This one time I was sitting out one of our every-other-day thunderstorms, watching from under the awning on the restaurant’s patio. There was a fair amount of water in the air, and I was getting damp anyway, no matter how close to the wall I sat. My white shirt wasn’t going to be too opaque after a while of this, but my bra gave pretty good coverage and today was one of those days when I just didn’t care.

I wasn’t angry or upset or anything like that. I wasn’t having a bad shift – except maybe in the way that there was almost no such thing as a good shift these days. Too much had happened. I was just exhausted. Everyone was. Exhausted and out of patience. Just last night I had watched a fifty-year-old woman break up a fight between an arguing couple all the way across the restaurant. She just got up, walked over, and faced them both down. “After everything,” she said, “This is how you want to spend your time?” Then she went back to her table and picked up her fork again.

Anyone who had anything to say about my shirt getting damp wouldn’t want to hear what I would have to say back. If I bothered to say anything back at all.

But this storm was something else. Thunder and lightning were so frequent that the flashes and the growling from the sky seemed utterly unconnected to each other. The wind came in punches rather than a steady flow. Watching the flashing behind the clouds, listening to the thunder run back and forth across the sky, feeling the blowing mist in my face, gave me something back that I desperately needed. The freshness of the smell of the water in the air, of the pummeled new leaves, the teeth-on-edge taste of ozone – it was like the world was showing us what it was like to be awake again.

Without really wanting to, I started looking at the shapes in the clouds. It wasn’t like there were actually separate clouds or anything, but the unsteady flashes from the lightning leaked through and drew bright outlines, lit some patches, and left others dark.

The first thing I saw was a leaping cat, coming down from left to right, from where the sun would be. Thunder dutifully supplied a growl. Next was a small bear-shape, seated, under the slopes of a mountain. After that, the sky seemed a bit more quiet. But then lightning struck right where I was looking, and blinking away I saw afterimages of my grandfather, upright but slouched like he was wearing his long raincoat. I saw this shape as far down the road I would be taking home as it was possible to see, larger than the buildings on both sides of the road.

The staccato bursts of wind and water finally got my attention as the hail started to fall. A storm like this, in this heat — this is tornado weather. I saw three funnels starting to come together at the same time, right near one another, like black claws coming down through the clouds. Then there was another bright flash and loud clap, making me flinch away. And when I looked up again, the claws were gone. More hail was bouncing in the street, though, looking like it would look if you’d dumped out buckets and buckets of cubes of ice for drinks out into the street. The ones that bounced up at me were starting to sting.

Then was as good a time as any to get in out of the rain and get back to work. Things were rough, but it looked like we were protected.

And maybe when I got home, Grandpa would be there, waiting.


April 20, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time, in the city of the dead, some of us were having a picnic. Some of the items that make up the traditional picnic fare were problematic, but we had a basket with some bottles in it that we had collected, some large and some tiny, mostly empty but wafting of the spirits of which they were once full. We had also collected discarded candies and candy wrappers, the butts of a few cigarettes and cigars, crumbs of a crushed rock of cocaine, a dropped tablet of ecstasy broken into quarters in a little plastic bag, the crust of a loaf of bread — close enough to the right kind that we could touch it — and, thanks to last night’s storm, some wind-plucked marigolds for a centerpiece.

Being spirits, spirits are all we are allowed to enjoy — refinements and distillations, volatiles and fumes. The bread was refined devotion. The marigolds, distilled sunlight, yellow-orange and bright. We also like glow-sticks. They are recent, but they are made for us, if you think about it.

The picnic was nothing special. We have nothing left but leisure-time. This is the way some of us spend it — herding litter with our little whirlwind dustbrooms until we make a cocktail of elements we can get our hands on and move around. Existing as we do at the border, we are strongest reenacting the extremes, the fringes of life, the purest and most distilled activities, the things most hoped-for, worked-for, and most likely to be passed over if time and opportunity fail to align.

When the picnic is over, some of us will be going to church.

Here on the unmeasurable coastline between the tiny island where people live and the vast sea of the ground-state of eternal rest, I make my own measure with my feet and my hands. I’ve never lived anywhere but on the very edge, and when I died I hardly even moved. All of the energy I expended to live at the edge, paradoxically, left me with too little momentum to head out to sea. It’s all fine by me. Time is a concern of the living. Eventualities occur.

