grey man

Grey Man, whose real name may be Bork, surveys the valley through half-lidded eyes.

Nothing must happen today, he thinks. Too much has been happening lately and it must stop. One time something happened…but he can’t bear to even think about it.

Grey Man stands on the bamboo platform surrounding his mountaintop hut. Mist gathers far below, swirling through dark hollows, clinging to the treetops as it floats up from the warm earth. In the eastern sky the unholy sun flexes its rays as it prepares to destroy this predawn gauze.

Grey Man turns away from the impending spectacle. Inside the hut he makes tea and sits at the wooden table. All must stop, he thinks. Once begun, though, it is so hard to halt the creeping progress. I cannot control that. But I can prevent certain progressions from starting. I can choose not to act in the first place. All else is beyond me. All else will never stop. He grips the table, his knuckles whitening.

Outside the unholy sun has fully exposed its horrid face. Its hot tongue darts down among the mist-wreathed trees, lapping up the unsuspecting gauze from its resting place atop the forest. Heat first swells the valley then debilitates it, the vegetation falling limp. The animals crawl to cooler lairs. The insects scuttle beneath crackling leaves on the forest floor.

The ambient temperature inside the hut changes little. Grey Man appreciates this quality of his abode. The hut sits sheltered below a canopy of cedars. Perched near the edge of the ridge, the hut receives the full benefit of daily mountain and valley breezes. It is a comfortable dwelling place.

Grey Man rests his forehead against the tabletop. Outside the hut a raven croaks from its perch in a nearby cedar. A cicada rattles as if in response. Grey Man rouses himself, stands, and begins to walk in a circle. He moves heel-to-toe at a slow, steady pace. His lips move in silence. Nothing will happen, nothing will happen, nothing will happen.

For years the dread rose up before him each day as the sun waned, ushering in early evening’s gloom to take its place. The relentless nature of this phenomenon wreaked havoc on his ability to function in society. Events transpired. He lost everything. Everything he never wanted in the first place. It was too much. Everything happening. Acquisition. Unwanted relations. Naive openness to possibility. The dread funnel cloud tearing it all to shreds, leaving an empty husk behind.

But that was decades ago. It matter not now. Nothing matters now, only that nothing should occur. Until the end which is right and proper.

Grey Man completes his circuit and steps out onto the platform. The unholy sun has surged high overhead, having since erased all traces of mist from the valley. It is full of itself, this sun, it knows no boundaries. One day it will burn itself out in its hubris. Grey Man peers down into the valley and sees only dense foliage. The sun has silenced the birds, except for the raven which again croaks from its perch in the cedar. Grey Man returns the call and the raven flies off, heavy wings flapping as it catches a thermal on which to soar.

[written March-April 2016, abandoned and forgotten until now, possibly still unfinished]

spring at cromwell

Male Yellow Warbler singing at Cromwell Valley Park, Baltimore County, Maryland. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

 

American Red Fox stalking prey at Cromwell Valley Park, Baltimore County, Maryland. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

I had a very close encounter with this fox. We were walking toward each other and I’m not sure it even noticed me at first. It was paying close attention to the overgrown field to its immediate right. At a certain point, it turned and started to enter the tall grass. It stood there for a moment with the front of its body obscured before pouncing high up in the air and then disappearing into the grass. I kept walking until I got to the point where it had left the grassy path. I couldn’t see the fox anymore at that point, so I waited and eventually I saw its head pop up amidst the tall grass. We eyed each other for a few seconds before it suddenly stood up and walked out directly in front of me, only about six feet away, and casually turned to the right to continue walking in the direction it had originally been headed. It did not look particularly concerned about my presence, exhibiting only a barely visible wariness. I watched it for a while and then I kept walking in the opposite direction.

death of the archive

The encoding was all wrong, he kept thinking, as in between last minute data entry he packed up the few meager extensions of himself decorating his workstation. It had been rushed. Everyone leaving after the funding dropped and there just wasn’t enough time. He’d done the best he could. But the fact remained that the archive was dying. Its electronic body was hemorrhaging records, each of them representing a sector of his time he could never regain (nor even recall). Hours of research, flipping through the 20-odd dictionaries lined up above his head in the dim cubicle. All of it slowly slipping away through gaps in the system’s memory, now ravaged by worms and bots crawling and marching in after unpaid bills led to the inevitable security breach. Ones and zeroes subdividing into anonymous content—data freed from its container only to lose all context and thus its purpose.

He watched the stream of suits marching toward the double glass doors. As they passed his cubicle they dumped their unwanted office effluvia into the vacant cubicle next door to his. Already these discards had begun to reach the tops of the dividers and spill over onto his modular desk topped with the false wood veneer. A box of paper clips fell, striking his enormous ancient monitor, where it erupted and showered the keyboard with tiny silver missiles. He typed on.

