Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shattered Words

Yes, this is how I express myself. With words because I can't make you see the symbols in my head, because the deep structures of thought and soul cannot be drawn or modeled except by words. A pity they are such fragile things, but then so are our souls. They shatter and we pick them up and hand them to our Maker. "Reassemble?" we beg but we cannot be reassembled. Not quite.
But something better from the brokenness can be drawn. From a distance we appear whole, but move closer and you will see: a thousand shards, broken and beautiful, each one a word we lost and relearned, each one in its own place, though it may not have started there.
Yes this is the only way I know to let you read me, because only a book can be read and books are words and so I say so many of them hoping that somewhere in there you catch the thread of a theme, and tie it 'round your finger, a string to keep ahold of me, a thread to weave with your own, and these characters we are and have been will become, and the threads will twine together and grow strong, and bind us, and undo us.
And we shall lie beneath the rain and it shall wash over us, like God's own mercy it shall wash over us, and from the rain and the dew and the fog will burst forth flowers. And the birds shall sing to us in words we know not, and then, only then, will I know in the birds that you have read my heart.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Back Across the Prairie

Lily sat at the hotel bar and watched the clouds roll down off of the mountains. He would be up there in the thick of it now, under that makeshift tent with a bottle and a cigarette. She hoped he wasn't cold without her.

"I'm going back," she said.
He didn't say anything for a long time, just looked out across the mountains and took a pull on the bottle. She produced a pack of cigarettes from the folds of her blouse and offered him one. He shook his head and pulled a Marlboro from his shirt pocket and lit it.
"Ain't you gonna say anything?" she asked after a while.
He took a drag on the cigarette. "I'll drop you in the next town."
"You aren't coming back with me?"
He shook his head. "Goin' on. Got more road ahead."
They stood then and watched the sun sink into the mountains and disappear. They climbed onto the bike and road into the dusk.

The storm was raging now. She wanted to run into it with her arms open and her head to the sky. Better judgment reminded her she didn't have much to change into, so she lit a cigarette and drank her beer, contemplating the rain and the gray black sky.

On the road east of Denver Lily saw a car approaching. She hooked a thumb and smiled. The car slowed and the door opened.
"Goin' east?" Lily asked.
"All the way to New York," said the driver. She was a girl around Lily's age, with copper hair and a spray of freckles across her face. She said her name was Mary.
"I'll go as far toward Michigan as you'll take me."
"Hop in, you can help drive!" said Mary, smiling. Lily found she did a lot of that. She smiled slowly in reply, liking the feel of it on her face.
They drove east, away from the setting sun and the mountains and the cold. Mary was going to New York to "make it" she said. She didn't mean with a boy.
"Where you headed kid?" Mary asked.
Lily sighed. "Home," she said.
"Oh yeah? You go on the run?"
"Not exactly. Hopped on a bike and road west for a time."
Mary nodded.
The hours passed and the miles slipped by beneath them. The afternoon rains dissipated and the setting sun set fire to the broken cottony clouds in the west. Lily could see it all in the rearview mirror. Ah to turn and head back into that. She understood well what drove so many west, for the grandeur and the beauty and the ever striving to catch the setting sun were things she felt pulling her heart, too. They had pulled her west, but they could not pull her all the way. The promise of something eternal lying across those great vast prairies had not been really a lie, but it had not been quite true either. She believed that somewhere in the heart of those mountains he was still riding, still searching for it. She glanced at Mary, asleep in the passenger seat, and smiled. I hope they make it she thought.
The sun yielded to twilight, and the gray and the cool were a peaceful end to the grand display of dying light. The clouds blew she knew not where, and twilight turned to night. No moon brightened the sky. Only a field of stars and the two headlights of the old Chevy lit the way.
One step is enough she remember from somewhere.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crescent City Sketches, II

