Fish & Chips

by Serge Bielanko

For Henry David Bielanko on his 6th Birthday. I wrote this for you on the morning of Feb, 23rd, 2017, man, after your Mom took you over to Grammy's because you are home sick from school for the third day in a row. Someday I hope you read this and smile. 

Sick on your birthday.


I love you so much. 

PS: I also got you a Hot Wheels track. 


I pick the fish sticks up with my fingertips and that moment happens between when you pick a thing up that you know is hot and when you actually feel the heat. I try and pop them down on the plate before I cross over but it doesn't work. I do the thing/slam them down/raise my hand back high above my head and whip it through the air like that'll cool things down. It's stupid. There's a spatula two seconds away. But I do it this way. Like I always do. 

The kids are watching cartoons as I dole out the food. Three plates, two cups with straws, a sippy cup, three blobs of ketchup, three mounds of nuked frozen corn, three stacks of fries, and fish sticks rationed out according to age/size/consumption history. Six for Violet. Five for Henry. Four for Charlie. 

Two for me. I already ate them. 

It's not my best dinner but whatever. It's a deep album cut from life, this meal. You can't shake your judgy stick at it. This stuff has been keeping kids alive for a long time now. Does it make them crazy in the head? I don't know. Does it make their bodies go into some kind of hyper state of carb kinesis, hurling them around the room against the angels of their better mercy? I don't know. Probably. Who cares? Tonight I don't give a shit. There are nights when you make fish sticks and fries for your kids because you know it will get the job done when you aren't feeling up to the job at all.



20 minutes or so.

Use your fingertips.

Squirt the chocolate in the milk.

Paper towels, boom boom boom.

I did it.


Come eat, you little bastards.


I use the SEARCH thing on YouTube on the Apple TV. I fumble around with the remote until I've managed to type out SCOTTISH MUSIC. Then I scroll down maybe two or three videos until I come to one with a bagpiper playing by a castle along the sea. I can't argue with that. No one can.

Themes are my jam at dinner time but tonight is a stretch, I'll admit. When I buy these new Street Kitchen kits from Walmart they kind of come with a theme. I buy Thai Green Curry/I YouTube Thailand music. I buy Malaysian Satay Chicken/I YouTube Malaysian stuff. Then I cut off Curious George mid-sentence, I don't give a fuck, and I serve the food in a haze of chanting desert sounds or ancient pan flute jams that sound like snakes rising from baskets. Theme Night, you see? 

Tonight I scrambled for a minute with that. Fish sticks, What do I play them? The Guess Who? Synyrd? Rumors? Something that reeks of the '70s when I was growing up and my blood was 80% fish stick? They won't get it/too obscure. Plus I don't feel like listening to classic rock right now. I'd rather suck a live grenade than jam that shit into my YouTube history so I have to see it tomorrow morning when I sit down at quarter to six, before the kids, sit down for ten or fifteen minutes with my oatmeal and my coffee to watch another home video of a dude fly fishing in New Mexico or Montana, a strange way to start the day, maybe, but it's my way and I'm broken in weird ways you would never understand. I don't want any part of that. I don't ever want to see the words 'Steely Dan Rare Backstage Footage 1979' on my YouTube screen. It's just a little promise I have made to myself. A little pact, a little pledge. 

In the final moments before I shut the oven down and have to make a choice, I say the words out loud. 'Fish and chips'. It rolls out across the kitchen then, the evening tide. Me and my brother standing there on a dock near boats. Near a ferry? The wind incessant. The boats have faded but the wind hasn't. The grey clouds pushing swift out along the cobalt blue; the sound of the gulls; Americans unaccounted for; the freedom of knowing no one knows where you are at that second. The sun in Britain is a magical beast, appearing unexpectedly, throwing girders of light/hard slashes of beam, beautifying a dark sea or a sheepy hill in ways that will send you straight to the pub for a pint because the only way to describe the moment of natural glory you have witnessed is to describe it to fail yourself with words. No mortal human can get it right. You can can only approach speaking of the British sun with the first glowing sip of ale in a pub. First sip. No words. There you are. There it goes. Forget it. I nearly had it. But there she goes again.

