Earthbound

     Time rolls on, a relentless tide. The measurement of its passage is painted in the mechanical rhythm of the timepiece and the unmarked tide of nature’s cycle. The polar opposites of life and death are the compass of this plane’s existence.

     All spring long the business of life washes on the edge of awareness. The birds that come and go mark the current. Nests are built, eggs are laid and chicks are born. The naked skin sprouts eider and then feathers in mottled clumps that purport a life amongst the clouds.

     The distance between branch and sky is a greater one than most might think. We mark the first day of summer as determined by the Gregorian calendar and the position of the sun and moon. Birds mark the change from the raw green of birth to fruition in a perilous learning curve that leaves the young vulnerable and earthbound waiting until time and genetic memory induce the safeguards that perpetuate the species as a whole.

     The wheat is a golden glow spread out across the horizon. Impatient for the sky, the very young wait out their time nestled in its protective heights. Awkward and weak, they sit in false enclaves hidden from dire straights and natural selection until the gifts that buffer them from the harshness of their environment surface. It can not be called a game when the stakes are so very high. The price of failure to thrive, to survive, is glaringly displayed in the bright light of day.

     Covered in ants and advertised by the curtain of flies that buzz in a coroner’s cloud the fallen sing a mute chorus to the vulgarities of a black reality. For every feather that takes to the current, for every song that rises in the morning light, there is a voice that is stilled and wings that drain into the soil forever lost to the warm flow of the air.

     A small black mound of feathers lies broken in the rain nourished grass. Beetles dine and ants labour over and on the small dusky hill. Blank eyes stare upward to a sky that can’t be seen and therefore is no longer coveted. A delicate neck, barely covered in feathers, stretches out impossibly fragile and empty of song. The fledgling that lies limp and broken on the bright green of the summer grass has bet on a long shot and come up short. It is a wager that we all make and while we might run hot for a span in the end we all pay out.

     There will be no long days of summer and crisp autumn idles followed by winter’s push to warmer shores for the earthbound. There is only this silent testimony to destiny and the law that binds us all.    

The Protagonist

A protagonist is defined as the main character in a drama or other literary work. The tone of the story, the moral to be expressed, determines the nature of a main character, that being good or evil. To follow the narrative from the perspective of the protagonist is an opportunity to gain an understanding of the rhythm of the times that are presented to us in the telling of the tale, fictional or real. Some synonyms often cited are champion, adventurer, paladin, exemplar, star…in a nutshell, for better or worse, the hero.

 

The shrill screech of the telephone woke me from a deep and empty sleep.

“Hey…”

“Hey.”

“Have you read the obits today?”

“No why?”

“Someone from Dinosaur Club died.”

I sat up in bed, “What happened?”

“Don’t know yet, he was only 17. He had the same type of MD as the boys.”

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No I ‘m okay, thanks any way.”

“Okay… I’ll talk to you later?”

“Alright, love you.”

“Love you too”

     My sister broke the connection and I sat with the phone in my hand processing the information before the buzz of the empty line brought me around to the here and now. I dropped the receiver into the cradle and lay back down. The birds were singing outside and the heat of the day was trying to make its way into the room through the slats of the wooden blinds but it was still cool away from the window. It was harsh news for Sunday morning especially when my Sunday morning was Sunday afternoon due to a late night Saturday. I didn’t know if I said the right thing. Maybe I should have insisted on going down there. I knew she wasn’t okay but I also knew that I couldn’t take it away or make it any better.

      Both of my nephews have Duschenne Muscular Dystrophy and are confined to wheelchairs. There is no cure for Duschenne. There is no treatment. In the rare circumstance when it comes up in conversation whomever I’m talking to will invariable say something like, “Both of her kids…wow …that must be pretty rare both having it.” and I answer as always “No it’s not rare at all for siblings to experience the same genetic disease.” But I know why they say it. To them it must seem a greater injustice, insult to injury really, that not just one great tragedy should strike a family but two or even three. But it is a great fallacy to think that the birth of a child unafflicted by the circumstances of the sibling would lessen the suffering of a parent of a disabled child. There is no joy or leavening of that particular pain.

     My sister and her husband do what they can, what anyone would in their circumstances. They love their boys. They try to do right by them and be good parents. It’s hard in ways that someone who doesn’t have to live it can’t even imagine. They aren’t alone. They are one family in a largely invisible community of parents and children who struggle through, taking joy in small victories and refusing to allow the set backs to drown them for very long. They support each other when they can, walking intersecting paths on a winding and steep road. Dinosaur Club is one of the places where the families can connect. 

