“Sobranie” by Cody Taylor

He lights a cigarette.
Typewriter stares. Words lounge inside,
like aristocrats in a pool, undaunted, unaware of
struggle and hardship and hunger; they linger.

Memories light up like when a train hits the tracks,
little sparks against the metal, small marks
of ink against the page.

The movements are violent
like a waltz before Russian Roulette.
Final steps set in stone on marble floors
in a castle in the tundra under God, in desperation.

It’s like the droplets
of rain against the window;
Fingers fumble over each other
like the aristocrats screaming
“God damn it! Let us out of here!”
Tumbling over each other to get to the door
when the Tzar’s castle starts burning.

Smoke billows from his mouth
like it does from the castle ruins.
And the peasant throws her husband
to their bed. The king is dead,
long live the king.
They celebrate because they are alike.
In flesh, in sinew, in longing.

Like fire flashes in the beds of lovers.
They fold together and smolder.
Type hammer strikes the page.
He extinguishes the cigarette;
it sleeps with its ash.

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Distractions

 

In the Little League days of my youth I spent most innings crouched beside third base drawing nude stick-women in the dirt. The baseball bats would crack like lightning and balls would zip past my ear or between my legs on a high-speed chase to the right fielder. With each ignored baseball, my coach, on the verge of a self-induced heart attack would bark from the dugout, get your head out of the dirt and into the game Draper! Yet time and time again, batter after miserable batter, I struggled to pull myself from the roar of my wandering eye. And as one should have predicted, class was no different.  Teachers lectured on about Honest Abe and the importance of integrity while I penciled makeshift guns into my note margins and shot soggy spitballs into my friend’s ear.

By the end of middle school baseball dumped me like a girlfriend who wouldn’t put out, but not before I learned that harnessing my attention at the things I loved could bring me immense satisfaction.  My 5th grade teacher encouraged me to sit in the back of the classroom where I was able to read Huckleberry Finn and scout out my first girlfriend.  By the time I reached college, looking for inspiration was the only way to force myself to write and a course I was taking in travel writing pushed me to make tedious notes of my surrounding environment.

In the first two weeks of class our teacher organized a trip to a nature reserve on the hushed outskirts of downtown Chattanooga.  The Jeep, winding down a gravel road, rolled over the loose rocks and they popped like bubble wrap. We backed the SUV into a parking space near to the entrance.  The air was humid: a basement under the sun after spring rainfall, but I was determined to make the most of my pocket-sized trip into the arboretum, to enjoy this escape from the classroom setting.

Everyone ventured off around the same time. I let the group go on ahead settling at the tail end of the line. The sounds of warbling blue birds sent music swirling from the limbs of damp oak trees. A small pond appeared to my left and nostalgia brought me back to those halcyon days when I last visited the arboretum ten years earlier on a field trip. Back then I stood in the pond, the surface of the water at my knees and tested the P.H. with strips of peach-colored paper. I remembered staring out across the pasture, the land appearing to me as something from a distant country – a pastoral of soft grass stretching as far as my imagination could take it.

Through adult-vision the arboretum appeared small and trivial.  The clang of iron boxcars being loaded onto trains in the distance polluted the quiet of the land and the constant brush of time-to-get-in-shape-before-the-beach-trip runners insisted on reminding me that Nike and Rebook existed with their factories full of rubber.

I searched for a spot of solitude, and on my way around the bend of the trail – at the edge of the forest – found a gazebo to rest in.  I laid my pack against the railing of the gazebo using it as a headrest. I lit a cigarette. A bumblebee whizzed by and settled on a wilting sunflower. She stared me down bug-eyed before excusing herself to pollinate another flower.

I stuffed the cigarette butt into my backpack with other crumpled homework assignments and fractured pencils.  I leaned my head back.  Dozens of hornet’s nests were glued like plaster to the inside of the roof though each one looked vacant.  A hand crafted bird’s nest hung from a beam in the roof and rocked like the pendulum on a grandfather clock.  I peeked inside but found only hatched eggshells, the cream brown of my grandmother’s palms.

I looked into the woods as far as I could see and day dreamed about leaving the class behind. I imagined running into the thick of the wilderness, my half full pack of Marlboro lights and can of Coca Cola bouncing like jumping beans inside my backpack.  I would elude the police department on their tedious search by living in caves and eating wild berries.  And as the years passed on and people asked of my whereabouts the community would gaze out at the distance and respond with a timeless,

He’s gone into the wilderness.”

But I’m no Thoreau.  I need people. Shoot, I spend most my time trying to get people to need me.  And while his adventures elude me at first glance I can’t ignore the satisfaction garnered from sharing conversation with a childhood friend, air conditioning or the nightly news.

