November 24, 2020 § Leave a comment
Coach Milton climbed the bleachers overlooking the football field where on crisp Friday evenings in early Autumn the Fighting Bluejays of Middlesburg High battled other local teams on the gridiron to an insufferable soundtrack of current pop hits arranged for marching band. This was, however, early Spring, a period that marked the beginning of track and field season. At the top of the stands, Coach Milton had a commanding view of the dirt ring that orbited a green sea of turf where an assistant coach led a new crop of would be sprinters, high jumpers and pole vaulters in calisthenics. Watching the gawky teenagers struggle with the coordination required to perform jumping jacks, brought to mind an analogy between track and chorus. It wasn’t his own, he knew next to nothing about music, but was tendered to him by Mrs. Blackmore who at the time was Middlesburg’s chorus instructor. That was in the early part of his teaching career when a new school year promised a fresh start even though they all ended very much the same.
Track is to sports as chorus is to music, a dumping ground for students eager to participate but not talented enough for the football team or the concert band.
How did it go? He lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and fiddled with the little wheel between the lenses to bring into focus a distant point. What emerged from the blur happened to be the shapely rump of a girl genuflecting in a hamstring stretch.
Track is to music, no, that wasn’t right. The looming sky looked as if it could have been an artist’s interpretation of sorrow done in charcoal. He searched it for the answer like a bad student consulting his crib sheet but heaven held no inspiration.
He took another peek at the girls bottom. Oh, yes. Track is to sports as chorus is to music, a dumping ground for students eager to participate but not talented enough for the football team or the concert band.
At first the observation had pissed him off and he had wanted to punch Mrs. Blackmore’s sad, weary face that was made all the more unattractive by her jaded attitude and an enduring puffiness caused by too much wine and sodium. However, each school term since had come to an unwavering conclusion, bringing the idiom into perspective.
He sighed and brought his attention back to the business at hand. In the lenses of his field glasses stood the magnified image of Wilton Brown, his lean regional champion of the 400 meter hurdles. A senior now, he would surely go All-State this year. Coach Milton made a habit of observing his best athletes from different vantage points in order to spot potential weaknesses or strengths that could be exploited. As of yet, he had seen nothing but perfection from his star runner. His measured steps between hurdles were swift and consistent and he leapt over the obstacles with the ease and beautiful grace of a deer hopping a fence. Watching this youth excel reminded Coach Milton that there were indeed rewards to his job.
But just as Brown cleared the final jump and sprinted the remaining stretch to the finish line, the coach felt something tighten in his chest and he grew short of breath. At first he thought he was having a heart attack but seemed to remember hearing somewhere that cardiac arrest always starts in the left arm. He flopped down onto the smooth wood of the bench under the crushing weight of an unpleasant epiphany as lethal as any infarction, albeit much slower, painful and cruel.
It was an utterly banal reflection for a track coach. Nonetheless, he had never thought about it until this moment. All of his life up he had been going in a circle, an endless loop of years. It didn’t matter who came in first or dead last, we all end up right back at the beginning to start all over again. Worse still, he was teaching young people the same circuitous pattern that would lead them spiraling to their own unfulfilled existences until they disappeared like water down the black hole of a drain.
He jumped to his feet, allowing his binoculars to slip from his grasp and go crashing through the crisscross of steel support beams that held the tiered seating erect. He descended the stands at a clumsy pace that nearly caused him to trip twice. He darted to the school parking lot and his dumpy Ford Fiesta with faded paint and a squeaking fan belt that needed changing. He jumped in and raced home.
His wife, who was not expecting him home so soon, was interrupted from her afternoon routine of Boone’s Farm and self pleasure. She wrapped herself in a bathrobe and concocted a haphazard lie about being under the weather as an excuse for her unkempt appearance. Coach Milton took no notice as he pushed passed her into the bedroom without saying a word. He wrestled from the closet the same Samsonite that had carried his things to Myrtle Beach on the couple’s honeymoon years ago. He tossed it into the middle of the sagging mattress and began filling it with items from his chest of drawers.
“Aaron, what on earth are you doing? Do you have a track meet out of town or something? It’s not on the calendar. Aaron?” His wife, still groggy from the effects of wine and mechanized ecstasy, watched her husband’s erratic packing in an indifferent stupor that suggested she didn’t really care if he answered or not.
From behind the screen of the front door she watched Aaron Milton fling his single piece of luggage into the gaping rear of the hatchback and drive away. She waited for him to return the next day and the next. After two weeks she called her friend Sandy at Coldwell Banker and put the house on the market.
