31 July 2011

Church Yards

Flashing by, red orange blurs
that taste of heaven
and damnation, soul sheds and
bone markers reminding us of
our time on a mortal trip
and we roll on down the highway
filling up with questions
or purging our spleen,
but quietly, quietly, innocents
are within earshot, and their
questions we may not be
ready, if we are ever ready,
to answer, because there is
(trust us on this)
there is no real way to answer
the unanswerable,
to a mind that thinks
there is an answer to all,
believes there is answer to all
Which perhaps, is grace.
But is not like us,
who have grown up and
wonder if the fall was was worth it.

30 July 2011

Lemon Fresh Souls

Air shimmered, souls joined,
We sat with cookies in hand,
lemon cooling tongues

29 July 2011

What Do I Know About Love?

I have written often of love in these here annals of Irish Gumbo.  It is a theme I return to, again and again, because it vexes me and fascinates me and ultimately, is what I seek in life.  So I sometimes believe myself to be quite the learned one when it comes to the underpinnings and effects of love.  The danger in that is I may start to believe that I know a lot about the subject.  And the danger in that, is I will come to believe that I have nothing left to learn about love.

Fortunately, this is not true.  There is much dross on love in the blogosphere, but there is also pure gold.  I was reminded of this today, when through the good graces of a friend I was pointed in the direction of posts most delightful, on the subject of love and writing.  They were touching, sad, beautiful and elegantly uplifting.  They were written by That Gentleman's Lady on her blog It's A Funny Old Life, one I am glad came to my attention through comments on the Gumbo.

I recommend you read these:  How I ended up visiting a tree and The blackest of inks. Please pay her a visit.

It's amazing.  It's serious good.  And I learned something new about love.

28 July 2011

He Will Not Leave

On my travels to and from Virginia, I am always interested by the number of churches I pass on the route I usually take.  There are many, of different stripes of Christianity (I have yet to see any synagogues or mosques) in many buildings ranging from modest structures to authentic Colonial-era churches made of brick and slate.  One thing that is common is the number of signs I see, sporting religious messages or homilies, announcing intent or proclaiming an aspect of faith.  Most are relatively benign, but this past weekend I saw one that gave me pause and made me wonder.  It read:
God will not leave those that trust Him.
 The first thing that occurred to me was the implication:  That means that God might leave those that do not trust Him.  Which seems to me to be a repudiation of what I have been told is true about God.

God loves us all, right?  He will take care of us, right?  So what do you do when you experience things that seem to be evidence that God has left you?  Why would anyone trust a god that proclaims unconditional love for you, yet lets life abuse us at times?

Why would I trust a god like that?  Especially knowing that even though He proclaims to love me no matter what, He would leave me because I have reasons to mistrust Him.  If mistrust is a human trait, one that God created (because He created us, according to some beliefs), why would He leave us for expressing our humanity?  Especially when grounded in very real feelings of anxiety and fear?

I shook my head to clear it, and accelerated down the highway to put some distance between me and doubt.  Resolving that conflict would have to wait for another day.

27 July 2011

Magpie Tales 75: Dog Star

 Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

I rode often as a youth.  Cycling was a favored pastime, as I was of bookish bent and kept frequently to myself.  My playtime and the playtime of the other children in the neighborhood fell out of sync.   I guess you could say our gears did not mesh.  This loner tendency arose not from a innate misanthropism; rather, my mind was comfortable plumbing the depths of thought.  Other people, while pleasant enough, were overly distracting.  Especially Cheryl Goodhope.  She of the buxom physique and laugh like a distant bell.  I rode my bike past her house almost every day that summer of our coming of age.  Hopeful to catch a glimpse, I rarely did. 

When I did see her it was farcical the way I tried to avoid giving the impression that I actually was trying to see her.  Glimpses from the corner of my eyes, zig-zagging like a drunk rickshaw driver down the middle of the street.  It was a small miracle I only crashed once, and that straight into the bumper of Mr. Janson's beat-up old Mazda, parked across from Cheryl's house.  Just my luck, that was the day she was in the front yard, helping her mother plant pansies along the fence.  I remember she was wearing a halter top and shorts that day.  I reckon it was the sight of her leaning over the fence what caused me to crash.  I was a sucker for curvy girls then.  Not much as changed, I guess.

Anyway, it was while I was extricating myself from Janson's bumper, hoping the earth would swallow me, that Cheryl and her mom rushed over to me, asking me if I was okay.  At least, I think that is what they were saying.  Looking at Cheryl, right next to me, I felt cold and hot and shivery all at once.  Her blond hair was pulled back in a bun, the sun a corona around that cute face.  Their lips were moving but all I could hear was a "wahwahwah" sound.  I stood still and gaping like a beached fish.  I stammered something about it was just a scrape, no broken bones, no blood, I'm okay, Mrs. Goodhope, really...

Once they assured themselves I was fine,  I hightailed it out of there as quick as possible.  Later, my dad made me tell Mr. Janson about his car.  I ended up cutting his grass for free the rest of that summer to make up for scratching his car.  Don't know why it mattered, that thing was a rolling turd, but I never told Mr. Janson that.  I had enough trouble in my life.

After that, things changed between Cheryl and I.  More often than not, I would peddle past her house, and she would be there staring back at me.  I got to look less at her, because she would have seen me staring for sure.  Of course, it didn't occur to my addled hormonal brain that she already knew I had been sneaking looks at her.  I found that out in late August, when my parents and I were invited over to the Goodhopes' for a backyard cookout.  Cheryl kissed me then and the universe as I knew it was forever altered.

