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Dawn Java

The dawn is teasing the dark horizon,
a pink-smeared promise along it's edge
I cradle the warm cup between my hands, quiet solitude

The dark, sweet coffee rolls across my tongue like a samba,
and I taste the shadows and sunshine of faraway places,
a momentary romance of the senses,
a travelogue of rich invitation

I close my eyes and inhale slowly,
exhale slower still,
finding the rhythm of my day in the staccato beat of my heart

I am most present in this moment and,
whatever else may come,
I am gratefully aware of my complex machinery,
bound by its wonder,
body and soul, science and mystery

The sun rises, as do I
And so begins another day

Holiday Monday

I am an unapologetic Word Nerd. I don't just mean I'm a writing, reading, Scrabble-playing fan of the alphabetic construct. I'm an acolyte at the alter of the power of the word in any form. Don't tell me that sticks and stones may break my bones....any child (or adult, for that matter) who has felt the wounding stab of unkind words will tell you that the pain is not only real, but indelibly printed onto our memory. What power in the carefully launched barb, the targeted stab of articulated meanness. And who doesn't remember the simple kindness of caring that comes with a thank you, the soul's rising at a whispered "I love you" spoken from the heart? Words start wars, end relationships, shape sounds melodic, express every emotion for every circumstance needing communication. I think this is why the shrug is so infuriating to receive if you're a true word nerd. We NEED the explanation, spelled out in personally-chosen defining words. I don't care if it's profane or profound....give me SOMETHING. I deserve more than your silent dismissal. There is nothing that is a bigger diss than the shrug. The power of the word, written or spoken, defines civilization. But, more importantly, it is the record of your passage through this life. What you say matters. My dad used to say, "At the end of the day, you are only as good as your word." I still remember those words and try to live by them. Testament to their power. It's Martin Luther King Day, and the television is quick to plop quotes from his speeches into their broadcasts. He said some great things from many public platforms, but wouldn't it be great to be someone he spoke to in private? A confidante, someone who carries his words inside them like a talisman, perhaps? Maybe words that belie the public image a bit, show the private, human side of the public man? Wouldn't that be awesome, to own the memory of those words? Whenever I listen to any public speaker, I am always reminding myself that those words were carefully chosen, polished and analyzed and vetted before seeing the light of day in any forum....and that, most likely, they were (partially, if not entirely) the creation of some other articulate word nerd for hire. When you think about it, whose famous words are you really ascribing to the speaker? Wouldn't it be far more interesting to have a beer with them in some out of the way pub and see what words roll off their tongue when they are separate from their public image? Some earthy humor, some maudlin remembrance, some sarcastic observation....those words would perhaps only live in the memory of those few within earshot, but does that lessen their import? Is their power measured on some scale...firecracker to nuclear bomb? Does it lessen how profound they are if there is a memory record of their simple humanity, inciting no more than a belly laugh at a gathering of just those drawn 'round the table? Few will achieve epic historic stature, but for someone we will have a profound effect on their life with our words. And our words outlive us. Choose wisely.

Been a while.......

Wow. It's been a while. Is that the understatement of the year, or what? My cousin Larry keeps reminding me to write. And I keep intending to, but.....you know what they say about the road to hell. Mine must be a paved, eight-lane Super Highway about now. But, I'm back. Ready or not. And my first mental musing is for you, Larry.....


Midnight Opus#1

Inky midnight presses against the slice of headlights
cutting through the darkened streets,
a beacon passing across the slumbering houses
where soft light seeps from behind the shaded windows

The wind sighs and whispers,
poking it's fingers into the nooks,
seeking the rustling company of the odd loose bits
as my tires gently hum along the black asphalt river

I can feel the dreaming....
the busy alter-egos saving the day,
lost loves recovered, forbidden desires,
jagged edges of grief's pain
polished smoother with each night's respite,
the monsters under the beds

Brick and mortar, sticks and stones,
murky rows of Pandora's boxes,
side by side in dark silhouettes
And the pageant of dreams stirs behind their shutters
as they pass from sight in my rear view mirror

