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Sometimes things don’t work out.

No, sometimes they don’t work out at all.

And, sometimes, it seems heartbreaking.

Things were not as I thought I wanted them to be.

As it turns out, I thought wrong…

arizona

Once upon a time on a mountain in the sky,
Arizona burned bright with flames a mile high.

And it waited.

It waited while a boy stood at the crossroads, asking for a sign.
Caught in a fluorescent bath of indecision, he looked at his watch, he looked back at his car, he looked at the suitcase by his feet.
It should be so easy, just get on the plane.
“I prefer to be in the plane”, he thought to himself, but his feet still didn’t move.
He thought of his dream, turbulence in crossing the Mississippi River.
A blaze of glory with a sudden stop.
Going down in flames to die a proverbial death.
Something’s gotta give.

He stood in the parking garage and considered his other dreams…

Once upon a time on a mountain in the sky,
with thorny arms and hot breath,
Arizona changed his mind.

“You don’t have to take your life at face value”, he would breath in the words from her mouth as she said it to him later, though he heard it then.
He tried to reach out and grasp the glow of her heat but it was on him already.
In him already.
Compelled his thoughts.
Already.

He didn’t know what he knew while he stood at the corner of uncertainty, not exactly, but a spider moved in it’s web and the wind stirred the surface of the water.

“What if I told you that if you get on this plane nothing will ever be the same?”
He heard the question though it too was yet to be asked.
“What if I told you that you can’t go home again?”
“What if I told you that you never left?”

Once upon a time on a mountain in the sky,
a silent creature in Arizona waited with unblinking eyes.
Warm sand against it’s belly, in the shadow of a tree.
Without worry.
Patiently.

Xavier locked his car and picked up his suitcase, this is what fate feels like.
It was time to go.
Home.

A Room Down The Hall

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I would concede that my descriptions over simplify reality exactly to the extent that they are misinterpreted.

I had wanted the room with the windows but it didn’t work out that way.  Instead, my plants and I have taken refuge in the walk-in closet where we sit around a bare light bulb trading ghost stories.  While I have finally succeeded in wrecking my marriage, there remains only one way out of this mess and that is to go through it.

When I was younger, I used to keep snakes, an endeavor that may or may not have required weekly trips to the pet store to bring home mouse happy meals.  Snakes tend toward the strong, silent type and can be difficult to get along with because, lacking the gift of facial expression or the ability to learn sign language, communication is not their strong point.

“Are you hungry?”, I would ask my serpentine friend and then wait patiently for a vision or a smoke signal.  Once I thought I heard it’s forked tongue say, “Stick your hand in here and find out”, but in reality no response was forthcoming.

Unlike their devilish human counterparts, snakes do not kill for sport which meant that on many occasions the mice were left to their own devices to kill themselves.  An unmotivated reptile will watch unblinkingly as one panicked creature after the next would drown in the water bowl, die of dysentery or break it’s neck falling from the rafters, all in an attempt to escape a predator that didn’t want it in the first place.

Naturally, the plants were horrified on the evening I chose to share that little gem with them.

Some ghosts are living and some ghosts are dead.
Some books stay open,
after the final page has been read.
On a hot summer night, too hot for my bed,
I met a pigeon in a parking lot with an upside down head.

Unable to fly,
and with down-turned eyes,
it said:
These crumbs on the sidewalk are the stars in my sky.

When you talk to plants their leaves shimmer and quiver, curl and wither, depending on what you tell them.  Their bodies, like ours, consist mainly of water. Water that rises with the tide, sits like glass in the moonlight and rages in the wind. Water giveth, and water taketh away.  Water becomes the shape of it’s vessel.

Crowded in a tight circle, their sweet faces pale with incandescent light, the plants listen patiently to my stories but one by one they have to agree that this dim imitation is not the sun.  “We can’t live this way”, they tell me.

“I know”, I say, “but please hang on a little longer.  I will find us a new room with lots of windows very soon.”

