13 December 2015

Magpie Tales 298: Dark Star

Image via Magpie Tales

What did we really think, back in the days of gold and glory? That the world would stop spinning at our command, our armor would never tarnish and split, our suns would not go out? Of course we did. Gold plated and bullet proof, we were. Legends in our own minds.

All of us except Ronnie, perhaps. He always seemed a bit wiser than us. No, wiser is perhaps unfair. Who understands wisdom when you never have had the world break your heart? Ronnie was less naive than us. We were unaware that his heart maybe was broken before we had the capacity to understand. Maybe that is why he left to put it back together before we even realized it would happen.

Jimmy died in the war protecting his mates. No surprise, he was always testing his bravery, it's what he wanted to do. I miss him. Caroline wove her way in and out of several time-wasters until she hit it big with writing. Funny how a story about a boy who grew up believing he was Satan could be turned into a living, with six novels and a screenplay under her belt. She deserves the accolades.

Lynn used to be a nurse until one day she decided that acting was better suited to her mindset. A beautiful mindset, it should be said, and after witnessing her perform you could understand the meaning of "doing God's work." I'll bet her patients never forget her, though.  Nathan is a lawyer now. Apparently a life of big suits and small cigars, washing the blood off of the money. Skill in arguing has its own peculiar rewards, I suppose. Too bad I lacked the ambition to follow his lead.

My body is on a river, milky brown like sweet coffee. My mind is somewhere between there and what used to be home. It floats in the gauzy humid air, the gnats flitting about my wet face. A tiny bee sips sweat from the corner of my eye. I hesitate to disturb it, this creature fulfilling its nature. I, too, sip at the sweat of the universe, all these years of searching.

We ease the boat upriver. The liquid swish of the oars ending in muted clacks of wood on wood. The guide murmurs something about stopping soon as nightfall is not that distant. He sounds far away and as if wrapped in cotton. I know we need to stop. But I cannot. The years fall away as layers of the onion. At the center is Ronnie. I haven't heard from him in years, but the quantum waves of his broken heart have disturbed the star in the center of mine.

Gravity. Starlight. A broken heart looking to be repaired in the fixing of others. He left decades ago to do good work, and in the process, broke a little of us. I keep looking, searching, scenting the fading trail laced across this world. He is out there, somewhere in the green hellishness of this life. Yet I think, maybe he is sitting right here in the boat. Maybe his heart is mine, lacerated, shattered, and looking to come home.

06 December 2015

Sunday Meditation #44: Interstitial Crisis

I have spent my life making much of the in between. The places no one thinks about, the leftover, the marginal, the edges of the edges. 

I am the interstitial. I am the space between. I am the floor between floors holding things rarely in mind unless they break. The floors that matter only if the power fails or the air conditioning gives up. This is my life, my head space to carry the pipes and the ducts that allow others to do the talking. It is my bed and I must lie in it.

Floor 13-1/2. Duck your head when stepping off the elevator. A condition of existence when one chooses to live in the margins of the book. Is this a cry for pity? No. No pity needed. This path is voluntary, if somewhat regrettable.

The battle cry these days seems to be "No regrets!", but in my mind I think that is just rationalization of emotional laziness, an unwillingness to acknowledge that what we have done may have hurt others. To swallow the pill of No Regrets is to announce to the world that we have not been paying attention to our lives, to living. To live honestly is to experience regret.

A digression, if I may be indulged. To my ears most of those people whom I have heard say "No regrets!", or have it tattooed somewhere on their person, seem to be overbearing types who have made a lot of willful mistakes. Their hoisting of the banner of No Regret is an attempt to disown responsibility, to avoid a reckoning of the emotional damage they may have wrought.

If I were to campaign my life on the platforms of no regrets, it would be from the perspective of not having done or said something regretful in the first place. My life would be lived in such a way as to do the things I want to do the way I want to do them, without hurting others in the process. An ideal, I know. One that is impossible to attain.

Ah, I see this has gone off the rails a bit, has it not? Somehow I drifted from a meditation on living in the in-between to a screed about pretending to live without regrets. How does this happen? A side effect, perhaps, of living life in the interstices, where one thinks too much and maybe really lives not enough. This is what I get for insisting on living at the edges, for making my home in the spaces in between.

29 November 2015

Magpie Tales 296: Appetites Obscura

Joachim Beuckelaer, 1560 via Magpie Tales

Incipient feast before our eyes,
Ignorant of the scandalmongers afar
of whom, it is said, do spread the truth

Anesthetized by full bellies, flushed loins
Citizen ears deafened by lust, greed, anger,
Blindly we face murderers in the bedroom

22 October 2015

Monkey Bring Tea

"Brigid?" Colm's voice rasped over chords dry as dust.

"Yes, my love?" Brigid leaned over and took Colm's hand. His eyes fluttered.

"Be a dear, would you, and open the shutters. Sunshine." He blinked slow.

"Of course, love." Her heart lurched at the sight of his bluest blues, flecked with gold and storm. She stood, letting his hand slip slowly from hers, the cool dryness electric against her fingers. She crossed a room full of tone and shade, a room that seemed to her in perpetual autumn twilight since the rude awakening of his diagnosis. Fitting, she thought, that Colm ever loved the fall. She opened the stained wood shutters. Worn, nacreous walnut under decades of varnish and beeswax. Built by Colm's own hands when he wore a younger man's coat.

Pure ingots of white gold light poured themselves over the floor and Colm's bed. He managed a smile at the sight, running a hand slowly through his stubbly salt-and-pepper hair. He insisted it be short, his patience had run out with maintaining the long locks from months ago. Too much work, not enough energy. The low embers that smoldered in his head and heart were just enough to get himself out of bed, some days. But not much else.

