15 October 2017

The Loop

Funny old world it is, the ouroboros of my experience coiling around to swallow its tail. Unusually warm first day of fall and I'm heading home with a head full of memories. The second major phase of my life began in this town. Looks like the fourth major phase will start here too. Or is it the end of the third?

A little closer. I was in limbo. Is this now Hell? In the short time back I have driven many times past the church where I was married. The church is still there. The marriage collapsed long ago. Seeing the steeple puts a knot behind my breastbone. I swallow hard and push that memory back down into the cabinets in my head.

I keep driving. Cruising down some streets I used to know. A landscape of new daylight overlaid on old memories. Not much seems changed, with the exception of a massive superblock development that arose on the dilapidated bones of a shopping plaza that had seen better days long before I first laid eyes on it nearly three decades ago. Shiny new chain restaurants and some big box stores squatting on the land. An improvement one could say, if one were so inclined. I’m no fan of corporate soullessness, myself, but in this case it is better than the nothing of before.

It is better by the water. The rivers are different but still themselves. I can see the Chesapeake Bay most days, and a good walk serenaded by seabirds and wavelets is a privilege easy to enjoy. Maritime air is all around. Humidity is too. But I know the tides again. I hear my heart in the lapping of the waves. It is at ease with the water song and thrum of the ocean over the horizon.

The loop is closing. Its arc born in the slow-motion collapse of a life experiment out on the edge of the prairie. Seeds planted but could not hold purchase in a sea of grass. The arc burned its way up and out, finally sensing direction in the chaos, hope in the form of earlier sunrises in salt-tinged air. The path out resolved itself through a lens of tears and fortunate timing.

By such lights I found myself back in the town where I started my life after college. A hard landing brought the shell of me, with its withered heart and fragile bones, back closer in time and space to places the soul never forgot and people it never stopped loving. The prairie fire now just a smudge on the horizon pushed back by the wind of rebirth, with an ocean of truth and salt water stretching out in front of my fourth new life.

The tide flows through veins and heart. Currents of emotion borne on the waves I adore fill me with energy and push back the great gray walls that had threatened encirclement. The arc has bent towards itself. The ends are in view. The loop is closing before the eyes of my soul. Soon the circuit will be complete, and I will be electric in my erstwhile cottage by the sea.

08 October 2017

Colts

They run under the sun, chasing dreams of the beautiful game. An impossibly blue sky dusted with wisps of clouds sprays silver-white light over the antics on the field below. These girls carry with them the charming unawareness of their ability to slow down time. My daughter is among them. She tugs my old man heart hither and yon with each run she makes. It is she alone that may be able to stop time, not just slow it down.

There is no sitting for me while they play. I am too excited, too nervous. We are not watching Premier League, La Liga, or even Major League Soccer. We do not have to be. The kids are in the moment without thoughts of million dollar contracts or shoe endorsements. I for one am glad such grown-up concerns are nowhere near the playing field. The lack of polish is more than outweighed by their enthusiasm and concentration. Harried adults such as myself have much to learn from the scampering.

The first goal comes about from an astonishing web of cooperation. I bounce up and down in the bleachers. My daughter’s team has scored. They clap their hands and a few fists are pumped. This is the glory of soccer. Those shining moments when intention and skill come together producing a little magic, lighting up a world desperate for more such low-key miracles. By the end of the game, they will have sent four more shots into the back of the ol’ onion bag, surrendering only one.

This is what constitutes a great game, sometimes. But the goal count has little to do with racing of my heart and the contentment on my brow.

For a small slice of infinity I watched them run free, these spirits on a patch of green. Wildness tempered by team spirit was the order of the day. To witness such beauty is a pure tonic for the heart. The weary oldster that sometimes looks from behind my eyes has found some respite from the world outside, manifest in the quietly majestic youngsters enjoying the game.

Youngsters, I say. But the truth is, they are youngsters because Time is still kind to them. Adolescence is around the corner, young adulthood glimmering on the horizon. I will not speak to them, to my progeny, of such things. I will hug my daughter. She will know that I am proud of her.

What I cannot say, because the words are too big to get out of my mouth, is how grateful I am to my daughter and her friends for stopping time. How thankful this old man is for the gift of bearing witness to spirits running free, out on the range, beyond the reach of resigned endurance. For a few arc minutes of the sun, I was a colt too. It was glorious. It was real. It was life.

01 October 2017

100 Year Flood

Jaguar sits on the rocks above the man below in the arroyo. Its fur lifts and stands, sensing the cosmic drumming of the approaching storm. Electricity is in the air. A mineral wind gravid with ozone washes over the parched gravel and sand. Jaguar sniffs, a low rumble seeping from his chest. Gates were about to open.

