Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"The Work of Life"

I put quotes around the title of this post, because it is stolen from one of my students today. She was writing in response to an argument against concern for "every little" bit of extinction that occurs in our world today. The "prompting" argument suggested that we need only be concerned about the "bigger," "more significant" disappearances. She assertively advanced the argument that we need to attend to the "little things," as we are interconnected creatures; if we neglect the small "details" of our lives, we may just lose out on the ability to deal with the bigger things, because all of the little details will have hastened the larger disappearances as well.

E. is not a great writer, but she is a passionate thinker, and a great observer of the world around her; she is invariably saying things that demonstrate the deep insight she carries with her. She often asks me to "scribe" for her as she "writes," which simply means that, as I take up the mechanical task of being her "secretary," she is free to identify and articulate her thoughts without being stopped by some infernal keystrokes. Late in her essay today, she discussed the interconnectedness that is in play around bees, "little critters," perhaps, in the eyes of the "big extinctionists," but in E's eyes, they went about "the work of life." I kidded her about the phrase a bit, but she was very taken with it, with its poetry, and even chose to use it as the title of her essay.

So, this weekend's Sunday Scribbling prompt is "alchemy." When I first saw it, I immediately flashed upon something from my own life, decades ago, but I was not ready to put it all down in words, I was just too weary at the time from some recent traveling. As I sat down to write about it this evening, I was drawn back to E's "work of life."

It's not necessarily anything that sounds terribly portentous. When I was about eight years old, I was living in Frankfurt, Germany; my stepfather was a Army band musician, and we were stationed in Frankfurt for three years: I finished first grade there, and stayed on through fourth grade. At one point - as I say, about when I was 8 - I have a very distinct memory of opening a rather large book and seeing a picture of a bearded man who was identified as an alchemist. I had no clue what that meant, but I did have the distinct impression that it was a very important word for me to hold onto. Interestingly enough, around the same period of time, I also remembering "hearing" the word Armenia at some point: not from any external source: this was an internal voice.

I carried those two words for a long time, before they ever came to show their true meaning in my life. I lived a very long time, struggling to be inside a box of my own creation, full of significances, success markers, and a rather straight and narrow map. Thankfully, I finally broke away from the self-imposed slippery slope, rejecting boxes right and left, coming to my own sense of alchemy, first with years of therapy clients who gracefully taught me the freedom of finding and living out of their own voices. Though I was designated the "therapist," I was as apprenticed to them as much as they were supported by me, and when it came time for me to move on and find the rest of my life, the examples of their lives were very much within me. As the writer within me grew more and more, I came to see the alchemy inherent in these strange voices that insist on being sung. They are all alchemical little souls, caring not a whit for the coherent, left-brained ways of the world. And now, as a teacher, I am once again apprenticed to the lives of the students who daily circulate around me, bees all about the "work of life."

Fourteen years ago, I met Tina Karagulian, at which point the echo of "Armenia" struck again. She is of Armenian descent, and what "Armenia" seemed to be suggesting to me all those years ago was - what I felt even at its first utterance within me as a child - dark mystery / the mystery of transformation from centuries of sadness / and the radiance of darkness. Tina is all that, and more: her last name literally means "black rose," and her life is dedicated to a healing that is not only for her, but also for those millions of persecuted and martyred Armenians, as well as for their persecutors as well.

Her life is a work of life, a work of art, and work of heart.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Scribblings #207: Demands

The Oily Side

scum down them walls, sugar

aspidistras be, naturally,

de rigueur,

jimmy jams in blue

Black Madonna holy oil

'side the chips and dip,


and get the fiscal dutitudes

outta here

we going dutch all

dee way, deejay

play that Basie nonsense

all night long

pastoral needs

be our bidness, we

carries our own Tarot

three years in a row,

though Loteria be nice,

aphrodisiac guacamole

holey moley

atsa fact

Rimbaud in the glove compartments

Fidel the Doberman can do all

the sniffing

don't know 'bout chu

but the lofty casuals lost

they flair

aftertimes the Armanis

went on the attack

me and my Goodwill

hirsute weren't playin

no mo,

I was regal

only at midnight which

'splains the need for Tootsie

when she be comin round

I was her netherchild

her tassel baby

particular in the rondo

but the refrains

ain't do me no good

so hustle down the bar-b-q

wherever you finds it

to your liking

bristle-tongue ain't

a feast of all saints

for any of us

quiet the mood

after the show

silly movies be the be all

Carol Burnett, Gilligan, &

we can all vote for Miss Mary.


