31 August 2012

Between the Blades of Grass

Wrapped in small shadows
Warm green-gold light, scent of home
Rotting peach in my jaws

30 August 2012

On the Abhorrence of Willful Ignorance: A Rant

August 29th, probably about 6:53 AM to ???. A good shower spoiled. A rant, pure and simple. I will leave it as I wrote it, ugly but necessary.

I am tired of being told I don't love my country because I support things like Obamacare, don't support trickle-down economics and think it is a bad idea to gut social programs for the sake of maintaining tax cuts that DO NOT create jobs and pay for wars we should not have started or continually feed the maw of the military-industrial death machine just to prove we are The Chosen Country, more badass than any other supposed badasses out there. Manifest Destiny can suck it. Do we need to defend ourselves? Sure. That is a necessity. But so is treating people humanely and doing our best for as many as we can, and that doesn't mean depriving someone of unemployment insurance so we can go bomb the hell out of people whose countries we shouldn't have invaded to begin with.

I'm fed up with the notion that I or anyone else is a horrible person because we believe women should have full rights to control their own bodies, and not have that right taken away by men or any deliberately irrational individuals or groups who choose to believe in a different religion. I am especially sickened when this assumption that "We know better than you what is right for you" is based on fanciful wishes rather than factual information. "Certain secretions" and gradations of rape do not exist in reality. That supposedly well-educated people believe those things at all, and worse, portray them as reality make me want to scream. That they want to be in power to set laws based on their deliberate ignorance is frightening. As my friend Kellie so eloquently said here

"It's having knowledge (re: power) being legally denied to me for no other reason than because I AM A WOMAN....It's being viewed as less of a person because I am a woman.
Yeah, it's like that. That anyone, especially aspiring policy makers, is secure enough in their own ignorance to think that just because they believe it, it must be true, is scary enough. That they would think they have a right to inflict their ignorance and delusion on others is horrifying. You can have all the opinions you want, that's allowed. But your belief in something in no way gives you the right to force others to live according to your will. This is especially true when it comes to stupid, privileged males (who cannot get pregnant, whether they are raped or just said yes) telling women (who can, and do, get pregnant under all sorts of circumstances) they have no rights to make decisions about their bodies or their pregnancies. I don't want laws based on delusional beliefs, I want them based on facts.

An aside: Hey, Paul Ryan? Rape is not a "method of conception", it is a crime of violence against someone. Rape is rape, and you don't get to side-step it by making the issue about getting pregnant, when it is really about horrible violence. As an acquaintance of mine said, saying rape is a method of conception is like saying "vandalism is a method of redecorating." Rape is a crime, you jerk, and you shouldn't forget that. Also, quit touting your so-called Christian faith when your self-professed hero is a fascist atheist.

I'm sick of being told this is a Christian nation just because the founding fathers happened to be Christians. Take off the blinders, do a little thinking or at least pay attention (oh, my, what ever will they do? Think? That would be too much work!) and you would realize that Americans aren't all Christians, nor are they required to be, nor do they have believe in a higher power at all (Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion; remember the Bill of Rights?). The concept of "God" is not exclusive to Christianity, and Jesus wasn't quoted in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights*. That the word "Lord" appears in the signature section of the Constitution doesn't count, because to say "In the Year of our Lord" was a common way to express dates in that era, and does not even imply belief in all of the people who signed the document. "God" and "Jesus" ('cause if you want to claim Christianity, then you gotta claim Jesus) do not appear at all in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The word God appears once in the Declaration of Independence, in a curiously written sentence reading in part:

"...the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them..."
Huh? Nature's God? 'Scuse me, but what does that even mean? That doesn't say the God of Christ, or anything about Christianity (actually sounds kind of pagan) other than using the English word 'God'. Know what "Allah" means in English? Huh, do you? Depending on which dialect or branch of Arabic you use, it means among other things "God, Allah, father, the Creator, maker."  How about Krishna? Or Yahweh? Translate those into English and what do you get? You get God!** Also, news flash: none of those documents belong to any specific ideology or -ism. The United States population is a lot more complicated than a Sunday School kindergarten classroom. So shut up about God making us a Christian nation based on three documents that say nothing about Christianity and the Christian God being the foundation of our society.

I am infuriated by the notion that there are those who want to deny basic rights and humanity to some of their fellow citizens by codifying discrimination against them, based on whom they choose to love. Being lesbian, gay, bi or transgender does not render someone a non-citizen or (more importantly) nonhuman. You have no right, morally or legally, to deny rights to someone just because you don't like the idea of men loving men, or women loving women or any human loving another human. As Anne Hathaway so eloquently said, "Love is a human experience, not a political statement." Also, your personal disapproval of same-sex marriages in no way gives you the right or moral authority to deny civil rights to someone. Don't like gay marriage? Then don't marry a gay person! Marriage isn't mandatory, anyway. Remember the Constitution and that Bill of Rights thingie? Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and all that? Well, your ignorance and bigotry have no right to take away those from anyone else. So shut up.

Speaking of marriage, shut up about the so-called sanctity of marriage. How many times was Ronald Reagan married? Newt Gingrich (Three's the charm, eh? Classy, too, talking divorce with a recovering cancer patient)? Joe Walsh (the obnoxious Tea Party jerk, not the Eagles guitar player)? By the way, Joe, how is that payment of over $100,000 dollars in unpaid child support going? Oh, that's right you spent $35,000 or so on your political campaign, rather than on your kids. You don't get to talk about sanctity or "Defend Marriage" when you yourself have no respect for it. So until you can get it right, shut up about denying other people to right to find their bliss with a life partner.

To beat the marriage horse bloody, let me ask this question: which of the eight or so Biblical definitions of marriage would you have us codify or "defend"? Hmm? Which one? Here's a handy list*** to help you choose:
  1. Man and Woman: Genesis 2:24
  2. Man and Women: Genesis 4:19 - Polygamy! The more the merrier!
  3. Man and his brother's widow: Genesis 38:6-10 - Impregnate your brother's widow. Awesome, until you get to the part where God killed Onan for masturbation instead of impregnation.
  4. Man and wives and concubines: Genesis 20:10 and Judges 19:1-30 - It's good to be the King, not so good to be a wife or a concubine. Yikes.
  5. Rapist and victim: Deuteronomy 22:28-29 - Rape a virgin, pay her dad some silver, call it a marriage. Way to be a role model.
  6. Man and Woman and the Woman's slaves: Genesis 16:1-6 and Genesis 30:4-5 - Double bonus for the uncaring: if the wife is barren, then just knock up her slaves, er, servants!
  7. Male soldier and Captured Woman: Numbers 31:1-18 and Deuteronomy 21:11-14 - Nothing says 'man and wife' like killing all the enemy males and stealing their daughters and wives and making them your own.
  8. Male and female slaves: Exodus 21:4 - What, being property isn't bad enough, you gotta force them to marry? Jerks.
The Bible's definitions of marriage involve monogamy...and polygamy, war, rape and slavery. So don't give me that sanctimonious crap about same-sex marriage (which presumably is based on love, just like hetero marriages) being unnatural or an abomination.