It was later in the evening, after our bellies were full of hot dogs and corn on the cob.  The adults and the kids had split into their respective clans, but Cheryl and I were the two oldest kids; we both had a dislike for hide and seek, which the younger ones insisted on playing.  Cheryl and I opted for popsicles and sitting on the wooden swing at the far end of the yard.  It was darker away from the porch light.  The stars were coming out as the sky turned indigo into purple-black into black. 

Cheryl and I talked, and the more we talked, the more we slid closer together.  I could feel the heat radiating off of her skin.  She smelled like grill smoke and sweet coconut.  I was intoxicated.  We began to say less and less, and our hands slid together like soft magnets.  My heart was racing.  I was so flustered I looked away from her, desperately trying to think of something to say.  The first thing that popped into my head was some banal comment about Sirius being the brightest star in the sky, I was babbling about it and when I turned my head back to face her, she leaned in and kissed me on the lips.

I almost recoiled in shock.  She had a hand on the back of my neck, so I couldn't pull away.  Her lips were soft and smooth, like I had imagined a million times.  In my surprise I hadn't closed my eyes.  Far off past her shoulder, I could see the star I had been chattering on about just seconds earlier.  It seemed amazingly bright and closer than I had ever thought it before.  The part of my mind that was spilling facts fell silent, and the part that wanted to stay here, kissing Cheryl, took over.  I relaxed into her arms and entertained thoughts of love.

My eyes closed in a haze of bliss.  Through the lids, the star shone faintly red, pulsing in time with our hearts.

26 July 2011

Death Becomes The Grasshopper

Road Trip, Part Deux...

Yesterday, I related some highlights of my road trip down to Virginia to attend a wedding, with my daughter in tow.  Today, I'd like to relate a lowlight of that same trip, courtesy of a grasshopper who just couldn't get out of the way.  I shall call him "Puck", as in 'hockey puck'.  As in something that gets hit hard and caroms crazily all over the place when struck at the right angle.

It happened shortly after the air conditioner crapped out on my car.  The windows were down, and I was praying for some open road to pick up speed, get some air (hot as it was) in motion in the car.  I was leaning forward in the seat, anticipating that the cars in front of us were going to move, opening up some space.  which they did, to my relief.

The car in front of us had opened up about two car lengths of road, and I accelerated to take advantage of it.  I was watching the car carefully when I noticed this bright tan-colored blur strike the leading edge of the car's roof, bouncing high in the air.  I determined that it was an insect of some sort, and I watched it dive gracefully in a smooth parabola, heading downward...

It was then that we made the acquaintance of Puck.

Right into my windshield, with an audible thwack, did the grasshopper greet us.  It left a greenish smudge on the glass, and at first I thought the speed and wind would carry it up the windshield and over the car.  It carried it up the windshield, alright.

Then the poor bastard got lodged in the arm of the driver's side wiper blade.  Just our luck, trajectory and physics smashes Puck, then wedges his ass in tight in a notch in the metal.  And he wouldn't come out!

I drove as fast as prudent, hoping the wind would blow him out.  No dice.  I then turned on the wipers, hoping the centrifugal force would toss him out.  No such luck.  In fact, I think that wedged it in tighter.  I tried squirting the wiper fluid, and that didn't work.

Not wanting to pull over for a bug, I kept on driving.  The Wee Lass chimed in from the back, with helpful comments like "Ewwwww..." and "Daddy, that grasshopper is freaking me out!".  I tried to put it out of my mind, but it was too much in my field of vision.

So I drove the next three plus hours with a dead grasshopper's butt pointing right at me, frizzled wings vibrating in the laminar air flow over the windshield like some sort of bizarre totem designed to ward evil spirits away from unwary travelers.  Puck seemed to be saying to me "I'm coming for you in your dreams..."

I felt I should appease the grasshopper spirit when we arrived at our destination, so my plan was to gently extract the carcass and place it in a nearby flowerbed.  No such luck.  The wind and the heat had baked poor Puck, and when I when to pull it from the wiper blade, the dry carcass exploded like a puffball mushroom in a cloud of dust and exoskeleton fragments.

Alas, poor Puck, we didn't know ye well, but please know we tried.  Please don't haunt my dreams.

25 July 2011

Adventures in Sub-Saharan Virginia: A Wedding Story

Ah, summer.  Long days. Hit nights. Vacations. Travel. Hit nights. And hot days.  Chillaxin'.  And hot days and nights.  We all love summer, right?  What better time than to load up the car, throw the chillun in the back, and road trip out of state for family visit and a wedding!  Woot!  That is precisely what I did this past weekend.

Well, I'll tell you what would be a better time:  a road trip that doesn't start in the afternoon of one of the hottest, if not THE hottest day so far this year around these parts.  A road trip on said hot day during which the car air conditioner stops working about a half-hour into a 4-1/2 hour road trip (excluding dinner break and hopefully not getting any speeding tickets).  A road trip on which I have a nearly 7-year old daughter in the back with nothing but a Leapster to keep her occupied.

It. was. hot.  Like, hell hot.  "Hotter than the Devil's hatband" as my dad often says.  Temperatures were in the triple digits and humidity was near or at 100%.  Not to put too fine a point on it, it sucked donkeys.

I had left straight from work and in an effort to save time skipped going back home to change into shorts.  I ended up driving down the highway with my pants legs pulled all the way up to my knees, and leaning forward in my seat so I wouldn't sweat out my kidneys.  The Wee Lass usually complains about wind in her face but this time she had her window down all the way, face into the breeze blasting through the opening.  From time to time I would glance in the rear view mirror and see Her Royal Cuteness lolling around like a boneless Weeble, slumped in her booster seat with tongue hanging out.  Fortunately, I did have some water on hand, and we topped of big cups of iced tea at our dinner stop.

