31 December 2016

Broken Compass

Sunrise on the headland and on the last day of the year. The storm of the last few days had broken up, rosy beams of light chasing off a few straggling clouds. Breakfast and a wee dram had not quite chased off the clouds in my head. The comfort I had drawn from my overnight scribblings had evaporated when the first rays spilled through the windows to illuminate the evidence left behind, in the the form of the salt-stained, slightly ragged notebook atop the desk under the sill. The words pulsate as I sit contemplating what I had done.
There comes a time in a man's life where it finally penetrates his skull that he has to straighten up and fly right. For Evan Whittaker, now was not that time. Not yet.
The cold had barely time to seep through Evan's coat before the snow began its slow descent into the corn stubble in which he lay. A sparse 'V' of geese, late in their travels, parsed the icy air overhead. Evan breathed out watching the birds waver and shimmer in the plume of mist. Fat flakes, pale and gravid, dotted the sky. He blinked, a torpid lizard gaze blotted by tiny crystal knives. Nearly numb cheeks registered their stings as the flakes landed upon his face. 
Evan's eyes twitched and tracked a thousand frozen messengers bearing voices on the wind. Hand in coat pocket, he clutched the bottle tighter, whispering to the snow. 
"Which ones are you, darlings? Which ones are you?" 
Being in the center of things, center of the "goddamn greatest country in the world!" as Uncle Leo used to say after a few shots of rye, had done little for Evan. He had struggled with what to make of it for so long the conflict seemed an extension of his body. The discomfort of such a tight skin had led him to seek solace in the spirit world, but it wasn't ghosts that made it numb. 
He needed to put some daylight between his belly and the bottle. He needed to sleep for a century. Drowsiness fueled by liquor was kicking in. Turning his head to get more comfortable, he did not notice when the barrel of the shotgun he had carried began to freeze to his cheek. 
Sitting back and staring at the ocean does not bring its usual clarity. The waves were calming down, but evidence of yesterday's turmoil was still there in the sporadic violence of the breakers on the strand. I could divine no prophecy in the spray, nothing in the light upon the curls, that illuminated wisdom into what I had written. Such melancholic thoughts put me in mind of a carving I had found weeks ago, washed up after a night of heavy surf.

The carving resembled to my eyes a person, man or woman I could not discern. The figure was worn down but enough detail remained to see eyes, a nubbin of nose, and a mouth. Its hands were holding its its cheeks. The mouth, gaping and distorted, could have been open in a scream or shout. The bulging eyes seemed to reinforce the idea of great stress or terror.

The day of discovery I sat on the beach and studied the figure for what seemed hours. I wondered whose hands had carved it. I wondered what they felt, and how intense it must have been to move them to create this amulet or token. They must have felt something, that much was clear from the expression on the face carved into the stone. What they felt was not so clear. Hope or despair? Heartbreak or love? Happiness or anguish? There was no true telling. 

My eyes chased the gulls skimming over the waves. The fire on the hearth burned down slow. On this last day of the year I ponder the words before me to wonder if I can ever truly know what drives me to put them on the page. There is no easy answer, only time.

20 December 2016

Last Known Sighting

Over the many winters of his life, the mapmaker Bradán could not recall vellum as old as that which lay before him. Rougher than the newer leaves, but thick and sturdy. The tiktiktik of dividers scratching upon its surface a metronome to his thoughts, struggling mightily to contain them. He laid down the worn brass instrument to pinch the bridge of his nose with ink-darkened fingers. The momentary relief of pressure gave pause for him to consider just what were his thoughts.

Looking out the window to the sea, his mind turned to the days of youth spent fishing along the shore. Bluefish and striped bass were the prizes, he recalled. But it was the silversides and menhaden the prizes chased. His thoughts, Bradán concluded, were silversides thrashing their way through the shallows in a frantic attempt to escape the maws behind them. Silver sparks jetting through a fuliginous night in which they will not be caught until exhausted and bereft of juice.

The sea rolled on, breakers of teal and jade painting the sand to dissolve into foam. Bradán turned his attention back to his drawing table. The parchment lay stretched out before him. It was incomplete, inescapable. Most of the mapmaker's work began with a photograph, sometimes more than one. Photographs gave the mapmaker the fixed point he required to set an axis for the world, a maypole about which his imaginings danced in the light of the sun. As it would appear to a casual visitor to the shop, this project was no different.

Bradán knew otherwise. Photographs carry with them invisible burdens, transparent gravities known only to the select few who had anything to do with the making of the picture. The lines he had set down on vellum only hinted at the density of their genesis, a slightly grainy black-and-white image perched on a tiny easel at the head of the table. The photograph curved space and time. He marveled that it did not crash through the desk under the weight of subject.

