Rhythms: Archives 2013-2017

 

Rhythms archived:  

Varied, contrasting and and unusual shapes of experiences and thoughts in the form of non-traditional poetry.

 

Awakened

by LJ Frank

An old crumpled map

carried by the wind to the windshield of his car

upon which a route was drawn by pen

with marked points of interest

and for no other reason than a change in direction

a smile appeared on his face

towards an unexpected moment

followed by a seductive, mysterious text message

and the excited quiet of the uncertain

and a possible romantic rhythm of life

yet upon arrival he found the place

filled with stones, bricks and mud

where a former building may have existed

and he began to wonder

whether it had all been a dream

when he heard footsteps behind him

and felt a hand on his shoulder

he turned around to see who touched him

and was awakened.

* * *

In Your Praise

by Lisa Marie Popp

Look, the dandelions

and their seeds,

how wild the shoots, willows in March

and a cloud-as if weather taught progress—

shifts the ducks inland.

 

Your light meter flickers.

Eels that were on the track of cow

stop for two seconds,

and pray, till it liquefies,

to the milk: a gritty photo.

 

I make a mark, erase it with the next.

The chickens, nuns, birds, the scarecrows

And coming home, talked into the ground radical,

if I went faster, mushrooms came to meet me:

love engendering heavenward.

 

Look, the running half horse accelerates

the snail it straddles.

Look how the cooking woman in me

squeezes lemons with her swollen had,

See what I exclude.

 

Your changing shutters.

Your little handbags of pills

and clenched tears…

 

Jesus, snap the footsteps,

the remnants, the bottles & my cigarette butts

which I, for days, honor you

and prove myself – the Smoke.

 

Little obsession slip of a thing,

but it eats and drinks

what I provide: the lettuce (with onion)

once exposed, a rapid brush sketch,

and mystified…(that’s mental exploitation;

only entrepreneurs gabble of art.)

 

Crashing apples.

The silence, teeth after.

Have I bequeathed.

 

Your release now, now and Now

Agfa color, agfa color declare the ducks

Colored on shallow water.

 

But my dream is gray-etched

and rained out on both bank of the river

fugitive horizons…

 

Suddenly (again) feeling

Stutter on fresh paper,

As if your angels, the flies, had

no quarrel here.

Face to face they stand, estranged,

wait for the fluke, form a legend…

 

He wiped the sweat off with hi napkin,

and handed down his face.

Evening tide, I keep on drawing,

So that the flood,

This, that, you  &  you too, figured into the sand,

(if like dust I could, myself no longer understanding me.)

 

Whatever crowds in, heap up, accumulates

Whatever brings a space all its own

Now I am twenty-one and still am amazed…

 

Look how freely in this space, I am,

and sieve the blackness, gray, gray,

the compulsion that insists on white.

Look at the closed eye

Look at the doll, now the visitors have gone

Look at the table used

The bones of the bones

Carefully, the light touch:

in your praise.

 

***

 

Sometimes, a Strange Desire to Forget

by Lisa Marie Popp

I remember

the day Richard Nixon resigned

because on that day I saw

my sister’s teacher sitting

in a long dress

on a curb

by a busy street

eating chocolate cake

out of a tinfoil and

ignoring the fact

that passing cars

were blowing her skirt

in her face.

 

I used to bang the back

of my head against

the back of the sofa

and get a certain euphoric feeling

I used to

lay face down

in the new grass every spring

and get a certain sexual feeling

I’d marvel at the cases of coca-cola

stacked to the ceiling

and red-faced men in rundown bars

whispering a vaporized, Amen”

I gripped the bar stool

with white knuckles.

 

Sometimes

we pelted each other

with shaved ice

or ran barefoot terror

the night oozed with strange screams

a raccoon began tap-dancing on the roof,

where I come from is

a hamburger town, not

the buckle in the Bible belt

some friends followed the illusion

to scale the wall of America

abandon the rhetoric of love

for the politics of rage

like maddened locusts

get lost on highways

divided by sea-green walls

And poles.

 

I used to

grip the back seat of the church pew

in front of me

with snow-white knuckles

the gray-headed salvation squad

loomed over my head

like a distortion of a movie

from the very front row

I would see a magnified tear

rolling down their fallen cheeks

in rare slow motion

while whispering a vaporized, “Amen.”

 

***

 

Ice-Pick Intellect

by Lisa Marie Popp

The day after the winds went underground

I gasped for breath

While you rode an icon surfboard

to the school of green waves

where you met your heart’s desire

and locked it in a cage.

 

Envy, the dark plum, still

on the windowsill

as your voice spoke

as soft as crayon

drawing doorways on the land,

search for the ice ax on virgin sand

 

As you pause in the pale,

did you know

you’re for sale?

The dreams are rolling

in broad daylight

the sun beats down

on the bait you bite

 

While you dwell in the dark we

go running

in the blare and glare of noon,

in envy of your enticing serenity,

You, who find peace in ways most opportune

 

Only chilled indifference

I detect

in burning ice-pick intellect

like the sky

is a silent blue shout

you are iambic doubt without

any hope of intervention

 

You are moved

to an assumption

as sterile dry bones

on park benches flash

like pretty preconception

of lace-bodice dancing daughter

When she needed you the most

You were in the ice water

 

Of the many nightmares

you’ve made

the worst you’ve saved,

it’s the one

you see yourself exchanging

not changed, but changing

as you melt the days

they drain over you

like truth,

diamond nights are wild and cold

that’s no way

to spend your youth

 

Faceless on the Boulevard of Mirrors

rough water

so blackly deep with fears,

iced-out into hypodermic terrors

conspiring as whisper

when they expect to shout

 

A wrinkle’s single

sublime undertone

made you go down on doubt,

although your reflection

is undiluted by comparison

your photograph is never free

 

And Icarus dreams

that never found the sea

stay on poisonous lakes as we

watch Time,

the solemn clown, vow oblivion,

and we lie

on your shadows, ready to run

 

llliquid tears

smear illegible years,

your were perpetually in motion

and indelible

that summer you sat high

on your golden ass,

 

Staying ice-bound

inhaling grass,

that evanescent evening edible

suffering

not insanity,

only vanity

 

Like a pasteurized Statue of Liberty

clutching a blue-moon ice-cream cone,

Your eyes are two extra zeros

on every frozen telephone,

Living on the edge is a kick

When your intellect is ice-pick.