In my late teens my attention deficiency led me to avoid silence.  I moved around it – kicked it under the bed – dropped it in the trash can at the edge of the driveway. I’d become foreign to tranquility, unable to witness the sublime.  I’d shut out the quiet in myself and forgot to listen to the flutter of my own heartbeat, the calm of my breath, abandoning those days in the dust beside third base.

Many parents berate their children for not paying attention – a reminder that staying focused pays off.  But these parents fail to define one thing, to elaborate on one extremely important detail: What is worth regarding?  Attraction breeds attention.  When someone sees something that speaks to their soul, they’re not just inclined but obligated to focus on that most singular spot of interest – to distinguish this interest from all others. Some students will listen to their teachers lecture on statistics and think God this is interesting while another sits in the back of the classroom and observes a hummingbird as it floats outside the window, flapping its minuscule wings more than a hundred times each second.

Consider the Atom

A B-29 Superfortress zips through the sky, and drops Little Boy over Hiroshima.  They let go of  Fat Man above Nagasaki three days later.  The atomic blast mutilates fifty thousand people in less than ten minutes.  Ions erupt across a Japanese cityscape.  Billions of protons, electrons, and neutrons fly in every direction.  Skyscrapers evaporate.  An albatross nest explodes into a thousand splinters of wood.  The ground implodes.  A woman screams.  Her baby has no face.  The city is dead, and filled with flames, and ash and pain.

In high school, teachers taught me atoms for weeks.  They dissected them like pigs with their markers on the whiteboard. The nucleus is in the center of an atom, and holds ninety nine percent of an atom’s mass.  To picture the nucleus imagine a swimming pool filled with thousands of marbles.  Some are hollow, and float on the surface, while others are dense, and sink to the bottom. The nucleus is everything in the pool, all the water and all the marbles. I studied protons, neutrons, electrons and the periodic table of elements; yet I still have no clue what an atom looks like, what an atom feels like, or what an atom really is.

I was told the universe is composed of matter: humans, books, oak trees, and stars.  All matter is composed of infinitesimal units of energy called atoms. Every atom has three distinct parts: the protons, neutrons and electrons each controlled by various elements. Atom is derived from the Greek word automos meaning: indivisible. Early scientist believed these tiny units of energy were so small that physically diving them would be like attempting to split a grain of salt with an axe. During the 19th century German chemist discovered this wasn’t the case; atoms were divisible after all. Nevertheless, the name stuck.

Energy never dies.  It’s recycled in circularity, always in constant motion– reinventing itself.  A bird dies in the winter, and becomes a chrysanthemum the following spring.  A blue danio is engulfed by a dolphin, as it glides through the ocean. The dolphin’s liver digests the fish’s matter, and oxygen molecules are carried to its heart, and brain. The dolphin breathes for one moment longer, and glides another nautical mile further, tooting and shooting water out of its blowhole into the air.

The human heart beats seventy times in a minute.  An infant’s heart beats ninety.  A hundred thousand quiet taps a day.  Forty million thumps in a year.  Three billion soft knocks in a lifetime.  Each moment something dies, a child’s heart beats for one second more, every light thud delivering a clean burst of oxygen to their miniscule hearts.  Children will sleep in their beds, and the cricket’s that chirp from the edge of her backyard will bare traces of the hummingbird that once floated outside my bedroom window.

Though malevolence is elephantine to goodness, natural beauty — delightfully aesthetic design — floods out ugliness.  A million sins committed, a million good intentions.  Each one deliberate, and alive. Each one: a killer or friend.  Each one muffled by the glance of a child, a star burning out — a supernova that burst and breaks, and splits through space.  Ten thousand times the size of earth.  A hundred billion lumens of light, yet too distant, too many light years away to see from the window in the front of my house.

A small pigeon died last Sunday, and a thousand little ants fed from its brain and heart.  Every ant, full bellied and wonderful, filled themselves with one more breathe, one more step; and carried another grain of sand to the anthill.  We’re all atoms bouncing, and bumping, and feeding off one another.  Every individual: a pismire on their way to pay the bill or build a home–never stopping to ask, what’s your name, or where do you hurt?

A child is born. A blind man sees. A deaf girl speaks. The universe is electric. People call these miracles, and perhaps they’re right. Molecules pop, and zing, and burst in an instant, and a woman gives birth.  Her baby has sapphire eyes, and hands like bumble bees.  The child kicks and cries, and stares at her mother’s oval face. Electrons in the baby’s chest vibrate through the blood thickets in her heart, dancing in all four chambers. Each chamber: a tiny compartment, the size of an eyeball bursting with protons of raw emotion.  The woman cradles her baby and whispers, lower your breath sweet child.  Rest now.  Let your heart beat slowly.  Thirty beats more than a grown man each minute—so small, and precious, and fragile.  So delightfully unexpected.  Each infinitesimal atom of energy that shivers in her heart was once a dandelion; and the ten beady toes on her feet were almonds, and rivers, and emeralds.