Sunday, March 23, 2008

the st louis paper is full of how the maramec has shot its banks and flooded much of missouri that is just across the mississippi from us...over here, the big muddy, which is its own river and not just another name for the mississippi, has also shot its banks and put a lot of people under water. then it turned cold, very cold, march windy & bleak cold, making me glad we weren't trying to camp again as we always used to do on easter sunday. around town cars gathered in church parking lots and i knew there were lots of hats out there, but all i could think of was water spouting up from the center of our own sunset boulevard (sunset drive), our main commuting artery in from west carbondale, water just shooting up from below where it was clearly full. easter is about renewal, about flowers, about the sun coming back out, the days getting longer, the green appearing and all, but it's also about jesus, though in my crowd they don't argue about him all that much, or the whole story, which really scares the little children, and which, in all its detail, is painful. we dyed some eggs, and hid them out on the labyrinth, and got ready for a quaker play that isn't quite done yet, but mostly, i ate a sweet roll for old times' sake, & watched the kids running around excitedly pulling bright eggs out of overgrown dead grasses. i was able to pull the paas out of the back of the cupboard where it sat for a long long time, as i'd been one paas ahead for as long as i could remember, and i always overdo it on the vinegar and the dye though i cooked the eggs just right this year, and the names of the kids faded as plain white crayon is just no competition at all for all that dye, and the stickers never stick to them at all since they stay wet for several days, even in a refrigerator. all in all it was not a smooth & gentle holiday, there was a lot going on and big storm clouds in the west, and at one point as we were driving home, though it was only about a mile, it snowed and rained and pounded on the van a little, menacing, as if more flooding was to come. and maybe it could, who knows, seems like the earth is mad, can't take it any more, and is giving us all a litte rockin' 'til we straighten out & do right. the day was cold, gray, foreboding, but the air was fresh, and there wasn't much of the usual restaurant customers coming & going from the parking lot, they kind of left the labyrinth to us today, so our kids could tear around, find eggs, do the labyrinth, eat candy. i pondered the idea that the whole place was put on an ancient creekbed, but this was never much more than a rumor, one i'm trying to get to the bottom of, for the sake of the play. it explains the sogginess, the regular flooding, the crawdad holes in the grass, though, even when the trains stop, for an entire day, the tracks tower over the place, and make you forget its gentle slope down, north and east, towards the low spot where i got stuck the other day. i think we left a couple of eggs out there, in the high & dead grasses and tucked into the bushes, & i'm not sure what kinds of wild animals come out and have at them when the day is done, but that's kind of a tradition. you can't hide over forty eggs, and expect the kids to bring back every single one of them...there's a little sense of discord there, of unfinished business, of a paas full of powerful dye, that doesn't mellow with time, that is still there even after you paint the cupboard, and the feeling of things that don't sit well together, in our case boiled eggs, easter candy and sweet roll, but horseradish also comes to mind. and what's with the water spouting out of the center of our road? we're having construction done soon, opening out the bad roof in the back of the house, building up- and i hope the earth will hold it, don't want these rivers to mess with us. i'm glad i'm not on the maramec- and i send out a prayer, not only for those who are, but also those in the family, who i failed to call, or reach out to, in my hurry, my rattled sense of always short on time, always a little unable to enjoy the day, the moment, the kids. the play, i hope, will expand a little, be a gift to them, maybe a gift to the moment, one that won't be around forever, as the building is due to be razed. and, by chance, or not, depending on how you see these things, the date for the play was set today at april 20. columbine day, day we got corey, day right on the other side of the cusp, the cusp between aries the pioneer, and taurus the settler, on the other side of the mirror from my birthday. a person doesn't have to buy in to the significance of astrology, numerology, date-worship, calendar mysticism. but as the years fly by, as one day turns into another, as another spring comes up, out of the ground, from nowhere, from a mere promise, hey, this one is about where god and the soul come together, where we cross the threshold. there are many versions of the story, but it doesn't matter, it's a miracle every time, with every child, with every willow bud. the smell of vinegar lingers in the kitchen, a little dye on the counter. night has fallen, it's actually already the next day. and i'm off to bed, another long week ahead. god bless you all, for another year, the unfolding one.

