In the Cathedral

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Three, Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Walking around the French Quarter we decided to stop off at the iconic (and beautiful) St. Louis Cathedral as a peaceful respite from the heat and a nice place to write for a bit. This is some of what I wrote there.

Saint Louis Cathedral from across the Mississippi River

The Devotion Machine

The Cathedral was designed – as all were – to draw the eyes upward, the attention and ultimately, the soul, toward heaven.

At first the peasants felt their rough clothes, callused hands, and freshly scrubbed skin acutely – feeling out of place, uneasy, and embarrassed at their poverty and the effects of a difficult and dangerous life. But the calm and quiet reverence would wear away their feelings of unease and they would accept the fact the opulent gilt statuary, soaring columns, and ceiling frescoes of Saints and the Christ peering down, magnanimous, as if through gaps in the clouds, were all intended for them. Each individual worker feeling as if this vast impressive building – this Machine for Devotion – was designed, constructed, and decorated for him and him alone. A personal miracle that helped him forget the world and dream of a higher place.

At least for a few precious seconds.

Children in the Cathedral

Down the center aisle two children – a small boy and his younger sister, almost a toddler – hopped along, playing a game of leaping contrasting floor tiles in a complicated very personal and mysterious children’s pattern. Their feet clomped and echoed through the vast silent space. All the supplicants stared in vexation.

“They think they own the place,” everyone thought to themselves – some daring to mumble out loud.

And that’s the horror of growing up, isn’t it. At that young age everyone owns the world. Over the next years those kids will come the slow horrifying realization that they own nothing.

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Old Found Poetry

Reality only reveals itself when it is illuminated by a ray of poetry.
—-Georges Braque

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A taste for pure pork fat, long restricted to a furtive devouring of the white nubbin in the can of baked beans, can now be worn as a badge of honor.
(Julia Moskin, New York Times, 5/7/03, article on pork fat in high-class restaurants)
hrule
Under 6 years: 1 pastille as required. Maximum 5 pastilles in 24 hours
(Meggezones 24x)
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…on a long bus ride, you should always choose to sit next to Mrs. Robinson, for example, rather than Benjamin.
(Roger Ebert, from a review for Death to Smoochy)
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Daisy, the this pretty sea, and the wind.
(Bablefish translation of the first line of a Ruben Dario poem I have stuck in my head… the Spanish is: Margarita, esta linda la mar, y el viento.)
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IAGO
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
-From Othello, by William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 1
(The opening quote of The Daily Epiphany, my old journal- Thursday – July 25, 1996)
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Dolly, Good, Hernia, Bad
(big block letters on the side of a Budget rental truck in my neighborhood)
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When I cruise, I’m an adventurer, eager to try new experiences. So on the second day of my first Carnival vacation, I found myself lying on a massage table wrapped in a crisp, clean sheet.
(From Currents, a magazine for people taking Carnival cruises)
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I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I worked in a time factory. My job was to take the one-hour time disks out of the oven and carefully cut them into six equal wedges. These ten-minute time slices were used on alarm clock snooze buttons.
I don’t know what happened next, it was time to wake up and go to work.
(The Daily Epiphany – Wednesday, May 30, 2001 )
hrule
Often Imitated, Never Duplicated-Great for Men and Women-As Seen on TV-It’s not magnetic, not copper…it’s the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet designed to help balance your body’s Yin-Yang. Worn by professional athletes striving for energy, strength, flexibility and endurance, it’s also worn by people looking for natural pain relief. According to the oriental theory of Yin-Yang, we remain in good health when our negative (Yin) and positive (Yang) ions are in balance.
(from an ad for the Q-Ray bracelet, $49.95, in Dr. Leonard’s America’s Leading Discount Healthcare Catalog)
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Prankster of Love – Ashton Kutcher – the newly single ‘punk’d’ star on the nonstop party he calls life
(cover of the Rolling Stone)
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Sriracha, made from sun-ripened chilies, is ready to use in soups, sauces, pasta, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chow mein, or on anything to add a delicious, spicy taste .
(from the bottle, of course)
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WARNING
Pucks flying into spectator area can cause serious injury. Be alert when in spectator areas – including after the stoppage of play. If injured, notify usher for directions to medical station. The holder of this ticket assumes all risks and all other hazards arising from or related in any way to the event for which this ticket is issued, whether occurring prior to, during, or after the event. These hazards specifically include (but are not exclusive to) the danger of being injured by hockey pucks and sticks, other spectators or players, or by thrown objects. The holder agrees that the arena, the league, it’s officers and employees, the participating clubs, their officers, players, employees and agents are expressly released by the holder from claims arising from such causes.
(On the back of a hockey ticket)
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Unheard Poetry