Onward to death tools, er, guns! A few words to the Second Amendment freaks about gun ownership: Shut up about having your lethal toys taken away from you. That isn't going to happen. But the Founding Fathers did not have assault weapons. And you are delusional if you think that having everyone armed is going to make crime deterrence easier. Yeah, so you and your bone-headed cowboy friends are going to be tactical sharpshooters based on a pistol course and a license? Even if you take basic safety courses, that in no way is guaranteed to give you the presence of mind to calmly identify a correct target in a chaotic scene and be able to precisely take them out. If you do, you will be lucky, not skilled. And how in the world do you expect to do that in a place like a dark theater or crowded school campus? Do you not understand the concept of "fog of war" and crossfires? Even the police cannot be so self-assured in broad daylight, as the horrific shootings at the Empire State Building confirm. 

Furthermore, until you can read the Bill of Rights and exhibit understanding you have no room to comment on the supposed efforts to take away your penis substitutes. The Second Amendment says:   
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Read it carefully, jugheads. It's all one clause, and has to be taken in its entirety to make sense. It is in the context of a "well Regulated militia". Or do you not understand how that part modifies having a militia? Also, note the use of the words 'regulated' and infringed. that's important. This amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of the state. Hmm...doesn't the military do that now? Oh, and what militia are you a part of? Hmm? Guarding the state of Buttheadistan? The right to bear arms is supported by the Bill of Rights, but it also does not simply say you can have all the guns you want. So stop whining, go home and make love to your avatars of violence.

Time to wrap it up. I'm getting tired. Parting shot: disagreement with your expressed beliefs or religion or politics does not constitute a war on your faith or your religion or your party. It is disagreement, nothing more. As I stated before , opinions are most certainly allowed in our free-speech society. But to paraphrase Monty Python's Dennis The Peasant, ill-informed opinions are, like strange women lying in ponds distributing swords, no basis for a system of government. So grow up, stop whining and remove your heads from your asses. It's easier to understand reality that way.

Here endeth the rant.

*Conveniently linked for your edification and delight. You're welcome.
**I realize that Krishna and Yahweh and Allah are more complex than are easily explained in a rant, but the fact remains that they are God or a god-analogue. It is the concept of a supreme being that solely belongs to Christians which draws my ire.
***I stumbled across this link, which spurred me into verifying the quoted passages in the Bible I received upon my confirmation. Yes, the website is satire, but the passages confirmed the spoof. And, I learned some new things!

29 August 2012


Nibbling pumpkin seeds
Brown grass scraping bare belly
Gray Cat watches, schemes

28 August 2012

Wise Wolf

Rafe sat back on trembling haunches, staring down into the valley from the top of the mesa. The air was thick with the acrid scent of burning things, human and otherwise. His flanks still heaved slowly. Fleeing fast uphill over broken country was hard work even under the best of circumstances. Being chased by ignorant monsters was far from the best.

Rafe was fast, no doubt. Speed and smarts, coupled with an innate desire for the taste of truth,  had served him well in his many years on the planet. His muzzle was frosted with gray, but his mind was quicksilver on the wind. Rafe would never had said as much, but he was far smarter than the fools who claimed him for their totem.

The old wolf looked up into the sky. The sun was on its way down, the cerulean bowl deepening to light indigo at the far edges. He closed his eyes. Sky was always there, a truth he could not imagine would ever leave him. Truth and wisdom were his lodestars. They always had been even when the ignorant and the damaged had pursued him all over the land. It grieved him to discover that some of the creatures, who called themselves 'humans' (a term imparted to him by Raven and Coyote), thought Rafe himself to be a monster. They blamed him for the misfortunes that befell their kind, claiming all sorts of savagery on his part. Supposedly even the blood of infants stained his jaws.

His heart felt much pain over this cloud that obscured and distorted true sight on the part of the humans. The thought that those who did not know him, those who did not care to know him, feared him and wished him destroyed, filled him with such sorrow he thought he might burst into howling.

The howl died behind his teeth. The moons he had witnessed had given him the hard-won knowledge that to howl would be to give himself away. They would find him again. Ignorance and cruelty were implacable, it seemed to Rafe. Even the tiny fraction of the humans that had sought him out in peace had themselves in turn been hunted down by their fellows. The grizzled wolf had seen his fair share of harsh things in the Universe, but the ferocity of violence the people exhibited towards those whom they should welcome into their circle astonished even him.

Rafe lowered his head. His eyes watered in the smoke drifting up from the conflagration below. The whole town seemed to be burning, a vicious riot of flames fierce enough he could hear a faint crackle, even at this distance. There were other sounds. Gunshots. Curses. Screams, human and animal. Rafe watched as a small group of humans ran out of the clouds of smoke roiling over the ground, headed west and uphill. Straight towards him. 

His ear pricked up, eyes focusing sharp. The humans were not moving quickly, held back as they were by some who appeared to be hurt. Some clung to others, who carried their slumping pack-mates as best they could. Rafe relaxed slightly; he didn't think they were after him. But the smoke parted briefly, just enough for the wolf to make out what looked like another pack of humans. They were hurrying, and carrying tools.

And if the first group found Rafe, the second group would, too. His hackles raised a bit, rising to his sore paws in a burst of nervous energy. He wanted to help the humans out front, but he was already injured and weary. He had given as much as could. That they had not seen the glory of his gift was something he could not control.

Rafe stood, backing away from the edge and into the fading sunlight. He would put distance between himself and the tragedy. There was a place he could go, a secret cave behind the wind in the West, where he could heal himself and sleep. He would hide himself from the monsters, dreaming of the day when he could walk among them and they would understand what he had been trying to teach.

Rafe turned around. He loped uneasily into the setting of the sun. Behind him the screams faded away into the mountains, while the world continued to burn into the blackness of the night.

27 August 2012

Magpie Tales 132: Winter Wakes the Dreamer

Big Room, 1948, by Andrew Wyeth via Magpie Tales

Lord Jim's toes scratched the oak
wood grain muffled by prickly wool
standing alone in the sepia morning

House and body alone shared the tick-tock
counterpoint to the impatient crow in the yard
whose runic tracks arced upon the snow

Stubble in one hand, glass in the other,
Jim pours another finger of wintertide light
Sipping slowly in the sun warmth and echoes

Unfolding of clocks, a padding on the stairs
He sets down the glass, turns and smiles at her
Winter fades and spring bursts upon his heart 

26 August 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do When You Are Hungry

August 24th, 2012, 10:00 PM. Pondering a unwise decision, made for the sake of expediency.

I told myself not to do it again. Don't rekindle that relationship. It was a conspiracy, I tell you. Laziness, familiarity and inertia trumped my better judgement. Pride keeps me from shedding any tears. There, so close, so easy...all I had to do was open the door and remove the wrapper. Even now I cannot get the taste out of my mouth.

