24 February 2014

Magpie Tales 208: Perchance to Sleep?


Poet's Sleep, 1989, by Chang Houg Ahn via Magpie Tales

Memories outside the window grow,
Pasts like poppies abloom in the garden
Little death of sleep, Hypnos whispers,
I love the sound of breaking glass

Italicized phrase belongs to Nick Lowe, from his song of the same name. Resistance was futile.

23 February 2014

Swamp (Sunday Meditation #33)

Nothing like the sensation of waking up in the swamp, even if it is your own bed, with the cottony glow of sun-up seeping through the blinds. The small tremor, the raspy breath that pulls a wire through the gut. Dreams muddled with memories condensing like rotgut moonshine in the still of your mind. This is the moment when getting out of bed induces a shiver. The feel of cold mud on the feet, well, that is no way to start the day.

Arise! Get up! This is what the racing heart screams at the quivering mind. The alternative is to lay still, wallowing in low-grade anxiety. The bed shifts and squirms under the back. It is only a matter of time before you sink down. Is this what you want? No, no, of course not. Also, reason and senses tell you it isn't mud, it's mattress.

The floor is only carpet, not muck. You know this. Still, it is hard not to flinch when the feet it the floor. After all, what was that last dream? It was a search. Slogging through unknown, difficult terrain. The jolt when a taloned hand darted out of the bog and grab your ankle. A small miracle there was no scream but the sensation was vivid enough to wake you up enough the draw a deep breath.

Lying there listening to ragged breathing is when the other memories sweep over, rising out of the back brain like a dirty gray tide. There is no choice but to get up and move, to carpe Diem and all that jazz. Brace yourself while swinging your legs over the side of the bed. Remember, its only carpet.

Up. Stretch. Move. Run the shower. Brush the teeth. Don't think, just do.

The day, the day, dive into the day. Remember that saying about it being impossible to be depressed when in engaged in meaningful work? Substitute 'anxious' for 'depressed' and there you have it. The goal for the day. Plenty of chores are there for the doing. It may seem absurd but putting laundry away can be meaningful work, if one wills it to be.

So this is it: up and at 'em alongside someone you love. That is good fortune. The stomach may be full of jitters, soured by the dregs of unsettling dream and bad memories, but love is an anchor. Simple tasks shared like a community of monks. "Do all things with love" even if that means sharing lunch in between hither and yon.

The day will go on, just like you. Daylight and motion gently sand away the rough edges of your aura. Gradually the steps get lighter, the mental ground seems to get drier. The knobbly trees and hanging moss begin to thin out. This is good, no?

Then the moment where the wire breaks and your breath comes back to you. It is a slow passage that snaps into clarity. It is the moment when your hands wrap around a plain white bowl which holds dinner. It is a dinner made with one's own hands, and what the first bite does is bring you out of the swamp. The taste, the aroma, is the relief felt when the feet pull from the mire and you see both boots are still in place. Inhale. Chew. Swallow. This is the universe writ small, and you are back in it.

The secret is this: chop wood, carry water. By these simple acts you will know peace.

21 February 2014

Hold the Sky

If I could have kissed the sky, I would have done it. There was a purple haze in the air, but Jimi Hendrix had nothing to do with my slack-jawed admiration. I looked at the sky, really looked at it for the first time in months. Rain was falling and to be honest I don't know if I fell in love again at that moment. Clouds like horses' manes, that curl of spray refracted against the sun when waves break on the shore.

That is perhaps what did me in. Staring through a plate glass window in the middle of the country, weary from a workday, and the ocean was breaking over my head. The pull of tides on the heart is a mysterious thing in the heartland when you don't have a liquid horizon as frame of reference. God knows I truly miss it sometimes. The steely bluish-purple sky, painted with curls of clouds that sang of the sea so vibrantly I forgot where I was.

Is it odd to fall in love with the sky? Perhaps this love is misguided. It is the sea that could be said to be my mistress, if I was so inclined to have one. Perhaps this explains my confusion and dislocation sometimes when I watch the sky or view the prairie. Alike in their vastness, different in their manifestations. Sky and grass have not the same gravitational effect on the salt in my blood.

I often ask myself if I should worry about tidal effects, how I feel the waves in my blood even being thousands of miles from the coast of my upbringing. In a curious inversion, the sky becomes that which holds me on the earth. The gauzy curls adorning the sky reminded me so much of the froth and spume on breakers that I was rendered speechless.

I'm rambling, aren't I? I should stop. Maybe. God, where am I now that I don't have the tide as anchor?

