29 November 2015

Magpie Tales 296: Appetites Obscura

Joachim Beuckelaer, 1560 via Magpie Tales

Incipient feast before our eyes,
Ignorant of the scandalmongers afar
of whom, it is said, do spread the truth

Anesthetized by full bellies, flushed loins
Citizen ears deafened by lust, greed, anger,
Blindly we face murderers in the bedroom

22 October 2015

Monkey Bring Tea

"Brigid?" Colm's voice rasped over chords dry as dust.

"Yes, my love?" Brigid leaned over and took Colm's hand. His eyes fluttered.

"Be a dear, would you, and open the shutters. Sunshine." He blinked slow.

"Of course, love." Her heart lurched at the sight of his bluest blues, flecked with gold and storm. She stood, letting his hand slip slowly from hers, the cool dryness electric against her fingers. She crossed a room full of tone and shade, a room that seemed to her in perpetual autumn twilight since the rude awakening of his diagnosis. Fitting, she thought, that Colm ever loved the fall. She opened the stained wood shutters. Worn, nacreous walnut under decades of varnish and beeswax. Built by Colm's own hands when he wore a younger man's coat.

Pure ingots of white gold light poured themselves over the floor and Colm's bed. He managed a smile at the sight, running a hand slowly through his stubbly salt-and-pepper hair. He insisted it be short, his patience had run out with maintaining the long locks from months ago. Too much work, not enough energy. The low embers that smoldered in his head and heart were just enough to get himself out of bed, some days. But not much else.

Brigid smoothed out her skirt, the wool scratchy and reassuring under her hands. She turned to look at Colm. She thought perhaps he might be up for some time on the patio listening to his favorite birds. She smiled back. "Window open too, my sweet?" She could see finches flitting amongst the trees along the back hedgerow. Yes, he would enjoy a sit-down on the terrace.

"Yes. I'm wanting to hear the songs."

She opened the window. The scent of lilacs zephyred into the room. Colm breathed deep, a gravelly sigh that loosened his chest. "Ah, lovely" he murmured. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, resting back against a walnut headboard carved in an array of stylized Irish elk and triskelions. The headboard was one of Colm's favorite pieces, and one of his earliest. His head sagged. A few dizzy seconds passed. Brigid thought he might be on the verge of fainting, but he raised his gaze to hers. She let out a breath she had not known she was holding. He smiled again.

"You okay, love? You look worried," he said.

"I'm tired, but okay. Worried about you," that worry tightening her voice.

"Ah, don't trouble yourself in such a way. Not much to be done at the moment."

The sun streamed through the window. A cozy heat rose from the stones of the floor. Colm struggled to the edge of the bed, Brigid quickly steadying him when he threatened to overbalance. His feet he placed on the stones, luxuriating in the warmth radiating up through his soles. Brigid wrapped her arms around his head and shoulders, drawing him to her. He breathed deep of her, a mixture of the sea and dewy roses that thrilled his heart with a burst of vigor. He looked up into her eyes, the emeralds that brought him home.

"To the terrace, love? With me?"

"Of course. No resistance from me, pulse of my heart. Here, take my hands and I'll help you up."

He did as she bade him, the journey a slow one as if he were struggling out of sand. Resting his head on her shoulder, he let her guide him to the glassy door that led out to the terrace. His usual scent of peat laced with wood shavings had changed since he had fallen ill. It was now tinged with wet clay and other things she could not name.  She found the combination to be simultaneously reassuring and unsettling.

They shuffled together, slow in the lowering sunlight, and sat down in oak chairs facing the slope down to the hedgerow. Colm huffed and sputtered a bit, catching his breath. Brigid moved her chair closer to Colm's, sat down, and took his hand. Silently they listened to the birds chorusing amongst themselves. Songs such as they sang made Colm feel that perhaps this storm would not end badly, that he and Brigid would sail through and get back to life.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he asked Brigid.
"Yes, my love. It is. I like watching your face when you hear the birds. It makes you happy, I can tell."
"Aye, it does, it does."

He held her hand and breathed in the lilacs and the grass, the sea and the roses. The world spun a few times more while they soaked up the waning sun.

"Brigid? Starting tomorrow, I should like a cup of tea every afternoon at this time." Brigid jumped a tiny bit.

