23 December 2013

We Do Not Wish to Sing a Requiem for Bees

If it can ever be said that I have evidence of the Divine in this world, surely it resides in a spoonful of tupelo honey. To paraphrase the 17th century English physician William Butler, doubtless God could have made a better honey, but doubtless God never did.

The estimable Dr. Butler was referring to strawberries in his original remark, but the principle easily extends to tupelo honey. I am not, by nature, overly drawn to sweet things but tupelo honey has a hold on the imagination of my palate that I cannot explain. The only other sweetener that is on par with it is sorghum. I love sorghum, but that is a story for another time.

In recent months it has become my evening custom to have a mug of chamomile tea before retiring for the evening. Its soothing, soporific effects have done much to assuage my difficulties in easily falling asleep. For this I am grateful.

It is with the flavor of chamomile that I am somewhat less than enthralled. For months I drank it straight up, convincing myself that the salubrious effects of the infusion outweighed the medicinal taste of it. The conceit wore thin and I ceased my nightcap for a short time.

The hiatus ended the evening a jar of tupelo honey landed on kitchen counter. As luck had it, I found it in a local grocery store for not too much money. This, after some months without, as the last jar I had seemed to be exorbitantly priced.

Such are the penalties we pay for our appetites.

So with this windfall of honey, I found myself once again in need of a mug of chamomile tea, but with little enthusiasm to drink it. It was then that the inspiration came upon me to lace my cup with a generous dollop of tupelo honey. The effect, I must say, was damn near magical.

I sat down on the couch to enjoy my drink, and as the first warm sips slid down my gullet I could not help my meditation on tupelo honey and what makes its existence possible. Trees and bees. Specifically, tupelo gum trees and honey bees.

But especially bees. The news of recent die-offs and colony collapse disorder had me unsettled. It boggles the mind to think that so much of the good things we take for granted depend on healthy bees. Fruits, vegetables and all the things that flow from them, like honey. They could all disappear if the bees die and do not come back.

The thought of it makes me sad. That night I added tupelo honey to my chamomile tea I leaned back on the couch and said aloud "Lord, I hope the bees don't die." The winter chill seeping through the walls raced up my spine as I voiced those words. I shivered slightly, sipped a gift from the Divine, and meditated on the miracle of the honeybee and its dance with the tupelo gum tree. To sing a requiem for them seemed an offense to the universe, one that I cannot bring myself to commit.


20 December 2013

Missing Blood

She looked at me and said "I have a sad thing in my life, too."

Cards for a game lay crooked upon the hotel bed. The television muttered in the background. A man on the screen had just finished telling us that, at a young age, he had lost his father.

"What's that, sweetie?"

Her eyes were shining, diamonds of liquid blue. "My brother and sister. When people ask me if I have any brothers or sisters, I get sad because I miss them."

My heart hollowed itself out. I reached out a shaky hand, touching her gently upon her knee. She covered her mouth with her hand, stifling a tiny sob.

"It's okay to feel that way." Long pause.
"I know, but it makes me upset. That's why I have to say I don't want to talk about it ."
"It's okay to feel that way, too, sweet pea."

I swallowed the slight bitterness of telling myself it was okay. I sat there thinking "There are days, my girl, so many days where I don't want to talk about it, either. Yet every chamber of my heart echoes with plaintive cries that refuse to be unheard." I smiled, wanly, silent.

She nodded her head. I squeezed her hand. We went back to our game, shrouded in echoes.

11 December 2013


Jonas felt his hands getting numb. Too much driving with a balky heater left the cab of the truck warm only in name. The truck, like the man, was getting old. With age came the pains that took up residence in the bones. They waxed and waned, but never quite left. Good news that always made Jonas grin was that he owned both the truck and his bones. Nobody but God could take them away from him now. The old man had no idea that God was thinking the same thing.

Jee-sus, I don't wanna die alone, 
Jesus, oh, Jesus, I don't wanna die alone,
My love wasn't true,
Now all I have is you...

The words spilled, tinny and faint, from the radio on the dash. Jonas sucked in a lungful of cold Nebraska air to say "No, sir, Mr. Cash I don't wanna die alone neither. Nothin' good to come of that, I reckon." Highway 26 stretched out under the dead January sky. The snow stuck to the windshield had the glow of pearly ashes. The wipers had gone on strike miles back, working in fits and starts. Jonas thought he might stop soon to brush the glass clean.

He drove on, drifting into a daze. The truck stayed straight. Not hard to do out here where the flatness was damn near end all and be all. No traffic for what seemed like hours, unless the snow snakes whipping across the road counted. Not much in the way of animals except for the rare bird or two that telegraphed across the sky. He thought he saw an antelope, once, but it was too far away to be sure.

The featureless gray of the clouds made a riddle of time. The light came from everywhere and nowhere but it did seem to be getting fainter. His belly grumbled, as if to confirm his suspicions about the lateness of the day. There was a thermos jammed into the passenger side seat, wedged in the crease between the back and the upright. It was half-full of tepid coffee leftover from the last century when he had left his trailer, perhaps for good. The only food in the truck was half a cheese sandwich and a almost new box of beef jerky laying on the dash.

Jonas. sighed and belched. The sandwich, entombed in a crumbled paper bag along with a crushed empty beer can, lay down on the opposite floor board. He could not reach it without ducking so far down he would lose sight of the road. The thought of it made him really tired. He surprised himself at how lazy he felt. Unusual for a man that had near wrecked his body working hard, hard, for most of his adult life.

The ache in his knees and wrists never let him forget. But he had to eat something. The plains stretched out for miles around him, empty, lonely, with no signs of hospitality anywhere in sight. It could hours, or never, until he might find a place to stop, get warm and fill his belly. Resignation wheezed out between his chapped lips. He reached out for the beef jerky. Setting the box on the seat beside him, Jonas slid one of the strips out of the pack, fumbling with the plastic wrap.

The jerky filled his mouth, salt mixing with grease and a low tang of rough chilies. The meat was blood warm from having sat on the defroster. The warmth momentarily threw the old man, reminding him too much of a punch to the mouth he took one night long ago, in a bar the name of which had faded from memory. Blood and two teeth, shiny on the winter gravel and looking garish in the neon of the sign. He grinned and laughed to dispel the ghosts. "Hell, man," he cackled, "that fella's fist looked ten time worse!" His voice got swallowed up by the close air.

He swallowed hard. It was getting dark. Crinkles on the horizon told him that Wyoming was getting close. Or was it Colorado? Smile collapsed from his face, and sadness took its place. He knew now he had lost track of where he was, and sure as hell was not turning around.

Light drained from the sky. Wind buffeted the weathered truck, shoving it gently from side to side in the lane. Jonas cut on his lights and sent up a prayer. Miles ahead, the temperature was dropping further. The clouds unfolded into rain. Night fell, and with it black ice lay claim to the road.

03 December 2013

Mañana Blues

The problem it seems may be one of self-priming. Without priming, the well will not flow free. Without free flow, the energy goes to waste or is never expended at all. Energy without expenditure is simply potential. Potential and a few dollars will buy a large cup of coffee.

All of the above explains the paucity of posts on this blog. It explains the dearth of worthwhile photography over the recent months. It is a condition of my creative existence that I have momentum, that I actualize the latent forces within my brain. Momentum breeds momentum. Once I get going, I find it very hard to stop. Witness the time not so long ago where on this very blog I posted and entry a day for over one year.

That is a lot of posting. While some of it was fluff and fill, much of it was inspired and heartening to me. I wonder if I ever again can achieve a similar feat.

The reason this matters is because as of late the tasks of writing and photography have acquired a difficulty I struggle mightily to overcome. The energy to get started rarely manifests for long, and I wrestle with bouts of angst triggered by comparison to my past efforts. It is the feeling of "I should be writing!" that gets me all wound up.

It is a mystery to me why creatively speaking things should be so difficult. I know the conventional wisdom is that one should write/draw/photograph/paint etc every day even when you do not feel like it, to keep the discipline up and the energy flowing. I do recall that feeling of engagement and satisfaction I get when I do get going, when the ball is rolling, when the mojo is workin'.

That feeling is wonderful. Now to overcome the lassitude between me and it.

It is no good thing to think of yourself as lazy, unambitious or lacking in imagination, but that is precisely what troubles me during these short fall days. The notion that I am waiting for something to come along and knock me out of my complacency seems all too real. "Carpe diem!" shouts my conscience, and I would, if only I could get myself off the couch.

