"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

31 December 2010

Snow Devil Dance

There's a Himalayan motif to the day here ten miles east of the Roof of the World, where the North American continent splits in half and the rivers flip a cosmic coin by virtue of gravity to decide between flowing east or west. Tibetan gusts whip up snow devils atop the high peaks, along the mountainsides, and even at the valley's floor. Phantasms of the day before's storm. A lingering memory of an Arctic kiss, of which the snowbums savor like an erotic encounter.

I sip the last of my mourning jasmine and contemplate scrambled eggs with Tunisian tabil spice for breakfast. Black-eyed peas soak upon the stove, slowly getting into context to be cooked the next time the sun rises. The dogs lay in various places around my feet and near the fire.

Milarepa, the youngest of the three, normally loves to be outside, no matter the weather. Often, I indulge her. I left her out for an hour and half after they all ate. When I came out to get her, a snow devil embraced us, the ice crystals a caress of tiny talons and barbs. Milarepa looked up at me, her canid glance seemed to say;

"Fuck this noise!" But perhaps I antropomorphize.

Luna and Shuja lay on the couch. Mother and son, coiled around one another more like serpents than cats. They alternate between cleaning one another and sleeping. Eeeva Tiny Voice finds the bed a much better spot to nap. Felix, Phoebe, Emma'Weee!, Burleigh, Pandora, and Ashbee all huddle together in a single sleep-sack, looking like a slumbering mustelidae hydra. I'm sure there are those who would find the sight cute beyond words. The hominid female I live with would most likely be one of them.

Days like this and times like these, when Tibetan winds whip up the snow devils and Arctic kisses have given the very atmosphere a quality of kerosene, spun glass, and razorblades, it's a good thing to not have any obligations. One might even go as far as to say it's a blessing. There were things I had considered doing, but the weather outside is too frightful, whilst the fire inside is nothing short of delightful.

So, instead, I look out the window. The snow devils dance along the gusts, substantial, if only for a moment, before fading into phantasm. A reminder of impermanence. Of how every moment is unique and should truly be savored. The tall peaks, half-shrouded in mists of ice and cloud, are no less majestic. Like the stars, to look upon them, is to gaze upon the face of the Divine. And in that, even on a brutally cold day, there is a sense of peace and comfort of which the clumsy language of half-bald monkeys cannot fully describe.

28 December 2010

Black-Eyed Peas

As the Gregorian calendar prepares to shed its chronological skin from one year to the next, I catch myself becoming increasingly excited. It's not because of that silly illusion of one year ending and new one beginning with a particular form of timekeeping, although tradition is involved. For me, I catch myself becoming increasing excited about the prospect of black-eyed peas.

My father's southern, and, in some places within the Confederacy, it is believed eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day will bring luck and prosperity. As long as I can remember, that is the one day, without fail, we would have them. There have been times I have looked forward to the Gregorian new year more than any of the other winter holiday just to enjoy this dish.

The bean actually originated over in western Africa. It follows that southerners were probably introduced to black-eyed peas via their slaves. Me, being the fan of African cooking, I do have a recipe from that part of the world.

The southern/family recipe is pretty straight forward; black-eyed peas, garlic, onion, ham, salt, pepper, and Texas Pete sauce. My version does not have salt, seeing as I rarely cook with it and I also use either cajun spice or a creole blend I acquired. The African version includes tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, berbere spice, turmeric, coconut milk, and nit'ir qibe spiced butter. Having made both, I can say both variations have their merits.

This year, because of lives and professional obligations, it is dubious as to whether the family will be gathering all in one spot for New Year's Day. Part of me is depressed about the prospect. Another aspect accepts it with a sort of shrug along the lines of something John and Paul-the Beatles, not the Biblical prophets-might say;

"Ob-la-di, ob-la-da
life goes on hah,
how the life goes on..."

So, I look to make my own batch of black-eyed peas. My daughter will be visiting, so she'll at least get to enjoy them, which she often does. Although, if I don't convince Sabina to make her famous red beans and rice, I contemplate making a batch of the African-style as well. Given how much I enjoy black-eyed peas, it's not like that would be an imposition.

Two batches of black-eyed peas? On New Year's Day? Oh, no! Please don't throw me in that brier patch!

