21 September 2016

Super Heavy

Hurtling down the highway on my morning rounds and I see another one up ahead. The shape is familiar, a small yellow triangle emblazoned on the corrugated side of a shipping container. The words are well-known to me now. "SUPER HEAVY", it says, right there on the side of what the warning label declares to be a high-cube model. About 8,600 pounds of weathering steel clamped to the back of a semi and loaded with who knows what. This day, clouds and all, I feel it. Super heavy.

This sort of thing makes you think while spending so much time on the roads in the middle of the country. Shipping containers are all over the place out here, on trains and trucks. Danish, German, Korean, Chinese concerns pushing their charges overseas and through the woods and to Grandma's house we go. Curiosity got the better of me, because I had to know how the super heavy vibes got here, and landed on my head and filling my heart with ghosts.

Container ships. It is how it gets done. Insanely large vessels carrying thousands of twenty- and forty-foot long steel boxes full of stuff. Boxes that get loaded, offloaded, put on trucks and trains and sent forth into the world to scatter their contents hither and yon. Things that you didn't know you needed, perhaps, or things you didn't want but found you anyway. It hit me this morning that this is my grief, too. A load of super heavy, coming from a strange place far away.

Amongst my vehicular ruminations in the soggy heat of a tenacious summer I could not also help but wonder just what it is that powers these huge ships that bring us stuff from all points on earth. A little research turned up that most of these vessels burn something called "bunker fuel", which turns out to be sort of the lowest of the low amongst refined petroleum products. It is thick, black-brown sludge leftover after all the other easier to use and more valuable fractions have been extracted from the crude. 

Bunker fuel is so thick you can walk on on it when it is cold. Cheap and easy to get, it burns like the outer rim of hell and creates a lot of pollution generating all sorts of nasty things when it goes up in flames. But it is what drives the fleet. It makes it possible to move tonnage, even if we don't want or need the weight.

Another day, another road trip, and when I spied another yellow triangle the pieces of all this began falling into place. I know why the clouds seem so low, the air too hot, the weight too much to carry. All that semi-useless knowledge and the thick, black well of my grief congealing into a metaphor so bitter I had to laugh as I wiped my eyes.

I've seen this ship before, this behemoth of sadness and grief barreling out of the mist to run me over. Not once, not twice, but three times has the darkness punched me in the heart. A person can't watch three babies dies in his life and feel like he is a typical passenger on the cruise we hope to call life. No one can.

But I know what this is. Having sailed my ship right into a storm only to be fished out of the sea and carried away by a hulking black steel mass known as the MV Grief, I am a container lashed to the deck. The engines thrum and moan, burning the bunker fuel of sadness at a rate that threatens to drain the core of the world. The joke is on us, that this ship burns the same stuff packed into the container that I am. A person-shaped container full of the black-brown sticky spew of hell that wrapped itself around my heart faster than I could scrape it off.

I had to laugh, I said. The images burning in my head were too terrible for any other reaction. I have a secret that the captain of the Grief does not know: I can carry more than his ship can ever dream of. There is no vessel that can carry what I have had to carry. I have proof. I am alive. I burn the bunker fuel in my heart and know that memories of the children and grandchild that I held are cargo that far outweighs the grief of their loss. I am super heavy, but I am not lost at sea.

31 August 2016

36 Days in Dreamtime

36 days in dreamtime and the awakening occurs here. Cold, dim, familiar. The cry of seabirds and the trumpeting of seals greets the rising of the sun and myself, such as it is.  I know this place. The stones of it dig through the fabric of my coat, into my back. I never wanted to see it again. 

Memory fades a little as I sit upright. I was dreaming, I thought. But maybe not. No, I wasn't dreaming it all. She was here, she was with us for 36 days in dreamtime. Now she is gone, and I am up here on the ridgeline overlooking a lonely island out in far south of the Atlantic where it is cold and gray but the birds and the seals are curious.

At least, that is what it feels like. Soul on ice. Numbness of the heart and a weariness that reaches deep into the bones. Hard not to feel like that when you granddaughter dies before she got to make a full orbit around the sun. I have company, though, which means the long journey back to the mainland and the sun will not be as hard as it could be.

Not that difficulty matters. I have a thicker skin now. Tougher hide around the beaten stone that is my heart. Hard work is the order of the day, hope I am up to it. This is one of the hardest things I have ever written because I stared at the blank page for three weeks, because the words would not come.

Maybe they still have not shown their faces. I do not know yet. But I had to start somewhere, and the familiar territory of my past experience with loss beckoned. The journey back starts now. It starts with a deep breath and memories. My soul pulls its coat tighter, and starts back down the mountain to the sea. I have 36 days in dreamtime to keep me going.

29 July 2016

Electric Potsherds, or Fragments of a Mind

This is a story about a...no. No, it isn't. A story has characters and a plot. What do these fragments represent? Characters, surely. But plot? Perhaps about as much plot as plastic shopping bags swirling around in a dust devil. This is what happens when ideas come without focus. 

It is a wonder to me how the human race, and in specific the human that is me, manages to survive these days. I have written of this before, many moons ago. Existing in a flurry of information, data, numbers, feeds, stats. How do we keep our eyes on the road when the road is overlaid with avatars and sigils that have no bearing on the task at hand? I ask myself this on a daily basis and give thanks that I have driven many miles without hitting anything or anyone.

