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IMAGES AND WORDS, the good stuff memories are made of...

On this page you will find original works of art, including both images and words.  Some are examples of custom work we offer as a service.  Others are plaques displaying original work.  The 'ready for framing' photo glossy pieces are twenty dollars.  We will provide matting and document framing for an additional fifteen dollars.  Poetry or prose written to your specific event is ten dollars.  So...  you could send us three or four photographs or bits of art and your writing or ideas for me to write from and have a plaque to keep as a memory or give as a gift for as little as twenty dollars, framed and with original poetry by the Penny Poet, for only forty-five dollars.  Discounts provided for quantity orders.

5 1/2" X 7 1/2" Photo Glossy - Suitable for Framing

This is a piece I created for my daughter's birthday.  The text and border colors are taken from a sample of the color of her eyes.  You e-mail or snail-mail your photos and text.  I do the layout.  If you would like me to create poetry, please state if you have a preference for rhyming or prose.  The piece is twenty dollars plus an additional ten dollars for the original verse.  A chrome document frame with mat is available for fifteen dollars from my associate (and wife) 'Karen's Good Scents'.  We will pay the postal charges if we create all three parts of the work. 

5" X 7" photo glossy - suitable for framing

Speaking of daughters, here's another one.  I'm on a roll now and will have one of these each year for each of my five Children and six Grandchildren.  The pictures offer a wonderful muse.  This one uses the border colors taken with a sampler from the actual color of Harley Blue's eyes.

5" X 10" photo glossy - suitable for framing

'Fly Away Home' is scheduled to be published widely in print in 2004.  Living in Colorado, the danger of forest fires is always a threat.  I wrote this piece as I sat in the front yard in our home in Lafayette and watched the smoke billow in the sky from the Steamboat fires.

"Snow Angels" - 7" X 10" Photo Glossy - Suitable for Framing

'Snow Angels' is currently published at 'Apollo's Lyre'.  It is one of my first pieces of work in 2004.  Zedidiah, my sixteen-year-old Son, Daughter Harley Blue and her two Sons, Jesse, 4 and Eli 2 went out in the back yard and made Papa some Snow Angels. 

"Eleven Peace" - 8" X 8" - Photo glossy - Suitable for Framing

'Eleven Peace' was written Jan. 11, 2004.  The art was captured at 'The Thin Woods' a couple of blocks from my house in Lafayette in the summer of 2003.  I am excited about what is a new process for me, the creation of word and emotion tied to images.

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Madman Chronicles: The Warrior (front cover designed by my son, Tommy Sterner)

The Warrior is my first novel which was released by Publish America January 2004.  Click on the hands to go to my other website and read the first chapter.

American Camp: Frail Monsters/Wounded Souls (front cover)

First Chapter of Novel


For life is a fiction

birth - a sad truth

death - a just reward

still Children smile


Chapter One


Children in Passing

I don’t like Country Western music


Billings Montana

Winter, 1957


    It was a cold little house, full of shadow and dark window.  Daddy was drunk there and Momma was crying.  I always loved him and hated him for making her so.  I bit my lip and held my breath, then went where I was forbidden to go.


    The door, usually stuck tight, opened easily.  I took this as a good sign, an acceptance of darkness.  I slipped inside and eased the door closed, knowing my eyes would never adjust to the total darkness but waiting anyway.  Waiting on that top crickety step as soft things with sharp teeth scurried below.


    Some thing with many feathery legs lit on my forearm, skittered across the fine blonde hairs on the face of my skin, its step lighter than breath.  My voice screamed inside but no sound issued forth.  I rubbed my arm there, felt the tiny arc of weight the traveler of darkness made as it swung from the pendulum web it had launched on my skin.  God’s creatures, Grandma Webster said.  Never smite them walking, only if they bite, then smite them and smite them well.


    The odor in that place was darker than ink.  I breathed it deep and took the first step down.  What damp Mother the womb of that room made.  She was warm in the Earthen reek of soil timeless and rotted root, kind to those who crawled and climbed, huddled in her midst.  My small hands grasped the wobbling plank at the side of the stair and its nails creaked as I leant it my full weight.


    Feet hanging, I searched with a naked toe through the broken top of my shoe for the first of the climbing holes we had made, my brothers and I.  There...  and there...  I let loose the plank and dropped to the Earthen embrace of the floor.  Back to the wall, I finally let the tears come, hot and salty, forging watery paths on the planes of my cheeks.


