Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I am given rotten fruit
told it is mine
that I must eat it.
Once I might have,
not knowing the difference
having been raised
on bruised sweetness
Spotted, worm-holed
compost fodder
might have formed
bones and sinews
but it was bitter
in the belly
Today I am a
connoisseur of freshness
not a gourmet yet, perhaps
but tasteful nonetheless
and it is sweet

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wander Well

This is my response to this week's poetry prompt at Simply Snickers ( . The prompt: wander, weak, wild, wit, wonder. And, well, all that alliteration got me this is kind of a wild, wacky romp through the world of the letter W. It is tongue-in-cheek, but there is a more serious moral in there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Without further ado...

Wander well o will ‘o wisp
Wait not, weak with water want
Watch the whirl-wind wyvern waver, whimper
Wonder at willow’s worthy, wild wit
Wish the wife’s week whittled to weal, but the
Wheel of wealth is weighted with woe
West is won, warded by whales
Wind is a warehouse the width of the world
Wander well o will ‘o wisp

100 Words - Pillar

Here is this week's entry for the 100 Words challenge. The word? Pillar (as you may have already guessed :). Oddly enough - and I am not the only one to do this - this week's entry continued from where last week's left off. Continuity seems to be important to me lately - perhaps because I haven't had very much of it in real life. Anyway, I hope you enjoy:

Like tendrils of mist, erasing, forgiving, her voice curled around the pillars of the courtyard and filled the spaces in between. It was careful and gentle, neither tentative nor demanding. He could feel it seeping into the chinks in his defenses, loosening stones and threatening to topple his carefully built walls. That frightened him more than anything. He wasn’t sure he was ready for a love that threatened his defenses.


But she continued unfazed, unabated, as if to say, “I love you too much to give up.” He sank to his knees, weeping for he knew not what.


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Friday, July 25, 2008

Five Word Friday #4

Welcome to Five Word Friday, published on Friday for the second week in a row! Something's wrong, I tell ya :) Anyway, the words for today are: pomegranate, helicopter, tissue, organic and drumming. If you participate, just stop back by and add a comment with a link to your FWF post on your own blog. Enjoy!


I sit at my kitchen table sipping my pomegranate juice, a daily ritual. Some people drink coffee. I happen to believe in the amazing powers of the pomegranate. Most people I tell about that are skeptical, but on the other hand I haven’t been sick once in the past 7 years, ever since I started doing this.

This is one of my favorite times of day, especially in my new apartment. Phileas made good on his word and his friend agreed to a trial contract. As long as I continue to pay rent in full and on time I will have a full contract in six months, and with the money I’m making at the nursery that should be no problem. Not only does my new apartment have 2 more rooms, the regular rooms, like the kitchen and dining room, even the bathroom are more spacious. Everything is clean, kept up, and in good working order. What a difference it makes! There is a dining room, in addition to the kitchen, but there is also a bay window in the kitchen with space for a little breakfast nook. The window looks out over a lush garden filled with hibiscus, rhododendrons, fiddle ferns, taro and a squat little date palm, all plants that are reminiscent to me of beaches and paradise. I usually get up before Kyra wakes up and sit and drink my pomegranate juice and enjoy being alone for a bit.

Usually my mind wanders, flitting from subject to subject like a hummingbird, never resting for long but staying only long enough to sip the nectar from each thought before moving on to the next. Today, however, and for the past few days my thoughts have been consumed with the Fraternal Order of Journeymen. It has been over two months since my encounter with Grisleigh and in that time I have not seen him or heard from him, nor have I ever met another member of this order. Sunday, August 31 is now only two days away and many of the fears I had put aside are returning. Who are they? How do they know about me? What do they want from me? How will this affect Kyra? These questions swim in useless, menacing circles in my mind, like sharks drawn by the scent of blood only to find there is no food. The ball is marked (grudgingly) on the calendar that hangs by a magnet on my fridge, and the bright orange envelope with the invitation hangs next to it. Not knowing what to expect, or what I should wear I have rented a tux, which I picked up yesterday after work and now hangs in my closet.

A helicopter roars by overhead, scattering my thoughts and startling Kyra awake. I throw back the last couple of swallows of my juice and get up to go get Kyra, noticing that it is only 6:57. Our new apartment is closer to both Mrs. Kice’s and the nursery, so we generally have a lot more time together in the mornings before we have to get going – another substantial perk to the new place. Kyra stops crying as soon as she sees me and smiles and reaches for me. I quickly change her diaper while she excitedly babbles to me and then carry her into the kitchen and sit her down in her high chair. She has added rice cereal to her usual soy formula, and, now that I can afford it, I’ve started buying the organic stuff. Usually about half of it ends up anywhere but in her mouth, but she has fun and seems to love the stuff. She continues talking, no doubt telling me about her dreams last night, or her plans for the day or something, while I make her cereal. I set the cereal down on the tray of her high chair and dip the spoon in and make it about halfway to her mouth before her fingers are in the bowl and she is sucking the stuff off of her chubby little digits. She giggles with delight and I can’t help but laugh along – what use does she have for spoons after all? It is moments like this that make all the struggle and heartache of being a single parent (or I suppose being a parent at all) worthwhile.

Once she is done eating/playing I clean up the high chair and most of the big stuff on her with a few tissues, and then it is time for her bath. Once she is clean I dress her, make sure everything is ready for Mrs. Kice’s and off we go. Mrs. Kice has grown quite fond of Kyra over the last couple of months, and I have to say that Kyra returns the favor. She knows where we are going and keeps repeating “Ga-ga, ga-ga” which I have come to understand is her name for Mrs. Kice.

