Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pain is Universal

Pain is Universal

There are times I must leave this planet
and speak with the spheres who know
the pain of loneliness and isolation.
They have learned to live in silence,
sending out soundings to one another,
a low hum that draws them together
in the set course of their circular paths.

My ship is green with gray highlights.
A 2-dimensional black orbital byway
guides the daily commute to and from,
where I float amongst celestial beings,
colleagues, coworkers, and clones.
I reach out with the hum of who I am,
harmonics filling the gaps between us.

But imperfectly, always imperfectly.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Picture Poems and Prose

I have some good ideas for stories bouncing around in my head but commitments at home and work have put the kibosh on the time needed to write anything substantial.  In these times of chrono-scarcity I've found that I lean much more heavily on writing poems and short prose.  Twice in the past month I have written what amounts to short introductory scenes to what could be longer tales, likely short stories, hoping to return to them at some future time.  These include "Jude Vestivus, at your service" and "First Contact."  They were both inspired by pictures.  This is a relatively reliable source of stories for me as I am a visually oriented person.

In retrospect, this inclination likely had its beginnings my freshman year of High School.  The English assignment was to write poems and then look in magazines to find photos to cut out and illustrate them in a book of ten or so pages.  I only had one idea for a poem and needed several more.  The magazines I had at home were things like Omni, The Smithsonian, and National Geographic, all full of strange and striking images.  It became the images themselves that inspired me to write poems about them.  I was turning the project on its head, but the poems that came from those images were not too shabby in my immature estimation and the teacher was none the wiser for my contrarian approach.

I've thought about that booklet of poems w/ pictures off and on for decades and I would love to stumble upon it in the proverbial box-in-the-back-of-the-closet, but so far no luck.  I wish I'd continued that process as an ongoing literary scrapbook of my life and a tool for introspection.  I stumbled back onto the practice when I was deployed to Iraq and looking for ways to deal with the stress of my deployment.  It started with "A Lonely Chair" followed by "there is a place."  Those ideas began to take hold in the cold concrete shell of my room in Tikrit during the evening hours, thinking about my wife and two year old son in Ohio.  If nothing else, that experience was the rekindling of a desire to express myself in this way.

So, this explains the fact that I find it nearly impossible to post something on my blog that does not include a picture.  I'm sure some of the poems, short stories, and autobiographical tidbits could stand to be picture-less, but the hardwiring in my brain makes that nearly impossible to contemplate.  It is an itch that demands to be scratched.

I sometimes put a post on hold until I can find a picture to go with it, which is what happened with "The Crow."  I started out looking for a picture of myself from childhood and a picture of a crow that I could superimpose using Photoshop (this idea found fruition in the follow up, "Crow Analysis," using a picture of my Mom).  During this hunt I stumbled upon a picture of my son in my photo files on where he was about the same age I was in the story.  It was a long exposure so that you could see right through him and he appears to be imitating a bird w/wings.  I then put it into a photo app and worked with it until I got the final photo which appears to me to imply he is damaged in some way due to a reddish smudge.  These elements of ghost-likeness, Elias's creepy expression, and the red-tipped "wing" fit the story perfectly.

Another strategy I use is to brainstorm an idea for an accompanying photo, then go on to snap the shot de novo and manipulate it to my purposes using Photoshop and/or a photo app on my iPad with a very a specific outcome in mind.  This would include the short story "Hospitocalypse" and, more recently, the poem "Tin Rocket."  After writing that poem I found Elias downstairs watching TV in his shorts and had him stand in front of the wall with his back to me.  "Move your legs apart just a little.  OK, now straighten your fingers and move your arms out from your body... stop."  He is usually a good sport and doesn't ask too many questions.  He knows I'm a bit on the odd side and seems not to mind it, as long as these characteristics do not manifest in public places.

Lastly, there is the occasional poem or story that is inspired by the picture itself, similar to the process I used to create the poems for my High School English project.  These incidents are more rare, but include some of my favorites and are increasingly a source of ideas that keep me writing.  A recent example comes from attending a conference in Toronto two weeks ago and being captivated by the immensity of the CN Tower that dominates the city skyline.  The structure screams "SciFi!  SciFi!" and I could not ignore it.  Pictures I took of this structure inspired "The New Canadians" and "First Contact."

This simple idea of coupling a picture with writing has given me a tremendous amount of pleasure in recent years as well as helped me work through some pretty harrowing stuff.  It has given me the courage to look at some painful places inside and find a way to get it out and share it with others.  I have found it to be healing and my hope is that in sharing it, others can benefit as well.  I believe we are here to help each other get through life with as much grace and truth as possible.  The choice should not be between despair or denial (the natural outcomes of going it alone), but in mutual support to acknowledge our struggles and turn the hurt into hope and healing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

First Contact


When the tower appeared in the midst of the city over night, it was the homeless who made first contact. The evacuations had begun almost immediately, but those who lived on the streets had their own favorite places to tuck themselves away for protection. These were magical places created of a necessity by paranoid imaginings. These unfortunates were abandoned and left to their own devices, hiding under bridges and in dumpsters.
A handful of days passed under a hard gray sky, but nothing happened. The tower sat overlooking the empty city, impassive and brooding, like it had been there for a thousand years thinking its lofty thoughts.
Hunger and boredom eventually brought out the city's forgotten. Resources had become available in the form of abandoned stores and buildings. It was a windfall of sorts, a close encounter of the scavenging kind. They had been rejected by society and felt they had nothing to lose by approaching and even entering the alien structure. Some of them heard voices bidding them to do so. The first to attempt it was Solar Sam and it is his story that I wish to tell.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The New Canadians

The New Canadians

When the world ends
families from the five nations
will be gathered
into the Toronto Tower
whose concrete skin
will fall away in
spectacular fashion
revealing an immense
rocket-powered ark
pointed at the nearest
inhabitable planet.
Their children will grow
into adults on the journey,
they will appreciate
the opportunity they have
been given, they will be
fruitful and multiply, and,
most important of all,
they will get along.
They are the New Canadians.  


