Predators

Predators

A mountain lion was recently hit by a car near here. Drivers stopped and watched the juvenile cat, which lay in the middle of the road. Eventually, stunned but unhurt, it stood up and bolted for the woods.

As I read the story, I was reminded of a nineties summer hike I took in a Cascade Mountain wilderness east of Seattle. That part of the Cascades was like a rainforest, muggy, tree leaves dripping with moisture, and banana slugs crawling on bark.

I got about five miles into a narrow canyon when I came around a curve in the path, and there in front of me was a man in rags. He just stood on the edge of the path and stared at me. As I walked by him, I said good morning, and he responded with a deranged scream: “You’re late!”

And he charged. For the first and only time in all my hikes, I reached for the sheathed Bowie knife I carried in a side pocket of my backpack. “I don’t know you,” I shouted. “You’re dead if you come nearer.”

I could hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth, but I knew my fight or flight response had kicked in. It was a standoff, the knife between me and the scraggly man. He stopped and stepped back. I told him if he followed me, I would hurt him. He didn’t follow, but I kept looking backward for miles. I was as scared as I had ever been.

But all that looking back got me out of another situation.

I was passing along a melting, snowy ridge, a small waterfall of melt musically muddying the path, drowning out the forest sounds. I glanced behind me. . . A tawny shape was slithering along, just the top of its back showing, stopping every few feet, headed for me. It was a mountain lion, crawling on its belly like a housecat. It saw me facing it, and it stopped then stood, its hindquarters quivering.

I reached in my jeans pocket for my keys, and I held them out and jingled them furiously. The cat’s quiver ceased, and I started singing in my highest octave some aria—I don’t remember which one—and then I jogged toward the cat, keys ringing, aria resounding, surely the first aria ever sung in a wilderness, and the cat leapt and ran off, disappearing into the forest.

Noisemakers, singing: these are in the handbook of what one does if encountering a lion or a bear. Not a grizzly bear, mind; it will eat you. I have never seen a grizzly in the wild. I have seen plenty of black bears, including one which came walking along the Appalachian trail in Virginia, me going in the opposite direction, and the bear just sauntering on by and disappearing.

In midafternoon, I had to walk the same path twelve miles back to the car. I knew the lion would not return. I also knew the crazy man might well be in the spot where I met him. But he wasn’t. I got back to the car and drove west, passing the town where “Northern Exposure” was filmed then driving by Twin Peaks. Yes, that “Twin Peaks.”

The most dangerous animal on earth is Man/Woman. There is no animus in nature, but there is hunger, something to keep in mind. If there are cubs, turn and walk back, as a mother will soon appear, and she will come after you. Mostly, when one meets strangers, we all introduce ourselves and share sightings and stories and food. The wilderness is high church for some, a hiding place for others.

No human generated art or architecture can match the carving hand of God.

“You’re dead if you come nearer.” I learned something about myself on that hike. The experience reminded me of the Richard Connell short story masterpiece, “The Most Dangerous Game,” which I read as a kid, and which informed me about my own dark and moody father.

I lost the Bowie knife because I forgot it was in my backpack at an airport, and Homeland Security took it and grilled me—who was I, where was I going, why did I need a knife—then let me go and sent me notice of a hefty fine.

If I’m ever lucky enough to see a mountain lion again, I imagine myself opening my arms and welcoming it, and holding it and taking my chances. I would be gravely disappointed if I died in bed.

 

 

 

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“Hansel and Gretel”

Hansel and Gretel

I walked through the LaVista Park woods yesterday. It was easy to get distracted, by birds, strange animal sounds coming from the trees, the people walking their dogs. And new this year, the disc golf course, where convivial players, even when the temperature is below freezing, walk the 18 holes and toss Frisbees at cages.

I was comforted on my walk by the fact that I would not get lost. Cigarette butts thrown on the side of the trail led one to Clifton Park and back. There were other markers: bubble wrap, Styrofoam containers, bottlecaps, used tissues, crushed Bud Light cans. Bud is the favored trail marker of beer drinkers. (Does Budweiser bear responsibility? Of course not! Capitalism is unfettered; that’s how money is made, stupid.)

