Her position was, indeed, to a marked degree one that, in the common phrase, afforded much to be thankful for. That she was not demonstratively thankful was no fault of hers. Her experience had been of a kind to teach her, rightly or wrongly, that the doubtful honour of a brief transmit through a sorry world hardly called for effusiveness, even when the path was suddenly irradiated at some half-way point by daybeams rich as hers. But her strong sense that neither she nor any human being deserved less than was given, did not blind her to the fact that there were others receiving less who had deserved much more. And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquility had been accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Depth of Ease: DanSheng (detail)

...by Laurens Tan 2007 (Photo by Huang Xu)

One Hundred...

Ah, movies. Fillums. Stardust memories. The cinema. Da plex. Or, as I knew it from a long time ago, in a squeaky seat far, far away, The Show. I wish I had a hundred dollar bill for every movie I ever went and saw. I wish every hot dog I ever ate there wasn't still in my body, hidden somewhere. I remember the first movie Loretta, my mom, ever took me to, and, yes, it was a James Bond film (Thunderball, baby). I started keeping my ticket stubs many years ago, just to remind me where and when I saw something. I started collecting movies and movie material when I was a freshman in high school, and haven't stopped collecting either since. I may have missed a good chance to be fit and trim in childhood, but I know the rest of the kids in the neighborhood missed a whole bunch of really cool movies when movies were especially cool (late '60's to upper-mid '70's); I can go to the gym anytime I want, but they'll never make up for all that lost dream time movies can so magically bestow on a youngin'. I was taken to R-rated films when most kids weren't allowed to see anything PG (or, GP, as it was known, back in the day). Loretta regularly...misrepresented...my physical health to the nuns of St. Cajetan in order to a) attend the White Sox Opening Day, and b) attend whatever interesting-looking film was opening downtown (I am absolutely confident I was the only 10 year-old in America - most likely, Europe as well - who was taken out of school to see the premiere of Hitler-The Last 10 Days). I've seen all five Planet of the Apes films in one glorious, all-day sitting (still my one day record), and the first three Star Wars films the same way. A reasonably hot date and I walked out of the revival of a Marilyn Monroe film and saw the Best Picture of 1971, instead (that would be The French Connection, ahem). Most appropriately, I saw my first foreign film in London. I've caught a Woody Allen film in Japan, a Jerry Lewis film in Switzerland, and a James Bond film in Paris. I once flew across two states to see a James Bond premiere, because there isn't a single reasonably good movie theater in all of New Mexico. I broke family tradition early and decisively in turning to Pepsi when 6 said bottle caps got you admission to special Wednesday matinees one eventful summer. I've seen movies absolutely everywhere - palaces bigger than Wal-Mart, boutique screens as small as a minivan, suburban plexes, neighborhood screens, ghetto haunts, drive-ins, art houses, in-house university theaters, screening rooms, dollar screens, in flight, on Navy ships, in seven foreign countries, in my basement on Super-8, just about everywhere on video, and on three bedsheets strung together and hung across the doors of my 2-car garage to watch in full Panavision and wondrous Technicolor...you guessed it, Thunderball, on glorious pirated 16-mm. And I think I remember the name of every movie theater I ever visited in the City of Chicago, which I find more and more important with each passing year, because so many of them no longer exist. And if I don't stop typing right now, the memories will keep unspooling. But we here at Danse Macabre invite you, fellow movie connoisseur, to peruse the following link and see how many stardust memories come forward for you ... 100!

Annie / To the Girl Child...



I miss the farm. I miss having my own room and having chores to do in the morning and I miss the colors. I don't miss the Tylers. Everything here is gray. The lights inside are yellow, but not like the yellow of the sun. The backyard here has no grass. It is a plot of hard dry dirt surrounded by stacks of rotting wood and garbage cans. They smell worse to me than pig manure. There's a patched up old slat fence that's been knocked down and put back up so many times it wobbles in the wind. My sister Louise goes out there to play each morning. She sits under the back porch and mixes up mud-pies, and then she bakes them on bricks in the sooty sun until they are dry and crumbly and gray. She calls me out to come and play with her, but I cannot bring myself to do it. There's just no sense in it. I help Mama with the housecleaning, but this apartment is so small and cluttered it is difficult to really clean. We straighten things up everyday. Mama calls it 'redding up', but to me it's just moving things from one place to another. We didn't have any clutter on the farm -- Mrs. Tyler said if you couldn't sit on it or eat off of it, you didn't need it. I sleep on a folding cot in the living room, and every morning it has to be made up and folded up and rolled into a corner and covered with a flowered throw. I have all my things in a large flat box that fits under Mama's bed. Louise keeps pulling it out and rummaging through it, but I have now let her know it is my property, and even though she goes crying to Mama I will not give in on this. These things are the only things that belong to me. Nothing else in this house is mine. Even the new dress Maw bought for me does not feel as though it is mine. It is a part of this house, and so not mine.

The first night I was home I bowed my head and crossed myself at the dinner table. Louise pointed at me and laughed, and Mama frowned, and Maw had a fit. She didn't yell at me though, but at Mama. She said, "See what those people have gone and done with your daughter? They had no right I tell you, and if you'd been paying attention you would've known what they were doing." And then she turned to me and took hold of my arm. "Annie, we don't do that in this house. All the Lord requires of us is a simple thanks for the food we have. You don't have to cross yourself ever again.” and then she continued with Mama, "I'm taking Annie to church with me every Sunday from now on. I've tried with Louise, but without you backing me on it I've gotten nowhere. This one though . . ." and then she nodded over toward me, ". . . there's a lot to be undone, and she'll have to be baptized soon to wash away the damage" Later, I heard Maw telling Mama that she would not stand by and Catholicism creep into the family, and before she left she told Mama to have me ready for church on Sunday. That night, before I went to sleep, I crossed myself three hundred and sixty five times and prayed to St. Jude. I asked if he could hold them for me and deduct one each day, and promised I would do this each year until the time came I could cross myself at the table again.

