Imagine a spotlight of sun peeping for a moment through dark, cool woods. Then this glimpse of wood texture beneath the bright, creamy butter color of these fungi. A moment’s magic caught by the camera and preserved forever, or until the computer crashes, or the funds for this blog page run out. So much potential beauty lost in the impermanent mists of time.
Old, ruined buildings. Churches and barns, their people moved on, their roofs crumbling, their windows boarded up. A heavy snowfall and, back-broken, they fall to their knees and yield to the weight of snow. A storm-surge of age and ailments break over them. Wildflowers creep up and in. The names on the gravestones slowly vanish, layer by layer, letter by letter, until even the names are no more.
Such will be our fate: all our glory reduced to nothing. Sic transit gloria mundi [Thus pass the worlds’ glories] as the Romans once said. All our books and words reduced to dust. No more living words, just Polvo seco de tesis doctoral [Dry dust of a doctoral thesis] in the prophetic words of my good friend, the Spanish-Canadian poet José María Valverde.
Well, it’s almost time for me to have my hair cut. When I looked in the mirror to shave this morning I looked a little bit like this: beaky nose, eyes closed, well, half-closed and squinting, anyway, and all lathered up. My grand-pappy told me there’d be days like these: usually just before he cut himself shaving at the kitchen sink with his old cut-throat razor. Then he’d disappear into the outside bathroom and reappear with little Vs of toilet tissue pushed into his chin to staunch the still-leaking wounds. All that’s missing here, in this photo, apart from life itself [nature morte: still life] is my grandfather’s pink shaving cream. And a sense of humor: wreckage on life’s beach, the common destiny that awaits us all, flies and all.
Monkey Meets An Anarchist Ant
(Memories of El Camino de Santiago)
The anarchist ant dresses in black.
He wears a little red base-ball cap
backwards on his head.
His eyes are fiery coals.
“Phooey!” He says.
“It’s folly to go with the flow.”
So he turns his back
on his companions and marches
in the other direction.
Some ants call him a fool.
The Ant Police try to turn him.
The Thought Police try
to make him change his mind.
Others, in blind obedience
to a thwarted, intolerant authority,
first bully him, then beat him,
then bite him till he’s dead.
Comment:One of the legends of the Road to St. James, the pilgrim route across Northern Spain that I walked in 1979, states that if you do not walk the road as a human being, in your own lifetime, you will come back as an ant and be forced to walk it ant form, when you are dead. I stood on the hill outside Astorga, looking back at the city. On the old pilgrim road, at my feet, and beneath the old Cruz de Harapos, a colony of ants was busy walking in a long line towards Santiago de Compostela. One turned his back on the group and started to walk the other way, but he didn’t last long. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard.” Fair enough. But watch out for the ant-police and the thought-police.
Diagnosis (sonnet) posted apparently a year ago today
Diagnosed with a terminal illness
called life, I know it will end in death.
For more than seventy years, that end
has lived within me, walked beside me,
sat at my bedside, and shared my sheets.
We have shared so many things: laughter,
joy, victory, defeat, the soul’s dark night,
the winding ways of fortune’s labyrinth.
When cancer called, we faced it together,
and life won out for a little while longer.
Hand in hand, we are together again,
our ménage à trois, engaged in a three
-legged race, blindfolded, unsure of who,
what, why, where, and especially when.
LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans: “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”
Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.
Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.
“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.
A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.
“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.
“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.
Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.
“I’m warning you,” Robin said.
“Shut it,” said the leader.
LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.
“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”
The Conga crowd roared their approval.
LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.
“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.
LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.
“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”
LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.
“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”
Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.
Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing, is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.
Funny how a day without soccer suddenly seems a dead day. Yesterday was filled with world cup fever. Anticipation, build-up, cheering, Croatia (champions), defeat (England), football (fantastic) … today the world cup has a rest and people start to breathe more easily. As a result, all -over, boredom, cleaning up, defeat (deja vu), emptiness, future (hopes on hold) … all the alphabet soup of life packed into a few short hours.
Where do we look for meaning? Is there even any meaning to look for? I watched 120 minutes of soccer, yesterday … that’s two hours. Well spent or wasted? Meaningful or not? The world heats up. A hurricane moves up the coast, turns into a tropical storm, then back into a hurricane. Hit or miss? I still don’t know, but I hope it misses. The last big one hit in 2014. We went ten or twelve days without power, and that in the Province’s capital city. Five trees were downed in our yard. More than a dozen were tugged up in my neighbor’s place. Why? Why us? Why here? Why now? Is this personal? What did we do wrong? Values? Meaning? Yet, for 120 minutes yesterday, I could forget my immediate woes and concentrate on football’s joys and sorrows. I guess that holds meaning in itself. I thought so yesterday. Today, I’m not so sure.
Out driving yesterday, I pulled into the roadside twice to allow ambulances to pass. An ambulance, a mysterious closed vehicles, lights flashing like a mad Christmas tree manned by a crew of Dr. Who Daleks. Yes, it was warm. Yes, people were excited. I guess someone, somewhere, was overcome by something and the telephone rang and the call went out to the ambulance. Values? Meaning? “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare” … at the ambulance, lights flashing, sirens sounding, as it rushes by and we pull over into the side of the road to allow it to pass. Values? Meaning? A sense of an ending? A sense of a beginning?
Today, more than anything, a sense of being suspended, of waiting in a bubble, in a certain silence, for something to happen, don’t know what, or when, or why, or where, or to whom. The world, instead of moving on, seems to stand still. Even the leaves on the trees have stopped shaking. The silence before the storm, perhaps? What storm? And who will it strike? And where? And how? And when?