    This wasn’t my first experience with shame, I know, but it was much like times before and since forever.  Seven years old, with two younger brothers and a baby sister of two, I knew I had to be brave.  Tears would only make things worse.  There was never a reward for tears.  I hugged my legs to my chest, then sobbed and sucked it in, a choking sound.


    I held my breath as my ears picked up some sound outside of self.  Squeak...  squeak, squeak.  My exhalation of breath became an audible sigh.  I could hear Jackie, my best brother and only friend, a year younger than myself.  I was older but he knew things, things I would like to argue away, but couldn’t because I knew somehow he was right.  I felt a smile tug at my lips as his voice spoke in my head.  “They’re doin’ it, Tommy.  Long as they’re doin’ it, they won’t be botherin’ us.”


    I covered my ears with my hands as the cadence of the squeaking increased.  Dust drifted down from the floorboards above, a blessing of sorts, mother to son.  I stood and brushed myself off in the darkness, knowing she would seek me out after the squeaking.  The climb holes were easy enough to find and I hoisted myself up until I could grab hold the old plank.


    The sliver went in under the nail of my right index finger.  I gasped and swung my foot up to the step.  A thin shaft of light made its way from the kitchen through the top edge of the door.  I found the knob with my throbbing hand, twisted and gave the door a slight nudge with my shoulder.  Now it was stuck.


    I gritted my teeth and fought back the urge to cry out.  Just as I was ready to try again, the door opened slowly.  My mother took a step back, hands on her hips.  “Tommy, you come out of there.  How many times have I told you...”  She paused, then lifted her thin arms.  “You’ve been crying.”


    Relief flooded over me as I fell into her embrace.  The top of my head reached her chin and I nestled in, wishing for time to stop, no words.  Just hold me on the mercy of your sweet breast.  She pushed me gently away.  “What were you doing down there?  If your dad ever catches you...”


    I held up my finger.  “It hurts.”


    She took it between her hands and raised it toward her face. I giggled as her eyes crossed.  “What?” she demanded with mock sternness.


    “Your eyes,” I replied.  “They got all crossed up.”


    She held my finger tightly with one hand, plucked deftly at the splinter with the other.  Before I knew it, she had kissed my injured finger and was pumping water, washing it off in the kitchen basin.  “Now, what were those tears about?”


    I held up my finger.  “It hurt real bad,” I explained.


    “Don’t lie to me, Tommy,” she scolded.  “You know you’re no good at it.”


    I looked down at my toes, wiggling through the top of my shoe.  “Why’d he have to whip Jackie so hard?”


    Momma stood up straight, arms akimbo.  “Your brother got just what he deserved.  He was caught sneaking into the bread and ate the last two slices.  What am I to put in Daddy’s lunch tomorrow?  It’s cold on the roof and he needs food to keep himself going.  He doesn’t get paid until the roof is finished.”


    “That’s why I was crying,” I said stubbornly, remembering the crack of the belt on Jackie’s bare skin as he bent over and held his ankles, trying not to fall over or cry.


    Momma shook her head, frustrated.  “I’m going to lay down and have a nap.  I have to go to work in a couple of hours.  You keep an eye on your brothers and little Lily.  Wake me up at six.”


    Momma went back into the bedroom with Daddy.  I left the tiny kitchen and went to the cramped living room which served as day room and bedroom to Jackie, Phillip, Lily, and me.  Us three boys slept on a hide abed couch.  Lily had a makeshift bed in an old dresser drawer.  Lily was asleep and Phillip was sprawled on the couch.  Jackie stood slumped in the corner where he had been placed for further punishment.  I lay down on the floor so as not to disturb Phillip.  I bit down on my finger to alleviate the throbbing, then put my arm under my head and hummed myself to sleep.


    At five thirty I awoke and put the fire on low under the old coffee pot.  I went back and sat on the end of the sofa, put my hand on top of Jackie’s head.  His carrot red hair stuck out between my splayed fingers.  “Sorry he spanked you,” I whispered.  Jackie groaned and pressed his small thin face into the hard scratchy corner of the wall.  His hands bunched up against the wall causing his shoulder blades to stick out.  He looked like a broken bird, a plucked chicken, too skinny for anyone to eat.