Seriously. It's been almost four hours, and the aftertaste won't leave my tongue. What exactly was in that "merlot" sauce sticking to the "beef" in the bowl? I don't know for certain, but it is most persistent. This has induced in me a vague shame and mild exasperation, because I know better than to do what I did. Rather, my belly knows better.

See, here's the deal: tonight I found myself alone, all bachelored-up until Sunday afternoon. the house nearly empty, the fridge in the same sad state, while I frittered away a perfectly good afternoon playing a game on the computer. My game playing activities impinged upon getting a jump on dinner, so I found myself in the dilemma of quickly scrounging at home or going out to eat. As I was alone and somewhat short on cash (and feeling incredibly lazy) I scotched the idea of eating out. I was left with the fridge, which wasn't being particularly helpful.

Did I mention I was feeling lazy? So lazy I couldn't bother myself to boil water for pasta, for cripes' sake. Jeez. That is lazy. Without that, my options were even more limited. I continued to poke around in the fridge and freezer, hoping against hope that a fine Bolognese sauce might appear, or maybe some cumin-dusted green beans and potatoes.

No such luck. That's when I saw it, sitting on the top shelf of the freezer. A frozen dinner, fresh-looking green package all aglow in the light. It was a standard meat and potato dish, small portion size and Only 220 Calories! It proclaimed itself to be Healthy! even. I stood there for a few moments, blinking dumbly at the box. I knew full well my culinary fate was sealed. I took the box out of the freezer and padded over to the microwave. BeepBoopBeep and four minutes later, voila! Melancholy makes its own sauce!

I told myself, this time it would be different. This time, the taste would match the promise. I would eat my way to the bottom of the plastic tray and lean back in satisfaction. All the while thinking "Hey, it's okay, it's all right. Not world-class cuisine, yeah, but fine."

Yet again, I was wrong. The evidence is in the back of my throat. To be fair, it was certainly edible. It did have some nutritive content. It would pass muster as wholesome, I am sure.  But the evidence doesn't lie. I can't get the vague chemical aftertaste out of my mouth. It is there, this 'presence' that wants to be fine food but ends up being more 'food' than food itself.

Until tonight I had not eaten a frozen dinner of the gourmet plastique variety in months, if not a year, maybe longer. That is because each time I did, I always regretted letting convenience get in the way of goodness. Maybe it is just my own quirky palate, but I had long noticed a sameness to most of the frozen dinners I had ever eaten, a sameness that made me think of test kitchens and assembly lines, and tanks of chemicals labeled Italian Homestyle Flavor and Beef Facsimile and Real Roast Chicken Substitute. It seemed especially acute to me in anything that had a tomato sauce. No matter what the maker called it, they all smelled like the same thing: sauces that market research and focus groups had determined were Real Italian Spices in Italian Tomato Sauce Just Like Mamma Used To Make. And every single one of them left me holding my nose and wondering why they couldn't just use real oregano instead of something that made me think of persistent chemical agents. Plus, with an aftertaste like Banquo's ghost.

So I sat here feeling slightly ashamed, wondering when the "beef and merlot sauce with vegetables" would decide to leave me alone. I think I knew in my head that it just wasn't going to work out, but I let my guard down. Bad pennies and mediocre meals, they just keep showing up...and I keep picking them up because they are shiny and easy. 

Next time, I promise, I'll boil that water. My sauce may not be as easy, but it will taste better and have the good manners to not accompany me to bed.

25 August 2012


Clouds brush rosy sky
Dog scents rabbit on brown grass.
Content to be full

24 August 2012

The Truth About the Shutter

August 22, 2012. 8:29 PM. An afternoon in the sun has left me with a headache, photos and questions. Overall, not bad.

The questions started almost immediately upon arising this morning. Well, maybe not questions exactly, so much as whispers. What do I need to do? What am I going to do? Perhaps critically, what do I want to do?

Those questions were not to be answered in the morning, not with a shower to be taken and breakfast to be made and eaten. It is that initial rush of activity that I have so much trouble initiating yet paradoxically it makes me feel so much calmer to get them done. It is a quirk of mine that I usually feel a free-floating anxiousness until I shower. The day just does not seem to get off the ground until that happens. Consequently, the later in the morning that I take a shower, the longer I feel antsy.

I really should put that aside.

But it was done. Then it was a few minor life management activities interlaced with a wee bit much of web-surfing. The drawback to that crow mind I have. Next thing I knew it was lunch time. Crept up on me again, damn it.

Even lunch could not remove that vague disquiet I felt. I ate alone, chewing and thinking, trying to put my finger on that thing that seemed to be gnawing at me. No dice. I took a short nap, thinking I was just fatigued. While I was refreshed, I still felt like I was missing something.

The cameras decided for me. Two in a bag on the floor, one sitting on the shelf nearby, two rolls of film and a blank memory card. I stared at the bags for a few minutes, restlessly shifting my feet while chewing my bottom lip. The sun tracked across the floor.

That was it. I needed to be outside, looking through the lens or the viewfinder, chasing the light, diving into shadow. I scooped up the bags and headed out to my car. While driving into the city I felt my gut unwinding. The stiffness left my shoulders. I parked at the River Market and geared up.

Man, it felt good. A nearby trail takes me across the railroad tracks and down along the Missouri. The light was good, big blue bowl of sky with just the right amount of clouds. Hot day, but breezy. The air was humming with the sound of trains and birds. All I had to do was look, point and snap.

The truth was clear. The shutter gives me a raison d'etre, if I may be so indulgent as to say. Well, one of many raisons, this fascination with light and shadow and the capturing thereof. Like writing, the pursuit of truth as I see it through the lens is vital and necessary to my general well-being. 

I may never achieve artistic or commercial success by fulfilling this need of mine. But that is not the point my gut was trying to make. It was telling me to get out there and catch myself in the light and shadows. This is the truth of the shutter.

23 August 2012

Me, Knife

This soul is not Pierre nor
Delphic queries on the tongue
of a dead French philosopher

Yet a day does not pass
without replacing the heart
or switching out the mind

Or is it heart every day
and mind every other?
Confusion, exhaustion

I know it happens, I feel it
reaching for the blade-mind
gripping handle of the soul

Ignore the whispers of Sartre:
blade, handle are distractions
I am the Knife within my reach

22 August 2012

On the Exasperation of Being Careful

Wait a minute.
Hold up.

Oh, for the love of Pete...How many times will I repeat those words and phrases? I'm getting on my own nerves. To paraphrase Dieter, my habit of needless warnings becomes tiresome. I'm sure my daughter feels the same way. She rarely replies to me when I do it. I'm not sure if she is too conscious of me being Daddy or if she is being polite.

Knowing her, it may be a mix of both...or she could be mentally rolling her eyes and saying "Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, whatever, Daddy". That wouldn't surprise me in the least. My progeny is whip-smart and has a sharp wit for one so young.

I suspect she may be smarter than me. This means trouble, down the road. Ah, I digress.

