15 October 2017

The Loop

Funny old world it is, the ouroboros of my experience coiling around to swallow its tail. Unusually warm first day of fall and I'm heading home with a head full of memories. The second major phase of my life began in this town. Looks like the fourth major phase will start here too. Or is it the end of the third?

A little closer. I was in limbo. Is this now Hell? In the short time back I have driven many times past the church where I was married. The church is still there. The marriage collapsed long ago. Seeing the steeple puts a knot behind my breastbone. I swallow hard and push that memory back down into the cabinets in my head.

I keep driving. Cruising down some streets I used to know. A landscape of new daylight overlaid on old memories. Not much seems changed, with the exception of a massive superblock development that arose on the dilapidated bones of a shopping plaza that had seen better days long before I first laid eyes on it nearly three decades ago. Shiny new chain restaurants and some big box stores squatting on the land. An improvement one could say, if one were so inclined. I’m no fan of corporate soullessness, myself, but in this case it is better than the nothing of before.

It is better by the water. The rivers are different but still themselves. I can see the Chesapeake Bay most days, and a good walk serenaded by seabirds and wavelets is a privilege easy to enjoy. Maritime air is all around. Humidity is too. But I know the tides again. I hear my heart in the lapping of the waves. It is at ease with the water song and thrum of the ocean over the horizon.

The loop is closing. Its arc born in the slow-motion collapse of a life experiment out on the edge of the prairie. Seeds planted but could not hold purchase in a sea of grass. The arc burned its way up and out, finally sensing direction in the chaos, hope in the form of earlier sunrises in salt-tinged air. The path out resolved itself through a lens of tears and fortunate timing.

By such lights I found myself back in the town where I started my life after college. A hard landing brought the shell of me, with its withered heart and fragile bones, back closer in time and space to places the soul never forgot and people it never stopped loving. The prairie fire now just a smudge on the horizon pushed back by the wind of rebirth, with an ocean of truth and salt water stretching out in front of my fourth new life.

The tide flows through veins and heart. Currents of emotion borne on the waves I adore fill me with energy and push back the great gray walls that had threatened encirclement. The arc has bent towards itself. The ends are in view. The loop is closing before the eyes of my soul. Soon the circuit will be complete, and I will be electric in my erstwhile cottage by the sea.

08 October 2017

Colts

They run under the sun, chasing dreams of the beautiful game. An impossibly blue sky dusted with wisps of clouds sprays silver-white light over the antics on the field below. These girls carry with them the charming unawareness of their ability to slow down time. My daughter is among them. She tugs my old man heart hither and yon with each run she makes. It is she alone that may be able to stop time, not just slow it down.

There is no sitting for me while they play. I am too excited, too nervous. We are not watching Premier League, La Liga, or even Major League Soccer. We do not have to be. The kids are in the moment without thoughts of million dollar contracts or shoe endorsements. I for one am glad such grown-up concerns are nowhere near the playing field. The lack of polish is more than outweighed by their enthusiasm and concentration. Harried adults such as myself have much to learn from the scampering.

The first goal comes about from an astonishing web of cooperation. I bounce up and down in the bleachers. My daughter’s team has scored. They clap their hands and a few fists are pumped. This is the glory of soccer. Those shining moments when intention and skill come together producing a little magic, lighting up a world desperate for more such low-key miracles. By the end of the game, they will have sent four more shots into the back of the ol’ onion bag, surrendering only one.

This is what constitutes a great game, sometimes. But the goal count has little to do with racing of my heart and the contentment on my brow.

For a small slice of infinity I watched them run free, these spirits on a patch of green. Wildness tempered by team spirit was the order of the day. To witness such beauty is a pure tonic for the heart. The weary oldster that sometimes looks from behind my eyes has found some respite from the world outside, manifest in the quietly majestic youngsters enjoying the game.

Youngsters, I say. But the truth is, they are youngsters because Time is still kind to them. Adolescence is around the corner, young adulthood glimmering on the horizon. I will not speak to them, to my progeny, of such things. I will hug my daughter. She will know that I am proud of her.

What I cannot say, because the words are too big to get out of my mouth, is how grateful I am to my daughter and her friends for stopping time. How thankful this old man is for the gift of bearing witness to spirits running free, out on the range, beyond the reach of resigned endurance. For a few arc minutes of the sun, I was a colt too. It was glorious. It was real. It was life.

01 October 2017

100 Year Flood

Jaguar sits on the rocks above the man below in the arroyo. Its fur lifts and stands, sensing the cosmic drumming of the approaching storm. Electricity is in the air. A mineral wind gravid with ozone washes over the parched gravel and sand. Jaguar sniffs, a low rumble seeping from his chest. Gates were about to open.

The man removes his hat. From the shadow of the sweat-stained felt, red eyes in a sunbeaten face scan the sky with a cross between fear and hope.

He stands on quivering legs. He stares up at the darkening sky, unaware of the presence behind him. Faint lightning flashing quicksilver through cottony gray haze. The horizon below the clouds is a gauzy smear of rain.

Rain. The man could smell it. His parched throat contracted around the promise and memory of the blessed rain. Kaleidoscopic images spinning through a mind in danger of floating away, tethered to the earth only by a wiry, desiccated body. He recalled the flowers of his youth. Riots of red and white, indigo and yellow, all brought forth by the magic of a rain that had shied away from his earth for centuries.

The line of clouds rolled closer. The wind was picking up. Strands of graying hair swatted about, held briefly in place like spikes. Sweat salt and trail dust made an impromptu pomade the man could feel as he ran a trembling hand over his head. He wondered if he would be presentable when then rains fell and the flowers grew and hope beyond hope she would be there. He missed her.

Jaguar crouches low. The otherworld vibrations coursed through the rock into its haunches. Gold-green eyes, slitted against the fading sun, took in the gauzy lights flickering around the man. Its nostrils flared. It could smell the fear and the longing radiating from the man. There was something else, something deeper. A bolt of lighting touched down at the head of the arroyo. In the flash, jaguar knew. The man was a shaman, degraded and frail in his loss. 

The rain began to fall. Swirls of rock dust and sand kicked up by gusts of wind. The man stood still. He straddled a thin stream running over the bottom of the arroyo. Watching the water rise, he held no fear of flash floods. In the reverse, he welcomed the idea. A wall of water might be the thing he needed to return the ability to travel between worlds. Or at least feel.

Nature granted his wish. The rain was in sheets now, waterfalls from the sky. No arks in sight but a deluge of biblical proportions nonetheless. The stream rose with astonishing speed. The surface of the water became a living thing. The water rose past the man's ankles, his calves. He did not move. The sky was dusty black shot through with silver where the raindrops streaked down from heaven. He smiled. The water was at his waist. Up ahead, a roiling mass of water hurtled down the arroyo. He opened his arms and waited.

