Friday, September 24, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

The first light of the morning touches the grass, and whole worlds come to life. The scrub jays bend their crafty eyes to new opportunities. The insects are busy. The chipmunks chatter in the trees, and the hawks and vultures begin their slow circling. Farmers finish morning chores before breakfast. 

In this maelstrom of life, we find truth. The hunters, the hunted, and the busy workers trying to get through the day with some accomplishment on which to hang their hat. It is all a question of perspective. Just ask the lifeforms watching our solar system like it’s a low-budget slasher flick. We are the ant farm, but it’s not just ants on the blue planet. 

For the most part, we know what predators we fear - other humans. Most of us never encounter a mountain lion, a shark, a bear. We fear humans who dress their wolf faces up like sheep. And they are EVERYWHERE. 

Not only that - they look just like you and me, most of them.

Some of the things that we fear exist only in theory. In THEORY, we could contract cancer, get hit by a car, or have a heart attack, but, as much as we might worry about it, it may never happen. Or it might happen whether we worry about it or not. 

This kind of fear don’t have the same cachet as a Great White Shark.

We want fears with panache, so we stoke them, ghost stories to keep us up at night - keep us on edge. Gangs of immigrants, rapists, and - brace yourself - people who have different belief systems. These are the things you should REALLY fear. Except the thing you should REALLY, REALLY fear, which might kill you and everyone you love. 

You want to know what that is? Tune in at 11. 

If you fall asleep before 11, I guess you’ll never wake up again. Your fault. You were warned. Or warned to show up on time to be warned, which is even graver. 

Money, fear, and misery make a potent cocktail. Too bad you only have two out of the three. Fear and Misery just make you like everyone else. 

The scrub jays just flat-out don’t give a shit about any of this. The ants are just grindin’ - they aren’t worried about the cancer boogeyman hiding in the bushes. The vultures aren’t pedophiles. The grass has no ulterior motive. Hawks aren't racist.

You are not a vulture, or a scrub jay, or a beetle. 

Sucks to be you. You want to know why?

Tune in at 11.


  1. Oh, that hits hard. "We are the ant farm..." I love that.

    1. Solid diatribe. Also love the ant farm image

    2. Another vote for the ant farm, yes, and I also love the cliffhanger. I couldn't help thinking of the eleventh hour.

    3. We are the ant farm. Never a truer word has been said. We conjure up fears and people are the scariest thing around. Different belief systems indeed!!


  2. Myanmar magpie,
    kept for owner's viewing, daily luck.
    Magpie bound
    within bamboo. Songless.
    Twitchy feathers
    for sky.

    Magpie, bright eyes watch
    through greasy window:
    distorted street below
    filled by cars, distant horns,

    silent people. Made tiny
    by more than distance.
    Honest Kugo losing wars,
    to wordless ego.
    starbucks ascendant, gloating green.

    Pigeons unbound,
    roost on ledges.
    Fly only enough
    to dirty sheets
    hanging in sunshine. Then,
    return to ledges,
    jostling wings,
    preening in shadow.

    1. I like this, a world seen through the keen eyes of birds, the lovelier one captive, the shabbier one free.

    2. I love the pictures here. "Twitchy feathers aching for the sky." " dirty sheets hanging in sunshine." Nice.

    3. I agree - really cool concept and stark imagery. Love the contrast.

  3. Part One

    Somewhere, the sun is still fierce, a fireball out there beyond the yellow-grey slab of clouds. The clouds are a vast, damp, infected washcloth spread over the world.

    When I left the apartment this morning, I left it unlocked. I’ve never done that before.

    Please. Be my home.

    Needing to walk, I head toward town. It’s morning, so I hope for birdsong, which makes me a sorry fool.

    Three people are all I see: an elderly man and woman who cross the street at my approach and flinch from eye contact; and a wiry, feral-looking man of indeterminate age, who glares at me with naked hunger through coyote eyes and hesitates in a way that makes all the hair stand up on my arms. I let him see the hunting knife I carry on my hip, and he reconsiders.

