Tidal Pools

Light by side by sun by dawn
East to shore to scale to spawn
Here the weeds and algae latch upon
The rock. 

As the moon so as the sun
As the winds and breakers run
Drawn by ties so widely flung
And strong. 

Cloud by up by west by noon
Here one space, a static room
This tidal pool away from flume
And chance.

Dark by glass by storm by sea
No shore is an island free
And tidal pools new depths shall see
With time. 

One by two by more by few
Us by all by time by true
Shoal by shore by fathoms new – 

In a moment in a breath
Waiting long or sudden stretch
Birth to born to life’s long death
Also, is.

Novena (Nine Days’ Walk Towards Fire)

Nine days’ walk towards fire
In the time of gathering green;
Nine days’ wait towards Spirit come down,
To bridge the seen and unseen.

As tongues shall speak, so salt my words
With wind or quiet breath.
As over waters – soul’s rebirth –
So hover, merahepeth.

“Merahepeth” (מְרַחֶ֖פֶת) is a Hebrew word uniquely used in Genesis 1:2, where it refers to the Spirit of God hovering “over the face of the waters” in a manner similar to a mother bird brooding over her young. To me, it is an image of all-surrounding peace, yet – like a bird alighting – a peace that is not static. It is an active peace that is dynamic, free, and alive to change and possibility. It is not found within a status quo. It is a presence of the present moment – never a second before nor after.

A novena is a prayer said in sets of nine, often over nine days or nine hours. The past months have been a period of change, and as Pentecost and the return to “Ordinary Time” (what a designation) approaches, the above is my own novena to prepare for presence of mind, presence of mindfulness, presence of peace, and the balance of a bird hovering over turbulent waters. As each of your own lives may have need, I hope the same may find you.

No Parallel

To be –

To be
One thing,

About which circle
May be drawn.

Circle or square, 

Give or give in
Give out,
Take part,
Song – 

Each or any of all
Or none
Points through which
More points chart;

My love,
In this wide-flung plane
No parallel lines,

I am a skeptic towards the idea of “epic love.” Or at least, towards the human capacity for such; this became apparent when faced with a writing prompt of “relationships – larger than life or epic love” as given by Lisa Ann Markuson in her weekly SocietyX Therapeutic Poetry Workshop. The “one soul, two bodies” business (as it was predicated) seems to me to make light of all the other internal and external processes which make the idea of “ONE” relationship possible.

Relationship, of course, can take in anything from cellular systems to nuclear forces. Is this relevant to the person sitting across the room from me? Is this good first (or twentieth) date conversation? I have no idea; that is why this is poetry and not relationship advice.

But insofar as I have found it useful to consider my personal relationships as dynamic states of growth influenced by more than I pay attention to – rather than static states defined by the snapshot-perfect essence of one plus one person, pinned in time – this is some sort of love letter to something.

And insofar as the person sitting across the room from me constantly pushes me to be more than my habits, routines, and preconceptions – I suppose, after all, a relationship between two is always about becoming larger than one life.

Two Beside

Two beside
On a sunny side walk;

Small hat, floral skirt; 
Hand in hand
Close ahead
Or far behind. 

Two beside
Do not have room – 

No room for a hat
When wind lifts hair
And heart;

And the floral skirt now knows
Autumn best. 

Soft salt lifts, then,
Like an ocean; like waves
That carry 

Let the image float, then.

Above and aside
Alone and apart


So long as 
no shores touch.

A Slight Haunting Problem

A few months ago, our apartment developed a slight haunting problem. 

We determined the problem was a haunting due to the fact that deep scratches kept appearing on the living room’s fake wood floor, and all the humans in the apartment swore it wasn’t them. Clearly invisible forces were at play. 

We were content to cohabit with our unseen guest(s) until two days ago, when we learned the Apartment Management was commencing its semi-yearly inspections. 

Within the pantheon of external forces that act upon inhabitants of this apartment, the Apartment Management is seen as one of the more powerful malignant entities. Their regular sweeps of the premises are met with slightly more preparation than if we were informed the Lord of Darkness would appear. The Lord of Darkness only carries a pitchfork; the Apartment Management comes armed with clipboards, and has (so far) shown no susceptibility to crucifixes, counter-curses, rings of salt, or anything else we may have picked up from watching Supernaturals

In addition to being evil – which we could probably overlook – they are also illogical. They do not accept excuses such as “a slight haunting” for mysterious apartment maladies such as scratches in the fake wood floor. The Apartment Management prefers to assign blame to people with bank accounts, so it can charge them. 

