Category: Uncategorized

The naming of ducks: the philosophy of ducks

Mother died just before they first arrived. An arrival in return for a departure. I’d rather have had mother than the ducks but we take what we get. Besides, one does not really have anyone. Language anchors us to people in this way. Verbs, in the present tense at least, allow us to believe that we have ownership, that we belong. But we own little and seldom belong. I had a mother. I had a father. How much life that word ‘had’ contains. The illusion is that words speak us. Translate us into the world, for we are in our essence beyond language. Like ducks we are migratory souls and words are not our first language. A puddle catching the reflection of a few stars does not reflect the cosmos. There is such space within us and we pin it to a word here and there and believe we have spoken. It is maddening. So we have craftsmen and women who work to release the interior world. But, they must make do with words. They take what they can get.

My son once let go of a helium balloon and it lifted quickly into the sky. We are like the air in that balloon. Air in air, little and incomprehensibly vast, waiting to burst. Frantically naming the world before we do. What are words but air compressed through pipes, over chords, nudged with a tongue through a cavity? But they signify the world.

The last words mother spoke were garbled. The tubes distorted her. The words travelled 6000km. One expects clarity to be compromised. The conversation haunts you still. It was to be the last. And you, her son, did not hear her. Is it worse not to hear or not to see? How deaf, how blind have you been to everything else? Now you overcompensate. Listening too hard and hearing what is not there. Seeing what is not there. Looking, the way a blind man looks for Braille. Cautiously, fumbling but determined. Like the day the ducks came (oh you make me smile). You were looking at the rain pock-pattern the pool. You were staring right at them but not seeing them until one moved and you saw it was not a shadow. The world was all shadows then. It still is. We had never had ducks land in our pool. Mother had never died before either, not physically, not as quietly. There it was. Death, then ducks in the rain. Your Braille. But you could not read it.

So, they weren’t just ducks after all, were they? We find ways to pull the dead back. So it is with the ducks. There were three of them. The following year they arrived again, stayed a short while and left. The year after that there was another death and they arrived. This year they arrived early, and stayed. No one has died yet. There are two of them. The first became Columbus. He must have taken a wrong turn. There are other, better bodies of water than our swimming pool. We fed them their daily bread but discovered even low carb bread is bad for them. Of the poultry feed (duck feed is unobtainable) they eat the corn, oats and barley but left the field peas (brown marbles that are now everywhere) and wheat. Though cautious, they would eat from my hand. The second one is Lady Godiva, though I suspect she is the he. Nevertheless, they are a pair, whatever they are. The dogs and cat accepted them, they paid little attention to them, except when they were fed and then hovered close by hoping to catch something they could eat.

Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, they are gone. Columbus and Lady Godiva, flown away with their names and everything. They were (do I say were or are?) Pacific Black Ducks, their proper name. As I say their names, Columbus and Lady Godiva, there is a sense of a relationship, a cosy illusion. Strange things ducks. They took to the air like mother and that balloon. Maybe that’s why I look up so much, there’s a history up there.

Thank you

Cheers

To all of you who read the pieces I write, thank you. Writing is a solitary thing and the process sometimes feels like being locked in an echo chamber. It makes a real difference knowing that at the end of the process you are going to read the words.

I sincerely appreciate your interest in my work.

A comment or hitting the like button reminds me that we share this process so don’t be shy.

Have a stupendous day.

Mike

insomnia on some near shore

In some near place of interminable wakefulness I walk the long grey shore of sleep, in some near place, insomnia. There where I wear my tongue as a tie pin, I wear it there since I have no further need of it.

Tongueless dialogues curl ceaselessly about me, strange voices, multitudinous waves beat a staccato indictment: you shoulda, coulda, didn’t; shoulda, coulda, wouda; didn’t, widn’t, isn’t. It is a brutal beach on which to wait for the dawn. It is not all froth and foam.

A white bull emerges from the waves and walks along the beach shrouded in soft mist that seems to sway just above the undulating waves. My mind begins to settle at the surreal beauty of this scene. I see Salvador curl and smooth the ends of his moustache with both hands as he sits lotus on an anteater while Marcel Duchamp descends a staircase not smoking a pipe and with theatrical flair extracts a pair of gold rimmed spectacles from his inside jacket pocket and throws them far away into the sea where a colossal, gilted faberge egg erupts from the waves and floats like a gleaming sun. He repeats the process and becomes a constantly throwing glitch.

