It’s Raining On A Thursday In September

Whale fluke

I want to sail to Iceland
Drink Reyka with a woman who wears a swan
Slip on the ice
Learn to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull

I want to row backward across the sea
Peer through the mist at Thjóðhildr’s husband
Drop a battle axe
Learn the words of the whale’s song

I want to walk on rocky shores
Make a harp of fish bones and wizard’s beard
Fall into cold water
Learn to speak like falling snow

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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

I miss my grandfather, the mischievous one who squirted whipped cream into my little brother’s ear at Thanksgiving one year and started a food fight that made the day unusually fun and memorable for me as well as his many grandchildren and great-children. The one who played every musical instrument he touched with skill and joy even though he couldn’t read music. The one who put on a gaudy Western shirt and bolo tie and took his wife, my grandmother, square dancing every week.

Clarence was his name, although he was Ted to his family, and Whitey to his friends. He died more than a decade ago. Got old, got prostate cancer, and the medical treatments made him sicker and sicker until, as he would’ve said, God called him home.

I’d like to tell you there is offsetting good news. That because he lives on in my memory, or because I inherited my sense of humor and whatever musical talent I have from him through his son, my father, it’s okay he’s gone.

It’s not.

I accept his absence because I’m forced to. Not because it feels like life’s natural order has been fulfilled, or because I’m supposed to be comforted by the knowledge that because he was a man of faith, he’s in a better place.

From my viewpoint on this side of the dark veil between life and death, gone is gone.

I know that sounds harsh, and I believe I know why it sounds harsh: It’s because we don’t want to acknowledge that everything—every person, every creature and object, every experience—will eventually break down and turn into a pile of dust that will be picked up by the wind and scattered and re-scattered until it’s forgotten. We desperately want to believe that good follows bad in the same way that sunshine follows rain. That pain and suffering will be rewarded, for example, or that failure will lead us to new and greater opportunities. Or that hate fades away while love endures forever. That despite all evidence to the contrary, there is always hope.

There often is.

We lose a job and land a better one. Sickness makes us more empathetic and kind. Hedonism inspires purity. Sacrifice and suffering are rewarded with abundance. Death focuses our attention on life.

Good can arise out of bad, at least in the short term.

I’m not a pessimist.

But I am mindful of a discussion between the famously gloomy Czechoslovakian writer Franz Kafka and his biographer, Max Brod:

Kafka: “We are nihilistic thoughts, suicidal thoughts that come into God’s head…our world is only a bad mood of God, a bad day of his.”

Max Brod: “Then there is hope outside this manifestation of the world that we know.”

Kafka: “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.”

It’s sobering, this nihilistic view that nothing matters, not even hope. Because it rings true that even though good can follow bad, it’s far from certain. We know full well that one day our beloved pet dog might leave the house and never return. Or that an errant truck might run a red light and paralyze us from the neck down. Or that children might starve to death because of war, famine or unimaginable human cruelty. Deep in our hearts, we live with the constant frightening understanding that tragedy may never be infused with hope and connected to goodness in any discernible way. Perhaps more often than not.

Is that knowledge depressing?

Often, yes.

But to me, there’s no point in searching for happiness in sorrow. It’s a pursuit that will only make life unhappy.

It’s also realistic, which is to say it rings true, and truth feels more positive to me than the white lies we tell ourselves to get through the day without collapsing into tears. So I begrudgingly accept that everything functional will one day break; That everything, no matter how permanent it seems, will perish. Science calls this inevitability entropy, meaning that absent an external input of energy, order always moves toward disorder. It’s an immutable scientific law, and it means the very universe that supports us is inexorably unwinding regardless of how we feel. Ultimately, we are irrelevant, just temporary assemblages of atoms.