No, the problem for me at the moment is that whenever Wee Lass is with me, I suddenly turn into a nag. A nag when it involves her doing something that incurs a modicum of risk. And by risk, I mean "a little kid moving through space-time". I constantly worry that she is going to run into something, fall off something or knock something down and break it. So I become Polly Parrot squawking its fool head off.

The problem is that for the most part there isn't really anything to worry about, and there isn't anything I could really do to prevent something that truly is an accident. I am sure my daughter is smart enough to avoid the obvious threats (don't stick your hand in a fire, watch out for cars, keep you head out of the toilet), yet I feel compelled to say "Be careful!" when she so much as does an impromptu dance in the living room.*

Why do I do this? Is it that I believe so strongly in the power of words that I find them talismanic against chaos and misfortune? If so, my energy may be wasted. After all, "No Trespassing" signs have never kept anyone off the railroad tracks. I don't know why I think that the utterance of a few syllables will magically protect her from embarrassment at best and physical harm at worst.

Maybe it is my 'daddy' instinct. Maybe it is my own fears directing my behavior. For most of my life I have been surprise-averse. The sudden and the unpredictable typically give me fits, and I don't react often enough with grace and aplomb. Being that way is not a character flaw, yet I'm troubled by it all the same.

It makes sense to avoid risk in some cases, yes. But not in all cases. Certainly not in cases where the risk is more a perception than a reality, and that is the case for most day-to-day life. Avoiding all perceived risks and trying to limit uncertainty creates a new problem, the limiting of experience. It teaches one to live in anxiety rather than in wonder. It limits experience, even if subtly. It is something I have not yet overcome as an adult. Today it hit me why it bothers me so. 

I may be quietly teaching my daughter to live in fear. Subtle, maybe, but explicit in its effects. I may be setting the wrong example, that life is constant vigilance against the unexpected. The side effect is that it can lead to missing out on joy. I have noticed my daughter is somewhat cautious when it comes to new experiences. She tends to be reserved until she figures things out in her own mind; spontaneous eruptions of 'kid-ness' are not unknown with her, but they aren't exactly the norm either.

I wonder how much of that is innate, and how much of it is me. I know from examining my own behavior that I tend to be cautious, too. As a rule I don't just dive in to new social situations or experiences. Over the course of my life I am sure that has held me back from some truly enjoyable situations and worthwhile relationships.

The thought that this may set an example for Wee Lass, well, that just makes me question myself as a father. Her father. I should be teaching her to be better than the bundle of nerves that I am. I will be teaching her better. There is still time for me to get it right, for the apple that fell to outshine the tree upon which it grew.

*I should point out a recent example in which I didn't revert to type, and a minor accident DID occur. There is a big cushy chair in my family room that spins around 360 degrees. She, naturally, wanted to sit in it and spin around. I obliged, giving the chair a few not overly strong pushes. She, of course, chooses that very moment to try and adjust her position. Centrifugal force and bad luck conspired to tip her over, falling off the chair and knocking over a lamp. Lucky for us, it ended with only embarrassment and a very small bruise. However, I was kicking myself mentally, saying "Why didn't I say 'Be Careful!'" Of course, it would have done no good...and I have yet to convince myself of that truth.

21 August 2012

Heart In A Box

August 18th, 4:36 PM. A few clouds, silvery light limns me as I write. I quite like it.
"Ten thousand words swarm around my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin' in the swarms
Still can't find out how to hold my hands"
The music player surprised me with the Avett Brothers somehow knowing my heart ahead of time, they could foresee the future years ago, they must have. How else could they have known I would be delving into a box full of memories, heartaches and love this silvery-gray afternoon? My heart contracted and my throat tightened around a bolus of emotions, rough but not entirely unwelcome.

I was searching for photos. More specifically, CD's with photo files or a flash drive containing the same. I've been thinking about my twins lately, and I wanted to find the pictures I had taken when they were still in the NICU. Scoured my computer, the external drive, no luck so far. I thought that perhaps I had copied them off. I hope I did.

So it was a riffling through my desk, ransacking my briefcase, checking some shelves. I was avoiding the large box of mementos I had packed in my last move, but with no luck finding the right discs I knew I would have to open it.

It was among the very last boxes I sealed before moving. As I cleaned up my old house, I kept discovering the odd bit of physical memory, things I didn't want to discard, or couldn't discard. You know how it is when you move things that have been in the same place for long periods of time. Layers and strata develop. Chunks of memory form under the compaction of more stuff and time. Photos. Kids' drawings. Notes and cards and letters. Knick-knacks and curios. I had more than I remembered.

They all went in the box so I wouldn't lose them. The box itself had been set aside in a corner, resting there in the months since I moved. It was with some hesitation that I slid the knife through the tape holding the box shut. There was pressure, in my head and heart. I was hoping it wouldn't explode.

The Avett Brothers began to croon, the box opens, and into my hands fell shards of memory and love. I clutched to my chest artifacts from two pasts, one that will only be a future in my mind, and one of a future still developing. A small blanket, a picture or two of my son and daughter in the isolettes, drawings by my lovely Wee Lass, small crayon pictures scrawled with "I Love You Dad" in letters etched deep in the stone of my heart. Bits and pieces of my past youth and my Big Bro, all tucked away into 1.5 cubic feet.

The pressure in the box blew these fragile papers and relics up in a cloud, the words and images swarming around my head as I frantically scooped them up to contain them all. The world swam and blurred, liquid diamonds diffracting in my eyes. The papers, the pages, these miniature stelae forming the library of my history. Books beneath my bed? Jesus H., how did they know that? 

I never did find the discs for which I was looking. As I placed the things back in the box, they came to me as more books on the shelf. Books I am reading and still writing, because I know no other path to follow.

The box filled, I closed the flaps and pushed it away to another corner. Sitting there in the chair, I looked down at my trembling fingers. I clenched them, feeling small and sad knowing that, in some sense, I still can't find out how to hold my hands.

Lyrics from "Ten Thousand Words", by the Avett Brothers.

20 August 2012

Magpie Tales 131: My Name is Jack

Under Windsor Bridge, 1912, by Adolphe Valette via Magpie Tales

He sat shivering in the oystery fog, bleak light of another riparian morning dripping down on shoulders hunched by cold and the pain in his head. Dank air was making his nose run. The fading silk of his evening jacket was blotched at the wrists with mucus, dark stains not strong enough to blot out the other spots on the fabric. The ones he told himself not to think about. He was getting too weak for thinking too much.

It was forever cold down by the bank, the trembling man thought. It seemed so each time he awoke there, gasping for air and thrashing about in a cloud of half-formed memories on which he always lost his grip. All he knew, this morning was no different, was that something terrible was under his skin. At the thought of skin, his hands clenched in painful spasms. The fingers dug into his palms sending little lances of pain spiking up his arms. He groaned in desperation. "Dear God, I can't look, I can't!" he groaned, the exclamation wrenched from his aching throat sounding dull yet loud in the fog.

He wept in frustration, knowing full well he would never be able to keep his eyes away. Inexorably the bloodshot orbs would roll downward. Clawed, stiff fingers would slowly unfold and he would check to see if the stains were gone. 

