Sunday, February 27, 2011

One Of Us

“’Seems ta be the problem sheriff?”
Jet and Luther sat side by side, the shade from the porch obscuring the top halves of their bodies while the sun bathed the faded denim of their coveralls. Jet posed the question but didn’t move from his spot on the bench. Beside him Luther squinted at the officer of the law and chewed a twig contemplatively.
They were both large men, but Luther was the more muscular of the two. A slight cleft lip formed a fleshy line that looked like a scar cutting upwards towards his nostrils. While Luther’s hair was a dark brown, Jet managed a dirty blonde hue and both sported penetrating blue eyes with a barely visible corona of yellow around the pupils.
Sheriff Deets scratched at the back of his scalp and glanced at his boots accumulating a new layer of sun baked dust. Then he licked his lips and smoothed his mustache with his thumb and forefinger.
“I come for Zeek boys.” He told them glancing into their faces shaded by the porch.
“Zeek? What you want with Zeek? He ain’t done nuthin’.” Once again Jet did the talking and Luther the concentrated starring.
“Couple of the Rothford’s sheep turned up mutilated, had their necks snapped.” The Sheriff answered sharply.
“I don’t see what that has to do with Zeek.” Jet replied and Luther shifted his position slowly, ominously, and with great deliberation.
“Well, folks seems to think that freak brother of yours might a’ had something to do with it.”
Luther jerked abruptly to his feet with fists clenched. Sheriff Deets flinched and Jet proclaimed prosaically:
“You might want to mind what you say about a person's brother.”
The sun beat down on the hard packed thirsty earth and the single story adobe house with its chipping white wash and tile roof cast a long shadow in the three o’clock position. An olive tree stood near the front door and a litter of cast off fruit was in the process of bleeding into the dust and a sparse smattering of dry grass. Sheriff Deets stood in the yard beside the driveway, both of which were dirty and could only be distinguished by a minute shift in elevation.
“Easy, easy.” The Sheriff spread his hands pleadingly out before him, “I didn’t mean harm by it. I just ain’t got no words for Zeek.”
Luther made no move to step down, rather his thumbs began to brush eagerly over the knuckles of his closed fists.
“Let me ask you sumthin’ sheriff. When’s the last time you or any of these ‘folks’ seen my brother Zeek?” Jet asked with arched brows.
The sheriff eyed Luther uneasily.
“Not for years. Not since…” Deets broke off and concluded, “Not for years.”
“That’s right. He ain’t been anywhere but here. So he couldn’t a’ had nuthin’ to do with the Rothfords nor their sheep. Ye’ understand? It’s a long way from here to the Rothfords. I reckon someone like Zeek would be easy to recognize along the way. But he ain’t been that way. He ain’t been anywhere but here.”
Jet stood up and stepping forward he placed a hand on Luther’s shoulder, not a hand that said, ‘easy brother’, but a hand that combined with the stance and a certain gleam in the eye said something else all together.
“So that’ll be all Sheriff. I guess you best be off, so you can find your man, cause’ he ain’t here.”
Deets looked warily from one brother to the next. Then he took a few steps backwards and nodded to them biting both lips between his teeth. He turned on a heel and headed back for his truck kicking up more dust.
The brothers watched the tan cloud settle long after the pick up disappeared down the road beyond a desperate patch of sequoia.
“He’ll come back with a deputy.” Luther said. “They ain’t never gonna forget the thing that happened.”
Jet released his brothers shoulder and took a step back rubbing his chin.
“He didn’t do nuthin’ then neither, nuthin’ that any other boy wouldn’t a done.” Jet’s voice was high and pleading. He shook his head and paced.
“Don’t matter.” Luther intoned in a thick voice. “Don’t matter what happened then and it don’t matter who done this thing. They’ll come back.”
Jet returned to his brother's side and gave his shoulder a squeeze.
“They might not.”
Luther turned his gaze on Jet.
“If they don’t this time, then they’ll come again the next time something happens, hell, they’ll make things happen just so they can. That’s the way it is.”
The two men stood in the heat looking into each other's eyes, beads of perspiration forming on their brows.
At last Jet released Luther's arm and went into the house. Luther stepped into the shade but remained standing, watching the road ahead, waiting for what might come.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Cloud People

They were devoted to the clouds. For generations they had dressed themselves in white and varying shades of gray, imitating the clouds with the highest form of flattery. When they passed through deserts, the women would use the dry earth to make a pale paste to cover their hair and dark skins. When they passed through forests, another chamber in the thousands through which they flowed, they would find light-seeking mushrooms and cloud colored rocks and carry them as talismans through the canopy of green.

They were devoted to the clouds, descended from them as rain drops and bursts of electric lightning, energy that had once penetrated the earth and then grown the people of sky. They celebrated the silver haired old women and the long bearded men, for there was no status higher than a body covered in the wisdom of time and clouds.

