Playing with Imaginary Friends

I fill the coffee cup.
The stuff pours out, my baby smiles
and Alice, my friend, speaks up.

“Let’s stop this game; I’m bored.
Why don’t we go out in the rain?”

“Okay, if I can,” and hunt rain boots and mac.
“Again, Tina?” says mom, “Don’t stay long.”

Alice and I (of course Alice stays dry,
her clothes and hair always pretty)
jump in the first puddle, not careful the mud will
get on my pink dress (but not hers).

Then I raise up my face and open my mouth,
and drink rain from a warm, drippy sky.

Before long we squat down to make handprints in mud,
and I see hers are really there, too.

I grab her to hug, say “I love you!” and run
with my Alice to the warmth of mom’s kitchen.

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This Antique World

“I love imagining people, as lone creatures out in the wild, wanting to be loved, but afraid of hurting and being hurt.” – Tammy T. Stone

We who populate this world are those lone creatures who once lived on earth, wanting to be loved. We were born, lived and died without experiencing it. For some, this was on account of timidity, for others a lack of civility or social graces, or evident poor character, or impulsiveness, or lack of empathic capacity, or just plain rotten bad luck or who knows how many other things. The reasons are endless. It makes no difference what happened. We remember we died loveless. And for that we believe we have been sent here to atone or to learn, no one is sure which.

We are all wild creatures. I, for example, am a jackal. My friend Doris is a fawn and Bud over there is a turtle. He is quite large and is a sea turtle, I think. Although with no sea nearby it is difficult to check. Some people (we still are people, no matter what you may think) believe the animal form each of us has been assigned reflects on the characteristic or characteristics that made us loveless or unlovable long ago. I certainly don’t agree with this assessment and neither does Freddy the skunk.

To think of myself as a heartless, jackal-like person back in human life would lead me to believe that I must have been sneaky, avaricious, and unconcerned with the feelings of others. The thought of myself this way gets me so mad I could bite someone. When I act this way, everyone starts to edge away, and Jack the rabbit high-tails it. That’s when I know to cool it, and eventually we all come together again.

You might wonder why we come together, we predators and prey. It’s out of loneliness I guess and perhaps a desire to put our heads together to see if we can understand what has happened to us, and why. We have compared life stories and it became apparent early on that the only characteristic we had in common was never to have found love. We are the most unfortunate of people who have ever lived.

With open conversation among us (why not?), we understand (or think we do) each other’s earthly difficulties and offer the most useless of suggestions, e.g., when that happened you should have done this, you missed your chance there, how could you have been so clueless when he asked you out, you came so close but really lost it there, and so on. Many of us have enjoyed earthly friendships, some very long lasting, some very close, but no one experienced that surrender of self, that unconditional pledge to another, that … that ‘je ne se quoi.’ If any of us had ‘quoi-ed,’of course, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.

Most of are still trying to figure out what we need to do to leave this place. Some have given up and sit stupefied. I don’t know what to do. I’m at a loss in this game, if it is a game. But I do know if I ever get back to earth I will remember these times, and finding love will be my first and only priority. I won’t care if I get hurt. I will trust myself not to hurt others. I will .. Wait a minute. What is happening? .. What is all this pressure I am feeling. What is that bright light. Why did somebody just hit me? Oh .. I’m being born. I must remember .. must remember .. will reme .. Oh, there’s Mama. She’s so beautiful, so soft and warm .. I’m so hungry .. I do remember something .. to do .. I will remember ..

Good Luck, Jackal. Get it right this time!

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A Boy and his Mustangs – A Story for Children

James, having finished his chores and his homework for the weekend, treated himself to a visit to the barn cats. He brought a large bowl of meal leftovers and some dry food to the cats who were all half-wild. They scattered at his approach, then circled back behind him to be first to the food. James placed the bowl in the barn’s large hay loading door, then went inside and sat on a bale to watch the interplay of the cats as they scrambled for the food.

After the bowl was empty, the cats began their aimless wandering about the barn. James half closed his eyes to watch them. As he sat quietly, the cats began to ignore his presence and he saw their dance spread quietly into the space he occupied. Then, as he wordlessly, thoughtlessly contemplated them, he saw faint lines of white light connecting them and realized their wandering was not aimless but a pattern covering all the space in the barn as if forming a net. He saw scurrying along the walls and, realizing they were mice, noticed that no mouse was more than a step and two leaps  away from one cat or another. The cats were patrolling the barn as a unit, covering all the places where mice could hide.

