Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Over Sloppy Joes

My friend Seth made me breakfast at his house the other day. Coffee, eggs, and toast. Coffee always makes me a little jittery, especially the thick, dark kind of smooth espresso Seth made. It’s a good jittery, though—a sort of unstable energy that keeps me going all day. It’s like nuclear power in my blood. Most mornings I spend breakfast-time leaning against the kitchen sink eating a bowl of cold cereal. Bored, tired, half asleep. But breakfast is different. Real breakfast isn’t soggy flakes eaten over a dim countertop. It’s a warm kitchen, the smell of eggs and coffee, classical music on National Public Radio, and good company.

A meal is an excuse to spend time with someone. I love to get together with friends and family over food because a person is often so much more relaxed if their taste sense is stimulated, provided the taste is a good one. But regardless, food is an instant conversation-starter. When it’s good, the guest can ask, “How did you learn how to make this?” Even if it’s bad, the cook has the opportunity to apologize, and the guest has the opportunity to deflect with a comment like, “Oh, it’s not so terrible. There was one time I was with so-and-so and we were making such-and-such. Now that was bad news.”

My childhood saw its fair share of meals when dinner was long over, but Dan and I still sat at the table, staring at each other over Sloppy Joes. I’ve never been impressed by certain types of food—tomatoes, mushrooms, soggy breads—so it’s not a stretch that as a child, I was less than thrilled by what had been set before me. The Joes sat on our plates, barely touched. I guess my brother wasn’t much for soggy bread either, and the longer we sat there the mushier the buns got.

“You can sit at the table until you finish,” Mom called from the other room. It wasn’t an offer so much as a command. She and Dad had finished eating over half an hour before, leaving Dan and I alone. A face-off that only resulted in us poking at our food and horsing around—things Mom and Dad did not allow while they were at the table.

I picked at the top bun, eating sesame seeds and small bits of bread.

Dan finally grabbed his sandwich and took a big bite, eyes closed. “Come on, David. Eat your dinner,” he said through the food, a greasy orange stain trailing up his cheek from his lips.

“I am!” I said, indignant.

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re picking at it.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” I replied.

“Okay,” Dan said and took another bite. “But Mom’s going to be mad when she gets back in here and you haven’t eaten anything.”

“So,” I muttered. He was right, but I wouldn’t admit that until experience confirmed his snide wisdom. Mom and Dad were in their room getting ready for the evening service at church, and they had been yelling at us for the whole meal to eat up so we wouldn’t be late. To me, it was a game: push Mom and Dad far enough so they would end up making something I liked for dinner, like macaroni and cheese.

“Are you two finished yet?” Dad asked walking into the kitchen behind me.

Dan was mere bites from being done. “David’s not.”

“I don’t like Sloppy Joes,” was my defense.

“I don’t care,” Dad said and continued on his way downstairs to get some socks.

I looked out the sliding glass door by the table. Our dog Crissy lay on the steps, back against the glass. I knew she wouldn’t eat my dinner. She wouldn’t eat the pancakes Dad made, and since I liked those, I couldn’t imagine her eating something I didn’t like.

Not until my brother had finished his Joe and left the room did I finally make a point to finish my own dinner. Misery loves company, but what happens when the camaraderie ends? You’ve got to go it alone, hunker down the sandwich between gulps of room-temperature milk. To this day I don’t like eating alone. It becomes a job, a chore, something I’m required to do to keep from passing out while I’m doing something I actually enjoy. I still don’t like Sloppy Joes, probably never will. It’s like eating a pre-chewed hamburger; I’ll do my own chewing, thank you very much.

Dinner is best when there are jokes cracked and milk gushes from someone’s nose—like when my friend flubbed the name once and called them Messy Bobs. Or quiet morning conversations over simple breakfast creations. I think that’s why some people hold hands when they pray over a meal. Touch is the greatest reminder that there is someone next to you. To accompany you, to bear with you as you both embark on something that may or may not be a fortunate endeavor. Unconditionally. No matter how sloppy things get.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Song of Saint George

(In honor of Saint George's Day today, here is my reinterpretation of the folktale.)

Near foot of barley hills and roads
rides fair Penelope
across the pasture by the church
with George on faithful steeds.

Within the guarded bulwarks' hold,
the Presbyter and priest
consoles his wife and eager waits
the day they are released.

The ruined walls of belfry stalls
all crushed beneath the feet
of dragons dealing blows to stone
and wrecking their new keep.

The saint strides out against the wind;
his foes crawl forth to meet.
He draws his sword, the dragons arch,
their fire shirks his shield.

