News of the World

Today’s briefing is culled from assorted anonymous postings.

Messages regarding the state of the world tend to vary widely depending on the source, and since variety is what I was looking for this morning, I decided to get today’s early briefing from craigslist. Among top stories, a man known only as “shameless robber” has abducted wax apples from the garden of an ailing old woman. He claims he was just drinking water, but this reporter isn’t buying it. Which is nothing compared to the tall guy who had a custom sectional made and delivered before he wiggled his way (comfortably, we assume; it seems like he’s done this before) out of paying for it.

Who says that nothing good comes free? There are free pallets in Alisa Viejo, free notary services for active military, a yard sale this Saturday, and money being raised right now to cover medical bills. There is new music, a new bike shop, personal body sculpting (who can resist?) and, above all, this urgent reminder, all caps: HANG ON. KEEP CALM.

In other news, a woman without transportation would appreciate very much if someone would bring over a case of beer. IPA preferred, and rest assured: payment will be rendered upon payday next week.

There is no need to feel alone in this city. A mobile detailing car service can come over at any hour with amazing prices and reliable service, and there is a group meeting tonight in East County for individuals seeking an avant-garde interpretation of the Bible. If you’d like to spice up your daily commute with fresh company, there is no shortage of people ready to join you.

There is a new litter on Elm Street, an avid stargazer seeking company, a cornhole fall league, and a Dungeons and Dragons campaign looking for adventurers. Also, free dental hygiene services available from students, for anyone willing to wait.

You may not be aware of this, but you are leaving money on the table the longer you wait to join this quadrillion-dollar industry. Fortunately, there is a number you can call. Act now.

We can: build a yoga community, a film noir appreciation club, a craps club, these support groups, adult baseball, a sparring group, or just meet for a beer on Spring Street. So, what are you waiting for?

There are angels and no need to stay stuck. There is a nerdy outlet, a coffee shop friend, a focus group, and a well-muscled man available for private modeling gigs. Do you play drums, have too much stuff, need to get in shape? Do you need a washer/dryer, a group of paranormal enthusiasts, some fishing equipment? You can find it. It is here. Join us. 

I continue to appreciate the depth, breadth, and scope of coverage provided by the collective reporting of anonymous individuals and will return regularly for updates and breaking news. 

Seeking Anon

Considering the message board as installation piece––or as altar to a mysterious deity.

From time to time, when I am looking for material, I look for anonymous inspiration on various message boards. It feels like being at a museum installation where a thousand notes are penned on backs of cardboard boxes and gas station receipts: some in pen, some in green marker, others in something that could be ketchup. I like to imagine that I am a time traveler from the Bronze Age, puzzling over this strange shrine, with these messages from the mysterious god, Anon. 

Today, it seems that Anon is concerned about the people who do not follow through when they inquire about the availability of motorcycles, and is also very disappointed with this heat pump. They want certain things known, these are enthusiastic points, and want it known that they are praying.

They would like whoever was driving the busted black four-door to stay off the freeway, especially in early morning hours, and wants you to be forewarned that if you have your baby at St. Mary’s, you may be waiting awhile to take it home.

Anon is happy to help, but not if it enables those who take advantage, like a co-worker who never– Not once!– offers gas money. Anon would like an explanation, if not for themselves then for the children, as to some recent decisions. Plus, they would very much like the woman who wore a red dress into Hobby Lobby to know that an encounter by the check stand was much appreciated.

Also, it is written: they are still looking for a few things: an old flame, old classmates, Mr. Thursday, surf girl, the guy in the sidecar in Hillcrest, some help, a missing Siamese, a new home for this bearded dragon, and a phone call from whomever is awake, also looking.

Angling

Writers keep tackle boxes of images, memories, metaphors. Bait the hook. Cast into the dim light of early morning, over the blank page. This loud hunger, shhhh. Try the next metaphor. Vary the retrieve. Look and wait.

