These Three Together

Knowledge is a sword in a scabbard.
Intelligence tells you when to draw.
Wisdom wishes you’d left the heavy thing at home.
Wisdom would lie down for worms if their bed was soft enough.
Like kindling, like spark and like air, life is these three together.
There will never be a trustworthy and easy answer.
We are the offspring of what life and death
started doing to each other a long time ago.
The solutions to all the great riddles are at the tip of your pen.
You will never find them in anyone else’s handwriting.
Swords are for fighting.
But pens win.
Knowledge, intelligence, wisdom.
Make the head spin.

Knowledge self-locked in analysis paralysis.
Mental rust bound the blade to its cage. Intelligence
pulls the lever on the trap door it constructed months before
when it first imagined this situation could turn down the path of problem.
And wisdom, beat its sword into a plowshare already
and paid off the enemy in onions and invented
the alchemy of transforming words like enemy into another word.

Neighbor.

Invented by horses. Wisdom picked up on it back in the dark ages.
‘Neigh’ in horse, an all-encompassing super-word that depending
on tonal quality and inflection, can mean absolutely anything.
Though it is loosely understood as an introspective question
related to the topic of sweet feed.
‘Bor’ is derived from the root-word burr which is an irritating prickly
often stuck in a horse’s coat and is quite uncomfortable but ends up tolerated respectfully albeit under clenched jaw and ground teeth.
Forms ‘Neighbor’, a perfectly acceptable translation for words like villain,
monster, stranger, and many more. All thanks to the horse.

At the end of the day, if we somehow survive our scrap,
it’s wisdom who tends our wounds, and loosens the swordbelt,
lets down our hair and surprises us with warm bread.
Knowledge and intelligence are in your head.
I’ll write this and you’ll know, you’ll feel, it is true.

Wisdom lives in your stomach.

You don’t teach it.
You feed it.
Experiences only.

At night, while we sleep, worn out from lugging a heavy sword
we’ve never rightly used, wisdom weaves story tapestries
from experiences we’ve given it. Without a thought,
absolutely without effort, our minds expand the only way they can.
Subconsciously. When we’re asleep. Free
from the sword-wielding I, My, Me.

Like goldfish, we are, with our personalities
we expand or shrink to fit our container
like water takes the shape of a glass.

The Holy Grail that cradles the bitter wine of humankind is the stomach.
In a way, it’s kind of neat, that it turns out to be exactly true
we are in fact what we eat and drink.

Someone Elses Atmosphere

We’ve sat on the porch and watched and listened to many summer thunderstorms roll our western horizon like a horde, like a million soldier army with only two feet, stepping heavy cannonade in between neighborhoods. Not last night. The cell was right over us. Shaking the house. Lighting up the bedroom like paparazzi peeking through our windows. Thunder seeming to ooze out from under us like worms out of the mud. Never would have believed it came from above. The house and farm was pounded by rain, and warned by lightning, we had our foundations tested for cracks of weakness. And we passed. We have too many, and they’ve all started working together to coincide like roots, and we held, broken as can be, more flexible for it. The baby that passes for a little boy didn’t lose a minute of sleep. Counted three corn stalks down. This calm, powder navy blue morning keeps last night’s weather like a secret. If you didn’t wake up from your dreams, watch daylight flash through sealed shut eyes, feel the monster knock up from under the bed hello, you would never know it had happened. That pleasant sounding, captured in a bottle, fun little Southern Summer thunder had stepped clean over our heads last night. Sparing us, but not before scaring us. We woke up this morning talking about last night like we both had the same nightmare.

And somewhere across the countryside, someone sat on their back deck grinning.
Our nightmare was their atmosphere for the evening.

A Millimeter, or Two

Expectation. That’s it. That’s the secret to happiness. Fix your expectations. For example, the question, what is the meaning of life, is full of expectations. It’s like asking, what was the meaning of your trip to Disney when you’ve been on the road two hours and haven’t even made it South of the Border, South Carolina. You say life, like it’s a status, or a destination, when life is a series of complex, critical processes that require huge amounts of space, resources, and most of all, time. You’re kind of asking, what is the meaning of running really fast. We’re asking about the means as if it were the end. If we started at the beginning, we wouldn’t ask, because it’s quite clear life has no real meaning or purpose outside of addition. To see tomorrow. More, I guess, is the answer to that question. Your heart will keep pumping, legs moving, guts churning, carrying you over a cliff or into a thicket of thorns for all you care.

