28 December 2011

A Bowl of Rice

Rainer cracked the eggs into a beat-up ceramic bowl, blue-flecked and chipped.  His hands shook only a little this morning, and only a few drops of egg white landed on the knife-scarred wood of the counter.  The ghost of a smile that crossed his face held no real humor, but he reckoned it was better than the usual paint shaker his breakfasts tended to be.  The herbs the monks had given him seemed to be working.  His nerves were calmer, and the vomiting had stopped hours ago.  Almost.

Light the color of oyster shells seeped into the small cell, the eastern light of a Vietnamese dawn hitting the slopes of the Dãy Trường Sơn.  Rainer stopped, eggshell in hand, watching the little window grow brighter.  The hot plate at the end of the counter hissed softly.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the pale blue gas ring capering like a small spirit under the battered aluminum tea kettle perched on the burner.  Spirits.  Ghosts.  He struggled to recall what the natives called them.  Ma? Bong ma?  The words slipped away like fish in the river.

Rainer shook his head, cobwebs falling away and he struggled to keep his eyes open.  The motions sent tremors through his hands, and the eggshell clutched in his right hand rattled against the bowl.  In the close confines of the cell, it sounded to his addict's ears too much like the death rattle he could not shake loose from his mind.  That dry, pebbly sound brought back the night in that Hue alley.  Filth on the stones, a dark stain spreading slowly on the groin of Anna Marie's pants, and a death warrant of Burmese opium signing off on his brain.  It was raining, he recalled, and as the heroin took over his own veins he remembered slumping against the wall and hoping she wouldn't drown.  Then there were lights, and sirens.  The world went black and he woke up in a crowded courtyard with the concerned face of a Buddhist novice peering at him.  Anna, he noticed, was nowhere to be seen.

The monk held out a hefty bowl filled with a strong brown liquid that reeked of licorice and dirt.  He said something in Vietnamese, something Rainer could not quite make out.  The monk then pantomimed drinking from the bowl, and from the expression on his face Rainer had the feeling that refusal was not acceptable.  He took the heavy clay bowl from the waiting hands.  The odor arising from the bowl made him gag.  Hot and bitter, it felt like thin mud coating his gullet.  It hit his stomach like lead shot.  The addict thought it was not going to stay down, and minutes later his prediction proved correct.

Rainer leaned forward and vomited like a cannon into the stone gutter in front of him.  He coughed and sputtered, tears in his eyes.  His body writhed like a worm on a hook as the spasms wracked him over and over.  He lost count of how many times he spewed.  Through the haze of pain and tears, he saw the monk sitting a short distance away, watching him in his sickness and not moving a muscle. Rainer finally sat back on his trembling haunches, reasonably certain he would not puke again, the monk came over with a bucket of cold water and a tattered rag which he held out before him.  The addict took the rag, thinking he would dip it into the water and wipe his face.  Before he could act, the monk swung the bucket back and dashed the freezing water hard into Rainer's face.  The addict was stunned into immobility.  When the shock wore off, Rainer gently dabbed at his face, wiping off dirt and spew.  The monk stood, impassive.  He gave Rainer time to clean his face, then motioned for the addict to follow him further into the compound.

Rainer sobbed briefly.  Memories of that day made him shake.  The eggshell shattered into chaff, small flakes sprinkling like snow onto the bare wood.  The addict looked down at the counter.  Two yolks lay in the bowl, gelatinous yellow suns staring back at him with neon intensity.  He took a pair of dirty chopsticks from the rack above the basin that served as sink, and began to beat the eggs.  A laugh, grating and sepulchral, burst from his cracked lips.  Funny, he thought, don't need a mixer 'cause my hands shake so much.

The eggs he set aside.  A small pan had been heating on the second burner of the hot plate.  Rainer saw it was wispy with smoke.  There was a square platter next to the plate, filled with day old rice.  The addict scraped the rice into the pan, to sizzle in the thin layer of oil.  Smoke stung his eyes, and the faint nutty aroma coming from the pan reminded him for some reason of his grandmother's kitchen.  A trace of grin as he stirred the rice.  The only seasoning he had was a small amount of dried chiles he kept in a tan stoneware jar next to the hot plate.  He sprinkled a small pinch over the rice, the dark red flakes seeming like spots of blood against the dirty white of the rice.  A wave of dizziness overtook him; his head he rested on the wall.  Blood.  That would be his penance, the dark communion he would receive to atone for his sins of abuse and gluttony.

The rice sizzled and hissed.  After the dizziness passed, Rainer took the bowl of eggs and swirled them into the rice.  He stirred quickly to break up the eggs into thin sheets and rags, stark against the pepper flakes.  Leaving the mess to cook briefly, he swabbed out the bowl with a banana leaf and some water.  The monks had given him one bowl, and he had not yet mastered it for his meals.  He shook the contents of the pan into the bowl and turned off the burners.  The tea kettle he emptied into a waiting mug.  The small amount of tea leaves in the mug swirled around as if in a miniature storm.  The aroma of jasmine and eggs filled the air, and Rainer found himself salivating in spite of the nausea he felt.

The addict sat down heavily on the pallet opposite the counter.  The meager bedding he shoved into the corner, only a thin cushion under his bony backside for small comfort.  He could reach across the intervening space for the tea, the counter serving as table.  Rainer held the bowl of rice in his lap, between hands gone wiry from lack of food and abundance of the dark fruits of the Golden Triangle.  He paused, inhaling the aroma.  He sat still, eyes closed.  He had lost his religion years ago, in pursuit of the dragon, but he tried a prayer all the same.

He opened his eyes.  The square of light coming from the little window at the end of the cell had tracked up onto his feet.  He was no longer shocked at how dirty they seemed, split skin and jagged nails.  The paws of a rude beast, he thought.  A beast fighting for survival, and nearly helpless.  The warmth on his toes nearly made him cry.  It was good, that warmth.  Blessings from the sun in a strange land.

His stomach rumbled.  To Rainer's delight, it was rumbling in anticipation of food, not from dread of sickness.  Outside in the courtyard a rooster crowed loudly against the faint counterpoint of bells from further down the valley.  Rainer sighed and brought the bowl to his lips, chopsticks poised to do his clumsy bidding.  He began to eat.  The sun tracked up his legs.  His chewing sounded loud to his ears. On his fourth swallow with no sign it was coming back up, the addict felt the stirrings of hope.  It came to him then, as clear as the cerulean sky he glimpsed, that he need no more than the bowl of rice in his hands.  All he need do was eat.  Rainer ate in silence, and the way opened up before him, clear and bright.

25 December 2011

Sunday Meditation #12: Christmas Threads and Contradictions

An odd run-up to this, my forty-seventh Christmas on Earth.  Alone in my house two days ago, chuckling at my own weirdness as I stood in bar of sunlight, a copy of A Year With Thomas Merton in my hands, and the supercharged chant of Rollins' Band "Shine" shaking the walls a little as I read.  How this came to be I cannot recall.  I do know that at the time, it made perfect sense.

I have been reading the Merton book since June, which is the month in which I acquired it.  The short daily meditations I mostly read at the pace of one a day, in sync with the calendar.  Time and circumstance conspired to disturb the symmetry of that schedule.  Lately I have the habit of neglecting the book for days at a time, then catch up in a concentrated burst of reading when I have time.  So it was this time.

"In The End, Grace Alone" the title of Merton's meditation.  Henry Rollins exhorts me to "Shine" as I read it.  I lean against the door frame and grin.  This time the apparent cognitive dissonance of the ideas before my mind does not bother me.  Merton writes of his frustration with being an intellectual in a land of "businessmen and squares", while Rollins practically boots me in the ass to be a hero.  It is to laugh, and I do.

Truly it does not bother me, these two ends of the tug rope.  I've lived with the bifurcation of my interior life for so long it seems normal.  I feel like a warrior-poet, except I cannot squarely identify my foe or my muse.  I very often, in the words of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame), "obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul".  These exhortations I have trouble explaining to myself, much less to others.

Yet I listen.  I savor.  I worry them with the teeth of my mind.  Somewhere on there exists my destination.

The season and in particular, this day, always place me in this frame of mind.  A season of merriment and good will towards humankind marred by either too much belief or not enough.  By some lights it isn't enough that you be kindly disposed to those around you, you must be Christian and you have to believe.  Never mind all the ironies involved in the chauvinistic demands for "keeping Christ in Christmas" when Christmas itself was taken over from a pagan holiday and has been further hijacked by a consumer-driven, free market (arguably) capitalistic and money-driven culture.  No wonder this time of year produces so much anxiety in so many.

There seems to be little real peace, and true love.  For better or worse, Christmas as a season and a holiday has been dilated too much by the demands of an open society for the 'at-large' return to a ritual acknowledgment of the birth of Jesus Christ.  To do so would be to ignore entire segments of our society, and would not be allowed by the money machines of consumer capitalism because it would cut down on the profit pool.  From what I see in the news, it is either about mass consumption or religious narrow-mindedness.  Hardly anyone speaks of peace, at least, not in a pure sense.

For myself, I want peace of mind.  I want the simple joy to be found in caring for those around you and in the communion with life in the universe.  I do not want to be wrapped up in questions of salvation versus damnation, belief versus non-belief, extravagant consumption in the face of need.  The former question misses the point of personal faith, and the latter question is one that exists independently of any holiday.  Neither is a question to be solved if this is supposed to be a matter of peace and love.

