Friday, November 02, 2018

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DOC!

In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, protagonist Billy Pilgrim reports that the Tralfamadorians look like upright toilet plungers with a hand on top, into which is set a single green eye:
...they were two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber's friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings about time.
Tralfamadorians have the ability to experience reality in four dimensions; meaning, roughly, that they have total access to past, present, and future; they are able to perceive any point in time at will. Able to see along the timeline of the universe, they know the exact time and place of its accidental annihilation as the result of a Tralfamadorian experiment, but are powerless to prevent it. Because they believe that when a being dies, it continues to live in other times and places, their response to death is, "So it goes." 

---Wikipedia


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In th' so-called "liturgical churches" (those that celebrate 'high mass': Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran), today is known as All Souls Day.  Coming out of ancient proto-Christian traditions, it is a time to honour those who have crossed o'er and are no longer with us, especially to remember those who have left us since this time last year.

Th' older we get th' more Loss we all feel and experience, and while time may heal all wounds, th' scars of those wounds remain.  Like corporeal scars, like war wounds, they may ache from time to time, or they may be stiff, hindering and restricting our freedom of movement.  In th' fullness of time, we learn to live with these scars, often to th' point that we may not even be aware of their presence for long periods of time.  But there comes times when we become peculiarly aware of their presence, and while th' wound itself may not reopen, it will ache, and we can all-too acutely remember how we got it.

Today is Doc Shaw's birthday; he's been gone now for four years...  well, 4.33 years, if you wanna be picky, having left us in June, but th' idea is still th' same:  how can so much time go by so quickly?  How can we keep going on in th' face of all these losses?

We're not Trelfamadorians, of course, and perhaps that's for th' best.  We live in 3 dimensions but thanks to our memory (and all those wonderful bits of various technology we can use to enhance and extend it, like video and photography and recordings), we can replay those times in our minds and, if we're lucky, on our VCR's or laptops and, for that short period of time, they are with us again.

There is, of course, more to be said on this subject, MUCH more.  There are unspoken memories to share, dull moments in time that, when they happened, were so mundane as to be almost invisible, but nonetheless now come swimming back to th' surface of consciousness-- a slow moment around a autumnal campfire, for example, where no one spoke and no one needed to.  A time when I needed a ride to work in th' dead of winter and Doc came over to pick me up, blue spotted metal camping mug full of black coffee.  I can hear myself say thanks, and him respond with a warm "no problem," and then a deep sniff to draw back whatever was dripping down th' inside of his head from a cold he was fighting.  Doc was a storyteller, a weaver of tales and nonesuch, and a raconteur, and what comes floating in from that Trelfamadorian look back along my own timeline this year on All Souls Day is the silences we shared.

Today is Friday, and hence I have to work.  I am also missing a noonday church service where the Litany of the Dead is held, and those we have lost have their names called out by the Intercessor during prayers.  I shant be there, but I carry all of it in my heart today...  Doc and his smile; doc and his stories; and Doc and his deep and calming silences, as cool and blue as his eyes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

TH' FOURTH DOC(tor)

First came Doc's crossing in June of 2014.  Then a whole year went by, and then another month after that, then two years, and then-- how can this be?!-- three years all flew by.  Just a few weeks ago, June 12th 2018, the forth anniversary of Doc's crossing came and laid it's head down in my lap.  How can this be at all possible?  It just has to be taken as one of those Great Mysteries, as an article of faith; try to wrestle it with logic, and next thing you know you find your shoulder's pinned to th' ground as th' Mystery sits upon your chest and it you begin to realize your foolishness for trying to suss it out in th' first place.

Friends, it makes absolutely no sense, like why airplanes fly and boats float and how McDonald's sells all them 'burgers and people like th' music of Justin Beiber, so it's best just to try not to figure it all out.  Doc is not only gone, he has been gone for four years now.  #OhDiscordia.

I've been lately thinking about my life's time
all th' things I've done and how it's been
and I can't help but thinking in my own mind
I know I'm gonna hate to see it end...

