‘What is a page for?’

The one that happens after you’ve filled three others but haven’t quite reached the ending yet. I suppose a page four is a good sign, at least a couple miles behind you, you’ve gained some traction, moving along. A page is for boot prints to dent and backsides to rest on and when you’re finally ready to stick around, plant some seeds in, you’ve been turning it over all these years, may as well withdrawal a little from the soil before you pay it back everything.

What is page four, except for a bridge between a mountain and a bigger mountain. A hook set in the lip of the cockeyed metal strong fish. Page four is the maturation of an opening, it’s Braxton Hicks contractions, the precursor to some heavier cursing soon to come. A page is for eyes to do what feet are for and explore a place tethered only to the limits of their own imagination. A series of pages got me through some dreary nights where I’d do sad things like light a candle and let the wax spill and cool onto the table, a dab or two on the wrist, for validation. I can see the oily residue off the wax on pages of my childhood journal, and I know exactly where I began to become a teenager. I have pages recycled from the backs of church bulletins, like monopoly money pastel blue and yellow and ruffled meaninglessly as they are. Fragmented what some would call poetry and sermon critiques, only the most scathing and adolescently conniving would be shared with my dad, the pastor. For him a page was for emptying out a Saturday night that might fulfill the expectations of hundreds for a solid Sunday morning, more dependent on timing, but still, an audience is an audience, and a stage is a stage. The model for the pulpit, and certainly the source of the choir. What is a page for, except for actors to wage wars they’ve never witnessed and fall in loves they’ve never felt.

What page four and the pages before are is the shaft of an arrow laid against the knuckle of the archer, prepared to spring forward, regardless of the destination, what happens on page four is blind force. The thwang. The slap against the archer’s wrist. May as well be page twenty four, for how time bounds once a half decent piece of writing has dug it’s hook in, bridged that difference between big and little mountains, between clean pages and ones with muddy foot prints all over them.

A page is for contamination. Perhaps the one place still safe to betray the tenants of socially imposed distance. Page four is where the wheels lift off, and the wings sit their full weight down on the airy substance of imagination. The tremor before the birth. A ring around the moon. Page four of a story is like a superstition, fed more on fear than by belief.

That’s what a page is for. For getting to page four.

The Wolf and the Earthworm

Evolution doesn’t mean progress. A species is as likely to evolve toward their own demise as they are to avoid it, and history might argue, more likely. So, if all our ‘advancements’ in technology, medicine, food production, hastens our ultimate extinction, well then, humans aren’t the most intelligent creature, are we? Common grass would probably outlive us. Trees almost certainly will. Nuisances like field rats and house mice and insects will benefit from the same circumstances that bury us. Worms for sure, licking their little imaginary lips at this moment. So fixated on the top of the food-chain we’ve entirely overlooked its bottom. Where decomposers make a buffet of predator and prey alike. Of course, we are all on course to be a course for bacteria, fungus, a trillion other pesky neighbors we’ve always put beneath us.

Language, considering how often it harms us, is not a positive advancement, it is a thick silence stuffed courtroom where the jury is still out and the judges are in their office pretending we can’t smell the cigar smoke. If the weapons invented last century end up annihilating us, we won’t be around to concede, but we will have lost this great argument that we are some divine, hyper intelligent transplant in this place, and common things, like houseplants, and inbred purebred dogs, and dung-beetles and dust mites, well, let’s just say they didn’t commit species wide suicide. So, the irradiated, zombie faced jury returns to their seats and the last one of them who can really stand straight enough declares the verdict.

Our kind is currently dumber than the very least of these.

Evolution does not stop with mutation, with innovation, or invention, or vagabond species escaping their nursery environs. Evolution is mutation plus time. Longevity. Sustainability. Evolution can only be determined on a timeline, and ours is frayed and wavering. We are so smart, so capable, right up until we threaten making our only world uninhabitable, and then we are so fucking stupid it hurts my stomach and makes it hard to sleep at night. We are a species plagued by emotions about which we were never given an education. Anxiety. Depression. Happiness. Fulfillment. Chemical cocktails that reduce truth to the bottleneck of our one particular, highly limited vision of ourselves. The idea that we would drop a nuclear bomb on another nation to save our own, as if that would not set a thousand wars into motion, as if our country is not floating on the same molten ocean, as if killing is not the seed of a gigantic, deep rooted, immortal killing tree.