 

***

 

On Ramps and Other Accelerations/Ends

by Lisa Marie Popp

You are the man

on the window ledge

who jumps out of the window

for some air,

a Salvador Dali stalking fresh models

to accelerate in the darkness,

immortalize, on backseat canvas

shake-up the world with car-window hair

like a blue streak

on the highway’s welcome mat,

Nothing rises as quickly as you

Through your synthetic sleep

night slides by like a submarine,

morning lies across your feet like a cat,

Shooting an arrow dream

in this wildfire scene

you are blindfolded, stoned-blind

in sizes too large

black coat with uneven long sleeves

monumental as a barge

socked into obtuse Mississippi

gathering light from the bridges behind.

 

Reborn as you are

fixed in a breathless flash

by a stream sheathed in amethyst

brushed fire-red eyes in stark

stare that followed foundry ash

to asphalt coolness in floating smoke,

Living a far and away joke

getting lost you chose,

instead of getting free

as thin-printed lips still

press against a bottle of a Irish Rose

where you once told me

was your favorite place after dark.

 

The pieces on your earth

spelled Pepsi Cola,

bearing billboard trees

reflected in tide pool eyes like

the cracked handles of bottomless cups

and you are a leaf

falling onto the water

your breath that the wind floats down

Drifting, a ripple on the surface of the night,

Legs kick with the urge to drown.

 

When you put pedal to the medal

You were the stapler, I was the staple

All I knew as a piece of paper the truth crumpled,

All the truth I knew was a crumbled piece of paper.

My eyes are getting used to dark shades,

I wear protestant sunglasses as I stare on

laundered clouds stacked high,

sandwiched between the deep of sea and sky,

 

Distant as the corners of a room

Impendent as your impenetrable doom,

while I know this blueness so soon fades.

 

***

 

Scratches

by Lisa Marie Popp

Nothing yields here.

The attitudes, the moods, the habits,

it’s a way that worships and fears change

A cemetery with lights,

and the people are all born dying.

But not you, not yet.

What are you afraid of?

Arrows that fly in the night?

You put your feet in the ocean

when I asked you to meet me

and you ran away.

Have I imagined freedom?

In a world of ashes

wings flow out of flames,

but never know fire

Like eating jam out of a jar,

but really only tasting the spoon.

We are half-sleeping in the womb of time.

Like a virgin

showing off her dress, mountains

with fresh fallen snow

Arms and mouth go numb

sipping life through a straw.

 

* * *

 

The politician

by L J Frank

He grew up savvy next to a gravel road

with a singular weed growing in a narrow crevice

an untreatable genetic brain scar tissue

he was un-affected by compassion 

 

As a man child he traveled

plane, limo, suv and pickup truck

another city, meeting, message

with others of similar faith

money to fill the empty wallet he brought along

one’s choice of words predetermined by his wiring,

the aphrodisiac of power and filtered thoughts.

 

He understood his wants

with whom he wished to abuse or refuse

and was bound to have come to Jesus meetings

intimidate and fear were tools

and core to his repertoire,

to accumulate whatever

genitals filled with a fluid like testosterone

the steroid hormone was a transmittable infection

too willing to ejaculate and spread,

a misplaced birthing occurred

as he stole from his friends.

 

The oath of office was a pretext for his agenda

to honor cunning and deception

towards the final chapter of his delusion

something else had taken hold

the children of his lies took to the streets.

.

Too late for redemption

the wells of the minds were now poisoned

pondering

while another’s blood was dripping on the ground

nearby was a detached arm with an outstretched hand,

yet he never experienced an awakening

no insights were to be found within

for none of it applied,

the infected died with the cremation of the civil

the ashes of a bad dream arrived.

 

* * *

The “open road” is a state of mind

 by L J Frank

Packed my aging sports car,

drove to Toronto

with its international cast

through the tier of East coast states.

A chat

is a reason needed?

translations from French and Chinese

Detroit, the next stop

a city reinventing itself,

Chicago beckoned,

an architectural invitation

farther west

then across the prairies

to the Rocky Mountains.

Another conversation

headed out

under the towering rocks

the big sky

while knowing

I perhaps hadn’t gone far enough

just in case.

Expressions

change with geography

radioed opinions

social, news media

surveillance

omnipresent

even when turned

to “off.”

Hours and days passed,

a few thousand miles later

on the multi-lane pavement,

with the knowledge

the “open road” is a state of mind.

 

* * *

 

Tenants of the Almighty

by Lisa Marie Popp

She was always trying new things,

and she’d try them ten times harder

than anyone else

If the label said one teaspoon

she’d down two tablespoons,

She was young and spirited and

Beauty aged, in her work, into

the gnarled hands of the old woman:

These are the hands of labor,

Forty acres and steel mules,

the dream sold to

Tenants of the Almighty,

as a Preface to Peasantry

on the stricken land in the Family of Man.

I’m not interested in adjectives

I’m only interested in pictures

Not a photographer

but a sociologist with a camera records

your streets,

your buildings,

your factories,

But our souls, God damn you

it’s the farms and the towns

not the highways between,

A man may have holes in his shoes

and you may see the holes

as an occasional psychoanalyst without portfolio,

But there’s a lot more to that man

than the holes in his shoes

Howling dogma disentwines the bureaucratic web

and stumbles across the skull and horns

of Freedom,

bleaching in the sun.

In the midst of this antheming country

Dignity battles despair

When dignity loses, the people will

become extinct.

