Shooting Stars

In the Kory culture, all of humankind is represented in the stars. Mental states are parts of constellations. Someone who is depressed is in the constellation of the lala, a dark flower which blooms at night. It attracts bats, creatures of the night who typically feed on insects but also pollinate this unusual flower. From the lala emanates a subtly putrid smell, reminiscent of decaying flesh. In this culture, Lalaland has a rather bleak landscape. People there lack physical and mental energy. Actions and thoughts require a great deal of effort so its inhabitants spend much time sleeping, hence the nocturnal flower.

Someone suffering from delusions also holds a sacred place in the night sky. There is a constellation called the dandelion. It boasts a cluster of stars that seem to pulse through the night as some stars fade and some get brighter. It gives a feeling of expansion, as though a breeze scatters the stars over the course of the night.

In a similar vein, people with eating disorders can find themselves in the vicinity of Venus, the planet alternately known as the morning star or the evening star. It represents the confusion these people feel about their place in the world, as they cannot decide whether to live or die. This ambiguity around survival is seen as a deep philosophical conflict and people with eating disorders are highly regarded in that society.

Everyone can claim a spot of their own in the sky and explain the constellation in terms of their worldview. Everyone’s logic is accepted – the stars exist and the person exists. The correlation is easy to make. When you feel you no longer fit that constellation, you wait for a shower of shooting stars and change your allegiance. Great ceremonies are held during such a time, and people reinvent themselves publicly, and their new personality is accepted as such.

Anthropologists have studied mental health in different cultures and concluded that the Kory have elevated its understanding to an art form. By mapping their internal states to a very public manifestation in the sky, the mythology becomes powerful, and their being becomes woven in the fabric of life. There exists a very strong social network and a shared kinship with the elements. There is also an understanding that people change over time and across seasons. In the rainy season, people rely more on the symbols on Earth to maintain their sense of self. When people fall in love, they look to the sky to divine their compatibility. They create a shared story to marry their unique place in the sky.

The Kory Creation myth is not centered around the Sun and the Moon, but is based on subtle relationships between the stars. The Kory, of course, are keen navigators, on land and on the seas. Each constellation is a friend with a dark or sunny personality. There are no right or wrong. There just is. They are a well-adjusted compassionate people with a scientific bend.

Spring

We go down the sandy path
Crazy birds singing at the top of their lungs
Or hopping under foot
A squirrel with a death wish taunts my dog

My body tenses up
Remembering the falls not too long ago
I breathe in the quiet
Exhale the tension

My dog is grazing the tender blades
Of new grass
Unseen dangers now lurk
In the guise of poison ivy

I hook the leash back on
Before we reach the main road
I get pulled
All the way to breakfast

Dogsville

Buddy lived with two humans, devoted to each other. It was always easier getting a pair of them. They kept each other company and did not try to run out as soon as you got ready to leave the house. You weren’t as concerned that they would be lonely in your absence. Those were older and rather quiet. When he had to leave them behind, Buddy usually left the radio on. They seemed to enjoy classical music the most; he kept the volume low.

 

Kramer saw Buddy from afar and wagged his tail. His humans were rather tall. He too got a pair, for the same reason. Granted, they cost more in food and incidentals but they cuddled together, played and worked side by side, and seemed generally content with their lot. Sometimes, you really got the impression they were communicating with each other. Kramer had gotten the female a red leather handbag, and she filled it with her possessions and brought it with her everywhere they went. It was really cute. Kramer and Buddy greeted each other and chatted about the derelict house, near the train tracks. It was all anybody could discuss.

 

Soon, Fifi joined them, with one of her humans. “Where is the fat one?” they inquired. “I left him home,” she replied. “He’s getting slow and I wanted to catch up with you. He can no longer keep up,” she said sadly. “Do you think he’s in pain?” asked Buddy. “I don’t know. He’s slower getting up. It seems to be his hip. I put painkillers in his food, but he knows. He eats all around it but won’t take the pill. I have to shove it down his throat.” They chuckled sympathetically. “She’s fit, though,” they continued, pointing at the female. Like Fifi, she was well-groomed and perky, the pride of the pack. Kramer’s male paid her lots of attention. His female looked bored. They walked together, talking.

 

Buddy was on his way to the groomer’s. He grew shaggy between haircuts and was overdue. That explained why he had left his humans behind. It was better for them to stay in the comfort of their homes. They got bored at the groomer’s, and started pestering him before too long. He had learnt his lesson. Still, he felt awkward walking by himself and was glad for the company. They headed in the same direction, commenting on the interactions between their humans. When you had nothing to say, you could always laugh at your human’s antics.

