Saturday, October 21, 2017

Micro Burst On the River Path


He walks the river path in the morning. Walk might not be the right word; what he does is more like a shuffle, and his heels have worn away the fabric of his too-long pant legs. He looks strong and has the shoulders of a weight-lifter or a wrestler. He has tattoos on his face, a tear in the corner of one eye. The yuppie runners give him a wide berth as they jog past, eyes averted, voices too loud as they discuss investments and travel plans. It is cool this morning, for the first time in a long time, but he is still over-dressed. My guess is he wears his entire wardrobe. When he passes me, he shoots me a quick, appraising, look. When his eyes hit mine, I smile an easy smile. I see you I say. With that his eyes light up and he smiles back. S'up? he says. Chillin' I say. Nice day he says. You too. Two neutron stars collide several hundred million light years away. Waves ripple out. Time bends. Gravity hops a ride with light. He straightens up, lifts his eyes. It might be my imagination but his step is just slightly lighter, perceptibly lighter. Maybe.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Radical Neo-Expressivism


The key to writing, for me, has always been desire. I write because I have something I want to say, maybe even need to say, or, rarely, because something needs to be said. Then I do the work of finding out how to say it, pick the genre that will work best, the voice, the register, the techniques. And, I will take this to my grave, it is in the magic of storytelling that communication happens best. When a writer captures the imagination of a reader, things begin to cook. The world of the writer overlaps that of the reader, creates a world that the reader can move into, is invited to try out, and the reader chooses to share the writer's vision, take on a new way of seeing things, and, (gasp!) might learn something. Now, this may be a quaint notion, since people don't really read anymore, but, as a teacher, with a bare minimum of convictions, I will quit before I give this up. So I carry on, with one eye on the door.

Jumping the Rail


He, the failed writer, down there, toiling away in obscurity, was shackled by the very things that would free him. Chains of stinking litanies held him frozen in fear, catatonic at the prospect he might actually wake up. His identity began to wear thin though, and he began to see through the garb of who he thought he was. He saw the black coat that had defined him in a clear, irrefutable starkness -- it was a fiction that served only to contain the light radiating from that part of him that was the gift of a dying star. He was, he realized, a drop of an ocean, connected to a mystery he would never understand. The words, he saw, could only free him if he let them come to him from where he knew he did not know. From the quiet of "doesn't matter what others think" and "you do this because it is what you do with no thought of the outcome" he found freedom and joy in the work. This getting out of his own way made him a bit crazy in the eyes of others, but gave him the attention he needed to hone his craft. Beauty. Beauty. Whether or not anyone ever sees or understands. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

CRS Syndrome


An old guy, about my age, walks into a bar and sits down between two women. He is out for a good time, so pops his question with the hopes of a much younger man. "Do I come here often?" Well that is the status of the state of this writer's mental nation. My brain has gone south, packed its bags, moved to the tip of Tierra del Fuego and left me here holding the bag of appointments that I can't seem to open or make sense of. I wake up to a new day with no idea what went on in the old day and don't have any idea how to sort out what isn't there on the big blank slate that is my memory of a long and complicated to-do list. I need a personal, or even an impersonal, assistant. I need a seeing eye dog to guide me through these days of fog and gray indistinctness. This condition, Can't Remember S@*t Syndrome, will be my undoing, my Waterloo, my swan song. Every day presents a new list of things to be left undone, a pile of cans to kick down the road, a tall glass of oblivion to sip at my leisure.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Can't Fight History


The beating heart of my job, at one time, was teaching: local, actual, at-your-door, what-are-we-going-to-do-tomorrow-in-class-with-25-students teaching. I and my colleagues trained graduate students to teach in a year-long course. In small groups we worked through the baptism-by-fire that is a first year teaching freshman writing. We brainstormed brainstorming, conferenced conferencing, and graded grading. Teacher/writers taught student teachers, and our authority came from years in the classroom along with our reflections on teaching to improve practice. And we tried to make student writing meaningful; we read literature because it raised human questions, invited students to consider perspectives other than their own, and, at its best, pushed students into zones of discomfort, new ideas, and pointed toward writing as a way to create knowledge, insight, perhaps empathy for ways of knowing other than one's own. We wanted to make our students think, and also to feel; to be thoughtful citizens, better human beings. Our teaching workshops were messy collaborations where we shared materials, trouble-shot student conflicts, mulled over the nitty-gritty questions of what makes good writing, developed critical awareness of how language can be shaped for effect; we worked to create a community (both teachers and students) that wrote its way into understanding that was beyond the teacher, beyond the text because that was what writing was supposed to do: shine a light on big questions.  By today's standards, the workshops were low-tech, paper-intensive, anecdotal lessons and discussion that seem quaint by today's "professionalized" teacher training. Authority has been transferred to the "experts." Now, grad students read scholarly articles -- written for scholars -- about teaching in lieu of sharing lived experience. Our classes are driven by vague, hugely abstract rhetorical SLOs, and we use a corporate textbook instead of our in-house anthology. We don't teach the features of the essays and genres that we actually grade, but instead the thinking about notions of context, audience, purpose, and how all that works. Nothing wrong with that if there's something to stand on underneath it. But we don't give students much help in building the stairway to those lofty abstractions. We don't actually instruct students how to narrate narratives, or to show rather than tell, or to craft an analysis. We point to the tools and say "have at it; you're on your own here." The core now, (I can't call it a heart) is administration, and is more "about" writing than actual writing. Teachers "keep track" of things, just lay out vague ideas, point to pages in the text. We don't much model or practice ourselves. Craft, process, student engagement, attention to language, real care about subjects is pretty much accidental if it happens at all. Such is the freight train of new way and it has run me over, left me bloodied and broken in the ditch as it moved on into our vague, assessment-driven, centralized, unaesthetic, sanitized future.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Too Bad It Didn't Turn Out That Way


The crossing gate was up, an erect little soldier, as I closed in on my opportunity. But just as I was about the pass over, it came down. I tried like hell to get in under the wire, but sure as sin, I was blocked out. The rest of my happy little caravan of writer wannbees just kept going. Oh, a few of them waved as they receded down their paths, around a lovely bend next to a river I thought I might know. But I was going no further. The guardians of the gate said so, and their dogs growled to reinforce the message. So I turned around and saw that my path went off in another direction, the one toward teaching. It was a rocky one, beset by days of fog and obscurity. I had to keep moving ahead by force of will. I don't know why this happened, why the others got to go on, why it doesn't matter any more that someone else lives the life I dreamed.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

At Least There Is That


He is there again. I have lost count of how many times I have seen him there. He is perched on the fountain, looking like a statue, not a feather out of place, a Greek god. Of course he watches me and tenses his talons, ready for the lunge that will lift him into flight. To say he is handsome understates his elegant dignity. Why he perches there on the lip of the fountain I don't know. Maybe he contemplates his visage in the reflection, wonders if it is all worth it. I doubt it. He is too full of life for such petty ruminations. Life is to be embraced, he says, lit with passion and risk. I am glad he is here. With the world of wild creatures in decline he thrives here in close contact with humans. At least there is that. At least there is a Cooper's hawk that sits on my fountain in front of the place I call home for now. With a heart crying out for contact with wild wisdom, at least there is that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fires, Hurricanes, Floods, Carbon


The hills are on fire, wineries destroyed by flames. Rivers have run dry; the stain of reservoir bath-tub rings grows as waters drain, leaving stone the color of bleached bones. Hurricane after hurricanes break records for destruction from wind and flood surge. Summers bake the plains, the mountains, the bayous. Still the emissions rise and denial festers like a stinking fungus in the moist areas of vested interests. The new head of the EPA repeals the Clean Power Plan. With a flick of the pen he fuels the fires, poisons the air, sends tornadoes roaring across open fields toward the barn you just built with borrowed money and your dreams of an earth still green.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Heart Dipped in Blue


Because you risk loving you will feel pain. The love may be unrequited, result in a deeper solitude than you have ever known, lead only to a hard, cold wall of grief, but it is what opens you to what will happen next, what grinds off the sharp edges of you so that you can see the pain in the eyes of others, can settle your gaze in the here and now in a way that will make the other feel seen, heard, embraced. You must rise from the blue of darkest night, dear one, even though you feel so heavy you feel the weight will crush and break you. The colors of love will lift and heal you if you let them. Let the cracked armor of anger slough off like dead skin. Let it fall, brittle and useless, into the dust beneath your feet. Your skin will tingle: tender, fresh, blinking at the brilliance of the rising sun.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Interstitial: The Increasingly Untenable Position of a Listening Between


A luxury it is to reside here between things, more or less, temporarily. As a writing teacher, I get to stand back and take apart images and arguments in the news to show them for their fallacious underbellies without getting too wrapped up in the content, without taking a side. It's more about "how?" than "what?". I have to say the fallacies are rampant on all sides. So are the legitimate gripes. My particular devils have to do with the split in (mostly) white America, between the groups that went to college or didn't, between the ones who stayed in the hometown and those who moved to bigger cities, and especially those who see owning any kind of gun you want as a right and those who see them almost exclusively as tools of police and military. I straddle both worlds and pay a price for that. On one side are the "nutcase" gun totin', holy rollers who are pissed to the gills at globalism and the "elites." On the other are the secular, globe-trotting, craft beer drinking, urbanite yuppies and hipsters who wouldn't touch a gun if it crawled into bed with them. And the gun thing is only part of a deeper divide. The rednecks up there, bummin' and pining for the jobs that went to Korea and China want my blood for having jumped ship and gotten a degree and left my country music, pick-up drinking sessions behind. The Academy, while having provided something of a livelihood, has not exactly embraced me either. I am more at home with criminals than muckity mucks in regalia. It's true that I no longer own a gun, but I do understand the appeal, the feeling of being spurned, the nose bent out of shape of being left with opioids and Bud Light in the Rust Belt. Downward mobility sucks. At the same time I can't see blaming immigrants and liberals for all the problems. Nobody wants to admit that the growing gap between those at the tippy top and the rest of us yawns deeper and wider by the day. That's taboo. Hard work to deal with too. It's an injustice that's going to need all of us working together. I wonder if Trump and his goons are fueling the divide, or if it's just human nature to want to have an enemy, someone to look down on, to feel better about yourself. People, it seems, would rather be damned close-minded, cloistered, and angry. So I hang here all by my lonesome in this rapidly disappearing middle: middle class, middle age, middle intelligence, mid-riff bulge. The teeter is tottering and I'll have to slide one way or the other I guess, as the lines get drawn, leaving nobody here in the no man's land of trying to entertain a thing called dialogue, a respectful back-and-forth, an attempt to see and hear the many sides.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sitting On Gold


