Self Serve

The way my mind actually works? First of all, it arguably doesn’t; but to the degree it does, it tends to jump back, forth, and around…


Self-service is fine, but being self-serving is not, so: help yourself to the buffet, but while doing so, don’t brag about your wonderful diet and look disapprovingly at other people’s plates. And if you so much as mention Crossfit, we’re all throwing Cobb Salad at you.


“Man, I mean… I try to do the right thing, but sometimes… the right thing is… not exactly… where I can reach it, so, I just do what I do.”

– from an actual conversation I was part of recently


Working teaches you subtle distinctions. For instance, having oversight is good, but having oversights can get you fired.


“… Dude, you can’t just cheat on your wife.”

“She doesn’t care, as long as I’m not bothering her.”

“Are you serious?”

“About her not caring? Umm — yeah. She’s elevated not caring to an art form.”

– from the same conversation


Since many of you, I’m sure, read this blog for its outstanding insights into human morality, I’ll lay out some basic principles.

  • It is arguably possible for a person to strike another person in self-defense.
  • It is also arguably possible for a person to kill another person in self-defense.
  • It is, however, impossible (arguably or otherwise) for a person to rape another person in self-defense.

Since, for the first two types of actions listed above, self-defense is thought to be the only reason justifying the actions, one can presumably conclude that there is no justification of any kind, ever, for the last action named. WHICH EVERY DECENT PERSON ALREADY KNOWS.

(Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Well, actually I did.)


Since writing is very taxing, I feel like, here in the US, we should only have to do it April 15th. Or quarterly, if we’re self-employed.


“… Why not just get divorced, then?”

“If I ask for a divorce, she’ll take me to the cleaners! She’ll say I was cheating on her –“

“But YOU ARE cheating on her.”

“That hasn’t been legally established yet.”

“Dude, you’re completely insane.”

“Look, your wife actually likes you, so, I’m not sure you’re qualified to speak on the matter.”

– more from the same conversation


As a prelude to any potential future run for public office, the author of this blog would like to disclaim any knowledge of his own actions.


Imagination is more important than most people realize, because empathy is impossible without it.


I was asked by a reader to describe what I look like. I look as though I ate the younger version of myself.


When the journey becomes the goal, rather than the destination, traveling gets a lot easier.

The downside is, you are unlikely to arrive anywhere in particular.


“… Besides, don’t tell me you aren’t attracted to other women.”

“I never said that.”

“You act like this couldn’t happen to you.”

“I — no, I know better. I’m only lucky so far. Look, my bad. You just live your life, I have no business judging stuff I’m sure that I don’t understand.”

“Have you ever cheated on your wife?”

“No. Well, no, not… no.”

“What kind of answer is that?”

“The only one you’re getting.”

“Okay, fine Mister Self-serving, have it your way.”

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

{ tissues }

It was my fifth grade art class, and we were wrapped up in the mysteries of papier-mâché. I was hopelessly inept; my creation looked like half-chewed food. From a row back, a dark-haired girl stepped away from her perfect work to try to help me.

Her name was Velvet.

She had long-hair and freckles, and deep brown eyes, and as she took hold of one my hands to show me how to do what we were supposed to be doing, something changed inside me. It was a pre-adolescent something, but – something, nonetheless.

At that age, relationships are both very simple and very complicated. Simple, in that, you don’t actually have to talk to each other or interact much. Complicated, in that, you aren’t quite sure when someone qualifies as your girlfriend or boyfriend as opposed to your friend.

But I think she became my girlfriend.


She was in my class, yet we rarely spoke: maybe three times a week. She also sang in chorus, and we were preparing for the year-end concert. She sang in the special “select group” of the best singers, and I used to watch them practice in awe.

They sounded wonderful to my ten-year old ears.

We were preparing for the year-end concert because fifth grade was almost over. I had my first girlfriend, and I had maybe four weeks to enjoy it.

Then, out of the blue, one day, with maybe two weeks left, she told me her family was moving. We lived in an Air Force town, so almost everyone moved every three years. She was leaving right after the school year ended.

The last time I would see her would be the end of school program.


As part of our year end concert / program, I had a speaking part, dressed as an old-time politician stumping for presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison. I was to wear a fake beard and a stovepipe hat.

My mom helped me construct the stovepipe hat out of two pieces of black posterboard we cut, rolled, and stapled together. I did my bit in the program for Benjamin Harrison; I liked to think it was his first term and not his failed re-election bid.

Velvet sang “Kentucky Babe” with the select singers, and I still remember it to this day.

After the show, we stood there awkwardly, our four parents also standing right there. She was admiring my stovepipe hat; I wanted to give it to her as a going away present. My mom said no.

So, we said our clumsy goodbyes, and she left.

I was really angry at my mom in the car; I argued with her. She said I would want to keep that hat to remember this day by.


Four years later, I am in ninth grade, and one of my female friends brings me a letter in an unfamiliar girl’s handwriting.

It was from Velvet.

She sent a copy of her school photo. She looked beautiful; and, by this point, adolescence had indeed hit me.

She had just moved (again), they were now in Alabama, only about three hours away.

She might as well have been across country.

I went home, and sat down at the desk my father had built for my brother’s and my room. Behind me, high up on a shelf, lay that stovepipe hat. I tried to think of what I should say to her.

I wasn’t sure sending a photo of me would have the same effect on her that hers had on me. I looked like I’d had a twelve-round prize fight with puberty and lost.

I snuck into my sister’s room and borrowed (stole) her Polaroid camera. I took a picture of the hat, and then put the camera back where my sister had tried unsuccessfully to hide it.

I wrote a three paragraph note about school and friends we both knew who still lived in Florida. I also wrote “Remember this?” on back of the photo. I spent some time practicing my signature on a spare piece of paper before signing it.

I then “borrowed” an envelope and stamp from my mom, and rode my bicycle down to the post office to mail my response.


It was three months later before I heard from her. It came straight to the house.

This time, the photo she sent was her in her cheerleader uniform.

She mentioned that Debbie (our mutual friend) had said I had gotten really good on the piano since fifth grade. (In fact, I started lessons three days after the last time I had seen Velvet.) She asked if I still sang in chorus.

She also told me she had a boyfriend now, and his name was Ted. He was on the football team.


Many, many years later, I’m a grown man with a family (my first marriage) and my parents are leaving that old house to move to Arizona.

My mom brings out the stovepipe hat, which had been on that same shelf all these years.

“I remember us making this,” she says. “You were mad at me because I wouldn’t let you give it to a girl.”

“Velvet,” I said. “Velvet was her name.”

“You remember? Are you still mad?” my mom said, laughing.

“No,” I said. “I’m not sure that relationship was ever destined for great things.”

“I also found this under the hat,” she said, holding up an old piece of papier-mâché. “What is this?”

