28 December 2011

A Bowl of Rice

Rainer cracked the eggs into a beat-up ceramic bowl, blue-flecked and chipped.  His hands shook only a little this morning, and only a few drops of egg white landed on the knife-scarred wood of the counter.  The ghost of a smile that crossed his face held no real humor, but he reckoned it was better than the usual paint shaker his breakfasts tended to be.  The herbs the monks had given him seemed to be working.  His nerves were calmer, and the vomiting had stopped hours ago.  Almost.

Light the color of oyster shells seeped into the small cell, the eastern light of a Vietnamese dawn hitting the slopes of the Dãy Trường Sơn.  Rainer stopped, eggshell in hand, watching the little window grow brighter.  The hot plate at the end of the counter hissed softly.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the pale blue gas ring capering like a small spirit under the battered aluminum tea kettle perched on the burner.  Spirits.  Ghosts.  He struggled to recall what the natives called them.  Ma? Bong ma?  The words slipped away like fish in the river.

Rainer shook his head, cobwebs falling away and he struggled to keep his eyes open.  The motions sent tremors through his hands, and the eggshell clutched in his right hand rattled against the bowl.  In the close confines of the cell, it sounded to his addict's ears too much like the death rattle he could not shake loose from his mind.  That dry, pebbly sound brought back the night in that Hue alley.  Filth on the stones, a dark stain spreading slowly on the groin of Anna Marie's pants, and a death warrant of Burmese opium signing off on his brain.  It was raining, he recalled, and as the heroin took over his own veins he remembered slumping against the wall and hoping she wouldn't drown.  Then there were lights, and sirens.  The world went black and he woke up in a crowded courtyard with the concerned face of a Buddhist novice peering at him.  Anna, he noticed, was nowhere to be seen.

The monk held out a hefty bowl filled with a strong brown liquid that reeked of licorice and dirt.  He said something in Vietnamese, something Rainer could not quite make out.  The monk then pantomimed drinking from the bowl, and from the expression on his face Rainer had the feeling that refusal was not acceptable.  He took the heavy clay bowl from the waiting hands.  The odor arising from the bowl made him gag.  Hot and bitter, it felt like thin mud coating his gullet.  It hit his stomach like lead shot.  The addict thought it was not going to stay down, and minutes later his prediction proved correct.

Rainer leaned forward and vomited like a cannon into the stone gutter in front of him.  He coughed and sputtered, tears in his eyes.  His body writhed like a worm on a hook as the spasms wracked him over and over.  He lost count of how many times he spewed.  Through the haze of pain and tears, he saw the monk sitting a short distance away, watching him in his sickness and not moving a muscle. Rainer finally sat back on his trembling haunches, reasonably certain he would not puke again, the monk came over with a bucket of cold water and a tattered rag which he held out before him.  The addict took the rag, thinking he would dip it into the water and wipe his face.  Before he could act, the monk swung the bucket back and dashed the freezing water hard into Rainer's face.  The addict was stunned into immobility.  When the shock wore off, Rainer gently dabbed at his face, wiping off dirt and spew.  The monk stood, impassive.  He gave Rainer time to clean his face, then motioned for the addict to follow him further into the compound.

Rainer sobbed briefly.  Memories of that day made him shake.  The eggshell shattered into chaff, small flakes sprinkling like snow onto the bare wood.  The addict looked down at the counter.  Two yolks lay in the bowl, gelatinous yellow suns staring back at him with neon intensity.  He took a pair of dirty chopsticks from the rack above the basin that served as sink, and began to beat the eggs.  A laugh, grating and sepulchral, burst from his cracked lips.  Funny, he thought, don't need a mixer 'cause my hands shake so much.

The eggs he set aside.  A small pan had been heating on the second burner of the hot plate.  Rainer saw it was wispy with smoke.  There was a square platter next to the plate, filled with day old rice.  The addict scraped the rice into the pan, to sizzle in the thin layer of oil.  Smoke stung his eyes, and the faint nutty aroma coming from the pan reminded him for some reason of his grandmother's kitchen.  A trace of grin as he stirred the rice.  The only seasoning he had was a small amount of dried chiles he kept in a tan stoneware jar next to the hot plate.  He sprinkled a small pinch over the rice, the dark red flakes seeming like spots of blood against the dirty white of the rice.  A wave of dizziness overtook him; his head he rested on the wall.  Blood.  That would be his penance, the dark communion he would receive to atone for his sins of abuse and gluttony.