    You are all I have.

    This place only a year ago was a noisy, shabby hub of neon gas prices and clustered signs for pizza, subways, fried chicken, and burgers. The red-blue Open signs on liquor stores and bakeries and laundromats and dollar stores. The wide carious mouths of automotive repair shops: mufflers, tires, oil changes, brakes, shocks (strangely mirroring the human narrative that got us here: muffled, tired, changed by oil, broken, shocked). It’s a place built for the automobile, and here I pass its one-time temple, the motel that had already gone to seed even then and is now entombed in dismal slabs of graffitied particle board, like something old with shame now blinded and silenced.

    For a moment, my heart leaps when I notice a nest hanging beneath its mossy roof, and I stand and wait awhile, dreaming of swallows. When after many minutes no birds appear, my heart returns to its dolorous sway, leaden in my empty chest.

    Gas stations arid watering holes withered by drought in a concrete savanna, vehicles downed like the corpses of wildebeest thwarted by their maddening thirst.

    1. Part Two

      The McDonald’s is a ruin, its iconic sign an outline with much of its golden plastic gone. Golden? It always looked piss-yellow to me, even when times were okay. An empty produce stand has somehow retained its cruel sign proclaiming ambrosia apples for $1.79 a pound, Okanagan cherries at $4.99. Charred pieces of abandoned palettes spiked like warnings encircle it.

      In a better world I would bring you home cherries.

      A busy east-west road used to bisect these two strip malls. I don’t know why they called them strip malls; I never saw a naked person once. That road used to be the hunting ground of great screaming, hissing semitrailers that helter-skeltered along its length, eager to see our unremarkable town in their rearviews, perhaps take out a few locals as they passed. Only the buses were doomed to stay, but they don’t come now either.

      There’s no right side of the tracks here, those too now rusted and quiet. The wide and filthy river still heaves and disgorges the occasional corpse to the south.

      In the parking lots, a few stripped and rusting cars sit in eternal hiatus, awaiting drivers who won’t ever be claiming them. The loneliness and the silence are uneasy allies in this war we lost long before the devastation loomed clear. Once it became undeniable, it was too late.

      I’m heading home now, my love.

      Before I round the corner of our street, I hear someone humming quietly. I stop and listen. It’s a shaky voice, raspy with senescence, and it sounds like it’s coming from a backyard shed. I recognize the melody. “The Times They Are a-Changin’” by Bob Dylan. I bark a corvid laugh and the old man quiets his song. Guilty, I call out, “Don’t stop!” but he stays silent and I continue on home.

      I think about laughter, its strange harshness cutting the stillness of the world like an angry trickster god. Robert Plant was wrong; we did remember laughter, or at least its humourless kin, but in the end it was love we forgot.

      What is home anyway? Will you not answer me?

      The door is still unlocked as I left it, and I wonder if anyone came in, though I doubt it. I stagger; I call your name. The smell of your corpse is worse, and I don’t know what I’ll do with you. Or with myself now you’re gone.

    2. Loving the word play and the worldbuilding

    3. OMG, that ending. I love the great details. I can see every bit of grime and rust. This line: "In a better world I would bring you home cherries." Beautiful.

    4. Fantastic scene setting. I could definitely see it all. I love the Corvid laugh and this: Golden? It always looked piss-yellow to me, even when times were okay.

      Ending like a club over the head.

  4. She likes to mix it up
    sometimes, share her heart
    on a leaf of paper read,
    scribbled on with her name.
    It is eager to reveal itself,
    being unique and well formed.
    This is where it lays its head,
    opens its arms in the spread.
    It is only one person here,
    standing still against the cold,
    the sun has dripped away
    behind the cloudy silent screen.
    It’s a pattern she knows
    while she waits for the stars
    to empty out their souls
    til there is nothing but dust.

    1. The gentle build and then those last three lines a crescendo! So beautiful.

    2. This is a really pretty snatch of verse!

  5. The trees sigh, their branches strained from the effort of standing so straight
    through the long, brutal summer, against the death-metal jaws of the cicadas,
    enduring air, when not still and stifling, laced with ash from their brethren,
    unable to sip much from parched, empty soil, while more and more of them fall.

