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Here are three different versions of the same poem
“Frail Words Collapse” (FINAL)
2.50 and its double times 6.
Blue and green connect, collide, crash.
Gone in an instant.
Don’t say a word.
“Frail Words Collapse” (sentence form)
Rolling through 2.50 and its double 6 times in the unending hours when blue and green connect, collide, crash, when insignificant moments undo worlds. Saying nothing on cold, concrete treks before everything is gone in an instant. The beginning.
“Frail Words Collapse” (original)
Details the same.
2.50 and its double times 6.
Blue and green
Connect, collide, crash.
Don’t say a word.
Gone in an instant.
There is a woodpecker named Anxious Augustus who lives in my head,
He pounds all day and all night, He pounds loudest when I get into bed,
He pounds in my eyes, He pounds in my nose,
He pounds in my shoulders, my knees, and my toes,
I can’t stop the noise, I put up a fight,
I cover my head with pillows, I turn out all the lights,
Anxious Augustus keeps on pounding, pounding, pounding, all through the day,
Anxious Augustus keeps on pounding, pounding, pounding. Fly away, I say.
Fly away, Anxious Augustus, I’ve had enough of you.
Fly away, Anxious Augustus, how can I be rid of you?
I shake my fists and stomp the floor,
but all that raging only encourages him more,
and all that raging encourages him more.
I sit in a chair,
I pick up my book,
I turn the pages,
I take a look,
At other places,
and other times,
At far-away stories,
and far-away rhymes,
And soon the rustle of feathers I hear,
The din is quieted within my ear,
I am so relieved, I am so happy to say: Anxious Augustus has flown far away,
Anxious August has flown far away.
Ghosts in Madagascar
After the grueling sixteen hour flight from JFK airport to Johannesburg, South Africa (I did not sleep), and after the subsequent five hour flight from J-burg to Antananarivo (capital of Madagascar… again, I did not sleep), AND after the third and final two hour flight from Tana’ to Fort Dauphin, in southern Madagascar- I had finally arrived.
We spent the first five days in Fort Dauphin gathering supplies, learning cultural taboos, and drinking a fair amount of the local beer. From this impoverished port city we trekked fifteen miles to the remote village of Mahatalaki, where we would be spending the next thirty days working on the construction of a secondary school building, eating rice & beans, hiking, eating rice & beans, reading, eating rice & beans, drinking local beer, and eating rice & beans (I have seldom eaten rice & beans since, but I still long for the beer).
The human ability to adapt to one’s environment is astounding- two weeks in such a beautiful place, with the rich desert landscape (deforestation has destroyed 80% of Madagascar’s famous rainforests), green and red mountains, indescribable beaches, and I was more physically and spiritually content than any other time in my life (I was also 40lbs under weight, and hallucinating about cheeseburgers and pizza). The one aspect of Malagasy life that I could not get used to was the ghosts.
One does not need to visit Madagascar; one may simply search any academic archive, and discover that the Malagasy people are innately superstitious. From the most uneducated farmer, to Politicians in Tana’- Malagasy people whole heartedly believe in the undead. Of course skeptical does not even begin to describe my initial reaction to many of the stories I heard from local villagers, but like the inevitable rice & beans, I became used to the concept.
I became used to a great many things: sleeping on the ground, sleeping on the wet ground, sleeping in full rain gear, warm beer, even rice & beans (the rice & beans, and I had a very tumultuous relationship), but the one thing I could never get used to was the damn ghosts.
Imagine: you wake up in the middle of the night with that quite familiar sharp discomfort in your pelvis- you have to pee, now! You rummage through your sack for your head torch and sandals, and exit your tent in the direction you hope the long-drop (common third-world out house) is in- it can become quite dark at night, in Africa, in the middle of nowhere. As you stumble over rocks and sandy roots, your spine is greeted by a terrifying, and very real chill- an odd sound is rapidly approaching from behind, as if someone has thrown a boomerang in your direction (no one has ever thrown a boomerang in my direction, but I cannot describe the airy doppler-effect sound any other way), and as the sound appears to reach your exact position it abruptly stops. No trailing off, just stops, terminates, ceases to be as if it never was.
