Thursday, July 22, 2010

Where Death Lives

Where Death Lives

Art Rosch

            I was dead.  The last thing I heard was the vicious whine of a shell that hit the beach about ten yards to my left, between me and the empty Higgins boats floating like toys in the surf.   The black sand erupted and something ripped through my helmet and threw me forward onto my face.  For a while it was dark and quiet; it was a beautiful relief.  A minute ago I had been so scared that I was afraid I'd wet my pants, or worse. 
Now it was over.  Just like that: boom!  Over.
            It seemed like a long time, the sweet blessed dark.  It seemed like a year of rest and peace.  I fought my sense of returning awareness.  No!  I'm dead!  I know it!  Why would I want to return to Iwo Jima, why would I want to be anywhere near this unspeakable war? 
            First there was utter confusion as the light began to return.  Where was I?  What was happening?  Then I righted myself as if I had been thrown into a roaring surf.  I knew which way was up.  I knew which way I had to go.
            My body lay with half its face buried in the sand.  I could see one eye.  It was still open but nothing moved.  The iris no longer reacted to the changing light.  The muscles were utterly still.  I felt a tearing and complete sorrow.  That used to be me!  And now, it’s…what is it?  It’s not me.  I won’t be living and moving inside those muscles and sinews, not any more.  A piece of shrapnel had sliced open the helmet and pierced the body’s skull.
            I died fast, at least there was that.  One second I was a lieutenant in the  Marines.  The next, I was up here, above the beach, floating.

