30 April 2011

Pushing Back The Sea

In between bursts of song, from some unseen source down the block, the night is blissfully silent.  Traffic sounds, of course, with the occasional airplane.  None of them especially bothersome, and all a quiet carnival for the ear.  Earlier the night was torn by the melancholic sounds of a lovers' quarrel drifting through open windows.  Curses and tears, a chanson of blue notes wafting on the late evening air, leaving pity in their wake.

Cool caresses of indigo silk, zephyrs curl through the windows as balm for the weary body.  These tiny currents possessed of Herculean strength that transform the bones and skin into a kite.  Floating off the couch, diffused through the window screen into human mist feathering off into the sky...

Soaring, gliding, escaping the "surly bonds of earth" in this fleshly wing, seeking relief and knowing this path, this rarefied road through the forest will carry one to the dim shore of an invisible life.  It is there the animate simulacrum called Yourself will dance naked on the sand, spinning tales in glee, to push back the Sea.

29 April 2011

My Gardener, Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 A.D.  He was by many accounts, the "thinking man's" emperor, fully capable of commanding the respect of nearly all without losing sight of himself as a human being.  He was able to kick ass and write cool stuff, like the Meditations.  To this day, I really like that book, and my copy has been appended with numerous penciled in notes and underlined passages.

My boy Marcus thought a lot about Nature (as in the 'natural world') and nature (as in 'innate qualities') and one of the things I picked up from his musings was the idea of respecting people and things based on their true selves.  His words taught me to start looking at people, places and things with an eye towards discerning what it is that inherently makes them what they are.

I'm still working on that; it's a slow, imperfect process.

For reasons I cannot quite fathom, his musings came back to me tonight, as I stood in the backyard holding my brand-new chain saw in hand and contemplating the havoc I had wrought on some pesky branches and brush piles.  I was gazing at the ragged end of the branch I had cut, up on a tree limb that had been overhanging the little Japanese maple in the back corner of the yard.  The nub that I left was splintered and jagged, and not looking at all like any care had been given to the act of cutting.  The low hum of power I had previously felt, at wielding a tool that made cutting so easy, had faded.  Now I felt tired and a little sheepish.

The tree branch was innocent of any offense.  It was simply fulfilling its nature as trees are wont to do, with no malice aforethought.  That I felt the need to trim it arose more from my own peevishness at the weeds and brush and growth that seems to be overtaking my efforts to maintain a semblance of order literally in my own backyard.

That I had bought a chain saw was an action that arose out of the human belief that technology (its an electric saw) would solve my problem tout de suite.  I was so enamored of the tool I was wielding that I forgot to respect the very things I sought to remove.

It may be true that this kind of maintenance is a necessary thing.  After all, I live in a town, not the forest.  I am willing to let things live and grow within limits, but I do not care to live in a thicket, either.

Still, cutting and trimming and snapping and clearing can be done with respect...and I didn't quite give it the proper respect.  The haste and unevenness of the cut I made was clear evidence of my hubris.  I could almost sense the disappointment from the tree.

It was then that I imagined Marcus Aurelius standing at my elbow, shaking his head and tut-tutting, maybe even chiding me in Latin to remind me to respect things for what they are.  Don't let ego or expediency get in the way of taking care in what you do, especially when those actions may mean injury or disruption of life now matter what its form.  I resolved then, that in my Domestic Wilderness Management program, I would exercise more care in all things, especially cutting things down.  If it must be done, do it well.  Do it with respect.

As Marcus himself said, "Where it is possible to live, it is possible to live well".  Hear, hear!

28 April 2011

Was That A Flying Pig That Just Crossed A Blue Moon?

Weird goings-on here in Casa DeL Gumbo.  The television is on. And it isn't the news hour.

Seriously.  Not only is it not news, it isn't a documentary, a food show or a sitcom.

Nope, what I am watching is...sports.  Specifically, hockey.  Stanley Cup playoffs, Game 7, between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.  Its tied 2 -2 at the moment, halfway through the third period.

Good lord, man, I haven't watched any sports for more than highlight clips in...well, I can't remember how long.

(pause)  Sort of cheap shot by a Bruins defenseman on a Canadien player.

Well, then...I'll root for the Habs.  And keep an eye out for more of those flying pigs.

Epilogue:  They lost. Dangit.

27 April 2011

Magpie Tales 63: Kaleidoheart

Courtesy of Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

A toy, really, I know,
but so much different
for it to be what I saw
when I looked through
the shattered glass
she left me in place
of the heart I once knew, 
long ago and far away

the boy I was
offering a broken plaything
to the man I had become,
learning so swift a lesson 
harsh and edges of razors,
liquid eyes diffracting to see
through the granular pain,
that beauty remains at the core

26 April 2011

Roshi Moth

The moth was there when I left the house this morning.  It clung to the storm door like a damp scrap of cardboard.  It moved nary a twitch as I shut the door, I noticing it when I turned to check the lock.  Cardboard.  Hmmph.  Perhaps a bit too pedestrian, and disrespectful.  It was, after all, a creation of the natural world and not cast-off detritus of mankind's ability to create waste no matter what its undertaking.  Out of respect for my lepidopteran visitor, I'll try again.

This moth clinging to the door better resembled tree bark, maybe of a sycamorean cast.  It was gray and mottled with a a few light patches.  In the morning light it did resemble somewhat that fascinating flaking patchwork that sycamore bark takes on as the tree gets older.  I paused, peering at the moth, and wondered, why it, why here?  I felt no desire to disturb the little fellow.