At dinner, James remarked on what he had seen, expecting casual confirmation from his parents who must have noticed the same thing many times from their years on the farm. What he got instead was a gentle ribbing about his creative mind and how he might be using that imagination of his to tell tall tales to the credulous. James was shocked that neither parent had seen the cats in patterned hunt.

The next Saturday, James hitched Old Ned and Jake to the family buckboard for the trip with his father into town to buy their weekly needs from the general store and to sell James’ eggs collected that morning from the coop. The townsfolk were almost all Amish, with the notable exception of Mr. Crouse, who owned and operated the store. In consideration of the practices of the townspeople, James’ father used the old buckboard pulled by their horses whenever he went to town rather than driving their truck. James suspected his dad just liked driving the old buckboard, too.

Mr. Crouse mentioned to them that Mrs. Grable had a new stray in her kennels out back of her house. She collected the few strays that managed to find the their way into  a town out in the middle of nowhere, tamed them and gave them away to families when she could. James asked his father if they had time to go over and see it.

After they arrived, Mrs. Grable told James’ father that this dog was in very bad shape and refusing food, just drinking water, and that she didn’t expect him to live long. She said she’d looked up what he might be and based on size, coat and general shape figured him likely for mostly Newfoundland. James approached the kennel and sat down close to the dog. He half-closed his eyes and ‘communed’ with it for a while, the closest word he knew that seemed to fit what he did with animals. Then he looked the dog in the eyes and the dog looked back. “He wants to come with us and he won’t need a collar or chain,” said James.

Mrs. Grable just shook her head and said, “Well, James knows best.”

“You can’t mean he’s done this before with your dogs?” asked James’ father, looking surprised.

“Of course he has,” replied Mrs. Grable, “whenever I need to know what’s going on with one of my dogs, I go over to school and ask Miss Barker to please send him over for a few minutes after school. It never takes him more than a minute or two. He has tamed all your chickens, hasn’t he? Someone was mentioning that a while ago.”

“Well, yes he has. He’s got each one to come to him by name except for the rooster, that doesn’t seem to like him much.” replied James’ father. “Well, I guess it’s time he had a dog. Ask him if he’s house trained, son,” he added, smiling.

However, James took the suggestion seriously and, putting his arm through the kennel bars, placed his hand on the dog’s head and half-closed his eyes again. “He wants out of this kennel and says he wants to come with us, as long as we don’t use a collar or a chain. He’s had a bad experience with them. And yes, he was allowed in but had to sleep outside.”

“Well, he sure could do that,” said James’ father, “look at that coat on him. Well, let’s take him along. It’s time you had a dog,” James father said. “Maybe he can protect you from that rooster!”

After thanking Mrs. Grable for taking care of the dog, James led him away, sure enough with no collar or leash, back to the store and the buckboard, and they headed home.

You might be wondering where’s the mustang in this story? Well, hold your horses (ha, ha) and you’ll find out. It seems James was a passionate boy scout in the little community troop, and loved camping trips most of all. He loved to sleep under the stars, next to the campfire. As far as he was concerned, the tent was just for rainy nights.

As a scout, he got a copy of the scouting magazine “Boys Life” each month and in the June issue there was an article about a wild horse roundup that took place once a year when the horse population got too large. It seems the horses that were collected were sold or given away to families who had the space and interest to care for them. This set James’ mind going a mile a minute. “We’ve got the space for another horse or two and the feed and I have the interest,” said James to himself, as he ticked these off on three fingers. “I need to think this over.”

The next day James shared his plan with his parents. “My Boys Life magazine says this year the Bureau of Land Management is going to round up 800 horses and they never have near enough families to take them all. If you let me get one of them, I’ll tame it and we can all ride a mustang, even you, mom.”

“Not on your life, James, you won’t catch me on a wild horse, or a tame one either,” she said definitively.

“And James, these mustangs are smaller than our horses because they have to survive in the wild. We could never team one up with Old Ned or Jake,” his father added.

“Dad,” bargained James, “that just means we should get two. Old Ned is 18 and Jake is 16. They won’t be pulling the buckboard much longer.”

After considerable discussion, James prevailed much to his surprise, though his mom didn’t change her position on riding. James and his father decided riding mustangs would be fun and a nice thing for a father and son to do together. James would be completely responsible for the care of the horses, which was fine by him. James outlined the rest of his plan. He would visit with the other scouts in his troop to gauge interest in the idea of a scout outing to Billings during the roundup.