I can hardly wait...

24 December 2010

A Winter Stroll

The thermometer read seventeen quaint American degrees upon the fahrenheit scale. Pristine white snow glittered along the mountainsides and high peaks of the valley, casting highlighted contrasts within the folds of vertical landscape. The sky was that perfect turquoise blue with a slight smattering of wispy clouds, cream in color, almost clashing with that pristine white of the snow below it.

After breakfast and those subsequent chores, mourning coffee, and a yerba mate latte, I decided to go check the post. A walk seemed to be in order. Inhale the crisp winter air and feel the crunch of snow under the soles of my German mountaineer's boots. Feel the majesty of being within the incorporeal gaze and shadows of those high peaks.

Thus far, it has been a something of an odd winter. Warmer than previous years. The river is not nearly as frozen over. I noticed this in more stark resolve as I crossed the footbridge over the Grand Canal by the gazebo. Although the dirt streets have their seasonal snowpack, there are bare spots where the dirt and gravel peeks through. There are icy spots from the thaws and freezes of several days of getting above freezing, which is a bit queer for this time of year.

Even the Long Loch, five-hundred vertical feet down-valley is not completely frozen over yet, which I find vaguely disturbing, given observed patterns of past freezes and thaws. Not that it's stopped the ice fishers. I question the wisdom of that pastime anyway. But on a not completely frozen mountain lake? Madness. I wonder if there will be the ice races this season.

The post was standard fare; bills and propaganda to be thrown away upon receiving. I traded pleasantries with the post mistress and got myself a handful of chocolate. More than anything, she just seemed pleased to be able to talk to someone on a brisk winter mourning. The township is quiet in general, but it being mid mourning in winter, it seemed especially silent.

Bundled in my boots, jacket, scarf, and cap, the crispness didn't really cut as deep as it could have. In past lives and other places, the idea of willingly walking somewhere when it was seventeen quaint American degrees on the fahrenheit scale would seem like madness, if not just unnecessary. Living in the mountains, I've developed a certain understanding of the cold, even if it sometimes exacerbates the pains in my twisted skeleton. The view of those high peaks makes it worth the price of admission.

Something that drew me into the mountains is something I find fascinating about deserts; the landscapes of extremes. A place of harsh beauties, which is not for everyone that can potentially kill you if you are arrogant enough to believe you can bend it to your will. Most only come to such places for holiday. Outback slumming. It takes someone with tenacity, quirkiness, and perhaps a slight bit of off-kilter to actually live in such a location.

Such were the equations within the mathematics of my thoughts as I walked back home. The sky, the mountainsides, and high peaks sang out in the otherworldly octaves that you can only hear if you both know how, and, choose, to listen. Every so often, the very shiny-real surrealism of the place, and the fact I live here, hits me between the eyes like a two-ton heavy thing.

Upon walking in the door, I put on the kettle for an infusion of keemun. There was checking the fuel for the fire and the lighting of an incense stick. Pleasant musics were on the radio. The dogs and cats all took their turns in expressing how happy they were to see me once more.

I was calm. Reptile zen. That certain sort of peace that language cannot fully describe, but still leaves a smile across one's face. Once upon a time, I was told walks are good for the soul, and I really do believe that, even if I am not sure if I have a soul to begin with. Walks like that, after all, are like the ones where the touch of the Divine is the most tangible. Stop and pay attention, and you will feel it.

21 December 2010


It is the longest night. A full ghost moon shows phantasmal through a thin gauze of cobweb clouds, remnants of an earlier storm. Snow glitters like diamonds, giving off an eerie, supernatural glow. Despite the fact the fact it's winter, and ninety-one sixty above the surface of the world's oceans, the night air is only a little crisp, but not that cold at all.

Teenagers, immortal and arrogant in their adolescence, zip down the snow-packed lanes on snowmobiles. At this age, they know everything, including the fact they might be impervious to the dangers of zipping down the icy winter lanes in and around a small mountain township. As an older man, perhaps a little envious of their invincibility, I want to tell them to take notes. To realize they are only immortal for a limited time.

But I know better. The young never listen to those they see as old. And old at that age is anyone over the age of twenty-five. I'm thirteen years past twenty-five, and know full well at that age I'd have not listened to someone my age trying to dispense the advice I'd give.