Saturday, March 20, 2010


On the way home from the biblioteca this afternoon, Walden in tow, we were tuned into KRTU, our jazz alternative: cool, funky vibe rolls and then a guitar run, unmistakable sound, gotta be Pat Metheny, sez I. Deejay later confirms, from his album "Orchestrion." Starts in on bit of a riff on orchestrions, little of which comes across with much clarity. I file it away for surf-time. More on the orchestrion later.

I first stumbled onto PM out in Uvalde County, the surveying months (14 months, actually), PBS something or other, damned celestial it sounded to me. Perfect medicine for the incurable lyric romanticist. Carried the love on to Austin for grad school. The early celestial vibe grew to incorporate a Brazilian sound, always a guarantee to slay me even further. I've fallen away at times, as the sound got more avant garde, but P and buddy Lyle Mays always manage to reel me back in, as they return to center. I've seen them twice, once at Austin's Paramount Theater, and once at Tulane, during the New Orleans years. Surfing around for more of the orchestrion bidness, I got pulled back into some old favorites. Had to stop myself from going overboard, but this is a good sample.

Slip Away

Have You Heard

First Circle

Here to Stay (love the funky Marvin groove on this one)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (nice change of pace with bassist Charlie Haden)

Spirit of the Air (this is the cut I heard this afternoon; sounds like very early Metheny, the way it builds, the vibes, bells, with some of the Here to Stay funk-groove; apologies for the sales shtick that opens and closes...)

The Orchestrion (if you're up for it, a nice little intro about what's going on with all this orchestrion bidness; apparently, he and "it" are out on tour, even back to Austin's Paramount next month. It was about 30 years ago when I last saw him there. Haven't decided yet...)


Friday, March 19, 2010

one word hepburn: neck

go figure
in the eights

the vines

in which you found her

distillate joys

down the twining


pressure points,

muse in waiting

wuthering dance

passion play






blue winter

I was looking for Cassandra Wilson's take on this Miles composition (she wrote her own accompanying lyrics), but not to be had (worth looking for, however). Of course, Miles' take is plenty lush.

I heard this song on the way in this evening: beautiful song: I don't think this was the singer I heard (she sounded older, a little more oomph in the delivery), but a lovely song, any way you look at it.


one word spider: veins

chicken farms

LaGrange on the bayou -

who can say

which way the fertile

eggs thrive? count

the dozens

paling blue in the mist

morning calls

in the fog

the shrouded meadows

winter to spring

vain weather vainly

assembling her

minions, urchin-like

cavalcade of the rising

minds' intolerances,


at the threshold

complicating the vassals'

obeisance: stop

on a dime, you stop

furnishing the inner

walls, captured

by memory,

by clashing wisdoms,

by inarticulate



Thursday, March 18, 2010


From San comes an open invitation to self-bestow the "Honest Scrap" award, yet another prompted opportunity for intentional disclosure on a "riveting" scale. Riveting? This may just be nuts and bolts.

1. The first album I ever bought, for $1.99 at the PX at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, was "by" the "group" Dino, Desi, and Billy. Sons of Dean, Desi, and Mr. and Mrs. Hinsche. Billy - having just checked - has his own web site, worked with the Beach Boys, and not without some level of redemption, also sang back-up vocals for Warren Zevon. Something tells me that Billy was probably the only member with any resemblance to a musician.

2. While we're still at Fort Leonard Wood, my favorite Supremes song was "Whisper You Love Me, Boy." Especially if I was dancing in close proximity to Norma Torres or Elaine Collard.