The rice sizzled and hissed.  After the dizziness passed, Rainer took the bowl of eggs and swirled them into the rice.  He stirred quickly to break up the eggs into thin sheets and rags, stark against the pepper flakes.  Leaving the mess to cook briefly, he swabbed out the bowl with a banana leaf and some water.  The monks had given him one bowl, and he had not yet mastered it for his meals.  He shook the contents of the pan into the bowl and turned off the burners.  The tea kettle he emptied into a waiting mug.  The small amount of tea leaves in the mug swirled around as if in a miniature storm.  The aroma of jasmine and eggs filled the air, and Rainer found himself salivating in spite of the nausea he felt.

The addict sat down heavily on the pallet opposite the counter.  The meager bedding he shoved into the corner, only a thin cushion under his bony backside for small comfort.  He could reach across the intervening space for the tea, the counter serving as table.  Rainer held the bowl of rice in his lap, between hands gone wiry from lack of food and abundance of the dark fruits of the Golden Triangle.  He paused, inhaling the aroma.  He sat still, eyes closed.  He had lost his religion years ago, in pursuit of the dragon, but he tried a prayer all the same.

He opened his eyes.  The square of light coming from the little window at the end of the cell had tracked up onto his feet.  He was no longer shocked at how dirty they seemed, split skin and jagged nails.  The paws of a rude beast, he thought.  A beast fighting for survival, and nearly helpless.  The warmth on his toes nearly made him cry.  It was good, that warmth.  Blessings from the sun in a strange land.

His stomach rumbled.  To Rainer's delight, it was rumbling in anticipation of food, not from dread of sickness.  Outside in the courtyard a rooster crowed loudly against the faint counterpoint of bells from further down the valley.  Rainer sighed and brought the bowl to his lips, chopsticks poised to do his clumsy bidding.  He began to eat.  The sun tracked up his legs.  His chewing sounded loud to his ears. On his fourth swallow with no sign it was coming back up, the addict felt the stirrings of hope.  It came to him then, as clear as the cerulean sky he glimpsed, that he need no more than the bowl of rice in his hands.  All he need do was eat.  Rainer ate in silence, and the way opened up before him, clear and bright.

25 December 2011

Sunday Meditation #12: Christmas Threads and Contradictions

An odd run-up to this, my forty-seventh Christmas on Earth.  Alone in my house two days ago, chuckling at my own weirdness as I stood in bar of sunlight, a copy of A Year With Thomas Merton in my hands, and the supercharged chant of Rollins' Band "Shine" shaking the walls a little as I read.  How this came to be I cannot recall.  I do know that at the time, it made perfect sense.

I have been reading the Merton book since June, which is the month in which I acquired it.  The short daily meditations I mostly read at the pace of one a day, in sync with the calendar.  Time and circumstance conspired to disturb the symmetry of that schedule.  Lately I have the habit of neglecting the book for days at a time, then catch up in a concentrated burst of reading when I have time.  So it was this time.

"In The End, Grace Alone" the title of Merton's meditation.  Henry Rollins exhorts me to "Shine" as I read it.  I lean against the door frame and grin.  This time the apparent cognitive dissonance of the ideas before my mind does not bother me.  Merton writes of his frustration with being an intellectual in a land of "businessmen and squares", while Rollins practically boots me in the ass to be a hero.  It is to laugh, and I do.

Truly it does not bother me, these two ends of the tug rope.  I've lived with the bifurcation of my interior life for so long it seems normal.  I feel like a warrior-poet, except I cannot squarely identify my foe or my muse.  I very often, in the words of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame), "obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul".  These exhortations I have trouble explaining to myself, much less to others.

Yet I listen.  I savor.  I worry them with the teeth of my mind.  Somewhere on there exists my destination.