“That… is some old tissue paper. You know tissues: new ones grow, but the old ones are always there, under the surface.”

“What?” my mom said.

“Nothing,” I laughed, carrying more of my old junk out to the car.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Chamber Music

For many of us, reading is a magical thing.

That is why we are so hard on our own writing: we judge it by magical standards, which can be hard to live up to.


I am surrounded by books in this room; if you were to look at them, you would conclude (a) that I have not thrown away a single book I’ve owned since childhood; (b) that I studied philosophy; and (c) that my literary tastes are somewhat eclectic.

You would be correct on all counts.

Reading is an intimate experience: there is just you and the writer. Writing, however, is not: there is you and (sometimes) many multiple readers.

I don’t know about you, but, for me, relationships are relatively easy with one person at a time. Introduce more than that and it is like the “three body problem” in physics – i.e., too complex for us to solve.

So, reading can be less stressful than writing, particularly for the introverted among us. The dynamics are more straightforward.

Blogging attempts to solve this problem by changing the rules: we are, in the original parlance, keeping a “web log”, i.e., a private journal, where there are no other people we are writing for. The inherent contradiction – that our private log will be kept on the web, which is not notorious for its privacy – is one of the casual tricks we play our own psyches to make the dynamics manageable.

I do know, of course, that many people write looking for the widest possible audience: in fact, if you are a person like that, you naturally assume everyone else is.

However, along with the writers who would fill up stadiums or large concert halls with their prospective audiences, there are the writers of chamber music: meant for smaller groups of people in a more intimate setting.

The poets, in other words.

My father used to joke that many more people write poetry than read it. Well, that’s just fine, if so. It’s much less intimidating.

With the crowds come the critics. I hate critics. Almost as much as I hate crowds.


For National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) I joined a group who are supporting each others’ efforts to post on their blogs everyday. This means reading something like seventy blog posts a day as well as writing. As well as working a job for nine to twelve hours a day, six days a week; trying to maintain a marriage; and watching all my sports teams be vanquished on their various fields of battle.

Oh, yes, and eat and sleep.

Reading, it turns out, is every bit as challenging as writing, and I do both fairly quickly.

I tend to get emotionally attached to blogs –  I tend to get emotionally attached to everything – so I loyally and doggedly read certain blogs, even after their authors have long since altered these blogs from what attracted me to them in the first place.

I’ve now added more to that list as a result of this month. Which is a very good thing.


Reading and writing, both, are among consolation’s many forms: we read and write for any number of reasons, but at least one of them is to affirm that we are not alone: neither in what we think, nor how we feel.

Life is lonely, painful, disjointed, and loud: sometimes, we need a little chamber music to soothe our souls, allow us to take some breaths, and share the experience with a group too small to risk becoming a mob.


Finally, if you are unhappy with your own writing because the magic doesn’t seem to be there, take heart: there is music in you that no one has yet heard.

Magical music.

So just keep writing.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Smallest Trace of Necessity

Sometimes, you would barely know she was there, but she was enough to keep me going.

At that age, I was a mess. I had been sick, I had been out of work. I had no money. I lived 200 yards from the beach and it meant almost nothing to me. I was on antidepressants, but they weren’t working. I felt like there was this kind of dull, gray tarp over everything: nothing looked right, nothing felt right.

Still, there she was, and she needed me.

I had borrowed money from my parents to get me through. All of my savings was gone; all my plans for a better life seemed a hundred lifetimes ago. I had just enough for she and me to squeak by. Because of her, though, I was hoping to get back to work. I didn’t care about living or dying, truthfully, but I cared about her.

It’s silly I know, but, when your feelings don’t work right, you can’t live right, because feelings give us reasons to do things. Knowledge only gives us ways to do things.

I had been encouraged to get out of my apartment and try to walk daily; this wasn’t something she would want to do. I would walk down the beach, indifferent to the sunset, often forgetting to even wear shoes. Earlier that day, I had walked across the street to a grocery store, so I started thinking about what we’d do for dinner.

She would always be right there waiting for me when I got back from these walks. I would look at her and think, I could never do what I tried to do again. I can’t leave her.

For love, in whatever form, introduces just the smallest trace of necessity in what can otherwise seem a pointless existence.


The Smallest Trace of Necessity (2)


For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.


 

The Neverlasting Call

Countless buildings are abandoned, and many of those are torn down, but few are abandoned in the process of being torn down. I happened upon one, a few winters ago, out walking in the snow.

It got me thinking about how change works in our lives. There may indeed be “a time to build and a time to take down”, but we do a lousy job at both. When we get married, for instance, we are told of all the work it takes to build a marriage; but, notoriously, we don’t do the work. Similarly, but less less famously, people don’t do the work it takes to disassemble a marriage either — or any other relationship that ends, for that matter.

Wanton destruction is easy. Deliberately disassembling something takes care and time, whether it is a friendship, a job, business entanglements, or anything else that takes time to build.

One of my best friends described to me closing a greeting card and gift shop she had operated for years. She walked around the empty place, looking at the now empty card racks and shelves*, remembering the excitement of opening the store. Days of picking out inventory, choosing lines to carry, family and friends crowding in the new store, hopeful sales and dreams of expansion — just faded memories now.

“Still, it was mostly good, right?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said. “We had great hopes for the business that didn’t come to pass, but they were worth having. All of it was worth it. You can only lose when you have something to lose, but, ‘something’ is all we ever get, in this life.”

I have come to see that we are called to build the neverlasting — with our actions, with our choices, even with our words. I think back to that day walking in the snow, and realize: we may come upon the ruins of someone else’s dream, and when we do, we need to remember, that hope is a precious commodity, and we should never do anything in this life to lessen the supply of it.


*A beautiful scene like this was shown in the Movie “You’ve Got Mail“.


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

That Empty Feeling

I wanted to work at a food bank because I’ve had to use them.

It’s strange for someone who spends as much as time as I do, online, writing poetry, but: I don’t like abstractions in real life. I don’t think it’s productive to talk about “people”, there is just this person, or that person, and they have names. I don’t like to talk about “hunger” as some kind of principle: I am more interested in the fact that Verna and her two sons, J.J. and Raj, who live over across the way, can’t afford to buy food because Jay, Sr. left them with nothing in the bank and a mountain of debt due to a heroin habit.

When I see her at lunchtime, and she realizes we have fresh vegetables today, I can tell that is a welcome relief, since J.J. is such a good athlete, and she wants to get him to a sports program where he can develop it. She hasn’t given up on any aspect of being a mother, and doesn’t seem likely to ever do so: there is no richer mom across town with access to doctors and dietitians and exercise equipment who thinks about it more. She’s always looking for that edge, that little bit of difference to lift her kids away from the life that consumed their father.

