Tuesday, December 17, 2013

follow-up on the mammoth cheese

An article in the December 16, 2013 New Yorker referenced the mammoth cheese, referenced in the recently compiled 1814 Almanac. Which just goes to show that I'm not the only one. And maybe that coincidences are crazy.



It's on page 36, if you're reading the magazine.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

the year to be

regular size edition of 50
A client brought in a copy of Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack for 1788 for restoration, which provided the inspiration for this year's holiday edition: an almanac for the forthcoming year.

holiday ephemera edition of 50
Not for 2014. That would be far too practical.
Quercus Press: page layout for offset printing.
Page layout for digital printing -- pagination + glass of wine = much troubleshooting
According to wikipedia, 1714 starts on the same day of the week as 2014.
According to google books, there aren't any almanacs (or almanacks) from 1714.
each pamphlet = 2x 11x17 pages
fold, fold, cut, sew
Also, there was a calendar system change in there.

Time's Telescope, appropriated from 1817 to 1814
advertisement matter

range of papers, reflecting current studio stocks, reminiscent of publisher's bindings
However, 1814 was right in the midst of the flourishing almanac system. We had longitude! And latitude! And a new calendar system! Also, it was still considered essential information to include the transits of the moons of Jupiter as a separate page for each month in an almanac published as "The Nautical Almanac" by the London "Order of Commissioners of Longitude." Also, as referenced herein recently, there was a literal Big Cheese.


What cinched the entire project, though, was finding an almanac from 1817 where the owner had written the weather and current events ("bought first lobsters") for every month of the year. And google had scanned this almanac. The project had to happen.
pamphlet for 1814 = stamps for War of 1812
What more could one want?

also, studio-made stickers. why not?

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

almost / almost

Holiday edition consigned to the care of the postal service . . . report to follow after other administrivia duties attended to. In the interim, a lovely woven bit of ivy turning colors like a barber shop pole.


Friday, November 29, 2013

holiday edition

To say that I am behind schedule would be, perhaps, an understatement. That notwithstanding, work on this year's holiday edition has begun, in that I've started thinking about what the item will be and how it will be made. Here's a sample for the purposes of general cheer and inspiration.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

voyages

Start in the field. It's a familiar field, the field that you cut across every morning on the way to school. This time, pay attention to the smell of newly mown hay, the thistles growing pink and purple on the edges, the birds darting, looking for grain. Pay attention to the sky overhead, the color shifting to vibrant yellow, this moment just before dusk descends and everything turns cobalt. This is the last breath of daylight, all of us, all of the animals, fitting in a last look before settling back in our nests for safety. Beware the owl, beware the barn cat, beware the ghosts of the unhappy deceased who wanted so much more out of life than they were able to grasp.

This is the last time you will ever see this field, for the future is open wide before you, and when your back is turned from this place, the stagehands will appear and everything will change. We wished you god speed and all the best and hearty congratulations, and then you were gone. You said you would write and we said we would write and you said you would visit and we said we would always set a place at the table for you. We did not say we would save your room for you, a momento of who you had been, a museum to your time with us, but perhaps you thought we might. Or perhaps you were already looking so far past us and into the future that you had already forgotten the porcelain washbasin with violets painted around the edges, you had already forgotten the quilt of blue calico that every night covered your dreams. Perhaps we felt that you would return to us, chastened by a world that wasn't what you expected, or you would die from an epidemic of the flu or a runaway tram.

That was all many years ago. I wrote to you, long letters, but I didn't have an address to send them to. I told you everything, the change of the seasons, the play of light on the tiles, the search for a new minister, the market expanding and filling with the most unexpected tropical fruits that no one knew how to pronounce or how to eat. Then I folded my letters and sealed them and set them aside, because I had no place to address them to. You never wrote. It wasn't such a surprise, not really. This past is only a story we tell ourselves to reassure each other that we exist, and you always lived two steps into the future, even when you were right here, having Sunday dinner and eating the first sweet corn of the season, you were even then planning for the harvest and the winter, not thinking about the long days of summer that stretched away, full of moments of heavy calm.

By writing you would have been lying to us, giving us the false promise that everything was just as it had been, and you could never lie, even when it would have been better for everyone. Instead you simply left, smiling in that off-handed distracted way that said nothing about what you were really thinking, and my letters to you are now crisp with age, waiting to be read by a ghost. Even I have not re-read them, because they tell a story that was meant for you, and I could no more pretend to be you than you could ever return to this place and be one of us. Yet I still write these letters with no expectation, just a quiet, deep belief that somewhere there is a you that knows somehow that the past isn't completely dead, that it flickers and burns in a tiny quiet part of your memory, late at night when the moon hangs a barely suspended crescent over the horizon.

We were very, very young. We were so young that birthdays were counted in fractions, every month a momentous addition to our burden of years. I carried it with me everywhere, the turtle that we had caught, fishing for tadpoles that spring morning. The turtle never wanted to become a pet, but I prized it more than any border collie pup or any yearling calf, I painted its shell and constructed a terrarium for it, an entire turtle-world in the corner of the garden. We very, very carefully skipped stones, since to throw a rock without making it the best throw we had ever made wasn't a rock worth throwing. We started tiny small fires on the riverbank and tried to send smoke signals to each other across the water, and then we learned Morse code and tried to build our own telegraph line.

That was when we were older, long after the turtle had escaped and we had started studying algebra and civics. Short short short -- long long long -- short short short. I tapped it out on my desk instead of working on declining nouns and conjugating verbs, because, even then, I knew you were going to leave, and I thought that if things here were as exciting as Robinson Crusoe that you might change your mind. There was a sense of suspended animation, that you watched and experimented and studied with just a tiny fraction of your self, and kept the rest hidden away, the way a tadpole hides its tale when it turns into a frog.

I tell the story to myself, sometimes, when the evenings extend, long, long twilights where the stars come out one at a time, the Milky Way teasing her way into the night sky. On these evenings I tell myself the story you told me, the first time you said, out loud, that you were going away. You had known for a long time, probably since even before we caught tadpoles and turtles in the stream, even though I didn't even know there was any other place to live, I didn't even know it was possible to go away and become a different person, become a stranger to the past. It was several years later and we were watching the Big Dipper pour over the night sky, and you told me the story of your dream.

Every night, almost every single night, you dreamed about strangers, but in your dreams, you knew them, they were only strangers during the day. At night, asleep in that other world, you were among the people that you knew and recognized even better than those of us you had known your entire life. There was a woman with hair as red as the flames of a bonfire, curly hair that formed a wild halo about her head, and she wore capes lined with velvet and carried a fur muff and a fox stole. There was a gentleman, tall, tall and thin as a blade of grass, with a tidy mustache and little round spectacles, who always wore gloves, always. There was a boy, who you thought was about your age, because he was the only one who seemed to age in your dreams, and his hands were free from callouses, he had a checked waistcoat and a little white terrier, but you couldn't tell if he was you in the dream world or if maybe he was your brother. At night, all of these people gathered around you, and drove around a city that you knew as well as you knew our village, even though you had never visited there in the real life world of day.

You told me about the buildings built of shiny white marble with columns holding up the fronts, of purple houses and of riverboats filled with dancing and orchestras. Sometimes it was daytime in your dreams, and you went through this foreign familiar city as if you had lived there your entire life, going to museums full of statues of people and strange beasts, climbing to the top of skyscrapers and watching the city grow and breathe around you. Sometimes it was night in your dreams, and you were wearing funny uncomfortable suits and pointy shoes and eating out of china so thin and delicate the candlelight glowed through it. And sometimes in your dreams you were actually asleep and dreaming, and in that other place you slept not under a blue calico quilt but in a hammock, and you dreamt to the sounds of water quite nearby.

We had never seen the ocean, except in atlases, and I tried to imagine what it must be like, I looked at our pond swollen with spring rains and I closed my eyes and heard nothing but the water and with my eyes closed I imagined nothing but water all around me. I panicked and opened my eyes, touched the trunk of the elm tree, dug my toes into the loose dirt on the shore of the pond. I never, never wanted to see the ocean, there would be too much of it and nothing to hold on to. You told me that the ocean was like being almost but not quite asleep. Your eyes are closed and your mind is flying, drifting with the winds of thoughts, and the world is huge and empty and tiny and full and you become everything all at once and then you are asleep and falling into the heart of a forest. Except that's not at all how I fall asleep, I just lay down and close my eyes, and then when I open them again, it's morning and time to braid my hair and eat a great bowl of oatmeal with spiced apples and listen to the chickens cooing and scratching in the yard outside.

