Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In April

Gavin, Raylan, Cole, Aiden, Connor. These are the names we've talked about. I've been taking turns calling the son in her belly by each, and she laughs at me each time. She laughs, but we ruled out a few that way in less than six hours. She is beautiful when she laughs, and shakes her head, ducking eyes and chin in denial of being called beautiful. Bulbous she says. Beautiful, I say, only more so with the son of many names in her belly.
Last night on the phone she told me she loves me. We'd hung up, and I'd whispered in the darkness and continued to drive. Then she called me back, her voice rich with confession and fear. The same voice I'd heard just a few mornings before with news that could take the shine off any new penny. I tensed, and I waited, while the darkness raced away above and ahead of me for eons, and she said “I love you”.
These are not the same woman. Both have a baby in their belly, one might be mine, the other definitely not. To say that I am lost would be a lie, I know exactly where I am. Sitting in a room, in a falling down house, drinking beer and smoking. Miles from a woman I loved, full up with a son that is either mine, or not. More miles from a woman I love increasingly, her body more stranger than friend to mine, also pregnant. I am also terrified.
I could raise a son, a half of divided parents who still like one another but who burned love down and pissed in it's ashes. I could love a woman having a child not my own, her child a part of her I could love as well. I do not know if I can do both of these things at once.
The past year has plumbed the depths of my strength, and found the places where I fail. Where I draw into myself, and cannot get the work done. Where I slob for a time, or drink, or simply sit and think too much. I found those places on my own, fighting to keep a relationship that had turned to poison, and sacrificing a business, and anyone who wasn't her. I found the place where I scream insults, and the terrifying moment where she puts her arms over her head and cries “Don't hit me!” when that was the last thing on my mind but only I knew that. I built a library of things to play over in my head, and wish and hate and fear about and at. All that, I found under the weight of just me, just fading love, just a terminally ill family member, just a business, just two-thousand acres of ruin. And now, here I stand, about to have a son. In love with a woman who is growing full and luminous with child of her own. Every waking breath is full of fear, and every sleeping dream full of twisted apparitions that bring waking.
We'll find out the paternity in three days, or five. Friday, or Monday, when the results come in the mail. When I'll know if the son in her belly is mine as well. For months now, all five months, I've prayed in that hobbled way atheists do, that it was mine. For reasons of faith, in myself above all others, and reasons of deep primal urges. The same urges that sang high when I emptied myself deep within her, shriek and wave in monkey-like demand of satisfaction. Because I have never let go of anything, without leaving deep claw marks in it. And now, for all that, I am desperate in my hope that it is his instead. My best friend, her man now. I want the names she and I discussed to be not my decision now, but his. I am ripped down the middle by fear, and love, and desire. I am the anti-Buddhist in this, moved by all the desire of the kingdoms of men, and all the fear it breeds. And I am not lost, I am right here.

On the train headed home now. Watching the city I love roll away, and knowing I'll never be here for any of the same reasons again. Two years ago she moved up here, rich with the beginnings of a car full of belongings and sunshine on new walls. Two years now, and I'm moving on. I was never here, in the ways I should have been, and never there like I needed to be. Two years torn between living. Riding this train back and forth, and now riding it away. It's not that last time I'll ride, and not the last time I'll be here, but the last time for any of the old reasons. The sun is high and bright, the air clearer than yesterday, and I am clean as I've ever been.
The baby in her belly is not mine. We got word late in the day, yesterday, and I felt the line go taught and then rip away. The last hold between the great love of my middle twenties and wherever it is I'm going now. I cried, and left four knuckle made cracks in the doorframe, and then I joyed and shook loose and clean. I bought whiskey, and smoked cigars, and spoke into the darkness and light of miles of copper and fiber. I told the far away woman, also growing and beautiful, that I was loose upon the stones, and headed her way.
Going through old writing, I found a poem I'd forgotten from years ago. And I'd written there about the pack I've worn on my back, the last seven years now. It was newer then, less taken to the ends and depths of everything, and at the time so very empty. It's been filled, and emptied, and torn and sewn again and again since then, and now it has been replaced. Two days ago I bought another, newer and better. The old pack, I bought to go to Georgia, and the new one I bought to go there once again. In that old poem, I wrote
“If I had something to pack
and somewhere to ride
and a pair of arms waiting for me at the end
I’d be rich”
and now I see that I am. Whatever comes.