Thomas Merton and Henry Rollins: the yin and yang of my Christmas season.  They both speak to me, in different tongues.  The thinker and the warrior tell me to seek inner peace, but I will have to fight for it.  This makes me laugh. Salvation and consumption both seem to me to be missing the main point: that we should exist in love and seek peace in ourselves so that we may know it with others.

As I meditate on my roots this Christmas, I feel I am closer to casting aside the distractions and noise of this world, and getting much closer to love and to peace.  This is my wish for us all.

23 December 2011

Mountain Mind, River Belly

Rain pattered down on Godl's head, carrying with it the cool green mutterings of the god Chaac that drifted out of the sky.  The jaguar moved not a muscle, his blocky head a graven image amongst the leaf shadows.  The occasional blink and breath was the only sign Godl was alive.  He had been days on the ridge, and hunger was calling his name.

A crack of thunder split the mottled pearl gray clouds scudding over the tops of the trees.  Godl blinked in surprise, gold-green orbs wide open on the rebound.  They shone like polished metal even in the dimmer light of the undergrowth.  A small chuff escaped past his muzzle.  Godl opened wide and bared fangs scarcely gone dull in the years since his first kill.  Drawing a deep breath, he inhaled the jade scent of the forest, mineral tang of wet stone and the metallic chill of the river down below.  Had the jaguar been possessed of a historian's mind, he would have recalled that first kill, an unlucky agouti Godl had pounced upon in the brush not far away.  The wretched creature had squeaked loudly until the unrelenting force of Godl's jaws broke its neck.

The jaguar felt a rumble in his belly.  He needed blood, flesh.  Memories of past kills would not fill the void.  Only prey would do.  The rain was coming down harder, rivulets and sheets and cataracts cascading from the leaves above Godl's head.  The big ears twitched and swiveled, straining at some ghostly sound arising form the valley.  The jaguar expanded his deep chest.  There. He sensed it. It was there, the faint scent of wet fur with an undercurrent of iron and salt.  Godl felt his pulse quicken.  The thought of sating his hunger induced a low rumbling in his throat.  It was time.

Godl stood and stretched.  His rain-soaked pelt glistened like animal gold shot through with coal and copper.  He scented the wind again, getting his bearings.  The strength of his namesake poured into his veins, the taut muscles, and Godl  did not so much as step down as pour himself down from the knob of rock upon which he had waited for days.  His sleek, golden shape slipped into the waiting embrace of the emerald forest.  Chaac was being kind to Godl; the sibilant chants of the raindrops would help cover any noise the great jaguar might make as he crept up on his kill.

But Godl thought little of the noise.  He rarely made any, as the fullness of his muscles and taut sinews testified to the creatures whose last vision in the world was the shadow of the jaguar.

Godl moved like oil in the river, bursting with animal confidence.  Soon, soon, he would feel the crack of bone and the warmth of a full belly.  He would feed, and know his place in the world.

22 December 2011

Andromeda Drinks Kyklos Galaktikos: A Love Story

She frolicked in the night for time beyond the ages of anything said to be living.  She did so unfettered, under the sway of no being, save one.  She wrapped her arms in hypnotizing patterns while swaying to the deep ocean chant of gigantic gravities.  A starfish made of suns, thirsty for love that ever felt unrequited save for the warp and weft of invisible tides pulsing through the absolute arctic of the interstellar night.  She smiled.  She sometimes wept.  She always turned, suns beyond count burning into a thirst that forever seemed unquenched.   Patience beyond comprehension radiated outward.  She would wait.  He would come to her.

He saw her, knew her for billions of years without speaking. His own arms ached, fluid plasma spirals whirling and spattering light of infinite intensities into the void.  They waved to and fro in a curl he could not control.  Gravitic hands, invisible lips guarding a seeking tongue that he knew wanted, needed, demanded his body as sacrifice for the gift of existence.  The milk of his body he held close.  Never did he dare to let it go.  He too had patience measured in a scale incomprehensible to the motes of life that flashed in and out of existence in his body, tiny beings flickering like organic mirrors of the pulsars murmuring in the heart.  He would wait.  He had time.  But he knew it was his destiny for her to drink the milk of his creation.

Decay.  Contraction.  Red shift into blue.  Billions of years rolling by as if an afternoon to Andromeda and Kyklos. Under the wheel of time they drew closer.  Her heart leaped, his body ached.  She gasped in delight, he groaned in pain.  The gravity ocean swelled and roiled as their arms met.  She dove into the core as his arms curled up around her, a cosmic lotus enrobing a jewel beyond price.  This universe filled with light so bright it became all, covered all. Her heart swelled to meet his, her lips drinking in the milk of stellar fusion.  The light consumed everything as it poured from their entwined centers.  Keening filled the black matrix between the stars when Andromeda drank her lover, he consumed by her passion to end the universe as it began: in the singularity of love.  Andromeda drank Kyklos Galaktikos, and the universe was reborn.

21 December 2011

Winter Embers

Orange coals burning low
ahead of chilly solstice,
longer days await

12 December 2011

Selene, She Knows

With the shorter days come longer nights, we all know.  There are things we sometimes fail to notice in the nightfall, absorbed in our own thoughts and hurrying inside away from the chill and the polite desolation of winter outside our doors.  In my case, I had failed to see the lights.

She did not.  She always sees such things.  It is not too far off to say that she is an extra pair of younger, sharper eyes to my older, jaded ones.  We left the house, she was cheerfully singing doggerel rhymes and delightful nonsense.  I was trying to recall if I had everything, had left nothing behind.  I was even pondering tomorrow when I had to dive back into the cold, syrupy ocean of job searching and bill-paying angst.  I was not looking at the sky, or even across the street.

In the car.  Her cheerfulness takes the edge off the blade of my mind.  A smile could even be said to grace my visage.  This is good. We drive down the street and turn the corner.  It hasn't sunk in to me yet, but she pipes up with the lilting declaration that "This is my favorite time of year to look at lights!  They are so pretty!"

I finally see them.  All up and down the main street leading out of my neighborhood.  So many houses now adorned with lights of all kinds and colors.  Even plenty of blue, my favorite color.  The light of my life continues her narrative as we continue on.  I hear the delight in her voice and it warms my heart.

I am a fool, sometimes, to fail to notice the beauty around me.  I have often said I need a good editor, and my darling daughter is better than she knows.  The world is fresh before her stained glass eyes, and so it comes to me.  All I need to do is open mine.

The trees alongside the road thin out as we approach the highway.  The sky is filling up with a white gold light.  I see it first, the full moon, Selene in all her aureate glory hovering just above the horizon.  I gasp.  She asks "Daddy, what?"

"It's a full moon, sweet pea.  Look at that!"

"Where?"  I point. She gasps, too, when she sees it.

"Daddy, it is full!  Look! Ooooo, it is so pretty!"

I catch a glimpse of her eyes in the rear view mirror, flashing in the glow of passing headlights.  For an instant, I understand the mystery.  I get her tidal pull, gravity tugging at the rivers of my veins, the ocean of my heart.  This pull will only get stronger as she gets older, and someday I will be the moon to her Sun.

But for now, all I can say is, "Yes, sweetie, it is full.  And so, so pretty."

11 December 2011

Sunday Meditation #11: Elusive Taste of Sweetness and God

A quirky mix of thoughts this evening.  My attention divided between the antics of my daughter, the haunting sense-memory of sorghum syrup, and the "nine billion names of God".  I cannot tell you clearly which mesmerized me more, although I concede that the edge goes to my daughter.  She is a thoughtful lass, but carries with her a playfulness that I allow may be my saving grace in this world.  We were watching Food Network on television, and she has a fascination with diner cuisine and far-out places.  She now wants to try goose and crème brûlée.  I have no quarrel with that culinary ambition.

Something on there inspired in me a hankering for sorghum.  I've not had it in years, and I think the Southern spirits in my palate are hungering for it yet again.  Having been contemplating renewing my old habit of baking a weekly skillet of corn bread, to be anointed with butter, the yen for sorghum was a given.  I found myself craving a hot slab of fresh cornbread, butter melting down the sides, and a generous lashing of the sweet syrup drizzled over all that goodness.  Simple pleasure.  In my mind, I was sitting at a rough wooden table, eating my corn bread by the light of a camp lantern.  At hand was a book I was reading.

While daydreaming of this communing with the senses, simple pleasure of a simple meal, the background hum of weeks of subconscious meditation sharpened into focus.  Awareness.  The realization of what had been on my mind, just out of awareness, ringing out like a temple bell.  The act of association: time with daughter = simple pleasure = knowing God.

How can this be?  I'm still determining what, if any, relationship I have with God.  Or Allah.  Or Jehovah, Yahweh, Krishna...certainly, It was not on my living room, not on my couch watching television with the blood of my blood!.  No, it was more convoluted than it appeared.  Shock. Knowing that I have been pondering this problem of the names of God.  Too much input from the Internet and television news.  Too many fractious messages, images of bigotry and hate, violence perpetrated in the name of a creator claimed to be known by so many, yet misunderstood by nearly all. 

In the name of God/Allah/Jehovah/Krishna...so much ignorance, division and hate spread throughout the world.  Using that which should unify us all (a benevolent force directed by Love) as a wedge to exclude, divide, separate.  To cut themselves off from the joy of this creation and living thoughtful lives filled with love.  To pretend We Are Chosen, and You Are Not.  This troubled me, this universal cutting off the nose to spite the face.  Messages of hate masquerading as acceptable opinions to be foisted on us as policies to guide our lives.  I thought of this all, wondering as I did at the impossibility of knowing all the names of God.

