This Little Light, A Gambler

Whenever I plunge my arm, like this,
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from its thickening shroud of gray.
—Hardy

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.
—Dickens

unknown artist; Theatrical Figure

Everything they tell you is wrong. And by they I mean journalist. A degree in journalism is a degree in deceit. A journalist, the last creature on earth who would ever be caught dancing, knows only how to dance around truth. He knows how to skirt the facts, how to tip-toe the issue, how to write shadows, in his thin veiled prose. Journalists, for example, have been screaming, years upon years upon years they have shouted, that technology will make you happier, that you cannot exist in life without constant noise, that you must murder Time. We become afraid of silence. We become afraid of the dark. We fight Time. But we don’t know what silence is, and we have never experienced darkness, and we have no time. Even in our most silent moments, we hear the hum of a haunted house, the low buzz of distant traffic, the whir of twenty-first-century air, cooling or heating our homes and bodies, or an orange cat creeping behind us. Even in our darkest moments, we see the green glow of a clock, or the blinking blue of a desktop, or the lamplight yellow from streetlight to window. Even in our most restful moments, we wonder if we could not have rested more efficiently. We have been trained, to some extent, to fear, to misunderstand, the true value of noise and light and time.

Recently, I have been experimenting. It’s been several years since I’ve owned a television or paid for any sort of internet, and I have only experienced benefits. Rarely, very rarely, do I miss those things, and, so help me God, they will never again be a major part of my life. Sure, I have moments where I long to relax to a movie, but these moments grow less powerful with each year. My definition of entertainment has, no doubt, changed. When wearied with reading or writing, I find other, constructive, things to do. I may listen to a podcast, a ball game, or a piece of classical music. I may spend a night with pipe and whiskey, sometimes jazz, alone in thought and distraction. I may spend an evening cooking, or cleaning, activities humans have always done and will always continue to participate in because, unlike Netflix, they speak to who we are. Humans cook because they value good food: food that takes planning, preparation, physical effort. Humans clean for the same reason they confess: to remove the grime. Scrubbing the dirt off the bathroom sink, we see the sink as new, redeemed. Confessing our sins, we feel the grime of sin scrubbed off our souls and we feel new, redeemed. At times, it is to be confessed, I listen to music or podcasts while I tend to my home. But I can’t help but think that the times I don’t are richer experiences. Those moments when I am, like Sir Gawain, allowing all of my senses to engage with the activity, when I not only see and smell the celery as I chop it but hear it crunch, when sweeping the floor, I feel, I see, and I hear the broom bristles scrape the cheap linoleum. Indeed, this little apartment has its own sounds; almost, I feel, it has a spirit about it. Tending a home reflects tending the soul. Both should be experienced with as much sensory awareness as we can muster.

I am certainly no saint. I’ve too much pride and self-righteousness, along with a host of other sins. But I cannot help considering that my evenings are not richer, more deeply contemplated, more rooted to reality, than my neighbors—whoever’s soul be in a better state—who drown their evenings with poor music and television. The twenty-first century is a gnostic world, separated from elemental reality. When the female speaker of Hardy’s “Under the Waterfall” cleans a bowl in water, the elements carry her into memory and reflection, to a person. The past meets the present meets the future. But for us, the bowl is an obstacle, an annoyance, almost unreal, because it stands in our way to the gnostic fairyland of cyberspace we’ve created. As I’ve distanced myself from those spaces, I’ve realized that, if anything doesn’t exist, it is cyberspace. But, as I’ve said, they have flipped the truth.

So, I’ve been experimenting. I did away with my microwave this past summer, and as with the other unnecessary items, have experienced only benefits. Not only do I have to cook my food, now I even have to wait for leftovers to heat in the oven. I cannot stress what a joy it is to live in time, to take time in our daily activities, to learn the necessary patience of the ancients, or at least to attempt to experience as much of it as we can. Now that my meals take longer, I remember to pray before them. The evening meal now feels a little more like an event, and instead of shoving food down my throat as quickly as I can, like the American’s in Martin Chuzzlewit, I tend to savor it. All this because I know that, to begin with, it takes time and effort. We are less likely to rush through activities, more likely to appreciate them, if they are accomplished in time.

They also tell you the days grow shorter this time of year. But the days grow longer. Suddenly, five o’clock feels like seven o’clock, and we realize we have more time than we thought. The dark is not an ending to the day so much as a beginning to the next, and light is best contrasted against it. Edmund Burke says our buildings should be dark inside as a contrast to the outside and to create sublime feelings. He is right—would that our churches read more Burke. A dark room is larger, more terrifying, more mysterious, and we gnostics secretly long for mystery even while we’re killing it.

I have a dear friend who enjoys spending his evenings in candlelight. I have experimented myself. The small light of a candle is, to be fair, less useful, less practical. But the small light of a candle actually glows. The air, perhaps the spirit of this place, plays upon it, and it moves. It draws attention to itself so that, as the rest of the room is veiled in darkness, all attention focuses in on it. Only with candlelight do we experience that joyful flicker of flame, so alive, so real. The light around this flame also moves. Shadows grow and slink on the walls, and the light, crawling and separating from the flame, looks as if it can be handled—felt, tasted, smelt—until, by degrees, it fades, slowly, slowly, into darkness with clear beginning but no definable end. We see its birth. We wonder at its death.

My evenings have been, since this experiment, more mysterious. The apartment seems longer, as I cannot see its end. The night seems longer, as I do not kill time with lamplight and noise. The best nights recently include a candle or two, a glass of whiskey, and a 1950s radio broadcast of Sherlock Holmes. Granted, my evenings may be, to all appearances, less exciting. I may be, as it were, putting to rest a great number of opportunities by existing like some thirteenth-century monk, covered in darkness and silence. But in that darkness, a flame glows, sparkling with life and movement at the slightest, most primal pleasure. Every night, when I light my candle, I separate the light from the darkness, and I see that it is good. That flame may be less useful, less practical, but it is not dead light. No, this little light of mine breathes. This little light shines. This little light dances.

Broom Snow
Written, in part, in candlelight
Las Vegas, Nevada
November, 2017

Painting: “Theatrical Figure”
Unknown Artist
Oil on canvas, C. 19th century

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Our Guiding Light, A Gambler

 

in memoriam, October 1, 2017

Schalcken, Godfried, 1643-1706; Woman and Child with Candle

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
Merchant of Venice

I passed her on Eastern at sunset, so I didn’t look her way. I knew, between Trop and Russell, she was there. For I saw her beam. I pulled into the Ox early to watch the baseball game. Our waitress spotted me and smiled and showed concern.

“Where’ve you guys been? We’ve been worried, wondering where those guys have been. Haven’t seen ya since the——. Thought maybe you had been down there.”

Her concern caught me off guard. I explained our three-weeks-absence.

“Last week was the Ren. Fair. And the week before…” I felt guilty.

She left to fetch water. I chatted with Jamie and asked if he wouldn’t turn the sound on for the game. Joe Buck’s October voice ringed throughout the bar, and I felt peace.

As I sat in that booth and waited, fidgeting with water and watching the game, I reflected and I thought—This is not a hotel. I am not a stranger. I am not a tourist. My routine creates meaning. My presence makes me a part of the Ox, and the Ox becomes part of me, and I, in my way, haunt this place, and I, in this state, am home.

Friends sauntered into the bar, and our waitress expressed her concern once again.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’ll be here. ’Till the world ends, we’ll be here.”

*

I felt heavy after a pint of Moose Drool and the Kirby Puckett sandwich—roast beef, cream cheese, coleslaw, tomato. I took a walk in the cool and looked west at the Strip on my way back. Three miles away, I knew she was still there, her candle lit still.

I hopped back on Caliente toward Andover Place. I passed a couple at their car. A shadow ahead, half on the sidewalk, half on the road, caught my attention. On his back he raised his arms upward and held something. It looked as if he played with a snake in midair. His back feet rose and twitched. His arms kept moving with the snake. As I neared, the vision cleared, and he looked at me. His bulbous eyes glowed in the dim, and he saw me as a ghost.