"Certainly, dear. I'll have to get some, though, there's none in the cupboard."

"I'd like the one we used to drink when we first moved here. The one with golden in it's name. What was that, golden, golden..." his voice trailing off into a wheeze. He seemed genuinely upset that he could not recall the name.

"Golden monkey?" She laughed, and he could not help but chuckle.
"Yes, that's it. That's the one. Get some tomorrow?"
She leaned over and kissed his forehead. "That I will."

They both leaned back. He did not let go of her hand. She looked over, watching him watch the birds and clouds. Two rabbits frisked amongst the grass halfway up the hill.

"I'm thirsty, my love. And I'm scared." Colm did not look at her.

"Scared of what?" she asked.

"The treatment will be nasty, I think. All sorts of bad things could happen. I want to remember the taste of tea in case the drugs take away my tongue. I want to remember the taste of you." He turned his head, lit up yellow gold in the late afternoon light. She squeezed his hand and managed a small smile.

"I want you to remember that, too, my love. And you will." She kissed his hand. The rabbits scampered off to home. The light fell on the couple. Tomorrow they would have tea, storms be damned.

09 October 2015

A Thousand Channels, 24/7

On bright mornings, the traveler was caught off-guard by ghosts. Memories of the past washing ashore on the beach of his mind. It was the driving, really, that did it. The road stretched out before him full of promise. He would smile and choke down a few tears. The piquancy of his brother's ghost, the never-heard cries of his first born children, all gone except for that irreducible block of memory. Searing pain and ecstasy make a curious couple intertwined in the mind and heart. It was the road. The one that started a thousand miles away and led him into a sea of grass and remembrance.

"Did you see that?" (laughter)
"See what?" (Momentary befuddlement)
"That sign back there."
"Just now? No. What did it say?"
"Say whaaat?" (Giggling fit)
" I know, man! Who knew that he liked to get his drink on here?" (More laughter)
"Seriously, man, look how far he fell from the Sistine Chapel."
(Pensive silence)

Once more on the road, I have to do it, it's part of the job. I'm used to it now. Except for the run-down parts of town. Or towns, I should clarify. No, towns and cities. There is a lot of them out here and there are quite a few where it seems like the inhabitants have been ground down by life. Or the landlords were ground down. Or maybe everyone just stopped caring. Too many buildings possessed of gray dinginess, decrepitude and crappy signage. There is still cause for amusement, though. Passing through one such area, driving past Legs Party Bar ("Open 'til 2 AM!") I saw that the Knobtown Strip Center has added a new tenant. It's a "spa" offering"massage". I had to laugh. What, "Cheap Smokes and Liquor" from the joint next door aren't good enough?

Dine In  9/23/2015  12:33:28 PM
Order # 132156  Cashier: Destiny M.
1 LG Steamer $8.49
 Mayo NO
1 Reg Combo  $2.59
 Medium Drink*
 Chip For Combo
Sub. Total:    $11.08
Tax:                 $1.04
Total:             $12.12
   Visa:            $12.12
   Change:       $0.00

The Kansas City Royals baseball team won their division this year. They will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their first opponent is the scrappy Houston Astros, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The inhabitants are looking forward to a great series, hopefully the Boys in Blue will get to go to the World Series again like they did last year. Everyone is talking about them and tuning in. One thing is for certain: the Royals seem easy to like, even if one is a fan of another team.

No matter how many times I have seen it in the course of my job, I still find it annoying that most people seem to think that tissue boxes with shiny colors or "art" on them are true interior decoration. They aren't, and never will be. The amount of time I waste in the course of a typical day hiding those boxes, so I can shoot a better picture, may not be huge on an individual basis, but it adds up. Every time I move one I think of French author Honoré de Balzac, who after a night of sex, allegedly lamented "There goes another novel!"

Did You Know? Collared lizards can run on their hind legs with a stride that reaches more than 3 times the length of their bodies.

Excerpt from the National Park Service's Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve webpage:
     Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Within a generation
     the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4% remains, mostly
     here in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve protects a nationally significant remnant of           
     the once vast tallgrass prairie and its cultural resources. Here the tallgrass prairie takes     
     its last stand.

