Tuesday, December 7, 2010

At the Broken Point

At the Broken Point

Do you feel the weight of the stars on your back
     And the pressure inside your skull?
Do you feel the air grow thick like a stew
     And the world flood in through your skin
     As infinity shrinks to a speck
     And eternity ends with a thought?
I hear it: the imperceptible breaking of a toothpick
     On the other side of the house.
I hear it: the sharp snapping of a frozen twig in the snow
     On a mountaintop miles away.
I hear it: the brittle cracking of a thin piece of slate
     On the long cracked concrete driveway
     Of a house I used to live in
     Years and years and lives ago.
I hear it in all of the beats of my heart--
     Staccato footsteps on a heap of broken bricks;
I feel it in all of the sighs of my heart--
     Staccato footsteps on a temple’s fallen walls.

Image credit: Hamed Saber, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Friday, December 3, 2010



"He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star."
- William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

With open eyes and bleeding heart
Take a hammer to the mirror
Of a cold and tired world,
And smash the dusty glass
Into billions and billions of shards,
The tiny gleams of light,
Like universes underfoot,
Then gather them one by one
With bloody fingers
And prickling palms,
And chew them,
Consume and subsume
The shattered light
Of a reflected cosmos,
The life and death
Becoming no more
Than ghostly forms glimpsed
From the corner of an eye,
Far beyond forgotten,
Long gone beyond the bounds
Of the mirror’s cracked frame,
And with burning bowels and fiery heart
Gaze upon the empty void
With eyes of flaming light:
For there are many new worlds
Just waiting to be made.

Image credit: Menetekel, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain image.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Grey Owl and Me: Stories from the Trail and Beyond

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

We civilized humans are a complicated lot. Whereas most other animals are intimately connected to, and immersed in, their natural habitat, most modern humans have “cultivated” ourselves right out of the natural world to a large degree. Now, we have to go “back into nature” to experience anything remotely like the conditions that our ancestors faced for the majority of our species’ history. But we can get glimpses of that environmental immersion when we plunge ourselves into nature--and sometimes we can do more than just glimpse it. Some of us actually live a large portion of their lives and build a large portion of their identity around a naturalized, “wild” way of life.

Of course, their lives are still pretty complicated in many ways as far as being “in” nature goes, especially if they try to bridge the gap between wild nature and civilization. Archie Belaney, an English-born Canadian who was known to the world as Grey Owl, is a prime example of such complexity. In his new book Grey Owl and Me: Stories from the Trail and Beyond, Hap Wilson, the Canadian adventurer, guide, conservationist, and writer, engages with the legacy of Grey Owl, who was and still is a crucial mentor for him through his writings on the Canadian wilderness and the need to preserve it. Published by Natural Heritage Books/Dundurn Press, and with illustrations by Wilson and Ingrid Zschogner, the collection of essays comprises a narrative adventure into their shared homeland that is both personal and graphic (in more ways than one!).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Broken Bird

Broken Bird

This bird with broken wings
Is cradled in my hands
And lies as still as death
Against my aching breast.
Its heart is soft and slow,
Perhaps in peaceful sleep
With dreams as bright as life
Of flying towards the sun.
Perhaps it can forget
The sticks that broke its wings,
The hands that dealt the blows,
The eyes that turned away.
I hold it, share its pain,
And seek the proper way
To help this broken bird
Arise and fly again.

Image credit: Gaming 4JC, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sub specie aeternitatis

Sub specie aeternitatis

A golden morning of autumn
Has passed into dusk with a breath,
And shadows beckoning midnight
Are murmuring dirges of death
With tears as parents of laughter
That shimmer as stars on the sea
While everyone restlessly slumbers
In dreams of what was and will be.

A cold winter's dawn is approaching,
Its heralds the withering leaves
In myriad costumes and colors
That cover the Earth when it grieves.
But spring and summer are waiting
In temperate climes far away
To come back again where they started
As green in a garden of gray.

