About Red Tales

Here's an evolving electronic collection of short prose pieces, with a poem contributed occasionally. Brevity guides. Although sometimes a piece will run to 900 words, most pieces are much shorter. Here one may find erotica, flash fiction, brief observations, and modest improvisations. Another rule is that each piece must have something to do with"red"; at least the word has to appear in each piece functionally. . . . All pieces are numbered and titled, so there's a de facto table of contents running down the rail below, under "Labels" (scroll down a bit). Browse for titles that look interesting, if you like. Thank you for stopping by. Look for some red today, tonight.

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

Monday, December 15, 2008

51. Rowers in the Blood

Vagabonds, bound to a remorseless way, pull Will's vessel across gray oceanic fate.

The chieftain roars orders in fog, curses rowers, who are mapless, hopeless, ragged, stuporous, and rank. Absurdly, they are also certain. Pulling oars, they know they will hit land or death or both eventually. They are sure of their hatred for the one yelling. They know exactly how and why duty pulled them away from their village, their kin.

As tough as salt and oars make their hands, their hands will bleed red, darkening the oars.

Do you hear them? They row now in your blood when you are most coldly determined to go on, obstacles be damned, everything but the going, the way, be damned. Vagabonds. Bound to the way, bound to persist.

Monday, December 8, 2008

50. Reporting the Rattlesnake

I'm thinking about a time when I was seven and walked over by a big blond boulder in full sun and looked down and saw a rattlesnake stretched out just in front of my canvas-shoed feet. I don't remember what made me stop before I stepped on the snake.

I went over to my father and brother, who were building something on sawhorses. I reported the sighting of the snake.

My brother scoffed. My father did not scoff, but he wanted proof. Later, I would realize that he brought the shovel with him; bringing the shovel suggests either that he did not want to have to go back for the shovel or he was leaning toward believing my story or both.

We three returned to the snake. I did not lead the way. The snake was still stretched out in late-Spring sun, simply getting warm. I wonder what it feels like to be cold-blooded and to have your body warmed by sun.

"I'll be a sonofabitch--it is a rattlesnake," my father said. He was wearing his carpenter's belt and white carpenter's overalls and a cap of some kind. My brother didn't say anything. I think he may have been disappointed by my accurate reporting.

My father stuck the blade of the shovel behind the snake's head and stepped on the shovel, sending it through the snake into soil. The rationale behind killing the snake was that a rattlesnake's bite can be lethal, that it at least can cause the loss of a limb by amputation (after flesh has decayed), and that therefore a rattlensnake near the house cannot be trusted to live.

I remember feeling good the snake hadn't left that spot and made a liar out of me.

I remember the crunch of the shovel and my father's calm approach. I remember we three, father and two sons, returned to our solitary lives with little or no transitional conversation. I associate the event with accurate reporting, immense boulders, a lethal snake in a relaxed pose, vindication, authority, unspoken reasons to kill animals, and fear. Let's be clear: I knew that snake symbolized death. I did not know that an anti-venom had not yet been invented, or at least not widely distributed, nor did I grasp that we were at least 60 miles from a hospital. Still, I knew rattlesnakes could kill.

My father would have carried a red handkerchief in is back pocket. Such handkerchiefs are also known as bandanas. He may have blown his nose using the handkerchief right after he killed the snake, a kind of punctuating gesture to a performance. I can't prove this. In fact, I can't prove anything about the incident as it belongs entirely to memory. One's memoirs would never stand up in court.

The snake might have bitten me, and I might have died. My body was small, so the venom would have been proportionately more powerful. But the snake didn't bite me, and I didn't die, and these words possess a reality the incident lost almost immediately. I rely on my memory, a thin reed. I don't have much choice, at least when it comes to the past. There was a rattlesnake stretched out in the sun. Believe me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

49. Maggie

The father kept hounds, so the son recalls a childhood with hounds. It's pretty much that simple.

There was the rust-colored hound--breed-name Redbone--who tried to fornicate the legs of humans. There was the black hound who feared lightning and thunder. A brown hound--breed-name Black-and-Tan--would follow a bear's trail for days. The father attached a brass plate to the dogs' collars. The plate recorded the father's address and phone number in case a hound were discovered in a far county, still tracking what it was tracking. Sometimes the son thought about the relentlessness of hounds.

Once the son watched the father remove porcupine quills from a dog's mouth, which bled red. The end of each quill was shaped like a fish-hook. Evolution had designed the quills not to be removable.

The son noted a look of grim, dutiful resignation on the father's face as the father snipped off the end of each quill and pulled each quill out of the dog's bleeding mouth. The son also noted the patient but perplexed look on the dog's face, as if the dog were asking itself for the first time, "Why is there pain?"

A trite story-line erupted. The son had a favorite dog--breed-name Plot Hound. It was his own pet. He named it Willie, after his favorite baseball player, Willie Mays. Everything was fine with Willie except that he foamed at the mouth after running around with the boy. The father took Willie away. The son waited--a day, two days, before asking, "What happened to Willie?"

The father replied, "We had to have the vet put Willie down because he had a hole in his lung." The son remembers saying, "Oh." He recalls not crying, not being enraged, not being comforted or counseled, not getting another dog. He remembers pondering the question of Willie's absence as if it were a math problem in the fourth grade.

The gray strange grief associated with the dog stays lodged in the son like one shotgun pellet. It doesn't hurt. In a way, it's more grotesque because it doesn't hurt.

There was a female dog, Maggie. She was black, sleek, and lean--breed-name: Plot Hound, like Willie. How calm she was intrigued the son. She never strained stupidly against leash or chain. She never over-reacted to the prospect of food or affection. She stood primly and accepted petting as a comfortable fact of life. She responded to good things as if they were, apparently, the good things that might possibly happen in a dog's life. Maggie.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

48. Red Polka-Dot Dress

There is a photograph of his mother wearing a dress with red polka-dots on a white background. The photograph is a color print from the negative film of a snapshot taken after the mid-point of the 20th century.

This is the most famous dress his mother owned, as things turned out. He thinks about her putting it on that day to get ready for the party, a summer-party in the High Sierra. He thinks of her thinking that the party will be a good time, an open field of behavior, an earned respite from the work of raising three children and tending one husband in rugged country 4,500 feet above sea level.

The son knows she doesn't, on that day, see the dress as a symbol in so many words or thoughts. But he imagines she looks at herself in the circular mirror of the "waterfall" bureau, imagines she sees the dress contrasting with her deep summer tan and blue eyes just so. The image she sees is attractive, and it satisfies her. The party is going to happen. She and her husband are hosting the party. The husband is not an easy husband to have. His personality is as hard and well defined as a sheer stone bluff in the Sierra. He is a rugged, overwhelming man, with a grudge against life that's masked by a child's sense of mirth, a prophet's sense of will, a peasant's capacity to toil, and a glad smile as broad as a highway-billboard. Luckily, liquor makes him gladder still. The son knows the mother knew of other women's husbands whom liquor made mean, made violent.

At the party, there will be work but also other women to do the work, so the work will seem like part of the party. There will be laughter, liquor, and food--and several compliments about the dress, which seems that day to be the perfect summer-dress, sleeveless, cotton, red polka-dots on a white background. Everyone at the party will know a great deal about World War II, hard work, the Great Depression, and the English language as spoken colloquially in the United States of America.

