Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Old You

Do you remember the day it all went south?
You woke up unhealed
The pain had moved in
Your new soul mate
Nothing else seemed to stick anymore
Jobs, women
The sharp edge you counted on
To slice through the leaden effort
Of living
You styled yourself
One of those hollow-eyed ronin
An exiled Viking
An Ottoman watching the margins
Of Empire recede
The blows landed
With wearying frequency

Some days you found him
The old you
The pleasant shock of his resurfacing
Wore off too soon
You couldn't entertain him for long
He was so impatient

Remember?

Now
He is just another teacher
His illusions
Are your crumbling castles
Retirement homes for your innumerable futures

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2016 At The Movies

A little late, but none the worse for wear, here are a selection of the films that made an impression on me in 2016.


Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

For a film that was considered a flop, it was one of the most lucrative flops ever made. 330 million stateside, 873 million worldwide. It was tough to love for some, but I ate up every Wagnerian second with a large spoon. I worried when it was announced that Ben Affleck would step into Batman’s cowl, but his performance was very good. It is obvious that Wonder Woman was the real star of this film though. Her introduction was electrifying. A mostly female cheer went up in the theater audience I was in. Some iconic moments from past comic stories were included in the film, and it was the fulfillment of a fond wish to see them visualized on the screen. Not a perfect film, but much better than I expected. Save your hate for something that really deserves it.

Where To Invade Next

America’s true populist, Michael Moore, travels to Europe in this film to attempt to take some ideas back from there to make the US a better country. Workers’ rights in Italy, school meals in France, prison conditions in Norway. It’s eye-opening, and it emphasizes just how much better we could have it if we really wanted it. Instead, we elect a fake populist, a 1 percenter actually, who bows to Russian interference and hands the government over to the real enemy, corporate interests. Ironically, Moore predicted Trump’s win. Moore, however, is not one to give up the fight.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me

A Native film that takes place on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, amid abject poverty and historical oppression. A brother and sister struggle to deal with the death of their father. The brother wants to leave for LA, but the film shows us what is there to keep him in such a place, rather than the supposed empty promise he’d be leaving behind. Quiet performances full of grace, and the resilience of a proud people who keep fighting for a better existence.

Paths of the Soul

The best film I saw this year. It’s the story of a group of Tibetan villagers who decide to undertake a pilgrimage to Lhasa, the capital. They do this in a traditional Buddhist way, by prostrating the entire distance as they go, over a few hundred miles. It’s an incredible feat of endurance and cooperation as they face hardships along the route. Men, women, and even children are included in this journey. If you didn’t question the value of a consumerist way of life before this film, you will afterwards. A story full of simple rewards and profound sorrows.

The Infiltrator

The great Bryan Cranston portrays an FBI agent who plays a part in a number of successful undercover operations.
He mulls retirement after a successful sting against a mob group, but is pulled into one last effort by a fellow agent. This one involves the Escobar drug operation as it was getting into high gear. It’s a long, challenging sting, and there are many close calls. His journey is a trip into hell and back, and Cranston plays it with his usual depth and focus.


De Palma

A look at the great director’s career featuring the man himself, who talks at length about his films, from his first success, Carrie, to this most recent effort. His style has always owed a big debt to Hitchcock, which is plainly evident in many of his most famous scenes. Besides the retrospective, there are the additional treats of interesting stories about working in Hollywood during its creative golden age.

Arrival

Another story of alien visitation, but this time minus the cheap histrionics and gore. The only threat of war comes from humanity, and it’s up to the scientists played by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner to find out what the aliens are telling us. They may look like sea creatures, but their technology makes ours look like child’s play. Man’s urge to blow things up it doesn’t understand threatens to rear its ugly head again, but an ingenious and painstaking translation of the alien language gradually shines light on their intentions. This time, the fireworks are mainly intellectual, which is refreshing.

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck gives a restrained, smoldering performance as a young man who’s lost so
much that is important to him, and struggles to make sense of it all. After losing his older brother, he is named to be his nephew’s guardian, but feels incapable taking on the responsibility. The film is a rough passage, and contains many scenes that will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who’s lived at least a decent chunk of their life. By the end, he is forced to confront his limitations, and acknowledge that not all things can turn out as we would wish. For some, the effort required is too much.

The Birth of a Nation

Director Nate Parker’s film about the slavery revolt led by Nat Turner in 1831. Parker’s performance as Turner is powerful, and you can feel the hope rise in the slaves of the plantations where he is enlisted to preach. The depredations and outright torture of the slave population will make you squirm in your seat, and once again wonder how a nation founded on such high-minded ideals could’ve let such a barbaric institution exist for so long. The hatred of the white mob at the end is the very picture of willful ignorance. It’s good to be proud of your country, but Parker’s film reminds us it’s also necessary to acknowledge and atone for its often ugly, oppressive past.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Slip

And then it hits me
the buzz
the slide
the slick waves that grease my vision
neon smeared across the windows
pale ghosts in the rain
dressed in suggestion
moving through my fingers
smiles fading like smoke
knife heels on concrete
buildings leaning in
animal spirits crowded and leering
breath like dry ice
though there's a stubborn ember
somewhere deep
remnants of an old Norse flame
which will be the last thing to go

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Last Days of Light

The weekend before Labor Day weekend, I went to Philbrick Park in Penfield. I haven't hiked as much as usual this summer, so with time running short, I went to a place close by.