22 November 2013

Clove Heart

chewing, mouth numbing
breath steaming, he dreams her
sweetness, spicy sharp

21 November 2013

Rain on the Glacier

Troubled sleep fractured by thunderstorms and restless mind, it is no good thing to roll around on the sheets under the grey smear of a streetlight sky. The clocks may be digital, but that does not prevent them ticking too loud as to keep one awake. It was enough to make one run into the street, clothed in nothing more than swirling leaves and a coat made of anxiety.

It was rain on the glacier. Dark, cold, wet. Things to be avoided, yet here they were wrapped around my throat. I laid still, hoping it would go away.

A few hours later, and it was time to get up and make some sense of the day. Sense making is no easy task without defined goals, a sense of purpose and a job. I had none of those. The rain saw fit to make sure of it. Looking out the window, I saw the door to the shed flapping in the breeze, another incomplete task dropped from the colander of my mind.

It was the third day in a row I had forgotten to go shut and lock the door.

Not to be too pessimistic, but that seemed the story of my life, staring as I was out the window at the grey oppression of the sky. One long unfinished task, another episode of wasted potential. Chronic, it is. The contemplation of it left me in a sour mood, a brown study as the old-timers might say.

I thought once again of Bouvet Island, the most remote place in the world. Claimed by Norway, inhabited by no one, home to seals and birds, and I wondered if there might be a place for me in that stark ecosystem. Perhaps I, like the seals and penguins, could learn to live on krill and ice water. Brutal and harsh, maybe, but simple and and beautiful in own way.

The sun came out late in the day, the white gold light of which inspired me to grab my pinhole film camera and leave the house in search of inspiration in what ultimately proved to be an abortive attempt to capture the fading glory of the day. I forgot a crucial piece of equipment and the light went before I would have been able to go get the piece. I shivered in the cold breeze, and returned home empty handed.

I daydreamed about Bouvet on the drive home, then reckoned it was too grim a prospect for me to dwell upon. The sun faded back behind the clouds as I pulled into the drive. Late fall and anxious thoughts had there claws in me, I knew. I cast about the house for some relief, and found it in the form of cooking dinner.

The rain continued to fall upon the glacier, but I chopped, stirred and tasted until the umbrella unfurled, and I found myself warm in the heart of home.

14 November 2013

Area 51

Last week I stood on the rim of a desert mountain valley, tanning myself in the ultraviolet radiance of a salt lake pan, the existence of which I had allowed myself the luxury of forgetting. This forgetting is either conceit or folly, I know not which for certain. Perhaps the surprise its discovery creates is a product of willfulness, slag and dross generated by a desire to avoid the unknown irrational roots that anchor a soul to the world.

Queries will be met with neither-confirm-nor-deny. Yes, it is there, people know it by its present absence. This is how I myself know it. Explanation is futile. How does the heart describe the strange machines seen at distance, the enigmatic materials moving under darkness, dissections of mythical extraterrestrials? Who would believe it? Who wants to try, for fear of being branded a flake at best?

I cannot answer in confidence. I look at the dry lake in my heart and marvel at its strangeness. My mouth strains towards words to vocalize what my inward eyes are seeing. My hands trace glyphs in the air and I interrogate myself in my sleep. The dreams. I want to understand why I dream what I dream. There is this underlying belief that my dreams would make sense if only my heart had the vocabulary to parse them.

It does not. Not yet, or perhaps more accurately, my mind does not yet understand the language being spoken. So I wander. No, damn it, not I, it is my mind that wanders. The trail it breaks veers from pampas to forest to lush jungles, yet is always taken aback by the sudden bursting into the arid flatness of a lake gone dry so long ago that the vanishing is lost from memory.

Yet, it is there. It is in the diamond core of my heart, like the grain of sand in the center of a pearl. It is good fortune to laminate life with the bright and the shiny. Mirrors and polish presented to the world in the hope that there will be no misunderstanding or misinterpretation by the world around us. By world, read those we love and humanity in general.

But that is the ideal. Too many strange things happen in this heart-that-is-and-is-not. Phenomena occur that I cannot explain to myself, much less to those around me. It becomes a race between what my heart shows to the world and what the world, in its information vacuum, makes up about my heart. Whispers behind hands, looks of concern or affectionate bemusement, irritated impatience: these are the usual currency of emotional trade when discussing my own personal theater of classified operations.

So last week, I stood once again on the shore of that dry lake bed, the one in my heart, and baked in the sun. Black machines moved in the shimmer, far away across the plain. I wondered if there might be aliens here. I pondered the existence of emotional programs so secret that even my own mind would be at a loss to explain why they are or what they do. Officially, this place doesn't exist.

Unofficially, it does. It is vital to my existence, even if there is no way to describe why. I do not ask questions of it as much as in the past, and that is a good thing, I think. The heart has to learn to accept its own terrain even if that spot on the map is marked 'Unknown', and trust the things that spring from it.

08 November 2013

A Few Words on Transient Grief

7:48 PM CST. Exhaustion and lassitude for dessert. It is dark earlier, to which we are resigned.

There is no meter of which I am aware to measure the suckage of any given day. If there were, it would probably be available at a big-box hardware store, and there would be one in my tool box or glove compartment, right next to the voltage meter or the air pressure gauge where I expect it to be anytime I need to check some voltage or wonder what the pressure is in my tires. Which is not that often, as you might expect. Still, when I want to know if a circuit is hot or the sagging tire does not convince me, it is nice to know that the tool I need will be there.

Except for today. Today, the tool was not there. Come to think of it, it never was, and I am confounded as to why this distresses me so much. Maybe because I was grasping at straws, fighting for air through a dense thicket of gargantuan irritation catalyzed by a Greek chorus of grief that chanted all day in my hind brain.

It is a sunny day in November, in the Year of Our Lawd 2013, and I wanted to call my big brother and wish him a Happy Birthday! He would have been 50 years young today.

He would have been. But he is not, except in my memory and the memory of family and friends. The loss is four years old now, seeming just yesterday and forever ago. It was not until I was pounding on the steering wheel and screaming at the unknowing driver in the car ahead of mine, that I realized why my eyes kept welling up today for no apparent reason.

Big Bro would have been 50 years old today, and I am furious that I cannot call him up and give him some stick about it. He was always supposed to be older than me, and my heart has not yet wrapped itself around that unavoidable fact of our existence. Yelling at strangers who cannot hear me will not change all that, bit sometimes, on a bright November day, I do not know what else to do.

30 October 2013

Stumbling, Falling

Fall is finally here, tumbling frantically downhill into Halloween after an uncertain ending to summer. Weather cools itself off in a spasm of pewter skies and spitting rain. Enjoyable in its own way even if it carries with it a nervous chill of realization that Halloween is just about here. People will "celebrate" this weird "holiday" in fits of trick-or-treating tinged with resignation or excitement, generally depending on one's age group. Or perhaps on one's willingness to embrace overindulgence in some form of socially accepted vice.

The leaves in this part of the world changed color seemingly overnight, sneaking up on the neighborhood like foliar ninjas. Ninjas bedecked in red, yellow, and orange cloaks twirling through the air to festoon lawns and sidewalks in coruscating displays of chaos theory that induce gawking. Such as it was on my errand-laden drive time today, out in the mist. One tree in particular, crowing to the world in a deep shade of red, nearly caused me to stop my car in the middle of a busy street, just to take its picture.

No pictures were taken, however. The car kept moving. The mind kept racing far out on front of it like a falcon on a long rope. The leaves. The colors. The metallic smell of rain. Sensory impressions gelled on the tongue, which burst into a question ejected onto the backside of the windshield.

"What happened to the time?"

The question shattered itself on the glass and rebounded into dizziness in my head. How did it get to be this late in the year, with summer passing by in a blur? The air in the car had a tang of incredulity in it, temporarily disabling my ability to swallow. How could it be the end of October?

That thought and a few garish displays of fake tombstones, Death and undead creatures clawing their way out of suburban-looking front lawns brought it all back to me in a rush. It is the end of October because the earth spins around the sun, nights elide the days and time marches on regardless of my attention span. Occasionally the fog lifts and notice is taken, only to further engender bemusement at what happens in the world beyond my shoulders.

It will be Halloween soon, a happening that always infuses me with a bit of low-grade anxiety. It is not a social event that ever cottoned to me, or me to it. I know the young ones dig it, my own included. They can celebrate it for treats, and that is the way of the world.

Me, I look forward to the fall as celebration of change in the air, manifested by the entry some years ago of my daughter into this world. She was not born on Halloween, thank heavens, but she sure made fall a treat. I drive on, past the decorations and into the swirl of leaves afloat in the October air. The colors blur into chaos and remind me of the love that is constant through all my seasons. It rises, it falls, it is ever there to catch me when I stumble out of time.

