08 October 2014

Dead Presidents Make My Teeth Hurt

It was somewhere east of Topeka and west of Kansas City that dead presidents made my jaw clench so hard I thought my teeth might shatter. Billboard big as day showing the latest lottery numbers somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 million. Jesus key-rist, the stab of angst and disappointment that went through my chest nearly made me drive off the road. Nothing like an unavoidable reminder of what you do not have to put a smudge on an otherwise good day. Fuck that. I don't need the hassle.

I was driving back from a work assignment. The sky, it was blue like the heart of the best day ever. I was feeling good, then this billboard shows up in my field of vision. 70 million in the pot, ladies and gentlemen. All I had to do was play.

The problem, as I see it, is that I need to win.

But I probably won't. That is the odds, especially if I don't play. Here's the thing: I don't need or want four vacation homes, a couple of yachts or a private jet. All I want is to make sure I can take care of my parents now the way they took care of me when I was young. All I want is to make sure that I can provide for my daughter, give her some help to send her on her way when she decides what she wants out of her future. All I want is to make sure I close the gap between more and enough.

All that, and some left over to help Syrian refugees, Ebola victims, and those who have no idea if they even get a next meal. What that billboard did was to make me realize that I am not a rich man. Not even close. I do not live in dire poverty, but seeing those numbers up there in broad daylight brought it all home that I am in a constant race between 'just enough' and 'more needed'. Nothing like a stark reminder of the money economy to smack your head, and your ego, up against the wall as if to remind you who is in charge here.

In broad daylight, the hot sting of tears and gritted teeth, and I am painfully aware of how inadequate I feel due to lack of money. The hot wire wrapped around my heart telling me there is so much more I could do, so many people I could help, if only I was was rich. If only I had money.

They say it is the root of all evil, this shared hallucination of what is valuable, of what we supposedly deem important. I say, it is really the root of all anxiety, and worthlessness, because without it we feel like we cannot accomplish anything. One of my favorite writers, John Thorne, once wrote of the paradox of living in the wetlands and marshes of Cajun country, "Survival is almost always possible; prosperity, almost never."* His succinct phrasing sums up the anxiety of living in the land of not-quite-enough.

Never enough. Never smart enough, fast enough, cunning enough. It is a feeling I wish I could shake, because I know better. I do. Still, the ghosts of dead presidents haunt my waking hours.

*From "Bayou Odyssey", a poignant, scintillating essay in John Thorne's excellent 1996 book, Serious Pig.

07 October 2014

Magpie Tales 240: Dawes County Meditation

Photo by Tom Chambers via Tess at Magpie Tales

Wide open here in God's country
That means hearts as well as range
Loneliness not the sole province of cowboys

Rim of her world defined by stone
Scratching its defiance of the sky
She knew the legend of star-crossed love

Romeo and Juliet of a different hue
Whispers of their mad leap from the butte
But all she wanted was to escape

the barbed wire of her heart

29 September 2014

Magpie Tales 239: Meditations Before the Slaughter

Autumn in Madeira by Jacek Yerka, via Tess at Magpie Tales

He belches softly, there in the wood
cider chewy-sweet on the tongue
heavy boots oppress a nation of leaves
with yet a smile to be home

Time overseas burnishes the edges
he thinks, of memories and soil
but the mind heart and belly
never forgot, truly forgot their nest

Winter stirs, bares its teeth in the wind
bringing the chuffing of the hogs
reminding the soldier of the butcher's calling:
In this work, Death begets living, not more dying

22 September 2014

Magpie Tales 238: Made For Walkin'

Image via Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

boots brogans mukluks
not 'wellies' her look said
I said which do you wear

quick shy smile
under chestnut tresses 
she didn't answer

from over here
now that the rain stopped
looks to me a mismatched pair

at that she stopped
tucked a strand 
behind the shell of her ear

polar blue eyes
with a touch of crow
that mona lisa shone

I wear what I wear
because it suits me
why do yours match?