Along the fringes of the borderlands, facing inward toward the metaphorical island, there are giants who make reaching inward their business. They themselves are distillations of hordes of us, distillations of vengeance, essences of passion, unbottled spirits of peculiarities writ large and fed by various means from the other side. We mostly stay out of their way, though I am fascinated by the fire of their focus.

The picnic proceeded. Bottles were sucked dry. Tobacco was rubbed between fingers, into the palms of hands. Candy wrappers were licked. One of us leaned in to try to focus rays of sunlight to set the basket alight but kept getting confused between the sun and the marigolds, which was probably all for the best.

There was a shift and a splash and one of us had departed back to the land of the living, retroactively, as it were. We looked at one another and traded shrugs. All we have to work with are clouds and shadows and sometimes one appears or fades or splits into two or merges with another. Clouds have no causes, just pasts and futures that have no meaning here. Discontinuities are rare, but are also meaningless when continuity is unexplained and causality is on holiday.

I showed the one trying to lens sunlight how to remind a cigar stub how it had once burned, rolling it backward in time until it was smoldering again. As the candy wrappers caught, we stood over the basket to breathe deeply and bask.

And then suddenly I was on the moon.


April 19, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time I was fixing breakfast and I found an owl in my orange juice. It was a small thing, probably not old enough to fly, apparently sealed into the cardboard carton at the packaging plant.

I’m not one of those people who look for impossible-to-lose lawsuits as a kind of a lottery, but I did take pictures to send back to the company owners so they can figure out how owls could be getting into the system, probably either the tankers or the packaging machinery. I like owls and drowning in orange juice isn’t exactly a natural and fitting end for what would one day have been a beautiful and breathtaking predator.

I fished the little thing out of the glass and spread it out on a stack of paper towels to take its picture. Then I rinsed it off under the tap, washing off all the pulp and stickiness, then spread it out on more paper towels and patted it dry. Then I washed my hands thoroughly and sat down to my eggs and microwaved sausage patties, composing my letter to the juice company in my head.

It occurred to me that it was probably illegal for me to have the owl as well. Should I call the Wildlife Commission? For which state, because I’m pretty sure we don’t grow oranges here, though we could conceivably have done the packaging. Maybe I should do some poking around to see where I should send copies. Should I include the Department of Agriculture or the FDA? Could owls conceivably carry salmonella?

That seemed like so much bother. “He’s found a dead baby owl in his orange juice, ladies and gentlemen! Call out the National Guard!” I decided to contact just the company and the game and wildlife commissions of whichever states the owl could have come from, just in case they wanted me to send it back to them, and leave it at that. A dead owl just wasn’t a federal-level crisis.

Besides, I’d already had a couple of small glasses out of that carton and I was feeling okay. I did pour out the rest of it, though. I mention it just in case you were wondering.

The whole scenario had left me a little sad. I decided I would feel better if I saw some living owls. The local zoo had a huge enclosure it used for rehabilitating injured raptors and owls, and also a show they ran a couple of times per day with trained hunting hawks and such. I guess there are plenty of people that zoos make sad, and I’m kind of on the fence. People and animals have to learn how to make room for each other. We can’t just steamroller them, but we also can’t pretend we’re not a part of nature.

It wasn’t a workday for me, so a few hours later I was at the zoo. Red-tailed hawks snoozed on perches in the shade. A placard explained which one was there for a gunshot wound to the wing and which had been confiscated as an illegal pet. The one that was awake ignored me. Further along were a couple of different sorts of owls, one of which was clearly asleep. The other watched me as I walked over to it, doing that thing they do with their heads, moving its head around in a circle to better judge distance. I resisted the monkey-urge to mimic the gesture. I watched as it shuffled along the branch and, when it had enough room to do so, it spread its wings, holding them out to the sides. Full-grown owls can be huge things, and so beautiful. The soggy thing I had pulled out of my glass this morning barely filled the palm of my hand.

I hung around until the show where they brought them out. I had a seat toward the back of the tiny amphitheater, apart from where a group of children on a field trip were seated. A handler brought out the birds and explained how they had been raised from chicks and foundlings, what they ate, and how they hunted using exceptional vision or hearing. The owl she brought out was the one I had seen earlier that had already shown me her plumage. She was fed a couple of meaty morsels and then sent aloft to soar over our heads.

I don’t know what I expected to feel, but I was disappointed to not feel much of anything, other than maybe a smile at seeing her fly.

