Saturday, April 30, 2005

Swift Justice

Thirty years ago the reign of the Khmer Rouge began. Today, the piled-up skulls of their victims capture only a part of that horror.

Thirty years ago and still they walk free.

But now the UN announces that a tribunal will be set up. Now, thirty years after the fact. Only Galileo could see this as swift justice.

How swiftly will justice come for Darfur?

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 Friday, April 29, 2005

Joe Jennett is good at taking snapshots, the photographic kind and the non-photographic kind.

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After the End

I have this idea about the end of the world as I know it. It is not a theory about how the world will end but rather what will happen after the end. The theory goes something like this.

We are so removed from the physical world, from the dirt of the earth, that our bodies can't handle it anymore. Antibiotics at the first hint of infection. Germ killing foams to apply every ten minutes. Abject fear of letting the baby pick up a cheerio that landed on the floor. You know, that kind of thing.

When the end of the world comes, whatever the cause, we won't have our antibiotics anymore. We won't have our cleansing foams. Heck, we won't have soap. We'll only have our immune systems to protect us from the world to which we have become so unaccustomed. And most of us will quickly die.

My demise will be different, however. I don't use antibiotic foam. I've long lived by the ten second rule with respect to dropped cheerios. I figure my immune system will do fine.

No, my demise will come in the Spring of the following year, when the flowers begin to bloom and the oaks begin to pollinate. I will walk out into the field to cultivate my berries and plant my potatoes (or whatever I'll be living on), and I won't be able to stop sneezing. With no Flonase, with no Claritin, with no eye drops to stop the itching, I will be helpless. The berries will go unprotected from the birds. The seed potatoes will never get planted. The weeds will take over. And I will starve.

And then the meek shall truly inherit the earth.

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 Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Two Reasons

There are two reasons I feel that way, I said, and I walked to the board to draw a picture.

He watched me patiently. They've learned to expect pictures from me.

But you probably won't like the first reason, I cautioned him as I put my first scribble on the board. I tend to get spun up on small things.

Of course, he knows that by now as well as anyone else. We spend a lot of time talking, and he gets to listen to my many comments on little things.

No, no. That's what I like, he said. You think like ..., and he struggled to find a word.

I wondered what was coming next.

Little things, he said. Artists think about little things.

He smiled. I smiled. And in the end I don't think I ever did explain my two reasons.

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 Monday, April 25, 2005

Weird Guy

There was a weird guy who lived across the street from me when I lived in Houston. Every night when I'd go running, I would see him huddled over his keyboard peering at the monitor on his desk.

Every night. At his computer. He was a real weird guy.

I gotta go, now.

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 Sunday, April 24, 2005

We Have Been Here Before

We have been here before.

We have seen these same trees: the Junipers and Oaks sensibly standing back from creekbed and the torrents that sometimes flow this way; the battered, leaning Sycamores without the same sense.

We have heard the same birds singing from the woods and seen the same vultures turning on breezes against the blue sky.

We have watched the green-blue water fall -- listened to its noisy rush, smelled the air, certain that there could be nothing finer than this.

We have been here before. And each time is better than the last.

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin TX

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Clouds and Sunshine

Clouds in the morning and a cool breeze before the race.

Sunshine afterwards as we sat on the grass by the lake and watched the finished runners mill.

Clouds again later, a flat deck high overhead threatening rain at times and just looking dreary at others.

Sunshine again, just in time to turn the compost pile.

Clouds again, and cool breeze enough to warrant a jacket for me and fuzzy socks for her as we sat outside on the bench.

And then one last flash of golden light as the setting sun broke thru the clouds in the west and lit up the treetops to the east.

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 Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Echoes of His Cacophony


It's late, real late. My brother needs boxes to pack his drums -- the ones he bought on eBay and we picked up in San Marcos the night before his gig at the conference. He needs the boxes to ship the blue drums home.

So he decides to go to Wal-Mart. "Is it open this late?" he wonders and then leaves the house for a very long time -- too long for mere box scrounging.

By the time he returns, we are in bed. When he comes thru the door, we hear not the sound of boxes, but the sound of shuffling plastic bags.

He went shopping!


It's late.

As I sit here and Trudy retires to the bedroom and Ben sits in the living room nose in his book, my brother is packing his boxes -- the boxes he found last night.

This is no run-of-the-mill packing. This is industrial strength packing.

