Monday, December 30, 2013

My Name

#reverb13: The way forward

Forgotten railroad tracks
Frederick, Maryland. December 31, 2013


The long nights of winter offer no rest; awake, I ache, my face wet with worry from false thoughts and hurtful memories. Oh Pensée, wrap me in wonder and wool; pull me out into the day. This cot is cold, and old pinewood stained dark with tears and scarred deep with penknife scratchings of the names of the wounded in this room, from the war before this war.

My name is of no importance; the same as tens of thousands, says the enumerator. Neither steam engines nor search engines will find my bones tomorrow, so I take my own penknife and shave a point to this pencil, and put to paper one last pursuit. Names carved in wood and stone do not matter much; we are each and all, forgotten in time. The least and the most grand among us will be forgotten. Only the wonder of life remains.

So, walk with me through the cities unseen, out beyond the empty stone towers. Carry no coins; sow seeds that are not for sale, along the side roads and forgotten railroad tracks and timber trestles on the west side, the wrong side of town, in the fallow fields where your fathers once grew cash crops of cotton and cover crops of red clover. Plant fruit trees and berry bushes close to the path, and know that someday, off from the distance, a hungry soul will walk that way seeking sustenance. Plant ideas of days where there is only one of us, and that is all of us, and all of everything there is, and know that someday, off from the distance, a hungry mind will walk that way seeking solace. Your name shall be Seeder, and I shall be the annalist, to write your name forever.







Monday, December 16, 2013

Full Measure

#reverb13 Day 16: Habits and addictions

Step and Stumble


Kat McNally writes, "Today's post and image come from master wordsmith and craft beer connoisseur, Michael Douglas Jones. How Michael manages to make 140 characters come alive with all the glory and agony that it is to be human remains a mystery to me... you'll just have to follow him on twitter to see what I mean."

Michael writes:

Habits and addictions, some are silly, some serious; when we have issues without answers, they can hold us so tight that we stop moving forward with the life we intended.


Were you able to loosen those fetters this year, and if you were successful, how did you manage it? Did you accept outside help, or work alone?


If you still feel that grasp of addiction or hurtful habits, what will you do differently in the year to come?


I am working on this life; a step and a stumble. The steps are small; the stumbles seem to fall forever. I find that I have followed the footsteps of my father, with his fears and failures, his escapes into excess, until his way has become my own. I have written his words into my book, and recite them often, forgetting my own poetry. My weakness is well known; I walk between two worlds, one of anger and frustration, the other of limitless love. It matters not whether he wrote me this way or I cut my own quill; I can set my full measure in only one world, where I am the writer, the annalist of wonder; one world where I scrape my father’s ink from the parchment, where, even though the trace remains, my word is the last line on the palimpsest.

Oh Pensée, you are the saint in my story, protecting me from the other man I am. If you believe in me, write your words in my book, and it will hold me through to the final page.  



Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Ride the Side Roads

#reverb13 Day 14: Decisions

What was the best decision you made in 2013?
This is why I ride the side roads.
 Sunrise on Friday, December 13 on Price's distillery road, near the burnt hill road.


 This year, one of my best decisions was to change my Jeep's GPS navigation setting to "avoid highways". This may seem trivial, yet it has made such a difference in my day; I have slowed down, and found such treasures off the interstate that have immensely inspired my creative life. Try it for a week; life is not about how fast we can get to the end of the road.





 In summer, I ride the side roads, beyond the babble and chatter of the cobblestone cities, not within earshot of their rain parade. My fanfare is a forecast of crows, and the salutation of crickets. I am poor of pocket, and still I sit front row for the full thunder moon, eastern toad, grey tree frog, firefly, and cicada.

 In winter, I walk the same roads, slower than in other seasons, as the verglas trees caution me to be steady in my step. Unaccustomed to travelers, the whitetail deer, the barred owl, and the redtail hawk do not fear me; they stand straight and sentient in my presence, as we are, each and all, equal.










Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Settle into Silence

#reverb13 Day 11. What challenges lie ahead in 2014? How might you meet them boldly? 