Now the clouds seem to ceaselessly circle,
And the Earth seems to sleepily spin,
And the universe seems to grow smaller,
And a song seems to rise from the din
As we wander forever and after
And follow what paths we may please
With shuffling feet in the twilight
Through the leaves at the feet of the trees.

Image credit: Nikater, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mysteries & Miracles

Mysteries & Miracles

In memory of Kristin Leigh Highfill
December 23, 1978 -- September 17, 2005

Hummingbirds twirl and flash around
Glistening flowers awake in their beds,
Catching the morning’s first light.
Who knows the taste of freshest dew
Rolling along their tongues?

Well-tuned bands of bees busily buzz,
Bumbling in blossoms newly born,
In praise of their conquering queen.
Who knows what treasures they find
Deep down where pollen hides?

A group of children gather to play,
Sometimes friends and sometimes foes--
But always children at play.
Who knows what secrets they spell out
In letter-blocks and finger-paint?

An old friend crosses the street
In the calmest hours of night
But does not reach the other side.
Who knows what she encounters
Or where her journey ends?

Spring, summer, autumn, winter pass,
Leading every thing to come and go.
Who knows what gifts are waiting
In nature’s gossamer shawl
If we would but hold out our hands?

Who can solve the mystery
Or analyze the miracle
Of the sunshine cupped in my hand?
Of the seed that has dropped from my hand?
Of the life that has slipped through our hands?

Image credit: EdyaT, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hidden in the Harvest

Hidden in the Harvest

To Susan Stone

Not a globe of fire climbing out of night to rage
But a brush tip spreading strokes of golden wash
Across the frameless canvas of the sky and fields
Till nothing lacks a coat of lustrous light.
And there is no horizon.

A drop of paint takes wing from the palette in a swirl,
Its flight another voice in the chorus of song
That is also a vision of myriad sparkling forms
And poetry written in strong resounding bounding lines
(Though words at their best are but seeds scattered in the wind
That just may, in their season, take root, shoot forth, and bloom,
With fruit whose sweetness depends on the tongue).
And art is a natural wonder.

The crops extend into a shimmering plain,
Prolific artists lined in even swaying rows,
Collaborating, blending colors in the stirring breeze,
And signaling that all may gather for the show;
In swift responses, weaving in between, the beat
Of furry paws, of hooves, of tiny insect feet
Reveals the first arrivals for another day.
And earth is alive with the movement.

Then next the men and women, holding children’s hands,
Come beaming bright with smiles and blinking eyes
Still heavy in the morning’s rising mist of dew
To dip their limbs in the light as it streams,
The building heat its energetic, ever-vibrant pulse
And sign of its health at the height of its life—
Kinetic and conductive and contagious, shared
Among the many bathing in its brilliant depths.
And still the golden bounty of the fields rears up,
Enough that every eye and every heart is filled;
And still the haloed heads of grain are raised aloft:

For there is a light surfaces can reflect
While it waxes to noon and then steadily wanes,
And there is a light barriers cannot bar
Shining in shining out in a loving exchange.

Image credit: Lev Kamenev, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain image.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

By Candlelight

By Candlelight

A candle burns within a dark abyss
And pushes back the awful, shadowed space;
It gives a warmth that soon gives birth to life,
And lights the way for life to grow and thrive.

Then soon a host of other little lights
Arise and strengthen the wan candle’s glow;
Like stars they sit and shine and seem as gods
Who watch and spill their joyful tears below.

The lighted bubble seems without an edge,
Without horizons or bounding line
To any eyes that gaze from here within
While blinded by the light they get and give.

They see the beauty and the pain of life,
Which sow the seeds that sprout in forms of art,
Or see the workings of the world occur
And fashion laws to understand and rule.

But always outside of the candle’s glow,
The dark abides, outside of light and life,
Beyond the language and the laws and arts
Of fleeting flames that flicker, fade, and die.

