There was a time when I wondered why it was called “field work,” but I never asked about it, and after a while, it didn’t matter. It became one of those words that just was, it represented things that were both inside and outside of its clear meaning; it was a job thing that those who did the work knew about and those who didn’t might wonder about for a while and then not, after the conversation or topic was discussed or reviewed, or maybe not…it came to be understood for what it was, we were out of the office looking for people…out in the field, sometimes literally, literally out in or near the fields, maybe sometimes just driving past them, watching brown skinned people bent over in their labors plucking and pulling some vegetable or other from the irrigated desert something, hauling it in sacks, placing it in waxed and sun-warmed boxes that lay in rows between the rows, becoming heavy with their loads of that some thing or other…and sometimes I’d pass other fields and become so transfixed with what grew there that I had to pull over and get out and look at them, at it, at what was growing there, to ponder those things up close and with my flesh and senses in a way that I could never do sitting behind a desk or absorbing intended meanings by reading someone else’s printed words about what they had beheld out there on the side of the road when they were there…watching harvested carrots tumble from a truck into a bin and then carried loudly away on a conveyor belt into a tin-covered shed with blue-jeaned and white-shirted black-haired young men scurrying about…intentional, purposeful in their scurrying as fighter jets from the nearby air base passed, screaming loudly overhead…jet noise, the sound of freedom.
These became my fields, my stretches of irrigated and corrugated earth that smelled like a warm and freshly opened bag of sour-cream and onion potato chips when the onions were being harvested, or expanses of red and pink and yellow and white blossoms lying restless in the breeze atop their green bushes of rose leaf and thorn that stretched to a near horizon of Phoenix’s western desert, or the rows and rows upon more of the same of white cotton bolls rich against their brown and dried plants of late summer, soft and marvelous in my gentle and searching fingers, waiting to be harvested by rolling machines that were loose from chains and whips and had drivers with air-conditioned cabins and cup-holders…rolling, plucking, chopping and raising the desert dust again to fly perpetually away in the breeze and gone…they became my fields that live in my memories and my printed words…and maybe even in my heart, as these things sometimes do.
I was back in the field again the other day in the place where I started doing this county-level work so many years ago…and while I did drive past fields and fields, some sown and most fallow or raw in their desert form, most of my time was spent in the figurative field of city streets and neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and doctors’ offices, visiting and searching, finding some people and taking a small tube of their life’s blood from them, finding another some by going door to door in an apartment complex asking, do you know Tom, do you know Tom, I’m looking for Tom, have you seen Tom today…not finding some other people, but finding people who knew them, people who loved and dreaded their homecomings when they get out of jail this weekend, people whose lived lives are worn in their tired and wrinkled faces and hands, in their faded tattoos that spoke of prior affiliations or devotions…of tears shed for lovers and sons who were sent away, and in the sweaty palms of anxious little sisters and daughters who carried their futures in their swollen bellies and were shyly proud of being the only one who had never been to jail…they wore those lives on their persons and in their slurred and whispered words that echo still in fresh memories that are only a few hours old and are reminders yet of other fields and visits…and other found and unfound people.
the storm from the other night started with only the massing of clouds that covered the stars and then the quiet flashing of lightning in the dark eastern sky
within the passing of ninety minutes or more, or less, the rain was blowing sideways onto the bedroom windows and sliding glass door and there were striking flashes of blue-white light and delayed or immediate crashes of thunder that I could feel rumbling in the bed posts
when I looked outside I could see the rain coming down in a torrent from the street-light-lit sky and hear the thrashing of the wind and rain against the house
I cannot say how long it lasted, as I fell back to sleep while it was still underway
in the morning I found the feeble sun shining weakly through some lower clouds and only a few patches of barely blue sky
moments later, the clouds had lowered and the sky was covered with a pewter thickness
the air was wet and cool and carried the scent of a rain-washed desert in its breezes
it was heavy laden with creosote and wet leaves and grasses that had pooled in delta-like triangles and linear forms of sediment along the raceways of temporary streams that ran in the desert night
on my walk along the desert trail, I found those leaves and seeds and twigs and other desert-floor detritus collected in large swaths of poultice-like gatherings and saw the sand in its colors drawn in lines and slides of black and brown in the shapes of tiny gone rivers from the night’s collected rain
it looked like an ocean’s beach after the tide has gone out or after the ever waves have receded each in their cycle and turn, lines and drawn angles and arrows of black grains pulled over and through the surface of the deeper gray-brown sand of the desert’s bed
the quail were fewer in number that morning, as were the wild rabbits that I usually see…only one was out with his white tail and long pink-tan ears, hastily retreating into the desert there
no lizards raced across the trail and into the scrub beneath the trees and fresh washed bushes along the way, but the ants were out in their multitudes, opening their flooded caverns again, collecting the blown and washed seeds and stems from their surround…after the desert rain
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
And how could we not see its fleeing?
There were baby hugs
And finger paints
Sand in her tennies
And potted beans on the windowsill
Pound-puppies and princess’s ponies
And bubble gum and pig-tails
Now she wants to drive
And her iPod is in her backpack
With her cell phone at her ear
Long curly hair ironed flat in the mirror
And she’s ready for the prom
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
When we were young, we noticed that it took forever for special days to get here; whether they were birthdays, Christmases, the last days of school, etc…they took an eternity, as marked by our child’s minds that registered time’s passing by those ultra-special days coming and going.
Now that the years have gathered, so many more things mark time…payday Fridays, her birthday, your birthday, her mom’s birthday, vacation, the first day of school, early-release every third Thursday, progress reports, report cards, the annual re-bid at work, a trainee for five weeks, the boss is gone for two, the weekend stand-by form on every Thursday, monitor each employee every month, we just checked your messages, it’s Thanksgiving and now it’s New Years and another move or not, and Christmas or winter break is passed and past, and one more semester until it’s done, and this process takes four weeks and that one takes seven, and the puppy needs his next set of shots and three more months until that movie comes out, another week to read the book, pay this bill on the 15th and that one on the first, and pay it again on the 15th, and the other one again on the first, and next month there are three paychecks for you and for me, so we look forward to yours and to mine and we pay extra on this one and it’s time to trim the bushes again, and the bug-guy is here again, and it’s time to change your oil and rotate the tires again, and it’s her birthday again then mine and her mom’s and my mom’s and school’s out again for the year and then she’s 21 weeks along and they can do the ultra-sound and see if it’s a boy or a girl, and which type of paint and trim do we get and we’ll know pretty soon…it does seem to rush by, unbidden, just passing with speed beyond belief, sometimes like tempests and torn in the way, and images of youth and what used to be has gone in the swirling of leaves and thought and remembrance, our encumbered spirits and minds loose (not lose) those things of yesterday and try to gather them back again before they are ungraspable in their passing, gone in that spirit of has-been and collected somewhere up in the ether where lost thoughts and radio waves linger unhitched for evermore.