Jaguar crouched. It tensed to spring. The wall of water was bearing down fast on the man. The membrane between worlds was dissolving. Jaguar knew now it was the spirit the shaman for which the man mourned. The fur stood up on its back. An involuntary grimace wrinkled its snout. Before it a silver thread swayed in the wind, stretching from beast to man. It would jump. The water was near.

The man raised shaking arms. The water wall bore down on him. He sought nothing but release. His eyes rolled back in his head. A quick gesture to urge the water onward.

Jaguar tensed. The flood was nearly on top of the shaman. Teeth bared, growling to match the deep rumbling  of thunder that was shaking the earth, splitting the sky. Jaguar leapt.

The water wall slammed into the man. He felt himself thrown backward, tumbling head over heels in gritty liquid. A giant's hand pressed his chest forcing him down into the gravel on the arroyo bottom. He could not breathe. He did not care. Another surge of water lifted him up to slam him down again. In the split second between the blow and unconsciousness, the shaman felt something snap, like the breaking of a wire. In that instant, he thought he knew the surcease of pain. The world went black.

Days passed. Or perhaps minutes smeared out into hours by the slowing of time. Heat was all around. Red glow of sunlight seeping through eyes crusted with salt-sweat and sand. The shaman awoke a cell at a time. He felt the rocks digging into his back. It was not pain, so much as a reminder that he was still alive. His heart beat gently in a chest no longer bound by the strictures of loss and fear. All around him, the wind sighed and flowers brushed his cheeks. The bowl of the sky rang out with the peal of a circling hawk.

Perfume filled the shaman's nostrils. The aroma brought a smile to his ragged face. He breathed deep. Once. Twice. Memories come flooding in with odd sensation of being from the future. Without opening his eyes he ran his hands over his cheeks. They were rough with stubble.  He opened his eyes and sat up.

All around were wildflowers. Yellow, blue, red in a riot of rapid growth and bursting of energy from the flood waters. The shaman stared in awe. To be surrounded by such life was the stuff of ancient memories. His heart stirred. The sensation brought his fingertips to his chest as if to reassure himself that the beating was real. The hawk cried out again. It was time to stand.

He pushed himself up on trembling legs. Dizziness swept over him causing a sharp intake of breath. The sky was a dome of azure laced with silvery clouds. Their shadows brushed over the shaman. He felt the feathery touch as a series of ripples over his skin.

No longer in the arroyo, the shaman found himself facing a sea of flowers stretching out before him in a grand carpet before a line of cottonwood trees a short distance away. The flowers swayed in the breeze. A welcome, he thought. A welcome back to the world. It was at that moment that he noticed the tears in his shirt, laced over scratches on his chest.

He looked down. The scratches had the look of having come from the business end of claws. Large claws. The scratches were bleeding slightly but the edges were fresh and pink after the tumbling in the water. He brushed the scratches with raw fingertips. A jolt lanced through his body. He blinked rapidly in a light gone green and gold.

Rustle of petals. Cry of hawk. Motion from the trees caught his eye. Standing straighter while the sun warmed his stiff shoulders, he could see her there at the edge of the cottonwoods. His knees nearly buckled.

She stepped forward in a languid walk through the flowers. He began to move towards her on tottering legs. The flowers seemed to kneel in her presence. She neared him with arms at her side and palms open, as if to say "We are here. This is life."

Beside the shaman the flowers bowed under the weight of invisible treads, paw prints in the petrichorean earth. Two shadows stretched out before the man, limning themselves onto the legs of the woman. They stopped. She smiled. His chest heaved when she opened her arms while beckoning him forward. 

As he moved into her embrace the shadow on the grass disappeared like smoke, slowly dissolving into the shaman's own. The flower perfume thickened into the air, closing about them. The sun slid down the sky. His veins electric with life, she whispered secrets into the growls rumbling up from his soul while the Universe sprang to life around them.

24 September 2017

Punchout

Kerchunk. With that sound my belly dropped to my feet. A few years gone, just like that. A new hole in the identity of my life.

The clerk drops the hole punch on the scruffy laminate counter between us. It lands with a bang, making us both jump. Louder than seemed possible, overheard over the PA system announcements and background chatter of the crowded licensing service area. She apologizes, chuckling nervously as she arranges my paperwork. I assure her it is no big deal, happens sometimes, right?

What I don't say is that maybe now I don't mind the most recent chapter of my life going out with a bang. Much better than a whimper. Certainly a tenfold improvement on the chunking sound the punch made as it bullied its way through my old license.

She hands over to me a thin sheaf of paperwork. On top of the sheaf is the license. There is a hole, oval-shaped, near the top of the dull plastic card. The hole is off center. Fitting, it seems. Not that the hole in the license is of consequence. Not now. Not ever, unless I was dumb enough to use it again for any purpose where it would be scrutinized. So never. I am many things. Dumb is not one of them.

The clerk tells me in a voice unexpectedly cheerful for the DMV that I am all set. Everything proper, signed off, good to go. She points out the temporary license. My very own register receipt verifying my fitness to drive in my new state. I can expect the official validation of my existence to arrive in the mail in about ten business days. Wonderful. "How ever will I survive ten days of marginal personhood?" the snarky question asked in my head.

"Easy answer," says the shadow in the back of my head, "in the manner you survived months of marginality before pulling the reverse Oregon Trail maneuver that brought you here. Numb patience and the art of non-thinking."

No comfort to be found in that pronouncement. I step through the doorway of  out into the bright, hot, muggy day. The humidity makes me breathe harder its so thick. I walk slow back to the car. The old license is in my left hand. I flip it back and forth between my fingers, a clumsy card shark maneuver. The license seems heavier. I have no idea what I will do with it. Unusable, unnecessary, undesired. Descriptions not lost on my weary soul and battered ego.

Bruisingly hot air spills out of the car upon opening the door. A veritable pizza oven on wheels. I wait momentarily to let the hot rush subside. No hurry. No place to go that requires my presence. Not yet, anyway. Standing in the searing light I'm staring at the empty car. No one in it except a passenger seat full of memories. The rest hot and empty.

Empty. Null. Void.

I glance at the license again. The punchout is a sharp relief shadow against my palm. Lao Tzu whispers in my ear sweet nothings about nothing. 

"Moulding clay into a vessel, we find utility in its hollowness.

Sweat rolls down my face, stinging my eyes. Or so I tell myself. Maybe it is the pain in my heart causing the eyes to water.

"Cutting doors and windows for a house, we find the utility in its empty space."

My heart is a shell, but it exists. Like the clay vessel, it is hollow. As with that vessel, it is the void within that will ultimately grant fullness.

"Therefore the being of things is profitable, the non-being of things is serviceable."

