Manifesto 2015

  • Write in the pre-dawn quiet, before children awaken and the owl returns from the hunt.
  • Make your own ink with the crushed petals of wildflowers.
  • Sit cross-legged at the shore and collect the words as they break in the wash.
  • Gather flicker and hawk feathers and save them in glass jars.
  • Make breakfast from the still-warm eggs of speckled chickens.
  • Take notes in the margins of favorite books.
  • Crush coffee beans in the mortar & pestle.
  • Lie in the dark and listen to the rain falling on the roof.
  • Walk the avocado groves looking for lost ideas.
  • Sleep with a notebook and pen by the bed to capture fragments of dreams.
  • Write to your mother of the ordinary wonders of your everyday life.
  • Tell your children stories of your childhood.
  • Make sure the stories you write spring from the split-seam of your exposed heart.
  • Cherish the disappointments as you travel the path to success through the forest of failures.

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A Holiday Story—”Cold Boned & Dead”


Appeared originally in Metazen’s 2012 Christmas E-Book:

Cold-boned & Dead

The tree is a Nobilis, because Mam says it sheds fewer needles on the carpet. We tie it to the top of the car with twine and drive it home in the rain; Mam and the Old Man in the front seat, me in the back reading the Topper. The Old Man declares it, “foul weather,” and the windscreen wipers “thup” rhythmically as we navigate the city streets. As we drive past Biddy Mulligan’s pub in the Liberties, the Old Man launches into the song, his tenor filling the car, “You may travel from Clare to the County Kildare, From Dublin right down to Macroom, But where would you see a fine widow like me, Biddy Mulligan the pride of the Coombe, me boys! Biddy Mulligan the pride of the Coombe!” Mam hums along beside him, her wedding ring clicking on the dashboard.

At home we get out the boxes of decorations from the pantry under the stairs where they’ve lived since last Christmas. Mam calls the triangular space “the pantry,” but Mrs. Toomey up the road has a real pantry, with windows and a glass door. Her pantry is stuffed with only food and drink. Ours is the place where things go to die. On a shelf at the back, cardboard boxes gather, filled with old clothes that no longer fit, and photograph albums of ancient black-and-white snapshots of dead relatives and friends resting in perpetuity.

The fairy lights uncoil on the carpet like the skeleton of an ancient reptile. Painted glass balls frosted with sparkles sit in tissue paper, some of them shattered into small pieces, some spared. Other decorations attach to the tree limbs with pipe cleaners, elves perch precariously above the steel bucket that holds the trunk in place. The Old Man fills the bucket with soil from the flowerbed in the back garden and sets the tree-stump inside it. He believes in shortcuts and prefers to lean the tree in the corner, instead of anchoring it properly to something.

Mam shakes her head and covers the exterior in last year’s wrapping paper, making sure to put the ripped bits at the back. This method works well for the most part, mainly because our old white cat, Moses, the one who scaled the tree after an elf the previous year, is now buried in the shadow of the garden shed. Now there’s no need to police the house to ensure the cat doesn’t topple the tree.

We took the cat in when we arrived here from the country. It had belonged to the previous owners of the house and they’d left it here because they were moving overseas. Mam is too polite to say she’s glad the cat had died, but I know she didn’t like it much. We only kept it because it sat outside the backdoor and cried for a week until we let it in and fed it. Mam is from the country and has strong views on issues like cats and pasteurization, but she’s a softie underneath and wouldn’t see the cat homeless.

With the tree trimmed, the Old Man declares it to be “game ball,” with a wink. Mam unfurls the paper-chains and I steady the chair as he ties them to the chandelier in the center of the room. When he stretches the colored chains into the corners they remind me of the hospital decorations from when I had the nephritis. On the mantelpiece, Mam places a sprig of holly with shiny red berries in each of the Waterford crystal vases. She carefully unwraps the tiny Christmas tree she brought me in hospital and places it on the table next to the Old Man’s armchair. The snowmen’s arms are made of pipe cleaners and they wear crooked smiles like the tinker who drives the horse and cart up the avenue looking for scrap iron every few months.

By teatime the space beneath the tree overflows with packages wrapped expertly by Mam, because the Old Man is no good at that kind of thing, and he’s already into the Jameson’s like a ship in a bottle. This year I want a guitar, so I can be like Eric Clapton in Cream, and every night when I say my prayers I ask God to grant my wish. I know that my wanting a guitar is unattainable because I heard them fight about how small the Old Man’s pay packet is on Fridays. Every weekend he comes home and hands the brown envelope to Mam and she sorts the notes into a pile and hands a few back to him so he can walk up the road to the ‘Diggers for a pint.

I lie by the fire and read a comic, the lights twinkling, the room transformed into a treasure cave. Mam and the Old Man are in their armchairs. He reads the horse racing reports for Saturday’s races in Fairyhouse and she punches holes in a sheet for her electric knitting machine. Even the Elves on the tree seem content, sheltered from the terrors of the cat, cold-boned and dead in the garden.