  

    It’s a warm spring day and my sister and I are killing time after watching my son’s track meet. We’re in a drug store and after we finished an aroma critique of the perfume aisle we decide to browse the book section. Her attention is caught by the bright picture of a Robert Munsch book that she picks up and exclaims over. To me it seems much too young for the boys and I tell her so. She counters by showing me the cover emblazoned with a young girl roaring away on a souped up wheelchair. She tells me that it’s really difficult to find stories featuring kids with disabilities so she’ll consider it even though the age group isn’t the best. No one seems to want to tell tales that have wheels or crutches, braces or harnesses.

     I cast my mind back over the years and the pages looking for heroes that roll or limp through story lines real or fictional. Raymond Burr comes to mind, his hard eyes staring back at me from 3 AM reruns, fascinating in black and white. The boys are way too young to know about him. If I didn’t have an addiction to late night television I probably wouldn’t know about him either. There is Rick Hansen with his Man in Motion Tour but that’s before their time as well. They’d be more likely to know about Terry Fox as his run to raise money for cancer research is still commemorated each year at most levels of education. Even though Terry died young he would seem like a full grown man to boys my nephews’ ages. It would seem that pages recounting the adventures of the Hardy Boys on wheels or those meddling kids with walkers who break the Case of Evil Zombie Island et al are a rare find.

       Later into the week the after dinner clean up was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. It was my sister. She and my mother had gone to the funeral earlier that day. I knew that it would be difficult for her with the parallels she could not help but draw to her own life nevertheless those were also the reasons it was important to her to be there. I asked her how it was and to my surprise she said that it was okay. She had thought that the mother would be a mess but she said she was holding her own so far. As odd as it sounds my sister said that the 17 year old boy had brought comfort to his mother and eased her suffering in the last hours of his life.

     A flu had run its course through his family and he had died from respiratory failure. The mother told my sister that she had been afraid that her son would fight the end but he hadn’t. He had turned to his mother and told her he wouldn’t need the oxygen anymore and that he just wanted her to hold him. After awhile he slipped away, peacefully. His bravery and dignity, the love that he showed in the last moments of his life, brought her a great comfort.

     These aren’t the sort of things that you usually read about in books. The protagonist is usually made up of more media savvy or lionized epic traits. Children dying of horrible diseases don’t make good light reading. Regardless, this particular story, by the best definition, this narration of a brief life, would define this 17 year old boy as the exemplar, the mainstay, the standard-bearer, the warrior…the protagonist, the hero.

     It’s not a story that anyone should have to live, but of course they do. When my sister talked about books for her children with characters they could relate to I know this isn’t what she meant but maybe it is a story that everyone else should know about. That boy wasn’t a noted athlete, a famous detective or a great romancer. He was a boy that life had dealt a really, really unfair hand to and he played it as best he could.

     That is not the story of a secondary character. That is not the life of a marginal individual. That grace and dignity in the face of the almost incomprehensible contemplation of ones own end is something we should venerate. In the end we are nothing more than ourselves. That can be base or in the case of this boy, a glorious shooting star, the light of which is brief and intense but more beautiful in its brave blaze.

 

Storm Spell

 

The firmament divides somewhere overhead. The eastern sky is a cherub’s blue, tonsured in cumulus white. The western sky is a mutinous grey, fallen wings cast out from above. The house sits below the split. The facing windows hang out over the precipice, both in front of and then inside the quickening storm.  

 

The wind is a dog that shakes the trees, throttling the tops, jerking them back and forth. Across the fields the lightning flares, silent at first but then it kisses the ground. Burnt air flinches back and the music of the universe spills out of the light. The thunder is a work calloused hand that scrapes and rasps across the skin. A drop slaps hard on the windowsill, and then a second, and then a third. Petals fall from the apple trees chasing the storm to the ground. The rain is an airborne river and the small windows of mesh that pattern the screens fill up and hide the garden and the yard.

 

A door slams shut overhead and the sudden realization that the bedroom windows are open sends us running up the stairs. We hurry from room to room, forcing down the sashes, wiping the windowsills, laying towels down on the wet carpets, grumbling and laughing a little. Laughing not because it was funny, but because the wind was so strong, the lightning was so wild and the gunshot cracks and black rumble that sang accompaniment as it split the air had held us frozen and made us forget that we were safe inside.  The sky flickers with diamond fire. An alto chord tears free to grind along the spine and we shiver within the embrace of the windows and the roof and the walls.

 

The tulip heads are bent and heavy with the remnants of rain. The wind has died down and the sun has returned to warm the air. The green bite of the garden after the rain comes in through the newly opened windows. The back end of the storm hangs in the eastern sky, a clear line drawn across the horizon. It sends back a parting roll of thunder that fades into the drip, drip, drip of sodden trees.