Image credit: NCCo, from Wikimedia Commons, under a GNU Free Documentation License.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An nihil ate

An nihil ate

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold..."
- W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming" 

"One must have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathurstra

The last man is riding
On the back of a beast
Slinking, slouching
Toward the center point
That cannot hold,
That is slipping outward
To the razor's edge.

And this madman rides
Upon this mad, mad beast
With a lion's grin
And a glint in his eye
And a pool of drool on his chin.
The reins are flying,
Since he let them go
Not caring to steer
Or to utter commands
To a deaf, rabid beast
That cannot hear
And does not care
But is creeping towards home
As it crumbles away.

When they come to the edge,
Both rider and beast,
Of the world they have trodden
And pounded down into dust,
They look into the void
At the eddies of stars
That are swirling, ecstatic,
Long freed and unfixed,
For the body of God
Is dismembered and torn,
And his mind is unhinged
Like a wobbling gyre.

But the fool and his beast,
In the light of a sun
That has risen in darkness,
Sending light through the void,
Start to dance on the dust
Of planets and stars,
Start to sing and to howl
As they leap on the bones
Of the gods and the priests
Who have died on their thrones
When confronting the chaos
Standing just outside their gates.

As these fallen lords rave
And feast upon themselves,
The fool and his beast
Step out into the void,
Fall in through the central
Singularity's door
And dance on the chaotic
Vortex of things
Plunging into themselves
Like a sparkling primrose
Closing inward at the dawn.

As the fiery stars fall,
And the corpses of gods
Blow away on the breezes
That whip through the void,
The fool and his beast
At last reach their home,
The abandoned home of God
That was built upon air
Out of crystalline sand,
Ad together with a mighty puff,
They blow it down into a heap
And lie upon it, like a bed, to sleep.

Image credit: Hlamo, from Wikimedia Commons, as a public domain image.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Crossing the Wild Line: Thoughts on Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man

Crossing the Wild Line: Thoughts on Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man

Prompted by a philosophically minded friend, I recently watched the film Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog's documentary of Timothy Treadwell. For those of you who do not know of Treadwell, he is the fellow who went to Alaska and lived amongst the grizzly bears up there for 13 summers, filming himself and thus capturing some astounding wildlife footage in the process. In 2003, he and his girlfriend were killed by a bear--surely an ironic, as well as sad, end for this man who professed unreserved love for the bears and other animals, and who was an advocate and educator.

Grizzly Man is a compelling film, consisting mostly of Treadwell's footage with narration from Herzog and interviews with various people associated with Treadwell's life--and death. Among the most important questions it raises, I think, is how humans relate to and interact with animals, and along with that how we perceive them and their habitat. Whether driven by love or by greed, humans have a long history of crossing the "boundary" between species, charging into areas without full thought (or respect) for the indigenous inhabitants. And in the case of Treadwell, we see one instance of this trend...with typically tragic consequences.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010



Loss is a rotten apple swallowed whole,
Worms and seeds and all
In one swift and painful gulp.
It cannot be recalled,
Not one way or the other;
The poisons enter the blood
Too quickly to be purged.
There is no other choice
But to plod onwards,
Eat your fill and take
What nourishment you can,
Perhaps building up
With each bitter, fetid bite,
An immunity to the pain,
A dam against the tears,
A morbid acquired taste
For the drug of sweet suffering,
And a stubborn determination
To put one foot in front of the other
Again and again and again.
So we eat our fill and fall
In this endless orchard of fruit
That decays with our touch,
For the loss is all we are.

Image credit: Kulmalukko, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lullabies of the Abyss

Lullabies of the Abyss

Now lead me down to the abyss’s edge
And plunge me down into the cold dark depths,
Then set my silent, chilling corpse adrift
With this quick tide that sweeps from life to death.

