29 July 2012

Thoughts of Rain and Road

July 26, 2012. 9:38 PM. On the road, contemplating the view from my hotel bed.

The air conditioning shut off a few minutes ago. I am slightly taken aback by the weight of the quiet in the room. The ambience isn't noise-free, but the little noises I hear only make the gaps in between that much heavier.

There is a trickling noise from the bathroom. Slight thumps above and to the sides, the muffled voices from down the hallway outsid my door. Hum of the lamp whose light is a peculiar shade of what I think of as watered milk. Or a miner's lamp through a plate of opal glass.

A faint flash through the window leads me to believe the is lightning outside, perhaps the threat of storm made good. That impression is strengthened bybthe room lights flickering, once, twice, three times in less than two minutes. The rain I cannot say if that is a good thing or no; the city outside my room is not the one that makes my home these days. I hear the rumble of thunder, that stentorian promise of rain and I wish I could take some of that with me on my return trip tomorrow.

Tomorrow. On the plane again, my daughter with me for a summer visit. Her presence and energy give the lie to the jaded road tripper I imagine myself to be, those times when I find myself between stops, the edges of my mind worn smooth by the grit of internal journeys. I look to her very often for inspiration, that something to push me out of the personal Bermuda Triangle of introspection in which the ship of my soul too often disappears. She is, perhaps, my stargate.

The air conditioning kicked back on. The temperature in the room drops precipitously, and it makes me think of good sleeping weather. The fatigue of the day seeps into my bones. Time perhaps to head off to bed. I will close my eyes, dreaming my way into sunny days and laughter, of those I hold dear, and the love they rain down on the grand desert of my road dog heart.

28 July 2012

Shine the Now

It's Saturday. Nothing particularly unusual or significant about the day other than it is the Now. The Now is beautiful if we let it shine.

It's Saturday. My brain feels like a reactor core deep in the cooling pond. I'm grateful for the water to contain my chain reactions. I've had a lot lately, as the pages of the blog show in abundance.

It's Saturday. I am setting aside the tragedies, the anxieties and the grief because it is the Now, and I wish to enjoy it. I wish you to enjoy it, dear ones.

It is the Now. That's all we have, and it's beautiful. Peace to you all, in your Now.

27 July 2012

Tragedy Doesn't Make You a Commando

Buttons pushed, lay out the cash
'cause you feel the media dread
put on your do-rag, tin star man,
camouflage paint, tactical gear
don't forget your flag
wrap yourself in cold comfort
of gunmetal and AP bullets
(your demon wears kevlar)

Kid yourself its necessary
godless crazies are out there
crossfires will take 'em out (right?)
Go ahead, boy sniper, defend us all
You've seen enough movies
you're a marksman, confirmed!
More's the pity your aim is not
guaranteed to save the innocent

26 July 2012

The Spice Merchant's Apprentice

July 24th, 2012. 8:21 PM. The fatigue of honest effort drives the typing.

A funny thing happened to me today after I arose from bed and made myself presentable to the world.

I put in a full work day today. Actual job-type work. It was enlightening. Enjoyable, even.

I know, I am as surprised as you are, if not more so. To be sure, it isn't full-time. It isn't in architecture or construction. It isn't in a field for which I have any real experience and certainly no training. In fact, it is a line of work in which I ever pictured myself engaged. Those of you know me well enough would know why.

It is in retail. Specifically, a store* that sells herbs, spices and seasonings as their raison d'etre. I like to think of it as, for lack of a better description, an apprentice spice merchant. Did I mention it is retail?

Shocked? I'm still a little stunned myself.

I fell into it by happenstance. I was up to my neck in a job search related to my architecture credentials, and as my mind was wont to do, it flitted off on a tangent regarding a seasoning I was out of at home. My crow-mind couldn't resist going after that mental shiny thing, so I went the company website to look it up. I am fortunate that there is a local outlet of the company near to my house, so I knew it would be easy to get there and get what I needed.

So I'm looking over the page and I notice they have a "Careers" tab. I thought "What the heck?" and I clicked on it to scroll down the list. Lo and behold, the local store was in need of a part-time staffer. I stared at the ad for a few moments, for a split-second thinking I should do it, then clicked away. Me, retail? The thought boggled the mind.

But it kept nagging at me. The idea wouldn't let me go. I considered my position, the long search I've been on and still...nothing.** I thought about all the time I've spent staring out the window after my job hunt activities have burned out for the day. I considered that it would nice to have something constructive to do, earn a little money, while I am slowly stitching my professional life back together.

I considered that I like spices. I like using them. I like reading about them, smelling them, and especially eating them. Somehow that overrode all my anxieties and misgivings about selling things and interacting with the general public on a regular basis. Again, anyone who knows me knows that sort of thing gives me a case of the yammering fantods just thinking about it. It is so far outside my comfort zone as to be in another galaxy.

So what did I do? I dropped off an application. Then I hyperventilated into a paper bag.

I had two interviews, one with the corporate office, one with the store manager. The whole time I felt like I was standing a few feet away from myself, wondering "Who is this man?". I had a hard time believing I was going through with it. This is not something I've done before. There would be things to learn.

So, as it turns out, they really liked me, I liked them, so when they offered, I said yes. Then I hyperventilated into a paper bag.*** The result is that today was my first day on in the spice biz.