She has the expression of tragedy permanently on her face,

Yet something transcends misery,

the set of the chin the straight line of the shoulders

Not the face of despair.

What do you see

out of the kitchen window?

Pictures of men, women, and Children in magazines

appearing as if they might really believe

in America, apple pie, polished shoes, pressed clothes, and so on….

Looking farther down the street,

People on and off the Job

the country club becomes the street corner

or open-doored bars and eat joints,

What will happen to the roadside hamburger stand?

The highway is a more attractive place

than the places people live.

Past the weather beaten houses

and quiet stores comes the Edge of Death

where the city and highway meet

A record of human erosion

A permanent wistfulness

for space and peace

and silly sentimental pictures

of sharp women in hats.

The ability to take life

however it came

was lost in America,

bone tired, dead broke,

old before her time

She has all the suffering of mankind

in her,

but all the perseverance too,

a restraint and a strange courage

You can see anything you want

in her,

She is immortal

as the dry steel water pump

in front of a peeling church.

 

* * *

 

Will the self remember?

by L J Frank

An oversized evening canvas

braced against an easel standing

on a creaking wood deck under the mountain air

an overhead light

the oil paint slowly drips colors

as I point the tip of a long handle brush

only to be interrupted…

a sound of a drone

twilight has it own un-private zones

in the blue back darkness of clear night sky,

wondering if the universe is really a multiverse

how many dimensions

does space and time fold

and what is the threshold

will the self remember?

 

* * *

 

Through a textured matrix

by L J Frank

Thick vibrant colors

spilled on a canvas

a Mockingbird sings in a tree,

extraneous sounds filtered

randomly

through a textured matrix.

 

 * * *

 

After Yeats

by Lisa Marie Popp

My love who tries not to love me:

My life which cannot love me:

I seduce both.

He with my light-switch love…

If I were always here, would my love be the same?

Life is my art…

(Shield before death)

Thus without sadness I live

(What unhappy rooms I leave!)

One knows nothing…

One desires…

Which is the life.

 

* **

 

Sound

by Lisa Marie Popp  

The real surrounds me

With its barbed wire entanglements

Leaping upwards, I clutch at a cloud

and stuff it in my head.

In a blue haze

figures emerge

and drift

in an endless floating dance.

Women with streaming hair

fall downwards

Holding burning flowers.

Flocks of eyes fly around gazing

and flapping their lids.

Stretching out

on the cloud in my mind

I wait for the approach

of the ultimate dream.

 

* * *

 

So Far Away

by Lisa Marie Popp 

Clouds, big ones, oh it’s

blowing up wild outside.

Be something for me

this time. Change me,

wind. Change me, Rain.

 

* * * 

 

Sky

by Lisa Marie Popp  

You, gull, up there

Steer down towards me

Freedom, to me,

Your wings are white

Up there in the coolness.

 

* * *

 

Listen to the wind

by L J Frank   

The word meditate is an ancient word

I crossed the desert where it murmurs and chants

and found myself listening

to the faint echo of unfamiliar sounds;

being one with the sand, the wind and the sky,

to meditate implies the profound

its roots seeded in the mind-scape of Asia and the Middle East.

Just take a deep breath…inhale, exhale, focus, relax, breathe

repeat a mantra if need be

let the collage come in and go out…

if you seek truth

then perhaps you should consider

dropping your opinions,

the monk spoke.

The days of the soul can be found standing in line

waiting for it’s number to appear on the counter of some machine

but the machine is the time paradox

as you realize you’re the clock

and the reflection is you in another dimension;

meditation comes in a plethora of shapes

tweaked sizes to fit the “individual”

and for an extra dollar we will go even deeper,

it may not be enough pay the your soul’s bills

but transcending the moment helps

I suppose it all depends on what you seek

some are in and some are left out

chance…

listen to the wind.

 

* * *

 

Winter Song

by Lisa Marie Popp  

lying sleepless

in her bed

she is

a wreck of dreams

(a broken stem)

I know that song

chemical, cave, & fire

this living wonder

the more you love

the more you have to lose

the risk

the thin space of sky

the more of it

the more

there is

to lose

will you ghost

or will you angel?

take your blue

and take your wander

which winter

did you hide in?

I’ll take my chances

on it.

 

* * *

 

The day after

by Lisa Marie Popp   

I sit the day after humanity

without form

watching the world turn

watch nothing

Like three soft stars

so many miles away

after three months exile

sent a long letter home

Did someone steal

Mona Lisa’s smile forever

to write a poem on

Lennon’s death in Rolling Stone

In the kitchen singing

about apple trees right now

surprised to see manila folder

filled with serious intentions

How clear your voice

from a bundle of paper

laughing merrily

merrily without form

We are the form

who can see through walls

see through the concrete

it is great out there

Continuing on forever

through fields of crewcut wheat

through the white lightning moon

the glamorous licorice eyes glow

You must dive down

to retrieve forever with the coral bones

where the strange creatures roll

William Blake spoke to me

Saying you must finish

and damn Dylan won’t stay sober

full of paranoia coffee

high on surrealistic newspapers

I missed the bus

waving goodbye

cut my wings

set me free

Like a gypsy sunflower

pretty girls you’ve never seen

angels rapturous & clean

like you’ve never seen

Like you’ve never seen

count the angels

on the rim

Yes, yes, and even yes.

 

* * *

 

The Macintosh Mantra

by L J Frank    

It was afternoon as I walked through the hilly orchard of apple trees with their ripe autumn fruit – like wandering through a colorful painting by some famous artist whose name I misplaced in the folds of a memory that needed dusting off.

Apple orchard wandering was one of my favorite times while working on a farm during my youth – to walk through the orchard and breathe in the quiet fragrance of life. Like vineyards and grapes it has the appeal for the artist that favors diverse tastes.

One doesn’t become an artist overnight. If nature bestows such talent and one finds one possesses a natural gift then take it with a grain of salt like most things in life. This too shall pass. Perceptions are just that. And to possess even one’s heart is an illusion. The textured soles of the human soul may not find its imprint on the canvas of what is perceived.

