As the cosmic serpent eventually eats his own tail, my old friend Matthew is making his way back to the Pacific Northwest after a decade-long stint on the East Coast. "I'm done with New York," he decided a few weeks ago. Then he and his woman started packing their life up into boxes. They pulled out of The City a few days ago. Because of cell phone technology, Matthew has been able to call me from the road and give me travel updates. Just now he called from just outside of Yellowstone: "I'm in a hotel parking lot in Wyoming. There are plastic bb's all over the ground. I think a bunch of seven year old's had a shootout here. Hey, didja see that moon last night?" Indeed, I saw that great white moon last night, brother.
26 March 2010
At the swank local Helvetica-fonted bakery with attitude, I was having coffee, alone, just now. You know the kind of place - exquisite, poised, hardwood floors, New York Times. Hipster cakes and croissants all lined up under a bank of glass. You know this place. Like, I tried to tip the barista a couple quarters. "We don't take tips," he said, and paused before adding "we get paid enough." Cool.
At my table, drinking my coffee and making a few notes about the day before me, sunlight fell across my lap. Good feelings. At the table to my left, there was a young English-as-a-second-language instructor (blond, late twenties, & tired-looking) and an old Chinese man. The old man's English was bad, but he was trying. I kept overhearing their strange conversation...
"Raptors are birds of prey. Raptors are birds of prey."
She wanted him to repeat it.
Bent to my notes, I tried tuning them out, but couldn't.
"CURVED BEAK. CURVED BEAK."
It occurred to me that, in this cafe, Ella Fitgerald is always being played. (Or Gilberto or Brubeck or other 1950's "Cool" jazzers that now live in ubiquitous posterity in America's bakery-cafes.) Yeah...but then, underneath "Mack The Knife," I heard - what's that? Is it? Yes... Journey. "Don't stop. Be-liev-in'..." It was on the radio back in the kitchen, where I could spy a pastry chef who looked like she was born & raised in a French bakery and early-on initiated into the mystery cult of the lemon tart. Blond. Braids. Black hornrims. The existentialist baker with the pert lilt, and she was headbanging now because that second pre-chorus was really kicking in, espresso too.
Oh yeah, and Ella and her fellas were really making a wreck of "Mack The Knife" and look at that: my notes were all done, like magic. The table to my left was now having a new weird conversation fractured as the age in which we all dwell. And in fact the very last thing I heard before I cut out is the teacher telling her old student, "In this country, you can be a mediocre banker and still make a lot of money. But if you are a mediocre artist you will die of starvation." Old man looked up at me and a thousand Chinese angels flew out of my eyes and into his. Then my shades came down and so did the day.
25 March 2010
24 March 2010
The RMS House On Evans St. Calm waters tonight. And placid skies, alike. None of the tumult & bluster that can often stir these seas. Tonight, our lanterns glow bright, lapped by the gentlest of gales, steady, and carrying the promise of the temperate climes that await.
22 March 2010
I am on a sailing vessel. My wife is by my side. We are alone. Presently, we are floating directly above the wreckage of an old downed ship - the RMS Titanic, perhaps. I peer down into the dark waters. The idea of the ship deep beneath us, in the Void of the sea, is beginning to give me anxiety. Now I see bits of the wreckage rising up towards the surface. "Something's stirring things up down there," I say to my wife, gravely. A general sense of dread arises. Pieces of weird, archaic wreckage are bobbing all around us. There is more - the sea churns- and I wake up. It's Tuesday morning. Pale sky. Thirtysomething degrees. No one else is awake yet. Cold hardwood floor.
told the first father that things weren’t right.
"My complexion," she said, "is much too white."
He said, "come here & step into the light." He says, "Hmm, you’re right
let me tell the second mother this has been done."
But the second mother was with the seventh son
& they were both out on Highway Sixty-One.
16 March 2010
Yesterday the sun was out - it was sixtysomething degrees! There was a lot of exposed flesh in Iowa City...lots of midriff apparitions and pale, ghostly arms, legs, cleavage. (A winter in the north country doesn't do anybody any favors in the "how do I look?" department.) But now it's back down in the forties and the glum expression is back - that harrowed Christ, when will Winter end? look in everybody's eyes. Answer: Winter will end in approx. four days.
It's Spring Break here, so tonight we're heading up to northern Minnesota to visit with Janelle's sister and her family for a few days. It will be even colder in the Land O' Lakes. But the air is clean and at night you can see the Milky Way high above the pointed pines! Yip!