 

Be quiet now, and listen to the soil moving slowly into solstice. Come, with me, out before the new morning of the longest night to gather firewood from the deadfallen branches. The crows will keep the time; the red-tailed hawk atop the old oak will keep watch as we work. A new snow quilt covers the field of cut corn and the harvest is over; now is the time to rest and reset. All is still, predawn, along the buffalo road; the slight and silent movement, reflected in your lantern light, is the shooting stars of snow falling from the tall pines. Watch for the black ice of yesterday’s storms; it will make your night mind restless and weary. Do not track that restlessness back inside the winter cottage. Put the room at rest, and settle into silence. There will be struggles ahead in the longer days, so now is the moment, in the quiet crackle of hardwood fires, for a sleep deep inside, where we may wake anew. Be not born again to make the same choices; let this be a new season within you.

Set your taper by the bedside, and move in close beneath the quilt; I will watch over you, soft in sleep beside me. Be quiet now, and listen, moving slowly into solstice.





Saturday, December 7, 2013

Selfie



#reverb13 Day 7: Reveal yourself. “Selfie” was selected as 2013 Oxford word of the year; post your favorite picture of yourself from 2013.


I haven't taken a selfie in 30 years, and I thought I was so "hep to the young crowd" trends. I've looked back over this year and only find a couple pictures of me, none of them a selfie. I’ll do my best to get with the trend next year, but for now, here are the two photographs taken of me this year, and some selfies from the 80s, when we were still using film. Those photographs are from a period when I was painting selfie portraits.



This year, on Grace Street at Easter,
 and on Federal Hill at Thanksgiving, with some of my favorite girls.






 Selfies before selfies were all that.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Small Moments



#reverb13 Day 6:  simple moments, memories
Which memories from this year do you wish to keep with you always?

Four bluebird chicks waiting. August 2013


Every day this year, small moments caught my attention, so I would write a note to remember. Here are some of those moments of ordinary magic.

Storms, May 11, 2013

After the blue flame and thunder of the eastward storms, in the valley branch, an unseen symphony of spring peepers, toads, and tree frogs rises, reaching me. This is our song; this is our dance, our romance.

Last Day of May, May 31

The old mare moves slowly up the corduroy road on the last day of May; a hot afternoon. Her pace is just enough to lift a breeze above the dust, and her hooves on the wood, a lullaby rhythm. High to the west, is the sugarloaf mountain, but, closer, I catch sight of a young groundhog standing in the new corn, both only two hands high; both searching the sky for a taste of rain. The old mare knows the high clouds have none, and she waits for a drink from Bennett's creek. Along the east side of the road, honeysuckle blooms on the remnants of a split rail, a brief kiss from a childhood sweetheart, and I dream in the afternoon of a brown-eyed Susan, while the old mare moves slowly up the corduroy road.



Summer Solstice, June 21

Summer's twilight fireflies ease into life’s bright fire, and fade away, like shooting stars, like you, and like me.



Perigee Moon, June 22

Milk glass sky, its curtain of clouds, wispy white, twilight, moving stage right for the star of the evening; perigee moon. Firefly ushers, with soft light, show us to our seats, while passerines pair up in birdsong, the opening act. Perigee, her dance of veils behind the locust tree; each veil drops; the black, the gold, the blue, the silver, as the artist pours an ale. Oh, Pensée; he is waiting for epiphany; perigee moon.



Gambol & Glow, August 11

 Behind the tall pines, just above the horizon, the summer sun sets low, and the glow begins on the wings of tiny insects and gamboling fairies that are invisible, but for that sunlit moment, they dance for us all.



Circle Dance, August 16

In all the six directions, the unseen symphony surrounds, and I am the still center; my circling partner, the dancing gibbous moon.


Quiet as a cloud, October 17

In the veiled light of predawn, we ride the side roads, south toward the Monocacy river bridge, past the cornfield and Queen Anne’s lace, into the fog façade, the grey above green, a watercolor wash atop the cover crops, as quiet as a cloud.


Taking to air, once more, October 18

Dry fallen leaves lift and spin, soaring in an autumn afternoon wind funnel on the old oaks road; a precise impersonation of the swirling murmuration of starlings; one last caprice before winter rest.


