Thursday, December 31, 2009

Love : an African discovery


Troubles, left behind swirl, blessed, released, among images of family far from Burkina Faso. Slowly these vanish with a growing sense of morning. Somewhere between dreaming and waking, Mary has a sense of the healing vitality underlying existence, in the improbable corners of states of being. She meant to grasp something from its hold, even while she had little idea what that state is.

Something inside that held her cue to being alive...

From her viewpoint beside a few weary-looking stocks of wheat atop the maison soukala, the flat terrace roof connected to the compound below by a ladder, Mary orients herself to the birds. She rises from her bedding---she is still trying to achieve restfulness, such as she encountered her very first day here as a reaction to the sheer exhaustion of her one way journey to the place her mother visited before ("when I was near her, in spirit?"): a village lying about one hour away from the one airstrip in this part of the country Burkina Faso, former Upper Volta. Like every village for miles around, they call it "Dano."

The radio---a Panasonic, two decades vintage---plays out of the neighboring hut, African pop music from a station in Ougaoudao. In French---a little attention in high school has taken her a long way---a disc jockey excitedly extols a coming film festival. The golden stallions, she'd deduced, were the awards. There was more talk of horses out here than she'd ever associated with Africa, so at first she couldn't be sure. She'd tuned out commercials before, but tucked away in this village, they seemed to present a fantasy of the city, far down the flat dirt roads past the gum tree grove.

With the relief of curving her torso down to her knees in the darkness of the earthen hut, Mary's heart energies flow over her head, blood enriching her tissue with a warm sense of being. Before long, everyone will rise and share greetings; for now, those who gather water, risen early in the well, must walk with earthen pots, to questions of sweet dreams and stories riverside to tell.

Her mind drifts back to the fleet leopards in the W Nazinga Park, spotted out of her periphery during her visit there with Aaron and Wobogo. "It's strange, how there's no place for romantic love, in the usual 'boy meets girl' sense. But Aaron is so different from the villagers in many ways---and his Dagara people in the Ivory Coast might be more Westernized, and he's been a journalist. Who's to say there's not a spiritual connection everyone will recognize, anyway? At least I've had a strong connection! " She realizes she's gotten very identified with the village ways in this new life; already she anticipates having their opinions, help and acceptance should this become a love.

In light of this being her last hurrah, the very idea of loving someone intimately suggests a faith for days to come. What do you know? I've built confidence for a hope in this life.

She imagines, miles distant, the lions sleeping away the day long, except for these mornings, the time of the hunt. Once, she'd watched a wildlife program, cautioning of their possible extinction; yet before her eyes a pride had emerged, evoking singing within her wild self---the very life force that kept her living. No longer was she here to only die in peace. She gazes upon a green mask with stripes of tiger-like energy, Kourgi Kambire's creation, upon the compound wall of the maison soukala, on the side of his closest male kin. She knows that mask is a call towards understanding, a gentleness, acceptance, and ancestral wisdom concerning friendship. Every piece of art has several meanings, a lesson that evolves with the viewer's immediate situation, the sharing of inner selves—a point of rituals.

In the early morning's faint embers, Kulinah passes a cart of yams, fresh from the labors of the day before. Yams, two feet long! The rains, now patiently awaited in these hottest days, had been kind, swelling the plant life with nourishment. As she and Sapla and two dozen others had tended the harvesting together, Desiree had come outside with the newly finished dress for Osun's wedding. The dress, too, had meaning, in the renewal of her relationship. Aside from the opportunity every five days to freshen their commitment in ash circles, the wedding holds a broader celebration of one another. "Every wedding is a chance for the whole tribe to marry," Sapla had said, many times. "Everyone's spirits are wedded!"

At the moment, she sees Sapla, whose sight makes her as happy as cartoons of childhood.

"What sweet thing came to your dreams, Sapla?" she asks with a broadening smile.

"The comfort of a happy friend," she replies, "who's come to join the beginning of the day." Sapla sometimes wakens a little slowly, remembers Mary, who notes sluggishness in her demeanor.

"And Sisquekwo---all ready, gagner petit?" she says, putting a soothing hand to each of Sapla's sides. "Before the ancestors on the other side, baby Thurisaz parle, 'je demande la route' (I'm on my way home!) She immediately realizes a connection in her question and Sapla's state of mind.