The drive through Virginia was, to my relief, not as bad as it could have been.  Traffic cooperated, and to her credit the Wee Lass complained almost nil.  We sang songs and looked for traffic signs.  Amazingly, we arrived at the ancestral Gumbo homestead with sanity intact, if a little soggy and wrung out.

The next day was wedding day, for my nephew (Son of Big Bro) and his fiancee.  They had planned an outdoor wedding, on the water, and the show was going to go on.  Poor things, there was no way for them to know that on their wedding day, the temperature was going to be over 100 degrees.

Did mention it was hot?  Like hell hot?

But in the end, it really wasn't that bad.  The wedding party held up well, no one fainted or threw up and the ceremony was beautiful.  My nephew is quite a handsome lad in a tux (and taller than I am!), and the bride...well...the bride was in a word, gorgeous.  Watching the two of them exchange vows, and the emotions that crossed their faces, reminded me of just how precious love is, and what we as human beings can mean to one another.  For a few minutes, the heat and the discomfort and the fatigue of travel disappeared, and we all basked in the radiance of love.

It was wonderful.  I know my Big Bro was watching from somewhere, with pride, at the joy that is his son and my nephew.  He was there, too, I think, because we carry him in our hearts.  

Later, as the newlyweds were leaving, we blew bubbles and wished them well.  Their road trip is just beginning, and it is my dearest wish that it be a long and fruitful one.

Sometimes a little adventure is what we need, to appreciate the quiet beauty of life all around us.

24 July 2011


Bright flowers, white lace,
Syncopation of heart strings
while we cried and smiled

In honor of my N. and S., beginning life together.

23 July 2011

If I Were To Write The Truth...

...what would I say?  The truth is sometimes easy to say, this I know.  I do believe that some easy truths are best reserved for certain ears only.  These are truths that preserve their power for being known by the fewest number possible.  There are truths only to be known to doctors, lawyers and lovers.

There are truths that are harsh, so harsh that to utter them is to rend the fabric of life.  These "unavoidable facts of our existence"  can rip us apart, but they shouldn't be avoided.  Putting it off too long can mean the difference between merely being beaten and utter implosion.

There are truths, the ones we should spend more time on, that are so beautiful that they can only be shared with fewer and fewer people, perhaps obtaining utter completeness when shared only between two people.  These, too, should not be avoided.  Share them as soon as possible, with another.

As cynical and skeptical as I can be, I nurse within my heart a desire for truth.  I don't often let on that I believe that a major reason why we as human beings are on this planet is to share love, which I fancy sometimes to be the only Truth that really matters.

Shh.  Don't tell anybody...but the Truth is, this cynical heart of mine really does believe in the truth of Love.  I'm a softie that way.

And if anyone gives me any guff about it...I'll punch 'em inna head.  With love, of course.

22 July 2011


Blood heat of the day
Iron bell pealing, he sees her
Heart blossoms anew

21 July 2011

That Which We Told Ourselves Was True

Of all the things under the sun, worn seashells always made Paddy think of what it meant to live a good life.  Walking the strand in the morning, mug of coffee spiked with a little cognac, he always picked up shells no matter how full his pockets.  Morrigan, his grizzled and faithful Irish setter, had learned to spot them and often would bring him prizes she had found in the sand and seaweed along the tideline.  The rough textures and nacreous innards were yin and yang, Paddy thought. And who knows what they once held.

The wind was sharp this morning.  The sky was fading indigo tinged with a silver that dappled the breakers rolling in off the Atlantic.  Paddy ambled slowly along the scalloped edge of the wrack, Morrigan looping back and forth in front like a horizontal sine wave.  Or half-infinities, the man imagined and smiled at the thought.  Briefly he considered that his dog was tracing out runes and sigils like a four-legged shaman divining his fate.  If only he could decipher the symbols, maybe he would discover that path he seemed to have missed.  For a heartbeat or two, he considered asking the dog what she thought.  The absurdity made him laugh, the sound ringing in the salt air like iron bells after a long rest.

"What say ye, Morrigan?  Is this the way, lass?" he called out to the dog.

Morrigan lifted her snout from the small but intriguing pile of shells and bones through which she had been rooting.  She cocked her head at the sound of her master's voice.  Her deep brown eyes held his gaze, her nose twitching and she began to wag her tail.  The expression on her face seemed to say "I have no idea what you mean, but I'm happy to not have an idea!"  Paddy laughed at the sweet goofiness of it.  He grew quiet and turned to gaze out over the syrupy emerald sea.  On the horizon a freighter disappeared into the sky.

"I suppose your right, girl", Paddy said to himself, "Guess we'll keep looking."

Their shadows lean in the morning sun, dog and man reflecting each other, picking up shells as their footprints slowly melted into the sea.

20 July 2011

Jaguar Draws Breath

Gold eyes, heaving flanks,
fangs bared in noonday sunlight,
Memory: her scent

19 July 2011

Magpie Tales 74: Ausländer

Photo courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

Slip it on to
wear it well,
you delude yourself

Others may believe
a membranous smile
you wish it so

Take it from the wall
trembling hands adjust
your skin, its surface

Into the night,
a soul, arrogance blind
and you don't see

you can't see, you won't,
this second visage
in a mirror obscured

go ahead, believe,
but face hiding a face
can't hide the alien within

18 July 2011

The Tallest Building In The World Is A Pile Of Boring

Okay, time for a rant.  An architectural rant, perhaps the first one on the Gumbo, evah, which is surprising considering that I play an architect in real life.  Have for 22 years now.  Yikes.