It is a key that can open the lock, break the cycle, reveal the off ramp of a loop that will only end in disaster and despair. Not everyone will pick it up or take the risk or be open to what might be there hiding in plain sight. When a space is created, the chaotic world pauses for second and listens for what you might say. A Muse hears the call, finds her way to the circle where you and others gather in reverence to consider what is possible; it is there she considers giving you words to the otherwise ineffable. If the time is right, the moment ripe, and the intention both brave and sincere, she might grant you what you seek. They will tumble down onto you and take shape through the pen you put to the page in front of you. In the act you might see that your capacity for beauty is immense. She will ask much, will become a demanding mistress, but you should listen to what she asks of you. It is the way in and through. That part of you that is hungry for light will infuse you, define you, polish the gold of you to a brilliance no eye can bear.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Places They Are Not


Someone asked me what type of men come to the prison writing workshops. Kind and thoughtful person though she was, she was incredulous when I said that those men were as diverse as any group I encounter out here in the "free world," much more diverse, actually. She said she could not imagine that. From there I looked to all the places inmates aren't in the narrative we have crafted about them; I looked to the many representations -- in film, books, music, advertising, TV -- of what "regular" (and more privileged) men can do but where inmates (and many other marginalized groups) are conspicuously absent. I looked to the omissions that form a wall of what is possible to conjure up when we imagine the word "inmate," or ex-inmate. A very short list: I don't see inmates at universities. I don't see them reflected as lawyers, judges, legislators, CEOs, preachers, soldiers, artists, writers, musicians, mountain climbers, meditation teachers, yoga masters, hardware clerks, race car drivers, or bureaucrats. Very rarely do I see them as loving fathers, good spouses, brothers, or helping friends. In short, they are limited to what we all know from the familiar narrative of the men in orange. No wonder they are so easy to erase from the mind's line of sight, to pigeon-hole as outcast, loser, bad apple, sociopath, thug; no wonder it is so easy to deny that those who are invisible will someday return to claim the empty place that must be colored in by a creative, hard-won possibility.

Monday, October 2, 2017

You Wouldn't Believe


How can I begin to describe to you what happens in the prison writing workshops? You would not believe it if I told you that we gather in dim light around a harshly dilapidated table to taste the possibilities inherent in a poem about love and the power of creative expression. You would not believe that men who have murdered someone dream only of giving back some polished pearl of peace to those who grieve. You would not believe that beneath the thick necks and tattoos that rise from the collar up to the jaw and beyond that men hunger for words, will buy a cheap thesaurus with their last dollar. You would not believe that they want to turn bitterness into a struggle for justice, a black flower of resolve. You would not believe that they have more to say than means to say it; there is not enough paper on the planet to hold the stories they want to tell. The games that govern prison take a back seat to honesty, sometimes, in the workshops. They become the subjects of talk rather than the rules. All of this sounds impossible, does it not? Well I can only give words to what I see, however flawed that perception might be. When so much is taken away, the alchemy woven into language begins to hum and shine. Words become real, something to hang onto when the only other option is drowning.

Hit It With Your Best Shot


Before the sun lights the sky behind the ridge of mountain to the east, before the wave of another week breaks over you, you imagine what might be. You might remember what it was you came here to do. You might get your work organized, might find the will and energy to complete the tasks waiting for you as you do them with the quality that comes from love. You might sidestep the nattering nos and move gracefully though the roiling waters, the sharp rocks that snag your progress, cut and bruise your flesh. You might see in your students the potential and latent passion to be what they dream of being. You might leave that black coat of despair at home in the closet. You might choose to live the pain and joy of what is instead of clawing your way through the day to the relief of sleep. You might pierce the fog that covers your future and see there one more day to walk with the beloved, to delight in the soft light of her. You might shed the dead weight of fear and put your pen to work laying down the story that has led you here. You might find peace at the end of the day knowing that you said yes, that you didn't back down, that you followed the call to enter the fire. As the sun breaks over that serrated horizon you try to remember, to fasten this vision of what might be to this breath and the next and on and on into the gauntlet that waits for you. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lecturer Livelihood


So, there you were in that meeting, the one with all your nemeses, real and imagined. It was time. You stood up to say your piece. Your voice quavered but you persevered. Your words had not been rehearsed and they were not the best ones for what you had to express. You couldn't remember whether to say "non-traditional," "adjunct," "non-tenure eligible," or "career track" to describe your job title to the ones who were entitled, but you spoke anyway. You told them about the years given, the service done, the programs directed, the courses designed, the publications, the utter absence of hope that you would ever be promoted, have job protection, or have secure voting rights. You did not tell them about the insults delivered over the years, the belittling at the hands of the ones who blocked your path at every turn. Later, when it was over, you wouldn't remember what it was you had said, exactly. And you were not sure if anyone had really heard what you said, but you did what you had to do. You couldn't really think after that, much less grade papers. You walked the Friday hallway alone. Your thoughts wouldn't come because your heart was broken, again. Why has this been so hard, this getting and making a life?

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Next Thing


While you were gone, things changed. You walked into what you thought was familiar to find the whole place re-done, turned upside out, the furniture moved, your paintings taken down and replaced with posters of video games. Where people used to face you you now see backs turned. You get cut off and people giggle when you talk. Nobody cares any more what you think, what you want, what you believe to be true. It's a new world they say. Buck up. There's the door if you don't like it. You are supposed to stare at your laptop in meetings and laugh at inside jokes that you don't think are funny, don't see why others think they are funny. The road ended and you are still moving forward, off the pavement now, heading off into the desert. You missed a turn somewhere and have to go back, or find your way into what comes next. You don't know what that is exactly, so you just throttle back, take stock, and remember that what you do is breathe. You breathe in and out. It is compassion you inhale. You remember that. It's the next thing, the way you will go.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Under the Half Moon


Between here and there, betwixt and between, in the limbo of the interstice, you make your way toward that part of you that is the beloved. She has delivered the news that things will not be what you hoped and you have been freed to resume the real work of becoming without the comfort of arriving. So be it. The work is to deepen, to find the compassion hiding in the space between the notes, the white between the words. It is there, beloved,  that you find the answer, the one that you will never possess because she is not form, but energy. She is love, beloved, and it is your work to infuse that into your actions, your thoughts, and your words. Only then will you find the peace that comes from searching with the commitment of every cell of you, nothing held in reserve, nothing held in reluctance, all served up and added to the burning furnace of now or never. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

There But For


He had been gone a long time. He looked different -- deep tan, much thinner. The eyes, though. The eyes. They looked everywhere but at you: the floor, ceiling, speck of dust in some neglected corner. He was angry too, a short fuse with us kids, or at least with me. I was his oldest son, the son of an officer, the one that was supposed to carry on, become a soldier. Only thing was I didn't want to do what you had to do if you put on a uniform. Then if you met the enemy in a thick jungle it was kill or be killed. It wasn't about being afraid, but not wanting to pull the trigger with a man in the sights. Now that meant a hard road for me. I had to learn the paradox that comes with caring for others while not looking to them for answers. I had to break from the set path and venture off into an indifferent land where all I had was a bike and a brain. The bike was a good one. The brain... well it worked for a while. Pickins were slim out there, but at least bullets weren't flying over my head. The way I had to go, though, was obscure, so obscure. I had to learn to embrace the darkness that lay beyond the comfort of the family code, to feel my way forward, alone now, in blindness, fueled in equal parts by necessity and love. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sleight of Hand


The top tenth of one percent of our wealthiest citizens have as much as the bottom forty percent, and the gap continues to widen. The last time inequity was this bad was right before the Great Depression. No wonder misery defines the lives of Americans left out of the investment class. No wonder that schools are out of control. No wonder that prisons overflow. No wonder that the threat of war, the worship of celebrities, and opiates of media rain down in a curtain of distraction. The powerful and wealthy like it this way and want more. They are reaching into your pockets as you stare at the screen and ladle the sweet slop that they serve up. It's a show, for sure, all this hype, titillation, volume, action, and anxiety. If you stop for a second and pull the curtain back you'll see the little man at the controls, shooting fire and fear into the night sky. No one will believe you if you try to explain, nor will they listen. Reality is just a tad too sharp for the soft mind of obedient consumers, always hopeful that somehow, things will turn out if only they play by the rules, buy the illusions. Too bad the magic ain't magic at all. Just another cheap trick.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

People


Dealing with people (not individuals) has always been an issue for me. I just don't like them very much, find them tedious and self-absorbed. Well, that little defect has gotten worse with the brain malady. My head hurts, literally, when I try to listen to people saying things in which I have no interest. This physical ache has begun to make polite company toxic. Given that I want to write for others, this poses a bit of a problem. Not only am I a failure at marketing, I can't bring myself to "reach out" and touch anyone. Not the best situation for someone who works as a teacher at a large state university. Oddly, the inmates in the prison workshops don't affect me. That may be due to the type of conversations we have. Those interactions usually mean something, are trying to make art of impossible dilemmas. I don't know how all this is going to play, and others are soon to catch on to my affliction. The wave of that realization may roll me onto the rocks, may toss me into the big wave wipe-out. I'll just keep nodding and faking it for now, retreating into my own little quiet place while the world yammers on.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Summer Passes -- Sometimes Too Soon, Other Times Not Soon Enough


September is half done. Still the days swelter well over a hundred degrees and my nights are sweaty, tossing, fitful episodes that find me more exhausted in the morning than when I went to bed. The swamp cooler chugs along pumping hot, steamy breath into a house already pulsing with radiant heat from a long day of sun. Tonight, for the first time in a long summer, the temperature will drop below seventy degrees. I am hoping that the shortened days of lower light arrive soon. As it is, I can barely lift this heavy body off the bed. Maybe a cool night will help. I hope so, but know that more than heat keeps me mired here in the grip of a body running out of chi. We'll see. The cools a comin'.