---John Denver

I have composed something to Doc's memory each year since his crossing, and as June came into sight o'er th' horizon and grew bigger in th' spyglass, I turned my mind again to what should I say?? what COULD I say?  One of th' things I discovered not too terribly long after Doc's crossing was that there was a great deal of writing that he had done as drafts and never finished.  I thought perhaps I would be able to finish them, th' way well-turned fans have finished and then expanded upon th' Universe that Douglas Adams left us, or even perhaps Dr. Seuss.  I soon discovered it is very unlikely that I am th' person to do that:  right now, I just ain't got th' chops.  And by "right now" I mean "probably th' foreseeable future; maybe even 7+ years into th' foreseeable future."  Then I began to fear that perhaps I didn't have th' chops to write anything in his memory THIS year; especially in th' aftermath of loosing my girlfriend, Kristine, to heart failure on Maundy Thursday in late March.  I was too raw, too sick with a sense of mourning and loss (and, yes, guilt-- always that bald old bastard, Guilt) to think I could write anything at all, let alone something worth general publication about Doc.

"it's best to speak true and smoke out th' devil," says th' grandmother of Stephen King's main character in his short story LT's Theory of Pets, and in keeping to that edict, let th' truth be bold and let it be hereby known that o'er time, Doc's Ghost has been fading a lil' bit by lil' bit to th' point that I believe he is coming more and more to his Final Rest.  Time does this, and it is a Right and Proper Thing, too, but I've always LIKED it when Doc's Ghost has sat by me, in th' car or on th' bench or in th' back of my classroom, looking all o'er things.  it would occur to me later in June that, in th' words of my Franciscan Brother, Friar John, "I was missing the act of missing him."  Kristine's Ghost hung 'round me and held my hand for only a week or so before passing into The Mind of God and Final Rest; Doc, who's final weeks and days were no doubt sheer hell, leading him to end his own life, had a more restive Ghost.  To realize that after 4 years his Ghost was beginning to find it's peace and he didn't need to check in as much (and, similarly, *I* didn't *need* him to check in as much, either), I began to sense him less and less. Again, this is Right & Proper, it is a Good and Glorious Thing Indeed, but it's also a change from th' status quo of almost half a decade and I was frankly loathe to have it all end.

*******

Indeed, try tho' I might, I wasn't able to finish this post until well, well later in th' year.  I'm cheating to all hell n' back by going in and posting this as June 12 (and if any o' y'all are right smart and know your stuff, you'll no doubt say now, what's THAT doing there?! when you scroll thru th' feed and realize that from June until October there was nuthin' from me, his Custodian, at all, on Th' Actual Anniversary Day of his Crossing O'er.  Didn't have th' chops?  Hell, I didn't have 'em in June nor July nor August when school started.  It's only with th' chill of Autumn in th' air and The Thinning of The Veil between th' worlds of th' Living and th' Dead that I'm able to sit here and try to add anything else...

...except, I can't.  Months later, regardless of th' post date I make this, I can't put together th' words to make it all right n' proper.  I can't say what I want to say 'cuz somewhere just below th' surface I don't even KNOW what I want to say.  I know I need to honour and mark this day of his Leavetaking; it is Th' Right Thing To Do, but I don't want it to become a mechanical, semi-meaningless thing, either.  This is more than, say, remembering V-J Day, or something that is historically important but so far removed from my own timeline and experience as to be hollow-- all surface and no depth.  It's important I say something, and yet, I can't.  What's more, I haven't been able to in something like 4 months.  Maybe it'll all come together better next year, in 2019...  Until then, or until I find th' words that fit together like tight puzzle pieces, know that you are forever in my heart, Doc.  I love you, and I miss you.


Monday, June 12, 2017

SONGS FROM TH' ECHO STONE

"may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."

"May the words of my hands and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Doc, my friend and my brother."

