28 December 2009

Wet Shoe Wisdom

The weather finally agreed to let us out
so we hied ourselves to the swinging bridge
A favorite place of ours, crossing the river
Which was now swollen, high and fast

Rain, rain and meltwater cascading downhill
spurting joyously from the rocks to anoint
our pathways as we skipped (yes, skipped)
across the road and onto the planks

In our elated rush our boots were left behind
sneakers it was for us, but not to worry
There was surprisingly little mud and we grinned
As the slush oozed from beneath our feet

It was on the trail to the tunnel under the tracks
that I began to wince and gasp at her exuberance
She was running, running on the small bergs of ice
Spining the pavement like a subterranean dinosaur

The adult in me kept calling warnings, go slow, be careful
Visions of a stumble into a heart-stopping arc to the ground
I want her blood to remain in her veins, my heart in chest
But she laughs that silver bell laugh and says "Dad-dee...!"

The tunnel under the tracks, stone settling, disgorging stream
As we turn down the trail, she chirps, a happy little bird
"I wanna go through! Careful, daddy, its wet, and drippy!"
Again my heart twitches as my grown up cautions again

She navigates the tunnel, over the swollen stream on the end
That megawatt smile as she declares she is a big girl
and has no need of my help, "I can do it!", and she refuses my hand
I sigh, and send up a weary small prayer to keep her standing

It was the third trip through the tunnel, that enlightenment came
She took the path I hoped and warned that she wouldn't
But she is my progeny, after all, and hard skulls sometimes need
Hard lessons to teach; my cautions then for the sake of form

The rock I said not to take, across the stream bed I warned against
She windmilled and flailed, I gasped, knew the lesson at hand
This hard-headed angel says "I can do it!" and she does it:
Her left foot landing square in a cold pool up over her ankle

She squeals and hops, frantic and stumbling, and I bite my tongue
Hurrying up behind to pick her up from the slick rock bed
"I'm sorry, daddy, I'm sorry" the mantra of the moment
catches me off guard and struggling not to laugh 

My angel stands up and brushes her palms together, exhaling relief,
Those rose window eyes look up at me, serious as a saint
Adult heart contracts in advance of the deluge of tears anticipated,
The mouth of a cherub breaks into a crooked smile, she says,

"Daddy, my foot is wet. And cold."

This heavenly creature and I tilt our heads back and laugh, echoes
from the mossy brick melds into the chuckling of the stream
She turns, skipping away over wet stone as if nothing had happened
While I ponder the wisdom of a mind learning everything afresh.


27 December 2009

On Not Being A Wolf

I have lived among the wolves, not as a wolf, but in their midst. At times, especially when I was a younger man, I thought myself a wolf. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the pleasure of the hunt, the communal howl at the moon.

But I was never a wolf, myself. My heart was always uneasy at the prospect of the kill.

As I grew older and perhaps wiser, and definitely slower the look in the eyes of my fellow lupine brothers turned from one of brotherhood to one of hunger. I was too absorbed in the maintenance of life to notice. One day, I turned my head to see the pack had disappeared from behind me...only to be seized violently by the throat before I could turn my head to the front.

I fought hard, fought with desperate energy born of sudden fear. I fought dirty. I fought ugly.

I became the animal I pretended I never was, all for the sake of survival. I became sick at the realization of the things I would do...to live.

Some have labeled me overly sensitive, some have mistaken my reluctance to engage for weakness. This I cannot control. I will not let that dictate my life choices, and the error will lie with them.

I run from the wolves not from fear for my life; I know I can survive contact with the pack, I have done so on many occasions.

No, I run from the wolves because I no longer want to be in the pack. I no longer desire to be the animal they need me to be. I respect the wolves for what they are...and in turn, I expect them to return the favor. In the meantime, I run, howling for myself and no others...

24 December 2009


For me, quite possibly the loneliest sound in the world...is the hum of the refrigerator...heard while standing at the counter, putting a glass in the sink...with the radio off...

...and realizing there is no one there to hear it with you.

