Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Robin Egg Blue

It sits there in the shade beneath the mesquite tree where the dealer said he would put it so it would be cool when I came to take a look at it. "Sits" maybe isn't the right verb. Crouching maybe. Ready-to-pounce for sure. It looked animated, the lines speaking speed. This was not a comfort car, nor was it a quiet commuter. Metal flake shade shifting paint, low profile tires, gold rims, air scoop, fairing (that actually worked) on the trunk. It likely could go twice the speed limit of most highways, maybe the interstate. It was everything I shouldn't be: irresponsible, sensational, imprudent. But it was a burr in my brain, an image I couldn't shake. It was my version of Peter Fonda's Captain America chopper in Easy Rider. We know how that turned out. Flirting with disaster feels fine as I lean over a dizzying precipice.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


They sit segregated by race and by choice. It's the way things go in prison, this prison, anyway. This prison, a state prison in Arizona, is an old-school punish-'em-til-they-break, just-keep-the fights-from-spreading-outside-the-yard prison. Education is in short supply. The food is bad. Time outside the cell is short, one hour of rec per day. In a place like this, you need your homies for protection, and you need to represent when your card is called. If that means taking someone out, a stoolie say, then you do it. Or you risk the ire of your tribe, the shot callers, the rules of the game and the requirements for membership in your tribe. Autonomy is a quaint abstraction from some other life, some other world. There is no opting out without consequences that hurt for a long time. Tribes feed on fear, on scarcity, on absence of options, on differences, on turf lost or gained. Arizona law makers like it that way. The tribes run the yards, like packs of sharks. But that is outside, for a few hours anyway. Right now we read a poem about work, about finding one's way through the labyrinth that life presents, something that everyone, no matter the tribe, has to figure out. In this we have some common ground. We look for the words that might describe that. They are elusive, but we join together in the hunt.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gateway Drug

It starts with the weak stuff at the diner when you are sixteen and order two eggs over-easy with hashbrowns and get permission to drink what might as well be dishwater it is so thin. But the little boost you get from that swill in a 1950s cup with chips and stains from too much use is enough to pique your cravings. Before you know it you are on a bike tour in northern Wisconsin and need the drug to cover the next 32 miles to the campsite. Before you know it again you are in college, getting up to go to your job in the student union while it is still dark and the wind outside is screaming off of some iceberg in Greenland and you don't even eat because you need that fix. One day, the barista, a friendly little pusher-woman, offers you a free shot of espresso because it is free-shot Monday. The brown bloom and the extra kick send you into a heightened caffeine-induced ecstasy. You ask for another. Then you hit the streets in search of Italian espresso beans, the mainline. Your kitchen fills with roasters, burr grinders, steaming gleaming stainless steel steamers. Your dreams are laced with lattes. The cupboards fill with tiny cups for the strong stuff. You hide beans under your bed and lie to your friends about why you are smiling all the time. You carry a portable grinder on backpacking trips and refuse to go anywhere that doesn't serve coffee. Your bank account drains into boutique varieties of Joe and you travel to the source and sneak onto cafetales in Central America to pick the raw cherries of the strongest brew. Your eyes are crazed. Your hands tremble. The jitters haunt your dreams. Your wife says you smell like French roast. You hit bottom and seek professional help. They tell you what you really want is just hot water. You try. It doesn't take. You wander the arroyos, sleep under bridges, carry grounds in a plastic bag, share your secrets of perfect water temperatures. You keep the company of other junkies. When your time comes, and the hooded reaper stands at the door with his scythe poised sharp as a scalpel, you ask if he can wait while you brew just one more for the road.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


They are invisible, but they are strong as steel cables, those threads that I have woven over the years, and that now bind me like duct tape, freezing me in a near catatonic state. The more I fight them, the tighter they become, until I must either surrender or die trying to break them. The kicker here is that they are my own creation, my way of coping before I knew better. Knowing that doesn't make them any less real, but it does point to the way out. They will only dissolve if I examine the living braid of reasons, shine light on the secrets, tease out the errors, and then re-wire and re-imagine them. I can then accept the pain of them as they burn in the crucible of transformation. There is a cost for change, paid in full when the shell cracks open and a light pours through and the old crust falls, smoking, to the waiting earth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ode to Blood

It is getting to where it is needed. Old friends, visible veins, have begun to visit the rock of a foot at the end of my right leg. Under siege, the swelling has been in retreat. Purple and red shifts to pink. The callouses on the soles of my feet are long gone, and summer barefoot season is past. Still can't feel anything on one side under the calf muscle. Tiny corpuscles pick up the toxic waste of too much postponement. Stiffness dreams of breaking the bonds of limitation. Numb, stiff, hard, calcified, I wiggle my toes. Don't really care much about how the skin hangs there, no longer taut; I just want to be move, swivel, bear, and walk. It is blood I need, blood I long for, blood that quells the ache in my heart. I have been frozen for too long.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

On Turning Sixty

The decade sounds ominous
Now "S"s as the "F"s
Recede in the rear view mirror

A curdling unease
Vague notions of hobbling
Canes, vanished virility

Creaky joints crimped digestion
And "sir" as the cashier
Rings up milk of magnesia

The mile marker slides
By the window of this
Passing train

A shade lowers a bit
To hide the harsh light

Tell me something
I don't know
That days have numbers

That fall and rise
The price set by how
They are spent

Short supply
Infuses illusion
With clarity

The forelock of time
Waits to be plucked
Love to be spoken

I am learning to
Take a deeper

A welcome shock
To the System

A sweet taste
Of creosote
Of hot chiles

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Olympics I Would Like to See

It's too late again as I zap the TV after watching Olympic athletes do their things. I've been glued since dinner and it's now early morning on a work day. The short night will hurt when work demands focus that I don't have from lack of sleep.