The Old Man, that's what everyone calls our father, is very strange. He never came to the farm with Mama when she visited, and I don't remember him from when I lived here before. But the Tylers told me he was my "natural" Daddy, like Mama is my "natural" Mama, and so I believe he is. He laughs a lot when there is nothing to laugh about, and is always trying to talk to me when I don't want to talk. I hear him sometimes in the bathroom at night. The bathroom is right off the living room where I sleep, and sometimes I hear him in there in the middle of the night moaning and bumping around, and sometimes he's in there for a very long time and sometimes I think he is crying. Sometimes the toilet does not even flush. I don't like the way the Old Man looks at me. I woke up one night and found him sitting on the edge of my cot. He was just sitting there staring at me. I asked him what was wrong and he just got up and went back to the couch. He reminds me of that pitiful little dog back at the Tyler's. All he ever did was whine and cry like he wanted something, but you never knew what he wanted. He'd dance around you in circles with his tail between his legs and his ears back like he'd done something wrong, whimpering the whole time. I felt sorry for him at first, but then it got so I'd just kick him away because I couldn't stand it anymore. Him and Mama do not sleep in the same room. He sleeps on the couch, and Louise shares the double bed with Mama. When they sent me away, Louise was in a bassinet in Mama and the Old Man's room, and now she's got Mama all to her self. Mama goes in and pats her to sleep each night, even though she is five years old and goes to school now. When Maw is here they argue about it, and Maw tells her she is spoiling Louise rotten. Also, Louise hangs on her all day long, and whines and cries each morning because she has to go to school. Once she locked herself in the bathroom until it was too late to go, but mostly she plays sick so she can stay home. She was always with Mama when she came to visit on the farm, and I hated her because she got to go back home at the end of the day. But then I think I'd forgotten or maybe never known how different Mama's home was from the farm. I used to think I was on the farm because I was so bad. The day before I left home, I pushed Louise she fell and cut her knee. I don't think this anymore. I think now they just didn't want me around.

I like my brother Jimmy. He is "slow" Mama says, and he pouts, but he talks to me a lot, and that makes Louise jealous. She is mean to him, and gets even meaner when she sees him talking to me. But she has Johnnie, who never bothers to even notice me. He is two years older than me, and Mama's always trying to get him to take me with him when he goes out, and sometimes he says he will, then he runs off while I'm getting ready. Him and Louise are my Mama's favorites -- neither of them have ever been in foster homes.

Marion is in bed all day long. She is a year younger than me and Mama says we looked like twins when we were little. She is rail thin and I am fat as a cow. She has long silky hair and my hair is coarse and curls every which way except the way I want. I go in to see her and she shows me her paper dolls and sometimes we listen to her records, but she watches me carefully the whole time I'm with her, as if she's waiting for me to do something awful to her, and I think she lies to Mama about taking her medicine. She was with me on the farm, at first, but then she got real sick and they took her home.

Harry's off somewhere hitchhiking, Mama says. I remember him taking me for walks before I left for the farm, and I remember him holding my hand and telling me that men always walked on the street side of the sidewalk to protect ladies, but I don't remember much else about him. Mama says he'll be home soon, but she doesn't know when.

Maw is nice to me, but I saw her pull Marion's hair hard one time when she wouldn't take her medicine, and once she put on a monster mask and scared Jimmy to death, and she wouldn't take it off, even though I begged her to. Jimmy sat in corner screaming and crying with his hands over his head and she still wouldn't take it off. And one time she put yellow soap in his mouth for swearing. He ran out the house and spit it out in the gangway and Louise went and told, so Maw made him come up and she soaped his mouth again--"real good this time", she said. She tells Louise that if she catches her sticking her tongue out she will cut it off with her big scissors, and if she doesn't go to church with us she'll burn in Hell. But I am not afraid of her. I know why she hates the Catholics so much.

There's nothing for me to do here. I help Mama, but outside of that I have nothing to do. I don't think she really likes me or wants me here, and I think she is glad that she doesn't have to bother with me much. Whenever we're alone she seems all antsy and uncomfortable and starts talking about things I did when I was a little girl. It almost seems as if she's trying hard to remember what it was like before I left so she'll know what to do now. I don't remember any of what she talks about, and sometimes I think she's making it up, because it's all real happy stuff like birthday parties, and trips to the zoo, and her reading me stories, and stuff I'm sure I'd remember if it really happened. I always listen and then tell her I don't remember, and then she doesn't seem to know what else to say and remembers something she has to do so she can get away from me. Sometimes I think she is scared of me.

I do not like to read and I do not like school at all. I like going to church with Maw, even though it's not a Catholic church. I know God understands I can't do nothing about that, and I say the rosary whenever I can get off by myself. It's hard to do in this apartment. There's no privacy at all except in the bathroom, and every time I go there's someone banging on the door to get in. There's an air shaft outside the bathroom window, and sometimes I open it and hang my head out when I say my prayers, so no one will hear me. At the bottom of this shaft there are beer bottles and cigarette butts and a little shiny piece of what looks from up here like blue satin. I could set up a fort down there. I could let down a rope and go down there whenever I wanted to if I wanted to.

When I left the farm, Mrs. Tyler cried and said I should write to her every week to let her know I was all right. I started a letter but didn't know what to say, and I knew my spelling was bad so I tore it up. She never wrote one to me.

Mama and the Old Man fight all the time. When she makes fudge she hides it in her dresser drawer so he can't have any. He doesn't have any teeth. Mama says he had some but Maw took them and threw them away. I don't know why she would do that.

I am going to leave when I turn eighteen. Johnnie told me that's legal age, and no one can stop me then. I only have four years left here. He got Mama to sign for him to go into the Marines, but I won't be able to do that because I am a girl. Johnnie will be leaving soon. I think about leaving all the time.

Now they're talking about moving again.


