Ucking-Fay Ant-Ray

2020 was bad.

Good in some ways, but generally bad.

For the first time, I learned that character doesn’t matter.

Doesn’t matter? Character doesn’t matter?

Never mind the pandemic, people die all the time. We overcome.

Shit you can get unemployment and coast for a bit, hit the bank, suck it up.

Armed people threaten because they can’t speak

Our education system failed them and us

Let’s lie and cheat and steal and cheat and lie

Don’t believe ANYTHING

Don’t believe ANYTHING

I can’t trust my eye

Even your boy attracts flies

how’s that formaldehyde?

no matter your side.

Sit down

stop acting like a clown

or the bleach you tried to teach

tell me

what is the purpose of a willful ignorant?

voices hide in the American dream

tongues come and go

while fingers stream

clashing moral waves

hiding in digital caves

months feed fodder for prose

empty brain thinks it knows

flounder cult lies

failing legal ties

majority gets the prize

but you don’t count that high

in darkness thou shalt find darkness

where character doesn’t matter.

Doesn’t matter?  

Is this what you wanted when you strove for high places?

Is this what was intended when you took the seat?

How can you justify your double-speak?

I am sick and tired of your lunacy

I am sick and tired of how you find truth through blasphemy

Go back to your grand hovel

Here let me help you with the shovel

There ain’t no room to grovel

Take your cult foul mouthed sermon

And fade in the disgrace of your dominion

There is no time left for your opinion

We will move past you now.

8 Months In

Big plans came to rest on the porch, more like a perch, that overlooks a barren garden. When the reality of the cost came to mind, the setting seemed apropos. That is as far as anything went that year. It is hard to say if it would ever be any different from here to the end. A side-effect of a strong imagination is over-shooting the moon and drifting out into space. Gotta have a tether, somehow, lest you be homeless.

It smelled like snow when the geese flew overhead, just then, slicing across that last thought, silhouettes against time. They instinctively know when something is coming and adjust to it. Normally, it is my favorite season, which isn’t to say that it is anything but, even in this moment. Truly, it is just another thought strung up from yet another that gets left hanging out on the line, for a bit, while others hit unexpectedly – thoughts, that is. Eventually, I find my way back but that does seem to come slower these days with a heavy mind.

I hear the world is devolving though, I knew there was potential for it given the severity of how our politics have interacted with the disease that undermined the economy and brought race out onto the table to be examined while being blindsided by severe food shortages and homelessness as a result of joblessness. I hear things have not improved from when we first shut down, about eight months ago; that the toxic affair with cult-minded politicians is intensified on a wave of death through denial. The alternate dimension, having unfolded right before our eyes, is a place where reality is challenged through profound apophenia and dots are connected that are not meant to be connected. Is this an unintended consequence of the super highway?

I reel with slight vertigo and move away from the edge of the concrete stair. My balance is one thing I’ve noticed as being off-kilter. Maybe it’s the time of the season? Admittedly, I love this song.

The routine I’ve adapted to is ever evolving the definition of normal. 2020 catapulted our society. flailing in so many directions, yet landing, ultimately, back to a couple of basic camps or divisions of ideology. Seeing this play out hits on so many levels it takes a long period of quiet to get a proper grip on it.

Words occupy confined spaces attempting reason with the mind.

It is has been about eight months and I am still alive. I know I referenced that timeline already, but the context is important. This pandemic, they say, kills. My interactions have become agoraphobic – limited to social media where connectivity is like water that keeps us alive. I think most of any ailments I have feared to have had during this time are derived more from my own psychosis and nervous uncertainty.

Standing there, I take stock and know I am lucky to have transitioned to working from home full time for a company that is supportive, so far. Our entire professional work flow took a giant leap forward with technology. We can almost think it and it happens. At the same time, millions are without income now and food scarcity in the heartland is real. People are dying, yet, remain skeptical.

Since the general recommendation is to limit social interactions, I found it the perfect premise to give myself permission to write. After many years, a manuscript has come to fruition that might be worthy of publishing. We shall see, perhaps. There are so many options now with digital technology. Time will tell, unless I run out of patience. But somehow, as I close on the last couple of chapters, I am relieved and if I’ve learned nothing else during this change, patience is a virtue for our survival.

Sunrays break through snow clouds that gathered together over the course of the morning like purple wigs – the finest a lady might wear to tea or Sunday brunch. The geese are gone now to some low lying lake where they will break for the storm. But the sun does find its way and warms one side of the face that smiles at it. It doesn’t stay long in the breeze that picks up with frozen fog that fills the air but I felt it. I can still see the snowline across the way, for now, and spot several perfect lines that are so good it is hard to imagine that some old farmer hasn’t already taken it for a run or two. Like maybe after a late fall hunt into the highlands only to pull out the sticks and grab some wild stash. It would be an annual tradition riding knee-deep powder down to the waterline before heading back to the homestead for holiday.