I recently came upon a  character who is fishing. I don’t do this, so this means it’s time to research some. What test for what catch, what lure, what line, what basic knots? What bait for bonito, how to prepare guitarfish, how to vary the retrieve when catching halibut. Sometimes you want to move slow and steady. Other times it’s crank, crank, twitch. What I find is supposed to be for these characters, but I can’t help sampling some. I’ve always had it, this waiting pose, looking out. 

“Oceanside Pier 4” by Dmitry Lyakhov on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license. 

Anglers have their rods and their lines; their lures and their five gallon buckets. Writers keep tackle boxes of images, memories, metaphors. Bait the hook. Cast into the dim light of early morning, over the blank page. This loud hunger, shhhh. Try the next metaphor. Vary the retrieve. Look and wait.

Now I have an excuse to go to the pier, just looking, waiting like the others, but without a line. To watch the angler in the blue jacket, and hold a silent one-way conversation.

What are you bringing up now? Is that mackerel? Maybe you will filet it yourself when you get home. Maybe there’s someone waiting to add it to a bowl with jalapeños, lime, cilantro, oil, as her mother did when she was a girl. And who taught you what line, and what taught you how to wait, and what longings are behind the eyes you cast over the surface now, reflecting back the deep? And who meets you in the silence of your sunset reverie, and what other shores do you remember, and what aches would you rather forget? What makes you limp when you move now, back to the folding chair? Is it simply stiffness of hard work over time, or something else? There are no grays visible beneath your ball cap, and yet your face is etched with deep lines, like a bronze sculpture. Angler, where are the young promises of new life you once held on your knee, raised up, up! — above your head, just to admire? Who laughed back, cooing, and what is it like to remember them at a distance, and what makes them laugh now, do you know? And who holds them now, and are they gentle, and can you bear to ask?

Who is This For? (Part 3)

Those needing shelter. Those who know to offer it when needed, even when they don’t know how. Those hiding scars and recent wounds, and those who know how to recognize the wounded, everywhere.

Who is this for?  

Those who have known the anguish of caring, and the terror of an all-consuming love. Who have sometimes been terrified by the range and volume of other emotions, identified as harbored within themselves, ready to erupt.

Who have been moved near weeping on occasion, at the flow of a good pen, or at the way that someone had the patience to slice grapes, one by one, in tiny circles and half-moons, for folding into a family-style dinner salad, offered to strangers. Who need art with a hunger often sharper than the need for food. Who don’t understand how anyone can find any level of emotional display actually shocking, because even if they practice restraint fastidiously, with the faith of an earnest devotee, they know how close they are, at any moment, to losing it all.

Who cry in witness to beauty, with the sheer relief of finding someone who cares enough to look long and hard, taking it in, who even in the satisfaction of some total consummation with divinity, chooses not to stop in the afterglow, but returns to the ache, caring enough to look long and hard–– to offer it back up, all of it, to anyone looking.

“Shelter” by Mark Kidsley on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Genericlicense. 

People who can remember or imagine a circus tent on fire, and the terror of the blocked entrance. Those who look at the exit signs long and often, and also at the sky.

People who lose things: cats, dogs, loves, ideas, directions, the name of the song they are always almost having, on the tips of their ever-licking tongues. People who find things, too. Especially broken and lost bits of others, waiting on the ground underfoot.

Those who hold babies. Those who avoid holding the offered babies, for fear that the heart will shatter too loudly. The babies and the former babes––and the very old, so close to death that nothing but the wide lens will do. Or the magnifying glass, to study the favorite wrinkles fanning out, like bird wings spreading around the corner of beloved eyes.

Those needing shelter. Those who know to offer it when needed, even when they don’t know how. Those hiding scars and recent wounds, and those who know how to recognize the wounded, everywhere. Anyone familiar with the sense of their own eyes floating behind them, up and over like a kite, looking down.

Who know the ache of hearing a musical phrase so expansive, familiar, and hauntingly rich that they want to climb inside and live in its space until time evaporates.

As I began to understand that there would be no end to the list, and no reason to work towards one, I decided to pause, with an intention to revisit it from time to time, as with certain records, occasional prayers, and pilgrimages, as a reminder back to some original impulse for finding shelter in a strange land.