If you dig deep, into the pressurized ore of real honestly, you’re not asking about meaning or life. You’re complaining. You’re making a declarative statement about meaninglessness. You’re calling it hard, admitting the deficit between what we put in versus get out. To me, asking that question, you’re confessing to being somewhat recently touched by life, frightened by it, moved all those rumbling gut level meditations about the futility of your daily grind up into your mind, and it’s put pressure on your perception to do a little moral mathematics and determine all this sacrifice was in the pursuit of good. Well, it wasn’t. Because good is a one sided, half of the story, incomplete expectation, like the side of a quarter, it may win you the toss, but it will never not be just a millimeter or two away from loss. Good has cost. What pain have you had to go through before you recognized a good that was also true. A phrase like good food. Are you willing to see outside of time, and call hunger good too.

Expectations. That’s it. They’re the secret. To stop calling heads or tails in the air. And instead, figure out who is tossing the coin. And take their job.

Changeling

Times are bad.
Worse is coming.
The Petri dish warming.
Now hot.
We cooked the clock.

Now we learn what winters were holding back.
How seasons attack. When oceans rise up.
When microbial protesters crawl out from deep underwater
caves once graves and feel the blood of the world is warmer.
Life will slice like a scythe through the rest of life.

And just like before.
Scavengers re-inherit their world.

Learn to be like a servant to this planet. Its fireside scribe and storyteller.
Use language like music to tuck little locusts and stringed vipers in at night.
Group the cousins accordingly: elephants and ants, blue whales and Labrador retrievers.
Humankind curled up beside our closest living relative, a caterpillar in a cocoon.
Changelings. The earthworm and the fruit bat. The ostrich and the river trout.

Time starts slowest when we are growing. Then we develop a misplaced sense
this experience keeps forever. That’s when time speeds up a little bit every year,
every hit, every avoidable inevitable circumstance we suffer along the way.
Time reels us so quick we lose the fish off the hook and past, presence and priorities
blur and spawn and take over into one, one instance. One school of thought.

So we snap. Out. Of reality. Totally up to speed.
A pace the body can’t keep. We are out of time.
For the first time. Like a fish above the water.
Choking. On too much air to breathe.

Someone You Call You

I often tell myself, they see the world through their own eyes. They lay themselves down at night. We judge how a window views solely through a filter: distance. But when it comes to ourselves, there is none. We can not without consequence deem ourselves unworthy, as if we’re in the center of an ocean in a sinking boat with a spare one to climb into handy. For lack of the existence of a better word, you’re stuck. With you. I’m not. Love your enemy, as you love yourself. Thank you Professor Jesus. Let’s say this another way. The people who are good at chess play both sides of the table. Enemy is a storytelling device, a two dimensional rendering of a far more dangerous four dimensional threat. You are someone’s enemy. Often, more importantly, your enemy, is someone else’s you. Thinking. 

Emotions, empathy, if this isn’t a human generated wireless exchange of energy, I don’t know what could be. But just because you look at someone and feel something does not mean that feeling has anything to do with that someone. It’s you. Your brain looks out at a larger world it can not control and paints in the blank, dimly lit spaces with you, your worst fears, hidden desires. Other people are fun-house mirrors, they shrink the mountains in our eyes into scarce specks of dust inside their own. And through that window, distance, you glimpse you in the face of someone you call you.

You sentence them to death. 

Because deepest, within each tiny heart cell that beats same as your heart,
you sentence yourself. 

Revenge just feels right in way justice never does.

Because revenge has distance in it. 

And justice only exists inside of us.

Where did the sun go when it rained

It’s not too hot until strangers in parking lots feel comfortable saying it. Summer happened a long time ago when all the kids were let out of school this Spring. In just about a week, we can all shake our heads at the checkout counter while we admonish the weather, until then, hold your breath like you were underwater to keep from clearing your throat in public. Wearing a mask makes cleavage of the eyes. Can’t help but tantalize. Icebergs only peek. Powder blue cream filled and witch hazel green, little black curled up spider legs trace a soft pink veined lemon wedge squinting sourly. Is it redundant, to ornately describe the look of eyes? 

Sweat beads down the sides. Long bang cuts across one like a scythe slicing hay for strangers who respond hello. Deep brown like chocolate pudding with a semisweet pupil dotting the center. Do I want to eat these people’s eyes? A superhero. A test answer. A victim in a crime report. When you lack the guts to ask, you mask. You leave it to eyes. What do your silent, light absorbent orbs say about you? Of all the colors of the world, which do they offer back above the mask confessing your true feelings about the view you’re facing. How long has it been since you really smelled the words you were saying. We’re not as sure of what you said as you are of what you had for lunch with onions on it. Without the nose, with buried cheeks and hidden chin, our eyes take over for the entire face and apologize to the world they waste as they search only for their favorite colors. Gray lumps of unwashed wool. Teal waves off southern oceans spill tears down peachy lids of grainy sand. And black. The favorite color of anyone who can’t pick one. They’re all there huddled around a smoky fire in that deep and penetrating night. And wood fire red brown. And pauper pupils wearing corneas like golden crowns. Dull silver throwing sparks growing sharp. Furrowed down. 