The world bends with fear, I am reminded, as I snap back from my moment of nostalgia. A large truck rumbles by waving every flag but the American flag and yelling that civil war is imminent. I know a lot of people are scared. I can’t help but reject that this is a reality that can actually unfold – though in the deeper reaches of my psyche, I know we are not above this outcome and that things can change quickly and suddenly. I believe we have been witnessing the attempt to undo our society based on far-fetched conspiracies and ill-founded fears. But then, how would it be if I were one of those unfortunates whose life turned away from the ability to see the good any longer? What if I needed to kill in order to protect my family and the enemy became my neighbor? What if nothing happens and I am simply left with whatever revelations I have come to during this period of unrest? What should any of us do as a result of this? What has it shown us personally about our needs and living to our fullest where we can see the good again?

I am on the top step which gives me a vantage of overseeing the whole garden – all the boxes, and beds, and piles of mulch laid out in a reasonable pattern cut with a small pathway, but still big enough for a wheel barrel to get around. Maybe, at the end of it all, that’s all we need, is a little room to clean things up and put them into some sort of order again. Not likely the same, but order, nevertheless.

Eight months in and I am not so sure. Hoping for calm as the electorates cast their final ballots.

Unknown Days of Isolation

My place has been questioned and still remains with some degree of uncertainty. Quarantine. Economy. Conspiracy. Crash.., Freedom, Socialism.., Disease, Space…, Governance. Each of these words have meaning now. Some have split branches leading to new realities and thought; fear for many. How will they grow?

Quarantine began around the end of March, about the 22nd, I want to say. I had been too busy with routine to hear the apparent warnings leading up to this moment. It could be because I had refrained from watching the nightly news cycle for a while after being horribly sick during the month of January. I had quit smoking also and, ironically, was too preoccupied with coveting my health that I missed what was coming.

With little warning, work made announcements on a Thursday that we would not be coming into the office on Monday and to make sure our email had a response notifying people that we were out due to a Covid-19 outbreak. “What is that? How do you spell it? Just a dash one nine? What does ’19’ mean? Oh, it started in 2019 – so that’s a date stamp? Why are we just hearing about it now?”

People scrambled to get things pulled together to set up a home office. By Friday, announcements were flowing on a constant cycle of corporate info-planning and strategies rolling out a responsible response. Only technical assets that required lab and production cells to work would be allowed on premise. All others that could work remotely would work from home until further notice. It’s been almost three months now and I have not seen any of my colleagues.

Admittedly, the first week was a bit exciting, finally able to put to real use the office in the home we had just purchased six months earlier. The big dual monitors and docking station were in and things were ready to hum along business as usual. But it would be anything but usual. I over-think technology some times and certain things have been a challenge.

By the start of the second week, slow connection speed was rampant and the company had to make some adjustments to expand the VPN protocols to allow for the surge in new activity. Passwords were changing and things generally loped along with meetings being held via phone conferencing and WebX. “I can do this.” I told myself. It was a great distraction, if nothing else. Gadgets have a way of doing that in our lives.

After a couple of weeks, I began to quickly realize the magnitude of this thing and the unforeseen economic disaster that came crashing into the rocks of our foundation. 1,000 people, then 10,000, and 20,000 more – they kept popping up and then dying. Cruise ships became nightmares haunted by the sick and dying spirits of helplessness ordered to remain anchored in the bay. Old folk homes collapsed into the foul lost place where death made its rounds. Everyone was either sick or told to shelter in place. Suddenly, the essential workforce began roll call and uncertainty hung in the air as millions were swept away into unemployment. My home office became a battle ground of determination to understand the impacts and report back. I was lucky to be employed.

Almost a month in and I realize I haven’t showered but for a couple of times. A grizzly gray beard had taken hold. My routine developed from work in the office to work in the yard to the news. I started smoking again and that pulled me deeper into thought about what was happening.

About this time, my garden began to fall into place. I had been publishing a before and after photo album on my Facebook. The raised beds made from recycled pallets gave structure and form to the wild bamboo that was overgrown along with mountains of invasive grass. My pruning discovered pockets of sun throughout the green shoots and the pallet beds fit perfectly. This defined path ways and caused bunches of bamboo islands with lettuces, broccoli, beets, kale, cabbage, celery, onion, and other things to emerge and take root.

I decided this would be the Corona Memorial Garden and shoved about 2-3 cases of empty Corona beer bottles into the dirt and planted a large patch of strawberries (Hood, Benton, and Rainier). Large slate rocks were discovered in my excavation of the plot that became borders, like a wall to prevent pests from entering though I knew they would go under or over. All in all, a quiet respite from the latest presidential gaffs or death toll or economic ruin found me wandering there.

And then, we went to the next level.

As if a pandemic, economic collapse, and an insane king weren’t enough, our world erupted in protest with flesh pressed to the sky and screams for justice. Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. You matter. I matter. They matter. We matter. It matters. Set us free some chanted all the while standing in the government building shaking automatic weapons at the man. The irony.

I had expressed to my wife that the scariest thing for me was the uncontrolled mob mentality fueled with delusion and rage for justice. Saboteurs infiltrated while peace signs waved for solidarity and the chants became drowned out with the 24/7 news cycle of rioting and looting, buildings burn and all the while the division can be seen growing more vast every hour. Our devolution of our humanity and all of its entitlements in full display for the world and ourselves to take notice of.