I go to church with Maw every Sunday at the Englewood Christian Church at ten o'clock in the morning. She always stays after the services, and I wait while she talks to Pastor Britton and some ladies who work for the church. They want me to teach Sunday school to little kids, but say I have to be baptized first. I don't much care if I do or not. I just shake my head and agree with them cause it seems that's what they want me to do. I like the Bible, but don't know if I could teach it to little kids the way they want me to. I sit with Maw every night after supper and we read passages out loud. I read and she listens -- she helps me with the hard names and places and seems happy when I say them right. Sometimes Louise sits with us, but she usually gets bored and starts acting silly and Maw sends her away. I don't like her much. She hates me. I know it. I can see it in her eyes. Especially when Mama is around. If she's talking to me, Louise pulls on her dress and hangs on her and whines about something until she forgets about me. She's pretty smart for a little kid, but she thinks I don't know what she's doing, so she can't be too smart. And she doesn't know that I don't care if my mother ever talks to me or does anything for me. I just don't care. I don't even know her, and don't know if I want to. It's different with Maw. Louise hates her too, but it still bothers her that Maw pays me so much attention.

Maw's bought me a lot of clothes since I came back. She wouldn't ever let me wear my overalls or any of the pants and shirts I brought from the farm. She goes to the Goodwill and comes back with cotton dresses that have collars up to my neck, and strings that tie around my waist with a bow in the back. She makes me wear "snuggies" -- peach colored cotton underwear that makes me look fatter than I really am. The shoes she buys are what she calls oxfords; they're brown and clunky and have laces, but I polish them up so at least they're shiny. She pulls my hair back into a pony tail with a rubber band and then ties a ribbon over it. We used to truss up and tether animals on the farm with ropes and bindings when they misbehaved, and sometimes I feel like one when I get dressed for the day. Nighttime is different -- then I wear the long flannel nightgowns she bought me for Christmas, and I can move every part of my body inside them. I sleep on the roll away bed by myself, so I can stretch out my arms and legs and not be afraid of kicking anybody. Then my body is mine.

I take baths every night. I fill up the bathtub and just soak. On the farm I never minded being dirty -- dirt didn't feel like dirt there -- even though we worked right in the dirt and it got ground into my hands and under my fingernails. My skin wasn't really my own skin there the way it is here -- I never thought much about being clean and smelling clean and all that. Most nights I'd just brush off the loose dirt before I went to bed. They didn't have indoor plumbing either, and you couldn't just take a bath whenever you wanted to -- you had to haul the water in and heat on it on the stove, and most evenings I was just too tired to even think about it. It's hard to feel right about taking a bath every night though, cause someone's always banging on the door to get in and I sometimes have to get out before I want to. Usually it's Louise, and I hear her yelling out to Mama, "What's she doing in there? I gotta go pee . . . " and I try to just ignore it, cause I know she doesn't have to go pee any more than I do cause I always ask her before I go in. But she usually keeps it up until our mother knocks on the door and tells me I have to hurry. I always lock the door. She didn't like this at first, and told me if would be okay if Louise came in while I was in the tub cause we're both girls. But I said I'd rather not take a bath at all if I couldn't lock the door and so she finally left me alone about it. Maw makes a big fuss about how clean I keep myself. In addition to taking a bath every night, I scrub my face twice a day and wash my hands a lot. My fingernails are short and there is no dirt under them, ever. Maw gave me a manicure set in a little pink plastic case, and showed me how to use it. She said I shouldn't clip my nails with a clipper like my mother does -- that only men should do that. She said when I'm sixteen she'll get me some clear nail polish.

When Maw told me I had to get baptized, I was real scared. I’d stopped crossing myself in front of her, and never said the rosary where she could hear me, and I'd been going to church with her and reading from the bible and all and I thought that was enough. But she says I need to be cleansed "properly", and she says the baptism will wash away all the "Catholic" stuff the Tylers put into me. I heard the pastor call me a "lost sheep" one time, and then say how happy he was I would be brought back into the fold. I don't like him. He has a wife and I see him looking funny at some of the women who stay after services. Shouldn't have a wife in the first place. Priests aren't allowed to have wives -- and that just goes to show how little this religion cares for God's rules. They don't even call him "Father".

I'm glad Maw takes me to church though. It's the only time outside school that I get to be out of the house and away from Louise. And I do talk to the Virgin Mary all the time. She is a woman and so understands that I cannot disobey Maw. Maw says she's got to "undo the damage" the Tylers did by making me a Catholic, but Mary knows that she cannot do this because I am a true Catholic. I recite the rosary every evening (silently, and without beads) and I don't eat meat on Fridays and I say extra prayers on every holy day of obligation and I don't have anyone telling me I have to. And no one knows except me, and Mary, and God, and Jesus maybe.


The Sunday I got baptized I was real proud of myself. Before we left the house I went into the bathroom and rubbed Vaseline all over my face--I knew it would keep the baptismal water from really touching me. I stuck my St. Jude card into the waistband of my panties, face in so the the relic spot was touching my skin, and I said four "Our Fathers" and three "Hail Mary's" on the way to the church. I had to wear this long purple robe and go up on the stage with the Pastor. He asked me questions and I answered the way we'd rehearsed I'd answer, then he dunked my face into a bowl of water three times. Each time I prayed silently to Mary to forgive me, and I could feel that she did. Then he gave me a white towel and I blotted the water off my face. I felt my face all over and could still feel the layer of Vaseline so I knew I was still all right -- I was still Catholic. I could see Maw and Mama down in the second pew smiling up at me, and I smiled back at them. Louise was sitting in between them, with a real dumb look on her face. I know she didn’t want to come. She put up a big fuss when she found out I was going to be baptized. Said she wanted to be baptized too, and got all hysterical and threw one of her hissy fits when Maw told her she was too young. But that was nothing compared to the fit she threw when Maw added that if she didn't start going to Sunday school she'd never be baptized and would end up burning in Hell. I went into her bedroom that night and told her that Hell was down in the sewers, and next time she passed one she’d be pulled in by the Devil himself “The Devil’s big old claw’s gonna reach out, grab holda your leg, and pull you right in.” I said. Louise started to yell out for her “Mama”, but I grabbed hold of her arm and told her “Not even Mama can help you now -- not even Mama can stop the Devil.” She just fell back on the pillow with her eyes wide and didn’t say anything, even when I let go her arm and went on out and went to bed. She started moaning in her sleep that night and I felt kinda bad cause I figured she was having nightmares, but she tests me so I can barely stand it sometimes.

To be continued...