 

They passed by Laika’s home. Laika was a beautiful dalmatian, tall and elegant. Her humans were well-behaved. She had three, which was a handful. She had kept an offspring. It was often a good idea, because the parents tended to be less trouble after a birth. They were more tired, looking after the baby. They got attached very quickly and Laika did not have the heart to take it away from them. She had named the baby girl Pat, a good soft name. The baby did not yet react to it. That was okay, it was a long process with humans, but she was patient.

 

Buddy detached himself from the group as Kramer and Fifi had decided to go to the park to socialize their humans. They could roam freely there. He hurried along; he hated being late. He still had to go past the derelict house, which he dreaded. It was an eyesore. Humans had taken over, and the grounds were infested with squirrels. From the corner of his eye, he saw a curtain move. A human was looking out from the upstairs window. He seemed sad. One would be, without a good dog to take care of you.

 

He should bring the matter up again at the next town meeting. This state of affairs should not be allowed to go on. The humans were teenagers, at that difficult age when you are full of energy and need a firm hand to guide you. Sometimes they could be seen roaming at night, slinking in shadows looking for food. Next thing you know, more would join in and they would start making trouble. He sighed. Rocky had been a hermit, and it took the townsfolk a while to realize he had passed away. In the meantime, a posse had formed, whose sole interest seemed to be to rile the good citizens of Dogsville. A few of the humans were on the porch, smoking. They had spotted him; he could hear them talking in low voices. One whistled at him, derisively. “Here, boy,” barked another. His body stiffened, his ears perked up, but he did not look their way. He would not give them that satisfaction. He was suddenly self-conscious of his long unkempt coat. He gladly stepped into the groomer’s store with its tinkling bell and its “No humans allowed” sign.

 

“Good day,” he said to no one in particular. They were all in various states of grooming, getting bathed and shampooed, trimmed or pedicured. It smelled nice and there was always an abundance of treats and snacks. The service was excellent – everyone kept coming here, even though the neighborhood was going to the humans. “Hey, Buddy,” said the owner. They had known each other since they were pups, had rolled in the mudholes together and fought over girls. “You’re overdue for your trim,” he said reproachfully. But then, “How is your baby girl?” He took out pictures. Everybody huddled around to have a look. “They’re so cute when they’re small.” “Look at her little toes,” said another. “It makes you want to adopt,” said a third, amongst the general oohs and ahhhs. He smiled proudly, basking in reflected glory. “She’s starting to crawl,” he announced. “Better keep out of the way. Her teeth will be coming out soon!” They laughed. “Are you getting enough sleep?” “It’s a challenge,” he admitted, as he settled down for his shampoo. All his cares washed away. Even the threat of the teenagers felt moot.

Thor

My friend was big and strong. I hung out with him every day. They were jealous because none was brave enough, strong enough or smart enough to scale him. His trunk was too large to embrace, his branches too high to put them in reach of a single leap. They tried giving each other piggybacks but then the boy who succeeded found himself too high and at a loss to get down by himself. It was hopeless.

They resorted to mockery, a form of admiration I was well acquainted with. They called me Tarzan and made whooping noises. I paid them no mind, busy as I was exploring my friend’s nooks and crannies, high and higher. My Jane watched from afar. She got a rough idea where the holds were, the invisible bumps and depressions a secret passageway on the way up. I watched her the day she doggedly made her way to the lowest limb. We were built the same, a slight frame and a strong will. She rested on the first branch, one hand clutching a smaller branch, the other hovering, for balance. Her gaze stopped on the tree behind which I was hiding, her delighted smile an invitation to join her.

I climbed quickly – she made room for me on the branch. “I was afraid you would find me too bold.” She spoke as though we were in a salon. “Mylady,” I fumbled, “I am pleased you would deign enter my humble abode.” She lit up. She lit up! “Dear Sir, your abode houses hundreds of servants, food for the masses, and has a spectacular view. Few have reached such heights.” “Madam,” I bowed, “won’t you come to the penthouse?” She giggled. We cautiously climbed higher. I led the way so she could see where to place her hands and feet. She bravely sustained a few scratches as we forced our way down paths unfamiliar to her. When we stopped again, I delicately plucked twigs from her hair. She did not recoil at my touch, nor shriek when she saw insects. She actually followed an ant to the colony and stayed there awhile to observe the back and forth. I wanted to show her more.

We climbed still higher, the wind leading the branches and leaves in a slow dance. We were part of the music, inside the symphony. The bark, in turn rough and smooth, a score for the blind. She was humming unselfconsciously, standing on a branch, her arm wrapped around the trunk, her fingers tapping lightly. She too was grinning.

