28 February 2020

The Emperors' New Sandwich

The crowd goes wild over a pop queen movie star getting her costume jacket back from some dude who bought it an auction. Isn’t he a sweet man? Yeah, it was for a good cause, raising money for a cancer charity. That’s nice. No offense to her but why the need for headlines? Can’t do something nice without a shot of celebrity attention? Something is messed up, willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vanity. Let’s hope they won’t scream too loud when asked to put something fair towards the common good. Ah, who are we kidding, they will howl like someone stole their SUV.

Turn up the volume on whatever is crammed into our ears. Irrigate the nostrils with mist reeking of donut glaze or cotton candy. Anything to drown out the noise and reek that are the side effects of wrecking the planet. Distraction for the senses as parts of the world literally go up in smoke, while the so-called leaders take vacations or go golfing on the backs of working people who are killing themselves to survive. Breathe in, all you mad kings, you soulless bastards, and stop using precious oxygen attacking youngsters who want a planet on which we can live. But what’s that you say? Bitches already gave you yo money? So they can step off, to die in wildfires or hurricanes while you get fat in your bunkers? Yeah, no surprise there.

Breathe in the smoke. Shelter in place under the radiant parasol of the night sky. Marvel at days brighter and hotter than they have ever been. Sirens? What sirens? The rulers of 330 million separate empires plug their ears against the din. Pupils dilated by legal speed, twitching eyes struggling to focus on the latest commercials. Corporate shills hawking the promise of fast-food nirvana. Press lever, receive drug. Repeat, while the goddamn palaces burn down around their ears. The emperors chew loudly to drown out the voices of the abused, the oppressed, the melanin-rich but power-poor. Chicken sandwiches, man. Fuck you if you get in the way of their chicken sandwiches. Courtiers shrug when someone dies fighting over goddamned sandwiches. The emperors continue to gorge on Death, golden brown and delicious.

28 January 2020

You Cannot Evade the Knife

Never reach into foam and water through which you cannot see. Basic kitchen procedure. Familiarity begets imprudence disguised as confidence. The hands think they know what they are doing. They reach, swirling the water. Erstwhile Moses parts the sea of bubbles. Soft light over the sink limning the long blade in a nacreous glow. The left hand grabs the haft, the right a scrub brush. No offerings are made to the gods of good luck. A distracted mind is heedless. The blade turns. Swift as a viper, it lodges itself in a hapless fingertip. Kitchen air turns blue with invective in the midst of a desperate grab for a paper towel. A move to swathe the finger is put on pause by the sight of blood, bright spatters against the dull gray metal. Crimson on stainless steel is a morbid beauty, spots dotting the bowl like the bright eyes of tarantulas. The heart slows while wrapping the finger in gauze. Regret brings a newfound commitment to carefulness.

Caution is a blanket that keeps us warm. It is heavy, warm, and comforting. Such a blanket is also an imperfect armor against the knife. No amount of caution exempts us from the surprise phone call that shatters the mundanity of chores at the end of the day. A loved one has died, says the terse voice on the line. No warning, no indication, no clues this would happen. The blade finds the chink. Hot steel between the ribs and a choked shout. The pain sears. Every nerve in the body feels the edge drag as it parts the flesh. On the far side of agony, the mind boggles at the depth to which this knife can sink. The soul has not yet been quantified, but surely the blade cannot match its infinite depth. The truth is that the hilt eventually meets the torso. It is of cold comfort to survive long enough to feel it sink no further.

The razor edge evisceration of an ordinary day can be swift and savage. It is simple like nuclear fission to be shattered by trust become dust. Home from work, in a fog of fatigue, the mind cannot process unfamiliar shoes in the foyer. An open door reveals the truth. Eyes do not lie. Someone you thought you knew lies entwined with a stranger. Breathing now becomes a luxury as the blade moves up and into the heart.