Even the mornings are hot in the Crescent City. On Bourbon Street the humidity congeals into a thick stew of smells – piss and vomit and alcohol and the rot of the city, all stale and stinking. Through this stew he walks as the sun crests the buildings. Across the corner a man hoses the vile spillage of the night before from the stoop and the sidewalk and into the sewer. He smiles and waves at the man and walks on. Down the street, past cabarets and sports bars, all quiet in the morning light. The girls are gone, at home in their beds still asleep or bleary eyed as they search for their glasses, their hair tousled and their faces unpainted. Gone too are the men who stood in the streets hawking the lewdness and competing for a crown of unchastity in language as they sought to draw passersby in beyond the doors of the windowless buildings. No neon signs blaze out the promise of skin and cheap liquor. No street preachers stand in the way decrying the blackness of the sins the creep and crawl through the glow of the night lights. Only a few tourists wander onto and off of the street, peering at the strangeness of Bourbon street with no bourbon.

He walks on, past Toulouse Street, and then right on St. Peter's. Rainbow colored flags line the opposite side of the street. On his right Pat O'Brien's sleeps on. At length he emerges into Jackson square. The palmists and the readers of Tarot line the fence around the park, mingled with the street painters and jewelry stands. A few tourists climb the steps into St. Louis Cathedral. He joins them, working his way around the building carefully, taking in the art and stopping now and then to whisper a prayer to one of the saints. On the way out he slips a five dollar bill into the box and lights a few candles for his grandparents. Back in the sun he turns his feet back to the hotel, and the shuttle, and the airport, and home.

Friday, April 4, 2014

For Shannon

He wakes in the morning. He always wakes in the morning. He woke yesterday. He will wake tomorrow. The summer air had bled hot through the open windows and coated him with sweat all the night through. The dark gives no respite from the drenching. The others sleep on. In the silence of the morning he wanders to the computer room. To the book of faces, to the memory hole. There a face that is no longer a face – or that has gained its true face. A new angel in heaven, they say, but for her soul they pray not at all. Rest in peace, some say, praying it even if in praying they know not what they mean. "Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck," he says. And then, because he knows he must "Requiem aeternam dona ea Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ea. Requiescat in pace.." The contrast is not lost on him. The rage and the hate and the helplessness tangle inside him and his heart stumbles over it and, all unchecked, falls into the salt sea, and the sea bleeds from where his face would be, if he had a face. But he has forgotten his. He has forgotten hers, too. He sees her as she was, as he will always see her, as he will always see any of them – as they were in that hazy golden tint of youth, when they woke every day, because they awoke yesterday, so they shall awaken tomorrow. Except her. BANG! BANG BANG! And she will not awaken tomorrow.

The Dance

A single tears runs down a cheek that cannot yet bear a beard. The ghosts of autumn race across the hills, rattling the skeletons of a once beautiful forest, stirring the leaves from their slumber upon the eternal earth into a lifeless lively dance of death. Above the sky watches, man-like, not crying. Waiting, watching, waiting for the ghosts to pass and leave all in silence again, for the dance to be over and the trees to ossify or their once tender faces to rot upon the ground and be received into the earth. And so he walked, through the dying of the year, and he cried at the beauty, and at the feelings of loneliness that welled up inside him, and he wanted to love and be loved and know warmth and tenderness and joy and dancing, and to come at last to remember everything, each leaf that lay upon the ground, and the hope of memories made and yet to be came upon him, each leaf that danced was a face, and he would dance until he died. No one would ever take the dance away from him.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Prose Poem

Under the night sky he looks up and out into the infinite. Like Cantor he counts and counts and fails to count it all. And he longs to go there, to see the space beyond the stars in the vasty blackness. But his grasp on the longing slips from his hands and the little boy inside him recoils in fear at the deep, dark reaches of the ethereal sea. The sea on which float all the wonders he can imagine, and none of them. In the cold he feels it all barren and beyond ken, and the unkenned is uncanny and so he retreats into himself and the hole in his heart where it tore. "Love is longing for the infinite," he hears whispered in the back of his mind, and his skin prickles in the cold. But it is not so, for he cannot long for what he fears. He cannot long for that forever garden, because he sees only the stars, and tonight the stars are cold. He shivers. A hand brushes his arm then and the touch of it, as if one of the stars had given its warmth to him, thaws the iciness in him. His arm finds her waist, then, and she rests her head upon his shoulder. "Love is reaching," he hears in the night. So let him reach. Maybe, someday, he will touch a star, and the boy inside him will not fear.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The First and Last to Leave

This is a draft and I confess I'm not really happy with it. It's not complete, it's not consistent, and it's missing so much, but there are things I like, so here it is.