My dreams do not have beautiful perfumed strangers that I know better than my own family, my dreams do not show me towers made of glass that reflect the light like a crystal. I knew, when you told me about this, you were telling me that you were going to leave, you were going to find the woman with flaming hair and the tall, thin man with a mustache. You were going to the city on the sea. Then you never mentioned it again, maybe you were embarrassed or you thought that if you said it out loud it would disappear from your dreams and be gone, or maybe you were afraid I would tell the others and they would tease you. I knew then that you would be leaving and I would never see you again, but even though I cried and told myself that maybe I, too, could visit this city someday, I knew the city was only real for you, and not for me.

And so I have written you letters, so many letters, and I cross the field that is now newly mown, and watch the birds scavenge for grain, and wonder: now that you have found the place where you always belonged, at night, in your dreams, do you sometimes visit us, and read these letters by moonlight, set aside without an address? Do you remember, even in the shadows of sleep, what was once the earthy reality of minnows and lessons, do you hold us deep in the suitcases of dreams?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

in the loft

Feeling woozy sleepy warmth of barn of hayloft of hiding of smelling the sweet damp wool of the sheep and listening to the gurgling lowing noises of the cows. Summer outside and lots of chores to fill the days, days that begin before dawn and dawn comes awfully early and night falls so late it seems it'll never come. So I got tired of all that. I wanted to not hear Pa talking about corn prices and I wanted Ma to stop talking about the neighbors and I wanted to do something on a lazy summer afternoon that involved maybe some fishing and some napping and not so much of being a hired hand without ever being hired, because its not like they ever offered me a paying job or even an allowance, no sir not in this house. That was why I decided to run away, but I decided to run away maybe without thinking it through all that clearly. On account of not getting an allowance and not being hired help, I didn't have two nickels to rub together. But my plan was to get a job, a real paying job, one with Sundays off and regular hours. I forgot that I'd need money to get a bus out of town and maybe some extra to buy food or get a room in a boarding house. Nothing fancy, just some place without bedbugs. Maybe even bedbugs would be okay if the price was good: that was all before I got to the Greyhound stop and saw how expensive a bus out of town would really cost. More money that I've ever had at once, that's for sure. But I had already run away, I had taken some bread out of the pantry and left Ma a note telling her that I'd write, and here I was not even able to get out of town. I would have hopped a freight train like I've read stories about, but we don't even have a railway within an hour's drive. Maybe I'll just start walking, but for now I'm hiding in the hayloft, back in the barn. I think Ma suspects that I'm here, but she hasn't told Pa about it yet, or he'd be likely to set the barn on fire just to get me out of it. I need to get some money, just a little bit, to start off down the road. That'd make a world of difference. But there aren't any jobs in town, not for me, not when they've all known Pa for years and wouldn't think of crossing him by denying him his due. His due! His rights! What about mine? I'm ready and able and I'd as easily join with Buffalo Bill as with the Rangers or the Navy. It doesn't matter, we don't have any gangs and we don't have any recruiters and I'm just sick of it. Sick of the nothingness of it. It's time to get out. Time to get on with it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

convincing proof

There are valleys that wander through these hills, following patterns all their own. As a student, so many years ago, I was taught that the valleys follow the paths of the rivers, that they eroded the softer soil and left behind the hills and canyons. But as a child, before I had ever ventured into the mountains, before I had followed the paths of the valleys, I was taught that the hills and valleys were the shape of the fingerprints of god, and if you could go high enough into the sky, you would see the shape of his hand.

"Why, then, why," I asked, "were valleys places of darkness, the valley of the shadow of death, when it was valleys that were fed by rivers, and mountains that were cold and barren?" My teacher ignored my question, for it was inconvenient, and returned to her lesson. When I returned home, I asked my mother why valleys meant death, and she said it was because from way up in the mountains, valleys look like freshly dug graves. I had never seen a grave of any type, much less one freshly dug, for we in those days sent the souls of the dead into the afterlife on funeral pyres, the smoke ascending to heaven.

I asked my mother: who used graves, and why, but she was making dinner and pushed me aside, saying, "Ask Grandmother. She will answer your questions."

I was afraid of Grandmother, afraid of the woman covered in black shawls, who sat in shadowed corners of our house working her prayer beads. I had never seen her leave the house, except on the day of her brother's funeral, and I was struck by how ancient she seemed, how frail. Her tiny hands were swollen into claws, and she almost disappeared in the crowded room. Her face was worn and wrinkled, and even though I did not think she could see, I also did not really think she was blind. Maybe I thought she was god, or she was turning into god or absorbing god as she became older and older. Even mother didn't know how old Grandmother was, and told me not to worry about things that didn't matter.

My mother's advice to ask Grandmother about valleys and graves made sense, but I was too afraid of Grandmother to ask her, and then she was too old to talk, and then, when I had moved away and forgotten my questions and forgotten my fear of her, she died. She was burnt on a pyre, the smoke of her soul ascending to heaven, weeks before I found out about her death. It had been many years since I had been back to our village, and I did not visit now, but the death affected my memories more than I expected.

She visited me in my dreams, night after night, and all she did was sit, quietly in the corner, working her prayer beads. She never spoke in these dreams, although, awake, I can recall her voice, the texture of autumn leaves, the sound of the rustle of the wind. In my dreams, she was silent, but she watched me with her eyes, dark and intense. Their intensity would awaken me out of the dream, and in the silence of my room, I would watch the curtains billow in the night breeze and feel that my Grandmother was there, with me, although this was a land she had never visited.

No one else in my family had ever appeared in my dreams, not my father, lost to a stampede of oxen in a drought summer, nor any of my other relatives, not even in those early years when I would wake up disoriented after a restless night's sleep, expecting to smell the acrid boiled bark tea, confused at the tidiness all around, the pulverized leaves that I poured kettle-boiled water over every morning, their insipid flavor. Even in those long days of never quite understanding what to say or who to say it to, I never dreamed of my family. But now my Grandmother had actually died, and I wondered how old she must have been, how many lives she must have lived.  She haunted my dreams, and I felt I must do something to honor her spirit.

In those days, I spent my free hours high in the hills, following old bridle trails and paths through forests and along fields, because as much as I did not understand the world around me, I knew there must be some sense to it, and I found the woods less unsettling than the city streets. As I was following one path around the edge of a smaller mountain, suddenly there was a clearing, and although I was not at the summit, the valley stretched away from me, following the network of rivers. It was breathtaking, and I stopped for a moment, to orient myself in relation to the layout below.

It was autumn, and the leaves rustled in the wind, and in the leaves I heard my grandmother's voice, and then, suddenly, I looked again at the valley before me. I remembered, from so very long ago, that valleys form the fingerprints of god. I continued up to the summit point, curious and eager, feeling both fearful of it not looking at all like a fingerprint and embarrassed that I cared so much. Adults are expected to be well past these diversions, especially in this land where science and mythology are so very far apart, but as I climbed higher and higher, I felt the years slipping away until even the urgency of the question returned: why do valleys mean death? Except now i understood what graves looked like, now I had seen the end of life in earth as well as in fire. Yet still: the deep curiosity was there. I had to know, and my thoughts slipped more and more into my earlier language, and as my language shifted and the leaves around me rustled, I heard my Grandmother speaking, heard her prayers as they were repeated throughout the day.

I had never learned the older language that she has spoken as a girl, for the land that she and my grandfather came from was not the land of my birth; we are many generations of statelessness, finding and shedding countries as a snake sheds its skin. The earliest prayers my Grandmother was taught were in a language I did not understand, that I never learned. When I was young my mother taught me the simplest prayers in my own language, and, when my grandmother realized I would never translate between them, she also spoke to me in the adopted tongue of our new country. Yet now, as I climbed higher and higher and heard my Grandmother in the leaves, I realized what I heard was my Grandmother in her original language.

I paused, listened, realized I could understand this tongue that had always been so foreign to me. There was something specific that my Grandmother was saying; it was the folktales, the stories from her own childhood, the stories I had never learned, because I had been allowed to go away for school, where we studied erosion and plate tectonics and giant volcanoes under the ocean and long division and geometry. In the story my Grandmother told through the wind in the leaves, rivers were snakes that had been caught and tethered to the earth.

Snakes had once been water spirits that flew through the air, swimming in their natural home, the clouds. The snakes were curious, mysterious tricksters, full of mischief, but not ill-intentioned. They followed the dragons, playing games of tag through the smoke of volcanoes and the dark cymbals of thunderstorm clouds, until, one by one, they were captured by the tails by humans, who would scale mountains in hunting parties formed for just this purpose.

The humans were driven by drought, by a desperation for water to nourish their crops, for the gods had grown angry, and withheld rain. The years of snake-hunting began, and bands of men would scale mountains, cling to the tails of snakes passing overhead, until the snake, grown too heavy for flight by the weight of men on its tail, fell to earth and became sinuous, land-bound rivers.