His hands opened, in his mind flowers of evil blooming in the nacreous morning. They were there, still. The rusty outlines for all the world looking the pressed and dried remnants of crimson petals stuck between pages of yellowed parchment. A bovine moan escaped his lips. The man began to sob in whooping gasps, thinking This must be Hell...

How long he sat with eyes buried in arms folded over filthy knees, he did not know. The light increased as the fog began to burn off. He told himself to move, to get out from under the shadow of the bridge, but his cold-numbed calves could not be persuaded to walk. Coughing fits took over, his windpipe scoured by harsh breathing, almost suffocating from the torrent of snot cascading from his nose. From the river walk came the echoing sound of boot heels on granite. He would have missed it if not for a brief lull in his sobs. He heard the footsteps, and tried to stifle himself completely. He desired no company.

The attempt at silence failed. The footsteps came closer. He willed himself not to move, but jumped at the sudden sound of another voice.

"You there, you alright?" the newcomer said, in a gravelly voice sounding harshly loud.

The man looked up with red-rimmed eyes, finding himself staring into the eyes of an older man, grey-eyed and white whiskered. His mutton chop beard was neat, far away from the three-day stubble that itched the younger man's face. He could see faint insignia on the older man's coat, suddenly realizing he was speaking with a watchman of the bridge. The older man peered at him with mixed concern and caution.

"No, sir. I am not. I am cold and I am sick...and I...I..." his voice trailed off as a surge of memories flooded through his mind on a river of crimson. Fresh tears welled up in his eyes. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. The older man's eyes softened a bit, and he spoke again.

"What's your name, mate?" he said quietly.

The younger man paused, struck near dumb by the simplicity of the question. He stood up, his coat falling open to reveal a filthy dress shirt, silk stained near black with swirls, loops and spatters of blood, some of which were not quite coagulated. It bunched the fabric in obscene little swags. The younger man reached inside his coat and pulled out a long knife, blotched with more than one kind of rust. 

The old man started backwards, eyes widening in shock and fear. He groped for the alarm whistle dangling from his lapel. The younger man grinned a sobbing grin while showing his bloody palm and knife to the watchman.

"My name is Jack, good sir!" he screamed. He tottered forward, reversing his grip on the knife as he did so. The watchman turned and ran, blowing frantically on the whistle so loud he did not hear the keening wail from Jack's lips, ending abruptly in a burble. 

The last of the fog burned off. Early morning light reflected off the water to dapple the underside of the bridge, and sparkled darkly on the deep red rivulets skeining the stone around Jack lying motionless by the river.

19 August 2012

Psalm of the Bagstamper

August 17th, 4:57 PM. Cooling my heels before heading out the door. Lovely day.

It is a very simple task, this stamping of bags. Ink stamp, lift stamp, stamp bag. Repeat. Two words, two colors, each bag gets stamped twice with one color of each. Simplicity, indeed. It is not the most intellectually engaging work to do, true, but you know what?

That doesn't matter.

Also,you know what? I'm good at it. I'd go so far as to say that I excel at stamping bags with the company name in green and purple ink. The colors look good on the brown kraft paper of the bags, and I have a knack for getting the ink coverage and positioning just right. "It ain't rocket science!" people will say...but it doesn't have to be rocket science.

Let me make it clear that I am not making light of the chore. On my latest workday I stamped enough bags to fill up a cardboard box about 30 inches to a side and 24 inches deep. That is a lot of bags, I can tell you. As can my aching wrist and arm. It may be a simple task, but it need to be done. It is worth doing and therefore it is worth doing right. It is part of the way this particular business of selling spices is conducted.

I like the idea of hand-stamping the bags. It adds humanity to the business, a semi-anonymous (the customers usually don't know who stamped which bags) yet uniquely personal (a person stamped the a paper) touch in a what could be seen as a cold process: exchanging money for goods. One thing I realized, the core reason why I believe I liked what I was doing, is that by hand stamping the bags, each one becomes a unique creation. Retail snowflakes, if you will, through slight variations in word position, word angle, coverage of ink, even the occasional little spatters of ink from hitting the bag a little harder. It was cool, this concept of the simple, imperfect beauty.

So I stood at the counter, stacks of bags and ink pads at the ready. Ink the bag, move the bag, ink the bag, move the bag...I achieved a "no mindedness" flow, as the bags piled up in the box. Simple problem, measurable result. Was I lighting the world on fire, landing on Mars, discovering a cure for the common cold?

No, of course not. What I was doing, however, was getting something done. And that is just what I needed, right there in the Now.

18 August 2012

Buzz and Whirr

Cicadas drone on
Grass threads the still heart
Harvest season soon!

17 August 2012


August 15th, 8:16 PM. Preparing to crack the seal on the raku kiln that is my mind.

Skipping through the electronic poppy field that is the Internet this fine day, I caught a blurb that made me nervous and made me laugh. I think it was in an email newsletter from a website devoted to the craft and business of writing, a 'Tip Of The Day' type thing that is supposed to reel you in to spend more time on the site. No problem with that, but I was skimming and distracted so I didn't go beyond the tagline.

The tagline was this: "Your blog posts should be like dating-site profile information..."

'Scuse me? (nervous laughter)...good thing I'm not writing to get a date.

I am not (fortunately for me) out on the dating scene, so I will not worry about that aspect. But I get the perspective being out forth by the writer of that little gem: if you want your blog to attract others, then it must be written to maximize your attractiveness. Am I understanding that correctly?

Hmm. This does present a bit of a quandary. We are told on the one hand to write authentically, to be ourselves and to write from what we know. Supposedly this is what "blogging" (in its nascent sense) is at its core. Yet dating sites, to some degree, are about salesmanship and packaging. They are about being attractive enough to attract ideal partners for whatever motivation one chooses.

So to push the analogy, in order to make my blog more attractive to ideal partners, I should write only the things that would increase my 'dateability' vis-a-vis the readership. The implication is that potentially less desirable things (quirks, foibles, emotionally-charged topics) should perhaps be avoided. Heavens, we wouldn't anyone to know those "real" things, would we?

This begs the question of authenticity, does it not? I'm all for maximizing the positive, but for what one hopes to be a long-term relationship, how can we ignore the reality of ourselves? It seems a bit misleading to put hyperbole before truth. Yet that little dot on an otherwise pristine page could lead to heartache and regret down the road. I know this to be true.

To be fair, I acknowledge that a blog has more latitude than a dating site. It could be said that the very idiosyncratic nature of a blog is what gives it enduring appeal; after all, it is your blog and you can do what you want with it. It doesn't have to be, and perhaps shouldn't be, perfect. That is because we are not perfect.

I didn't start my blog to attract potential partners, or set up a string of dates. I had no idea that is what I "should" (metaphorically) be doing. I started it out of a need for expression, as a way to get the noise out of my head and out into the universe. I didn't know any better than to be anything other than what I am, and hopefully the writing reflects that outlook. I don't need a date (I have great love and companionship), but I am very grateful for all of you who choose to come visit with me, and stay awhile.