15 March 2010
14 March 2010
Last week, on one of my walks through the woods, I happened upon...um, this. Now, I'm not sure what this is (it appears to be the vital organs of a woodland mammal), but there were a few nearby clumps of black fur as well (not pictured). It was a strange moment - me standing there above cryptic, unidentified organs in the middle of the woods, on a public foot path. Reaching for my camera, I kept looking over my shoulder, 1/2 expecting some maniac to ambush me and cut out my spleen and...I dunno, leave it there on the ice. If I was really using my head, I would've thrown down some pocket change for scale. But I"ll just tell you - that thing on the left was about the size of a compact disc. That thing on the right? About the size of a pair of fingernail clippers. If you have any ideas about what this is, please comment.
13 March 2010
Yesterday, on foot, on my way to pick up our Jeep from the auto mechanic, I stopped by the hospital to pee (I had to go bad). Afterward, I walked over to the designated nondenominational worship area and offered a few prayers to the pantheon. Know what the cross means to me? It means the mythic crossroads, where the temporal meets the eternal, and the seen the unseen. Later on, I built a fire in our backyard and my small family sat by it. And we warmed ourselves and I thought, "World's my church." Yup, and that is all.
12 March 2010
LIGHT. SQUARES. THE LINE. BUDS. PUDDLES. STUMPS. BRANCHES. THE PURPLE HOUSE. THE BUS STOP. CLOUDBREAK. PEDESTRIANS. WIND. GREY. COLD. WET. HOSPITAL. STOREFRONTS. THE BLUEBIRD. GOLDEN THREAD. THE BAR. UP PAST THE FILLING STATION. ALL THE WAY TO A CLASSROOM IN AN OLD BRICK BUILDING. YAWNING WINDOWS. MINDS. WORDS. BY THE RIVER. THE IMAGE. THE WOMB. RAINFALL. THE GRAVE. LIKE THIS AND LIKE THIS ALL THE UMBRELLA WAY HOME.
11 March 2010
A few days ago, while walking in local Hickory Hill Park, I found this shredded tree on one of the footpaths. I'm assuming a deer used it to scratch his newly budding antlers. It was a weird walking day: The sky was raggedy and yellow. High winds. Stale ice melting into filthy rivulets...and weirdo beer bottles and animal carcasses littering the path. I was the only person out there on the trails, too, slipping on the ice like Buster Keaton.
09 March 2010
On this day in 1959, Mattel's Barbie doll, created by Ruth
Handler, made its public debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York. After an initially positive response, some critics claimed that the doll's measurements were...unrealistic (Somebody did the math and calculated that if the original Barbie were life-sized, her measurements would have been 39"-18"-33"). Hander countered that she thought it "was important to a girl's esteem that she plays with a doll with breasts.” Less well known is the fact that Handler herself was diagnosed with breast cancer eleven years after Barbie’s debut...
07 March 2010
In Cedar Rapids, about 30 min. north of the very desk where I sit and type, there's a Quaker Oats plant. It's massive, bleak, and squats right on the switchgrass banks of the Cedar River (a tributary of the Mighty Miss). It's a full-on Upton Sinclair thing, this factory - an unholy bargain between steel and concrete. And it grinds out oats by the truckload. For some strange reason I never see any bright-faced Quakers around. I reckon they're all inside the factory, singing their finest worksongs.
06 March 2010
05 March 2010
The DQ in town here has been around since 1952. It's right by the river, and in the summer it's always slammed. We stopped by for ice cream cones a little while ago. The punk rock kid at the counter - sole inhabitant of the place - seemed relieved to have something to do. There was Fifties music playing on the speakers in the parking lot, but inside I could hear him listening to metal.
Lately, synchronicity has been all around me, in a great surging wave unlike anything I've ever experienced before. And last night, a dream-figure told me "The test of a thing is in its give." I woke up right after, and the house was still and silent.
04 March 2010
It's 39 degrees outside right now. The sun is shining. Cloudless skies. November's ice is melting into the gutters, unlocking frozen trash, dirt, dog excrement, bottles and cans...detritus of these Iowa City streets. But you know: up from the primordial muck flowers the lyrical lotus.
01 March 2010
In the flat, howling North Country, one feels the need to mark and acknowledge little victories - like another brutish February survived. To help make it through, five weeks ago Eleanor and I built a terrarium in a Coke bottle. Together, we added soil to a small layer of pebble scree, then a pinch of Alyssum ("carpet of snow") seeds. We corked the top to seal the ecosystem up (it has its own self-sustaining water cycle!) and placed the bottle on Eleanor's South-facing window sill.
Each morning since, after peeling the curtains open, I've been able to enjoy a ritualistic check-in of our world-in-reduction and scope what progress has been made. Since there are no animals and only a few Alyssum plantlets in there, this has been a minimalist, zen-like activity. Still, each morning, I've looked into that sunlit bottle and seen a little piece of paradise & a glimmer of Spring's funky promise. So thank you, terrarium. Thank you for your slow, green ways.