“Huhug buuii ahvaacuuium.”

“I’m sorry?” I said, half turning, half stopping, half seeing.

“Buy a vacuum? Put together?” He turned as if to connect the hose back with the rest of his vacuum.

I left the man to play with the hose on the sidewalk. I heard words across the street—“no gang-bangers man!” I neared home.

And that, I thought. That is my neighborhood. And that is Las Vegas.

* 

Man once spoke clearly until he built a tower and spoke nonsense and scattered and misunderstood himself until the present day. His descendants have reunited in the desert. They have reunited at the world’s end, at wit’s end. But instead of building a tower, they have built a Strip—a series of monuments to demonstrate their confusion. Nonsense has its charm and beauty and place, and it rests in the middle of this town, a constant reminder. Each day, in the heat of the Mojave, we revel in our tangled tongues, running madly around these monuments. Each evening we light our votive candles around these monuments. Until our Redeemer returns, we babel on.

*

That week was long. Strange. Confusing. Disturbing. I felt restless on a Sunday—That. That happened. Four miles—three milesminutes after I bowed in prayer—prayer for safety—while I laid my head to rest—I needed air and a walk. On campus I rose several flights of stairs at the Cottage Grove parking garage. I looked south and west, and my sight unimpaired, I saw the Mandalay Bay glowing bright against the little lights below and the deep black beyond. She seemed larger, brighter, from that height. All was black, it seemed, but her and the surrounding candles.

I ranged the top of the parking garage and looked at the Strip. It seemed to puff out in caricature. I reflected on the unique beauty of my town and its people. A few others showed, and, at 10:05, the Strip dimmed its lights, the Luxor light vanished. For eleven minutes, the Strip bowed in reverence, and I, with it, bowed my soul and said a prayer.

*

The Mandalay Bay rests peacefully on the southern edge of the Strip—catawampus from the MGM and due west of McCarron International runways. Her name is appropriate, for she serves as a bay of sorts to the rest of the Strip casinos, separating them from the south and west and the sea beyond our homes and our lights and our hills. Because she sits so far south, the Mandalay Bay may seem a stepchild of the Strip. Sticking out like a sore thumb, this casino is not, like the others, blocked by anything but airport runways to the east. Likely, nothing will ever rise to her south. Over two miles separate the Stratosphere and Mandalay Bay, and a mile on the Strip is no small feat.

She is the overlooked casino—the one tourists first pass as they arrive on Las Vegas Boulevard and gawk at our sign—the one we put off walking to because we’ve wearied ourselves with the others. Yet she seems content, at peace with herself. She is not shaped like a castle, a city, a pyramid, a coliseum; she has no light atop her towers, has no river running through her, no gondolas, no rollercoaster, no water-show, no lions, no Eiffel Tower, no drunken Ferris wheel, no volcano eruptions, pirate ships, jousting tournaments, or boxing matches. Not surrounded by other casinos, she seems alone, out in the desert, deserted.

Yet she seems not to mind.

She is pure Vegas. Flecked in gold and radiating, her windows reflect our three-hundred-and-sixty day sun. Her arms outstretched, she towers over the other casinos, not in height, not in gaudiness, not in revelry, or colors, or charms, but in her wisdom and in her maturity and in her strength and in her worth. She is our judge, our captain, our guiding light, our Queen Mother, keeping all her children in line, calling them back to her. One can’t resist feeling Vegas during the day, when he casts his eyes to his Mother, glowing in gold, topped in lily-white. There she sits on her throne, on the edge of nonsense and the great unknown, with our blue mountains behind and the hourly plane gliding slowly upon her like an innocent dove.

And at night, when her glory is, unlike the others, a little less gaudy, her influence remains. Her gold contrasts the black desert with a matured magnificence. One cannot help but respect her experience. One cannot help but see our Strip as one wild fair containing all the great western civilizations and countries—Egypt, Greece, Rome, Britain, France, America. Homer rises with Achilles, Ulysses, Penelope; Virgil with Aeneas and Dido; Julius Caesar, Napoleon, King Arthur, and Cleopatra—Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Penn and Teller, Wayne Newton all rise. Here the giants of the past gaze as monuments. Here walk our own giants. Yet there the Mandalay Bay sits at night, quietly, alone, neglected. Yet there she sits, still keeping all these civilizations, all these people, from destroying each other. One wonders if the Luxor’s light—that glowing light of our earliest civilization—glows on its own strength. One wonders whether the Mandalay Bay, with her golden arms outstretched, does not conjure forth that pyramid’s fire, breathing life into the four-thousand-year old structure.

And so she rests, peacefully, as if she’s been doing it since the first pyramid was built, as if she will light it each night and guide us all to the end of an age and the end of the world. One does not pass her often, perhaps out of fearful reverence. But one also does not spend a night in Vegas without seeing her good will, without seeing our guiding light.

Broom Snow
Las Vegas, Nevada
October, 2017

Painting: “Woman and Child with Candle”
By Godfriend Schalcken
Oil on panel, n.d.

The Commute, A Gambler

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil
— Hopkins

Penn, William Charles, 1877-1968; Portrait of a Boy from the Liverpool Blue Coat School

My black tie flaps like a dog-tongue in the early morning breeze. I eye the orange tabby through a door-crack; I shut, lock, the door, and descend the steps. It is about eighty-five degrees. Too hot for September 13. Too hot for 7:16. It will reach triple digits today, but I comfort myself. It may be the last.

My black dress shoes make a tap-tap against concrete. A beautiful sound, interrupted by Snoop Dogg. It’s 7:17 AM on a Tuesday. Loudly, he’s singing, or trying to sing, or whatever he does—a sort of nameless garble sifted through a weed-wrapped brain. From a second floor apartment building he descends, and the peace of the morning ceases.

I exit my complex on Rochelle. On the sidewalk, my feet dodge berries the pigeons pick. A large crowd of children and parents huddle together by a large yellow bus. A few homeless sleep outside the circle in the shade and grass. I cross to avoid the crowd. Like the children, my backpack snugs my shoulders. I’m in a buttoned up dress-shirt, and my left-sleeved arm ends in a water bottle. My right arm dangles freely and clutches a lunch box. Like the children, I make my daily commute to school.

And it’s not the first time.

This happens to be the twenty-third consecutive September in which I make the daily commute to school.

The first time, I traveled in a forest-green Ford Aerostar. It took two arms to open the side door, and the bucket seat swallowed me whole. And my father whistled to “Oldies Ninety-five” and my sister sat front seat. And the vehicle looked like a green space ship and roared as loudly to interstate 635. And it rested daily, and it mingled daily, and it fought daily with the early morning traffic. And we listened to a man in a helicopter tell us of safe spaces and construction zones and accidents and deaths before Beethoven rolled over to the sound of Harrison and my father whistling and the crowd of workers like little ants battling for the south-35 exit, rolling on and on and on onto a horizon. But we continued straight to Metcalf, Lamar, Prairie Village.

As I pass the children a man approaches me. He has a dark pony tail and smokes a cigarette. A few parents watch their kids board the bus from the front porch of the apartment complex on my left, Tamarus Park. Domestic disputes are a daily oblation in these homes.

In the street a pair of shoes has been tied together at the laces and left. Up north, at Gary Reese Freedom Park, near my old home, pairs of shoes, tied together in this way, dangle one after another from electric wires. And one sees, in their mind’s eye, crying children returning barefoot home.

At Tamarus I hang a left. Now the sun bears down on me. It sits in that peculiar spot where, like a god, it will not be ignored.

I near University and have to walk in the road as I do. A beat down van has hocked up its inhabits this morning. They sit on the shaded stones, surrounded by stuff. The van’s been there for weeks. The side doors are flung open wide; the tires are warn and poorly inflated; the windows show more stuff—clothes mainly. And the van looks stuffed. The passenger’s side of the windshield is smashed in and forms a spider web of cracks.

