Taking out the trash and such

2 Moon 29 Autumn 61 Space Age

20 October 2017

 

I take the trash out this morning. The sweet autumn air is damp in my nose. It rained, very briefly, an hour or two ago, before I got up. Now the street is almost dry again, but I can still feel the breath of water, and the corners of the overhanding eaves of our house are still dripping, faintly, one drop, two drops, three.

I suppose it wasn’t really “rain” – certainly not a hard rain. No. It barely qualified as a “shower” – if that. It was only what one would call “drizzle” – which makes me think of London and all my recent daydreams about living there for a year, or at least for six months (the longest the UK would let me stay without actually getting a visa).

Or maybe it is better just to fly around in my computer, the ultimate 21st century armchair traveler, looking at all the streets and photos and videos, but staying safe and warm at home.

Whatever the case, London is quickly banished from my mind as I push our heavy trash bin out toward the street. It trundles before me, lumbering on its two little wheels, its big body tilted back onto a point of balance, making it almost easy for me to go clunking and bumping along the flat cement walkway leading from the side door – by our kitchen – turning diagonally through the small front garden, out toward the sudden steep slope descending three feet down to street level. As I push this modestly rumbling blue bin (full of rattling glass and metal and whispering paper), I am oddly reminded of Marie Antoinette travelling through the streets of Paris, headed towards her appointment with the guillotine. Tumbril. In her tumbril. It had big wheels, I think. My trash bin has little wheels. Vive la différence.

Perhaps I think of Paris because I am slowly reading Victor Hugo’s long novel, Les Misérables. Yes, perhaps that has something to do with it, even though it takes place one and two generations after the killing of Marie and her husband Louis. Yes, but “they all look alike” – to burglarize a bigoted clause.

As I write these words, my little phone buzzes with a news alert from A.J.E.  There have been more bombings in Afghanistan.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Bob

There was a man came from the sea with salted
love in his blood and salty words upon his tongue.

Master of the tiller and wheel, at home a captain
in the kitchen, and over the ocean commander
of hearts and minds.

He taught us all what it means to live under wind
and rain, storm and sun. He would cruise the waters
of the boundless main, then sit and charm us with
a few kind words of wit.

We are greater for having known him; but oh how
it hurts to bid him farewell.

So, it is, with life: we come and then we go.
A precious blossom blooms upon the mighty tree.

Inevitably, inexorably, after many a brilliant sunrise
and scarlet evening, summer turns toward autumn,
breaking our hearts, stripping our leaves and flowers.

All we have left is to be grateful for such a man, to have
loved him as brother, husband, cousin, uncle, friend.

 

October 2017

orbit

4 October 2017

We are now entering the sixty-first year of the Space Age.

The anniversary of Sputnik has come. It was sixty years ago that the first orbital satellite was launched by our species – or at least the first that is/was publicly known.

Prior to that date, rockets had been launched, but they had only gone up and come down again. This was the first time that a rocket was used to successfully put an artificial object in orbit. Not only did this object get put into orbit around the Earth, but it also carried a small radio transmitter, and very famously sent out a signal beep beep beep beep beep beep over and over again, as it flew around and around the planet where we live.

Sixty years later, an entire space station is orbiting the Earth, and is inhabited by human beings, who come and go by riding up in capsules located on rockets. Some of them live up there for months at a time.

We are now entering the sixty-first year of the Space Age.

chronicles of disappointment, continued

Funny, strange funny, not ha ha ha ha ha funny, but strange funny how different things are important for different reasons.

My writing, my attempts to create a story set in the ancient Roman empire, and my recent work building an autobiographical novel based on the year I lived in Chicago with my wife and our baby son, and yes, even all my videos, are not as important as a few pages I am working on for a client at the University of Mexico.

Of all the files I chose to transfer and copy over into my new computer, it was the “work” files, the job files, the paying income and earning a reputation files, for those I opened up the link to the local home network, for those I negotiated the slippery slope between windows seven and windows ten – not so hard, actually, if I took my time and stepped carefully – yes, the “real” work, the work that will pay the monstrous credit card bill for my new computer, the translation texts that give me real silver and gold, not just money but reputation and acknowledgement – those were the babies I transferred over into my new little laptop.

Not my poetry. Not my videos. Not my novel.

Nope.

No.

Yes to the bottom line.

Damn.