But that was where I was when the searing sunburst hit, and basically why I spent those next two weeks at the zoo, doing what I could to help out there. Those first six hours, until the sun set, was kind of like a war zone. Afterward is was just helping do what little could be done and cataloging the damage.

Without that owl in my orange juice, left to rot on paper towels on my kitchen counter, I’d never have been there.


April 18, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time I was at a baseball game, supporting our local Boys of Summer, I suppose, just like I had done as a little girl. The town’s minor league team was a feeder for a not-very-successful major league team. I had fun guessing and gauging the “just having a great time out there doing what I love” quotient versus the “hopelessness for my career” miasma that hovered over the whole stadium. I had notepads where I kept my own stats for each player, getting out the binoculars so I could read faces, make notes of petit-tantrums, et cetera. I had developed my own scales over the years. I made it out to every game I could and kept my statistics religiously.

I also had stats for the club owner, the various coaches, the referees, and a couple of the more prominent hardcore fans. And the local bookies, of course. I made no real secret of what I was doing, but I didn’t go out of my way to correct the assumptions of those who thought they could tell by looking. Or anyone who thought I was just some crazy old bat playing a complicated game of pretending to compile real stats.

All I know is I drink for free at the bar owned by one of the bookies who regularly asked my opinion of who was having good days or bad days. I’d developed pretty good predictors for who was likely to have a sloppy game or push themselves to injury. He’d made plenty of money tweaking the odds to cover the information I gave him. When I showed him my stack of notebooks and a printout of one of my spreadsheets, he just sat there in quiet awe for fifteen minutes.

He’s asked me out four times since then. Three official dates and one spontaneous proposition for something that I was raised to think was vile but I’ve always had my doubts if people had been strictly honest to me about. I’m sure I’ll eventually take him up on one of his offers and see how it goes.

This one game was something else, however. It was the bottom of the fifth inning and nobody had scored, which, for my boys out there, was a bit rare. To keep the scoring down, you needed excellent pitching or at least an outfield that could get the ball to the bases reliably, and minor league teams, in my experience, tended to be a bit weak on both. Sometimes we would get scores that looked like scores for a football game. I’m not sure what the problem was, since this was the sign of a very good game indeed, but there was an air of frustration about the place that was both out-of-place and hard to pin down. Maybe the power-hitters, used to being the stars of the show, were the main source of the building ire, echoed and amplified by their fans in the seats.

Or maybe this was just what a good game felt like. I’d rarely been to a major league game to compare. Considering the parts of the experience I enjoy, it seemed a bit much effort to travel hundreds of miles just to study the differences.

But at the bottom of the fifth inning, a huge black shape circled in front of the lights, flying just over the seats and then dove at the field. At the same time, two of those small Chinese dogs, the ones that look like some kind of tiny bulldog in the face and in their build, came tearing out onto the field from the seats behind home plate, snarling and yapping for all they were worth. Then the bird or bat or whatever it was dropped what must have been a tennis ball and disappeared behind the lights.

The dogs were wearing little outfits. One had something on that looked for all the world like an ocelot cape like my mother used to wear when the opera came to town. The other was wearing some kind of red sweater with a hood that was flapping around its shoulders. It took them no time at all to corner the little ball and start chasing each other around the infield, effectively running the bases. Then a man not much older than I am made his way over a fence, the stem of a pipe clenched firmly in his teeth, spilling ashes and embers, and tugging an enormous pistol out of the bib pocket of his overalls.

The dogs rounded home plate and headed straight for the man, who fired a couple of panicked wild shots at them before the first base coach tackled him from behind and took him down. The dogs ran up and licked their faces a couple of times before a young lady made her way up the baseline to collect her dogs and yell at the man for shooting at them. The umpire, who had followed her, calmed her down and helped her, with a dog under each arm like a football, off the field. Likewise a couple of our home team players pried the man apart from his gun and helped him into the dugout to hold him until someone could decide what to do.

The game resumed maybe ten minutes later, but nobody’s heart was in it. The outfield kept trying to look past the lights to see if the bat-thing was coming back. Neither of the pitchers could concentrate and the scores began to creep back up into familiar territory. And every once in a while there was a happy little bark from behind home plate.


April 17, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time I was sitting quietly, eyes closed, listening but not paying attention, breathing but not making a chore out of it. My room wasn’t particularly dark or quiet, but that hadn’t mattered in a long time to me. This wasn’t any kind of meditation. It was just sitting quietly. Killing momentum.

