Orange Sherbet

Flying in cars across bridges.
Lake water parted by Moses mind so as to envision massive fuming
earth moving machinery at the bottom, sixty three feet down. Damming.
Damning. When things get in the way. Or seeing a clean sawn off stump
too near a mountain top. Ears of gods grown strong straining
in on only the most whispered prayers hears chainsaws tear
through at least several decades, smell of high pitched oil laced exhaust,
sawdust now dust like snow on some long gone logger’s powerline boots.
The Sunday chicken cackles up bubbles boiling in a bed of sugar white rice.
Shovel parts a piece of that deep red clay and it clings, it sticks hard to metal,
stains anything it touches red, pine trees long past dead, pressed like flowers
between the crusty pages of so much devastation, weight, and of course, time.

Like the skeleton hides inside the body
and a foundation lies buried beneath a house
memory is inlaid within imagination.

One and the same, these two things are.
What is seen now and what all came before.
This world. Mountain springs and fields of flowering green
and a sunset that melts into the horizon like a scoop of orange sherbet
against hot sidewalk. With what at its core?

With what at its core.

UPS Guy

My phone went off loudly around five thirty in the morning. There’s no way for a phone to go off quietly that early. A gentle coffee warmed voice asked me if I was who I am, and asked if I was available to work that day. Foggy headed, half asleep, almost too tired to speak, I could not think of a good excuse. Yes ma’am, I said, and sealed my fate. I could expect a call from a driver within the next two hours. Shipping things for a living seems a precarious venture. It forces us to treat the mundane with a misplaced urgency.
You’re handing someone an impossible job.
Demanding they do hard work gently.

The United Parcel Service, UPS, hires what they call driver helpers, for the month of December. If you get called in for the orientation, you begin to glimpse what you’re in for etched in colorful posters advocating daily stretches. Stared into a television monitor watching all the wrong ways to lift heavy things. At least sixteen of us around the table. My manager told me maybe five worked a full day, and of those five, no one worked two. I was one of those. Not because of the work, but because of the structure. You would never know if you were needed until your phone rang sometime before six in the morning. It worked on a daily basis, you see, and so you did as well. There are particular rungs down at the base of the economic ladder where a day off is a sort of miniature death sentence. If I had an open Thursday to offer, I said yes. Even though I had no clue what I was saying yes to. Until my phone rang about an hour and a half later.
My driver was on route.

They had given us all a hat. A brown toboggan. But the driver would have the rest of my uniform. Because UPS delivery persons have special security clearances, that let them enter airports, schools, and businesses. Each of their shirts and pants and issued hats has a long tracking number associated to it, and they use it. You’re probably not going to find old UPS uniforms in Goodwill or any other consignment shop. Which also makes the dull brown a sort of symbolic color for the company. UPS has strong suggestions for how an employee should represent their self when wearing this uniform. Like the military. There is no casual piece of company clothing. Branding control. Marketing cohesion. Which trickles down to guys like me, putting on my tremendously oversized milk chocolate colored coat and pants in an Exxon bathroom, where I was asked to leave my car parked for the entire day, a potentially twelve plus hour shift. I hopped up into the cab with a guy named Jeff, and we took off exchanging introductions. All my options and freedom of movement and control sitting locked and turned off totally abandoned in a cramped gas station parking lot.

It is also important to note, I’m working and living in an area that I am entirely unfamiliar with. Having only moved to Upstate New York that November, working now for UPS in December. The man actually gave me one of their GPS and shipping information handheld tracking devices, like I had any idea what to do with the fragmented five digit house numbers and road names that may as well have been in a different country. Jeff took it back when he saw me looking up addresses on my phone. He understood. Accordingly, he had quit this job just the week before. Jeff had come down with the flu, and was forced to call in sick to his active, high energetic and technically demanding job, and his supervisor told him no. So he quit. ‘Supe’ called him back four days later, five days into December, and with no apology, simply offered him a shift. The one we were both part of at this very point in the story. He has three kids, loves to snowmobile, is good at his job, started like me as a driver helper, took that position to something basic in the warehouse, and in just a short time, they had him driving his own truck around his own hometown. He loved it. And several people on his route loved him.