11 October 2013

But Then I Realized I Have a Smartphone and Have Never Been Shot In The Head

I woke up this morning with a head full of angst and remnants of unsettled dreams. I believe both were induced by a dearth of good money combined with a surfeit of bad government. Too much is too much, even when it springs from not enough. I did not face the day with confidence.

Stoic chewing through a breakfast that was so much better than the mundanity it suggested. Having low expectations will do that to a soul. The taste faded quickly, my mind and belly experiencing a familiar disconnect. Normally, food captures my imagination but lately it has been more of a minor distraction in the face of the thought-pressure I cannot cease generating. I ate. Tasted, not so much.

I loaded my gear into my car, trying not to think about the new tires it truly needs, but may not get soon enough. Another money cliff over which I could fall. A deep breath and a shake of the head succeeds in dispelling that particular cloud. I have some work to do, thankfully, enough to make it through the day.

Into the car, onto the road. Local radio for company. The smart phone chirps intermittently, offering directions which veer from helpful to annoying. But I do not turn it off.

The work proceeds smoothly, mostly. Later, when I begin to grow tired and hungry, the fingers grow clumsy. The mind grows dull. Minor errors multiply. Epithets escape gritted teeth. It is done.

Setting off for home I experience some small glitches in the technology I carry. My annoyance is somewhat out of proportion to the severity of the offense. It grows when faced with some truly questionable driving decisions inflicted upon the innocents by a careless boor who must have received their driving lessons via old-fashioned mail. I grow cranky.

Upon arrival at mi casa, the tussle with technology is not over. The computer awaits, it cannot be avoided, so to the interface I must. Cables and image files and downloads and uploads; the party is just getting started. Files are sloughed off, folders created, bits and bytes are pushed around.

It gets close to dinner time when I realize my early-morning funk never quite went away. Partly hunger, I know, because I skipped lunch. A rumbling belly nudges me in the direction of the kitchen, in search of some leftover soup. Disconnected dissatisfaction with modern life hovers about, a thin gray cloak settled over slumping shoulders. The relief was in the technology, though.

Today on the internet, I saw a short video about kids playing musical instruments made out of recycled landfill debris. A cello. A violin. What looked to be trumpets and other brasses. Kids whose families earn a living by culling refuse and recycling it to sell for money. They were playing symphonic music, and playing it well. It was so beautiful it made the filth and trash disappear.

My smartphone was losing some of its shine. I sat there with my bowl of homemade soup, lip quivering.

Today on the internet, I saw an interview with Malala Yousafzai, the young lady from Pakistan who garnered international renown when members of the Taliban shot her in the head, all because she championed the rights of girls and women to be educated. She was composed, passionate and inspiring. Her words were so beautiful they made the violence and hate disappear.

A group of violent reactionaries attempted to kill a 15-year old girl who wanted to be educated. I thought of my own daughter and her love for school. I bit my lip, swallowed my soup.

It was then that the cloud lifted. I have a phone that can access the sum total of human knowledge. I have the resources to make good food to fill my belly. What I do not do is make cellos out of oil drums and cast-off wood. What I do not fear is being targeted for assassination because of my gender and desire to gain knowledge. In those, I am blessed.

And if anyone cannot be inspired by true triumphs of human ingenuity and character, if a "Landfillharmonic" and the courage of a girl who truly had a lot to lose, well, then I am unsure there is hope for them.

As to myself, I wept a little, relieved that I am human.

10 October 2013

Ringing Bells

Mama knew my mind, would know this song
Mama knew my mind, would know this song
I muscle holler and a moan
I muscle holler and a moan
Black chords in the night
"You ever hear a new song, lyrics that sorta knock you out?" she said with a voice that purred even over the music and the traffic outside. Snow fell, light and jittery in the streetlight glow coming through the bar window. Someone laughed loud, there was coughing.

She was looking at me with eyes like emeralds and smoke. I managed not to jump at the sound of her voice. Jeans like paint, copper colored hair, boots sexy and dangerous-looking at the same time. The glass found its way to my suddenly dry mouth, hiding nervousness. Swallow. Pause. Answer.

"Once in a while. You?" I said. She smiled. It made me think of jaguars.

"Yes, I do. All the time. Even make them up, when the mood strikes." Smooth hands, coffee-colored, cradled a glass. She lifted it, sipped. White teeth, one slightly crooked behind lips just red enough. Some things are so beautiful you should burn your eyes out after you see them, because you never will again.
Daddy burnt the dirt, but the seed survived
Daddy burnt the dirt, but the seed survived
Holler and a moan
I muscle holler and a moan
Black chords in the night
The drink looked like a gin and tonic. That alone pleased me so much, I could not say why. Maybe it was just relief at not seeing another goddamn pink drink. I looked down at the bourbon I was nursing. It shimmered in the slightly nacreous bar light, honey and leather in a glass. I sipped again.

"So do you write songs?" I asked, not quite looking her in the eyes. Talk about distractions. My hands trembled slightly. Whiskey or nerves I could not tell.
"No, not really. I mean, I want to. I write a lot," she looked at me, then looked down at the bar, then over to the empty stage, "but a lot of things sound great at midnight that fall apart at lunch time, you know?"

I chuckled. Her admission energized me with confidence. A shot of that does a body good, knowing that Jesus will turn another year older before you can somehow make it home. Assuming you can find out where home could be. I turned on the bar stool, she didn't hear me sigh, and then I looked right in those pools of green. She had leaned in closer.

"What's your name, love?"
"Colleen. And you are...?" Blank mind. The music seemed to swell, drowning out my thoughts. How could I forget my own name. What was my name? Oh, Christ on a pogo stick, my name?
"Liam. It's Liam." I managed a smile. To my relief she smiled back. To my surprise, she started singing along with the jukebox.
The heavy bells, the heavy bells,the heavy bells
The heavy bells are tolling out a tune
The heavy bells, the heavy bells
Oh, God, I felt that metal move
You’re gonna wake up, you’re gonna wake up,
You’re gonna wake up, find the heavy bells
Toll their tune for you too
She had closed her eyes, tilting back her head to expose the loveliest neck I had ever seen. She sang, slightly off key with a throatiness that took my breath away. I gasped, staring. She opened her eyes, looked at me, smiling at my obvious lack of composure. To my shock, she reached out with one hand and took mine into it.

Her hand was warm, silky. The bar tilted in my vision. I squeezed her hand. She leaned in, enveloping me in a faint Tanqueray cloud. Her lips brushed my ear, and I heard her whisper "Merry Christmas, Liam. Merry Christmas." Across the street at Saints Patrick and James, the bells rang. Gazing back at her, dizzy to the point of near blackout, I grinned and answered.

"Merry Christmas, Colleen. I love you."

Italicized paragraphs are from a new favorite, "Heavy Bells", by J. Roddy Walston & the Business. Yeah, it rocks.

07 October 2013

Along the Ice Front

Ranger had been told that life on the Sangre Fría de Cristo range was brutal, cold and short. So far, he had witnessed brutality aplenty and the cold never left his bones. But he was still alive, after all these years. A small miracle in light of the graves he had dug.

"Two out of three is bad," he muttered into the icy wind. It never seemed to quit. By the standards of Nuevo A Coruña, a cold, blustery slice of hell itself, the wind was rather slack. He checked the thermal settings on his enviro-suit. The idiot lights glowed a faint green, but the color engendered mistrust. His feet and hands were starting to go numb, despite the suit insisting that the heat was normal.

Ranger doubted it. In the two days since the fall the suit had been performing erratically. One minute he would suddenly be roasting, the next it felt like the sweat was freezing in seconds on his burned skin. His meager repair kit had stabilized it somewhat, but the parts were running out. There were no replacements.

He craned his neck forward to sip from the hydration tube poking up from the suit collar. The water, laced with electrolytes and a mild stimulant, seemed to his tongue to taste faintly of piss. It always made him uneasy. He knew the suit recycled everything so efficiently that he must be imagining things. Good thing the stimulants were chemically rigged to not increase urine output, Ranger recalled. No way could he handle the thought of having to change out the filters more than he did now.

Not that it mattered much. The scout ship was near complete ruin. The team, dead, except for Ranger and the Alférez. The rest scattered somewhere in the rocks and ice, swallowed up by chasms and the bellies of the things in the chasms. Ranger checked himself again. He was alive, but the Alférez, only nominally so. 