I arrived too late to the poetry reading – having spent too long drinking my cup of coffee. The poets had already started reading and all the good seats were taken.
I had to sit too far away and I couldn’t hear the words. All that made it to my ears was a cadence.
Still, that wasn’t too bad – the rhythms and emotions fan out like waves without the cluttering words to get in the way.

I find I don’t listen to the poems much, anyway, I listen to the poets. It’s not the same thing.
(Bill Chance, The Daily Epiphany – Friday, September 6, 2002 )
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“This is a poem I wrote back when… well, I still have a boring day job but this was when I had a really boring day job and I’d get back at them by sitting there writing poems all day.”
(Amy Jo Hylkema – Introducing her first work of poetry at a reading, 2002)
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Glorious, stirring sight! The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today-in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped-always somebody else’s horizons! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!
(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)
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There is a poetry to daily
modernlife
so empty of everything else.
The staccato rhythm of the
traffic reports
off on the shoulder
one lane only
eastbound
westbound
backup
clearing

Or the shouts of the Barista
as he calls out the orders
(actually, I think
he’s making most of that stuff up).
And though my lawn has gone to weeds
there is still a bird
that kawarbles at me
as I put the key
in my car
to drive to work.
(me)
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Come ride that little train that is rolling down the tracks to the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!
Forget about your cares, it is time to relax at the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!
Lots of curves, you bet, even more when you get to the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!

(the theme song from “Petticoat Junction.”)
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So I went in to look at the thing, to see if I could figure out how to keep it from beeping. Right in the middle of all the gauges, knobs, buttons, dials, and controls was one big, square touchpad button that was labeled simply with the word “Silence.”
I pressed it and the beeping stopped.
( Silence, The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, October 06, 1998)

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Sunday Snippets

A very busy day today, out and about… I did manage to sit in the Espumoso Caffe in the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff and sketch out a short story in my notebook. I meant to type it up when I was home in the evening and let you see it here, but I’ve been hammering away and it’s nowhere near done. I have to drive to Oklahoma City tomorrow to pick up Nick, so I better get some sleep.

All I have for this week, therefore, are three little snips of text, signifying very little. I try to keep on file, well, several hundred little scenes or sketches… mostly culled from the wreckage of failed stories – in the hope that I might be able to use them someday. I pull them out in times of low ambition and massage them, water and fertilize them… see if something roots and grows from the barren cuttings of words.

For example….


The little boy came up out of the water like a sprite from a fountain. He shook the droplets off and watched the tiny rainbows as they flew from his body. He looked down at the dark footprints his wet soles left on the hot concrete – at the space between the toes and curved pads and as he gained speed there was only the toes and the ball, then finally nothing as his skin dried.

A sudden scream of air – a whistle – blown – designed to startle – stopped the boy in his tracks right at the foot of the ladder.

“No Running!” came the simple loud command from high.

The boy shook as he looked up at the voice from the chair – but the speaker was obscured by the bright haloing sun.

He walked carefully the rest of the day, little steps, glancing up at the chair.

That night he ate his dinner and cleaned his plate. Then he copied his lessons from the book onto his blue-lined three-holed paper using his number two lead pencil. He took his evening bath, and – remembering the instructions from his health textbook – combed his hair one hundred times. Finally, he crawled into bed, pulled his blanket up to his neck and quietly, almost silently, sobbed himself to sleep.


