31 January 2009

Rusty Cage Fugue

You wired me awake
and hit me with a hand of broken nails
You tied my lead and pulled my chain
to watch my blood begin to boil....
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run

Blood begin to boil. I wish. Lying on my back, on cold ground staring up at a sky of deep purple-black. A frosty swath of stars sprays out overhead like blue-white diamonds lying on a velvet cloth. Stars. I reach my hand up and splay out my fingers in a vain attempt to scoop up a handful of the pinpoint lights. Like I could reach them even if I was light-years tall.

I cannot.

My hands scrape against the corroding bars that form the top and sides of the cage. A bastard file rasping against my stiff and numbing flesh. The wind is picking up carrying with it the scents of green trees, minerals, and the faint tang of wood smoke. I breathe deep to pull in a lungful of air, stretching my belly in a vain attempt to loosen the tightness in my diaphragm. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. There is something else in the air, faint, puzzling.

I sit upright, palms on the thin soil covering the rock below. Reaching up, I grasp the bars. Little flakes of rust drift down like red-ochre snowflakes to dust my arms and head. A few land on my lips. I lick them by reflex and the grit stings my tongue in an unsettling approximation of the taste of blood. I laugh nervously. The laugh stretches into a long shiver I cannot control.

Too cold to start a fire
I’m burning diesel burning dinosaur bones
I’ll take the river down to still water
And ride a pack of dogs...
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run

The sky is unfolding over my head like an infinite canopy, full of promise and those milky white stars. My eyes search for a pattern, an order. I smile when I see I am not alone. The Hunter is with me. I can taste the memory of blood on my lips as I trace the outline of his arm and count the trio of stars that form his belt. Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the names rise to the surface of my mind unbidden. Probably the most recognizable group of stars in the sky. Another bit of mental detritus as it occurs to me that old Dutch star charts refer to the stars as “Driekoningen”, Three Kings. I shake my head violently to rid myself of such trivia.

Another deep breath and that scent again, I know it. It haunts me. It stirs something in my chest, tremors vibrating through the muscle of my heart. A surge of electricity shoots up my spine and flares into my hands and fingers as they grip the rough metal of the bars. Escape is the only option. The Hunter smiles down on me, and the sky flares blue white as Orion rears back his shaggy head. His voice booms and breaks over me like thunder.

“Break the bars, jaguar man. Take them in your hands, and break them.”

We laugh together in voices like a whirlwind and the electricity surges in my veins and my arms and hands bulge from the energy, forearms swelling and fingers tightening, almost welding themselves to the bars of the cage that begin to soften and crumble from the pressure. Orion looks down at me, laughing and pounding his chest. We both scream into a howl as the bars shatter with an oily shriek of tortured metal and I am through and running hard heading for the path I see dimly lit by the milky light from above. I scream like a banshee, long years of captivity sloughing off in the air and I run, run like a man possessed into the forest. The blood of the Universe is filling my heart, the heat of a thousand suns pouring out of me, as I sniff the air to follow that scent...

Hits like a Phillips head
into my brain
Its gonna be too dark to sleep again
Cutting my teeth on bars and rusty chains...
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run

On that path in the mineral dark, feet pounding the steely hardness of rocks between the trees. I feel like my eyes are glowing, a faint emerald radiance lighting the air in front of my face. My breathing grows ragged as I run. I can feel it. I can feel the change beginning. The slow crawl of spots over my flesh, that deep throbbing in the bones of my jaw and arms and legs. My skin wrinkles furred over in a time lapse transformation. Slight cracking in my jaws as the teeth begin to lengthen and fangs overlap my lower lips. I grin and growl at the hunger in my belly.

The roar bursting from my chest rattles the leaves from the trees, and small animals flee through the undergrowth as I lope low to the ground, sniffing the air. Someone is out there, and I run.

When the forest burns
along the road
Like God’s eyes
in my headlights

The path loops and bends, but I see it all. The wind grows stronger, the scent coats the inside of my flaring nostrils and another surge of power swells the muscles of my legs. The claws are out now, striking sparks from the ground. Faster, faster now and the wind screams past my ears. The trees are smearing into blurs flanking the path, the stars elongate into streaks like I am slipping into hyperspace. A grinding groan boils up from deep in the earth, a deep bass thrum from the epicenter of an earthquake focused on my legs. It pulses into my chest and escapes from my raw throat in a roar louder than the first. The trees tremble, the stars shake and the Universe prostrates itself in a fit of obeisance. I do not laugh, I growl. I am the shaman king.

Another lungful of air, and that scent spurring me on, stronger, intoxicating. I am dizzy from the smell and hard running. The light is changing, a gradual increase in the glow of the sky ahead. The trees are beginning to thin out, opening up before me. The wind brings with it hints of sand and warm rock. I dig in and race faster, sensing something waiting for me.

Abruptly, the trees fall away to either side. The sky opens up in a vast dome in front of me, a sudden switch from a macro lens to extreme wide angle. Far off in the distance I can see the jagged tops of a mountain range, purple teeth scraping the belly of the sky as they march toward the far horizon. The smell of dry brush has gotten stronger. Combined with the dusty tang of sand and quartz, it nearly drowns out the scent of the Other. I falter, momentarily distracted by the loss of the trail. I shake my head in confusion and look up just in time to see the edge of the world fast approaching. The path has disappeared into a knife edge line drawn across the horizon. I gasp in shock.

Compression. The few trees alongside snap sharply back into focus and the streaky stars collapse into icy pinpoints, unmoving and impassive. My legs stiffen in a frantic attempt to dig into the loose rock and gravel rolling under my paws. I rear my head back as my haunches tuck in underneath and I am sliding, sliding fast towards the edge of the cliff I can now see in the pale starlight. Frantically, I twist and flip myself over, claws nearly breaking under the strain of trying to stop my aching body from hurtling over the edge. It works, my hind legs dangling out into space. A cloud of dust envelopes me, gravel pelting my face and flying out into the void. Coughing and wheezing I pull myself back from the cliff edge, vision fading, overtaken by unconsciousness.

When the dogs are looking
for their bones
And its raining ice picks
on your steel shore
I’m gonna break...
Snap. Eyes like the shutter on a camera spiraling open. It is cold; I am bleeding from myriad cuts and scrapes. The blood mixes with the dust and grit, a thick paste hardening on the skin of my arms and legs. Arms and legs. The paws and spots are gone. My nails are split, bloody. It is still dark. I roll onto my back and I am greeted by the impassive stars. The Hunter has moved, sliding slightly down the sky. He laughs at me again while I struggle to sit up.

It is an escarpment overlooking a vast desert spread out before me. I lean over to look to the desert floor, and the height combined with fatigue make me swoon. Purple and red sparks flit inside my eyes like tiny fireflies. Once my head stops spinning, I raise it to scan the desert. The starlight reveals very little, a few clumps of sagebrush, a scattering of boulders. Far out on the desert floor I see a pinprick of light. It flickers, the color of molten gold, and it makes me think of torches. There is a faint pool of radiance wobbling about on the ground, as if the light is hovering.

The scent is powerful now, clinging to my face and skin. My heart begins to race and a panic that feels like lust grips me by the heart. The Other is out there, I can feel. I must know. Frantically, I cast about looking for a way down the cliff. There no steps, there are no ledges within easy reach. I cannot leap; the height would surely kill me.

Provided my heart doesn’t burst first.

To the left and the right, the cliff marches away, seemingly unending, and uninterrupted by clefts or draws or canyons. I race back and forth in ever lengthening loops in a frenzied effort to find some way to make it down the face. A sob escapes my ragged lips. I can taste salt and iron trickling down from the corners of my mouth. Finally, I fall to my hands and knees, exhausted, crying.

Out in the desert, the golden light is a smeary blob filtered through a lens of tears. It mocks me, silent and out of reach. I stretch out a hand to grab it, and of course I fail. I pound a fist into the gritty pebbles underneath me, blood spraying out from a hand ripped ragged. A tortured howl ripping from bruised lungs raises itself to the velvet sky. I plead with the Hunter to help, but the stars are mute, offering no counsel.

Out in the desert the flame continues to burn, silent and distant.

I’m gonna break...
I’m gonna break...
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run

(Italicized paragraphs above are lyrics from the song “Rusty Cage”, by Soundgarden on the album “Badmotorfinger”)

One simplified definition of ‘fugue’ is “a polyphonic musical composition”. Another definition of ‘fugue’ is “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected performs acts of which he appears to be conscious but of which on recovery he has no recollection”. Guess which one describes how this story really got written. I’m having some memory problems.

30 January 2009

While Gazing Into Her Lightning Blue Eyes, We Toasted With A Glass Of Funky Cold Medina

The following poem was inspired by my lovely daughter, Wee Lass, and a song, and came about from a morning ride to her day care:

Steering wheel cool in my hands
As we head off to school,
And spheres of perfect lapis peer at me
across a few feet of mirror

Helpless laughter as I warble off-key
to something by the Secret Machines
and the Princess sings "Rudolph
With your nose so bright...”
(She will win my heart tonight)

Hair the color of cedar just
turning under the sun,
A face like a million brilliant memories:
Shimmering, as joy fills my weary eyes

This long, patient search ended not in the
virid womb of a distant jungle
Nor burrowing the igneous heart of a mountain
No, this singular jewel fell into my hands,
cast up by the tremors of my fluttering heart

“Daddy, you have to say ‘check!’ when I say the words!”
“Not yeetttttt!”
“Oh, sorry, sweet pea.”
“Sunglasses!” “Check!”
“Tote bag!” “Check!”
“Jacket!” “Check!”
“Brass Monkey!” (laughter) “Check!”

So began another typical day in the Gumbo house, getting the Wee Lass bundled up and out the door. We have developed a routine approaching that of the pre-flight checks the pilots do on 747’s, and she is really into it some mornings. When it is sunny out, YOU MUST HAVE SUNGLASSES. She insists, and she has a transparent blue pair that look sort of like the glasses Bono wears that make him look like a fly.