3. In ninth grade at FLW Junior High, I had a crush on Susan Addison, at just the time that the Buckinghams came out with their less than smash hit "Susan." This knack for having a soundtracked life continued later, when the Monkees agreed to provide backing vocals to my love of Valerie Reid.

4. I will always associate the song "Itchycoo Park" with the locker room at Fort Campbell, Kentucky's high school, because that's where I first heard it. Why there was a radio playing in the locker room, I'll never know, but what an awesome idea. I remember, too, that we were trampolining that day. Go figure.

5. For the two months I lived in Fort Campbell (very close to "Last Train to Clarksville" Clarksville, Tennessee and Edgar Cayce's Hopkinsville, Kentucky), I had a mad crush on the twins Mary and Marty Hughen. Fierce crush(es).

6. While at Fort Campbell, I won the local Optimist Club Oratorical Contest, with an insipid speech entitled "The Golden Opportunities of Youth." Sadly, the Tremeloes were not around to provide soundtracking with their hit "Silence is Golden." I was supposed to go on to compete regionally in Paducah, Kentucky, but we moved back to Tres Leches when my stepfather was sent to Vietnam . . . as an Army band conductor.

7. One of my soon to graduate seniors recently asked me if I had ever had a Zero candy bar. Did I ever - for a time, during the soundtracked daze, they supplanted my love of Paydays. I'll be damned if I can figure out how the hell I ever gave up eating chocolate. Just what you'd expect from a kid whose first album was by D, D, and B.

This is a self-selecting prompt/award. Bestow at your own risk. Your entries needn't be so "elegantly" interwoven as your Muravian host's.


one word knee-high: grape

fate's thin guise

crude huts sloping

ventricles of night


gravity's rainbow kissed,



in the dreaming mist

of eventide,

the ebb's missed


timing the verities,


the neap-tides

of the frontal lobes:


on the couch,

hissing vigilance,

the Doktor in her


april's canneries

blown by Santa Anas

no ghost could

ever know.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunday Scribblings #206: The Book That Changed Everything

I'm reading it right now . . . again: the fifth or sixth lenten reading of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. I can't remember what derailed me from last year's attempt (or was it his Against the Day?), but derailed I got by something else. This year, we're on track again for completion, back from a beach run at it and five more days of Spring Break ahead.

Fall 1973, junior year at Harvard, newbie English major, switching officially from the Government major I'd all but abandoned spring semester of my freshman year, auditing Father J. Robert Barth's course,
Religious Dimensions in the Modern Novel (Dostoevsky, Kafka, Faulkner, Greene), JRB sockfooted on the lecture hall table, reading from Light in August. The romance was on, though it took me another two semesters to make it official. My sophomore-year tutorial leader certainly helped the transition, fifth-year grad student-turned poet, abdicating on his own poli sci dissertation, while laying Ram Dass' Remember: Be Here Now and R. D. Laing's The Politics of Experience on his tribe of stunned Gov majors . . .

He got my attention, as I followed suit down my own dark ladder.

So, wintry grey fall Thursday afternoons in a cold seminar room over at the old rambling English Department's Victorian digs, the one-on-one junior year tutorials, independent reading classes, one undergrad with one grad student. Paul (last name now forgotten) gently guiding me into a new world - Stevens, Williams, Pound, Nathaniel West, Ralph Ellison, and lo and behold, Pynchon's
The Crying of Lot 49. All of it, all, way over my head, but Paul ever encouraging to the newbie. Somewhere in the midst of all the shivering sessions, Gravity's Rainbow was plunked down as some kind of Holy Grail for the future. Grail it remained, its fat gold paperback self on my bookshelf for another four years before I had gumption enough to feel like maybe I could crack it, if even an uncomprehending wee little . . .

Cambridge years behind, returned to San Antonio to work in a psych hospital as an aide to test out a counseling future, I sabbatical'd myself west of SA to live on the family's Uvalde County ranch: got a job surveying land, quickly was trained as the "instruments" man, which, practically speaking, meant I had hours on end daily to sit atop Texas hills, gorgeous vistas unfurling, waiting for the "rod" men to clamber around to shoot laser'd distances, denim overalls'd Southern boy reading Nabokov, Faulkner, Hemingway, and, finally, that first pre-Easter season,
Gravity's Rainbow. Evenings with it, too, spent Coors-wizzed, reading on, buzzed just enough to occasionally feel like I knew exactly what was going on . . .