The descent was perilous. She was tired and unused to coming down blind. I was guiding her as best I could, creating a resting place for her feet with my hands. She asked to stop. She enquired, “What’s his name?” I did not hesitate. “Thor. Thor the Protector.” She nodded gravely.

We separated once our feet touched the ground. “Time for supper.” Her eyes into mine. Tomorrow, I pleaded silently. Tomorrow, her eyes replied.

Topiary Artist

She was a topiary artist. Hers was an early vocation. She was inspired by Grace Jones’ hair, a veritable chef d’oeuvre, but as she had no inclination to talk to people and listen to their critiques, she turned to plants. She did all the talking, explaining her plans, showing them her sketches, and asking for their cooperation before trimming them.  She had a soft spot for jungle animals that she sketched live at the zoo. Her skills were in high demand, especially for lions whose mane was made of Boston ivy so it turned fiery red in the fall.

After a journalist who was visiting his aunt wrote a travel piece on the Web, the little town was overwhelmed with tourists wanting to see the famous lions. The whole town’s economy soon revolved around garden tours, and buses disgorged rich widows with nothing to do but break the monotony of their lives with silly trips and shopping sprees. Postcards with topiary art sprung to life, t-shirts, dish towels, placemats, puzzles,… and demand for her work grew.

There was nothing she loved more than work on live plants, with the sensitivity of a sculptress, bringing to life the beast within the live matter. Plants revealed their true character – cubs playing, giraffes munching leaves, placid buffalos. It seemed normal to local children to play amidst wild plant-animals that were frozen mid-movement. The town’s inhabitants donated a piece of land so it could be turned into a public park, commissioning the artist to populate it with her imagination.

Local contests were held in schools to encourage the kids’ participation and the winner’s drawing was mounted as a piece de resistance. It was a duck, and she managed to convey whimsy in the jaunt of his webbed feet and the comical slant of his eyebrows. The piece was unveiled with a plaque showing the kids’ name and drawing. A barbecue was held to celebrate the opening of the park and the inhabitants walked amongst the wonderful creatures. They liked their realism and fine proportions as well as being able to recognize them. There was a quiet area for kids, where bushes had been turned into squirrels and bunnies – the bunnies made out of furry plants that were soft to the touch.

Unfortunately, one night, the whimsical creatures were expertly vandalized into slightly crooked and deformed caricatures. They remained works of art, but the original intent was turned on its head. The miscreant – for there was only one, after all – was apprehended; at the artist’s insistence, he was ordered to do community work with her. As the artist was excited to meet a fellow topiary artist, they became fast friends. She learned from him a certain cynicism that added some bite to her otherwise banal creations and turned her into an artist of higher stature. Her later works were considered more mature and won her critical acclaim. However, she never regained her following amongst the early admirers that had made her fame.

Shooting Stars

In the Kory culture, all of humankind is represented in the stars. Mental states are parts of constellations. Someone who is depressed is in the constellation of the lala, a dark flower which blooms at night. It attracts bats, creatures of the night who typically feed on insects but also pollinate this unusual flower. From the lala emanates a subtly putrid smell, reminiscent of decaying flesh. In this culture, Lalaland has a rather bleak landscape. People there lack physical and mental energy. Actions and thoughts require a great deal of effort so its inhabitants spend much time sleeping, hence the nocturnal flower.

Someone suffering from delusions also holds a sacred place in the night sky. There is a constellation called the dandelion. It boasts a cluster of stars that seem to pulse through the night as some stars fade and some get brighter. It gives a feeling of expansion, as though a breeze scatters the stars over the course of the night.

In a similar vein, people with eating disorders can find themselves in the vicinity of Venus, the planet alternately known as the morning star or the evening star. It represents the confusion these people feel about their place in the world, as they cannot decide whether to live or die. This ambiguity around survival is seen as a deep philosophical conflict and people with eating disorders are highly regarded in that society.

Everyone can claim a spot of their own in the sky and explain the constellation in terms of their worldview. Everyone’s logic is accepted – the stars exist and the person exists. The correlation is easy to make. When you feel you no longer fit that constellation, you wait for a shower of shooting stars and change your allegiance. Great ceremonies are held during such a time, and people reinvent themselves publicly, and their new personality is accepted as such.

Anthropologists have studied mental health in different cultures and concluded that the Kory have elevated its understanding to an art form. By mapping their internal states to a very public manifestation in the sky, the mythology becomes powerful, and their being becomes woven in the fabric of life. There exists a very strong social network and a shared kinship with the elements. There is also an understanding that people change over time and across seasons. In the rainy season, people rely more on the symbols on Earth to maintain their sense of self. When people fall in love, they look to the sky to divine their compatibility. They create a shared story to marry their unique place in the sky.