The next day was full of meetings and a cosplay of practical business. It was surreal, the realization of the absurdity and white luck speaking as though we were still insulated from society; from truth trying to keep it together. I make it a point to personalize conversation at the end of our staff meetings – to allow myself to be slightly vulnerable so we don’t forget our humanity but carry some hope in our professional companionship where maybe things will find footing that fosters a friendly forward thinking foundation that does not falter but finds the fantastic in all people.

As it is, the white cabbage moths will return and the praying mantis can’t hatch quick enough. Fortunately, the ladybugs are keeping attacks at bay against the kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Peppers are popping and squash is arcing over its borders with corn peeking up to remind me. We have our distractions and I know I have created one in our garden. But, my hope is that people don’t forget their masks and somehow people find their balance.

Things will never be the same again and I don’t want them to. I think, as is evident with all the footage of police brutality, that people – this society, has been running too hard for too long. The hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters must be careful where misinformation is being perpetuated into delirium where hate is the answer, the response to a loss of control.

Having to self isolate for so long and then to feel isolated from your people when sharp contrasts are made about some very deep issues only fans the hysteria and creates more stress and confusion. One of the most disturbing centerpieces is the ongoing harsh narcissism from our President who appears to be steeped in denial. As well, are his extreme followers that blindly shout from false news fed to them through a narrow pipeline of information.

I don’t know. I curse a lot more of late and have ripped debates apart on social media – to which I have gone back to apologize more than once. But the silver lining there is that I have come to remember conversations with my father who always talked about Jesus and agape love and forgiveness. That always stuck with me. I am not religious, but I value the basic tenants of the message of Christ – even if I don’t believe in the complete definition of his character. Religion has skewed the values of our spirituality, in my opinion.

My point is that love and kindness must be at the center – the focal point in order to heal so many. I fear for this fall and the election that looms in the backdrop of a second wave of this pandemic, which even as I write this continues to grow in cases and deaths. The US is by far the worst country in the world on every level in how it has dealt with the pandemic with nearly 150 K people dead and millions either hospitalized or diagnosed to remain isolated.

I think where love and kindness come is in deescalating our tragedy from what may be catastrophic (if we are not already at that precipice); but I believe our world can worsen still and likely beyond what we can even imagine. I also have hope and know that there is goodness in the world.

I keep pulling weeds and find myself pulling back. I am in love with my children and worry about them. I don’t want to go back to the office but need to remain as close to my family and friends as I can. I hope this November brings peace – though I have a feeling that we have already stepped onto the double-sided blade and so am continuing to love as much as I can and stay grounded and grateful gladly wearing that mask of business cosplay to help others get through the day and keep myself busy for as long as I can.

Something

Sometimes swollen from stress, she stifles a smile strained and scared to share some semblance of self-satisfaction.

Starts and stops string a song of life standing as a solitary sign, annoyingly stoic and submissive. A vast sea of sound is situated with only strangers strapped in their own seat; saddled with their own stride.

Surrounded with sterling chauffeurs; suffocated in a facade of sugar and spice. A day dream of circumstance contrasts who you thought you should be; sunbathed in shiny bronze of slippery skin.

Something surreal sifted slowly into the psychosomatic reality of sweet truth. A shift of self-discovery and consideration of something sinuously beautiful, even if aloof with stubborn scandals that skip along a sidewalk of surrendered seams of hope.

Saturated with tears, a soul swallows strands of soft string; styled for she that would embrace her strength and let go of the sinister sense of succumbing to a stagnant strangulation of self.

Stars streak through a scattered sky. A stern lip stings with a piercing slip of spiked tongue; split with spite. Sand drains through steep cylinders of scoured time while you shout at the top of your lungs scratching for something simple.

Screaming into silence where only shit moves in the bowels of your social media. Certain sob stories shall sink in making way for a strapping scheme of survival, The surface is smooth as the sinking moon, astounded by the sun that celebrates.

Stealthy silhouette slinks into shadows of insanity; swept into smithereens, a sultry tone smells of salty slang. Certainly.

What Divides

I don’t even know where to begin. It has been a serious whirlwind since the election; too many monumental shifts to list them all. My mind wanders over the various slogans from the campaign, searching for something to lean on; to step back from this precipice of panic that seems to come with every executive order.

People have flooded the streets to protest the commoditization of air and water. Hyperweapons have targeted our minds with chaos pushing us into each other forcing our frontal cortex to expand into a sort of psychic bumper to shield against the assault of the man and other unwelcome guests that have come to our homes to record our position.

“Drain the swamp!” they chant and clamor thumping chests of black armor as they march into our place with proclamations of unity.  I assume it is to rid our government of the bottom-feeding creatures and corrupt system of obstruction and bias that favors only the elites class with slanted policies and shadowy influence from corporate interests.  This explains their presence among the commoners and those that must be enslaved for the betterment of all. This was rationalized on the nightly news.

