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Chapter 10 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, published by All Things That Matter Press
PJ was wearing a tan turtleneck sweater and peaked white hat, álà Vincent Van Gogh. We seized an empty bench in Washington Square Park. Nearby, a woman had spread a blanket. Her older son was playing at the fountain’s edge and the younger one was crawling on the blanket toward him. The little one reached out and picked up a piece of broken glass.
His mother grabbed him and slapped his hand. The glass fell to the sidewalk and the boy screamed with rage as she placed him back on the blanket.
PJ acted as if he had seen nothing, but I felt him recoil when the child screamed. “That child was amiable when he was born,” PJ said after a moment. “He felt no guilt. Until someone slapped his hand and said, No, don’t do that. And he felt hostility for the first time.”
“He is angry,” I replied. “But he shouldn’t pick up glass.”
“Better that he is angry at the glass if he gets cut.”
The older boy came running to see what happened. He taunted his screaming brother and gave him a shove.
“You sit down,” the mother shouted. “Both of you behave.”
“Hostility is punished,” PJ observed. “He will learn to mask it with amiability. A laugh or a smile, a joke or a flattering word. After this, there will never be a time of complete amiability again.”
The mother and children were leaving and we watched them pass by the bench.
“The little one is beginning to make up his own intuitive program. He builds up an unconscious memory bank of positive and negative experiences. You see, now that we have computers, it can be compared to a computer, because the programmer puts in what can be taken out. And soon, we act and react with either amiability or hostility to any situation. It’s just—” He snapped his fingers, “yes or no, pro or con.”
“We react positively or negatively,” I said.
“If a child’s experiences evoke hostility and guilt for the most part, then the intuitive actions and reactions may become more often hostile than amiable.”
“I can see that.” And vice versa. Amiability: that was a desirable goal.
“And it’s already done before we know it. Most of us rationalize it afterward, even if it’s not necessary.” He smiled. “We may even come up with the right reason.” Then, reflectively, “We can’t bear the possibility of guilt, or we have so much built up, we respond with rationalization.”
PJ stood up slowly, steadying himself, and we walked back to his abode. In the following days I asked more about the “building of the intuition.”
“The cause of hostility is guilt,” he said. “And guilt is the absence of innocence, the feeling of being wrong. This sense of not being innocent is, for a reason I’ve not been able to discover, unacceptable to human beings. A person must perceive himself as innocent. He can do no wrong.”
“In The Fall,” I recalled, “Camus wrote that the ‘idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature, is the idea of his innocence.’ He said we insist on being innocent at all cost, even if we have to ‘accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.’”
“And so, Erin, we must believe our intentions are never hostile. The motives and consequences of our behavior are explained away, rationalized away in painstaking detail. Guilt is never allowed to remain in the consciousness.”
“I think you can admit you’ve done something wrong.”
“Nobody can admit to himself that he is wrong, ever. And I’ll tell you why. As you said, it’s because a human being cannot survive, I don’t know why, but he cannot survive without perceiving himself as completely innocent.”
He was sitting by his desk, the bright sun misting the ancient window and his white hair. “You see, the first compromise, a rational compromise, a child makes with what he knows is wrong—if there is such a thing as right and wrong—is not a very violent one. He doesn’t have to make a violent compromise because all he has to do is get around one contradiction. But as the contradictions of life pile up, he has to make more rationalizations.”
He elaborated, “What he learns about harming himself or other people, he may build up to a justification of harming other people, or he builds up a defense of it and a pretense of amiability. So when it comes to action and reaction, he has no moral control of what he does or says. Because it’s always done before he knows it and he has to rationalize it afterward.”
PJ picked up his glasses and shuffled through some papers. “You see, it’s rationalizing guilt that takes so much time out of most people’s lives. Because guilt has to be rationalized, it has to be put away, it has to be quieted down meticulously.”
“It’s an interesting idea …”
“When justifications and rationalizations have gone so far by the time a person reaches age twenty, he begins to wonder if he couldn’t be wrong.”
I smiled, remembering PJ had come to the Village at that age.
“But nevertheless, he’s got to be right. So then he begins twisting, he will switch around and hop around and do anything to keep from knowing he really is hostile.”
“We become conscious of our guilt.”
“No, conscience is a conscious matter, but guilt … the point is there is no guilt in the consciousness of the average person. They are saturated with repressed guilt. Until a person’s intuition becomes overloaded with guilt and hostility. In this case rationalizing becomes necessary, a way of life.”
I told him he was using words that needed to be defined.
He thought their definition was clear, but was now trying to clarify them. “To define intuition is difficult,” he answered. “The intuition’s fragments of memory and images never become conscious.”
“And what is rationalization?”
“Rationalization is the use of reason to make one seem innocent to oneself. Actually, rationalization distorts motives and behavior to make them seem innocent to the rationalizer. You see, no one knows, or can admit, that one’s intent is but good, and we lose as we rationalize any sense of what we’re doing. We lose this sense because we reverse hostility to a pretense of amiability. Many people have laid lie upon lie, compromise upon compromise, so they no longer know whether their motives are amiable or hostile.”