Brigid smoothed out her skirt, the wool scratchy and reassuring under her hands. She turned to look at Colm. She thought perhaps he might be up for some time on the patio listening to his favorite birds. She smiled back. "Window open too, my sweet?" She could see finches flitting amongst the trees along the back hedgerow. Yes, he would enjoy a sit-down on the terrace.

"Yes. I'm wanting to hear the songs."

She opened the window. The scent of lilacs zephyred into the room. Colm breathed deep, a gravelly sigh that loosened his chest. "Ah, lovely" he murmured. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, resting back against a walnut headboard carved in an array of stylized Irish elk and triskelions. The headboard was one of Colm's favorite pieces, and one of his earliest. His head sagged. A few dizzy seconds passed. Brigid thought he might be on the verge of fainting, but he raised his gaze to hers. She let out a breath she had not known she was holding. He smiled again.

"You okay, love? You look worried," he said.

"I'm tired, but okay. Worried about you," that worry tightening her voice.

"Ah, don't trouble yourself in such a way. Not much to be done at the moment."

The sun streamed through the window. A cozy heat rose from the stones of the floor. Colm struggled to the edge of the bed, Brigid quickly steadying him when he threatened to overbalance. His feet he placed on the stones, luxuriating in the warmth radiating up through his soles. Brigid wrapped her arms around his head and shoulders, drawing him to her. He breathed deep of her, a mixture of the sea and dewy roses that thrilled his heart with a burst of vigor. He looked up into her eyes, the emeralds that brought him home.

"To the terrace, love? With me?"

"Of course. No resistance from me, pulse of my heart. Here, take my hands and I'll help you up."

He did as she bade him, the journey a slow one as if he were struggling out of sand. Resting his head on her shoulder, he let her guide him to the glassy door that led out to the terrace. His usual scent of peat laced with wood shavings had changed since he had fallen ill. It was now tinged with wet clay and other things she could not name.  She found the combination to be simultaneously reassuring and unsettling.

They shuffled together, slow in the lowering sunlight, and sat down in oak chairs facing the slope down to the hedgerow. Colm huffed and sputtered a bit, catching his breath. Brigid moved her chair closer to Colm's, sat down, and took his hand. Silently they listened to the birds chorusing amongst themselves. Songs such as they sang made Colm feel that perhaps this storm would not end badly, that he and Brigid would sail through and get back to life.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he asked Brigid.
"Yes, my love. It is. I like watching your face when you hear the birds. It makes you happy, I can tell."
"Aye, it does, it does."

He held her hand and breathed in the lilacs and the grass, the sea and the roses. The world spun a few times more while they soaked up the waning sun.

"Brigid? Starting tomorrow, I should like a cup of tea every afternoon at this time." Brigid jumped a tiny bit.

"Certainly, dear. I'll have to get some, though, there's none in the cupboard."

"I'd like the one we used to drink when we first moved here. The one with golden in it's name. What was that, golden, golden..." his voice trailing off into a wheeze. He seemed genuinely upset that he could not recall the name.

"Golden monkey?" She laughed, and he could not help but chuckle.
"Yes, that's it. That's the one. Get some tomorrow?"
She leaned over and kissed his forehead. "That I will."

They both leaned back. He did not let go of her hand. She looked over, watching him watch the birds and clouds. Two rabbits frisked amongst the grass halfway up the hill.

"I'm thirsty, my love. And I'm scared." Colm did not look at her.

"Scared of what?" she asked.

"The treatment will be nasty, I think. All sorts of bad things could happen. I want to remember the taste of tea in case the drugs take away my tongue. I want to remember the taste of you." He turned his head, lit up yellow gold in the late afternoon light. She squeezed his hand and managed a small smile.

"I want you to remember that, too, my love. And you will." She kissed his hand. The rabbits scampered off to home. The light fell on the couple. Tomorrow they would have tea, storms be damned.

09 October 2015

A Thousand Channels, 24/7

On bright mornings, the traveler was caught off-guard by ghosts. Memories of the past washing ashore on the beach of his mind. It was the driving, really, that did it. The road stretched out before him full of promise. He would smile and choke down a few tears. The piquancy of his brother's ghost, the never-heard cries of his first born children, all gone except for that irreducible block of memory. Searing pain and ecstasy make a curious couple intertwined in the mind and heart. It was the road. The one that started a thousand miles away and led him into a sea of grass and remembrance.

"Did you see that?" (laughter)
"See what?" (Momentary befuddlement)
"That sign back there."
"Just now? No. What did it say?"
"Say whaaat?" (Giggling fit)
" I know, man! Who knew that he liked to get his drink on here?" (More laughter)
"Seriously, man, look how far he fell from the Sistine Chapel."
(Pensive silence)

Once more on the road, I have to do it, it's part of the job. I'm used to it now. Except for the run-down parts of town. Or towns, I should clarify. No, towns and cities. There is a lot of them out here and there are quite a few where it seems like the inhabitants have been ground down by life. Or the landlords were ground down. Or maybe everyone just stopped caring. Too many buildings possessed of gray dinginess, decrepitude and crappy signage. There is still cause for amusement, though. Passing through one such area, driving past Legs Party Bar ("Open 'til 2 AM!") I saw that the Knobtown Strip Center has added a new tenant. It's a "spa" offering"massage". I had to laugh. What, "Cheap Smokes and Liquor" from the joint next door aren't good enough?