He sat on a thin high chair at a narrow bar of blond wood facing the broad windows sipping his drink and watching people drive up outside. Two scruffy guys wearing leather jackets sat smoking and talking – making wide, violent gestures and laughing – at a little table on the sidewalk. He was looking out over their heads. One guy had long stringy dirty hair, balding a little in front. The other had given up and shaved this pate.

Across the busy intersection was a bank building of white marble alternating in vertical strips with blue reflective glass. It extended up past the top of the windows – he wasn’t sure how tall it eventually was. He glanced up and caught the reflection of an aircraft, an orange and red Southwest passenger jet, crossing the face of the building. It must have been on landing approach over his head; lined up with the bank building’s mirrored windows. The image would jump from one strip to the next, sometimes curved and distorted, sometimes magnified, sometimes shrunk to a pinpoint, depending on the flaw in that particular glass panel. The plane would dance, bend, and jump, flitting distorted and plastic.

He noticed the two guys staring at the dancing plane too. As the reflection disappeared off the left side of the bank they laughed and waved their arms bent in the air in imitation of the flexible jet. They turned and shared a silent smile with him through the window – for a split second.

Until he thought better of it and turned back down to his book.


(click to enlarge)

Paul woke up naked and crusted with what must have been vomit. His brain felt like it had swelled to twice its usual size but was still stuck in the same little head. He thought the pressure might separate his skull along some jagged line, exploding his brain in sweet relief. Every nerve in his body was firing quickly and randomly and the light pouring in from the end of the bridge felt toxic. Paul tried to protect himself by digging deeper under the pile of filthy blankets that was left to him. They weren’t thick enough and Paul was forced to try and figure out what to do. His elbows and knees were scraped bloody and his tongue felt torn on the underside, like it had been half pulled out.

He scrabbled around for his clothes, keys, and wallet and found nothing except a filthy pair of green shorts and a denim jacket that said Big Bambu on the back and a fresh bloodstain coursing across the front. He put those on, wrapped himself in the least-filthy rag he could find for warmth, slid down the concrete slope, and padded barefoot along the trail under the high Interstate overpass back to his car.

He wasn’t really surprised when he found the Chrysler missing. He dug around the camp trying to find anything of value but it had been stripped. The dirty shreds of rags, old shopping carts, and trash were still there as was a dark spot where the night’s campfire had burned itself out cold. But no food, drink, shoes, or anything else of any value remained.

Paul sat and cried for over an hour, until the sun rose and heated the mass of concrete overhead and it felt like a rumbling broiler. He could not figure out how to get home. He considered hitchhiking but couldn’t imagine anyone stopping for a horrible apparition like himself. He couldn’t find any change – not enough for a pay phone, and the thought of trying to panhandle… he couldn’t bear the thought of someone seeing him like that.

Then Paul realized that the creek at the bottom of the interchange was the same drainage system that coursed through his apartment complex. He thought he could follow the way, make the correct turns. He limped down into the stale slow-flowing water, the mud feeling good on his feet, but the filthy liquid stinging his wounded knees and elbows. He noted the direction the water was flowing, turned into it and began trudging upstream.

Sunday Snippets

I always carry a notebook and a selection of fountain pens around with me. I would fill Moleskines up too fast, and could not afford them, so I carry Staples Bagasse composition books that I buy by the stack when they are on sale.

A writing teacher once said that ideas float around in the air like little feathers. If you don’t grab it and write it down right away, it will float away on the breeze. Somebody else will catch your idea. That makes sense – many times I’ve recognized something in print that had floated through my head untouched sometime in the recent past. My idea had escaped and been captured, pinned down on paper, by somebody else. He also said not to safe your ideas – don’t be cheap with them – but go ahead and use them as soon as you can. No matter how brilliant you think they are, there will be more to take their place – and these will be better.

