I’ve never eaten a blueberry. I confess I didn’t follow my grandma’s golden rule; don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. They look vile and undignified; like grapes that didn’t quite grape correctly. But my grandbaby is housing those things like they’re nature’s candy, leaving blue and violet streaks everywhere; a little Rembrandt. Every so often, she offers me one with compelling questions of “Uhn? Uhn?” hanging beneath our sun-streaked skylit afternoon. I politely sing, “No thank you!” which always gets a giggle from her before she crams nature’s mess artlessly into her tiny face. She’s more blueberry than toddler now. Maybe I should try one next time she offers.
sea of blue and green bird chatter and child’s laughter we breathe together ***
Summer sunsets are the laziest, followed leisurely by dusk layering softer, dimmer pastels as if Saturday were being saturated by a steady drizzle of chocolate sundae topping, even lingering as prelude to indigo, with tree leaves reflecting slivers of light, giving them an ethereal glow, and as roosting birds sing to replace loneliness with companionship, adding their voices to the frogs in the pond beyond the vanishing horizon, I smile in gratitude of her unhurried transit.
westward moving sun
carrying her solar tides
twilight consumes me
Imagine, if you will, training most of your life perfecting a difficult skill most don’t understand or respect. You hone your highly-specialized craft in a world where most risk life, limb, and brain-trauma fighting for that extra yard, and yet few who fight for those yards can replicate the one thing in which you have invested the most.
Now imagine developing a reputation for succumbing to external pressure and frequently failing at the one task you’ve spent most of your life perfecting. Your brothers who risk life, limb, and brain-trauma fighting for that extra yard continue to believe in you and try to boost your confidence as external forces clamor to see you fail again so they can tear your embattled spirit to pieces.
Lastly, imagine that the very thing you fear most comes to pass; failure on the greatest stage of your life, melting beneath the microscope of notoriety, your greatest effort summed-up in an onomatopoeic, “doink-doink”.
I sat on my floor, having just slid off my couch, staring at my screen in silence, no longer feeling January chill born from an old furnace and poor insulation. Numb to external elements, I didn’t feel the anguish I expected in typical expected terms. The team wearing the laundry I’ve rooted for since I was four had been bested by an apparent missed kick, and as I watch an entire city prepare to heap hatred upon the kicker’s slumped shoulders, a single thought echoed repeatedly in my head…
“That poor kid.”
frail sun slips away
winter night falls unannounced
I have faced both ways
The ominous klaxon wails as boots drum steel. Seatbelts are clacking among the hurried professional murmuring. My mental-checklist rolls tape automatically within: flashgear-check, gasmask-optimal, headset audio-go, mic-check good. My scope hums into action, glowing green and amber.
“Weps, One online,” squawk my butterflies, as I note the surface contact sent to me automatically by my boss. It’s beyond gun range, but it’s streaming right for us. A single anti-ship missile would hastily end its aggression, but we can’t launch a preemptive strike without just cause. And so, we wait.
“Weps, aye,” boss booms in acknowledgement, adding, “Surface-action port-side, bearing 279-relative…”
“…Renegade gunboat coming in hot… not responding to our hails… I guess the pirates wanna play…”
Rely on your training. You got this.
“…Batteries-tight. Do not fire unless fired upon, but stay frosty, ya got me? We got this.”
“One, aye,” I reply.
And now we wait.
the heavens shriek red
dawn or dusk, our plight unknown
now gird your courage
I was stopped for speeding earlier this week, and justifiably so, unless the cop was just profiling every black guy who just happened to be going 43 in a 25mph residential area. (I was late for work. That’s no excuse for driving like a menace, but it is a valid reason.)
In the aftermath, I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking for the remainder of the day. As a child, I never grasped why my family collectively feared police, but by age 45, I completely understood the subtle nuances. I laughed at the long, subtle transition of perspective, especially in this era when one false twitch can make guys who look like me into a hashtag (#BarryD #HeWasHarmless #HeWasScaredOfSpidersAndCopsAndBeingLateForWork).
My boneheaded commute had earned me a two-hundred-dollar citation, but I wasn’t lying lifeless face-down on the pavement riddled with peace-keeper rounds, so I considered it a net-win. All things considered, it was just a bad day that could’ve been far worse.
I discussed this with wifey, and she said that us humans have a one-hundred-percent survival rate during bad days. I supposed that was true, even while dismissing this as a bland “You miss one-hundred percent of the shots you don’t take” motivational slogan. But then I began to analyze this statement, and while technically true, on the occasion that a bad day is not survivable, depending on various lifespans, your bad-day survival rate drops anywhere from 90 to 99.9999 percent, which is not too shabby, all things considered.