None of it will escape the avalanche of time, although snapshots, saving the dress, and nonfiction writing are amusing tactics of delay, the poignant motions of an amateur magician's hands, with Death sitting in the audience like the bald figure in Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

Thank God, he thinks, his mother didn't come close to thinking thoughts as melodramatic as "none of it will escape the avalanche of time," etc., that day. Thank God his mother never saw The Seventh Seal and asked him questions about the film. He would have tried to answer the questions, and his mother would have remained unconvinced by the answers. She would have disliked the film as much as she disliked puppets of any kind.

The white dress with red polka-dots fit, the alpine sun shone, friends and acquaintances arrived, and everyone acted as if they weren't about to die, and when people act that way, and they should, they seem untroubled and, indeed, immortal.

By his accounting, all the adults who attended that party are dead. The polka-dotted dress hangs in the closet of a daughter-in-law, and one of the cousins, the many cousins, painted a watercolor featuring the dress hanging on a clothesline. The dress is a cut and stitched quaint decorated piece of cloth. The snapshot lies between pages on a shelf somewhere.

Everything is taking place and changing at a speed humans cannot, do not, and best not comprehend fully. In a way, the party was over before his mother ever put on the dress, but she didn't see it that way, and that day, that's part of what mattered, he thinks.

The scandal of time is that it allows humans just enough time to arrange their thoughts and manage their habits so as to avoid confronting the scandal of time every moment. Scandalously, time makes routine seem reasonable and a bright dress permanent, and it makes summer-parties seem like a fair exchange.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

47. Gallery Fatigue

Is this blue, then, sky once more represented? Is this foregrounded purple scratching a bramble imagined? What is the black-and-white at the bottom of the work, near the gallery's floor?

You will say it is black-and-white. You make. We view and interpret. It's an old folk-dance practiced in a gallery. Artist, you're somewhere sleeping.

Me, I'm almost sleeping in the gallery, sedated by your art, weighed down by yet another round of made images. I name this exhibition "Fatigue." I flee the gallery.

Outside I see a woman wearing a red dress. The art of this image refreshes me. Artist, I wish you well. Today I wasn't the audience you sought. That's not your fault.

Monday, November 17, 2008

46. Red Balloon

Red Balloon

The soul enters
a public realm,
so soon becomes
the fool

by feeling it must
say or do
too much, dance
with rule,

court expectation.
Pride-inflation
balloons the soul
into bright red

foolishness. The
soul abhores
but can't control
the Puffery Patrol,

relentless baiters
of the soul,
ubiquitous louts:
shame on them.

Godspeed to those
souls who can remain
intact, uninflated,
contained, looking

out of the mind's eyes,
sensing what is wise.
--Wary souls. Have
you seen them?

I have. They wait and
watch. I watch and wait
for them to illuminate
the better path.

Monday, November 10, 2008

45. Salamander

I saw another miracle today.

During a rainstorm, a salamander adhered intself to the outside of a basement-pane.

Its orange underside was almost read. Its throat pulsed against a flattened water-droplet caught between throat and glass. Its shiny small black eyes blinked. Once.

Its four-digit hands and/or feet were perfectly original, delicate, serviceable, and real.

The texture of its wet black back, on the spectrum of roughness, lay between that of lizard and cat's tongue.

The salamander chose not to speak. It interrupted my life, having launched a surprise-attack. The salamander, except for the pulsing and blinking, remained immobile, calm; it was non-violent and awfully actual, demonstrating once and for all that words can refer to things. The salamander had defeated Jacques Derrida without even trying. Indeed, the salamander existed, and Derrida did not.

Sight of the salamander made me by turns giddy, astonished, reverent, calm, curious, wistful, covetous, and sad.

A salamander stuck itself to a window where I live. Its underside was almost red, its digits delicate. What a day. What a very good day indeed.

Friday, October 31, 2008

44. Mouth

If you say something with your mouth, I will stare discreetly. The fascination of a woman's mouth is more wondrous than art, more interesting than science.

The mouth speaks beautifully. It is beautiful and speaks. It is. Oh, it is.

It doesn't stop being a mouth when it speaks.

Its tongue is a pale shade of red, shapes words and contacts lips and teeth. And you are saying something, and I am staring in naive fascination.

At this moment, your mouth is all I want to study and to know. All else has become less important than it was.

My eyes listen intently. My ears stare at your words.

Your mouth is a small magnificence, a magnificent particularity. Your tongue's an impartial shaper of words. Your lips are something the Lord made.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

43. Parish

After he receives communion--pale bread, deep ruby wine--he returns to his place and stands.

Parishioners file past him after they accept the eucharist, too. This procession seems to him to register every human face, and on each face is written love and doom, concern and grace.

Each face is carried by its person, transitory, passing through the space and light inside this place, the parish, passing through this mystery we label, out of custom, life.

Each face helps an identity cohere in the body, in the brain, as parishioners all sit down again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

42. Grief #2

After she died, she laundered all his clothes once more, folded clean worn work-shirts, bluejeans with snuff-can circles imprinted on back pockets, and red handkerchiefs.

Waiting for the pain to leave was like wanting snow from the longest winter--let's say the one in 1952--to go away so ground might breathe again.

After she died, her daughter finally gave the father's clothes away, but she laundered them once more, for they'd grown musty in the boxes. Inheriting the house was like being shut in all day with the flu and hearing other children play in the snow.

She sold the house within a year but had it painted first, inside and out.

For herself, she saved two of the laundered, ironed, folded red handkerchiefs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

41. Red-Ant Nest

A swarm of circumstances caused red-ant nests to be part of my ken.

As a boy and when a boy, I stirred the nests with sticks. The nests stank grandly.

I watched the ants--two parts cinnamon, one part pepper--travel and work, hauling stupendous loads. A blue-winged butterfly shipped back to the nest looked like a sea-tossed yacht.

Concentration of so many ants is hypnotic, their subterranean culture and above-ground urbanity seem astute, perfected, and chaotic.

The last bits of creatures end up in red-ant nests. Thereby cities of ants are fueled. Red-ant nests constitute simmering mounds of ant-flesh. Lore told me that tunnels, shafts, corridors, and rooms lie under nests. Also a queen was supposed to live down there, in supreme charge, a deified center of the chaos.

I thought of my face, human, peeking out of its ken, leaning over it all, taking note, breathing, seeing, smelling, and hearing--and being viewed, in some sense, by the nest and its individual members, so many, so teeming. The nest whispered and whirred.

The red-ant nest as I recall it was a kind of machine, a collective speaking with perpetuation's voice. Why was the nest so close to our house? Why was I so glad it was so close to our house? Why was I surprised when an ant crawled up my shoe, up my sock, and onto my bare leg--and bit?

The astonishing, stirring buzz and hum of a red-ant nest is the music of a niche.

Am I grateful I saw, stirred, smelled, and heard red-ant nests? Yes, I am. I am grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

40. Rhetoric #2

Poetry met rhetoric at a cafe and, after they had secured beverages and found a table, said, "A rhetorician should be neither rude nor a quince." Rhetoric said, "I beg your pardon?"

Particularity, an insufficiently specific concept, will never smell like hay. Hey, sing to me of necessary differences as squabbles soil the davenport of consciousness.