We found a fish and chips place looking out over the water, me and Dave did. We were waiting for a ferry, I think. I don't know. We were on a tour. Were we headed to Ireland? To Denmark? I don't know. It doesn't matter. The fish and chips were scalding, oily, coned in newspaper. I remember I was so hungry that afternoon. I remember that I could not believe that we had stumbled into this opportunity for food in such a remote part of the world. It seemed a dream. The skies, the sea, us out there so far from home. The gulls squawking. The wind pounding away at everything like it surely had been for the last fifty trillion years. A wind older than time. A wind that hadn't stopped blowing since there was no day, just one long cloudy night of never ending darkness. 

The fucking wind of winds. 

And there we were. Eating fish and chips snagged from God's personal stash. I burnt the roof of my mouth on the very first bite. Vinegar pain. It was among the best feelings I have ever had. Out the chippy door, across the sunny street, the gale up my nose, the dock under foot, the warmth in my hands, the swift sky unable to stop, the creak of the boards under my brother's feet behind me, the land in the gleam, the sea in the shine. 

Why do I remember that day when I forget so much else?

Why do I connect it with now, with me thumping down fish sticks and fries on my plastic Target dishes? 

Why does the connect come so naturally, without even trying, you know? 

I was on YouTube. 

Then I was somewhere else. 

It might not have even been Scotland. It might have been Wales or England. I wish I could remember. But I can't.

Come eat, you little bastards.


It sounds like a state trooper's funeral in here now. Pipes blaring. They sit in their seats and I watch Violet and Charlie dig in. Henry pokes around, drags his fork across the ketchup, Pollocks the wide white corner of his oversize plate. The food is nothing like that day on the docks. Different galaxies. But they'll have their chance, I figure. Someday. I hope. 

"Eat, dude," I holler at Henry through the bagpipe jungle. "You're not hungry?"

He looks at me. 

"Maybe I don't like this dinner because you make it every night."

Which is bullshit. I don't. Maybe twice a month. Maybe four times a month. But not every night. That would fuck with my themes. There are only so many fried fish themes. I tell him about the British day long ago. Me and Uncle Dave on tour. We were so hungry. The sky was magic. Yes, I was young then. Or younger. Yes, we were happy. Yeah, the food was good. So good, man. I wish I could give it to you now. I wish I could throw it back up perfectly onto a plate and let you have it, bud. I would. I would share it with all of you. 

He smiles at that, eats a fish stick. Eats a fry, a chip, if you will. Ignores the corn. 

After a minute or so I come back to him. 

"Henry, eat some corn, dude. This is corn country we live in. Remember that. You're part corn. You have to eat it to keep the valley going."

He thinks about this for a second as his brother and sister gobble their food, ignore their corn. Then he lays it out for me.

"Corn Country, Butthole Country!" he exclaims. 

I just look at him and smile. I understand him perfectly. As the bagpipes cascade down off the TV and over our tired heads, I understand what my boy is saying even when I don't really have a clue. 


I hold Henry's little hand out on a dock in my mind. Clean blue sky, warrior wind. One cone of fish and chips to share. I let him hold it, one arm pulling it tight/warm to his chest. The sun is forever, even in Britain. Especially in Britain. Especially on days like this when sunshine sparks off the tips of weak waves and the seagulls ride the sky for centuries on end without ever flapping their wings, or ever dying. 

Poets take that first sip of ale in the pub, chasing the words just up ahead. 

The woman behind the counter in the fish and chips place looks out the window as she towels off the crumbs. There they are. Two lads in the sun. 

She turns away, drops the fish into the hot oil. It hisses. 

She looks back up.

The lads are gone. 

On Christmas Eve, Please Bring Me My Wine, And Please Bring Me the Stars in the Sky

by Serge Bielanko

Wait a while eternity
Old Mother Nature's got nothin' on me
Come to me, run to me, come to me now
I'm rollin' my sweetheart
I'm flowin' by God

-John Prine, 'Christmas in Prison'


When I was a boy, 7/8/9, I'd sit in the slippery wood pew on Christmas Eve holding my candle like everyone else. My mom to my left, my little brother to my right, the choir singing their hearts out, Joy to the World, Silent Night, I'd feel my soul shifting around down in my bone cage. God was too much of an idea for me to wrap my head around back then. But still, in that church in Conshy behind the gas station where my Pop-Pop gassed up his Matador and where my brother would one day change tires and work the pumps, I'd feel a thing moving me. 

