The Prologue from Counting Hens

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It should be noted that this is excerpted from a larger submission, even that what is mentioned here, which was not at the time of the submission complete, either- it may also be noted that the audience to whom the following small note was directed was my fellow classmates in a writing workshop, who received a LARGER portion of text than what is posted here; hence I reference a “dialogue” that is not featured here, but rather, is featured in the beginning of the first chapter (to be eventually posted in draft form, I should think…) Read on, thanks…

Counting Hens

A Prefacing Note to all you fine people (shouldn’t that be “for”?)

Ah. I suppose I have done rather the unthinkable, here, in handing you this, all things considered. I mean, frankly, this doesn’t look all that impressive, and maybe we were expecting some Genesis from Keillor, or maybe we were expecting some nicely worded FBI Warning from Keillor; I’m afraid those are not in the appendix. Rest assured, this is a much larger work- one that has more than an ounce of depth to it; one that many actually find intriguing and enjoyable; one that I should have put together for you, but did not. I will endeavor now, in a sentence or two, to tell you what happens: It’s like Oliver Twist, twisted. (or, shorthand: Oliver Twis’t). Meh, well, sort of- Tim find his way to town doing those errands and stumbles inevitably into a child gang that’s like the Little Rascals, which meets first in a steam shovel and again in…any guesses…? If only there were a large vacant structure no one would ever visit! Alright, I’ll retreat to being boring and plebian again. Oh, and as a word of final caution- the contents of these few pages are absurdly, stereotypically, British; it’s actually unreasonable, even for taking place in England, at the turn of the century…

But seriously, though, I’m all taking your criticisms, if it is possible to make any, in full knowing of the previous parenthetic clause (hit the left key 108 times). Please, ask my cone-of-shamed person what the point of this shallow dialogue is; beg to differ as for the necessity of any or all of it- I’m just counting my hens here. (That’s not a pun at all so don’t bother thinking about it) Alright, I just want to tell you both: Good luck; we’re all counting on you. Oh, and try to seem really excited about reading the rest or something- it’s the little things, guys.

Prologue:

Smoke lingered in the air above Mr. Lowell’s cottage. It rose into the canopies of oaks and elms, hickory and pine- trees which all clung to the property as if by wont; the smoke rose up and tarnished the clouds; it rose beyond our plans and became consequence. Something was burning.

Each windowpane had a different and well-rehearsed reason for being crooked, being painted the wrong color, being rotten, disheveled, or missing entirely. A stiff breeze could dislocate roof shingles and gutters, of which the entire cottage had decidedly few. These and other matters of the house, Mr. Lowell appeared to have ignored.

He sat underneath the veranda in a rickety old chair, counting seconds, maybe minutes, or hours, as they rolled by. His life could be rewritten using the unopened parcels of mail stockpiled beside him, redesigned around the flask in his hand, and refurnished to admit the poor state of his clothes- but his time was spent, his wife was spent, and he had only one son, for whom work was everything but an excuse to visit. Even at present, Mr. Lowell’s life was crumbling before him.

The smoke he dispelled from his grandfather’s pipe hung about him in a mind-numbing miasma; albeit it was not the same smoke which now seeped through the holes in his porch- not the smoke escaping through the now backlit front door, and not what had accompanied a brilliant and unrelenting fire, which tore upward from the basement and swallowed all the contemptible furniture and blurry photos and dusty books and broken bottles in its path.

Mr. Lowell, now acutely aware of the situation, continued to gaze out upon his driveway, a windy road leading nowhere he knew better, and nowhere he wanted to understand. It was thus, then, with the emission of one final, fatal ring from between his lips, that the blaze breached into the open air, took the whole of the English atmosphere deeply into its lungs, and plunged back into the charred earth, turning its beginning into its end, and counting the final second of the final minute and hour, of the foolhardy Mr. Lowell.

Studies in Human Experience: Of Genesis  22 (Briefly)

On the Colorado Trail
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1.) I thought first, to preface my discussion of Genesis 22 with the fact that I do not believe in God; but the more I think about it, the less it will have bearing on my answer. “The Testing of Abraham,” as it were, places a human outside of itself, in order to assess loyalty. On the mountain, Abraham must ignore human instinct to carry out the supposed Will of God. It is a cruel test, designed to embroider the faithful with recognition for their undying loyalty, via some covenant or later , benevolent act of God. It exposes the raw tissue of humanity, and scolds it with the one thing that has consistently (speaking in retrospect) unbound humans from their instincts: faith. Faith to cause; faith to rationality; faith to a religion; faith to leader; faith to the Self; faith in god-knows-what- the self-imposed responsibility of appeasing the Will of God or another “will” of one’s choosing seems in the literature of the Bible a commendable, estimable trait.

