Friday, September 26, 2014

Floating Over a Dark Place



***

She is three years old,
a warm ball of roundedness
sleeping on our morning bed
in an expectant state of un-
wakeful perceptiveness.

I can't resist to kiss her shoulder.
She rolls over and fixes me
with dreamy eyes and a lost smile.
"That's how you float over
a dark place," she confides.

Was it the kiss as protective talisman
or something deeper in her burgeoning
experience of the world, where the
realness of a thing is not so concrete
as matter and linearity, cause or effect?

***

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

After Midnight


***
Where does one walk
after midnight
on the bad side of town?
A chain-link fence to the left,
street curb to the right,
being funneled to
who knows where
to do who knows what.
A boarded up church sits
alone and abandoned
on a street corner.
You try the doors,
but they are locked so
you sit on the wide
concrete steps feeling
the cold through your pants.
You ponder your existence,
feeling rudderless and lost,
but free to roam the night
and think your thoughts
which can be summed up by
"why the hell am I here?"
***


Friday, September 19, 2014

Ancient Swag



We (and by "we" I mean "Anya") lost our remote control a few months ago and we have only had access to one channel until just this past week. To make matters worse, the one channel that was on when the remote was lost was the Disney Channel which made it the only game in town.  On the up side, the kids have watched less TV and we've been able to delve into some pretty cool movies that I've accumulated for them over the years, most notably animated films by Hayao Miyazaki.

Last week we decided to move our computer and modem out of the guest room to start transforming that space into Anya's room.  The cable guys came out to help make the transfer and while they were here, they provided us with a new remote control and we got back the multitude of cable channels.  After the kids went to bed I clicked through a channel at a time to manually block each one that looked to be iffy or outright inappropriate.  I judged this by my own reactions ranging from "ewww!" (ego dystonic)  to "ohhh!" (ego syntonic).

When I'd reached the upper limits of the channels I started finding some that I'd not seen before or even knew existed.  One in particular caught my attention as I recognized the person of Jimmy Swaggart, the famous pentecostal preacher and televangelist.  It most have been recorded some time in the 80's as he looked quite young with his big glasses and shiny forehead.  He was trimmer and fitter looking than I'd remembered him, but with the same habit of pacing the platform and using nonstop hand gesturing to tell his stories.

What caught and held my attention was what he was describing.  He was describing the ancient worship of the Jewish people in very reverent and awed tones.  His hands outlined the angels overlooking the ark/altar.  He described the priestly duties and the prescribed timing of particular actions during the year.  He picked up an imaginary coal from the fire and said in a hushed voice, "And the smoke from the incense filled the temple for worship of the most high God."

As I listened to his captivating description I found myself swept up in visions of the Divine Liturgy and it occurred to me that if he had stepped foot into an Orthodox Church at that time, far from extolling its fidelity in maintaining this ancient pattern of worship, he would have likely condemned it as "dead ritual" and idolatry.  I would not have understood the irony as a teen in the 80's, but it strikes me now that he was putting on some "ancient swag."

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Lion Weeps Tonight





I had been a member of the local Lion's Club chapter for just over a year when I knew it was time to make a play for being the lion.  The Memorial Day parade was coming up and they asked for a volunteer to wear the lion costume to walk the one and a half mile route.  I felt I had the required skill set to bring it to life and was excited for the opportunity.  It was quite a handsome outfit that completely covered the wearer from head to toe for the full immersive experience.  The tail was long and thick with a tuft of hair on the end that could easily be snatched up and used as a humorous prop.  The head itself was large and impressive, sporting a regal yet bemused expression, or so I imagined it.

I tried it on at one of my fellow Lion's house with my six year old son in tow as a trial audience.  She had worn it last at an indoor event and the suit was folded up inside the lion's head in the corner of her living room.  The head was so large that it needed suspender-like straps looped under the armpits to hold it in place.  With the head firmly attached, they helped me pull on the body of the suit and zip it up the back.  The gloves came on last and there I stood like a claustrophobic astronaut preparing for a moon walk.  I bent forward at the waist to line up the eye mesh so that I could see my son.  He had a great goofy grin on his face, but then I stepped back, grabbed the tail, and began twirling it while doing a little jig.  He immediately burst into laughter.