The body moved and muttered but its eyes were now frozen orbs of a nacreous blue-white. Ranger could see them through the slightly cracked lenses of the suit binoculars. See them, that is, when he could bring himself to look. The Alférez had fallen down the scree, shouting gibberish and swatting at something no one else could see

Ranger sighed. He rubbed his hands hard on his thighs in an effort to bring some warmth back into his fingers. He was years away from home and the thought of it made his heart ache so sharply he tasted iron on his tongue. Years. He had been gone for years, searching for minerals and life forms the Directorate had deemed important. Yet he had never found the thing to quiet the loneliness in his core.

Glancing up at the sky, he saw that the sun was about to set. In his reverie he had failed to account for the lateness of the day. He was exposed there on the butte overlooking the plain below. He forced himself to stand, gathering up his survey gear. The gear was filling up, Ranger noted with a pang, but he held little hope he would survive long enough to get it safely into the Datanet.

The slug thrower leaned against a lichen-coated boulder. Ranger hesitated, knowing he was nearly out of ammunition. The weight would slow him down, burning up precious calories, but without it he was truly defenseless. He looked out into the blue twilight congealing down below the mountain range. There were shadows stirring down there, shadows that could swallow him in the blink of an eye if he let them. he picked up the gun.

Ranger sighed, strapping on his gear before setting off up the rough trail that led to the only shelter he could find in the wasteland. At a small rise, he turned to get one last glance at the Alférez. The gun was raised in a half-salute, then he froze. Something was hunched over the body of his friend. It appeared to be eating.

Ranger swallowed hard. He turned and ran, calories be damned. The cave was not far away. It would keep him alive until tomorrow, at least. Tomorrow after sunrise he would awake, cold and alone, but for the last time. Tomorrow Ranger was going to find his way home.

05 October 2013

Two Years Before the Mast or Something Like It

8:06 PM. Night is falling earlier on this slow slide into fall. A mirror of my days, methinks.

Monday, October 7th is an anniversary of sorts. The day will mark two years since I last plied the profession of architect full-time. Well, with one very small exception, plied it any time, to be precise. The demon of this particularity caught up to me in broad daylight. A mental mugging, minding my own business at a stoplight.

Hardly seems fair, I know. Enormous effort has been expended in the past two years, first on searching for a position suited to my training. Then when that became increasingly fruitless, Sisyphean even, my efforts were slowly diverted to searching for a position suited to my skills and interests.

You see what I did there? With the "training" segueing into "skills and interests"? I knew you could.

It was an inevitable transition, in hindsight. Anyone who has been laid off more than once knows that looking for a job is a full-time job. Old habits die hard, and I was up early and working the job lists and directories and cold-calling and frankly it ground down my resolve and self-esteem to the point where I had no energy to even be desparate anymore.

I was, though. The sheer effort in looking for an architecture job, with no results to show for it, haunts me even now. It is draining to think about it. The knowledge that no one seemed to be interested in a talented, skilled and licensed architect with 20+ years of experience (i.e. Yours Truly) is a puzzling and disheartening burden to carry. At the time, it was all I had and all I knew how to do.

Not that I have forgotten how to do it, mind you, but I have had almost no arena in which to practice it. So in essence I gave it up. I had to, so I could focus on other ways to preserve my sanity and hopefully make money. Thus, writing and photography began to eclipse what I was trained to do. Possibilities formed in my mind, of an intersection between the Want To and the Must Do sides of the coin of life.

I can say I have had some minor successes in that regard. I have exhibited in a local gallery, made some contacts in the art world, garnered some part-time work in photography, sold a few prints. So there are signs of encouragement. The writing has not had the same level of interest, it continues to be a slow go, but there have been some nibbles.

Still, the hard work continues. My figurative heels are sore and bleeding from all the nipping they endure, courtesy of the imps and demons that seem to shadow me, messing with my dreams. I fight them off as best I can, but every so often the shield slips and they get through.

Today at a stop light, a chunk of the sky fell on me and I flinched. Breathing hard through a squall of panic, my mind reeled over and over, thinking I must be nuts for trying to make so much out of nothing. The voice (you know the voice) whispered from the backbrain cave that maybe it would be best to give up carving a new path in this old jungle, when there is a perfectly good path somewhere behind me.

All I need to do is turn around, retrace my steps, and I can put down the machete. The path back there is dusty, rutted and beaten down. The rocks in it, the thorns flanking it, well they can't be as bad as the unknown overgrown thickets I am thrashing through, can they? It would so much easier to go back, would it not? Simply trade the promise of uncharted territory for the drab security (which is not so secure) I used to know?

The light changed. The breath wooshes out of my lungs. The car rolls forward, I make the turn, and try to put the past behind me. Two years before my own personal mast have taken me over strange new seas and into uncharted lands fraught with promise. It would be a shame to give up the ship when there is something wonderful on the horizon.

02 October 2013

Queasy Piñata

Today's attempt at writing has its roots in grandeur, and probably its end in mediocrity. My ambitions outstrip my ability, all because my head feels like a piñata. This is a source of great distress for me. I had grand plans and a good idea last night, but no time or energy to write it out. The backup plan was to write the kernel of the idea down in one of my handy-dandy little notebooks, then turn out the light for some sleep.

Except for one little detail. My bedside notebook had gone AWOL. Not in the drawer, not on the nightstand, not even on the floor beside the bed. I told myself that I would remember in the morning, but you can guess how well that turned out.

Upon awakening this morning I found myself in possession of a low-grade headache. It started in the base of my skull and wrapped itself around the left side of my brain, edging its way into the frontal lobe. Manageable in the morning, by late afternoon it would balloon into quite a whopper. Like someone was beating it with a stick.

A fine sandwich for lunch had no effect on it. Pain medicine? Pffft. My go-to solution of taking a nap was of no help. In fact, when I arose from the nap, my head felt even worse. The throbbing in the piñata bobbing around on the top of my neck made me slightly nauseated.

Nauseated, not nauseous. I use that word deliberately. 

Never let it be said that I cannot learn something new. As someone who aspires to be a writer, I am always on the lookout for new words and word-related knowledge. Recently, it became illuminated for me the difference between 'nauseated' and 'nauseous'. Shocking, I know, that I did not know the shading between those two siblings.

Simplifying a bit, but it turns out, that to be 'nauseated' means to be feeling sick to the stomach, i.e. inclined to vomit. 'Nauseous', on the other hand, means to cause feelings of nausea, i.e. something revolting or physically disturbing. 

A very fine line, would you say? Me, too. Admittedly the latest dictionaries seem to indicate that over time, the usage of 'nauseous' to mean the feeling of sickness rather than the cause of sickness has become so commonplace that the two words are near interchangeable. So for years, I had been saying "I feel nauseous" when what I really meant was "I feel nauseated". 

The realization made me nauseated. Heehee.

So when I sat down to write today, trying to think through the fog of fatigue, forgetfulness and headache, the only thing looping through this weird brain of mine was a riff on the new thing I learned. That is about as good as it was going to get, seeing as I lost another essay idea to the void.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, left me a little...nauseated. 

30 September 2013

On the Cliff, By the Iron Sea

He usually only became aware of how long he had been running when the sun was high and the wind brisk off the water. His consciousness came into focus like a bubble popping, breath ragged between his lips. It was at those moments the runner would ask himself "How many years, Lord and Father, how many shall I carry you?"

The path led, as it seemed to always, along the edge of high cliffs. Green sod feathered itself out over hard lines of green-black basalt, the fractured planes of which slid sharp into the heaving sea. Slat spray and gulls engaged in a whirling dance of which the runner never tired. He looked forward to them when the sun would rise over the hills and plains after long nights of black and silver stars.

The cries of the gulls were as choirs to ears burned by wind and sun, years upon years of ceaseless motion with the relics upon his callused back. It had been so long since the stone cross in its thick ox-leather bag had been roped on to his back that he had no real memory of the occurence.

The sting of the whip across his calves he had never forgotten. The scars were still there, knurled ridges bulging from legs that resembled stones. The scars ached often, mostly at night when the runner entertained fantasies of walking, or heaven forbid, stopping to lay on the ground. He dreamed of it in his staggering sleep. The desire made him weep when it overtook him.

He cried less now. It attracted beasts in the night and made it difficult to breathe. Outrunning the one and overcoming the other were luxuries he could no longer afford. He grew terrified at the prospect of not making it to the mount, where he had been told he could lay down his burden forever. But the mount seemed no closer than the day his trial had begun.

He saw it now and then. Mostly in dreams. It was there shrouded in mist, far away along a curve in the coast. On this day, he saw it so clearly jutting up from a headland like a giant's fist. A fist that shook itself in his weary face.