Into the womb of chaos I shall come,
The primal birthing place of all we fear,
To hear the whispers of a babbling tongue
And drink the secrets of eternal tears.

Amidst the ghosts and shadows in my head,
The fading dreams long lost behind my eyes,
I sink into my heart, beneath the dead,
Afloat upon the murmured lullabies.

Image credit: Kaplanoah, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Veganism, Purity, and Human Nature

Veganism, Purity, and Human Nature

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article on its website by Harold Fromm titled “Vegans and the Quest for Purity.” It was a poorly argued, logically flawed diatribe against vegans and veganism—which were criticized for being foolishly extremist, self-contradictory, impossible, and utterly valueless. The article touched off a large debate in the comments and on various other websites. In taking part in the discussion myself, I did a lot of thinking about issues that were raised, which speak to many of my core principles and, I think, also touch on some key questions of modern culture and human nature.

Whatever valid points Fromm might be making about purist veganism in his article, he is in fact writing in such a way to discredit ALL veganism—in contradistinction to “looser” (and so more acceptable) vegetarianism. What this essentially does is to put things in an all-or-nothing light, so that veganism in any form is cast as foolish and worthless. If we only think in ideal and absolutist terms, then yes, veganism becomes untenable. It would be impossible to draw absolute lines between what things could be eaten/used by us and what not, and it would sacrifice practical efficacy for unwavering rigidity.

But to portray any and all veganism as priggishly absolutist ignores the very real good that we can do by trying, as much as possible, to reduce the harm we cause for other beings through a vegan lifestyle. Why is this somehow foolish or worthy of ridicule? By adopting a vegan lifestyle, even without worrying about bacteria and insects but just the more obvious living creatures, vegans still do a great amount of good in the world (for animals, for the environment, for themselves...).

It makes me sad to have these efforts and intentions dismissed out of hand or mocked. I fear that Fromm may lead many people to disregard veganism completely rather than see what aspects of it actually are worthwhile and doable.

And yet, Fromm does actually get at a serious issue in criticizing self-righteous vegans who try to preach to the world and who cast critical judgment on anyone not as pure as themselves. But the root problem in this case is not veganism in the extreme, nor any particular “-ism.” The real problem is NOT one particular ideology or lifestyle choice…but the human tendency to get fundamental about our cherished beliefs. Be it religion, political ideology, racial identity, or even tastes in art, I cannot help but see a common underlying thread: Humans just love to get fanatical. The sad thing is that the minority of fanatics get noticed, while the majority of reasonable people in any “group” get lumped in with the extreme ends of their particular spectrum (e.g., “all Muslims are militant terrorists”).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Crimes of Blindness

The Crimes of Blindness

Imagine, if you will, that you are standing in some sort of a packed cell with hundreds of others--some of them family members, some of them friends, and many of them strangers. They all, like you, are visibly trembling and unable to move, even losing control of their bladders or bowels.

You have lost track of time, but you must have been here a long while, because the place stinks--with urine, feces, sweat, and fear, forming an invisible fog that is still thick enough to choke you. You suffocate and fight to stay conscious, not knowing where you are or what is happening.

Suddenly, a door swings open, and blinding daylight floods the confining space. Huge dark figures, silhouettes of strange alien shapes, rush in and start grabbing others around you. Some great clashing sound screams into life, the sound of metal and motor engines deafening you as you cry out, one voice among many.

And then you feel yourself clutched by the leg, yanked forwards, and inverted. Dizzied, you try to orient yourself and gather your senses, but things are moving too quickly in this terrible place. Something cold and hard locks on to your ankle, and you are moving, swinging to and fro in the air as you go.

On either side of you, others in a similarly up-ended position form a long line, swaying in the air like clothes hung out to dry in the breeze. The ride is short and fast, through a crowd of those alien figures. You watch as one reaches up towards you quickly, and with a flashing swipe, you feel an icy sting on your throat.

