Personal Essays

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Lunar Retreat

Posted by on 27 Jun 2011 | Tagged as: Bank Row Writers, Personal Essays

Copyright © 2011 by Karl Meyer.  All Rights Reserved.

Lunar Retreat

June 16,2011                                                                                         South Wellfleet, MA 3 pm

Half of the Bank Row Writers are asleep–or trying to be, on a sun-drenched June afternoon on outer Cape Cod. This June sun, bumped fully into the open by last night’s amber full moon, has proven a worthy obstacle. Coming on the heels of day-upon-day of gray spring chill–the intense June light, coupled with these glittering, sandy shoals, has quickly melted our Yankee defenses.  We are relaxed. We are comfortable.  We are drooling on pillowcases in the middle of the day.

Yet, here on this temporary sand spit that will remain known as Cape Cod for a time, there is a single, profound reality permeating the collective subconscious as we daydream; as we sleep. It is ocean; the awareness of ocean. It is the inescapable presence of the great water that links us all to this past, and this future.

Moon, sea, cloud, tide–earth is nothing if not a water planet–a wet, chaotic and wondrous place that has offered a foothold to random, organized collections of complex atoms from time to time.

Staring at last night’s brimming tide and spring full moon at Nauset, it seemed inevitable that we would come to meet at this place.  Inevitable too, even for our three Bank Row comrades toiling at daily work a hundred miles from any tide–someday, not long off, their presence will be co-mingled with the same consciousness now holding us in its grip–here, today, at Ocean.

But for all, the question will remain; the puzzle will linger as the sea breeze presses through the fingers of whispering pitch pines: what’s to be done with this great consciousness? Is the mystery more sacred?, or were we shoved into our agitated awareness merely to solve one riddle, following closely on the heels of the next??

The answer to existence could be Ocean.  The proper response to awareness could be awe.  At this moment, half-awake under sunny June skies on the sands of Cape Cod, I can manage but a simple gesture to the full tides waiting to accept me: thanks.

Lunar cycle

Posted by on 21 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Personal Essays

Karl Meyer                                                                   August 21, 2008

Lunar cycle

I spotted it, the spotted newt, in the half-dawn, half-moonlight. I wanted to just skip it, forget what I saw, but it had bubbled up into my consciousness that chilly, mid-August morning. It was in the road, alive. It could get squished.

It was a pact I’d made with myself at some distant time: if it’s savable, and you can save it, stop. Reluctantly I slowed, swerved left, circled back and there it was—a foot from the white line. Unmoving. I reached down to gently pinch the burnished red creature by its sides with my seemingly enormous claw. I hesitated just perceptibly, thinking I might harm this tiny sliver of flesh. I followed through, half-expecting a small squirm of anguish that some red efts display. Instead, there was nothing. Just the softest pinch of puffball sides.

I had the little character, and without a fight. But, oddly, something went out of me when I pinched that creature and was met with something more than heavenly softness. Warmth. This fellow traveler conveyed warmth to my bumbly fingertips in the pre-dawn August chill.

It was an abrupt, disarming surprise—like a bucket of water in the face, only opposite. Warmth, softness, giving flesh where it is least expected. Cold pavement, hard road, unflinching full moon about to set.

And this. Red eft. Would-be salamander. Hand warmer to sleepless middle-aged guy. Hi hardly knew what to do. Reflexively I walked it to the edge of the pavement, dumping it, unceremoniously into cold, dew be-dripped crab grass. It landed, half flipped on its side, in the close-clipped blades. Unmoving.

I turned and reset my foot in the toe-clip, slowly regaining the momentum of this flat, pale moon soaked stretch. It registered then, too late, that the little guy had been drawing its warmth from the stored reservoir of the night pavement. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Off balance, that was me—flipping a pavement warmed amphibian into the cold grass and then thinking I was of service.

“I’m way off center,” I remember thinking as I rode south past perfect rows of corn—the setting moon to my right, the orb of an August dawn to my left.

The snow writer

Posted by on 03 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Personal Essays

December 3, 2007

© Karl Meyer

The snow writer

The night felt restive, I think that’s the word.  The snow had ended by noon.  But it had already been dark for an hour.  I walked home in the half bright, half smoky-dark of an urban/suburban landscape.  This was, I remember thinking, something like the neighborhood I grew up in—working class; little in the way of glamour.  But this evening, shadowy, had an odd sort of edge to it.

I’m not sure what it was—maybe the walk through the city end of town and the shadowy park where the young kids were all lighting cigarettes and pretending not to notice the cold.  Or the little dive bar where two grown patrons were just stepping onto the snowy walk to light up themselves.  I split their conversation in two as I squeezed by.  There was the meter maid of course, off duty.  She was standing in front of the over-priced “outlet” store, which has been there forever and has standard functional clothes.  None of them has ever been discounted down to what would remotely resemble outlet prices.

For whatever reason—window shopping?, the meter maid was standing in the snow, stepping back to gaze into those jackets, gloves, wool sox and boots.  Was she looking for something?  Did she work there, moonlight doing displays?  Was there a husband inside—the owner?  I just can’t say.  I’ve somehow developed this really remote crush on her, though she doesn’t know me from Adam.  We’ve had a pleasant word or two–in passing daylight, even before I moved to this town two months back.