What got all up in my grill, gave me a snootful of pepper spray, was this notion of building the tallest building in  the world, and how ridiculous it all seems.  Its been years since the Sears Tower in Chicago was the champ, and right now I couldn't tell you where the tallest building is or who built it.  Probably financed by oil money in a part of the world where it doesn't make sense to build really tall buildings anyway, but that's what happens when you've got more money and ego than common sense.

I couldn't tell you where or what the tallest building is anymore, because I stopped caring long ago.  I don't care how tall the building is, its not a matter of national pride for me, it does not have a truly beneficial effect on my life or the people I know. i don't ever plan on working on it or in it.  I don't want to work 75 stories or more off the ground.  Hell, I don't even want to go higher than say 10, at most.  Because. I. Don't. Care.

The competition to build the tallest building in the world is no longer about architecture.  In some ways, it isn't even about engineering anymore.  It's about ego and arrogance.  Sure, the designers will tell you they are "maximizing density" and "minimizing footprints" but really what happens is they are trying to maximize dollars per square foot and show the world who has the biggest penis.  Some will even claim they are designing eco-sensitive buildings, they are "being green", but that mainly applies to the surface.  To build a monstrously tall building is to take horizontal sprawl and make it vertical, thereby making it more difficult in may ways to manage, and consuming just as much resources, if not more, than a much more sensibly planned low to mid rise development.  Don't believe me?  Just take a look at how much power it takes to heat, cool and move people in a building that is 150 stories (or whatever the current record is) tall and is full of businesses.

I know, I can hear some of you sigh and say "Yo, Gumbo, we appreciate your vibe, but you seem to be a little lazy in your research.  How about some examples?".  Fair enough...

Here's my research for you:  google it.

Because. I. Don't. Care.  I absorbed most of what I really needed to write this post from the regular parade of articles I had been seeing in the trade rags I read as part of my information intake.  I reached a point where I just got tired of reading yet again about the new record for tallest building and how one even taller was being planned, and really, it has nothing in common with the kind of architecture I'd like to practice, the kind that gets me really excited about why I wanted to be an architect in the first place.

So to all those who think it is so god-awful important to build monuments to the man-junk you probably don't have, but that your egos have convinced you that you need...stop it.  Just stop it.  I have to believe that the majority of the folks in the world don't care how tall a building if they don't have a decent built environment of their own.

Besides, skyscrapers are fascist.  Worse...they are boring.  Please stop boring me to tears.

Here endeth the rant.

17 July 2011


"Heffries" they called him, which they could see on the faded name tag on his threadbare camouflage shirt. The old man's name was really Jeffries, but the kids had grown up with Spanish as a mother tongue.  The old man never told them his first name, he didn't talk much and wasn't inclined to correct them on his last name, and the kids, they got bored watching a half-blind cripple shuffle his way into the plaza by the fountain.  They usually drifted away pretty quickly when he didn't respond to their questions or their taunts.

Jeffries didn't mind.  He bore them no grudge.  All he wanted was to warm the metal grafts on his legs and left arm, relics of the war, in the equatorial sun.  It felt good, this low burn.  His slowly regenerating nerves often left him feeling cold, no matter what the temperature.  It was his habit to hobble over every day to sit on the worn granite of the benches in the plaza and dream about what he had lost in this Latin soil.

Every day, the old man sat in plaza, listening to the city and for the cry of the panela vendor once he had opened his stall in the small mercado just across the way.  He knew the owner, had broken bread with him long ago before the guns and the terror had ripped the country apart.  Every day, the owner's son brought Jeffries a small lump of piloncillo, and every day Jeffries tried to press a few pesos into the kid's hands.  Every day, the kid refused.  There was some low-key banter, apologies and thanks all around, and then the kid would scuttle back to the market.

Jeffries turned the small cone of dark brown sugar over and over in his hands.  Through the cracked and frosted prisms he called his eyes he could only see it as a vague shape that occasionally shifted into sharp focus.  The old man wasn't sure if his eyes were healing; the docs said so, but between the nanophages and the slightly out-of-date secondhand Swiss optics, nothing ever seemed to get truly better. 

Jeffries sighed.  He wouldn't worry about that now.  He wouldn't think about the flesh and bone he had lost in the war; that was over now.  That he was far from home mattered little as well.  The old man had begun to give up on returning to the land of his birth.  Distance and a ravaged body made it hard to think about travel.

He lifted the cone to his lips.  A faint whiff of molasses reached his nose, and he smiled.  The sugar broke apart, sweet sand upon his cracked lips and eager tongue.  Of all the things his body had absorbed under an alien sun, the local sugar had stayed with him the longest.  He scraped a small chunk off the cone with his front teeth, and let it sit to dissolve.

Jeffries leaned back, thin skin and knobby spine scraping with a pleasant scratch against the warm stone of the bench.  He swallowed, took another bite while turning his face to the sun.  The warmth spread through him and he thought of youth he once knew.  There under the argentine sunlight,  Jeffries fell asleep and died with a smile on his lips, dreaming of a girl he once knew who tasted like piloncillo.