“Yes, you’re going to see Ga-ga,” I confirm. She smiles and launches into a new soliloquy, no doubt about her friend. She hasn’t cried since that first week, and as time progresses she gets more and more excited about going to her nanny. Today is no exception, and having dropped her off without issue, I make my way to work.

My thoughts and worries about the Journeymen return as I walk by myself. I have tried over the intervening months to find out something about them without success. I did some research at the local library, even going so far as to request help from one of the librarians when I couldn’t find anything on my own. Nothing. I searched for them on the web. Nothing. I just don’t understand how an organization could have been around for apparently a thousand years and there be absolutely no information about them. I haven’t talked to anybody else about them, for fear of looking like a fool. Even the librarian was getting frustrated when I couldn’t tell her anything about them to help her search.

I get to the nursery and Phileas greets me warmly as usual. He lifts an eyebrow at me when I reply kind of half-heartedly.

“Sorry, Phil, got a lot on my mind today. Nothing personal.”

“Well, I guess we’re all allowed an off day now and then. Anything you want to talk about, PW?”

“No, not yet. I think it’s just something I’ve got to work through on my own, that’s all.”

“Otay, well you know I’m always available if you want to talk, right?”

“Yeah, thanks. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Hey, would you mind putting up a display of gardenias. We just got a new shipment in this morning.
“Yeah, sure.”

The rest of the day is uneventful and pretty routine, with plenty of time to think, unfortunately. Thoughts of the Journeymen keep drumming in my brain, as if in some mysterious code. I only wish I had the key to unlock the mystery. I guess Sunday will tell.

Monday, July 21, 2008

100 Words - Treasures (Take 2)

Well, here is my second "Treasures" post for this week, just a teensy tad late. As hard as doing one is, with all of the thought and planning and editing and cutting and rewriting, etc., doing two is just exhausting :) Not to mention the fact that with the first you begin to associate the word with a certain idea, and then you have to completely turn that around and go with something different. Just goes to show the richness of the language and all of the different associations a particular word can have (as if the challenge doesn't already ably demonstrate that). Anyway, here it is for your reading pleasure:

He slammed the gate shut with all of his strength. The clang reverberated in the empty space, echoes seeming to gain strength as if the cold, stone walls amplified them. He held his hands to his ears to keep them out. He felt like he wanted to cry. He only wanted to protect himself – was that so wrong? “Fool,” the stones seemed to cry out. “You only protect yourself from love!” Silence. Interminable emptiness. Could this be true? He dared to begin to hope. In the quiet of that hope her voice began, o treasured voice, to sing a lullaby.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Five Word Friday #3

Yeah, I finally posted one of these on a Friday! The words for today (thanks again to my wife) are: joy, blanket, sawdust, orange and toenail. A challenge to be sure, but I'm pretty pleased with the results. If you'd like to join in, just leave a comment with the URL of your post. Otherwise, enjoy the continuation of Michael and Kyra's adventure!


Joy suffuses me this morning! Today marks the beginning of my second week working at Phileas Jackson’s Concrete Jungle Nursery, and Kyra’s third week with Mrs. Kice. For the first time in over a year I feel like things are beginning to look up. With the money I’m making at the nursery we might even be able to move into a nicer place closer to the nursery. Phileas suggested some apartments that are run by a friend of his and said he’d be willing to put in a good word for me.

I whistle as I walk from Mrs. Kice’s to the nursery. “Zippety doo dah…what a wonderful day…everything’s going my way…hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.” I probably shouldn’t sing – it’s not my forte, so to speak – but I just can’t help myself. Humming along, garnering stares, I walk up Costa Mesa St. to Raymond Ave. and over to Walnut St. The nursery is only 3 blocks from here on the corner of Walnut and Orange.

My attention is caught by a flicker of movement in my peripheral vision. Looking to my left I see a bundle of rags and papers in the doorway to the Chubby Panda. ‘That’s odd,’ I think, ‘they usually keep things pretty clean.’ They don’t open til 11am for lunch, so there’s nobody in the shop at 8:45am that I know of. The bundle moves and groans and suddenly I realize that the rags are clothes, and the papers are just a blanket. A hand appears, and then a head. It is a homeless man! At least I think it’s a man. I can only see the back of a head of long greasy, stringy gray hair. He turns over to reveal a beard that is as dirty and tangled as a rat’s nest, long and square like some hirsute shovel. His long hair hangs down in front as well, until he pushes it back with one leathery hand to reveal a relief map of a face with a mountain of a nose, two deep buccal valleys and a limpid forest pool for an eye, the forest being his eyebrow. The left eye looks like a cave. The kind of cave you’re too afraid to enter. He looks at me and I get the eerie sense that he can see out of both eyes, or eye sockets, or…whatever.

“Can I help you,” I ask, wanting to return some semblance of normalcy and control to the situation. I am wringing my hands trying to keep them from trembling. The sunshine seems to have been sucked out of the day. If you asked why I was so affected I’m not sure I could tell you. I’ve been around homeless people before, even bought dinner for a few, but this feels different.

“Hello, Michael,” he replies with a voice like wet sawdust. “Sorry I’m late.”


“Oh, I meant to be awake and waiting for you when you came by, but I must have been more tired than I thought. I slept until you tripped my warning system.”

The man’s gotta be a lunatic. Maybe he just guessed at my name and happened to get it right – it’s not an uncommon name after all. And I certainly didn’t hit any wires or anything like that. What’s he talking about – warning system?

