18 June 2017

Can I Get A Witness?

Father's Day. Sunday, June 18th, 2017. A gray day, alas, but weather has its own agenda. This is a repost from January 9th, 2009. It is also the reason I cajoled myself out of bed this morning.


Two minutes. That is all it took. Two minutes and I went from driving over to get bagels for breakfast, to standing in the hospital crying through a hot mess of tears and letting the wall hold me up. Instead of ham and cheese on sesame, I was staring down at the blood on my hands and thinking, This may be the best day of my life.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way. It happened when I least expected it. That’s always the case, is it not? Ha. I should know that as well as anyone at this point. Sometimes I believe that I am a poster child for chaos theory in action, a swirling edge condition in my own loopy web of strange attractors.

I don’t mind it so much anymore. I have been seasoned by this randomness, like a cast iron skillet with fifty years of hot cornbread under its belt.

This particular burst of quantum activity originated, as so many of them do, with my daughter. Today was our weekly ‘Father and Daughter’ bagel day, so we were driving on our way to the bagel store in a nearby neighborhood shopping center. The land fronting along the road that borders the shopping center had remained undeveloped for a very long time, but late last year a building began to take shape at the corner lot. In a particularly timely bit of irony, the new building going up is a bank. A BANK, in this time of economic meltdown; it is to laugh.

Being an architect, I have been following the building progress with more than casual interest. Being the curious child that she is, Wee Lass has also been following the building progress. Every time we pass it, she comments on it (“Look, Daddy, is that bricks?”) or on the people (“Daddy, are they working on a Saturday?”) or the machines (DADDY! Did you see the big scooper? WOW!”); she also remembers what she saw on previous visits. She has commented many times on how many ‘sticks’ (her word for the metal studs) had been put up, or how many ‘rocks’ or bricks were on site. She even noticed before I did, that the aluminum windows had been installed after the roof was closed in. There has been very little she has missed.

This morning she was her usual chatty self as we drove past the new bank building. There has been a lot of progress recently, so much so that Wee Lass interrupted herself to excitedly exclaim “Daddy, the building is finished, are they going to be inside?” The building isn’t almost finished, as the professional in me noted, but she was excited and it wasn’t worth trying to explain. So I agreed and said that yes, they would be inside soon. She was going on about the bricks and the trucks outside, my attention started to wander. Then she started asking about other buildings.

“Daddy, did they build buildings when you were a little boy?” I laughed. (No dear, just straw huts. Jeez, am I pre-historic? Oh, well)
“Yes, they did.”
“What kind of buildings?”
“Banks, stores, other things.”
“Did they build a hospital for you when you were a little baby, Daddy?” What, where did that come from? I chuckled.
“Yes, there was a hospital when I was a little baby, sweet pea.”
“I was in a hospital when I was a little baby, daddy.” Yes, I heard.

By this time we had pulled into a parking space. Just as I was getting out of the car, she said “I cried when I was born a little baby, daddy.” I remembered that, too; I replied “So did I, sweetie.” She seemed incredulous. Then it happened. As I was getting her out of her car seat, she looked up at me and said “I cried when they took me out of mommy’s tummy, daddy.”

Thermocline. A boundary condition in the body of water in which I am drowning. Warm and thin above, cold and dense below. The temperature drops rapidly, sharply as I break the edge, swirling in turbulence. I am engulfed in cold density. I am in the hospital, wondering what in the hell just happened.

I remember noise, and light. There was a lot of beeping in the background, people in hospital scrubs and masks, voices low and professional talking about “blood pressure” and “She looks good” and “Are you alright?” It took a few seconds for me to comprehend that last question was directed at me. I turned my head slightly to see a nurse next to me, her face smeary through the flood of tears filling my eyes. Glancing over her shoulder, I could see someone lying on the table, body draped in bloodied surgical blankets. I remember then that it was The Spouse. She was kind of still, but no one seemed to be worried. A sigh of relief, she was awake. I told the nurse in a croak that I was okay, I’ll just lean on the wall for a bit. She smiled sweetly, and turned to attend to some other business.

I slumped there, still crying. I turned my head back to the right; the body of Wee Lass lay out before me on a stack of white towels in the warmer. She was trembling and pink, wailing at the top of her freshly opened lungs. There was a little cap on her head, blue and white knit clinging to her tiny skull.