What a horror. Are we this imprisoned? “But is rationalization the only way to deal with guilt?”
Laurel visited her Grandmother Wing
in Nokomis, a town with several bays
and three bridges; the house two stories
with wide windows on a concrete road
and a fountain in the circle
On the front porch her grandmother waited
stooped but keen-eyed;
Laurel felt her cool arthritic palm
As sunlight blazed beyond Venetian blinds
highlighting antiques and Oriental rugs
to match the tapestry of her exotic garden;
crystal and china shone in measured light;
and overhead fans kept the rooms cool
Aunt Ida fussed about the house:
Do you get bored here alone all day?
With an enigmatic smile Grandma Wing said:
Oh no, I read my books and newspapers;
I think and I daydream.
At my age those are the things I do best;
and in the evenings my neighbors
come over to play bridge; Grandma Wing
picked up a travel book: My next trip;
and sometimes, you know, I stay at my beach bungalow.
Laurel saw the joys and sorrows of a long life
imprinted on her grandmother’s face
when she sat by a window’s sunspot;
and Laurel settled in with her for a game
of double solitaire
Grandma Wing asked her:
Why don’t you stay for the weekend?
I would like to have you here.
Laurel sighed: I have to get home;
I have to do my homework.
Can’t you bring it here?
Laurel nodded yes, and the old woman rose
from her wing chair, striding to the door:
Help me in the garden; a delicate aroma
of tropical flowers washed over them
I want to stay with you, Laurel thought of days
in this garden; backlit by water-dappled clouds
Grandma Wing said: You keep saying,
you have to do this, you have to do that;
listen: the only thing you have to do is die.
On Mulberry Ranch, Will and Sandy tossed a ball
back and forth outside Shadow’s cabin
while Mira gathered wildflowers
Will held the ball a moment:
I was thinking how Shadow healed himself
and became meek.
Sandy smiled, but before he could answer
a blue plane with white markings flew above them,
circled the cabin and landed on a dirt strip;
Mira read the name written on the fuselage:
Morris Rubra climbed from the pilot’s seat
and Sandy ran his hands along the plane:
Mira joined them and said to Morris Rubra:
I want to fly; and Morris Rubra nodded his assent:
I’ll take you up if your father says it‘s all right.
Two days later, with her father next to Morris Rubra,
Mira strapped into the back seat
and held on as the plane taxied down a runway,
floated toward banks of clouds, surged up
and roared into sun-washed sky
She looked down to see mats of rain-fed forest
and pointillist fields interlaced with ranches,
citrus groves and small towns
The Gulf of Mexico telescoped in;
Mira saw sea melding seamlessly into sky:
Do you ever want to come down?
Morris Rubra admitted: I live to fly, day or night,
and often at night I’m alone in the sky;
and then I feel I’m flying through a divine mind.
Mira pointed to a wide glaze of water
spilling from the horizon: What’s that?
Morris Rubra banked the plane:
Tampa Bay. A fellow here was the first
to fly at night in 1911
There’s been a lot of changes since then;
Morris Rubra righted the plane: Like the Cubans;
he glanced at Mira’s father:
The Cubans are fiercely independent;
they fought Spain for their country.
When the bay city rolled into view
he pointed as Mira craned her neck:
Do you see that old fort? Osceola was there;
some of my people fought him;
And lost, her father replied
Morris Rubra laughed and Mira blurted out:
I’d like to learn to fly;
The pilot began the turn for home:
You come back when you’re 14;
I want you to see what’s out here.
To read Children of the Moon, The Prologue, click here
From there you can read the following chapters.
Black snakes lounged on jalousie windows
dozing until evening to dine
on the raucous chir-chirr-chir-ring tree frogs
Mira worked with her father in the garden
sunlight flying down in soft arrows,
imbedding in the flesh of the air
Heat murmured, a murmur she heard
near the ground among marigolds and lilies
and her father’s favorite roses
She listened for her white and brown terrier:
Solis, he might be hurt;
she looked around: Or lost in the woods;
Him? her father replies, Lost?
Mira weeded among the light green leaves
and aromatic white clusters of shell ginger,
and Solis trotted through the side yard
He passed white-eyed purple bougainvillea;
a multicolored jewel necklace hanging
from his jaws
Dropping it at her side he waited for praise;
What is that? her father jumped to his feet
A coral snake, Mira said;
Not likely, her father looked closer:
Oh, it is.