I sip genmaicha tea and enjoy a bowl of chili, bidding my time. A freshly purchased bottle of wine waits patiently on the table. In about an hour, once Sabina gets home, I will be heading out the door.

We have been invited to the annual Solstice party. There, on the longest night, amongst friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and possibly strangers, we shall rage against the dying of the light. Orbital wisdom dictates the sun will take a little longer to set the next day, incrementally moving toward the longest day.

It looks to be a fun time, and I am excited to go. But I bide my time, just as I do for the days to get longer, and longer, into the next Solstice. So it goes. It's okay. My patience is formidable.

20 December 2010

Tea Leaf Catharsis

Perhaps the best place to start the story would be an early spring evening a few years ago at Netherworld. Word had come down from on high and it was official; Sabina and I were to be closing on the House of Owls and Bats. We were leaving the greater metroplex for the a funky little mountain township beyond the end of the world. A place, like Morocco, was furthest west, where the wind sometimes blows Tibetan. It was our place in the world. Our Kashmir. After a little less than a year, through tenacity, strange luck, and devil deals, we were about to make the leap.

So, we were out celebrating. It was our last night out before the move. A sort of farewell shin-dig, which came together at the last moment. I can dig that sort of thing. The best plans are when there are none, because chaos ruins plans. My favorite joke states the quickest way to make a deity laugh is to have a plan. For that reason, I prefer to scheme.

Madam Lung cried that night as we said our farewells. It all seemed so final despite the fact I refused to say goodbye, because goodbye does mean done and over. Madam Lung is one tough chick. Lung is Mandarin for dragon. I've known a few cats who like dragons. Some have tried to incorporate that into monikers. Madam Lung likes skulls and cross-bones, and yet there are few others I think have the right to be called dragon.

That night, as we bid farewells to all of friends there, we spoke of getting together again. Sure, they were supposed to come up and visit, and a few have. But we were also going to make an effort to get together their amongst the neon and night music of the city and its surrounding borough townships.

We never did quite make it back. Our Kashmir, the Sahel it's situated in, was infinitely more interesting. The juke and gin joints down below no longer sang to us with such a siren's song.

The story goes that Netherworld is no longer Netherworld. Apparently, it's frequented by those who wear ball caps with tightly rolled bills, who seem to think one can find cosmic truths within the lyrics of Dave Matthews and Coldplay whilst watching whatever sports franchise on the telly. I've never been curious, or masochistic, enough to see how much truth there is to that story, but much like what I've heard of Paris on the Platte, I've written it off to the truth that nothing ever stays the same.

A year ago, the bruja and the colonel got married. My mother was having her last days in the in sickhouse, and the bruja told me if I needed to be with my mother, than I needed to be with my mother. Her wedding was nowhere near as important, despite the big deal she made of it.

I went anyway, although I was a bag of broken glass. There, for the first time in a few years, I saw Madam Lung and Fu Jen Felis. I did not stay for long, just enough to witness the ceremony and pay my respects to the happy couple, and then I was off again into the pointy lands. Part of me feels bad for not staying longer, and not having more of reunion with my friends, but I also recall my mental state that day. I doubt I'd have been the best of company.

It was recently, at one point or another, the bruja and I talked about getting together for tea. Nothing to spectacular. Perhaps when I was down below doing something, a few of us could meet up. It seemed simple, and we resolved to do it soon.

For all the times I might have thought I might be indulging a little too much in intoxicants, the only sort of drinking interventions anyone has ever wanted to do with me involves water or tea. Sure, I might average six to nine cups a day, but it's not like I have a problem. I can stop anytime I want, although, if you touch my teas, you might draw back a bloody stump. And I know saying I've been drinking all day just does not have the same resonance when I'm referring to things like keemum, rooibos, or jasmine. But, at worst, I drink tea all day, I might have to make a few extra trips to the water closet. So it goes.

Well, anyone following along at home knows what happened to the bruja almost a month ago. I still have a hard time trying to figure out how to approach the subject. On the day official word came down, Fu Jen Felis and I spoke on the phone for hours. Tea came up in conversation, and how we should all get together for that. Soon was once more the buzzword.