I have to say it ended up being much more enjoyable than I could have imagined. It was a slow day, according to the manager and the co-worker with me, so I know it won't always be so pleasant. Aside from the slight awkwardness I felt (and always feel in similar situations) when warming up to the customers and new tasks, I daresay I even enjoyed it. And for the third time, those who know me I have some issues when it comes to dealing with a stream of people all day long. But you know what? I exceeded my expectations. That felt pretty darn good.

So there you have it, dear readers. Another step on the path, where it is headed I don't have a clear idea. For now, though, I'll keep on walking and see what turns up. You never know until you try, right?


*It is a spice company with stores nationwide, about 70 or so, I think. I may have mentioned them in past posts, but in regards to naming names, I'm a little unsure what journalistic protocols might apply now that I am an employee.
**To be accurate, the job climate in architecture has started to pick up a little around my region. It is still a slow awakening, and things are not moving very fast. There have been nibbles. But that is a post for another time...
***Okay, so I didn't hyperventilate into a paper bag. But I did put my head down between my knees and take long, slow breaths for a minute or two.

25 July 2012

Blasphemers Know All The Cool Bands


"Wake up."


"Ellis!" The Inquisitor slams a hand down on the table. "Wake up! We have more to discuss!"

Ellis groaned, and lifted his head up just high enough to peer at the Inquisitor through his swollen left eye. The orbit around hurt like the hell with which he had always been threatened. His right eye stubbornly refused to open, the crust of blood and mucus cemented it shut. He sighed wetly while his head dropped down again. The pain was hot, and the dizziness from the interrogation serums they had forced into his system made him want to puke. Ellis hated puking.

He sighed again, trying to get comfortable. A rope of drool dangled from the corner of Ellis' mouth, thick and bloody. Streams of it had stained his t-shirt, one of Ellis' favorites, the deep purple "Jesus Puppies" concert shirt from their infamous "Kibble Krucifix" tour of three summers back. The front had a gaudy monochrome outline of a mans' body sporting a dog's head. The creature was dressed in a robe and was holding aloft a cross made out of dog biscuits. At his feet lay a semi-circle of smaller dog-headed creatures, prostrate before the dog-man and staring up at the cross with tongues hanging out. The dog-man was breaking off a piece of the cross, hand poised to drop the tidbit in his mouth.

The images were disappearing under a layer of drool and dried blood. Ellis grunted in shock, filled with a surge of anger. The anger gave him the energy to look back up at his bald-headed tormentor. The Inquisitor sat vulture-like, perched on the edge of his chair. A faint sheen of sweat glistened on his shaved head, darkening the tattoos of rank placed there by the Regime. The optics in his eyes swiveled slightly, emitting a faint whirr as the Seeker of Truth studied the boy's face, so distorted by drugs and the "Hands of the Lord".
The slight sneer on his surgically enhanced lip inspired Ellis to spit at it.

The Inquisitor leaned back, with the economical slithery grace of a serpent, to watch the gob of bloody sputum hit the table with a wet smack. He smiled wearily and removed a rag from  a box at the end of the table. Ellis noticed that the smile did not reach up to the onyx marbles of the Inquisitor's eyes, who slowly wiped the spittle from the table. He daintily folded the rag and tossed it into a nearby wastebin.

"Ellis. You shouldn't have done that. But I would expect nothing less than vulgarity from a blasphemer such as yourself. Tell me, young man, do look forward to your time in Hell?" the Inquisitor asked.

"It's Mephistophilis," said Ellis, thickly and with a small, twisted smile, "and this is Hell, and I'm not out of it. So don't threaten me with Hell, you tool. And you are going to pay to replace my shirt."

The Inquisitor's eyes widened, a flush sweeping over his head and neck. "Don't you treat me with impudence, little boy, I will MAKE you understand the meaning of Hell!" he roared, standing straight up with his palms flat on the table. The regime-issued black ballistic holy vestments clung to muscles honed by fanatical adherence to the Physical Vespers, and Ellis knew the Inquisitor could probably dislocate every joint in his body without cracking a holy sweat.

The Inquisitor leaned over the table, sneering, his modified ceramic alloy teeth just inches from Ellis' face. The young man leaned back, more to escape the Inquisitor's fetid breath, which reeked of eucalyptus and machine oil. Spit showered Ellis' face as the Avatar of the Regime growled "Don't make it worse for yourself, sinner. Just tell us what your were doing with that crate full of memory we found in the panniers on your zipcycle. You can still repent." Snake eyes scanned Ellis, recording, waiting.  Ellis leaned back as far as he could go. He drew in a deep breath.

"I'm telling you nothing. You know why? Because you are a tool. And tools are useless and dumb in the wrong hands. The hands on you are very, very wrong." He lunged forward, swift like a adder, and drove his forehead as hard as he could into the Inquisitor's nose. The sharp crack of bone in meat echoed off the sweating concrete walls of the holding cell, drowned out by the scream of the Inquisitor as he fell back over the chair behind him. His body jerked and twitched, and as Ellis pitched forward in a blackout, he could only hope his strike had hit a control node.

Alarms blared in duet with the wet moans of the Inquisitor. Ellis sprawled unconscious across the table, a thin thread of blood oozing off the table edge to spatter on the floor. Not a single drop made its way onto the image of the dog-man and the puppy disciples eagerly awaiting their kibble.

To be continued...