And George, before the raided church,
is scorched in harsh defeat,
as willows wail their mourning song
for old-time jubilee.

The daughter of the Scotch Reform
looks on at all the grief
with furrowed brow and prayerful heart,
the Lord her soul to keep.

She begs the Lord to raise her knight,
commissioned to relieve
her parents from the monsters' clutch
and tortured devilry.

The hero fell in bitter brawl
with ancient sorcery.
The serpents crushed him once and twice,
will gladly make it three.

Below the boughs of weathered yew,
he lies revived in sleep,
from fiendish claws and wicked wind,
from monsters' flame and teeth.

Again he rides toward church and snakes,
again their fires breathe.
Their heads brought low to seal his fate,
his sword is plunged in deep.

The demons' scaly necks are hewn
by blade, the cut is neat.
Decapitated, now their forms
lie, mountains in the wheat.

Without their fearsome dragon guards,
the captives are released,
are reunited with their girl
whose suitor felled the beasts.

Rebuilding what the devils razed,
they spark a revelry,
and parents, George, Penelope
return to life in peace.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On Restlessness

Submitted for consideration.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bits of String

Sometimes there are simply things I don't want to forget. I try to remember to write them down, but I've never been consistent with keeping a journal. For one of my courses this quarter I'm required to keep a writing journal. We'll see how it goes; it seems fitting to me that of all my writing classes in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, a multi-genre course on writing spiritual autobiography would be the first to place heavy requirement on consistent writing. Much like this blog, my journal will not be emotionally driven. Instead, it will be a log of concrete details, unique metaphors, and clever dialogue to later draw from for whatever cohesive pieces I work on. Simply put, my journal should eventually be full of ideas I don't want to forget.

I made a quick list on Monday that featured as many things I could remember from my recent visit to Vancouver, B.C. Having failed to keep much of a record during the week, I did what I could to keep from forgetting. Fortunately, there are hundreds of pictures to help me remember at least for a time. I managed to keep a more detailed list of events from my trip to Jackson, Mississippi last year. Upon my return from the South, I was talking with my boss at the Writing Center, and she asked me about the trip. After I related a fair overview of my crash-course on race relations, white priviledge, white flight, predatory lending, and so on, she asked me if I had written about any of it.

"No I haven't really gotten a chance to," I replied. "I've just got a list of events written in my journal."

She gave me a quizzical look and responded, "Isn't that writing about it?"

The journal can be a powerful tool not only for writers but for all people who actively engage their experiences. Writing about something doesn't mean it needs to be a proofed and published authority on anything. I know I remember things better if I write them down. That seems to go without question, but what I mean is that even if I don't look back at what I've written, I still remember better. Admittedly, the more detailed journal entries are, the more effective they will be later on, but I think there is something to be said for short-hand and bulleted lists when reflecting on an experience. Like bits of string tied around your finger. Or a mnemonic device.

I wrote a poem that explores the power of forgetfulness a while ago called "I have nothing memorized." Although it takes a fictionally romantic turn, it remains a testament to my unstable short-term memory. This poem, along with four others have made it to the final round of consideration for publication in this year's Jeopardy Magazine, Western's campus-wide literary annual. As I understand it, the final round of consideration determines whether pieces will appear in the actual physical publication or on the new web-zine at http://jeopardy.wwu.edu/. Final decisions and respective publication should occur before the end of May.

For now, here is a prose piece that was not picked up by Jeopardy. I closely modeled it after a piece by Gretel Ehrlich as an assignment last quarter.


A Strike at the Heels
after Gretel Ehrlich's "A Match to the Heart"

Twisted in two. I am doubled down the middle. My guts splinter and spiral, suspended in the vacuum of my abdominal cavity. Something switches and the ground begins to pitch. I am walking on open water. My palms slip against each other’s sea-salt sweat. There are no voices. Only echoes. I cannot tell where soliloquy ends, so how do I decide where conversation begins? I feel anxious of future events I have invented in my head. The world is unstable. The room is spinning, sinking, turning over on its end. I lash my mind to anything right side up, but the twine is almost gone.

#

A single breath stirs words that churn my brain. What light. What space. What cluttered silence.

#

Another breath and words reawaken me from dumb vacuity. A tincture to calm the waves inside my tempest chest. I can’t tell if I’m speaking. My lips open to release flocks of butterflies chased by felines that arrest only the muscle bed of my mouth. Another breath and I have run out of my reserves.

#

Music slants the gaps between exhaling. They are the words I’d always meant to say, I just never knew the notes to write. I lean against the music staff to catch a breath of what is left. It steadies me, gives me rest.

#

My heart is punctured, and I am smitten.