Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lost at Sea

She couldn’t stop laughing as she ran

up the beach towards the blanket
I was coughing and spluttering
sea water running from my nose
and dribbling down my chin

Trying to do a handstand in the surf
had turned out to be a bad idea
I staggered along behind her
choking and laughing at the same time

She was toweling off as I reached the blanket
I came up behind her and grabbed her around the waist
lifting her off the sand and twirling her around
She screamed
The Swamp Thing!

We fell to the blanket and I buried my face
against her neck and blew raspberries
She said, pulling away
Then she took my face in her two hands and kissed me
It was a long, wet, salty kiss
a sea kiss and
I wanted to drown in it

She lay back on the blanket and I leaned over her
and brushed her wet hair from her forehead
I kissed her eye lids
I kissed her ear and nibbled her ear lobe
then kissed the nape of her neck
and moved my tongue down her neck toward her collarbone
licking salt and sunblock that hadn’t already come off in the water
She said Mmm
and put her hand behind my head
tunneling her fingers through my wet hair

I put my lips on the surgical scar she had on her neck
just under the chin and gently kissed it
I ran my hand down her thigh
She pushed my head back and sat up
Come on you vampire
We’re going up to the cottage

I come back every year at this time
to walk along the shore
and watch the sea change color
as twilight approaches
and the clouds take on a pink hue

I come upon a flock of Sandpipers
scampering back and forth at the shoreline
chasing the waves out
darting here and there
looking for sand fleas
When they spot the bubble of the sand flea’s digging
they drive their long beaks down
after the many-legged morsels

But of course the waves turn
and flow back towards shore
and these silly birds turn
and dash back
and follow the retreating waves back again
hoping to recapture what’s been lost

When I approach
they take flight
sweeping this way and that
in perfect formation
their bellies and backs
alternately flashing white and black
like sun streaming through the whirling blades of a fan

Walking along the beach
I think about those last days we had together
They were such a gift

The clouds are beginning to look bruised
their dark underbellies threatening rain
What was a gorgeous sunset is now
the dark foreboding of a storm
and wind whipped waves are crashing
all along the endless shore
I stand and look out across the roiling ocean

I want her back

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Perfect Read for Mother's Day

Gillian Flynn is pretty. She has a nice smile, big brown eyes and an open, friendly face. On closer examination, however, there’s something wrong about that smile, something sardonic. And her eyes look so directly and unblinkingly at the camera that one feels a challenge has been leveled. I think the challenge is, “Read this!” 

 “This” is Flynn’s debut novel, “Sharp Objects.” It’s a story that shreds the image of pretty little girls in bows and pigtails, women as the weaker sex, women as precious and vulnerable, women as we thought we knew them. Flynn’s women and girls are right out of the Brothers Grimm, or Bedlam, or Macbeth.

Where does this pretty young wife and mother, born in Kansas City, Missouri, raised by two apparently loving, intelligent parents derive the malice that permeates her book? How does a happily married mother and pet owner come up with this evil that coagulates on the pages of her book?

It is a mystery perhaps equal to that of “Sharp Objects,” a story of the murder of two young girls, whose bodies are discovered oddly preened and made up, but with most teeth having been pulled. The little town of Wind Gap, Missouri, an 11-hour drive south of Chicago, is abuzz with rumor and gossip, but it turns out that the good people of Wind Gap are prone to rumor and gossip anyway; it doesn’t take a couple of gruesome murders to set tongues flapping, but it’s a welcome diversion for people living in a community whose economy derives primarily from raising hogs and processing them into hams.

Flynn’s story is narrated by ‘Camille Preaker,’ a thirty-something woman learning her trade as a reporter at a third tier newspaper in Chicago. Her editor, presented as something of a cliche´ in Flynn’s book, learns of the murders in Wind Gap and knowing that his young reporter is originally from Wind Gap, asks her to go there and cover the story. He does so with some misgivings, because Camille is one troubled young woman. Camille suffered from a cutting disorder as a child growing up under the cloying care of her mother, Adora, the hog plant-owning matriarch of Wind Gap. Flynn’s Adora takes her place among literature’s most unforgettable mothers, making Sophie Portnoy seem nothing to complain about.

Camille retains her urge to inflict pain on herself and it is only through great determination and copious amounts of vodka and other alcoholic libations that she seems able to resist sharp objects and the urge to carve words into her flesh; wretched, queasy, spiteful, omen.

Returning to Wind Gap, Camille encounters her 13-year-old half sister, Amma, who also enjoys inflicting pain, but her urges are turned outward. Flynn’s portrayal of Camille’s experience getting to know her mother again, and her teen half-sister is frighteningly believable. We can’t help but utter under our breath, “Don’t do that,” but we know she will and we know bad things will happen, and we can’t wait to turn the page and read about them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Amanita Virosa

Rising from the forest floor
A bubble
Pure white

She blossoms
Her membranous volva
Falling away to reveal
The phallus stem
Reaching for the filtered light

She is veiled by annulus hem
And wears a viscid cap
With gills of gray

Amanita virosa
Of the family Amanitaceae
Dainty and shy
The scent of old roses
Smelling faintly of decay

She opens her lamellae
To release her angel spore
And sow destruction
All across the forest floor

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I have an idea for a new book

I have an idea for new book, one I think will make a good movie. It's about a person -- could be a man or a woman -- who is born a genius, and unlike some geniuses is also socially gifted. Our genius, let's call him/her Alex, is also unlike a lot of very smart people today, in that he/she is philanthropically inclined first and foremost; making a lot of money is not on his/her (oh, hell, let's make it a 'he') bucket list.

