26 April 2010

Monday Sunshine: Evening Rumination

Crickets serenade.
Cradling my weary jawbones,
zephyr caresses. 

---------
To all: I think this may be the last post for a while. I need a break, take a rest and catch my breath. I'll be here, just quieter than I have been for quite some time now.

25 April 2010

Oracle of The Frijoles

Never underestimate the Power of the Frijoles. Food for thought, I must say...
The brain, it doesn't rest, even when the mouth is full of beans.

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo

24 April 2010

Shovel In The Ground

One of the hardest decisions
About building a new home
Is not which lender to use...

...but where to lay the foundation.

22 April 2010

Submarine Races in the Mare Cerebrum

Conscious and Subconscious are swimming side by side, somewhere in the murk of the Mare Cerebrum. The following exchange occurs:

Conscious: "I don't have to swim faster than all the sharks down here..."
Subconscious: "Really? Why's that?"
Conscious: "...I just have to swim faster than you."
Subconscious: "Bring it, bitch!"

In an adrenaline-fueled burst, the fish take off like scaly missiles, bubbles in their wake. Behind and below, the sharks just bare their rust-tinged teeth, laughing as they, too, accelerate...

21 April 2010

Runneth Over

Please forgive if you can
It isn't that I don't want to remember
That I don't want to reciprocate
Its that I can't 

No matter how hard I try
How much I try to recall
The river has flowed too fast
Flowed too long

My dam has not burst
But the cracks are showing
My abutments are detached
Water gushing out, the occasional fish

Lake Memory is draining fast
Exposing stumps and roots and rocks
Names, faces: fish flopping in shallows
Drying, dying in the sun

Please don't take offense
If I don't get back to you
The dam has too many holes
And I have too few thumbs

20 April 2010

Dandelions

Surveying the new domain, a world contained in a good quarter-acre with a fence, he felt something but could not name it. Tension and release? Maybe. Green stretching out, emerald sward flecked with a dusting of tiny lion's heads, electric yellow against the grass. Little kings of the lawn, eying him nervously. He would pluck them, they knew. That is the Law of the Jungle, which is universal. Even in small towns nowhere near the tropics.

He sighed, not altogether in regret. This was his jungle now, a mantle of ownership he willingly assumed. It was his place to slowly melt into the backdrop and find his missing parts. The thought of plucking the shaggy flowers spiked him with the tiniest pang of melancholy. Uprooting a living thing in the advancement of another life was just too close to the bone.

He would pluck, he knew. It had to be done. But not now, not on such a lovely spring evening. Lion hunting would wait until another time. He took one last deep breath of the cool air and went inside.

Behind him, the kingly blossoms swayed in the breeze, silently rejoicing in their reprieve.

19 April 2010

Monday Sunshine: Songs from Shingled Ridgelines

Dogwoods, scent blooming.
Sing awake our lonely souls, 
Roof virtuoso!

18 April 2010

Kudzu

No matter all the effort
They regrow, sometimes overnight
After all the chopping and swearing
Bastard green leaves, thick ropes

Exhausted, too exhausted to think
Figure it out, find the center
Eternal vigilance: a necessity
and a curse, and a vampire

It's learning when to cut
When to let them go
Having the strength to prevent
succumbing to the vines

In the sunlight gleams my machete:
Her eyes, her heart, her love.

17 April 2010

Music Notes: 'Splainin' to Do

Many of you are aware of my puzzlement over the LADY GAGA phenomenon, so it should come as no surprise that there is more where that came from.

Now that I think about it, it is something I have been pondering for years now (in one case) and for a few months (in another case), and I thought it was time to do a brain purge. Musical bookends, you might say.

CASE #1: JANIS JOPLIN

I am not a child of the '60's, in the sense that many people use it these days. I was born in the '60's, but not early enough to have anything to do with being a hippie or a draft dodger or civil rights activist or Bob Dylan. I was old enough (or young enough?) to hear and appreciate a LOT of music from the '60's*, such as lots of Jimi Hendrix, early Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Rolling Stones, even a lot of "oldies". A lot of it I liked. But I never, ever really liked Janis Joplin. I didn't hate her music, but I never really understood why so many people seemed to really dig it. I guess I always found it be...boring. I heard a Janis Joplin song on the radio today, and I listened intently...I tried...but I just wanted to turn it off and stifle a yawn.


CASE #2: VAMPIRE WEEKEND

I was introduced to this group courtesy of my beloved local ear candy provider, 89.7 WTMD (Rock on, freaky bro!) a few months back, and since I trust their judgment, I tried to pay attention when they played them on air. I tried to get into it, but each time it was like "Okay...okay...okay...um, what is it I'm supposed to be gushing over?" I gave them the benefit of the doubt for a while, but I couldn't escape the conclusion I was drawing: I just don't get what is so great about it, what makes the DJ's get so psyched about their music. In all fairness, I do really like the song "Cousins", it has really cool Dick Dale inspired guitar work in it. But their early stuff, and the new song "Horchata"? Sigh. It just makes me search for something else. Nothing personal, it just doesn't grab me.

