Space Aliens and Ghost Elephants

I started these drawings by applying irregular patterns of color to rough-textured paper, erasing lighter areas that caught my eye, and adding additional tones and colors. I didn’t have anything in mind but soon saw figures, plants, animals, rocks, bricks emerging out of the confusion.

sketchbook page
Alien Invasion: Crisis at the Border

I saw Louise Brooks (silent film star) first, and she seemed to be fighting a collection of blobs. The blobs coalesced into a knobby-headed alien with six fingers on his hand. Geometric shapes turned into bricks turned into a broken wall. I morphed an upright arm and hand into a cactus, and the fake crisis at the border came together.

Now that I’ve looked at this again, I wonder if the space alien and Louise are really doing a tango in the ruins of a Spanish mission. Perhaps the title should be, “Mission Impossible”.

Crossing the Atlas Mountains: Hannibal’s Doom

Not sure about the progression of this one. The reclining foreground figure showed up early, as did the pile of rocks (mountains?). The lady didn’t want to develop a proper head, and the odd fingers showed up. A snake leapt forward to bite the hand, and a shadowy figure behind the foreground figure.

Thoughts of Cleopatra and oases danced in my head, but the ghost elephants in the background didn’t fit. Then I thought of Hannibal shipping his elephants from Northern Africa into Europe to do battle with the Romans. I imagined them crossing the North African Atlas Mountains (near the Mediterranean shore ) as a prelude to their Alp-crossing expedition. The hand-headed lady and snake became omens of ill fortune.

The technique of finding imagery from random marks comes from Max Ernst, the German-American Surrealist. He used to paint watery oils on a canvas, press it to another canvas, and twist them. He pulled them apart and used the odd blobs on each to suggest animals, buildings, geological formations.


Creeping Superiority and Silent Compassion

I’ve noticed a sense of superiority creeping in at odd times. When teaching, frustration can lead to lapses. I lapse by seeing myself as separate from students: their subpar performances have nothing to do with me. While I’ve done my best to help them, my ability and work ethic would never allow me to slide to their level of mediocrity.

But smugness quickly comes back to haunt. When I take a day off or when the creative fires smolder to ash and embers, I start to wonder if I’ve become lazy, dull, and complacent like some of my students. My behavior reminds me of the slacker dude who always showed up late and without necessary supplies. He meant well but didn’t have much self-discipline. And Mary started off strong and got an A at midterm, but slacked off and earned a low C for her final. She saw no need to climb another mountain after she reached a summit at the eight week mark. Might I start a similar downward glide? Superiority is a fragile state stressful to maintain.

I’ve been on the other end. Misfortune strikes, and I see strangers, relatives and friends look down at me with pity and detachment. Seeing me suffer causes them discomfort, but the pain can be eased by building an invisible wall. The bricks are the following thoughts: that could never happen to me; he must have done something to deserve that; some folks are born unlucky; my will is too strong to ever let that happen to me; I’d figure a way out; it’s probably not as bad as it looks; I’ve been through worse; he must of done something horrible in another life.

Detached superiority provides armor to shield ourselves from participating in suffering. We secretly fear that tragedy might be catching and hope that the formula, avoidance = protection, is true.

Sometimes nothing can be done to alleviate suffering, and sometimes the victim rejects noblesse oblige assistance. Then the would-be good Samaritan can, with fairly good conscience, escape from further effort.

But another possibility for providing aid exists. One can abide in another’s suffering and share pain. Silence at these times helps considerably. Folks in anguish do not want to ponder the diagnoses and may not be ready to hear a complicated plan to change their fortunes. What they need, often without knowing it, is a nonjudgmental companion who is willing to lie down with them in misery. Passive acceptance isn’t the ultimate goal, but first waves of grief and despair must be endured before actions can be taken.

The comforter ends up shedding the armor of detachment and superiority. This takes courage and willingness to suffer. This frightens most people away, and I’ve been one of them on more than a few occasions. But folks who take the risk live broader, more knowledgeable lives. Some glow with a survivor’s joy. They’ve walked through hell with a friend and returned with the wounded in tow.

Nay-Chuh: Yard Encounters

Fire Bush
Front Porch Orchids

Felt like I’m fighting a virus today, so I hibernated in my bedroom watching youtube videos. Came out to show Judy a funny meme, and she told me about her nature adventures in our yard.

A feral cat (probably the tan kitty who acts like she owns the yard) killed a mole, ate its tail, dragged it onto our front porch and deposited it beneath Judy’s favorite chair. (Judy assigned me to the one-man burial detail. Shovel ready! Ho!)