He pulls out an orange envelope from somewhere within his clothing. A pocket? A sleeve? I can’t quite tell. The envelope is smudged and dirty around the edges, but clearly written in the center on the front, in a flowing script, is my name: Michael Samuels. The bottom curve of the first S bulges out below the line like a bubble about to burst, and curls around to underline my first name. He is holding it out to me, the expectant look in his eye made somewhat ghoulish by the gaping ghastliness of the socket next to it.

“Well, go on then,” he urges, flapping it towards me like some demented servant fanning his master. I get a whiff of sewer water breath and body odor which smells like he hasn’t taken a bath in several hundred years.

“Wh-what is it?”

“What do you mean, what is it? It’s an invitation of course. What did you think it was, a letter bomb?” Yeah, that makes me feel better.

“An invitation to what?”

“If you’ll stop being such a pamby and take the damn thing you’ll find out.” He smiles, I’d guess to soften the insult, but the row of jagged, broken off branches that serves as his teeth has exactly the opposite effect.

I snatch the envelope, trying not to touch him as I do so. I don’t want to get him angry or something. Who knows what he’ll do? I look down at the orange square in my hand with trepidation. An invitation?

“Well, go on. Open it up.”


“Where else? You have to RSVP – reply soon via postman. And I’m the only P you’ve got to RS via. If you dilly dawdle much longer I’m gonna tell them the answer is no.”

“You’re a postman?” Now I’m really confused.

He only raises one bushy eyebrow and glares at me.

“Okay. Hold on.” I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather he just tell “them” no anyway. I don’t know what’s going on here, nor am I sure I want to find out, but I’m getting the sense he’s not going to let me get away without at least reading the invitation, so I rip the envelope open with my finger. I look back at him but he is ostensibly ignoring me, lazily picking grime out of the toenail on his left big toe. I suppose any invitation, no matter how bizarre, is better than that sight. I slide the card out of the envelope and open it up. Inside, in graceful calligraphy, I read:

Mr. Michael Samuels
is cordially invited
to attend the
1,000th annual
Journeyman’s Ball
for his
into the
Fraternal Order of Journeyman
8pm, Sunday, August 31, 2008
Please R.S.V.P. immediately with Grisleigh.

I look up to find that he is done with his toenails and is patiently regarding me with an incongruous twinkle in his eye.

“You’re Grisleigh?” I ask, realizing as soon as I hear the name spoken that it fits him like no other name could.

“One and the same,” he says with a grin and little flourish of his hand. “At your service.”

“And the Fraternal Order of Journeyman?”

“Oh, that’s a secret, that is.”

Exasperated, I snap, “How am I supposed to know whether to say yes or no, if I don’t even know what is is?!”

“That’s the challenge,” he replies cheerfully. “You have to decide now, yes or no, and once you decide there’s no going back.”

“Not even a hint? Is it something I’d like? I’ve never heard of them before.”

He only looks at me without expression, his eye suddenly dull and flat and unreflective. That, more than anything so far, frightens me. I am torn by indecision. I have to admit that I’m curious. Who is this Fraternal Order of Journeyman? What do they do? How do they know about me? Why do they want me to join? On the other hand, is it worth the risk? If it were just me, I’d probably risk it just for the heck of it. But I have Kyra to consider. What if it’s dangerous? I can’t endanger her life, just to satisfy my curiousity.

I examine my emotions, my response to Grisleigh and the situation, and realize that most of my fear has only been because it has been unexpected and bizarre, so out of place in the normal course of things. There are things I can’t explain and that is frightening to me. I have to admit, Grisleigh’s appearance is a little off-putting, but he has been nothing but friendly, if gruff, to me. And though I have no doubt whatsoever that he is dangerous, I don’t sense any of that directed towards me. So what does all of that mean? That I should do it?

“Look, I need an answer soon, Michael. I’ve got work to do, as I believe you do too.” Oh shit, the nursery. I totally forgot. I’m going to be late! “I’m not going to wait around forever. Either you take courage in hand and say yes, or you live with yourself as a coward forever. The choice is simple really.”

“Hey, now. I am not a coward.” He only stares at me silently. He seems to be very good at that. Finally my curiosity gets the better of me. “Fine, tell them, whoever they are, yes I accept.”

He beams at me, and I can describe it no other way than that it transforms his face, unifies it somehow.

“Aye, that’s what I was hoping you’d say. A carriage will pick you up at your apartment at 6pm on the day of the ball. Your daughter is welcome to attend with you. Breathe not a word of this to another living soul, Michael. Until then.”

He stands in a flurry of rags and without looking back steps around the corner and out of sight. Carriage? Daughter?

“Wait!” I rush after him, but he has disappeared and the street is clear for blocks. There’s no way he could have vanished that quickly! What is going on? What have I gotten myself (and Kyra) into?

Heart pumping, sweating slightly and thinking furiously, I make my way the remaining 3 blocks up Walnut to the nursery. I discover as I walk in the door and look at the clock on the wall that it is 9am on the dot. I am not late, I am exactly on time, as I would have been had I not been delayed. Did he stop time, too?

“PW, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Phileas is standing to my right in the middle of a bunch of rhododendrons.

“I think so.”

“You think you’re okay or you think you’ve seen a ghost?

I smile. “Yes.”

He raises an eyebrow at me, putting me in mind of somebody else.

“I’m fine, Phileas. What have we got going today?”

He launches into a list of tasks for the day and eventually I lose myself in work, temporarily forgetting the bizarre events of the morning.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Standing Still

This poem was written in response to Simply Snickers' poetry prompt at . The two word prompt for this week was: standing, still.

