My friends, listen to me.

The number of moons that had gone by is equal to the number of sands in two cupped hands

There was an island that can no longer be found in the Sea of Mataku.

This island was the home of the People of Mataku.  Their Lord was King Ao and his Queen Poui.

Their Lord King Ao and Queen Poui had many royal children who would one day rule the many islands in the Sea of Mataku.

One day during his walk across his island, Their Lord King Ao seduced a young woman, the pearl diver Halatui.

Neither the pearl diver Halatui nor any other tabu People of Mataku were permitted to touch the shadows of their Lords, King Ao or his Queen Poui.

The penalty was death.

Only the priest Bone Tappers could touch the Lords.  The priest Bone Tappers were the ones who kept the sacred spirits of the ancestors.

The spirits of the ancestors were tapped from the ancestors bones into sacred pearls gathered by the pearl divers.

The priest Bone Tappers silently feared that King Ao had corrupted his substance of power.

The priest Bone Tappers were now obliged to kill the pearl diver Halatui.

However, because the pearl diver Halatui now bore her Lord King Ao’s substance of power she knew she had to flee.  The pearl diver Halatui sailed her outrigger canoe to a deserted island in the Sea of Mataku and there she dwelt.

There in that deserted island was a lagoon with a virgin bed of black-lipped pearl oysters.  That lagoon was the sovereign realm of the great shark Mataku.

Because the pearl diver Halataui now bore substance of her Lord King Ao’s power she was able to gather those pearls, knowing with her magic whenever the great shark Mataku was gone away traveling in the Sea He Ruled.

Those pearls were magnificent and luminous and the size of sandpiper eggs.

The pearl diver Halataui hoped to buy with those sacred pearls her life and the life of her unborn child.

The unborn child grew like a pearl within the pearl diver Halatui.

One day the great shark Mataku knew that his pearls were being stolen.  With his magic the great shark Mataku walked across the island, searching for his pearls.

The great shark Mataku found the pearl diver Halatui.  The pearl diver Halatui was anointing the gathered sacred pearls with Tamanu oil and placing them in a basket.

Because the pearl diver Halatui was showing respect the great shark Mataku did not kill her immediately but he asked of her, “Why do you take my pearls?”

The pearl diver Halatui shook with fear and she bowed and confessed, “I was going to buy my life and the life of my unborn child from the Bone Tappers.”

The great shark Mataku took pity upon the pearl diver Halatui and said, “I will spare you and give to you my pearls with which to buy your life…”

The pearl diver Halatui fell prostrate with relief and gratitude but the great shark Mataku continued, “And in exchange you will give to me the pearl that grows within you.”

The pearl diver Halatui trembled with tears but she had no choice.

The pearl diver Halatui sailed her outrigger canoe back to her home.

On the beach the pearl diver Halatui was met by three priest Bone Tappers.  They held carved sacrificial daggers inlaid with shark teeth.

The pearl diver Halatui held her basket up to the priest Bone Tappers and said, bowing her head, “I bring you magnificent pearls as an offering for my life and the life of my unborn child.”

The priest Bone Tappers smiled and slowly came close beside the pearl diver Halatui.

The priest Bone Tappers peered inside the pearl diver Halatui’s basket and then their eyes shone like pearls.

One of the priest Bone Tappers gently took from the pearl diver Halatui her offering.  Then he nodded.

Suddenly two of the priest Bone Tappers slashed and stabbed the pearl diver Halatui with their sacrificial daggers.  The inlaid shark teeth of the daggers devoured the life of the pearl diver Halatui!

Then the priest Bone Tappers knelt over the pearl diver Halatui.  While the sand drank her blood the priest Bone Tappers prepared to cut out the unborn child within her.

The pearl diver Halatui’s round belly writhed from the unborn child within.

Suddenly the great shark Mataku appeared on the beach walking with his magic.

The three terrified priest Bone Tappers became stiff like clubbed fish.  The great shark Mataku cracked the three priest Bone Tappers in half with three bites.

The great shark Mataku then continued walking across the island and devoured the People of Mataku.  The great shark Mataku then swam and caught and devoured the People of Mataku who had fled in their outrigger canoes.

When the great shark Mataku’s anger was slaked he returned to the the body of the pearl diver Halatui.  The great shark Mataku swallowed the basket of sacred pearls.

With his magic he raised the pearl diver Halatui’s dismembered belly, her own pearl, and he cast the unborn child above into the sea of stars.

The pearl diver Halatui’s own pearl now lived in the sky and became the moon and outshone all the brightest stars.

The face of the unborn child still grows dark when carved by sorrow for its mother.  But then the face of the unborn child smiles down upon us fully and brightly once again when we honor our ancestors.










ستایش خداوند


     The winter sun crept up through the pine trees along Morro Bay. The parking lot of the Morro Bay Realty office was a Christmas tree lot for a few weeks during the holiday season. The Morro Bay Realty office was a long mobile home. Owner Bill Bloch would earn extra money selling Christmas trees during this slow-down in real estate sales.

     Merry Christopher with her 15-year old daughter Christina drove onto the Morro Bay Realty parking lot, their backseat stuffed like Santa’s sack with blankets, clothes, bags, and suitcases all of which were obscuring their rear window. There was a folded tent lashed to the car’s roof.

     Merry Christopher parked her car and got out and approached Bill Bloch who was surveying his little forest of Christmas trees from the steps of the mobile home-office.

     Bill smiled down on Merry and said, “Doesn’t look like you’re here for a tree.”

     Merry tried to smile and said, “Hello. I’m Merry Christopher. I was wondering: would you have any work for me? Any at all?”

     Bill looked past the top of Merry’s head toward her car stuffed with belongings.

     Merry followed his gaze and then explained, “That is my daughter Christina. She’s fifteen. We’re… moving here to Morro Bay. And I just need to find a job.”

     Bill mulled, “Moving without a job? Jeez, pretty bold. You know,… Morro Bay is a pretty small town. There isn’t much work at this time…,” then he asked, “Where are you staying?”

     Merry answered, “In our car, it seems like. There are no vacancies at any hotels around here. We’ll be camping out along the coast somewhere,” then she added softly, “We’re getting used to it.”

     Bill said, “Hey, maybe the hotels can use help?”

     Merry shook her head, “I’ve asked. It seems most of the locals grabbed the ‘extra’ seasonal jobs.”

     Bill said, “Yeah… when fishing is slow the locals do odd-jobs.”

     Merry’s shoulders slumped.

     Bill looked up. Cottony clouds sailed southeastward overhead as the river of cold air flowed from the incoming North Pacific storm system.

     Bill said after a few thoughtful moments, “Well… I’ve got an empty office in the back of the mobile home. I suppose you could sleep there a couple days, OK. But…it really is just a mangy little room.”

     Merry’s eyes lit up, “Oh thank you, bless you,…?”

     Bill smiled, “I’m Bill. Bill Bloch. This is my business here. Just making a little extra money this time of year, you know.”

     Merry reached up and took Bill’s hand in both of her hands and shook it, “Thank you so much. I didn’t want my daughter sleeping in a wet tent. I mean, I don’t care about myself. But she…”

     Bill said, “Sure. The room’s just back here on this side.”

     Merry trotted to her car and nodded at Christina’s questioning face. Christina hopped in her seat and then covered her face as she began to cry with relief.

     Merry spoke to Christina through the door window as Christina rolled it down, “I didn’t get a job but we have a place to sleep.”

     Christina said, “Oh. OK…”, and then in unison with her mother she said, “Day by day it’ll be OK, Thank you Jesus.” and they both smiled.

     As Merry and Christina carried in their overnight essentials into the mobile home, passing Bill who held the door open, they both thanked him again and again and their eyes were red and glistening.

     Bill muttered, “I suppose there could be work here….”