The season and in particular, this day, always place me in this frame of mind.  A season of merriment and good will towards humankind marred by either too much belief or not enough.  By some lights it isn't enough that you be kindly disposed to those around you, you must be Christian and you have to believe.  Never mind all the ironies involved in the chauvinistic demands for "keeping Christ in Christmas" when Christmas itself was taken over from a pagan holiday and has been further hijacked by a consumer-driven, free market (arguably) capitalistic and money-driven culture.  No wonder this time of year produces so much anxiety in so many.

There seems to be little real peace, and true love.  For better or worse, Christmas as a season and a holiday has been dilated too much by the demands of an open society for the 'at-large' return to a ritual acknowledgment of the birth of Jesus Christ.  To do so would be to ignore entire segments of our society, and would not be allowed by the money machines of consumer capitalism because it would cut down on the profit pool.  From what I see in the news, it is either about mass consumption or religious narrow-mindedness.  Hardly anyone speaks of peace, at least, not in a pure sense.

For myself, I want peace of mind.  I want the simple joy to be found in caring for those around you and in the communion with life in the universe.  I do not want to be wrapped up in questions of salvation versus damnation, belief versus non-belief, extravagant consumption in the face of need.  The former question misses the point of personal faith, and the latter question is one that exists independently of any holiday.  Neither is a question to be solved if this is supposed to be a matter of peace and love.

Thomas Merton and Henry Rollins: the yin and yang of my Christmas season.  They both speak to me, in different tongues.  The thinker and the warrior tell me to seek inner peace, but I will have to fight for it.  This makes me laugh. Salvation and consumption both seem to me to be missing the main point: that we should exist in love and seek peace in ourselves so that we may know it with others.

As I meditate on my roots this Christmas, I feel I am closer to casting aside the distractions and noise of this world, and getting much closer to love and to peace.  This is my wish for us all.

23 December 2011

Mountain Mind, River Belly

Rain pattered down on Godl's head, carrying with it the cool green mutterings of the god Chaac that drifted out of the sky.  The jaguar moved not a muscle, his blocky head a graven image amongst the leaf shadows.  The occasional blink and breath was the only sign Godl was alive.  He had been days on the ridge, and hunger was calling his name.

A crack of thunder split the mottled pearl gray clouds scudding over the tops of the trees.  Godl blinked in surprise, gold-green orbs wide open on the rebound.  They shone like polished metal even in the dimmer light of the undergrowth.  A small chuff escaped past his muzzle.  Godl opened wide and bared fangs scarcely gone dull in the years since his first kill.  Drawing a deep breath, he inhaled the jade scent of the forest, mineral tang of wet stone and the metallic chill of the river down below.  Had the jaguar been possessed of a historian's mind, he would have recalled that first kill, an unlucky agouti Godl had pounced upon in the brush not far away.  The wretched creature had squeaked loudly until the unrelenting force of Godl's jaws broke its neck.

The jaguar felt a rumble in his belly.  He needed blood, flesh.  Memories of past kills would not fill the void.  Only prey would do.  The rain was coming down harder, rivulets and sheets and cataracts cascading from the leaves above Godl's head.  The big ears twitched and swiveled, straining at some ghostly sound arising form the valley.  The jaguar expanded his deep chest.  There. He sensed it. It was there, the faint scent of wet fur with an undercurrent of iron and salt.  Godl felt his pulse quicken.  The thought of sating his hunger induced a low rumbling in his throat.  It was time.

Godl stood and stretched.  His rain-soaked pelt glistened like animal gold shot through with coal and copper.  He scented the wind again, getting his bearings.  The strength of his namesake poured into his veins, the taut muscles, and Godl  did not so much as step down as pour himself down from the knob of rock upon which he had waited for days.  His sleek, golden shape slipped into the waiting embrace of the emerald forest.  Chaac was being kind to Godl; the sibilant chants of the raindrops would help cover any noise the great jaguar might make as he crept up on his kill.

But Godl thought little of the noise.  He rarely made any, as the fullness of his muscles and taut sinews testified to the creatures whose last vision in the world was the shadow of the jaguar.

Godl moved like oil in the river, bursting with animal confidence.  Soon, soon, he would feel the crack of bone and the warmth of a full belly.  He would feed, and know his place in the world.