The other scouts were all excited about the roundup and James raised the idea up at the next scout meeting with Mr. Pearson, their troop leader. (James had given Mr. Pearson a ‘heads-up’ before the meeting so he wouldn’t be surprised.) Mr. Pearson agreed with the plan provided at least six of them got permission from their parents to go along. He also asked whether the others knew of James’ plan to take home two of the mustangs. They all clamored that they did and were excited by the possibility of riding the wild mustangs once James had them tamed. It turned out all the boys got permission and Mr. Pearson’s ‘stretch’ van was full of boys and gear.

The plan went off without a hitch and at the end of their week of camping and outdoor activities, James’ dad arrived pulling their horse trailer. James rode back with his dad to keep the horses, a stallion and a mare, quiet during the long ride home.

During the next several weeks, James tamed the two with apples and carrots within their corral, first leaving the snacks at the same time each day, then at different times to increase the mustangs’ sense of anticipation, then back to the same time each day with him sitting nearby inside the corral, not paying any attention while they ate, followed by looking at them while they ate, and so on until he had tamed them ever so gently.

He and his father did enjoy riding together and his scout buddies did too. Though his mother never rode, she loved to feed them special treats from time to time. Later, when James took over the farm, he expanded the corral to a nearby thirty acres of grassland and small woods, that had a stream running through it.

In the years after, James gradually converted the farm to exclusively raising mustangs, selling them as ready-to-ride two year-olds to families who loved horses and could provide them a good life. James often got letters with pictures of the horses he’d raised. He posted all the pictures on a special wall in the barn, to share the presence and companionship of generations of half-wild cats.

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I am a Beach

Growing up in San Diego, I remember the beach as a mystic edge between land, sea and water. The restless waves lapping up against the sandstone, eroding it slowly, seemed to reflect my restlessness to get away, leave family and home and become someone different, bigger than the dutiful son I was. Yet the sand itself, the beach, seemed a different slate. Not restless, but forming and reforming in graceful curves, inviting one to write an ephemeral message into it. Many times I wrote my name and watched it wash away, a reminder that one day I too would wash away without a remaining trace and no one left to remember me or grieve my absence. This is our mortal fate. This is why we must spend every second that we are blessed to have as kind, loving and compassionate fellow travelers in time.

And so I decided to write a story about a beach that is aware, that welcomes guests knowing each too soon will be gone forever, like their writings in the sand, washed away be the tides of time.
……..
I am a beach. Waves of emotion wash over me, gently caressing me with seaweed fronds, seashells and sand dollars. Even the sand crabs I welcome as they wash in and burrow into my belly.
As full moon arrives, reason returns to rule and wring me out. From time to time storms assault me, cutting into my shape, reforming me into wild, senseless new heaps. Then the wind and waves gently bring me back to sensibility, something inviting to those who come to visit. I wonder which I like better, the calms or the storms. I decide I love them both as much, but differently, as a child loves both mother and father fervently but differently.
It is the hurricane, the cyclone, the tsunami I fear. These can utterly destroy me, removing my beachy sand granules, dispersing them to other coasts, leaving only rocks behind. And I would then be different in kind, a rocky coastline, not a beach any longer. Lovely shells would break upon me. Sand crabs would no longer visit. And see turtles arriving at season to lay their eggs would be only a fading memory.
And yet what can I do? I must accept all that comes. I find joy in my present beachiness. I cry out in distress at the thought of the great storms to come that will carry my sand out to the sea. I exist, I accept, I rejoice in all that happens. I learn and grow in wisdom as the seasons pass, yet know that an end is inevitable, at some time, in some season.
I choose to believe that even after my end, sand will gather where I once was, and I will be whole again. Perhaps some of my wisdom will drift in with the sand. And if not, I will just start my life’s journey over, once again.
A woman came down the cliffs today and wrote words in my sand. I couldn’t read them, of course; I don’t have eyes. Then she walked up near my brow and sat down, looking out to sea. I shared peace and comfort with her as together we watched the gulls wheel and the sun set and the tide come in to wash her words away. Tears ran down the hard-packed sand and melted into the salty sea. I wonder if the ocean is formed from all the tears and broken hearts of uncounted generations. I ask and imagine I hear the murmured reply, “y ee sss” as waves come rolling in.

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Blue Mountain

I am Blue Mountain.

In the ages I have existed I have seen many spirits, though none of my kind. I have considered several possibilities – that I am unique in the All, that I am very rare, that I can exist only as an isolate or that I am the last of my kind. Or perhaps I am a combination of these. All I know is my consciousness arose slowly, my “thoughts” were a wordless experience of changes on this mountain – rockfalls, mudslides, and the melting of the soil in the hard rains of the monsoon.