So we’re all supposed to be superheroes now. Secret identities. Private public lives and public private ones we post online. Can’t shake hands, but can roll eyes. Can’t bitch about the weather, except that the sun has his mask off and he’s breathing all over all of us. We want to ask where’s the rain, but we don’t know who we’re talking to, they did get a thunderstorm two towns over. Can’t even suffer drought the same any more. Can’t stand the taste of my own words. And without the rest of the face in the way, my eyes keep giving away my secrets. All I see anymore is people’s true colors. All I hear is what eyes have to say, and buddy, it puts mouths to shame. 

Who is that behind that mask.
Where did the sun go when it rained.

Universe-Maker (part 3)

Tired of dreaming, there was only one way to wake up. One direction to move in. The wave of light already crashing, we decided to stop fighting and let it take us a different way. We died. Collapsed. Buried. Super nova implosion. And the instance we have referred to as ‘The Big Bang’ was the very first resurrection and ascension afterward. Life after death. Electrons fired from the grave like bullets from a gun and the age of material had begun. Weight. Separation. And gravity. Longing. Attraction. 

Matter is being farmed into atoms by hives of furiously swarming particles. Pushed and pulled and blended and churned. We’re not so different from carbon and hydrogen, you and I. God, however, is from another place and absence of time. What power it had to influence your life or address your prayers directly, is gone. It only exists after you have long studied and intentionalized your self and found the inert seed of God buried inside and given it up to soft soil and hard water. God didn’t give you a good world or a bad draw, just a self. And it’s mind blowing for a human to consider creating something without means of controlling it, but God did just that. God made true unadulterated freedom. Good. Evil. Right. Wrong. Timing and temperature and quantities and recipes. Evil is a handful of garlic instead of a pinch. Right is likely to be nothing, to do less, as in the greatest gesture of kindness and thanks we could offer the earth is to simply step more lightly on her. Doing less would be more righteous, but the absolute, anecdotal versions of these words would have you imagining a more oil and water situation, black and white, one or the other, all or nothing. I can not for the life of me find those clean dichotomies occurring naturally. I find spectrum. I find contingencies and potentialities based on unpredictable environmental factors such as timing and temperature and holding your mouth just the right way. 

Morality has nothing to do with God. 

Morality has more to do with gardening. Who wants to eat a rotten tomato?

Matter Farmers (part 3 of 3)

We do not have emotions, or any other experiences, accidentally. We’re the same stuff as stars, as oceans, as mountains, yeah we’re goofy and transient, but hell, we’re still here, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re pretty special. We’re storytellers. Our brains are like beehives for information we gather over our years. Electrons are using us to reach out to someone, to something. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but basically something cracked open and atoms started spilling out and over so much time they kept making choices until they became us. We study our anatomy, but we didn’t train it, or teach it. Electrons did that. Traded land and picked complementary crops and bartered harvests and shared labor. Farming. Growing it out to all the sweet stuff and pouty flowers and broad green spades in order to eventually cut it all down and save the only part the Great Farmer cares about. The soul.

The bitter part no one wants to eat. 

Eternal life looks more like an envelope of seeds.

Strange Cats

Morning birds. Belting toads. Cats I’ve never laid eyes on before.
Coming out of the woodwork. Back barn repair and expansion
and tailend of firewood season starts every garden. In my head.
Out the window the other day saw a young chicken eating another one.
Hawk picked the bones clean clean down to her shoulders.
I buried the rest of her.
Fragrant mud.
Clean pajamas.

Some I miss. Some I don’t.

Some work I miss. Some I don’t. I miss dragging up, sawing through and splitting stumps to pieces with my friend Ken all day, though I don’t miss twenty feet up a ladder leaned on a wobbly oak limb with a gurgling chainsaw. The work melted time. It hurled the sun up and over head. I remember, I can always tell three o clock sun. I could see it on his face we’d be finished soon. 