23 December 2009

On Account of Falling Snow

There is a man inside a room in the forest
He sits alone on the chair his father left him
In the dark, in the dark, in the dark with the radio on 

It wasn’t a forest, although the tops of trees could be seen over the rooftops, nacreous white against a dirty platinum sky. Alone, yes, he was. Quite alone, the man muttered as he stared out the window. He looked around sheepishly, marveling at his own skittishness in the face of solitude. There was no one there to mock or embarrass him for his foolish behavior.

Or to comfort him in his private agonies of unfulfilled and distant love.

The radio was his only companion, and he resented it for its chatter and himself for his inability to turn it off. To turn it off would be to admit defeat. The snow will have won, he felt, and losing he abhorred.

The voice crackles when it says that God will save you
He will take you from the lonely life you're living
If you give, if you give, if you give up on what you want

He tried to focus on the branches waving about in the snow-pocked fabric of the air. Leafless, etched in gray-black against the background, they made him shiver in their resemblance to the fingers of the drowned, or black seaweed. He never liked seaweed. The gelatinous strands that had wrapped around his ankles while swimming in the ocean, as a boy, had permanently unsettled him. He turned his attention to the birds he could just barely see flitting amongst the branches. At one time in his life, he considered becoming a hunter of birds. Today, he thought he would take pictures of them, instead.

The man stands and pours himself another bourbon
He stops and watches the birds through the winter windows
And the light, and the light from the morning dew

What is the difference, he asked the glass panes, between a camera and a gun? “Point and shoot”, but one takes images, the other takes life. His lips curled slightly in a wry imitation of a smile. No, maybe they both take lives, one by freezing it in time, the other by destroying it in space. But with a camera, you get plenty of second chances.

He smiled to finally see the light. His eyes must take many pictures, if love came near.

It’s through winter windows that ends become beginnings…

Passages in italics are lyrics used without permission, from "Winter Windows" by Sea Wolf, a.k.a. Alex Brown Church. A master class in lyrics, indeed.

22 December 2009


Hands just smaller than a deck of cards, and they could break stone, move mountains and uncover love where only ice used to dwell. She wiggles her fingers to melt glaciers. A curious sensation radiates from just under my breastbone, a blood-warm bow shock racing ahead of the calving bergs of my heart.

Her hands, those soft chisels, are running through the sand in front of us. She is giggling. The sound makes me laugh and swoon simultaneously. So absorbed in the task of finding sand dollars and crab shells, the artist is oblivious to the meltwater gathering in the corners of my eyes. Those hands. Beauty created and creator, like that Escher drawing of two hands opposed, each drawing the other.

I muse to myself: is she drawing my heart, filling the void I had carried so long like a geode that had never been opened? Or was she chiseling away the gray-white stone around it, long buried under calciferous strata of ossified love and life? Hope flares up, I wonder if the stone of my heart still carried a molten core. The warm waves pulse and multiply. She looks up at me and smiles.

Plate shift. The fault slips, the halves of my heart groan and scrape with the release of tectonic energy. The warmth in my chest threatens to overwhelm me. I laugh nervously fearing that if I do open my mouth, lava will pour forth rather than the words I really want to speak. I peer into pale blue diamond eyes as the sculptress holds up her treasure, a sand dollar worn smooth by the affections of countless eager children.

"Daddy, I found a shell!" Enthusiasm beams from an angel face that quickly turns its attentions back to the touch and explore display to find more shells. "Yes, you did, sweet pea!" I reply, watching those alabaster hands sift through the sand.

The hammer rises, an iron-grey blur landing with the sound of a bell on the head of the chisel. The stone splits wide, jagged halves falling away. The sculptress laughs, all soft chimes and sugar. Her hands cradle my new-born heart, gently brushing off the sand as she holds it up to the light.

I wipe the liquid prisms from my eyes, love warming in the hands of the sculptress.

21 December 2009

Short Day, Long Dread

The solstice crumbled the sky into fine white powder, and with that came the hot-blooded ones in search of sustenance. Alone in the cabin, Henry David felt his bowels turn to ice water and wondered if it was wolves or mountain lions come to get him.