 

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Giftsofconseqnencesday’s Childe

The house is over-warm, seasonal temperatures ridiculously high and the winds exacerbate the heat. Dog asleep by the lit tree, the “Indie” Christmas mix mind-numbs each beating heartbeat. No gifts bought. Three days to Christmas. The toddler sleeps an afternoon nap after a quick visit to the old Mission where we saw the manger with its live animals and the church itself, rebuilt post-earthquake, reliquaries and carved statues everywhere. Ho. Ho. Ho. There are no answers in the holy water, brimful and clear. Prayers for family members near and far. Hard for the toddler to say, “Amen.”

Pens and books and the rasping buzz of the washer/dryer exacerbate the hipster’s soundtrack. Names of fruit trees appear on Post-It notes: D’Arcy Spice & Granite Beauty. Tweed hat sits angular from the desk lamp, the desk lamp without a bulb. “It’s the hap, hap, happiest time of the year…” Bullshit and  bromides. Family 5000 miles away, the cold Atlantic between. Mother sits in state in a living tomb where all her obvious needs are met by smiling staff. Hallelujah. Joe Cocker’s dead and they can’t decide whether he was a genius or a wasted talent. He doesn’t care any more.

A magazine I wrote an article for sits on the floor. Haven’t cracked the spine. Fluff and nonsense. This is the year of saying no. This is the year of taking apart the fountain pen and cleaning the inner workings. They do that with the human body, too. Tag the right limb, or the correct insertion point. Sharpie—the surgeon’s best friend. Plucking of strings. Simpering song sung badly. A lighthouse caught in a swift hurricane. Paint the body. To war, to war, to war we go. Possibly the worst Christmas song ever.

A flash of electric blue. Jay in narrow garden. In the shade he plots some nefarious act. Clipper ships far to sea cut through vast swaths of water. Land of the Pygmy Mammoth. Islands are orphaned children, cut from the same cloth, yet different. A small hut whose walls are padded with dried moss to keep the winds out. Cobwebbed windows, splintered chairs, three cracked panes. Only the mice seem to notice. Things for both of us to create. Uaigneas agus buaine. The old ways are departed, the days shortest when we need light the most. And a little T.S. Eliot to end the day:

The Journey Of The Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

 

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New Essay at Prime Number Magazine

Delighted to have my essay on aging, Aging—A Meditation,” over at Prime Number Magazine. It’s a lyric essay of sorts and hits close to my heart and thoughts right now as the holiday season gets into full swing. Hope people can take a look at the essay HERE.

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The Law of Diminishing Returns

The time of year. Holiday lights, Christmas music from Thanksgiving to New Year. School almost done, the ships righted and the course set for calmer waters. Lunch today was provided by our PTA, and included talk of Heidegger to Italo Svevo, covering Trieste and Puglia on the journey. Strange how conversations tip one way then another. Talked in class yesterday about a student I used teach in San Diego and how dark and awful her life had become and how I made allowances so she could pass the class she was failing at that time. The message I wanted to share was about how much we care for our students and how on the surface we might assume things, yet when we scratch the surface and see below, we understand in a far different way. That’s why I was crying while I was telling the story, and because I thought of that student and all the crap she was going through, and how today she’s doing great. Law of diminishing returns.

And I am doing great, or so I tell myself. Stress, destress, count, mis-count. Debilitate. Stories come and go. Tonight a great horned owl flew across our path as we walked through town and it alit on the side of a tall palm tree, where it sat for a minute before flitting across to another larger tree where it appeared to have its nest. In search of mice, perhaps. All over the playground the small creatures scurried, cuteness factor high, in attempt to avoid the fate of claws. Metaphor for life. A hand in a wicker basket. An unseen adversary. The flash of talon. How the owl’s ears stood out in contrast to the closing of the day, the light faded, the rainclouds over the nearby foothills. Nature in synchronicity with urban life, the market going on a little way off, the pre-holiday shoppers bundled against the supposed cold of a Southern California winter’s day. The law of diminishing returns.

 

Five thousand miles away my mother avoids the world. Cocooned in an armchair, greeting visitors like some potentate of old. Giant room. Small woman. Blue light, white light, the Christmas tree in the common area downstairs, other citizens at their supper, celebrating the loss of hair and muscle and faculties. All I can do is close my eyes and think of our old house at Christmas; the tinsel and the colored paper chains, the holly boughs behind every mirror, the Carrara marble crib scene, the paper-chains crossing the rooms to meet in the center and attach to the light fittings. Had I a time machine to take me home, to return me to days of old for even a brief moment, to see her industry in the kitchen, producing magic out of ingredients. She sits in her chair and signs her names to the proffered Christmas cards. They’ll wing it to the four corners of the world. Law of diminishing returns.

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