22 December 2011

Andromeda Drinks Kyklos Galaktikos: A Love Story

She frolicked in the night for time beyond the ages of anything said to be living.  She did so unfettered, under the sway of no being, save one.  She wrapped her arms in hypnotizing patterns while swaying to the deep ocean chant of gigantic gravities.  A starfish made of suns, thirsty for love that ever felt unrequited save for the warp and weft of invisible tides pulsing through the absolute arctic of the interstellar night.  She smiled.  She sometimes wept.  She always turned, suns beyond count burning into a thirst that forever seemed unquenched.   Patience beyond comprehension radiated outward.  She would wait.  He would come to her.

He saw her, knew her for billions of years without speaking. His own arms ached, fluid plasma spirals whirling and spattering light of infinite intensities into the void.  They waved to and fro in a curl he could not control.  Gravitic hands, invisible lips guarding a seeking tongue that he knew wanted, needed, demanded his body as sacrifice for the gift of existence.  The milk of his body he held close.  Never did he dare to let it go.  He too had patience measured in a scale incomprehensible to the motes of life that flashed in and out of existence in his body, tiny beings flickering like organic mirrors of the pulsars murmuring in the heart.  He would wait.  He had time.  But he knew it was his destiny for her to drink the milk of his creation.

Decay.  Contraction.  Red shift into blue.  Billions of years rolling by as if an afternoon to Andromeda and Kyklos. Under the wheel of time they drew closer.  Her heart leaped, his body ached.  She gasped in delight, he groaned in pain.  The gravity ocean swelled and roiled as their arms met.  She dove into the core as his arms curled up around her, a cosmic lotus enrobing a jewel beyond price.  This universe filled with light so bright it became all, covered all. Her heart swelled to meet his, her lips drinking in the milk of stellar fusion.  The light consumed everything as it poured from their entwined centers.  Keening filled the black matrix between the stars when Andromeda drank her lover, he consumed by her passion to end the universe as it began: in the singularity of love.  Andromeda drank Kyklos Galaktikos, and the universe was reborn.

21 December 2011

Winter Embers

Orange coals burning low
ahead of chilly solstice,
longer days await

12 December 2011

Selene, She Knows

With the shorter days come longer nights, we all know.  There are things we sometimes fail to notice in the nightfall, absorbed in our own thoughts and hurrying inside away from the chill and the polite desolation of winter outside our doors.  In my case, I had failed to see the lights.

She did not.  She always sees such things.  It is not too far off to say that she is an extra pair of younger, sharper eyes to my older, jaded ones.  We left the house, she was cheerfully singing doggerel rhymes and delightful nonsense.  I was trying to recall if I had everything, had left nothing behind.  I was even pondering tomorrow when I had to dive back into the cold, syrupy ocean of job searching and bill-paying angst.  I was not looking at the sky, or even across the street.

In the car.  Her cheerfulness takes the edge off the blade of my mind.  A smile could even be said to grace my visage.  This is good. We drive down the street and turn the corner.  It hasn't sunk in to me yet, but she pipes up with the lilting declaration that "This is my favorite time of year to look at lights!  They are so pretty!"

I finally see them.  All up and down the main street leading out of my neighborhood.  So many houses now adorned with lights of all kinds and colors.  Even plenty of blue, my favorite color.  The light of my life continues her narrative as we continue on.  I hear the delight in her voice and it warms my heart.

I am a fool, sometimes, to fail to notice the beauty around me.  I have often said I need a good editor, and my darling daughter is better than she knows.  The world is fresh before her stained glass eyes, and so it comes to me.  All I need to do is open mine.

The trees alongside the road thin out as we approach the highway.  The sky is filling up with a white gold light.  I see it first, the full moon, Selene in all her aureate glory hovering just above the horizon.  I gasp.  She asks "Daddy, what?"

"It's a full moon, sweet pea.  Look at that!"

"Where?"  I point. She gasps, too, when she sees it.

"Daddy, it is full!  Look! Ooooo, it is so pretty!"

I catch a glimpse of her eyes in the rear view mirror, flashing in the glow of passing headlights.  For an instant, I understand the mystery.  I get her tidal pull, gravity tugging at the rivers of my veins, the ocean of my heart.  This pull will only get stronger as she gets older, and someday I will be the moon to her Sun.

But for now, all I can say is, "Yes, sweetie, it is full.  And so, so pretty."