Sometimes it seems that all we want to do is zoom around as fast as we can, focused on what we want and where we want to be, always in such a hurry that we take shortcuts that don’t work or overshoot and have to turn around, orbiting in tighter and tighter circles until we can finally make a grab…. It’s often not a waste of time at all to stop completely, face our desires, walk straight at them, and pick them up. But in order to do that, you have to learn to stop. You have to learn what being stopped feels like.

Also, momentum is baggage. And vice versa. If you really want to move quickly, it’s best not to have all that extra weight.

The noises in the hallway seemed pretty insistent but it was easy enough to not let them distract me. Nothing was really required of me until the door was open. Unless I was silly enough to get up and open it, nothing would bring that moment before it was time. But I should be ready for when the moment came.

I got up and went to the coat tree. I selected a light jacket and shrugged it on, then took my raincoat and draped it over my head and shoulders. Then I simply stood at the coat tree and waited.

The door took a couple of kicks to open, and then two men came through the door. One charged past me to look into the living room, then a bit further to get a glimpse of the kitchen. The second man edged past me and the coat tree. As I took one big step toward the door, I let the raincoat slip to the floor at the base of the coat tree, a distraction that would look like something they themselves had caused. The second man lunged at the empty coat for the split second it took to realize what it was and fool himself as to what had happened, and then I was through the door behind them.

I rounded the corner and slumped down the stairs. At a normal pace, I went out through the front doors. Sure enough, there was a car running with a guy sitting in it parked not too far away. He was watching the door, so I just walked up to the car and motioned for him to roll down the window. “Yeah?” he said.

“Your friends in there, they said they were going to be a while talking to the guy in B4. They told me to give you this and ask you to go pick up something to eat.” I tossed a twenty into the passenger seat.

He at least waited for me to go back into the building before he drove off. After he rounded the corner, I counted to ten and went back outside. I crossed the street to the deli and got the attention of the guy behind the counter. “What can I get for you, boss?” he asked.

“I don’t need anything right now, but I could use a favor. There are a couple of guys tossing my apartment right now. Could you call 911 for me?”

He offered me the phone, but I waved it away. “I don’t really need to talk to them right now, but, hell, you can kind of see them through my window up there. They think I’m in there playing hide-and-seek. Just see if you can get ’em to bring a cruiser to catch them as they come out of the building. When they come talk to you, tell them you’ll tell me to drop by the 41st when I come in for my afternoon smokes coming home from work.”

“You smoke?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Thinking about starting. Maybe I need another vice now that I’ve stopped drinking. I owe you. You know where to find me when you need something.”

“How much trouble you in?”

I put another twenty on the counter. “How much trouble is the world in, Ayet? Whatever that is, it’s just a tiny slice of that.”

He handed over a pack of Camels and a book of matches. “If you’re gonna be smoking by this afternoon, you’re gonna need some practice.”

I smiled and stuck the cigs and matches in my pocket. “Thanks, Ayet. See you soon.”

And then I walked a quarter mile to the park to sit and do some thinking. I got there just in time to see some huge bat-thing swoop down and eat some poor dog’s tennis ball and fly away.


April 16, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time I was sitting in my veal pen, going through the desk drawer for all the scraps of papers and scraps of pens left for me by the previous resident. The cubicle walls were peppered with pushpins that held up nothing. Not surprising, as walls like this, the cloth ones with what has to be something like a sawdust core, don’t actually hold onto pushpins that don’t go all the way through to the other side. Walls like these — gray, soft, barely textured — only serve to dampen noise, theoretically to make telephone calls more private or less annoying to others, but also, conveniently, to make it harder to hear your fellow veal quietly weeping over what their lives have become.

Walls like these soak up the audible component of tears and hold them until they can express them by letting pushpins fall like surrogate tears of their own. Okay, that, and they keep  suppressed laughter over what you just saw on YouTube from being contagious and disruptive.

Forgive me. It’s an experimental metaphor still in the process of being refined. I tried a honeycomb first, with all of us being little worker bees, tending the corporate larvae and digesting the pollen of gathered data into honey that we then stored in the files, but then I imagined one of our sales scouts returning from one of his forays, walking along the tops of cube farm walls waving his ass around in figure-eights to tell us about the donuts in the breakroom and then I had to scrap the whole mental image, except you know I can’t.

It’s nice to have an image like that to carry around, something that can make me laugh regardless of recent events. It’ll take us years to recover from the sunburn. Everyone knows someone who lost someone, but the company tries to make us focus on the shrunken economy, the contracted workforce, the shriveled customer base.