If that thought is too discomfiting, we can always turn to faith for solace. Christianity, for instance. The New Testament says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I like this verse. It has poetic gravitas and implies that faith—sometimes defined as unshakeable conviction—transcends or supersedes hope, and presumably its ugly twin, hopelessness. Essentially, it says, “Fuck science, faith is the external input of energy that’s required to hold everything together in a meaningful way.” Perhaps that’s why the words come from The Good Book, a book that proffers eternal hope to the brokenhearted.

The problem is that so much of the Bible’s hope seems to be about the day after tomorrow, or worse, about a long series of days after tomorrows stretching out to a tiny point that lies somewhere just beyond the vanishing point of all of life’s horizon. The Word seems to say we once enjoyed an intimate relationship with God that was irrevocably broken in the garden of Eden, and that the relationship will only be restored after believers die, experience rebirth, and are reunited with God in New Jerusalem. It isn’t going to happen this morning, or this afternoon, or even a year or decade from now, but sometime long after our bodies are planted underground and we get that first upward glance at the inscription on our headstone.

Meaning that temporally, today, right now, standing on this side of the veil and watching as the second hand slowly sweeps the detritus of the day into the gloomy night, there is no hope worth clinging to. Now, I don’t want to be a crybaby, but I don’t feel like waiting an eternity for that sweet chariot to swing low and carry me home. Like Kafka, I want some hope and I want it now.

So what am I saying?

That there is no hope? That there is some hope, but you can’t depend on it? That there is always hope, but you can only see its shining glory shore if you’re standing on a mountaintop in Beulah Land?

I’m not sure what I mean. I’m just an idiot. My words are full of sound and fury, and signify nothing. Even if they did mean something, I’m not convinced it would matter to anybody but me, if at all.

Maybe all I mean is that I’d like to hear my grandfather’s laugh again, or to see his smile. He had a kind smile.

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Orient

Orient

So you are empty
A hollow ball of copper floating on moonlit waves
Where am I?

Lying on the ocean floor
Half-buried in the mud
Looking up at a shadow drifting overhead?

In the heavens
Countless stars away
Staring down at a metallic speck of burnt red in a glittering sea?

Inside you
A hard steel ball
Wondering why my world is dark and tumbling?

Beside you
Another empty sphere
Drifting with the tide and wind?

In old Japan
Fishermen bound their floats together with cord and knots
So they wouldn’t get lost on the water

The moon is full tonight
Let’s follow her to the black shores of
Mount Kaimandoke

Maybe we will be picked up by salt-cracked hands
Carried like treasure
Into the heart of the Orient

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30 Minus 2 Days of Writing III: Yes, I Made That

My Dear Dr. Watson,

Imagine the ecstatic rush that shot through me when I realized the tracking device I placed in the hilt of the katana stolen by Moriarty had not only led me straight to Paris, but to the very place I expected to meet you, the Café Le Select. The chase was not only afoot, but underfoot!

I sped to the scene with great alacrity, expecting to locate my prey comfortably ensconced at a table blithely sipping espresso from white China, the fingers of her free hand indolently lingering on the sword’s intricately decorated scabbard while she gloated about her presumed victory over me. Instead, I found the café empty except for a young garçon, who was standing at the counter resting his head on his hands while he sullenly stared into a dark corner of the establishment that sheltered a table littered with the remains of someone’s lunch.

“Did you serve that vanished repast?” I queried, pointing at the table.

“Yes, I made that. What’s it to you?” he sneered.

“It’s quite a lot to me,” I replied, withdrawing a small stack of euros from my wallet. The waiter stood up straight, his expression suddenly alert. “Tell me what you remember about that particular diner, if you would,” I said, smiling.

“She was quiet, ordered a Croque Monsieur and a Pepsi Max, read a book that she pulled from our shelves while she ate.”

“And her appearance?”

“Hesitant smile, piercing gray eyes—like a wolf. Remarkably long and full brunette hair.”

“Moriarty!” I cried.

The waiter shrugged. “I didn’t catch her name.”

“When did she leave?”