As minutes turned into an hour the late afternoon was garnished with a reddish-blue sky so I took a moment to gaze at the orchard of apples when I spotted a tree with the luscious Macintosh fruit hanging from the branches.

Macintosh apples have thick skins colored in reds and greens with a sensual tart flavored flesh that is white, pink and green at times. So I picked but one apple and washed it off at a water pump near a barn and then sat down on the ground and just took the earthy surroundings all in while savoring the taste of this autumn fruit. For me on that day, the two words ‘Macintosh apple’ was my mantra and brought a smile to my face.

 

* * *

 

Thoughts Sitting Breathing

by Lisa Marie Popp  

In my shadow

shading pencils & hypodermic words

in my shadow

I saw you & abandoned nothing

like notebooks all empty, all for show

all for saccharin sighs:

I sang a blues, made rock stars weep

then breathed my own breath

through a tear-gas hallucination

and sat silent

at the bar

writing words

with an ink soul.

 

** *

 

 \A reflection on Amedeo Clemente Modigliani

by L J Frank

Yesterday happened in less than

a blink in one eye

all history is contemporary

in the context of the abstract expressionist

a studio of contrasting hues

the shower from the sun casts its light

to gaze upon and consider

she needed no pose

colors deposited in the grooves

of the wood palette

the oil dripped from a long handle brush

each stroke conveyed

a sense of humanity

flirted with the uncommon

still, life is cut short

on a Bohemian note

brilliance arrives the day of his passing

money exchanged before

the body begins its final journey.

 

* * *

 

Unscripted IV…the past recedes in the rear view mirror

by L J Frank  

Endless road. Scenery changes. Browns, greens, yellows, reds textured with cornfields, lakes and woods.

Driving past the coldness of cement structures, the one sided view of opaque glass monuments, bridges overhead, the two-lane black asphalt continues as far as one can see through aviator sunglasses.

Accelerate then slow down, semi-trucks, a monotonous parade of sports utility vehicles with rusted memories on four wheels. The finger presses a button. The channel is changed but the news is the same.

The banal and tedious voices of talk show hosts and their guests are switched to symphony and jazz. The music blurs. The mind empties.

Beef cattle stand alongside the road waiting endless hours grazing and looking at the passing faces, as they somehow know death will come soon enough.

In the distance a storm gathers. The dark grows, a gray cloud swirls as the wind increases in speed, and billows of gray touch the ground then just as quickly dissipates as if it never existed.

The road is wet and glistens from shadows of the sun that shower the pavement. A car pulls over in front so a passenger can take a picture of a rainbow.

The road continues and the driver listens to his thoughts played against the music in the background. The past recedes in the rearview mirror.

 

* * *

 

The Art of Love

by Lisa Marie Popp   

My god, how you beautifully you write!

I sleep with you tonight?

You like my voice, I like your rhyme,

We’ll chase the words for a time.

Our poems we forbear

To write of Kleenex or long hair,

Or how the one may fuck the other,

We’re serious artists, aren’t we brother?

In our poems, oceans heave

Like our stomachs when we leave

Late at night the 14th bar,

I, your meteor, you, my star.

When autumn ends, like a page

We’ll still be floating thru our craze,

wildly singing in the haze,

I, past saving, you, past praise.

 

* * *

 

Unscripted III 

by L J Frank 

DETOUR. It was a yellow road sign with black letters and an arrow underneath. I double-checked the GPS on my smart phone. Getting sidetracked has the allure of adaptability, adversity, humor and perseverance, not necessarily in that order.

Adversity has the capacity to shape character. Years ago I was aboard a schooner on a voyage with a particular destination mapped on a navigational chart. We endured a short time of intense concern when the engine failed. We had a small fire aboard and drifted without a wind for a couple of days. We finally caught a breeze and sailed into a port where the captain had experienced previous licensing issues of which he pleaded innocence. Once docked the captain considered his situation, glanced over at a distant camera on a tall pole and looked over at me and smiled, “Minor diversion. I have an idea.”

Detours in life can be minor diversions. I looked at the 24 hour digital clock on the dashboard. It was getting late so I decided to stop at a large motel near a crossroads to catch up on some sleep. I discovered there was a television in the living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom in a comparatively small suite.

I’m drawn and repelled by the ubiquitous monitors, cameras and computer screens. It allows a surreal idea to transcend the reality of a mere overnight stay or simply driving down the highway.

During that “motel evening” I had a dream that I was getting sucked into one of the screens as if I was in a horror film. Then I wondered whether I was looking at the screen or it was looking at and even perhaps assessing me.

The next morning I checked my email and received a survey on my smart phone. I had reached my ‘survey monkey’ limit long ago and expected a call from a surveying agency asking me why I didn’t rate them higher. It was about money. My inner survey avoidance system kicked in.

I shook my head, departed and placed my baggage in the trunk of my small car, slid down behind the wheel and headed for the highway. As I was driving up over a hill with windows rolled down I heard a buzzing sound above me. The buzz passed over me and as I looked up I noticed it was a drone. It was close enough that I could see some type of corporate logo.

I kept driving until I saw the drone land by the roadside near a sports utility vehicle a hundred yards in front of me. As I drove by the vehicle I could hear the man standing next to the drone yell back to the driver, “ I have a thought!”

The entire detour turned out to be just that – a detour. About thirty miles later I was back on the mapped highway when I received another message via my smart phone indicating I should expect a detour. I smiled to myself, turned on the radio to listen to a news interview. The interviewer asked his guest, “Has the nation and the world evolved into a television program?”

 

* * *

 

What is Left?

by Lisa Marie Popp   

Me that was

the owl

on the fence

fell into a mold

made of clay

for the doves.

Me that was

the desert

parched eyes & thirsty

finally saw

you’re really sipping

when your glass

is always empty.