To the Girl-Child

I watch, as you become me,
And think now here is a far better me
than I was ever able to be.

Yet I know that over the years
you have filtered back into me,
returned to the soil and altered it,

Until the me
I might be
without you
no longer exists

So as I watch and think
I see you becoming me
I know you are becoming something
brighter and more brilliant
than either you or me could ever be
by ourselves alone.

...by Arlene Greene

If Only We Could Be More Like the Sloth...

...I recently toured Peru. I ventured to ancient Cuzco and the exotic Inca fortress at Machu Picchu. I spent days on the Amazon visiting Indian villages and hiking through the "selva." My tour ended in the capital of Lima.

It is always refreshing to escape the day to day life of the United States with its almost claustrophobic feelings brought about by the media's incessant accounts of turmoil and strife. Actually, for almost three weeks I heard nothing of skirmishes in Afghanistan, homicidal Palestinian bombers in Israel, Israeli tanks in Palestine, death and war in Iraq, lingering strife in Africa, terrorism threats for those traveling the skies. No messages of conflict between congressional Democrats and a Republican president reached my ears.

Was I in Nirvana? In Machu Picchu and in the jungle (called the "selva,") I began to feel that perhaps I was, but then I did come back to reality in Lima. The city was engulfed in protests and strikes. Traffic was brutal. A stop sign or red light only meant that one would yield to bigger cars or trucks. A go sign or green light meant precisely the same thing. Pollution was horrific. Black soot flowed from each motorized vehicle. Horns blasted every conceivable kind of loud sound. At each corner, beggars approached car windows, as did persons selling everything from national flags and household cleaners, to candy and chewing gum. Squeegee blades were on stopped windows almost immediately. The beach suburb of Miraflores looked almost like a southern European resort, but the thought of the temporary shacks aside surrounding mountains, made feelings of luxury or comfort rather unpleasant. Each neighborhood and suburb also found traffic flowing toward a central plaza--The Plaza de Armes--which celebrated Peru's role in wars of the 1870s with neighbors Ecuador, Chile, and Bolivia. A heavenly Nirvana it was not. But then, just maybe a heavenly Nirvana was near at hand.

Human society, and especially Western society, embraces an ethic of progress. The ethic is reflected in a biblical admonition that mankind should go forth and subdue the land for its enrichment. Christian and Muslim principles (indeed misinterpreted but certainly acted upon) alike suggest that the faithful should go and convert the heathen, and maybe trample them (even to death) if they resist the "true word." Western individualism is often played out as a win-lose game of social Darwinism. Militarism is a natural concomitant of human group value structures. Yet faiths envision a quite different Nirvana, an almost non-materialistic "pot of gold," at the end of the rainbow we call life. In contrast with the images of CNN and Fox News and the street scenes of Lima, the heaven we wish to seek is one of satisfaction, relaxation, non-competition, non-acquisition but still self sufficiency, self pleasures of perhaps undefined natures (but then of very well defined nature for suicide bombers, ala virgins at one's feet), and above all, most of all, always always PEACE. That ultimate desire of Peace is also the central virtue espoused in diplomatic circles and in foreign policy statements of all nations. That ultimate desire of Peace is the rationale for international conferences, and it is the rationale for the creation of bi-lateral and multi-lateral alliances, and of course, for the creation of the United Nations.

In the selva I sensed that this Nirvana was alive and well on our own earth NOW. The naturalist guide for our Amazon boat tours, urged us to be quiet, but to get our cameras out. He was sure he had spotted among the leaves of a Kapok tree, a three-toed sloth. Indeed he had, and we sat in stunned silence as he directed our eyes to an upper branches to what appeared to be a lump on the truck of the tree. After we took our pictures and moved onward in our journey, the guide told us about this most heavenly of all god's creatures.

As the story unfolded, I indeed was convinced that the key to our human survival, the key to peace on earth could be displayed in the lifestyle of this much maligned creature.

The sloth is not a taker. The mammal, which typically grows to be about 8 pounds and as much as two feet in body length, does not engage in win-lose or parasitic games. As the sloth survives, it harms no other living creature. He eats only the leaves of very specific trees, deriving both nutritional substance and its water needs from the foliage. Yet the sloth gives back to the trees and to other creatures as well. He exists in a symbiotic and synergistic relationship with all others in the environment of the few trees that he occupies.

The sloth has a hairy body, and the hair becomes a breeding ground for the algae of the region. The algae in turn give the body of the sloth a greenish coloring that affords him a camouflaged hiding from predators. While the sloth spends most of its time hanging in sleep in mid level branches of its trees, it does seek energy from the sun by rising to higher limbs. The sunshine, in turn, gives valuable heat to the algae as well, helping sustain its growth.

The long stringing hair of the sloth is also the residential home of a special sloth moth. With its limited dietary needs (the sloth craves only what it needs, unlike human beings, not what it wants), the sloth needs to engage in the animal process of discarding wastes only once a week. In the process of doing so, he descends the tree, very slowly, digs a hole, deposits the waste and in an environmentally correct nice manner covers up the hole when he is done. As the waste is being deposited, the sloth moth also deposits eggs in the fecal material. The burial of the waste then protects the eggs. As the eggs are nurtured to produce a new generation of moths, the soils about the waste have been enriched by it, and so are able to better feed the tree that gives the sloth its home and its very limited food supply.

The sloth is very vulnerable to the animals which prey upon it, notable the harpy eagle and the jaguar. The sloth has sharp claws which can be used in defense. They are never used as offensive weapons. The animal’s greatest protection comes from its ability to hide. It seeks middle level branches which are out of reach of the jaguar and also below a range of convenience for flight by the harpy eagle. The acts of stealth are aided by the camouflage coloring and also by the sloth's ability to remain still for hours and hours at a time. The animal sleeps in an upside down position hanging from limbs of the tree for as many as 20 hours every day.

The sloth is in its most dangerous position when it descends the tree to do its weekly duty. The sloth does not have a muscular capacity to make any kind of escape when it is on the ground. It is the slowest of all mammals. Its legs cannot move it; instead it pulls itself along the ground at a rate of a few feet per hour. On the other hand, the long arms of the sloth enable the animal to swim with great ability, especially with a speed that can take the sloth away from pursuing jaguars. Naturally in its jungle environment it gravitates to trees that are near watered areas.