Friday, March 21, 2008

a pounding rain a few days back has sent rivers shooting their banks, and made everything pretty soggy. now that i'm keeping close track of the weather, through this blog, i've begun to notice how bizarre it's been, at least since the beginning of february. it's not that we've never seen pounding spring rains in's more that this is maybe the third hundred-year-flood we've had here in the midwest, in 15 years. what's up? i feel like i might wash away, down the big muddy, in a sea of floodwater.

life goes on- soggy ground and all- and i was asked for my sylvester stallone story (i may have told this before)- but, thinking of it again, wanted to write it down (below). am gearing up for tesol presentation (finishing the writing part), but running out of time, and running into, head first, a new term of two full writing classes. it's ok. it's what i do. good work is coming out of it...more about that later.

perhaps the most rewarding part is, my students do learn the language- they go off and do their thing- and more come to take their place. i've seen a lot. i've lived through a few changes. and i'm beginning to feel like i can breathe a little, enjoy the big apple. i'll be representing illinois, land of obama. no basketball teams to go for- siuc, & iowa, not in the tournament- but i'm a kansas fan now, and kansas actually has a chance. that's a twist, pulling for a team with a chance.

pounding rains, rising rivers, soggy ground, kind of reminds me of quaker campouts, which we stopped trying to pull of on easter weekends. we'd got rained out maybe eight or nine years in a row...last year, we'd given up, and it was sunny- finally. this year, the water comes into your shoes as you slog across the mud, in what looks like the high spots. the cold remains of the ice storms stays down there, dormant, icy, ready for the real thaw. who knows what the season holds. excuse the ramble- got the bicycle out earlier- i'm on an early schedule now- and that leaves me a little lightheaded- scattered. Really, i've got memories, lots of them, and i need to get a little more organized, get them on paper. it'll all start here, i'm sure. at least you'll be in on it.
the day i met sylvester stallone was an unusual day- one of those days that iowa snuck up on you, reminded you that there was truly no place like it on earth. even in the grayest, dullest march, the cornfields would be beginning to sprout and show life; the rich soil, you knew, would soon be sprouting something.

i'd grown weary of iowa city- a college town where everyone was a lot like me- and attracted to dubuque, an old, pretty but very conservative river town, with steep river bluffs, brick streets and an incline, like pittsburgh, where i grew up. i didn't mind the lack of jobs- iowa city had that problem too- and thought, if i tried hard enough, i'd find something. i thought maybe i'd investigate it. i had a friend in iowa city, a bit of a hustler, who said he had a job on sylvester stallone's movie, Fist- a minor part, but an important one nevertheless, he said. stallone was a personal friend of his, he maintained, and, he was going up there tomorrow, would i like a ride? of course i agreed. he explained that they were making most of the movie in the warehouse district, down by the river, and they had fixed it up to be like the depression, when the movie was set. sure enough, when we got there, after a morning's drive up from iowa city, it was very much like the depression. actors hung around wearing 20's costumes, leaning on walls of very old buildings, smoking cigarettes.

my friend the hustler changed a little, got nervous, as if he owed everyone money. i wanted to hang around a little, meet the actors, see the place where they were getting their clothes. but he was not eager to hang around; he agreed to take me to the red stone inn, a redecorated house that was now dubuque's best coffee shop. we drove up through the center of town while i noticed how different dubuque was from iowa city. the red stone inn was up against the bluffs, on the other side of downtown, but it was easy enough to find; we parked and walked in. and there was sylvester stallone, getting his coffee from the cashier, and turning around to face me.

he was relaxed, confident, and friendly, and said hello to me. my friend had disappeared, completely; I was alone. so i said, welcome to iowa. in my own way, i felt confident too- this town was so much like the one i grew up in; though i wasn't familiar with either the town, or the red stone inn, still, i was at home, that was easy for me to say. and he walked away; he took his coffees to the table. it was a mystery what happened to my friend- i'm not sure i ever caught up with him. he must have owed stallone money too, was all i could figure- or worse. years later i actually watched the movie, which i liked- didn't see the friend anywhere. stallone, whatever else you could say, was at least good at what he did; iowa was better off, for having him for a while. i myself went back to iowa city though- there were no jobs in dubuque for strangers- and i guess i figured that out pretty quickly. the corn peeked out of the ground in the afternoon sun on the way back- it wasn't hard to get a ride, as usual, and i got home by nightfall- didn't see the friend for a long time after that, and by then, i'd more or less forgotten. he'd at least given me a ride though. who knows what else i'd stumbled into?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