The man removes his hat. From the shadow of the sweat-stained felt, red eyes in a sunbeaten face scan the sky with a cross between fear and hope.

He stands on quivering legs. He stares up at the darkening sky, unaware of the presence behind him. Faint lightning flashing quicksilver through cottony gray haze. The horizon below the clouds is a gauzy smear of rain.

Rain. The man could smell it. His parched throat contracted around the promise and memory of the blessed rain. Kaleidoscopic images spinning through a mind in danger of floating away, tethered to the earth only by a wiry, desiccated body. He recalled the flowers of his youth. Riots of red and white, indigo and yellow, all brought forth by the magic of a rain that had shied away from his earth for centuries.

The line of clouds rolled closer. The wind was picking up. Strands of graying hair swatted about, held briefly in place like spikes. Sweat salt and trail dust made an impromptu pomade the man could feel as he ran a trembling hand over his head. He wondered if he would be presentable when then rains fell and the flowers grew and hope beyond hope she would be there. He missed her.

Jaguar crouches low. The otherworld vibrations coursed through the rock into its haunches. Gold-green eyes, slitted against the fading sun, took in the gauzy lights flickering around the man. Its nostrils flared. It could smell the fear and the longing radiating from the man. There was something else, something deeper. A bolt of lighting touched down at the head of the arroyo. In the flash, jaguar knew. The man was a shaman, degraded and frail in his loss. 

The rain began to fall. Swirls of rock dust and sand kicked up by gusts of wind. The man stood still. He straddled a thin stream running over the bottom of the arroyo. Watching the water rise, he held no fear of flash floods. In the reverse, he welcomed the idea. A wall of water might be the thing he needed to return the ability to travel between worlds. Or at least feel.

Nature granted his wish. The rain was in sheets now, waterfalls from the sky. No arks in sight but a deluge of biblical proportions nonetheless. The stream rose with astonishing speed. The surface of the water became a living thing. The water rose past the man's ankles, his calves. He did not move. The sky was dusty black shot through with silver where the raindrops streaked down from heaven. He smiled. The water was at his waist. Up ahead, a roiling mass of water hurtled down the arroyo. He opened his arms and waited.

Jaguar crouched. It tensed to spring. The wall of water was bearing down fast on the man. The membrane between worlds was dissolving. Jaguar knew now it was the spirit the shaman for which the man mourned. The fur stood up on its back. An involuntary grimace wrinkled its snout. Before it a silver thread swayed in the wind, stretching from beast to man. It would jump. The water was near.

The man raised shaking arms. The water wall bore down on him. He sought nothing but release. His eyes rolled back in his head. A quick gesture to urge the water onward.

Jaguar tensed. The flood was nearly on top of the shaman. Teeth bared, growling to match the deep rumbling  of thunder that was shaking the earth, splitting the sky. Jaguar leapt.

The water wall slammed into the man. He felt himself thrown backward, tumbling head over heels in gritty liquid. A giant's hand pressed his chest forcing him down into the gravel on the arroyo bottom. He could not breathe. He did not care. Another surge of water lifted him up to slam him down again. In the split second between the blow and unconsciousness, the shaman felt something snap, like the breaking of a wire. In that instant, he thought he knew the surcease of pain. The world went black.

Days passed. Or perhaps minutes smeared out into hours by the slowing of time. Heat was all around. Red glow of sunlight seeping through eyes crusted with salt-sweat and sand. The shaman awoke a cell at a time. He felt the rocks digging into his back. It was not pain, so much as a reminder that he was still alive. His heart beat gently in a chest no longer bound by the strictures of loss and fear. All around him, the wind sighed and flowers brushed his cheeks. The bowl of the sky rang out with the peal of a circling hawk.

Perfume filled the shaman's nostrils. The aroma brought a smile to his ragged face. He breathed deep. Once. Twice. Memories come flooding in with odd sensation of being from the future. Without opening his eyes he ran his hands over his cheeks. They were rough with stubble.  He opened his eyes and sat up.

All around were wildflowers. Yellow, blue, red in a riot of rapid growth and bursting of energy from the flood waters. The shaman stared in awe. To be surrounded by such life was the stuff of ancient memories. His heart stirred. The sensation brought his fingertips to his chest as if to reassure himself that the beating was real. The hawk cried out again. It was time to stand.

He pushed himself up on trembling legs. Dizziness swept over him causing a sharp intake of breath. The sky was a dome of azure laced with silvery clouds. Their shadows brushed over the shaman. He felt the feathery touch as a series of ripples over his skin.

No longer in the arroyo, the shaman found himself facing a sea of flowers stretching out before him in a grand carpet before a line of cottonwood trees a short distance away. The flowers swayed in the breeze. A welcome, he thought. A welcome back to the world. It was at that moment that he noticed the tears in his shirt, laced over scratches on his chest.