I am standing still,
watching with quiet eyes,
as the world rushes past:
an ineluctable blur.
I am not sure we were meant
to move this fast.
We flee headlong
seeking an intangible future,
leaving the present
to slide into the past
and wonder that technology
has not made our lives
We have not learned yet
that it is not the future
which changes the now.
A choice is not
a ripple in a pond
but a brick, a beam, a nail.
Start with the roof
and you have only
a pile of rubble.
But layer choices one by one
from the ground up
and you create
an architectonic edifice of time,
a mansion of peace,
a city of joy.
The problems of today
resolved today
cannot haunt us tomorrow.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Picayune Poise

My daughter and I were out on our own today while my wife was at a church meeting. We went to Whole Foods to get a snack and then afterwards sat at some tables outside of the store to eat and hang out. While we were there, just as my daughter was finishing up, a couple biked up to the store. Since there wasn't anywhere to secure their bikes (or perhaps they didn't have locks, I don't know) the wife stayed out with the bikes, one table over, while the husband went into the store to shop. My daughter immediately wanted to go over and say hello. I made her wait until she was done eating and drinking and I had wiped off her face which was covered with cherry juice and chocolate milk. My daughter then walked right over to this complete stranger and said hello. They proceeded to have a 10 minute conversation - I kid you not. And my daughter carried her half of it, too. During that ten minutes she managed to clearly convey her name and age, that I was her daddy, that we had had lunch with friends at a nearby restaurant, that her mom was in a meeting and had the car, that she had a purple umbrella for when it rained and that we were just there for a chocolate snack. What else she might have said I didn't hear, but honestly, what else is there?

She began the conversation standing up at the other end of the bench from the woman she was talking to, with her hands in her pockets - you know the traditional shy, scuff the ground with the toe of your shoe kind of pose. Eventually she climbed up onto the bench with the woman with her feet flat against each other, leaning against the table and spent the rest of the time up there in various positions, but always at her ease. She spoke with great confidence and poise, clearly and convincingly, nodding her head for punctuation when it was needed. She listened to the lady's questions, considered them and answered appropiately, as well as listening intently when the lady spoke about herself and her bike ride. Never disconcerted, never at a loss for words, completely in her element.

Now, as someone who is just about as far towards the introverted end of the spectrum as it is possible to get, this amazes me! I clam up when I even think about approaching a complete stranger. My heart starts beating faster, my brain deserts me for more temperate climes, I sweat. When I am forced into such a situation I usually spend the whole time listening while they talk – even generally quiet people have been known to be verbose around me. I sat there watching her with great wonder and pride, beaming from ear to ear. Seeing her skill and confidence and grace now, I can only imagine what a force to be reckoned with she will be when she is all grown up.

Oh, did I mention, my daughter is only 3 ½?

Eventually the husband returned and as they were leaving the wife stopped by my table and said:

“I told her that the next time it rains I will be thinking of her and her purple umbrella. I wish I had a purple umbrella.”

Obviously my daughter had made a lasting impression on her, too. In only ten minutes! I never ceased to be amazed at the marvel that is my daughter.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Five Word Friday #2

Well, so far I've done the first two Five Word Friday's on Thur. and Sat. respectively. I'm nothing if not consistent. One of these days we'll actually get to it on Fri. Anyway, this week continues Michael and Kyra's adventure (see Five Word Friday #1) - and it's a long one! The words for today (picked at random from Velvet Verbosity's write up on the 100 word challenge for Hour - thanks VV!) are: crazy, whipping, smiles, glowing and relationship. Enjoy! And feel free to join in - just leave me a note with the link to your FWF post.


Maybe I’m not so crazy after all, I think to myself as I linger at the door of the daycare. The entire first week I left Kyra at the Sunrise Daycare she cried when I laid her in the doughy arms of the well-fed proprietor, Mrs. Kice. It killed me. Since she had been born, for the first 4 months of her life, we had never been apart. I held her every chance I got, marveling at her little toes and fingers, watching and noting as her umbilical cord dried up and fell off (I still have it in a jar beside my bed), getting lost in those huge, dark blue eyes. I packed up the house while she was asleep, or while grandma and grandpa were there to hold her. Her mother may have abandoned her, but I was going to be damned if I would let her feel that loss – if there was anything I could do about it. On the way out here she rode in the front seat so I could at least interact with her, tickle her toes or something.

Thus it was like absolute torture, like somebody whipping my heart with a cat o’ nine tails, when I placed her in the caregiver’s arms for the first time and she started screaming.

“Oh, now there,” said Mrs. Kice. “We’ll be fine won’t we?

I stood there arms half outstretched, heart pounding, stomach sinking, half wanting to snatch her back and run. Knowing I couldn’t if I wanted to build any sort of life for us. My savings will only last so long.

“There now, there now,” cooed Mrs. Kice, looking at my daughter but speaking just as much to me, “ this is normal. Nobody wants to leave their daddy, do they, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be just fine, won’t we Kyra?”

I stepped forward and Mrs. Kice looked up suddenly. I looked intently into her eyes, trying to convey how important my daughter was to me, how difficult it was to leave her and that I would rip her limb from limb if she hurt my daughter in any way. She blinked a couple of times then looked away, so maybe something got through after all. Then I bent down and kissed Kyra on the forehead and eyes and started crying myself as I tasted the salt of her tears. I didn’t straighten up until I had turned away.

“Take good care of her,” I choked.

“I will, Mr. Samuels, I will,” assured Mrs. Kice.

I left then, not trusting myself to stay any longer. My heart shrank with every step I took away from my daughter, squeezing into a tight little ball of pain.
She cried every day I dropped her off for the entire first week, Monday through Friday. Somehow it never mattered that she was quiet and seemed content when I came to pick her up in the afternoon. I only remembered the crying.