Raj, the younger boy, is a favorite of mine: I’ve never seen a child so fond of… well, everything. Everybody, every kind of food, every day, seemingly. He is a favorite of everyone’s there, both the workers and the guests, and he asks his mom, every time, when she will let him go back and work in the kitchen.

“When you learn to wash your hands properly,” she said, laughing, last time I heard him ask.

“When you do, show me,” I whisper to him, as I’m passing through wheeling several boxes back to the kitchen.

One of the ladies in the kitchen, Sierra, seems to know everyone’s story already when they walk in. She is, with the exception of my mother, the least judgmental person I’ve ever met in my life. I’m envious of that ability – to love virtually everyone, almost all the time. She points out two lost looking men to me who I’d never seen before.

“That’s Ken Malhotra, and his brother, Lindsey. They’re really nice guys.”

I look at her, expecting to hear more, but she’s working on adding something to the chili.

“How do you know them?”

“They have been coming to my church, starting about six weeks ago. I told them about this place. Go out there and tell them I’m back here working but that they are welcome, and just to come on up here and get some food. It’s good today, I guarantee it.”

I head out to do just that, shaking their hands, introducing myself and welcoming them before delivering Sierra’s message.

“Do you have fresh vegetables every day?” Lindsey asks, looking over at the line.

“No, I wish we did,” I said. “So help yourself.”

My duty today is mostly bringing things in from the truck, so I head back to do it. I’m only there another forty minutes, and then it’s back to my other job. The company gives me two hours for lunch on days I volunteer.

 


 

I was a relatively young man when I visited the food bank back where I grew up. A very unhealthy young man with no income.

The place was in an old cinder block building that used to be one of my favorite barbecue restaurants, back when I took eating for granted. I was scared to go in — but I was scared to go anywhere in those days. A scrawny, sickly twenty-something who “would jump at his own shadow”, as they say back home. Still, hunger has a way of motivating a person, so I went in.

There were no tables there; people were issued food packages to take with them. I got in line, trying to imagine what the place used to look like, full of bustle and customers and waitresses. When I got the front of the line, there were three people behind the counter, issuing only the food people wanted. I wanted whatever there was to take.

I thanked each one of the three workers individually, because it was all I had to give back.

The phrase “to give something back” has become so commonly used, it’s easy to forget what it actually means. Often, we are given things in life when we are in no position to return the favor. Eventually, we may be, but the people who gave to us are no longer available, which is where the concept of “paying things forward” comes from. We pass the giving on to others who are not, right then, in any position to give back.

I took my boxed up food and I headed back to my apartment, which was just over the bridge. I realized in the car that I had tried to dress nicely to go, because I didn’t want people there thinking… I wasn’t quite sure what. “That I had no pride” was probably the closest thing to describing what I didn’t want them to think.

I doubt anyone could tell I was trying to look good, but that little bit of pride was all I had; and all we have, no matter how limited, is the only base we can build off of.

So I had pride: what I didn’t have, was food. But I did now, at least for that day.

The people working there, the three workers behind the window (I wished I’d asked their names!) were very kind and gentle with us. Even at that age, I was never so much angry at people who were unkind as grateful to people for being kind. It was like that in the hospital, too; some workers are busy and detached and kind of indifferent, but there was no point being angry with them. I was just grateful for the ones who would engage me as a person.

I got three meals out of what I took home with me.

 


 

It’s November, 2016 again, and I’m driving back to work, thinking about what it was like in those days.

There are many things we do in life that we never imagined ourselves doing, and many things we become that we never imagined ourselves being. Growing up, I had never pictured myself physically and mentally ill, poverty-stricken, or starving.

No, I had imagined myself scoring the winning basket in the NBA finals, or becoming a world-famous (!) astronomer, like Percival Lowell or Clyde Tombaugh.

(What do you mean you’ve never heard of them? They were world-famous… at least, in the world I lived in.)

There are parts of our destinies we do not get to choose, though. We’re aware of it when those things are bad, but less aware when good fortune is our lot.

I’ve tried, throughout all the years since, to stay aware.

Sierra hung a sign in our food bank kitchen that says:

“GOD HELPS THOSE WHO CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES”

I am not God; I am not anyone, really. But I know that empty feeling, I have known hunger. I wanted to work in a food bank because I’d needed to use one; but gradually, I wanted to work in a food bank because other people need to use them: Ken, Lindsey, J.J., Raj, Verna — and many other names, some of whom I don’t know yet.

(If you have the time, you might consider volunteering to help feed people in your area. And if you have need, never be ashamed to visit them.)

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Placeholder

He knew he wasn’t who she really wanted; he was just a fill-in, a placeholder. But love makes you do stupid things, and he truly loved her.

They say that we can’t help who we fall in love with. I wish they would quit saying that. Maybe we’d try a little harder not to fall in love with people who are so obviously not in love with us. I know I wished that for him. As one of my best friends, it hurt to see how hard he tried, and how little it seemed to matter to her.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, she was largely gracious to him, and grateful. I think she felt as though she ought to love him, but, just couldn’t or didn’t. They lived together, and slept together, but she was very careful never to tell him that she loved him, because – she didn’t feel it.

Frankly, there is many a man who would be satisfied living with a beautiful woman who has sex with him, but I knew he wasn’t. Or that he was and wasn’t. He wanted her to love him like he loved her, but that wasn’t going to happen. But still he loved her, and did everything in his power to make her happy.

I was over visiting one night; they had just bought this place they were fixing up, and I brought them dinner and some wine as a housewarming gift. He was showing me the antique stairway and describing what all he would need to do to fix it up; I glanced over at her as she was looking, wistfully, out of one of the largely opaque old-style windows. She looked like she wished she was somewhere else – anywhere else, in fact.

“Hey, are things cool with you guys?” I asked him, furtively, as we headed down for him to show me the basement.

“I know she’s not happy,” he said. “I was never the person she imagined herself ending up with.”

“Who exactly is?” I asked, having wondered for some time.

“The guy before me. They had all these plans of getting married, and moving. Apparently, he makes a lot of money.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, he ran around on her. If it was female, and would hold still long enough, he would try to nail it, apparently.”

“And she still loves him?”

“I believe so, yes. At any rate, she doesn’t love me.”

“Why do you put up with this? Break up with her!”

“I can’t. I just — I can’t. I wish I didn’t feel the way about her that I do.”

“How do you deal with it? I couldn’t.”

“I don’t know. I keep hoping one day she’ll just wake up and look over at me and think – ‘Hey, I think I love that guy.'”

That never happened.

 


 

He called me about three months later to tell me she had left him. She paid him half of the mortgage payment on the new place for that month and the next three, because, she said, she felt bad leaving him in that big place when he was counting on both of their incomes. I asked him what had happened.

“Mister Wonderful called her, and said he was sorry, and that was all it took. She was gone within hours.”