Valiant fronds attempt to build consensus. Intelligence and generosity waltz across an alluvial plain, dancing away from parched, immobile debates. The old colonel's red, rusted saw-blades reminisce in the sawmill of the past.

Back at the cafe, rhetoric had identified its audience, poetry, so it said, "A syllogism is neither a hatchet nor a pinwheel." Poetry laughed gladly. Rhetoric continued to entertain if not instruct. "That is to say, surrealism is crucial to maintaining the health of a rational asylum. Therefore, my dear poetry, let us secure a warrant to search our premises for doubt."

"Cool," said poetry, "shall I leave the tip?"

"How kind of you to offer," said rhetoric.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

39. Two Short Improvs

1. "That better be butter in the red tub, Ned. Otherwise, these guys are going to gouge out our eyes."

2. She saw a red fox, bush-tailed, walking out of brush. She watched the fox as it crossed the dusk-dimmed grass and passed into the meadow of her memory.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

38. Edgar Allan Audobon

Sometimes I wish a Baltimore oriole had visited Edgar Allan Poe--an oriole instead of or least in addition to a raven.

Encountering the oriole might have influenced Poe to take a break from the relentless blacksmithing, the grim hammering out, of stories and poems.

All theoe tombs, mansions, cellars, casks, ill-fated crushes on cousins, demonic practical-jokers--all of it burying whimsy alive behind bricks of and mortar of gothic obsession.

Or better yet--a red-winged blackbird. Just that dash of scarlet--there, as the blackbird glides over a marsh, alights on top of a tall reed, retracts its wings, sings.

--A line of red on a black wing, red that does not signify blood. Death missing its train, unable to attend the masque, RSVP, regrets. A bolt falling out of the pendulum: and the adolescent fixation on garish imaginary torture grinds to a halt.

--A garrulous cop, whistling and talking as he helps the drunk, chilled, disoriented musty-coated writer home to a warm bed, a stove, a week's worth of rest and hearty breakfasts.

I imagine Edgar, still alive at sixty-five, lifting binoculars, finding the bird in magnified view, evermore. Dupin! Voila!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

37. Perfect Attendance

One year he didn't miss a single day of school. He thereby achieved something called "perfect attendance."

In fact, he hadn't attended perfectly. He often failed to pay attention to matters at hand. Sometimes when the teacher was working hard to teach a lesson, he daydreamed. Sometimes he became transfixed by what he perceived to be the beauty of girls his age. Undoubtedly, his visage sometimes appeared zombie-like at times.

He'd gotten his body there, though, five days week, four weeks a month, nine months in all.

Born of that time-period was a certificate of perfect attendance--stamped with a red seal. The certificate is lost. It no longer attends the school of here and now. It's attending a college of redistributed molecules, probably in one of the landfills in the United States of America. The certificate is working on its Ph.D. in Disintegration.

What does he recall from that perfectly attended year of school? How the girls smelled--perfume and soap, and sweet sweat, too. He turned 15 in the middle of that academic year. He was a sophomore in high school. The girls were between the ages of 14 and 18. So were the boys. He remembers the smell of grass on the football field, grass mixed with mud, sweat and blood mixed in there, too.

He believes he remembers some features of geometry--for example, one-third of the base times the height will get you the volume of a cone. One summer he applied this formula to a conical pile of gravel at a rock-crushing plant where he worked. In his mind, he also has an image of a geometry quiz, corrected by the teacher in red ink. He read some literature that year, including some composed by William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Frost.

In his mind, he detects faint but palpable evidence of satisfaction connected to having achieved perfect attendance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

36. Terracotta, Peppers, Tomatoes

There is a world where I do not have to reach for anything. There is the sea, a mountain spring, enough work for me to sustain those who sustain me.

There is soil amenable to peppers and tomatoes, also. A roof of terracotta tiles. Between the sun and the house lies a corridor of red light on the sea.

I do not live there, probably never shall. Probability is God's business. Math is merely another story we tell ourselves.

There is a world, a place, a setting, a scene, a stage. I not liver there, terracotta. If I lived there, I would not have to reach. Reaching, each day, I exhaust my supply of composure. Peppers. I do not live there. Tomatoes, peppers, terracotta. Never shall? It is good to know, though there is a place, such a place, no need to reach. Good to know, terracotta, peppers, tomatoes, a red corridor of light on the sea.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

35. Flashlight Annie

So there was this old woman, almost a recluse, who lived in a shack with her son, who was in his 40s, unemployable, and alcoholic. So far, so good.

However, he'd walk up from the Flat into town around dusk, to the bar, where they let him run a tab, and he'd get drunk, usually on whiskey; he'd head home late at night, and often he fell into a large blackberry patch by the side of the road. We must remember that wild blackberry patches get monstrously large. They are entities unto themelves.

Imagine all the bad choices that lead a drunk to fall into a blackberry patch, the same blackberry patch beside a road the drunk knows well, and to fall in there more than once. I've imagined those choices. I've thought hard about lying drunk among those thorns, cut up, unable to move without making things worse, looking up at pine boughs or stars or, worst of all, the goddamned beautiful moon. Even as I look back to this local lore, I sympathize. Even if I laugh, I don't gloat. There but for the grace of God . . ., and I'm not kidding.

The old woman--her first name was Annie--always went looking for her son. She went out on the road carrying a flashlight, which cast a big yellow beam but which also had a red illuminated butt, which glowed like the tip of a lit cigar.

The town's big contribution to this complicated situation was to nickname her Flashlight Annie. No one ever walked the son home, steering him clear of the blackberry patch. No one tried to sober him up. No one tried to help Annie look for him. Now, if he had really gone missing and were not simply lying in the blackberry patch, someone would have called the sheriff, and a group of men would have gone looking for him. They might have even borrowed my uncle's bloodhound, and my father and uncle would have been among the men to join the search-party.

I don't want to give the impression that the town was cruel. It just had funny ideas about what was the town's business and what was private business. The plight of Annie and her son, the Sisyphus-like repetition of his journies home and her seeking him in darkness: the town regarded these as the business of only Annie, her flashlight, the blackberry patch, and her son.

I do not know how she was able to extract him from the patch each time. I wish I were in possession of this fact.

I picture her putting a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him the next morning, some catsup on the side of the plate, maybe a cup of coffee nearby, poured from a tin percolator. I imagine his face cut up "all to hell," as my father might say. I picture the flashlight back in its place in the shack, a place for everything, and everything in its place.

The red scabs of thorn-slashes belonged to the son's face. I imagine his hands shaking, as a drunk's hands will shake in the morning. I imagine the remorseful silence.

He is my son, and this is my life, and after he finishes his breakfast, I will wash the dishes: I imagine her thinking this, Flashlight Annie.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

34. Hunting

His father, his uncle, and their friends used to get up very early on Fall days and go hunting for deer.

The men wore bright red shirts because they did not want to be mistaken for deer and shot with rifles, or shot, period.

He understood that the difference in appearance between men and deer was more complex than the presence of a red shirt.

He also understood that men with rifles are likely to shoot the rifles at anything that moves as well as many stationary targets.

He grasped intuitively that wearing a red shirt had something to do with safety and improving one's odds of surviving a hunting expedition.

He did wonder, however, what the deer thought of the red shirts, whether the deer became more than a little depressed at the sight of the two-legged ones wearing red shirts in the colder season.