    I went to my parents’ bedroom and entered quietly.  I would watch them sometimes, faces moving, eyes twitching.  Asleep, they were faces I didn’t know.  I think maybe I liked them better that way.  I reached and touched my mother’s shoulder.  “No,” she mumbled, “No.”


    My dad’s eyes popped open.  “Tommy, what are you doing?”


    The radio was playing Country Western.  We had two radios, one on the kitchen table and one next to my parents’ bed.  Oh yeah, and one in Dad’s old truck.  The radios in the house were on twenty-four hours a day.  Country Western.  The radio in the truck was only on when the truck was running.  I think.  They were on whether my parents were home or not.  Kids don’t touch radios.


    “Wakin’ Momma,” I replied.  “It’s just about six.”


    He rubbed a strong weather beaten hand across his bleary eyes.  “Shit!  You go on, Tommy.  I’ll get ‘er up.”


    I left the room as he began to shake her.  I have always gotten on fairly well with my mother but waking her or simply being around her when she wakes up are experiences I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  She is not nice then.  She needs to be left alone.  One hour up, maybe more, then she becomes her almost agreeable self.


    So I left them to it and went to play with my little sister who had just turned two.  She was a cutie, the first girl after three boys.  My dad called her Punkin.  I tickled her and she giggled until I felt Jackie glaring at me.  He treated me bad whenever he got punished, like it was somehow my fault or like he was taking whippings for me or something.  I don’t know.  He took the bread, I didn’t.


    All he could do was look at me mean and stare at me accusingly since I was bigger and a lot stronger than he was.  Mom says when I was a year and a half old; I’m fourteen months older than him, I would sneak in, take the top off his bottle, and guzzle down his milk.  Catching me copping his food explained part of the problem with his thinness but she resented him anyway.  No matter what she did, he was unhappy and undernourished. 


    I heard the volume on the radio go up and the familiar clink of glass as my mother filled their coffee cups.  Smoke drifted through the wide arch between the living room and kitchen as our parents lit their Pall Malls.  Dad came into the room and plinked Jackie in the head with his finger.  “Get your ass standing up straight.  You don’t need to slouch around all day like a ninny.”


    I felt bad for Jackie as he cringed and shook with fear.  “Turn around and come here,” Daddy ordered.


    Phillip was still sleeping, his leg hanging off the couch.  As Jackie made the corner, his eyes riveted fearfully on Daddy’s hands, he bumped into Phillip’s leg.  Phillip moaned, rolled over, and fell off the couch.  He began to cry.  Daddy beckoned to Jackie with his finger.  “Come here, asshole.  Maybe I’ll knock you on the floor, see how you like it.”


    Jackie stood by the side of the sofa trembling.  “No Daddy, please no.”  I saw a dark stain growing at the front of his trousers and hoped our father didn’t notice.  Sometimes when Jackie was in trouble he would mess himself which would only exacerbate his circumstances.  Other times, when he wasn’t in trouble, he would mess himself which would, of course, be the start of new trouble.


    “Tom,” Momma called from the kitchen, “Come on now.  I’ll be late for work.”


    Daddy pointed his finger at me.  “You put that little asshole in the corner and don’t let him out until I come home, understand?”


    I nodded my head.  “Yes, Daddy.”


    Soon the door slammed and I heard the sound of Daddy’s old truck pulling from the curb.  Jackie turned and looked at me.  “Let me out of the corner.”


    I felt tears coming to me eyes, bit down on my finger to stop them.  “I can’t, Jackie.  He’ll find out, then we’ll all be in trouble.”


    “How’s he gonna find out?” Jackie challenged.  “Who’s gonna tell?”


    Phillip sat on the edge of the sofa.  “I will,” he said, a cruel smile on his child’s face.  “I’ll tell ‘cause you took the bread an’ got me in trouble.  It’s all your fault.”


    Jackie took a step from the corner, threatened Phillip with a raised fist.  “”I’ll pound you, you little brat!  You ate half!”


    I ran between them and shoved Jackie back into the corner.  I gave his head a good bump against the wall for good measure.  “Stay there!  Don’t be picking on smaller kids!”


    “Yeah!” Phillip agreed smugly.  “You’re a stealer, Jackie.  You’re bad!”


    Lily began to wail, evidently upset by all the commotion.  I picked her up and she stuffed a thumb in her mouth.  She snuggled against my chest and closed her eyes, sucking contentedly.