“I’m sorry, man, that sucks. You want to go get a beer or something?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

We met at a bar called The Wasted Pig about an hour later. We did our best to live up to the name of that august establishment, drinking several pitchers of beer while watching ball games and my flirting with the waitress.

“I was never anyone to her,” he said, suddenly, during a commercial break in the game. “Do you know what that feels like? To give everything you have to somebody who it means nothing to?”

I had to say that I very possibly didn’t, although I’ve since learned.

“I’m playing the game like she did from now on. You’ll never catch me telling some girl I love her. Love is for fools and losers.”

Love turns us into fools and losers, I thought, but I kept my own counsel, as he was in full flow.

“Maybe I’ll pick someone up here tonight. I’ll show her, I’m not just dirt on her shoes.”

“No, you’re not,” I said.

“Why didn’t she love me?” he asked, changing tone instantaneously.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it’s because you don’t drink enough beer.”

“Good theory,” he said. “Let’s get another pitcher.”

We did.

 


 

The months rolled by after that, and my friend gradually recovered into his usual cheerful self. He started dating again; I really liked the woman he was dating, and so did he. He did not keep his promise to never fall in love again, although I suspect he waited this time to hear her say it first.

We happened to be back in his basement (he had put in a pool table) when I asked him if he ever heard from his ex.

“Why, yes,” he said. “She called me about two weeks ago… to say that she was really sorry about what happened.”

“What did you say?”

“I told her not to worry about it. That it was hard, when it happened, but that I was happier now with someone who actually loved me. That seemed to surprise her. She said, after a long pause, that she hoped that I would have some fond memories of our time together, because she did.”

“What did you say to that?”

“Well, my first impulse was to say that she had just been a placeholder, someone to spend time with until the real thing came along. But I didn’t. I told her I did, and would, have fond memories of our time together, and that I appreciated her calling and hoped she would always be happy.”

He was a better man than I could ever be; but then, I thought, love can make us wise as well as foolish.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

On The Walking Trail

I was up far too early (again) this morning. My body and my mind each do what they do when they want to do it, apparently.

I’m at the point now where the main difference I see between “morning people” and “night people” is the time when each of them can’t sleep. It’s mornings for me. I get to sleep fine, most nights: often, though, 3:30 comes and I’m wide awake – like this morning.

It’s that time of year when it’s too cool for the air conditioner, but too warm for the heater; I think it might be the lack of ambient heat-or-air noise that’s making it hard for me to stay asleep. My mind immediately places this theory in the “First World Problem Hypotheses Folder” (where it belongs) and tells my body to go ahead and get up.

Being up so early, I decided to work out. I don’t know who might be reading these words, but, I can almost guarantee you: if you saw what my actual body looked like, you might not ever guess that “working out” is a thing I actually do. But, do it I did, to the tune of 400 hundred calories, according to the monitor I was wearing.

The town we live in is one where I can feel relatively secure walking in the mornings, so I head out to the walking trail down by the river. Being November, it will be dark for most of the walk; however, I should start to catch the sunrise about the time I need to head home for a shower before work.

I always wonder about the other cars that are out at 4:30 in the morning. The people who still deliver morning papers fascinate me. I’m guessing the time may come when delivering papers will seem as historically quaint as delivering milk bottles does. I wonder how many people of a certain age or older in this country had “delivering papers” among their first jobs?

 


 

The trail itself is not as cold as I was expecting, but then, I’m dressed pretty warmly. I left my car parked on the side of a hill near where the trail starts: there were already a few other cars there. The sign says that the trail opens for walking at 5:00 AM, but I guess now (4:51) is close enough.

Most of the trail – the whole thing is 25 miles [40 km] long – is paved; however, there are a few long stretches of wooden railed pathway, including one old wooden covered bridge. These days, the river itself is much, much cleaner than it used to be; it smells like a river, instead of what humans have put into a river. I’m interested to see one fishing boat out in it, and wonder who that might be and what their life might be like.

When I used to walk every morning (i.e., when I was much lighter) I wore headphones; however, I want to hear the river this morning. The sound of water is like many other sounds: we stop going out of our way to hear them at some point in our life. I am, in real life, more oriented to sound than perhaps all of my other senses put together, so hearing the outdoors is a vital part of the experience.

 


 

In the Department of How-Safe-My-Town-Is, a woman runs by me pushing a baby in a stroller. It’s about 5:30 by this point. There are some fairly long hills on this trail; I was headed up one of them when she went jogging past. I’m wearing sweatpants and a hoody, and she nods to me in the half-light on her way by. I’m glad she didn’t look at me with fear – I’ve gotten to the point where I barely look at women anytime I’m anywhere where I’m concerned they’ll feel they are in a potentially threatening situation. The fact that she didn’t (look at me fearfully) made me feel good – for her – whoever she was. At any rate, she was gone and out of my sight within a few seconds.

Most of the year, this trail is full of the sounds of birds, frogs, and insects, and there are still a few, but it is relatively quiet. I walk to one of the checkpoints, which is by the ruins of what was a mill at one time, then head back. I love those ruins, by the way, but then, I love almost all ruins. There’s something strangely comforting in tangible signs of the vanity of human enterprise, given the unbridled hubris that seems to characterize much that we do.

Towards the end of the walk, I leave the trail to stand by a bend in the river where I can see the sunrise from a bit of hill. It’s a muted sunrise, without much color, but that suits the day. In less than two hours, I will be at work, where clocks and dates will clamor for my attention, insisting that no one and nothing in my life matters, except for them.

Nature has a way, though, of placing many things in perspective: that I am small, that I am transient, that life is a continuity we are handed for a brief time, where our main responsibility is not to screw things up. It’s also a reminder that nature has its revenge for much of the damage humans do, given enough time.

We often cannot “solve” the problems that life gives us. We can, however, listen to the river, and know: that while much we do can seem empty, empty things can be beautiful things, and beautiful things are always worth it.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Wherewithal

We didn’t know his real name; we alway referred to him as “Professor Tolkien”. He’d walk by us, wearing his tweed jacket and smoking his pipe, turning right past where we played basketball to get to the ‘nice neighborhood’, as we called it.

None of us lived in the ‘nice neighborhood’. But the professor did.

Actually, we didn’t know what he did for a living. But, he looked like Tolkien, from the pictures we’d seen of the famous fantasy author / professor; and like all good nicknames, someone said it once, and everyone immediately knew that was the one we’d use from then on.

Some of my friends dated or had dated girls from that neighborhood, but none of them knew anything about him either, other than that he walked home every weekday, and passed by the public basketball courts between 6:25 and 6:30. And, since we played basketball year round, we saw him hundreds of times a year all during my 9th, 10th, and 11th grade years.