The Fallen: Tail-less Mole

A two-inch hornet started a mud nest on the underside of the picture window’s outside sill. Judy knocked it down while the builder lingered elsewhere. (She plans to spray the site with peppermint oil to discourage further attempts to develop the location. In her defense, the hornet never applied for a permit before starting its project.)

A hawk swooped down on a snake and carried it into the drainage ditch behind our back yard. The bird took ten minutes to finish its meal. (A leisurely meal aids digestion when one tears a pheasant or snake.)

I went out to bury the mole and stopped to take some snaps. Butterflies abounded on fire bush, bougainvillea and passion flower blossoms. The fire ant hills I discovered earlier in the week look deserted, and the response to a few pokes with a leaf was tepid. The backyard bushes looked sloppily overgrown but lovely.

I shelved my camera and buried the mole in the front garden patch. I felt a lot better when I came inside.

A narrowly observed conclusion: while nature may be deadly to moles, fire ants and snakes, it’s healthier for me, hawks and butterflies.

A Social Visit

“You were saying…” the strange woman prompted. 

Maggie sighed and shifted.  The woman had sat too close to her on the sofa.

“Come on, tell me what’s bothering you,” coaxed the unwanted guest.

Maggie had hidden from Another One the day before, but this lady had pounded the front door with her knock-knock-knocking. Maybe she’d go away if Maggie answered a few questions.

“My children don’t care about me,” said Maggie.

“That can’t be…completely true,” said the visitor.

“What’s your name again?  Why are you here?” Maggie demanded. “Are you with social services?”

“I’m Mary.  I sang with you in the choir.  Don’t you remember?”

“Oh yes, Mary.  Your boy ran off to New York,” said Maggie.

“That’s right.  He went to New York, but now he’s in New Orleans.  Do you remember the rest?” said Mary.

“He changed his name and danced on stage as a woman,” Maggie stated.  “He called himself Lulu.  Or was it Lola?”

“Lulu,” said Mary.

“And didn’t he go to jail?” asked Maggie.

“Lulu did a few bad things, but she’s turned everything around now,” said Mary.

“Lulu.  You actually call him that?  He’s always been Robert to me and he always will,” Maggie insisted.

“I do call her Lulu.  She prefers that.  I got used to the new name, and it suits her,” said Mary.

“I’m sure it does,” sneered Maggie.

Mary let the rudeness hang in the air for a minute.  She changed the subject:  “Did your husband leave you before or after your boys graduated from high school?”

“After,” muttered Maggie.

“Why did he leave?” Mary persisted.

“That’s none of your business,” Maggie rasped.

“I understand.  Sorry to intrude.  How are your two sons?”

“Fine.  They’re fine, but they never come to visit,” Maggie complained.

“Why is that?” asked Mary.

“I don’t know,” said Maggie.

Mary snorted a short burst and covered her mouth.

“You think that’s funny?” Maggie snarled.  “Wait till it’s your turn.  You’ll get old too.”

“But I am old,” Mary said.  “I’m older than you.  Don’t you remember?”

“Which Mary are you?  There were three Marys in the choir when I started.”

“Mary Schumacher.  I sang mezzo one row behind you.”

“Oh, I thought you died.  We sang for your funeral.  The church was half empty, and I thought, ‘Doesn’t that lady have any family?’”

“That must have been some other Mary,” Mary said with a smile.

“No, I’m sure it was you.  You had that queer son and a trampy daughter with five kids by three men.  She only married the last one after she got sick.  Did she die from leukemia?”

“Why yes, she did.  And Tom raised all the kids after she was gone,” Mary said.

“I wondered about that.  Only one of them was his,” said Maggie.

“Two, actually,” said Mary.

“Are you all sure about that?” Maggie smirked.

“What does it matter now?” asked Mary.

“Matters to some more than others,” said Maggie.

“Two are Tom’s:  the cute little girls, Katie and Laura,” said Mary.

“Well, some think that Katie’s pretty, but Laura has a flat nose and mousy brown hair,” said Maggie.

Mary said, “That’s right.  But we all love Laura for her sweet personality.  Her kindness makes her beautiful.”

“And she’s fat,” Maggie contradicted.  “Fat girls have to be nice or no one pays attention to them.”

“And skinny girls can say anything they want?” Mary ventured.

“Only if they’ve got big boobs,” declared Maggie.

“I see.  And did you have big boobs?”  Mary inquired.

“Course, I did.  Still got ‘em.”  She placed her hands under her breasts and pushed them up.