Actinic light on a cerulean day illuminates the chunk of sky collapsing on my head. Words of a dead Chinese philosopher advise me to look deep within the emptiness of my heart to find a way back to life. 

License as talisman. The hole in this plastic locket a reminder to embrace the void within, and without. I get in the car and drive off to home, relief flooding my system. "It is useful. My heart is useful. It will be filled." The words are loud in the cabin of the car.

The license rests serene in my shirt pocket. My heart is serene inside my chest. Patience, and it will be filled.



Quotes in italics are from Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching, Commercial Press Edition, Shanghai, 1929.

17 September 2017

Novus Mare (Plunge)

The cliff falls away from the Diver, a sheer blur during transit into the deep blue below. Many thoughts light the mind. One gains on the others. What life awaits the Diver plunging into a sea not yet swum? The way to knowing is total immersion. Break the surface, cast off the fear of the unknown. Join the dolphins in the search for life. They may know the way to the Swimmer.

The Swimmer is there, clothed in aquamarine and cobalt swirls of water. A presence unseen but known to the senses. The Diver starts in the depths, with no anxiety of breath. Subsurface swells moving the torso and limbs in limpid gravity, the exhalation of giants. To feel it is to feel the pulse at the throat of the universe. It is an energy thrilling to the core of humanity.

Whales loom out of blue depths. Ultramarine messengers bringing news of the Swimmer, reassuring songs in a prehistoric tongue in understanding is granted through feeling rather than the hearing. The Diver relaxes in a current that draws the body forward. Ahead there is the faint susurrus of water over sand. The shore is close. The whales say the Swimmer is closer.

A surge of current. The backwash of titanic flukes urging the Diver onward. The Swimmer is there. Out of the blue, the Swimmer arabesques to face the Diver, who plunges into waiting arms. They sing the water electric. Tumbling into the quickening flow towards a no longer distant shore.

To cling, to touch, to feel the surge of creation and not of the storm. Intersecting currents as the confluence of love and desire.

This current lifts, pulls, and pushes. The Diver and the Swimmer find themselves rolled up into the curling of a mighty breaker. The wave rushes up the strand. Hippocampi stamp and snort along its leading edge. Their eagerness to break upon the sand mirrors the urgent energy of the Diver and Swimmer, who themselves seem not to notice the swiftly approaching tide line.

The wave breaks. It roars across the sand to curl unto itself while fading to a whisper. Hurried breath, pounding heart while the water trickles over the beach. Foam fades into salty skin. Ragged pulses descend from spume-dusted heights to fade into a syncopated rhythm. Diver and Swimmer alight on the shore with mouths full of song.

Breathing. Close. Entwined. Blood, hot and vital, speaks of a  joining of salt and iron not unlike the sea that birthed them. Slowly, slowly, equilibrium is reached. To know that balance point is to know life. Under the fading sun, the waves turn to indigo and the stars unmask themselves. They deign to caress upturned faces with argentine light.

Diver/Swimmer (their boundaries have softened and merged into fractal harmony) feel the grains of sand on their backs. They breathe in slow time with the surf. This as yet unnamed sea has given them life. It beckons them back with no hurry. They gather breath. The waves carry on, whispering of life anew.

10 September 2017

Fading Memories of the Feast

Chicken and dumplings in the bowl, the aroma wafting up and around Sonny's face. Caressing his cheeks like a lover but he didn't stir. A spoon jutting from his right hand, left hand idly resting on a small dish of collard greens. Staring out the window, through the chipped paint letters, sweet tea sweating in its glass. He got to thinking he was too old to be alone eating collard greens. They were not "good" bitter, anymore, just bitter.

Things taste strange when their roots are ripped from a soil a man no longer recognizes as his own. Sonny dipped his head, took a desultory swipe at the chicken and dumplings. It was good, he reckoned, even with the aftertaste of memories of grandma Annabelle. He often teased Augie Midgett, the owner of the joint, that the chicken and dumplings tasted good "but that ain't how you make it." All the funnier knowing that he, Sonny, rarely could be bothered to make them at all.

Another swipe, another swallow. A shadow fell across the table. It was Margot, the waitress. She held a pitcher of iced tea over Sonny's glass. Angled as if to pour. He met her tired eyes with his own.

"You okay, hon?" she said. "A little more tea?"

Sonny nodded. "I'm tired, Margot. Workin' is wearin' me out, I reckon. But I'm okay." He smiled, but it failed to reach his eyes. Margot looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and topped off his glass.

"You wouldn't be fibbing me, would you?"

"No, ma'am." That grin again. Margot paused, hand on her hip. His own hands twitched with jealousy at the sight. She sighed.

"Aw, now, then you better explain that to those hangdog eyes of yours. I'll let you off with a warning this time, Sonny." She smiled at that last statement, turned and strode over to the server station. Sonny watched her go, admiration layered over sadness and desire.

Sonny looked down the bowl. Still half full, and with an appetite that just took the last bus out of town. He took two more spoonfuls, set it down. He could tell his heart wasn't in it, and by association, neither was his belly.

He raised his head. She chatted with a customer, silhouetted in the dusky sundown light coming through the window. Broken hearts need to eat eventually, Sonny thought. He hoped his would get its appetite back before she found someone else to call her darling. He wanted to know how to be hungry again, and sated.

03 September 2017

On the Saving of A Duck

It was a talent, dubious to be sure, but a talent nonetheless that the old man could find tragedy in a blue sky full of horsetails and cotton candy. Some days he imagined it in the form of daemon, shape shifting as it sat on his shoulder or circled his head while whispering terrible things.

A belly full of oysters put him in mind for a post-prandial stroll down to the dock, just past the waterfront museum. A soothing coolness in the air with a gentle swell upon the water exerted its gravitational pull. The breeze joined in, pushing him gently onto the worn but sturdy boards of the piers. The daemon hovered as the old man watched the clouds drift over the bay. Mercifully, it was quiet.

A few ducks swam lazily around the pilings. The sun dusted white gold upon the water as he chatted with a lad who was crabbing from the pier.

The youngster allowed that the crabs were sparse tonight, but he had caught some good ones. The oldster chuckled, recalling his youthful summer adventures crabbing in the creeks near his boyhood home. Seeing a tension on his line, the boy slowly reeled it in. There in the murky translucence of the water, a medium sook was nibbling away on the bait.

The boy scooped up the female crab, expertly separating crab from bait. The bait, a chicken neck looped in twine, went back out into the water. The crab, said the boy, was going into the basket. He said goodbye and walked down the pier to his stash of gear. Dinner was probably not far away.

The old man leaned against a piling, noting that the moon was visible in the cerulean sky. Boats made their way up and down the creek. Sunlight gilded the tops of their masts. An osprey raised a keening cry from out on its nest in the channel. The old man was contemplating what life must be like living in a pile of sticks on top of a post when he heard a furious flapping and splashing coming from the next pier over. It was a duck. Its wings beat the water in a rush, yet it was unable to move forward or take off.

