On The Road, Again

“There are places I remember,
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better.
Some have gone and some remain…”

-J.Lennon/P. Mccartney

On the Road, Alone

An old friend wrote of driving home alone on a long, dark road on a clear winter night, a full moon leading the way home. Perhaps it is not the perfect time for music, even a classic, but a time for reflection and connection. “How very, very much life has changed,” my friend wrote – wistfully, I imagined. “So very, very much.”

There it is, isn’t it? Young, midlife, old – it doesn’t matter really. In a car alone at night with miles behind and as many yet to travel, the connection seems easy and comforting, even if bittersweet sometimes. Easier, at least, than when surrounded by the chatter and laughter of even the good life you have. Easier to imagine passing yourself walking on the side of the road, looking back with longing and ahead with anticipation – always mixed with some apprehension. Looking back to recall who it was you left behind. Those who took a different turn, leaving you in the process. The things, the times that brought you to this quiet place, the full moon casting your shadow on the road behind.

So very, very much has changed. But still, there is all the time and distance ahead. The road to travel, however long or short. I must have changed without noticing it, you might reflect, and try to discern who the person you are now really is. What you are doing, and why. Who it is I need to become, you may ask – or will become if things don’t change! Do I have the energy, the courage, the time to change myself, or will the change happen no matter what I do? There is so much that could happen – has happened – that I did not choose. So much that I did – might do – that is wrong. True, some choices were right – for me or those I love, loved, will love. But…

Well, that may be the crux of it. I don’t know about my friend, but when I look back it isn’t the beach I walked but who I walked on it with that changed me. Not the school but the friends I studied life with there. Not the job but those working by my side, those I strove with to survive and provide. Not what I created but who I crafted it for, who inspired me to make it. That is what made me who I am now – the people, good and bad on the road behind and that I will meet on the moonlit road ahead. And those who walk, ride, fly with me in this place where we struggle to be and to become. This place, this time where and when the true connections can be forged.

I could be wrong, I suppose. Only time will tell, my friend reminds me. We are far from home still.

Only time will tell.

Simple Treasures

Walk slowly, look closely, breathe deeply.
Sawgrass Lake on a Florida winter day.
Deafening quiet.
A young couple, whispering,
try to name the colors of
a Green Heron in the sun.
Deciding, at long last, it can’t be done
they hold hands and watch her hunt,
leaning close together.

The Circle Game

The Circle Game

“And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down”
We’re captive on the carousel of time…”

I’ve had it with hurricanes and tornados. I’m finished with heart attacks and dementia and every strain of Covid, not to even mention ear infections, depression, anxiety, and every other manifestation of mental illness. I’m so over politics, religion, Wall Street, food banks, medical insurance, art, music, and dancing around. Yes, I’m so completely fed up. I’ve had my fill of insurrections, police brutality, pride parades, Proud Boys, West Virginia senators, authoritarianism, oligarchs, con artists, and bad acting whether in digital streams or empty theaters.

But you get the idea, don’t you? You can pick up the list and roll on at your own pace. You can start with pandemics and anti-vaxers if you need a push.

Can you even think of the last time these and a thousand other ills and broken promises weren’t hovering around your door every time you wanted to just go for a damn walk?

I can.

1969 – or thereabouts – that’s when.

In 1969 (just for one) the million madnesses and pestilences had not taken hold of our fresh young minds, let alone our hearts. In 1969 some of the best people I’ve ever known were in charge of all the important stuff. Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare were in charge of all medical research and Flipper was running the oceans. Sonny and Cher had each other, babe, and The Monkees and the Beatles had everybody else. Most of the girls had Princess phones and some even had boyfriends to talk to (on and on) after supper. Music, in 1969 anyway, was in every nook and cranny, pouring out of every car radio, pink record player, the Band Room (or parking lot or football field), the Teen Center, the tinny speakers at Bob’s IGA, and probably from the celestial spheres themselves, if rumor has it right.

In 1969 I could run up the school stairs two or three at a time even though running in the halls was one of the more serious crimes. In 1969 getting sent to The Office was a bad thing, usually, even for seniors. That year snow days were losing their appeal because potential Friday night dates didn’t get to pass each other in the hall and pretend not to notice each other. And if the storm hit on a Friday no one was allowed to drive around and around Dairy Queen until 11:30 in their parent’s Dodge or one of the three rich kids’ Mustangs or GTOs.

