American Empire at Sunset Glen

americanempireDown at Sunset Glen, in the palliative care wing, hooked up to a ventricular assist device, American Empire is bitching and moaning about the grey food and the horrible, just horrible, Puerto Rican nurse who keeps scheduling enemas that never happen.

But it’s Monday, movie day, and American Empire is pumped to see the home movie that the Pearly Gates Film Guild has been working on for, well, “too effing long, if you wanna know.”

Ricardo the nurse wheels A. E. — with defibrillator, ventilator and all — into the home’s tiny cinema, props him up with pillows stuffed with cotton balls and eagle feathers and gives him his mid-morning Coke Big Gulp.

A. E. nods and the lights go down and there he is, short pants, almost cherubic, playing in a big, bright, bountiful yard. Then, orchestral crescendo, and there’s A. E., knees and elbows all bloody, and hollering, Manifest Destiny! “The things kids pick up,” laughs A. E.

Then it’s a string of jump cuts, fades and cross-fades through a montage of slavery, Indian removal, expansionism, imperialism and plenty of wars; all with cutaways of the early republic, the constitution, the great awakening, abolitionism, emancipation, women’s suffrage, civil rights, woman’s rights, LGBTQ rights. But in the denouement, flickering scenes in monochrome variously show a regressive bully, ageing addict, narcissist, celeb-cultist, fundamentalist, con artist, thief, opportunist and crazed pensioner, living on deregulation, bailouts, corporate tax cuts, and shares in the military industrial complex. And in the final scene: a radiating grey mist and clouds of blue-bottle flies. The whole shebang, the civic aspirations, the moments of nobility, the jealousies, the rages, the heart condition, the mania, all the pathos and bathos and waning ethos mashed together in under 90 minutes.

“Definitely not a feel-good ending,” says A. E. as the lights come up, “but the editing was out of this world, the best!”

Ricardo wheels A. E. back down the hall schlepping along the steel tree of drip bags and tubes; then leaves a copy of Nevil Shute’s book, On the Beach, at his beside, some stab at a last hope. But for naught, American Empire has forgotten how to read.

(This post owes its schema to August Kleinzahler’s poem, The Hereafter, and its genesis to the unabating mental and moral erosion of this American administration, which prayerfully will not end us all, On the Beach. )

When you’re walking

When you’re walking Ogden Point breakwater at sundown, covered in yellow light, watching the silhouette of the Olympic Mountains sharpen under a near-full moon that’s climbing above the Dallas Road cliffs, holding hands with Deb, her palm cool on yours, and you pass a young couple fishing, a small lamp beaming between them as they cast their lines into a sea so still that the rigged spoons ring out as they clap the water; when a small dog bounces on the concrete walkway as she watches a great blue heron, full of patience and standing on an island of bull kelp studying a place just beneath the surface of the ink-green ocean, and when you approach the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater and see its orange flashes soaked up by the dusk, while a pilot boat pliés past toward a container ship to help steer it through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a girl with dyed deep-red hair, courting only quietude, glows down on the rocks while watching the far shore transform under a bruised peach sky, and at her back the moon runs its nickel ribbon along the salt water kissing every ripple on its way to meet the water in your own eyes…you can believe that all the world is without strife.


Watercolour by Virginia Brubaker

These strangled prayers for peace

I’m alone on the beach, but for a thousand driftwood friends, some reasonably good throwing rocks, and a cigar for rumination.


I’m sitting on an ancient bleached log, blowing Nicaraguan smoke over the Juan de Fuca Strait, worrying about earthquakes, hurricanes and nuclear war. (The word worry, by the way, is a mash-up of some old English and German meaning to ‘strangle’, or ‘seize by the throat and tear’.)

I would have made a terrible Buddhist (as it is, I fail the bar of half-assed Christian), so attached am I to suffering the-anticipated; fretting some feverish future. (You can catch my act, a gloomy Billy Bragg singing: Way over yonder in the dimming gr…een, ain’t nobody that can fret like me, ain’t nobody that can fret like me.)

To fix this I decide that worry is a form of prayer: so here I am, in solidarity with the rest of the world’s worriers, storming the gates of tomorrow, preveniently seizing, strangling, worrying peace-on-earth into being…

and sitting in this fragrant acrid cloud
I watch the light play on the waves
and like some augur of old
I pine
for a sign:
perhaps some solicitous sand crab
to move my parked imagination
into the bright eelgrass of presence
so hold to my heart
peace as a possibility.


Thirty-one years and still we prune


For years you pruned the wild saskatoons that grew up the lane by the cottage,
while I carted the blighted branches, their leaves curled and black, to the fire pit.

Spring after spring passed and you widened the circles against decay.
Sparrows followed you, the squirrels watched and the frogs across the road sang.

And then it came,
up through the cuttings, new growth pushing through.

Thirty-one years and still we prune, don’t we love.  Sure
we’ve lost some, but many survived, and many bear fruit, much of it sweet.

Happy Anniversary Deb.