So there it is, my big head is a little smaller now. So what is your musical mystery? What artists do you get (that others don't seem to get) or not get?


*Quite possibly, I may have been one of only three or so people in my junior high school to know of Iron Butterfly. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby...

16 April 2010

Lizard Man

I know it's there
lurking in the hindbrain
where it thinks I can't go
but it is wrong

Backdoors to the mind
always seem to open on swamps
The wetlands common to us all
And which will never be drained

So there it is in all its leathery
green glory, eyes like slits
and a tail like a thick whip
which I struggle to contain

Fatigue and sadness and hunger,
myriad shattered glass edges of days
gone blurry trying to keep up,
and be civilized, pen intact

Lizard man has not interest in these
nor fear of them, And who would be?
Jaws full of teeth, breath of tidal  mud
Strength and brute power

I patrol the swamp borders
Looking for spoor and dung
I don't fear him anymore
I respect him a lot

I am the lizard man
Not the lizard king
And the leash I have
Is strong and short

I pull, hard, to keep it from others
Trainer and charge in combat
But sometimes the mask slips
And it escapes.

15 April 2010

Sermon By The Tracks, CSX - Patapsco Church Of The Brethren


See that white building in the background? That is a church. Take note of that metal box that is left of center  in the photo, up against the tracks. That is important, as you will see. The church is Korean Baptist , I believe.  A humble structure, it is hard up against the road and a rail line. The lot bumps right up against the rail crossing, which itself abuts the lovely Patapsco River, here in my neck o' the woods, so to speak. Across the road are some modest homes, also close to the road, and a parking lot for the state park which brackets the river. Just south of all this (left in the picture) there is a also a stone quarry that produces some lovely product. The quarry is a reminder of the industry that used to make the river one of the most important economic engines in the region.

But I am not writing today of economics and industry, brothers and sisters, I am writing about gettin' churched. 

I was out for a Sunday morning hike along the river trail, seeking to clear my head and get a grip on myself. Was I thinking about God or religion or enlightenment or anything like that? Not directly. I was letting myself just breathe and put one foot in front of the other. So it was with open mind and clear head I approached that metal box there beside the tracks. Other than knowing it has something to do with the care and feeding of the trains that rumble along these tracks, I cannot say what is its function. There was grease or oil, there were hoses running from the box to the rails, there was a mysterious (and gunked up) mat laying between the rails and over the ties. Whilst contemplating this machinery tableaux, I noticed some writing on top of the box, hand scrawled in white paint:


I was scratching my head for a bit, trying to figure out why that, why here? The box was about the size of a pulpit, a generous one. Maybe this was a spot for someone to bless the trains as they lumber along the rails, doing the dirty work so that others may make things out of the ore, the metals the coal that travels this route. Maybe there is an industrial analog of St. Francis, preaching to the rail cars instead of the animals.

I decided it made no difference, really, why someone put it there. I suppose they were inspired by some mysterious exhortation of their own soul, brought on by the strange peace of the place. While standing there contemplating the words, I became aware of just how quiet it was, even though not far from the road. Quiet in the sense that I heard little to no noises generated by humans or human activity. I heard birds, ducks, an enthusiastic woodpecker somewhere in a tree down by the water. I heard the low murmur of the river itself and the faint rustle of breezes in the early greening leaves. It was peaceful, it was beautiful in its own way.

In saw no trains that day, so I did not get to see what that mysterious box might do. I did, however, get a little of that for which I went hiking. I got some peace of mind, and that, my friends, was all the churchin' I needed.

Photo credits: Irish Gumbo

14 April 2010

Jaguar Dream


Panthera onca has returned to the jungle of my mind. I dream a lot, nowadays, for reasons I have yet to fathom...and he is there often. I love him. I fear him. I respect him.

The jaguar is not as I knew it, once and not so long ago. Instead of standing, or stalking or growling, in my dreams now it is most often lying on the ground and seemingly sleeping. Not even its favorite four-legged foods strolling by can excite it to move. It raises its head occasionally, eyes half lidded; in sleep or lethargy I cannot tell. Maybe both.

This troubles me.

My jaguar dreams of the past have been vibrant with life, power and the odd bit of of animal violence. Not the juvenile splatter of horror films, but paeans to animal nature and glory. Sudden violence for its own sake appeals to me not in the least, and I believe jaguars feel the same. The difference is, they have to kill to survive. The dreams, Day-Glo vignettes of what it means to be feared for what one can do, and respected for what one symbolizes.  In my dreams of wearing jaguar spots, it is the magic and "shadow world" aspects that stand out the most. It is no surprise to me, nor should it be to anyone, that what draws me in is the mythical existence of the jaguar, its ability to slip between the material and spirit world.

Not that I believe in spirits. No, that wouldn't be rational, would it?

But back to the troubles. The jaguar now in my dreams has lost vitality, energy, life.  It exists, but only just so. The famous roar is fading into memory, and the coat is lacking sheen. The jaguar moves so little it is acquiring a layer of dust that uncomfortably reminds me of a stuffed animal in a run-down taxidermy shop. Only once in recent weeks, in my dreams, has it even bothered to move, and that was to shuffle slowly to a nearby stream bank for a quick lapping of water.

