A Painted Memory

Mornings in the lonely field, and I 
Would love the way you taught me to: 
Matching up my wobbly strength against 
What clime and time and space can do -- 

Gathering a bit of air inside 
The lungs that knew the breath of you -- 
Traveling the lonely field, and lost 
In what you didn't make it 

Through

I am six years old, and we are entering a restaurant that looks like an unpainted barn. It is even newer than I am.

The ceiling is high and sloped, and all along the walls are gigantic paintings, all beautifully painted, of horses, cowboys, and buffalo. One of them is a painting of a cowboy lighting a cigarette next to a horse in a stable on a winter night. Light from the the match is shining on their faces.

We lived in Florida, so, I had never seen snow. It was another six years before my first glimpse of it for real. I had seen horses, but never very closely; my older sister took lessons. I could immediately “feel” that painting: I felt the cold, smelled the match, smelled the horse. I still remember.

The restaurant itself had a line we moved through: we picked up drinks and salads on trays, and ordered the rest of the food that was later to be brought out to us. The place was called the “Ponderosa Steak Barn”, and was unrelated to the restaurant chain that came out a few years later with a similar name.

We ate at the restaurant countless times when I was growing up; it eventually closed. Years later, as an adult, I was back in that town working, and the building had been converted to a Chinese Palace theme. Several of us from work went to eat there for lunch. I went back to use the restroom, and in the back hall were all the old paintings — including that one.

Leaned up against a wall, in a poorly lit hallway, were paintings almost as tall as I was — twelve of them. And there was that cowboy, and that horse, and that match lighting his cigarette. And for that brief second, I felt the cold, and remembered what it was like to step into a new restaurant with my family at six years old.

It was kind of like stepping back into a different world, and even more like stepping back into a different me. Six year old me appreciated art — and food — like I never quite have, since.

My mom used to say, “you never feel things as keenly as you did when you were young.” As a kid I head this, and thought nothing. As a teen and twenty-something, I interpreted it to mean she was now numb from life. Over time, it came more and more to be an observation about the nature of things: neither sad, nor hopeful, just… factual.

There was a second winter painting of the twelve in total (the rest were warm weather paintings) that I saw all those years later in that hallway: it was of a deer standing by a tree in the snow. The photo, above, was the closest thing I could find to it online; the original painting had mountains in the background, and the edge of a nearby forest. It was, my dad remarked, one of only two of the paintings to not have a human being in it.

I thought my dad was wrong, because, clearly, WE were in it, or we couldn’t have seen it, right?

Isn’t that how empathy works?


(Nano Poblano. It stretches us to the very limits of our limit-hood, but has been worth it nonetheless.)

A Lamentable Desire


Action, taken at a distance 
Back when such things were in play; 
Candy, flowers, evanescence -- 
Dalliance along the way -- 

Every day and night grew closer, 
Finally, the engine starts; 
Grand design and exploration, 
Hands and torsos without hearts 

Immature, but fully growing, 
Jokes and riddles, rhymes and puns, 
Kisses by the gates of heaven 
Lasting more than anyone's -- 

More and longer, yes and better: 
Navigation by the stars 
Over seas and undercurrents 
Past the blurring lights and bars 

Quick, across the city landscape. 
Running down the alleyways 
Sheltering in rain embraces 
Tension, then release with praise -- 

Ultimately, finding empty -- 
Varicose though they might be -- 
Wandering, and lost in sorrow, 
Xenia-fed ecstasy --  

Youth and pleasure, melting, falling; 
Zest and foolishness, their calling.

(More from the crew found here.)


A Strange Adventure


When you fall in love, 
People are excited for you, but 
It's rarely about the actual person. 
They relate to the process, 
Even if the specifics leave them unmoved. 

This is what falling in love 
With a book can be like, as well: 
We try to convey our enthusiasm, 
But people relate better to our passion than 
It's object.



(All images from “Strange Adventures“, a book I’m still thinking about 2 years later. For more posts from the Tiny Peppers durational National Blog Posting Month, click here.)

Interpretive Dance

(This post was inspired by the piece “Unzesty” from Renee over at “This Dead Horse”.)


