Working hard or hardly working

There is a difference between exercise and labor.

Both can help your health, could cause injury, or swell ego. Except, physically demanding chores are a little different. When accomplished correctly, they leave behind a pile of split firewood, or dripping clean dishes, or a new row rolled over in the garden.

In a gym, this experience is for sale. The impact grows firm in sore muscles, or rinsed with expensive sweat down the drain in the shower after. For your money, you get strong and healthy, but only around repetitive motions specific to mindless machines, a heavy iron bar and round silver dumb-bell ears.

Even simple tasks like cutting grass, however, on your feet pushing a smoke puffing mower, or filling holes in the road, or turning compost over, or digging gardens by hand, exercises your thinking-organ as well.

Eyes, ears, mind must go to task with body, so as to not waste effort. Cause injury to yourself or others. Damage the yard. Break a tool. A tsk tsk task. It is as mentally engaging to get good, essential chores accomplished as it is physical.

Compared to mind numbing counting and losing track of turns around the track, rote transitions through this machine or that, stretching out on the mat, cardio, bodybuilding, athletic training for bookkeepers, an army of well-tended iron on wire cords.
Such monotone, even-tempered, routinized methods of getting into or maintaining desired shapes. It all becomes another way to measure ourselves against others.

Splitting firewood, cutting and hauling yard trash, moving earth, putting down power tools and doing the work by hand, won’t win you any speed or strength or body building competition. But it will make you stronger. And the gym has been in business longer.

Young Woman Washing Plates

Up a long exposed outdoor corridor lined in thirsty late summer grass, she walked. Hands still sheened from the olive oil she kept by the wash basin in her room. She can not keep them from cracking. The fire-hot water, barely not boiling, the lye in the soap, the constancy of filthy clay plates and white ceramic that came to her every color but white. Dust rose behind the fine gravel crunch beneath tight tied, unheeled leather shoes. A branch overhung the path snatched a pinch of dress around her backside, and she scoffed the plant as if it were the gardener. A smile fleeting from her face. At her basin. Her station. In more ways than maybe three. She would be standing in this spot for what seemed eternity.

The clarity, sharp outline of those working hands. Definition, in places it was not desired. Looking tired, only when no one else was watching. Smiling through the doorway at the woman baking bread. She dreamed of lining her hands in dough. More olive oil. Each time they dried, just long enough from the water, the air would touch the tiny pink crevice at the base of each cracked callus and close her eyes. She’d grip her wrist, twist in place, grind the balls of her feet and make an ungodly face. Then turn back to her smooth wooden washbowl like nothing happened. Nothing had. She had absolutely no one in the world to turn to. To even complain to. Like the path that leads from her empty room, she felt walled in and vine-wrapped and forgotten. The opposite of a bridge. The antithesis of a road. The wall. She could hear gulls on the other side. Ever so often, the voices of young children. Scraps leftover from lunches. Which led to the gulls, and children. Her assumption. She didn’t know. But how she could donate hours to wondering. Dreaming. Such earthwhile things.

A clink and a slosh as her table shifts under the weight of a new tower of meat greased plates. The hefty, top heavy man who set them there, oil stained up and down his front, like it had been pouring from his mouth down his chest, lingered. She kept her eyes downturned and reached for a dented pewter bowl she had been working on. The man dipped two fingers in the wash water, held them up in front of his face as if he had never seen fingers before, and tasted them both in his big dry mouth.

“Tastes more like day-old soup than dishwater.”

“Taste a lot of dishwater, do you?”

“Luce, you are a funny one. I’ll fetch you more hot water.”

“Thanks, darling.”

All-Questions

All the thoughts in my head are formatted
with question marks chasing after them.
I would know nothing if not for confusion..
Questions made me who I am. Like who am I?
What is I. Eyes can’t see. Ice on the grass.
For the first time since seven months ago.
Seems so long. So any questions answered since.
Makes my head spin. Questions turn the earth.
For many reasons. For at least four seasons.