The subject gave him pause. He looked closely at the intersections, the circles, the tangents he placed so far. No matter how thick the lines to his eye they seemed feeble in light of that which they sought to locate. Too thick and they would blot out the page. Too thin and the heart would not be able to trace them back to the source. It was a conundrum Bradán faced often in his work. Decades of experience, drawing arcs and origin points, had endowed him with a near supernatural ability to parse lines and weights. Pilgrims made their way to his door based on his reputation to locate the lost or undiscovered.

A different day, a different problem. He knew this. Never before had he encountered such a riddle, a temporal-spatial quandary of such depth and intensity. He had heard of such things. More than one tale of complexities had he heard from the two masters responsible for bringing him into the brotherhood of De Animabus Cartographers, mapmakers of the souls. Master Gerrit had been old when the mapmaker entered his care as a youth, and had related twice the creation of maps so difficult they had whitened the beard upon his face. When Gerrit died, Master Kwan took over. Kwan was younger, inclined to impatience and silence. But even he held the marks on him of a map so harrowing it was a wonder the master had survived.

Bradán leaned back in his chair. He adjusted the wooden blind at the window to allow more light to stream across the table. The map was beginning to take form, but what? Where was it going? He feared it might be his encounter with myth, the infernal Map of the Night used to frighten weak-minded and superstitious mapmakers in training. Bradán had never known what to make of such tales, but he could tell his masters had heard the same things in their apprentice days. He was not sure that they did not believe the stories themselves. Unknowns were very much part and parcel of their existence.

He hefted a compass while absentmindedly twirling the adjustment wheel. His instincts knew when to stop. Abruptly he leaned in over the parchment to place a series of overlapping circles. Five in number, some tangents included, he felt the rightness of placement and the anxiety engendered by the maddening occlusion that sometimes befell his inner sight. His hand reached out for a parallel rule and a old nickel-silver quill pen. Lines flowed onto the vellum, deft and true. Gone were the ink smears of his journeyman days, the wavering lines, the skips. Bradán slipped into the trance so familiar and necessary to his work.

The map fleshed itself out. Hours passed. The north light changed subtly, something he only noticed when he paused long enough to sip uisce beatha carefully from a stoneware cup. His late lunch consisted of smoked herring and brown bread studded with currants. He barely noticed the smoky sting of whiskey and the sweetness of the fruit. He sensed the map was nearing completion. Perhaps by nightfall he could lay down his instruments.

The sea and the sky had other ideas. While he had been slaving away over the map, a storm had moved in. Wind whipped the sea into a bedlam of froth in violent parley with the sky as to who would dominate the shore. Gale force winds pounded the stone walls of the cottage, rattling the windows with threats to smash the glass. Bradán awoke from his trance to hurriedly close the shutters all around. The gloom prompted him to light up the four hurricane lamps he possessed, bulbous brass bellies cast in the shape of pineapples topped with seeded glass chimneys. Rain fell hard as liquid cannonballs hitting the roof. Bradán made his way back to the desk.

Standing before the desk in the pale gold light of the lamps, the truth of the matter became clear to the mapmaker. The map was huge as these maps went. It covered nearly the entire surface of the desk. Rich golds, blues, and crimsons held their own against the deep black boundary lines, the points, the listing planes. Beautiful, he thought, but incomplete. A chill settled into the pit of his belly as the knowledge of what the map lacked sank in. Chill turned to fear that it was possible this map would never be complete. It might never lead its patrons to what they sought, and it would be Bradán's burden to bear.

He stood still as the tempest ravaged the cottage. Staring at the map, he realized the answer might be found through a deeper look into the photograph that inspired it. He reached up to bring picture closer to the light and his tired eyes. Cool fingers entwined themselves around his heart. The pressure brought wetness to his eyes that blurred the photo further. He choked on a plug of grief.

The child in the picture was a mere infant, a girl-child swaddled in a patterned blanket that proclaimed her lineage to the world. She lay in a reed basket, the handle of which was partly visible in the upper left of the photo. The hand of the mother could be seen in part gripping the twisted stands of wicker. The girl's head was turned away, her profile in semi-sharp relief in the light of day. On her head was a few wisps of hair visible as little tufts. Bradán thought she looked like one of the sparrows that flitted amongst the hedges flanking his cottage.

A sparrow she may have been he thought, one of the little fallen ones spoken of by Matthew in his Gospel. Bradán found himself reciting the passage, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will," the words sounding harsh like wet rust in the chill of the cottage air. His voice nearly failed him towards the end of the passage, throat closing on grief and helplessness.

