Existentialism

Warm fingers of light teased out patches of leafy green fuzz below the canopy. Kenny Chesney warbled about my life growing up in the south. I breathed out deeply, the warm summer air stirred the stale cobwebs of the last two years away from the sad corners of my lungs. He was right; I was the only one who could answer that question.

It wasn’t the end of the world. I had accepted it; I’m a selfish person. I’d take advantage of the lakefront it had brought me for a little while before my gypsy life pushed me on down the road. Chicken and rice in hand and folding chair slung over my shoulder like a hobo’s satchel, I strode out the door and around the building to the head of the stairs.

A skinny fisherman in a t-shirt, and a baseball cap stretched over the corner of the dock to flip his lure further out over the lake. My corner. The corner I had intended to plant my chair. He looked familiar, in the same way that Kenny Chesney always manages to sing about somebody that you used to know.

I watched the mossy concrete steps that just a few months ago I had cut up my knees sliding across, dragged down my two big girls, long gone with my other life. The fisherman would have an unexpected guest on the dock. For a moment, I hoped that he was someone I recognized.

And then he was gone… His cast hadn’t made a plunk in the water. There were no footsteps fading in the distance. I stepped onto the sidewalk and looked down the path; no one. Laughter on the opposite side of the lake. Flies fishing.

A wobbly orange lure filled with black glitter wedged in the baseboards of the dock near a slick of duck poop was the only sign of that my memory might have existed. I wanted the dock to myself, and so I had it. I stepped to the edge and peered, somewhat forlornly, into the murky water. Maybe my thoughts had pushed him away. Was he one of the fish in the lake, now, or had he never been?

I flicked crickets off my chair and tossed a little bitty Cornish game hen wishbone into the lake, a sacrifice to my friend. It was the least I could do, now that he was a fish.

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The Fisher King

“It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”. So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

- Parry, The Fisher King (1991)

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The Frog Princess

Rock on, gold dust woman
Take your silver spoon and dig your grave

One fine evening a young prince put on his cape and boots, and went out to take a walk by himself in a wood; and when he came to a cool spring of water with a rose in the middle of it, he sat himself down to rest a while. Now he had a golden ball in his hand, which was his favorite plaything; and he was always tossing it up into the air, and catching it again as it fell.

After a time he threw it up so high that he missed catching it as it fell; and the ball bounded away, and rolled along on the ground, until at last it fell down into the spring. The prince looked into the spring after his ball, but it was very deep, so deep that he could not see the bottom of it. He began to cry, and said, ‘Alas! if I could only get my ball again, I would give all my fine clothes and jewels, and everything that I have in the world.’

Whilst he was speaking, a frog put its head out of the water, and said, ‘Prince, why do you weep so bitterly?’

‘Alas!’ said he, ‘what can you do for me, you nasty frog? My golden ball has fallen into the spring.’

The frog said, ‘I do not want your silver, and jewels, and fine clothes; but if you will love me, and let me live with you and eat from off your golden plate, and sleep on your bed, I will bring you your ball again.’

‘What nonsense,’ thought the prince, ‘this silly frog is talking! She can never even get out of the spring to visit me, though she may be able to get my ball for me, and therefore I will tell her she shall have what she asks.’

So he said to the frog, ‘Well, if you will bring me my ball, I will do all you ask.’

Then the frog put her head down, and dived deep under the water; and after a little while she came up again, with the ball in her mouth, and threw it on the edge of the spring.

As soon as the young prince saw his ball, he ran to pick it up; and he was so overjoyed to have it in his hand again, that he never thought of the frog, but ran home with it as fast as he could.

The frog called after him, ‘Stay, prince, and take me with you as you said,’

But he did not stop to hear a word.

The next day, just as the prince had sat down to dinner, he heard a strange noise – tap, tap – plash, plash – as if something was coming up the marble staircase, and soon afterwards there was a gentle knock at the door, and a little voice cried out and said:

Heartless challenge
Pick your path and I’ll pray

Wake up in the morning
See your sunrise loves to go down

Lousy lovers pick their prey
But they never cry out loud, cry out

Then the prince ran to the door and opened it, and there he saw the frog, whom he had quite forgotten. At this sight he was sadly frightened, and shutting the door as fast as he could came back to her seat.

The queen, his mother, seeing that something had frightened him, asked him what was the matter.

‘There is a nasty frog,’ said he, ‘at the door, that lifted my ball for me out of the spring this morning. I told her that she should live with me here, thinking that she could never get out of the spring; but there she is at the door, and she wants to come in.’

