Thursday, June 01, 2017

vin chaud

a night's wind in montmartre
pushes past the doors, the patrons
squeeze hip to shoulder 
gripping mulled wine
letting songs roll off
in french I don't always understand
there's a vague beauty
a monet would understand
seen through memory
and eyes half wide.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Remembering Sappho

To find a tree in the forest
One must have an old dog
To sniff every bush
And look over each rock
And not walk in a straight line
Or with a map
Or even with a straight memory
The time to spend all day
Is what's needed.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

new years wishes

are like a breeze on a January morning
pushing brown oak and faded red maple leaves
in circles sliding on the snow:

clarity
when the wind stops and reveals the silence
behind the clutter of action and forms

beauty
as the sun clears the morning cloud
and not from without, but inside it comes

love
of all varieties as the wind warms in months
and buds the trees with new life.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

June 18th

'I need to tell you, the US State Department doesn't allow its employees to undergo general anesthesia without specific permission.'
'I understand,' and she drove the needle into my arm.

I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, a few days into a two week visit to the city, all expenses paid by the US government, to find out why I was sick. It was March and I'd already dropped fifty pounds off of a fit twenty five year old body and I was sleeping most of every day, too exhausted to pedal to my teaching post on the edge of the village. My Peace Corps doctors, a pediatrician and a cancer researcher, were overmatched and gave up after a few months of blood tests and hitchhiking forays from my village in the north of Botswana to the capitol of Gaborone in the south. The last visit was the clincher.

'Chris, how is your marriage going?'
'My marriage?' I saw over his left shoulder a framed picture of him with one of his patients, a research monkey at the University of Florida.
'Fine. Do you think my high white cell count, anemia and severe weight loss are psychosomatic?'
Pause. 'I think we need to send you to a specialist in South Africa.'

I woke up in a hallway. Dim lights and dull beige painted walls. I was looking at the ceiling and the last thing I remembered was the nurse giving me a shot. My throat was sore. What time was it? I had joked about them doing the proctoscopy and colonoscopy in the correct order. Now I was worried that they hadn't. One has to be careful about what one jokes about in Africa.

I told this story to my colleagues in the office earlier this week. I had turned fifty back in January and I had been delaying the required colonoscopy for months, mainly because of the last colonoscopy I'd had twenty five years earlier in Africa. I knew it would be better, easier, more prepared, but the memory of waking up disoriented in a hallway a few hours later, with a sore butt and sore throat, lingered.

And the doctor's office suggested June 19th for the procedure, meaning that June 18th was going to be a day of fasting and awful purging with the 'kit' they'd assembled for me. This June 18th was the fortieth anniversary of my afternoon spent making time stop back in 1974 and for some reason I figured that time would slow down again, perhaps for different reasons, and this seemed to fit the day very well.

For the last forty years, this day has been for stopping and thinking of important things. And, except for one occasion, in a German philosophy class when we were discussing Nietzsche and existentialism, I've spoken about it only to a very few people. As an older adult looking back at that ten year old in the bedroom staring at the ceiling, coming to grips with mortality before life had really begun yet, I smile at his earnestness, his need to think and talk about important things, his desire to live as much as he could in such a short time. In six years he would fall in love for the first time. In fourteen he would travel to Botswana. In fifteen he would get married and in twenty three and twenty five years he would have his children.

Somewhere during that time he figured out that life wasn't about the number of years (or the number of breaths, if you are a yogi) that one received. That was a random number, factored by genetics, dumb luck and a few life choices. What was important was being awake for the ride and conscious of the beauty flying by in every moment of joy and pain. What is important is seeing the colors and understanding how the light of the morning is different than the light of the late afternoon. What is important is that one embrace all of it, that one loves.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Last post San Diego

The road meanders with the shoreline, past sailing ships and a museum devoted to their history. I try to remember the difference between a sloop and a schooner; is it the number of masts? The slant of the sails? Sean's father used to remember with us when we were young, his days racing sloops on Lake Michigan with only sail power and the magical skills of docking a sailing ship without a motor.

This is the way I ride. Memories churn into my quadriceps, pumped into my blood, thoughts move from synapse to muscle twitch and the memories tied to a place, or smell or the feel of a cool breeze, or the rot of fish in the morning, seep into my consciousness.

A seagull and I think of reading my mother's copy of Jonathan Seagull for the first time when I was ten, the year Christopher crystalized into the essence of who he is now. 1974, the month of June, on the 18th, the year, month and day I first became aware of my mortality and all its ramifications. I suppose the seagull was a part of that, a questioning of 'going along' with the flow of time and expectations. I closed the door of  our room, my brother absent somewhere, and stared at the ceiling.

Why was it that time seemed sometimes to move fast and sometimes slow?

It wasn't linear after all. I thought about that. Then a fearful thought grabbed me: I was ten and I'd already lived a seventh of my life. What had I accomplished?  A seventh of an ice cream cone was a significant thing; my life was being consumed unconsciously, without intention or purpose. I was being wasteful!