I would sacrifice all of it, all the gadgets, the languages, the governments, the societies, for a good night’s sleep. I would turn off the lights on this moment. So that we could all see how much brighter and healthier our timeline could be. Two steps forward and one step back is still progress. And when compared to sprinting forward and never looking back, it is better evolution.

Our ancestors tried to explain this to us the best way they knew, with reductive, anthropomorphic stories, you know, our people’s preferred vehicle for deep instinctive truth. A tortoise and a hare racing toward a finish line. Spoiler alert: only one of them gets there.

I Wander

Hiking changes real estate. I remember house hunting with my family when my siblings and I were kids. No. Under a metal spiral stair case. Trapped between two thick yellow paint strips slicing the road in half. No in the yard. No that doesn’t fit in the yard. In the closet of a bedroom big enough for two, no, no more kids sharing bedrooms. 

I would describe it as exactly the opposite on a hike. I spent innumerable miles studying, imagining, dreaming of how I could make little flat patches on the sides of mountains, bareheaded bald spots on top of them, chilly Laurel stuffed hollows between them, into cozy fireside home for the night. No was in my little book of miles, my stack of shelter names and water sources and spectacles along the way. No was circling bare plastic in water bottles or a food sack stuffed with crushed Ramen wrappers and crinkly, metallic skin still plastered with bits of authentic peanut butter. I swear I could make anywhere home. Is that a superpower? An antithesis to the performing escape artist. My ability, my talent, the special skill I am about to demonstrate, I’m really good at home. 

Which isn’t a tent, a nice high firepit, a picnic table someone slid up underneath the shelter overhang, which is against the rules, and an answer to the prayer of every hiker in the rain passing through. It isn’t safety or security, there is none, save the insomniac canine stretched out on the leaves, ears sharp and crisp and up as early corn. It isn’t the view, though I’ve woken up by some doozies. I’ve slept sideways on slanted ground. Bent my body crooked as a snake in the shade to lie between the rocks. I’ve packed up my entire camp at nine at night because a strange man who had asked for food started staring at my dog, Eggs, like she was finally living up to her goofy namesake, hiked over a mile in the dark, shining no lights so he couldn’t see which direction we went, and set up camp in the pitch black not three feet off trail. Woke up to find out I’d slept beside an overview, woke up to carrot colored sunlight tickling hundreds of miles of central Virginia up out of a tough and too short sleep. I stayed one night down in this sopping wet valley dug by a wide shallow tongue of water called Dismal Creek. I know. I read the sign. The opposite of warm. The closest to freezing I’ve ever come when the temperature wasn’t freezing. It’s not a rule, it’s not even advice, so much as it is an observation, that one should always have trepidation about staying in a place where even the water is running. 

I could make anywhere home. Often, I think of campsites I scratched out myself, circled rocks and crushed my snow angel tent shape flat in the leaves. I wonder if anyone else has stayed there. I wonder if a ranger found it first and scattered the rocks and ruffled up the forest floor to cover the tracks. I wonder if perhaps there’s some territory in the afterlife where one has to go back through the world and revisit every place we ever left DNA. Gather it up like autumn leaves to lay down bedding in the latchless stalls of heaven. I wonder. 

Every night, I’d get my set up established, my shelter that packed down to the size of a loaf of bread, and expanded enough to hold me, my gear, my dog, room to spare. I almost always built a fire. Water boiling. Pour some wine if I had it. Slipping the dog slices of warm cheddar as if I hadn’t asked permission. I’d get out my notebook, wipe the excess ink pooled at the ballpoint of my pen, and wander. Pages. As my dinner grew cold. I’d shove all my dishes and food into a compression sack and send it up a tree on a rope, and I’d climb into my tent with my notebook and my pen, a bright white light emanating from the center of my forehead, and I’d write. 

And that’s my superpower. That’s how I stay anywhere I go. 

I am real estate.
I am home.

Little Empty Houses

Birdhouses and mailboxes and bedframes and double doors. Heavy wooden portal stoppers leaned up against racks of plywood. Medium density fiberboard with a watch-face sized hole drilled in front, a short cylindrical nose pegged under that gaping cycloptic opening. Sixteen slats glued together, screwed to two belts of black metal bent in gentle bows. Hypothetically, everything in a workshop is hypothetical. Growing dust. Doors off hinges. Overflown housing. Mailboxes with no fixed address. Potential piles up. Scullery doors in the corner. Solid oak end tables crushing castor wheels.