Snow Angels

Snow Angels


It’s snowing again
and I’ve gone outside to catch it on my tongue.
You’ll say I’m crazy,
but we both know there’s nothing new there.
I think it’s crazy that you won’t dance
in the new-fallen snow,
so brilliant it seems to have captured the moonlight
and laid it out before us, a jeweled carpet for dancing.
I’ve RSVP’d its invitation
but you linger in the doorway, scowling.
You say your shoes will get wet, and it’s late, and it’s cold.
I can’t hear you because I’m busy
making my first snow angel of the season.
And you know it won’t be my last.
(And the very idea of that makes you crazy.)
“What if the neighbors see you?”
“I’ll give them snow angel lessons
and charge them a nickel.
We’ll be rich!”
You think I’m odd, but not funny.
I think you think too much.
You retreat with a firm close of the door,
leaving me to all this silent, glistening landscape
and the dark outline of angels dancing across the lawn.
But, if I’m very still,
 I believe I can hear them singing.
It's not that I'm all that sick of the snow....because it hasn't been that much of an hindrance in my unemployed lifestyle. And it's even rather pretty, if you go for that sterile, blindingly-white landscape thing. But, if I'm going to have snow, damn it, I want a mountain to ski...enough of the stuff to warrant a snowmobile for cryin' out loud. I mean, really, our winter typifies everything I hate about this place. We are not QUITE anything. We're the last to catch on, the first to stand on the status quo, so afraid of adventure that the biggest stir is over what to put on our bloody license plates. (Don't bother to look, it doesn't even register a ping on the excitement meter...probably a picture of a rock and a bird, not particularly well-executed. It'll rotate with a picture of an ear of corn or a football helmet, most likely.) No one knows what our state quarter looks like and frankly it doesn't matter. When Jeopardy had "Nebraska" as a category, every time Alec read a question the contestants stood there, hands poised on their buzzers, looking like deer in the headlights. One of them actually bothered to answer that our state capital was Omaha. That point debit for their attempt promptly scared the rest into silence. People obviously think we're still trying to upgrade to indoor plumbing. (Some of us are.)
I know, I know...."Love the one you're with..." or get out of Dodge, already. I've had that conversation with myself for the last decade. And here I still am. And, if anything, my opinion has only solidified with time. So, WHY am I still here? Does Nebraska emit some sort of inertia ray from the nitrate deposits in the cornfields? I feel claustrophobic at the notion of spending the next year here, let alone the rest of my life. I think there is some gypsy in my blood, because my IDEAL "retirement" would be living in a medium-to-small sized RV and hitting the Left Coast and working my way up to the Pac Northwest and just breathing the air. To that end, I DO buy a lottery ticket before each Powerball drawing...just saying. But I don't have this need to own land. Why? The longer you live, the less you need to own....good health insurance, yes. But for what purpose are you paying a mortgage? You want to deal with all that maintenance? Taxes? So your children can inherit? They probably already fell into their own mortgage pit. Sell what you don't need and see as much of the world (or the country) as you can, that's my motto. Meet interesting people, find the best coffee shops, browse the fresh produce and seafood markets, enjoy the scenery, learn about new places and things. Stop. Take deep breaths. You can't take it with you. People tell you that you get tax benefits from home ownership. I tell you this, it will never outweigh the cost of the ownership when you reach a certain point in your life. Home is where I hang my hat...and I love the idea of mobility.
Or maybe the cornfield rays have penetrated my tinfoil hat.......

Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog.....

Life with a new family member (of the long-earred basset hound variety) always requires some adjustments.....boy howdy, there's an understatement (just ask the cats).

I had some people ask me why I took an 'older' dog rather than a puppy, knowing that she might have health issues coming up and a lesser span of time with us. She's 8 years old, and for a medium-large breed that can be considered a bit senior. To me, that sort of question is like asking someone why they are friends with someone older as opposed to a junior high kid. It's not like I'm looking to enter the national dog frisbee competition. And the Big Girl came with a fully formed personality, which is comical, quirky, and endearing. Plus, the decidedly advantageous quality of being totally house trained. (YOU wipe up the puppy pee, thank you.) Getting to know her is both interesting and rewarding. She's my first venture into Bassetland, and it's been fascinating.

