27 February 2015

Ruins of the Temple

February is the honest month. The ego laid bare like the trees, all leaves finally gone through the insensate malevolence of icy wind and sheer cold. Winter is not through with us, not yet. February brings us to our knees where we implore it for mercy.

Even the sun meddles in the affairs of the heart, its white-gold rays teasing this troubled organ with warmth that never quite reaches the bones. We persist in our fantasies of life. The groundhog becomes Delphic. We do not believe in its prognostications, yet groan when the shadow lays upon the frozen earth.

On a Sunday of no particular note, it is my freezing shoes that trouble the snow and dirt. I stand alone with my thoughts before the stones of memory. The wind skirls amongst branches scratching at the sky. A sky so blue as to break the heart, empty, cold. It is the blue I imagine would have been the color of my children's eyes, had I been so lucky as to seen them open.
I meditate upon the idea that in deep winter we become the trees outside our walls. Frozen, sluggish, bereft of the leaves that allow the sun to nourish our starved and hollow bodies. Hard funeral ground grants me no succor. The cold of it seeps through the soles of my shoes while the granular snow crackles and squeaks as I shift my footing. My roots are paralyzed, asleep. There will be no growth until spring.

Crows caw out raucously from the trees scattered around the cemetery. Their metallic rasps and croaks is not laughter, I think, but perhaps conversation regarding the stranger in their midst. I find strange comfort in their company, the chatter reminds me it is the children I came to visit. Snow was dimpled softly over the memorials. Twelve years of memory overlaying scant inches of white blurring what I used to know, used to see. A brief debate ensued in my head as to the necessity of brushing their graves free of snow. I say debate, but it was foregone that I would do such a thing.

My heart needed to see. These children of mine deserve the sunlight. I reached down to begin, snow shockingly cold sending a brief lancet of pain arcing into stiffening knuckles. The metal beneath the snow was colder than lost love. Their names became exposed in a winter light, shiny like the melancholy of an arctic midnight. It is a stark beauty that I cherish. My fingers trace the letters and through the numbness I feel a warmth, an electricity cutting through and lighting up the pathways to my heart. I marvel at the strength of the foundations as I kneel in the ruins of the temple.

22 February 2015

Magpie Tales 259: This Is Not Hell

Image courtesy of Magpie Tales

"Don't walk on by,
come on in" It says,
Step right up, step inside
Trust me, I don't exist

This refulgent Carnival
is sweet, seductive Life!
Not a garish fine trick
misleading the lambs

Come, come to light!
Rest your hearts here,
friends, this is not Hell
nor are you out of it

21 January 2015

Swan in Winter

A dozen spans or thereabouts she stood offshore, this wistful cygnet with my eyes and her mother's hair. Her shadow lay lightly on the ice. Ice which I studied closely for the first signs of cracks. My belly tightened at the thought of her in the freezing green-black water of the pond. My anxiety served as reinforcement for its frozen surface. She sensed my discomfort, I think, looking up at me with grin as antidote to fear. I smiled in return. Sunshine like white gold broke through a mottled pewter sky to illuminate us, a living page from our own Book of Hours. 

The sky returned to a sullen indifference. The slow clouds of midwinter marbled like bruises over a snippets of bright blue. A hush was over the pond, disturbed now and then by the barking of dogs, children frolicking or ragged chevrons of Canadian geese knifing through the cold air above. Water oozed through the grass from soil still reeling from a few hard freezes. My thoughts drifted briefly to permafrost, and what happens when it thaws. I needed to know if similar processes affected the heart in the same manner. I must know, as something seemed to be cracking in my chest. 

"Daddy, what's that?"

Her question a soft whipcrack snapping me out of arctic ruminations. She was standing on a dark patch shaped like a lumpy oval. My first thought was it was weak ice, but she stood firm. The shape crystallized in my mind. 

"It looks like a tree stump, sweet pea." I hoped that it was. Weird that it was a level cut stump only a fraction of an inch below the ice line. 