Thus, today I realized a childhood ambition. I spent the morning coloring directly on the floor. 

Conveniently, there are little “floor repair kits” that come with an assortment of wood-toned markers (oak through walnut) and several shades of wax. (Enough other people must experience this same form of haunting activity for the market to respond.) You rub the wax into the scratches and use the markers to blend the now-even floor into its surroundings. 

Believe me when I assure you – it’s hours of entertainment. Or occupation. I was occupied for several hours, and entertained for about five minutes. But I was pleased with my handiwork. Instead of “deeply scratched fake wood,” our living room floor is now a pattern best described as “camouflage coverup.” It gives a charmingly casual vibe to the room. A few strategically-tossed rugs complete the look. 

Of course, it remains to be seen what our unseen guest(s) think of the new arrangement. Will they feel unwelcome? Will they resort to Poltergeist-style activities to convey this unhappiness? It is possible they have already carried out such activities in our kitchen, without us noticing – will they move this activity to other, less naturally chaotic, areas of the apartment? 

We wait, in the certainty that our actions affect more than that which we can see. We seek answers, in the hopes that we may be able to coexist peacefully and tidily with that beyond our understanding. We continue to watch Supernaturals for home decor tips, because you never know. 

And we move heavy furniture in front of the front door, in terror of the time when the Apartment Management will move in our midst. 

Author’s Note: By some strange coincidence, the scratches regularly manifest near my wheeled computer chair. Could there be a connection? The chair was found on the side of the road – perhaps a previous owner could have forged enough of a metaphysical imprint that the chair is now, somehow, channeling their psychological state. But why now? Why that chair, among our collection of trash-find chairs? We like to ponder these questions late at night, by candlelight1 over a glass or two. Then we look over at the glass we left out for our invisible guest(s) and discover it has been drained. Truly “there are more things in heaven and earth…”

1 The Apartment Management also disapproves of candles. But how else are we supposed to discuss our slight haunting problem? You just can’t do it under regular electric light, especially the way all our lightbulbs flicker constantly.

Living History

This is a letter I might have never written, filled with things I might have never said. Out of all my life’s opportunities to share these thoughts, you see, in almost every version I turned away, found distraction and lost the thread. So these words are important. These are words given value by the sheer unlikeliness of their existence. But I overstate my case, because it is not even the words that matter. This is, you see, someone else’s story. Please just pretend you don’t see me. Instead, imagine a white expanse over a silver farmhouse…

The farmhouse has a porch, with three front steps leading down to a yard. The sun is invisible, but shadows lie black on the ragdoll patchwork of grass. This is the world of an old photo. The shades here are the colors of memory – not accurate, but true. And because this place is built on things that are not accurate but are true, at the top of the porch steps stands a figure from legend. 

The musket, the fringe, the determined scowl; most importantly, the coonskin cap. It is unmistakable. It is Davy Crockett himself. He has risen from Alamo dusts to once again heed the call of hearth, home, and country – never mind that the country is quite a bit larger now – here on the frontlines of 1955, Benton County, Indiana. 

Of course, they don’t tell you everything in legends. They don’t have to. Legends are, as everyone knows, true in everything but the facts. You can always find the facts yourself; just wander, for instance, into the silver farmhouse, and open any volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica you will find on the shelf there. A good story is a far different matter than a mere collection of facts. You don’t find, learn, or memorize a story. You recognize it as it roars (or sneaks or meanders) past, and you run to catch up and hold on, however you can, whoever you are. 

I only mention all this so you can make sense of what appears (to the untrained eye) to be a contradiction. That is to say: it is Mr. Davy Crockett, Esq., standing on that silver porch, all backwoods grit and defiance. It’s just that the figure is also a five year old boy, all homemade burr haircut and ears, and a bit too skinny to be much use on a farm, never mind the frontier. 