She was beautiful.

On the table next to the warmer was a pile of gauze and some heavy stainless steel surgical scissors. The gauze was slightly stained, little crimson patches shocking against the snowy fabric. The scissors appeared to have been used. It was at that moment that I saw that Wee Lass no longer had the umbilicus attached to her navel. It had been cut. I reached out my hand to her, letting her tiny fingers grope and squeeze the tips of my fingers. I imagined it to be the caresses from the soft, wavy tendrils of a sea anemone. A fresh flood of hotness spilled down my cheeks. Through the watery haze, I could see a dark smear running along the side of my hand. I bent down for a closer look. It was blood, almost dried.

It hit me that it wasn’t my blood, it was hers. It must have happened when I cut the cord earlier. I am stunned, a fleeting spike of revulsion through my gut, to be replaced by a wave of warmth. My daughter’s blood, the very stuff of life, highlighting the wrinkles and lines of my skin. Curious, I raise my hand to my lips, placing them gently on the crimson stain. The blood is not wet, and I kid myself that its warmth is what remains of the heat as it left my daughter. A light blooms in my skull, and I know what I must do. This blood is not the oil of Exodus, but it will suffice. I brush my hand over my brow, blood against the skin anointing me. On the warmer, my daughter wails at the top of her lungs, a tiny hurricane welcoming me into the Church of Life.

Thermocline. Flailing desperately to free myself from the viscous deep, I swim hard into the warm water above. The surface breaks over me in a million silver drops. I find myself blinking hard and Wee Lass is looking up at me again, half out of the car. She says it again:

“Daddy, I cried when they took me out of mommy’s tummy.”
“I remember, sweet pea.”

I cried, too.

12 June 2017

Water-silver, Flow For Me

Blood and muscle seem aggressively prosaic in consideration of matters of the heart. It seems impossible such a lump of flesh could carry, could withstand the currents that flow between one heart to another. Protein seems an inadequate medium for the task of withstanding binding and intertwining the precious elements of souls in concert. Certainly it gives no impression of suitability when those souls get sucked in to the dark that is distance, drift, and dissolution.

Metal, now there is a different story. Ah, what would one gain with a heart of metal? Endurance at the cost of romance? Resilience in the face of soul pain, a refined ability to withstand hammer blows to the psyche? Metal becomes attractive when the grasping at straws in vain hope of keeping the thing together. Even as one watches the rust creep over the surface. Seeing the stress cracks form as the "hellishness of life" grips a flimsy heart in its merciless hands and bends it back and forth. Inevitable, the breaks that form with their sawtooth edges and searing heat.

Metal versus flesh. Perhaps the best course is a combination of the two. The only element that come to mind is mercury. Heavy, liquid, toxic under the wrong conditions even as its fluidity allows it to adapt and flow over the rocks in a river of life. Do you not see the miracle of love as a pool of shimmering silver collected under the sun and moon, flowing from the invisible truth and into the invisible truth? We all have dipped our hands in that pool, once or twice or many times while ignoring the impossibility of controlling what we gather. Our hands our poorly suited to the task.

What of magnetic fields, or cosmic forces of strange action at a distance? This emotion we call love is one way, if somewhat incomplete, of exerting control. Our mercury hearts can only be shaped by its funneling through the channels of love. Plasma fields, magnets, gravity, our hearts subjected to them all. Hope provides fuel, elation the energy, and belief that the forge of love will achieve the successful enjoining of another mercury with ours.

It happens, sometimes. The universe may be insensate to the messiness of the heart's business, but its laws do not forbid the possibility. That crystal clear day where the mind and the body and the soul wake up with that second sine wave pulsing through them. The light from within shows the form of the heart. Picture this form of water-silver in resplendent argentine glory against the absence of light, the fuliginous wilderness of life without shared love. Shimmering beauty held in place by forces we sense but do not truly understand. For what would true understanding bring us in that case?

The universe is full of forces inimical to the propagation of love, this we know. The gravity of emotions, the drifts, the rifts that develops over time as our attention gets diverted by the mundanities and tragedies of existence. Sometimes these forces bend the heart or even torment it to the point where the mind's eye watches it flow into every nook and cranny where pain and loneliness have not taken up residence. For the fortunate the heart of water-silver gradually reorganizes itself. The shape is reattained, equilibrium reached. A benefit of like finding like and remaining close enough that integration is always possible.