Space. Who builds space. Not the carpenter. Not the writer. The politician. The doctor. Not the builder. Emptiness. Pure, layered, reinforced racking potential. Who prints blank books. Fills pens instead of emptying them. Who makes the makings. Doesn’t care whether or not birds ever come. Who builds little boxes that resemble houses. Who makes doors who isn’t trapped by door frames. Leaned in aisleways, stacked in back of showrooms with cardboard sandwiched between. Custom doors stacked, piled, pre-divorced from their future portals.

There are so many ways to pray, but none come close to creating space. Full pens. Empty books. Empty frames. Doors with no deadbolts drilled in them. Miniature houses, no birds. The rigid rectangles that clutch the soft shapes we sleep on. We don’t know.

We don’t know where birds will nest.
We don’t know what we’re building.
We don’t need to. It’s better that way.

Let the birds decide.
Until then, build little empty boxes.

The Key

Do you type your poems. Tapping like a red headed woodpecker up and down a dying dogwood. Big bold bluejay looking your way. Do you keep your cat indoors. Fat squirrels upside down on red oaks that smell rotten on the inside say you do. The field rats digging tunnels into the chicken coop do too. Do you use the backspace key the way you wish you could. Do you delete lines from your poems. Do you highlight some words and hold down Ctrl and B to embolden them. Do you cut and paste your memory the way you would a page? 

A lot of moss. A lot of mushrooms as soon as it turns warm. A lot of rebel-headed, nonconforming grass: a mosh-pit sort of lawn. Been having these insatiably royal dawns: a bright, military blue, a misty, someone paid dearly for this hue. It’s death stew. One day the main course will be you. So eat up. 

Bricks that didn’t make the cut line the sidewalk, terrace the beds, raise the gardens. Block rats from eating chicken dinner. Prop up pallets and weighed down tarps and sometimes just sat, piled, and waited, freed up and unfixed in a way house bricks will never be again. Susceptible. Changeable. Ever stalked by that flashing cursor, and living feral and terrified beneath the eternally unforgivable backspace key. Locked in placelessness. 

Amphibians croak up out of the mud. Crack the earth’s crust like the eggshells they all broke. Can’t rake the leaves for the salamanders curled up underneath. Do you type poems. Do you step lightly in nature, and stomp hard on city streets. Do you rake your yard like you’re supposed to. Save your mistakes. Keep a place to keep alive all the poems you wrote you hate.

What is memory, to you. Do you still pretend it’s up to you?

The Same Thing

I write a word. You think two or three that define it for you. I’ve written another word by that time. You’ve got at least six in mind to make those two mean anything. It’s a really simply chemical equation: language. Just tedious. Time consuming, yet always under the scrutinizing expectation of punctuality. Let’s work through this. What language is. What it does. 

Have you ever crossed your ears, and let someone’s words blur, and listened to the sound of language. Not translating in a hurry. Not hearing. Like baby’s babbling, or dog’s yapping, or cliche cicadas winging sonnets in doomed early spring. We’ve all worked and been worked so hard to never do the thing I’m asking if you’ve done. We want to understand. We’re bark-moaning when we speak. Manipulating our vocal cords and using our tongues like corks to close what one day we plan to open. That’s the first point I need to make. Language is only as flimsy as the vessel it travels in, and at the end of the day, these are sounds. Even what I’m currently typing down, of course I am saying it to myself, trying to imagine how you will hear it. Every message is coded, by nature. It’s just when we really get to know the code, we stop hearing it the way it sounds when we didn’t comprehend. Which can be of equal importance. Neverending excuses exist for sound distortions. So first off, language is dependent on performance, even more so than syntax or the speaker’s intentions. You can, and will, and have, communicated ideas to others you yourself have never known. Mishearing. Misspeaking. Misunderstanding. You could go on forever with these misshaped words. Mistake. Mistook. 

Now here’s the rub. 

If you cash out early on the free chips you were given and you never buy in, not to the awards, the costumes, the trophies and decorations society is chomping at the bit to place against you, essentially, if you don’t mind from time to time sounding stupid, you can manipulate language, words, sounds turned stringed cheese cylinders of high sodium meaning, basically, if you give up on being right, you can be a poet. And a poet, to the academic, is a willing participant in a doomed to be endless experiment. An idiot, to not mince words. 