Concurrently to my insectarian ruminations, a large spider was lurking at the threshold of the door.  I'm wasn't sure of its species, either, and had no real curiosity to look too close.  It was rather large for a spider in these parts, and somewhat fuzzy.  I had the silly notion that it was trying to get into my house, at which point a crisp flick of the shoe sent the arachnid tumbling end over end and off the porch into the ivy bed.  It crawled away, which put me at ease.  Even though I am not particularly fond of spiders, I don't go out of my way to kill them.  If they are in my house, maybe, but not outside where they have more than enough territory.

Back to the moth.  I watched it for a few heartbeats, then trundled up the steps and to the car.  Surely, the moth would be gone when time I arrived home that evening.

About that, I was mistaken.  There it was, still clinging to the door.  As far as I could tell, it had not moved in the hours I had been away.  The angle of repose, the wings flat and spread: exactly as I had left it.  The creature yet again didn't move when I opened the door to step inside.

Later, after dinner, I repaired to the porch, glass of iced tea in one hand and a trio of cookies in the other.  The moth on the door, a sphinx proffering a riddle.  Sitting down at the little round table I have, I propped my feet up and contemplated life as a moth.  What did it do all day?  Where would it go, if not here?

What is it, if anything, that moths think about?

It occurred to me then, that maybe the answer was right there in my hands.  Not in a literal sense, from the moth point of view, but figuratively, from my point of view: Sip tea, eat cookies.

Just because we have wings does not mean we have to spend every waking minute flitting frantically from place to place, so afraid of missing something we forget to appreciate and enjoy the quiet mysteries right in front of us.  The breeze, birdsongs,and the distant wail of a train horn all have something to offer us, if we only cared to let them give it.  Sometimes what we need is to hold still like the moth, watching the sun carve its arc across the sky.

Sometimes, all we need to do is sip tea, eat cookies.

Later, I was taking out the week's recycling, and I saw the moth was gone.  Makes sense, I suppose.  Night had fallen, and perhaps it was time for it to fulfill other aspects of its moth-being.  I wish it well.

25 April 2011

Lilacs and Lightning Bolts

Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it was someone or some thing trying to get through to me, but today I felt...good.  Like I had energy and a purpose.  I woke up this morning with an eagerness to get started on the day.  Instead of dozing off again and again, it was up and out with vigor.

That it was Easter Sunday was not lost on me.  Rebirth, renewal, rejuvenation, rising and all that.

I am not what you would call a religious man.  Perhaps it may be more accurate to say that I am a man with spiritual leanings, who wonders if he is religious.  Even if I am still grappling with God in all the incarnations put forth by mankind, it is inescapable that I was brought up in a Christian tradition; thus, the symbols and rituals of it are always there in the background.  It is a frame of reference, if I may borrow a bit from physics.

Empty tombs and rising sons weren't really on my mind, though, as I wasn't headed for church.  I was headed for my backyard.  Jesus may have risen this weekend, but then again, so did the grass.  Between the weather, travel and my work schedule lately I have had precious little time to tend to the oasis that is my home.

It is true for me that unfinished business causes me noticeable anxiety.  A low-grade background hum, when I know I have things to do and I can't (or just don't) get to them expediently.  So it was with the yard work.  Brush to chop, leaves to rake, weeds to pull, branches to trim and grass galore waiting to be cut.  I just wanted it done.

So it came to pass that on a glorious Easter morning I was outside pulling and cutting, chopping and bagging, all the while sweating like a waterfall, huffing and puffing like a beached fish.  But, honestly?  It felt good.  It felt real good, even when I was about to faint towards the end of the grass cutting. (Nothing a little exercise won't cure, I'm sure.)

It felt good because I was focused and relaxed.  I had simple problems with measurable results.  The serious case of The Funk that I had been unable to shake for weeks was finally, truly gone.  I read somewhere once, that it is nearly impossible to be depressed when engaged in meaningful work.  I say that is true, if the bubble of bliss I experienced today was any indication.  Sunshine, fresh air and a purpose: it doesn't get any better.

I experienced some moments of grace today, courtesy of the natural world.  In my backyard there is a pair of lilac bushes, separated by another bush in between, the species of which I am unsure.  These lilac bushes blossom early, and when they do they start emitting the most wonderful aroma, the kind of aroma that makes me go outside just to breathe in when I have a spare moment.  Today while cutting the grass I walked right into a lilac branch, sporting a blossom which caressed its way across my cheek.  My lungs filled up with lilac fragrance, and I couldn't help but smile.

Later in the afternoon, some fast moving thunderstorms rolled in to the area.  The sky took on that amazing shade of pewter while bright silver bolts of lightning bracketed the area around where I lived.  I had the windows open, and I had to shut a few when fat drops of rain started splashing through the screens.  The wind was high, but not destructive, and the aroma of the rain was heavenly.  I was tending to a pot of beans on the stove, watching the branches sway and lightning crease the sky, and thinking this was a fine day indeed.  A fine day to come back to life, no matter what we think of ourselves.

24 April 2011


Asleep in the grass,
Soul and sun rising anew,
Celebrate this life

23 April 2011

Lookin' At The World Through a Windshield

Only one trucker song came up on the iTunes today on my drive back home ("Little Liza Jane" by Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer), and a what a doozy.  I think it is a good thing that my drive did not have the same level of excitement, much more than I or my darling Wee Lass need in real life.