The Woods and the Words


For years he carried weapons. There was the shotgun for ducks, the deer rifle, the .22 for squirrels, the razor-tipped arrows for whatever he met on his walks into the autumn forest. Then, something happened. He was cleaning a kill and noticed how similar the muscle, tendons, and puzzle-pieces of the gut were to what he knew of his own. He saw in that moment that he shared the transience of a body with these creatures that he hunted for fun. He buried the body and gave away all of his guns. There was no regret, no second thoughts, not a sliver of doubt. He was done. One chapter ended and another began. The new one was far more baffling than the one he left behind, and he sometimes wondered where this confusing search into the words would lead. He hunted stories now, and he was not the best at what he did. While he could track in the rotten leaf litter of Wisconsin, the trail into the words was harder to read. He grew old too soon to find what he sought, and he lost the tools he needed to capture and deliver the words he wanted to the page, his trigger finger waiting over the keypad for the next command from a mind gone dark.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Can't Blame the Thug for Doing His Job


Another one comes down the pipe with all the kindness of a runaway semi. It is a day, that is. One of those things that takes hold of my collar and slams me against the wall of having to make a living. I am in arrears, in that I just don't have the mental chops to keep up anymore. So it's survival now, just survival. I have to scrape together change from the couch cushions, bust open the kids' piggy banks, dip into the rainy day pittance. The costs of keeping this body under a roof, in clothes, and fed have way outpaced my ability to bring in the dough. So here I am being clobbered by hard questions for which I have no answers, responsibilities I don't know how to cover. Can't blame the day for doing his job, for making me cough up what I agreed to pay for another flop and three hots.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Good For Nothing


He gets up too early, to brood about the day and what he will do in it, to ruminate on how he will spend this gold that is time, time that has suddenly become dear and limited. The sharp edges of the world press against his skin insisting that this is serious business, this being alive in a body, having what many only dream of: a home, some tools, a voice, a slice of liberty, a fat cat. He has been given enough that he can turn around and give something back, extend a hand to those climbing up out of despair. The business of perpetual getting and taking becomes obscene, pornographic, in the face of so much trauma. Too many have been cut out of the game, locked behind concertina wire, bled of hope. His peers eat well, travel, count their coins in comfort-controlled climates. He wishes he could keep on wanting more, sometimes, just to join the parade of blind me-me and more-more. The diversions of having and getting ring hollow, and the only option is to step forward into the blazing field who knows what. That future has yet to be born, the humming potential, the great nothing that calls, desiring only to be created by what he knows to be true.

Disrobing


You say you want to know the beloved but you don't lift the filters that keep you from seeing. How can you know what another sees, feels, thinks, desires without dropping, for a moment, the screens and lenses through which you define the world? You see what your pain has made to be real and true, not what is actually there. You must learn to listen to the story the other tells, to crawl into it, embrace it as dearly as you embrace your own, sleep with it, touch its cheek in the deepest night. You must stand naked in her gaze. You must imagine to the point that you feel what the beloved feels, taste the sweet or bitter truth that she carries. Then you might begin to know, to take to heart an alien land you have never before visited. If you can do this, your boundaries may begin to crack open, like an egg, and you will flow into a yet larger horizon, having lost what you thought was the end, entering the pain of beginning again.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Night Bloom -- Despair and Possibility in a Prison Writing Workshop


Turnout was even slower than usual, so I, a visitor to the workshops, and one inmate had the Programs Room to ourselves. The visitor was young woman, a poet, and UA student who wanted to help with the workshops. The inmate was Champ, a thoughtful but hardened guy with the tattoos that go with gang affiliation. Likely because no other inmates had yet arrived, along with the novelty of a female visitor, he spoke openly about his offense, his time spent incarcerated, and his view of the future.

"One of the rules is that you don't rat. I'm in here because I didn't rat, but you know what? Nobody has stuck with me. I don't get letters from the woman who said she'd love me forever or the homies that said they'd stick, but still you can't cut from them."

He pauses to think, to consider whether or not he should say what he is about to say.

"Once you go down that road, the gang thing, it's hard to get out," he said. "So even after my sixteen years served for murder in here, I'll probably be back."

He said it with a flat, matter-of-fact certainty.

I asked him what he wanted to do if he weren't on the gang track.

"Something to keep kids from doing what I did. You know, someone who has been there can say it right, in a way that they'll understand."

"Nobody knows what the future brings," I said. "We could be hit by a meteor in the next second. You just don't know. That's all."

He thought about that. I had a book by Shaka Senghor, Writing my Wrongs, and asked him to read some of the forward. It spoke to the possibility of shaping a future that worked for more people, had more opportunity, more justice. He read the passage aloud.

"That's tight," he said.

Now I don't know the shackles that come with gang membership. And the talk about a future that might break from a past that seems all but certain to repeat itself must seem quaint to someone with a history like Champ's.

Other men arrive, and we get to work; our visitor reads a poem. In it she has a line about a gun being held to her head. It's a good poem about the perils of love. Her work is sharp, fearless. The men listen and then respond.

"Did you really have a gun held to your head? Do you know what that's like?" one of them asks.

It's a credibility thing.

"Yes," she says.

The man gives her a hard look that lingers, but then softens.

"That makes a difference," he said.

I try to divert the discussion to the features of the poem, lines that stand out, but the group lingers on the subject of coercion, threat, and the leg-trap hold of prison politics.

"You know a guy was murdered on the rec yard this week," one of them says. "He wanted out of a gang. He was stabbed over thirty times. That's why we were late. The cops were doing a drill to speed up response time."

That hangs in the air.

"How long have you been writing?" Champ asks the visitor.

"Since I was twelve. I wrote to figure out my place in the family. Writing was the only place I could see some way through an impossible situation."

Champ says "Yeah, I started writing in prison, about thirteen years ago. I was eighteen."

Then, he looks at me. "But I still haven't been published in that magazine."

He says it as a challenge, like it's my fault. I get that. I am a stand-in for all the obstacles that he and others face in moving forward into a life coming hard and fast and fearful down the pipe. The past is roaring toward them like a freight train. They want to tell it, and have someone hear it, before the train wreck.

The room feels charged, nervous, uncomfortable.

"I like the honesty, the self-awareness, and images of the poem," I say, just to say something.

You have to start where you are I think.

Champ doesn't waver, and asks to read a piece he has written about betrayal. It's succinct and dark and literal. I ask him where he wants to take it.

"To the magazine," he says. "I want this in the magazine."

I ask for responses, suggestions from the group. I ask how to take it from a list of events, a history, to something else, something artful. I talk about what others have done: Othello, for one.

One of the guys knows the work. We talk about betrayal and ways to live through it, to write about it, to give it fresh life and venom on the page.

Champ passes the baton of reading off to Handpoet who has written a piece about the power of music to trigger memories. When he hears songs on the radio, he hears, not the singer, but his father's voice. He means this literally. He hears the voice of his father.

The poem is good. It disrupts time. It renders memory as free from time, free from space; it makes a case that prison walls are no match for the power of the mind to remember, to imagine.

He says he keeps his music alive by singing on the yard sometimes, away from the clusters on men scattered around the field.

Champ asks him to sing, right there, in the Programs Room. Handpoet declines and shakes his head, but others join in. He agrees.

I don't know how this happened exactly, but Handpoet stands and begins to snap his fingers to some beat he hears. The room otherwise is silent.

He begins to sing, softly at first, then stronger. It's doo-wop song I don't recognize, but his voice is clear, on key, resonant.

When he is done, the men applaud.

Some of the tension in the room eases. Time is up. I have to pack up the tubs and get over to the next workshop. It's in a different unit and we have to catch a bus. My arms are heavy, clumsy, don't feel like my own.