Waves, conversations, playful jokes about someone’s yappy dog, bigger more dangerous animal owners came out smiling and waving and clearly knowing. One young military wife came outside with a Christmas card after I had just dropped a package off on her front stoop, with ten dollars inside, for Jeff, or as he demanded, the both of us. And he gave me a five. I learned more about the area I had moved to in those high up violently shaken and crazy chaotic scanning barcodes and staring down mailboxes than the entire month before. I learned more about reading addresses and following road signs instead of verbal commands and diagrams and actively oriented maps on my phone. I scanned the horizon for highway signs and little flat green strips hosting street names. House numbers, how they hop across the street, very rarely move along sensibly linearly.

Cat piss covered front porches and wide open mudroom doors and setting down Amazon packages in front of houses I could not fathom anyone actually lived in. Though they did. Dogs tied up in rough outside conditions. Jeff throwing his hands one over the other sliding back and forth, dangerously smiling wildly and bouncing up from his seat, as we skated left and right across a mile long, frozen sheet of ice someone calls a driveway. UPS trucks are only two wheel drive. At least most of the trucks were, Jeff attested. Made it all that much more fun to slip around in. I detested it, as I smiled politely, and gripped the base of my bucket seat, as a friend of mine would say, hard enough to pinch the vinyl.

I live for days like this, challenges like these, but that does not mean I do not get tired. Psychically, physically, empathically exhausted. I do. And that started around five thirty in the evening, twelve hours now from when my phone first started ringing. Glancing into the back of the truck, it still looked brimming with odd sized gift boxes and brown cubes and dented rectangles one big plastic eye wrapped around paperwork stared back at me. A monster in the middle, something flat and massive, a baby crib I guessed, but never said out loud. I made the rookie mistake of casually asking what we do with the packages still in the truck at the end of our shift.

Something happens to people when they work in ridiculously difficult conditions so long they get numb to them. When someone new comes through and experiences it, they can’t help but feel a twinge of resentment. Of reminder, that oh yes, what I am doing is hard, in some ways, demeaning, and in one clear instance, humbling. They see it anew in the eyes of the trainee. And the trainee, feels for the first time the same fear and exhaustion this tried and tested worker put down and submitted to a long time ago

Corporate, as Jeff called it, never communicated to a driver directly. Always through this supervisor, who was out to get him, to hear him tell it. He had for a long time suspected, but never knew to what level they truly tracked his time and movement on the job, until he was seated in his supervisor’s office, three sheets of paper on the desk in front of him, all cataloging and detailing a five minute pit stop he had taken. Not during his recorded lunch stop, which was entered into the device. He had pulled off the road at a gas station to grab a Mountain Dew. It was five minutes as the record showed. And he was told to not let it happen again, or he might be better suited to the warehouse.

Three kids. Loves to snowmobile. Appreciates he gets to raise them in his own hometown.
Defending five minutes.

Needless to say, there is no option to end the shift until the truck is empty, he told me. He had it take him over fourteen hours in a single shift, in the past. So I asked, what if I needed to leave early, could I even be dropped off at my car, just asking out of curiosity, of course. We were over forty five minutes from there. Jeff said he would gladly take me back, but I’d be setting him back just about two hours in recovery and driving time. I told him of course not. I did my breathing exercise. I also sometimes force myself to smile. I made a joke at my expense. Caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the dingy window. Hey, I see you. UPS guy.
Who else could do what you do?

Meet a stranger out in the world, change into a strange uniform in a bathroom, hop into a truck and head off into the never less known. I wasn’t home until after ten that evening, making it a nice clean twelve hour shift. I got a check for a hundred dollars, after taxes. And I got to be a UPS delivery guy for a day.