During the summer between 11th and 12th grades, one of my buddies, Martin, was out playing ball with us on a Friday night. Martin worked odd hours and days at the theater, so, he hadn’t played ball with us for years. When Professor Tolkien appeared up the street treading his familiar path back home, one of the other guys said, “There’s Professor Tolkien, right on time.” Martin glanced down the street at the approaching man and said “That’s Nina’s dad.”

“Who’s Nina?”

“She’s that English girl I was telling you about. She visits every summer.”

“Why does her dad live here?”

“Divorced.”

“How do you know her?”

“She comes to the movies 6 or 7 days a week, she sees everything. She saw one movie last year twelve times.”

“Is she cute?”

“Yeah, she is. I’m supposed to have a date with her tomorrow.”

At that age, any guy who gets a first date with any girl is immediately congratulated by all other guys. We don’t have to know the girl – or, for that matter, the guy. It’s guys’ way of supporting romance, I guess. So we (who, by the way, were waiting for our turn at the court, having just lost a close game) were all slapping him on the back and giving him high fives.

“Are they rich?” one of the other guys asked.

“Not… really,” Martin said, slowly. “I get the feeling he sends just about every dollar he makes back to England. He doesn’t even own a car.”

“What does he do for a living?” I asked. I mean, we’d gotten the English thing right…

“He is an accountant, I believe, and works for the Cash family.”

“The ones who own all the bars?”

“Yep.”

“I thought they were like… Mafia or something.”

“The Cashes? Couldn’t say. Anyway, if I’m going to have more than one date with her, I’d kind of like her dad to not hate me, so, I doubt I’ll ask him that question.”

“So you really like her…”

“She’ll be gone, beginning of September, so… I can only like her for so long.”

 


 

Turns out he was wrong. Nina stayed and attended our high school for what was my senior year. I heard somewhere that her mom wasn’t doing well, healthwise, so staying with her dad was better for all concerned. She and Martin continued dating, and he loved her; and from everything I ever saw, she loved him.

We still played basketball every night, although it was a long time before Martin was out there again for work reasons. Professor Tolkien walked by every weeknight, just as punctual as ever. (I had figured his name was probably “Gordonson”, since hers was, but I had no absolute confirmation, so the nickname stuck.) Then, however, about three weeks from graduation, one of the guys noticed that the Professor hadn’t come by at his usual time. (It had been raining, but that had never stopped either him or us.)

The next day at school, I asked Martin if everything was okay with Nina’s dad. “Yeah,” he said. “Why?”

“He didn’t walk by the court last night.”

“Oh, he came by. In a car. One he bought for Nina.”

I imagined some sort of silver BMW of the kind that’s standard issue to kids who lived in the nice neighborhood. “Must be nice.”

“Dude, he’s gone without a car for five years. He’s sent almost every dollar he makes back to support her. She cried when he showed her the car, even though it’s nothing fancy. She absolutely insisted, though, for as long as she still lives here, that he let her drop him off and pick him up from work when the weather’s bad.”

“I thought people who lived there pretty much did whatever they wanted.”

“Well, there you go, thinking again, working without tools.”

 


 

The wedding of Martin John Romario and Nina Edsell Gordonson was held five years later.

They are still married to this day.

At the reception, she did the traditional father/daughter dance. Her mom, who was in a wheelchair and looked very feeble indeed, looked on, smiling.

During the reception, at some point, her dad rose to speak, and I realized, even though I’d seen the man five times a week for almost a decade, I’d never heard his voice. What he said stuck with me though:

“I am, um, very gratified that all of you could be be here for this happy occasion. I work mostly with numbers, so, um, speeches aren’t really my cup of tea, or, um as you say around here, my glass of tea. So I’ll make this short with a toast:

In everything you do, be kind-
Remember: equals you must be –
Then you will have the wherewithal
To keep love’s shine
Eternally”

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Quoth the Pepper…

It is nothing but coincidence that today is an election day in this country and the subject of this essay is lies… I think.


Bogus quotes are everywhere to be found on the Internet. For some strange reason, people will find a saying they like, but, when repeating it, attribute it to someone different than the person who actually said or wrote it — someone like Albert Einstein or Marilyn Monroe, just to name a couple of more popular attribution magnets. The psychology of what drives people to do this (originally) is fascinating.

There is also the phenomenon of people changing actual quotes into something they think reads better, continuing to attribute their (sometimes vastly) different words to the original inspirer.

Many writers make no effort to discover whether or not any quote they read (and then re-quote) is genuine. I think this says more about the ability words have to convince us than any thoughts about a particular political leader or movement might do. We read it somewhere, so, it must be true.

I have found, over the years, that people never said things I had long thought they said: false quotes are both pervasive and pernicious. Reflecting on it, I found myself asking, “How do I make sure, when using quotes, that they are genuine?”

There are any number of articles on the subject of phony quotes; most of them refer you to sites who check the validity of quotes. However, I decided on a different method for me, which can be summarized in one sentence:

“Never use a quote that you didn’t directly read from the original source.”

I’ll give an example of the first time I employed this principle. I had frequently encountered the following saying, attributed to Charles Dickens:

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”

The suspicious thing about this quote is, I’d never seen it in any of Dickens’ works, and I was pretty sure I had read them all. When the exact work a quote comes from is never mentioned, it’s a tell — there’s probably something wrong with the quote.

I couldn’t find the quote, as written, in any of Dickens’ works, using the fact I have them in searchable form to my advantage. However, the following passage, from Chapter 9 of David Copperfield, comes close:

“Daybreak had come, and the sun was rising, when she said to me, how kind and considerate Mr. Copperfield had always been to her, and how he had borne with her, and told her, when she doubted herself, that a loving heart was better and stronger than wisdom, and that he was a happy man in hers.”

Excerpt From: Charles Dickens. “David Copperfield.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/tnoDw.l

This is in a passage where David is learning of the death of his mother, and the words are in the mouth of David’s even earlier deceased father, as repeated by his mother, then repeated to him by his nurse.

At any rate, it seems evident Dickens didn’t say the words attributed to him as they are normally stated.

Printing that here will stop exactly no one from using the quote, and continuing to attribute it to Dickens.


Let me contrast that last quote with one that I do remember reading in it’s original context, namely, this famous quote from the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Excerpt From: George Santayana. “The Life of Reason.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/NyuDw.l

What is interesting about this quote is how it’s used or commonly understood. It’s typically thought to mean that people must study history, or they will inevitably repeat the mistakes their historical predecessors made. However, here is the quote, in context, in a section labeled “Continuity necessary to progress.”:

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience.”

Excerpt From: George Santayana. “The Life of Reason.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/NyuDw.l

In other words, Santayana is talking about the development of human beings, and how their improvement or progress involves the balance of being able to remember what has happened to them before and taking in new experiences to compare with.

Note also that the quote is often slightly misquoted, with the most common distortion introducing the word “history” into the (mis)quote:

“Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.”

Which alters the original quote to better fit the misinterpreted meaning.