I got caught up in the surge of people rushing to the streets from their cubby holes in the sky and knew, as I looked in either direction at the swarm of thousands, that I could die. There was no quick exit from this mob, from this siege on our city, on our place, and our minds. At either end of the sea of signs and masked faces were black war banners of the guard and they were inching toward the center, using their large shields and barricades to slowly pin the people into a box. A death box where rats are corralled for extermination.

High above, I am drawn to half-man, half-beast creatures that call down in shrill exuberance for the guard to kill. I realize they plan to feast on what remains. What world have I fallen? To my left, a shadow of a man, once a friend, maybe Rick from up the way, skims through laughing and disappears like wraith writhe with madness. Some people begin to realize what is happening and try to escape back to the buildings from where they came.

How I escaped from this was sheer luck. Fortunately, for whatever reason, I had decided to wear the ring that morning and still had it on. It was becoming dire and the pace of the guard’s push more aggressive.

Jack’s Kitchen

“Are you tired of feeling bloated? Does it sting when you urinate? Are you getting enough essential vitamins? We are here to help and you will feel like a real man in just weeks for the low price of $19.99. That’s right! If you order now, you will instantly lose ten pounds and feel the best you’ve felt in years! This is not one of those gimmicks the other guys will try to sell you, NO, this is the only product guaranteed not to spoil your trip. Just when you are about to have a little fun and everything goes sideways, we are here to make sure you are ready for her every time. Our state of the art ingredients have been cleverly designed to make you feel incredible! No more bloat from pollution, absolutely – and we mean ABSOLUTELY zero urinary discomfort and delivers the purest testosterone in the world, which means no more embarrassing moments when the moment counts! IT might as well be the miracle pill you’ve always wanted. Order Right Now by calling the number on your screen or swipe your palm now.”

Jack glances at the screen and paces a full circle, “Really? I’ve gotta get the hell out of here.” He turns off the news as he downs the rest of his whiskey and heads out the back porch, leaving the lights on as he grabs his coat.

Sometimes

A woman wonders with tangled thoughts about the time it takes to find love.

A man says nothing but remains vigilant on his own betterment, hoping one day she will notice.

She wants love with the kind of trusting passion told in fairy tales.

He understands this but waits in the shadows of social media and the guise of friendship.

He wants to give her everything and show her devotion.

There are times when the risk is too great, hampered with doubt and uncertainty.

Another day passes, and quaint exchanges are made, likes are like splinters of truth begging for more to be said.

He focuses instead on his imperfect life, striving to become his best so that one day she will see him

She searches her soul with lightness masking the heaviness of her heart’s desire

Others are surely a better fit for her

She is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen

Surely a nicely made man with tattoos and creative luck trailing his life like you see in the magazines are meant for her

He knows he is not this man

But he continues to find his best self, continues to like

While all others adorn her, he chokes on simple hellos and wonders at the time it takes to find love

He wonders at the time it takes to accept his self, to find her, to let her know

She trails off like a bright star in the night, unaware

He settles in watching snow accumulate like too many words stuck in his thoughts

Maybe sometimes the best of a person is speaking without fear of rejection

Stillness of Snow

It is zero degrees and there is zero reason to do anything. I woke to the joy of fresh snow; a heavy blanket of cold crystal dust.

For the first time in a long while, I have no place to be; there is no place to report my time, which is my time. Forced, placid ground succumbs to the changing seasons and winter strides in unannounced. Like a Madussa, everything stops as temperatures plummet. The air is more than cold, it is a mood that lingers in a mirror dance with the sun, which is the only reprieve. Frigid temperatures remain, battling the will of the sun.

Sun filters through and brings an illusion of warmth. We have come a long way, yet so many months wait still, wrapped in the comfort of frozen time.

I do not watch much television these days and have found a reasonable balance. Doses of CNN have ceased, replaced with Aljazeera overnight. Apparently, a contract dispute has caused disruption. But it’s ok; weird, but ok. The news, the world as it is portrayed, solidly propels the human race toward certain destruction. The movie, Interstellar, reminds us of our vulnerabilities, while exploiting our capabilities to persevere. But that was an event, outside of the daily drone of a television. For me, classical music is what plums my airways.

But I am not afraid.

Instead, there is a mist that hovers over our town and the promise of an early season. The Cascades loom above, showing off their wild winter of majestic beauty. Monday is like a holiday where life slows to remember a purpose and thoughts of warm hearth stoves and soup; friends and family gather as community, laughing, and sharing.

In the morning, eyes will open as dreams of fresh tracks wane with the desire to experience gravity with the whole body.

Everything is inanimate in the calm of winter light. Not a breeze stirs, the air, while stagnant, is crisp and still. Nothing moves.

Spirit is vibrating.