The impossibility of us claiming we know, and trying to force it upon those who observe this life through lenses not our own, and pretending this makes it right.

I wondered why so many waste their time and energy trying to convert everyone else to the justness of their cause and thereby spend a life in bitter discontent.  I wondered, because I knew then that I will never know all the names of God.  But more importantly, I knew and will know Love, if I care to listen to the laughter of my daughter, and recall the sweetness of the creation in a dollop of sorghum. 

06 December 2011

Magpie Tales 94: Meal Ticket

 Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

Before his eyes fogged over
Before his skull cracked the glass
Ed G. Spivey thought one last time
how much he hated the lights

Another grey sandwich served up
Banality between slices of ennui
crouched on the plate, expiring
between stale coffee and cheap talk

Ed G. Spivey bit into a life gone wrong
Spat it out under the greenish glare
of humming fluorescence, bursting vessels
laying him down in a corporate coffin

Lettuce boutonnière, tomato cravat
lights dimmed by the faceless hovering hive
Ed G. Spivey smiled, his last thought,
No more will I eat here again...

05 December 2011

There Is Hate In This World, And We Must Oppose It

I am fully aware that the Internet, like any medium of expression, is a place where the good, the bad and the downright ugly all bump against each other.  It is not a medium in which the easily offended should spend a great deal of time.  I am am not among the easily offended, but occasionally I come across something that disturbs me, especially because of the depths of its banality.  Consider the following image which I clipped from a screen shot of an effbook post I read.  The image has been redacted to remove names:

Note the headline at the top.  Also note that at the time of the screenshot, five people had already liked it.  What is worse, this was posted by someone whom I know to be a retired police officer who now works in a security or law enforcement capacity, dealing with the public at large.  Someone who should know better than most of us the consequences that can arise from implied violence.

This turned my stomach.  The casualness of it, the 'inside joke' joviality of it.  I find it repugnant to the point of near incomprehensibility that someone could feel good about displaying that to the world, and expect us to respect it as an "opinion".  It boggles the mind and sickens the heart.

This is a free country, yes, built on democratic principles.  People are allowed to have viewpoints.  I understand many feel concern, even anger and resentment towards foreigners and immigrants, both legal and illegal.  But the above message is disturbing and loathsome, not only in its presentation but in its message. It insults human beings based on their supposed literacy, although the ignorance of the creator of this sign shows in the statement about not being able to read English.  If a person can't read English, how are they supposed to know what the sign says at all?  

Much worse than alleged illiteracy, however, is the implication that outsiders who attempt entry into this country will be met with violence.  Not just random violence, but premeditated, firearm violence.  That is no rubber bullet gun, that's a rifle with a scope.  A rifle like that has only one purpose: killing people at long range.  And wouldn't the premeditated shooting of a person who has given no offense (the sign does not say that stepping over the border is illegal) considered by the courts to be homicide or attempted homicide?

I am having a hard time deciding what upsets me more, that it was posted by someone who had and has ethical and professional obligations to protect and serve the public or that other people liked it.  And on a highly public social media site, no less!

Is this what America is really about, xenophobia, paranoia and violence?  How someone could believe that the image is simply harmless fun is beyond me.  There is nothing funny about it.  It speaks to me of bigotry, pathological violence, hatred and ignorance.  If it speaks to me of such stains on the soul of America, then it speaks to the world of the same.  People who propagate such vileness have no right to be surprised that the world begins to meet them with disrespect, hatred, and violence of its own.  If the creators and admirers of such a sentiment want to live in a country of violence and hatred, they are free to do so but it will hopefully be a tiny country with only room for them.  I will not be within its borders.

04 December 2011

Sunday Meditation #10: Bellum Terra

Slightly troubled thoughts today, while completing chores and contemplating the world in which I live.  I have experienced unease and discord in disconcerting amounts, not by design but by circumstance.  A side effect, perhaps, of too much television and Internet.  The world is an unsettled place and it seeps in if we are not careful.

I considered this in my own mind, as I barked a curse at an inattentive driver today on the road.  I was running an errand on my way to lunch.  Hunger and impatience getting the best of me.  The temper flared and I said something that induced in me mild regret.  I know better that what I do, sometimes, yet I have been unable to entirely refrain from anger, spite, and irritation at my fellow humans.

Amusing, perhaps.  That ideal behavior is something we expect from pacifists and clergy folk, monks and nuns.  I am far from being any of those exemplars, yet I often expect myself to act as one.  I sometimes actively wish for the patience and beatitude one expects of saints.  Occasionally I manage the trick, if ever so briefly.  The sensation often catches me by surprise.  Alas, my self-awareness of it is the finger touching the soap bubble and POP! it is gone. 

Ah, I am digressing, in my own meditation.  Why does all of this matter?  What is the cause of this discord?  It occurred to me today, after reading too much news and inanity in the Internet, that much of it springs from the feeling that we live in a Land of War, an American bellum Terra.  Aggression is built into our culture, our patriotism, our propriety towards nations and neighbors.  Everything, even the simple act of our daily existence, is framed in terms of war, conflict, and competition.  The prevailing militancy and mean-spiritedness has turned everything into fight for survival, even when it is no such thing.

I meditated today on my own expressions of aggression.  I realized I had allowed the pettiness and selfishness of a few to infect and disrupt my own better nature.  I understood that some of the nameless dissatisfaction and formless irritation I felt was because I let it affect me.  I did something simple to reset my head.

I cut the grass in my yard.

For thirty-five minutes, nothing more was demanded of me than to push, cut, turn, and repeat.  It was a cool morning, and I warmed up quickly as I let myself be taken up by the task.  The working of muscles, the meter of the breathing, the intake of fresh morning air into my lungs:  this integration of mind and body brought me back together much like that moment at which the camera lens spins into focus, and the image is sharp before the eye.  I needed the physical action to knock my mental actions back onto a better track.

When I was done, I returned indoors and rested a bit.  My gut had relaxed, my mind was no longer roiled.  I felt a slight pang of shame in that I had allowed the world at large to pull me away from my better nature.  But I also felt so much better that I was able to come back.  The world, and the people in it, can make you mean, to be sure.  As to myself, lesson learned.  Serenity takes work, too, and it does not pay to let the selfish, the hateful, and the uncaring dictate the course of our actions.

I will never be a saint.  This is okay, I don't want to be a saint.  What I do want is to be a placidis hominum, (peaceful human) to those I love and those I meet.  In the land of war, peace is water for thirsty soil, and I have much to grow.

03 December 2011

Afternoon, On The Road

Feet treading brown leaves
Traveler smiles, not alone:
Shadow and hawk's cry

02 December 2011

That From Which The People Grow Their Bones

Sunset over the sea painted Tulimak's face in soft shades of salmon and peach.  It was cold but not unpleasant on the ridge line overlooking the water.  Small gauzy puffs of smoke marked the cook fires being kindled  below in the settlement.  The old shaman rocked back on his haunches, breathing deep and filling his lungs with salt tang and cedar.  The corners of his mouth lifted, the cracked leather of his lips bending in a smile.  It was good, he thought, to breathe so clean an air on his last day on earth. 

A black-backed gull hovered on the wind almost level with Tulimak's head.  The gull studied the human with a beady eye.  The shaman returned the seabird's gaze, grunting a low greeting to what would soon be a fellow traveler.  Soon, the shaman reminded himself, if he had marked his days properly and according to the lore handed down to him by the great Uqalik. Uqalik the Great, who himself had given his body to the earth so that the tribe would know and be reborn.  Tulimak smiled again as his fingers absent-mindedly touched the totem hanging on the sealskin thong tied about his neck. 

The totem was yellowed bone, taken from a mighty elk many summers ago and carved into the shape of a hare.  The shaman drifted into reverie, a waking hallucination of the day Uqalik had given the totem to Tulimak, on the great man's last day on earth; before Uqalik walked into the forest to dissolve into the earth.  Through the oculus of his mind's eye, Tulimak watched the broad back of the man recede into the green shadows, becoming smaller and smaller until finally the man had disappeared and in his place stood a large hare.  The hare turned to stare at Tulimak, the marbles of its eyes glossy black in the twilight.  It sniffed twice before turning back around to lope into the cedars.

Tulimak understood that on that day, he was no longer an ordinary man.  The totem had grown warm in his hand as if to signal the transfer of power.

The old man would have continued to dream had it not been for a cough behind him.  The dream cedars wavered and faded.  The cold air of the approaching night stung the shaman's cheeks.  His blocky head, which many in the tribe compared to an iceberg, swiveled on a neck corded with sinew as he turned to consider the young apprentice, Anuniaq, waiting for him a few paces away.  Tulimak smiled and beckoned the young man closer.  He reached into his anorak and pulled out a small, intricately carved bone flute.  Anuniaq's eyes widened at the sight of it.  Tulimak spoke.

"This flute is now yours, Seeker.  It is time for me to return to the earth, to dance with the hare and the raven.  Do you understand, boy?"

Anuniaq swallowed, too nervous to speak.  He nodded his head.