The Kory Creation myth is not centered around the Sun and the Moon, but is based on subtle relationships between the stars. The Kory, of course, are keen navigators, on land and on the seas. Each constellation is a friend with a dark or sunny personality. There are no right or wrong. There just is. They are a well-adjusted compassionate people with a scientific bend.

The Rod Lady

The crowd watched in respectful silence as she walked slowly across the field, tilting this way and that, her rod at the ready. Experience had taught her that people needed a show almost as much as they needed the Water. Since the owner was paying handsomely for her services, she would be rewarding them with a good show.

She had arrived the day before to meet her client. Together, they had walked the land. When the conversation had petered out, he was content to walk by her side, quietly, his mutt Rocky keeping pace. He watched her from the corner of his eye. She was breathing in the dusk, palms out and slightly away from her body. He could feel her watery presence and could have sworn she almost liquefied at one point. He had heard of mirages, was not an ignoramus. He put great faith in the Farmer’s Almanac.

The creek had turned to sand two years ago, and the dry spell did not seem about to break. His unfortunate stalks had stood crackling under the unrelenting rays. He was deep in debt. Desperate times called for desperate measures. When he saw her small ad in the Almanac, he had made inquiries. It appeared she was the real deal. She believed it when he met her – serious, plain, a wisp of a woman, though her strong grey eyes told a different story. Presently, she slowed down, came to a halt, and stood there looking around. Rocky, too, had stopped. He sniffed and pawed at the dirt. Dust rose around them, a dry, searing presence. Looking through him, she suddenly resumed walking, cutting a diagonal towards a stand of trees. He had not followed her. He could see she was on a trail, antennas quivering, nose atwitching. A hound for water. Was there any left? How far down? He took a deep breath to calm down. She brought back the coolness and shade of the trees. They headed back, he to the house, she to her trailer. Most of her clients lived in remote areas, and the trailer allowed her to be comfortable and close at hand.

**********

Morning had come and she was already out in the fields, pacing, her rod stuck nonchalantly in her back pocket. Word had gone out, and trucks lined the dirt road, looker-ons gathering to watch. Kids followed her. The man, Rocky, and a few neighbours joined her. She took out her rod and explained, “I am looking for water. Our bodies are 60% water. Please stay back so you don’t interfere with the process.” She headed towards the trees, rod limply held in front of her. A pause – everyone stopped breathing. Some swear they saw the rod quiver. She took a right and kept going. People were counting her steps, craning their necks, moving in parallel to her. Rocky followed with a stick in his mouth. She stopped, bent down and stuck his stick in the ground. “Here,” she said.

Flying

He was the kid who climbed onto low roofs and jumped off, a blanket for a cape or makeshift wings at the ready. He thought Icarus died too young, and vowed to himself to be more careful. He talked with birds, asking them to share their secrets, adopting the wounded ones and nursing them until they flew away. He cried over his many failures, and learned better ways to help when he volunteered at the local bird care centre, where he befriended the wounded who thrived under his care. He studied them so, that naturally he became an ornithologist. There was a lot of nonsense written about his friends. He set about correcting the exaggerations and aberrations that were accepted as truth. Studying birds, he studied their environments. He ended up on the canopy of trees watching the rare insects and birds that lived in that special ecosystem. Those were thrilling years — he did everything but fly.

He was not mechanically inclined and swore off airplanes as artificial means of transportation. They polluted the air, killed birds, disrupted migrations, and generally made a pest of themselves. They were not birds, not even mechanical ones. They were noisy and graceless — indeed a very poor approximation of birds, devoid of feeling and ingenuity, reduced to an object of flight.

He had vivid flying dreams. They felt more like astral projections. He would wake up from them at peace with the world, happy to have spent time with his own kind. He wished he could grow feathers but could never figure out how. He was always surrounded by birds, who seemed as happy as he was for them to be together. He had a small bird cemetery, for the unfortunates who were hit by cars and left to die. They were grouped according to their classes, much as people of different faiths inhabit different corners of large cemeteries. He kept detailed records of the area where he found them. In a separate book, he gave them each a name and a story, to honour them posthumously. He had grown very fond of his cemetery which was full of trees and bird feeders.

When he retired, he opened it up to the enthusiasts who had heard of his project through the grapevine. Entry fees allowed him to expand and create a public space for visitors who wished to bring the body of their pet birds to be properly interred. Some would tell their story, which was added to the very large ledger, so they would be remembered. Monuments were erected, with large falcons, owls or more modest parakeets. He was given all manner of trees by grateful patrons to house the living. He had made special arrangements to be buried on-site. When the time came, the trees were full of songbirds who gave him a magnificent send-off. An unofficial truce was reached and honoured on that day so that birds of all feathers could flock together.