On University I cross again and head west. Across the way, Gethsemane Baptist and Tammany Hall. Gethsemane Baptist is a one story stucco style building with bars on the window. Song pours out of it on some evenings. For whatever reason, the gap between this church and Tammany Hall attracts a number of homeless people—pushing their carts, chatting, trying to sleep in the shade, yelling at each other, yelling at their dogs, creeping toward Tammany Hall.

Given its name, Tammany Hall has become a by-word amongst those of us living in the area. The apartment complex consists of four two-story, brown, brick buildings. For quite some time, the four apartments on the top floor, on the west end, hugging Escondido, had no back doors. I know not whether anyone lived in those apartments, but they have recently been boarded up.

The rest of the apartment looks as if on the boarder of losing its doors. On the top of the building rests no fewer than seven ironic satellite dishes.

Trash and dust lines the complex—stuff strewn in all directions, seems to accumulate around it like gnats to a carcass.

The inhabitants spend more time outside than in and are perpetually working on their cars, smoking tobacco, smoking pot, blaring music, grilling burgers, chatting with neighbors.

One must respect that they actually speak to their neighbors.

The vehicles they work on, never the same, typically have problems beyond their ability to fix: missing fenders, missing plates, hubcaps, windows, hoods, or—as the apartments—doors. Each car is required to have at least six or seven dents, cracked windshields, and one flat tire. And so they hover around these cars like men looking at a casket, speaking God knows what.

This morning, in particular, a blue Nissan Sentra actually looks put together. On its window I read, “1500 Firm Run Great.” Next to it there’s a white Pontiac Grand Prix. It’s back door is dented, and in the window above, it reads, “Wow 2600.” A white Ford F250 rounds out the crew. On its window I read “What the F*** 1800” and strain an interpretation.

On my side of University, I pass a maroon Cadillac. Its for-sale sign flaps in the windshield. It’s rusted, front to back, and the maroon fights with the grey like a red sunset the clouds.

After I pass Escondido, the cars’ qualities rise. Many university students park their cars here to avoid the high parking fees on campus. Still, every other car looks as if it recently survived a tornado. I notice one with no hood, leaning to its right, and—as some women on the Strip—baring the its nakedness for all to see.

The Ashton Park apartments on my left are light blue, wood buildings. One of the apartments recently was on lockdown for asbestos. The pot smell typically streams from these homes. It did before it went legal and ever since its been as ritualistic as incense at a pre-Vatican II high mass.

Thankfully, they’re in between services this morning. A man approaches me in black mid-high socks, red shorts, a white beater, and a camo cap. He looks at me as if at an apparition. We exchange “Good mornings.”

I’ve renamed Maryland Parkway Acheron and wonder if I shouldn’t start crossing myself before I cross. I take the chance this morning, lunch box waving by my side. I look sideways as I pass, hoping, praying the cars will stop, that no drivers are high.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is an oasis of beauty, hope. I walk under a fruitless mulberry tree. On stones, my shoes tap, avoiding desert-dust. I smell green, and wet, and flowers, and life. A coolness descends like a spirit, and joy, utter joy, fills my heart and soul, and I feel as if alive. The purple, yellow, orange flowers bobble and dance in the morning breeze. Birds flutter and sing on the boughs and bees hum by the flowers. Some sprinklers send a mist as if from below. And I walk in this garden, and it is good.

In all this, a newly erected statue, an ugly, formless, white thing has risen amongst the trees. Across the way, our new school logo glares at me from a trashcan. It’s an ugly black blob, splotched with red. I’m tempted to smash something, but the temptation does not overtake me. The sons of the sixties and seventies are growing old, and thin, and dying, I know. Their art, too, grows old and thins and soon will die. My fellow reformers and I have yet to rise, chanting Latin and smashing these idols of ugliness. We have yet to give the world all our beauty.

Broom Snow
Composed, in part, during my daily commute,
Las Vegas, Nevada
September, 2017

Painting: “Portrait of a Boy from the Liverpool Blue Coat School”
By William Charles Penn
Oil on canvas, 1953

The Melting Pot, A Gambler

————already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place
—Coleridge

Walker; Kensington Church Walk

I slide into the corner booth at the Ox; I grab a menu and sigh and speak: “Nearly get whiplash entering this place from the light to dark.”

“Yeah. Stupid heat.” A voice from across the booth. A waitress takes drinks. She leaves.

I speak again: “What? No Jamie? Again? What’s going on?”

“What? Is he bartending again?”

“Yeah.” A voice next to me.

I fidget with the menu. “Well. I know what I want—fish n’ chips.”

“Homesick?”

The question is sarcastic. I sigh again for a moment. Visions of Jesus Green teeming with speckles of white, and lazy lads lingering along, around, in the Cam. Visions of King’s Chapel, the giant horse chestnut, and the buzzbuzz hum of summer tourists and bikes. The bells of Great St. Mary’s floating through the buzzing and the boughs of the Chestnut to the nearby market square, weaving melodiously like some spirit entering a body.

“Yes.”

*

Sometimes it comes in fits and lingers—when the dumpsters smell like humans and humans like dumpsters, after Sunday’s seventh siren and another body in the gutter, after the day’s hundredth domestic dispute, when the sun stings and the oven-wind burns face, when the grackle’s crackle creaks against thin air, when the hookers hover like the dead at bus stops, when one wonders if this town is one long strip mall or one long strip club, when the drugs have snuffed out the last light of life, and the sweet urine-scented smell of pot slowly rises fog-like from the wash, choking us like an airy noose.

*

Sometimes, when the tan streak of day thins into black, there rests a stillness in the air. I walk. The air still stings, but the wind calms, and its airy blackness cools, slightly. Though the town’s hot, sweaty, sewage-smell lingers, the gutters seem nearly clean. The shattered car-window remains, which having gleamed and glared against the sun, shiny along pavement, now shimmer against a weak street lamp or two. The shards look less menacing against darker concrete, like the few stars fighting for space above.

I turn left so to leave people. I pass a car and listen to a man shove expletives at his girl. It’s routine, and I sigh—What is wrong with us? Is everyone that lives here some castaway from happier times? It’s as if we’ve landed in this town shipwrecked and on edge. Mad Robinson Crusoes. It’s as if we’ve ended up here for some fault, purging our sins, trying to leave, disabled, unable.

Spencer is always dangerous, but its worth taking the chance. A car rests impatiently as I cross. A few children play on cooling concrete—it’s all one long, greying slab, this town—while their mother watches from a front door balcony. I smile sadly and consider their futures, chances, prospects, hopes. I say a prayer of gratitude. A few other families sit out in their front lawns. Patches of fake green offer relief from the town’s heat and color. Across the way, a few palms rise feebly, and the moon and clouds look distant and mysterious behind them.

I used to walk by a school when I lived in Kansas. The large field nearby offered an uncanny feel at night—a deep solitude and silence surrounded by trees and homes. My walk this evening takes me by a school. The yard in is fenced off—it’s all one long gate, this town—to keep out the untouchables. Along the southern border, several white signs are posted facing inward on the fence, about a foot apart. I can only think this a waste of government spending, as the children cannot read. And those who can surely have no need to read the same thing multiple times over. Then, I consider where I am. Suddenly, it makes sense.

I hear a siren. I lose count these days. If one stood on the corner of Maryland and Flamingo and listened for twenty-four hours, he would hear no less than twenty-four sirens—What is wrong with us? Are we all lighting ourselves on fire? Then, I remember the drugs, the homeless, the drunks, the gates, the murders, the thefts, the gangs, the strippers, the hookers, the suicides, the rapes, the broken homes, the dead-beat fathers, the illiterate, CCSD, Las Vegas Boulevard, and the man just now yelling at his girl. Suddenly, it makes sense.

A bat screeches above me in circles, aimless circles. Some kids or a family play on the playground inside the fence—How did they…? I leave it. The road ahead descends and ends in an apartment complex, and lights flicker against homes like tens of Tinker Bells. There’s a “No Trespassing” sign—it’s one long “No Trespassing” sign, this town—and I turn left. I think about visiting another school nearby, which houses goats, but I’m weary of walking and ready for home—home? To the Orange Tabby, anyways.