The natural strengths (rather the lack thereof--it has the least muscle mass of any mammal) of the sloth incline it toward a complete aversion to any conflict within its own population. It has very few and very simple needs and no wants. The sloth will inhabit only a few trees during its lifetime. It will bond with these trees and mark them with its individual smells. The others of the species will respect its trees, and in turn it is not at all motivated to seek out trees belonging to others of its kind. There are reports that during mating "season" (a stretch of the word), two male two toed sloths may fight for a female's affection, however, the three toed variety are rarely so inclined. The sloths are solitary creatures that spend almost their entire lifetimes alone in the midst of their individual trees. The concept of group based battles is totally out of the realm of contemplation for these animals.

Males and females of other species (ergo, Homo sapiens) do have their episodes of group battles, but again this cannot be the case with the sloths. With this species, male female relationships have advanced to an extremely wonderful level not found with other animals (hopefully this is not just a chauvinistic male perspective). Male and female sloths meet for only three days a year. It takes the animals three days to engage in the mating act. (From a female perspective the idea of three days of pre-activity should seem to be rather advanced behavior from males). After the three days the male retreats to his tree, dreaming about the moment during his long episodes of sleep. Well, of course, the female is left with a burden, but it is not overwhelming. A period of gestation lasts six months, and most of this time the female is sleeping and just hanging around her tree. After birth, the young sloth clings to the mother for about two months, observing the slow cycle of activity. It is then taken to a tree of its own and released. The female then, like the male, can enjoy four to five months of solitude.

In two Indian villages of the Amazon, our tour group observed that young native girls had pet sloths. The animals clung around their waists, much as babies were tied in cloth around the waists of the older women. The pets were exceedingly loving, and craved to be held. Members of our group took turns holding the sloths, always being careful to avoid contact with the claws. The notion struck this observer that perhaps the sloth could be brought into the culture of Lima and also the United States. The animal could be offered as a surrogate child for young teenagers that otherwise might be having real babies. Perhaps, the teenage girls could carry sloths until they reached an appropriate age when they could more adequate care to real babies. As the sloths may live to be as old as thirty years, they could be passed on from one girl to another in new rites of passage. Not only could we learn from the sloth, but this giving animal could make great contributions to our society in direct ways as well.

In the lexicon of man, the sloth has been much abused. Religions that seek peace have overlooked this species almost unique contribution. Instead, the sloth has been set forth as a model for one of the seven deadly sins--laziness. This is unkind, and unjustified. When we go to sleep we pray for peace. We envision a heaven that is much like the peaceful world of the sloth. Lazy? What do we think of all day--ways to take advantage of others and then ways to avoid conflict with others? The sloth probably dreams our dreams as well, wakes up, looks around, and sees that indeed, the dreamed-of Nirvana is at hand. So it goes back to sleep. Why not?

The central prophet, the Savior and creative spirit of the prominent religion of the western world offered the words that should elevate the sloth to a position if not of worship itself, at least of emulation, "It is more blessed to give...." World peace could be at hand. If only mankind could be more like the sloth.

by William N. Thompson

"What is promised to you will come to pass, and you can never evade it."

Photograph (c.) 2006/7 by Pamela Cantrell. All rights reserved.

Biker Babe Passes up Candy / Coming to a Field near You

Biker Babe Passes up Candy

She hangs on the Middlgate Bar
like she needs a prop.
By 3 p.m., she’s got a good start going.
Skin tight black leathers mold her ass.
The fringed chamois vest shows off her
tat just right---long-eyelashed smiling octopus,
a man’s head wrapped in each
A feathered dream catcher
dangles from her platinum blond pony tail,
pulled to the right.
She’s ridden this ride for twenty years,
knows most everybody,
has tried what she wants,
teased the rest to distraction.

In walks a newbie---25 at most---
tanned like turned-on-a-spit,
his hunter green t-shirt
caresses pects to die for. Tall but not
gargantuan, features chisled a la Michelangelo,
with five older men from California---the
valley and Half Moon Bay.
She learns he’s the engineer
of a hotter than hot three wheeler
with a Toyota engine, that cracks a hundred twenty
easy. His smile gleams like some lamp, welcomes
the whole world---his gig the next
rad design, svelte scupture of chrome and enamel.
The older dudes dig him, keep him revved,
getting richer all the time.

Finally, she has to admit she’s absolutely
a dirty old woman. Her friends
egg her on to seduce him; she
stalls; my body’s not what it once was.
So I’d rather watch this georgeous boy
than take him out to play, let him see my droops.
Hell, I can imagine him all day and all night.
Dream his every crack and cell like I’ve inhaled him.
Moan with the come I conjure---again and again.
Leave him loose, untried
seduced in mind over each luscious inch.
So much better than the real
deal with anybody else here.

Coming to a Field near You

Black Water
molten with intrigue
molasses heavy
drips putrid into honey buckets.
Blooms up
Did ya ever see
black water
with no cottonmouth?

Blood surges
black dahlias haunt
roses of unnatural dark scare
dusky gladioli hide faces.
Black vines
jungle night strangler
wandering jew (new
diaspora approaches).
Black Water
Moats keep law and citizens out
Extinguish light and life.
Drown stars.
Free to the highest bidder
runs pure black coercion.

...by Elizabeth I. Riseden

Shift Happens!


Kids Who Are Different...

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids who don't always get A's
The kids who have ears
twice the size of their peers,
And noses that go on for days ...
Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids they call crazy or dumb,
The kids who don't fit,
with the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum ...
Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids with the mischievous streak,
For when they have grown,
as history's shown, it's their difference that makes them unique.

...by Digby Wolfe

Atrophy / He Appears


Remembering is precious metal.
I go deep to mine
the dark silence.

Down the bitten steps, I stumble.
Below, a child stands, waiting,
hands upturned, yearning,
filthy-faced, eyes beg,
Do not abandon me!