1 August 2017 remembering high school Xmas pageant fifty some years ago

1 August 2017

I appeared as a shepherd in the 1966 pageant. That was the year that a few guys played an outrageous practical joke during one of the last rehearsals, just as the choir came marching down the central aisle, singing Cantique de Noel. I can remember the name of only one of the perpetrators – I knew him then and later. During this rehearsal, the curtains should not have opened, this was to have been only a run-through of the procession and singing. But they did. Open. What they revealed was hilarious, barbaric, and/or sacreligeous, depending on your particular belief system, sense of humor, or point of view. The fabled red robe choir was stopped dead in their tracks. Dozens of cast members sitting in the auditorium, waiting to be called to the stage, all laughed and gasped, or screamed. As the shock died away, the directress of the pageant – I believe it was Audrey Seidel but am not certain – flew down the aisle like a veritable fury rushing toward those suddenly gaping curtains and what they had revealed.

Needless to say, the coterie who had plotted and carried out this irreverent coup de main were banished from the pageant. I do not remember whether they met the vice principal’s board of education, but would not be surprised if they had been forced to bend over and take that medicine.

 

from 2008, part five

20/21   4   8

11:33

I go outside. A freight train is just pulling through the station. I wave at the locomotives, the engineer blows his horn, once. Dozens of big gondola cars follow trundle trundle trundle rumble rumble rumble rumble car after gondola after gondola after car my God the locomotives must already be across the river headed north and I foolish scribbler waiting four hours for a train that might be late or very late who knows I don’t but it is reassuring to see this freight on the way on the way on the way.

The northbound Amtrak is going to be three hours late, they say. We were lucky only one hour late when we arrive last Wednesday night or really Thursday morning after midnight we went to our hotel and slept yes we went to our hotel and slept.

Something eerily reassuring about this long train of cars even if they are empty it means the world is moving onward and outside us the world is moving on. Look – there’s  the _______ signal painted on one. A clatter and slunk echoes forward and back through the cars like a sympathic noted shudder – a fearsome quiver of steel – what’s this? A locomotive pounding at the end, too? Yes. Tick tick tock tock….

And then they are gone. Slowly slowly slowly rumbling and tracking away into the distance, that little sporadic pop has snap snap snap snap hanging in the distance almost longer than the distant rumbling.

I haven’t heard a horn since that one touch that greeted me.

Wait – I think they’re still there… down the tracks… waiting… waiting for… what?

Yes I can still hear that snapping tick hiss snap….

Where? What? How? Why?

I don’t know, dear diary. Another mystery in the night. And then, another train horn from somewhere else, a….

Another melancholy howl in the distance. The beasts are calling, the machines signalling, the monsters communicate and I….

I scribble for you, dear diary a blog.

The long Little Rock Union Station appears to be leased out for offices and restaurants. Amtrak only occupies a tiny basement hall facing toward the tracks and platform. That’s all they need. The rest is superfluous detritus from the glorious past, when passenger railroads still ruled the transportation world.

Now everything is airplanes and trains are a freak breed apart.

This scheduling is offensive, my mother said at dinner tonight at the Flying Fish. I am offended, truly offended, that we must take the train at three a.m. and no time else, never. If something isn’t done about this they will never build ridership.

And if ridership doesn’t build, they will never do anything about it, I thought, but hold my tongue. I have had enough of disagreement with her. She was all upset and nervous about how would we get to the station from far out in the car rental return. Gave them holy hell about how inconsiderate they were not having a turn-in place closer to downtown. They do but it doesn’t have a drop-key box and they are closed on Sunday.

For the last three days I have heard nothing but how will we turn in the car and how will be get back downtown and so forth and so on and then how will we turn in the car and how will we get downtown and how will be turn in downtown and how will we get the car out and how will we car the turn and downtown the get out and out the turn down get turn and get out.

To top it off she forgot to plug in her cell phone so we had no recourse but hunt down a pay phone which there wasn’t but a friendly shell station near the car rental office far out in the suburbs let me make a call which was good because the cab company has that phone number in their data bank and I had not sooner asked for a cab then he was telling me where I was calling from huh? Yeah. God bless the modern technological miracle of caller ID okay? Okay.

Little Rock Union Station sits on ancient steel beams. Its walls rise up brick and old windows. It has a tower you can see from way down the street approaching from downtown through the homeless skid row district you know the type every city in our empire has it, old inner city houses and unch______. But this one is only a few blocks from the State capitol dome.

