Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Story of a Path

This is a story about a path.

This path is the most marvelous of ways that lead along the far western edges of a great ocean. it is not a roadway where noisome automobiles and trucks with their noxious fumes buzz and roar by like monsters outside their nightmare origins. There are no motorcycles or bicycles nor very much indication of man's technology at all. It is a place where there is neither sound nor silence.

It is a wondrous path that winds its way along the sundown edge of a continent sharing conversation with the sea, frequently with great gusto, sometimes in quiet appreciation. The rolling breakers tell a tale of the many moods of wind and storm at the sea's far corners. The ocean is a mighty force and knows how to wear away the rocks and pound them into sand and the land knows that while the sea is mighty it is really the land which holds the sea like a favored jewel away from the consuming fires of the center of the planet. Not that this is any ordinary planet of course, because this path, this planet is the place where liveliness meets eternity and the circles of the world and the encircling sea are riven from the immortal and the linear indefinite.

This way does not hang orphan-like in the fundament of space.

This is the Path, the way of testing. Its frontiers and increments filled with the excitement of crisis and observation. It winds hither and thither on cliffs above the sea, raising and lowering its stretches from wide beaches and tide-pool strewn moraine to dizzying heights towering thousands of feet above the waves. Some of its borderlands are arid, empty of life and stretch seconds into days and fear is palpable, but the crossing reward is a cool drink at a crystalline fountain and the remembrance treasured experience.

There are other intervals of the way where the days and years flash as a strobe, where sun and moon and even the shape of the land itself can be seen to shift under the pressures of joy and beauty. These are the places where the green and growing things bloom and prosper by the roadside and never seem touched by time or disease. Multi-hued flowers and trees shaped exotically by the wind remembering once upon a time. The narrowing and widening path, sometimes paved and stepped from the memory of people gone before fades to stone and clay and dust and sand where that memory fails. Sun glistens brightly and rain strikes gently. Fog and mist are comforters for the seekers, but the Traveler winds his way alone in this remnant of Eden for this is where tranquility reigns and the only reward is a memory of longing.

For each seeker on the way a key is left. That key is remarkable for its placement, its presence in unexpected places and every key is shaped according to need. Every seeker is startled by the timing of the appearance of the key, but each seeker is left to decide its value. Not every traveler perceives the unusual timing and presence of the key, thinking perhaps it is merely detritus dropped by some other, its utility missing and long past, but for myself, I will retain this key even though I am shocked by its persistent voice and alien appearance, not for the human hand is this key for it is weightless and spaceless.

Sooner or later along the way most wayfinders encounter a great test. It frequently takes the shape of a tree although this shape is deceptive. In some ways this tree is the path because it is the path which inculcates its shape and nature when first encountered, and the response to the test generates futures and the coursing of the path. For those wayfarers who do not see it, it remains "alive" in a manner completely unsuspected and hidden. It motivates and drives the undisciplined and buffets the simple with a terrible urgency. Some will wish to strike it down, some find it ugly beyond bearing. Some find it difficult to leave, some with great ease. Many travelers see it as a great tree, some as a nightmarish thorned shrub. For some it blocks the path completely, but for those who learn an appreciation of its fierce beauty, a new test and an unexpected gift is found.

The gift is a vessel and for those who find the vessel in the perfection of their desire a kind of equilibrium is reached and the weighing and carriage of the vessel becomes another kind of converse along the way. It may appear as a simple cup, old or new, chipped or perfection itself. Some travelers experience it as a kylix, an amphora, some a great vase and some a simple mug. For the unwary it becomes an illusive siren appearing at many times in many forms at one time seducing the seeker with false promise and another time betraying him with a mask of the ideal only to later reveal its true nature. It may be that this is the greatest of all gifts and the test is to see and accept the vessel for its true nature and perhaps in the fullness of time the traveler will see the path strewn with vessels, each with its own beauty.

The finality of the path arrives when the seeker reaches what to many becomes the most terrifying of barriers, and the greatest test. This barrier is as infinite as the seeker understands. For all it is a known, a given, but many have pushed its presence from their minds or tried to condense it to an understandable form. For those, the barrier is insurmountable and impenetrable, they will curse and scratch at it and throw themselves time and time again at its surface. They will attempt a climb or an excavation but such efforts will be futile. The traveler will again be startled by when this barrier appears and where and each will ask himself how this came to be. The unprepared will find no answer.