November 13, 2020 § 1 Comment
Most everyone who reads this post had a terrible 2020. We couldn’t travel and lost those vacation deposits. We were isolated at home like political prisoners under house arrest. Visits to family and friends were highly curtailed. Worse, maybe you knew someone who passed because of all this. I can’t speak to your neck of the woods but New York city is not much without its bars, restaurants, museums, movie theaters, concerts and impulse clothing purchases.
Frankly, it doesn’t do any good to contribute to the babel of of discontent. So, in an effort to be affirmative, hopefully without coming across as sappy, I offer you a post that focuses on the positive things that happened to me in this dreadful year.
I survived skin cancer and a brain tumor all during a pandemic while the city of New York deteriorated into crime, chaos and sorrow. I endured three surgeries, four MRIs, daily radiation therapy and countless lab and doctor visits. If I did not have good insurance I would be buried in debt for the rest of my natural life, no matter how long I live on. My odds for a successful recovery were greatly increased just by my zip code and the access I have to the best health care in the whole world.
2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese horoscope. Specifically, 2020 is the year of the Metal Rat. (No, not that one). Most of us in the West would consider a rat to be a fitting representative for a nasty 365 days but The Rat has a different meaning in Chinese culture. According to what I have gleaned from the interwebs, The Rat is “resourceful” and the Metal Rat, moreover, is “strong, determined, and resolute.”
The article above goes on to describe how the other signs will fair in 2020. Sheep like me will “be able to sail through 2020 with minimal problems.” I wouldn’t go that far (I kinda got sheared, ha! ha!) but I did lucky, like lotto winner lucky.
Even if you weren’t as fortunate as me, I hope you are alright and I urge you to be like a Metal Rat and get through the rest of the next month and half in one piece. See you in 2021 or, if you prefer, the Year of the Ox.
February 12, 2020 § Leave a comment
Nature paints a violent portrait
In a thick impasto of worried gray, bruised maroon, frigid blue
Gulls get stuck in the oil
Invisible wind punishes the sea grass
And blows sand onto the canvas
Blending with the palette’s tortured colors
Half a tube of titanium is squeezed
To frost the curling surf
Endless coils of leaden thunder break
In silence behind rain distorted glass
The stormy world melts with a Van Gogh eye
December 4, 2019 § Leave a comment
I bought myself a parrot
A kaleidoscope of tropical hues
Bleeding from jungle flowers
I tried to teach her to talk:
“Pieces of Eight”
“I love you”
“Scotch and soda”
She just squawks
She flaps her clipped wings
She makes a mess
Yet each time I try,
Each time I try returning her to the pet store,
She talks me out of it
November 12, 2019 § Leave a comment
Whenever I have a bout of insomnia I try to make the best use of my time. I usually try and sort things out that I have been ruminating on during the day. But I never accomplish much. Moreover, it is very dangerous. Although I am conscious of being awake, I think my subconscious is more active than I realize and I can’t form coherent thoughts. You can’t trust what your mind tells you in this state. It must be what a schizophrenic experiences when a shadowy character in his head tells him that nothing good will ever happen and he should go jump off a building. If you make it through the night things always look better in the morning. Even still, insomnia is a miserable way to spend the evening.
Seven shards of moonlight
Shimmer on the sill
Brittle as silver ice
Shaved from a frozen block of midnight
Ghosts pace their cells
Behind glowing bars
Sliced from brutal street lamps
By Venetian blades
Never welcome 3 A.M.
Or shake her sable hand
She tricks you into talking
In dark, spinning circles while she snores to mock you
Four turns five in nine chimes
Wood grain drinks the melting ice, ghosts go free
The Angel of Dawn descends
And slowly stretches out on the carpet
October 31, 2019 § Leave a comment
I compose a humble prayer for rain
The paper drinks my ballpoint dry
Below a sheet of baking tin
In the steaming thicket locusts drone
Like monks they murmur
Invocations for a cool shower?
Who knows what locusts want.
Locusts are always hungry
“They will cry out with shouts of victory”
A plague of drought descended earlier
It’s too too late for supper
Our crops wither
Down the highway rolls the swarm
Gnawing tires whine and hum
Off to McDonald’s or the markets?
God knows what humans do.