Who is This For? (Part 2)

For those creatures, large and microscopic, that scientists once thought extinct, then found again.

Who is this for? The question was preoccupying. The list got longer.
Those who occasionally get a sense of wonder at the idea that there are parts of themselves and others emerging and about to emerge that neither they nor any others can begin to imagine, which will only be known when they are in full bloom; and which may even then, remain unknown, like those flowers that bloom only one night a year. 

“Night blooming cereus” by Little Koshka on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license.

Who think it is worth something to protect the barely-emerged parts, the hopes not yet breathed, the tiny flames prone to being extinguished in wind.

There was a man walking along a sidewalk in the rain the other day. He had white hair, large white sneakers, a nice-looking windbreaker, khakis, a neat haircut––and a plastic freezer bag sitting on his head, perched like the cap of a fast-food uniform. I saw him and celebrated, “This guy!”

People who sometimes have moments of delight or sudden heartache passing strangers, who sometimes can’t keep from imagining stories about customers if they are working at a register, or about the person at the register when they are passing as a customer. Who look at the hands with the card or the change, who make constant note of the details of hands: their tiny scars, their tremors, their bitten fingernails, their rings, and the homemade bracelets peeking out of the cuffs of dress shirts. 

Who have noticed how an overwhelming sense of vividness at the shimmering parts of being, everywhere, may sometimes live just beside a sense that some deadly danger, creeping through it, is precisely the thing that no one is naming aloud.  

Who have loved or imagined loving the feel of a costume, and face paint. Of cardboard-sword play and fairy wands; double-dutch and baseball cards, and the magical arrival of an ice cream truck. Who have watched a mother cooking, and wondered about her silences at the stove. Who have watched a father, sitting, at the end of the day, and felt something coiled behind his tired eyes, as though preparing to spring. 

For those who are reluctant to embrace the workplace trend of replacing one’s actual face with a bitmoji version of one’s face, for reasons that one can only vaguely (and not without discomfort) relate to the aversion reported by those chronicling certain native tribes, to photographs in general, those strange, not-quite-human, human-seeming likenesses which appear as a theft of one’s actual face––and with it, the connected soul.

Who believed at some point or another, that they might do something more than what their mind was generally asked to do, although they could not say exactly what.

For those creatures, large and microscopic, that scientists once thought extinct, then found again. For the last surviving member of a species, still singing, even when no living mate exists. For the ones just discovered in the deep. For the ones not yet discovered, still so far away.

For those employees of institutions that require large-group meetings, who noticed in the last year, that they often had to turn off their cameras when no longer able to maintain composure in Zoom meetings because Bossman was so funny when not trying to be, whenever he delivered a motivational speech on some Thing of Great Import. 

Who find the world very loud sometimes, who want to vomit at the sound of a leaf blower, and who also want to laugh wildly or break into song in places that are eerily quiet, like medical waiting rooms. 

Who were disappointed that the first love interest did not propose becoming an item by breaking into song, followed by a chorus of friends, inviting the respondent to reply in song, also a with chorus of friends. 

Who experience the world alternately as a series of swords against raw flesh, and as a shimmering wonderland, endlessly remaking its patterns and purposes.

Who is This For? (Part 1)

For people who will invent words on an as-needed basis, and those who see faces in shoes, cars, and appliances.

Who is this for? Someone asked me. It’s a good question. I started a list.

I thought of this young woman I met. She wore these knee socks depicting Van Gogh’s Starry Night. And I thought that there are probably many of us who admire her Van Gogh socks but do not have any and perhaps never will because we keep spending our would-be sock money on fresh bread from a favorite bakery, and repeating the obvious at the first bite, no matter how many times we’ve said it before. “Oh. Bread.” For her, for us. For people who make bread like that.

I thought of how sometimes a person will be so excited about a party that they will arrive early and then wait in the car until appropriately late, and sometimes a person will wonder, in the middle of a party, if it would be rude to start reading. Those who, upon discovering the answer to be “Yes,” consider it a moral choice to resist the impulse, however strong. All of these people.