This morning we got in the car and I turned on the radio and heater to get things going, and of course Wee Lass loudly proclaims that we must hear 'Brass Monkey'. I have mentioned this in a previous post that it is one of her favorite songs. The CD it is on has a number of songs on it like that, but normally the she only wants to hear 'Brass Monkey' and the song right after, 'Word Up’ by Cameo. And she likes to listen to them loud.

This morning was a little different. I put the disk in, and the first song starts to play. I was about to hit the track select button, but Wee Lass says, “No, Daddy, I want to hear this one, then the next one, and the next one all the way up to Brass Monkey.” I started laughing and she wanted to know what was so funny.
“You want to hear this song?”
“Yes.” By this time I am belly laughing.
“Why are you laughing, Daddy?”

She is starting to grin and laugh, which makes me laugh even harder, and then she starts laughing even harder. At this point, I start seat dancing and singing the lyrics, even doing my best to do some turntable scratching* at the appropriate moments. By the time we neared the school, we were both dancing and bopping around** and having a great time. She found my attempts at singing to be hysterical. And so did I. I was surprised at how many of the lyrics I remembered, after all, the song came out back in the ‘80’s. What song, you ask?

“Funky Cold Medina” by Tone Loc. “This is the eighties, and I’m down with the ladies…”

*Funny, but don’t try this at home, kids. I mean, don’t try this while you are driving. It’s dangerous, and should only be attempted by people like Run-DMC or the Bomb Squad from Public Enemy, not by rhythmically challenged ordinary white guys like me. Unless you are really, really careful.
**I was REALLY careful, so no outraged phone calls or e-mails, please. I let Wee Lass take the wheel while I ‘scratched’.***
***I’m kidding. She drove the entire way.****
****No, she didn’t. Really.

The poem title is “Her Lightning Blue Eyes” and was inspired by the song “Lightning Blue Eyes” by Secret Machines and by my daughter’s lovely, lovely eyes. Oceans that I could swim in forever.

29 January 2009

A Winter's Day - Flower And Web

By the miracle of this here Internettyweb thingie, I have had the pleasure of making the digital acquaintance of Michelle at Confessions of a Desperate Housewife. I forget exactly how I made it to her site, it may have been through Heinous at Irregularly Periodic Ruminations, but I am very glad I did. Michelle has quite the eye behind the camera, and has posted some very lovely photographs on her blog. The following shot of a pheasant is a particularly good example:

Very nice, I think you would agree! Beautiful bird caught at the right moment. What makes this picture even more special is Michelle got her car stuck in the snow, going back to the same area to get some more pictures. That’s dedication! Thankfully, the car was extricated and everyone got home safe.

There was another picture she posted, the day after the pheasant shot, that not only looked great, but had a nice caption. It was called “The Flower and the Web” and it sparked some creative thoughts in my noggin. So naturally I wanted to write something about it. I commented to Michelle that we should do a collaborative piece incorporating the picture and some text. To my delight, she agreed: she supplies the picture, I supply the words. I created a short story, sort of a “1 minute writer” type exercise, to go with the picture. So without further ado, we present a Theme on The Flower and The Web:

The Spider did not see the Pheasant, as the Pheasant plucked it from the Flower.
The Pheasant did not see the Hunter, as the Hunter raised his Rifle.
The Hunter did not see the cracks in the Ice, as they split beneath him.
In the Silence after, the Flower and the Web nodded.

They had seen it all. Only they remain, waiting for Summer and all new things.

We hope you liked it. It was fun, and a great way to get some creative juices going. Please visit Confessions of a Desperate Housewife and check out some more great photos, drop some comment luv and let us both know your thoughts!

28 January 2009


November 30, 2003

It was my maternal grandmother, G-maw Baker that introduced me to stargazing when I was a little boy. She was an amateur astronomer, and had a telescope at her house that I loved to play with whenever I would visit. G-maw and I would bundle up and head outside to look for double stars, clusters, nebulae and do some moon gazing. When she got somewhat older and less able to stand out in the cold (winter being better for stargazing in the Northern hemisphere) it fell to me to find the stars or whatever we wanted to see, while she waited inside to stay warm. It was a task I came to enjoy. “G-maw, come see!” I would say, and she would amble outside for us to take turns peeking through the lens. It was such a joy.

While not involving a telescope, meteor showers were particularly exciting for her. I can still recall her saying to me that the “Leonids” or the “Taurids” were coming up soon, we needed to be ready for them. She would always watch for the weather reports, hoping for clear skies, the better to see the trails. I often looked forward to these events because it gave me a reason to stay up past midnight to get the full shower effect. G-maw had explained to me that was because the Earth’s rotation was then at the best angle for the meteors to hit the atmosphere. Funny, though, I can’t remember actually being able to stay awake that long. When I was little, even lying on the cold, hard ground was not enough to keep me awake. I also remember being afraid of getting hit by a meteor while outside. G-maw would just laugh and tell me to remember that most meteors burned up before they hit the ground, so I would be okay.

As I got older my interest in sky watching and meteor showers began to wane. In my teen years the joint viewing sessions with G-maw became less frequent. It was typical adolescent behavior, me finding it more important to hang out with friends (and get into trouble) than to spend time with an old lady who just happened to be family. I am not proud of myself, I can tell you.

G-maw was a stubborn woman, but also wiser than I knew. She had seen a lot in her relatively long life. I am sure she knew in her heart that little boys grow up, and teenage egos have a tendency to lose interest in the older folks. Little boys think they know more than they really do. At that time, I thought my grandmother was okay with my teenage callowness. Being as young, stupid and arrogant as that implies I just let it pass. She may have, on the surface, been okay with my disinterest. Subconsciously, it was always there, that little bit of sadness on both of our parts. I could tell because G-maw would offer to take me out for pizza, just the two of us for dinner, and I could never say no. There was always a twinge in my heart that I could not explain.

I will never forget one of our last pizza dinners together, shortly after I had turned of legal age to drink alcohol. We went to a local Pizza Hut and I decided to be daring and order a glass of beer. Pretty heady stuff, to be all worldly and drinking in front of my grandmother! I was a bit nervous, wondering if she was going to say anything. The waitress brought the glass, set it on the table in front of me, and G-maw just laughed. She had a twinkle in her eyes and asked me if she could have some of the beer! “I’ve been known to have a beer now and then” was all she said. I felt so much more comfortable with her after that incident.

I had no way of knowing at the time that G-maw would become very ill, and would pass away from cancer within the next two years. I suppose that if I had, I would have ordered a few more glasses, so we could raise a toast to a wonderful person possessed of a life well lived.

Something else I was not fully aware of then, was just how much she loved me. It was because of that love that she wanted to spend time with me. My grandfather had passed away shortly after I was born, about two decades before. Many of her extended family were far away, and it was me and my brother and my parents that she had close. If I had not been so self-absorbed, if had taken the scales from my eyes, I would have dropped the teenage attitudes of self-importance and truly understood the value of her presence. I would have been much more willing to spend time with her.

As I said, G-maw was a wise woman. She knew there was no getting blood from turnips, and she did not press me to be more considerate. I still regret being so selfish and not willing to give more of my time. It never ceases to amaze me that G-maw loved me in spite of myself.

There is one meteor shower in particular that stands out in my memory. G-maw and I, along with my mother and brother, were out in my front yard looking up at the sky. We had been out there for quite some time with very little activity, and everyone was getting restless. A few dim meteor tracks and stiff necks were all we had to show for our efforts and we were just about to pack it in when a most amazing thing happened. We all gasped. Low to the horizon, where we least expected it, there was what appeared to be a fireball hurtling across the sky. It was very bright, and to my eyes it appeared to have a greenish tinge. It was moving very fast and had a trail that seemed like it was miles long. Suddenly, it began to shoot off what looked like sparks and BOOM, it exploded into fragments radiating outward. The fragments glowed and rapidly faded from view.

We were stunned. I had never seen anything like it, and have not ever since then. G-maw said it was a ‘bolide’, a meteor that ignites in the atmosphere and more or less explodes. It was a little unsettling, but very beautiful. I was and am so grateful that my grandmother was there and cared enough to show me such an amazing example of natural beauty.

Natural beauty was very much on my mind on this November day, as we went out to the cemetery to visit with Connor and Emma. It was cold and breezy, with partly cloudy skies. The wind chimes were in full song. The bronze grave markers were very clean from all the rain we had the previous week. There was very little dirt and leaves to be swept off, just a small amount of mud which I brushed away. Standing there in the cold, I started sobbing while gazing at the names on the plaques. The thought kept looping through my head that we had given Connor and Emma such beautiful names, names that we had spoken far too little. I was thinking of the arc they both made through our lives.

When they were in the NICU, even with all the medical equipment and tape and tubes, my daughter and son possessed an unearthly beauty. It was beauty that would draw you in, helpless to take one’s eyes away from. I looked up into the sky to try and clear my eyes, and it was then that my grandmother and the meteors came back to me. So it was with my darling Emma and Connor. Heavenly objects of rare beauty, they burst into light across our sky, so fast and so bright that I still carry the afterimages burned into my retinas.

G-maw had shown me something rare and exquisitely beautiful. She had shown me things that were here and gone almost before you knew it. The lesson she had taught me was that you just have to be patient and watch; they will come to you. The sadness I felt struck so deep today, because I realized that I never had the chance to return G-maw’s favor, and show her beautiful and precious meteors of my own.

I like to think that G-maw knows, just the same.


SPECIAL NOTE: Tomorrow I will be posting a special collaborative effort with Michelle at Confessions of a Desperate Housewife. We found it exciting, and we hope you will, too! So please set a reminder to check in here and there. Thanks!

