Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Haunting Poems - The Ones That Cross Time And Wake You...

I dreamt last night that there was wind and rain.
I got up and looked out, but all was strange;
A muddy track across a wooded plain;
A distant tumult; angry cries, exchange of fire.
And then, out of that dreadful night,
Appeared a scarecrow army, staggering,
Defiant, famished.
In the quenched starlight
They marched on to their bitter reckoning.

Their sleepless, bloodshot eyes were turned to me. 
Their flags hung black against the pelting sky. 
Their jests and curses echoed whisperingly, 
As though from long-lost years of sorrow— 
You’re weeping! What, then? 
What more did you see? 
A gray man on a gray horse rode by.

That is a haunting poem.  One that reaches a hand through time, shakes me awake and drags me to the bookcase, where I search for an obscure book that I'm sure holds the haunting poem.

Ozymandias was my first haunting poem.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said - "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Since I met the King of Kings, there have been other haunting poems for me.  Bold time travelers all. And, they have another commonalty.  They don't hide their true nature. For example, recall for a moment, your first reading of "She walks in beauty like the night..."  I'll bet you didn't think you'd just stumbled on to nursery rhyme when you read that, and I'll bet you didn't stop reading there. 

You don't have to be asleep to be visited by a haunting poem.  You can be idly reading the blog post of friend, like David Atkinson, and happen on "There was a man who dwelt alone beneath the moon in shadow..." which is a line of a poem written by JRR Tolkien.  A poem long forgotten, now rescued, and dragged into the twenty-first century, where it just might trigger the appearance of another of my haunting poems, like the one at the beginning of this post.     

That poem, was written by Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, and is from the first page of my favorite Adams book, Traveller.  The gray man of the poem is Robert E. Lee.  The gray horse, Traveller.  Two  historic figures, who, when portrayed in poem became one of my haunting poems and as such, not unwelcome midnight visitors.

Just in case the woman who walks in beauty like the night haunts you, I'll leave you with her, thereby possibly saving you from a midnight fall as you search your bookcase for her... 

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
Lord Bryon

Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Valentine Card

"How do you know what's inside?" He asked.

He'd spoken so softly I wasn't sure he was talking to me.

I turned toward him.  Probably late thirties or early forties I thought.  He was peeking cautiously out from under a battered blue baseball cap. Hiding, I thought.  He'd probably rather be caught in a saloon or even a church rather than the local Hallmark shop.

  He stuck a Valentine toward me and asked again, "How do you know what's inside?"

I took the card and thought I detected a tremble in his hand, but I wasn't sure.  The card was hermetically sealed in cellophane, to protect it from damage.  Over zealous shoppers can be a problem in a card shop.

I flipped it over and took a half-step left until our shoulders touched and pointed to the paragraph on the back that began, "The message inside is..."

He snatched the card back, before I could read the next words.  He held the card close to his face stared at the now revealed message, shook his head, and in an even softer voice, almost a whisper, he said, "We've only been dating for two months.  I don't want her to get the wrong message."

He dropped his eyes, and I slipped the card out of his hand and read the message.  I looked at him and he raised his eyes to mine, "You're right, you don't want to give her this one," I said.

For a moment, I thought he was going to cry but he didn't.

"What should I do?" He asked after a couple of seconds of staring at the card?

I looked to the right and spotted a card, also hermetically sealed, that I had just put back on the shelf. The front depicted a stylized eyelid, closed in a wink.  I flipped it over and said, "This message is pretty noncommittal."  His eyes glazed for an instant, and I clarified my statement, "She won't get the wrong idea from it.  It just says, 'You make me want to wink.'"

His eyes went blank and he handed the card back saying, "It's a girl's eye."

"You're right," I said.  "I hadn't thought of that."

Actually, I had thought of it but didn't think it would matter.  Silly me.

Before I could suggest another, he moved away, and with the secret information I'd given him began searching on his on.  I don't blame him, I thought.  Obviously a grizzled old guy like me could get him in serious trouble.

Later, we checked out at the same time.  He'd found a Valentine that met his conditions, but he didn't bother to let me read the message inside.

However, he did ask about the Olivina lotion and soap I was buy, and before I could mislead him on that, Therese, the shop owner said, "Mr. Carson's wife loves Olivina product, so he buys a lot of them."

