17 June 2018

On Not Acting My Age (Because I Don't Know It)

I don’t get it, this getting older thing. Chronologically, yes. But state of mind? Personal aesthetics? Outside interests? No. Rather, I’m not sure. I don’t know how I am supposed to act, or exactly what it is I supposedly like now that I have survived five decades on Earth. My head and heart are caught in a tug of war between the dorky punk I used to be and the curmudgeon into which I am morphing. The tension is real and bizarre.

Routines are much more part of life these days. It is an afternoon habit of mine to have a tea or coffee break at this coffee shop near my office. I do not recall how it started, but almost every day I am there, hopefully perched in a window seat. People watching, daydreaming, writing such follies as this. Near to this shop is the campus of a liberal arts college. As such, the place has its share of students as customers and quite likely as baristas. This shop does not have Muzak or programmed piped music. Proof that there is mercy in the universe, sometimes. But what happens is that the employees typically hook up their smartphones or MP3 players to the shop speakers. Consequently I get to hear a broad spectrum of music, much of which I either know little of or have never heard.

The other day in the shop I was sipping tea and listening to the music. It was otherwise quiet so I was getting a good earful. Deciding I liked what I was hearing I opened the music identification app on my phone and let it cogitate. The result came back for a band of which I had heard the name but not the tune. Cool, I’m thinking I might have to get it. I research it only to find out that the song is an album that was released in 1992.

1992. Twenty-six frickin’ years ago. Blood rushed to my head, then swiftly drained out. Twenty six years is half my life ago.

See, herein lies the problem. I love music from the standpoint of an enthusiastic listener. I used to have a strong sense of time and place when I listened to it. I could orient myself quite well. But these days music is not so much bound by context and location. Also, between having listened to music for decades, the ubiquity of listening devices, and the widespread distribution of music wherever I go, I am simultaneously bored and fascinated by it all.

A consequence of that is I hear old stuff that sounds new and new stuff that sounds old, to my ears. I honestly don’t know what I am hearing sometimes. I just know I like it. Mostly. Recent adventures in music have taken me into rap, hip-hop, a little dub, neo-psychedelic rock, and even electronic dance music. There is much undiscovered country in music, for me, most of which is far away from my formative years in becoming a music lover.

On any given day the music I hear makes me feel old, young, and ageless. That can be a good thing. It can be dizzy-making, too. It feels odd to me to realize I am fan-boying over music that people much younger than me are considering to be the shit. Music is music, right, and age don’t matter to the ear of the open-minded listener, right? So why this mixing up with the issue of my years on earth?

This is a problem in that the onset of summer already has me disoriented and detached from life. My dizziness is only increasing from the influence of this musical curiosity of mine. Music has been by turns exhilarating and exhausting, uplifting and depressing. My head is unable to give direction and my heart is feeling oh so lost. Consequently I am at a loss as to how to behave in my life. “Act your age” is a shopworn bromide I have heard before. But what do you do when you cannot pin that down? The music is helping me to feel something, at least, even if it isn’t helping me think. That might be a good thing.

10 June 2018

In the Quiet Box

Silence expands to fill the available volume regardless of the total. This is knowledge gained as a collateral effect of living. It could take decades before one notices what is happening. Different cities, different containers, different boxes all experiencing the same result. The silence is loudest in the night, in those moments before another bedtime. Silence haunts.

Amusingly enough the silence is not without a soundtrack. The noises heard tend to be generated in places other than the throat or head. The click of a kitchen light switch morphs into a rifle shot. An air conditioner fan takes on a near corporeal presence, a machine-age analogue of a waterfall coursing over a brim of rocks. Low hum punctuated by the pouring of rain outside the windows that surges in when the conditioner unit cuts off. The abrupt absence of a sound like that tricks the mind into thinking it is losing its balance. Living in a quiet box it is an easily acquired habit of leaning into sound because it offers support.

Support in the form of distractions from the vacuum of a life unrealized. Absences. Connections not formed, or frayed to the point of unviability. Projects uncompleted, or worse, never started because the attention was absorbed by some other thing in life and the mind failed to grasp the threads it should have followed. Funny how the hollow clattering of a butter knife into a sink (which was cleaned earlier in a fit of anxiety-induced housekeeping) can knock the mind from one track into another. A metallic thud serving as an accidental rin chime signaling the beginning of involuntary meditation in the temple of the head.

The knife lies still in the sink. Stillness broken by the hum and whirr of domestic machineries within, wind and rain without. The body reacts by pacing around the quiet box of its apartment. It cannot be helped that the mind is flooded with memories and regrets and the helplessness wrought by the realization that not enough has been done to find security in an unstable universe. In the stream of silences the head and the heart cannot escape the notion that so much potential appears to have been wasted or unrealized. Picture the tap on the barrel of water that was supposed to have enabled the successful crossing of a desert. Unbeknownst to all this tap was not secured before embarking. Miles of trudging through the heat and sand engendering thirst beyond measure, not to be slaked because the water dripped away.

Desperate discoveries occur in the silences of the quiet box. The stomach knows because it drops. No amount of pacing truly eradicates the gnawing sensation, but the motion can ease some of the discomfort. Discomfort? Do we really mean fear? Fear of having missed out on a cosmic scale and now not understanding how to get something back? Ah, this is it. Of course it is fear. A nipping at the heels brought about by a late-night revelation that you may not know what you are doing. Ever.

But you should know this by now. If you do not, surely that would be irrefutable evidence of the ineffectuality that you believe to be your shackles. It is this ineffectuality that howls the loudest in the midnight of the quiet box. Ineffectuality is the diamond-eyed beast that prowls the undergrowth just outside the dying circle of light. Growl and moan, rustle and snort, the impression is one of power that does not care how bright the fire you build. It will get what it wants. It will feed.

Living a life of balance is draining, in the face of knowing the universe does not need an excuse to eat you alive. The prime directive of that life is to find something, or better yet, someone with whom to share the quiet box of life. By such good fortune the beast will be kept at bay.

03 June 2018


Earth pirouettes in black velvet. The terminator glides over the crust like God’s inshave scraping the face of the world with light. Whether high or low, all things, all creatures acknowledge the presence of the light. Not all themselves are noticed or remembered when the darkness comes again, but they continue to hope. It is that, or cloak themselves in a shroud of numbness while waiting. This is the way of the world.