For whatever crazy reason, Lent became the season for GR: hardly a Christian text, though assuredly, a holiest of holies, a haunting text that sent quivers and shudders and un-recognitions off detonating in the heart of my reading soul. It has rested, all my other reading loves notwithstanding, atop my Desert Isle Lists for all these years, "nudged" only recently by its "companion" sister text, Pynchon's own
Against the Day, both now atop the pedestal. The worlds in both novels are wide enough to encompass all our worlds and more. Never enough journeys into their radiantly dark hearts . . .

For a time, the lenten returns were the only alternative to the 17-year wait for
GR's follow-up. We waited, read the rumors of works in progress, only to be greeted, finally, by the charming but hardly towering Vineland. Mason & Dixon as sister? Not for this acolyte. I like to think that Against the Day was there all along, post GR, taking its time, decades-long midwifery.

Of course, as much any other book,
GR was responsible for the years it took for me to brave writing my own pages. Staring into the face of such inscrutability and finally saying, hey, these are different voices simmering in here, but they gots to be hatched.

God bless the boy . . . he sure done blessed us . . .
Easter eggs for us all . . .



Following the prose-y itch:

Saturday, Walden and I drove the hour and a half out west to family-gather with parents Gretel and Tom, sister Laura and husband Dave, her son Steph, brother Vern and wife Kimberlye; Uncle Kurt drove over from Sabinal and completed the tribal gathering. Mama Tina stayed back here in Tres Leches to avail herself of the free time to write.

Visits to Terra Loma, the 1400-acre plot inherited from grandmother Loma Seidel, invariably include a Tom-guided "tour" of the place I have been visiting all the way back to tot-hood, wading in diapers in the irrigation ditches. Long gone are the ditches, the furrows, as sprinkler pivots have long been in use - all six of them - and now Tom informs me that for six or seven years the leasing farmers have taken a no-till approach to the fields, the theory being that all the old practice of tilling up the ground exposes - and loses - too much of the residual moisture in the ground, not to mention all the fuel expense that comes with plowing and tilling. Gone then, are all the lovely brown corduroyed furrows; in the interest of being green-
er (the lack of organic farming precludes full use of the verdant color), the fields are shabbier in their post-harvested, pre-planted look. Corn was being planted, while the wheat fields were already lushly greening.

Tom drove us down the southern boundary and then into the mesquite thicket that is the land's western boundary - thicket that grades down to the Frio River, the land's true boundary. For the sake of accuracy, I should say Frio River-
bed, as mammoth shoals of white limestone are the usual view, save for when torrential rains in the hill country twenty miles north push the river all the way down to us and beyond to the tiny burgh of Knippa, eight miles south on Highway 90. When the Frio descends out of the hills, there is no more beautiful river in Texas, in all its crystalline, emerald glory - beautiful rapids and deep green pools amidst stone-beds that now look like the spines of dinosaurs. I haven't seen the river since Tina and I baptized ourselves (and little did we know, at the time, Walden too) in it twelve years ago. Come to think of it, make that eleven years ago, when Laura and her three daughters and Steph were out there with us.

In our descent down the river bank, I looked for the lone mountain laurel tree that was blooming the very first time Tina and I walked down to the river. Nothing but near-greening mesquite and the occasional rogue juniper tree this time around. Meanwhile, back here in Tres Leches, the mountain laurels are in full bloom all around the city, and all around our yard.

Back at the ranch house, time for a little soccer with Walden and Steph, with Kurt looking on. Around back, a scarlet tanager was blazing in one of the trees, out-blazing the busy red male cardinals, though the red chevrons on the wings of the red-winged blackbirds were giving him a run for his money.