I thought of the people on the pier, fishing for dinner, piling their catch in a five-gallon bucket, who know which bait and which rod go with what catch. Also, the people who tried fishing once because it seemed noble, somehow, who did it long enough to realize that if they could only eat the fish they caught, they may as well abandon seafood altogether and just start focusing on developing some better nut-based dishes. Both groups are on my mind.

I thought of people whose eyes get weary when they are staring into late-afternoon traffic, and who find some moral heartbreak in the way that a person with some power at work can regularly write emails with non-parallel sentence structure, and I thought of a custodian I knew who was never without a book, and another who would moonlight in a band on his sax. These people, I thought. 

And anyone who ever felt a little funny about doing an inner eye roll whenever they would encounter one of those “live, laugh, love” home décor placards––not because they are opposed to living, laughing, or loving, obviously, but because there is a gut-level aversion to propaganda in all forms; or who found themselves entirely mystified to meet a person who seemed generally immune to debilitating bouts of generalized melancholy. And I thought of my sister, who may actually have one of these home décor placards in her living room, I couldn’t remember, and how if she did, she would mean it unironically, and it would be honest and real, and just perfect for her home. So of course, her, and anyone also in this category with her.

People who know the feeling of laughing until the liquid one is trying to drink starts to spew out the nose, intensifying the laugh which is now all out of proportion with any sense of decorum. People who appreciate the customs of decorum, how they vary according to context and place, and notice the subtle nuances, who know when to say, “What’s good?” vs. “How are you?” vs. nothing but a long look and a deep nod, hand over heart.

People who will invent words on an as-needed basis, and those who see faces in shoes, cars, and appliances. Who hear voices regularly, in a manner that is neither alarming, nor pathological, nor the sort of thing they’d go around admitting, because they understand people’s aversion to associating with the people who admit to hearing voices, and also because the voices in question are generally entertaining, and usually good company.

I noticed, as I was writing this list, that it wanted to get longer. I noticed, that if I let it go on as it may want to, I might be going way beyond my self-imposed limits for these posts. I considered how much I enjoyed making this list, and decided to return tomorrow, with the next installment of “Who Is This For?”

Oy! Metaphor in the Wild

I’ll be the tree; you be the bird. I’ll be the nest; you be the egg. I’ll be the frightened, you be the sheltering wing, here is the basket, now take the eggs.

I keep metaphors on hand like tools for getting me out of tight psychic spaces. Many are regularly useful, like the tiny Philips screwdriver in the catchall drawer, even after they’ve become so clichéd that they would sound generic if I used them in writing. You know the ones, hope as the thing with feathers, and the bright light in the dark room. The beloved as a summer’s day, or the sun.  The heart as the always-breaking part, its cracks the places through which some inner light shines.  Snow like a bedcover, a partner as one’s other half, emotions like an amusement park ride, the premise of which is to simmer delight with suspense until they boil over into terrified laughter. The dead horse, still beaten; the late-coming blooms, time as a thief, running off with the riches still unspent. Years like a river upon which a body may be carried, against which the salmon might swim. Time at the bedside in the white costume of a nurse of the first great war, coming to heal.

These familiar metaphors can be called up as needed, summoned for the occasion. There’s comfort and security in returning to them. I’ll be the tree; you be the bird. I’ll be the nest; you be the egg. I’ll be the frightened, you be the sheltering wing, here is the basket, now take the eggs.  Long road, steep hill, one foot at a time, there are always the bushes to shake. 

“Friday Funny Animals 21” by John C Bullas BSc MSc PhD MCIHT MIAT on flickr under an Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license. 

Until they shake you such that your vision lands on one you’ve never seen before, and it’s like finding a new room in the house you’ve been living in for years. This happened the other day, as I was walking by an elementary school, and I looked through the fence, into the garden, to read the words painted in a child’s hand, in large letters, on plywood propped behind the raised beds, against the opposite fence. 