Growth often stretches out over years before the connection between the presence of love and the presence of life become clear to the heart. With light comes energy and awakening. The numb darkness is forgotten (or better, never having been known) when the terminator crosses the line of the soul. A certain voice, a phrase, a face seen across the room sets the soft machineries in motion. It is bliss. It is joy. Circulation returns and the limbs infuse with warmth. In the heady scent of a new spring, it is no surprise that the arctic winter fades from consciousness. What veins would not desire such rebirth?

The proof is reaction in the presence of love, of kinship, and connection. To experience the triad is to know great blessings down to the level of the cells. Watch what happens when love walks into the room. A body twists while the face leans towards the light. Suddenly, all is warm, all is light. What a sensation to feel the abrupt lightness of limbs when the shackles fall away!

The living know this intimately, the gadabout perhaps more so than the recluse. Does one know it more keenly than the other? That may depend on the voluntariness of their choice to be out there or undercover. A recluse may not want to be a recluse, but lives under the belief that life is too contrary in its rewards. Tolerance for pain is not infinite, even amongst the most optimistic.

A recluse can know the joy of light, though. Memory knows what it is to feel the surge of electricity in the nerves upon witnessing the sunrise. Or love walking into the room. There can be doubt. The heart thrums. The body awakens. Witness the turning of the face to the source of life, cheeks aglow from the scraping passage of the terminator bringing about a rebirth of the human inside us all. The fields rustle and hum when life turns towards the sun.

Are those fields fallow or sterile? Darkness renders this knowledge difficult to obtain. If the eyes cannot see the ground, they cannot see that which may sprout from it. From the darkness comes the sorcerer Unknown and his familiar, Unease. The first plays tricks on the mind and heart. The second figure-eights around the ankles in the guise of seeking affection, but really is there to trip the body up. Falling down is distressingly easy when the ground is unseen.

Hope and the memory of warmth lead the heart to believe the fields are merely fallow. This belief is necessary for survival. Sterility would mean the death of hope, of blood ceasing to flow, and humanity leaching away into the alkali fields of a mind that has lost its way to connection. The task is thusly defined as the need to hold on until the light returns. Keep the heartbeat going, however feeble, even if it means emotional stasis. It is in this way that love can be rediscovered.

Time dilates. Earth pirouettes, it is clear. The body follows along a highway of diamonds, strewn along the sable cloak of the universe. Battered hearts cross the terminator into light, scraped anew, and the soul awakens. Faces feel the warmth as they turn to a new source of life. This is love.

27 May 2018

Stonemason Blues

On the shore of a personal ocean, black stones of the past clutched in hands scraped raw. The palms ache. The back, the legs, tremble to support all the weight. Gravity fills the bones, pouring from a heart overflowing from the rains of memory. Saltwater washes over bare feet sinking into the sand from the current. The stones are heavy. Heavier than physics would seem to allow. Dark matter denser than blood and iron carried so far, so far.

A journey of decades led to stumbling down this path ending on the strand. Years of confused struggle against things rarely understood crystallizing in a vitreous, drawn out slice of infinity. Time gels and breathing slows. Tears may well but do not fall. Life thickens. Ghosts whisper in the back of the head. They win, sometimes, in their efforts to coerce the mind into believing it will never be whole. They speak occasionally of hearts forever sundered. Deep in a cold night of the soul, victory against such slanderous propaganda seems unattainable. Why would it not? Belief and stamina once led a verdant existence in the valley of the soul. Now there is desert.

Drought happens in life. Rivers shift in their channels, rain ceases to fall, clouds become precious memory. To be human is to know a sere existence upon enduring loneliness as a rule rather than an exception. In the mirror maze of the heart there is no mystery to this loneliness. It is in the world, like gravity.

What is the seeker to do? The soul cannot sustain this constant cycle of wandering and returning with nothing but stones of experience. To build a shelter from them would be to take up residence in longing and bitterness. Terrible feng shui to be sure. The advantage to such housebuilding is that at least the shelter would be a known quantity. No guesswork, no fevered wondering at where one would lay one's head to get out of the weather.

The waves continue their liquid caress of the shore. Listening closely to their sibilance arising from sheets of water gliding over sand the heart may hear voices, offering encouragement or warning is difficult to ascertain. On the beach for miles in each direction no one is visible. No one to turn to, except perhaps figures in the mist whose advice may be as ephemeral as their presence. The questions to be answered, of course, are of what to do with these stones. Throw them in the ocean to let the tides carry them away and out of memory? Or find a green, quiet place to lay them down as a foundation of experience upon which to build a new life?

The head and the heart debate these questions at the edge the world, watching the tide recede.  They will have their answer soon, turning over and over the stones in the hands.

20 May 2018

Divine (or Something Akin To It) Intervention

The rain poured down as a fitting tenor for the day. I pulled my car into the parking garage just like I do most days of the week. The distinctive voice of Matthew Sweet pealed from the radio, with lyrics I already knew but could not help but feel as needles under my skin.

I cannot understand my God I don't know why it gets to meOne day my life is filled with joyAnd then we find we disagreeAll depending on hisDivine intervention*

In the space. I hesitated before killing the engine. I had no real desire to hear the next verse, yet could not bring myself to turn off the radio. It was going to start with that line, you know the one, where Sweet sings “Does he love us? Does he love us?” Gets me every time. The question haunts me often, as it has starting in particular about fifteen years ago. That was the time when I lost my first two children. It seems cool, rainy days have a penchant for resurrecting memories.

I toughed it out through the end of the song. For what it’s worth I actually do like it. Matthew Sweet has pulled off the rare trick of writing a song about God that is neither cloyingly adoring nor furiously critical, and thereby appealing to me. The approach and the style I find interesting. I can listen to it with no eye rolling or agitation.

Certain days, however, with their combination of mood and weather in conjunction with a certain song can really land a punch on me. Rainwater slid with languid grace down the windshield as I waited. The parking garage had the feel of an aging mausoleum. Grimy surfaces, dim light, cold echoes of traffic and machines. The song ended, the engine sputters out, my head sags to the wheel under the peculiar weight of my five-plus decades on earth. I was having trouble breathing.

