Tag Archives: Essay

Tattoo

Tattoo

Needles and knives. Maori face chisels. Dark ink and scars. Tattoo – from tatu of Tahiti, tatau of Samoa, Tongan tatatau – from the tapping tools of tattoo. Symbols of virtue and strength worn by warriors and kings, mariners and queens. Tattoo from before prehistory. Tattoo for souls lost, and found. Four inked stories in swirls and silks and symbols, the what and why of four lives, seeking and finding, declaring this is me. Their lost-and-won battles, their peoples, their idyls – in tattoo. These four I know and admire. These four I love. My canvass is empty: I wear my scars inside. These four exhibit their beautiful selves in tattoo. Ways to be.

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Paul and His Victory over the God of Death

I had wanted a tattoo for years, but couldn’t decide on what I wouldn’t regret. We weren’t happy together, and when we separated, I should have been happy alone – I was free – but the darkness closed in and accused, “You’re a failure. Failure. You don’t matter. You should just kill yourself.” Why is suicide always on the table? I don’t want to die. I drove down dark streets fighting with the voice that wanted me to end it all. And then, there was the parlor, and he said he had a cancellation so he had time for me, and I knew, finally, suddenly, what it was to be. I want these words and I wrote them on a paper scrap, and he said, Sure, but we’re going to make it art, not just words, ok? Okay. I might have given in, given up, but everything fell into place and the words came, the words that saved my life, and today I wear these strong words: What do we say to the God of Death? Not today! I don’t know where they came from, they just came, like electricity, like a bright light, like instantaneous knowledge: a revelation. And I felt whole. And I knew I mattered.

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Todd the Bear

Dude, I am the bear. I always walked through life’s pine-tree wilderness alone, not needing anyone – or so I thought – and all the time I felt sad and worthless and flawed and needing others desperately, and clawing my way through the thorny crushing wild. I am still that bear, but I no longer walk alone. My loved ones: they are the birds overhead always. I know I am not alone. I know I can make it. But I am still the bear, and I have to make my own way through this dense forest. The paw prints on the path are mine – no one makes them for me – and the directions I travel are mine. The choice is always mine. The path unfolds before me even as I choose it.

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Sione’s Island Home

Io. This tattoo is my island, and my family and my clan. My family name means We who carry Kings on our Boats on the Sea. These sea turtles are symbols of my island. These are my people, who fish and sail the sea and climb the coconut palm barefoot and grind the meat and press the milk and drink the ground kava and remember the sacrifice and sadness where the tree first grew. These patterns here, we put them on the big tapa cloth with black hibiscus dye and red hibiscus dye. I am in my people and my people are in me. Io. Malo.

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Liddy, Her Angels Entwined

I wore a tiny silver cross, wore it always in faith and in supplication for those I loved, for those I wanted to see protected and blessed, a silver cross on a silver chain around my neck always. One day I sent it to you, my silver cross, to you, because I just knew you needed something special from me, that the tiny silver cross would be your blessing now. And I wear these angels, gently entwined, entwined in the idyl of love, enwrapped in the gift of each other. I wear these angels like I wore the cross, to believe down deep, to cherish, to remember that love is the key, the only key, to that door in the sky. These angels I wear for you – and for everyone – and for me.

One Night in Maine

One Night in Maine

Don’t snap it.
Sweep a smooth long figure 8 and gently lay down the leader.
Your mayfly will hover then rest on the water, the last of the length to touch.
If you snap, you will break your knot and lose your fly.
Imagine 600 feet per second.
That’s it. That’s better.

Lakeside grass is smashed here where bear sat munching meager blueberries in morning’s mist.
You may pick a few for tomorrow’s pancakes, but leave the rest for our friend.

The lake glows burning amber with the sun behind the pines, our water glowing and still, and mayflies dance and bob, and aquatic creatures leap and slap and leap and slap.

A silhouetted loon swims low in a patch of smoldering amber and sings the saddest haunting song laced with hues of joy and reconciliation.

(Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.)

 

Little Growler

Little Growler

A lion sits on my bed, a little lion, named Little Growler.  He clambers onto my pillow each morning after I make the bed.  Hello Little Growler, I say.  He guards the small house all day.  And he shuffles off to his secondary perch when I draw back the blankets at night.  He does not demand anything of me.  He does not growl or bark or mewl or drool.  He does not whine or glare or fume.  Little Growler came to stay when I moved away.  She brought him with her one day and introduced us.  She knew I was alone now.  She was 9.

When she turned 10, Olaf skated home with us from Disney on Ice.  He joins Little Growler with a grin that refuses to dim.  Pooh Bear with his round rumbly tumbly completes the trio, wandering in from California when the girl was not quite 2 and we met a giant Pooh and a giant Tigger and they happily squeezed in with us in a photo of the family: together.

I wave to the threesome at night – company in the dark is comforting – and manage to smile and say Good night little friends and remember Hannah at 9 and 10 and 2 and know we have had some happy times and I am not irreparable and I am very much alive and moving into something mysterious and beautiful and that Little Growler will be perched on my pillow when I come home at night.

They Fell from the Sky

They Fell from the Sky

Hundreds of them.  Eared Grebes.  The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds.  The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down.  Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots.  And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice.  My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already.  I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.

The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw.  What IS it?  She’s an Eared Grebe.  Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes.  Do you know what you call a group of grebes?  A Water Dance!  Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?

What are we going to do with her?  Can we fill the bath tub?  Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm.  What are we going to feed her?  How about fish!  Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird.  Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured.  She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence.  Look at her feet – no webbing.  Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles.  Wow! came in whispers.

That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub?  We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best.  The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty.  And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay.) 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.

 

 

Our, Angel Gabriel

Our, Angel Gabriel

It was an unseasonably warm winter afternoon when Angel Gabriel came to visit.  I was baking bread for his great-grandparents who sat thin-jacketed watching him lead my angel sister toward the enormous long-needled Austrian pine – she carried a five-gallon bucket that could have carried him – where he hunted his favorite treasure: Continue reading

The Wrong Shade of Blue

The Wrong Shade of Blue

On my desk stands an assortment of cheap pens, conference swag stamped with the names of cities and malls, colleges and garbage haulers, hospitals and law firms, architects and engineers and janitors.  Some are fat and uncomfortable to grip, like writing with a broomstick.  Some scratch the paper with stiff unrolling ball points.  My favorite boasts a three-inch ruler, a level, and a screwdriver bit in the top: the engineer.  The pens rise from a rough clay jar we turned so awkwardly on a wheel when we were together and laughing and making a memory – Continue reading

Dragon Patrol

Dragon Patrol

This was his modus operandi:

arriving at a mountain lake and settling the family with picnic baskets and chairs and tackle boxes and poles, our father walked the perimeter, heading off on a trail if there was a trail, through bushes and over-and-around tree trunks if there wasn’t, to scout the best fishing and to gather perspective of lake and forest and meadow and bog and picnicking family from every vantage point to find what he could find.  He looked small on the opposite shore Continue reading

Just Like That

Just Like That

Not one prosthetic leg, but two—two metal legs where shins bones had been, fibula-flanked tibia, and metal feet filling running shoes laced tight and carrying bone and muscle and steel around the gym.  I did not pity him, but I did pity him—I couldn’t help feeling sorry that something violent had taken his legs, his shins, his ankles, his feet.  It could have been an improvised explosive device disguised as a cardboard box along the side of an Iraqi highway.  It could have been a land mine in Afghanistan.  It could have been a pickup truck rolling and rolling cab-crushing rolling down an embankment into cattails and reeds.  My curiosity couldn’t help but wonder.  He moved down the line of upper-body machines, hip flexors lifting metal in a slightly mechanical gait.  Men—guys—simply do not speak to other men at the gym, except for the group that ripple and strut and those that come as friends and spotters, for fear perhaps of misunderstanding or offense, or to project a cool stoic toughness, or to avoid the embarrassment of slack-muscled bald-headed types like me intruding on their pounding blue-tooth buds.  I did finally figure out a way to be friendly without being weird, playing to vanity by asking for tips for this muscle or that, and usually they were friendly, except for one hulk who sneered It’s all in the genes… which I guess meant I owned unfortunate DNA.  But asking the man with carbon-metal legs for tips would be an obvious ruse for selfishly satisfying a shallow curiosity.