Me that was

the dawn

when the air was pure

became a dawn

that dawns on another rumor of war,

all things come and go.

Me that was

just coming & going

all over the place,

the place itself is coming & going,

Which is feeling just coming to go,

Who’s going to ever know the world

Before it goes?

 

 

* * *

Pens may now be used in The Library

by Lisa Marie Popp   

Your smile was

a magical swirl

of rebel art

in the dust of old

eight-by-tens

I used to love

you, but it’s all over now.

I lick your lips

with great expectations,

but you’re pretty vanilla.

The ponytail rap sessions

proved life intimidates art

All you have

is a wall of noise, the souvenir

of insurgent poise

You were a dusky rebel

among educator’s enlightenment

You can’t listen to the music,

You make a sound statement.

Don’t defrost me, oh my darling ice

King of stark subversive satire,

My Bombay Sapphire

pours something priceless

into the remaining tides,

Put on your protest headdress

The mattress has a headache

My street sign says, “NO OUTLET”

So ciao baby! My hair’s in a ponytail now,

Why must something be cut simply

because it grows?

A curious personal tragedy,

I found the Buddha

in a closed dandelion sack

among copper ground, purple leaves,

black waves falling back,

No countersign of codfish aristocrat

The rings on your wood reveal your longevity,

I got to the bottom

of the top man.

The seagulls scream, the telling dream

of how the lost love

was lost.

Rage as shiny and fun

as a child’s toy

has a high cost,

The color of the water changed

and I had cold hands

Was it last Christmas

you began to resemble Dylan Thomas

and Bob Dylan?

 

* * *

 

Unscripted II

by L J Frank  

After a couple of days discussing a ghostwriting project with a client on the west coast, I headed across the Southwest on Route 1-40. I had another project approximately 500 hundred miles away and then on to my ultimate destination on the east coast. I like to drive and the trip gave me time to talk into my recorder.

Miles went by under the heat of the sun and the wide-open parched landscape. Later that night I decided to stop at the welcome sign of a neon cowboy. I pulled in the mostly deserted motel parking lot that was situated next to a bar that had seen better days.

I was on a budget and ideas can always look good at first glance, especially driving at night with little else seeming to be in sight. There was a red Honda Shadow Aero motorcycle parked in front of the office. I walked through the open flaking painted wood door of the office and a woman with long dark brown hair and wearing a black tank top was leaning over the counter closely examining some papers.

“Hello?”

“Oh! Howdy.” She stood up and smiled at me rather surprised as if I had caught her off guard.

“How much for the night?”

She hesitated, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well since we have very few customers tonight, how’s ah…twenty-five bucks? That includes taxes!”

“Sounds great.” I replied, squinting my eyes with only a moment given to a second thought.

She looked around and then tossed me an actual key and not a card, “we’re cutting back.” She said.

“Ah.”

“Have a good night’s rest.” She grinned.

“Thanks.” I took the key and handed her a twenty and a five-dollar bill and started to walk out the door. I glanced back to see her walking over to a chair. She picked up a leather jacket that was lying across it and returned to the counter. I hadn’t noticed before but she had an intriguing tattoo on her upper left arm with a design I couldn’t decipher.

As I walked to the room, I noticed a few pickup trucks parked more towards the restaurant side of the lot and another across from the motorcycle. I unlocked the door to the room and sat on the bed to test it when I heard a “caw” sound in the bathroom. I quickly got up and went to investigate. There was an odor I couldn’t readily describe. I looked around and opened the shower curtain and jumped back when a large black crow flew out an opening that was previously a window. A breeze pebbled with sand blew in from the opening. It was not a good omen.

I didn’t feel like camping out and went back into the other room. This time something caught my attention crawling on the ceiling – a large metallic looking insect. I doubted that it was listed in The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders.

I grabbed my suitcase and after tossing it in the trunk of my car decided to have a word with the motel manager. I noticed the motorcycle and nearby pickup truck had vanished and my car was the only one remaining except for those vehicles near the restaurant.

I walked into the office to find it empty. A stranger walking by outside from the nearby restaurant apparently saw me earlier. As I exited the office he took his brown Stetson hat off, scratched his head, and looked at me curiously and said, “I thought they closed this place a couple of weeks ago.”

“What?”

“Well, they closed it after a film crew used it to film one of those science fiction or horror flicks. I forget which. Course, it may have been a commercial as they do that a lot around these parts. They all look the same to me.” He just shook his head, made a sound with his lips that could have been a whistle and continued walking away.

“Seriously?”

He turned and looked back at me with a grin. “Yep. Good luck.” Then resumed his pace walking towards a distant truck.

Thanks.” I walked over to my car, slid down into the seat and decided to drive further down the road with a stop over for some coffee at a less deserted place. I pulled onto the right side of the two-lanes and headed across the high desert terrain. I seemed to be the only one on the road except for a couple of semi-trucks barreling down the highway in the opposite direction.

I was moving at a pretty good speed and decided after thirty miles or so to pull into a large gas station and restaurant oasis that was ahead on the right. As I was filling up the gas tank, a red Honda Shadow drove up to the pump behind me. After removing her helmet I recognized the woman with the long dark brown hair. Before I could say anything, she said, “thanks for the money, it was a quick fix and it worked out for me.”

“Maybe I missed something,” I said.

“It’s a long story, but here’s twenty back.” She smiled and walked over to me and handed me the bill. She pumped her gas and paid inside the station and then hurried back. “Hope you don’t mind I just used the five to top off my gas tank. If you get back this way…well you know. As my grandfather used to say, better to owe a man, than beat him out of it.” She then winked and then stopped in mid-track. “Wait. When you’re finished please join me in the restaurant. I know the manager. We can get some free coffee and apple pie.“

“Well, why not?” I nodded.

After finishing filling my tank I pulled my car next to her motorcycle near the front door and joined her in the restaurant. I sat across from her at a small square simulated wood table and listened to her tell a remarkable story about ex-husbands, a horse and her motorcycle. I spent the time just listening with a question here and there for clarity. An hour later, she simply said with a soft smile, “Thanks for listening, partner.”