The knife can make your greatest fear come true by separating you from that which you hold dearest. At the moment of cleaving this fact manifests like diamonds, clear and true. It is knowledge truly gained the hard way. It may be a slow build up to swift, blinding horror. Watching a child die is to have the knife pierce the breastbone up to the hilt, poison coursing along the blade to announce its presence with agony. To see it happen to a second child is to experience death by proxy. The body, the mind, both consumed by volcanic pain while holding the knowledge the child you love is insensible to it. Insensible to everything. Mercifully, perhaps. Machine noises fade into silence as the doctors and nurses turn off the equipment. Screens go dark. The knife remains with its point between the shoulder blades. The hilt is cold against the chest. In the coming darkness, one can contemplate kinship with butterflies pinned against cork under tired fluorescent lights.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger” is a great sound bite but a feeble palliative with blood welling up in the cut, bright as roses. Fear grows from the soil of memory, it is broken terrain watered by blood and pain. Fear latches tight the door to life, keeping us out of the kitchen. There is no shame in wanting to keep the door shut, but survival has its own imperative. Obeisance to it makes life possible. The kitchen cannot be ignored. It is a source of critical energy even when the air is thick with fear. This is the paradox that must be overcome.

The knife will cut you. This is a fact of existence. Now, later, somewhere on the continuum, it will happen. Believing that the knife can forever be evaded is dangerous self-deception, and serves to amplify the pain when the blade finally finds purchase in the flesh. Self-deception is understandable. No one willingly wants to experience pain that threatens life. But surviving pain sometimes requires picking up the knife to increase our chances to live long enough to remain alive because we know something. This is deep knowledge, and it is useful. Embrace it. You cannot evade the knife, but with knowledge you can master it, and resume your rightful place in the kitchen.

31 December 2019

Silence and the Sea

Year-end thoughts like hesitant lemmings on a cliff, jostling and murmuring as they decide which will be the first off the edge. The waters of the old year have ebbed. The waters of the new are surging up onto the rocks. Peace is ephemeral. Roar and hiss are constant. The desk top is slowly revealed as the clutter is cleared. Here in this room, this house, the walls  are painted with the lilac-blue of winter sundown. A shaggy terrier paces in another room. His nails click the hardwood. A cat, with colors suggestive of a creamsicle, perches on the windowsill peering into the gloaming with eyes of green and gold. I ask it what it thinks of New Years' Eve. It stares at me with tail a-twitch. There is no answer.

This all happens as I sip tea from a brand new porcelain mug. It is a gift. Creamy white surface adorned with four figures of cats rendered in deep cobalt. It is a small wonder, this mug. It combines three things of which I am quite fond: cats, tea, and the color blue. It is a calming object. Warmth. Smooth porcelain. Shaded color into which I sometimes yearn to dive. The mug and the person from whom I received it have kept me back from the edge of the cliff as I face down myriad regrets and anxieties in the run-up to midnight. It is cause for thanks.

If pride of place belonged strictly to the loudest of the voices in my head, this page would be filled with a red-hot rant of personal truths and angry upbraids of the universe, for allowing things to decay and for bad things to happen to far too many who did not deserve it. Volume too often means weight. Weight too often is mistaken for rightness. Rightness sometimes hides to escape the shouting.

I consider the voices. Tea slips down the throat. Warmth radiates from my core, on a tide of pleasant bitterness accompanied by the faint floral notes of roses and jasmine. The tea has stayed my hand. It has muzzled the loudest cries for attention. In that silence it is possible to hear the soft ones trying to capture my attention. Loudness is not king. Anger and bitterness are no true foundations upon which to continue building a house. Take comfort in ones' persistence, the pride of surviving the storms. Most importantly, in the undiscovered ocean of the coming year, do not forget to love.

30 November 2019

In Memory of the Lad Charlie B.

The tree isn’t much to look at. Spindly, bare, pushing up from mud at the bottom of a swale. Spindly due to its location. Bare due to an exhausting combination of highway wind and oncoming autumn. These are unavoidable facts of existence.

Humor resides in this tree. After all, who willingly decides to sink its roots to grow up bracketed by galvanized guard rails, in the middle of a nondescript median? That is a black sense of humor or bad luck for the seeds, depending on the lens that receives the image.

Admire the tenacity of the leaves as the cars rush by, flailing in the watery light of a dying sun. The leaves work for it. They hang on. Soon they will probably fall. That is life.