He sniffed halfheartedly to hold back the slow tide of mucus seeping from his nostrils. He was tired, too tired to lift his left hand and wipe with the filthy rag clutched in blue fingers. His right hand lay in his lap. It was curled around the worn leather-encased tang of a enormous hunting knife. Henry David felt the knife was becoming a part of his body, living flesh melding with preserved skin and oiled metal. He was tremendously afraid to let go of the knife. It was the only weapon remaining.

Snow sandpapered against the log walls, little raspy demons daring Henry to come outside and play in the frozen waste they called home. Henry ignored them, as he had been doing since sunrise. He sat very still on the soot stained stump of a birch tree, the body of which had been burned on the rough stone pile passing as a fireplace at the rear of the cabin. Opposite the fireplace was a small door of rough hewn planks held in place by a timber and a precious few bits of ironwork. Henry smiled slightly as he recalled bartering some fox pelts for those black iron bolts, down in the small town at the head of the valley. Warmth, light and noise in abundance if one cared to put up with people. Which Henry David didn't, although his current predicament was perhaps swaying his opinion.

Henry swallowed hard as another loud rasp scraped along the planks of the door. There was a chuffing noise, and little puffs of snow like powdered sugar curled through the gaps about halfway up. The puffs ceased, and there was silence but for the sibilance of the wind. They were out there, he was sure of it now. He began to regret frying up the last of his bacon. He thought maybe the smell of it had caught their attention.

Or maybe, Henry sighed, it is me they smell. His gaze drifted torpidly to the rifle leaning against the wall beside the door. The barrel shone with the dull radiance of a blue pearl in the somnolent light filtering through the oilskin windowpane. Henry chuckled ruefully, thinking the gun was now no better than a walking stick. The last of the cartridges had been used up three days and a lifetime of storms ago. No longer was there the luxury of getting to town when he felt like it. The murderous snow and the four-legged hungers pacing around his cabin had seen to that.

Henry David swallowed another lump of fear, cold grease inching its way to his belly. If he didn't leave soon, try to make town, he would die here in the dank, dirty cold of the cabin. He couldn't leave, though, not with them out there.

Henry David sat still as a sphinx for twenty heartbeats, thirty, then forty. A rank odor was wafting through the door, the scent of filthy fur and hungry desperation. The planks bulged in slightly, the scratching of claws testing the frozen wood.

He gulped, tightening his grip on the knife. Forget the rifle, he muttered, forget all that, this here knife's all I got. So be it. There's only one way out of this mess.

Henry stood up and shuffled quietly to the door. The hungers on the other side grew quiet. Henry pictured their ears pricking up as they strained to hear him. I don't want to die like this, cold and alone, he said to himself as he silently unlatched the door, Time to go.

He took three steps back and raised the knife, still and calm, as the door swung slowly open.

15 December 2009

End Result of Drinking Radioactive Beer

Seen in the window of a gift "emporium" at the local Cathedral of Excess Consumerism*:

I suppose the only way it could be any better would be if it was "Stripper-Pole Mounted". In case you had no idea where to use this, I like the helpful suggestions of "DORM ROOMS" and "FRAT PARTIES" and "RIVER TRIPS". Oh, and "CAMP SITES"...because the only thing better than one drunk-ass idiot rolling down the hill towards the latrines is SIX drunk-ass idiots rolling down the hill towards the latrines. 

Remember folks, it holds a twelve-pack, so buy in bulk.

*The local mall, in prime holiday shopping time. My little daughter was with me at the time. She's really smart and very observant. Fortunately she didn't see it. No way in hell I'd have been able to explain that to her. Wrong, so wrong...

10 December 2009

My Barbaric Yawp

Light the way, ye writers, 
battle the grey imps of mundanity
whilst traveling on wheels of your creation
Raise high the hammer and shout:"I am the Wordsmith!"

Stoke your fires, heat your steel, ye troubled souls
Craft cupric lanterns, bronzed blades and arrowheads
Even horseshoes and chariot rims if need be,
Whatever carries your heart about the Universe

Bend the (s)words bright and true,
red-hot sigils of Vulcan hammered hard
to become beacons of Truth and Beauty
(of which Art is their intersection)

Forge dream-gates, the bookends of Janus
unlocked that your heart may unfold
and opening wide that your horses
leap free and loose upon the wor(l)d!