Then, a movement to my right twists the ribbons of mist into a violent vortex and a minotaur armed with a curved dagger breaks the curtains of mist and thunders towards the bull.

The ground shudders. The tawny beast has the bull’s neck locked in its left arm and looking into it’s eyes it draws the knife across it’s throat and blood streams down onto the beach and turns the crashing waves pink. He lets the white body of the bull slump into the surf where it is rolled then swallowed by the sea. The minotaur turns and faces me. My mind runs but my body stays. Face to face with the beast I gape into the onyx pools of his eyes and find there, my self. The restrained anger of 50 years unleashed. The unspoken frustration at people’s unthought words swallowed for the sake of peace sits deep within, waiting, for years, decades, a lifetime, to rise up and then I smile, turn around free of thought of consequence and with the sun warm on my skin, I nudge myself awake.

So I slip to a different consciousness of crumpled bedding, cold dog’s noses and crows screaming outside and find myself returned to the world where Salvador is dead, anteaters are a continent away and bulls are slaughtered on an industrial scale for us to eat. We do not face bulls in any form except along the shores of our dreams. In some near place where we are centuries away from ourselves.

Mud

Everything carries simultaneously the potential for life and death. Soil fosters life and is the primary cause of war. Water sustains life, people drown in it. Water and soil make mud. Mud kills. On Earth, Vol. I

He is driving a car on a freeway into a city. Rather, the car engine drives, he chooses the direction. Not choice exactly, he must go there. He must present documents in order to finalise his citizenship. So, he chooses to comply in order to be recognised by the state in which he currently resides. Then there is the matter of the oath. He must swear fealty. Feudalism never died. There is, once again choice. He is spoiled for choice. He may swear allegiance to the Queen. This he will not do. That is out of the question. Or, he must swear allegiance to the state. Oath taking sticks in his throat. It angers him that he, serf like, must bow before some self important bureaucrat, probably bored of serving the endless queues of stateless, nameless people with their obsequious grins, who have come to pay homage at this shrine of national identity. He must shake off the rage that is building. He turns on the volume of the sound system and listens to Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats sing ‘Need Never grow old. He sways his upper torso in time to the music, lights a cigarette, opens the window, rolls the dial to full volume and feels free. This is what he thinks:

in something, in some thing there is located perhaps the thing that will liberate me from (from … what is it exactly that i seek liberation from?). It is this difficult to define thing but not a thing exactly … a frame of reference, a frame for the mind, a mindframe or a substance in which the mind sits, if it sits at all for we do not even know where it sits. Perhaps it reclines somewhere like a huge Matisse or Picasso or Modigliani or maybe it stands awkwardly, probably too skittish to stand still, probably pacing. But it feels like a substance. Like treacle … like mud. He has been in mud, crawled through it, yes, mud. It clings and makes heavy the lightest object. He once saw a buffalo dying in mud. He remembers it well. They crossed the bridge and looked down and there it was, lying to one side in the mud. Its eyes were rolling back into its head and its head was twisted at an unnatural angle, maybe locked from muscle spasms from trying to pull itself out. It tried to lurch forward but was sucked right back. There were some vultures idly watching, as patient as politicians and looking as benign. The kids were in the car asking what was going to happen. He’ll die. He said. The girls began to cry and his son became angry. Help him! He demanded. There’s nothing we can do. He said. Tie him to the back of the car. He responded that they had no tow rope, no tow bar, besides it was too dangerous. Why did you show us this? Why did you stop here? I hate you! They drove off in silence.

A song from his own childhood comes to him now, Lee Marvin’s sandpaper voice rubs itself against his inner ear to complete the memory,
I was born under a wandrin’ star
Mud can make you prisoner, and the plains can bake you dry
Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry
Home is made for comin’ from, for dreams of goin’ to

Statehood. Mustness. Mud. Fuck! he says out loud. The treadmill of freedom. Mud. Eventual stopper of blood.

Meditation on air

Ink is bleeding a Rorschach image onto the page where text should be. (Why should there be anything? This is something. At least there is this.)

handmade marks meander, he shifts his eyes to old light and breathes, as is his habit, borrowed air stale since Socrates, warm as flatulence. At least there is air.

The eyes in his skull close, as is their habit. Darkness closes the cluttered earth, its supermarket bounty.

Outside, it’s as brutal. The heat has turned the tops of the fern dry, water staunched. Crisp and dead. But at least he is still here, here he is being … , how shall we say this? He is entering the stasis of existence. The inkblot. The stain. He repeats these words:

I am being, … being.

Iamb bean.