27 January 2009

Suspicions Confirmed: He Really IS A Big Fat Idiot

(I have been trying to avoid politics and talk TV a lot lately, because I have more important things on my mind, but something came up (appropriate, given the subject matter) this morning as I read the paper that could not be ignored. The thing reminded me of why I have been ignoring those subjects, and a response of some kind I cannot avoid. I’m sorry, but like a kidney stone, it must pass, painful as it may be.)

Special thanks to Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald for providing the food for thought for today’s post.

Consider the following:

In a video message put out on the Internet, Al Qaeda “leader” Ayman al-Zawahiri mocks Barack Obama as “house slaves” or “house Negroes” in a desperate attempt to dehumanize and humiliate the President in front of the world. He also says that President Obama’s intention to pull troops from Iraq to send to Afghanistan is “a policy which was destined for failure before it was born." Al-Zawahiri also spews out a lot of the usual denunciations of U.S. policy, insults and hollow declarations that Al Qaeda is “winning” by saying they told us to get out of Muslim lands. (Never mind that Iraq was a Muslim land in the same way that the Inquisition was a “Christian” organization. Don’t those knuckleheads get that Saddam Hussein used Islam as a religion of convenience, when political expediency required him to do so?). So it is safe to assume that the nutjobs in Al Qaeda, along with their sympathizers, are hoping and praying that President Obama (and by extension, the United States) will be an abject failure, so they can declare “victory” over the great Satanist empire.*

So no surprise, lots of people are hoping our new President is a failure. And, hey, guess who else we can count amongst those folks with their heads up their asses? Porky Pig. No, really:

Rush Limbaugh.

In a breathtaking new low (even for someone who is already hitching a ride on the snake’s belly), Annoying Blowhard #1, a person who claims to love America, has publicly wished for the rightfully elected President of the United States (the country which allows undie stains like Rush to emit their noxious gases) to fail. TO FAIL. It would be amusing if it weren’t true. Instead, it is just revolting.

Rush Limbaugh will claim that it is “liberalism” that he wants to fail, which is true; he has said that on many an occasion. I quote:

“…I need four: I hope he fails."…What are you laughing at? See, here's the point. Everybody thinks it's outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, "Oh, you can't do that." Why not? Why is it any different, what's new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails?”

No surprise there. But in this case, it isn’t just liberalism he wants to fail, he specifically said he wants Obama to fail. Quote:

“I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.”

Somebody’s gotta say it? Really, why would that be? Because it is a good thing to want the freely elected leader of our country to screw up, to not succeed in the mission? If Rush really wants Obama to fail, by extension he wants America to fail. Pretty twisted statement for someone who claims to be a patriot, someone who supposedly loves America. I don’t know if I was more offended or outraged. Even as much as I loathed George W. Bush, I never, NEVER wished for him to fail in the Presidency. As Leonard Pitts puts it in his column:

“You may think he’s going to fail, yes. You may warn he’s going to fail, yes. But do you ever ‘hope’ he fails? Knowing his failure is the country’s failure? Isn’t that, well…disloyal?”

I am opposed to Al Qaeda, and I truly believe that organization does not represent the true face of Islam. I am opposed to Rush Limbaugh, and I fervently hope he does not represent the true face of conservatism. If so, conservatives better find a better public face if they want people to believe in their ideology.

Maybe that is part of the problem. I think Rush has just proven he doesn’t really care about a well-reasoned approach to solving socio-political problems, it isn’t really about ideology. Like al-Zawahiri, what he really cares about is his own ego, his ratings. Also like al-Zawahiri, Rush Limbaugh comes across as desperate for attention, because he knows his cause is failing, morally vacuous and ethically unsupportable. His thoroughly despicable statements should offend any reasonable person, regardless of which side of the political or ideological fence they are on.

Ayman, Rush, keep spewing the sewage, guys, if you just cannot stop yourselves. When the US economy gets even worse and more and more people are out of work and can’t afford the radios and televisions (and the houses to put them in) that give them access to your odious idiocy, give each other a high five. Rush, if (God forbid) terrorists blow up the building you are in (or any building), please save your sniveling for someone who really would care, like al-Zawahiri. Hey, if that happens, you two can get together for a victory party! Sit down over a good meal, a cigar and some painkillers and congratulate each other on how good it feels to be a winner.

Just don’t try and convince me you really care about anything but yourselves.

(Here endeth the rant. Back to regularly scheduled content tomorrow.)

*Which is funny in and of itself. These guys still talk about the Crusades as if they happened last year. It’s Christianity against Islam in a smackdown! Really, fellows, is it Satan you are fighting or is it the Christianized West? Make up your minds, we can’t be both…

26 January 2009

Zoo Station Blues

I'm ready
Ready for the laughing gas
I'm ready
Ready for what's next
Ready to duck
Ready to dive
Ready to say
I'm glad to be alive
I'm ready
Ready for the push

Yeah, man, bring on the laughing gas, ‘cause I need it, sitting here looking out the black glass of the windows and I’m cold, cold, man COLD all the freakin’ time. Winter I know, so cold is part and parcel, in the package, a standard feature so to speak. I could use some laughs because I’m down, “in the weeds” one might say. Being tired all the time has that effect.

I’ve been ducking for the better part of my life now, whew, I’m a regular mallard. Ready to duck, ready to dive, yeah goddamn right I’m glad to be alive. What’s the alternative? Still, I sit and think and write and I wonder what is the reason to put my feet on the floor. I pretend I don’t know the answer but I really do. Being on the back of the tiger is what makes me put ‘em on the floor. I like the tiger, all that muscle and bone and sinew, and the power coursing through its veins, especially when it gets angry, riled up as we used to say, and that makes him dangerous.

But being dangerous in some ways is also BEING ALIVE. Ain’t no one, no one on this green earth that can live without being dangerous in some way. This is an Unavoidable Fact of Existence. But the difference being, is it good dangerous or is it bad dangerous? I prefer to be good dangerous, i.e. taking risk for a greater good. Doing the Risk/Benefit analysis, just like they taught me in school (and what as my blessed parents tried to teach me as a wee lad) to determine if your “Benefit” is great enough to outweigh your “Risks”.

As the saying goes, “Before you try beating the odds, make sure you can survive the odds beating you.” A mantra, I says.

So I stare out the window into the black night, looking for stars, and asking myself if I can beat the odds. Am I ready for the push, man, the push that will send me out the door of the plane. I’m scared, man, scared, but that not so little voice in the back of my head says “Do it. The pressure is on, and this is the push you need, if you wanna survive.” I want to survive.

The ghost reflected in the glass mouths the words to me, “I’m ready for the push.” I’m ready.

Ready for the shuffle
Ready for the deal
Ready to let go
Of the steering wheel
I'm ready
Ready for the crush
Let go of the steering wheel? Did I ever have it in my sweaty, nervous hands? Ha, I used to think I did. I used to think I was the Man, the shizznit, like I had a direct line to the molten hot center of the Earth feeding me power. I could open my mouth and drink deep of liquid rock and metal, yeah, man, ‘cause I was fuckin’ indestructible. Gold plated and bullet proof! Nothing I couldn’t do, no mountain I couldn’t climb, because I was The Man. And I didn’t need any help, thank you very much. I could do all this because I was Superman.

And it was all bullshit, you see, because I not only jumped on that bobsled to hell I was greasing the skids. Because I was in control and no one was going to take that away from me. And no one did. See, I was right. No person took it away. It was the Universe what took it from me.

So I keep staring out the black window, cold air peeling in sheets down the glass, curling around my hands and legs and spiraling its way to wrap my heart. All the while I carefully avoid the Bottle sitting on the edge of the desk, its contents mocking me daring me to pick it up, yeah, man just pour a finger or three or maybe your whole goddamn hand, because you need help. And the bottle says “I might be just the fellow to give you that help, you pathetic bee-yotch, because you know there is no chance, like snowball vs. hell kinda chance you can do this all by yourself”.

My hand trembles, fingers flex a bit as the impulse shivers its way from the dilapidated Control Center of my brain, and just for a second I consider that the bottle may be right. Just for a second. I may be tired and all edgy and stuff, but I am not stupid.

The bottle is right on one count: I can’t do this all by myself. But I can’t control it all myself, either. Control is what nearly killed me, put me on this path, made me think that all this time I was the one calling the shots. I was driving The Car, right? Yeah, right. Careening through a black void tunnel I didn’t know was a tunnel and telling myself the entire time I could see in the dark. That lasted until finally I hit the wall. Hit the wall like a comet slamming into a mountain, or a meteor crashing into a house. Yeah, and all the while my hands were on the steering wheel. What a joke. Evel Knievel was my spiritual twin. So, my relationship with control is a little on the hate side, you know? Crawling from the wreckage, alone and bleeding, the Voice shouting in my ear: time to let go, let go of the steering wheel.

Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright
It's alright... it's alright ... it's alright ... it's alright
Hey baby... hey baby ... hey baby ... hey baby ...
It's alright
It's alright

Who said that? Okay, maybe its alright, but baby, why do I feel so goddamned alone? Answer me that, Man in The Glass. Man? I squint. He’s looking a little different. Head is blockier than it was, ears have changed. He smiles, and the fucker has some fangs. Not little mousey type fangs, I mean thick as an index finger, two-inch long ‘effin man-killer type fangs. He’s got spots all over his head and neck, and his outline is getting all blurry. Shit, man, shit don’t go all shaman on me, don’t you know I got work to do? Some serious dollar-chasin’ to accomplish?

He just grins. He says, no, he growls to me: I know you feel alone, just make sure you go chasing in the right direction. This ain’t no Buddhist Eight-Fold Path smack talkin’, it’s your Truth right here, right now. What’s it gonna be? Which path, right or not-right? And you do know the answer, you just won’t face up to it. You, my friend, need to unleash the beast. Otherwise, you might as well just lay down, start crying and sucking your thumb. Oh, and shut up about it. You are going to get sick of that whiny voice in your ear, like a cosmic mosquito reminding you that you missed the train.