Time Lapse of Green Beetle

imagesCAVT0NAVleaves rain onto molded stump

Earth musk settles in space

war is on the make

tiny militants march from beaten soil

where the queen once lay

rooted with unspoken truths

sky wrought with dark reflections

drops of black honey

tracing every step

stationed near old willow

sent to guard

nectar accumulates

this night would bring storm

devastating debris

relentless home

A churning in the distance

new currents

ripple through dust

an antennae twitches

eight feet stomp

light fosters peace

Timing a Relative Beauty

imagesCAYXLS3SHe sits with his head in his hands swaying back and forth. Inner turmoil pulls with fingers numb from years of toil and weighing options. He wanted to do the right thing before he stepped off a ledge of chance following his heart with twisted passion that had not yet ripened. Chill winds blew in off the southern slopes. Most in the camp hid in their tents waiting for spring. Some wandered the streets for opportunity and warmth when the winter snap felt merciful. They are the social immigrants that slipped when no one was looking. Their journey is made as a daily pilgrimage for survival. All they have are their signs to communicate to the other side, pleading for understanding, longing for hope.

The reality tore at the fabric of the man. A dozen or so signs littered the ground around him as if one was just not enough to convey the collapse of his spirit. Each cried out for something different. Prayers and service and food and family and clothes for warmth. So much needed to be said, so much forgiven.

After awhile of studying this man from my curb, I realized that I could be the only one who sees him. People just kept passing without a glance or notice. I thought of the saying, “Live within thy means and keep thy means simple.” It was  too late to approach the man with this. I thought about writing my own sign to warn people. To remind others to take care. The measure of spirit can be known when all that remains is the memory of one’s experience.

Carefully, the man rearranged his signs into a pad and laid his head onto it. He was back in his other world now having found only an audience of one.

I was pulled through the veil separating our two worlds. Maybe there was a chance for better days. Perhaps love would seep in through the cracks somehow? The love signature can keep us during certain times of struggle, self loathing, and uncertainty. I felt challenged by this, but could not deny the pull to consider this plausible root into the degradation of a beautiful human. I would carry his message, a final gift to this world. He would depart into the frozen landscape and remain still like a portrait etched on the mindeye of our perspective. My empathy was screaming out at the world, but people just kept passing mindlessly unaware of the change that began to transcend.

I felt lighter, either through my own rationale or for the appreciation of his experience and what it meant for my own life. He refused my hand when I offered it and simply said through slightly cured lips,  and a voice hoarse from weathered tobacco, “Man, just remember beauty.” He was so eloquent in his profound perfunctory. I began looking for it everywhere, words branded like forgiveness that shelters our path from the hypocrisy of judgment and where truth opens its arms to the blossom of our soul.

I am fit and strong with a creative mind and genuine love for those I meet. I remember this as a child; ingrained from the streets of Oakland where the spaghetti plate made its love mark with the travesties of otherwise beautiful people.

Like The Shrike

Loggerhead ShrikeIn the undertone there are the wasted notes of a man who lost his voice. The shrike laughs behind his thin mask and swoops the sage seeking a sharp contrast to the self inflictions. It is not completely understood other than to say that he, like a bandit, was also seeking. For shrike, the voice came through flights of freedom. Beneath that wintered desert, reality fell all too readily, unnerving. No words were spoken and the quiet lingered like a softly brushed breeze or a whispered kiss.

Shrike glanced across the arid landscape. The vastness of this place is a sanctity of peace where only the solitary mind might challenge everything that means anything.Though our planet suffers, our actions take for granted where only the trivial days hold merit for thought. It is the space within a monotonous mind that requires a bend like molten steel shaped from the blacksmith’s hand. These details are the unexplained foundation of who we’ve become like the shrike where routine tasks are survival.

The lost voice of this man balled up with a longing, thrashing wildly inside while the placid element of time passed, rippled across the surface of circumstance. There was no touch but the metaphors that slide in and out of meaning. A ragged travesty of love that took shape under a dark night where the moon had not yet found its balance. But the vision of the man dwindled too long in the heart and the time of his reason consumed with the daily chore of making pockets happy.

One day, footsteps forgot themselves in the stairwell. While mountainous calderas surround the plain, cavernous places scar. They come from too many years with only the abrasive touch of time. Worn in place, some might say.

There is nothing wrong. Everything has a reason. Everything is an action of some other force. Humans are only cast to the greater theater. Integral, and then again, not really. Without love, this is where they go; a place of irrelevance and insignificant truth, a mannequin for the dresser to fit.

To love is to bathe with bliss like warm water. It touches the skin and tingles the mind.  But there is a cruel dichotomy; an unforgiving nature when intentions are misaligned by any means. It forces some to forget and turn toward the running dogma to justify and rationalize their complacency like the lone shadow that lives in the bosom of her arid climate.

He sits talking to himself. He loved her with all his might – like a shooting comet hurling through the universe. As the desert floor moves, it is clear that life holds no abundant guarantees for a lonely dreamer. The dreamer needs his love as paint requires the canvas. Love is like a dream where the thought of her skin presses like a brand, only to slip away. Pure joy flashes with anguish and paralysis grips the tongue. Only memories are allowed to drift along the desert; a hitch hiker rolls like a tumble weed where the future is bound to the past whence the roots snapped.

She was a ghost that slipped into the earth when he glanced the other way.

Poetry Prompt Prose: Reflection

The iron bench never warmed my bum. It was the fifth of October and I was hanging with my chum chatting coincidental circumstance of meeting where the children play.

I am confined in the memory of the spring when I tried to fly with a broken wing, she said.