Dine In  9/23/2015  12:33:28 PM
Order # 132156  Cashier: Destiny M.
1 LG Steamer $8.49
 Mayo NO
1 Reg Combo  $2.59
 Medium Drink*
 Chip For Combo
Sub. Total:    $11.08
Tax:                 $1.04
Total:             $12.12
   Visa:            $12.12
   Change:       $0.00

The Kansas City Royals baseball team won their division this year. They will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their first opponent is the scrappy Houston Astros, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The inhabitants are looking forward to a great series, hopefully the Boys in Blue will get to go to the World Series again like they did last year. Everyone is talking about them and tuning in. One thing is for certain: the Royals seem easy to like, even if one is a fan of another team.

No matter how many times I have seen it in the course of my job, I still find it annoying that most people seem to think that tissue boxes with shiny colors or "art" on them are true interior decoration. They aren't, and never will be. The amount of time I waste in the course of a typical day hiding those boxes, so I can shoot a better picture, may not be huge on an individual basis, but it adds up. Every time I move one I think of French author Honoré de Balzac, who after a night of sex, allegedly lamented "There goes another novel!"

Did You Know? Collared lizards can run on their hind legs with a stride that reaches more than 3 times the length of their bodies.

Excerpt from the National Park Service's Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve webpage:
     Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Within a generation
     the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4% remains, mostly
     here in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve protects a nationally significant remnant of           
     the once vast tallgrass prairie and its cultural resources. Here the tallgrass prairie takes     
     its last stand.

A Typical Day of Carnage -
 Raccoons: 5
 Opossums: 1
 Birds (species unknown): 3
 Squirrels: 8?
 Deer: 1
 Mouse: 1
It was the mouse that really threw me. To date I had never seen one in all my rounds. I nearly trampled it on my way back to  the car.

I-70 gets it start back east, and not very auspiciously. It begins in a Park-And-Ride in Baltimore, Maryland. It runs 2,151 miles to the west, passing though St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver until it peters out in an interchange with I-15 just outside Cove Fort, Utah. The distance from Cove Fort to Kansas City is 1,106 miles. The distance from Kansas City to Baltimore is 1,060 miles. It is a new life in the center.

I am home now. It was a busy day, lots of photos to be shot, lots of pavement to be traversed. I was able to drive with the windows down all day. No A/C. The rush of air through the cabin of my small SUV provides a white noise that allows me to follow my Zen. I think a lot while driving. Sometimes I talk to myself. Other times, especially on long drives away from the urban clutter, I stop and listen to the insects in the grass.

If anyone is perplexed by the passages above, you should know they are a tribute of sorts, my offering to a literary form previously unknown to me. The form is called biji, and it is of Chinese origin dating back to 220 AD, surviving up until about 1912 AD. I came across it in a fascinating book published by McSweeney's, titled "Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed"*. I bought the book at a book store specializing in overstocks, trade-ins and other forms of second-hand volumes. Great buy, wonderful stuff. According to McSweeny's, biji can be translated as "notebook" and is characterized by "Musings, anecdotes, quotations, 'believe-it-or-not' fiction and social anthropology". They go on further to say that biji also can contain legends, scientific notes, and bits of local wisdom. Lists of interesting objects and travel narratives are also quite common. After reading the examples in the book (and being somewhat disturbed by the 'modern' take on it by Douglas Coupland) I was immediately smitten by the form and the idea. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time can probably see why this is so. I think it is because biji finally, after all these years, puts a name to the things in my head.

*Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed, as curated by Darren Franich and Graham Weatherly, 2009 by McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.

30 September 2015

Kickboxing Was Not The Sport of My Future

I am at home now. Ostensibly at peace, sitting by an open window with the sounds of the night drifting in on soothing whispers. Home for me being the mythical cottage by the ever-restless Mare Metaphoris of my own imagining. It was but two short weeks ago that I was on the shore of the very real Atlantic Ocean, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with my not-quite-so-Wee-anymore Lass. A fine day trip to that seaside town, with waves curling in under a sky of hazy blue. She was laughing. My heart was growing. Then the waves broke and carried me away.

I was squatting at the high edge of surf when the mirror broke. Staring out to sea, I had dipped two fingers of my right hand in the water, brought them to my lips for a taste of home. The salt and iron tang was a hammer shattering the glass of the illusion I had maintained until then: That I am for this contemporary world, there is a place for me here. That was the nutshell: for too long I had struggled with the notion that I can fit in, make my way in a culture and society with which I feel so out of sync.

It was no surprise, in hindsight, that my ocean side revelations happened so close to my impending half-century birthday, swiftly bearing down on me in roughly two months. Truly it is a source of wonderment and incredulity that I have made it this far, considering how much time I have frittered away on trying to figure out life in lieu of truly living it. A root cause of my simmering discontentment, awakened by the taste of seawater on my tongue.

For a few moments I teetered on the brink of a soured mood, flailing and trying to avoid falling into a human-shaped chasm of discontent. The day trip would have been ruined. The gravity of it tugged at my emotions. Familiar turf, it would have been, and its own cold comfort. A flash of sunlight coruscated off the waves, temporarily blinding me. In that second or so of non-vision, the old man in the back of my head spoke.
"You didn't realize until now you're Lloyd Dobler, that guy from the movie Say Anything. You liked him a lot so many years ago, but you didn't think you were him. You know what really bothers you now? You are Lloyd Dobler, and he is turning fifty."
Then he laughed, a big wave sprinted up the shingle, and my cargo shorts were soaked for a good three inches. My daughter squealed in glee as she ran up the beach fleeing the waves. She laughed, too. I snapped out of my funk. The tang of salt air filled my lungs, and I grinned. Maybe the old man was right. Even if he was, I am Lloyd but I am me, and we will make sense of the world even if it is not quite for me.

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."  

---Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in 1989's "Say Anything"

30 August 2015

Sunday Meditation #43: By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Restive Sea

Out on the headland a turn in the weather has brought coolth to the cottage. So much so the windows were opened for a few brief interludes. The susurrus of the waves fills the interior, bringing with it the ticking of insects in the beach grass. The peculiar combination of the two is one of my favorite sounds on this mortal coil. No matter where I am in the world it always grounds me, comforts me, ties me to the earth.

To be fastened to the earth in such a manner is good. Necessary, one might say. The summer has been unusually busy this year. By turns generating exhilaration and anxiety in near equal measures, the resulting stresses have been efficient at cutting the tethers that keep a soul from floating away. The whoosh of the waves and the gentle rasp of the stalks combine in voices that I fancy to be of my ancestors, or perhaps of gods faded from mortal view. They call, they coax, and I feel stronger against the wind.

The sky out there is a mottled silver-gray. It is interesting in its texture, not as monotonous as one infer from the description. It pleases me as it dapples the undulating sea with a subtle, ever-changing surface. It is a hypnotic mirror of my mind that provides its own ballast. This is important, this matters. It is nature herself speaking with an ancient voice to tell me "You are here, you have roots, you will not be swept away."

I am grateful for this tie of ancient blood. It keeps me here, on earth, where I need to be. I will not be swept away.

27 July 2015

Verdant Empire Chronicles: Herbiwarriors

In the of weeding flower beds, there arrives a point at which any praetorian worth his salt knows that "Kill them all, and may the gods sort them out" becomes his battle cry and modus operandi. Thus it has been in our campaign against the rebels in the Western Beds and Northern Reach. Summer has been hot, our bodies watering the soil with the sweat of our brows. The weeds trembled before our might.

The dawn broke, the day began with our scouts testing the positions of the barbarians. They sat placidly, perhaps unaware that by days' end they were destined to be corpses on the shores of Lake Avernus, to be cast upon the waters amidst the mephitic fumes seeping from the ground. Perhaps they had not taken to heart the fate of their compatriots during our campaign along the Eastern Beds, earlier in the year where we visited our imperial fury upon the intruders to till them into the earth. To return them to the black dirt from which they sprang.

The day was hot. The very air felt as if we were immersed in the caldariums of the capitol, the memories of which brought a brief smile to our troubled mien. There would be no bathing here, no bracing splashes of chilled water to refresh and revive us after our martial labors in the name of Mars. No, there would be sweat and death.

Our gaze turned to the sky. It was full of clouds the color of worn denarii, but as yet there had been no rain. The earth steamed before us. We gave the signal, a hundred trumpets lifting their brazen voices to the sky. Our army fell upon the weeds and unwelcome grasses amidst shouts and groans. The first rank of soldiers fell hard upon the prickly boxwood and juniper. Blood was drawn but we held fast, tearing the enemy out by their pale roots. A surprise attack by a thorny little bramble, secreted amid the bushes, caught us off guard. Our heroic effort beat it back. It roots twitched and curled in the wan sunlight as we tossed it upon the burgeoning pile of the dead.

Sweat and heat threatened to put us off our objectives. Terrible thirst and a near swoon, and we had to retreat momentarily before advancing headlong into the valley of the Northern Reach. It was there that the shriveled stalks of the tiger lilies that had bloomed weeks before fell to us easily. It had the air of a trap about out, perhaps they conspired with the low-lying creeping Charlies that entwined themselves amongst the roots of the taller plants. But we could see them. Their amateurish attempts at camouflage were given away by the brazen display of their blooms, which we easily spotted and used to great advantage in finding the roots to rip them out.

The piles grew. The air filled with the noxious reek of their dying lifeblood oozing out onto the mossy sward. Bindweed surged forth and mounted a feeble counterattack towards the middle of the day. The sun, what little we could see of it, limned the foe in pale white light. They shrank back, discipline gave way as our forces clearly gained the advantage. The green shaggy invaders we crushed beneath our imperial sneakers, holding fistfuls of the vanquished above our heads as we growled in triumph. Soon, the Western Beds and Northern Reach fell quiet save for the labored rasp of our breath.

The barbarians, what pathetic examples of them that remained, made no sound as we gathered them up and into the sacks we drew from our supply train. We stood stiffly in the zephyrs wafting through the valley. The campaign was complete. We had won.

The night still steams. The sounds of camp life drift softly up the hill to our tent, where these words spill themselves out into our journal. Through the gap in the tent flaps, I see the lights of the camp stretch out before me to the north and east. This day is won, the weeds and trash trees on their way to Hell. The campaign will continue, this we know. The provinces of the Eastern Faciem Saxo are reported to be under attack. Reports lay on the camp desk, of bindweed, rampant hostas and unsettling rumors of a weed heretofore unseen.

A goblet of mountain snow sets near to hand. It is flavored with certain berries and herbs that promote calmness of mind. Tonight we rest. Soon, we conquer. The weeds know this, and tremble.

Written by our hand on this day, 26 July 2015,
Kevinus Aurelius

29 June 2015

Burning In the Name Of

The air is thick with the stench, the smoke resulting from the explosive clash between love and hate these recent days in the United States of America. There has also been a light, and strong rainbow light streaming out the gaps in the smoke. It's love versus hate, and even a hard-core pessimist such as myself can see that love is winning. But there is a shadow on my heart. Impatience upon the soul to hear some of us talk as they do.

On June 11th, 1963, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sat down in the middle of a busy Saigon intersection, was doused with gasoline, then his hand struck a match thereby setting himself on fire. The photograph of his burning body, taken by Malcom Browne of the Associated Press, has become one of the most famous mass media images in the history of the modern world. He did it to protest the oppression of Buddhists under the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. He felt it was a necessary act to bring effective attention to persecution.