Time is a train
Makes the future the past
Leaves you standing in the station
Your face pressed up against the glass

Shit. My face is pressed up against the glass, when did that happen? Wet with sweat or tears, I don’t know. Leaning against that cold, black plate and wondering just how hard I would have to press before the glass shatters and my head crashes through it with shards digging into my neck and I writhe frantically slick with blood and screaming at the freezing winter air, and I push and push like a animal gone crazy with pain and I stretch my arms out in front of me, but they aren’t arms anymore they are legs ending in paws. Big paws with obsidian daggers poking out from the tips, and the scream turns into a howl, a roar at the top of my lungs, and my ears twitch as I hear the brakes release on that train I can see at the platform at the bottom of the hill and through the trees and I run, run like the beast that I am I can feel the muscles working and the blood pulsing, and it feels like LIFE. The train starts to pull away and I can see there is an open window not too far away and I heave a sobbing breath, my muscles contracting in a painful spasm and I launch myself at that open window, the Gateway to The New, the blood, the pain all falling away and the sky goes white. The train seems to blur or is that me as I leap and I tell myself, I’ll make it, I’ll make it, I have to, Life and Love are waiting there…

I'm just down the line from your love ... Zoo Station
Under the sign of your love ... Zoo Station
I'm gonna be there ... Zoo Station
Tracing the line ... Zoo Station
I'm gonna make it on time ... make it on time ... Zoo Station
Just two stops down the line ... Zoo Station
Just a stop down the line ... Zoo Station
(Italicized paragraphs are lyrics from “Zoo Station” by U2, from ‘Achtung Baby’)

25 January 2009

You Can Call Me Anything You Like, But My Name Is 'Turkey Sandwich Guy'


What was your nickname? When I was little, I always really, really wanted a nickname. Something cool, something that people would hear and go, “Whoa, here comes Ironman! dude, watch out!” Early on, at least, I thought my nickname was Damnitboy, as in “Damnitboywould yougetyerfeetoutofthetoilet! Or “Damnitboystoptryingtogetthehamstertofly!” I even took to giving myself nicknames to try them out.

“Name’s Meatball.”
“Meatball, it’s my name.”
“Uh, yeah whatever, weirdo. Now leave me alone.”

“Keyhole, call me Keyhole.”
“Why? How ‘bout Butthole?”

Needless to say, it took me quite a long time to realize that nicknames, with rare exception, are bestowed by others and not self-generated. Hardly anyone is going to take it seriously if they find out you named yourself ‘Aceman’ or ‘Studsy’. So for the longest time I contented myself with the occasional ‘Sparky’ or ‘Monsterman’ tossed out by my friends. It happened sporadically, and nothing ever really stuck. I was a little disappointed, because I really wanted that nickname. But still, ‘Sparky’ was better than the ‘Fuckface’ or ‘Dumbshit’ that seemed to be heaped in large doses on a lot of the other guys I hung out with. There was no way a nickname like that was going to end up in the high school yearbook. Can you imagine, next to a goofy picture?

Most Likely To Be Hit By A Trash Truck – Denny ‘Fuckface’ Johnson

Not something I would care to carry for posterity. So during my high school years, I tried to keep a low profile, and hope that one day, that special “Name” would crop up by sheer chance. I went without one for years, no good name, but no embarrassing one either. It wasn’t until my junior year that opportunity knocked, in the form of a chance to select my own nickname, for real. Yippee!

I was on the varsity soccer team, and we had a coach who was a nice guy, but no one would have ever confused him with a disciplinarian. Actually, I guess he was more like an easy-going surfer dude. We practiced, but it wasn’t exactly high impact training. Anyway, when it came time to order our team jerseys, he told us that we could all select the number AND the name we wanted on the back.* The only caveat was that the coach would get to review the names before the jerseys went made. Now, what would you expect a group of teenaged boys to do when presented with such an opportunity? Exactly. No one selected a number based on their position. And out of about sixteen players on the team, only about six actually chose their real name. So who was on the team?

‘Captain Death’

and yours truly:

‘Mr. Carbonic’, fullback, Number 26.

‘Numbnuts’ and ‘Shithead’ did not make the cut, they had to come up with something else. So that entire season, I told everyone that ‘Mr. Carbonic’ was my nom de futebol. Sort of like ‘Pele’, but without the mad skillz. Or the fame. Or a snowball’s chance in hell of making the United States National Mens’ Soccer Team. And I wasn’t black.**

‘Mr. Carbonic’ lasted only season, although I kept the jersey for years until it fell apart. It was a good conversation piece at parties, until someone pointed out to me that only a true dork would wear a soccer shirt to a party.*** The next year, we had a new coach and he WAS what you would call a disciplinarian. I went from being ‘Mr. Carbonic’ to being ‘11’. No name, just 11.****

After the Carbonic era ended, I then entered into a brief nickname drought. I went to college, and no one there would have gotten the Mr. Carbonic thing. Plus it took me a while to build up some new friendships, more time to get to know people well enough and long enough to come up with nicknames. I am proud to say that by the end of my sophomore year, I had not one but two, count ‘em TWO nicknames, with at least one sub-nickname. I was affectionately known as:

‘Kevvie Fresh’

and on party nights,

‘MC Kevvie Fresh’

Can I get a whut, whut!? I was back, baby! Now you are probably wondering how they came about, how I got those names. Well, the simple answer is: I have no freakin’ clue. It was a very organic thing, they sort of gradually worked their way into daily usage. I really can’t explain the ‘MC’ reference because I wasn’t nearly the stylin’ music maven I am now.***** No one was really going to confuse me with Grandmaster Flash or Young MC. I guess it was because Mc just sounded really funny when combined with Kevvie Fresh.

I proudly sported my nicknames until graduation, when once again big life changes found me married, in a new state, and employed. The group I had been a part of was dispersed and no one knew who the heck ‘Kevvie Fresh’ was, nor would they have cared. This time the nickname drought lasted a lot longer. The workplace wasn’t studio, and the Man doesn’t care that you really wanted to be called ‘Tiny’ or ‘Humpty’. Something was missing.

I grew sad.

So it was for a few more years, having to answer entirely to my given name. I got used to it, but frankly, it was boring. I like my name, but it was cool having an alternate identity, something that only friends and family would likely know. I began to worry that I was destined to have no nickname. This continued for quite some time, until one day me and some of my cubicle mates hatched a plan, over a delish lunch of Thai food, to dub everyone in our department with a nickname. So everyone ended up with a nickname whether they wanted it or not. Of course, these names were entirely at the whim of the core group, and they were given for reasons known only to us. My nickname ended up being:


Oh, happy day! Now that was a nickname! ‘Hammer’. Manly, implying action and decisiveness. Getting things done. At least that was the public definition. Really, I think it was because I was a hard-headed tool. Still, I liked it. It gave me an aura of cool. Our departmental secretary even printed out large nametags that we stuck to our cubicle walls with velcro dots. From that day on, if anyone was looking for me, they were told to “Go see the Hammer.” Heh, heh. My days as ‘The Hammer’ lasted about two years, the remainder of my employment time at that particular company. I moved on, the group dispersed, and I entered the “Long Winter”, a period of about ten years where I had no new moniker. Back to Kevin, just Kevin. I began to put my dreams of nickname immortality behind me. I figured it was all part of being an adult. Sigh.

The last office I worked in was located nearby to a really good diner, within easy walking distance. This diner offers a lot of really good eats like a super grilled cheese with ham, chicken stew and French fries with gravy (a Balwmer treat!). The owner and his wife, and the waitresses are all a real nice bunch of folks, and I became quite familiar to them. I ended up eating there at least once a week, for a long stretch of months. The one thing I ended up eating exclusively, because it was so good, was the turkey club sandwich with a glass of iced tea. This is a 3-decker with BACON (mmm) and it is the best turkey club sandwich I think I have ever had. It was like Turkey Club Prime. The prototype of turkey club sandwiches. The block from which all others were chipped. It isn’t fancy, it’s not on artisan bread or dabbed with “tomato aioli with capers” or anything like that. It’s just real good.

I mentioned that I ate it exclusively. Just how exclusively I found out one day, when I grabbed a paper and a booth. I said hi to the waitress as I sat down, and she gave me a glass of tea. A few minutes later, she brought me the sandwich. I was digging in with gusto when it hit me:

She hadn’t asked me for my order, not the drink, nor the sandwich.

I was in good, yo! Sort of like Norm on “Cheers” but with a sandwich instead of a beer. Awesome! And truth be told, I didn’t mind at all. That sort of service actually saved me some time on some busy days, less waiting.

When I was laid off, besides the obvious upset, I realized I was going to miss my semi-weekly visits to the diner. It didn’t occur to me that the folks at the diner might miss me. This came to light earlier this week, when I received an e-mail from one of my friends who is still at the firm I left. She had gone to the diner with another friend from the office, and the waitress asked about the “turkey sandwich guy”; apparently they do miss me. It’s a cool thing to be missed, even in such a small way. I was touched. The icing on the cake (or gravy on the fries)? I think I may have a new nickname.

I’m not just Kevin anymore, I’m ‘Turkey Sandwich Guy’. “T-Guy” for short. Boo-yahhh!

It doesn’t stop there, though. In all fairness, I have also picked up some worthy monikers from the many on-line friends I have made during my early blogging adventures. These are names that also arose organically, through time and circumstance. Names like this:

‘Mr. Irish’ (Many thanks to Braja for the touch of dignity!)

And one that is good for a giggle:


These are the many facets of me, and I display them with pride. I am named!

*Anyone who has coached and/or played organized sports will immediately see the flaws in that approach. Funny, but anarchic.
**To this day, I still lack mad skillz, the fame, and the national team spot. And I’m still not black.
***This perhaps explains my lack of ‘play’ in those days, uknowwhudImsane?
****Which led to a lot of “These go to 11” wisecracks. Still not much ‘play’, though.
*****Stylin’ = transferred most of my CD’s to my iPod.