I reflected for a second on the word partner. “I’m always up for a good story.” I returned the smile.

We got up, she turned to me, gave me a hug, put on her leather jacket and then we walked outside. She jumped on her motorcycle, placed the helmet on her head, then waved and headed north at a nearby crossroads.

I got in my car and drove east wondering about the word, unscripted.

 

* * *

 

Lemonade Rain

by Lisa Marie Popp  

The sky was psychoanalyzing

as Delicatessen Jill rushed out

into the rain with a jello mold,

ink from her eyes fell

under a dark mango tree

sweet as the milky heart of a coconut

beneath the setting sun,

urban sunset like a dried-up lemon.

I am only a bit of cucumber

my skin lies in the dust

my heart is thirsty

my mind is withering while

like a swan from the sky

falls lemonade rain I

and the chicken argue about

which came first,

the rain or the ocean.

Industrial trucks move

leather couches outside

where impatient vegetarians

lounge green gelatin

and beach chairs as waiters

with parched eyes serve

the ornaments on silver platters

and letters torn

from monogrammed terry robes.

Ducks flying clockwise

over the blood-stained picnic table

where the local color

was never ultra-blue

where buttery-soft leather boots

safely locked tourists away

into cowboy consciousness,

and bubble watches and spectacles

pulse on rented night tables bedside

the clown pillow on a fig-shaped bed.

Stretch, don’t splinter,

and melted into my arm and

the snowman said,

“Salt substitute please.”

 

 * * *

 

Tread marks on the dirt road of the mind

by L J Frank   

 

Clarity of mind can appear in the form of a simple equation and then disappear within the nuances of fresh knowledge.

The sun was about two hours above the western horizon.  I climbed up to a place on a mountainside and sat in a modified lotus position on a mat of pine needles under a large white pine tree in a forest overlooking the ocean – rhythmically breathing. Self-realization was not what I was pursuing.

A man with skin loosely clinging to his bones, long white hair pulled back into a ponytail, a large nose and creases in his tanned forehead, approached leaning into the wind with a walking stick in hand. He looked over and greeted me as he held on to the hickory stick and decided to share his thoughts about his life as an out of work sailor. “The economic structures we sail on today are technological marvels but the passengers are walking a plank they don’t think exists,” he observed with the wisp of a memory.

As he looked over the blue-green rolling waves that crashed ashore I asked him what he attributed to his surviving for so long and he grinned, “To begin and end each day breathing.”

“Humor affects the well-being of the heart.” I smiled. He nodded and went on his way.

After the brief meditative excursion, I hiked down to the dirt road filled with tread marks and climbed into my small car, turned on my smart phone and glanced at the acronymic text messages, then scanned a digital journal and a few newspapers from around the electronic planet.

Clarity may not always arrive in an easy to understand equation. It may occur by accident or through a carefully engineered vision of the tread marks on the dirt road of the mind.

 

* * *

 

The writer and his thoughts

by L J Frank   

 

Writing consumes. It ebbs and flows, cascades and splashes over the protruding rocks and boulders of diversion. An uneven obsession mingles in the waters of the mind that can create an undertow carrying ones thoughts back out to an ocean of indecision. Or a single thought may get lodged into an alcove covered with the spiny reef of complexity inside the writer’s brain. The future is unknown.

Some writers just write each day without ultimately wanting to say a thing or think they are saying something new and knowing inside they are not. If they are among the fortunate they receive money to pay for their lifestyle even if it’s living temporarily in a small house with sand for a patio and a wi-fi connection on an arrogantly shabby beach in South Carolina.

Writers like many other professionals rationalize. Others have a savvy agent or publish themselves and/or have a great marketing strategy or network. And others pursue a narrative of their own.

Perhaps the writer seeking to be enlightened journeys to a distant monastery atop a mountain of which access is via a wooden bridge spanning two mountain tops, hanging perilously a half-mile above the rugged valley floor below. I walked that path and across that bridge. I realized I could indulge in other processes to gain enlightenment. So I traveled across an ocean on a sailing ship with the spray of the high seas striking my face and breathed in the freshness of the blue-green waters along with miles of smelly garbage floating on the surface.

And, so I walk on the beach and listen to the crashing waves and arrive back at the dwelling and take pleasure in a small meal as needed during the day or in the middle of the night, and over a glass of wine and other etceteras.

I continue to write until I can’t for what really else is there? There are no texts in existence that were not written or proclaimed sacred or deemed an ultimate authority except by the women or men who are inspired to write about their inspiration – until their thoughts are perceived to be exhausted, and then they write some more.

So this writer writes…even as the glow from the sun in the western sky appears to descend and turns the eastern horizon into bluish red and a distant boat bobs up and down on the waves of the deep.

 

 * * *

 

The affected believer

by L J Frank   

 

The young man had just finished a reading of Eric Hoffer’s True Believer (1951). In the book, Hoffer suggests a person that is frustrated and feeling powerless with his or her life, finds redemption and extravagant hope in a ‘holy cause which is to a considerable extent a lost faith in ourselves…The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.’

Under the seemingly infinite cloak of frustration the extreme may find its niche in ritual like behavior.  A ritual, though manipulative can be a form of escape or transformation or even absolution. It can feel good, for it’s easy to misplace things that are set down in a different place each day, especially if happens to be one’s mindfulness.

Still, one evening after a bout of severe frustration, the young man walked through the medieval garden and knelt on an alter inside the holy place waiting for a special ritual. A thick blond-haired wise old man, dressed in black from shoes to suit, a cleric’s shirt with a mandarin collar, approached the young man. He had a wiry, angular build with deep-set blue eyes, a long face accentuated with a lantern jaw and bushy arched brows. He could have been a reincarnation of Dr. Johann Faust himself. He leaned over and his lips almost touched the young man’s ears. And, with his right hand he grabbed the young man’s shirt collar – his raspy baritone voice whispered something to cause the young man to gulp and cry out, “What?”