The steering wheel was cool on my forehead. I held it there for a few moments, listening to my breath while I meditated on the necessity of exiting the car and walking to the office. Rain continued to fall. The world continued to turn. Memories swirled together with weariness over a life gone akimbo, a little dizziness took hold and I wondered if maybe I should just turn around and go home, go back to bed.

But I didn’t. Work to be done and the need to eat got me out of the car and headed for the street. The song echoed in my head, lyrics messing with my heart. I did look around, and what I saw was far from destruction, yet I could not help but wonder how much longer any one of us can keep counting on divine intervention.

Lyrics from "Divine Intervention", from Matthew Sweet's album Girlfriend, released in 1991. 1991, damnit!

13 May 2018

Darkly Sweetened

A dive through the notes, this stormy evening by the sea. Hail pecks at the windows. In the aureate glow of the desk lamp, this fragment surfaces from the depths of the past. Date unknown, intent unknown. What was in my head?

How’s that coffee taste, knowing the custom of adding sugar has its roots in the blood of slaves? All that violence and cruelty just to keep the palates of the wealthy and the mostly white folks satisfied. Maybe it’s easy to look the other way when you don’t pay the true cost for your desires.

What’s the difference between molasses and blood? Coffee and flesh? Rum and bones?

A drink more than bitter even with the sugar, refined as it is from the lives of the oppressed. Tell me, do you feel communion with them as you sip?

06 May 2018

Short Circuit

Circlets of pale jade and verdigris white shimmer up the sand sloping out before the headland. The warmth of the day fades as the sun eases down the bell jar of the sky. Ebb and flow, the tide knows the shore like the blood knows the veins. Whispers fill the air. Barely heard, the words unclear, but meaning is known in the heart. The sea speaks of connection. The hands, the mind, the skin knows this is belied by the distance between the water and the flesh. All feel keenly an ache that growing inside at the speed of trees.

The ache is not dominant. Not yet. It can be displaced. Lungfuls of air seem therapeutic in that regard. Drawn in deep, exhaled to the beginnings of collapse, the pain is muted and pushed back. The soul gains respite in that slice of infinity. Do this again. Repeat.

Between the pulse beats the mind extends its paws yet again, reaching out to pat and pull at the thoughts and fears laying near motionless in the night. The paws retract, bearing with them the singularity that occupies a central position in this life: how to endure such an asymptotic relationship with human connection?

The program seems simple. Reach out, break out, go beyond yourself to make it back to the land of the living. Learn that it is possible to overcome the jagged-edge damages of the past. Fear exists. Anxieties sprout like thistles in the meadow. Prickle and burr are unavoidable. As with many simple things, the program is difficult in its implementation.

Therein lies the rub. Overcome the self and its hand-made chains, step into the light despite your shortness of breath! It is exquisitely hard to cast ones’ self out of the nest. The hope is for an easy victory, or at least a guaranteed one. But life will show you that is very rarely the case. The universe cares little for your particular hardships.

So it is out of the nest for a brief taste of flight, pure joy to soar, enough to engender belief that perhaps the odds, the self, will be overcome. There is a surcease of fear until the ground rises up yet again. This seems cruel if unsurprising. The breaker trips again, the clocks slow and stop. The house of the heart grows dim again at the lack of power.

The sun is kissing the horizon. Green waves begin to fade into indigo and purple-black streaked with fire. One can feel the urge to reach out. Stand up, perhaps. Walk the weary bones down to the tide line and dip both hands into the cool sea. It is by such short journeys that a path can be found back to connection. If only weariness could be overcome, with the memories of loss and disconnection expunged. If only the breakers could be reset and the circuit be short no longer.

29 April 2018

The Balance That Warms

Evening here in the cottage and the ocean lolls quietly up the beach. Dinnerware pushed aside, casements ajar, a glass of tea hanging in the air. A few thoughts on the page before me.

Homemade spaghetti and meatballs warms the belly and the soul. Count it among the blessings to be had on the week. Marinara and “polpette” made by the hands that would carry the bowl and lift the fork. This is the result of the ritual that carried the person through the afternoon. Scoop, dab, roll, put on the rack then into the oven to brown. What the meatballs may miss on delicacy they will make up for in flavor.

Same goes for the the sauce, perhaps. A marinara made partly from memory, partly from instinct, partly from the word of another cook. As it simmers, the aroma rises up in a savory perfume that floods the cottage. The belly knows from experience the sugo will be good.

A highlight of the liturgy, as it were, was the addition of the spice and salt. Oregano, a confetti of red pepper flakes, swirled with a touch of thyme. Heady aroma and deep flavor. This is all good. It invokes a song in the throat.

It was the third forkful going down when the epiphany took hold. Sitting by the open window, breathing of the sea, and swallowing that which by the grace of something these hands had been blessed to make for the nourishment of the body...and the mind. Maybe it was god. Maybe it was the ocean. What is known, is that it was enough.

22 April 2018

Swift on Her Feet, Light on My heart

Emerald pitch, sprinting,
She blooms the tulip poplars
wakes the sleepy heart

15 April 2018

You Are Born of Dark Matter

Notes from the desk. The evening is cool and comfortable here in this cottage by the sea. Something from the archives unearthed this weekend. It would have been better written in ink on scratchy paper, but here it is. A missive written for someone else by someone else (figuratively speaking). It was strangely comforting, and surprisingly illuminatory in perspective for the person who read it today. Text has been altered slightly from the original.

Mothers, fathers, they all know the singular anguish of their offspring crying out in a time of hurt. It is in the bones, the blood, the DNA. We cannot help but feel we must do something, knowing full well that in some events, the pain is not ours to assume but only for the child to endure. It is an unavoidable fact of existence in this universe.

To watch the suffering of a child is a most peculiar pain. The burden is magnified in knowing some of that hurt arises from the interior of the mind. We can see the distress, we can perhaps imagine a bit of it, but we cannot simply find a switch to turn it off.

We grieve for your struggle to cast off a past that has been unkind to your inner peace. Thoughts of unworthiness, of blackness, circling in the mind like hamsters caught in an iron wheel. We see the thorn bushes of anxiety prick and tear at the skin of your soul. We understand and hold our breath, wishing fervently for the thicket to part and for you to stumble free.