24 January 2009

Of Napkins, Noodles and Kung Fu (Potty Style)

ITEM the 1st*: A Glut Of Napkins

“This is absurd” I tell myself for the millionth time, “I can’t even get my cell phone out of my freakin’ coat pocket because its full of NAPKINS!”

Picture if will, an ordinary-looking white sort of male-type person sitting in his car. It is a rather ordinary black four-door ‘sedan’ of the less expensive imported lineage type car. From the mirror hangs a sun-faded soccer pennant emblazoned with the logo of the United States National Soccer Teams. Nothing terribly unusual about this scene. Except for the flailing.

The ordinary white male (henceforth known as OWM) is thrashing about in the driver’s seat of the car, one hand on the lapel of his jacket and the other is jammed deep into the inside coat pocket. Muffled invective could be heard by passersby, assuming close enough to the car. The OWM is currently engaged in a struggle for dominance over his cell phone; the phone has apparently decided to hide from the OWM by turning sideways and getting lodged under a thick wad of napkins. Napkins of the sort found in affordable eatery type establishments, the purveyors of large burritos or poultry fried golden-brown-and-delicious to be “nuggeted” or stuffed between buttered buns (with pickles, yum.) The OWM has an almost pathological inability to eat in said establishments without grabbing a stack of napkins sufficient to wipe the hands of a school full of 7-year olds. Thenceforth, they end up in pockets and other places.

Finally, after much spasticity and cursing, the OWM triumphantly holds the errant cell phone aloft with a hearty “AHA!”. A light dawns in the OWM’s head: transfer the pocket napkins to the glove compartment! Brilliant! The OWM gleefully opens the compartment, paper goods in hand. The door flops own, and pile of napkins springs out like a jack-in-the-box, spilling onto the floor. The OWM curses, stuffs all the napkins back into the compartment, hurriedly shutting the door.
Fortunately, no one saw him. He thinks.


ITEM the 2nd: Noodles On My Noodle

Noodles, man, what is it with the noodles**. I gots noodles on muh brain. First, I’m reading some Chinese cookbooks, and they've lots of noodles in them. Long noodles, slurpy noodles, noodles of many flavors. Noodles in bowls and stuff. Noodles with lots of Chinese food type goodness on them. It is making me hungry.

So we get a great deal on a new DVD, “Kung Fu Panda”, courtesy of a gift card and an online coupon. Total price 99 cents. Awesomeness! It arrived Wednesday in the mail. Of course, Wee Lass*** wants to watch it right away. I’m in the mood for a little animated kung fu action, so I says “Right on, my girl!”. DVD in, ass on couch, eyes on screen. And guess what? NOODLES! Po the Panda is the son of a duck**** who runs a noodle restaurant. Noodles famous far and wide. Dammit, man, I’m trying to dig the cool kung fu action (and the action sequences are AWESOME!) but all I can think about is some dan-dan noodles, or ‘Mr. Xie’s Sea-Flavor Noodles’. But then Wee Lass gets scared by the bad guy and I have to lay on some calming, protective daddy-like stuff. Movie over, it’s time to review the ‘Special Features’.

Wouldn’t you know it, there is a feature called ‘Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop’, a short bit about…noodle-making! It’s hosted by Alton Brown (of ‘Good Eats’ fame) and takes place in a L.A. restaurant called ‘Mr. Chow’s’*****. They bring out a master ‘pastry’ chef to demonstrate the fine art of turning a blob of dough into a gazillion strands of noodles. All by hand, this master (and master he really is!) takes a volleyball sized ball of the dough and basically turns it into what looks like angel hair pasta. The Chinese name of the noodle type escapes me. It was amazing, just by swinging and folding and hitting it on the table, that he could end up with a set of noodles that was about 4 feet long, without tearing or breaking. Truly amazing, and it made me even hungrier. And of course, Alton Brown gets to sit down to a big plate of those noodles cooked in broth and slathered with some delicious looking sauce. Bastard.
I also realized that could be my next career: noodle maker. Yeah, I could get into that. I think it would be cool to be known as a master noodle maker.


ITEM the 3rd: Kung Fu Toilet Dance

Setting: bagel shop, Friday morning a week ago. Wee Lass and I are tucking into muffin and bagel per standard operating procedure. Then she starts doing the tell-tale potty dance and grabbing her crotch. I choke down a bite of lox-spread-on-supreme and we skip off to La Toilette. Wee Lass parks her Wee Buns on the throne. I stand in the corner, arms folded, staring at the ceiling. She yells.

Me: “What, what’s wrong?”
WL: “There’s a bug! Aiiiee, aiiie, there’s a bug trying to get me!”
Me: “Where?” She points to a spot about 30 inches in front of her, mid air.
WL: “There! There!” I don’t see anything, and tell her so. “Daddeeee, it’s right there! Aiiiee!”

Finally, I see this…gnat…flying slooowly in circles near the toilet. Oh, for god’s sake. A GNAT?

Me: “You mean the gnat?”
WL: “Yes, get it before it gets meeeeee!”

So I start flailing at the gnat, karate chopping at it to no avail. Wee Lass starts to snicker. I crouch and do my best imitation of The Crane from ‘Karate Kid’. I swat at the gnat and go ‘HAAIIII!” Wee Lass bursts into laughter, and that’s all I need to hear. I start chasing the gnat around the toilet room, chopping and kicking with all the kung fu moves I can think of, plus a few I’m pretty sure aren’t actual kung fu styles (Flying Architect Style? Silly Daddy Style, anyone?). Wee Lass was really enjoying the show. I was too, as I pondered the absurdities of a 43 year old man crane hopping around a toilet, while his daughter sits on it and laughs, laughs, laughs. Man, I would do just about anything to hear it.

I never did get that gnat. I guess I need more practice. HAAIIII!

*Many thanks to That Baldy Fella at Tales of Squire Kirk the Elder for the tagline format. Please check it out, and his other blog, NickNackBlogAttack. The footnote sense of David Foster Wallace, the silliness of Monty Python: a heady combo indeed.
** Even
Captain Dumbass is in on the noodles! Check out the sign in the pic.
***Apropos of nothing, she decided that her favorite member of ‘The Furious Five’ is Tigress. That’s my girrrrl!
****Panda is the offspring of a duck? Huh? Don’t think about, just watch.
***** Chow’s? Chow – a slang term for food. Good, recursive, very post-modern. Chinese civilization may be ancient, but still manages to be ahead of the times. I dig it.

23 January 2009

Hollow Animal

Godl the Jaguar crouched very still at the edge of the clearing next to the stream. The air was still, thick and humid under the jungle canopy. He twitched his ears silently, like flicks of a knife, to drive the flies away from his head. Ordinarily, Godl would have kept walking and hoped the flies would find other creatures to bother. But not right now.

Godl was hungry.

He yawned, squinting at the sunlight pouring into the clearing from above. It glinted off the stream on the other side. He had poked and prodded at the water’s edge in a vain attempt to find some turtle eggs. The brawny jaguar was tired, and he lacked the energy to chase after a troop of monkeys that were caroming through the trees. Monkeys were good eating, his stomach gurgled a little at the thought, but they were nimble. Time to lay still, see what the green wall around him might offer up.

Birds chattered, and Godl’s eyes drooped as fatigue and heat threatened to overtake him. He swished his tail in a burst of nervous energy, but quickly settled down when he heard some sounds coming from the undergrowth. Ears up, eyes wide open, he dilated his nostrils to draw in a deep breath. He chuffed softly trying to tease the scent from the turgid air. The sounds were getting closer. Godl could hear the swishswish of meat on the hoof padding over the leafy detritus on the jungle floor. Another breath, another nose full of aroma, and Godl bared his teeth slightly. The scent was stronger now, and Godl thought himself lucky as a tapir slowly eased its way into the clearing. It was a young male, and large. It held its snout to the ground, snuffling while searching for berries and nibbling on leaves. It stopped and lifted its head, looking around with its head cocked. Godl froze, breath halting in his chest.

The tapir sniffed a few times, and apparently satisfied, ambled through the clearing down to the stream bank. It bent its head to lap up some tea-colored water, snuffling as it drank. Godl moved swift as arrow and silent as a shadow. The tapir paused, raising its head slightly. The jaguar stopped abruptly, freezing in place like a statue. He flexed his front paws and his hindquarters contracted in anticipation of the leap. The tapir remained blithely unaware, dipping to drink again. Godl sprang, a lethal blur of muscle and bone.

A split second before impact, the tapir turned his head to see the jaguar, paws out and fangs bared, hurtling down. The tapir squealed in fright, startling the nearby birds into a trilling panic of feathers, and tried to run. Too late. One paw landed on the tapir’s back, opening a deep gash that welled up crimson in the crystalline sunlight. The other paw narrowly missed the tapir’s head to smack the ground. Godl lunged forward, mouth wide open, and sank his fangs into the base of the skull. Cracksnap. The tapir jerked, a squeal cut off in mid-shriek. Godl blinked, the tapir’s hotness filling his mouth. The beast twitched and went limp. The jaguar waited briefly, breathing deep through its nostrils, then let go.

Godl stood with one paw on the tapir’s neck, the other on its snout. He looked up into the sun and gave vent to a mighty roar, drops of blood spraying from his mouth. The nearby troop of monkeys leapt into a shrieking scrum of fur, wondering what they done to bring down the voice of thunder on themselves.


Godl’s limbs twitched furiously as he dreamed, lying in the pool of bluish winter sunlight that shone down through alien trees. He growled quietly, muzzle quivering, and his front right paw spasmed sharply. The slightly extended claws snagged themselves on the heavy steel chain that trailed across the frozen ground. The chain tightened, links tinkling against each other, and jerked on the thick collar that encircled Godl’s throat. He chuffed loudly, startling himself awake. Godl shook his head violently and sprang to his feet. He scanned the clearing in a swift traverse of his blocky head. His heart was pounding, half caught in the dream and half in reaction to being awakened by the jerk from the chain.