I had reached the summit of the mountain, and, in all directions, lay the network of hills and valleys that make up this land. The afternoon sun caught the river moving between the hills, the water glistened, like scales, I realized. I looked more closely. The curvature of a snake's spine followed the shape of the valley, and I felt the life of the river and the death of the snake coexisting together. It is not that the snakes had died, so much as they had been caught and ensnared. Not the ridges of the handprint of god, but the handprint of man, as we tethered the life of the flying beasts to the earth, so that we could survive the drought.

Clouds passed overhead, their shadows falling over the landscape. There were fewer trees here, almost none with leaves to rattle in the wind. I wondered what other stories my Grandmother wanted to tell me. I wondered what else I had forgotten to ask, and hoped she would stay behind, just a little bit longer, so I could listen.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

at the fair

No, I saw it. It was right there. I even touched it. Really and truly. I don't know why you don't believe me. It's not like I go around telling inflated stories that aren't even a little bit true. And I've never lied to you. I tell it like it is. You know that. So why are you being so weird about this? No, I don't think you're gullible, some country bumpkin fresh off the apple cart. I have nothing but respect for you. This isn't a con, it's the real deal, and I'm telling you, I saw the thing.

I walked right up to it and that was that. God, the stench, you wouldn't believe how much that thing smelled. It was like going inside a garbage dumpster on a hot summer day when the trash truck was due three days ago but there's a strike. That gross. That strong. But, like, I was right there. You have no idea. It's nothing like in the pictures. The pictures make it look glossy and ferocious and huge, but it wasn't like that at all. If it weren't for the smell I might not have even noticed the thing. And none of the descriptions mention the smell, so it's not like that's how I knew what it was. It wasn't sleek or glossy at all, more like, like a sheep with dreadlocks. That's how its fur was. Thick and matted and it smelled something awful, so I wondered if it was diseased or a reject or something.

But I'm telling you, it was the real deal. I looked it up and found out that it smells that way because it has to ferment its food before it can finish digesting it, but like how a cow has all those stomachs, it only has one, so it basically sweats like a drunk. Which is totally weird and totally gross and totally true. Apparently that's why it has all those dreadlocks, too, its fur is just a reflection of what it eats, the same way flamingoes are pink because of what they eat, they aren't born pink or anything. So this thing gets all matted if it eats a lot of seaweed or fish. It's some weird chemical reaction to iodine that comes out in its fur.

And you know how the pictures make it look absolutely huge? Like elephant-rhinoceros-hippo-huge? Apparently that's just National Geographic and their obsession with the telephoto lens. It wasn't huge at all. And it wasn't just a baby, either. Nah, it was full grown and about the size of a dog. Just a normal dog. The type every kid has. Not a Great Dane or anything, more like a beagle or a cocker spaniel. You know, just dog-sized. So on top of all this, that thing didn't even growl. Didn't bare its teeth.

It was just hanging out, lounging by a tree. There were squirrels running around that it didn't even seem to notice at all, there was even a little kid that kept staring at it, and, I'm telling you, if a little kid stared at me that way, I'd hit him for insubordination. Teach him some manners. But the thing there didn't bat an eye. I wondered maybe if it was old, blind or deaf maybe, but that didn't seem to be the case. When I snapped my fingers, it looked over, it noticed, but it didn't really care. No, it wasn't catatonic, or drugged, although, yeah, I thought about that. Like maybe it got into the Xanax or something. But there was a breeze and the wind was blowing leaves around, and it seemed to be paying attention. It was more like one of those Zen monks on top of a mountain, it had transcended everything.

So since it didn't seem vicious or anything, yeah, I touched it. I mean, I held my breath when I touched it, because it stank like a drunk hobo on a train, but it didn't mind me touching it. It wasn't really a side show, and it didn't seem to be anyone's pet. I couldn't figure out what it was doing there. These aren't even native to this area, and so I wondered if it was some wacko's escaped exotic pet, like those rock stars that have monkeys or those crazy New Yorkers with bobcats or those kids in Florida with Burmese pythons or that guy in, what?, Indiana? Ohio? You know who I mean. That guy with a private zoo who let all his animals out then killed himself. Land of the free, so if you want a piece of the wild in your subdivision, help yourself.

I thought maybe that's why it's so tame, maybe it was just used to being around people, and it was the right size to be a housepet, maybe if you've got a teenaged boy and a golden retriever and a drunk layabout husband, you wouldn't notice the smell. I mean, people get used to anything, the smell of gym socks or cigarettes or meth or burnt meatloaf, so maybe that wasn't really a problem for them. But it didn't really act much like a pet. It didn't really want to be patted like a dog, and it wasn't kind of stand-offish like a cat. I offered it a piece of hot dog, and, I dunno, maybe it was the mustard or the kraut, but it wasn't interested. And that was before I had looked up what it ate and knew that this one was more used to fish. Maybe it would have preferred the fried clams, but, you know, I had a hot dog. I didn't have fried clams. But it wasn't interested and, yeah, I was curious, but, wow, that was a stink.

And I kinda wanted to wash my hands after touching it, it was maybe a little bit gross, and I was still finishing the hot dog. Maybe I should have hung around a bit longer and tried to get some more information, but at the time, I didn't think of that. I just figured, huh, fair's different this year. Really, I left it there. I found a washroom which smelled of piss and beer and stale cotton candy, and I felt just as gross coming out as I did going in, and I rode the Ferris wheel and the hay ride and looked at the prize winning quilts on display and watched the tractor pull and the 4H kids leading their cows around the ring. Those cows were the cleanest things at the fair, I swear, some of them had been brushed and hair-sprayed just like a poodle at the dog show.

You know that I like to stay late, catch the last show and the fireworks, but the nachos had something weird in the cheese and my stomach was all gassy and I just wasn't in the mood. And I guess I felt worse than I realized, because, I swear, I didn't notice it again. I had seen it earlier sitting there under the tree and then I just didn't think about it again. I found my car in the field and drove home and pulled over once to throw up the rest of the nachos, and stumbled into bed. Maybe it was food poisoning, or maybe it was the flu, but I spent the rest of the weekend either asleep or throwing up. You should definitely avoid the Boy Scout nacho booth next time you're there. I still feel queasy just thinking about jalapeños.

But come Monday morning I felt okay enough to go to work, because you know how they've started using that software that analyzes sick leave, compares it to the baseball schedule and flags mysterious Monday and Friday calls, so I figured I was better off going in and feeling like shit and instead of staying home feeling like shit and finding myself fired. And, I swear, I am telling it just like it happened, but I'm running with a cup of coffee from the kitchen through the living room trying to find my keys, and I look over at the couch, and the thing is all curled up in one corner of my couch.

I didn't know if I was supposed to take it for a walk or feed it or what, so that's when I looked up what it to feed it, and left out a can of tuna fish by the coffee table. It looked at me as I went out the front door, but it wasn't interested in coming with me. It seemed happy there on the couch, so I left it there. And I was already gonna be late for work, so it isn't like there was anything else I could do. But I don't want it. I didn't try to pick it up or bring it back. I don't even know if it's legal to keep one around. Hell, I never even had a guinea pig as a kid, and now there's this smelly exotic that's settled in my living room.

What the hell am I supposed to do? Stop shaking your head. You know I'm not usually this confused about something, you know that I wouldn't kid about something so weird. I'm not trying to put one over on you. I really need your help.

Remember when I covered for you that time we swore we'd never mention again? Well, this is like that. I'm serious. I saw it, sleeping on my couch, in my living room, this morning, today, and I was awake, and sober, and maybe I had food poisoning or the flu but this thing was there. It was real. And now what? What the hell am I supposed to do? I need your help.

With god as my witness, I am telling you the truth and I will never ask for another favor again. Whatever you want, it's yours, name your price, just help me figure out what to do with this thing in my living room. Really, never again.

Thanks. I owe you one.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

shadow masks

Light from under the window: passing reflections from cars. The flash of headlights across the wall, the streetlights cast their midnight shadows. It's never dark, not really. Not like it used to be way back when, back when the moon wasn't nearly as big when it was full, back when the tree branches grew intertwined and thick overhead, back when lamplighters had to walk every night down the streets, touching a match to a flare of gas.

When the nights were dark and deep we roamed at our ease, crossing from shadow to shadow, perceived but not seen. Some people saw us clearly, the young children whose eyes were still so sensitive they could distinguish between the black of a cellar and the black of a closet. But no one paid any heed to the wild imaginings of the children, infants raised by the brothers Grimm, unable to separate dreams from reality. The madmen saw us, as well. I have always felt like the mad were that way simply because they knew too much: they saw too much and they heard too much. What their fellows called insanity was just the refusal to not see all that is actually there. It is not that the mad heard voices, but that everyone else refused to listen. And the mad saw us. They did not like us, but they also did not fear us, not the way the children feared us. The children were right to be afraid. Perhaps part of what made the mad men mad was their refusal to have fear.

