Monday, February 28, 2011


Sometimes random moments from life will return with full force. Just now. Me, in the car, age five, lounging in the backseat, flipping through a full-colour, hardcover book featuring Bert and Ernie, along with who knows how many other of their Sesame Street, plush-doll pals.. Somewhere in Niagara, near my home in St.Kitts. Beamsville? Grimsby? Driving through springtime, sunlight slicing its path through the rear window’s small square. One that I often lean against and lean into at night as I watch the moon chase our small car halfway home. The next day a Monday, me in Grade 1, at the front of the class, using this book as my show-and-tell prop. Proud that it’s a hardcover, and not soft to the touch.

Why now, this memory, as I reached for the fan to fight February’s thick heat? (Welcome to the Philippines.) I wasn’t thinking of books, of childhood; I wasn’t thinking of anything.

Alongside this stray recollection, another one soon arises: me with a Mcdonald’s Happy Meal toy, a blue plastic spaceship, a UFO shaped like a spiral, on each window a sticker, the shriek-happy faces of Ronald Mcdonald and friends. I particularly liked that peelable touch, the stickers; all of his buddies together, riding off into space. Something about them all being safe in one spot, awaiting adventure. Again, in the backseat of my car, that invasive hamburger smell perfuming the air, and me with my spaceship, imagining lift-offs.

That, too, became a show-and-tell moment – that Mcdonald’s space-shuttle, unique and short-lived. It wouldn’t be available forever. I had to flaunt its short life-span for all of my friends. Where it is now, I can’t say. That’s all in the ‘ago’.

Oh, please give me these touchstones, again, and again. Such warmth and great feeling. Such majestic emotion, a child’s one true trump card against adulthood’s grim slog. I recently finished Nobel Prize winning German author Gunter Grass’s new memoir, Peeling The Onion, in which he recounts the events of his life with a perplexed tone of candor. He can remember so much, and yet recall so damn little. Some events, crystal; others, only quartz. Opaque. He in his seventies, looking back sixty years; me, in my thirties, the early eighties my young time. The past is not only a foreign country, as a great author once said; it’s also a black hole, one that receives much raw data, but emits precious few signals. Yet still stuff leaks out, and I learn to slip through that hole, all at once, an accident.

If only show-and-tell still existed as life took away our small joys. Me, you, in a room. A small-town Ontario Legion hall all decked out. Soft drinks and hot coffee in Styrofoam cups. Folding tables lining both sides of the room. Metal chairs in neat rows. We all could take turns, the old folks starting first. Talking about the best things in our lives from the week that just passed. Flashing the odd souvenir we picked up from Sunday drives through small towns, or the latest new gadget, nabbed for half-price right downtown. Polite applause as we left the small stage.

I imagine a small kind of miracle as I take to the stage. As I begin to speak, as I open my bag, as I pretend what’s inside is a prop worthy of awe, down from the ceiling will float a blue plastic toy, all those Mcdonald’s friends in their spaceship, not lost at all but just waiting. For me and this moment. Three decades on, it will return to my hands. I will stare at those stickers, those portholes that feature Mayor McCheese in his suit and purple Grimace peeking out. An urge to hurl this ship like a Frisbee will come and then pass. Instead, I’ll clutch it tight, hug it, even fondle its ridges. Wondering if its descent is a fluke, or if it could not have come back until the memory had come first. If it will not return unless I give voice to its thrill. And if this is all true, I will tell everyone there of the joys of my past, staying still on that stage, until the book from that backseat spring drive will somehow pop up.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I used a nail-clipper for the first time in a good five, six years on my toes the other night. Watching TV, pretending to condescend to the auditions on AMERICAN IDOL, but secretly sort of enjoying the program, rooting them on to false dreams of redemption. I realized that the keychain that I twirled had a tool on its end. I flicked open the clipper, took a gander at my feet, whistled a little bit. Not the prettiest of sights, those feet, not the kind of transformative view that cause sentimental people to compose memorable poems or eulogies that might last. (But a blog post, well, what the hell.)

I’d almost forgotten how to use a nail clipper, that’s how long it’d been. Which is not to say that my toenails were swirling and conspiring against each other in a grotesque foot embrace; I didn’t look like one of those Indian holy men in the Guiness Book Of Records, those emaciated souls who always seem to hold the title of ‘World’s Longest Fingernails’ or ‘No Sleep For Ten Years’. The nails were probably shorter than average, if a little ragged. You see, I belong to that subspecies of humans who pick the nails on their hands and the ones on their feet. (I’ve been known to chew my fingernails, but not my toenails; I have standards. Not many, and they’re usually quite low, but I do have them.) If you’re grossed out, that’s your right; just remember: what you, yourself, tend to do with your body’s strange parts, when you think you’re alone, and that nobody is watching, could very well cause your close friends to freak out. (You know who you are.)

Oddly involving, clipping is. For a moment or two I felt like a young Ralph Macchio, snipping and shaping his bonsai tree to perfection. (I then realized that I am currently eleven years older than Macchio was when he filmed the first Karate Kid film, and that I’m nineteen years older than the actual character’s age. Me, almost two decades older than Daniel LaRusso? That’s a little absurd. I remember quite clearly watching that film at a theatre in Niagara Falls at age seven, the same weekend I moved from the only house that I’d known; wasn’t that just a few weekends ago, or a month, at the most? Looks like 1984 must be a bit farther back in my life than I’d like to believe) There’s an odd kind of Zen that descends when minute tasks are engaged. The tiny clicks that I heard almost felt sort of soothing. Something was getting done. Needless parts of myself were disregarded, abandoned.

Someday, someone might just figure out how to invent a similar gadget, one that is used exclusively for our soul’s excess layers. Stuff is accumulating there. I can feel it. Except here’s no Mr.Miyagi to help me wax on or wax off, to teach me the crane kick, the right kata to use. Think of it: we never see our nails growing; they edge onward, at night. During work. While we eat. Creeping, creeping. Stealthy, almost. Stuff attaches itself to our hearts the same way. Over time. Slights, grievances. Frustrations, anxieties. All of our hurts, swelling. Bruising, even. Only we can’t spot them grow; they linger, then fester, always unseen. There must be a physical means to erode all that pain.