The duck grew increasingly frantic. The old man stared for a minute or two. He though perhaps the duck was being attacked by a large fish or some other creature, but it did not go under. He reckoned it would not be long, because the duck was in overwhelming distress.

The old man jogged back to the main deck, then cut across and hurried up the other pier. The duck was out at the far end, still thrashing furiously and quacking at high volume. He bent down to look over the edge of the pier.

It was fishing line. An old line left tied to a piling. The hapless duck, a female mallard, was entangled in it by its right foot. From what the old man could see the line was wrapped in a tight helix around the leg. There was no way the duck was going to unwrap it or break the line.

The old man lay down on the deck boards. They smelled of seawater, bait and crab shells. He reached down to grasp the monofilament line and hauled the duck up as gently as he could. The duck was terribly frightened by this. Its thrashing sent a spray of water up into the old man's face. He sputtered and tightened his grip on the line.

He grasped the duck by its leg. It felt like cold leather, and the duck struggled mightily to free itself. He spoke softly to it, telling it things would be okay, just hold on, I'll get you out of this. To the old man's surprise the duck settled down. It barely moved as he held it head down over the water while unwrapping the fishing line from its foot.

There was moment of panic as the line became snagged on what looked like a small spur. The old man hefted the duck up higher and with the precision of surgeon unhooked the line from the spur. The duck spun itself as the line unreeled from the foot. With a tremendous splash, rapid fire quacking, and a blur of wings it launched itself across the open water between the piers. It came to rest a few yards away from the old man. It began flapping its wings, quacking and acting as if nothing had happened.

The old man stood up. He wiped his hands on his pants and brushed flecks of wood and dried bait from his shirtfront. It was an unexpected turn of events, after dinner on an evening by the summer bay, that turned his mind over to the sea. 

He looked up again at the blue sky, the moon, the drifting boats. It was a talent, he knew, to find tragedy in a sky of cotton candy and horsetails. But not tonight. Tonight he had found grace in the saving of a duck. Cotton candy and horsetails never looked better.

27 August 2017

In the Drowning Clouds

Her voice carried over the cacophony of ducks swarming the end of the marina. There were tears in it, raspy and liquid. At the sound of it, Jackie turned his head slightly to see from whom it came.

"I'm sorry," she had said following it with another sniffle. She was staring up at the youngish man standing in front of her. Jackie couldn't see his face, but could tell the jaw was working. The man had his arms hanging with a slight bent. No fists, exactly, but fingers flexing.

Jackie sipped the iced tea he held cradled in his hands. The woman raised her hands to her head, forming an inverted 'u' with with she swept her hair back to clutch it in a bun. Jackie's heart lurched. Goddamnit she was pretty he thought, never mind the tear tracks silvering her cheeks. Sputtering into his tea, he forced himself to look slightly past her so she would not think he was staring.

But he was. He long ago had mastered the art of observation without flagrancy.

The man said something to her Jackie couldn't catch. The wind was up and the ducks chose that moment to burst out quacking en masse, for all the world sounding like laughter. It took all of his self-control to not leap to the concrete wall and shoo them all off. In Jackie's mind, ducks had never been good at eavesdropping.

He risked another glance. Her mouth has dropped open, her arms following suit as they fell to her sides. Her expression balanced itself on that knife edge between shock and incredulous anger. Something in her eyes told Jackie she was feeling gutpunched with no way to respond. The man kept talking, hands moving a little faster now. They were, Jackie noticed, shaking quite a bit.

She shook her head. He heard something that sounded like "God's plan" and "for a purpose", but a powerboat was making its way up the marina cove. The low chugging of its motors blotted out more. Jackie took another sip of tea. She continued to stare at the man, crestfallen and fading. Her eyes were growing shinier. 


Little crescents of liquid welled up at the bottoms. She shook her head in response to whatever the man was saying. Dark blots spattered her blouse. Jackie instinctively reached to his shirt pocket thinking to grab a tissue, then realized how odd that might appear if she noticed. He kept his hand going and casually brushed back his hair.

The sky was growing heavy. Clouds the color of bright lead rolled in carrying a faint scent of rain and ozone. The water in the cove had a miniature chop on it, wavelets caroming back and forth between the walls. The powerboat had gone silent. Two men were securing it to pilings across the cove, tying up in front of the dockside bar where some intrepid souls appeared to be getting a head start on the weekend. Full tables festooned with bottles and glasses.

Jackie swallowed more tea. Looking over the woman's shoulder, he felt a pang and flutter of zombie memories. His drinking days were over, too bad he couldn't quite forget. The look of anguish on her face had him wishing he could crack the seal in a search for the cure for pain.

She was crying openly now, but quiet. He heard the wet intake of breath as a counterpoint to the laughter of the ducks. Her head swept back and forth. Twisting lips mouthing "no, no, no" as her companion continued to talk. The man reached out and took her by the upper arms. The woman had raised her face to the man. The expression on her face was cryptic. Jackie saw anger, mixed with a bit of fear.

Jackie stood up, setting his cup down on the concrete wall of the planter. The situation gave him a shiver of dread. He hoped they were just arguing, but one could never be sure. All the time he spent down here, among the tourists and the locals strolling blithely eating their ice cream or fiddling with cameras, he had witnessed too many breakups and temper tantrums. People could be so ugly to each other, and Jackie wished he could unwind them all.

The woman slapped the man's hands away from her arms. The man stepped back half a pace, genuinely shocked Jackie could see now as he moved closer to the two. The woman's eyes blazed as she loudly said "Then go. Just go! Maybe you can numb yourself with that bullshit, but I can't. I won't!"

Jackie felt the anger radiating off of her, even at distance. The man took another step back as if the anger was a force field. Jackie saw now that the man had been crying too. Flushed cheeks and red eyes bordered by a drawn and haggard face. He looked tired in the bone, while she stood there, hands on hips with tears drying up on her face and glaring. 


He turned away from her and towards Jackie, looking right through him. The man began walking back up towards the head of the cove. His face suddenly sagged and he stopped walking. Turning back to the woman, not five feet away from Jackie, he nearly shouted at her.

"Don't you see, Magda? Don't you see that you are broken? Why don't you believe me when I say that it is in your brokenness that God often uses you the most!"

Jackie looked from the man to Magda. He made no attempt now to hide the fact that he was watching. Few others appeared to notice, only a few side glances from the tourists and boat crews. The look on Magda's face transformed from hard to furious. She was shaking when she shouted.

"Adam, any God that would let our babies die for being born too early has no right to use me for anything! Why don't you see THAT?"

