Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On The Road To Nebraska: Pt. 2 The Fire At The Center Of The Earth

The flame rushed over his skin. The flame was his skin. The flame tasted of tangerines and lemon and cinnamon and saffron. The flame smelled of lilies of the valley and blood and hot iron. The world was gone. The road was gone. The truck was gone. Everything was gone except for the flame and the voice. The voice that spoke in a million voices at once. The voice that spoke as the wind speaks, it blows and rushes down from high mountain peaks. The voice spoke to Sal and Sal heard. He heard by God. He heard God. He heard religion.

He felt the pain of Jesus on the cross. He felt the grief of Abraham with the knife. He walked with Buddha down flower lined paths in grace. He was in that cave with Mohammed. He was the lightning. He was the rain. For a minute he was a cloud, a cloud formation rushing over the plains and he was a herd of buffalo below himself galloping and then he was the rain pouring down onto them and then he was the rain falling onto soldiers on the battlefield and he was the rain and the blood from the soldiers and he was the rain and the blood and mud. He was the mud that a seed sprouted in. That a vine grew from. Then he was the vine. Then he was the fruit of the vine and so on until at last he drifted down into the center of things and saw a bush burning with fire and heard a voice speak to him again.

It was dark and light dancing. The voice was the edges where the two met. The voice was the whole of it all. Sal heard. Sal listened. Sal shivered with the energy of it.

Comprehension, pure comprehension rushed into him then. Sal saw what it was to be a wave. What it was to be a particle. Saw the sum of all the knowledge that will ever be. Saw the sum of all the knowledge that could ever be. He understood for a moment the actual history of eye color in humans, he knew all the people with blue eyes that had ever existed. He watched history unfold from the first eye mutation. Blue, and brown and green and black and yellow and purple and red and sea gray and white. All the human eye colors that ever existed. Sal saw the lives of every single one of them, and then he saw the lives of every single person with those eyes and he could not hold on.

He was a pipe through which this flowed. It was a rope that ran through his hands. He couldn't squeeze onto it or it would burn. Burn his soul, burn his mind. He knew then that wisdom was to ride this wave to let himself be carried on its surface. To let what needed to be shown to him shown to him.

He saw the impact that created the moon. He saw the neurons fire in the first person to think that the moon was created by an impact, it was a woman in the distant past and she knew about asteroids and impacts before the knowledge meant anything to anybody. She was a priestess of the moon and marked its changes and faces and passage through the sky. She knew the earth was a sphere. She knew the earth orbited the sun. She also knew that her lover was sleeping with a man. She knew many secrets and did not tell.

Sal saw the purpose of his life; and wept for it was at once too much and too little. He was not the savior of humanity. He was not the soul of us. He knew that he would die emptied and hollowed out by the world. He would be chained. He saw that he would pour ashes in his hair. He saw that no one would know his grave. It would be a meadow just off a high mountain pass in Wyoming and he would walk there and die in only fifteen years. He would lay down in the melting snow and the sun would warm his body and the animals would feast on his flesh and flowers would grow around him and only God would know how he died.

This all flowed past him. He felt drawn towards the bush that burns. He felt the voice wash over him. The knowledge that he gained with each step towards it was more and more important and made the knowledge from the previous step less and less important.

When he got to the bush he sank down to his knees. It was a collapse. It was appropriate. It was orgasmic. It was like the fall of Rome. It was like giving into a knife being thrust in your heart, that last gasp you give before you fall dead. It was like the last push through before you and your lover cum together. It was the very last bit of resistance. He sank down to his knees on soft white sand, like a lover yielding, dying, giving in, giving up. It was appropriate and good.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