We used to think that our grandparents and parents were old or getting that way and now we find ourselves noticing the little lines by our eyes…and the ones that run down into our cheeks or spread like the sun’s rays from the corners of our mouths…we find that the singular gray hairs have multiplied into a profusion that creeps into our vision until it’s time to dye them again…or not…and the moustache had a couple and the chin several more and it’s no longer possible to trim that one or pluck it away as before…they aren’t going away…our memories hold when our bodies won’t…and our children are getting older…the lines on the door frame that used to be fun to mark once or twice a year are slowly catching-up with our chin and eye-level reaches…and we wonder where it’s gone…we wonder how it not only learned to sprint and spring away but to indeed flee and leave us watching…making yet more notes of its passing…she was only 11 months-old when we saw her the first time and she just turned 13 years-old…another was captured in a picture at almost three years-old with her arm in a cast and now she’s 26 years-old…and the first-born is crowing at 28 years…and those in between with babies and lives and house-payments and then….
And my friend, Byron, whose gentle soul found the words that title this writing, noticed in awe the beauty and unbelievable 16 years of his daughter as he took her to school one day last week…it struck him how she’s not that little girl anymore who used to crawl into his lap with a favorite book or doll and sit there playing with his chin…time has fled with that little one and brought a beautiful young lady to take her place…unbeknownst to anyone watching…suddenly she is here…and we wonder again…where did the clock find the wind to sprint like this?
Thank you, Byron.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from December, 2009….it was brought to mind again after seeing my friend Byron for the first time in nearly four years…and he told me that his daughter is now married and recently graduated from college.
it was the first in another stage of what has already been many trips down the road to and from an old place to a new one and back again and now the old is new and the new is old and desire is pulled in its different directions while the things that are passing are indeed passing and mostly without notice because they are not seen in their many familiarities, the eyes are on the road and the surrounding mountains and clouds in order to make it from one point to another and all the things in between are scant registers on a mental screen that has been focused toward what is within and not without…
the shadowed and purpled mountains didn’t register inside the lens as they did in my mind and it was only with disappointment that I stared at the screen with its muted hues and wondered at beauty and desire and hope, I had looked closer in another direction, through the side window, actually, beyond the bug-splatter on the forward windscreen and the highway railing and yellow lines and fractured glass and butts along the shoulder and it didn’t just come to me then, I had to seek it out, intentionally
“Yesterday morning, on my drive home from the store where I had just purchased the week’s food and other household supplies, I was looking at the neighborhoods I passed and at the smoke and steam coming from roof-top chimneys and vent pipes. I also caught sight, through and beyond the clouds, of parts and pieces of the white and enormous mountains that line our eastern horizon. It was and is still amazing and weird and wonderful to find myself in this place in the middle hours of this last day of the year, in a place so new and strange and removed from where I was last year. As I drove those snow-lined streets back to our neighborhood proper, I happened to notice a mile-marker sign that was posted along the road. It said “Mile 11.” Now, I am familiar with state highways and roads that leave their freeway confines and become or pass along the same route as a city street, like US Highway 60 in Arizona that becomes or passes-along on Grand Avenue, bisecting the Valley of the Sun to take travelers on their way to Wickenburg or beyond, and I know of US Highway 89 that takes us from Flagstaff to Page, and to Kanab and Panguitch, and then marks a parallel course to I-15 as it leads north to Provo and Salt Lake, eventually becoming State Street that runs the central length of our city, but I was not familiar with any such state route or US highway that had turned into 700 East as it made its course through the city.
Seeing the sign made me wonder about the eleven miles that had passed on the other side of that mile marker and how many other miles existed in the opposite and other direction, whatever and whichever way that actually was. It struck me as odd, too, and maybe allegorical even, in the processing of what yesterday was and what today is in the marking of time in a year and this present time or era or segment of my life and my family’s lives in this time of crazy and dramatic change. We’ve come to this station and place in our lives, taken such drastic steps to find ourselves in a new state and locale, and work and living and natural environment and our heads and hearts and sometimes emotions are spinning and wondering and looking for something familiar to grasp and hold-on to as we attempt to regain our balance and direction. And here we are then, eleven miles from somewhere, remembering and thinking about the past and wondering about the future, holding-on to each other, leaning against one another in our little relocated family, awaiting the arrival of others and missing those who won’t or cannot join us…and our friends, of course, we remember and miss them too, those precious ones who, even from outside the circle of our family and intimates, loved us and brought us joy and companionship for the past twenty years and more.
So it’s not only us, but you, too, who on this first day of a new year are eleven miles from somewhere. Where are you going, what are you doing, how are you, and we, too, going to measure this year when it’s gone, like we’ve done to the one that is just passed and passing?”
***This is a Favorite Re-post from January 1, 2011.
The man squatted on his haunches for a minute or two before he knelt into the brown grass and heavy leaves of late fall that covered this part of the forest. His several decades spoke loudly in the rubbing of bone and cartilage in his knees and the sharpness of the pain in his feet. He looked over the top of his glasses at the trees and rocks beyond, removing the field of his vision from behind the shading of the lenses so he could see the trees’ remaining leaves in their natural color, even if they were blurred in shape and substance. He had walked and run and hiked the miles and hours into the forest, remained on the trail for most of the morning, but now he wandered off a bit as the day progressed and as he felt the need for a slower pace.
About a quarter to half a mile back down the trail he thought he had heard a scream. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t short, but a medium scream that climbed in intensity in its short life and in its rebounding off the rocks and slabs of the canyon walls. He thought it was a scream. It might have been only an echo, though…an echo of a scream. He stopped and listened for what more might come after that middling scream and wondered from where and why it might have come.
The canyon road was somewhere off to his left as he had climbed forward, but now it was behind him as he sat there, facing into the woods and listening to what might be there or not. His thighs were trembling in staying in the position, or holding the position that he had been in for what must have been three and four or more minutes now. He thought he had heard a scream and wondered at the closeness of the road and the cars in their passing. Was it a girl or woman on the roadway on her bike, or was it a younger boy whose agony or surprise was too great to allow him the control of a more manly scream and instead came out like a girl’s in its purity of emotion, or was it someone on the trail or deeper in the canyon’s woods?
He tried to look past the clearing and through the near-winter bare trees toward where the base of the mountain had to be, those hundred or more yards in front of him. The man stood again and turned to look back down the grassy trail that he had followed to the clearing. He could still make out the larger and more often traveled dirt trail that ran this side of the rocky gorge that held the stream, but just barely, because of the rise of the ground and the vegetation that was in his way as he had gone this direction and that in following the more faint trail up and into the woods, the forested forever that ran up the canyon and brushed and hugged the side of the mountain that rose slowly and then thrust itself upward in a granite face with its contours and shadings from the light and the clouds and the darker woods beneath.