(To be fair, Santayana is an unusually poetic writer for a philosopher, and his works are full of sentences and phrases which suggest much beyond the actual argument being advanced.)


People will lie when it suits them, and yes, you can quote me on that.

People love to join in a chorus when the music sounds good, and don’t bother to ascertain whether or not the words they are singing make any sense or are rooted in any kind of truth: the music itself is all the truth they need. They don’t stop at falsely attributing single sentences, they make up whole speeches or stories and place them into the mouths (or pens) of people who never spoke or wrote them, the logic being – and it seems faultless, given human psychology – the more audacious the lie is, the more likely people are to believe it.

If you see a quote with an attribution that strikes you, you might do the first thing many other people do, which is, search the Internet for the quote. The bogus Dickens quote, mentioned earlier, returns 33,000 citations, according to the Googles. That’s 33,000 reinforcements that he must have said it, in our minds, not 33,000 examples of shoddy research.

If casual lies, like misquotes, so easily seep into our consciousness, imagine how many other lies have done so.


“Another possible way to avoid using false quotes is to use your own thoughts.”

– Me, about ten seconds ago


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Heraldic Greek

The day is a herald, announcing something, but I’m afraid I don’t speak Dayish. It was offered, back when I was in school, but I chose to take German instead. So, the day can talk as much as it wants, I’m not going to understand it – I will just have to figure it out as I go along.

There are other, not-exactly-formal-languages that I do speak, however. For instance, I speak cat. Cats make sense to me; I seem to make sense to them. I do not, however, speak dog. On a similar note, stars make sense to me; clouds, however, are a mystery. I speak star, I do not speak cloud.

Perhaps you, too, speak languages you were never actually taught. My brother, for instance, speaks water tower: he can tell me a litany of things about a water tower that neither of us has ever seen within moments of first seeing (and his case, hearing) it.

I have friends who speak politics*, for instance; what seems to me incomprehensible makes perfect sense to them. Ditto for my friends who speak car (they can fix them), appliance (they can actually use them), and relationship (they can make sense of them). I don’t speak any of these languages; or, at best, I’m not exactly fluent.

Anyway, my guess is, the day meant to be a herald of more than the coming of strange digressions disguised at blog posts.

If only I’d taken Dayish.

* One of the other Peppers is learning to speak politics – if you haven’t already, you should check out her blog.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

A Time for Learning

The moment she stepped on campus, she told me, she felt like she was, for the first time in her life, at the right place at the right time.

This was where she belonged.

She could never be casual or contemptuous about this place, like the rich kids; nor treat classes as perfunctory, like so many others. This was it, this was learning, this was knowledge — this was the world she’d dreamed about since she was a little girl. And she wasn’t going to waste a moment of it.

Like all long-lasting institutions, colleges and universities mean widely different things to different people. To some, they are places of intense and wild socializing; to others, they are best known for the pageantry of sports and graduations; to still others, they are weigh stations between the servitude of living at home and the inevitable drudgery of a career. To her, though, this was a time for learning, and that was enough. Classes, professors, the library — this was what the university was, and she had only the vaguest awareness of things like sororities, sports, or, for that matter, eventual career concerns.

I went to an entirely different school, and was visiting a friend when we met in her school’s library. I was on a George Eliot kick, reading that library’s copy of “Scenes from Clerical Life”. She happened to sit at the table next to me to look through a copy of “Middlemarch”.

How could we not speak? Two people reading books by the same Victorian author, in the same place, at the same time, when neither was required to for any class was an event rare enough to merit comment, even among the shy — which she certainly was. But speak we did, and the conversation ended up lasting hours, and involved us leaving the library to drink coffee at a place she suggested.

It was a dark and wet fall evening as we approached her dormitory, and I had no thoughts of anything like kissing her before she stopped, put one hand on my shoulder, and looked me straight in the eyes.

I knew the signal.

 


 

Her school was only 45 minutes away from mine, but it seemed like an ocean. We were both over-carrying classes at that time; in addition, I was working three nights a week. I gave what I had to give, but, with her, it was like she had stored up a lifetime of passion and was letting it all loose on me, in those rare moments we could speak on the phone, or, maybe once a month, see each other. The moments were rare, as I said, but I was loving every minute of the ones we got.

It’s strange, looking back, how much of our time revolved around discussing literature. Neither of us had a lot of friends near us at that point in our lives, so, along with doing the things couples do, we talked, endlessly, about our other passions. On the few weekends we’d find, we’d spend virtually the entire time in the library or in my car, as I was not allowed in the dorm. And then, I would go back to my school, and it would be a long, long time until we’d see each other again.

The change (in us) probably happened gradually, but back then it seemed sudden. One day, when I had a chance to call, I didn’t; another day, when I did call and she had time to talk, she didn’t want to. Being the guy I was at that age, I thought maybe she’d met someone else, or an old love had returned to take her attention. That last part turned out to be true.

That old love was learning. We’d had our fling.

 


 

I had already graduated and moved away to start working when I got a graduation invitation from her. She had sent it to my parents’ house. I decided to go. When I had answered her note (giving her my actual address) she had let me know by return mail that she would meet me after the ceremony in front of the library.

How appropriate.

It was a warm day in late spring as I drove on to the familiar campus. Signs pointed visitors towards the graduation hall. I sat down amid the many family onlookers, not knowing where she might be when the graduates came in, but there she was in the program, Summa Cum Laude in the College of Humanities.

When the graduates did come in, I spotted her easily.

The guest speaker at her graduation was a former United Nations ambassador who said that the time for learning would never truly end, but that, after graduation, a new time, one for action, would begin. There was music, and there were student speakers, and there was the slightest hint of lilac blossoms in the air.

I walked next door to the library after the ceremony, and waited. I figured she would need some time with her family first, but, to my surprise, she came out almost immediately. She smiled when she saw me, and I couldn’t help but smile back.

I congratulated her on her accomplishments. She told me that she was staying on, with a full teaching assistantship, and the path was charted for her to get both her her Masters and her Doctorate.

Her family hadn’t come to graduation; they really didn’t see a need to spend the money for the trip, especially since she wasn’t coming home after. I realized that, on that occasion, I was her surrogate family; possibly because none of them understood what that place meant to her, and I had at least come close.

We spoke awhile about what we’d each been reading and various nothings. When I asked her, after a time, if she didn’t need to get back to her friends, she said that she probably did, so she thanked me for coming, and said goodbye. I watched her walk back into the crowd, the sun setting over the graduation hall.

A young couple walked past me, hand in hand, laughing.

The time for learning truly never ends.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

How Well We Know The Storm

What was becomes what isn’t, in an instant. Like sand castles we labor over as children, the waves come, eventually, and wash everything away.