My pathetic little carbine had been flung barrel first into the sand.  It stood canted at an angle: my first grave marker.
            Well, Sam, here you are.  You’re dead.  You got forty feet up Iwo's black sand  before a shell splinter popped your head open.
I realized that this was the crucial moment, this was Samuel Podolski’s crisis.
A consciousness still existed that was ME.  I knew I was dead.  I had prepared myself for this moment.  When I was a teenager I had thought about becoming a priest or a monk.  I had read all kinds of books.  I had imagined my death a hundred thousand times.  I was curious, not morbid.  I was just a kid.
            Then the war came and changed everything.  Now I was a lieutenant in the United States Marines.  Instead of leading souls to God, I led men into combat. 
            This was not a book.  This was real, this was Death.  Above all things, I knew I had to get this right.  I had to die right; I was like a bell that had been struck and must ring true.
            Voom!  Some force grabbed me and lifted me into the air until I hovered about a thousand feet above the beach.  I could see everything.  Shell bursts, tracers, fire from ships, fire from marines, fire from Japanese bunkers.  Deadly projectiles flew from dugouts and log-covered rat-holes.  It was completely silent.  I saw the scrambling dots of marines along the landing zones.  They were still falling out of the Higgins boats.  Some of them didn't even make it to the surf.  They were frozen on the edge of the landing craft with their arms dangling.  Oh, dear God!  Such carnage!
            The sea was paved with ships.  The little island was a heap of black, red and orange, the colors of erupting sand and dirt, wreathed with fire.  It was just a rock with a couple of airfields.  There was barely any vegetation.  A little scrub, torn up branches, and a five hundred foot rise they called Mount Suribachi.  Artillery barrels poked from camouflaged emplacements.  A flash of light, a puff of smoke and the barrel disappeared in its recoil. The shell exploded down on the beach.  Return fire pocked around the enemy gun but it had vanished.  This was happening all over the island, the vanishing guns, the futile return fire.
            My last living thought had been about my guys, the men in my company.  Thorne, Willis, Zelazny, Frier, almost two hundred others.  MY guys.  My responsibility. 
            I had been looking back over my shoulder when the shell hit.  I saw Sergeant Poston slogging up the sandy slope, his arm wind-milling to wave the troops forward.  His face was a mask of murderous rage and terror, his mouth was gaping wide and his tongue was thrust out but he was still going, he was running as fast as he could and waving his squad forward.  The hot deep sand made the act of running a scuttle towards complete exhaustion.  The heat was fierce.  There were no clouds in the sky, just smoke and flying debris.  It seemed like the whole island had come alive and was trying to kill us.
            Now I could move freely through all this chaos.  I could look at a place and be there instantly.  Sergeant Poston had brought four other marines into a little rise of ground where their eyes could just peer over the barrels of their rifles to return fire.  Japanese soldiers were invisible. 
            One of the Marines with Poston took a bullet right through the forehead.  It was Shelby Franks.  He was a good kid, a hard working farm boy who dropped out of high school to fight for his country.  Now he was dead.  He had passed from life to death in a fraction of a second.
            I watched intently.  I saw a misty form coalesce over the boy’s body and it was his spirit.  It was nearly transparent but it was him, Shelby Franks.  His face was full of terror and confusion.  I heard the first sound since I died. I heard Franks screaming.  His spirit-form, his ghost, whatever it’s called was running back and forth howling “Mommie, Mommie, Mommie!”
            A wave of calm descended through me like a blessed mist.  It was warm and comforting like a mother’s embrace.  It brought me knowledge. 
            As I watched the poor kid screaming, running back and forth yelling for his mother, I knew that I was there to help.  I didn’t know why I could help; I just could.
            I floated next to Franks’ ghost and put my ghostly hand on his ghostly shoulder.
It wasn’t like touching flesh.  It was like feeling cotton.
            “Shelby,” I said, and a voice came from my mouth, a voice more feminine than my own.    “Shelby,” I said, “everything’s okay.  You’ll be all right.”
            The boy stopped his ragged dance and looked at me with frightened innocence.
            “Mom?” he asked, his voice swollen with hope.
            “No, son, I’m not your mom.  I’m Lieutenant Podolski.  Everything’s going to be okay.”
            He pointed at his body lying prone and still, with its face pressed into the dirt.  The hands were still fixed to the rifle’s stock and trigger.  “But I’m dead!”  He wailed with a terror that made his voice sound like a shredded piece of fabric.
            “I know, I know.”  I touched his shoulder again, and it seemed as though some of my calm flowed into the cottony feel of his ghost-form.  “You’re a Marine, son.  Those are the breaks.  You did your duty and fought bravely. That’s all anyone can ask.”
            The form trembled and turned away from me.  “I can’t be dead, no!  I can’t!  It'll kill my mom!  Who's gonna take care of her after the war?”
            He floated back towards his body and seemed to dig at it like a dog digging for a bone.  He tried to push his ghostly presence back inside the body but it was no good.  He threw himself down and bounced away.  The dead body rejected him.