Don't be alarmed by my apparent drift. I'm not. I cannot be after the revelation I had when the sky caught up to me that day. File under "Things I Know About Myself": I can appreciate beauty without the imperative to possess that beauty. This is important.

What I know of the sky is that I do not want to possess it. To possess such a thing is to assume too much responsibility for that which I cannot control. What I know is this: I wish to  live under the sky, to coexist with it, and to bask in the glow of its beauty. I have no need to hold it anywhere but in my heart.

17 February 2014

Magpie Tales 207: Hero in New York

Universal Studios Lot, Instagram by sessepien via Magpie Tales

Come down, come down,
please, you gotta come down
Street knows your here
Perfume stronger than exhaust

Goddamnit, woman, come down
I ain't no Stanley, no Casanova, 
Juliet isn't your name,
No one calls me Romeo

Come down, once more,
Sirens' wail doesn't call me home
Only a desperate reminder
I'm Odysseus on the rocks

16 February 2014

Her Number (Sunday Meditation #32)


There it is, on my daughter's back, as big as day. Arctic white numerals against royal blue. The color is not the same as the kit I wore.

The pitch comes back in a rush. My legs root me to a ground far away from my teens while my mind lands back in high school. The number on my back is arctic white against deep maroon. Coach didn't put much stock in names on the jersey, the '11' stark and alone.

She wears my number now, a strange and wonderful weft through the warp on the loom of my life. The number turns back the clock, opening the door on a glimpse, however brief, of the boy I used to be looking up at the man I have become.

It seems only possible through her, on days like this one where we run ourselves breathless under a pewter sky. She chasing the ball, me chasing a better man I hope someday to catch.

She wears my number on her back. The honor is mine, though she knows it not. I watch her run the field, I am breathless, I am blessed to wear her number on my heart.

Field notes, October 2013. Gracing an emerald field, she plays the beautiful game.

04 February 2014

Magpie Tales 205: New River

Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

Angelie claimed to be a city girl, but I knew better. She loved that patinaed cabin just as much I did. I loved it even more when she was there, gauzy and softly scented of lavender mixed with sun-baked salt. Salt that my hungry mouth had the privilege of tasting when she would waltz across the porch to honor me with a kiss. It was good, it was summer and the cabin breathed us in.

Maw-Maw's piano rested on the front porch, a mossy king keeping an eye on the emerald mountainside that constituted its domain. It held sway over the gravel drive up to the cabin, taking in the river below. The river, a steely blue rush that cut the landscape from west to east, whispered to us up there on the slope. Every year there was a conversation between the piano and the river gods. I heard it from when I was a stripling and into my erstwhile adulthood. The dark mutterings, the burbling trills that could have been prayers. I never understood them, not for years.

Angelie was a nova in the deep space of my life. Bursting forth with light and heat enough to melt glaciers and cause an early spring. I knew nothing of it until that afternoon when she climbed up on the piano. The shade of my Maw-Maw must have groaned in disbelief, watching from somewhere. I felt the exhalation sweep through my heart in a small cold rush.

Late summer day, with the scent of warm earth eliding into the metal tang of ozone emanating from the darkening sky rolling in from the south. The trees were bowing and scraping before the wind. Little drops of rain pitter-pattered into the soft dust in the yard. The Queen Anne's lace and coreopsis that snuggled the porch shivered at the promise of a soaking. Maybe I did too.

I sat on an old oak stool at the end of the piano, watching Angelie as she watched the coming storm. She sipped at her iced tea, swan-like, as the tinkle of ice cubes merged with the burble of the river. I sat mesmerized. The glass in my hand sweated gently, cool runnels flowing over my fingers in counterpoint to the muted heat of the day. She told me she felt like a song.

She walked over to the edge of the porch, just under the overhang. She set down her glass. Back to me, looking down over a sun-brown shoulder, she reached to take off her sandals. I tried to ask her what she was doing but somewhere between the mind and the mouth the words evaporated. 

Shoes on the bench. Rain like little glass beads adorning the metallic leather straps. Angelie hoisted herself up onto the piano before I could object. In the back of my mind, Maw-Maw raised a hand to her mouth, aghast at the sheer boldness on display. I was hoping the old thing would hold together, but it, like the cabin, had been built to last.

Tawny toes graced the yellowed ivory, slow liquid notes shimmering in the air. Angelie smiled at me. I smiled back. My heart rang like a bell, to be reborn on a summer day, a witness to the Creation.