We drove here earlier this afternoon because I wanted to refresh my memory and because I thought the station would not be open until late tonight and wanted Mom to see it was pointless coming here as early as she wanted and indeed the station building only opens at 10:30 pm and so we went and sat by the river and watched the water go by for two hours and then we went and had fish dinner for an hour and a half and then I slowly drove through local North Little Rock streets toward the Enterprise office poor Mom wondering all the time if I knew where we were going but only asking me three or four times even when I temporarily lost my way in a residential neighborhood of _________ houses good thing they were rich bastard mansions not gangbanging ghettos but I quickly back tracked and soon found the car rental place next to the freeway and suddenly the dam broke and she was now – after half an hour of extremely good behavior she was now fully _________ of questioning and asking why are you trying where are you going what are you going why don’t you and I just said Mom I found the place didn’t I? Now we go back to the gas station on the avenue and call a cab.

And a cab came, God be praised reasonable and good and we came down to the station at last arriving at eleven p.m. and so we wait only not four hours.

If the train is on time.

Except then not it’s only three hours. If the train is on time. If.

A bird cries out in the night shee shee shee.

That long freight train that stopped down the tracks is finally moving away.

I don’t know why. But godspeed. One last set of piercing wails into the distance and they gone across the river.

There is an extradordinary beauty to the night. I don’t want to go back inside but feel I must. To let Mom know I am still here and well. Safe.

She is snoring.

Sweet lady. Just like a baby asleep at night.

It is now twelve o’clock.

I yawn, and try to stretch out on the big old wooden bench, but I cannot do it. Couldn’t sleep, not yet. My fingers are bonded to the pen, my brain bleeds ink all over the page and the words fly out like cars upon the freeway, no, like geese honking across the sky, like….

Like me, with a thousand thoughts flooding through my sleepy brain.

I slept so very well last night – awake this morning before dawn completely rested. Dressed and went outside to watch sunrise over the river at Pendleton.

Here goes another freight train. This one looks a mix of tank cars and gondolas.

I lost the cap to this pen. It is a metaphor for my diarhea of the mouth hand brain write.

They call it “free writing” where you just let it pour out.

No such thing as pure free writing, of course, this brain is always leaping ahead to create sentence structure, or maybe thought itself is language except

smell the perfume today

touch the  wooden door

turn the metal knob

see even in this meaning

core grammar and syntax

 

semantic

and always the pragmatic

looking for you dear reader

 

friend, friends

 

remembering names of your

place

 

estás en tu casa

aunque no estoy

en la mia

 

but the page is yours to make meaning

 

 

or not

click .

 

 

 

squeal

 

skreeee

 

 

 

distant

 

 

 

 

 

 

train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on this river bridge

 

 

 

“Lord, ain’t this fun.” The girl in the wheelchair sighs at me.

I laugh and go back outside. I wish she had the nerve to follow me.

I sit on an ancient baggage cart outdoors, near the growling ventilator. A shadow is moving.

She came out. We talk.

“There’s ma bell and there’s taco bell – the Mexican phone company.”

 

……………………………………….

 

 

from 2008, part four

18  4  8

Friday morning. Little Rock, Arkansas. We got here night before last around one a.m. Yesterday morning, technically, since it was after midnight.

The train had been a long, lovely ride through moonlight from east Texas, through the forests flickering by in pale shine, the occasional fields awash in dim glow, the sometimes swampy ponds and fens gleaming silver dull; a mysterious, moving vision of dark beauty, softly illumined by the waxing gibbeous lunar orb high above, moving from nine o’clock to midnight.

Daniel gazed out the window while Marjorie dozed. With the lights all out in their little compartment, and the hallway door screened by curtains, they could see the shining darkness passing by outside. D briefly went forward to the view lounge, but the lights were still on in that car, and reflections from the inside covered the windows. He returned to their darker roomette to sit and watch the moonlit forests rolling by.

At one moment, sparks of electric lights suddenly appeared in the trees. Waa-waaaah, howled the locomotive, high-balling at who knows what speed, then slowling slightly as the ghost-lights in the trees blossomed into more houses, with country roads and streets, waa-waaa, waaah, and an entire small town suddenly unfolded from the woods, stretching out its shining streetlamps and traffic, turning its houses and tiny main street shops this way and that, while the train just slightly slowed down to carefully plow its non-stopping iron path straight through waa-waa at the local highway intersection, waa-waa as the feed warehouse on the edge of town, waaaaa into the last bending curve turning away from that momentary vision of light and human lifetimes, away from brilliant electric fires into the soft, succulent darkness of forest and ghostly moonlight where trees and meadows rushed by, a passing silver into grey watercolor haunt of endless movement movement movement rolling away away away away away….

Before those dark hours of moonlight vision, we ate dinner at sunset, rolling through the fields and towns of east Texas, watching trees grow thicker around the scattered towns and open fields. Streaks and swaths of riverland and swamp interrupted the ranch and farmland. Thicker and denser the woods grew taller and darker until we came to the old oil boom regions, where rusting tanks and refineries came and went in and out of the forests.