We learn this young and throughout our lives, bitterly: from the broken toy that no one can repair, to the ice cream cone dropped on a summer sidewalk, and, eventually, to the fractured friendship that can’t be mended, the marriage that shatters, the life’s dreams that pass, and the loves we lose to death. Oh, how well we know the storm; oh, how much we come to fear each fresh approaching.

We have all known loss, but each new one is a surprise. We seem to be wired that way.

I’m sitting out on the beach this morning getting a head start on the weekend as I type these words, and a storm is fast approaching. Years ago, I sat out here with a girl I was dating; we watched the storm roll in, let the rainfall drench us to our skins, went back to my apartment, shed our wet clothes, and tried with all our might to shut out the more metaphorical storm our relationship was engulfed in.  It did not work.

We were over within weeks. All we both gave didn’t add up to anything that either of us really had.

 


 

You may not be aware of this — it’s been sort of buried in the news — but there is a presidential election about to be held in the United States. A few days ago, back home, I sat in an assembly, listening to a speaker from Washington D.C. make the least controversial prediction I’ve heard in this election cycle — namely, that someone unpopular was going to win.

There have been more words written on this election than on any other subject in recent memory; I have nothing to add to any commentary you have already read on the relative merits of any of the candidates. I have my own opinions, of course, based on the most reliable and complete information I can get as to what the state of the world actually is. In practice, people disagree on goals and priorities; on what has worked or will work; and even on what we might call “facts”. Politically motivated people have a tendency to present their particular facts in ways that omit any inconvenient other facts that might dissuade you from supporting their goals.

I too am human, as we all are — mostly — and I make choices as to who seems most trustworthy based on what I know and have seen personally. It’s a system that has inherent limits, of course, but I’d rather form my own opinions than buy them, no matter how many opinion wholesalers there might be on any given corner.
 


 

You may wonder what the two sections above have to do with each other: the first, a quasi-poetic reflection on the transience of life; the second, a brief commentary on contemporary political discussions. I discuss both here because, I’ve noticed the strange way we vacillate between awareness of our human limitations and acting as though we have none, depending on the type of discussion being held. Just yesterday, I heard two coworkers discussing the election, each holding wildly opposite positions on the truth about the two main candidates; within minutes, they were discussing instead the chili cook-off that had been held out in the park at lunchtime, and how subjective cooking contests really were – a point about which they were in complete agreement.

In politics, they each knew everything (although opposite things), on prosaic matters, they agreed that there might not be such a thing as knowledge.

 


 

Unlike my younger days, I’m not going to stay out here on the beach until the rain gets me (or my laptop) wet. How well I know the storm, indeed: it rains on the just and the unjust, as the book says – we will all feel it sooner or later.

All I can do, for now, is push it off a little later.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Knave of Diamonds

A November morning, and I was eleven years old. Home with the flu, coughing, sleeping, drinking tea with honey and lemon. Open, on the bed next to me, a weathered and ancient book: The Knave of Diamonds, by the largely forgotten author Ethel M. Dell.

This was not really a book aimed at eleven year old boys.

I was sleeping in this room so my coughing wouldn’t keep my brother awake. He had early band practice, and because he was a special little flower, we dared not impair his precious sleep. So, I was banished to this weird, cluttered, other room to sleep, the one with the rickety narrow shelf containing books from my mom’s childhood – books like this one. Boredom had impelled me to reach out the ten inches to my left and see what the book was all about.

I had chosen this particular book at random. The Way of An Eagle and The Lamp in the Desert were two other titles I remember being there — there had to be at least ten others.

Opening up that book was like entering some kind of anti-boy counter-culture. It seemed to be (and I’m going from memory, here) an endless cavalcade of girls flirting with boys while attending costume balls. However – and this was the dramatic part, I think – as the heroine flirted, she was torn between poles of worry: that she was perhaps being too girlish or maybe trying too hard to be grown up. The whole thing was completely incomprehensible to me at that age. I remember reading its opening chapters, turning pages, vainly hoping for a super-hero to appear or there to be a crime that needed an eleven year old detective to solve.

I won’t keep you in suspense: I never finished the book. I decided that coughing was a more interesting way pass to time.

My mom loved those books – in fact, she still does, at age eighty-five – but the romantic sensibility they embodied was a complete cipher to me. Nothing actually seemed to happen in the book — at least, nothing in the eyes of a boy the age I was.

I asked my mom, just last year, on the phone, what exactly it was that she loved so much about those books. She said:

“Well, you have to remember that we were genuinely poor and owned nothing… in her books, there was this entire world of romance, and intrigue, and riches… I remember that I read my first one when I was thirteen; my oldest sister* gave it to me the day she and your uncle moved away… they are silly books, I know, but, I still think of them as the greatest books in the world… think of it this way: I couldn’t change one thing about the world I actually lived in, but I could escape it, through those books, and live in a better one… one where I was not surrounded by squalor or worried about my dad’s drinking or where we’d get our next meal… or if we’d even get a next meal.”

Escape: it means everything to people who are imprisoned.

By the way, if you were to look up the (very successful in her lifetime) author of the aforementioned book, you would find that she was critically pilloried in her day for the twin crimes of writing escapist literature and making a good living at it. The critical mind has not changed much in the last hundred or so years.

I take the contrarian view, however: to me, escape is one of the greatest things the arts can, or ever could, offer. If literature always reflected life “as it is”, it would mean, for some readers, no chance of any kind to escape whatever prison they find themselves in. In 1945, at age 13, my mom didn’t need “The Grapes of Wrath” — she pretty much had the Great Depression thing down — she needed something to take her away from her life. I’m grateful that she was able to find escape through books like The Knave of Diamonds.

So: for all of you authors and illustrators of children’s books, read at bedsides all over the world; for all you writers of westerns, and detective stories, and romances, that take people away for a while from whatever stresses they face; for all of you people who make a movie, or a television show, or anything else that’s there simply to entertain people — for all of you and to all of you, I offer thanks. You may never get critical recognition, but you touch people’s lives – sometimes, you even change them, like that thirteen year old girl in upstate New York back in 1945, reading about girls attending balls, who dreamed of leaving poverty, and gradually and eventually did.

Speaking of escape, in a future blog post: how I escaped that horrible room.

 

* My mom was the thirteenth of fifteen children, and her oldest sister (my Aunt Grace) was twenty-eight years older than her. Aunt Grace probably got the book when it was new; before the depression, the family wasn’t as poor.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Who She Was To Me

I was young, but not so young that I didn’t know what I was feeling. I loved her.

She was one of the most multidimensional people I had ever met: pure in heart, wild in imagination, quick in thought and mind. She was a popular girl, although she belonged to no clique or club; and though she was often light-hearted, sometimes sorrows fell around her face like her long blonde hair did.

We became friends simply because we sat next to each other in a sociology class where we were given assigned seats. She was unusual. For one thing, she seemed genuinely interested in the subject — which, at that age and in that place, was very strange. For another, she always smelled like flowers.