This show I watched on TV last night offered amazing insight into how crazy the sunburn made us. Conspiracy theorists tried to corner the market on the crazy. A crazy scientist detonating a “supernova” weapon, space weapons from other governments, space weapons from our own government, an attempted alien invasion, two or more groups of aliens at war over our planet, angry gods, how it all ties in to ancient prophecies, predictions for when it will all happen again, “evidence” turned up for when it all happened the last time and how it was suppressed.

I’ve had enough of the new crazy. I want to go back to the old crazy of Eating Disorder Barbie and the Crazy-Ass Dictator of the Month Club and legions of the homeless and unemployed ripping apart anyone wearing a thousand-dollar suit or even shiny shoes down on Wall Street and what’s left of Charlie Sheen running for president and holding a reality show contest for his running mate. I don’t want anything to do with the New Sun cult.

But first I had to find a pen that worked and also make sure I couldn’t just stumble across any remnant of the previous personality that used to inhabit this cube, just in case they were dead and would climb back in here to haunt me via an old phone number on a sticky note or a grocery list or a dry-cleaning receipt. Or toothmarks on an old pen cap. Ick.

Crazywise, I guess there’s no going back, but at least I can try to keep the hauntings to a minimum. If it gets too bad, I can check with HR and see if they have a recommended procedure … that doesn’t have someone walking the cube walls above us waving his ass around in a figure-eight pattern.


April 15, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time I was at a university in Italy, in a room that was called — and I’m translating here, but only barely — the Visualization Lab. In Italian it sounded like it could be the name of a famous opera, but my grasp of Italian is purely through a minor dalliance with Latin and everything in Italian sounds like it could be the name of an opera. “The dented door.” “The McDonald’s on the corner.” “My hairy left elbow.” “Visualization” has three Zs in it in Italian. It’s overdone. Uncalled for. We couldn’t get away with that in the US.

The interior of the lab was sick with the same illness. There were metal workbenches with large-screened computers assembled on them, and that was okay, but there was also a huge leather sofa and a couple of overstuffed armchairs facing an enormous flatscreen display — an in-house theater system with seven speakers and full surround-sound setup.

What I thought about all this must have been visible on my face. The woman I was here to see rolled her eyes at it and said, “This is all Thomas Dolby’s fault.”

I cleared my throat. “I understand he developed a –“

She cut me off. “No. I mean personally. He came by, wanting a favor. Signal processing for something he went on to patent. Then he came back and did this. This sofa I think was in someplace he lived.” She took a seat on it, claiming a corner. “Probably he and his astrophysicist girlfriend enjoyed it themselves a number of times.” She patted a spot on it nearby. “Here is where I do some of my best work.”

I gave her my best “I’m on to you” look. “You’re unbelievable.” But I took a seat in easy arm’s reach. She liked to grab nearby arms for emphasis sometimes, and if you sat too far away she just looked lost and petulant.

In a corner of the room another woman’s voice piped up. “Si dovrebbe crederle.” I thought she had been asleep, but she was just facing a blank wall wearing 3D goggles and headphones.

“See? Gi says you should believe me.” She laughed and pulled a keyboard and trackball off a coffee table. The giant screen turned on briefly with some sort of pulsing disco lightshow patterns and then quickly turned into a computer display. I saw a cursor briefly and some menus popped up and an opening screen for some sort of application opening up, then more choices to open an environment of mathematical equations and constraints. My collaborator gave me a running under-the-breath commentary to help me keep up.

“I’m turning off much of the rendering because we’d like to see the results today, while we wait, even. So. Boring white space, smudgy black lines for the graphs. And so. This is the path of our phenomenon’s centroid. A portion of it.” She turned to look at me. “Before I continue, I should ask you: Are you a big fan of causality?”

Her face said she was serious. Over in the corner, in plain view, Gi turned up the volume to whatever it was she was listening to and slouched back in her chair. I couldn’t tell whether it was some sort of commentary on our conversation or just an attempt to drown us out for her own purposes.

“I have a strong preference for the concept of causal associations, but I am, after all, a scientist. Show me a rigorous convincing argument for a different model and I’ll consider it.”

“I can never tell when you’re joking,” she said. “So I assume either you’re joking all the time or you never ever joke, or somehow manage to do both at once. A superposition of eigenstates that never resolves.”