My dog died and got buried next to the bone from last summer. Aye.

The innocent find light in the darkness and remind the wretched wrestling with wrongs where to repent. The presence of preference preside with prejudice over people of purpose.

Tis true too many tumble through tumultuous times, this time, certainly, is true.

Yes, you muse. What do you think the spring will bring?

Endless paces along brick laid places pondering peace potential. Aye.

Yes, it has been a time to settle dreams and take a pass.

In her weary tear I see a reflection of me;
hope is the child that comes to rest on her knee.

White Room

The room is sterile. A small bed and a table and chair are there with only an intercom on the wall for decoration. He does not expect to hear the door lock from the outside when Ruby leaves. He checks the knob, and it’s locked. They can do almost anything to him in here. He wonders at the three vents in the ceiling and what they might be used for in such a small space. This is hardly the accommodation he was expecting. He wonders at how much this cost. He sits on the edge of the bed light-headed. He can barely feel the steel bar digging into the back of his thigh as his legs go numb. He is restless and tries to think about the trance that this whack-job doctor put him under. This is his first time, that he recalls, of being admitted for an evaluation but only because his wife, Mary, had given him an ultimatum: Get help or get out! He spends the next several minutes searching his memory and keeps going back to the other night when he fell off the wagon.  

Fits of drunken tirades and delusions of grandeur are unbearable for Mary, an ambitious woman driven for her own success, her own ego. The lack of follow through drove her insane.  Jack is deflated along with his place in life. He is inadequate, lost in a spiral of booze and mental illness. He is the last person anyone would suspect as being anything more than a drunk. For Jack, schizophrenia and depression were on his calling card, too. If not for the mysterious trust account, he would be alone.  

It is one of his walks down among the night crawlers of Seed City, when he stumbles into his own self-loathing, a place that festers from within, arguing in endless circles. He is tightly wound on a philosophical wheel of his demise and spins out of control suffering from trying to understand the meaning of his life.

I’m better off alone.
She hates me.
I love her and need to get home.
…She hates me. I don’t care.
She is weak without me. She hates me for that.
…This is not my life.
I can’t live without her.

He wonders at what others must think as he fumbles with the need to feed his addiction. Up ahead, just across Revolution Boulevard and old neon signs, an old man is lying on sheets of cardboard in a dark cutout to the entrance of a boarded-up storefront. Across the way, a young couple trip on the edge of a streetlamp and disappear into the night air. Shadows climb the walls in the alley avoiding the sporadic streetlights that flicker. He imagines tumbleweed rolling up a warm midnight walkway with wooden rails and dirt.

What is his purpose if not to please his wife? How does he connect when his efforts are met with scorn? He is empty as if carved out from his insides, scraping at the walls of his soul, hollowing him out. He can leave but thinks he loves her. She just doesn’t see it – or doesn’t care. It eats at him constantly and he struggles to reconcile her seeming indifference. But then, maybe he is the one that can’t see past his own needs?

He walks up to a man on the corner, known as ‘Billy Baggs’, and passes through a seamless transaction and midstride into an underworld where the protesters are and the homeless drug addicts and failed accountants. He studies the clear baggy that had just materialized in the palm of his hand, turning it over to measure its contents, a small blue sticker has the word: CLARITY.

He is the epitome of crap at a time when society is cracking under the weight of its greed, eating itself. It is so ironic, he thinks. The needle of society piercing where nerves no longer feel. Too many bruises have brought him to heel. The same question cycles through his thoughts, over and over: how did he get here? Everywhere, shadows slink just out of sight, but he can hear the dark whispers hiss in his head, coaxing him to awaken, but to what? How can people not see the cracks widening beneath their feet? Seeds of discontent are sown, and clear sight is lost from the true nature of our purpose. We want more and more and more, so caught up with a lust for power, we turned a blind eye to the chaos that had come into our lives. Jack just wanted to feel normal and get high.

A side street leads away from the shuttered storefronts and the few street people waiting for ‘last call’ to bum a smoke. CLARITY. His mind is trapped in a loop where he has been down this road before. Mary will do a crossword puzzle and watch her evening shows. A couple of drinks serve as a periscope into a better life. Perhaps, they are not that different, yet he is the one locked behind this door.

 Wrestling with iron grips of addiction, he relishes the uncertainty of his dysfunction like a crapshoot tumbling across the green. Slowly, chaos is devouring the spirit of the human species and he sees it – is part of it; people are losing their minds. Something is in the air that does not feel right. His thoughts are on the very edge of holding it together, struggling between the lightness of his true being and the dark essence that sits in this place, locked up with him.

He hears footsteps outside the door and goes motionless. After seconds, there is only silence. He begins to pace, counting steps: 1, 2, 3, 4… The room is about 12 x 8 paces. A cold chill runs up his spine. The shakes are not too far off now.