On The Road To Nebraska: Part 1. A Voice Like Trumpets Sounding

After a hundred thousand miles in a year the road starts to get wearisome. Sal was weary of the road that's for damn sure. He needed a vacation. Needed a break. Sal needed to stop crossing Nebraska. East and West and back again, always on I-80.  The winter sun was setting. Always setting. The CB was full of the same idiots and Sal was tired of the radio stations he got on this part of the run. He liked outlaw country but that was about all he could listen to on the radio out here and he was tired of it. Sal was weary of just about everything. The flat land around him looked tired too. The fields that stretched out on either side of the road and he was tired of trying to conceive of where they ended. Somewhere south, to the right, they ended in the Gulf of Mexico. Did they though? Sal wasn't sure. He'd need to look at a map. The question of whether or not Mexico or the Gulf of Mexico was directly south of him at the present moment carried Sal for twenty miles and then it faded into the grey-brown distance of the fields. There was only the monotony of the endless plains, the endless low rises and dips. There was only the low hanging clouds that never seemed to go away, never seemed to let any sunshine in. There was the road which Sal's eyes read as a moving image, the endless stream of a broken line down the center and the painted yellow on the right and on the left. Bridges went over the truck. Exit ramps flew up on the right and on ramps descended. Somewhere outside of Grand Island, 80 closed down to one lane. Construction for six miles. The cars slowed down, and then they all stopped and then Sal heard a voice and a light flashed and a voice spoke and everything went black.

The voice was so loud he couldn't hear what it said. It spoke with such force that he couldn't comprehend individual sounds or words. The voice spoke to him without moving the air. It raised the hairs on his arms and sent pulsing waves of shivers down his spine and down his limbs. He shook and shivered and spasmed and quivered and the truck lurched forward and his foot hit the brake and it stopped. Sal was deafened and blinded and suddenly alive in a silent black void.

The endless fields of grey brown were gone. The winter sun had set and the world turned into a pool of ink. He felt wind move over him, he felt fire in his gut, he felt each and every one of the hairs on his head stand up. Stand straight up. He had lost control of his body, it moved on without him. He was present though. He was present and felt everything. Heard everything. Couldn't comprehend everything it was too much. It's like when you loose yourself staring into a fire at night only with your whole body. The word is fascinated. The word fascinated is not enough to describe what happened to Sal on highway I-80 in the middle of Nebraska. 

The door to the truck was opened and somebody put the thing in park and Sal was unbuckled from his seat. Hands lifted him up. He felt touched by light. Wind whispered over his skin. He felt every fiber in his clothes. He felt every hair in his body stand on end. He could smell the engine. He could smell the heat from the brakes on his truck. He could smell sweat and fear, his own sweat and fear, and the fear and sweat of the people pulling him from the truck. He could smell every idling car on the highway backing up behind them.

How do you know when God has called you? In the Bible they say that God speaks with a voice as loud as trumpets. Sal didn't have time to think though sight-blinded, and the rushing wind of the world sussuring in his ears. He couldn't think, couldn't process, is nerves were on fire from the heightened sensations rushing in through his skin. He could taste the air now, not just smell it, could taste it, and it was like breathing in water. He felt as if he was thrown into a hot bath of glass. Everything moved thick and slow and seared him with the heat. How do you know when God has called you? How do you know there is such a thing as God? How do you know that you're not experiencing a psychotic break?

There was no time for fear. There was no time. There was only infinity in the hands and the wind.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Birthday Candles

Julie blew out the lone candle on her birthday cake and wished really hard. Her breath hit the flame and the flame went out and smoke followed her breath and left a trail in the air. Everyone looked at her and smiled and asked what she wished for. She told them she couldn't say, that it would ruin the wish if she said it out loud. 

Truthfully she couldn't say what she wished for. Some years ago a melancholy had gripped her and hadn't let go. It was the slow sinking kind of melancholy. It was like she imagined life in winter in the Pacific Northwest must be. Not cold enough to kill you outright, but cold all the same, and always there, dripping and raining and sapping your strength. 

Her parents had moved to Arizona sometime early in her memory. They moved from Missouri and while she didn't have any specific memories she remembered green, bright green and three was something back there with waving grass, and a thunderstorm. 

The smoke alarm went off then and Julie's mom realized she'd never turned the oven off after she took out the roast and the yellow squash and the zucchini. Suzanne got up from the table and knocked over her wine glass in her haste to get to the oven. Marv got up and dragged his chair by the back to a spot below the smoke alarm. He stood on his chair and disassembled the alarm and took out the battery. He put the battery in his shirt pocket and got down from the chair. Julie watched thinking to herself that something about the way her father moved so methodically would be important to remember. She thought maybe someday he'd die and this is what she would remember about him. Then she mentally flogged herself for thinking about this. 