"Good," the shaman said.  "I go now to the cedars and the stones.  Remember me in the season of new life, when the rivers run high.  Remember me, so that the tribe may remember the earth."  Tulimak turned away before the lad could say anything, striding unhurriedly but with purpose towards the waiting cedars.  As he approached the trees, the transformation begin.  His skin slid over his bones, forearms and thighs shortening and bending.  He fell to all fours.  His fingers began fusing together, the nails dissolving into sharp black claws.  Speech slipped away on a lengthening jawbone, cracking and popping.  His new muzzle felt heavy, but good.

Tulimak grunted as he slipped away into the feathery shadows under the gently waving fronds of cedar. He did not look back at Anuniaq, who had brought the flute to his lips. The faint strains of the bone flute bade the wolf-man farewell. Tulimak sped into the forest and the soil closed in around him.  The music would be different in the next cycle when the mineral earth cast him up, wearing a new skin to call home.

Anuniaq played on under a sky gauzy with aurorae, slowly making his way down the hill.  The flute grew warm in his hands.  His heart was full of the earth, sky and sea, complete and eternal.

29 November 2011

Sitting Beside The Tracks, Waiting. The Crickets Hum.

I'm here.  Not doing much, but I'm here.  Good thing I brought a hat.  The November sun hits low in the cool air, but it can still burn me.  I am waiting beside the tracks for the train whose number I do not know.  I suppose I'll sit here a spell and wait for the shadows to lengthen over the hill.  A tunnel bores through the hill like a wide-open vein.

Metaphorically, you understand.  The reality is that I am sitting on my couch.  Sundown was three hours ago.  the quiet in the house is just what I need.  I'm a little confused that it is warm enough that I have some windows open to catch the breeze.  Post-holiday fatigue has set in, it is a shade lonely here at Casa Del Gumbo.

But I am waiting.  That is no metaphor.

I accomplished a lot today.  I'll spare your the tedium of my Domestic God triumphs, let's just say a lot of ducks and a lot of rows now march behind me.  The two things I did NOT get done, however, weigh on my big noggin.  Here's what I did not get done:

1) Find a job.
2) Write something truly edifying.

It's funny, right now I cannot decide which pains me more.  I managed to get a resume out the door, but the 22 others behind it?  Nothing.  As to the writing, dear readers,  I'm in a pickle.  This is the longest drought I think I've ever had.  It has me worried.  It also makes me tired.

I have this recurring image in my head of popping a cork from a bottle to pour something, only nothing comes out.  Except a puff of air.  And the tang of desperation.  So, the glass remains empty in this most quiet of Novembers.

It's deep fall in the woods by the river.  I hear its murmurs, faint and silvery as they filter up through the barren trees.  The rail bed gravel is warm beneath my haunches, a welcome buffer against the slow cooling of the air.  The air itself is tinged with watery gold as the sun goes down.  The mineral tang of rock embraces the dusty grass aroma of the weeds on the embankment.  A soft, steady breath of cold air wafts from the mouth of the tunnel as I peer into the gathering darkness in the middle.  The rails, twin seams of polished silver leading to a mouth of gold at the far end of the tunnel.  I stare into the gold, eyes owlish with fatigue.

I place my hands on the burnished metal rail in front of me.  It trembles ever so faintly, but I cannot tell if a train is coming, or the earth is sighing.  I remove my hands, and wait.

21 November 2011

From The Desk Of The Universe

A reminder, given to me:

Those places where you feel at home, and can be yourself?  Gifts.
Those people that make you feel at home, let you be yourself?  Also gifts.
The love that you have in your life?  Gift beyond price.

Respect the gifts.  Enjoy them in the spirit in which they are given, respond with gifts of your own.

Above all, give like your life depends on it.  Because?

It does.

15 November 2011

Pebbles in the Coffee Can

It's November and it would normally be colder than it is, but I will not quibble with the temperature outside that allows me to open my windows.  The faint susurrus of wind on the leaves is soothing.  It pleases me.  A train horn blares across the river, the mechanical din only sweetening the sounds of the night.  The storm inside my head finally breaks.

These mental tempests arise suddenly, linger far too long and always leave me drained and vaguely ashamed.  I know I should not feel that way.  The stresses and petty annoyances of life will always come and go.  To be wrapped up in them is a sure path to being a malcontent, as I know to my deep chagrin.

The day was a few clouds, a lot of sun and breeze.  The sky was pretty and the air inviting.  I had rattled around in the box that is my home for most of the day when I suddenly felt the walls closing in me.  It was time to leave.  I absconded to my favorite local park, for what I hoped to be a soothing meditation on walking around the lake.  It was not to be.  Too many distractions, too many stresses intruding on my mind.  Bills. Upcoming loss of health insurance.  Joblessness.  Being separated from those whom I love.  Feeling helpless in the face of strife.  I spiraled further down into a full-blown funk.

Not even the antics of the geese and golden sunlight could blow away the fog.

I came home and turned off the phone and the computer.  I opened the windows.  I took to the kitchen, hoping that chopping vegetables, making rice and stirring the pan would provide the balm I needed.  It worked, to a degree.  The meditative quality, the deliberation needed to do it right, both provided diversion.  As a bonus, I had a delicious dinner, too.  My own version of comfort food, though I have no name for the dish I made.

I watched the evening news as I ate, perched on the couch.  I held the heavy white porcelain bowl close, feeling the warmth of the peppers, chicken and rice seep into my hands.  Chewing became hypnotic.  The tension in my shoulders and neck began to ease.  The pervading metallic tang of  discontent fading in the simple act of chew and swallow.  I was mildly surprised when I looked down to see the bowl was empty.

Afterwards, I turned off the television.  I turned, as I often do, to write something.  The image I could not rid from my mind was that of pebbles in a coffee can, tumbling down a never-ending hill.  All the troubles, fears, and insecurities so many rocks banging against the container of my brain.

So I sat still, next to the open window by the dining table, and let the gentle hands of the wind massage my temples.  The din subsided.  I saw the coffee can come to rest, perhaps hard up against a tree or buffered by a thicket somewhere.  I sent up a small prayer of thanks.  The wind nods it head, and whispers sweet nothings.

13 November 2011

Sunday Meditation #9: River Run Free

Fair amount of walking this week.  White gold sunlight, crisp November air meant temptation to be outside in the creation instead of flinging myself at the walls that bind me in grayness.  It was breath, it was life, down by the tea-colored river.  A few hours of grace in which I offered up my thanks.

Ruminations while I walk.  The pub table in my head seats two figments who question in a slow-motion call and response.  I talk to myself, my skull an amphitheater.  Most of the time not spent taking photographs (in itself another form of questioning) I devote to the state of my union.  Unemployment having weighed down my thoughts, I cast them off to truly assess the current state of affairs.  It is good, sometimes, to do this.  Since I do not attend church (although I haven't forgotten about it) I walk in the chapel of nature, with trees as roof.  The rocks, leaves and water a floor fit for any soul.

The river is inescapable.  It knows what is in my heart, sussed out by silent conversations between my heart and the water over sand and stone.  On my walk, an observation: the dam is gone.  Gone.  How did I not see this on previous walks?  A whole dam, disappeared.  The concrete scar on the river demolished and taken away, leaving unsettled stone and new sand banks in its place.  Trees have been planted, young trunks upheld by plastic tubes the color of dirty milk.  On the north bank, a crumbling concrete sluice lies filled with soil.  The rusting cogs and beams on top stand in mute testimony to the new violence perpetrated on a river that simply wants to be left alone to pursue its course.

I stand under a sky filled with oyster light, on the railroad tracks above the river.  I watch the water fulfill its aqueous nature.  A broad smile blooms on my bewhiskered face as the river flows into my heart.  I know now.  I know.  The river is joyful because it is freer now, flowing where it is supposed to flow.

As does the love in my heart.  There was a dam, inside, a Gordian knot of fears, anxieties, insecurity and timidity.  But somewhere back there, in the fullness of this very trying year the dam cracked.  It broke.  The pent-up waters of love burst forth from the reservoir of my sore heart and began to race down the valley of my soul.  It feels good, this enlightenment.  It feels good.

I know why the river sings of joy.  There is no path so satisfying as that which one is meant to follow, and the river, in its contentedness, knows this.  Now, so do I.  I feel the path that sings to me of home, and I follow.  I follow love.

10 November 2011

Rebirth of the Shaman

Crouched on cold mesa,
Shaman smiles, sun rising on
forty-six winters

08 November 2011

Stumbling Around The Block

This is serious, folks.  This is the worst case of writer's block I've had in three years.  The weather is foggy in my head.  I cannot figure out how to make it lift.

I know this is a first-world problem, and it doesn't threaten to destabilize anything else in my life.  So I am grateful for it to be so.  It does have me troubled.  I like to write.  Writing has come to mean much to me, catharsis, therapy, creative fulfillment, quiet joy.  Exploring the Cave of Wonders that is my head provides me with heat and light for the soul.

The hearth is getting cooler.  The fire is burning low.  In the little cottage of my heart, I lie on the bunk huddled under blankets and watch the tiny flames sputter and dim.  I want to arise and throw more wood on the embers, but the bin is empty save for a few twigs and a scrap of bark.  Wind knocks on the door, beckoning me outside to forage for fuel.

But it is warm here under the blankets, and I am tired.

05 November 2011

Contender Blues

The bubble popped and I snapped awake.  Years, gone, and where did I wake up?

I had one of those moments today, of ennui spiced with dislocation, and a dash of mild anxiety.  It was induced by a chance encounter via email.  The email came from a professional networking website and it was chock full of catalysts and memory triggers in the form of "what-have-you-done-since..." blurbs.  The past come back to nag me.

