Two Faces

opposites_attractThere is a raw unsettling awareness which rips the very fabric of defense away and leaves a body open to the dread of utter annihilation. It is so much more than a foreboding of calamity and disaster; for it gives not its moniker – it just is. It sweeps in quickly as if a polar wind had been plucked from the cold Arctic tundra and somehow sent swirling angrily into a sunny afternoon where at once the calmness of a summer’s day becomes a mad frigid dance with death.

What’s more it cannot be explained away. Indeed, it cannot be explained at all. Hope is immediately abandoned. Purpose has no purpose. All that sits with relevance and importance now pales against the absurdity of living, the useless maniacal struggle to move one leg in front of the other, one thought to follow the next, one day to follow another, a mundane repeatable procession of forgettable events and situations, soon lost to antiquity. Only despair remains. It is preordained as the sun might shine, the stars might twinkle in the evening sky, the air itself might allow breath.

There is a euphoric bewilderment to all of creation. Love itself seems plucked from the bosom of humanity and now wrapped around your soul. You are joined to the oneness of it all, the grand design, the sparkling threads of humanity, the eternal bliss of being. The connection is willful and real, such absolute knowledge of being together could not be conjured by mere desire

It cannot be fabricated by a wish. Nor need it be; for it comes when it is least looked for; it sits there and pounces on those open for its arrival. There is no end to how magnanimous its sharing, and no matter how much is taken there is always more. All it asks in return is the jubilation, the perfect feeling of serendipity, the mad embrace of a returned lover, the gushing fullness of a life with purpose and design. It is preordained as the sun might shine, the stars might twinkle in the evening sky, the air itself might allow breath.

Into the Darkness

snow stormLanding was but one of his concerns. The second winter storm of the year had come riding in on the cold artic air some hours ago. The whiteness filled the skies as darkness fell upon the land. Those trees of summer, slight against weight, had long ago dropped their leaves in anticipation of such a happening; only the stoic evergreens stood tall and straight, boughs flush and thick, well insulated against the storm.

The first of the snows skated across the ice along with the bone chilling wind, and clumps of snow piled against one side of the huge lake, doing all it could to clime the banks and move further into shore. As the storm grew in intensity, small islands of snow mounds formed on parts of the frozen vastness, and now refused to move at all. This was the darkest time of year, and the coldest.

Of course, he saw none of this below. He found himself in the midst of the swirling storm but a short time ago. No GPS. Why bother now after all these years—full speed ahead to a destination that required his attention. Plus, he knew enough that the danger was slight, if impossible to predict. Most people would be home, warm and safe, tucked in their beds. Besides, his worrying about place and circumstance would be nothing more than a distraction. He had to do what he had to do.

He also knew enough, that getting there was a certainty of sorts. He had never failed before; and sometimes he even wondered if the travel had anything to do with him at all. It was not like he was alone, though there be no one else to talk to at the moment. Still, the mission required a team. He might be the one responsible to find an entryway; but not unlike a car race where the driver looks to be the only necessity, all the preparation, the skilled maintenance as they drove the race said much about the need for a multitude of people. So it was with him.

He was lost in the reverie of the moment when a jolt grabbed his senses. He brushed the snow from his brow and peered out to where he might be. He concluded the jolt had not been loud enough for anyone inside to hear, and he stepped lightly into the new fallen snow. A smile spread out across his face. He had much to do tonight. He always found it a good sign that his first job involved his traditional approach.

He took the sack and dropped down. It never failed to amaze him that for all his girth he was as agile as a mouse stealing through a maze of rafters. He barely touched the sides as he landed on his feet. No time to look around. He took the cookie from the plate, emptied the sack beneath the tree, and as quick as Jack Flash on a hot stove he sprang back up the chimney and jumped onto the sled.

He was on a mission to steal all the sadness from the world and spread joy and the holiness of giving to all. The red light of the lead reindeer shone through the swirling snows. The old man lifted up his head and bellowed, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas to all.”

Black Oak

me_as_a_raven_night

Black Oak
By
Russell Loyola Sullivan

There’s a Black Oak bending low outside my window
There’s a stone bridge on the river I can’t cross
There’s a road between two walls that’s going nowhere
There’s a place inside my head where I get lost

So I’m waiting for the raven in the darkness
I can feel him close his keen eyes out of sight
  That Black Oak gives him thirty places to hide
He won’t leave until I pay the price tonight

The wind begins to moan in the old Black Oak
To cover up the flutter of his wings
And a Gray wolf howls into a moonless sky
He knows the way to what the raven brings

No use weighing the giving and the taking
No going back to burn a yesterday
I got lost looking for tomorrow
Nowhere to go nothing more to say

Birches

birches_on_sunnydayPoetry is for women.