It set me to thinking about the life of a road dog, however.  I don't kid myself that I'll ever be able to sell everything, buy an RV or a motorcycle, and spend my days just cruising all over the continent; that remains a dream deferred.  It did occur to me that long drives are not as tiresome to me as they used to be.  Impatience to get to Point B from Point A always colored my perceptions of time and space, always leaving me totally exhausted and irritated by the time I arrived at my destination. 

That went hand in hand with a near complete lack of acknowledgment of the places I had been or sights I had seen along the way.  And that is a minor shame.

Now I seem to enjoy the process more.  I take better note of the buildings and terrain and am starting to see a timeline and changes in the landscape.  I am starting to care more about the Between in relation to the Here and There.

This is a good thing.  I believe that, for perhaps the first time in my personal history, I have learned to treasure the process rather than shortchange it.  One of my architecture professors tried to get that through my thick head, many years ago in Big Gumbo On Campus days.

Pity it took me so long to learn.  I can tell you this:  It's about time, and to borrow from the great sage Dr. Seuss, "Oh! The places I'll go!".  I'm dreaming of some road trips, and of the places and people I'll see.

22 April 2011


Old bed, new boyhood,
Worn wood, white plaster above
Dreams of youthful sun

21 April 2011

Dandy Lions

"Daddy, quick! Come look!"
Green backyard turned savanna,
Sun on ruffled manes

20 April 2011


Fathoms down, the pressure
and the light are alien
to you and me and ghosts,
a fade to intergalactic indigo

Breathing is no longer possible
Live while you can on the scraps,
Oxygen desaturating, starry eyed,
hands desperate to swim

But they can't, they won't,
not until fingers unclench
from around the leaden sphere
they have carried for years

The singularity in the hands
may have once been a comfort
but now is the diver's weights
on you who wish to fly

The sky is up there, waiting,
through a sheen of blue quicksilver
Just free the past from your hands,
break the surface and breathe

19 April 2011

Compass Rose

I'm writing this ahead of time, I'll be on the road later this day.  The Gumbomobile will be loaded up with the essentials and my Wee Lass and we are headed for the Gumbo ancestral lands in southeastern Virginia.  Its a trip I'm looking forward to, for some much needed R & R, and much needed face time with the family.

The compass of the heart ever points to Home.

18 April 2011

This Life, In Mosaic

What is this life we ended up with, how did we get here?  Who dragged us into the van, blindfolded us, then drove all night only to kick us out the back door without stopping?  Holy hell, that hurt when the ground rushed up to meet us and the gravel of years dug into the skin, like the sandpaper of God.

Once when I was a boy I went to the beach, on the Atlantic Ocean, for a day of fun and frolic.  Then, as now, I liked the ocean but was always a bit unsettled by it.  Powerful waves, opaque water = low-grade anxiety.  Then, as now, anxiety didn't stop me from entering the surf.  Perhaps the unknown was the frisson that provided the vitality I felt.

But I digress.

Once when I was a boy, I went to the beach as I mentioned earlier.  I dove into the waves and was having a great time.  Then I made the mistake of turning my back on the ocean.  One moment, I was in water up to mid-thigh, the next it was gone. Puzzled, I wondered where all the water went, then turned my head to look back.  Bearing down on me was the biggest wave I had ever personally witnessed.  It slammed into me, painfully, right in the back.  I was knocked down, face first into the sea bottom, whereupon the force of the wave pushed me along causing my bottom jaw to act like a dredge.  My mouth quickly filled up with sand and bits of shells and seaweed.

Coughing and sputtering I was cast up on the beach.  Shaking the stars out of my eyes, I reached up to feel my face.  It was scraped and raw.  My lower lip bulged out like I had a lump of chaw in it.  Scraping the sand out of my mouth, I wondered what in the world had happened.

So years later, I'm sitting on a park bench enjoying the breeze and a day of clear cerulean down by my favorite local lake.  The apple o' my eye is resting on her haunches down by the water's edge.  She has a stick in her hand, scribbling hieroglyphics in the sand and pretending to fish.  She looks up and smiles, and a chunk of memory falls from the sky and I wonder:  What just happened?

This time I didn't come up sputtering and coughing, but I was dazed and confused.  Things tilted.  Life is very different for me these days.  Things have come apart, things have come together.  I see my daughter, I consider my new life living by myself, and I feel my hands sifting through the sand.  Shells, debris, smooth stones and jagged shards all come within my grasp.

Slowly, I am pulling pieces from the earth to reassemble the picture I know is there.  Definition, clarity, direction...this, the mosaic of a life coming together in the light of a fine sunny day and the presence of love.

17 April 2011

I See Her Picture

Today I picked up some photos from the lab, three rolls of medium format color film that I had taken in the past month.  I have one roll of black and white still in process.  I can hardly wait to get them back, too.  These are pottery shards in the archaeological dig of my life.  Some of them are damaged, blurry and maybe don't tell much of anything.  But others, well, others are these glimpses of startling clarity through the mist of time.  Sometimes I hold a particularly good picture in my hands and think I am cradling a new Rosetta stone.  A stone that will allow me to translate the languages I see rather than speak.