So I work hard at grabbing whatever is at hand, usually my notebook, when the ideas come to me and scribble away. These can take a lot of forms – but today I’m talking about little scenes, what I call snippets. These are not fully formed stories or even coherent scenes, but little pieces of story, culled from experience, memory, and mysterious imagination – all mixed together.

These appear in my head, I write them down, and maybe I’ll use them in a story someday. But, for no reason at all, I think I’ll type a few of them down here.

Keep in mind these are completely raw first drafts – they should not be read by the public, not yet, but it is what it is.

Today, I have four. Two each started by two single objects – shopping carts and bamboo.

First, Bamboo

Men with a hacksaw

I am not generally afraid, even in the big city, and I have spent a lot of time running on the Crosstown Trail without any real fear. But there was that one day, cold and drizzly, with a thick fog rolling in, when I was out there by myself and I began to get a little worried. I came around that bend, you know where it is, where it runs through all that thick brush. It’s like a green tunnel and even though it’s in the middle of the city, it is so quiet and dark it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere. That’s why I like it so much. But that day…

There were these two guys walking along. They were young and fit, muscular, and menacing. I immediately saw them, luckily before they saw me. They were walking off the trail and when I saw them they were looking into the woods and gesturing. They were looking intently, like they were seeking something or someone. But what really caught my eye is that one of them was carrying a hacksaw – a big, heavy one. It looked like an odd but effective weapon and I realized they were going after something they had spotted in the brush.

I felt my heart skip and a knot pop into my belly and I immediately jumped off of the trail and slid down into this little ditch where they could not see me. Before I left the condo I had decided to leave my phone to charge and so I didn’t have it with me. I hugged the damp, cold earth on the side of the ditch, hoping the two men didn’t see where I was hiding.

I could hear them talking excitedly, but the fog damped the sound and I couldn’t understand. Then, I heard the sawing. It was loud and hollow sounding and my heart kept beating faster and faster. I didn’t hear any screams, so their victim must be dead already. My mind raced with horror as the awful sound kept going. There would be a pause every now and then, and I could hear the men babbling, then it would start back up.

I was about to go crazy with panic when the sawing finally stopped. But then, to my horror, I could hear the footsteps of the men as they walked off and I realized they were going down the trail right towards the spot where I was hidden. When they reached my location, they could look down into the ditch right at me.

As they approached I gathered my feet underneath myself and tried to brace my crouch. My only hope of escape if they saw me was to spring up onto the trail and bolt away as fast as I could. I am a strong runner and hopefully, with the element of surprise, I could escape.

The second I completed my preparations, they were upon me. Now that they were closer, I could understand what they were saying and as I tensed, I heard.

“Oh, these are just perfect.”

“Yes, we can coat them with urethane, not the glossy stuff, it’ll look cheap.”

“And they’ll support the shelves and will have just the look we want.”

I looked up and there the two were. One still had his saw and the other was carrying a load of bamboo under his arms. I remembered, there was a grove of bamboo around the corner… they were cutting bamboo for bookshelves.

There was a loud clatter as the bamboo hit the concrete trail. They had seen me. I was covered with mud and loose leaves from my slide down and must had scared the two men to death to find me crouched in the ditch like that.

There was nothing for me to do but to go on with my plan. I sprung out, stumbled a bit, then picked up speed. I could hear one man screaming as I ran as fast as I could. I looked over my shoulder and saw the other one sprinting to the blue-lighted emergency phone a few feet back down the trail. Why hadn’t I thought about that.

I doubled my speed. Now, instead of racing the two men with the saw, I was trying to get out of there before the cops arrived. I didn’t want to have to explain all that.

Hidden Grove

There is a grove of bamboo off to the side, across a narrow grassy lot, on Peter Scranton’s drive to work. He looked at that bamboo twice a day, about three hundred days a year for fifteen years. “That’s what, about nine thousand times,” Pete said to himself.

Pete had read a book about gardening and the author strongly discouraged planting bamboo because of its unstoppable fecundity and tendency to spread. Once it was in the ground, it was impossible to stop.