Well, what the fuck and how soon is now? What was it going to take? Would another friend have to walk on before we all finally met somewhere for a cup?

And that's how I started looking for tea houses to meet up at...

I admit, I was a little nervous about it. Not these friends of mine that showed up were suddenly going to mutherfuker me for having fucked off for the mountains all those years ago and being so distant. I think it was the auspice of it; our beautiful friend was gone and that was part of the reason for this get together. Something I always meant for her to be a part of, but, as a roll of the bones, it never came to pass, and I think there's a part of me that might always regret that.

Of course, it was not bad at all. There really was no pall of a lost friend that hung over us as we sipped from our cups. We spoke of our whelps and told stories. The gypsy and Madam Lung were going dancing later, and I asked them about how that old haunt was. My daughter got me a copy of The Onion to flip through. It was cathartic.

There was talk of doing it again. The Tea Room in our Kashmir has closed for the season, but there was the idea of coming up for a cup in the spring when it opened once more. The possibility how this could become a regular thing.

I left the tea house feeling a lot better. It was nice to see my friends and hang out once more. Just because we have our own worlds and lives these days does not mean it should only be every few years we see one another. It is sad it took the loss of one of us to reinforce that lesson, but, sad to say, that seems the only way something like that can be taught.

15 December 2010

Slides Along the Spiral

One year to the day, my phone rang. My father told me my mother was being checked into the sickhouse. She was in a lot of pain. Seventeen days later, my brother and I were gazing upon her cold shell. To this day, I wished I'd had two coins to put over those half-lidded eyes.

I have been trying to avoid thinking of the date, but memory and internal wiring have not allowed. The realization has hung like storm clouds upon the event horizon. It's been a year to a day since that final slide along the downward spiral, and my mother is no less dead.

Those feelings of impotence and hopelessness. Similar feelings I had with the bruja a little less than a month ago. It's all so fresh. Saying it's almost too much would border upon melodrama. Still, there are moments it does seem a bit overwhelming.

I sip my tea and go about the day. Life does go on. It's just some are no longer a part of it. A sad thing, to be certain, but it's a fact I remind myself of, one day at a time.

14 December 2010

Orbital Angst

The last time I was so eager for a calendar year to be over was the Year of the Dog, 4704, on the Chinese timescale, which was 2006CE in Gregorian timekeeping. Sorry, the western calendar has never used another species to mark the passage of orbits. Perhaps Pope Gregory liked to kick puppies. Or he was just plain homo-centric.

That year was a time of transition, and those are never easy. There were some good things, but there were also some really horrible fucking things too. I remember as the world froze over with an especially stormy early winter, I was so anxious for the calendars to slough their chronological skins, like when timekeeping said it was 2007CE and/or the Year of the Pig, 4705, everything would suddenly be all better.

I know better. Even back then, deep down, I knew it was all just a dog and pony show. A symbol. A fetter. Delusion. But I was allowing myself to be hoodwinked. It's amazing the little lies we sometimes tell ourselves in order to maintain a relative level of sanity.

Sure, things eventually got better. Or at least more tolerable than the events that had convinced me to despise a stretch of monkey-made time. Perhaps it could be debated that there was a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy, or things just evened out. Choose your superstition and worldview to find the answer that suits you and get ready to debate it until the stars fall out of the sky.

The last time my daughter visited, I mentioned my angst toward the calendar year. She could remember the last time I was so anxious for the calendars to slough their chronological skins and how thoroughly deluded I was by human timekeeping. She even spoke to that point.

"Didn't you tell me time is an abstract?" She asked. "Doesn't that make the new year just a symbol?"

Yeh, out of the mouth of babes. Well, a sixteen year old. Be that as it may, all I could do was thank her.

Like that last time 'round the sun, this has been a time of transition. There has been some good things, but there has also been some really horrible fucking things. That's just the way of it. For me to place so much stock and faith in a calendar, be it Chinese or Gregorian, is pure delusion. Time, after all, is an abstract.

I know better. Like, deep down, I did back then. The difference being is this time I refuse to allow myself to get hoodwinked. After all, things have only the power one gives them, and find myself refusing to be thrall of monkey-made time keeping.