The girl had passed suddenly, no warning. Her parents had laid her down to sleep in that basket while they tended to some chores around their own little cottage. The scent of buttermilk had been heavy on the mother's hands as she had tearfully, tenderly given the photograph to Bradán. The parents implored him to make his map, to find her soul. The burden of ignorance imposed by the Universe on her passing was excruciating for them to bear. The photograph was the only relic they possessed.

The truth as he knew it was that he did not know if he could finish the map. He did not know if the lines, the inks, and the precision of his man-made instruments could ever truly know what God knows. Bradán did not have to power to track every little sparrow fallen, an imperfect being charged with comforting those reeling from loss. The photograph was the last known sighting of their precious vessel, and he would chart a path to the soul of that sparrow, or lose himself in the process.

Bradán took up the dividers and a pen, cool metal heavier than they looked. The storm raged on while he hunched over the vellum. Somewhere over the water he find her. The map would be complete or he would dissolve into it. His hands moved, the ink soaked in. Dawn was hours away.

02 December 2016

Tide and Wrack

Things have been quiet here on the headland. Panes have rattled little in their frames, mostly. There are those who work hard to convince me that this particular silence is a good thing. I reckon it is. Mostly.

Beyond those very windows the sea acts in its honesty, trying hard to give meat to the bones of this silence. But the evidence lies before me in the mid-spring sun. The sea, with muted voice, is as restless as ever. Waves. Waves. The eternity of their susurrus upon the strand drives my dreams and washes over my heart. 

The sea is made for a life of constant motion. My heart and head know this and savor the delicious incongruity that they both are not. The heart beats and the head thinks but stillness is their natural state. An excess of motion works everything hard. The picture slips from the frame, the body slips from the soul, and edges blur. I do not suffer blurriness gladly. 

Ah, blurriness. The soft error. A misstep of intention and execution. Or statement of fact. I wrote of stillness as a natural state for my heart and head. It should have been written as a "desired" state. The waves question and point out my folly. It has been ages since I have felt true stillness. On the bad days, stillness seems mythic, like Valhalla or Shangri-La.

Thus the sea haunts me, nurtures me. Shades of jade and iron coruscating before my eyes. Can the sea be gentle? Today the answer is yes. Low tide and high wrack, the leavings of recent storms mirroring the debris scattered across my desk. Jetsam of a recent excursion writ in receipts for dinners, a movie ticket stub, credit card slip printed with the names of books purchased on impulse (one for me, one for her, and they made me happy, yes?). The bits of paper strewn about in an effort to lighten the load upon my memory.

The sea can be gentle, but it can never be still. Even in the doldrums you see it: the surface warps and quivers in response to things unheard, things unseen. Waves know this from the ripple to the breaker. I ponder that thought as an image bubbles up from the depths of my childhood.

Summer light streams across my neck and back. My skin prickles with heat and sweat. I lay prone on a concrete culvert pipe, lazily watching brackish water flow north with barely perceptible motion into the marshy terrain leading to the river. The tide is nearly out, soon to turn in obeisance to ancient imperatives. The water here is not deep but it is nearly opaque. Its opacity stokes both curiosity and anxiety. I feed neither beast.

As I lay there, a few inches away the water ceases moving briefly. Curdling, turning, a sheen of oil becomes a miniature pinwheel turning around the spot upon which I focused. The surface moves again, but nothing arises from below, and the viscous mirror returns to its serene repose. This mirror does not reflect its serenity onto me. I am nervous, I am tense, wondering what it could have been that disturbed the water so. Despite the brass lantern of the sun I shiver. I recognize at once a fear that will carry over into adulthood, the full import of which will not hit until years down the road from that summer day at the culvert. The jolt pushes me to my feet. I stare at the water for a few moments, then turn away and begin to run back home. I say nothing to my parents of my fear when they ask me where I had been.

I fear that which I cannot see. I need that which I cannot see. If the sea has taught me anything it is that this peculiar duality is integral to the conduct of my head and heart. 

The papers and receipts have turned gold in the deepening afternoon sunlight. With a start I realize I have been daydreaming for quite some time. The sea has crept up the beach with the turning of the tide.

The memory of that creek side revelation begins to fade and is replaced with another notion, slow to form but recognizable as having to do with love. Life is the sea. Love is the thing in its depths, the whale's fluke that makes the water curl around you yet never presents itself to your eyes. Thrashing about in the turbulence is a natural reaction to the unknown. The head fears it, the heart needs it, but blessed are those who find it.

08 November 2016

For the Greater Good

Field notes, November 7th 2016. Approximately 3:30 PM.