11 December 2011

Sunday Meditation #11: Elusive Taste of Sweetness and God

A quirky mix of thoughts this evening.  My attention divided between the antics of my daughter, the haunting sense-memory of sorghum syrup, and the "nine billion names of God".  I cannot tell you clearly which mesmerized me more, although I concede that the edge goes to my daughter.  She is a thoughtful lass, but carries with her a playfulness that I allow may be my saving grace in this world.  We were watching Food Network on television, and she has a fascination with diner cuisine and far-out places.  She now wants to try goose and crème brûlée.  I have no quarrel with that culinary ambition.

Something on there inspired in me a hankering for sorghum.  I've not had it in years, and I think the Southern spirits in my palate are hungering for it yet again.  Having been contemplating renewing my old habit of baking a weekly skillet of corn bread, to be anointed with butter, the yen for sorghum was a given.  I found myself craving a hot slab of fresh cornbread, butter melting down the sides, and a generous lashing of the sweet syrup drizzled over all that goodness.  Simple pleasure.  In my mind, I was sitting at a rough wooden table, eating my corn bread by the light of a camp lantern.  At hand was a book I was reading.

While daydreaming of this communing with the senses, simple pleasure of a simple meal, the background hum of weeks of subconscious meditation sharpened into focus.  Awareness.  The realization of what had been on my mind, just out of awareness, ringing out like a temple bell.  The act of association: time with daughter = simple pleasure = knowing God.

How can this be?  I'm still determining what, if any, relationship I have with God.  Or Allah.  Or Jehovah, Yahweh, Krishna...certainly, It was not on my living room, not on my couch watching television with the blood of my blood!.  No, it was more convoluted than it appeared.  Shock. Knowing that I have been pondering this problem of the names of God.  Too much input from the Internet and television news.  Too many fractious messages, images of bigotry and hate, violence perpetrated in the name of a creator claimed to be known by so many, yet misunderstood by nearly all. 

In the name of God/Allah/Jehovah/Krishna...so much ignorance, division and hate spread throughout the world.  Using that which should unify us all (a benevolent force directed by Love) as a wedge to exclude, divide, separate.  To cut themselves off from the joy of this creation and living thoughtful lives filled with love.  To pretend We Are Chosen, and You Are Not.  This troubled me, this universal cutting off the nose to spite the face.  Messages of hate masquerading as acceptable opinions to be foisted on us as policies to guide our lives.  I thought of this all, wondering as I did at the impossibility of knowing all the names of God.

The impossibility of us claiming we know, and trying to force it upon those who observe this life through lenses not our own, and pretending this makes it right.

I wondered why so many waste their time and energy trying to convert everyone else to the justness of their cause and thereby spend a life in bitter discontent.  I wondered, because I knew then that I will never know all the names of God.  But more importantly, I knew and will know Love, if I care to listen to the laughter of my daughter, and recall the sweetness of the creation in a dollop of sorghum. 

06 December 2011

Magpie Tales 94: Meal Ticket

 Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

Before his eyes fogged over
Before his skull cracked the glass
Ed G. Spivey thought one last time
how much he hated the lights

Another grey sandwich served up
Banality between slices of ennui
crouched on the plate, expiring
between stale coffee and cheap talk

Ed G. Spivey bit into a life gone wrong
Spat it out under the greenish glare
of humming fluorescence, bursting vessels
laying him down in a corporate coffin

Lettuce boutonnière, tomato cravat
lights dimmed by the faceless hovering hive
Ed G. Spivey smiled, his last thought,
No more will I eat here again...

05 December 2011

There Is Hate In This World, And We Must Oppose It

I am fully aware that the Internet, like any medium of expression, is a place where the good, the bad and the downright ugly all bump against each other.  It is not a medium in which the easily offended should spend a great deal of time.  I am am not among the easily offended, but occasionally I come across something that disturbs me, especially because of the depths of its banality.  Consider the following image which I clipped from a screen shot of an effbook post I read.  The image has been redacted to remove names:

Note the headline at the top.  Also note that at the time of the screenshot, five people had already liked it.  What is worse, this was posted by someone whom I know to be a retired police officer who now works in a security or law enforcement capacity, dealing with the public at large.  Someone who should know better than most of us the consequences that can arise from implied violence.

