jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: December, 2017

After Christmas

The evergreen lingers,

Sweet spices too,

The floors have been swept,

There’s little to do;

I sit in my chair

Earl Grey in my cup,

And spot the last remnant,

The steam rises up;

There under the couch

Some silver and red,

I smile and I laugh,

While shaking my head;

The presents all shared,

Gratitude all around,

I remember the chaos,

This heavenly sound;

Songs of the season,

Some furious joy,

The children now playing,

A girl and a boy;

Sugar she sits,

At peace in my lap,

She’s finally appeared,

Wanting her nap;

The boarders all gone,

But never too far,

They’ve all headed home,

In over-full cars;

My thoughts a bit scattered,

Another twelve come and passed,

How many will come?

They go by too fast;

Remembering the ones,

That held me so dear,

I long that once more,

Their voices I’d hear;

These memories of Christmas,

I quietly sift,

It seems to me truly,

They’re really the gift;

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Her Laugh

sometimes

it’s a startling thing,

like fireworks

exploding before me on a quiet fall morning;

sometimes

it’s a quiet, muted thing,

choked back by the child

who once sat beside

me on the garnet cushioned pews—

the ones with the cold and impossibly hard backs;

sometimes

it starts deep within her,

and rises like the swelling emerald sea

driving a wave

high into the sky,

then higher,

and higher,

then,

roaring with delight,

it crashes onto itself,

with all it’s joyous fury washing ashore;

sometimes

it flashes like lightening,

a spectacular display of light,

pouring over the landscape of my heart,

igniting my soul with magic,

reassuring me that all is well and

that there is nothing so large I should fear;

there’s something about a daughter’s laugh.

This Broken Thing

This thing,

This fragile thing,

Enduring,

Sculpted from stone,

Hewn from an endless cavern,

Polished and precious,

Flawed,

Though perfect

In place,

Yet never quite belonging,

Overlarge here,

Too small there,

Clutched with perspiring palms,

Delicately,

Deliberately placed,

Searching for just the right space

For his treasure,

This original thing,

The skilled creation of this master,

His counterfeit,

Moved this way,

Then that,

Then slipping from his grasp,

Crashing,

Shattering,

Salvation’s symphony filling his ears, his heart,

Shards of stone,

Littering about,

Jagged fragments strewn all ‘round,

Liberated from form,

From function,

Exploding into a joyful chaos,

Unexpected delight,

This broken thing.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part VII

Author’s note:  If you’ve not read Eliza’s whole story, scroll back to the first entry.  Thanks for reading.

There was something in his eyes that always scared Eliza.  Even when Jeremiah Goddard smiled it never showed in his eyes.  And with those thin lips and hollow cheeks, he looked more like a possum bearing its teeth than someone who was happy.  So she avoided him at almost all costs, retreating to the relative safety of her small room whenever he was around.

When she heard the door slam that evening, Eliza decided it was now or never.  Her mother had been in a particularly ebullient mood that day and with her step-father gone, she would approach her mother one final time.  She padded down the steps toward and toward the kitchen.

“Momma, can I talk to you about something?”  she asked hesitantly.

“What is it, Eliza?”

That was encouraging.  So many times before her mother had simply shooed her away, telling Eliza to finish her homework.  Or to go and read her Bible lesson.  Or to get ready for bed. Girls her age, she was almost eleven, were old enough to take life seriously and not to be foolish, her mother often told her.

“It’s still happening,” Eliza said, her eyes downcast.

“What is, honey?”

“You know.  The voices.  I still hear them.”

Eliza braced herself.  Her mother had warned her that such nonsense would not be tolerated.

“I’m scared.”

Waiting for the onslaught of her mother’s rebuke, Eliza took an imperceptible step back.  But there were no furious admonitions.  No threats of punishment for telling tales.  Instead, Angela Goddard invited her daughter to come into the den and and to sit down beside her on the couch.

Overcoming her dismay, Eliza did exactly that.  She told her mother how and when she had first heard the voices.  And how they had never really stopped.  Eliza had just relented to her mother’s demands not to speak of such things any more.  She told her mother that there were times when she thought the voices were angry.  “Not at me,” she said. “Just angry.”  Other times they seemed like they were maybe in pain.  Eliza said she had pleaded with them to stop, to leave her alone.  But nothing had worked.

Angela Goddard listened patiently and nodded that she understood.  She placed her hand on Eliza’s shoulder and told her that everything would be alright. Eliza took a deep breath and realized her heart was no longer pounding.  Tears of relief filled her eyes.  It was more than Eliza could have ever hoped for.

Her mother told her that there were things in this world that we don’t always understand. She said sometimes our minds play tricks on us—especially when we are young.  She gave her daughter a warm warm embrace.  She told Eliza not to worry.  She said she would tell Jeremiah and that he would know what to do.

*****

Somehow, Liza had managed to keep it together after she and Jason finished talking to Pax.  But from the moment she heard the strange man tell her about what had happened at her father’s funeral, her thoughts had become a cocktail of memories and fear.  Jason had asked Liza what she thought of Pax, but she told him she didn’t really know.  Sure.  It was weird.  Learning all that about her father.  And Pax’s confession was even more bizarre.  But she was just too tired to discuss it very much.  She had begged off with, “Can we just talk about this tomorrow?  It’s been a long day.”