I miss all the dogs. The big finicky Shepherds and dough eyed boxers and hear them screaming down the hall huskies. Giving one a bath was my first real test at the vet. She did great. They were surprised. I wasn’t. Which is probably why, our blue eyes were locked and I ran water over her for more than five minutes before a bit began to stick to that thick, greyscale coat. The old golden retrievers who seemed so out of place kenneled between a spastic one legged country mix and one of the doctor’s insane pit bull hybrids. Quiet. Stoic. Whose bark was nothing compared to his brown eyes, begging to be let out. I don’t miss most of the cats. Nothing against them. Just what they become when they visit the vet. I don’t miss being in the room helping to explain why someone’s best friend wouldn’t leave there with them. Some people had to pay for everything, make every arrangement, before the IV, before the slow groggy eye roll into everlasting sleep, so that the instant after goodbye, they could leave. It’d be first thing in the morning sometimes. Lit candles flicker in the waiting room. Each color coded doctor flag flung out in warning. The young staff begging to give a dying pup something inane like a cupcake. Pressing their limp paws in black ink and rolling them onto neon colored paper. I don’t miss that. 

I miss riding fifty foot high porch swings up a mountain through a blizzard and leaning forward dreading that leap and goofy trot at the top, to sit in a heated box for an hour eating my Nature Valley bar and scribbling nasty, numb finger poetry in the palm of my hand. Slapping the switch and bringing the whole contraption to a halt when a nervous kid would neglect to lean forward and slide off. Teaching kids and old folks alike how to ride a lift I had never even authentically used myself. Wearing five coats. Jumping in place nonstop when it was fifteen below. No fewer than two pairs of everything, gloves, socks, hats. I don’t miss climbing a frozen ladder onto the frozen bullwheel that moves the cable with all those porch swings bolted to it, with a lit blow torch in my left hand, a full propane tank in my right. No kidding, I asked if he was kidding when I got to the top. I thought I was being pranked, or hazed. But no, I was earning my keep, proving my worth. Slow and unsure I melted every inch of the inch of ice that had coated that thing before I climbed down to the sarcastically scrunched look of ironic northern surprise. I miss being a living breathing novelty. I’m glad I lived to miss it. 

I miss moving hundreds of yards of material in a single roll of fabric. I have never seen people more excited to purchase an almost never ending chore. The thrill they found in fabrication touched me in helping provide for it. I miss the excited look of kids wearing their favorite cartoon characters on clothes made by their favorite grandparents. You get to a certain age and you almost forget altogether how it feels to wear something you’re excited to sleep in. I remember the best boss I’ve ever had slapping a stack of multicolored polyester poplin and explaining to me how they were off to be made into fast food uniforms for some restaurant chain or other. Humble little store bought fireworks sizzling in my mind. Working in wholesale is like having x-ray vision. You get to see the skeleton of everything. The resources that get twisted and braided and heavily longarm stitched and embroidered into products. I don’t miss time clocks or cleaning bathrooms or having to handle often times caustic personnel issues. Infighting between the different shades of blue collars. Trying to explain that the beauty of work is what you get to leave at home. That you’re really being paid not to show up everyday. To be there, to lend your time and talents and bodily and customer service presence, but keep the you part safe and secure, no one will every pay you enough for that. Leave it where it’s safe, employ it only for your dreams. Trust me, the money you take home will help, but those dreams won’t make it easy to make. A few hours a day off from being the true authentic you can be a beautiful thing. Can be being the optimal phrase in that sentiment. It takes practice. I miss the times I really had it honed and humming. 

I miss arranging pink and blue piggy banks and flower vases shaped like Ford Mustang convertibles. I don’t miss knocking three glass shelves covered over in them completely to the floor in the glittering shattered cascade of sharp ceramic, clear blue shards and the broken up eyes and snouts of little pigs that were never even fed a penny. 

I miss helping young women and their moms search for the right prom dress, and young men toward their first black suit, and older men nervous to tell me their true waist size even though I had already assessed it with my eyes. I remember helping one gentleman on and off with his shoes, and his wife thanked me for my help with tears on her cheeks. He was getting a suit for his sister’s funeral, he was a very big man, with a great many stories to tell, and I was honest to God happy to help. He reminded me of someone, but I never figured out who. Probably myself. I don’t miss the owner’s father, Pops, following me around like he thought I was going to steal something, condescending me because I cleaned the bathroom, which he referred to as ‘woman’s work’, and chastised me for slipping off a ladder even though he refused to steady it for me, or take the heavy box I was descending with from my hands. That was the only job I have ever walked off from in the middle of a shift. And three months later they begged me to come back to watch the store for them while they were out of town, and I never did. I would rather sweat through summers doing landscaping than to be treated like something I’m not. Dishonest. 