What’s laughable is that there are no other jobs for the suits to take. It’s all over. Officials sealed the city last night and from this day forward it is a closed system. So their rushing out the door is all for naught. They only have their sterile quarters to return to now, where they will wait, popping pills, desperate for an end to their newfound stagnation. He thought about that for a moment, his fingers paused above the keyboard, hovering in space, before one finger, the pinkie, extended slowly to the right and clicked the Enter key, thus enacting the command to shut down his machine for good.

(That is not to say there is no more to be said, to be written. Indeed, more has been written and more will continue to be written on these matters. In effect there is no end, now or ever. The death of the archive is only one death waiting among many to be noticed, to be recorded, to matter to someone, somewhere, at some time possibly centuries from now. It waits alone for an inquiry into its condition.)

new arrivals and a mysterious departure

At some point last night under the cloak of darkness the neighborhood’s catbirds arrived to spend the summer muttering to themselves in the dense foliage. I came downstairs this morning to the welcome sound of their strange twittering cacophony. I looked out the window of the sunporch and saw at least three or four of them skulking in the yard, chasing each other through the ground cover. On the front walk, another of their tribe held in its narrow bill a fruit of the nearby Japanese laurel, aka Gold Dust Plant, or to be more formal about it: Aucuba japonica. Decidedly unimpressed with its breakfast bounty, the bird quickly discarded the bright red drupe (looks can be deceiving!) and flew off.

Oddly enough, our other local representative of the Mimid family, the stalwart mockingbird, has been conspicuously absent from the immediate environs of the house since last fall. A usual year-round resident, this bird (if it has indeed been the same individual) was always nearby in its obvious way, singing and scolding, even visiting the feeder out of desperation during particularly hard winters, and providing an amusing foil to the more retiring catbirds throughout the summer months. Sadly, no mockingbird has yet shown up to take this one’s place. I had often wondered if ‘our bird’ had been a grizzled old bachelor, for on many a spring night I would hear him singing late into the evening hours, yet I witnessed neither courting nor nesting activity. Perhaps his mellifluous songs never attracted a mate and he met with some unknown fate having never propagated his species. I am still hoping, though, that someday soon one of his brethren will appear and take up residence nearby.

rocks in hard places: a dramolet

Act I

Setting: An empty greyness shrouding bare rock and withered trees.

Stage direction: Two beings meet and converse.

Where have you come from.

The future, where else.

Ah, and what news have you.

Well, I can’t tell you now then can I.

And why not.

‘Twould alter the course of events.

I care not about that. Tell me.

Why do you want to know.

Have you looked around.

Yes, I suppose.

Well, I want to escape this horrid place.

So what good will knowing the future do.

It will tell me if my efforts to escape are in vain.

And what concept have you of time.

‘Tis to be filled.

‘Twould not be a burden to you if you did not wish for the future.

How is that.

You crave for the better and think what stands between you and it is time.

Never mind your fancy talk. Tell me the future or I’ll brain you with this rock.

Act II

Setting: As for Act I, but fewer trees and more rocks.

Stage direction: One being lies prone on the ground as the other speaks.

Ohh…now why did I do that.

[no answer]

Ohh…now I will never know the future.

[Rustling noises from the ground.]

Hello down there?

Urghhh.

I say, I’m awfully sorry about the rock.

[Previously prone being struggles to sitting position, continues to groan.]

Erm…I don’t suppose you’d still consider telling me about the future.

Urghhh.

It’s just that…some time has passed and I feel no better.

[Being with dented head struggles to standing position, recovers voice.]

The future is much the same as now, ‘cept a little farther down the road.

Well, that’s disappointing.

What did you expect.

I thought perhaps you’d tell me this place has changed.

Into what. It is, and shall always be, exactly what you see it as, just like everything else.

Are you trying to make me use this rock again.

Act III

Setting: A vast meadow.

Stage direction: Two beings recline together in the soft grass.

It’s strange that I can’t find a single rock here.

Oh, they’re around. You’ll come across one eventually.

Look, I’m very sorry about hitting you…twice.

Don’t trouble yourself about it. I’ve survived worse.

Where did this grass come from anyway.

It’s always been here.

Are you sure you didn’t bring it from the future.

What are you talking about.