In this dream, I was watching the jaguar from across the stream. I was hiding in the grass and surreptitiously stealing glances at it through the waving of the stalks. It was hot, humid, and the smell of wet vegetation was clogging my nostrils. The jaguar lay in some underbrush, on its side, head down and flanks heaving sluggishly in the gelatinous-seeming air. I don't know how long I stared, in dream time it is so difficult to track, but I remember getting drowsy. My head nodded toward my chest, eyes slowly closing. Then, the wind shifted to blow in the direction of the beast. I was no longer downwind.

Its tailed twitched, once, twice, three times. Small puffs of dust wafted up from where the tip struck the ground. It uttered a low growl, and the hair on my neck stood up so fast it felt like it pulled my eyes wide open. The beautiful beast raised his head, mouth agape as it scented the wind. The eyes opened wider, jewels of unearthly greenish-gold. It sniffed deeply, and those eyes locked onto me, I was sure of it. I froze.

The jaguar did not leap up, did not come charging across the stream. Instead, it stood up slowly with a languid stretch until it was fully upright. It stared right at me, and I would have been a fool to think I was unseen. The jaguar, it knew.

Three, five, seven breaths...I could see now that it was thin, the fur dull, the eyes fading. It moved slowly, almost painfully, down to the water's edge. The eyes never left my face, until it bent its weary, magnificent head down to drink. Heavy jaws, lovely in their blocky elegance, opened and the beast lapped up the water at a deliberate pace. When it was done, it raised its head and sat down on haunches gone thin from disuse or lack of food. It stared, unblinking, and began to growl softly.

I know you,  it seemed to say and I heard its gravelly rumble as the voice of an old man in my head, I know you...and as I am, you shall be. It bared its fangs.

My heart began to pound, and reflexively I wanted to run. As its jaws opened wider, I started, frightened, and I awoke to the sound of gasping breath. I was sheened with a thin layer of cold sweat, my heart was racing. It was still dark outside, some ungodly hour, and there was a low rumbling sound seeping through the windows of my bedroom. It sounded like a truck or motorcycle downshifting on the nearby business road.

At least, that is what I told myself. As I lay back against the pillows, the sound faded away, but those green-gold eyes burned as bright as ever, there on the insides of my eyelids. I did not sleep well.


Photo borrowed  from LiveScience.com

13 April 2010

On Learning Something, Finally


"Poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science. It is impossible to live without reverence as it is without joy."

---from "The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod" by Henry Beston

Yet again, I come to insight as if by accident. I was lying in bed, reading and trying to uncoil, when I read the above passage. It always surprises and delights me. The Outermost House is a permanent resident in my top five or so favorite books. I first had the pleasure of reading it nearly ten years ago. First published in 1928, I had the good fortune to stumble across a second edition copy in an antique bookstore on Cape Cod. It was published in 1933 and was in very good condition.* I had been wanting it for a long time. I am glad I found it.

Henry Beston was a young man at the time, with the luxury of being able to take a year off, in essence, during which he had a small house built. It was, as the title says, on the beach on Cape Cod. Literally. I am contemplating recreating the plan of it, for myself, maybe as a small vacation cottage somewhere. The title and the thing itself appealed greatly to the architect that I am.

It was the writing that really piqued my interest. It is not the most polished style, and it flirts with being overwrought at times (hmm...sound familiar?) but it was written with enthusiasm and genuine delight in the natural world. He has a keen eye for observation. A prime example is his chapter "The Headlong Wave", in which he attempts to describe the infinite variations of waves hitting the shore. Great, great stuff, and it made me envious and wistful. The sound, the shape, the color of waves...makes me want to be there, to live that life.

Ultimately, I believe that is why I read this book at least once a year, ever since I first bought it so long ago. It speaks of slow time and understanding a place. He describes a life that I dream of having: a small, tidy place of my own, in a place where I feel connected to the earth, with the luxury of near uninterrupted contemplation and rumination.

That luxury means to me: to observe the world around me, to engage in the fullness of life, and translate that into the written word. It is in that fashion that I could truly make my own poetry. I could learn, as I have been struggling to do for so long, to live in reverence and with joy. I know this now. I will find my outermost house in which to live the measure of my days.

Tell me, dear ones, where is your outermost house?

Photo credit and a short history can be found HERE.

*It was also considerably lower in price than the first edition in the same store. At the time, I could not afford it, and it sure did make my brain hurt to pass it up. Still, the second edition I bought is marvelous. It has pride of place on my bookshelf. I dig it.

11 April 2010

House of the Broken Heart

It is quiet out there, mostly, the silence broken by animal sounds and the occasional scream of anguish. It could be said that the screams were also animal sounds, if Homo sapiens were classified as an animal. The screams originating, from the throat of a two-legged being, scratching at the floor.