“She didn’t,” he said, pointing toward the restrooms.

“What!?” I immediately bolted toward the rear of the café, performing a quick calculation in my head.

I’d been speaking to the garçon for perhaps a minute. From my studies at London’s Natural History Museum, I knew that all mammals, including homo sapiens, take an average of twenty-one seconds to urinate. This is as true for an gigantic elephant as it is for a diminutive bat—or 5-foot, 1-and-a-half-inch-tall criminal mastermind. There was a slight chance I’d catch her in time.

But I was a split-second too late. Moriarty must have overheard me speaking to the waiter, for I spied her fleeing out of the restaurant’s back door, her infamous hair whipping around like a tornado.

I chased her through the alley and into the street out front, where she hailed a cab, ducked into the rear seat, and urged the driver forward. I scanned the road for another cab, but it was hopeless; There were none, and she vanished into the city’s infamous traffic faster than a frightened ferret running from a feathered hawk.

Scurrying back inside, I handed the waiter several of the bills that were still clutched in my hand.

“May I examine her table?” I asked.

Oui, knock yourself out,” he said, grinning.

I stepped into the shadows and studied the area closely.

My katana was resting on the table, the hilt split open with a bread knife, the tracking device defiantly stuck into a pat of butter. So she had known about it all along, and used it to lead me here. A taunt.

A book was lying open on the table, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Moriarty had circled a line on a page, “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”

Like you, I thought, wryly. Another taunt.

But Moriarty wouldn’t be satisfied with mere taunts.

I sat down to think, ordering a coffee and a chocolate Napoleon as aids, for I was sure the book itself was a clue, however obscure. Long after the sun had set and the moon had risen over the city, it finally came to me. Based on Hemingway’s experiences when he was young and working in Paris, the short collection of essays was an ode to a city he admired and loved like no other. In it, he deliberately mentions many of the city’s most-famous landmarks—the Luxembourg Gardens, the Louvre, a number of cafés, specific neighborhoods he walked in with friends, even a favorite English bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., which doubled as a library and boarding house for aspiring writers like himself.

Yet curiously, to the observant reader there is one object he never mentions.

Located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, it was built in1889 as the arched entrance to the World’s Fair, and at 324 meters high, it remains the city’s tallest and best-built structure next to Bernadette Brigitte, the comely burlesque striptease artist at the Moulin Rouge: The Eiffel Tower.

It’s world-famous, visited by millions of tourists every year. So how could Hemingway write about Paris yet fail to mention the Tower? It’s absence is striking, almost as if it had been lost, or stolen.

Stolen!

I knew with certainty that was her clue, and her cunning plan—to steal France’s beloved cultural icon, no doubt that very night, if not already, while I insufferably wasted time solving the puzzle she had set before me.

But how?

I scanned the site for other clues—not the ones she meant me to find, but ones she had overlooked.

There was a cloth napkin with a smear of lipstick on it. Having earlier made an effort to memorize the various brands and shades of women’s makeup to assist my investigations, I recognized the light-pink shade as an expensive one manufactured by the German company OEKAbeauty.

At the table’s far end, I spotted a notepad that appeared blank. When I held it up to the light at a severe angle, however, I saw the faint traces of handwriting from the missing page above it, and made out the word “Hochtief,” which proved in a quick Google search to be a German construction company headquartered in Berlin. One of the few companies in the world with employees who have the necessary expertise and contempt for France to dismantle the Eiffel Tower and spirit it away.

I turned to the waiter.

“What did Moriarty say to you while she was here?”

“Not much. Said hello, ordered her meal, told me I have wonderful eyes, and thanked me for my service.”

“In English or French?”

“German,” the waiter spat. “Fucking Nazis.”

So that was it. Moriarty, already a mistress of half a dozen languages in addition to her native Finnish, had mastered one more. I knew instantly she intended to take the Eiffel Tower to Germany, where she could seal her reputation as the world’s greatest thief. To Hochtief’s corporate warehouses hidden in the beating heart of old Deutschland, Berlin.