     The inside of the long mobile home was cold. Merry and Christina shuffled past the office desk and files and on down the hallway to the vacant little room. It even had a little window that you could open by cranking. And they were right next to a little bathroom. Christina dropped her armload on the floor. Merry did the same. They both laughed with nervous exhaustion. Then Merry began to spread the sleeping bags into the corner and to stack her boxes and bags of toiletries.

     Christina said, “I don’t want to complain but I’m freezing.”

     Merry went into the narrow hallway and found the thermostat. She called to Bill, “Excuse me, Mr. Bloch, would it be OK to turn up some heat? My daughter is cold.”

     Bill couldn’t help calculating the increase in his heating bill but he said, “Sure. It’s going to be a cold storm tonight. Just close as many windows as you can…”

     Merry went back into the little room and kneeled with Christina on their sleeping bags. They prayed. Then Merry hugged Christina and they both laid themselves next to each other on the sleeping bags, just to relax a minute, and Christina wept herself to sleep.

     Merry got up carefully and went into the little kitchen area carrying a bag. In the kitchen she unpacked a jar of instant coffee and a little box of sugar and a box of powdered milk.

     She asked Bill, “Do you mind if I boil some water for coffee?”

     Bill said, “No. In fact make a pot.”

     Merry found a stained coffee pot in the little cupboard and rinsed it out as best she could, then she filled it with water and turned on the little gas burner on the little stove. She stood and stared at the refraction of currents in the heating water.

     When it began to boil Merry spooned-out instant coffee and stirred the coffee pot. She judged the strength of the coffee by the aroma it gave off. She could feel the current of warm air from the heating system upon her face and she began to feel cozy.

     Outside a pick-up truck loaded with some more trees pulled into the parking lot.

     Bill Bloch waved at the driver who was getting out of the truck, “Hey, Darius. Hey, ‘Dar he is’!”

     The slender swarthy man getting out of the truck stood tall and said, “Yes, always amusing, my friend. These are the last of my trees.”

     From the passenger side of the truck three young boys danced out. Darius said, “My sons, do not go far. We must unload these trees and then we are done.”

     Bill waved, “Hello, boys.”

     The three boys answered shyly, “Hello, Mr. Bloch.”

     One boy said, “Can I have a drink of water?” the second boy said, “Me, too,” and the third boy, the youngest, said, “I need to use the bathroom.”

     Bill nodded, “Sure,” and the three boys bounced up the steps of the mobile home-office and entered.

     When the three boys saw Merry near the stove sipping coffee they halted and stared shyly.

     Merry said, “Hello, there.”

     The two older boys mumbled, “Hello, ma’am,” but the youngest boy cried, “I need to use the bathroom!” and he pushed past his brothers and Merry stood aside and waved him clear to proceed down the narrow hallway.

     Darius entered the mobile home and upon seeing Merry he said, “Oh.”

     Merry said, “Hello.”

     Darius said, “I am Darius Rouhani,” then he grinned and said, “Dar he is,” and then he said, “I see you have met my sons.”

     Merry said, “I am Merry Christopher.”

     The elder boy snickered and said, “You sound like Merry Christmas.”

     Darius scolded his son, “Don’t be rude like that, ever!”

     Merry was conciliatory and bent down to the boy saying, “My parents named me ‘Merry’, M-E-R-R-Y, not ‘Mary’ M-A-R-Y. They were religious but they had a strange sense of humor.”

     Darius smiled. His son grinned and looked away, saying, “OK. I am sorry I was rude.”

     Merry smiled, “Oh, you weren’t rude. You were a boy,” and she looked up at Darius who made a wry face.

     Darius said, “This rude boy is my eldest son. He is thirteen. His name is Hormi. His brother next to him is Yazdeg. He is ten. And the youngest, he is eight, wherever he is… Peroz! Where are you?”

     Peroz cried from the bathroom, “I am making a peef!”

     Darius covered his eyes as his two sons beside him giggled.

     Merry said, “That is OK. I have a daughter who is fifteen. Her name is Christina.”

     Darius said, “OK, Miss Merry, you win. One daughter is more trouble than three sons.”

     Merry laughed.

     Darius asked, “Are you working for Bill, if I may ask?”

     Merry shrugged, “With the grace of God, yes.”

     Darius nodded and intoned, “KHOH-dah-rah SHOH-kr (Praise the Lord).”

     Merry said, “Oh, I’m sorry, would you like some coffee?”

     Bill, who had just entered, said, “Don’t bother. Darius likes his coffee Turkish. He likes coffee you can chew.”

     Darius’ youngest son Peroz emerged from the bathroom just as Merry’s daughter     Christina was exiting the little make-shift bedroom. Almost wedging together, Peroz looked up at Christina and said, “I am sorry I stink.”

     Christina, hands in the pockets of her bulky sweater, hugged herself and asked sleepily of her mother, “What is up?”

     Merry said, “Christina, this is Darius and these are his three sons…uh, …,” and looking at Darius she said softly, “I’m sorry…”

     Darius came to Merry’s aid and said, “This young man is Hormi. This young gentleman is Yazdeg. And this…stinker.. is Peroz.”

     Peroz was embarrassed and he said as he twisted himself, “Daaa-ad.”

     Darius scolded, “Well, I heard you name yourself just a moment ago in the hallway. In front of a young woman.”

     Bill spoke up, “Hey, everyone. It’s gonna start pouring any minute. Darius, why don’t you stay here for awhile? You don’t want to be driving with your boys in what’s coming,” and he bent over to address Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz, saying, “Why don’t you pick a Christmas tree and bring it in. We can decorate it.”

     The three boys yelled, “Yah!” and then they looked sheepishly at their father Darius who scolded them with his expression.

     Merry said, “I can help.”

     Christina said, “I can, too.”

     Merry whispered to Christina, “I don’t know if that is a good idea.”

     Christina said to the three boys, “Let’s go before the flood!”

     They all together unloaded the last of the Christmas trees from the pick-up truck and then they selected by acclaim the plumpest one that would fit in the mobile home-office.

     As they maneuvered the chosen Christmas tree through the mobile home-office doorway the waves of rain began to strafe loudly upon the parking lot and upon the mobile home roof.

     The three boys squealed with excitement at the loud popping of raindrops on the metal roof of the mobile home.

     Bill got a box out of a closet and boomed, “Here are some tree decorations,” and then more softly, “I haven’t seen these since I … my wife…”

     Hormi nailed the wooden cross support into the base of the Christmas tree as Yazdeg and Peroz held it horizontal.

     Peroz chimed, “Smells so gooood.”

     Bill said, “I’ll make hot chocolate for our hard workers and we big kids can have some ‘Tennessee Coffee’,” then he began to sing comically, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Daniels nipping at your nose…”

     Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz erected the Christmas tree. Merry, Darius, and Christina began to place ornaments upon the higher branches.

     Merry said to Darius, “The boys are so cute. It is a shame that their mother is missing this.”

     Darius pursed his lips and said, “Their mother is no longer with us.”

     Bill explained for Merry’s sake, “Darius and his wife were teachers in Syria. Darius was… is a Professor of Linguistics…”

     Darius said, “I am a ranch hand on the Rossini Ranch. Mr. Rossini lets me harvest Christmas trees from his ranch.”

     Merry said, “It must be a good place to raise three boys.”

     Darius answered, “It could be worse.”

     Merry said, “They seem so bright.”

     Darius said, “Yes. They will become Engineers to please the memory of their mother.”

     Merry said, “May I ask what happened to their mother?”

     Darius said, “A Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman, but a Christian man is not permitted to marry a Muslim woman. Islam means equality and no discrimination, but we were not permitted to marry. Aabirah was a mathematician. We both taught at the University of Aleppo. We married anyway and we had three strong sons.”

     Bill could see that Darius had choked-up and so he continued on his behalf, saying, “During the civil war in Syria his wife… Aabirah… was killed when the government used poison gas on a group of rebels.”

     Darius could speak again, saying, “She was not a rebel, she was just standing in the market place when they took her hostage. I took my sons and I fled Syria. It was a miracle that I was allowed sanctuary in the United States…”

     Merry could only say softly, “Praise the Lord,” and then she offered as a way to change the mood, “My Christina wants to be a Minister.”