While he was speaking the frog knocked again at the door, and said:

Rulers make bad lovers
You better put your kingdom up for sale, up for sale

Well, did she make you cry,
Make you break down,
Shatter your illusions of love?
And is it over now?
Do you know how?
Pick up the pieces and go home

Then the queen said to the young prince, ‘As you have given your word you must keep it; so go and let her in.’

He did so, and the frog hopped into the room, and then straight on – tap, tap – plash, plash – from the bottom of the room to the top, till she came up close to the table where the prince sat.

‘Pray lift me upon chair,’ said she to the prince, ‘and let me sit next to you.’

As soon as he had done this, the frog said, ‘Put your plate nearer to me, that I may eat out of it.’

This he did, and when she had eaten as much as she could, she said, ‘Now I am tired; carry me upstairs, and put me into your bed.’ And the prince, though very unwilling, took her up in his hand, and put her upon the pillow of his own bed, where she slept all night long.

As soon as it was light the frog jumped up, hopped downstairs, and went out of the house.

‘Now, then,’ thought the prince, ‘at last she is gone, and I shall be troubled with him no more.’

But he was mistaken; for when night came again he heard the same tapping at the door; and the frog came once more, and said:

Rulers make bad lovers
You better put your kingdom up for sale, up for sale

Well, did she make you cry,
Make you break down,
Shatter your illusions of love?
And is it over now?
Do you know how?
Pick up the pieces and go home
Go home
Go home

And when the prince opened the door the frog came in, and slept upon his pillow as before, till the morning broke. And the third night she did the same. But when the prince awoke on the following morning he was astonished to see, instead of the frog, a handsome princess, gazing on him with the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen and standing at the head of his bed.

Ooh, pale shadow of a woman,
Black widow,
Pale shadow of a dragon,
Dust woman.

     She told him that she had been enchanted by a spiteful fairy, who had changed her into a frog; and that she had been fated so to abide till some prince should take her out of the spring, and let her eat from his plate, and sleep upon his bed for three nights.

‘You,’ said the princess, ‘have broken her cruel charm, and now I have nothing to wish for but that you should go with me into my father’s kingdom, where I will marry you, and love you as long as you live.’

The young prince, you may be sure, was not long in saying ‘Yes’ to all this; and as they spoke a brightly colored coach drove up, with eight beautiful horses, decked with plumes of feathers and a golden harness; and behind the coach rode the princess’ servant, faithful Heinrich, who had bewailed the misfortunes of his dear mistress during his enchantment so long and so bitterly, that his heart had well-nigh burst.

They then took leave of the queen, and got into the coach with eight horses, and all set out, full of joy and merriment, for the princess’ kingdom, which they reached safely; and there they lived happily a great many years.

Ooh, pale shadow of a woman,
Black widow,
Pale shadow of a dragon,
Dust woman.

 


This afternoon, a friend compared relationships with women to holding frogs.  Frogs sit on your hand when you catch them, until you start petting them and squeezing them, and then they escape.  You have to hold them carefully and not squeeze them.  Wise words. 

This story has been unabashedly appropriated from Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman and The Brothers Grimm’s The Frog Princess; they are no more mine than Iggy Azalea is a sassy black woman, and is dedicated to the gentleman who sent me a mason jar with a broken wooden heart inside.

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Silvered Lilies

Although
I did not gild the lily
I gave it
Silver lining.

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As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

All I can think of is being the class Ugly Duckling, having had my folks tell me I wasn’t sick enough to stay home from school, and vomiting in the trash can beside my teacher’s desk at the front of the class.  There are many more instances, but I’m not in a sharing mood; his book will give you PTSD-like flashbacks if you grew up in a rural area.  Faulkner’s Post-Modernist style of New South writing grabs your inner child by the hair and forces it to eat dead frogs in front of all it’s inner-child classmates.

I’m not sure I have much more to say about it than that, honestly.  The writing style wasn’t any revelation given the time period, just another chapter in the book of “How Life Will Fuck Up Your Brain.”   Ignorant Southern rednecks hidden in the nooks and crannies of the swamps will always be just that (pro tip: please avoid at all cost, only go toward the sound of banjos if you’re in a clean, well-lighted place – seeing blinking lights in the woods does not count as “well-lighted,” those are called willow-the-wisps, they do exist, and they will kill you [see also: Dr. Who's Angels]).  It was a book.  I survived it.  The Red Cross should have a help line you can call when you read this book and don’t think you’re going to make it.

That being said, giving you a strong emotional reaction was the intention, so he passed.  Super.  3/5.

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Last Meal

A Short-shorts assignment from a year ago today that I didn’t have inspiration for until recently. 

Her heart was full of fire. The wind tearing through her whipped up the flame, and she was as powerful as a steam engine charging down the road, there behind him on the bike. He reached back and squeezed her knee. She slid her freezing hands further into his vest. They were free, if only in their flight between towns.