Eye yam bean.

Why yam bean?

And so it goes, on and on and on

anon.

Meanwhile, it is always mean while, outside there is now a clear full moon lit night and you can hear the crickets but not the continent rip away beneath your feet. They have always been doing that. The continents. The crickets pulse so loudly you feel their sound inside you and continents move apart so slowly you don’t notice till you look back and nothing has changed for so long it seems that you are an eighty year old dream in the head of a seven year old kid falling asleep on his grandfather’s lap that smells of Old Spice and chicken pie. At least there are memories.

Memory is the residue of being. We call its residence, Self. Like a shelf for the soul. A sole shelf. A shelf. Remembering is sad theatre. Theatre performed by one for ghosts, but its got soul. He wrestles his memories. They become stronger, become demons,make him a stranger to himself. At least he has himself. We doubt, and so we become. (That seems to be the way it happens) What we become is the mystery. Maybe the mystery is only a word to describe that point of surrender. Maybe we have always been that which we become. Becoming is a stripping away. Doubt does that. Life too. You can sit in one place and life will find you and strip you to the bone.

Dubito ergo sum.

That is it. I am in that.

That I am, is being. That I feel, is being. That I think, is this being applauding on and on, anon.

At least there is that.

But what is it? I may as well breathe.

The Sisyphus pearl

Sisyphus polished rage pearled purple

with

iridescent layers of loss rough to the

touch. He did not heave

some slipping century smoothed,

huge knuckle crunching boulder,

but bent double around a

pocket-sized

stone of perpetual despair, a

reminder of gone people, gone things.

And poets pocket the same stones,

picked up

after placid crowds or from river beds

and

gardens where they were kissed and

from

gravestones and deconstructed

walls.

Who of us who hold them now have

not

filled our pockets on walks by the

river?

But, we carry them and carry on.

Flash Fiction: Mike Scallan’s “The Minotaur’s Memoir” – O:JA&L

http://ojalart.com/literary-arts/fiction/flash-fiction/flash-fiction-mike-scallans-minotaurs-memoir/

Afterwards, after words … (Carmen)

After you left, we all leave but you left early, I cried. We all did. Only because we loved your company, the presence of your life. Even when you weren’t around we knew you were there, somewhere. Here, there … do you see how difficult it is to locate you now. I think you will always be here but I do not fully understand where here is. You did not always have to be in my presence to be here. Here is a place in the heart of my mind, where it hurts. Can we call that place soul? Can anyone ever leave there? What does it mean to leave? I know others I have loved who left but still remain here. The whole world is still out there but very little of it is here. I never doubt it is not there even though I only ever see a small part of it at a time. It shall be the same with you I think. Always. After you went towards away, afterwards, we found language had failed us. All these years of using it every day and then …

This is how it failed us. I want you to know how because then you may understand why the world went quiet after you left. It was strangely wordless. In the hour after we received news of your going the house was so quiet. We heard the fridge hum and I had never heard it hum that loud in daylight. I walked over to it to see if something was wrong. There was something wrong, but not with the fridge.

It fails me now as I struggle to shift letters into words into a form worthy of you and words simply cannot do that. But they are all I have. And we have a need to share these things, we humans. We want to get the words right. You are worth the effort and at some point I will cease the bending and reshaping of this imperfect language and hope they reach you somehow. Then we shall go back to being quiet and polish our memories of you. I think you will shine.

The memories we have of you only reach a certain point and then they stop. We were all counting on there being more. This is a normal expectation, please do not be angry with us for that. Anger will visit us all. We will feel cheated by your early departure. But then, how sad you must have felt. We are sorry. We wanted to be able to fix things, like the humming fridge. We wish you had hummed. Maybe you did but in the daylight and the noises that come with it, we did not hear. We are sorry. Sorry is the word we use when the pain rises in our chest and up into our lungs creating such pressure that the place where we keep our language shrinks and leaves only a few essentials, the residue of life. This is usually emitted as a low hushing sigh. It is more a sound than a word and we fear the sound of it because against the memory of you stretched like the sky around us it feels pitiful, banal. When you hear the sound please hear it as all the love we can gather in one place as an offering of ourselves to you.

The memory that lingers for me is a montage of moments. It is what all of our lives are destined to become,

and somehow these are greater than words. You taught us something of value, presence is a beautiful thing. When we are present we do not need words, Words come afterwards, and after words, there is the beautiful memory of presence.