What made these particular images significant was the relatively high number of truly good results I achieved.  By that I don't mean pure technical proficiency.  It is more an aggregate of all the things that make good photographs: light, shadow, mood, setting, subject.  In this set of rolls, I had all of those.

Particularly my family.  I took some of the best pictures I have ever taken of my parents and my daughter.  I even ended up with a pretty nifty double exposure of my nephew and his lovely fiance.  Pure accident, cool result.  I don't credit this to any brilliance in talent.  Rather, I think it was a letting go and being in the moment that allowed me to simply take the pictures rather than overthinking them.  And it worked.

The ones of my daughter in particular absolutely floored me.  Wee Lass and I went to the photo lab together to pick them up, and as usual she was excited to see them right away.  The lab is in a building that has a nice lobby with some seats, and she always likes to go sit there and leaf through the pictures.

We had a grand time of it.  She was smiling and commenting.  I was amazed and grateful.  Here's me, this oafish lad who fancies it to take pictures of stuff, and hopes his success rate is like that of a .333 hitter in baseball: you can be unsuccessful two-thirds of the time, and still be considered pretty good.

Looking at the pictures, those blue eyes and that megawatt smile...I got my grand slam.  Somehow I managed to get a snapshot of the heart of the sun.

16 April 2011


Television off, and the radio,
this house a temple tonight
not a mausoleum

A heart's distance away
she lies asleep and dreaming
with me awake and wishing

Breath sounds, softly below
a train horn muffled through walls
keeping cold out and love in

She coughs, my heart races,
wondering at the cause,
sheets rustle, small angelic sigh

the world becomes sacred

Ladies and gentlemen, if my math is correct, this is my 200th consecutive post in 200 days. I don't know how I arrived here...it's been a long, strange trip. Whew.

15 April 2011

Dread and Circuses

At 10:56 p.m. last night, a goose flew low over my house.  As it passed by, it honked softly as if to say hello without wanting to overly disturb me.  In my tired mind I fancied it was indeed talking to me.  I wanted to say "Bon voyage" and wish it it a safe trip on its journey but it was here and gone so fast I had no chance.

I assume it was heading north.  Migrations are picking up now that spring is here.  I longed to join the goose in flight to the subpolar regions.  Having recently re-read Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, the intricate and "desolate" beauty of the far north holds a particular attraction for me.  I do not kid myself that I could outrun the world; life in the arctic can be hard and harsh, especially if one is not diligent and careful.  However, the idea of open country and few people is something that keeps calling to me.

Especially now.  The Year of the Tiger was over in February, supposedly, but doesn't it seem like the Tiger has lingered?  In this constant media flow of mayhem (tsunamis, civil war) and absurdity (celebrities run amok) I have struggled to find some peace and quiet.  Equilibrium is a skittish creature.  Sudden moves make it take flight.

The parade of sorrow and irritation on the television, too, does nothing to help.  It seems like if the talking heads aren't explicating on the latest casualties in Japan or Libya or (insert country in turmoil here), they are stealing oxygen by relating the latest asinine implosions of some one famous or semi-famous.  I watch the news, sometimes, because I find it hard to not want to know the latest...but when I see a news piece about radiation leaks or collateral damage followed by puff pieces on drunks with fame...something inside of me recoils, and finds it all hard to stomach.

Its as if the news organizations have lost the ability, or the desire, to discern between what is truly important and what really has no true effect on the audience at large.  Or maybe it is that we as a society have lost the ability to want to discern those things for ourselves.  The 24/7 news cycle has distorted, if not wrecked, the general ability to prioritize.  Everything has become important, it has to be, to feed the maw of the Information Machines to which many of us seem to be addicted.  And I resent it.

For the Romans, it was bread and circuses.  For us, it doesn't seem to be that much different, except nowadays, the colosseum is electronic, feeding us Dread and Circuses.

I think it speaks volumes that lately when I come home from work, and on the occasions when I do decide to watch television, I've been watching less and less of the news.  Instead, my recent favorites have been "America's Funniest Videos" and  Spongebob Squarepants.  For some reason, the utter banality of the former and the deep, delightful absurdity of the latter have been just the thing to set my head on straight.  I suppose a lot of that has to do with the fact that, when I have my daughter with me, we tend to watch shows like that together, and have a good laugh.  That is all the excuse I need to indulge.

14 April 2011


For the hundredth last time,
or was it thousandth?
The glass was set down
a trifle too hard and fast

Grimace splits the face
deep with valleys carved by
the River Heartbreak
flowing to Sea of Disappointment

The puckered lips burst forth,
a laugh like an iron bell
in a kitchen of fading desire
and a dawning realization

He used to be a white
but things fell apart,
the center could not hold
leaving him to savor the oak

Inspired by Magpie Tales 61: Stop and say hello to Tess!

13 April 2011

The Poles of Life and Death

It is probably my favorite jacket, dark blue cotton with a leather collar.  I've had it for ten (?) years at least, I think.  It is a little threadbare on the cuffs, but has the look of something well-made and wearing well.  I had this jacket when my twins were born so long ago; it carries memories just as I do.

On the left lapel of the jacket there are two ribbons.  It is a duo of small satin curios, each one made of pink and blue fabric intertwined.  A small safety pin in each assumes the fastening duties.  Each ribbon is also getting frayed, the result of years of me wearing them.  I picked them up at an annual memorial walk, given each year in honor of children who have died.  It is a way for the parents and families to remember the little ones.  Each year they have ribbons available, and I have yet to take mine off.

