Thursday, September 23, 2010

Left Dangling

An acquaintance of mine in Magnolia was an avid bow hunter. He liked to go deep into the woods around the Dorcheat Bayou during bow season, climb a high tree in a good location and wait for the big buck to appear.

Once in the ‘80s he was doing his thing down in the most remote area of the bayou bottoms, having climbed a giant white oak. He thought he saw something move about a hundred yards away on the other side of his tree. As he was leaning out to get a better view, he slipped off his perch and dangled on the safety rope.

He didn’t have the strength to climb the rope and he could not swing himself back to the limb he had slipped from. He could, however, swing really close to another limb, and he thought he could swing out, cut the rope and grab that limb. After a little rehearsal, he performed the act. The knife didn’t cut through the rope as quickly as he anticipated and he missed the mark, falling a long way down to the forest floor.

The hunter was unconscious for awhile, and when he came to, he discovered that he was badly injured. The way I remember the report, he couldn’t walk and he was having abdominal and chest distress. He was out there in the middle of nowhere for a long time. Fortunately, his son-in-law knew that he was hunting near the Dorcheat. When he didn’t come home when expected, the son-in-law went searching, found his vehicle and tracked him as well as he could. He located him just in time and got him the treatment he needed. Apparently the man is fine now.

I hadn’t thought of that event in years, but I pondered that man’s state of mind there in his helpless condition this morning. You see, I had a troubling dream. I was in an apartment similar to one we lived in at Westerville, Ohio, except in my dream, the place was 20 stories high. I dreamed I was out on the small concrete patio overlooking a parking lot and facing another building. For some reason, I wondered if I could stand on the railing and get to the little patio on other building. Being a tall person, I thought I probably could. So, I risked it, and, sure enough, I had my hands on the railing of the facing patio and my feet on my own patio. But I was stuck. I couldn’t go one way or the other. The only way to go was down. Twenty stories down.

I knew I would have to make a move soon because my strength was failing. The only plan that formed in my dream was to push off with my feet and go on to the other patio. I don’t know how I came out, because the next thing I knew, I was eating breakfast in the safety of my own house in the woods in Arkansas!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Late Fall Spiders

Late fall spiders claim these hardwood woods,
Spitting stiff patterns thick to hold a year,
Trembling fat and yellow, hiding sleek heads
In bodies bloated by the sun. It must be fear
That makes the hunters bulge on through with barrels
Of blue, omitting mansions from the air,
Sending jewels down in sickly swirls
To lie in leaf-rot until with brief despair
They become the bottom where they are. My home
Was spun on autumn hopes as well, a place
To summon up a dream, awaiting some
Chill other-worldly stroke to bring my peace,
To ruin my dear design, and yet to give
Me back the earth where yellow spiders live.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Amphibian Utterance

I caught the tree frogs speaking in tongues at dawn
Today & have the interpretation. They say,
“Rain, but more than rain, will fall today--
Scales will fall from jaded eyes and gone
Will be your fetid blindness to the Word.”
Hear, oh boggy swamp’s inhabitants,
You willful, backward cousins, uncles, aunts:
The croak has come at last for you. The Lord
Will give no choice but clarity at last.
Not one tittle, not one jot will fade
From what the frogs have uttered in the glade.
So here and now proclaim a solemn fast
& heed the tree frogs’ holy admonition
To embrace your God’s well-lighted disposition.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dancing Shadows

Summer dies a somber death with skies
From blue to gray fading. Chill by dark
Sneaks through a tangled swamp to awaken sighs
Deep moaned from frogs. They hum to leave their mark
Before the quiet--that early autumn quiet,
The kind that bruits the fall of humankind,
The fall of year, the fall of summer’s fight
To burn away the fossils in your mind
To no avail. Prehistoric you
Cannot admit all life will go away.
The holy prints of all you’ve found to be true
Inside your spirit man hold perfect sway:
So you hoard an ancient shale of many mansions,
Detailed hulls of hopeful shadows dancing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bleeding and Dying on the JerryCo Road

When Jerry Company called Jones for the long anticipated interview, he was exhilarated, but also nervous and quite anxious. Interviews seldom went well for him, largely because of his tendency to become frantic on the inside. His palms would sweat, his heart would pound, the wrong words would spring from his lips before he could squelch them and his knees often smote one against the other. He had put all his eggs in the JerryCo basket, having prepared his resume with that company’s profile in mind. He designed his cover letter very specifically, almost cunningly, to make himself an attractive candidate for the top job in security at the company. So he was trying to develop strategies for staying calm during the impending stressful interview.