The man was still outside the clearing, down-trail of it by a dozen yards or more, but he could see that it had been used as a camp-site at some time in the past. He saw what appeared to be a tarp, curled and crumpled into a loose ball that had been blown and dragged by the wind and caught in the leaves and branches that lay in their forms across the wood’s floor. Pine needles and cones and fist and thumb-sized leaves were wrapped in the blueness of the tarp and faded it and caused it to almost bleed into the colors of the forest, so numerous they were in their covering of it.
The man looked behind him again and listened for the stream. He listened for the breeze in the trees and the stronger wind that might be up in the higher branches of the pines, that charging flow of air and breath that rides through the pine needles and cones and tight branches and sings among the heights and sometimes talks in a whisper tone of things seen and past and gone.
A truck was downshifted and rode the lower gears as it descended the canyon road, as it caught itself in a tighter turn and the gears of the transmission whined higher in their efforts to slow the weighted bulk of the truck. A bird lighted on a branch above him and hopped closer toward the berries on the higher branches, tentative steps and hops; he looked around and down and back as he climbed toward his prize.
The man turned around again and saw what might still be a sleeping bag at the far side of the clearing. There were leaves and dirt on it and he noticed…his abdominal muscles clamped down and a rush of adrenaline burst through his body…he was immediately scared and angry and his heart raced while sweat streamed down from his forehead and into his eyes…he wiped them furiously and looked again at the sleeping bag and saw strands of red-brown hair, clumps of it, tangled and matted and caught in the leaves and sticks, caught in the zipper of the bag and his heart was pounding in his chest and images flashed in his mind, he bent on his knees and leaned into the ground with his face into the grass now….no….
Someone else’s scent was on her neck, a blast of it came to him now as his animal mind listened to what might be around him, moving in his physical world as he raced into a past that had crumbled into ruins in years back and then….go away. Footsteps and echoes and tears in his eyes and fallen leaves in a warm desert air with a late sun shining into the night…she lied. The forest floor beneath him spoke of a present and he heard cars on the canyon roadway passing…rich earth, wet, decaying leaves pursuing their beauty and regeneration….cells breaking down again…thoughts coursing through his mind, bursting like unexpected thunder pounding into his consciousness…a pressure grew in his chest and made his shoulder hurt as he breathed deeply of the wet forest.
He leaned back, near upright, and tasted the salt of tears and thought of her beneath him, half smile and half pain in her closed eyes, holding his hips against hers and he saw shadows moving, pill bottles scattered on the floor and bed….capsules in a fold of the pillowcase and curtains moving with a breeze…. “Mommy!” came from the other room…. The pressure in his chest, numb shoulder, and tingling fingers brought him back…again the anger, fear, and cold. The man licked his lips and looked at the sleeping bag, he sought the hair again…leaves torn from their branches, bark shredded, splayed angrily against past thoughts…another motorcycle passed on the canyon road….
Sometimes we misplace our dreams, lose them, or forget that we hid them away…and sometimes they’re taken from us whole, from the first thoughts that spawned them to the final beat of the heart that sustained them….
***This is a work of fiction that was inspired by the finding of a long-abandoned campsite in the forested area of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, USA. Any resemblance of actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
These night-time thoughts won’t go away, they cause a stirring that compels me toward the street and the circuit of my surround…where I confront the Dark that rides in my soul, feelings and disjointed words resounding in my heart and mind that I can’t read or understand in their varied selves, so I walk the rounds and feel the cold of the sleeping sun as I pass beneath amber street lights along the way, walking, walking…sorting images and the memory echoes of graying thoughts and serrated words heard in their time, passed and passing….
Footsteps echo down the hall and a belt buckle jingles as a drawer closes and cigarette smoke wafts from somewhere outside and in a memory maybe, a goblin walking, a haunt, something.
Thomas, say the prayer.
I said say the prayer.
But I don’t usua….
That’s right, I do, but since you’re so perfect, you get to say it tonight.
My cheeks burned like I’d been smacked just sitting there…but then that had happened, too, during a prayer that he was saying, just reached over and hit me full in the mouth as he offered the blessing to his god and the god of our family…and my mom sat there on that Sunday afternoon much like she was sitting here on this one, whatever day it was…just sat there with her head bowed and her eyes closed, folded hands near her forehead, waiting…listening to her man…witness to the results of her betrayal, one that she wrought on some morning or afternoon after we had sat here at the same table, those two or three evenings ago as the house was quiet in sleep and we alone were awake, sharing moments of conversation and…shared trust…. I looked at the side of her face for a couple of seconds while my little sister looked across the table at me and wondered how I was suddenly so perfect…wondered why such sarcasm was brought to the dinner table when there had been no hint of anyone’s wrongdoing before we had all gathered there, me in my seat and all of them in theirs where they belonged…where we all belonged in someone else’s imagination of family and unity and the way things are or ought to be…beneath the decorated sign on the wall that said as for me and my house we will serve the lord.
I stumbled across prayed words said by rote, empty requests and thanks for whatever and bless the hands which prepared it, in jesus’s name, amen…and the words were there and the prayer said and dinner commenced and mouths moved only to eat and I looked through the back window at the gray concrete wall that separated our yard from the alley and the cemetery beyond with desert behind that and more…a slag heap of desiccated wreaths and green plastic covered stands all in a jumble as the ceremonies had passed and the tears had been shed…loved ones gone and buried and I wondered in my seat…cracks in the gray wall and mourning doves cooing beneath the young palo-verde…yellow feather-petals dropping lightly in the warm breeze, landing on the top of the wall and tumbling, scurrying away, floating to the yard below and remaining stuck in the un-watered grass, brown against the waning sun, forks scraping on plates, and water forming and glistening on the sides of glasses in the too warm air, becoming heavy with breath and rolling downward in a single droplet avalanche to pool on the polished wooden tabletop.
Kind of tuned-out there for a while, keeping my eyes forward, watching his hands and hearing him swallow, feeling the tightness of the tiny dining room, a nook really, feeling the desk and cabinets behind me, lightly pushing against the carpet beneath and the dog rang the bell at the back door to go out into the yard and do her business. I rose from the table and took those steps to the door and went out with her, stood there against the porch post and looked up at the dry-rotting wood of the overhang. No voices came through the door and I caught glimpses of arms moving in the window…I saw eyes behind their glasses behind the window watching me watching the little dog walk down the brick pathway towards the back gate, sniffing at the grass beneath the bottom edge, wondering at what might have recently passed down the alleyway.
My footsteps were loud in the dry brown grass as I crossed the yard walking toward the back wall, toward the tree stump that was my perch when I stood and gazed out into the alley and cemetery beyond, my haven and place where I didn’t need them anymore, where my heartbeat slowed and I learned not to care, to remove myself…they didn’t talk back out there, didn’t have glaring condemning eyes stuck in their empty faces…they were taking care of other things, being away…with echoes of a conversation ringing, bouncing in my head…why doesn’t he pray about it, ask god to help him stop…that’s what you guys say we should do…ask for his help…he’s done it since he was a kid and you don’t understand what it’s like…but it doesn’t seem like that should matter…isn’t he supposed to be stronger than our cravings…isn’t he supposed to help us overcome whatever it is that we need his help in overcoming…of course he is…then why doesn’t he…?