Granted, your percentage will never again increase on account of you being dead and all.
So, you will either survive your bad day, or you will perish from it. But more often than not, you will survive it. I consider that a net-win. I told Wifey there’s a poem in there somewhere, and I hoped to fish it out. She urged me to reconsider, but you only miss one-hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.
frozen rain stings rosy cheeks
I blush through the grey
A Traveler searching the cosmos for entities worthy of elevation to Their plain of existence, upon trillions upon trillions of millennia, countless dust-specs orbiting one insignificant glowing orb after another, upon becoming disillusioned after the last red dwarf about 7.9 light years ago yielded no intelligent life, no rocky shores, no gas giants, not even the hint of an orbital debris-disk, had reached Their lowest point when suddenly, They encountered an unremarkable main-sequence star with thriving bedazzled bodies including eight stout jewels, with the third-from-center dazzling; an aqua-marine lively thing with atmosphere, liquid, and life, including intelligent life that was taking baby-steps in exploring itself and understanding the nature of things.
The Traveler was overjoyed. But then They looked deeper, seeing that this intelligent, relatively new life was rotting from within; at war with itself, exploiting and treating those perceived as lesser with contempt, fear, and hatred, hording food, healing, and education in exchange for trinkets of no intrinsic cosmic value – all at the calamitous global expense of poisoning the very environment they needed to survive, justifying all of this with superstition, dogma, and the disingenuous type of religion that closes minds from fully grasping the nature of things.
The Traveler sighed the resigned sigh of One who has seen this particular scene far too many times in Their travels. But there was no time to contemplate this decaying world’s all-too-brief impending fate; perhaps there will be better luck at the next star over, which is actually a binary system, so perhaps not. Still, the search must go on if the Traveler is to prove that They’re not roaming Infinity alone, searching for meaning within the nature of things.
the leaf never knew
what she was when she reddened
falling from the tree
no one else saw her twirling
only I mourned her last gasp
The path beyond my garden was once concrete, cinderblock, brick, asphalt, and dirt fields that were once meant to be green. On those dirt fields, we played a game called “Kill the Man”, where one kid would try to run with the football from one goal – marked by the faded “keep off the grass” signs – to the other without being tackled by the two-dozen other kids clamoring to clobber him. If the kid got tackled, he’d throw the ball up in the air, and we’d scratch, claw, and elbow each other for the right to possess the ball and be the next runner to be clobbered.
If you scored a goal, your reward was the privilege of trying to make it back through the masses to the other goal. We didn’t keep score. There was no winner. There was only your reputation to defend; your place etched in cinderblock by word of mouth.
I started out as The Professor. That’s what they called me because of my coke-bottle glasses, my nose usually being in a book, and my uncanny math-solving skills that had teachers asking me to participate in the academic Olympics – a request I declined, as I know when adults were gaming kids with more homework, and I wasn’t working overtime for free.
I entered the field as The Professor, but after a few weeks of earning my stripes on that dirt field, they started calling me something else. They marveled at my elusiveness as “The Man”, oooed and ahhed at my prowess in delivering bone-crushing tackles for someone so comically undersized, and they cheered me on as I never quit on a play, even when all others would. They began to call me Superman, which was rather hyperbolic, but I was only Superman on the field, so no big.
Off the field, I was still The Professor, but it was no longer a derisive term. I had friends, I had a best friend, and I even had a crush who I was emboldened enough to write love notes. I knew little of emoting in writing, but I knew enough to plagiarize and reconstruct whole sections of Judy Blume novels to get my point across; chopping and screwing words the way hip-hop DJ’s worked their magic with jazz, funk, and soul.
Her name was Charise Parker. I’m probably safe revealing her name, as this was some thirty-five years and 1,732.91 miles ago, and her fate and familiarity are now foreign to me. But I loved her as much as a ten-year-old could love a girl with his whole heart. She liked me as a friend, but she still blushed at reading my Judy Blume samples, and she let me play jump-rope with her homegirls, which befuddled the boys who played “Kill the Man”.
Her older brother would play catch with me, always throwing the ball much harder than I could catch, always with a wry, crooked smirk on his face. I imagine that if his smile ever showed teeth, he’d disappear like the Cheshire Cat. It was like he knew I was just pretending to be hard, but he didn’t care. As long as his sister liked me, he treated me like a pesky kid brother. And with her, I was almost comfortable enough to show her the parts of me I hid from brick viewpoints.
(Aside: My hard-fought place in the universe would eventually be upended by something terrible and completely unrelated to those kids who had given me a seat in the dirt, but that’s another story I won’t get into here.)