Passers-by stopped, stunned at what they just heard. Jackie froze, dizzy. He could not believe his ears. Memories rushing out of the dark sump in the bottom of his mind. Nightmare glimpses of the machines failing his own children, tiny, frail, too sick to live. He swallowed bile past the bulge in his throat and forced himself to look to Adam. 

Adam stood, swaying as if he were about to faint. He was panting. He shook his head, realizing he was now the center of attention. His mouth open and closed, a beached fish on the hot bricks of the promenade. An anguished groan burst forth, then he spun on his left heel and hurriedly walked away from the scene. Jackie watched his back recede up the hill and into the crowd milling about at the foot of Main Street. The small knot of onlookers dispersed, perhaps plunging back into their own thoughts of crabs and beer.

Turning around, he saw the woman had collapsed onto a nearby bench. She sat staring straight ahead while cradling her elbows in her hands. The pain was near visible, magnetic, a corona of grief in Jackie's eyes. He walked slowly as a hunter trying not to scare off quarry. At the end of the bench, he stopped.

Magda turned to look at him. Gray eyes clear as crystal and hardened with pain. She blinked slowly. Behind the hardness flickered a low curiosity. Jackie swallowed before speaking.

"I'm...sorry. So sorry. I overheard..."

She looked at him again, tears running slowly down her face. At his words, her eyes softened.

"It's okay, thank you. For being sorry."

There was a heartbeat or two of silence. Magda looked up the street, eyes narrowing. Jackie turned to look, and could see Adam about to turn a corner and go out of sight.

Magda said, low and hoarse, "I just wish he was, too." She leaned her head back, eyes closed, letting a deep sigh rush from her lungs. Her eyes opened. She stared up into the darkening clouds and said "And I wish He was, too."

The emphatic weariness and pain in her voice jolted Jackie. He looked up, following her gaze. The clouds roiled and glowered, rain began to fall in fat drops. He would not swear to it, but for a split second he thought he saw a face vanishing back into the pewter mist of the downpour.

He looked back down. Magda sat there, shivering, blank-eyed. From his back pocket he took out and unfurled the umbrella he had been carrying. "May I join you?"

She nodded. He sat. Drops beat a ragged tattoo on the umbrella as they both searched the sky, looking for that face. Behind them, the ducks cackled and quacked, laughing in spite of the rain.

20 August 2017

Sunday Meditation #50: Haircut 100 (Million Bucks)

It was the first haircut in nearly two months. The first since uprooting from Kansas and moving to Maryland. Nearly two months is an eternity for hair that goes from acceptably shaggy to "just climbed out of a hamper" in the blink of an eye. It was time, and it made me feel like a million bucks. Felt good.

Walking back to the car in the cooling humidity of a rain-washed evening, I didn't think much of why I felt so good, although I savored it. By "think too much of it" I mean there was no attempt to analyze this rush of what many would call mild euphoria. Contentment. A calmness upon the mind. This is a goodness in very short supply.

Upheaval and dislocation have been the prime drivers of my depression and anxiety for over a year. Isolation and lack of daily companionship drawing the curtains on a dark room in which I could not find the door. I had light when I needed it, sometimes, when good people, good friends opened their hearts (and occasionally their homes) to me. I would not have survived gracefully moving cross-country if not for the companionship of my daughter. This lights still shines in my head.

Not to say I have yet unlocked the door. Diving into a new job turned up the heat and pressure, in ways I expected but still involve struggle for balance. Mornings require a pep talk to arise from the bed. Weeks require a therapy pit stop to relocate and recalibrate. I look for that which provides a nudge back to the path, but energy often drains swiftly away into fatigue. I know that many people say sometimes you just have to roll with it, but an affirmation of direction would be welcome.

No surprise that self-care of certain kinds took a back seat to simply making it through the day. Getting a haircut barely registered on the scale of things I needed to be present in my life. Evidence of this was the shagginess I saw in the mirror one morning last week. It wasn't the guy I used to know. He looked more like an 18th century engraving of a half-insane composer. I think my cat even gave me a few "Time to trim the weeds" looks.

The curious thing was that it took me three weeks to make a decision. Twenty one days to make up my damn mind about a simple thing like getting a haircut. A sure sign that things are out of whack from living too much in my own head.

I arrived home from the haircut relaxed, unwound. The mirror showed me a very different face from the one I had woken up with earlier in the day. It was a face looking relaxed, content, and knowing it had a million dollars in the bank of the spirit. It was the face of a human being.

15 August 2017

Be Proud You're A Rebel?

This is a bit of a long one, but it could not wait. It contains some words that are hurtful demanded by context. I submitted a version of this in December 2016, in response to "We Are Bitter, No. 2: From 2016 Forward," an essay (linked here) by Chuck Reece, editor-in-chief of The Bitter Southerner. The Bitter Southerner is a fine online magazine about the South and things Southern, in its myths, its realities, and its futures. I did not hear back from The BS (as it is affectionately referred to), but with the horrible events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia over August 11th and 12th, I felt compelled to give it another turn in the light. It has been edited to take into account those recent events.

I was born and raised in southeastern Virginia, Portsmouth to be exact. I went to college at Virginia Tech, up in the Blue Ridge mountains in Blacksburg. Upon graduation, I wound up in Baltimore, Maryland where I stayed for over twenty years to find myself with an ex-wife, a daughter I adore, and probably nowhere to go from there. This before life got really crazy and I ended up in love again and in Kansas, where I lived until July 2017. Things did not work out in the heartland, and I moved myself back to Maryland, this time to the city of Annapolis.

To talk about a new South, a new America, we have to discuss the ugly, nasty truths of the past. The last election cycle in particular made everyone –hopefully, everyone—look inward to reexamine their consciences and outward to reexamine the cultural matrix to which they are beholden. I know I did.

To my shame, racism and bigotry were part of my upbringing. It never reached the magnitude of joining the KKK or actively seeking out the “others” for abuse and belittlement, but it was there. It was casually woven into the fabric of our daily lives. We, including myself, had no qualms about telling ‘nigger’ jokes or using it to say “those niggers” in the same way that more enlightened people would say “those folks.” You would hear stuff like that among white peers at the same time you wouldn’t actually say it to someone’s brown face.

The same shameful treatment was applied to Hispanics, Middle Easterners, Asians, the disabled, and LGBTQ folks. Equal opportunity bigotry, no doubt. I often felt uncomfortable spewing such things, but it never bothered me enough to stop myself or call out others when they did. I let myself be misled because I did not think to question it.

That is until the day I had a jarring break with the culture in which I was embedded. My awakening to what was really going on around me. An occurrence I will never forget happened in front of me as I walked into a shopping mall in my hometown. Ahead of me were two white men, appearing to be in their 20’s. Bearded and clad in a fairly typical set of work clothes that almost could have been our city’s uniform, they reached the door just as a little African-American girl was coming out.