A metallic whirring caught their attention
as a mosquito truck rolled down the street,
fog coursing from its sprayers
Sprinting into the house, Mira called Solis
and he followed; her sisters and brothers
already closing all the windows and doors
Setting off in the morning, carrying penknives,
canteens and mess kits, Mira, Will, Laurel
and Sandy followed an asphalt road;
waves of heat created mirages of lakes
always ahead on the black adhesive strip
Sandy showed them coins of tar
on the soles of his sneakers
and they passed a great blue heron
lying by the side of the road, glistening
feathers dulled by dust and dried blood
Crossing a roadside ditch, they each
left a footprint in the crusted mud to mark
where they entered the woods
An indigo snake scaled the parched lips
of the ditch, seeking shelter in the grass;
bright yellow mullein flowers shocked
the evergreen and palmetto
in dashes of sunlight and dots of shade
Mira suggested: Let’s go to the fire tower;
and they pounded down paths
through sand blackberry
The palmettos thinned out, fan-like leaves
theatrical against the backdrop of sand-plain;
in a scattering of scrub pine, some lower branches
drying and barren of needles,
they scanned for fossils
Climbing to the top of the fire tower
they surveyed a thickening web of forest;
an eagle picked up from the horizon
and as it spiraled above them
they lifted their eyes to its broad level wings
A path ran back into the forest
and along the way, they found seed pods
and wild raspberries; quartered light fell
on deep-green nightshade
and blue dusky palmetto
At noon, they rested on cool layers
of pine needles and shared their food
as the needles glowed russet-gold
Sandy said: I would like to live in a log cabin
far out in the woods with a friend or two;
you can make everything, grow your own food.
Mira said: I’ve thought about living on my own;
and visualized her grandmother’s people:
That’s what Seminole means:
Breaking away. Renegade. To me
it means free.
To read Children of the Moon: The Prologue, click here
You can follow the links from there at the bottom of each chapter’s page.
Chapter 9, Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press
In the daily paper I read that the Spanish street singer we had seen in the Village square had been arrested for playing music on the street and was being defended by a civil rights attorney. There was no mention of Fleetwood. We assume the worst: they’ve put him away for good.
We were all going to an outdoor café. PJ was looking forward to it. Rogue had invited another woman, Flower, to join us, and PJ immediately was not happy with that arrangement.
“It breaks up the group,” he said.
Flower was a social worker Rogue had met, and I assumed his new girlfriend. At dinner, she talked about her work and I wondered if Rogue had brought her to help us with PJ.
After dinner, we left for a party at Jake’s bookshop and PJ chose to go home, alone.
His letter arrived a day later.
“The old man chose to go home and work on the big project alone. He worked until after midnight, couldn’t sleep and woke early but alive and singing. Yet, despite the fine waking, the old man was still full of resentment of the night before. He went to see Bard at lunch time and the young man met him with a little repressed rancor. But here seemed to be an understanding, that Bard was free of dependency on the old man, and so was the old man, free.”
“Bard?” I squirmed in the old rickety chair, feeling an aversion to giving Rogue this name, obviously not in a complimentary but sarcastic way.
PJ said that Rogue had two sides. One was Bard, his parent’s son, and the other was Rogue, the gentle imaginative poet we both knew. Bard was competitive, insecure and hostile, and was out to destroy everything Rogue tried to do. PJ said he had, over the years, refused to fulfill Rogue’s need for a surrogate father and accept Rogue’s feelings of inferiority or need to compete with him. He felt that Rogue’s dependence on him and his hostility toward him mimicked Rogue’s relationship with his parents, something he did not want to replicate.
“I think Rogue needs you to encourage rather than criticize him.” Not to mention that was what I was looking for.
“I am willing and able to do this,” PJ said.
But, I thought, your analysis and verbal exchanges can sometimes be too cold and even hurtful.
Rogue published a chapbook of his own work for the Book Fair.
PJ was working on a piece called Love. He hoped to have it ready for the fair.
In the Love booklet, he began with a statement, followed by three characteristic dots to give the reader and himself time for contemplation:
Love is a delusion … God was love in the Biblical version of the word. But the Bible made the natural feelings and condition of love in a sexual relationship a sin, and men had lived in fear of burning in hell’s fire through eternity for all men sinned against the holy ghost when they performed a totally natural act of disseminating the accumulated seed of life, a biological necessity.
After the dark ages of wars of conquest, the intellectual leaders of the world, made possible by the invention of printing, had introduced romance as an idea that might mitigate in human consciousness the guilt and fear of sex.
The Golden Age of Romance had begun in most Western countries by 1800. Most human decadence had begun by 1830. By 1830 the intellectual leaders, having had accepted their compromise of romantic love, had begun to be taken over by civilization and the exploiters of romantic love.
He went on to write that “endless volumes had been devoted, considerations and re-considerations” until those who wanted to control people came up with a concept of romance. “Love the four-letter word became the justification of the three letter word.”
So that’s why he called “love” an obscene word.
“Romance and ribaldry,” he wrote. “There were ages after 1500 when writers made fun of the sin of sex.”
The religious powers, though, saw the danger of this, he said, and worked to stop these kinds of novels and essays. Writers and book publishers were important in promulgating these ideas, after the fall of nobility and the rise of the merchant class when books began to be available to many, and publishers found a way to exploit this.
