25 February 2018

Old Man in the Rear View Mirror

Field notes, 25 Feb 18: a torn page found in a corner. The lantern had burned out. We think he was sleeping when it happened.

It used to be we did not understand edges in this country, you hear me? Always moving, always shifting, restless and unceasing. You thought you could know what it meant to be a man, but, hell, it’s easy to make that shit up when you are always on the fly. No one stood still long enough to give the idea proper thought. Yell something. Scream something. Pound the chest then move on before you got called out.

Reinvention was the drink of choice. No boundaries, open roads, go west, young man, any man (any person, mind you), just fucking get on the horse, climb onto the train, take the damn plane. Soon we could all be somewhere new and be someone new. But no more.

Edges. I, we, us. Up against the edges. Hitting the transparent walls that knocked the stuffing out of me. It’s the water’s edge, steep drop off into blue-black the sound of which hitting the shore sure as shit lets me know there is nowhere left to run. The world morphs into digital strictures, bandwidths become bindings that draw tight around the head and the heart. The pressure is non-stop. The claws squeeze so hard I don’t know what it means to be a man anymore. Or human, you hear me?

It gets cold out on the edge. Lonely, more so than being on the road. That’s because edges bring you up short. Yank on the leash, as it were.

That’s what I feel, you see. The leash. And empty confusion.


Getting hungry sitting in the chair in front of the hearth. My belly cleaving to ropa vieja and my mind rolling with Son House. Jesus H. Christ, slide guitar and shredded beef ‘bout set any man to rights. It made sense, perfect sense. If I could play and if I could cook, I reckon I could do some good in this world.

My name says Irish. My appetites say all mixed up and curious.

What’s that? What are you asking, am I speaking in metaphors? Analogies? Of course I am, goddamn it. How in hell you think I survived in my head this long? Weren’t for metaphor I’da been dead years ago. Walking, sure, but dead all the same.

18 February 2018

Window By The Sea (Chasing Vapor)

Field notes: 3:53 PM in the pewter light of Saturday. Fat snowflakes wafting down. Writing about writing, in the drift, wondering where to go from here.

Sunrise over the shimmering jade resplendent before the headland. Tea gone cold in the bottom of the chipped porcelain mug hovering outside the arc of my elbow. Small whitecaps spied through the glass find their mirror in the scattering of crumpled paper that obscures the desktop. I had been writing since Orion began his descent from the dome of heaven. Snow, nothing but dirty snow in the form of wasted paper.

Tired eyes can see many things, some of which may be true. Seals out past the sandbars melt into selkies. Or maybe it was the other way around. My weariness deadened the certainty of my senses. With shaking fingers, I laid the pen to rest in the crook of my journal. Today was not the day for truth or fiction, that was certain.

The selkies continued their languid swim, as did my vision. I leaned forward to open the casement. Keening cries of seagulls rolled into the cottage along with the salt and iron of the sea. There were no words, but sleep. My head nestled amongst the papers, my eyes closed. Wakefulness would come later, here at the edge of life.

11 February 2018

Bonfire of the Memories

The water swirls down the drain in inky spirals. Soot drips  from my fingers in fat ebony drops. The amount of wood and paper they had slung into the flames exceeded my original estimate. Drying my hands on the scratchy scrap of cloth at the sink gives me pause to survey the cottage. Pale spots on the walls give a mottled appearance, the hide of a great beast paneling the interior. The spots are rectangular and a spectrum of sizes. 

So many holes in my heart, in my memory, beginning to close up slowly in a creeping scrim of scars. The copious fuel of the frames and printed paper kept the fire going for the time it took to steam some clams scavenged from the tide line along with a small loaf of cornbread. The soul may be hungry but the belly has no complaint.