She was probably no more than about four or five years old, carrying a toy and pushing on the door while her mother followed behind. The girl paused in the doorway which momentarily blocked traffic. Just as I came up behind the two men, I heard one of them snarl at the girl “Get outta the way, you little nigger!”

Thunderstruck is too mild to describe what I felt. I stopped while the two men pushed rudely past the girl and into the mall. To her credit, the girl did not seem to notice the slur hurled at her. But I am sure her mother heard it, because she hustled the child out the door much faster than you would expect for something so casual as a shopping trip. A few steps into the building, I had to stop a moment to collect myself.

I felt sick. A churning stomach and a racing heart catalyzed by the brush with violence and hate I witnessed. I had no understanding. How could that be? The girl was being a child, no bother to anyone, and yet these men saw fit to verbally abuse her because of her skin color? The illogic and injustice of it made my head spin. It sank in that this was how a lot of society, my society, operated, hurting others with thoughtless cruelty because they could get away with it, backed up as it was with structural and institutional racism.

The first of many switches flipped that night. I went home uneasy and sad while trying to make sense of the loathsome behavior I witnessed. It sparked the first of many years (in my teens then, in my 50’s now) of introspection and inquiry into the causes of such bad behavior and how to eliminate it in myself. I started turning a skeptical eye towards society. Intellectual laziness and lack of awareness had led me down a slippery, dead-end path. I began to question things, starting off with how I had allowed others to do my thinking for me.

I felt ashamed of the Southern way of life in which I lived. The people around me began to sound backwards. My own voice started to trouble me because I realized I did have a drawl, even if it wasn’t as deeply twangy as some of my friends and relatives. Arriving at college, I actively sought to drop the accent and even leave behind certain figures of speech. I was around a lot of different people in that time, and was self-conscious about being considered too “Southern.”

I succeeded, to a degree. In my early years out of school, working for what ended up being about 20 years in Maryland, many of my co-workers seemed mildly surprised to find out I was from Virginia, because I did not sound particularly Southern. I even lost my taste for sweet tea, if you can imagine that! The net result was that slowly over time my roots loosened their grip on the soil from which they sprang. I became untethered from the past in such a way that I cast off the prejudices I despised but forgot to hold on to some of the good things I loved.

As the years unfolded I thought more and more of myself as American, but without regional identity. I was haunted by the notion that I was missing something that I could not put my finger on. I cannot tell you exactly when my search began to find what I lacked. But I can tell you my primary research medium was food. I have always been a trencherman, and learning about myself through cooking and eating foods from my birth region was a natural fit even if I was not fully cognizant of why I wished to do so.

Smithfield ham. Cornbread and grits. Fried chicken and collard greens. Some things I loved to eat and some things I thought I could happily do without now became more important than ever. Mail-order sorghum even made an appearance or two in my house. An old cast-iron skillet of my maternal grandmother’s fell into my hands as an inheritance when she passed away. It took me years to understand the great gift that skillet was, one that I still hope to live up to when I cook.

The point is that each dab of sorghum and butter on a biscuit, each skillet of cornbread, each forkful of collard greens I washed down with my (unsweet) tea began to fill me up in ways beyond the mere existence of calories in the belly. It all filled me up with home. The sense of dislocation I dragged around for years slipped away and the roots began to push themselves back into the dirt of my creation. There was an eagerness to share with others the Southern boy that I was and am. My adventures in cooking also taught me history as a spectrum, and food as a bridge to others.

This eagerness and comfort grew in the years between my divorce, subsequent relocation to the Midwest, and the travesty of the 2016 election year. My sense of well-being took a big hit as I watched the ugliness spewing out of the mouths of our President-elect and his repugnant followers. Who could pay attention to the news cycle and not be shocked and upset by the flood of bigotry bearing down on us as a nation?

Memories started creeping back in. Flashbacks to the times as a teenager when I paraded a Confederate flag around the neighborhood because I thought it was cool. Embarrassment at having participated in Civil War reenactments, on the side of the South of course, because I wanted to be a rebel. Shame welled up when I recalled telling and laughing at ‘spear chucker’ jokes, thoroughly thoughtless and disrespectful of the African-Americans I personally knew and liked at school. Waves of regret when I remembered that little girl at the mall and how I lacked courage to stand up to racist bullies and call them out on their vileness.

I was young, once, and stupid.

So it was when the election results were announced that I felt horrible for Americans in general and Southerners in particular. All this time having gone by, the history under our collective belts, and we have learned not enough to elect such a terrible representative of the American ideal? 

Watching the news about racists and neo-Nazis marching Charlottesville stirred up the muck again. The horrific act of murder we witnessed in that car plowing into a group of marchers who had taken upon themselves the hard work of opposing hatred, bigotry, and evil. A young woman who stood up for many good things killed by a man who took hatred and spite to obscene levels: this is the malignant fruit falling from trees planted long ago. 

Hearing the president generically condemn the violence, with the morally bankrupt stance of "many sides" being at fault, it hit me hard that we could have done so much better. We have to do better, be better . For the sake of all of us, we are going to have to oppose the white nationalist agenda of hatred, discrimination, and violence. 

In the South, whether you live there or carry it in your heart (as I do) and in America in general, we have to learn to talk about Confederate flags without waving them or using them as tools of fear and oppression. We have to stop fetishizing statues of deeply flawed, sometimes evil people. We have to understand we can move into the future without necessarily burying our past, but that future means inviting everyone to the table and being honest in our conversations with our fellow Americans. Claiming  superiority because of skin color and heritage is a desperately weak gambit to demand participation in the ideal of America. It only shines a bitter light on the institutional racism built into our society.

Difficult work is needed to determine who we want to be as Americans moving into the future. The arc of history is pretty clear on that score. We carry the moral imperative to resist hatred and bigotry wherever we encounter it. I learned that lesson long ago, acknowledging my personal shame in these matters and opening my mind and heart to cast out the hate I had thoughtlessly absorbed. After Charlottesville, it is clear that many white Americans have not done the same. We cannot avert our eyes, stifle our voices, shut our ears. We have bridges to build, not burn, if we claim to be Americans.

13 August 2017

Cooking for One

One good thing about teaching yourself to cook is that it is a portable skill. As long as you can get your hands on food, heat, and at least a pot, you can feed yourself anywhere. Keeping the wolf of hunger away from the door is an imperative of survival. We all should cook at least to survive. I do, sometimes. By such means, live long I might. Prosper? I lack confidence in prosperity.

Outside the cottage tonight the sea is calm. Weeks of rough surf, waterspouts, seventh waves that hit as second and even third waves have left the headland in a bedraggled state. Watered gold sunlight is casting deep shadows upon the beach debris. Clear enough and comfortable enough for a post-prandial stroll along the strand, I think. Flotsam and jetsam capture my imagination.