---Psalm 19:14 and variations thereupon


"The night falls, the day decays, the watchmen come to their stations.  The grave is dug, the spices laid, the linen taken forth.  The bones of death, the covering clay, the sinews shrunk and dried.  Reviving shape, inspiring move, breathing, awakening, springing like redeemed captives when their bonds and powers are pursed."


---Variations on William Blake's "America, a Prophecy", 1794




Out to th' back porch I carried
a tea lite votive in a glass holder
this laptop and mouse
an old box of kitchen matches
a tall can of Steel Reserve beer.

The sun was setting, the gloaming coming on
I struck a match into life and lit the railroad lantern.

saying the words of the Psalmist and my own variation, 
placed Doc's bowler on my head
      (it doesn't fit,
      and rides th' back of my head like an oversize character in Our Gang)
and I lit the candle in it's glass in the middle of th' table.

Doc's Ghost, who had been hanging about me all day today, 
came to sit in th' chair by th' door.

He looked at me, and with one hand took the Marlboro from his mouth and exhaled a soft cloud
with the other hand, he held up three fingers, Sign Language style:  the index, the middle and the thumb
        telling me that at least part of him was my own imaginings, 
       because that's th' way *I* make th' number 3.

I nodded, raised the pink plastic cup to his health, and he did likewise with his own can
conjured right then just for that moment.

We drank.

We sat for a long moment, words not being necessary, just like in the old days in these moments,
and he stood in his faded jeans and red cap and walked down into th' yard
where there is that patch of scorched earth.

Doc conjured a pile of dry kindling, tipi-ed up in that simple way of his that I still have yet to master
3 years gone today and still able to put together in minutes what I still haven't learned

reached into his pocket and pulled out a Zippo I found at a garage sale when I was 17 
   (some kind of advertisement for spark plugs on th' side)
and lit the fire.

I sat on the bench and wrote myself standing up too, to also cross down to the fire and sit in one of the
wooden lawnchairs that Doc also made for us that we might sit and be comfortable
and not on the hard ground peppered with the cast shells squirrels rained down like spring showers.

there was no wind; smoke rose vertically

the crickets sang

the fire popped now and then as it grew bigger.

"a fire makes its own kin, 
and knows no stranger," I said aloud, because it had to be said
    it always had to be said.  It's true, and it pleases the fire.

Doc smiled, and his eyes got that got that look--
you know it-- that soft one; that inward-gazing one,
th' one that says "somewhere between now and no more than 7 minutes from now,
I will recite On the Road to Mandalay,'
because *I* must; because it has to be said.  We cannot HAVE this moment without Kipling.

somewhere between then and 7 minutes from the then
and becasue it was a Watermelon Sugar moment--
I am here and you are distant--
I stood by this fire.

I took off Doc's bowler and held it by the brim o'er my heart
and because he coudln't be heard, I spoke for him


By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

with the poem drifting into th' air
a thread tying this place and time to that place and time
3 years and 500 miles between

and Doc sitting quiet, his eyes closed
his feet in his big leather shoes
I recited the whole thing for him, just as I heard him say it all those times before.
I sat down and drank th' last swallow.

Doc opened his eyes, 
gave me one of his dimpled smiles,
and nodded once.


The oil in th' lantern was almost gone, and th' flame became weak and small.
I blew it out, 
looked up

and saw that Doc was gone.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

DOC'S CROSSING, AS SEEN FROM MARS

There was a famous French criminologist named Emile Locard, and seventy years ago he came up with something called Locard’s Exchange Principle.  It says something to the effect that any person passing through a room will unknowingly deposit something there and take something away.  Modern technology proves it.  Dandruff, a hair, a fingerprint—- things like that—- remain.  Fulghum’s Exchange Principle extends Locard’s thinking:  every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away.  Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered or scientifically detected or counted.  It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they lave in ours.  Memory.  The census doesn’t count it.  nothing counts without it.

---Robert Fulghum
All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten


Two years.  

My friends n' neighbours, my brothers and sisters, today marks th' second anniversary of Doc's crossing in 2014.  I stand before you, spread my hands, wrinkle my brow, and ask you where has the time gone??  I surely don't know.