 

Snow in Spring

     Autumn is the time for ghosts as the green summer languishes having fed its youth to the dog days of summer. It is the job of winter, with its frozen winds and grey skies, to sweep away those ghosts and lose them in the blind swirls of chill blizzard and time. With tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow, mercy decrees that only the treacherous heart can find those ghosts in descending frequency under the soft white blanket of memory. Spring is a time of renewal on the plane of the planet and in the cycle of the life. If winter has done its job and buried the ghosts, hope can be sought in the signs of the earth’s perpetual and eternal motion.

     This past winter was an impotent soldier, a deserter of the faith, and now it lingers overlong. The first buds of spring, the snowdrops and blue scilla are covered in a late season snow. Within this final weak volley lurks lost moments freed by the faltering ministrations of the milquetoast pretender. Shorn of any power, it could not bury the spirits of last year and they call to the brethren vanished years ago. Melancholy waits for the sun to melt the ice and loose the new life impatiently waiting in the wings. It will come. There is no denying it but first the ghosts will have their way.

     A visual image, a trigger, even though we carry a dictionary of cultural symbols, for each person the trigger can be something different. In my mind’s eye I see that particular shade of purple, not the royal blue purple but a crimson tide of bloodied maroon on the dark side of red. At the time I wouldn’t have described it in that way. At ten I didn’t have those words and her raw voice screaming his name as she tore open the white door would have drowned them if I did.

     I don’t remember the colour of the door handle. The house I live in now is old and the doors are painted white but they aren’t hollow core like I know that door must have been in that house. The door knobs here are black and old, older than that house even though it was my home decades ago. I think the door knob must have been one of those cheap brass coloured ones. It would have matched the cheap hollow core door. In that moment, before she tore out into the hallway, I must have seen the door knob turn. It had to turn for the door to open but I don’t remember it. I only remember her pullover in blood red maroon velour and her voice, her panic.

     I see her white face. The image is frozen in my mind. Dark, above her porcelain features, a black chiffon scarf covered her curlers. They were the old kind with the really sharp bristles inside that make it hard to sleep because they stab into your head. The metal wire wrapped around the outside was to help keep the round shape of the curl but it didn’t stop the bristles from sticking out through the netting that covered it. She’d set her hair in curlers the night before and covered the whole thing with a black chiffon scarf. I didn’t know she’d been to the hospital with it up. I didn’t think about that either or why my grandmother was there to pull her back into the bedroom. But I heard her scream his name and I knew then that something was very wrong.

     I never saw her wear that pullover again. Actually I don’t remember her ever wearing it before that morning but I think that might be one of those tricks that the mind plays on us for reason or sanity’s sake. And then things were different for a long time. It was the last time I remember ever having to go to bed at a regular time. The house was filled with people, at first family and then friends and then finally new people that came in late at night and mostly left before we were awake in the morning.

     We weren’t allowed to go to the funeral. It probably would have been better. Maybe then we would have known what we were dealing with, this dying, this death. We could have seen it and then we might have understood what was happening and what would happen. Or maybe not, our childhood unknowingly behind us we were still only slightly broken adrift in a new grown up world.

     I asked her about him years later. She had created a shrine to him in her heart, in her mind and I wondered about the reality of the man. Was he deserving of her decades of devotion? I can tell you, with no slight certainty, that it is true that the dead can do no more wrong. They are dead after all. I thought that the years had lionized him for her. Lord knows that he was her great love or at least death had made him so. No man could stand against his memory and one by one they fell. The damage caused by his departure would last a number of years and all of us would carry it to some extent for the rest of our lives. She has a lover now who I think might make a go of staying the distance. He has set himself to live in a ménage a mort accepting the minor deity of a perfect memory enshrined in the pantheon of her life.

     I have very few memories of the man himself only the chaos that his leave taking set into motion. I knew there was a world that ran beneath the light of our every day but it still lurked in the corners of our youth. That death, his death was the death of our childhood.

     Years later I asked her how she knew that she loved him. Her answered surprised me as the memory of their love, bolstered by her grief and annealed by her suffering, was an absolute. She said that she hadn’t known the conviction of her heart until she saw him standing at the end of the church aisle waiting for her. Her, with her checkered past and a soul that felt battered and unworthy. There he was waiting for her and her three children (what kind of man would want a woman with three children she asked herself and answered- a good man). She thought she was marrying for security and then she saw him standing there in his baby blue tuxedo, waiting for her, for their life together and it was then that she knew that she loved him for sure, right then.

     I wondered, but I didn’t ask. I wondered, if she’d known then that 6 months later she would wake up in the middle of the night and feel the wet stain beneath her, if she’d known that she would wake up and realize in the slow spreading dampness that he was gone, if she would wish it away, never done? She had told me that was how she knew he was really gone because his body had let go of what it held. I wondered if she regretted anything. I wondered and I wanted to ask her but I didn’t.