“Sentimentality based on the delusion of romance was very popular. Love was a deception and a vain attempt to make existence in the world bearable.”
The 1930s and the Depression brought an end to love as romance. Sexual mores were shattered by women who tried to make their unemployed men feel virile, though they could not support themselves in slavery.
In the 1940s and 50s women were gaining equality in work. This started to remove material dependency of women on men. So where was love, and what was a man to do with his sexual needs?
By the end of the 1940s, after surviving material bankruptcy and a formalizing war, many Americans hoped to restore the country to a nostalgic order, but they didn’t know that the foundation for such a world had been blasted away.
I sighed. His work was a mixture of nonsense and brilliance. And how derisive he was. He must have been hurt badly.
This booklet took a long time to type and print. Jake typed it, but PJ said it was on the wrong size paper and would not reduce to the size of the booklet he had in mind. PJ then asked me to type it and I did, very slowly, because I found myself opposed to the words and ideas.
I told him, “It’s too full of generalizations and I don’t like generalizations.”
He answered that he had ended it with a new definition of love. I went back to work, curious.
At the age of 72 or 74, the writer began to work on the idea of the future of love, after feeling and professing a strong delusion of love and romance for more than fifty years. People were not fooled, after all. Not because the delusion was not the greatest invention of its time, in all the world, but because the concept could not stand the helter skelter of civilization. As the idea of romantic love became more popular, and valuable, it was exploited and the exploiters made it sex and made it ridiculous for even greater profits.
He engaged in “ensearch,” his word for studying his stream of consciousness, for the answer. This study of his stream of consciousness would lead to universal truths.
A year and a half after this ensearch, he came to a new understanding: the world’s hope for survival depends on a new concept—amiable affection.
He said he had not been able to know the true worth of a woman when he was young and so full of hormones he could not relate except sexually. He had not been able to know or love a woman until he was older, past middle age and with a heart condition, practically a eunuch, although he remained emotionally and mentally sexually active; only then had he discovered the value of knowing a woman.
This gave me an amazing sense of relief in our relationship.
While I worked on PJ’s writing, organizing and typing, Rogue came by to visit. He and I agreed that PJ’s press release for the booklet was bizarre and almost unintelligible.
It was good to see Rogue getting back to his own work. Since I became his assistant at the Poetry Celebration, he had more time for it. It seemed The Company was working out for our mutual benefit, and would find its form in time.
A box turtle feasted on the berries,
leathery neck stretched out to reach
the lowest clustered branches
Laurel and Sandy picked berries,
washing them in a stream, and Laurel said:
I want to take all of them home.
My aunt is learning to cook Southern food;
she’s enchanted with the Florida lifestyle.
Sandy took off his shirt: Here, use this;
and they laughed as they wrapped the fruit;
Laurel led him across her lawn: Come with me;
but placing a hand on his bare chest,
Laurel smiled at him: They won’t mind.
A woman flashed to the door, a platinum blonde
in frosty make up: Come in. Look at this.
She held a carrot-colored concoction:
Sweet potato casserole.
This is Sandy, Aunt Ida, Laurel said,
and she placed the shirt-wrapped fruit and berries
on the kitchen counter; Aunt Ida ran her hands
through Laurel’s unruly hair: Thank god
your grandmother thought of us.
Laurel and Sandy sat on the screen porch;
My mother died, and my father wasn’t able
to take care of me, she told Sandy;
Grandma Wing came up to get me,
and now my aunt and uncle have custody.
Mira’s home was suspended in a wave of light,
the tar paper roof sizzled and bubbled into blisters;
her father revved up the jeep:
We’re going to see your grandmother,
I want you to meet her.
In Fort Myers, they drove by parades of royal palms
and white bands of sidewalks on broad avenues,
date palms and flowering spires of yucca,
scalloped emerald lawns of St. Augustine grass,
and the winter palaces of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford
Her father looked grim: Fort Myers was born in the heat
of the Seminole Wars, in a garrison town
on the south bank of the Caloosahatchee River
Ponce de León landed on an island near here;
the Calusa were waiting and fought the Spanish,
sending them back to Puerto Rico;
Mira studied his face: So that was it?
He went on quietly: That was just the beginning
Ponce de León sailed to Spain to seek
permission to conquer Florida;
he returned with more soldiers,
the Calusa watched until they began to build villages
and then they attacked
Ponce de León was wounded by an arrow
and sailed away to Cuba
where he died a few days later
And that was the beginning and the end;
the Calusa were killed by war and disease;
years later the Seminoles came to this place.
In the 1830s and 40s, Mira’s father continued,
the federal government built a ring of forts
around the last of the Seminoles
The soldiers destroyed villages, killing many
and capturing women and children,
sending them to the hills of Oklahoma
One day, a hurricane drove the army
from the Caloosahatchee, but local people
were encouraged to ignore the treaty
and to move into Seminole territory;
soldiers retired and stayed on
Cattle ranching began to grow
and ranchers brought beef into port
at Punta Rassa; in the early 1900s the rich
began to build mansions
and snowbirds found a winter haven.