***

The decision to join the Lion's Club was inspired by my friendship with Kevin McCarty.  He was born with retinoblastoma, a cancer whose treatment left him with just one eye of limited vision.  Despite this obvious limitation, he made the unobvious choice of developing his talent as a visual artist.   By the time I'd met him in college he was in his late twenties and had become a fine oil painter with an impressionistic style that was unique in its vibrant use of color and texture.  Our friendship grew over several years to include at least two opportunities to sit as a model for him.  These were marathon sessions that lasted through the day and night in his small studio apartment.  The place was cluttered with large canvasses at various states of completion, some hanging and others leaning against the walls.  The hardwood floor was speckled with dried paint drops and the air smelled of pipe smoke and paint thinner.  Many of the human figures in these paintings lacked faces. He was fiercely proud of his work, but he admitted to me that he struggled with painting faces.  I imagine that faces over stressed his ability to discern details due to his extremely poor vision.

The one thing hanging from his walls that was not a painting or sketch was a large poster from the TV series "Beauty and the Beast", a show that ran in the late 80's for a few years.  The show's star was named Vincent and his face resembled a lion which was further enhanced by a full head of hair resembling a mane.  He lived in subterranean passages and mostly limited his contact with the wider world to the "Beauty" of the title.  The radiation treatments Kevin had received as a child had malformed his skull in such a way that he bore some resemblance to Vincent with his deep set eyes.  He felt a kinship with this character whose situation and appearance imposed a barrier of sorts between him and those around him.  It was the romantic archetype of the misunderstood loner.

***

As a point of curiosity, the Lion's Club is the world's largest philanthropic organization and very early on in its existence it took a special interest in helping those with blindness and/or visual impairment.  This came about after Hellen Keller addressed their international convention at Cedar Point, Ohio in 1925 and left a powerful impression on the attendees.  In early 2010 I read about a new chapter being started in my town in our local newspaper and I immediately thought about Kevin who had died the year previous due to a recurrence of cancer related to the radiation treatments he'd received as a child.  It was a terrible several year ordeal that involved him progressively losing bones in his head to surgery and culminating in the loss of his one functioning eye so that when death finally caught up with him he was completely blind.

The meetings were at noon on Mondays twice a month and I was able to attend by driving up from the hospital on my lunch break.  Having been a perpetual student for so many years through medical school, residency, and then a three year stent in the Army I felt like this was my first bona fide extracurricular adult-type activity, and at forty one year's of age I was one of the youngest in attendance.  We met at the  Holiday Inn near my house which had several smallish conference rooms that we rotated through.  The other members were heavily weighted towards people from the local business community with a police officer and a fireman or two sprinkled in.  There was also a small group of women who were staff members from our local library who had aggressively recruited their colleagues for membership.  The Memorial Day parade would be an opportunity to advertise our presence in the community and continue the process of growing the membership of this fledgling group.

***

The day arrived and it was the hottest Memorial Day in recent memory with temperatures in the nineties.  My wife tried to talk me out of walking the full route in the lion suit, but I was determined to accept the challenge.  It was so hot that she opted to keep our children at home.  I rendezvoused with the other members at the parade staging area near the end of the line with the lion suit folded into a large plastic Ikea bag on my shoulder.  I had spent much of the morning hydrating regularly, but taking care not to over do it as I would not be able to take a potty break once things got started.  My other strategy included wearing a thin loose fitting muscle t-shirt with baggy shorts and Birkenstock sandals.  While waiting for the parade to start there was a lot of joking around about my unenviable task, but also assurances that everyone would be looking out for me due to the heat and lack of visibility once I donned the head piece.

