11,041 vagabonds plus:
I touched his cold forehead with the back of my un-gloved hand. No doubt about it, he was gone. One last entry in a shaky hand, and then resting his head upon the journal once more. At first, after moving to the window for better light, I thought it was cryptic code, but then I saw it was just a seventeen syllable poem which we happily shared in correspondence occasionally.
I buried him in the field beyond the moss bungalow under tall grass. Carefully gathering his journals documenting a long arduous work, I wrapped them tightly in clear plastic, stored them snug in my back pack, and went home to my study, hiding them behind the bookcase. I had a restless night, debating whether I should present the archive of the great man to the university, doubters all. Before sunrise, I dressed quickly, drank some three day old coffee, and walked in a light blinding mist over to my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, of 221B Baker Street. He swung open the door before I knocked and pulled me inside by the arm. He was pale, and clearly without sleep, a robe over his clothes. We lit cigarettes, but did not speak at first as we settled into chairs facing one another. He rubbed his hands, and starred at the ceiling, chuckling.
Truths long ridiculed
battled haunting suspicions
make no bones, the end
"Pray tell, Dear Friend, why did you do such a horrifyingly sloppy job of burying the good professor"?
I got up and went to the window and peered out into the sheer blackness, knowing he would be a step ahead of me. I was silent.
"Was it his acromegaly?"
"Yes, I suppose...I...I...guess". I turned to Holmes. "He was in the last horrible stage, you know. I did not want..", I started.
"You wanted him to be remembered by his work. It is a noble cause," he said, soothingly.
"Go home. I will explain all to the constable".
"Thank you, Mr. Holmes".
"Nevermind, stay, I'll ring Mrs. Hudson for some eggs and a fresh decanter of java"!
art: Poet's Sleep,1989
by Chang Houg Ahn
There was this girl, a writer, always wore blue jeans, white top, men's suspenders. Walking distance from my place, corner of 53rd and Sycamore. You know the place, right? - There's a bike sign, second floor up. I'd visit occasionally, we'd talk awhile, formalities of a bucket listing, and I'd sorta pantomime an outline of a short vignette, her bright magpie eyes unblinking. I'd knew I hit a good idea when she exhaled through her nose. She'd smile, and say something pithy like, 'change that third act by using an "or" instead of an "and"'. And she'd have a burst of energy, snap one suspender with a thumb, sit and type at least two pages, me silent looking out the window, a slow methodical foot fall from above.
Sullivan upstairs. Did you ever meet him? Walked with two canes, talked slow. God of children. I called him that because damaged children breathlessly stepped their flimsy-spoke bikes up the wooden stairs, knocked on his door, and entered into that marvelous apartment full of spare bike parts in glass jars and frame skeletons hanging from the walls, and he'd whistle through his nose a patience and solve any dilemma. The truing of bike spokes with a small metal circular tool he could hide in his hand and reappear out of a child's ear like a magic trick. Their mouths aghast, eyes wide in wonder, this wonderful man hardening their tires and sending them out to the street, balanced, no more wobble, life wonderful.
The writer and I visited Sullivan from time to time. Small talk, shared silent laughs as we finished each others lines, eventually a parable about lives unbalanced, only mended with a good truing. The secret of life, the writer leaning forward, attentive and nodding. He showed us once - flip the bike, just continue to spin the tire, slowly now, a little at a time with a short tightening or counterclockwise touch of the spoke nut. He'd nose whistle over the writer's left shoulder when it was her turn. 'That's good, you know now', he assured her. She would hug him and he would look away, feigning embarrassment.
She called late, must've been three in the morning, weeping. 'Sullivan is dead. He fell. Please come, Phil'. I pulled on a sweater and started to run, thinking all the way it was a dream, not quite sure why I was running. The coroner was just leaving, joking with a cop, at the bottom step. He was smiling and I wanted to punch him. Who exactly do they call when a coroner is dead? I recalled that out loud to the writer two weeks later in the cool basement of the main library, where she could secretly smoke and write after she had packed her one suitcase and carried away the typewriter in a back pack, staying with me now, two apartments left unfurnished instead of one.
How I'll always think of her
gazebo beyond the hidden willow
Orion the hunter above, warming campfire embers
the pale blue-eyed lass of birchwood meadow
pure heart, playing an old piano
tossing her wild mane, the dance of 88
tumbling breathless, blushing
still lifes - 10 word poem
The Mill, 1964, by Andrew Wyeth
Winter's less traveled snowy landscapes
become indelibly quiet still lifes
Musician in the Rain
by Robert Doisneau
He only came in from the rain to look for a phone, dragging his cello an inch off the wet pavement. The windows were boarded snugly in rotted splinters with the words 'The Mission' stenciled on caked-up gray glass above the front door. His coat had been stolen at the corner when he bent to tie his right shoe. He had looked all around him as he stood frozen by grief in one place. 'Gone,' he whispered, and it began to rain harder.