This turned my stomach.  The casualness of it, the 'inside joke' joviality of it.  I find it repugnant to the point of near incomprehensibility that someone could feel good about displaying that to the world, and expect us to respect it as an "opinion".  It boggles the mind and sickens the heart.

This is a free country, yes, built on democratic principles.  People are allowed to have viewpoints.  I understand many feel concern, even anger and resentment towards foreigners and immigrants, both legal and illegal.  But the above message is disturbing and loathsome, not only in its presentation but in its message. It insults human beings based on their supposed literacy, although the ignorance of the creator of this sign shows in the statement about not being able to read English.  If a person can't read English, how are they supposed to know what the sign says at all?  

Much worse than alleged illiteracy, however, is the implication that outsiders who attempt entry into this country will be met with violence.  Not just random violence, but premeditated, firearm violence.  That is no rubber bullet gun, that's a rifle with a scope.  A rifle like that has only one purpose: killing people at long range.  And wouldn't the premeditated shooting of a person who has given no offense (the sign does not say that stepping over the border is illegal) considered by the courts to be homicide or attempted homicide?

I am having a hard time deciding what upsets me more, that it was posted by someone who had and has ethical and professional obligations to protect and serve the public or that other people liked it.  And on a highly public social media site, no less!

Is this what America is really about, xenophobia, paranoia and violence?  How someone could believe that the image is simply harmless fun is beyond me.  There is nothing funny about it.  It speaks to me of bigotry, pathological violence, hatred and ignorance.  If it speaks to me of such stains on the soul of America, then it speaks to the world of the same.  People who propagate such vileness have no right to be surprised that the world begins to meet them with disrespect, hatred, and violence of its own.  If the creators and admirers of such a sentiment want to live in a country of violence and hatred, they are free to do so but it will hopefully be a tiny country with only room for them.  I will not be within its borders.

04 December 2011

Sunday Meditation #10: Bellum Terra

Slightly troubled thoughts today, while completing chores and contemplating the world in which I live.  I have experienced unease and discord in disconcerting amounts, not by design but by circumstance.  A side effect, perhaps, of too much television and Internet.  The world is an unsettled place and it seeps in if we are not careful.

I considered this in my own mind, as I barked a curse at an inattentive driver today on the road.  I was running an errand on my way to lunch.  Hunger and impatience getting the best of me.  The temper flared and I said something that induced in me mild regret.  I know better that what I do, sometimes, yet I have been unable to entirely refrain from anger, spite, and irritation at my fellow humans.

Amusing, perhaps.  That ideal behavior is something we expect from pacifists and clergy folk, monks and nuns.  I am far from being any of those exemplars, yet I often expect myself to act as one.  I sometimes actively wish for the patience and beatitude one expects of saints.  Occasionally I manage the trick, if ever so briefly.  The sensation often catches me by surprise.  Alas, my self-awareness of it is the finger touching the soap bubble and POP! it is gone. 

Ah, I am digressing, in my own meditation.  Why does all of this matter?  What is the cause of this discord?  It occurred to me today, after reading too much news and inanity in the Internet, that much of it springs from the feeling that we live in a Land of War, an American bellum Terra.  Aggression is built into our culture, our patriotism, our propriety towards nations and neighbors.  Everything, even the simple act of our daily existence, is framed in terms of war, conflict, and competition.  The prevailing militancy and mean-spiritedness has turned everything into fight for survival, even when it is no such thing.

I meditated today on my own expressions of aggression.  I realized I had allowed the pettiness and selfishness of a few to infect and disrupt my own better nature.  I understood that some of the nameless dissatisfaction and formless irritation I felt was because I let it affect me.  I did something simple to reset my head.

I cut the grass in my yard.

For thirty-five minutes, nothing more was demanded of me than to push, cut, turn, and repeat.  It was a cool morning, and I warmed up quickly as I let myself be taken up by the task.  The working of muscles, the meter of the breathing, the intake of fresh morning air into my lungs:  this integration of mind and body brought me back together much like that moment at which the camera lens spins into focus, and the image is sharp before the eye.  I needed the physical action to knock my mental actions back onto a better track.