There is a dirt and gravel track branching away from the narrow paved road snaking its way over and through the folds of the mountainside. The trees and undergrowth crowd in on it, all the while threatening to take over. They hover over the track like jealous lovers or hungry jackals, seeking to protect that from which they feed. Driving past the track, it is easy to miss. It does not seek to advertise itself. The number of people who need to find it totals…one. That person isn’t the same person every time the track is found, either.

Perhaps the track only reveals itself to those really in need.

It matters little the vehicle of choice to traverse the terrain. No matter the weather, the dry or the wet, mud or dust, snow or rain: the wheels will find purchase. The track facilitates the traveler in the inexorability of this journey to the house waiting at the end of the road. The mud may seem deep, the drop-offs terribly steep, but they really are not. The light in the valley has a way of tricking the eye and magnifying the feelings of the traveler.

The task is to persevere, until the vehicle comes to a halt in the gravel driveway fronting the house. And it will. The journey is inevitable.

No matter what time the trip began, it always seems to end at twilight. There is just enough light to get a quick impression of the house, but it doesn’t last long enough to thoroughly study it before entering. The outlines are blurred anyway, due to the encroachment of trees and vines, and a curious lack of color. The primary feature, though, is that the house straddles a ravine that angles through the site. It is the first thing that grabs the eye, and almost makes it seem as if there are two houses perched on the slopes. Stepping out of the vehicle, the ear is greeted by the low murmur of rushing water. It is possible there is a stream at the bottom of the ravine. Low light and the tricky acoustics of the forest make it difficult to tell.

If it can be said that the house has a front door, it is approached by a short bridge leading away from the packed gravel driveway. The bridge crosses what looks like a shallow moat filled with the jagged bodies of rocks, grey and bluish-white, most about the size of Jack Russell terriers. The bridge deck is thick timbers on a framework of black-painted steel, all of it patinaed with moss and the slow corruptions of rust. The railings are also of metal and wood, a weathered grid of steel with thick round handrails smooth and shiny from the passage of myriad hands. The deck trembles and groans as the visitor crosses the bridge.

The door is weathered wood, bound with iron. The metal has stained the wood with fat streaks of ferric tears. To be expected, from so many years of exposure to the weather. There is an ancient lock mortised into the door panel, but it is rarely used. It is easy to forget to lock the door when wrapped in so much anguish.

Push the door open on hinges surprisingly quiet; there is only a faint rasp of metal on metal. If there is one thing that has not been neglected in this house of coagulated ruin, it is hinges. It does not make sense if the doors can't be opened at will, and sometimes it is best to enter with as little noise as can be managed. Step inside, into a damp, cool space smelling of wet stone and heartache.

It is a long narrow hall, terminating in a jagged window. A slit, really, in the far wall. The floor is of metal grating, narrow spaced, and between the bars can be glimpsed (if the time of the day is right) wet stone, ferns, the glistening rush of a stream at the bottom of the ravine. A skylight, pearly in its glow, parallels the hall. The sky is seen dimly through its frosted panes. Upon closer inspection, it can be observed that the walls have a delicate framework of steel bars stretching from below the hall grating all the way up to the skylight. As the eyes adjust to the low light, one can see the faint, green wisps of a vines growing up through the floor to reach toward the light above.

The walls are of stone, slightly rough. The color is that peculiar gray to be seen in certain kinds of slate. Oily in one view, wet in another. There are copper sconces at intervals down the hall, faintly green and emitting a surprisingly warm glow. At the midpoints of the hall, the sconces flank two doors, opposing each other. The doors are of bronze, and are closed. The hall widens at that point, just a bit. Just enough for two people to stand facing one another, and have someone pass between them.

Pick a door to open. It probably matters not which is chosen; there is a feeling in the air that whatever is behind the doors will be nearly identical. The door swings into a room of modest size, facing a wall without windows except for a small square opening opposite the door. The opening is filled with thick, solid glass blocks. the light coming through is greenish and distorted. To the right is a wall, plaster, seamless except for an arched opening leading to a small room that appears to be a kitchen. To the left, there is another wall, pierced with three large windows divided by thick mullions between them. The windows are framed with steel,  divided into lites, like those in an old mill building, and the paint is beginning to flake away. The glass is intact, slightly rippled. The light spilling through the window reveals a small, iron framed bed and a worn wooden table against the wall. The floors are of thick wood planks, scraped and burnished by countless soles.

The bed linens are rumpled and in disarray. On the table is a stoneware pitcher standing next to what appears to be a leather-bound journal, an ink bottle and two fountain pens. Slightly back from the table is a mahogany ladderback chair. The wood is worn and polished to a sheen, not from cloth but from the comings and goings of the occupants. Despite the chill, it invites one to sit, as many have, and many will.

Visitors will find themselves sitting at the table, thumbing the pages and fidgeting with the pens, all the while not understanding how they came to be there. They will be filled with the urge to write, in that peculiar shade of blue-black (if one is on the east side of the hall) or brown-black (if one is on the west side of the hall) ink that inhabits the bottle on the table. They will find themselves writing, perhaps, or with head in hands over the table while teardrops trickle down to add to the circular stains in the dust. The browned pages of the journal are pocked with such stains, which sometimes dissolve the words into novae of ink.  They will sit, and write, and grieve outside of time. Out in the hall, the slow swellings of green life enrobe the the trellises, in time with the beatings of the sore hearts.