They nod and say, “We hope we’re still here when you do.”

Parables About Nothing

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He said I was savage.
He doesn’t know what that means.

***

A hermit was walking in the woods and came across a coral snake.

The snake had been bitten by a cat and was badly injured.

The hermit felt bad for snake and took it home to nurse it back to health.

Months passed and the snake healed but the hermit had become very attached to the snake in the meantime.

One day, while having some special time together, the snake bit the hermit in the face.

The hermit picked up a rock to crush the snake’s head and cried, “how could you?!?!”

The snake never blinked. “Why are you crying?,” it asked, “Everyone knows that snakes make bad pets.”

With rock still in hand, the hermit pondered this while the snake crawled back to it’s home in the woods.

***

I don’t know who is who in this story.

Actually, I do.

I am both of them.

Stargazing

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East Coast Ira sits on the world, the star of a constellation he cannot see.

A blue dot in the eye of the serpent or an apple from the tree of knowledge.

He waits for the sign of the cross, searching for life in his lifetime.

Peace happens for eternity out there beyond the clouds.

The lay of the land is changed by the weather while the sun burns bright, even when he’s not looking.

 


Midnight In The Ocean

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I played a song as long as the highway. Which lover are you, Jack Of Diamonds?

“It’s very sunny in here”, he said. “Well”, I replied, “maybe you should put on a hat.” And he grinned at my bright idea.

Hundreds of miles passed me by, until pink jet trails scratched the sky, and minor chords welled up that would not be subdued.

“Your messenger is here”, he said, “watching me from the window.” East Coast Ira was brought up to believe that reptiles were not meant to roam free in the house but on this special occasion he let it slide. Red touches yellow… he thought, hmmm. “Don’t think that because you just now saw it means it wasn’t there the whole time”, I told him, “because after all, no one invented electricity.” He reached out to click off the lamp so we could be alone.

I pressed on until the the black highway met the black sky and Ira sat in a black chair like midnight in the ocean. “It’s dark in here”, he said. “Well”, I replied, “maybe you should take off your hat.” And again he grinned at my bright idea.

“How fast are you moving?”, he wanted to know. “That all depends on your point of reference”, I said, but he had stopped listening.

I sat very still while the stars turned a circle and East Coast Ira began to shudder. Alone in the dark, but still observed, he found it very pleasing.

Just keep driving, I said to no one. Suspended in space and without concern, I considered the puzzles to which I was the missing piece and the various front doors that waited for me to come home.

Fervor and Pitch: An Unfolding

She emits a signal. A lone voice in a sea of millions, an anomaly in the chaos. He heard it only faintly at first and didn’t pay it much mind. Something about it though, it stuck in his head and he could not un-hear it.

She glimmers and cascades across the sky, seemingly out of control. She draws him in but he can’t see her clearly. He looks closer.

At first glance she appears to be in distress. She is not herself, but she is not weak. She is hard to see but he hears her calling, distant and relentless. He can’t focus his eyes but he can’t look away.

She stirs up his instincts. He wants to help, he wants to teach her to swim. He desperately wants to ease her distress because he shares in it. He looks for a starting place but there is no beginning. She is plain but oddly alluring. She causes him tension. He lays in bed at night and tries to make sense of her.

“I am changing”, she tells him, “and you are here for a reason”. “You are here for a reason”, he says back, “and I am changing.”

He wants to help but he wants more. Behind her distress is a doorway to somewhere else. He hears her in the darkness of his room. He wants to be inside her, oh god, he wants to be inside her. He wants to know where she goes in the corridors of her mind.

“What are you doing to me?”, he asks. “What do you mean?”, she replied. She acted only in accordance with her nature.

While he speaks to her, she screams for him and without a thought he leaves his body. She is slender and naked. She is unmasked and even though his gaze never falters, she is still so hard to see. He is in a strange land but she welcomes him.

“You are like me”, he says. “You are like me“, she says back and it meant something he never considered.