But all that was many years ago. The shadows kept shrinking, pulling back. The lamps no longer required lamp lighters, even candles no longer required matches, the whole room bathed in light with no more effort than a switch. The trees were cut down, first for the building of ships and homes, then for the creation of pastures for dumb beasts, the sheep and the cow. I do not know how they managed it, but even the moon glowed brighter, reflecting the light of the earth in addition to the light of the sun. And as the shadows receded, so did we.

Perhaps you have watched a cat try to fit into a box that is smaller than itself. Perhaps you have tried to fit into a suit of clothes from your youth. Losing the shadows was like that; there was no where to fit. Our population had stayed the same, our size had stayed the same, but our world had shrunk. There were fewer and fewer places for us, without the shadows. Our colonies and families split up, individuals finding pockets for themselves, for it wasn't possible to live any longer as a tribe. I can no longer remember the last time I saw my mother; I can almost forget that I had a mother. It is, in the end, no matter.

There are spaces here, between the walls. It is not palatial, these spaces; it is cramped, musty. I have to share the space with a population more numerous than on any city street. Crammed in among the wires and the insulation are several generations of mice, an incestuous community of cockroaches, a family of swallows, one of squirrels, spiders of all types, and a tiny lizard which, I believe, exists no where else on earth. There are others of my type, as well. Not others of my kind, but other species of the shadows. I know they are here because I can smell them, sense them, in the scent of ash from a wood burning stove, in a waft of mothball, in a scattering of pebbles loosened across a floor. I avoid meeting them. They avoid me. It is not that we fear one another; it is simply politeness, respect for undisturbed peace in this society we did not create but must inhabit. And so we know of one another but we do not know one another, and that is as it should be.

A new family has recently moved in, but they are not what I expected. There have been so many families, and the children seem to grow more and more quickly and then they leave and then there is a new family again. Perhaps it is simply the weight of my years, but it seemed that once I was able to see the children more clearly, distinguish between them, remember their quirks and their needs and their fears. Now they all seem the same, interchangeable, and it is lonely, for me, these cookie-cutter children, there is nothing in their essence for me to know them by. And then they are gone. But a new family has recently moved in.

They are different, their infant is different. It has eyes that see everything, big, round, green eyes, and it stares and it sees and it knows. So many of these children have never seen, never escaped from their fog, but this one gazes and does not fear. It has seen me, and it did not pull back, it did not even flinch. I have never had a child so nearby and so utterly content, so completely placid. At first I wondered if something about the infant was not right, if it was perhaps an idiot, or damaged, or blind. But it seems to be alive in a way that other humans are not alive, it has all its senses, and then some. I am enchanted, and I am afraid. I am fascinated, and now almost never leave the nursery.

The nursery is a sunny place, filled with light, but even though there are so few shadows that I almost don't fit, I can't bring myself to leave for a more comfortable corner. This obsession worries me, but it has overtaken everything that once filled my world. Last night, when the moon was quietly tucked away and I had only the shadows of the streetlamps and the passing cars to block my way, last night I stood vigil next to the bassinet. The child was not asleep. It does not seem to sleep, or to cry or fuss as other infants might. I was right next to it, and it was awake, and regarded me in the shadows from those uncritical eyes. I don't know what it saw, but I broke down first. I escaped that unnerving examination just before the sun broke over the eastern sky.

It is impossible for me to leave the shadows; it is not that direct light will kill me, it is that I will cease to exist. I will become non-being. There were always tales of non-being, not so much warnings or nightmares, but reminders. Just reminders. Non-being wasn't something you could experiment with and then just go back to the way things were. Nonbeing wasn't a process or a decision. To become non-being happened in an instant, and lasted as long as time. It wasn't something to be feared, the way humans fear death, but it meant a transition to a place beyond place, and a loss of all we were and all we remembered, and even our families would forget that we had ever once been. So we stayed in the safety and comfort of the shadows. The infant, I feared, would somehow tempt me into forgetting myself, and I would stray beyond the shadow, lost in the moment and the hold of that gaze.

I was not afraid of non-being, but, if I transitioned out of my reality, I wanted it to be a considered decision, not a momentary lapse into forgetfulness. The child scared me because it made me forget everything, everything about who I was and the world around me and memories were the only knowledge I had. Memories are my life blood, my soul: the discarded human memories left piled up in the corner, the rank and rotting emotions in a room after a fight, the fragmented and scrambled memories hastily collected from dreams before dawn. My fellows and I are sometimes called dream-eaters, but we are not hunters, we do not steal memories form human minds. We scavenge forgotten emotions and outgrown passions, we clothe ourselves in childhood dreams and lost moments. And so if I forgot myself and ceased to exist, I would become a forgotten collection of forgotten memories, I would be a non-being.

So I feared the child, feared its magnetic pull night after night, even as I could not bring myself to leave the nursery. Perhaps that was the core of my obsession: there was something in those eyes that remembered back to a deeper reality, one before the womb. The child held in itself the memory of non-being, and to it both being a child and the memory of non-being were equivalent. I could stare deeply into the green eyes and they were unending, and beyond everything that I could recognize were shapes and colors and places that I could not find words to describe, there were emotions that had no parallel in my experience of the world.

I cannot say what drew the child to me, if perhaps it was sorting through my accumulation of wan and moth-eaten memories, discarded emotions, for some guidance about this world it was now a part of. Under its examination, I felt my soul laid bare, I felt everything I possessed and everything I was made of to be paltry, unfinished, worn. But it is not that I was an unfit housekeeper of my soul: I treasured the memories that made up my being, but I was a creature of the shadows, I was a scavenger. I could only collect the discards of the world around me. The child sifted and sorted, and I was bare, but I was not judged. I was empty but I was unashamed; then, as it reached a hand to the edge of the cradle and I touched its finger, the sun rose, and I no longer was.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

quod cupio mecum est

Nothing happened. I am sure of it, I am certain. I hold my hands open, in front of me, and cupped in their palms is everything that ever was. My hands are empty, they hold the past, where nothing was and nothing came to be.

The air is chilly, clear blue, a winter's day. Somewhere there is a robin, although I know this without seeing the red breast, without hearing its song. There is a void in the landscape just exactly the right space for a robin, and so there must be one. The shadow of a fir tree stretches over me, across the park, over the snow. I only know there is snow as my feet crunched, they are bare, the toes are cold, and I only know the fir tree as the air is filled with the scent of pinecones.

When I open my eyes, I can see none of these things. I see only a hallway, it is nighttime, the only illumination is the beam of light from under the doorways that line the hall. I do not move. I close my eyes, it is winter, outdoors, my hands cradle the nothingness of the world. I open my eyes. The darkened hallway extends in both directions. Neither fate welcomes me onward; both have a gap just for me, but neither is where I belong. My eyes are open. I move forward down the hallway, carefully counting my steps. I reach a doorway, light spills onto my feet, although I still stand in shadow. I close my eyes. It is winter. With my eyes closed, I reach for the door in the hallway, but there is nothing there. Just winter, just cold space.

My eyes open, my hand has grasped the doorknob, I open it, and without knowing that I moved, I am inside the room. The room is expanding away from me, the walls receding as I watch, the furnishings assuming new forms. A lamp becomes a butterfly; an end table, a small boy in livery; an oil painting of a vase of flowers, an apple, becomes a family greeting one another, the apple a horse-drawn carriage. It is impossible to tell whether the lamp is pretending to be a butterfly or whether the butterfly was pretending to be a lamp. It does not matter, for now the man, an old man, leaning upon his cane, turns away and leads his guests inside. The apple / horse drawn carriage pulls off towards the stables. The liveried boy looks in both directions, sees he is not observed, and goes around to the back entrance to ask Cook for a cherry tart.

The butterfly lands on my nose. I am startled; a butterfly has never alighted upon me before, I am uncertain how to react. I cannot move, and glance down. It is very, very difficult to look in any new direction, but slowly, infinitely slowly, my feet come into view. They have claws, they are stone; I realize that I am a stone lion in this place, just as the butterfly had been a lamp during the moment I opened the door. Slowly I bring my gaze back up. There is another stone lion across from me, flanking the front door. There may be other lions quite nearby, but my peripheral vision is tight, limited; I wonder who or what the other stone lion is in its other reality.

I close my eyes; it is difficult to close my eyes, as my eyes and eyelids are stone, they grate upon one another without tears to lubricate their movement. It begins to rain. I close my eyes. It is still winter, there is the bird and the fir tree, my hands cup all the memories of the world, but my hands are empty. The wind blows over my cupped palms and an echoing nothingness rings out. Snow falls. I open my eyes.