Here and now, the awful things seem to overshadow the better. Memories and recent events. I meditate upon the reptilian, allowing the cold blood to wash over me, to try and look at things in a more objective light. Aside from the lyrical wisdom of Roll the Bones, a set of Live song lyrics have played within the walls of my skull like a mantra;

"I'm burned to the core
but not broken..."

In the past I have said I am unbreakable. That I've yet to encounter the force in the universe that can do that to me. I once thought about having unbreakable tattooed upon my flesh, but find myself no longer in such a hurry for such things. A little bit of spite and punk-rock angst, perhaps, but it's kept me going in through the tougher times. Get kicked, get back up. Adapt or die, the imperative of biology.

Perhaps through the prism of orbital distance the angst of this time of transition will fade. Either that, or I will laugh uncomfortably and try to change the subject. One can never be too sure until they are there.

I do know that here and now, I attempt to take joy in those little things. Soft flurries and mild days when wandering about in the bush. The majesty of the tall peaks of the valley and the brilliance of the stars at night. Brewing tea and home-cooked meals. Music and books. My daughter, Sabina, and the three other species of quadruped we share the house with.

These are the things, which keep me from screaming as I listen to the rhythms and rhymes of the cosmos. Sometimes, those winds of chaos can be bumpy, blowing with the gale-force of a maelstrom. Sometimes, it can be just a gentle breeze that playfully ruffles one's hair. Flip a coin and roll the bones, and ride it out. It's the only thing that can be done.

12 December 2010

Reptile Zen and the Tao of Chaos

I first really came to accept the concept of chaos when I was around twenty-four. Between my own experiences and personal tragedies and observing a world, which could be simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, it made perfect sense. Order was an illusion.

The first tattoo I ever got was of a yin and yang within the star of chaos, surrounded by flames. The symbolism was simple; trying to strike balance within the reality of chaos. Those flames spoke of how fire and destruction are the very womb of creation. The universe was born in an explosion, after all.

Fourteen years later, that symbolism is a truth I still cling to. I was once told if I was going to get drawings made upon my flesh in black India ink, it better be something that means something to me. There is not a single mark on body that doesn't still hold some degree of meaning.

Philosophically, the far, far eastern schools appealed to me. Taoism, with both Sun and Lao Tzu respectively. Buddhism, was the more spiritual aspect of it, although, that at its heart is just a philosophy. I can still remember the dreams I had with a decided Buddhist flavor to them and I would say for years after that was my religious experience.

I've always been solitary in my spiritual/philosophical practice. Well, I'm not an establishment kind of guy, for one. It also seemed to me such things are felt and experienced head, heart, and gut. The rituals and temples and other trappings were merely stage props. Fetters.

It was around a year ago I was reading John Muir, along with some scientific works, when Sabina first made the crack that when we were out on walkabout, we were in church. I found that made sense. There was a certain kind of peace I could find out on the trail, which certainly seemed to border upon a kiss from the Divine. This is when I started investigating Pantheism again for the first time since when I was studying theology.

I was finding that this was when my spirituality/philosophy was starting to go through a bit of an evolution anyway, which is something I believe a thinking individual does; reassessing and reevaluating their position and viewpoints as new information becomes available. It seems the only sane course of action. Stagnation leads to extinction, after all. Along with the acquisition of new bits of knowledge, I think some of this was brought on simply by the experiences of growing older.

Then my mother went and got sick, sick and ultimately died. Almost a year later, one of my best friends was killed in an accident. Those two things alone are enough to have one question their perception of how things are and reassess. My sister, in context of my mother, would speak of being angry with her god, whilst I spoke of chaos and the Noble Truth of suffering.

I could be called a Taoist, because of the concept of wuwei. Non-action. Effortless doing. Going with the flow, but not disturbing it. In using my own words; sitting back and listening to the rhythms and rhymes of the cosmos. Or, perhaps that proclamation I made to the empty small hours atmosphere as I traveled through the Rub 'al Khali of the badlands of eastern Colorado when my mother died;

"I cast my lot to the winds of chaos."

I could be called a Buddhist, because of understanding and accepting impermanence. Practicing mindfulness and understanding suffering and samsara. To me, there is an empirical practicality to the philosophy, which makes such perfect sense.