When people tell you what a poem “means”, they are almost invariably telling you stuff about themselves, and only partially about the poem. Poems come to life through interaction with listeners or readers, so this seems only natural: any interpretation is telling you about that interaction, which necessarily contains the person who has said interpretation.

Like Renee in the blog post above, I can recall teachers who graded us on repeating back their own interpretations of poems, more-or-less verbatim; like her, I had to learn this the hard way, by failing a few quizzes before I caught on to the game being played. This didn’t seem like a practice calculated to building a love of poetry; it seemed more designed to create something like a cult around the professor, and there is a whole world to explore in that phenomenon.

Many of us want to appear as “oracles”, people whose insight into truth is not to be questioned. One need only go so far as Twitter to see screen after screen full of people who make assertions as to the ultimate truth of everything, and with serene confidence. I had professors, both in poetry and philosophy, who had little-to-no interest in developing the critical thinking skills of students: they had already obtained all truth, and it was the student’s job to ingest it and regurgitate it, unchanged.

It is easy to see the hallmarks of wounded ego in all of this. Very few people care about poetry — you can take it from me, I’ve been a philosopher and a poet — and the natural response of all of us who feel compelled to pursue interests few others have is to dismiss all others as a bunch of unfeeling idiots. They are not, of course, and it is only our desire to feel that our passions should be shared by the rest of the world that causes us to react this way.

I assumed that the teacher described in “Unzesty” himself thought pretty much nonstop about sex and death, so he saw it everywhere he looked. That human beings confute sex and power dynamics constantly is another topic about which many pages could be written, and a significant number of those would be dedicated to college professors and other people in positions of power.

If the concept of “privilege” means anything — and many dispute that the concept does mean anything, other that to be used as an empty pejorative — it is that no one sees all things objectively, and that honest perspectives on the meaning of things have equal validity. This is a vexing reality to all who love something so much that they become an expert on it.

Those other people, with their opinions. Geesh.


(For other posts from the Mighty Cheer Peppers, see here.)

parade

today we celebrate en masse 
and gather in array; 
today in gratitude we march 
or sing, or shout, or play -- 

or gather in more quiet homes 
a meal or less to share; 
today's the annual parade -- 
maybe I'll see you there

Gratitude is healthy, but only when sincerely felt. Feigned gratitude tastes terrible, one of those foods we ingest because manners dictate that we do so. It is no coincidence, then, that we attempt to celebrate the expression of gratitude by eating things we (presumably) love. It makes any residue of fake gratitude go down easier.

Before the meal, usually, is the parade. Parades are busy, and colorful, and loud, and musical, and exciting — some of us like all of these things, and most of us like at least one of these things. Colors would be the one I like the most. I could do without most of the other parts. I love bright colors, though.

When my parents would take me to a parade as a child, or watch one on television, I could tell that parades had meant more to them than they did to me. They had grown up in a radio age, and only saw what they directly experienced. I grew up in a television age, where images were far more plentiful. People in the Internet age experience connectedness in different ways still, and in greater visual and auditory abundance.

It’s a common-yet-strange disconnect when things that mean a lot to people don’t mean much to their children. Thanksgiving itself, as celebrated here, seems to still mean lot to the young ones, although observably differently depending on the child. Some love the crowd, the excitement, the noise, and others don’t. We are all very different from day one, even before circumstance begins to shape us like weather.

If you happen to watch a parade today, or anytime, remember this: nothing says “celebration” like getting dressed up and going for a long walk, while people cheer. Except maybe watching it.


(More from the other Cheer Peppers here.)

When I Let Go

Somewhere, out in the endless west, is love: 
Strong like the mountains, beautiful like the autumn, 
But distant, untouchable, a dream. 

We are creatures of water, made to go through, 
But never around. When you live in the water, 
You never "get over it", you "go through it", 
And that is us.

Dreams may connect us to a greater reality, 
Or, perhaps, a greater escape than our reality allows: 
It is love that always connects us to the greater, 
Even if in feeling it, we are somehow lesser.

There was a day when I let go: I watched 
The love I had poured out evaporate and turn into clouds 
That floated over the strong mountains, 
Lovely, but almost the last thing you would notice. 