The drums are painstakingly disassembled with the hardware put in plastic bags and the drums cleaned with Windex and stacked inside one another with bubble wrap lovingly applied between the cyclinders.

And the sound of the packing tape. Oh, the sound of the packing tape at 11:00 at night.


Tomorrow night will not be like this. No iPod playing thru the living room stereo while a CD plays on the computer in the study. No late night dashing off to Wal-Mart. No boxes. No drums. No bubble wrap. No packing tape.

Silence. Yes, we will have that. And the echoes of his cacophony.

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Bolton's Hat

1. They Launched Challenger Anyway.

Take off your engineer's hat, and put on your manager's hat.

What does that mean?

I'll tell you what it means: Wrong answer. Try again.

And on a cold morning they launched Challenger anyway. The crew never returned.

2. Do Your Job Well.

Those words, take off your engineer's hat, mean a lot to aerospace engineers in the trenches today. Do your job. Do it well. And don't be afraid to stick to your analysis, even when managers and politicians with other things on their minds tell you to try again.

3. Bolton Vs. The Analyst.

Ok. So what are we to make of a State Department official who plays the same game with intelligence analysts? And what are we to make of the fact that when the analysts refuse to change hats, he tries to get them fired?

Why, we nominate him to be ambassador to the United Nations!

4. Go Dog, Go!

Do you like my hat? ([1] [2])

No. I do not like that hat. Good bye.

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 Monday, April 18, 2005

The House is Empty

The house is empty when you're not here.

There's no one to share the commute with in the morning. There's no one to wave to when I drop you off. There's no one to smile at when you pick me up.

Although I exclaim, "Trudy's here!" as I spot your car in the driveway, the trick doesn't work. The house is still quiet when I walk in.

And in the evening, with my arms and legs spread out on the bed in anticipation of luxurious sleep, I cannot.

The house is so empty when you're not here. (But it won't be empty much longer.)

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 Sunday, April 17, 2005

I Am Ben's Brother

1. We Went Running

When we got to the running trail, son-Ben took his book and found a spot to sit down by the water. Brother-Ben and I took the dog and started off at a slow jog. The slow jog part was my contribution.

So here we were, jogging around Town Lake. He was marvelling at the scene: the breeze, the dogs on leashes, the people.

Look at the people running, kept muttering. You don't see anything like this in Chicago.

He was enjoying this.

2. Familiar Faces

Somewhere around mile two, we began to pass people he knew.

Do you understand what I'm saying? My brother comes to visit. We go jogging. And he sees friends along the trail.

Admittedly, he was here for a sports medicine conference. And the hotel was close to the lake. And their sessions got out early, today. So perhaps it wasn't surprising that he saw faces he knew.

But this wasn't just a few familiar faces he saw.

When we finished our first four mile loop, I was hoping Carl would be sitting on his usual bench at the stretching area. I was thinking that I could introduce him to Ben. But Carl wasn't there.

Just past the bridge, we passed Harold. He didn't see me, but I shouted his name as we ran by. He looked over his shoulder and smiled when he saw me. I think he even waved. But Harold doesn't know my name. I figure Ben could tell.

3. Are You Ben's Brother?

When we got to the pedestrian bridge, Ben decided that he wanted to keep going.

That'll make eight miles, I said. I don't want to run eight. I told him to go ahead -- that I'd wait on the other side.

Across the lake, I found a step to sit on. I knew it wouldn't be long for an extra mile at the pace he was wanting to run.

As I sat waiting for his orange Illini shirt to appear, a woman ran in front of me with a look of recognition on her face. I couldn't place her. She pointed at me. I still couldn't place her. She stopped running and came over.

Are you Ben's brother? she asked.

Yes. I am Ben's brother.

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 Thursday, April 14, 2005

Where We Can All Fly

He came into the room carrying the dog. I was sitting at the computer recovering from my daily evening slump, and I wasn't in the mood for a wet nose and prying paws stuck in my face.

Come on, Ben! I said, and that was enough.

He immediately turned around, still holding the dog in his arms.

Oh poor puppy, he said. Let's go. I'll take you to a place where there are puppies and love and playing outside. I'll take you to a place where there are walks and ... and expeditions! I'll take you to a place where we can all fly!

And they disappeared around the corner.

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 Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What Else I Might Find

I'm thinking of a book that I had not such a long time ago. A little red paperback book that I once decided I didn't need but then later changed my mind. Oh where is it?

