There Are Moments Like This

Cross-legged and eating rice, a single grain drops upon my lap. I acknowledge the morning obstacle and, slow and intentional, rescue the fallen god from certain peril.
monkey and rice
Quiet and consumed with understanding the incident, I move on to the miso soup, careful to stir before drinking.

For a moment my thoughts stray from the fallen and rescued god and drift to the smooth blend of miso, seaweed, tofu, and green onions. I continue stirring until the seaweed is only a phantom in the soup appearing in a brief rhythmic scene as the mix settles. I miss the opportunity to drink the perfect blend as I watched the tofu chase the green onions dodging the phantom seaweed.

I stir again. Drink. Am quiet.

I look up to see Momoko who always appears more comfortable sitting on the floor for breakfast. She’s the one who never allows me to leave a single grain of rice on a plate or in my bowl. Her mother taught her each grain is a small god with a purpose the same as ourselves.

I consider, again, the morning’s rescue mission and my ability to perform the extraction with fully extended chopsticks. Unfettered and calm, I ingested the god with dignity. For some silly reason, this amuses me to no end and I chuckle to myself.

There is nothing better than an uncontrolled laugh to a secret joke or realization. It usually procures another to laugh as well.

In this case, Momoko joins me out of sheer curiosity elevating from a smile, to a giggle, to a head shake with eyes closed, then eyes opened to the left, then right, and to a pinnacle where eyes connect and where, for a brief instant, there is no future, no self, no anxiety, no pressure, no world but the one existing between two innocent humans caught being happy with no idea or concern why.

The moment leaves faster than it arrived and we are left in a comfortable silence digesting our gods and drinking instant coffee.

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Weiss Horn

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I usually don’t ski the backcountry alone. The last time I did was in Osawa with ten inches of fresh heavy snow above a frost layer when I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. I was the only person silly enough to hike Annupuri Peak from the west but it was sure to be untouched.

The snow was unstable, which I noticed on the first turn, and I started to traverse to a safe rock and wind affected ridge counting on my memory to guide. Half-way there I found myself floating sideways downslope in the middle of a shallow, wet-concrete like, avalanche and pointed it until I skied out into the ridge line. Finally in the ‘safe-zone’, my next turn was waste deep into a crack that could have easily broken away into a deeper avalanche or sunk away nine feet down. Softly, I rolled out with as much surface area as possible and straight lined it until I was out of the clouds and cranking through an open untouched bowl of freshies.

In other words, tentative and stoked to skin the ancient and retired ski resort Weiss Horn, I set out today alone in a quiet spring low front. It is a mild 1,800 feet ascent and only takes an hour or two to climb. Within ten minutes on trail, I was down to a t-shirt and sweating my nuts off.

Skinning up Weiss was definitely on the agenda, but the real reason I headed out today, and alone, was to clear the fog growing in my head. In two weeks I’m moving back to the US after essentially four years abroad and will be starting another new life and where, and how, and if I can afford it I have no idea. There is that, and then there is the sometimes overwhelming pressure of being a human with choice, and the anxiety about choices, and the general apprehension to conclude there is meaning to life. The privileged concerns of living with little responsibility on the verge of broke every few months.

Keeping a reckless pace without rest, my heart raced faster with every step. I was ‘sweating out the demons’ as my coach put it in college. After an hour my eyes, also, were soaked in sweat and blurred with each wipe. Every blink sent tracers and floating stars across my gaze as I slowly slipped into what I can only describe as a dream trance.

I started to rapidly remember my most recent dreams of other women, of drinking water, of smoking cigarettes, of walking a tight rope in the cool and transparent web of the universe, and dreams of taming snakes, of being terrified by snakes, and of other dreams of conversations, and anxieties and ghosts and gods, and of dream palpitations, and real ones and etcetera, etcetera until I remembered the dream in which I screamed so loud I melted away with the ecstasy of feeling exhaled and empty.

Prompted by this memory I yelled a soft a-koo-wee. A bird sound I picked up long ago to shout when lost in the woods. Not content, I yelled it again, louder, with my eyes closed, but that too did not satisfy and so I opened them wide, my eyes, and screamed an excruciating roar of A-KOO-WEEEEE loud enough to wake the resting bamboo beneath ten feet of snow. My body instantly stopped and the quietness of nature and her emptiness overwhelmed the mountain with whom I was a temporary resident. I sat down for some water, a snack, and for some time to take in the silence before continuing to the peak.

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Before my descent I bowed to the most beautiful array of spring peaks and shoots glossed over with a light but present fog. I attempted to scream once more but there was no sound. There were only waves echoing toward a far off distant end I’ll never know.