    1. Heartbreaking. The pain of the trees is devastating. Writing-wise, I love a good sentence, how they can twist and turn and play with rhythm and cadence, which this one does.

    2. Oh, I love the death metal jaws of the cicadas!

  6. The deep-set judging eyes, so much like her own, raked Jude’s face. “You look hungry. Are you hungry? There’s more chicken salad—”

    “Mom.” Jude stopped herself from laughing. Had her mother been like this before Jude left home? The stereotypical Jewish mother? Or had Jude just grown blind to it, so wrapped up in her own shit? “We just had lunch. Come. It’s such a nice afternoon. Let’s sit out back. Let’s talk, me and you. It’s been too long.” She reached for her mother’s hand.

    The hand withdrew, fingers stiffening. “Well. Whose fault is that?”

    Not for the first time since her plane landed at LaGuardia, Jude counted the days until her return flight. Four. Three too many. “Please don’t make me regret visiting. It took a lot for me to come back here, no offense to you and Daddy, but I didn’t know if I could face you or if I’d even be welcome.”

    The older woman muttered something, eyes cast to the linoleum floor, worn from years of scrubbing and waxing. The same floor where Jude’s baby sister learned to crawl. Jude herself preferred the carpet.

    “What?” Jude prompted.

    Mom still wouldn’t meet Jude’s eye. “I said, you’re always welcome. You know that.”

    “No. I didn’t. But thank you.” Jude lifted her gaze to the dining room window and the small backyard, where her baby sister, not such a baby anymore, pumped her fury against the swing set. Frankie had barely said two words to Jude since she walked through the door. Both words were sarcastic, and the frown was deeper than Jude imagined could be etched on a seven-year-old’s face.

    Mom gathered provisions for iced tea and they sat somewhat comfortably at the small, rickety table on the cement pad Daddy had poured shortly before Jude left for California four years earlier. The space was framed by the red-painted cellar doors on one side and a scrubby maple on the other. Daddy’s intentions were good, Jude imagined, but a city boy perhaps didn’t have a good feel for when a tree would grow tall enough to provide shade.

    Frankie flung herself off the swing and stalked back into the house without looking at either of them. Then yanked the screen door open like a dare.

    “Francine, don’t slam—”

    The door whacked shut. Mom sighed. Perhaps wishing she had a cigarette. She and Daddy had quit together, years ago.

    “For your father, she’ll do anything,” Mom said. “I might as well be that tree over there.”

    “She’ll grow out of it,” Jude said.
    Mom smirked. “Like you did, right?”

    Jude absentmindedly traced the condensation outside her glass. “I’m working on it.”

    The deep-set eyes narrowed. “You sound different. Older.”

    You have no idea, Jude thought. She suddenly wanted to tell her mother everything, the way she used to do at seven, eight, a different sort of girl than Frankie, a girl who’d rush home from school and babble about her teachers and her friends. The adult Jude ached to tell her mother all of it—the doubts, the fears, the look on Art’s face when she said she wanted a divorce, the joy and pain and regret of her swelling abdomen, how it took all her strength not to look at the baby, not to hear the cries. How tears streamed down her cheeks as she signed the papers. It’s better this way, she kept telling the nurse, kept telling herself. Keeps telling herself. It’s better for everyone.

    “Well. I am older. A little.”

    Those eyes. “No.” Mom tapped on the table. “It’s something else.”

    Jude sighed, flashed on a memory of Mom pregnant with Frankie. A mitzvah, she’d said, to be blessed with a baby so late in life. A gift from God. “It’s just…life, most likely. Being on my own.” She forced a smile. “You want more tea?”

    1. An entire world in gestures and minimalist suggestion. It's almost like you hadn't quite exorcized the characters in Boychik and had to tidy things up with a companion piece, an echo.

    2. This is such a vivid scene. So much heartache in there, but it’s real And not overplayed. Just excellent.


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