"But why, Lord, does it grow no closer? I've run so long, endured so much, yet you offer no solace!" he yelped, wheezing. He was seized by a pang of regret soaked in fear, thinking he might be struck down for such impertinence. The cross in its leather sack hammered the knobs of his spine. He groaned and spat.

The wind continued its low moan over the grass. The sea mumbled and groaned on the rocks below. Neither offered comfort or counsel. The runner's feet continued their slow shambling run along the cliff. He did not hold his breath waiting for a sign.

The sun slid a few minutes of arc down the dome of the sky. The runner looked up as a passing shadow glissaded across his path, tracking over the shiny grime of his face. It was a gull, huge and gray, flying in a slow figure eight pattern just overhead. It seemed to be watching the runner. Its eyes luminous in the afternoon light remained fixed on him.

The runner grunted, shifted the weight of the leather bag so the straps would not dig in so deep. Off in the distance the mount was slowly fading into a mist rolling in off the ocean. The runner grunted, an idea taking shape in his head.

He watched the mist, waiting for it to swallow up the mount whole. His pace remained constant, but somehow he felt lighter on his feet. He felt the fear lifting from his belly and his heart. He raised his sunburned hands up to grasp the straps of the sack. Thumbs under the stiff rawhide, he waited still. The mount was nearly gone, only the tip showing up above the cloud bank. The runner allowed himself a faint smile.

The gull swooped lazily back and forth, eyes intent on the runner. The setting sun flashed on the tip of the mount, then it was gone, swathed in the thickening mist. The runner smiled openly. He lifted the sack off of his shoulders, veering closer to the edge of the cliff. Below he could see a cove where the water seemed deeply blue-green where it met the slick basalt knifing down in to it. Perhaps it was deeper there, he thought. 

The sack slid off his back, dangling by a strap in his hand. He ran faster, feeling lighter, and began to slowly whirl the sack in a windmill arc. Faster, faster, it spun, the sweat-stained leather looking like a giant heart in the blood light of the waning sun. The runner roared, a bell toll of pent-up anguish, and flung the sack over the cliff. He stopped, suddenly, almost falling over with dizziness after years of running.

The sack pinwheeled its way down to land with a subdued splash, sucked under by a huge wave that had come crashing out of the far sea. The gull shrieked and spiraled over the head of the runner, who hunched over panting with fear and relief. His legs trembled, as did his hands, but he had never felt so free as he did then.

The gull landed on the path some yard away in the direction of the mount. The runner turned to look. He saw that the mist was approaching them even now, dimming the sun and muffling the wind and sea. The mount was invisible.

The runner straightened up. He stretched, the lack of weight on his back novel but welcome. He waved to the gull, who then launched itself into the air with a squawk. It circled twice, then headed off into the mist towards the mount.

The runner grinned. He took the gull's flight as a sign, and began walking to follow the bird. Walking, he told himself. Walking. After all these years, he would walk to his meeting with Lord, and carry upon himself no burdens cast upon him by anyone but himself.

His heart began to slow. Peace was upon him, even as the sun slid below the edge of the sea.


27 September 2013

Letting Them Slip

Of the things that get my goat these days, the conflict between art and duty is at the top of the list. I kvetch often when I cannot seem to find, or to make, the time to attend to the acts of creation that I claim I need to sustain myself. It would seem to be inconsistent with my goals. It makes me wonder when I truly am going to pull a carpe diem and satisfy my intention.

My peace of mind depends on it, don't you think? And if peace of mind is that important it would seem imperative to follow those notions and impulses that feed it. I had the chance today. Make that two chances. I failed to act on both, and now I am disappointed.

The chances were nothing earth-shattering. There was no flash of insight leading to the cure for cancer or ending world poverty. No, these chances were more humble, intrinsic to me and me alone. Well, unless you consider that the chances had potential for me to gather something to share with the extrinsic world.

I had an assignment wherein I had the opportunity to do something constructive with my camera and earn payment from the results. The assignment was in a semi-rural area somewhat south of my current abode. When I had left the house earlier, on impulse I put my film camera in the car, in case I saw something scenic or interesting out in the rolling fields and farms. So it wasn't like I didn't have any equipment.

The assignment took longer than I expected, and I was tired, hungry and hot when I finished. My thoughts turned to getting home and finishing the task. I was in a hurry, for what in hindsight turned out to be not so pressing reasons. So I get in the car and head home, thinking too much about what I needed to do.

I passed a concrete plant at an intersection of two roads and what seemed like four cornfields. The interplay of light and shadow on the industrial structures was fascinating. I thought about the black and white film I had, but shook my head and muttered to myself "No time, gotta get home." I kept driving.

Nearby and across the road the top of a slightly derelict silo peeped up above a deep cornfield. Next to it were some barn buildings, also in need of sprucing up. Peeling paint, an old tree, cornstalks waving in the foreground. The light was hitting it all just right. The mood was of opportunities fading away, hard work needing to be done, and the unsettling openness of the prairie sky above it.

Perfect photo op, right? Great shots to be had, yes?

I watched it recede in my rear view mirror. I didn't stop. The velvet shackles of duty, the sure thing, the chore to be done, all convinced me to keep going by laying on the old saw of "There will be other opportunities, move along." What really bothered me, the farther down the road I went, is that the creative soul in me raised hardly a peep. It just let it happen.

The question turning over in my mind and heart while I sped down the highway back to the "city", was one of "If not now, when?"

Indeed. Opportunities may exist, but to assume a guarantee is to take them for granted. The voice in my head told me to drive, to follow the call of duty. My artistic life is in danger of atrophy, all because sometimes I listen to the wrong voice.

26 September 2013

If Only I Could Stop...

If ever I would stop thinking about music and politics,
I would tell you that music is the expression of emotion
And that politics is merely the decoy of perception.*
Yeah, well there is the problem. I can't stop thinking about music and politics, even when I so desperately desire it. Part of that is just my own weirdness, part of it is the incessant yammering of pop culture and social media not giving it a rest. There is so much going on that I feel compelled to comment on, so many distractions, I cannot get it together. If I was paid for each reaction I have to the latest nuggets about gun control, Kanye West, Syria, or Miley Cyrus, I'd probably be wealthy enough to be "financially independent".

But I am not paid for my exertions. Thus, I am not wealthy in that regard.

I have been silent for weeks now because I am overwhelmed by the blathering that passes for discourse in our shared media environment. So many things I could comment on, but I do not have the time or energy. So I'll leave it to the pundits, talking heads and chattering masses. Politics lately is making me tired, and music, well, music is making me slightly sad.

Do-nothings and twerking are not the breakfast of champions. Right now, so much has been said by others I feel there is nothing I can add without shrieking or weeping. And no one, especially me, wants to see that debacle.

I believe this state of affairs exists because of the tensions that bind me. Politics I can ignore to no great harm to my psyche, but music means too much to just set it aside. Coupled with my obsessions about food, I am all set to be uneasy in the media environment these days.

So, I won't use this post to rant about music and politics. As to food, let me say that I have been thinking about it in the gaps where I was not thinking about music and politics. About what other people are eating, what I want to eat and where I can get it. This has given me the urge to write about food, which I must say I have been doing, just not here.

And that is a story for another time. I'll keep you posted on that score.

Suffice to say that all this mental meandering has left me in quite a state. Thinking about food often leads me to thinking about travel, because much of what I am curious to eat is better experienced in its native surroundings. Plus, there are people I want to meet in those places I want to eat. Here, there, and everywhere, food is often better when shared. My difficulty in traveling, meeting and eating is that difficulty common to the modern era: the lack of time and money.

So what is this all about? Ladies and gentlemen and those in between, I really do not know. This ramble of mine had no specific agenda, I simply felt the need to communicate to you where I my head and heart seem to be. Where they are, is somewhere between the poles and the equator, wishing I could break bread with you all.

That, and wishing I could stop thinking about music and politics.

*Lyrics quoted from "Music and Politics" by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

25 September 2013

Bed of Moss (Memento Mori)

May I stay awhile with you,
as you lay upon that bed of moss?
Picture frame of a decades' rest
among the hush of the departed

(see, it will be just like that when you are dead)

I kneel, dappled with sun,
Tears and sweat my only choices
for caressing the stones, cleansing them
of desecration by leaf and mud
(you'll be over there, I'll be over here)

On the bad days, 
your silences louder than hell
On the good days, 
memories ringing of peace

(we just can't see each other)

20 August 2013

Tripped Up by Catfish - A Fable of Accidents

"You a food blogger?"