I would school hard and play hard, and then come home to momma and Phil and our afternoon/evening routine. In addition to watching cartoons, doing my homework, and helping Phil with his, I was keeping tabs on Baby Fae, the infant with a heart defect, who had her heart replaced with that of a baboon’s. It was supposed to be a miracle of modern medicine.
Medical stuff made me queasy, both then and now, but I voraciously ingested this story. I don’t know why it resonated so deeply with me, but someone so vulnerable and innocent just had to have a happy ending. We were poor and lucky enough to have the lights turned back on recently while Reagan hosted state dinners with the choicest cuts of meat, and J.R. Ewing got away with being a wealthy tyrant every Friday, but I just knew that fate wouldn’t be cruel enough to take away Baby Fae so young.
Obviously, I had a lot to learn about the cosmos not giving a damn about our pain and suffering.
When the news reported her death, I remember curling up in momma’s lap, just a ten-year-old crybaby. I don’t know how long I cried, nor how long momma tried to convince me that the infant was in heaven now, but I what I appreciate most was that eventually, she held me in absolute silence, allowing me my time to grieve for the child I never knew, allowing my vulnerability.
Tomorrow, I would again don the mask that earned my dusty seat at the neighborhood table, but that night, momma held me as I sobbed, and she just let me be me.
snowfall seasoned dirt
the earth beneath me hardened
it will melt in spring
The path beyond the garden hidden among evergreen titans rises and falls on gentle sloping hills that seem to roll upon each other like sleepy lovers playfully jostling for their share of the asphalt blanket. The rain, ever present in a fine mist, tamps down much of the troublesome pollen, while simultaneously opening the senses to pine, fir, rhododendrons, and that smell that smells of renewal; the smell that shocks the lungs into expanding to take in as much as possible.
Children play at the end of the cul-de-sac with a sense of oblivious urgency as they sketch in chalk the scaffolding of worlds only they understand, their shrill voices, quaint little bells of amusement amid mild relief that they’re someone else’s problem as long as the squeals don’t turn into sobbing. Kids at play yield to love songs performed by the neighborhood bird choir, who then yield the stage to the sunset, next then a frog symphony, and if you’re extremely lucky, an owl or two might quiz you.
The path curves, rises, winds, and falls, weaving between tree line and homestead, painting unhurried, sleepy tracers from where love lives to where she wanders to prove herself. She need not travel far; all that is needed is within reach. It is a wondrous balance, living inside a temperate rainforest that hosts a town that hopes to remain sleepy; remote enough to be considered a hassle to visit, and yet somehow, at the center of all that matters.
green giants shush me
it’s the wind rousing the trees
yielding their secrets
Today, we’d like to challenge you specifically to write a haibun that takes in the natural landscape of the place you live. It may be the high sierra, dusty plains, lush rainforest, or a suburbia of tiny, identical houses – but wherever you live, here’s your chance to bring it to life through the charming mix-and-match methodology of haibun.
Anyone who’s been sniffing around this blog from the beginning knows how much I love writing haibun. Still, I’m glad there are no haibun police, as I’m a habitual haibun rule-breaker. I think I did ok with this one.
The path beyond the garden soon to be rented by wifey and me in new life lied before us in sun-kissed San Diego adobe pastels when I caught a soon-to-be new neighbor sizing me up behind soon-to-be briskly shuttered blinds, disrupting what I thought to be a giant bee, but in actuality, was the first time I laid eyes on a hummingbird, which scurried away from our mutual startled scenery on wing of the bluest blues and rubiest ruby plumage I had ever seen, and my heart soared with her along unfamiliar blooming scent which smelled of promise and renewal, like nature herself was settling old scores.
As for my new neighbor, her blinds did not stay shuttered during our stay, though she stayed curiously guarded and curious of my own curiosity as we shared a thought or two, subconsciously synching our laundry days in the community laundry room, a respite from separate-but-equally unrelenting realities as she hid her bruises while I just hid and pretended not to notice, which wasn’t too far a bend for someone so frequently locked inside his own head; in fact, she said she’d never seen me smile in all our contrived, randomized encounters, and she wondered aloud if I was happy. Most times, a lie would do, but in this case, I felt she deserved to know the truth about that hummingbird.
it’s raining sunbeams
warming my faith, compassion
sunburns and bruises
Inspired by dVerse Haibun Monday: Faith prompt, hosted by Mish. I was going to try to stick to NaPoWriMo prompts this month, but today’s Day 2 prompt challenged us to play with voice and different tenses, and I feared that folks might be sick of me always playing with tense by now. Eager to see what Day 3 has in store!