16 July 2011

Stars, Nodding Their Heads

In the gloaming, by the dogwood
they nod their heads, a zephyr's caress
like hands of a lover on beloveds cheek

Quiet paramours to the dusk,
fireflies' courtesans, or street mimes
There by the fence, bouquet on the breeze

In the garden, a pause of breath
for the night and for the lovers,
entwined hands and stolen kisses

On heaven and earth, they blossom,
throwing their souls to the wind
and their hearts into the dusk

In the gloaming, sun fades to mood indigo,
their bodies limned in pale silver,
Knowing life, petals savor the sweetness

15 July 2011

Bumblebee Blues: Sip and Gulp

So I'm watching out the kitchen window, where I can see this crepe myrtle bush (or is it a tree? What the hell is a crepe myrtle, anyway?  Sounds like it could be someones grandmother) and it finally dawns on me that it is bigger than it was back in the beginning of spring.  Which is probably not unusual, considering that it is a green, growing thing, and by their inherent nature they tend to grow.  And be green. In this case, what piqued my interest, what got all up in my grille as it were, was that it seemed a lot bigger.  Really.  Considering that I had cropped it back, given it the arborist's equivalent of a flattop fade, I was expecting that there bush to behave itself this summer.  So I wouldn't have to cut it back again.  Well, fuggedaboutit, paisanos, it looks like Gumbo the Gardener will have to engage in some more horticultural ass-whoopin' to get things under control.

So it is that I take on the natural world.  To be fair, the crepe myrtle doesn't bother me that much.  It has grown fast since I cut it back, but it also has a burgeoned with a thick layer of flowers on the branches.  Deep magenta or crimson, I don't know, but there are a lot of them.  As a consequence of all this floral exuberance there have been a plethora of bees flitting about on the bush.  There may have been a hummingbird, too, but I cannot confirm it.  But a hummingbird would be cool.

It was while watching the birds and the bees do their dance (no, sillies, not that dance), on a hot, sunny afternoon that I was granted an insight.  A brief glimpse of the inner workings of life.  The bees were lazily circling about, landing now and them to ravish their chosen dance partners, seeking pollen and being profligate with their affections.  I took to meditating on those bees, wondering if I had been doing the same thing with my life: sipping lightly from so many things and never really staying put with my emotions.  Never taking a break and drinking the nectar of life.  Never grabbing the cup with both hands and just sucking down a few huge gulps, for the sheer sake of knowing I could, and thereby drink deep.  The bees, whether they knew it or not, had just taught me a lesson about gusto.

From small creatures do great lessons flow.  I watched the bees sip from the flowers and considered that maybe, just maybe, I was ready to fill my belly with a few swigs of Life.  Forget finesse, forget being too delicate, too scared of it, I realized it is high time I grab a cup and drink my fill.

It really is too short, ignore the cliche and absorb the truth.  Time to raise a toast to life.

14 July 2011

Chaff and Scatter

There somewhere on the dining table, are the fragments of a life, small drifts of notes and business cards, detritus of the loose ends never quite in control. The occasional berg of paper shoved from one side of the table to another, depending on mood and circumstance.  Or size of the project to be undertaken.

Funny.  Funny peculiar, not funny as in laughing.  The big stuff has been moved out of the way, finally, picked up in a blizzard of ambition and moved to a nearby cabinet.  Took long enough, he mutters, maybe next year, a desk!  Bah.  The table serves as desk in the mornings, well, desk and buffet.  Breakfast now consumed facing the windows and a copy of something to read off to the side.  Quiet.  He wants quiet now, but the chaff is loud without saying a word.  It whispers of laziness and fractured attention...it highlights the need for quiet.

The thought raises a smile.  Quiet?  Yes, quiet.  Lately the radio has stayed off, for the first time in months.  Unusual, perhaps, for the man, but not unwelcome.  He sits quietly, slowly chewing the cud of oat cereal, and realizes that the radio stayed off because for the first time in months...his mind was quiet enough that he wanted to listen to it instead.

He sweeps his hands across the table, scattering the chaff, and reveling in serenity.  It is a good morning.

13 July 2011

Laughter of the Sun

Spun silk and sunbeams,
her hair a long bead curtain,
Behind, diamonds smile.

12 July 2011

Tiny Revelations

I found myself walking along the railroad tracks down by the river, Sunday evening.  How I arrived there was a bit of a mystery, because I couldn't pinpoint when it was I told myself to go there instead of going home.  Was it a conscious decision?  Not sure.  More likely it was some directive from the recesses of my mind, emerging from the deep dark like a whale surfacing in a channel between the floes.  Me, in my kayak, paddling fast to stay ahead of the bow shock and to stay upright.

So there I was walking and sweating in the heat, puzzling over what I do when I do stuff I don't quite fathom.  there were birds calling.  The river flowed liked a quiet conversation three stacks over in the library.  The gravel crunched satisfyingly under my shoes as I trudged down towards the river and then up the hill to my car.

Flash.  A moment of slow time when all was quiet.  The birds and the trees held their breath, as I held mine, and was flooded with the thought that I would rather know love for a lifetime than be a hero for a day.

Silence.  Heartbeats.  A letting go of ego...if I know love, then I will know life.  This is what was revealed to me.

11 July 2011

Comfortable In My Obsolescence

Wandered the bookstore the other day, tracing the strands of my divergent memory, trying to find not my lost shaker of salt but the riding crops for the horses that are my thoughts.  I tell myself to stop buying books until I have read the books I bought the last time I told myself to stop buying books.

I was unsuccessful.  I ended up buying Seeds and Thoughts In Solitude, both by Thomas Merton, and a paperback copy of Meditations, written by Marcus Aurelius as translated by Martin Hammond.  I already have one version of the Marcus Aurelius work, but (flashes his geek credentials) I wanted to compare the two and see how the different translators interpreted the work.

I hear some of you saying "Gumbo needs to get a life".  A fair cop, I suppose.

