting room.  The waiting room is for the public, people who drop in with a news item or a horsewhip for the editor.  No one has horsewhipped me yet, so in gratitude I decided to put the fireplace along that south wall about where those two middle chairs are.  Jones likes a fireplace too.

So you see, I was easing along pretty debonair.  Gaylord was a comfortable little town. Not too big and full of news like some.  That is until Jones uncovered that evidence.

Even though I am an old newspaperman of the old school, I was mortally shocked when the thing was brought out into the open.  Of course you may say a newspaperman should be immune to shock, and that’s all right for you to say.  But I am the one who has to rebuild his whole philosophy of life at my age.

Jones is my demon reporter.  Kristin Jones is her full name but I just call her Jones on account of she is a good “newspaperman.”  She is the product of the Gaylord public schools with four years of Vassar thrown in for confusion.  She has a gigantic capacity for managing.  When she returned from school she immediately looked for something to manage and I, sitting there, very comfortable in my snug little office must have appeared the easiest thing to get a grip on.  Jones has a stranglehold on the Gazette now, but I jut can’t find it in my heart to complain.  She manages with such a flair that it is good just to sit and watch her.

Jones is twenty-two and she has deep brown eyes and wavy brown hair which bounces on her shoulders.  Sometimes, though, when she is turning out some deathless prose for a threatening deadline, she piles it up in a disheveled heap on top her lovely head and it is something, I’m telling you. And when she puts on her little derby hat and dashes out of the office with her big brown brief case, I have to chuckle.  She is a journalist, she says.  She says that is what they call it at school.  She says the day of the sloppy reporter writing his story on the back of a grimy envelope is gone.  The reporter has a responsible position and with this responsibility comes the necessity for dignity—and a briefcase.

I say “O.K.”  I am too old to argue with youth.  Why I have been out of State University nine years!  I’m going on thirty-two.  But when I was in school, I always wanted to be one of those slick newspaper guys with a cigarette and chewing gum.  But like I said, we older folk have got to step aside and let the young folk have a say.  We had our chance.  Besides I am an owner, publisher, editor and reporter so I got to be a little bit pompous and such.

But don’t mention these sentiments to Jones anymore.  I used to and she would get mad for some reason or other.  Like once she was trying to make me start a readers’ survey.

“What’s that?” I asked at a complete loss.

“A survey,” she said patiently, “to determine your readers’ preference in reading material.”

“Oh,” I said, “I know all about what they prefer.”

“Why don’t you print it then?”

She was getting a bit pointed here, I thought.

“Too much of that stuff ain’t good for them,” I said innocent as a lamb.’’ Well she certainly laid me out.  And she was right too.  What right had I to assume to know my readers’ taste and then on top of that to decide whether it is good for them yet.

“O.K., O.K., “ I interrupted when she stopped to inhale.  “You are right.  It’s just another new idea an old man like me never heard of.  Thanks for bringing it up.”I leaned back in my chair like I wasn’t long for this world.

“I appreciate your teaching me these new, youthful methods,” I added.  I sort of groaned like my hardening arteries were hurting.  For some reason this seemed to irritate Jones, but she controlled herself.
“Just what is it your readers prefer but you feel is too rich for their blood?” Jones asked, obviously changing the subject back to the point.
“Comics,” I admitted.
Jones slapped her derby back on her head and switched out.  She forgot her briefcase.  I wondered what I’d said wrong.

So you can plainly see why I steer clear of the “youth question” now.  Anyway I am busy putting out a paper, and it is getting harder all the time.  I’ve been so restless lately.  Some days I have the awfullest time concentrating on the “Notices of Auction Sales.”  I go through the “Marriage Announcements” like sixty though.

And in the evening when the breeze is soft and the quiet is dark and full of shadows, I find my usual pastimes are boring me. Last night, for instance, I walked out on the poker game at the firehouse and went for a walk.  I take a lot of walks lately.  Oh it’s rugged all right! And now on top of all, Jones has got that evidence.

She had been mentioning, for weeks, that her evidence was almost complete and she said I would be proud of her good work when she “exposed” the culprit.  I wondered who it was.  I hoped it wasn’t anyone I knew.  I found out Tuesday afternoon.