The biggest problem most of the seniors had was finding the right prom date – or any prom date. The biggest problem for sophomore girls was catching the eye of at least a junior (seniors were a little too handsy, it was whispered) who might ask them to the Flight Ball. In 1969, boys and girls “dated” because hanging out in coed groups had yet to be invented. The secrets of what went on in cars after the last dance were just that – Secrets. Everyone thought everyone else knew what the Secrets were, but in 1969 that was as unlikely as catching AIDS, which also hadn’t been invented yet. The Pill had been, but only just, and it had to be prescribed by kindly but clueless doctors to the daughters of savvy mothers who knew the Secrets, and then only for “the cramps” – whatever those were.

Stepping out of 1969 into the vast darkness of “out there” was not something one did on a whim. Somewhere out there was Vietnam, unplanned pregnancy, rampant inflation, pre-seatbelt car crashes, and, lifetimes later, the takeover of the GOP, whatever that is, and Omicron, which is not, sadly, a greek fraternity, though those were also a looming danger.

Somehow, though, we stepped out of that decade anyway, only to find ourselves here at the beginning end of the circle. Joni Mitchell probably had it right:

“We can’t return, we can only look
Behind, from where we came
And go round and round and round, in the circle game…”

-Postscript:

There is a boatload of bad happening now. There was in 1969 too. (War, political assassinations, DDT, racial strife,…the list goes on, eh?) Beyond the personal warm fuzziness of nostalgia though, there was some amazingness  flying around back then (moon landings anyone?) 

And frankly people were not as downright nasty to each other, comparatively. People – real people – are really frightened.  Scared of losing our democracy altogether, messy as it is, to some jack-booted thuggery. Scared of doing nothing about real problems and killing us all in the process. Scared of losing our own families fighting over crazy things – ideas that don’t even exist except in some weird conspiracy world. 

It would be great if some cosmic, stern but loveable grandmother-goddess would swoop in and just put us all in timeout to think about what we are doing and don’t come out until we have settled down and can play nice. Doesn’t look like that’s likely. 

So, for what it’s worth, my suggestion is that we all spend a few minutes every day thinking seriously about what the hell we are all doing to each other. Then look in our own past, the good and bad episodes, and in our own best imaginations for what we want the future to be and how we want to live with each other. Then spend just a few minutes in the good old here and now trying anything we can to stitch our past and future back together in ways we can live with. I’m scared that if we don’t there won’t be much worth living for. Maybe if we all get fed up with where we are we can begin again and at least keep the circle going round and round a while longer. 

I mean, what choice do we really have anyway?

New Year Morning

Light reflecting from sunlit water
ruffled by a quiet breeze
dancing in dark sheltered limbs
of an ancient pine.

Red-shouldered hawk on a craggy branch
high above the little wood
preening tiny soft feathers
under magnificent fierce wings.

The no-sound of busy lives
sleeping in on a holiday morning
but soon waking to wonder
what difference they ever made
and why.

Single stately bright-white cloud
passing miles above it all
the distant tiny details lost
like childhood thoughts
in a shimmering tableau below.
Map to new beginnings.

Tonight At The J&J

When my youngest was very little, she, Jenny, and I were talking one day about restaurants and what kind we would open if we could.

“Vegetarian,” Jen says.

“With music and open mic nights,” I proposed.

“One with all kinds of different people who know all kinds of different languages to cook and be servers,” was Izzy’s idea.

Then we tried to agree on a name, which was harder. Again, the younger sister fought the hardest for her idea. She said the name should include all of us: “The J&J House of Poem”.

I told her we got the J&J and even House of Poem, but how did that include her? “Easy,” she said. “You guys would have your initials in the name, but me and the others would get to do all the work. So that’s fair.”

I didn’t quite get it, but for years after that, every time we passed a building for sale or an empty commercial storefront, she would poke me and point it out.

“Look,” she’d say. “It’s the J&J.”

She would always have this kind of faraway look on her face, like she could see the whole thing, beautiful and perfect in her mind.

Maybe that’s what people will start doing – imagining something totally new rising up from the ruins of the old ways.

A thousand – no, a million! – Houses of Poem.

The Day You Came By Here

Here it is. That picture of Buddy, our little dog we found by the river with the old lab Maurice the one we called Mauri. Remember them that way from the day you dropped in? So early that morning, already so heavy, so windless, so humid and hot. You flopped down in the lawn chair and busted the seat and just sat there like nothing had happened cause that’s just how you are. Just like you to ruin things by being so thoughtless. You thought it was funny. You said we should load up and go swim in the river down the road by the bend.