The village park district is always looking for outdoor activities for its residents. This is often to the detriment of the trees, something the world needs more of, but my town disagrees. It views trees as statues surrounded by open space. The park district both plants trees incorrectly—for example oak trees are planted too closely to each other, meaning certain rot for some of the crowded, mature trees—and cuts down other trees (in the name of progress?) with abandon.

There are already “scalped” parks galore including the very ugly and uninspiring Glazebrook Park with its acres of sterile, open land. Sure, you can walk it. Heck, you can walk Godfrey Road, same openness, and pavement. Perhaps the village’s vision is to cut down every tree and pave the entire village.

Once the park attractions are built, there is no monitoring of same. The result is discarded beer cans and cigarette butts, even though the parks do not allow smoking or drinking on the premises. The village believes in individual responsibility, that old Republican trope, and it has no money for park rangers. The trouble is individuals who equate disc golf and other fun, accompanied by beer and cigarettes, don’t give a rat’s behind about rules.

But good news: all of these are superior markers to the stones and breadcrumbs of the classic fairy-tale “Hansel and Gretel,” where a brother and sister are fighting cannibal witches and parents who intend to kill them. Stones may roll away. Breadcrumbs may be eaten by crows. But cigarette butts have just enough heft to be there for centuries of hikers. Because humans are so generous, one imagines altruistic cigarette manufacturers designing filters to not degrade for a thousand years—for the betterment of mankind!

The Great River Road and its paths are similarly marked with trash of all kinds. It’s as though McDonalds et al plotted together to create unrecyclable materials—plastic cups because they’re cheaper, for example—to help walkers not get lost. Plus, drivers pitch in by pitching—their trash. Once again, the principal of personal responsibility is at play.

Humans. Do not tell a human to put unwanted trash in a refuse can or follow environmental regulations—it’s Mel Gibson yelling “Freedom!” don’t you know. “Braveheart,” that’s us, kilted out Libertarian Celts ready to war with… environmental regulations! Never mind prying a gun from one’s hand, try prying a patriotic plastic cup.

Capitalists seem not to have noticed that Earth is a round ball. There will be no expansion. “Growth,” in the business vernacular, is an oxymoron. Humans are filling up every nook and cranny. Mountains have stood as classic obstacles—until recently, as states like West Virginia cut off mountaintops for coal, killing the mountains. Soon enough, we will drain every river, and then we’ll use up at the vast seas until they are salty puddles.

Then, there will be cigarette butts and plastic cups to eat. Imagine a future Thanksgiving: plastic cranberries, a plastic turkey to poke at with plastic sporks, some plastic stuffing, plastic pie, plasma donated by Grandma to drink, and we hold hands around the table dressed in our finest plastic clothing.

Until there are no trees and tons of sickly children, let the national song ring out: God mess America/Land that I trash/Stand beside her/empty cans Budweiser/and foul it ’till my grandson gets a rash!

Freedom!

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Sorry

Sorry

Empty room walls painted white. No windows. A door across from me. I lie on the floor. Ewing Baldwin, holding two cans of beer, swigs one, crushes the can and tosses it, watches me. He puts the unopened beer on the floor, charges at me and begins to beat my neck with his fists. Not a word spoken.

He fetches his other beer, opens it, swigs, throws the can to the floor. He charges. He kicks my right ribs and knee and hip, grabs me by the throat. He is going to kill me. I scream, no sound.

Except when I awake, screaming, and in pain.

The day before, while I climbed Clifton Terrace bluff road (no sidewalks), a speeding car came barreling down the snaky curves at fifty miles an hour, headed toward the river, passing within inches of me, and I tripped and fell to my left on my face, smashing my sunglasses into my eyes, the bridge of my nose cut and bleeding, my hand and right knee bleeding, my neck whiplashed. The car sped on, trying to beat the light.

A van of strangers, three young men, stopped, bless them, the side door sliding open. Two boys rolled me over, picked me up and carried me to their van. The driver told me they were headed to New Orleans; I had two choices: go with them (I laughed, which was his goal), or they would drive me home. They drove me home, carried me out of the van and set me upright on the porch and waited for me to go inside. Sorry you’re hurt.

I staggered into the house, blood dripping from my nose cut onto the floor. My knee, having had a replacement the year before, swollen and red. My ribs caused sharp pain each time I inhaled.