As night fell we had a fascinating encounter in the view lounge car with Deacon Jones, on his way to Little Rock, to talent scout some baseball players. We would see him again at the station, after we all de-trained. He had checked his baggage, and was waiting.

That reminded me of an event several days ago, in the morning air of El Paso. Tell the story, Daniel

19  4  8          Okay, Mikey. We had rolled around the last corner of the Rio Grande river, in southern New Mexico, finishing our breakfasts in the dining car. The valley passed by outside the eastern windows while dry desert hills and mountains turned and hovered outside our western windows. In the last moments before crossing the river, we came within yards of the Mexican border, and gazed beyond the fence into a neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez.

Then, slowly, we crossed the river by the power plant and made out way through the northern edge of the city of El Paso, crawling toward the downtown railroad station.

20  4  8          And at last we stopped for a twenty minute pause. I climbed down the narrow staircase to the lower level of the superliner train, and stepped off onto solid ground.

Walked along the platform a few cars’ length. There I met a man complaining to the conductor that his bags weren’t unloaded yet. After a few moments comiseration, the conductor nodded towards an approaching, almost empty cart, driven by a middleaged man. “Here he comes with supplies for the train. As soon as he’s done delivering them to the cars, he’ll collect the baggage and return to the depot, sir.”

The unhappy passenger grunted and turned to me as the conductor moved off toward the head of the train.

“What do you think of that,” he frowned, watching the electric car now deliver a bundle of newspapers and bag of ice to the nearest sleeping car while exchanging hearty greetings and handshakes and smiling words with the car attendant, “look at that – he’ll go all the way down the train, greeting and glad-handing and shooting the breeze with every single person he meets, and only then load up the baggage and finally return to the station. Meanwhile I’m standing here waiting and waiting and waiting. Tell me, friend, don’t you think something ought to be done about that? How can Amtrak ever hope to attract passengers, and increase its ridership, if this is an example of the kind of customer service they provide? I ask you, what can be done?”

I nodded, understandingly. “Well,” I said, slowly, gathering my thoughts, and beginning to expand the one simple answer which I have thought about before, having noticed and pondered this very situation, and question, before, “well, there really is only one solution that I can see, only one way to improve customer service.”

“How is that?” he asked, one eyebrow cocked, curiously, the other continuing to fish-eye down the length of the train, toward the electric baggage cart, which by now had only reached the next car.

“Apply the profit motive,” I said.

He turned both eyes back toward me. A whisper of a smile began to flicker around one corner of his mouth. The other eye wrinkled, fixing itself in amusement on my face, deliberately struggling not to look away toward the baggage cart, still only at the second car.

“Yes sir,” I said, “now you may think I look like an old hippie, but I know what made our country great – the free market system. And I know the one way to improve service is to pay people for it. Some kind of bonus, or reward, system for how fast they get the baggage off the train and into the hands of the passengers.”

He fully smiled, nodded, then immediately frowned as he turned to watch the baggage cart slowly trundle off towards that third superliner car. More greetings, handshakes, handoffs of ice and newspapers.

“You may have something there,” he growled, “but I doubt it will ever happen, things being standing as they are now.”

“No. Congress will never authorize any increased expenditure for improved service. And our lame duck president, if I may call him that, would rather slaughter men, women and children in Babylon than help our folks back here at home.” [get their baggage delivered ten minutes faster]

His eyes and body snapped back at me. He snorted, rather good-humoredly, I thought. “Now, young man, you’re talking like the old hippy you said you only looked like.”

……………….

So I was reminded of that baggage by our saying goodbye to Deacon Jones on Wednesday night. He was waiting for his baggage to be unloaded from the baggage car. I shook his hand goodbye. Talking with him a few hours before had been one of my most emotional moments of the trip thusfar there, and still, four days later as I write backwards from Sunday.

We took a taxi to our hotel across the river on the waterfront edge of North Little Rock, set behind the levee wall, and slept.

Awoke Thursday morning somewhat refreshed, ate breakfast in the hotel café, caught the tourist streetcar across the river. Oh my, its very high, I said. No, this is down, it was higher a couple weeks ago, the motorman said. Turns out he’s a refugee from 1980s El Salvador. He was in the army there. Would’ve been kille but he got drunk one night and was ordered into lockup the next day. Crudo, siempre crudo. His squad went out to guard a bridge. Got hit by revel rocket grenades. Several killed – including him – or who he would have been if he’d not been locked up for being hungover. The Lord saved me for something better, he says. On the left you see the new waterfront park where the little rock itself sits buried under the railroad bridge foundation pier.