Such is the responsibility I impose on my own life, albeit not one that finds roots in any particular place, text, or with any people; it is more of a personal statement that I follow, nearly with regret- which is why I am reminded of Abraham’s test. That Abraham never faltered during the ordeal bespoke a deeply rooted loyalty to Faith (I believe faith and loyalty to be different), or otherwise, more importantly, a terrible Fear of God. This fear, which only further interns Abraham to God’s will in the end, irrevocably subdues his human consciousness to falter in the face of God. Similarly, I find myself taking on responsibilities often with little abandon- it is a trait I admire but also despise in myself, for I am seldom satiated with what I am doing given I’d rather be doing more. This pang distresses my being to a point of complacency, whereby I simply allow this process to occur- I take on more responsibilities, and I am lost to my blind faith thereto; I lose to God, in the end, unless I break free.

2.) One thing that frustrates me, are the folks who are always concerned with who they will be down the line: you are who you are, right now. You’re essentially asking: who will I be after I’ve been being who I already am? I’m not going to ask anyone that question (though I’m secretly asking myself, aren’t I?) Anyway, I’d wager one of the largest dark matter pockets in my vision right now, is more impersonal: How are people intrigued, and what drives them to press on in those matters in which they are intrigued? Wherefrom stem their curiosities, and can I imbue others with those curiosities? Do we have functionality beyond our goals- are we contributing to more than the consummations of our responsibilities? (I believe the answer to that is yes, but where, or in what, truly, do our choices resound, with or without society watching attentively to their outcomes? That’s a mouthful of questions right there, and I wager also, that I’ll die with a few of them on my tongue; but I’d rather tell myself now that I can find half of those answers, and live out the others unknowingly. A fitting means by which to end, I guess. Maybe I can get some of them underway in my time [in college]- that is why I am here, apart from society’s reasons for my being here, which are theirs entirely and not mine, I think.

The Fiasco

The Food
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This is a curious one- it is the final, rather silly product of a process we undertook in a writing workshop, which I strongly suggest you try with people! We began by sharing 3 sentence stories with one another: beginning, middle, end. The next person took it (this is with few to no “to be” verbs, importantly**) and turned 3 into 9, starting and finishing at the same topical end points of the initial three. The following person (me…) then turned 9 into 27, fittingly, and the two initial endpoints were quite spectacularly breached. It is honestly just comedic, but this process, taken more seriously, is an excellent way to learn:

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I folded tax returns into halves and violently shoved them in the paper shredder for no discernible reason other than that I could, but I nearly got sucked in to the damned thing from the violent rapping on the window a few inches behind me. Expecting at this point nothing less than a flash repelling mob performance from the great Mormon Tabernacle Choir itself, I crammed all of the papers into the machine and jostled myself around, and saw the upper torso of Jim from the marketing department lifting itself over the lip of the outer windowsill. For Pete’s sake, I traced a wire cable attached to his harness across the building gap, over the intersection and 21st street, around a billboard, all the way to a gaping hole in the side of an apartment building several blocks away! Upon realizing this I swung open the second story window (probably too quickly for his liking) and pulled him in, but boy did he weigh a lot. I had figured, that at most he had 30 pounds on me, but frankly I didn’t expect a 100-pound lead. To my surprise, another pair of arms emerged around his neck, one a little lower, handcuffed to his right arm. “What the hell?” I exclaimed, dragging Jim and the random Vietnamese woman into the second floor copier room. I panted and sat down to fan myself. “What up, dude?” he said, the woman sort of smiling through me, bearing a smile less more than a few teeth. Totally fazed, I let them carry out their business immediately, the 500-yard zip line fresh on my mind.

Later, around lunch, Jim walked by me as I shredded more paper, and I couldn’t help but notice the shady, half-naked Vietnamese lady fixed to his side like a post-it note. Jim simply winked at me, and removed his clothing, which I took in the same manner as before: I fled the scene with all haste. By noon, I had avoided them well, until I saw them half-sprinting, half-hobbling towards me through the parking lot as I went to lunch at the Wong-Fu-King Chinese Restaurant a block away. Save the many looks I received for the half-nakedness of my friends in tow, we eventually managed to secure a table inside the Wong-Fu-King Chinese Restaurant by bribing the hostess with Jim’s half-eaten bag of Doritos and a jar of Grey Poupon. What else might have fatted her fancy?

Midway into the meal, the Vietnamese wonder woman hastily grabbed a bowl of steamed vegetables from the center of the table, and flung them at Donnie, another co-worker who had joined us. No one exchanged words; no one likes Donnie anyway, so no one remarked on his standing up, kicking a flowerpot into the Fishpond, and karate chopping the hostess’ podium in half, all while swearing in some foreign language only he understood- typical Donnie.