Fire. I see the embers glowing orange and red down on the beach. Ripples in the glass of the cottage windows diffract  and distort the colors, creating a ghost fire alongside the corporeal one. Sundown is almost complete here on the headland. Out on the horizon the lights of a freighter bobble and yaw on the moderate swell. The ship moves at the speed of glaciers from this vantage, but I enjoy its company. Later, I will return to the fire along with the ritual drams of scotch. A toast is in order this chilly but tolerable winter night.

I am swathed in a faint tang of woodsmoke and ashes. The walls of the cottage in contrast are now nearly bare. Frames gone, except for three irreducible memories, ones that remain embedded in the core of my heart. The rest, truth be known, had to go. The ghosts and the memories so thick in the air of the cottage one could barely move, much less breathe. In this thickness life could not propagate. Something had to be done. Emotional gravity dictated that this was not to be executed by the mere mundane act of tossing everything into the rubbish bin. This act of exorcism, this purification, called out for the power of ritual sacrifice. 

Fire it would be for the wood and paper. The glass was destined to be broken later, like plates smashed on New Years to cast off the past with its griefs and disappointments. Frames and pictures were pruned from the walls in the watered gold light of the afternoon. The stacks I carried down to the fire ring I had set up from a collection of stones culled from the pile outside the cottage. Scavenging on the strand garnered enough driftwood to set up a fine base. I wanted it to burn hot, burn bright, color the sky if possible.

There would be no gasoline or starter fluid in this temple of my creation. Too industrial and bereft of ritual weight. From the depths of my grandfather's heavy metal toolbox, I retrieved the worn steel lighter my father had carried with him in the service days of his youth. With a satisfying snick, a yellow flame tinged with blue shimmied before my eyes. It was right. It would do.

Stacks of frames. Stacks of paper. Lighter at the ready, I applied the flame to wads of cotton waste and driftwood twigs. The mass swiftly sprang to life in a tarantella of fire. The frames and photos were fed into the maw of the salamander, piece by piece, for what felt like hours. The making of the cornbread and steaming of the clams accomplished themselves in a daze. I recall eating, slowly, bread into broth, sustenance into belly, as years worth of memories combusted into sparks and smoke. The fire died down. So did my ardor. My shoulders sagged and eyelids closed while I sagged into the sand and wept.

I came to standing at the sink, washing my hands of soot, sand, and melancholy. Through the windows I could see the smoke spiraling upward in a thin stream. The wind was nearly gone. Looking around again at the cottage walls I felt lighter. More at ease now that the knot that had usurped my stomach was gone. In the corridors of my mind doors creak shut, doors creak open. In the real world I opened the casement over the sink to let in the cool air of a winter sea. The last light of the setting sun caressed the walls like Belgian lace. The walls, too, seemed relieved of burden. They beckon and whisper, the paneling and washed lime gently coaxing me to till the soil in a new garden of memories.

04 February 2018

Journal in the Wood

The continent is vast, stretching from far north to deep south. It is somewhat lozenge shaped with its extreme ends shrouded in ice and cold. Land rises up from the water to meet the sky in a mountain range that spans from tip to tip. The range undulates from pole to pole, its mountains are sometimes worshipped. They are often feared. They are never ignored. Disrespect of their place in the world leads to potentially dire consequences. It is no coincidence that the thousands of names for the mountains, no matter in what language, translate into "Spine of God".

Along the eastern shore of the continent is a sea. The sea too has many names. Halfway between the equator and the deep south many inhabitants, many human and some other than human, call it a name that translates as "Infinite Riddle". Many have ventured far out on the sea. Some have managed to come back. Of those few, most talk little of what they encountered.

Out in the sea, there is an island. A good wind and gentle following sea could have one ashore in two to three days. The sea follows its own bliss, though, and rarely cooperates. Arriving at the island one finds a week of leisurely sailing circumnavigates it. Doing so will bring the ship around to the mouth of a swift river, itself a maze of islets and rocks that protect a spacious deep water bay. It is here that the anchor can drop. The seabirds are cautious of visitors, but hungry. The other inhabitants of the bay, some call them snakes or eels, others say small whales and sharp finned creatures of toothy maw which have yet to be classified. At rest, one can look up the river to see the mountain or mountains that dominate the center of the island. The peak appears twinned under certain conditions of sun and moon and tide.