Last year 'pon this date, I had said

Almost a year ago, I had said “there was a time when I thought I had it more-or-less altogether, and thought I knew what to say in moments like these.”  More than 300 days later, while I still feel moved to again stand up and raise a glass to his memory, no words seem to be quite right, like struggling to put together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces won’t fit, that you study and pour over, turning them this way and that, attempting to mash them down into place because, by golly, they LOOK like they should fit, only to find that when you look at th’ box lid, what you’re holding is part of some OTHER puzzle that got mysteriously mixed in.  Doc, were he here, would be able to make those pieces fit, I’m sure.

And, of course, he IS here; as Dickens said in his Ghostly Little Book, “I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”  I close my eyes and I can see him, those blue-grey eyes of his carefully studying me, that oh-so slight grin on his face as he sizes me up in these passing seconds, taking in this moment of silence, th’ gears in th’ well-oiled machinery of his mind contemplating what to say.  In a moment, he’ll speak something short and pithy in that soft, mid-Ohio accent of his, and like dropping pebbles into still water, my own laughter will be the ripples that slowly fan out and off to th’ shores, th’ stillness of sadness broken.

I went on to say that I find th' word "last" is perhaps one of th' most lonely, saddest words in all of th' English language, especially when it was paired with th' word "first"-- as in th' first after th' last.  June '14 thru '15 was choc-full of first-lasts:  th' first outdoor fire and weenie roast without Doc; th' first Thanksgiving, Xmas, Groundhog Day without him, and a million other little passing moments that stung when I realized that we were all somehow carrying on in his absence.

For me, June '15 thru '16 has been an absolute whirlwind as we packed up and then moved 500 miles south from OH to NC so I could take a job teaching 5th grade-- a move that I likened to moving to a civilized, green Mars:  there are humans here, and tall buildings, and coffee and Wal-Marts and children who deeply need reading instruction, but it's not been Home, and th' insects, th' food, th' trees, especially th' traffic patterns and even th' very soil (which is a bright-to-deep red) makes me realize my distance from kith and kin.  

Dozens, if not hundreds of times, I've found myself having an experience or thinking a story, something my students did or something I saw, and wished I could tell it to Doc, because I knew he would not only get a kick out of it, but would've probably used it on a story of his; he had that kind of mind.  In a past life, I used to live in Florida, and many-and-many-a time I would call him up and bend his ear with stories of isolation and loneliness and general ennui and despair at being so far away, and he would listen to my nonesuch and be able to turn my sorrows around enough for me to pull it back together.  My Gal has been here for me in that capacity, and for that I'm wholly grateful and humbled, but how many times would I have liked to be able to tell Doc a story or share an experience from my first year back in th' trenches of public school in one of th' country's largest school districts??  More times than I can count.

A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning. 

---James Dickey

Saturday, December 26, 2015

a story Doc would've no doubt enjoyed... Merry Xmas, everyone!!

The Christmas Tree Man 
By Cynthia Rylant 

His house is far out.  Farther out than you can imagine anyone living. It’s small and clean and white most summers its cool; most winters it’s warm. 

It’s a good house for a man alone. 

The man himself is a small man, and skinny.  He has never married.  He has no one.  And each year, he grows older. 

He didn’t know he would live his life alone.  When he was a boy, and his name was Garnet Ash, he lived with his family on a street in a town not too big.  He was a regular boy.  He played football and out in his backyard.  But because he loved being at home most of all, he had few friends and spent most of his days with his parents.  Each night he fell asleep listening to their soft voices moving from room to room. 

But before Garnet Ash had barely grown up, quite suddenly, his parents died.  And Garnet Ash didn’t know what to do with himself, with them gone, his family.  He hadn’t had time to find a wife.  And with no family to whom he could bring a wife, with suddenly no father who could build a nice kitchen table for her, with suddenly no mother who could give summer roses to her… with suddenly no one at all, Garnet Ash didn’t know what to do except go on having no one at all. 