As the last few minutes ticked down to start the parade, they helped me get the suit on and talked me into riding in the convertible instead of walking.  I sat on the back of the car with my feet resting on the back seat and was handed a large umbrella to keep the sun off of me.  The parade began to creep forward towards the starting point and I closed my eyes and bowed my head in a kind of meditative state to conserve my energy, not knowing what to expect or how well I'd tolerate the whole ordeal.  It was a moment to appreciate the surrealness of being inside the cavernous lion's head with sound muffled, hearing my own breathing,  and feeling the glide of the vehicle underneath me.  The driver looked back at me and tapped my leg, "How are you doing in there?"  I gave him a thumb's up and looked around to see that we were beginning to hit the area where people had begun to line the parade route.

I started waving and caught glimpses of small children looking directly at me with huge smiles on their faces, waving frantically.  I felt a kind of adrenaline rush and collapsed the umbrella to throw it onto the floorboard while swinging my legs over the door to catapult myself out and away from the car to clear my tail.  I ran to the edge of the street to high five the children and look into their laughing eyes at close range.  I walked, danced, and stutter-stepped the rest of the way in a kind of half-blind euphoria, trying to run back and forth to either side of the street to catch as many kids as I possibly could while the parade moved inexorably on.

At about the halfway point of the parade I became acutely aware of the reality that I was wearing a furry costume with gloves and an overly large hairy helmet while running around in the direct sun of a blistering hot day while on pavement.  I couldn't quite believe that I felt so comfortable and that the time was going by so fast.  The street had broadened and I was weaving in and out of the other Lion's Club members to get from one side of the street to the other.  Their smiles were as infectious as the kids lining the parade route and I could only imagine what I must have looked like in my playful lion personae.  I could tell they appreciated what I was doing for the club by drawing attention to the signs and banners which trumpeted our various philanthropic activities.  A friend of ours from the community who had three boys at street side later told me the lion was their favorite part of the parade.

***

Towards the end I began to feel some of the fatigue catching up with me and the wetness that had soaked into my clothes.  The hot air sitting inside the lion's head was stale and musty.  I saw one more family sitting in lawn chairs on a street corner with a small boy in their lap and I trotted over to give him a high five.  Walking back onto the street I found myself looking at a sculpture from our local Arts Center which had been in front of us throughout the parade route.  It was now even with me and the driver was outside of his car securing the sculpture to its trailer with straps.  I thought this was odd and so I rotated my head to look to the front of his car only to find a mostly empty street with a few vehicles from the parade dispersing in the distance.  I turned to look the opposite direction to find my group and there was no one there.  No one.  Nothing.  The parade had ended at least a block back from where I stood and as the Arts Center guy pulled away I was left totally alone on the street.

I was at a complete loss.  There was no more parade and I was standing on the street almost two miles from where I'd parked my car in a lion costume in ninety degree heat.  I wandered over to the sidewalk and looked around some more in a state of bewilderment and indecision.  I didn't want to peal off my suit right there where some kids might see.  Somehow I had the idea that the illusion of the lion must be maintained until I could go somewhere out of sight and take it off.  A small cinder block funeral home was the nearest building to me and it had a few trees beside it.  I absent-mindedly noted from the sign that it specialized in cremation services.  As if in a daze I made my way back to stand under the shade of a tree and began the process of taking off the lion costume.  I stuffed the body of it into the lion's head and headed back the direction the parade had come from to find my car.

While walking back I glanced up a side street and recognized the convertible sitting in a church parking lot with some of the Lion's Club members milling about, drinking ice water, and packing up to get ready to leave.  I walked up to join them and no one seemed to notice that I'd been gone.  It crossed my mind that I could have collapsed from heat stroke and no one would have been the wiser.  I had to ask if someone could give me a ride back to my car and it was quickly arranged due to the fact it was very hot and everyone just wanted to get home to their air-conditioning.  On the way back the driver (who later went on to become club president) attempted to make some small talk, but I was still in a kind of existential shock.  I may have told him that we were new to the community and that I was originally from Indiana, but I don't remember anything much beyond that.  What I do remember is the feeling of being utterly alone and disconnected from the world.

