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From the left seat I can see that you were right

11 Nov

I reside in heavens

when we fly it’s very clear

the bigger organism we

are apart of/from up

here/now vision clouded

with/by ether, our lives below

the bible thumping belt, so rare

did you think I wasn’t looking when you quietly ordered

yourself back into submission from the menu

or was that for those to whom you say life is good like comfort food for breakfast

on saturday just before noon in our pajamas with the radio playing/the smell of grease

and gasoline in your hair, citrus on the wind

real maple syrup and bacon/your favorite

race on television. We did things

on that leather couch that would embarrass the children if they existed

we spooned entire days into a bowling ball bag

you won/lost, as if we had nothing

more important to do than touch each other until we did

or maybe we only manufactured that/you

came down from your mountain-top to pull me up

and I was so grateful I gave you things

to desire instead

of me/but when I called down to you from mine

you couldn’t hear me any more

than when I used to tell you

I had a dream

in the night/you reached

out for me from your

fear of light/sleepers

women pilots

weak people

distrust

and we would fly

blindly, madly

in love with passenger seats, advanced

stall warning recovery

whether predictions

down-shifting, flights planned

restricted/visual ceiling fan rules

taking precedence under the covers

your feet my pedals

clutching, crabbing

our forte

negative g-forced

free fall

Observation #365,012

29 Oct

When you have bars on the windows of your house you tend to get used to them, but it scares other people away.

Sending a mixed message

And that’s the idea right? To protect yourself and what’s inside from what is outside.

If you’ve been living with them for any length of time, you probably don’t even see them anymore. Most of the time you just look right through them, especially when you are looking out on a beautiful landscape. And if you want to take a picture you only have to maneuver slightly so that the rest of the world doesn’t know you’re looking out from behind them.

But people who have never been to your house before will notice. In fact, it may be the first thing they see. They might wonder why and sometimes even ask but usually it just causes a general feeling of fear that they will not address and you won’t realize you should.

I have bars on the windows of the house where I live, but I didn’t put them there. I tell people it’s okay. It’s just so the monkeys can’t get in during the night because we sleep with the windows open. I tell them they won’t even notice after a few days. But I know it’s not for the monkeys, and so do they.

I tell myself it’s okay because they’re the kind that are slender and ornate and match the trim around the windows. And in reality, if someone really wanted to get in they could. They would just have to try a bit harder. And bring some tools.

They’re not the kind that block huge swaths of reality from view. And if they were to be removed, I don’t think it would leave much permanent damage. Just a little fading like when a picture has been hanging in the same spot on the wall for a while.

There are people who need these bars; who like them and think that every house should have them. That you’re asking for big trouble if you don’t have them.

There are people who have been hurt so many times they can’t imagine living in a house without bars on the windows.

But I’m not one of those people. This is not my house. I just live in it. Still, I’m strangely comforted by the bars. I wouldn’t have them removed. I understand about the monkeys and the other things that can come in the night while we sleep. I’ve seen some things would scare some people into living willingly behind bars. But I’m not one of them. Like I said, I just live here. If it was my house I wouldn’t have put them up to begin with, but since they’re here you know, might as well make the best of it.

Have a great week,
The Observer

Best Coffee Ever

26 Oct

You drilled a hole in my head this morning

fresh ground just barely

boiling you pressed

your forehead against

the mines, our minds

quarried

parece las piedras preciosas

con leche

and honey,

there’s nothing cliche about that

Piedras

Mine the heart, mind the head.

When two roads converged in a wood, I took the Allelopath

18 Apr

Allelopathy, I discovered yesterday—is the effect one species has upon the growth, survival and reproduction of another species by chemical, biological or ecological processes. For instance, a tree that grows to be tall and wide benefits the humans beneath it by providing shade where they may have a picnic, make sweet love and carve their initials into the pliable bark marking the first moment of their life-long commitment to benefit each other and their future children. The same tree does not allow any other species to thrive beneath it because of the very shade that benefits the humans.

I also discovered that plants aren’t the only ones with allelopathic tendencies.

It was a typical Tuesday morning eradication session at the Leon Creek Greenway where the Invaders volunteer their time to eradicate non-native invasive species. Ie. Kill things, record how and when they were killed, pinpoint a GPS location of the slaying and record it in a national database. It’s satisfying work because you can see the difference you are making in a landscape right away. Where once there was a mono-culture of invasive species, you can see the potential for new native growth almost immediately. Kind of like getting a haircut: It always makes you feel better about your future somehow.