     How could I when the winter lingers over long and ghosts come to call, walking old halls and opening up doors better left closed? In my mind I see myself in my white flannel night gown, the one with the small peaches printed on the material (I still love flannel, so soft and warm, so comforting), my hair bed head rumpled and my eyes gummy with sleep standing in the upstairs hallway outside my bedroom door right next to her bedroom door. I see myself watching my grandmother drag my mother back into her bedroom. My mother was screaming his name, clawing at the door frame. Where was she trying to go? Was she running away from him or to him? Her eyes were black in her white face, stark above the blood maroon of her velour sweater and crowned with the thorny bristles of her curlers.

     This ungraceful thrust of winter rapes the green of spring and brings old ghosts with it. The sharp thorns of the still naked branches are black against the ashen blanket of late, late snow. I can see the new maroon shoots bleeding up through the cold white. I don’t want to dream tonight. I hope that tomorrow the snow and its ghosts are gone.

The Grey Tide

The rain is an omen, falling in pebble sharp raps. A temperate wanderer meets a winter bare sleeper. Lips part and ruptured clay spews forth a breath held warm and secret in the throat of the dreamer. Twilight over flows its banks and bleeds into the day. Stranded in the flood the black trees are stick bare and naked, caught in the murky half light. Upright and stiff they fight the rising current, hands outspread, reaching to a sky already lost under the onslaught. Choking in the cloudy ocean, overcome at last, they sink below the waves their accusing eyes lost in the greasy tide. Awash in still waters the world expands into solitude.  

Above and Below

The scale has tipped and the night slides into the hours that close on dawn. Unforgiving, the caustic breath of glacial air is an acid bite that wounds the throat and burns the lungs. The silence of a sleeping world is pierced by the sharp break of crusted snow underfoot. The protest of fractured crystal banks from the wall of pines and races back through the thin cold air. The winter cirrus, a haze of hexagonal gauze, surrounds the moon and crowns her with a rainbow halo. That luminous pearl, no coy satellite among her diamond courtiers, blazes out from under the veil of her father’s shadow while reflected shades of sky wash the snowy fields in lapis waves.

Winter Formula

Frozen π

The window frame centers the wall, a bas relief of cream against the waves of burnt sienna. Six feet high and three feet wide the window is corniced and crowned by the benevolent gaze of beveled bulls eye rosettes.

The muntin bisects the window into north and south. Each pole is divided by nine, graphing eighteen adjacent worlds each distinct yet sequential.

The soft fog of curtain sketches the surface in cabochons and brilliants.  Within those hollows the concave drops of grey winter light rise up to rim the threaded borders. Minuscule mirrors reflect and magnify the morning composition.

Angels dancing on the head of a pin, each lavender puddle is a universe. Archimedes’ constant reflects from the pattern scattering in parallel arcs of fixed circumference. Echoes falling back, whorls of frozen meringue float down to cover the dark green of cedar bows.

Storm Surge

Sound like ocean surf surrounds the house. The rising wind swallows it whole. Caught by the undertow, the unwieldy ship of home sinks to the bottom of the swell. Blind in the dark the house rides the surge straining and groaning in a current of sound.

Buffeting by tempest gusts the passing trees scramble for purchase, their skeletal fingers rake windows and eaves. The pale hands of wind drowned pirates shake the glass and drag gales of chains and rusty anchors across the roof.

Leaves and branches in streaming tidal flows frantically cyclone. Swirling down, the house and the swell, the ghosts and the trees, all fall out of the bottom of the sky.

Light cuts the dark as the night drains away leaving the house a beaten salvage on the landlocked shore of a brand new day.

 

An Inauspicious Beginning

Soul eater is the name of the January rain grey skies.

The milky clouded eyes of the dead year gaze sightless skyward filtering the day to perpetual twilight. Icy entrails steam as the warm rain falls in acid runnels eviscerating the gentle swells of wind driven snow. Charcoal grey stick bare fingers rend the thick air as the trees grasp for purchase sinking deeper into the weeping flesh of an earth so unexpectedly awakened.

Chicken Little

The sky is falling…

Dying and unremarked by thought or reasoning, a star expands breaching the limits to break apart in infinitesimal fragments. The exodus of that great conflagration, lost and blind, will travel 40 years in a frigid black wilderness to find the sky of this blue jewel.

Minuscule meteorites, bits of star, speed through the atmosphere and the heavenly firmament is lost to view. Battalions of warriors, clad in white and armed with milky swords of ice, drop heavily through the air. A veil falls, mist and windblown, to filter the light in dim shades of grey. No battle cry breaks the silence, only a gentle hiss as each traveler joins the host massed below.

Earthbound at last, here they will rest and wait for the season’s change to join their souls within this new home. At the turning of the sphere they will bathe again in a kindred brother’s warmth.