Happy and calm I set off for 1,800 feet of pristine spring corn to the nearest onsen. I’ve been practicing my Tai Chi in these natural hot springs as of recent. Making the awkward-naked-bath-sharing moment even more awkward for the other Japanese patrons.

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Catching the Train to Wai-ao

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We take a left from the love hotel and find Taipai station without a glitch. Now comes the challenge of making it to the other side of the country, to Wai-ao, to a cheeky surf beach with ice cold beer.

First thing we do is find a map with both cities. Two trains. The first heads toward Quidu, and the second to Jioxi. We’ll need to get off three stops before Jioxi. Now for tickets.

The ticket machine is a waste of time because the language is in Chinese characters. And since there are five different tones to every sound in Mandarin, there are twenty-four wrong ways to say Wai-ao to an attendant. Momo takes the initiative and writes Wai-ao in Chinese characters REALLY BIG and shows it to the lady at the ticket window. Without saying a word (or smiling) she takes our $226 Taiwan dollars and prints out two paper magnetic strips.

Tickets in hand, the next obstacle is finding which train out of two-hundred, in a four tier main station, would get us to Wai-ao.

Walking away from the window, I see a monitor with English writing and catch “Quidu” and, before it changes to Chinese characters, I read “Platform 4A” and “Leaving in Six Minutes.” Unaware of the monitor, Momo nonchalantly asks what I want to do next, but I don’t hear a word because I fall into a Zen trance looking at every sign in the hall simultaneously. The signs read MRT, HSR, TRA, MS, MT, A4-16, and M4-16. Ummm….

Catching site of a 7Eleven leading to a ramp in a different direction than everyone else in the hall, I remember the police officer who threated to fine us for eating in this area and also on the MRT we caught the day before. Without saying a word I grab Momo’s hand and head toward the 7Eleven ramp because there’s a good chance you can eat on a cross country train.

As we pass the ramp the signs narrow down to TRA, HSR and A4-16, M4-16. I suddenly notice a symbol on the wall panels heading toward the TRA, HSR that is exactly like the one on the ticket window. We follow the symbols right and, after three-hundred meters, find ourselves on tier three from four. Three minutes to go. Momo is starting to look confused because I haven’t said a word since we bought the tickets.**

The signs break off and I lead her toward the TRA on a hunch and shortly after the signs start to say “Platform” and I remember the monitor and head toward 4A.

As eager as a school boys first hand job, I jump up and down and point to the sign that does nothing to cure Momo’s confusion. Quickly we insert our tickets and the turnstile swings us in. The train is waiting and we hop through the door to take a seat out of breath and excited. The door closes behind us with a kayash-ka! and the train starts moving. With a big silly grin I kiss Momo and snap my fingers to say that’s how you catch a fucking train.

Ten satisfied minutes pass as we make our way on a express train toward Quidu. Ten minutes before Momo leans over and asks if this train takes us all the way to the beach. I say no and that we need to transfer. Calmly, she asks, where is that?

Slowly the taste of accomplishment fades as I realize I know where this train ends but have no idea where to transfer. For some reason this amuses us and we’re swept away into a small cloud of childish amazement realizing we ran and jumped onto a random train taking us some place we’ve never been in a rare and foreign country reeking of dumplings and salt water.

At the height of our contentment, a Taiwanese lady beside us can’t help but offer her help. She speaks good English and finds our stop on her phone as we pull into a quiet platform. The silence is interrupted by her concerned look as she almost yells, get off now! This is your changing place. Shocked and already running, we offer our best shay- shays (mandarin for thank you) and don’t think twice whether or not she is right. As the train pulls away we go to the window to say goodbye, and she rushes over to tell us one last thing, maybe the departure time, but we can’t hear or understand and instead choose to bow and smile harmoniously.

Off the train we are greeted by a small tropical town in the mountains with thick green peaks, steep tea gardens, and well-crafted rice patties. The kind of picture you see titled, “Fall in Love with Asia” in an airplane magazine. A quiet breath ensues, and another, and another until some mark of time disappears….

After a few minutes we look at each other and agree it is definitely time for coffee. We are allowed to leave the station and come back by showing the ladies our tickets. Meaning, we hope, we have time to spare. We find a coffee stand and watch the young girl spend five minutes making our coffee like a dog watches every kibble and bit fall into its food bowl. The coffee is… interesting, definitely missing the mark of a caramel latte, but it does the trick none the less.