24 July 2012

Divided by Zero (Pt. 1)

The world will little note, nor long remember
what we said, did and cried there
But our hearts will never forget this life,
delicate china, tiny-pink, but not a doll
to be set aside and out of mind

Even the sun seemed reticent to shine
on broken hearts and bleeding souls
Shine it did, now and then, on faltering steps,
shaking hands and the small black hole
metastasizing at the center of our universe

Gravity drew me in, shaking hands grasping
a collapsar in casket form, miniature Taj Mahal
as reluctant gift to the gaping earth
Gravity fragmenting my porcelain heart
caught ever in the orbit of her new sun

~In memoriam of her, half of my first light
July 22, 2012

The line in bold is from Lincoln's 'Gettysburg Address.' A different memorial of course, but the sentiment struck hard on my heart.

23 July 2012

Magpie Tales 127: She Lied to Me About Infinity

Figure Eight, 1952, Franz Kline, via Tess at Magpie Tales

Laying entwined side by side
in lightning light through north glass
spattered sheeting rasping their backs
she laughed, hiccuped into his mouth
wine-warm breath and obsidian eyes
glancing to the wet canvas, You like it?
the question hung before his fogged brain
squinting while besotted memories
bubble up from the black lake
inside, he grips her hip, turning her sideways
to smile only with his lips It's fine, love,
but we were supposed to be infinity,
and all I see is a figure eight

22 July 2012

That Old Time Religion

It's Sunday, and you know what that means. It's time for guns and Jesus!


Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? I thought so, too, when the tagline first crossed my mind on Saturday. I tried to set it aside in favor of something else. As the day wore on, and the more I read in the news, I realized I wouldn't be able to drop it.

I was meditating on the awfulness of the shootings and killings that occurred in Aurora, trying to gain some understanding. It saddened me deeply to think that yet again something like this happened, yet again we will go through the cycle of shock, outrage and collective forgetting of the random, sudden violence that seems to be an unfortunate, horrifying earmark of life in the modern United States.

I told myself to send up a prayer that such a horror never happens to me, my friends and my family. I told myself to send up prayers for the victims and their loved ones. In many ways that is all we can do when faced with tragedies which have their only connection to ourselves through the medium of modern telecommunications technology.

I also hoped that outsiders with an agenda would exercise some tact and common sense, and refrain from using the tragedy as a sounding board for all manner of fear-mongering or idiocy.  Way too optimistic on my part, I know. Sadly, that lasted all of no time.

That some commentators on ABC News got way ahead of themselves by trying too hard to make a link between the alleged gunman and the Tea Party, based on very sketchy and unsubstantiated information, was bad enough. I'm no fan of the Tea Party, but the link between the perpetrator and them was so tenuous at that stage (and I don't think it has been substantiated even now) these veterans of the reporting trade should definitely have known better than to put it out there.

Trying to be the first to report, okay, I get that. Want to be cutting edge "on the scene", okay fine, just do a better job of fact-checking before trying to trump the competition. Really, it was way to early and so little facts were known that it ends up making them look stupid.

What really made me sick, and feeling so fed up with the culture of violence in this country, was one particular set of statements made by U.S. Representative from Texas Louie Gohmert. In a truly breathtaking leap of logic (or illogic, depending on how you look at it) that strains the bounds reasonable thought, he made the following remarks in a radio interview broadcast by the Heritage Foundation:

"You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place."

"Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important...Whether it's John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people ... Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters ... We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country."

"People say ... where was God in all of this?...We've threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God's name, they're going to be jailed ... I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don't want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."
So he thinks that there is a link between random, mass violence and lack of religion. Furthermore, he seems to think it is specifically due to lack of Christianity. What is truly breathtaking in its willful irrationality is the connection he tries to make between supposed 'ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs' and the psychopathic actions of a single mass murderer.

Say what? How in the world does that even make sense? My guess is the perpetrator is a deeply troubled individual whose mind went places most of us cannot even imagine. I truly do not believe that it was a lack of Christianity that led to this; it was a pathological lack of reason and empathy. It speaks to narrowness of mind and arrogance of belief to claim this random act of violence as an attack on ones' belief system. Frankly, if Gohmert and folks like him are making Christianity look bad by claiming their religion had something to do with this crime.

But that's not all. It gets worse. He went on to speculate that the tragedy could have been lessened or stopped if only (you guessed it) more people in the theater had been carrying guns, and thereby could have taken down the shooter:
"It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?"
Oh, for the love of humanity, really? A crowded theater full of people carrying guns? Is this man a complete moron? People who were in the theater have been quoted as saying they thought the commotion was part of the movie. And do I really have to point out that it is generally DARK in movie theaters, so between that and the confusion, the soundtrack with special effects a generally untrained population...how would anyone have been able to take down the gunman without hurting and killing even more bystanders? Does he not understand the concepts of "fog of war" and "crossfire"?

Not long after I read the above remarks, I saw that old worn-out platitude "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" making the rounds in the media and on Facebook. Oh, it made my head hurt and my heart sick. There is nothing that pisses me off more every time something like this happens, when the gun nuts and NRA puppets start squawking about not taking away their weapons or controlling them. It completely misses the point, and in no way is an excuse to NOT do something about guns and their potential for crimes like the one in Aurora.

What really galls me, makes me sick and angry, is that too often Mr. Gohmert and many like him seem to think it was a lack of guns and God that lead to these tragedies. There I must emphatically disagree; sometimes I think this country suffers from a surfeit of both.

But he and many others are willfully missing the point. It is neither Christian belief or the right to bear arms that matters here. The most important thing, what we should all remember, is that someone went berserk and yet again the blood of innocents is on the ground. Pray that it doesn't happen again. Pray that we all may find peace.