I could be called a Pantheist, because of the perceived divinity as nature and the universe. Feeling in touch with the Divine whilst on walkabout, or gazing upon the peaks or the stars. Nature is amazing. The universe is awesome. Its magic is always there, if one knows how to look, even though it's not fireballs and thunderbolts spoken of in mythologies and other fairy stories. Here I see a sort of synthesis of mystic and science, faith and reason, I've always tried for.

However, I do not like labels, and establishments offend me. These are dog and pony shows, which are ultimately unnecessary. It is naive, silly, and insulting to try and pigeonhole the Divine beneath a single Voodoo mask. One, which, in some belief systems, plays favorites with a species of half-bald primates. Its much too big for that.

The three I've mentioned I can groove with and synchronistically incorporate into my liquid mercury-shifting spirituality/philosophy. I no longer think theology is an appropriate term, because what I strive for is more a way of thinking and being. A way of life.

Were I pressed to conceptualize the this into labeled Voodoo mask for those playing the home game, I would call it Reptile Zen and the Tao of Chaos. Such a title, aside from maybe being a little catchy, seems to make the most sense. Well, at least to me. And somehow, I find myself at peace with that.

11 December 2010

The Pilgrimage to Heaven's Needle

A warm sun glittered down on ancient buildings. The remnants of a civilization, which had stood since before time began. No one lived in or near the ruins nowadays. Sheppard's would sometimes bring their flocks to graze on the plentiful vegetation, hoping they would not be stolen by the predators, which stalked the plain. Travelers and pilgrims would occasionally camp the old shells for a night or two, at most, before leaving for their final destination. Others avoided it, believing it to be haunted by the jinn and hungry ghosts.

These remains sat a quarter of a day's travel from any sort of civilization. They were known more as a landmark along the way than anything else. A place between to stop and rest and marvel at what had stood before.

He came to the ruins seeking answers. Or perhaps it was just escape. An oracle in the city had pointed him in this direction after dispensing a bit of prophecy. The stories of jinn and hungry ghosts never bothered him. For some reason, he always felt safe when he camped in their shadows. There was more of a concern of an accidental snakebite, or being attacked by an old or sick predator than anything from beyond the veil.

Upon clambering to the tallest standing tower of the ruins, the one sometimes called Heaven's Needle, and setting up camp, he lit an incense stick and began to meditate. His gaze fixed upon the sky and distant mountains along the horizon. As the day progressed, his eyes did not flinch. Around twilight, he stopped long enough to eat a light meal, before resuming.

He meditated upon prophecy and the tales of old emperors in older empires. Tests and trials. The whispers of the gods and the motion of the stars. When he finally fell asleep, late into the night, the full coin-like moon showed ghostly through a bank of phantasm clouds. Despite having a head full of questions, his slumber was restful.

Upon returning the city, he was at peace. The oracle was nowhere to be found. That was fine. It was something he accepted about their acquaintance. He knew when it was time to have his meditations interpreted, like a warm breeze and a pleasant dream, the oracle would appear once more.

05 December 2010

An Afternoon Meditation Upon Kilimanjaro

Perhaps one of my favorite images of my personal Kilimanjaro...

The sun has dipped behind the valley walls, shrouding even the tallest peaks. Outside there is but a slight breeze and the temperature hovers just below that of frozen water. There is a certain still-quietness, which indicative of small places in the early days of winter at ninety-one sixty.

I watch the scene from my window, listening to the Tea Party and sipping hot assam tea. This is perfection, or at least as perfect as it can be without being boring. The song Coming Home is playing, which always gets me to think of late afternoons in the mountains.

My gaze follows the sheer vertical ascent of terrain to the summit of the twelve-thousand foot peak along the northern rim of the valley. This mountain has a name. A proper one given to it some time in the past by those who first mapped this part of the world. I call it Kilimanjaro, because there is something about that peak, which speaks to me in African rhythms.

I have wandered around that mountain a fair amount whilst on walkabout. Either from the window or the porch I have gazed upon its summit. Their is a certain tranquility I find in gazing at it, which I have a hard time putting into language. I have never been possessed of the urge to climb mountains, persey, but one day, I truly want to stand upon the summit of this one.

04 December 2010

Walking Wounded

The story goes that the bruja's family wanted to have a private funeral and then a friends memorial. Understandable. Similar things were done with both my grandmother and my mother. Granted, burying someone twice, even by way of metaphor, can be trying. But I think it is good to have that bit of privacy, as well as the inclusiveness.

