Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.
As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them. I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.
I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.
I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.
I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood. Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.
I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.
I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.
Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life. He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day. I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….
I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….
My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.
I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….
Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….
I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….
Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….
And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?
When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….
Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….
I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….
The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….
I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….
But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….
I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….
But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….
I love reading Steinbeck.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
the sun is shining full through the back windows, lighting the room in a morning wonderfulness and brightness that prevents me from seeing the computer screen clearly…so I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of two clocks ticking, the fridge motor humming, and the coffee-maker hissing as the remainder of the house is asleep…even the dogs are in the other room, so I can’t hear the older one snoring in her way
fingers tapping soft keys and thoughts swirling about emails and life and wondering and seeking direction and happiness for myself and another one, wishing I had desires like hers, passions that motivated me in a pursuit…as the ever tone sings and rings in my ears and the light is warm on my face and bodies breathe the breath of sleep in many rooms of the house…while the water in the sink cools as it soaks last night’s dishes, cake crumbs floating, no doubt, fork tines loosening from what might have been there, bubbles slowly popping in their silence, delicate lives exhausted from waiting…..with fingers poised and waiting for thoughts to come, sun sliding up the window pane, warm flesh-toned light coming through my closed eyelids and the world is bright and calm and quiet and lovely as morning hours alone ought to be…thoughts of worry and bills to pay laying on the desk…flashes of the sounds of pen-points on paper checks, light echo-thoughts of those fibered sheets being torn gently from their moorings…the empty gray sound of money going from one place to another and hoping that it means something more than the hum on a line, an image on a screen, a debt being slowly repaid and lives that go on
i scoot forward in my rolling chair to stay in the sun for a few moments longer, feeling the morning warmth and hearing the tick-tock-ing in rhythm with my heart…and I’ve rolled too far away from the desk now to reach my cooling coffee cup, so I listen to the neighbor dog bark at the nothingness on the other side of his fence and the fridge motor switches off…quiet and sunshine glow…ringing in the ears and keys answering my call…moments passing and passing while golden images glide and shift in my mind’s sight…turn my head and feel the sun on one side of my face, turn again and there is a shadow with green and blue wanderings as the other side is warm and light and pink around the edges like a desert sunset easing into the clouds…night falling slowly with a tick-tock-ing and the creaking insistence of a board in the wall……thoughts, images, emptiness, imaginings or remembrances of softly hued seed-heads in blurred clouds captured in a camera lens…like cilia inside that sacred passage pushing a tiny egg along on her life-journey…white fluffiness and floating cells…obscurity and remnant form…and the sun did and has slowly moved from the window and my face is no longer warm, eyes no longer hold the rich golden-ness that they did only moments ago…in the morning hour
It just dawned on me this evening that today is the three-year anniversary of my blog…
My first post was titled Where it Begins, and this is what it looked like:
“You reach into the black depths of your soul and draw forth words that are of such newness, so silent and naked that they must be blinking at the light and rubbing their eyes as if seeing it for the first time. They are so weak initially that they remind you of newborn mice, innocent and unadorned, without pretense or expectation – but they grow with such hope at each following syllable and sentence, like tiny hearts beating, that by the end they are roaring in their bold elegance, decrying the forces that barricaded them against life and…they speak of emotions and memories that have been so hidden that they were as lost inside their bearer. And you are there….”
A handful of you have been here for the entire time…others for several or a few months…and still others for just a couple of weeks or days…. Your visits, commentary, and feedback have been rewarding, encouraging, and inspiring…thank you for being here, for participating in my world…for sharing in my images and words….
And Jason…if you’re still out there, Noble Sailor…thank you again….
…when we look at ourselves? This curious moment of novelty and playful egocentrism in taking a self-portrait happened to also capture images of my daughter and her two children…resulting in a rendering of three generations of our family, something that I didn’t notice until viewing the photo while processing it for this post, some several weeks later. The content of the photograph prompted me think about who is really there when we look at ourselves…who else are we seeing…who had an influence in forming us into the people we have become…and who have we likewise influenced in forming them into the people that they have become…?
From one day…so many years ago….
“The sun’s light has faded and gone with its setting more than two hours ago. The star of stars ended its daily cycle behind our valley’s western mountains as it has done every evening now for what must be the past several million years. Now, left in the twilight created by the nearly concealed bathroom light around the corner from where I sit, my eyes perceive this bedroom-world in hues of light and dark. Only gray, black, and lighter gray can be divined by my night-adjusted eyes. In focusing upon the slowly closing eyes of my little loved-one, they disappear with my concentration, but if I look to either side, I can see them clearly, rather, as clearly as the suffused light will allow. My baby’s purple dinosaur pajamas are only a darker gray than the blackened, navy sweat-shorts that I am wearing. She is singing ‘I love you’ in her fifteen-month-old’s dialect as she fights the valiant efforts of the Sandman. Holding her on my lap, I can smell the fragrance of her baby-shampooed hair, just as she, maybe, can smell the scent of ground weeds and back-yard vegetation that lingers on my hands as I caress her ever soft cheeks and jaw line. The contest is finished, and that enchanter of sleep, Mr. Sandman, is victor yet again. His wooings are too much for the protestations of my little one. She has succumbed to the calling of sleep, where, hopefully, she will rest the night through – so that my bride and I can do the same. Good night, Fair One. Sleep well and know that you are loved.”