Time enough to amble, that is, if I can swallow what remains on the plate before me. Finishing the meal seems iffy at best. One of my favorite dishes, chorizo and eggs, getting cold on the side table by the window. Ordinarily that plate would have me in the kitchen on the run. I find its scent tiresome this night. The storms that pounded the cottage pounded something out of me. Arms like lead, a belly gone indifferent. Still, the prime directive commands me to eat. Chew. Swallow. Mechanical.

The plate and fork go in the sink. Later, I'll pump some water in, do some cleaning. For now I am content to step outside. The sand damp and cool under my feet. A breeze rests its hands on my stubbly cheeks, redolent of brine, iodine, and the death-odor of small creatures trapped in seaweed. Like pluff mud to a Lowcountry native, it is a scent that brings me somewhere closer to home. A compass to the rudder of my soul.

The beach is pocked with moguls of seaweed, foothills of sand and samphire. Nearing the tide line pebbles and fragmented shells dig into the soles of my feet. The sensation brings to mind that I should hunt for shells, sea glass, items of interest. My daughter and I, we have a hoard of found delights and curios we have collected over the years stretching back to her early days of walking with me along the rivers, creeks, and oceans I adore. A well-preserved scallop shell or dusky gem of glass is a wonder to hold in the palm of one's hand.

At the water's edge cold foam beards my toes. A quietness emanates from the surf. Unsettling, welcoming. How can this be? The storms, of course. Or was it one long storm oscillating its ferocity over what seemed like months? Either seems equally plausible. I kneel to dip my fingertips in the water, raise them to my mouth. The liquid is chill and gritty. It also tastes tired. No vitality in the brine. I imagine a vampire would say the same of my blood. Bad weather begets bad blood, whether in the veins or in the ocean.

I understand the sea in its loss. Fury and sorrow are exhaustion incarnate if they come for a protracted stay.

A lone gull flutters to the sand opposite a clump of seaweed between us. Beady eyes offer up a quizzical stare. The gull blinks. It opens its beak in a silent cry, leaving me to wonder if it had a question for me. Or an answer to a question of my own.

Tell me, friend gull, does the sea grow tired of crashing upon the shore? Turbulent, voracious, yet never sated? Does the sea lose its appetite when left to cook alone?

The synchronization of the waves with my heartbeat lead me to believe this may be true. The sea piled on the sand all the wrack which it could not bring itself to consume, left to decay under the sun. The gull has been watching me as I mumble these things to myself. It lets loose an aural shard of a shriek while launching itself into the purple sky of sundown.

The shriek rings a bell. Realization in a flash. In the rays of dusk it is no longer the belly that cannot bring itself to eat. It is a heart sated with love gone wrong that has no appetite. It is full, it cannot swallow. Not yet. This is a matter for time to decide.

I was unaware my face was buried in my hands. I peeked between the fingers, half expecting to be swept away by a rogue wave. Yet the sea remained sluggishly undulant. It was then I saw the shell before me. Buried hinge end down, the rippled edge of the scallop beckoned me forward. I tugged it gently from the sand.

The scallop shell had survived the storms intact. A smoothness upon the surface indicative of a long tumble in the sand only hinted at the recent turbulence. I traced my fingers over my face and arms wishing I could say the same. The shell I rinsed in the surf, its destination the treasure jar belonging to my daughter as a fine addition to our volumes of history.

We would share the shell when I saw her next. The vision of her delight at its muted otherworldliness would sustain me until then, I thought. Perhaps then my heart would be less full. She and I would not speak of cooking for one. Instead, we will write a story of beauty found in the calm after the storm, casting loneliness aside as it decays in light.

07 August 2017

The Ruins of the Empire Shall Be Dusted with Gold

So it has come to this, staring down the barrel of the gun that is my life. Days on which I cannot be bothered to spend dinner money, such as this one, I eat hunched over a paper plate. Clutched in one hand is a plastic fork. It is gilded. Plastic, of course, but a welcome suspension of disbelief makes it an artifact of the dreams of Spanish kings. 

Golden forks, like the spoons and knives purchased together, were part of a cheeky joke shared with my daughter. We had to eat with something in the last days of my Midwestern empire. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner all amongst the ruins. She is gone back to her mother. I sit alone and swallow bitter stones. The setting sun slats through the patio door casting shadows on a kingdom returned to dust.

According to the Persian poet Rumi, "Love is the bridge between you and everything." A pity. My eyes, my heart, all full of smoke and cinders from the burning. I see no bridges.

Except the two that fell out of a nightstand that made the eastward trek with me. The drawer slid open while tilting the stand into place. Two bridges in the shape of two letters I forgot were in my possession. They crossed a river of memory that should have dried up years ago.

I stare at the letters laying on the table. Zombie letters in a sense. They were never sent, but they did arrive. They lay in  ambush while moving that bedside table. I chew with the mien of a cow. Food as cud in my mouth, tasting of what, I do not know. 

Sunlight slants through an opening in the leaves outside the windows, by trick of circumstance landing as a spotlight on the letters. The heat brings out a faint musty aroma. Breathing it in brings on a flashback to the libraries in which I buried myself as a youth. 

This is the smell of aging paper and daydreams that took me out of myself. The imp of reason residing in my head tells me the odor is simply from having been stored away so long. The imp of my heart feels differently, tersely replying that the scent is of aging memory and burning hearts.

Food sticks in my throat. A hurried gulp of iced tea pushes it down past the lump. The letters were addressed, front and back. The envelopes themselves toothy wrappers that embodied the artist I believed I was when the letters were written. The stamps were leftover from the Christmas season. The cat stares at me while I laugh loudly at the images of "Madonna and Child" in the heat of the summer.

Fading light paints the apartment with soft patches of gold-tinged dusk. The sun is behind the trees now. I can see swatches of its glow through the gaps in the blinds. In the light of the dining room chandelier the letters acquire a hue that reminds me of wedding bands. White gold or some such appellation. They remain unopened.

The letters I moved to my nightstand. A few hours would pass before they called again for my attention. Covers turned back, alarm set, the bedside lamp encircled the letters in a gauzy pool of pale gold light thrown off through a yellowed shade. The lamp was another castaway rejoined with its master in the move. Shaking hands reached out to take up the letters.

Without a knife, I resorted to using a car key to open the envelopes. The tearing was remarkably precise. It should be noted that the envelopes were also numbered, #1 and #2. Apparently, I must have felt that one was insufficient at the time. That or my heart must have been overflowing as the towers fell around me.

The date was April 14, 2010.

Hand to mouth I perched on the bedside and read the outpourings of an emperor who was witnessing the earth open up to swallow his domain whole, under roiling clouds of ashes and dust. The frantic begging of a heart desperate not to lose something which made it whole. It was so long ago, and the shock made it as yesterday.