And on top of that. They let me keep the hat.

What you wish you were

Jeremy, what’s your secret weapon?

Well, after college, with nothing better to do, I went through my soul with a fine tooth comb. I named and grew well acquainted with all my least desirable traits. The real problem children. Narcissism. Misplaced ego. Enabler of my own appetite. Down to the bad knee. Up to the shimmer of ideals like distant stars, that I will never be smart enough to obtain.

Instead of sequestering them to my childhood, denying their constant, steady presence, even to this day within my adult character, I listened to their demands, we talked through their needs, walked for days and worked down on our knees pulling weeds. I remember these late summer night walks I would take with my two dogs, both stark black animals, I am back, I’m there, hearing the metal scrape and wind-chime clink of their leashes coming off, the quick thud almost hoof beaten rhythm of them chomping out into darkness. Disappeared. I’m standing there licking my lips as they are eaten by an evening. Not a single shred of doubt in my mind that the moment I take a step forward, they are at my side.

I coupled my narcissism by seeking in my friends, my dogs, my animals, the same beauty I beheld in myself. Responsibility doesn’t care how pretty or how good you are. Just consistency. And ego, ego makes a fine hammer, but a hammer makes a shit screwdriver. Ego is only as good to you as the particular job you apply it to. It’s a tool. You also need a box to keep it in. We need you to set it down a time or two and use a different problem-solver. And my hunger. Well. I do a lot of things by hand, work labor and activity and exercise into my daily plans, and always attempt to couple the movement with some function. Firewood. Gardening. Landscaping.
And I walk. A lot. All the time. Pairs exceptionally with someone who talks. A lot. All the time. Foot stomping around a piece of land is its own form of diatribe.
Walking helps settle me.
Ironic as that might seem.

So there’s my secret weapon. I interjected ideas, activities, pursuits into my life that may have not seemed so attractive to me on the surface, because of how they paired well against, or countered altogether, my most dangerous traits. Not eliminated, mind you, certainly not destroyed or even lessened. I’m still a narcissistic, ego-driven, over-eating, over-drinking, over living life and throwing it in your face, asshole. When I’m alone. On a walk through the woods. Or late into an afternoon huffing and puffing somewhere along a hike. I get it out, I say it, or write it, but I don’t fight it, I let what is in me come forward, and allow myself to take a good long look at it.

We all have this little ‘but what about me’ butthole inside of us.
We just don’t all let it speak for us out loud in public.

That’s the purpose of writing. Maybe no other purpose, than letting steam out of a kettle.
You’re not going to skip over who you really are and land on being the better person.
Can’t go around it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go through it. And you can not turn around.

We’ve got to climb.
Who you actually are.

Not what you wish you were.

One in the mind. One on the plate.

Our consciousness developed while food and environment were synonymous.

We did the same thing to ourselves that we do to animals on the farm. We built social structures between us and our food. And we’re only given access in amounts appropriate to how much we do. Now. We earn our living.

My point is, these are not the conditions consciousness developed in. That little ineffable something missing from life, well, its a long story.

We used to have so many stories along with every meal.
Every meal was a vast narrative. A novel.
And in that way, we consumed two meals at once.

One in the mind, and one on the plate.

You’re Home

So. What can I call you now. Jeremiah? Jeremy?
I hope hey you will do. Hey. You.

Aren’t you ready to wake the fuck up just yet?

Take a breath. If you can exhale it away, don’t waste any more of our time writing it.
Settle. I know the coffee isn’t helpful. Wake up, little brother. Arise, newborn father.
Come back to earth planetary lover. And be where you are. Here. In the now.
How is it we can be so sole defined by what comes out of our mouths
and disregard what we feed into them? Do not trust that definition.
Or any that tells you the one that wins is the only side of the coin.