This day was going along par for the course. I had my first kill and a fat one at that—around six inches in diameter. I had to use my Gomboy or folding handsaw. Felt good to get a big one under my belt first thing. I called out my count and the code for loathed Chinaberry Tree. Most of the trees we eradicated that morning were big Chinas. We had a crew of about 10 and it only took two to do the work of even the biggest tree. So the rest of us just sort of milled about watching or looking for our own pre-flagged specimen to fell.

I’ve been on several of these expeditions before but this one was different in so many ways, it really made me stop and think. The work we did at Rancho Diana seemed much more unobtrusive. We weren’t felling large trees but we were pulling, chopping and spraying hundreds of Nandina every week. There was the “Nandina Forest” where the bamboo-like plant had taken over an entire area of underbrush. That week I learned how to identify Nandia in every  stage of life from a newly formed sprig to a mature bush with berries. Somehow it seemed not only physically easier to hand-pluck the babies from the lush fertile forest floor but cognitively, I didn’t suffer other decisions. Like, which weapon to most effectively destroy the thing. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with the same plant sawing or even break a sweat. All I had to do was seek, identify and destroy. Now look out honey, ’cause I’m usin’ tech-knowledgey…Somebody come and help me please…Somebody better save my soul! Wha? Oh, sorry Iggy Pop sideline. Happens every time.

So, the other thing is that something gets me out there in the civilized wild. A trail runs through it, but nature remains in control. Very early in our first effort to girdle a hug-sized Ligustrum we were verbally accosted by a few well-intentioned tree evangelists who proclaimed us “black-hearted sinners” for our defiant act of ecological restoration.

Black hearted sinners forever

Black hearted sinners forever

“We’re all invasive species!” She exclaimed passionately.

I see her point. So who decides?

If nature or her G-d for that matter saw fit for this plant to grow and thrive who are we to destroy it?

My rebuttle was weak. “But it will KILL all the other plants.”

Interesting perspective. Not true though.

It in fact, does nothing actively to kill anything. It only exists for the sole-purpose of existing.

Sure, its leaves drop and make the soil beneath it more alkaline insuring its own survival and the survival of other plants whose tastes agree. Sure, its canopy is large and dense to the detriment of many beneath it, earning it its nickname The Umbrella Tree. Sure, its prolific berries fall and turn to seeds and take their turns growing where they are unsurreptitiously planted. But if blame is due, it might just as well rest on the wings of that ill-fated bird who eats—gorges itself actually—becomes drunk on the toxic berries, flies downstream and deposits the seed at the mouth of another river where Chinaberry has never grown before and then dies. But not before making another even less desirable deposit of bloody seed encrusted feces on your freshly washed but unfortunately unwaxed clear coat instantly lowering your resale value.

Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for introducing the plant here in the first place. It’s a beautiful tree. Resilient. Hardy. Fast growing. Deciduous and flowering; it provides a brilliant if not common display of something in every season. It only becomes ugly when you see it choke out every other species or block a river from flowing freely. If you never saw a snake strike, you could assume it had no fangs. In these woods, the Chinaberry are sparse but large. They aren’t showing their fangs here. But as anyone who has ever been bitten by a snake knows: Size does matter.

Somewhere downstream or over the next hill or around the far bend the effects of these and several other non-native invasives that you can buy and are often touted as best use landscaping plants because of their tolerance for neglect and extreme weather. And that’s our justification for killing. G-d save our black-hearted souls! Funny thing though, they always seem to sprout back up in threes for each  individual we take down to a stump. Some say it’s a futile effort. We call it job security.

Makes ya kinda wonder though, doesn’t it.

Sitting for the Master

14 Apr

Sometimes a painting is just a painting. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes it speaks when you stop long enough to listen. Sometimes you recognize it in a crowd of strangers as a potential friend. Sometimes you meet and sit and after a while you realize you’ve found a life-long connection. That’s how it was with The Turnip and me.

The Turnip

The Turnip by  Seth Camm 

And that’s how it was sitting for Seth among the titanic greek columns of Mr. Santikos’ Palladium Theater/Bar where he is showing his art work and painting in the forward-thinking gallery spawned by the success of The Wonderland of America’s Bijou Theater, where his fiancée Rebecca Coffey is showing her art to movie goers who may or may not be intentionally seeking more from their entertainment than Hollywood has to offer. Can we just go to the movie now? Not yet, I’m still looking!

So, tell me how this works. What do I do?

Just sit there and look pretty.

Can I move? Look around?

Well, you can but not too fast or it’ll turn out blurry.

Hm. Easiest job I’ve done all week. Sure beats cleaning poo and rat guts on the snake farm.