I read the letters through twice, almost refusing to believe that it was my hand that put ink to page. Evidence has its own agenda and it was not to assuage my fractured heart. History repeats itself, the earth casts up shards of the broken past. In my hands I held their weight.

Those letters were never sent. Desperation is no guarantor of wish fulfillment, and I knew that when I wrote them. Perhaps the head knew better when it tucked those letters in the nightstand, to be forgotten until the wheel turned to the new old futures unfurling before sore, astonished eyes. 

I put the letters back in their respective envelopes and wiped my face. There are no words up to the task of offering comfort to a man deposed his second time as emperor, and who in total three times suffered the demise of his crown. Victim of neither abdication nor death, but dethroned by banishment from the realm. It is an honor of dubious distinction that tears will not expunge.

Before I could regroup to sleep my mind insisted on an attempt at distraction by mindless scrolling through the internet. This as if a good meme or pictures of cats could revitalize my bloodline. Just before I turned out the lights I stumbled across a video of Motörhead, of all bands, performing a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes."

I watched it to the end. Heroes. We could be heroes yet I heard no songs of Roland played for myself. The light I turned off, the gold fading behind eyelids sailing a hot and salty sea. I was an emperor, thrice before, and now not even a hero just for one day. I fell asleep to dream of a crown that surely must be buried somewhere in the gilded ruins of the empires of my heart. Would that my head be heavy with it.

31 July 2017

Cipher Lock on the Gates of Heaven and Hell

07162003
07222003
08082003
10302004
05??2009
08092009
02112010
03??2010
04??2011
05012012
06242016
07302016
04292017

The wheels crank and turn in the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, that is my heart. Numbers scroll past the inside of my eyelids, grown weary of holding them open to witness the majesty and tragedy of the last fifteen years of life. Love, death, and heartbreak neatly condensed to digits as if that would provide some anesthesia or euphoria.

They do not. Not entirely in either direction of pleasure or pain. The numbers are signposts. Delineators of anniversaries never to be forgotten, some cherished, some dreaded.

Summer is the season of heat. The cipher transforms it into a hell broken only by the memories of love that somehow have survived amongst the ruins. Those memories, as water cupped in my hands brought to a trembling mouth that gulps to soothe the burning in my heart.

The wheels crank and turn. The code will be scrambled. With luck, the vault will stay shut long enough for healing to take hold. Healing perhaps will make the numbers add up to something.

24 July 2017

Et Tu, Amor? (Sensory Deprivation)

Long ago I read somewhere something like to be writer one has to deal in hard truths, discomfort, and things that make one cringe and squirm. Honesty of feeling is paramount in what goes on the page. Credibility is at stake. I know this. I have written about some things that made me squirm and cringe. I understand this need for honesty. Honesty has been on my mind overly much these days, a byproduct of emotional turmoil and loss. Here is a little hard truth I need to purge. I want love to bleed.

My cup may brim full of cynicism and bile, but love is an asshole. An asshole with inexhaustible resources to keep reminding my heart of that fact. Omnia vincit amor (“Love conquers all,”) wrote Virgil in his Eclogue X. I believed him, once upon a time, but in a very different fashion. That has changed. Love may conquer all as a creator, but this time it conquered me as a destroyer.

In my time of writing I have spilled much ink, digital and physical, in defense of love. How it can sustain you. How it ties one to others and allows growth, security, desire. Now I am seeing I have no faith anymore in my own hype. There is a limit to the numbers of heartbreaks I can take. It is most maddening that we have no way to hold love accountable for its transgressions.

Love lied to me. Not once, not twice, but three goddamn times in my adult life it flattered to deceive, pulled me down a path I believed led to a cure for loneliness and pain, a fountain of belonging. Love betrayed me. It smiled the entire time, every time, with every twist of the knife. So begins the stripping away of the senses that give juice to life.

Betrayal by love disturbs touch. Heat, cold, rough, smooth: all that is tactile carries with it at least a little irritation. Even the absence of sensation creates its own peculiar pain. The hands mourn the loss of a lover's hip, the mouth the lover's lips. There is perhaps nothing so generative of heartache than the void within one's grasp. To reach out in the night and feel nothing but space and sheets is agony realized to a degree bordering on obscenity.

Love as a pillager can ruin a good music library. All those great songs, and so many become unlistenable now. Listening is either a reminder of how good love was or how searing its absence. It is a small percentage of songs left that I can or want to hear without hitting skip. Raw emotion, anger, frustration working itself out in the screaming of lyrics that speak to all of those things festering in a heart exploding along the scars and fault lines. Most importantly, a verbal catharsis to help numb the lonely helplessness if only the sound did not hurt so much.

Do not think the palate escapes the collateral damage of losing love. Oh, no, taste suffers its own degradations. Brightness and sweet fade from the tongue. Savory turns to sour, ashes in the back of the throat. If taste remains it is bitter metallic. To sometimes eat alone by benign circumstance is a fact of existence, easily endured. To eat alone because of banishment from the table of the heart is an exercise in catered despair. Forget about cooking for joy. Stirring the pot with a broken heart is mere pragmatic numbness. The soul may be in limbo, but the belly has its own agenda. When they quarrel, hunger often wins at the cost of inner peace.

With love's loss, the eyes offend us but common sense lobbies hard to not pluck them out. Much business of life still depends on seeing in spite of the searing reminders of what we once had. Who knew that a photograph could pass as a branding iron? What terrible hooks in the heart are pulled at passing glances of social media feeds and photographs! They lie in ambush, these frozen memories of a life once well lived. Turn the page, scroll down left or right, none of it matters. Our eyes collide with the now fractured landmarks of a shared history that was more good than bad.

The heart swears that it recalls the scent of love yet it is the nose that does the work. The gentle aromas of existence, sunlight on a lover's skin combined with rumpled cotton and sweat. Pheromones aloft in the kitchen sensed over the aroma of dinner, teased out with a nuzzle to the neck. Exhalations and inhalations of a nightcap's departure in that time-stopping moment before the consummation of a goodnight kiss. Even the humble nose deals with loss when hearts disassociate.

Someone once told me that love is never the wrong answer. For years, I subscribed to that theology. I was a True Believer. It felt good, it felt right. But I woke up one morning after a few weeks alone again and decided my name was Thomas. The stigmata haven't changed my mind. Maybe because the stigmata are in my palms and I know the source of the pain.

You may think I wish to banish love from my life. No, I want to interrogate it. I want to cuff it to the table in the Box, break it down masterfully like Detective Frank Pembleton did to those perps on Homicide: Life on the Street. I want love to sob into its fist and tell me what horrid excuse it has for killing my heart. Of course, love is not guilty of murder, because I'm still alive. Fraud is another matter, and love is guilty as fuck.