But in reality
we are still here.
When Mira came face to face
with her grandmother, she sat by her father
in the shade of sprawling live oaks
dipping into the mirror of a lake
creating a tranquil but lively darkness
The old woman said softly:
I cannot shelter everyone
but for many my sanctuary is lasting;
I place my roots in the earth
and rise graceful and wide;
my hands sing in the wind
as I embrace the air, birds fly from my hair,
and rain makes me stronger;
I am alive in all seasons;
my head rises high, but my roots
grow deep into the grain
To read Children of the Moon, The Prologue, click here
From there, you’ll be able to read the next chapter and so on.
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 6: Renegade, click here
Illustration by Forrest S. Clark
Leila Payson, known to her students and friends as Miss Pacer, is always pushing the boundaries of her own experience, to become a better teacher and human being. She enjoys her work as a high school Social Studies teacher, and her adventures with her diverse friends. But Leila is at a midpoint in her life. When one of her students begins to lose his hearing, she immerses herself in learning about people with disabilities and the challenges they face. This takes her back to an earlier time in her life when she spent a year teaching in South Africa. There she met the extraordinary Baruti, an occupational therapist. Now, years later, when the student asks for her help, she begins a pivotal journey. Beside this, a mysterious man keeps appearing at her favorite places. And at Leila’s high school, a young guidance counselor sees Leila as a mentor, while the other counselor views her as a rival. Trouble is brewing in the paradise of South Miami, but so are new possibilities.
Publication date: TBA. Publisher: All Things That Matter Press.
Sandy watched a brightly-decorated train
trundle by, carrying circus animals;
a slow-moving wave of tigers, lions, elephants,
camels, llamas and horses, painted vividly
on the cars; as if a dream passing by
After the fanciful caboose cleared the crossing,
he was surprised to see a girl his age
magically appear on the other side;
he walked over the tracks to her:
I’m Sandy. Are you new here?
Laurel Wing, the girl answered;
and in her hair Sandy saw the fire of red maples,
in her skin white birch, and in her eyes
Where were you going now?
Laurel replied, I am new here
and I’m just walking around
to see where I am.
He indicated the way: There’s a town
with a store, a gas station, and a school;
and when she hesitated to follow him,
he said: Okay, then
and started off on his own
Wait, she asked and he turned back around;
Can we just stay around here?
They don’t want me to go too far,
I’m living with my aunt and uncle;
and she pointed toward the home
Sandy checked the sky: Gonna rain;
when they began to walk together a short way,
Laurel kept her distance:
I’m from the hills of Tennessee, she told him,
and I feel like I’ve lost my boundaries.
She recalled a land of ups and downs:
attics and cellars, and mountains smoldering
with bursts of redbud, dogwood and mountain laurel;
and Sandy could see when he looked into her eyes
all of this landscape
Sandy and Laurel and Will and Mira
visited Shadow and traveled to and from school;
they were the three, really, four Musketeers
Crossing a field by a stand of pines one day
Mira jumped aside, and Laurel and the boys
slid to a stop, all eyes riveted to a coiled rattler
camouflaged behind a delicate fringe
of Indian coontie and saw palmetto
The snake wavered in limbo between attack
and staying close to her tiny young
winding around one another,
inspecting the edge of the nest;
Mira stepped back and the snake veered away
In the field where a line of pines jutted into sky
a bald eagle, blue black wings, white head
and a quiver of white tail feathers,
gripped a branch with large yellow talons
watching them with hooded eyes
A huge nest floated in the tallest pine
below a widespread canopy
by the edge of a burnished auburn field
The eagle spread its wings, swooping down
over the field, white and black feathers shining;
they watched it soar up to fly toward the river;
Laurel asked Mira: How do you say eagle in Spanish?
and Mira told her: Aguila.
Evening came, and in a dream
Laurel led a group into the wilderness
to look for eagles
As time passed without a sighting,
many were discouraged, but as they were walking
the ground began to tremble:
and Laurel sensed the eagles’ beating wings
triggered the rumbling in the land
The group moved forward again
and the trembling grew until it seemed the earth
would break open
Let’s go on, Laurel implored them:
The eagles have promised they will come;
the promise was in the land, the sky and the dream
Coming onto a plateau with views in every direction,
the group saw a solitary eagle rise from the horizon,
flying in an elliptical arc, in the eternal present
The eagles coasted across the sky filling their sight,
one after another in a dance of flight:
they changed formations and patterns
and transformed into a multitude of colors
The rumbling in the earth grew louder
and some of the group ran from the field;
the earth cracked open across their path;
Laurel and the others heard their cries
as they stood on the brink
Laurel and her group raced toward them, hoping
all could jump across before the chasm was too wide;
but with a roar a wide canyon opened its mouth;
the explorers huddled at the divide:
How do we get back home? Will we survive?