It will not matter how long they stay. The kitchen always have just enough to eat, no more and no less. The house takes care of its own, no matter what. Visitors are never invited here, but are always welcome to stay as long as it takes.

The visitors come, their stays governed by the dictates of the soul. The green things grow, the stream rushes on and time has no meaning here in the House of the Broken Heart.


10 April 2010

Beans and Greens Beat The Blues

A short time ago, the lurvely and talented Angie at GUMBO WRITER gifted me with a big honkin' container of Tony Cachere's Creole Seasoning, which I had heretofore had missed the pleasure of sampling. The only condition associated with the gift was that I try something new with it and post the recipe.

Now, considering that I have just now gotten off my duff, I can now present what I think is a workable recipe, one that I just made up and turned out quite well. Especially if my full belly is any guide. Herewith is my cure for the aftermath of winter blues, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

BEANS AND GREENS: AN EARLY SPRING TONIC*

1 pound red beans (I used some light red kidney beans)
1 head of bok choy
2 smoked ham hocks**
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
2 bay leaves
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
6-8 cups of water
Tony Cachere's Creole seasoning - 3 tablespoons for the initial boil

Pick over beans to remove any pebbles or other debris. Soak beans in enough water to cover from 6 hours to overnight. I let mine soak for about six, from morning to late afternoon. Pour off water to rinse off the beans. Drain. In a big, oven-proof pot (mine was a 5 quart cast iron dutch oven), bring 6 cups (for thicker beans) to 8 cups (for thinner beans) of water to boil, after having put the ham hocks in to start. When it starts to boil turn in the Creole seasoning, onion, garlic and bay leaf, lower the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 250 degrees Farenheit, with a rack situated to keep the bean pot in the center of the oven. After ten minutes or so of simmering, place the beans in the pot and bring back to a boil. Once boiling, cover pot, and CAREFULLY put it in the preheated oven. My target time was about 2 to 2 1/2 hours cooking time. I did scoop out some of the water before putting the beans in the oven because it seemed like too much for the amount of beans.

Start prepping the bok choy with an eye to adding it to the pot with about 35 - 40 minutes to go. Trim the bottom off the stalks. Slice the green leafy parts off the white, firm parts of the stalks. Cut stalks into thin pieces, crosswise on an angle (to make it purty) about 1/4 inch thick. Set aside. Trim the leaves a bit so that they can be stacked up in roughly equal sized pieces, in layers. If they are really wide, you may need to cut them in half again. Cut the leaves crosswise into pieces about an inch wide by two inches long. Or let them stay as ribbons, either way is good.

With about 30 minutes to go, check the beans. If they are too dry, add a little boiling water to cover. Mash a goodly portion of them against the side of the pot to thicken things up. Add the bok choy stalk pieces and stir well. Cover and put back in oven for about another twenty minutes. Check beans, add more water if necessary, and start adding the sliced leaves. Let each handful cook down for about 30 seconds, adding more until everything is in the pot. Cover and continue cooking for about 5 to 10 minutes more.

At this point, my beans had hit that stage of doneness where they were firm enough to make it to my mouth before they melted away, just right. The Creole seasoning was right where it needed to be, I didn't need to add salt or Tabasco or extra pepper. The bok choy was firm enough, adding a delightful texture and squeak and chew. I have to say, The folks in New Orleans know whereof they speak when they talk about a bit pot of greens being a tonic for thin blood tired by winter. So good, ya hurt yaself, and I could feel my blood waking up, shaking off the blues. I served my beans and greens over steamed white rice, and washed it down with a glass of pale ale. Tasty, tasty stuff!

So there you have it, my first big deal using that delish Creole seasoning. Do me a favor and pay Angie a visit (link above), tell her I sent you, and spread the love.

Oh, and this time, I remembered to take out the bay leaves, without biting on them. Whew!


*Sorry, no pictures. I was so caught up in making, eating and thinking I forgot to break out the camera to record them in all their glory.
**Later, while chewin' and thinkin', I realized that this dish still works without the ham hocks. I would increase the seasoning in the initial boil by about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon more.

09 April 2010

Mountain, Seen

One foot in front of the other, that is all. Repeat as needed to arrive.

Walking through the seasons: the naive hope of spring, purgatory of summer, bittersweet cool of fall, the numbness of winter. This divine comedy of hope and desperation repeating itself on the great wheel of the year is enough to drive one mad because of its sameness.

But the sameness is what allows survival because it is broadly predictable. Forecasts can be made, prognostications can be ginned up, because of possibilities. They don't always pan out, any one can confirm it, but so much more a Known than the Terrain that must be crossed.

Terrain. A pithy word to encompass all that stands between the Sojourner and Realization. Especially when that Realization is the manifestation of all that is desired. This desire, this object, a Kilimanjaro standing proud of the emotional savanna unfolding before eyes grown weary of the distance involved. Distance being the material manifestation of Time, an unavoidable fact of existence. So much of it...it exists in infinite quantities but only extrinsic to the human containers that enclose all these Thoughts and Feelings seeking to be realized in another outside of themselves.