The only way to the mountain is by pack animal or on foot. It is a hard journey of seven sunrises. It is not be undertaken by those feeble of nerve or spine. The first part is through a lowland jungle. The jungle hugs the banks of the river with emerald arms, reflected in the black-tea mirror of water. During the day the trees resound with hoots and screeches, its air laced with the streaks of colorful creatures reminiscent of birds and butterflies. Some are pretty. Some are not. Many are often dangerous to the imprudent. At night, the tenor of the sounds changes over punctuated by growls and the glow of odd-shaped eyes along the water's edges. The jungle slowly changes over forest as it creeps up the flanks of the mountain.

A forest it is, redolent of green-smelling needles and sap. Tracks of large pawed creatures can found along with their salt. Those of sharp eye might notice the occasional runestone in the undergrowth. The stones are rough-hewn spears of a dense grey-black stone. Legend has it that the scrawly inscriptions on the stones, if deciphered, could bring wealth and power to the reader. Or death, perhaps. On this the legends are unclear.

In the forest lies a clearing. In the clearing stands a podium made of stone, the same grey-black as the runestones of the forest. It too is carved with runes, along with some hieroglyphs showing fierce, multi-limbed beasts. Tooth and claw are prominent. Humans possessed of a certain knowledge might compare them to the terrestrial cat known as a jaguar, or even smilodons. Humans carrying that knowledge had not been to the island in some centuries. In the side of the podium is a niche, wherein lies an ink pot and a sturdy quill pen. The ink pot is carved from a single gemstone, akin to sapphire, and filled with ink made from rare earths and the blood of shellfish.

On the podium lies a journal. The journal is thick and bound in a nubby leather the color of ox-blood. This leather was made from the skin of a beast whose true name has been forgotten, but is sometimes called 'dragon' in the tongue of the man who carved the podium. the dragons are scarce now, gone into hiding for reasons unknown to most scholars who seek news of such creatures.

In this journal are many rough and heavy pages. Of these pages it can be said they are made of ancient paper. It is known there as 'ironscap'. Ironscap is exceeding difficult to make. Its fibers are derived from a plant that only grows in certain marshes, where the water is brackish and the weather harshly cold in winter, terrifically hot in summer. To harvest the plant requires a pure heart, strong sinews, and tenacity.

The pages, or many of them at any rate, and covered in the scrawl of centuries of handwriting. The languages are varied. Some passages were left behind by beings no one would call 'human'. Some were left by beings whose races went extinct centuries ago. The scrawls range from spidery runic slants to blocky geometric shapes to illuminated texts so beautiful as to make a monk weep with jealousy.

These writings were left by travelers. Seekers. Pilgrims, perhaps. Folklore and myth say that those who make it this far gain the privilege of writing their deepest wish, most secret desires, in the pages of this journal. In doing so, legend says, these wishes will come true. Desires fulfilled. Hopes satisfied. But the pen can only be lifted by those of pure mind, good hearts, and translucent soul. And their are also other, darker legends that say the journal is really a trick played by the darker forces in the multiverse. That there is no guarantee here. This would seem to be confirmed by the saying extant in the lore of many beings that the road to hell is paved with the bones of the good-hearted.

But the warm yellow light of the suns does not lie. The podium, the journal, the pen and ink are all here. All at the ready for those who have braved the mountains and the roaring sea. Trembling and ravaged yet there can be no question that one will take up the pen and write. One simply must not betray one's effort and heart. Take up the iron pen, dip it into the ink, write in this tome of wish and desire. It is the only way to make it back down the mountain to cross the sea, and perhaps be united with that which aches to be united with you.