***

In the coming weeks and months my work at the hospital grew to the point that I was only able to attend Monday meetings sporadically until I finally had to notify the president that I could no longer maintain my membership in the club.  He was very gracious and said that I was welcome to come back at any time or participate in any of their activities as I was able.  Somewhere deep down I felt like I'd let Kevin down and in my mind's eye I pictured him as that sad lion standing in the middle of an empty street on a hot day, half-blind and alone.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Never Judge a Book...

Untitled


I'm not sure why it bugs me so much, but I really dislike when a classic of Science Fiction or Fantasy is made into a movie and then the book is re-released with a scene from the movie as the book cover.  I like to think of a book as a unified piece of art much like record albums used to be.  This mish-mash of book and movie seems to violate that idea/ideal.  Instead, I really enjoy when classics get re-released with cover art that is conceptualized in a new and creative way.  The books that come most readily to mind are those of Ray Bradbury which have had several re-imaginings over the years by a variety of artistic talents, many of whom have left some stamp of the times on them which I find fascinating.

This whole line of thought was sparked by finding a paperback copy of The Postman by David Brin yesterday at Half Price Books.  They were having a 20% off sale and when I saw the book's spine I knew that this was the one for me, a classic that had evaded me since it's debut in 1985.  My excitement quickly turned to disappointment  when I pulled the book off the shelf and found myself staring at Kevin Costner.  Reading the back cover I learned that "For the first time since Dances with Wolves, this Fall's blockbuster motion picture will be directed by and star Kevin Costner."  Egads.  I have no recollection of any such movie which is probably a good thing.

I'm seriously considering using a Sharpie to re-imagine the cover, as well as blacking out any reference to Kevin Costner.  This would not be much of a stretch for me as in the past few years I've started a new hobby of creating book covers from photos that remind me of particular books.  I'm repeatedly surprised by how much excitement this generates in my humdrum existence when the idea takes hold and I'm looking to find time to photoshop it into reality.  I've even created the cover for a novel that has not yet been written, but is biding its time in my subconscious, as well as for a poem. I imagine these creations are Walter Mitty-like moments for me, letting me pretend I am a person of some renown in the publishing world.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Epic is the new Awesome



It's an epic tale that I'm telling,
full of epic adventures
with epic peoples.
Peoples who are like us,
but unlike us in epic ways;
taller, shorter, faster, slower,
fatter, thinner, smarter, dumber,
and all with some slightly
distorted physiognomy,
like pointy ears, ie, epic.
And the epicness does not
stop with the peoples, but
encompasses their journeys
as well, to the highest peaks
and to the lowest caverns
that reek with evil putrescence,
lacking in the most basic of
pulchritudinousness,  a word
that can only be described as... epic.
They cover epic distances
and meet epic villains
who are really really ugly
and may even smell bad,
but are epically brilliant
in the devious kind of way
that trips them up in the end,
climaxing in a climactic ending
that can only be described as... epic.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When We were Holy



***
When we were holy
I was just a kid.

The preacher pranced
on the camp meeting stage
in a building so large it
resembled Noah's Ark
left upside down to dry.
Emotions came in waves,
washing over us as we
sat passively on long
benches of wooden slats,
like a multitude of life boats
bobbing on a troubled sea.
His voice rose and fell,
whispers and shouts,
a Bible flopped open
in his raised palm
like a dead bird.

When we were holy
a young man ran the aisles
leaping and whooping with abandon.
An old man shuffled along
shaking a hanky over his head,
his eyes closed and tears
running down his cheeks.
The women in long dresses,
hair up in buns or beehives,
fanned themselves furiously
in the late summer heat.

When we were holy
the power to see other's sins
was granted to us,
tell tale signs to distinguish
sinner from saved.
We were not like them,
the Bible told us so.
We traveled to church
three times a week
secure in the knowledge
of our personal salvation,
even as our hearts
withered in our homes,
hidden behind drapes of denial.

When we were holy
I was just a kid.
***