Argentine clang! clang! clang! of runic
hammers beating time of your quickening hearts
and voices ringing out from the page,
Challenging the sooty din of an indifferent world

Take the pen in hand, smooth your page,
ye who would craft their own Logos!
Release the hounds from within your heads,
go forth and pound the anvils of your keyboards!

05 December 2009


Sitting alone in my living room, listening to the white noise of my cooling mind, I am seized by the notion that my skull may be filled with hydrogen. Hydrogen, in certain energy levels, is surprisingly noisy.

Back in the 1930's and '40's, a bunch of brainiacs discovered that our galaxy was making noise. In essence, the Milky Way has a radio frequency, a background hiss, that varies on a regular cycle but is always there. Astronomers refer to it as the "hydrogen line", to be found at 1420.4 megahertz on the cosmic radio dial. With the right equipment, you can tune into it. Which, it also occurred to me, is the same way with God. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have the right equipment. If I do I am just not seeing it.

The hiss of the Universe fills my brain and I close my eyes to focus more on hearing. The hiss, its always there, I know it. Most days it gets drowned out by the din and clatter of modern life. I sometimes think myself fortunate, that I don't have to listen to the background hiss of my mind. Tonight, I am reminded that I think that because it means I am being distracted from myself.

Sitting alone on the couch, with only the random scraping of buttons in the dryer to keep me company, the hiss comes back loud and clear. It reminds me of two things: loneliness and God. Might they be one and the same? Or is it really that God is just a magnificent solitude, free of the demands of body and mind?

Or is it, as I fear, a sign of an overwhelming emptiness within? This is why I read so much, think so much, rest not nearly enough. Sitting still and quiet allows too much of the Void to creep in and threatens to swallow me up. It reminds me that I am far, too far from nearly all of the people whom I truly love.

The background hiss of the galaxy: God whispering in my ear of too much time and distance.

I read once that a definition of Hell is to be eternally separated from God. I would expand on it in another way. Many have posited that "God is Love", and if this is true then another working definition of Hell is to be eternally separated from Love. This is undeniably tragic.

Another sip of ginger tea, I swish it around in my mouth on the way to swallowing. The bubbly squeaking of liquid around my teeth and gums drowns out the hiss, ever so briefly, but then it is on its way to my stomach, hopefully to be calmed, just as when mom would administer ginger ale to me when I fell ill in childhood.

Closing my eyes, the hydrogen line appears in my head, a bright silver arc stretched across the Milky Way of my brain. One endpoint caresses my heart, the other...the other disappears into the inky black of an interstellar night. The parallels with the arc of my heart are too strong to ignore, and I shiver. I may not be in Hell, but I am close enough to the walls to feel its presence.

There may be tremendous distance between my heart and God/Love, but I don't want to be eternally separated from either. Out there, in the hiss of my mind, I can sense the faint calls of both. The task left to me, then, is to open my heart and start walking.

The journey, my friends, must begin.

03 December 2009

Moons of Jupiter, So Close...

It was G-maw that made me want to be an astronaut. Not a "Going to the moon" type astronaut, mind you, I mean a full on balls-to-the-wall (or balls-to-the-bulkhead) strapped to God's own bottle rocket, out past the orbit of the Earth around the Sun kind of astronaut. I wanted to fly to Jupiter and poke it in the Great Red Spot. All because G-maw had a telescope...

I have a telescope myself. A new one, it was a gift. I asked for it because I used to have one when I was a younger Gumbo, but that one didn't survive my jaunt to college and subsequent moves from the nest to apartments to a house. My old one was a refractor, my new one is a reflector. Appropriate, because mainly that what it does and makes me do: reflect.

