Vigilance

Watch as, one by one, they, like pilgrims, tread; from corner and crusty baseboard crawling, scrounging for crumbs, morsels of power fallen from kings’ lips.

Watch as, two by two, they, like soldiers, march; from marbled idol and sainted lectern professing fancies, fretting one hearer falls out of the fleshy dream and glimpses heaven.

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Untitled

[Note: Rough, very rough, very much in need of its own first revision.]



Novels spun and scratched

on recycled newsprint napkins

seldom survive the first revision.

Red ink sinks, deep, deep,

deeply, hauntingly diffused

in resurrected arboreal flesh,

hemorrhaging, dying again,

before the chance to be useful

as shield against spilled

milky caffeinated foam

or fly-crusher in summer’s

buzzing, bleating heat.

It’s misty outdoors,

an ocean vaporized,

set down among

peopled streets,

a silent flood,

to mix

with sweaty nape,

dripping brow,

to be dabbed

with a napkin’s

hasty tale in red.

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Dust

There are those domestically inclined persons who find it a matter of life-saving necessity to clear a room of dust. Often. Whether with broom, feather duster, or Swiffer, the dust is removed from floor, shelf, TV, cat, shoe, bread, plant. Everything.

Somehow, no matter how zealous the dust-phobic are, the dust returns. In fact, it can never really be gotten rid of. It’s a natural product of the death and sloughing off of a human’s skin cells. Well, the biology of the matter is unnecessarily gruesome. My point is this: Why remove dust if it’s just going to return again?

Now, I wouldn’t make that argument — the one you think I’m going to make. We’ll call it the helplessness-apathy argument. It goes thus: Because the problem regenerates constantly, I’ll just stop trying to solve it. It often becomes this: Because my efforts will have no long-term effect, I’ll just relent. The problem is relentless, so I should not be.

This may be a suitable argument where dust is concerned. It’s certainly not suitable, however, where it touches on human affairs. Imagine if we were to say about murder what I might say about dust: Murderers are relentless, so we should not be. Disaster!

So let dust be a lesson to you.

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Thou Sluggard

When I can no longer stand the mechanized world, I flee to the fields where the Tuttle farm used to be. There, and beyond, can be found lush green hills and open skies, worms and ladybugs, dirt. Some say it’s quieter there, but I wouldn’t say so. Nature is loud, deafening almost. Layer the bees’ “zzz” upon the wind through the grass, the chirping birds’ nests upon the nut-nibbling of the squirrels, the forest’s swaying upon the hustle-bustle of the ants’ tireless manufacture, and you’ve got a wall of sound that even ABBA could not achieve. The Earth would remain the busiest place in the universe even if tomorrow Man were to be subtracted from it.

Just last week a group of biologists announced their discovery of a worldwide family of ants. Beneath us, just below our brick-and-mortar world, lies a vast underworld of tiny workmen and little lady monarchs to command them. There are no revolutions, no bloody uprisings, no discontent. There is only dutiful labor. Solomon in fact tells us, Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. We are not told to watch the farmer tend his fields, to fix our eyes on the ways of Man. We are commanded to consider the ways of the ant. The apparent foolishness of this proverb was certainly not lost on ancient readers of this wisdom. We read it today with as much, or even more, disdain: The ants? Why, what creature could be more insignificant, pesky, and filthy than the little black rodents!

Insignificant, pesky, and filthy. Rodents.

When I go to the field where the Tuttle farm used to be, I often find myself lifting my head to survey the blueness above that seems to wrap around us like a cosmic comforter. With every moment I stare, I wither a little. My lofty expectations burst and fall back to the ground. My whims and habits fade. That song I’ve had lodged in my head leaks out through my ear. And suddenly I’m tiny, dirt-covered, and entirely unimportant. I am accused by the very virtue of my existence. I’m scorned, vulnerable. The gavel comes down again and again, shattering my bones, beating the human out of me. I’m on the stand, and there are no witnesses to defend me. No letters of recommendation, no phone calls, no armies. I’m left unclothed and encased in mud, lame.

I feel a pinch, then a ribbon of feeling trailing up my arm. My eyes will not move to see, covered in darkness. But soon the feeling is reversing its direction, traveling down my limb, past my wrist, along my finger, and it’s gone. It happens again, and again, until my eyes are at last able to see. Sun and sky and trees fill my vision and crowd out what my eyes are aiming for. But soon I can see to whom I owe my escape, who has nibbled away my dirt shackles.

An ant.

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Here I Am

Here I am listening to Massanet, staring at piles of tattered turn-of-the-century books, van Gogh’s night sky casting a soft glow upon the far wall. Here I am lounging on a plastic mattress, typing — inklessly — on a MacBook my innermost — or at least my outermost — thoughts, trying to listen to digitized classical music over the roar of nearby car traffic. Here I am, being made keenly aware of the incalculable distance which lies between me and that Belle Époque whose art, books, and music surround me. As much as I try, as much as I gather up the memorabilia of the past, dig through its refuse for the treasures that have survived the harsh passing away of time, — as much as I try, what I yearn to capture and live within is intangible. It is a feeling of else-places, of else-times. It is a consciousness cast in quiet sepia. And it’s a darn curse! Not so much the feeling or consciousness in itself, but the possession of it. It’s to be fixed between then and now, unsure in which can be found the greater truth, the most valuable ideas, the most worthwhile ventures. Lost.

Not lost spiritually, or politically. Not even lost like a sheep. Lost as in misplaced. That is, I would be found if I were not here – as distinctly nonsensical, and tautological, that may sound. Yet no compass, no sailing ship can lead me to this land. If I had a chance at finding it by the night sky, believe you me, I would lose no time in embarking on a voyage to search for it. No, there is no light, however heavenly, able to point me to my beloved elsewheres. Not because it is impossible, though as a feeble-minded man I do not know how it could be possible. But because it is undesirable that I should swim against the tide of Progress like some harebrained salmon bent on finding a mate downstream. There is a march, and it propels us forward. Perhaps if we all decided to retrace our steps, we would discover a past awaiting, pining for, our return. Or perhaps not. (If a tree falls in a forest, but there’s no one about to hear it, has it really fallen? If we return to the past, but everyone has already departed the past, are we really returning? The former has an answer, the latter does not.)

I do not speak of time-travel. I do not wish to vacation in the 1770s for the summer and then spring-break on the Acropolis. Travel assumes that one’s home remains to welcome one back after a journey. What I speak of is not roundtrip travel, but a one-way quest. Backward.

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