And there's no need for a monthly fee, either. We are here because we genuinely want to be here. That is a lovely thing, indeed.

16 August 2012

Walkin' In the Park and EWWWMAHGAHD!

August 14th, 2012. Lovely evening for a stroll in the park, admiring ducks, enjoying the shadows and sidestepping used condoms.

To be fair, it was only one condom. I saw no others the entire hour or so I was there. This particular park is clean, busy, and not of the sort where one expects to find such...artifacts...of human interaction. I suppose that is why when I spied it on the pavement it caused me to do a double-take.

A condom. In the parking lot. Used.  Eeeep.

I was on my way to a nearby trash can, wrapping up after a thoroughly enjoyable evening of shooting black-and-white film photos (with my two favorite cameras) and there it was in all its dirty un-glory. The condom (hereinafter known as The Artifact) gave me pause. I mean, really, I actually stopped walking to get a better look so I my eyes could verify what my brain was telling me was there. It was in between two cars, not far from the bumper of what I think was a little red sports car. I looked up quickly to see if anyone was in the car.

Nope. No one there. Plus, The Artifact was looking begrimed and weathered, suggesting it had been in its current location for some days at least. I looked around again to see if anyone was watching me and perhaps wondering what I was doing leaning over and staring at the ground. There were couples strolling by, some with kids, joggers, and other folks just out for an evening constitutional. No one was looking at me. And everyone but me seemed perfectly oblivious to The Artifact. I started to chuckle.

Why is I notice such things? Furthermore, why do I feel compelled to document such things? Not that I spend my days seeking out empty liquor bottles, smashed light bulbs and discarded prophylactics. I'd much rather spend time seeking out trains in motion, animals in light, the diffraction of sunlight through leaves. Such things are much more uplifting and edifying, in the main.

Yet there is this curiosity about the cast-offs of human behavior that leads me to notice that which many others would rather not see. Maybe it is just my crow mind tendency to believe that almost anything can be interesting, can exhibit some form of attraction if only we can catch it at just the right moment. At the very least, we can gain some insight or clarification into some aspect of the world or humanity that fascinates or repulses us.

This is what occurred to me, standing in the parking lot and meditating on an object that most of us would agree was not something with which we care to contemplate. Because I am the photographer that I am, I couldn't resist snapping a picture of it with my phone, being out of film. I laughed again, thinking that while I certainly wanted nothing more to do with The Artifact, I had to admire the caution of whoever had left it there for some hapless soul to discover.

15 August 2012

Edge of the Coin

That kind of day, one where a glance out the window shows a leaf swirling downward in the white-gold sun, slowing the heart in a graceful spiral to the ground.

And you think..."The future is when? Is what?" All the days of your life condense in the mind, creating a singularity of shiny density. The matter compresses. It grows smaller but heavier. A black hole (or is it a white hole?) forming in the skull. You think it is going to suck everything in and you won't escape.

The explosion just might change your mind. Bright matter bursts forth to spray in all directions in shards of thought, of memory, scattering your mind across the universe. It whirls and twists in a paroxysm of joy laminates with sadness, encrusted with nostalgia and longing. The heart wants to follow, it does.

But fear is the stake linked to the chain fastened to the collar that keeps you in the yard.

"Fear of what?", you ask yourself again for a time uncounted. A future you cannot predict? A past you cannot change? Fear that you won't be able to figure out what to do next before it is too late to do anything?

The shards glitter and gambol as if each is animated by the spirits of dolphins at play in the sea. They twist about in a waltz the mind can scarcely comprehend. They move too fast. The speed of things is itself a fount of concern. Concrete decisions seem impossible to make when the data upon which they are founded will not sit still long enough for confident analysis. Sit still. They won't sit still. And if they sit still, you might know their position but you won't necessarily know their momentum.

Out on the lawn, Werner Heisenberg kneels,  grinning at you through the window. At his feet is a box marked "Schrödinger's cat". Werner's hand is poised on the handle, eyebrows arched with a look that seems to say "Shall I open the box?" You laugh. Physics as a monumental joke in the guise of a thought experiment designed to help you unravel the mystery of your life.

Rub your eyes. Make him go away. He begins to fade just as the handle turns. Through him you see the thought shards spinning so fast they look like a ball of molten iridium. They slow and coalesce, taking a shape you recognize, but seems slightly alien.

It is a coin. A silver dollar from your youth, spinning on its edge. It slows and you can make out some faint details, a dead president you never knew but now seems an oracle.

This coin with its knife-bright edge spinning, spinning, leaving you to wonder when it will come to rest. Aha! Rest! This idea releases a trickle of relief in your head and heart.

It will come to rest. The future may seem to be a spinning coin that can't be grasped. Don't worry, though. You don't have to call heads or tails, Future or Past. It will fall into place, this bright, shiny currency of potential fulfilled, and you will hold it by the edges of the Now.

14 August 2012

Chasing Chaff With A Spoon

So much going on inside and outside, I'm dizzy and struggling with what I wanted to say next. The Shiny Things are bright and plentiful in the moment. I wanted to be eloquent and witty with a point...

...but I keep losing focus. I think it is fatigue combined with politics-induced exasperation. My brain is full and my tolerance level is way low. The thing is, I want to avoid getting sucked into the quagmire looming before the 2012 election.

But the idiots and the liars, they won't shut up. Can't seem to avoid them. This election year in particular has seemed one long case of the Nasties, and the lunatics in charge of the asylum. The continuing spew from the Party of the Tea, and right-wing bigots, and the downright hatred some Americans seem to have for everyone who isn't like them...makes me sad and sleepy. The latest abhorrent remarks by Ann Coulter regarding 'stupid single mothers' is a case in point.

Bah. I'm too worn out for a rant. It's there, folks, and I don't mean to disappoint. It will just have to be a post for another time, as I am sure I will have to get it out of my system.

Then I can get back to something truly invigorating and creative. You know, stuff that really matters, like good stories.

13 August 2012

Magpie Tales 130: Athena Manifesto

Image by Francesca Woodman via Magpie Tales

Yeah, she's pretty
stepping off that half-shell
all the boys comin' to the yard

But I'm not her, see?
Botticelli painted me, too
and everyone stifled a yawn

I'll straighten this story
You won't forget my name
or the noise no you won't

blowing those trumpets
smashing prison shells
birthed anew away from help

Venus is a nice girl
but I am the new Athena Nike
Victory is my name

12 August 2012


Sail on

before the sea
leading mighty winds

with a whaler's heart
a saint's conscience

your crumbling ego
wrack become raft

chase the flash
that is your desire

disappear 'neath the tide
where love fills you

find your heart
cast upon the sea

it's what you know
it's what you need

Sail on.

11 August 2012

Horizons As Big As Our Hearts

What are the edges of your love? Not boundaries, mind you, but edges. When I think of boundary I think of a discrete stop, beyond which a thing cannot go. "Edge" to me speaks of a condition less static, more fluid and less sharp.

