A Most Welcome Arrival

I sit alone on wicker chair
And watch the sky drain grey to blue.
The autumn blanket, late arrived,
Laid gently over tree and hill,
Knew little welcome but from me.
That longed-for azure morning missed
By friends and passersby alike–
How could they grieve its absence when
For so long it has sat the throne
And banished clouds both near and far
To distant realms beyond our sight
And kept the winds themselves at bay,
A lonely breeze our only guest?
How misty mornings soon gave way
To sunny hours until dark,
Our line of sight unbroken from
Horizon to horizon.backyard
The trees knew only whispered words,
The hush of silent secrets kept
Within one corner of the woods
Without the means for moving on.
And giddy bodies, nearly bare,
Stood reveling in sheer delight
At summer’s tardy exodus,
At fall’s apparent impotence.
And yet before this hour began
We lay beneath that hallowed shroud,
Reminded once again, it seemed,
That autumn’s might would not be quelled,
Could not be doubted, nor dispelled.
The lilting breeze became a wind;
I heard the roar of oak and spruce.
The redwoods spoke with mighty voice
And boomed their tales for all to hear
In words that few can understand
But fewer still dare to ignore.
The song of ages pierced the day
And made us mortal beings shake
To recognize, in fear or bliss,
That chills will seize us one and all
And force us into shoes and socks;
That jackets, sweaters, even coats
Will soon abandon closet shelves;
That hats will hide our wind-blown hair
And collars cover throat and neck.
The bleakness is returning, friends,
And stark skies lie ahead in wait,
For though the blue emerged once more–
A final wave while heaven-bound–
The clouds have tumbled in again,
The air is cool and promise-filled,
And in the eucalyptus grove,
Among the branches and the leaves,
A song is growing loud and deep:
‘It comes, it comes, it comes–it’s here.’

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Synthetic Division

‘Spare me the darkness,’ I cried in fear.
‘Have mercy on this frightened child.
Keep it distant, keep it far,
So that it never touches me,
Never knows me,
Never tears me from this place of light.
The world within is twisted and fey
And calls to me
And sings to me
And lulls me into sleep.
But I cannot go there,
For surely fell things wait
Where I cannot see.
Keep me awake,
Keep me safe.
Warm me and nurture me.
Comfort my soul.
Return to me the sun,
That I may know the world I walk
And discern the path I take.
Deliver me from this darkness–
Hide me in the light.’

‘Bring on the darkness,’ I cried in pain.
‘Have mercy on this broken man.
Wrap me in the emptiness.
Let it fill me,
Let it consume me,
Let me become the nothing that waits at my door,
Enveloping and caressing me,
Shutting out the light.
There is nothing here I want to know,
No answers left to tempt me.
Take me to a place that’s past forgetting,
Where memories fear to tread.
Call to me,
Sing to me,
Lull me into sleep.
Allow me to embrace that moonless night,
And never know the sun again.
Quench this fire within my soul and give me a heart that is darkened.
Release me from the pain of longing.
Let me feel nothing.
Let me feel no one.
Take me far beyond this earthly realm.
Deliver me to this darkness.
Hide me from the light.’

Yesterday I trembled at the truth.
Today I slept to forget its face.
But fear and denial have left me cold,
And the war between them has torn me apart.
This house divided has begun to crumble
And set me sinking in the sand.www.encognitive.com two faces
Light and dark,
I’ve let them rage;
I’ve let their battle scar the skies
Till only twilight now remains.
No truce yet forged between the pair–
A weighty standoff in its stead–
I stumble through this half-lit space,
Behold a world I’ve rent in two,
And wonder in my desperation
How I might yet escape.
But these pieces must be whole again,
And dark must feed the light.
Restore to me my shadow,
Return night to the day.
I find that now I’m still asleep,
But tomorrow I will wake,
And soon there will be peace.