I worry sometimes that I do not have a life, outside of the tesseract that is my head.  I love to read, mentally tasting words, chewing on them, delighting in the tang and savor.  I know that writing and reading are integral to the way I view myself and my station in the world.  Words and language and ideas are sinew, bone and blood...the air in my lungs, the beating of my heart.  The page and the book (especially the book) are avatars of what I want to be.

And I am so afraid they will soon be obsolete.  I had the chill settle on my heart, standing in the bookstore and reading passages from Merton and Aurelius.  Their words reached across decades and centuries to grab me by the heart and jolt my mind with electricity born of the pen across the page.  I felt the chill of obsolescence in the middle of a bookstore, because there are so many pages, so many books in me, and I have not yet begun to write.

I hope I am not too late

10 July 2011

Learning Logos

I have been blessed to receive, through the graces of a good friend, a copy of A Year with Thomas Merton, a profound and elegant collection of daily meditations by the Thomas Merton, the famed Trappist monk who was also an author, poet and civil rights activist.  This man of contemplation died in 1968, but somehow he read my heart.

There is much to be said about what I have read so far, but I today I wanted to say that I have learned a new word, gleaned from the July 9th meditation entitled "Heat and Zen Quiet".  The word is kerygma, defined as "the proclamation of religious truths" or "the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ".  Thomas Merton used it to describe the heat of the day he was experiencing:
"It calls for one of those nature poems, a kerygma of heat such as the Celts never had."
Brother Merton showed me the word.  This use of kerygma was masterful.  It is the use of a word in a nontraditional way, by someone who truly understood the original meaning.

In spite of the vestiges of my Christian upbringing,  upon reading that sentence and checking the definition, I felt the pangs of jealousy and inadequacy.  This is not unusual, sometimes, when taught a lesson you didn't know you were about to learn

Sunday morning, and I am basking in the afterglow of enlightenment.  The burn will fade, leaving me with the warmth of knowledge, all thanks to a Trappist who knew me before I knew myself.

09 July 2011

Full Metal Jacket Heart

Be careful before you open a six-gun mouth
to pull the trigger with words ballistic
or spray the room with linguistic pellets
without a choke, at the speed of sound
because high-velocity physics is a tricky thing
for anyone to control, anger and scorn hard cases
that may not strike at calculated angles, instead,
a beating heart abused by blowback and ricochet

08 July 2011

The Mayo(nnaise) Clinic

I swear, this mayonnaise thing must be some sort of strange attractor for me.  Once again, I find myself cogitating on the subject of condiments, with mayo front and center.  I know I've done this before (see "French Fries in Holland" and "Mayo Playo Hato" for enlightenment, if you haven't already), and I thought I was finis, but alas, it came back.  I must confess to you, why it came back.

Recently while at lunch with some new friends, I ordered a club sandwich with french fries.  The waitress asked me if I wanted ketchup or mayonnaise.  Perplexed, because I thought she was asking if I wanted either on my sandwich, I said mayonnaise.  Because who puts ketchup on a club sandwich?

A minute later, it hit me: she was asking if I wanted mayo or ketchup for the french fries.  Sure enough, when the plates arrived at the table there were two tiny stainless steel cups with mayonnaise in them.

Hmm.  Given my past stance on that particular condiment, one would think I would have asked the waitress to bring a bottle of ketchup, or malt vinegar (my particular favorite on fries), but not wanting to lose face I gamely decided to try the mayo.  To quote Jeffrey Steingarten, the "results, regrettably, were delicious".

I have ventured over to the Dark Side of condiment application...and I liked it.  And now I don't what to do...

07 July 2011

Rebel Truth

Would you, if you could,
start a revolution in your heart?
Sit still and write the manifesto
seething in your blood, filling veins,
Can you find the courage
to tell the true story of what you want
and thereby set the world alight?

Is it in you?  The hot core of life
a sphere of molten desire to know,
to manifest in another's gravity
is perhaps the true rebellion
in a reality seeking to pervert you,
to melt you into a corruption.
Fight back! Live the love within you!

06 July 2011


As the plane drifted toward the taxiway, Lonnie Houlihan became aware of two things: he was exhausted and there were voices in his head.  He suspected the voices were the symptom of the exhaustion.  At least, he told himself that was the case.  He wasn't so sure that they weren't always there.  This time, they spoke clearly rather than in the whispers to which he was accustomed.

Lonnie leaned back as far as he could in the seat.  The upright position reminded him of the monstrous ladderback chairs owned by his maternal grandparents, set in the "parlor" as they called it.  To this day the thought of that made Lonnie smile.  It also made him uneasy.  His grandma and grandpa, a pair of devout Catholics, as stiff and rigid in their devotions as the chairs were in their uncomfortable verticality.

That unbending devotion had transferred itself imperfectly to his mother, like a misaligned coin die striking a flawed but beautiful silver dollar.  Lonnie knew that devotion had erratic balance, something his mother had attributed to the death of Lonnie's father, when Lonnie was only six years old.  As a boy and a young man, he had watched his mother struggle with raising him alone and trying to be the good daughter to people who allowed for no imperfection.

He closed his eyes, the plane rocking gently as it trundled over the concrete.  A sigh escaped his lips as he thought of how much he wished to be home.  This trip had dragged on, longer than he expected.  The constant client meetings, sessions with the money men, the designers who constantly changed their minds and expected him to know that without being told.  It was driving him crazy.

In the gaps between the meetings and breakout sessions, he took to walking the city.  He had never been here before, which Lonnie discovered astonished him, considering how much of the world he had flown over or driven on in his life out of a suitcase.  It made him wonder again, seeing things with a fresh, if tired, set of eyes.  Sometimes he remembered to take his camera, reminding him again of a cherished hobby he had all but abandoned in the race up the ladder.