21 July 2012

Devil's Hatband

Hot. Hot like the hell. Another round of temperatures exceeding the 100° mark, and it looks like we are headed for 110° in the next two days or so. Folks are predicting new records for the KCMO area. I am inclined to believe them. This is heat I haven't felt for some time, and never for so long. The yard is turning into brown chaff faster than sprinklers can restore it. When I look out the window I sigh and shake my head.

"There is nothing to be done," intones the hollow voice in my head. We water, we "tsktsk", we wonder: when will it rain? Rain enough to make a difference? I grow tired of waiting.

Drought conditions persist, not enough work, water or money. August is approaching. This means I am facing ten months without an architecture job of which to speak. This means that the rain has stopped. The cisterns such as I had are swiftly draining. I can see the bottoms now, this makes me very nervous. I have lost my rain-making juju. This vexes me greatly.

The lake level has dropped, you can see the stumps now. There is baked mud where used to be pond weed and lilies, frogs and fish. The trails of dying fish can be seen in the hard grey earth of the dry bottom. They flipped and flopped, gasping for air in the heat, perhaps not comprehending their fate. I can only know by imagination what they felt. The idea of suffocating in air, gills drying out, tongue blackening, is truly unsettling. I don't know it physically. I do know it mentally. My bad dreams have shown me the path into the desert.

Grim, I know. Not the sort of thing we really enjoy discussing in polite company. I try to avoid inflicting these inner terrors on those around me, and those for whom I care. I am, as you may have noticed, not a complete success in that endeavor. Witness the words I spill for you now.

I stepped out in the heat today, on multiple occasions. There were errands to run, lunch to be had, sprinklers to be adjusted. While I was out, I saw that the flower bed at the front of the house was suffering an incursion of pesky grasses and bindweed. This was a bit much for me, having been parked in front of my computer trying to piece together some fragmented areas of my domestic life. I was in an ornery state. The agitation arising from my contemplation of the figuratively disappearing lake spurred me into action. The grasses and the weeds, they didn't stand a chance.

I ripped. I pulled. I tore out handfuls of vegetation, reveling in the discharge of energy. It felt good to flex and move. The heat made me sweat profusely, but even that felt invigorating. As is often the case, the distraction of a well-defined task allowed my mind to let go of some Stuff. This freed it up in turn to contemplate some Things. Things like that slowly evaporating lake in my mind.

If the idea of vanishing water and sun-baked stumps seemed bleak, the lower level of the lake also presented opportunities. That which was once hidden by the murky water was now coming to light again. What used to be wreckage could now be salvaged. Ideas and ambitions, hopes and fears, exposed again to the light of the day-mind. Now I could wade into the shallows and drag them back to higher ground. Something good could be reclaimed from things I believed to be lost.

Cool water splashes on my calves and back. In my peregrinations around the flowerbed, I had wandered into the arc of the sprinkler out in the yard. The shock of the water reminded me by contrast, of the heat. The mirage in my head popped out of existence and I came back to this world. The sun burned like a plasma cutter and I heard the voice of my father saying "It's hotter than the Devil's hatband out there!"

I wipe the sting from my eyes. There was curse making its way to the tip of my tongue, but I swear I could taste a little lake water there, so I bite back on the epithets. The Devil's hatband might as well be on my brow, the sweat pouring down my face in direct contradiction to the drought all around me. The drought, though, seems less threatening. It's change that creates difficulties which can be hard to overcome. Still, with change comes opportunity. The heat may brown the grass and dry the leaves, but this time I'll save the seeds I've gathered, in anticipation of the rains I know will surely come.

20 July 2012

Skinning the Fear

fear caused the famine
so step inside the kitchen
grab your knife and pliers?
yes, knock the eel unconscious
grip it tight, skin it, peel it
like a glove from an elbow

don't let the blood
give you a fright
it's messy, innit?
a hungry soul writhing
but you like to eat
that is plain to see

you must eat to live
eating is destroying a living thing
can't be helped, can it?
the belly whispers to the soul:
to live, you must destroy, you eat
the tentacles around your heart

July 18th, 2012
Kansas City, MO

~Inspired by the writings of Richard Olney

19 July 2012

Billy Blaze Is Beating The Crap Out of Chuck Lumley. Maybe.

Monday, July 16th, 2012. 4:38 PM. Thirsty and nervous.

A problem with writing, sometimes and at least for me, is that there is an excess of voices in my head. Not in a "I've-lost-my-grip-and-become-unhinged" sort of way. It resembles a cacophony. A circus. The trading floor of a particularly eccentric, bizarre stock exchange.

Plus, there is the subtle yet pervasive odor of fear in the atmosphere. Fear makes me nervous.

The voices, they often make it hard for me to get anything done. Today is a case in point. I've been bouncing back and forth between trying to cobble together an effective job search, and attempting to suss out the thread of something my inner voice insists I write. Doing two complex tasks at once, and doing neither very well. I mean, just look at the drivel I'm putting on the page!

Gahhh. It is a first world problem that strikes at the root of my dilemma. I have been pursuing what I know how to do*, with unfortunately little usable results. I have also pursued what I don't know how to do**, with results even less impressive. All of this against a backdrop of a life in whirling flux. So many changes, so many things new and outside of the fragile snow globe I used to inhabit.