When Lar finally woke up and came down for coffee it had been decided. Lar said she didn’t know and she said she might just stay here so we laughed, called her lazy. Lar didn’t think it was funny. Buddy and Mauri could sense an adventure. They stood by the door and shook with excitement until Mauri sat on the little one and licked on his head. Lar sat down beside them in her light cotton robe and hugged them and kissed them told them to watch out for us. We told Lar of course we’ll be careful. She looked a bit sad as she did pretty often around that time.

When we got to the river in our beatup old pickup the sun was up higher and came in through the window. Buddy and Mauri jumped down from the back and went running and barking and found the old rowboat still tied to the willow. The rope was really rotten and it leaked just a little but we didn’t care. We remembered how we had been such strong young swimmers. We still were we reckoned. We called the pups and they leaped into the boat and we pushed off in the river and drifted a while. There was almost no current and the water was murky but it swirled when we paddled pulling cooler water up from deeper.

The sun got hotter as it rose and you almost swamped the boat when you dived in with Buddy and Mauri right behind you. When I was sure the boat wouldn’t float too far off I eased myself in and dogpaddled over to you. You said I fit right in with the other dogs circling us, play-nipping at each other. I told you to keep an eye on them and swam out and caught the boat by the trailing rope and towed it over for us to hold on to if we got tired. You said I was fussing like an old woman and took off toward the middle of the river with Buddy right after you and Mauri circling and trying to watch all three of us and whining a little. I hoisted Mauri up on the boat and he shook and stretched out on the center seat then scooted over to hang his head out and watch you and Buddy.

Floating on my back looking up at the blue sky and heat risers coming off the water reminded me of three years before that at the beach that summer. I felt the old queasiness rising thinking of you and Lar playing in the swells and the way she was watching you and whooping when she got behind you and rose up on your shoulders pushing you under then holding her nose and going under. It was such a long time before you came up that I sat up on my elbows and was about to jump up and go in after you. You popped up in that play-like embrace, blowing and shaking your heads but then you both turned at the same time and looked to see if I was still asleep and I wasn’t and you separated quickly and swam to shore like nothing was wrong under the pounding sun.

But that was a long time ago before the river swim and before Mauri jumped in and dragged Buddy back to me by the scruff of the neck and you were off in your own world out there paying no attention to anything but yourself I guess. You were still doing that when I threw Buddy on the boat and dragged Mauri up by the collar and got Buddy breathing again somehow but he hasn’t been the same really since that day. Won’t go near the water and just stands on the bank barking until Lar picks him up and snuggles him and tells him he will be okay even if she knows deep down he won’t be quite the same again. Just like we hugged each other by the shoulders when we put you on the plane the next day and looked at each other and then looked away.

Here is that picture of the way things were then so you’ll know how we all were before that day you came by.

On Andor

The galaxy is a place of many wonders and many mysteries. When the survey ship arrived on Andor the team learned some amazing things about the planet they had encountered nowhere in any of the hundreds of studied worlds inhabited by humanoids.

Chief among the initial findings was that Andor had a gravitational anomaly that affected every inch of the place and every sentient creature on it. Simply put, there was only up. At least that’s how the population experienced gravity here. Every movement, be it step, leap, shuffle, roll, or any other way of moving from one place to another was up. And every creature on the planet was in constant motion in the same direction – up.

Over the millenia all the living things had adapted to an upwardness of existence in which, no matter which way you turned yourself everything in front of one was up. Call it uphill, if you wish. There were a few twists. Depending on exactly where you were the surface of the huge globe, which was about four times the size of old Earth, the way forward was steeper or less steep, but was always up.

The investigation hinted at a number of facts of life here that only the universal upness could explain. For instance, every societal group, be it two individuals or thousands, was in constant movement forward, and therefore upward. Since the up-effect could not be escaped, there was, in effect, no going back. Simply put, down, and eventually the concept of back, just did not exist. Further, since every move forward was also upward, going against the inclination of others was generally impossible. Of course one could stop or move forward faster or more slowly, so if you were discontent with your neighbors you could speed up or slow down, even stop, and those around you would inevitably change. When you were overtaken (or overtook) a group or even a few people you were comfortable with, you simply adjusted your pace to stay with them.

The result of this, again over a long time, was a constantly moving, shifting, and regrouping population. They found that moving at the same speed, stopping at the same time, and changing course slowly, and together, was the only truly comfortable to live. Except for the freedom exercised by the relatively few speed-changers among them, implicit agreement as to who one wanted to live among determined daily life. Groups of people were always passing up others and being passed up.