And from another….
“The Angel sleeps in the lighted room, peacefully unaware that the sun is as bright here as it was in the out-of-doors where she spent the afternoon playing. Looking at her sleep, I am captured by the essence of a baby completely at rest. The tiny curls at the back of her neck are slightly wet and somewhat darker than the rest of her not so long crowning glory. Lying on her belly with the two middle fingers of her left hand motionless now, still from their suckling, she is oblivious to my presence and adoring eyes. Her feet are bare, thanks to her own playfulness; you know she is proud that she removed the socks, smiling with her eyes almost closed to slits…she sleeps. Tousled hair and tiny ears adorn her face and perfectly shaped head. Her right arm is thrown forward and up where it rests on her favorite blanket; miniature lungs cause her little back to rise and fall with sustaining breath; sleep my Little One. Rest safely for another day. Sleep at your ease. When she is gone, my chest will be empty where my heart now beats. I never knew I could love like this. I never cherished holding a tiny form as I do now when I hold her. I was reborn too late. My soul is miserable for not knowing how to love my own then, as I do her, now. Those ticks of the clock have ceased even their echoing. I hope they will forgive me.”
This is a Favorite re-post from March, 2010.
I can walk about the house and smell her in various places, the bathroom where she gets ready in the morning, or at my desk when she has her purse there next to my work bag, on the pillows after she has left our bed, or on my sweatshirts that she has stolen and made her own. Our children used to take her perfume bottles from the trash to hide them in their treasure boxes, and take them out again…in their teens and twenties…to smell their mom when they were feeling lonely or simply needful of her nearness. Her dying father crept downstairs to where she had slept in the spare room after she left for home and curled-up in her bed, crying, holding her pillow…so he could smell her and be near her again. It is a scent that has become the person who wears it, and it has permeated our lives unknowingly, and boldly…it is something we need, something that we miss without being able to name when it is gone, and something that refreshes and restores our souls when it returns…and it is Mom and daughter and wife and Lori…and the taste that lingers on my lips when I kiss her neck and…it is a fullness of life, a comfort, an essence…of her.
The man stood in the doorway for a moment before grabbing the elongated brass handle to open the door. He was looking at the house to the west of his and noticed how the image of the lowering sun was about to touch the roofline. The slate roof seemed to dip in the moment of the sun’s contact, causing the illusion that the weight of the sun was bearing down on the roof, or maybe the roof was molding itself to the shape of the sun to give it a more comfortable resting place at the end of its long day. The sun was bright, of course, but softened somehow in the closer atmosphere and haze of industry and pollen and life that existed above the horizon’s curving line, so the man stood there with unshielded eyes and continued to watch the sun’s dip into and below the roof line. He turned away and the golden glow remained in his eyes as he looked through the door’s glass to find his son. It was time for dinner and the boy was somewhere outside.
The door handle lowered without a sound and the door swung open quietly as the man pushed against it and walked out onto the back patio of the house. As he passed the mustard-colored and rectangular-shaped charcoal grill, he noticed that it still smelled of burnt sugar from the last time he barbequed ribs. It had been a couple weeks or more, but the scent still lingered. The man was barefoot and noticed, too, that the cement of the patio was still warm from the day’s sun, but the grass was cool as he stepped into it and began his search for his son. The man turned to the left from the patio and looked into the back-yard proper, gazing at the rock-fronted embankments that supported the tiered lawn that rose from the yard up to the street that ran behind his house. As he walked toward the front of the house that faced the town’s park, he craned his neck to look further into the yard to where the boy liked to play around the young, conical pine trees that resembled miniature Christmas trees when they were dusted or coated with December’s snow.
The evening was peaceful, now that the neighborhood kids had left the park and gone home or wherever after playing soccer for most of the afternoon. Looking toward the east and over the hills that fronted that side of the town, the man noticed the swallows darting over the park for their evening feeding and play-time. Overhead, the clouds were pink and orange and white and darkening gray with the falling sun and approaching night. Further north, he could still see the white line of a plane’s contrail that was still intact even though the plane had been gone for hours…just the singular, lined cloud was left in its passing. The man didn’t see his son anywhere, not in this side of the yard and not out in the park. He thought about calling-out for him, but didn’t want to break the quiet by raising his voice or yelling. Instead, he retraced his steps around the house, passed the back-door patio, and toward the other end of the yard, the side that fronted their street. The man walked along the low hedge that separated his yard from the neighbor’s and then past the gooseberry bushes and toward the side of the house where he could peek around the corner to see if his son was playing under the cherry trees. His step was quiet in the cool grass and the moss that grew thinly among the grass where he was, but was thicker under the trees.