Coming back through the gate we point to our tickets again and a lady walks us to a bench and sits us down looking at the correct platform. She begins pointing with a big smile at the track, as if we hadn’t put one and two and three and four together, she bows slowly and leaves. Quiet and once again content, we drink our coffee with the sun outlining the tropical green landscape.

Another minute passes and we are tapped on the shoulder by a young Taiwanese girl who speaks no English. She hands us the last piece of the puzzle.

It was a small cut of recycled paper and read, 10:53 Yes.
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** I found out an hour later the symbol I was looking at was the general icon used on all public transportation systems across the entire country. It was on every bus, every train, every ticket window, and every bus and train stop sign. In other words, it was a lucky guess.

Jack : a Portrait

(This is an excerpt from my collection Better Handshakes.)

Jack is a statue of Y-chromosome Australia. I’ve known him for thirty-seven minutes give or take a few long breaths of controlled silence.  The untrue fact is I’ve known Jack since I was knee high to a grasshopper—him blowing smoke rings for us kids to jump through because tobacco still cured cancer then. Our meeting was a fluke and his handshake was as sincere as nails.

I was helping a nice Japanese couple move into his home around the corner.  They spoke under twenty words of English and Jack much less of Japanese.  I was the translator.  I wasn’t there to ease the heavy lifting (two backpacks, five groceries bags, and a case of beer) but rather to explain how to use the toilet, lights and oven.  Once my duties were finished I struck up a conversation with Jack and we wasted no time being old friends.

Yeah, it’s a real nice thing you are doing helping travelers like ourselves settle into your home, your country, hell, your backyard, I said.

He offered a smile then lost no time looking about the house beginning a tour of his ongoing renovations.

What commenced was a ten minute expedition through a huge house with new cement, fresh pipes, cleaned floors, waiting lumber and cinder, seven surf boards, a finished bathroom, two unfinished bathrooms, a few ship wheels and an endless array of ship debris and beach artifacts. When we finally made it to the backyard I was taken aback by the huge palm trees, tepid rainforest growth, spiders bigger than my hand and a hundred tropical birds straight out of National Geographic.  Every square inch, inside and out, had a story.

Jack’s been pouring his own cement and plumbing new bathrooms into his home for just under five years, and like most Australian men, he’s in no rush.

Yeah, I take my time, he said. The house will be here tomorrow. The surf, my friends, my youth… they    may not.

He’s the kind of man that wears a shirt only if he absolutely needs to and heads to the ocean whenever there are waves.  He’s fit because he never sits down, smart because he listens and unworldly cheerful because he grew up five minutes from the beach and helped others build their lives for a living.

Our conversation didn’t last long and didn’t need to. Tomorrow he is stopping over at 8AM to take a good look at my broken radiator. It’s on my way to the beach, he said.

Jelly Fish and Coffee

When the first blue bottle jellyfish lacerated my arm I dealt with nothing more than ten minutes of panic and a minor rash.  Don’t get me wrong, when its meter long stinger wrapped around my arm like Indiana Jones’ snake whip, each of the 10,000 microscopic blades slicing my skin, I was definitely terrified.  ‘Well,’ I thought to myself ‘this is a shitty way to go…’ Then nothing. Panic yes, thought I might die, yes, but I could breathe fine, I could walk, and I didn’t lose my vision or start vomiting. This put me in the 95 percentile range of people not allergic to blue bottle jellyfish. The other 5% tend to die in the first ten minutes.

This percentile is consistent across the board regarding venomous marine life in Australia—of which there are too many. In the ocean alone there are blue bottles, box jelly fish, five types of sea snakes, stonefish, river toads, the blue ringed octopus, and cone snails. Yes, snails. Cardiac arrest and a trip to the ER are just some of the consequences of picking up pretty sea shells on the beach.  And that’s only the venomous creatures… There are also the three types of shark that attack surfers regularly (mostly in Western Australia in a place called Shark Bay where idiots actually surf atop of hundreds of sharks daily), saltwater crocodiles larger than most mobile homes, and rip currents that aid in the disappearance of 174 people a year.

Needless to say, the beach where I live is full of elements trying to kill me. None have to date and it wasn’t until last night that I woke up in a hospital bed.

Prior to making a phone call to 000 (911) I was surfing for four hours in a beautiful spot called tea tree bay.* Returning home to soak in the feeling of emptiness tiring myself to peace with a permagrin stretching for days, I thought it best to boil a double size cup of coffee for the shower. I put the fresh boiling joe on the ledge next to the soaps that was also a window that was also full of too many empty shampoos to have enough space for a double coffee cup.