Here is what evolved, eventually. All living things on Andor constantly moved along great Highways that snaked over the land. Along the Highways the more slow-moving individuals or groups built comfortable shelters and storehouses for everything that was necessary for survival. Some contributed to the stores and shelters as they created or found supplies for life, with the knowledge that someone or some group was doing the same for them further down the road. Of course it was silly to try to carry all you needed when the next stopping place would have the same kinds of things for your use, sometimes more, sometimes less, but typically at least enough to survive on or so much that using the things lavishly was fine – for a time.

It may be difficult for you, as it was for the survey teams, to understand and accept why constant movement forward was necessary. If so, recall that, on Andor, while forward movement requires effort, everything that lies ahead is uphill of where you are, consider how it feels to stop in one spot. While there is no concept of back or down, it may not be hard to imagine how uncomfortable it would be to resist when gravity itself is pulling you forward, even if it is upward. Simultaneously, resisting the urge to move forward is essentially requiring you to lean in an unknown direction with unknown (but probably harmful) consequences. Think about it. Was the last time you pulled against your natural inclination – and the inclination of everyone around you – a pleasant experience? Maybe. But not likely.

Andor. Such a place! Such a wonder!

As the survey teams returned to the ship and lifted off they marveled at the peaceful, purposeful population below and the complex flow of life always moving forward.

Then, looking down and back longingly, they rocketed up and away. Forward. Always forward.

Happy New Year!

Jim

Skeleton Flowers

When the fog ate the flowers they were scarlet –
the deepest and purest refraction of light
suddenly lightless, though unafraid
of the dark of the gray and wet.

Scarlet. Sturdy. Scented.
Enveloped by thick vapor climbing
down from a roiling cloud encircling them
they disappeared quietly along with their smell.

What happened in the time of the disappearance
as night joined the vanishing act is unclear –
mysterious as everything flowers do
when frozen in time and space.

Fog below freezing makes
ice to escape itself and leaves behind
frozen delicate exoskeletons on all it touches
like old men tell stories to keep from being forgotten.

The flowers, cut off from bees and admiring humans
might shrivel and melt down the ice straw stems
to escape from the pain and loneliness
leaving ghostly memories.

Skeletons void of sweet scarlet smells
as warm thoughts become old stories.

On Anclote Key

There’s a bustling riverport town called Tarpon Springs on the coast north of Clearwater. It’s reason for being (before tourists showed up) has always been sponge diving. It is worth looking up – or visiting, if only to save me from rambling on here about the heavy Greek immigrant population from sponge diving towns in Greece.

Anclote Key is four miles from the mouth of the Anclote River, due west out in the Gulf, the last dry land until Texas or Louisiana. It is an uninhabited island wildlife preserve accessible only by boat.

The short version is that we launched from Tarpon Springs in a 22-foot Cobia center-console boat, motored downriver and then out to the Key, around the island and back to the dock.

Here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago after my first trip out to the Key. There had been a major storm a few days before and a lot of small craft had been lost. Some had been blown up onto the beaches of Anclote. There were quite a few waterman walking the beaches to see if anything was salvageable. One guy found the wreck of his crabbing boat just as the overcast sky began to open up in spots. I got this photo of him just standing on the beach staring at what was left of his boat.

On Anclote Key

In the distance across the beach
a man stares stoop-shouldered
at the wrecked boat.
The man exists –
and the wreck.
The storm existed,
but is gone.

On Anclote Key are many wrecks.
A few survivors. Fewer still
feeling a warm sun
breaking through.

Walking Each Other Home

That’s all we are doing. Just walking home, you and I. At first it was exciting to hold your hand, then later it was calming and safe the way we fit together as we made our way through the starlit night – the way you held my arm and we leaned toward each other slightly. It felt almost like becoming someone new – someone better. Someone more trustworthy. Home grew closer and closer.

The teacher Ram Dass said that we are all just walking each other home. Maybe. But how far it is to home? What house is home, and who is waiting to greet us there? Sometimes the night is cold and crisp, other times whispering warm and humid. Always we keep walking, stopping only to look up at a full moon or tell some secret we just remembered.

All of us, our whole lives through, just walking each other home. A cold night on a dark street, passing houses that could be home to someone we once knew, or might someday. Or once thought we did.

Do I ever miss the places we walked? Not really, because I never really left them. I hope I never do. I can close my eyes and hear the rustling of the trees, bare in winter, heavy with pink flowers in late spring.

On this, what could be the last part of our walk, it seems a long way home still. We all lean in a little closer and hold each other a bit tighter and try to remember another forgotten secret we can whisper to make the walk last as long as possible.

We will get home eventually, though each of us will have to walk the last little bit alone – from your home to mine, or mine to yours. For that, remembering will have to do.