The following is from three years ago today, give or take, as the calendar changes with its dates and days, but the sentiment here is the same, maybe even a little richer, though. So much has changed in these three years…snow-covered mountains provide the backdrop instead of palm trees and bougainvillea…and all of my children will not be here…nor will other significant people from my life…but I still cherish them in their absence and think fondly of those memories from Thanksgivings gone-by…while hoping that today is full of its own wonderfulness again. So much to be thankful for…including you, my blogging-friends…. Wishing you well today….
“It is Thanksgiving morning and I alone am awake in the house…well, me and the two cats, the one whining for her can of food and the other sitting there politely waiting for her few teaspoons of milk. The smell is still in the house from the pecan pies that I baked last night and there are a couple pans still that have dried overnight on a towel on the counter by the coffee maker. I’ve managed to make it down the creaking stairs without waking the little one and his eight years. He told his mom the other day that now that he’s eight, he’s a man. His sudden adultness hasn’t gone any further than that conversation, but it was strange or cute that it went there anyway. The coffee-maker did its thing and the brown brew is sitting there waiting for me. My fingers are slow as I work-out their night-time stiffness on these keys and slowly-forming words.
I haven’t stepped outside yet, but I will do so here in a few minutes, as I want to feel some sort of crispness in the air on a Thanksgiving Day that will reach temperatures in the high seventies to eighties. Yes, we love the warmer temperatures in our Arizona winters and springs, but the holidays need to be laced with even a minimal amount of chilliness in order to have and bring the full emotional weight that they should or can possess. I mentioned to my wife the other day that the media shouldn’t show holiday or Christmas commercials on TV that have snow-covered content or whatevers in our desert land…it just isn’t right. They’re a tease to those of us who miss it and completely out of context for our holiday lives here with the sand and cacti and palm trees and shimmering pools in our backyards.
This is my quiet for the day and I won’t have it again until late in the night after everyone has gone home and the little one is put to bed. All of our grown children will be coming over today, some several hours before the festivities begin and others as the day proceeds and when they get off of work. The little ones will be and are here. Mom and Dad are also coming up from Tucson, but they will likely arrive later in the afternoon for the four pm dinner. Grandchildren and my children and the quiet will be vanquished to the extreme times. Hopefully there won’t be any meltdowns or breakdowns or tantrums or overwhelming situations that raise the roof…hopefully.
And the kitchen will be my haven, my working and hiding place from whatever else goes on during the day. Turkey and stuffing and ham and potatoes and corn and cranberries and yams and biscuits and beans and gravy and pies and and then….
I went outside to test my senses and feel the breaking day as I might and found it cool but not cold and quiet but not silent…there were a few lone drivers on the road whose tires spoke to the day and at least one dog who also had something to say…not telling any news but sharing that he too was awake…and someone’s heater kicked-in and the ringing was in my ears and shattering whatever might have been quieter…and someone was doing their laundry already at six-thirty, for the smell of fabric softener was in the air…and I spied someone’s newspaper lying in their driveway, so the paper-guy has already been through the neighborhood…maybe he got a later start today, or not…usually he zooms into and out of the cul-de-sac around four-forty or so…and he’s been here and gone…the leaves/fronds on the palm trees were still and the bougainvillea sat silently, not moving in the slightest…and the street light still shone as the sky was still too gray to turn it off.
And I am thankful today for my wife and children and their wives and children and my other family and friends and the good life that I have. It seems that things and life are sometimes or often too tight or too busy or too mundane or too trying or too whatever and again…and today, my life is good…today is carefree with only the dinner schedule to maintain…let happiness reign.”
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
The memories from that long-ago linger in a cloudy form, without even the substance to suggest that they are wraith-like in their residue, they are probably more like a knowing, the recollection of a notion, a processing of things talked about over the years, an echoing of words like “remember when,” as they existed in their primary forms before those words became what they are today in the contexts in which they still live in conversations among those who use them like that…they are memories, maybe without a sensory connection, as ideas often are, but memories still, and they cast about in my mind as things that exist as a coming-after in the defined sense. I can imagine forms for them, aromas or flavors, maybe even textures…maybe even with accompanying sounds; I can imagine those things and assign them meaning with the words that populate what I describe as memories….
There is a different body walking about the given room, reaching up and down into cabinets whose doors were opened with knobs or handles or none at all…spices and tins or trays, oil and powders…eggs from the fridge, but no butter. She brought the old spaghetti bowl out from its place, emptied pumpkin from a can, sifted flour and shook out the salt…cloves cinnamon nutmeg sugar water and soda from a yellow box…dates from a palm tree and nuts from another, a sharp knife and a cutting-board now, they hold my reflection as I move about, a silver mixing bowl with a rubberized exterior that makes it hold still on the counter top…other memories and another face, the bowls were a holiday present, the knives, too, slicing dates and sifting the flour and dry ingredients with a whisk in that bowl…cracked eggs dropping and the oven is getting warm…degree marks rising in number form and I can see his face, a smile as I rinse my hands and dry them…and later words echoing that said, no, not yet…not after what happened last month…it’s still too soon…and the whisk rides the inside of the bowl in a circle oblique, the dry and wet ingredients lose themselves becoming one…the knife scrapes the dates off the board…and my mom walks into the other room…she wore an apron then, a time from another time with powdered sugar on a plate, the decades draw into their pasts and remember themselves and bring us along…we see distance and separation of events and people and know that things exist as they do because of how they ticked in the clock of that time past and they echo so in the chambers of our hearts because of the tears we’ve cried into them…like unfired clay returning to its form, malleable when broken again, mixed with those flowing memories and made whole again…to be broken and broken again to be made whole and whole again…and again…until we purpose to fire them against such happening…and then they are hard and resistant to such effects…and more durable still…and flowing memories just run off, they pass without touching…gone and away.
The timer above the stove beeped in its way after 90 minutes, and hope and expectation were fulfilled after a few more, those more passing to cool and hold, to firm-up against the removal from the pans that held them in their transformation from a flavored soupiness to a rich and thickened bread, a consummation of effort and memory and ghosted images that found their substance as their sensory forms were released from their lodgings in my brain and lived again through opened doors once hidden and closed against time and emotion, against a time and loneliness that caused their own transformations….
It’s just pumpkin bread…but it’s not.