Well, that glass is broken now. A leap into the wild blue after years of habit broken by personal upheaval. It has affected my concentration. My creativity. My resolve to produce something worthwhile. The ideas come like stones skipping over the surface of the ocean. Tracking them all makes it own exhaustion, especially since I have aspirations to be more than just a hobbyist. As an architect, I should know more than many that in order to build anything, you need a solid plan.

So the joke seems to be on me. For reasons I have yet to understand, I have been unable to formulate a solid plan for any path I want to follow. I think about it, I make tentative steps in certain directions, and then I get distracted by the Stuff and the Things. I have lost focus far more times than I care to count. This is anxious-making, because I'm painfully aware I need to get it together.

The pragmatic, practical side of me, the one that is fond of structure and routine is banging heads with the creative, artistic side that is desperate to bloom and explore. There has to be a way to reconcile the two. All the more critical as I hope to find a way to make a living out of the beautiful mess of my life. I need my one big idea.

Remember the movie Night Shift which came out in 1982, with Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler? As some may know, Michael Keaton played William Blazejowski aka 'Billy Blaze'. He was the feckless numbskull, always carrying a miniature tape recorder so he could capture the big ideas that were constantly springing forth from his overheated mind.*** Henry Winkler played Chuck Lumley, the sad-sack, straight-laced guy who quit Wall Street for a low-stress job in a morgue. They both end up on the night shift, and hilarity ensues. The Creative and the Steward in comic tension.

Chuck Lumley and Billy Blaze are slugging it out in my head, cheered on by a crowd of reprobates, hangers-on and clowns. I'm not sure who is ahead in this contest, but I can tell you it is noisy, it is frenetic and it is exhausting. Chuck wants me to settle down and take the first, safest thing that comes up. Billy wants me to keep cranking out the ideas until we have that One Big Idea.

I want that One Big Idea, too, dear readers. I'm just not sure how much longer I can hold out.


*The wonderful if exceedingly frustrating world of architecture.
**In other words, writing and photography. By 'don't know how to do' I mean I was not formally educated in, nor do I have professional credentials in, either area of artistic/professional endeavor.
***My favorite is the one where Billy is eating a fast food burger. He stops to stare at the wrapper, then whips out the recorder to say "Idea to reduce garbage:edible paper!" The look on his face was hilarious.

18 July 2012

Crossing the Gulf

Hot wind pushed its way into the room, blowing grit and despair into Josiah's eyes. The door to the taqueria was propped open by an adobe brick that looked half-melted. A battered fan stood to the side and seemed offended, letting out a low rasp as the blades sped up briefly. Aside from the fan, the only other occupant was a short, roundish woman leaning half-asleep on the counter across the room.

Josiah cleared his throat around a lukewarm swallow of acrid coffee. He blinked in the heat, a lizard pondering the shadow of the hawk about to grab him. The money was nearly gone and he had only made it as far as Sonoita. San Felipe and the coast beyond was starting look like another fever-heat dream.

Heat. "Goddamn it hot," Josiah muttered to himself. Sweat beads were rolling down his face from under the salt-encrusted hatband but did little to cool. On his skin, they felt like drops of molten lead. The drops glistened on the pistol shoved into his waistband. It was pressing into his side, a blood-warm metal thorn that he could not afford to pull out. The gun and the silver dollars in his pocket were their own economy, one in which he was the working class.

Be that as it was, he found himself still hungry. A tin plate lay before him, its battered surface obscured by a thin film of frijoles charros sauce. The beans had long ago made their way to his waiting belly; little shreds of tortillas littered the pock-marked wood of the table. A dented tin cup stood at his elbow. The dregs of the coffee looked like oil or evil, he didn't know which. Either way, it was wet, so he lifted the cup and drank.

There came a low buzz and a sharp crack from outside in the street. The lights flickered and went out. The fan came to a wheezing halt. Josiah sat up straight as he sat the cup down too hard. It clanked against the table top, startling the sloe-eyedseñoraslumped against the counter. She stood upright and peered through the dusty, bubble-pocked glass of the small window at the end of the piñon wood counter. She muttered something in Spanish, too low for Josiah to catch. He guessed she was cursing the blackout.

Josiah glanced out the door. The sky was darkening, purplish clouds laced with dirty silver rolling in over the mountains in the distance. He reckoned rain might be a relief even if it slowed him down. Less dust would be a blessing. Of course, and Josiah smiled at the thought, it would slow down Webb's henchmen, too.

Webb's boys. Josiah felt his stomach roil to think they might catch him.  Dumb as a box of rocks, but long on muscle and bad intent.They wouldn't give a good goddamn that the fugitive had only taken back what was rightfully his, in spite of everything Len Webb had done. "Ruined my father, stole my land, he did, but he ain't going to keep it" Josiah said. The señora looked over, eyes narrowing and eyebrows cocked. He couldn't tell if she understood him, or thought him just plain crazy. He looked away, quickly.

Webb's reach was long and he might well have someone in place down here. Might even be the señora; the thought made him dizzy. He looked back at her. She was looking out the window again, nervously it seemed. "Time to move," he thought. He stood up, reaching in his pocket for a coin. The señora heard the rattle as he fished it out, turning to eye him carefully. He held up the money for her to see. "Silver, see?" he smiled a little too big and patted his belly. "Bueno, señora, bueno!" he added, flipping the coin to her across the room. She hardly moved except for a lightning-quick grab that snagged the coin out of mid-air. She raised it to her lips, and bit it. She smiled, wrinkled lips parting to reveal a snaggle-toothed smile. "Gracias, señor," she said shyly.

