The Mystic

I'm reading through old journals again; I wrote this in 1996 after holding a rare manuscript book from 1280. How did ancient scholars carry these words that were written and handed down so carefully over time?

He calls,
The Mystic to his Bride.
Her subtle voice returns,
Fixed into his eyes
As he in her remains.
He lifts her;
A gentle touch
Upon the ribs along her spine.
Her skin–still taught,
Though years of holding
Have formed wrinkles in her folds.
His time all spent
Beside her now.
His hands brush across her face.
He sees no age,
Yet, he stoops closer.
His eyes–grey.
In visions, he carries her,
As she does him.
His life upon her words.
And from their joining,
Two made one,
Come volumes yet unborn.

On Difference

There is a special awareness that comes from reading old journals whilst jet-lagged; the words don't seem any more profound, but the filter of strange tiredness certainly adds a layer of 'did I write this? What was I thinking?' which could be a positive or negative observation. 

I wrote the notes below about ten years ago when considering how a very conservative religious institution (I had my former university in mind) could open a discussion on racial diversity. Much of this would apply to ethnic or interfaith conversations as well. All, of course, presupposes a level of openness to begin with.

This is just the rough list; perhaps it would be worth writing up into something more coherent (when I myself an more coherent!)

  1. Must be presented as a tool to help those of whatever background communicate in a cross-culturally competent way–not as something that helps the white people be nice to the black people.
  2. Is not to be something that dredges up the harms of past generations (but must recognise them nonetheless).
  3. It's not to make everyone 'like' everyone else; should recognise the cultural differences that go beyond race.
  4. There can be no 'Generalised Diversity'. A place must be made welcoming but not artificially so.
  5. Be careful not to introduce racial stereotypes that people may not have to begin with.
  6. You do not have to compromise religious or moral convictions in order to sit at table with someone who differs from yourself. 
  7. A given 'methodology' or 'theology' is almost by definition excluding of 'the other'; a person aware of diversity seeks to understand others regardless of difference.
  8. People are, and will remain, different from one another; to realise this is the first step in bringing them together. It's the paradox of the matter.
  9. If Christians (or whatever creed) are not peacemakers we can expect little of other faiths in that arena–if one is ready to denounce an individual (or half the world) over some difference (even a major one that you both perceive as a matter of eternal importance) without bothering to explore him as a person, you've forfeited any right or chance for further conversation.
  10. Do not generate an empasse as a matter of course.
  11. Within your own realm, there must be a system open to discussion and debate without fear of either physical or 'spiritual' reprisal. If that openness is lacking, you've just made your belief static and there is no way for it to live and mature.
  12. If people live in an environment where they cannot develop a self-sustaining spiritual persona, they will forever seek others who are 'just like us'.


Some Are Evergreen

I’m still sorting through a lot of old files and letters; I wrote this from New York in 1999.
It is Sunday morning, the last day of October. Somewhere in the city beyond (and beyond the city) one Person is awake and thinking; he wants to build a shelf for the closet—his Wife has too many hats. One Woman has forgotten where she put her slippers; her dog remembers, though he tears one slightly at a seam. One Man is lifting up a potted plant for the Lady across the counter; His Father was a florist in Brussels. One Minister is Praying over his sermon; some of the youth will not appreciate it, some of the deacons disapprove, some of the elders speak thoughtlessly over coffee—one Woman and two Men will change the direction of their lives. One Boy is waiting in the hamper to frighten his Sister when she walks into the room; their Parents work late and sleep still. One Father Kisses his Wife and Daughter good morning; he has to work today at his newsstand. One Man is cold on the sidewalk with a group of Friends, their breath steams with the life of speaking. Outside their windows this river flowing by becomes quickly an ocean—carrying leaves from the front of my window. All my faceless leaves and these People who are formless from this room, yet speak and pray or remain silent—these fragments form a whole of unknown parts. Someone rings a bell in the distance. All those people are happening at this one moment; their actions and decisions behind those actions move them along to the next moment…the next, the next, yet they are all here in this one space of time. My fingers tap out words for them and the next moment comes.

Beyond the window, the trees, the river, and every city are People I know and hold dear. They are waking, have made a breakfast, are praying, speaking, shaving, reading, loving, watching the leaves. All this activity—all the activity behind windows in all the cities, yet we are connected like the leaves on a tree. We remain and grow and color; no matter the distance between branches we feed from the same stem. We are alive and have grown together from green buds. Though every leaf is still separate. Among this short list of kindred people—every one a distinct voice, face, prayer, love, yet still all connected to the branches—still breathing and drawing life from a single source.

