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‘His Darling Daughter’s Gift’
Considering Breakfast with the Dirt Cult by Samuel Finlay, Reading to a Poet, and Robert E. Howard’s Legacy

Formerly published as ‘Stealing A Breath from Death,’ revised and expanded

“Howard-related stuff is a badass genre. All I knew about Conan growing up was the movie, but as I've revisited all that as a man, it's really cool to explore all these underlying elements in the stories that just make you want to go out there, get dirty, and kick ass at life. In fact, quoting it was a regular thing with some of us in my old platoon. We'd be about to go train or go out into Indian Country and someone would say, ‘Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!" or "He didn't care if he lived or died. Life...death...the same.’”

-from an email from Samuel Finlay

I have had the pleasure of exchanging a dozen or so emails with Sam, as well as mining his book, Breakfast with the Dirt Cult for my research into aggression and masculinity. Sent to me for review, Sam’s book is too important as a record of the common fighting man, to simply review and cast on the “been read” pile. We are awash in super-soldier biographies from the most elite of our recent war survivors. There are also publishing houses signing welfare mothers in uniform to write about their adventures as women in the military. But there is little care for the regular soldier, the “Joes,” the much shat upon meat shield of our wan national will.

Even the everyman term G. I. [Government Issue] Joe has been co-opted by our materialistic feminine ethos to sell super soldier toys. When I was a kid G.I. Joe was a doll that you outfitted and roleplayed for adventure. I remember standing atop my parent’s stairs outside the house, loading the bearded G.I. Joe into an Apollo Space capsule [about the size of a toaster, and made of surprising durable plastic] and heaving the expensive toy out over the stairs, hoping it would miss the sidewalk, and then scrambling down the hill to see if my Joe was okay when he smacked down on the curb.

The heat shields held!

I have liberal friends, even among war gamers, that find it odd that a regular guy who has struggled physically to keep up with elite fighters would be fascinated to read about the alpha male heroes of Howard, like Conan, who is essentially the ultimate, barely believable, male combatant. They live in a world where it is heresy to believe in “supermen” [unless they are civic-minded fictive figures from commercial comic books] although such men abound in war and sports. Maybe I believe because I have been beaten by such men, and it fascinates me to put myself in their shoes, or to imagine standing next to them instead of against them in a lethal combat. Maybe I read these stories because I have an affinity with Howard, and Howard, like myself, was just a guy that “boxed,” sparred with who he could when he could and never accomplished anything of note in the ring, and knew well where he stood, using his imagination to sketch stories from the perspective of the super fighters that inspired him.

Before getting back to Samuel’s experience as a “Joe” and a “Corporal” as told through the eyes of Tom Walton in a novel that is thinly veiled nonfiction, permit a walk down memory lane to a half hour spent on a bench at a bus stop in Downtown Baltimore on a Sunday morning in 2012, with a former boxer nicknamed Poet, who inspired the fictional character featured in the serial by the same name on this site. [The book, Poet, has since been published.]

Poet waved me over to discuss my gear, as I was headed to spar with Charles out on the East Side and had dipped into the city center to transfer buses. I gladly missed my connecting bus to speak with this fellow, who did not remember me from the time he gave me advice about handling one of my fighters a decade earlier. At this point in life his eyes were going and the cell phone his dear daughter had given him was broken from a scuffle he had with “a few young fellas, who I managed to stretch out but barely.”

The bumps and bruises were as if nothing to him, but his darling daughter’s gift, the memento he clung to, being damaged, had him feeling frail inside, like life was slipping away, and he confided in me. He, like most semi-literate boxers from the poor side of the black community, admired reading and yearned to find solace in books, but had trouble with the mechanics of it, having been so poorly served by our criminal corrections facilities that masquerade as public schools for children in Baltimore.

He asked me what I was reading, and I was embarrassed to have only a manuscript that I had written, By This Axe!, which was a science-fiction tribute to Howard’s Kull and Conan characters, about some meathead super-jock who thinks he is the God of War reborn.

I read a passage from the beginning of the apogee chapter, Battle Noon, as he sat back with a tear in his eye, thinking—no doubt—of better days, and nodded positively, as he kind of rocked on his big hands, his wide shoulders rolling under his gray sweatshirt, “‘Bout stealin’ a Breath from Death, is what you writin’ ‘bout, son. Go on with yourself en right you anotha one.”

He said this as he nodded to the second bus screaming around the bend, indicating that it wouldn’t do to leave my sparring partner waiting in the park.

After experiences like this with decent black men it brings steam from my ears to read and hear from some whites who believe only in race, that there is something morally wrong with me befriending a fellow like Poet, or with me training or mentoring a younger version of him. And it is clear from Howard’s prose, that as racially conscious as he and his charters were, that “character” was the measure of a man that made him a hero, not his race. For this see Black Vulmea’s Vengeance and Worms of the Earth.

