Monday, May 23, 2011

Sea Horse . . . Fragment One


He'd been alone on the island for three years now. Or maybe four, he couldn't keep track anymore. Why keep track? He was inclined to getting depressed if he knew it was Tuesday, a day of the week with terrible associations, so this is what he did. He watched the stars and the phases of the moon, and he noticed when it was getting cold -- he knew the seasons by their presence, not by some calendar. 
The island was three square miles, he had flown over it once in the government helicopter, during a military survey and it struck him strange that the island was shaped like a trophy he'd won as a schoolboy for running a cross country race, some sort of overgrown pewter bonbon dish. He smiled every time he thought of it, that he lived in a bonbon dish in the North Sea. His wife would have smiled too.
The government gave him an out after the accident. They'd set him up on the continent for life; they even sent a psychologist to talk to him, to explore the tears in his armor, to reason with him -- did he understand isolation? Yes was the answer, yes . . . 
There was the lighthouse to attend, the weather station, and now experimental gardening plots. The supply tug came the third Saturday of every month and with it a month's worth of mail -- memos from the government updating him on the Dispute and letters from his father in Vancouver -- wouldn't he visit please? No was the answer, no . . . The Dispute was three hundred years old and the government was always reassurring that the Opponents' claim was fallow. He read the memos always with a glass of whiskey and sometimes late at night mused at the idea of being overrun by the Opponents - he saw them coming by many small fishing boats covered in seaweed and carrying hand made swords and chanting in Portuguese. They'd slit his throat at dawn and burn his thatch roof -- all that would remain is the stonewalls of his home at the base of the lighthouse. The government would send exactly three military helicopters, but the pilots would retreat at the sight of the practically prehistoric Opponents -- they'd bear away from the island, radio in, and say Let them have the godforsaken place.
*****
It was a good day for fishing. There had been a horrendous storm two nights ago that beat the sea to a black froth and kept him at the lighthouse post for thirty hours. The radio was full of voices and static and word of a freighter that had gone down some sixty nautical miles from his cliffs. This was the sea to him, the water took prisoners occasionally just as the moon drove some mad and the sun burned men who were foolish enough to cross the desert. But when the skies cleared, when the sea's belly was satiated, he always crossed himself, and thought of the ship's men, of their bones whitening with the salt of the sea, of their wives left behind . . . sea widows were his sisters. 
And the sea always was happiest and at its most beautiful after a rage, after a kill, and these were the days he felt fine enough to sail and fish -- the sea wouldn't want him or his little green skiff and he could leave the lighthouse and the green house and the puffins. He'd had terribly good luck finding sailfish and dolphin on a southwestern current last time he'd gone out and he decided to take the same tack this time, pushing off from what Adelle used to call Tern Rock.
One mile out, he dropped his sail. He watched the surface of the water as he prepared his rod, pushing bait, mussels he'd pulled the night before, and two hawksbill turtle heads bobbed momentarily, snorted softly, so that only he could hear them, and then they dove. Indeed, it was a good morning. He cast his line and settled in with no expectations -- his father taught him as a boy that expectation rang down the line and tinged off the end of the hook making for nervous fish. His mind drifted to the dream he'd had the night before -- she came to him often in dreams, sometimes it was just an afternoon in the lighthouse, and up the stairs she'd come with tea and a piece of cake, but other times, such as on this night, she crawled between the sheets with him. It was unbearably good to have her straddle over him, her hands pressed on his shoulders, her thighs holding his hips together. And waking was always horrible, because all that was left was the air. He wondered if his longing for her would bring the fish to the hook.
But something came with the green current that wasn't a fish at all. It heaved with struggle, was it a hammerhead? It wasn't. It was something not of the water, this he knew. It was black and monstrous as it made its way toward the skiff. He reeled his line in, empty and light, still laden with mussel meat and tossed the rod back on the deck. The dark apparition came closer and closer, and he caught sight of the white of an eye, and then the horrifying realization came over him that this was nothing but a horse! It blew water from its nostrils as a whale might blow water from its spout.  He absentmindedly reached for the one life jacket he kept aboard the skiff, but realized this was a ridiculous effort, and went instead to raise his sail as the panicked horse pounded the currents at his hull. He called out, "Horse!" and the horse rolled one eye up at him as if to say "Man!" and the wind filled the sail, as the skiff lurched back toward the island, so did the horse. He held the skiff as straight and fine as he could, but his eyes kept falling on the horse who rose and sank with every stride, for she wasn't swimming, she was galloping beneath the currents -- her broad back, her hind quarters machined in a weirdly watery way, as though she was born of the fishes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One Number

Back when I lived on Silver Avenue, my telephone number was one digit off a local bail bondsman. While this was bothersome for me, rousing me from my bed at all hours of the night, it was more than tragic for the caller -- more often than not some poor drunk using their one call to get out of jail and wasting it on me, a girl with no means whatsoever to offer them bail.  It was never easy to tell them that they had reached the wrong number. And after hanging up, I always wondered if the attending policeman would let them dial the number again, or was that it? Their only call, gone because of just one number, the number 3 instead of 2.