The question came at me like a bolt of lightning. It stunned me like one, too. That is not the sort of question I ever expected to hear, even though at that moment I was standing at the counter in a local seafood shack. I was wearing a fedora, casual batik shirt and shorts. My trusty Nikon film camera was slung over my shoulder. The fellow that asked the question was looking at my hat and at the camera.

"I see you got one of those old-school cameras there."

I sputtered, I stammered a bit, feeling terribly self-conscious. I managed a weak-sounding "No, no, I just have the camera in case I see something interesting, and I'm just out for lunch, heard you guys have really good fried catfish sandwiches."

The man smiled and went back to the kitchen. I placed my order---a "Po' Jack" sandwich with a side of fried okra---and went to get my drink. My ears were burning with low-grade embarrassment and confusion. Here was a golden opportunity to declare myself, announce some intention, open up some new writing territory...and I sort of flubbed it.

Long-time readers, and probably many other folks, know that I write about food frequently here. It is a topic never far from my mind, it never seems to get old and it is a subject with infinite possibility. I suppose if I had more confidence in myself, I would have responded loud and clear "Yes, sir, I am. I'm here to learn the ways of the fried fish sammitch, show me what you got!" I could have easily made a new friend and possibly gotten a kitchen tour, or at least a sample.

Instead, I got confused and anxious and did no such thing. I took my drink to the table to await my order, turning his question over and over in my mind. It bothered me, but why?

The answer, or at least the start of one, came to me as I was tucking in to the sandwich. It bothered me because I was momentarily flustered in public---anathema to me---and it made me ask the deeper question of: If am I not a food blogger, then what kind of blogger am I?

I write about Stuff and Things (of which Food is a subset), even the Fiction and the Poetry. I've written about death and depression and light and love. I can barely begin to answer the "What?" question. And that begs a different, deeper question: What kind of writer am I?

That question sat firmly on top of my head while I ate, like a monkey that decided it wanted to be my hat. It kept picking at me, and thwacking my skull with bony little fingers. I knew I wasn't going to answer that question during lunch, so I accepted the thwacking and concentrated on enjoying the sandwich.

The sandwich, ladies and gentlemen, was excellent. Top notch. World-class, I might say. It was simple, it was crispy-tasty, it was served right. It was, in fact, the best damn fried catfish sandwich I have had in what seems like decades. The counter lady and the fellow who questioned me---turns out he was the manager/head chef/fish guru, name of Walter---both asked me if I enjoyed the meal.

I did. Very much. I told them in no uncertain terms what I thought. I ended up having a nice chat with Walter, and told them I would be back. He let me know about some of the other specialties they make and told me a little bit about what they do, where they get their fish. They seemed pleased that I was interested, and I could hear some pride in his voice when he talked about it. We shook hands, and I left to go about the rest of my day.

I still hadn't figured out a way to let them know that I do write about food, and their food was such that I would love to write about it. Which, of course, I just did. And I will go back. At least now they know me, and maybe we can have some more good conversations, talk some shop.

Now, if I could just figure out what kind of writer I am...

19 August 2013

New York Texas Toast Blues

Seamus couldn't fucking believe it. "This is what my life has come to?" he croaked. "Frozen Texas toast? From New York?" The last said with a lilting inflection of utter disbelief. What the hell did New York know about making Texas toast? he thought. There it was, big as day, the garish box sitting on the shelf at eye level with the label blaring "NEW YORK TEXAS TOAST - 5 CHEESE".

His stomach lurched. The cool air of the freezer cascaded down his bare legs dangling below the rumpled boxers that barely clung to his bony hips. Coils of ghostly smoke snaked across his vision, the cigarette dangling from lips glossed by whiskey. Seamus sighed, coughed, brushed absent-mindedly at the smattering of ashes on his stained undershirt.

He stood confused, wondering just when it was he had bought the toast. Even in his most desperate days, and there were many, he had always kept his distance from that particular abomination. Especially if it had that spread that looked like uncooked batter on it. It was supposed to be "butter", he knew, but it tasted like burned garlic mixed with stale movie popcorn oil.

He hated that shit. Yet there it was, in his freezer. A whiskey-tinged belch made its way up from his rumbling belly. He was hungry in spite of the booze, the fridge was mostly empty and there was exactly a dollar fifty-three in change sitting on the table in the dining nook. The table was barely standing, battered, and to his mind it made the whole place look smaller than an efficiency ought to be. The walls bulged in, he swore they were moving.

Seamus slammed the door shut. Shaking, he surprised himself by starting to cry. Memories rushed in of his step-mother's awful dinners, where that kind of toast showed up so often his older brother joked that she must have been banging the route driver for the bakery. He and Aidan had no options growing up, they ate it because it was that or nothing. Most nights, it seemed.

He swiped at his running nose with the back of a grimy hand. He shuffled over to the table, pushing aside the pistol. The slick black barrel clanked against the plastic highball glass next to it, slopping cheap scotch over the rim. The liquid beaded up on the torn note stuck under the glass. A black, spidery scrawl of ink across the brown kraft paper showed a name and address. Both started to blur as the whiskey soaked into the paper.

"Shit. Shit. Shit." He needed the money, but now he was feeling weak-kneed and hopeless. The thought that it was a job he could no longer finish burst bright in his head, he just knew, but he needed the cash so fuckin' bad and this shithole apartment is going to cave in on me, no way, no way, man, I can't eat another slice of that trash but I don't know what to do!

Seamus slammed his hands down on the table. Pistol and glass jumped. He grabbed the cigarette from his lips and dunked it hard into the glass. There was a faint hiss as the butt went out, bobbing in the whiskey like a bizarre canoe. "Changes, man, gotta make changes." Trembling hands cradled his aching head. "Cut out the booze, get out of the life, yeah, that's what I need." His rasping voice fell flat into the cramped, stale air of the apartment. "Gotta get help. Maybe Father Mancuso over at St. Ann's could do it, yeah, maybe so."

He sat up straight. He'd get dressed, that's what he would do. Put on the black shoes, the pair with only one hole in the sole. He'd walk the few blocks down to the old neighborhood, beg Mancuso to take him in. God loves a sinner, right? The good Father could take him in, clean him up, get him out of the life. A smile creased his mouth at the thought that he would never pull the trigger again. And if he was really lucky, he'd never again eat that goddamned toast.

It was just too close to the bone.

16 August 2013

Mangoes Before Heaven

Simon gasped, ragged breath a countdown to what he was sure would soon be his last. The sickly vapors wafting from his gangrenous legs combined with the fetid reek of the riverbank in an unholy miasma that near to choked him. He chuckled, tight and grim, wondering if it would be disease or animals that snuffed the candle for him.

The flies had already found their mark. They formed a gauzy haze that shuffled and coagulated repeatedly as he feebly waved them away from his torn body. He lay about halfway up the bank, as far as he had dragged himself before passing out under the onslaught of the Kalimantan sun. The track of his body was already drying up. So far, other than watching his legs swell and blacken, nothing had bothered him. Nothing big, anyway. He wondered again if the python stories the Dayak had told him were true. Big snakes held no particular terror for him, but forty feet long? Possessed of spirit magic? Christ, who thinks up such things?

He slept, for how long he could not tell. The sun appeared to have moved little when his swollen eyes fluttered open. His legs hurt, felt afire, yet his feet were numb. More flies formed a shroud around his head and shoulders. Weak swats at them only served as momentary respite. He rolled onto his side, the effort making his vision dim. There seemed to be a large, twisted log laying down by the waterline. It hadn't been there before, but the rivers here had their own way of confounding memory. Behind the log, he could see the river moving on, slow and syrupy.Water. He was so thirsty.

To his surprise, he was hungry. But what he wanted was a mango, ripe and fragrantly sweet. He had never tasted such voluptuousness before being posted to this green hell. The scent, the shape, even the taste all reminded him of a woman. He had taken to eating mangoes every chance he could get, along with a taste for the carnal delights of the prostitutes frequenting the trading post down at the river mouth.

"Mango..." he whispered hoarsely. His vision began to blur. The log on the riverbank twitched, caught on a sudden surge of current, he thought. But it began to move uphill. Simon croaked a sigh of disbelief, then passed out.

The log uncoiled further, resolving itself into the shape of a huge, mottled python. It lifted its snout, testing the heavy air with a surprisingly delicate tongue. It oozed up the bank.