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
I saw your face and thought of a name, but was it yours, I wondered, and couldn’t say for sure. Was it at work, in the clinic, in front of the vet, or down the road at the gas-station, the gym, or…? I know, I remember now…it was when you were getting out of your car that day with your little ones in the grocery store parking lot and I hesitated before pulling into the spot next to you because your kids were standing there with big eyes looking at the car, my car, that was coming at them. I just sat there in my patience and waited for you to grab their hands or usher them in some other way out of “my” spot. You looked up and glared at me and angrily waved at me to drive on in. I still waited, as I do, for you to get the little ones’ hands, to offer them your security, that sense of “Daddy’s got you, so it’s OK” before I continued in with my car. You were swearing at me when I finally parked and you were walking away, little ones in tow. As my car alarm beeped in my leaving, your words of “What the fuck are you looking at?!” bounced into my ears and around in my head and I couldn’t imagine “what the fuck” you were talking about. I shouted “Hey!” and you yelled “What, bitch?!” and I said “I was waiting for your little ones to move.” You suggested that I stop being such a fucking idiot and just park my goddamned car as your little ones’ eyes went from you to me as they were being tugged bodily up through the asphalted parking lot and into the store where the air-curtain above the door whooshed and splayed at their hair and yours and mine as I followed, not following, per se, just going in the same direction.
And it’s you I see again one day, inside of another store, with you waiting in line for the lady to ring-up your stuff and me walking past to go into another aisle. Your kids aren’t with you and we, consequently, have nothing to talk about, but you see me and I see you and I remember very clearly where I know you from. I see you looking after me as I turn into the aisle and my face is calm and your brow is furrowed. “Where do I know you from?” you’re wondering, maybe, as you were wondering, still, when I left the opening to the aisle and was gone again.
Today, literally, these years later, I still see your little ones’ eyes. Their tiny, large brown eyes looking at me through long and curly lashes and framed with clean black hair. I see them looking at me behind the windshield and then walking through the parking lot, seemingly at and after them and I wonder at their wondering. I see them looking up at you and your full brown angry face and silver black hair, first one and then the other, and then back at me. I see their little arms tugged in their tiny t-shirts as you hauled them out of the parking spot and across the lot and into the store.
I see them still….
This is a Favorite Re-post from October 2010.
I saw Superman walk down my hallway today and he didn’t and doesn’t care what you think about him. He was a white-boy with dread-locked hair that’s long enough to tuck behind his ears and he smelled like the stink and rot of unwashed bodies in tight and closed places. I’ve smelled his kith and kin in hovels bare and small. I’ve sat and listened to their stories of life and things passed-by and wondered at their truth and then found that it didn’t matter, those things and they, well…they became true in the telling. And today, as he shuffled past me in his coke-bottle glasses with scratches and old and yellowed tint from age and sun and wear, the arms hooked over ears with huge and fearsome gauges stuck in the lobes causing holes that would be large as a ring on my thumb, he shuffled past in that mess and whatnot with torn jeans and ravaged converses as he huddled his face into the small baby of two months or less and whispered his whiskered and loving words into his tiny self. He whispered kind nothings and stink and I didn’t smell his breath, but neither did the baby as he lay there cuddled and warm against that chest in the torn and fake-leather jacket and was loved by him in all that it meant to him. That baby there was cherished in those moments where he existed in my life and Superman had him and rocked his world…and I hope he remembers that love when life comes on him hard and rough as it sometimes will…I hope he remembers that his Daddy loved him, then.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2010.
Found on the pedestrian bridge….
Some might say that we’ve been wrought with a fierce hand that’s guided by an unkind heart…or maybe one that doesn’t care, doesn’t know how to, just gives us a life, kicks us from the womb of our beginning, suckles us on a raw tit and then dumps us out the door as soon as our legs can hold us. We can’t be blind, or we’ll die from sundry things, so we learn to look where things mightn’t be normally, we learn with knocks and scrapings how to get along, to grab what we can and hope it will be good enough for a while. In time there’s a longing that holds us, that draws us toward things that others pass-by, that others see, per chance, and think nothing of…but it’s those things that give us a yearning for a kindly pursuit, a craving to know what might be…and so our life goes, driven by an unseen thing that could consume us if we’d let it, if we’d loose the things that bind it to within a natural limit of how it might be. And sometimes there’s naught within us to hold it…and we go about with a frightening urgency, seeking some definition for our unfettered minds, seeking something to give them form, to harness our desires, to make them ride on a certain rail, to progress in a certain direction….and sometimes we don’t find it, don’t find that thing that renders our efforts meaningful…don’t find that thing that consumes us, that drives us into a future that is ours to make and hold…and we keep seeking.
Cricket song rises with the waning moon as tender leaves swirl in the slight current and eddies beneath the low-hanging trees…a snake slithers cross-wise over the river making tiny ripples that ride slowly away, lost in the reflection of that fading moon.
I suppose I didn’t know I even existed until the day his mom asked how he thought I felt laying out there in the rain. I didn’t exist as something that could feel or be aware until that moment, so I didn’t and wasn’t, but that reference changed everything for me…and I still don’t know if that’s good or bad; is it a curse or a blessing to suddenly know that one exists or is, to have a sense of being, to know when one is being ignored or noticed, neglected or attended to…or forgotten?
I have fleeting thoughts and ideas enter and pass through my consciousness or awareness and I have started to feel things with my physical self, as well as my inner or cognitive self…if that’s possible for me to do. I understand what it means to be alone, to feel something or someone draw near; I grasp the idea of “used to be” and “what if” and know there is significance in these pairings of words. I used to belong to someone…what if he came back for me? I used to matter, to be important, to be remembered…what if I never am again…what if this is to be the way things are for the rest of my “life…” until I fade away again into the nothingness that enveloped me when my awareness was naught. Or…what if I am found again, wanted again; what if I am desired again, my presence cherished again, if I am cared for again…what if those things happen again? I will continue to be aware, to belong, and to be a part of…to be.
Many days and longer ago…there were colored balloons and streamers and several, small cone hats, more for show than necessity, as the one being celebrated was not so little anymore and had no need for such things. His mother and sister decorated the trees and bushes and fold-up tables to play with his gaining years and the ones left behind…they lovingly mocked his approaching young-manliness and a hoped-for sense of responsibility that just might blossom…any day now. Friends gathered with family, laughing, playing, making a little feast of sausages and rolls with spicy mustard, hot potato salad, and chips, too…tradition brought the chocolate cake and hand-cranked, peach and strawberry ice-cream, buckets of it that had been kept cold in the shaded water running near-by….
The day progressed and shadows grew long with the moving sun…adult voices quieted in the hush of approaching evening as their little ones slowed in their running about…after they chased bits of wrapping paper that had rolled and fluttered across the sand, caught in the breeze…and balloons bobbed-about, still tied to their anchors…minus the one that was loosed from a little hand and went sailing away. I heard goodbyes spoken in the falling dusk and car-doors closing, bright yellow and orange honking from horns that reached into the gray light and caused heads to turn…hands to raise in their waving…the glare of headlights pointing down the roadway…thank you again…see you soon…echoes fading.