He looked down. The scratches had the look of having come from the business end of claws. Large claws. The scratches were bleeding slightly but the edges were fresh and pink after the tumbling in the water. He brushed the scratches with raw fingertips. A jolt lanced through his body. He blinked rapidly in a light gone green and gold.

Rustle of petals. Cry of hawk. Motion from the trees caught his eye. Standing straighter while the sun warmed his stiff shoulders, he could see her there at the edge of the cottonwoods. His knees nearly buckled.

She stepped forward in a languid walk through the flowers. He began to move towards her on tottering legs. The flowers seemed to kneel in her presence. She neared him with arms at her side and palms open, as if to say "We are here. This is life."

Beside the shaman the flowers bowed under the weight of invisible treads, paw prints in the petrichorean earth. Two shadows stretched out before the man, limning themselves onto the legs of the woman. They stopped. She smiled. His chest heaved when she opened her arms while beckoning him forward. 

As he moved into her embrace the shadow on the grass disappeared like smoke, slowly dissolving into the shaman's own. The flower perfume thickened into the air, closing about them. The sun slid down the sky. His veins electric with life, she whispered secrets into the growls rumbling up from his soul while the Universe sprang to life around them.

24 September 2017

Punchout

Kerchunk. With that sound my belly dropped to my feet. A few years gone, just like that. A new hole in the identity of my life.

The clerk drops the hole punch on the scruffy laminate counter between us. It lands with a bang, making us both jump. Louder than seemed possible, overheard over the PA system announcements and background chatter of the crowded licensing service area. She apologizes, chuckling nervously as she arranges my paperwork. I assure her it is no big deal, happens sometimes, right?

What I don't say is that maybe now I don't mind the most recent chapter of my life going out with a bang. Much better than a whimper. Certainly a tenfold improvement on the chunking sound the punch made as it bullied its way through my old license.

She hands over to me a thin sheaf of paperwork. On top of the sheaf is the license. There is a hole, oval-shaped, near the top of the dull plastic card. The hole is off center. Fitting, it seems. Not that the hole in the license is of consequence. Not now. Not ever, unless I was dumb enough to use it again for any purpose where it would be scrutinized. So never. I am many things. Dumb is not one of them.

The clerk tells me in a voice unexpectedly cheerful for the DMV that I am all set. Everything proper, signed off, good to go. She points out the temporary license. My very own register receipt verifying my fitness to drive in my new state. I can expect the official validation of my existence to arrive in the mail in about ten business days. Wonderful. "How ever will I survive ten days of marginal personhood?" the snarky question asked in my head.

"Easy answer," says the shadow in the back of my head, "in the manner you survived months of marginality before pulling the reverse Oregon Trail maneuver that brought you here. Numb patience and the art of non-thinking."

No comfort to be found in that pronouncement. I step through the doorway of  out into the bright, hot, muggy day. The humidity makes me breathe harder its so thick. I walk slow back to the car. The old license is in my left hand. I flip it back and forth between my fingers, a clumsy card shark maneuver. The license seems heavier. I have no idea what I will do with it. Unusable, unnecessary, undesired. Descriptions not lost on my weary soul and battered ego.

Bruisingly hot air spills out of the car upon opening the door. A veritable pizza oven on wheels. I wait momentarily to let the hot rush subside. No hurry. No place to go that requires my presence. Not yet, anyway. Standing in the searing light I'm staring at the empty car. No one in it except a passenger seat full of memories. The rest hot and empty.

Empty. Null. Void.

I glance at the license again. The punchout is a sharp relief shadow against my palm. Lao Tzu whispers in my ear sweet nothings about nothing. 

"Moulding clay into a vessel, we find utility in its hollowness.

Sweat rolls down my face, stinging my eyes. Or so I tell myself. Maybe it is the pain in my heart causing the eyes to water.

"Cutting doors and windows for a house, we find the utility in its empty space."

My heart is a shell, but it exists. Like the clay vessel, it is hollow. As with that vessel, it is the void within that will ultimately grant fullness.

"Therefore the being of things is profitable, the non-being of things is serviceable."

Actinic light on a cerulean day illuminates the chunk of sky collapsing on my head. Words of a dead Chinese philosopher advise me to look deep within the emptiness of my heart to find a way back to life. 

License as talisman. The hole in this plastic locket a reminder to embrace the void within, and without. I get in the car and drive off to home, relief flooding my system. "It is useful. My heart is useful. It will be filled." The words are loud in the cabin of the car.

The license rests serene in my shirt pocket. My heart is serene inside my chest. Patience, and it will be filled.



Quotes in italics are from Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching, Commercial Press Edition, Shanghai, 1929.