So the Sojourner keeps walking. It has no choice. Buffeted by sun and rain, beset by the demons and devils of doubt and fear, what other course can be taken, other than to lay down and melt into the Terrain? To forsake everything, succumbing to the minority exhortations of an exhausted, lonely soul?

One foot in front of the other. The path remains before the Sojourner, sometimes strong and true, other times seeming invisible except for a few bent stalks of grass. To stop now, even with the validation of others knowing just how draining the Journeys really are...that is betrayal. Not to the external world, no, but to the Sojourner. 

On the horizon, the flanks of the mountain shimmer in the heat, disappear in the mist, dissolve in the rain...but always remain. Wiping the salty mud from eyes grown sore, the Sojourner keeps walking. The air up there  on the mountain is redolent of green, water runs clear and sweet and a soul can find purchase in the rich, fragrant soil of Love. The Sojourner raises a sunburned head to breathe deep of possibilities. Hints on the wind of what awaits there high in the treeline...

Sustenance. Realization. Love. For these, one foot in front of the other, to get you there.

08 April 2010

Gazelle Dream

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. Thompson's gazelle can outrun anything on the savanna...
...except cheetahs.

In a savanna reduced to the sum of five rooms, there is no place to run. Approaching the door from outside, the presence, the weight of the cheetah is near palpable. Slightly trembling hand reaches for the door lever, breath catches in the throat and that godawful dread or anxiety wells up like a wildcat gusher, threatening to spray the vicinity with blackness. The lever turns, the door opens and the foot steps from the innocuous fringe of a quiet hallway, and into the blinding bright heat of a faraway grassland.

The ears flick back nervously, nostrils flared and a half-chewed mouthful of leaves hangs slack in the jaw. A shot of icy water flicks through the bowels as the gazelle peers at the gently waving grass. It knows something is wrong, it knows it should move, and it does to turn its head to the side.

There, a few short meters away, two faint tufts of fur fade in and out of vision as the stalks of grass sway in the wind. The gazelle flares its nostrils again, the wind shifts and the rich tang of a predator invades the heaving lungs. Without thought the hind legs contract painfully with a rush of adrenaline, a reflex action that propels the gazelle forward like shot from a cannon.

The grass erupts in a blur of spotted hide and bared fangs as the cheetah sees his moment, rushing after the gazelle with a concentration frightening to behold.

The gazelle tells himself to run, and he does, frantic for the door rushingrushingrushing and slamming it open and he runs as fast as he can with a panicked wheeze in the throat struggling for control of his stomach and tears and sets off down what he hopes will be escape and salvation outside outside outside dammit can't see can't breathe and runrunrun faster, faster, as if it hadn't run before and telling itself that it doesn't mean much to be the second fastest animal out there no way...

...thrashing, sweating in a fever dream, tossing and turning and hoping against hope...

...but the grass bends behind and a growl fills the air. The cheetah paces the gazelle, reaching out with a glistening paw. Strike.

The gazelle whimpers in fear and panic, tumbling in a cloud of dust, crashing to the ground which feels suspiciously like a park bench under its heaving back. It knows its too late, it can't outrun the cheetah anymore and the thought runs through its mind, as the cheetah looms large over its throat, that this keeps happeningthiskeepshappening and I tell myself each time that it won't...and the killing bite goes down. Then darkness, just for a while.

Face in hands, he rubs his eyes, feeling the cool metal grate of the bench digging into his back. The sun is setting, birds trilling sweetly overhead as he focuses on a couple walking their dog. They smile and nod. He dips his chin faintly in return, and wonders if they know they just witnessed Nature in all its terrible beauty.

07 April 2010

Hunger, Thwarted, Does Not Let Go


Hellfire, Henry David thought, 'tweren't for bad luck I'd no luck at all...

He fell to his knees beside the carcass. A faint reek, putrescence and mineral tang of ice, stung his nose. His chest was heaving, exhausted from struggling against the frigid embrace of snow about his trembling legs. The quivering in his belly threatened to burst into retching. Henry's eyes watered as appetite fought hard against disgust. He was hungry.

The first meat I seen in days, and its scraps on the bone. Damnation, it probably lay me up with the scours...Henry considered the rock and the hard place of his current predicament. Winter had its claws in hard, and exhaustion born of the hard slog from the empty cabin was setting the points. He blinked, breathing slow. The bones seemed to dance in the cloud of mist billowing from his mouth.

There was a sudden rustle in the branches of a large pine tree across the clearing. Lumps of sugary snow wafted from the needles to reveal glaring patches of deep green. Henry started, squinting at the commotion. Sitting on the end of a thick branch was the largest crow Henry had ever seen. It was watching him, head cocked and a beady eye unblinking. Tilting its head back, the beak opened to "CAWWW!CAWWW!" loud enough to hurt Henry's numb ears. The huge bird flapped its wings like the rustle of an undertaker's frock coat. Henry gulped. He swore the bird was mocking him.