I drove myself to the St. Anthony’s ER, spent seven hours, never saw a doctor. At the six-hour mark, a CT scan of my neck (I have a plate in my neck), X-rays of my skull and right knee, no breaks, but I barely could move. Intense pain. Getting old is an art form unto itself, and I am a lousy artist.

In the ER, an elderly man, his bare right foot swollen the size of a cantaloupe, sat next to his granddaughter, waited patiently. A woman sat in a wheelchair, for hours, whistled her pain through her clenched lips. People came up to her and asked if she wanted water. Each time, she shouted, “My fibula and my tibia are broken!” A pregnant woman was wheeled in, head in hands, her frantic husband calling for help.

Sorry, the volunteer at the desk said, Sorry. I don’t know the game of “Sorry,” but the game in the ER was Sorry We Can’t Help Sorry But We Have Too Many Patients, Sorry. My nurse thanking me for not yelling at or insulting her. Leaning over my head and feeling my hip bones, her breasts soft on my face, the first breasts I felt in years, a song tune entering my mind.

The next day, I wrote about the accident, high on oxycodone, unable to work. I turned on CNN (Kevin McCarthy: will he, won’t he), napped, woke, napped, woke, ate some lentil soup, fell on the bed, drifted off to sleep:

Empty room walls painted white. A door across from me. I lie on the floor. Ewing Baldwin, holding two cans of beer, swigs one, watches me. He puts the unopened beer on the floor, charges at me and begins to beat my neck with his fists. Not a word spoken. . .

 

 

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Gifter

Gifter

From just after eight o’ clock this morning until sunset, the male, red-bellied woodpecker who lives with his spouse and kids in a tree in my front yard, worked the birdfeeder in the dogwood tree. Every third visit, the male nabbed three seeds, hammered, and ate them. The other trips—I counted twenty and stopped counting—he speared five seeds then flew across the driveway and up to the nest, discharged them or stored them or fed his children. This was his Christmas.

Woodpeckers store seeds (and in summer, insects) in shallow impressions in tree bark, for later consumption. I suspect this day was a reaction and memory to the subzero temperatures and howling winds of the past few days. Over a third of the seeds in the feeder now rest in red bellies or bark cabinets, in a single day.

(I am the lesser god of seeds, Gifter, opportunity, neither vengeance nor punishment.)

The redbellies and the hairy and downy woodpeckers perch on the bush perimeter and watch me, and they consider the lilies of the field, and they know they are symbiotic, and they cock their heads and grow impatient lest I forget to refill their seeds, but I don’t forget as these are my family and I watch over them. These are my loves, my children, and in return they give me beauty and laughter and peace of mind and wonder.

Christmas gifts: cardinals, the males feeding their mates, the song sparrows hopping in the shallow snow, the countless tufted titmice and nuthatches and black-capped chickadees arriving as though the feeder were an airport, departing, returning, concert choir singing carols. These tiny, sentient creatures endure the cold, huddle together from the wind, the sentinels among them watching the sky for hawks.

And I, (the lesser god of seeds) Gifter, opportunity, neither vengeance nor punishment, I watch over them, my obsession with them easing my depression and dark moods. No physicists among them, no Christians or Muslims, no Plato to teach them order or manners or meaning. Birds, unlike us, live in the moment and have no words or need to describe suns and moons and starlight and nectar. There is neither past nor future; there is this sun, those trees, that blue sky, that slake of rain, the cry of predator birds, the lesser god among them chatting foreign phrases at them, yet they do not write about or ponder it it; their every waking moment is Christmas, is light, is all there is, is life.

Today was eight more minutes of light, a silent day, a contemplative day, and for me the meaning was birds. There is no tomorrow. Now comes calm, now comes fear, now is darkness.

Jean-Paul Sartre: “Do you think that I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” Birds informed Sartre, not the other way around. Birds are existentialists.

 

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The Waitress

The Waitress

She is young, African American, and she’s exhausted. The restaurant where she waits tables had a stove malfunction, and customers are getting impatient. She keeps walking to my table and apologizing, and I keep reassuring her: it’s okay, it’s not your fault.

Then I hear her talking to other waitresses, behind me. Her baby boy is sick. She’s working Christmas, and Grandma’s not thrilled at caretaking for the day. The waitresses fan out for another round of apologies, their wan smiles showing the strain. Only the coffee keeps flowing.