Pacing, he thinks back to the other day, before CLARITY set in. He is standing in front of Saviors, a fancy high-tech store over on Powell, watching their mega-media screen. The breaking news from the Web is that the United Soviet Empire have declared martial law in 7 sectors and have locked down all borders. Heavy military units are seizing the cities and rounding people up under a declaration of civil cleansing. Human rights activists are calling for a tribunal to intervene. Meanwhile, religious fanatics call the actions prophetic and say it is but a matter of time before the West will be forced to submit. Some have offered themselves like lemmings to be neutralized from the pains of humanity and join their gods in the night sky through rapture.

As he listens, he takes a deep sip from his day flask, mesmerized by the footage. Others gather like ghosts come to witness the reality of what had been warned… He recalls hearing about similar events happening in parts of major US cities but those are passed off as rumors or fake news. There, that is where it started; that was the first drink that day.

Jack then remembers shooting stick over at the Pelican and maybe a couple more shots there but isn’t sure whether that was before or after CLARITY. His mind flashes back to the side street off Revolution Blvd where it all began. He isn’t sure how much he had to drink by then, but he fit right in like an anonymous specter that belonged; no one ever suspected him of being anything more than just another drunk, which he isn’t. Jack just prefers a soiled landscape where he can rummage with fewer pressures. He is a man that walks without a name – a man who has forgotten who he is. An outstretched hand reaches from a hidden door casting a shadow across an alley of broken glass and brick where burn barrels warm shaking hands and calloused minds from shattered dreams. Chaos is in his nature having latched onto him from the moment he came to be and even the good part of him savored its unequivocal judgment.

Still, there is that nervous twitch beneath his skin. “Is everything ok, sir? Your neurological readings are irregular.” Nursebot enters as he sits recounting the events that brought him there in the first place.

The Interview

“How are you feeling? Do you remember anything?” An aging hand slides a glass of water across the end table. “Here, in case you’re thirsty.”

Jack’s head wobbles as if spun too fast on a merry-go-round. The outline of a figure behind a blinding light Is barely distinguishable. Large cushions have sucked him into a chair. This is one strange day and another shrink trying to induce characters to come forth and validate them. His memory is spent on many things, but split personality is not one of them. He knows there is only one Jack, that much he is certain. Of course, that doesn’t explain the voices in his mind – those extra thoughts that could easily be someone else’s.

“So, you simply left? Where is it you say, The Inner Garden? Are you saying the planet is hollow with a garden in the middle?” Dr. Worskovey doesn’t believe a word of it and appears to look up from scribbling some notes. “What do you think it means?” The doctor sat there on the dark side of the light, waiting. Jack imagines broad-brimmed black glasses and pens in a shirt pocket with a balding head and shaggy gray hair. That’s the image of him.

After a long silence, “I can tell you what I think. Do you want to hear what I think?” He is more direct where Jack is restless and fumbling for words.

“I’m sure it’s riveting. Look, I was expelled from hell, and…, and sent here…, to this place, which isn’t much of an improvement. I was puked onto the surface no longer in this sanctuary…, or ah…, inner garden, or whatever it is. I don’t understand any more than you so stop asking me. This migraine is killing me though!”

“OK, fine. This is an interesting story, but I think you need more time to process it. You have certainly been consistent; I’ll give you that.” The doctor seems genuine and scribbles more notes. Even though the light is blinding, Jack can still make out some details: the shape of his posture, the sound of his pen on the paper, and when he put his fist to his mouth to catch his cough, things like that. 

“I have no idea where I was or what it means. I only know that I sense things as if my mind is crowded with the thoughts of everyone else around me.”

“Can you hear my thoughts now?” Jack can tell that Dr. Worskovey leans forward in his chair, expectedly.

“No. But when I’m in public it’s a different story, I think.”

“Hmmm, ok. For now, then, I am more interested in what you remember from your guided dream. Do you recall where it was you emerged from?”

“I don’t know. What does that matter? This is my reality, now, in this moment, not when I am checked out under your spells. How should I know what the hell these dreams mean – if they have any meaning at all?” A light turns on somewhere down a hall that casts the slightest illumination, giving some sense and a realization of a long open room.

“Please, what do you remember?”

“Fine, just gimme a minute.”

“Take your time, I’ll be right back.” The doctor’s shape mystically rises and strolls off toward the small light. He is speaking to someone until suddenly, the door slams shut and the room floods back to black. The sphere of burning light returns, intensified. The theatrics of interrogation are harsh though the doctor insists they are useful. Maybe for a sadomasochist! Jack can’t think of what to say. Dr. Worskovey knows more about the story than he does. In fact, he probably sat there and wrote it all down while Jack was out – or recorded it or something. Yea, of course, it was recorded. Jack remembers he signed something about that when he got there.

“How are we doing, Jack? Do you need more time, or do you want to talk about it?” His shadowy shape slowly sharpens into view again. With the door abruptly shut, it is only Jack alone in a sphere of light, again.

“No, that’s fine. I think I remember a vast open space…, and cold. I was exposed, curled beneath the only tree in as far as I could see in any direction. It was barren, beautiful…, and chaotic – you know, an untamed desolate landscape.” Jack’s mind drifts into the blackness surrounding the bubble of light. Traces of whatever the doctor gave him are still working, causing a heavy fog to weigh down on him.