Two Thirty on a Tuesday in December

Five feet toe-tapping quarter notes beneath their seats. A kid in the crowd meows like a kitten and the audience howls. Some poor kid tried to clap between medleys. A teacher with a salt and pepper goatee and a baggy school hoodie on has four different smartphones in his palm. The lights are all up front. When anyone chirps into the microphone the whole system hums. Girlfriend leans on Boyfriend’s shoulder and the teacher sees and says nothing to her. Christmas music for high school students on a Tuesday afternoon in December. The Chorus dismembers and takes up instruments in their hands. They play Rudolph the Red Nosed Flat Note and We Wish You a Merry Solo. They sound perfect for what they are, as does the audience they play for. High School kids who bought two dollar tickets to get out of fourth period had no intention of paying attention to the show. Teachers with fourth period planning impressed into chaperones. The energy is palpable as kids cram together row by row, they know, there aren’t enough teachers to see all the hands. There isn’t enough light to see which mouth threw which knife. That’s what makes it a reward. And for the kids in the choir and band, they’re playing for the toughest audience of their careers: their adolescent peers. Every song speeds up from the start, from the nerves. Each shy note or apprehensive solo is heard. The kids in the crowd are distracted and loud but on the inside they could never do what they heckle. Imaginations set only to meddle. While those kids on the stage cling to metal, and do something with their breath akin to life after death, resuscitating inanimate objects into music.

The man with his back to the crowd shows them how every single day. The band director. The chorus teacher. Two English, two math, one science, all playing usher. It is for them, and they truly, shamelessly, despise us for it. Traps aren’t meant for the masses, but only the one. One animal in a trap could chew off a paw and get out. But three hundred kids, maybe twelve adults in the room, and the lights all turned down and the blinds all closed too, there’s no chewing off a limb. Two thirty on a Tuesday, last week of school, there’s no escape. It’s us or them.

The Voice

Take away the noise. The voice. The rippled ocean in the air. So that we are all ears. So that no one can hear. Except through the soles of their feet. Don’t pray with fingers intertwined but toes touching. Take a seat. Flee the heat. Fleet week. Anarchists in sailor’s uniforms. Soldiers by day, villains on the web. Spiders say thank you for your service while thinking damn I’m glad I’m not you, and I would send you into hell to save only the shadow of myself. Silhouetted soldiers on a bumper sticker on her car. It’s just a job. No one takes you so seriously as you do. No one is supposed to. Everyone will lie to your face and deny it under torture and declare they are honest. But in earnest, they disbelieve in the existence of the thing called truth. Some philosophical fragment encountered in their youth cautioned them into chaos. If education manufactured silent spaces, simply sought to take away the noise, no one would disbelieve the concept of truth. 

Swear on the past, equivocate the present, and promises for the future suture up the time in between. But no matter where you are looking, the proof is in the pudding. Can you imagine, coming to God, the real God, the only one we’ve got, having killed, murdered, in preservation of your own survival, and in reflecting on your own story, you can’t articulate the purpose of your life, the good you’ve done, the mountains you moved, nothing. You fought a war or sent soldiers into fire to save a forest you never explored. If a villain approached you with a blade and swore to end your life and you took nothing from them but the blade, you’d go to heaven with the real God there greeting you, beer mugs in both hands. If you went out on a frozen winter night and laid down in the woods and breathed in the roaring frothing air until it made you ice on the inside, God waits at the trailhead of your next adventure holding two glasses of wine. Take the pain because the pain came from the same thing the joy did and you’ll be there with all the ones you ever loved clutching sticky flutes of champagne. 

But if you go the other way, if you commit to kill a stranger because you are afraid to die, you could not enter heaven even cradled in the arm-crib of God itself. Even if that stranger was evil. It does not matter. The act of not desperately avoiding death would save a life, no matter the consequences, makes a better story. If you kill to stay alive, you better be able to articulate why. Why you. Why life. Life is an inheritance, not a recompense. You did nothing to deserve or earn this status. Killing picks up stones in the footbed of your soul. Which accrue, and grow, to become the very anchor that keeps you from ascending to the life that follows after life. You will be trapped in your own cocoon. Never taste nectar. Die a fat, insatiable caterpillar belly full of leaves, farmers cursing your name and gifting you blame. 

You call death what nature calls change. 

You are the powerful one in this equation. 

God is a third person omniscient narrator.

A disembodied voice offering us this choice.

You be my life after death, and I’ll be yours.

Sticky Note Poetry

How is this man my
teacher, stretched out
and lost meaning-reacher,
whose mind fell out
through the bleachers
lost thought-blood
to the leechers.