He liked sitting at the breakfast table while night still existed and listening to the red-shirted men munch bacon, slurp coffee, and discuss a variety of topics related to hunting. The men seemed ready for anything and in command of their lives. Some of these men had served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. He hoped one day to be ready for something and in command of his life.

He liked going back to bed after the men had departed, the sounds of dogs and pickup trucks and voices disappearing, leaving the sounds of wind in pines and the muttering wood-burning stove. Sometimes he read a pulpy novel. Usually he just went back to sleep.

He did not like the idea of being a deer and getting shot or watching one of the herd-members bleeding to death in manzanita brush.

He liked the taste of fried fresh deer liver and deer heart, however, and he ate them without remorse.

He did not like the idea of killing deer. Leaving the deer alone seemed altogether more fair and less trouble than searching for them, shooting them, packing them, skinning and gutting them, and so on.

He liked the smell of a freshly skinned deer. The smell was rich and slightly salty.

He assumed one day deer-hunting would die out and the deer would not miss it.

He very much liked the idea of wearing a read chamois shirt--so soft and so bold the shirt was, so very ready for anything that might happen in the garment world, so very much in control of its dyed-fabric life.

As things turned out, he never killed a deer; in fact, he never tried to shoot one. A couple of times, while he was driving a car at night on swooping, curving, diving Sierra Nevada highways, the headlights of the auto he was driving seized the image of a deer running across the asphalt. He had always been able to stop in time, however, so he had never killed a deer by accident, even if he happened to be wearing a red shirt. He remembers eating the heart and liver of deer, even as this had occurred so long ago. He is not nostalgic for such fare. He remembers. That is all.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

33. Hollywood

Hal Wizzard, President and God of Hal Wizzard Productions, Unlimited, is watching several servants fill his Bel Aire swimming pool with individual bottles of Himalayan rain-water.

Dubbed a genius by his public relations staff, Wizzard is ingeniously envisaging his next remarkable, compelling, unforgettable, cinematic tour de ego and all around commercial endeavor.

It is to be called Casaroja. It will be loud and big and naked and expensive and sold and loud and long and noisy and distributed. It will be all wrong and all right and a Hal Wizzard Production. It will be among the infinite quantity of human products that will make God wonder why God bothered. It will be Casaroja, coming this summer to a summer near everyone. It will not be so much written, acted, and photographed as it will be masticated, digested, and excreted. It will be an excretion of Hal Wizzard Productions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

32. Comic Book

You live in a house identical to houses in a tract built by a company dedicated to haste and deception. Your father paid too much for the house, which smells of him and your mother and the dog with the glandular problems.

The name of your commuity is Probability Ridge. You attend Blankton Gray Senior High School, wear bluejeans and T-shirts, stuff your ears with wads of noise, anything to keep your parents' questions from getting through.

When your parents' lips stop moving, you choose an answer randomly--"Okay"--"I don't remember"--"It's not until next week"--"Call Todd's mom." Your parents' lips move again, but by this time you've slid into your room, where The Startler swoops into the thin pages of your life, the panels pop with colors, you get the inside jokes, and you savor the sweetness of knowing yet not knowing what comes next: a page without words, mute panels, pure inked illusion, much red ink, synapses sizzling in the you of your brain.

You lie on your bed holding the comic book, and the world has gone to shit, and somewhere west of Traffic National State park, somebody's making the three-colored pizza you will ingest this evening. Life is neither good nor bad. It's a dream. Not a bad dream at all. However, you do wish that girl, the one whose parents named her Leena, read comic books. You would like to talk to her about comic books. You would like to talk to her about her red canvas shoes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

31. Uninvited

Sometimes she had the feeling she hadn't been invited into this or any world. She's been a good girl, partly for the reason that she felt she was a slight imposition on her family--an extra child, but not an extraordinary one.

Out in the world, she felt as many feel--overlooked, ignored, and, if noticed, tolerated.

She wondered what exactly the reason might be for her to have become, to have come into this world. She didn't spend a lot of time puzzling, however. She did her job--which was first of all to be the one person she was given an opportunity to be, herself.

She thought of red as her signature color--in a scarf, a hat, or a pin: some accessory that might murmur, in effect, "I know I'm not terribly interesting, but nonetheless, here I am, with a dash of red."

She lived as best she could, made others feel welcomed, worthy. She knew she hadn't authored reality. She felt reality had been here a long time before she happened along. She'd been a good girl. She became a decent person.

Gloves. Red gloves. A pair of red woolen gloves. These she she wore in colder months.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

30. Definition

Red has its own wings and glides into sight.

Red owns its own memory and never forgets to be red.

Red is a corporation of molecules, publicly held.

Red is cosmopolitan, at ease for instance mixing with blue and yellow.

Red is a favorite of myth-makers and patriots, for it may be proclaimed and waved.

Red lurks in iron and wood.

Red is the correct answer to innumerable questions.

Red can keep a secret; it has never disclosed to the cardinal that the cardinal is red.

Red goes to the country in Sweden most summers. It stays by the lake and attempts to say as few words as possible.

Red is the news of ripeness reported by certain fruits. It is a form of goodbye uttered by certain leaves in September.

Red is crazy or brave or blessed--anyway, a martyr.

Red is the cost.

Red is a mogul.

Red is more than a color and only a color at the same time.

Red is not Gertrude Stein, and Gertrude Stein is not red.

29. Broken Guitar

A man broke a guitar over--that is to say, on--another man's head.

The guitar-strings sounded the last chord the guitar would ever play. After expressing this final chord, the O of the guitar vanished.

On the floor, the smashed instrument looked like a miniature shipwreck in an extremely small production of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

People gathered round the injured man like a chorus of bees.

The man who'd turned a guitar into a weapon sagged with self-hatred and remorse.

A woman entered the room. She said, "Hey, that's my guitar."

The man who had been struck by the guitar looked deeply perplexed by recent events. His head bled, and the wound looked like a wet, red flower. "O," he said.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

28. Printed From the Negative

In that time of film-photography, a woman in a red dress stood beside a blue lake. Trees behind her rose brightly green. Her hair was black, her skin light brown. Yellow flowers winked near her shoes.

Summer's sky mixed blue, white and gray. The woman often saw colors when she heard sounds. Thunder nearby seemed purple to her that day. A powder-blue butterfly landed on her arm. She laughed. Its wings applauded.

The camera's aperture let in light representing the woman, the red dress, the blue lake and green trees, the woman's black hair and brown skin, the yellow flowers, and the blue butterfly. The aperture admitted all but the purple thunder, which could not appear in the print made from the negative, and the negative was a dark brown cloud that rained colors onto white paper in a dark room.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

27. Rhetoric

Grant me red, and I shall argue efficiently for purple.

Bring me reliable orange data, and I shall infer red.

I am convinced that white and red can reach a pink consensus.

O, rhetoricians and publicans, O red-tongued gabbers and gossipers, convincers and shaders, workers-of-the-precincts, we raise our glasses of deep-ruby wine to you.