 “OK, we can come back to that later.” Dr. Worskovey tries his best to make him feel comfortable. “While on the other side, you mention a woman – someone you loved. Who is that? Is that person no longer with you? Was it Mary, your wife?”

Dr Worskovey thinks: “He seems to be experiencing a convergence of one reality skipping over another. It may become unclear very soon how to distinguish them. Who is your true self? Ironically, most humans are asking that very question.”  The doctor chuckles, making light of something before his tone sharpens. “I do not think it is in the same context for your particular experience but there does seem to be a correlation with the underlying question and so perhaps, at the end of the day, you may simply not know.”

 “What the hell are you talking about?” Jack loses his patience. “Maybe this is not a good idea.”

“Excuse me? All I asked was ‘who do you love’? When you were having your dream, you were carrying on about someone you love. I feel a presence in the room.”

“Yeah, doc, that’s me!”

“No, the love you expressed breathed life where none existed, and I could almost feel her presence here in the room with us.”

“Why do you ask me the same questions over, and over, and over again, and we go nowhere? Are you aware of that? Have you not heard a thing I’ve been trying to explain?”

“Jack, you’re not being very cooperative.” The doctor is cool, and the sound of his voice makes Jack’s ears bleed. “Tell me, who is this love – this other that you dream of? Are you having an affair?”

“What? No! It’s not like that! I have no idea who this person might be – it’s not supposed to be real. I’m trying to figure this out and you’re not helping. I keep having these dreams – except I am not asleep, and they feel more like memories of things I have no recollection of. The insomnia is killing me, doc! What’s going on with me?”

“I understand. Sometimes, our personal lives – the ‘real’ reality have a way of projecting in curious ways. I just wonder, have you discussed this with Mary?”

“How do you know Mary? You say that as if you know her.”

“Well, according to your chart, she is listed as an emergency contact and she did sign you in earlier. Are you feeling, ok?”

“What medication? What’s wrong with the medication?” The bright light was no longer so blinding, but Jack didn’t notice when it changed. Dr. Worskovey was almost visible now but something was different from what Jack remembered of him.

“Medication, I am not sure I understand?” Dr. Worskovey was looking at his chart again.

“Then why did you ask me about my medication?” He knew the doctor hadn’t asked about his medications but for some reason, Jack asked the question as if something else was controlling his speech from a dark corner of his mind.

“I’m sorry, Jack, but I didn’t ask about your medication. Speaking of it though, how do you think it’s working for you?” Dr. Worskovey is tapping on the inner flap of his notebook. “Let’s try something different. I mean, it’s not like you’re going anywhere and so what do you lose? Do you want to hear what I think?”

“What do you mean I am not going anywhere?” Jack is agitated and disorientated – he imagines falling for his own story if it weren’t so fantastic and out of the world. Yet, he can’t escape it. Some days are like a constant loudspeaker with that nagging voice feeding him fragments of things he does not understand. His mind rips through scenes from his life but also some other life, some other world with unknown faces and feelings.

“You just got here, Jack. By the sounds of it, your wife made a good decision. Perhaps, this is a good place to stop for today. We can finish your intake tomorrow after you’ve had some rest. Breakfast is served at 7 AM. I will have the Nursebot check on you and we can try again tomorrow.”

“I need something for this migraine, please.” He needs validation – to think straight. Jack needs a drink.

“Oh, don’t worry; the Nursebot will take care of you and that migraine.” With that, the lights were up to full strength and he can see he is sitting in a long room like a cafeteria with a counter along one wall and two doors at the end. It all seems oddly familiar. The back of Dr. Worskovey is leaving and all he can think is to get out of there. Jack can’t believe he let Mary talk him into this!

“Good evening, sir. Would you please open your mouth wide?” It takes hold of Jack’s wrist to check his pulse and he can’t pull his arm away. “I understand it can be uncomfortable, but I can be very efficient with your cooperation.” Jack cannot break away from the Nursebot.

“Hey, I don’t need a medical exam!”

“Ruby, go to Level 2, please,” Dr. Worskovey instructs over his shoulder as he walks away. He named the nursebot, Ruby. It immediately drops Jack’s arm and stands there motionless, resetting to his voice command. “Ruby is an advanced caregiver, and she won’t hurt you. She is an earlier version of the S-7, which is better because her code is not blocked like the newer versions and is more… ‘customizable’. Get some rest, Jack. Ruby will show you to your room and I think you will approve of the accommodations. These things usually take a few days to sort out. Don’t worry.”

“I don’t want a room.”

“I understand,” Dr. Worskovey calls back as he turns a corner.

“Come, please.” Ruby is so life-like except her mannerism is more than human, a reminder of the necessary separation from AI systems. This is where they should be utilized – in medicine, not like some of those pairing services for domestic partnerships. The dating apps were flooded with ads making it hard to find a real human these days. Ruby leads them through the double doors at the other end and into a long hallway with rooms that look more like prison cells.

“You are here.” Ruby sweeps her arm in the direction of his room. In the long empty hall, there is no distinction like a room number to know one room from the other. For his room, a small communal space was nearby with a circle of chairs that faced outward.