Oh well. It's worth it. I love this stuff.

And it's not completely what I would like to see.

Yes, Simone Biles and her stratospheric flight in laid-out twisting double back flips is impressive beyond words. And it's not what I have to learn to do.

I would like to see an Olympics for living. You know, juggling work, home, relationships, self-care, world-awareness, finances.

Here are some possibilities:

1.) An Olympics for energy and water saving. Contestants would start with some seed money and have to build, from scratch, a water-harvesting system, solar panels, waste disposal, and efficient structure. There could be individual and team events.

2.) A diaper-changing sprint.

3.) Debt hurdles.

4.) Car maintenance heptathlon.

5.) Teaching marathon (with standardized, timed testing for thirty randomly selected students).

6.) Financial aid forms decathlon.

7.) Floor exercise of tile, grout, sealing, and molding installation.

8.) Doubles and singles parenting with degree of difficulty points for staying calm when the talk gets personal and pushes all kinds of anger/upset buttons. Contestants would be monitored for blood pressure, infanticide fantasies. Bonus points for meditation classes, communication clarity, and setting the bar high.

9.) Morning routine for both style and degree of difficulty after getting up late.

10.) Meal prep given random ingredients in varying stages of freshness. Bonus points when judges actually eat what you cook.

OK, there is more. But this life is an ordeal of sorts, and it would be helpful to see how the pros do some of the tasks. Might learn something...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Truest Thing

Sun pierces the blinds as the dream so real you could touch it fades into something you can't even remember. Sleep presses down on you like some wrestler trying to pin you to your bed. It has gotten hard, lifting the weight of this life and carrying it with you through the labyrinth that is making a nut of food, shelter, and love in this quicksand of changing rules. You look to what you know, and it doesn't really help. You have to learn, and learning for you is frightening. You have to learn that not knowing is the greater truth. You draw upon this unreasonable fact for strength. Then you take a breath, look hard at the tools you carry, which will never be enough, and you swing your legs out of sleep and look down at the floor. Keep you eyes there. Wake up. Calm the voices that say no. Be vigilant. Remember that you have beliefs and inviolable convictions. Doing little harm when feet are kicking you down is the way. The pain of sharp edges on the soles of your feet as you stand is the price you pay for moving forward into the stream that smooths and polishes your rough edges. You grimace and then let them go, and move, in spite of your desires to sleep, your tender, pink, fresh skin open to what waits for you. You take one step, then another, and you do this because it is what you must. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Way Into

Because he had forgotten and become proud, he could not face the fact that he, only he, was responsible for finding fault with the gift of a day. To appease the shame beneath the error that was his pride, he made up stories. He infused those stories with symbols that lit the way indirectly, suggested, through the abundant imagery of the world, a way to the truth that he could not admit, possible as it was, from the periphery, the blind side, unguarded back door. Only through sun, moon, gold, doorways, and monsters did the way to what he had forgotten become clear, admissible to a mind bent on abdicating, on finding the causes of his unhappiness outside himself.   

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sooner or Later

Part One:

You want it to go your way. You know: the money, recognition, achievement, romance, body and other trappings of what a great life is supposed to look like. But, then, for most of us anyway, you stumble, or life yanks out the rug, and you are out of the running. You have to face yourself and figure out what's really important. Because that is no fun, difficult, and not so lucrative, you avoid it, forget it, or just plain refuse to consider the fact, that yes, at some point, you have to lose. If you have the guts to admit it, you see that all those trappings are ultimately empty, especially when it comes time to lose the Big One. So what is one to do? You sit there and wonder and wonder and dig deeper, waiting for some insight in the deepest of deep meditations when a voice from somewhere other than you speaks to the living life within you says "Take a deeper breath."

Part Two:

You ask yourself "What the hell? Who is that?" And just like that, your body knows what to do. Before you can even get behind the idea, your lungs are off and running, taking a breath like no other you can remember taking, inhaling so much that you feel will pop like a balloon before beginning an exhale that evacuates the tiniest sac in your lungs of every molecule of air. You feel like you will die if you don't get some air. But you don't matter anymore because your body has remembered that it is here to live in spite of all your fear and chatter about how things are supposed to be. If you are really lucky, you get out of the way as your miracle that is human form embarks on the bliss of loading your organs, and all your divine architecture, with oxygen, so much that you cannot help but feel the cresting wave of mystery coursing through you, carrying you, being you.

Part Three:

Then the you that says it is you demands to take control of the apparatus and steers it back toward the hope, the belief, the illusion that, somehow, things will go according to plan, until there is no more choice.

You know then you will have to give in, sooner or later.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Epic Trip Up the Driveway

The boot presses against my shin as I lean into the hill. My weakened leg strains against the resistance of the pedal as we -- leg, brain, balance, bike, boot, and fear -- all fight gravity. I shift into the lowest gear and find just enough strength to creep forward, hoping I don't stall and tip over, doing who knows what damage to the healing tendon. After long, wobbly seconds I reach the top of the hill of my driveway. This first time on a bike in three months is simultaneously a thrill and a reality check of limits. I turn onto Swan Road and gather speed in the downhill run to the bridge. I am rolling! The thrill is almost more than I can bear. Tears from the wind and joy stream down my cheeks. I tell myself I will remember this, will never again take this, nor any other, moment for granted. Traffic passes at fifty miles an hour. I doubt anyone notices the aging cyclist wearing his Aircast pedaling along in the bike lane. It doesn't matter. I am moving, moving back into the world, my waiting work, a new season, a great big unknown. The future is there waiting to be made as I slowly move toward it, into it, one pedal stroke at a time. I have another chance to try and get it right. Wheels, wind, growing strength, and a howling mystery sustain me. I bow in gratitude.