A barbed wire fence is a boundary. A tide line is an edge. Does that make sense? The wire is meant to keep something out, or keep something in. Where the water meets the shore is interplay and mingling of sea, sand and air. Fences are imposed by an outside order. Tide lines arise from organic circumstance.

I wonder if it is the same with love. It saddens me to think of love as something that requires capture and containment in order to flourish. Who would want their heart brought to rest upon rusty wire, held in place only to bleed out onto an uncaring earth? Would it not be grander, more humane and satisfying to alight upon the shored from the curl of a wave, delighting in sun and spray?

These things occurred to me while considering if the love within us is possessed of a horizon. This thought a random bit of mental flotsam, conjured up by the quantum associations of conversations touching on love. The image in my head one of standing on deck with my eyes on the horizon, and wondering just how far away it could be.

The idea stuck with me, I suppose because oceans and love have fascinated me for years. Fascinated and spooked me simultaneously, as I always have been when surrounded by vastness I cannot fully comprehend. Deep ocean, vast hearts. I admire the one and crave the other, yet am fearful of being swallowed whole by both. Ultimately how big can they be and we survive their mysterious embraces? 

As a result of this anxious meditation I have a better understanding of my own concerns. For the longest time I have held in my heart that in order for it to love, it had to have limits to that love; if it did not, the heart would be lost, swept away and identity dissolved. It is true that love to some degree requires the giving up of ego, an unsettling but necessary act that can lead to deep understanding.

Clinging to ego can be limiting, however. One perhaps may never know the true depths and breadths of love if one never lets go. This is a notion that has crept up on me, and now refuses to go away. Because I wonder, how much love have I missed because I was afraid of that which appears to be without limits? How much love could it be possible for me to receive if my heart became as an ocean?

It has been suggested to me that the amount is infinite. What is required is the removal of those limits imposed by the ego. Fear is yet another attachment that prevents us from opening ourselves up to love.

The greater the distance to the horizon of love, the larger the sphere of our hearts, but this is less important than defining that horizon as boundary or edge. Boundaries allow for control, but perhaps at the expense of growth. Edges allow more space for growth. Love needs edges. Love needs horizons as big as our hearts.

10 August 2012

Tea and Coronation

August 6, 2012. Safe at home with the Dàgōng.*

Settling in after a semi-busy day hanging around with the Wee Lass. What an amazing thing to bear witness to the irrefutable knowledge that she is indeed my offspring. Went out to buy tea today, and ended up in a ceremony, just for us. If I had the presence of mind, I would have bowed before I sat down.

I can't set aside the notion that I should have bowed. There was no tea house door that demanded it as protocol, but still. To be a guest in what is after all a place of business is rare. Ah, that isn't quite right. The illusion of being a guest in those gray places is all too common. Market research has decreed it so, and perhaps I fall for it more often than not, a state of affairs that makes me sad and small.

But today, Wee Lass and I had good fortune in the tea shop. Not one, but two people with knowledge and enthusiasm engaged us in talking about, sampling and buying tea. The young lady who asked us how we were, what we were interested in, and sat down with us for tasting of samples. The joy of seeing a whole tub of fresh loose tea, and the invitation to smell the aroma. Wee Lass seemed to really dig it, if being somewhat shy about commenting. The owner arrived, and to my delight and surprise he remembered me from my one short visit to his shop months ago!

So there we were, a fine pair out for a day of sustenance, entertainment and the acquisition of small delights. We enjoyed tiny cups of green tea and black tea and oolong. The sort of thing I get a kick out of, but one in which you don't expect youngsters to truly enjoy.

But that Wee Lass, she has a wonderful knack of following a path of her own making. She wanted to taste the teas. She watched intently as the assistant and the owner brewed little cups and poured the samples. When I looked over at her, I was amused and delighted by the curiosity she radiated with her expression. I lifted the cups to breathe in the aroma; she closed her eyes and sniffed. I blew on the tea to cool it, and she did the same. We both sipped and swished and drank, savoring the tea and the moment.

It was wonderful. We chatted with the owner, who told us about the tea, and the farm in China where he gets it. We talked about green, black and oolong, sitting there surrounded by delicate porcelain tea kettles, fish and dragons carved of jade. We learned the price of some tea in China, backed up with anecdotes about the province of Fujian. My daughter professed her liking of Chinese green tea. And very much to my surprise, she declared the Ti Kwan Yin oolong to be good. I recalled that the name is a variation on the Chinese goddess Guanyin, sometimes translated as 'Iron Goddess of Mercy'. In a moment of fancy, I told myself that may not be an accident. Would it not be a wonderful thing to have associations with compassion and mercy?

Who expects a youngster to be interested in such things as good tea? Long ago as a child, on those rare moments when I managed to look up from my books or cease the questioning in my head for a few moments, I had inklings of the quirks that that would come to define my life. Later as a young man and adult, those inklings became full-blown knowledge, a knowledge that embarrassed me and led me to quietly hide it from the world.

But on an otherwise mundane afternoon, I entered a tea house of the moment as an ordinary man, and departed it as an emperor. As we stood to leave, I reflected on the confirmation that she is indeed the blood of my blood. A smart, beautiful diamond she is, and we shall have tea in the bamboo pavilion of my heart.

*I may be relying overly much on free translators, but to the best of my knowledge "Dàgōng" is a phonetic translation of a Chinese word for 'archduchess', which by extension would be the daughter of an emperor.

09 August 2012

Third Time the Hammerfall

August 8, 2012. Hot day, heated heart. Summer should not be the season for grief.

The argentine light of a Kansas City midday pouring down on the giant shuttlecocks on the lawn at the Nelson Atkins Museum, and I immediately think of my Big Bro. I think of the three-year old canyon in my heart, gouged into the terra cotta of my soul. The heat and the light make the sculptures shimmer before my eyes. At least, I tell myself that is the cause as I try not to think too closely about his absence from this earth, on this the eve of the third anniversary of his passing.

I think of giant racquets in the hands of us as young men, ten meters tall and blithely unaware of the power we had as we strode the mountains of our youth. We used to laugh at the words 'badminton' and 'shuttlecock', our teenage brains caught up in a naive naughtiness. Nothing that we could not make a juvenile joke of, that is certain.

I stood still for a few minutes out there on the heat shimmer and dry grass. I was watching my daughter amble slowly down the stone walkway, lost in her own thoughts on a lazy summer afternoon. I felt a tremor of joy seeing my link to the future; I felt a chill breath of wind, shifting my gaze down the lawn where something moved. It was a breeze that rippled the grass, would that make sense? My Occam's Razor solution to the alternative of seeing my brother's ghost out there by there sculptures.

Yeah, that must be it. It was only a breeze. That's the official story.

But me, I know better. My brother and I, we were giants again playing games under the sun, with a mighty backhand swing fading into the light.