Kola Superdeep: no, it is not some weird Japanese soft drink. It is a borehole completed by Russian scientists after beginning drilling in 1970, ultimately reaching a depth below the surface of the Earth of 40,230 feet. That is a deep hole, folks. It is called Kola because the Soviets established the drill head on the Kola Peninsula. Some facts:

Latitude and longitude coordinates:  69°23′46.39″N 30°36′31.20″E
Years drilled: 1971 to 1989
Year abandoned: 2006
Depth reached: 40,230 feet (12,262 meters)
Temperature at bottom: 356 °F
Why they did it: Because why not?

He was imprisoned for the crime of being normal, without formal charges or a lawyer. A rented mule. They beat him like a rented mule. He bore the stripes on his back for decades until one day the scars turned him inside out. It was then that he saw there had been a hole in the bars the entire time of his incarceration. His blood is on the steel to this day.

The experiment is not going as hoped. En masse the Others are expressing doubts about Subject's humanity. Trending data suggests that the mask is faulty, or that the laboratory-applied veneer of civilization is sloughing off. If such deterioration does not reverse itself, our attempts at integration will be exposed. This represents a potential setback of years. 

An emergency meeting of the Human Reorganization Committee has been called. We cannot risk the loss of decades of painstaking work.

"We all come from divorce!" he says. "This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can't put it ALL back together again. What you can do, is the only thing you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not ALL things."

-Wendell Berry, in The Seer

I saw a murmuration of starlings against the sunrise on the morning I sent her home. They fluttered and swirled, living pennant in the hands of a master gymnast. It is not often that the universe stirs the spiritual in the cold stone of my heart, but that morning was different. My regret, beyond the usual, was that it was a machine to which I entrusted the star of my soul and not those starlings. I have no doubt the birds would have cared well for her. The machine I grudgingly trust, a melancholy but necessary trust.

Wonderful they were, those plump sparrows frolicking in the fountain below the balcony of the inn. How alive they must have been to leap headlong into chilly water on such a crisp fall morning! A New Mexican cerulean sky and argentine light on the Sangre De Cristo implored us to do the same. Briefly a sparrow fluttered in my heart, warmed by sips of tea.

According to a number of sources, there are an estimated 110 million anti-personnel land mines left in the ground around the world. 110 million. That is roughly one mine for every 52 people on Earth. In more colorful parlance, that is a shit-ton of land mines.

It is a safe bet that none of those mines is hidden in American soil.  Think about that the next time you go digging in your yard to plant some flowers or vegetables. Sustenance without fear of getting your legs blown off.

Little breathy gulps as the child feeds in your arms. The scent is in the sweat, the taste of it is dark and burnt sweet in the back of your throat. Do not bother coughing, convulsive spasms will not clear it. Not that it should. The one true remedy is to drink deep of this bright matter. Swallow that, earthlings, it is the proof of life. Gazing deep into those eyes of indigo and coal it will be inescapable from you that the child and yourself are made of stardust and rose petals.

16 April 2016

Spring Madness: Irrational Angers and Other Curiosities

Dear wannabe triathlete/sniper/adrenaline junkie/gun whore/whatever: Changing the last letter of your plural business name from an 'S' to a 'Z' does not increase its hipness. All it does is prove a lack of imagination on your part and induce a burning desire to deface that stupid sticker on the back window of your tired-ass SUV. 

P.S.: Pry open your wallet and shell out for the services of a pro graphic designer, you hack.

...We should spray you with some mace. Seriously, asshole, with the too big, cheap mirrored sunglasses on your head, back the hell off my bumper. You know how I can tell your sunglasses are cheap? Because you are TOO GODDAMN CLOSE to my rear bumper. Are you stoned or just stupid?

There is no dearth of shabby stores peddling alcohol and tobacco here in many areas in which I have to drive while shaking my own money tree. "We may not have good roads or decent schools, but by God we claim lung cancer and cirrhosis as our birthright!" I imagine the hawkers of business licenses around here to be saying. There are too many to name, but today for some reason the one that caught my eye and crystallized my disgruntlement was a store named (simply) "CHEAP SMOKES AND LIQUOR". I realized that it was actually one outlet in a small, local chain of outlets selling (you guessed it) cheap smokes and liquor. My god, man, have they no pride? Can no one do better?

Driving around here can be a distressing experience, what with all the people trying so hard to be polite and thoughtful while driving slower than the speed limit and playing endless games of "After you!" "No, after you!" "No, really you go ahead" "Okay, I'll stop in the middle of this busy road to let your ONE car turn left across traffic from a side road during rush hour with bumper to bumper traffic piling up behind me because I don't want to be rude..."OHFORFUCKS'SAKEEXERCISESOMECOMMONSENSE.YOURNEEDTOBEPERCEIVEDASNICEANDPOLITEISSERIOUSLYFUCKINGUPTRAFFICFOREVERYONEELSETRYINGTOGETSOMEWHEREYOUMORON!"

I arrive home, pull in the driveway, and kill the engine. Fatigue washes over me and I could fall asleep on the steering wheel. But there is work to be done, pipers to be paid, and no one will do it for me. I slouch out of the car and gather my things. The sunlight filtering through the trees across the street feels good. Some of the roads I drive suck the life out of me, but the most important thing (I whisper to myself) is that I always find the road that brings me back to home. I am home.