Well, there was a time before when poetry was for men too, as it is again. The word ‘poetry’ gets a bad rap in how it is aligned with…Roses are red, violets are purple, etc.” And of course, if someone calls it poetry, then I suppose it IS poetry. Some of the problem stems from the all-encompassing nature of the word ‘poetry’; I doubt a book with only three words would be called a novel, or a song….oh wait a minute, “The tide is high and I’m moving on…”

…and poetry is supposed to conjure up sweet things, like, write a poem to a sweetheart. Well, I assure you I could whip up a poem to an old sweetheart, and perhaps they to me, that would make a shiny tin roof, sitting in the hot sun on a sweltering august afternoon, go cold as ice.

I have always had an affinity for poetry. It came from my mother, but it actually stems back to my father. He was little schooled, as compared to my Mom, who was a teacher. He worked the store and the salmon factory that were his Father’s; his indenture commencing at a very young age when school came second to having to make a living. But I remember, on occasion when he gathered in the store, late in the evening just before closing, with a few of his friends. I’m sure a beer or two was being consumed, but I remember best the poetry: The face on the Barroom floor, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Sea Fever, et al.

Grown men, fishermen, with calloused hands and lined faces well before their age, reciting poetry from memory. I have no idea if they recited the entire poem, but I do remember that each went on for some time, and all the others would listen.

My mom would recite bits of poetry now and again. She was a lover of Robert Frost, as I am today.

Poems are like old friends. Yes, old songs stick to you, you could say. But an old poem not only sticks to who and where you heard it, it gathers a myriad of events along the way and creates a small but detailed memory of special moments in your life, not just one.

With little searching I can now take a poem that attached itself to me back when I was a youth, and, rolling it forward, I can linger on a variety of moments when I read it again, or recited it from memory.

Just yesterday my son posted a picture of him cutting down trees, and I remembered the poem ‘Birches’ as it is among my favorites. It immediately casts me back to where Len and I would climb the birched and swing down. I found the poem later in life, and I remember when I was not among trees that poem came to produce them for me. I remember when I knew I would no longer climb trees, and found the words of the poem a sweet memory; and now it marks a time when I find my son as a man who knows trees.

Women have always known the way. We men should learn to ask for direction.

Campfires

author-RLSCampfires hold a special place in my heart.

I have a deep appreciation for all the elements. In Newfoundland, growing up we would place a propeller on a stick with a nail, climb the nearest hill, and the wind on any day would send it twirling until our hands shook. On a special windy day, with breakers sweeping over the huge rocks protecting the cove from the full force of the gale, and waves crashing against the wharfs, boats and shore, our ‘leather-wind-bats’ would spin until the nail was hot enough to cook a sculpin.

Montreal offered up wonderful rain storms. They would roll in over the St. Lawrence, flat terrain waiting to be drenched. Dark clouds bellowing, air climbing, perhaps to try and escape the rain; to no effect as the lightning flashed, thunder rolled and the torrents of rain pelted the streets, buildings, cars and trees. None of that gentle rain, the drops were fat with intent to drown everything, bouncing on everything it hit, wanting to penetrate and soak deep. Nor was it a ten minute rain like the ones you get on a sunny afternoon in Florida; no warning, sun, rain, puddles everywhere, minutes later it was as if nothing had ever happened. The Montreal rain storms went on for hours some times, lightning flashing, the rain lessening up to see if someone would venture out, and then more thunder and the drenching would resume.

I like snow best in the mountains—ski country thought it need not have a mass of people which might steal from its attempt to cover everything and keep the world quiet, if only for a short time. Snow storms have their own appeal, but thick cotton-eared flakes of snow magically prepared with exact combination of moisture and temperature, minus the wind, offers the greatest silence. So quiet, you can hear the silence in each snowflake, a landing so gentle against the ground it resembles the seed pod of the dandelion plant floating off as just kissed by a loving breeze. Everything is white, pristine like a new suit of clothes for that first Holy Communion when the soul knows not of sin.

Campfires, no matter where they might find time to warm the air, are good to all seasons and settings. There is a warmth to campfires that is so much more that the fuel being consumed. It has a soul of its own that has little to do with the hotness of its being. Campfires cool and calm the evening, bring friends to gather round, forming the circle which is eternal, backs to the darkness, resting, rejoicing that the day has offered up the night. Rings of smoke send off prayers into the sky; flames flicker and fade, shades of blue where intensity resides, the soft pale yellow where the flame lets go of what must be given in offering.

Campfires might well offer light.

A Novel Idea

Book A Novel IdeaWe all love words. Some of the most memorable movies owe deference to a few good lines of speech. The Untouchables with Sean Connery, many a Clint Eastwood movie, all the way back to the “…frankly, my dear, [Scarlett] I don’t give a damn”, all stick in our memories as wonderful lines of dialogue, exact, though perhaps unexpected, for the particular setting.