A co-worker of mine asked me about them today.  This is the first time anyone has asked in months, if not a couple of years.  My co-worker didn't know my story yet, and I think it was deeper than he was expecting.  It is a testament to how far I have come that I can now answer that question evenly and with peace instead of grief.  I find it less draining to tell the story, and I am grateful for the chance to share.  It was also a perfect segue into talking about my lovely daughter, too, and she is a welcome topic of conversation.

On the drive home, I was musing on all that had transpired.  It occurred to me that I don't need a ribbon for my daughter, because obviously I have her, in the world here and now.  For the twins, the ribbons are what I have, at least in a form I can easily carry around with me.  I have a person and I have symbols: all to be treasured for all the hours of my days.

Rolling down the highway, under a hammered-pewter sky,  I felt myself in a delicate state of tension.  It wasn't a stressful feeling wrought with anxiety.  I fancied it to be that which a finely-tuned piano wire feels as it is stretched out in the instrument.  Taut, sleek and brimming with potential.  I found myself in a new, bright country of the soul.

I was caught between the poles of Life and Death, balancing ever so carefully in anticipation of that decisive moment when I am struck just so, to vibrate with Beauty.

12 April 2011

Pharm Boy

Boy, hey boy, I'm talkin' to you
Are you slow or just stupid?
What's in the bottle, boy?
Candy, is that candy you got there?

Funny, they don't look like sweettarts
what with the letters and they numbers
Hey, don't get upset, I'm just looking
Ha, ha! Look at 'im jump, like a dog!

Whatsa matter, boy? Why so mad?
It ain't like you gonna die, 
you don't eat your candy, right...
Hey, hey, boy, why you shakin' like that?

Oh, shit, Jimbo, his eyes, lookit his eyes
Never seen 'em roll like that on anyone
Boy! Hey, boy! Open your eyes!
(Let 'em go, he's puking or spittin' or something)

Boy writhes on the ground, clawing, reaching,
for the candy, the only candy he eats
a private label pharamcopeia the only book
his gray matter can read

Dirty tablets pushed into a greedy mouth
he lies in the dust and sun, wondering
about his circumscribed life,
longing to leave the pharm

11 April 2011

New Boomtown

Handsome Kevin got a little off track

The hotel radio murmured, filling his head with ideas.  Ice rattled in the glass as he set it down on the windowsill.  The clinking sounded like the lights through the window looked.  Far off and cold.  The last of the scotch burned its way down his throat.  Contrasted against the chill he felt, it was just what he needed.  He never could seem to stay warm when he was so far from home.

Took a year off from college and he never went back

The streetlights in the valley below lay out in geometric skeins of flickering jewels.  Given the recent weirdness surrounding himself, the travelling man fantasized the grids were an order imposed by an alien consciousness, and he had been granted understanding because of his self-imposed outsider lifestyle.  That, and having found the hotel on the hillside by sheer luck.  He laughed, a grinning death mask reflecting back at him in the glass just inches from his face.  "No one ever accused me of higher understanding", he said to the window.

Now he smokes much too much, got a permanent hack

A pulsing flash of red streaked its way down the wide avenue that curved gently through the valley.  Simultaneously, the police scanner on the dresser behind the traveller flared into life, its little red lights mimicking the car speeding away.  The man jumped, heart pounding.  He listened intently to the squawking voice buzzing from the scanner, finally relaxing.  The report had nothing to do with him.  He looked down at the cigarette smoldering between his fingers, then took a slow drag.  He wondered again why he still smoked.  Ever since the operation last year in Bangkok, and whatever the techs had really done to him, nicotine and many other things had no effect on his system.

deals dope out of Denny's, keeps a table in the back

"One more", he said softly, "one more, and I'm out."  His bloodshot eyes rolled up slightly as he watched the lights of the police car fading up the street.  He leaned on the chilly glass, resting his head against his forearm. 

He always listens to the ground

Absentmindedly, lost in his head, his right hand caressed the silenced pistol that hung at his hip.  The nylon holster and black metal seemed to drink up every scrap of light that fell on it.  His index finger came to rest on the trigger, curling around the viperish feel of the metal.

So I say, I say, welcome to the boomtown
All that money makes a succulent sound

He let go of the trigger, sucked in air between his gritted teeth.  One more, and he was out.

Welcome to the Boomtown.

Italicized passage above are lyrics from "Welcome to the Boomtown" by David & David.  A fantastic short story set to music.

10 April 2011

Saturday Night (Swiffer) Fever

It says something about my current life and state of mind that its Saturday, on a cool but pleasant night, and I am home alone perched on the couch...and I am okay with this situation.  There is good music on the stereo, the chores are all done and I am pleasantly tired and (get this) relaxed.

"Get out!"  you say.  "I know!" I say.

It is true.  I am relaxed.  This is big.  It has been weeks since I felt unwound to the point where I didn't feel jittery, and I had a grip on my day.  This is what it must feel like, I tell myself, to feel normal.  Perhaps normal is just another way to say 'content', like cows chewing cud.

I attribute this to finally pushing myself to take care of lots of nagging little things, cleaning out some clutter, catching up on laundry and bills.  Oh, and a liberal dose of my Wee Lass.  She wasn't with me this weekend, but the circus was in town, and she and I and her mother went to see it.  Wee Lass was very excited, and seeing that made me feel good too.  She got a stuffed white tiger (with cub) as a souvenir, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the show.  An amazing spectacle, fun for all!