On June 23rd, 2014, the retired Methodist minister Charles Moore knelt down in the parking lot of a strip mall in Grand Saline TX, doused himself with gasoline then set himself on fire. Bystanders put the flames out but the pastor did not survive, dying later that night in a hospital. There are no photographs of the event of which I know. The Reverend Moore had a lifetime history of advocating for social justice, particularly to rid society of racism and the hatred of gays, lesbians and transgender folks. He felt it was necessary to inspire action for social justice.

On June 16th, 2015, the irrationally anti-gay pastor Rick Scarborough, indicated that he and his followers would 'burn' if the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage equality. He also made remarks indicating that leaders in the anti-gay marriage movement need to get out front and proclaim "Shoot me first!" to protest what they see as godlessness and the destruction of our nation.

Early in 2015, the would-be GOP presidential nominee and delusional charlatan Mike Huckabee stated in a video that he will "Call down fire from heaven" in defense of traditional Christian morals, to stand up against gay rights supporters and those who advocate for marriage equality.

On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to deny the right of marriage to LGBT persons, thereby rendering it possible for those folks to get married just like straight Christians get to do.

On June 27th, Rick Scarborough backtracked on his statements, saying he didn't really mean it. Mike Huckabee apparently cannot get through to God, because the skies have been remarkably free of flames or even a little bit of smoke.

For many years it seems, there has been an abundance of fire on the minds of those who proclaim strong moral, ethical or religious convictions. The main difference that has emerged is that those with love in their hearts were so moved by that power that they translated it into action. Those with hatred in their hearts, people like Rick Scarborough and Mike Huckabee, will never translate the power of that hate in such a way because for all their proclamations of being people of true conviction, they are really just mean-spirited cowards with big mouths.

Hate has nothing over love, not in the long run and the big picture. Love inspires truth, hate runs from it. They run. They are cowards. They will never set themselves on fire because they do not hold love in their hearts. Outside observers such as you and I may look at the actions of Quang Duc and Charles Moore and think them to be insane, but I believe that ultimately they set themselves on fire because they had more love than they knew what to do with in the material world.

The Rick Scarboroughs and Mike Huckabees of the world know deep down they will never set themselves on fire. They are so mean, so spiritually myopic, they do not see how the decent human beings they could have been have been corrupted by hate. Hate has its own rotten heart on which it gnaws, all the while pretending to feast as the soul crumbles. Love exponentially magnifies itself when unleashed. Love has courage and conviction of which hate can only dream.

Love burns.

31 May 2015

Sunday Meditation #42: Sketchy

Christ, I don't reckon I know what has gotten in to me. Springtime on the headland is usually a time of joy, even for a a child of the fall such as I am. The sea looks different, feels different, even smells different. Maybe it is life blooming a bit in the shallows and the depths, stirred up by the rolling of the waves. This spring, I am different.

More restless than usual. Head full of ideas that never make it past the daydream stage. The slush of thoughts not making it to the ice of clarity. The proof is in the scratch papers, notepads and detritus piled up on my desk. They form a dune banking up to the windowsill. The paper rolls and bleeds into the dunes. It is a curious thing to have a sandbank comprised of the ideas illuminated in ink that ultimately is wasted. The scribe in me feels shame at the thought.

There is no avoiding it. Truth in front of me. The very notepad under my right hand bears little in the way of words and much in the way of idle sketches. Sketches of what, some may ask. I cannot say other than describe them as architectonic, formal follies. Mostly they depict variations on cubic volumes, shaded with crosshatches. Towers? Obelisks? Cenotaphs?

That last idea makes me chuckle. Cenotaph is fitting. Little monuments erected in honor of ideas buried elsewhere in my mind, or somewhere in the cottage around me. The sea, even! The sea. It waits there beyond my windows. Jade swells reflecting an unquiet mind. My hands stop shaking long enough for my attention to be drawn to the sky. A mottling of pewter clouds rolls in. Beneath them I can see the gauzy stain of rainfall. Spring has been wet here so far. Much has been washed away under its maulings and caresses. This I know.

The cottage fills with that special light of overcast as raindrops spatter and hiss on the glass panes. It comforts me in a way that sunlight and blue sky do not. My hand continues to sketch. I am building something. No, I am searching for something that I have lost the words for but my heart seems to know from someone I once was decades ago now. I recognize some of the drawings from my adolescent years, the younger me sketching out abstracts in blue and red and black. Somewhat confused by what they could mean, not knowing how to quit drawing.

The paper fills with fragments of someone I used to know. I can see him there. The rain falls harder, and weariness floods my gut and head. I watch the drops fall into the sea where perhaps they trouble it just a moment. But the ripples vanish as the sea rolls on. I take that as a lesson for my heart, rippled and anxious, but rolling on.

13 April 2015

Magpie Tales 265: Miracle

Image via Magpie Tales

Our mystery came clear
upon Earth's awakening
rousing from young slumber
changing, molting, shedding skin
My golden height
Her fecund depth
Bind us to our miracle

12 April 2015

Sunday Meditation #41: Scenic Overlook on the Valley of Death

Preacher Man, he whistles past the graveyard, giving the crows something to gossip about. The eye the wrinkled black suit and cackle. Preacher Man knows they is laughing at him, their sable feathers all to the glory his dress lacks. He don't worry none, though. They is just birds. At least, that's what he tells himself. He composes a sermon in his head to call down God to walk with him awhile. The sun is setting, and you don't want to be alone after dark on the fringes of Hell.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...that's what the good book says, or so rumor has it. I tells myself that every morning to get my feets on the floor, and out the door. Cain't set still, evil finds you too easy that way."

The crows cocked their heads. Beaded ebony eyes with a hint of wisdom. They said nothing. Preacher Man laughed. A nervous titter disturbed the moss on the stones around the graveyard. He clutched his good book tighter. The cracked leather of the cover was stained with sweat. And maybe blood. Preacher Man didn't know. He started walking again, keeping an eye on the trees.