He tries to sleep but she overwhelms his senses. He is in his world but cannot clear her from his mind. She visits him like a haunting and he rolls over to face the wall. Something is coiled on the window sill, he can barely make out it’s unblinking eyes in the moonlight. It means me no harm, he thought, before finally drifting off.

Free

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And maybe I just don’t see the reason

But in the corner of my heart

your

ignorance is treason

The Racontours

Shelly once told me, “Never underestimate the value of a man who will take you home and fuck you.” See there now, that’s why we’re friends. I’ll one-up her, though. Never underestimate the value of a man who will take you home and fuck you, and not make you feel stupid and used afterwards. Yeah, you know, it’s the 2nd part that trips them up. Silly, dull-witted creatures anyway.

I may be the devil; a lying, cheating, scheming, s’um bitch but I’m not indestructible. Actually, I take that back. My instinct for self-preservation will blow the skin off your face. Adrenaline pulses through my veins and dilates my pupils when the wind smells of bullshit. I’ll put a boot in the ass of anyone who dares to make me feel stupid for caring about them.

There’s a stream that flows past my house and on the bank there’s a sign that reads:

“No swimming. No fishing. For fuck’s sake, don’t drink the water.”

On the other bank is another sign that reads:

“Told you so.”

Coiled happily in the warm sand of the beach is a sleeping coral snake. It doesn’t care because snakes don’t. It doesn’t blink either. It sleeps with it’s eyes open.

The Universe has got my back. Shows me the future like a crystal ball. Shows me the content of your heart. Tells me what your mouth doesn’t say. Turns out the lights when the music’s over.

My love isn’t free.

Coffee Grounds

He wondered how many times I would pass his driveway so he stood on the porch to count. Somewhere around the 4th time I turned in and he forgot right away that he had been counting something.

I got out of my car and stepped over a snake that was coiled lazily in the sun. He didn’t see it but it saw me. It always does. Red touches yellow, me and this fellow.

Travis invited me in. He had survived the Leo, but the Scorpio is a different kettle of fish entirely. He was apprehensive about my visit.

Unusual. A déja-vu of sorts, like pulling an old book off the shelf. I should be a stranger here but I don’t feel out of place. I press my ear against history to listen for voices. Nothing.

But there’s my picture on the wall. Memories of me that I didn’t know existed were kept alive. I was here in a parallel universe, hiding in plain sight.

“You wear your clothes well” he told me and I remembered that I forgot he had a clothing fetish; an odd quality for a guy who hates underwear. I forgot but he knew all along. The things he carried were with him the whole time. I didn’t tell him about the times I would get up from the couch to cry alone in my bathroom. I couldn’t explain why I would do that. Nor did I mention any of the other things I did to forget him, to get over it, to cowboy-the-fuck-up and get on with the business of living. I couldn’t sit in his house and tell him about these things as I clearly had not done them with any measure of success.

Reality is an all or nothing proposition so I opt for nothing. The key aspect of any lucid dream is the realization that all the characters are you.

I thought I heard the devil talking. “Hey son, why ain’t you got no face? I could paint one on you, for a price.” I wondered which of us was being spoken to and decided it wasn’t me, or maybe it was me talking. My portraits have faces in any case.

“I liked it when you asked if I thought about you”, he said, “and I want you to know that I still have your filter and I use it every day.” He poured me a cup of coffee. I had no idea what he was talking about so my reply was only a quizzical look. “Your metal coffee filter”, he explained, and I still looked confused, “from the gallery“, he seemed to think it was so obvious and then suddenly I remembered and it was funny and sweet all at the same time.

This morning I woke up to find my kitchen floor flooded. I splashed up to the counter to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds into the sink and prepare to start over. Brewing coffee in the rising water: the way the world ends, the way the world begins.

The Rose

A stranger walked into the woods and away from his life. He had given up on the world of the living. He walked with an empty heart, deeper and deeper into the forest, paying no attention to any compass; there was no reason to go back the way he had come. He walked until the sounds of the city fell away; until the sun faded and the moon shone with a fierce white light. Wolves howled and night birds screeched. The sounds of water could be heard, madness descended on the land and into the stranger’s mind. He found a place to sit and wait for the forces of nature to take him to another plane.