The feeling of being underwater has been intense in the nearly four weeks since I was let go from the job.  Some days I wander around immersed in the sensation.  I put it aside most of the day, as I had my darling daughter  with me, and it was good.

But that email brought it all back.  I scrolled through the page, looking at all the people who had been somewhere and done something and it was at the end of it that the bubble popped.  I started as if awoken while sleepwalking.  It took me a brief pause to collect myself to remind me that I was on the couch staring at the laptop screen.  I was home.

Home, and wondering just what it is that I had been doing all these years.  Picking through the battered scrap heap of my career life to try and piece together that which I could point to and say: I Did This, And I Am Wonderful.  The pickings, it seemed to me, were too thin.

Leaning back into the sofa cushions all I could think was that I need to get my stuff together.  I need to do something worthwhile and soon, as I have metaphorically been sawing off the limb behind myself.  Its only a matter of time before that limb cracks.  I need to hurry.

I need to rev the engine, pop the clutch and damn the torpedoes.  I need to get somewhere, fast.

04 November 2011

On Not Caring About The Trial Of Conrad Murray

Holy smokes, people.  It's Day 4 of November and this is the first post of the month for me.  I'm slacking.  And tired.  And still looking for a job.  Okay so there is a lot going on that I haven't been prodigious with the production lately.  Too bad my first of the month is a rantlet.  Gotta get it out of my system, though.

As many of you know, I was let go from my job back in the first week of October.  While I have been very busy with job hunting (and a personal endeavor, more of which later) it is also true that I have had more time during the day to do things not job related.  Unfortunately, one of those things is watching television.

Daytime television.  Gah.

One thing that has been getting on my nerves, because it seems inescapable, is the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray.  It's so all over the media that I won't bother with a link here.  Come on, folks, its the Internet 24-hour news cycle world now.  Stuff like this trial is a fast-growing fungus.

To put it simply, I don't give a good damn about the trial.  I can't care any less about this whole mess.  I don't want to care any more, I'm fed up with the news covering it like it is some world-shattering event.  I even saw one web "news" outlet covering it like it was a sporting event, a goddamn baseball game complete with metaphors and cliches.

Really, people?  A man is accused of causing another man's death by drug overdose, and you use phrases like "It's the bottom of the ninth" now that the jury has to decide?  With all the economic uncertainty, the joblessness, the wars, unstable political situations and governments on the verge of meltdowns, this is what the media thinks is so important we need round-the-clock updates?

What's the meme say? "I don't want to live on this planet anymore!"

The only people this trial truly matters to are the families of Dr. Murray and Michael Jackson.  The trial itself, and the verdict especially, will have no material effect on the vast majority of the humans on the face of the planet.  Their families are no more and no less important than anyone else on earth.  To push this sad tale to the forefront of our collective consciousness is repugnant at worst and criminally boring at best.

Nothing in this trial would have done, nor will it ever do, anything to make my life better.  The same goes for everyone else.  It will not enhance the quality of life for all citizens.  There are overwhelming issues of vaster importance than the sad death of a talented, troubled pop star and the enablers who may have unwittingly killed him.  It is only worsened when pop culture tries to shove it down our throats, to force us to care for the sake of ratings and gossip.  I, for one, refuse to open my jaws.

Here endeth the rant.

30 October 2011

Magpie Tales 89: Enemy of the State

Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

The meatheads from the Ministry of Information came for me, as they came for everyone they disappeared, at four o'clock in the morning.  Predictable and laughable, to those of us who knew we would get caught, eventually.  The secret police was hung up on outmoded aspects of psych-ops, left over from the wars, that said humans are at their most vulnerable just before dawn.  A load of shite, we said.  After all, we had lived under the clumsy thumb of the Premier for all our lives, and we stopped feeling vulnerable and became numb.

There they were that frosted October morning.  The small flotilla of chunky black limousines pulling up to the curb out front, silent and slick like oil spilling into the gutter.  The thunk of the doors closing was faint but I heard them.  I was in the basement in my usual habit, having been up for an hour already, too anxious to sleep.  Sitting in the semi-secret closet-turned-study behind the furnace, I was chain-smoking and piecing together the next piece of samizdat for the upcoming protests.  The dank little room with its single bare bulb had been my secret home for years.  I had stapled insulation to the door long ago to muffle the click-clack of the contraband typewriter I had smuggled in shortly after moving in.  I was banging away on the keys when I heard the clatter of boot heels on the wooden stairs.

The typewriter had been my own personal joke, a sharp stick in the ribs of the State.  Computers, laptops, smart phones were all the rage now.  The Ministry had focused so sharply on the electronic revolution I reckoned they would never suspect broadsides from a pre-digital relic.  And I was right.

For years they had chased me, always wondering, never grasping the motivation behind the typewritten pages.  They could not fathom why anyone would do such a thing when smart cards and an Internet connection was so much faster and pernicious.  They never understood how I had rigged up my own ribbons from spools of tailor's trim, the ink a home-made mess of Vaseline and carbon black from candle wicks. The blot on the nacreous concrete of the basement wall a testament to a bottle of the ad hoc ink thrown in a moment of panic and frustration, that night so long ago when the apartment next door had been raided.

They never understood.  They never will understand.  The revolution will not be accomplished by machines.  The revolution will only happen because people are behind those machines, even the relic I had poured my life into; this was the joke, you see.  The typewritten pages were all one elaborate joke that the blind leviathan called the State was too dim to see.

Just as the bullet leaves the gun because a finger squeezes the trigger, Truth leaves the pen because a human heart made it so.  Like water wearing down a stone, truth will wear down tyranny.  And truth is not produced by machines.

Their was a sharp rap on the door.  The insulation jumped, peeling a little further off the door. An iron voice.

"Bellensky!  We know you are there!  It is best that you come with us, peacefully!"

My mouth opened in a silent laugh.  They still had no idea of my real name.  I placed my last cigarette between my lips, bent to the desk to rummage in the drawer.  The cold metal grip of the pistol felt electric in my hand.  the magazine was full.  I swiveled the chair about to face the door.

"Come in, komissar, come in!" I exclaimed jovially, "I wish nothing more than a polite discussion of the truth!"

Planting my feet firmly on the gritty, stained floor, I leveled the pistol at the door and watched the lever turn.  The revolution, I thought, starts now.

26 October 2011

Chancellor of the Exchequer

She knows, this blue-eyed wonder that is my progeny.  She knows because I have told her that I lost my job and I do not have much money now.  It hits home when you have to explain that there won't be as many trips to the bookstore or the zoo.

Although, it is impossible to resist that look of glee when ice cream is suggested.  I have been unable to refuse Her Royal Cuteness on that score.

For her, it is visceral on an elementary level.  Daddy hasn't enough money equals fewer books.  For me, it is visceral in that it strikes right into my gut.  Always.  My gut has always been reluctant to play nice.  In times of stress that translates into physical reactions that go beyond the typical low-grade grumble.  It is a trait I dislike about myself.  It limits my effectiveness, flexibility and on the worst days, my ability to be a cheerful human being.

This reared its head not long ago, on a sunny Saturday with my daughter.  She was with me for her regular weekend visit, and the time had come for us to runs some errands.  Foremost on my mind was a run to the bank, to deposit the next to last bits of income I may have for a while.  Grateful that I had something, my stomach was also churning, gnashing at itself as I thought of the great black void of no money into which I was about plunge headlong.  I was gathering up my papers when Wee Lass asked if we could take the change from her sheepy bank (its a sheep, not a pig) and count it.  Of course, I said yes.

Mind you, the sheep was full.  Crammed full.  So full I had begun to stack the change on the nightstand next to it.  More coins would not fit, as I had been saving all my change for her.  Every day in over the past year on which I brought home change I had placed the coins in her bank.  My idea was to set up an account for her, in which extra change and possibly allowance could be deposited.

This was to be hers, and hers alone.

We took the coins with us, and I deposited what I had into my account first.  We then went to the coin counting machine, whereupon Wee Lass took great delight in dumping and scooping all the change into the hopper.  Holy moly, there was so much change.  By the time it was done, she had racked up over two-hundred bucks.  We were ecstatic.

I told her that for now we would leave it in my account, and when I had more time, I would set up her own personal account, from the proceeds of the saved change.  I let her know that I would have to come back later to get that done.  She looked up at me.

"Daddy, you can keep it."
"Sweet pea, no, that's all yours to keep."
"It's okay, daddy, you can keep it because I know you don't have much money right now."

I knelt down right there, in the foyer of the bank.  My bottom lip was trembling and I could feel the tears starting up in the corners of my eyes.  I bit the inside of my cheeks.  I had no desire to break down in a public venue, but this was tough.

"Are you sure?  That money is yours."
"It's okay, you can give it to me later."

I hugged her, tight.  Here was this amazing kid, this sweet daughter of mine lending me money. I thought my heart was going to burst. I didn't what else to say other than to thank her and tell her that I love her.  You can bank on this: no matter what, there will always be two hundred dollars in my account.  Always.

And my heart will ever be full of love for this wonderful creature who graces me with the moniker of "Daddy".

20 October 2011

Glistening Edges

So you may have guessed by now, I haven't felt much like writing lately.  A few random bursts here in October, plus some handwritten stuff in my little black notebooks (for me, not thee, at this time) and in a new journal I'm keeping.  The streak is over, too, last entry for my More Than A Year Of Daily Writing went up on October 8th.  Officially I topped out at 375 straight days of posting.  Not sure how I managed that.