            He looked back at me and then was at my side.  “Mommy,” he said, “I think I’m hurt real bad.  I need your help.” He put his ghost-head into my chest and embraced me. 
            “Shelby Franks,” I said gently, “I am Lieutenant Podolski, I’m not your mother.  You just died on the beach at Iwo Jima.  It’s best that you accept this."
            He recoiled from me, floated backward.  “You’re the devil!” he screamed.  “You're lying!  You’ve come to take me to Hell!”  He turned and tried to run but he didn’t go anywhere.  His form changed from moment to moment.  He slipped through the ages of his life, from being a newborn infant to a boy, then a teenager and finally a Marine at war.  His countenance looked alternately angelic and cruel.  It was the same face but it bore so many marks of both good and evil that it oscillated from great sweetness to the horridly vicious.  Then it settled into the face of the soldier I knew and he returned to me and said with infinite sadness, “I AM dead, right?  I won’t be going home.  But I’m still like this!”  He gestured with his fingers to indicate his ghostliness.  He seemed to look inward, deeply inward.
            “I think I’ll be going to Heaven.  I was a good kid.  I wasn’t perfect but I went to church.  I helped my mom on the farm after my dad died.  I was a good kid.”
            “I know you’ll be going to a good place,“ I told him, as truthfully as possible.  I didn’t know where anyone was going.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I had a sense that the realm of Death may be a bit more complicated than Heaven and Hell.
            “Private Franks!" I barked, asserting my officer's authority.  “You're a Marine!  Square yourself away!  You still have duties to perform.”
            He seemed to flush with embarrassment, then straightened himself and saluted.  “Sir!  Yes sir!” he cried.
            “Go and find other marines who have died.  Just be calm and comfort them, and tell the truth as you see it.  This is your new assignment.”
            “Sir!  Yes sir!”  Again he saluted.  We looked around us, at the battlefield, which was still wreathed in eerie silence.  There were ghosts rising from bodies in all directions.  Not all the dead were alone.  Various forms had materialized around them.  Some looked like the parents and grandparents of these boys; some looked evil and taut with malice.  Most of the dead were simply alone, rising like smoke from their lifeless bodies.  A great wail slowly broke through the silence.  It was made of the various calls for solace.
            “Mommie, help me. Mama, mama, mom!” The sad tender music of mother-longing filled the battlefield.  All these boys were reaching for their greatest comforter.  Other cries rose from the slope.  “Oh lord Jesus, help me.  Christ, oh Christ! Adonai, Aylee Adonai!  Dear God dear god I’m so scared.”
            The shape of the world suddenly changed.  An amphitheatre was forming, the walls of the beach curved upward, the ocean arched overhead, the hard rock of the island’s interior, the bulk of the mountain, all of it became a great bowl.  Inside this bowl the spirits of the dead ran in all directions, bumping into one another, confused. 
            I stayed where I was.  I seemed to be at the center of the bowl. 
            “Lieutenant?  Lieutenant?”  A voice supplicated and a cottony hand fell upon my shoulder.  I recognized Corporal Williams. 
            “Yes, Corporal,” I responded.  The corporal did not forget his salute.  I returned it.  "At ease, Corporal," I said.  He relaxed and took position at my side.
            “We’re dead, ain’t we, sir?” Williams stated.
            “Yes,” I answered.
            “Shit!” the corporal cursed.  Then he looked sheepish.  “Maybe I shouldn’t be cursing in this place…whatever this is…at least it’s goddam quiet.  Aw shit, I did it again.  Uh..Sir.”
            I tapped him on the chest with my cottony hand.  “I don’t think you’ll be judged for a few curse words, corporal.”
            Williams relaxed.  “Guess not.  Bigger things are happening, huh?”
            “Yeah,” I said.  “Bigger things than a few curse words.”
            The two of us sat together and spirits came to us.  I saw so many of my guys, far too many.  The battle was terrible.  Their spirits came in various conditions of confusion and denial.  I simply told the truth.  We were dead.  I didn’t know what would happen next, but it would be okay.
            Time and space were elastic.  An hour passed in a second.  A minute passed in a month.  I found myself going from soldier to soldier.  I was being moved by a greater force, a force that used me as if I were a doctor making rounds.  It carried me to the place I was needed.
            Colonel Waterford refused to believe he was dead.  I found his body covered by a tarp while his spirit raged at his junior officers.  “Get those men off the beach!  Where’s Kline?  He should have suppressed fire from that fucking mountain!”
            None of his staff heard his voice.  It was driving him crazy.  He reached impulsively for the forty five strapped to his hip but his hand came up with a nebulous object, something that looked like a gun but was not a gun.  It slipped through his fingers and he scrabbled in the sand, cursing with frustration.
            I approached and performed my best salute.  “Sir!” I said.  “Lieutenant Podolski
reporting with an urgent message.  Sir!”
            "Well, what is it?" shouted the Colonel.
"Sir.  You are dead, sir. Killed In Action."  I showed him the body under the tarp.  He refused to accept the truth.  He looked around for an MP.  “Someone arrest this idiot!” he bellowed.
            No one heard.  I began to see cracks in his composure.  He carefully smoothed them over and continued howling orders.  It took me a long time to settle him.  He couldn't accept the fact of his death.  He raged and complained.  “Who left that corpse here?”  He pointed to his own body.  “Somebody take it away for fuck’s sake!  It's beginning to stink.”