Yes. We all know you write, Jeremiah. We recognize your loud voice and broody
demeanor make you want to be an actor. We see you farm a little on the side.
How nice. But you eat like shit. You drink too much, and not the good stuff.
Your money goes into piss. You lack discipline of any kind, let alone your lonely mind.
And you can be quite a dick, especially to those you love. Who have known you.
Shared in what you call home. You treat them like they found your favorite hiding place.
And now you’re it. My turn to go out looking for people who do not want to be found.

What a game. This life. And Jeremiah. You are too often in your head.
Too dependent on your voice, when your choices should speak for you instead.
But that is hard, isn’t it. To outperform and outshine before there is an audience.
No one around to cheer and look out proud and clap their hands.

But absence of a sound is not the same as silence.
Being alone is not synonymous with loneliness.
And Jeremy, my friend, you are neither.
You are not. And will never be. Alone.

So. Stop hiding place to place.
Hey. You.

You’re home.

That Germ

When you plant a seed, nothing happens. When it comes time for that end of the year test, one of the questions is what happens when you plant a seed, nothing is the correct answer.

Except, it isn’t. Every farmer knows what work patience does that they can’t. Now if only we followed farmers as often as political science majors. We’d think on timelines, we’d question our initial bias, we’d work with systems far more powerful than we will ever be, more powerful than any machine. Still, nothing like a seed.

You want to talk about life after death? You want to talk about transfiguration, or transubstantiation. Don’t talk to me. Talk to a tomato seed. Barely a little flaky kernel to the naked eye. Unending possibility, fruit, food, and life to the earth. But if you sat in a classroom and studied it, you’d think nothing of it. If you had never planted one in a well-destroyed field, and come back to it, for no reason other than sheer, titanic, monumental faith, you would pass the test. You would select the option ‘nothing’. And you would fit in so fine with humankind, and live in constant conflict with the planet.

What is truth? Better question. What is truth without patience?
If only I knew. I’d do just one thing with that germ.

I’d share it.
With you.

Dirty Dishes Day

Getting set in our ways is set in our way. We don’t pick a calendar date for change. Numbering each day indefinitely as if they’ll stay the same. Then. That sunny one we needed. We wake up to rain. Wind. We wake up to cheddar cheese lightning staining the wet earth orange. Didn’t make a plan for that. When the truth is, we really didn’t make any real plans at all.

Hoping and wishing is not the same as planning.

Crossing fingers doesn’t cross that little box on each monthly chart. That ancient graph.
Showing us all the possible outcomes of the imaginary equation that is tomorrow.

Best case scenario. I’m talking world peace. An end to hunger. Homelessness becomes nothing more than a joke, just something college kids take a semester off to try out. There are still storms. Hurricanes and earthquakes and floods. There is cancer. Sickness of all manner. There’s still the matter of dinner. And then afterward, best case scenario ever, we still have to do dishes.

Revolutions. Are not just something we do to get around the sun. Of all the best laid plans of mice and of men not one, not a single person, put dirty dishes on the calendar. Even though it was more vitally predetermined than Christmas even. Life is messy. If the standard of building a perfect system is to have no extra remainder of necessary effort or labor unforeseen at the initiation, then settle in folks, this is going to continue being a bumpy ride.

But what if, oh the irony, what if we stop dreaming. What if we wake up right now and admit, fully admit, what we already know. The human being is not a thing. It is a process. The systems we establish to protect, enable, provide for humans, will not function in a fixed state. As we grow along, our societal solutions to individual problems will have to prorate. Will have to change. Not to speed up. But just to keep pace. We’ll get smarter, leaner, wilder, wiser, every successive year. You fight that. You set up roadblocks in front of progress, you’ll have a revolution every twenty years. You plan on it. Allow. Foster. Even enable it. Put change on the calendar. You’ll get a little bit of revolution every day.