Because the sun had completely lowered itself beneath the roofline of the neighbor’s house by now, there was no chance of the man’s son seeing his father’s shadow intrude into his quiet play. When the man slowly moved his head around the corner, he saw that his son was sitting cross-legged, facing away from him, and leaning forward with his hands busy at some task. The boy had his tan and green army-men positioned in loose rows and partially hidden in the moss, or situated behind various military vehicles and broken sticks from the trees above him. He occasionally leaned back or to the right or left to straighten a fallen man or to move a truck closer to the grouped men, enacting some strategy or maneuver of protection or attack. The boy even rolled a golf-ball or lightly tossed a shiny, black cherry in the direction of the men, imagining that they were rockets or some other projectile, sometimes knocking over one of the men or coming to rest next to or on top of one of the vehicles, and sometimes not. With the impact of the cherries or golf ball, the boy made his eleven year-old’s version of a soft explosion…a hushed “pkshew!” that he thought only he could hear.
The man smiled to himself as he watched and listened to his son. He saw the purplish-pink stains on the boy’s white t-shirt and imagined the cherry-fight that he had had with his friends earlier in the afternoon…the cherry-fight that he wasn’t supposed to have had. As the man attempted to kneel down into the moss and grass next to the house, his shorts scraped on the prickly stucco finish on the house and startled his son. The boy was in mid-reach across his battlefield and gasped and dropped one of his army men as he jerked and turned around to face his father.
The boy’s heart was pounding and his mouth was suddenly dry. “I didn’t know you were there,” he said. His mind was racing back through his day, wondering at what he might have done wrong, wondering what little or grand sin had been revealed and was now set to ruin what he thought was an otherwise good day, and wondering why, if he hadn’t done anything wrong, his father was there on the side of the yard looking for him…and getting ready to sit down like he was planning to stay for a while.
“Well, I wasn’t here for very long. What are you doing?”
The boy tried to swallow. “Just playing…Army.”
“Weren’t your friends out here earlier?”
“Yes Sir, but they had to leave.”
“Which friends were here?”
“You said your friends were here earlier. Which ones were here?”
The boy looked across the gravel and grass driveway and out into the park where the swallows were still darting around. He saw a couple boys at the water fountain at the far side of the park. “I…don’t know,” he stammered. “I don’t remember.”
“But they were just here,” the man said, “who were they? You’re not in trouble, Stephan, I’m just asking which friends were here.”
“Hansi and Martin.”
“Isn’t Hansi’s father the butcher?”
“I don’t know. I think so…maybe.”
“Isn’t he one of those older boys that you were playing with in the spring and got into trouble with?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t remember,” the father said, “when you guys stole the bratwurst and then went off into the woods and cooked it? You don’t remember that?”
“Yes Sir…I…think I remember.”
“Wasn’t Hansi one of those older boys?”
The boys had moved from the water fountain and were now kicking a soccer ball out on the field at the park. “I don’t know.”
The man sat down in the grass and moss and leaned against the house. “Stephan…look at me. You’re not in trouble…we’re just talking…ok? You can answer me,” said the man. “Look…here,” he said, pointing to his eyes. “You’re ok.”
The boy turned his head from watching the boys with the soccer ball and met his father’s eyes. He didn’t answer him immediately, but just looked at him. This was unusual for him; the boy…he felt odd, bold somehow…maybe even brave. His father’s manner and voice were unsettling. There was none of the harshness or sarcasm that he was used to…and his eyes didn’t look angry. It looked like his father was really just asking him a question…not investigating an offense.
“Augie’s father is the butcher,” said the boy, “but Hansi was part of the group that did that, yes Sir.”
“Is that Hansi out there playing soccer?”
The boy looked at the two other boys out on the field for a couple seconds and then turned again to his father. “No Sir. Hansi had to go home. He said it was almost getting dark and he had to go in for dinner.”
“Why what?” said the man.
“Why’d you want to know if that’s Hansi out there playing soccer?”
“Nothing, Stephan. I was just asking…nothing. Relax, would you? And stop calling me ‘Sir.’”
The boy looked at his father’s hands for a couple seconds and then moved up to meet his eyes. The eyes were still dark brown and still set deep into his father’s head, but the prominent brow-ridge seemed less severe as his eye-brows were raised in a gentle and almost inquisitive arch.
“What? Just call me ‘Dad’ now. Say ‘Yes Dad,’ not ‘Yes Sir.’ That seems wrong somehow.”
“Can I ask you something and not get in trouble?”
“Yes…ask or say anything you want.”
The boy just looked at him.
“I’m serious…really…anything…you won’t get in trouble.”
“What happened to you in the wreck? I know you broke a couple ribs, but what happened…you know…inside your head? Mom said it went through the front window, right?”
The man looked at his son…intently, gently…and picked a tuft of moss from the ground. He moved his eyes to the moss and then asked, “What do you mean, ‘What happened in my head?’”