May you disagree garrulously forever; may you sink efficient fascism in the lovely red mud of your speeches, essays, opinions, and claims. May you rinse the puffy faces of ministers and thugs with cold, clear watery questions. Talk on, walk on, write often, confuse the confusers of issues with refutations. Quibble, jabber, jaw-bone, murmur. Rise to speak. Sit to listen. Lean back to laugh. Wave your red incorrigible flags of democracy and contrarianesque red polka-dotted handkerchiefs. Wear the powerful fools out with words and reasoning, pepper them with paprika-seasoned rhetoric, O rhetors, O saucy suaders.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

26. Blood-Donor

Being O-Negative and CMV-Negative, his blood is positively desired, although nothing in his blood improves his knowledge of what CMV-Negative or O-Negative mean.

The donation-room is quiet. It holds faint traces of blood-ritual awe from epochs when blood not science was exalted and people with insatiable blood-lust and melodramatics attempted to sate an invisible but much-named, much-certified realm with blood.

His heart pumps doggedly. Elsewhere ill babies sleep in the presence of their lords.

"We use your blood for babies," the woman in charge of needles tells him, and someone records on a chart how many pints the place has drawn that day of baby-friendly blood.

The opaque bag darkens deeply red with his corpuscular tithing. The darkness of red's blood always surprises him once more. His blood in a bag fascinates him. It doesn't seem like his when it's in the bag, and he's lying on the donation-bed looking at it.

On some unknown day, he will unknowingly pass in the street a former baby and current adult to whom his blood was once distributed. There will be a certain sameness coursing through strangers, a certain godly ignorance preventing either person from being alert to a most pragmatic communion, all the more reason, oddly enough, to offer thanks to something holier.

Friday, September 12, 2008

25. Language

All right, red. Be prepared. Certain duties shall be expected of you.

Doubtless you will have to infuse a rose located in a narrative and try like hell to symbolize. Elsewhere you will have to adjectivalate, for the umpteenth time, blood.

And these task are just for sanguine starters.

--Such endless, tedious work, signifying, suggesting, working as a word that describes, caught in cross-meanings between verbs and nouns, depended upon to provide an illusion of vividness.

We can hope only that this whole business of meaning will somehow count for something, something besides meaning, I mean.

Anyway, red, be prepared. They'll want your services. They always do.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

24. Panic

The panicked may feel flushed, but panic is not red; it is a mottled gray.

There is no safe place on Earth, the panicked person feels.

Habits, beliefs, confidences, wisdom, plans, powers, hope, strategies, adaptations, faith, will: all vacate the premises of the panicked, who themselves are premised then solely on their incapacities. The anvil is lowered on the chest. Breath becomes disloyal.

Perspiring, the panicked plead with an abyss, negotiate with mute walls, desire to burrow, curl up, and sleep.

Sometimes all that rescue from panic takes is a smile; other times, a tiny pill from a red-orange bottle brings a message to the brain. The message says, "Take it easy." Sometimes suffering is both condition and antidote.

Look at the panicked person. She wipes her brow with a red bandana. She waits for a deep breath. She looks at the red bandana. She finds it to be a humorous piece of cloth. She smiles. She breathes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

23. Mission

The mission's bell once glowed red in a forge. Its color is indeterminate now, a settlement of brown and blue, black and rust. Birds trouble ancient oaks on the grounds of the mission. Once the feet of Father Serra shuffled on this ground, although the dirt has been replaced by other dirt.

A lizard scampers across adobe. Stops. This sun was the same sun under which men grunted and laughed and cursed and sweat as they built the mission. This mission, legatee of light and shadow, will, and surrender. This mission, symbol of Something or Other, and its bell, tuned in a red forge, is situated in light coming from the sun's forge.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

22. Redcairn

22. One night, a long time ago, I was drinking, drinking liquor as a matter of distilled fact, with a philosopher.

I was writing a dissertation at the time, the topic being literary as a matter of inertia, as I hadn't moved from my interest in reading since I'd been 9 or 10 years old.

My dissertation's most signal strength, perhaps, was that it would be completed.

The parents of the philosopher had named him, but he'd changed his name to R.L. Redcairn. R. and L. stood only for themselves, like facades on the set of a movie which creates an illusion that its action occurs in a "Western" "town." Nothing lay behind the abbreviations, so they weren't abbreviations. Nonetheless, "R.L. Redcairn" seemed like a name with which to conjure. The philosopher called himself simply "Redcairn," but I called him "R." because I believe he and I were on a first-letter basis.

Sometimes I scribbled parts of my dissertation in the bar, but not if Recairn happened to be there, for Recairn was a garrulous sort, a man who liked to drink indefinitely and talk combatively. Listening could be achieved in his presence, but not writing. Redcairn was working on a dissertation in philosophy, which is one way of my saying he wasn't working on a dissertation. It was sometimes said of Recairn in that precinct of academia that he was working on a masterpiece, but it was also widely known--to the extent anything can be known, as philosophers sometimes say--that he hadn't written a lick. So R. tuaght a class or two of intro-to- philosophy each term, and he drank, held forth, and composed, so to speak, the dissertation of himself, "Redcairn."

One night, a long time ago, when the self-named, voluble Redcairn and I were drinking, he his dark brandy, I my translucent vodka, Redcairn confessed, "My friend, the symbolic logic of poker eluded me last night, and I lost much currency. That is to say, I'm a bit short on funds. I should have mentioned this before you opened a tab, but I wonder if you could cover the price of my beverages this night."

"Of course, R.," I said. In the summers, I usually got myself a construction-job of some sort, so I often had what one of my aunts liked to call "walking-around money," in addition to the small stipend we graduate students received. As far as I was concerned, investing in small containers of alcohol that was imbibed during discussions of great ideas in small bars was a wise use of this money.

Several brandies later--to the extent a brandy is a unit of time--Redcairn said this:

"Reality has no idea what I'm thinking. What's more, it's not interested. So I think my thoughts, which is what one does with one's thoughts. Sometimes little flakes of reality drift my way--a bus, a book, a breeze, a brown liquid. What of it? I do not deny reality, my friend. I am no Berkeley, sir. I am no wishy-washy Kant. Redcairn is his own Heraclitan fire." And a boon companion, I thought to myself, in spite of Redcairn's chronically thin wallet. Redcairn continued, "What if the whole universe were something that had been discarded? How cool would that be, my friend? I throw down a searing shot of insignificance, sir, and I chase it with absurdity. For I am Redcairn."

"You certainly are, R.," I said.

Redcairn assaulted his throat with a gulp of brandy and winced with pleasurable pain. He continued to speak, as I knew he would. "If there's one thing I know for sure, I doubt it. My friend, here's what I've always wanted to say to meaning, which is a different thing from reality. Yes, this is what I wish to say to meaning: Go fuck yourself!"

The bartender, whom I assumed to be an Aristotelian, said, "Keep it down, fellas." Redcairn was about to protest, but I suggested another round, and the suggestion placated him. Sometimes I think of Redcairn, and I wonder what he is doing. I raise a glass of cold milk, and I toast R. and ones like him. Here's to the ones in life who hold forth. Here's to the self-named such as Redcairn, a philosopher, a bullshitter, a boon companion. In spite of his quarrel with meaning, Redcairn managed to mean something, especially after two or three glasses of brandy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

21. From This Valley

I don't want to live here, you don't want to live here, he, she, it doesn't, they don't want to, nobody wants to, live here.

Not even the mayor of here wants to live here. Despair was his campaign-platform.

I suggest we hasten to bid here adieu and move to the Red River Valley.

We could take back all the insensitive things we have said to each other here.