The bruja's definition of family went beyond who she was married to or shared genetic material with. This too is understandable, if you knew her. In our circle, when we were cutting loose, rocket-fueled on either too much intoxicant or too much coffee and too little sleep, I was Dirty Uncle Bob and she was Skanky Aunt Shelly, despite the fact Michelle did not appear anywhere within the mathematics of her given name.

I was really, really, looking forward to teaching her son to address me as Dirty Uncle Bob, but so it goes...

It was two days before the funeral when the gypsy phoned and told me the colonel had invited Sabina and I to the bruja's funeral. There was a limited amount of seats, and he hoped he could accommodate these close friends and the family.

Two days was very short notice, and I told the gypsy that. Both Sabina and I had our respective obligations we were unsure if we could rearrange. My daughter, who had known the bruja since she was six, wanted to pay respects too, and it was unlikely I could have convinced my x-wife to pull our child from school to attend the funeral of one of my weirdo friends. So I declined, passing the message via the gypsy to the colonel to give our seats to one of the blood relatives, we'd go to the friend's memorial. I felt bad about that. I still do. But there was so little I could do otherwise.

It's hard to say exactly who I feel worse for in this situation. Sure, all of us friends knew and loved her, and this is crushing for us. But I think of others, like her first child, who after eighteen years and a for-the-best-adoption was finally getting to know her mother. She was going to see her half-brother be born. The bruja's mother, because common wisdom states you're not supposed to bury your own babies. Then there's the colonel, who not only got out of that accident with minor physical injuries, but is now faced with burying both his wife and unborn son.

I'll say the colonel is the one I worry the most about. By virtue of what came to pass with my mother, I've had nearly a year long ringside seat to watching someone grieve the loss of a mate. It's a heavy thing. Then, of course, the loss of the child they were going to have together. I have buried two grandmothers, a friend, and a parent, but that's something I lack the spine to contemplate.

The colonel and I do not know each other very well. We only met but a few times in the last two years. I never rightly got a chance to make an honest assessment one way or the other. Be that as it may, I know the bruja was retarded for him. She married him, after all. I am not a romantic, nor do I believe in fairy stories, but their tale came close, and might have once gotten my eyes to be a little misty, but that might've just been dust and pollen in the air.

Because of our lack of closeness, other than telling other, closer, mutual friends to watch after him, I really do not know what to say. What is their to say? In moments of crushing grief, the well intentioned I'm sorry of a stranger is so hollow. What the fuck do they know about your loss? It is something said out of awkwardness and courtesy. And it is equally awkward and hollow to acknowledge that socially expected condolence, leaving the taste of bile and cobwebs in the mouth.

Three and a half years ago, I helped my father bury his mother. On the day of her funeral is when Jibril died. Although I was not close to my father's mother, there were quite a few within the circles I traveled who wondered how I was doing. Two deaths in such proximity must be hard. The snake chases its tail and déjà vu all over again, if I haven't had a cat or two ask how I was holding up through all this by virtue of the loss of my mother.

Almost four years ago, over whiskey shots, a wise man from South Africa spoke a sage-like truth I've often repeated as an almost dysfunctional mantra; we're all messy. Indeed. We are the walking wounded. Messy. Some of us are just messier than others.

If I could, I would like to get hold of some of the bruja's ashes and scatter them in locals like the Bull's Head and the necropolis. Places we went when she came up to visit Sabina and I just before she got together with the colonel.

I do not know if she was cremated for certain. I feel it would be rude to ask the family for remains. Perhaps, since such a thing is but a symbol anyway, someday in the near future, I might strike out for those two locals, letting the mountain air and the mists of memory wash over me. Maybe that will be my memorial to my beautiful friend.

The when and if of the friends memorial is when I'll bury my friend for the second time, even if it is just in metaphor. Or I'll at least show up to grieve with others of her acquaintance. That is the social construct, after all. These sort of things are for the living, not the dead, and anyone who says differently is either daft of selling something. But, perhaps then, I'll know what to say to the colonel.