The walls were closing in, so I bestirred myself out of doors. Ambling though a local park, I heard some small voices raised to one another in greeting. Two little girls were shouting hello to each other from yards apart. They ran to one another, kicking up little rooster tails of dried leaves. As much as little girls can be said to bear hug, they embraced each other like there was no tomorrow. Like best friends after a long absence.

It may shock some to know that the scene actually made me smile. Watching those girls take obvious delight in seeing each other created some light in the darkness that has threatened to swallow me up in the latter half of 2016. Some long time readers will know, or have guessed, that depression is not unknown to me. We have, if you will, an understanding.

This year has been rough. Financially, personally, emotionally. The godawful mess that is the election cycle has only worsened over time, compounding the misery we felt earlier in summer when our granddaughter died in her sleep. Shifts in work arrangements, to the detriment of revenue streams for yours truly, added a bitter icing to a leaden cake. The cherry? My big brother's fifty-third birthday is today, but he has been gone for seven years.

Seven years. A dog's age. A lifetime. My heart bears the bruises still.

I know what this gray shadow is looking over my shoulder. I feel the chill of cold hands reaching for my heart. I feel as if I know what Harry Potter felt facing dementors, if fiction can be said to mirror reality. My younger self would have been all over that, identifying with a fictional character as if I were him.

My older self nods knowingly. My older self does not give in all the way, though. I know now through dint of hard experience that real life is stranger than fiction but the myths we indulge in give us the strength to carry on. Hope is found in the oddest of places. 

Maybe not so odd. If we want to be hopeful and not consumed by cynicism, maybe hope shows up where we need it most. This is the lesson I told myself I should take away from the scene before me. That I should cease being so wrapped around the axle of my fears, and nurture the flame of hope in my heart.

So I saw these two little girls, one African-American, one Caucasian, shouting hello and running gleefully through the leaves of an early fall day. They appeared to know nothing of the trash fire that is our election of the next President. They knew nothing of the weight on my heart, my troubles with the universe. And they did not need to to. Watching them say hello and embrace each other, it occurred to me that maybe I don't need to know either. What I need to know is that greeting a friend with a great big hug is the starting point to pushing back those great gray walls, and getting on with the business of living.

08 October 2016

Ant's Fear of Drowning

water was falling-rising
in the humid fecund dark
long before we knew
each others names
years in the underground
before her heart lit the gloom
mine knew it was love
the day she said brightly
the sound of creaking stairs
made a lonely house a home
rain fell faster than evasion
tunnels filling in a liquid rush
i retreated to my chambers
above the torrent and swirl
waiting patiently in a dark
that refused quiescence
trembling hands and feet
skimming the seep below
hoping the heart would survive
such terrible wonderful deluge

02 October 2016

Movie and a Dinner

Quiet out here on the headland tonight. Slow breeze, barely moving the dry grass so no whispers there. The crickets and katydids are up to their usual hijinks, but they sound restrained. Even the sea is subdued. It undulates sluggishly with waves that caress the shore rather than pound it. The seething of the tide laps faintly over me as I sit by the open window, absently rubbing the sore spot on my right calf, a remnant of an agitated dream that gripped me before dawn. I never knew phantom kicks could be so painful.

The light fades from the sky. The clouds hovered most of the day, but it never felt gloomy. Nice for this time of year. Such a welcome relief from a stubborn summer heat so oppressive it felt fascist. the morning felt so good I walked the shore, out to the lighthouse and back. A few shards of sea glass ended up in my pockets, and now adorn the mantel above the hearth. There was the serendipitous find, too, of a wayward lobster trap caught on the jetty. To my surprise it still had a lobster and some crabs stuck in it. There was no buoy attached so no way for me to tell who it belonged to. I lugged it back to the cottage, extracted the lobster and the crabs to a pair of rusty buckets filled with seawater. The trap I left on the porch to dry. Dinner was halfway made.

My leg ached. The dream had knotted it up. The walk could not quite untie it. The same was true for my head. Damn that dream. A familiar theme in an unfamiliar setting. You know a place that you think you have never seen but somehow you know it is there? Yeah, like that. I woke up nearly screaming and kicking at something with my right leg. My eyes were barely open when my calf cramped up. I curled up under the covers and hurriedly beat on my leg to loosen the knot, but not before my foot had bent downward from the tension. The muscle felt like a steel ball under the skin. Hurt like a sonofabitch. My heart was pounding from the dream, and I shook.

Slow march of the waves is hypnotic. Not nearly the battle anthem of heavy surf. I am fidgeting with the lighter on my desk, willing myself not to fire up a smoke. One side effect of the hell-hot summer is that the urge to smoke has nearly died down. Been a week or more since I last had one. All to the good, I think. 