He walked the city.  He breathed in air thick with scents familiar and intriguingly new.  There were languages on the wind that he swore he had never heard before.  During the walks he noticed an abundance of churches, most decades if not hundreds of years old.  He found himself fascinated with them.  He took more and more photos, as many as he could fit on the memory cards.  He found himself thinking more and more of the churches, and less and less about the reasons he was in the city in the first place.

It was during one sun-infused walk past a worn-looking church of indeterminate Christian pedigree, his fourth day on the ground, that he first heard the voices.  They whispered, they laughed.  They asked him if his heart was in the right place.  Lonnie was so startled he nearly dropped his camera.  He felt nauseous.  A passing stranger asked him if he was okay.  A slow nod of the head, a feeble "Yes", and Lonnie staggered off to his next meeting, not sure if he could remember what he was supposed to talk about.

Meetings. Conferences.  Hurried lunches of second-rate catered sandwiches.  Lonnie maintained his facade, but all the while the voices were there.  He began to doubt his confidence.  Half-asleep in his hotel bed, for three nights he dreamed.  He was walking, arguing with himself, calling into question everything he had worked for in life, every path he had taken, and if it was all for the wrong reasons.  His dreams always ended the same way:  he had walked the city until he stood before one of the most breathtaking churches he had ever seen.  Its massive dome towered over the hillside on which it perched, stairways bedecked with pilgrims on their knees on their way up.  He stopped, frozen, as a woman carrying a rosary brushed his elbow.  She was praying in a soft voice.  The contact startled them both, and he gasped as she turned to him with luminous eyes, saying "Father Saint Joseph, pray for us."  She smiled a Mona Lisa smile, turning to go, and Lonnie awoke sweating and gasping in his bed.  The image of the dome burned in the afterglow fading into his retinas.

In his spare time over the next three days, Lonnie frantically searched the city for the church he had seen in his dreams.  In the end it proved fruitless.  He ran out of time, the pressures of the project and investment capital were too much to hold off.  He boarded the plane for home worn out and frustrated that he had been unable to find the church, and ask that woman her name.

The plane lurched, wobbling around a turn in the taxiway.  Lonnie snapped his eyes open, realizing he had dozed off again.  He was glad the adjacent seat was empty, that no one witnessed his look of panic at not knowing where he was at first.  He leaned forward to look out the window, trying to see why the plane had momentarily stopped moving.  He saw that from this vantage point he could see part of the city and the hills that overlooked it.  Through a gap in the airport buildings, shimmering in the heat off the concrete and jet exhaust haze, he spied a rounded building far off in the distance.  With a start, he realized it was a dome.

A dome just like the one in his dream.  Lonnie pressed his forehead against the window.  The hard surface made him wince and sharpened his focus as he strained to see the dome better.  There it was, big as day: the dome he had stood before, watching that woman walk away.  His pulse raced, and he felt faint.  The voices in his head told him to get up, run, get off the plane, but it was too late.  The aircraft began to crawl forward, the voice of the pilot buzzing over the intercom to tell them they were next in line for takeoff.  Lonnie began to weep silently, and slowly, as the dome disappeared from view.

As the plane rumbled into the sky, a hard crystalline sunlight poured through the windows on the opposite side of the cabin.  Lonnie felt the warmth on the backs of his hands, his face buried in them as he choked back sobs.  He knew now, it was a city of conversations, and it had been speaking to him the entire time, if not a lifetime.  The voices had told him of his true heart, and how it was a long way from home.

Lonnie knew this, as the plane rose into the sky.  He was coming back to the city, someday, the one home to his true heart.  He would walk the cracked and profane streets, her voice leading him to the stairs, which he would climb on his knees and offer thanks from a heart full to brimming with knowing now where it lived.

05 July 2011

Pillow Talk

I was making the bed, as I am wont to do on laundry day after the sheets are done.  For the first time in perhaps, well, the first time ever, I noticed the number of pillows on my bed.  Really noticed.  Why is this important? you ask.  I'll tell you.

I have seven pillows on my bed. Seven. These, on a slightly undersized queen mattress.  I am only one person.  My head may be big, but it isn't so big as to cover seven pillows.  How can this be?

To be sure, two of those pillows are for support of my legs at night, due to a nagging low-grade back problem I have had for years.  The dual leg pillows were suggested long ago by my doctor, and it has been beneficial in keeping my spine straight.  Which is a necessity.  Lower back pain = lack of sleep = Grouchy Gumbo.  And no one, especially me, wants to see him.

Two more pillows are graced by my largish melon, also beneficial for the Gumbo neck.  I've become accustomed to resting my noggin on two pillows, and find it very difficult to sleep without that arrangement.  The ensemble is topped off by a third pillow which I keep over my head for the purpose of blocking out noises and light.  My sleeping habits changed over the years, and I went from being a fairly sound sleeper to a somewhat light sleeper.  I have the unfortunate quirk of being overly sensitive to sounds when I am trying to concentrate or sleep, in that I find them almost impossible to ignore.  So the equivalent of a giant earmuff has become standard equipment  in the Gumbo Sleep Palace.

You may have noticed already, my friends, that this leaves two pillows unaccounted for.  How to explain that?

The answer, I believe, lies partly in my state of mind relative to my current life situation.  I don't have a favored pet, my head isn't that big, I have been living alone for over two years now...but patterns persist, especially if they are ingrained after many years of habit and stasis.