So, not meaning much but friendly on the glow of a half-dark urban street I feel compelled to speak—to make a joke as I pass, sheltered under my hood and carrying a canvas bag with a coffee mug, appointment book, empty lunch container; reading glasses.  She has to move a bit away from the window to accommodate this passerby.  “You know,” I say, “if you stand there too long you could get a ticket.”  I watch her face, she smiles, and I’m sure I haven’t made a mistake—about who she is, or the joke.

I look back as I pass.  “Oh, I’ll keep an eye,” she says, joking back.  Hooded, but no longer shadowy, I keep walking but add, “It’s just that you should be warned.”  Somehow this cheers me.  I’m now heading down what’s basically social service alley in this county seat town.  There’s a lone porn store just a few doors further down, and then a young couple standing outside yet another bar, which I think is new, or newly reopened.  No glamour to it.  The young woman looks hesitant and they both seem to agree that another place, Taylor’s, would be a better choice.

I walk on, soon I’m passing my therapist’s building—a house really.  Curiously, there’s a light on in the top little garret office she uses, though her hours are irregular.  Surprised, I had just thought of her this morning.  I hadn’t been there in months and my visits are infrequent.  I’m kind-of a drop in, not a particularly lucrative client.  But I’d brought cash the last time, twenty bucks for a fifteen dollar co-pay.  She didn’t have change and seemed annoyed at me.  Pay me next time.

So, I would.  But there had been no next time.  And that was summer.  July.  Here it was with snow on the ground.  I thought, momentarily of going up the stairs and knocking on the door—only after a second remembering that she wouldn’t be in there alone.  But that is your image of therapy–that person is there for you only.  I discarded the idea. 

I’m not suffering from anything more than the usual pre-holiday malaise about global warming, family, and consumerism though at this point, so I don’t know when I’ll be seeing her next.  There’s not an address listed in the phone book to send a check to, but I guess I could just slip it under the door someday.  But I’ve seen her for enough seasons now that I wouldn’t want to not wish her a happy holiday in person.  That’s therapy for you—you ultimately confirm that you’re not much nuttier than the folks out there trying to help.  And of course partly for that, you like them.

I walk on, down to my landlord’s office—directly across from the AA meeting site, which is directly across from the Salvation Army offices.  There is a small knot, maybe fifteen people, just starting to gather, having a smoke before the doors open.  Cigarettes seem to be a theme of this walk.  When I’m abreast of the struggling drinkers I cut left down the driveway opposite and walk up to a half-office, half-Laundromat, with a door slot on the left.  I unzip my jacket, reach into a breast pocket, then drop the rent check down the chute.

Back on the street the meeting crowd is still picking up stragglers, smokers.  I walk on, past a plow with bright, bright flashers cutting through the snowy, dull night.  Cars and pick-ups whoosh by, in hurried, violent bursts.  There are street lights, but any and all people out appear merely as shadows.  Crepuscular, I think—I’ve become somewhat crepuscular, in my new life in a half- city.  I like walking at sundown, later even—in the twilight, in the time just before people are sitting down for dinner.  There’s something animal about it I find, comforting too.

And there’s always someone out.  I walked last evening.  Had stayed in all day—then decided it really was unhealthy to not go out for a bit of exercise.  So I walked and it turned into a 40 minute journey.  It was cold.  At one point I was walking where the sidewalk was not far from the porch stoops of a run of houses.  I’m nestled in my hood—my own thoughts.  Just as I’m about to pass this driveway, dark, with just a bit of early snowflakes gathered, I realize there is a person standing, quite tall, about a car length up the driveway.  Actually, he’s towering some–and in a statue-like pose out of the corner of my eye.

Once I realize that he’s been staring at me, I have to say something.  I give him a basic, though not unfriendly, “How’s it going?”  His cigarette has just finished glowing from a deep drag.  “How are you?” he replies.  It’s just an exchange, a curious male peace offering in the dark.  Still, walking on, I can’t help but comment on his odd stance—he’s quite possibly standing and smoking atop a doghouse.  “I thought you were a statue,” I say.  He hesitates, surprised, “I feel like a statue,” he says, with a smoker’s shiver.

And then there’s this night.  As I turn the corner that will bring me up to the end of my street, I see a woman—thinnish, wispy, standing near the edge of the snowy lawn of a former school.  It’s now the school department offices.  I’m thinking she must be smoking too—maybe another of the restless social service clientèle not absent from many corners within three blocks of here.  But in a minute I realize this is different.

This slender being–this sprite, suddenly moves—comes alive.  She veritably prances across the last five feet of snow; then nimbly steps to the sidewalk.  Her path will bring her near me, but the timing will be off.  I don’t want to be intimidating in the dark, but I’m curious, fascinated, that she’s been writing something.  I want to simply ask, “What’s it say?”  But, as we don’t quite intersect, I’ll have to leave it.  We both walk on.  Then, I think: I just want to know.  I slow my stride, letting another stroller—also a woman, walk on a bit, so it doesn’t look like I’m turning back to follow her.  Once it’s comfortable I re-cross the street and back-track.

As I near the corner the street lamp clearly shows that she was writing, and that it’s simple, just three characters: “I heart, U.”  I can’t help but smile.  Perhaps it is best not to have asked that stranger what she’d written.   Though, with her deer-like lightness, maybe she could have pulled it off unselfconsciously.  As I walk back along the edge of that lawn I see what might be other writing, though my angle is poor to view it exactly.  I’d have to hover like a helicopter.  Still, what I think I see is not writing at all.  Its swirls of quiet footprints making wide, graceful fairy wings in the dark across the season’s first snow.