Not a pill for the pain; not some stupor we willingly enter,then hide deep within. I’m thinking of a wand of some sort, one warm to the touch and quite soothing to stare at. Almost like a benign light sabre. When dark thoughts start to build, the kind that spread fast, one wave of that stick will release a form of good cheer. Such joy will dispel and disperse all that black useless gunk that rides rampant around our mind’s endless linked circuits. A holographic display will present ebony raindrops that fall from our heads to the ground in grand showers. All of our fears, dissolved. Like toenails, they’ll grow back, slowly, with force. Then out comes the wand, and we’ll clip them once more.

Until technology deems my warped wish viable, I guess I’ll have to stay vigilant, to keep tabs on my thoughts. Look for barnacles and growths that might someday become foul. Make my soul my own bonsai, and my will its plant-cutter. (Or, at the very least, think of my spirit as my big toe’s growing nail, and my humor, weak though it is, as its makeshift nail-clipper. That, too, might work.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I awoke with a cry from a strange and disturbing dream last night, convinced that I would remember it come morning, as its unusual hybrid of horror and hilarity unsettled something deep within me, but when sunlight emerged, the dream subsided, and I wondered if this was what would I feel like in those moments before death, the details of life forgotten completely, odd, intangible emotions the only remainder to guide me wherever it is that we go when we go.

Something to do with Germany. Something to do with children, two of them, a boy and a girl. Blonde-haired, the both of them. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare involving a golden, curly-haired boy, and a black, mammoth, sponge-like creature that swallowed me whole, again and again, nightly, and perhaps this dream from last night was a sequel of sorts. A reckoning.

And that's it, essentially. No details, no plot, no narrative thread of any kind whatsoever -- all of it, gone. All that I'm left with is vague and quite primal. Fear, basically. That kind of low, lingering dread that builds in your stomach and rises like vomit. I've yet to watch a film, or read a book, or listen to a song, or argue with a friend, and be left with the kind of terror and panic that a bad dream can build.

They start somewhere else, beyond our own skulls. These dreams. If an afterlife exists, if we've all been here before, and might come back once again, I'm slightly convinced that our dreams do emerge from that place, or one of its offshoots. They do not peek their way past waking life's mortared bricks. Emotions in dreams are stronger than those lost in life. There's something wondrous and frantic about such a blunt supposition. This might imply that we live our strongest felt selves while asleep on our pillows. Think of it! If we're lucky, seven or eight hours a night, with drool leaking from lips, our farts and soft moans unheard and ignored, and this is the state that arouses our most intense forms of touch. Not physical, but the force that one feels when a lightning storm starts its crackle. Sex, spite, tender, torment, ecstasy, despair, a motley arrangement of humanity's pulse. Can we get that from life? Intermittently, I suppose. But we need sleep and our dreams to relish these vices. And I think they may drift into our nights from those voids that await us all after death.

Even the bad dreams I often want to keep close. Don't go, I think. Stay, I plead. Give me all your details, and I'll cherish them so. Of course, this is not the means by which nightmares are enshrined within our soft psyches. They must exit forever, so that their power endures. All of our books and our movies are nothing but grasping attempts to recover those visions that move us in slumber. Imagine a dream that would last for long months and then years: Would its power be dimmed, or else would it rise and then build like an endless orgasm? Unbearable, or exquisite precisely because of its lack of release?

We let them go, though. I suspect we must. Imagine remembering each of your dreams for all time, from birth unto death! Surely a waste, no? I often consider our nighttime reveries as nothing more than stray junk, the mind's masturbation, their meanings all moot. Other times, usually at night, often when I can't sleep, I reverse my own theory, and declare that these dreams are gifts from those gods that we can't see or perceive when daylight burns bright. Or perhaps they are a small present I give to myself. My sleeping self is a self quite apart from the "Scott" that roams through waking life. He tempts me to loiter in dreams, embrace their strange moods, and upon waking I wonder: Which existence, which weight, has more burdens to bear?

Friday, February 18, 2011


“Yellow or blue?”

An overheard question, aimed not at me. Between kids. Those children who play outside the small school in the church that I pass every day as I walk up the hill to the highway. In small groups, the boys over here, the girls over there. A natural division – not unlike amoebas that split, a sheer physical proof of instinct’s enigma. Not always separate, they often join forces to play versions of games I might know if I stayed in one spot and studied their moves, but what kind of a man would pause for such sport? One can’t watch children at play anymore without creating suspicion. So I quickly move on, content to let their raw laughter relay their good will. And sometimes I hear stray words in their cheer that first linger, then echo, a stray phrase of English, my past brought up front.

“Yellow or blue?”

Referring to what, I’m not sure, for recess forms it own subtle world. I suddenly recall from my past small hands clutching paper, ten hidden fingers merging and moving together as a voice counts out -- slowly, in rhythm -- the numbers I gave him. This paper looks like a fake flower, the size of one’s fist, with separate folds as its petals, small symbols on each. These are numbers, crude drawings, colours. The kid holding that paper tells me I must give him a number, from one straight through ten. If I say ‘four’, he will count quickly out loud, as his hands shift and bob, the paper opening and closing like a fish on a dock gasping one final breath. (“One-two-three-four.”) I must choose again, another number. (“One-two-three-four-five-six.”) Another number. (“One-two.”) A final choice. (“One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-NINE.”) The game is over already. The folds are unravelled. Something is written in ink underneath that last petal. A joke? A lewd sketch? What did we get for our stake in this game?

So many moments, clouded. How can I forget what once brought me such mirth? Even back then, I could never quite get how that paper was shaped into something so layered; I could never do it myself, manipulate those few separate folds into one common unit.

In class, when the teacher’s head faced the blackboard (which in truth was dull green), someone would slip out that geometric time-waster, and off we would go. Don’t make me fold it myself; just ask me to play. But what was its point? How did we win, or lose, or were those terms not the point? All I can remember is not wanting to choose, worried about what I might find, that the colour I chose might betray my own instinct and leave me with naught.