Julie's boyfriend Stan got up from his spot and went to the kitchen to see if he could help her mom. Stan was always useful like that, Julie resented him for this. It's what the melancholy does. 

Julie's melancholy turned people upside down and inside out around her. She would think of things that she should love about people. She would make long lists of their redeeming qualities and then begin to think less of them for these traits. Julie suspected this was because somewhere along the line she had learned to hate herself on some level. She suspected that she disliked people for their good traits because she thought she deserved to be miserable. Julie sat at the table and watched everyone around her move with competence and purpose and she felt jealousy. She was jealous of the way her Dad took the smoke alarm apart without a worry that he might break it. She was jealous of the way her Mom remembered the root of the problem and went to go fix it. She was jealous of the way her father and mother worked perfectly as a team, disassembling the parts of the problem, the smoke and the noise from the smoke alarm. She was jealous of the way her boyfriend tried to help.

She knew intellectually that nobody expected her to solve this problem. She also knew that didn't matter. Julie sat at the table and brooded and looked at the cake in front of her with the lone candle on top of it. The candle wick was burnt and curled in on itself and the pink wax had melted away from the outside and showing the white underneath. Julie looked at it and felt disgust, the old familiar light dusting of disgust she felt when she looked in the mirror. Not good enough. Sick. Wrong. Waxy and pale and poorly shaped and curled in on herself. Just like the half-melted pink candle. She wondered if her purpose was over. If she'd had a flame and it had been lit and blown out and if she could be re-lit or if she should just be put in a drawer or thrown away. 

Her father and mother and boyfriend came back to the table. Julie tried to pull all the black muck of her thoughts deeper inside, tried to shove it down and not let it show. She practiced this quite a bit. She shoved it down and tried to have a good time. Smiled as her mom passed her a plate with cake and ice cream on it. Mint chocolate chip. Green like Missouri. Inside she felt gray and rainy like the pacific northwest. Outside the sun blazed and baked away the suburbs of Phoenix. 

After they ate their cake her mom took the candle out and put it in a box in a drawer. It had twenty-three single candles, all a little burnt, showing some of their insides, a little melted and shaped weird. She put the box in a drawer in the back of a closet upstairs. She stroked the outside of the box before closing the drawer. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From The Passenger Seat Of A Plymouth Voyager

Stuck on the highway. In the cold like this. Stuck on the highway with the car broken. In the fucking cold. They're all gonna drive by me, half way between the Twin Cities and Des Moines and they'll see my fucking car stuck on this fucking highway and think I'm some sort of idiot who doesn't know how to read a gas gauge, or I'm some kind of incompetent idiot who drove into the ditch and they won't know that I died.

They won't know that I bled out in the passenger seat from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the thigh. They won't know that I saved somebody else's life. They won't know that it doesn't matter anyway because right after I saved her life she walked out into the blizzard and she's probably dead. They'll just think I'm some sort of dumb idiot.

And I am, and so is Christine. Christ. Who brings a loaded gun on the way to a family gathering? A meth head that's who. Fucking Christine. God damn it. I knew she and Brad where on some fucking shit the moment I got in this fucking Plymouth Mini-Van.

I hope the tourniquet holds. I hope I don't die in this fucking Mini-Van. The ambulance is on its way, but I hope they can see me in this fucking blizzard.

Fuck. Don't go into shock. How am I supposed to not go into shock? You're a goddamned asshole. You know that? Well at least I'm not the asshole who brought a loaded gun. No you're the asshole who tried to take a loaded gun from a meth head who was driving in a blizzard waving a gun around.


I'm so tired of her shit. She's my younger sister and she was always jealous of me. That's the way younger sisters are.

When I was pregnant for the first time she went out and got pregnant too. Even though Chuck and I were married. Christine just had to go out and get pregnant. Then she lost the baby. I wouldn't put it past her to actually lose the baby, but no she was just doing a lot of drugs and lost the baby because her body was shutting down from whatever she was doing.

I'm tired of being grouchy. I'm tired of being the one that always cleans everything up. We're too old for this shit Christine. I'm forty-three my kids are teenagers.

God I'm pissed.

I hope that ambulance fucking gets here.