But I wasn't the worst case I knew of being one number away from well sought after service. My boyfriend Py's upstairs neighbor was one digit off Greensboro's Time and Temperature. Py lived in the stonewalled basement of a two-story house near campus, and because he had no ceiling and no walls, just ducts and floor boards above his head, we were privy to just about everything that went on in the neighbor's apartment. Which looking back now, I don't think we considered that the reverse was true. We called Py's basement The Cave and the upstairs neighbor La Vaca -- she was a woman of considerable heft, so enormous in fact, that she had difficulty walking and occasionally she fell, which was horrifying to us, because it seemed as though she might come right through the floor and plunge into our quarters. We were fairly certain she spent a fair amount of her time drinking, hence the falling, and the terrible struggles to right herself . . . see? I told you we were privy to it all. I'm not proud of the fact that we never flew upstairs to knock on her door and ask her if she were okay, my only defense is that I was young and more than anything squeamish about La Vaca's life.

So we began to hear La Vaca answering the phone with the same refrain multiple times throughout the day and evening, "Hello? You have the wrong number." And that was it, for a while. But the refrain evolved, "Hello? You have the wrong number. I have no idea what time it is!" And then, "Hello? I cannot give you the Time or the Temperature, please leave me alone!" and finally, "Hello? If you want the Time and the Temperature, dial 0389 not 0388!" Poor La Vaca, her phone was becoming her enemy.

And then? Daylight Savings came, the day of reckoning. We knew it was coming and we wondered if she knew? Would she take action? Would she call the phone company and change her number before it was too late?

The calls began flooding in sometime after midnight and we heard her kitchen chair drag across the the linoleum, where she plunked it down solidly next to what we imagined was a wall phone next to her refrigerator. The phone would ring, and La Vaca would answer it briskly before the second ring ever came, and in a voice we had never heard from her before, a strong, professional voice, one that might come out of your radio, she would recite the precise Time and a Temperature, that by our calculations from the little thermometer we had hanging outside The Cave under a dogwood tree, was practically spot on. She manned her post all night and throughout the next day enduring the Time Change and assisting those who had simply dialed 8 instead of 9.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Parts

There used to be a girl who mucked out stalls who told me stories. I never knew from day to day what kind of story I was going to get from Tommie, but no matter what, she told her stories with breathless excitement, punctuating every sentence not with a pause, that taking in of air that denotes a period, no, instead Tommie said, “And then . . .” and sometimes you thought she would just pass out before she got to the end, but she always got to the harrowing end and sometimes I considered suggesting to her that she take up deep sea diving, because that girl could run on less oxygen than any living being I’ve ever met.

So the other thing about Tommie, besides her sparkling smile, was her literal way of looking at things. Tommie wouldn’t know irony if it showed up in her pasture with her steers, the two she raises every year to fill her deep freeze. Everything in the world is what it is to Tommie, what she sees and hears is the truth. And this made her stories even more exciting to me. Sometimes Tommie just told me about what she did over the weekend, or about her grandchildren, yes, Tommie is my age, but she has grandbabies, lots of them. One morning she recounted every steer she ever raised and slaughtered, their names . . . Brownie, Blackie, Spottie, One Eye, Fuzzie . . . and how healthy they were, or sick, or the one that got loose one day and got into her neighbors garden. And then she’d tell me about the steaks, all that steak, Tommie eats steak every night, and all the steaks have a name. See, I’d like to raise a steer for my deep freeze, but if I gave it a name, and spent as much time with it as Tommie spends with her steers, I couldn’t send it to Siler City to be done away with and made into various cuts of meat. I’d own that steer for life.

But Tommie’s best stories involved current events of the most local kind -- usually murder. I’d bring Joe into the barn and start grooming him, and Tommie liked the way I comb Joe’s forelock to one side, she would always come over, and grin without showing her partials, and she’d say, every time, she’d say, “He looks just like a boy in school ready for his yearbook picture. So handsome!” And I think of that every time, every time I comb Joe’s forelock. But there I’d be, grooming Joe, getting my tack ready for my ride and Tommie would ask, “Did you hear about that boy in Mebane last week?”