I check my empty refrigerator again
The air is cool like a cloudless sky
Above a sheet of baking tin
My prayer for rain remains unanswered
September 6, 2019 § Leave a comment
Flames in your eyes
Black gunpowder, short fuse
Built for beauty, for speed
Waiting to go up in smoke
One spark is all
Bottle to be strong
Wake up you lazy Guardians
Will you sleep too through this blast?
Prepare a room in Father’s house
Here comes another bottle rocket
Exploding into night
March 6, 2019 § Leave a comment
When I first met Bernard I thought, judging from the dark smudge on his forehead, that I had missed Ash Wednesday. And for an instant I found myself in that terrifying world of dementia, an ugly, swirling world of lost moments and strangers with strange voices, a world where my mother had been spending more and more her time. The strong grip of Bernard’s handshake quickly restored my senses and transformed the dark, liturgical blemish into some sort of birthmark with irregular edges.
Bernard dealt in antiquities not antiques, my sister had joked, but antiquities; he worked in the admissions office of Oak Grove Retirement Community helping elderly clients in their transition from independence to assisted living.
He arrived on the front porch of the house in which I grew up and was preparing to sell with a briefcase full of brochures and paperwork. I invited him in and led the way to the sun room in back of the house through a maze of packed boxes and furniture wrapped in stretch film and moving blankets. I made him comfortable and went to the kitchen to pour coffee.
I returned to find Bernard sitting in front of documents neatly spread out on mother’s prized glass-topped table presumably in the order in which they were to be presented. It was a beautiful day and the sun streaming in through the windows reflected brightly off the gloss of an Oak Grove pamphlet.
Bernard tapped lightly on the table’s surface, “In my home country, it is popular with tourists to go for an excursion in a glass-bottomed boat to see the coral reefs and colorful fish without the need for diving.”
I stared through the table and tried to imagine the beauty of Neptune’s aquatic kingdom but could only see a tile floor in desperate need of sweeping. I looked back up at Bernard’s beaming smile as if he was pleased to share a wonder with me.
“This process I know is very difficult but I will help you and your family through it,” he assured me while unfolding some of the community’s literature and sliding it under my nose like a menu.
For many years after my father had died mother continued on with the diurnal routines of the retired: gardening, church, choir, volunteering for charity work. If during this time she had experienced episodes brought about by diminished cognizance it is not certain.
However, one afternoon she drove her Lincoln through the Buchanan’s boxwood hedge and onto the front lawn because she claimed it was the parking lot of her podiatrist’s office. This embarrassing event culminated with a visit to a neurologist who gave us a grim diagnosis.
Once dependent on others for transportation her activities dropped off. My sister and I took turns getting her to church, although a few mornings I would arrive at the house to find her still in bed. And once, on a Friday evening during a routine check-in, I found her waiting by the door dressed in her Sunday best and fuming that we would be late for the processional hymn.
Dick Dillon, organist and choir director, called me at work to say mother was no longer able to read the music on the page and insisted on singing an old show tune.
The worst of it came one night when a frantic message from my sister summonsed me over to mother’s. When I let myself in she called to me from the darkened sun room where she had taken refuge on a chaise lounge. The windows around her were like slabs of slick onyx. She had pulled her sweater around knees like a teenager curled into a ball of insecurity and her eyes were puffy and red. She had raided my stash of beer that I kept in a mini-fridge in the garage and two empty cans were on the floor beside her.
Before I sat down I asked if I needed to get a beer for myself before she told what had happened.
That night, while preparing for bed, mother had spoken to a woman in the bathroom mirror. That woman had told her she was going to die and be judged for terrible sins.
“That’s what mom said,” my sister told me in a quavering voice, ‘she pointed into the mirror and said it just like that.”
She apologized for drinking my beer but that she desperately needed something to soothe her nerves and that the first one tasted so good she had another.
“This is all very natural,” Bernard reassured me while we went over the benefits and amenities of Oak Grove before moving on to the legal documents. “Your mother will have the best of care and be with people of her generation. That will be fun for her. And don’t worry, with the house sold there will be plenty of funds to cover expenses.”
While Bernard spoke and shuffled papers I gazed at his birthmark. I wanted to see it once again as an ashen cross.
January 3, 2019 § Leave a comment
We know how Red feels
The more it is touched
But how does Red taste?
Like blood? The blood of Christ?
Ruby Bordeaux with a ribeye
Red and blue coalesce into luxurious purple
The palatine shade of sovereign indulgence
Red meat on the bone and exclusive vintages
The color of a pulsing vein
Engorged with warm, hot, inflamed