“You’re not like you used to be,” said the boy, looking past his father, but still watching him, trying to sense if he was going too far. “You’re different.”
“Almost dying in the wreck like that made me think about my life; it made me think about how I was treating people…how I treated you and your mom…and I decided that I needed to be different.”
The boy looked out into the park again. He didn’t want his father to see the tears that were starting to spill from his eyes. “Just like that…you ‘decided’ that you needed to be different?”
The man looked down and watched his fingers as they slowly tore the moss apart and let it drop back into the grass. “I guess so. When I was laying there in the hospital with my neck in that brace and my face all bandaged-up and tubes sticking out of my lungs, I thought about how lucky I was that my heart was still beating and that I wasn’t hurt as bad as I could have been considering what I had been through. It almost seemed like I was being given a second chance or something, you know…somehow…maybe…to do things right…if that’s possible.”
The boy turned back and looked toward his father, not meeting his eyes exactly, but looking through him at some point directly behind his head. “If you could just decide that you needed to be different when you were laying there in the hospital, why couldn’t you have decided a long time ago that you would be different…why didn’t you decide when I was a littler kid that you weren’t going to be so mean…that you could talk to me instead of hitting me, or that I could talk to you like you were just my dad and not some…kind…of…whatever you’ve been?”
“I don’t know, Stephan. I guess it took me almost dying to realize how much I love you…I don’t know.”
“Oh. Well, that’s when I figured out that I don’t love you,” said the boy, “when you were in the hospital almost dying. I always thought I did, or wanted to, maybe. I thought that if I loved you more you’d be nicer to me, but it didn’t work. So when Mom told me that you might die, I was hoping you would, because I knew I wouldn’t have to try to love you anymore. It would be ok that I didn’t…and now you’re not dead and I still don’t love you.”
The man turned his eyes to watch the neighbor drive past in his blue Saab. He followed the car until it stopped at the water fountain by the corner of the park and then turned down the hill where it disappeared behind the Vivo store on the opposite corner. Then he turned slightly in the other direction and watched the kids chasing each other and kicking the soccer ball for a few seconds. Finally, he looked back at his son and said, “Wow…I don’t know what to do with that, Stephan.”
“I don’t either,” said the boy as he reached for one of his army men.
“I guess I’ll have to work on that, won’t I? Give you a reason to love me?”
The boy pulled a handful of moss and began to gently tear it apart and lay the pieces across his army trucks, camouflaging them against the enemy that was lined-up behind the moss and grass berm that he had built close to the trunk of the nearest tree. He then absently grabbed a cherry from the ground and slipped it into his mouth. He bit down on the sweet flesh and then used his tongue to separate the seed as he slowly chewed and swallowed the tiny fruit.
“Stephan? I said I’ll have to work on that, won’t I?”
“I don’t know.”
The man slowly stood and then leaned over to stretch his legs that had been folded under him while he sat and talked with his son. He said “Ok,” and then turned to walk back around the corner of the house. After a couple steps, he turned around and leaned down so he could see his son better under the cherry trees. “You need to come in now. The streetlights are coming on and it’s time to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
The man raised his voice a little – “Stephan, I said you need to come in.”
This is a Favorite re-post from May, 2010.
I found you here the other day, in a windswept cemetery next to a highway where trucks and cars and all manner of other wheeled things go rushing past in their hurry of doing this and that.
…and saw you lying there with a stone for a crown and wild flowers and grasses for a burial gown…and I wondered so at how you came to be there.
…when I was a passerby on that same long highway, going to get my little one, to join her with the one who traveled with me. We stopped to see you on a cloudy day with drops of rain both here and there.
…as I walked among your family members, as I trod the grass and smelled the wet desert air swirl about my reddening cheeks and numbing fingers, as I wondered about my days and yours in the steel-flavored wind.
…and saw you there and noticed that you shared your birthday with my little one, although yours was 110 years before his. You only lived for 13 months and were gone, and gone away, and brought here, to where I would find you.
…and you were special in my heart, even though I never knew you. The wind froze tears on my cheeks as I thought of your mother holding you that last time, as I thought of my little one…and I wondered so…
…and I found you there.
Swirling beneath the surface or deeply embedded within the spoken word is yet another meaning, an additional understanding or interpretation that is dependent upon the receiver’s frame of mind or point of reference in accepting that word. The paths that the person has traveled in his life will have an impact on the message’s content as well. Often, trusting that the speaker has the same state of mind or set of references that he does, the receiver will take the word for its surface value, not thinking to look into the current that carried the speaker into giving it…or not.