Rain Wet Morning, November 1

In late October, when the corn comes down, the farmer’s son, with the combine’s cut, kicks up corndust clouds that cover the old oaks and the naive sapling, dappling the autumn reds in camouflage and khaki, until November arrives, with her predawn storm to rinse and shake the rain wet morning. The farmer’s ancient mother hangs leaf laundry to dry; fresh color for this new day.



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Risk Aversion

#reverb13 Day 5: What was the greatest risk you took in 2013? 
1965. Follow the Leader.
 I'm on the right; no way I’m going higher up that deadfallen tree.




The Walter Mitty in me drives a Jeep Wrangler, while wearing an LL Bean henley, jeans, and Lucchese boots, but I am the definition of risk aversion; I cannot swim, I abhor heights, I’m agoraphobic, and don’t even get me started on angora sweaters. I love the outdoors, but have never slept in a tent, and never will. Each of my three brothers has built a racecar; I only know where to pump the gasoline. As a teenager in Air Force boot camp, with an M-16, I hit the target 96 out of 100 shots, but did not tell the drill sergeant that I dropped four of my shells, and they rolled down the embankment. My idea of a risk is creating a portmanteau, and I’m taking a risk that you will still believe my true stories when these secrets are out.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Your Reach is Wide

#Reverb13 Day 4:  What have you lost, what are you grieving?


While writing this post, I ride the sideroads and see a lot of whitetail deer,
 but never one like this. The reach is wide.




On that night, the doctors wrote, “Cause of Death: Heart Failure,” but they were wrong; it never failed you.



In the middlenight, we plant by moonlight; when I faltered at the ridge on the burnt hill road, I did not fall, I remembered your promise on that last day, and kept climbing. I do not grieve for you; I will miss you more than all I’ve lost, but grief is for the suffering and you did not accept suffering. Your reach is wider now; I did not think that possible. No longer from anywhere, you are not of any age; you have always been, and will always be the voice, the plan of the planter. They that seed are everything; they are the breath, the whisper, the promise of all that came before. Your lantern shines through the chiaroscuro, from every starlit flicker to the blueblack wings of night, and I will hold that ageless flame before me, and go, as you would go, to the ridge where the seeds will grow.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Poet Heart


Reverb13 Day3: What does your heart have to tell you?




Oh, Pensée, give me a poet heart, tucked up my sleeve, to tell my secrets with its rhythm; a heart that listens to the new moon night of crow black sky and rain wet winds. This pinewood cot is old and cold, and slashes at my wishes; I am lost here in this wounded room, until you can return. You wear your heart sewn in your sleeve, the stitches deep beneath your skin; the pain is in your poetry, and your rhythm in the pulsing. I hold my hands tight on my heart; I swear I do, I listen, but all I hear are screams and whispers from somewhere deeper than these walls and windows.



Monday, December 2, 2013

The Manna Wheel


Reverb13 Day2: The way we nourish ourselves determines our ability to shine our light in the world. And nourishment doesn't just come in the form of food and drink and sunshine; it's equally important to nourish your spirit. What made your soul feel most nourished this year?



Winter wind blows the last russet leaf from the redbud, revealing, in the vein of branches, two tiny nests from the spring before that still hold tight with moss and mud, each smaller than an open palm, offering a cup of circling seasons. A rounded nest, a cracked bowl, a wooden spoon, a cupped hand, an open palm; each and all hold the sustenance I seek. Overflowing; possessing nothing.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Deal with Demons




This month, writers from all over the world are reflecting on 2013 and thinking ahead to 2014 as part of Reverb 13. This has been an incredibly stressful year for me and I hope to figure it out this month and settle up, so that, come January, I can start a new project, but for this month, you can share in my story, which at times may be hard in the telling.


Day 1: How do you feel, on this first day, in your mind? In your body? In your heart? In your soul?



The demons of doubt returned last night, pushing me from sleep with their constant whispers of where I have fallen, why I have failed. They find me when I am weak from drink and unable to argue, when logic will not work and darkness will not show their faces. My heart races and no way I turn can silence its pounding; I breathe in, breathe out, and try to wait until morning when I can make my way outside; they cannot follow me there. The clear air confounds them.