The moment has cut me to the bone. I ask myself what one does when a gun is held to the head. The answer, impossible as it is, comes. You sing. You sing.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Settling


You know you are not supposed to do it -- according to all the motivational speakers, the career counselors, your job description -- but you have to settle sometimes for what you get. You can't afford that fancy Subaru Cross Trek, so you buy a little Versa. No power or sporty cachet, and the women are not impressed. In fact the guy next to you buys the Suby and gets the woman, the job, the promotion, the publication; he passes you on every bike ride, eats more green, leafy vegetables, and is a high-flying success story because he is more daring. He rides a rigid single speed instead of a cushy, old-man bike full-suspension. He cuts in line in front of you because you are so spacey, so incoherent. Yours is a life of scattered, half-finished projects and mediocre achievements. You have failed to focus, to sustain, follow through, go deep, produce noticeable results. You are a vague facsimile of what you might have been had you lived up to your potential. And it's about over. Your body and brain are breaking down. Time's up. Game's toast. You are going to finish at the end of the pack. You need to cut your losses. Bid adieu. Time to end wanting what you can't have, throwing pearls into a bottomless pit. You got what you got. It wasn't so bad; and it's time to do something else, re-invent what's possible, given your brain, body, and empty cup of offering.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fishing


You never know what you will catch when you get up in the dark and go out into the surprise waiting for you outside the safety of your front door. There might be a lunker hunkered down in an eddy of your sleepy psyche. You have to toss out an invitation, a tasty possibility, a pending opportunity, and then settle in for a wait. Soon enough you may see a swirl on the surface as the critter rises for the bait. It's a thing you know but may not be aware of as it takes shape in cluster of sound and idea. It is your destiny calling, waiting for you jump in, take a step into the fearful unknown. You see the line go taught, see the bobber submerge. It has taken the question you chant as an incantation. Feel the tug as you sink the hook into a passing messenger. The other side of the veil has awakened. It's up to you reel it in. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Dragon in the Chicken Wire


My five-year-old neighbor, Geo, was staring intently at something in the front yard. Now that's not so unusual. A Cooper's hawk likes to bathe in the fountain, and javelina or bobcats come by for a drink or to snag a trader rat. It's a lively place. Blocked from my view was the subject of Geo's fascination. It was a writhing diamondback rattlesnake caught up in the chicken wire around the xeriscape island. It was braided but good with one pass through a chicken wire hole followed by a second. Now what did he/she have to do that for I thought. A small group of bystanders had gathered by now as the white belly of the snake twisted in the early morning light. To cut him loose, the head would have to be restrained. I'd cut, but someone had to hold that business end in check. A bite might mean months or years of recovery. Been there. Stuff that. Those present retreated when asked. A guest with no previous rattlesnake experience volunteered. He held the head and neck of the snake while I did the surgery on the wire. Now, having my hand six inches from the fangs of an angry diamondback had my little heart fluttering, no... hammering. In my mind, bat wings opened and closed while streams of fire shot from the hissing mouth. Eyes were red with rage and vitriol. The tail was going hot and fast. No matter. Ignore it. Cut him loose. Snip. Snip. Reach around to the back. Hope the tongs hold. One more. Done. Once free, I caught him with the tongs, told him to never come back and carried his puffed up, fire-breathing, rattling, sinuous body to the wash. He retreated with a hiss, a quick look back to make sure I wasn't following. That way he could travel quicker into the misty world of my dreams. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Maybe the Fool


They are gathered there, as volatile a mix as any in the years of the workshops: Sonny, the self-described rage-a-holic, Handpoet, the on-fire Aztec teacher, Cercedes, the braided tough guy who likes to get in my face, Ortega, who wants the first draft to be the one that gets published, and Bell, the quiet giant to name a few. The only inmate race missing here is white. We are reading an inmate poem about poverty. One of the COs is sitting in, but that doesn't keep them from saying what they want to say about the poem. "I love it," Ortega jumps in. "I wouldn't change a thing." He is sitting next to me, and his gaze is both a challenge and an opening. I have to be diplomatic. There is some face to be lost here if I go too hard. "Let's look at the lines that work best," I offer up as an entry into the discussion. I ask the men to identify and read the line that stands out. We go around. "So, what do you think?" Cercedes interjects, looking right at me. "You got some answer there and you're holding back." I wish I had the magic comment, question, or incantation that would prompt the writer to send his poem from where it is into the realms of the sublime but I don't. I can only point in the direction of where others have gone. I read a published poem, similar in form and subject, but that has more sensuality, more metaphor, has greater complexity of ideas, intensifies feeling as it progresses, and ends with a zapper of a turn. "Sensory detail, images, examples, structure, and sharpening ideas" I say. "That's the work we as writers all have to contend with when revising." A mutiny of sorts erupts, but the writer of the poem in question, nods, and says "I think I get what you're saying," and that settles the rebellion just a bit. Sonny backs off, but Ortega and Cercedes are not done. They demand more explanation, and make it clear that they, as inmates, have just as much to say as I do. What am I doing here? That "I" is more of a "he," some alter ego that has fallen into a slot on a roulette wheel and is going along for the ride. Is that he the fool in the cross-hairs on a Saturday in a dark room with men hungry for expression, for insight, for direction, for something to hang on to? Maybe. Whoever this is is not the hero of the show. Rather, he is the one who meets the gaze of his own shadow. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

It Steepens


They came from very off, through a fog of distance. I closed my eyes to better focus. My mind kept wandering, did not want to listen for the beeps coming through the ear phones of a hearing test. I caught only the dimmest of tones and voices. The sounds that did come were garbled. I couldn't sort them out. Was the prompt "peat bog" or "beef dog?" I couldn't tell. But I kept honing my attention. It just wouldn't settle on the listening. I wanted out, felt like I was going to panic. The rest of the world just kept on doing its business, calm and cool as the plastic wrapped cukes they carried in the Costco shopping carts. The shoppers outside the window looked so at home in the world, so comfortable in the knowledge that they had time, luxurious stretches of love and life and time. I, by contrast, feel an urgency, see each moment in this abundance as a diamond, am watching it all slip away. I no longer care if the book gets published, if I get in shape for El Tour, and am aware that I may never again have someone unbutton my shirt, playfully push me onto a bed. I am a dying man walking, but nobody knows. The audiologist looked surprised. "I didn't think you had it, but you do. You seem so... functional. It's not profound, but is getting there.... " She held back a bit and re-calibrated her delivery of the results. "Let's just look at this as a baseline. If you feel that you're missing too much in your teaching or other areas, you really should come back." She meant get a hearing aid. "Check with your primary doc first to rule out anything else that might be contributing to this." And that was that. I took the print-out of my results, another datum in the long line of evidence that things are progressing a bit quicker than I would like. The delights of this world are receding; the pitch steepens even as it fades.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dichotomies


The mind likes to make distinctions. This is this. That is that. Never shall they merge, blur their boundaries, or overlap. Also this becomes "good" and that becomes "bad." From there the attachments and aversions form, and we run from what we dislike and cling to what we do. It's what we do. And it's a bit crazy making sometimes. Take the talk about prison, for example. Inmates call everything not prison "the world." The world doesn't exist for them inside the razor wire. And inmates don't exist for us. They are off the map, out of sight, out of mind. They are no longer part of our social compact to care for each other as citizens, members of a social community. "Let 'em rot" runs beneath the thinking that severs them from a larger "us." That line of thought, of course, fails to serve us and them. Men and women get released and rejoin those of us out here in "the world." Nature too is seen as only in "wild" places. It's not part of the city or prison. But it is.  Life is everywhere, even in the bleak plains of the prison yard. It and they are part of us, whether we want to admit it or not. Some dichotomies, mostly the "us and them" don't cut it right. They, in this case, is still us.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Working


The long list of tasks shakes you out of sleep. You can't seem to organize them, or remember them, much less act on them. The meetings you have to schedule, to attend, the typing of inmate work, the compiling of manuscripts for the magazine, the curriculum design for the new course, the honors contracts, the guest speaker invitations, all the correspondence, the contacts with people who might help, just what you are going to do in the next class all bang on the door of your sleep, turn on the lights, and sit on the bed and harangue you at one in the morning. Even the cat joins in to remind you that she needs feeding and a visit to the vet. So what do you do? You lie there and try to sort it all out, but your brain doesn't cooperate. It just tangles up the voices into a knot that settles into your neck. It goes on like this for a couple of hours before you slip into a fitful unconscious. When light says it's time to get up, you pull yourself into the day, dead beat tired, leaden, bags under your eyes. You carry on.

Monday, August 28, 2017

So Close


It's right there, so close you can taste it, so close it could taste you if it were in a biting mood. All you have do is the thing you can't quite muster the courage to do because you have not yet fully seen what is possible. That is your work now. Imagine what might be so fully that it becomes what you do, the base of your being. You have to see around the edges of what you know, habits that hold you back, the defaults of familiar, though. That's where your feet have learned to step. You will have to teach them to dance now that you listen to the moon, no longer fear the light. Step to. Fill up. Lean in. Pucker pooty. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

He Doesn't Get It


He is thick. Dense. Obtuse. The world has changed, moved on, split into a new mutation, mitosis gone viral. He lives still in his dream of things being the way he hoped, not even so much remembered. You can't blame him for wanting this chaos to be predictable, defined, according to plan. But there is something wrong with the inability or unwillingness to embrace things the way they are, even if that stings for what that says about him.

Friday, August 25, 2017

All of the Things That Escape Me


The cerulean blue behind the clouds over a city baking in an August sun. A gecko on the window screen just as the sun changes night to morning. The chance to cobble a phrase that might answer a question that has been waiting for you since you were born. The passing woman whose eyes lock yours in a moment of eternal recognition before slipping into oblivion. The red shift. The owl outside the window. The hummingbird waiting for you by the empty feeder. The open space that might be filled with a drive across town to the reading by the poet you fear. The possibility waiting in this simple left hand turn at the corner of this street and this green light that might signal the beginning of your leaving your rigid habit that has become so familiar you think it is all that there is.