Those additional meanings could also exist because those spoken words were wrought in deception as a ruse, to mislead, to cover wrong-doings and hidden or veiled thoughts. They were presented to protect others or the self or bring unjust scrutiny where it is not needed, diverting inspection from where it is due. Gossip, lies, and rumors bred to undermine, to make others feel secure in their own estimation…to shake foundations and crumble established ways of thinking, perceptions, and values. Visible or imagined circumstances are mated with ill-conceived thoughts and a new ‘truth’ is born. It breathes with a life of its own, spread and passed-along as righteousness…contextual and circumstantial truths that reek in filth and deception until they are discovered and ripped apart with the knife of examination, eviscerated under the light of explanation and detail…but the damage is still done, the seed was planted and doubt has grown, sprouted and thriving in another life with its germinal droppings carried by the wind of conversation and whispered in hushed tones of ‘Have you heard?’
How many of our lives’ courses have been steered aside by a single phrase or the circumstantial pairing of words? What lashes across the back have been felt because of either ill-spoken words or ones that were found to be false? What taste of blood was brought to mouth because of an offense, a broken bone or ringing of ears caused by a violence that spews from hands evil with wrongdoing; might over weakness, forcefulness over fearfulness; the victims’ souls splayed open by the sharp tongue. How many lives and reputations in past and present have been sullied by murmured falsehoods and contrived deeds?
But words also nurture and bind and comfort and heal and uplift and encourage and inspire and lead many from sickness to health and from self-doubt to greatness and success…love-spoken words can be salves that heal our wounds and reveal truths that wash-away the scourge and disease of the bitter tongue…that fortify, that vanquish evil and doubt and failure…and stir to a greatness unimagined. And sometimes, too, these soothing and healing and uplifting and inspiring words are lies bound in sweet hope that they will be believed and acted-upon and taken to magnificent ends…causing the receiver to believe the words and dig into themselves to make them true because the speaker said they were true so they must be true and that makes them become true…and that lie has become truth…and then.
And other times the utterances become opiates that relax our diligence and dull our senses, calmly deceiving and betraying us with Delilah’s alluring promises before robbing us of our strength or resolve, seducing us, leading us into temptation and delivering us unto evil where we ransom our souls and happiness and futures and eternities for ideas and notions and feelings and…in other times and circumstances we escape with and through them, these words, into our fantasies and beliefs, conjuring imaginings and hopes, falling prey to our lusts and desires…whispered in sinful darkness they feed our longings…and we covet what we have not…we resolve to tell stories of deeds done and then, twisted mysteries that complicate and turn like worms in our guts when trying to remember what happened or not as we weave that tangled web. Their partial truths and half-lies stringing us along and telling us in bits what we need to know…in power and ruse against us, controlling and subordinating and enslaving or making us free, causing us to rise indifferent to blood and ties.
Skillfully spoken with temper and might, those spoken symbols can cause us to rise-up in defiance against our natural selves and believe ghastly things about others, to strike-out with deadly consequence or they can inspire us to love and nurture others at the cost of our own lives, can lead us to unbelievable heights and lengths to sacrifice ourselves and others for a cause, sometimes just and sometimes not and so…and someone said that someone said that He said “I am that I am.”
Between friends they are casual, words of comfort and ease, gentle conversation about anything or nothing, rambling and disjointed wonderings and plans and hopes and disappointments and promises to do better and live stronger and try instead of not…and they know the sacred and the secret, the hallowed and irreverent…jingling jangling juggling jumbling jabbering and tossing about in the mixing of anything and nothing and sometimes the learned stumble for a lack of the right one and the not-so-learned has it in picture form and simple and more beautiful and from the earth or the tugging inside the heart and in the hum of nature and in the tick and tock of the silent passing on the pendulum’s path and so…to speak in word form.
What aspect of our being hasn’t been touched by the spoken word? Is there a single step in this labyrinthine effort that is a stranger to the audible thoughts and contrivances of verbal communication? I dare to offer that near every color of life’s prism has been and is painted by and with every manner of uttering by the human tongue – those simple expulsions of breath, twisted and rolled, compressed and urged through the vocal cords, throat, teeth, and lips to become the shouts and screams and soothing whispers and encouragements or curses that propel us through our collective existence.
This is a Favorite re-post from December, 2009.
While time and circumstance can or might remove some of our curiousity and marvel for life, if we allow them to, it is a treasure to wonder again, and still, with the eagerness and attention of a child…and to have our hearts touched by their amazement with what they discover in the simple and the every-day.
My quiet friend and his grandson share a moment in a day…gentle…tender…loving…miraculous…thank you.
I lay there with sparkling glass all about me. The sun could blind a living eye with this glaring prism of light that is alive itself. Concrete is warm as leather-soled shoes stop on the sidewalk across the street. Cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and spent leaves lay around me. A paper cup with orange and yellow flowers sealed beneath cracking wax is blown against the curb under his paused foot. The wing-tip is untied and has a hole in the great toe. A white sock peeks out, surveying the air. A lost pebble under the ball of his foot nears him to craziness. No briefcase to put down before he sits to the curb. No hat to tamp against gravity before he leans over to remove the stone. My eyes see him but my brain just lets him be.