In slow motion one by one they were in the air
and Laurel saw them land on the far side;
she was unsure if they were flying on their own
or being lifted by the eagles,
when she felt herself take flight
At her home, Mira rose from dreams of sailing,
and when she opened the door, the sky
flew away like a wing
She dressed in second-hand clothes
and hearing her mother move about escaped
to the yard to watch her father leave the house,
pulling up his collar to ward off the storm
following at its own pace, sure of its power
After Kissing Mira on the forehead
Mr. Apaksi jumped into his battered jeep;
a cloud of dust curled across the yard
As he sped away, there was a change
from one level of quiet to another,
a shift of light as the heat creaked
and fluttered, lifting and falling,
like a sail in a fitful breeze
All the plants, trees and grass
gave off a heavy stifling aroma,
lingering like the smoke of gun blasts
Mira followed a road around the swamp
and she heard Will’s voice as she approached
the boy’s rambling ranch home,
where giant branches of live oaks touched down
and then soared up again into new trees
After lunch, Will led a stallion into the corral,
and swung into the saddle;
Sandy sat on the fence as ranch hands gathered;
Watch this, Will said to Mira
and the crowd along the fence began to murmur
The chestnut horse stood eerily at an angle,
head tilted back; in the bat of an eye
the horse rocketed off the ground,
back arched, suspended in air,
sun-fishing into the sky
The stallion came down without its rider;
Will, arms out-flung, plunged down;
teeth chattering, stars wheeling in his eyes;
he struggled to his feet, hands covered in dirt
and blood, transfixed by the clarity of the world
Will and Sandy’s mother, a champion rider
promptly ended the impromptu rodeo,
taking Will inside for first aid
while Sandy walked the horse to the stable
to brush him down
In the golden hour Mira loped home;
twilight winked and in a blink of her eye
the sun was gone
Mira ran along the railroad tracks,
her feet landing squarely on the wooden ties:
in the darkness, she could not see
where she was going,
she just knew
To read Children of the Moon, The Prologue click here
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 1: The River’s Eye, click here
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 2: Shadow, click here
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 3: Mulberry Ranch, click here
From the Myakka the swamp flooded away
in all directions, and in the river’s eye the ghost
of Ponce de León wandered in search of immortality
Within the swamp Will and Sandy found dry ground
on an island of live oak and cabbage palm
filled with the shadows of Seminoles
seeking refuge from U.S. soldiers;
and they walked on to forge a new path
By a marsh dotted with yellow eyes:
each flower on a single stem of tall grass,
a stream overflowed its margin,
and high in cypress trees maroon orchids
fell toward perfect reflection
The brothers rested on an oak’s undulating limbs;
Sandy lifted his head at tweaking vines:
a phone ringing in the wilderness;
when he eased aside moss and myrtle
creatures revolved away, perturbed:
Wood roaches the size of his palm,
spongy growths leaving bands of slime,
furls and curls of ridged lichen,
parasites often unseen by experienced eyes,
and creatures from early evolutionary time
Mira’s white shirt gave her away
and she climbed into the old oak with Will;
Sandy jumped down and leapt into the cypress,
calling from a tangle of wax myrtle:
Here’s another way to the trail.
With an eye out for poison ivy’s toxic fringe
the little group came again to the old Indian trail
and in time to the shell mound
where Will dug into a quavering layer of debris
and held up sun-scorched oyster shells
Mira let run through her fingers
a handful of whelk and mussel shells,
pearls of an ancient time
Through pink trunks of stopper trees
and limber branches of pine acacia, the children
rambled down the hidden path
Above the lazy river and cruising alligators,
they saw on overhanging branches,
flashes of great white egrets, serene patches
of little blue herons, swatches of roseate spoonbill,
safe from raccoons and other predators
The little boat was resting in a bed
of spear-shaped leaves; a gator snoozed
in the shade and a row of red-bellied turtles
decorated a fallen tree trunk:
each rivaling Monet’s lilypads in the water
Treading lightly by wraithlike spider lilies
the three climbed into the boat, pushing off
with a dull clunk of oars echoing downriver;
in a panorama of marsh and sky,
they were centered in the heart of the Myakka
They hid the boat on the far shore, in reeds
by a pasture crisscrossed by wooden fences
crowned with barbed wire
Mulberry Ranch, Sandy murmured, as he led them
to a crêche of longleaf pine and laurel oak
and in this shelter a small wood cabin
Will bent his knees as a black-white-and-red arrow
flash-jetted between the trees;
Pileated woodpecker, boomed a voice,
and the children swung around:
Shadow’s face twisted into a smile
as he waved to them; they sat in the shade
to hear his stories of long ago:
of tiny three-toed horses, wooly camels
and very, very unusual mammals
While they were listening a man came
riding up on a golden Palomino:
So these are your rescuers, he said to Shadow,
as he dismounted; thanks to you all
I have a new caretaker of these lower pastures.