But staring at the faces of the ones who came before, I somehow felt unworthy. Still I was giddy. At home now, I’m certain I was wearing that “shit eating grin” my dad used to call the look my face when they fought. The one I put on when they inevitably said, “Wipe that smile off your face.” The one that turned itself down at the edges so even though I felt like I was smiling, it didn’t offend anyone because I appeared to be just as unhappy as they were.

Break time!

And the first time I’ve ever seen what someone else sees when they see me.

Wow is all I can say. I know. I’m supposed to be a writer and all I’ve got is wow. To be fair, I’m in awe of this person before me. Of his talent. Of his grace. Of the way his eyes translate the world outside him to his hands in that esoteric language known only to trained artisans who practice attaining nothing less than perfection on a daily basis. Who continue with the daunting, joyful task of living and creating new things in absolute faith every single day of their lives for the pure joy of it. Because life would not be worth living without it and despite the fact that though they may reach seemingly unattainable heights they may be the only ones who recognize it and that has to be reward enough.

Can I get you anything?

A shot-gun, a twelve pack and a passing buffalo.

Would you settle for some chocolate?

I’m going to turn you blue now.

But wait! I’ve been blue for so long. I want to be a different color now. I want to wipe that shit eating grin off my face and glow.

I didn’t bring enough white to finish.

But I’m ready! I’m ready for my face to reflect how I feel inside. How rich, happy, loved and secure I am all by myself though it may not seem like it because I’m talking my head off like a teenager on three-way. I want to shine like the women on the wall. But are they really happy or does the master see something in all of us no one else can?

Someone enters the space. Someone who looks quite comfortable looking at art and in her own skin. Someone who doesn’t wait to be invited, is first to offer a smile and says, “I like your light.” Someone who means what she says in every way possible.

It was the best compliment I had ever heard given to an artist. It was a compliment not only to his work and his talent but his existence. Because the master uses light, needs light, reflects light and is light.

It may make a nice underpainting for something in the future.

In the shadowy outline on his canvas, I saw so much in me—so much potential for a finished piece. So much potential for a finished person—though we are all a work in progress. It was definitely me, or at the very least the me the people passing by could see as their eyes widened in disbelief. It reminded me of that fresh feeling you get when you step out of the shower and see yourself for the first time in the steamy mirror. You can’t see it yet, but you know you’re under there and all you have to do is sweep your hand across the cool glass to reveal it.

So many feelings in a glance. I had to look away. It was too beautiful. I practically ran outside to text everyone I know how awesome it was to be sitting for the master. The truth is I was afraid to see what he saw. I covered it up with small talk and giggles and he knew it too.

I lost the likeness of you.

I’m going down a path here that’s getting a bit steep, but sitting for the master always is isn’t it.

At home now, I realize I was afraid to see my own potential. But in that light, I felt that someday when I’m brave enough, I’ll look myself in the eyes and allow him to show me the beauty he sees. Until that day, I’m quite comfortable practicing my own perfection faithfully in perpetuity. I will continue with the daunting, joyful task of living and creating new things in absolute faith every single day of my life for the pure joy of it. Because life would not be worth living without it and despite the fact that though I may reach seemingly unattainable heights I may be the only one who recognizes it and that has to be reward enough.

Thanks for sitting for me tonight.

No thank you. It was an honor.

An idiom by any other name would smell as sweet

11 Apr
Bluebonnets in spring

Nature abhors a vacuum

The juxtaposition of rock, decaying mulch and vibrant new plant life drew me to this area of the backyard very near where target practice is held. Every evening as the sun finally drops behind the wooden slatted fence, rays of light leak through and illuminate things I’ve never seen before. Things that are there every day but go unseen by anyone until I take a picture and share it. There is nothing else in this bed but more decaying mulch, a few empty pots and a fallen ornamental peacock. His pride prevented him from inclusion. I walk past this rock 16 times to the target after I shoot and 16 times when I return with my arrows. I walk past it 32 times a day, 224 times per week and 960 times per month and every day I see something new.

Mother’s jewels

The bluebonnet flowers have since been provided with rain and sprouted. The tiny droplets of water they caught more precious than diamonds. It’s the only plant I know of that holds water like the Star of India holds light. Their beauty too wild to confine to one garden; they’ve taken over the entire side of the back yard leaving me only a footpath to my target.  A path I’ve walked so many times the flowers learned to bloom around it, up to my knees though I never trampled them. Strange the other side of the yard is completely barren but for the weeds.