You try to cry out at the pain, but strangely your lungs cannot take in air…and then the real terror starts. You squirm and writhe, the sting in your throat sharp still but dulling as everything starts to fade. Before your senses escape you, though, you feel the skin of your ankle rip open and pull away from the bone…and you slip through the clasping fixture, flopping to the hard, cold floor.

Laughter and angry grunts get louder as one of the alien figures approaches you. Yet again, you are grabbed (by the injured leg no less, the useless limb now throbbing from somewhere so far away), hoisted into the air…and then slammed repeatedly against the floor, over and over. You feel your skull and vertebrae crack; your ribs shatter and pierce your organs; your blood fills your throat and blurs your vision. And then, finally, it ends…blackness, silence, peace…

I hope you feel some horror at the image of human beings like yourself, and including yourself, enduring such unjust, senseless violation.

But how do you feel when I tell you that the victims are chickens, not people? For the scene I have described is not some torture chamber in a fantasy world, nor an account of brutality from the depths of some draconian prison, but just one of many scenarios in the very real, very frightful animal slaughterhouses to be found throughout the United States and many other countries.

And what if I tell you that my narrative is the G-rated version, lacking so much of the nauseating abuses that come before--such as confinement of anywhere from three to five (or more) birds in a tiny cage, in fetid air and disease-infested surroundings, with fighting and even cannibalism, and involving genetic manipulation and stunting of every single natural instinct (from stretching limbs to scratching the ground), and much more?

Friday, June 11, 2010



A crimson wave is breaking down
From shore to shore and pole to pole,
The blood of all our eons raining down
Upon our heads with drowning weight.

This ripple of a cosmic blast
Released from somewhere on the Earth,
The tragic triumph now achieved,
The monstrous birth of incapacity
And power blinded, driven mad with greed,
But trudging onwards over broken bones,
With every step approaching to the edge
Of its great shadow kingdom, built of dreams.

But as it teeters and begins to fall,
The empty human soul flings out a hand
In desperation for a solid hold:
Its fingers clutch and cling like claws
Onto the fabric of reality,
The weight of all the burdens it has borne,
Collected as the generations passed
And stored within its twisted genes.

The weight is far too great, and with a crash
The gauzy veil is split…then torn to shreds.
And as the stars collapse into the void,
They cluster, coalesce, and rush in waves
To fill the cosmos with a purging fire,
Extending outwards, far beyond the light,
Embracing everything to draw it in,
Consuming every shadow, scar, and stain.

With countless ages having passed again,
Their nights of darkness having found an end,
On some small planet lit by newborn stars,
A simple form will stir within the slime.

Image credit: NASA, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth

Sorry this is so bleak and pessimistic...I guess I am in a mood.

The Greatest Show on Earth

"God was led infallibly by his wisdom and by his goodness to create the world through his power, and to give it the best possible form..."
-Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Theodicy

The curtain opens on a crowded stage,
A troupe of players draped in rags as fools,
Their faces twisted in distorted masks,
With bulging crotches or with parted skirts.
Yet wizened, age-bent, crippled by the years,
The centuries that they have lived and bred
Within a haze of pheromones and lust,
Though never draining their virility.

Now watch them stumble, drunken lechers all,
And weave across the stage, more crowded still,
As by the minute more and more walk on,
Crawl over, stand erect, and pound their chests.
And soon one trips and falls, a quadruped again,
Returning to the origins it never left.
Then others trip, making a roiling mass
Of limbs and genitalia, boiling pile of flesh,
Rising and extending in a self-spawned swirl
Of replication for the sweaty glee,
The hint and glimpse of immortality
Within the climax and the little death.

But underneath their beastly grunts and groans,
The sounds of screams and angry cries grow loud.
For here and there, the orgiastic waves
Are parted by the fists and flailing clubs
Of two, then three, then hundreds locked in war,
Their throats torn open by their battle cries--
The mass of flesh divided half and half:
Two parts, one whole: the ecstasy of blood.