The metal taste in my mouth is like a penny hidden under the tongue. I can’t spit it out. He looks at me like he’s done something wrong. Hair flutters in his eye, then mine. And mine. Sand from the concrete presses into my cheek as he examines his sock. His mother doesn’t know where he is. Mine thinks I’m at work. Of course, she’s thought the same thing for years, or weeks on end; at day’s end. Days end. For that’s where I was. When I was. When I was there, the world spun as it does now. It still spins. The world spins still; it spins not moving, still. If you can know something like that, I guess that’s what it was doing, when I was, and doing. A feather, still. His old tweed jacket has holes in its holes. Cigarette burns in the arms with the lining appearing without.
My ears still ring; the blood yet flows through the tiny capillaries near the surface of my skin; it is still warm. It tingles when a car drives by. A truck makes it louder. And, he sits, not knowing what to do. The wheels on the chair spun for only a few seconds. They were startled, too. And the glass, it was whole and unnoticed when it was clean. Now it’s lost its pane and its absence draws a crowd. It is scared, fallen to pieces, broken near into sand. Lost. He sees the people looking down to the street. He sees the clouds crawl past the horizon. The building leans toward him so he rises and looks about. Not away. She thinks I’m at work. He saw me fall silently to the street. That pain is gone. That pain has severed the feelings that had been severed so long ago. Happiness fled itself. And drawn away. It screamed as I walked past, “Come here!” Don’t leave. Go away. The grit in the street crunched beneath his foot as the siren’s car approached. It left whole for another place, its tail following behind. The tiny hairs picking up the static dust. The lint and fiber of nonsense. Nonsence. Nonsents. Non-scents. Non-cents, he went bankrupt. Fell out of life. I fell to the street. He just fell out of life. And went away. They are lost. Do you look around? Does it sparkle in other places too?
The clouds are lowering a story at a time. Birds flew past the ledges without second thinking. They dropped their things in flight and landed in other places. We’re not the same. The chair flew out and took me with it. Anger seized, seized, seized, seased, ceased, teased, teized, seized me. In a rage the clouds swept me up. They tossed me higher and crashed me harder than clouds should. So friendly when viewed from the park grass. They threaten nobody there. So soft, like cotton candy – over-used simile. In the end.
His split finger-nails had been chewed down to the quick. Dirty fingers housed the nails and brushed the hair out of my face. The flattened side of my head didn’t feel flat; it didn’t ache either. I saw ants on the sidewalk, undisturbed they were. Undisturbed they were before I saw them, too. I had hidden in the bathroom, sat there so long that my legs had nightmares. The fan overhead drowned-out the speakers on the wall. The walls heard the speakers, but they didn’t listen. They kept on standing there, fastened, undisturbed, too. As dust falls, it sees its friends lying about, keeping a place for anybody else who might happen to drop in. They collect, one by one. Slowly there is a film of their bodies, covering whatever they touch. Are they happy? Water washes them away. They’re weak. The chair just took me like I was weak too. I only meant to hurl it at the window; then it grabbed my tight, angry fingers. White knuckles tensed the blood away. The weight just took me like I was weak, too.
I smell vinegar from the mustard on his fingers. There is some yellow, too. The breeze replaces my hair. The breeze misplaces my hair. Our moms ought to get together. His doesn’t know where he is, mine thinks I’m at work. I succeeded today. Now I’ll nev
This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.
I will grant that this is an unusual reference for the literal substance that will follow in the photos, but I was struck by the parallel when looking at the images by themselves. The forming ice actually has the appearance of cells…me thinks…and the accompanying photo array demonstrates the allegory or likeness of life forming in a womb.
If the page you are viewing has the graffitied water chute with the beautiful ice formations in the header photo, the “nursery” for these ice babies is located toward the far right side of that picture, at the bottom of the smaller water fall…
I suppose I should add a photo of the graffitied chute in case it doesn’t randomly appear when you’re viewing the page…so here it is…or a large portion of it…the part that I’m referring to anyway….
…and then this is the close-up of the nursery itself….
This next photo has the appearance of the inside of a fallopian tube where the wonder of fertilization takes place…you can almost imagine the cilia inside the tube pushing the little egg along on its journey…
…and these could be little ice cells dividing and making more of themselves, stem-cells that differentiate into their programmed forms…
…with the mass developing into tissues that will flesh-out the body in whole…
…until we can see it in embryo-form…
…and lastly the little buds where the limbs will grow…
…or maybe not…but that’s what came to My mind the first time I looked at the photos.
Memories have already formed of another Christmas Eve spent with some of the family and then; moments and hours are passed and past and exist now in essence only or in captured images of lights and movements…sweet and bittersweet, hazy reflections of those who were and were not with us for whatever temporary or forever reason.
And we joined in that happiness and looked closely at the present and the past and marveled in the new moments shared, and hoped for fond memories again to populate those future Christmas Eves with like moments and reflections…
…of when we sat with happy faces and recalled the unceasing movements of our little ones and their ever wonder at what we have learned is the spirit of Christmas, the things that are ours in moments and time when we cherish what we have together…
…and hope for that continued peace and happiness for those Christmases yet to come.