The stand that Pete saw would advance a little across the vacant lot, but then retreat. Pete would see bright yellow shoots sprout up with amazing speed. These would always disappear in a few days. Someone unseen was hacking the vegetation back.

One day his car blew a head gasket in a cold rain – rapidly clattering to a steaming stop. He was so discouraged he found himself abandoning the useless old wreck and striding across the little vacant lot. When he reached the familiar stand of bamboo he pushed the strong but yielding stalks apart and buried himself.

He watched his car being towed away and his wife and coworkers walking along the road as he peered out of the thick bamboo. After a day, nobody came by any more, though he saw someone he didn’t know stop and nail a poster with a photograph printed on it on a nearby wooden power pole. He supposed it was a picture of himself, though he didn’t recognize it.

When he was thirsty he found he could bent the bamboo stalks and get a little water to run into his mouth. After the first day he was hungry, but after three days the hunger left him. He watched the new shoots come up in the lot and when the workmen came to cut them back they spotted him lurching around back in the grove, making the bamboo sway, even though there was no breeze.

They had to cut most of the grove down to flush him out. They took Pete away for observation.

Within a season, the bamboo had grown back. You couldn’t tell that anything had happened there.

Next… Shopping Carts

Carts in the Pond

Sometimes, when the weather was warm, he liked to sit beside this little pond in a park near his house. The bank all around the pond was steep but there was a spot where a tree had died and left a flat area ringed by a rock wall that was a particularly comfortable place to sit.

He was sitting there looking across the pond where a sidewalk ran when he spotted a couple of teenagers pushing a shopping cart. There was a grocery store a block away and he could see a single shopping bag in the center of the cart. When they reached the middle of the part of the sidewalk that ran along the pond, one kid reached into the cart and pulled out the bag. The other simply turned the metal cart and pushed it down the steep bank where it hit the water and with a soft hiss, quickly sank beneath the surface. Once it was gone the two kids kept walking, now carrying the bag in their hands. It didn’t look very big.

He was upset at this. He knew the grocery store was losing money and would soon close. The neighborhood would be hurt by the lack of shopping and the image of the big empty box on the corner, the vacant parking lot. Those carts were expensive and those kids were one reason nothing good ever lasted any more.

He thought about yelling something, but they were too far away. He couldn’t even chase them. By the time he rounded the pond they would be long gone. They were too far away for him to even recognize who they were – if he saw them again, he wouldn’t even know it.

So he sat there for a little longer and then walked home. He never went back to the pond again, preferring to stay home and watch television.

Racing With the Wind

Roger and Annette had to rush to the van from the basketball court. Annette ran with her oldest daughter’s hand in her own while Roger carried their young son, barely more than a toddler, in his arms. A huge black angry cloud was building rapidly to the west and the boiling thunderstorm was beginning to kick up a cold fast wind.

As they piled into the van the humid heat of the Texas summer was shoved aside by a blast of cold storm outflow air. The second they settled in, locking the toddler into his car seat and making sure the girl had her belt fastened the wind rose to a howling gale. Dust and leaves rose in a shooting cloud and the van rocked from the power of the wind.

To watch their daughter’s game they had had to park across the street in the lot of a small shopping center. It was anchored by a big hardware store and the wind suddenly began grabbing the hundred shopping carts piled out front and sent them shooting across the lot like rockets, right toward Roger and Annette’s van.

They flew in a wheeled phalanx, upright and racing, some swerving a bit due to a wonky wheel, but most moving with amazing speed. Roger and Annette could do nothing but watch them come. Most were driving in rumbling mass to the south of the van, where they watched them pass, hit the curb, and then tumble out into the street.

A few veered to the left and came close to the van, but thanks to a lucky act of providence, none actually hit them, although some only missed by inches. Roger, Annette, and their daughter sat there helpless, and felt a great relief when the sudden windstorm died down and was replaced by fat, pelting rain. They felt very lucky they had not been hit, though it only would have been a little dent at the worst.

The toddler, of course, thought the whole thing was a blast and laughed as hard as he could as he watched the shopping carts fly by.