spring break here, time to get outside, watch the chill go away, see the first of the grass and flowers spring up. most of all, time to let the little ones know who would spend more time with them if he could. took the 2-yr.-old to the park one day, fresh, cold, blue sky & windy, and we were walking around, and the park has these stone checkers tables, with stone chairs by them, a couple of them are up in an old oak grove, very pleasant on a nice day. i always walk by them and say, too bad i'm not retired, or i'd be carrying a set of checkers with me, and i could sit down and enjoy a stone table like this, right on the spot. but as it is, twisted mind that i do carry around, i try to engage my children in an absurdist game of "king-me" where we push any old acorn or stick forward, on the table, as if it's a piece. the 2-year-old is one of the few who actually got it, but i've noticed that 2-year-olds are good at this, though i'll never give up trying with any of them. so we're sitting there, pushing acorns and sticks at each other, going "king me!" you can't king an acorn, because you can't fit another acorn on top of it, due to its roundness.

i had a moment of clarity, there, in the fresh spring sun, that had more to do with fathers & sons, and being there for them to come around and play with. my own father, i came back to several times, a few of them i was ashamed of who i was and what i'd become, yet we'd do jigsaw puzzles, or something, and he was always there for me. i know now, lucky enough to have a household of boys, well trusted with boys, i feel grateful, hope i'm worthy of the task. the last one is just now learning to use the potty, to hang from the rings in the playground, to play "king-me" and get the joke. we leave the acorns and sticks on the table- maybe the next people will take up where we left off.

the six-yr.-old's idea of a good time is to fill up the bike tires with air, and go over to mcdonalds to get a kids meal. the first flowers are sprouting near the sidewalk on our way. also, a telephone pole, laid to waste by a driver, who left glass from his windshield on the side of the road. don't know who that was, or what night it happened- winter's been long, people went a little bonkers, maybe. for him, the days of staying up making cardboard cars from the cars movie- with cardboard axles, buildings, etc.- are over; he's into pokemon now, and we make pokemon characters, or pokemon cards, and fill in information about their attacks, their power, etc. one of my favorites, "psyduck," has as its attacks, delusion and migraine. he doesn't use the cards to play actual games, that i know of, but he does try to remember their attacks, their evolves, which characters evolve into which others, etc. he's like a walking pokedex (encyclopedia), and he'll break into a conversation, say at the mcdonalds, to tell me what one character evolves into. it's an enormous and imaginary world, but then, so is the one i live in, and i realized that, at the mcdonalds, he was now too big to play in the little play-space; too big to sit on the clown's lap; and, when he got home, he gave the little plastic toy to his little brother. all of these, enormous milestones in their own right. life goes forward; we hurtle into another warm-season.

meanwhile, what little time i have to write, i'm doing quaker plays. april's is called Second First-Day at the Interfaith (you may have to scroll down- the permalinks do not work well on this blog)- it's a quaker tribute to an old and crumbling building, our home for years, a thoroughly local play, kind of focused on the material plane with a gentle poke at the spiritual. it's not entirely finished, but it's almost ready to perform, and i do hope to do it in april or soon after. then, also, the one on top of it, more serious, Good Tidings of Yule, just finished (redone) tonight, about a plane crash in africa, written originally in 2006 for the unitarians, who rejected it- but i'm quite proud of it, and have now adapted it better for our own meeting. would have done it this last season, as a christmas play, but i fell off a ladder. now, at least i can say, it's written, it'll work for the kids we have. finally, the big potato, down in our hearts, also known as not quiet on the home front, absolutely not finished, maybe i can get it done this week also, but i've lost quite a bit of it in computer crashes, not to mention packed away the books it was based on, somwhere. all the while, avoiding working on my tesol presentation, for my grand entrance to new york city, a big moment for me personally, as the east coast is the place i started traveling, an old friend, a place with a voice. and they may not know all about me, being all wrapped up in their own stuff and all, but i've gotten used to that, i've been out here in the big valley for thirty years or so. playing music, writing stories, doing plays, getting by, and i'll bring with me memories, & see if the place has changed any.

