The Boiling Frog

I’m blogging about my current bout of illness over at The Law of Love. This is my first post.

 

“Suddenly I found myself in hot water. Boiling water!”

 

It seems like that when illness suddenly strikes you down.

 

I had returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip Down Under in tiptop shape, nicely tanned and relaxed from the Cook Islands and more than ready to tackle my many projects afresh. After all, the writing of at least nine books awaited me, from ten to ninety per cent complete. Let the postponed year 2015 begin!

 

Granted, the old body had seemed less willing to get up to ten thousand steps a day than in the past. Might as well talk to the doc about that, I decided, once home again. She and I had probably forgotten what the other looked like by now, given the frequency of my visits. Dr. S checked the records: sure enough, it had been ten months. In the cause of good sense, at my age, we might…

 

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Grape Power

A bottle of wine winked at me;
said, “You need me today.
I am from California.
I have an edge and I am on sale.”
I choose to believe its slick green surface;
cradled it “home” with a companion or two
and stacked them all, willy-nilly, in the fridge.
The realtor arrived.
The friend came.
Since they inhabited only one body,
I offered a glass of green glassy wine,
a libation to stories with an edge.
Somewhere between glasses two and three,
a buxom idea joined us; crossed her legs,
seated ever more easily on the third chair.
Clouds lifted; skies sang in azure;
sweet summer shade crept across the patio.
We all smiled:
future and heaven
edged
hesitantly
closer.

Condo

This lovely building,
with its pool and hot-tub, gym and workshop,
pub and crafts room, gardens and fountain,
woods and salmon stream,
Skytrain and City Hall,
arts center, college,
miles of shopping and doctors,
police and politics,
schools and churches, all a mere block away or
even ensconced in the building,
security and all—oh!
How I loathe this lovely building!

The rhodos bloom uptight against their fence,
afraid to drop petal or leaf in the paths
of the masked men gunning away all signs of rot
with black noise drawn from Earth’s sleazy past.
Inside their plastic suits they are safe from thought.
Likely their headphones keep them in step,
block out the beeps and drones and roars
of the whitewashed, whirling dirt-dervish machines,
the phalanx of Progress just behind them.
Inside, the hallways crouch, sibilant as declawed cats—
no wonder the small dogs trot nervously, afraid to sniff
or whine; say anything that might spell d-o-g.
The pools, pockets of liquid poison, lie mostly undisturbed
below their posted rules, graceless , grammarless laws
against most kinds of human behavior.
No one speaks.

But somewhere in the world, even here,
it’s a glorious, sunny day.
I’ll sit on the balcony with tea and a book;
ignore the noise.
Run a finger down the table, cleaned yesterday,
to be sure it’s clean enough.
Black as ink.

I loathe this lovely building.

Broom

My ancient apple tree,
who likely refers to me
as her latest human,
somewhat less elderly than she,
has a sense of humor:
Wherever I have swept,
she drops a small green bomb
or shrugs off a bit of the moss
infesting her trunk, which turns
as gray as foot fungus
the minute it hits the concrete.
“Be nice to me,” I growl,
“and I’ll spray you with that elixir
once again, that stuff that took
twenty years off you, last summer.”
But I don’t mind her meddling
with my morning meditation,
the broom a choir of straw
sussurating over stones.
Broom-making may be a dying art,
for this one announced its imminent demise
after a single season.
At least it’s not plastic:
I can cut up the corpse,
let it contribute its final essence
to the warmth of my winter house.
We may survive.
For now, it sings, soft as any broom,
and in the same human key.
My back yard sounds like Indonesia,
feels like Guatemala,
might be Ecuador,
or anywhere swept clean
of human folly,
anywhere people care
about civilization.

Is Anybody Using This Chair?

“Is anybody using this chair?”
she asks, slim smooth hand
already grasping the thing
by the scruff of its neck.