“That must be wonderful for you,” said Mary.

“Would be if I weren’t 87.  Now I’m just dried up and old,” said Maggie.  She let her breasts drop and wobble on her stomach.

“You won’t be old…forever,” said Mary.

“ I’m not as old as you and I’ve kept my looks better than you have, but I’m old,” said Maggie.  “I’m so old I feel every year in my bones.  I tell Kevin that I’m ready to go, but I keep living on and on, miserable and more miserable.”

“Well, I feel better every day,” said Mary.

“But aren’t you dead?” said Maggie.  “I sang for your funeral, and the church was half empty.”

“So, your boys don’t visit.  Why is that?” Mary redirected.

“One says he’s busy.  He calls me every so often but gets off the phone as fast as he can.  And he cuts me off in midsentence whenever I say mention his ex-wife,” said Maggie.

“The one who cheated on him?” Mary inquired delicately.

“Yeah, that one.  He doesn’t want to know anything about her and acts as if his first marriage never happened.  She still lives in the neighborhood and I see her at Publix.  She tells me what she’s been up to, and I pass it along to Kevin,” said Maggie.  “You’d think he’d take an interest.”

“Didn’t Kevin remarry?” Mary asked.

“He did,” Maggie said.

“Is he happy now?”

“I guess.  But her family lives up in Jacksonville, and Kevin moved there.  Ursula’s Mom and Ursula’s Dad and her two brothers and her nieces and nephews are important,” Maggie growled.  “I’m not that important.  I only see him twice a month if that woman lets him out of her clutches.  And then he stays for an hour, keeps glancing at the clock like he’s got more important places to be, jumps into his car and races straight back to her.”

“I’ve heard that he comes every week and brings groceries,” Mary said.

“Where’d you hear that?” Maggie demanded.

“And doesn’t he mow your lawn and gas up your car?”  Mary asserted.

“Only when he feels like it,” Maggie groused.

Mary put a hand on Maggie’s shoulder, and the old woman shrank away.

“My God, your hand’s so cold!” Maggie cried.

“Really?” Mary replied.  “Your house is so warm I’d think my hand would feel toasty.”

“Your girl died of leukemia,” said Maggie.

“Why, yes she did.  You like to talk about that, don’t you?  I remember that you brought that up a lot after choir practice,” said Mary.

“Did I?  I don’t remember,” muttered Maggie.

“Oh yes, you did,” Mary said.  A pleasant smile played across her lips.  “You had a theory that you often shared about her illness.  Do you remember your idea?”

“No.  Theory?  No.” Maggie stammered.

“Oh yes, you do,” Mary insisted.  “You wondered whether her pill addiction caused the leukemia.  You passed me an article about drug abuse and hepatitis.”


“—titis.  You never seemed to be able to distinguish between hepatitis and leukemia, but you were very sure that Chrissy caught cancer from dirty needles,” said Mary.  “And you wouldn’t believe me when I told you that Chrissy never shot up.

“Needles…I don’t want to talk about that,” Maggie snapped.

“You seem sensitive about needles. Are you afraid of them?,” asked Mary.

“Kevin’s sensitive…I’m not sensitive about anything,” said Maggie.

“What’s your other boy up to these days?” Mary asked sweetly.

“Not much,” Maggie whispered.

“Brett’s been away for a long time, hasn’t he?” Mary nudged.

“Not so long.  It seems like he left yesterday,” replied Maggie.  “I sang—”

“I heard a rumor that the police found him in Miami.”

“Miami?  Brett’s in Miami?” asked Maggie.  Her eyes teared up.

“They found him in a dumpster in Little Haiti.”

“What was he doing in a dumpster?” asked Maggie.  A drop rolled down her cheek.

“Still had a tourniquet wrapped around his arm,” Mary continued. 

“Shut up!” barked Maggie.

“The needle was gone, but there was a fresh puncture wound.”

“Bitch!” Maggie screamed.

Mary patted Maggie’s shoulder and said, “There, there.  Did I say something to offend you?  I’m sorry.  Folks get so upset these days about the least little things.”  Mary smiled sweetly as if she truly felt apologetic.

Maggie tried to pull away, but Mary clenched a bony forearm and held tight.  Maggie began to shiver.

Maggie said, “Who are you?”

“I’m Mary Schumacher from the choir.  I sang mezzo one row behind you.”

“But why are you here?”

“Just for a social visit.  You seem lonely,” Mary said gently as she tightened her grip. 

Maggie didn’t pull away.  Her arm felt numb, and the ice flowing through her veins had become soothing.  She nodded her head and began to slump.

