Small stone wrap-up

Small stones, January 2011:

  1. It is just after midnight.  A new year.  Leaning out the window, I notice that the air in the alley smells the same as last year.  Looking up into the black sky, the fireworks diminished and the stars blotted blind by the city lights, I realize that this year will not feel real until the earth has finished turning, because somewhere, back where friends and family gather under the afternoon sun, the day has not yet ended and the calendar has yet to roll over.
  2. The shadow of a pigeon bobs across the rhombus of window-light on my bedroom floor, like a puppet playing for my amusement.  A cloud passes outside and the window-light fades until only my floor remains.  What happens, in such a moment, to the shadow-puppet bird?
  3. A cool breeze stirs, and the shreds of tarp dance among the trash on the rooftops.
  4. The sweet scent of apple shisha perfumes the dusty street, masking for just a moment the incense of sand and exhaust fumes.
  5. My dilute calico, stretched long as my leg, will later curl up to the size of my feet.
  6. Sunlight through the open window collects in the marble tile then leaps to the ceiling, there to play among the chandeliers in cool blue and ocher.
  7. Dew chills the windshields and sand drifts in the streets. The starless sky cowls the city, and the cold glass of the midnight window is silent and still.
  8. Amid the laughter of volleyballing teens, the creaks of bicycles and the soft pop of parasails full of marina breeze, a tiny bird flies over the ice cream stand and alights on a fence wire to watch the beach.  A toddler sees and waddles forward, two steps, one step, three steps, spellbound and hesitant.  The bird cocks its head and flits away, and the boy left behind stands staring at the fence.
  9. The anger of a nation resides also in my heart.  For the sake of that nation, I will open my heart.  May the anger then dissipate so that love may shine freely, like mists dissolving under a rising sun.
  10. My coffee steams through an open window into the milky gray of the morning fog.
  11. Soft morning drizzle in this desert city settles everything into a cool, quiet reverence. Even the tires in the street are hushed, like slippers in the dew-grass. Alhamdulillah, rain has come.
  12. Watching time wheel past in wild fast-forward, shadows spinning in the trees, I feel grounded and profoundly still.
  13. This taxi smells of sandalwood and upholstery dust, an undertone of engine grease and sweat.  The vinyl dashboard is shades of beige and taupe, and a cassette protrudes from the tape deck.  All this so like my own string of tired cars on our long commutes to school back in my undergrad years.
  14. Wind whistles, birds cry.  (found “stone”:  these were the last words on screen as part of the closed-captioning of the first episode of the BBC series Wallander)
  15. In the background drone of my air conditioning, I almost failed to realize that the neighborhood children have stopped playing soccer in the street.
  16. The ocher glow just above the treeline belies the desert sand in the air and the lighted city beneath it.
  17. The wide, wet clouds far overhead like the surface of the sea from the ocean floor.
  18. Gray-and-white cat lumped atop his felted, misshapen cat hut, like a little boulder in the moss.
  19. A faint rain whispers in the sand, and the workers chipping broken concrete from the wall across the street pause, sit in folding chairs, and sip steaming tea from steel thermoses as their head scarves and work shirts grow dark and limp.
  20. That subtle buzz in the bloodstream, electricity charging my eyeballs and my stomach warm as a womb….  Good god, I love coffee.
  21. Walking in a rare, chilly rain, the weather here in the Middle East more autumnal than wintry, my wife and I daydream of weather in more northern climates, pine trees and damp soil and fires in fireplaces. I mention that if we have a fireplace again in our near future, I’d like to split my own wood, and suddenly I remember my early adolescence, down in the wooded ravine behind my parents’ house in Texas, my dad with a chainsaw and me with an ax, a sledgehammer and the splitting wedge. We had several dead trees, and my dad wanted to fell them to thin the woods for younger trees and to stockpile the firewood we really didn’t need in Texas but which I loved anyway. We argued a lot, my father and I, but outdoors, working in the trees, we found peace together. My father is a woodsman by nature, raised in the Boy Scouts and degreed in forestry, and down there among our own trees he held a kind of authority even a teenage son couldn’t question. He knew which trees to cut, how to fell them without damaging the surrounding flora, what lengths to saw the logs and how best to split the wood. In those hours I was not some know-it-all kid wasting time with the old man; I was an apprentice. Our love of the land and our love of working with our hands became our love for each other, and we never had to say so out loud.
  22. A 3D sky, the thin skin of cirrus clouds like a backlighting canvas behind the sun, reflecting watery light to silhouette the puffs of cumulus  bobbing closer to the earth as faint streaks of mist like white sanddrifts ghost across the sky.
  23. In all the buzz and drone of mingling diplomats and embassy guests, all I can focus on is the shimmering jellyfish of water umbrellaing out from the fountain head, the lights underwater nestled so comfortably among the black pond rocks.
  24. The new tarps have skinned the rooftop next door to protect against the rare winter rains: a carnival of orange and white over concrete and corrugated tin, the plastic pinned flat with abandoned luggage, broken tv sets, upturned chairs, strips of splintering lumber.
  25. This evening, I sat in a small auditorium with a crowd of artists and intellectuals.  On the stage sat three men:  Dez Skinn, the British comics editor who founded Warrior magazine and helped launch the careers of Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison.  Charles Kochman, an American graphic novel editor who championed Diary of a Wimpy Kid into print.  And Qais Sedki, Emirati founder of Pageflip Publishing and author of the Arabic-language, manga-style comic Gold Ring, winner of the 2010 Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Children’s Literature.  We were at a symposium on Middle Eastern comics.  I had out my notebook, ready to scribble ideas if any occurred.  Instead, I wrote pages and pages of notes, desperately scratching out quotes in shorthand and trying not to miss a word, making comparisons and side comments in the margins.  The audience carried the symposium overtime with questions, including a fascinating back-and-forth about comics and libraries between the panelists and my own wife that had the panelists themselves leaning forward in their seats, nodding and asking questions of their own and celebrating librarians and comics and the engaging discourse of the whole evening.  Afterward, we mingled in the lobby and chatted over fruit and cakes with a pair of Belgians, discussing the differences between American and European comics and sharing titles we should read.  Oh, how I love academia.
  26. Somehow, the goldenrod sunset through the trees isn’t nearly as beautiful since they cut down all the trees.
  27. My wife fell behind while walking in the mall, and when I turned to find her she told me, “I tripped on the in-between.” (This is a true story.)
  28. The glass crunching underfoot is something of a mystery, as though city workers had broken all the globes in the street lights just to change the bulbs.
  29. Bob Marley in the dress shop makes the track lighting feel like sunshine, and all these bohemian prints and bell-sleeves tunics make me yearn for sandalwood incense and a Red Stripe, the sizzle of kebobs on the barbecue, and the green grass cool and dewy between my toes.
  30. Each eye feels punched in, my temples tight, my neck old rubber like an antique bicycle tire.  All this news coverage, but so hard to turn away from it when the people I’m watching on tv or on the Internet refuse to turn away themselves.  They face a wild and uncertain future, but they face it tenaciously, with hope and courage, and what can I do but watch them?  How could I refuse to bear witness?
  31. Winds career over the rooftops, rending the rain-tarps in long shredded strips, flaying sections from the tin. The dust from construction down the street awakes and lifts from the sand and rock, filling the air like a city-sized, ponderous spirit. Out in the Gulf a storm floats past, but here in the city, we hear only the echo.

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