Will defiant and awestruck asked: Your ranch?
The man smiled at the children and answered:
My eyebrows are bushy, my gaze
dense with thought, intensely wrought;
my shoulders droop and arms sway
and while my hands are as pointed
as the tip of my tongue,
mother’s milk runs through my veins;
my joy spikes minute and myriad
to herald the fruits of my labor,
but these are yours to eat
And then he said: Mira Apaksi, I know your father,
we served in the war together;
he tipped his hat to all: Morris Rubra, a comrade
in harm’s way; laughing, he added:
And now a lawyer; I defend the hopeless.
Morris Rubra walked with Shadow to the cabin
and spoke to him before riding away
with a cheerful wave to all
Around them clouds were blowing up
in soundless explosions; and heading home
they deftly steered the boat across the river
Weaving their way through frothing elderberry,
they hopped a ditch to a shifting border
of sand and limestone beside a two-lane road
searing through a green landscape;
heat flash-fired their shoes on the blistering blacktop
They ducked through a pasture fence,
scrambling up a gravel incline to railroad tracks
curving by a flurry of trees;
the tracks vaulted over a steep-sided creek,
a lean wiry stream draining Florida’s wounds
Will and Mira placed pennies
on the dusky bronzed metal tracks
before moving onto the trestle’s crossties;
a wolf-mimicking cry ruptured the silence,
spilling crows and mockingbirds into the sky
Will jumped toward Mira, but a foot slipped
between the planks; Sandy pulled him free
as Mira leapt by; and skidding across gravel
they rolled down to the man-made gash
as the train clattered wildly overhead
That was close, Will exhaled
while Sandy pressed his handprints
into the creekside;
on the tracks they found the coins,
like motes of the sun, too hot to handle
A quickening pulse in the air frisked about
as gusts of heat nosed along their skin;
a chemical burning-off, acid-lifting explosion
echoing the rippling implosion
of sweet pain
As Will came near an apparition unfolded
into a gaunt figure whose face was pale,
his eyes black holes, hair billows of smoke,
his voice a storm as he spoke: And you wonder
how I came to be this troll beneath a tree.
Will moved toward the specter to ask
questions on his mind for some time:
What happened to you? Why are you alone?
With no place to live, no friends
and no family?
Shadow moved toward Will:
I will tell you as I told your brother:
I heard a call when I was young
when I was walking near a swamp;
I thought it was a signal of distress
What it was and where it came from
I have never known, and as I searched
for the source, I became unhinged;
wraiths danced before me, moss streamed
down from trees, sweat poured from me like rain
I lost my way and shouted:
Where are you? I wandered deeper in;
the cry came again:
I felt alone, and bewildered I lashed out
in anger and fear
I ran and came to a rundown home,
windows shuttered, but at the front door
a man stood as if waiting for me
This man pointed to the moon and said:
The sun is bright today. And look,
the children play!
I shivered but still approached him:
Tell me who you are;
the man laughed and replied:
I’m the door at the gate
and I await the hinge.
Will stumbled back, trembling,
wanting to escape the vision;
but Shadow was unrelenting:
the man screamed and pulled a knife
stabbing at unseen demons
I turned to leave, but he caught me;
and so we wrestled:
the child and the man
I saw him pitch full length at my feet
and his face staring, helpless:
in his panic he had wounded himself;
I watched his blood mingle with the mud
and I moved away, I tried to run
But back I came to watch the life flood
from him, until this ancient man of men
was no more than a form limned in the dust.
Shadow gathered himself together:
I hurled the blade away;
Will swayed, almost losing his balance
Shadow’s expression switched from terror
to amazement as he said:
I put my hand to my mouth and felt a claw;
looking down I saw I was
a man deformed.
Will cried: But your family, didn’t they look for you?
Shadow blinked: The pain I felt was blinding;
my family mourned the loss of their child,
not knowing I still lived, mocked and feared by all
and trapped in a state of decay.
Will felt Shadow’s terrible secret fade: I’m sorry;
but Shadow raised his voice: Don’t be.
I began my journey before I knew myself
and for that reason spent years
wandering in the wilderness.
Will stood beside Shadow:
Can’t you start over?
Shadow laughed: You are young!
He bowed his head: Once I knew I was capable
of terrible things I sentenced myself to this lonely place.