Movies and television shows can only do so much of that as the plot would quickly fall to pieces as slapstick of whose line is the best. So, movie makers know their value but are careful to use them wisely and sparsely.

Some movies are great for the scenery. I am convinced I know every mountain range in New Zealand after viewing the Lord of the Rings series. Many sci-fi movies get by on magnificent animated scenes that dazzle the eye and the intellect with the brilliance so bragged about by Timothy Leary and his experiments with mind altering substances.

Plot is often minor in some movies. If present at all, it can certainly add to the effectiveness of drawing on your emotions and pulling you into the story for a few hours. We take the ride to escape for a short time, as well we should. Sometimes we are just entertained, sometimes we gain new and useful insight into other worlds, or as I mentioned at the outset we come away with a most memorable line of dialogue.

I love books so much more than movies, though I would be less than happy should only one or the other be available. The written word can take you anywhere, invite you to conjure up again and again settings even beyond the mountains of New Zealand, and without a quiver of redundancy or overuse, allow brilliant dialogue and description to flow with the force and magnificence of Niagara Falls.
Each sentence offers the possibility of being a precious gem of constructed beauty, a paragraph might conjure up a sculptured statue offering both creativity and brilliance, a chapter can toss you on a sea of peril, leave you safe upon a sandy beach, or better still, make you beg for the storm to abate when you reach the end of the chapter; and so you must go on to the next.

I find that reading something brings me closer. In a movie you see the mountain. In a book you experience the mountain as the author describes the dark step face of a mountain range, stretching into the clouds, and with a few words more, lets you feel the danger as he brings you up close to where the heroes slip hesitantly along the path…”slick ice and nowhere to hold on, the wind battered their bodies against the slippery face. They climbed along a few inches of steep trail that, should they fall, the sound of the scream would be lost well before the tumble on the searing rocks below.”

I find that novels invite you in. Like in a poem you are asked to provide your own interpretation. There is enough direction to move you along with the plot, but each reader will find a very personal path of circumstance and character, setting and emotion.

There is evidence in this brave new world that storytelling is hard-wired. Reading a story is not much different to the brain than actually experiencing what you are reading—yup, whiskey and women.

Rosebud

rosebud-imgStories on the radio, the view-master, sledding, catching sculpins.

I loved going for a ride in the skiff. My dad would bring along a treat and we would sit in the front and let the spray and the bouncing through the waves excite us beyond belief—better than any roller-coaster we had no knowledge off, more exhilarating than a wild dog sled ride, which we also cherished.

I miss ice-skating and roller skating, comics, the Hardy Boys.

A cold Pepsi after a ball game we played sometimes in the park, sometimes on the street—cars being a nuisance to our fun; first put the peanuts in the top and catch them as they fizzed out the opening; someone always called “drops”. We’d hang in the store until we were kicked out, but not before we purchased a Popsicle – orange my favorite.

The fish and chip shop was also a great place. There, pinball machines, you had to leave a quarter on the machine as a way to get in line—three games for a quarter. The fries were hot, a special kind of soggy, and begged for salt, gravy, and vinegar – that too had to be shared with who came along with you. Sometimes you shared the pinball as well, one flipper to each; harder to pass the ball but someone to blame when the game went by too quickly.

The first days of summer, after school was done, the first snow, and Christmas.

The first long kiss at a party where the night was still young and there was lots of time to try again. Holding hands on first dates, especially when she was the one who reached out. Sex changed all that, a little like finding out about Christmas, all the better as you could now get what you wanted sometimes, but something was lost, nonetheless.

Fireplaces, lots of beer, skiing.

There was a time when friends were everything. Routines, card games, dinners, vacations, parties, like a wild and free flock of birds. Find us here, now there, what’s new? Try this, hugs, come on let’s go out and have some fun. No cares, the child still in control, the adult slowly emerging but at a loss to embrace true purpose.

I remember work, dedication, stress, breaking things.

I don’t particularly blame the transition—necessary as such learning is. Such times come like the two sided coin; what waxes great on one side has not far to reach to the other side where disaster waits its turn. This time has little to do with what will be missed; rather it is the sculpting of your life. You remember where the chisel cut, where the hammer smashed, and should you be lucky enough, where a loving hand brushed the dust away.

Rain, snowy days, sunshine, fresh air, music, good books, dogs, saying goodbye, new beginnings, reaching out, so much more to do.

But people come first.

The Last Heartbeat

The Last Heartbeat

Let the light in one last time
No going back now
To where the sparrows sing among the boughs
Building nests beside ponds along the perimeter flush with spring rain
Fluttering, joining in nature’s theme of rebirth and beginning
Intent on life and creation.