I was just getting comfortable when Jones came in.  My feet were nicely balanced in the top drawer of my desk and a soft clover hayish wind was nuzzling my neck.  Two little flies were buzzing against the screen—buzz—buzz-buz-bu—b.  I had only just closed my eyes for a mere second when she rudely flung my feet from their comfortable position and into the wastebasket.  I felt trapped!

She had on a green sweater and a skirt.  I don’t know what color her skirt was but it was a green sweater.  It had little pockets on each side and a pin was stuck on the left pocket.

“Well,” she said looking at me with those eyes, “have you got to the nerve to see my evidence.”

“Do it take nerve?” I asked in a veritable chaos of confusion.She reached deep down in her briefcase and drew out a nickel notebook.  She fixed me with a narrowed pair of eyes.

” June 19—“ she began, but something forced me to speak.“Jones, my dear,” but she raised a hand for silence.

“Because, said Jones, “the evidence concerns you and your walks and things.”

“I haven’t got the nerve,” I sobbed, “take it away.”

“On one condition,” she said.

“Anything,” I pleaded.

So now we are married and Jones manages me and the Gazette legally.  I wonder why she never asked me in for a dish of tea when I was walking by her house all those times.

Poem for Poppy

Today I am transcribing my Grandfather, Mershell C. Graham’s funeral program.  I’ve been looking for my grandfather’s funeral program for several months.  It wasn’t in the binder, where it should have been, or in the box with the not yet filed funeral programs.  Today, while looking for something else, I found it.  It was in my file cabinet in a folder having nothing to do with anything relevant.  The poem was written by my sister, Pearl Cleage.

Mershell Cunningham Graham standing beside his corn patch.

Poem For My Grandfather

(for M.C. Graham)

The handing down of things
worn smooth between your fingers.
The handing down of parts of you
in hurried kitchen ceremonies.
The smell of biscuits
and the smell of heirlooms.
A story about trains.
A whisper of hard times
and magic in the face you hold so close to mine
and smile.
The handing down of things.
The handing on of you…

By Pearl Cleage

In Memorium

Mershell C. Graham
Thursday, September 6, 1973, 12 Noon
Plymouth United Church of Christ
514 Garfield
Detroit, Michigan
Rev. Nicholas Hood, Pastor

Order of Service
Hymn          ……
Invocation   …….
Scripture      …….
Hymn          …….
Eulogy         …….
Benediction  …….

Detroit Memorial Park

In Charge
Charles T. Cole Funeral Home

Honory Pallbearers 
Friends of Mr. Graham

Active Pallbearers
Members of the Men’s Club

Mershell C. Graham was born December 25, 1887, in Coosada Station, Alabama.  He received his early Christian training in the First Congregational Church of Montgomery, Alabama.  He met his beloved wife, Fannie Mae, in the church.  They celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary in June of this year.  They had four children and shared a long and beautiful life.  

He was one of the founders of Plymouth United Church of Christ and was a devoted member of the church all of his life.  He served as treasurer for many years and was Trustee Emeritus.  He was retired from the Ford Motor Company after over thirty years of service and was a member of the U.A.W. and the N.A.A.C.P.

Mr. Graham passed on September 3, 1973, at his home at 16260 Fairfield.  He leaves to mourn his loss his wife, Fannie, his two daughters, Mary Virginia Graham Elkins and Doris Graham Cleage; five grandchildren Doris Diane Elkins; Kristin Cleage Williams; Barbara Elkins; Pearl Cleage Lomax and Marilyn elkins; and six great-grandchildren; Maricea McNeil; Harry McNeil; Frank Elkins; Lonnie Elkins; Jilo Williams and Ife Williams.

He was preceded in death by his two sons, Mershell C. Graham Jr and Howard A. Graham.

“Good-bye Jim” by James Whitcomb Riley

I have been thinking about this poem often lately, don’t know why.  I have the book that used to belong to my uncle Henry and before him, to my grandparents.  I remember reading it growing up.  My husband is called  Jim and I sometimes say  “Good bye Jim, take care of yourself!” when he’s leaving.  I copied this from here, although I could have scanned it in.