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She stood forlorn in the dewless grass while an almost warm wind or breeze blew through the early-morning yard. The porch light was on and things were clear, but she looked about as if she were lost. The other dogs were in the house already and I suspected that she was trying to see something moving about so she might know that she wasn’t alone. I opened the door and called to her, but my voice didn’t register; I whistled and she remained there, looking around, wondering. Her younger playmate ran down the stairs and out into the yard and seemingly on purpose, bumped the side of his body into hers, startling her, but letting her know that she wasn’t alone, telling her that she could come in now. And so she sleeps…in her winter years….
I don’t know who the picture actually belongs to, but I would give them/you full credit for it if I could…borrowed from a re-post of a re-post on Facebook:
What else is there to say?
So, it’s 18 degrees outside this morning and there is an icy blanket of frost covering the entire back yard…not only in that blanket form, but it appears that each blade of grass is wearing the sparkling finery and reflecting the glow of the porch light and waking sun. My wife’s old dog was still breathing as I walked past her, which is likely a good thing, even though the poor creature is blind and deaf and can barely make it down the stairs and into the yard for her morning relief. There is laundry tumbling in the dryer and another cup of coffee waiting in the pot on the counter as the rest of the house is still quiet and the marvel of my Saturday morning is rich and wonderful.
We’ve been together as a family up here in our new home for a year now. We’ve had some rough go of it making adjustments, learning new things and places, slowly letting go of that past where comfort and familiarity were solid and known and as dependable as a mourning dove on a fence post at a given hour…she might have not beeen there every morning at the same time, but she was there with enough regularity that we almost came to refer to her as family, a known and constant presence that meant things were right and proper and the way they should be. And in our 18 degrees this morning, there was another mourning dove on the fence post; she sat there for a moment after I opened the door and let the old dog outside, and then fluttered with her characteristic sound over into the Russian olive tree nearby and sat there for me, signifying or telling me that yes, things are kind of normal again…mostly, maybe, close enough probably…and it’s a good morning already and so far, as the boys are waking and causing their ruckus and stir down the hall…which means that my morning quiet is fleeing fast and running far away….
I was at first stunned by the clarity of the image and then by what I noticed when I actually looked at the keys and what they meant, what they were and are in their time. This is my wife’s key-ring and keys…and most of the keys belong to locks that she no longer opens…some of them no longer exist, literally, and others might still be there, somehwere, in a city and a time from not-so-long-ago, but because of the context of her life, and mine and ours, there is no reason to possess them, for they will no longer be used for anything…other than to add mass to her key-ring…or to open doors to memories of that other life in that other place where things were familiar and made sense, before they became what they are to her now, and then. But there are new keys, too, new keys to open new doors with new possibilities…and new memories….
Yes, sometimes alone is good, for it can be and often is, when we are in that state of separation from others, that we have the liberty of thought and volition to see ourselves through our own eyes…and maybe find ourselves again. While input and feedback are good, as those others’ eyes can see things that we do not or cannot see in ourselves, self-reflection can be as healthy…and necessary.
In this alone-time, we can also find confidence to persevere in whatever circumstances, or to re-orient ourselves toward earlier and possibly more important goals, redirect ourselves, reprioritize…or even resign, let go after the stress of life and reflection, because we know or understand that further effort would be a waste or a surrendering, or even a sacrificing of ourselves for something or someone who is no longer worth the emotion and energy to do more, or to futilely attempt to do more. The quiet helps us regroup when a room is too loud, when our life is too loud, or even when it’s just too loud in our heads…our minds.
Sometimes alone is good, in that it allows us to empty our minds of the pressures or concerns that are so draining; we can remove those issues and simply be in a state of openness of mind that has nothing in it, maybe nothing other than an awareness of ourselves, or an awareness of nature and its awesome enormity that allows or urges us to see that our own concerns are nothing, or very minimal, in the grand scale of life and time that exists outside of ourselves, and out in the ever that is.
Solitude can also help us remember the precious or special things that exist in the people who people our lives; it helps us remember the things that drew us to them in the beginning and have sustained our desires to be with them since; it can give us a glimpse of absence and what comes after…. Sometimes, alone is good.