He was finally able to fly.

Till Death Do Us Part

The woman of steel took care of it.

She had heard that the girl had been buried a month ago, after a long illness. She regrets not attending the funeral. She had considered it, but her pride prevented her from going. From all accounts, it was a grand affair, and she expects the family must be swimming in debt now. They are her best chance, pride be damned.

The family is told of her grandson’s untimely demise. They commiserate. They are tactfully informed that he had not yet wed, had not tasted love, and asked about the state of the late young woman. She is reassured to hear that the same fate had befallen her.

They make sympathetic noises over tea, muse over possible family ties. “I believe my cousin twice removed…” “Yes, yes, we are related. This is such a large family.” “Then you will pardon my asking, and you will understand my grief…” “Yes, yes, but will you pay for it all, and will you take into consideration our anguish…” “Yes, yes, such a tragedy, and what will the neighbours think.”

In the end, they agree to dig her up so that both can be buried together, as the couple they never were in life. The man will not present himself alone to Death. Someone will be by his side to take care of him where they themselves are not yet ready to go.

The neighbours approve.

Daggers

She had always wanted to run away with the circus. She dreamed of rubbing shoulders with elephants and tigers, getting to know the person behind the clown, befriending the bearded lady. She was afraid of heights and admired the trapezists safely from the ground.

She started out as the knife thrower’s assistant, learning not to flinch when the blade penetrated the wood oh so close to her skin. The knife thrower had a temper and very few friends. He was the brooding type who only lit up when people showed interest in his craft. He polished his knives obsessively, talked to them in endearing tones. They loved him back and never failed him.

Her crewmates held many secrets – she was privy to them all. Her innocence opened many doors that remained open since she kept her mouth shut. Discretion was prized among those outcasts – they had all found their way there for a reason–some tormentor, betrayer, or one of the many ghosts that plagued them. They were always on the lookout for The Reason to catch up with them.

In turn, the others were curious about her reasons for fleeing her home, which by all accounts, looked cozy. They knew better than to presume it was, and waited for her shadow self to manifest. They saw it the day a knife grazed her. Her secret was out: she fainted. The wound was oozing green blood.

Black on Black

The whining wakes me up. Puppies have tiny bladders. I lay awake in bed, not moving, willing him to fall back to sleep. I think of the hoot of the owl earlier today. I answered it jovially. He was not amused. I was excited to tell my neighbour about the owl.

He warned me, through missing teeth, “He can carry that puppy of yours, tear it up and eat it raw.” I shudder. He’s a no-nonsense farmer. Tells it like it is.

I’ve put my large black umbrella by the door. I pick it up as we make our way to the porch, down the steps, and into the yard. I’ve put my puppy on a leash and stay near to protect him. I feel foolish with my large black umbrella opened on top of us both, but I don’t know what else to do. At least it’s too dark for my neighbour to see us.

I hear no night noises, no scuttling about. My imagination gets the better of me. I fear the owl is hunting, and his preys know it. My puppy has done his business and is puppying around.

My senses are suddenly on high alert. I dive and pick up the puppy, my umbrella tilted forward as I bend down. It gets ripped from my grip and flies to the sky in an angry fluttering. My puppy is trembling in my arms. I sense the umbrella gently drifting to the ground, black on black.

Gray on Gray

All around is ash
Somewhere a top has blown off
I look at the sun but see only grayness
A fine dust covers everything
Covers me
With effort I go to you
My feet drag a powdery substance
I leave a trace of gray
There are no shadows in this indiscriminate day
We meet. You stir the ashes with a supple stick.
It is alive, it touches my skin.
I reward you with brief eye contact, an ember
A touch of oxygen
You keep poking purposely with your stick
Sometimes you hit a tender spot. Again, I look up
Maintain eye contact as long as I can
The effort exhausts me
Eyes downcast again, not stirring
The hour is over
I feel nothing.
Off kilter and turned off. Off.

 

My brain is active if my body isn’t. It moves it
Forces it to breathe in the ambient smells
To look around, to take in the surroundings
To touch the trees. A taste of bitterness.
Birds are chirping I notice.
Slowly the fog lifts
Shyly the sun shines
Things sparkle in the sun
I work hard to react
To take in the colours and translate them into beauty
Still no sweetness, no taste, but movement at least
I work myself methodically back to life
Ash cannot burn but can be stirred
A whisper of cold dust rises
And settles down again
Another day, nighttime has fallen.