And Death, a shady figure draped in bones and skins,
Is striding on to stand at center stage.
It gazes out, though lacking face or eyes,
Then turns its body, points to where the farce
Has entered into this, the final act.

For now two streams are spreading from the pile,
One red, one white, both draining life away.
Yet still the bodies pile higher, farther out,
The overflowing flesh collapsing on itself,
The forms devolving in their lust and war
And spilling over from the stage's edge.

The stage’s wood and metal groan beneath the weight,
The rafters shake and creak, the floor grows weak,
And flames break out behind the scenes:
The whole theater is about to fall
Upon the heads and humping, thumping forms
Now next to formless, shapeless shades like Death,
Amoebas swimming in the viscous streams...

Until the curtain falls, and silence reigns,
And everything is stillness once again.
The curtain quivers, but the troupe has gone...
There is no encore, for the show is done.

Image credit: Andreas Praefcke, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, May 13, 2010



Red red red! O glory of life!
My veins and arteries flutter,
My heart drinks you and spits you out
Like some wine aged to perfection.
The tops of rainbows shine with you,
And roses blush at your sweet kiss.
The fires of stars, the face of Mars,
The core of this planet of ours
Burn and explode to show your ire
Through cosmic spaces, dark and cold.

O red, these reflections are dim,
Mere embers long buried in ash.
What of that spark that once went BANG!
And threw off the spectrum of light,
A particle hidden within
Each frenzied atom as it fled?
Fear not, rage not: your spark lives on,
Is tended and held like a gem.

When first, in that moment long gone,
The universe opened its eyes,
That sparkling shard took a shape
And spread two feathered wings to fly
With black-mask face and orange beak,
Bearing this treasure with a song.
So now, if the sun strikes the breast
Of this avatar in the air,
The past becomes present, alive,
And promises wonders to come.

It is time: gather ’round this crook
Of a blooming dogwood’s thin branch.
The wind watches, holding its breath,
The sun brightens, peeking through leaves.
For here in this nest an egg cracks:
First sign of a color reborn.

Image credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, from Wikimedia Commons, under public domain.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Religion: End It or Enlighten It?

Religion: End It or Enlighten It?

I have wrestled for years with an interest in religions, from an outsider's perspective, that vies with an equally strong dislike and distrust of it. I waver between these two poles, often depending on what I read (say, Richard Dawkins vs. the Dalai Lama), and I can never settle that final question: Should religion be tolerated or terminated?

It is a troubling question. The hardest part is that being skeptical by nature, I have no problem seeing the fantastical and placating aspects of religion, the way it helps people feel good about themselves in a big, scary universe, while recognizing the ways that it can contribute to personal happiness--albeit at a greater price. So, looking at it through skeptical goggles, it seems silly at first blush to think something like religion could be all that dangerous or bad or harmful...

And then we have people crashing planes into skyscrapers. Or people killing other people because they are gay, offer abortions, or what have. Plus you add on top the ever-expanding circle of exploitation in the form of sexual abuse, money grubbing, power mongering, etc., etc. It is so easy to see how religion is as poisonous as it might be supportive. It cultivates and encourages a mindset of ignorance, setting for easy answers, not questioning assumptions and "authority." Meekness is encouraged, ignorance is bliss, faith is the key to heaven. Heck, you can even have someone ELSE die for your own sins!!!

Monday, April 12, 2010


An old poem...but it still says so much.


Hug the air above a candle’s flitting flame
And hold the hand of the shadow it throws;
Feel the presence of whom you love most,
The one who loves most to be yours,
Next to your heart, his heart speaking soft,
As though he were pressed to your breast.
Look into a mirror and see his clouded eyes,
Which once gazed unblinking in yours:
Both reflections clear enough to show your smile,
But one made hollow by the depthless glass.
Hear a whisper in an unfelt wind,
And think that his voice still remains,
Echoes speaking when there’s nothing left to say,
Forever speaking what he always tried to say.
Know he’s there although he wanders far from home,
A haunted ghost who walks the world without a grave.