An internal upheaval for every human being to remind them if all of this goes correctly there will be another day after this one. Definitely. It is a big if, but as far as we know, every if of its kind that ever came before has come true. Until now, there has always been a tomorrow. Maybe we could make a plan for something to happen that isn’t a birthday, or Christmas, or some kind of sugar-glazed, paper wrapped holiday.

Perhaps we wouldn’t need a big hairy revolution every other decade.
If we went ahead and made a plan to picnic in the rain.

The Almighty Dollar

Modern money is idolatry. Its very existence is a social contrivance. Like a lot of human institutions, it is representative, more so than authentic. For our ancestors, one of the stupidest, and most dangerous form of savings, was money. The wealthiest derived that status through land possession, crop stores, timber, chattel. Money was a placeholder, a tool for conversion. Lots of things have been money. Metal. Salt. Beads. And now, green pieces of paper and your hard fought credit score.

It is a relatively recent development. Even just a couple hundred years ago, money didn’t mean nearly what all it means to us now. You could have no money to speak of whatsoever, and live on your land, and eat from it. This idea that taxes just take a percentage of something that already exists is false. Taxation requires any land owner or laborer to convert some of their time or assets into the almighty dollar. And considering one of those trade goods is priceless, invaluable, and rare, and the other is as cheap as you need it to be, we always end up losing out on the conversion. We’re taxed. Even people who can only work a little, and are on food assistance programs, they get taxed. The goal is for all of the economy to pass through this government sanctioned, printed, malleable tender. Even if it is being spat right back up on people left in unsustainable economic conditions. Our government has become a glorified middle man. Our ancestors wouldn’t understand this.

I just wonder, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, why can’t we, as a community, simply take stock of our needs, and the ability of the lands within our regions to produce and meet that need. Instead of taxing our food producers and forcing them to convert their labor intensive products into money, why couldn’t some of those required taxes be rendered in providing food to the community, jobs, housing, even arts, culture and entertainment. I don’t know if you’ve read at all about what farms used to mean for people, but the idea of running a monotonous, one crop operation was almost unheard of. Very rare. Once, farms were cultural and economic institutions. Seasonal jobs to offer, cheap or even free housing for workers, hosting community events and celebrations. Fairs and concerts and markets.

Why would our government not want to send hungry people to this sort of place to get food, and possibly short term employment, or housing? They’re already taxing the farm, why not give a call, and ask, instead of these tens of thousands of dollars we were going to force you to render at peril of keeping your assets and freedom, there are three thousand people in your area on government assistance, what could you do for them?

That’s a good question, why exactly would our government not simply operate as a big picture, national seamstress quilting all the various agricultural regions together to form one solid, cohesive food system that could actually outlast the almighty, yet highly mortal US dollar. Don’t they care about us? Haven’t our leaders seen how currency is prone to inflate, and shrink back. I mean, by design, capitalism, our current form of economy, creates a recession or even a depression every decade. Don’t people lose all their savings even in mild recessions? Could we research what happens to the suicide rate during a recession, or god forbid, depression? People literally, and in more than a million ways, die with the dollar.

So this seems to me an insufficient vehicle to distribute basic resources we all require to maintain the little things, like breath, and open eyes, and a body that works, and a reasonable mind.

I don’t have some inscrutable authority to determine the rightness or wrongness of any issue, but same as you, I do have the ability to say there are some issues that truly effect all of us equally. Such as access to food, water, shelter, healthcare. Products we expire without. And knowing how many of those requirements exist naturally, easily on a farm, I wonder why our government talks about agriculture systems so infrequently.

Not really. I don’t wonder. I’m being ironic. It is because farms are true government. The first government. And that group of men who gathered up on the east coast and claimed to be this country’s new government, were mostly farmers. Problem was, they didn’t want to be any longer. So they became judges and congressmen and senators, and established a system that would allow their children to not to have to be farmers also.

If a farm is run right, and smart, a person could disappear into one like a black hole, and never be seen again, except for at a produce stand, strand of grass hung out from their mouth, while they turn a little bit of their best corn into petty cash, just to have some pocket money.