I leave the school, cross the street, hug the retirement homes, circling back. It’s slightly more pleasant. In a large parking lot a man blares his car radio—it’s one long subwoofer, this town. I pass, and then peace, then—bam! A car screeches, and at my feet a full water bottle tumbles and rolls innocently by. It had collided with the gate to my right, rolling into the gutter, where it likely rests still.

I’ve heard of bike commuters in this town having trash thrown at them. But the litterers are most likely just poor shots. Surely, they aim for the gutter—it’s all one long gutter, this town—as that’s where everything else eventually ends up. They are, in any case, poor shots with their cars. There are stretches of neighborhood walls in this town, on the busier roads, that are tanned in multiple hues of ugly off-brown, different tans due to the cars ramming into them. So the broken walls are plastered up like the broken cars, with various mismatching colors and shades. I imagine most people here are either perpetually high or drunk—it’s own long bar, this town—or angry at walls in general.

These thoughts crash through my head as I pass something that looks like Richard III’s spine sprawled on the lawn—a red, mangled fence, slammed into by a drunk the night before.

*

Sometimes I look at stars and wonder if anyone else sees them too, in happier places. I wonder then we’re not so far from each other after all. I look at the horned, pale moon peaking over purple clouds and wonder if I haven’t become mad like my neighbors, if I haven’t—

O, Cephas, where art thou?
Why hast thou forsaken me?
Has thou found Rocky this eve?

O, Vegas, why are you still here?
Have you not heard?
The bars and clubs are closed,
The strippers are stripped,
The hookers are hooked,
The gamblers are gamboling,
And it’s time—time to go home.

Sometimes, I look to the West, to Mt. Charleston—whence cometh my help? Sometimes, after my eyes adjust, I sit in our corner booth at the Ox. I look at a picture on the wall. Two mallards meekly float on a lake—the ripples ripple in rinds—somewhere deep in the Minnesota wild. I remember—memory floods me—distant lakes and rivers and plain, stillness, peace.

Broom Snow
Dismayed,
August, 2017

Photo: “Kensington Church Walk”
Anonymous
Oil on board, 1939

Honest Burgers, A Gambler*

“You’re not eating sugar? … What kind of quack medicine website told you to do that? What a shame. No joy in that. Now, if you’re doing it as a kind of personal mortification, then carry on, but if you’re doing it for your health, then it’s probably a diet from hell. Well, at least you’re having wine … and you’re not vegan.” — R. Eric Tippin

Dinner.jpg

It was night. We left the talk to look for food. To look for a quiet place to eat and talk, just the four of us: my friend Ulysses, his wife Penelope, and Laertes, an older Cambridge professor of English with an eloquent British accent. We left together, eager for a quiet, relaxing meal of four when—

“Food? Oh, we are going for food?”

“Ohhh? We’re going for food are we? Where are we going now?”

The voices came out of the dark and blindsided us. Argos, the first voice, was a short, Roman Catholic man from Catalonia. He carried a constant grin on his face, formed from a terribly pronounced overbite, and spoke in such an incoherent accent that one only understood every fourth word or so.

Before I knew it, the second voice was grabbing my arm.

“You will lead me,” she said. Ino was an older lady with shiny white hair and a strong British accent that carried her conservative, Roman Catholic views like the wind—to, through, out, and beyond its object. She seemed a tad tipsy this evening, and I could not refuse her arm. As she held on, we walked slowly, watching the group of four ahead of us, leave us behind.

“The nerve of those intellectuals to just keep talking around the Muslim problem but never addressing it. The Ox-Bridge elites are out of touch with the common man. I tell you, out-of-touch. Why, in 1939, the intellectual elites at Oxford voted against going to war with Hitler. But any common man in any common pub could have told you we ought to go to war. And the same is true today. We are at war, and Oxford and Cambridge are not coming to our aide! All these Ox-Bridge elites want to do is talk about it, as if that will help. But, now, what do you? You aren’t British are you?”

She said it more as an accusation than a question. I explained, sheepishly, that I was a doctoral student in America.

“Ohhh… And what are you studying?”

“English. Chesterton.”

“Oh really? What? Are you Catholic? Now, Chesterton, there’s something worth studying. I just love Chesterton. One of the brightest minds of the twentieth century. Now he knew the common man well. And the feminists hated him. And they still do. Feminists! Are they not the worst? And the lesbians! You know what a lesbian is, don’t you? Why a lesbian is only a spinster who couldn’t get any!”

For some reason these last words she seemed to yell, and I looked across the street at a few women passing, and I looked up to her, and I looked at our tangled arms with no little horror.

“What’s your name?”

“Brandon.”

“Brandon? What? Are you Irish or something?”

“No… I’m American. We’re Swiss originally.”

“Swiss? What’s your last name?”

“Schneeberger.”

We were now approaching our group, who waited at a corner for us. As we approached, Ino spoke:

“Schneeberger? What an incredible name! Schneeberger! Such a strong name. Schneeberger! You must love saying it.” Here, Ino let go of my arm, looked at our patient comrades, pushed out her chest, and stood as tall as she could.

“Schnee-berger! Schnee-berger! My name-is-Schnee-berger!”

As she spoke, I noticed a look of dismay darken Ulysses’ face, horrified that Ino had followed. Penelope’s eyes widened with fear. Laertes looked as perplexed as any Cambridge professor can. And Argos. Argos stood with this pronounced overbite and grin, nearly drooling for lack of food. And I. I only hoped my future wife would be so proud to lay claim to my name.

*

We continued onward in the night. Again, Ino and I fell behind. She continued railing against leftists, feminists, and intellectuals, when suddenly she stopped, let go of my arm, walked behind me, and entered a pub.

I looked ahead through the crowd, watching my party grow smaller and smaller. Now is my chance, I thought. Just go. I could almost see the demon next me, chanting these words. But I resolved not to and followed Ino into the pub.

“What, Brandon? Didn’t they come in here?”

I explained they hadn’t, and when we reentered the sidewalk, I looked ahead only to discover the absence of my group.

We kept walking and turned left on Guildhall, thinking the group had. But when we turned, we saw nothing but a deserted market square.

“Now where did they go? Did you see them turn this way, Brandon?”

I assured her I had, but was perplexed as to where to go next. A new thought occurred to me: I know, I should just take her some place, spare the rest. Just as I was about to ask Ino out to dinner, Ulysses appeared from nowhere, pointing to a nearby burger joint.

*

“I want the beef,” Ino pointed to the menu with authority. Our waiter, who seemed to be tripping off his latest hit, said, “Alright. Beef burger” and wrote it down on his pad.

“Beef burger? I didn’t just order a burger,” Ino declared. “I ordered the beef.” Again, she pointed to the menu.”

“That’s the beef burger,” the waiter explained.

Burger? Where does it say burger?” Ino flipped the menu over several times. “It just says beef. I don’t want a burger. I want beef. Where does it say burger?” As she continued searching for the word, Laertes pointed to the window.

“Look. It says it right there. It’s the name of the restaurant. Honest Burgers.”

Ulysses and Penelope studied the wood of the table with great concentration. I looked at Ino with a confused awe. Argos grinned on in the night. Ino understood.

“I want the beef,” she repeated.

“So you want the beef burger without the buns?”

“Yes, that’s right. No buns. Just beef.”

“Do you want the other toppings as well?”

“What other toppings? I want the beef.”

“The toppings on the burger,” Laertes chimed in. “It’s a burger place. It comes with burger toppings. Tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise. Do you want those?”

“Oh fine, fine.” Ino finished ordering.

And Ulysses and Penelope studied the table.

“I’ll take the beef burger with buns and no pink, please.” I said.

“Pink?” It was Argos’ turn. “What does it mean if it comes with pink?”

“Huh?” The waiter seemed confused.

“He said he doesn’t want pink in his burger, what does that mean?”

“Pink, like the middle is slightly undercooked. Do you want that?”