Cold air ripped into her lungs, washing out the toxic city air. A chill snuck up under her chin in the space between her helmet and heavy jacket. Streamers of brilliant light peered through the clouds, illuminating the rolling purple hills and a handful of contented souls.

It was a beautiful dream. She had her own bike, and that was a release in its own way. Feeling the mastery of the machine, of the world, of the delicate balancing act between a steel bullet and tightrope-thin tar line; it was strength. This was something else. This was trust. This was finally, finally letting go after you’d been holding on to your life so tight you bruised it.

Heat radiated from him into her fingers. She imagined the smell of the mesquite smoke in his scarf, but the clear, violent air scrubbed her senses and left them a blank slate for new experiences. She wished it could last forever. She shook her head and he glanced back at her.

When they parked she let go reluctantly, sliding off the back of the beast. Letting go, and yet taking hold of her fate again. She swayed like her spirit had been tangled up in him and the bike and was bucking the return. Landing is the unfortunate cost of flight.

Gravity returned. The weight of her thoughts dragged her face down, and he looked at her curiously. Her blonde hair shone like sunlight, her head lost in the clouds somewhere back out over those hills. His hand on hers was a grounding rod, and all of her energy redirected to finding something to eat. He was the fuel for the fire in soul, but her body needed food.

She struggled with dinner. She thought she could see the future. The fork in the road was getting closer. His eyes glowed at her from across the table, illuminated from within as if he were filled with shooting stars. If she had a spaceship she’d gladly float aimlessly through those heavens for eternity. He had enough quips for the worth of wishes that she kept her emotions safely contained in a bank of witticisms reserved only for him, should they ever become appropriate.

Dinner was coming to a close like the end of a novel that you want to go on forever. You know the characters go on to have more adventures, but the ending feels final. She pushed the thought away. The conclusion depended entirely on the author; some would surprise you even if you thought you knew the characters… but it all depended on which fork in the road they would take. It seems like there should always be a poetic ending, but you never truly know until you get there and it’s real. It’s the getting there that counts most, anyway.

His eyes bore into her. “Don’t get lost,” he pleaded. He was a master violinist playing a symphony on her heart strings. She needed to be back on the road. She needed freedom, trust, completeness. She needed the dream back one more time, to be on that tightrope between towns. Maybe freedom wasn’t something you could have forever… but how would she know if she didn’t walk up to that fork in the road?

Maybe she’d forge her own path; one no one had taken — yet.

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Tannins Revisited

A Short-Shorts Installment.

She scried times not long passed the in the dim ghosts of firelight frantically pacing the far wall of the little apartment. The sound of the log burning up rushed in her ears like the ocean. She had the thousand-mile stare of a lost lover. The cup in her hand tilted back and forth, waning like a pendulum in time with her awareness.

Steam off the tea in her hand caught her nose in time to save her blouse, and yet she returned to the corporeal like weary traveller wandering in the mist. She wondered what day it was. Time didn’t matter in this place, her own personal limbo. She was waiting. Waiting.

Waiting.

waiting.

waiting

Parts of life get stuck and preserved in the peaty swamps of existence. The old souls of the trees seep into your being, the tannins preserving your flavor for when the powers that be decide to pull you back out and study you, maybe before it’s too late, maybe not. Other parts speed on by before you know they’re passing your stoop. Sometimes you’re a little too late for the ice cream truck. Your soul wears faster in some areas than others, cowboy boots that have been cared for only as an afterthought.

She swirled the tea around the glass. It gave her a godly sense of satisfaction to upset the dredges, a tasseographer who knows the future before the leaves have settled. She took a sip and wondered why the leaves were so important. They were the spent vessels, the carcasses, the empty shells that once cradled the lead. Perhaps you had to take careful note of what gets left behind to fully understand how deeply the tannins permeated your life? To know the future, you have to know the history?

She snorted and shook her head, silky blonde threads catching the firelight, a thousand fragile lassos. She cradled the cup in both hands and breathed in the damp, strong steam, the soul rising up out of the leaves, released by the flood of the water. Then the leaves were drowned golems; the leaf readers forensic agents unraveling the mysteries of their demise?

The little corpses didn’t hold any mystic beauty for her. It was the slow escape of the tannins, their lascivious brownian dance, the urgency of the tempo set by the scalding fluid. The journey, not the finale. The miles before sleep. All futures ends the same. The tannins, they danced in her eyes like the flames on the wall, their tango a fierce and proud one.

Her nails beat a quick rhythm on the cup. Ripples in the water pushed the swirls of tea around the cup.

She waited in her limbo… but she waited armed with a teaspoon.

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