Ode to an Ark

This one is still a little rough….

Ode to an Ark

My son walks a path both familiar and foreign.

I lay out the golden stones then watch him vanish.

Gone in a yawning, swampy place, dark with peril.

And then

Noah builds an ark.

And two by two by four by four by five by five by OCD by Asperger’s by ADHD by GHD by genius IQ,

it lifts my son with love.

That love that is a balm for the loneliness of oddness, the pain of childhood’s shifting loyalties, that tidal swell that lifts me too.

And no one needs a mushroom boat to reach this island where

teen love says

you’re like normal people when they’re on drugs

and typico neuro

mushroom boats alight to sit on hotel floors watching Pee Wee Herman, asking Are you seeing what I’m seeing?


It’s where we live.

With talking trees and brownies no one else can see.

And I can spy a child from where I stand,

more sensible than most.

She is not alone, and

also built this ark.

This ark of families, of Pauls, of summer’s riding a swelling

wave of love that lifts us from the swamp,

that steadies my son’s journey,

that steers us to the Vast Blue Ocean –

It’s big enough a place for

all of us to



So, my editor-friend will likely have my early reader book back to me soon.  It’s almost summer and her primary gig as a stay-at-home Mom is going to be ramping up soon.  I know I will likely have nothing to do with illustrations if I am successful in finding an agent – and publisher – for this book.  But because I am me, I am illustrating the home copy.  I am planning for black and white drawings for “in chapter” illustrations and colorful paintings as “end tags” to each chapter.  Here’s the first one I’ve finished.



This one is at least 20 years old. That’s all I remember.




This is the death that walks.

This is the void that talks.

This is the stone that bleeds.

This is the soul that needs.

This is the dark that sees.

This is the bond that frees.

These are our hopes and dreams.

This is our life.

Mason Jar

This one is old and appears to have been meant to be a song.  I don’t remember anything more.


Mason Jar


Billy was the kind of man that reason couldn’t reach

Billy was the kind that all the schools could never teach

And he spent his time asking ‘why’ but no one ever cared

a partner full of combat but no one ever dared

so he shut his mouth and shut his mind

and got into the car

one day he put his life away

into a Mason Jar


He sat alone with his disease

sitting at the bar

He told me sadly of his life

in its Mason Jar


Every night he turned out the lights

so the neighbors couldn’t see

Mostly he talked to himself

But he sometimes talked to me


He sat alone with his disease

sitting at the bar

He told me sadly of his life

in its Mason Jar


The Power of Editing

After my novella The Pied Piper of St. May was held for consideration for the I-can’t-remember-how-many-eth time, I was given some editorial direction in (yet) another really nice rejection letter.  There were two bits of advice ~ one of which I immediately knew was spot on.  The other, I had to sleep on.  After a good (?) night’s sleep, I knew the second bit of advice was spot-on too.

Here’s the advice (identifying information was removed from all quoted rejection letters):

This piece was close, and the editors enjoyed reading it.  We found issue with a few believability issues, such as burning books for warmth when there was a forest nearby and adults hearing the music but not even trying to investigate.  With a little work, we think you will find a home for this piece.

I can’t remember why, but I asked my friend Tracy to proof-read my re-write.  She was amazing, especially considering she did not get paid, is not a professional editor, and to my knowledge, has never been one.  Yet…she not only proof-read my rewrite and caught grammar and spelling errors (and all, my, extra, commas); she also caught continuity errors, pointed out places where the action did not “work”, and advised me on my description of a physical action that her twins often attempted but never pulled off.  She went over the story three times for me, and when she was done, I knew the story had gone from “good” to “quite good”.

Nevertheless, after revising the story with Tracy’s help, what I got was even nicer rejection letters, such as this one:

The reading team loved the concept of ‘The Pied Piper of St. May’ but  unfortunately we’re not going to be publishing this piece – if  anything, it was aimed a little too young for our YA brief…’The Pied Piper’ came close,  however, so we’d very much love to see more work from you.  

and this one

Unfortunately, while we liked your submission, so far we have not found a place for it … and it is against our policy to hold onto a story indefinitely…I’m going to have to very reluctantly let this one go. If it got this far, you can rest assured that your story is of high quality and you should be able to find a home for it. I look forward to hearing from you again.  

I decided to self-publish.  At that point, I was sure the story was of publishable quality.  I also knew I’d already sent the original version to the places most likely to publish the revised version.  And I figured any version of “Hey, remember my story you held for consideration and eventually rejected?  I rewrote it!  Here it is!” was bad form.  So I published it on Amazon and at B&N for Nook.

You may think the point of my story is that, even with good editing, you still won’t get your story published.  But it’s not.

I am proud of this story.  I have had other stories published, among them the flash fiction noir piece Free On the Green and the more literary And The Moon Waits.  Neither on-line or literary ‘zine pays, but that’s not the point either.

I have written stories I can be proud of, that others can enjoy, and with Tracy’s help, The Pied Piper of St. May is among my best work ~ meaning, it will give the reader enjoyment. And to me, that is always the point…

I am certain a good editor matters.  And it’s not just about grammar.  Just last night I was reading a book on the psychology of anger.  It was published by a big publishing house.  It is a fascinating book, but when I hit this text,

“…you will…react to a saber-tooth tiger differently if you encounter it in the zoo rather than in the wild”

I burst out laughing.