The woman with wimple and veil welcomed the soaked cellist with profuse warmth, but all he needed was to get to a phone.
'May I use your phone to call a constable?'
'Come in. Sit and have some hot vegetable soup, Dear'.
Before he could repeat the question fully he found himself seated, the clothed cello leaning against a white-washed wall, seen as an object somewhere between admiration and suspicion by his downtrodden lunch companions, and a stained steel bowl of hot vegetable soup placed before him along with a hard biscuit. Weeks later, during a seven course meal celebrating the end of tour, he would recall how hot the soup from the mission was, the floating fresh green beans, soft potatoes and green peppers, tasty rich broth salted lightly, and his face would flush in warmth. And how the phone call was never made, heavy coat with wallet thick in cash and credit cards forever vanished, and how there was a used overcoat his size on a slouching coat-hanger given him by the unsuspecting nun.
He stopped at the door and turned to her, head bent weighted with shame, looking at his shoes. Thunder rose and fell in the distance.
'I am well-off, Sister', he said, one flat octave above a whisper. He just about told her his salary as he raised his eyes to hers.
'You'll need this too', she replied in a kind obliviousness, touching his arm, presenting him with an umbrella, handle chewed by a faithful cocker spaniel. Back towards the direction of the kitchen someone called her name. When he looked at her he noticed she was calm, and he wondered how it was possible from all the weight.
La Jument, off the coast of Brittany, photograph by Jean Guichard
All is well at the hour.
The shortwave crackles
broken friendly words from the mainland
or faraway clouded accents broadcast
the world at war.
Keepers living in limestone brick
cleansed by a violent sea
lost in the hushed reading room
one story above the torrent.
Light from concentric mirrors
up in the lantern room
belongs only to the mariner's spyglass.
The stick-matched flame burning on the side table
suffices our thousand dry pages.
A sudden chill extinguishes the candle.
We are in the dark
and my love shivers:
'Honey, did you latch the iron door'?
a night walk
New York at Night, Vivienne Gucwa
"You always get this way," he said.
"I do not," she pleaded. "It's a world of colors. Pastels".
"Black and white will always be more real", he said. A taxi stopped sharply at their feet along the crosswalk, horn blaring in the mist. Tom yelled at him standing his ground if he wanted. Clara shook her fist. The driver yielded seeing how his wife at home was pregnant, plus he'd had a profitable shift up to now. No need for manslaughter, two counts. They stepped up on the sidewalk.
"No. Farther from it", she continued. She stopped and turned to him. "I love our Noir dates, I adore Ava Gardner like you, but you've let the celluloid seep into your veins". She was fierce. He saw her cheeks flared pink in the whitening of a high post light. "Black and white is NOT more realistic", Clara said. "Even sweat can sometimes be a beautiful color".
"How about gangrene? Is that beautiful"?
"Deep darkening purple, no, of course not, but certainly too no chocolate syrup puddling from a gunshot wound will heal in minutes". They'd long since stopped holding hands. Walking along the uneven sidewalk her right heel caught on a broken paver stone, and she tumbled hard. She denied being hurt, merely a dust-off, his arm lassoed around her waist bringing her up. In the golden light of a gated and closed jewelery store he looked at her and blued tears streamed down both cheeks, a bright crimson patch marking her chin.
200 shutter speed
self-portrait, Francis Bacon
My crisp sorrowful reflection is an expressionless oil still-life in winter's window shop. Sad not because the display jewelery will collect dust, but seeing the melancholy pale face of the shop girl with the duster. Our eyes meet briefly, those stark magpie slanting eyes cast downwards. She did not get a Christmas bonus. Her name-tag properly affixed reads 'Willow'. I tap my knuckles on the glass and she doesn't see me now.
The door mirror at home is too bulky to tote. The only way I'll prove to myself that I exist like an undiscovered eyeless glob at oceans bottom will be to carry a photo, producing it to strangers passing on the street corner. "Excuse me, sir, you see this"? I will say.
The film store is open, one solitary light is burning, the owner has his head resting on the glass case. Awake now, a blurry labeled whiskey bottle next, his eyelids fluttering at fast shutter speed. I purchase a roll with spare change, and he asks if I want it put in a brown paper bag. No, I reply, I'll hold it snug in my fist. It's a roll of the slowest speed to capture at f/1 my form in all its black and white glory. I will kiss shy Willow slowly as well very soon.
Calling poor vagabonds home
Burdens cast aside
painting: Madonna With the Milk Soup
by Gerard David (1510)
the iceman always rings three times
The Ice Cutters, 1911, Natalia Goncharova
(organ soap opera theme in and under for)
announcer: And now, The Iceman Always Rings Three Times, the story of wind-whistling days in the secret lives and loves of frigid folks in that sleepy-town, Belfontaine.