When the big day came, he wanted to be dressed and groomed perfectly: look good—feel good. He took extra time shaving and combing his freshly trimmed hair and carefully brushed the stylish but conservative new gray suit he had purchased on his one non-maxed-out credit card for the interview. Fully dressed and looking good three full hours before the scheduled interview, Jones stood before a full length mirror in his apartment and extended his hand towards the mirror saying, “Good afternoon—I’m Jake Jones.” He tried the sentence with various inflections and tones and with smiles that seemed to him at first too broad, then skewed and, finally, just right. He was an actor rehearsing for the big audition.

Jones lived in a second rate apartment only a few blocks from Jerry Company right on JerryCo road—the “road” was more of an industrial alley than an urban avenue, so the apartments were cheaper in this downscale environment. Since the interview was on a cool October day, Jones decided to walk to the company offices, breathing deeply, trying to relax, uttering positive, confidence-building phrases under his breath.

He had only made it a little over a block when three thugs, reeking of the night before, jumped out of the entry of a defunct lounge, beat him up and relieved him of his possessions, including his new suit. One of the bandits cut Jones’ face with a broken bottle of Wild Irish Rose. As Jones was bleeding and dying on the JerryCo road, two employees of the venerable Jerry Company walked by on the other side, in a hurry to get back on the clock after their lunch break, avoiding the calamitous scene across the way. Their routine was more important to them than they dying man on the street. After all, such scenes were not uncommon on that stretch of road. But a silver Hummer stopped and Reginald Jerry himself stepped out with a First Aid Kit. The president of Jerry Company cleansed and bandaged Jones, put him in the Hummer and took him to his suite of offices.

Jones awakened later that afternoon dressed in warm-ups on a plush couch in President Jerry’s office, with an attractive nurse dressing his wounds.

“Young man, what happened to you,” the executive asked.

“I was on my way to JerryCo for an interview this afternoon.”

“What position were you interviewing for?”

“Safety Compliance Officer, sir.”

“The job is yours.”

It was the easiest interview Jones had ever experienced.

Who was the good neighbor, the two employees or Mr. Jerry? The man in the Hummer you say? Well, go thou and do likewise.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bang Slough Breakfast

I didn’t start grilling fish until we moved to south Florida. I went fishing on my 55th birthday with a friend of mine in the biology department and landed a very large mutton snapper. The biologist said in his New York accent, “Dan, you are a southern boy and Jacque is a southern girl, but please don’t take that fish anywhere near a frying pan.”

He knew that for us, a fish supper meant shaking the meat up in a cornmeal mixture and deep-fat frying it, along with hushpuppies and French fries.

“How should I cook it, then?” I asked.

“Grill it, Dan. Soak it awhile in a little lime juice and put it on your grill. And don’t over-cook it.”

The realtor who helped us relocate down there had just killed a hog in the Everglades and brought me some sausage. As I was soaking my trophy fish in a pan containing a whole bottle of lime juice, I prepared some patties of the fresh sausage, placed it on the grill, and put some biscuits in the oven. When the pork was smoking really well, I placed the snapper filets between the patties and dripped a little more lime juice on them when they started looking dry. I cooked the meat until the sausages were done and the fish was flaking.

It was a wonderful, delicious meal. I thought our teenage daughter would only have a sausage biscuit, not being much of a fish-eater, but she tore into the snapper with gusto and even complimented the chef. Jacque told me to remember how I had cooked the fish. She loved it. Since that day over a decade ago, I have grilled a lot of fish. These days I leave off the pork and experiment with marinades other than lime juice, but everyone, northerner and southerner alike, enjoys the grilled fish, whether fresh bream, bass, white perch or store bought fare such as mahi-mahi or already prepared blackened salmon, which one can find in some grocery stores.

But I’m not over my love for traditional southern fried fish. These days, we usually go out to one of our fine local restaurants for that delicacy. One of my happiest memories, though, is that of a trot-lining trip to Bang Slough between El Dorado and Hampton. My father-in-law and brother-in-law and I camped down there and set out lines and yo-yos all along the slough. We ran them all night, taking off and throwing away bunches of trash fish and keeping mostly channel cat. By “trash fish” I mean grindle, gar, turtles and mud cat. Well, we kept some of the prettiest mud cat.

It was dawn when my brother-in-law got the grease hot. We had a fish breakfast almost as good as the one the apostles had at the end of the Book of John. I feel sure Jesus grilled the fish that wondrous morning instead of frying them, but I’m absolutely sure the Lord would have loved the southern fried catfish there on the banks of Bang Slough.