The Thought-Catcher

The table was well lit by the morning light that came through the doors. The man was looking out the doors at the grass which was frost-tipped and brittle-looking in the cold.  The plate before him was full. His wife was done eating and was feeding their eleven-month-old son. At the far end of the table the four-year-old daughter said, “May I be excused?”
     "A couple more bites," said the woman.
     "But I'm full."
     "Fine," and the woman ignored the girl as she slid away.  The man turned to his wife and said, “I had a bad dream.” The woman was silent. At last she said, “Are you going to tell me about it?”
     “I want to.”
     “I think you should.”
     “I might blather.”
     “You won’t. But if you don’t want to tell me about it I understand.”

They were at the table.  The man was watching the afternoon like lava spread over the lawn. The woman said to him, “I wish you would tell me about your dream.” And the man thought, I have caught a butterfly and have pressed it and now am ready to share it. He said, “I dreamed I was pushing a wheelbarrow full of body parts, arms and hands, fingers, feet. I dump the limbs in a ditch and bury them....”
      Finally she said, “What a horrible dream.”
     “I know.”
     “It’s probably something you saw on TV.”
     “I don’t think so.”
     She stared at him.
     He said, “Walt Whitman wrote a poem titled The Wound-Dresser. I read it this morning. I had been carrying the dream thinking it was a memory from a past life or something crazy like that. Now I think I know better.” Peeking over at her he thought she was examining him like he was a rare insect. He went on, “I think our thoughts give off a signal, that our thoughts are broadcast on an invisible wavelength into the universe.”
      “Interesting,” the woman said, staring at her husband, blindly guiding a bite in the direction of the baby and missing his mouth. 
     The man said, “Walt Whitman was in his early twenties during the Civil War, and worked in the tents as a nurse-aid.” He leaned back. “I think I caught some of the stress he sent off during the war. Like it is all floating up there, and somehow I breathed some in.” He looked at his wife. She stared back at him. In her eyes was a searching. The boy said, “More,” and tapped his fingers, and without looking she guided a bite of fish into his mouth.             

Loving Scarlet

The island on the far side of the passage was thickly wooded and dark in the night save the glow in the windows of the houses along the shoreline.  It was late in August.  There was a light westerly wind and the clouds that had plagued the day were long gone.  Beside him on the balcony overlooking the water the girl kept her hands tucked under her arms.  He said to her, “See how the sun shines on the moon and then from the moon on the water?” and he took a long sip of wine thinking You fool.  Why must you always teach? 
     “Yes,” she said, “on the ripples.  How many do you think there are?”
     “Yes, that we can see.”
     “Not billions?”
     “Probably billions.”  He looked at her wineglass on the balustrade.  The glass looked in danger in the wind.  You have no idea, he said to himself.  You don’t talk to her in how many years and now you are with her and there is an uneasiness and you think it is something.  He looked over at her not moving his head and it suddenly struck him she was a woman of nearly thirty years and not the girl of sixteen.  He saw her eyes were on the water and the play of the rippled light was on her eyes.  He said quietly, “Scarlet.”
     “I thought about you, all these years.  I think about you.”
     “I’ve thought about you too,” she said lightheartedly and her eyes stayed on the water. 
     “Please don’t.”
     “Don’t what?”
     “Say things that are not true,” and her eyes had not moved.  But it is true, he thought.  I never embellish.  The only lies I tell are understatements.  He said, “Your birthday is April first.  Your favorite color is yellow, because it reminds you of summer.”
     She laughed.  “How do you remember that?”
     “I just do.  I remember a lot.”
     “Your birthday is November …”
     “December fifteenth,” he said and wondered if this meant she did not love him.
     “December fifteenth,” she repeated passively.  She was standing to his right and she turned to the right and looking inside at the party said, “I’m pretty chilly.”

Alone on the balcony he peered down at the wide river of water moving through the passage.  The moon glimmer on the water acted as a charm and he saw Scarlet spread across the water as he had seen her spread across his bed on a night years ago.  When you were eighteen, sixteen seemed old enough, he told himself.  Now you see her out there as a girl and you feel ashamed looking at her.  But you will die with this.  He took up the wineglass she had abandoned on the balustrade and he tilted it to his mouth and tasted the cool glass and bitter drops.

