Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Spider and the Bell

The parson stays close to her Bible
by the cat who runs after a ball.
The sexton packs up his shovel.
The spider sits still on the bell.

Ring for the cat!
And ring for the spider!
Pray for the parson
gone out on a call!
Sing for the sexton
trimming the roses!
Ring out the bell
and roll out the ball!

Tonight the parson is snoring.
Tonight the sexton is sleeping.
The cat curls up with a shoelace,
and the spider runs into the bell.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cat in the Teacher's Seat! Usurper!

Standing Amitabha Buddha, Kamakura Period

Our vision tired
from all this old looking,
we have come to rest our eyes
upon the standing Amitabha
back at the entrance
to the whole museum.

His weathered gold on wood
looks like a memory of fire.
The carved folds of fabric
ripple too finely, as if within
three feet are spanned leagues
through mists to a clearer heaven.

One hand gestures to tell us
there's nothing left to fear...
except there's that demon's mask
on the white wall behind him!
His face expresses what we haven't seen
since our arrival. We see it again having taken
in pine trees brushed black
on fine, folding screens,
and then the old Chinese cups
of cracked clay patched in gold.
(They were not thrown out, the broken,
but became great treasures yet.)
It must be the greatest wealth
his other hand extends to us unseen,
a free offer that lights his face
brighter in the giving
than any object here.

We walk away unsure
exactly what we are after,
what we might manage to do,
you and I, with our visit over
and all the little time left
of a Sunday afternoon.
We are tired and could stay
only a little longer with
the standing Amitabha,
this one who stays nothing but alert
and tells us the traveling is done at last,
done everywhere at speed or slowly,
everywhere beyond the exit of this place,
its heavy and brilliant glass doors.

link to sculpture

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Addresses of of Lost Pens

A year of so after my father left a job to move our family back to the Midwest, his old boss sent me the gift of a Parker ballpoint pen. A reflexive exaggeration would be for me to say I've had the pen forever, but when I stop to sift time through the rational sieve of a calendar, it seems the pen and I have been together--more or less--for about 45 years. In common with many Parker ballpoints from the era, this retractable has no button but is operated by pushing the back end toward the front, and it's a mechanism that has provided me a little amusement over the years when strangers have asked to borrow the pen, and a moment of not knowing passes their faces.

I've latched on to a number of objects for inexplicable reasons: a found salt shaker top, a piece of a tree's calyx that happened to fall into my jacket pocket during an autumn walk, an eraser from sixth grade. The Parker pen remains the longest-lasting and most practical of the material attachments, since I have chosen it to be the implement for all the writing I've done creatively until just a few years ago. Then I changed to a Parker fountain pen. The choice of a fountain and its smoothness of action was made as a gesture to what I believe is increasing arthritis that is worse when my hand bears down. The choice of a Parker I made for no other reason than sentimentality for the brand with its trademark Apollonian arrow.

What's remarkable about my pen's history, part of which I imagine as the straightened line of cursive writing it has laid down expressed as a ratio of the distance from here to the Moon, is the bald fact that I have not lost it. Many times the pen has turned up missing only to appear again under a magazine or in another desk or next to the salt shaker top or, most dramatically--and this has happened several times--having survived the washing machine and dryer. I usually spend the time between lost and found in a state of agitation and find the pen's bright steel body only after having given up plowing stacks of books, papers and clothes.

This morning I again found myself at a loss for my ballpoint. After bustling back in from the air of yet another Indiana polar vortex to search my car for the pParker, I complained all-too-piously to my Zen teacher of the silliness of being attached to pens. "But they help you write," he replied. Then he suggested that if I clean my room, I might find my pen. Yes, that's right. I live in a Zen temple and my room looks like it barely contained the blast of a fragmentation grenade. A bit of shaming and not-terribly-original-wisdom in my school is that a disordered room reflects a disordered mind. My only rejoinder to this is to note that, yes, every single time I sit down to meditate, I see a disordered mind. But my reply to my teacher lacked sassy energy. "Maybe. But I think I lost it at that print shop, not in my room."

Yes, the "print shop," because yesterday I went to an appointment at one to investigate an unsolicited and vague offer of a work opportunity. Having finally put on my suit with pocketed pen and allowing a computer algorithm to select a route for me to this place I'd never been, I smartly embarked. But the algorithm knew places to turn on streets that didn't seem to exist, and my detours around these questionable avenues lead to further detours caused by Indianapolis's unending roadwork. Slowly I drifted across the grid of streets to a utility-line-and-railroad-scarred section of town, running late on that cold and glaring afternoon.

On instinct, and not because I saw any sign indicating the name of the final street to my destination, I turned into a small, light-industrial campus that housed several business interests, all of which had the same name, "Chronos", but with different subdivisions: Chronos Engineering, Chronos Marketing, Chronos Storage. The campus showed no activity on its neat, little streets, and I drove around trying to find my destination. Picking a door that had the word "reprographics" on it, I entered a clean, workshop with a number of copiers, printers and high-end scanners. No one else seemed present. Doors to the right led to clean, unoccupied offices. Doors to the left led to a warehouse full of objects I could not identify, and it too was abandoned. Feeling frustrated in this industrial ghost town I cried, "Hello! Is there anyone here?"

Just as I was about to get back into my car, someone appeared at the reprographics door and asked what I needed. "Chronos Press?" He indicated a building across the street that, as far as I was concerned, had appeared only when I then turned to see it.

"I think I have a one o'clock appointment with Mr. Chronos," I told his receptionist. Much of my confidence had fled by now and left me the expectation of the unexpected. Expecting the unexpected, it arrived. Probably because of our cramped communication via LinkedIn, and also probably due to my suit-wearing, pen-loving manners of the previous century, I had failed to understand that today's conversation was meant to happen on the telephone. Chronos himself was not in the office today, but I spoke to him for a while from a phone in a vacant office on the premises. And all this is more than anyone needs to know about my adventure to the Chronos print shop, except perhaps to say that this morning I imagined my Parker pen lying abandoned there on a desk in a room off the lobby of those echoey premises.