Well — I was a boy, of course, and she was a girl.

The word “love” in American English has a tremendous number of meanings. If I was to say to you that I loved her, and she came to love me, but we weren’t in love, because she didn’t love me that way and I was in love with someone else… would that make sense to you? It’s what we would have said at the time, I’m sure, and it made sense to us.

That was our final year at that school; her family had only come to town the previous year. She dated various boys in our class throughout the year; I had the same girlfriend for that entire period.

Ours was an almost instinctive fondness; I knew within minutes of meeting her that she was special, and, over time, she told me things that I wasn’t sure she ever told anyone else. However, the year wound down, and our time at that school was ending. She was moving back north.

It was the last day of the school year, and we said goodbye out on the bus ramp. We hugged each other, and found ourselves kind of hanging on for a while. We had never so much as shaken hands before that.

She was so full of dreams that some of them had spilled over into me — a virtual ocean of hopes, with several undercurrents of fear. She was about to head to a new state and a whole new chapter in her life, and I wanted, at that moment – more than anything in the world – for her to find those dreams and conquer those fears.

I loved her.

She looked at me as we let go of the hug, and asked, “So — do you think you two will get married?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. And these sorts of things don’t seem to really work out, do they?”

“Everybody here thinks you two are the perfect couple.”

“Well, we are going to try to stay together. She’ll be in school halfway across the country, though.”

“Don’t you love her?”

“Of course! But hell, I love you, for that matter, and no one thinks you and I will get married.”

“You? … well. I love you, too.”

We talked briefly about how weird the idea of class reunions seemed, then said our goodbyes, her blonde hair shining in the June sunlight, the smell of flowers only gradually fading.

 


 

Six years later, Saturday morning, winter, living in a dumpy mobile home with an old school buddy who was carrying in a case of beer and a newspaper.

“Someone from your school year died. Front page.”

I looked and read, stunned. Single car accident, in Michigan, family formerly lived here 18 months.

They used her school photo. Long blonde hair, smile full of hope.

A smell like flowers seemed to fill the room.

Tears coming to my eyes, I looked at that six year old photo, and it grew blurry beyond recognition. My roommate looked at me, concerned.

“I didn’t know you two were that close. I’m sorry.”

“You couldn’t have known.”

He sat down on a broken kitchenette chair and continued staring.

I had just gotten a Christmas card from her, and sent one. She was excited about life, her life, her future. I looked back at him, dazed.

 


 

How could I explain or describe the kind of love we had shared? Ours was not a romantic or erotic relationship; we were what people call “just friends”. But who she was to me was far more than contained in the usual social categories. I loved her: because she was who she was, and because I got to know her.

… Oh, but she was gone now, and so much she dreamed of would live on only in other heads. In lives that would never be – could never be – hers.

I was too poor to attend her funeral, which was the following Saturday. I drove over to the old school – the place was deserted – and walked back to the ramp where we had said goodbye. It was bitterly cold; there was no snow, at least. Just an empty parking lot with a hard wind blowing.

It didn’t smell like flowers anymore. It smelled like grief.

And I felt old, but not so old that I didn’t know what I was feeling. I had loved her.

Loved her.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Watercolor Alley

My father was an artist and a painter, and he worked in all sorts of forms. The walls of our home were decorated with my dad’s works: pen-and-ink, oils, charcoal, and watercolors. One of his paintings is in the room I’m in now.

It’s been more than eleven years since he died, and more than thirty since he last painted. He concentrated on music the last half of his life, and eventually stopped painting: starting in his forties, he had a business custom building and repairing musical instruments – he could play virtually all of them. So there just wasn’t time for painting anymore.

I was amazed by his paintings as a child; my own efforts to draw and to color seemed so meager. Truthfully, my own efforts at everything seemed pitiful and small. From an early age, I had just enough awareness to know I wasn’t really that good at anything. Having a father who was good at virtually everything served to emphasize it. (He had also been a college athlete and a pilot, among his many other accomplishments.)

To be fair, I was good at reading, but that isn’t really a thing.

I was also an ill-behaved and unruly child: bringing home bad grades for “conduct” was the most consistent feature of my thirteen grades worth of pre-college education.

At around age fourteen, I gave up trying to draw or paint for good. By that point, I, too, had transitioned to music, learning to play the piano passably well, although mostly focused on types of music that meant nothing to my contemporaries. I still loved painting as an art form, though, and would buy my father books of paintings by different artists for Christmas or birthdays just so we could sit and look at them together.

My father had originally majored in art in college with intention of being an illustrator (he ended up in the Air Force instead). He kept this special penchant for book illustrations as an art form throughout his life. Two of his favorite types were watercolor based: both ‘pure’ and ‘pen-and-ink with water color wash’ being techniques he particularly loved seeing when done well.

We would be flipping the pages of a book, stopping to look at an illustration, while he would say things like

“I love the way this is done… here, watercolors are used to suggest the kind of haziness your eyes might experience in bright fall sunlight. The shadows fall across the path in ways that bring the sunbeams to life, and the leaves have a texture that suggest moisture… can’t you can kind of feel what it would be like to be where the artist was?”

Watercolor Alley

My father saw order where I couldn’t see it: in fact, he saw actual things – colors, patterns – that I could never see. He lived the life of a neglected and misunderstood sort of genius, one who no one studies in college courses, or reads paeans to at public readings. He wasn’t cool, or fashionable, or known at all as artist, except by his family. But whatever he was enthusiastic about, he attempted to share it with us, his children: adding to our joy, helping us see what our young eyes struggled to see. He was, in a sense, trying to fashion our sensibilities into another work of art, another bit of beauty and order in this otherwise chaotic world.

For my father was artist, and a painter, and he worked in many forms: but the greatest of these was love.

 


 

Picture credit : © Juliasha | Dreamstime.com – Watercolor alley

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Viva… Poblano!

For any of you who may not know me, I’ve attached the above self-portrait. In real life, I am actually a cubist painting.

Since I normally write only poetry, and post multiple times a day as it is, I’m taking the Poblano challenge by writing essays instead. I am planning to post every day for the next month at this exact time of day* (5:55 PM US Eastern Time). It takes me forever to write essays, as I always have to go back in a hundred times and get rid subconscious rhymes.

I’m looking forward to the challenge, however; and I’m excited about reading the works of other bloggers. I’ve been reading many of your blogs for the first time these last few days, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

It’s good to be in a community of artistic people, each sharing a common sort of goal. I don’t know about you, but I’ve often felt, in my life, like I was strange, or different from everyone else for having the interests I do.

Of course, it’s hard not to feel strange when you are a cubist painting consisting largely of circles.

* Unless I randomly decide to change the posting time one Sunday, in which case I will no doubt add the note you are reading now.