What is it, man?” said an old friend.  They were at the table with the food and the punch and the bottles of wine.  James kept peeking at Scarlet on the far side of the room.  The man she was talking with touched her elbow.  She was smiling.  “I’m sorry,” James said.
     “You look lost,” his friend said.
     “I think I am.”
     “You know it happens all the time.”
     “What’s that?” asked James.
     “I mean, it’s boring—you not being over Scarlet.  How long were you guys a couple, like two months or something?”
     “Excuse me.”  James got up.  In the bathroom he washed his hands and then dabbed his face.  Scarlet was at the door when he opened it.  Their eyes met for a blink.  “I have to go,” she said.  “It was nice to see you.”
     “You too.”
     “Walk me to my car?”

Out by her car she said, “I should be in bed and asleep.  My flight leaves really early.”
     “I'm sorry.”
     “It’s my fault.  It was good to see everyone.”  He went to open her door.  She touched his hand.  “James, if what you said is true, if you’ve really thought about me over the years, what have you thought?”
     “That I wished I knew you," he said.  "Every day I regret what did not happen between us.”
     “You took my virginity.  What else did you want?”
     I love you, he thought.  I love you.  Let me kiss you.  Let me tell you.
     “Goodnight,” she said and opened the door.  She got in.  He stood there feeling a calm like still air. 

The long driveway was narrow and tunnel-dark under the tall evergreen trees that leaned over it.  She drove fast up it and onto the road.  You are a liar, she thought.  Have I thought about you?  Of course.  Ten thousand times.  But you hurt me once.  No man will ever hurt me more than that.  Who are you, James?  She wanted to go back and ask.  Yet she had to get to bed.  Her flight departed incredibly early.  “And we never really knew each other,” she said softly to herself.  “What I feel cannot be love.”                  


Yosemite, an Entry

     Then we were out of the car and I was better.  The air was rich with sage and the grass tall and the sage all around us.  I broke off a bloom of sage and held the buds to my nose.  I clutched the branch as if to have it forever.  I lost it that night.  But the sun was warm in the valley.  We trod on a wooden walkway over the grass and over the sage and mulberry that grows thick in the heart of the valley.  El Capitan thrusted up over us like a testament.  The granite was streaked with black and vertical gashes cached with minerals knifed down the walls.  The valley went on and on.  River flows plunged over sharp ledges spraying finales of snowmelt far down into mist.
     I felt good of a sudden.  Maybe it was he was behaving or my back feeling better or leading on foot or being out of the machine and gawking at it all or everything and it an accumulation.  Adventure I said to him.  It smells good.  Hold the sage to your nose.  Smell it and smell the leaning tower of rock like an ancient achievement and not chaos who is the giver of beauty in nature even if there is no God.
     No God.  Look at this valley I said to the boy who was happy too out of the car and running through the grass until it was too tall to run.  Walking and then the thick hairs of the earth rashing his face and she saying we better go back the grass too tall and we better get going if we are going to see it all or even a lot of it we have to go now.
     Go now fine back in the car and he did not fight.  Adventure cartwheeling in his head soft and curly and you are a good hiker good job Daddy.  The sign.  Read it.  Mountain lion habitat keep children close and we kept him close alright I held his hand and the rocks were covered in moss and behind any of them we did not know and I said it is like the book you know the part I will fear no evil for thou art with me yes and we struggled through it and he said good job my Mommy good job Daddy.  The old path our great grandparents walked was cobblestone up through the trees like the streets on the islands of Greece she said.  We had no fear of the mountain lion though he handed me rocks he wanted to take home and I held them thinking a primitive weapon to smash the skull of an attacking beast.
      At the mirror lake the naked back of half dome was ineffable.  Its massiveness and tallness was like something I do not know but the boy saw it Amazing so cool he said and yes it is good to have words to say just or close to what you feel and he will be okay I thought.
     By the time we made it back to the car the day was I guess over.  He had hiked two or even three miles and good for the little boy.  He will be better than me.  Yes better.  Love nature more truly.  Have memories more fully of things I never knew as a toddler or ever even now for you can only experience some things that wondrous way if you are a child and if you missed it you did and better move on and spin it to be a positive because you can make things better for your children.
     I have trouble with the name of the big waterfall we looked at before driving back to Fresno.  I was more worried about keeping the boy safe not falling off the bridge and there were a lot of people and the bridge for picture taking did not seem safe for children who all like to get close to the edge.
     At one point when I was up at mirror lake I thought it would be nice to be alone up here with my notebook so I could capture it in words and not try to recreate it later like now.  I think it was good though to hold the hand of the boy who will know more than I know and to keep or try to keep the woman with child happy for I felt my ancestors did in the forests and hills of Germany and maybe the natives here in America this sort of thing where you walk in the midst of cliffs and thunderous falls through the trees and mossy rocks and up the slippery rock slopes to the supine lake shallow to cross barefooted with the child in your arms and the woman saying wait wait I am going to take a picture.
     I saw the smell of sage standing there with my fingers to my nose in the wild tall grass in the heart of the valley of the gods.  I tasted the black streaks down the granite walls and heard the rock hardening and condensing under the weight of the universe.  I felt the twisting tree trunks screwing upward off the steep hillsides.  I saw the wind how it moved the clouds in the afternoon so on the far slope towns of trees were dark green and others light green and the white in the sunlight on the pine needles and the shadow how it clarified the peaks of the trees.  Even the buses and the people more interested in Oh who am I to say what except I was happy when we got there and on our feet and the grass curious against our legs.  He fell once and cried I fell on purpose and pretended to cry and he said you okay Daddy.  Just get up.  I got up and we went on through the woods with the rock in my hand.  I held him all the way down to the car.  My muscles are older than I am.  I just locked him in my arms and clopped down the road that most people take to the lake of words cannot describe beauty.  