    Daddy didn’t come home after taking Momma to work.  We were hungry and there was nothing in the house to eat.  I pumped some water and we sipped at it but water is a poor substitute for food.  Lily and Phillip cried and Jackie moaned and groaned, then finally slid down the wall and rested in a bony pile.


    I roamed around the confines of the shack, despairing for a crumb but, as on many a previous night, there were none.  I heard a rattling at the door and peeked out.  It was Momma come home from work.  As I unlocked and opened the door, a car pulled away.  It was soon lost in its own steamy exhaust in the freezing winter night.


    “Where’s Daddy?” Momma asked upon entering.


    “He never came back,” I replied, “I been worried.”


    She kissed me on the forehead and handed me a heavy paper bag.  “Never mind,” she said, “Thank God for the Big Boy.”


    Big Boy was the restaurant where Momma worked as a waitress.  She wasn’t allowed to take food home but she would bus the tables she waited on, then dump the leftovers from the plates in a bag she kept hidden in the kitchen.  On nights when Alvin, the cook, brought her home she could sneak the bag out past the owner.  The next trick was getting it past Daddy.  He didn’t approve of his family eating garbage.


    Momma touched my face with her cold hands and kissed me again.  She glanced at the clock radio wailing Country Western.  “Twelve thirty,” she murmured, “He’s probably at the bar.  That gives us ‘til two to eat.  You go start fixing.  I’ll go get the kids.”


    I set the bag on the table and opened it.  Though it was full of rotting salad, coffee grounds, and cigarette butts, all I could smell was food and best of all... meat!  I grabbed a piece of chicken fried steak and wolfed it down, coffee grounds, cigarette ashes and all.  I’ve never tasted better.  Momma came back into the kitchen and smiled at me as I wiped my face on my shirt sleeve.  “I decided to let them sleep while we get everything ready,” she whispered.  “Tonight we’ll have a feast.  I see you found the steak.”


    We scraped ashes, egg yolk, coffee grounds, and soggy napkin off the meat, then began to warm it in a pan on the old stove.  We even managed to salvage some mashed potatoes and corn on the cob from the bottom of  the bag.  The cigarette butts went in Momma's apron pocket to be worked on later.  We didn’t have to wake my brothers and sisters.  Phillip and Lily came stumbling into the kitchen, their noses following the aroma of cooking food in the kitchen even before their eyes were ready to open.  Momma smiled.  “Go get Jackie.”


    He was standing up straight and stiff, nose stuffed into the corner.  He flinched as I touched his arm.  “Come on,” I whispered, “Momma brought some really good stuff.”


    He turned his head, eyes big and round.  His mouth made one word.  “Daddy?”


    I tugged at his shirt sleeve.  “Come on, Daddy’s not home yet.  You better hurry up!”


    “Wait!” he pleaded.  “Is she...  Is she in a good mood.”


    “The best,” I replied, “Now come on.”


    Jackie shielded his eyes from the light as we entered the kitchen.  We ate and ate, then sat around burping and smiling like contented chipmunks.


    Suddenly Momma held her nose.  “Jackie!” she accused, “You have peed and messed yourself!”


    “It’s when he was scared, Momma,” I interjected, “Before you and Daddy left.”


    Jackie’s eyes were wide, like an animal caught in the headlights.  “Get out of my sight!” Momma ordered.  “You are disgusting.  Scared is no excuse.  We all get scared but we don’t go around shitting ourselves.”  She turned to me.  “You had better stop trying to stick up for him.  You’re not really helping and you only run the risk of getting yourself in trouble.”


    As Jackie was leaving the room, there was a loud bang on the door.  “Oh my God!” Momma exclaimed.  “He’s home.  Tommy, get the bag.  Shove everything in it.  I’ll try to keep him busy.  You just...”


    Glass shattered and the door caved in.  “Daddy!” Lily called excitedly.


    He staggered into the room, squinting his eyes against the light.  “C’mere Punkin.”  Lily ran forward and hopped into his arms.


    “Wassa matter?”  He held Momma with an evil grin.  “What I bring home ain’ good ‘nough.  Your boyfrien’ Arnie been fuckin’ you in the garbage, then you bring it home to feed my kids, huh?  Here, Tommy.  Hol’ this baby girl for me.”


    I took Lily and he backhanded my mother to the floor.  It’s not the first time I hated my father.  I was seven and a half years old and I believe it was the first time I realized someday I would probably have to kill him.  And I would love him when I did it.  Stay down, I thought as she knelt where she had fallen.  If you get up...  She got to her feet and he slapped her down again.