The first pattern is overt, and is that of visible symmetry.  The bed simply looked better, more balanced, less open with a set of pillows on each half of the mattress.  Having one set on the side where I usually sleep just looks odd.  And I never glommed onto the idea of putting one set in the middle of the bed at the head.  Honestly, it never occurred to me.

The second pattern is covert, and reflects an inner construct so long embedded it had ceased to register in a conscious manner.  It is the pattern of a different life, of a bed shared for years, and the pillows were always there on the other half of the bed.  Two pillows representing what used to be the other half of me, a half that has been sundered.  That this sundering was necessary is beyond question.  That two pillows in a certain place should follow me into the next chapter of my life is a more complicated condition.

I think the two pillows represented a time in my life when I had a peculiar type of certainty, a sense of my person and how I fit into the life I was living.  Having to live on my own was such an affecting transition that my subconscious probably clung to anything it could grab that it recognized.  Going to bed at night with two pillows on the other half of the bed was eminently familiar, so I stuck with it.  When it came time to make my own bed, literally, I went with what I knew.

Standing at the foot of my bed, musing on the wall of seven pillows I have built there, I sensed it may be time for a change.  Seven pillows may be comforting, but that many aren't truly necessary.  Soon, soon, I think, I'll finally move one set off and move the other to the center at the head.  I'll be able to look down at the singularity of those pillows, and realize that they are not as lonely as I feared.

There will be a day when I put my pillows in the center, at the head, and know that I have balance.

04 July 2011

Volume Zero: Independence Day

The architect Louis Kahn spoke of the "momentous event in architecture when the wall parted and the column became", which inspired a post of mine some months (years?) ago.  An appropriate metaphor for transformation, for a phase change of a particular order.  I think it makes sense to extend the idea further, if we must speak of phase changes, pushing it back to that moment when the universe expanded, and the world Became.  From the singularity of which the physicists speak, the infinitesimal point that contained everything that was, is and will be, into the manifestation of them in which we live.

This is beginnings, of which Mr. Kahn was also quite fond.  He spoke often of reading "Volume Zero", that book of history that exists before History.  In other words, what occurred before the recording of history became possible, at least in a more enduring format than oral tradition.

Volume Zero:  the history before the singularity expanded.  The roots of what we were, are and will be. I seek Volume Zero, because it holds confirmation of what we were before the singularities of us expanded, and we became.  Maybe it is quixotic on my part, but that volume may tell us who were meant to be. 

With today being Independence Day here in the United States, beginnings are on my mind.  July 4th marks the birth of  a nation.  Nations, in the fine grain detail, are made of people. And people are made of us.

Amongst the flags and the parades and the picnics and the fireworks, it is a fine thing to celebrate the independence of a nation that allows us, mostly, to be who we want to be.  I will offer my respects, and my gratitude, as is fitting.

I will also meditate on my Volume Zero, seeking the roots of who I was meant to be.  Seeking my own independence of the soul, I hope also to determine if who I want to be...is who I was meant to be.

On Independence Day 1, in Volume Zero, the universe expanded and we became.  Let us keep looking for the light of that expansion.

03 July 2011

The Knocking Unconscious of Cynical Jaundice

I am not exactly the Excitable Boy, but I do get easily wound up by certain things that get under the skin of my convictions.  It would help, sometimes, to know exactly what are my convictions.  That sentence alone is telling of my state of mind when it comes to believing in something, anything.  A criticism of me, one that may have some small grain of fairness in it, is that it is sometimes difficult for others to determine what it is they think I believe in.  This is primarily due to cynicism and wariness, in that I have rarely wanted to give myself away for fear that the information would be used to take unfair advantage of me.

I tend not to believe very broadly, but when I do believe, I believe deeply.  I simply am careful about when and to whom I choose to let those feelings be known.

This wariness has tinged my writing to a noticeable degree.  Over the course of my journals and into this blog I have very often been truly inspired by the cynical, the jaded, the 'world-gone-wrong' dim view of humanity, when sitting down to write.  There is so much idiocy and misery in the world, much of it inflicted by humans on humans, that my sense of righteous indignation is piqued every day.  It is that indignation that fuels the fire of creativity, oftentimes, for better or worse.  It is why bad news and vicious snark seem to sell so well, when taken to extremes.

This makes me weary.

However, I have noticed a sea change as of late.  I do not seem to be focusing so much on the destructive or cynical or downer aspects of daily life on this planet.  It is rather refreshing.  Don't get me wrong, I still get agitated by the evening news and the mindless chatter of talking heads and modern politics.  I still get fired up enough to want to write about it.  Increasingly, these days?  I sit down to write those thoughts...and I find they have drained away.  The bubble bursts and I wonder just what I was so worked up about.  The noise and clatter seems so less important.

Why is this?  I am uncertain.  In recent weeks, I have found myself feeling much more in a creative frame of mind.  The positive is throwing off more light than the negative.  I am increasingly attracted to the light, even if I am contemplating something unpleasant or irritating.  I think more about the heart of the sun, animal energy, laughter and the making of things.  Grace and love seem nearer to me.

For a rust-stained cynic such as me, this is a state of affairs most grand.  I don't know what stream of energy I tapped into, or exactly how, but I'm going to stay here awhile and drink from the flow.  It's sweet and good.

02 July 2011

String Theory

I sit in a daze and wonder
sometimes how can it be
the universe cares and not-cares
offering marvels and heartbreak
in equal measure, and I worry

but then a bird sings or a voice calls
and it matters little if it makes sense
or not-sense, because a breezy day,
turning the face to the sun, warming,
the soul knows the true promise of love

01 July 2011

An Early Summer Night's Dream

Summer, scent of peach
Cradling concentrated warmth
juice spills down the chin