Letter to a Runaway (and Jesus)

6 Oct

Dear Johnny,

When I saw you crying in the Bell Towne Plaza breezeway  somewhere between Jamba Juice, Peter Piper Pizza and what appeared to be inconsolable anguish, I could only imagine what you were going through. I  thought maybe some bullies at school were giving you a hard time. You said you  ran away from home. And when I asked you why, you called it “rough times”. Then  you broke down and said you just wanted to call your dad. Did I jump at the  opportunity to offload your woes on someone else? Instead of asking you; I told  you how you felt and you agreed.

You didn’t even attempt to hide the way your body heaved with each convulsive sob. I didn’t even offer you a hug. Water, yes and the peanut
butter crackers I keep on hand in emergency situations like this one, along with the first aid kit and flashlight—but what about compassion, sympathy, genuine emotion? All I could muster was that sweet smile I put on especially for times like these, coupled with an intense desire to fix this for you.

I should’ve thought it through before I drove ahead and parked with the intention of accidentally intercepting you in your forward path and simply asking you if you we’re okay when you so obviously were not.

I know that hopeless feeling. The one that says you can’t go back but where do you go from here?

The one that tilts your head up to the skies seeking an  answer, any answer and the one that pulls your shoulders down so low it looks  as if you’re carrying a bag of slump blocks instead of books on your back.

Oh, Johnny. I know how unbearable that weight can be. So, why didn’t I ask you before? Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to go home?

You were so determined to make that call and the urgency in  your voice forced me to comply. Twelve years old. I could feel you putting on the mask for me so I wouldn’t hurt for you like you  hurt. I recognize the protective instinct. Do you have any brothers or sisters? “Yes, my little brother is probably so scared I’m gone.” He hung his head in shame at having caused that. Let’s go inside and find a phone. We’ll call your dad and tell him you’re fine and where you are and he’ll come pick you up and everything will be okay.

Only some dads are the reason things aren’t okay. I thought maybe that crack on your lip was just dry air and heat and you really seemed desperate to speak with your father. A few yes ‘sirs and a couple I love yous later I thought okay, you’ll be just fine now. I thought. But did I see? I listened, but I did I observe? “He’s not angry. More upset than anything,” you say reassuringly.

Just as I ask out loud, “Johnny, is there any reason..” Jesus jumps in from behind the counter with the rapport-establishing small talk. What grade are you in? What school do you go to? Do you like sports? The stuff I always take for granted no one really wants to hear. The kind of questions that make a person want to tell you what  you want to know without asking. I let him take over, nod and smile at the kid
consciously wondering if there is not a more appropriate facial expression to
wear at the moment but still can’t think of one so I just sort of flatten it out a little.

“Things have just been rough,” you say again. You got a bad
grade in math. “Been there,” Jesus half sighs as if he’s confessing his entire
life story in an exhale so sharp I know you must have felt it too, Johnny
because you stepped back and the tears came out again. Only this time you
seemed relieved. “Me too,” I say.

I swear it was never uttered but I’m quite certain what we all heard was—You’re not alone.

With that we were silent long enough for the lady not really
browsing reading glasses nearby to jump into the conversation she was eavesdropping
on, most likely trying to determine if some sort of authoritative intervention
was going to be required or if Jesus and I could handle it. Well, lady the TWO
security guards I strategically met Johnny in front of were not interested in
the slightest bit to this boy bawling his eyeballs out or the young woman who
kept making eye-contact with them while they chatted about who knows what. Another human being is suffering right in front of you and you don’t even see it! I thought I heard her think, “That’s just inviting drama into your life.” as she stepped
back in front of the mirror and tried on the 24th pair.

You started to look antsy so I thought it might be best to leave you two for some man to man time before dad arrived just in case there was something you needed to say that you couldn’t say in front of me. But I invited you out “to warm up in the sun” and to my satisfaction you opted to stay, looking strangely at ease with the man assembling lamps behind the counter. Before I’m out of range I hear him ask you if you have anyone to talk to, someone you trust? You say yes, you have counselors and it’s been a rough time. Your eyes soften. The tears subside.

Well, if you ever need a big brother man, or just someone to
talk to—I’m here. And that’s just what I want to hear before I walk out the
door and redial the phone number you tried on my cell before we went into the
store. I spoke with your grandfather. He sounded scared. I repeated my name and
phone number and told him I was the person who found you and he could call
anytime.

I have to be honest, Johnny. I think I failed you.

When your dad pulled up looking all sketchy and fingered you
over rather than approach Jesus, who escorted you out of the store I got
between you for a second but couldn’t decide. I looked him in the eyes and saw
nothing before they darted away. Your grandma smiled graciously as I waved to
you and sang, “Goodbye, Johnny. It was nice to meet you,” with a smile in my
voice so sweet I got sweaters on my teeth. What I really wanted to say was
drown out by the music in my head.