Image credit: Matt Luttrell, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Poems for Spring

Spring is almost here...!

Persephone, lift up your head

Persephone, lift up your head
That wilts with dewy tears;
Return, for from its barren bed
The lily bloom appears.
A golden eagle cuts the sky
To chase the cold away,
And satyrs lift their staffs on high
To call their nymphs to play.
Your shepherds pipe:
The time is ripe
To break the spell
And rise from hell!

The winter’s chains have melted down
As gray gives way to green,
And Hades, grudging, tips his crown--
While spilling tears unseen.
There’s love above and love below,
But life is only here!
O shadowed maiden, hear and know
The budding of the year!
Your shepherds pipe:
The time is ripe
To break the spell
And rise from hell!

Within your mother’s fruitful womb
The seeds of springtime stir,
As you, amidst sepulchral gloom,
Reluctant queen, endure.
The moment’s come; don’t let it flee!
For liberty is brief:
The blossom, smiling bright in glee
Must shortly frown in grief.
Your shepherds pipe:
The time is ripe
To break the spell
And rise from hell!

O never let the minstrels cry
And miss your pure embrace,
For ev’ry heart’s lamenting sigh
Invokes your absent grace.
This verdant garden earth awaits
To feel your tender kiss:
Persephone, your prison’s gates
Have opened unto bliss!
Your shepherds pipe:
The time is ripe
To break the spell
And rise from hell!

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Will Be

What Will Be

She was standing in the kitchen, holding a cup of steaming coffee. The smell was brilliant and bitter, tantalizingly familiar as it pricked her nostrils and her throat. She looked around: brown wooden cupboards and matching pantry, faded flower-patterned linoleum, old-model microwave and toaster on the counter (both white), old-model white stove, humming white refrigerator, two windows in the wall looking into a wooded back yard (one with an empty bird feeder dangling in the center of the glass, hanging from the eave), ceiling fan with three lights….

Everything looked right, felt right. She looked at it all again, furrowing her brow with effort and frustration this time.

She knew it, every last detail, but those details were not coming together for her into a single, solid sense of ownership. They wouldn’t meld together, finally and completely, into the sense of being hers, because she couldn’t get the sense of who she was.

Then she saw a photograph on the lone wall shelf, above the small telephone table: an old man with a ring of white hair around a bald dome, wearing wire-rim eyeglasses on a narrow face, and a woman with fluffy white hair, slightly curled on the tips, full face, and broad smile, a butterfly pin on her collar….

Sheldon. The man was Sheldon. Her Sheldon, her husband. The man she had married back, what was it, 1956…over 50 years now. And that was the same man who she had laid in a grave over five years ago. Or was it closer to 10? She would have to look at the papers in her filing cabinet later.

Yes, the bright-eyed man in the photo was her Sheldon, and she…she was Millicent Bradley Crenshaw, “Millie” to anyone who knew her for more than, say, two minutes.

She breathed a quiet sigh of relief, feeling whole, real again now that she felt at home again, and sat down to read the newspaper from front to back while she sipped her coffee and ate her oatmeal with milk, raisins, and a banana…and a dab of maple syrup.

It was quiet in the house, the only sounds the occasional turning and shaking of newspaper pages, the clink of metal spoon on porcelain bowl and cup, the slurp of coffee or thin oatmeal. Ages of silence, the quiet morning hours of an old house with one small, slow, simple old inhabitant. The sun rose from the horizon, growing full and confident in its puissance. As it grew stronger, brighter, the thick forest of deep green pine and naked deciduous trees surrounding the house took on a burnished look, steaming away the winter morning’s cold and frost under the sun’s heat. Birds chirped and flitted around in the boughs and branches, hunting for food, singing to pass the time, visiting the empty bird feeder outside of the house’s window just in case there might be a few seeds this time that they had missed the last. Once, for just a few minutes, a doe emerged from the tree line into the backyard, nibbled at a few shrubs that had run wild with neglect, and then disappeared again into the shadows of the forest canopy.