Grandpa Charles had worked in the vast shunting yards of the old Rio Grande, getting cars where they needed to be, cleaning, inspecting, greasing, working levers and switches and leaping over couplings and tight-rope-walking tracks and a general hopping about, with frequent reminders that steel is unforgiving, until that day an inattentive engineer lurched a car and crush-killed Grandpa Charles.  Jesse lived alone for long decades after.  And the grandkids never knew Grandpa.

I walked up to him anyway, taboo and all, because I refused to be afraid of being friendly, and I said Hi and told him I think it’s awesome you are here living your life and that I was not asking him what happened, but I’m sure you suffered terribly and I’m sure it took courage to walk again and live again and choose to be strong and fit and social and I admire and respect your strength in adversity and he was nice and I felt happy and relieved and he told me he had been working in the railyard at an industrial depot that used to be an Army depot when he met a spiteful unforgiving train that lurched at him and his legs were gone just like that but he didn’t die and he decided to live again and I told him I would try to do the same when life got hard for me, and he said Nice to meet you, too.

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(Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay )

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Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

I have been watching a man at church, sitting in his cushioned pew.  His child sits belted in a wheelchair because she cannot use her legs at all and would flop to the floor if unrestrained.  She is motion, her arms and hands fluttering around and her head wagging and her tight long ponytail swishing violently as if warding off some invisible and pestering thing. Continue reading

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life was about to begin for me when on a TWA jet I poked tentatively at the soft walls of the tight round room of my mother’s womb.  And after quick-passing days she deu à luz (gave the light) to me.  Fifty years later life ended.  Books describe divorce as a kind of death, for its permanence and its depth of loss and grief, and perhaps Continue reading

Whence Come These Lullabies

Whence Come these Lullabies

I once composed lullabies.

I suppose they began when my three-month-old baby, my first child, spiked a 103 fever, and I was frightened and he was sick and miserable and frightened.  And I cradled him and rocked him for hours in my aching arms gently and rhythmically as I breathed and whispered unconnected assuring words that began to connect and to coalesce with the rocking rhythm and began to hiss forth with sympathy and hope and desperation: Continue reading

Merlins and Holy Ground

Merlins and Holy Ground

Dark Trail earned its name for the tree canopy that shades and darkens its travelers.  Gambel oaks.  Mountain maples.  Box Elders.  Orange lichen clothes their trunks as they arc over the path.  I ride a round-trip seven.  The higher I go, the prettier the canyon, campsites yielding to firs and aspen groves and snow pockets still in June.  On Independence Day I launched from a mogul Continue reading

Directions

Directions

These rusting tracks still rumble with the rolling weight of history, of capitalism’s commerce, of hobos leaving home leaving family to find money because they had none and would find none neither though hunger compelled them to try, of kine and swine heading to the slaughterhouses to spill their blood and feed a nation, of starry-eyed boys and beaten-down men who knew there was a better life out there somewhere, at the wherever end of the tracks.  With an ear to the cold steel, I can hear the scrape of the coal shovel Continue reading