The butterfly has moved to the lion across the way, perched in a sunbeam that crosses the stone cat's back. The drive is made of white pebbles, perfectly round, perfectly smooth, perfectly white. It is no longer raining but the pebbles glow and shine in the light, and as I stare at them for minutes and months, I realize the stones are moving among themselves, to a careful pattern, with a sense of purpose. I choose one pebble, it glows more brightly than the others; at night it is a beacon in the moonlight, at dawn it catches the first glow of sunrise, and even at dusk it retains the remnants of light from the day.

Many, many hours ago, or weeks, or centuries, this rock stood near the gates at the end of the drive. It crossed in front, directly in front, of my paws, and I longed to pick it up, but stood immobile in stone. The pebble has worked its way all the way to the base of the other lion; I do not know what I expect to see. The butterfly leaves the other lion and lands on the pebble, and the very moment the butterfly lands, I am back in the hallway again. I am myself.

It is night. Beams of light come from underneath the doors that line the hallway. I close my eyes. Winter has ended. My feet are wet, but it is not the cold frozen slush of snow, it is the squishy wet of fresh mud. I inhale deeply, bring in the thaw, the sap rising, the earliest blossoms. Not being able to see spring is heartbreaking, left out of the light filled with the promise of summer, but I focus, focus on feeling and smelling the everything of the world. My hands are cupped, they have filled with water from a recent rain, something so light and delicate it can only be a sparrow has perched on my thumb, is drinking the water held in my hands. I want to laugh and cry and in the joy of the moment I forget and open my eyes, and I have turned a doorknob in the hallway and I am dead.

Not recently dead, nothing gruesome, full of illness or blood or mourning. I am in the world of the dead, and I am one of them. There is no light, only the half-light of twilight in the shadows and my physical form is elastic, unbound by gravity or atomic forces. I drift. It is impossible to stop:  when one of the other spirits sighs, or turns its head, or waves a hand, I blow on the eddy of air. It seems impossible to guide my movement, much less to set down an anchor and have the leisure to study those around me. The air is too full of infinitesimal movements; not until I am blown into a whirlpool can I gather my balance, right myself, bring my parts into order.

The other spirits are tethered in place by their memories. They navigate among one another and through space by reliving a particular moment that has come before. I close my eyes, to empty my mind in search of a memory, but once again it is spring and my feet are encased in mud and a tiny bird perches on my thumb, my palms filled with rainwater. I open my eyes. Caught in the whirlpool in the realm of the spirits, I search for a memory. My palms held my memories, but they were empty, they were filled with rain. Here in the world of the dead, I bring my palms up close to my face, I look for my life line, I look for my fate line. My palms are smooth, unlined. I have neither past nor future. The sparrow perched on my thumb is not a memory, for it is there now: it is the present.

The snow, my feet cold, damp, is a memory, and with it I carefully draw out of the whirlpool, anchor myself with the thinnest strand. My memory of snow is not strong enough to hold me fixed in place, it is not vibrant enough to be used as a rudder, but it holds me close enough to myself that I can look around.

At first, I thought all the spirits were identical; they were as much alike as pine needles or the play of light on a lake. As I bobbed and swayed in the currents of their movement and watched closely, I saw that their anchors, tentacles of memory, changed color, grew thick and then faint. I began a taxonomy of memories, good memories and bad; memories of people or of places or of facts; remembered fears or remembered pleasures. I had only my one memory, it was neither a fear nor a joy, but pure experience, but the other spirits were gathering around me with anchors mirroring my own. One had an experience of swimming, as it grew nearer I felt the ocean, cold, salty, wash over me; felt the moment when the heat of sun on the skin was replaced by the chill plunge into waves, although I had never seen an ocean, never swam.

Another spirit grew near, and with it a strong wind blew, desert air, dry, filled with sand. The wind blew and blew and I sensed desperation, the driving horrible thirst for water, blistering heat all around. I closed my eyes. The sparrow had left and it was summer, the ground dry beneath my feet. The sun warmed my back, crickets chirped lazily in the shade of the pine tree. I missed the sparrow, opened my eyes to look for it, and was back in the hallway.

Dawn was seeping into the corridor, there were no longer beams of light spilling outward. I touched one door, then another. They were cool and inert. As the sun rose, the doors disappeared, became smooth, cold walls. I closed my eyes. The sun was setting, the song of the crickets growing magnified. Although I could only sense its shape, I knew the Big Dipper was directly overhead, dropping stars into my open palms.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

I should have brought over the bottle.

"That is not what I meant. Perfectly straightforward, no translation needed, you heard me right, you knew exactly what I intended, exactly what I said. Things have been like this for a while, now, and it can't go on. I mean it. You knew this was your last chance, and blew it. That's it. End of line. Get out."

That was not the speech I had expected to hear, and I was so flabbergasted, so shocked, that I had absolutely no idea how to react. Sure, this was a training site, an emotional boot camp, advertised to take spineless ninnies and teach them how to go through the world with vim and vigor, but I wasn't expecting the first day to feel like a drop into some drama-fueled soap opera. This was more overwrought than the mush on the Hallmark Channel, and part of me wanted to apologize to the person who was having to spout such drivel and part of me wanted to laugh and part of me wanted to turn around and leave.

Except apparently a lot of the trainees want to turn around and leave before the five day session is over, because before we loaded onto the minibus we had to fill out waivers and relinquish cell phones, and when we arrived, the doors to the outside were locked. Not that we could have gone anywhere, since we were stranded in a rural field, miles from any road, and I didn't even know where the nearest town might be: the organizers weren't taking any chances. Somehow I had gotten the impression from the brochure that this was going to be a rural retreat center, maybe with a few somewhat tedious Powerpoint sessions on effective negotiating and then break-out groups where we read from scripts -- simple, innocuous things, like asking for a raise, or getting a spouse to help with laundry, maybe working up to a parent-teacher conference at the end of the week.

This was not like that. This was like being dropped into a particularly angst filled telenovela in the middle of an episode about a divorce caused by unfaithful wanderings. I had no idea what I was expected to do or say, and they had neglected to hand out helpful scripts or even give us clues about our roles.

A crash just over my left shoulder caught my attention. I glanced down. There was a shattered vase. Of course there was a shattered vase. Every overwrought scene in every mediocre novel or play ever written has a scene with a shattered vase. I couldn't help it; I started laughing. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but the entire thing was too ridiculous, too ludicrous, for me to keep a straight face, much less even attempt to respond in kind.

The woman who had thrown the vase, the woman who had so sternly lectured me, was now watching me, enraged. She had white curls that had obviously been set at a salon, and wore a floral dress in a particularly vivid shade of teal, and then I looked at the vase again, and realized it was almost the exact shade of teal as her dress, and I knew it was hopeless.

I crumpled on the floor, almost in hysterics over how absurdly the scene had been scripted.The liability waivers had warned us that our sessions would be recorded, so I knew there was probably at least one camera in the room, and I knew I would probably get a stern lecture, for real, from one of the instructors. I couldn't help it. Every time I thought I had control over the giggles, there would be a shard of the vase, or a glimpse of the teal floral dress, and I would be off again. Finally, I had control of my breathing, enough to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry. They didn't get us scripts or anything, so I don't know what you're accusing me of, or how I'm supposed to negotiate my way out of it."

Her expression didn't change. She was definitely doing a good job of staying in character, and I felt like the worst possible audience for her role, and then I realized how rude I must have seemed, laughing in her face like that. "I'm not laughing at you, it's just, you know, your dress matches the vase and it's too perfectly synchronized."

Apparently my attempt at brute honesty wasn't helping my cause. What more could I say? I scrambled, tried to think of how to engage her in conversation, when I realized she was looking around for something else to throw at me. There weren't that many other options, and I had thought that the vase had missed on purpose, but when she went for a lamp I wondered if she would throw this one more accurately. That possibility worried me.

"You know, don't forget to unplug the lamp before you toss it. Those cords can make the things act like boomerangs, and that happened to one of my friends. Thought she heard an invader in her house, threw the lamp from a side table, and landed right on her foot. She screeched like nobody's business, had to wear an air cast on her foot for a month. So you've gotta be careful."

Maybe if she was distracted, or something, we could have an actual conversation, try to figure out what role I was supposed to be playing. This was feeling less like one of those empowerment conferences and more like a taping of a reality tv show, or one of those murder mystery dinner plays where all of the guests have to figure out who amongst them is the murderer. Now I'll admit that maybe I've caught a few reruns of those reality house shows, and for a while there, it seemed almost every dinner party was a murder mystery dinner party, until I gave up and only accepted invitations if they would promise me that I could be the corpse, and quietly sneak out early.

