fiction, photography, stories, writing

ad astra | scene, somewhere

what do you see out your windows

 

The air was thick and close, and the restless wind tossing the treetops did little to relieve it. The earth rumbled with the reverberations of a distant summer blitzkrieg, and every so often a quicksilver vein of fire would race from the darkened clouds to strike the horizon.

She leaned out the open window, longing for the storm to come and cut the humidity. The wind whipped her hair around wildly, now ruffling it into a haystack, now plastering it flat against her head. A changeful gust blasted her in the face, smelling of rain-soaked vegetation and back-alley dumpsters. She grimaced and snorted slightly, trying to rid her nostrils of the scent. She inhaled again, this time catching a whiff of spicy pine on the heavy air. Then, with a sudden uprush of wind, the rain arrived. She ducked back inside and closed the window, listening to the raindrops’ futile attempts to batter down the glass. A bolt of lightning seared the sky, and almost simultaneously came the echoing report of thunder.

Fear no more the lightning flash
nor the all-dreaded thunder stone …

That evening long ago had also been in summer, but unusually cool and clear. They sat side by side in the twilight, enjoying the fresh breeze blowing through her open windows. He was unusually talkative, and they were discussing his favorite song.

“Why do you like it?” she asked, modern music not being her forte.

“Because it’s authentic. It’s raw and disjointed and funny and random and real.”

“That’s quite a mouthful.”

“I’m serious. I think everyone feels like that sometimes, that they need someone — that they need to have someone. That they need to have someone understand them.”

“Do you feel that?”

“…sometimes.”

She turned and looked at him for a moment, but he was staring out the window.

“How much have you had to drink today?” she asked abruptly.

He started out of his reverie. “Nothing, unless you count water or coffee. Why?”

“Never mind,” she said, ignoring his questioning look. “That sentence might ruin your life. Come on.”

She hopped up from the sofa and headed for the door, catching his hand and pulling him up as well. He started, and she realized it was the first time she’d voluntarily made physical contact with him. She dropped his hand as soon as he stood up, but still …

“Wait, where are you going?” he asked as he followed, stumbling over his own feet in his surprise.

“You need to see something, she said, grabbing her keys from the rack by the door. “Come on.”

He followed her to her car in bemused obedience and slid into the passenger seat without further inquiry. Her hands were shaking slightly, and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

All traces of sunset had left the sky, and the atmosphere was dreamlike as they drove through the midsummer darkness. They rode with the windows down, and the city smells of diesel exhaust and greasy spoon diners soon gave way to the sweeter scents of mown grass and clover as the number of buildings dwindled and the fireflies increased. After about an hour’s ride in silence, she turned off the highway onto a gravel road and drove another mile or two before turning down another, narrower, unpaved track. There she stopped.

“We’re here,” she said simply, offering no further explanation as she retrieved a blanket from the trunk of the car. “Follow me.”

And again he did, wondering what on earth he was in for if it could possibly, as she said, ruin his life. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” he thought. He didn’t have much of a life to ruin.

She shook the blanket out and spread it on a level patch of ground where the grass was shorter, then sat down, motioning him to do likewise. He stretched his legs out and leaned back on his elbows, awaiting — but not overly expecting — an explanation.

“Now, look up,” she said.

Away from the lights of the city the stars shone bright against the darkness of the sky. Back home he’s always thought of the stars — on the rare occasions he had raised his eyes to the heavens — as cold and insipid. But now, without the garish glow of streetlamps and with no competing brightness of moon, he saw them for what they were: spheres of fire burning white-hot in the frozen loneliness of space.

It was breathtaking.

“I usually come here alone, but tonight you needed to see them, too,” she said quietly.

She was lying on her back now, staring upward, hands clasped beneath her head. He lay back as well and waited for her to continue.

“I come out here to remember,” she said after a moment. “I like in the darkness and look at the stars and remember how vast they are, and what a tiny, insignificant person I am on this huge ball of rock and water that’s hurtling through space. But then I remember I am here — I am here, out of all the thousands of combinations of genes that could have produced anyone but me — and that every moment of my existence is a gift. And the fact that I was chosen for this gift … well, even though I’m still a small person on a very large planet, it takes the loneliness out of that smallness.”

As one loathe to admit to anyone, including himself, the possibility that he might be lonely, it had never occurred to him that she might be. In all of his resentment of her ironic scoldings or silent criticisms he’d never have pegged this as her ulterior motive for mysteriously assuming command of his life. Having never entertained this thought, he now did not know what to think.