"Evil is not my main concern, friends!" he shouted to the crows. They rustle and murmur. "Loneliness is quite another matter. A creature of a different stripe. And it is on my trail. My trail!"

Preacher Man's voice echoed off the rocks of the valley then died amongst the cedars. He reckoned the crows cared little for him or for loneliness. The flock muttered, shifted, hunched their wings. Musical notes on the sheet music of the branches. Preacher Man shivered at the thought of unholy music, tritones twisting his mind into knots.

"I've been walking for days, friends. A mite slow, mebbe, but faster than it!" Little puffs of dust arose from under his hobnailed soles. "I've the Lord on my side, I tell ye. He'll carry me, this I know. He'll not let me fall. He won't." Preacher Man shook his fist at the birds. They laughed.

The track was rising up to the west. Farther along, too far to make out much detail, but Preacher Man could see what appeared to be a plateau. In the sky above it was a brighter spot, the sun a luminescent blob buried in the pearlescent wool of the clouds.

"Amen to that, friends and brothers. Amen. I can stay the night there." He quickened his pace, eager to make the plateau before nightfall. A slight breeze stirred the trees. Preacher Man thought he could smell rain on the wind. He welcomed the thought. His whiskey had run out three days ago, and the bottle was dry. Maybe he'd luck into a spring up there.

The grey light brightened, catching him unawares. Ragged holes appeared in the clouds, two not far apart. The clouds roiled over themselves but the holes remained open. Silver-grey sunlight speared down, washing over him. Preacher Man stopped, chilled, shivering. Behind him the crows whispered in avian argot, but Preacher Man knew they were talking about him. He turned to look over his shoulder. The inky black birds had alighted in the track, a thick mass stretching form one side of the track to the other between the rock of the valley wall and the graveyard.

The crows fluttered and stared. Preacher Man gaped. His bowels felt cold. Shaking, biting his lip, he turned his head back and decided he better start walking again. As he did so, he saw the other shaft of light up ahead along the track. It was shining down on the plateau, washing the side of the butte beside it. In the middle of the plateau, in the sunlight, Preacher Man could make out  a large black shape, vaguely human in outline. As he stared the shape lifted what looked like an arm.

It curled the arm, gesturing as if waving to the man to come forward. Preacher Man gaped, gasped, dropped the bottle on his foot. A dark stain bloomed out across the front of his dirt-caked trousers. He clutched the good book to his chest and stumbled up the track.

"All this time, you bastard, all this time," croaked Preacher Man, "I's thinkin' you were behind me. And there you are, in front of me. It's enough to make a man lose his religion!"

His voice trailed off into a wheeze. He staggered up the valley. Behind him the crows chuckled and danced. On the plateau, the lone black shape crossed its arms, waiting.

08 March 2015

Simulacra and the War

Coastal notes, February 2nd. The night and the water conspire to unnerve.

Groundhog Day here at land's end, and the simulacra are still locked in combat. Tooth and nail, red in fang and claw, the hydrae come at me over the ether. I turned my back on them hours ago, staring out the window at the moon-lit liquid coal of the sea.

Still, they whisper. Imps tugging at my hindbrain, eager for reaction. Their voices rasp my eardrums in a flurry of catastrophic news and capitalistic blandishments. The one to take my peace of mind, the other to take my money. 
Mercifully, my blood does not boil. The faint scratchiness coming over the wireless speaker reminds me of leaves on concrete.

A colossal wave, a leviathan of water, slams the shore. Vibrations from it cause my lighter to jump, the speaker to tremble. Small and reminiscent of a Japanese stone lantern, the speaker is one of the few concessions to technology allowed in this monk's cell that is my cottage. As with many things of its ilk, its usefulness and purpose are two-edged. My electronic umbilical, it irritates but allows me to know what is going on back in the world I would sometimes rather shut out altogether. Blessing and curse for introverted information junkies such as I myself.

The wind is low this night. The usual sough is subdued, rarely making its presence known long the eaves of the cottage. When it does, I imagine a conversation between the wind and the radio. What they might discuss is beyond my ken, yet I cannot help but wonder if they share a motive to visit.

The moon, gravid and bright, waxes low in the sky. The argentine glow is diffracted by the restless skin of the ocean. Further in on the breakers, the light scintillates in the foamy curls of spray, diffusing and diffracting into uncountable diamonds that disappear into the surf. The breakers, too, whisper and moan up and down the beach. Wavelets hiss and burble, offering sweet counterpoint to the electronic anxiety offered up by the speaker.

It is dark but not pitch black inside the cottage. Dull embers on the hearth provide some warmth and tinge the air with a near subliminal glow. Reflected moonlight from the pale sand and graphite sea streams through the windows above my desk. The glow is enough to see, if not to work. This I find acceptable. I gave up working hours ago. The words would not come. Replacing them was an abstract, hazy thicket of thoughts winding around themselves, twining around the central core question I kept asking myself: Are we real or are we simulacra, convincing ourselves we are clever indeed in our wars and consumption? 

Behind me, a world bent on self-immolation in a firestorm of lunacy and strife seeps through the wireless conduit, trying to pull me back into the fight. I lack the energy to get up to turn it off. I continue staring out the window, my mind and the sea becoming mirrors. The speaker whispers still while the sea groans for my attention.  I breathe slow, deliberate, in spite of the simulacra and the war.

27 February 2015

Ruins of the Temple

February is the honest month. The ego laid bare like the trees, all leaves finally gone through the insensate malevolence of icy wind and sheer cold. Winter is not through with us, not yet. February brings us to our knees where we implore it for mercy.