Yet – if you look closely – there is indeed a certain resemblance to Crockett. It’s in the eyes: the stare of someone who’s seen a good tale and isn’t about to let it go. The fact that the tale’s tail is striped and used to belong to a raccoon only makes it better, as both story and hat. 

Who is the five year old? Why does he share eyes with Davy Crockett? 

Let the farmhouse waver. Color now creeps in as the images change fast, jumbling like a Beatles album cover made of books, nuns, hobbits, and history.

Davy Crockett seems to grow up, and the burr cut grows out (about shoulder-length, in fact, as long as he can get away with). The figure from legend is becoming someone else, though “who” isn’t clear yet. He leaves the farm for art school, contracts folk art, and briefly considers becoming Bob Dylan. 

He acquires musical instruments and learns to play them (more or less): fiddle, mountain dulcimer, guitar (8 and 12 string), recorder, mandolin, and – on one memorable occasion – a bass. He learns to call contra dances. 

He learns to use facts in stories, shaping them to the times and stretching them to the edges of his listener’s disbelief. Eventually, he learns the much harder skill of seeing stories in facts; the hardest storytelling skill of all, the skill of Telling The Truth. 

He discovers the word “anachronism” – something out of its correct place in time. He begins to think like a historian. After a variety of jobs, he finds what he thinks is the rest of his life. It is a job in a museum: a living history museum. 

(Now some of you may be unfamiliar with the concept of living history. Indeed, much history as currently taught is mainly notable for time and manner of death. Due to my lack of Encyclopedia Britannica, I turn to Wikipedia: “A living museum, also known as a living history museum, is a type of museum which recreates historical settings to simulate past time period (sic), providing visitors with an experiential interpretation of history. It is a type of museum that recreates to the fullest extent conditions of a culture, natural environment or historical period, in an example of living history.”)

Back in 1983, he adapts well to the year 1836. Andrew Jackson is president, and Davy Crockett is alive and well, at least for the first couple months of the year; anyway, news travels slowly from south Texas to the small Central Indiana town. All the town’s residents have come from someplace else. They each have personalities, problems, and traditions. Many of these qualities have yet to be discovered; most of them have yet to be detailed in the museum’s biographies. Who am I, why am I here? That’s the question every one of these residents needs to have answered. How do I live my life, what do I do in the morning darkness and the midday heat? How do I prepare for winter, how do I prepare for a wedding; how do I lose or welcome a child, how do I lose or welcome a spouse? What do I want from my days – wealth, status, survival? When my health fails, who do I turn to? How do I make a home? 

These questions are hardly unique to fictional residents of a living history town. No one, in any time, is born knowing any of these things. Instead people absorb both the questions and the answers from the places they find themselves. The answers may be different for each individual, but viewed collectively the answers most common to a time will give a sort of picture of the period, the society. This is what most people mean when they say something seems “old fashioned” or “so 1920s” or “Victorian” or “outdated”. 

This appearance of social cohesion is a useful tool. It acts as a sort of mood ring; it gives you an overall tone for the time. But it is by no means comprehensive, and it can be very misleading. Within any population, there are always exceptions. There are the farm boys who would rather be Davy Crockett, for example. So the job of Mr. Davy-Crockett-grown-up is twofold: first, to find the facts, and second, to find the story within the facts. For the first time he must be both Accurate and True. 

He reads, of course. It’s what he’s always done. Whether it’s research or just how he lives is hard to say, but the books pile up and he takes notes, consults co-workers, experiments and tinkers. He lives each day as a different town resident.  

Do you wonder what this looks like? One of the town residents is a doctor. In order to talk about period medicine, the art school graduate reads about the medicines and surgical procedures of the 1830s. He learns about bone saws, tooth keys, and the different types of splint. He learns how to make bandages. He researches the use of mercury for syphilis and laudanum for everything else. 

He finds ingredients for the pharmacopeia: peppermint oil, charcoal, cinchona bark, and look-alikes for the foxglove, laudanum, and leeches. He learns about land speculation and how ice was shipped, the political geography of Europe, theories of the transmission of cholera and malaria, ladies’ finishing schools and the social life of the upwardly-mobile. He learns enough about horses to fake the conversation. He learns how to tie a cravat, wear a top hat, and put on a frock coat. 