We might prepare to take the real-estate-sales examination. We might grow squash--and tomatoes.

These are our lives, darling, and none other, and this is the Red River Valley, and what we are experiencing here at the mayor's reception is the effect of time on carbon-based organisms.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

20. Blood-Chemistry

Blood contains so many regimes, each with its own purpose and politics, ministers and machinations.

The republic of clotting factor operates by ponderous logic, while the forces of adrenalin rant for revolution.

Hormones are deal-makers, scuttling back and forth throughout the night.

Railroad-interests control red corpuscles, while the white ones are ruled by a military dictatorship.

I fear secret societies; their members are so adept at climbing ladders of DNA.

Monday, September 1, 2008

19. Labor #2

How much would he cut and burned!

Slabs of downed, dry oak. Rounds of pitch-soaked pine, red fir, and spruce. He hated spruce, which he called "piss-fir."

The cutting down, the limbing, the cutting up. Hauling, heaving. Splitting wood and loading it. Unloading and stacking it. More splitting for kindling. Bringing wood inside. Finally burning it all to ash. Hauling out the ash.

Fire in the iron stove, in the stone fireplace. Piles of brush and tree limbs from cleared land, smoldering all night, winter, outside. To keep the cleared place clear demanded cutting back brush, every year. The Sierra Nevada abhores a clearing.

To keep warm the cold house he built, of wood, of concrete, on the clearing, he cut wood. To cut, to chop, to clear, to haul, to burn, to work. Infinitives become imperatives.

Cut and clear. Build and burn. Fall timber. Limb logs. Split, haul, load, and carry wood. Cut and stack. Burn. Build. Clear. Cut and stack. Lift and haul.

Some sixty years of it.

And I remember one day we sat in front of the stone fireplace he'd built. We each read a book. Didn't talk. Oak logs gave over to fire grudgingly. Coals--red-orange cubes of carbon--tumbled, Hell's dice, settled. Glowed in pulses. Snow piled up silently outside, covering the clearing, enclosing the house. Silver smoked leaked into a silver sky.

How much he cut and cleared, burned and split and hauled! He did it to keep the place. It was clear duty done clearly. Heat the house. Warm the ones choice and accident deliver to your responsibility. Life is simple. It consists of work. If you want it to be less or more then that, well, good for you, and good luck to you.

Reading, side by side, we loaded paragraphs into our minds' language-furnaces, fueling generations of meaning and memory. Before the fire, we read. Our minds were located in clearings of identity--I and not-I; father and not-father; son, not-son. We read. We didn't talk. The fire mumbled. The red-orange dice tumbled.

He cut and cleared--back then, in the Age of Carbon, when wood stoves and fireplaces were how you heated your house.

Finally he fell after 77 years. Lying on the gurney, delirious from drugs but clear-headed enough to fight, he looked up at us, his sons, and said, "Help me up, for Chrissakes."

We had him cremated. I wasn't there when they did it, but I assume they load the body into the furnace like a log. This would have amused him.

I write it down, words composed of bits of light in the Age of Silicon. The screen is a clearing. Word-embers glow briefly in the hearth of all things passing. Night accepts the smoke from what perishes. Memory--felled and cut, hauled and split, lifted and stacked, lit and burned.

All that work.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

18. Legend

Roland "Red" Redson, age 123, having coached at the University of West Central Tech State College (UWCTSC) for 98 years, announced his retirement at a press conference today.

Redson, the oldest living football coach in the United States and human being anywhere, told stunned reporters that his epic, successful career was the result of a scheme that he and God had cooked up. Redson also revealed that he "never liked football."

"As some of you may not remember, my daddy was a fine football coach last century," Redson reminisced. "I followed in his footsteps, but in my second game as head coach at UWCTSC, the whole thing seemed totally pointless. I lost interest."

Ironically, Redson that year led the Fighting Feral Housecats to the first of twelve conference championships and an appearance at the Mammal Bowl.

Redson claims he thought of retiring after that season but was visited by God. According to Redson, God expressed surprise at the existence of football in the universe, understood Redson's predicament, but told Redson that as long as he coached, that's how long he would live.

Asked why God would get involved at that level of detail in the universe, Redson would say only, "He has quite a sense of humor, That One."

As for Redson's decision to go along with "the gag"--"It was a no-brainer. I was guaranteed a long life, plus at least a 6-4 season every year, no matter what. I always had time for my family and hobbies--like orchids--and I did enjoy the pageantry surrounding college football."

A reporter asked if Redson had any regrets. "It's no fun outliving your grandchildren," he said. "Also, I felt sorry for all those coaches who imagined they could change the outcome of games against me by practicing and yelling. When we were to win, we won; when we weren't, we didn't. On the other hand, this knowledge of the machinery behind fate gave me a great sense of peace, especially in the fourth quarter."

After the press conference, Redson died.

Asked for a comment, UWCTSC President Wanda Oparto said, "Red Redson was extremely old, and he will be missed, sort of."

Redson reportedly left his retirement fund, totalling one billion dollars, to several great-great-grand children, to an orchid-preservation society, and to the nation of Chad.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

17. Labor

"Red, how are you?"
"Tired. The brakes went out on the Ford. I lost a whole day."
"That is the absolute shits."
They drank, the two men. They stared, and outside the tavern, heat still hit the day hard. Red spoke again.
"Are you about finished with the job on the west side?"
"Got about a week left. Danny's helping out."
"He's good help."
"Yeah, as long as you tell him what you want, he'll do it."
"Jill's sick."
"I'm sorry."
"Getting sick is expensive."
"I hear that. That's why I don't get sick."

They laughed. The beer had made both men give in to how tired they were. Life hadn't prevailed yet, but both men sensed the game had turned nonetheless. Not for want of energy and hope would they lose, but they would lose. It was a slowly emerging certainty in their minds, losing. It wasn't tragedy. Tragedy, in their minds, was for someone rich or heroic or at least well known. Losing was for everybody else.

But you had to keep working, thought Red. He stared straight ahead into the mirror behind the bar of the tavern He looked at the image of himself and the other man. You had to keep working. He looked at his watch, drained the glass (foam slid slowly down the inside of the glass), and said, "I have to get going. I'll see you."
"See you, Red."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

16. God

Our notions of God are sometimes like a matador's red diversion.

Wanting certainty, we charge toward our notions. We charge, desiring help and peace--and, occasionally, authorization for war.

For right and wrong and no and muddled reasons, we charge the red illusion.

Finished, we imagine, with belief, we imagine sometimes we gore God. Ludicrous us. Ludicrous premise: that God is premised on our belief.

If God is, God is not where belief has written God. God is, no, not there, but here; God is poised ubiquity. If God were not to be, our beliefs concerning God are at irrelevant.

The red cape disappears. The matador vanishes. There becomes here. That which is, becomes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

15. Care

Red City is, as you probably have already guessed, not red, at least not in obvious ways. None of the buildings is red, nor is red an official municipal color. Indeed, Red City gives the impression of being blue, gray, white, and green.

Nonetheless, there are stout and good reasons why Red City is so named. I cannot report these reasons to you because I have not discovered them. I believe my research takes me ever closer, however, to discovering the truths of Red City. As you have probably already guessed, Red City has become something of an obsession with me.

Let me say simply that I believe the great book about Red City has yet to have been written. Let me humbly add that I believe I have called to write that book.