"C'est caillon, "she replies, shaking her head. "Yesterday, we thought the child was coming, as well as many times in the night. But she is having trouble breathing and her dilations are not wide enough." Sapla tears up, looks off to nowhere particular above Mary's strong shoulder. "We are trying to keep hope, be wise and strong…but we were not yet sure what type of ritual we'll need, after all."
They embrace a long moment, eyes closed, sensing the touch and the wafting smell of shea butter.

"Mary Kulinah, you are welcome to pray in our thilde when you get time in your chores."

"Je suis en bouill"---I'll go wherever you like. Sapla loads up her lovely red calabash of water and shambles away, as Mary completes filling her calabashes and pots as well.

"Oh, God, no," says Mary, weeping. "Oh, no, please, no, you can't"---the word pours forth from her quivering lips, dissolving into an impassioned sob. "Oh, please, oh, please," she cries pleadingly, to the source of the world inside herself. She pictures some hazy figure, clad in a kaftans robe, standing over Sisqekwo, holding her baby, for whom she's waited since the day the Dano villagers greeted her, acknowledging her, welcoming her, enfolding her into the embrace of the tribe.

"Thur-i-za," Mary would sing, joined in the work of daily life, "little Thuriza…" so happily as a child's heart, when gentleness settles therein. At this moment, many of her fellows come along to collect water as well.

The kindness of people of all ages made Mary celebrate her decision to be here. When she arrived, fresh from the crossroads that took her from incarceration to this village, she'd only sought some way to fill her remaining days with hope. She left behind the betrayal which painted her the "ringleader" of the Robin Hood ploy to cyber swipe money already stolen inside the company---but she could not erase the Crohn's Disease, discovered in her last prison physical. With the 'honeymoon' of culture shock and a friendliness that she considered "down home," she'd begun the great mental distance from fear, captivity.

At first, she'd resisted. Then she watched what belief was doing, how free of unnecessary cares one could become, face to face with cooperation. The fear became her possession through ritual; she began to live from a part of herself beyond disease, beyond death.

Now, at least, she feels better, and someone else feels good. And if sadness is to be, between them all, the separation may not feel so painfully lonesome. In fact, the conditions for a spirit to visit---to be treated as a presence, felt beyond mortal fear---could they be any finer? Everyone would understand. An entire community knows.

The character of fear, the bereavement, could be transmuted---is that the word? Still, she watches the visiting Mossi trader parking his motorcycle, detached, with a bubble of sorrow inflating now, and takes a deeper breath with heavier eyes...

Thurisa, she thinks, willing a thread of power between herself and the baby she wishes to comfort. Here is my life. Take my warmth---please don't be afraid.

(chapter continues; I'll post the rest of it next time)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Over This Hill, a WW II story (2 of 2)

I actually feel myself, leaking my wet life all over my camouflage, staining it with futility. Gritting my teeth, I reach into the unknown of my wound, feeling through my clothes to the stunned tissue.

My back’s ripped open cross-ways, but thank God the bullet’s not buried. Hurts more now with every heart beat, but scares me less. I’m more ticked that my camouflage is ruined. The first nest is spitting distance. Before I can move on them, a grenade lands right beside me. I risk a foot to save my life, punting the damned thing sideways before it blows. The bloodied hunter’s ruse falls aside.

I rise, death come from the unending whiteness, death leading to unending whiteness. I get a clean look at Nazi uniforms, details leaping from the blur, buttons drawing my eyes as I raise my arm to fire carbine rounds. The glorious myth of their racial violence is needless motivation for me. I simply want my platoon to live, David to make it back to St. Clair County. Simple as that. I toss my first grenade into the middle of the nest, amidst startled German cries I don’t understand. Got no quarrel, man-to-man, but I did not come halfway ‘round the world to wait to die. My white makeshift robe of camouflage is the last thing they see. There is no hate, only a heart colder than the French winter.

We do what soldiers do.

Rising costs me dearly in excruciating pain, but from here I can see a fourth nest set behind these three in the distance. My own men will struggle their way up the hill behind me in minutes; they might as well be like East Carondelet: a world away.

Flashes: fear is as much for what I must do as what becomes of me. All of us: trying to live, in the middle of these schemes to take over everything. I make peace with the most personal visitor to all of man, surrender moral luxuries. I choose to meet that impersonal appointment I decide now to bring to those before me. I need never die again, more than in this moment. All is peace in my mind.