Other games, at recess: hopscotch, played with a pink plastic puck of some sort, and marbles, always marbles, the purple wine bags loaned to us from our parents the cloak that contained all our gems, those small orbs and pure gems. These games I recall, with uncanny clear vision, but the details and rules have slipped right away. Hopping on my right foot over chalk patterns on pavement that lay outside my homeroom’s side window, or getting down on one knee to line up my marble’s one chance to roll straight on to schoolyard’s faint glory. (Save the Steelie for that one, that giant silver of power, five Gobstopper’s in size.) Mini-movies that my mind can replay with clear vision, Blu-Ray in clarity, the picture just perfect. But the actual restrictions we followed to determine a winner? Gone, if they were ever there at all.

“Yellow or blue?”

So simple: choose a colour, on that paper, and all will be opened. The folds will be made flat. Sometimes I think that if I could figure out the exact rules of that makeshift toy’s easy game, other gates might be opened. If someone offered me the chance to play that same game at my present old age, it might unlock certain doors that are now firmly shut. I would recollect how to keep score on a hopscotch’s small court; I might be able to kneel with my marbles and know now for certain just who got to shoot first. These inconsequential moments from age ten and under would suddenly return, vivid and actual. I could collect them like comics, stuff them away in sheer plastic. “Oh, that’s how we did it,” I’d mutter, those small moments I’d once feared lost and forever now back with a gloss that gives me my sheen.

If I hesitated way back then, that final crayon-coloured small fold a source of pure fear, I would not do so right now, knowing all that’s at stake. I want to see what awaits me, when the paper unfurls. A joke or a sketch, each would be ecstasy. But who would suggest such a game at my age? I can’t think of a soul.

I almost pause on some mornings, to stop at that school and join in their games, to tell them: Please remember quite clearly how each one is played, for soon you’ll forget, and what is lost can’t be found once you give up the search.

I don’t say anything, though. I let them play. I fear they would not understand the intent of my words, the spirit that’s offered. In the end, it’s almost unfair to interrupt anyone’s recess, so short is its span.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


A black iron gate, open no more than a nudge, leading up and away from a winding paved road: an entrance or exit? Such a path could be used to get in or get out, but let’s up my own ante and imagine a gun, loaded and cocked, the tip of its barrel quite cold and intense against your soft secret scalp. You have to make a choice: Is this gate designed, at its core, to let someone in, or keep someone else out? You cannot split hairs, or else the gun on its own will do a fine savage job of splitting your own greying hairs with a force that will render yourself as a being considerably moot. You have to answer, definitively: Is it, primarily, at its core, an entrance or an exit? A simple question, ostensibly. All questions are simple, essentially. They simply pose varied thoughts. It’s the answers that give us such diverse forms of grief.

Perhaps a scenario or two might provide some relief. Imagine yourself out for a nice walk in the country on a night with no moon, while a car with no headlights hunts you down to your death. One can presume its intent, for the car is revving and grinding and moaning behind you, a mad beast in great heat, its prey none but you. Everything is dark, including your hope. You can feel its approach the way you would a great love who might soon lick your ear. A part of you almost craves this encounter with cold twisted metal, savage and brief, if only to compare its brute smash with your love’s slender tongue. A touch is a touch. That side of your shape is small enough to stay deep. The other lines of your rectangle recognize this great doom. For some reason or other, you soon might be dead, so it’s better to flee, or at least find a small haven. On your left as you sprint, you spot a gate open quite wide. The golden light from the lanterns that shine from the black spokes of the gate give you a glimpse of a road leading nowhere but up. To a house? A private club of some sort? If you try a sly dash and run right through that gap, you might soon reach a home, a school or convent. If you entered right now, would that car call your bluff?


Another situation, only this time you find yourself anxious to reach a wide road, two lanes or more, just down some stone steps from your house on a hill. Something is going on in this house. Something has always been going on in this house. This house is your home, but lately this home is also a grave freshly dug, awaiting your coffin just as grass prays for rain. The past few months have unleashed memories deep from within. They bubble up in your brain, just like fizzy froth in cold glasses poured from pop cans freshly popped. (Something to do with fathers and mothers and touches so wrong. And were those brothers of yours on guard duty as well? Did they man the lookout, awaiting their turns, while evil acts were shyly performed with the fondest of slaps in closed fists? Awful, intense moments, refreshed.) You decide you must leave, and at only fourteen, if that! Thirty-six steps to the gate, not one more nor one less. You have skipped down these large stones all your life with such glee. Now you focus not on your stride, but on that gate so damn close, cracked a few inches wide. If you do make it out, life will be wide, not subtle nor strident. Everything will be open. You think, as you start your descent, that you can hear the voice of your father, calling your name, anxious and angry. Thirty-six, thirty-four, thirty-two. (Two at a time, two at a time.) The smell of fall taunting your nose. Thirty, twenty-eight, twenty-six. (Two at a time, two at a time.) Your mother’s voice now, fading, but still shaded so dark with that skewed tone of joy. Twenty-four, twenty-two, twenty. (Two at a time, two at a time.) The gate always remains unlocked in the day, but for some reason you fear that this day might be different. (Two at a time, two at a time.) You can now see sections of pavement through the gate’s iron bars. (Two at a time, two at a time.) If you reach that highway, you can flag down a car, hop in and be off. Everything will alter.


An entrance or exit? One can’t have it both ways. There are priorities in life, choices to make, regrets to endure. These examples, I know, are extreme in their tilt, but is your life and its slant so different in angle? Eventually, you have to choose. You must decide, perhaps daily, what is more important and vital: to enter, even dwell, through those gates up that hill; or that you must, for your life, elude and escape, down those steps, to the road.

Everything else in this life, if not an entrance or exit?

An epilogue, almost.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Something about the scale of it all. She is so small, and the houses around her, while not mammoth or wide, gather in space and dwarf her small steps. I rap on the window, knuckles on glass. She stops her swift trot, tilts her head. Sees me, smiles. Points her finger towards some spot that must loom quite large in her quest. Totters off to the door that is waiting wide open. She steps out of sight before I can see if she enters or not.

Such an immense tiny world that exists for those under age three. Green trees and gray posts soar high to the heavens, while doorknobs and light switches remain far from her reach. Everything is above. No wonder children lurch, grab, seize! They must snatch what they can, from spots they can touch. Everything else is out there, distant. Inside, outside, everything up.