08 August 2012

Divided by Zero (Pt. 2)

A man always falls back 
on what he knows best in a crisis
What happens when the crisis is all he knows?
A fresh Hell doubled, black and molten
washed away my feeble claims to knowledge

This time there was warning of sorts
raven morning shattered by phone calls
to wake the mummies we had become
suffocating sleepwalk into our clothes
through a wormhole into actinic pain

A swallows' breath of time we believed
this golden sun might attain perfect fusion
So wrong, its core burned out, air frozen,
I awoke staggering on a trail of tears
falling back into a box containing the sun

~In memoriam of him, half of my first light
August 8, 2012

The line in bold is from Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. It makes one wonder what do we really know best?

07 August 2012

Green Flash of Youth

Jesus H. why do these things happen? Especially begging the question, yes, sir, why do these things happen in places like a card store for the love of Pete? No, no, no it shouldn't be that way. Nope. Not a goddamn mass-produced sentiment like the ones I saw there while browsing and waiting on her. Her. The manifestation, the avatar if I may, of my memory of the past and guarded optimism about the future.

My daughter, the Wee Lass, Her Royal Cuteness was in search of a card for her mom. I was the Captain of the Guard, awaiting her Majesty's attention there in the stacks of the Hallmark store in Kansas City. The store is big, a stone's throw from the corporate HQ, and there were more cards than anyone could possibly use. I was idly scanning the stacks when it hit me.

An inner tsunami of nostalgia and grief for something gone. "Something is missing," I heard myself saying, "something has been lost," and I had trouble swallowing the lump in my throat. My heart flopped over in my chest. The screens behind my eyes rolled old, scratchy films of a childhood missing and youth faded away. Flickers, shadows, the laughter of my brother, the faces of my mom and dad when they were younger, too. My grandmother in the background with hand on hip and cigarette poised for another drag before that large laugh that made me feel like I had roots.

Laughter like that is all the more powerful because of its grounding in the understanding that life can be rough and brutal. The only way to survive is to learn to laugh, to break it down and let the water flow around the stones of our soul.

I blinked to clear my eyes but it did no good. I saw myself in the backyard chasing a Frisbee, flung like a skeet from the backhand of my Big Bro. The afternoon sun was gold tinged with silver splashed across the backdrop of that sweet cerulean sky we seemed to have more often when were young. Dinnertime was not far way. I had hunger in my belly. The kind of hunger that blooms from the blissfully ignorant discharge of energy we always thought was boundless, energy that is the province of children. This is a hunger I rarely feel, anymore. Adult hunger tends toward the satisfaction of the base desire to get calories in the belly and avoid starvation. It is a hunger that too often feeds Pragmatism instead of Delight.

The store lights seemed too bright there. Shaking my head seemed not to work. The imps of the perverse were not yet sated, their claws feather-light and sunk in deep. The sadness of loss threatened to carry me away, and those movies of what I used to have kept running. The images stained, faded and scratched with a soundtrack distorted by the reels slipping off their sprockets. I breathed deep, trying to gain some composure while feeling thoroughly ridiculous in all that air-conditioned comfort.

"Snap out of it, man. Thoughtful cards are no reason to bemoan the loss of the youth, the future you once thought was guaranteed," a scolding voice in my head. I am the man that I am, 'myself plus my circumstances' to borrow a phrase from Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset.

I am myself...plus my circumstances...this is inescapable. I am myself plus my losses plus my future, even though that is something I cannot know until it becomes the Now. To know this is to understand what the sequoias know, should they deign to speak to us (or we deign to listen).

I dropped my head in weariness. My daughter was a few aisles away, gleefully reading the cards and clutching what proved to be her final selection. Finally, my vision was clearing. I rubbed my eyes hurriedly to erase the bittersweet evidence of jadedness before she could see it to ask. She approached me on the bounce with a smile on her face. She held out the card for my inspection.

The sun was setting over the unsettled ocean of my mind. I was on the beach holding my breath, waiting and hoping for that split second flash of recovering my loss. Hope began to fade until my daughter's enthusiasm and glee spilled over into the atmosphere, and there it was: the cloud lifted while my heart opened up to blossom into a darkening sky. I saw the green flash of youth, of promise, brought forth from the depths by the laughter of my legacy.

06 August 2012


Pardon, pardon, dear readers. A brief hiatus for me whilst on a week's vacation, a post for another time. I'll get back into the swing of things, I'm sure. Tonight I had some observations which would not wait, meditations on Olympic sport and the limits of human capability.

I caught the semifinals of the men's 400m tonight. It is significant because lane 5 was occupied by Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee runner from South Africa with blades instead of legs, below the knees. Anyone who has paid attention knows most of his story, so I won't repeat that here. Suffice to say, I was fascinated by the sight of this man who is not quite like many men, running as fast as he can on prosthetics, in the premier sporting event of human history.

I wanted him to win, but alas, he did not. He finished last and approximately two seconds behind the man who did win, Kirani James of Grenada. I was disappointed, but not overly affected. I was about to turn away, thinking of other things when something amazing happened that put a lump in my throat.

Kirani James, a man possessed of "regular" legs,  asked Oscar Pistorius to trade name cards. The sight of them exchanging the papers and a hug put small tears in my eyes.

I stayed put, entranced by the sight of this man who has had no lower legs since he was a child, yet got it in his head that he was going to run. Run, not just like the rest of us. But run against the fastest people in the world. I thought, "This is a man with grit. With steel."

That he did not win is not the most important thing to take away from this race. At least not for us regular mortals. The thing I will remember is that I must stop thinking I can't run with the best, something that will certainly be true if I don't even try.

I should run. We should run. There is no way for us to know how good we can be if we don't cast aside the things we fear will hold us back. We should all be Oscar Pistorius...and run, no matter what.

05 August 2012

Magpie Tales 129: Judith in the Glass

A Dinner Table at Night, 1884, by John Singer Sargent, via Magpie Tales

Good night, madam. 

What? No, no (smile).

The pleasure was mine, I assure you. I say with certainty that a most delightful evening I've not had in a year of fortnights.

What's that? Sorry, my hearing is not quite the same since the War. No, I'll pass on another glass of that port most fine. A fine example, if a tad sweet for my palate. (laugh) I've no doubt a honeyed tongue such as yours will find it to be as nectar to bees. 

Please, enjoy. I'm sure it will settle the beef and oysters quite well. Good for the digestion, or so the Duchess' physicians have told me. I continue to drink under their advice.

But you do not? Strictly for pleasure, do you? (smile)

I have the memory of pleasure, madam. I do.  No, please, no sympathy is needed.

(sigh) Forgive me, madam. I am no longer the youth I once was. Time and carbines have dulled the edge of my steel, you see (laugh). Ah, again, do not pity me.

(stands) Well...Judith, is that right? Yes, Judith (warm smile), if you will please forgive me. I am fatigued, and I must go. (kisses hand). No, it is not due to lack of charm, you excel in that. And, beauty? Well, Aphrodite is surely grinding her teeth (laugh). 

No, the fault, my dear, is that I cannot be certain I must leave because of the spirits in my eyes, or the laudanum in yours.  Good night.