But mostly, I haven't felt the ambition to write.  Most of the ideas I've had I decide really weren't that blog-worthy, and for the remainder I haven had little energy to pursue them.  I have been too tired to return replies, as my poor record with responses to everyone will indicate.  It's because of the "cold black space with the glistening edges"* that has broken open my personal space-time continuum: getting laid off, the subsequent job search and the attendant money crisis created thereby.

This particular black space has not taken complete control of my life, but its presence is sucking up a lot of energy and attention.  It makes me tired.  I have to crank up the personal PR machine, again, start "rebranding" myself again, and it inflicts upon me great vexation.

I know I am capable, and smart, and good at what I do.  I'm also tired of having to explain that over and over.  It's draining and does no good for my morale.  Fighting for balance and security so frequently, well, that is no way to live a life.  I am not really a magician, and my hat may be out of rabbits.

The upside is I have people who love me, who care about me and are helping me in ways practical and spiritual.  I truly would not be able to sustain myself without their help.  I am grateful for the support, emotionally and otherwise. There are other things I am grateful for, too, including the many readers I have here on Irish Gumbo, and I may write a little more about that stuff later.

For now, I'm going to get some rest, and say thanks to all those who believe in me.  Thank you.

*Bonus points and a Gumbo high five if you can tell me the song from which that lyric was taken, and the band.

16 October 2011

Small Things 02: Fall and Light

October 15th, 2011, 4:45 PM.  Fall afternoon for the books.

Today, looking out my dining room window through which a gentle breeze was blowing, I was enraptured by the light.  Cerulean sky, white-gold light, and I gave my gratitude for witnessing both.

I know what beauty is, and I am grateful.

15 October 2011

During Wartime, Rationing Is To Be Expected

It's silly, I know, this tendency of mine to ascribe pragmatic rationalization to what is really dessert.  For fuck's sake, what is wrong with me?  Can one extra cookie really be a sump of guilt?

The problem is that three cookies are enough.  Only three.  Not more, not less.  And those three cookies are to be eaten after dinner.  No exceptions.  To do otherwise is to break the rules (the rules, the rules, goddamn rules) and those who break rules can expect to be shunned.

It was early evening.  The light fades faster this time of year.  Dinner was over, and my sweet tooth was mumbling to me as I wiped down the counters and stove.  I laid the towel on the counter below the cabinets.  Up high, top shelf in the wall cabinet next to the microwave was the box of cookies.  Taking it down, I noticed how light it felt.  Empty or nearly so.  I peeled back the cover.  There were four cookies left.  Four.

Damnation.  My mind reeled.  I felt dizzy.  I wanted dessert.  I couldn't possibly eat four cookies, when three was the rule.  Something broke and I lifted a cookie to my mouth.

It was during the war that I stood in my kitchen and broke the rules.

13 October 2011

Select Carefully Your Mood Music

Gray skies, cool breezes and rain late in the day.  Had my windows open from morning into night.  They still are, and the crickets murmur of everything and nothing.

Ordinarily I dig these kinds of days.  Today was no exception, up to a point.  That point was up until those small shadows detached themselves from the clouds overhead and came down to settle around my heart.  The rain was floating them.  Listening to "It's A Shame About Ray" by the Lemonheads did me no favors.

Raindrops and Ray sounded too much like angst and regret.  That is a soundtrack I can do without. 

12 October 2011

Small Things

Tonight, I am grateful for toast, and butter to put on it.  I bow my head before the toast.

08 October 2011


Hibiscus blossom,
Trembling in white morning light
Ah, hah! Big bee! Ouch!

07 October 2011

Of Axes and Impossibilities

This post wrote itself.  Not literally, of course.  I, me, the person who is at the keyboard did the work.  The central idea, however, was ready made.

I was let go from my job today.

Third time in three years.  I must say, it is a song and dance I am mighty sick of doing.  The timing is never good, but it is absolutely horrible for me right here and now.  I am quite short in a key resource, and the steady paycheck was necessity not nicety; no fat margins for me.  Hell, no real margin at all.

I say "was".  Reality? It is a necessity, a fact driven home to me when I sat down to take stock.  The stock, sad to say, was a bit thin.


I don't know what the next step may be.  I've been an architect all of my adult life.  This is the sixth time in that span that I have been laid off.  You might think the universe is trying to tell me something.  The problem, the crux of this dilemma, is that I really don't know what to do next.

That's a hell of a thing for someone who is trained as a professional problem solver.


Where now?  And did you know that, coincidentally, I began blogging three years and a day ago?  Interesting.  Trivial.  Useless, maybe, as a fact.  But interesting.


Where do I go now?  I don't know.  I just don't know.  I'm fleeing axefalls and running headlong into impossibilities.  It's going to take some magic.

06 October 2011

Bitter Apples

So Steve Jobs has passed away.  How about that.

Another businessman has left this mortal coil, and our lives go on as they were.  I'm confident even those addicted to their shiny things will be fine.

I feel sympathy for his wife and kids, his family, his friends.  They knew him best, some of them even loved him, I am sure.  Smart guy, had some big ideas and wicked good business acumen.

But this isn't the death of some techno-Jesus, a silicon messiah spreading the computer gospels.  While he accomplished noteworthy things, in the end its all toys, and the flash and dazzle doesn't save anyone from dying. 

Don't worry, you "fans" of apples, life will go on, and you will be okay.

05 October 2011

Walls Within

An ordinary Tuesday night, and I was mildly bent out of shape over a snippet of douchebaggery I heard about on the news.  By now you've probably heard about the mental belch emitted by Hank Williams, Jr. regarding his idiotic and odious comparison of Barack Obama to Hitler.  Please note he said he was sorry that the remark offended some people.  He didn't say he was sorry to have said it in the first place.

Anyway.  This irritation I was feeling threatened to ruin my evening so I pushed myself to think of something else, something more constructive.  So I got to thinking about walls.

Walls.  The walls we build around ourselves, the ones we build around our hearts and in our minds.  To protect and to defend, to keep out the hurt.  And which can inadvertently keep out the help.

So as I cooled off and backed away from the rant that was forming in my head, I mused a little more on the walls I'm tearing down and the bridges I will build out of the fortress of my heart.  I wondered what it takes to truly overcome the bricks and stones of our souls, and how we return ourselves to the world.

I wondered, how will you tear down your walls, so I can see the true and wonderful you?

04 October 2011

Between Everything and Nothing

October 1st, 2011. 9:52 p.m.  Cool, rainy, quiet.  In other words, almost perfect.

This weather makes me want to smoke.  I don't know why.  Tobacco smoke makes me physically ill, and I loathe the smell of it.  Yet here I am envisioning myself with ciggie in hand, massaging my temples and blowing a thin stream of second-hand out through my nostrils.  That will not do.  Not tonight, not ever.  I shake my head a few times to make the feeling go away.  All at once, I am tired.

This house is quiet, much quieter than I can recall any other place in which I have lived.  The last place that approached the level of quiet here must have been my boyhood home; both houses have masonry walls.  It has been decades since I have lived at length inside the ones in which I grew up.  The neighborhoods are similar and they both possess their own peculiar quiet.  My current one seems to have a bit of an edge.  Or perhaps it is my imagination only.

This room I am coming to enjoy.  It is the largest bedroom I have ever called my own.  The room in which I slept in my old house was larger, but I rarely was alone in there.  Psychically, my current room seems expansive because it is just me.  Well, me, memories and anticipations.

Rain falling.  I turned off the air conditioner yesterday.  Tonight, I leave the fan off so I can soak up the imperfect silence.  I hear that rain through open windows, gentle hiss on the leaves and grass, backed up with a faint chorus of crickets.  The sound lulls me.  Soothing whispers borne down to earth on the breath of angels.  There is no straining to listen.  There is no need to work so hard.  It is enough to lay still, and listen.

The rain falls.  I lay back on my pillows with my eyes drooping shut from the lassitude of the day.  In doing so, the rain sound intensifies.  The reduction of one sense, sight, allows for the sharpening of another, hearing.  Laying here, slowly melting into my bed, I listen carefully, and relaxed.  Drops of water strike the earth, the window glass, the eroded edges of the wood fence in the side yard.  The feather force of the drops pings the gongs of my heart and soul.

Rain speaks, it whispers in unhurried consultation with the night.  I lean toward the sound.  Water makes holes in the breeze to tell me that between everything and nothing lies love.  I dream of walking straight and narrow between them, hands outstretched, and am filled with the warm embrace of knowledge, of knowing that this room in which I lay will not always seem so big.

03 October 2011

Magpie Tales 85: Dream of the Disaster Relief Engineer

Image via Tess at Magpie Tales

Thirty five years in the business
Cleaning up diabolical messes
He lay abed in a mess of his own
Veins occluded by whispers of Morpheus

Harrisburg, Pripyat, Fukushima,
Ionization writ in the blood and bones
In fevered sleep he breathed, laughed:
Unlikely angel come to carry him home

02 October 2011

Sunday Meditation #8: Water Through Stone and Tree

September 11th, 2011, along the Patapsco River.  Morning, standing on railroad tracks.