Supper was in the screened-in breezeway, fiery golden sun going down in the west, gilding mesquite branches and all else its fire consumed. Supper: my mother's standby favorite for family gatherings - chalupas, with all the fixings. Pie and/or brownies for dessert, a la mode if wished, and Walden certainly wished. About thirty minutes before we needed to go, Walden was looking restless. I asked him if he needed one more walk before we left. Apparently, exercise was not what he was thinking about; with a gleam in his eye, he looked at his grandfather and said, "Blackjack?" Tom never needs any arm-twisting when it comes to cards, so the game was quickly afoot. Thankfully, we were simply playing with his chips - he wiped us all out.

We sailed back in the dark to Tres Leches; I dropped Walden off at Abby and Greg's house, with their four kids. Sunday morning, Walden was heading out to Port Aransas with the church youth group that Abby leads. Big doings in the Booker-Karagulian household: save for overnights with friends, this was the first time Walden would be away with a group of people that he
knew, but who were not exactly bosom friends.

5:45 Sunday morning (in truth, you will recall, 4:45 am), Tina and I crawled into Aphrodite (her car) and embarked on our own beach trip to Padre Island (thirty minutes from Walden's eventual destination, but be assured, we did not hover; did not, in fact, see him until yesterday afternoon, when we all had arrived back here in TL). The up-early was all about getting to Corpus Christi in time for the 9 am labyrinth service at All Saints Episcopal Church, our adopted church away from home, a church that abounds with artists and freethinkers, as does our own Rec back here in Tres Leches. So, church and then brunch at Santa Rosa's, where you can still get a TexMex breakfast for $2.99 a pop. Throw in lush heaping avocados and you're still out the door for less than ten bucks. Brunch had, it was off to a hotel on a spit of land that gets as close to the federally protected Padre Island National Seashore, without itself encroaching on the park.

Crashed, we did, before ever heading to the water: three hours catching up from the day's early start, and then another hour or so of reading, really sinking into a needed lollygagging mode. Having been self-derailed from last year's attempt, I am into my fifth or sixth lenten read of Pynchon's
Gravity's Rainbow, a tradition that was first sprung while living out at the ranch in the late 7os and surveying land in the hill country in and around Uvalde County. Though probably my slowest read of the book, this is also my most lucid one. I'm tracking much better this time around.

First evening, we slummed for a bit at the beach just across the road from the hotel - full of spring breakers and unnecessary music and trash. Just a quick chance to get sea-breeze in our faces, before heading over to Snoopy's for the obligatory pilgrimage meal.

Monday morning, we stayed in slow-mode; while Tina meditated, I headed over again to the near-beach for a walk. I had Pynchon with me, thinking of sitting for a while to read, but there was a good cold snap in the air, so TP just ended up as an unintended lumpen-dumbbell.

Walking and sitting meditations complete, we shunned the hotel's complimentary breakfast in favor of a trip to Corpus' Old Towne, where we stumbled into a new favorite: Hester's Cafe in the Bleu Frog Mercantile: great omelettes and a buzzing little quiet the first day, perfect match to the day's unfolding. Things were bopping more when we dropped in for a farewell breakfast yesterday.

Beach we did get to, finally, about noon: Malaquite this time, pristine, edging the aqua surf:
freezing surf, as it turns out: there were more of us out watching than actually in bathing. Snappy breeze, too, still: plenty time, though, to read, laze, mind-drift, draw a mermaid (in Tina's case), go for a long walk, side-stepping the plenteous man-o-wars and tossing sand dollars back into the surf to keep on growing they echinodermic selves.

Late in the afternoon, our minds collided with the same "
damn, it's cold" epiphany. Back to the hotel to clean up, popped into The Black Sheep Bistro to check it out. "We're open tomorrow," said the owner, but we wuzn't. Sign, by the way, said Mon-Sat 5 pm - 9 pm. Padre Islanders must have a strange notion of Daylight Savings Time - not just one hour ahead, no, a full day ahead. Or so it seems.

Well, the Black Sheep was just a lark, anyway: we were headed to Thai Cottage for a repeat of last year's meal: we were not disappointed, though they still ain't up to the Queen of Thai, the native Thai attorney-turned-culinary empress at Bangkok Cuisine over on, yep, Pat Booker Road here in the home burgh.