Hearing it from Therese made Olivina a safe choice.  I paid for my Valentine's, lotion, and soap and moved away from the counter to spend some quality time with Spook, the Hallmark cat.

A few minutes later, the shy cap guy left with his card and lotion but no soap. Probably didn't want to appear overly committed I thought and then I thought, It's a damn good thing I didn't tell him about the vase of long stem red roses I'd purchased Friday.

I'd almost forgotten the incident until this morning when I read Caleb Pirtle's Valentine blog, Why Love Hangs Around So Long.  Then the Valentine conversation slammed back to my mind and I laughed.  The guy at the Hallmark Shop was playing volleyball and had already lost the game.

Thanks for the blog Caleb.  And thanks to my lovely wife, Christina, who plays one-sided tug of war and with me and who gave me two Valentine Cards, the messages on each went way beyond a wink.

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Muse

My Muse - John

Last Sunday before the Super Bowl, I was poking around in the bookcase, looking for something to read until kickoff, when I spotted an old favorite, Bill Moyers'  The Language of Life . Bill and his friends are always good for a few minutes or more, of entertainment.  In this case it was more, much more.  And, it wasn't a poem that grabbed me.  It was a comment that Carolyn Forche made to Bill Moyers in their conversation before her poetry was showcased.  She said:

"I took advice from Flannery O'Connor who said you must take it seriously and sit down every day before your writing table and wait for the Muse to come.  If you don't keep your appointment, the Muse goes over to the next writer's house and gives that writer the ideas."

I read that and I thought of Caleb Pirtle, a writer friend who often talks about his Muse. Caleb talks about him so much he now has a bunch of his friends doing it.  I'm going to be honest about this, now, I thought it was just a bunch of bull.  Well, maybe not a bunch of bull, more like a gimmick, a hook, a writer's trick to keep your attention on the page.  That's what I was thinking when I read the highlighted quote.

I thought about it through the first quarter and then BLAM, SLAM, another thought crashed in... Just because you haven't met your Muse is no reason to think Caleb doesn't know and work with his.  With that thought still playing, another one slipped into the room... a question actually, "Are you going to be here when John gets here?"

You probably don't know this, but that was the catch line to a comedy routine made famous by Brother Dave Gardner on his 1959 album, Rejoice Dear Heart.  I had it on a 78 rpm record and played it until my mother knew the stories as well as Dave and me.  You can listen to the original recording here, but before you go, let me tell you what happened next.

I played the comedy routine through in my mind a few times as Peyton Manning and Cam Newton did their things, and suddenly, I got it when IT knocked me off the sofa and onto the floor - IT can do that to you, you know?

Like bother Dave's character, James Lewis, I hadn't stayed around long enough for my Muse to show up.  With that in mind, I reread what Flannery O'Connor said, "If you don't keep your appointment, the Muse goes over to the next writer's house and gives that writer the ideas."

I pitched a fit right there.  Caleb had two Muses.  Mine and his.  The nerve of that southern living Texan.  I calmed a bit, and Flannery whispered in my ear, "Honey, you were the one who didn't wait.  Your Muse had to go somewhere with those ideas."

I straightened and said, "Will he come to me If I go back and wait?"

She laughed, "Sweetie, we can't know that until you go back and wait."

With a toss of her head, Flannery left.  At halftime Denver was leading and I was waiting.  A tiny little bit of inspiration came floating in and asked, "Are you going to be here when John gets here."

I tossed it aside and said, I'll be here.

The halftime show ended, and the third quarter started the way the second had ended.  The door to my mind creaked open, and Travis McGee came in with an idea for a blog.  He explained it.  I told him I liked it, and he stood to leave.  As he turned toward the door, he asked, "Are you gong to be here when John gets here?"

"I'm not going to miss that," I said.  Travis left.

The fourth quarter started, and I began to believe that Denver might beat the odds and win the Super Bowl.  That's when my mind's door slammed open again.  This time two big guys and a dog they call Buddha came running into the room. I knew them.  Malcolm and Sawyer and their dog, Buddha, from my novel in progress, Moon on Water.  "It's time to get back to the book," Sawyer said, then he gave me an idea that took away the block that had kept me from the project for more than a month.

I jumped up, and started for the computer, when I remembered I was waiting for my Muse.

Malcolm laughed and said, "It looks like you're planning to be here when John gets here?"