Pretty Prétentieux

Girasols in Jerusalem
In June,
Summersaults on Solstice
With Sumerians,
Pistils in Pelasgian lands
And Perseus

Embosom Elohist and

… Embark!
… Embark!
… Embark!

Illegitimate, inoculated isotopes,
Divisive, devitaminized, devaluating,

Christ, speak!


The Collage

He had painted a grand collage of all the things he wanted and then hung the thing above his bed.  Every night it was the last thing he saw; every morning the first thing.  He carried a picture of it everywhere he went.  The things in the picture were always on his mind.  He had heard it was possible to will things into existence.  If you thought about the things you really wanted long enough and hard enough they would appear in your life.  Like magic.  Call it will-power.

After years of willing the things he wanted most were still but images.  Two-dimensional.  Intangible.  Mere apparitions that kept him awake at night.  He could not stop staring at the life he craved.  The house, the car, the view, the solitude, the freedom, a life where the types of flowers are picked and planted, and of course Japanese maples, and cherry trees that shed white-pink petals along the long and straight driveway and old weeping willows in a random manner about the field and the willows if not planted soon would never be tall enough for him to find happiness, and the house like a castle with marble floors and a tall iron fence to surround everything which in the picture is perfect.  The gorgeous wife always submissive, and the handsome son trying to be like Father.

Mind full of images like a bowl full of rain overflowing like a bath while the toweled bather loses her mind in the kitchen cleaning or on the internet searching and I thought it was good to visualize the future exactly as you want it.  Thoughts direct action.  Thoughts have gravity.

Finally he tried to stop visualizing the things he desired.  But he could not.  A thought kept running through his mind: sometimes some things take time.    