She's a talker, for one. She has a whole grunting, groaning, moaning and chortling vocabulary that she's been teaching me. She punctuates with nose-pushes and bumps. She's 'napping pals' with the BIG cat (who is armed and dangerous), but the baby cat will send her behind my legs...quaking and ducking at the mere sight of that bottle-brush tail and hiss. (She only outweighs her by 55 lbs. and SOME day she will register that in her brain and we'll have a showdown if they haven't made friends yet.) I tell her it's okay, but she gives me that same look that children use when you try to tell them that the medicine tastes good.

And she's a bed hog. She likes to clamber up on the bed, scratch the covers off you and into a pile she's personally designed, and then after a few dozen dog turns on top of it...she will land and put those short but mighty-muscled legs against you and PUSH you into her desired position (usually with your ass hanging in the wind off the edge and please don't forget that the blankets are a CENTERED sculpture now nowhere near you.)Complaints are handled with a baleful, unappologetic look followed by a cold nose-bump to a spot just under your chin, as though giving an explanation to the remedial. (And I ACTUALLY find myself nodding my head 'okay' and gratefully being lulled back to sleep by her chuffling snores.) Yes, she snores. Not in an annoying way that you find keeping you awake and making your butt want to chew rusty nails, but more like living by the ocean and hearing the waves. (If the waves sounded like a slightly phlegmy inhale/exhale.) You get used to it.

She came with SIT, SHAKE and SPEAK in her repertoire. I don't teach my dogs (you CAN'T teach cats, they do as they please) 'tricks.' I figure, if I don't ask them to do pet tricks, I won't be expected to help them dig holes in the yard....fetch sticks....sniff butts....and other dog proclivities I'd just as soon not participate in either. But, she seems to think she needs to do it, so I let her. In fact, she seems disappointed in me if I don't make her 'work' for her treats. So, I've adjusted my thinking a bit on that one. Adjustments, it's all about being flexible and understanding our mutual needs. We're a work in progress, but I AM beginning to keep my behind covered for the entire night. Although, she does still have an internal alarm clock set to 5:10am. And I guess I get the morning weather preview from letting her get her early ramble through the yard. And it keeps the rabbits on their toes.

She may be older, but then again, she still acts the happy fool when something delights her. We have that in common. And we're learning. And adjusting. And isn't that how it should go anyway?

Meanday

Somewhere in the mid-point of this day, my nice wears so thin you can read the newspaper through it. It has been one long day of whinging complaint, rude confrontation and progress turned to backslide....and I'm weary of it. I feel a need to be mean, to retaliate against the bureaucratic b.s. and the devil's minions working in every customer service (what an oxymoron that is) position I'm required to navigate through on please-hold menus and button-pushing eternities.

I've been on hold, pressed against my cell phone long enough to jumpstart radiation-induced brain tumors the size of a Beagle. I've explained the who-what-where-why's to more people than I've friends on facebook, only to be shuttled to yet another evil and clueless minion. I want to scream. I have to sit on my free hand, my rump pinning it to the chair so it won't take on a life of its own and choke something. So great is my frustration that I feel explosive meanness forming words in my head like bullets intended for the next unfortunate person who stops the incessant loop of one really, really nerve-grating song to ask me to explain myself yet again and justify interrupting whatever better thing she was doing to deal with me. *sigh* If intention equated with deed, I'd burn in hell. I'd plead no contest and light the match myself.

I take a deep breath. Slowly exhale. Regroup, as much as I can muster. I need to go to my happy place, but my brain can't take me there. It's too busy running in circles to the beat of that horrible instrumental number that has been pile-driving itself into my brain via my left ear for what seems like the 700th time. It is busy, too busy, searching the memory banks for the title of this song that would've made me reach for the dial on the car radio in the first 30 seconds. A scrap of lyric? The name of the original band? Why taking a mediocre song and giving it a truly horrible orchestration can elevate it's "bad" factor so exponentially? These are the things my brain assigns itself to while it atrophies on hold. I'd slap my forhead to snap out of it, but then the meanness would fly out of my fingertips if I tried, neighbors would die. As it is, I'm trying not to look at the clock. It would somehow be the breaking point, knowing in concrete terms like minutes...or hours...how long I've been waiting. I'm not good at waiting, in case you haven't guessed.

