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.