He sat on the damp ground with the tendrils of a vining weed curling around his boots.  Footsteps of nocturnal predators surrounded him and bats flew silently overhead. He sat and waited, knowing that the claws and teeth of a hungry beast would be upon him soon enough. A tri-colored snake sat coiled on a branch above his head. He beckoned to it with his broken thoughts. A lightening fast strike from the serpent would be followed by an eternity of peace. He waited.

The stranger waited for death to find to him but on this night he would not be found. He laid down and did not object when spiders crawled onto his face. Sleep came over him and when the first rays of morning sun touched his eyes he was startled by the presence of a tiny rose. An unlikely plant to be growing there, it was barely alive from being choked by the vines but, even so, had managed to send up one tiny bloom that glowed red in the sunlight.

The stranger stared at the tiny flower, his face reflected in a single dew drop clinging to it’s petals. He sat up and cleared away the vines so that the little plant could get more light and air. It rained often in the forest and all green things grew very rapidly, especially the vining weeds. By the time the sun was setting in the west, the tiny rose had become more robust and vines were once again curled around it’s base.

The next morning, and for countless mornings, the stranger awoke on the ground next to the rose. He would tear the vines away to give it room to grow. With the help of the stranger, the rose flourished; turning it’s velvet blossoms towards the warm rays of sun.

The stranger no longer waited for death to find him and he became intent on serving the rose. Though it never thanked him, the stranger desired only to sleep under the stars looking forward to watching the rose unfold in the morning light.

The rose did only as it’s nature intended it to do. It fed on the sun and the rain; growing stalks of deep green leaves and razor sharp thorns, topped by silky red flowers. The rose never knew the perilous nature of it’s existence nor did it give any thought to the assistance that made it’s life possible. It did not feel for other living things, it knew only warmth and growth, it did what roses do.

Seasons passed and the stranger grew old. But even in the autumn of his life, with gnarled hands and bent knees, he fought the strangling vines; tearing them from the ground so that the rose may live.

One morning the sun burst over the horizon, illuminating the rose and filling all the dew drops with rainbows of refracted light. The forest shone like a cathedral but the stranger did not stir. Light fell on his face but his eyes did not open. His chest did not rise and fall. He did not wake from his slumber and clear away the vines.

As the sun moved across the sky, the vining weeds wrapped their tendrils around anything they could reach. By noon the stranger’s face was obscured and his arms bound securely to the ground. Carnivorous insects marched to him in straight lines. The rose continued to flourish and bloom even as the vines began to curl around it’s thorny stalks. It did not know to be afraid or to mourn for what had been lost to it. It knew only to grow in the sunlight and so it carried on. By the following day the strangling vines had wrapped themselves through every stalk of the beautiful bush yet the rose felt no sadness. The great stalks began to wither, leaves turning brown and perfect red flowers falling to the ground as the vines choked the life from the rose.

The rose did not grow angry at it’s fate. It simply was and then it was not. It did what roses do; returning to the forest floor with all the living things that had gone before.

The Way Down

   There is a painting of us somewhere. We just don’t know where. And it’s not really of us. Well, it sort of is. You’ll see.

     During the spring of another era, I bled to death in a cabin east of the Mississippi. My unborn daughter drowned in my womb and an owl flew down from it’s tree in the middle of the day. I never knew the person my child might have been. Apparently, she wasn’t anyone at all. A midwife was there but rags with ointment and hot water were no match for a breech birth. Dean looked on but there was nothing he could do. Finally the nurse turned to him and said “it’s no use.” She packed her things and left him with the mess. It wasn’t fair. Across the way, a young girl lived alone. She was crazy and blind, both her parents were taken with the fever. Her name was Unfortunate and she would sit in the dirt singing songs to herself. As the midwife walked away sad words floated in the air “that’s the way it goes, that’s the way…” Some endeavors just aren’t meant to be. It’s not true what they say about catching a cold. It’s children that’ll be the death of you.