I can't resist. It's been 52 minutes on this call. It's not my first call today, but it's perhaps a personal best in the time category. My ear is hot, my hand holding the phone is teetering on the edge of cramping and I can't even feel the one I'm sitting on. I want to be mean. I want to hang up. I'm tethered to this spot by the charging cord on my phone so I can't even get up and pace. I pity the poor fool who takes this call next.

"All By Myself" by Eric Carmen. THAT'S the song! Ugh. Couldn't they at least afford TWO bad songs? I mean, how much can they be paying for crap songs like this? Now snippets of equally bad lyrics are running through my head like a gerbil on a wheel. Great. I may not even need a criminal defense lawyer....a half-competent 3rd-year law student could probably get me off on any charges for mayhem committed at this point. What jury would convict? I'll show them my cooked ear, my immense brain tumors, my cell phone's timer. Piece of cake.

I'm going to hang up now and go to my happy place. Stand back, there's no guarantee given here. Tomorrow is another day. Or maybe the day after that. If you don't see the mushroom cloud...............

Amazing

The week of Christmas I got an amazing gift in a little box from my cousin, Marsha. Before I can illuminate just how amazing you will need a little backfill on this story....
I spent some of my more formative years under the thumb of a stepmother (or, as she is fondly referred to nowdays, stepmonster) who, for lack of a stronger descriptive term, HATED me on sight. I was going into the sixth grade when my prison sentence began and a month out of high school when liberation came, so I guess it was some sort of cosmic felony incarnation I served time for....or so I used to think. (Now, I've come to realize, you are sometimes given extremely vivid and indelible lessons on HOW NOT TO BE rather than positive role models. Stick or carrot, I GOT it.)This woman could strike fear in the hearts of the flying monkeys of Oz. I won't belabor the point, I couldn't possible do it justice. Let's just say that it's true, what does not kill us only makes us stronger.
My point is not to elicit any sort of pity for childhood woes or wrongs, because if anyone should get the pity it's the monster whose life was so wretched that her best recourse was abusing a child. I'm good. Better than that, actually.
No, I tell you this bit of personal historical darkness because, amongst my stepmonster's 'war crimes' was the absolute obliteration of tangible proof that I existed prior to her reign of terror. She gave away my beautiful maple bedroom set that had made the passage all the way from California. She burned all my photographs of my parents, my baby pictures....the trail of memories, recorded proof that I was indeed a beloved member of a tribe. Gone. There was no small effort to retrieve them, even before my father died. It was sort of a private joke between him and I because she also held his professional licenses and memorabilia in a safe that he had paid for but didn't have the combination for or access to at the end of the divorce proceedings. Dark humor, perhaps, but sarcasm is a finely honed tool. So, she did her best to erase me. Maybe that's why I developed such crystalline mental movies and snapshots of my earliest years. It was all I would have. I did get some photographs (which are kept in an album like national treasures) from a box at my grandmother's house when we gathered for her funeral. I LOVE old photographs!
Such shiny moments frozen in time, those glossy, scalloped squares of black and white. They are the characters of my memories, my story, NOT erased but connected to time and place. Few and precious. Both my parents died when I was barely old enough to legally raise a toast to their memories. Life sometimes goes that way.
So, imagine my surprise when I find a small package in the mail that came to me from my cousin, Marsha....a DVD she'd had made. Not just ANY DVD mind you, but transferred old home movies of our family's gatherings for Christmas, our grandparents' 40th wedding anniversary....a funny, jerkily-shot and strangely-colored, soundless river of memories that I must've watched a hundred times already. And my mother, who I have only a couple of small photos of, is there.....making holiday dinner in our kitchen, at the table beside me. She was gone from my life after the second grade and gone from this world and another unknown life she'd made without my ever seeing her again. So, when I saw her, proudly pulling the turkey from the oven, I was stopped in my tracks. Absolutely stilled. And my dad, laughing, carving the turkey. I think I held my breath while I watched, almost afraid to move for fear that it would burst like some sort of fragile soap bubble and disappear. Not so. I can say that with the certainty of watching it so many times now that my only fear is wearing out the DVD player. It is my life, EXACTLY as I remember it....I even remember the clothes I am wearing in it, the feel of those stiff-leathered ice skates that I utilized until my toes were frostbitten, the dinners at grandma's table, the family. The family....the people who embraced a small, spoiled brat (and you KNOW I was) and took her into their homes, made her part of something so special that she would carry it with her through her darkest moments of loss like a bright talisman, an anchor. I now have the recorded wellspring of memories to revisit to my heart's content. Of all the gifts I have ever received, this by far has to be the most precious. And, Marsha, you are not just my beloved cousin....you are my FAIRY GODMOTHER. Thank you. Until they invent better, more-encompassing words....THANK YOU.
And the happiest new year to EVERYONE.