"I wonder if that's it," she said. She bent down to pick up one of the many small rocks littering the ice. The impacts of the stones a webbed chiaroscuro crazing the frozen pond. Kneeling, my daughter began to dig at the ice over the stump. It cracked a little but did not move. She knitted her brow, lips scrunched in vexation. I could not help but smile to know that by such gestures she was indeed of my blood. Sometimes she is driven by a compulsion to know that which is beneath the surface, to firmly possess certainty. In the space of a few fluttery heartbeats, I prayed that she would not be as destructive in pursuit of that certainty as I had sometimes been in the past. The past when I was young and needed to know everything, but knew nothing. 

Her mittened hands rested briefly on the ice. She studied the shape, cocking her head. Her gaze and posture reminded me so much of a heron stalking a frog I nearly burst out laughing. She must have decided that it was not important enough to continue, as she levered herself up to stand on the stump. I heard the clicking of pebbles and ice as she nudged the fragments with the toe of her right boot. She moved as if skating for a few more minutes. I stifled my urge to tell her again she was far enough out on the ice. With an avian hop, she came back to shore. 

"Walk some more, kiddo?" I asked with a raspy warble in my voice making me cough. She turned her face to me, cheeks rosy in the cool breeze.

"Sure, Daddy." Hop. Skip. Away she fluttered ahead of me, down the trail that ran along the river. Clouds mimed a slow semaphore shining on her performance while she gleefully leaped into a pile of slush on the trail side. 

She grows, this nascent swan of my heart. Taller, more winsome, as months and years fall like leaves. Winter has its hold on my brittle heart, enrobed in a thin glaze of frost that I begin to feel melt in the innocent warmth of her presence. The old man of my soul knows this is the progress of life. He knows that growth is inevitable, as is love and the thaw. We watch her amble and cavort under a nave of trees, wondering when she will break the ice. Hoping that we witness the glorious transformation when the swan makes it back to shore, to fly into spring.

14 January 2015

Islands Adrift

Yesterday I learned that an old high school friend had died at the age of 47, of heart disease.  It was delivered to me by a cousin of my friend, who just happens to be my best friend from college. Such news hurt me sharply, hotly, and more than to be expected regarding someone with whom I had not spoken in decades. Today, my impatience showed when I failed to let the pan get hot enough before deglazing the onions with a shot of red wine. It was dinner, and I was sad and angry.

How to reconcile Death with pork ragu over pasta? Is this possible? My belly did not care. Hunger is its imperative. My soul, on the other hand, disagreed. I wept into my fist.

Hunger will not be denied. Nor will sadness. It is a peculiarity of my being that I am ever hungry unless I am deeply ill or otherwise disturbed to the point of collapse. The news of my friend's death pushed me to that edge. Yesterday, I wept over my keyboard, feeling simultaneously ashamed and indignant that I was reduced to such a state. There was no denying that my friend  and I had drifted far apart over the past two decades. No communications had been had in the intervening years, notwithstanding the ease and facility of Facebook, Twitter and myriad other digital ways to find and connect. Perhaps it was partly that shock of realization that fueled my outburst at the stove tonight.

My friend had married, he had moved to Mississippi, he had become the owner of a country store. I was unaware of none of these facts of his existence. It seemed an impossible task to reconcile all this lost history with making dinner. Perhaps I really should not have tried. I was tired and sad and the walls between my day and my heart were breaking down. I thought back to the wakes I have known in my life, those impossibly strained gatherings where we met at the houses of the deceased or their family, and loved ones and strangers show up bearing platters of fried chicken, lasagna, potato salad and anything else grieving souls can think to pull together to succor those who have lost the most. Death takes its pound of flesh, and we can think of nothing but conversation and filling our bellies.

Then there was me, standing at the stove stirring a skillet full of sauce while waiting for the pasta to be done. Wiping my eyes, I had to grin thinking of my old friend. I knew perfectly well that he would not have tolerated any bullshit from me on this matter. He was a bright spirit with a world-class sense of humor. I heard his voice in my head, saying "Quit yer bitchin', you damn dumb Irishman, and shut up and eat!" In his honor, I complied. Even if the soul is empty, the belly must be filled.

Nearly fifty years on this planet, and time showed me just how far we may drift apart on the oceans of our lives. But I know, I know, how deep the currents run and how far they reach. The soul feels it when a part of its past departs this world. Currents of the heart pull and shift, and we feel the disturbance keenly across time and miles.

In memory of F.C., my friend. Good luck and godspeed.