A loud growl escaped Henry's aching belly. He swallowed hard. Well, Old Crow, it's you and me at the table, Henry whispered to the bird, and I reckon to be your guest and not your vittles.  A trembling hand reached out for a stringy bone, and the bird threw back its head with a screech, for all the world sounding to Henry's ears like the Devil's laugh.


--For those not familiar with Henry David, other tales can be found HERE and HERE.

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo 

06 April 2010

Stump



I used to be so big and strong

Yeah that's me alright
Straight backed beside the trail
Where hardly anyone notices
Me anymore, because I'm not pretty

I used to know my right from wrong

People pass me by swinging sticks
Or riding bikes, treading on the roots
I used to have (and that still ache)
The original phantom limbs

I used to never be afraid

They hurt, the ache ferocious
Cold steel hammers on my bones
Fucking hikers and bikers, man,
Don't care because I don't scream

(I used to be somebody!)

Silent counsel I keep, because really?
My mouth has gone missing
Fallen away, ruined by the Challenger Deep
pressure of time on the carcass

I used to have something inside

Pressure: eventually will collapse me
External shell, fissured, baked by sun,
Cracked by cold and wind, illusions
That the core is warm and molten

Now its just this hole that's open wide

Void opening up inside, ignorant eyes can't see it
Rot setting in because death creeps quietly
Causing the pocked face you can see
And I would try to hide but for lack of hands

I used to want it all

Wanting it all is a foreign country
A former cradle that made my limbs
Swell fat and strong and near perfect
Until I fell, insect-hollowed, lightning-beaten

I used to be somebody

I was.

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo
Italicized phrases: Lyrics used without permission, from "Down In It" by Nine Inch Nails

05 April 2010

03 April 2010

Hot Soup! MMMM, MMMM, blechhh, cough OW!


That pot o' goodness, above, was a big batch of soup.* It was my dinner.

I'll call it Tired 'N' Lazy Soup. Because I was real tired when I got home...and feeling lazy. So it was some broth and noodles from the pantry, some fresh carrot, and (alas) canned peas and corn. Ordinarily those ingredients, left all alone, would have filled the belly but bored the tastebuds. I have a big jar of bay leaves on top of my Chinese Medicine Cabinet, and they always add some oomph to basic broth. A nice leaf in the pot, I say, along with a few white peppercorns. Nosing around in the fridge, I spied a serrano chili pepper lounging in the vegetable bin. Yeah, man, just the thing. So I minced up the pepper and put that in the broth.

Looks innocent, yes?

Now, I wasn't expecting this to be a culinary masterpiece, and that was the case. It did what it was supposed to do, which was feed me without a lot of fuss.

But remember that bay leaf?

I finished the soup, and was ladling it up, when I snagged the bay leaf to get it out of the pot. Bay leaves (as many of you already know) are meant to flavor food, not be the food. This I know, but somewhere between the stove and the sink I forgot...without thinking I stuck the leaf in my mouth and for who knows why I bit down on it

Oh good lawd...talk about bitter. My mouth twisted up like it had just discovered the King of the Lemons. Blechhh, erk...I quickly spit it out. I was licking my lips and scraping my tongue like a golden retriever with a mouthful of Jif. Fortunately, the soup and a glass of beer removed the taste of alimony from my mouth.

So dinner was over, I'm cleaning up. Full belly and time to relax! I went to the bathroom to wash up. On the way there, something ended up in the corner of my eye. I reached up with a fingertip to try and dislodge it.

Remember that serrano pepper?

I hadn't washed my hands after cutting up the pepper. The capsaicin was still on my fingers. It quickly made its way into my eye.

Ow. OW. OW! Jay-zus, that hurt! I looked like Popeye as I staggered into the bathroom.

After my eye stopped burning, I made a beeline for the couch, staying far away from the leftover soup. It sat there on the counter, staring at me...I think it even laughed...


*Really? Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious, for illuminating that for us!

02 April 2010

It Isn't Your Face They Want to Poke, and Do You Really Want That?

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of  reading a great post on Dadcentric by the ever-cheeky Kevin at Always Home and Uncool*, a post on the curious phenomenon that is Lady Gaga. While I had heard of the Lady, I had never really been curious enough to check out the music. Or maybe it was that I was just too tired and busy. But after reading Always Home's (linked above) that led to the Gaga post, a gem unto itself, I had to satisfy my scientific curiosity** and check it out.

Sigh. Would that I am not so curious. "Poker Face"? Really? Oh good lord. I wouldn't say this was appalling but I had a hard time figuring out why gaga over Gaga. I'm sure she has a decent voice, and yeah there was some interesting theatrics (especially in the 'Polka Face' video)...but not much that I haven't seen before, and that maybe has been done better by others (see Tina Turner or even Madonna a la' Material Girl). I can only imagine who might be the Next Big Thang by the time my Wee Lass gets interested in tween music. In the meantime, I'll keep playing my Clash and Gogol Bordello, and getting her to sing along with me.