The cottage smells good. It is home tonight. The mixture of salt air and seafood gumbo simmering away is one of the finest scents a man could ever draw into himself. Something about the tang and savor of the two makes me wonder if that is what the kitchens in heaven smell of. Maybe someday I'll find out. But not now. Not tonight. The gumbo is near ready, a sublime mix of found and foraged foodstuffs I discovered while cleaning the fridge and pantry. Lucky is the man who can bring home eats from the sea.

Time to dish up. Sipping a beer while giving the gumbo a few last, slow stirs, I like I had company for the evening. Friends and family, flitting around just outside the edges of my vision. People I treasure, people I miss, a few ghosts. The feeling surges when I sit down at the table with my heavy white bowl filled with goodness. The dream comes back to me, a movie before my mind. I am running, running, somewhere in the labyrinthine tunnels of a building I cannot name. Heavyset men in dark uniforms are chasing me, I'm running towards some sound and light. Voices call out to me, urging me on even as faint cries behind me try to drag me back to a coal-black night. I lash out flailing, kicking, as something brushes my ankle. I wake up or come to, the aroma of the gumbo gently bathing my face.

Grief is a peculiar beast, and tricky. It nearly got me there, in those tunnels far from the sea. But I made it out this night. Silver threads stretching from some humans here on earth and from some who are no longer of this mortal coil made sure that I did. Breathing deep, I wipe my eyes and take up a spoonful of goodness. The warmth on my tongue meets the warmth flowing into my heart while the waves outside the window offer up quiet acclaim. I raise my glass to the spirits at my table, come to join me for dinner.

21 September 2016

Super Heavy

Hurtling down the highway on my morning rounds and I see another one up ahead. The shape is familiar, a small yellow triangle emblazoned on the corrugated side of a shipping container. The words are well-known to me now. "SUPER HEAVY", it says, right there on the side of what the warning label declares to be a high-cube model. About 8,600 pounds of weathering steel clamped to the back of a semi and loaded with who knows what. This day, clouds and all, I feel it. Super heavy.

This sort of thing makes you think while spending so much time on the roads in the middle of the country. Shipping containers are all over the place out here, on trains and trucks. Danish, German, Korean, Chinese concerns pushing their charges overseas and through the woods and to Grandma's house we go. Curiosity got the better of me, because I had to know how the super heavy vibes got here, and landed on my head and filling my heart with ghosts.

Container ships. It is how it gets done. Insanely large vessels carrying thousands of twenty- and forty-foot long steel boxes full of stuff. Boxes that get loaded, offloaded, put on trucks and trains and sent forth into the world to scatter their contents hither and yon. Things that you didn't know you needed, perhaps, or things you didn't want but found you anyway. It hit me this morning that this is my grief, too. A load of super heavy, coming from a strange place far away.

Amongst my vehicular ruminations in the soggy heat of a tenacious summer I could not also help but wonder just what it is that powers these huge ships that bring us stuff from all points on earth. A little research turned up that most of these vessels burn something called "bunker fuel", which turns out to be sort of the lowest of the low amongst refined petroleum products. It is thick, black-brown sludge leftover after all the other easier to use and more valuable fractions have been extracted from the crude. 

Bunker fuel is so thick you can walk on on it when it is cold. Cheap and easy to get, it burns like the outer rim of hell and creates a lot of pollution generating all sorts of nasty things when it goes up in flames. But it is what drives the fleet. It makes it possible to move tonnage, even if we don't want or need the weight.

Another day, another road trip, and when I spied another yellow triangle the pieces of all this began falling into place. I know why the clouds seem so low, the air too hot, the weight too much to carry. All that semi-useless knowledge and the thick, black well of my grief congealing into a metaphor so bitter I had to laugh as I wiped my eyes.

I've seen this ship before, this behemoth of sadness and grief barreling out of the mist to run me over. Not once, not twice, but three times has the darkness punched me in the heart. A person can't watch three babies dies in his life and feel like he is a typical passenger on the cruise we hope to call life. No one can.

But I know what this is. Having sailed my ship right into a storm only to be fished out of the sea and carried away by a hulking black steel mass known as the MV Grief, I am a container lashed to the deck. The engines thrum and moan, burning the bunker fuel of sadness at a rate that threatens to drain the core of the world. The joke is on us, that this ship burns the same stuff packed into the container that I am. A person-shaped container full of the black-brown sticky spew of hell that wrapped itself around my heart faster than I could scrape it off.

I had to laugh, I said. The images burning in my head were too terrible for any other reaction. I have a secret that the captain of the Grief does not know: I can carry more than his ship can ever dream of. There is no vessel that can carry what I have had to carry. I have proof. I am alive. I burn the bunker fuel in my heart and know that memories of the children and grandchild that I held are cargo that far outweighs the grief of their loss. I am super heavy, but I am not lost at sea.