A half hour passes by: 1:00, past lunchtime. I need to go. But I stay, to not offend my server. She might be twenty. We do small talk. Her: Do you have kids? Me: Two stepdaughters that I don’t see. Do you have dreams? Her (sarcastic): I am living the dream.

Who serves us, waits on us, puts up with us, depends on us?

I think, perhaps it was wrong to go to a restaurant on a holiday. All the employees, two dozen or more people, are there because I am there.

The girls of the waitstaff hug each other. The manager, barely a woman herself, is right there with them: Guys, we’re all in this together.

At 1:15, I stand and walk to the counter. Cashier: No charge. Manager: Come back for a meal, on me. Waitress: I’m so, so sorry.

I had just been to the bank, just withdrawn fifty bucks. I reach in my pocket, pull out the money, walk to my waitress and hand it all to her. “Please spend this on you and your baby son.” She shrieks and cries. We hug.

Tonight, I imagine she has already told the story a few times. Tonight, my pocket money for the week is gone—like I care. I need nothing. I’ve got love, which is all I need. “Love is all you need.”

If I could, I would leave all my worldly possessions to that young woman and her baby son. I have had my time, I have lived eight lives, I have seen miracles in hidden places far from the madding crowd.

Maybe keep in mind, as you walk or drive from place to place the next couple days, that if anyone does anything for you, in any place, you need to give of your heart—whatever that means to you. Anything. I have everything. I have all of you who read this. Me, the atheist who has no more or less use for Christmas than any other day.

Christmases long ago, I used to go with friends to Chicago hospitals and carol the patients and nurses. One night, an ER nurse walked up to me while I was singing “Oh Holy Night,” and she draped a blue ornament ball dangling from a red ribbon over the neck of my guitar. I could really sing then. I had pipes of gold.

Pipes and words: I was born with those talents. Save for high school not a single moment in any educational exploration—BA, MA—did I need, to use my gifts.

You and I will die if/when we rest on our laurels. (We prepare our children for Death by using metaphors, Santa, tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and, dare I say it, yes I do: God.) Every day new creation comes. Today, for me, it had nothing to do with golden pipes or stories.

Or did it?

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“The ‘Book of Mark’, Prince James Version”

“The ‘Book of Mark’, Prince James Version”

I had been doing extensive research in the archives of Yale University’s “The Religionist Records,” on the origins of the New Testament. I came upon a manuscript called, The Holy Bible: Prince James Version, not to be confused with the familiar King James translation. Prince James apparently hated his father, King James, hence what scholars refer to as the “revenge revision.”

Translated from the original Serbian by the eminent scholar, 1927 Nodal Prize winner Budimir Ilic, Jr. (“A Theoretical Theory of Theory Theories”), of University of Kragujevac Rectorate, The Prince James “Book of Mark” sheds new light on the origin story of Christmas, a theory of everything.

“The Book of Mark” Prince James Version (used with permission), Chapter 4, Verses 108-124:

  1. And lo, it came to pass that a nice Jewish couple, Joseph and Mary Christ, traveled to Bethlehem by ass, to pay their taxes. Now, Mary was great with child—I mean, she was fatso. Upon arrival in the town, they stopped at the local Best Inn and asked for a room. They were informed by the desk clerk that there was no room in the Inn. The manager escorted them to his potting shed in the back yard where they could sleep (half price) on a pile of used burlap sacks.
  2. In the middle of the night, Mary Christ awoke and woke husband Joseph who woke their fine ass, who brayed. And suddenly, ten sheep, sixteen goats, and an ibex (whether Alpine, Siberian, Iberian, Nubian, Wallia, or Bezoar, the text does not say) showed up. And there was much ‘bah-bah-ing’.
  3. And lo, the Christs cuddled and talked of baby names. And (high), Joseph blew some smoke and said, “Let us name the child Veronica.”
  4. Mary retorted, “But Joe, what if the child is a boy. What is a nice Jewish name for a boy?”
  5. “Oy,” said Joseph Christ.
  6. And Joseph wrote in Serbian (no one knows why, just as what the hell is an ibex doing in this story) with his finger in the soft mud all the Jewish boy names they could think of: Noem, Uri, Ethan, Asher, Levi, Isaac, Jesus.
  7. And Mary muttered, “Anything but Jesus. Half the boys in Jersalem are named Jesus. A mother calls her son for dinner: ‘Jesus! Supper!’ And a thousand boys respond, and they run around claiming they are the anointed—whatever. And their mothers fawn and say, ‘Oh, look, my Jesus laughed!’ ‘Oh, look, my Jesus wept.’ Doesn’t anybody name a boy Robert or Frederick anymore? No, Joe Christ, no Jesus.”
  8. And lo, the ass and the sheep and the goats and the ibex (perhaps a Middle Eastern goat hooked up with a Siberian ibex at some bar, which could explain this ibex) brayed and bah-bahed, and there was a great commotion. A supernova had burst in the sky, but people in that time didn’t know what supernovas were, so an old grandfather cried out, “Look, everybody, the Star of Noem!”
  9. And lo, a naked, winged lady angel and fine babe named Shylynn Nite appeared, and Joseph stared at her nakedness, and Mary slapped him silly. More naked, winged girl angels appeared, and soon all the horny men of Bethlehem were cheering and placing bets, and their wives and girlfriends were slapping them.
  10. And the head naked, winged lady angel, Shylynn Nite shouted (she was a loud talker), “Behold, I bring you great joy! Unto you this day, in the city of Noem, a child is born, and he shall be called Jesus—”
  11. “No Jesus!” cried Mary, pointing to the village. “Look!” And the women villagers looked (the men were staring at all the naked, winged girl angels) and about sixty boys named Jesus came running toward the potting shed, expecting supper. (One of the lads carried a loaf of leavened bread and a carafe of wine, which he promised would feed and sate the masses, but a morbidly obese Jesus stole it all and stuffed himself).
  12. And lo, Mary lay back on her burlap sacks, remembered her psychoprophylactic aka Lamaze training, and began to perform deep breathing exercises and kegels, and the lesser naked, winged girl angels shooed away Joseph’s ass and the sheep and the goats and the ibex (which was looking for some rutting action but not getting any), and gathered round Ms. Christ and helped bring the newborn son into the world. And there was much ooh-ing and awww-ing aaannnd a little poop-ing.
  13. Suddenly, three rich lawyers from the firm of Goldmann Gold Goldfinger rode up on their asses, having traveled all the way from Israel even though there was no Israel at the time. Gold, introducing himself, said, “Gold. James Gold.” Goldmann called out, “May we help?” Goldfinger cried, “Lady—” “Ms. Christ,” Mary retorted, for she was a Progressive. Goldfinger apologized, saying he heard the Best Inn wouldn’t house the family and his law firm wouldst sue, citing Clause 168 of Jewish law.
  14. And Joseph asked, “What is C-l-a-u-s 168 of Jewish law?” “C-l-a-u-s-e 168,” rejoined Gold, “not C-l-a-u-s 168.” And the excited three wise lawyers convened, plotting to sue Best Inn.
  15. And lo, multilingual Mary Christ, who had just birthed an eleven pound six ounce baby, screamed in Spanish, “Dule! (ow) Santa (Saint)! C-l-a-u-s 168 Christ! YES!”
  16. And Joseph Christ, a songwriter as well as member of the SEIU carpenter’s union, and transfixed on the naked, winged head lady angel babe, began to sing: “Shylynn Nite, holy Nite, such a tush, oh, tight. What a heavenly pee—eece! What-aht a heavenly piece.”
  17. And all the villagers and the asses and the sheep and the goats (the ibex had run off to the Alps, hoping to get some) and the lawyers and Joseph Christ and the sixty Jewish boys named Jesus and the lesser naked, winged girl angels shouted, “(Santa!) C-l-a-u-s 168 Christ!” And little (Santa!) C-l-a-u-s 168 Christ levitated himself. And the rising babe saw all the naked, winged girl angels, and he was happy. Boy, would he learn. Oy.
  18. The Best Inn Noem apologized, to avoid a lawsuit, giving the Christs a one year free Best Inn Anywhere in the World Pass. Goldman Gold Goldfinger waved their fees and threw in some frankincense and myrrh. Meanwhile in the Alps, the ibex got some. It would name its child Jesus, his mate wondering what the hell kind of name that was.