Out through the back door and up to the ridge, feeling the frozen air of December, I pause to take a deeper breath to clear the demons for the day, when mockingbird in his plain grey coat flies down onto the bare branch of the silver maple, eye level, just four feet from where I stand. He puffs his feathers against the chill, and then turns to face me. I do not move, he does not move; we stand, just beyond arm’s reach and stare into one another’s soul for a full minute, and I am calm once more.

This is how I feel the world; this how I deal with demons. My falls, my failures, are many, and this modern world confounds me daily, so this month, I will work to write my way toward a world that fits.  That is what mockingbird told me; he knows that I feed the demons and their voices grow stronger. I know, as well, but have not listened to my own voice in a long time.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wrapped in Wonder



From a rowhouse window, I watch the slightest sliver of waning crescent, quiet as candlelight, at the edge of the eastern horizon, in the crisp November night, three hours before it disappears into dawn. The room is at rest, ready for December, and I am wrapped in winter wool, writing in the waning light of two wax tapers. Waxing, waning, and moving toward new moon, where we begin again.



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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Forevernow



On the Bethesda Church road, as the storm moves east, beneath the cushion of cloud veiled dawn, a heron angel glides west above the rain wet road that ribbons down the valley of cut corn, to lightly land at the edge of Bennett Creek where Madonna and Child, cow and calf, drink fresh rainwater, and I am in that quiet congregation of thanks giving.




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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On the Equinox

Spring Crow by MichaelDouglasJones





Just south of the Patuxent River headwaters, walk a furlong east of the buffalo road; at the midpoint where the slope between ridge and valley branch calms to a level large enough for a small cottage, we made a home, facing east, to welcome each morning in the never ending season of forevernow.  

Vernal equinox moves in from the valley early, across the eastern horizon of old oaks, with promises from passerines heard above the first forecast of crows. Morning wakes, taking me up to the ridge to watch winter, with her worry, fade in the dawn brightening day. Behind me at the cottage, the melancholy cooing of mourning doves atop the terracotta chimney pot, predawn’s last song, softens to silence as I climb the hill beyond the tall pines. Silhouettes of robins in the redbud offer a new song, another chance to start, and a spring season to plant life anew, the past washed away in the floods of freshet.






Friday, March 15, 2013

Sunday Morning, 1957

Sunday Morning, 1957. Michael, Jeff, and Bruce




Whenever I’m in my Jeep and on the road, my soundtrack is playing, even if there is no sound at all. All driving has a soundtrack; I know nothing about plugs or points, but I know about the soundtracks. I might be driving to the beach, or to the school, or simply running out to the market for milk. It’s playing; I can hear it, and if I cut my eyes quick enough, I even see the opening credits projected on the lane beside me. The soundtrack changes with my mood, and the music started before I could drive; long before.

The Wilderness Baptist Church
11 o’clock. Any spring or summer Sunday morning, 1957.

The long hour of Sunday school was over, and Pastor Bell was about to launch into an hour of fiery brimstone, or eternity in the sky; it was always one or the other. On certain Sundays, there would be communion, and the ushers passed around tiny shots of Welch’s Grape Juice and cubes of Wonder Bread to those saved sinners in the congregation; blood and body of Christ, with a taste of jelly bread. I was baptized the year before, when I was six, for I had found the love of God in my second cousin, and wished to be baptized alongside her, in case there was chronological seating in Heaven. Normally, I would take communion, but that spring and summer, this sinner had other plans.

As often as possible, but not enough to arouse suspicion, I would complain of a tummy ache caused by the ritual Sunday school Tootsie Roll Pop. My father was an usher, so he was busy ushing, and my mother was motherly, so she would let me go outside to the car to rest on the backseat until the service was over.