Some unmeasured time ago I came to feel the seasons pass and, sometime after, noticed the small creatures living here. I saw that creatures began, existed and passed from existence in staggered starts but over a somewhat regular passing of the seasons and that for each individual creature, strength and growth were followed by shrinking and infirmity. And yet all of these varied creatures continued on, new individuals appearing as others disappeared. This was the First Revelation.

This realization came slowly, without any words to define and delineate my understanding. I began to spend time with the infirm of all kinds and saw a spirit spring into existence each time an individual ceased moving. These spirits stayed or left. They didn’t react to one another or to me. I wondered if I might be a spirit, too, though in some way larger and longer lasting. I considered the existence and then disappearance of all spirits. I felt the weight of mortality fall upon me. This was the Second Revelation.

I noticed the trees were following this pattern too. I understood Blue Mountain itself was washing away as the seasons passed. I became unsettled. What was my life cycle? What was to be my fate? For the first time I felt urgency. What should I do and where should I start?

I made no conscious decision. I felt no connection to what I now know as “options.” I moved where my sense of self felt lead. I settled among “the people.” I enjoyed watching them in their activities and began to sense the affinities among and between them. I wondered if these affinities might be the start of a growth cycle for the very spirit that left each one as its physical shape stopped moving.

I was changed completely when I experienced the Third Revelation. I saw one of the people put black marks on white paper. As beautiful as the markings were, I saw that the whole was much more – it was imagination becoming reality, a reality different from any I had ever experienced. It was a different place, a flat place of small rocks and a vast collection of water. People were similar but other creatures and the trees themselves were very different. This was too much to take in. I retreated to contemplate.

I wondered if this place were real or simply had somehow sprung out of the person who made it. If real, where was it? If not real, even more troubling and exciting, how could it all fit inside this small creature? And would this vision disappear when this person stopped moving? I waited to find out.

After some seasons the person stopped moving and the spirit appeared as always. It was a spirit no different than others from the people. Could other people make pictures too? I returned to the place of the people to find out.

I saw others making markings, too, but of a different sort. These were very small pictures and didn’t seem to represent a place at all. And these small pictures were often placed together to make a larger picture. As one person made one of these larger pictures, another would come later and run a finger along the small pictures within and make small murmuring noises. Then another at a later time might come and do the same. Sometimes these people would gather after, and make louder the same sounds but now in a different order. What could they be doing?

As the seasons passed, I began to feel more comfortable and enjoyed the repetitions of these sounds as they were repeated in ever changing ways. Yet some of the sounds were often grouped together. I noticed a smaller set was used with the newest of the people. And there followed the greatest of revelations – these sounds and pictures had meanings, the people were passing these meanings among themselves, and the meanings often corresponded to items resting on the surface of Blue Mountain near where the people lived. This was the Fourth Revelation.

In time I built an edifice of language, collecting all the sounds I heard into words and phrases I could understand and remember. Now I have a nearly complete understanding of the words of the people, and how they are put together to create meaning. I love the beautiful, graceful pictures that represent their words, and sometimes I can even see in the shape of the word picture, an uncanny resemblance to the item being represented. Beauty is also in the language’s use. I see that meaning can be passed from one of the people to another through these pictures themselves, even if they do not ever meet to talk, and that knowledge and ideas can be passed from one generation to another.

Language is so very beautiful. I now use words to think, to taste the shape of thoughts, to create beauty in meaning, rhythm and sound. With all these blessings, I do feel certain sadness that I have no one to share all my experiences with. Yet through the language of the people I can now express all thoughts and feelings, at least to myself, and this is no little thing. I do not know my origin. I do not know my fate. And the people do not know theirs either, but even so they find abundant meaning in their living. I can do no less.

And of the spirit world I know the most, more than all the people.

I am Blue Mountain.

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The Travels of Jingfei

Jingfei ran up the stone steps of the monastery two at a time. The steps were many and she was tired when she reached the top, glad for the looseness of her boy’s clothing that had made the climb a little easier. As she caught her breath, she rehearsed what she would say. Then she pulled on the twine hanging next to the door. A bell rang out inside the stone wall that surrounded the monastery, but just once before she heard it fall to the ground.

After a short while a cat appeared alongside and began to rub up against her legs. She picked it up and wondered what to do now that the bell had apparently gone unheard. As she was thinking, she scratched the cat’s ears and was rewarded with a loud purr. Presently she heard the soft sound of feet coming up the steps she had so recently climbed. A Buddhist nun appeared carrying a small basket of food. Jingfei bowed low in greeting, carefully cradling the cat, and received an equally polite response.