One of his Father’s Day gifts is a pocket watch for his waistcoat. One of his birthday gifts is a reproduction of a 1830s cane. The head of the cane unscrews to reveal a small flask (“for tea or lemonade,” his wife informs him). 

He adapts stories of his own young daughter to fit the character of the doctor’s daughter, and tells them to delighted tourists. Every day he comes home to his family reeking of sweat and wood smoke, and his wife despairs of washing the historical clothes’ heavy layers of linen and wool.

For many people, he is “the” doctor. But he is more than the doctor. He is also the shopkeeper, the schoolmaster, the town philosopher/ne’er-do-well, and (once, in the most desperate of circumstances) the blacksmith. He, alongside many others, adds research and interpretation to each of these characters, finding the truths and the stories that turn them from textbook figures into human beings. 

And – like human beings do – these characters form a community. The small town grows, a building here and there. There are gardens and barns and fields, and an inn, with a taproom. There is a grove with benches, for weddings and Independence Day speeches and the visits of both the justice of the peace and the circuit preacher. There is a cemetary.  

As the town residents grow into their town, he draws maps and paints the pictures that hang in the inn. He helps with gardens, reluctantly. He milks cows, chops wood, and builds fires. He gives Independence Day speeches. And he plays the fiddle, held in the old Scots-Irish manner, low in the crook of his arm. He plays it for the weddings as he calls the dancing. And he plays it for the funeral, low and mournful, the sound more a haunt than a hymn: the sound of the sun going down as woodsmoke fades through the trees. 

He does this every day. Outside the town of endless 1836, changes come and go. There are re-brandings, new policies, new technologies; once, there is a board takeover. But he doesn’t worry too much. He knows history isn’t halted, because it’s happened before. So history goes on like this for quite a while, and suddenly – it’s gone on like this for 37 years. And he finds out that he is, in fact, retiring. He is retiring from the job that – in 1983 – was the rest of his life. And now he must discover the rest of his life. 

Who am I, why am I here? That’s the question he may need to find answers for. How do I live my life, what do I do in the morning darkness and the midday heat? How do I share my story, and tell a new one? How do I take part in the history around me, how do I pass on skills and knowledge of what is both accurate and true? How do I let the job that was my passion become part of my past?

Now, a brief sidenote: what does it mean to be “passionate” about a job? It is an ideal that is frequently touted. It sounds like a wonderful thing. It involves having a vision and a craftsman’s heart. But it also involves having a spark for something – that undeniable talent people call “a gift.” 

Here, of course, is the rub: a gift is also something freely given. And thus, for anyone with a job they are passionate about – a job that utilizes their “gift” – eventually there will come a day when they are forced to separate the person from the price tag placed by others. 

Such price tags seem miraculous at first. It is remarkable to receive income from “a gift.” But it is also dangerous. Price tags communicate value: a market-mediated agreement of worth. 

Yet the value of a gift comes from its sharing, the opposite of a market made for scarcity. There is an inherent friction between the two concepts. The most important thing to remember is that the price tag is not the gift. A gift’s value always comes from being shared.   

He will have to sort all this out for himself, of course, in the same way he sorts out the facts from the tall tales surrounding Davy Crockett. In order to do so, I suspect he will read; it’s what he’s always done. Whether it’s research or just how he lives is hard to say. 

Of course, as a narrator I am not as good at remaining invisible as I hoped. You see, this remarkable man is my father, and I am indescribably proud of him. I grew up always aware of his work, always shaped by it; I put my pennies towards the pocket watch and pitched in with my mother for the birthday cane with the flask. I remember the smell of sweat, smoke, and wool from every welcome-home-from-work hug I ever gave him, as he picked me up and my mother stood by holding a change of smoke-free clothes.  

I always saw his gift as something separate from his job. I hope he will, too, as he adjusts to retirement; as he adjusts towards the rest of his life. I hope he will discover that – although that job may have seemed like his life – it was not the whole of his life. In fact, it was never just his life. No life is alone; and, in fact, although it was accurate at the beginning of this letter to say this was his story, it was also not quite true. Instead, his life has been and always will be full of the lives and stories of others, constantly intersecting and crossing paths, distracting and influencing and enjoying and loving. His gift was always about recognizing a good story, and understanding that the heart of a good story is drawing in and sharing with those around you. 