I have no ambition, I explain.
I only ask for kindness, she pleads.
Sit and tell me your story, I say.
I’m hungry,she answers.
I have only this, I tell her

and pull the shrunken bit of hope
from my pocket.
It’s enough,she smiles
and takes it, as if
it were a precious thing.

I watch her lick the edges,
savor it fully,
begin to gnaw and chew.
Tears shake loose,
spatter in the oil-stone beneath.


within a group of mutual friends
all milling around. The room
with white floor has no walls.
Her husband and son stand nearby.
He walks right up to her,
broad-faced, bright and sweet-
smiling as ever, beard neatly trimmed,
teeth white as hope.
With no explanation of why
he’s suddenly returned from the dead,
he opens his arms, his eyes speak clearly
before his voice follows with,
“I love you,” and he embraces her.
Her startled arms encircle
his shoulders as she answers, “I love you,”
wondering how he’d managed the journey
and what others are thinking of
his inexplicable resurrection.
The simplicity of it.
She doesn’t have time to ask if he cared
about the poem she’d written – the one
about his disappearance into death.
As soon as they let go, he falls back
into the crowd, lost ever again
behind faces still living. Her husband,
her son – at left, at right.
One hand holding her hand,
one hand gently pressing her
shoulder. Eyes, deepest lakes.
She bathes in their gazes as murmurs
envelope, her thoughts left to flounder
on beaches of waking.

...by Susan Botich

The Depth of Ease: DanSheng

...by Laurens Tan 2007 (Photo by Huang Xu)


Buddhists believe that the child is a passing guest and the mother an inn where it stops to borrow a garment before going on its way. Jan knew that motherhood can be a lifetime sentence with small possibility for parole, entered into more or less willingly, and often blindly, by the person to be sentenced.

For three years, she had believed that her sentence had been commuted, that she was finally free of the hulking vampire who had sapped her energy and self respect, as well as her finances. The secret of immortality, she often thought, was, quite simply, never to reproduce.

She identified with the delicate, desert tarantulas hunted by huge black wasps, paralyzed, impregnated, and dragged underground as unwilling hosts and food for the alien young, to die when the parasites emerged, black winged, carrying their messages of horror to another generation of gentle creature toiling below them.

Her high desert home served as refuge for a number of the tarantulas, smallish beige ones, with long graceful legs and neatly tipped black feet, who repaid her for sanctuary by keeping the house free of roaches and other such pests. The tarantulas seemed to share her desire for privacy, seldom leaving the ceiling except for an occasional disastrous foray into the bathtub from which they had to be rescued. Once one of the wasps had found its way into the house and Jan had hunted down and pulverized it, startled at her own fury.

The delicate spiders made her smile and seemed to complete the circle of protection that the house spirits wove around her. Her other creatures were a timber wolf named Kali, after the fearsome Goddess, protector of the the Dharma and bringer of rebirth through death, and a graceful silver and gold bracelet of a snake, a California rosy boa named Medea. A number of scorpions had invaded over the summer, but they didn't belong. Something had always alerted her to their presence and she killed them without passion. They disappeared soon after the tarantulas moved in.

Sometimes she dreamed of the tarantulas crocheting a blanket of protection, forming a graceful lace web, like so many black and beige daisies. Their slender black feet touched and formed the outer circles of the pattern while they waited, filling the crawl space above the ceiling -- tiny guardians -- silent.

Jan had finally burned off the passions, gaining wisdom and peace. Now, at last, she had time for her own painting after a long career of caring for the work of others. At sixty-nine, she had been retired for two years from her post as a museum curator in Los Angeles. Fears that she might be lonely or miss the attentions of the partrons and staff had proved unfounded, as she bathed in the absolute quiet and serenity of the house.

Constant rambling in the desert with Kali running before her and devoted practicing of T'ai Chi had enabled her to avoid the aches and pains that might have been expected. Ten years ago, Jan had had a good face lift, so she looked and felt considerably younger than her years.

The only cloud on her horizon was Hal, her son. When she moved into the house, she had vowed never to let him spend the night. His forty years seemed to have taught him nothing. He was as miserable an excuse for a human being as he had been for a son.

She had long ago given up berating herself for his failings. Handsome and charming with an IQ of 145, Hal had no principles. She feared that he was also a coward. Her ex-husband had been an ass and certainly not a good father, but Hal's upbringing had not been so deprived as to turn him into what he was. As far as she knew, he had never repaid a debt and had victimized all of his friends, as he had her, to support whatever his current habit might be. He liked to say that he was a child of the chemical age and she privately agreed that there seemed little that was natural about him.

She had never forgotten the sinking feeling when she first held Hal in her arms and stared into his small alien face.

"I'll fix you. I'll show you!" his father had spat in rhythm during the rape in which he had been conceived. Of course, she hadn't known that it was rape, for the concept that one could be raped by one's husband was unheard of forty years ago. She'd named the baby Harold after Harold Teen, a wholesome comic strip character out of her childhood, and hoped for the best.

The experience of holding each of her daughters had been entirely different. Margie, the oldest, was sweet and passive, never any trouble, a pleasant guest but not someone that Jan had really known. With Julie, her next, came the shock of recognition. This was her child. Finally Hal had come. He was ten years old before she actively admitted that something was wrong. She tried to love and cuddle him, but it was difficult. He always seemed to be watching her slyly out of the corner of his eye, and she used to wonder if he would murder her one night. Like an alien being from a science fiction story, he had soaked up knowledge for his first ten years and then refused any further education. She would take him to school, put him in the front door and he would go out the back. He was finally expelled for non-attendance. At home, he tormented both her and the girls, his agate blue eyes glistening and darting like pirhannas in a bowl, while he plotted outrage after outrage.

Jan had had no idea how to deal with him. Her own upbringing had been gentle. Her parents were good, kind people who had hidden their differences from their children. She firmly believed in truth, integrity and decency. She had never willingly hurt another human being. Always, she had been as willing to forgive as to fight, until now.

He was back. He had called her from Barstow and asked for a place to stay for a few days...until he "got on his feet," a line that she had heard too often. She didn't want him to come and mustered the strength to tell him so.