The sights and sounds and signs of life hustled and bustled about on this cold February morning in lower Maine. But inside the small brick house, little was heard besides the few quiet sounds of one woman’s breakfast over the newspaper. Once in a while the house creaked, the gas furnace rattled into life and then clattered into rest, the refrigerator hummed and squirted and farted.

Hours passed, creaking towards noon unnoticed. Millie finished her paper, her cold coffee and sludgy oatmeal, and then went to do the dishes. She remembered, from habit rather than deliberation, that she had to take her pills now that breakfast was finished. First the dishes, one thing after the other, just as it should be…like walking in someone else’s footsteps in the snow. Or like taking a few oddly shaped pills from the proper cell marked for that day, one of the fourteen such cells in the two-rowed plastic pillbox she had in her cupboard.

Millie pulled the faucet arm up to start the water, easing it to the left, and peered out through the window over the sink as the warm water spluttered and splashed against porcelain and steel, against her dry, crinkly hands. The unseen doe was long gone, but there were still a few chickadees and titmice capering about, an occasional cardinal flashing through the green pine boughs dusted with white snow, a blue jay and a squirrel bickering over something near the big oak tree back in the corner where the fence boards had fallen out…oh, probably three or four years ago.

It would be noon in a few more hours, and she would make her lunch and do those dishes and look out of this same window into that same woods-edged backyard. For this moment, though, Millie felt the warm water on her hands and just watched the animals and the light at play outside. Billions of beautiful, delicate little sounds in and out of the old house accompanied the scene, but Millie heard almost none of them.

* * *

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rest Stop

Rest Stop

The night was a dismal bog of black, with tiny pinpricks of light piercing through but doing little to break the darkness. The car’s headlights carved out a small area of substance and existence as Les drove, but none of what they showed so far on the shoulders of Interstate 10 had been worth looking at—tired trees, dying grass, colorless concrete dividers, road signs to nowhere special. The black night had fallen on and filled the world outside of his car. It had somehow managed to spill in through the closed windows and the metal, too. However it made it, the black night was in here with Les, and it whispered to him with the voice of a humming engine and rubber rolling over pavement: SLEEEEEEP, it said.

Les yawned, twisted his neck until he felt the satisfying pop of joints, and then looked down at the car stereo: 1:43. He cursed himself for being in his car, driving, at 1:43 in the morning.

I should be in bed, he thought, huffing out a bemused laugh. Then he thought of Sarasota, stoked his will, and pushed the accelerator down a bit to press on through the murk.

He was tired, but his fatigue was also laced with the heady mixture of adrenaline-alcohol-excitement that he had been jacked up on throughout his week in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras.

Les had been in New Orleans for the entire week once again, his annual ritual ever since college, come hell or high water or work. What was this, his sixth? Seventh? If he tried hard, he probably could remember…but he didn’t feel like trying right now. Instead, he reached up and ran his fingers along the bright bead necklaces hanging around his neck, under his shirt. The few beads that were visible above his collar sparkled in the glow of the dashboard lights as Les rubbed them. He felt the cold, hard plastic balls, one after another, and recalled the rosary his mother had given him once when he was a kid, with the same brown beads as her own, and which he had then lost somewhere with the utmost haste, to her great despair. Staring into the black night, he rubbed these cheaper, more colorful beads and thought—tried to think—back on this latest week-long extravaganza in New Orleans. God it was wonderful, like a cleansing release of one year’s worth of repressed frustration, anxiety, fear, guilt, desire…everything. In his fatigued semi-silliness, Les felt the dying traces of some unnamable, undirected wonder and reverence. His smile slinked along his face a little more, and he let up a little on the accelerator.