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Somewhere in Southern Indiana

Somewhere in Southern Indiana

Somewhere in Southern Indiana
a basketball floats on a rain puddle
at the bottom of a rusty wheelbarrow.

High grass swallows it up on a long
fence line separating house from
farm fields rolling into the distance.

Patches of forest can be seen just
past the fields where deer roam and
small mammals live out short lives.

These are the scenes that formed
my childhood and put the firm stamp
of melancholy on my personhood.

But also provided a buffer from
things that can wither the soul and
may compromise the man to be.


Friday, May 01, 2015

The Passing of Fr. Roman Braga

Fr. Roman Braga

What can one say of the passing of Fr. Roman?  He suffered terribly in a notorious prison camp during the time that Romania was ruled by the Communists.  This camp was known for its experiments in stripping people of there identity, their personality, even their humanity, and trying to rebuild them as the new Communist man.  What it inadvertently did was strip him of his false self and facilitated the development of a new life in Christ.  He was grateful to his tormentors for this help.  His suffering was transfigured in imitation of Christ and brought forth a love for all things, creation and creatures without exception, in union with the Creator.  He once told us that "monks love everyone and everything, even the demons."

When I first met him I was a confused college student being pulled in many contradictory directions.  I went on a retreat to the monastery where he was the spiritual father.  There was an opportunity for having confession with him.  He welcomed me into the small room beside the chapel and said, "Before I hear your confession, let's just have a little talk."  He asked a few basic questions and then told me of something to watch out for, how to handle this thing, how to understand it so as to not be deceived.  He then heard my confession.  Several weeks later I went through this very thing and I did not handle it as I had been lovingly instructed to do so.  It did not turn out well and only too late did I remember the words of fatherly love that he had spoken to me.      

May his memory be eternal.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Carpet Store

Behind the Clinic

The railroad tracks ran alongside my Dad's carpet store on the edge of our small town when I was a kid.  Heading North, they cut through neighborhoods and eventually skirted the downtown area with its one way street and assorted antique shops.  Heading South, they cut through forests and farmers' fields, balancing on the back of a rocky mound that snakes through the hills of Southern Indiana to eventually find the Ohio River.

When I found the odd bit of change in and around the carpet store, I would lay it on the tracks and watch the train's wheels smash it flat.  Pennies were best, followed by nickels.  The dimes and quarters were too valuable for buying candy and comic books, plus the pennies were easiest to find amongst the gray and white gravel after the train's wheels sent them flying off of the tracks.  I collected these thin oval-shaped objects of curiosity in a cigar box.

A coke machine sat at the store entrance waiting to relieve customers of their coins and dispense a cold Tab for the occasional portly person who didn't seem to mind its chemical sweetness.  I was in the back of the attached warehouse using a long stick to smash carpenter bees as they entered their burrows in the wooden beams above my head or jumping on large rolls of pad wrapped in plastic and stacked in rows.

The front of the warehouse had a very high ceiling with a loft that had no ladder or stairs for access.  It was my secret place to nap or read books, but only on cool summer days.  It was unbearable on the hot ones.  Adults needed to bring a ladder to get up there, but I could shimmy up a  long carpet roll propped against the wall, like a small tree-loving animal, and scamper into my favorite hiding place several feet above the warehouse floor.

Behind the carpet store, near the tracks, was a sizable burn pit where my Dad would turn his  trash to ash.  One particular day he had been burning the plastic coverings from his rolls of pad and we were getting ready to go home for the day.  A few tendrils of smoke still rose from the black ashes and I decided to use a large utility bucket full of water to put it out.  I was unaware of the pools of melted plastic hidden below the ashes.

I poured the water and swung the bucket to make sure the fire was out.  The bucket hit the ash and I immediately felt an intense pain from my legs.  I looked down to find black splotches that I could not wipe off.  I snuck into the warehouse bathroom and tried to wash them off.  The plastic had stuck to my legs and burned where it clung.  My Dad was calling for me to get in the car but I hid from him, afraid to show my damaged self, like Adam in the garden.

There were second and third degree burns, some of which eventually required skin grafts to cover.  I wore shorts for a few months while the grafts healed.  My sixth grade teacher had me come up in front of class the first day of school to explain the situation, this boy in shorts.  Stranger still, I wore shorts to church which I had never done before nor have I done since.  My son is curious about the scars and will sometimes feel the smooth and hairless patches.

My first summer back from college I stayed in a room in the back of the carpet store, feeling independent but strangely isolated in those evening hours on the edge of town.  I got a cat to keep me company from a member of our church who owned a farm.  He was white with a gray tail.  I named him Sir Mouser Graytail and put his litter box in the furnace room.  What I remember most about Sir Graytail was the puddle of diarrhea he left in my bed.

And then there was the time a tornado touched down just North of our town, destroying some businesses and dumping cars from a used car lot into the White River.  I did not have a TV or radio at the store, but I knew something was brewing due to the strange weather conditions.  Outside it was prematurely dark with a soft drizzle coming down.  Someone must have called by telephone to warn me to stay inside.  I remember having on just a pair of shorts.

I felt compelled to walk outside and experience the strangeness of the situation.  It was eerily quiet.  The darkness was warm and wet, like being in a spacious womb.  I climbed an old TV antenna tower onto the roof to see what I could see.  The sky directly North was glowing with a strange shade of green that I'd never seen before.  Standing still and half-naked, eyes closed, I wondered what it would be like to fly away in a pillar of wind.