When I was done, I returned indoors and rested a bit.  My gut had relaxed, my mind was no longer roiled.  I felt a slight pang of shame in that I had allowed the world at large to pull me away from my better nature.  But I also felt so much better that I was able to come back.  The world, and the people in it, can make you mean, to be sure.  As to myself, lesson learned.  Serenity takes work, too, and it does not pay to let the selfish, the hateful, and the uncaring dictate the course of our actions.

I will never be a saint.  This is okay, I don't want to be a saint.  What I do want is to be a placidis hominum, (peaceful human) to those I love and those I meet.  In the land of war, peace is water for thirsty soil, and I have much to grow.

03 December 2011

Afternoon, On The Road

Feet treading brown leaves
Traveler smiles, not alone:
Shadow and hawk's cry

02 December 2011

That From Which The People Grow Their Bones

Sunset over the sea painted Tulimak's face in soft shades of salmon and peach.  It was cold but not unpleasant on the ridge line overlooking the water.  Small gauzy puffs of smoke marked the cook fires being kindled  below in the settlement.  The old shaman rocked back on his haunches, breathing deep and filling his lungs with salt tang and cedar.  The corners of his mouth lifted, the cracked leather of his lips bending in a smile.  It was good, he thought, to breathe so clean an air on his last day on earth. 

A black-backed gull hovered on the wind almost level with Tulimak's head.  The gull studied the human with a beady eye.  The shaman returned the seabird's gaze, grunting a low greeting to what would soon be a fellow traveler.  Soon, the shaman reminded himself, if he had marked his days properly and according to the lore handed down to him by the great Uqalik. Uqalik the Great, who himself had given his body to the earth so that the tribe would know and be reborn.  Tulimak smiled again as his fingers absent-mindedly touched the totem hanging on the sealskin thong tied about his neck. 

The totem was yellowed bone, taken from a mighty elk many summers ago and carved into the shape of a hare.  The shaman drifted into reverie, a waking hallucination of the day Uqalik had given the totem to Tulimak, on the great man's last day on earth; before Uqalik walked into the forest to dissolve into the earth.  Through the oculus of his mind's eye, Tulimak watched the broad back of the man recede into the green shadows, becoming smaller and smaller until finally the man had disappeared and in his place stood a large hare.  The hare turned to stare at Tulimak, the marbles of its eyes glossy black in the twilight.  It sniffed twice before turning back around to lope into the cedars.

Tulimak understood that on that day, he was no longer an ordinary man.  The totem had grown warm in his hand as if to signal the transfer of power.

The old man would have continued to dream had it not been for a cough behind him.  The dream cedars wavered and faded.  The cold air of the approaching night stung the shaman's cheeks.  His blocky head, which many in the tribe compared to an iceberg, swiveled on a neck corded with sinew as he turned to consider the young apprentice, Anuniaq, waiting for him a few paces away.  Tulimak smiled and beckoned the young man closer.  He reached into his anorak and pulled out a small, intricately carved bone flute.  Anuniaq's eyes widened at the sight of it.  Tulimak spoke.

"This flute is now yours, Seeker.  It is time for me to return to the earth, to dance with the hare and the raven.  Do you understand, boy?"

Anuniaq swallowed, too nervous to speak.  He nodded his head.

"Good," the shaman said.  "I go now to the cedars and the stones.  Remember me in the season of new life, when the rivers run high.  Remember me, so that the tribe may remember the earth."  Tulimak turned away before the lad could say anything, striding unhurriedly but with purpose towards the waiting cedars.  As he approached the trees, the transformation begin.  His skin slid over his bones, forearms and thighs shortening and bending.  He fell to all fours.  His fingers began fusing together, the nails dissolving into sharp black claws.  Speech slipped away on a lengthening jawbone, cracking and popping.  His new muzzle felt heavy, but good.

Tulimak grunted as he slipped away into the feathery shadows under the gently waving fronds of cedar. He did not look back at Anuniaq, who had brought the flute to his lips. The faint strains of the bone flute bade the wolf-man farewell. Tulimak sped into the forest and the soil closed in around him.  The music would be different in the next cycle when the mineral earth cast him up, wearing a new skin to call home.

Anuniaq played on under a sky gauzy with aurorae, slowly making his way down the hill.  The flute grew warm in his hands.  His heart was full of the earth, sky and sea, complete and eternal.