Josiah picked up the leather satchel that had been laying under the table and limped across to the door. He leaned out cautiously, turning to look both ways up and down the avenida. As main drags go, it wasn't much, but in these parts it might be considered a regular El Camino Real. It was wide, too wide for Josiah's liking but ran straight through the center of town.

Out on the packed dirt, he could see a few dozen horses, some donkeys, few people and one lone motorcar. From the polish and shine, Josiah guessed it belonged to whoever held the most land and power around the town. Not many as could afford a good horse, much less a machine that no one would be able to easily fix. The car sat catty-cornered across the road  from the taqueria, in front of what Josiah thought to be a hotel. The car was empty.

Josiah looked south, where the sun was still shining. The avenida was empty, he could no one nor any dust trails on the slow, hot breeze. He turned to look north, into the storm. The sky in that direction was the color of old lead, and getting blacker. He saw a fork of lightning touch down on a hill in the mid-distance. He jumped a little, and he remembered to look down at the road.

There was a dust cloud on the road. It roiled and drifted off in a gauzy smear. In the fading sunlight, he could see glints of something down on the surface. It was moving relatively fast, shimmering a little in the heat. Josiah swallowed hard. He couldn't tell if the approaching objects were cars or horses, but he had no desire to find out. Fear spiked his belly as he scrambled painfully down the worn wooden steps. The hard-packed dirt of the road burned through the soles of his boots. He hobbled as fast as he could to his waiting horse, a slow warm trickle of blood oozing down his belly from underneath the makeshift bandage he had tied there two days ago.

The wound was shallow, a testament to how fast he had ducked and to the luck of another's bad aim. He grunted a little in pain, regretting he didn't have time to find another bandage as replacement. That would have to wait until he put some space and hopefully the Gulf of California between himself and Webb.

The horse nickered in recognition as Josiah placed a hand on the animal's flank. "C'mon, boy, we've miles to make," he said, patting the horse gently. Josiah's other hand strayed to the satchel. In spite of the urgency, he opened it up, reassuring himself that the precious contents were still there. His fingertips found them both, one a stout silver cross and the other a packet of heavy parchment pages bound in twine. The cross was on a heavy silver chain, and studded with emeralds. The parchment was browned, the color of suntanned leather and worth more than the cross ever could be.

Josiah sighed. He shut the satchel, resetting the clasp tightly. One foot in the stirrup, one hand on the pommel of the saddle, he steeled himself against the pain as he swung himself up on the horse. The stabbing tear in his side forced a gasp from his aching lungs. There were tears in his eyes as he blinked rapidly to clear them. Time was getting short.

He looked again to the north. The dust cloud had gotten larger, looking eerie against the nearly black sky behind it. Whoever it was they were gaining. Josiah tugged on the reins, turning the horse to the south. He pressed his heels against its flanks, urging it into a fast trot. He prayed they would get out of sight before whoever was back there could eyeball him.

Behind him, the door to the hotel opened. Three men stepped out, one dressed in linen too clean for honest day's work. The other two were dressed in clothes the color of rock and adobe. All three looked well-groomed. They eyed Josiah suspiciously, saying nothing. Josiah touched the brim of hat, then set his heels to the horse again.

The horse picked up speed, trotting into the shadows on the south side of the avenida. Josiah leaned forward and pulled his hat down low. His left hand on the reins, his right hand drifted down to rest on the satchel. The heft of it filled him with hope and dread. Cross and paper would be his salvation, he thought, if only he could make it across the gulf.

17 July 2012

Magpie Tales 126: Resetting the Stones

Artwork by Jack Vettriano, via Tess at Magpie Tales



"Rachel. She's waiting downstairs."

An impatient tapping of cigarette against burnished leather the color of oxblood. She continues to stare out the window, Imogen waiting skittish as a fawn in the doorway. She found her older sister's profile, back lit as it was by the pewter sky beyond, rather imperial in its own way. She found most things about Rachel to be regal ever since they were children. Imogen rarely forgot it.

Rachel stood silent. She watched the slow, fat drops of rain descend to disintegrate on the impossibly green grass and slick pavement. It reminded her of emeralds and coal, and Sarah still dead after five years. Green eyes and black hair flickered across the theater screen behind Rachel's eyes. Beautiful things brought forth from the earth, too fragile perhaps to survive without breaking or burning. The thought closed Rachel's eyes, involuntarily, but this time there were no tears. Imogen spoke, a rock in the pond of remembrance.

"Chandra is wai---" Rachel cut her off, a bit sharply, "I know, I heard you."

She turned to look at her sister, seeing the flush of embarrassment and hurt creeping up her neck. Imogen started back slightly under the pressure of Rachel's ice-blue eyes. Rachel softened her gaze, realizing the poor thing was only trying to help, and gave a reassuring smile.

"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean to be so harsh. Too much on my mind, you know, and this is my first since Sarah di--died," Rachel said, stumbling over the word. "I'm ready, I think, but still." She looked back out the window, rainfall and memories disappearing into a slick gloss over the streets. "Tell her I'm sorry to keep her waiting, I'll be down in a moment." Imogen dipped her head in acknowledgement, and skittered off downstairs to relay the news.

Rachel tapped the cigarette on the case again, decided against lighting it. No time, really, and she didn't want to make an entrance smelling of Dunhills. She opened the battered leather case and replaced the cigarette. It snapped shut, a loud clacking in the silence of the room. The contents vanished from sight, and the case went in her purse.