…or so they say. And I might believe them, but only for today. I’ve been duped before, led to believe and hope and whatever then. But, it’s warm outside and the wind is blowing and the leaves are skittering about as the wind chimes are chiming and gonging as they’re singing their song. I looked outside and then walked outside as I took a break from my morning walk about the kitchen in my making of coffee and feeding the dogs and etc and etc. I looked to my favored East and above the mountains and noticed the clouds there with their morning waking and moving. I saw, too, that the sun was rising and poking through the spreading hue, as there was a sizeable space between the bottom of the clouds and the tops of the mountains and the morning sun shone through and lighted the clouds with a fiery orange and a gentle pink and a touch of Fall’s golden-yellow and then. The colors reached and bathed the bottoms of the clouds, but missed somehow the thicker and gray curls and swirls of the farthest sides. Those darkened lines defined and shaped the golden rose of the flaming clouds and kept them from drawing further across the sky. This bright morning waking of the clouds only touched the snow-topped crags beneath them, for the dark-souled mountains only stood there with their contrasting black forms and white coats that defined their draws and points…so I rushed back inside and grabbed my low-budget camera and snapped a shot of that fiery glow above the rocky peaks and nearly exclaimed in disgust at how the image captured there was so lame and bland and looked nothing like the glory of that eastern morning sky…so you only get to read my words today and not rest your eyes on the beauty that I beheld those minutes and hours or more ago.
Occasional experiences, figurative and literal, they sometimes populate our dreams or the written lists of goals that we hope to achieve one day, they are our aspirations, and our inspirations, too, as we live and strive and keep reaching toward that other end.
So I stopped along the trail on the way back, as my stomach was growling and it was 11:40. I had only had two cups of coffee and a granola bar so far for the day, so I was hungry. As I sat there along the trail, I started to hear voices off in the distance, nothing real clear, just occasional sounds coming through the trees, human voice sounds, higher pitched to carry through the thin air and bounce long and forever off rocks and clefts and out into the never. I looked around and saw a scree field just to the left of the trail, rather, on the side of the ridge that is facing me, but I am far to the right of the trail that I mentioned, and up on the ridge to the right.
So, I could see it there, the scree field that is situated on the ridge or side of the mountain that is to the left of the trail as one is hiking up to the Red Pine Lakes.
That particular spot is just past the marker that lets you know that you’ve come two and a half miles from the parking lot and still have a mile to go to the lake. At that small junction, there is a bridge on your right.
If you cross it, and then follow the trail, you will find yourself at the lowest of three lakes that are situated in Maybird Gulch, which is located in the greater Little Cottonwood Canyon area that is just south and east of Salt Lake City.
So, there I was, 40 minutes back down the trail from the lowest lake and I heard the first voices that I had heard since I got out of my truck at 7:25 that morning and said “Hey” to another person in the parking lot. There had been no other voices, no other footsteps along the rock trail, and the pine-needle-covered trail, and the crusted-snow crunching trail that I had followed so far.
As I sat there eating my granola bar and apple, I looked around at what was my company, what would be my company for another two and a half to three miles before I got back to my truck. It would be at least another week before I could be out there again in that natural haven against life and traffic and taxes.
As I was sitting there, a group of hikers came down from the trail behind me; they had spent the night up in Maybird Gulch, exploring around the two lower lakes, and after they walked past and said “Goodbye,” another couple came up the trail, said “Hello,” and kept going…and then it was quiet again.
The wind was blowing through the tall white-pine trees and I could hear the stream that ran along the trail that I would soon be on again, the trail that leads to and from Red Pine Lakes.
There were white granite rocks and chunks scattered throughout the forest around me, and yellowed and mashed leaves that, only weeks ago and before our first mountain snow, were broad and shiny and green.
There were also patches of the beautiful and cold and white stuff around me, and pine cones and needles and broken branches from the trees above me and the dead and decaying ones that lay akimbo and everywhere, some thin, some larger, some across the trail that have been cut to allow hikers’ passage, and others, of course, out there and everywhere around me, shiny gray and silver branches and trunks, old rotting logs that were huge trees those years ago, and were then and now turning into forest mulch and home for bugs and moss and that little green something that sometimes covers the ground-side of old and fallen trees.
Off to my left, which was north, I could see the caps of darker red rock that lined and lines the top of the white granite mountain that is the northern ridge and side along Little Cottonwood Canyon; it is called Dromedary Ridge for the camel-like peaks that run the length of that stretch of four or five miles of the canyon walls.
As I continued to sit there, I noticed again that my toes were cold from the snow that had melted down into my boots and had soaked my socks, and my fingers were chilled as I wrote with pencil in this little notebook as the stream still went and rumbled and the wind still blew lightly through the trees over and around me…and it was time to go. I would have loved to go up that last mile to the Red Pine Lakes and see them again.
It seemed that my hike that day just didn’t take enough time…I wasn’t out there long enough. But I didn’t tell anyone that I was going there, up to the lakes, so I should just head back, I thought…and enjoy the last two and a half to three miles of forest and trail that would take me away from there and back into daily life with its people and traffic and taxes.
I love this place…and its everything.
Black mountains and dark, concealed behind clouds and forests grown, strange and magical things hidden within, without and within those brazen massifs, those hulking, sleeping monsters of stone and sand and water and trees. They sit on a fault-line, an imaginary or created timeline, a marking of their past and future movements, those postulated projections of personal growth and peripheral destruction, they sit there and we wait, but not them. They don’t feel their strainings, the forces that are pushing them up and away from their sisters or brothers on the other side of the valley plain. They are just there, full of themselves and heedless of what we think or imagine of them.