It was a (Santa!) C-l-a-u-s 168 Christ miracle!™*

 

*Order your “It Was a (Santa!) C-l-a-u-s 168 Christ Miracle™” or or “Shylynn Nite, Holy Nite™” T-shirt and coffee mug and hoodie and knee pads and underpants and can opener and NFT cards and TikToc video of naked, winged angels today! Available in all colors of the rainbow (We’re not gay—not that it’s wrong.)! Just $29.99! But wait! Order today and get a second t- and cup free!

 

Text Genehouse 4321.

 

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James Son of James

James Son of James

Rain falls at 4 a.m., December 8,

And I stand and soak and shiver

Alone in the pre-dawn darkness.

It is so much easier to cry, in rain:

 

Am I the old man sliding across

The wet and slick blanket of

Leaves (the yard a mass of colors),

Searching the fog for solace, crying?

 

Or just the gentlest storm of drips,

Thirsty ground drinking, the old man

Speaking words only earth and rain

Hear: ‘Jim,’ ‘has died,’ ‘James gone.’

 

On Friday James son of James, ‘See you

next week,’ in truth: pure folly which

Is hope, language which is symbols, for

We never ‘know’ what we ‘know.’

 

‘The old man’s brother has died,’ Earth

Tells its seeds, ‘The old man and Jim’s book

Of James the Elder, a Black father in war’:

Then, children, our voices stilled. The dead

 

Outnumber the living, you see: ‘The universe

Living, dead, forming, reforming like jazz,’

The old man thinks, ‘my tears, drips of rain

A refrain, a Psalm: Jim, I loved you, love you.

 

It is so much easier to cry, in rain.

 

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Book It

Book It

Missouri Attorney General Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, is proposing banning books that he fears might, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “appeal to the sexual interests of minors.” The commies from the ACLU are fighting him.

Were I a Republican, I’d ban everything from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” to “Hawaii.” “Hawaii?” you ask. There is a chapter in there that is one of the dirtiest, sexiest scenes of all time. It was a go-to book when I was a kid. My bedroom was in the basement, and the view from my low window was the first-floor bedroom window of our teenage neighbor Libby, who walked around her room in a pointy bra that looked a weapon and a half slip. Between watching Libby and reading that one scene from “Hawaii,” I was mad with desire.

Hell, if you were a literate teenage boy, you could get off on Ayn Rand’s masterbatory prose much less “Chatterley.” Boys could get off with mere words: “Bra,” “slip,” “panties,” “breasts,” “cooking oil,” “avocado,” “mashed potatoes,” the name “Marilyn,” all the “Psalms,” “Song of Solomon.”

(My friend Bill Walther got married, and he had a pal read the “Song of Solomon” 4, 5-6: “Your two breasts are like two fawns, Twins of a gazelle, Which feed among the lilies. Until the day breaks And the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh And to the hill of frankincense.” The pal started laughing. I mean, he almost passed out laughing, which got the audience laughing and the band (me, Scotty Pearl, Steve Hagerman, Joe Precourt) laughing, and the wedding almost came to a halt.

I can’t speak for girls. I suspected they were reading books like “Florrie Makes A Cozy” and “Suzy Goes to the Store Alone for Lipstick.” Clean girl stuff, except that a boy could get excited by “cozy” and/or “Suzy,” and/or “Cozy Suzy,” and/or “Cozy Suzy goes,” and/or “Suzy and Florrie Make Lipstick and Go (third base!).” And “Nancy Drew”: oh momma!

Perhaps Republicans were never children. Little Mike Pence, before “Mother” probably walked around in a suit, ramrod stiff (“ram!” “rod!”) looking neither right nor left (probably more right) to get milk (“milk!”) for his uh, ma, and crossing in the crosswalk (crosswalk!”)

Other words that made me wild: “Tree,” “flower” “Mr. Peepers,” “Howdy Doody,” “sweat pants,” “origami,” “candy (the treat and the book),” “oil change,” “periodontal,” “mountain of myrrh,” “ass (behind the refrigerator door Lucy broke some glass, first she cut her finger then she cut her ask me no more questions, and I’ll tell you no more lies)”.

Governor Ashcroft, before you make an ass (an ashcroft!) of yourself, consider that words are seductive, books are healthy releases (“releases!”), and James Michener and whoever wrote “Song of Solomon” were better porn purveyors that was Hugh Hefner.