Today marks the beginning of her second week with Mrs. Kice, and my first day on my new job. There is a nursery (the plant kind) about two miles from our apartment. Ironically it is Mrs. Kice who directed me to it, so I guess I have her to thank for more than just caring for my daughter.

Today I place Kyra in Mrs. Kice’s ample arms and instead of crying she looks up into Mrs. Kice’s face and smiles. Smiles! I am stunned.

“There’s my pretty little girl,” Mrs. Kice smiles back, “Did you miss me, huh? I missed you, yes I did.”

Kyra smiles again, gurgles and reaches for a lock of Mrs. Kice’s hair which is hanging down within reach. I can’t help but smile too.

“There now, Mr. Samuels,” Mrs. Kice says, looking up at me, “didn’t I tell you I’d be taking good care of her.”

“Yes, Mrs. Kice, you did. Thank you.”

“Oh, it ain’t no trouble at all. She’s a joy, she is.”

“Well, I certainly think so. Look, I’ve got to go. Don’t want to be late on my first day.”

Mr. Kice holds Kyra up facing me. “Wish your daddy luck on his first day, Kyra.” Kyra coos and gurgles. I smile and step forward to kiss her on her cheek and nuzzle her neck for a second, breathing in that gentle baby smell as if I could carry it with me for the day.

I turn to head out the door. “Thanks again, Mrs. Kice. I’ll see you guys later.” Mrs. Kice waves Kyra’s hand bye-bye at me, and I blow her a kiss. “Be good, baby girl.”

With that I am out the door. I walk to work with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. For the first time in months I feel light, as if a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Maybe we’ll make it after all. I mean, she smiled! I feel as if my face must be glowing with the memory. The pavement seems to fly beneath my feet and before I know it I’m at my new job.

A bell jingles as I open the front door and my nose is caressed by the scent of a thousand flowers and plants. How a plant nursery has thrived in this area I don’t know. Perhaps, like me, others feel that plants offer the only bright spot in a concrete jungle.

“Well, if it isn’t the plant whisperer. And right on time. Good.” Mr. Jackson, my new boss is pointing a spray bottle in my direction. He is a big black man, an incronguous dark note in a sea of green. When I say big I do not exaggerate. He is at least 6’4”, maybe 400 lbs, with eyes that smile even when his face does not, a voice that rumbles like the sea, and fingers that could tickle a butterfly without bruising it.

I actually came into the shop last Monday thinking to get a plant for the apartment – tulips as it turned out. He was working on an orchid at the time. Finicky plants, orchids. This one was heading down hill.

He heaved a hefty sigh when he saw me. “No matter what I do I can’t get this one to grow. I’m about ready to give up and let it go. But then, you’re not here to hear my woes, are you? What can I do for you, sir?”

“Just looking for a plant for my apartment. Flowers maybe.”

“Potted or stem?”

“Oh, potted definitely.”

“Flowers are this way. Follow me.”

And with that we were off into a wild riot of color and scent. I wished I could have just transplanted the whole thing to my apartment, but with a tight budget and no job prospects in sight I knew I had to limit myself to one for now.

“You live around here?” he asked.

“Yeah, I just moved in to the Royal Crown apartments, a couple miles away.”

“I know ‘em. Misnamed if ever anything was,” he chuckled. “Where’d you move from?”

“Suburb of Chicago. Naperville?”

“Wow, that’s quite a ways to move to end up in a place like the Royal Crown. You by yourself?”

“Just me and my daughter. We just needed to start afresh, you know?”

“Mm-hmmm,” he replied and didn’t push the issue, for which I was grateful. As nice as he was, I wasn’t sure I was up to explaining my life story to a stranger. By this time I had chosen my tulips.

“Well, you’ve certainly got taste,” he said. “You do know that tulips require a bit of work to keep going.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m pretty good with plants.”

He looked thoughtful for a couple of seconds, raising one eyebrow as he seemed to consider something, then led me back towards the front of the store and the cash register. I was looking at his failing orchid while he checked me out, automatically counting out the cash. The soil was dark with damp.

“You know,” I said to him, “I think you may be drowning your orchid. If you let the soil dry out a bit, and then just mist the leaves every now then, they’ll probably do a lot better.”

“You think?” He frowned, perplexed.

“Yep. This particular orchid doesn’t like a lot of water.”

“Well, I’ll give it a try. Nothing else is working, that’s for certain. Hey, can I have your phone number for our reward program – I have a feeling you’ll be coming back for more eventually.”

I smiled and gave it to him and he handed me my change.

“Well, take care of those tulips now, y’hear? We’ll see you around.”

“Thanks,” I replied and headed off to pick up Kyra.

The rest of the week was a big lump of disappointment. Nobody seemed to be hiring. I filled out application after application in the hope that something would open up soon, but nobody gave me much hope that it would. Thursday evening I arrived home with Kyra, tired and dejected and looking forward to a relaxing evening hanging out with her. My eyes were immediately drawn to the red light blinking on my message machine. I had a message?! My heart started racing with excitement. Who had called me? I pressed the button with trembling fingers.

“Hi Michael, it’s Mr. Jackson from the Concrete Jungle Nursery. Well, anyway, I’m calling ‘cause you’re a genius! I did just what you said and my orchid’s flourishing now! I’m going to start calling you the plant whisperer, you know, like the horse whisperer? Well, I was wondering if you might be interested in a job with us. You obviously know a lot about plants, and I need someone to help out around the store. If you’re interested why don’t you come in tomorrow, Friday, and we can talk about it some more. Sound good? Well, anyway, I’ll shut up now and let you go. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.”