On those days when the curtain descends and the voices inside hiss and moan to defame you, slander your self-worth, we have heard you call out. You have shown us your pain. You have told of your fears that you are nothing and undeserving of the kindnesses you have been offered. It is as if gravity itself has reached inside of us all and wrapped our hearts in a crushing grip.

But know this, child. You are not unworthy. You are not unloved. The demons that seek to lead you astray are woefully misguided in their attempts to make you believe such lies. What you face may affect your personhood, but it does not define your personhood. To deal with a mind bent on eating you alive along with a body that rebels against you does not disqualify you from being a human worthy of love.

Never forget that you are loved. You are you, and what you are is beautiful. You are born of dark matter, child, without which the universe cannot exist. Remember too that the universe exists in light.

08 April 2018

Shirt Off His Back

Four-hundred ninety-nine loads of laundry since the divorce. It was the five hundredth that slapped Connor’s face, pulling that goddamned shirt out of the dryer. The warmth of it never like that feel of socks out of the machine on a cold winter day. More like a muted sliver off a branding iron. In all the days since he had been cast out of what he thought was home, the heat and sight of that shirt only increased in the pain it caused. This morning he held the shirt crumpled tight into a ball. Wondering, wondering what to do. He turned to the dog sitting at the kitchen entry. An expectant look crossed its face, as if Connor was holding a favorite treat.

“I should get rid of this, Murph.”

Connor felt a thickening in his throat. His face grew warm. There was wetness in his eyes. Murphy sat up straighter, cocking an ear, waiting. The dog was perplexed by the change in Connor’s voice. The man coughed. Clearing his throat, he spoke again, sliding down the wall to slump onto the floor. Murphy rose and sauntered over to his owner. A graying muzzle craned over to lick Connor’s face.

“Honestly, doggo, this should have been tossed sooner. Can’t fathom why I didn’t. Guess I was too lazy to replace it.”

Connor patted the dog, bunching the short, wiry coat in his trembling hand. Murphy let out a gratified snuffle as he lay his head in Connor’s lap. The man closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. The shirt cooled in his hand. Echoes of the connection it signified played out in the afternoon light. A gift of a few square feet of cotton growing so heavy on the mind and heart. Truth be known the condition of the shirt was good. It could still be worn. He just couldn’t do it anymore.

He held the shirt up, shaking it out. Blue cotton with stripes, shot through with the freight of memories carried over from a very different time, a very different person. Some ghosts in the weave, Connor swore. And only he knew the locations of the tears that had fallen more than once, from joy once held and despair never to be forgotten. Life and death in a button down wrapper for this human shaped container of sadness and hope. Connor sighed.

“What’ll it be, Murph? Toss it? Give it away?”

The dog lifted his head slightly to peer at Connor through heavy-lidded eyes. It craned its neck to sniff at the shirt. Chuffing quietly, Murphy turned his head away and laid it back down. The man thought he should not read too much into that gesture, but the dog did appear to have made its feelings known in certain terms.

Connor gently lifted Murphy’s head so he could slide over to stand up. He balled up the shirt as he made his way to the trash can. He hesitated after lifting the lid. It could still be donated, an anonymous item among other anonymous items in an anonymous bag dropped off at a local charity. He decided against giving it away. Too much history in that shirt to risk inflicting a curse on an unsuspecting innocent. As silly as it seemed, that thought made the decision for him. Connor threw it into the can more forcefully than he intended. The weight went with it, his shoulders and neck feeling lighter. Stepping over the dog, he went back to folding laundry, and moving on.

01 April 2018

Sleep Well The Heart (A Fragment)

There is no accounting of the sleep for which one yearns. The hours unknown, the effects measurable. To sleep. If only. The ticking of a clockwork heart pushing slow blood through veins become tunnels under a glacier. The whispery rush of it lulls one into drowsiness yet grabs the belt before a fall into the sea of dreams. Hanging there, yearning, anxious. Some night soon, it will come? Enrobed in soothing, dark water with no fear of the deep?

This is the heart’s true dream.

25 March 2018

Belly Was Young Once, And Callow

A baking sheet, mottled black and brown, lies on the counter beside the stove top. It was never destined for the theatrics of a star restaurant, the knowing hands of a celebrity chef. Its fate was that of a journeyman. This sheet had made its way from an anonymous mill of decades past to the kitchen of my maternal grandmother, herself decades gone from this world. Fate of inheritance landed the sheet in my kitchen, also decades gone.

The sheet is warped. Creases mar the bottom. Little canyons formed years ago, by thoughtlessness and a knife used to divide up some dish long forgotten. That its memory cannot be dredged up is testament to the mediocrity that must have clung to it. This is not surprising. Many years ago the belly was rapacious without commensurate sophistication. It ate with gusto and without much thought. "Fill me!" was its ceaseless demand. This greed carried with it a certain blindness to history, taste, and respect.

Respect. The word settles in the pit of this belly which hangs chastened and wiser now. The naive palate of the past has evolved into something much more discriminating. Discriminating, and rueful. It cannot eat as a youth anymore. Such actions verge on abuse, leaving mild regret at best and acid attacks on the gullet at worst. The belly is much more careful in the thick of middle age. It has to be. Respect is often as necessary to the act of cooking and eating as the addition of salt and curiosity.

Hunger is here. It is the wolf that sits in front of my spine as I prepare the pot of clam chowder that had entertained my thoughts most of the afternoon. Hunger for that chowder had indirectly led to my use of the baking sheet for my dinner. This because my imagination had been seized by the idea of cornbread as companion to the fruits of my labor at the pot. It was upon a rack resting on the sheet that I would turn out my cornbread after its retrieval from the depths of the oven.

I could not help but think of my blindness to respect as I consider the baking sheet in the white gold light of a early spring evening. The round of cornbread lay resting. In one hand was a serrated knife, on the counter a milk-white plate emblazoned with a large rectangle of Irish butter. My other hand tugged at my lip while the bread cooled. The canyons in the sheet stood out, highlighted by my regret at having marred this humble pan that carried with it the ghost of my grandmother. I struggled to recall why I thought those many years ago that it was okay to cut something out of that pan with a sharp knife, desecrating the pan and inflicting insult on the knife all the while.