Shells fall, metallic banging; machine guns thud, peeling back skin with their sounds, acrid smoke scours eyes and nose.

Weird gratitude for everything in the world fills me.

The hill pulls my steps like cement. Constant alertness, decide instantly: freeze. Dead leaves shatter from beneath the snow. Maybe twelve yards left to the top. Machine gunners open fire right in front of me. We’re ten yards apart. Charge the first machine gun nest between myself and the top, spilling fire beyond me. Their rounds silence in a split second.


I will never forget this man’s eyes. “Baby blue, wild blue yonder.” I think, as I fire carbine rounds straight into his chest. The grenade I’ve thrown follows behind his dropping body, scattering his nest mates like ten pins. If we live forever, how can anything in this world be real? I can’t even consider stopping now. The platoon charges behind me. One war cry, then the next, filters through the clustered net of shrill shelling. Americans pop out from the smoking, shredded woods. Pain stabs my back like a twisted giant.

My carbine reams cut across the top of the nearest nest, sandbags blasted. One grenade. Two. The hell of shouted tent revivals belches into reality from the foxhole dug in haste within. The gunner’s assistant dies. My carbine jams as I charge the position. I jump inside the emplacement, grab the remaining third soldier, and with both arms, back screaming, hurl him, dazed, down the steep hill: need to take prisoners, captain said.

Second machine gun, the ten’o’ clock in the pinchers, looks about fifty yards away. I pick off an M-1 from a fallen soldier, and rush straight for them, now left, now straight again, as the other nests return approaching fire. The M-1 puts the heat on their emplacement. One grenade, pin drops from my teeth; it’s barely inside before I’ve jerked the pin on a second one with a grunt, to hell with my back, the second one takes a lucky bounce for me off the mutilated sand bags. I fall down, rise again, throw another, and another, into the foxhole’s belly.

As soon as that gun is silenced forever, I see Winslett scream like a wounded beast, firing upon the third nest. The third nest, some sixty five yards off, is above me yet. Again I’m crawling, beneath an unyielding hail of ammunition. Friends’ faces, time pours like a glass of lemonade, spilling on the ground, tart and sweet, pulp from life, from the limb. I crawl, dirty snow wiping my face clean of sweat. I crawl, a slithering inevitability, within fifteen yards of the third entrenchment. I must stand, so slowly, it seems. I toss grenades again, with all my remaining strength; this is the last crew.

Stay alive.
Steady. Another.

The fire within is silence, ashes.

I watch David charge the last nest off in the distance, as my men rush past me, Winslett with a strange look of disbelief as I collapse, heaving, sucking the cold air for life’s breath. David fires into the entrenchment, and as minutes pass, as the screams die, I see he still stands.

I feel a hand cradle my stinging, bloody back as I pick myself up to command. I stare downward, swaying, down from one smoking grave, to what, in the distance, could’ve been mine, down this hill. I am utterly spent, but I don’t want to go back.

“Men... we have so much left to do.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Only way to go is up (1 of 2, "Over This Hill")

“Over this hill”

Just flashes, really; uncle Walt passing away, as they say, when I was nine; I first glimpsed the idea that people can leave this life and not come back. David, Mom & Pop, Aunt Viney, the cousins---we sat in a church with little paddle fans, each printed with a Bible verse--- Psalm 34, was it?---and I thought about him coming down to the house every couple of months, how he took a knife and skint some wooden pegs, showed David and me how to cut a notch in the top of them; then he took some tall, tall grass from the field, wedged one end into the notch. We’d swing it around a couple of times, then throw the little missile up into the air, arching out of sight beside the sun. First it would fly its arc, then it would stab the soft clay, spike first, sometimes falling down, sometimes sticking straight up, sunk in deep.

Beside me, the ground blows apart with a dull sound of the air, the peace, violently forced away. You don’t appreciate the serenity of a given spot in the woods until you’ve seen it interrupted with a bombshell---tranquil one minute, a piece of body-destroying hell the next.

So here in the snows of the French countryside, there are only two ways to find peace. You die in rifle fire accompanying these shells into the gulley, or you fight your way over that hill.