I still don't know what it was. 

Neither do you, trust me.


You hold a candle and hear those songs, the warbly collision of people in your world- kids who ride your bus/moms who bake Betty Crocker cupcakes you eat at roller rink birthday parties/old ladies who only exist clunking down the stairwells of the church rectory, clutching their 8am service programs tight to their chest, my fresh eyes zooming in on a wad of blue vein lotion knuckle pinkness/Little League coaches wearing their Sears suit/one or two people from far off lands (me watching them sing, wondering if they were happy or sad to be a long long way from home, me not knowing that they were home)/housewives who spent their lives in a different galaxy two blocks from where I spent mine/old men with upside down forests of nose hair pouring out of their heads like dragon fire, glistening scalps housing the thoughts that once trudged across damp French fields behind tanks/kids from down my street/kids from my gym class/kids I had never said a word to and never would in this lifetime/everyone from everywhere/oh holy night/never my dad, home by himself, wine, beer, Gruyere from the special cooler at the Acme that no one ever hit 'til Christmas/my Mom-Mom, standing, singing, smiling at me, sticking her tongue out at me and making her crazy eyes face at me over the flame of her candle/the collection plates all gold and red velvet/plumbers kneeling/housewives looking at the high arched wood of the church ceiling like it was the floor of Heaven above us all/the Pastor talking wise men and Mary and manger and birth and love and Christ and spirit and this and that and me getting itchy/this battle between the known and the unknown raging inside of my body/blowing me up gas fire/- you hold a candle and hear those songs, the warbly collision of people in your world, and for a fleeting moment/single spark dancing down the solar winds/tiny spark skipping cross the eternal dark prairie/you know damn right well that you are feeling a thing in your chest/a Constellation Fist wrapping round your bloody meat heart/squeezing/lifting you up by your aorta/hurling you across all space and time/through shimmering walls of dinosaurs and Plague and heresy and war and screams spilling down some hillside and out over the Roman Walls and Japanese children melting in the street and volcanos erupting and sunsets like you would not believe slipping down behind herds of buffalo that went on for miles, great warriors weeping on high rocks, and temples going up in the deep jungle and round-the-clock trains to Buchenwald and fingers drawing fire and love on cave walls and a trillion first kisses and more coming and wolves unseen running so hard and fast after deer unseen in a wild unseen and quiet snow falling on so many nights never to be lived again/it all comes heaving up out of your small soul or whatever you wanna call it and it shoots out of your face like happy puke, like when you were born, your mama so sweaty and crying and overjoyed with the pain that you brung to the moment that changed everything forfuckingever,  you hold a candle and hear those songs, the warbly collision of people in your world, and you, and when I say you I really mean me, because at the end of the day/let's face it/what's the difference.


There I am.

My skull crashing into the church rafters. 

The candle dripping wax down on the paper catcher.

Christmas Eve.

Santa somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Santa and his reindeer. A twinkling twitch somewhere high above heaving clouds of cod. Thrusting cold dark. IceRain slamming into his face, all caught up in his whipping beard. 


Coming for us. For my brother Dave. For my Mom. For my Dad asleep in the chair by the tree when got home. 

Coming for you. 

Coming/I must admit/terrified as I am/for me.


I don't know what I believe in.

It's okay to admit that. I love a thing I cannot see. I always have. I can't see shit. Fascination Street. Vascillation Street. I sneak around God in my mouse paw shoes, circling the cheese. I want to believe that I will not die if I eat this. And I want to believe that I will not die if I don't.

That too much to ask?


I guess maybe it might be, huh?

But you know what?  

I know one thing for certain. I know I believe in the memory of my life, in the complicated Sunday Gravy street drift garlicky ghost essence of it all. Of it meaning more than I give myself credit for. You have to survive, dude. Your life depends on it. My heart demands it.