“Don’t worry,” she said, chuckling softly as they lay there. “I’m not kidnapping you. I just wanted ….” She hesitated. “I just wanted you to see for yourself.”

“Thank you,” he said, unsure exactly what he was thanking her for.

They grew quiet then, a million miles between their minds as they stared up at the sky, shoulders nearly touching. Questions of where and what and why raced through his brain, but she seemed to have reached the extent of her explanation, and he didn’t want to break the silence by asking. Although her gaze was intently fixed on the stars, she was also acutely aware of his presence beside her. She could sense his arm mere inches from hers, and every so often she’d catch the spicy scent of pine that she knew wasn’t coming from any tree. An exhilarating calm, she thought, as she watched a meteor blaze its way across the sky. An exhilaration and calm neither of which was hers to keep.

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fiction, photography, stories, writing

intermezzo | scene, somewhere

fluff

rain and wind, lightning and thunder, snow and ice, dawn, dusk and moonlight — days dance by and become years before i realize they are gone. small whisper-green leaves drink sunlight greedily and strengthen into a roaring chorus in the treetops, only to weaken, drooping in a final defiant blaze of color before they drop, dead, to the ground. but up from death comes new life, and spring once again conquers winter. so runs the world away — and i, measuring out my life in coffee spoons, grow older.

how long has it been since you left? i’ve forgotten — truly, i have — because in my memory you have never gone. 

do you remember the mornings? the cold, clear city light that spilled in through your windows? the silent drives to work, the more silent drives back home? the evenings, and the arguments, and the i’m-sorry-but-i’ll-never-tell-you-so reunions? 

i do. and there’s the trouble.

summer is once more on the brink of invasion, mixing the urban perfume of hot asphalt, sewer smells and bus exhaust with petrichor and rose petals. the sun shines golden into the evening and fireflies light up the empurpled dusk. i find myself overwhelmed by nostalgia for what was, and what has never, in some secret seed of my soul, quite ceased to be.

summer was always your season.

i look at the past through golden eyes, so nothing seems unlovely, not even the worst days. and the best? more beautiful than they ever could have been.

i walk down the sun-warmed streets and everything sings of you, your aching presence and your gaping absence. there is part of you that is as much a part of me as i am myself, though you never offered and i never would have taken. but the moments in the morning, the unconscious moments before you woke and remembered everything your whiskey would never let you forget … those are mine. autumn and winter mute the memories until i wonder, after all, if i might not forget, but as spring runs into summer they re-emerge with technicolor vividness, and though i walk through the waking world i live more in the past than i presently can comprehend.

i want to lay this ghost of that-which-was, for that-which-might-have-been was never an option. i always knew but refused to acknowledge it.

you have been gone, you are gone, and you-as-you-really-are-has begun to fade from the memories of you as my fancy framed you, leaving a shell more hollow and more beautiful than you ever were.

i have been continually unkind to you, in your absence as well as your presence. if i could i would undo that part of the past, but what was, is, and there is no future for me to mar. 

we said goodbye, and you are gone. 

would that i could blow away my memories and they would float as easily as dandelion down on the summer breeze until they too are gone, lost in the sunset. 

and it would have been worth it all, after all — after all this, and so much more.

she laid her pen down and stared a moment at the handwriting wandering over the page, then closed the blue-bound book and silently slipped it into the drawer.

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baking, food, photography, recipes

scarborough fair shortbread sables

my work recently had a cookie contest. because i have an offbeat sense of humor and/or a love for obscure puns and references, i thought it would be a great idea to make “simon + garfunkel shortbread sables.” you know, with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. so i did.

cookie one
they didn’t win any prizes, but they were fun to make and people liked them. my coworkers and i are agreed, however, that my sense of humor is sometimes too subtle. oh well.

cookie two

Ingredients:
4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt

4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature

Place these ingredients in small individual bowls/dishes:
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley plus zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme

cookie three

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Position one rack in the top third of the oven and one in the bottom third.

Combine first four ingredients together in a stand mixer until a soft dough starts to come together. Remove dough from mixer and press together the rest of the way on a baking mat, if needed. Form into a ball, then cut into quarters.

Place the first dough quarter back in your mixer bowl, place the bowl back on the stand, and reattach the paddle.  Add the parsley and lemon zest to the bowl and beat on low speed until the seasonings are mixed into the dough. Stop the mixer, remove the dough and set aside. Do the same for the other three quarters, adding the sage, rosemary/brown sugar, and thyme, respectively.