Satisfied that he was in no danger, Godl shuffled over to the far edge of the clearing, about as far as he could get at the end of the chain. The ground was somewhat bare at the spot under his haunches. The jaguar often sat there to smell the breezes coming off from the lake, about one hundred leaps to the east. Watching the water and the birds the husky cat wondered what they tasted like, and if there were any tasty turtle eggs to be found. He really missed those eggs. Nothing like them, freshly dug from the muck and crunchy on his tongue, meaty-sweet. The rations he received here had nothing to recommend them beyond their quantity. Hefty chunks and slabs of meat, the beast he could not tell, delivered by The Keeper from the back of a noisy man-machine almost every day. Godl hated that machine, hated the grating metallic smell of the cloudy breath it would belch out as it backed up to the drop-off point, on the other side of the clearing. The jaguar started making a point of it to be as far away from the Keeper as he could manage when he heard the machine coming.

Godl huffed, the closest sound a jaguar could make to a sigh. His ears twitched and swiveled to pick up the bird calls and other forest noises. He often heard other snarls and growls, hoots and screeches. He occasionally caught faint whiffs of animal scent, that he recognized as others of his type and of the slow moving creatures they ate. He rarely saw them though, and then only at a distance. Out on the lake, the blue-green blur of a heron swooped over the icy water, coming to rest in the shallows. It flapped its wings and folded into a hunting stance. The lanky bird eyed the water along the shore intently. Godl strained at his leash and pondered the slow-motion trap that had brought him here, fattening him up and stealing his life from him.

The first time it seemed sheer luck, a happy windfall when he came upon two freshly killed peccaries lying at the base of a tree he often marked. There was another aroma in the air, one he did not recognize but he paid it no heed. He had been unsuccessfully hunting for two days, and was famished. The peccaries were still warm, and Godl set to with gusto. After eating his fill, he dragged one carcass into the underbrush and fell into a deep slumber, dreaming the dreams only a king can have. A few moons later, it happened again, and this time the bounty was half the carcass of a tapir. It was lying in the same spot as the peccaries had been. Godl growled with pleasure. This would hold him for a long time.

After that day, the mysterious gifts showed up with increasing frequency. Once there was even a cache of the turtle eggs that Godl loved so much. He could hardly believe his luck, and he sent up a feline prayer to the Jaguar God, thanking him for his bounty. Godl began to grow fat. He began to hunt less and his muscles began to grow soft. He didn’t worry; that kind of what if thinking never occurred to him. He felt he would always be so fast and so dangerous, he would never have to worry about sustenance. He grew careless.

One day, he passed the tree to see a peccary, laid out on its back. Beside it was a pile of turtle eggs. Godl wasn’t particularly hungry, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity. That other unfamiliar scent was in the air, heavy this time, but Godl paid it no mind. He squinted as he closed his powerful jaws on the pathetic peccary, biting into its soft body.


Godl jerked his head back with a snarl, feeling two sharp hot stings in his shoulder and hindquarters. He whipped his head around in a frenzy trying to bite at the feathered metal darts that had penetrated his flesh, sinking deep and spreading fire as the tranquilizer payload seeped into his muscles and bloodstream. He managed to get his teeth on the dart in the rear and he yanked it out. The one in his shoulder was impossible to reach, and Godl’s desperate flailing became weaker and weaker. His sight dimmed as the drugs took effect and he dropped unconscious to the jungle floor.


Godl had awoken, stiff and sore, in an alien forest. His mouth was bone-dry. His eyes fluttered weakly as he staggered to his feet. The air was different, dry and full of unfamiliar scents. It was cooler here, reminding him of the few times he had ventured up into the highlands near his home territory. The difference was the background smell; wet and vegetal there, crisp and mineral here. He shivered while taking some shaky steps across the clearing. It was then he realized that there was something around his neck: a collar, thick and heavy leather. The collar was firmly attached to a heavy black steel chain by a thick, u-shaped hasp. The hasp was secured to the collar by heavy rivets through a flat steel plate. Godl could not see it, but certainly felt it snug around his throat.

Godl panicked. He bolted forward to strain against the chain. He ran frantically in circles hoping to shake it off, to no avail. The jaguar collapsed in a panting heap, at the edge of the clearing with his face pointed at the lake. Godl saw a heron, stepping gingerly through the shallows. A deep chuff escaped his lungs. He fell asleep, exhausted and knowing he was trapped.

He was awoken by the man-machine clattering up to the clearing, bringing Godl his first ration of meat in his new life as a prisoner. The jaguar backed away slowly as the machine ground to a halt, and the Keeper stepped out onto the flatbed. It was then that Godl recognized that unfamiliar smell from weeks ago. It was the smell of his captor. Overriding that was the salty metallic tang of blood, lots of blood. The Keeper began tossing chunks of what, to the jaguar’s nose, smelled a bit like the tapirs he used to catch. When he was done, the Keeper stopped to stare at Godl, his eyes hidden behind obsidian lenses. They glared at one another, man and beast. The Keeper waved and climbed back into the truck. Godl waited until it drove away, and then his overwhelming hunger drove him to the pile of food. He ate too fast, all the while wondering why it didn’t taste like the wild meat he used to eat. To him, it filled his belly but didn’t taste of life.

Days passed, then weeks. The same routine, the Keeper bringing him food, Godl pacing around and around. Godl began to grow soft and flabby, even as he repeatedly tried to slip the collar, with no luck. The collar just would not budge. Godl grew despondent. He amused himself by listening for the different animal sounds, and watching for the heron on the lake. Godl often wondered why the heron seemed to be watching him, stock still as a copper statue.

So it was that winter day, Godl sitting with his back to the clearing, looking out over the lake. Heron was there, inscrutable and still, when he wasn’t stalking fish. The wind blew softly, carrying with it the smell of minerals and the thick aroma of meat. The clatter of the truck grew louder finally cutting out as the Keeper pulled to a stop. Godl did not bother turning his head. There was a brief pause, then the wet smacksmacksmack of fresh meat hitting the packed earth. The jaguar sat immobile, waiting for the Keeper to leave. When Godl didn’t react, the Keeper shrugged and got back into the truck. A grind of the ignition, a cloud of acrid smoke and he was gone in a slowly fading roar. The cold breeze carried off the exhaust. Godl waited until it was silent, except for the sound of birds and unseen animals. He blinked only once, focused on the heron down on the lake. When he was sure the Keeper was gone, he slowly turned as smooth and silent like oil in water, and padded over to the meat. It was exceptionally fresh, still warm and leaking blood. Godl found he wasn’t hungry. He stood and pondered the drops of blood as they rolled off the flesh. An idea took root in his head; he chuffed with pleasure, fangs bared.

Godl began rubbing his head and neck over the haunch, smearing blood all over the fur and the reeking leather of the collar. Soon his fur was matted and slick, the crimson fluid working its way under the band around his neck. When it was thoroughly soaked, Godl hurried to the far side of the clearing and backed his way towards the lake. He strained against the chain, pulling it taut. The collar began to slip slowly over his neck, inching its way over his ears. It stuck briefly, and a few hard yanks later, it began to budge. Godl chuffed in pleasure while continuing to pull. Soon, he thought, soon.

Down on the lake, the heron watched Godl with interest. He spread his wings, clacking his beak in anticipation, and settled down to wait.

(I was inspired to write this story after reading this very intriguing post from That Girl. In the comments I asked her, “What is more valuable to you, your foot or your freedom?” in reference to being caught in a trap and having to gnaw your way out. What is above is not at all the story I had intended to write. My first draft was very different, and only came together after a brisk walk around my favorite park. I called out, but the heron was nowhere to be seen. He was probably visiting with a friend.)

22 January 2009

Love Radiator

26 July 2003
2:30 pm: He had a good day today.
Arterial line removed, may not need replacement. Good.
Blood gas checks will decrease, fewer heel sticks. Good.

It’s about 4:00 now, son, not that you really understand time right now. Or maybe you do, you just hve no way of telling us. I can’t tell sometimes, either. Really tired, and it messes with my sense of time. Good thing they have a lot of clocks in here, always easy to tell time. Although I wish the digits weren’t red. Red doesn’t soothe me, too active, and I’m anxious enough just walking through the door.

Sorry, son, I didn’t mean to ramble. I’m distracted, by fatigue and hunger and these damn headaches I keep getting. I’m distracted by the sight of you laying there, all small and pinkish and curled up on that pillow. The plastic cover almost disappears sometimes when I’m watching you. But it’s still there, as I keep forgetting when I reach out to touch you, only to knock my fingers against it. I hope the noise doesn’t bother you too much. Anyway, I meant to tell you about something else I feel when I come in here to look at you. Yeah, I’m nervous and tense, but I feel really good at the same time. Especially when I walk around the corner after having scrubbed my hands and arms, and can finally get to your side. Really good, a calmness that sort of spreads over me like wrapping myself in a warm towel, fresh from the dryer. The calm I get when I watch the sunrise, or geese swimming across a lake. And every time it happens, I look at you and I wonder, How do you do it?

3:30 pm?: Surgical consult. The doctor says he has a hernia.
A what? An inguinal hernia. Is that bad?
It needs repairing, soon, not now.
The NICU nurse says he can be circumcised at the same time.
Great. Just great.

When I asked how do you do it, I was wondering how you could make me feel so good, how you make it so I don’t want to leave this place. Not while you are here, anyway. Otherwise there is little to recommend it. All the machines, the blinking lights, the constant beeping. Lots of hand washing; I don’t think my hands and arms have ever been this clean in my life! It isn’t so bad when it is quiet in here, son. And by quiet, I mean less noisy, not noise free. The nurses and parents and doctors are in and out of here constantly. They have to be. But later in the day, and especially when regular visiting hours are over, there is a certain hush that comes over this place. I like those moments, my son. It is then I can pull my chair a little closer to you, rest my head on the isolette, and just look at you, meditate on you. With the lights down a little low, it’s like a shrine, with you at the heart of it. It draws me in, and I wondered, if we turned the lights off, would you throw off your own radiance?