After that it was pizza for dinner, and then home for me.  I briefly considered hitting the tavern around the corner, but then I got distracted.

Distracted by Swiffering.  Yeah, man, I was doing the swiffer-dance and getting the floors clean, and I was really digging it.  There was a brief pang, of feeling pathetic because I'm cleaning instead of clubbing* on a Saturday night...but then with a playlist like this one:

...the regrets quickly faded and I had a great time shakin' what passes for my moneymaker while sweeping the floor.  I think having simple tasks and getting things done was just the ticket to sand the edges off my anxiety.  Not to mention, I also have clean floors!

*Not that I ever was much on clubbing.  When I had the energy for it, I lacked the social skills to make a go of it.  Now that I can at least make people think I have social skills, I almost never have the energy.  Seems a tad unfair, yes?

09 April 2011

When Office Supplies Attack...

As if the workweek hadn't been enough of a drag, I got injured on the job, as only Irish Gumbo could do it.

I was assaulted by a binder clip.

You know the type: those blue-black metal ones, made out of spring steel and two chrome steel wire loops for handles.  The kind that have the crushing pressure of a small shark when they clamp down.  Which, by the way, is the main reason to NOT clip them on to any part of one's body.  Just sayin'.

It happened at my desk.  I had a stack of papers, a specification I was working on, that was almost two inches thick.  That measurement turns out to be at about the upper limit of what a large metal binder clip can hold.  I had clipped the stack together earlier in the week, and it had been doing a sort of Brownian motion dance around my desk as I constantly shifted it from one spot to another in pursuit of other pieces of paper.

During the course of all that movement, the clip had begun to work its way loose.  The paper was slowly slipping from the jaws of the binder, unbeknownst to me.  Until, that is, I picked it up not 30 minutes before I was due to leave the office for home.

I lifted the stack...
...noted that the clip looked loose...
...thought 'I better point that thing away fr--!"


The clip sprung off the stack like a bullet and hit me with the sharp edge on my upper lip.  Almost dead center under my nose.  That hurt!

How I managed to avoid blurting out a curse word, I'll never know.  My eyes were watering and I could taste blood.  Sure enough, the clip had split my lip.

(sigh) Only I could get hurt like that.  And now I can't shave off my beard/mustache until my lip heals!

08 April 2011

Love Breaks Stone

what cracked open in you when you began (as) a father? 

The question was asked of me back in January, by a reader (hi, TaraDharma!) and it wasn't until earlier this week that I came close to having an answer.  It was a more complex question than appearances would lead one to believe.  Combine that with my propensity to ponder, and you have a response time that makes glaciers look like race cars.

Before I answer it, I have to get historical.  This is really a story of two halves.  The first half involves my twins, whom many of you know passed away shortly after birth back in 2003.  The second half involves the entrance into this world of my beautiful Wee Lass not long after.  These events are the sides of the coin.

When the twins were born I suddenly thought I knew everything there was to know of love, and I was certain it was profoundly different than everything I had experienced up to that point in life.  Such small, lovely beings, frail and imperfect yet beautiful and I wanted nothing more than to hold them and know they were mine.  Life had other designs, and I had to bury two children in less than a month.

To say I was shattered is an understatement.  Death obliterates Love in the figurative blink of an eye, and I'm left wondering what the hell it was all about.  Love made my heart swell; Grief burst it.  I had no time to think about cracking, it happened too fast.  I was broken without understanding.

Pain is a harsh teacher, but learn you will, and I was a keen student.  This explains what happened when my daughter was born, this time on time and under much better circumstances.  I was holding back up until the very last minute.  By that, I mean up until she was safely in the warmer and I was standing there about to cut the cord.  Some of you may recall I wrote about that in this post some time ago.

I realized that I still had so much to learn about love.  I felt myself filling up, a surge of primal energy flooding into every corner of my soul.  I felt it spilling over my borders, soaking the floor, rising to my knees, my neck and over my head.  I was swept away.

This led to further revelations.  I had a deeper understanding of myself and my capacity to love beyond myself.  I knew what it meant to want more for someone else than you want for yourself.  I understood that I was much more capable of love than I ever knew, and I could be again if I just let myself.

The irony of this is that it wasn't enough to save some things, while at the same time opening up other doors.

The further irony is that those doors I couldn't keep open, leaving me with memories and another broken heart.  Sometimes, I think it is more scar than heart.  Broken?  Vaporized is more like it.

So...what cracked open in me when I began as a father? 

I think the hammer against the stone, in this case, was Love.  It broke my heart wide open, scattered it in quantam bits across the universe, and then hinted that those bits would slowly find their way back to one another.  Slowly, that is, against the flood tide of love unleashed from the reservoir I never knew I had.

The river is running free, and a bit wild, but eventually all rivers want to know into what ocean they will flow...the dam is broken, and I don't want to drain away.

07 April 2011

Thursday Quantam Activity: Eeyore's Blues

It's a slow night here in the republic of Gumbolia, and by that I mean I'm feeling slow.  Another 11-hour workday, and if I were a lady my name would be Erasmus B. Draggin.

I'm tired, and a little ground up.  Life and work have been rather stressful lately, and I reached a point where I felt like I didn't want to write anything, because I didn't think I had anything worth sharing.  Too many disappointments do not a jolly fellow make.