Soon life will reach down to greet her and her kin slightly more than halfway. The houses will seem slightly less grand, as doors can be turned and windows unlatched. No more need for that chair and its dangerous small wobble to aid in her search for sharp pointy toys. She will have to do what I do when I want to feel small -- look up at the sky, and hold up my arms, and wait for an entrance I hope might descend.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I need more time. Who decides when the hours we use should shift into days, and from there find their way into weeks and then months? Almost a stumble, despite the sun’s rise and the moon’s silver fade. A lethargic descent of light into black, the stars that ascend almost piggy-back their position onto dusk’s purple scale. Each day’s subtle end, and the night’s drifting rise, resemble a play performed for the first time. Awkward, jumpy, long and then short, the seasons deciding these stops and their starts. Held hostage, we are, to such few fickle muses. The advent of frost, and the spring’s glistening dew, a cyclical pattern that demands our assent. If we refuse and play coy, what choice do we have? Time gives us few options. Put on a sweater, or take off that coat. I need larger lags. I want longer days. I demand hot lengthy nights that open themselves up to what I might inject.

I need more time. Sometimes, most times, this one selfish wish feels more like a stray taunt. I’m cursing the seasons, then expecting some backtalk. Raging in vain against each year’s rapid sway. Only yesterday, kindgarten’s front doors opened themselves up to my whimpering sobs, while just last week I first stepped into Cambodia’s heat, that metallic fresh stink of fresh diesel and dust. Tomorrow, an old folks’ home will embrace and hold up my doddering steps, while next year my grave will be freshened by flowers and rain. I demand time and its minions, those stealthy small bandits, to stop stealing those moments I neglect to revere. Give them back, all those gaps. If you do, I will stop questioning your tick and profaning your tock.

I need more, time.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Some kind of a fever dream. Not with slick cliche sweats, nor common moans and odd murmurs, those words in our sleep that reveal our dark hearts. Perhaps not a dream at all, but the dream of a dream, the memory of something too harsh for daylight. Some sort of a nightmare that thrilled as it frightened, made me sit up and cry out with a shriek that was akin to the wail that that one makes at an orgasm's last gasp. Awake, shuddering, unsure if my tremors were welcome or sordid. Wondering if I had been asleep at all, or merely dwelling within a dormant section of self that embraced the night's dark. Leaning back down, head on the pillow, neck craned to the right as I struggled to watch the sun as it started to slant its rays through my room. Shadow and gold, tilted friends in daylight.

Within less than a minute, this fever had passed, had just faded away like the impression of hands on sunburned purple skin. Flesh so used up by the light that its tone was the tint of the juiciest grape, a colour that belonged on the side of a can with the word 'Welch's' writ large, its logo so fierce.

As for me, I could all too easily drink from a glass with a liquid that dark, masochist that I am, but no one outside of my self was allowed to stroke my own skin with that similar shade. Something repulses, when a skin the same colour as those old 'flesh-tone' crayons slowly descends into pink and then red before landing at last in this lavender offshoot.

I once wore such a strange natural coat that masked my true skin, my young body, betrayed. Throw in some sweet sun and the ocean's swift dives and five hours later, a slow melt had begun. My skin like pure lava, hot to the touch.

I remembered that day as I lay in that bed, my fever dream slowly fading, that day by the beach, that same night when the shower's harsh pulse stabbed small knives in my flesh. I felt them as blades, those piercing soft streams. I almost screamed in the shower -- what a horror film cliche! The agony, after some days of stiff-moving propulsion, eventually left, and my skin's light drab colour reluctantly returned, and that week of pure pain soon faded away. Never gone, only stuck back in that gap in our brain where our most agonizing thoughts tend to bury themselves. (Though they always dig themselves out and rise up through the earth.)

Was my skin purple now? No, not a bit. It looked almost fresh, healthy and young. I had the urge to kiss my own wrist to taste my own self. Surely this was a hint that my fever dream (if it had even been such a beast!) had now dissipated, its forgotten small moments now merging and morphing with the dust motes lit by the sun that shot through my window and claimed this small space, those meek dots in the air that drifted with lazy sweet ease across my bare world.

I would have to get up, scratch my balls, take a leak, start this day. (Oh, the mundane, humiliating steps we must take to stay human!) How many more hours until I might sleep once again? Too many. That fever dream might return that very same night. Making me gasp, almost choke. I spat up only air, the fear was so great. I could not breathe, I wanted it so.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


In this morning’s first hours, faint echoes of children: laughing, singing, taunting, and even these jibes are not all that distant from glee. These sounds drift through the window and circle the room before quickly nestling in silence like chicks at ease in their nest. Anticipation and frustration war with each other in one minute’s short span. Emotions erupt; reach a peak; disperse. Joy, boredom, hilarity, horror – I hear them all, daily, making me marvel at time and its more devious routes, the backroads and by-ways that divert our attention and squeeze out our best years.

Aging induces a certain abstraction of hours that leeches out those compressions that emotions rely on. Were an adult to act as those children do, as all children do, flipping from rage to compassion, confusion to clarity, heartache to true love, all within a few random moments of a morning’s fresh start, calls would be made, appointments set up, medication prescribed to control such small shifts. After age ten, life itself (and its minions) won’t allow you to wave such unwieldy sensations.

Not within fifteen minutes, at any rate. If you were to extract those same moods and spread them all out, give us a few hours or days, a week or a month, that range would allow a certain leeway. A frustrated cry at the heavens for a traffic jam’s grind; a manic laugh of delight at a Frisbee off-course nailing your friend in the nuts; that feeling of joy that arises when one day winter decides that spring might now be the victor – you can feel all of this, provided: it not be in one hour, these emotional firebombs. Everything must be spaced out.

The result? A constant restraint of our own natural instincts. Better to let the boob tube perform its tired tricks as we live through its daily assortment of phantoms and fools. Let them on that screen live a heightened charmed life; we will allow the remote in our hand to decide which emotions we’ll sample. (Could there ever have been a more appropriate name than ‘remote control’ for the wand that we use to detach from our passions?) Or else we glide through the net, clicking and scanning and giving ourselves a few seconds of snorts or eye-rolls. Everything condensed, constrained. Something inside us, diminishing.