Emotional physics often works to the negative, often to our sorrow. Pain, loss, even simple carelessness can in concert create forces too great for anything to withstand.  A heart orbiting the sun of love, a planet of rock and dirt, neither is better able to resist a supernova even if they see it coming from a long way off in space and time.

It happens. The explosion, slow or fast. The superheated plasma of emotion, the gravity of pain and disintegration reach out across the vacuum of non-love to explode the heart. And we watch it happen as the force pushes us out of ourselves. We float and spin helplessly into a black speckled with millions of pieces of what used to give us life. In those moments we no longer trust gravity, or love, to bring them all back together. In the interstellar black of loss we lunge and grasp, frantic to cup our hands around the water-silver talisman of belonging we once knew. We gather it, one small drop at a time.

15 May 2017

The Fracture

Chasm, by Kevin Shea, May 2017

No one tells you that little drama would have a huge part in the fracture of life, in the foot bones of the soul while it slams the brake pedal to the floor in a bid for control. That cliff edge is close and getting closer.

No one tells you that of course this is not your beautiful house, this is not your beautiful wife, because they never belonged to you in the first place. Of course, this is what the imps in your head whisper to you as you try to fall asleep.  No point in asking through sobs "How did I get here?" because you truly don't grasp it all. And sometimes the shittiness of life means you will not be told by those who swing the hammer.

No one tells you that the cleavage plane of mid-life won't be rewarded with that supermodel armcandy in the leather bucket seat. No, you won't get that as comfort, cold or otherwise. What you get is waking up in what feels like a down-at-the-heels luxury hotel, unsure of where you are, and cursing at the asshole cat who can't leave the mini-blinds alone.

You ask yourself, if this is a hotel, why is there a cat here?

Because right now, it isn't a hotel, it is a hiding place. The cat is along for the ride, and you can't help but be thankful for a companion with whom to gaze into the chasm you have to cross.

08 April 2017

Bullet and Target

A little something I rediscovered while editing my field notes. A curiosity for your edification and rumination. Not sure about the delight.


The heart stares down
a blue steel barrel
Gleam of hollow tips
Tracking the beating core
lonely chamber now empty
Echoes of the bang
claw at the sides
before the mind
pulls the trigger

The heart stares down
the barrel of the gun
firing from a mouth
once sacred, holy,
vivifying and precious
Now targeting, tracking
flechette rounds of words
ripping air asunder

to lodge in the soul

19 March 2017

Sunday Meditation #49: Things I Learned From My Mama

Sitting in the studied anonymity of a fast food joint, I wipe with a napkin the crumbs from my chin. It is a pause in the work day and surprisingly restorative, especially when I willfully ignore the possible deleterious effects of what I just consumed in favor of being thankful for a full belly. This type of food and fast eating is not as typical in my diet these days, but it approaches a routine.

Another routine is the aftermath of the meal. Looking down at the table I can see the typical crumpled napkins that accompany me everywhere. The balled up wrapping from a plastic straw sits forlornly near the cup (unsweetened ice tea, if you please). The table laminate and food wrappers are bespeckled with a dusting of crumbs. This detritus is the typical fallout from when I eat no matter how much I strive to be careful. It is a minor miracle when I can get through a meal without something landing on my shirt or pants. 

But I digress. It is the crumbs that are the crux of the matter here.

I sit back in my chair to do some people watching while settling the meal. Places like this are interesting clinical settings if human behavior holds any fascination for the mind. Open air laboratories without quiet rooms or one way mirrors. Given the amount of time spent in such places I have observed that almost no one finishes a meal without some amount of collateral fallout. Food crumbs, spilled drinks, trash. It's all there. I have also observed that a high percentage of folks (anecdotally, you understand) do not seem to notice the leavings.

This isn't to say that everyone is a slob. I have never seen an absolute mess left for the staff to clean up. Taking trays to the drop off receptacles is a macro task that most everyone seems to perform. This is good thing, as I think most folks have good intentions.