8:20 pm: His oxygen is down slightly. Odd, but that is a good thing.
Nurse C. says he has been sleeping well.
He likes being on his belly, his crits are better when he does.
‘Gives sleeping like a baby’ a whole new meaning.

Radiance of an unearthly kind in the light shining on you, kiddo. It isn’t unearthly in a bad sense. Heavenly is the word I was looking for. You, a pink onyx figurine lit from within. It’s beautiful. No, let me rephrase, you are beautiful. Yours is a beauty terrible and wonderful to behold; I have no desire to be anywhere else. It is this light that fascinates me. I will not say I am the moth and you are the flame; that makes it sound dangerous or that I might get burned if I were to get too close. Really, I am not close enough, because I cannot hold you, at least not yet. This explains the pain in my arms, the ache of supporting a void not yet filled. Wait, was that a twitch, did your fingers just move? I put my hand in the isolette, quickly but softly, to brush your fingertips with mine. Little pink feathers. I breathe against the plastic and wonder, what is this strange attractor that draws me in?

9:10 pm?: Skin color has improved, not as much yellow.
Light therapy is helping, the mask protects his eyes.
The heart murmur detected earlier appears to have “resolved”.
Good. Avoiding surgery is good.

I know, son, I know. It came to me in a flash. The light that is you creates its own gravity that acts only on those of your blood. That must be it. This is the force that draws your mother and I back here, day after day, night after night. I can feel it when I am at home. I can feel it while I am making toast (one of the few things I can keep down these days), taking a shower, while trying to fall asleep. This ghostly tugging at my heart. Do you know what you have done, my son? You are a miracle of modern science! You are creating love at a distance. Imagine that! Your tiny body a pink loaf of bread with the density of a neutron star, sending out wave after wave of powerful love. The molecules of my heart resonate to your frequency and I find myself drawn back to you. This is a circuit I would never willingly abandon. How could I? This hospital room, this plastic shell that is your home, has become the chapel and shrine to which I make my daily pilgrimage. I come on my knees to bask in the presence of your love.

9:41 pm?: Final summary. Nurse C. tells me your kidneys and bowels are functioning.
Tomorrow we may actually be able to feed you. Feed you!
A tube and syringe with some mother’s milk and something else.
Better than nothing. The nurse asks if I am okay, chiding me gently.
She tells me to go home, sleep, and eat. The parents need care, too.

So I’ll leave you now. I am exhausted. Oh, before I go, here is a picture of your sister. The one with the ring. I thought you’d like that. We didn’t get one of you wearing it. Later, perhaps.

Good night.

I’ll be back, how could I not? I orbit the Sun, hungry for its light.

21 January 2009

Sunday Contest: Caption That Stupid Picture, Third Edition - WINNER! WINNER!

Yippee! Yippee! Hey, everybody, the new phone books are here!*

I want to thank everyone who stopped by and commented on this the 3rd edition of Stupid Photo Caption Contest, this was an amazing turnout, and there is an embar-ASS-ment** of riches this time around! With that in mind, I had a very difficult time picking a clear winner. There quite a few laugh out loud types, ‘spit-takers’ as we say in the biz. Very, very good stuff. You can all be proud!

Given that there were so many to choose from, I decided to break it down into some different categories, sort of like the Academy Awards with less cleavage. Well, frontal cleavage anyway. Here are the categories:

Honorable Mentions:
People’s Choice Award – self explanatory, I think.
Best New Vocabulary Award – For most interesting new word.
Far Side Award – For tapping into that ‘Far Side’ Spirit.
Golden Boot In The Ass Award – I have a weak spot for the footie.

And the Grand Prize:
Golden Wiener Award –They get the coveted ‘Irish Gumbo’ wiener award.

To mix things up a bit, I have also decided to randomly award one lucky person from the Honorable mention category to receive a IG wiener award as well. So, with further ado, let’s get to the awards, shall we? Let’s keep the acceptance speeches short and sweet, m’kay?

People’s Choice Award goes to…Michelle, at Michelle’s Blog! for “The lengths a man will go to avoid munching a rug..." She’s got something on her mind, what is it? Hmmm…

Best New Vocabulary Award goes to…Pseudonymous High School Teacher at Pseudonymous High School Teacher! for ‘sodomator’ as in “Daarth Vaaaader. I am your brother, lover, sodomator”. I don’t really know how she came up with that.

Far Side Award goes to…Kat, at 3 Bedroom Bungalow to Let in Crazytown! for “Jimmy thought rock climbing would be easy until he ended up on a sheer cliff and broke his neck. Bummer Jimmy, bummer.” I dig it. And out a shout out to Cambridge, UK!

Golden Boot In The Ass Award goes to…Red Squirrel, at Passably Content! For “Arsene Wenger's newest signing had heard of his Manager's reputation.....” Alright, probably only Red Squirrel, cIII and myself will get this one, but I’m a sucker for the football reference and, hey, Gooners have a sense of humor, too!

Randomly selected IG award: (roll a die, roll die) – Michelle!

And the big wiener, the ne plus ultra,

Golden Wiener Award goes to…Malisa at Moonlight Hollow Musings! for…
“Rump Ranger says, "I always keep my eyes open during sex!"

It could be a weird educational film mascot, or bizarre talking toy, even a cheesy action show: Rump Ranger Rides Again! (or should that be, 'Is Ridden Again')

Congratulations one and all!

To streamline the awards process, lucky winners can pick it up here:

And no cheating, this is the honor system. I think. Thanks so much to everyone for chiming in on this edition of the Stupid Photo Contest, I’m pleased and honored by your visits!

I hereby announce the formation of the Gumbo Primo League, consisting of some of the finest football***teams in the world. The Founding Teams are:

Arsenal – The Gunners – English (Irish Gumbo)
Tottenham Hotspur – ‘Spurs – English (Red Squirrel)
Liverpool – The Reds – English – (cIII at The Goat and Tater)

There is certainly room for more. If you would like to be included, please send me your favorite team, their name or mascot, the league and your name/blog or website. Favorite rallying cry or song would be cool, too. I will try and get links set up periodically. FOOTBALL; The Beautiful Game!

*Bonus points for the first person to correctly identify the movie quoted.
**’Bare ass’, get it? Hee, hee. I said ‘ass’.
***Soccer for the US fans. Although the other ‘football’ may be considered, if I like your team. I might even consider cricket and rugby. Send it in, let’s see what happens. I’ll work out the scoring later.

20 January 2009

Pretty Sound Good - The Ponytail Files

I was all set: big mug o’ tea, laptop plugged in and fired up, remote in hand and the Gumbo buns parked on the couch to catch the inaugural events. Yeah, man, I was going to write this Big Important Post about how cool it was that things have changed, how Barack Obama is the President now, and what that meant for us as a nation. It was going to be GREAT.

But I found I couldn’t do it. Every time I tried to do it, I was sidetracked by the enormity of the events themselves. I was overwhelmed by Significance. This really is a pivotal moment in modern history, one that I am elated to witness. So elated, that there is nothing I could say to improve it. I had no spin, no take on it. It doesn’t need any gilding from me. I am, for the moment, left without something to say.

(thunk)(collective jaw dropping out there)

A first, I know. I’m a little disoriented by it myself.

In an effort to get myself a little more back to earth, I decided to cozy up to something a bit more earthy, and I was lucky that the Gumbo Image Files (a division of Freakflag Media©) had just the thing. Now I don’t feel so bad about clipping pictures out of the newspaper. I was flipping through my files and lo, looky at what I found! Something purty this way comes, so feast your peepers on this lovely lass:

Aaahhh….whuh….now, dammit, I know I had a point here….hold on (head between knees, taking a deep breath) WHOO! Okay! I’m back, sort of.

No, that is not a slightly curvy Audrey Hepburn (ooh, what an image that is!); that’s the most lovely Adele (after you click the link, scroll down – there is a color version of the above photo: HAWT!), a young* lass from London who has become quite the singing sensation. I first heard of her on my local tune source, WTMD, and the radio station was fortunate enough to have her stop by the studios for some vocal performances that they recorded. I have to say her voice has gotten to me the more I hear the music. She is in the same neighborhood as Joss Stone (rawr!) Sarah McLachlan (angel!) and Billie Holiday (O, summertime!). And that face in the picture?

Veered right off the path again. I was eating breakfast and reading the newspaper when I turned the page and saw it. I am not ashamed to say that the spoonful of ‘Honeybunches” or whatever that was on its way to my mouth ended up, in part, on my bathrobe. Good thing I suppose, as my jaw was sagging so much I couldn’t have kept anything in my mouth. I don’t remember for certain, but I may have actually drooled a little. Not sure. I do know that I sat and stared at that picture for a good two or three minutes before I finally woke up and turned the page.

And then I turned back to it. Three times, before I finished breakfast.

Then I looked at again. Twice. On the way to the recycle bin, at which point, I decided to cut it out of the newspaper. Can someone give me a clue as to what is wrong with me? Ida know, I keep getting gobsmacked by the wimmens. In this case, though I was in the safety and comfort of my own home, so I was in no danger of falling into a ravine or running into a tree. I did trip over the cat, though. Of course, when you combine looks with a good singing voice, it might as well be like this:

That’s me, the besotted chap there in the water. Hopefully, I’ll never end up wrecking a ship because I heeded the Sirens’ call (and I certainly don’t want to get eaten by a bird woman!), but I sure do like to look and listen. It’s distracting in a really, really good way.

Speaking of distractions, what are those people doing down on the Mall in Washington, D.C.? And who’s the dude with his hand in the air doing all that swearing?

*Young as in 20 years old. Can you believe that? Me neither. And no, I’m not a dirty old man. It’s just…purtyness, I can’t seem to escape it.