For myself the barrier seems the greatest of opportunities and if I learn wisdom I can discover the permeable nature of its vastness. It is a possibility that my response to the gifts and tests of the path will prove this to be true.

An Ode To Terrorists

At times I go looking through old journals and stacks of paper for stories or poems I wrote and every once in a while I come across one I know I wrote because there it is, scribbled out on some spare piece of paper or in a notebook with changes made, words crossed out and the whole dated. Occasionally, there is a notation about why or where it was written, but usually these old pieces just float there on the page, artifacts of an earlier me that I read and then ask, who was he that wrote this? What was in his mind?

This short rather prophetic piece was written in April of 1988.


An entertainment award
For decimating our innocent population
And carrying our lovely nation
Into adulthood.
Blow your horms
You have succeeded where
The four horsemen have failed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Postcard From Spain

When I went looking for a story I had written a few years back, I found this piece from 2003. My wonderful friend Nancy and I had gone to Spain to participate in a volunteer project studying Mediterranean dolphins, but the project got canceled that year and we ended with a number of extra weeks to just be tourists. We had a blast driving the backroads of Portugal and Spain and amused ourselves taking pictures and visiting out of season and unforgettable out of the way places. The Costa del Sol was one of the off-season variety.

People walking
Astride the Costa del Sol
What does that mean?
I ask myself.
"Astride the Costa del Sol"
The (can you hear the guitars?)
Costa del
the costa del sol
The coast of the sun
in the sun, by the sun
The Sunny Shore.
Sunny still in January
Swimming with a
few late unripe English
Trying to force
A winter blossom
To their cheeks.
Some Spaniards
at home?
The few, the Proud, the...
Staring at my naked
In winter!?
Naked feet!
My naked tootsies
Having made a first
Very timid step
The rather chilly,
Rather polluted
(at an invisible level, of course invisible
this is the
Costa del Sol)
My bare California
Stepping their first step
into the "Wine Dark Sea"
just down from the
small stream
with the cans
and the odd bits of paper,
running rather slowly,
but surely into
The Costa del Sol.
Where it goes on to pick up
a few more
Plastic jugs and more bits of paper
thrown there by
no doubt,
The few, the Proud, a Loud
and a rather Grave
and yes,
the odd Spaniard
who must live
and revel
at his
Costa del Sol.
So we walk,
My friends my feet and I
Along this famous line of surf,
Picking up shells
The odd stone
Here and here and here
Black, with pink and white
From this marine delight
I raise my film star eyes
To lock gazes with
A Spanish Lady
and her consort on
The Costa Del Sol De España
and she stares
she stares
and she stares
at my naked...feet.
Then she stares and stares
and stares and stares and stares and
Then stares into my eyes and
she stares into my film star eyes and
she stares into my eyes
Then gathering her
Into a tight
Ball of lightening
Throws them at my
foolish delight
In the color, and the sand,
and the sea and the sound
and the smells of her
Costa del Sol.

Somewhere Near Nijar

Photo: Ancama_99

It isn't any news to those who have traveled there, but for you who haven't, Spain is a land of strange extremes. Dignified and comic simultaneously, I could believe it is the place where the circus was invented. Driving through the southeast corner of Andalucía, a desert country, the driest in Europe, my friend Nancy and I were sharing thoughts about the landscape and the people when she suddenly screamed sending chills up my spine and nearly ending us in a ditch. Gathering my scattered wits from the odd corners of the car where they had fled, she pointed out what could have been the set for a Fellini film. Set solitary in the midst of a desert plain was what could only be called a cemetery for carnivals, filled with remnants of side-shows and floats and displays for the discriminating carney.

In a barren country
of small delight
where even thoughts
find little food or drink
and must lie dessicated
among abandoned
a desert way-station mirage
plaintively calling
here, for a penny or two
a small price
a tiny coin
for this pittance
a carney, a gypsy
and the master of ceremonies will
tie your eyes to an old idea,
force feeding
your starving roots
slaking your thirsts
ending your hungers
at this desert well
and cry his delights
between the new and the newer
to the future of your futures.
Lady and Gentleman
Señora y Señor
¡Aquí esperamos con mágico!
On this dry desert road
there waits a simple
magic prestidigitory meal
mannikins and marvels
serving your deepest desires
"Check you strength!
Here are the actual barbells from he,
the strongest man alive
See the marvels and the marvelous
The Fat Lady or Her Beloved Bearded Sister!
Here, my beloved guests
reside the best,
that will shock and astound
the Freaks and their Friends
Animals Native and Animals Exotic
Fear not, we have marvels unending.
Though our reputation must a slight
tarnish bear
but though
each miracle may
need slight repair perhaps be slightly broken,
such minimal flaws cannot hide us,
we here,
the most,
the incomparable, astounding
of the fun and the frightening
the finite and the infinite.
Here it is
where verse is reverse
and life is lived!
The Fulsome Funhouse of Fabulous Mirrors.
Step Right Up!
Step Right Up Here!
This is your last chance
Last chance to see
What you've forgotten all along...
The thrilling...
The marvelous...
The scintillating...
what you've never been shown
the fantastic
Place Between Places
Where the actual Unknown is most truly Known.