I think my neighbors could hear the thumping of my heart! A job! Yeah! I didn’t know how much it would pay but at least it was a beginning. And doing something I loved! Kyra cooed and I smiled down at her and gave her a kiss.

“I think Daddy just got a job, cutestuff.” She smiled.

Needless to say I went in to see Mr. Jackson the next day as soon as I had dropped Kyra off with Mrs. Kice. He offered me a job at $15 per hour, more than I had hoped I’d get, and asked if I could start at 9am the following Monday. I splurged on lunch in celebration of my new job and our new beginning in California before picking Kyra up early so I could spend the rest of the day with her.

Mr. Jackson’s basso rumble brings me back to the present. “You still with us, PW?”

PW? Oh, yes. Plant whisperer. I smile.

“Yeah, I’m still with you. Just remembering everything that’s brought me here.”

“Well, don’t be daydreaming on my dollar,” he said, not unkindly. “You and me have work to do. C’mon, let me show you around.”

And so began a long and fruitful relationship.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Age Doesn't Matter

Two people recently have said
that age doesn’t matter.
They were both young.
It is the phrase of somebody
who doesn’t know themselves yet.
Age matters like gender does.
It is part of who you are and
fortunately or unfortunately
you cannot escape that.
Age limits all of us
and true freedom consists in
finding your place
within those limits,
young or old or in between.
On the other hand
youth and age are not
justifications for discrimination.
We are all only who we are,
it is part of our god-likeness,
and the challenge has always been
to know and be known
without illusion or dissembling
Perhaps, in that sense,
age doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

100 Words - City

When I saw the word for this week's 100 Word Challenge I immediately knew that I had to write about my favorite city in the whole world - Hong Kong! It has everything I don't like - it's unbearably crowded with people and buildings, it stinks, it's garish, it never sleeps and moves constantly at a frenetic pace. And yet covering over that multitude of sins is an inescapable love for life that worms its way into your heart. Obviously 100 words just isn't enough :) but here we go anyway:

It is a confusion of color and sound and smell, a crush of humanity, a paradoxical confluence of cultural currents. Stepping off the plane the whole mess of it washes over you at once, sickening and overwhelming. It isn’t until you delve into the details that the city invests you with its life. Stall vendors waft exotic spices on invisible tendrils of ester. Flashing neons in a rainbow of colors declare it the most superlative city on earth. Rickshaws and junks, skyscrapers and world commerce, it seamlessly blends the sophistication of Europe with the fecund traditions of China. Hong Kong.


See what "city" has inspired in others at

Monday, July 7, 2008

Traveling Mishap (or The Joys of Parenthood)

We have traveled far and are in a new place, the differences subtle but there. Away for the weekend for a little fun. Our hotel has a pool which, for my daughter, is all she needs to make the (somewhat unsettling) adventure worthwhile. Today we took a tour of the Jelly Belly factory in her first "train" ride (it was stressful but she eventually enjoyed it), went shopping (which she always enjoys), lunched at Cracker Barrel (she loved the rocking chairs and checker boards, not to mention all the candy at her eye level), and came back to the hotel for a nap before a swim. Mommy and Daddy are tired too, so after she goes down we follow suit. Even the trampoline that poses for a bed here cannot keep us from eventually drifting off. There is silence from the other room (we have a suite), the air is cool and dry and there is a constant low-level hum from the air conditioner. Everything conspires to send us uneventfully off to the land of dreams.

I wake gradually to the hushed sounds of a child trying not to be heard. I wish it had registered earlier that a child trying not to be heard is a child who needs to be investigated - NOW! Alas, my mind has not quite returned from the delights of unreality and the thought drifts lazily through my mind: "As long as she stays quiet and doesn't bother us, she's fine. Then I can get some more sleep." I turn over, the noises cease (WARNING! WARNING Will Robinson!), I begin to drift away again thinking perhaps she's gone back to sleep, wise child that she is. Oh how I wish I could go back and slap myself upside the head.

The noises resume, perhaps a titch quieter now. The klaxon is beginning to pierce the fog that hovers in that twilight between dreaming and waking, though it has still not come to its full power. This time the thought develops: "Well, I guess I need to get up, but as long as she's quiet I can do it kind of slowly and gradually." What?! Hello! Moron! Get it together! I know you're tired, but c'mon. Did I really just say that to myself?!

I sense her presence in the doorway and all of a sudden I am on full alert. Why? Not because of anything I think she might have been doing, oh no. That thought hasn't even poked its little head up yet. No, it's just that I don't want to wake my wife and I know the only way to do that is to keep my charming little troublemaker out of the room. I sit up, wave the nose miner out of the room and stand up, relieved that we haven't disturbed the love of my life. Little did I know that shortly I would be the one disturbing her sleep.

I step through the french doors that separate the bedroom from the living room and freeze. Something is wrong, I know that much, but it takes a beat for my mind to register what exactly has troubled me. Oh shit! And I mean that in the most literal sense possible. Smeared in thick swathes on the maroon carpeted floor, and in thinner crusted streaks on the beige walls is my dear, dear (I have to keep reminding myself of that) daughter's poo. At 3 1/2 she is mostly potty trained, but hasn't quite gotten the hang of holding on until she wakes up. She has accidents in her diapers sometimes while she's asleep. No problem. It's normal. It'll happen in time. Great. But sticking her hands deep into that accident and using it as finger paint? Oh no, no, no, no NO! I'm telling you now, she better grow out of that one fast. And she knows it's wrong because she's trying to hide it from me.