New. Personal rule. Never get any vehicle with Christine. Even when you think she's been sober for eight months. Note To Meg. Fuck Christine. I honestly don't care if she dies out there. Like from a logistical level now.

I know, I know, that sounds cold, but that bitch just shot me in the leg on our way to Mom and Dad's house.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. That hurts.

There's the ambulance.



Goddamn it Christine.

All Piling Up

The snow fell deep that winter. It covered everything. It piled until you couldn't hardly see the mailbox by early January, and then they had to dig out a hole in the snow for the mail to be put in the box by mid-January. The Jorgenson's dog had to wear little boots on its paws because of the salt everybody spread around. The cold and the salt made her paws crack and bleed if she didn't wear the little boots. She hated the boots. When you looked at her you could see her lowering her head in shame and she walked funny because of the boots. She didn't trust them. That was Sheila for you though. If you tried to give Sheila a treat she wouldn't take it from your hand like most dogs. She would make you set it down on the ground and then she'd smell it for a minute or two and look up at you accusingly, like you'd tricked her before. I never tricked Sheila. I like dogs. I wouldn't do that to a dog.

I was cheating on my taxes though.

And my wife, but she was cheating on me too. We both knew about the other's affairs. Hers was with a guy she liked in college. I had always hated him. He talked close to you at parties and tried to get you to agree with him about everything. It always seemed to me like he was trying to sell me something, like selling me on the fact that he and my wife weren't fucking.

I went the more traditional route. My little affair was with one my students, Irene. She was never going to play the piano professionally. Hell, I barely play the piano professionally and I'm a professor.  Irene had a real mind for music though. She was going to make one hell of a musicologist and I told her so one day after we had finished having sex. I told her the part about not being able to play the piano professionally.

"It's nothing personal, you just don't have the chops, and I'm only a little bit better than you. I know you'll be better than me in a couple of years." I told her as I stubbed out a cigarette.

She was still smoking hers and I thought for a minute that she was going quiet, quiet before the storm. I thought she was going subite to gather her energy before attacking me forte. She didn't do that though.  She just looked up at me, and said "I know."

As I waited for the storm that never came I composed a speech about how the assholes with the talent get burned out anyway. They have to practice six hours a day and study for another six and that's just to break even, and the truly talented assholes have been doing all of that since they were seven so they've never had a life, and it's much easier and better in my opinion to just be a professor. But all I said was "It's nothing personal" and the awkwardness filled the room. You could hear her old radiator ticking as the metal warmed up, hear footsteps deep somewhere in her old shitty apartment building.

Outside it was starting to snow.

That winter I stopped cheating on my wife. I think she stopped cheating on me with Stephen. I'm pretty sure. We never brought it up. I think we didn't bring it up because both of us had gathered evidence of the other cheating. I was waiting to use my evidence on her when as a knockout punch in a fight. I had it planned out. She was going to get me on the ropes at some point, she always did. My wife, Sarah, is a much better fighter than I am. She kicks my ass up and down the street. Sarah remembers everything and she knows how to duck and dodge around arguments. I'll bring up something perfectly logical and she'll twist right past it like she's made of water. Like she didn't even hear me. Like what I said didn't even matter. Other times she'll act like I pinned her down and skewered her and she'll make me feel like a monster for it, and I just thought I was fighting fire with fire.

I really do love my wife.

I think it's just that we got married too young, or maybe I'm an asshole. I think they're both true. I am an asshole. Things can change, though.

Sarah was doing dishes that night I came back from Irene's. The night when Irene told me she knew she wasn't going to be a professional piano player. It was snowing. Sarah was doing the dishes with her back turned to me and I don't know what happened.

We're in our mid-forties, and long ago we talked about not having children. I think we both resented each other for how easy that decision was. What I'm trying to say is that our house had been cold and cerebral for a long long time. That's a big reason why neither of us really cared about the other's affair.

For some reason though, when I got home that night. When I saw her doing my dishes, it just came out of my mouth, the first thing I said when I walked through the door.

"I'm home." and I meant it.

It snowed a lot that winter, and we didn't care. Sarah and I, we didn't care one bit. We didn't care. We just fell in love again. Like we hadn't been since we were kids.