for POMPEII

18 April 2017

for :   Pompeii

We struggled through the darkness, our bodies beaten by falling stones, our faces smothered by the drifting rain of ash. Pillows covered our heads, their corners tied down with long scarves under our chins. Other cloths covered our mouths and noses, with only a slit between cheeks and forehead. Even then we could hardly see, so thick was the ash, so black the world around us, covered in darkness, full of the utter absence of light – it was like when you go into a small room at night, without a lamp, and close the door behind you. Except the air was thick with ash and stones and the screams and whimpers of women, children, and men, crowding around you, struggling together toward the gate of the city.

All the while the falling stones pelted us. Smacking on our arms and shoulders, thudding against the pillows covering our heads, clattering and splattering on the walls and rooves around us. We struggled on. Somewhere, somehow, we got to the gate, shoved our way through, and staggered out into the open countryside, almost losing the road.

In that dark, there was only the sputtering of other people’s torches around us, and the faint, helpless glimmer of oil lamps – which were constantly snuffed out by the falling ash… yes, strange, but to this day I can still hear that one woman begging for a light from a nearby torch flame… well the gods only know why that one voice sticks in my mind… and so I wonder what became of her? Did she make it all the way to Sorrentum? Or like so many others, did she give up, hide somewhere, trying to rest under a roof, out of the falling stones and choking ash, and then find herself smothered in the next morning, by that horrible cloud of burning flame and smoke that came down from the mountain, just as dawn was finally bleeding in from the east, somewhere, in those thin, feathered cracks under the dark cloud….

No. I don’t know. I don’t know what became of her. But I can still hear her voice, begging for a light, a bit of flame for her small lamp.

We almost lost the road ourselves. But I knew it too well. The last few years, after coming home, I have followed that road many times, walking or riding back and forth between Pompeii and Stabiai, and often further on, to Sorrentum.

But I never traveled it like we did that day and that night.

 

today, looking back

2017 April 16 – Sunday.

I remember when I discovered J.G. Ballard.

Fifty years ago.

Not like Columbus, but I was looking for gold. The paperback book even had a burnt gold cover. A huge, orange yellow sun. That always was my favorite color. Gold orange yellow.

The title of the little novel was, and maybe still is, The Burning World.

Later I read other books by him, and years later continue to be fascinated by his intense, inner vision of human personality and psychology and feeling.

But there was nothing like that first discovery, that moment of delight and dark surprise. The delicious feeling of reading another man’s words that spoke directly to my hungry eye, my thirsty mind.

On that day I was reborn, with his book, his words, his thought.

I knew I wanted to write like that.

Or at least, read.

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a personal note, or daydream, thought

I am a child of the desert west, yet I am also a son of the ocean beaches. The sea was always the greatest water in my life, in my world, in my vision.

Rivers were only small streams, which sometimes flooded, and often dried out completely into sand or cracked mud. Even the great Sacramento river, of the north, which was the most powerful river I knew as a child, well, even that paled in comparison with the greater bay, the golden gate, the San Francisco bay, beside whose eastern shore I was conceived and born, and then lived a year and four months before I was carried away to the south, to the silver gate, to pass my childhood beside the dry Mexican frontier, at San Diego.

Every year, however, sometimes twice, I returned to my grandmother’s house in that land where I was born, and I touched the saline waters of San Francisco bay. It was always like coming home to a home that I had lost, long ago, and it reconfirmed in my heart and mind the truth that salt water is the greatest water on this earth, this planet, this world of life.

Amen.

For me, let me repeat again, the greatest waters were always salt, the brackish salt waters of California estuaries, harbors, bays, and ocean. Only when I was a young man, years later, would I truly come to know, and begin to understand, the power of fresh water, sweet natural clean water, flowing across the earth, free from salt and almost ready to drink… or at least, once upon a time it was ready to drink, long ago, in the rivers of the east and the midwest, before civilized industrial man polluted it and contaminated it and poisoned it with our industrious power and might.

But in spite of that damage, the great streams are still alive, those rivers whose names were once only words in my history books, the Hudson, Delaware, Shenandoah, Potomac, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and a hundred, a thousand others. They still flow, and flood, although we cannot drink freely from them without bombarding them with chlorine gas and filtering and refiltering the shit from their streams of festering, pestilent life, yes, but they still flow, they still run through the living world, they still flood, and they still carve their twisting path across the face of this land we call America.