“No Tommie, what boy in Mebane?” And I’d think how many boys must there be in Mebane? Alot of boys for sure, but I knew the boy Tommie was going to tell me about was either dead, or he killed somebody.

“Well, this boy, he was 23 and he done killed himself  last week, right there in his car in his girlfriend’s driveway, with his girlfriend in the car.”

“Geez Tommie . . . ”

“I know, just tuhrable. She was only 17 and she was still in high school you know and she broke up with him, but she felt sorry for him, so she let him keep picking her up to drive her to school every morning like he’s been doing and he got there last Monday morning and he had a gun and when she got in the car he said he didn’t want to drive her to school no more ‘less she keep being his girlfriend and then he held the gun up to his head and she screamed I guess and he done shot the top of his head right off.”

“That’s horrible Tommie, poor girl.”

And then Tommie took a turn that I wasn’t expecting at all, “So this Saturday, last Saturday, Bobbie took me to the junk yard out there on highway 70, you know the one with the Christmas tree in the bucket truck?” And I stopped grooming Joe and thought for a minute and then I remembered the junk yard,  that stretches for something like a quarter of a mile along the road front and seems to go back for acres and acres and it’s full of demolished cars, piled on top of each other. The junk yard is somewhere between Mebane and Burlington and I think the county tried to shut it down at some point, but never succeeded, that just because it’s an eyesore didn’t make a big enough case, but anyway, it’s got this old crane out front and sometimes they hang some old classic car from it, and during the holidays they hang a fully decorated Christmas tree from it, which has got to be a sight at night, but I’ve only seen it during the day. And I have to say that stretch of highway 70 has to be one of the most depressing stretches of highway in North Carolina, even on a sunny day, but it always seems cloudy when I’m on that road, and I’m always on some strange errand, cause that road doesn’t lead to any place very interesting or nice. But anyway, I say to Tommie, “Yeah Tommie I know that junk yard, now why did Bobbie take you over there?” Now Bobbie is her husband and they are two of the hardest working country people I know, but on top of working like the dickens every day, they seem to have a lot of fun too -- eating steak every night and playing with their grandbabies.

“Well last summer Bobbie bought me a 1966 baby blue Mustang convertible  . . . ”

“Wow Tommie, that’s cool.”

“Yeah I know, I know, but it don’t run, the engine is all messed up and he’s been fixing it up slowly for me so that maybe by next summer I can drive it around and we needed a better steering wheel for it, cause the one it’s got is busted and we were thinkin’ we might find some front seats for it that were in better shape and then we thought we might find some parts for my daughter’s tractor and well next thing you know we had this big list and we drive up to the junk yard and then we get there and we know the man who owns it pretty good cause we go there a lot and we get there and Bobbie’s talking to him about my Mustang and if he’s got any Mustangs on the lot and he says he’s got lots of Mustangs, but maybe none that old, you know? And then he says he got a new car in that we might want to look at but that it needs alotta cleaning up on the interior and Bobbie asks him what for? And the man says well, he says, well it’s the car that boy killed himself in and Bobbie looks at me and I say I don’t want that car but I want to look at it you know? And Bobbie tells the man okay, we don’t want that car, but can we look at it? And then the man takes us behind his garage and there’s the car, it’s a Honda and it’s in real good condition on the outside but you could see already that the windows were spattered, you know with blood, and then the man took us over and he opened the driver side door and then he said, ”Tommie look in there Tommie,“ and he was smiling and kinda laughing,  and so I looked at Bobbie and then Bobbie said, ”Yeah Tommie, go ahead, look in there,“ and then the junk man he said, ”Look at the ceiling . . . “ and then I stuck my head in there and I looked up at the ceiling and you know what? You know what? There was this thing stuck to the ceiling and then I figured out it was the top of that boy’s head, it was his skull bone and it still had hair and the blood was all dried like glue and it was stuck to the ceiling of that car, ain’t that something?”