Jim ordered another round of Mai Tai’s for the table, which honestly doesn’t make much sense given the time of day. No one goes to the Wong-Fu-King Chinese Restaurant to get drunk with Vietnamese Prostitutes at high noon. Well, Donnie might, actually. The ole Vietnamese prostitute with the absence of teeth ordered Lo Mein- big mistake. Three minutes later, Jim had fumbled it onto her glow-up, spotted, leather-infused bra. He responded to her complaints with, “Well, I’m not the one who thought deep-throating the key would be kinky!” to which I chirped, “It would be klinky.” No one laughed. The manger meandered over at the sound of some of these remarks, clearly enraged by Donnie’s recent hurricane of destruction, too. He told us bluntly, “I think you folks are in the Wong-Fu-King Restaurant.” We didn’t need a reaffirmation. Time to leave.

The Keillor Metamorphosis

Taken with my phone.
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Of course, this takes place at my school- and yes, there are several references to dorms and locations, but who cares!? It’s good fun. I took the Metamorphosis’ first line, and a fusion of Kafka’s writing style and my own, to make this. Enjoy, and I encourage you to write your own! 

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Keillor’s Metamorphosis

            As Keillor Mose awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic frog. He was lying precariously on his rather green, slimy back, dorsolateral fold digging into the sheets. Leaning up, what he beheld was the fullest image of his room he had ever seen. His vision wrapped nearly completely around its periphery, and it seemed to account for most colors. Three Frisbees hung on the wall to his left, and he could make out all of them while looking to the right.

            What am I? he thought. Of what or whom am I a manifestation, and how am I going to make it to Language & Thinking Studies by nine? John, Keillor’s unassuming roommate, was lying in bed facing his wall, and thus, Keillor had a narrow window for an incognito escape. It was clear to Keillor, you see, that no matter what crustacean, amphibian, kitchen appliance, rickety piece of furniture, fruit, person, or household item he had become, a shower topped the morning list.

            Maybe if I just…he thought. It wasn’t until his upper body was upright that he noticed how his legs transcended the meaning of lengthy, coming to an odd knee-bend sort of thing well at the foot of the bed, completed eventually with two giant webbed things that looked like rubber stretch bands. It was thus his contention with his own cumbersome length, which Keillor faced first in making for the showers down the hall. Moving them, however, was a bit easier- well, he thought. Swinging both legs at once out towards the open middle of the room, he effortlessly scooted out of bed, leaving a gelatinous residue behind him. He then found himself in a scrunched, not at all fully upright position, from which he could either hop or issue tiny steps with one webbed foot at time, towards the door. Overcompensation on the hop, Keillor feared, would actually land him upstairs, or worse, on the roof. The last thing he wanted was to have jumped clear through someone else, upstairs, an act of little abandon or self-control on his part, which could instead be prevented by scurrying along rather idly. Being Keillor, he elected the former strategy, and with a great huff and an accidental “ribbit,” he exploded into the atmosphere, quite honestly with enough force to go through the ceiling, save that the dorm’s ceiling was a concrete slab. Having hurt his head and causing a bang, Keillor took the necessary measures to ensure the next hop would land down the hall, by leaning sideways and hopping laterally off the wall, to which he found it rather easy to cling.

            The shower was a nightmarish experience. Keillor managed, somehow, to reach the bathtub, by which point his long legs had been thoroughly exposed to the hopping sensation, and were sort of pre-emptively performing little hopping motions; coiling up in a sort of twitch, and releasing the energy in some way, causing Keillor to often bump his head. Managing to turn on the shower via the use of his tongue, Keillor hopped in and allowed the hot water to do its job. Unfortunately, it was not hot water to which Keillor was accustomed; and it was nearly boiling at the time of its dispensation, which, in line with the urban myths, caused Keillor to ribbet with excruciation and get himself gone through the 2nd floor window.

            A frog in free fall, Keillor mused sometime in flight, is no frog at all! Nothing lacking wings that finds itself in the air at a given velocity, ought to be, he reasoned. But reason sadly wouldn’t prevent Keillor’s landing on a herd of unsuspecting freshmen, (none of whom, frogs), whose causes of death would detail how a giant amphibious bird had swooped in and turned them accordingly to pancakes, and left without a moment’s hesitation. Kline would be closing within the hour, as Keillor understood, and nothing quite as magnificent of the last (deadly) hop was likely to occur without boiling water. Life was now a giant game of Frogger, after all, and only a master of dexterity could outwit the system. Taking stock of his options, Keillor finally admitted to himself how ridiculous putting readers through a feckless process ending in death anyway, would be. Awash with melancholy and a general distrust of his own thought process, Keillor the frog instead took asylum in the pond behind the Olin Language building, across the parking lot, down a little path, there in the bog. If you should feel the need to visit, his office hours are posted on the school website, and it should be noted that he prefers his work email to his cell phone number.