These streets

I have walked these streets before, but not here. I have seen these iron stairs, where fifty years of feet have cut the skins of paint from around a welded joint revealing contour lines of colour that expose bureaucratic flirtations with frivolity. Brave municipal souls signed off on yellow, cautious souls returned to gun metal blue, the current trend is industrial grey. These will be our Ozymandies, rusted steel and sky scraping nests where tomorrow’s scholars will speculate on the ritual function for those who travelled here with donations to their gods housed high above the ground in concrete slabs. What stories are layered here? Which hands have crafted this iron, placed it, cursed it, clung to it and from higher up how many displaced souls have jumped from it? How many commuters passed here in the morning with lovers at home and returned in the evening to unpacked cupboards? The metal stairs cut the sunlight into ribbons leaving only strips of shadow on the steaming tarmac below. I have seen that street dog. Wanted to be its friend but afraid it would bite, walked away before it could turn and leave me looking the fool. I have seen that dog everywhere. I have seen that beggar, heard the cock crow three times in every city. He gets around, that cockerel. I have felt eyes peel back my skin, make me translucent till i remembered no one cares and then become invisible again. Able once more to lose myself in the oil dispersing rainbows on wet streets where blues and purples run over greens with yellow nebula catching a trace of my current face. Here there is a long running symposium for lost souls. Everyone’s invited. There are always cigarette stumps stepped on and black from rubber and dirt, i have noticed them too, but not here. The smells are familiar. There is the occasional waft of rotting food carried in warm, nauseating currents fused with car exhaust fumes, excrement and fast food. When you smell these you hold your breath but cannot do that for long when you walk so you settle for short, quick inhalations and move to a busier road where gasoline and warm tarmac smells are welcome relief. I have seen the homeless man asleep on his cardboard, using a plastic bag stuffed with precious possessions as a pillow, but not here. The streets, the smells, the dogs, the people and the sounds follow me to Mumbai, Marakesh, Johannesburg, London, Beijing, Madrid, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Fremantle, Newcastle, Benoni and Jaipur. Perhaps i carry them with me. I used to yearn to travel. Strangers enjoy the greatest freedom. When you are unknown you can become anything. After two years you are invisible and people expect only the essentials from you, like breathing and presence.

Ode to an ash tray

Fellow vassel of need, honest companion,

We residue collectors, exiled together,

in this garden of earthly delights we incense air,

vassels of extinguished hope, heirs to the throne of desolation,

Vessel for the ash of my leisure

Little reminder of the end of pleasure

You hold my future,

Asher to ashes

It was fun while it lasted.

Long distance loss

Physical distance seems to amplify feelings of love and loss. In this world of instant everything we learn the hard way that live video chat does not substitute a relationship. It’s why books beat e-books, vinyl beats i-tunes and why a warm hug beats electromagnetic, pixelated internet talk. But, video chat is better than none. Sound waves beat no waves. Physical proximity may foster contempt. We take for granted who is closest to us, we expect them to be there always, like the stars and the moon. Then life happens and strips us clean of certainty. When you experience loss at close quarters it’s awful. Loss with the separation of oceans is numbing and with little to hold onto we clench our fists and breathe the hurt deep down into ourselves. There is nowhere else for it to go. This is the migrants lot. Three of us in our small circle of friends have each lost a parent. We have had to co-ordinate visits with relapses in health and where travel used to be about seeing new places it has become about saying goodbyes, seeing up close the people we love whom we know we shall never see again. When a mother or father we love dies, we are physically and emotionally stranded and loss is amplified by guilt and regret. We new it would be hard, and it is.

Death is only one of the difficulties of migration, forging new identities is the other. We embrace the new country that has opened itself to us while mourning the one on whose soil we were born. We should be accustomed to death when it comes. We have practiced loss. But losing people is not a rehearsal and proximity does not ease the pain. Near or far the distance death cleaves between us is interminable. Maybe the pain of it for us trans-continental mourners is that we mix into our grief the echo of the migrants chorus ” you ran away”, ” you took the easy way out”. However, I remember it was a slow walk. The slowest of walks, almost a shuffle. We all run, it’s only the direction that differs. Some run forward despite the cost, some run backwards, despite the cost.

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What is a poem?

Words. Life distilled. The endless returns, returned to one last time. The furry creature in a dark room trapped. It is a hunt. It is the aah yes in the surest, quietest place of self, located somewhere between the toe and the brain, that the condition of life is now forever changed and then the compulsion to set out the truth of that in words. To say for oneself something true for the first time. To locate an original idea and attach to it words. Words. To write for oneself. To write oneself into the event of life. Because in the beginning were words and I am not yet ended. It is learning to look. To trace in the creased linen of the bed sheet the valleys and hills of one’s being. It is a reason to find reason to continue, if only to watch dead leaves and breathe softer in the trudge.