31 August 2016

36 Days in Dreamtime

36 days in dreamtime and the awakening occurs here. Cold, dim, familiar. The cry of seabirds and the trumpeting of seals greets the rising of the sun and myself, such as it is.  I know this place. The stones of it dig through the fabric of my coat, into my back. I never wanted to see it again. 

Memory fades a little as I sit upright. I was dreaming, I thought. But maybe not. No, I wasn't dreaming it all. She was here, she was with us for 36 days in dreamtime. Now she is gone, and I am up here on the ridgeline overlooking a lonely island out in far south of the Atlantic where it is cold and gray but the birds and the seals are curious.

At least, that is what it feels like. Soul on ice. Numbness of the heart and a weariness that reaches deep into the bones. Hard not to feel like that when you granddaughter dies before she got to make a full orbit around the sun. I have company, though, which means the long journey back to the mainland and the sun will not be as hard as it could be.

Not that difficulty matters. I have a thicker skin now. Tougher hide around the beaten stone that is my heart. Hard work is the order of the day, hope I am up to it. This is one of the hardest things I have ever written because I stared at the blank page for three weeks, because the words would not come.

Maybe they still have not shown their faces. I do not know yet. But I had to start somewhere, and the familiar territory of my past experience with loss beckoned. The journey back starts now. It starts with a deep breath and memories. My soul pulls its coat tighter, and starts back down the mountain to the sea. I have 36 days in dreamtime to keep me going.

29 July 2016

Electric Potsherds, or Fragments of a Mind

This is a story about a...no. No, it isn't. A story has characters and a plot. What do these fragments represent? Characters, surely. But plot? Perhaps about as much plot as plastic shopping bags swirling around in a dust devil. This is what happens when ideas come without focus. 

It is a wonder to me how the human race, and in specific the human that is me, manages to survive these days. I have written of this before, many moons ago. Existing in a flurry of information, data, numbers, feeds, stats. How do we keep our eyes on the road when the road is overlaid with avatars and sigils that have no bearing on the task at hand? I ask myself this on a daily basis and give thanks that I have driven many miles without hitting anything or anyone.

Kola Superdeep: no, it is not some weird Japanese soft drink. It is a borehole completed by Russian scientists after beginning drilling in 1970, ultimately reaching a depth below the surface of the Earth of 40,230 feet. That is a deep hole, folks. It is called Kola because the Soviets established the drill head on the Kola Peninsula. Some facts:

Latitude and longitude coordinates:  69°23′46.39″N 30°36′31.20″E
Years drilled: 1971 to 1989
Year abandoned: 2006
Depth reached: 40,230 feet (12,262 meters)
Temperature at bottom: 356 °F
Why they did it: Because why not?

He was imprisoned for the crime of being normal, without formal charges or a lawyer. A rented mule. They beat him like a rented mule. He bore the stripes on his back for decades until one day the scars turned him inside out. It was then that he saw there had been a hole in the bars the entire time of his incarceration. His blood is on the steel to this day.

The experiment is not going as hoped. En masse the Others are expressing doubts about Subject's humanity. Trending data suggests that the mask is faulty, or that the laboratory-applied veneer of civilization is sloughing off. If such deterioration does not reverse itself, our attempts at integration will be exposed. This represents a potential setback of years. 

An emergency meeting of the Human Reorganization Committee has been called. We cannot risk the loss of decades of painstaking work.

"We all come from divorce!" he says. "This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can't put it ALL back together again. What you can do, is the only thing you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not ALL things."

-Wendell Berry, in The Seer

I saw a murmuration of starlings against the sunrise on the morning I sent her home. They fluttered and swirled, living pennant in the hands of a master gymnast. It is not often that the universe stirs the spiritual in the cold stone of my heart, but that morning was different. My regret, beyond the usual, was that it was a machine to which I entrusted the star of my soul and not those starlings. I have no doubt the birds would have cared well for her. The machine I grudgingly trust, a melancholy but necessary trust.

Wonderful they were, those plump sparrows frolicking in the fountain below the balcony of the inn. How alive they must have been to leap headlong into chilly water on such a crisp fall morning! A New Mexican cerulean sky and argentine light on the Sangre De Cristo implored us to do the same. Briefly a sparrow fluttered in my heart, warmed by sips of tea.

According to a number of sources, there are an estimated 110 million anti-personnel land mines left in the ground around the world. 110 million. That is roughly one mine for every 52 people on Earth. In more colorful parlance, that is a shit-ton of land mines.