For the first time in a long time I was just far enough away from the roads and the machines of modern life that I could truly hear the sounds of nature.  The river was some tens of yards away, and the valley was thick with green leaves.  It was some minutes before it sank in to my head that the only sounds I could hear were my breathing, the crunch of boots on gravel, the trill of water over rocks and the cries of birds out in the trees.  I stopped to consider this small miracle.

I was on my way to the ruins of an abandoned hospital for a photo shoot.  The path I took to get there was along the rail line that followed the river.   The route took me across a bridge and through a short tunnel bored under a small hill.  The tunnel was made of brick, stone and concrete, constructed in 1903.  I was slightly nervous approaching the tunnel.  As short as it was, I had the small fear that a train would come along as I was in the middle of it.  It was wide enough to step safely away from the tracks, with small niches in the brick for a person to stand, presumably out of range of coal smoke and steam back in the early days.

I hurried through, just the same.

It was as I approached the far end of the tunnel that I heard it all.  Drip, drip, drip.

Water was seeping through the arched roof overhead.  Small puddles on the rail ties, glimmering like mercury in the light shining in from outside.  I slowed down a little to watch my footing.  As my breathing slowed, my hearing became more acute.  There, I heard it!

It was a hawk, keening from the trees ahead.  Its sharp cry put all other sounds in sharp relief.  My pace slackened further as I stepped out in to the silvery daylight from the overcast sky.  The hawk cried again, and I could hear the river murmuring sweet nothings to the rocks over which it flowed.  I ceased walking, and stood still.

I could hear the blood rushing through my ears.  A faint rustling from the trees as a small breeze blew.  I could not see the sun, the clouds were opaque, but its presence was known.  Another cry from the hawk.  I stood and listened, to the water through stone and tree.  I heard no cars, no planes, no raised voices.

I heard peace.

01 October 2011

Powdered Rusk

September 30th, 2011, 9:55 p.m.  The Wee Lass sleeps, I am alone in a cool room. The night surrounds.

It has been a year of posts for me, yesterday, to be exact.  365 days of posting once a day.  A record for me I never intended to set, but once it came close I could not stop.  It is good exercise, but it has left me exhausted in a creative sense.  But I couldn't stop.  Perhaps I should take a break, soon, revitalize and get some other things done.  Tend to the garden, as it were.

It was made clear to me tonight, as I was wiping down the kitchen counters.  I could see some bread crumbs scattered on the laminate, a wheaten corona around the humble silver carcass of my toaster.  I realized I had not emptied the crumb tray in weeks, so I moved the toaster towards the leading edge of the counter in order to clean it.  I slid the tray from its slot, and was amazed.

Two thin sheets of metal, a forked tongue in the mouth of the miniature dragon that browns my bread.  They were obscured by a thick layer of parched crumbs, the detritus of multiple mornings of making toast.  I considered briefly storing them in a jar in the vain hope I would remember to use them in a sauce or maybe to coat some fish for frying.  But then I remembered how long it had been.  There was probably dust in there, and some of the crumbs were so hard it might have been like eating sand.  I tossed the crumbs in the rubbish bin, feeling slightly sad.

Those crumbs stayed on my mind as I sat down and tried (not) to write.  My mind, a wetware toaster cranking out thoughts golden brown, crispy and hot.  My crumb trays are getting full, though, and I need to empty them out.  I let you know if I find any thing worth saving, amongst the dry and carbon black bits scattered on the bottom of my mind.

30 September 2011

Ask and Ye Shall Receive, One Hopes

What would it be like, to not ask questions?  To not be curious?  There is no time in my life after puberty that I can recall not being inquisitive.  I don't mean questioning of the rapid-fire "daddywhyistheskyblue?" type questioning.  I've always been a quieter, observe-and-research type asker of questions.

Why do birds do that?
Why do leaves turn red?
How does an eddy form in the water behind a rock?
What do people hear in the music of Kesha that makes them want to listen to it?

Why is the sky blue?  (I do known the answer to that one.  Now.)

Being a questioner is strongly correlated with being a thinker.  And so it is with me.  I am wont to think.  Lately, I have been thinking a lot about love.  Love always brings up questions, does it not?  One question that I've been ruminating on a lot is this:  Why love?

I'm sure this is a question that we can attempt to answer, we may think we have an answer, but ultimately cannot really be answered.  I entertain the notion that rather than try to answer it, it is best to just live it.

Is that enough?  Will that do?  Tell me, for you: Why love?

29 September 2011

Cool Room

Rooms with a bed or a couch,
I like them cool,
especially on summer nights
that feel like fall nights
because I can open the windows
turn off the air conditioning
listen to the music of the night
feel the breeze on my skin
and imagine it to be the hands of a lover
a lover for me
who likes the cool room
where we can stay together
building that cool room
in the center of our hearts

28 September 2011

Petals of Silver Halide

There are fragments, shards,
emulsified drifts and stacks of paper
opalescent eyes in black/white,
smile an eclipse of the sun

Across the room, not daring to sit,
his gaze an offering of loyalty
upon an altar sacrificed,
his love ambered in silver halide

27 September 2011

Little Mirrors, Big Reflections

September 13, 2011, 8:20 p.m.  Home.  Drinking tea and thinking.

Living alone, as I do now, has not been easy.  It is easier than it was when I first was thrown into it, yes, but some days it grates.  No, not grates.  That isn't quite the word I sought.  Let me rephrase it:  Some days, it exhausts.  It wears down.  Today was like that.  The weariness started, as it often does, at work.  One too many repetitive questions over things I had considered settled, another iteration of not being allowed to do my job without undue interference.  Sparing the details, it is difficult to manage when the second guessing and redirection starts.

Anyway.  That is not exactly the topic at hand.

I left work feeling quite drained, a physical state that induces in me a tendency to ponder.  True to form, the wheels in my head were turning almost as fast as the wheels on the car taking me home.  I considered what I do, and my reactions to things, and how I ended up where I am in life.  And I wondered how much was fated and how much would be different had I just paid more attention and stood up for myself more often.

I thought about this, because I wondered about the incredible creature who is my daughter, and what she will be like when she gets older and has to make increasingly difficult choices in her life.  Choices that will have material effects on the person she will become and the life she will lead.  This led me to saying out loud to myself "I hope she doesn't turn out like me".

The hardness of the truth in that whopper was matched only by its utter absurdity.  I then laughed at myself, because why on earth would I say such a thing?  More importantly, why would I believe such a thing?

The truth of it is, I do hope that my daughter doesn't turn out like me.  I don't want her held in thrall to a sometimes crippling lack of self-confidence, or gripped by the sudden bouts of social awkwardness that occasionally sink their claws in to me.  I hope she doesn't fail at standing up for herself, as much as I have on some occasions in the past.

I don't want her to be steamrolled by doubt.

I know by objective measures my life and the way I live it isn't so bad.  My sense of self is in much better shape than it has been in a long time.  I hope I am being successful at showing my daughter how to be strong, how to be balanced in life.  I can't say I'm perfect, but I do hope I'm good.

That way, maybe my daughter will grow up to be better than me.  I have all confidence in her...but it's me that still has things to learn, too.

26 September 2011

Ruben Finally Gets It

Raised blade against stubble
for the last time, he thought,
just like last time
agates of his eyes tracking
a leather mask, the map
of himself marked by rivers
in canyons carved by her

Blade scrapes the land
flattening hills and opening wells,
tungsten glare illuminating
the broken heart behind the eyes
that realized in all those years
of wanting to shave for her
she never once deigned to ask

25 September 2011

Sunday Meditation #7: On The Vibrance of Sweet Pea Vines

Saturday morning, September 10th, 2011.  Yard work.

Did not shower this morn before heading out to do yard work.  The promise of a warm day and hard work meant being dirty and sweaty before 10:00, a prophecy that came true.  High grass in the back yard, glazed with dew that turned my boots dark after a few steps.  Little droplets of cool silver fleck my ankles and calves.  The sensation brought back memories of summer mornings long ago, when I was a boy.  Those first few glorious minutes outside when the air was still just cool enough, with a hint of the heat to come.  There were birds, too.

This morning the birds were singing an alternating chorus, the warbles and trills rotating from bush to tree to bush to tree, ringing the backyard with a rotating flight of sound.  Bees among the hibiscus, I heard their low hum as I passed on my way to the shed.  Large bees, ravishing the snowy flowers in pursuit of pollen.  They seemed too large to be average honeybees, their fuzzy bodies dusted with the fruits of their labors.  The activity made me smile.

Toolshed.  Faint aroma of cool, wet wood.  I gathered up the saws and clippers I'd need, and the wheelbarrow.  The little chain saw purchased earlier in the spring rode in the wheelbarrow.  An electric battery-powered model, it isn't big or fierce, but suits my needs for now.  It was on the way back to the house that I saw the sweet pea vines twining in the fences at the corners.  They were bright, deep blue, little pools of indigo splashed on the aged silvery wood, blue eyes peeping from amongst the electric green leaves.  I stopped, and caught my breath.

Flowers graced my fences.  These things happen, and we explain by biology and cellular chemistry, of the cycles of growth and death and growth outlined in textbooks.  Our heads accept that flowers come from plants come from seeds come from soil come from weather and geological processes.  But none of those really matter, not when faced with such beauty and small graces.  This I know.  I went out to work in the sun and shade, and found my favorite color daubed on the fences I had taken for granted.  I was humbled and pleased.  That beauty exists, for us all, is the lesson I learned.