Today I Saw The Seine

Paris is a very inspirational city. In 2003, just before the war in Iraq, as I wandered this amazing place, I was besieged by questions from people who wanted to understand what America was doing. I couldn't answer. The Seine was almost at flood stage, roiling and muddy, a river you never see in postcards. I could hear Gertrude Stein speaking her "little sentences".

Today I saw the Seine
I looked and saw the
Seine and where I looked
there I saw the Seine. So
where the Seine was I saw
it. Between the quais and
around by next to churches,
I saw the muddy Seine, So
I saw it. And it has history.
And the mystery of its history
is we are glad so glad how
glad we are glad it will
not speak its history its
muddy history so with all
its remembrances it can
not speak and for us it
should not speak to remind
us of its muddy history
and tell what it knows
so today I saw the Seine.
Today I saw the silent
Seine and I saw the silent
Seine not speak. So not
speaking loudly the Seine
the river the river Seine
spoke so loud so loudly.
And it spoke. And that
was the way it was speak-
ing. So the Seine from
its depths spoke from all
the way from the river
bottom it spoke about not
speaking. From the bottom
from the muddy bottom
it didn't speak about


Another piece from the insomniac period. This particular piece had its beginnings in Paris, but went through many versions.

Paris, nous avons
But always?
That is a long time,
and already she
sells her history
to the tourist buses
and maybe she
always has, maybe
we all always
have sold our
pasts as presents
to future ourselves.
But what what
what do we do
Do we feed
our children
Ashes of perfect
re-pasts, pasts
That have passed
passed through knives,
the abbatoir where
artists abide
and men with pens
who cleverly sculpt
a future of futures
where no humans
can abide.
The political men
the power seekers
the politicians they
they ride all,
all the antiques
These monuments
we must carry
carry we must
Rider and horse
Horse and rider
Blindered, blinkered
bitted, battered
So why do I start
I begin I remand
Poor Paris pitiless
Paris, plentiful Paris
of cities not oldest
nor biggest, nor boldest
I am here
Here am I
Am I here
That is why.

Where I Was In The West

This was originally written in 2005. It was created during what I think of as my insomniac period.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Conquistadors and Conquerers

Ochre pumice cliffs,
Mexico's humid Pacific rim.
An ocean wave
Grinds floating stones,
Coloured glass,
Sparkling detritus
On the salty metate,
Deserting, abandoning
Memories of centuries.

Dense green flesh
Jungle sweat
Open wound blossoms,
Vermillion and teal and Sun
Yellow and midnight purple
Each coloured bloom an
Annunciation trumpet fanfare,
Time passing; Every
Flower's perfume an
Epitaph on the wind.

Unaware, all the sun-drunk
Lovers lay curled,
Entwined limbs and
Love-stained lips
Whispering eternal
Secrets outward into
The mouth of the sea.

An army of blue-uniformed
Stormclouds advancing
In tight formation
Over the steel Pacific
Gather booty,
Strange and wondrous,
Ideas, feelings, every hue,
Every texture.

The militant skies
Open a deluge
Pour it raging
Into the heart
Of Mexico.
Her soil of souls
Wells up
Blood and tears
In Artesian spirits,
Kahlo, Orozco, Fuentes, Rivera.

Fountains to
Capture divine ichor.
In the walls of the
Casa Azul and reflected
In the Buried Mirror
Oil, ink, cardboard, canvas,
Silence, volcanically majestic.

These relics, this flotsam
Broken loose from ancient
Moorings, washed screaming
Downstream, mingling in
Borderlands of el Norte.

Powerful Northwind eddies
Blown by neighbors and friends
Rockefeller, Getty
Catch tight hold
On strange warm jetsam
Lodging it, welding it
Into Manhattan steel and
Searching for Cibolá,
La Raza is in a wilderness,
Lost in California's Dream.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saving Grace

So calm I now
Watching shadows of lovers
Silhuetas dos amantes
Na noite.