"Don't spank me!" she says, seeing the look on my face, hearing the cry of utter despair that has been ripped from my throat.

Spank? I'm thinking knock you into the middle of next week! (Worry not, gentle readers. I would never do that, even if I could. It was simply my initial emotional response. There is a reason you're supposed to take time to calm down before administering discipline.) I continue yelling, ranting and raving for a minute, so off the scale is my horror at what she's done. One should not be forced to face something like that so shortly after waking up. Of course my beautiful beloved is irrevocably awake now, and equally upset. Upon inspection, not only has she spread it around the room, but she took her diaper off and then put jeans and a t-shirt on, so they are now contaminated since her bum and hands and feet are still covered in fecal matter. We strip her and force her to stand in the shower while we take the time to collect ourselves and decide on a course of action. This is the first phase of her discipline.

We decide eventually to go ahead and shower her and get her cleaned up, clean up the tile floor in the bathroom so she (and we) won't continue to spread little footprints of joy throughout the suite, pick up or off the larger globules, and then I will go to the front desk to advise them of what's happened and find out what they want to do. I think that if this had occurred at home it would have been horrifying enough, but more easily dealt with. The fact that the property belonged to somebody else, that probably somebody else would have to clean it up, that indeed other people would be staying in this defiled place, made it seem worse to me.

So, we have cleaned up as much as we can and I am at the front desk.

"I'm horrified to have to tell you this," I begin.

"Uh-oh," says the desk clerk. You have no idea!

I describe the incident and apologize profusely. She smiles.

"Don't worry. This is good birth control for me." I have to laugh at that one. "The problem is, I don't have anybody around to clean it up right now, but I can give you some cleaners and rags and you can clean it up." In any other situation I might think of this as poor service, but the thought of forcing someone else to clean up my own daughter's poo is distasteful to me, and I jump at this opportunity to take care of it myself.

Several rags and half a bottle of cleaner later the room is back to its pristine state. I have to say, I'm impressed with their cleaners. I want me some of that at home! The second phase of her discipline is that she has to sit still and watch me clean it up, so she has some idea of the consequences of her actions. When I return the cleaners to the front desk I take my daughter with me for the third phase - apology. Again, impressing on her the significance and wrongness of what she's done.

"Can you say I'm sorry for making such a bad choice?"

"No," she whispers, and turns her head into my shoulder, a move that always melts my heart. But I must be strong.

"Please apologize."

She holds tight to me, looking shy and embarrassed, and refuses to speak.

"All you need to do is say I'm sorry," I push, "and then we're done.

"I'm sorry," she finally whispers, but loud enough for the clerk to hear.

"Oh, that's okay," she replies cheerfully, eliciting a shy smile from my daughter.

I smile back. "Thank you," I say to reinforce this little lesson. I kiss her on the cheek. "Good job.

We head back to our newly scrubbed suite. I am unsure what, if anything, she has taken away from this little life learning opportunity. I guess only time will tell, I muse to myself.

Later, though, I am somewhat gratified to overhear her playing with her doll in the other room. Who she is talking to, I don't know, but this is what she says about her doll:

"I have to clean her up and she gets a time out because she made a BAD choice and played with her poo."

I have to keep reminding myself that this is a long term investment. We have to remain consistent, never lie down on the job, never give up. We may not see the full results this month or this year, or next year even. But nonetheless, these experiences shape her, form her. And one day we will see the full flowering of our love and efforts.

Shit happens. And sometimes it gets played with. I can only hope that some day I will look back and realize it was only fertilizer for something beautiful.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Five Word Friday #1

If you couldn't tell, I enjoy the challenge of working within limits, so I am starting Five Word Fridays just for fun. It is mostly for my own pleasure but others are welcome to join in if they want. The basic idea is to pick five words at random (I had my wife give me five unrelated words, without explaining why I wanted them) and then write a story or poem or whatever, using all five of those words in whatever order they were chosen. Today my words were, in order: light bulb, flower, baby, avidly and picturesque. If you join in, leave me a note at the end of this post with a link to your entry. And here is mine.

The light bulb flickers sporadically above me, bathing the room in a lurid glow. There are water stains on the roof and walls in one corner, testament to some catastrophe or another. The close air stinks of mildew, stinging my nostrils and the back of my throat. I cannot see it, though, so I suspect it’s under the carpet. The faucet in the bathroom drips precisely every 13 seconds (yes, I’ve timed it), a dim but constant accompaniment highlighting the dilapidation. The only amelioration of the squalor is the fact that there are no rats. That and the flowers on the table in a terracotta pot. They are tulips with bright orange pointed leaves like flames, with golden throats and pale green stems and leaves. They are the only bright spot in an otherwise dingy existence – the only thing at which I seem to have exhibited a talent.

I came to Los Angeles from the Midwest. It doesn’t matter where in the Midwest – there’s nothing left for me there any more anyway. Besides, it’s all the same. I was lured by the promise of palm trees and beaches and a glamorous new life for me and my baby. Well, I guess there is a (stunted) palm tree outside the apartment. And beaches if we can afford the bus. The glamorous new life has yet to materialize.

I know what you’re thinking. “ Poor girl, having a baby out of wedlock, forced to leave her home.” You would be wrong. It’s the other way around. My wife, Emily, was devastated when she found out she was pregnant. She wanted to concentrate on her career and couldn’t be bothered with distractions. We figure a condom slipped or something. Who knows? She blamed me and spent the long, long months of her pregnancy furious at me. I barely convinced her to keep the baby – her first thought was abortion. I was actually pretty excited. I had always wanted to be a father and avidly fought for the right to make that dream a reality, even if it was a surprise and a tad inconvenient. After all, when are children really convenient? We began to part ways during those 40 weeks. She took my excitement and my desire for the baby as lack of support for her devastation. I suppose, in a way, it was. I understood that she needed to grieve the loss of the life she had expected, but she never moved beyond that to acceptance and excitement. She gradually distanced herself emotionally and physically from me, growing more sullen and uncommunicative the larger her belly grew, as if the child within her were a barrier between us rather than a sign of our union.