Quickly I fall back under the cover of a fallen oak. My eyes scan for our entire platoon, including my brother David, who I watch crawl over collapsing ice just five yards shy of a steady line of machine gun fire, ripping out clots of the frozen dark Alsace-Loraine soil. David, we should still be coon hunting three miles past the creek, in woods an ocean away. But brother, we’re pinned down, hiding in plain sight at the bottom of a dizzying hill, topped with German machine gun nests.

“Winslett! How many nests do you make out?”

“At least two; it’s hard to tell with the shelling. There’s random riflemen in between.”

“Yeah. There’s fire at one o’clock and ten. You still have that mattress cover?”

“I ripped what I could out of that rubbish heap. White as snow.”

Another shell blasts the gulley behind us, already smoking from the hammering of a spot that seems no bigger than a rabbit trap for my platoon.

A voice bellows behind me. “Sir, they’ll get lucky with those shells any minute now!”

I nod. “Only way to go is up.”

I check my uniform pockets, brushing down a dozen hand grenades and a dozen clips of ammo for my carbine, stubbornly caked with snow from my dive for cover. I slap it clean against my boot, three times.
It’s no more heroic to die with a gun in one’s hands than to submit courageously to an overwhelming evil. I am a farmer. I am a son. I am a brother. I am no warrior. But I am a soldier. Now.

“Captain wants a prisoner,” I shout. “But don’t hold back, men.” I pull my knife-tailored robe ripped from the mattress tight around my shivering body, hiding a jackhammer heart. “Die here. Die on the hill. Or kill them. My bull’s eye’s the nest on the left!” I swallow. “If not now, never.”

“Sarge is charging the hill!” I hear Winslett shout. I don’t register him after that; the core of my being consumes every slippery step towards the enemy.

With my white mattress cover gathered round me from head to toe, my boots crush a path winding from tree-to-tree. It’s nearly a football field, a little less, all of it steep. I am a hunter again, smelling the soil, clinging to my disguise to approach my unwary prey.

With burning thighs, lungs sliced by the January cold, I crawl now up the middle, until I am in range to draw a bead on the rifleman dead ahead, reloading beneath a broken branch. As I wound his shoulder, his partner spurts a red gusher into the cruel air, felled by the cover fire coming behind me. A shell nearly shreds me in two; I rise, I trip as I hear its warning whistle, hard to judge from the ringing, throwing a snow drift like parade confetti not five yards to my left.

Amidst the fluttering plume, I crawl, knees and elbows grind slowly, flattened beneath recurring torrents, their recoil popping a staccato chorus of doom.
Then I know they have not two, but three entrenched gunners. There’s the other machine gun nest, about fifty yards right of the one o’clock position, set behind them, further up the hill.

I’ve got to get clear...but I can’t, not in time. The sting in my back shatters my concentration, a red world setting a fire trail up to my brain. I tumble clumsily to the side, the animal in me scurrying to pull away from the attack, the man saying “hold this position!” as I fight for the life of my platoon, against my fear.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Totalitarianism getting you down?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 3:45am | Edit Note | Delete
Here's an example from science:
Cybernetics shows that totalitarianism - and indeed any attempt to control human beings - has some inbuilt flaws. Any system that doesn't allow for feedback will eventually go off the rails, and any authority relationship is one where accurate feedback is not possible - if someone has the power to sack you, or have you imprisoned, or have you killed, you're going to be very careful about what you tell them. Authority breeds lies - the cheque's in the post, the dog ate my homework, it's my grandmother's funeral - and then the person in authority has to make decisions based on those lies. Garbage in, garbage out. (This, incidentally, seems to explain the decisions made by a lot of political leaders, and may also explain the apparent paranoia often exhibited at the very top.)---from A Trout In Milk, posted by Andrew Hickey
Stressed over totalitarianism? Share.

:-) Meanwhile, can organized efforts deal with the worst crises of our time? A few organized efforts have participated in the perpetuation of crisis---but is it making you feel angry and at a loss for agency?

First, love thy neighbor as thyself...