But I had actually been looking forward to a week of honing my conversational tactics when negotiating, at home and at work. I wanted to learn how to put my foot down, and to do it while still earning the respect of my adversary. I did not quite see how negotiating with absurdly dressed mad women was actually going to help my cause. I definitely didn't see how I could write it off my taxes.

She had put the lamp back down, which I felt was an improvement, but she still hadn't said anything since the opening gambit that left me speechless, and I saw that she was clenching her hands so hard that the knuckles were white. It couldn't be good for her molars, or her heart, for that matter. Then I wondered if she had a heart attack, would I be responsible? Could a person really have a heart attack from anger, or was that all Hollywood? Or would the heart attack just be a part of the acting, as well? The entire thing was pretty confusing.

What I wanted, more than ever before in my life, was a styrofoam cup with bitter watery coffee and a stale cookie and an uncomfortable chair in an over-air conditioned conference room, with a badly designed bullet-pointed list flashing on a screen. I wanted to be able to let my mind wander and figure out what the hell was going on and to try to get some hold on the situation and what was expected of me. That obviously wasn't going to happen, and I had never seen a woman as angry as this woman appeared to be.

I hoped it wasn't whatever I had said about her dress, or that she would lose her job if I wasn't properly trained or something. That seemed unfair. It wasn't her fault I wasn't up to her level of drama, but instead of diffusing the situation, my detachment seemed to be making things much, much worse. Quickly, I scanned my memory, looking for every passionate argument that I'd read or heard, and trying to figure out how to reply with a convincingly straight face. I thought of actors and characters who were famous for losing their tempers, and I thought of the cameras in the corners recording us, and I thought of the doors locked behind me. I was running out of time before the woman decided to throttle me with her hands or bash my head in with an unplugged lamp, so then I thought of every fight I had ever had, with parents or siblings or exes or bosses, and every fight that I had wanted to have but had been forced to hold my tongue.

It wasn't going to work. There was no way I could fight with a white haired woman in a teal floral dress, and I had no idea at all what I could conceivably offer as an apology that might get her to start talking. At that point I didn't really even care if she stayed in character and told me exactly why I was such a lousy excuse for a human being or if she broke character and told me what the hell was going on, I just wanted something other than an angry, silently fuming woman in the room with me.

Then, glancing at the shards of the shattered vase, I saw that there was actually a sideboard against the wall. There were decanters. They might be filled with nothing more intoxicating than water, or they might be filled with something rancid and cheap, but whatever was in them might, just possibly, diffuse the situation. I backed up to the options, not wanting to have my back to a mad woman, then started lifting stoppers and sniffing. It was bourbon, which wasn't really one of my favorites, but it was real, and after my stomach absorbed the first shot, I poured two rather generous glasses, and slowly walked over to the woman.

I knew she might retaliate by throwing it all in my face, but there was just enough of a chance that she might not. I sat. I sipped. She sat. She sipped. She glared at me. I sipped again, gathered my courage. She shrugged, drank some more, settled back in her chair. I should have brought over the bottle. She seemed more relaxed, or at least less angry.

"What the hell is going on in here?" a voice boomed from the doorway. I shrugged, stayed seated. The woman continued to work on her bourbon as the man strode over, right through the shards of the vase. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

He seemed to be talking to both of us. "That is not what I meant. Perfectly straightforward, no translation needed, you heard me right, you knew exactly what I intended, exactly what I said. Things have been like this for a while, now, and it can't go on. I mean it. You knew this was your last chance, and blew it. That's it. End of line. Get out."

I looked at the woman. She looked at me. I shrugged, and finished my bourbon.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

pluvial notes

Grandma was like that, she did things her own way, and had raised all of us to do things our own way, too, but everyone thought it was a bit much to be so dramatic at the end. But maybe she had an in with god, or something, because the rains stopped right after her funeral. It had been a few years since we had had a proper hurricane-strength gale with flash floods, sump pumps running all night in the basement, and the rainy springs were drier, just a bit, but no one really believed that there would never be rain again. Well, no one but wackos and meteorologists and maybe some of my family members, possibly including grandma.

The city sent out notices about the aquifer levels and asked that lawns be watered and cars washed on an alternating schedule depending on address, but since no one could remember if Tuesdays were odd and Thursdays even and Saturdays for everyone, or if it was all exactly the opposite, people watered their lawns and washed their cars whenever they felt like it. The police couldn't be expected to enforce car washing municipal recommendations, and they never even tried. The last rainfall in our area was during the night, right before grandma's funeral, but we had always been a dusty type of town, and so no one really noticed at first. They had to cancel the Fourth of July fireworks, everything was too dry, and the police really did go around enforcing no-firecrackers no-bonfire rules, but there were still swimming pools and beer, so no one was too put out.

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I'm working through a backlog of typing going back five months. It's been that type of spring. Progress is being made.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

night sounds

The city in the rain was altogether different from the city in the sunshine, and the city in the rain at night was as foreign a place as it could be. The bodega on the corner was open, a lone man working at the cash register, no one buying milk or cigarettes. The usual walkers or beggars or dubious individuals with uncertain intent were absent, washed away from the streets by the force of the rain. Enough of the streetlamps were on to illuminate the jungle of sidewalks and alleyways, so although I did not recognize my walk, even through the familiarity of habit, so changed was it by the dark and the weather, the lights allowed me some confidence of my orientation.

There was very little to look at, the storefronts closed up, the streets vacant, the sky dark, but the universal truths still gurgled in my head, and I felt no need for other distractions. Some time passed, an hour, perhaps longer, in the rain, on the pavement; it was hard to tell. The street was only lit by a sole lamp, some distance away. Underneath and through the noise of the rain, I could hear drumming. During the day, on a busy street, it is not a noise that attracted my attention, it meant buskers, pickpockets, tourists. This was different: it was a lonely sound and then it seemed to have found the tempo of the rainfall, and the drummer was playing in and around the rain, the drummer and the rain were improvising a duet.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

chiromancy

I could start at the end and work back to the beginning: dispense with suspense and tell a story that explains it all, leaves a sense of final justice, a conclusion. There could be a vague, undefined sense of a happy ending, evildoers punished, the future a blank space of boundless opportunity and benevolent fate. The meat of the story would be about courage in the face of opposition, of changing plans at the last minute and acts of brave spontaneity that saved the episode from the sting of failure. Through all this, your sympathies would twist and turn, eyes widen in suspense, blood boil at the treachery of the adversaries, and still, because you knew the conclusion from the very first line, that certain something deep in your soul would be calm, knowing everything would turn out fine.

But all of that presupposes that there's a happy ending. After all, there's nothing but point of view separating a comedy from a tragedy. Nothing in my introduction promised that the end would be a source of joy or even comfort.

Remember Little Red Riding Hood, and wonder, how desperate the life of a wolf on the brink of starvation, the middle of the coldest, snowiest winter on record. No voles, no woodmice, no rabbits: a wolf at that moment has only one desire. He sneaks into the kitchen of an abandoned cottage, looking for any type of scrap. Perhaps Granny wasn't even there, the winter had been long and cold and she had left her cottage to visit the warmth of another village, the wolf is caught, exhausted and ravenous, and snatches after Red Riding Hood's basket. Even wolves know that humans are unsatisfying prey. It's all in the point of view, whether justice is served or the tale skews in an altogether different direction.

Remember everything that you once forgot. Remember placing fists in a circle: one potato, two potato, three potato. Breath held, hoping, hoping not to be It in the game of tag. That's the ending, there: note it well. It is evening, not yet twilight, summer stretching long ahead, endlessly, a game of tag about to begin, the first seeker unchosen.

What happened to bring all of this to fruition? There is a void, heaven and earth separate, atoms and molecules bond and coalesce and soon we can walk on land, and soon we leave the trees and walk upright, and then the rivers swell and all is water again, but we have forgotten how to swim. That, there, tragedy, so many lives lost, for not having gills and fins: the tragedy of the last surviving member of a tribe, having watched, in horror, desolation and drowning all around.

But remember the ending, a game of tag, a summer night.

More time passes. Men discover geometry, astronomy, trace their fates in the palms of their hand, wander lost in the desert searching for fig trees and wine, and, out of nowhere, the Crusades. The Crusades, the Black Death, kings and soldiers as pawns across the chessboard, the tragedy of ambition. Change the point of view, the pre-industrialized world filled with Venetian palaces and crystal goblets and a clear morning in a gondola, a tryst, a feast. Point of view is in the particulars: life, full of promise and beauty, except for the gondolier, whose wife died in childbirth, who has a household of young children to raise, whose extended family fell to the plagues sweeping across the country.