                                                                                                                   A filtered light no less
What else could a window bring
DoveWhen far outside the woods moan against the storm to come
Wondering where the warmer days have gone
Colorless, pale against the full moon’s reflection of the other side
Hibernation, not yet dead.

Draw the curtain
Burial of all that must be
Seasons have no place where the spirit dwells alone
When one must leave the other
Eternal, not a cycle to move from light to darkness and back again
Final, the last beat of a heart.

Two Tramps

AutumnI read again “Two tramps in mud time” —a poem by Robert Frost. He wrote it with a setting of spring time. I, for some odd reason, seek it out as the autumn leaves begin to fall.

I won’t try and interpret the poem—I would be wrong in any case. I often see things that were never intended; while others might think out of the box, I am nowhere near the box. Still, anyone reading the poem will get a sense of purpose versus desire and how they might come together. As well I always come away from the poem with a keen view of the vantage point from where I look at things has much to do with what I see—and I should be cautious to always remember and understand where others are perched went they share an opinion.

My main interest in the poem is chopping wood. Gathering wood for the winter is so in tune with nature. Animals that hibernate will look for a den; the nutty creatures of the world gather what they must. Spring’s purpose is to explode with growth and possibility; autumn demands we prepare to sustain. Chopping wood helps me go into that frame of mind. Yes, there will be holidays; but they too should remind us of thanking the good earth for its bounty, and as darkness creeps in we will ask the spirits to protect us through the long night.

The first row of wood is always the best, as it says ‘yes’ you will have fire; there will be warmth as the cold winds whirls around the chimney, and the heat and smoke rise to forbid entry. After the first row, there is a feeling of accomplishment—the rest will add to what was up to now a necessary task. I wonder if squirrels count their store in fashion?

Chopping wood conjures up what it must have been like when homes were heated entirely from wood; wood houses, piles like pyramids, axes ringing for days and weeks as they moved the cords of logs to what the long winter would require. Of course the smart ones were a year ahead of the cycle if dry wood was the goal—a whole different matter.

The chopping is much a form of meditation. The piece of wood is set to where the knot will not impede the split to come. The swing of the axe, one hand holds, the other slides along the handle with the arc of the blade. The wood and the axe are one; bring it down again on the heel of the axe, and let the wood do the work—the chunk of wood gives, and so it goes.

It is a good time to be outside and ponder what is to come; cycle into cycle, the more the hope that work will surrender to pleasure, and that pleasure might be one with the work. What other reason would we do what we must, unless we are doing what gives us pleasure?

We are all tramps in the mud unless we take up the axe for a different reason.

Some Days Just Suck

sad kiten Some days just suck.

All the bullshit about cease the day, enjoy the moment, grasp at your future. Some days you have trouble just wiping your ass. Well, I do anyway.

Those of you that read my stuff know I come packaged in a heap of optimism folded into an impossible ability to stay down. I remember Cool Hand Luke at the fight scene. Please don’t think for a moment I have such ability; my not staying down is in an air conditioned house against the heat, and a warm fire against the cold. But, I so admire his ability to get up no matter what. The other man kept hitting him, and Luke no matter what, would struggle to his feet and with arms limp at his side, take the next punch, and the next.

No, thank God I don’t live with that, but I do have miserable days. My thoughts wander to all the shit I might have avoided, to the emptiness of it all. Who the fuck would come inside this mind and tidy up? Not me, surely. Shame, disaster, remorse, more shame, childish things, manly things I should have avoided, paths left untraveled, I could go on and on.

Even when things are good, there is always a chance of calamity. Money can always test your resolve, a dishwasher refuses to wash, a fridge refused to cool, or on one of those special days a furnace gives up the ghost. Health is always there as a concern—your own of course, and should that be okay for the moment, there is always yours friends and family to be worried about.

Accidents of all sorts like to visit at the most inopportune times; animals keep you busy with more ailments than humans.

Most of these things we expect, and when they come we usually spit in the wind and take in on the cheek.

But some days are just plain old depressing. Maybe it’s due to a lull in the action, a time when the little demon of futility sneaks in to pester us. Nothing special is happening, but there is a pall of misery about the day, like a funeral is about to happen. Nothing to be done except endure and allow it to move through you and beyond.

Most days I know to keep a close watch on each moment as it unfolds, that is all I have to do. That is all any of us have to do. And that is not hopeless; it is the way of things. I remember the ways of rain. Sometimes gentle, sometimes it comes in torrents. Sometimes it teams up with the wind and kills what it can. But, then again it goes back to being gentle and cleansing, and is all about growth.
We can be no more than nature intended. It is feeble to believe we are Devine, and it is so much feeble to believe we are inept. It is merely the way of things.

Some days just suck.