I hiked it last December with a woman whom I would date for a couple of months. She'd brought her dog to the park for walks before it passed away. I'd always thought it was a small park with few trails at best, but for its location, it's a great place to explore. Also, I wanted to see it in full summer bloom, in contrast to the heavy, bereft silence of a late fall day.

A river runs through it, or more accurately, a creek.  Irondequoit Creek, which follows a winding path from Lake Ontario. I set out along the trail beside the waterway, its song keeping me company as I strolled. People sat along the banks, one couple having a cookout on a big concrete block, another young man sitting cross-legged while his radio played music. I thought of why we needed to constantly haul the things of our lives into nature, as if the beauty and subtle magic on display weren't enough for our jaded senses. I walked deeper into the woods, determined to leave behind any vestiges of modern life.

That's difficult to do around here. I'd have to go farther south to really get away from it all. I was continually drawn to little sidepaths to the creek bank, to listen to the burbling water and feel its calm spirit wash over me. At one of the points, I found a small turtle sunning itself. I moved down slowly to sit next to it. I expected it to leap back into the water, but it remained as I sat. We absorbed the silvery sound and the cooler breeze that sometimes emerged from the shade.


Later, with the heat rising through the afternoon, I couldn't resist taking my shoes off and walking into the stream. The creek bed was mostly rocky, but there spots of soft silt that produced grainy clouds as I stepped through them. I looked downstream and saw a long, sinuous shadow moving up the opposite bank and disappearing behind a tree. I thought it was a squirrel at first, and then thought it didn't move like any squirrel I'd ever seen before. Just a few seconds after it disappeared, it moved out from behind the tree and a few steps in my direction. It lifted its head and eyed me curiously. It was then I realized I was being checked out by an otter.

I had no idea there were otters in the area. A little research revealed that there had been an effort to reintroduce them into western New York back in 2000. I was seeing one of the descendants of those efforts. The otter's tail is thicker than a squirrel's, more rope-like. I noticed its broader head as it regarded me; its movements were less darting and spasmodic, more of a happy lope. It wasn't long before it was satisfied and it retreated back behind the tree where it probably has a den.

The trail was not as deserted as I was hoping. A few hikers came through as I tried to get some decent pics. I got a nice close-up of what looks like some kind of pitcher plant, but I haven't been able to identify it. This was a small victory. The cheap camera that I have is usually not good with close-ups.

Now we're into September and the heat lingers. It's been an extraordinary summer, very reminiscent of those I knew back in New Castle, Delaware, though it was never as dry as it has been here. The heat has helped heal some pains I had been feeling since the winter. I guess it's to be expected when you hit your 50s. I just hope they don't return when the cold weather does.

The woman I'd hiked with before flaked out and decided she wasn't over her ex. This happened to coincide with my birthday. People are unreliable, but I can always count on nature to take me in and ease my anxieties for a while. I read the news every day, and there is a lot of fuel for fear in it. It's better to read the skies, listen to the waters, touch the cool, rough, skin of the stones, or taste the air after a storm. They all have stories to tell, too.

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters."

-A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Short Story in Shadows & Light Anthology

Here's a link to the Shadows & Light anthology, containing my short story, "Glad Hand."

Please give it a look, and if you do buy an issue, thank you!

Shadows & Light on createspace

Amazon and Kindle links will follow later in the week!


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Visiting The North Coast

Fled to the shore of Lake Ontario today to escape the heat.

It ended up being much cooler than yesterday. I sat on a concrete wall on the shore and let the waves wash up on my feet. Started out with my shoes on, but they quickly came off. The lake water is warm now. After a couple of dips, the water felt warmer than the air.



It was a throwback method of dealing with the high temperatures. I turned on my air conditioning for the first time this year, and was disappointed to find it useless. As it ran for over an hour, the thermometer number only slowly increased. I shut it down and resorted to my grandparents' favored strategy for cooling down. A stiff wind barreled in from the northeast and made the water choppy. I looked at the ruffled surface and the impervious rocks and thought about how, in six months' time, it will all be encased in ice.



























A raft of wood ducks fed in a stream that flowed from the lake. The water was dark and smelled brackish, but the ducks were really enjoying some kind of food in it, to the point where the feeding got competitive. For them it was a great day, with plenty to eat and no harsh weather to endure. Once again, I envied them their freedom.