The boy and his family all climbed into the pick-up truck, one by one…and drove away…with a shiny, new bicycle in the back…a gift from his Opa…
Photograph used with permission by Gary D. Bolstad of Krikitarts.
Thank you again for the challenge, Gary…for the invitation to participate in the sharing of your beautiful photography.
Innocence smiles large as the boys rescue The Cube and ride their motorized scooter and roller-blades about the cul-de-sac, announcing to me in passing that they are on their way to destroy Megatron. Hood up on his sweatshirt jacket, my little one is on the roller-blades and moves awkwardly about, wheel-walking, not rolling, strange dance of plastic and clatter rushing off to secure some imagined zone.
The December sky is gray with fat and heavy clouds; an occasional breeze or gust of wind ripples the overgrown palm fronds and the garbage truck is making its Tuesday afternoon rounds in the neighborhood a couple streets in the distance. My grandson is on the motorized scooter and is wearing orange, star-shaped sunglasses to shield him against the glare of battle in his efforts to defeat the Transformers’ foes. My little one’s enthusiasm for the game is waning as a little trio of afternoon walkers enter and make a circuit of the cul-de-sac – a young mother-girl pushing her baby in a stroller as grandmother walks with her Down’s Syndrome old-man of a son in a straw cowboy hat who marvels at the Samoyed who is sticking his nose and white head through the hole at the bottom of the neighbor’s backyard wall. The cling-cling of the bicycle bell and the metallic crash as the bike crunches into the sidewalk and the garbage truck is still a few streets away.
“Can we go in now?”
“Don’t you want to play two-player on the Nintendo?” he says, as he kneels in the rocks and examines a pigeon feather, “Don’t you want to?”
“No, not really.”
“Dad, can we go inside in 15 minutes?”
He likes to orient things and events and know when they are going to happen. It helps him predict his world. He’s happier and less anxious that way. It settles his mind as the blanket of gray clouds part and roll into white balls with gray bottoms and a mini-bike just ripped and popped down the street behind us, throwing angry and irritating ripples and waves through the neighborhood air.
“How long has it been, Dad?”
I’m reading my new book, The Good Soldiers, between glances up and into the cul-de-sac and at the Transformer warrior-children and vehicles entering for deliveries or exiting for errands and whatnot.
“How much longer?”
“The post is loose on the scooter, Grandpa,” as he sucks the winter snot back into his nose and as the little one, his uncle, my youngest, talks to his dog through the side-yard gate….
“Hi Wilson,” sing-song, puppy-talk, baby-talk, talking-to-my-dog-through-the-gate-talk, sing-song “Hi buddy!”
Crunching gravel, walking scuffing, scraping, and dragging shoes through the landscaping stones. Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! A piece of gravel rock on the basketball pole. Ping! Ping! Ping!
“How much longer, Papa? How mucho longa?”
I’m on page 27…For now, no one touched the tape dispenser. Eventually, Cummings would begin swatting flies just hard enough to stun them, stick them to a piece of tape, and drop them alive into his trash can, which would be something that did have an effect. “I hate flies,” he would say each time he did this. What?
“Is it time yet?”
Did you park your bike and scoot it all the way over so Mom can open her door after she’s parked the car?
“Are you done Blakie? Hey!”
“Do you want to go in now?”
Cling! Cling! Cling! “Beep beep!”
“There’s a warning.”
“There’s a warning.”
What kind of warning?
“There was a rain drop.”
And the garbage truck is getting nearer and the little one is dragging his toes across the driveway and he’s got a Kool-aid moustache as he grins at me and says “What?”
“How many more minutes? Dad?” as he stands on the apache-red boulder rock in his one-legged pose with his arms raised like a stork’s wings…from The Karate Kid…and a game of chicken in the roadway as my grandson comes at him on the motorized scooter…and repeated “Yaaaaah!” screams and “How much longer?” asked with a Pink Panther French accent this time.
“Hhow mush longherre?”
“Ok……Blakie!! It’s time to go in!”
***This is a Favorite Re-post from December, 2009.
It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen? My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.
The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas. The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest. And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer. The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings. The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished. The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.
When the sun goes down, more people come out. The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless. Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious. In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies. Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim. In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:
West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality. On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue. There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver. The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree. A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old. The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital. Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.
South City Precinct – Death of Child. On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue. A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house. The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand. (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours? How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?) The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department. Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide. On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting. The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend. The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery. No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home. Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out. The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene. When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.
West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting. Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road. On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house. The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times. The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd. One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1. I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.
9-1-1, Where is the emergency?
“4321 West Why-Not Lane.” The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.
Is this medical?
“It’s kind of…yeah.”
Do you need paramedics?
What’s going on?
“I shot my wife and children.”
When did you do this?
This is Tuesday morning. You shot your wife on Friday?
Where is your wife now?
“She’s in her office, or my office. She’s laying on the floor.”
And where are the children?
“I don’t have any children.”
Is there anybody else in the house with you?
“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house. They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”
Ok. Let me get this straight. You shot your wife on Friday, right?
And she’s dead?
Ok. And are your kids there in the house with you?
“I said I don’t have any kids. There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”
And the dogs…they’re ok?
“Yeah, the dogs are fine. I like them.”
You like the dogs.
“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”
And you said you might need paramedics. Are you hurt or something?
“Yeah. I shot myself in the chin.”
You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?
And you did this on Friday?
What’s your name?
And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?
Ok. Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?
“It’s there in the office. I put it up on the desk.”
Are there any other weapons in the house?
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”
And where are you in the house right now?
“I’m in the living room.”
Are you going to be ok when the officers get there? We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.
“No. I’m fine. I’ve already fucked-up my life enough. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”
Ok. It looks like officers are in the area. Can you see any police cars outside yet?
“No. There’s nobody here yet.”
Ok. You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?
“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office. I can see a police car out front now.”
Ok. Are you outside?
And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?
“Nope, just the phone.”
On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.
“Should I put down the phone now? She’s telling me to.”
Yes. Set the phone down.
My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children. He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids. When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call. He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.” The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.” He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.
It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things. They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?