With your head torch on, you spin around wildly (probably hilariously- a half petrified white man with a flashlight strapped to his head, flailing about in the middle of the night), searching for the source: a bird, some strange insect… a boomerang. Nothing.
For the countless times I, and all the other visitors and villagers experienced this phenomenon, none could offer an explanation.
I truly miss Madagascar with all my heart; I even miss the rice & beans. But, I do not miss the ghosts.
Giddy with Glee
My third grade classroom was all a buzz as the day was a special day, a different day. Today, our parents came in to talk about their jobs. For most kids, today was exciting simply because we didn’t have to do the regular handwriting drills or math equations. For today, our seed experiments sat on the window sill, unexamined. For the select few students that had their parents coming in, today was their day to shine. For once, I was one of these students! My dad rarely came to parent-teacher nights, so I was more excited that he got to finally see my desk and how organized it was, rather than listen to him tell all of us what he did for a living and how it financially supports my sister and me. When I saw him approach the entrance to our classroom, I was giddy with glee. It was as though seeing my father in this setting allowed our relationship to focus on me for once. We made eye contact, and he gave me a wink. I couldn’t focus or listen to the other parent talk about his job because I was so excited to see my dad in MY classroom. This never happened to me! It was finally my turn. I snap out of my cloud when I hear the applause from my classmates, signaling the end of Amy’s firefighter dad’s presentation. I look back to the doorway, and I see my dad slowly begin his entrance into the classroom.
In the twilight of an early morning, he stirs his feeble flesh awake. The sun hasn’t yet crept toward the horizon, the night sky still holding strong in this early hour. To the old man, it doesn’t matter. His eyes betrayed him some months ago, and his sight has been rapidly degrading since. He blindly paws his night stand, seeking useless glasses that comfortably sit in the deep grooves above his ears. His skin is milk-pale and drawn tight against a thin, angular frame. He groans and runs corded hands over his scruffy face and bald head. The last vestiges of sleep slowly drip off of him as the first rays of light, rays he will not see, peek from behind the barn he’d erected with the aid of his parishioners some forty odd years ago. His wife stirs slightly without awakening. He is glad for it. This must be done alone – his daily ritual that had become habit in the days since his sight had been stricken.
He rubs callused palms together and bows his head. There was a time when this process brought a feeling akin to love, a sort of spiritual refreshment. It is now a mechanical, chugging thing that he knows will prove fruitless and false, but he will try today and tomorrow and each day after. It was his life for the first sixty nine years, and it is not so easily changed.
“Our Father,” he starts in a thick, Dutch accent, “who art in heaven…”
His voice wavers, and a hot pain burns in his over-tight jaw.
“Our Father, who art in heaven,” he tries again, “hallowed be thy…”
His sharp, thin shoulders bounce as the sobs wash through him. He cries. He will finish before she awakens to see him like this – the sad, broken pastor whose eyes don’t work.
“Say the words. Say them! He took your eyes, not your prayers, damn it.”
He sits there a while longer letting the tears dry, hands held just before his face as the sun detaches from the horizon. The warmth of its light fills his room, but he doesn’t see the change from dawn to morning. He thinks of a time when these hands had moved so emphatically towards God’s purpose.
The true tragedy is not in the loss of sight, but in the inability to accurately recall what he’d looked upon for so many years. The pastor will never again see his wife’s face for what it truly is, but rather a sad menagerie of cobbled together memories. The contours and lines of his bent, old home have become a labyrinthine prison. He contemplates this a moment longer until Ruth at last awakens. She smiles warmly at her oblivious husband at the edge of the bed. She takes up his frail hand in her soft, warm fingers and runs her other hand over his back. She loves him. Really and truly. As much as she had before he’d lost his vision, his prayer, and his hope. As much as one can after fifty years.
“Shall we pray?” she whispers.
The pastor nods his head. With her lead, he intones the Lord’s Prayer, his words hollow and flimsy in the searing morning sunlight.