Lazing into the night, watching Lane and Cusack in a commercials-sliced and -battered "Must Love Dogs," aggravating mess (the commercials, not the flick, goofy fluff). The home TV is only on these days as monitor for DVDs, so rampant commercials are long a thing of the past.

Cold rain yesterday morning, making Hester's a haven all the more, before heading back home. Halfway back up I-37, ominous "Incident Ahead" signs, as we were shuttled off the highway and onto the frontage road. More than "incident"; full-blown tragedy - a bus headed for Matamoros, out of SA, careened off the southbound lanes into the median, and was tipped over on its side: two people died, two dozen injured. For some reason, we threaded through the snarl in about thirty minutes. Walden's caravan, an hour behind, took three hours getting through.

Back we are, then: 10 am and the two babes is still sleepin, yo be scribin', Boz Scaggs be warblin' in the headphones. Time to travel on to the greenbelt. They's more travelin' to do, this here Spring Break.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

soul training saturdays

When I was but a bambino, my mother worked as a record seller downtown at the now long defunct San Antonio Music Company. At the time - for a time, at least - my father was a sales rep for Decca Records. I come by my slavish devotion to music natcherly, sans any musical talent myself. As the urban/family legends have it, even as a tot, my mother would sit me down in a listening booth at her store, with a stack of records. Much the feeling I got years later, when the downtown Starbucks opened their (now sadly defunct) Hearmusic store: I'd sit for three hours at a stretch at a listening kiosk, nursing the day's mochachocalattayaya, down deep in the archived funk. Much as it felt this morning (wanna tell ya one thing), with headphones on and the dawn of spring break dawning.

Everybody by now knows my devotion to Lady T, though it was a devotion come lately; as is my wont on far too many occasions with far too many other treasures, I was ignorantly dissing the girl until about six years ago my eyes and ears were opened. Been in deep ever since. Thank goodness the girl's been resurrected after some underground time; she's back with a vengeance. This vid, an old favorite, went underground itself for several months:

Old 80s Rick and Smokey duet. For all his clownish foolery, Rick had the voice - Lady T would not have let him in the shop, if he didn't. Throw Rick a good ballad and he could croon with the best.

This should probably be the last clip of the day, but I b'lieve they's even more Jesus comin' after this one, even if not by name. Al looks a big ole mess, but I believe this is just about the time that those lover-thrown hot grits woke the good man up, set him back on his road.

It don't get much better than this. Al's in fine form.

This was a revelation. I saw the 8-minute length of this run, couldn't believe he'd take it all the way. Charley's no longer a non-believer.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

For Miss Alister's Birthday


Chi O gots her earth, wind, and fiery elements all in a filigree’d dither. Vandy said no, Emory, too, ‘saps said come on down, cher, we got the ship out on the foam for you, baby. Cher she was; cher she did, all 5’7” of her flaxen, waxy sugarbaby self. Nestlings need not apply to the temple—she was looking for daddy all the way.

Bristol Crème was first to ponder, last to lurk. He always be takin’ his time, self-management learned the hard way. Tether Dubonnet was Tutor the First. Gams to heaven, pert pertness into the Beyond. A better first teacher they never was. BC was oft to ponder the dereliction of his ways, but never of a Sabbath. He knew his God, and she weren’t no plunderer. Crinkle in the eyes when she see BC comin’.

Lurk turned to committed desire: this will I taste, this will I have. Chi O babbled in lunch lines with the big Boogaloo, turned a smart sassy ass out the door his way, but sassy ass was assessin’—this weren’t the Big Giveaway. Cool Hand Luke counted eggs; Chi had her own inventory in mind, and BC was on the bubble: he just might have to play in to the Dance.