     Darius turned to Christina and said, “That is fine. Do you know that ‘Christopher’ means ‘bearing Christ’? In your heart.”

     Christina smiled and nodded and then she whispered to her mother, “And even Jesus was homeless and persecuted.”

     Bill handed Darius and Merry each a cup of ‘Tennessee Coffee’. Suddenly they were all again aware of the drumming rain.

     Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz were watching the rain through the mobile home windows.

     Peroz said, “I can see the Christmas tree in the window! It looks like it is out in the parking lot.”

     Christina sat beside her mother as Merry, Darius, and Bill sat down to talk.

     Bill said, “So, Merry. Moving here without a job…? What is your story?”

     Merry glanced at Christina and said, “Not much. My second husband, Christina’s step-father, was a God-fearing man at first. Then he became mean to us. He was especially… mean… to Christina. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left with what I could cram in my car. We’ve been living like transients for months…”

     Darius said, “I am so sorry. You are a good person. God can be so mysterious with his intentions.”

     Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz squeeled loudly, “Whoa!”

     Christina glanced over at the boys and nervously parted her bulky sweater and then she began to rub her little pot belly with both hands.

     Darius saw this and he turned to Merry.

     Merry was observing Christina with concern. Then Merry turned and met the eyes of Darius which held his question.

     Merry returned the answer to him with her eyes.

     Darius then realized just how ‘mean’ the step-father had been to Christina. Darius suddenly asked Merry, “Do you know anything about horses?”

     Merry was surprised and answered, “Yes. My parents had horses. They were my responsibility for years.”

     Darius continued thoughtfully, “Mr. Rossini needs someone to care for his horses now that Mrs. Rossini is… not able to give them the attention they need. There is even a small bunk-house next to the stables where you could live decently for a while. I could speak to Mr. Rossini…”

     Bill was already a little drunk and he raised his coffee to Merry, saying, “You have risen!”

     Merry scowled involuntarily at her benefactor, Bill, but she was thrilled and she tried to give a composed response to Darius, “That would be ideal, I think, … thank you…Praise the Lord…”

     Darius continued, “In fact, on Christmas day Mr. Rossini hosts a big holiday Bab-A-Kew. You could come as my guest.”

     Bill chuckled, “That’s Bar-B-Que.”

     Darius said, “You come too, Bill.”

     Merry turned to Christina and said, “Did you hear that?”

     Bill was answering Darius, “Naw. On Christmas day they always hold a reservation for me at the Sassy Wok.”

     Christina said quietly, “Day by day it’ll be OK, Thank you Jesus.”

     Christina rubbed her little pot belly.






tennessee honey

Christmas dawns on the Oak Ridge Trail
Unleashed my dog tumbles and trips
Dashing down to the wooded vale
Tennessee Honey on my lips

I raise my flask for two more sips
I call my dog to no avail
Then I hear a girl’s laughing wail
Tennessee Honey on my lips

White dress barefoot my eyes impale
Dashing around those shapely hips
My dog is me ten dog years male
Tennessee Honey on my lips

She’s sweeter than a Bobwhite Quail
Kyriella tells me her tale
My good sense her voice does eclipse
Tennessee Honey on my lips

Kyriella strokes my dog’s tail
Goose-bumps of green grass her toe snips
I extend my flask,”Here’s to jail.”
Tennessee Honey on our lips








 __paula faye martin profile pic 122313A - - 1497645_10152110224797859_1750451123_n


Ten Christian Zionist Myths, Part 3 | Faith & Heritage

     I am Shelly.  It is December twenty-fifth, Christmas Day, and it also will be the first night of Hanukkah, something which has only happened three other times in 100 years.

     My daughter Kaitlyn is driving.  I had asked her to roll down all the windows and turn up the floor heater.

     Kaitlyn protests, “Mom, its warm in the sun.”

     I say, “Yes, dear, but the air is chilly.”

     I love to take drives with the windows down and the floor heater on high.  I feel like I’m in a warm Jacuzzi yet the chill air is invigorating.  My purse and my coat are beside me with the thermos of hot cocoa just the way my father likes it, made with milk not water.

     Kaitlyn is driving me to Fullerton Gardens, an Alzheimer’s residential care facility, “Memory Care” they call it, where my father now lives.  Kaitlyn is driving what used to be my father’s car.

     As we turn into the driveway of Fullerton Gardens Kaitlyn asks again, “Mom, are you sure you want me to leave you here all day?”

     I reply, “Absolutely.  You can just let me out at the house entrance.  You don’t have to come in with me.  You saw Gran’pa yesterday for lunch and that was sweet of you.”

     Kaitlyn says, “OK, Mom.  Gran’pa was happy.”

     I agree, “Gran’pa is always happy now.”

     I was told that the big old house that is the face of Fullerton Gardens was originally the home of the late heiress Dorothy Odette.  The house and its two acres was sold to developers who then built-to-purpose the care facility extensions in the back which include the fragrant gardens and the long winding pathways.

     I pull on my coat.  I pick up my purse and I tuck the thermos of hot cocoa into my arm, like a football, I guess.  I wave good-bye to Kaitlyn.  I turn and I hear behind me all of her car’s power windows straining back up at the same time and then Kaitlyn whooshes away to her boyfriend.

     The street in front of Fullerton Gardens is silent.  The morning air is chill and sweet and the sunlight is warm.  I now hear the tee-hee-tee-ho of a little bird in the planter below this broad porch.

     When I was my daughter’s age and we were losing our home I went out into our backyard in tears and I asked God for a sign if losing our home was His plan.  It seemed like it was suddenly very quiet as I held my breath and I stopped crying and I waited.  And I heard then the clear sweet tee-hee-tee-ho and I grasped it as the sign.

     Now that song greets me here.  I push the buzzer to be admitted.  I hear the door click free and I push it open and I go inside.  This is one of five long high-ceiling residential hallways that converge into the high-ceiling dining and recreation center, the hub of the facility.  I guess it is nigh impossible for a resident to get lost.

     It is warm inside.  I can’t remove my coat easily without setting the thermos of hot cocoa down somewhere.  Fernando, “Andy”, a staff member who helps my father get up and get dressed in the morning, calls to me from up the hallway ahead, saying, “He’s here, Mrs. Jordan, almost ready.”

     My father’s room is the fourth door down on the right.  The door is open.  I enter.  My father says again as he lately has been saying to me, “Shelly, you look just like your great-grandmother Devorah.  You have her voice, her breath”.  Breath?  I think he must mean “spirit”.

     As I set the thermos of hot cocoa on his nightstand and I tug off my coat I say, “I am…I am glad, father.  You have told me many wonderful stories about her.”

     Devorah, my father’s grandmother died in a concentration camp.  We don’t know which one.  I have heard the list of concentration camps and I have tried to understand that there were over a thousand of them.  I like to think of my great-grandmother as a goddess defiant with her own faith, helping others in a way that gave meaning to their doom when God had deserted them.

     As a little girl I was taught to be grateful and to live the life that she carried for our family.

     I ask my father, “Are you ready for breakfast?”

     My father answers, “OK, sure, my dear, but first I need to pee”.

     My father goes into the bathroom but after a minute I hear him say, “Shelly.  I could use a little help.”

     I go into the bathroom and my father says, “I can’t undo these pants.  Can you help me?”

     I say, “Sure.”

     It is difficult to unhook his trousers and I say, “Dad, you need new pants.  You must be eating too well.”

     I finally squeeze his fly tightly enough to unhook his trousers.  I unzip his trousers and I peel the tape open on his adult diapers to free his penis.  I accidentally touch his penis and it feels like a wax fig.

     My father jokes, “Don’t let it hit the ground.”

     I laugh and say, “I wouldn’t let that happen.  I used to live there.”

     When My father is finished I seal him up again and I ask him, “Are you ready for breakfast now?”