The true story goes like this: I washed my fingers and hands first, in between my toes, behind my ears and washed my face and armpits, and I smelt my armpits and they smelt good, and I was happy and soapy and couldn’t really see then to my surprise I knocked one of the too-many bottles of shampoo onto the coffee that started to shake and instead of jumping back I lunged forward to save the coffee only to aid its projection onto my bare skin, nipples to genitals. And the worst part is I caught the damn cup, empty. Expectedly, I instantly threw the mug against the opposing wall shattering it to pieces.

Jumping out of the shower to cringe and ache and tense and shake my every muscle I jumped quickly back into the cold shower to ease the pain. That didn’t work—it felt like a million needles and razors were scratching my skin—so I ran for ice out of the fridge and made an ice bucket to soak a towel in to then cool my boiling skin. That didn’t work so I tried drinking beer but could hardly hold the bottle without shaking so I went to find some pain relievers. None in the house and now the cupboards were a mess and I went back to the ice bucket, splashing water everywhere, because at least the towel gave ten seconds of heavenly relief before the unbearable pain came back. It came back not ten seconds after removing the towel. For 45 minutes I continued this ritual spending ten seconds of terrible pain then ten seconds of amazing relief back and forth for nearly an hour and nearly lost my mind.

To imagine the pain think about jumping into a Jacuzzi with bad sunburn, multiply that by 100 then understand the pain will never ease up no matter how many deep breaths you take. And because you have no other choice you keep jumping in and out of the Jacuzzi because those ten seconds you are out in the open you can relax but only for so long before you immediately appear in the Jacuzzi again… and then you think you rather roll your towel into a noose and you jump out then you jump back in then out and again and again for an hour and the towel idea is just simply stupid because you are strong enough FUCK you get back out for ten seconds, relax . . . . . . . . . . then jump back into the Jacuzzi… (this for an hour).

So that was the scene, a frantic display of yelling into and biting through a towel and I could hardly walk, but needed to eat. I tried my hand at bacon in small snippets of time when the icy towel wasn’t on my stomach and genitals. The result was rock solid bacon even a dog couldn’t enjoy and not to mention at one point some oil splashed up onto my stomach and without thinking I picked up an empty pan and threw it across the room to join the other chairs and lamps already in a heap.

Yes, of course I was making too much of a raucous but the pain was impossible to cut through. I found out later that I was doing the worst possible thing for the burn which was blasting it with shock and then air repeatedly… if I had stayed in the shower for 20 minutes in the beginning then wrapped it up with plastic wrap I would have subsided the pain in a twenty-five minutes.  But I didn’t know this and when I called 000 for some advice (I was running out of ice for the bucket) they sent an ambulance that they said was free so I said okay but as long as they are packing morphine. Which they did along with an ether whistle (which was absolutely fantastic for the record). After ten minutes in a freezing shower that felt like it was further scolding my skin they finally arrived.

As you might have guessed with an ether whistle and enough morphine I was in no pain after about ten minutes (though I continued to say “Yes, I’m still in pain” long after I felt like I was flying until I eventually mumbled, “Yes, Uhh… where…  my pants     are they?”) and we were off to the hospital where I promptly fell asleep for an hour before waking up naked and confused.

Long story short, my stomach is now a fresh looking  fifty shades of purple, my genitals have progressed much better and I’m no longer afraid of the hundred things that could get me in the ocean on any given day. It has now occurred to me I am more likely to injure myself during a relaxing shower than in the ocean. Since I spend on average five hours in the water for every ten minute in a hot shower, clearly the latter is more threatening.

**Please note tea tree bay is 50 kilometers from Queensland’s number one shark fishing zone and the only thing separating sharks and the arms of surfers is a ‘shark fence’ 100 meters long and six meters deep. Basically the equivalent of putting a garden fence around a lion exhibit and asking the lions to please not eat anyone.

Goondeloo Trial

­­Goondeloo Trial

I have known Crane for five days. Crane is his real name and he owns a farm in Bowen, Australia. Goondeloo is the real name of the farm which is surrounded by endless patties of capsicums (or peppers for the rest of the world).

Crane wears black sunglasses, rugby shorts, (loose Spandex) a gas attendant’s blue button up with a natural V-neck because it is missing the top three buttons (and the bottom one). And his sewn nametag “Crane” is not enough to shift the focus from his enormous gut which is more hairy than his chest or the every-other inch of his body covered by dirt and gray body hair. Add a wrinkled and tobacco stained face and mouth (and a bush safari hat) and you have Sir Crane of Goondeloo Farms.