But more than what you say, people will hear you pause, your questions will reverberate their memories like you held a microphone up to your mouth for those. They’ll feel validated, graduated, because you asked. You showed interest. Your mistakes, your misgivings, will grace their chemical laden insides like compliments, they’ll be delighted you’re not one of those pretentious, know it all, get it rights. I’m describing language as a form of heavy, dentable but unbreakable armor. Clunky. Burdensome. But next to flesh, there’s no comparison. 

Language. Language is the arrow we launched at the target.
But the target. The target was communication.

And I’ll leave you with a question, a key to help unlock the universe of what people really mean. How often are language and communication the same thing?

Chickeninity

I forgot how much this work likes to graffiti your hands and wrists, and, even in the off season, we all started getting poison ivy again. I figured it out. It’s coming in with the firewood. I’ve spent hours at a time just working and lingering in my pasture, one among the herd of eleven goats, and I discovered hoof issues, an abscess, and two, at my best estimate, a week from giving birth. Five more to kid after them, fingers crossed.

I built a new chicken coop in that time. Spent eight hours cutting midsized White Oaks and tracing them with a draw-blade until they were nude and pink. Night before last, around eight fifteen, Roan was in bed, my wife and I went out and carried every one of twenty five chickens to the new coop. After having helped me with this chore, she no longer eats chicken. For now. It is an ever-intimate experience holding a helpless animal in your arms that fully believes you are about to end it. I’ve been in this game a while though. I tuck one like a football between my belly and elbow and grab the other one by its feet dangling upside down so that I can carry two at a time. I care for the animals, I do, enough to separate my humanity from their chickeninity. It’s an awkward situation. I believe until that terrible day comes, the birds really just want their basic needs met and enough space to be left alone to chicken. I built that for them. It’s the best coop I’ve ever made.

Every chore was a domino in succession. Knocking that one out freed up the next old, disgusting, decade worth of shit filled domino to fall. A half an old tractor shed sequestered off a decade ago to put chickens in. It was hard, I’m still coughing up dust that probably has particles of my grandfather in it, but at the end of the day, the goats essentially lost a disgusting neighbor, annexed and upgraded their condominium and now have a whole building to themselves, to hopefully fill it up with healthy babies.

Having land is one thing, but going out and spending time there is the only way to keep it.

That love…

Love sets your responsibilities. I find the phrase ‘falling in love’ intriguing. In a ‘saying the quiet part out loud’ way. When there’s nothing under you, we call it falling, but once you’re grounded, we just call it gravity. That constant nagging attraction our species has been trying to escape ever since we lost our first forest. We are the orphans of titans. Longing, and loss, are textures of our love. Strands within our braids. Should we leave one out when we weave our happiness, that stitch will fail. We fall in love, I know I did, and then we live with falling everyday, so that it becomes a peculiar particular gravity conjured up in the cosmic draw between all bodies. Stars are born out of the oscillating pressures and biochemical dynamics between us. Love has set schedules, and early morning alarms in neat fifteen minute increments, love forces you to obey at least one of them, love abolishes laurels, and hiding places, and high grounds. We climb in almost all external endeavors, be it power, be it corporate ladders, be it chakras within yourself, be it up on crosses or pulpits or podiums or high towers. But. But, we fall in love. I don’t know. I don’t know if I buy that. There’s got to be some middle-ground between always either climbing or falling, and if there is, it’s that incessant gravity. Climbing, falling, resolution. Sounds like a story. Perhaps that’s a more fitting phrase about the nature of love.

That love sets your story.

Bear Stories

Almost more frightening than seeing a bear is someone telling you they saw a bear. An older guy, older than my dad, who, if you saw on the street, you’d call homeless, but out here in the woods wearing a backpack with a red bandanna decorated black paisley tied around his head, just a hiker. Supposedly, who came around the corner and surprised two bear cubs up a tree. Never saw their mother. He says. But had a sense she was nearby. He tells us this as he is headed in the opposite direction, toward the almost can’t be called a town a few miles behind. Where we ate cheeseburgers and charged our phones and filled two collapsible water-bottles with cheap fizzy gas station wine. Dad and I. This guy is filling our heads with thoughts of bear and I swear I can smell every ounce of that half pound burger I ate called the hiker, ironically, likely pieces of it beneath my fingernails, grease left off in my scant facial hair. Old man hikes on but we really don’t, we’d walked all day and by design were camping close-by, maybe a few dozen yards from the place he treed the cubs.