I don’t remember what I said to Tommie after that, I might not have said anything, which wouldn’t have concerned her too much as she was mucking a stall furiously as she was telling me this, I think I was just glad that the story was over so I could go ride my horse.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tattoo You

August . . . after being stuck in traffic from Baltimore to somewhere just south of D.C., an arm drove by in a truck. It was sleeved with tatoos, from the back of the guy's hand all the way up to the round of his shoulder. The tattoos were lizard green and indigo and intricately woven . . . like ivy climbing a tree. That arm pulled me across two lanes and i stayed steady next to the green speedboat the arm's truck was pulling for i dunno, a good ten miles of stop and go traffic. I never left my position, never went up closer, cause i didn't care to see who was connected to that arm, i just liked the limb for it's own merits, you know? Perfectly formed strong forearm, and a handy bicep, not too big, too full of itself, just right for doing the things a heavily tattooed bicep should do. I admit to being quite smitten with the arm and even imagined what that arm sounded like late at night. The arm fidgeted on the rear view mirror, sometimes it retreated into the cab of the truck, and just when I began to miss it, out it came, gleaming into the sun again, to distract me from the task at hand, getting down that road. Eventually I noticed the arm had NC tags and an OBX sticker on the window -- well of course it did, that was not the arm of a Virginian, not the arm of the Jersey Shore, that arm had Barrier Islands written all over it.

Eventually the traffic broke open and we went from 15 miles an hour to somewhere around 50 and next thing you know, the arm flew off at a serious rate of speed and while I could have pressed on and stayed with the arm to the border, maybe even followed it to a gas station, just to see what it was all about, I let that arm go on without me.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mamas Don't Let Your Daughters Grow Up to be Jockeys . . .

So I watched the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby tonight -- I watch it every year, and every year I fail to pick the winner. You say “So what,”, but what you don’t know about me is that I pick winners. I pick them all the time. Just yesterday I picked Plum Pretty to win the Kentucky Oaks, the filly equivalent of the Derby -- I picked her on a hunch, something about her name struck me, and she won. I can watch an evening of racing on TVG and randomly pick winners throughout the evening -- flat horses, trotters, pacers -- I picked the winner of the exhibition Arab horse race at the Breeders’ Cup last fall -- I know absolutely nothing about Arab racing, but there was this one that just looked right, and I picked it, and it won. The more relaxed I am, the more likely I’ll pick a winner. If there’s pressure I can’t do it and I think that’s why I can’t pick a Derby winner ever -- the stakes are way too high, and the vibe is so intense. I picked the winner of the Preakness last year, I’ve got a pretty good record at picking Preakness winners, but then the Belmont Stakes comes along and I fall apart again. But take me to the track on a quiet day, with only low priced claimers and hard working allowance horses going into the gate and I’ll pick winners til the sun goes down. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid -- I was better at it when I was a kid, a real clairvoyant when it came to racing. I picked the winners of 8 out of 9 races at Belmont Park one day while waiting for my father to take photos for the Daily Racing Form -- he left me in the press box and I just sat there on a stool with a Coca-Cola and a program and quietly picked horses -- my dad ran two dollar bets for me and by the fifth race, the other guys in the press box were asking me for tips. I was a freak. But if you get me in a room full of people watching the races now and there’s alot of hubbub, I go cold, can’t pick any winners at all. It’s a zen thing I guess -- I have to connect with the horse that’s going to get the job done and so the psychic noise has to be really low.

But tomorrow is Mother’s Day and what I really wanted to tell you was a story about my mother, especially because there was so much Girl Power at the Derby today -- two women trainers had entries in the race, one of them, Mucho Macho Man came in third and ran an amazing race, and there was a girl jockey in the race, red-headed Rosie Napravnik rode Pants on Fire, and because my mother was a pioneer at the track, my ears are always pricked to the possibility that a woman will finally win the Derby, whether it be in the saddle or as a trainer, because that might change the racing world finally, or one can at least hope so. My mother started out galloping horses on the backstretch of Belmont Park in 1969. She was the first woman to gallop horses for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, sometimes known as The Giant Killer, because of his reputation for beating the greats, such as defeating Secretariat twice -- once with a horse named Onion and then again with a horse named Prove Out. My mother asked Mr. Jerkens for a job every day for a month before he finally gave into her. And when she went to work for him, his barn crew of 57 men wouldn’t speak to her for several weeks. They didn’t want a girl in the barn, but eventually they saw she wasn’t leaving and they discovered she was not only a good rider, but a hard worker, and they befriended her and taught her everything they knew, the old time secrets of caring for thoroughbred race horses.

My mother got her New York Racing Association Trainer's License in 1975 and began racing horses under her own name that year. She held her own with a small shed row of horses and some decent owners, including Peter M. Brant. When her old injuries began to make New York winters hard to take, she built a training center in Southern Pines, NC where she broke top dollar yearlings and rehabilitated lay-ups, all of whom went to the New York tracks to earn high dollars. She was a pioneer alright.