And long long ago, out front a church in Conshy, on a cold clear Christmas Eve, I stood on the sidewalk with all the other people wishing each other peace and happiness and meaning it.

And I ignored them all.

I looked over at Dave and he looked over at me and we were two kids in a movie as we both looked up at the stars at once, up into in the Fifth Layer of Deep Back Space that you can only manage to glimpse if you believe in a thing for real for real, and I shit you not: something was red-light-blipping across the dark sky. Everything fell away from our world.

All truth will be revealed. 

"We gotta get home," I hissed. "We gotta get in bed. Holy crap. HOLY SHIT!!! That's him!"

Dave looked at me; I could feel his eyes; brothers have that; our hearts exploding in our chests. What luck we were having. What terror. What a life we would live the rest of our days from that moment on.

"That's them." 

People next to us talking so much happy holiday horseshit.

"Oh my God,...that's Him."


Everything keeps making me feel like I will never ever die.

I wonder if that's true.

Who are you to say? Think about it. It could happen.

I just keep on keepin' on.

I just keep on eating pizza and staring at birds and watching Netflix by myself on the couch and laughing in the mirror and kissing beery lips out back the bars and mircowaving my oatmeal a minute ten in the morning and decorating all crazy for Halloween, for Christmas, and stopping on the bridge on summer evenings to see if a trout rises right at that exact second, and cleaning the cobwebs off the grill at the start of every May-like clockwork. Me, y'all, rolling my fingers through my kid's hair for the next 55 gillion years until the stars pop off, until the red blip stops.


I know, I know.


I'm here now though, right? Right. Christmas Eve. Tonight. Again. One more time. Heart racing. I'm so confused. I'm so predictable. I'll be looking at the sky wondering if you are too. 

Everything keeps messing with my mind. 

It's kind of fucking lovely. 

Merry Christmas. 

Night Ghosts Riding Down the Pilgrim Wind

by Serge Bielanko

“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire.” 
Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Henry is a blur.

He shoots out of the doors behind a couple of other kids in his class and he's running like there's a beast at his heels. 

Pharrell's 'Happy' kicks out across the gym. There's just me and about eight or ten other parents and grandparents scattered in these vast bleachers as the music slaps off the cinder block walls and spins all up into the high lights.

I try and imagine what it's like for my boy in that moment.

It must be Pamplona.

Shuttled down darker corridors, walking single file/doubling up/tapping up against each other, young hearts pounding at the mystery of what lies ahead. The antiseptic waft of school halls, a whiff of cafeteria mac-n-cheese or meatloaf. A long drag of impatience when you're 5 and you know you're about to be given the green light to just do it, to be set free to bolt. That isn't a feeling all that common in elementary school.

It can't be.

No one would get behind it.


This is a fundraiser thing; Rams on the Run; raising money for the PTO. Collect pledges and every class runs around the gym for 15 minutes. Nothing fancy. Foolproof. We were supposed to go door-to-door, I guess, show up at dinner time and smile and ask for loot, me reminding him and his sister to say 'Thank you,' while people ducked back inside to get their pocketbooks or wallets, but it didn't work out. I fell behind with work and chaos and I let it slide.

I tucked a twenty in the envelope instead and sent it back with the names of family members as donors. 

No one cares. No one cares where the money comes from.

The history of a five-dollar bill is not something people give a shit about. It's in your hands, that's all that matters.

And then it ain't anymore and you'll never cross paths again. 


Henry runs hard, his hair flapping in his own breeze. He gives high fives to some dad standing down in the corner of the orange cone course every time he passes him. The high five dude. I wonder who he is. I won't ask him though, so I'll never know. 

I can't help myself in situations like this, man. My eyes get all fucked up. I feel my face twitching and I pinch my thigh through my pants. 

"Stop it, you fucking Emo idiot!," I tell myself.

Look at that grandfather over there, the one with the Korean War ball cap. He probably fought with a bayonet. He probably stuck his bayonet into dudes' faces on hellishly cold mornings along the frozen roads of another planet. He's probably a farm boy who had to hold his friend's guts in his hands as he tried to shove them back into a nineteen year old body.