“That’s right,” Mary soothed.  “You’ll feel better soon.”

“Didn’t you die?” slurred Mary.

“Not so much,” Mary offered.

Maggie straightened and swatted at Mary’s hand.  She couldn’t dislodge it from her arm.  She sank again and groaned.

“Leave me alone,” Maggie pleaded.

 Mary said nothing.

“Why did you come for me?” Maggie gasped.

Her voice faded on the last syllable.  Her eyes closed.

Mary held Maggie in her arms and rocked her until she stopped shivering.  A rattling sound briefly disturbed the settled quiet.  Mary stroked the white hair on Maggie’s scalp, put her blue lips close to Maggie’s ear and whispered, “Because no one else would.”

Booth Shot Lincoln

Booth Shot Lincoln, color pencil, 6×8″.

The actor emptied a pistol into Lincoln’s skull to save the Confederacy. “Sic semper tyrannis!” he cried.

Twelve days later, soldiers in blue surrounded the barn where he hid. They set the building afire to drive him out. Booth refused to surrender and aimed his rifle at his tormentors. Boston Corbett hit the assassin in the neck with a shot fired through a gap in the boards. The soldiers lay Booth beneath a locust tree where he languished until dawn.

No one reported a final speech.

Three Loud Bangs

Judy and I jumped when a bolt of lightning exploded nearby. She screamed, and I raised hands to shelter my head. I thought in that split second that the incredibly loud bang had popped just above my ears.

The wind whipped around the house and torrents poured down. The gutters overflowed, and the driving rain turned the front yard magnolia into a greenish gray blur.

The storm calmed after fifteen minutes of rage but made an unexpected return a few minutes later. The interference in the atmosphere disrupted the last words of the Downton Abbey dowager as the series drew to a close. The sun peeped out an hour later, and the air conditioner clicked on to counter the steam heat creeping inside.

We turned on 60 Minutes after supper. The show was a repeat, so we decided to watch the second half of an episode of Doc Martin. (I had fallen asleep halfway through my last attempt.) We managed to view one scene when a loud bang sounded from behind the house. The TV cut out, and the lights quit. A lingering green glow lit the sky in the west window for a few seconds.

The lights came back on. But I said, “Wait for it,” and the back up transformer blew. Darkness. I stumbled around looking for hurricane lanterns and ran face first into my bedroom door. I called out to Judy, “I’m okay.”

We lit the living room with two lanterns. I ventured outside in stocking feet to survey lights on/lights off in the neighborhood. The neighbors to the west had power, but a strip of houses heading north hunkered dark and sullen. Judy called Duke Energy and found out that crews had been sent to restore service to 1000 people.

I carefully returned to my bedroom and found my baritone uke in the closet. I strummed some folk tunes, and Judy sang along. That killed about fifteen minutes. We considered watching something on Judy’s laptop, but I felt lethargic and sank deeper into my seat. She could if she wanted, but I didn’t give a damn.

We opened the front door to catch a breeze and heard frogs chirruping outside. Closed my eyes and decided to find out how it felt to just wait. My anxieties chose to visit, but I didn’t mind them all that much. They were like relatives at a reunion, the ones with whom you don’t volunteer to sit. They annoy, but the irritation carries the minor key comfort of familiarity.

Judy decided to load a DVD on her laptop. And while she waited for it to boot, I heard odd noises in the drainage ditch out back. Looked out the window and saw men with poles and lights fussing near an oak. Chain saw noises, men shouting. A branch fell. The men clustered under the tree and poked long yellow poles upward.

They mucked around another ten minutes, then the lights flashed on in the house. I heard a printer in my bedroom come to life unbidden like it always does after an outage. The clocks blinked. The air conditioner clicked on.

I shut the front door and settled into my recliner. We restarted the interrupted Doc Martin episode, and I finally saw Aunt Ruth come to terms with the son of a former lover. A little girl got a proper diagnosis. Al and Morwenna discussed Al’s penchant for failing in business. Louisa broached the possibility of becoming a child therapist. And Martin was rude.


Persephone ascended steep stairs to return home.

She trailed plumes of Sulphur; charcoal-smirched dress

Clung to calves; soiled feet blackened Mother’s clean path.

Demeter offered daughter soft white robes,

Dried herbs, sandalwood, and a soaking bath.

Persephone shed the stain of dark souls

Wailing for mercy in the red glow pit.

Dawn rose sweetly, pink clouds, etcetera.

Kidnapped bride opened window to fresh breeze

And turned peach, green, carmine, and daffodil.