Toque nas sombras
Lips and hearts where
Old with past effort
No actual present in
Their future still

Uma viagem a morte.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Journals And Journeys

Once I had a writing teacher, a real teacher not an instructor, who told us we could write about anything, anything at all. Anything could be written about, just approach the subject matter correctly. One of our tasks was to keep a writer's journal, which was very difficult for all the members of my class because not one person in the class kept a regular journal. So a number of us got together and talked about the difficulty of this task, and task it was because the journal was a large part of our grade.

One girl thought that a writer's journal must be all the ideas and clever thoughts she had during the day and that was what she was going to put in her journal; another fellow said he thought maybe his journal was going to be a real diary type journal, like how he felt about his parents and his relationships, and a somewhat mysterious "best friend"; another guy said his journal was just going to be his poetry. The discussion proceeded like that, each person describing what they were going to put in their journal. I told the group I kept a dream journal, but thought because we had to turn this thing in every other day, that might not be such a good idea and everybody laughed. And when they laughed I got the idea that what my journal was going to cover was the progress I could make on each of my writing projects for the class. The fellow with the mysterious friend told me he thought that was the best idea, but everyone else thought their own way to proceed best and then we all went our separate ways till the next class session.

At the next session the teacher asked us all for our journals and dutifully, we pulled them all out except the fellow who said his poetry was to be the only thing in his journal. He asked the teacher, "what if nothing happened to write about?" To which she replied, "then write in your journal..nothing to write about today." He looked very puzzled. At the beginning of the term, he always dressed rather like a lumberjack in plaid shirts and Levi's and he wore his hair very long and loose and his beard and mustache could not have been cut for a very long time; he was a young man, so maybe it had been growing since it had started growing. Both his hair and his beard were slightly redder than strawberry blond, so when he came to class and I didn't know his name, I thought of him as Eric the Red. It wasn't until maybe the third class that I found out his name really was Eric, and he even had a Scandinavian last name. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I really was, and I got taken a little off guard one day when he came to class with his hair cut short and his beard and mustache completely shaved off, and to everyone's surprise he looked a lot like Eric Stoltz. During that class period he didn't say anything to anyone except when I said to him at the end of class, "I uh uh...gave up the viking look, huh?" And to my real surprise, he answered saying very quietly, "oh! I didn't think anyone know...recognize...notice."

It was right then that I realized that the teacher was right. Anything can be written about. It doesn't matter what the subject is and it doesn't matter if the subject is deep or important or funny or serious. It can be written about if the writer can figure out a way to write down the experience. What is harder, is to write down experiences that have never happened, imaginary experiences. Fiction is the hardest thing to write for myself anyway, because I have to know how the thing is going to end before I start. If I just started writing like so many writers say they do, and just let the story tell itself, the story never seems to stop. Someone might say, well, that probably is because what you've got there is the beginning of a novel, and you are just going to have to tough it out till the end. Sometimes they have said they would like to read it when I finish.

What they don't understand is that those little pieces they've read aren't the beginning of a novel, they are more like the terribly small end slices that get left in some loaves of bread. You can't possibly use them to make toast, they are way too small to turn into a sandwich face, they are even too small to use for just good old bread and butter! The only things they might be good for are turning them into croutons or bread pudding if you can collect enough, which, because they are so small, usually takes so long, they have to be frozen or they turn blue with mold.

However, when I do know the end of a story, the rest just seems to write itself. The writing of the thing almost seems backward or upside-down. Navigationally, I know where I am going, all I really need to decide is which road I am going to take, and how I am going to travel; will I walk or take the train, drive or fly? And occasionally, that decision is more fun than finally arriving at the destination itself. And sometimes, I have to go back to the beginning to get something that I forgot, just like when you leave your house and remember halfway to your goal that the reason your going was left at home sitting on the hall table waiting to leave with you, and anthropomorphically, maybe its feelings are hurt because it thinks you've forgotten it. Maybe. Even that part is fun. And then there is a kind of happy-ever-after feeling when you finally arrive with the reason for going and all is going to be well.