Of course I am using that chair
at this table for two,
crowded against a friendly wall.
That chair supports
both past and future—
only the present sits empty.
Tony, for one, is due,
my fellow birthday-holder,
the man whose cellphone
remembered to invite me.

This intimate table’s surrounded
by forty sky-happy people I don’t know,
chattering, clattering friends in a future
I may not ever enter.

Have you watched old men or women
converse in a corner
with companions only they can see?
“We save our adulation,” I tell Spence,
“for writers whose characters stay mute—
talk to me later.”
He hands me the leash; kisses my cheek;
signals Grey Dawn to lie at my feet
and heads out the door to tomorrow.
A veil of smoke curls ‘round us both
as Tony slips into the empty seat,
the chair that nobody was using.
His phone lies embedded in hand or in groin—
I can’t tell which—re-telling his life
like a jaded journalist.
Our vaporous talk barely parts the clouds
and his glass disappears
faster than smoke.
I pay; then pace home,
Grey Dawn beside me,
nudging my knees.
“Every birthday,” I tell him,
“every birthday,
I occupy more chairs.”

Ordinary Courage

Receiving somebody’s blog on the nature of direct action, I seem to hear the megaliths of destiny moving around to better positions. I’ve long said that ordinary courage requires witnessing and, for some, telling what was seen. As I contemplate the writing of Pale Criminal, the final book in The Falling Sky Trilogy, the mind keeps straying to drastic actions certain characters might take to deal once and for all with the psychopathy stalking their lives. Naturally. Suddenly I get it: the three stages of ordinary courage needed for the conquest of evil are witnessing, articulation and direct action.

The third level may be required of us if we are to stop idiocy like the Enbridge pipeline. Frightening idea. I realize anew how much I enjoy being alive. How much it takes to risk one’s only life for a cause.

White Birds: dreams for dancers traces the stages of courage symbolically. At first, the victim of abuse is barely even a witness: she becomes disembodied before the abusive act is fully perpetrated on her. In the second, third and fourth dreams, she moves from seeing her disembodiment to recounting her story; from telling the tale to daring to change her form. In the final dream, she moves from shape-shifting to taking the direct action that ends the evil. A warrior may not always be successful in eliminating evil, she learns, but the roles of victims and accommodator are surely insufficient.

In Broken Sleep, chronologically the first book in The Falling Sky Trilogy, Paul and Zack, reluctantly shaken out of the comfort zones of their professions, become witnesses to Jane’s story. Zack, the son of Holocaust survivors, can do no more than witness. Paul, son of a successful survivor of the Greek underground, takes action with compassion. Matt, to appearances the all-round American star of the American Dream, takes action as he sees fit — for your own good, of course. As for Jane, just as no one knows precisely what happened to her father as a POW, neither her friends nor we the readers find it easy to predict what she can or will do.

La Chiripa is all about articulation, the telling of lies that encourage the ongoing evil, and the courage it takes to tell the truth. In Guatemala, that courage is only beginning to break through what is called “El Silencio”, the silence that rules after 42 years of CIA-sponsored violence. The wonder of PIra is that somehow, in spite of — or perhaps because of — her mother’s victimization, the child is fearlessly articulate. That is why readers love her as she carries “La Violencia”, the bigger half of the book. That is also why readers love to hate Matt as he carries “El Silencio”, for in his fearless telling of his actions there is no love, no compassion, no right but his own. He’s his own private CIA, over and over again.

You see, the bad guys will always take action until their evils can stand futile. “All that is necessary for evil to take over the world is for enough good men to do nothing” — or something close to that. We must be alert to the moment when the ordinary courage of witnessing and truth-telling is no longer enough. To the hour of direct action.

Is it any wonder that the prospect of writing Pale Criminal scares the hell out of me?

the morning after WORD

The morning after a book event, the effort required to crank up a writer’s life is simply too great. I take refuge in the simple and mundane…and single-image poetry.

 

six a.m.