The Brown Pelican

     The pavement was hot, and he hurriedly put on his sandals.  The air had to be ninety, he thought.  At least ninety.  Back when he had lived here--how many decades ago now?--it had never felt this hot.  But surely it had been, he told himself.  He was just more sensitive now.
     "Thirty years," he whispered, and he was not lying to himself, give or take a few years.  "Too damn long," he said, again to himself, because he had no one left to talk to.
     He made labored steps across the parking lot.  Having rented a car, he did not have his handicap parking pass, and by God he was not going to risk  a ticket.  He was stiff, especially stiff, from the plane ride from Minneapolis and the drive up from Los Angeles.  And the cheap rubber flip-flops did not fit his feet right. And the sun was round and hot in the middle of the pale blue sky.  But he was happy, despite it all.
     The ocean was right there--he could hear it--and the sand was dark like he remembered, and the cliffs too were the same, and it was not like he had felt perfect and the world had been perfect three decades ago when he had gone for a run in the morning along this stretch of shoreline after that long night of Bombay Sapphire and vomiting and getting carried to the mattress on the floor in the room he shared with his best friend who was gone now.
     He felt lousy now as he did then, though he did not drink liquor like that anymore.  But it was a similar feeling.  It was the hangover of old age, the accumulation of all the toxin induced hangovers of youth--the permanent hangover of a youth lived as if it would never end.  It had, of course, and it seemed there had been no in-between--though surely there had--youth and then bam: old age.  "Middle-age was old age," he whispered.  "I was uncomfortable then as I am now, except it was worse, because I was a slave and could not do what I wanted."
     He took big, slow, bent-leg steps up over the bluff, and then was blown onto his bottom by the sea-breeze.  He saw the ocean, but he did not see it.  He was saying to himself, "I feel like a convict whose been let-off a life sentence for no other reason than he is too old and impotent to do any harm to anyone or anything."  A wave broke, a black-green seaweed-filled little wave, and the water foamed and churgled and broomed over the very dark sand.
     He could go no further.  The sand was dry and loose on the bluff, and he clawed up handfuls and let it grain by grain run out of his hands and into the wind.  He slid his purple-veined feet back out of the sandals and lay back.  The white-yellow sun was directly overhead.  "Please, God," he said, staring at the sun: black dots invaded his eyes, "take me back."  He closed his eyes.  The hot sun was red in his eyelids.  He lay there.  Nothing happened.  He had come here to die, but now even death denied him.
     From near-out at sea,  a brown pelican flew toward him, soaring cautiously, ten feet or so above the water.  He was sitting up, bewildered by fate, and he watched the bird.
     "A message," he whispered.  "My angel."
     The brown pelican flew over him, and he felt something wet on his head.  He touched it, looked at what was on his finger, and shouted, "Then let the sharks have me!"  And he went to stand and lost balance and rolled down the small hill of sand.
     Now, in the surf, the cold ocean water made the white hair on his legs stick straight out.  He recalled how, as a youth, he had bravely trounced into the sea.  Now he was timid, shocked by the cold, scared of sharks.  Scared of the sharks, though he wished to die.  Then the irony pierced him like an arrow through the heart.  The foamy, green-white result of a mad little wave soaked him to his belly button.  Every muscle in his aged body tensed, and he whispered, "I guess that's why I want to die, because I'm afraid of the sharks!"  And he dove headfirst into the surf, and gripped the rocky bottom and kicked and spat and breathed.  He swam out past where he could touch, and the water was very cold.  He became frigid, all joints worked poorly.  He yelped, "Help!" and many of the people on the beach heard him and stopped walking their little dogs and pointed at him.  No one jumped in the water.  "Call nine-one-one," one woman shouted, as her dog squealed at the sound of the dying man.
     "What can I do?" they said, as the dogs barked and the phones rang and he slid under water.  Frantic, panicking, he thought only of survival.  Primitive, mammalian ideas gripped his mind.  But death is what the human in him wanted, so it was good no one sloshed out in his or her expensive clothes and saved him.
     On the shore, the brown pelican, beak loaded with a minnow from the estuary, soared over the little bluff, where the rubber sandals sizzled and softened under the sun.        

The Beauty in the Block

At the Hilton in Los Angeles the other night, I was tired but not exhausted and wanted to do a little writing before going to bed. I feel incomplete at the end of the day if I have not written; I have trouble falling asleep.  I believe Friedrich Nietzsche when he says, "Ten truths you must find during the day; otherwise you will seek truth during the night, and your soul will remain hungry."

So, feeling truth-deficient for the day, I pulled out my bright green, wide-ruled notebook and black uni-ball and sat down.  Unedited, this is what I wrote:

Sometimes it is good to just sit and write when you do not know what exactly you want to write about.  You take pauses between sentences, there is no stream, it is more like a light snow of thought, that may or may not stick.  It is a pretty thing to say I will write just to write.  Words are beautiful.  The love of words is beautiful in and of itself.  I love the word beauty.  I would love to name a daughter Beauty, but Heaven knows someone will never let that happen.  But I could call my girl Beauty, to me that could be her name, though on paper it was Scarlet or Juliet or Kirsten.  I could call her Beauty all the days of her life while I am in it, and after I am gone she will remember me that way; that I thought her beautiful each day, and when she looks into the mirror never will she question whether she is ugly.  There will be peace about her way.  She will know she is not ugly and quiet will be her thoughts of her own beauty, there will be no need for her to proclaim, I am beautiful! for I told her so over and again and once more.  She will be to me beauty personified.  Beauty in the flesh, the humble goddess, feeling in whispers by the river's edge.  To rest in the tall grass, marveling even at the friendly spiders, kissing up at the sun, and mostly her eyes on His small and glorious creations, breathing in the violet and the honeysuckle, will be plenty for her soul.  My Beauty, form of goodness and truth, in balance amidst the imperfections everywhere, and she someday with long gray hair, the way I hope my wife will be, but that is far away and now you see: when you sit and write because you love to write, Beauty whispers in your ear and the snow falls in the stream and carries you to Heaven or near and for a moment you cannot help but to believe life to be a dream, and the ink in your pen the cream.