Roll/shape each batch of dough into a log about 3/4 of an inch in diameter (it should be in the 12- to 18-inch-long range). Once all four batches of dough are formed, place a long sheet of parchment/waxed paper on the baking mat. Place the parsley-lemon log on the parchment, then place the sage log to the right of the parsley one so that they touch. Place the rosemary-brown sugar log on top of the sage log, then place the thyme log on top of the parsley-lemon one. Lightly press the logs together so they don’t come apart, but be careful not to mash them too much (the dough will probably be soft at this point). Trim the ends so they’re even, then carefully wrap the log in parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. While the dough chills, you can take the excess dough you trimmed from the ends, roll it into little balls, and bake on a parchment-lined cooking sheet (or a sheet lined with a baking mat) for about 12-15 minutes, or until puffed and slightly brown.

cookie four

Once the log of dough has chilled, remove from refrigerator and unwrap. Carefully slice it into pieces 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick and arrange them on parchment- or baking mat-lined cooking sheets. Place cookies in oven and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, reverse sheets, then bake for about 15 more minutes, or until cookies are golden. Cool on racks.

Makes about 40 cookies.

cookie five

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poetry

(the) present

be here now — with you
driving down snow-covered streets,
evening armchair talks

be here now — with you
pea shoots, tomato fragrance
worm ends in rich soil

be here now — with you
laughing together, today,
with crinkled-eye smiles

be here now — with you
this moment, this moment, this,
enjoying the gift

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advent, poetry

second law

a few nights ago
a wind with winter
in its lungs howled
around the house
and when we awoke
a spit of snow
lay like glitter
on the grass
the bone-biting cold
binds us inside
and at the end of the day
the sky is as dark
as the end of the world
a forbidding force filled
with foreboding
our upkeep of creation
is inhibited by our own
in-fleshed limitations
of eyesight and frostbite
so runs the world away
in entropy
while locked inside we sit
waiting for warming.
i saw a man one evening
dressed in his sunday best
silently awaiting spring
they’ll plant him
in the iron earth
to be shrouded
and watered by snow
until time is complete
and from the shell
of what once was him
he will incorruptibly blossom
a perfected man somersaulting
through the spring-new sky.
You promised us a seed
the day we left the garden
for a life in disrepair
You promised a head-crusher
to quell the heel-biter
and we waited in hope and horror
through flood and fire
to a man condemned
by the rule of death
but You had promised –
so God-beyond-time
who prophets patiently awaited
became God-with-man
a seed to be sown
for the sins of the world
to rise in a reign unending
taking up the law of life
a king making servants sons.
and so it came to pass …
and so You promise to complete it.

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advent, poetry, time

waiting

the clock’s ticking
marks each second
as it passes
i let them slip by unmoved
too tired to observe
this fragmented fleeting of time
when i’m struck by the vastness
of past and future
what has been and what has yet to be
here i am, now
in this second and that one
is this present tense perfect?
one perhaps last warm moment
before winter’s chill sets in
with threats to petrify our flesh to stone
the lamp alone makes midnight darkness bright
while dog howls and train horns
twine around this ticking night song
more time has passed
and still you are not here
i have been waiting what seems
a long time
imagining your face
your voice
the feeling of your fingers
twined with mine
and still you have not come
but who am i
time-warped mind that i have
to object to the rhythm
of the world?
for millennia of our mortal years
man waited through what might
have been moments for You
unmoved by time as You are
yet even You waited
nine months of seconds spent silently
singing enwombed in darkness
waiting to be born
three days of moments passed noiselessly
trusting entombed in a garden
waiting once more to rise
time is still fleeing from me
but i mark its passage unalarmed
You have promised
and it is enough
some day when time no longer binds me
i will see Your face
hear Your voice
hold Your love-scarred hands in mine
You have illuminated my darkness
and i will soon have no need of night
for with You there is endless day
even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come

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poetry

autumn musing

i stood there silently
feeling the wind buffet my back
watching as it whipped leaves
into miniature tornadoes
and sought to sever the glowing roses
from their stems
all this beauty abundant
cloud-streaked blue above
and golden boughs surrounding
yet you don’t see this as i do
you can’t read the poem enfolding you
can’t hear the sun singing sonatas
on his daily race through the sky
you can’t taste the love that holds this together

once upon a time, neither could i

our ships are not the same
but i know my anchor is sturdier than stone
it alone will remain when our bones
lie wind-scarred and whale-white on the shore
let your eyes therefore be opened
that your heart may then behold
eternal Truth, life-giving mystery of Love

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