The First and Last to Leave

For the second time that year, he woke before the dawn and rode to the end of something beautiful. For the second time that year he greeted the gray morning from the lonely seat of an airport terminal. This time he was alone, but he always was eventually: every flight was lonely in its own way, even with his brother beside him there had been a distance that was spanned by memory and held apart by the immeasurable gulf between two separate experiences, between two different souls.


"Wing it, you said. There are plenty of hostels, you said. You'll just take whatever comes, you said. Well, you got any ideas?"
"Calm down, it's early, you'll be all right."
"No I won't, I will not be f-"
"Hey hey hey, no swearing, not today. You know how this works, you keep walking."
"Do I get to keep talking to myself in public? We made fun of a kid in college who did that."
"We were asses in college."
"Changing the subject, you know there has to be an internet cafe somewhere. We passed one back near Puerta del Sol, we could try to find it again."
"Not now, I'd rather wallow."
"Oh come now, let's enjoy this. It's not often we get tossed into a city with nowhere to stay and no one to contact and no one to talk to. It's an adventure. He got you through worse than this. Wasn't this the whole point, trust God and see where you end up?"
"The plan was to trust God and end up back at the same hostel, preferably in the same room, less one drunk Canadian and his four a.m. hookup."
"You have an odd notion of trust."


He wished it would rain. This damned environment lacked empathy.
On the other side of the street a girl walked by wearing a black bra and gauzy, cream-colored top. Sheer, like this loneliness, he thought and turned his eyes to other things. He wondered if his soul was as clearly displayed as her undergarments. Did the passersby see him and read his story, see the outlines of the Galician hills and the prayers of thanks and desperation and exhaustion? Did the lights of a candellight procession shine out from a misty night in Fatima into the bright morning sun? He doubted it. Too much else to see and do and hear for those old sights and silences to mean anything. He was just another traveler. Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you going?


Art heals a multitude of sorrows. How strange that it should do it with sorrow. He wandered the rooms of the Prado slowly, not as a critic, for his skill and knowledge was too little for that. Nor did he wander as he had so often before, checking off the famous paintings, nodding and pretending to appreciate while wishing only for a seat and a drink. No, he took his time and his care, and he drank. He did not drink them all. Some he tasted and liked not, others drained him as he drained them, returning again and again to the storms sweeping across the bay toward St. Jerome's cave, to the Holy Family resting on their flight to Egypt, surrounded by the greens and blues and grays of a countryside that had never harbored their journey except in the eye of a painter. An excellent draughtsman with a flight of beauty to quell the ache that had chased him through the day, he drank until he was full, and then drank some more. And then the waters rose from the canvas and carried him and filled him and took him until they spilled silently from the corners of his eyes, and he knew that in his loneliness he was not alone. He smiled.


The church of St. Michael proved elusive. He wandered in and out of Plaza Mayor with no luck, no forturne, and no success. At length he surrendered. Verdi's Requiem was sold out, and the church he had sought seemed to desire not to be found. His feet turned back toward the hostel. Perhaps he could pass the evening at the Flamenco class they were offering. He soon found himself walking down Calle de Toledo, with a church ahead on the left. San Isidro wasn't the one he'd been told to seek out, but he went in, thinking that he didn't need to return to the hostel at the moment anyway.
Inside he found a group of maybe ten women praying the rosary in a side chapel.
Might as well, he thought. He didn't know the prayers in Spanish, but that didn't matter. So he joined them, a young American, picking his way badly through the prayers, trying to pray in Spanish but switching to English most of the time, so he kept his prayers sotto voce. Eventually he learned the second part: Santa MarĂ­a Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. He never figured out the first half of the prayer.
Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you going?