    I took Phillip and Lily from the room, around the corner from our bleeding mother.  “So!”  My father trailed after us.  “Where’s that little shit?”  He went to the corner and plinked Jackie in the head with his finger.  “Leas’ this l’il bastard stayed where I tol’ ‘im for once.”


    Jackie was trembling so bad, I could hear his teeth rattling.  “Tom,” Momma laid a hand on Daddy’s shoulder.  “Come to bed now, Honey.  Come on... please.”  Her tongue flicked at the blood flowing from the corner of her mouth.  My mother was beautiful and wore her fear well.


    Daddy plinked Jackie again.  “Don’ relax, you l’il bastard.  We gon’ pick this up tomorrow.”


    He followed Momma through the kitchen and into the bedroom.  The door slammed, followed by several slaps, screams, and thudding sounds.  I rocked my little sister in her dresser drawer as the bed springs began to squeak.  Jackie was right.  Now we were safe.


    Jackie turned and stared at me from the dark hollow holes of his eyes.  Phillip and Lily were sound asleep.  Jackie’s eyes bored into me.  I was sad and ashamed and had no idea why.


    “Where are your brothers?”  I looked up into the face of Daddy.  Momma was standing behind him, one eye black and closed, her lips swollen, cracked, and dripping blood.


    I sputtered and looked around in confusion.  Ten minutes later I was across the street in the park with Momma.  The lilac tunnels of summer were closed, their bare branches locked, intertwined and reaching, hands empty.  The sky was slate gray, a vast condemning face looking down, seeing through the futility of our search.  I shivered and felt my eyes tear up as I realized they must be out here somewhere.  I closed my eyes, then opened them quickly because Jackie’s eyes were in there.  They had told me last night and it was my fault my brothers were gone.


    Momma and I followed two small sets of footprints in the fresh snow.  They led us into the park, down to the round empty swimming pool.  I had a pocket full of cigarette butts.  I had been picking them from gutters and walks since we began the search, an old habit from my first memories.  We would take the butts home where I would help Momma empty and grind them together, then she would roll them into smoking sticks for Daddy.


    Momma was crying and the wind had begun to blow.  Tears were frozen on her battered face.  We went home and found Daddy sitting in the dark little kitchen next to the old stove.  Lily was sitting in his lap.  He had a cold beer in one hand, a Pall Mall in the other.  “It’s only been a couple of hours since we got up,” he stated flatly.  “If we don’t hear something, say by noon, we’ll call the police.”


    “But they may have been gone half the night,” Momma protested.


    “Don’t think so,” Daddy replied, then to me, “When did you go to sleep, Tommy?”


    “After you,” I replied, “I was rocking Lily, then went to sleep.  Jackie was in the corner and Phillip was laying on the sofa.”


    Momma paced back and forth a bit, then, “I’m going to the corner store.  Maybe they’ve been there.  Can I have a dime for the phone?”


    Daddy set his beer down.  “I’m not made of money, woman.”


    “I...  I gave you my tips last night,” she stammered.  “There were dimes and nickels.”


    Daddy set Lily on the floor where she began to roll empty beer cans around.  “Choo choo...  choo choo.  Lily make train.  Choo choo.”


    Daddy leaned back in his chair, reached deep in his pocket.  I was afraid of the look on his face.  He threw a handful of change in Momma's general direction.  “I make more money by accident than you do on purpose, you stupid bitch.  Take your nickels and go call the cops.  That’s all you want to do anyway.”


    I scrambled to help her pick up the change.  We hurried out the door and down to the corner phone booth.  Momma began to cry and held me close as she spoke to the police dispatcher.


    When we got home, Daddy said the wind had blown the clouds away and made it warmer.  He was going to pick up his helper, a man he called DeeDot, and try to finish the roof he’d been working on.  He left and I kept an eye on Lily while Momma straightened the house.


    Two policemen came and asked Momma a gazillion questions.  To my surprise, they took me out to the police cruiser and said, “Do your Momma and Daddy ever hit you and the other kids?”


    To which I lied, “No Sir.”


    “What happened to your Momma's face?”


    To which I lied, “I don’t know.”


    “Are you afraid of us?”


    To which I answered truthfully and with relief, “Yes, awfully.”