There used to be a shelter here, but it burned down and all that is left is a giant set of concrete steps and the half buried slab it leaned on. The site isn’t popular. I can tell because of how little walking it takes to gather up a waist high pile of firewood so I can light up these woods right until the buttcrack of bedtime. Dad teases me about it. Less than an hour and a young man comes bee-bopping down the trail buried between two earbuds. He sits on our orphaned steps and talks to us about joining the army at the end of summer. And this trip is one half vacation, one half training. He can’t be in his mid twenties. One of those ultra lightweight backpacks stitched with the word Osprey. He hikes light. Carries very little water. Trusts his legs to get him more. He started further back than we did, and he isn’t done for the night. By his projections, another six miles before dark. His stories are scary-exciting like inheriting land or landing that new job. Red tee. Spiky black hair. Sweat sheened tan skin and built skinny strong. He did not stop to get a burger.

I have to drink most of my wine because my wine bag busted from the carbonation. Dad goes to tent an hour before my firewood is spent and I dirty up a couple pages and watch the flickering darkness for the twinkling of bear eyes or old men who smell like damp tobacco and liberal patchouli. The trees catch hot breath off my tall fire and juggle it between branches, busking for my attention, and I give it to them, two ever-open quarters I flick out from my pocket, like boomerangs, always seem to fly back to me whenever whatever I gave them to is finished.

I’d rather see a bear than hear a story about seeing one.

If I knew it was there in the dark staring back at me licking its lips.
Even that would be easier than waiting.

The Keffer Oak

I think the letter L in the word world is one of its most essential uses in the history of literature. It distinguishes two things most responsible for the heady, desperate plight of the human. Our kind’s fundamental confusion. Between an indisputable reality and the far more complicated one of our own inventions. Words are magic. Words are misleading. These strings of letters contain histories, feelings, memories, and worst of all, expectation. Language comes by its good-bad, right-wrong, off and on dichotomy honestly. Mostly, a symptom of two dimensionality.

A great light casts a greater shadow. The mere presence of the word hero will inspire hundreds to consider thousands of what if’s and then who am I’s and redefine themselves in the oppressive gravity of that bright, radioactive word. Hero is almost synonymous with conflict, is it not? What would true world peace do to the hero complex? What’s the use in preparing for the worst if we never get to see the parachute in action? It’s fire, not water department. That’s four kinds of weapon on any police officer’s belt. A miniature version of the shield that might serve them better decorating their bulletproof vest. We don’t come equipped for peace. People don’t really seem to seriously believe in it even as possibility. Same with God. More comfortable with words like belief, and faith, than opening our eyes outright and declaring if God desired to be known, it is more than capable, and the world as we know and experience is its only testament. Everything, without exception, written in human language, is a secondary source, at best.

Words are fun. And easy. Manipulated. Like a walking stick, shaped for grip, for control, for thrust and use. But too often we trust them to tell us everything we know about the oak they were cut from. That letter that intercedes on all our words and with an absolute absence of subtlety, shakes us loose from them. Shatters that old bent dried up walking stick we’ve leaned on so heavily we’ve stunted ourselves through the pursuit of support we did not need. We’ve imagined our bones breaking and it has frightened us so we’ve decided to go ahead and precast everything about ourselves in language. And in saving, sanitizing our lives, we forfeited every grimy, heavy, clunky idea that made it worthwhile.

We’re handing over twigs and telling kids it’s a white oak. I’ve seen the second largest white oak tree in America, the Keffer Oak, in Virginia. No part of the massive three hundred year old, sixty foot tall entity was meant to be mine, was made for me. I could cut it up and split it and stack and burn a hundred thousand words from it, piece by piece, as a sort of revenge sentence against all the cold nights that ever nibbled at my ancestors. Bitterly, with sore hands and crooked back, like all conquerors, looking over my neat pile of firewood. But it isn’t Truth. It’s perception. A side effect of an intense, microscopic projection of our sense of self onto the things we create, we so desperately pretend we make up, like words. Like houses. And cars. The most recent gossip you’ve heard.

But that is not the same as the world. Thank God.
There is an insignificant barrier between our reality and our schemes.
That wonderful little letter separating words from worlds.