But the small things often go unnoticed or uncared for. The errant food wrapper. Sauce smears. Crumbs and leavings dotting the tabletops and seats. These get left behind as patrons stand, take a slurp from the bottom of the cup, and head out the door in pursuit of other matters. For the longest time, I too followed this pattern. After all, we are beings of our own agendas with a certain benign inattention to minor consequences of the actions we most often execute without malice.

I formerly paid no heed to the crumbs I left behind. This state of affairs persisted until one day I found myself at the end of a meal, sweeping those crumbs off the table and into the napkin I was poised to discard. It hit me that I had been doing that for some time without realizing it. I was cleaning a table that was not mine. In that moment I was channeling the habits of my mother.

Tidying up after a meal in a restaurant, or most any meal for that matter, was a habit my mother had indulged for years. I saw it growing up without thinking it anything remarkable. In the self-absorption of my youth I never thought to ask her why she did it. Years later, I forget exactly when, it was my dad who asked her one night "What do you do that for?" Her reply was something to the effect that her mama raised her that way and she did not want to leave a mess behind for others.

Little did I know, but the seed was planted. It sprouted decades later.

In the course of my evolution from child to youth to man that little life lesson did take hold in me. The day I realized I was sweeping up crumbs and wiping off my table was the day I realized something else about my mother's habit. Pieced together with the ways she conducted her daily life it became clear to me there was another lesson she taught me without telling me. The person who cleans up the table you just used may do that as part of the job description, but that doesn't mean you should so careless in your actions that you create more work for them.

It was time to go. Meal was done. Clock was ticking. I swept the crumbs before me into a napkin and balled the napkin up in the leftover wrapper. All that was for the trash as I headed out the door. I thought about the simple lesson of being mindful of those who come after you, thankful for the things I learned from my Mama.

11 February 2017

On The Salubrity of Garlic Burps Versus Chewing Chalk

It was the heartburn that had me reaching for an extinguisher. Not for the first time had my taste for red beans led to a rebellion in the esophagus. This particular revolt was robust in scope. While the pain was far from crippling, it resulted in a certain lack of cheer and patience on my part. The roots of this crisis were in New Orleans, Louisiana. That the cure, or part thereof, slipped in from Korea was a bit of a surprise. Hunger will do that to a body.

Lunch on the day had been a leftover pot of red beans. It was hanging around from an earlier midweek meal and looking forlorn as my belly contemplated getting a sandwich for something to eat whilst errand-running. Two things changed my mind: I was famished (in spite of the chorizo omelet that was breakfast) and the only currency in my wallet was nostalgia for the bills that got away. An easy equation to solve by heating up the beans and setting to.

Ah, red beans. Of the many delicious dishes to come out of New Orleans, red beans is one for which my imagination fell hard. With the exception of gumbo, when I hanker for things Cajun or Creole, red beans is the dish of choice. There is no recipe for it yet which did not hold some attraction for this belly. 

The attraction is not always mutual though. There is no real malice in a good pot of red beans but the aftereffects on this eater often put him in mind of a spat with one's beloved. Maybe the belly is just older and crankier, I don't know. But this batch of red beans brought the pain after lunch. The fire crept up on me as I was driving to a local Asian market (an earlier visit to which was chronicled here) to pick up some ingredients for the night's dinner.

Upon arriving at the market, things became complicated. Fire in the chest, shopping on my mind, and damned if I wasn't getting hungry in the midst of it all. Then I walked through the door to fall victim to the usual ecstatic discombobulation of All The Things. I did myself no favors by visiting sections previously unexplored, including a Middle Eastern section, the seafood counter (Oh.my.god. Story for another time.) and the meat counter. Focus was slipping fast and I had nothing in the basket yet.

Strolling the refrigerated cases brought me to the kimchi. The jars of kimchi. The BIG jars of kimchi. And not just cabbage. There was radish and cucumber kimchi. Plus, some kimchi new to me that was pickled fish and shellfish. The belly growled as it settled upon the snack it so desperately seemed to want.

I bought a big jar of kimchi. Perfect for that impulse buy mingled with a disregard for heartburn.