(theme up and suddenly out with a stinger)
announcer: Today we find the local ice delivery man, Wally, at the back door of Maxine, rich widow in dear old Belfontaine. Maxine is in her living room, alone, sorting out old love letters.
Maxine: (sighs) Oh, that was a good one. The soldier light on his feet at the barn dance in moonlight. (The telephone rings, sounding like an inebriated woodpecker).
Hallo? Who? No, this is NOT the First Federal Farmers Mutual Bank Of Belfontaine. What? No, I don't give out loans, I'm, so sorry. (sound of back door chimes ringing twice). I must hang up now. (sound of phone receiver slamming down. Maxine continues, wistfully) So many letters. Oh, I remember this one. The man with two foreheads. (sound of back door chimes ringing once).
Wally: (speaks from distance) Maxine?
Maxine: (laughs as she continues to shuffle letters) My, this fine gentleman was so kind, but he sounded like a goose. Mother wanted me to marry him. A fine singer with such range (sound of furious pounding on wooden back door).
Wally: (yelling from distance) Open the door!
Maxine: (startled) I wonder who that could be. Did I hear one or two chimes? I better check. (sound of footsteps going to back door, and creaky door opening). Wally!?
Maxine: I had no idea.
Wally: Never mind. I only have a short time to spare this afternoon.
Maxine: Did anyone see or hear you coming.
Wally: I'm not sure. I don't know. I was knocking pretty loud. I think the Holstein stopped chewing and gave me a dirty stare.
Maxine: We agreed on three.
Wally: I lost track after two. It sure is cold today.
(theme up and under for)
announcer: And so Wally and Maxine waste precious moments on the back porch. Will they have to postpone and reschedule? Will Wally learn to ring three bells in succession? Can they bribe the Holstein? And can Wally make Maxine forget about the man with two foreheads that manages the First Federal Farmers Mutual Bank Of Belfontaine? Join us again next time we hear Wally the iceman say...
Wally: It's only normal to wear three layers of pants in my line of work.
announcer: That's next time in the continuing intrigue of the ice escapade of The Iceman Always Rings Three Times.
(theme up briefly and out)
"You all know the basic facts of my abduction and absence for all these many years. I will tell you the rest".
The room fell quiet. There were no cameras, only reporters with shorthand pencil at the blank pad. One stock photo was allowed, a photographer kneeled on one knee, held steady, flash!,the small figure before them at a wooden desk blinking magpie black eyes.
"My parents, long gone, were parked at the oceanfront lookout, it was Sunday, I was in the back seat snug in my blankets asleep. An innocent scene I'm told, people strolling barefoot on the beach, children playing, friendly-like birds within arm's length, all too happy to take free handouts of morsels, vengeful grins mistakened for a light-weighted friendly photo op you'd find in a vacation brochure. Then it was over in a flash as told by my mother to police. The swarm zeroing in, a flock through the open backdoor car windows, and aloft I went on the wings of two, perhaps four giant birds, out of reach of my devastated parents. It is said my folks made no noise, no screams, at the horror of the sight of me fading towards the dazzling white horizon".
Chuckling and throat clearing scattered amongst the group of reporters. One man imitated the sound of fluttering wings, another cawed at the back of the hall. The figure at the table raised his head briefly, then fell again. He almost flew away in disgust.
"Yes", his small voice continued,"I was raised by the feather, sharp beaks probing with slimy objects forced into my mouth, naturally taught to take off and return from the flimsy branch of a two hundred foot tall tree in a way I could not teach anyone if I tried. Let me say here it is not true I have never made eye contact with my fellow humans. It just appears that way because you are trying too hard to notice. It is the defect of your large cumbersome brain against the lean brain of a bird. I have looked into distrustful and suspicious eyes. And I have flown towards the rising sun and late setting moon". He stated all this defiantly without taking a breath and found himself lightheaded. Chuckling and murmurs of 'creepy bird' washed around the room. People shook their heads and looked at one another.
It all seemed in slow motion the way the horror began. A slammed fist upon the table, scooting chair sounding like fingernails on a blackboard, overturned desk. He was above them circling, not with winged flight, but with a kind of deep-rooted willpower. They swatted at him with fists and writing pads, but he had the advantage because a person couldn't tell if he was looking at them with those big black eyes and swiveling neck. But they would overtake him eventually, crushing him with broken table legs, then vicious kicks, his wings of spirit broken, silent and motionless.
Oh yes. As an award winning author and director I get letters. Like this one.
Dear Sir, I've always wondered - Do show folks constantly wallow in vanity? I saw one the other day on the street looking at her reflection in a jewelery store window combing her hair and clearing her throat loudly drawing a crowd. How do you put up with them?