The unsettled crowd of spectators that had decidedly leaned forward from their seats to hear what was spoken was now silent. What did he say to the young man?

The wise old man quickly eyed the now cowering crowd to see if he had their attention and then just as quickly looked down at the young man with his piercing gaze. The young man sensed the fire in the wise old man’s temper uncertain of his own fate. He started to rise up from his kneeling position, when he was suddenly struck on the forehead with the palm of the man’s hand sufficiently enough to toss him backwards causing him to land on his back.

The spellbound crowd gasped. The young man quickly scrambled outside. Once he found himself in the gardens he halted, his hands shook and a drop of sweat dripped from his forehead. He started to nervously chuckle when a stray dog mistook his leg for a tree trunk.

A member of the crowd of spectators followed the young man outside. And in an appropriately somber voice approached and asked, “What did the wise old man say to you?”

The young man looked over towards the stranger with a crooked grin. He said, “I can’t heal!”

 

* * *

 

The language of spaghetti in a “barista” economy

by L J Frank   

 

I was invited to the small Italian café after hours. The chef smiled and spoke with a Mediterranean accent, “Ripe, juicy, organic tomatoes are best as a main ingredient when creating sauce from scratch. Add your herbs and other ingredients, keep it simple, and mix with a long handle large spoon. And anyone can align cooked noodles in a medium-sized bowl just like a professional, then spread the sauce and add some grated cheese,” she laughed.

I smiled. The language employed is very important while cooking as any event with spectator or service appeal aptly demonstrates, especially in a “barista” economy. Such an economy implies more money spent on services than the stuff one buys. A barista is a fancy word but it’s not a career from which to survive.

The word survive has an existential quality. A word can either calm or agitate or stimulate the neurons in our brain. Language in the words of linguist Dwight Bolinger is “like a loaded gun.” A word(s) whether by intent or by accident can hurt, maim, wound or otherwise undermine our existence and only the perception of time may heal the travesty of a word(s) spoken ages ago – seeded and cultivated from the soil of ignorance and arrogance.

“Never get angry at your food. It carries over to the meal. Acrimony and food do not mix well,” the chef stated, and then whispered, “On the other hand, personally, I don’t care for preparing food that once had a central nervous system and brain. Having a central nervous system and a brain regardless of size means the creature could perceive that they were the ones being served. Animals have instincts with an internal language of their own. If I were that creature would I wonder – now that blood has been shed, are you enjoying eating this body? That’s an unsavory and rude thought. Ritual and sacrifice appear to have an unseemly history.”

I nodded in recognition.

The chef added, “Also, one must be careful not to over cook the noodles. A spaghetti dinner may be enhanced by candles, flowers and a glass of red wine to help the language of digestion.”

We both paused and wondered aloud whether passing along one’s recipes for food or wealth is simply an intergenerational transfer, and who knows where this kind of thinking could lead to among heirs to fortunes?

While the chef finished preparations, I noticed my smart phone light flashing. I opened my email to notice an advertisement for insurance…the delete button was quickly pressed and I sat down with the chef at the table to enjoy the simplicity of a sophisticated meal and a light-hearted and fascinating conversation.

 

* * *

 

An inquiry into a subway experience

by L J Frank  

 

The man hurried down the steps to the subway with his newly acquired briefcase in hand filled with a curious manuscript, and descended into the subterranean environs of wired stone walls, cables, metal pipes, tracks, trains, screeching noises, cameras, computers and the traffic of bodies and voices interspersed with the sound of a saxophone.

He noticed some words nearby written with a red marker on the wall below a directional sign:

“The end of recorded knowledge comes! Be wary!”

Regards, Jon Edwards.

It felt evangelical. But the evangelical American theologian and philosopher of the same name, Jonathan Edwards died in 1758. The scientific evidence for any actual divine admonition is paltry. Still, he wondered if knowledge and belief were mere commodities, just not listed on any stock market exchange.

The man looked around at the people waiting on the platform. The theology of “real politic” can be a metaphysical experience with a heavy dose of pragmatism, and realism spiced with surrealism and garnished with a colorful existential dressing. The universe has been queer for ages. And the machine and money are seductive as is a job that pays the bills.

Personally, the man found subway literature at times to be intellectually stimulating and amusingly insightful and yet other moments, rather dull. He periodically traveled a particular train route just to try to catch up with the illusive after hour literary genius, while sipping a cup of espresso sold as special drink for a special person. He watched people carry on conversations with themselves and occasionally stop to read some of Jon’s wall literature with their smart phone in hand texting abbreviations and acronyms.

He hopped on to the train after the arriving travelers bounded off. The train jerked ahead. Passengers grabbed hold of metal poles for balance. Minutes passed. He reached his objective. He exited the city’s umbilical chord-like tunnels climbing a gray cement staircase and then noticed another quote scribbled on the gray cement wall next to the steps leading up to the street above:

“The ground rules have changed. Experience determines your reaction – not will.”

Regards, Jon Edwards

Who is this Jon Edwards? The man shook his head and walked out from the bowels of the city. A heavy drizzle greeted him. A thick misty, foggy, chilly wetness began to filter through his clothes and dampen his skin. “Perfect,” he thought to myself. There was a sense of uncertainty and carefully crafted insecurity affecting those walking purposefully towards their planned destination. A startled pigeon flew overhead and relieved himself. Chance.

The man approached a corner and caught a glimpse of an advertisement on the side of a passing truck:

“The one remaining truth we can be sure of is to be found in a homemade chocolate chip cookie fresh from our oven.”

 

* * *

 

Are you sure? 

by L  J Frank   

He glanced up towards the window of the store on Spring Street in Lower Manhattan. A woman in a tan raincoat was reaching over to retrieve a black leather briefcase from a table in a window display. She looked up and returned the man’s glance with a quick smile.