~THE END~

where it happpened

This is where it happened. Right here, at this spot.
Are you sure.
Of course I’m sure. It happened to me. I’m certain this is where I was standing.
Well, okay. It’s just that…sometimes our memories…
What. What are you saying. That it didn’t happen.
No, I’m not saying that. But we don’t always recall situations or occurrences in the same way that they actually happened.
Who’s to say then whether anything ever actually happened the way we remember it. Back then, I mean, before the way we live changed.
Well, that’s just it. We can’t. That’s why I’m asking if you’re sure.
I have to admit, looking at it now, at the exact spot…
If it even is the exact spot.
Oh, right. Yes, you’re right. Even that is suspect, I suppose.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discredit you. I mean, maybe if you had some sort of proof…
Yes, but this was before the camera implants.
Of course. I know. But maybe an eyewitness. Someone who could corroborate your version of events.
No. It was just me. I was by myself. I’d just finished dining alone at a cafe. I’d sat outside in the cool evening air, watching the sun descend slowly as I dined. The waiter had come to check on me one last time and on a whim I decided to order an espresso. As you know I don’t normally take caffeine but something about sipping that black bitterness, feeling the jolt of energy…it seemed apropos to the moment. Anyway, after I finished the coffee I entered the park for a brief stroll before returning to my quarters. It was quite dark by then but the sodium lamps had flickered on. I moved from one island of orange light to the next, craving a cigarette while intensely aware of the impossibility of fulfilling that craving. I was not thinking of anything specific, just enjoying the walk, the silence of the park, the cleanness of the air as I moved farther away from the central city’s stench. It was when I approached the fountain, right here where we’re standing, that it happened.
It’s remarkable that you can recall such details from so long ago.
It was a pivotal moment for me. After that everything changed. It was as if my entire self turned inside out and began operating at odds with the way it had before.
But why. I mean, it seems like such a banal occurrence in light of the changes you claim it triggered.
I’m not claiming anything. I’m saying it’s a fact. The transformation was immediate.
Okay, I believe you.
You sound skeptical.
It’s just that it sounds like so many other moments. Our days are full of them.
The mundane can often be life-changing. And even if, as you say, it may not have happened how I remember it, the point is that it altered my course. There’s no denying that.
I agree with you there. You seem much different now than when I knew you before.
Of course your memory could be faulty, too.
Well, that’s why we have the implants now, right. To avoid such uncertainty.
I suppose so. I can’t help thinking that this is not the way it should be, though. That this new certainty about the past destroys our faith in the present.
How do you figure that.
I think that now we’re using our definitive knowledge of the past to dictate the terms of the present—that’s what the implants have given us. A predetermination that we can’t escape. We’re locked into this rigid framework of how things need to be.
But we still have a choice. People don’t have to use the implants. You can opt to struggle with recalling your past, to live with the uncertainty.
For now. I doubt it will be long before they’re mandatory, though. And then our conversation here about my moment of clarity will itself have become a quaint memory—but one that we can instantly call up and review, just to be sure of what actually happened.
You could be right. But for now you’re still free to forget or to remember it however you like.
There is no choice—the moment is already dead. Now how about an espresso. I think there’s a cafe not far from here.

on the roof

She lived on the roof and he would visit her there.
What did you bring me today.
I brought you this broken camera.
Thank you.
She placed it on a shelf she had fashioned from scraps of sheet metal.
What is the world like today.
Oh, about the same. What will you do with the camera.
I don’t know. Probably take it apart.
Do you think you can fix it.
She sighed and looked away.
It’s supposed to rain tonight. Will you be okay up here.
She looked back at him.
What.
Why do you ask questions like that.
I don’t know. I just worry.
No, you don’t. That’s just something people say.
He stood up and walked over to her shelter. He knocked on the sturdy roof. She’d cut a hole in the middle of it for a skylight. He examined the caulking around the plexiglass panel.
What are you doing over there. Did you come to see me or to inspect my house.
It’s not a house.
Says you.
He came back and sat across from her again.
Do you need any supplies.
I’m almost out of rice.
I’ll bring you some next time.
A pigeon landed nearby and began pecking at the tar and gravel roof.
Do you ever think about the future.
No, why should I.
So you think you can just stay up here forever…
What does it matter. And why do you care anyway. I didn’t ask you to keep coming up here.
I find it hurtful when you talk like this.
Really. And what about before. Do you remember before.
I try not to think about the past.
Well, I don’t think about the future. So where does that leave us.
The present I guess.
Right. I’ll see you next time then. And don’t forget the rice.
She stood up and walked over to the pigeon. It cocked its head skyward then flew up and perched on her shoulder.
His restless eyes moved from the bird on her shoulder out beyond the roof line to where the late afternoon sun left a burning orange wake at the horizon. He began to doubt the rain.
As he climbed over the edge onto the fire escape he glanced back and saw her holding the pigeon with two hands high up over her head. When it opened its wings and flew she was gone. In a way he was relieved for he hadn’t the heart to tell her there was no longer any rice. Not now or ever.

leonora and gabriel – an instant

old sam peabody

old sam peabody
song of white-throated sparrow
northbound bird visits

a siren sounding

a siren sounding
enters afternoon stillness
i bow my head low

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