Flung

The other way
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     This is one of my favorite types of poems, a rapid poem, which I use to train thoughts for complete rendition. No matter what, the cursor must not stop, if only for a moment- it adds to the tension that perpetuates the poem’s flow; nothing is removed that is written down; nothing is worthless in a single thought, for the thought is itself thoughtful, and we’d all do well not to un-think thoughts, eh? Try it yourself, and comment that you have, so I and others can see it!

Don’t forget-

     The title is made by taking the first line, and simply using it directly to entitle the poem; no changes – and if done well, should when removed, disjuncture our ability to fully know what’s going on, such that it thus makes much more sense, when it is re-added; adding “Flung” to the first line makes it all meaningful- without it, the poem leads us to many other places, and might make us feel as though we’re riding on the back of some omniscient perspective, rather than on the reeded edge of a quarter:

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Down the table

by pepper and salt,

Sally and Bill are 

not together

lie the napkins, 

three are four are five

and wrapped and wrought and wrinkled are they

down the table 

still down

hold down

pull, quickly, down the water

down the ham

each eats, eaten have they eaten?

golden brown, spicy and succulent 

we eat, they are eaten,

we talk, they have spoken,

and rolls this coin to the ground. 

That was a Trip

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Keillor Tavern View 1

You’d fall down to earth, up from the ground

Grated 16×20, chrome plates, nail and bolts

Sharp and Senseless

Putrid and Inside

Up and Away

Speckled and Wide

Bitter and Hot

Arch flows to arc flows to wall to window to ground again, to wall, to roof, to chimney to wall, to roof.

Across the greenery, wait, underneath it

You’d rise up from earth, down from the ground

You’d shift and drag, drag, be dragged, and be unmade

This fellow is funny

Slipping hands in bag

Over shoulder, under arm, out the door, stern and aware

Und es dauert nicht mehr

They dance and they glide and they sing and they are unsung, death defying, gravity defying, jovial beings, decisions, drop, wet, and dampened, gone, whisked away, blown and are nothing.

Sturdy, holed, defaced, prism, withstand

The click, the clack, the whisper, the snack, the page, the stack, the movement, Jack

And up it went, and danced until it ran out of staples, and was no more!

Music Man

The Beach My Toes See
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     You could say classical music and I go way back. They tell me that at a very early age, as soon as I could speak, I asked to hear the ‘big’ music. It could have been the fullness of the sound or the simple beauty of the melody or the way the chords resolved, but somehow it spoke to me. Now, at the end of a challenging day, the pleasure of filling my mind with the classical forms sees me to inner peace. Yet, there is even greater satisfaction in playing the music myself.

     I am more fully alive when performing with a symphony orchestra than at any other moments of my life. In that setting, and with the flute as my instrument, I am able to access and communicate the range of emotions for which there are no words. I am one with the other musicians, and together we create something much bigger than ourselves.

     When the sweat pools on the conductor’s brow and his eyes speak to each section in silent vows of assurance, we know that he will lead us through the piece if we grant him our true fidelity. In that moment of expectation before the drop of his hand, time is exorcized from the room, and in concert, we agree to begin. A chord emerges from the silence, eliciting a conversation between the instruments. Each has a characteristic tone of voice that speaks an opinion on the subject at hand. Some are louder than others, but all have something to say. All bend to the will of the conductor – we have a shared responsibility to tell the composer’s story.

     In my role as a musician, I am a messenger for the notes on the staff. The note is lifeless until I infuse it with character and passion, and my own physical skill and energy. Though music demands my heavy commitment of time, study, and practice, it gives me myself. I greet it as an elder whose voice was lost, but for his scribbled language. My role as interpreter becomes curatorial and devout. I am essentially self-taught, but for guidance that came of standard music education classes in school. I have worked my way up to Principal Flute in two symphony orchestras and a concert band. Part of me wishes I’d been further along in my music skills every step of the way. I keep volumes of music, including a book known as the ‘one day’ binder full of pieces I will one day be able to play.  

     I teach music to sixth and seventh graders and realize they are my most important audience. They watch me take out a silver flute, and their eyes get wider as I do my warm-ups. They are catching a glimpse of the thing they’re after, and I treasure most the moment when I hand them the keys. If their love is true, and their minds are open, they’ll find something that will always be with them.

     That something is the same thing I search for every time I sit down in the orchestra. It is the same secret fire to which the greatest composers have tended in their colossal works. It is a moment of rapture when the great works transport us completely outside of ourselves. We reach out for it, we may even touch it, and we are touched by it in return.