“That’s what pink is, huh—how much is it undercooked? Is it good that way?”

“I mean, it’s what you want. Some like more pink in their burger, makes it juicier. It just depends on what you want.”

“Jucier… is the pink like in the middle or the outside?”

“It’s in the middle, you can’t see it. Do you want that?”

“Why do people get it with pink in the middle if it is undercooked. Wait, so its in the middle?” Argos grinned with each question.

“It’s how long you want your burger cooked. Do you want your burger cooked the whole way or not?” Laertes spoke and seemed a little frustrated. And Argos, like a chastised dog, ordered a burger with no pink.

And Ulysses and Penelope studied the table.

*

The conversation meandered around that night’s talk.

“I thought the speaker seemed a little tired, and that was a shame,” Ulysses said, calmly. Penelope smiled.

“Yes,” said Laertes “And my question about religion tried to get him to think—”

“Oh he was dreadfully timid—scared really. He was just another scared intellectual. All these Cambridge and Oxford types are just scared intellectuals. Scared to confront the real problem: that we are at war.” Ino spoke with her usual authority on the issue. “If Chesterton were alive today he would whip these intellectuals into shape. He knew the common man. He knew that the intellectuals only ever talked about anything, never acted on it.”

“But it’s not that simple we can’t just go to war—”

“In 1939 the intellectuals at Oxford voted against going to war with Hitler. 1939. You know what happened in 1939 do you not? It’s no different today.”

Laertes saw the conversation was going nowhere and turned to me: “So you are here to study?”

“Yes. I’m going down to the British Library to look at Chesterton’s manuscripts.”

“His manuscripts?” Argos now spoke, and his grin seemed to grow even wider. “His manuscripts? So do you ask for all the manuscripts at one time? Is that what you do?”

“Chesterton was not out of touch with the common man as the modern intellectuals are today. That is what he preached.” Thus, Ino.

“Well, no, I don’t ask for all the manuscripts. You can only have so many at a time…”

“In 1939, the Oxford intellectuals voted against going to war with Hitler…”

“Do they let you look at anything you want while you are down there at the British Library?”

“The common man at the common pub would know what to do better than the modern intellectual.”

“How much pink is in your burger?”

“In 1939…”

These voices seemed to rise and fall and tangle with each other and become one flesh. The meal finished, we disembarked and split. But I wonder that Ulysses and Penelope are not there still, heads down, waiting for the suitors to leave their table.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner—Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sunday, July 23, 2017

Painting: “Captain Lord George Graham (1715-174), in His Cabin.”
By William Hogarth,
Oil on canvas, 1745

——————————–

*The individuals in this piece, including the author, have been given pseudonyms for purposes of privacy. Neither the author nor the websites on which this piece appears necessarily adheres to the opinions of those characters.

Ghosts, A Gambler

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth Garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
—Eliot

Colkett, Victoria Susanna, 1840-1926; King's College Chapel, Cambridge, as Seen from Clare Hall Piece and Crotches

“Maybe…” The ugly glass building ahead of us glowed. Three behind us sang—a garbled, chant-like song. Polish, perhaps—“Maybe,” I repeated. “We’ve landed in Purgatory.” The hot air from the day had cooled, and the blue-black clouds of a slow-dying sunset swirled above us. The heavens spoke in puffs of off-white, dark blue. A large bus revved its engine and slowly pulled away, and the noise mixed with song mixed with smell of bus-stops and garbage and “It feels like, yes, this is kind of how I expect Purgatory to be.” A friend next to me on the wood bench had spoken and entered the sounds surrounding us. “Bedford. She was driving very quickly. Maybe we did die.” “What if that’s death, then, well… ” I tried to fit my thoughts around subjects and express subjects in words and speech but failed. I considered the possibility and looked at my leg, resting peacefully on my knee. The chant ceased; a bus neared us and we rose.

*

I sat down in a wicker chair in Gough Square. Alone, I looked at the old, wood railing. The room, empty, seemed alive with figures, figures and leaves, with pencils notched behind their ears. They examined the leaves carefully and jostled notes on a large table—centered, dictating to the room the moment. Little left the lips of the men—a serving man rose like a fog, creeping up stairs into room. Tea-things out, the men paused, drank. A deep noise thundered from below—everyone looked at each other. The large ugly figure squeezed his way up stairs. He grumbled something to the others, took tea, spilt tea, grumbled again, spoke, muttered, too-too-too under his breath, holding his tea cup, playing his tongue backwards, laughing like a rhinoceros, vanishing. Alone, again, I sighed and stumbled down the steps to a door, outside, and a day also descending.

*

Two hundred and sixty years later, we looked at his portrait. “So distinct, this one,” my friend said. “It’s famous. On a book, back home,” I said. “And here it is.” “I could be in here all day,” my friend said. “See, there’s Laud. There’s Sterne.” Wearied with walking we paced the rooms slowly—so many eyes staring at us—so many dead faces looking so lively, and “I just stood on his grave and wept. And there he lies, alive and well.” The names seemed to rise in those moments; each a full-grown story of love and hate and joy and sorrow and fear and hope and longing and the tale of good conquering evil for good. “It’s amazing he’s recognized, considering he’s a Christian.” I said as we walked outside his old home off High Street. “Think of all he’s done,” my friend spoke again. “At some point; they can’t ignore greatness. There comes a limit to their prejudice, when they must acknowledge the greatness of a writer like him. Forever, he’ll be canonized.”

*

The third canon sounded. We stood. One after one after one they came, racing up river. Arms moved like great wings to a voice. Shouts from the bank: “As a unit! As a unit!” Some made blades, some were bumped, and we watched on in the sun and heat. “One may need to go all Byron in this river,” I said. He was here, I remembered. So was… We walked along the river, three of us. Crossing a bridge we spotted a smokestack and continued. At the George, we rested, some eight or nine miles later. “How long has this gone on?” I asked. My friend replied: “Oh. Nineteenth century. Many of our traditions, Christmas, the way we know them, go back to the Victorians. They loved ritual, tradition. They created so many. And today we have that.” An ugly building glowed in the late afternoon sun. Then, smoking pipes on Fisher, the calm evening set in. “Glad no hoodlums are out,” he said. Moments later, a fat man in black stumbled near us. He wore a heavy coat and carried a Fosters in hands bedecked with silver rings. Two more cans were stuck in his coat. He saw us and mumbled. I understood little and watched him take a large pinch of the tobacco we smoked. And he smelled it. His eyes danced while he did so, the tobacco soon disappearing in his coat. He too disappeared. “Falstaff lives yet,” my friend said.

*

I took a seat on a stone slab by the river, near the theater. I tried to imagine him but couldn’t. To many of them—people, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, America, on and on and on and me, alone. A man strummed a guitar while others had their portraits drawn or sipped on drinks, chatting. A fat boat passed by full of more people. He was here, maybe sitting right here. What does that mean? What am I doing here? Pilgrimages make us small and weak and the longing to be a part of something bigger and better than ourselves swells, and through this shrinking we expand and then—photographs. Around me, humans inhumanely took pictures by the hundreds. The theater was desecrated—Cromwell couldn’t have done better. The photographers tried to own everything—every inch and angle and wall and step and memory. They lacked reverence and contemplation, humility. He was here. I rose, turned, crossed a bridge, and walked back to the cathedral.

*

Behind me sways the large horse chestnut by the chapel. A tuxedoed student wrestles the breeze with lighter and cigarette while a band plays “Come Together” to no one. I know my location by the chapel. It won’t move, but it will move me. More dressed-up students head toward an evening ball in blacks and whites and reds. “I wonder if the town creates the poets, or if they came that way,” I had mused to my friend. “Hard to say,” he replied. “They started young, some of them, Byron, died young.” This chapel though, this town, straddles two worlds—a chapel rests on the edge of rural and cosmopolitan, the then and now, the here and there. When we enter, we lose ourselves to time, place, language; we find our identity by entering into the living tradition; it is within these walls we are ourselves as we truly are and truly can be; we see not only the living surrounding us but the ghosts of all those who came before and worshipped on that spot. I find it no coincidence the poets came from a town with so many churches packed together. I left the chapel and snaked around and through the market, but toward the river. Squeezing through pedestrians, I now edged the water across from Magdalene and on. Jesus Green teemed as it had with people enjoying the cool evening air, and I would remember it that way, as my feet turned homeward.