I should look on her scheme with disapprobation, Watson. But I confess I cannot help but admire her audacity and assiduous attention to detail. She is brilliant. A challenge even to me, if wicked where I have chosen serve the good. Or if not the good, then at least the lesser of evils.

Still, I mean to foil her, Watson. Not literally, of course, because aluminum’s expensive. I mean the other foil, as in “to thwart.”

I am headed to Berlin even as you read this letter, which I left in the waiter’s hands to keep you informed. Meet me there as soon as you can, at the currywurst stand near the Holocaust Memorial in the city’s center. Bring strong rope, a gag, and your handcuffs. We will need them to stifle her pleading and hold her fast once we finally have her in our grasp.

Together, we will set a trap that even Moriarty cannot escape…

Sincerest regards,
Sherlock

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This overly long post was written for the prompt “Yes, I Made That,” on Day 21 of 30 Days Minus 2 of Writing III, hosted by Nicky and Mike at We Work For Cheese. It’s also the third installment in a thrilling mystery written by my Team ZiMi teammate, Ziva, at Ziva’s Inferno. Look for part four on her blog soon.

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30 Days Minus 2 of Writing: Succubus

My Dear Dr. Watson,

Professor Moriarty is proving to be as slippery and as well-fanged an opponent as a moray eel. Earlier today I tracked her to a unassuming house in Finland brimming with expensive custom-made furniture befitting a well-heeled mastermind of the underworld.

At first, I thought the place was an empty show home designed to lure new buyers with its tidy yet luxurious appointments. But then I heard her caterwauling pop tunes in the shower.

Stealthily I crept deeper into her lair, the sturdy, razor-sharp sword gifted to me from Master Masamune unsheathed for battle. Yet when I rushed into the steam-filled room with a furious shout, I found she had slipped away from me faster than an unwelcome bar of soap at the men’s baths in Newgate Prison.

Never bend over to pick up a bar of soap at Newgate.

I proceeded to conduct a thorough search of her lair, even checking the towels for clues to her identity. I confirmed that she has awesome hair, but my investigation was thwarted prematurely when she sneaked into the room like an unwelcome succubus and stole my precious katana while my back was turned. No doubt she intends to keep it until the day she sells it to an unscrupulous dealer in the black market for a tidy sum, using the profits to further her nefarious schemes.

Had you seen my face at that tremulous moment, it would have been shrouded in a desperate mask of humiliation and despair. But that was only a show for the benefit of Moriarty, aka Ziva, who was no doubt watching my every move with a hidden camera and gloating over her presumed victory.

Such an ego that one, though well deserved. Never in my career have I matched wits with an opponent so utterly frustrating and yet so challenging. It’s exhilarating.

So to all outward appearances I seemed defeated. But privately, I could barely contain my excitement. For the Professor made a grievous error and fell directly into the trap I cleverly set for her. Inside the leather-bound wooden handle of the Masamune sword she now carries with her, I hid a diminutive electronic tracking device that pinpoints her exact location to within 50 feet anywhere on the globe using Geosatellite Positioning technology.

Even as I write this letter, I am preparing to give chase. Minutes from now, I will board a rapid train in hot pursuit of my mysterious and elusive prey. Meet me at the Café Le Select in Paris as quickly as you can, if you can…

Sincerely,
Sherlock

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This post was written for a blogging meme hosted by my good friends Nicky and Mike at We Work for Cheese. I’ve done a terrible job of participating, having failed to post daily, and having failed to make the rounds to comment on all the participants’ posts. I plead mercy from you all, and ask that you trust me when I say it’s been difficult to impossible for me this month due to heavy family and work obligations. Not mention my drinking problem—a problem I am steadfastly working to resolve in deep consultation with my companions Johnny Walker, Glen Livet and Glen Fiddich.

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