Even the sun meddles in the affairs of the heart, its white-gold rays teasing this troubled organ with warmth that never quite reaches the bones. We persist in our fantasies of life. The groundhog becomes Delphic. We do not believe in its prognostications, yet groan when the shadow lays upon the frozen earth.

On a Sunday of no particular note, it is my freezing shoes that trouble the snow and dirt. I stand alone with my thoughts before the stones of memory. The wind skirls amongst branches scratching at the sky. A sky so blue as to break the heart, empty, cold. It is the blue I imagine would have been the color of my children's eyes, had I been so lucky as to seen them open.
I meditate upon the idea that in deep winter we become the trees outside our walls. Frozen, sluggish, bereft of the leaves that allow the sun to nourish our starved and hollow bodies. Hard funeral ground grants me no succor. The cold of it seeps through the soles of my shoes while the granular snow crackles and squeaks as I shift my footing. My roots are paralyzed, asleep. There will be no growth until spring.

Crows caw out raucously from the trees scattered around the cemetery. Their metallic rasps and croaks is not laughter, I think, but perhaps conversation regarding the stranger in their midst. I find strange comfort in their company, the chatter reminds me it is the children I came to visit. Snow was dimpled softly over the memorials. Twelve years of memory overlaying scant inches of white blurring what I used to know, used to see. A brief debate ensued in my head as to the necessity of brushing their graves free of snow. I say debate, but it was foregone that I would do such a thing.

My heart needed to see. These children of mine deserve the sunlight. I reached down to begin, snow shockingly cold sending a brief lancet of pain arcing into stiffening knuckles. The metal beneath the snow was colder than lost love. Their names became exposed in a winter light, shiny like the melancholy of an arctic midnight. It is a stark beauty that I cherish. My fingers trace the letters and through the numbness I feel a warmth, an electricity cutting through and lighting up the pathways to my heart. I marvel at the strength of the foundations as I kneel in the ruins of the temple.

22 February 2015

Magpie Tales 259: This Is Not Hell

Image courtesy of Magpie Tales

"Don't walk on by,
come on in" It says,
Step right up, step inside
Trust me, I don't exist

This refulgent Carnival
is sweet, seductive Life!
Not a garish fine trick
misleading the lambs

Come, come to light!
Rest your hearts here,
friends, this is not Hell
nor are you out of it

21 January 2015

Swan in Winter

A dozen spans or thereabouts she stood offshore, this wistful cygnet with my eyes and her mother's hair. Her shadow lay lightly on the ice. Ice which I studied closely for the first signs of cracks. My belly tightened at the thought of her in the freezing green-black water of the pond. My anxiety served as reinforcement for its frozen surface. She sensed my discomfort, I think, looking up at me with grin as antidote to fear. I smiled in return. Sunshine like white gold broke through a mottled pewter sky to illuminate us, a living page from our own Book of Hours. 

The sky returned to a sullen indifference. The slow clouds of midwinter marbled like bruises over a snippets of bright blue. A hush was over the pond, disturbed now and then by the barking of dogs, children frolicking or ragged chevrons of Canadian geese knifing through the cold air above. Water oozed through the grass from soil still reeling from a few hard freezes. My thoughts drifted briefly to permafrost, and what happens when it thaws. I needed to know if similar processes affected the heart in the same manner. I must know, as something seemed to be cracking in my chest. 

"Daddy, what's that?"

Her question a soft whipcrack snapping me out of arctic ruminations. She was standing on a dark patch shaped like a lumpy oval. My first thought was it was weak ice, but she stood firm. The shape crystallized in my mind. 

"It looks like a tree stump, sweet pea." I hoped that it was. Weird that it was a level cut stump only a fraction of an inch below the ice line. 

"I wonder if that's it," she said. She bent down to pick up one of the many small rocks littering the ice. The impacts of the stones a webbed chiaroscuro crazing the frozen pond. Kneeling, my daughter began to dig at the ice over the stump. It cracked a little but did not move. She knitted her brow, lips scrunched in vexation. I could not help but smile to know that by such gestures she was indeed of my blood. Sometimes she is driven by a compulsion to know that which is beneath the surface, to firmly possess certainty. In the space of a few fluttery heartbeats, I prayed that she would not be as destructive in pursuit of that certainty as I had sometimes been in the past. The past when I was young and needed to know everything, but knew nothing. 

Her mittened hands rested briefly on the ice. She studied the shape, cocking her head. Her gaze and posture reminded me so much of a heron stalking a frog I nearly burst out laughing. She must have decided that it was not important enough to continue, as she levered herself up to stand on the stump. I heard the clicking of pebbles and ice as she nudged the fragments with the toe of her right boot. She moved as if skating for a few more minutes. I stifled my urge to tell her again she was far enough out on the ice. With an avian hop, she came back to shore. 

"Walk some more, kiddo?" I asked with a raspy warble in my voice making me cough. She turned her face to me, cheeks rosy in the cool breeze.

"Sure, Daddy." Hop. Skip. Away she fluttered ahead of me, down the trail that ran along the river. Clouds mimed a slow semaphore shining on her performance while she gleefully leaped into a pile of slush on the trail side. 

She grows, this nascent swan of my heart. Taller, more winsome, as months and years fall like leaves. Winter has its hold on my brittle heart, enrobed in a thin glaze of frost that I begin to feel melt in the innocent warmth of her presence. The old man of my soul knows this is the progress of life. He knows that growth is inevitable, as is love and the thaw. We watch her amble and cavort under a nave of trees, wondering when she will break the ice. Hoping that we witness the glorious transformation when the swan makes it back to shore, to fly into spring.