The pan, and its twin ensconced in the cabinet by the stove, had been with me for years. Through marriage, divorce, two broken relationships, these humble sheet metal artifacts gave me a constant I did not know I had. And I had never apologized for the day that knife scraped its way across the metal.  Warm against the flat of my hand it brought my grandmother back into my heart, her shade into the kitchen. I cut the bread, careful of the rack and pan. I bowed my head as the butter phased into liquid gold. It was then, basking in the blessing of humble nourishment, that I repented, hoping my grandmother forgave me for the thoughtless youth that had been, and his callowness in the kitchen.

18 March 2018

Glass Heart Waltz

PROLOGUE: 8:57 pm. Saturday. A quiet St. Patrick's Day for this writer. Sidelined by a sore back and achy head, the revelry is in the mind. Also, fragments of the past drift to the top of the pond.

A song thought over, cruel as a frozen stiletto slipping between the ribs. The strains of it drift in on a caustic electron breeze to scour the heart. Something so intangible yet so hurtful. Where is the off switch? There is no plug to pull, no breaker to trip, but that has not stopped the attempt to do both. Fighting the inevitable invisibilities in a frantic ten rounds of shadow boxing, man , is a recipe for bleak exhaustion. There seems to be no stepping out of the ring.

To dance or to box? What is this choice that is no choice? The body a leaden meatsuit, the mind a black night cradling a box of wet matches. Sunrise over the ocean brings light to a sky colored as a fading bruise. Knowing how to feel about this is a difficult exercise. Confusion, angst, and fatigue conspire against clarity of thought. Perhaps the best that can be done is to swallow as much breakfast as would stay down, then push the body into the day in hopes of getting something done.

The heart is another matter. It is glass, crystalline and brittle. It wants to beat but cannot escape the chains of an amorphous, supercooled liquid bearing the appearance of solidity.

EPILOGUE: The waltz was scored almost exactly one month ago, in a different weather, in a different mind space. There is distance now. The space-time coordinates have changed, and hence the perspective. The ghostly breezes of those words still shift at the edges, but the mind space is clearer, brighter, it may be said. This is good. It is comforting. Progress has been made on remaining in the now. For this, the heart is grateful and becoming flesh.

11 March 2018

Dawn Creeps In

Soft footpads glide over the forgiving bed of the forest floor. Musky scent of deer and other feed on the hoof floods the flared nostrils, quickens the pulse, and commands the attention. Gold-green eyes stare along the path that glows softly in the light of a waning crescent moon, filtered through the leaves. The jaguar opens its muzzle. Its tongue curls, canines gleam. There is another scent on the wind. One the beast does not quite know what to make of it. Familiar, perhaps, but not sensed in what felt like centuries. The jaguar pauses. It feels something. It moves forward into the silvery black.

Waves hit the shore. Insistent pounding on the sand drums into the cottage. I awake with a start, my legs and arms twitching in the damp cool of the cottage. I had fallen asleep in the rocking chair adjacent to the hearth. The fire was nearly gone. The low smolder of embers glowed dully under a coating of ash. Salty woodsmoke tang hung in the gravid air. My heart beat in a ragged arrangement of jittery blood music as I shook my head clear of the phantom jaguar of which I dreamt. The air held musk, too.

Or perhaps the jaguar dreamt it was me. My jaw ached, hands and feet throbbing with a slow ache. There were scrapes on all of them. Scrapes that had not been there when I had lowered my exhausted body into the chair to watch the sundown shadows creeps down the walls of the cottage. I studied my hands in the nascent glow of the dawn light creeping over the horizon over the sea. The horizon was an indigo terminator cutting off the sky. It fluttered and rolled.

I sat up in the chair. Through casements hazed with salt I watched the muttering sea harangue the shoreline. The breakers carried with them an expectation, a prediction, that today I would have a visitor. The thought unsettled and delighted me. Had it been years since the headland bore witness to the presence of another? My heart felt it so. Rare it was to have strange footprints on the sand around the cottage.

The sky grew brighter. Standing up to stretch I felt my skin tighten where exposed by the falling blanket. Something or someone was on the way. I don’t know how I knew what I knew. I shuffled over to the kettle, setting it up to make tea. A cup or two to push back the chill, as me and the jaguar settled in to await the dawn creeping on on soft, expectant feet.

04 March 2018

Saltwater Spring

Alive, by the sea
His appetite awoken
Green waves' aroma

25 February 2018

Old Man in the Rear View Mirror

Field notes, 25 Feb 18: a torn page found in a corner. The lantern had burned out. We think he was sleeping when it happened.

It used to be we did not understand edges in this country, you hear me? Always moving, always shifting, restless and unceasing. You thought you could know what it meant to be a man, but, hell, it’s easy to make that shit up when you are always on the fly. No one stood still long enough to give the idea proper thought. Yell something. Scream something. Pound the chest then move on before you got called out.

Reinvention was the drink of choice. No boundaries, open roads, go west, young man, any man (any person, mind you), just fucking get on the horse, climb onto the train, take the damn plane. Soon we could all be somewhere new and be someone new. But no more.

Edges. I, we, us. Up against the edges. Hitting the transparent walls that knocked the stuffing out of me. It’s the water’s edge, steep drop off into blue-black the sound of which hitting the shore sure as shit lets me know there is nowhere left to run. The world morphs into digital strictures, bandwidths become bindings that draw tight around the head and the heart. The pressure is non-stop. The claws squeeze so hard I don’t know what it means to be a man anymore. Or human, you hear me?

It gets cold out on the edge. Lonely, more so than being on the road. That’s because edges bring you up short. Yank on the leash, as it were.

That’s what I feel, you see. The leash. And empty confusion.


Getting hungry sitting in the chair in front of the hearth. My belly cleaving to ropa vieja and my mind rolling with Son House. Jesus H. Christ, slide guitar and shredded beef ‘bout set any man to rights. It made sense, perfect sense. If I could play and if I could cook, I reckon I could do some good in this world.

My name says Irish. My appetites say all mixed up and curious.

What’s that? What are you asking, am I speaking in metaphors? Analogies? Of course I am, goddamn it. How in hell you think I survived in my head this long? Weren’t for metaphor I’da been dead years ago. Walking, sure, but dead all the same.