I nodded and looked at Buddha who was sitting on the floor staring at me.  I asked him,  "John is my Muse isn't he?"

The big dog barked and the three left.  I watched Peyton Manning and 21 friends close out Carolina.

An hour or so later, still lying on the sofa, I felt a tremor in the air and looked across the room at the big easy chair.  John, a little out of breath, but with a beautiful smile on his bearded face, was sitting there, staring at me.

You're John aren't you?" I asked.

"That's right."

"John, according to the pictures and the mythology, you're supposed to be a topless woman."

"I don't do mythology," he said, through that pleasant, all-knowing grin.  "I'm your Muse."

I've been waiting for you."

"I know.  I got caught in traffic."

"What traffic?" I asked.

He smiled wider.  "The traffic in your head.  The traffic that, until now, has kept you from waiting long enough to meet me."

He cocked his head to one side, listened intently, then said, "Good. It's cleared out now. Let's go to work."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

On Death - The Philosophy of Travis McGee # 8

In case you are following the Travis McGee Series of blogs and you're wondering what happened to #7, it is here.   Three years ago I was running a Wordpress powered blog and for some reason, I can no longer remember, I added another one.  Before I started using the new one, I realized that Blogger (a blogging platform created and maintained by Google) is free and so much simpler to use.  In addition, at that time, but no longer, I could pay a small amount and buy my own domain name, in this case bert-blogging.com - so I did, and I've been using blogger exclusively until now.

One day last week, I received an email notice that my domain name, Kindle-Scribe.com was expiring.  No one wants to expire or have anything of value that belongs to them expire.  So I renewed the name, checked the site, which is hosted by Bluehost.com, and found it was working fine in spite of being way out of date.  Then I wondered if I could still operate a Wordpress site.  I thought, What the heck.  It's like an IQ test.  Give it a shot.  And I did.

Twenty-four hours later, hostgator.com  advised me that my domain, bertcarson-author.com was going to expire in a few days.  I opened the long unused site and got caught in a blog I had posted three years ago called What Are You Reading, and I thought, Well, I've got one Wordpress site running, it can't hurt to have two... or maybe it was the old picture of me writing, in my hotel room in Hawaii, while a white pigeon, perched on the balcony railing looks on, that is on the home page of the site, which convinced me to renew and re-activate the old site.

Anyway, that's why I'm now operating one blog site and two web sites.  Feel free to sign up for the email versions of my blogs posts on each site, then it won't matter where I post a blog, you'll get it in your email in-basket minutes after I post it.

And now, death, which is the business of the day, or at least this Travis McGee blog post.  I've been thinking about writing a blog about death for a while.  Before you jump to a conclusion, I'm fine, still doing everything I ever did, just a bit slower than when I was at sixteen, thirty-six, fifty-six, or sixty-six, but I've discovered, as I slow down, that slow isn't always a bad thing.  Still, every sunset I celebrate brings me one sunset nearer the last one I'll celebrate, so I think it's natural that I should be paying more attention to the topic.

Years ago, when I first began seriously considering my death, I noticed I had no fear around the topic, just some ideas about how it should happen, or maybe I should say, how it shouldn't happen.  A lingering, pain-filled, fortune-draining, process isn't in my future.  I'm just not into long good byes, pain, or throwing away money for no reason other than the perpetuation of grossly inflated medical industry and its practitioners.

As I considered the subject further, I began collecting quotes and making random notes on my thoughts about death.  Things like my buddy and fellow Vietnam Vet, Dan Beck, said commenting some twenty years ago on the body cast I'd acquired as the result of rolling my Jeep to avoid hitting a dog, "Hell, that's no big deal Carson.  We've been on borrowed time since we pulled out of Vietnam."

And then there's the George Gurdijieff quote on death that I've loved since the first time I read it:  "Every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence, and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it."

However, as is often the case, it took Travis McGee to knock me on my butt and get me writing about death and what I thought of it.  Here's the quote that did it.

I sat on the tin stool, arms propped on my knees, and debated telling her. It is so damn strange about the dead. Life is like a big ship, all lights and action and turmoil, chugging across a dark sea. You have to drop the dead ones over the side. An insignificant little splash, and the ship goes on. For them the ship stops at that instant. For me Sam was back there somewhere, further behind the ship every day. I could look back and think of all the others I knew, dropped all the way back to the horizon and beyond, and so much had changed since they were gone they wouldn’t know the people aboard, know the new rules of the deck games. The voyage saddens as you lose them. You wish they could see how things are. You know that inevitably they’ll drop you over the side, you and everyone you have loved and known, little consecutive splashes in the silent sea, while the ship maintains its unknown course. Dropping Sam over had been just a little more memorable for Nora than for me. It would stay with her a little longer, perhaps." 