Children begin life so tiny but soon harbour, contain, even covet such impossibly grand and outrageous attachments to living they must unleash these large urges – and all within minutes! We adults, sad to say, seem to shrink with the years, learning etiquette’s mode of elongating our yearnings. We let out what we must, warm thanks or fuck-offs, in bursts of expressions that just approximate appreciation or hate, love or its shadow. As we age, something insists: Space it all out.

I have a plan, though. It might not work, but I suspect that its daring alone could ensure its survival. (The more illogic our goals, the greater the chance the universe might comply with our dreams, for the cosmos as well has an odd sense of balance.) Perhaps you might join me. If all the energy that’s out there never truly dissolves, as science and physics still seems to insist, I can contain the laughter of children and unleash it some day. Each morning I’ll set out a jar by the window, so the sounds from the school will land smack dab in its centre. I’ll screw the lid on so tight that no laughter might leave. I’ll do this each day for all the days that I’m granted.

At some point far in the future, when my body is withered and my brain a gray blob, when life has dissolved all my circuits and denied me my joy, I’ll reach once again for those jars, reach and then grasp, grasp and then twist, twist and then open. All those bottled-up laughs and great gasps from the past will then exit, in grand leaps and great dives, the birds from that nest finally grown and now soaring with wings that are mighty and full of their own sense of force. All that energy, preserved and now free. Once I’ve been revived, these sounds of pure life will dash through my window’s small gap, soar to the skies and spread out into the world, their collective upsurge a sonic assault that will attack all lost hopes and demand time’s surrender. A cacophonous melody, ablaze with the squeals and grand sighs of a thousand children at play. Finally, nothing condensed; nothing restrained; nothing withheld.

Monday, February 07, 2011


After the shower, his body half-dry, his towel tied precariously around his pencil-thin waist, Perry popped his forehead’s first pimple between the thumb and index finger of his bony left hand, pinching tight, twisting almost like he was giving himself a purple-nurple, but this was not his nipple being tugged but the first honest and actual zit of his life, and looking at his small but intent movements in the bathroom mirror that hung over the sink like a glassy, glossy judge of all that he was and all that he probably would never turn out to be, he was kind of surprised at how much stuff could be squeezed out of something so tiny, red and white gunk suddenly splattering on his forehead in a rapid wet burst, almost as if he’d squished a bug on his brow, it was that unexpected and quick. A ruthless urge to smear that stuff across his finger and take a lick as he would with leftover ketchup on his plate after the fries were all gone came and went as fast and annoying as a mosquito’s low whine or a great fart still unleashed. He didn’t end up tasting this weirdly personal and glossy combination of various liquids, but he did spread it around his forehead for a little while, wondering what the white of the pus and the red of the blood would look like when they both merged together. Didn’t look like much of anything, turns out. Just a vaguely pinkish blob, a bland colour he might have accidentally while created mixing some paints in second-period art class. A tiny, slightly disgusting combo of internal juices, exposed. Perry stared in the mirror at that tiny section of his face now momentarily scarred, and he watched himself watching himself, and he wondered if this is what happened the moment you died, that somebody on the other side identical to you gave you the once-over, added things up. Decided what you were ultimately worth.

Vanessa’s annoying whine seemed to hike its way on its own up the stairs, quickly followed by his mother’s fervent declarations about something or other that thankfully lost its way in the ten-step short rise from the kitchen to the bathroom. If Perry eventually did get judged as to whether or not he was going to that fluffy-cloud-wonderland up above, or the pitch-fork-firestorm down below, he figured that the second option, should he be sent there, might turn out to be less of an excruciating eternal-burn and more of an unending sonic combination of a) his older sister's low moans and b) his mother’s endless proclamations and dissents, an unholy duet that would serve as the background chorus and curse for all eternity's song.

Well, fuck it. He wasn’t there yet. He tried to tune out his family’s morning ritual of vehement defiance intermingled with the occasional crunches of cereal and toast, settling on a lesser frequency, one almost inaudible. That zit hadn’t made much of a sound when it went, and that was the sound he was looking to dwell in for awhile, the sound of pretty much nothing at all.

That empty-echo sound he was after suddenly reminded him of something noble and gross. The other day, Tuesday or Wednesday, while walking home from school, Perry had seen a dead rabbit on the side of Highway Six, its dirty white fur all bloody and pink and almost the same colour as his freshly-popped zit. Probably been bounced off a car as it hopped across the road. Roadside gravel its grave. The eyes perfectly still, with that glassy, puzzled gaze that all rabbits seem to have, dead or alive. He saw a lot of dead animals each year by the road, small dogs and big cats and even the occasional deer, but this one had kind of got to him. Just sprawled there. In that oddly empty January silence. The same way he had wanted to take a taste of his pimple once it was gone, he had been tempted to bend down and rip off a hunk of its meat, bring it home, cook it up. A form of respect, almost. It wasn’t going to do anything anymore, that rabbit. Eating it might have been a way of performing some sort of mild grace. Once you were gone, you were gone, so whatever was left had to be used.

Perry told himself that he should probably go out and get dressed, but he lingered at the mirror, the way he sometimes did in the hallway when the blondes and brunettes passed on by, pretending to fiddle with the click of his lock’s rigid combo. Studying himself now, in the same shy and coy way he’d study those cheerleaders, those big-boobed bouncy sprites who seemed to glide straight out of his life and into other realms of existence. Did they, too, stand before mirrors and ponder their pimples?

A great sense of loss and confusion moved through him, almost like a wave of pure puke. Now that the zit was gone for good, he kind of wanted it back. Too many firsts were happening all at once. A couple of weeks back he’d found the first pubic hair of his life sprouting on the edge of his sac, solitary and black, alone in its sway. It was kind of like losing a tooth. That same feeling of loss and elation. Something was gone, he wasn’t sure what, but something else giant was coming, and he wasn’t quite sure what that would be either. If he plucked that dark hair from his testicle's edge, would others emerge to take its small place? For some reason the scary but thrilling sound of a train gathering speed sounded clear in his head.

Now this pimple had arrived and then left, and what was next stayed unknown. There was a whole constellation of budding blackheads now spread across his rather ample forehead, and he supposed they would soon sprout and mature into full-blooded zits. Would he kill all of them like he’d killed that first one? Run them down like that rabbit on the edge of its road?

