Focus

"Kate's Collection"
© 2012 Whitney Reed

As a kid, I was mesmerized by my parents’ collection of National Geographics. The pictures of all those tribal people with neck rings and ear lobes that draped over their shoulders; strange animals in wet, neon green rain forests; snakes with their mouths open so wide you could see down inside their sickening hollow bodies, fangs dripping. These images haunted me. On the shelves, the magazines were harmless yellow-spined glossies pressed together above my dad’s record collection. I don’t know why my mom kept getting them, or perhaps they were inherited from my grandparents. I only know that on days when the maid told us we couldn’t walk on the freshly vacuumed carpet, I covered my island of a couch with these magazines, I opened them for the pictures, the horror, the worlds so colorful and so far away, so full of people, creatures, natural disasters, phenomenons.

Last week, I stayed in a home in Idaho (in the middle of a lake, in the middle of the mountains) that was filled with National Geographics, which led me to the website where you can find more beauty and more horror than any other one location on the internet: solar tornadoes; armless, legless amphibians. Did you know the Egyptians fed bird mummies? Some team of smart folks found mummified sacred scarlet ibis remains stuffed full of snails. Were you aware of this tiny spider whose brains are so big, they spill over into his legs? Speaking of spiders, what’s worse than those that jump? Have you seen this “King of Wasps,” they just found in Indonesia? Or this leaf-nosed bat they found over in Vietnam? Faces only a mother could love (assuming she has the same face).

In many ways, I believe that my draw to this kind of content stemmed largely from my boring, suburban, middle-class upbringing. I played sports, made mostly A’s and B’s in a private elementary school, snuck out a few times to drink beer in my later high school years, but, in general, I had a fairly unremarkable childhood–never did anything that warranted punishment more severe than perhaps a curbed curfew, never suffered any great personal tragedy or loss. I had the kind of safe, sweet childhood every parent wants for their child. What’s strange is that, despite the safety of the sheltered world I lived in, I was always afraid of something. And generally, my fears were unfounded in any real experience–they all pretty much came from National Geographic. The two biggest fears for me were snakes in my bed and Chinese Dragons that I imagined followed me into my parents’ room at night (when I was fleeing the snakes). In order to fall asleep, I would tell myself stories to push the scary out of my mind. I was always in these stories, and I generally set the stories against one of the other-worldly, awe-inspiring backgrounds from National Geographic. Like this, or this, or this.

Of course, what I’m most afraid of is myself. This is particularly inhibiting when it comes to my writing. Regarding my most recent writer’s block, a friend told me to “just talk and see what happens.” What happens when I write is I do one of two things: I admit I’m afraid or I pretend I’m not. Personal writing anyways. And as I get braver and braver, I have less to say. Because writing for me has generally been linked to fear. But now, for the first time in my life, I’m afraid of so little. It’s like my life has become one of those landcapes I linked to above–one of those worlds that is so large, so vast, so teeming with Awesome that all things I’ve been afraid of are diminished to the point of nearly-nonexistence–you can’t see a snake from the top of a waterfall. And so it becomes about what I see, it becomes about focus. My writing has become the stories I make from that focus (stay tuned).

So, as I was flipping through the National Geographic I brought to bed with me on my first night in Idaho, on the very same page as step-by-step directions on how to make a shrunken head (which sounds quite messy and very hot), I discovered this: That a blue whale’s heartbeat can be detected from two miles away. I love that there’s a heart on earth that big. So big in fact, that you and me both could crawl through the arteries and meet in the middle: in the middle of a heart in the middle of the ocean. So much blue.

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Sight-Seeing on Lysithea

© 2010 David Parker

For the past few days, thoughts have been popping in my head like Christmas ornaments: delicate implosions that crunch underfoot. Their tiny shards have embedded themselves in the folds of my brain, glittering like secrets. I’ve been opportunity’s call girl, chauffeured around my own town. See! Look! There! The world around me has graciously collapsed, and is now speeding, tumbling towards a fate of my own making. A fate I brewed from melted stars, metal birds, and horizons devoured by the fiery mouths of setting suns.

So this is what it feels like, doing what you love? Like you have a secret moon in your mouth? Like the world is hugging you while you walk around inside of it? Like listening, on repeat, to the liquid sound of your favorite person’s voice and the laughter that shatters it?

Like when you realize that your favorite person’s voice belongs to you.

The words are purposes. / The words are maps.

[The title of this post is taken from Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck.”]

© 2010 David Parker

T.V. sounds reverberate from the living room:
loud, energetic, open-mouthed voices. Must be
a commercial. I’m trying to nail down a metaphor
to stand for the sound of her voice
(escaping through a mouth stitched shut against
crying) on the other end of the line.

And I think:
That’s a lot of prepositions.
And I remember:
to the log, over
the log, around the log,
under the log,
through
the
log,
across the log, for
the log, with the log,
about the log.

And the more I think of the word log,
the more the word becomes
not a word signifying a thing
but a strange-sounding noise
like when you say
your name
over and over and over and over until
it becomes a foreign sound and
it’s strange to think that the sound
is you
because it makes no sense
only sound.

And then you try emphasizing
different parts of the word:
YOURname, yourNAME,
you-R-name.
Or you say it different ways:
yourname. YOURNAME. Yourname?
Yourname! Yourname?!
…yourname.

But you can never separate
the sound so far from its meaning
that it won’t snap back like
a rubber band.

Try it.

Say:
tragedy.
tragedy. tragedy. tragedy. TRA-
gedy. TRA-gedy. tra-GE-dey. tra-ge-DY.
tra-ge-DY. Tragedy? Tragedy. TRAGEDY!
tragedytragedytragedytragedytragedy.
Tragedy.

That’s what we did (my friend and I
on the phone).

Pet Beast

© 2010 David Parker

Teeth. Nails. Hair. A living mass with no brain but my own. A tumor. A wriggling, scratching thing beneath my skin, under my scalp. I seize it, pet it, rock it to sleep. It will have none, thank you.

Sometimes I call him Grades-Are-Due, sometimes Shit-I-Forgot-to-Pay-That-Bill, or If-Only-I-Had-Tenure, or I’ll-Never-Be-A-Writer. But usually, he just goes by I’m-An-Idiot. At least, that’s what he answers to.

And he only wants to play at night. All day long, he’s sleeping. Purring like a kitten. No big deal. But the darker the room gets, the longer his shadow. And, I swear, some nights, he could swallow you whole.