I shrugged. “It’s a knack. I like to keep my options open, so that if I offend someone, I can always claim that I’d been joking afterward.”

“For someone who likes causality, you like to keep your fingers in the past so you can change it to give you a more pleasant present and future. But here is my actual point.”

The black arc went away and was replaced by some sort of three-dimensional spiky thing. I was kind of reminded of the crown shape you get when you take high-speed pictures of a drop of water splashing into a pool of more water, only it was spherical.

“The software takes the data and plots it, and then analyzes the fit with respect to all kinds of different curves. You can make suggestions and it can use those as a starting point, or you can let it run wild. Part of the charm of how it works is to separate the noise of the points into several interacting equations. Signal processing. Fourier analysis. It has equations it already knows about from its previous uses — the path of Earth through the heavens, including revolution and rotation and neutation and wobbles induced by other gravity sources, continually corrected. Twice we have had earthquakes in the past two years that have changed the length of Earth’s daily rotation, which, if we had allowed the software to flex enough, it could have predicted for us.

“This beautiful shape,” she continued, “only appears as a simultaneous plot holding the surface of the Earth fixed over, to be complete, a period of more than a thousand years. Much of the detail appears within a five year period, at least half of which is covered by the date collected from the noise from your apparati, but there are holes in the data that strongly suggest extrapolation in this manner.”

“Umm, that’s a huge amount of extrapolation from the data we’ve collected,” I cautioned.

“Not as much as you might think,” she countered. “We’ve assumed a kind of symmetry, which doubles the data, yes, but the actual addition is less than five percent.”

She did some more tapping to bring up a different model, which she animated. “Here we have a sphere of liquid, or something liquid-like, I should say, being impacted by a much smaller sphere of the same traveling at high speed. Note the entry and exit. And how it responds prior to impact as the incoming mass approaches and how afterward it just looks like ripples. It is perfectly symmetrical with respect to time. This is an idealized case of our model.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“When we got the match, I had to look it up and make some phonecalls. To Switzerland, and to Chicago. It is a splash of bosonic matter, previously entangled. One of the proposed models for a macroscopic mass of strange matter, the up-down-strange quark liquid. No baryons, no fermions.”

I looked at her. She shrugged.

“The non-idealized version. Your extrapolation. The distortions are…?” I asked.

She grabbed hold of my forearm with both of her smaller hands. “The mass of the sun. The mass of the earth. Gravitational attraction. Assuming a temporal view, the incoming arc is what we’ve been following. The departing arc or splash, or whatever…. That heads straight for the sun.”

“What’s the point of symmetry? When?” I asked.

She gave my arm a squeeze. “Twenty-two hours, thirty-eight minutes. Give or take about fifteen minutes.”


April 14, 2011 · Posted in Everything Else  

This one time a small lizard was climbing up the wall, stopping periodically and chirping. I was back in church, communing with the horrible paintings on the walls and the wasps with their separate shrine hanging on the armpit of the crucifix. I wasn’t sure why the gecko was singing, unclear whether it was a territorial thing or a calling for a mate thing or, given our location, a prayer or a hymn.

Most of the plant-life on the island was blasted and burned, but island life is used to a bit of abuse. Mostly from lava flows. Every island there is started from bare rock and whatever washed up on the shore, either on its own or in the pockets of colonizers. I could see the moon out the window, mostly full, and thought of it as it actually is — bare volcanic rock. The last few visitors tried hard not to bring it anything to work with, and I guessed that was a shame. It must be ripe by now, straining for the first shallow, salt-encrusted roots to take hold.

I’d found myself down at the university’s botanical gardens as I was recovering from that nasty fever that had cooked my brains, helping out with cultured coffee seedlings. I was still missing an awful lot that I’m sure will never come back, but I no longer feel like I’m wading through peanut butter to carry my thoughts from one corner of my head to the other.

They’ve got paperwork going to see if they can get me enrolled, but in the meanwhile I’m working in the gardens now, suited up and collecting samples and pollens for archival. I’m on the official payroll and everyone says I’ve got the knack.

I watched the gecko ignore a wasp that had landed nearby. They were near the window now, in the same view as the moon.

There were already a couple of global seed banks, but it occurred to me as I looked at the moon that there was something huge that they were missing, in concept and in actuality. Number one, they were here on earth, where they weren’t exactly safe. All things considered. Second, they all needed a bit of something. Some island magic.