The steam from his shower had now filled up the bathroom completely, clouding the mirror. He could see only part of his face, the left side. Or, rather, the mirror’s left side, which made it his right side, in real life. Why were mirrors designed to reflect life only by way of its opposite? He stared at his half-face in that frame and decided to stay in this spot until the whole thing got misty. Let all this condensation on glass cloak his face in wet frost. His mother’s rants of the morning and his sister’s grand sighs still offset his raw poise, but he accepted their noise as he would department store muzak. All he wanted right now and forever was to just stand here and stare until what he saw staring back was completely covered in cloud. He wasn’t sure how long that might take.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


Dividing my time between Japan and the Philippines, both countries great fault lines tend to form my true fears. Two different nations, islands afloat in a vast dangerous sea, where quakes can occur with the ease of heat lightning, flickering and flashing and fading so fast. This makes their inhabitants either rare optimists or just common plain fools, their constant delusion a willing forestall of upcoming pure carnage, or else the remnants of a faith not yet dismantled by time.

Fifteen years ago, a big boom shook all of Baguio, toppling hotels, demolishing houses, its ease and false rage like a child lowering his fist to smash misshapen sand castles. Need I mention Japan, and its history of shakes and small quivers that long to be quakes, each rumble an audition of sorts, a test of tectonics, a possible prelude. I have been in buildings up high when the frame starts to tilt, a slight steady shift to the right, a quick return to the left, a sequence repeated, a life in its sway. One expects such a sensation atop a surfboard, small waves underneath, but to feel a modern glass edifice forgo its own strength, that firm grounding beneath that holds up all above, makes one question the wisdom of progress in all its false forms.

When the ground opens up and takes down its steel tenants, we can guess that the game is fixed from the get-go, because the ground always wins. Right? You can’t punish the earth. It just sits there. We rebuild with great fanfare and small acts of exertion, a daily grind of construction that defies all our good sense. Everything lies beneath us, waiting. I’m not saying malevolence and pure spite can be found underfoot. Yet nature, too, has a form of slight vengeance that could mirror our own. Not controlled by an intellect, or a crude form of rash instinct, but simply innate, its proof of existence the sum of its actions. Concrete ripped in fine slashes like xacto knife cuts in notepaper. Stepping over these cracks, the width of small chasms, a child’s game brought to life.

Even writing down such small fears feels like a sly taunt to the gods. If I say it out loud, acknowledge my own anxious voice, perhaps nothing will happen, the ground will stay put. For sometimes I worry. I wonder. Selfish wonders. That tiny shames could grow large if the end arrives at odd times. If ‘the big one’ occurs while I’m stuck in the shower, or merely having fun with myself (or another!), what a way to go out! Naked, hopefully erect. (Strange thoughts, tiny notions, contemplating these exits, but a human does think of absurd final rites, and I'm simply human: does one’s hard-on die down right away when life fades straight to black? Or does it linger straight up and damn proud, even as your soul shifts its course? To be found buried in rubble is a fate cruel enough, but with a salute such as that poking its way through those rocks! Do first year med students get quizzed on such stuff?) The smallest of shames, magnified by the scale of a country destroyed, ten thousand lives torn asunder. The loss of small children and old people, smothered slowly to death, wars with a vision of lovers deeply french-kissing as ceilings quickly fall down. What a sight. I could draw a thousand of these hopeful images, and pray that each portrait might give nature some pause before havoc becomes one more option to choose.

Best not to brood on these endless stray paths. I am not a fatalist, not exactly, but I know that nature has random whims we are foolish to judge. To be stuck between two worlds all too similar, each land containing the mad schism of earth’s own divide, is to recognize certain fates that might well come to pass. One can wait.

I also believe in the sweet whim of chance. Those misshapen cracks in the ground, the earthquake’s zipper-like indentation – perhaps those gaps are like breadcrumbs, leading me back to a place close to home. All of nature’s senseless designs must, I can dream, be aligned with a great many and varied gracious muses of fortune, so I suppose I will have to hope that luck’s infinite footprints can on that shaking day be seen by my own squinting eyes. If this vision is clear, I could then follow these random slight imprints, and stable ground might be found.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Grant approached each of those gravestones with reverence and glee. He often asked himself: How could one not experience awe upon touching that granite? Paradoxically, he also could not deny the small starburst of joy that rose up from his stomach and tickled his throat each time he advanced. He felt a strong need to unite these two extremes of emotion, the profane and the holy, a small synthesis of some sort that might extinguish his guilt. For one should not experience joy on one's knees at the home of the dead. Yet he did, along with the sense that each plot below ground contained scraps from the cosmos. The infinite, extracted.

That God's own small expansion chose its great spread in the guise of a green-grass studded park, filled with bright flowers that bloomed with a fierce vivid pride, seemed poetic and random, a grand joke lacking mirth. Grant came three, four mornings a week to Fairview Gardens And Lawn, and each visit confirmed his own confusion as constant. Why should the final resting place of the dead be so fragrant with scents that engendered such hope? Each rose that he sniffed filled him up with the sense that his life might bring joy. An elongated happiness, extending through years yet to come, with friends he would make in the months from this moment.

These thoughts, as he wandered the paths that wound through this large park. Other thoughts, however, invaded his space and refused to give way. All well and good, that the flowerbeds he enjoyed brought a certain peace to the living, but what of the dead, who were housed here for good ? Did those bones underground understand his small joy? Would they care if they could? How is it fair that the cramped darkness they dwell in, submerged in raw dirt, is offset above ground by petunias that bloom with such inborn intent? Does it make a difference at all to those skeletal fragments who patiently wait for their winter to end? Questions like these -- what Grant hoped he might answer by coming here often.

Nonchalance was his preferred mode of action, a kind of concerted, casual bereavement. He imagined cemetery staff taking note of his strolls: Yes, yes, a sad gentle chap. Comes a few times a week, he does. Kneels before various headstones. Family members, I suppose, or friends. People do tend to lose a lot, as life goes along. Can't really blame him for paying respect, though he's here more than I am, and I'm here quite a bit.