Life above was full of gifts. It was life, high above, that traveled and circled, bringing within itself water and rain and seed. The clouds brought music too. It fell from the sky, creating a percussion band on the broad leaves of the forest, on the metal of their cooking pots. It pattered on the compacted earth, a low thump that filled their ears with the music of air, water, and wind. Wherever they went, the pale gods followed. Or rather, it was they that followed the movement of the clouds. It was their life patterns that changed with the storms.

Filled and black, streaked across the sky in trails of pink and orange, dispersed across the sky in a pale gauze. They worshipped them despite their shape, for sooner or later, they would grow heavy and full and drop the seed of life upon them.

When the clan looked to the sky and could find no clouds, they sat and waited, closing their eyes and filling their mind with visions of moisture, letting their tongues create the taste of a sweet raindrop. They focused on the sky through nights of twinkling, clear lights, through days of bright sunlight. Material for their visions ran through them, passed down from generations of cloud devotees. It was not hard to see a thick gray blanket above, the drops just hanging, waiting for the right gust to carry them down. They could taste the sugar of water on their tongues, and with each electrified taste, they brought the molecules of the sky together. They waited, dreaming, pushing, creating what they loved, what they needed. For the clouds brought rain, and the rain washed them clean. Its bath could take away all their language, all their human thoughts that lingered uselessly on their skin.

They walked following the trail in the sky. Through states whose boundaries they did not know or name or recognize. Through human civilizations that were constructed from concrete and glass, entire worlds where the rain could fall and never find the earth’s womb. They walked through these places hand in hand, looking towards the sky with hopeful glances, mouths full of cool memory and storm clouds of thunder.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The New World

Yesterday he asks about my relationship to the café’s owners. I tell him they’re my friends. He says maybe he can make friends with me. I admit I’m easy to make friends with. His name is Erasmus.
Today I ask him if he plays chess. He says he can. I tell him I’ll bring a chessboard. He says it’s nice to have a friend. He tells me that someone else once said that we should love our friends with the greatest intensity possible from whatever distance is necessary. He explains that the woman he is quoting came to a bad end. I say that most extraordinary people do. He says that his mother was extraordinary and she led a peaceful existence. I amend my statement. Many extraordinary people come to a bad end.

This morning Walter Richard Patton came in and ordered a Danish. In high school he reversed the order of his first and middle name and came to be known by all as Dick or Dickie. His father died in Chicago the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The next day Dick's younger brother, Arthur, came to him and said he wanted to join the Navy. He was 16 years old. Dick helped him to alter his baptismal record by changing a 5 to a 3, thus helping Arthur to gain enough years to enlist. Dick himself joined the navy shortly after his family moved to Utah.

Erasmus told me this afternoon that he once hunted down an archeologist who studies modern artifacts; eye droppers, paper cups, anything that can be found in an urban gutter. Erasmus located him, surprisingly, tucked away in rural Maine. The gentleman told him that he had worked in Berkeley on the development of the Nuclear bomb. He described the day after the bombing of Hiroshima, standing among the scientists who had helped create the most devastating weapon designed by mortal men. He told Erasmus that they all went a little crazy that day, the day after 66,000 people were killed all at once.

When Dick came out of the Navy he found himself in California. He could never bring himself to return to his family's home. There was a reason for this. In 1945 Art was lost off the coast of a small island in the South Pacific. Dick felt responsible. He was the one who had changed that 5 to a 3.

When Erasmus was ten years old his teacher and the school's principal called a special conference with his mother. In this conference she was told that her son was mentally retarded. She asked on what grounds they were making this proclamation. She was told that he didn’t understand that he should sit in his seat. He preferred to sit in the windowsill. She was then shown a paper covered in writing and told that he didn’t understand how to write in the lines. She withdrew Erasmus from the school and sent him to another.

Dick’s grandmother came from Austria with her husband and their family. Her brother in law brought his family all at the same time, but after passing through Ellis island, the two brothers never saw or heard from each other again. They simply lost one another in the strange new world.

I listen to Erasmus conducting an interview on the radio. He is speaking with a woman from England who leaked secret documents revealing a plot to bribe members of the United Nations into supporting the Iraq war. He asks her if she regrets having done it. She tells him she does not. She explains that she had thought the war might be stopped if she revealed the truth, but nothing came of her actions. She was fired from her job, she faced imprisonment, but there was a war just the same. Erasmus thanks her for her bravery.

Dick’s father died in Chicago the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The day after the attack on Hiroshima, a group of scientists in Berkeley went a little crazy. One of them became an archeologist that studies modern artifacts. Arthur was lost at sea off the coast of a small island in the south pacific. Dick could never go home again. He sits in an empty café in Berkley, a very lonely old man with a heavy heart. Erasmus’s mother was an extraordinary woman who was told that her young son was mentally retarded. Later he was nominated for a Pulitzer. Now he is interviewing a person that hoped to prevent a war by telling the truth.

Someone said that we should love our friends with the greatest intensity possible from whatever distance is necessary. That someone came to a bad end. Many extraordinary people come to a lonely, painful end. They are simply lost, separated from those they once loved by choice or death or circumstance, left alone to face the strange new world.