I do miss cutting grass, all day chasing a self-propelled push mower and coming back through like a barber with a razor scraping the warm shaving cream of soft green grass off the edges of sidewalks and wiping them clean with a leaf blower. I worked for myself, for a few houses, and a church in Shelby. One day I had to do the job in the rain and I broke the bolt that held the blade on the mower deck three times, going to the hardware store to replace it, three times, before I finished the job. Knowing if I did not make it home with that check, well, that was not an option, at that time. I don’t miss finding I had hit a snake, or a toad in the grass. Or that I had taken an extra twist and nicked the heads off someone’s lemon yellow daffodils or candy pink tulip lips. I don’t miss being overworked and overtired and still poor. Or when it would start raining and not stop for six, seven, eight days sometimes just pouring. That’s a good word for those times. Pooring. Equipment sitting cold in the bed of my overworked, overtired Jeep. 

If not for my chickens and for my gardens those times would have pushed past hard and actually frozen solid as ice in the dead center of summertime. You can ask my sister. I’d eat ten, eleven ears of corn and call it dinner. Leave the house with three hardboiled eggs in the morning, and no lie, pick dandelion heads and free pears and scavenged blackberries on the properties I worked. I was so terribly free and pinballish those two years. Almost everyone who loved me was afraid for me. But I wasn’t though. Too busy. 

Which is how I discovered my own personal secret to sustain sustaining. Busyness. Work. Walking. Responsibilities. Caring for animals. Caring for people. Neglecting myself. 

I learned a critical lesson, and I will share it with you here to sum up and finish this piece that is likely to go on ten, maybe even fifteen more years at this pace. 

If you can’t be okay all the time, then start walking it back. What makes you okay for, let’s say, a day. If you can’t be okay for a day. Keep walking. What can you do to be okay for an hour. If you can’t manage that yet, how about half an hour, fifteen minutes. Don’t lose heart. Fifteen minutes of being okay can be really really hard. Back up to a minute. Is there anything at all that you can do and for just about one minute not fixate on your problems, your hangups, fears, your lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, innate invisible suffering no one in the world may know about but you. 

You’ll find it. It’s there. For me, it was work, and walking, with my dogs, hiking, being outside. But work mostly, for other people, for myself, on my farm, in my notebook. I found I could choose one of these activities and be okay for a minute, and if I got a little momentum, two, then five. A good long walk, losing track of the dogs as they bound up ahead of me after a deer they’ll never catch, or a bird that isn’t actually there, fifteen minutes, then forty five. At the end of it, all of it would come back and hit me like an ocean wind. So I’d do it again, and again. A nice, breathtaking, sun drenching, sweat dripping shift, I’d get five, six hours in before something worse than exhaustion would catch up to me. I practiced those a while, and soon enough, I could get through a day, at the end of which I’d be beat, inside and out, upside and down. All the energy I had left to do anything with was required to carry my butt to bed. I’d get up with all these thoughts, ideas, lists, agendas, chores, filling my head. No room for the other stuff. 

I got real good at going two or three days. Which was great, I could more than feel, but see my progress. Next thing I knew, I’d have my weeks mapped out all the way until I had to call them months. And honest to God, honest to you, it has been years, actual years now, since I’ve revisited the bottom of that pit my thoughts dug out for me so long ago. 

And that’s the secret, my secret at least. Start small. Start with the seed. The here and now. And don’t even take a second to think about minutes until those seconds are something you can sustain. Until for a few seconds, you can be okay. Don’t dwell on hours, if you have to, pretend there’s no such thing as days. Build your happiness brick by brick, minute by minute. Without much more strain and wracking your brain, you’ll have a wall, four walls, a roof, without any more thought than it takes to slap down a little mortar and sandwich it tight in between two red rectangles. 

I think a lot of depression and anxiety are actually offshoots of our impressive imaginations. Our understanding of, and longing for, wide, intricate blue-printed designs and multi-layered, textural maps, and the expectations of our friends and families and the pressures we put on ourselves to think in five year plans and knowing our lifetime career goals before we’ve even held down a simple summer gig, or a year or two of odd jobs and the hungry, gut-wrenching process of self discovery and finding out our own beautiful, hardfought points of exhaustion.

Essentially, try not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to plan too much until you have some pretty decent milestones in the rearview. Once you have a few mountains behind you, you’ll see the vast range of powder blue ridges stretched out before you differently. You’ll see them with your feet, and with your back. You’ll learn to distrust your eyes, just enough so that you can hear the beating of your heart. 

You’ll learn the greatest fear you’ll ever feel is for the things you’ve already been through.

No matter what obstacles are set out in front of you, they all have one incredible, optimistic aspect in common. 

They’re new.