it reminds me, the band is playing at the mix, in carterville, saturday night, don't miss it if you're in the area. after that, it's back to the clown's lap for me, another term will start. but hey, my father read the walmart stories, and liked them, and that means a lot to me- and my older sons & daughter do some writing too, which i really like, whether it's facebook superwalls, blogspot, daily kansan, you name it, they're out there, putting a mark on the world, making me proud. the stone-table checkerboard- it becomes e-mail, after a while, but the fresh clear smell of an oak grove, pine needles, you can't pile that stuff on top of itself, it blows away, moves over, lets the new spring come up, & show itself.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

'crazy busy' is a word i hear to describe times like these, trying to finish up a term which was disrupted by two ice storms, where students are coming forward with papers, after the deadline, and i have to be nice to them and either say no, or just let the resentment seep into the grading form. and just at the peak, yesterday, another ice storm, a march-type, freak thing that we knew was temporary but was ice just the same. it didn't even stick on the roads or walks, much, but it stuck on the trees, then it snowed on the ice on the trees; even then, the roads and walks were ok, so life went on as usual. but then it rained again, and froze on the snow, making the trees an icy, glazy white ghostly color. there had been buds on some of them, so it was icy ghostly and strange-shaped in many places, very beautiful in the morning sun, yet we had to hurry out the door and off to work as usual where demands and papers pile up (see picture below) the elementary school, at the drop-off (a name they actually use for a place, not realizing how often we've seen Nemo), the kindergartner struggles with his jacket and his pack, tries to organize himself in his own way, goes off to class. but at the daycare, the two-year-old gets out of the car, and looks around...he's always looking for a way to stall, something to divert himself so he doesn't run straight into the daycare. don't get me wrong, he likes the place, it's just that, well, it's a long day, and here he is, outside, with his dad's full attention on him, and, why not drag it out a little. so ice is falling in shiny, white-and-clear pieces, all over the place, hitting some cars and people but not doing much harm, making a sound like a chandelier falling, giving you the feeling of delicate glass breaking. and he finds an ice sleeve, cylindrical, came off of a branch i'm sure, yet it fell in that form, like a hollow paper-towel cylinder only made of ice and snow, clear and white. he picks it up with the intention of showing it, taking it inside, which he does. by then, it's fallen apart, a little, in his hands. it ends up in the sink. the day starts, social, busy, indoor projects going on- in the daycare, they're saying, it'll be nice when we can get outside again. i can second that. who am i, rushing him inside on a march morning? what has life come to, that i'm in a hurry to get to work?

vignettes from a weekend trip to paducah, kentucky, a truly different world, yet less than 90 minutes from here. a truck accident on the o-river bridge- forced to detour through a small town and then a metal bridge, very narrow, where i couldn't put my elbow out the open window. high above the o-river, felt like i could see all the way to pittsburgh, where i grew up, where the muddy monongahela washed into it and gave it that sickly color. but alas my window went west, and i couldn't even see the bridge with the accident on it, though i could see the sun shining on the river below. in paducah, a lot of swimming with the kids, a hot tub, exhaustion, yet spring was breaking out, even there, it was starting to be time to open windows. this was back before the ice storm, on a weekend when people were coming out, happy, relieved. i like to listen to people talk- down there, it seems like there is a whole different mix of speech patterns, and i often have to ask people to repeat. finally found an old arts section of the city, where fixed-up victorians are made into art galleries yet the wide streets and old trees give a lazy southern feeling, like it's very hot around here much of the time, which it is. but the place- the whole area really- lost a lot of trees in the ice storms, and many of them are still standing around, though life has gone back to busy. and it's hopping, commercially, lots of new cars around, as if all the japanese car factories are just leaving a few of them to give away, i'm not even sure where those factories are, but somebody's getting plenty of work. in the restaurant, a swordfish dinner, now that was a strange sensation, i'd never associate kentucky with swordfish, but i will, if that keeps up. and, a lot of driving, on busy roads. mccracken county, it's called, and they use the word 'bluegrass' much like we'd use 'egyptian'....bluegrass payday advance, bluegrass bmw, bluegrass toyota. i'd-a stopped to appreciate the irony, but there was too much traffic, kids hocking for a dairy queen, there was no way i could even find out what was on the radio, much less have time to even listen to it. another time, i guess- it's not going away, in fact, summer's coming, but that just means, more busy.

back home, illinois is cold, though the snow has melted. all trace of the third, freak ice storm, gone. march, its mixed messages, mixed blessings, all thirty-one days of it, & fixin' to go green, as soon as i can get the fiddle out.