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Every so often there comes a post that doesn’t really know how it wants to be written. What is its voice, its style? What, even, is its purpose? The post does not know. The post is worried. Perhaps it is not a post after all. Perhaps it will never be written, and all of its little gems will simply sink into the deep. But eventually each post tends to find its voice, if it truly wants to be written, and this post has been clamoring since Friday night. It is one of those rare occasions in which the post and the experience unfolded at the same time, with the experience itself exhaling as the post took its own next breath, and it is precisely this symbiosis that makes the writing so challenging. Enough with this dive into the meta, however. Let us look at this thing they call Hoodslam. I promise, I shall strive to do the experience and the post justice.

Alright. I would say I’ve had a fairly eventful life so far. I’ve seen things, you know? Strange and amazing things. What I saw on Friday night, though, was downright surreal, and I’m still not entirely sure that I didn’t dream it. As someone who has a tenuous grasp on reality at the best of times and who currently finds himself somewhat between realities, for lack of a better way of putting it, the hours I spent at Hoodslam did nothing to dissuade me from believing that life occasionally just goes off the rails.

I joined an old friend of mine, whom I shall call Alistair Higgenbotham, for the sake of anonymity, on a trip to the Oakland Metro Operahouse for a night of sheer bafflement. I knew only that wrestling was on the menu, but if I had envisioned something like a poor-man’s WWF (I’m old, I still say WWF), I was in for a surprise. Far from down-and-out photograph by Mikul Eriksson and Syra McCarthyversions of Hulk Hogan and The Rock, Hoodslam was a strange amalgamation of ebaum’s world throwbacks, video game characters, and strange permutations of my beloved friends from Saturday morning cartoons. And those were just the ones I recognized. Case in point: the debut match took place between Scorpion (of Mortal Kombat fame) and someone named Cereal Man. It’s worth noting that Cereal Man had a plush cereal box for a head, from which he withdrew smaller boxes of cereal to distribute to the crowd at the opening of the fight, before removing his own head to reveal a smaller (human-sized) one beneath, face hidden by a luchador-style mask.

Interestingly, it was one of the few nods to luchadors that I saw in the ring that night. Another fighter (for what else can I call them?) named El Flaco Loco also wore a luchador mask, but I believe that was the only other one, aside from the referee. I had expected to see many, although I must admit, if you told me that a gang of spiders raided the place halfway through and carried off several fans, I’d have a hard time not believing you. I’m still not certain just what I saw. That, I think, was the brilliance of the entire performance, and a performance is precisely what I feel it was.

Everything about the evening was expertly staged and choreographed to ensure the maximum return on our $10 investment. Entertainment was the order of the night, and the folks at Hoodslam know their business well. Whether you find the actual nuts and bolts of amateur wrestling appealing, whether you imagine yourself diverted or disturbed at the idea of grown men (and women, in one match) appearing to beat the proverbial stuffing out of each other, whether you have given up on this post out of absolute disgust at the very topic, these Hoodslammers are savvy. They have found a way to turn what is at base one of the most male-dominant, testosterone-driven farces I have ever witnessed into an event that manages to embrace so many varied groups that I was hard-pressed to identify a key demographic among the lot. The requisite flannel and eccentric facial hair that identify both hipster and redneck alike were certainly in appearance, but they were hardly the majority that I had expected. Goths, metalheads, jocks, punks, and geeks, with a fairly even distribution of lads and lasses among them, all made up the rank and file of Hoodslam fandom. And then there were the inappropriate T-shirt people. My sole recollection, sadly, is one that advertised Ass Juice with the phrase, ‘Outta our ass, intta your glass!’, with a cartoon skeleton…depositing…said juice into a receptacle of indeterminate nature. Yes, it spanned the whole spectrum that night. As my friend Alistair pointed out, however, there seemed to be very few people over forty. There were also no children, due perhaps in part to Hoodslam’s admonition: ‘Don’t Bring Your F’n Kids!’ So it may be that there is a dividing line after all.