Will offered: I’ll give you a new name;
Shadow fell silent, and his face was bleak,
but Will saw a momentary spark
in his eyes, before he returned to his shelter
in the trees
The first soul is in the pupil of your eye, the second soul is in your reflection in the water, and the third soul is in your shadow. —Calusa belief
Chapter 1 The River’s Eye
If you see the rim along the river you will also see
a rare and threatened Florida elm slender and straight,
and in its shade, a broken figure hunched in misery
And this Sandy saw, a boy high in a swaying pine
perched on a bough as rough as twine
as he gazed over fawn-spotted prairie, pinewoods
and cypress domes cresting about the Myakka River
coiling its way to the Gulf of Mexico
All around Sandy and this landscape rolled
the timpani of thunder morose and monotonous
as billowing clouds on the horizon flamed with lightning
A deeper heat ignited a spark, empty heat
with a chill at its heart, lightning feet and thunder blood
as Sandy spotted a covey of young men and boys
crossing an open field, a swift arrow aimed
at the heart of the river: and he heard the cry of the hunt
His breath caught in his throat;
he knew where they were headed:
the riverbend, the sugarberry
and the lone elm:
that was where Shadow lived
Sandy swung to lower branches,
lost his grip and landed hard, knees buckling;
jumping to his feet he followed the gang
through sedge and thistle,
focused on a younger boy at the back of the pack
Sandy tackled the boy and they wrestled
in the lanky grass, Sandy shouting:
Will, don’t go. This is how it begins.
But Will shook him off and the brothers
stood at odds in the field
Sandy told his younger brother:
Shadow said it’s his own fault
he ended up this way,
he made the wrong decision, just once.
He’ll tell you his story if we save him.
You mean, fight all of them?
Will raised his fists, but Sandy replied:
I know a place where Shadow can hide.
And then they raced together, apart, together
like twin deer
Over the field a black-haired girl sprinted sure-footed;
Mira leapt a dry creek:
I saw the gang and you —
She batted rampant saw palmetto with a stick,
and a harsh rattling broke the eerie silence
Long drifts of Spanish moss on slash pines
whispered, and tiger-striped dragonflies
balanced on tall sheaves of sun-roasted grass
Away they went, tangled vines snaring their feet
as they startled bobwhite quail in a gentle swale:
birds erupted from swirls of grass, and at the tree
border an old Indian trail’s entrance winked
like the pupil of an eye
A screen of palm fronds, an eyelash lowered above
the path, marked the gateway and one by one
they ventured into the forest’s half-light
A giant golden orb spider swayed before them
on a circular web; bowing, they passed beneath
to follow the hidden trail
Stirring decaying leaves on the narrow ribbon
of cracked palm and snail shells, with reflections
of sun, the three climbed to a shell mound
and there they stood in a merciless glare
surrounded by twisted trees and parched shrubs
The trail snaked down one side into thickets
and soon they saw glimpses of savannah;
windblown seeds drifted over the Myakka,
and the river flowed into their reflection,
taking them in, and offering them up again
Sandy pointed upriver: I saw a boat by the bend there.
He looked below a sugarberry tree among slim stalks
of green-white wandflower: Here it is.
The way appeared before them
leading to the lonely elm;
Mira hazarded a step toward the shade,
one hand down to turn quickly around,
as Sandy and Will edged closer
Unraveling to eclipse the elm’s trunk,
the shade spoke to them:
Dark green to the sky,
a shadow below but evergreen
I need no other to give birth;
my skin is warty, dark brown;
I am often small, but may grow tall
with a single body and rounded crown;
and now my cousins have been overthrown
by a flesh-eating alien, and so unknown
I stand alone
Sandy moved forward: You have to go!
They’re coming after you.
I know, Shadow replied. It’s meant to be.
Will and Mira joined in: No, come with us.
We won’t let them get you.
They staggered back as the form moved toward them:
You see, you are afraid.
Will ducked his head at this; his brother’s passion,
his caring for this unusual creature moved him,
but he was afraid
But you can escape, Sandy pleaded,
All you have to do is come with us in the boat,
and we’ll all help you, and we can row upstream.
They heard machetes slashing vines and trees.
Hurry, Sandy urged Shadow while Mira and Will
walked backwards facing the apparition
Shadow hesitated, head tilted, a tree in a gale
and then took one huge stride to join them;
Will turned and ran in the other direction;
Sandy spun around: Where are you going?
Will called back: I’ll head them off.
In the boat Sandy and Mira grabbed the oars
while Shadow clambered in between them;
a maverick current muscled them to the far side
where Shadow jumped to shore
and disappeared into a host of trees
Will ran at top speed in the sweet bay swamp,
changing direction, leaping small streams;
he whistled as the gang crashed its way
through the bramble, and taunted them:
Can’t catch me, I’m a shadow.
A chill ran down Will’s back as he said this,
and his foot caught on a vine; he fell
face forward into the fermenting mud
Will lurched to his feet and whirled about
just as a blow smacked into his chest;
Take that, a young man spat out,
and the gang began to shout: Who are you?
Where is that freak who hangs out here?
A piercing cry severed sky from earth
and set the grass quivering with overtones
of victory and undertones of despair;
Will and the gang were frozen in fear and awe,
and then they scurried away in every direction
Will slipped away in the confusion, discovering
a path to the river; Mira and Sandy rowed hard
to bring the boat against the wily channel,
turn toward the riverbank to pick him up,
and in a blink of an eye glide into the river’s maze
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 2: Shadow, click here