“Good morning, child. My name is Yuri and you must be the one sent from the village to help us form the new vegetable garden. Welcome to you and how may I address you,” she asked.

“My name is Jingfei,” she replied, thinking to add she was a girl since her name was not gender specific and her clothes were those of a boy.

“Come in, come in, but leave the cat outside, please,” interrupted Yuri, “you must be thirsty and hungry after such a long walk.”

“Yes, Your Holiness, I am, very.”

“Just Yuri, child. I see that the bell has fallen off again,” she said, as she put it back on its worn hook.”

They entered the old monastery and took off their shoes. Yuri lead Jingfei to the kitchen, gave her some water to drink and a large bowl of soup, then sat across from her.

“You will, of course, have to leave each day after the evening meal,” Yuri said. “Only women spend the night here.”

“Yuri, I meant to tell you I am a girl. I am 12 years old and my father sent me here to ask for training and schooling after my mother died. My father has had no schooling and my mother was able to teach me only a little.”

“There are three of us living here and we will talk about this with you when the others have returned for our evening meal,” answered Yuri. “It is always pleasant for us to see new faces around here. We do get tired of the same conversations,” she added. “Where do you come from?”

“From a village just outside Chengdu called Sanxingdui, three days walk from here. I was wearing boy’s clothing for comfort and safety.”

“I’ve heard of your town but I’ve never been there. By the way, if you do stay you will be our youngest by 52 years. You will rarely see children your own age, other than weekly in the village as you shop for food. While I would gladly give up that excursion, you may not find your life here as enjoyable as it was in Sanxingdui. Please do think about this,” she said. “It must be difficult to leave your father and friends behind.”

Before Jingfei could answer, the bell rang and Yuri went out to the gate. Jingfei thought of her father and how she was missing him already. Her thoughts were interrupted when Yuri returned with a boy about Jingfei’s age and announced he was the one they were expecting from the village to establish the new garden, and that his name was Bolin. Jingfei would be helping him with the garden should she be staying but to please leave the heaviest lifting to the boy, she added.

Jingfei was dumbfounded to see him. He was her second cousin whom she had met a few years ago at her aunt’s wedding. They had played tag and stolen sweets when the adults were not looking. Bolin gave her a wink to let her know he recognized her too.

Jingfei hoped the garden might take a while to establish. She decided to ask Bolin if he’d like her to call on him, after the garden was finished. She imagined visiting him and his friends each time she went down to the village with the basket for food. She hoped he would say yes.

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I am a Beach

I am a beach. Waves of emotion wash over me, gently caressing me with seaweed fronds, seashells and sand dollars. Even the sand crabs I welcome as they wash in and burrow into my belly.

As full moon arrives, reason returns to rule and wring me out. From time to time storms assault me, cutting into my shape, reforming me into wild, senseless new heaps. Then the wind and waves gently bring me back to sensibility, something inviting to those who come to visit. I wonder which I like better, the calms or the storms. I decide I love them both as much, but differently, as a child loves both mother and father fervently but differently.

It is the hurricane, the cyclone, the tsunami I fear. These can utterly destroy me, removing my beachy sand granules, dispersing them to other coasts, leaving only rocks behind. And I would then be different in kind, a rocky coastline, not a beach any longer. Lovely shells would break upon me. Sand crabs would no longer visit. And see turtles arriving at season to lay their eggs would be only a fading memory.

And yet what can I do? I must accept all that comes. I find joy in my present beachiness. I cry out in distress at the thought of the great storms to come that will carry my sand out to the sea. I exist, I accept, I rejoice in all that happens. I learn and grow in wisdom as the seasons pass, yet know that an end is inevitable, at some time, in some season.

I choose to believe that even after my end, sand will gather where I once was, and I will be whole again. Perhaps some of my wisdom will drift in with the sand. And if not, I will just start my life’s journey over, once again.

A woman came down the cliffs today and wrote words in my sand. I couldn’t read them, of course; I don’t have eyes. Then she walked up near my brow and sat down, looking out to sea. I shared peace and comfort with her as together we watched the gulls wheel and the sun set and the tide come in to wash her words away. Tears ran down the hard-packed sand and melted into the salty sea. I wonder if the ocean is formed from all the tears and broken hearts of uncounted generations. I ask and imagine I hear the murmured reply, “y ee sss” as waves come rolling in.

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