Young Woman Sitting On a Stool at the Cafe


I saw a young, blonde, fit woman today who had scars on her lovely legs. They ran across the skin in a pattern that I found puzzling as I passed by her, carrying my dark bloom of indulgence. What had happened here? What accident endured rock climbing or cycling or running some deep river in the jungle? Her hair shimmered yellow white in the morning sun and she scribbled away intent on her page. No humor or joy here in the set of her jaw; her brow etched lines of intent to stab the page with her sharp gaze. I stole a glance at the other leg as I passed her and saw that this one too had the patterns, the metered slashes marking some set of cryptic rules up her leg. Then the slashes formed letters that shone through higher up on her thigh. "C-u-n-t," they spelled out in crude, block script. What poison or injury had happened here? What pain burned so severe it grew into the imperative of the cutter? She and I had some things in common, though she, nor anyone, would ever know. I was sorry that I had no comfort to offer as I passed through the thick glass door onto the patio where friends waited, already on to the palliative of small talk and laughter. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Story Goes On


Just when you think you figured it out, the game changes, the rug gets pulled out, and a wall pops up right there in your face. So what do you do? You regroup and write up a new narrative to address the new situation. Jobs, houses, cars, lovers all come and go. You just have to adapt, Buckwheat, adapt. But the old story was so good you think. Why can't I just keep it? Well because then you end up wearing a Trump cap and sounding off like some redneck idiot. That's why. You gotta write a new story base on the changing beat, the shifting season, the ever evolving flux of this crazy life. Get with it. Hop on the boat. Grab the gunwales because the big rapids are just past that big drop we're about to go over. As your heart breaks with the loss, remember that, like it or not, you are going over, even if you don't get over it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Not Making a Thing Out of It


It would be easy to read the signs and infer that all hell is about to break loose. You can't sleep for the heartache, the questions, the feeling that all is lost. Thoughts don't go anywhere, but just spin in a knotted skein. On your birthday you dislocate your thumb doing your favorite of things, a mountain bike ride, something you used to be pretty good at but that now beats you up and down and inside out. People don't answer your emails or text messages or phone calls or distress signals. Bills keep piling up before checks arrive. The only things you really want get taken by someone else, get lost, or break. Nobody wants to publish your life's work and the critiques you get back show they don't understand what you are saying. You don't need to look at politics or foreign policy insanity to add your unease, sharpen your fight/flight edge. The signs right here, close to home, are clear enough. You spend the afternoon getting drunk by yourself and liking it, a lot. It's the only time you have felt good for a while. You are the only one who seems to believe what you know to be right. It's all just what is, you say to yourself. No need to get your shorts all in a bunch, no need to make a federal case or big thing out of it. Just let these hard days go by. You'll get some sleep eventually. Eventually. Or not. What is the price paid for overlooking the signs?

Lost Causes and Other Defects of Character


Another semester of pushing the river has begun. This time I have the nice problem to have of teaching a class on prison writing. Now that should be a wonderful thing, and it is. But it's not coming together like it might. I want it to be too many things: reading about issues related to mass incarceration, creating community projects to address the situation, convening workshops to practice what it is we do in the prison workshops, getting guest speakers, making it fun, and on and on. I just can't see how to make it all work for one thing. And the actual workshops are floundering for lack of bodies. People like the idea of going into a prison on Saturdays to work on writing, but don't so much actually want to give up weekends. I can't blame them for that. Point here is that all of this may fizzle because I can't get the program or the class together is a way that works. There is this giant gap between the way I want things to be and the way they are. I don't organize well enough or have the leadership chops to inspire people. Just sayin'. This shooting for the hardest job with the lowest pay, the one that will likely never work out, is just another in the long line of defects that have plagued this crazy life. As that begins to wind down I am left with not much to show for a circuitous mess of trying to make a diff. My head hurts from so much banging against the wall.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Shadows


On this, the day of the big eclipse, I resume my work teaching for the fall semester. The fact of that keeps popping up and slapping me with cold panic. I am not ready. Don't know if I'll ever be ready. Things aren't as easy as they were before. I used to sit and curriculum ideas would come to me. I just recorded them in syllabus, and, poof!, all done. These days, all I get is a blank screen. Well more static than anything. I have to put effort into getting what I need to do my work, earn a living. Aye, it's time to step it up, bring more A game, to boldly go where no dilettante has gone before. I'll have to learn some new tricks, pick up some new habits. That's a tough one for this body, the one that decided long ago he would never try too hard at anything. This is new territory, this dark and unexplored poorly lit place with no easy path. Bit by bit, I know the light will reveal what waits there for me, will point the way through, part the waters. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

As Luck Would Have It


He got old during the decades of routine, sleep walking, doing what he should. But then, right there, under a moon gone red with magic, he woke up. You can guess what a shock to the system that was. His heart lit up like a butane Zippo, and he couldn't sleep past four in the morning. He was confused because all of this was very new. He didn't know what to do, who to talk to. So he just fumbled around with only friends he had, a bunch of words he had picked up along the way and stuck in his pocket just in case something like this might happen. The only remedy available to him was to sing to her, the woman in the moon. He wanted, more than anything, to hold it close, this source of heat, but that wasn't going to happen. You can't contain or possess a rising moon. Just his luck, he thought, this incessant wanting of the only thing he couldn't have.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Definition


Who is this who claims to be you? Are you that rushing of emotional fire and ice? That knot in the back of your neck? Those loops and chains that keep you from what you know you must do? What defines that mess and magic that is the organism, the body, the brain of you? It is the witness of the cacophony, beloved, that defines who you are. The watcher, the one who can detach and then direct is the one you look for. Don't be fooled or swept away by the fears that you will never have enough. That is a vestige, an ancestor. It is he who is bold, calm, direct, and soft but unyielding in strength to do right who defines you. Listen to him, the one who listens. Be the one who watches and deliberates before taking the wheel of the being they call you.

Monsoon


Clouds within clouds
the cat leaps into a lap as thunder
peals
toads bleat like sheep
tarantulas dance a tango

A wave of green
breaks across the yard
rivers run chocolate
pools waterfalls flooded roads
creosote scented air

Through the window of a coffee shop
the urbanite
considers
power out
fresh salad

Words peek
like gophers from hiding
places
so much life
so many mesquite beans

Time to eat
and mate
and leave a mark
gather while you can
so they will
know you were here

Not so hot
steamy streets
search and rescue helicopters
drop a line
hoping to hook a memory
clouds within clouds

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Terrible Quiet


The air has gone dead still, quiet, and oppressive. One storm has passed and another is building, but right here, things could not be more empty. This moment is the final gasp of my summer freedom from paid work. Starting tomorrow, it all starts again: the meetings, classes, grading, schedules. My little platform of calm is beginning to tip and will soon dump me into the hopper of full-on, semi-gainful employment. Not that I am not grateful for a way to pay off all my extravagances of summer or anything. I need to work if I want to play. But this last moment of calm is both wonderful and terrifying in its imminent crack of the whip, the call to evacuate my private dreamland.

Monday, August 14, 2017

601 and Anniversary


Yep, I have reached the lofty heights of 600 blog posts. If the sum total of them is an ocean, the amount of writing that I consider to be beautiful and true enough to be worthy of a reader would not fill an eye dropper. That's they way it goes with writing, for me, I guess. I write a lot to find the nugget of what I really want to say with the best words to say it. I don't know if this is the best use of my time, given all the duties wanting attention and energy, but it's what I do. Now the rest of this crazy life opens up in front of me, with today as a reminder of how quickly things can end. Fourteen years ago today, I was bitten by a rattlesnake in my front yard. I thought I bought the farm that time. But here I am, still upright, juggling words, waiting for alchemy and magic and a life lived in love. I'm taking that to the bank.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Intiation


He was an angry child of a man and tore through hearts like they were paper tape at a finish line. To quiet the harpies of his pain he looked for comfort where he could find it -- smokes, tequila, hot sex. He was headed for a cliff but he didn't care and hoped the end would come quick. But then she got pregnant and he met responsibility, a thug who carried a bat that he would use if the young man ran. The music was there, full-frontal, and he turned to face it. Shit. He reigned in his impulses and did what he had to do. Mentors were hard to find. He had to read and write his way into the calm that would make the hard work possible. He had to scrape up the remains of his broken life with a broken and rusty tool, and work them into something that might give instead of take. It was a gauntlet. This will take a long time he said to no one in particular as he turned to the overwhelming work ahead. One piece at a time.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rusty


After three months of construction on the New Mexico place, it's hard to return to the world of letters and teaching that is my other life. Gold screws, tub saws, and belt sanders have been replaced by cursors and clicks. I find the digital directions of how to compose the new improved syllabi baffling and have trouble locating required materials on GoogleDocs. For some reason I am denied access, as if my time away has pissed off the machine in the same way it did my cat, Simone. But I have to crack the code out of necessity. Time to suck it up, chill, get my ass in gear, gird the cyber loins, and join my colleagues in the march toward foundational literacies. To do so, I may have to knock on some doors and speak with someone face-to-face. How irretrievably old school, clunky, and rusty I have become, tin man frozen mid chop.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Love in Late Mid-Life


It will come as a surprise that you still feel sixteen inside but that you look your late-life age on the outside. It will burn a bit to realize that what you hoped for will never be, that the world you imagined is just that, an illusion. The contrast between the way things should be and the way they are will sting sometimes, and the longing that wants expression will push at the edges of you, make you feel like you will pop from the pressure. It is love, dear one, just love doing its damnedest to infuse you with the will to continue. No, you cannot possess what you most desire, and you can never give enough to the beloved, for that is boundless and eternal. You can only find peace in losing yourself, even though that is not the way to survive in this world of form. You can transform your love into something beautiful and true, can craft affection out of loss. You do have the opportunity to persevere, old though you are, ugly though you have become. You have to let it go, that thrill of achievement, recognition, and consummation that you crave. Lust for what your soul does not really need does not die easily. You have to learn to keep the fires inside, to guard the secret of what you can't help but desire. Carry on for just a bit more, beloved, for you are almost done.