Comes late Autumn. Big Dance party down on West Capitol, steps of the Governor’s Mansion. BC’s gotta uncle twelve floors up in the Lamar Life, spies Ms O in all her post-Labor Day splendor, hot and bothered with a dandy givin’ her Mr. White on Ms. Rice. Sticky stuff indeed. Pouncin’ time, thinks B, Superman couldn’t fly half as fast down the Lamar stairs as he did. He was ponce’d in black tux, tie loose, cummerbund flashing. Literally flashing, they was lights in the folds. Tell me I ain’t Michael Jackson in his pretty days, Flashy thinks to himself.

Chi catches the breeze of that (de)scent, twiddles east of Mr. Sticky, west to the flowering B. It’s a big breeze on the downtown bounce, all bigboy whirling, fancypants Cassandra Hometown Girl Wilson-sexy with her new moons shining.

O: “Thought you’d never—”

B: “You thought?”

O: “I’m just sayin’, freshman comp ain’t exactly the—”

B: “And why not?”

O: “Gotta point. You got anything else?”

Breeze caught the lilt of that hemline. As he’d suspected, Tether-gams indeed. Seconds from Marilyn standing over the gusty vent, she spun, headed courtside to the Blue. Centuries could not have done better for such fine evolution. B nixed all the other Tutors—he was down for the count.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Green and Blue in Tatters

Feeling prose-y.

The juniper/cedar pollen plague having finally lifted, I have lit out again for the territories: in this case, we are talking nothing more ambitious than the Salado Creek Waterway trail that is just a hop, skip, and a quiet jump across a drainage ditch that separates this neighborhood from that. Down Highcliff for a quarter of a mile, then left down into the green psychic disarray that is the Salado and its trail. All this land was once the Tobin family's Oakwell Farms, so there are tendrils that run off into the woods, up thicketed rises, down to drying creekbeds, now that the recent rains have faded down aquifer-way. I was almost of a mind to follow one of the tendrils yesterday, but I was on a bit of a schedule, so I earmarked them for later.

For the record, Robert Tobin was the flamboyant heir of an aerial photography magnate. Horseman who, as a youth, rode his horses through the same wilds I now slog: grew to be a lover of opera and modern art. The once Oakwell Library that is my home away from home is now, thanks to a $100,000 infusion from the Tobin Foundation, the Tobin Library at Oakwell Farms. (That change was not without some local fury. Fury: "You would change the name of a 40 year-old library for an obvious bribe?" Biblioteca: "Yep.") Frequenter of the Met in Manhattan, RT donated a vast theatrical archive and library to our local modern art museum, the McNay (he and Marion Koogler McNay were bosom buddies). At the Tobin trailhead of my stretch of the Salado, a life-sized bronze replica of him sits, in his ubiquitous full-length natty black cape: one of the least likely folk you might expect to see, greeting you and sending you off on your morning or afternoon's meditations. Like, say, Judy Garland's wishing you well, as you step into your kayak on Austin's Colorado Riverbank. (You won't find Judy there, but you'll sure find Stevie Ray Vaughan.)

The Salado trail is, among other things, a trash heap of green sublimity: not for any intent: when the torrential rains come a-calling, the Salado is quick to flood, submerging trail and woods and banks, leaving behind ragged strips of plastic trash strewn throughout the trees.

I am, sadly, a fastidious hiker, spoiled by Austin's pristine Barton Creek greenbelt and innumerable trails in New Hampshire, Vermont, and all over the Pacific Northwest. I am blessed to have the Salado so easily within reach, I cherish its quiet, and yet the trash in the trees never fails to rankle this prettyboy ambler.

Yesterday was a particularly gorgeous grey overcast morning: well into the day's 5-mile hike, I was walking back from a chattering waterfall: I looked across into a stand of woods, lithe brown and gray limbs in the usual festooned tatter. Graceful image falls into cranium: prayer flags. In all the trees up and down the miles of creekmurmur, prayers hanging, for all to see, to hear, to pray forward.

We shall see if the notion holds. They usually do.