It is archival for the soul. The soul’s bridge home from the toothless, friendless age. It is a note to self (a parenthesis in everydayness in which i say what i did not know i knew). It is the breathe of the soul spoken. The unutterable uttered. It is the deep yes, the womb where words first find form. It is the why of our woes and bliss. It is the eternal isness of a thing stepping into the light. A closing of the eyes to see.

Meditation on a chair

I sit outside on a wrought iron chair. It is deliberately aged in accordance with current trends. I too am somewhat aged, not deliberately but in accordance with the law of entropy which governs all atomic structures. It is neither trendy nor aesthetic. But it is. Being is like this chair in that both are wrought. The adjective wrought means beaten out or shaped by hammering. We are hammered into form, we people and our chairs. Iron is only malleable when heated. Metal hardens when it is cooled directly after being heated. This process is called tempering. We too are tempered. We are quickly passionate when young and the accompanying energy fires us to act. If we are fortunate, like Samuel Beckett, we have fire in our bellies in our late years. But often the heat is lost in the hammering. As cool air nips at my bare feet I feel the fire of ideas inside me and smile. Sitting outside is good still. A flock of cockatoos scratch the blue sky and are gone. This chair, those birds have demanded a response. This is how words are wrought, then written. I will hammer out the form from the fire within. 

The certainty of being

The tendril forces itself out from the stem. Its unyielding fisted coil will conquer this wall. It will push against anything that comes between itself and the next moment. I am in awe of  its unbending vigour. This is certainty of being. Some people seem to have it too.

A trellis has been sunk into the soil to guide it. Thin bamboo sticks held together with bits of wire. But the plant, done with guidance and the polite shootings of its youth, grows prolifically. Nothing will stop it. If this plant has consciousnessness, I wish I could hear its thoughts and learn from it. How does something proceed with such certainty from itself? Is there a voice in nature I have not yet heard? Am I not a part of nature. I am a being in nature? Is this nature, this suburban garden. I wish my nature were more certain of itself, like this sap gorged tendril rigidly, gently finding the crevices it will fill and claim. What precedes being?

If you repeat the word “certainty” over and over again, holding it in your mind with the hope that the repetition locks onto a deeper sense of its meaning, the word begins to feel and sound strange on the tongue. It then sounds more like a self contained sneeze than a sign pointing to self-assurance. It is like this with most words, these utterances we load with meaning and where variously positioned and stressed, mean different things.

We are flesh that has found words. Like the plant creeping across the trellis, we wind our thoughts around moments and push on. We are not certain of where we’re going , only that we go.

a chaos theory

Considering the violence of the cosmos and the catostrophic soup from which we have crawled, we ought not to be alive. Yet here we are, skimming the edge of disaster at 110 000 kph. We are close to nothing, dodging asteroids while trapped in the orbit of a nuclear fusion factory (over 6 billion nuclear explosions every second) we affectionately refer to as the Sun. In physics chaos refers to the unpredictability of a complex system. In everyday life it describes disorder, confusion or turmoil. It is the air we breathe and we are better at dealing with it than we think. It’s just a pity we only trust politicians to guide us through it. We need to take back that responsibility.

Humans have survived against all odds and instead of embracing life, the singular substantial commonality, we seem intent on obliterating one another and the planet that has nurtured us. If we don’t survive the next 100 years we don’t deserve to be here. The experiment of life on this planet will have failed. Disaster and promise, like cosmic exhalation and inhalation are present every moment. There is enough of either for everyone, more than enough. The universe is big. Earth on the other hand is relatively small. A lovely little sphere run through with faultlines that give texture to its surface. The most destuctive flaws on the planet are not the natural ones but the man made ones evident primarily in the way we conduct politics. If we do not learn to stop giving power to fools then we must suffer the consequences. You have a greater chance of encountering death by falling out of bed or off a chair than being shot by a terrorist. Fear appears to have become the politicians best friend.

If we are fortunate and we have the luxury of peace and relative normality away from the condition of being bombed, then we are obliged to nurture hope. One way of doing this is through self education. Ignorance is not an option any more, it is no excuse. We owe it to ourselves to discover our own hope, not the brand any one else offers us.

Something remarkable happens when people are backed into a corner. I reckon humanity will surprise us yet.

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