**This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010.
There’s a sound that a pick-axe makes when it’s plunged into the earth and dragged back out again; it’s the sound of metal opening the history of our lives, slamming into our powdery souls with a thick ferocity of hefted weight and muscle and sinew and limb…a stretching of cloth and skin in the arc toward the heavens of the steel head and hardwood handle singing through the air…and the slight visceral grunt as it lands with that freighted slice and drive through soil and rock, echoes cleaving the dust and clay that is ourselves and then…
there’s a sound that a saw makes when its teeth rip through the fibers of wood and brush; it’s the sound of a serrated blade slicing into our fingers or hands, driving through the cells of meat and unto bone…fine or rusted edges of metal rending our woody flesh, tearing it neatly into pieces that we hone and fit and hammer back together into other forms that cover and shelter us against the elements and gods; we take it with our hands and break it into pieces that will warm us or feed us, sometimes with the muted, wet splaying of green wood that wouldn’t break cleanly…like joints pulled backwards against nature and form…or with the sharp echoes of cracking branches and bones that flee into time and then…
there’s a sound that a scythe makes when it passes through grass and the wheat of the field; it’s the sound of an icy razor lifted and throwing light back at the sun, of muscles on shoulders and hips swaying in a life-rhythm and a whisper through the air and a shhhhhh through the grass as cell membranes burst against the blade and green it in its passing, dust and skin and grass and stem, seed-heads swaying in the breeze of man and his motion, aloft in the sky and a shhhhhh to the ground, the echoes of sunshine and air falling on the riching earth and then…
there’s a sound that flesh makes when it tears in that moment of thrust and climb, of muscle pounding into a hallowed cave; it’s the sound of hinge-less doors opening beneath a fusing flood of life and stranded helices, recombinant forms and particles charging, of a new pulse rising in a hidden place, one cell beating and beating…becoming…that time draws forth as it rips again, that sacred fleshy vault, echoes of life and death in a moment’s strain…and then…
there’s a sound that a house makes when it no longer harbors life within; it’s the sound of a derelict wind stealing through empty window panes and hollow echoes fading into the oblivion of lost time and then, memories disappearing like vapors drawn, weak flashes in smiles and tears, images forming and fading as sunlight passes through dust motes hanging…and when the moon finds night-time corners…sliding feet on worn boards, oil from hands on banisters evaporating molecules at a time, riding the ether of ever and gone, echoes of laughter and pain, no longer anchored with heartbeats away…echoes no longer anchored with heartbeats away…and then….
***Photo used with permission by Gary D. Bolstad at Krikitarts. The photograph was taken along the side of the road somewhere in Minnesota when Gary was returning home after a vacation in the woods. I encourage you to visit Gary’s site to share in his beautiful photography that demonstrates his love and fascination with our natural world.
The moment’s rain fell in soft drops on the light gray earth, each tiny globe of water making a slightly larger wet crater in the dirt of time that had filtered and sifted from mountain streams and into the great rivers and lake on the western horizon. Men had brought it in by the truck-full to build the bank on which they sat…on which they sat and deep into the waning light as dragon flies and mud swallows dipped and lunged across the water’s upper edge, seeking a dusking meal against the long night….
Mama’s gonna wonder where I’m at, you know….
Ever since you’ve been grown enough to leave the yard, Mama’s known that you’ve been with me. You ain’t never been nowhere else.
Then why are you saying she’s gonna wonder where you’re at?
Cause she’ll still wonder.
Well, she’ll find out when she normally does, then, won’t she?
A fish jumped in the darkling water, making ripples spread into the long grass and reeds along the shore, tiny water molecule waves carrying the gray dust that slid and fell from the bank beneath bare feet and sneakers pushing and moving stones and sticks out of the way for legs to stretch into their powdery nests. The fish caught nothing in his flight and swam further downstream, gliding with the gentle current, fish eyes looking up from the sides of his fish head, looking for something that wasn’t there now that the sun was gone and gone and brightening someone else’s day.
The rain left a smell of wet dust and nothing more as its bedtime clouds thinned and fled in the blacking sky. Stars appeared in their distance between the cobweb lattice-work of the bridge’s girders and supports and beams and ties and double rails, specks of light glimmering against the earth and her slow and silent spinning, flickers and hope, torches of wonder falling into the tucked-away recesses of ancient time and the enduring heaven of space.
We ain’t goin’ back, are we…?
That’s right, Bobbi…we ain’t goin’ back…I told him that was the last time….
He reached over to tuck a strand of straw-colored hair behind her ear, gently touched a purple-blue bruise on her cheekbone, leaned and kissed her forehead…and lingered a moment to smell her dusty, little-girl hair….
…but we’ll let Mama know we’re ok when we get where we’re going.
Where’s that gonna be?
Ain’t figured that out yet, but I think we’ll know it when we get there….
This is a “story about what’s on the other side of that door….”
There is a new lock on my door again. It is my door, yes, as I’m the one inside and the one who keeps removing the locks every third day or week or month or so, whenever a new one appears. I hide them, tuck them away, attach them to a chain, actually, that is hanging from the rafters in the hidden recesses of the loft, back where the roots from the ancient roof-top garden have pushed through the wood and seek the ground that isn’t there, back where the water from the soaking rain drips in blackened drops of soot and earth and anguished souls. Light hits them sometimes, the locks…at certain hours of the day and in the middle of the night, too, as the full moon shines through the crumbling mortar cracks in the wall. Their absence causes minds to wonder and worry, quickens steps from my doorposts and into the hedges and beyond, out into the gardens beneath the palms and evergreens, among the rolling hills and moss-covered stone-work walls where I used to play with…where I used to play.
I don’t receive many visitors here, just the feeble-minded grandmother of the Earl who claims to hear footsteps in the straw. It must be my rasping breath or the whispering echoes of my fading heartbeat that she hears, for I dare not move when she’s near. Years ago, I rattled a can to scare her away, but that only brought more visitors in the form of the Earl and his wife…and the magistrate, too. They conferred, as wise ones will, and sought the company of the parish priest. He sat and wondered and mumbled against the aging bricks beneath the post…and he thought he heard a nothing that was really something as it brushed against his shin. It’s nothing, said the friar to the Earl, nothing but the wind and a…maybe….. Yes…like that, it’s nothing. The Earl and his wife remained distressed and the grandmother remained convinced that it was footsteps in the straw. They sought those above, as those above will do, they sought those above the parish priest and then the bishop after that. I touched the friar’s robe, when they visited, and scoffed at the bishop’s crown as they offered their hollow words to the Miasma that faded into the ether at Galileo’s waking.
Children know I’m here, of course, as children will know such things…as children will know such things and remain away, and remain away or seek me out on the darkest nights with torches out against the shadows and webs of fright that hang in the corners. They know without knowing sometimes and feel my breath upon their cheeks as I whisper and tell them to go, to leave, and to leave me alone. I don’t want to hurt or scare them, but I want them gone. I don’t want their light tread upon the straw to remind me of other little ones who used to do so before the blazing night…I want them to be away and away.
It was a frosted night and achingly cold with a withering moon when red flames licked the slow-moving clouds. I stood there shivering, only steps away from the oven of my misdeeds, away from the murderer’s weapon that it became within quick seconds of rage and regret in the spilled and boiling blood of those hidden away unknown. Nigh unto three centuries hence, I still hear their short and tiny cries, the hairs on my neck and arms rise with only a thought. So I hide here and away, a stone’s throw from the still standing crematory of an ancient and vine-covered castle. It is a crypt and a memorial, a living nightmare of anguish that still smolders on an icy night as little bones crumble into the dust of time and away, forgotten and missed in grief, they are embers in my eyes and scalding irons on my heart…for I never confessed what I knew. It wasn’t the laundress who caused the blaze…it was me, the gardener’s son.