Discipline of a sort reemerged as Japanese noodles and a bottle of chili oil ended up in my haul of swag. No sesame seeds or sesame oil yet even though those items had been the impetus for the visit. The dull burn in my chest added its own urgency to the situation. Oil and seeds were swiftly tracked down to wrap things up. Arriving home to settle this matter of the imperative of the belly. Still a fire in my gullet and a growling in my tummy. Heartburn versus appetite. I was hungry, so I ate.

Some may think that kimchi with chilis would not be the most efficacious balm to apply to a case of heartburn. In the abstract, I would agree with them. That seeming contraindication looped around my brain while the kimchi worked its way to my stomach. Sips of fresh-brewed jasmine tea served as lubricant between swallows of pungent cabbage. Any anticipated squabbling between the kimchi and my aggravated esophagus failed to materialize, at least not while I was standing in the kitchen.

I returned to my workstation, graced by a short series of garlic-flavored hiccups. A sated belly makes for a pleasant working experience even at the risk of an odoriferous workspace. A few minutes into my late afternoon labors it sank in that my chest was no longer burning. A faint prickle, but no burn. I no longer felt the need to reach for the cherry-flavored chalk that seems to never be far out of hand these days. Maybe it was the tea, maybe it was the kimchi that helped knock back the pain. It is an experiment worth repeating, because I'll take garlic burps over chewing chalk any day of the week.

02 February 2017

Gochujang Made Me Do It

It was a trip to get three things. Three. A loaves and fishes minor miracle that I walked out of the store with as few as I did. Yet...three things. Curiosity, hunger, and some free time conspired against discipline, hence the haul you see above.

The original plan, as scribbled on a torn scrap of notepaper, outline the procurement of soy sauce, water chestnuts, and gochujang. For those who are not familiar with gochujang (and I was not until sometime last summer) it is a spicy, pungent condiment originating in Korea. Traditional ingredients are red chili peppers, rice or wheat, fermented soybeans, and salt. I had eaten it before last year but did not know it as an ingredient.

Food and cooking are never far from my mind. Reading and researching as much as I do had brought the gochujang into my awareness. Not surprising considering how much I was hearing about it. It took on the character as an "It" ingredient in cuisines outside of Korean. While it may be unavoidable that it ran the risk of being the latest trend it fired my imagination immediately. When that occurs, there really is no choice but to track it down for research purposes. Tasty, tasty research.

There are a number of Asian markets in the area where I live. One of those markets happened to be within easy striking distance of my mid-week errand running. My mind and my belly rejoiced at the coincidence, so with small shopping list in hand, it was off to the store.

Confession: no matter the culinary traditions of a particular market, I tend to regard them like kids regard candy stores. The stuff! The things! The food! This one was no different. Well, no different in my reaction to it. Different certainly in the scope and type of offerings as compared to the average "American" market. Any pretense to a plan abruptly evaporated in the face of the goodness I came upon.

Mind you, a lot of it was not immediately apparent to me in terms of the "CONDIMENT" or "BAKING" aisle of the stores I typically frequent. There were plenty of signs in English, but more predominantly in Chinese, Korean, and possibly Japanese. The shelves themselves had little tags listing the products in English, but what most fascinated and amused me was that many of the products were faced so that the labels read in the language of their origin. This is just the sort of thing I enjoy when I am doing research. It invites engagement and attention to detail.

That engagement really came into play as I wandered up and down the aisles. Every Asian cuisine known to me was represented in the astonishing array of products. China. Korea. Japan. Thailand. India. Pickled radish. Dried seafood. Kimchi and not just of the cabbage variety. Preserved mangoes. Millet, sorghum, and black rice. Potato flour and dried noodles of all types. I wondered if the hand basket I carried was adequate to my ambitions. A pallet loader would have been a better choice!

Discipline began to crack. The basket grew heavier. My ambition swelled, damn near drowning out the small voice crying out to "Stick to the plan!" Eventually, I came to and the bubble popped as I realized that I had everything except the gochujang. I was standing in an aisle that was one long wall of soy sauces and bean pastes. Scanning the shelves I could not locate the elusive condiment. This is where my near non-existent knowledge of written Chinese, Japanese, and Korean truly hampered me. Where was it, this gochujang?

That is when it dawned on me. I realized I was looking at a wall of Chinese condiments. I had made the naive mistake of assuming that fermented bean paste is fermented bean paste, so naturally it would be on the "bean paste" aisle. However, what I wanted was Korean. Embarrassment crept over me as I sheepishly slunk over to the Korean section. Down to the end by which I had passed without registering the wall of gochujang there. 