     He jokes as usual, “Take my arm.  But not for breakfast!”

     We shuffle out and once inside the big dining room we sit down at a table.

     My father says, “Not everyone is up.”

     Andy is beside me saying, “Here is a cup for his cocoa, Mrs. Jordan,” and he puts a Styrofoam cup into my hand and I proceed to pour hot cocoa just the way my father likes it.

     Andy asks me, “Would you like some juice, Mrs. Jordan?”

     I nod appreciatively and reply, “Some cranberry juice if you have it.”

     Andy brings me a cup of very sweet cranberry juice.

     The nurse attendant named Sofia is saying, “Here we are, Naomi,” as she wheels Naomi up to our table.

     Naomi has an English accent.  She says, “Hello, Shelly.  Good morning, Phillip.”

     My father is Phillip Aschmann the writer.  He doesn’t remember that.  It makes me cry.  Whenever I have brought him a book that he had written and I have him read passages to me he will stop and say, “Really, Shelly?  I don’t remember this.  Are you teasing a poor old man?” and sometimes he slyly says, “You are getting even with me for all the tricks I pulled on you when you were little.”

     I have the Power of Attorney for my father’s estate.  That was a “trick” he pulled on my brother Jaden, the eldest.  My father did not become rich with his writing but we had a good family life and he was always proud of that.  Now his estate pays for his new “home” here at Fullerton Gardens.  For that my whole family is relieved.

     When my mother was dying she made me promise, “Take care of your father.  You know how impractical and forgetful he is.”

     The nurse attendant named Isabella is saying, “Here is your Shredded Wheat, Phillip.”

     I reach into my purse and withdraw a small plastic bag and I say to my father, “Here are Strawberries.  The market finally got in Strawberries again.”

     My father says, “Your mother always takes care of me.”

     Before my mother died she confessed to me that she still loved a boy from her youth.  She said to me, “My heart clenched around him and I cannot let go even now as I am dying.  Your father is a good man and I have felt terrible guilt our whole life together and I have done everything to make it up to him and he doesn’t know.  But my heart will not let go of that boy as hard as I have prayed and as hard as I have cursed myself.  I am sorry, Shelly.  I cannot leave this terrible thing with your father.  I want you to take this and find forgiveness for me,” and she cried and I cried with her and I said, “There is no need for forgiveness.  I love you.  We love you.”  I inherited tears from my mother.

     I think my father knew anyway.  And I think that somehow he tried to understand.  One of his stories was titled Mistress of Memories.

     After my father finishes his breakfast we have to wait until the nurse on duty gives my father his daily pills.  Eight of them.  For some reason my father had begun chewing his pills and because they were bitter he would spit them out.  I remind him, “Swallow you pills.  Don’t chew them,” and my father looks at me quizzically but he sips his paper cup of water and swallows all of the pills.

     We excuse ourselves from Naomi even though my father says, “I think she is asleep.”

     Andy says, “I’ll put the thermos back into his room for you, Mrs. Jordan.  Don’t forget it.”

     I say, “Thank you, Andy.  Last time I forgot it the milk residue was terribly stinky.”

     Andy says, “I’ll rinse out the thermos.”

     I take my father’s arm and we go out the hallway door into the patio.   We begin our stroll along the winding path through the rose garden.  When we come to my father’s favorite bench we sit down.

     I reach into my purse and I say, teasingly, “It’s a shame they don’t allow you to smoke here.  I just happen to have a favorite cigar of yours.”

     The staff kindly “looks the other way” when my father has an occasional cigar outside here, with me.

     My father lights his cigar and I let him savor it for several minutes.  We do not speak.

     I hear the clear sweet tee-hee-tee-ho from the bird on a nearby rosebush.

     From my purse I now withdraw a paperback copy of my father’s Mistress of Memories.  I hand it to him.

     I say, “Please read some passages to me.”

     After a few minutes my father says, “I like this book,” and he begins to read a passage.

        I burned your letters tonight.  The different hued papers and inks with which you would write to me made a colorful flame.

        I realize that my letters to you were disposed of long ago.

        There had been a cold rain so I made the little fire on a hill under the stars.  I thought I should immolate myself on that pyre.

        A billion billion fiery cataclysms led to us meeting.  I want to be grateful for that, not bitter.

        I have cursed and dishonored the very forces that created the two of us.

        I needed a ceremony.  It had to end in fire as it had all begun.

        Yes, I crippled myself loving you.

        No, I’m sorry, that is not true.  There is no one like you.  That’s all.

        I was lucky to know you.  And for too long I have needed my memory of you to be encased in perspective and placed in amber, a sacred relic, not blinding my eyes every day.

     When my father is finished with his cigar we arise from the bench and I take his arm.  We stroll along the entire garden path and find ourselves back at the patio door.

     Andy opens the door for us and says, “Perfect timing, Mrs. Jordan.  Everybody’s ready.”

     I go into the dining room and my father walks me to the upright piano.  I sit down and he kisses my forehead.

     My father says to the gathering of residents, “Now you are in for a real treat… the best thing going… the tops, my wife…

     I say quickly, “Daughter.  Your daughter,”  wondering if I should laugh or cry.

     My father continues, “My… daughter… the very beautiful Shelly.”

     I once thought that I would have a career as a pianist.  My parents were so proud of me.  But then I met Edward and I really wanted then only to have children with him and be a family.  Edward is a doctor at the Children’s Hospital.  Today he has arranged for a celebrity concert by all of the children’s favorite performers who could be there.  I have played piano for the hospital as well.  There is one little girl, Laney, who has leukemia.  Edward did not expect her to live to Christmas Day.  But she is there with her idol Phoebe Swift, the country singer.

     I enjoy playing for the Fullerton Garden residents my “classical” arrangements of songs like Roll Out The Barrel, Moon River, I Saw Three Ships, and my father’s favorite The Tennessee Waltz, and my current favorite pop song, Applause.

     The staff applauds.  It is now nearing the end of this day.  I take my father’s arm and we walk slowly back to his room.  I am grateful that he does not need a wheel chair like so many here do.

     Back in my father’s room he says, “My granddaughter… Kaitlyn bought this for me yesterday.  It is an electrical Minorah.  They won’t let me have candles here.  Isn’t that sweet?  I am going to turn on the first candle.”

     My father sounds like he is praying but he is saying to me, “Sorrow is trying to possess that which you love.  Love is not possession.  Love is giving away.  Free yourself.  Give your love.  Share your sorrow.  But hate is fear.  Give your fear to God.”

     I say, “That is beautiful, father.”

     Then my father asks me, “Do you love your life, Shelly?”

     I start to cry, “Father, I love my life.”

     My father embraces me.  He leans back and takes my face in his two hands and says, “Shelly, your eyes could never see but you are not blind.”

     Then I hear behind me Kaitlyn saying, “Is everything alright, you guys?”

     I sniff, “Yes, dear.  Everything is fine.”

     Kaitlyn helps me to gather my coat and my purse and the thermos.

     Kaitlyn says, “Good night, Gran’pa.  See you tomorrow.”

     I take Kaitlyn’s arm and she leads me out of my father’s room and to his car and then home to the rest of my family.




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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: The INDEX of STORIES


December in the railroad woods the sun is bright
and sky full of blue
but warmth is a cold memory.
I root myself on damp earth and I fill the barrel
with water for horses.
I revolve on the damp earth that blushes
with green new grass grateful for the plowing of horse hooves
and the rich horse turds
and the overflowing barrel of water,
the hose making the same sound as a horse pissing.
I see
therefore I exist
among the Eucalyptus woods planted a century gone
for the feeding of the iron horses, the steam railroad.
The clouds are hung over from a righteous night of  riotous rain.
I tap like rain against my iPhone.
Let this inside world outside.
My electrons howled in the Solstice of Winter,
the longest night of the year,
dwarfing the queen rat among the discarded couches
and the soggy rugs
and the exhausted tires
and the baby shoes
and the  lamb skulls.
A creek once scurried here but the loose silt
now holds the earthy remains of my dog
wagging with worms for the end of her drought.
The silt is damp now with redemption.
I raise up my cat to my shoulder.
My horse nudges me and nods.
The truck with alfalfa cometh.


 the big sticky POST


     It was three weeks before Christmas.  She was hugging me so tightly.  Oh, I felt good.  I said to her, “I have a sack of goodies for you and I’m coming down your chimney.  Right….NOW!”