However, it became hard to vary one's stroll and disguise your ambition when days became weeks, with months soon to follow. There were various groundskeepers and guards always poking around; he often gave them a wave, certain that this semi-friendly gestures of theirs meant they had unearthed his true plans. Soon he understood that was silly -- they couldn't care less who came in or stayed put as they mowed lawns and locked gates. This was an open space, a public space; as long as you weren't pissing on gravesites or lurking on after dark, you were free to roam or stay still, your choice yours alone. They weren't watching anybody, let alone him. Besides, the whole grounds were quite large, winding well past the main gate and the large staff building beside it. He needn't worry about his naturally strange way of walking, that truncated shuffle-step, or the habit he had of bending down at each grave, his left knee first to the ground. Nevertheless, he always took care to look dour and crestfallen, and he began to vary his route, starting each day at different graves and small gardens, a cautionary pose. Eccentricity had its own form of action, and he eventually acquiesced to its arc.

Lately, the gravestones around the big pond demanded his touch. The cemetery had two ponds: a small one by the road that the the ducks never went near, and a larger body of water far from the park's gates, whose surface held charms only ducks might decipher. Why the ducks didn't want to even sample the smaller pond's water remained an enigma. To Grant, anyway. Perhaps nobody else considered such thoughts. Grant did, because spending the bulk of one's time in the realm of the dead made each day a pursuit of old patterns ignored. Ignorance was not bliss, but neglect's sordid cousin. The headstones near this pond would not join that sad family, if Grant had his way.

To begin with, a child. Always bad, to start with a child, but there was a concrete order in place, literally, established and solid, so what could he do, the dice had been tossed. (Who threw those dice in the air from the get-go was the question he longed to ignore but could not quite dissolve.) He always proceeded from the left to the right, the logical path; this procession, no matter how basic, gave him some form of a grip on a slippery gamble. (To examine these deaths, even half-removed in this way, required a kind of control, no matter how fragile.) The first headstone was small, barely waist-high, as thin as the slice of white bread he'd wolfed down for his breakfast. At first he refused to believe it was stone at all; it looked more like scrap paper dyed gray, and almost as fragile. Grant reached out with his finger, then pulled it right back, as if he had felt the heat from a flame reach out for a singe. He was afraid that his touch might topple it over. Scolding himself -- don't be a ninny, you fool! -- he tried once again, and this time he touched stone, the letters, the name:

September 24, 1944 - March 21, 1949

A light breeze ruffled his hair as he traced each letter and number with his finger's soft tip. Was it the wind of the season, announcing its start, or eternally young Harold Gibbs, reaching out from the heavens?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


We all took turns being the spotter. He was the one who stayed in the back, just behind the boat's driver, watching the water to prevent a quick death. Of course, your ostensible role was to shout out to the skipper 'he's down!' when the skier smooched waves; our actual role was more blatant and grim -- make sure that your friend does not somehow die on your watch. Not that we thought in those stark, gruesome terms. Consciously. I don't think we thought about much of anything out there, let alone death. Consciously. Yet it was a good role to give to a teen who has barely begun to sprout hair on his pubes -- that of an aquatic designated driver, of sorts. One felt as if life had bestowed upon you a certain regard.

The way it worked, the skier would sit in the water, bobbing. The life-jacket you wore let you sit on your butt in the lake and just bounce like a buoy, with the yellow rope stretching out from the boat now lined up between your two skis, your knees half-submerged, the triangular-handle, identical in shape and size to a pool table's racker, clutched tight in your hands as your fingers found grip. Clutched as one would a baseball bat at the plate, with a similar kind of nervous anticipation, only here you controlled all the motion to come. You started everything. When you were ready, you gave the o.k. Usually: "Hit it!"

Then you were up, almost like that. Years of practice had make a two-ski start pretty basic. The boat had to rev rather quickly to allow you some lift-off, but if that boat gunned it good, you could spring up like a pogo stick bounced on pure rock. On top of a lake, riding the wake, feeling light, almost vapid. Eventually, after a fair bit of cruising and coasting, you might decide to lift your right leg to signal a drop -- that semi-reckless urge to go slalom, letting one ski simply slip right out of our foot, with all the ease one might have as one kicks off a flip-flop. You moved your bare foot, pink and now dangling, behind your wet ass and into the slot on the back of the one ski you had left. Balance now became its own form of gravity. Often, you fell, face-first, fast and blunt. The sensation not unlike ramming into a closed door, only at a car's racing speed, with your body declaring a pretzel's strange form has its own charm you should trace. Once you were down, your arm would then raise, waving. (What's that old line -- 'not waving, but drowning?' Here, the opposite.) Signalling: All is okay, I'm still here, not yet dead. Full motion to stop, an instant's harsh curve. I often wondered if this was how a page's sentence must feel when attacked by a period, so sudden and final, all that rhythm now blunted.

The spotter must see this. He should notice everything. If he doesn't, the boat's driver will think that the skier's still skiing. The boat will keep going. If you get too far away, it becomes physically hard to see your friend in that water, alone, floating. (An orange life-jacket's glow only extends a short space.) You, the spotter, are supposed to sit there and wait for a fall. That's all you're there for.

And there is always a fall, each time, no exceptions. Either the skier crashes into a wave and goes flying in spirals, or he finally gets too damn tired, dropping the rope, sinking right down. An odd image, that -- to see someone on top of the water slowly sink like a fruit slowly dipped in some chocolate. Smoothly, the lake wrapping his shape in its whirling wet cloak, a rapid descent. There's nothing that you, the spotter, can do. Only watch. That's your position.

Sometimes, as a spotter, I'd drift away from my duty. Only for a few moments. I"d reach my hand out, over the side of the boat to stroke that wet joy. When a boat is booming, the rush of the waves on one's skin has a crisp restless slink that creates its own suction. You almost feel that the water might grab you and yank you right out of the ship. Alas, the boat is too fast, the water too fluid. As long as you stay in your seat, the overboard option is moot. I'd stare transfixed at the water, white and blue in its tint, the sky and the sun's gentle gift to perception. The roar of the motor and rush of the waves both combining to make my own mix-tape of sound. Please let me stay here forever, in a boat on the water. When the boat slowed down to a stop, so, too, did the waves. No more rush on your forearm from that collision of motion, only placid water so still it almost felt plain and disheartened. I wanted thrust, action, immersion. Was that too much to ask from a life still just starting?