Rachel stepped away from the window and over to her full-length mirror. Her lover's eyes stared back out at her. Rachel smoothed her dress, whispered "Time to go, darling." Sarah melted away with a soft "Yes, yes, it is..." leaving a melancholy smile. Emeralds and coal scattered themselves into the strata of Rachel's heart, fading from view as she made her way downstairs into a new empire.

16 July 2012

From Little Acorns

Hard to fathom how nine years can fold itself into the span of a few seconds, but it happens. I looked out the window into the sunlight peeking through the clouds and the hands of my first son and daughter wrapped themselves around my heart. It is a testament to the changes in me since 2003 that I did not cry to feel the pressure. I only lowered my head while coming to grips with what I knew was on the way. It's their birthday, the day that growing up and being a man were no longer optional.

They came into our lives in a fire drill of life, under duress and much too early for anyone. They had no choice, and neither did we. It was a terrifying, awesome spectacle that I believe no one wants to witness, but having gone through it I cannot deny the effect the whole delivery process had on me. There will be no forgetting the urgency of the operation. There will be no unseeing of the blood and the machines, the focus of so many to preserve the lives of two tiny babies.

Small, delicate, and ultimately too fragile, yet they made a man out of me. More precisely, they made a new man out of me, by bringing me face to face with the evolution I had long postponed. Our babies made me grow up. Fast.

What to say to them, on this day upon which they would have been nine years old? What can I tell them? What can I give to them, to their memories?

As parents many of us may want to believe that our children will be our legacy, and for many that is true. For me through them, however, it is not. At least as long as I am on this earth, the man that I became is destined to be their legacy.

My children shaped me, forged me, poured me into a new mold. If on this their birthday I do weep it will not be tears of anguish at their loss, it will be tears of joy. I will celebrate the day they came into the world and bestowed upon me the honor of being their father.

Nine years, my children. I have your memory in my mind and your love in my heart. Happy birthday, son and daughter. You are no longer of this earth, but you are loved.

15 July 2012

Missouri River: Meditation #1

The river lay before me, placidly darkly taupe in its whispering rush past the city. I stood on a platform overlooking the water, the heat of the sun-blasted board soaking up through my shoes. I was at the confluence of a lull in the noise of cars and trains, with no one there to share the overlook. My hands rested on a tube steel guardrail, dull brown steel clasped in my sweating hands. I could feel the humidity rising from the water.

Across the muddy divide, the far bank stood thick and green with trees. Perhaps it was heat or fatigue, but for a brief moment I felt like the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, facing the Marcomanni at the River Danube. What tribesmen were waiting for me in that dusty green, that I could vanquish with my cameras and guile to assume the title of "Germanicus?"

Ha. I chuckled. My brain was reacting in strange ways to this extended heat wave in the heart of the country. There would be no victory arch erected for me. I did not come here to conquer, only to take pictures. I suppose the triumph of my return would be the reward of captivating images, should I be so lucky and skilled to make them. For most, the film would tell all, and that would have to wait.

The river flowed on. Small sounds reached my ears: the burble of water flowing against a channel marker. Buzz of insects in the underbrush and trees. Faint murmur of traffic from the bridges in each direction. The wind picked up momentarily, a small sirocco whirling its way downriver. What I did not hear was trains. There were no trains. It dawned on my that the lack of those rail sounds were what made me feel as if it was unearthly quiet down there by the river. I turned to peer at the tracks behind me.

Beads of sweat trickled down my neck, mildly shocking me with coolness as they lodged themselves along the camera straps criss-crossing my shoulders. "Photo-bandolero!" I say to myself, film canisters my ammunition, cameras my guns. The silver-brown rails glinted in the sun, and a movie played in my head.

Along comes a train, a miles-long ouroboros of freight and coal, and I somehow managed to climb the security fence surrounding the walkway over the tracks. The diesel leviathan rumbles slowly beneath my feet. I wait, holding my breath, until a car full of coal comes into view. I lean out to jump, spread-eagled and trying not to scream. I sink to my knees in anthracite and pray my ankles aren't broken. I'm off, heading into the golden west on the back of a metal serpent, to see what I can see and bring it back. The shaman begins his dreamquest, atop a mound of coal...

I blink. The solidity of the deck beneath my feet radiates rough warmth. Above me, a bird peeps and it calls me back to earth. There is no train. There is no coal. I am alone with the exception of a lone jogger coming up the trail that parallels the train tracks. The wire of the security screen is digging into my forehead, where I had rested it while studying the tracks below. The gunmetal ribbon of the rails winds it way along the river, heading west and into the industrial district far upriver beyond the bridge.

I step back from the screen, looking around to see if I have been observed. There is no one, which is good, I think. That way the look of wistfulness that must have been on my face would remain my own. There were no trains that afternoon, no stepping off of my soul on its search for something I have yet to define. I only know it is out there, silent and beckoning, waiting for me to meet it. Someday, I will. The river knows this, rolling to its own inscrutable rhythm, and it tells me I must do the same.

09 July 2012

Magpie Tales 125: The Ocean

"Chilmark Hay" by Thomas Hart Benson, via Magpie Tales

The sun out here was nothing like that he used to feel in the arms of his mistress. It was duller, it lacked brass, thought Ezra for the thousandth time in the day. The air wasn't quite right, either. Tang, it lacked the tang the ocean gave. Warm breath of a lover, he so missed her. His penance for the sin of minor misfortune. The ocean was a cruel mistress, no doubt, when a man becomes less than whole.