It is a safe bet that none of those mines is hidden in American soil.  Think about that the next time you go digging in your yard to plant some flowers or vegetables. Sustenance without fear of getting your legs blown off.

Little breathy gulps as the child feeds in your arms. The scent is in the sweat, the taste of it is dark and burnt sweet in the back of your throat. Do not bother coughing, convulsive spasms will not clear it. Not that it should. The one true remedy is to drink deep of this bright matter. Swallow that, earthlings, it is the proof of life. Gazing deep into those eyes of indigo and coal it will be inescapable from you that the child and yourself are made of stardust and rose petals.

16 April 2016

Spring Madness: Irrational Angers and Other Curiosities

Dear wannabe triathlete/sniper/adrenaline junkie/gun whore/whatever: Changing the last letter of your plural business name from an 'S' to a 'Z' does not increase its hipness. All it does is prove a lack of imagination on your part and induce a burning desire to deface that stupid sticker on the back window of your tired-ass SUV. 

P.S.: Pry open your wallet and shell out for the services of a pro graphic designer, you hack.

...We should spray you with some mace. Seriously, asshole, with the too big, cheap mirrored sunglasses on your head, back the hell off my bumper. You know how I can tell your sunglasses are cheap? Because you are TOO GODDAMN CLOSE to my rear bumper. Are you stoned or just stupid?

There is no dearth of shabby stores peddling alcohol and tobacco here in many areas in which I have to drive while shaking my own money tree. "We may not have good roads or decent schools, but by God we claim lung cancer and cirrhosis as our birthright!" I imagine the hawkers of business licenses around here to be saying. There are too many to name, but today for some reason the one that caught my eye and crystallized my disgruntlement was a store named (simply) "CHEAP SMOKES AND LIQUOR". I realized that it was actually one outlet in a small, local chain of outlets selling (you guessed it) cheap smokes and liquor. My god, man, have they no pride? Can no one do better?

Driving around here can be a distressing experience, what with all the people trying so hard to be polite and thoughtful while driving slower than the speed limit and playing endless games of "After you!" "No, after you!" "No, really you go ahead" "Okay, I'll stop in the middle of this busy road to let your ONE car turn left across traffic from a side road during rush hour with bumper to bumper traffic piling up behind me because I don't want to be rude..."OHFORFUCKS'SAKEEXERCISESOMECOMMONSENSE.YOURNEEDTOBEPERCEIVEDASNICEANDPOLITEISSERIOUSLYFUCKINGUPTRAFFICFOREVERYONEELSETRYINGTOGETSOMEWHEREYOUMORON!"

I arrive home, pull in the driveway, and kill the engine. Fatigue washes over me and I could fall asleep on the steering wheel. But there is work to be done, pipers to be paid, and no one will do it for me. I slouch out of the car and gather my things. The sunlight filtering through the trees across the street feels good. Some of the roads I drive suck the life out of me, but the most important thing (I whisper to myself) is that I always find the road that brings me back to home. I am home.

03 April 2016

Sunday Meditation #47: I Heard the Meadowlark Sing

I heard the meadowlark sing to me
From upon a roofline high
Tall grass whispered back in chorus
Breathless upon bended knee

Azure dome of heaven
Wheaten cathedral of earth
Wind an ethereal Mass
Sunrise upon my soul

Lungs fill with coolish air
I drop my small machine
Thanks escape parted teeth
I heard the meadowlark sing to me

28 February 2016

Sunday Meditation #46: Lost Tribe

In the course of my daily bread earning, I spend much time on the road. I drive a lot. Probably a fourth of that time is spent behind the wheel of a not particularly large automobile. This lifestyle affords me much time to think. This in itself is not a bad thing, but it does lend itself to excessive time spent thinking of things I'd rather not think about.

I am somewhere in Missouri, and even though the sunlight has made the day much more bearable, I harbor this irrational dislike for the state. I cannot put my finger on the way of it, all I know is that my presence in this heartland state is cause for irritation. It is illogical, I know. I cannot explain it. I suppose it is no coincidence that Missouri is not far from misery in pronunciation.

I am driving in between assignments. Par for the course. This drive time affords me a lot of time for contemplation, which is a necessary part of the daily diet for an introvert like me. What makes this different on this particular day is the music I am listening to as I drive.

For the record (pun intended) I have a CD in the car stereo. An oldie and goodie, "Joe's Garage Acts I, II, and III" by Frank Zappa. I have to on CD,  and on cassette. A relic from days long gone by. A relic of my brother.

My brother and I could almost sing the entire album from memory. We knew the lyrics. We could see past the surface of it all, the juvenile lyrics and the obsession with sex. We understood there was a deeper commentary going on, sometimes lost in the double entendres and clever words.