A whole wall. Of gochujang. Right there. Deep red goodness in small jars to little buckets to big pails. I quickly placed a jar in my basket thereby completing my collection. A fine collection, indeed. I hoofed it up to the counter before I could be tempted by anything else. As I waited to pay I knew I would be back soon. But next time, I'll remember that geography, culture, and language are crucial to understanding what my far-away neighbors like to eat...and what I hope to have the privilege to share with them.

15 January 2017

Sunday Meditation #48: We Are Imperial and Ridiculous

The night sky bears down on us with its scattering of diamonds on black velvet. The pale smear of the Milky Way slips in and out of vision, frustrating and captivating all at once. In the fleeting moments where the Via Lactea can be seen it is brought home with dizzying impact that everything in the Universe is either You or Not-You. Such thoughts either evoke laughter or consternation.

You or Not-You. The imperial absurdity of it comes clear if "potato" is substituted for You. Everything in the Universe is either a potato or not a potato. An internet meme thus becomes the cornerstone of a new philosophy of self-awareness. It can be safely said by us all that "I am not a potato, therefore I am!" 

Silliness, indeed. Such thoughts on an icy winter night turn life into an extended Monty Python skit, a theater of the absurd in which we all star. "I am not a potato," we mutter into the cold air whilst shaking our relatively tiny fists at the sky. It all becomes meta. A conflation of the Universe in its immensity with tubers and all the things we are not but which we consume. We may not be potatoes or air or books, but these things become part of us the instant we chew, breathe, or read. Sometimes all those at once.

To stand under the stars and revel in the mundanity of a humble tuber as being you and not-you is profound and absurd. The paradoxes within can make the head spin and the mind marvel at the amount of energy we expend on the maintenance of partitions between ourselves and our circumstances. By such fiction we strive to convince ourselves we can be masters of the universe. 

To see the stars above and the ground below is to know, however, that we are not potatoes. We are not the Universe. We eat the one and curse and praise the other. This assures us that we are human, even if potatoes and galaxies do not seem to know we exist. We consume them both, and are consumed by the imperial and the ridiculous.

05 January 2017

Jaguar in Winter

Blood slows after the solstice but does not stop. Sunlight is a precious metal mined from the space between the shadows of the leaves and branches. The dappled chest breathes deep while drawing in the scents of a forest teetering on the dull edge of a chasm called sleep. The price of a full belly rises in proportion to its increased rarity, and occupies a greater volume of the mind behind green-gold eyes on the lookout for any opportunity for satiety. The jaguar, el tigre, knows this as blood-red filigree upon its fangs.

Breath acquires new edges in the blue-tinged light of the turning of the year. It flows against the lips and throat like ice slurry in a freezing river. This is a very different thing that the cottony dampness of summertime air, gravid with the weight of humidity and magnified odors. But those odors are there, if muted. The coding still exists, the minute signals of direction, time, and taste that orient the jaguar in the universe. It knows by dint of experience what will be worth the effort and what will not. Energy is a resource to be nurtured not squandered when the earth is being stingy with its offerings.

Flesh hangs upon bones soaked in magic, enrobed in a glory of rosettes evoking the interweaving of el tigre with the soil and rock upon which it sits. The pads of its paws register the chill seeping up through the earth. The cold itself is another marker, a facet of the medium which delivers the message signified by two hundred pounds of deadly miracle. The jaguar does not think much about the cold. It is acceptance of a rhythm composed eons before the jaguar manifested in this particular set of temporospatial circumstances. It knows that outrunning the cold is foolish and wasteful. It will not bother trying.

Bones hold the flesh in place. Bones are its bulwark against the capriciousness of seasons and the weather. It is perhaps bones more so than belly that have a deeper regard for hunger and the changing of seasons. The belly yawps and whines when it goes unfilled. The bones repose stolidly in the memory of what it means to be truly hollow. The belly may be satisfied with the sucking of an egg, but it takes blood on the fangs to calm the bones. This is wisdom to the jaguar. It will breathe patiently in the wan light of winter, moving carefully, keeping in mind the gift of flesh and blood, and all the glorious power contained within.