     Mrs. Befana Natale giggled and, Oh, I felt so good and then she gasped and then I awoke and my pajamas crotch was wet and sticky.  I was eight years old.  I was horrified.  I thought I had peed in my bed.

     With dutiful humiliation I got out of bed and I walked into my parents’ bedroom and confessed, “I peed in my bed.”

     My mom sat up on her arm and gestured for me to approach.  She examined my pajamas crotch and touched it.  She then turned to my dad and mumbled something.  I thought I heard my dad say something about ‘The Big Sticky’.  My mom slapped his arm.

     They both started laughing.

     I started to cry and my mom took my hand and said, “You did not pee.  This is something that happens to every little boy.”

     I wiped my eyes and asked skeptically, “Really?”

     My mom answered, “Yes, really.  It means you are growing up normally.  Your dad will talk to you in the morning, OK, sweetie?  There is nothing wrong.  I mean it.”

     In the morning my dad came into my room and told me, “Pip,” he always called me Pip because that was some boy in a book that he liked, called Great Expectorations I thought.  It was weird but he said the word with such affection that it was OK with me when he said, “Pip, as a boy is becoming a man he changes.  Remember how you were afraid when you started to get your hair…down there?”

     I grinned sheepishly and said, “I tried to cut them off.”

     My dad said wryly, “Yes, with my nail scissors.”

     I said, “You told me you used them to trim your nose hairs.”

     We both laughed.

     My dad thought a moment and then he asked me, “Do you remember what you were dreaming about when this happened?”

     I said matter-of-factly, “Mrs. Befana Natale.”

     My dad nodded and I thought I heard him say, “I’ve had that dream, too,” but when I asked him what he had said he told me, “Nothing, nothing.  Anyway, when a boy is becoming a man,” and then I could tell he was reciting, “God has a great plan for mommies and daddies to make babies. He designed them differently so they fit together like a puzzle. The sperm comes out of a daddy’s penis and swims inside the mommy’s body till it reaches the egg.”

     I must have looked puzzled because my dad then said, “When a boy is growing up sometimes the sperm comes out too soon, at night, when you are dreaming.”

     I asked, “Did your sperms ever come out too soon?”

     My dad laughed, “Oh, yeah.  And mommies are not too happy about that, either.”

     I asked, “But you said it was alright…”

     My dad realized the repercussions of his little private joke and he amended quickly, “Everything is OK.  Don’t you worry about anything.  This will be our own family business, OK, Pip?”

     I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to but at least I wasn’t in trouble.


     The beautiful Mrs. Befana Natale was one of our neighbors.  She was the mom of my friend Guy and his sister Karol. And also she was the Den Mother of our neighborhood Cub Scout Den of six boys.

     Mrs. Befana Natale’s husband was at home bedridden with cancer.  At the time I only knew what my mom had told me: Mr. Natale was ill.  One time I went to the bathroom at her house and I passed the bedroom where Mr. Natale was lying in his bed.  His eyes were closed.  He looked like the molded effigy that was lying on the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral that I saw on the History Channel.

     I remember one day my mom was fuming over an article in the local paper that showed Mrs. Befana Natale swinging a bat at a little league game and my mom was reading out loud about what a good mom Mrs. Befana Natale was.  My mom thought it was scandalous because Mrs. Befana Natale’s two children, Guy and his sister Karol, often came over to my house and asked me to invite them for lunch because their mom was not at home.  My mom was certain that Mrs. Befana Natale was having an affair with the fellow who wrote the newspaper article.


     Our Cub Scout Den met on weekends at either the United Methodist Church (my dad was raised Methodist, or at least sat in a Methodist church) or the Christian Science Church (my mom was raised Christian Scientist, a feminist take on Christianity ahead of its time) or at Mrs. Befana Natale’s home in the evening.  We all preferred Mrs. Befana Natale’s house because she made real Italian spaghetti for all of us.

     Mrs. Befana Natale would wink at us and say, “I make it with wine.”

     It was three weeks before Christmas and our Cub Scout Den which we called The Spirit Bears was supposed to come up with some charity event of our Den’s own choosing.

     Standing before us in her dining room as we slurped the last of our spaghetti, Mrs. Befana Natale held up the Merit Badge Series booklet and she was saying with enthusiasm, “Here is the Cub Scout Citizenship in the Community merit badge that you all will be eligible for.”

     The merit badge was a round stitch-work patch that depicted a squat silver building with a black door between two black windows and with a tall pointy roof and that made it all look to me like a cartoon clown-face with hat but it was supposed to be a church.

     Guy snickered behind me, “It looks like a boner.”

     The church was between two square buildings with black doors and no windows and red roofs.

     And there was no cross on the pointy building that was supposed to be a church.

     Mrs. Befana Natale asked of us, “Boys, gentlemen.  As we talked about last week, our Cub Scout Pack 555 is going to hold a charity event at the Mall.  All Dens will participate.  What ideas did you all think of to help a charity?”

     Phil said, “We can collect cans of kosher food for poor Jews.”

     Travis tisked, “Phil, there aren’t any poor Jews, you yutz!  Mrs. Natale, how about selling wrought-iron Christmas lamps?  My dad can get them really cheap in Tijuana.  We could put those colored Catholic candles in them.”

     Michael said confidently, “My band could play and attract donations.”

     Guy said, “Yeah.  Someone could donate some talent to your band.”

     Ricky, who was the singer in Michael’s band, was also the Den diplomat and he interceded saying, “Spirit Bears!  Let everyone have their ideas without criticizing.  Maybe we can do more than one person’s idea for the event.”

     Mrs. Befana Natale said, “That’s all…good.  But what else?  What can we do to make people say ‘Those Spirit Bears really shine!’?”

     My friend Guy nudged me and said to everyone, “Poop has a great idea (he called me Poop for a while after he heard my dad call me Pip).”

     Mrs. Befana Natale said firmly with a disapproving scowl, “Guy Gianni Natale, not nice.  I’ve told you.”

     I hissed, “Knock it off!”

     Guy continued, saying, “Poop told me that we could charge admission to his Rocket Ship.”


     My Rocket Ship.

     My Uncle Donald had been a fighter pilot.  After his war he became an aerospace engineer (there is no such thing as a “rocket scientist”).  He stayed with us while he was in college.  He used to tease my mom and ask her to cook his two eggs in two separate pans.

     For fun he built me this cool Rocket Ship in our backyard out of plywood and scrap boards.  It was a big cylinder on its side that you could enter into and stand up if you hunched over a little bit and it had wooden “seats” for six passengers (you sat on your butt on the floor with a wooden backrest and your legs outstretched).  But there was also a bulkhead divider and a pointed cockpit nosecone for two people.  There was a curvy door that opened and closed in the side so you could get in but the only window was cut out on the “pilot’s” side.  Inside it could get really dark and my uncle built a holder in the cockpit for a disc player and it played a disc that he recorded that played jet engine sounds and electronic noises.  It was really cool.  We played in it a lot, all of us.  It was my ticket to friendship in the neighborhood.

     I protested, saying, “There is no way we can get my Rocket Ship to the Mall.”

     Mrs. Befana Natale was like Superwoman.  She could get anything done that she wanted to get done.  She always found some man who was willing to help her.

     My dad agreed with the plan, reminding my mom that it was Christmas and that it was for the Cub Scouts and that it was for charity.

     My Rocket Ship got raised and carried on a flat-bed by a tow-truck driver who was a friend of Mrs. Befana Natale.  They placed my Rocket Ship in the big Mall center, conspicuously in the middle of the big hub where the different Mall hallways met.