     Dean, I don’t know what his name was then, turned to booze and whores to calm his despair. Five years later a woman with no last name woke up next to a man who had died in the night. She took his wallet on her way out the door. There was nothing in it.

     My car is little and efficient. It has front wheel drive and I like to take it places where it shouldn’t go. I snapped out of my visions and realized I was driving too fast down a steep mountain, on a winding dirt road, in the rain. Willow trees slapped the windshield. The voice from the stereo was mine but coming from someone else entirely. Her name is Gillian and, like me, she is the spawn of a midnight pact between a young woman and a drummer. “Some girls are bright as the morning” she sang “and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind.” The wipers swiped at the rain and then snagged a wisp of willow, smearing green across the glass.

     In Oregon the ocean washes jellyfish up on the beach. They are nature’s gooey land mines. Even the dead ones will sting you and the stringy fuckers are see-through. The crabs aren’t afraid of them though. Tiny hermit crabs, swimming in puddles around starfish, are not even the slightest bit concerned for the watery Christmas-light tentacles of the jelly. You can walk on the beach, down the line where the water meets the sand and see any given metaphor. I was walking and came upon a shell. The idea that one can hear the ocean in a shell is rhetorical. With the tide splashing salt water in your hair, what else would you hear? I picked it up anyway and, to my surprise, didn’t hear the ocean at all. I heard rain and wheels on dirt. A tired voice told me “Step into the light, poor Lazarus. Don’t lie alone behind the window shade” It may have just been my own thoughts but, in any case, the ocean had nothing to say about it.

     No matter how much rain falls, you can’t drive your car off the mountain until you get to the bottom. In the meantime, cars full of lonely guitars and dissonant thoughts only go down the mountain.

     Deserts are places where oceans used to be. They no longer have a line where the water meets the sand because the water left, leaving the sand to it’s own devices. When the moon shines on the desert, scorpions grow restless and break into a sweaty panic, often stinging themselves to death for no good reason. A scorpion is equipped with an arsenal sufficient to win any war, even if it’s grossly outnumbered. It’s a shame then how many scorpions fall victim to their own poison. My car rested on a sand dune, parked in the desert for so long the paint had turned to rust and the seats were wire skeletons. Once I had slept in the back but now a wild dog licked her wounds in my stead. A coral snake slid down from inside the bumper and caught itself a scorpion. Headless and squirming, the scorpion’s tail flew up and stung the snake in it’s eye. Two of god’s creatures died there under the rusty car on a moonlit night. From the dashboard came a tiny glow, static crackled and the voice of someone who wasn’t theremused “of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself, well you might be my favorite one of all.”

     I thought I should really pay more attention to the road. Being perilously close to the soggy shoulder, one false move could send me cartwheeling over the edge. I would still be going down the mountain, technically, just not the way I had planned. It was all so hypnotizing: the rain and the wipers with the songs and willow trees. Perhaps it was the altitude or maybe the Indian cigarettes. Someone else probably should have been driving, but who? I hummed along with the music “sunshine and sorrow, yesterday, tomorrow…” The car drove itself home.

     A southern woman I’ve never met keeps a painting in her attic. She keeps it because it was there when she moved in. The painting depicts a man and a woman sitting on a bench by a window. The new resident of the home believes this scene takes place in what is now her breakfast nook and that the people in the painting used to live in the original part of the house. Once, when the woman’s father came to visit he asked her “whatcha hanging on to that ol’ picture of them niggers for?” “Hush now”, she told him, “it’s not right to call them that and besides they look like half breeds to me.” The old man clacked his dentures with his tongue “sure are a lot of clouds in here. I think it’s gonna rain”. “Dad!” she knew he would never change but still… “can’t you see the woman has green eyes?”

** song lyrics in italics by Gillian Welch