One of those rivers, the “Mighty Mo” – as it is known with love and fear – figures mightily in my journey to witness the total eclipse of the sun.

For several reasons, I have chosen a city upon its lowest, southernmost shores to be the spot where I will wait for the shadow of the Moon to come racing across the Earth toward me.

Missouri.

Even if all my plans of mice and men may gang agley and fall apart to leave me stranded dead without a whit of travel, it is enow for me that I can imagine it now and set down in these daydreaming words.

Missouri.

Palm Sunday

 

He said they upset him, those children who

gasp for breath, chlorine burning their childish

lungs. Or is it sarin gas, you know, same

who killed those subway trains in Japan.  How

so many years ago that? Now or then,

Europe or Damascus, Armageddon

or World War One can only wonder why

this desolate abomination stands

in your holy place. Then they shoot missiles,

make the rubble bounce, and watch you die from

shoes melting your feet.

Holiday memories and the long, long, long time calendar.

Tuesday 24 November 2015.

When I was a child, learning and looking forward into my discovery of time and the calendar, I thought, and felt, that the year 2000 was far, far away. I knew that I had a chance of living to see the day when we said that was our year, our time, our date, but I also knew I would have to wait a long, long time to get there.

We got there. I got there. The night that 1999 changed into 2000, our family gathered in the desert at the little mobile/modular trailer/house my mother used to own, where she and my stepfather spent so many pleasant weekends and holidays throughout the twenty-nine years of their happy marriage.

That particular weekend – Friday 31 December to Monday 3 January – my brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces nearly all of them and some cousins too I think came down to Borrego Springs and we all slept over for one or two or three nights, spread out through the three bedrooms and living room of my mom’s house, as well as out in stepfather Herb’s motor home, and, I might not remember rightly, but I think somehow Mom actually rented another house nearby for a couple nights. All told I think there were twenty or thirty of us – my memory is fading now that fifteen years have gone by – almost sixteen, come to think of it.

My aunt Virginia had left this life by then, I am sorry to say. Mom had such good years in the 1980s and thereabouts (thenabouts) getting to be friends with her sister all over again – they lived in the same desert-club complex (the Roadrunner) for twenty some years, from the late seventies to the nineties. They played tennis together and went to the clubhouse pool, and for ten years or so also volunteered as summer campground hosts at Mammoth Lakes, along with their husbands, of course, my uncle Lester and stepfather Herb.

Those were good years. As I sit here writing, I give thanks for such a blessing, and glad that after all it did take so very long to get to 2000 from 1950.

month

2017 April 2nd – Sunday

March is gone. It went away yesterday before dawn. We said goodbye at the dock, you know, the famous one that sits next to the bay, where water runs backwards with the tide, then flushes away again. In and out, that old song, yes. We said goodbye to March. It was dark. Then April came.

She is sweet, her flowers rushing through my eyes, shining yellow and white daisies, or “margaritas” – as I learned to call them in Mexico, leaning over a hillside of flowers, and whispering, “Flores, flores, flores…” until I heard the Aztec word, “xochitl” echoing back to me, in my ear, mind, heart.

another morning

2017 April 1 – Saturday

I used to live for the weekends. Struggle through the week at school so I could have two days off. Struggle through the week at work so I could have two days off. Now I am retired and I dream at night about going back to school and not knowing what we were studying, or I dream of going back to work and not knowing what the job is any more, or where the new office is.

But I have other dreams. Sometimes there are art presentations so fantastic, with choirs of singing friends and crowds of painting humans. Sometimes there are vast conspiracies between creatures from other planets and people who look like you and me. Sometimes there are delicate, loving animals, or wild, hungry beasts. Sometimes there are flowers and sunshine. Sometimes there be darkness, there. In my dreams, many fantastic events unfold.

Then I get up in the morning and make a pot of coffee. It is six-thirty.

I used to always get up at six-thirty. Walk to the bus. Listen to the people talking as we rode downtown. It was another life, then, and I was younger. There are filing cabinets full of the garbage I wrote at night (or on the weekend) and set aside for another day, another hour. Once in a while I would sit down and try to organize it. Many were the pages I threw away, never to see again.

Here is another, I fear, but it only exists electronically. As a computer file.

I shall most probably never print it.

Good bye, little word.

You fade, already, like a dream.

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