You can still see the bottom half of the little rock under the concrete tower set on top of it. Le petit roche, here, half way up the river, the delta forest swamps and great prairie regions of east Arkansas give way to the first hills that lead west into the ancient Ozark mountains. The “little rock” beside the river is the first outcrop of stone visible on the surface as you head up-river from the father of waters, Mississippi river.

The ancient French voyageurs and fur traders came up the Arkansas by canoe from the late 1600s on. In 1686 the French founded the Arkansas Post, a fort meant to safeguard their control of the great river. This was before New Orleans, even. The first post was destroyed by floods and re-established on the site that later became Arkansan territorial capital and is the chief goal and destination of Marjorie and Daniel’s trip here: the subject of MOPTK’s 194 masters thesis in history at the University of California (Berkeley). The Arkansas Post 1683-1783.

Before we get there, however, we plan to spend a day in Little Rock. We call cousin Pollyanna Carlysle Krafter and arrange to meet her downtown at the museum of little old houses. She and Mom converse around the gift shop before the three of us are taken on a small guided tour of the old houses. First they show us a movie filmed on site with living history actors pretending to be old Arkansas travelers, businessmen and slaves.

I make light of this institution by calling it merely the museum of old houses, but it is so much more, if you will permit me to cliché. The Historic Arkansas Museum at 200 East Third Street, downtown Little Rock, is both a showplace gallery and secure repository for objects pertaining to the history of the Razorback State. // While his mom and cousin are making delicious love to the gift shop, Daniel spends a pleasant hour perusing the collections of furniture, weapons, toys and Indian artefacts on display in the permanent gallery. He is particularly struck by a large portrait of a mother, young daughters and son and dog. He gazes into the frozen faces, some looking out at him with enigmatic smiles and frowns, others looking at each other. Only the dog wears a look of true adoring love. The others – except the the youngest girl – all seem to reflect a knowledge of the burdens and sadness of life – a knowledge which the youngest, smiling radiantly, has perhaps not yet had thrust upon her by sickness, slavery, and death. The family in the painting is, of course, white. The rich ones all were, back then.

Several days later we will sit in our rental car driven back to Little Rock, waiting the last hour before we must turn it in and go catch our three a.m. train. It will be nearing sunset as I try to write another piece of our journey, transforming experience and recent memory into words. But there is no equalling the sheer power of a flowing river. Even here as I scribble in the heart of an American city, the noise of traffic all around me, even here there is no force, no power, to equal the simple, gigantic movement of water rushing by, the moving, roiling mass sliding sideways, onward, onward, downriver, sliding sideways simply because the gravity of our world pulls it down[hill], and this mighty, universal force, acting upon its huge, fluid mass, leaves it no choice but go downstream.

And yet how many variations in that flow! How many channels carved and then abandoned across the centuries, and millennia, how many forgotten horseshoe shaped lakes and swamps littering the delta flatlands east and south of here!

Each time I raise my eyes from this scribbled draft, [this paper] which I regret you cannot see, there, in your computer screen, dear diary, but each time I raise my eyes I see it. Let me show you in these words. The river, moving, moving, moving. Down between the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock, passt the rip-rap lined shores with their parkforest walkways and raised river walls, under the highway bridges, under the Main Street Bridge where East becomes West, under the railroad bridges, half abandoned, past the old State House, past the tourist hotels, past the riverfront marketplace, past the Clinton Library with its expansive grounds and huge glass building floating on stilts that everyone calls a “trailer, but, mind you, it’s an Airstream trailer…”

Ignorant to it all, the liquid megatons of water roll by, push by, wash by. None of our little sounds, none of our Slick Willie Huckabee debates, none of our sirens racing across the bridges, none of our poetry, none of our music, none of our race relations, none of us matter until you actually touch the water and then… then it will only move around you.

A fish splashes somewhere. The redwing blackbirds flutter on the fence in the river shore park downtown. A poet from California scribbles in the corner. [Pay not attention to that little man behind the curtain.] The sun appears to set. It is almost time for dinner.

A huge riverboat power tug struggles upstream against the current, pushing a barge in front of it[s nose]. One of the first, people say, since the floodwaters were so high last week and week before last. It feels the river, long and strong and fierce all around it. And the river, yes, it feels the boat and barge, a moment of disturbance in the force, a flood diversion, a slight change of course for millions of gallons of water streaming breakneck past the tiny piece of civilization, culture, trade, commerce.