A Typical Day of Carnage -
 Raccoons: 5
 Opossums: 1
 Birds (species unknown): 3
 Squirrels: 8?
 Deer: 1
 Mouse: 1
It was the mouse that really threw me. To date I had never seen one in all my rounds. I nearly trampled it on my way back to  the car.

I-70 gets it start back east, and not very auspiciously. It begins in a Park-And-Ride in Baltimore, Maryland. It runs 2,151 miles to the west, passing though St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver until it peters out in an interchange with I-15 just outside Cove Fort, Utah. The distance from Cove Fort to Kansas City is 1,106 miles. The distance from Kansas City to Baltimore is 1,060 miles. It is a new life in the center.

I am home now. It was a busy day, lots of photos to be shot, lots of pavement to be traversed. I was able to drive with the windows down all day. No A/C. The rush of air through the cabin of my small SUV provides a white noise that allows me to follow my Zen. I think a lot while driving. Sometimes I talk to myself. Other times, especially on long drives away from the urban clutter, I stop and listen to the insects in the grass.

If anyone is perplexed by the passages above, you should know they are a tribute of sorts, my offering to a literary form previously unknown to me. The form is called biji, and it is of Chinese origin dating back to 220 AD, surviving up until about 1912 AD. I came across it in a fascinating book published by McSweeney's, titled "Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed"*. I bought the book at a book store specializing in overstocks, trade-ins and other forms of second-hand volumes. Great buy, wonderful stuff. According to McSweeny's, biji can be translated as "notebook" and is characterized by "Musings, anecdotes, quotations, 'believe-it-or-not' fiction and social anthropology". They go on further to say that biji also can contain legends, scientific notes, and bits of local wisdom. Lists of interesting objects and travel narratives are also quite common. After reading the examples in the book (and being somewhat disturbed by the 'modern' take on it by Douglas Coupland) I was immediately smitten by the form and the idea. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time can probably see why this is so. I think it is because biji finally, after all these years, puts a name to the things in my head.

*Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed, as curated by Darren Franich and Graham Weatherly, 2009 by McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.

30 September 2015

Kickboxing Was Not The Sport of My Future

I am at home now. Ostensibly at peace, sitting by an open window with the sounds of the night drifting in on soothing whispers. Home for me being the mythical cottage by the ever-restless Mare Metaphoris of my own imagining. It was but two short weeks ago that I was on the shore of the very real Atlantic Ocean, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with my not-quite-so-Wee-anymore Lass. A fine day trip to that seaside town, with waves curling in under a sky of hazy blue. She was laughing. My heart was growing. Then the waves broke and carried me away.

I was squatting at the high edge of surf when the mirror broke. Staring out to sea, I had dipped two fingers of my right hand in the water, brought them to my lips for a taste of home. The salt and iron tang was a hammer shattering the glass of the illusion I had maintained until then: That I am for this contemporary world, there is a place for me here. That was the nutshell: for too long I had struggled with the notion that I can fit in, make my way in a culture and society with which I feel so out of sync.

It was no surprise, in hindsight, that my ocean side revelations happened so close to my impending half-century birthday, swiftly bearing down on me in roughly two months. Truly it is a source of wonderment and incredulity that I have made it this far, considering how much time I have frittered away on trying to figure out life in lieu of truly living it. A root cause of my simmering discontentment, awakened by the taste of seawater on my tongue.

For a few moments I teetered on the brink of a soured mood, flailing and trying to avoid falling into a human-shaped chasm of discontent. The day trip would have been ruined. The gravity of it tugged at my emotions. Familiar turf, it would have been, and its own cold comfort. A flash of sunlight coruscated off the waves, temporarily blinding me. In that second or so of non-vision, the old man in the back of my head spoke.
"You didn't realize until now you're Lloyd Dobler, that guy from the movie Say Anything. You liked him a lot so many years ago, but you didn't think you were him. You know what really bothers you now? You are Lloyd Dobler, and he is turning fifty."
Then he laughed, a big wave sprinted up the shingle, and my cargo shorts were soaked for a good three inches. My daughter squealed in glee as she ran up the beach fleeing the waves. She laughed, too. I snapped out of my funk. The tang of salt air filled my lungs, and I grinned. Maybe the old man was right. Even if he was, I am Lloyd but I am me, and we will make sense of the world even if it is not quite for me.

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."  

---Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in 1989's "Say Anything"