18 February 2018

Window By The Sea (Chasing Vapor)

Field notes: 3:53 PM in the pewter light of Saturday. Fat snowflakes wafting down. Writing about writing, in the drift, wondering where to go from here.

Sunrise over the shimmering jade resplendent before the headland. Tea gone cold in the bottom of the chipped porcelain mug hovering outside the arc of my elbow. Small whitecaps spied through the glass find their mirror in the scattering of crumpled paper that obscures the desktop. I had been writing since Orion began his descent from the dome of heaven. Snow, nothing but dirty snow in the form of wasted paper.

Tired eyes can see many things, some of which may be true. Seals out past the sandbars melt into selkies. Or maybe it was the other way around. My weariness deadened the certainty of my senses. With shaking fingers, I laid the pen to rest in the crook of my journal. Today was not the day for truth or fiction, that was certain.

The selkies continued their languid swim, as did my vision. I leaned forward to open the casement. Keening cries of seagulls rolled into the cottage along with the salt and iron of the sea. There were no words, but sleep. My head nestled amongst the papers, my eyes closed. Wakefulness would come later, here at the edge of life.

11 February 2018

Bonfire of the Memories

The water swirls down the drain in inky spirals. Soot drips  from my fingers in fat ebony drops. The amount of wood and paper they had slung into the flames exceeded my original estimate. Drying my hands on the scratchy scrap of cloth at the sink gives me pause to survey the cottage. Pale spots on the walls give a mottled appearance, the hide of a great beast paneling the interior. The spots are rectangular and a spectrum of sizes. 

So many holes in my heart, in my memory, beginning to close up slowly in a creeping scrim of scars. The copious fuel of the frames and printed paper kept the fire going for the time it took to steam some clams scavenged from the tide line along with a small loaf of cornbread. The soul may be hungry but the belly has no complaint.

Fire. I see the embers glowing orange and red down on the beach. Ripples in the glass of the cottage windows diffract  and distort the colors, creating a ghost fire alongside the corporeal one. Sundown is almost complete here on the headland. Out on the horizon the lights of a freighter bobble and yaw on the moderate swell. The ship moves at the speed of glaciers from this vantage, but I enjoy its company. Later, I will return to the fire along with the ritual drams of scotch. A toast is in order this chilly but tolerable winter night.

I am swathed in a faint tang of woodsmoke and ashes. The walls of the cottage in contrast are now nearly bare. Frames gone, except for three irreducible memories, ones that remain embedded in the core of my heart. The rest, truth be known, had to go. The ghosts and the memories so thick in the air of the cottage one could barely move, much less breathe. In this thickness life could not propagate. Something had to be done. Emotional gravity dictated that this was not to be executed by the mere mundane act of tossing everything into the rubbish bin. This act of exorcism, this purification, called out for the power of ritual sacrifice. 

Fire it would be for the wood and paper. The glass was destined to be broken later, like plates smashed on New Years to cast off the past with its griefs and disappointments. Frames and pictures were pruned from the walls in the watered gold light of the afternoon. The stacks I carried down to the fire ring I had set up from a collection of stones culled from the pile outside the cottage. Scavenging on the strand garnered enough driftwood to set up a fine base. I wanted it to burn hot, burn bright, color the sky if possible.

There would be no gasoline or starter fluid in this temple of my creation. Too industrial and bereft of ritual weight. From the depths of my grandfather's heavy metal toolbox, I retrieved the worn steel lighter my father had carried with him in the service days of his youth. With a satisfying snick, a yellow flame tinged with blue shimmied before my eyes. It was right. It would do.

Stacks of frames. Stacks of paper. Lighter at the ready, I applied the flame to wads of cotton waste and driftwood twigs. The mass swiftly sprang to life in a tarantella of fire. The frames and photos were fed into the maw of the salamander, piece by piece, for what felt like hours. The making of the cornbread and steaming of the clams accomplished themselves in a daze. I recall eating, slowly, bread into broth, sustenance into belly, as years worth of memories combusted into sparks and smoke. The fire died down. So did my ardor. My shoulders sagged and eyelids closed while I sagged into the sand and wept.

I came to standing at the sink, washing my hands of soot, sand, and melancholy. Through the windows I could see the smoke spiraling upward in a thin stream. The wind was nearly gone. Looking around again at the cottage walls I felt lighter. More at ease now that the knot that had usurped my stomach was gone. In the corridors of my mind doors creak shut, doors creak open. In the real world I opened the casement over the sink to let in the cool air of a winter sea. The last light of the setting sun caressed the walls like Belgian lace. The walls, too, seemed relieved of burden. They beckon and whisper, the paneling and washed lime gently coaxing me to till the soil in a new garden of memories.

04 February 2018

Journal in the Wood

The continent is vast, stretching from far north to deep south. It is somewhat lozenge shaped with its extreme ends shrouded in ice and cold. Land rises up from the water to meet the sky in a mountain range that spans from tip to tip. The range undulates from pole to pole, its mountains are sometimes worshipped. They are often feared. They are never ignored. Disrespect of their place in the world leads to potentially dire consequences. It is no coincidence that the thousands of names for the mountains, no matter in what language, translate into "Spine of God".

Along the eastern shore of the continent is a sea. The sea too has many names. Halfway between the equator and the deep south many inhabitants, many human and some other than human, call it a name that translates as "Infinite Riddle". Many have ventured far out on the sea. Some have managed to come back. Of those few, most talk little of what they encountered.

Out in the sea, there is an island. A good wind and gentle following sea could have one ashore in two to three days. The sea follows its own bliss, though, and rarely cooperates. Arriving at the island one finds a week of leisurely sailing circumnavigates it. Doing so will bring the ship around to the mouth of a swift river, itself a maze of islets and rocks that protect a spacious deep water bay. It is here that the anchor can drop. The seabirds are cautious of visitors, but hungry. The other inhabitants of the bay, some call them snakes or eels, others say small whales and sharp finned creatures of toothy maw which have yet to be classified. At rest, one can look up the river to see the mountain or mountains that dominate the center of the island. The peak appears twinned under certain conditions of sun and moon and tide.