Bear in mind, solutions/ innovations/ creative ideas tend to materialize simultaneously at several places around the world. Don't think a little local solving is meaningless.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to maintain an inquisitive mind without letting your emotions be dragged through the mud; upon examination, much of the discussion is debased by hysteria and presented with very poor logic, both in structure and substantial fact-checking. It's perfectly reasonable to criticize badly reasoned or presented information; it betrays the lack of rigorous analysis or critical thinking. People who can't organize information correctly can spew whatever feeds their paranoia, don't you think? Would you rather not address the whole of the commentary and just take on the part you find antagonistic, thus feeding an addiction to petty argument?
The loss of cordiality can only strain out the conversants into fervent true believers and the rest. If we have an angry "us vs. them" volley of badly-composed sentences, we will miss working out a more fair way of conducting our society, leaving us without oversight or accountability, at the whims of the most ruthless, worshippers of pure profiteering---which, at least, is a credible, if reprehensible and short-sighted, motivation.

Excessive emotionality is creating unnecessary division in our country and depriving us of fact-based, humane conversation, capable of genuine, empirical skepticism---and possibly,optimism and good will. If something's worth your convictions, it will stand a bit of analysis; we can't all be brilliant interviewers, but don't be afraid of rigorous thinking, nor confuse it with an indulgence in fear and worry. It's your mind; use it for freedom. Center your feelings and practice kindness, and you will find energy untold for increasing knowledge that illuminates all points of view.---Cecil Lue

Monday, December 7, 2009

My artwork this week

My upcoming story "Remus Sharptooth Regrets...!" has the following scene (along with what I hope you will find to be thoughtful characters, humor and wonder

I haven't forgotten our "D'N'A" strip; here is Dee Cee and Amanda (d& a! Happy serendipity at first)and there's been more thought concerning character maybe we're ready to pick it up again...

I love Paul Smith's brief run on X-Men; it was just before the first battered old issues dave-o ever snuck to me inside a trapper keeper folder in school. Here is an homage to UNCANNY X-MEN #174; I redesigned a couple of panels, in an effort to make myself be original to some degree.

The last panel was kinda my third try, after one out of me noggin' followed by two more deliberate attempts. I took some liberties with the hair, since I could take the time to be a bit more subtle. I sighed and hoped my future work could so strong. We'll see

our Western Surprise character, as inspired by Gil Kane. "Who's gunning for Remi D'Amico?"

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Who watches the Whatyoumeant?

In the spirit of fun and comic books, the above involves fans having a ball at the expense of beloved Comic Book Conventions (I mean story tropes, though they might also be poking fun at the conventions). At any rate, the art is not related to the subject, but the theme; link lies below. from the minds of IMWAN---thanks, DAvid

Who watches the Whatyoumeant?

I've already shared this with a few friends: it's a refreshing side of ribs from the sacred cow of "graphic novels" the Watchmen, which of course suitably impressed me more than once growing up.

No, I've still never seen the movie, but I'll feel better next time I sit down to write my magnus opus all day and not take myself too bloody seriously. Cause life is fun and then you die. If you hate this, you can follow the links
to other chapter summaries you will hate.
It's the middle of this note and I'm telling you about the summary of ch. 4. of the watchmen.
It's fifteen minutes earlier and I'm laughing my butt off about things I secretly found retarded about the watchmen but forgot were retarded because I bought into the hype and was impressed as a youngster by all the adulty bits.

It's nine months earlier and someone's saying, "Seriously? this is the masterpiece of comics?"
It's nine years earlier and we're laughing at Kooey Kooey Kooey in JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL which is at least intended to be riduculous.
It's the end of this note and I am thinking you are going to laugh out loud when you read this.

It's two months earlier andI'm really hoping for leprechauns at the end of the rainbow.
It's the beginning of this NOTE and I am positive my friends will have fun poking fun at the super serious Watchmen.
It's the middle of this note and I am wondering how well this joke will play out, as a riff on issue four of the Whatchumeant and Jon Ostrander's time-skipping perspective.

It's the beginning of this note and I'm relieved to remove the anxiety of living up to the hype of a work that contains clockwork like precision and yet, contains so many ludicrous events that I cannot believe everything needed to be dark and depressing to sell afterwards.
It's the middle of this note and I'm still shamelessly stealing this riff, though at least I'm not plagerizing just stealing the idea.
It's the end of this note and I'm thinking I successfully borrowed this schtick, though it is not half as funny as what you are about to read.-----Ron Jostander, Professor Philadelphia is where I found the above cartoon on; hope you enjoy?