He dreamed. He was back downriver, somewhere in the warren of hovels and ramshackle wharves that fingered the river where it disgorged itself into the sea. He was in a shack on pilings over the water, lying on his back in a rough, low-slung bed composed of copra and cast-off teak. His body, and the body of his companion, were sheened with sweat. A slight post-coital shudder coursed through his frame as the sloe-eyed beauty next to him breathed softly into his ear. She asked him in the pidgin English that served as their language of trade if he wanted mango.

He smiled. "Yes, yes" Simon answered excitedly. She smiled back, black pearls of her eyes drawing him in. Despite his recent exertions, he felt stirrings in his groin. This place, he thought, is swallowing me up. The woman got up, moving to a low chest that doubled as a table. There was a pair of mangoes on top, along with a small machete. He lay on his side and watched as she deftly carved the peel off the fruit. The sight excited and disturbed him.

The python had made its way up the bank, and was near to Simon's sleeping body. The snake paused. Another feathery whip of the tongue, as if assuring itself of its hunger. It looped its body closer.

She turned back to him. Lamp light gleamed on her skin. She held in her hands the halves of a mango. Juice dripped slowly down her wrists. Smiling, she approached the bed, kneeling down to him. A small, tan hand held the mango half inches from his nose. The scent near to made him swoon. Her dark beauty coiled around his heart and loins. "You want?" she asked. "Of course!" he half spoke, half groaned. He reached out to take the fruit. The woman climbed back in bed, managing to simultaneously eat her mango while spooning him.

The python hesitated when it crept close enough to touch the prostrate man. In his fevered sleep, his hand had clasped the head of the snake, caressing it. The snake paused, confused. It had never encountered such a thing in all its days of catching prey. The hand gently tugged the head of the snake down and to the man's lips. He kissed the reptile. The python responded by slowly wrapping its coils around the dying man.

Simon almost failed to notice how strong she was clutching him, he was so taken with the fruit. Lust, power, satiety, all suddenly condensed to the pale orange flesh he ate. He felt her grasp getting stronger, almost painful. But he could not bring himself to stop eating the mango. His vision begin to dim, she was saying something to him in a sibilant, sing-song voice but he could not understand her. He had a vague notion she was comforting him, saying it would be good for him to go. As her hard embrace transformed itself into a fierce pressure, his vision turned to black, and he felt his heart stop. He knew then that he would not leave Kalimantan alive. He told himself that he would not be afraid to die, though, as long as he could eat mangoes before Heaven.

15 August 2013


July 14, 2013. 10:54 PM.
We ripen in different fields yet there is no mistaking of the lineage. The wind blows on she and I together. We deflect with indignation that the universe would dare impose on us so. That she frequently interjects is all the proof I need.

Apples and trees, to borrow from the old saying. She fell not far from me. I pray that she fell far enough.
It's funny, the notes I leave myself. Often in obvious places but upon rediscovering them I almost invariably surprised. Also, by funny, I mean 'peculiar' not laugh-inducing. Okay, perhaps a chuckle or two. It can be rather silly.

Ah, I digress.

"We ripen..." I wrote that late in the evening, long after Wee Lass had been put to bed, with her words ringing in my ears. Not discouraging words, mind you. Far from it. Our nightie-night conversations range from dead serious to thoughtful to slapstick. Such variations are further earmarks of my legacy.

I do not recall in specific what we talked about that night. I do know that it must have affected me deeply, to compel me to tap out a quick note on my smart phone before I attempted another descent into the Challenger Deep that is my sleep time.

Gahhh. She sounds like me sometimes, and that is a two-edged blade. There are no easy answers here, being a father without (mostly) a clue. The incentive to do the best, be the best I can be, is right there in front of me. She said goodnight.

"Goodnight. I love you, daddy."

Yes, she does. She did not fall too far, this I know.

08 August 2013

Beseech the Stars

Aislinge sat still as stone while the gale blew itself out around him. Waves pounded the dark basalt at the base of high cliff, liquid iron hammering out the fury of Manannán. The cold and the wet troubled Aislinge little. It was the vision dissolving into foggy memory that concerned him. Never in his life had he conceived of something so terrible as what had woken him up, crying out. He leaned slightly into the wind, wondering at what had brought him here to pray for starlight.

He had sat upright, leaping like a stag and yelping. Sweat runneled his face, mixing with the cool rain that was seeping in through the tiny opening in the wall that served as window. The weather beaten board that was meant to cover the hole at night had fallen out, blown away by the violence of the wind. Aislinge had bellowed an oath wrought by fear and his pounding heart. The dream-vision still blazed in his mind, filling him with sadness and dread. He had been walking by the sea watching the sun dip to the horizon.

Then the stars went out, one by one. Candles in the wind gone swiftly. The sky had gone deep blue, then black, leaving him stranded amongst the gorse. His limbs were locked in fear brought on by his inability to see anything except a faint glow where the sun might have gone down. He marveled at the black, shaking with terror yet unable to move.

Move he must, the shaman told himself. Wind was blowing strong from the sea. Its howl was unearthly, overlaid with what Aislinge's panic stricken mind took to be the doleful moan of banshees or dire wolves. The sound turned his bowels to ice water, and he forced his limbs to move. He turned into the wind with its mineral tang filling his lungs. He reckoned if he could make it to the sea, he could follow the cliff back to his stone hut to await the morning.

The wolf-wind raised its pitch, bringing with it stinging rain that felt like pebbles on his skin. The blackness wrapped itself around him. He could not shake the feeling that the night had replaced the tattered cloak he wore. The sodden fabric was gelatinous on his leaden limbs. The sound of the waves reached his ears while the salt aroma intensified. He reckoned it would not be far now.

Howls. The hiss of rain and breakers. Aislinge imagined he saw a glimmer of phosphorescence where the sea should be. He smiled, a bolus of hope bubbling up in his heart. There it was, he just knew it. He moved forward with a prayer of thanks on his lips, and stepped out into nothingness. Plummeting through the wet obsidian night, at first he was too shocked to scream. But he sensed the wet rocks below, and the knowledge of what was surely violent death flayed open his throat with a scream that pierced the earth.

Aislinge sat upright on the side of the slab he called a bed. The memory of impact was bleeding away. He looked about the hut. The storm cursed and growled still. By the light of dying embers, he could see that the board was missing from his window. The hole itself a darker black smudge in the stone wall, through which no light could be seen. He gasped. Surely his dream could not be true The stars, they could not have gone out. This could not be.

Still, he knew what he must do. He fumbled about in the dim hut, finding a small clay lantern and his walking stick. He filled the lantern with warmstone and the greenish fungus he had discovered, the kind that gave light but no warmth. He decided to leave his fire box behind. It would not last long and its meager warmth would be no match for the force of the gale. Wrapping his cloak up tight, he stepped from the hut with a deep breath to scent the sea. The wind seemed to lessen its force, perhaps a good sign as he walked.

The sound of breakers. Sea spray he could taste. The wind curled about him, caressing and cajoling. To his tortured imagination the hiss and groan of the waves sounded like selkies calling out from the water. The voices and the waves grew louder as he neared the cliff edge. This time he would not fall.

One step. Two steps. Three steps, his aching foot hovering over a blackness that differed in texture from the sod over which had walked. Ailsinge stopped and knelt down. He could feel a hard edge of stone where the cliff met the sky. The sky itself appeared to be mottled black. The rain had slowed to almost nothing, and even the wind seemed to be cooperating. Below, the waves continued their assault on the rocks. In his mind's eye he could see the breakers curl to fling up their manes of spray. He smiled at the memory.

Aislinge pulled himself forward to the cliff edge. The wet stone prodded him hard in the haunches even through the wool. The lantern he set down carefully. It cast a small pool of greenish light, feeble against the night, but giving him a measure of hope as he began his vigil. He looked up at the sky and emptied his mind to wait.

The stars, they would come back. He would wait for their glow.

In memory of the Bear and the Butterfly

05 August 2013

Medicine Man (Heal Thyself)

If the saying "You are what you eat" has any certitude to it, then I am a walking antidote. A bulwark of mental insulation, wearing a flak jacket made of things that seduce my gullet. Ladies and gentlemen, in the past week I have had privilege and pleasure of playing chef to appreciative family and friends. Twice in that time I bestirred myself to arise from my semi-slothful existence and cook good things that we shared at the table. Twice I was honored with praise for my efforts, and by the ultimate compliment to any cook: those who ate wanted more.

Such words and a clean plate might give any human the notion that they could be more than amateur at the art of feeding people. Compliments and kind words have a tendency, at least in my case, to make me expansive. I get those urges to create a cookbook, write a food column (which I confess, I'd love to do) or even "can that stuff". There is a little whiff of that aggressive need, glossed with love,---which I suspect fuels more than one star chef ego in this world---to not just feed someone but to make them want to be fed by me. I find this stroking of ego to be energizing and disturbing.