I suppose, given all of that, that I should have seen what was coming next. But I didn’t. I spent her pregnancy making excuses for her, believing that once she held her child in her arms all this resistance would melt away. I went to every doctor’s visit (though looking back I realize that’s the only way I got her to go – what did she care for the baby’s health?), exhausted myself caring for her every need and whim. She refused to go to the baby shower my mother threw for her, so I went instead, providing plausible excuses for her absence. I single handedly prepared our home for the arrival of our child. The day she went into labor I could barely contain myself. Labor progressed faster than I expected as if she just couldn’t wait to get this unwelcome intrusion out of her. 18 hours after her first contraction Kyra Janelle Samuels was born. Emily refused to hold her or breastfeed her, so I doted on my daughter, holding her, giving her a bottle, cooing and talking to her, or just gazing at her as she slept in my arms. One of the nurses, with a frown towards my wife, taught me how to change her diapers and so I was launched into the adventure of fatherhood. Emily and Kyra were released the next day and I carefully drove them back home. While I held Kyra up to show her her new home Emily went upstairs and packed a suitcase. The first intimation I had that something was terribly wrong (yes, I know. Duh!) was when the doorbell rang and I opened it to find a stranger on the front step.

“I’m here for Emily,” he said, his face and voice carefully devoid of expression.

“What do you mean? She just came home from the hospital.” I gave a nod to Kyra by way of explanation.

“Yes, I know,” he replied with a small smile, “and she called me to come and pick her up.”

“Pick her up? Where is she going?” It still hadn’t hit me.

He sighed. “Look, if she didn’t explain, I’m not going to. Is she here?”

I was saved from having to answer by her arrival at the door with her suitcase.

“Hi Jason. I’m ready.” She gave him a quick kiss on the lips. I frowned, finally understanding. “Will you take this to the car,” she asked handing him the suitcase. “I’ll be right there.”

He quickly grabbed the suitcase and took it to his car which was parked in the driveway, busying himself with putting it in the trunk.

“What’s going on?” My voice was cold.

“Look, Michael, don’t make a scene, okay? We’ve been drifting apart for months, ever since we found out, so don’t pretend like this is a surprise. I just don’t want anything to do with that,” she gestured with her chin at Kyra, a sneer of utter disgust on her face. I think I’ve never hated her so much as in that moment. All over my body my skin tingled with heat.

“That,” I growled, “ is our daughter. And I am your husband.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve found someone new. Look,” she put a finger on my lips as I started to object, “nothing you can say is going to make me change my mind, okay? Jason doesn’t want kids and that’s about all I care about right now. You’ll be getting divorce papers sometime next week, according to my lawyers.” She was already walking down the steps and along the sidewalk as she said this last. Ice rimed the pit of my stomach.

“Emily,” I blurted, but she put up a hand to forestall me without even breaking her stride or looking back. Forlorn, I watched as she got in the car and they pulled out of the driveway. It was the last time I ever saw her.

The following Tuesday, as promised, Emily’s lawyers stopped by with the divorce papers. I was tempted not to sign them, just to make it difficult for her. But by that time word had spread and everywhere I went people pointed and muttered with pity in their voices. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I could see the expressions on their faces and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Only four days after Kyra’s birth and Emily’s departure I knew I couldn’t stay there much longer, that Kyra and I were going to move. So, I signed the papers and started looking for a place to move to.

I considered several places all over the U.S. New York, Charleston, Miami, Saint Louis, Seattle. One by one, though, they all dropped off the list. New York seemed to busy, too tightly packed. Charleston, I was told was an uncomfortable place to live if your family hadn’t been there for generations. Miami seemed too gaudy from what I could see. Saint Louis too close. Seattle too drizzly. Los Angeles seemed perfect. It had as many people as New York but was spread out over a much larger area. It was temperate and sunny. Every photo I could find made it look so picturesque, a veritable paradise of sunny beaches and cool breezes where dreams were made real and Kyra and I could start a new life together, anonymous and unknown. Perfect.

Kyra’s cries snap me out of my reverie. With a sigh I get up, grab a disposable bottle of soy formula (she’s allergic to milk), turning off the flickering light as I go into the bedroom.

“Hey, cutestuff,” I coo as I pick her up and give her a kiss. Despite everything that’s happened I wouldn’t change a second of anything that brought her to me. She quiets and snuggles into my the crook of my neck and shoulder. I hold her for a minute, relishing her closeness, her baby smell, until she begins to root. Laying her gently in the middle of the bed, I lie down next to her, snap off the lid of the bottle and slip it into her pursed lips. She groans contentedly as the first of the formula rushes into her mouth and I eventually fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of her sucking.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

100 Words - Hour

The silken hour slips away with a whisper,
at once soft and cutting,
like a ghost of treasure;
a homeless man’s memory of wealth.

Already the fabric of time slides
again through fingers numb with
the caducity of life, unable to
grasp its only true riches.

Time cannot be trapped,
cannot be stoppered in a bottle
like an epochal elixir
to fix all the world’s ills.

Indeed, it is only those who
have discovered the ancient rhythm
of joy and surrender
who are the masters of time.

For them its silken fabric is a sail filled with wind.