***Photo used with permission by John M. Smith at Life, Photography & Other Mistakes. The photograph was taken at Castle Kennedy & Gardens in Dumfries, Scotland. Please visit John’s blog to share in his beautiful photography…and the website for Castle Kennedy & Gardens to learn more about their true history.
He snapped alive with a sulfurous urging in his hallowed place, reflecting then on those around him. He pondered, considered, and postulated about what they and he might be. “What am I that, or who, is able to exist only softly, attached for life to my waxen, wick-ed anchor, knowing only what…I don’t know. Of what am I comprised? What constituent parts have been arrested to make my whole? What molecules render me soft enough to flee like a thought in a slight breeze? What have I to do, but to live and reflect? Who is to know? Who.
In a dark room, were I to be placed upon a post to shine from its center, would I be as bright as if I were placed next to a mirror at the side of the room, with only half of my light being real and shining as from my soul? Is that solitary, yellow dart of my being enough to light in half, though reflected, as though from that post in the middle of the otherwise dark room? What design orders this? Why do I live only anchored here and not aloft in the sky? Why do those around draw away from me as if in fear of harm?
I am a solitary, gilded whisper of light, shining upon those from whom I am ordered, without will, or otherwise. My stepward cousins and unrelative conflagrations burn with an unintelligible force, magnified and multiplied beyond reason, my small frame. What soft caress would touch my delicate skin? What gentle lace would adorn me? In the place of never-thought would it live beyond my kiss. It is unknown. For it is, and not being. If a scientist were to analyze my being, would he find only the mist of paraffin, or the shadowing remnants of tallow, rendered from the fatted calf? What am I? And why does my touch bite? I cannot win friends; I cannot feel the embrace of another. If I am drawn nigh unto my own kind I am lost and shall never be regained unto myself. Am lost.”
This is a Favorite Repost from September, 2009.
The man sat in the dark and thought of the pictures on the wall and the eyes that looked out from their frozen images of faces and whatnot in the chemicals that held them in such places from their making until they left in some manner or other, moved to another wall, moved to another house, passed among the things that leave when he would leave on that unknown date and then. The eyes that could bore through their selved-images into the eyes of the man who sat in the chair with heavy lids and pondered those things as night wound into itself and him and the sounds of day’s passing had become the creaking and yawning of the presence of its neighbor and twin, the one who exists on the other side of the thoughts of himself.
Picture frames glowing or reflecting the light that sneaks in through the windows from the posted light in the yard, that one thing that illuminates the darkened corners where what was present in the day has crawled into itself and themselves and exist only in shadow form or memory, but not sight, as they are hidden in the black and gray of their shadowed selves. Those eyes accuse and remember in their fixed gazes and the man stares at the blank middles of the frames at what he knows is there but cannot see for the passed and past day and the dark inside the four edges covers but doesn’t hide the faces he knows. Night doesn’t cover his heart and his wandering soul and it doesn’t relieve the ghosts that walk in his mind and in the fibers of the carpet and lay like a film inside the paint and wooded textures of stair railings and benches, those things that capture sounds and emotions as they are fleeing in their shouted births and deaths of echoes and remain.
Hollowed eyes and grins and thoughts and cheekbones and lips that lie in a stuck rictus, like painted and dead clowns and he doesn’t know who is inside, who is behind those portals of life and then, and he turns away and closes his eyes and hears the ringing in his ears as the cat talks not walks down the hall and a hidden beam somewhere in the wall creaks or sighs as the house wonders at the man in the chair in the dark, wonders at his thoughts and sitting there while others sleep and dream and think of nothing in the passing of the stars and moon in their circuits as the heater kicks on and whines through the vents and blows in its blowing and warmth of breath and stops with a shudder and how, as the man’s foot twitches as sleep tries to pull him deeper into the chair as his heart beats and beats and his eyes open at the cat’s passing and scratching on and of the one corner of the rug that has its frayed spot and spot as the eyes on the walls sleep in their openness and hide their thoughts in front of him as he looks away and remembers a younger self that fled a smile in furrowed brows and pursed lips of anger and rot, his eyes scorned and shaken and cast away and aside and down and away from any who would look.
He remembered the thick hand that smacked his mouth when his eyes were closed and thought the Divine was blind as the prayer was stuck in the swirl of ceiling paint as the black eyes bored into the smaller one’s eyes as his mouth throbbed and his heart ached and his mom sat at arm’s length away as her man’s hand smacked her child’s mouth and she kept her eyes closed as the sound echoed in her ears and she squeezed her eyes closed as she smelled the dinner cooling on the table in front of them and wondered how the paint could keep the prayer inside the ceiling as it rolled about and thinned against the summer air and finally withered and faded and was gone in the tears that rolled down his cheeks as hate breathes by itself in blank picture frames and white rocks cast along the way, tripping the travelers who dare not watch where they are walking, who are blind to the path and stumble in the dark footsteps that lumber ahead of them.
This is a Favorite Re-post from February, 2010.
The smoke from her harsh and scrap-wood fire burned my eyes as I stood there and watched the dark-skinned woman roll and mash the little balls of flour and water and what-not, pressing them, flattening them so, and then laying them gently on the griddle that sat on three stones, black from use. I moved to the other side and upwind from the fire and the breeze changed directions to meet me again. Without looking at me, she smiled and said, “Sientate alla,” as she pointed to a tumble-down chair next to the shack…sit over there.
She had dirty hands and wide hips, large and loose breasts that swayed with her movements, a musky and smokey scent and broken teeth, shoulder-length hair with frayed ends, and lines around her brown-black eyes and mouth in her young and old skin.
Her brown and scarred hands reached over the fire and turned the tortillas, flipping them gently, brown eyes watching, absently or admiringly, as they sizzled for a second and then raised, doubling in height, growing from thin to thicker and brown and rich and falling again in their cooked flatness. In the same movement from turning the tortillas, she reached for a ladel and stirred the beans and ham-bones in the pot, black too, that sat on the ground with the fire on its side. Steam and the smells of wood-smoke and chilis and beans rose from the little cauldron and ran into the air and caught in my senses…where they remained for the day…along with the images and sounds of the morning there with the weak light slowly brightening through the trees of the wood…chickens pecking the dirt around broken-down cars and trucks with their rusted doors and bumpers, flattened tires cracked and gone in seasons passed and passing.
The woman moved around the fire, sitrring and flipping, this way and that, avoiding the smoke and the dog that lay nearby. She watched me in my looking around, in my watching of her and her hands, her hips, her eyes. As she brought me a plate with her morning fare, she looked directly into my eyes and said, “Ten…somos pobres, pero somos ricos, tambien…ricos en las cosas de la vida, la humanidad…y amor….” Take it…we’re poor, but we’re rich, as well…rich in the things of life, humanity…and love….
Gracias, Yaneli…de veras…. It’s true….