 

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270 Words

270 Words

I was driving east on Alton’s beltway

headed for the mall library?

when a ginormous white teen boy and his tiny black girlfriend

calmly held hands and stepped onto the highway

and crossed not looking left or right?

Cars didn’t crash?

They skidded tight, swerved and honked?

I was one of the honk-ees?

Cool Boy, backward-sideways-baseball capped,

after they had reached the other side,

circle-flipped us off?

“Rapscallions,” I muttered to myself.

 

I drove to the mall and got some books?

I exited into the walkway,

and here came skip-school Cool Boy and Impassive Girl?

CB was six foot, weighed about three-ten,

his baggy pants belted to his ample pale thighs (plaid boxers)?

IG wore casual clothes under a hoodie;

she was short, about ninety pounds, listless:

Coo-love-goodie!

I calmly pointed out they were, uh, jackass teens—

could have been dead teens?

The dumb asses hadn’t counted on Oldboy from the highway

coming to the same place they were headed for?

Cool Boy gallantly shoved Sweetie Pie behind him,

hard enough that she stumbled?

 

I can’t quote word for word

Cool Boy’s (remember, he was white) tirade?

Enjoy a Whitman’s Sampler:

“I am gonna f–k you up, you old man you-b—h?

You talk to mah lady dat way, b–ch?

I will f–k you ten different ways

and den you will suck mah dick—dig?

Fear me. Fear me, m—-rf—er?

Are you scared, b–ch? You niggah!”

Impassive Girl looked at the floor.

I, “niggah,” (“Recklass,” actually)

broke out in laughter,

CB and his evil-eye baby girl IG,

doubtless indignant at my effrontery, huffed off?

 

(The above, minus the title and words before it, is two hundred seventy words, in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 150 years ago today. We have learned so much, come so far—too far, right? God bless Abraham Lincoln and God bless the Un-united States of America.)

 

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Quantum

Quantum

The air is sharp. The sun is cloud-cloaked, light escaping its flimsy white negligee, and tufted titmice glow grey-orange and blue jays are ornamental. The afternoon is soft the breeze is coldsoft, and acorn caps rise sideways and roll on edges along the path.

Warmer days are coming waking hibernators from new sleep. A wave of fat robins runs down the Stroke Hill slopes and into the meadow where I see fairy rings in summer. It is a bad day to be a sunning worm.

The coal smoke from the power plant forms marshmallow shapes and blows parallel to the horizon, reflecting in the glassy Mississippi River. There is a line of parked barges downstream, waiting for their turn in the lock and dam. At La Vista Park the air is colder, shadowy, the creek frozen, its smooth surface looking like a windowpane.

Thirty feet up the path, a squirrel with a nut in its jaws wheels and stares and sits up—and this is its last breath, I am the last living thing it sees in this last millisecond, for a barred owl swoops down the left slope of the bluff and explodes the creature and lifts off, the squirrel’s body dangling limply, and small birds gang up and beak the owl’s head to no avail, and there is no sound, for the owl’s wings are serrated, and then the tiny birds shriek and three crows fly in from the right and caw a racket. This afternoon, I have seen the opaline eyes of Death.

I think of the September day I was out walking and pain slammed my chest and I stopped and tried to see the invisible fist which was punching me, and I walked on home, marveling at the unknown sensation, finally talking to my nurse friends Kim and Michele on the phone and learning I was having a heart attack—mild to be sure, but when it’s your heart mild is small comfort. And a week later my stent was put in and I realized I could die. The commonality of heart attacks and barred owls, death by stealth.

Physicists posit the theory that all of us may live in millions of parallel universes, each life similar but taking different tacks. So . . . this day, a squirrel was murdered and eaten, the same squirrel saw the owl and ducked and told its children the tale over nut stew dinner, the same squirrel threw its hickory nut and bonked the owl’s head, the owl and the squirrel shared the nut at tea.

Had I not seen the act, did it happen? Are the things we see inventions? The black wolf last fall? The bobcat lying on my car roof? The thousand white pelicans of spring? The chickadees that perch on my shoulder? All are illusions?

Home. The sun falls like a frozen orange leaf toward the river. The breeze rests from its labors. The naked, wintery earth glues itself stiff. On the road below me a beautiful woman in a flimsy white negligee sheds it and waves, her body the color of porcelain. I am pro-illusion, you see, you c, you sea

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