In the end, I have nothing to close with. In a sense, that is appropriate: his life – and those around him – continues as irrepressibly as ever. But as each of you, my listeners, depart to go about your own histories, I would ask you to remember: 

This is a letter I might have never written, filled with things I might have never said. Out of all my life’s opportunities to share these thoughts, in almost every version I turned away, found distraction and lost the thread. 

In almost every version, this was a different letter. But I overstate my case, because it is not even the words that matter. Instead, imagine with me. Imagine – history. But not any history; imagine the idea of History. It is something neither dead nor past. It’s also (Shakespeare aside) not a play. There is no curtain, and no such thing as a passive audience. 

Instead, we are all living it each day. We live history in each choice and interaction. We create it through each gift shared, withheld, or received. In this way, my father is and always will be a part of History.

The truth is that “history” is a simple name for the stuff of humanity’s temporal dimension. And, like most simple names, it is certainly handy for everyday use. It is, also, not quite right. 

Most people say it as if it were singular. That is incorrect. “History” is, in fact, always plural. Always. 

It runs along every life, constantly paralleling happenstance and chain reaction and “what-if”s. From the perspective of history, there is no difference between a moment or a miracle. Any moment is either, and both. Sometimes, if you look at a moment just right, you can even see it blurring back and forth like Davy Crockett and a five year old on a porch the color of memory, making moments and miracles out of stories both accurate and true.

Rain Day

Today was a special day. This morning I woke to rain. 

The world was wrapped in a curtain of water, floating over green leaves and lightning. Droplets suspended like mist on the air currents. I sat in the concrete stairwell and watched. Rain is worth attention. Nothing else on earth feels like rain. 

It isn’t just water from the sky. It is sound and silence combined, something far richer than white noise. The sensation is close to what linguists refer to as “mutual intelligibility:” the partial comprehension of a language related to your own. 

In the case of rain, it feels as though the comprehension should be there. But it always runs parallel to understanding – never intercepting. Rain balances a deeply intricate existence with a straightforward purpose – yet I am reminded it isn’t a creature of nerves and synapses. This untranslatable quality turns rain into an event that changes the world’s dimensions. 

A rainstorm defies mapping. It is a lesson in disorientation, remaking normal points of reference. Hard surfaces seem to float, waver, and disperse, while pliable surfaces, such as leaves, become prominent and heavy. Light scatters across, rather than illuminates, slick surfaces. Even the air seems literally out of its element. It becomes visible in waves or gusts of water, and the act of breathing feels akin to swimming. The line between earth and water is also blurred, as dust and surface debris are washed into streams while water sinks into the soil. 

As each separate element of the environment is coated in water, even the distinctions between similar phenomena are taken away. It becomes clear that the difference between a trickle and a torrent, a puddle and a lake, is only a matter of size. In details and behavior, they are identical. They act upon the world in the same way, regardless of scale. 

A rainfall event therefore seems to change the world because it changes the qualities we regard as static – the apparent touchstones of our environment. 

Like many disorienting experiences, this change in scale and space can be addictive. I used to take walks in the rain just to see the transformation. I do not believe I am alone in this urge – there are far too many “rainy day” recordings looping across YouTube, too many (or just enough) “rainy day aesthetic” images on Tumblr. But rain isn’t captured in a facsimile. It is far too complex a creature, a force. These things may substitute if you live in, say, Phoenix – like water for whiskey, as the saying goes. They do not begin to replicate the full sensory engagement of a rainstorm through its full life cycle. 

Rain is not a crafted experience. To stand in the rain is to pay perfect attention to everything that matters. In that moment, rain is the world. That is all.

(…but is it? Part 2, tomorrow.)

“A Personal Statement of No More Than One Page”

I find myself in a ridiculous position. Perhaps you can relate? 

At various points in time, we are all in ridiculous positions. It begins with being born and continues, without letup, until we “shuffle off this mortal coil” (in the words of my father in a flippant mood). 