They had told me I would never understand what love was 
Until I became what I became; 
All these years later, I would only add that 
I never really knew what despair and emptiness were, either, 
And that is far less advertised part of the bargain.

Somewhere in a west beyond the real west, is love: 
When I let go of it, I didn't, really, and couldn't. 

(Timed write – 13 minutes. More from the NanoPoblano squad can be found here.)

The Fatigue of Ordinary Gentlemen

Jacket Blurb: In this not-really-anticipated new tale from author ordinaire Owen Servant, a motley group of “heroes” from unknown parts of history assemble to exchange vague platitudes and argue over where to eat lunch.

Note to self: when and if you ever write a book, do not attempt to craft your own marketing.


For well over a decade, I had this dream of living in a camper, traveling all over North America, seeing the sights, reading books. I’m not quite sure where the money was supposed to come from to support that existence; my dreams have always been light on practical details. In my dream, I lived alone, of course, because that was the life I always imagined.

My actual life is nothing like that. I am a married grandfather with four or five children (depending on how you count) and four or five grandchildren (depending on the same counting convention) who is a mathematician at a large Fortune 500 company, where I am also what might be called an executive.

My typical work day is from 6 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday, with sporadic night meetings. I also work most Saturday mornings. I have roughly 50 or so employees I am directly or indirectly responsible for.

In becoming a mathematician, I assumed I would be able to lead a thoughtful and secluded life, so I’m batting 0-for-2 there, as well. I do attempt with some regularity to think, but am not as successful as would be ideal. Maybe if I had a camper.


When I do get home, I’m typically doing things with the three oldest of the aforementioned grandchildren:

This photo was taken in my backyard, 2 days before Halloween, 2022.

Since the time change, I get up almost every morning at 3:30. I get up, do a devotional/meditation, roll out a yoga mat and stretch for maybe 20 minutes, sit down in my study to read Nano Poblano posts, then write as much as time allows before I have to get ready and head to work.

I go to sleep around 9:30 at night.

I write at speed and rarely do much, if any, editing. As such, I routinely make mistakes, which is fairly representative of my life as a whole. I have a lot to do, and I do most of it, although more-and-more in a kind of waking haze, never getting enough sleep, but slogging on, nonetheless.

Sometimes, on a Sunday, I go out for drives in the countryside, listening to books or podcasts. In days like we’ve been having here recently, cold and clear, I can feel from the hills and trees and farms I pass the beauty and magnificence I longed to be seeing as young man, when I dreamed of a camper life.

I am lucky to have the life I do have, and I treasure it. But I am becoming aware of how life, and age, prepare us through tiredness for eventually letting go. I have so much to be thankful for, and only so much time to experience it, so I’d best get back to it.


Is your real life different than people might get from reading your blog? What dreams did you have that you never realized?

a better use of time

there in the past we were, but here, 
there's sameness, and there's tiredness; 
you watch romantic movies, and 
it isn't all that hard to guess 

that you wish you were somewhere else. 
it's not to wave our life away: 
just to be back inside the new 
when good-surprises led the day,  

and we were young. that thing we lose 
when careless years stack up on years, 
and we have less from which to choose 
in laughs, and far too much in tears. 

i wish that i could give you now 
the things you miss -- i miss them too -- 
but every day is like a gauge 
that falls, until the fuel is through. 

perhaps, a better use of time, 
is then to say what love can say: 
i'm here, i'll sit and watch with you, 
and we, at least, can share each sacred 

day

when fear was king

when fear was king, we gathered in our millions, 
to tell each other just how great we were; 
we owned the army, had our hands on trillions, 
and though, yes, death and tragedy occurred, 

we royal ones, we understood in grandeur 
that this was now the best of us in charge; 
and even if our crowds were full of frotteur, 
this was the smallish price of living large. 

when fear was king, we knew and were not silent: 
we stapled to our thumbs each word and phrase 
that made us pure of heart, if rather violent, 
yet out from out unfavorable phase 

when someone else was king, or queen, or ruler -- 
out selling fears we could not call our own -- 
how sad we've lost the world of our complacence, 
when we could idolize a putrid

throne

(For more, and hopefully happier, posts from the crew, click here.)