She slammed the door to her apartment behind her, forgetting to lock the door.  She had to find that book.  There had been something in it.  Something about—what was it?  Bardos?  Yeah.  That was it.  Bardos.  The space between life and death and life.  The place Vedic religions believed the soul went between times of reincarnation.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part VII

Author’s Note:  For the first six installments of Eliza’s story, scroll past the previous blog entry, a poem entitled Winter.  

 

Eli Paxton moved more like a Praying Mantis than a man.  Watching him contort his almost six-foot-five frame into the back booth of the diner was a study in resolve.  He slid across the worn gray vinyl, finally drawing his feet under the table.  Only then did Jason and Eliza take their seats opposite him.

A weary-eyed waitress, her hair pulled back into a tight angry bun, appeared beside the table.  BATTRICE was inscribed on her name tag, no doubt the result of either an inept or hasty manager who’d seen no reason to correct the error.

“I’m Bea.  What can I get you?”

They all agreed on coffee.  Nothing more, prompting a contemptuous glare from BATTRICE.

“Don’t rent tables here,” she blurted.  “If you’re not gonna eat, don’t overstay your welcome.”

Eli Paxton unfolded a wrinkled twenty from his shirt pocket and slid it across a table that was still damp with ammonia and water.  “Okay if I pay in advance?  You can keep the change.”  BATTRICE offered a grunt of approval and picked up the twenty.

After exchanging some pleasantries, and Eli’s admonition to “Call me Pax.  All my friends do,” they settled into an unusual exchange.

“Your father was something of an enigma to me.  He had no better education than most of us.  But he was familiar with all sorts of things.  Said he read a lot.  History.  Science.  Even philosophy,” said Pax.  “Did you know that?”

Liza shook her head.  Jason admitted he remembered his Dad reading every evening and that there were books all over their home.  Books his mother had thrown out after his father died.

“Once, over lunch, I asked him what his favorite book was about.  Just idle chat, you know.  I figured it would be book about history or science.  But he surprised me.”

Jason and Liza gazed at Pax, hearing an almost reverence in his tone.

“What was the book?” asked Liza.

Pax took a sip of his coffee and grimaced.  “Bleh.  Worst coffee I’ve ever had.”  He paused.  Took a sip of water, swished it, then swallowed.  “It’s called The Bardo Thodol,” he finished.

“What?” asked Jason.  “Never heard of it.”

“Me neither,” said Liza.

“Not likely you would have heard it by that name.  Maybe not even by the English translation of the title:  The Tibetan Book of the Dead.”

Pax went on to explain that their father had read lots of religious texts.  “He read Catholic scholars.  Stuff about Egyptian beliefs on the afterlife.  And some ancient Jewish works too.  He was always looking into things about the afterlife.”

“I don’t remember anything like that.”

“Don’t suppose he would have talked much to you about it, Jason.  He didn’t talk to me that much either.  But your father was kind of hung up on the idea that matter couldn’t be destroyed.  And that whatever was inside of us, he figured, couldn’t be destroyed by death either.”

After several refills of their coffee and increasingly antagonistic stares from BATTRICE, the three of them realized they had worn out their welcome in the diner.  Jason and Liza had peppered Pax with questions, most of which he wasn’t able to answer.  In the end, Pax offered them a summation.

“You’re Dad figured if there was an afterlife, then you should be able to communicate with those you’ve left behind.  He wasn’t a nut about it.  More matter of fact.”

“Mr. Paxton—Pax, I mean—can I ask you one more question before you go?”

“Sure thing, Liza.”

“Why did you come to our mother’s funeral?

Pax cocked his head, lowered it a bit and gave his neck a quick scratch, thinking.  The reluctance he felt hung over the table like a foreboding cloud.

“Mmmh,” he grunted.  “Eh.  It sounds crazy.  Even to me.”

Jason could see BATTRICE headed their way.  This time she wasn’t carrying a carafe of coffee.  He urged Pax to finish.  “Please, Pax.  Why did you come to the funeral after all these years?”

“Gah. Might as well say it.  When your father died, I was a pallbearer.  When we were carrying him to the graveside, I’d swear I heard him whispering to me—from the casket.  Scared the shit–pardon my French–out of me.  Swore I’d never tell anyone.  Never have until today.  Never went to your father’s grave again.  Never came by to see your mother.  I think I wanted to see if I heard anything like that come from your mother’s casket.”

Winter

Wrestling against the wind,

like dry souls clinging to life,

sweetgums and dry leaves

rustle in the barren branches;

 

Rooftops dusted with winter,

the vapors of my breath

appear, then vanish

in the frigid morn’;

 

Tender fingers,

pink and aching,

the tip of my nose

pleading for my wool scarf;

 

A wandering pup

plodding across the brown Bermuda

he stops and sniffs,

perhaps searching for spring;

 

My body longing

for warm Gulf waters

emerald shorelines

and toes in the sand;

 

The cold quickens me,

a reminder that life,

like the seasons

will come and go;

 

Memories of snow,

of sleds and steaming hot chocolate,

of a childhood

with little worry or fear;

 

The breeze pauses,

Mother Nature catching her breath,

she watches me,

wondering if I will relent;

 

A child—a boy?