There was nothing more I could do.
            When the spirits of the first Japanese soldiers began to drift into our expanding circle, many marines instinctively reached for weapons.  There were no weapons.  When they tried to fight with their hands, it was impossible to grip the cottony substance of the  enemy.  Next to me, the spirit of Corporal Williams said, “Aw fuck it.  Look at ‘em, sir.  They’re just kids, like our guys.  Just kids who got killed fighting for their country.  What a waste!”  He made a full turn, looking at whatever he saw.  I didn’t know if he saw what I saw, but his next statement endeared him to me forever.
            “You know,” he said, “from this vantage point, war looks like the stupidest most moronic thing in the whole fuckin’ world.”
            I noticed that in the sky above the huge amphitheatre of war there were hordes of spirits.  They were tumbling about, all in a confused mass.  They seemed to be trying to descend to the level of the beach.  They stopped one another.  Light spirits with wings of gold reached for the rising souls of the young soldiers.  Demons with black fangs tripped them, held them, obstructed them, wrestled with them.
            More and more soldiers came to join our mass of spirits.  Japanese and Americans sat quietly speaking.  Language was no impediment.  They understood one another.
            It seemed like we were caught between two wars.  The angels and devils competed to get past one another.  I looked farther up and saw an orb of light that was brighter than a trillion suns.  It was burning with sweet ferocity, yet it did not blind or sear.  It was light and it caused everything to be what it was.  It took no sides. 
One at a time, the spirits in the air passed through their own conflict and drifted down, to float near a soldier.  Many of the angelic spirits came.  Some of the devils came too, but not so many.  Each one chose a soldier.  The spirits extended their wings, or claws, and took the soldiers.  The angels lifted their charges towards the light.  Holes opened beneath the hooves of the demons and they carried their assigned souls down and down, into the earth's crust.  Gradually the pairs of spirits disappeared.  They faded away, vanishing over and through the bowl that was Iwo Jima. 
The battle was ending.  Flame throwers were mopping up.  The bowl of the island grew transparent.  I could see inside Mount Suribachi with its many caves and tunnels.  Charred Japanese bodies lay stiffened in grotesque postures.  Blackened bones of clutching hands pushed into the air.  They would stay buried there forever.
It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed.  The shape of the island had been changing from that of a bowl to one of a flat plain.  It was an endless desert with but a few pebbles to mark off the distance to the horizon.  A ragged line of Japanese soldiers were huddled together, tiny, far away.  Near to me, a fortress stood, with walls that extended into the sky.  It was a monstrous battlement, with ten thousand flags waving.  It bristled with guns and spears, arrows and vats of boiling oil. 
I knew what would happen.  I knew because it was as logical as fate.  There was no caprice, no irony to it.  Only a terrible dignity.  The Japanese stood proudly, waving their curved swords.  A man stood among them, taller, more proud, more dignified.  He was dressed like all the others except for his high boots and the open white shirt collar over his tunic.
He was the general, Kuribayashi.  He seemed to be miles away but I heard him speak.  His soldiers looked to him with great love and devotion. 
He was talking to his men, though something more intimate in his diction told me he was speaking to his family, to his son. 
“My life is but a lantern, glowing in the wind.”  Those were his last words.
Banzai!  The solders charged the huge fortress, waving their swords with great ferocity.  In response, the massive thing seemed to swallow deliberately and then spit a giant bomb.  This bomb struck the oncoming soldiers and vaporized them instantly.
The battle was over.  I was all but alone.  Here and there, I could see the living but they were becoming more tenuous as the ghosts became more real.  The spirits from the final charge were taken by a great Samurai ghost, a creature of impeccable composure.  It wore an elaborate helmet with antlers of carved ivory.  The General bowed to the Samurai spirit.  It bowed in return.  There was flash of light, as if the sun had gleamed on a sword blade.  The soldiers vanished.
I sat quietly.  The Great Light, that light as powerful as a trillion suns, the light that did not burn but healed, came closer.  It drew itself out of the heavens and approached.  As it did so there coalesced yet another form, another being.  It was dressed in ordinary civilian clothes.  It walked on the ground, coming forward until I could see it plainly.  I had an odd sense that I was looking at my own twin.  The being was so much like me, yet different in many ways.  It was both male and female.  It radiated such peace of countenance.  If I could chose to be anyone, I would chose to be this being who now put its arms around me.
            “Samuel,” it said, “you’re ready.  You’ve done well.  It’s time to go.”
            “Yes,” I said, “It’s time to go.”
            I allowed the being to absorb me in its embrace.  I felt more complete than I had ever imagined it was possible to feel.  This being was myself and not myself.  It was something I could call soul, or spirit, or any of a myriad names.
            It rose into the sky and carried me towards the light of a trillion suns.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm a Dummy