“Good-bye Jim” 
by James Whitcomb Riley

Old man never had much to say-
‘Ceptin’ to Jim,-
And Jim was the wildest boy he had-
And the old man jes’ wrapped up in him!
Never heerd him speak but once
Er twice in my life, and first time was
When the army broke out, and Jim he went,
The old man backin’ him, fer three months;

And all ‘at I heerd the old man say
Was, jes’ as we turned to start away,
“Well, good-bye Jim:
Take keer of yourse’f!”
‘Peered-like, he was more satisfied
Jes’ lookin’ at Jim
And likin’ him all to hisse’f-like, see?
‘Cause he was jes’ wrapped up in him!
And over and over I mind the day
The old man come and stood round in the way
While we was drillin’, a-watchin’ Jim-
And down at the depot a-heerin’ him say,
“Well, good-bye, Jim:
Take keer of yourse’f!”
Never was nothin’ about the farm
Disting’ished Jim;
Neighbors all ust to wonder why
The old man ‘peared wrapped up in him:
But when Cap. Biggler he writ back
‘At Jim was the bravest boy we had
In the whole dern rigiment, white er black,
And his fightin’ good as his farmin’ bad-
‘At he had led, with a bullet clean
Bored through his thigh, and carried the flag
Through the bloodiest battle you ever seen,-
The old man wound up a letter to him
“At Cap. Read to us, ‘at said: “Tell Jim
And take keer of hisse’f.”
Jim come home jes’ long enough
To take the whim
“At he’d like to go back in the calvery-
And the old man jes’ wrapped up in him!
Jim ‘lowed’ at he ‘d had sich luck afore,
Guessed he ‘d tackle her three years more.
And the old man give him a colt he ‘d raised,
And follered him over to Camp Ben Wade,
And laid around fer a week er so,
Watchin’ Jim on dress-parade-
Tel finally he rid away,
And last we heerd was the old man say,-
“Well, good-bye, Jim:
Take keer of yourse’f!”
Tuk the papers, the old man did,
A-watchin’ fer Jim-
Fully believin he ‘d make his mark
Some way-jes’ wrapped up in him!-
And many a time the word ‘u’d’ come
‘At stirred him up like th e tap of a drum-
At Petersburg, fer instunce, where
Jim rid right into their cannons there,
And tuk ’em, and p’inted ’em t’ other way,
And socked it home to the boys in gray,
As they scooted fer timber, and on and on-
Jim a lieutenant and one arm gone,
And the old man’s words in his mind all day,-
“Well good-bye, Jim:
Take keer of yourse’f!”
Think of a private, now, perhaps,
We’ll say like Jim,
‘At ‘s clumb clean up to the shoulder-straps-
And the old man jes’ wrapped up in him!
Think of him- with the war plum’ through,
And the glorious old Red-White-and-Blue
A-laughin’ the news down over Jim,
And the old man, bendin’ over him-
The surgeon turnin’ away with tears
‘At hadn’t leaked fer years and years,
As the hand of the dyin’ boy clung to
His father’s, the old voice in his ears,-
“Well, good-bye, Jim:
Take keer of yourse’f!”

Just Tell The Men – A short story by Henry W. Cleage

Henry and Mercedes Gamble.

“After all,” said George, waving his drink around impressively, “a rolling stone is worth two bushes.”  He finished his drink and swaggered to the couch and sat down.

This bit of logic gave our little party pause.  For who could deny it?
George and his wife, Vel, Louis and his wife, Melba, and I and my wife, Barbara, and Paul and his girl, Gloria, were gathered together, as was our custom on Saturday nights at George’s house.  It had started out like an enjoyable evening.  Plenty of liquor and good friends.  But then somehow the conversation wiggled around to the girls’ favorite topic.  To wit:  Why Gloria should not marry Paul.  Of course we fellows had a position to defend and we argued, to wit: vice versa.

You see the argument wasn’t really about Gloria and Paul.  We all knew they would marry as soon as she graduated from Wayne U. this coming June.  The girls just used this discussion as an excuse to get their licks in concerning our husbandly weaknesses.

Like what Barbara said, “How can she marry him?” she shrieked, “always buying boats and fishing poles and shotguns and going away for two months vacations.  He’ll never save any money.”

This boat business was their latest and most intense beef.  We four fellows had bought a small cabin cruiser together.  Everything was fine when we all dressed up in yachting caps and cruised along the Lake Shore Drive and around the Belle Isle Bridge.  But when we started going up into the lakes fishing, the girls suddenly tired of the sport.  Besides no one could recognize them from the bridge anyway.