Mr. Whitlock’s Physics Class

Mr. Whitlock’s Physics Class

New Jersey.  East Brunswick.  High school physics class, with Mr. Whitlock.  (Mr. Whitlock was the band teacher, not the physics teacher, but they were both 50ish and ancient and pudgy (like I am now), and they were both nice to me, and I can’t remember my physics teacher’s name, though I wish I could because he liked physics and he liked us.  But I cannot recall his name, and his picture is not in my high school yearbooks: he must repeatedly have dodged faculty picture day.  So I will just call him Mr. Whitlock for now.)  I was a high school senior proudly registered for physics class.  The olive chalk board was full of Mr. Whitlock’s arrows on arcs and sine-cosine frequencies and equations with X and Y and Z and other wondrous letters and symbols with hidden meanings.  I was enthralled.  While the class title was merely Physics, to me the exciting subtitle was Relativity, Cosmology, Forces, Theories of Everything, and other Cool Space Science Stuff.  A willing sponge, I was eager to soak it all in.  That same year Cosmos erupted into my existence, by Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and cosmologist with the deep nasal “billions and billions.”  I believed everything he said because it was the science and the truth of the universe.  That is what physics class was all about, right?  But while I adored and worshiped the ideas, I choked on the math—why is it always the math?—and I tripped over the translations of the pretty arrow-arcs into unintelligible long lettered mathematical formulae.  And I came quickly to understand that I did not understand and might never understand the mathematics of physics, despite the fact that I received an “A” in Trigonometry class the year before because I had memorized the equations and aced the tests and then forgot everything, the day after finals, because I had never understood the mystifying logical language of mathematics.

The inexorable dreadful day came when I carried home my report card, folded neatly in a 6×9 manila envelope, and we formed a line at the dinner table where Dad sat at the head before dinner, and we handed him our report cards, one at a time, me the oldest and me the last, and oh how slowly he opened the envelope and drew out my first-quarter report card and unfolded it and slowly and dreadfully scanned the straight As, with the C at the bottom, my first C in history, the C in physics, my favorite and impossible class, and he looked up and said simply, “Is this going to continue?”  But as I stood sickened and sweating, my insecure scared self supplied this translation: This is the best you can do?  I thought you were smarter than that.  I expect more of you.  A C, not being an A, might as well be an F.  F-F-F.  Failure.  You had better do better, son.  Dad meant none of that, of course, though he was and is the best smartest strongest man I knew and know, though his question simply revealed his own exhausted mind as lawyer clergyman handyman father-of-six, though my report card C was simply a small temporary bare blip of a fact, a diminutive letter written in a tiny box in a narrow column of my life, and meant nothing at all whatsoever about me and my value and worth and intelligence and my sense of wonder for the scientific world.  Dad’s question was simply a worry for his son and a hope for his son and an offer to help his son if he could.  I see that.

Please do not ask me why I majored in physics in college.  Please don’t.  Though if you do I will answer simply that I love cosmology and relativity and theories of everything and other cool sciencey spacey stuff.  I just could not do the math.

(Painting “Galaxy” by Roger, though I’m hesitant to claim it.)

Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

 

Curtains and Veils

Curtains and Veils

Only a cloth curtain separated the little boy’s anticipation of surgery from my own.  But he was only two and didn’t know what was coming and had two kind parents who spoke in cheerful optimistic soft voices and kind nurses and kind doctors who smiled and were soft and kind.

I am always very careful to say nothing when awaking Continue reading

A Tree to Remember

A Tree to Remember

At the time, I felt proud and childlike and utterly cheerful to plug in the new two-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree with multi-colored lights pre-strung—just slide it out of the box and plug it in—and skirted with a checkered flannel pillowcase hiding three plastic feet.  I hung fragile little ornaments I keep in an egg carton.  This lighted loaded twig brightened my living room, a quiet understated new friend demanding nothing of me, content to glow and keep me company.  Continue reading

Resistance

Resistance

That was the morning I awoke late and feeling groggy and foggy and depressed and sluggish, as in, like a slug.  And I had been feeling so well.  I will never take melatonin again at one o’clock in the morning, or for that matter at any other time of the day or night again ever.  Which I also said the last time this happened.  The tablets I have flung in the trash, and the bottle tossed into the recycling box for the next time I visit my parents, who have a giant green plastic recycling can the city empties Monday mornings.  Saturday is a good day to do the laundry, I shrugged,