I guess I still don't know all the nuts and bolts of blogging.  I assumed that you, my legion of faithful followers, all twelve of you, were getting emails every time I posted a new piece.  Alas, only one of you has
gotten regular emails. You may be overcome by feelings of tragic loss, but the posts are still there!   I'm sorry that you were left in the dark when I posted a scintillating new essay or experience, and you weren't notified.  I have done all I can to correct this oversight.  I still have problems, but you can now look forward to being notified via your email that a new post has appeared on The Blog Of Fascination. In the last few months my writing has been shorter and easier to absorb.  You're welcome to go back and read "The Secret Behind 'The Secret'" or "This Is An Emergency".  Read, make comments, be my good true friends.

Best to all of you,


Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Secret Behind The Secret

            The premise of The Secret, or The Law of Attraction is that you create your world from your own thoughts.  If you diligently control the imagery of your conscious mind, replace negative thoughts with optimistic fantasies, you’ll be able to have everything you want.
          “The Secret” is a marketer's dream, a generator of profit that virtually demonstrates its own success as a concept...for the woman who devised "The Secret".  One of its most seductive techniques is to lure people with stories of sudden miracles.  Of course, there are sudden miracles, they happen every day, with or without Laws of This Or That. Some of these stories are silly.  There’s the tale of the lady who got the business folder she so ardently desired.  There are stories about money that comes out of the blue.  There are miracle cures.  This used to be called Snake Oil.
          On the surface The Secret seems like a harmless enough program to get what you want out of life.  It raises expectations and hopes.  It dazzles those who are chronically unfulfilled, by which I mean almost all of us, with a new technique that all but guarantees that we attain our goals.  It only takes absolute Belief.  You MUST believe.  It doesn’t work without Belief.
          I can’t help feeling that practicing The Secret is like grabbing the universe by the throat and saying “gimme gimme gimme!”  It lacks a certain grace and dignity.  It plays on the American obsession with following dreams, with the mantra-like repetition of that shibboleth, "follow your bliss."
           I’ve heard this “follow your dream” crap till I’m ready to bop the next Oprah-inspired dreamer with a rubber mallet.  Enough already!  Let me grow old, get sick and die in peace without having all these goodie goodies telling me that if I persist passionately my dreams will come true.  I have always persisted passionately.  That’s my nature.
            I got the book and DVD of “The Secret” as a gift.  I wouldn't have bought them for myself.  I’m innately suspicious of programs that promise to deliver fulfillment if only one will follow these seven (or ten, or twelve) simple rules. 
          I decided to work the program.  I followed the principles diligently for two years.  Every moment of every day I relentlessly held specific fantasies in my head.  I filled out the faux check that’s available from The Secret’s website.  I filled it out for three million dollars.  I thought that was realistic.  I envisioned my bank statement ten times an hour.  Sixty five thousand two hundred eighteen dollars and thirty five cents.  I figured I could spare it from my three million.  I visualized the McArthur Genius Grant letter I would be receiving in the mail.  I visualized the amount of the check.