Ida know, maybe I'm jaded. Or tired of all the in-your-face approaches to "hotness". Maybe when I was in high school or even in college, that kind of blunt come-on was a lot more attractive. I suppose having the benefit of overcharged hormones and seemingly boundless energy would make a difference.

More likely, having no appreciation for subtlety, elegance or finesse makes the biggest difference. And when I was a younger Gumbo, those three words were rarely heard or seen in my vocabulary***. While I was watching the Poker Face (horrible title, by the way. Extends a red carpet to parody.) video, I realized that for all the bump and grind, and supposedly being "out there" or cutting edge or whatever...subtlety, elegance and finesse had fled the country. I was more bemused than attracted. Why?

"Bluffin' with my muffin" - seriously? You expect me to be attracted to that? I had the image of a big dish of honey sitting out on the porch, with no screen, and a big sign saying "GETYERHONEYNOWDAMMIT". Sorry, but doing that attracts too many flies...

The counterpoint to all this was what I have been listening to on the trusty iPod. I have a collection of the best of Billie Holiday, and no doubt she can sannng...but the real deal here, the song That Makes All The Difference, that tells you all you need to know about seduction, my friends...

"At Last" by the lovely Etta James. Oh, yes, dear readers, it's time to go to school...



 You see what I mean? Does she get all up in your grill? Use unoriginal euphemisms for the naughty bits? Of course not. She does a masterful job of interpreting the "Show, don't tell" axiom of good storytelling. Honestly, if I can said to swoon at anything, it is this song. Mmm, mmm...sing, Etta, sing...

...you other ladies****, lovely and talented as you may be, have some learning to do.

*Which I found through a link courtesy the radiant and lovely Everyday Goddess. Go, visit, pay homage. She will bless you. Or at least make you laugh.
**Plus I was suffering from post-work ennui. Ennui: a fancy-schmancy word for pathologically bored.
***Sometimes they still are, I am afraid. The difference is that I am much more aware of those qualities in others, even if I have trouble expressing them myself. I know what I was missing when I was young and dumb...and I'm not going back.
****In fairness, Beyonce does a credible turn with this song. Plus she looks damn fine in that gold dress. Sigh. Immune I am not.

01 April 2010

You Can Give Me Salt

The couple sat down at the table across the aisle from mine. I thought at first I had them profiled, based on the body language and awkward seeming looks. But I think I was wrong.

They were very quiet. I noticed them not looking at one another directly. You know those looks, the ones given by two people who are uncomfortable in each others' presence, from a relationship heading downhill. Those looks where neither party feels like speaking, would rather be somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else. But either it has not disintegrated completely, or they are just too tired to end it.

I looked away before they could see me watching, suddenly becoming fascinated by the pizza minus a slice, sitting on the table in front of me. I became hyper-aware of the last bite of crust and prosciutto dissolving under the onslaught of my molars, chewy goodness squeaking against my teeth. It hit me that I was eating alone, again, and not all that concerned about it. Seeing the couple in the booth not speaking helped to reinforce my sense of unconcern.

I meditated as I ate, pondering those twists and turns of life that make or break relationships. I revisited the terrain I have been crossing as of late. I considered my own life and what I could have done that things would have turned out differently. Pangs of hunger duked it out with pangs of sadness as I wrestled a bit with the notion that, maybe, things have turned out the way they have because that is how things were meant to be.

Still, knowing that life has gone the way it was fated to be does not make it easier to watch  a good  one disintegrate and fall apart.

I looked up from my plate. The waitress was setting a pizza down on their table, along with bread and salads. There was a change in the demeanor of the couple. During my episode of navel gazing, they had begun talking quietly to each other. Their faces were more animated, and what I had taken as weariness was softened by the beginnings of smiles. It was after they had each taken a slice of pizza that an intriguing thing happened.

On the table was a shaker jar of what I took to be garlic salt, the kind often found in pizza places everywhere. The husband (if that is what he was) picked it up and sprinkled some on his pizza. He paused, looked over at the wife (if that is what she was) while cocking an eyebrow. He said something, probably asking her if wanted some garlic salt. She smiled a small smile and nodded her head. I fully expected him to hand her the shaker.

He did not. He reached over and dusted her slice for her, and then set the jar down. She was smiling and seemed to be eager to eat. It struck me that she had neither said something "Enough!" or signaled for him to stop shaking the garlic salt. He just did it, she seemed happy and they both fell to on the pizza, looking happy.

It was then that I realized I may have been wrong about them. Maybe they were both just tired from a long workday, and quiet as a result. Maybe they were really in love.

I say that because it takes significant history to do what he did. It takes a certain knowledge to be able to season someone's food for them and know when to stop. In return, it takes a lot of trust to let someone do that for you. It takes confidence to let another take care of you, if for no other reason other than you trust them, you love them. This is especially true when it comes to sharing salt. It is easy to ruin a dish with too much salt, so allowing another to give you salt without overtly defining the limits is a quiet but powerful way of showing how much you trust them.

It is a sign of how much you love another, perhaps, to be able to give them salt in just the right amount without the need for words or signals. It speaks to a deeper bond, a deeper knowledge.

Love, give me salt, that I may know you.