24 September 2011

Living In The Synapse

An odd phenomenon here on the People's Republic of Gumbolia.  I had approached the computer with vigor and purpose, certain I had a gem of story to tell, and when I sat down to write it, it disappeared.  This pleases me not.  I felt no need to reach for a notebook, because I was convinced the story would make it to the page.

I was wrong.  I should have known better.

This happens to me on a regular basis, that I have a great idea, only to have it vanish.  Well, who knows if it was great, if I can't write it down for all to see.  Not to worry, I suppose.  It's Saturday, the weekend is in full swing.  Perhaps I'll live a little...then come back to tell the tale.

23 September 2011

Puzzle Box

The crickets an orchestra
whilst hands flutter and wave
turning the idea of the heart
over and over in figures
the mind ticks and grinds,
overheated gears and cogs
churning to spit answers
it never quite has, so,
dry coughs, ermms and uhs
and Huh! What to do?
Puzzle box holds true  life
but the mind can't get it open

22 September 2011

They Found A Body

I turned on the news for the first time in a fortnight, to catch myself up on happenings and doings in the world, at home and abroad.  I guess I learned something, but it took very little time for me to regret the decision, just a bit.  They found a body, you see, another lost soul in the woods.

I realize this type of news is not really a surprise.  I should not be taken aback by that which is so commonplace as to be near background chatter.  At least, when the body in question does not appear to be rich and famous, or involved in a scandal, or running a government.  Or all of those.  The reporters droned on in a near monotone, inflection hardly changing as they went through the copy on the teleprompter.  Was that boredom I heard?  Ennui?  A hint of exasperation at having to read yet another story about yet another apparent victim of foul play?  Maybe.  It sure sounded like it.

So they read the story, and I'm waiting for the...punch line?...tag line?...the thing that is going to tell me why this is significant enough that it must be reported on the evening news.  Just like that, they are done.  Then it was "Sports, up next!".  I stopped what I was doing and stared at the television.  They had just reported on a dead body found in the woods, and all they said, in essence, was 'dead body found in woods'.

No name.  No circumstances.  Nothing.  Even the police hadn't released a name.  Next-of-kin notification came into play, yes, but why not tell the kin before putting it out there on the evening news?  The report was remarkably information-free.  If the point was to make people aware so they could come forward if they knew something, the attempt was a failure.

I feel a little diminished that a human being has perished through violence; barbarism of that sort diminishes us all.  At the same time, the blandness and anonymity of the story makes me think there are times where it isn't worth reporting at all, at least not until more is known.  I no longer wish to have little pieces of me eroded by a corporate approach to life, that reduces the death of a person to mere data.

Body found in woods.  But they didn't find a name, and I still wonder who knows it.

21 September 2011

The Tao of Harrison

I owe a very special thanks to my good friend Rich, who writes a column called 'Popular Forensics' over at Open Case .com, for giving me directions that lead to the following quote:
Shortly after Dave killed himself, I reread “How Men Pray,” and I remember wondering whether, in the midst of Dave’s torment, he might have found consoling Harrison’s belief that a writer is someone who “consciously or unconsciously takes a vow of obedience to awareness.” Perhaps he would have smiled at Harrison’s belief that the writer’s gift, and curse, is one of “excessive consciousness.”
It is from an article in OutsideOnline, written by Tom Bissell about one of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison.  The article is longish for online material, but its very good.  I recommend it for the curious.  I don't often buy into coincidence, but that last phrase of "excessive consciousness" made my jaw drop.

I read that, and for a few moments, I truly believed that I might, after all, truly be a writer.

20 September 2011

Another Train Song

A busy day for moi, le President-For-Life of the People's Republic of Gumbolia, and I am winding down.  It feels good to stop, sometimes, and just rest or let the heart have its lead.  A hurried dinner of reheated last night's fettucine Genovese (from a local eatery), then it was out the door to cut the grass before it was too dark to see.  I finished my grass cutting adventures tout de suite, and then indulged in the luxury in a little websurfing time wasting.  I really hadn't wanted anything more.

I skimmed a lot of stuff, some fluff and some weightier material.  It was while reading that I became aware of just how tired I felt, and how quiet the house seemed.  The quiet was not unexpected, the weather has been mild enough the past four or so days that the air conditioning has been off the entire time.  Open windows and comfortable night air, along with a serenade of crickets.  Very serene.

For some reason I began to wonder about an issue that has been nagging me for quite some time, and that in the form of a question:

Why are so much of human relations tied up in the exercise of power?

It deflated me.  I felt wearier than before.  The deluge of information I had been absorbing, reading the news and op-ed pundits and lifestyle snippets...and it all seems to go back to power.  Who has power over whom.  Whom is getting power.  Exercising power over others as a form of social climbing and ego gratification.  Even who has power in that most basic of human relationships: that of being in love.

From those struggling against the ruling power structure, both malignant and benevolent (benevolent, at least, from outward appearances) all the way down to who is trying to leverage whom in bed,  the majority of the world seems to be addicted to power: acquiring, enhancing, wielding, amassing.

It never seems to stop.  The subtle corrosions of it seem to have infiltrated all levels of human interaction.  Some forms of it I can understand and accept, but much of it just makes me sad.  I have very little interest in power, and even that is primarily limited to the effort I have to take in order to keep others from exerting too much power over me.  And I am ever alert to keeping the taint of it out of the love in my heart.

I feel myself winding down.  I'm wearier, in the good way of effort making itself known in the muscles I used to cut my grass.  I stopped reading stuff on the web a while ago, just so I could think and listen.  Cool night air and sounds soothe me.  Off in the distance, across the river, the low hoot of a train horn carries wistfully in the suburban blackness outside my windows.  The thrum of the engine backed it up and I closed my eyes, rubbing my temples.  I feel my heart begin to lift, carried away on the wheels of steel and the bittersweet promise of another train song, one that lets me know there are places in this universe where Love triumphs over Power.  It is a dear wish of mine that one of those places is my heart.

19 September 2011

Magpie Tales 82: Consequence

Image via Tess at Magpie Tales

After the storm,
dream-time mirage
walkabout in garden primeval
to awake, shaking his head

wondering if the pleasure
of sin
is really as good
as it sounds

His eyes open to music,
serpents hiss and drip
taste of agave in his mouth
and regrets in his heart

18 September 2011

Sunday Meditation #6: Buddha In The Grass

Mowing the grass on a weeknight, about two weeks ago and feeling astonished to find some enlightenment amongst the noise and the mulch.  But there it was, Buddha smiling at me in the fading green of the clippings.  This sort of thing seems to occur often these days, for reasons unknown to me.  Am I ready for enlightenment, or am I simply noticing more by choice?  Enlightenment.  Perhaps that is incorrect.  Maybe calm clarity is the better phrase.  Settlement. Zen? Satori?

If it is satori, it is a quiet one.  No flashes of light, no sudden awakening from deep sleep to cry and shout "Of course!".  No, this occurrence was much more modest.  I was cutting grass, that was all, making my way around the yard in the cooling light of the evening.  It was when I was almost done in the back yard that this feeling of serenity descended upon me.  Peace.  A bliss that extended into my muscles and belly.  Bearing down on a particularly high patch of grass, I smiled for no reason other than the calm within.  I saw the Buddha.

I finished cutting the grass, bemused and without bursting the bubble of peace.  I was in a groove.  I wanted to stay there.  This gave me pause to ponder it the rest of the night.  I asked myself why I hadn't seen God, or Jesus Christ.  After all, I was raised in the Christian tradition, so the face of the Almighty would have been more expected.  And there was no clear picture of Buddha.  More like a fleeting image that came into being just long enough for the pattern recognition centers of my brain to find something known, into which it could fit the thing it saw.

But he did smile.

I wondered about that up until I went to sleep that night.  I decided that it did not matter who or what I think I saw.  What mattered is that for a few wonderful minutes, on an ordinary summer evening, I was at peace.  I had that which I wished.  Simple problems, measurable results, and the joy of being present, there and then.

17 September 2011

Bag of Hammers

If in a big box store
you are compelled
to buy a t-shirt
emblazoned "McStud"
because you think
its funny and hipster
there is the proof
that you are a tool
in service to tools

16 September 2011


Wind holding its breath
white cowl trembling so gently ---
hibiscus cups bee

15 September 2011

Into The Styptic

It is a curiosity of my existence that in my medicine cabinet I have a half-stick of a styptic pencil.  The ordinary kind one might find in the average drug store or pharmacy.  It has been useful over the years, being a product that certainly lived up to its announced purpose: to stop bleeding from minor nicks and scrapes.  I rarely use it anymore, having switched to an electric razor many years ago.  What makes this remnant curious is that I have had the thing for about twenty-five years.  Twenty-five years is over half my life.

Who holds on to such a thing, for so long?  What am I clinging to that makes me keep it?

That pencil was purchased at the drug store on the main street in the downtown of the small town where I went to college.  I still remember the day I bought, although I cannot tell you why that was significant.

My head is full of such things.  Good thing my head is big, I wish it weren't so damn heavy sometimes.

I thought about that pencil tonight as I ruminated on a swirl of personal issues, things about my past, my present, my future.  The chalk-white stub a totem for the spirits of memory.  I see it there in the cabinet and it makes me wonder what I will stanch the flood of thoughts and memories that have clustered around me.

There is some anxiety, there is some bliss.  I put the pencil back in the cabinet and wonder at the things I can let go, so that I may have room inside to embrace that which I want to welcome into my life.