     Mike said, “What a great place to get our band noticed.”

     Mrs. Befana Natale would only allow Ricky and Mike to perform as a duo (since they were the only members of their band The Fedz who were in the Cub Scouts) and they could only perform with acoustic guitars.

     Mrs. Befana Natale had given Mike and Ricky a final admonishment, “Sing only Christmas Carols or songs of the Spirit Bears.  Do not sing any of your, your… songs I’ve overheard like Shit Pâté.”

     Guy laughed and said to Mike and Ricky, “What are you going to call yourselves now?  You can’t still call yourselves The FedzThe Fedz is a rap-rock band.”

     Travis sneered, “You can call yourselves The Bear Asses.”

     Phil laughed, “No.  The Two Bear Ass Cheeks.”

     Mrs. Befana Natale clapped her hand and announced, “You are all going to recite The Scout Promise!” and Mrs. Befana Natale lead us all fervently:

     On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

     Then Mrs. Befana Natale called out, “What is the Scout Law?” and she prompted us saying, “We are all…”

     Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

     And while we were all reciting, Guy was murmuring alongside me so I could hear him as he tried to make me crack up:

     Lazy, Horny, Noisy, Rude, Greedy, Smelly…

     My Rocket Ship was a big hit at the charity event.  All the kids oohed-and-ahhed.  We charged 50 cents per “ride”.

     There was a rival Den of Cub Scouts led by Mr. Kooty.  Mr. Kooty was a parole officer and he had formed a Den with troubled kids.  The Den called themselves The Chupacabras.  We all were afraid of The Chupacabras.  Because we all were afraid of them we all hated them.  We secretly called them The Kooties.  But no one made fun of Mr. Kooty’s name where he could hear of it.

     Toward the end of the day The Chupacabras came over to my Rocket Ship.

     One of the The Chupacabras said to us, “You turkeys did OK.  Can we check out your Rocket Ship?”

     We couldn’t refuse and anyway they were just pushing past us already to go inside.

     After their “ride” they said, “Thanks, turkeys,” and they hustled away smirking and laughing to themselves.

     When I looked inside my Rocket Ship I saw that two of the seats had been broken flat and there was a gash kicked into one side of the fuselage.

     My eyes filled with tears and I turned around and there was Mrs. Befana Natale.

     I started to bawl intensely, “Those fuckers wrecked my Rocket Ship!”

     Mrs. Befana Natale glanced inside the Rocket Ship and then as I cried shamelessly she said to me, “Oh, no.  Don’t cry.  I’m going to take this to Mr. Kooty.  Those brats are toast.  Don’t cry.”

     Then Mrs. Santina Kurtz was hugging me tightly.  My face was between her breasts.  She was so soft.  She smelled so good.  She felt so firm against my crotch.  Oh, I felt so good.

     Oh, no, NO!

     Mrs. Santina Kurtz suddenly held me at arm’s length away by my shoulders .  She looked down quickly at my crotch.

     Then Mrs. Santina Kurtz covered her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud.


In memory of Mrs. Gina Beck.

Thanks for EVERYTHING.






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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS






        I am Ángel Nagual.  I will be a man soon.  My village, Campo de la Estrella (Field of the Star), was once a Spanish Misión (Mission) before the break with Spain a generation ago.  The Spanish priests were persecuted after the revolution.  My village now keeps our own faith in our own homes.

     Into my village one late afternoon walked a poor man with his woman holding a child.  My father, Patecatl , met these strangers outside of the old Capilla (Chapel).  The red tiles of that Capilla were molded and baked by my people when they were slaves.

     The man says to my father, “I am José Jacobeo.  This is my wife María.”

     Patecatl, my father, observes, “This is a hard road to travel on foot with a woman and a child.”

     The man, José, says, “It is a hard road even with a horse.  Our horse was killed by a puma.”

     The woman, María, speaks up into the conversation of men, saying, “God, himself, compels our journey.”

     My father says wryly, “Do you flee your God?”

     José glances over his shoulder and he says, “God is our strength.”

     María says urgently, “We flee Poncio Pilato.”

     My father is surprised and then he smiles, saying, “Poncio Pilato is only a story that bandidos tell to their children when they are disobedient.”

     The child in María’s arms begins to cry.

     My father leans over the child and he whispers sweetly, “My name is Patecatl, little one.  What is your name?”

     María says, “We have named him Jesus.”

     My father raises his eyes to María’s gaze.

     José says, “For protection.”

     María pleads, “We need a place to rest.”

     My father reflects upon their fear and their supplication and he says finally, “Of course.  Of course.  The old Church is used for our livestock, but the altar stage is free and clean.  Please.  You are welcome to stay as long as you feel you must.”

     Then my father turns to me and says, “Ángel, see to our guests, please.”

     I lead José and María with their child Jesus into the old Church.  The sheep and the goats stir in the straw.  Chickens roost in the rafters and up on the old cast-iron arañas de luces (literally, spiders of lights, chandeliers).  On the altar stage I spread clean straw for them.  I leave them a basket for Jesus and a clay jar of water upon the altar.  María places little Jesus into the basket upon a mound of straw.  She covers her face.  José comes to her side and holds her in a comforting embrace.  I leave them to their privacy.

     I return to my father in our room in the old Capilla.  I ask him, “Father, who is Poncio Pilato?”

     My father shakes his head slowly and says, “Poncio Pilato is a legend among the mestizos (half-breeds).  He is a demon bandido, the saint of outlaws.”

     I ask, “Is he like Yaotl (Aztec god, Sewer of Discord)?”

     My father grimaces and says, “No.  No, Yaotl rewards the valiant even as he is the patron of discord.  Poncio Pilato is like the Spaniard’s Devil, or should I say, like the Devil’s son,” then my father snorts, “ …like the Spanish priests.”

     I finally ask, “Why would Poncio Pilato chase two poor people and their child?”

     My father answers me with a patient smile, saying, “He wouldn’t,” and then he offers me in consolation, “Unless they have something he wants.”  Then my father pauses and he says to himself, “Or they have taken something from him.”

     The sunset is blood red and my father observes, “There is a dust storm to the West.”

     We hear a scream.  It is María!

     My father and I run from the Capilla onto the altar stage.  There José is restraining María who reaches screaming toward the child in the basket upon the altar.

     My father hollers, “What is wrong…?” but in that instant we see the scorpions!

     An army of black scorpions is scaling the altar, climbing onto the child’s basket.  The scorpions halt their advance in a halo radiating around the child Jesus.  The innocent child is enchanted by his wiggling visitors and he laughs with delight and he reaches for the nearest scorpions.  The scorpions raise their claws but they remain just out of the reach of Jesus.

     Suddenly a voice rumbles from the road outside the Church, calling, “María!”

     María now faints to the floor in the embrace of José.

     My father hisses, “Wait here!” but I follow him out of the Church to the road.

     There are horsemen shuffling on the dark road.  A man rides forward.  He is enormous.  I gasp when I realize that under his sombrero he is wearing an Aztec sacrificial mask of jade mosaic.  The plaster eyes stare relentlessly.

     My father composes himself and asks, “What do you want from my poor village?”

     The enormous horseman leans forward and says, “I want what is owed to me, priest.  I am Poncio Pilato.”

     My father holds his composure and replies, “I am not a priest.  I am Patecatl, the medicine man.  What do we possess that is owed to Poncio Pilato?”

     Poncio Pilato answers saying, “The child.”

     My father asks boldly, “How is that innocent child ‘owed’ to you?”

     Then the other horsemen ride forward ominously.  Poncio Pilato points to each rider as they come to his side.

     Poncio Pilato says, “This is Despiadado.”

     I realize in horror that his eyes are sewn shut.

     Poncio Pilato says, “This is Avaricio.”

     I see that instead of eyes there are gold coins in his eye sockets.

     Poncio Pilato says, “This is Lujurio.”