Look, I get the point of the text, but I am pretty sure my first reaction, regardless of whether the saber-toothed tiger is in the zoo or the wild is going to be astonishment, because that animal has been extinct for over 10,000 years.

Here are some fun facts about the Saber Toothed Cats.  Happy writing!  And careful editing!

The Hunter

This is another one that was meant to be a song.  I almost certainly wrote this in highschool.  It is rewritten here, with apologies to Brian Hunter, who taught me how to love my brain.  This, rather peripherally, reflects a philosophy we’ve both long since outgrown, but it still has a few familiar echoes.


The Hunter


They’ve made up your mind for  you, they’ve set up all your rules.

You can make your own creation if you do it with their tools,

So you turn within yourself but know there is no peace.

You let them bind you with their standards and now there’s no release,

So you sit staring inward and you see what you have done.

You let them rearrange your soul and now you are no one.


Find yourself within yourself,

Face your fate undaunted.

Blow your brother’s mind away,

Death’s all he ever wanted.


And the hunter is the hunted

in the annals of your mind.

I can’t teach you how to see;

you’re already blind.

Don’t search for true reality;

it’s something you can’t find.


What was born within you, you long ago let die

You did it to be normal but you’re living out a lie.

You let yourself be limited because they said you were.

You’d fill yourself with cyanide if they told you it would cure

the empty hole inside you but you did on your own.

You changed to fit society; you’ve never been so all alone.


When you lose your own uniqueness

to walk where sane men tread.

You’ve joined our fine society;

you’re already dead.


And the hunter is the hunted

in the annals of your mind.

I can’t teach you how to see;

you’re already blind.

Don’t search for true reality;

it’s something you can’t find.


Just came across this. It was written in the mid-80s.

Adult langauge ahead. My apologies in advance to any offended readers; I couldn’t revise it and still express the rage this poem contained. It is not about a woman.




She can hear

the rain sing

to the Sun Kings.

She can see

the Silence

through the haze.

She can dance

in Darkness

throwing shadows,

and reach within you,

touch your blood –

tiny dancing dizzy flood.


She is bouncing in your scream.

She leaves you lost

within a dream.

She takes your eyes,

leaves you blind.

And then your heart.

And then your mind.

Stumble, nodding rhythm.

Exploding time.

Is she so fucking fine?

(Is she so fine?)



I have no idea when I wrote this.  Could have been early 90s.  Could have been late 90s.  I can be a slow learner.



Some level of irrepressible


bouncing bouncing

never stopping

never thinking

laughing, mindless

boundless, blinking



fun fun



but the wonderful thing about him

is he’s the only one



This is the sequel to Call It Courage.  It was written years later.  As I read it, I can see the influence of college on the content. 

It was quite a serious poem at the time, but it amuses me now.  I take myself far less seriously these days.  Yet I am also void of poetry now.  Perhaps I’ll find a cure for that soon.  I wonder if Bushmills would still work for that?  If not, at least the prose still overtakes me.



a poem d.b. mcneill



It’s been years since I was whole.

  He put his finger through my soul.

I am caught beneath the wheel

  never knowing what to feel.

Still walking westward with the rain,

  I seek new ways to speak my pain.

The Earth sucks muscles down my bones.

  I suspect I’ll be alone

when I die.


All my life and lives before

  the rich could always eat the poor.

Unable to break the silence screaming,

   unable to wake the world from dreaming,

velvet here, he waits within.

  He has crawled beneath my skin.


No claws or knife can dig him out.

  So greet the dawn with strangled shout.

The howling light, the colors streaming,

  all the world will still lay dreaming.

Never having strength for peace

  A man can only seek release.

I watched the orgasm of his death,

  heard music in his dying breath

and it’s been years since I was whole.

  He put his finger through my soul.



Call It Courage

I wrote this in high school or soon thereafter.  I found a story I started in college that I may be able to weave this into.  It is not my favorite poem, but I like the rythmn…and I wrote a sequel to it some years later.  I will share that next…


Call It Courage

a poem by db mcneill


This has been my only sin,

I am the killing violin.

All the nights have tumbled down.

All the flesh has turned to sand.

Beneath the sweet and trembling flesh

I’m spinning here inside your hand

and she says….


I am the killing violin.

I am the fire that burns within.

The child moaned.

A man has grown

here within my hand.

Walking westward in the rain

I find new ways to speak my pain.

I’m never coming home.


In the darkness I awoke.

A single fear,

the words we spoke.

So much more we have to share.

I am shaking, never dared

to take this moment in.

I can sense a danger.

I could not bear the loss

 if you spiraled down to die

within this violin.


Years ago I had a dream.

A precious hope and not so far.

In darkness, you played your guitar.

In blackness, your tears blessed my skin.

The skein of souls that tumbled in

could not have sung their hearts in vain.

You put a bullet through your brain.


And so, in time, the truth is clear.

Despite the fire, I live in fear.

Too many eyes have died through this.

Your light could die within my kiss.

Become entangled in my strings.

In a moment hear the scream

spinning in my hand.


I cannot live without the dream

or live within the truth, it seems.

I only have the strength to kill.

Something this child must not feel.

The child has grown into a man.

I hold his offer in my hand.

Still I cannot let him in.

This has been my only sin.

I am the killing violin.