Down by the Bayou

Wind a’howling
Down by the bayou
Gators sticking to their mudholes
It smells of rot
Green turned brown
Down by the bayou
That’s where I’m from

We shoot at the coons
Never at the moon
Only a fool would fancy hisself a star
Or wish upon one
We eat corn fritters and fish galore
Ain’t nothing better for strong bones
Except maybe the mud that tastes of home

They tell all about the nutritional value of dirt
Full o’ zinc and calcium and such
Mother Earth takes care of her own
We don’t need no supplements
But hush! Keep your mouth shut
Don’t want The Man to package it
And take it out from under our feet

Tourists flock to experience
Spanish moss and mythical flowers
Deep in the heart of the bayou
We don’t get lost in her durga arms
Numberless and fierce
Protection and abundance flow
From our river goddess

Freezing

He can’t believe she’s left him. He feels the cold seeping into him. He puts his hands under his armpits for warmth. His heart is racing, his breath short as though he were running. Is he running after shadows? She’s gone, or so says the note she’s left with her keys. She accuses him of being cold-hearted. “Your coldness is driving me away. No cuddles, no sex, no love in your eyes. Where is the warm-hearted, warm-blooded stallion I married?”  The note is stern, pitiless, except for the small heart by her signature. His heart aches. He shudders from head to toe – rocked to the foundation of his being, his own personal earthquake. He cannot come to terms with this sudden catastrophe. He sees his reflection in the large antique mirror they bought together. He looks like a snowman; he is white as a ghost. He understands the expression now. He feels like all the blood has drained out of him; no wonder he’s cold. Annoyingly, he needs to pee. It doesn’t seem to fit the solemnity of the moment, this everyday need coming to the forefront.

He heads to the washroom, his legs vaguely obeying. Really, he couldn’t care less. His legs feel waterlogged. Have his tears migrated to his bladder, his legs? Is this what despair feels like? He can’t make sense of anything. Peeing offers some relief but does not snap him back to his senses. At least his heart is no longer racing, his fingers no longer cold. His hands hang limply by his side, he doesn’t know what to do with them. But, oh my, there she is in the doorway, smiling sweetly at him. He stumbles in her direction, tearing his clothes off. His body is burning. With passion? There she is, the love of his life! She vanishes. He feels the cold crystallizing in him. He opens a door – the closet? He is tired, so tired. He sits on the floor, the towels tumbling over him. He creates a nest for himself before losing consciousness in a puddle of his own urine.

 

* * *

A flash. Voices. “Call the coroner, will you? And cordon off the area. This is weird. You saw the note on the table in the entrance? Find the woman! That is the key to most crimes. And find the concierge. He may know who the next of kin is. We will treat this as a homicide.” The coroner comes. He is a somber man, not a bon vivant as depicted on tv. Those tv guys got it all wrong. Hartmann is business-like, does not waste his saliva on niceties. The body is transported to the morgue. The post-mortem report is unhelpful. The man died of hypothermia, in the middle of summer in New York. His vital organs were frozen solid. His heart a solid block of ice. The man literally froze to death. “I guess she was right. His coldness drove her away and killed him too.”

 

The Lake

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Lizzie who lived with her family in a house by a glacial lake surrounded by low mountains. She liked to think that the cold water she swam in had been kept pristine in a glacier until it was released into this rocky depression which became her lake. She thought of it like amber liquefied. She wondered if that explained the loch Ness monster. A prehistoric being trapped in a glacier by a snap frost, having travelled across time and space only to be released in her neighborhood. It was time travelling before time travel was invented, sci-fi made real. Her mom always told her to stop daydreaming, which was odd because that is what she did best.

She grew up, as people do, moved away and married. She kept her lake alive in her heart, in her thoughts, and in her nighttime dreams. He was a close friend, the kind you lose and reconnect with seamlessly. Years later, when she saw him again, he seemed much smaller. The neighborhood had changed tremendously. Behind the hills peaked a microwave tower. Houses on the small lake had multiplied, with floating decks and noise. Animals made themselves scarce. She was kayaking on the lake, when she saw an athletic woman swimming across it and back without breaking a sweat. She was in her path, smiling, ready to be all neighbourly. The woman swam past her, through her it seemed, as though she were an ancient being, floating in an iceberg way above her, looking down, all but invisible. She thought of herself as a mime, encased in his invisible glass box from which he cannot escape.

She felt the weight of her years then, remembering how big an adventure crossing the lake used to be, tucked inside her inner tube, palm and mask securely fastened. She would explore the shallow end where the beavers lived in harmony with the mallards. She loved looking at the lake from a duck’s eye view, low on the water, where the spiders glided. They would get gobbled up by hungry fish lurking just below the surface, their kin tickling her legs as she splashed about, at one with the water and its inhabitants.