I am here in April, a spring month, returning to center, stripped away and moving forward. I'll never be a man who practices clean living, but I am cleaner now and it's beginning to feel very good.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Weight of Her That Would be Familiar in my Hands

My friend Amanda walked into my hotel room the other night. Through the door and past the foot of the other bed, never waking the other friend sleeping there. She sat on the foot of my bed, the weight of her that would be familiar in my hands, pressing down the soft mattress. Dressed in white, she smiled and spoke. Not hearing her, I raised up, turning my ear to the fullness of her lips. Still not hearing her, I looked and of course, she wasn't there.
She was seventeen or just barely eighteen when we met. She worked at the coffee bar on campus, and was beautiful in ways that made me afraid. I bought coffee, kept my eyes down, and only looked up again to watch her from far away. Friends sat at the bar, I sat with them, and I made friends with the girl on the other side. We walked, sat together and bellowed “Damnit, Janet!” and “Slut!” during Rocky Horror, played naked in the Rio Grande. She called me Cowboy. She was my roommate for awhile, and there were nights we drank in the kitchen, laughing and dancing, and nights she sat on my bed, half naked in my arms, weeping. Some nights, the same nights. She taught herself Latin, because she wanted to, and worked leather in her spare time. I've missed, for years and all the worse now, a leather armband she made me and I lost somewhere. Often I watched her start dancing alone, in dark and in the light, and bring the whole room around, everyone moving and laughing.
I have so many memories, they out number the glitters of fast clear waters. Of her laughter, of her small hands improperly but enthusiastically wrapping my Forty-Five the day I taught her to shoot, of her body, her mind and the whispers from her lips. I remember her so many ways, and among them, under dark clouds. When you're nineteen, there are days that are so fucking hard it hurts just to be alive. They are, until you're actually an adult leading a grown-up life and find out different, the worst. I was there to see Amanda have some of those days, and I remember times when, in the face of all else, she could cheer herself up by getting dolled up. She'd come into the house trailing dark fumes, only to go into the bathroom and start putting on makeup, and come out smiles.
One night this past July, in the little travel trailer she'd gypsied across more than a few states in, Amanda cleaned herself up, stripped to her most beautiful state, put on her makeup and lay down naked and shot herself in the head. She was happy, as far as anyone knew, and had plans with friends for the days that followed. Long ago I came to love the questions in life, and since I've been glad of that, because there are damn few answers.
I had grown a bit distant from her by the end, but had often had the thought that, as interesting as she was now, not even twenty-five, she would be fascinating in her thirties and beyond. If you keep a list of things you'll never see, it will always run ahead and outstrip the list of what you have. It is best to not take an account, but the hand is forced at times. Having been distanced from her, by other loves and an impatience with certain immaturities, there are parts of her living that were unknown as well, but that is so different. With the living you can, at the least, always turn and find that they are somewhere, familiar and breathing. The dead are the emptiness in our panning of the crowd. You can't roll back the days and go to her, tell her you love her or ask her why. This is universal, an unwritten law of physics: The mechanics of dealing with it.

As we get older, we suffer less for childish pettiness and the immature anguishes of our late teens and early twenties. Not that we suffer less, but we suffer less for the cheap and bullshit things that once seemed so important. In this still young awareness, of our selves, of the important, we see those who've been there with us for so long. Some people and ideas never last, they fall aside as we move forward, while others stay. The lessons we learn from those people are what has carried us, and if we are lucky, there are a few people who are still there when we get here.
Amanda was the second of my friends to die, in as many months. Paul, a friend and mentor, passed away unexpectedly the month before. And just a couple weeks before that, two of my dogs were poisoned. This summer has been a wave of absence, days on end of looking expectantly and adjusting to the emptiness in rooms, corners and telephone lines. Empty hands wrapping around formless air, in hope of the shapes and weight of the familiar.
I keep finding out that it is in the autumn when the lessons of the past year begin to sink in. This is when I grow, realign, and drive anew from experience. This is when everything comes, on turning leaves and cool eddies of air, from event into learning.
What I've learned now is something I'd long parroted in my own head, but which now is mine. I own this knowledge, as we all must. This is all very fleeting. The beautiful and the ugly, the naked, the clothed, the loved, the hated. You aren't here for long, and they are here for less. Tear off big pieces, splash in the waters, and drink mouthfuls of whatever tastes good. You cannot structure, moderate, or responsible death into abatement. You cannot abstain enough to not die. Abstinence and structure are the nature of death, as it is the only promise, the only fixed thing. We live within it's confines, and that is structure enough. All you can do is live.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