Ezra shoved the pitchfork into the hay on the wain, with more force than necessary. The cart rocked forward, wheels creaking in a small way. The horse nickered and flicked its ears in anxiety. Ezra took a rag from his pocket with his good left hand to wipe away an afternoon's worth of grime and sour feelings. The leather harness on his right arm was dark with sweat and speckled with chaff. The iron claw on the end glinted dully on the sunlight.

Ezra shook the claw loose from the iron cleat riveted to the slick, dark hickory of the pitchfork handle. The claw trembled. He was breathing hard, shame and bitterness etching his face. He spat. Jonas was a mighty fine blacksmith, and a clever fellow, but Ezra still had trouble swallowing the huge lump of pride that burned in his chest. He knew he wouldn't be able to do even the work that galled him if it hadn't been for the big man at the anvil.

His arm throbbed. Overhead he heard the shrill call of a gull, smelled the ocean just a few miles away. He swayed as if he were back on deck, hauling hard on the rope as the ship tilted under a hard wind. It was a bright day with a high sea, and if not for a head turned in error, his wrist and the pulley would never had met. He never would have felt the burn of hemp fiber tearing his flesh, breaking the bone, never would have heard the sickening thump as his hand hit the boards for all the world like a flying fish leaping from the sea.

He never would have heard the pain ripping his throat in a scream that reached the uncaring sun. It was a bright blue day, that Ezra lost his mistress. She cared little for the land, and he knew it. He was never the same, she wouldn't take him back, and Ezra felt his heart break again, surrounded by the sweet dustiness of newly-mown hay. The former man of the sea wrenched the pitchfork out of the load, and stabbed it deep into the anguish mounded up on the ground.

It's been way too long...this is my lagniappe to you, dear readers, for that wonderful little gem called Magpie Tales...

03 July 2012

Salarymen in the Mist

On Friday, June 29th at approximately 7:30 in the morning I swung my feet from bed to floor only to find that it was quite possible I no longer exist. A disconcerting sensation no matter which day of the week on which it might occur, but all the stronger for it being close to the weekend. I was not pleased with this turn of events. I like to exist.

Vertigo laced with anxiety made my belly flip a little. I patted the carpet, a high shag affair, with my feet to assure myself that I could indeed stand up. The softly scratchy strands felt good, felt so mundane that I made myself get to my feet. Surely the floor would support me. No embarrassing sinking through the floor to fall to the living room below and then on to the the basement. Why I thought a concrete slab would hold me if carpet and a wood floor would not, I do not know. I stood up. I did not sink into or through the floor, except to the extent my weight caused compression of the carpet. Very reassuring, that.

Sunlight leaking in between the small slats of the blinds caused me to blink. A good sign as well, I told myself. The knot in my belly loosened almost imperceptibly. Air flowed into my lungs with a muffled rasp. The sound inside my head gave me some comfort. It seemed so normal. I think I was just happy to breathe and feel the coursing of air in my chest.

So far, so good. Feet on the floor, air in the lungs, no fainting or disappearing into the woodwork. I felt less dizzy as I quickly scanned my surroundings.

Rumpled sheets. 
Bedside table with books. 
Low hum of fan. 
Phone on nightstand.

Heart beating, limbs moving, earth turning. I must be here, I exist...right?

Then why did I feel as if there were no gravity and that my flesh was becoming transparent before my groggy eyes?

I shook it off and made my way to the bathroom for some brief ablutions. Then it was downstairs for tea and breakfast. I don't recall what I made then, it must have been something simple. There were things to do and places to go, and none of them would wait for angst to make itself scarce. I showered and made ready for a road trip, all the while puzzling over my very own 'unbearable lightness of being'. It kept me occupied for quite some time.

Somewhere between lunch and departure it hit me square in the cerebral cortex: I am a salaryman without a salary, and thus a certain way, I do not exist. I don't earn, therefore, I am not. Years of societal and professional conditioning had led me to this identification of self with salary, and that is a dangerous place to hang the hat of one's identity.

The pieces came together. I am approaching nine months without employment, and in this culture of job = money = worth, that nine months is akin to a lifetime. This feeling gripped me hard, this uneasy knowledge that to many employers perhaps I have become invisible. Nothing breeds success like success, and ladies and gentlemen, I have had no success in the time I have been looking. There is some truth to the notion that it is much easier to get a job when you already have a job, and I am without.

Not exactly front page news in architecture, a profession that unfortunately seems to demand experience without necessarily wanting to pay for it. You can imagine how discouraging that feels, having put in a lot of time with no results to show.

I took some cold comfort from having identified the root cause of my anxiety. It is always easier to deal with a known enemy rather than a mystery. I talked it out some with my companion, and was reassured that I do exist, that I live and breathe, and that I am real.

I know I am. I feel the blood in my veins, the air in my lungs, the food in  my belly. These are all good. What troubles me is that for a bad moment on an ordinary morning, external ideas of self-worth overrode internal ideas of my identity. Nine months of looking for myself in the wrong mirror came to roost, and it took some heavy mental lifting and a strong dose of love to return the ground to beneath my feet.

Solid ground. I have it. I gained some breathing room for my mind. There will be something out there for me, I have to believe that. It will be something I can do, even if I myself do not know yet what that something is. What I will not do is make the mistake of confusing what I can do for money with what I truly am worth.