01 December 2010

The Demon's Claw

"Weapons are tools of ill omen, despised by Heaven..."-Chinese proverb

It was by accident that he found his old sword. As with a great many things, he came across it whilst looking for something else. So many years had passed since he last saw or even thought about it, he'd all but forgotten it. Those memories stowed in the same cinnabar trunk as the blade. Dusty, and covered in cobwebs.

As he reached down and grasped the handle, those lost memories came flooding back. Another life and another time. Before the scars and nightmares, which years of meditation finally quelled. Before he shut the sword away in an ornate trunk of cinnabar to gather the dust and cobwebs.

There was a time when he fought under a banner and was respected and feared for his prowess with a blade. He was like a wild demon and the battlefield, and his sword, an extension of him, was the Demon's Claw. It was said he moved like fluid. Like the wind. Like fire and the shadows of a moonless midnight. None could best him.

But he put the sword away. The Demon's Claw had tasted blood and was ever-hungry. And after the campaigns, he found there were other pursuits and appetites to slake. The way of the blade no longer suited him. He cast aside his allegiance to the banner and trekked far and wide to find a quiet place where he could quietly contemplate and find peace with the destruction his demon wrought.

An older man now, he pulled the sword from its scabbard, its blade gleaming in the lantern light. It was still sharp to the touch. He could feel its perfectly balanced weight. His hand, now unsteady from years without practice, shook as he worked his way through a few basic forms. He remembered how easy it once was. The sound of the Demon's Claw slicing through the air with the same ease as it did with flesh and bone.

Perhaps once, he may have been disappointed with how clumsy he'd become. But now, he found himself chuckling. Amused at how alien the blade, which once such a part of him, was. In a moment of nostalgia, he brought the blade close to his face, feeling its dull side against his cheek. He shut his eyes, remembering how many times in battle, before making that first strike, he would do such a thing.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw himself. Or rather, he saw the man he once was. The warrior. The demon, moving like fluid and wind and fire and the shadows of a moonless midnight. The sword, the Demon's Claw, showing like molten silver in the lantern light.

At first he was startled by the apparition of his younger self. Then, a strange sense of calm flooded through him. It seemed only fitting, after all. He had pulled the old sword from its resting place in the cinnabar trunk, covered in dust and cobwebs. Besides, it was nighttime, and it is at night when the demons come.

"Look at you!" The phantasm hissed, its breath a hot wind of the battlefield carrying the screams of the wounded, the silence of the dead, and the scent of blood. "You can barely handle the blade! You have grown soft!"

"I put it away. I have studied," he said calmly, lowering the blade of the Demon's Claw to the floor. "I have learned when I draw this, when I use it, especially in anger, I have already lost the battle."

"You are pathetic!" The demon growled, raising its sword, and slicing down. The blade made a humming sound as it cut the air as easily as it could cut flesh and bone.

It was met with a deafening clang! The apparition stood in shock at his quarry, the man it once was, standing perfectly still, stone-faced, with his sword, the Demon's Claw, blocking that of his attacker. He locked eyes with this ghost of his past, his gaze unwavering.

"I have learned a new way," he said in an even tone. "I am no longer you." He then pushed the phantasm's sword to the floor. "And you will never be me."

It is said, when standing face to face with a demon, one must maintain eye contact. The slightest blink could spell death, or thousands of things worse. He knew this bit of wisdom and did not flinch from the demon in front of him. The apparition sneered and spat, but he held his ground. His sword, the Demon's Claw, kept his opponent's blade pressed to the floor.

"You are not welcome here," he said finally.

In that moment, the demon smirked. Defiant, but still carrying an air of respect for the man, who was once a warrior, but had put his sword in a trunk made of cinnabar to collect dust and cobwebs. It bowed its head, and faded into memory and the shadows between pools of lantern light. Finally, he allowed himself to blink.

He looked at his sword, the Demon's Claw, for a long time. The phantasm reminded him of what he once was, and that he could not simply hide his past in a trunk made of cinnabar. It was important to remember it so as to be mindful of why he had become the man he was now.

The next day, he set the sword out to be displayed. Sometimes, when engaging in quiet contemplation, he would focus on it, remembering what he once was. He never saw the demon again, but he took its lesson to heart; one cannot hide their past away, and when one tries, its specter will come back to haunt one in the dark.