Alex starts school and his innate knowledge and intelligence prove to be way beyond what our conventional schools and teachers can improve upon (which, I realize, doesn't take much these days). He is placed in schools for the gifted and then other "special" schools (not Hogwarts), but to no avail. Alex is ultimately withdrawn from formal schooling and instead provided the freedom and wherewithal to seek his education wherever he chooses to find it.
Alex's quest for learning takes him to the far reaches of the globe; to the world's great libraries, it's churches, mosques, monasteries, and museums. Alex visited not only the great archaeological sites, such as Ephesus, where he walked the Street of the Curetes, but lesser known sites, as well. Sites devoted to ancient pagan gods, or astronomy, or healing.

During his travels, Alex participated in certain of the practices he observed or only read about. In Mongolia, he participated with the shamans in achieving altered states of consciousness. With the Inuit people of Eastern Siberia he achieved the ability of remote viewing, a technique they used to find game as they hunted far and wide across the frozen tundra. In central Mali he sat with Dogon sorcerers to learn their methods of healing and divination. Everywhere he went, Alex learned not just by study and observation, but by immersion.

When he returned home, Alex agreed to join his father in business. Alex's father had formed a medical devices company and although it wasn't making a lot of money, it had developed some promising technology. Of course Alex's genius leads to one technological advancement after another and the company begins to prosper. Alex donates most of his earnings to charity and does pro bono work in his off hours. When Alex's mother dies of incurable brain cancer, Alex takes the company in new directions, using stem cell research to attempt a cure for cancer. Along the way he develops cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, among others, but the cancer cure remains illusive. Still, Alex's father and the company become one of the top Fortune 500 companies.

All this time, Alex has managed to keep a very low profile. His father is the face of the company. He announces the new discoveries and, at Alex's request, simply chalks it up to the company's "outstanding research team." And they do have an outstanding team, but it's due to Alex's genius that the breakthroughs occur.

'Big Pharma' companies make periodic raids on the company's staff, and manage to steal away a few minor scientists, but due to Alex's charisma and his father's fairness in sharing the company's success with its employees, most people stay. Still, Alex is well aware that other companies, domestic and foreign, will attempt to steal his company's technology and its formulas. He develops an impenetrable firewall to prevent hacking, and an encryption system for blueprints and formulae, that only he, his father, and his wife know how to decode.

Alex's wife is an epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health. He met her while traveling in Burundi, where she was dealing with an outbreak of typhoid fever. They have decided to postpone having a family until they feel the time is right in their work. Both are very dedicated to finding cures for some of the world's most devastating diseases.

When Alex's father dies in a hunting accident, Alex inherits the family's wealth and control of the company. Wealthy in his own right, Alex uses his inherited wealth to set up a charitable foundation, much like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He turns over the day-to-day running of the company to a trusted member of management, and devotes his time entirely to researching a cure for cancer. Alex's wife takes a leave of absence from the NIH when it appears that Alex is near a breakthrough and needs help setting up control tests.

Success! The control tests reveal that Alex has succeeding in developing a cure for cancer. Alex arranges an internal announcement for company employees. The whole team will be there to share in the joy of developing a cure for one of mankind's most intractable and heartbreaking diseases. The champagne is poured, Alex stands and asks for attention, he looks down and smiles at his wife, and that's when the gunfire erupts.

Everyone is killed by a few crazed gunmen with AR-15s they've converted to fully automatic. They are traced to an extremist religious organization that opposes stem cell research.

The world is shocked. Attempts are made to decode the files and learn the secret to curing cancer, but Alex did too good a job. Experts pronounce that the code will never be broken. The cure for cancer is lost.

Investigations determine the guns were obtained legally, at gun shows. Their conversion was illegal, but most experts claim that can't be controlled. There are calls for tougher gun control measures. The NRA makes a statement to the effect that it's a shame the liberal media and gun haters are attempting to use this tragedy to once again push their leftist liberal agenda. An attempt to craft a bipartisan bill closing the gun show loophole doesn't make it out of committee.

People continue to die of cancer, and gun violence.

Congress passes a law outlawing stem cell research.

The End

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Starving Settlers in Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism

“The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete,” says Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones after they were found by archaeologists from Preservation Virginia. “Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head, one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain.” 

This Smithsonian article on recent discoveries at the site of an excavation at Jamestown, Virginia, will be startling for some people, but I wrote about it nine years ago in a fictionalized account published as, "The Starving," a Kindle eBook. My story was based on early evidence published in a National Geographic interactive essay. Although I made up the victim in my story, the circumstances are frighteningly similar.
Was I haunted by this young woman, cannibalized by her starving colonial companions? Was her ghost responsible for my 'imagining' the story? I suppose it's food for thought.