It is Sunday morning, the last day of October. Outside my widow the calendar of nature is turning to Fall. I am inside with a voice. My voice is not loud, perhaps it should speak with more force. I am inside with a prayer. My prayer is not always spoken well, perhaps it should pray with more faith. I am inside with a love. My love is not loud; my love is not enough prayed for. There is a calendar in the leaves and we are all connected to the Branch. I cannot sit here inside the windows and call for Spring. There is a turning season; I do not know what each season brings. We are connected to the Branch and the tree is living. The sun breaks through and shines on my table. Leaves fall; some are evergreen.

Short Story Misadventures

I was musing recently about the difficulties I had in my university Short Story course…perhaps more than difficulties…actually, nearly complete wash-out. I’ve just, coincidentaly unearthed a handful of floppy discs from the era containing evidence of this. Here is a draft of ‘Inside and Out’, an assignment for the class; my special favorites are the typo ‘grandmother’s doom’ and ‘(insert epiphany)’. I’m not sure if that was later added.
Eric felt sick, the odor was a cross between ammonia and the locker room at school. It was rather hot as well, but all the residents were bundled up in a patchwork array of sweaters and blankets as if the windows were open. He walked up to the nurse’s station. On a chair unworthy of her size sat a hefty nurse reading a cheap paperback. She didn’t seem to notice him standing there. He cleared his throat but the sound was muffled by one of the residents calling out for coffee. There was no bell so he tapped his class ring on the counter a few times. The nurse stuck a brochure about Tahiti in her book and glanced up with a pre-packaged smile. “I’m here to see Mrs. Mazza.” Eric said. “Oh hello honey,” she said, “you’re Nina’s grandson aren’t you?” Eric nodded. “I knew it,” she said. “I could tell by your facial features, your nose and eyes and things.” Eric wondered if she thought he didn’t know about facial features. “You just let me run in and get your grandmother situated for visitors and I’ll be back in a jiffy” She stood and shuffled down the hall. Relieved to be rid of its burden, the vinyl chair re-inflated its foam stuffing. Eric sat down on a couch by the window and looked around the room. Several people were reading battered magazines that were current several months ago; others just sat staring at the snow outside. Eric looked through the window. It’s so cool and fresh outside he thought. He glanced down at the layer of dust on the sill and picked up an old copy of Better Homes and Gardens. In the middle of an article on composting, a husky old man with one leg ran his wheelchair into Eric’s knees. “Ho! sorry son, my piloting skills are a bit rusty.” the man said. Eric began to speak, but the man took off down the hall almost pummeling into a frail lady with a walker. The nurse returned, had she purchased that uniform before her present size? “Grandma’s all ready to see you.” she said. “She’s had her nap but remember the medication she’s on makes her a little nappy all the time.” “That’s O.K.,” Eric said, “I won’t be staying long.” She took Eric by the arm and pointed down the hallway. “Right down there in 117, her roommate Elma’s asleep but she’s almost deaf so don’t worry about noise.” Eric walked down the hallway; the nurse’s chair voiced a complaint about being sat upon and a piercing voice again called for coffee. He dodged the passing of the wheelchair warrior returning up the corridor by ducking into a sterile smelling broom closet. Several residents sat in the hall gazing at the floor or mumbling to themselves as if the floor was going to leave them or the wall could converse. “Do you have Marcy?” one woman asked imploringly. Eric stopped and looked at her, a wild tuft of her dry hair swirled round in the currents of the heating vent. She seemed surprised that he stopped; her bony hand shot up and grasped Eric’s arm. He wondered where she picked up such a firm grip. “Marcy,” she said, “What have you done with her Roger?” Eric loosed himself and walked down the hall as the woman continued to speak to him. “You’ll be sorry about this later Roger.” said the woman, “Time will catch up with you and you’ll have to let Marcy go” Eric didn’t hear any more, he turned and entered his grandmother’s doom. The blinds were half drawn casting a diffuse pale light. Eric crossed to the far bed where his grandmother lay. She was again napping, her kindly face resting on a pillowcase she had made herself. Quietly, a little cu-cu clock on the wall ticked to itself. Elma seemed to be soundly asleep in the other bed, a mild snore escaped every few breaths. Eric sat down on a stool beside his grandmother, it gave a sharp creak announcing his arrival. She stirred and looked up at Eric. For a moment her eyes focused on him but then, as if he had vanished, she looked past