Siren image courtesy of Wikipedia

19 January 2009

No Two Alike

Pearlescent grey light seeps through my window, washing across my desk and my hands as they hold my head, rubbing my temples. Snow falls gentle and slow, the fat flakes drifting down to paint the yellowed grass in the yard outside. I was watching this languid dance as I absent-mindedly took books from the shelf to the right of the desk. I was of a mind to reorganize the collection and rid the books of dust, I don’t know why; perhaps the cabin fever induced a need to clean. Maybe it was the hope that I would find something old to become new, read so long ago that it was memory abraded, hidden under a drift of time.

It was there that I found you, the picture tucked between the pages of a book, drifting softly down to land at my feet. A snowflake, unmelted and beautiful after all these years. The book? It was The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Even funnier is that I had no idea who he was when I met you so long ago.

My habits are such that my books are full of notepapers, folded up bits stuck to pages and covered with the scribbled calligraphy of a million thoughts. Stuff I told myself I will remember, I’ll come back to later, it means something. All in the service of a fevered mind swooning under the weight of ideas, glittery and warm: a crow attracted to shiny things filling his disordered nest. You were not a note. I bent down to pick up the picture. It was face up on the floor. Your face came into focus slowly, like something rising from the depths of a murky pond. The breath caught in my throat, suddenly constricted and thick with the taste of your memory.

You, M., the second great love of my life. How did you find me?

I brought the picture closer to my eyes. They aren’t as sharp as they used to be, you know? Not as young as when we first met those twenty-five long years ago. And your eyes? The picture in that grey light, glinting across those eyes, pools of emerald opening up in my hand and I dove in again and you were there in the heat of that summer day when I saw you and I lost my breath and wondered what was wrong with me.

It was the farm, you remember, the farm that belonged to T’s father? T, your best friend, who all the other guys seemed to be more interested in? Well, that was just fine by me. That gave me more room in space and time. It gave me, background personified, a chance to actually talk to you, unencumbered by competition.

Sorry, my dear. “Competition” makes it sound ugly, like you were a cup to be won. That isn’t fair. I never thought of you as an object, I always thought of you as an idea in the shape of a beautiful young woman. A woman who, I should hasten to add, who would talk to me. Laugh at my stupid jokes, ignore the fact that I was the biggest dork on Planet Earth. I never thanked you enough for that kindness. How could I? Flowers don’t last, there is not enough gold, my heart could only hold so much but I gladly gave it all to you and searched for more.

Does that sound corny? Probably. You did that to me. Probably still would, if I saw you in the flesh. The very sight of you began to disconnect my synapses from my neurons, a rapid process that led to an amusing regression into ABC’s and primary colors, ending in tongue-tied silence in those moments when we could be alone together. You laugh, but it’s true. Why did you think I was so quiet?

The farm. Of all the places to meet girls, it was that farm. A blessing in disguise, because it gave me plenty of things to talk about besides us. I remember there were cows and hay, and that old shack that used to be a cabin or a smokehouse or something. And T’s grandfather living in it, smoking his pipe and painting landscapes. He seemed a nice man, although he was a little hard to understand with that accent. He was from Germany, was that what you said? Yes, Germany.

The cows were funny, lumbering over to the fence as we walked, us tentatively holding hands and offering them swatches of grass pulled from around the fencepost. Curious animals peering at us with those gentle bovine eyes that looked so kind and guileless. The warm feeling of their breath a symmetric heat to that from your hand in mine. We talked a little, you and me, wondering if the cows had names. “Violet”, you said pointing to one doe-eyed black-and-white female. “Violet? Why?” I asked. You just giggled and said “Because”.

We walked a little more until we came to a paddock with three horses standing silently, flicking their tails and nibbling at tufts of grass. The sound of bees rose faintly from a bank of honeysuckle along the farther fence. I hadn’t noticed at first at how quiet you were as we stopped at the fence to rest our arms on the sun-warmed roughness of the rail. Not knowing much about horses, I said the first thing that came to mind.

“Wow, pretty”. You were silent. I looked over. You were staring at those horses, pupils dilated and lips slightly parted. I felt as if I wasn’t there. I said “Pretty” again. You jumped slightly and looked at me with slight embarrassment. A shy smile graced the corners of your mouth, a flash of Mona Lisa as you said “Yes, yes they are.” The smile just barely made it to your eyes.

You told me that you loved horses, which you had been riding since you were a little girl. Back home, you said, you really did live on a farm, surrounded by soybeans and corn. But your father was good to his little girl and there was a small horse barn with four stalls and two beautiful horses of your own. I was amazed; I grew up in the city and I rarely saw horses in the flesh. You, on the other hand, fed them, watered them, rode them. It was more than just riding them around the farm, though. I could tell by the way you looked at those horses: your eyes were unfocused and somewhere in your mind you were on horseback at a flat-out gallop.

“What’s the deal with horses?” I asked.
“I don’t ride them just because. I am… I want to be in the Olympics, in the equestrian events.”

I am afraid I laughed. To this day, I am sorry for that. It’s just that, for me, the Olympics were just something on TV; no one actually was in them. At least, no one I knew. I turned and I could see the faint look of hurt in your eyes. I backpedaled furiously, stammering out some lame apology and pleading for you to tell me all about it. To my immense relief, you relented, and I could feel the spear ease its way back out of my heart.

You spent the rest of that afternoon telling me all about it. Dressage and training and riding every chance you got. You even told me about mucking out the stalls, something I couldn’t begin to fathom as fun, but seemed not to bother you. It was more like you saw that as a small price to pay for the privilege of riding. When you talked about the horses and what it took to make the leaps, I could see something in your eyes: fire and a beautiful mane tossing in the wind. It made you alive and, my god, so beautiful.

I fell in love with you, then, swallowed up by that dazzling, deep jungle in your eyes.

We talked until nightfall, startled to find ourselves on the dirt road leading back to the farmhouse and late for dinner. You were staying in the house, and I unfortunately was sleeping in a tent out in a nearby field. I didn’t sleep well, and it wasn’t because of the rocks digging into my back. It was your eyes, and the image of you on horseback, leaning into the wind and racing across a field of tall grass.

The rest of the week went too fast, a blur of walks in the woods, visits to the horses, and campfires. T was getting loads of attention from my friends, and she seemed to be loving it. You and I, we sat quietly in front of the fire trading shy smiles and leaning into each other. It was that last night that I finally worked up the nerve to kiss you. Soft, sweet and not as nearly as awkward as I had feared. I can taste it still.

Cheep, cheep” and I shake my head at the sound of sparrows outside the window. I am stock still at my desk, the picture cradled in my palm like a feather. I find I have been holding my breath, and I let out a breath in a rush as I move to the window for better light. The light an oystery lamp, I see that your eyes are not symmetrical, which I had forgotten. The right eye slightly at an angle to the left. Subtle, but powerful and it draws me in like a whirlpool. Perfect. There is a thud in my chest as my heart flips over at the sight. I said you were the second great love of my life, but you were the first I ever actually said “I love you’ to. I am amazed still at my bravery; stunned that you didn’t laugh, but instead you said it back as you kissed me.

I remember the day we left, you heading south to your horses and me heading north back to my books. We held hands discreetly (if that was possible) and said our goodbyes. I waited until no one was looking and pecked you on the cheek. It wasn’t enough; I wanted to pull you close and bury my face in your hair and breathe deep of you, smelling of hay and horses and all warm good things under the sun. I wanted to disappear behind emerald doors, never to be seen again.

It wasn’t the end exactly. We knew we would see each other again, just not very often. We told ourselves that we could overcome time and distance. Not even lack of a car would stop us. We worked it out. You would hitch rides with your dad when he came up for business, I would figure out how to meet you. It worked for a while, maybe the infrequency increased the intensity of experience. Every time I saw those eyes everything fell away: distance, time, absence. I could content myself with the phone calls every week, knowing that at least once each month I could see you.

That summer I lost weight. I lost sleep. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about you. Do you remember how amazed we both were to discover that we had made it that far in time, while being so far apart in space. I told you I was going away to college, and you said you would be at home, helping on the farm. You were vague on the details, but it sounded like the Olympics were becoming a dream deferred if not denied. There was trouble with money and training and your parents. I held your hands and we smiled, swearing that we could make this work. You gave me the picture I now held in my hands, and told me to not look at the back yet, not until I was at school. And I didn’t. I put it into my pocket, to set it in my desk once I got to school. I forgot to look at the back of it for a long time, as the year wore on and our letters back and forth became more infrequent.

Winter semester, and I had your letter in my hand. You were still hopeful, I recall, but I…well, I was not. I had finally flipped that picture over, and read what you had written. It felt like a knife in my heart, because the day I got your letter, I was sitting at my desk in the grey light filtering through the dorm room window. Winter in the mountains was cold and cloudy too often. There was a thin film of ice on the glass, like feathers. I was writing a letter to you, telling you that it was too much we were too far apart and I was here and you were there and by the time I got out of here we would be very different people that we were already very different people, no, no, it isn’t like that I don’t not love you but we are too far apart. In space, time and pathways. I didn’t want you to wait for me, nor me wait for you; life was too short. I am surprised to this very day at the wisdom of my assessment.

You wrote me back, saying you understood. You were sad, I know, but you did a good job of hiding it. You said I was right, it was too hard, and unfair to the both of us. I think it was the day I read your letter, that I put your picture in that book, away and out of sight.

The picture. My forehead is against the cold glass as I stare down at it, trying to free myself from the whirlpool again. I am sweating and shaking in the chilly grey light streaming through the glass. The sparrows twitter and bounce in the grass outside my window. I raise my hand to rub my eyes and the little birds burst noisily into flight at the sudden movement. I pick up the book and put your picture back into the pages; I didn’t notice the numbers. I tell myself I should get rid of it, my life is very different now. But I know I won’t. I rearrange the books on my shelves as the bird tracks fill up slowly, blurring and fading under the snow.