What if I could slow down time and make my life last longer? I knew how it worked in Sr. Rhodilia's math class at St. Mathias; those 45 minutes lasted at least as long as an entire trip to my grandmother's on the west coast. For an hour I made time move slowly and then decided that a life like that might be indefinitely long but not actually worth living. At ten years of age, I decided the best thing to do was to remember how quickly time was passing and, with that awareness, decide to live as fully as possible.

What I knew then as a ten year old was that I was still needing to learn what living fully meant and those milestones came later and much later. Experiments with love and pain, commitment and betrayal, sin and goodness; each step in my life, each friend met along the way, further helped me develop the idea of what it meant to live fully in the few moments that we have.

These thoughts course through my veins and find their expression in the wheels turning. I feel them when I grip the handlebars with my hand and the exquisite pressure in my legs as I lean into the pedals and gain speed.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Harbor Drive South-San Diego

Everyone needs to get lost occasionally. This thought occurs to me as I've lost track of the west coast of the United States and have turned full tilt towards the Mexican border while intending to head north back to my hotel. I know I'm not terribly lost, but just pleasantly so. The clouded morning sky offers a sameness of light in all directions. Street names and numbers are generally unhelpful since each town seems to rejoice in naming their streets with the same names in different grids.

I've bounced from Boston to Lawrence to San Diego and, in a bit, to Miami. Waking up in various rooms offers a sense of disorder, chaos to the surface of my life, but talking to people I love offers a deeper sense of the logos lying just beneath.

Important stuff. My old friend said that was one thing she loved about me, my insistence on wondering about the things that deserve our time and consciousness. I laughed when she remembered me at sixteen talking like I do now at fifty. What are the important things that need to be spoken of now. Two pop to mind.

South of San Diego's convention area and the adjoining Gas Lamp district, is the Naval Yard. I ride down this road for the third time, now fully expecting the long stop light at each entrance to the base. Lines of cars from every direction and my bike and I weaving between the cars left with their butts in the intersection. The temperature says 66 degrees and I roll by, pushing down my arm warmers and breathing the ocean air. The tall gray bodies of naval warships rise from the fence line on my right.

I told another friend yesterday about a story I'd read many years ago, the Conversion of the Jews by Phillip Roth. In the story, a boy at a rabbinical school in New York asks the rabbi about his Catholic friend's belief that Mary had a virgin birth. When the rabbi said it was impossible, the boy ended up on the roof threatening to jump unless the rabbi said it was possible. God, the boy said, can do anything.

 
The buildings fall away and I'm on a bike path threading between bridges and short trees. Small bunches of grass cling to the side of the trail and occasionally a cyclist or runner is heading the other way and I interrupt my reveries with a smile.

When I hear the word 'faith' I first think of theology, dogma and that quickly degenerates into the bizarre sides of my Catholic upbringing. But this morning, rolling into the wind between sand and grass, I think of the other, more important faiths to be thought of: faith in oneself, in someone else, in love and hope, in the future. Even someone with a Spaghetti Monster emblem on the back of his car understands that this faith overshadows the peculiar faith that often separates us into groups of same-believing people.
After my coffee in the morning, I walked back to my hotel wondering why I'd mentioned that story, why had it bubbled into my head as something appropriate to talk about, important enough to take some precious time with someone I hadn't seen in a half of a year. The point clarifies; I wanted to her to understand that I am not defined by the narrowness of the words I say or write. There is something else that overshadows the mean definitions we create of ourselves and, when confronted with a tremendous awfulness, as it was with my friend's cancer, all of those words burn away and one is left with a singular prayer.

Forty five minutes in and it's time to curl around and head back. I leave the path and take a left, wait a few miles and then take another left, that is how to make a loop, I think. This is how one wanders to Mexico.

There is another faith that we seldom consider. Faith in our narratives. We create stories of our lives continuously. The narratives help us make sense of our experience, give meaning and help define who we are, or think we are. I continually make stories to absolve myself of wrongs, redefine my purpose, explain my feelings. Maybe the last is the most crucial as these narratives bridge the divide between our hearts and our heads.

I am lost. I have a gps on my bike and now that I actually look at it, it tells me I'm headed south instead of north. I pull over and start futzing. There's no rush, no imperative of time. A horn beeps. Ok, there are imperatives, just not mine. I roll forward and let the truck park where I was stopped.

The wind is behind me, when I make the turn onto Harbor Way, I can feel it passing me; there's a sudden coolness as the sweat is lifted by the breeze. I'm in a familiar place now. Aware now that I am writing a narrative and feeling much more in control of the story.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

for my friend


the hummingbird 
rests, 
iridescence, 
grace
and wounded wing


in sunlight 
filtered
by branches
and the jade leaves
of spring

heals
her like a prayer
heard
from the mouths 
of friends.