That I can even express such beliefs--and express them so clearly--is a credit to the care I have received from the doctors here, where, from my window, I can see a red light pulsing at the top of a steel tower.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

14. Commerce

We sell only red capes. That's our business, our only business. Our business is called Red Cape Land.

Are you tired of going to places that sell thousands of products? Have you ever known a shop other than ours that specializes in red capes? Do you own a red cape? Would you like to own one?

If you answered yes to the first question, no to the second and third questions, and maybe to the fourth question, then you owe it to yourself to come down to Red Cape Land today. Or maybe tomorrow.

If you understand "Red Cape Land" to mean that our business is really not a land but a rectangular building in which red capes are offered for sale, then take an additional ten per cent off your initial purchase. Tell us we sent you.

Don't hurry down to Red Cape Land. Quantities are not severely limited, and to suggest to strangers that they hurry is irresponsible, in our view.

If you've ever dreamed of owning a red cape, then bring enough money with you to purchase one.

Red capes: Without them, our shop, known as Red Cape Land, would cease to exist.

13. Moby Don

No one wanted to spend a story, let alone a stout and serious novel, on Moby Don, the Red Whale.

I suppose to some he looked like an oceanic blemish or the largest mammalian equivalent of a clown's nose.

At any rate, Moby Don engendered fear, induced obsession, in no one.

Harpooners believed him to be diseased. Lookouts in the crows' nests cried, "There she blows--oops; never mind!" First mates labeled Moby Don bad luck. Captains wrote snide remarks in their logs whenever Moby Don had been sighted.

Moby Don was not a great whale, at least if measured by literary standards. But he was unusual, and he was a darned good whale. He fathered several whale children and sang in his migratory pod. In other ways, he contributed to his pod. For example, he sometimes breeched, spiraling exuberantly, sending up the massive, rubbery red signal of his body. He spoke out against whaling. He endured a lifetime of harassment from sharks and found the very idea of munching a sailor's leg to be distasteful.

He could have lied and said it was a bad sunburn, his color. He could have made up a tall American tale about being the descendant of the legendary red whales from Atlantis. But that wasn't Moby Don's way. He accepted who he was. He was okay with being red and a whale and a red whale. He was Moby Don.

Friday, August 22, 2008

12. Welcome

He wishes sometimes for what used to be commonly called the Red-Carpet Treatment (RCT) which is an uncommonly generous welcome. Never having received such a welcome, he covets it, of course; he wonder what it would feel like to have the Treatment extended to him.

He nudges his way in sometimes, tries to earn the RCT. He know it’s the wrong approach, has studied the Treatment’s particulars enough to know no one earns the RTC. That is the whole point. One cannot earn it.

He refuses however to remain completely ignored, uncalled for, excluded. So he buys scalped tickets, or writes on spec, or slides through the delivery-door, or makes himself useful . . . . There are thousands of ways to get around being unwelcome.

There is though no way to be welcome, except to be welcome: sweet feet planted belongingly in plush red carpet, gladness all around, so happy, so happy you’re here, for you are the one we’ve been waiting for! Welcome!

11. Selection

Evolution consisting of accidents that turned out all right, I might note the subtle red coloring of house-finches’ heads, the foggy rose stripe that runs along the sides of salmon, the deep pink of a cat’s tongue, and the strong leadership provided by the red in the old flannel robe I am wearing at 3:00 a.m., when somewhere in the city someone has eased an automobile to a full stop before a red traffic-light and feels slightly silly sitting in solitary compliance.

10. Regional Theater

The stage must be red—that’s all I know, all I see. So said Armick, the visiting writer-in-residence, grant-supported.

What, the others said, do you mean? Red as theme? As conflict? As motif? Symbol?

And Armick said he didn’t know from motif. The imagination is literal, Armick argued. I mean, he said, the stage. The floor, the boards, the set, curtains, costumes. That’s exactly what I mean.

What kind of red? someone asked, one who knew that to argue with the grant-supported Armick-in-residence at this point was not to argue but to feel the hippo-weight of Armick’s obstinance, which Armick preferred to think of as genius, and why wouldn’t he prefer the latter term? This someone also knew that to get the hippo-weight of Armick’s . . . genius moving, best to bait Armick with red specifics.

That’s your job, responded Armick, unbaited and unmoved. I will not tell you how to do what I ask. I will only ask you to do. Your profession is to execute the what of my wanting as you see fit. Ask only yourself what you want from my request for a red stage.

Our job, said someone else, our collective job, is to create theatre. For an audience. A paying audience in a medium-sized city. A medium month has gone by. All we have to go on is—you want a red stage. You want a red stage? Paint it yourself.

Armick: You refuse my request? You question--?

--Yes, I refuse, and I question. Give us a play. That is your job, paid for by a grant.

I wish to play with red, said Armick. That is the play. The beginning of play. You disgust me. Build a stage for the fourteen billionth production of Our Town. Build one for a Neil Simon package. So said Armick, haughtily.

We could do worse. So said the other.

But you will not do better! Cannot, apparently. You’re an idiot, apparently.

Perhaps. The sum total of a month’s work is . . . you want a red stage. Who’s the idiot?

You are, as noted, said Armick.

Maybe so, said the other. I’ll admit the possibility, considering what I do and where I do it. You must, by the same red token, admit the possibility that you’re a lazy fraud.

The combatants’ cheeks flushed. Shouting. Shoving. Intervention. Outside: rain, and a police car going fast. Siren. Whirling red light. Inside, Armick stalked off. The others slouched against gray surfaces of regional theatre, slumped in stained chairs of beige of brown, of green.

Finally someone said, I can get us a deal on red paint at the hardware store, for the owner is a member of our theater’s board of directors.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

9. Organized Angels

9. Organized Angels


The angels have unionized. The other day I ran into the Local #528 president in Tacoma, Washington (known to be a stolid labor-town).

Actually, I ran under her. She was sitting on a limb belonging to one of the massive trees in Wright Park.

“You look like you might have done some work in your life,” she said.

“Long ago,” I said. “Now I watch a lot of cable-television and worry and run errands and nap.”

“Sounds heavenly,” she said, “and that’s not a compliment. How do you make a living?”

“Oh, I work,” I said. “I just don’t work. It’s very stressful, the sort of unworkable work I do.”

She went on to explain about the union. Labor-strife with God, Who is shop-steward of the universe. Wages, hours, layoffs, out-sourcing. Scabs from polytheistic traditions. The whole bit.

“Let me guess,” I said, “—He thinks the union is the work of the Devil.”

“You got it.”

“I see your shoes are red,” I noted. “Any significance to that?”

“No. I thought they were cute, and they were on sale, as well as union-made. Well, affiliated-made, anyway.”

A gray squirrel approached. The angel and the squirrel spoke in a language I’d never heard. The squirrel departed then.

“That was an angel,” the angel said. “We come in all forms.”

8. Skin

Skin

The red people were never red, the black never black, the brown never brown, the white never white, the yellow never yellow.

To verify these claims, all anyone had to do was, really, to look at individuals. Observe. Or not look, and instead listen, smell, touch. But no. That would have been too informative.

Stupidity and the will to power over things and to power people into things shaped a prism refracting colors that never were. I say unto you the joy of alert and generous observation was absent in the land.