That's from A Deadly Shade Of Gold, the 5th in the 21 book Travis McGee series written by John D. MacDonald, originally published in 1965, five years after I graduated from Palatka Senior High School.  Now that I've seen that photo again, the fifty-five plus year old memories are flooding into my mind and with three hungry blog sites to keep fed I'll be sharing them with you.  Who knows what I'll be telling you about Inez, and Jackie, and all the others who are still eighteen as far as I'm concerned - you see, I've not been to a class reunion, so I don't know for sure they've aged.  That photo has probably been photo-shopped a little bit.  

So, what do you think of when you think of death?  Remember, as always, your comments are appreciated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Dare - A Personal Pledge - And A Challenge

Martin Treptow

My friend, Tom Itsell, forwarded this video to me.  It was originally posted almost three years ago.  As of this morning, 1.8 million people have watched it.

Like you, I miss a lot of things worth seeing and hearing because they are lost in an infinite number of things that are neither.  So Tom, I owe you one for making sure I saw and heard this.

In this video you'll hear and see President Ronald Reagan.  From his first words, I was mesmerized by his presentation, but most of all I was enthralled by his sincerity.

In a world that has grown top heavy with empty machismo, sincerity is often shrugged off as wimpy, and that's why a collection of empty cans are leading in the current struggle for power we call presidential campaigning, and one of them is going to be elected.  No matter if you are Republican or Democrat, that should alarm you.

So here's the dare.  I dare you to watch the video and listen to the words of the last president we've had who didn't want the job for prestige, power, or money.  A man who sought and won the job known as leader of the free world simply because he wanted to serve.

In this video you'll also meet Martin Treptow, who pledged to himself, "I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone." There aren't many Martin Treptow's left in this country which was once filled with them.

Martin wrote those words in his diary as a reminder to himself.  After his death, they were adopted by the U.S. Army and became the soldier's pledge.  But Martin never intended his words to be a soldier's pledge.  They where his pledge to himself, a personal statement of who he was.  Martin Treptow was a man who took responsibility for his life, his choices, and his actions.  

The challenge.  Are you willing to follow the lead of Martin Treptow? Are you willing to take responsibility for your life, every part of it?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Have Some Things I Will Tell You...

The Storyteller
I'm not sure where it came from.  Not that it matters.  More often than not, I don't know where "it" comes from, or where it's going... all I know is what "it" is and I'm always glad it came this way.

"It," is a random thought.  That is, by my definition, a thought seemingly unconnected to my previous thought, current direction, or logical next step.  "It" just appears from somewhere unknown and unless I'm quick it is gone before I get a good look at it, much less pin it down long enough to jot a note or two about it.

I caught this one, held it for second, scribbled a few quick notes on the blank digital page which happened to be open, like it was waiting for "it."

I was at my writing table, getting ready to write my morning pages, thinking about the three chapters of Southern Investigation - Tucson  I will edit today, a blog post or two I should write, a long overdue letter waiting for a reply, when suddenly, unannounced and unattached, "it" flitted through.  A single line, followed quickly by a second, "I have nothing to sell you. Just some things I will tell you."

I recognized the words from a song I hadn't heard or thought of in a long time.  The Grand Tour.  A huge hit for George Jones, Aaron Neville, and many others. The lines that landed in my head this morning were from Aaron's version.

I have nothing here to sell you.
Just some things I will tell you.

What was that all about?  It was and is and always will be about storytelling.  Storytelling in all of its forms - tales we share with a friend or two, deliver orally to audiences, scrawl across a piece of paper, fold and  pass across a room or send around the world to a friend, or hammer into a book for anyone who might be interested.

Before we were anything else, we were storytellers.  In fact, storytelling is the oldest profession known to man.  Much older than the other one that might have come to your mind when I said "the oldest profession."

Storytelling drives the world.  I believe the universe is a story, and we're supposed to share our experience of it.  If that weren't true, why else would we all do it?

Step right up.
Come on in.
I Have Some Things To Tell You