*

I left my temporary home on Fisher Street at earliest daylight. Passing Alexander Gardens, Jesus Green, Midsummer Common, I said goodbye. I boarded a bus at Parker’s Piece. Five thousand miles later it was night. An older, ghastlier version of myself walks through glowing penny-slot-machines and rainbow-buildings.

Broom Snow
Cambridge, England—Fisher Street, etc.
&
Las Vegas, Nevada—Rochelle Avenue
June 20, 28 2017

Painting: “King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, as Seen from Claire Hall Piece and Crotches”
By Victoria Susanna Colkett
Oil on panel, 1863

Apocalypse, A Gambler

“The stars are thin… Where shall we lair to-day? for from now, we follow new trails.”
— Gray Brother, The Jungle Book

Leighton, Edmund Blair, 1852-1922; Farewell

The knob was yellow, and I tugged on the lever from silver-lined holes—six, of which two scarlet, padded bars swiveled. Placing my legs on and through the padded bars, I tugged at another, chained, knob and inserted the metal stick at seventy. With my calves, I pressed downward on one of the scarlet bars. I felt that awkward contact of plastic lining against skin and leg hairs. My hamstrings tightened, burned. I counted. Eight, nine. At twelve, I rested. Suddenly, to my right, a most familiar grunt echoed throughout the gym—the somber silence of a campus January-gym where little but a few tings wrestle with the odious pop songs of Rhianna and company. But this grunt deadened all noise. To my satisfaction, it suffocated Rhianna. I recognized it and preferred it to her wailings and cries for attention. The grunt drowned out her racket, as if it beat her with a stick. It resounded, sounding like the man dead-lifted hundreds of pounds, even as if he birthed a child. My calves attacked the scarlet pad once again, and as I inwardly grunted, I cast my eyes upward. There, walking across my way, directly in front, strode Cephas—eyes bulging, head twitching, as silent and grave as the gym, as loud and magnificent as the gods.

Deciding to squat, I crossed the gym. On my way, I saw Cephas again, also squatting. I balked, then called out his name.

“Cephas.” No response. “Cephas!” I walked closer. The man whipped around and flailed his huge eyes at me. He greeted me with a fist-bump, and we flung ourselves into one of those conversations that lasts thirty minutes but circles around a single topic so that only the first and last few minutes are memorable.

“Hey! Hey!” Cephas pointed at me. “Hey! You can help me with those essays, right? You can help me, huh?” I agreed to this. “I just gotta get in to grad school. Gotta get in. I’ll be so friggin’ pissed if they don’t let me in. So I gotta get these essays written. It’s friggin’ stressin’ me out, man. Gotta friggin’ get these essays in and then hope for the best.” I assured him we would write up some good essays and asked him what his backup plan was. “I don’t know! It’s stressin’ me out, man. Gotta friggin’ get in. They gotta let me in. I got great references, we’re gonna write some good essays, I gotta good GPA, I’ll nail the interview. Look,” Cephas touched my shoulder and gave me a look. “Look, they’re groomin’ me for this over there.” He pointed in several directions and his eyes followed. “They’re groomin’ me for this, I gotta think. I gotta hope that I’ll get in, man. Just gotta get in.”

After Cephas asked me what I thought his chances were, I assured him he had a good shot. “Well, look,” he continued. “I gotta get in, just gotta get in. If I don’t then I’m out here! I met this girl—you’ve seen her, right? Hey! Have you met her? I’ve got this good girl. If I don’t get in, then I’m friggin’ outta here. I’ll be moving in May. So I gotta get in.” For the first time in my short relationship with Cephas, it occurred to me that my next door neighbor may not be forever next door. As he spoke, my stomach knotted. I saw visions. I saw Cephas moving boxes out of the apartment, his three cats wide-eyed with terror. I saw another man, a young rapscallion, moving a television. I saw two large speakers move into that same apartment. Then, I saw something else entirely: as if in the distance, at and during the end of the world. I saw Cephas with his girl, followed by a troop of young Cephas’s, all in a line, all flailing their arms wildly, heads twitching, eyes bulging. And as I looked at Cephas while he spoke, he seemed to slowly expand and multiply. I felt the horrid anticipation of another crushing blow, another goodbye.

*

Sometimes, at dusk, the Vegas sun tucks behind the mountains. Its glow bounces off the back of the range. It shines upward. The blue and purple mountains sink below a hot-pink. Those clouds color and crisp and look nearly solid, as if one could walk on them, carefully treading pink ice. For half a moment we forget to distinguish sky and land. Sometimes, heading west on those evenings, when the last hums and sirens of a tired day fade out into the void, when a few stragglers stumble home, or the nearest bar, when the last beggar rises from the bins, pushing his cart in the stillness, the echoing of cart-creaks, we feel we walk as one to the end of time and space. We live on the edge of existence—the final colonies. A few hundred miles and man follows the sun to the sea and the end of days.

*

“Hey!” Cephas stood in my entryway. “Hey! You want this?” I now stood in his bedroom, observing a large chair. “Go ahead, sit down, try it out.” I obeyed. Then I agreed. Returning about a week later, Cephas and I moved the chair into my apartment—he grunting and yelling at the movers to pack his television before it got hit. Once the chair was situated, we looked at each other—two men awkwardly observing that common human ritual. “Okay, well,” he said. “Well, hey! we’ll be in touch, right?” I assured him we would, knowing we probably wouldn’t. We hugged. He told me he loved me. He left.

I sat in his chair after, waiting to leave myself for England later that day. Soon, there would be two empty apartments on East Rochelle Avenue, hollow and alone. But as I sat on Cephas’ chair, now mine, that morning, I listened to him move the final items from his home and reflected. I remembered all my memories with the man—a blurry swirl of moments and objects that seem to have been going on for ages, of Albertsons’ fried chicken and potato wedges, beer-conversations, essay-outlining, essay-drafting, the late afternoon grunts of Cephas pulling his bike up the stairs, the evening call for Rocky, vet-visits, dentist-visits, Walmart-visits, conversations—politics, weather, Cepha’s stolen bike, Cephas’ new bike, Cephas dissatisfied, Cephas returning the bike, Cephas’ new-new bike, Cephas’ stolen bike seat, taking Smoky to the vet, checking in on Smoky, weighing Smoky, Smoky’s new food-bowl-pyramid, Smoky losing weight, Smoky’s new collar, building Rocky and Taylor a play-pin, dessert-gifts, more friend chicken and potato wedges, Rocky not coming home, searching for Rocky, putting up signs for Rocky, the evening call for “Rawckay! Rawkay!” rising in significance, beer that evening wondering where he could be—hoping, hoping, Rocky’s return, asking Cephas if I can use his internet, Cephas needing computer help, research help, formatting help, Cephas graduating, dissing on Vegas, ready to “get-outta-here,” one final “Rawkay! My boy! Rawkway!” as he shuts the door and descends the steps—nothing but an absence, an end, memory.

Broom Snow
Corner House—Carlyle Road
Cambridge, England
May 23, 29, 2017

Painting: “Farewell,”
By Edmund Blair Leighton
Oil on canvas, 1922

Pageants, A Gambler

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air; into thin air.
— Shakespeare

I knelt and crossed myself because I felt it necessary. A few others observed the ritual, many ignored it, and I sat midway in the pew. Kneeler down, I took to knees, crossed again, raised my eyes to the crucifix. Then, bowing, eyes shut, prayer—that mystical communion between created and Creator, the soul in paraphrase, exalted Manna. When I finished, I crossed myself again. The chatter from parishioners echoed against wood-pews and stone-floor. My mind felt unease, unfocused, despite the calm of an organ at the front. The marbled altar was bare, and a mundane, wood cross that looked as if it belonged to a youth-camp passion skit sat on its side and leaned up against the marble. That cross was also bare. The noisy chatter made it feel as if the people were protesting the music. Are my neighbors here…? The cross had a purple cloth draped around it for no apparent reason, and I wondered which cross shouted more loudly my religion. The one on the wall hoisted an off-white, creamy-skinned, Jewish man, notably beardless. It demanded respect, attention, like the organ.