I'm thinking of a notebook that I had a very long time ago. For a long time it sat on a shelf in the closet in the home where I grew up. But I can't picture where it might be now. Oh where is it?

Somewhere in the garage, there must be a box hidden very well, out of plain view, disguised perhaps to throw me off. Somewhere in there, in a box in a corner under a pile, I hope one day to find that little red book and that notebook of poems.

And who knows what else I might find.

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 Monday, April 11, 2005

How It Feels

Do you know how it feels when I watch you run across the field at night by the shadow of the crescent moon passing in front of the Pleides?

Do you know how it feels when I see you smiling in the dark even though I cannot see your face, since it is dark and you are far away?

Do you know how it feels after a warm day of sun and blue sky and blooming wild petunias and blackfoot daisies to breathe the fragrance of the Chinaberry as we walk home?

In the cool air of the dark night. In the grass. Under the trees. By the evening primrose barely pink at your feet. Beneath the starlit night. Watching you.

Do you know how it feels?

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Farther Up

I looked up, thru the spring green leaves of the Crepe Myrtle bush.
Farther up, past the pokey-lobed leaves of the Texas Oaks.
Farther up, above the low treetops to where three vultures flew.
Farther up, at a silent silver jet streaking straight across the sky.
Farther up, and I saw only blue.

And beyond that blue, there was no farther up to see.

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 Sunday, April 10, 2005

Twins on the Rocks

1. Along Barton Creek

The sun was high in the sky, periodically hiding behind white clouds. A breeze blew up the canyon, cooling our sweating faces. The water rushed and made a conversation-squelching roar as it fell over the rocks.

We sat down by the edge of the clear water and took our shoes off. We waded into the stream, and we coaxed our nervous dog to do the same (which he did not). We sat at the top of the falls and let the flow massage our legs and toes as the dog hopped from her lap to mine and back again.

Several people came and went -- a man on a bike who watched the water for a few minutes, a young father with his boy thrilled to be wading in the creek. But most of the people staked their ground beyond the final fall downstream where the water slowed and lapped at the feet of the cliffs before the creek bent out of view.

2. The Twins

But one other couple chose the falls. They arrived shortly after we did -- a man with long hair pulled back in a bandana, a woman looking to be either deep in profound thought or in some sort of illicit haze, and their two twin boys about four years old.

The mom and dad sat the kids down and stripped them out of their clothes. First one and then the other got into the water, which wasn't too cold. Their faces erupted in smiles. One of them could hardly contain his excitement as he waved his arms and shook his hands. The other turned back to his mom and asked if he could wear his cape.

They were twins. One wore his purple and red cape that hung into the water behind him. The other wore nothing at all. As soon as they got their bearings walking in the swiftly flowing water, they started for the falls.

3. Climbing The Falls

They started for the falls, each of them. One accompanied by their dad, the other by their mom. But soon both boys outpaced the adults, and they had arrived at the rocks ahead of their mom, and their dad had stopped in midstream and was just shouting encouraging words their way.

The smaller of the two boys had the remnants of a bloody nose and a scab on his chin. He got to the rocks first. (He was the one with the cape.) Without hesitation, he began climbing the rocks, slipping only a few times, and catching his balance remarkably well each time he teetered. The other was more cautious and lagged behind his brother -- but not too far.

The place they had chosen to climb was not where the water was falling with full force. But there was water here, snaking its way between the boulders and making a fair noise. The mother arrived just as the second one was clambering up the first boulder. He pulled his naked body up the side and began to stand at the top, where he tripped and fell forward. His mother caught him before he fell into the flow or hit his head on a rock. He turned back to her with a look of terror on his face.

Meanwhile, the caped twin had reached the top and was shouting with glee, arms held high in the sky. He scrambled back down and walked to where his father was standing smiling. The second twin then left his mother's arms and proceeded to climb the rest of the way up the falls.

4. Time To Go

This went on for some time. The two of them walked up the creek bed, finding sunny places to sit. They walked down the creek bed to where the flow slowed. Upstream. Downstream. In the sun. On the rocks. Laughing and soaking wet. Breathing the spring air. The two boys splashed and jumped and shouted with understandable glee.

And when it was finally time to go and they returned to the place on shore where their clothes were scattered on the rocks, they were so exhausted that they could barely stand straight.

I bet they sleep well tonite.