And so as the liquor flowed, our little party grew tense.  Just like the last weeks’ party and the one before that.  Everyone was swelling up.  Faces were getting that strained look.  Cords were standing out in the girls’ necks as they screamed their illogical accusations.  The more they drank, the louder and higher they shouted and also vice versa.  They weren’t the sweet little girls we used to know.

We men, I realized, were nowhere. We had logic, truth and compassion on our side.  The girls had volume.  And what availeth logic against a woman’s hard breathing, shrill and rasping emotional tantrum?  I was drinking to escape when George dropped his atom bomb amongest them.  You could almost hear the air escaping from their sails.

“I repeat,” said George, pressing home his point, “A rolling stone is worth two bushes.”  He blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke.  “Even with moss on them,” he added.

The girls looked dazed.  Gloria sniffed her drink.  She wasn’t married yet.

“Umm,” said Melba pointedly.

Ah,” said Barbara shrewdly.

“Huh?” said Paul.  He wasn’t married yet either.

“Of course, as you say,”  George continued thoughtfully, “it’s better to have loved and lost, than never the twain shall meet.”  He poured himself a drink and I noticed that his hand was shaking.  It was strong medicine that he was using, but the case called for it.

“Yeah,” said I.

“Yeah,” said Louis.

“Huh,” said Paul, he wasn’t married yet.

It was unanswerable logic that George was uttering.  This was plain to Louis and me in our condition.  Maybe Paul too.  However, the girls weren’t quite convinced.  Their condition was comparable though.

“That’s silly,” said Vel.

George blanched.

“Yeah,” said Melba.

“Yeah,” said Barbara.

“Yeah,” said Gloria.  She wasn’t married yet but she was a woman.

“Silly?” George tried to sound preposterous and failed miserable.  He sounded silly.

“Who ever heard of two bushes with moss on them?” asked Vel, looking around for help.

“Yeah,” said Barbara shakily.

“Yeah,” said Melba in a daze.

“Yeah,” said Gloria belligerently, she still wasn’t married yet.

The color was coming back to George’s face.  “Have you ever heard of one bush with moss on it?”  he asked, raising one (left) eyebrow.  It was a stunning question.

Vel was plainly confused.  She looked around for help, but the girls were very busy drinking and looking the other way. “Why y-yes,” she stammered.

“Just like I said,” shouted George triumphantly.  “What’s sauce for the goose is nine sour grapes in time.”

“Yeah,” said Louis.

“Sour grapes, indeed,” said Barbara fighting a losing battle.
She looked heavily at Melba.  Melba looked heavily at Vel, who in turn, looked heavily at Gloria, who in turn looked heavenly.  Gloria was single.
They finished their drinks with four gulps and refilled.  They hitched themselves closer together.  They looked at each other again, this time wild eyed.  They had no more to say.

Paul was looking wild eyed too.  So we hurried him into the kitchen before he queered the works.  We wanted to examine this thing we had discovered, too.

“Sensational,” said Louis, looking admiringly at George, who was leaning against the refrigerator with his hand on his navel, like Napoleon.

Uncanny,”  said I, dancing with glee.

“What?” said Paul.

“It will revolutionize men,” said George modestly, looking narrowly into the distance.

“It will revolutionize women,” said Louis in awe.

“It will revolutionize the world,” said Paul who wasn’t married yet.

George held up his hand for silence.  “Tell them,” he began scowling with the weight of his message.

“Tell who? Asked Paul.

“Mankind,” shouted George, irked at this ignorance.  “Mo,” he retracted, “Just tell the men. Tell them,” he began again, “never to make the mistake of arguing with a woman logically.”

“Hear, hear,” cried Louis and I.

“Hear, hear,” cried Paul, seeing the light.

“For in that direction,” he continued, “madness lies.”  He was pacing up and down before us now, filled with the message.  “We must talk trash,” he said

“Yes, trash,” he thundered.  “Plain, unadulterated trash.” He was winded.

I went to the kitchen table and poured four drinks.  With a certain dignity I gave to each his own.  We touched glasses.

George spoke.  “I firmly believe,” he said firmly, “that we men can be as silly as the next woman.”

“If not sillier,” said Paul.  He wasn’t married yet.

We drank.