Time passes. Venice sinks, Atlantis is lost and rediscovered and lost again, the library at Alexandria burns, a thousand ships sink in the stormy Mediterranean.

Time passes. Smallpox is exchanged for syphilis and tobacco and gold, the duck-billed platypus is discovered, there is no Northern passage, but everywhere, the wind blows into internal combustion engines, there is the cotton gin, there is the potato famine, there is a tax on printing, there is a banishment to a small island in the middle of the storm tossed Atlantic, empty and barren.

I have forgotten to tell you of the expression in the whale's eye as it is separated from the pod, as it watches the harpoon's lancing its calf, the ocean stained with blood, so much blood, an ocean of blood, so that oil lamps can be lit and corsets tightened. The sailor returns home, weary, does not recognize his daughter, grown tall from when he left for the Pacific so many years ago. On his way from the docks to his cottage, he passes the fashionable houses lit by candlelight filled with women, tightly laced, waiting for their futures to unfold. They, too, will die in childbirth, although not as in times past, hands are more often washed, doctors less frequently move from the cadaver to the lying in room without taking suitable precautions.

The sailor may return to sea again, where his ship may be torn apart in a monsoon, or he may remain ashore, too old to knot ropes and raise sails and throw a harpoon as he once did. He never believed in old age, and now that it is here, he isn't certain what to do, unsure how to fill his day before the pub opens and after he wakes. His wife takes in laundry, her knuckles swollen, her hands raw and worn. She worries about her daughter, the dangers of the no-good lad that is making promises he'll never keep, the very real possibility that there will soon be another mouth to feed and no money coming in.

Time passes. Lands change hands from aboriginals to explorers to the church to settlers to politicians to businessmen. Railroads fill the sky with the heavy smoke of coal dust as they cross as far as civilization extends. There are assassinations and revolutions and armistices and famines and fabulous wealth, underneath it all the pipe organs plays a counterpoint inflected Requiem as the Holy Roman Empire shrinks from all of Europe down to a neighborhood in Rome so condensed it can be crossed by foot in an easy afternoon's stroll.

Remember, you know the ending: it is a summer evening, a game of tag is about to start, but whether this is comedy or tragedy, whether this is a play of one act or five acts: it's all in the telling. Everything works out in the end, it all comes to a conclusion, but somehow I had forgotten how much bloodshed, how many deaths, how many broken hearts, lead to this point. Everyone who has ever lived has died. Everything that has ever lived has died. Whether the mountains are alive or dead I cannot say.

The scientists would like to interrupt and say that the mountains are almost certainly not alive. However, as the scientists have a long, long history of being very, very wrong about a great many things, I will repeat: whether the mountains are alive or dead I cannot say.

Time passes, the continents drift a bit further apart, volcanoes erupt, earthquakes rend, ships sink, and man grows wings and takes to the sky, soaring in trails of white above the clouds. Mountains are bulldozed and fields are cracked apart to inject heat into water which spins turbines and energizes atoms: when I press a switch the world is lit in a soft glow, even on a cloudy, moonless night. The whales begin to sing again, although they are much declined, but they have forgiven us. On an island, a family sets down its tools, walks away from a vineyard, boards a boat. Farms are tilled, cement is poured, a cloud erupts over a country we know nothing about, a country we have never seen and will never understand, and everyone stops breathing. This is the end. Newspapers circulate headlines in bold.

Except you know this isn't the end, because the world can't end yet. You know somewhere, up ahead, there really is an ending, an ending that has nothing to do with mushroom clouds or poisoned wells or armored tanks or dysentery in covered wagons or gangrene from battlefield wounds or blighted crops or drafted sons or absent fathers or a rat escaped from a trading ship carrying something that strikes in the dark of night.

There is an ending that doesn't smolder in ashes or crumple on shattered foundations. Out of all of these lives and out of all of this time, molecules joined together to form the twisting chains of A T G C nucleotides winding through every convoluted system in the body, they survived, separated, recombined, separated, joined, twisted, grew, and then it is summer again. The air is filled with fireflies and the nervous held breaths of children, counting out one potato, two potato, three potato, four, a game of tag stretching across the yard, around the oak tree, down the street, children poised to scatter like dandelion seeds in the wind, as soon as their fists reveal their fate.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

sunrise

I'm watching the sun rise. Other people find sunrises full of promise and potential. Me, not so much. The sunrise is the day just passed full of everything that didn't happen and a sink full of dishes and the need to get crackin' 'cause the clock's a-tickin' and time's a-wastin'. Sunrises are all about unmet deadlines and strangers who never become friends and all of a sudden everything's behind schedule and there's no hope. It doesn't matter what Scarlet O'Hara drawled to the retreating back of her beloved, tomorrow's just already today and ain't nothin' gonna change, because we're stuck with who we are.

Years ago I didn't believe in fate, because I believed in freedom and choice and being a self-made-man, but years ago I had never even heard of the federal reserve and I still thought we were on the gold standard. Or the silver standard. Or something. I didn't know then that "In God We Trust" means "In Middle-Aged Men With Ill-Fitting Chinos We Trust" and just as soon as I realized a bunch of random guys makes the money sink or swim, well it kinda made me question maybe if my own life was controlled by unknown operators in a room somewhere. I mean, if a dollar's nothing but a symbol, then maybe I'm a hologram.

Not that I really believe any of this. I don't have a bunker with nuggets of gold stashed in hollow walls and I don't really think I'm just a marionette on the stage of life, but that's the thing about sunrises, they make the philosophy come out along with the hangover, and there's no aspirin strong enough or bacon sandwich greasy enough to make up for the questions that I'd rather not hear echoing in the back of my head.

So on this day in particular, I'm watching the sun rise because that's what it does and it's not like I'm gonna turn my back on it just to prove a point, and the trees towards the west are reflecting back with shiny golden bark, and I decide the take the question of free will or fate and put it to the test. There's no reason not to, or maybe there are lots of reasons not to but it's easier not to think about them, and I start thinking of the plan.

Everybody uses tarot cards these days, and any fool has a copy of the i-ching in the glove box, and most high school kids use dice to get through the SATs. So the easy choices are pretty much already taken, and besides. they're too obvious, they've been done before, their script is so heavily encoded with social function and meaning that they're pretty much weighted on the side of fate, and don't give the free will a chance. What I need is a system that will challenge intuition at every step, that takes preconceived ideas and scrambles them, so that at some point in the future I can stand on a mountaintop and gaze back over the terrain of the past and see what patterns emerge.

What I need is the scientific method for free will and predetermination, but Schrödinger's long dead, locked in a box, and I don't think even he ever knew if the damn cat was alive or dead. Anyway, he was a freak. I need a scientific method that won't get the PETA activists all riled up and that actually makes sense.

The sun isn't really rising any more, now it's day right and true and I'm just as annoyed and put out as I was when the sun was rising, because the problem with having an argument with the universe is that it's hard to win before breakfast. Especially with a hangover. But I grab my jacket and some cash and head outside, determined to break every expectation I have of myself, and maybe honestly a little concerned about ending up in jail. There may not be any criminal codes about examining the underside of fate, but that seems maybe dicey. It's a chance I'll have to take, and I head to the street, determined to find the theory behind the theory, or the strings behind the curtain, whatever's there.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Daphne

I remembered that you were not there, that you would never be there again, that now there was only the ghost of your memory for company, and nothing more. The woods were thick with scars of the past, fallen trees turning into mushrooms, fallen leaves turning into mulch, fallen rock walls turning into a fading story of fields and cultivation abandoned in the river of time. The memory of the woods runs deeper than my memories, for the trees have lifespans beyond my own, and from their anchoring watch, watch the world spin about them. It is not that the moon revolves around the earth which revolves around the sun which spins in the arms of the giant spiraling Milky Way; rather, the roots of the trees pin the sky to the earth, stitching together our past and our future, our air and our soil. The trees are the center around which we all spin, and I am alone in the woods with only your memory walking under the shadows of the trees beside me.

There are moments when I wonder what it would be to establish a nest amidst the trees, to live way up in the embrace of the canopy, to hear the song of the wind as a call to prayer, as lullaby. There are moments when I find an old chimney, lone remaining skeleton where once was home and hearth, and I desire to flesh out the bones of a house with walls of birch bark and floors of earth stamped firm and dry. The woods beckon with the stories of everyone who has lived here before, and I hold on to the glimpse of a land that once flourished under man and now flourishes under nature.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

tossed by the winds


(catching up on a lost month of time)

au cœur de la nuit

Still I travel north, pushed into the land of the sun, and even the grays of twilight pale until it is always dawn or dusk and night is erased, a part of the past that has been left behind. Villages appear, tiny huts painted bright red, bright blue, with thatched roofs, and in the thatching wildflowers grow, tiny alpine blossoms in white and yellow. The villages are full of children, the sounds of the market, everywhere a tightly choreographed chaos. The children take my hands, grasp my skirts, pull me towards the maypole in the village green, and everywhere is the singing and the sound of bells that are both foreign and familiar.