Continue reading

Prayers of the Weak and Powerful

Prayers of the Weak and Powerful

Our Father who art in heaven.  Since I was about 12 years old, or maybe nine, or four, my prayer preamble has been “Dear Heavenly Father….”  But I may in my lifetime have spent more time wondering about prayer than praying, though I am beginning to wonder if there is much of a difference.  Mostly I ask whisperingly What is going on here? or sometimes utter an exasperated What in Heaven’s name is going on here? or on occasion send a belching What the hell is this?  I kneel bed-side or sofa-side, like I am supposed to, though periodically on only one knee because it is more comfortable and because sometimes kneeling on both knees just takes too much out of me and I just cannot do it, and I bow my head, like I am supposed to, to show respect for deity and all that.  And I say, Dear Heavenly Father . . . What is this all about?  Continue reading

Jam and English Muffins

Jam and English Muffins

English muffin halves, toasted crisp, with butter and blackberry jam.  When I wake up irrevocably at one-something o’clock in the morning, bladder bursting, feet tingling, back twisting, stomach chafing for food.  I just know.  I know that to wind back down I have first to wind up.  The perfume of burnt bread wafts soothingly and intoxicatingly from the toaster.  In sleepy waiting reverie, the harsh click of the popping-up startles.  First the butter—used because it tastes richly divine, and why eat at all unless the food pleases?—then the blackberry jam—not too much—or maybe strawberry—I like to alternate.  One smallish crispy bite of muffin.  One sip of cold whole milk.  Slowly.  Savoring.  One lamp lit to illuminate the book, and the fleece covering bare cold feet and other bare skin and undergarments.  A bite and a swallow.  Mmmm.  Since I’m up anyway, awake and comfortable, enjoying a muffin for two minutes, I might as well read.  Brian Doyle’s enchanting, funny, touching essays are right for this quiet moment and are just short enough and just long enough to finish with the last bite and sip.  I read about hummingbird hearts the size of pencil erasers, and blue whale heart chambers the size of a room a man could walk through.  I read of heart surgeries and the fear of loss and the pain of loss and the reconciliation to loss.  I read of love and beauty and whimsey and the mystery of a loving soul.  I read of how parents learn to live for their children, to see in their children the heights of heaven and the depths of anguished concern and the desperation of loss and the ephemeral and the letting go of what cannot ever be possessed or controlled.  Or I read from the Bible: about Paul telling the Romans and Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians and Hebrews about that man Jesus, full of grace, the very Son God of the Father God, full of grace, full of truth and light.  Or I read in the Book of Mormon about whole civilizations who turn from the God they know, turn intentionally away from him and his simple system for personal and societal peace and happiness—why would you reject what you know and love, all the truth and peace and light and joy, only to exterminate each other in a tempest of rage and blood and hate?—or the account of Jesus coming to them, descending, beaming his glory, radiating his light, his scarred palms outstretched for them all to feel and to witness forever, this Jesus come to teach and to correct, come to comfort and to heal, come to establish his order on earth.  Finished with the food, and the word, I snuggle into the fleece and the couch and work to think big divine universal thoughts, but all I can achieve is to almost understand something bigger than this big small world, all I can manage is to almost feel by mental reaching touch the grand blinding serene Mind hanging out behind the veil of the infinite universe, that Creator, and the elegant laws of the cosmos and the evolutionary laws of life and DNA and of the amazing simple brilliant law of love, love one cannot measure on a scale, love one cannot reduce to an equation,  love that is the greatest force in the universe for hope and for reformation and for redemption, love that allows forgiveness and invites a stretching reaching higher farther vaster than we thought possible…  Sweet respite, this, these tangible almosts…  Knowing I cannot ascend, yet, to where I wish, yet calmed and satisfied and inspired and touched, and fully awake, I know I can descend again now into sleep, and stay asleep until morning, though I do have to brush my teeth first.

Consecration Cooking

Consecration Cooking

I cooked for hours.  Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad.  Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, Continue reading