The building smelt like any other meeting placed fitted with low and low-middle class Vegans. Finally, the woman gave up the organ, never knowing my appreciation, my desire she continue. Another woman discovered a microphone and as if quieting a high school classroom spoke across, around, through each hovering voice and its echo.

But she spoke firmly and with authority, and the parishioners simmered and listened. When she finished giving announcements, she said, “And now, let us observe a moment of silence to prepare our hearts for today’s mass.” No more than eight seconds passed. Another woman. We all stood and opened the books in the our pews to the number. A man strummed an acoustic guitar while a woman, presumably the organ-goddess, pounded on a piano. Some of us sung with the choir-of-five as an old, balding man in slacks and a unzipped, blue-black wind-breaker glided down the middle aisle. Above his head, he hoisted a rectangular wicker-basket. He disappeared from sight the closer he approached the aisle.

Then followed two children, one girl, one boy, clad in white robes, each holding a candle. Behind them a boy carrying a tall pole with another bare, brass cross atop it. The whole building exuded a sort of barrenness—bare walls with only cheap, Sunday School pictures of the Stations and two large murals. The only statue was the crucifix. The priest followed the procession, reading from a large tome, and the parishioners largely ignored him as he made his way to the front. They couldn’t sustain their ignorance, however, when that same priest returned down the aisle with an altar girl, throwing holy water from a large golden spoon. As he approached the parishioners held out to him palm-leaf crosses, and I felt nervous and ashamed, for I had not taken one when I entered the pageant. As they held their crosses and were sprinkled, we struggled through more versus than was our custom, the priest making sure to leave no man unsprinkled. I only waited for the Kyrie eleison.

You were sent to heal the contrite of heart, sings the lady.

We respond, singing,

Crowd: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Deaconess: You came to call sinners.
Crowd: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Deaconess: You are seated at the right hand of the father to intercede for us.
Crowd: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

That works, I thought, sitting down. Why don’t we do that every Sunday? It’s the Greek that does it, for me, I’m convinced. These thoughts were on their way out as we prepared for today’s gospel reading. It’s a long one, I thought. Palm Sunday. Probably won’t be a homily today. What’s this?

Something truly terrifying happened. Whether the spirit of Luther, Zwingli, Billy Graham, or Chris Tomlin had entered into the priest, I cannot for certain say. What I do know is that he sat down in the front pew. Lights went low. A lady stood at a microphone. A youth in white entered the stage. He was Jesus. The lady at the podium narrated. We witnessed the crucifixion before our very eyes that morning. Who needs a crucifix when you have the real thing? Three large men dressed like the Blues Brothers appeared on stage. They took and drug and beat the youth in white. Then, in sudden motion, they all froze. My eyes grew wide with fear, suspense, nervousness, terror. The lady continued her narrative, explaining the inexplicable. She ceased. They carried forth their deeds. With intermittent freeze-frames from the actors and explanations from our loyal and fearless narrator, the crucifixion scene played out before us. Veronica showed up to wipe Jesus’s brow and tears. Simon appeared just in time to help with the cross and offered a stirring monologue revealing his inner psychological and moral reservations at helping. But the Blues Brothers would not let him out of it.

Some parishioners shuffled, antsy with worry how long this would last. Then Mary entered. Jesus was laying down on the cross at the foot of the alter. One of the Blues Brothers had already converted. Now was the time. Whether it was the narrator or a recording, I cannot say for sure, but thunder boomed from the speakers above us. All went deathly silent. Just to my left, in the middle aisle, a woman appeared. Thunder, then silence. It was a terrible moment. She screamed, too loudly, I felt, “Jesus!” She thrust her arms skyward. “Jesus! My boy! Jesus!” She wept and cried out his name, approaching her son. She wept at his feet, froze, let the narrator bind the loose ends, and left the stage with her son in silence. They all flittered away as if evaporated into thin air, and the mass cautiously resumed. There was no homily that day, for there was no gospel. But there was an order to that pageant, an awkward, herky-jerky, even nervous order, that may have mimicked Christ’s entrance on a donkey. I wondered it was not choreographed by the spirit of Postmodernism or the five-hundred-year-old soul of Luther.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 24, 2017

Painting: “Donkey and Lambs”
By Eugene Joseph Verboeckhoven
Oil on canvas, 1849

Golf, A Gambler

He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their King Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and sent down a rabbit hole and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. – Tolkien

de Hooch, Pieter, 1629-1684; The Little Golf Players

The day was overcast. My grey putter showed marks of wear and tinged against the white ball that scooted across the practice green like an errant snowflake tossed by a breeze. It failed to disappear though, and a few more balls were struck when I heard our name over the loudspeaker. Who’s “Chang?” I asked turning to my comrade. “Guess we’re paired up with someone.” My stomach knotted as I placed my putter in its slot and headed to the tee. I envisioned the worst. Noisy teenagers. Beer. Cursing. Confrontations. Yet better than me. What I saw surprised me. I took out my driver and started loosening my joints. “Looks like we’ve got kids,” I said motioning to a Korean family with two girls, eight and ten. After muffing the first shot, I struck a solid, slicing ball down the right fairway. I felt alright with the shot, and after my comrade outdrove me, we walked a ways and watched the ten-year-old tee up her shot. A picture perfect swing sent the ball straight down the fairway, about a hundred and fifty yards. The two girls cleaned up with pars, I managed something other than par, and we proceeded to the second hole.

On the fairway, once again out-driven by an eight-year-old, I grabbed my three-wood. “I just love this club,” I said. “You might want to wait till they get off the green…” My comrade motioned to the group ahead of us. “Nah, I won’t hit ‘em.” I had a nice swing and good contact. The sound of “good shot” from the eight-year-old. The ball took its typical slicing direction but sailed straight, mainly. So straight, it collided with the cart path and rolled nice and close to a stationary golf cart waiting for its drivers to return from the green. My stomach knotted again, and I foresaw confrontations. Meanwhile, the two girls smacked flawless approach shots and seemed to glide to the green in a single uniform line. After apologies and two or three chip shots, I three-putted and proceeded to the third hole.

Just pretend the water isn’t there, I thought to myself during my third tee shot. I never did see that ball again, as, like my swing, it slowly sank, but my vanity was pleased when the ten-year-old also landed hers in the water. As everyone prepared to leave the tee, I grabbed another ball. “I gotta hit it over,” I said. Tightening my grip and keeping my eyes glued on the ball, I made full contact, so full I sent the ball fifty yards past the green and nearly into the street, to the sound of “nice shot” from the ten-year-old.

“You don’t want to hit over by the ditch,” I reminded my comrade, who did so the last time we played the fourth hole. My tee shot decided not to slice and hooked toward the ditch. Now, finding myself amidst a few trees, I decided I would hit a nice, easy shot back towards the fairway, about a hundred yards or so. Best to play it conservative, I thought. No need to play outside your strengths. You aren’t Phil Mickelson. There are worse things than bogeys. As these thoughts bounced about during my practice swing, I saw the shot in perfect execution. But after my club hit the ball, I watched in abject horror as it careened across the fairway, missing the eight-year-old by mere feet. My second apology of the day was followed by seven or so strokes (seven or so “nice shots!” from the girls) and the long-anticipated sound of ball falling into cup. The day was pleasant, and though my comrade was having his own difficulties, he wasn’t maiming anyone, and the two Korean girls continued in their angelic and nearly automated ascent to golf greatness. Each tee shot was flawless in swing, contact, aim. Bogeys bothered them and pars seemed, as it were, par for the course. But while my errant shots may have been taking out the innocent, and I may not have made a single birdie, it was not I who was ruffling feathers, but the girls.