            I worked “The Secret”.  I really worked it!  Oh, I was good!  I examined my daily life for little flaws, holes, self sabotaging traps.  I kept my mind swept clean of negative thoughts like the most compulsive housewife with a vacuum cleaner.  I mentally repaired every flaw in my life.  I fixed my wife’s health.  I fixed my own health.  I put myself into the emotional state of celebration that my fulfillment had already happened.  I believed!  Or at least I believed I believed.
            For a time I was able to ignore the fact that the monster of my unconscious mind was dragging me down like a pair of concrete galoshes.  The concept of “The Secret” is that the unconscious can be trained, it can be led like a leashed puppy until it’s been so nourished by positive images that it sits up and begs.  Feed it positive food and pretty soon it will become habituated to the positive.  It’s all about the vibrations one emits into the ethers.
            My experience of the unconscious, the irrational power of what lies beneath the upper layer of the mind, is that it is an immense tyrannosaurus of gnashing ferocity.  It just laughs when I feed it my fantasies of health, wealth and love.  Then it claws the images into its ravening jaws and goes crunch crunch crunch.
“ Hahahaha!”, it roars.  “The Secret.  Did you really think I was going to go away and stop tormenting you with your fears and compulsions?  Hahahah!”
            I gave The Secret two years of intensive mind-control, of relentless positivity.  My life changed in its normal organic fashion.  I made progress.  There was no three million dollars.  No McArthur Genius Grant.  No huge victories, no plucking the fruits of the universe from the infinite warehouse of abundant goodies that are supposed to be available to all who correctly practice the law of attraction.
            The purveyors of The Secret would analyze my behavior and find some loophole, some self-sabotage right under my nose.  My car wasn’t parked in the right place.  My wallet wasn’t organized to welcome money. 
            I must state that I do utterly believe in the power of thought to order the world.  The reality we see IS indeed an externalized pattern of thoughts, it’s a giant weave of the thoughts of the people who think and agree upon a consensus reality.  At a deeper level the power of karma is expressed with a simple axiom:  the thoughts of one’s life outlive the body.  My thoughts hang around after my body’s gone.  They wait for the next incarnation, where they rejoin my new identity as karma.  My own thoughts return to me.  They are almost immortal.  It’s very important to take responsibility for what I think.  It takes time.  It takes eons to learn how to think with wisdom.  That’s what I’m  here to do. That’s the principle I serve.
          When I contemplate The Secret I am offended by its narcissism.  I’ll get MY life together, fulfill MY dreams. Look at the world.  Look at the immense suffering, look at the titanic oil leak, regard the hatreds, the nuclear threats and the psychosis of fanatics everywhere.  Look at the tsunami of destruction that’s happening all across the earth.
          What good is my personal fulfillment against the backdrop of such sorrow? The only thing I could do with The Secret, if I have any integrity, is to fantasize about the whole world’s healing.  If I could make that happen using The Law Of Attraction, I would dedicate myself to its practice right down to my marrow.
          Anything less is not enough.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

I'm Giving Away Prints!

I believe in my writing. I think there's something special about it, but every writer must believe that, or it would be impossible to go on writing.  Writing is both a brutal and wonderful calling.  The main problem is to attract readers, to persuade people that something really beautiful is going on here.  My poems have popped out in minutes, while my books have taken years, sometimes decades to write.  I feel an equal passion for both the short easy ones and the long works that have been like wrestling alligators.  I love the challenge of writing novels.

I don't wear a religion or spirituality on my sleeve.  I like to be more devioius, I like to be both sacred and profane. I am in what is loosely called the Spirit-Mind-Body culture.  I've put in many years of practice and study. My innate modesty prevents me from boasting of my sublime spiritual achievements.  I am adored by my partner and several dogs and cats.  Now I need fans of my writing.  I am irreverent. I have opinions about gurus, life-coaches, the whole "make your dream come true" philosophy.
We should all go for our dreams, but sometimes one can dream the wrong dream, and achieving it can be a disaster.

Here's the deal.  Sign up as a follower of this blog.  Leave a few comments, or show me that
you're sincere.  I will send you an 8X11 print of your choice from the galleries here or my website
at Get really involved and I'll make it a 12X18.  That's some serious print.

 I write on photography for Shutterbug Magazine and have two covers to my credit.. I've won a United Nations award for environmental photography.  I'm especially fond of night shots, of the beautiful sky.  I've been selling my prints for ten years  Now my writing is gaining momentum.  A few years ago I sold a science fiction story to Playboy, and it won an award.  Now my book, AVOIDING THE POTHOLES: ROAD STORIES OF A CHANGING AMERICA is being requested by agents.

Contact me at or through the blog and we'll talk about what print you want.

Leave comments.  Enjoy.