A slight bump would jolt me right back to my self. My friend was now in front of my gaze, behind our small boat, relying on me to make sure he stayed safe. I felt adult in intention, not yet mature, but beginning to fill up with life's small rewards of ascension. Soon, I, too, would be floating on those same skis by myself, and this seat would be filled with my friend's own tired focus. He, in turn, would look out for me. Roles reversed; each integral. There was something ennobling within that shift of duty.

Yet both of us still young enough and dumb enough to hoot and holler when a great spill off the skis was performed with dumb luck. Mock-clapping and shouting 'good job!' with great glee. Teenage snorts all around. Levity our one goal. Necks getting red with the summer's harsh sun, that slow aching sting our one proof of good health.

Dusk fast approaching, though. Our mums both cooking dinner back on the beach, the grill getting ready, our dads kind of bored by the boat's endless circles. Enough time, if we're fast, for another short spin. Both of us still agile and eager, but there's also exhaustion's first yawns, in spurts, almost stealth. You can only stay up for so long on those skis before your arms get all weak and your legs just give way, letting you sink.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


There have been those times, rare but intense, when life as a hamster has seemed an agreeable option. A blue plastic wheel to while away life's endless days, and stay fit as one spins; a bowl full of water, to sip at one's leisure; a bed of brown woodchips, a comfy mound to crash on when one's legs are all sore from tense hours of exertion. Does not this sound like a comfortable means of existence? Boring, you might think, but I say: Don't judge. Boredom might be pure serenity's price. My grade-school experience informed me quite early: tragicomedy divides its rich spoils between humans and animals in equal measures of farce.

Can we even compare our own lives in this realm with a gerbil's strange trip? Here is the point where a confession must come: I'm not sure of the difference between a hamster and gerbil. There. I've said it. More educated readers may snort with derision until snot exits nostrils in short spurts of disgust at my small feeble brain, but what can I say -- tomato, tomahto. I get that they are two, separate sorts of small mammalian creatures, but to define that distinction? I haven't a clue.

As a child, TV Ontario featured a series called Hammy The Hamster, a live-action saqa of grim hamster drama -- up close, if not all that personal. In memory, these episodes usually consisted of our young hero, Hammy, floating on rafts through perilous rough waters, probably filmed in some sink the size of a red picnic-size cooler, with stagehands off-camera creating illusions of building-high waves with a hair-dryer's weak gust. Nevertheless, he looms large in my mind, Hammy does, and that, I admit, is where my whole image of hamsters most likely was formed -- those large, brave animals that embarked on adventures alone in the wilds of Ontario.

A gerbil, by contrast, is a small, meek creature, a portrait of helplessness that cries out for compassion; weak, almost feeble. Perhaps this (admittedly biased) conjecture on my part stems solely from one childhood encounter with gerbils, hilarity and horror intertwined ever since.

In Grade 4, our teacher gave the class a gerbil to take care of, to nurture and love. (This same teacher was obsessed with everything Garfield -- the cartoon and the books, the mugs and plush toys -- and she she often told us funny tales of her life lived with a woman named Gracie. I couldn't figure out why a grown woman was living with another grown woman; in my small world, I had never heard or seen of such a thing. Only a decade or so later did I suddenly piece things together.) One student fed the gerbil at lunchtime; another changed its water bowl during recess; another would clean out the cage -- you get the idea. This was seen, I'm sure, by the adults as a chance for us kids to learn responsibility, even ethics; after all, one only gains empathy and caring through concrete forms of endearment. To achieve such a goal, selected students could take our gerbil home for weekends and holidays. Grand idea in theory; potentially disastrous in practice.

Which it was. One student -- G.Atkins, I believe, if my memory is spry -- brought our pet home for a Saturday and Sunday of good-hearted frolic, only to tell us on Monday, teary-eyed (but just slightly!), that his little sister had sat on the couch and smooshed our gerbil to death.

What an image! Comedic and tragic, together, at once. Please imagine a tiny young girl plopping down on her couch's comfy cushions to watch some cartoons, and cruuuuunch! Her eyes growing wide with alarm, she stands up and looks down. Confusion turns to surprise; shock shifts to horror. Her first encounter with the death of a loved one, and by way of her butt! The sound of a neck slightly snapping, and her tush somehow still feeling the slight touch of its fur. The carcass is wedged between plush purple pillows, small neck at an angle, craning, but still. The girl leaps up the stairs, screaming. Her mother, concerned, quickly follows her back down to the rec room, views the mild carnage, stifles a smile and a sob and a laugh none too small, and kisses her daughter's head softly, twice on its top. Shhh. Shhh. It was only an accident. Everyone will understand. The gerbil must have slipped out of its cage through a door left unhinged. Went for a roam. Discovered how comfy a couch truly is. And met its cruel fate between a child's cheeks of pure doom. A girl under age five who pees her own pants is awash in urine and shame, but to accidentally kill the pet that's on loan from your older brother's whole class? By sitting right down on its head? I can only imagine.

Nevertheless, I'm sure that that tiny critter who died for us all led an enviable life. Short, yes, but I'm cautiously confident that gerbils and hamsters live condensed little lives, complete with all the great joys and small sorrows us humans endure. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the death of that gerbil may well have been worth it, in life's grand senseless scheme, if only because it gave a group of nine-year old kids their first true glimpse of dark death in its most nonsensical form. That poor gerbil's demise provoked sadness and pity -- but more than a few chuckles, too.

I asked myself: How COULD such a death be both funny and sad? Ridiculous and tragic? I, myself, sat on a couch quite often, every day after school; if a giant woman had sat on my head, and I'd died from her rear end, would my classmates have laughed at my death as they'd done with the gerbil? Don't we now, as adults, regularly roar at other peoples' pratfalls and misfortunes on YouTube, and forward them straight off to friends so they, too, can mock their small stupid slips, their pathetic pratfalls?

Perhaps the hamster is on to something. Once you escape from the cage, you run the risk of being smothered by buttocks, asphyxiated by farts. Best to stay safe inside, where there's water to drink, gentle woodchips for rest, and a wheel you can run on, endlessly, forever.

Unless life itself is our own wheel that we tread upon daily, and there's no cage to begin with, no wire mesh to protect us and shield us from danger's delight. In that case, dangerous asses are everywhere, descending at random. We better keep looking up.