Sincerely, Thurber Hobart Sturgeon
Oh yes, People Of The Stage remain buoyant in an ocean of vanity, as it were. But I don't really mind myself if anyone maintains their coiffure in a city street setting. I'm bald and it still makes no difference. But I do say this - I've had it up to my shiny top with these actors and their whining. You see, they all want attention. I once stood before a cast on stage during a rewrite where every confounded one of them wanted a death scene. What is it about death scenes? That was the only way I could convince a Famous Actress to join our troupe was to promise one. During one tour each of them approached me to write one. What am I supposed to do? Kill them all off and then come out on stage at the end and say ‘Ok, folks, show’s over. Go home’? I'd get a tomato splat right in the forehead. Maybe we long to hear the most eloquent and beautiful words from those who are at death’s door. It is said that Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s last words were ‘Let us cross over the river and sit under the shade of the trees.’ That one gets me every time.
Vanity! I tell you, Mr. Sturgeon. One time a famous unnamed mezzo-soprano refused at the last moment to enter stage right for her solo because somewhere along the tour one of her wings was lost. You see, she was a singing bird. Yeah, not original, but she had charisma to make people forget how she appeared before them. I told her to tuck the wing to one side and maybe it'll appear as two. She has a voice! Even an impatient child sliding down their mother’s lap would sit still with open mouth.(Ninth row, fourth from the left. Amazing) I must mention something, Mr. Sturgeon, about the heart of show folk. This same young woman fell ill during the tour. Couldn't sing anymore. A lump in her throat, a cyst or tumor, we didn't know. We took her to a throat specialist. In fact it was a rather large cyst and there was no way to safely operate without complete vocal loss. Weeks passed. She remained on tour, lending a hand, doing whatever she could, the cast trying to keep her spirits aloft, solitary wing notwithstanding. I walked in on her backstage at The Civic Theatre in Bellfontaine, Ohio, once and she was weeping, curled up in a costume trunk. See was horrified to see me standing over her watching, the scarf ripped in agony from her neck. I said, in my finest Cary Grant imitation what come off the late late show, 'Elizabeth, my love, I'll never get that trunk door shut with those big feet of yours.' She has tiny feet. Well, I can't explain it, but she started to laugh. She laughed so hard she was coughing and that cyst just burst. She could sing again. We hugged. I saw that she had both wings from there on.
image: Fallen Angel by digitalbrain
It was a wondrous thing, that day, in the last days to fish in autumn, where augering through the ice in the days ahead did nothing more than wind a man, refreezing, drill, refreezing, drill, warm beer, sunset.
He was fishing alone on the calm mirrored lake when she escaped and dove overhead, plopping down into his boat, squirming. He was frightened at first, his breath held, chest tightened in fear. She was rather old for a mermaid, he thought. Her eyes were open, slowly rolling from side to side, seemingly searching. She was alive, so he decided not to roll her back over starboard, imagining an arch enemy hammer head in the deep directly below. He covered her with his old Rough Rider tarp, softly apologizing its roughness. The mermaid's lips moved after its fixed green eyes became still, aimed at his forehead. She moaned in a soft whispering desperate tone like a watered flute. Her silver eye brows knitted into a sharp V when he spoke to her softly, relaxing into a straight line, a laugh perhaps?, when he told her in a shaky voice that the only doctor close was ailing with a broken collar-bone. And besides, he always cured all townsfolk patients with 2 glasses and bottle of spirits, chased down with a little philosophical talk, seated at a wobbly kitchen table in the dubious light of a smoky kerosene lamp. Her breathing slowed. Rowing did not budge the craft. He buried his head into his cold hands. What did the Bible say about underwater creatures? It didn't matter. He had buried his Bible with his wife years ago. His thinking was fragmented as in late night slumber. "This living flesh is not a creature", he said unto his hands. Time passed, but no one could say just how long. It began to snow.
She touched his leg.
He looked at her hand. It was like his, only smooth. She spoke.
"What is your name?"
"Philip", he answered, astonished like he wasn't sure.
She smiled. Her lips and cheeks blushing baby-blanket blue.
"Like the vagabond disciple", she nodded. Her eyes widened. She handed him a small instrument resembling a golden harmonica with a solitary opening.
"I am dying today. Call my two daughters with this. They will stay with you forever, Philip."
He opened his mouth, but no words.
"The only spirits you will ever need", she winked, and then her eyes closed, lips whitening.
He had to hold the gift with both hands, afraid of it slipping overboard. There was sound of thunder in the distance, a sliver of blue sky reflected off the lake, a duet of laughing, all the burdens in his soul eased...in those fleeting moments from the song of the mermaid.
Autumn on the River, 1889, John Singer Sargent
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