Friday, July 9, 2010

This Is An Emergency

Lately I tend to avoid the news. It’s a torture to hear of swindling, scamming and stealing, and far worse torture to hear of suffering, calamity and death.
I’m not giving up, not withdrawing from the world.  The big question is “what can I do?”
I can do little things.  We can all do little things.  It isn’t necessary to achieve the heroic.  Yesterday my wife and I went to a memorial service for our next-door neighbor’s husband.  He died a month ago.  We didn’t know him and barely spoke to his wife.  But she asked us to come.  She passed invitations to the whole neighborhood and we understood that this was going to be a poorly attended service.
The woman’s grief was sad enough.  She needed support.
So we went to the service.  We were the only people from the neighborhood.  There was a handful of people from the widow’s family.  The brother and sister of the deceased were in attendance.
Everything went wrong.  The PA system broke down.  The speakers and performers didn’t know the order of their parts.  People got up to speak and arrived at the podium simultaneously.  Then it was pure farce.  “You go”.  “No, it’s okay, you go, I’ll go next.”  “No, I can wait.”
There were squeals of feedback, dead microphones.  It lent the experience a unique charm.  We were all joined in this aura of incompetence.
The featured speaker was a pastor from out of town.  He was some kind of guest star.  We were clueless why this guy spoke and the church’s pastor remained quiet.
Halfway through his speech I began to pray.  I began to pray for him to shut up.
I have never heard a worse religious speaker.  Never.  He began by saying, “I didn’t know Sam, but everyone tells me he lived a full life.”         
That was a bad literary ploy, bad speaking.  Then he did it again.
            “I didn’t know Sam but everyone tells me….”, and so forth.
            He said it again, and again, like it was his major point.  He didn’t know Sam.  Yeah, that’s great.  What comfort can you give the widow?
            His favorite image was of The Second Coming.  On that day, he said, the dead who have been Saved will return to life and jump from their coffins like popcorn, to fly through the air.  They will be with Jesus Christ.  They will be in Heaven.
            Popcorn.  At a memorial service.  He wasn’t trying to be funny.  It was the kind of sermon where we sighed with relief as the speaker reached the end, only to sit back in our seats when he kept talking.  He’s done, he’s DONE, he’s DONE!!…awwwwww, he’s not done.
            He spoke for twenty minutes.  It felt like twenty hours.
            At last his droning sermon came to an end.  The little choir came on to sing hymns.  They were amateurish but they were beautiful.  They were modest yet passionate.  They believed in their singing.  They saved the day.
            No one forced us to attend this service.  We didn’t want to go.  It was an invitation to sit for two hours in a stifling church among total strangers.  When we arrived, the widow’s expression was of profound gratitude.  After we saw her face, we would have chopped stones all day for her.  It was an important mission.  We represented The Neighborhood.  Without our presence, the message would have been loud and clear. 
            The Neighbors don’t give a shit.
            I’m not boasting about doing some virtuous deed.  I’m saying that there are good deeds to be done, little ones, medium ones, and big ones.  Any good deed will do….
            This is an Emergency.  We need all the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cubs and Brownies we can get.  Things are bad and getting worse.  By the time the crisis has passed, we will know the difference between the seed and the chaff.
I have no way to prove this assertion, no evidence.  But I have a feeling that when the crisis has passed, the survivors will be those who did good deeds.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Watching Sleep

Last night I counted your breaths while you slept.
Towards morning, I lost count, but
you awoke a few minutes later,
so I rounded the number off
and privately recorded your many thousands of sleeping
breaths, in the journal of love I am making for you.
This entry:  the night I counted your breaths while you slept.
I wanted to do this.
I wanted to have a secret way of loving you,
so that all the known ways I love you
can have a private underside,
a place where love is always new and mysterious.
I know that you count my breaths while I am awake.
Somewhere, inside the often-painful activity of your mind,
you find a peaceful grotto, and there
you count my breaths, without even knowing you are doing it.
Your love is so constant, 
it is a place I can go where fear does not exist,
has never existed.
I must practice harder than you, to love.
I must keep awake and make vigil, sometimes,
so that,  while you dream,
I am doing something important,
being the clock of your breath,
helping you sleep.
I can do nothing more loving for you
than to help you sleep.
You always wanted someone to watch over you.
You felt abandoned and alone.
With this secret, I heal you.
I count the long slow breaths, I catch at the sudden twitches,
I invent words to accompany your dream-mumbled incoherences.
I might show you this poem, if it will make you happy.
I wanted it to be a secret.  But tomorrow night, or the next,
I will do it again, or I will do something else,
find another way to love you,
something only I could think of doing,
and only you could understand
why I have done it. 

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