The only way to the mountain is by pack animal or on foot. It is a hard journey of seven sunrises. It is not be undertaken by those feeble of nerve or spine. The first part is through a lowland jungle. The jungle hugs the banks of the river with emerald arms, reflected in the black-tea mirror of water. During the day the trees resound with hoots and screeches, its air laced with the streaks of colorful creatures reminiscent of birds and butterflies. Some are pretty. Some are not. Many are often dangerous to the imprudent. At night, the tenor of the sounds changes over punctuated by growls and the glow of odd-shaped eyes along the water's edges. The jungle slowly changes over forest as it creeps up the flanks of the mountain.

A forest it is, redolent of green-smelling needles and sap. Tracks of large pawed creatures can found along with their salt. Those of sharp eye might notice the occasional runestone in the undergrowth. The stones are rough-hewn spears of a dense grey-black stone. Legend has it that the scrawly inscriptions on the stones, if deciphered, could bring wealth and power to the reader. Or death, perhaps. On this the legends are unclear.

In the forest lies a clearing. In the clearing stands a podium made of stone, the same grey-black as the runestones of the forest. It too is carved with runes, along with some hieroglyphs showing fierce, multi-limbed beasts. Tooth and claw are prominent. Humans possessed of a certain knowledge might compare them to the terrestrial cat known as a jaguar, or even smilodons. Humans carrying that knowledge had not been to the island in some centuries. In the side of the podium is a niche, wherein lies an ink pot and a sturdy quill pen. The ink pot is carved from a single gemstone, akin to sapphire, and filled with ink made from rare earths and the blood of shellfish.

On the podium lies a journal. The journal is thick and bound in a nubby leather the color of ox-blood. This leather was made from the skin of a beast whose true name has been forgotten, but is sometimes called 'dragon' in the tongue of the man who carved the podium. the dragons are scarce now, gone into hiding for reasons unknown to most scholars who seek news of such creatures.

In this journal are many rough and heavy pages. Of these pages it can be said they are made of ancient paper. It is known there as 'ironscap'. Ironscap is exceeding difficult to make. Its fibers are derived from a plant that only grows in certain marshes, where the water is brackish and the weather harshly cold in winter, terrifically hot in summer. To harvest the plant requires a pure heart, strong sinews, and tenacity.

The pages, or many of them at any rate, and covered in the scrawl of centuries of handwriting. The languages are varied. Some passages were left behind by beings no one would call 'human'. Some were left by beings whose races went extinct centuries ago. The scrawls range from spidery runic slants to blocky geometric shapes to illuminated texts so beautiful as to make a monk weep with jealousy.

These writings were left by travelers. Seekers. Pilgrims, perhaps. Folklore and myth say that those who make it this far gain the privilege of writing their deepest wish, most secret desires, in the pages of this journal. In doing so, legend says, these wishes will come true. Desires fulfilled. Hopes satisfied. But the pen can only be lifted by those of pure mind, good hearts, and translucent soul. And their are also other, darker legends that say the journal is really a trick played by the darker forces in the multiverse. That there is no guarantee here. This would seem to be confirmed by the saying extant in the lore of many beings that the road to hell is paved with the bones of the good-hearted.

But the warm yellow light of the suns does not lie. The podium, the journal, the pen and ink are all here. All at the ready for those who have braved the mountains and the roaring sea. Trembling and ravaged yet there can be no question that one will take up the pen and write. One simply must not betray one's effort and heart. Take up the iron pen, dip it into the ink, write in this tome of wish and desire. It is the only way to make it back down the mountain to cross the sea, and perhaps be united with that which aches to be united with you.

28 January 2018

Flood on the River of Dreams

His eyes open slow as the rise of the sun. A patient inexorability shedding light on the world. It is cool here, and quiet save for the sounds of the forest. Pain resides here, too, but as a fading memory in his bones. The earth is cool and damp under sore cheekbones. Tadhg breathes deep of the petrichorean air, marveling that he appears to be alive.

His world swims into focus. Sand the color of Demerara sugar. A mosaic of glossy gravel, nacreous in the early light. Ahead lies a dense line of riparian jetsam, arranged by the fractal urgency of high rushing water. Beyond the wrack, a wall of cedars and pines wait patiently in hunter and emerald refulgency caressed by the quickening daylight. 
The flood, he hoped, was gone.

Tadhg levers himself to hands and knees. The bank rests in its shawl of green, brown, and tan. His eye is attracted to a vivid patch of color, shimmying in a zephyr padding down the riverbed with feline silence. Flowers? he thinks, how did they survive? He lurches upright to get a better view. A score of slow paces later and his guess is confirmed. It is a patch of flowers resplendent in shades of cornflower and indigo.

He stands with hands on hips to marvel at this small miracle. The flood had been savage in its intensity, days if not weeks of roil and destruction. Tadhg looked around and wondered if he was anywhere near home. Judging from the unfamiliarity of the terrain he reckoned that unlikely. Yet it was beautiful here, and the combination of water and forest stilled his jangled nerves with arboreal comfort.

The silence is broken. A sharp cry breaks out overhead, causing Tadhg to look up and out over the river. He spies a bald eagle skimming the tree line on the opposite bank. The bird is bathed in the aureate glory of the morning sunlight. The sight of the bird loosens something in Tadhg's chest, and he finds it possible to breathe easy once again.

TokTokTok. From just inside the trees beyond the flowers comes the unmistakeable sound of a woodpecker drumming on a trunk. The sound makes Tadhg smile. He cannot escape the parallel between his own stubborn joust with the world and the labors of the unseen bird. 

The eagle glides downriver, a spirit passing into the light mist. Dying echoes of the woodpecker fade into the forest. Quietude descends on the river as even the breeze ceases its whispers. Tadhg can feel the earth breathing beneath his feet. 

He looks down at his filthy, sodden clothes. He sees the scratches on his arms and hands, a result of scouring amongst the gravel of the flood. He bleeds, slowly, but survives. Falling to his knees he prostrates himself in prayer before the flowers. Surely the existence of such beauty amongst the wrack is proof to his pagan heart that the earth, or something bigger, wants him to live.

21 January 2018

On the Verge of Gone

The milk. It has been in there for two weeks past the expiration date. Unscrew the cap anyway. Wipe off the seal. Peering into the jug reveals no curds, at
least that can be seen by the naked eye. Good sign, maybe. Do you want to take the chance? Cereal is no good with water on it, right? Water on cereal. Yes, that happened once. Never want to be that low again. So, what to do. The kicker will be the sniff test. No getting around it. Lift the jug. Breathe in deep.