Skin, that is all. Skin, turned into symbol, symbol into history, history into hell. Red hell, and so on.

What is more, skin of individuals, skin intricately, unpredictably, variously, and I say unto you observably toned, variegated. Skin warmed with life, written by a life, particularized. Skin is never stupid, not to mention of a single color.

The red people were never red, and so on. And so on. And yet history cannot be denied, and if you say we are all the same, you must not say so so you can attempt to deny history.

For the future--remember the future?--shall we be very attuned to variegation? Yes, let's; why not?

7. Nothing

7. Nothing

When your red day comes, don’t be afraid. Or, be afraid but not only afraid. Be sanguine. Your time has always been running out of blood.

Be angry? Why not?! That will be your you complaining once more, and good for it. So wbat if outrage is late, ineffectual, pitiable? At least it’s a kick against inevitability’s brown cliff.

Terror? Most likely. A red tidal wave of fear, shaking you, taking you, taking all.

Breathe in last red breaths of surviving, remember some of the good you did, know regrets will go as you go, away. For it’s a clean sweep on your red day. Even the sky goes, and the sun—down, down, past sunset, on down to Nothing Town, where red original numbers and indecipherable symbols are warehoused.

6. Depression

6. Depression

I do remember the closing-in times when the doors of hope seem bolted shut and the other human beings are apparitions, mere decorations that happen to have opinions and faces and, in theory, lives and problems of their own.

I do remember the feeling that, no, there is no quibbling with the solid presence of experience, the sheer weight of It All, the all-aroundness of life, but also the feeling that weight and ubiquity do not purpose or pleasure make, and the head aches in some kind of existential, symbolic way, a cerebral emblem, a psychic bruise, a cranially enclosed fed-up-edness.

I do remember how the red velvety, thickly perfumatic rose once meant nothing in this circumstance, was a kind of old beauty-joke, a cheap Shakespearian souvenir, a trite thing on a stem, a waste of everybody’s time and certainly nothing to do with me.

You have to hand it to depression. It is professional, and it means business, and it thinks of everything, including a rose named Mister Lincoln, including Mister Lincoln, who knew depression, who called it the blue-devils.

Friday, August 15, 2008

5. Grief

The principle of the foreverness of death he understood well, especially insofar as fear can be said to mark, in some circumstances, understanding.

The application of the principle struck him afresh in each new instance, however.

His father for instance died; therefore, his father’s red blood would again never be. His father’s presence was now always past. Factuality of his father’s death shocked, became a chronic catastrophe. Understanding the principle of the foreverness of death proved useless. Specific death is unprincipled.

As his father lay dying, he held his father’s hand and noticed in a waste-can clues concerning the Code Crew’s bloody work to bring his father back from cardiac arrest so that his father might not just yet die.

Life is work and bloody response and the business of getting things done. One son holding one father’s hand is between the one father and the one son. It is the miracle and morose tragedy of the particular, overwhelmed by that-is-to-say life and its infinite particulars.

Be dutiful and sad and think of the red blood you share. Be shocked and afflicted and unprepared because you cannot prepare. Be quiet. Be all alone even as others might briefly grasp you or perform gestures of understanding.

Be briefly solid and here in your acute particularity. Weep at the agreed-upon time and place. Weep at an unexpected hour and inappropriate place. Stand dry-eyed, well soldiered. Lie in the state of grief.

Inter your memories. Move—you must and will—on, as blood moves on in you, amen, so long, it was nice and it was knowing and it was you, and he was father.

4. Gazes

She wore a red dress. She was across the room. He gazed. He felt. He named the feeling love.

The gaze is with him still as, forty years later, he tells of her standing across the room, and the red dress, and the deciding gaze. He says in so many words he loves her still, and she gazes, loving him still, and we are quiet and embarrassed and wondering how it could have been, whether it was, so simple.

The red dress made it simple, such power in the gaze across the room and lives. It must have been more complicated than that, but we have no proof. We have skepticism, routine ironies, and reflexive distaste for sentiment. They gaze.

3. Red Zaley

Some reflections, then, on a man who was likeable in his unlikeableness. Some reflections on Red Zaley.

Whose epidermis was angry.

Whose will was a kind of red pachyderm.

Who lived next to a graveyard, indeed the only graveyard in the town.

Who hired a man and the man’s brother to build hundreds of feet of stone walls, walls which became provincially palatial in contrast to the tacky shackiness of Red Zaley’s house.

Whose house seemed glum at best.

Who suspected everyone of plots against him.

Who became more facially red when drinking bourbon.
Who drank bourbon.

Whose property-line abutted that of the town’s graveyard.

Whose inflamed, suspicious, retaliatory concept of private property gave pallbearers pause as they packed their solemn cargo along the route of the graveyard fence, breathing more easily once inside the cemetery line, funereal circumstances somehow less threatening than Red Zaley and his angry potentialities.

It is too much but also pleasant to say that God was wary of, very wary of, Red Zaley, that even the Devil, that indiscriminate recruiter, regarded Red Zaley, ruddy virtuoso of ill temper and stone borders, as better left alone.

2. Faith, Science, and Crimsonology

If you believe in evolution, in Evolution, then you must believe we evolved with the capacity to want to pray, and with the capacity to pray. Prayer apparently helped to perpetuate us in our several niches. Otherwise we probably would have been perpetuated without the prayer-behavior.

If you believe in divinity, in creation by uppest echelon, then you must believe that the highest power approved a design which led eventually to the scientific method, which produced reasons to believe in Evolution. Or you must believe that the scientific method is the work of the devil and that God chooses not to put a stop to the nonsense. Or you must believe that, allowed free will, some chose the scientific method, and God may or may not like the choice. Or you must believe . . . .

Regardless of what you believe, you are permitted to consider red. Its origins. Its species. Its functions in nature. The extent to which it does and does not exist in pink and orange and purple. Consideration is not belief.

Red: a divine rage seething in lava. Red rhetoric: the wordless word of a bird’s plume. Red: ripe emergency of cherries, strawberries, tomatoes. Red exists within and without phenomena such as words, such as red.

Red of Communism, red of Christianism, red of Redism.

Professors of Crimsonology theorize ruddily at their annual Crimson Conference. The field of redonics is coming into its own. A red future lies before us. These are exciting, corpuscular times indeed.

Say your red prayers, red believer. Conduct your controlled red experiments, red scientist. Speak to us through your prophetic prism, red divinity. In the name of red, exalt red’s redness.
For thine is the red and the red. I am red that I am red. Red be with you. Jack be red. And also with you.

1. Power

Red: A Book of Crimson Tales, Sanguine Meditations, and Scarlet Exasperations




“I am the Emperor red,” said the Emperor, Red.
“So true,” responded the people.
“I am your Emperor,” he said.
“We know,” they said.
“Bow down,” he said.
“You bet,” they replied.
“Worship me.”
“Praise Red.”
“Admire me.”
“Wow!”
“Respect me.”
“Yes, sir, Emperor Red, sir.”
“Fear me.”
“Duck! Here comes Red!”
“Remember me.”
“'Once there was an Emperor named Red . . . .’”
“Love me.”
“Happy Birthday, Emp!”
“Help! Save me from my rebellious military!”
“What was that? Could you speak up?”
“I said--.”
“'Once there was an Emperor. Emperor Red.’”