Not On Edge -- Yet


Out here in the boonies of northwestern New Mexico, until recently, I've been a bit out of touch. Without cell service, email access, wifi, or other connectivity all the bad news has just floated over my head without my getting a chance to get huffy or anxious about it. Instead I watch the sun come up, tip my hat to the hummingbirds feasting on nectar at the feeder, and court jack rabbits with food for which they have no interest. There is plenty of fresh grass growing after summer rain. They don't need me, even if I want to discuss the progress of the day with them. My disconnection from news has made it hard to relate to fellow humans, though. I just can't seem to join the hyped up stress about the world; I have taken out the drip that feeds the modern mind its addiction to a world out of whack. And it is an addiction. Why else would screens follow us everywhere with images of the latest tragedy of terror, extreme weather, or bone-headed political scandal? We are addicted to being on edge. Now that I have access to the cyber syringe beeping there at the modem, I have to decide whether or not to partake. Oh, I know I'll be back in the boiling pot of fear, indignation, and anxiety soon enough, but right now I just want to inhabit a circle of quiet peace. The 21st century can go on without my worries about the next calamity. My lust for bad news will heat up a soon as I plug back in and rejoin my fellows in the tight bonds of the latest and greatest OMG!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Few Kind Words for Suffering


The hill before my destination is no marvel of incline or height, but it demands some effort, some desire to get up and over. The skein of thoughts between my ears complains, tells me to back off, go home, take a nap, turn on the telly, reel in the longing. The roots of this nagging voice can be traced far back into the nether mists of childhood. I did not want to be responsible for anything, but the father was gone and I was the son. That was the beginning of running from being responsible to myself and others, especially my heart's desires, those having to do with art, music, and writing. I turned away from the suffering that goes along with following a desire, made it a habit, my MO. So here I am, clawing my way up to a wifi cafe where I will write for a bit, dance with all that is scary and forbidden, be responsive to the voices calling me to get something down, something true and beautiful. The old habits want me to stay away from such dangerous behaviors. I stand and pedal hard against the old ways, against unrelenting inertia, gravity.It hurts a bit, but in a way I find lovely and welcome. Up, you old dog, up.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Roaring Back


In the old days this body bounced back from bumps, bruises, and fractures. These days it wants time off to think about things, like going on strike. It has, in other words, served me well but now sputters and coughs when I try to rev what little engine I have. Unfortunately the brain has not caught up with the realities that come with over sixty years of hard use. It still sees a long bike ride under extreme heat warnings as a kind of challenge, something to do before a run, or pick-up soccer game. But then the pilot pulls on the throttle only to find an old man sitting in basement next to a furnace that will keep nobody warm. Maybe tomorrow things will clear up, come roaring back, making a silk purse out of this sow's ear of stiffness and aching joints and fog. Maybe pigs will fly, and I'll remember where I put that perfect word that might turn night to wonder.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Nobody Reads This Stuff Anyway


A grouch has to say something once in a while just to clear the air between his hairy ears. I can't blame anyone for avoiding those moments like the plague that they are. The rants waft out there into the ethers and pop like toxic gas bubbles. Another human blowing off stream. My father used to wander the house in his threadbare bathrobe at two in the morning and mutter curses at whom I do not know. The cat went with him anyway, hoping to get some kibble, or a weekend pass to the back yard. Smart cookie that cat. That aspect of his way of being did not make the top ten list in his eulogies at the recent memorial service. Lots of other great memories did. And it is the forgotten pieces that I worry about, the ones that roll into corners like lost marbles, only to be found later by the next generation, or to be overlooked, a hopeful, unheralded radio wave traveling through deepest space.

Back in T-Town


Four hundred plus miles in hundred and ten heat in the little truck and I am here again in the bosom of the Old Pueblo. Going to run under the radar so I get things done that I need to get done: pay bills, fix the bird fountain, clean up all the dead bugs around the house, and cuddle with my cat Simone. Need to change the oil and sing Hail Marys too so I get back to work in one piece. This grumpy teacher has about had it though. It seems people have had their brains boiled by the heat wave. Well, my brain has been boiled is what I'm trying to say. I have withdrawn and pulled the shades. I hoped that life would work out, but you know how that goes. Looks like the tether holding me hither has popped like a tendon that snaps just after the ball you kicked sails high and off target through the summer air.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Could Be Worse


Yeah, it's a hundred and sixteen out there, your dog couldn't rouse himself if the house were on fire, and you haven't slept well for a month, but, hey, the circles you carve as you travel around the drain are still pretty wide. Might as well sit back and enjoy the crazy ride. I mean, your life isn't a total wreck. And the wheels of the thing are still spinning, even if it is on its back. How about a little gallows humor? At least you were right about putting up solar panels big enough to take in the heat and make something good and true and beautiful out if it. Keep going in that vein, even as the momentum pulling you close and down increases.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Couldn't Wait to Get Out


The small town I grew up in, I thought, was a backwater, a blinder, a coffin, a ball and chain. I plotted my escape during long liturgical rituals of Lutheran church services. While we read the Nicene Creed, I dreamed of snow-capped mountains, clear trout streams, and low humidity. But more than the places, I wanted a bigger horizon to my little mental maps. There was something out there that I just had to taste. So I left. I hitchhiked out west reading Nietzsche and Pirsig. I dabbled in the virtues of hoboism and poverty and sleeping in bushes. I can't say I found an answer, but I did lose some innocence. I have to find my way back now to things like common courtesy, contentment, the joy of rain. An old man, I can no longer rely on my body to carry me forward. I didn't blow it, exactly, but didn't gather much that I want to pass on those looking, like I was, for something better.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Midnight Blue


The hotel window framed the closed curtain with flashes of lightning. The storm outside was a real ripper, one of many that were part of a cold front moving across the Midwest. In Nebraska, tornadoes made their way across wheat fields. Here, the storms just lit the skies and rattled the windows. It was not as bad as I thought it might be. Conversations earlier tonight with siblings echoed in my head. So many memories, so much variety of perspective on what our family had been, who my parents were. I realize I have only a tiny picture and have jumped to a story about them that falls far short of capturing them in all their contractions and confusions. Left unanswered, my stories were too conclusive, dismissive even. So I listened to the rain, the words bouncing off the walls of my mind, and looked out at the storm. What I mistook for black was actually blue: deep, resonating, midnight blue.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bear Memorial --- Round Two


Whether these trips are out of my life or back into it, I haven't decided. Whichever is the case, they are a big jump, and I have to work hard to make the leap from my life "out there" in Arizona and New Mexico and the one "back here," the small town in Wisconsin where I came of age. The smells of mowed grass, the feel of summer air, the thick and sultry greenness all kick-start emotions and memories I have yet to make peace with. My gut is twisted into skeins of anxiety by the calm that pervades this place. Though, they are gone, my mother and father accompany me on my walks, my ruminations, my dreams. For whatever reason, I am drawn back to them, pulled up close in the hopes that I might better see the still pulsing complexity of them and the marks they left on me. I am submerged in this place, deprived of air, and have to learn to breathe under the water of memory. Take a breath, brother, take a breath. You can learn to see what before was too hard to digest, to forgive, to put to rest.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Shelter


It seemed a simple thing: just a place to be safe, get out of the wind and rain. A haven to crawl into when things got hairy and bad. I gave up wandering for comfort, for companionship. I just wanted someone to love, to care for. Couldn't help myself. But when sublime love struck my aching emptiness like a hammer, that safe place became a cage. It must be an animal thing, wanting safety and freedom at the same time. Can't live with it and can't live without it, but more and more I just need a safe place to break down.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Another Moon


A fat moon pulled its way up and out of the juniper branches last night as cedar gnats had their way with soft and warm spots under my T-shirt. Little shits. You think they could at least ask before reaching up under my shirt and sawing off their half-pound of flesh. But the moon. Oh, the moon... Who cares about temporary itching when the moon rips to shreds everything you thought might last forever? It was like a hurricane: cruel and so intense nothing could stand in its path. That's the way it is now. The days slip away before I can find the energy to rise and enjoy them. All is falling away.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reckoning


“Did you use your time well?” he asked. Not the question I was hoping for in this place where honesty is the only option. “Well…” I began. You can guess where it went from there. I had to admit that I failed to act when dreams hung in the balance, that I took the easy way more often than not, and that I died not having done what it was I wanted and knew I had to do. “So,” he began, “you will return.” Not again I thought. How many times do I have to do this before I get it right? As many as necessary comes back as the answer we all know on some level. Here is where things get thick. This life walk has me jiggered, and the easy way is calling me again. I look for excuses and find plenty. I’m too old. My brain and body both are failing. I don’t know what to do, can’t figure it out. But that’s the point. I have to keep moving, even when I feel I can’t. Tough luck, sucker. It’s time to break through.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Downtime


Whew! This body feels light. It also feels sore, stiff, tired, and beat. But all of those are the good versions of discomfort. The stress levels have dropped back down from red extreme to green mild. It's good to get your butt out of Dodge once in a while, to cut back on the email, the meetings, the web nonsense, and digital multi-tasking myths that are making us all crazy. Better to watch ravens and jack-rabbits and to feel the wind and sun. Time to drink it in. Time to fall into the openness of less, the possibility in nothing better than the here and now. Balm. Tonic. Fresh air. Remember this when it is gone.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rending the Fabric


So he was tormented to the point where he shot himself in the garden while his fiance went for a walk down the road and up to the barn. That was a few days ago. She heard the shot and thought he had seen a rattlesnake or some other vermin. At the time it wasn't a concern. It was only when she found him lying there in the garden that the shock set in. He had a beautiful, big home, a new Subaru, a comfortable retirement, great health, a beautiful woman, opportunity to do whatever he wanted, and some nasty demons. In that latter trait, the two of us had things in common. I don't know how much he  knew my proximity to darkness though. The demons, in his case, won out. The ripples of his sudden exit rolled out down the road, a nuclear blast of incomprehension. News like that travels fast, and we neighbors went into overdrive to answer the question of why. Truth is we'll never really know the answer to that one. No one can be in the heart and head of someone who has to check out leaving the rest of us to mend a tear in the fabric so frayed it will never close.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Don't Know Jack