 

Then with the brief in one hand and a plastic bag in the other she walked back to a counter. Their silent exchange took place in a matter of a few seconds.

He walked on towards his meeting. The feeling of seeing a familiar face happens often. The more one travels, the more the familiar seems to occur. He recalled a sign he once read, “The familiar projects the familiar,” on a subway wall.

He supposed that a person could project attributes as well as limitations on another person based on their own limited experiences and knowledge. It happens.

The man looked at his watch and in that same moment wondered why he needed a watch when he had a smart phone that also showed the time. A couple of hands on the clock instill a philosophical approach to work. Work and joy for him were one and the same. He found pleasure in having clothes, food, shelter, a sensual relationship with another human, money for transportation and a job. It was more about living just above survival. It was a delicate interweave.

On examination the idea of living to work or working to live was intellectually trite within a fractured economy for the numberless living day-to-day or week-to-week. It missed the point but the concept was marketed from the minds of the financially well off. Hard work doesn’t alone lead to financial success or wealth.

So, he hurried his pace to make sure he was there a few minutes early. He was supposed to meet his client in the lobby. He had only seen a fuzzy photo of her in their emails. She had connected with him through a friend of a friend. They apparently had met at a wine tasting years before.

His client seemed transparent, clear and systematic in her approach and had questioned him about the work they were undertaking together. She was not a professional writer but was skilled and personable in their emails. For her the past was complicated. She was taking a risk. He didn’t ask her why. It didn’t matter. He was more interested in how and when and then how much.

He arrived early and walked around the lobby. Just as he was taking a deep breath his client appeared. She was wearing a tan raincoat and carrying over her shoulder a black leather briefcase.

Coincidence and familiarity sometimes go hand in hand. As she drew closer, he noticed her eyes were older than those on the face in the emailed photo and with a more profound searching look. “I brought the brief for you. The stuff is inside,” she said.

He smiled and nodded. He also remembered her. They stood near a window away from the people coming and going and talked for several minutes. They said goodbye, started to depart and then both stopped and looked back towards each other. They asked the same thing at the same time, “Are you sure?” Their eyes met. No words were exchanged. Nothing more was to be asked or said. They walked away in separate directions.

 

* * *

 

 Tripping over a word

by L J Frank   

 

 

He inadvertently tripped over the word and stumbled forward but then caught himself in mid-stride without further embarrassment.

Besides a word, he said to himself, is just a start, a beginning, an inauguration, a birth or an inception  and shouldn’t be taken out of context. Location is not just a matter of real estate.

A single word can cause one to aimlessly flounder or fall in a direction that was not originally intended and mean something only to one of three primary possibilities – the speaker, listener or reader, or if fortunate, or unfortunate, depending on the word, all three.

A word can be a translation of a thought or non-thought or even an “un-thought” as any number of people within eye or earshot of a word written or spoken may find different meanings, whereas, the speaker/writer’s word also might find itself alone and viewed as a sound fracturing glass with little appreciation – context be damned.

A word here and there, happens. In the beginning was the “word” might symbolize something of an anointed origin or simply point to human behavior attempting to capture a thought through a word. And so a single word can lead a person down a path to an entrance of the mind’s sanctuary whose door might be open or on the other hand, the door may have sufficiently rusted hinges that hinder access.

Alas, in this peculiar case and with all that has been observed, the man simply tripped over an indecipherable word written in purple chalk on the sidewalk in front of a nondescript corporate looking building with only a number above the bronze frame of a door.

 

* * *

 

Quiet Stirrings

by L J Frank   

L J Frank, Photographer

Credit: L J Frank, Photographer

Ferns spread at the base of a hickory on the lower slope of a mountain

Woods cloaked with a chilling wetness that drips slowly from limbs

A cascading stream icily spills over boulders

Dining on a bleeding furry creature a hawk looks up

To survey the surroundings

Swallowing a frog kicking its hind legs a snake’s mouth opens wide…

Amid subdued moist islands of velvety moss

Between the hardwoods

A veil shields the roots and cavity of a red oak in hibernation

Where a spider torments a moth caught in its web…

In coming tides of a smoky haze

Sun shadows filtered through mostly leafless maples and oaks

Hemlocks decaying

A distant sounding mocking bird sings an illusive chant

That echoes as if from a distant valley

While Insects encircle a once flowering plant yet to be

A great barred owl perched high on a swaying white pine

Looks down pitilessly on a wayward, frail deer…

A man on a ridge watches

He breathes in the cold air deeply and coughs

Leaning against his walking stick

Survival is not romantic

Still, the forest’s allure is a promise of a luxuriant spring’s canopy

Existence.

 

 

 * * *

Mirrors and Reflections 

by L J Frank   

 

 

Perhaps it was too early for insight

I got up and walked to the next room

Caught a reflection of my body in a mirror

And found that my skin

Was loose and wrinkled

Apparently, I hadn’t been paying much attention

It’s been a while…

So shaving cream was applied

Less stubble and more moisture offered little difference

The body requires tone to breathe with life

And not be placed in some way station waiting for an eternity of the unknown…

Heartbeats are measured as a dear young friend said, before her passing

In the process of seeking – I found a deeper connection

There’s interweave between the spiritual, sensual, intellectual & erotic

It all seems to become clearer with each passing moment

Still I meditate as if I am in a monastery

Then I found that my mind really is,

Or, perhaps…

My brain teases me with the unreachable

At least for the moment

The mirror as a fleeting image of the mind,

Is it not just an artificial invention?

To see a filtered self in a singular dimension

Who made the mirror an authority on one’s reflection?

Maybe it’s best to look in the mirror at twilight

With the light from behind, a friend suggested,

Then there’s no need for a “facelift”…

Unless one finds a light within,

Lingering.

* * *

NP Journal. An evolving architecture of the human voice. Copyright © 2011-2019 LJ Frank. All Rights Reserved. Content may only be used with author’s permission.