He couldn’t live in his small town any longer.  He missed his father and mother too much.  So he found a small white house far out, and he moved away, further out than you can imagine. 

And he found an occupation that kept him living, that has kept him living so many, many years. 

Garnet Ash is a Christmas Tree Man.  Now, few people know him by his real name.  They know him only as the Christmas Tree Man. 

All around his small white house grow those Christmas trees.  Garnet Ash plants them and he raises them like children.  Some fat, some lopsided, some strong like rocks and others too weak to try anymore. 

Like anything else, his trees bring him joy and sorrow. 

At certain times of the year, Garnet Ash will dive his old truck out and into the town to get groceries and fertilizer and kerosene and saplings.  But apart from these few trips into the world of groceries and farmers and nurserymen, Garnet Ash lives out each of his years alone. 

In March, when purple crocuses spurt up through the sow, he stands and admires them alone. In June, when hornets build a nest under the eaves of his house, he stand and worries alone.  And in October, when the moon is giant and orange, he stands and whispers to it alone.  He often thinks of his parents. 

And all this time, his children are growing. 

But Garnet Ash, who spends his birthdays alone, who eats Thanksgiving dinner alone, who watches the beginnings of each winter and spring and summer and fall alone—come December, he will be surrounded.  

They drive out from the towns in their cars to find him.  The cars are shiny and white and red or red or yellow.  In them there is always more than one person and usually there are three or four or five. 

They are families.  They need a Christmas tree.  And they have come looking for the Christmas Tree Man. 

Garnet Ash expects them.  Every year.  And even after all these many years of seeing them drive up to his small, clean white house, he has not grown tired of them. 

On the first day of December Garnet Ash is full of anticipation.  He trembles with it.  He stands before his mirror and trims his hair, combs his beard, plucks his brows a bit.  He reaches into the back of a drawer and pulls forth his best red reindeer scarf. 

He is looking forward to the company. 

The people park their shiny cars and the doors open and out they climb, mothers and fathers and children and grandparents, and they are filled with life, with hope, with wanting a tree. 

The Christmas Tree Man in the red reindeer scarf welcomes them and they say hello, how are you, getting cold isn’t it, do you have a good crop this year? 

And Garnet Ash gestures to his fields, he introduces his children, he says, “I have a good crop.” 

So the men and the women and the children and even sometimes the dogs they have brought with them will hurry into the rows and rows of sleeping green trees, quiet green trees.  The snow will crack under their boots and the mist of their breathing will rise up to the sky and they will prowl through the fields of The Christmas Tree Man. 

Garnet Ash is happy.  He is proud.  He says, “Merry Christmas!” and waves to them as the drive off, their shiny cars sprouting bushy pine tails.  Sometimes a boy will lean out of a car window, waving, and the eyes of Garnet Ash will soften and his smile will slacken he will think he is waving to himself.  To himself and his family, driving off in that car. 

The cars will keep coming, every day, and at night, too.  Everyone looking for the Christmas Tree Man.  And when all of his best trees are gone and there is nothing to offer but a lopsided tree, a skinny tree, a short tree, Garnet Ash will give the people bags of hot chestnuts to ease their disappointment. Eating chestnuts, they’ll decide a lopsided tree isn’t so bad, really. 

Finally, on Christmas Eve, there will be only one or two cars. 

Then, Garnet Ash will be alone. 

Very late in the night on Christmas Eve, he will walk thought his fields, among the stumps and the trees left behind. 

“So, not pretty enough for them, eh?” he will say to one of his children.  “Well, lucky for you, I’d say!” 

He will walk through the stumps and the trees, and the moon will be large and white and the sky clear and deep, and the rabbits will watch him from the edge of his fields. 

Garnet Ash will walk until he finds the weakest tree among those left to stand, the sorriest tree.  And he will unwind his red reindeer scarf from around his neck and he will drape it on the top boughs of his ugly child. 

Then, very late, Garnet Ash will walk back to his small, clean white house and he will smile to himself and think what it is to be a Christmas Tree Man.