I was even considering packing up the blog and calling it quits.  For me, now?  That's like saying I don't feel like eating.  Because when I don't feel like eating? That means something is very wrong.

The problem is, this writing imp has its claws in me deep.  Even when I swear I won't write or don't need to write...I always find myself writing something anyway.  Every. Damn. Day.

Too bad its mostly disjointed episodes and random spasms of my overheated conscious and subconscious.  I have yet to find the thread, the true thread, to tie it all together.  This is my life in a nutshell.  It's like that lyric in the new Bright Eyes song, where Conor Oberst sings "My life is an inside joke, and no one will explain it to me...".  Yep, he nailed it.

Someone, please explain it to me.

So, in that tradition, I'll close with something semi-random, another thought on my "Temple" post from earlier this week.  I found the comments delightful and intriguing, and I thought everyone should know the genesis of the post.  I was inspired by some passages I had just read in the Bhagavad-gita*, regarding attachment and anxieties associated thereto.  The exchanges between Lord Krishna and Arjuna were fascinating to me, and in turned inspired the statement by the student.  That I used the term "God" when referring to the supreme being is a product of my upbringing in a Christian faith; we tend to fall back on what we know.  However, the use of God was a stand-in for the divine, no matter what faith.  I could have just as easily said Yhwh, Allah, Krishna, as I wasn't going for a specific faith.  Indeed, in the Bhagavad-gita, the form of address for Krishna changes from time to time, albeit as different names for the same being.

Be that as it may, I thought it was an interesting take on an age-old question.  Think, think, think...

*The version in question is "The Bhagavad-gita: As It Is" presented by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.  I was directed to this, and received a copy through, the kind efforts and generous spirit of Braja Sorensen, whom many of you are familiar with through 'Lost and Found in India'.  I started reading it last year, got distracted and set it aside until the beginning of March this year.  I had begun re-reading "Walden" by Thoreau, and in it he mentions having himself read the Bhagavad-gita, which in turn reminded me that I had it on my bookshelf.  And so the great wheel turns...

06 April 2011

Sculptor's Revelation

Faces, arms, torsos
he created every beauty
known to man
and then some

but when he turned
the chisel on himself,
he found his heart
unmade, of broken stone

05 April 2011

Overheard In The Temple: A Short Play

Teacher: "It is our attachments to things that cause us anxiety and grief. We must lose our attachments if we want to find peace."

Student: "If that is so, Master, then perhaps I should lose my attachment to God. Only then will I cease being anxious over wondering if He really loves me."

Teacher: (stunned silence)

Student: (blows out candle; exits)

04 April 2011

The Crow is Really a Mockingbird

Desk placed just so
monitor wedged in the corner
field of vision bounded
by wall and window

Banal tarmac and beige cars
between the stocks and the trees
where one indeed has a crows' nest
Figuratively, because its only a perch

Crows sit there everyday, he sees,
ebony question marks against
pearly skies and blue, raspy calls
mocking, cursing, he cannot tell

They sit and stare, watching his moves,
Late afternoons when shadows fall,
he rubs his eyes, his ears, unsure if
he sits in an office or a graveyard

03 April 2011

The Ondine Wore Chrysanthemums

Kieran stood on the Bridge of Sorrows, staring down at the black mercury of the water flowing sluggishly beneath the deck.  A new generation of bioluminescent lights along the harbor threw cold light, making the surface of the river alternate between sheens of oil and blood.  The water was cleaner now that the heavy industries had all but disappeared in the roiling chaos cloud of information age concerns in an unholy alliance with the rainmakers of biotech and genetic engineering.  The air still held mysterious and troubling odors, Kieran knew, but composed of different chemistries.

Kieran wept, the drops falling fatly from his nose to join the raindrops spattering the water.

The engineer raised a hand to wipe his eyes, forgetting the flower clutched in his fingers.  The fleshy softness of the petals caressed his cheek, causing him to flinch violently.  Their warmth felt good, shocking against the chill air, but they reminded him too much of fingers.  Her fingers.

He drew back his head to study the flower, as if really noticing it for the first time.  It was a chrysanthemum, brilliant pink, and would have cost a small fortune to the average layman.  Kieran smiled in a small way, finding perhaps for the first time in years a perk of being a gene splicer: he could get actual wild flowers, genetically pure and free of the taint of modern DNA splicing.  What with the prevalence of splicing and genetic drift and the inevitable escape into the "wild" of lab mistakes and experiments gone wrong, some of which Kieran's own company were deeply and shamefully responsible for, finding genetically pure anything living freely was getting difficult to impossible.

That almost every living thing was in danger of becoming an artifact ate away at his conscience, his soul.  Tonight, he thought, he was truly coming to pay for it, by losing the only person who had made him able to understand love beyond reason.  Even if she had been an experiment.

Kieran wiped his eyes again, careful to avoid the flower.  A memory came back to him of his first week on the job, a newbie full of more enthusiasm than sense sitting in a training seminar.  The corporate hack at the front of the room looked like a walking advertisement for DNA mods and enhancements, although the young engineer had not noticed at the time.  A well-groomed meatsuit intoning in a dire voice, telling the small group of gene techs that they "should always remain vigilant, and never fall in love with their 'products', ever".