dogs

We just got a new addition to the family....Suzie the Wonder Basset. Although she is 10 years old and has, I'm sure, answered to that name for most of her time, I simply cannot look at her and think, "Suzie." She doesn't look like a Suzie. She doesn't act like a Suzie. When I go to speak to her, Suzie doesn't fall off my lips easily. So....Suzie....I hereby dub you with your new monniker: Big Girl. (She IS a big girl, too.) And she already answers to her new name as though she'd just been waiting for someone to come along and realize the mistake. The cats are playing catlike terrorist games with her, but it's mainly Sweetpea because when she's not looking Mr. Boobers is more than a little friendly with Big Girl. I've caught them sleeping together, Big Girl's nose resting on Oobie's haunch. Although, like any good boyfriend, Oobie rushes into the fray when Sweetpea starts her bottle-brush-tailed hissy fits. My only consolation is that Big Girl is beginning to figure out that she has the whole feline team beat by about 40 pounds. (Yeah, tables are ABOUT to TURN.)
Dogs have always been a part of my household. I don't get people who don't have furry family. I can't quite bring myself to trust them somehow. Dogs make you better people. Cats make you laugh and put your chin out for that 'kitty bump' of love you get. Who doesn't need THAT?

"dogs and angels are not
very far apart"
— Charles Bukowski

And the snow just keeps on a'coming.......

There's only about so much Scrabble you can play, a finite number of library books on hand, baked goods you are motivated to pop into the oven and things to watch out the big window (the one that the frost and wind-glued snow keeps reducing in size) before you start to feel a bit claustrophobic. It doesn't help that there's a drift that is so high against the kitchen windows over the sink that I'm not tall enough to see out anymore.

We're stocked up and (thankfully) the power has remained steadfast in its delivery of juice for the luxury items that keep it more holiday than hardship here in the storm and its aftermath....like being able to go online to write this. The teenager is snowed in at college and keeps calling to complain about how boring it is and I have to laugh. Is this the part where I start fabricating childhood hardship stories about walking to school in blizzards with bad footwear and improbable inclines? She thinks life is teetering on the edge of the abyss because she can't get to the mall.

My winter storm 'survival kit' goes something like this: plenty of coffee beans for cappuccino, a large bag of crime fiction from the library, movies picked out (thank the heavens for Netflix instant view movies!) and knowing which friends (yes, Michele!!) are home and up for online Scrabble (or, Mindscramble, as we like to call it). Then, everyone gets to where they will ride it out safely, we hunker down with chili and a good bottle of wine and watch the school/business closings scroll by on the bottom of the TV screen until we are hypnotized. Sleeping in becomes optional. Naps are on an at-will basis and freely indulged in with the furry 'bed buddies' and a pile of blankets and pillows on the futon. We have now seen all but the last disc of "Top Chef: Season 5" and are getting totally sucked into rooting for our fave chefs to win it. We won't know until the last disc shows up, the one with the finale episode at the end of it, and I confess that I'm getting anxious for the mail service to resume so we can end the suspense. (Oh, the hardship....the struggles....we snowbound prisoners must suffer!)

We have lots of food. We heat with wood, so the electricity failing is more a nuisance than a threat. We actually could cook steaks on the woodstove if we felt a "Little House on the Prairie" moment coming on. We're good. And we're lucky. And I'm grateful for all of it. I guess maybe I need a big winter storm in my life every so often to keep me from whining about the trivial inconveniences and make me count my blessings. And if I stop and count them, the storm will be over before I'm finished.

Life is good. Frosted goodnes, like Tony the Tiger said. Remember him, the commercial tiger pimping the box of sugared cornflakes? I eat organic oatmeal now. But, despite the health gurus' dire predictions, I think I survived my childhood just fine. Just fine.