Wrapped in wool and fleece.

His boots patting over the pavement.

Or is it a girl?

 

 

A crystal sky,

clear and clean and fresh,

envelopes me,

washing me with peace.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza Jackson–Part VI

Author’s Note:  If you’re just meeting Eliza, be sure to scroll back to the prior entries to see her full story.

 

“So, Eliza, where do you think the voices are coming from? asked Dr. Venable.

Unblinking, she stared at the physician. She offered only a slight shrug of her shoulders.

“Do you think they are malevolent?  Evil?”

For some reason, Eliza felt Venable’s question was pregnant with consequence, as if her answer might determine her fate.  Saying yes, even if it was the truth, would probably mean more drugs.  Maybe even more time in the clinic.  Worse yet, maybe even a long hospital stay.  Venable had seemed trustworthy, at least at first.  But she felt a growing unease with him, like you felt when you were coming down with the flu and you just weren’t quite sure if you were getting sick.

“No.  No, I don’t.  Not at all,” she said firmly.  “I mean, they are unsettling.  But they aren’t really scary.”

Venable nodded, busily making some notes on a ragged yellow legal pad.

“Do they tell you to do anything?  Or to harm anyone?”

She shook her head, trying to figure out how to satisfy Venable and somehow shorten her stay at the clinic.  It occurred to her that she needed to punctuate her assurance and added, “No.  Not at all.  Nothing like that.”

The truth was—always had been—she really couldn’t understand the voices that well.  They were amorphous whispers mostly.  Sometimes they sounded like someone calling her from another room, like when her mother had called her that morning.  But there had never her any real direction coming from them.

“What do you remember about your father?” the doctor asked, using his best I’m a patient-compassionate doctor, so you can trust me tone.

“Not much.  It’s hard to know what I remember and what I’ve been told.  I was really young when he died.”

Venable offered an understanding glance—one that actually seemed genuine.

“Do you feel grief about your Dad?  Do you miss him?”

“It’s hard to miss someone you don’t really remember.  I suppose I miss the idea of him.”

Venable put down his pen and the pad on which he’d been making his notes.  Deliberately, he placed both elbows on the arms of his chair and raised his hands across his face. Slowly, deliberately, he interlocked his hands allowing his index fingers to form a kind of steeple.  Then he leaned his head forward a bit, letting his index fingers touch his lips in a kind of reflective posture.  He offered a her a slight knowing nod.

“Eliza,” he said softly, “the trauma of losing someone you love, even if you are very young, can have peculiar effects.  Death is something that is hard for us to comprehend, even as adults.  Every culture has its own rituals to deal with death.  Ways to say goodbye.  But some say the dead never truly leave us.  That they communicate with us from beyond the grave.  I wonder if you think the voices you are hearing might be related to your father in some way.”

She would have been lying if she’d told Dr. Venable she had never considered that. Hell, she had considered everything.  But that seed—that her father was somehow communicating with her—she had plucked it from the soil of her thoughts before it could germinate.

There had been nights when she had laid in her bed, hearing to her mother “talk” to her father after he had died and that had made Eliza feel like maybe it was possible to speak with the dead. But as she had grown, she had watched her mother grow more and more peculiar and Eliza had feared becoming like her—feared that her mother’s increasingly bizarre behavior contagious—and refused to believe the voices she heard had anything to do with her father.

Again, Eliza felt vulnerable—that the wrong response to Venable’s query might somehow affect her in ways she wouldn’t like.  She needed to choose her words wisely.

“Sure.  I’ve thought about that,” she said honestly.  “But I don’t really think that’s what’s going on.  I mean nothing about the voices”—she’d never told anyone about that one particular voice she heard on occasion that was so unsettling— “is really distinct.  But maybe you’re right.  Maybe it’s just the trauma of losing my Dad when I was so young.  Someday, I’m sure things will just get better.  The voices will go away.”

Venable looked at her carefully.  She felt like he was trying to peer inside her, as if he were a sorcerer with some kind of second sight that would let him read her mind. Her insides were growing warm and she felt bile rising in her throat. In that brief moment, waiting for him to finish whatever he was doing, Eliza could feel each breath enter her nostrils and pass down her windpipe into her lungs.  She felt every inch of it and every fiber in her lungs expand then contract, purging herself of the spent oxygen.  She heard the soft whooshing of air blowing from the air-conditioning vent.  Her body and mind were alive, arguing with themselves over what to do next.  Flee?  Fight?

Venable smiled.

“I think that’s good, Eliza.  It’s honest.  I think you’re probably right.  We will meet again tomorrow, but I think you are going home after that.  The nurse will walk you back to your room.  Get some rest.  You’ve done good work here today.”

As the door closed behind her, Eliza felt like she’d been stalked by something in the darkness and narrowly escaped a shadowy predator.