him through the window. “Conrad,” she said, “thought you’d come out to see mama?” “No Mama,” said Eric, “It’s me Eric, your grandson.” “Oh it’s so good to see you again, your father and I thought you’d never be coming back from that old army.” Eric didn’t know much about senility but he supposed he should humor her or else she might become upset. “Oh, uh, Mama, it’s hard to get away from base but you know I want to come and see you more often.” He shifted uncomfortably on the stool, as if he’d just lied to a close friend. “I know,” she said, “You’ve got a lot of responsibility on your hands. I understand you can’t come running back home every weekend.” He wondered how far she’d fall back into this. She sat up in the bed and picked up a shawl she was working on knitting. Her fingers flew into action, agilely forming each knit with the precision of an expert weaver. “I wish your father would let me get back outside.” she said, “But he says, ‘Nina you’re just too sick and need to stay in bed.’ I’d argue, but I suppose he’d just worry if I was out working.” She put down her knitting and looked outside with a slight sigh. “Look out there, I could at least help plant in the garden.” Eric glanced at the snow covered ground. A group of well insulated children were making a snowman across the street. “Where’s my teefh?” Elma shouted. She bolted out of her bed and began to search around the room. “I wish they’d take that crazy woman away.” Nina said “I don’t know why were putting her up. You think she’d be in a hospital.” Elma stooped over to search in a cabinet, tossing various memorabilia into a pile on the floor. “Your teeth are in that little jar by the picture frame dear.” Nina said. She pointed with her needle to a jar containing a set of teeth in a blue-green liquid. “Though I don’t know what you want them for now, it’s hours till dinner.” After swishing them around in the jar a few times, Elma fished out her teeth placing them in her mouth with a squelched sucking sound. She then wrapped herself up in loose blankets and lay back down in bed. “Anyway,” Nina said, “As I was saying parson, the more you preach on sin the less people are going to want to hear you.” Eric looked down at his faded jeans and climbing boots, wondering what kind of preacher would make calls dressed like this. “I’ll tell you one thing.” Nina lowered her voice to a whisper and leaned toward Eric, he hunched over in the stool closer to her. Her grey eyes looked into his with the strictest of confidences. “Some of the people in church,” she glanced around furtively to make sure nobody was listening, “some of the people really need to hear about sin. I know about some of the things people have done. If their deeds could just be brought out in the open maybe they’d repent. I could tell you some things…” She trailed off as a nurse entered the room and walked to Elma’s bed. She was carrying a rubber basket in from which she picked out an handful of pill bottles, emptying out their contents onto a little plastic tray. “Time for your medicine Elma.” shouted the nurse. Elma pitched over and cast a wary glance at the cheerful nurse. “Take em’ yourself skinny!” said Elma. With this she rolled up armadillo-like, protected by the shell of her blankets. The smiling nurse murmured something under her breath and walked out of the room. “You see,” said Nina, “if you’d just spend more time on your vocabulary you’d have less trouble with the reading assignments.” She pulled out a Reader’s Digest and proceeded to quiz Eric on a word list. After about ten minutes she seemed satisfied of his capability and put the magazine away. “Marcy!” The old woman wheeled her chair down the other side of the hall. “I’ve got the cards if I can just find you.” She passed by the door, pausing long enough to say hello to Edna. “Hello Edna,” she said, “How’s Howard?” Edna popped her head out from under the covers, “Take em’ yourself skinny!” she shouted as she withdrew back into her den. Eric decided he’d better venture some reasonable conversation since that’s what his mother had sent him for. “Mama,” Eric said, “Do they treat you well here?” Nina picked up her knitting once again and thought for a moment. “Don’t ever grow old son.” she said “Everybody you know just dies, your body doesn’t work right anymore, and you get scared to walk around outside. Sometimes I get lonely here, but it’s not like I’m alone. You see one of a person’s best friends is memory. When I start feeling heart-sick I just think back to the past and I’m not here in this little room. I can be anywhere.” Eric stared at his lap for a moment then looked up at his grandmother. “I’m sorry,” he said, “that I don’t stop by more often.” “I understand.” she said, “If I were young it would be hard to visit a place like this, it would seem so old and stale, But don’t think of the place, think of the people. A person adds up to a collection of his experience and that’s what you’re visiting. Not this old body but what’s inside.”