He wanders over at dawn and then again at dusk. He is handsome with long ears and a black tail. His long-legged dignity and fine black trim along the edge of his ears set him apart from the other bunnies that hop through the 'hood. He is the first jack-rabbit to inhabit the territory of the New Mexico digs. Yes, there have been many cotton tails, but no honest-to-God jack rabbits. I like him, but have not yet gotten to know him. He's an enigma that keeps his distance, so far anyway. I am going to get some rabbit food and set it out on his rounds. Then I will sit on the deck and wait. My hope is that he'll pause for a bite and maybe open up to some visiting, a chat of sorts, between one jack and another.  I am, after all, not much of a real whatever, instead wander into life in some alternative, dabbling, peripheral approach: jack teacher, jack writer, jack jock, jack-of-all-trades, and on and on. Maybe he can help me figure things out, give me some insight into how I might enter this next, odd, unknown chapter of my life. We jacks have to stick together you know.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hardscrabble


The place is dry, windy, sun-baked, and subject to frigid, long winters. Harsh, you might say. But it is also wide open, empty, mostly quiet, except for the wind, and full of nothing. That's just what I need, I guess. It's what is here. In this big empty, I have been working. Hard. My legs, back, and arms are beat tired. I am sunburned, covered with fine mortar dust. I have grout under my finger nails, blisters on my knees. The moon is waning and it peers into the window right before dawn with its sharp scythe coldness. This life is about work. Why has it taken me so long to figure that out?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Up the Ladder, Over the Railing, and Through the Window


Well, the best way to do things sometimes is the hard way. Actually, some people say there is only the hard way and the wrong way. I don't know about that, but I do know that I am tiled into a corner and the only way out is through the small window, over the railing on the deck, and then down the ladder to the tile saw and the mortar mixer. What a sixty-something is doing in this situation is something of a mystery. Can't wait for quitting time and a cold beer. Someone will get to enjoy the fruits of my labor if I don't make it out of this predicament. Neck deep in it . Neck deep. Lift your leg out the window and keep moving. It will be over soon enough.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Walking the Dog


It pulls to the left, sometimes. But then you change the sheet of sandpaper and it pulls to the right. Whichever way it pulls, it's better not to fight it. You have to go with it if you want to make it through the day. The rasping roar of the thing makes talk impossible, so you just think as you dance around the floor with the hundred-pound power sander. It pushes a fine mound of dust as it moves across the floor. You want that dust to fill in the cracks. The wood has gotten hard from so many years in the sun, so the going is slow. You will be at this most of the day, and your arms, back, legs will be exhausted when you finally fall into bed tonight. You should be wearing ear plugs, eye protection, and using a respirator, but you are not. You don't really care about your body, but try to do a good job on the floor. The grain that rises from beneath the degraded and abused wood is beautiful, fresh and young. You like that. You keep going just to see more of it. You can't help it and don't really know why you are here or what you are doing. Lean into it, friend, lean into it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Klutz


You are leaving the cafe when your book bag snags a chair and sends it clanking to the floor. Faces look up at you in alarm. You bend over to pick up the chair and your glasses fall from your pocket. You reach for them as the bag rolls off your back, opens, and dumps your papers, phone, planner, and books into a pile on the floor. All eyes are on you. Which to fix first? Glasses, chair, pile? You decide to do the chair, but drop it in your hurry. Faces form pity mixed with contempt. Who is this yahoo? You smile and try to get things right. Chair up. Books back in bag. Glasses in pocket. You turn to walk out only to knock over your bike as you try to unlock it. Guess we're not in Kansas anymore.

One Thing at a Time


Truck springs sag with the weight of a cargo well over the little pickup's capacity. Then the trailer gets hitched, and it sags even more. It and I are alike in that way: too much to carry around. Three hundred and fifty miles from here, the truck will be done, unloaded, sent off to the pasture to rest. My load will hang there with me, invisible to all but you know who. It threatens to break me. I can't think about it, but do one thing at a time. Just one more thing. Then the next thing. If it cracks, it cracks, and I'll deal with it. But that will be then; this is here now. In some other life you might sleep, you say.

Flowing Hair Sunrise


Water drains from the pots hanging up there on big hooks fastened to the roof beam over the porch. You are standing tip-toe on the top step of a ladder too short for the job. Precarious errand for which the plants thank you. You move so unimpeded that I marvel at the ease of it. I wish that I could travel through the day with such grace. I drag my cinder block mood into the smallest undertaking, snarling and pissing the whole way. The sun breaks over the horizon behind you, blinding but for the shadow of you. It promises to be a rare and cool day here in the soon-to-be simmering desert. So much to do: packing, people, plans, multi-modal juggling. I don't know if I can do it all, but from right here, it's all just a prospect waiting to be composed as it occurs. All is waiting in the arms of grace. The blessing begins.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stars

You lie there on your back looking up at the stars, music wafting from the stage, swirling around you, a feather massage. Oh, your eyes go elsewhere too, of course, but you close them so you can protect yourself a bit. You will be traveling in the dark soon, no light to penetrate the night. It will seem like a long trip, and, surprisingly, you will feel fear. Not to worry, you will keep moving and get there eventually, but now, right now, you take what you can, eyes and ears having to be enough in the face of a hunger that knows no boundary. At least the stars understand, distant, churning with fusion, across so much dead and frozen space.

Even the Choice Is Going


You can always choose, you told yourself. That is, you have the opportunity to engage, say yes, do the right thing, because you can, or not. But what happens when you can't? Then, even the choice goes away. It doesn't matter anymore what you decide because you don't have what it takes to follow through. Now, with all the time in the world to write or paint or sing your sad effin' songs, you can't come up with two brain cells to rub together enough to do the deed. What you get is fog: bland, sometimes angry, banks of fog. And tiredness. It's a slow slide at first and you can see that you are going down, but even that will fade soon enough. Then you will just be sitting there, nothing going on, not even the memories of days when you said no.

Steeper Pitches


You fear that you will have to dismount and walk as you struggle up the last steep pitch of the South Mountain hill climb. This time trial you have done before, but with far better speed if not less pain. You have dug as deep as you can dig, and it is not enough. Or is it? Standing on the pedals, you realize, makes it possible to eat up the last yards of the incline. Your heart rate is not as high as it used to go, and it seems that blood just doesn't carry the oxygen that is used to. You have been fighting up this mountain for the last half hour. You lost count of how many have passed you, younger riders, for sure, but a few older ones too. The loss is undeniable now. You see it again in the numbers. But you show up. Yes you show up until you no longer can. Lean into it, you old bull. You've done your thing. Time to let it go. If you have to walk it, you will throw it in. You bought one last ticket. Soak it up. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Passing Ships


One horizon shrinks while another expands, takes hold of the All of you. You want so much to possess the gift just as it is being pulled from your grasp. No amount of grip or strength of you can keep this from happening. All you can do is watch, stare, drill into the moment with every fiber of you, and then grieve. Howl for what will never be, for the golden blessing of having found your moment, having won the bet that could never be won, for stumbling onto the mother lode. Only it's not yours to own. It asks of you what you no longer have to offer. Tough luck that one.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Thought You Had a Bad Case of It


Leaning up against the door of your broken-down pickup truck minding your own business one evening, you got slapped silly by the rising moon, made kindling for heat you could never understand. Exactly why this happened you couldn't say, but nothing, and I mean nothing, after that was the same. Your insides got pulled up out your throat leaving you all upside out, exposed for the world to see. Well, that was just the beginning. You were a nova in the deep and frigid darkness of space. Life went from a bland gray to screaming technicolor brilliance. The phases of the moon only fanned the flames of your madness.There was no remedy, no cure, no hope for this terminal condition, so you wandered and wondered and scribbled, fire blazing away down there, the walls of your safety reduced to ashes. Then, one day, you got dropped on the corner, spit out the other side, cold as a clinker. Truck still there, sun coming up, moon gone over the horizon. You pulled down your hat as if nothing had happened, the story burning your insides, a thing between you and you. As if. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Earthshine

Shadows sometimes fill with light, bounced as it were, off an otherwise dark body. Last December, for example, light from the earth shone on a setting moon. The moon's shadow side was light against the dark backdrop of stars. One could see the spherical fact of it, learn the impossibility of it, up there, round lunacy suspended in space, half in light, half in earth-lit shadow -- just like you. So just being where you are, you might redirect light into a place that would otherwise miss the possibility of you, the un-alloyed occurrence and chance of you, the dropped chain of the wonder of you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Back to the Work


Well, you finished one. It sits there on display, but nobody wants it, even as a gift. It is what you thought you wanted to do, felt compelled to make. And there, in the flesh, panting, covered with afterbirth, it rests, the best you have, but less than what you hoped it might be. You wanted it to speak so beautifully that others would find in it what drove you to write it. Well, it looks like that isn't going to happen, right now anyway. So where do you go? What do you do? I'll tell you what. You can't leave, so you go back in, listen some more, and do it again. And again. You keep sharpening that stone until you can shave with it. You will work up the point where you collapse, or that place where you're done, that point where they find in your work a touch so true and cruel that they weep with joy. After all, there is nowhere to go but where you have to be.