I felt that way when I finished that writing class. So many things seemed to happen along the way, and I had to go back and find lost experiences that seemed to need exposure to the air. It was great fun. And there, at the end of the story, were all the people who had been my companions in the original journal meeting, whom it turned out, were all great stories in themselves. The girl with all her ideas written down in her journal? Frustrated because she couldn't seem to find her "voice" and took it out on everyone in the class. The fellow with the mysterious best friend, he wrote these incredibly beautiful sentences in the midst of horrible and horribly written stories and poems, just like flowers growing in garbage heaps. We became friends for the period of the term and he began to confide in me slowly over the term, and finally, on a rainy spring evening, with the streetlights sparkling on wet pavements, in a neighborhood coffee house, against what seemed like an eternity, he confessed to me that he, this young man of just twenty, was a member of NA and his best friend was a drug.

Just like most journeys, this one lost some travelers. Looking back at the experience, I remember some of them telling us in their own way, I wasn't really prepared for this journey and I must turn back now, or I may not make it home. One older lady, a charming person who liked to write about puppies and love, told me it scared her that maybe "the old gods" might rise up and come back to power; she ran for a school board office and did very respectably, even though she had died a month before the election.

Some simply vanished, like the man, Eric, who disappeared without a trace the day after he shaved.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Carmen McRae With Summer Memory

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2007

Sitting at my desk, I am listening to Carmen McRae and thinking about a time past.

I heard a therapist repeat a phrase that felt like she had said over and over to many clients. "The future is anxiety, the past is depression." Naturally, in her milieu, she would say such a thing. A therapist deals with anxieties and depressions, and neuroses and psychosis, all day long. But the future and past might just be expressions that are descriptive of when something might or might not have occurred.

Almost anything seems to evoke or provoke memory or thought in me.

Listening to Carmen McRae I was reminded of a scene of summer in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Why do the cool urbane tones of McRae remind me of this rural mind-photo? The possibility exists that when this particular scene etched itself on my memory, I had been listening to her inside my house and wandered outside, and there before my eyes were California liveoak trees and sere summer grass, bleached almost transparent by the heat. There is also, directly in front of me, the gate my father had built into our front pasture. My father was not fond of new technology and never owned a credit card, or an ATM card. He didn't want an "efficient" fence, he seemed to want to reach for a kind of esthetic, so when he built the fence, he did not buy metal posts and a post driver, and then build what was then called sheep fencing. Sheep fencing consisted of wires woven into four or five inch squares and then topped with two or three strands of barbed wire. Our fence was a throwback.

My father dug each post hole with a digger that resembled two individual shovels hinged together like a scissors. He then bought irregularly shaped cedar posts soaked in creosote and positioned them in the holes so that a somewhat flat face could hold and receive four strands of barbed wire running parallel and held with "staples", which were really double ended nails bent into a u-shape and pounded into each post over the strands of wire. We had a neighbor who seemed to like spending more time at our house than at his own, which had picture windows and a swimming pool and evidently a nagging wife; anyway, the neighbor once asked my father why he hadn't done it the "easy" way. My father gave one of his mysterious, laconically styled responses that was calculated to tell an asker that they had just asked a question that was, stupid, irrelevant, pointless, none of their business, and at the same time, gave them a definite sense that my father was a rugged individualist right out of the wild west. It was very effective.

But the real answer was that what he had was what he wanted. But that isn't the point of this. I was speaking about the gate. This gate, unlike our corral gate, three wooden bars which slid to the side to open, consisted of a relatively straight tree branch to which were wound the strands of barbed wire. The bottom of the branch was fitted into a loop of bailing wire and then pulled into a vertical position and a another loop of bailing wire was slid over the top of the branch. This very old-fashioned kind of gate, my father told me, was called a "California gate". I have often wondered if in Nebraska it might be called a Nebraska gate, but the thought that it had originated in California seemed special to me. It made it seem to contain special energy because it was labelled Californian.

But why when I am listening to Carmen McRae, a quintessential New Yorker, was I reminded of summer in California?

I suppose there might be something in the sound of her voice, a horn being blown through sand, that starts a lightening chain of associations leading bio-electrical impulses down some meandering synaptic course until, at last, they arrive at a summer scene in the Sierra Nevada foothills stored in an old brain closet. Maybe it is just my current mood or something I have eaten or seen out of the corner of my eye. There is an image in memory and whatever has caused it to appear is welcome. The image may indeed, be false. But it is there.

With the sound of Carmen McRae's voice moving below a pale blue burning sky, I see the trees, shining spiked green leaves, grass, yellow-gold from heat, fine yellow dust that only a whisper of a breeze will lift into clouds to cloak the grass and the trees.

And I see the California gate.