     I see that his mouth is elongated like a horse and his lips are enormous and his tongue hangs out.”

     Poncio Pilato concludes stating, “The child is Lujurio’s.  He was enticed by the nun María in her daydream as she pretended to pray,” and Poncio Pilato scoffs, saying, “She was a willing virgin.”

     Behind us I hear José exclaim, “Then it is all true!”

     My father and I turn to see José supporting the unconscious María.

     José ponders out loud, “María said it was a miraculous conception.  She was afraid.  She came to me for protection.  I, I was in love with her before she became a nun.  I didn’t believe her, but I didn’t care.  I still loved her.  But it is all as she told me!”

     Poncio Pilato laughs coarsely and says, “I have heard this story somewhere before!”

     María regains consciousness enough to mutter, “What will you do with my child?”

     Poncio Pilato leans forward and says quietly, “The child belongs to me now,” and then he laughs, “You were a good hen, but this huevo (egg) belongs to me.  Me costo un huevo (literally, it cost me an egg, it cost me a hell of a lot)!

     My father speaks up, “Poncio, tiene huevos (do you have balls) enough to wager?”

     Poncio Pilato sits erect in his saddle and his horse snorts and stamps.

     My father continues, “I wager that you have no power over the child Jesus since he is truly innocent.  I wager that your minions, such as the scorpions, can not harm him because his blood is half evil.”

     Poncio Pilato growls, saying, “Be careful with your last words, medicine man.”

     My father is unafraid, saying, “Only María can give the child to you willingly.  Am I right?  All you can do is terrorize us into forcing María to yield him to you,” and my father turns toward María and stares.

     María is dashed sober by my father’s implications, and she cries, “No!  No, no!” and she pushes herself away from José’s loving grasp.  She runs stumbling back into the Church.  José cries, “María!” and regaining his balance he runs after her.

     I look to my father and he turns to me and says, “Stay where you are.”

     I hear María screaming.  I hear José wailing.

     My father says again, sternly, “Stay.”

     I then see José stumbling back out of the Church and he falls to his knees before my father, wailing and pulling his hair, crying, “María is dead!  She has thrown herself upon the altar and the scorpions devour her!  María!  What have you done?  María!  What have you done, Patecatl?”

     My father turns back to Poncio Pilato who grumbles, “Medicine man, you are as ruthless as Despiadado.”

     My father replies, “But my eyes are sewn open.  Only sacrifice defeats evil.  Only sacrifice is holy.  We own nothing in this world except our will.”

     I am transfixed by the words, by the will of my father.

     José grovels inconsolable in the dust.

     But another rider approaches from the darkness.  I stumble backwards.  It is María!  Or what was once María.

     Upon a horse the color of ash sits an apparition of María.  From her eye sockets flow two springs of tears.  She joins the horsemen of Poncio Pilato.

     Poncio Pilato pronounces, “Her name shall be Lacrimosa,” and he turns to my father and says slyly, “You are very generous with the souls of others.”

     My father replies, “Poncio Pilato, you do not have their souls.  You have only their sins.”

     And then Poncio Pilato and his horsemen rode away with the wind.

     My father welcomed José to stay on with our village, but José was too heartbroken to remain for long.  José left Jesus with my father and my father made me Jesus’s keeper.  Jesus is a little brother to me now and I worry all the time about his fate.









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15_infinitely blue, crop1




     He was small and wiry and had curly white hair and infinitely blue eyes. He was in his early 60’s. He was known as Harding “Hard On” Miller. He washed dishes at The Driftwood coffee shop and restaurant a few blocks from the ocean in this little seaside village of Cambria.

     The owner of The Driftwood, named Robert, with big sad sympathetic eyes, had hired Harding one morning over coffee after listening to Harding’s unabashed story. Harding was living out of a truck down in the beach parking lot.

     This morning here at the front counter Robert was handing to Harding a colorful envelope and Harding was oddly upset. Harding set the tray of dirty dishes down on the counter and grabbed the letter from Robert’s hand. Robert winced at that but maintained his sympathetic ear.

     Harding fretted, “What the f.. Hell? I can’t believe it. Again! What is going on?”

     Robert said softly, “It’s a Christmas greeting card, Harding. What is wrong with that? Who is it from?”

     “That is exactly the question! I don’t know. There is never a return address and the stamp is always cancelled from the same town I’m in, no matter where I go! If I didn’t know better I’d think I was schizo and writing to myself for company! My parole officer sure ain’t doin’ it.”

     Harding lowered his voice suddenly and glanced at the two cops, a male cop and a female cop sitting at the other end of the counter. The male cop was eyeing the ocean vista obliviously. His female partner was silently interrogating her face in the black coffee. Harding continued in a whisper that he thought was secure but which resonated off of the shiny hardwood counter and the big window in this nearly empty restaurant.

     “Even when I was in prison, I would get a card every holiday, every birthday, no signature, no return address, just a hand-printed ‘Thank you. You are missed’ always at the bottom of every card. Is that weird or what?”

     “Weird,” agreed Robert. “But really kind of nice. So what is the big deal?”

     “It is creepy. It’s like I’m being stalked. I’ve spent enough time with people looking over my shoulder for one lifetime.” He glanced at the two cops again. They were both turned away. He thought they were both looking out the big window, but the woman was now watching Harding in the reflection while her partner’s eyes were setting sail for that bank of fog on the horizon.

     Harding picked up the tray of dirty dishes and walked back to his washer station, setting the tray down on the stainless steel table. He then lifted from the tray a half-empty bottle of ale that some fisherman had left that morning. The young cook called to him, “Hey, ‘Hard On’, what’s happening?” That bottle, in Harding’s hand, was now a serious parole violation, but Harding walked in a trance with the Christmas greeting card, out the back door and he finally sat down to overlook the reedy creek that sauntered toward the ocean.

     Harding stared at the Christmas greeting card. And with a first splash of ale down his throat, some shiny memories were uncovered. He was suddenly thinking about that evening at Comozzi’s Saloon, right up the street in the village, twenty-six years ago.




     Twenty-six years ago, sitting at the bar had been this slender red-head with the most shamrock-emerald eyes. Harding had looked around for the guy she must certainly have been with, but he saw no one qualified. He sat beside her at the empty bar and asked, “Anyone claim this seat?”

     She smiled, looking up at Harding’s reflection in the big bar mirror, “He’s not here.”

     Harding thought to himself she didn’t say “I have a boyfriend (get lost!)” and he then said, “I’m Harding”

     “I’m Shauna.”

     The two of them lost track of how many rounds they bought each other that fateful evening as they poured out each other’s lives. Harding remembered the pressure of his buried pain being released into those deeply forgiving emerald eyes of hers as they had talked.

     “All I ever wanted was for my father to be proud of me.

     My father was a pilot in World War Two. He flew a Liberator in daylight bombing raids over Germany. His best friend was his co-pilot. Half of those guys were shot down.

     He met my mother while she was dating his best friend. When my father and his best friend played baseball between missions my father would just keep looking over at her and she would just keep looking over at him. They were married near the end of the war. He lost touch with his best friend.

     My father was always my hero. But he was never happy with me. My mother was always the life of the family holidays, but even she thought I couldn’t do anything right

     I was always in trouble.

     My father had become the pastor at our church and also the head of my youth group and he was respected by everyone in the community. But he would laugh at my answers to questions during Bible class. He would make me put my nose into a chalk circle on the blackboard and wear a dunce cap. When I wanted to play Church football, he sneered at me that I was too small. Besides, he would say, don’t grow up to be one of those low-life athletes. When I signed-up for Church football anyway, he would never come to a game. One day I was doing really good: I made two touchdowns, and we needed one more to win. Suddenly there was my father holding a clipboard. I asked him what he was doing there and he said he was now the Assistant Coach!

     He benched me and let some lousy guy “have his fair turn”. We lost. I was so furious I quit the team. And then he would always mock me in front of everybody for that, for being “a quitter”.