Which I do. A lot. It was about two weeks ago that I came home from work under a clear sky the color of bruises and wine, to notice a big, bright dot hanging out on the southerly side. I watched it as I sidled up the sidewalk to my back door. It didn't blink and neither did I. I recalled that it must be Jupiter, and that unlocked a flood of memories. I stood on the patio, hand on the doorknob, for a good ten minutes watching that golden speck. All the while images cascaded in sheets across my mind: National Geographic, G-maw and me, freezing nights outside all mixed up with blinking lights, dim lit rooms at night and the faint beep of machines keeping my hearts alive while I frantically scribbled in a notebook.

The Voyager probes flew past Jupiter in 1979, and the pictures they sent back were mental manna to an astronomy geek like me. G-maw had a subscription to National Geographic, which had some awesome spreads of Jupiter and a few of the moons. I remember seeing the Great Red Spot (and feeling awe) and volcanoes on Io (and being freaked out: sulfur dioxide "lava"!) and thinking Man, it would be awesome to go there. I had this fantasy of flying in a space capsule, me the Heroic Traveler, and planting a flag on Io under the glare of the Red Spot. I suppose the far-away alienness of the place seemed perfect for the shy loner that I was: better with things than with people. The cold, the dark and the distance didn't bother me. It only made me want to go there even more, to see awesome beauty and wondrous things never before touched by man, maybe only by the hands of God.

I shook my head and went inside. The telescope is just inside the door. I kept glancing at as I ate dinner, and decided to take it outside and try to see the moons of Jupiter. It was while trying to focus on the little bright dot, that the mystery crept in again. I looked up to see with my eyes and not the lens, and found myself on the frozen face of Io, staring into the glare of the angry red spot while tears streamed down my face. Epithets and insults rang deafeningly inside suit helmet as I violently waved my arms and screamed that this wasn't fair and no, you can't do this, no, no, no you can't bring me this far and show me so much great beauty and tell me its mineminemine only to take it away in a violent storm of desperate nights. NONONO it can't be not after all the blood and the tears and the needles and machines, constantly pricked in the heels and tubes shoved down their throats with diapers the size of a cocktail napkin and you even let me touch them, caress their fragile skin crinkling under the glare of the jaundice lamp you let me say daddy is here, my babies and he thinks you are the most beautiful things in the Universe...

...and the bubble popped, I came back to earth with a lump in my throat and images of tiny moons in my hands, fading with a burn as the cold black well of Night drained them of their lives. I had endured a long, hard trek to a place of indescribable pain and exquisite beauty. Seeing my son and daughter there in the NICU, I planted my flag on frozen ground and watched them fade into howling wilderness of an indifferent Universe. 

Watching the little golden light slowly descend to the horizon, I could not help but think that I had indeed been to the moons of Jupiter. It was a shock and a gift, to travel so far expecting rock and ice, and instead finding flesh and blood...and my heart.

02 December 2009

Miles Away From Here

Seriously? I don't know what has gotten into me.

No, no...more like I don't know what hasn't gotten into me. Wait, I do know what hasn't gotten into me: inspiration. This is strange considering I am surrounded by inspiration.

You see, my mind has been pulled all over the place lately. Somehow I ended up being busier than ever with Real Life, and Real Life has a tendency to get all up in my grill. My brain feels like a big blob of mercury that has been smacked with a croquet mallet. You know what happens when you smash a ball of mercury? That's right, my lovelies, you get lots of tiny balls of mercury all over the place, and a big mess that is hard to clean up. Not to mention slightly toxic.

So I am sitting here, in a funk, listening to Miles Davis play "Generique" on the stereo. A recent discovery of mine, courtesy of a friend, that piece of music is quite possibly one of the best instrumentals I have ever heard. I'm far from an expert on jazz, but Miles kills on this track. Cool beyond words...

...and that, my friends, brings me to now. I sit here at the table, wishing the words would come to relieve the pressure in my head that has built up all day...I keep picking up a pen, but the story won't gel...

I may never play jazz, but that sound, that tone...the trumpet blows cool and sleek, and I lay down my pen. Better to not force the notes if the music ain't there, everyone will be able to tell. I envy Miles Davis, tonight. I bask in the brassy blueness seeping from the speakers, and give myself up to the ministrations of a master.

Sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing to do. The music will take care of itself.