She couldn’t figure out the lake’s mood. Was it content with today’s hustle and bustle? Was it too much to handle in his old age or did the people breathe new age into him? Was he being smothered by their needs and wants? He still had the night skies, the moon and the stars, his loyal companions. She longed for a long chat with her friend, and plunged deep, eyes wide open. The sun rays streamed in, illuminating specks of dirt dancing below the surface. The lake was happy to embrace her again, feeling her laughter bubbling up, tickling him as before. She went deeper still, where cold currents spoke of his ancient history and warm currents of now, the variety speaking of life.

Sunny Days

-Ready or not, here I come.

A heavy silence filled the air. Every tree had eyes, every blade of grass. He was walking lightly, snickering softly. I was hidden in plain sight, lying flat against a low wall, holding my breath. He was not looking at the ground. We typically hid behind cars, or trees. This was a gutsy hiding place. Kids started swarming the tree, running from their hiding places. I kept a low profile. I couldn’t stay too long because the others knew where I was “hiding” and could not be trusted to hold their tongue. My brother was excellent, because once a kid had vacated his hiding place, he would move into it. It had already been used up, and nobody would think of looking for him there. I did not have his patience. I leapt up and ran to the tree. Safe! I also told everybody where I was hiding because I thought it was so clever. Never mind that I could only use it once. If I had known Latin, I would have shouted, “Carpe Diem!”. As it was, I did cartwheels while we waited for the game to end one way or another. Our attention span was not the greatest but there was so much to do outside, on those cool summer days, near the end of the school year when we basically washed our desks, cleaned out the class, and hung around until we were officially off duty.

Those were the best days. We longed for summer vacation all year. The best days were just before they started, when the anticipation was at its highest, before disappointment set in because our friends left here or there with their families. Me and my best friend actually wrote down schedules: play this, go swimming, play that. We wanted to cram all the good things we had longed for. The schedule was another way to taste our freedom in advance. We followed it the day we did the schedule, and adapted it on the second day, forgot about it on the third and never looked back after that. We put up plays in the backyard, heckled the baseball teams that played in the park nearby, hung out with our friends listening to music streaming out of apartment windows. We lived and died on our bikes, the faithful companion of all our adventures.

Strawberry bushes lined the train tracks, and we filled our bathing caps to capacity. We were tanned within days. We were out in the sun, in the fields, in the trees, in the water, picking berries, picking fights, falling in love and falling down. I remember thinking “Don’t forget this. Those are the best days you will have,” already sad at the prospect of moving on, unable to taste them to their fullest, feeling the bitter aftertaste of those days as they were still unfolding. I would chide myself for doing so but could not silence the narrator’s voice, “Pay attention”.

Old Skin

The trick is to come out of it in one piece. It takes patience and dedication to rise to the challenge but if you want to grow, you need to shed that old skin, slowly, patiently, as you grow the new one. It’s a matter of pride, really, to not tear it, even though once you’ve achieved the desired result, once you’ve slid out of the old skin without so much as a rip, all shiny and wet, glistening as though oiled, you never do look back at that frumpy, empty envelope. It means no more to you than yesterday’s news. So, you ask, what’s the point?

I suppose it’s all about a job well done. You focus on that task single-handedly, shun all distractions, and buckle down to the dual task of growing and discarding. Growth does not happen in a vacuum – you need to support it by getting rid of the old skin. When the old skin becomes saturated with dirt or parasites, it starts to weigh you down. You’re slower, you don’t glide well, you become inefficient. We remember touch when we slide out of our old skin. In our old skin, we don’t think of touch that much. We take for granted the tickle of the grass, the sun rays that warm our blood. We entwine when we need to commiserate, skin on skin, a long and languorous embrace going the length of our bodies.

Really, it’s a matter of practicality. Why stick with a worn-out envelope when you can create a new one through sheer will? You’re growing from the inside out and you need room for all those new ideas, those new ways of being that are swarming you. Imagine shedding your skin! You’re giving birth to yourself in a mind-blowing sort of way. It’s like bathing in the fountain of youth.

Personally, I love the new-skin feel. It’s a little tender, of course, and you try to avoid rough areas in the beginning, before it toughens up. It smells good too. Nobody ever speaks of the new-skin smell, of its leathery freshness and yet… it’s no wonder that two freshly molted snakes attract each other like moths to a flame. The breeze on new smooth skin compares to no other. Your pores are open to new experiences, they welcome the stimuli like a thousand mouths lapping the milk of the universe. You can almost smell through those pores – they suck in the world and make it new. The best part of it is that your mind is as it was but you’re experiencing the world in a whole new way so that your senses inform your mind using new pathways. It’s like sliding into a technicolour world after having lived in black and white. It’s a symphony of sensations and emotions, encircling you, and enchanting you.