At the hour of silver and gray,
before tricky color seeps into the day,
a crimson electric curve cradles the kettle,
a smile of reassurance:
shortly there will be
hot tea.
Humanity persists.

A Day Late–excerpt from novel I’m currently writing

Personally, I prefer to spend as few of my days as possible in Waikiki—or anywhere on Oahu, for that matter—but it was Spence’s wish to revisit the Arizona memorial and old Honolulu, if any of it was still recognisable from World War II. In those far off days, he trod these streets as a scared and very young navigator with the U.S. Navy. Of course, the place is no more familiar to him now than his grizzled muzzle would be to one of his shipmates from the Lexington, had we run into any of the old geezers at the ritualised visit to the memorial to the sunken Arizona yesterday.

The presentation proved as tedious and self-serving as my last visit to a church. Its only entertainment value was the barked instructions of the young lieutenant or whatever he was, dressed head to toe in traditional white and gold, to the women visitors to cover their bare flesh—Show some respect, Ladies! I stood off to the side with MJ, who was seething with teenaged fury as much over being told what to do with her body by some male as by the glorification of the American past pouring into her ears, wondering if allowing this smarmy version of history into our lives was really a good way to celebrate Spence’s birthday. Dion and Lili weren’t impressed, either—“I’m terminally bored,” as Lili put it. It was no surprise the kids opted to hang out at the hotel this morning while Spence and I ventured into the wilds of Waikiki, telling ourselves we were open to the new while really looking for the past.

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Fireworks

Today’s Natural News newsletter reported the recovery of the Gerson Tapes, which apparently had been missing. These recorded interviews with cancer patients by Charlotte Gerson, director of an alternative-care cancer institute safely located out of the US, reminded me of a long-ago contact with cancer in a child.

It was a heart-breaking case. The kid had been sick for years and doctors had prescribed a transplant. The issue that seemed central was the child’s right, at 16, to decide on her medical care. Socially, it looked like a battle between well-meaning parents bent on natural treatments and doctors bent on the miracles of surgery. Legally, it revealed a black truth whose revelation surely contributes to the death of idealism in lawyers: our government in paying lip service to the needs and rights of children is really most concerned with saving face. Covering its ass. If something is going to go wrong, make it the fault of parents or lawyers or doctors–not the government.

As more and more of our youth develop cancers in an increasingly toxic environment, these dreadful scenarios take place on stages still cluttered with the outmoded yet terrifying scenery of the legal rights and duties of competing professions, businesses and administrations, while before our eyes children sicken and die. The junk of western civilisation plays no small part in preventing good health.

I was so upset, I wrote a story. You may conclude, on reading it, that anyone so naive as I would have done better to avoid becoming a lawyer (or perhaps that lawyers shouldn’t write stories). Going over it today, I feel the tears pricking my eyelids again. I still believe in informed consent, for children as for anyone–the hard part is getting there with clarity and truth, love and compassion. Informed consent entails the practice of rigorous selflessness by all concerned, other than the patient.

Chrysanthemums always remind me of that.

Here is Fireworks.

“Can you get me out of here for the fireworks?” The kid interrupted my lawyer-ese in her thinned voice, throwing back the blue hospital blankets in bravado. I saw the pencil legs, a tarnished brown, and the unused bird-claw feet.

Hers was the kind of bated-breath request my eight-year-old made. Not what I expected from the blistered mouth of this yellow scrawn of a girl. “The Symphony of Fire?”
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“Talking Stones,” a winner

Happy homecoming in more than one way–my poem “Talking Stones”, which I wrote with poet friends on retreat in Maui two years ago, has placed in Little Red Tree Press’ competition and will be published in its anthology late this summer. Not only that, I get a cheque.

Don’t quit your day job for poetry, though–it’s fifty US$. That’s the way of it in poetry. One of the most important human activities, and there’s no money in it.

“Blind Bison Jump” was also selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Here is the poem. Be sure to check out Little Red Tree Press, too.

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