We dance, I realize the song is the same song of my dreams from my childhood, that I know these people even though I have never been here before. In this land there is no night, and I ask the children: where do you store your dreams, where is your heart when you are asleep? And they tug my hair and laugh and run towards the edge  of the village where the forest begins. Our dreams are the wild animals, they tell me, we see them, but only from a distance. Our dreams are shy and untamed and do no seek our company.

They pull me back towards the bright cottages, the thatched roofs, and I glance towards the shadows of the forest, where there is movement but not form. And then I let go of the night, I allow my dreams to depart wild and free, and in the pale dawn sleep without slumbering, surrounded by the chorus of song.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

paschalis

VI.

In the beginning the stories had not been written. In the beginning the stories had not been told. In the beginning the stories were not yet memories. In the beginning the stories had not happened.

In the beginning it was dawn and I held my pen and I watched the sun rise and it was good. So I wrote that down. Nothing else had happened and so there were no metaphors to draw from. There was no way to describe the feeling of a soul scrubbed clean from all the emotion and anger and disappointment that had passed before, for I did not know of the soul, I had never experienced emotion. That was all: the sun rose and it was good and I wrote it down, and in the writing it became anchored in place and time and it became memory.

In the beginning the sun rose and it was good and I wrote this down, it was my first, my only memory. As the day grew long shadows formed, shadows distinct from their shapes, for the shadows were unaware that they were expected to remain anchored to their forms. The shadows separated from their forms and there were two worlds at play: the separated shadows moved, formed alliances, danced, murdered. The evening grew close, chasing the heels of the afternoon, and as evening arrived shadows sought out the nests of their forms, returning home to roost and sleep in silence during the night. The two worlds were reunited and I watched the sun set and it was good, and I wrote this down as well. My second memory.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

numerological

 I want to find my words, my dictionary, my thesaurus, my encyclopedia, my glossary, and I want my words to draw an atlas unlike any other, a map that shows a land never explored, a wilderness never breached, a place that previously was only an absence, here sketched out and illuminated. I want the key of language to open the charts to sail to this land, and I fear I've lost my compass, my sextant, my spyglass, for what I can see is without form, lingering in the shadows of my mind.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

juxtapositional





image descriptions:
New Orleans
New Orleans
Bear Fest, summer
Bear Fest, winter

Friday, March 15, 2013

follow-the-leader

Well, everybody started cheering and hollering and then soccer practice kinda ended. I could tell coach was snake-spitting angry and I didn't want him yelling at me, because when coach yelled, wow, he yelled loud. Coach used words that I was pretty sure we weren't supposed to even know about and once he was so angry I saw him punch a car. It seemed like maybe a dumb idea at the time and he was just as angry after he hit the car as he had been before, then he had a funny splint from the hospital for a month. I never saw him hit a car again, but that's how he looked after the creature made that amazing goal.

So the creature and I, we moved fast to the other end of the practice field, and I didn't even help clean up the gear, we just ran all the way back home. Maybe coach would call Mom and yell at her, but Mom would just ignore him and everything would be okay. When we were about a block away from home, and it was just starting to get dark enough to turn on the street lamps, I stopped running and looked at the creature. It still didn't look like a dog. It didn't move like a dog and it wasn't shaped like a dog. People just kept thinking it was a dog because everybody has dogs and so that's what they expect to see. I knew it wasn't a dog. I just didn't know what it was, or why it was following me, or what it wanted.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

round booth in the corner; coffee, jello salad

B: What do you remember about when Uncle moved in?
A: Ain't nothin' to remember. Old lady who own the house died, it was on the market for a while, then this fellow and his wife move in. Happened like that all the time.
B: You know the old lady?
A: Everyone knew old Mrs. Ellis. She made it her business to know everyone. She had a bridge game once a week in her living room, and all the ladies had to attend. Just like the Queen on TV, wore jewelry and hats and Mrs. Ellis made sure they were all kept in line.
B: Did you ever join the bridge group?
A: Just the ladies. Never invited. Don't play bridge, anyhow.
B: But you went over to Mrs. Ellis' house at other times?
A: Nah. Saw her sometimes in town, but only the women were invited over. This about Mrs. Ellis or Uncle? I know even less about Mrs. Ellis than I do about Uncle.
B: How'd she die, again?
A: Dunno. She died of being an old woman. Maybe doctors have another word for it.
B: Anyone upset when she died?
A: What type of a question is that?
B: Was anyone upset when she died?
A: We had a decent funeral for her. Graveside, sent some type of flower.
B: Did lots of people look at the house, or just Uncle?
A: I dunno. I wasn't that interested. Not my business.
B: But was there an estate sale, an auction, was the house sold furnished?
A: How the hell would I know? That's just nosy, not anybody's business.
B: Maybe you should make it your business.
A: What, all out of the blue, me go around asking about a mint green velvet couch from a woman dead thirty years ago?
B: So you remember the couch.
A: I don't know. I made that up. Or I guessed. Every old lady had a mint green couch.
B: So you're going to find out for us?
A: How the hell do you expect me to do that?
B: You're an old-timer. You'll figure it out, ask some questions.
A: What is this about? I don't want to get involved, this is none of my business. This is none of your business, either.
B: We'll let you think about it and we'll be back in touch. You can find your own way back?
A: You leave me alone. I can't help you.

He leaves.

C: You think he's bluffing?
B: I think this coffee is watered-down asphalt.
C: Yeah, but does it fit?
B: Of course it fits. It's got to.
C: You gonna tail him?
B: Nah, nowhere for him to go. He's kept his secrets this long, he won't crack easy.
C: How'd you think of Mrs. Ellis?
B: Shot in the dark, kiddo, shot in the dark.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

ready or not ready or not

This night the fire cracked and the dog, restless, ran out into the orchard, and the mice in the walls ran and ran and ran, preparing their nests for winter, and I was awake. There was no reason for me to be awake, but in the cold light of the moon I could hear the mice in the walls and I could hear the dog in the orchard and I could hear the ashes of the woodstove settling and I saw the ghost sleeping in my bed. She was very old, very, very old. This surprised me the most, for I did not know anyone as old as the woman sleeping in my bed. She had grey hair braided in two braids, neat long braids, and she slept in a pointy hat which I thought might be red, the moon was so bright it looked like a red hat, and grey braids, and hands wrinkled, wrinkled, skin so translucent and papery white that it glowed in the moonlight.

It was her glowing that made me wonder if maybe she was a ghost, and then I looked at my hands in the white white moonlight and saw that they glowed, too, except my hands didn't have wrinkles, they had cuts and scratches and dirt under the nails that I was supposed to wash away but always forgot to. Then I wondered if the old woman was maybe a ghost because she glowed so bright, and if I also glowed so bright, was I a ghost, too? I didn't want to be a ghost.  I didn't want to be a child, and I didn't want to be a grown-up, but there were lots of things I wanted to do that ghosts couldn't do, like jump in piles of leaves and swing up higher than the roof of the house and turn somersaults underwater in the lake and raise tadpoles into baby frogs in jars in my bedroom and watch their tails disappear and eat chocolate cake. I was pretty sure ghosts didn't eat chocolate cake, although maybe I was wrong. I didn't really know, it wasn't the type of question grown-ups liked me asking and I hadn't met any other ghosts before.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

captured in amber

It is quite unimportant the sequence of events that led to my expulsion, removed from what had been the reality of my life. When one becomes stateless, exiled, then one is a guest only of fate, a beneficiary only of luck, a plaything of chance. I did not intend to be exiled. That was not what was supposed to happen, it was not our agreement. There was no unlawful protest, no life lived in the counter-insurgency, no sculpture or poem contradicting a ruling elite. As if sculpture and poetry matter to the masses, are anything other than an annoyance to the powerful! But my exile lacked even the romance of intention. There were many days living, loving, laughing, feasting, playing, traveling, singing, exploring, and then they ended.

I cannot recall how or why they ended. There is a blank in my mind, a hole in my memory, like a badly edited film that jumps between future and present and past without any warning or transition. Suddenly my life had changed. If this absence did not yawn so deeply, becoming an abyss, perhaps the gap would contain material for a riveting best seller. I think of all the things that could have happened in those missing years, a political revolution, a drug cartel, rouge scientific experimentations, any one of a hundred tales of espionage and fighting the powerful and blackmail and double crosses. One day, when things are different, I will write each of these narratives, and the multivolume genre spanning set will be known as my memoirs, although none of it will have happened.