So I wanted to be just like her as a kid. I wanted to grow up to ride race horses. My father had been a steeplechase jockey and there was my mother riding race horses every day, it seemed like the natural choice for me, right? My mother had different ideas for me though. She had seen the worst of times working on the track -- the discrimination, the injuries, the low pay, the cold rainy mornings, the injustice of the business that was ruled by men. But she didn’t put it that way to me, she was too smart to do that, instead she decided to discourage me by putting me right in the thick of it. She put me on yearlings at the age of 12 or so, but this only made me want to ride race horses even more. So then she put me to work in the barn and attempted to make it unpleasant -- how many hours did I spend raking the aisle? And then there was hosing horses -- lay-ups with Legs, a big ankle, a big knee, a bowed tendon, all these had to be cold hosed, daily, so out I’d go into the yard with the horse, the hose, and a watch, “Twenty minutes on that tendon, no less, no more,” she’d say, and I would stand there in the sun, hosing the afflicted leg and then at the end of the twenty minutes, she’d come out with another horse, and take the one I had just finished with, “Okay, get the right knee on this one. Twenty minutes!” and this would go on for a couple of hours or more, and all I would want to do was ride, but I had to rake up the yard, and hose the lay-ups. She was slowly wearing me down, so she thought. She wanted me to have nothing to do with the business, she wanted me to go to college, play tennis, run around with friends, do anything, as long as it had nothing to do with race horses.

I was still game to ride race horses when I was 16 and I begged her to keep putting me on them when I would visit her -- no, I didn’t live with her on the farm, but that’s another story, for another time -- and so on one particular visit, she put me to the test. First thing, she put me on three year old filly that had come to them for some R & R. The filly had lost her marbles apparently -- she was a stakes winner, had won a few hundred thousand in New York, but she had begun freezing up, yes, in the mornings, they’d take her to gallop on the training track, and she’d freeze on the walking lanes or on the track, just go stock still and stare off into space, and then? She’d explode -- sometimes pitching her exercise rider. Well, the filly had been with my mom for a month or so, and she figured she was mellow enough for me to take out for a hack, but she knew there was a chance the filly might just throw a wing ding. Well, she didn’t tell me a thing, just tacked her up, hoisted me aboard, and sent me off for a nice jog in the big field. Well, I got about 200 yards from the barn and this big filly, yes, she was huge, froze. I knew it wasn’t good, it’s never good when a horse freezes with you. So I belted her in the side with a good kick. Nothing. I belted her again and she pitched forward and started crow hopping like an old rodeo horse. I rode it out and she froze again. This time I wondered if kicking her was the thing to do and then I saw my mother watching me from a distance. I was self conscious as heck now -- I wanted to do the right thing. Be brave. I belted the filly in the side and told her to go on, move it. She pitched, took a hold of the bridle and crow hopped all the way back to the barn with me. I stayed on and managed to get her into the yard where I jumped off and my mother looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, I guess she’s not over that yet.” I was shaken, which I think was my mother’s intent -- she knew the filly would scare me, but to think of it now, some people might be appalled, that my mother would put me in that position, but she knew I was tough enough to stay on, it was the psych out my mom was looking for . . . keep the kid out of racing at all costs.

It was that same week that her plan went even a step further. She had several two year olds who were just a couple of weeks away from shipping to New York. So my mother was taking the youngins out in sets of two and three for long gallops and even breezes. You ask what’s Breeze -- that’s letting them go full out, racing speed, somewhere around 25 to 30 miles an hour . . . cheetah speed. Well, I had never breezed, I had jogged the yearlings, slow galloped the two year olds, but, never breezed. We get up one morning and we’re tacking up a set and my mother tells me I’m going to ride this nice two year old filly that I had been riding all week. She was small and classy and very expensive. Riders up! And off we went, me, my mother on a nice steel gray colt, and her friend Cathy on another filly. We ride over to Mr. Hudson’s field, this big flat yellow field that Hudson liked to land his airplane on sometimes, so you get the idea of what a stretch of land it was. We do a big loop at a jog, and then we pick up a gallop, the three of us abreast, nice and easy, and my mother tells me, that when we turn toward Hudson’s house we’re gonna let it fly, we’re going to breeze these kids today, and all I needed to do was sit quiet, hold some mane and keep my head low, oh, and keep up, keep straight and right there next to her and Cathy, that’s all. Well, we turn and the engines turn on and the light changed -- yes everything went white, and my filly was suddenly not a horse anymore, but a flying machine. Her shoulders weren’t connected to her rib cage and her rib cage wasn’t connected to her hips and her nose was a thousand feet from the tip of her tail and her feet were definitely not touching the ground. If I was supposed to keep up, keep straight, there was certainly no mechanism for me to know whether or not I was doing so -- I just tucked into her mane and hoped that this shaft of light I was riding would materialize again, become physical matter once more, because all I felt at that moment was that I was comet.