He's looking at me, I know it.

He knows I'm on the verge of crying and for what? For what!? He knows I know he knows too, that's what so torturous here. He knows that I know that he knows that he's not tearing up watching his grandson or granddaughter run around a gym on a Tuesday afternoon even though he has eaten War with a pie fork and has all the reasons in the world to cry at freedom and love and blood hurling itself at him from his grandkid's smiling face down on the court, but here I am, Emo Dad, and he doesn't want to hear it. 

I think he wants to wrestle me.

There's heat coming off of his soldier skull, lasers beaming into the side of my fat face.



I bite my lip and wave at Henry who, so far, has not looked at me even once. I know he knows I'm here. I'm impossible to miss. But he's doing his thing and there's a certain kind of pride that comes along with not waving at your dad every time you pass him by.

It's Old Testament. Shakespeare. Hemingway. Punk rock. It hurts. It's wonderful.


I can feel the old man trying to lift me up with his stare now and things are getting out of hand. The more he glares at me the more I feel this crying trying to get out of my head. I'm overcome by something moving me and I have no clue what it is. I've been a certain kind of mess lately. I've been down on myself and scared as hell, trying to feel my legs under all this rubble of debt I'm trapped in. 


A thing I should note:

I've been reading The Road, Cormac McCarthy's tale of the deepest love between a dad and his son wandering around post-apocalyptic Tennessee. 


The old veteran is growling something at me as I try and see him out of the corner of my eye but I can't because I'm also trying to watch Henry and catch his eye at least once. What does this guy want with me? Why is he messing with me of all people? Because I'm crying a little bit? Doesn't he get it at all?

Maybe I'm a sensitive dude.

Maybe I'm blown away at how big my boy is getting.

Maybe I'm fighting tears of pride, you ever think of that you cold-blooded bayonet-thrusting grenade-chucking ancient marauder?!?!

Fuck you, I mumble under my breath. I'm still too scared to look at him though. I wish his wife would tell him to knock it off.

What's he saying anyway? I can barely make it out?

I open my ear.

"Stop crying, little baby. Be a man for once instead of a goddamn baby bunny rabbit jacking himself off to the beat of his own baby bunny rabbit heart." That's what I think I hear him rumble at me, low and slow, I swear to god. 

He's trying to hurl my body out onto the gym floor with his eyes. I know that now. I can feel myself moving, raising up a little bit and then falling back down on my ass. His powers aren't up to snuff.

But he's trying.

And that's enough to rattle me for the rest of my life.


This past week, Violet on one side of me in her purple kitten pjs, Henry on the other in his Dino Snore ones, falling asleep/thumping hearts I helped make/inches from mine/I have no answers/I need fucking answers/Korean War bayonets of action/forward motion/making shit happen/but I've been so scared and quiet and agitated until my guts double up on themselves and I'm not even a human being anymore except a little bit at night, lying here for an hour or so/watching them fall to sleep beside me. 

I read The Road as my son drifts off, his head on my legs heavy like a stone. 

I watch the words float by me and it's all breath-taking and moving and horrifying at once. Like me. Like my life. The dad in the book watches his son sleep in the very real cold dark woods while I lay here watching my son fall asleep in the very real cold dark woods of my blues.

It's entirely different, but it's exactly the same.

McCarthy knew that, I figure. He still knows it. He can't unknow it either and he tells me that in his soft southern drawl.

I run my fingers across Henry's head, feel his warm scalp, a scalp I would die to let live. I am so much more than I let myself believe.

We all are. 

Someone is trying to throw me across a gymnasium with telepathy. 


'Hit the Road Jack' starts playing. The Ray Charles version. I connect the dots. The session is over and Henry's teacher holds her hands up in the air and flaps them around and the kids stop running and line up behind her out there in the middle of the cones. 

Henry looks at me finally and he's panting from running his tiny ass off. But he smiles at me too. 

I wave at him from the bleachers while his class moves as a snake. They exit the gym. "Anddontchacomebacknomorenomorenomorenomore!" He waves the last wave, my son does.

Then he's gone.

They're all gone.

Back into their meatloaf halls. 


