24 September 2017


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.