(Insert Epiphany)

The clock on the wall struck three, thrusting a colorful little bird out of its maple case at each gong. Eric and his grandmother sat and watched the children play with the nearly completed snowman. One child was putting the finishing touches on the face while another was placing a black cowboy hat on its icy head. A woman with a camera emerged from the house to record the moment. As she snapped away the children danced around their newly created playmate, the falling snow provided a pointillistic picturesque quality to their glee. Nina yawned audibly and lay her head back onto the pillow. “Think it’s time for another nap.” she said. Eric rose from the stool and stood over the bed “I let you sleep then.” Eric said. He rested his hand on his grandmother’s shoulder. “It’s been good to see you” He said. “How about a visit next week?” Nina was already fast asleep, a smile came up on her face and planted itself there. Eric reached down and pulled the covers up over her. He walked back down the hall past the nurses station. “How’s your grandmother doing?” the oversize nurse asked, her chubby arms spread out over the cluttered countertop. “Better than I expected.” Eric said. He passed through the door to the crisp snow outside.

A Nation Dreamless Sleeping II


Dreaming everyday dreams—

Lost in mental alcoves,

Never shared never spoken

Never rising beyond orthodox sleep.


Many multitudes of memories intertwined

Like wind whistling between buildings. 

Something moving Chills the skin 

But indistinct; en mass and lacking the distinction

Altogether felt. 

Dreamers dreaming together 

The blunt force of silence 

Like the buzz behind background speech 

Felt among the masses. 

Their thoughts are thinking—though not 

Specific dreams 

Recalling the missed, the gained, the 

Hoped for, the ironic, compassion. 

Consider those dreams 

Among children who play and run from fears while so many multitudes

Of dreamers dreaming everyday thoughts together 

Seek imaginary hope. Dreamless sleeping. 

Or waking 

Only to remember nothing of dreams or hope 

Or even proper excitement or alarm. 

Waking only to the taste of a dry mouth and the bothersome

Trouble of another day to trudge through. 

Won’t we begin beholding 

Every dreamer’s spirit accompanying us? 

Or have we forgotten how to catch even that little breath 

Of the massed winds about us? 

Hope, let’s say. 

Not dreams while sleeping, but 

Dreams where each of us stand at any fateful moment 

Dreams in the romantic, hopeful sense. 

What if dreamers cease dreaming? 

What is the price to pay for wholesale silence? 

One nation, under 

God Dreamless Asleep— 

Set us alight 

Who dare to wake 

Dreamless dreamers,

Shaken—slumbering without dreams

And remind the waking

When the sleeper’s voice returns.

Locust Voices

Ten thousand thousand Locust voicesSing in chorus; a cathedral of trees hold
The Devout devouring.
All God’s people said, “Amen.”

Hold Light to the world,
You, the sometimes darkness children, Now above the noonday sun.
All God’s people stood and said, “Amen.”

Preacher, Preacher call on me.
My hand’s up high; can’t you see?
This heart inside—a
Mark of pain.
Will it ever reach back up again?
All God’s people stood, shook off dust, and said, “Amen.”

Speckeled daisy-dresses ladies fan themselves
Remember what breath this world has to
Offer—and, dasies,
It is wilting—nothing.
All God’s people stood, shook off dust, clasped their hands and said “Amen.”

Sinner, Sister don’t you know
Where the sinnin’ spirits go?
Now heads all bowed—eyes all close
Tis’ not the time for time to wait,
It’s time for fear and a time for faith.
All God’s people stood, shook off dust, clasped hands, bowed heads, and said, “Amen.”

All God’s people waited
While dinner finished cooking.
Ten thousand thousand Locust voices
Sing in chorus; a cathedral of trees hold
The Devout
Devouring voices in a service—outside
The church.
Sunday dinners
Rarely burn.


Noise, Noise, Noise, Noise.I am kept awake tonight.
Outside my open door
The inconsiderate television flares.
Its jitter crawling shadow slithers across the wall
Like a drive-in B-movie
Escaping its abandoned theater.

This society isn’t going to make it, is it?
The reservoir of our culture
Will only hold so much stagnant water
Before it overflows
Or bursts.

The commentator speaks.
He’s holding his microphone too close.
His voice, distorted and breathy.
A group of women argue with him,
Or, at least those sound like angry voices.
“I’ll give five thousand dollars to the first
one of you to take her clothes off right here.”
Five thousand dollars.
Are the women angry over the paltry amount
Or might each know what an abuse of chastity
Such questions are?

Drip, Drip, Drip, Drip.
Flit, Flit, Flit, Flit, flipping through the cable channels
Tributary to the pool of America.
Where does my America drink tonight?
Silver rivulets of blue electric water
That burn the soul and scorch a quenched thirst.
The public service is poisoned.
What treatment can squelch out
The runoff?

The newsman said today
That missiles may protect us from missiles.
Will missiles make the madmen go away?
Mankind makes mad men masters of misery.
Are we protected for the sake of hot dogs and barbecue?
For the sake of public supply,
Please pass the mustard gas.

The television man went away.
Popular culture has quit my home.
I turned on light and darkness fled.
There is a drug now for people who
Fear public places.
Is there no drug for those addicted to the noise?

I am half awake now.
The sudden flicker of society disturbed my sleep.
How many are half sleeping?
Of what do dreams consist?
Perhaps I should awaken more; this
Pool is going to overflow, isn’t it?
I can feel the cold pressure building
From deep below.
Water returns to its source.
Tune in next week.
It’s going to break out soon
Flood all the rivers in Hell.