We did pull up, eventually, maybe after two minutes, the length of the Derby, maybe after only one minute. I couldn’t tell you really. And Cathy and my mother patted me on the back and we headed back to the barn. I was numb with speed, absolutely thrilled with having survived and with the prospect of doing it again as soon as humanly possible. I had stayed straight, kept up, and not made a fool of myself in front of my mother, until . . . we got back to the barn, and I walked my filly into her stall and just when I began to undo my girth, a horrible nausea came over me and I was powerless  to resist what was happening. I went to my knees and began retching. Right there in the stall, up came my breakfast, and then dry heave after dry heave. My mother appeared at the stall door, the morning sun behind her, making her a huge shadow, “That happened to me the first time too. And for a few times after the first time. It happens to everyone.” And then she left. I finally got my composure and untacked my filly and bathed her and walked her til she was cool. I flew home to Connecticut a few days later, still determined that I’d be a race rider, some how, some way.

Two years later my mother would drop me off with my trunk at college to begin my freshman year. I was bewildered and my mother had won.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Here Now . . .

The best I could do with my little camera to capture our Visitors

There’s been a flock of cedar wax wings here at Crazyland for two days now. They fly in small ramparts from the black walnut trees they’ve been roosting in, to our huge holly bushes that screen my well house, where they flutter, pick berries, and then swoop back up into the trees, where another rampart of wax wings is released to get their turn with the berries. This swooping down and up goes on all day and the birds are very chatty, even when they are flying. It’s like a relay race.

I cannot tell you how fortunate I feel to have the wax wings staying with us. North Carolina is just a stop along their annual migration route. Some years I don’t even get a glimpse of them, and some years, I see them perhaps for an hour or so, they blast through, find nothing here that interests them, and they are gone. But this year is unlike any other because they have roosted here for not just one night, but two, and there is this small hopeful part of me that wants to believe they intend to stay the summer, that the poles have shifted so that they are inclined to settle right here. But I know that the berries will be devoured quite soon enough, and the beautiful wax wings will fold up their camp chairs, and hit the sky ways again.

Cedar Wax Wings are perhaps the most dignified and handsomest bird there is -- they sport a very military costume of khaki and gray, with bars of white, medals of red and yellow, rusty cheeks, and black war paint sharply defining their eyes -- there is nothing soft or downy about a wax wing, they are tidy fit birds.

My first encounter with a flock of wax wings was some twenty years ago, while sitting in my tiny rental house in Carrboro, NC. We had a great pyracantha tree that grew next to our front door -- it's spiky branches were woven into the wrought iron supports of our little concrete stoop. My then young hound dog Jack frequently ate the berries off the lower branches, a habit we found bewildering until someone told us the berries contained a toxin that was capable of providing a very nice “high” for any creature that might venture to eat the berries. Jack was a berry lush it turned out. Years later he would take to eating loquats from a tree in our yard in Bermuda, he would stand on his hind legs to pick the loquats, and carefully eat the fruit while leaving the pit, which was poisonous. Jack was not only a berry lush, he was a very adept fruit and nut eater -- he could even shell peanuts.

But there was one spring day when the wax wings descended upon my stoop and like a scene out of Hitchcock’s The Birds they engulfed our pyracantha and denuded it of every berry upon it’s branches and I sat there with Jack inside the screen door with my mouth agape and in complete awe of these spectacular birds whom I had never seen before. There must have been 40 or so birds and they took less than a half hour to undress my pyracantha and then they swooped away, and I came to find from the twitchers I was lucky enough to know at work that this was what these birds do -- they migrate every spring and fall and they swoop in, take all your berries and leave you with nothing but the clear impression that they are living a much more wonderful life than you are.

g’night

Monday, May 2, 2011

to go to sleep . . .

can you sleep?

no?

when i cannot sleep, i think of the horses in the fields, under the night sky, under the stars, with the moon as their guardian . . . their round bellies over the grass waiting for the dew, their ears flick for the coyotes, and their eyes full of firefly flashing

and i sleep

sleep and dream

Sunday, May 1, 2011