Be good, be good. Be good. Be good, be good. Be good. Be good, be good. Be good. Be good, Johnny.

When you told me your name as we entered the store, I said
deliberately, “That was my dad’s name,” to illicit some response from you. You
twinged.

I cried too, just like you: On the city bus, on the walk to
school, at my locker, in the girls’ restroom, all the way through home room and
halfway into second period geometry before Mrs. B gently folded up my soggy,
unfinished first-quarter final and led me outside the classroom.

I was scared too. Just like you. I should have seen! I
should have been there, instead of wherever I was. Sipping my Caribbean Dream
uncontrollably and smiling. After you left, I went back in to consult with
Jesus. Did we do the right thing? Do you think he’s going to be okay?

He looked into my eyes for a few seconds searching for the
right words. Then he smiled the smile the son of god surely smiled at the men
below him. The one that means forgive them for they know not what they do and
said, “If he was my son, I would have hugged him.”

Oh, Jesus! What have I done?

All I ever claimed to want in life is to help others. I
failed this innocent child who had escaped the grip of blinding, deafening love
that is an abusive parent—if only momentarily and through the greatest feat of
strength he had probably exhibited in his life up to this point in a
death-defying leap of faith into the unknown which I know from experience
requires enormous amounts of will and determination. Not to mention a steel
resolve to disregard the pain and suffering that will surely follow whether you
get caught or not.

Because the fact is Johnny, none of your counselors may ever
be with you long enough to tell you that to be the kind of person who runs away
from an abusive love relationship you have to be the kind of person who is
willing to accept and inflict pain on yourself. As a child, realizing that your
parents are the bad guys and that it just might be safer out there than in here
YOU end up feeling like the one out of control. Eventually, you dare to go out
on your own alone into the world just to try it and decide half way down the
block you’re never going back because you’ve practiced feeling the pain of
separation by cutting yourself or getting into it with the bullies. You’ve internalized
the guilt over not accepting that kind of love by reminding yourself that you’re
not worthy of love anyway because that’s what you hear them say when they ignore
you to fight over bill collectors or how to get cash for these useless food stamps.
You train yourself to accept the fear of no longer pleasing those you wish to
please most by getting bad grades in your best subjects and being punished for
it. Isn’t that right, Johnny?

I may have sent you back into the lion’s den, but I can promise
you this. They do love you, Johnny. They do care. They’re just too wrapped up
in their own hell to show you how much. THIS is the hidden gift in the smile I gave
you. You will get to the place where you don’t have to hurt yourself anymore.
You will be a capable, talented human being who loves and accepts love,
respects and is respected by those you choose to let into your life. And you won’t
have to run—anymore.

__________________________________

Jesus, you were perfect. But now I am so jaded I question if
you did it for me or for the boy? Because later when you had me paged at the
store I told you I would be going to when you said we don’t carry that sort of
thing here, I thought you were just as lost and concerned as I was.

I thought you genuinely cared enough to ask for a miracle.
When the voice over the loud speaker inconceivably announced, “If there is a
customer in the store named Jessica, please come to the fitting room,” and then
repeated itself I was busy staring blankly into a dusty plastic bin wondering
if it would hold everything I needed it to hold. I am constantly, consciously unfurrowing my brow over and over at the thought of Johnny’s less than joyous homecoming to grandpa, baby brother and no hugs. WHERE is his mother?

Ever so slowly, I push my empty cart back to the fitting
room reasoning there must be a least five Jessicas in the store at any given
time, but there is no one. Only the kindly attendant Theresa, who had helped my niece
and I find the just the right bathing suit two weeks before and what do you
know, it just happens to be on sale too.

“Have you found your Jessica?” I ask disbelieving my own question.
She puts both hands on my shoulders. Oh my GOD! Are you her? “Well, I don’t
know…”  It’s the strangest things she proclaims. Never had anything like this happen to me before—a man called and asked if I could.. and if I would.. could she.. So I did.

I called you back at the store across the street, thinking
god knows what about Johnny. I’m not even sure what you said, but I gave you my
phone number and you texted me yours and what the hell is that shit they’re
trying to pass off as food in the grocery isle anyway?

I’m having trouble concentrating on this list. Why do you need boxes? I’m running away too. But this is different. Isn’t it? Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one else even bothered to stop.  I need to eat. Sit down. Smoke. Talk to someone real about why and how and if only and maybe I’m just projecting.

There are some dads who do make everything okay. Maybe Jesus is one. Or maybe he just wanted my phone number.

Either way, Theresa insists she’ll be an honored guest at the wedding.

And Johnny, if you’re out there and you’re still listening—be good.