“THE WORLD IS YOUR OY,” it proudly proclaimed, and I almost missed it, filling in the space with the missing letters I expected to see––as I do often, mainly with my own typos. Ah yes, I thought, the mollusk ready to eat, which is a delicacy when fresh and poison when left to sit too long. The thing to be shucked and opened, quivering briny flesh on the tongue, swallowed whole. 

But then I stopped. No, it was not an oyster, as this young person had written it. Perhaps they were going that way, and then they got tagged it or something more interesting happened in the adjacent field–– a kickball game or an unexpected kite. Maybe the fire bell rang. Whatever the interruption, the result is clear, and what it leaves me with is a metaphor that’s just right at specific moments when other ones will not do. Yes, I think, wisdom from the letters of babes. The world is indeed, sometimes, just this: My Oy! Some tools are too wonderful to keep to oneself, so I have to write it here again. I’ll leave it to you to decide on the appropriate use. 

After all, the world is your oy.

I’ll Meet You at the Lost and Found

I’m seeing these lost parts everywhere. In the mirror and on everyone I pass.

*I’m working with new constraints this week, aiming to limit these posts to being conceived and done in an hour or less, with means writing no more than 15-30 minutes, to allow time for finding ideas, posting, images, etc. One of my go-to places to look for ideas is the lost and found section on Craigslist. I’ve done this before in an earlier post. Today’s exercise was infused with some thoughts I’ve been having lately, about what happens to unshed grief.

I have forgotten the names of the titles to these books I once read, and do you know this feeling? In one, a botanist befriends a chosen savior, rides a horse out of town, and finds a special door, which makes a sound like a gong. In the other, there’s a woman in a hospital bed who suddenly develops special powers.

I used to have some of these, too, where I could will a thing to happen with my mind. I’d think, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream––all day, sometimes two, three, four days in a row––and then, out of nowhere, I’d hear it, the sound of the Good Humor truck! It was magic. I coveted the Chipwich, but the firecracker popsicle would do.

The dog is gone again, also the cat. But now I have this chameleon. I hope someone will claim it, as it will not eat standard pet food. I am tired of buying crickets, but I am not sure if it is any good at hunting and don’t want it starving on my watch. I don’t know where it is now, BTW.

I found a wedding ring, a kayak paddle, a Dora the Explorer backpack full of syringes, and a small sandal, sized for a toddler’s foot––all on the bike path near the railroad tracks. There was an open suitcase near the offramp by Broadway and Main, clothes scattered everywhere, my eye was drawn to the colors: blouses in fuchsia, teal, pomegranate, and the display of women’s underthings. 

I lost the number I meant to call. Remember we met on the beach? And the name of that movie I told you about? It was my favorite that year, but after I returned it, I never saw it anywhere else. 

I’m seeing these lost parts everywhere. In the mirror and on everyone I pass. They’re hanging off of us all the time. Sometimes we look like ragged snakes, trying to shed old skins, other times like ragged soldiers in torn battledress, other times just like children who have just left their favorite toys in the park. You can tell, sometimes, when someone’s about to drop their courage. The sight of joi de vivre melting off a face is so particular. When someone stumbles upon their lost sense of humor, it’s infectious, leaking out of their pores.

Then there’s all those things you don’t keep and you don’t hold, that pile of griefs accumulated somehow, stuffed or tossed one by one, in the backs of closets, under the bed, dropped into the abyss of an oversized purse, in the catchall drawer with all the takeout menus and spare hardware––but eventually, you’re not losing and you’re not finding, exactly; they’re just there. And then there are these moments in the produce aisle of the grocery store where you’re suddenly floating over the citrus display, then landing near the parsley and cilantro, eyes suddenly wet, because it was only a moment, but you saw it, how people clutched their carts and baskets to themselves, or out in front, like shields, filling and emptying, an endless stream, searching eyes glazed under fluorescent lights. 

“Osprey” by Laura Pontiggia on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

I meant to list some more things I was finding, but my hands are tired, knuckles white. 