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 Thursday, April 7, 2005

Seeing Clearly

I was about to say, I can see it clearly now.

But I can't. I can't say that. I cannot see anything clearly.

Perhaps this is because it is 1:00 in the morning. Perhaps this is because I told Trudy that I wouldn't be coming to bed late.

Whyever it is, I can't see clearly at all. And I don't know what it was that just a few moments I thought I could see so well.

So maybe we had better just put and end to this conversation.

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 Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Now The Oak Tree

I stood out there as the sun painted the edges of that approaching storm pink. Wispy fingers blew by. Night fell. Flashes lit the sky, and with each the storm came closer.

Then the thunder came: at first a hint of rumbling in the distance, then loud crashes following each flash. The temperature dropped.

I turned and went inside.

At first, I thought I heard a skateboard hopping on the pavement. At night, in the dark, I thought I heard a skateboard. I turned to look out the window, but saw no one. I went to the door and looked out the window -- no one. Then I heard another skateboard slap, then another, and then another.

I opened the door. Hail was coming from the sky, falling in lines unslanted by the wind. It flew off the roof andat odd angles. It bounced off the ground and rolled on the sidewalk.

Then came the rain, a torrent of water and mist swirling in wind. The rain fell. The hail fell. The wind blew. And the oak tree in the front shook and twisted.

In minutes it was done. And now the oak tree stands still.

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 Monday, April 4, 2005

Somebody Call the Cops

The Congressman from Texas said:

The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior...

The Senator from Texas was reported to say:

I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters ... where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.

Answer for their behavior. Engage in violence.

Somebody call the cops.

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 Sunday, April 3, 2005

His Favorite Tree

The Writing Man/Old Grey Poet witnesses the demise of his favorite tree and shows us an image of it before it was bulldozed down.

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 Saturday, April 2, 2005

Reading Chapter 5

The theme was Webs, Wings, and Wiggly things. They told me this when I walked into the library a little before 8:00 on Monday morning. Unlike last time, this time I wasn't prepared. So the librarian showed me some props assembled by the RIF staff: creepy crawlers and plastic spiders and oversized bugs and lizards in cages -- things to pass around.

When the first class came in and sat down, I had two of them pull a creepy crawler from the bag and stick them on the velcro board under the category they thought was appropriate: webs, wings, wiggly things. Then we got down to business.

These were fourth graders. They are readers. So the book I was supposed to read wasn't a picture book of bugs with a poem. It was a real book, and there weren't many pictures. I warned them before we started.

They sat on the floor and I on a chair in front. I showed them the cover, read the title, read the author's name, and read the illustrator's name. (And I told them they should always remember these things after they read a book -- even the illustrator.) Then I started to read Chapter 5.

Chapter 5 of Charlotte's Web is not a bad chapter to read, if you can only read a little. And I only had about 15 minutes. It starts with a some pig antics in the barn.

So I was reading about Wilbur (the pig) and how he talked to the goose, and how he waited for morning to arrive. And I was reading about him eating all the slop in the trough.

I looked up and asked them, Do you know what slop is?

They didn't. Did they have pets? Some did. Did they have a dog? Some did. Did they feed them dry food or wet food? Some answered, but most didn't seem sure what I was asking. I explained how slop is kind of like wet pet food where you mix it with water to make soupy, slimy slop. They understood.

Do you know what a trough is? I asked.

They didn't. I explained how a trough is about this long by that wide, and I held my hands out. And it is made out of wood. And it's what you pour the slop into. I made a bubbly, goopy, slooping sound and motioned with my hands as if it was pouring into the trough. They understood.

Then we continued with Wilbur and how he rolled in the manure. I stopped again. I looked at them, wondering. They looked back, wondering, too.

Do you know what manure is? I asked in a whisper.

They didn't. I didn't say anything for a few seconds. I could see the librarians and teachers frozen in the back. I leaned forward in my chair, as if to share a secret.

It's ..., and I lowered my voice even more.

It's poo.

The kids smiled. Some giggled. Some winced. The teachers and librarians in the back laughed audibly (but not too loudly).

I held my hand to my mouth. Manure is animal poo, I explained in a normal voice now. After all, this is a farm!

We never did get to the end of the chapter. We only got to where Charlotte waves to Wilbur with one leg, holding on upside down with the other seven. And then the kids got to go pick their books.

RIF day at Walnut Creek Elementary, Austin.

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