     The worst was one day in the garage when I found an old trunk of stuff from my father’s pilot days. There was a picture of my father’s flight crew with his best friend and him in the middle. I had never seen a picture of his best friend. His best friend was a tough looking little guy and…and… I had his best friend’s eyes.

     My father caught me and snatched the picture and hit me; really pounded me, telling me to stay out of his things. I left home and joined the Marines that week.”

     Harding and Shauna finally took their bottles of beer outside of Comozzi’s and headed down to a spot near the creek.

     They were making love when Shauna’s boyfriend found them

     The boyfriend’s crew commenced beating Harding while the boyfriend dragged Shauna up the bank, cuffing her repeatedly with the back of his hand. They left Harding crumpled and crying “Leave her alone!”

     But a few minutes later Harding came up behind them in the street outside Comozzi’s. The boyfriend was harshly restraining Shauna and growling between his teeth how he was going to smash her face. As the boyfriend turned around, Harding, bloodied and limping, shoved a broken beer bottle into the boyfriend’s throat. Shauna screamed and the boyfriend’s crew now swiftly beat and kicked Harding unconscious.

     The circumstances were not important to the court. Harding had come back with “deadly intent” and, after a half-hearted presentation by his court-appointed lawyer, Harding was convicted of Attempted Murder. He was sentenced to 25 years.

     He never heard from Shauna again.

     Harding’s family then all but disowned him. He never saw them or heard from them again. His friends vanished.

     But about ten years later he began to get the greeting cards for his birthdays and holidays.

     His parents both died while he was in prison. When he was paroled he was a stranger in a strange land. He had the small inheritance left to him from his religious parents. He bought a pick-up truck with a camper shell and eventually landed in the parking lot of the Cambria beach.

     All that time the mysterious greeting cards had followed him with every move.





     Twenty-six years later, as Harding sat there, bottle in hand, overlooking the reedy creek sharing his memories, a shadow fell upon him. Harding started from his reverie and turned around. He reflexively but futilely dropped the ale bottle.

     Standing there was the female cop.

     Harding, even as he plummeted into despair, noticed the eyes of the female cop. They were as infinitely blue as his own eyes.

     The female cop spoke softly, “Hello, Harding,” then she showed a hesitant smile, saying, “Father. Dad,… I’m your daughter. My name is Deirdre.”

     “Daughter…?” His mouth fell open. Harding arose.

     “I sent you that greeting card. I sent them all. Do you remember Shauna? She is my mother. She told me your story when I could finally understand, when I was about ten years old. She made me promise not to tell you anything. She thought that she had hurt you enough. She was ashamed. So I secretly wrote birthday and holiday cards to you in prison. When I became a cop I could always find out where you were.”

     Harding was speechless, blinking and moving his lips.

     Deirdre took a deep breath, “Dad, you have a little granddaughter. And she has your eyes…”

     Harding put his hand against the side of his face, “Granddaughter…?”

     “Dad, my husband Brian and I want you to come live with us. Even if it’s only for awhile.”

     Harding lowered his hand from his jaw, “Can I ask you: where is Shauna?”

     Deirdre tightened her lips and said haltingly, “She, she died… She died…”

     And tears filled both worlds of infinitely blue eyes.









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In all the facets of his eyes, with Meadow of the Valley burning green,
The rolling colors up and down the hillside shined, petted by the wind.
Galahad the Grasshopper did thus not need to dream,
Offering to Aesop Ant, in passing, morsels of a leaf that he did love,
From high atop the towering weed, from where his heart did leap,
Called Galahad to him below, “Hey, can you stop, Aesop, my friend, and watch the spring in beauty burn?”

Aesop Ant replied, “Well, meadows do that sort of thing”, and tilting head from toil’s burn,
“You will find the Meadow is not always green,
And what is real is dreadful preparation.  Somehow does the worst upon us always leap.”
Appalled at Aesop’s rude philosophy, cried Galahad into the wind:
“What of Love?”
Aesop Ant just smiled and waved good-bye, “Good luck with Love, a Dream.”

A shadow fell on Galahad, and startled him from Aesop’s troubling Dream;
Above him saw a Butterfly alight upon the flower, wings a prism interceding for the sunlight’s burn.
“Sorry to disturb your dreaming.  I am Bethanie.”  She sipped the flower she did love.
“I am Galahad.  It is a lovely day.” His armor never shone before so green.
And Bethanie enjoined, “I hid when I was just a silly little caterpillar, dreaming of the wind.
But now I raise my wings to me and into beauty soon shall leap!”

Into every facet of his eyes did Bethanie’s true beauty leap.
Galahad did nod with every movement of her wings, to hear as if he did thus deeply dream:
“But now is time to drink the world and spill no drop into the wind.”
Then suddenly was Galahad no longer happy; something in his eyes did burn.
Added Bethanie, “But, you are welcome to accompany my journey high above the green.”
Galahad restrained himself from leaping then and there, while saying “That, I would be sure to love.”

“Can you stay apace with me?” asked Bethanie, “No matter what you love?”
Galahad without restraint said, “Yes, I can.  For I can glide the farthest of them all after I leap.”
“Then let us go while sun still shines and all the grass is green.”
Away from Galahad she fluttered like a dream.
Galahad leapt to the sky, and spread his wings to glide; to leap and glide until his legs did burn.
Down the valley to unseen horizon blew the wind.

Galahad did slowly fall apace, and finally descry not Bethanie in bygone wind.
Heart of his, a beating compass, blindly pointed love
Until the sun of that first day was no more seen to burn,
And from behind, a full moon crouched and into stars did leap.
Galahad now found himself beside a tiny creek that fell into a sandy pool, inviting him to dream.
Wearily he nibbled on a leaf, and heavy was his armor, fading green.

Far away, a Cricket choir chirping helped his spirit into slumber leap,
Rekindling desire, cherishing an unforgotten Dream.
Something cold did his way whisper, withering that Dream so green.

Waking up most suddenly from all he thought were memories still green
Galahad felt fiercely cold and bitten by the wind.
In all the facets of his eyes were tears that froze that former Dream
Of springtime months ago; Of Love.
Winter cold was gnawing now upon his heart, to death if he away could no more leap.
Beyond the gloaming garden, thence he knew not when he fell, he smelled a farmhouse fire burn.

Shivering, an ember in his heart did once more flare and burn,
Shining in all facets of his eyes, again so brightly green.
A leap
Into the wind,
Gliding for his unseen Love
With their waiting Dream,

Narrowly ajar, an open window, shining bright, perchance another dream,
Through which Galahad could see a lusty fire burn,
Embracing in the fireplace a sweet dry branch with love.
And near the windowsill in colored lights bestrewn, there stood a Christmas tree still green.
Galahad nudged through the open window, as it kept at bay the wind,
To the Christmas tree then did he leap.

Sailing to the crowning star where with that faithful leap,
Galahad, now warm beside a golden light that shined just like his Dream,
Without the wolfish winter wind,
Within him fever still did burn,
Glowing tarnished armor green.
Thus did he believe delirium brought Bethanie, in visions of his Love.

Galahad was sure that now he truly saw his Love;
All the facets of his eyes across the room did leap
Above the mantle, on the wall, inside a frame of green,
Where Bethanie, transfixed as mid-flight in a dream,
Held her wings outstretched, where interceding shadows race and burn,
Everlasting in a chambered replica of wind.

Then Galahad in flashing horror saw a pin was driven through her back, to hold her in imaginary wind.
He cried out as he leapt across the void to be beside his Love.
Tapping frantically on glass reflections in which shadows race and burn,
Slipped and fell he to the hearth.  In paralyzed despair he watched for an eternity the hellish fire leap
Until the flames revealed his fate inside a final Dream.
Into the glowing ashes dipped he tattered wings that once were green.

With wings of fire, back up to the crucifixion chamber’s frame of green
Galahad did leap his last, to lie with Bethanie and immolate his Dream.
The mingled smoke did through the open window toward unseen horizon leap.