In order to germinate, some seeds need special chemicals and compounds in the soil — and sometimes those are enzymes from particular microbes and larger creatures in the dirt. They needed soil aerators and pollinators and at least documentation of moisture levels and soil composition. The seed banks had maybe a fifth of what they needed in order to be useful. And also, they needed to be on the moon. With worms and lizards and moths and wasps — or at least some frozen eggs.

I had no idea what problems wasps would have with flying in lunar gravity, but I was pretty sure they could work it out. It would be fun to watch. Ants, earthworms, this gecko here — they would have an easier time of it. There should be an archival bank, sure, but there should also be a culture garden. Live and thriving, running twenty-four/seven. Life soup. Like that covered jar on grandma’s kitchen counter where she kept the heirloom yeast going for the sourdough bread.

And the soup pot should have in it whatever nasty virus it was that nearly killed me, that cooked out all the garbage that my head must have been filled with that kept me from being able to be who I am now. And maybe it should also have this tiny little shack of a cathedral, this place where I was found, with its wasp-nuns and gecko-priests and moth-deacons, complete with its abstract (to the attendants) paintings and earth’s last bouquet of orchids, just in case there’s something here, in this place, something inadequately explored by science, that’s critical to the process or preserving life and all the little day-to-day transformations that turn one moment into another.

Tomorrow morning when I go to work, I’ll tell everybody that I’m taking their project to the moon, and they’re welcome to come with me if they want to come.


April 13, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time the moon was bobbing along in the sky like a child’s balloon on a string. In fact, I could feel the string tugging me upward as I started to stumble now and then as I ran through the woods. Was the string the same as tidal forces? All I know is that when the moon was completely obscured by branches or a swift-moving puff of cloud, it felt like I was falling, but when I could see a glimpse I had an easier time keeping my feet under me.

That didn’t make sense. It wasn’t the moon’s light that sucked at the earth like a lollipop. I knew this. I was sure it would come back to me.

I had no idea who or what had carved this trail through the forest, however. I didn’t see too many hack-marks like from machetes or hatchets, but for all I knew, the place flooded on a regular basis and river-fish cut down the undergrowth with sharpened fins supplied by the long-suffering mercies of Darwin. Or maybe smaller trees were felled by thundering herds of sloths on their annual migrations. Or maybe it was sloths that were felled by growing trees as the trees shuffled around, pushing and shoving and trying to choke off one another’s sunlight.

Was that something they taught in school? It didn’t seem like it. It was more of a school thing to show where sloths hung on the tree of mammalian kinship as opposed to actual living wood, all Latin incantations of classification and where to put the commas when you’re trying to compare and contrast Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Connor. It’s arbitrary. What kids get out of school is twelve years of common experience. You may as well make them analyze twelve years of episodes of Friends and Frasier. The Bible or Greek and Latin and Hebrew classics. Or set theory and differential calculus and orbital mechanics. It hardly matters what the curriculum is, but each time you change it, you splinter one generation from the next.

In the forest, humans were outnumbered by any other category of living things by factors of tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions. They were individually outnumbered by jaguars and dengue fever and old dead gods that all run on anguish and blood taken directly from a beating heart.

Not too far behind me on the trail I was inexpertly hoofing along was at least one of the three. Maybe two. For all of my good grades in math back in school, it was hard to count too much higher than zero under these circumstances. The number of death.

I was confused and confounded by everything I had seen, compounded by everyone I had recently been, in series and in combination. The forest stank of rot. The acid air stripped the flavor out of the exhausted dirt, out of the bark and leaves and lianas, and flung it into the fog I was trying to breathe. The air was boiling with spores and microbes feasting on the dissolving living things. The air was green with dying life and brown with living death. In my multiple state I hoped, dearly hoped, that I outnumbered death and was strong enough to compete with all the excess life in the air.

In those circumstances it’s important to keep running. You know. In case it’s just a jaguar.

As it turns out, I was partly right. It moved onto the path ahead of me. Apparently it had been flanking me through the trees to the left.

It stood upright, on hind legs like a statue that had been standing there forever. Every time it shifted, it was still an item of permanence and had always been that way. It had no scale for judging its size, ruling such things out of bounds. In my memories it was a little more than chest high, and its head was the head of a badly taxidermied spotted cat, smashed sideways by hundreds of years of death and deathly rigor, permanently snarling. Or smiling. In a jaguar it all means the same thing.

It had always been addressing me. It said, “Use your addled whim to tear a hole from here to the sun.”