* * *

I am not a willing servant. I serve when I (choose to) serve, and I do so cheerfully and (mostly) gracefully in those moments, but I do not go out of my way to serve. I see my work as a daily service, so I see my "free" time as mine to squander. Tina definitely has the larger heart and will reach out at any time, when so moved. I will follow and do my part, but not without an ample dose of curmudgeonly grousing, whether openly or just under the sonar. Once there on the spot, I do a good job of putting the curmudgeon safely away, and invariably, at least 9 out of 10 times, I come away very happy with having been there.

Case in point:

A week and half ago, I fled for three days into the Texas hills to Camp Eagle, three faculty members and 23 freshmores. A tiring, yet invigorating time, and a time when we all invariably move closer together, staff, kids, and all. I always look forward to these times, even if my first inclination is NOT to rappel backwards down the 200 feet of canyon rockface. Second inclination always guides me down, but still . . .

By the time we return on Friday afternoon, all in our various nature raptures, my inner clock is ready for a quiet retreat.

Tina warned me this year, however, that come Saturday night, we would be heading over to P and B's house, to sit for their four babes, while they head off for an almost never-to-be-had date. The entire family has been slammed for some time with a destiny that seems unfairly stacked against them: P has been battling cancer for some time now; four year-old N battled her own brain cancer for the first 18 months of her life; and three year-old D is autistic. The three others, though physically unscathed, have certainly battled their own fears and demons in the wake of fate's avalanche. Through all this, you would be hard-pressed to find a stronger band of witnesses to Joy, such a gentle crew of love bunnies.

N, now fully recovered, is a force of nature, full force gale, and because of my willingness to hang with her and dote upon her epic-laden energy, I have been dubbed her "buddy." She envisions me, I'm sure, as about five years old: this is not the first time such an attribution has been made to me as an adult. She is always fun, but you best be ready for a marathon run when you're visiting. At Christmas, we gave the whole family a glass angel tree ornament: N quickly claimed it as assuredly meant for her alone and given to her solely by her "buddy." It sits on her nightstand, and woe to anyone who might try to 'splain things differently to the babe. During a recent big storm, she apparently was very concerned that my mother should go to school and get me home, because she was sure that I was probably very scared.

I have to admit to being both quietly fascinated and intimidated by D's autism. He roams through his world, replete with its own laws and logics, and when we are visiting, I've noticed that he always makes contact with me: he'll roll up close to me and periodically take my hand for a few moments in passing.

I wasn't sure if, after three days of ninth graders, I'd be ready for the D-N axis of things.

Much to my "buddy's" chagrin, I was initially commandeered by D, taken by hand into the back yard for some basketball, in which he insisted upon my picking him up to dunk the ball. This was Teletubbies' "again, again" X 20. A quick kick of a soccer ball redirected us at long last, and then I made a move that I might have lived to regret, save for the blessings that came with it.

After the soccer digression, it seems Mr D wanted to be placed atop the Fisher Price clubhouse: for, as it turned out, the next hour and a half, with me frozen in place as "spotter." (Of course, by this time, I had been officially been demoted from buddy-hood by Ms N, who trundled off into the house with new buddy Tina.) Once I surmised the trap I'd fallen into, there was a moment of panic (okay, moments), but the more I watched D's face exulting under a glorious blue blue blue sky, the more I relaxed into his energy of bliss, as he listened into the silence of every little rising sound around us - car whish, train whistle, bird call, dog scrabble, around and around in the blue. He was fascinated by the shadows he cast in the dying sun. He'd wave goodbye to every plane that flew over, and then at one point he looked up into the blue blue, looked at me, and shouted BA-DIE, which I took to mean BLUE SKY! We riffed on that for several minutes, returning to it again and again.

Well, we did finally make it back into the house, where, spelled by Tina, I was able to regain buddy status with Dame N. Not without some four year-old chastening first, of course.

My infernal pre-grousing notwithstanding, the heart widens, and the soul deepens, with such blessings.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

one word passim: triangle

Was not interested in today's offering, so I went back for an earlier prompt.

grant this:

geometric bloom

occasioning birth

triangular frisson



postulants of mercy

withering down

the long way's


castaways on storms


in sanctums

spiced with



Carry the rest

that wings protect,


hearts, limbs,

fingertip savings

from the noddings

of demure souls.