"I have nothing for you. I don't want to see you. Please, let me alone."

He had hung up before she finished speaking.

The karmic dance whirled through her head. "You can't let him destroy you again. You can't...you can't..." The voices seemed to come from the tarantulas, from Kali and Medea, from all of the house spirits embodied in the leaves caught in the dust devils outside.

They warred on the mother side. Protection of the gene pool might be what caused parents to buckle under the onslaught of their children, but spirit had to come before biology. She would not let him hurt her again. She didn't have time. She had earned these days of peace.

She kept hearing the ominous click of the receiver. Somewhere, perhaps nearby, his cold eyes were darting, while he chewed his sparse moustache. . .and thought of her.

Her heart beat too fast. She leaned back to let the peace of the house enfold her. She needed to relax. She couldn't. Hal's malevolent face interposed between her the soothing of the spirits.

Then she was calm. Her fingers loosened on the phone. Medea coiled her way up the side of her glass prison, tongue flicking. Kali made a low moaning sound and rubbed against Jan's sweatsuited legs. Turning her eyes to the ceiling, she saw a snowy tarantula with black boots emerge from the air vent. Dry leaves skittered against the house. She was protected.

The veil lifted and she knew that this scene had been played time after time. Sometimes he won. Sometimes she. If she played it right, she might get off the wheel, might not have to return.

She hadn't sought him out. Never over the ages had she sought him out. This time the rape had been his forced entry into her life. He had always stalked her. Never had she fought back, never had she destroyed him. She must learn. If she didn't, she would die and the drama would be replayed. She would not be sacrificed again.

For a moment, she considered suicide and as quickly rejected it.

When she heard his car straining up the hill to the house, she was ready. In her hand was the .357 magnum revolver given her by her last lover.

Hal crunched to the front door through the leaves swirling around the house and rang the door bell. She didn't move. Then he beat on the door. After a few moments, he crunched around to the back. She half hoped that he would return to his car and leave, and half wanted the confrontation over.

"If he doesn't break in, I'll let him go," she told the house spirits. Kali was growling. She had hated Hal ever since he had beaten her when she was a puppy. Medea hissed and swayed, occasionally thumping the glass. It was quiet outside. Even the leaves were still. Then Jan heard sounds at the sliding glass door in the living room and knew that he had lifted it from its track. She didn't hear him replace it. She crouched behind her desk in the darkness, hands and heavy gun braced against the top. If she only wounded him, she would probably have to care for him for the rest of her life. He would have won again.

Calling her, he came to stand in the doorway under the ceiling vent. "Mother," his voice held menace. "I know you're in there."

Her hand did not tremble on the gun. She closed her eyes, held her breath to squeeze the trigger, and was stopped by his scream.

Opening her eyes, she saw him back lit, in the midst of a glistening snowfall of the exquisite tarantulas. "Oh God, get 'em away!" his voice shook with revulsion, while his hands flailed ineffectually at the life moving around his head. Her wonder at the sight was punctuated by his horror. She didn't move.

Moments later, standing at the upper window, she watched him zig zag to his car, a halo of tarantulas reflecting in the lone street light.

He would not return, this child of the chemical age.

Smiling, she looked up at the ceiling. Only the single white tarantula was visible.

Outside, dust devils, friendly leaf clad dervishes, danced through the empty space left by Hal's car.

...by Felicia Florine Campbell

Literature's Happiest Sub-Genre - Historical Detection

Few phenomena have been more surprising to observers of the United States' and Western Europe's beleaguered literary fields than have been the rise of the "historical detective" novel and series.

It might have been predictable because it can be argued that philosophically backward postmodernist editors would increasingly refuse to publish books about authentic selves rather than about central characters suffering from categorical character flaws - in this case, failed Medieval types.

Such central characters, denied the 'modern' era, would be exiled to other times, places and milieus, one of which was historical eras. At the same time historical novels and historical-setting "costume" films were being phased out, this appeared inevitable and has all but come to pass.

But the parallel developments of blockbuster-sized opus such as "Name of the Rose", and "The Da Vinci Code" relating to investigation of ancient mysteries, done now or then, along with the works of dozens of authors writing about detectives who lived in ancient periods or series centering about such investigators of crimes has been more robust than anyone could have imagined in detail.

The historical mystery / detective opus represents a 'deflection' of the principled hero, falsely viewed as "larger than life" in modern years, into past ages. Moral yet secular, normative human beings became ever rarer in the media of post-World War Two "modern" America. Because of their unwillingness (except in the case of Universal's Edward Muhl) to make films about mostly-normative heroes, actors of classically trained capability, directors who eschewed garish tricks and writers of solid narrative were reduced to bit players and supporting roles in a Hollywood whose filmmakers increasingly relied upon special effects, exploitation stories and cheap mean-streets "naturalism" for shock effect.

The exiled creators enriched the public monopoly also known as television during the 1947--1973 period, creating the phenomenon of the "guest star" and finding work in the series' mills of the 'Big Three' networks' made-for-tv movies; such hirings augmented their limited earning potential in theater, commercials, radio, live tv, etc. The creation of western, spy, detective and adventure series during this period was the parallel to the creation of the history detective as well as detection into history works of the latter "modern" period, after the early 1970's.

No single person actually began the historical detective sub-genre. Several mystery writers created characters who investigated the Victorian era, first popularized by Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and novels and those of his imitators, August Derleth and others; a few others essayed an historical adventurer, mystery solver or modern investigator working to solve older period crimes now and again, but with no consistency that was both determined and successful than is apparent.

The richness of the field available to the novelist creating an historical-era detective or some modern-era investigator of ancient mysteries needs to be underscored. Almost without exception, the fictional mind who undertakes such missions is expected to be moral-ethical, a normative with an unexceptionable specific value motive(s) for undertaking a risky or difficult investigative task.

Moreover, such historical detectives/detectives working on historical cases are by definition destined by their contexted purpose to meet unusual sorts of persons, have physical encounters and difficulties and in other words to display engaging [psychological and behavioral traits and to meet interesting characters in pursuit of their ends.