If I am truly being honest and thorough, it doesn’t end even then. Decay is a supremely fantastical spectacle. Even more fantastic is the reconstruction that occurs in the minds of others. Ask the “survived by” to relate their fondest memories, and you will be left looking around (Travolta-in-Pulp Fiction-style) for any resemblance to the deceased. 

I digress. You asked for a personal statement, not a birth-to-death statement. Presumably, then, you are only interested in the before-and-after immediately relevant to your perspective on this moment in time. 

You want to know why. 

Why? Why I am a good candidate. Why I am a good fit. Why you want me, why you spend time reading this, why we have any reason to be connected (to intersect) beyond shared strains of DNA and probability in an (possibly?) infinite universe. Shall I mention the Drake Equation? 

(Note to self: I shall not. This is no more than one page and the critical analysis would require quite a few appendices and a bibliography.)  

The weight of this question presses on me. I am stacked, no more than a breath or a second in time, apart from others who share my atoms and desires. I am pressed between my past and future, the needs of the planet and the gaze of the sun. 

My great-grandmother was named Stella. She spoke Polish and English; she tricked history in appearance and procedure. Her daughter was Dolores (in the Spanish manner) – “sorrowful one”. Her daughter had a son. Then her daughter married. Then her daughter had a son and then a daughter. Her son died, her daughter lived; her first-born son was lost (until he found himself). Her daughter planted a rosebush when she couldn’t have a child, and found a child as she lost parts of herself. Her daughter had the name Rose, and another name besides; two parts, each separate and together, thorn that bleeds and flower that breaks walls. 

I write as history presses me forward. I write for what could be lost, not in the past but in the future: the futures that don’t yet know they exist. Show a future, and it becomes a possibility; speak a future with enough conviction, and it becomes a probability – like finding intelligent life. Just ask Dr. Drake. 

In this book, this world, 
We are each no more than one page – prelude to the next. Turn us.

Top Shelves Are Easy, It’s Conclusions I Can’t Reach

The title says it all. I’m 5’3 and determined: top shelves are easy. I’ve lived with tall roommates before, and they laugh like nobody’s business (well, really, it isn’t – but I digress) to see me stretch and jump and growl and climb on the counter. But I make it, every single time. I get what I’m reaching for. I’m proud of it, too. Top shelves are easy. 

Conclusions, now. If I could get the 6’-and-over crowd’s help, I would…swallow my pride and do so. In a roundabout way. Or maybe even a fairly direct way. Sometimes one’s pride must be sacrificed. If I could reliably summon forth a top-notch conclusion by ritual pride-sacrifice – listen, this place would look like an over-enthusiastic artist’s rendering of any Incan temple you care to discover. Sadly, conclusions do not seem to respond to summoning (ritual or otherwise). 

Instead, conclusions are like hard-of-hearing beagles. They happily romp around in the distance. They somehow always get further away the more you run after them. To all appearances, they are oblivious to your pursuit. This is why I have a betta fish instead of a beagle. This is also why I have a hard time reaching conclusions. 

And if I’m being honest, it’s not even that I have a hard time reaching conclusions. I wish the problem were that easy. Rather, it goes something like this: I have a hard time reaching conclusions because I have a hard time telling stories. 

This is because I don’t like stories. They are never true. Or rather, they are not true enough. They edit out so much; it’s an act of necessity, because you can’t show everything, and if you could no one would understand it. 

But I feel it is ethically questionable to decide that one portion of the story deserves to stay just because it will make a streamlined plot, a comfortable fit in a human-sized neural network. There are probably more interesting stories out there, for example, considered through an insect’s eyes. Just imagine the kaleidoscope plot lines twirling elegantly as mutually-contradictory events unfurl on opposite sides of your dragonfly eyes. 

It’s a crowded concept; it’s a riotous idea. It would not be fun to edit. It may (certainly would) be impossible to write. But it would save me from having to prioritize events, decide what should stay, and – Heaven forbid, we’re back here again – reach a conclusion about the whole messy business. 

You know, life doesn’t conclude. Of course it does, after a fashion – but then you discover it doesn’t. Hearts are mended almost as soon as they are broken, and broken many times before they are ever even made. Single-celled organisms thrive in the wonderland of cellular apocalypse. Neurons lose their spark and heartbeat stills…

And even after all that – I STILL CAN’T REACH A CONCLUSION –