Snow in May


Two days ago we broke a hundred degrees for the first time this year. Last night it snowed on the mountain. We got cold rain down here in the valley. Clouds trailed fringes of rain as the sun shone in beneath them on our way to Phoenix. The light, clouds, shadows and wet roads made for beautiful vistas and dangerous driving. Kyle rested in the passenger seat as we made our way up to his graduation from the Advanced Course. He seemed better to me. It was hard to believe that just a few days ago he was dead set against taking this next step. He maintained that his life was over, that he had nothing to look forward to or to live for. Now he has finished another chapter in the book of getting his life moving, making it something that he loves. I don't know where it will take him or what he will do with his life, but the weather can change from summer to winter in a day. Maybe Kyle is off on a new tangent. His adult life is just beginning.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Puttin' It Out There


Dear Deputy Wardens --

As directors of separate units at the Arizona State Prison Complex -- Tucson Unit, you know the importance of providing inmates with meaningful opportunities to learn and to improve their prospects of success after they are released. One of the foundations of success outside prison walls is the ability to understand emotions and to be able to communicate effectively. This is a life-long undertaking for all of us, but is especially important for inmates, who, very likely, have been the victims of some form of trauma: physical, emotional, psychological, or economic. Inmates over-represent marginalized Americans in that they are more likely to be black, brown, poor, drug-addicted, victims of violence, or mentally ill. Simply put, they need work on expressing themselves more than most. In the creative writing workshops, inmates follow the need to express themselves into some dark places. You might be surprised how many of them write about parents and the need to understand what went wrong with how they were raised. Beyond parents, there are the gangs, the failures at school, work, love, and, of course, the stupid mistakes and bad decisions. Most of them want, deeply, to better themselves. I see them wanting to get "complete," to move on into a future that might be different from the past that landed them in prison. Writing with a group of other men can be a powerful catalyst to become aware of both where they are and where they want to go. While not overtly a therapeutic practice, writing can be a vehicle to help inmates imagine a life beyond the one they have lived so far. Yes, it's highly unlikely that inmates will become professional creative writers. That said, the skills they develop can make the likelihood that they will be able to focus, learn, and persevere in other vocational training. Now, the men have to want to do this, and not many, in a larger context, do. The men who show up are rare in that way. It takes real courage to face one's demons, but the benefits might be beyond measure. It is for these reasons that I ask for your support in opening new workshops in other units at the Tucson Complex.

Sincerely,

A Volunteer

Too Smart


She saw things others didn't. When she spoke about what she saw, people laughed and then looked away. She felt wounded and lonely. People don't like to hear from others about their conscience. Their sense of fairness and doing the noble thing was buried long ago, and they did not want to remember or to think about it. Her sense of right and wrong was a bit too developed for the rules of compromise. Her life was a walking bruise. She wanted so much to be like them: apathetic, jaded, smug. Some lifetimes are like that, I guess, and those who suffer are only admired after they die.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Exactly an Ode


His copper-top chop doo would cost most of his electorate a week's wage, but he's all about the look, all about Narcissus, Thanatos, ignorance, and hostility to fact. He has his hand in your pocket and a gun to your back. Better not fight because he might pull the trigger and you won't be able to afford the hospital bill. He wants your sons to fight his sandbox spats with Kim Jong, your daughters to be comfort women for winners. But don't fret, his effect is good for investors, even if you never see a dime of their profits re-invested in your rust belt town. He's a capital guy. His mask is bombast and hyperbole. You fell for it. Gotta do something with being pissed off at the billionaires who have been fleecing you since Reagan. Grab 'em by the you-know-what and keep the coloreds from climbing over the wall he says with crocodile tears for the poor-black-dispossessed. He shovels resentments into the furnace of fear as he grins with the other dead white guys while he slides another lie onto the plate that you keep eating off of. Sooner or later you're going to realize he's serving you shit, that his words are dipped in it. But, hey, he calls it greatness, the kind that never was. He's the one you thought you wanted.

Testimony


Yes, I swear to tell the truth, the whole of it, and nothing but. I am here to stand and deliver what it was I was supposed to deliver. Now, what that is has been something of an unknown until I began to listen. It was a moving target and was behind some kind of curtain, but there as certainly as death. I knew it better when I was a kid. Back when I was silly full of fun and life, I knew. But then I forgot. I became shy and serious and a know-it-all. I did not want to be hurt, so pulled back from love and pain. I did. I admit it. I wanted out more than a few times. I still do, but for different reasons. I will not be a burden. Of that I am certain. But back to what is true. If I am honest, I am not all that honest. I adapt and get by. But lately I can't seem to keep up. It's time to put what I need to say together before it's too late.Then, I guess, it won't matter so much anymore. It was the words, I say. The words. If I leave anything, it's a plea to watch your words. Don't use them as weapons or to cover up the truth. Use them to shine light, to dissolve barriers, to reveal love. With that, I'm good.

How To Get Stuff Done


First you have to figure out where the hell you are when you open your eyes. After careful reconnoitering, the next thing is to identify what day it is. You'll have to remember, if you can, what you did yesterday. Focus. Think. Maybe check your list that you made and left on the kitchen counter or stuck to the fridge. By now, you're up, so you can make a cup of Joe and wipe the sleep from your eyes. Try to prioritize. No, sex is not the only thing to think about today. You still have a job, you know. But what is it that you are supposed to be doing? That is the ninety-five dollar question that just can't seem to find an answer. Thank God classes are over and you don't have to meet them. Now that would be a stretch. What you do have to do is enter all the scores for the papers students have written. Then you need to submit all that. Yes, that's what you have to do today. Grades! The other stuff -- booking flights for the memorial service in Wisconsin, getting prison work typed up, packing for the New Mexico construction projects, cleaning up the house, can all wait for now. So get your mind out of the gutter and pull on your pants. Get out the door and cover your ass so they don't fire you, yet anyway.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fading


You are at your limit, breathing so hard you are gasping. Oh, but you are slow, so slow. The road creeps by beneath the wheels of your racing bike on this climb up a mountain you know so well you could trace it in your dreams -- every curve, rise, sign-post, and pothole. You know this road like the body of your lover. Better, maybe, but... something. Yes, you say, you have been here many times. You know this. You tell yourself again that it's OK. And today is different. There is something off, not right. For one, you can't seem to breathe, but it's more than being out of shape. You look at the familiar handlebar tape, the computer, the wheel, the stem, and, they are different.  They are less there. You can't seem to grasp what is happening. You go in and out, and, suddenly, it is new, like you just got there, even though you know you have been riding for over an hour. You rely on habit to keep you going. It is a blessing that you have done this so often you don't have to really adapt, learn, or think much about it. You are not completely the pilot here. It bugs you, this sense that you are losing something, like a grip on things. You ignore it and keep going, hoping the sensation will pass, which it does, sort of. You have to admit that you feel lost more often than not.

Dry Wind


Curtains of powdery dust race across the complex. I'm waiting for the bus, and have to keep a grip on the tub so the cover doesn't blow off, suddenly cargo of the sprinting veils dancing in the big, open field between the yards. The ground has been scraped bare for decades, and the dryness of early summer makes the fine particles light enough to be picked up by this stiff wind. A high cloud of it has blocked the mountains from view. From here it looks orange, but to someone looking through it toward the sun, it will be heavy, sinister umber. Drifts of the floury dust have formed in the corners of the entry way. A fine film has filled the sink, the counters, the inside and tops of the urinals. The floor of the visitor area is covered with mini dunes that grow as I watch. I leave tracks as I cross through the metal detector on my way to the car. The wind buffets the little car as veils of dust trail across the highway. Ahead of me, I can see that a fire has started somewhere in the mountains to the south. I can taste and feel the grit of particulate on my teeth. Inmate cells will collect and hold the dust until this hot blizzard passes. I can't wait to get away from the boiling, dirty clouds.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lunatics, Lay-Abouts, and Malcontents


Nobody wants to do the dishes or fix the septic system but they are quick to throw a party or blather on about art. If you fit in with the slacker vibe, you are golden. But if you push the river by calling a bum a bum you better watch out. That laid-back hippie will stab you in the back. He'll call you a bully and tell you that he's going to put a stop to your telling it the way it is. Of course, this doesn't apply just to hippies and slackers but to the high-flying "winners" out there too. Not many are strong enough to look at bad behavior, hypocritical thinking, or bogus mean-spirited sniping. No, they won't come right out and tell you they are going to get you. Instead they go behind closed doors, build their grenades, lob them when you aren't watching, and then go back into hiding. Until the next time.

Friday, May 5, 2017

What People Say When I Am Gone


Yeah, I know. It's a bit morbid, but I guess it's worth considering while I can still think. Contrary to what some of you might predict, I want to be remembered for little things, like that I smelled like soap and hard work. Whether or not I actually smell like soap is only part of the hope. I want to be remembered that way. I also want to be remembered for doing what I said I would do. Now, I have a lot of work still to complete in this area if people might actually say that. I guess I have to start now. I want people to say that I was an animal, not as in "he was an extreme athlete," though that would be nice, but as in he had hair, was warm blooded, liked to mate (a lot), and ate when he was hungry. As an animal, I didn't see myself as somehow "higher" than other animals -- like cats, dogs, bears, and guinea pigs. I pooped and farted and peed and probably took more away from the world than I needed to take. For that I am sorry. I hope they say, correctly, that I was a fool. I hope they say, because they got something, that I was wise. I don't want them to say I knew what I was doing, but I do hope they say I knew what I wanted, even if I messed up. Time to get to work and to buy some soap. Time's a wasting.

Humans Are a Work in Progress


When you embraced the error that you, and others, are solid, immutable, and locked into a story written when you were afraid, you forgot that you and they are really a river of stars. That error becomes like iron, when, in fact, you are motion, energy, light, and full of space waiting to be occupied with love. Because you composed the fallacy when you didn't know better, you believe it will be that way always, that others, too, are bound up in a moment of inference and conclusion. You believe you are wrong, unworthy, imperfect, that you don't matter. That what you do doesn't matter. Remember neither you nor they are that slip of weakness. Do you have to be responsible for your actions? Absolutely. Should the consequences of mistakes be permanent? The flowing river of the past has moved on. You really have only the fluid motion of a passing now. Do not make the mistake then of fixing a moment that was as what will forever be. But turn your eyes instead to your next step, your next word. It is here that you can rewrite the script of who you are, how you might live. Deliberate; focus; choose how you will place your foot; and point your actions toward the imagined possibility of who you really are, who you are already becoming. You will know the way when all you see is wide open nothing that it is up to you fill with all that you were afraid to give away. When you dissolve into a joy born of generosity, you will touch peace, find forgiveness.But you still have to write it down and then put it into motion.