Wifey made tuna salad today and offered me some. I gratefully heaped a pile of it into a cereal bowl, but stopped short of eating. It was missing something. I diced up two hardboiled eggs and mixed them with the tuna salad. Much better, but it was still missing something. I sprinkled paprika onto the dish and tasted it. It was good, but one more thing was missing; Ritz crackers. Sadly, we were out of Ritz, so multigrain gourmet cracker nonsense had to do. I tasted, and was transplanted back to Chicago housing projects during the many times momma made this special snack for me.
grayer than most light
noon sky, counterfeit silver
I pocket the fee
Minus the Ritz, I had inadvertently made momma’s special way of making tuna salad, which on the surface, was probably unremarkable to most. But it was the one meal she made where I didn’t feel like a poor person while eating it. I could imagine all wage brackets having a tuna salad craving, and I imagined people from all walks of life savoring this delicacy in some fashion. It felt good to be on some kind of universal level with wealthy ones who enjoyed tuna salad occasionally.
clouds hide sky-scrapers
visibility is poor
to what lies beneath
I had always known I was poor, but it wasn’t a big deal because everyone I knew was also poor. We lived the same struggles, went to the same government check-cashing places, shopped at the same discount stores, ate the same public school free lunches, wore the same knockoff-brand clothing, and feared the same criminal element and/or corrupt, racist police shakedowns. I didn’t experience any stigma or shame for being poor until I began being bussed to the magnet school Beasley Academic Center. I have nothing against the school, as it was an expansive learning opportunity, but it was perfectly apparent to me that I was one of the poorer kids in attendance. Many kids were from stable, successful 80’s Cosby-sitcom-style homes. They wore Guess jeans, Genera button-ups, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, BK’s, you name it, and they always had the latest technological marvels like Walkmans, mini-synthesizers and etc…
rain bathed in streetlight
all will be covered
I recall being teased for many things; being shy (back then, nobody mentioned introverts as otherwise normal folks content to keep to themselves; we were “shy” kids who needed to be “fixed” so we would be more social like a “normal” kid), being a nerd (back at regular school, being a nerd just meant that I was smarter than the average sixth-grader or had greater intellectual curiosity than most; being a nerd at the magnet school – where I was rendered intellectually average due to all the other “gifted” kids being bussed in – just meant that I was the funny-looking kid with the coke-bottle glasses), and being rather unfriendly and all too eager to throw hands for someone so tiny, shy, and nerdlike (if all you wanted was to be left alone, but others kept screwing with you, I suspect you would develop a chip on your shoulder as well).
But for all the random teasing, nothing left me as defenseless as being teased for bring poor. Being a shy nerd who fought a lot was in my DNA, and I owned all of that, but I had nothing to do with being born poor. I had no say in it. Those were cards I had been dealt.
sunshine reveals you
true colors rich, emboldened
the shade, deeper still
The hilarious part was that after three consecutive days of being teased, bullied, getting fed up and fighting back, and ultimately, losing said fights in overwhelmingly one-sided fashion, a teacher decided to counsel me. She wanted to “crack my shell” and find out why I was always so angry and depressed. She wanted to know what in my home life could possibly make me so enraged and isolated. It had to be something at home, right? Perhaps my mother was abusing me, or had boyfriends with boundary issues.
I never opened up, partially because at the time – though an undiagnosed schizophrenic initially losing her grip on reality – mom was the best thing going for me and I didn’t want any outsiders screwing that up by revealing her secret. Also, I never opened up, partially because I felt like asking for help was a sign of weakness, and I felt compelled to endure on my own. But mostly I remained silent because I couldn’t fathom why the teachers couldn’t see the bullying right in front of their faces and understand it for what it was. I was baffled at having to show them what was happening and having to explain why it hurt so much to have to endure it. So, I never did.
birdsongs vibrate moods
gathering for the ride home
we flock and migrate
I would bus home after a particularly rough day of being teased and bullied for wearing generic versions of Converse shoes and a Michael Jackson jacket only five years out-of-style. Sometimes mom would have tuna salad on Ritz crackers waiting for me. I don’t think she knew all that was going on with me, but I suspect she knew I was traversing a rough patch. She never asked about it, but she would talk with me, cracking corny jokes to get me to crack a smile and laugh a bit. She always succeeded. I don’t know if the tuna salad was her secret weapon, but it was often present while she was peppering me with corny jokes. I miss those jokes, as well as the sound of her laugh. But the tuna salad I accidentally made in her honor was pretty tasty.
bluest sky leans west
surrounding me with comfort
memories of you
Written for Terri Ann Dawson, on the ninth anniversary of her death.