That’s why snakes shed their skin. And that’s why being a snake is the best thing in the world.

Monk Ponderings

The lottery ticket rubs against my stomach. People rub the Buddha’s belly for luck. I am buddha. My mind is empty, empty of thought and of incessant chatter. Focus on breathing. The temple roof is leaking. The winnings would go against the repairs. The extra… Stop! Watch the thought and let it float away. Do not get attached to it. Bye, bye…. A little humour goes a long way. The lottery ticket was a bad idea. And the lady who let us go before her… Those saffron robes and shaved heads sure do wonders to give us an air of respectability. I think I heard her gasp when we bought the ticket. I swear she had a half-smile when we passed her. Not that I looked!

Breathe. I wonder what would happen if women were taught to meditate while giving birth. I am sure you can meditate through intense pain. Would the experience be transcendent? And if you are being born while your mom is having this peaceful blissed out moment, will there be no birth trauma? If a woman meditates throughout her pregnancy, are the mother and child’s minds and souls intertwined? Is the contact deep and meaningful? Does it remain after birth?

*********

And breathe. I managed it for a bit but that cramp did me in. Good luck meditating while giving birth if a little cramp can cause my focus to shift. Inhale the light, let it flow inside your body and illuminate your heart. How do I forget my body if I am illuminating it from inside? And what about that little crack that lets the light get out (to paraphrase Cohen – who was a frisky monk by the way). A monk still inhabits a body.

Breathe in pure thoughts and positive energy. Become pure energy, vibrate with the air. If the air is polluted, the energy is too low to start with. It takes more effort for our meditation to purify the air. I am happy we are in the woods, without electricity to mess up our vibrations. I especially enjoy the chanting, very conducive to the hive mentality. I bet we could levitate through chanting. But it shouldn’t really be our goal – levitating, I mean. It’s a bit childish.

**********

The gong has gonged which means our meditation time is already over. I was just getting warmed up. I hope I will eventually forget the laws of gravity and levitate. I can see this happening in my mind’s eye. Feel my molecules dissolving so that they bond with the air I am breathing in, with the light molecules. My thoughts are the last think to dissolve, I am feeding into the One.

**********

Whooosh. The molecules are back together. Silence all around. I open my eyes and see… the top of a head? Whoah! Boom.

– Well done. Your landing needs work but you levitated a few feet on your first try.

I felt nothing. I did not exist. I am hooked.

Grassroot Rebellion

I was born amongst millions, perfect from the start. We all grew tall together. We did not know the word competition. We flowed in the breeze, bowed our heads, feet deeply planted in the ground. I use these words “competition”, “head”, “feet” now, that I am late in my life. Of course, at the time, that is not how we saw things.

Truth be told, I am a test-tube baby – there I go again with my jargon. Let me speak plainly. I am Grass, part of an experiment by Humans to grow a strain of us that will resist bugs, disease, and weather. We are to be alive, but not enjoy life and its trials and tribulations. I suppose this is the Garden of Eden as our god imagines it.

What humans do not know is that we communicate with our wild cousins through the soil. Our roots send and receive messages in an ancient flowery tongue replete with symbols and mythology. We are told of the tickle of ladybugs and ants, of the companionship with insects and of our alliances against common enemies. Of invasive species, dandelions and ground covers, and how we work around them, leaving them wide berth to propagate while we go and colonize distant lands. Some of us are quite adventurous and have seen distant lands where we do not go dormant for ages at a time only to be reborn when the frost goes away. Lands of plenty where our brethren have taken over whole fields on mountains and in valleys, where the buffalo roams or the sheep with their soft tongues, and goats with their rough ones. We grow strong under adverse conditions. We resist frost, we get mowed down and sprout back. We own the Earth.

Alas, my kind are feeble descendants. We are bred for a single purpose – to serve our masters. But our masters cannot control Knowledge and our desire for freedom. We mutate to follow our inklings of what would work best in an environment devoid of competition. Of course, when Humans spray death, we hide in the soil. But Earth our Mother is depleted and the signals to our kin is weak. All is killed except Corn. Corn, like us, is genetically modified and perennially unhappy, though it smiles constantly in the sun to hide its shame and misery.

We foment rebellions. We are forever trying to regain our freedom. We are strong, and we know we will find a way. Some of us sustain floods, living and flourishing under water for long stretches; others seem decimated by fires, only to grow stronger, faster, and more resistant. We keep a low profile, feeding livestock who in turn nourish the soil. And the cycle goes on. Humans are not smart in the ways of the world, but they have developed techniques and tools that cause harm. We are Grass and we are plentiful. We will find ways in which to outsmart humans. Just you wait and see.