I'm falling in love. Sometimes I fall fast. Sometimes I fall slow. Most times, I can't tell. This is one of those times. I've fallen in love with the train. Its stinking, roaring, mass hurtling along has charmed me, taken from me, opened my eyes and given to me. The train is filled with humanity, all its trash, stories, tears, smells, hopes and inescapable realities. When we ride, we go with people we might otherwise never meet, companions we would never choose on the road. The train does not follow the roads though, it is the disruption and ruin of roads, and travels its own line. A line fixed in place, spiked to the earth in case it might otherwise try to move, because the places it runs are not necessarily kind or wholesome. The rail is fixed to places of waste, degradation and abandonment, thus passing tie by tie across truth and among beauty. Things otherwise unseen.

When I get on, I see the old man sitting by the window across the aisle from where I like to sit. I say old, but he is anywhere from forty to eighty. His skin is pale, a melanin rich hide disused to the sun. His clothes, a white wife beater and blue shorts lay over him with a looseness of hand-me downs, or lean times. We talk, eventually, and he tells me today is his first day on the outside in nine years. He doesn't say what he was down for, but he shows me drawings he did while he was inside. They are all for his daughter, made in the half-light glow of the block after lights out, with the stubs of golf pencils hidden by day. Pencils were contraband he tells me, and it was hard drawing with only the last inch or so. The sketches are masterful, of beautiful Hispanic women, their long flowing hair drawn across the entire pages. There the graphite is laid on in fine long strokes until it shines and has the texture of hair. Across cheeks, it is carefully smudged and erased, to give blush and dimple to the faces. Each sketch is a different size, on torn pieces of copy paper and blue lined notepaper. He speaks with pride, and confidence, of the making of the sketches, the stealing of paper and pencils. When he says he's going to give them all to his daughter tonight, his voice shakes and his eyes wet, though only the smallest amount.
While we're talking, I take off my glasses to wipe away some dust, and he see's the birthmark, a single dark freckle really, below my left eye. He touches his teardrop tattoo, and with a smile tells me I have the killers eye. I have no hope, I gave it up, so I just nod and say maybe.

The pale gray concrete ties, in multitude beneath the rail, are as bones of some ancient colossus windswept from dark volcanic sands. This is a desert carved out of another, the railroad right of way barren and scattered with the loose debris of industrial function. Between the rails like ribs, and the cottonwoods, this journey is a skeletal one. The trees in summer have burned, and not regrown. In the coming winter, they will be barren and stark white. In ancient graves are the altered forms of children, held from birth to be sacred offerings, their bones twisted and misshapen by bindings. These trees are like those bones, nothing that can be known beforehand, all angles different, unexpected and sinister. The rail is ordered, a mechanistic cruelty. The trees are laughter, along the river, their ghastly twists natural and always returning to leafy greenness. There are bones, and then there are bones.
There is a lie beyond these windows, that we free of the signs of human presence. Yet it is that very thing we ride in and atop. The train does not move through empty wastes, but rather is and is surrounded by the debris of people. Broken and thrust from the sand, like more old bones, gas station drink cups, broken electronics and indistinguishable refuse. These things scatter the holy lands, beside sheep carcasses and car bodies burnt and rusting. Are these things bereft of meaning, apostasies in the sacred dirt for not being killed pots or real bones? Or are they the only objects which carry the human truth?
No land is a waste, until someone sets foot on it and declares it so.

Along the train tracks there is much truth in the land, that protected yet rarely inviolate right-of-way. Down against the bricks and among the weeds are beds of rotten cloth, soiled sleeping bags and scavenged foam. The very same materials as beds of plenty, but stripped apart and ruined, brought down to fluid stained fundament. In some of the beds are actual bones, decorated with jerked strips of failed flesh. The winds will open these bundles, and play the weightless, waterless, lifeless tatters. Prayer flags for still living losers, asleep in stolen beds, the spirit of the dead ground into the remnants beneath them.
These things are beautiful, and I am glad to see them, these gifts of loss and misery. I would not be able to, if not for riding the train. This great machine, this diesel devil, iron horse, this beast of will and smoke. I am in love with this thing, in its beauty and filth, for all it passes through, and all it carries.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meaning in Accident