It is a fire that I rapidly bank. I do this in part because I know that being a professional chef is not in the cards for my life. There is a learning curve and investment of effort that circumstances disallow at this time. Plus, I have been led astray more than once in my professional life by ignoring some blind spots in my career vision. I am diligent to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Eating should not be an act of coercion, I believe. Nor should it be method to shore up ones' flagging self-esteem by obligating others to give you praise. Hopefully, I have avoided and will continue to avoid that particular trap. I do like to cook, for myself and for the enjoyment of others, but the real reward should be be in the act itself.

This is my hope. I also confess that my enjoyment, rather, my need to cook is not altogether selfless. This was driven home today upon looking up at the clock with the realization that I had spent almost five hours straight in the kitchen. Five hours, that is, with no worries or anxieties beyond the immediacy of dealing with sharp knives, hot pans and the anticipation of "Will this be good?"

Watching my companions dish up, I knew with honed clarity this simple truth: my cooking in and of itself had been a source of sustenance far beyond the calories it would place in my belly. Chopping, measuring, mixing, stirring...playing with fire in a perfectly acceptable manner...having an idea and following the thread uninterrupted...ah, such joy! To finish the thought and then eat it is a marvelous gift, one that lifts me up from some dark, scary places.

That is, dear readers, my no-so-secret secret. I do enjoy cooking for the delight and company of others. But the deeper reality is that, some days, maybe even most days when I cook...I'm cooking to restore myself. I cook because it is good medicine, for me and for those I love.

22 July 2013

Cloud Life

"Sometimes the clouds don't even look real."

She said it with a mix of wonder and disbelief, one that seems peculiar to children. The statement hung in the air while I considered my answer. The remark had come out of nowhere. I looked up from the road, through the windshield, peering up at the luminous billows perched seemingly overhead. The cloud-mountains marched off in all directions in a radiant matrix. The sky expanded before my eyes.

She was right, I knew.The proof was there, in all its divinely white glory limned out against a blue so beautiful it was to make one weep. Even with the near horizon of trees and man-made distractions the sky seemed like it was about to overwhelm our immediate surroundings. The edges of the clouds were so white, so sharp in places one could not shake the impression they had been painted on.The light in those edges could make one lose ones' bearings.

"They look like paint!" Another declaration from the back seat.

I felt weightless. The car could have been floating, hovering, swirling up and into those unreal clouds. I felt dizzy at her words. Everything seemed unreal, lost on the contemplation of those clouds. My heart contracted around the realization that we, my daughter and I, were gifted only so many moments together. Moments that are precious even when they seem contrived or unlikely. They were hard to comprehend, sometimes, in the mad chatter and hum of life. But occasionally the moments spring forth, luminous and true, like cloud-mountains in an impossible sky. I swallowed my adult doubts so I could answer.

"You're right, sweet pea. They do look like paint." In the rear view mirror, I could see her watching me. I smiled. "They may not look real, but they are. And they are beautiful."

She smiled, and looked out the window. I heard her singing a few bars of a kid's song I did not recognize. I smiled, too, and felt the gentle bump as the car came back down to earth. The sun dappled the ground as it shone between the clouds, lighting up our real life.

21 July 2013

The Garden of Regret and Promise (Sunday Meditation #31)

The plane leaps skyward, metallic Pegasus galloping into the midnight blue. The mind's eye rolls movies of trees uprooted, ripped from the sod with the sound of torn silk. The earth gives ground grudgingly. Woody fibers snap and ping as the strings of my heart break one by one. My old roots ran not as deep as I thought, my new roots scarce have entered the earth. 

The plane vibrates while I weep silently into my fist. Granular tears do not reach my eyes. I'll not give my fellow travelers a show, or reasons to conjecture on my state of mind. 

Viscid heartbeat in my ears above the hiss of air in the cabin. My hydroponic soul feels elation and regret in equal measure. I am weightless in the nutrient broth of the present, dreaming of love like rich loam, dark and fertile. Loam I leave behind and loam I race toward. What will spring from these fields I have cleared? This is unknown to me. My heart has hopes and fears for them both, and mastery over neither. 

The sky is black outside the windows. The ground below I cannot discern. It is the heavens in reverse, stellar velvet strewn with tiny yellow diamonds. My roots slip further from the humus embrace of fields I tend. I pray, as the poet Virgil implored farmers to do, that my summers will be wet and my winters clear. I till the soil patiently, waiting for roots to grow and with them, love.

From field notes written in transit, April 7th, 2013.

16 July 2013


Ten years gone. The magma has cooled somewhat, thick curls and billows hardening on the the slopes of my soul. Heat remains in spite of the multitude of solstices observed since the earth opened up and I glimpsed the heart of the universe.

Ten years. A decade of wondering, of myriad attempts to wrap my head around events of great force and stunning majesty. This has been a grand tilting at windmills, I know. The task itself can only be attempted imperfectly, like cutting a diamond that ever reveals one more tiny flaw.

Ten years. My children born in a burst of light and heat, human-shaped supernovas I cradled in my arms. Supernovas do not last, I knew that then. The evidence was borne out as I watched them fade, powerless to stop the inexorable progression of terrible things unleashed by the heavens.

Yet other things were born even as I later watched them pass away. The rough prisms of their souls fell into my hands, my heart, and on the day they were born, and I became a gemcutter.

Ten years of practice, I have had. I study, polish and cut. The memories have hard, sharp edges, it is true. But they are clear, brilliant and beautiful. I remember my son and daughter, diffracted, like diamonds in the heart. It is their birthday. I polish the facets, practicing my new trade as diamantaire of memories potent and raw.

In memory of the Bear and the Butterfly.

16 June 2013

In the Name of The Father? (Sunday Meditation #30)

I arrived home yesterday evening to be shocked by the sight at the end of my street. A ferocious thunderstorm felled an old tree in my neighbor's yard, two doors up the road. I say "in" the yard but it was really out of the yard and completely into the street. The tree was so tall it actually hit the adjacent house across the pavement. The sight made me blurt out "Wow!" with wide eyes. It really isn't something you see every day.

What it sparked me to thinking was about deep change, about how the confounding circus that is life can uproot your expectations and imaginings before you think to reach for the battens. This is how I felt about this Sunday, Father's Day in June 2013. The notion that I am a dad still knocks me flat now and then. Just like the fallen tree that now occupies a big chunk of my imagination.

I guess I cannot entirely escape that "Imawhat?" feeling, even now when my daughter is on her way to her ninth birthday. If we are trees, she is a sapling, I am mature growth, my own father old growth (and impressive).

A father? Me? It is a miracle and a puzzle. I often wonder what it is I did to deserve such a lovely, good child, and what I can impart to her that someday she will look back and say "He did have wisdom."

Mostly, I worry and pray that I will not totally screw up this fatherhood thing.

I keep that from her. She has no need to know how scared I am, how much I worry that I will fall from grace in her eyes. This seems to be part and parcel of the Fatherhood Gig, to my mind. A constant drumbeat in my heart and soul that is hammered out by this desire for my child to understand the good parts of me, and improve upon them in her own life. I think of her and the life before her, and the specter of failure on my part sends a bolus of ice water through my veins.

It is true, I am my own worst enemy and critic. I judge myself by standards I do not apply to others, because I know how unfair and unforgiving they can be. Thus I generate most of the pressure on myself to get this right, but it puts everything I think and do in a blinding, actinic light shining in my head. Nothing escapes scrutiny, nothing is to small to analyze...or criticize.

Harsh, but true. I am learning to overcome myself. This I believe is necessary if I wish to be the good father I want for her. Others have pointed this out to me, and I know they speak the truth.

Ah, enough self-mortification. It is Father's Day, after all. Looking past the commercialization and cheap sentiment that too often seems to cloy such occasions, I know there is something of note for us to acknowledge. The terrors and ecstasies of being a dad are things I would not willingly trade for anything on this mortal coil.

In the indigo haze of deep twilight, I look down the street at the fallen tree. All things must pass, I reckon, but the tree reminds me that we are all possessed of strengths we may not know we have. I think of my own father, who I am lucky enough to still have on this planet, and the things he taught me. His life was not perfect, we both know this, but through him I learned many things about being a man and father.

Seeing myself through my father's eyes, I know I am blessed by my daughter. She is student, she is teacher. I have much to give and to learn. It is to know and understand, on Father's Day.