Fuck it.

I look at the guy.

He ain't looking at me. 

He's old. He's smiling, waving at his granddaughter. She's waving back and I watch them connect. No words. Smiles. Gestures.

His hat isn't Korean War Vet either. 

It's woodland camo with an eight-point buck leaping across the front of it. 

He and his wife stand up and move down the bleachers slow, holding onto one another for balance. 

I get up so I can beat them to the door/so I can be first/so I can hold it open for them/and I do/and they thank me/ two casual smiles/three if you include mine/the three of us moving together from the artificial gym out into the bright freezing sunshine of the world. 

I light a smoke on the school grounds because fuck it.

I might have misread the entire situation.

The wind bayonets my face as it dawns on me that I might have misread everything up until now. 


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and what do you want me to say? You want me to tell you to be thankful for what you've got? You want me to tell you that it all goes by so quick so, listen man, try and dig through the muck and see yourself clearly for a second or two every now and then, okay? 

I can't do that. That's not my job. I can't remind you to remind yourself of certain enlightening higher-consciousness shit, dude. 

I'm dying as I write this. So are you. You're dying too. We all are. 



Okay, whatever. It's Thanksgiving. 

Remind yourself. 

There, I said it.


I built a Fat Lego castle with Henry last night. It was just me and him, one of those rare nights when we're together alone. Me and him/him and me. I put on the Sinatra Christmas record on the YouTube and made him this chicken that he likes for dinner and the whole house smelled like mashed potatoes and gravy and chicken and the pumpkin pie candle I got at Walmart as we built this castle from the ground up, the whole thing teetering on the edge of collapse but never collapsing out of mercy. Or respect. For me. For him. For our night together, I guess.

Later I let him play computer games on my laptop up on the bed. I went downstairs to eat my salad and watch a little bit of The Crown on Netflix and the whole time I'm down there I keep getting blindsided by the money thing and my stomach rolls around and I ended up putting the salad in some Tupperware and fridging it for tomorrow. 

Upstairs I peek into the room at my boy and he's  all animated and talking to himself as he plays a game. Animal Jam. That's the game. I don't know what happens in it. There's no cursing from what I can tell, or bad killing or horrible shit, so I let him play it. I'm in the dark hall and I watch him for a minute or two and I swear to god I feel it all welling up inside me again.

I don't get it. But there you go. I wanna cry looking in on the kid who has no idea I'm looking in on him. 

I hear a noise behind me and I spin around and it's the old man from the gym, from the school earlier. He doesn't say a word, he just comes at me fast down the hall and before I can holler or hit him upside his old man head with my bottle of seltzer water he shoves me through the door and I forget about the tears and my heart is racing. I'm Pamplona bull before the run.  

Henry hears me/senses me, says, "Hi Dad!" without peeling his eyes from his game.

"Time for bed, dude," I tell him. 

"Awwwww! Just five more minutes! Please?! I need to finish this!"

I don't answer him as I plop my bottle down on my nightstand and throw some more blankets on the bed. Sometimes no answer is the answer. He plays on.

So I just stand there above him, like an angel, like a cloud.

Like the moon in the dark cold sky. 


“The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around you. Ever is a long time. But the boy knew what he knew. That ever is no time at all.”

― Cormac McCarthy, The Road


I see The Road sitting there on the nightstand waiting for me to pick it back up. I see the box fan by the bed. I see the beat up comforter from the old married days. I see my phone charger waiting for my phone. I see the big rainbow trout pillow flopped along my son's ribs. I see my middle boy making his way down through some easygoing computer jungle, happy music bopping along. 

I see his back rise slightly with the air in his lungs. 

I see my old Vans kicking off my feet.

I see the empty crib over by the wall where Charlie still sleeps when he's here.

I see Violet's owl plushy on the floor by the wall.

I see the old man from the gym peering at me from the crack in the door.

I see the barn wood headboard I made once upon a time.

I see the bills downstairs haunting me through the ceiling.

I see the shadow of a man cast upon my wall.

I see everything.

I see all of it.

I hear the wind blasting at the panes outside.

And I smile my tired smile as the long day winds on down.