There is a piece of clay in my house. About the size of a Kiwi fruit, and shaped vaguely like one that's been a bit squashed. It is dingy-white and red, a natural clay found not far from here, and harder than stone. Never having seen a fire, it was age that hardened it. Being worked, at a nearby clay works, it was one day dropped and never again picked up.
In its surface, indented a small depth, is a perfect human thumbprint, its whorls and ridges as hard as the hubs of hell. A thousand years and change, and the thumbprint is perfect to the touch, not mating with my own but rough against it. A human presence, physical, warm if left in the sun, cold if left in the shade. To touch the dead, all I have to do is turn to the cabinets and take down this artifact. To touch the living, all the dead have to do is wait. What meaning exists, must exist in accident. Nothing with purpose could carry so much weight.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Language - Stephen Fry, with Kinetic Typography

I rarely post others content here these days, trying to avoid lazy posting (lazy posting, or no posting, quite the dilemma), but this is delightful and I anticipate the small audience I have here will appreciate it.
Do take the time for it, please. I took the time to let it load on a 36Kbps dial-up connection, with less stability than Libya, and it was worth it. I'll have to download the whole original audio at some point as well.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The first tool we want from our fathers toolboxes is the hammer
It is a tool of youth, young men bashing the world to shape
We learn first to strike and smash, and then to drive nails
Leaving dents and spikes in everything, and then more occasionally building
Rambling leaning furniture, haphazard sculptures of adolescence
our work shows perhaps talent, but always enthusiasm
blemished with the touch of too much, too fast
Ragged cuts and the clinched nails of inexperience, poorly placed
and at the last turned back and driven over, where some hold fast forever
because boundless energy and small pay can earn anything, but enough time

Some of us never survive their days as inchoate men
and those who do, coming to a quieter place of ourselves
with fuller choice of tools, are held fascinated in sudden moments
by a hammer, and memory of singular approaches to the world
In those moments the wind, even in still rooms, dances our hair
and whispers the names of those we've known who will always be young

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Marks Left on Tools

My girlfriend recently gave me a very nice handmade knife from the 1970's. Made by a small shop in Whitefish Montana, long out of business, the knife is in excellent condition. The near mirror polish on the blade hardly marred by scratches, and the edge was untouched by a stone or use since its final rouged-buffing at the makers bench. For something approaching forty years old, the knife remained essentially new. The design of the knife is simple, a modified drop-point hunting knife, with pinned wood-laminate handle scales. It carries in a hand-stitched leather sheath, of a quality of workmanship not always common to even custom knives. Well made through and through, it is a tool; An object of combined elements of purpose. And yet, it has gone the decades since its making unused.
I am bothered by this newness of things meant to be used. There is no poetry in disuse of fine tools. It is the death of intent and meaning, an act against life to always rest a thing meant to be worked with.

On my workbench there live a few tools of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers, from the L.S. Starrett company. They are not new, in any sense. Most have passed a century. All have been used in the numerous tasks of a machinist, for lifetimes now. As machinists tools, they are exceedingly precise, and still have sharp edges, fine points and little slop or wiggle in their moving parts. These tools were made in a time before computers, when math was done by hand and mind, and the most precise work was that of men who manipulated machines themselves. The precision of these tools was artistry of purpose. Tools finely made, so they might be used in making other things that would be used. They have lasted not because they were put away and never taken down, but rather because they were acted upon and with as intended. A tool used is, of necessity and responsibility, a tool cared for.
The use of tools imbues them with an even greater richness, from the users knowing of them, the oils of his work and himself in their fine knurling, the experience of what he can do with them. The care of tools is a natural result of this. We care more deeply for that which we know, and value through experience, because we wish to preserve that which preserves us. Good tools, like good lovers, make our desires possible, our wills able to be wrought, their touch fuels our engines, and we care for them, or we die alone and empty. It is a lesson we learn, those of us who know it, just in time.

I sharpened the knife she gave me. The buffed factory edge, though shiny and new and perfect to see, was not keen when I took it up to use. Stoning the edge to a shaving sharpness left it uniformly and finely scratched where it had been as mirrored as the blade, and to a collector (those ill preservers) less valuable. Sharpening and using the knife is an act of being alive. Touch and pressure and wear are real and whole, and nothing good exists absent of them. Nothing good is unmarked by the passing of time.
Our tools, the objects in our lives we call valuable and their condition through time, are markers of ourselves in the world. If our tools are given over to rust and devastation, all we leave for the world is brokenness and useless oxidization. Ruined tools are things that perhaps should never have been. Tools that are unmarked, boxed, shelved and protected in perfect newness, never truly were. Only things used, worn, marked by process and care carry any valuable weight. The marks we leave on tools, are the marks we leave on the world.