I replied, “You … you can’t just … go?”

“What is in your pocket?” it asked.

“I don’t know. It’s metal. I think it used to be a knife.”

“Why do you carry it?”

“I don’t know. I use it to touch things that are too hot.”

It was always nodding. It said, “I have made a knife, and thus you are here. Tear a hole from here to the sun.”

“Now?” I asked.

“Whenever,” it said. “It is always now.”

I put on the oven mitt I had picked up thousands of miles ago and took hold of my blackened and twisted ribbon of metal and cut a hole. I expected to be blasted away by light and heat, but it was just a mild white hole in the air. The jaguar god was going through the hole, was always going through the hole. It said, “This journey will still take time. Thus you have the space of a quarter of an hour to find an afterlife in which to make yourself comfortable.”

So I took off running until I fell down a hole in the ground where I was trapped for a few weeks, living on grubs and a nasty underground trickle of a stream until I could make my leg carry weight again.


April 12, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

This one time I was walking along a small town’s downtown streets looking for an all-night laundromat or, I dunno, someplace else that I could beg or steal some clothes. I had no idea what time it was, but that was just one thing in a long line of things I had no idea of. A lengthy personal inventory included a cheap bathrobe, a pair of slippers, some bandages on my fingers, a fresh-ish burn on the palm of one of my hands, and a butter knife. And chest hair that was starting to turn gray.

The burn on the palm of my hand matched the handle of the knife. The business end — if a piece of cheap stamped sheet metal tableware has a business end — certainly looked like it had been re-tempered with a blowtorch. Maybe it had been heating in a fire when I picked it up. Or maybe I’d used it to stab some fiery demon thing. Either one sounds like something I might do, so who knows?

I found the laundromat I was looking for. It had three dryers running and a woman who was looking a little rough around the edges sitting in one of the plastic chairs. I came in and took a seat and began the lengthy process of warming up. The woman was staring at me, which I’m pretty sure was justified.

“If you don’t mind, ma’am, I’m just gonna get up and root through some of the machines to see if I can find a shirt and maybe a pair of sweatpants. If you point out to me which ones are yours, I’ll skip those.”

She wrinkled up her forehead. Then she got up and went to one of the dryers and, with some rummaging, pulled out a warm but still somewhat clammy pair of gray sweatpants that she tossed my way. “What’s your story?” she asked. Her voice was steady. A little rough, like anyone’s voice is when they first wake up and haven’t used it yet.

“It’s a pretty short one,” I answered. I sounded rough too, but that was mostly because I was thirsty. “I’m fairly certain I’m an escaped mental patient. You haven’t heard anything about one being missing, have you?”

“Not yet,” she answered. “Do you want me to call the police?”

I grimaced. “Only if you feel you gotta. In my experience, it takes them a while to get to the point. They kinda have different priorities.” I turned away from her to open the robe and pull on the sweats, but that basically meant I was facing the big glass window facing the street. There was nobody out there I could see, though I was working against the glare of the interior light that turned the window into a giant mirror. After I tied the drawstring around my waist, I realized that she would have been able to see my reflection in the glass just about as well as if I had just been facing her. Oh, well. It’s the thought that counts.

“Don’t remember much at all?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t say that. I remember lots of stuff. Maybe enough stuff for any ten people. Just most of it’s impossible. And none of it gives me a name I can be sure is mine.”

“I hear you,” she said. “About fifteen years ago I was on a road trip from Mobile to Biloxi to go pick up a friend who was in trouble, and somewhere along the way I lost two weeks and found myself in Aspen. When I finally got my shit together, my friend had found another way to make bail, not that she would speak to me to tell me as much. I’d wrecked my semester, couldn’t prove anything medically to try to fix things at school, so I just dropped out and got on with things. Never did figure out what had happened.”

I just nodded. “So, umm, where …?” I waved my arms around, generally including everywhere I could see.

“You been to Vermont before?” she asked.

I shrugged. “No?” I mean, how could I be sure?

“Welcome to Vermont,” she said. “Have some sweat pants. State motto: ‘It’s closer to Canada than Oregon.’ “

“Thanks,” I replied.

“What else you need?” she asked.

“A notebook and a pen. And a sandwich,” I added.

“And a sofa to crash on?”

I nodded. I winced a little. I’m sure it was visible on my face. “I think I’ve been in jail,” I said.

She put on a wry face and said, “Haven’t we all?”


April 11, 2011 · Posted in This One Time  

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