I pick capsicums for Crane—bending over nine hours a day and filling every pore in my body with rotten pepper guts and cowshit. The work is surprisingly relaxing and surrounded by gorgeous bush desert and mountains with circling Birds of Paradise and the occasional hawk. In normal circumstance I would take this job as an opportunity to tighten my abs—to firm my glutes and up my shine with grit, sun and the local sea salt—but a 300lb dirty farmer with a tangy accent starring at your ass all day making sure you can handle the hard work is not normal/for me.

The days are long and suck, but today was a new sort of uncomfortable. While finishing a story in my head about the honest and physical benefits of “bending over” and being “on your knees” Crane sketched toward me and said it again “Jordan, talk if you want, but stay bent over, you came here to work, g’dammit.” This we agreed on: I came to work, g’dammit. He then leaned back sticking his hips out and whistling like a chubby Santa Clause/grease monkey pissing with no hands. I ignore him for the first five minutes until his shrinking mammoth shadow closes in and disappears—close enough for a kiss—and says “Stay on your knees, if that’s how you like it.”

As his shadow hovers again I finished filling my thirty liter bucket and moved quickly to work near the French guys (usually a poor choice).

I understand everybody has a little gay in them and we find is amusing to crack jokes and avoid the obvious truth the thoughts occur. And I understand Crane has it too, and he probably has never heard of Freud, doesn’t care, and will continue to live his wifeless life claiming his work has always been more important. This is okay, and I can’t blame him. But we are not buddies from school (as if this is an excuse) and starring at a young boy’s ass for six out of eight hours a day is harassment.

After two more hours of burning skin, evaporating sweat and dirty hands bent over pulling at top speed—chafing my palms with pepper juice and mud—I finish a new story in my head. It’s about Crane. He takes me out to the pub for my hard work and follows me to the toilet each time to keep the conversation going. A couple two or seven shots and six beers later we make for the pisser but this time Crane stares down my junk like a warm meat pie and makes a go for it. The story ends in court as Goondeloo Farms and Jordan Antonucci settle on $20,000 for convicted sexual assault.

I liked the story and was happy to write the anvil meeting its pound as the truck beeped twice to end the day. I was smiling until Crane crept up and slapped me on the ass to ask if I was working tomorrow. I was, and tried to maintain a dirty face with clean thought façade when answering. He knew I worked tomorrow and continued over my voice absorbing the well-picked field “I can give it to you (pausing to cough up a lung) off if you want. You worked hard today and could use a drink. The beers are on me.”

Confused, thirsty and poor I accepted with no hesitation. “As long as you’re buying.”

 

 

Snakes on a Farm

Good Day Mate (asexual),

I’m officially downunder physically and financially. Which means I’m poor in Australia picking peppers for some cash to keep moving throughout the country and enjoy the local rum. I’m poor for multiple reasons—one being a surfboard (always needed to learn) and because I finally purchased a portable wifi antenna. Meaning I’m back in virtual action to participate and help motivate long-distance community.

In the past few months I’ve had the pleasure to work closely with two incredible poets and their writing with Monkey Puzzle Press. Min Jung Oh and Barbara Henning. With Min Jung’s help and focus we were able to release her chapbook Body in a Hydrophilic Frame last month.  The work is one continuous poem exposing the interior chaos of a shattered body wrapped and obsessed with its own healing. In the words of Bhanu Kapil, author of Schizophrene, “Min Jung Oh is a genius.”  Many thanks to Min Jung’s patience and brilliant writing. Please see the above post for a great review by J/J Hastain.

Also, forthcoming from Monkey Puzzle Press is Barbara Henning’s A Slow Curve. It has been a great opportunity to work with Barbara and her extensive experience with language and chapbook production. Henning is the author of several collections of poems, photography and prose and has a keen eye for connecting photos (usually her own) with language and also for forcing a simple sentence to turn in unexpected ways. Every mark intentional. Every mark reveling something necessary. In this collection we have chosen to feature a good friend and peer of Barbara’s and photos from her recent sculpture collection. Her name is Laurie Price. Fort Monkey Puzzle plans to release A Slow Curve at the beginning of next month.

That’s all for today. I’ll end with a photo I took in the pepper field today as I was picking old plastic to prep for the next planting. It is the fresh skin of a seven foot Australian Brown Snake. Very poisonous and very much living in the pepper patties. Our supervisor, luckily, keeps an antidote in the truck. But either way, a fresh deadily snake skin is the last thing I wanted to see when digging my hands under lumps of dirt and into places I don’t know if are open-ended spaces or snake dens.