I would hold my bible with one hand, and my tummy with the other, walking achingly slow out to that 1950 baby blue Ford, and as the tall double doors to the church slowly closed for the sermon, I slid in behind the huge steering wheel and turned on the radio. My father always parked under the old oaks, facing west, which was perfect, because that's where I was headed, straight out Route 3 to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Behind me was the cemetery; the tombstones a row upon row of stop signs. Stop playing, stop singing, stop that crazy rock and roll. In front of me were the mountains and the music. The car didn't have to move; the music moved me, and for an hour, the bible in the backseat, me in the front, left arm resting on the open window, right hand on the suicide knob; aloud and alone, I sang to the AM radio. The Everly Brothers’ Bye Bye Love.

So, I won’t be sitting next to my second cousin in heaven, but I've heard the music and I've been there before.




 

Part of the Scintilla Project. Learn more at scintillaproject.com and on twitter @ScintillaHQ.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Last Summer

Kids; The Last Summer (Michael & Bruce)





I was eleven when we moved to Lock’s Corner, halfway between Fredericksburg and Bowling Green, a few miles east of Guinea Station, where Stonewall Jackson died. The previous year, we left our Wilderness farm, where that same Stonewall lost his arm. It was Virginia in 1961 and the War Between the States still reckoned into every description of place. The Lost Cause scratching at the door for a hundred years.

My father had his own war inside, and was plotting another new strategy, another new start. He was the son of a blacksmith, and never found his place in this world. There were many new starts, new dreams, but this was one of his last, before the dreams were lost to drink. In Lock’s Corner, there were only six small homes, but, right on the corner, my father rented a house with an old general store on the first floor. He named it Community Grocery and painted it bright white with a red “Drink Coca-Cola” sign on the side, offering Pure Oil at the pump for twenty cents a gallon during the gas wars of ’61. He would sell everything, from penny candy to pickled eggs, and life would be a dream.  Every customer had good credit, even if they rarely paid their bill. Between the gas wars and the unpaid tabs, it was inevitable that the store, the dream, would fail, and we would move on to the next battlefield.

The time came, as it always did, that my father got into a fight with the other local drunks; this time he was outnumbered as they stomped him on the ground.  My mother grabbed the rifle to run the men off, but my father was beaten enough to stay bedridden for awhile. That summer, my twelve-year-old brother and I worked the store, while my mother took care of our father and two younger brothers upstairs. I can’t say that I was very good at being a shopkeeper; when I pumped gas, the driver would likely pull off, calling from his car, “Tell your father, I’ll pay for that later.” I would likely never see that driver again.

I rarely think about it anymore, that war before this war, and never called it a job, because there wasn't money to be paid.

 “I bet I can drink mine down in four seconds.”

My pay for the day was an orange Tru-Ade and a Hostess cupcake, and in four seconds, half of my pay was gone. Tru-Ade was a non-carbonated soda, so we could drink a whole bottle in no time. I should have savored that soda, they weren't an everyday deal, but I had to beat my brother in some silly sibling rivalry. For awhile, at day’s end, we would be kids; our father was upstairs, but we knew he wasn't coming down to stop our silliness. That was the last summer that we weren't blamed for his failures; that was the last summer that we could be kids.

The store, the war, continued for another year before he gave up and moved north to another dream, but the dreams became smaller, as the wars became larger, until his final surrender.

.



There's a 2010 photograph of the store on Google maps and it still stands on street view: http://goo.gl/yk7hr

Part of the Scintilla Project. Learn more at scintillaproject.com and on twitter @ScintillaHQ.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Writing Poetry on Paper Clouds

Written Receipts for Paid Attention
January Crow by Michael Douglas Jones




My poet heart is writing on a pass of paper clouds moving left to write across the frozen northern fields; a crystal breath, billowing, filling the late afternoon with wonder and words that appear, and disappear, in moments of vivid crescent light and violescent shade.

Crows flock in as punctuation; a caw here, a comma there, returning to roost in the fine handwritten script of bare maple branches. Turkey vultures sail in too, crossing the T's of hickory trees, and underlining the rhyme in blueblack. From my cottage, to the south behind, a faint scent of bitternut smoke colors this poem in bittersweet.

And here I stand in the still, below the westwrit wind; my pencil in my pocket, my poet heart tucked up my sleeve. I raise my hand to write this down, to carry it in leatherbound, but the pencil pulls the poem apart, and all of this begins again.

My poet heart is writing on a fade of falling dark.