The base of our economy should be a barter based, agrarian community of farms, connected by foot trails and train tracks and highways like ivy vines all leading back to that rooted base. A productively laid back home place. People should be able to wade into it like a kiddy pool beside the high dive and sixteen foot deep end of the rest of the economy. Mark ups and tax rates are disrespectful and dangerous when they stand between someone and their survival.

Food, water, and shelter are not appropriate commodities for purely monetary economies.

Which, ironically, was the way it always was, even back when America was established. Everybody had a back-home and family farm they could retreat to when their city endeavors were taxed too high, or like we have now, a government that refuses to operate outside of its own self preservation. We literally have a system of government where our leaders can never make an unpopular decision, because they have to be elected again next season. Most of our workers are paid by the hour, so the harder and faster they work, the less they take home.

Why have I never read these ideas before? It’s like every other person who has this realization thinks forward, launches into new systems buried in the ideals of socialism, or the standardization and equality of communism. But I look back, just a few hundred years, and this is exactly the agricultural world our ancestors lived in.

Money was a trifling, mostly seasonal object for them, a vessel for trade, and security, so one could sit back and feel safe, and manifest their own autonomy while they lived off the food, water and shelter almost every piece of land on earth can provide.

But now money is being worshiped. This is beyond the borderline of idolatry.
The whole economy has become its sanctuary. And I really don’t believe in irony.

It’s just that survival is scary.

And money, the almighty dollar,
makes for a great place to hide.

Please Pass the Plate

We have a universal religion. Survival. No matter your belief system, to even have the conversation, we all have had to eat a little, drink a little, and especially this time of year, we had to sleep inside out of the weather. Just to have functional ears, and flowing blood, and eyes absorbing. No matter the particulars of your faith, figures, mantras, customs, symbols, traditions, if there is a creator, it commanded we all first work diligently at the sacraments required for maintaining alive, before all else. Or, if you do not believe in a creator, you still did a lot of work to come to that conclusion, and you share all of that labor with every single believer, of any faith whatsoever.

We have differences. We have cultural divisions. We have distinctions, and arguments, and logical impasses, and even judgments standing solid between us. But not dinner. Not hunger. That is a custom we all share. Like thirst. Like exhaustion, and exposure. We could build an entire way of life, distributing basic resources, instilling simple agriculture economies, connecting neighbors and communities in small, cyclical food and barter systems, before we ever even have a good enough reason to discuss our differences. We don’t live and die by our divisions, until a human being decides so. But whatever led to this, the universe, and life as we know it, did want us all to sit down at a dinner table first. We all live near a well, or some kind of straw connected big sloshy tanks at the tops of towers, or held in reserve in reservoirs full with fish.

My point is not that anyone is right or wrong in comparing religions, belief systems, political pursuits, ideologies.

My point is that the argument starts after dinner.

After everyone has eaten.

It is impossible to have a healthy discussion of religion with someone who is starving.

No matter the faith, its first commandment must be, please pass the plate.

The Writer #oldpoems

God this is an odd hobby. Some strange, absurd agenda I can’t sit down,
or ignore. I must lobby for it. Sold for much more than I paid.
To remain, or stay, and I lost it. So now I must profit. Big time. Big space.
No longer an option not to run a good race. Keep pace. Write every day.
Not just filled pages, but quality. Quality is where I found the kingdom. Earned it.
Drowned in the chomping waters of quantity. En masse. Quality is a carcass. Bloated.
Risen to the surface, upheld on the overlapping phallus of water. Dead, yes.
Once written it is dead. Crawling with secrets, distorted up from the bottom.
Consumed, decomposed, exposed. The morbid potential of the deep.
To those afloat bobbing, sick, clung to some boat.
God alive could not bring these words to life.
That is not why we write.
My very hobby.
Is bringing death to quality.