Thursday, February 17, 2011

Quiet Siren Kisses

A new R.E.M. record arrives soon. I've been listening to Reckoning today. From Pop Songs 07-08:
That’s Reckoning for you — nearly every song on the record in some way deals with the aftermath of an event, and at least half of them are traumatic. It’s an album about mourning your losses, taking stock of changes, owning up to guilt, and, in the end, moving on.
Has my "Sort-of Homecoming" involved mourning? Check. Taking stock and owning up? Check. Moving on? Hmm. 

So I've been listening to Reckoning a lot this week. Right now, in fact, "South Central Rain" accompanies this writing:
Did you never call? I waited for your call
These rivers of suggestion are driving me away
The ocean sang, the conversation’s dimmed
Go build yourself another dream, this choice isn’t mine
Eerie aquarian images abound, and life's imitating art. I'm slightly afraid of water, and I'm almost always uncomfortable around it. I loved looking at the Pacific, but I've only swum in it twice--never when I actually lived in California. Last summer I swam in the Atlantic while following the ghosts of Wolfe and Payne around the Outer Banks. It was warmer, saltier, more buoyant. Verdant.

"The ocean sang, the conversation's dimmed." Well, crap. "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each." Yup. But they sure as hell weren't singing to me.

"This choice isn't mine." I hope I've made that clear with all the waiting. Not yet moving on.

*       *        *

Baptisms by saltwater. Riding in Omaha right now is a salty, grimy, crusty affair. Mermaid kisses, Lucas calls it. I don't think he knew why I laughed so hard when he said that, but my cognitive free-associations don't translate very well during bike rides. We return from tarmac rides just as filthy as we do after our gravel trips. Imitations of spring dissolve inches of snow, forming channels and puddles, morasses of swampy road detritus, asphalt chasms, black ice. Luckily, I've stayed upright while watching new friends go sliding by.

These rides aren't immersions, they're interments. Afterward I find myself scraping layers of black grime off the legs and picking bits of earth from between the teeth.  The brackish water seeps into seams, trickles down tubes, embeds particles between fingers and toes.

Some spots refuse removal.

*       *        *
Also from Reckoning:
At night I drink myself to sleep and pretend
I don’t care if you’re not here with me
‘Cause it’s so much easier to handle
All my problems if I’m too far out to sea
Maybe that's the place to be: riding the waves rather than standing on the shore. I'm drinking away my nighttime appetites right now, fighting my normal dehydration-inflicted hypotension. Dizziness. The literal weight is slowly leeching off. Maybe these "rivers of suggestion" are taking me somewhere, after all:

Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete.
Pick up here and chase the ride.
The river empties to the tide.
All of this is coming your way.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Coincidences accumulating

I drove on Monday to Kansas City to see Carole, catch up with on old undergrad fried whom I hadn't seen for 22 years, and catch the Decemberists concert at the Uptown theater.

Carole's on the threshold of publishing HER six-year long project, so she's going to beat me across our respective finish lines. My old fried Tiffany is as gorgeous, brassy, and awesome as I remember.

As I sat at a table and drank with these two amazing women, I realized that I'd known them, collectively, for over 40 years. That kind of freaked me out.

Later, Colin Melloy played "June Hymn" as the encore to the concert. It's an homage to the pastoral, to spring, and to time:

The bridge just kicked my ass:
And years from now when this old light
Isn’t ambling anymore
Will I bring myself to write
“I give my best to Springville Hill”
In that lyric, past and present and future all congeal around and within place. Of course, I thought of Wordsworth:
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. 
Both speakers are standing in the now, spurred by the past, conceiving of the future. Sad perplexity haunts them both.

As Carole and I strolled arm in arm down Broadway, giggling and chattering in the cold, I thought of all the other times I'd sauntered down those streets with other friends all those years ago.

The next morning, I sat in a coffee shop in Westport and tried to hydrate away the too-much whiskey I'd drunk the night before. I tried to think about the future, but I was wistful about leaving my old friend and my new/old friend. I postponed my trek north across frozen stubblefields and back to my lonely work.

Guess what played on the coffee shop's sound system while I sat there and procrastinated? Even in the warmth of old/new memories formed half a world away from Davis, San Francisco, and Berkeley, I still can't escape the wind: 
I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss
How you'd sigh yourself to sleep
When I'd rake the springtime
Across your sheets

My love, I'm an owl on the sill
In the evening
But morning finds you
Still warm and breathing

This tornado loves you
What will make you believe me?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Saturday Gravel Goodness

Isn't this a happy-looking lot of ragamuffins? That's what happens when you ride 50 miles of wet, snowy gravel through the Loess Hills: unbridled joy. Plus: sugar-bonking, extremity numbness, and spatial disorientation!

Sound like fun? Wanna spend next week picking grit outta yer teeth? Then join us! We'll meet MOD, Shim, Rafal, and the rest of their wrecking crew at the Bob Kerry Pedestrian bridge at 9:30 Saturday morning.  We'll stay together as a bigger pack and then split into A and B groups once we hit the hills. MOD's people will end up rolling 80+ miles, while our junior varsity squad (led by Leah and yours truly) will cover ~50 miles.

This will NOT be a no-drop ride, so please come prepared with a 'cross bike, tubes, pump, fluids, and food. We'll ride about three hours at my base pace, which is probably 16-20 mph on the flats and dead-ass slow on the hills. I am a sprinter, after all.

I won't let anyone get left alone in the wilds of Pottawattamie County, but please take the time to familiarize yourself with the route:

Plus, you'll get to eyeball this luscious piece of steel as it makes only its second voyage:

C.T.? Munson? This ride has got your names written all over it.....