The sub-genre breaks neatly into two major divisions:

1. Those who are detectives by trade; and
2. Those who are doing a work of detection for other reasons.

In addition, the sub-genre has two major sorts of investigation:

1. Investigation of a crime and
2. Investigation of an historical mystery.

The power of the sub-genre cannot be underestimated, therefore. Clearly, its scope in both space and time must be understood to be much wider than that afforded a modern seeker into contemporary mysteries. And too the sub-genre can be understood to have much in common with the political and scientific "thriller", since a case in the less-populous ancient world can frequently take on state and imperial implications rivaling those of a Tom Clancy or Ken Follett work.

In common with the earlier period's westerns, the novels of the present historical detective and detector working in history novelists are far too numerous to mention. The first entries in the genre in the US were western characters, such as "The Cisco Kid", created by O.Henry, and "The Lone Ranger", "Hopalong Cassidy", and others. Literary precursors had been fictionalized versions of real characters written to titillate those interested in the lawless doing of the US West later in the 19th Century.

After these came "Captain From Connecticut" by C.S. Forrester, "The Broken Gun" by Louis L'Amour, "The Daughter of Time" by Josephine Tey, Dorothy Dunnett's 'Crawford of Lymond' series, Elizabeth Peters' 'Brother Cadfael', novels (also Medieval in their setting). But the wider development of the sub-genre had to await those who transported the reader to the ancient world, most notably authors Lindsey Davis and Stephen Saylor. After them, as the saying goes, came a deluge of others, literally and actually.

Mention also needs to be made of a similar development in science fiction, insofar as "fantasy realms, substituting for historical milieus" are concerned. There had always been time-travel stories, sometimes involving the need to solve a mystery or to stop a crime, which had seen central characters propelled into the human past to achieve precisely that purpose.

The achievements of Saylor and Davis, however, as well as those of Dunnett and Leonard Tourneur before them, differ widely. The "masculine" development, in Saylor's case, involved a lone cynical detective with a live-in slave girl-friend-helper while the Davis novels have developed a surprisingly numerous and unusually useful series of family members, friends, officials and acquaintances interwoven with the hero and with one another's lives. This "feminine" line of development, as is true of its main counterpart, has both its strengths and its drawbacks.

Some of these difficulties and strengths are of course endemic to the work of any detective or investigator, per se. The lone sleuth needs to guard his own back, or work with an official of some sort, or develop contacts and partnerships with those whom he requires as aides, informants, confidants, helpers or enforced helpers - much as a spy must develop such relationships; the 'connected' sleuth gains helpers, informants, commentators, aides or peers, but also loses some liberty of action, of unfettered reaction and of secrecy because of the network of persons he must satisfy.

As the best of the sub-genre thus far, I list some half-dozen works of which I have personal knowledge. But the proliferation of such works invites the reader to choose a favored era, within whose temporal confines he/she may find a congenial investigator whose exploits it will be a pleasure to follow, accept as believable, and vicariously share.

The future of the sub-genre, which I predict may soon become less-popular than it has been for several reasons, is nevertheless destined to be a long and rich one, with unforeseen developments, an increasing range of eras and countries as basis, and even more exotic investigators to intrigue the future's jaded readers anew.

Recommended Reading:

Dunnett, Dorothy The Disorderly Knights
Davis, Lindsey A Dying Light in Corduba, Last Act in Palmyra
Saylor, Stephen The Venus Throw
Peters, Elizabeth The Summer of the Danes
Hambly, Barbara Those Who Hunt the Night
Tey, Josephine The Daughter of Time

by Robert David Michael (Cerello)

Der Feuervogel / Жар-птица / L'Oiseau de feu

Igor Stravinsky's
mit Claudio Abbado dirgent

Cruor Dei...

As if we arrived through the blind extremes
of sleep, we opened our mouths, eyes closed,
and the priest laid on our tongues his coins
of bread, what we learned never to cross
with our teeth, never to rush, for at the heart
of each was God's nerve, burning and alive.

Then we washed it down with wine and Latin—
cruor dei, God's blood, the stuff I figured
flowed in everyone's body—what did I know—
though here was the glad horror of appetite
taking it in, and memories of other gods,
how they in their stories were torn apart,

exploding into the ten thousand things,
into the still-conscious body of names
for things, with every word a hint of blood.
It's how I picture crowning into the world—
through red water over rims of bone
into a little chaos of lights and gasping.

I like to think the blade binds as it cuts,
mother from child, that each solitude
ripens into a name for the other.
And as the mother looks down, her voice
is a braid of scar tissue between them.
It draws the child further into debt

he never resolves, not wholly, but sees
in the unlikely bodies of passersby,
in the man, say, caught on film, who keeps
bending back the car door, pulling a stranger
from a seat on fire—a birth of sorts,
though none is entirely his to repay.

It's only the trace, at best, a kindness
remade the way gods remake themselves
in our image, half-naked, their hands nailed
to some bare wall in sweltering Texas.
Their feet are vines crossing in the brick shade.
They would turn us all into mothers, grieving.

And among our children: debt and hunger.
Sometimes you feel them thinking, confiding
in the barely audible speech of twins.
In bad times they almost sound like hope.
Which they are. So many cuts, so many streams
of erotic letters welling up in the rift:

a lover says goodbye in the hazard lights
of an idling taxi, a pulse in the eye
she will never quite remember nor forget,
not completely, and to live just this side
of completion is to turn further inward
the way a key of light turns in a gaze.

So it is with my father in his illness,
railing at the bolted apartment door,
cursing his wife for locking up his wife.
Or swearing he is the doctor again
with patients enthralled in another room.
He is the complicated child, the latch

lifting on an intricate cage. He scissors us
into broken flocks of memory and wish
which are his own body tearing apart,
though it is tough to say he suffers
the knowledge, our sense of what he was
or will be. It could be kindness too:

the bony dice of days stumbling through him,
the bewildering children who hold out
their shadowy bruises, too young to know
which wounds are serious—they all seem so
early on—and which ones simply clear up
with time, going clean in their own blood.

...by Bruce Bond

Reprinted with permission from
The Thoats of Narcissus
Copyright (c.) 2001 by Bruce Bond
University of Arkansas Press