I have not seen him again. But his words have finally fallen into the place in the brain where they were intended, not to be correlated until I read the following passage from Sam’s book:

“He knew on paper he was just a bookish young man from Middle America, but in the Shithook [Chinook troop deployment chopper] with his platoon of natural-born pure-bred sons of bitches next to him, he felt like he was in a war band of pagan gods out for vengeance and blood.”

Later in the narrative of that deployment a soldier returning from a mountaintop patrol spoke glowingly of another soldier about what “a man” he was for humping the Squad Automatic Weapon all the way up the mountain. Reading a Conan, Kull or Kane story gives the reader the sense of being next to the hero, not the delusion that he is the hero, which is the only way that a denatured product of modernity could understand it. So, the fact that you can enjoy a Howard story, particularly a Conan story, is proof that civilization has not completely erased your soul.

To get a view of what it is like to go to war and walk the edge between civilization and barbarism, in service to a fantastical society more wildly degenerate than anything the author of Kull could have imagined, to walk the ground that Howard tread in his mind, read Samuel Finlay’s book, Breakfast with the Dirt Cult, via the link below.

‘The World Suffers for the Lack of It’

Samuel Finlay on the Warrior

© 2015 Samuel Finlay

The following letter was sent to me from the author of Breakfast with the Dirt Cult in reference to ‘Stealing A Breath From Death’.

"So, the fact that you can enjoy a Howard story, particularly a Conan story, is proof that civilization has not completely erased your soul."


That point you made about the reader as a companion to the hero reminded me of something. My old squad leader, "Sergeant Bronson," had made his bones as a Cherry Marine clearing Highway 1 in Iraq during the first Gulf War, got out, did dry-wall long enough to say 'fuck this' then joined the Army, going on to just about every deployment they had. He drank and smoked a lot, was often surly, and at one point got busted down and lost his stripes for punching a lieutenant. He and his wife had this on-again/off-again thing that happens when your world revolves around the service, and he never had children, but God only knows how many boys he tried to make into men.

The Beast was very much with him, and when we had a Formal, and my buddy Miller introduced his wife (who is a sophisticated lady) to him, she later told Miller in awe something like, "He shouldn't really exist!" The idea being, even in a buttoned-down polite scenario there was something in him you only expected to see in movies.

Because he knew the job—the life—of an infantryman, inside and out, the leadership always put his squad up front when things were dicey. And because he and I developed a sort of mental shorthand/telepathy, he often put me on point. I later told him I often wondered if he was trying to get me killed and he looked back at me flatly and asked, "Would you have rather been anywhere else? Well shut the fuck up then," causing me to laugh because he'd sized me up and knew like only someone can who's mastered the craft. He made you want to dare to be at least half the man he was, and reading your post, and many others of yours that share that theme, it made me grateful that you try to get those men and that spirit of theirs some daylight. The world suffers for the lack of it."

Sam’s book about his time in the army and his deployment to Afghanistan is available at the link below.

Books by James LaFond

Breakfast with the Dirt Cult Paperback – October 12, 2012

Poet: The Enlightened Fate of Akbar Qama

Add Comment
Sam J.November 11, 2016 5:52 PM UTC

"...After experiences like this with decent black men it brings steam from my ears to read and hear from some whites who believe only in race, that there is something morally wrong with me befriending a fellow like Poet, or with me training or mentoring a younger version of him..."

At the risk of annoying you I wish to clarify what I and I believe a lot of others WN believe on race. I think there's very few of us that will deny that some Blacks are people of great dignity and many are much better people than we are.

I strongly believe that you fool yourself when you believe that Blacks think about race in the unbiased way that you do. It will be EXTREMELY rare that in the cinch that a Black person will not fall in with his brothers. Not that some wouldn't but they are rare. It's all about the percentage. This may be an undignified way to sum up a person but there it is. It's just the way it is. I defy you to say you're not able to find any White person with the same dignity of Poet. I would wager that the amount of Whites you could find that fit that profile would be much larger.

You speak of the individual but that's a Western White ideal. Others are far less likely to take this as an ideal or to even see it as anything but stupid nonsense. Race comes first. However undignified this attitude may be I come to the conclusion that it is they who are right about race and White Westerners that are wrong. If they become the majority the Poets of the world will feed you to the dogs without a thought.
responds:November 12, 2016 7:54 PM UTC

I would be fooling myself if I thought that blacks thought about race in an unbiased way, for I have worked and trained and conversed with hundreds of black folks and have never yet met one who thinks about race in an unbiased, unemotional way. Of course, I haven't met many whites who think about race in an unbiased way, they either worship blacks as sacred pets or hate them as menacing animals. I only know a handful of whites who think un-emotionally about blacks.

This is my sticking point with White Nationalists, the fact that White Nationalists [at least the ones I have met and corresponded with and have read—with the exception of Greg Johnson] are so emotional about their race and unbiased about the black question in America, makes them, in my eyes, a lot more like blacks than like me, or the tiny handful of rational people I know.

This does not however, mean that WN solutions [such as segregation} are necessarily irrational. Segregation is the only rational solution to salvaging general social harmony out of the current violent plurality, and the fact that WN thinkers propose it is proof that an emotional process can arrive at a rational conclusion.