Funny how you can lose the will to hold a thing, even when you thought you could––if you saved up, if you built muscles strong enough, if you never looked down. I’ll come back tomorrow, I’ll open this catchall drawer, I’ll look. While I’m at it, I’ll check these ads again, see if anyone’s missing a chameleon. Then I’ll see about finding the chameleon. But now, I need to find some silence, and a pillow.

Before I do, do you know that the osprey have built a nest in those lights across the field? Do you remember? That song we used to sing back and forth when life was the thing we would keep, between us, if only we held tight enough. I can’t remember the words now. Can you help?

Circus Flames

It was a Friday afternoon, mostly women and children. It started right after the lions, during the Flying Wallendas.

On this day in 1944, the Hartford Circus fire broke out in a Ringling Brothers tent, during an afternoon show attended by thousands in Hartford, Connecticut. One-hundred sixty-seven people were killed. It was common practice at the time to waterproof the tents by coating them in a solution of paraffin wax dissolved in gasoline. The event is depicted by Stuart O’Nan in his 2001 book The Circus Fire: The True Story of An American Tragedy. The following is an imagined account from the perspective of a surviving member of the staff.

“Circus” by Joshua Zader on flickr under a Creative Commons attribution 2.0 Generic license.

We’d been short-staffed since the war started, always running behind.
A few years before, a fire in the menagerie had killed our lion. No one
could forget the elephant’s screams. You could call that an omen, or you
could wait until the trains ran late and our first commandment was broken
and the show did not go on. The land got a taint before we started, leaked
from the first audience, the one that never saw the show. You could feel
it, like the first notes in a film where the mummy wakes up, before it moves.

It was a Friday afternoon, mostly women and children. It started right after
the lions, during the Flying Wallendas. The bandleader 
played Stars and Stripes Forever, our smoke signal for danger. Don’t panic
folks, but you know how that goes. The big cats got out okay, but their chutes
blocked the exits. Some just ran in circles, calling the names of the ones they
could not leave. 

As the flames consumed the tent, wax dripped from the roof, burning tiny 
faces, flailing arms in summer shirtsleeves. The papers 
called it the day the clowns cried.

Simultaneous Open Windows

Sketching rocks bathed in light since the sun rose, try to remember dawn.

Open fist against graffitied bricks, he watches crows, remembers death.
Painted peacock lady smiles over traffic lights; checks the mirror, pouts.

Back-to-back on the park bench, a pair wonders if they are dating yet.
Babies bearing swords beat against trees and stones while sandboxes still wait.

Queens rock hi-tops, heads leaning toward hips, and braided babes run.
Mob men in trench coats talk business and horses while sirens wail upstairs.

Holiday blue notes shine cool on midnight sidewalks; her walking pace slows.
By park fountains he reminded her, What’s the point? ––Meaning, of her rage.

Baby boy finds mama’s stash. She won’t know what he eats, until later.
He fell in love: first God, then the ancients, then woman; then he was done.

Don’t tell me what to do, she says, leg crossed over knee. He listens, nods.
Bullet clears rib cage to stop against spine; now there is no need for shoes.

If you sit beneath trees long enough with snacks out, squirrels come to eat.
Makers cross the street. Meeting halfway, they embrace. Cars honk and they laugh.

Joining foreheads, seated lovers bow, form a heart by the fountain mist.
The bracelet was there to remind him to count each memory, but her.

Sketching rocks bathed in light since the sun rose, try to remember dawn.

Notes:
The title comes from the painting by Robert Delaunay (1912, oil on canvas; Tate London). The poem came from an exercise done on the seventeenth of the month. In honor of Alan Ginsberg’s American Sentences (A haiku without line breaks, seventeen syllables), I aimed to write seventeen of them. Then I took some liberties with arrangement and punctuation. Sometimes breaking from the sentence (into two or three), I kept lines of seventeen syllables, each aimed toward a particular scene, during a particular twenty-four-hour period, on a particular street, in an imagined city, present day.