But that did not stop the cascades of memories. It did not hold back on the sadness and the pain I felt at rocketing down the highway and knowing there was no way to bring my brother back to this mortal coil. He has been gone over six years now, and the unreality of it all is persistent. He left us almost seven years ago, yet it seems sometimes that it happened just now.

What does it matter? you may ask. To that I say I don't know. Perhaps it does not matter to you. That would not surprise me nor would it pain me. All I know is that I am hurtling down the road and I miss my brother. He was a good man, in spite of the pain.

It occurs to me, in the watery sunlight of a Missouri afternoon, that I miss my brother. Terribly. He is the lost tribe, and I wander the forest in search of him.

10 February 2016

Now She Rides Shotgun (The Passenger)

The front passenger door opens and she slides into the seat. Not until the car is on the highway does it register what happened. Subtle and not subtle, like being caressed on the shoulder by an iron hand in a velvet glove. This new thing is not puberty, no. It is unmistakably, however, a threshold crossed.

Sunlight bounces diamonds off the snow piles, makes you dizzy. You were unprepared for that door to be opened. How did it get so far, so fast? This wee bundle you once carried like a little Easter ham through the hospital doors and into an astounding new life, now sits in the front next to you. When she sits up straight her head is not that far below the top of yours. It freaks you out.

This is not happening. Wait, it is. The evidence of your senses tells you in no uncertain terms. There will be no ignoring this little earthquake.

It crosses your mind that perhaps you have been out in the interstellar black for some time. Crossing the gulf at the speed of light and time passing so swiftly back on earth. Dilation. Relativity. Distances traveled beyond your comprehension so fast the disorientation upon arrival makes you feel as if you caught up with the self that was running away from you. Maybe this is the explanation for why you feel so old and new born simultaneously.

She makes you feel this way. Often. It is the way of your shared universe. To have played a role in the creation of her is both supreme accomplishment and fount of anxiety. You want the best for her. Your fear is that between you and the world, neither will deliver on that promise. The fishhooks of that fear spike your heart. The pain lends a frisson of urgency to the time you spend in her presence. "Will you get it right?" the imps ask at night as you fall asleep.

The door opened, she sat in the front seat. The pins rolled out from under you as the mass of years bore down on you in one brilliant and blinding moment. No longer is she the beautiful baby who had no comprehension of car seats and safe travels. No longer is she the luminescent toddler who chattered from the back seat. Probably never again will the rear view mirror reflect that quizzical look she gave you when you sang badly along with the stereo. Watching her now in the watery sunlight of a chilly February you rub 
with a trembling hand that certain spot over your heart. The warmth there tells you it will be okay. She is there. She is a blessing. She rides shotgun.

31 January 2016

Sunday Meditation #45: Eating the Home of Boyhood

Truth as revealed in a sandwich, found in a place unexpected. Roadside sub shop franchised, branded, and with all the chips from your boyhood. Stickball special they call it but you know it as the sandwich that meant you were home.

Home. Cheese, ham and capocollo with the usual suspects. And funny how it warms you up, maybe even brings a slight tear to the eye, because of that feeling of home. Nostalgia wasn't on the menu, not a condiment, not a cellophane-wrapped chocolate chip cookie next to the register. No, it was none of those things, and everything.

To find the past you left behind, the days of idle wonder in the summer and stultifying boredom (sometimes) in the school year, the laying on your back in the grass while falling asleep to the drone of airplanes...to find these things and more in between the bites of lettuce and onion, tomato and hot pepper relish, is a minor miracle.

Watching the wine vinegar and the olive oil drip off the bun, running down the heel of your hand you can give thanks that you aren't truly weeping in the fluorescent glare of the sandwich shop. Seeing yourself in the window glass under that dead-making light is a bit of a shock. So much older now. Unknown if you are much wiser.

What you do know as you wash down the last bite of the sandwich with gulps of unsweetened tea is that you were a young lad once. A young lad who only needed a favorite sandwich and a book to know he was home. He is there, you see. In the glass looking back at you and wondering who that fellow is, so near and so far from home.

24 January 2016

Magpie Tales 303: Our Ink Began to Dry

Image via Magpie Tales

Ghost in the corner of the eye as
Counselor's door smacked my ass
hollow boom of sanctioned freedom
imploded in a fevered skull

She followed me to the car
worn leather soles scratching a dance
on oily pavement, halogen mirror balls 
glaring up the garage park club

Keys of the beater I got to keep
papers on its roof, a sheaf
of lead ending our mutual bondage
heavier wings we have never flapped

At stall 19 we stopped, me to weep
she to spin, or was it my head?
in the light of release she blurred
into the hard grey of my new prison