And such were my thoughts upon returning to my room after breakfast this morning to plow my room over once more in search of my ballpoint. A few minutes later, having resigned to waiting for the pen to turn up in its own sweet time or to become an eternal part of the mysterious Chronos Group's office supplies, I walked out my door to see the pen lying just outside in the depression between the threshold and the hallway carpet.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote of his fictional world of Tlön that:

 "[c]enturies and centuries of idealism [there] have not failed to influence reality. In the most ancient regions of Tlön, the duplication of lost objects is not infrequent. Two persons look for a pencil; the first finds it and says nothing; the second finds a second pencil, no less real, but closer to his expectations. These secondary objects are called hrönir and are, though awkward in form, somewhat longer."*

Borges explains that the usual ways in which hrönir are produced are "distractions and forgetfulness." My pen has been lost and found so many times--and today it has appeared in a most improbable location--that it's easy to entertain the idea it is no longer the original pen my father's boss gave me, but is in fact another object. Perhaps it appears in my life to call attention to some kind of discontinuity in time and space. Perhaps tit indicates a grand unity of the cosmos in which a difference in location is a mere shift of the mind. One moment the pen lies on the clean, cool desk of a printing sales rep; the next it lies at my feet pretending that all along I had been walking back and forth over it in my frantic search. Perhaps it whispers that  location is a toggle in reality, the difference between, say, Chronos Photography and Chronos Catering, separated more by a word than by a windy, empty street. A shift in words; a change in address. Or perhaps, as that marvelous American blowhard Charles Fort suggested, there is another realm lost things go to, a "Super Sargasso Sea" full of our lost pencils, socks and paper clips that occasionally break free of those mystic waters and beach themselves back in our equally lint-filled reality.

Fanciful thoughts aside, I'm glad to have my ballpoint back, and will probably get another, new Parker ball pen to serve traveling writing needs. Why continue to put a beloved antique at risk of loss?

One day, though, I will reach for it, and it will have retired at last from existence.. It will be where lost things go, and stay there. In the meantime, my workhorse pen is the fountain. As I said, over the years writing with the ball point has become more awkward and painful, even though the pen itself has grown unaccountably more attractive.

*Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", James E. Irby, tr., Labyrinths, New Directions, 1964, p 13.

Big Trouble Brews At Burroughs High

The school board took the controversial decision to cancel the rest of the 2014
Pictured left to right: Burroughs High football coach
Benway and varsity captain Bill "Bull" Lee
brew up some trouble.
Burroughs High School football season at an emergency meeting last night after "serious allegations" that members of the varsity team produced and abused a powerful hallucinogenic drug.

The controversy started two weeks ago when an unnamed varsity player attacked and tried to bite an opposing Jefferson High player, screaming that his victim was in reality a "tasty" alien from another galaxy.

TheBurroughs player later tested positive for an exotic drug known as "black wax".

The drug may be unknown to some parents, but local students take the substance for granted. A Burroughs cheerleader who refused to be interviewed walked away from this reporter complaining, "All the teams at the other schools do wax. It's not like anyone's been raped. What's the big deal?"

After the incident at the Burroughs game, one freshman posted an internet video that went viral and described the process of making the black wax.

"It's a kind of mold," says the freshman, who protects his anonymity in the video by disguising himself as a purple-rumped baboon. "One day a senior came to me in the locker room and said, 'Hey, kid. Wanna cultivate some wax?' And I said, 'Would I? Thought you'd never ask, Mac!" The spores are carried in the gills of a rare aquatic centipede. So he puts one in my ear to nest. It really hurt at first."

The freshman continues to describe how the centipede dies in the ear canal and the spores germinate there. "And a couple of weeks later," the freshman says in the video, "that senior comes back and licks the wax out of my ear, and he gets himself real smoothed out. Trouble is it turns his lips purple."

"No one got hurt," protested Mrs. McCann, mother of a varsity player at last night's school board meeting. "Our boys don't deserve to have their lives ruined by cancelling the scholarship, I mean season. All they were doing was acting like boys," she continued.

Although she was clearly stressed by wearing her giant centipede costume, she managed to scream, "Only because our school board chairman is an impostor from another galaxy is this mockery of human tragedy forced upon us!"

"Now, now, now," declared the chairman in sync with his gavel. "The matter before the board has nothing whatever to do with my diplomatic status in this or any other galaxy. Murrg blork bork!"

This intrepid reporter tracked down varsity football coach Benway for the straight locker room dope.

Sporting orange lip gloss and a 9mm auto loader, Benway cordially allowed me to interview him while engaging in target practice in the Burroughs gym. A linebacker stood twenty paces away with an apple on his head and a cheerleader looked on.

"Don't be absurd," Benway said, "It isn't as if we sacrificed the freshmen by tying them to the goal posts and feeding them live to giant centipedes."


"That's how we did it in the old days, when baboons were baboons."


"Control is very important when you play at the varsity level, and the black wax keeps everything under control. Not that I need the stuff myself."


He lowered the pistol a moment and yelled, "Hey, Mac! Quit squirming so much when I shoot at you! Makes you look like a damn sissy!"


Then he signaled the cheerleader who scraped thin liquid into a jar from the quivering linebacker's leg using credit card. Benway stared as if transfixed, licking the orange gloss from his upper lip to reveal pulsating purple papules.

"At least nothing untoward is happening," he concluded.

On a pyramid in the Yucatan a candidate managed to say, "Something has gone horribly wrong," before his eyes turned into cold stones.