*

“What’s this? Who are these guys? Where’d they come from?” My comrade looked with growing disdain at two golf carts that appeared on the left side of the fairway. “They were behind us. They cut in.” This came from Mr. Chang. “What? Without even asking? They can’t do that. What, look, they’re just waiting around anyways. Go ahead, hit.” I fiddled with my club and looked out at the carts. “I mean, you’re right. If they had just asked, we might have let them play through. It’s only etiquette.” “Play through?” my comrade questioned. “I don’t think so. Look, they’d just be waiting around anyways. There’s nowhere to go. We’re all jumbled up here. Go ahead, hit.” I didn’t need to be told twice, and my ball already on the tee, I took a few practice swings. When the two in the carts saw me load my weapon, they backed out of the fairway to the left rough. Little did they know that the fairway was actually the safest spot on the course that day. Little did they know that my golf ball instinctively did the very thing I told it not to. Just hit your usual slice here, and you’re fine, I thought. Don’t start anything. No problem here. Whatever you do, don’t hit them. Seconds later my ball shot off from the tee and like a sniper’s bullet flew at the carts. Luckily for them, it was low, and after three bounces collided with the bottom of the cart, a hollow “dunk” echoing across the course. “Uh-oh. I hope they didn’t think I did that on purpose,” I said, hoping deep down they thought I meant to hit them and carried it out with exact precision.

But any hope they were impressed faded away when, after a brief confrontation with my comrade, they watched me chunk or top my next several shots (to the sound of the girls chanting “nice shot”). On the next tee Mr. Chang explained they knew the family. “We beat his son in a tournament. I think that’s why they’re upset.” Any major drama avoided, we played out the next holes and my game grew worse and worse (and the “nice shots” grew louder and louder). When we shook hands and parted with the girls, we knew that someday we would be watching them beat other males in much larger tournaments.

*

We played two more. I bogeyed ten, and on eleven hit a slicing, but well-struck drive down the right fairway. Two strokes later, I was kneeling before my ball and eyeing the green-slope. Ten feet from par. My grey putter showed a little more grey from the day’s calamities, yet it tinged as always against a black Nike swoosh logo. And swoosh went the ball. As a dove against the prairie green, so my ball glided, glided, then, with a roar from my comrade, disappeared from sight.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
March 27, April 1-2, 2017

Painting: “The Little Golf Players”
By Pieter de Hooch
Oil on panel, c. 1660

Digging, A Gambler

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down – Seamus Heaney

 

Now, I’ve come to enjoy sounds. Not noise. But sounds—that cacophony of noise that blends and blurs, that mingles and meshes and creates harmony. The world is an instrument, and we are its bows. The world is a symphony, and opera, and we are its choir. The world is a very loud music hall, if one will only listen. The world, with its concordia discors of noise: now, a ticking clock, the whirr of heated air through vent, an orange tabby licking his paw, the hum of a fridge, the drip of a water-fountain; then, the heater, like an organ so dominating, ceases; the chirping birds, flutes, take over the moment; all other instruments are given their space, and even the silent breathing from a human is heard, along with the scratching of pen on paper—like that noise a boy makes when he digs dirt with stick; that rustling, too, of hand with cardboard, as the digger holds and fondles the journal-cover with his hand. It’s that rustling that reminds him of squirrels on trees, their claws scratching wood, as if the digger, with his stick moving earth, must hold back nature lest it interrupt his work.

They say pages are leaves, and the noise they make when turned sounds like the rustling of a leaf or two under the walker’s foot. Perhaps, the writer is no more than a walker and digger. Perhaps, each page is his dirt, each pen his stick, each turned page a new field to furrow. I remember as a boy often digging in the yard, or, on the creek bank. I remember those sounds, the subtle scrape against dirt and stone. It’s so subtle it’s loud. Anyone who grew up a digger, like me, would know. That boy doesn’t just feel the different in texture, that difference between damp clay, dry dirt, soaked mud, and rocks; he hears the difference; and he knows the difference. Because hearing is knowing. He grew up before, and during, the age of noise; he experienced that transition in he world, when sounds were replaced with noise—so much noise the sounds were nearly drowned out. He can’t help but hear that familiar humming of the vehicle always as a backdrop to his memory. The city creek was an odd mixture of natural noise and created noise; like the blending of Beethoven’s Sixth with the ominous buzzing of Hans Zimmer.

The most beautiful instrument is the human. Now, the silent morning welcomes a distant 757; the nearby vehicles roar, now a smaller plane, perhaps a Cessna, murmurs. The human is an animal of noise. Silence is golden, but it is not always natural. Perhaps, it is our struggle. Perhaps, we forget, perhaps we have forgotten, in the past one hundred odd years, the unending joy of good noise—noise that elevates to sound and symphony. Perhaps our civilization has grown too old to appreciate the noise of the digger—that we have grown so old we are afraid of hearing, listening, afraid of what, or who, we might hear. The most beautiful instrument is the human. The most beautiful sound is the voice. A songbird chimes this morning again against the backdrop of a 757, that other bird. A dog barks, just once, and then sliding windows snap and introduce small Latino voices. Nothing is louder than that voice. On a pale evening, when the digger is tired of digging, tired of reading the voices of the dead, he hears, often, the most endearing sounds flow through the walls. That familiar sound of his next door neighbor. That familiar voice yelling his familiar words in his familiar way. That “Rocky!” ringing through the air. Sound more lovely than anything else on earth. A man may hear it through the den of a hundred other noises. And he may do so because he knows it well. It is familiar territory, familiar dirt of another sort he has come to find has unending depth.

*

Every home has particular sounds. I once lived in a house in northeastern Iowa that creaked and croaked like an old man. It was built in 1918, and the wood stairs echoed throughout the house. We became experts at listening to those steps, at knowing whether a human or a cat descended them. If it sounded like a giant tearing through the place, we knew it was my father; if it sounded like a small child, trying its darndest not to make a noise, we knew it was only our cat. Other floorboards lay in their specific way, and one learned which to avoid at night. My current home is not so old; built in the 1970s, it is a young boy compared to that house. Yet it has its own creaks. In my bedroom, just to the right of the door, the floor squeaks, as if out of place. Sometimes, when I am at my desk or sitting in my rocker, I will hear that familiar squeak. Then I will know that the orange tabby approaches.

I am a quiet man by trade. Apart from my digging, I try to listen rather than resound. Recently, though, I have begun enjoying the noise and sounds of cooking: clanging glasses and pots and pans tinging and ringing; ground turkey sizzling; water hissing and bubbling and boiling or slurping and swishing; noodles plopping; rice fluffing; that clunking of knife to cutting board that echoes about the kitchen; the slice of onion layers and crunch of green pepper; the slop-slop of raw chicken and crack-crack of raw eggs; the bubbling of sauces and dusting of salt; that pop of the toaster and then the crispy butter-spread with knife; the slurp of wooden spoon, digging through ingredients in a pot and sounding their depths. All these noises together, all these noises against that daily backdrop of Latino chatter, deep bass, sirens, and 757s, create their own song, their own moment. A good recipe should have a rhythm and depth to its sound as much as its taste. A meal, like worship, should encourage and please all senses. It is little different from the song of the digging boy; for it takes time, effort, and patience; the sound, as all good sound, should never be rushed.

*

My favorite story of digging is of the little boy and St. Augustine. Digging has a rhythm to it, like music, yet its rhythm is of a different nature; it is endless and therefore timeless. One may dig with their pen and come closer to understanding the Divine; the same man may realize that he still has an inexhaustible number of leaves to traverse before he begins understanding the Divine. He may learn, like Dante, that the best way up is first to look down; that if we will ever dig wide enough to fill our holes with the whole ocean, we need time and we need humility. That is, we will need proper humus, the stuff of the earth, from which we come, with its heavenly song.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner—Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Saturday, February 25, 2017

Painting: “A Man Digging Potatoes”
By Thomas Frederick Mason Sheard
Oil on canvas, 1890

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