Kieran shuddered at the recall. 'Products'.  The word tasted sour in his mind now, especially when he thought of her.  She had been his most successful creation yet, designed to live in low to mid-range undersea environments. A full functioning female-based 'humanculus' as those in the profession had dubbed them.  She was smart, the most important asset from the Company view; her beauty, while unconventional, had been a random effect of the genetic material they had started with.  It was Company policy not to invest resources and energy in eradicating traits that were 'output neutral' relative to the desired end result.

Kieran thought that maybe they should have.  His own bloodline caught up with him, he fell in love with the creature he began to think of as his selkie, his ondine.  He even brought her flowers once, chrysanthemums, and they both smiled at the absurdity of the gesture.  The Celtic blood in his veins came to life, and he started dreaming of her, swimming alongside her, making love in the aqueous jade ocean and paying homage to Mannanán.

His devotion to her, in the end, was not enough.  She began behaving erratically, falling short of the benchmarks the Company insisted on to certify their products.  She slowly withdrew and responded only to Kieran directly.  He began to hear whispers and rumors that the product would be 'withdrawn', a euphemism horrifying in its implications.  His heart couldn't stand it, and he resolved to let her go.

He personally opened the gates that led to the sea.  She watched him intently as he twisted valves and overrode the security locks.  With the sudden inrush of seawater into the holding bay, her eyes widened and she understood what he meant her to do.  She placed a palm against the thick quartz of the observation port.  That tender gesture nearly undid him as he placed his own hand on the cool surface.  She shook her head, and turned to swim out into the dark.

That had been a week ago. He knew her chances were poor, too many weaknesses in the splices.  He also knew about the terminator genes the Company typically tagged on to all their projects.  He could not contemplate her fate when those kicked in.

Kieran shook his head.  It was cold and the rain was turning to snow.  He needed to get out while he still could.  The pink chrysanthemum shimmied as he shivered.  It had become her favorite flower. 
He gently tossed the flower over the side of the bridge.  A few languid loops later it came to rest on the silky surface of the river.  Kieran watched it slowly disappear, turning himself away to trudge back to the capsule hotel that had become his new home.  His cheeks were no longer wet.

Below the bridge, the chrysanthemum spiraled in the current.  Emerging into the nacreous gray light on the downstream side of the bridge, a hand of milky-white skin and bluish nails plucked the flower from below.

02 April 2011

Bird Feed

The feeder sits outside the window, and to my chagrin, I neglected to fill it up over most of the winter.  No felony, this oversight, not even a misdemeanor.  It is, after all, just a bird feeder.  What troubles me most is that I did not fill it up during a period when the beneficiaries of such largesse (i.e. the birds) needed it most.

Birds have high-speed metabolisms, and they need all the calories they can get when there is snow on the ground and chill in the air.  I often looked out the window, at the empty feeder swaying in the breeze, and then promptly forgot about it.  One afternoon, I looked up from my computer to see a lone chickadee perched on the side of the feeder.  It was fluttering its wings and pecking frantically, forlornly, at the remnants of the last batch of seed from months back.

I suffered a spasm of guilt.

Two weekends ago, the Wee Lass and I made a trip to a nearby shop that specializes in all things bird-feeding and -watching related.  They sell all sorts of feeders, bird baths, perches, bird guides and a plethora of seed mixes.  I've taken to buying from them, as the feed they sell seems particularly popular with the birds that frequent my yard.  Wee Lass and I selected our twenty pound bag of the "Purple" mix, and headed home whereupon I immediately filled up the feeder.  It wasn't long before the neighborhood avian types found out it was full.  They have been chowing down at a breathtaking rate ever since.

Tonight I filled up the feeder again, Wee Lass wanted to see some birds, and so did I.  As I was pouring in the feed, the feeder suddenly felt in my hands as a stand-in for certain aspects of my life.  The pattering hiss of seeds was a bell going off in my mind, a call to prayer, and I made as if to turn my face to the temple.

Winter did this to me.  My heart has been empty far too often in recent months, swinging empty at the end of a chain while hanging in the cold gray light.  The only evidence of past savor a few shreds of memory disintegrating and frozen fast to the dirty glass surrounding the void.  My mind has become that desperate, frazzled bird clinging for dear life to a cold metal loop and pecking again and again at the places where once it had found food and vitality and life...only to glean a crumb or two, and flutter off confused and achingly hungry.  My heart, that chickadee, carrying the memory of love.

I finished filling up the feeder, came back to earth, and closed the window.  I paused briefly, not wanting to let my darling daughter see the look on my face.  There would have been no way to explain it, and as our weekend together had just started, I had no wish to rain on the parade.  I took a deep breath and composed a smile.  Turning around, I told her to keep an eye out for some birds.  Minutes later, a mini-flock of about five started shuttling back and forth from the wild rose bush by the fence to the feeder.  Wee Lass exclaimed "There's a girl cardinal!", and seemed pleased we had visitors.

I was preparing dinner, listening to her chatter, and watching the birds when I could.  The little chickadee in my head chirped again, this time happy to have a full larder to feast upon.  The birds fluttered and whirred and something loosened up, a slipping of rusty bolts in an iron heart seized shut.

If only, if only...I made it through another winter, and I'm feeling hollow and thin.  The hunger I feel reaches deep, it comes from the bones and the blood and the heart.  I watched the birds, and chuckled.  My heart...it still has hope that this spring, this year, love opens it up and it can feed.

01 April 2011

Spring Poetry Slam #7: On Melting

Crocus in the rain
holds my face against windowpanes,
heart slips down the glass