Then fall down a rabbit hole of memory, the lingering sweet dairy aroma undercut with the faintest undertone of curdling. The kitchen is different, but standing at the sink is the same. The hands engaged in myriad domestic entanglements, the mind drifting to thoughts of warmth and affection after the dishes are done. A carton of milk sits on the counter, awaiting transport back to the refrigerator. Other groceries surround the carton, the results of grocery shopping shared with someone, a way to take the drudgery out of chores.

The light in this kitchen is different than the one in which you pace nowadays. The light seems better, warmer, welcoming. This is the difference between a house that knew love and a glorified cell harboring cold desperation. The routine once known as an incubator of good feeling no longer exists. Time and distance have seen to it. But what peculiar cruelty arisen from the banality of sliced white bread and a container of milk. This is what hurts.

It used to be the groceries could be put away and the hands were freed up to seek out touch. To wrap arms around warmth. Fingers resting on the gentle curve of hips, drawing closer to a kiss and shared breath. The simple acknowledgement of a humanity close to the soul, near impossible to find any other way. Travel in time and space. A miracle contained in the molecules of milk on its way to immortality.

Two weeks old, approaching undrinkability, but there is little choice to do otherwise. Snap. The cord breaks. The eyes water. Once again at the counter on a gray morning, bewildered with jug in hand. It is almost spoiled, it won’t be long. Bitterness and hunger leave no options. The milk is poured. The cereal downed. The stomach lurches and the heart spasms at the scent of milk on the verge of gone.

14 January 2018

Highwire Over the Black

8:13 PM. Notes from the cell. A mid-winter night's nightmare. I tell you now this is not a "feel good" essay.

That which troubles my sleep, and my waking hours. I am tightrope walking over a scar of infinite black below. The curiousness of the activity stems from not comprehending how it came to be. My mind is not expansive enough, yet. 

On one side of this chasm lies a carnivale of connection and affection which I crave. On the other lies a fortress, built of the stones of bitterness, into which my heart wishes to retreat. All the while, my feet shuffle gingerly over the wire. The wind of desperation tests my balance.

Move forward, move back, it matters not. Any choice involves a fall. The blackness of mistrust threatens to swallow me whole should I slip. It threatens to swallow me should I stand still. Paralyzed, cold, frantic. Mistrust seeps into every feeling, every thought. This is no way to have a life.

Paradoxically it also feels like being backed into a corner. Two walls, floor, a low ceiling all closing in. There is no wind, only a thickening atmosphere. Left with nothing but desperation to figure out who to trust, as there is none towards others or myself. The unofficial motto for the Disunited States of Me: “In Pain We Trust”.

Snow is falling as I write this. I see the fat flakes hurtling to the ground. On the radio, The Jayhawks croon “You shouldn’t hide your colors” to which a bitter chuckle escapes my lips. Shouldn’t hide my colors? Noble, it might seem. Courageous, perhaps. I let my colors fly because I believed those things to be true. My reward was to watch while the heart to which mine had pledged allegiance cut down my mast and set the flag ablaze. Glory ending in ashes and rubble.

My soul is neither coroner nor archaeologist, but it finds itself sifting through the blackened debris that surrounds it. Fragments of a life. Bits and pieces tattooed with words barely visible through traces of smoke and charred edges. It is painful, this performing of forensics on the shattered remains of one's own heart.

Out on the wire, nothing stays still. Thoughts, feelings. The pulse in the veins even contributes its own instability, a constant challenge to the act of standing still. Staring into the tea mug I watch the trembles of my hands translate into ripples over the mahogany liquid. Closing my eyes, I dive in, surfacing on the wire again. The sun is peeking through the clouds. But I am still there suspended over the void. Connection seems so close, if only I could believe. 

The fortress may be cold and dark but it has thick walls. Walls that deflect pain and rejection, behind which sleep might be possible. The carnival is bright and warm but in the past I have paid dearly for the cost of a ticket. A ticket which did nothing to prevent the despair of rejection. So it is I am paralyzed on the wire. My colors are mute and hidden. It is only a matter of time before I fall. The question is, which way?

07 January 2018

Moment Stretches On Forever

Nothing lasts forever. Everything is transient. So says popular wisdom and some religions. If so, does that mean time is elastic? Heartache drawn out in front of a second hand that never seems to move. Despair squeezed my heart with a cold hand, the shock of which galvanized me into twitchy wakefulness.

Awake to a sky burnished pearly and streaked with dull orange. The cottage cold as the fire burned low. Sitting up on the edge of the bed I felt the dream receding like the waves sliding up and down under the ice along the shoreline. Head heavy and sluggish, the ocean looking the same and eerily gelatinous. The ocean, I thought, is transient in appearance but not in existence. It is there. Always.

Apparently like the pain I felt this morning. Still feel, that is. The notion of transient and "this too shall pass" seeming an insult in the face of the broken heart lodged in my chest. It too shall pass? 

"When?" I muttered to the icy air. "Time is stretching out before me, and the end point of this seems nowhere in sight!"

Oyster colored clouds parted out over the waves. A thin beam of sunlight slowly made its way into the cottage, limning the interior with a glow that had little warmth. Outside the waves continued their slow caress of the beach along the headland. Faint tinkling reached my ears as the ice clotted along the tideline shifted. 

The blood seemed thicker in my veins. I could smell the salt water but it did not stir me in the usual manner. It was cold. I needed heat. I needed light. Time to stoke the fire. I shuffled over to the hearth, picking up the ice cold iron poker to prod the embers. Driftwood was low. I would need to do a beach walk.

I threw a few pieces of salty wood into the fireplace. More would go into the small potbelly stove, for tea and breakfast. The flames winked into existence, slowly growing in intensity. The minerals in the wood flared faint blue and green as they burned off. The heat seeped into my grateful bones. 

I turned to look out the windows facing the sea. The water was jade flecked with orange and gold from the sun. It was beautiful. The horizon stretched from side to side, infinite, relentless. It became my moment, delineator of pain, stretching on for what seemed like forever. To my lips came the prayer that soon the clock would tick, and this moment of pain would pass. The waves break, the ice cracks and groans. I wait.