14 January 2015

Islands Adrift

Yesterday I learned that an old high school friend had died at the age of 47, of heart disease.  It was delivered to me by a cousin of my friend, who just happens to be my best friend from college. Such news hurt me sharply, hotly, and more than to be expected regarding someone with whom I had not spoken in decades. Today, my impatience showed when I failed to let the pan get hot enough before deglazing the onions with a shot of red wine. It was dinner, and I was sad and angry.

How to reconcile Death with pork ragu over pasta? Is this possible? My belly did not care. Hunger is its imperative. My soul, on the other hand, disagreed. I wept into my fist.

Hunger will not be denied. Nor will sadness. It is a peculiarity of my being that I am ever hungry unless I am deeply ill or otherwise disturbed to the point of collapse. The news of my friend's death pushed me to that edge. Yesterday, I wept over my keyboard, feeling simultaneously ashamed and indignant that I was reduced to such a state. There was no denying that my friend  and I had drifted far apart over the past two decades. No communications had been had in the intervening years, notwithstanding the ease and facility of Facebook, Twitter and myriad other digital ways to find and connect. Perhaps it was partly that shock of realization that fueled my outburst at the stove tonight.

My friend had married, he had moved to Mississippi, he had become the owner of a country store. I was unaware of none of these facts of his existence. It seemed an impossible task to reconcile all this lost history with making dinner. Perhaps I really should not have tried. I was tired and sad and the walls between my day and my heart were breaking down. I thought back to the wakes I have known in my life, those impossibly strained gatherings where we met at the houses of the deceased or their family, and loved ones and strangers show up bearing platters of fried chicken, lasagna, potato salad and anything else grieving souls can think to pull together to succor those who have lost the most. Death takes its pound of flesh, and we can think of nothing but conversation and filling our bellies.

Then there was me, standing at the stove stirring a skillet full of sauce while waiting for the pasta to be done. Wiping my eyes, I had to grin thinking of my old friend. I knew perfectly well that he would not have tolerated any bullshit from me on this matter. He was a bright spirit with a world-class sense of humor. I heard his voice in my head, saying "Quit yer bitchin', you damn dumb Irishman, and shut up and eat!" In his honor, I complied. Even if the soul is empty, the belly must be filled.

Nearly fifty years on this planet, and time showed me just how far we may drift apart on the oceans of our lives. But I know, I know, how deep the currents run and how far they reach. The soul feels it when a part of its past departs this world. Currents of the heart pull and shift, and we feel the disturbance keenly across time and miles.

In memory of F.C., my friend. Good luck and godspeed.

03 January 2015

Belly Without Name

Field notes, 6:07 PM. Dinner in a Greek restaurant that shall remain nameless.

It is cold this night. A prediction of rain, sleet, freezing rain and most likely snow. I am perched on a high seat at a two-person table alongside a wall of windows looking out upon a nondescript four-way intersection. As I tuck into a gyro plate and green salad I realize how fitting it is that the root for the word 'anonymous' is Greek in origin. The word is anonumous, 'nameless'. That is the word for which my belly was searching, and with which it fills. 

I eat at this establishment on a semi-regular basis. Not because the food, which is Greek in origin and concept, is necessarily the best exemplar to be had around these parts. There are other restaurants that do certain items better, so much better that their relative lack of atmosphere (dive-ishness, even) is offset by the deliciousness of the food.  The food is good enough. On the days I eat here, it gives me what I want: comfort without identity.

It is this shade of anonymity that I discovered is part of the appeal for me. Lately when I dine here, I dine alone. Usually at the end of work day when circumstance has decreed that I will not have a companion for dinner. I make the decision as I am driving out of the parking lot at work, when hunger, fatigue and proximity act as the trade winds which blow my vessel a few blocks down the street. I set that course because it involves no mystery and few decisions.

When I walk through the storefront doors, there is no "where everybody knows your name" kind of moment. No nodding of heads, no shouted greetings, only a (usually) short line which I join and quickly scan the menu. Since I am still a relative newcomer in this area, there is no one who knows me. No one I recognize. Perhaps the counter people have a vague recollection that I have been in before. Something along the lines of "It's that bearded fellow who always orders the same thing".

I place my order, they give me my number, I sip tea while waiting. The place is quickly filling up with diners and take-away customers. I see a lot of kids and senior citizens, families, couples, one guy like me. All sitting and waiting for our number to be called.

When it is, I take my tray and grab a seat on the edge of the dining room. Always the edge. I have never liked being in the middle of rooms or crowds, from school to restaurants to concerts. The edges make it easier for me to relax and observe. Plus, lower probability of social interaction, which is something I am less than graceful at even when I am not tired and hungry.

I sit. I slowly begin to eat. The hubbub of voices surrounds me, but does not overwhelm. A stream of voices that blend into a rhythmic drone, out which pops the occasional recognizable word or even phrase. In the corners of the room, two large televisions are playing a repeating loop of travel videography from the Greek isles. In the occasional lull of conversation, you can hear snippets of bouzoukis playing. In conjunction with the lack of captions or subtitles on the video, the sounds are an odd blend amplifying the 'namelessness' of this dining experience. 

I find it oddly soothing. I feel this way almost every time I come here. This does not bother me, because it is what I want, maybe need. Neither myself nor my fellow diners have an imperative to make this place an extension of their living room or front yard or residential community. The primary imperative for all of us is our bellies, and the need to fill them.

I finish up. With nowhere to be and nothing obligating me to move, I sit quietly. Ruminating on the meal, I am at ease for at least a few minutes. The dining room hums along oblivious to my presence, and that suits me just fine. For a few precious moments my belly and I have nowhere to be, no one to satisfy, no obligations to fulfill. Myself, my belly, we are nameless. We are content.