I’ve reached the end
of my rhyme but I
still have time
lines left to right
and slowly down
icky sticky stuck on
itchy notary
sticky note poetry.
Wow.
I see how
he is my teacher.
Now.
Though I think
he’d prefer
to play preacher.

The Window

could be cleaned
should
would
in another house
squeaking beneath a different hand
window-broken wall in this house
above this hand
not under it
revealing blurred movement
through a dingy window.

The light
it splashes
across the page
broken by shadows
intersecting lines
zagging dull trails
where moisture
streaked
dripped
leaves a white trail
beside white swipes
of misplaced paint
brushes missing marks by miles
in the center of the pane
shadow most solid on the page.

The window won’t ever be cleaned
yet tells more than the impenetrable tale
of a backyard. Jotted over with notes
off the nose of a dog
a strained prose on the topic
curiosity, poetry of lazy painters
paid hourly and more
fingerprints than detectives dust
proof irrefutable and close to clear
that here
this dingy window
I am closest to the world.

Craftsmanship

The most prevalent theological error seems to be believing God would use a human’s inner voice as a medium to relay instructions. How low and how little do you think of divinity? To choose a method with absolutely no objectivity. No. God is a real God and a God of the physical which the energetic plays like puppets on strings. It won’t whisper. God sings. God shakes the earth and lays down trees though they’ve never seen a saw. God moves in electrons within us all. And if God wants you to change, or do, or alter, or pick up an object and move, it will physically communicate that to you. And I argue, already is. But you don’t listen to your kids.

You graduated school. Now if anyone tries to teach you you defend your own intelligence and call them a fool. But you used to let yourself learn things, and chuckle at criticism. Your kids still do, and my best advice is listen to them. If I was a god, your inner voice would not be my first choice, I don’t know, I’d probably litter the sky with specks of light so dim they can only be seen at night. I’d give unparalleled powers to subatomic particles. And I’d make change subtle, slow, taken out of the hands of the individual and given to the dice-rolling, storm-blowing agents of chaos in the universe. I’d make it all about mutation. I’d put the germ inside the brick and set it loose on a leveled lot and sit back and watch. My favorite part of a garden is after the third weeding when the plants are tall enough to cast down a blanket of shade no lowly plant can evade, for a minute, the farmer’s useless. If I were God, omniscient, omnipotent, I’d create the whole universe in that image. Totally independent. I’d make it so perfect, my hands would stay so clean. My creation would not need me. Some would call it atheism. But I would call it craftsmanship.

Just Because

Is the first cell
that splintered into fusion
following the black path of the atom
still inside me?

Like rings in a tree
are there layers laced
beneath my surface
that formed during the social drought
of my teens?

Are my last good credit score twenties
still swiping cards for bills inside me or beside me
is the kid I once was hiding
waiting
for some impossible seeker to find.

When thirty-five year old
tired and self described wise
lets eyes wander and retire
does that ring on my index finger
pierced through the brow
or the split lip of my former self
see an opportunity?

A take-over.
And thirty-five year old I
deny and declare some crack up
like I don’t know what that was
where that came from
I might even say
it wasn’t me.

Albeit was.
When I was thirteen
and mean
just because.

Oh you life

Oh you life, pompous and loud, loopy yet proud. Lightning crashing parties in heaven.
At the entrance telling lies that barrel down deep like thunder, a second too late, truth debates shaking ground from sound, flustered, rippled air. The clouds hoisted rain withheld,
dangled, above head, just out of reach, beyond, water in aerated ascended ponds
casting shade and crooked lines so thin you can see through them, translucent,
as rain rapidly sinking, the ferocious storms of real, devoted thinking, consideration. Uncompromising. Life, oh, how there are those who paint you anywhere
other than in raging weather, wind leaves trees giant rustled chickens
flashing pale upturned feathers, branches falling crashed lightning but closer, nearer,
thunder felt under feet, in ankles, before there is time to even hear.
There are those who do not know the meaning of awe.
Most feel only frightened, tired, ducking heads, cowering out of the rain,
cursing an unknown creator seed-planting our pain. Oh my life.

When I was a child, how I loved the sunny dispositions of my parents.
And vilified heir strifes. The complex truth of their lives.
The disparate realities of parents.

Oh life, like parents, your love, your presence, is one of many forms.
But it wasn’t until I was grown and worn, that I found comfort in storms.