But what is Hoodslam? I’m still asking myself that. I’m still trying to remember what I actually saw, as distinct from what I half expected to see next that (likely) never materialized. Sadly, the lights were out for most of the show, spotlights focused on the ring, so I couldn’t even take any notes. As I said above, the experience and the post were evolving together, and I frantically tried to repeat things to myself over and over in hopes of remembering them, while at the same time trying to take in as much as possible. The result is this very disjointed post regarding a very disjointed experience. Believe me, though, it would have been a disjointed experience no matter what.

The night began with a very long line. It was wrapped around the building for a block and a half by the time we got there (around 9:30, if memory serves, but as I’ve said that’s no given) and continued to grow as we waited. We inched forward for a while, but finally it started to move more quickly. A woman with a microphone was going down the line, accompanied by a cameraman, and they were interviewing attendants and asking Hoodslam trivia questions. That was my first clue that there was a cult following here, that this was something more than just a quirky night out. Inside was a warehouse-like atmosphere, right down to the exposed rafters and steel-studded crossbeams that ran above our heads. There was a bar to the left, and further back some stairs led up to a caged area where a metal band was thrashing away. The lead singer was none other than the woman who had been interviewing people outside, and she wasn’t half bad. Dead center and set almost against the far wall was the ring, and presiding over it was a man I would later come to know as Broseph. Broseph Joe Brody, ringmaster of the all-human circus. It was about to commence.

A sense of camaraderie that borders on group-think quickly developed. This was achieved through chanting, choral repetition, and call and response. Like I said, these folks are savvy. While Scorpion fought Cereal Man, I got my first taste of this. Over and over again, one fighter or another would have an opponent pinned, and the count to three would begin, inevitably stopping at ‘2’ for the first several times. A cry of ‘1! 2! Oh! Only 2!’ would be heard, followed by echoes from the crowd, ‘Oh! On-ly 2!’, twin fingers raised to drive the point home. And when the matches really got going, there were frequent shouts of the Hoodslam slogan: ‘This is real! This is real! This is real!’ And at times (though only at times) it really did look it. I call them fighters because, as in pro wrestling (to the best of my knowledge), there is a lot of punching and kicking involved. There are also lots of headbutts, body slams, clotheslines, piledrivers, and moonsaults (yes, I had to look up that last one, and there are lots more crazy names for equally crazy moves–this one involved doing a back flip from one of the posts and landing on your opponent…I saw many a moonsault Friday night). None of it is designed to actually hurt, but after a while that doesn’t matter. It begins to feel all too real, and before long, it’s hard to believe that Juiced Lee didn’t just roundhouse kick El Chupacabra to the face.

Which brings me to the names. Yes, video game characters abound. Ryu from Street Fighter (reference was also made to Guile) was in attendance, along with a few other characters from that game, as was the aforementioned Scorpion. Even the Peanut Butter Jelly Time banana put in an appearance. But those all paled in comparison to the likes of Doc Atrocity, Johnny Drinko, Drugz Bunny and, my personal favourite, Batmanuel. There were so many more that are lost to me now, but the match ups alone were worth the entrance fee. And the names of the matches were also wild. There was Broetic Justice (just about anything that can be bro-ified was, well, bro-ified–Barney Stinson would have high fived this guy for sure), and the great ‘Blunts versus Booze–Tag Team Grudge Match’, which featured drunks versus stoners who would chug a bottle of booze or smoke a blunt (as you might have guessed) whenever an opponent could not get up from the mat. The stoners won, in case you wanted to know.

Alistair and I wondered aloud about whether it was actual booze, but we didn’t bother asking about the blunts. The entire place smelled like [insert your preferred weed-saturated environment here], and it was clear that no one was concerned about what was being smoked. In fact, Broseph himself had announced at the beginning of the event that if anyone heard the code word of the night, it meant the cops had arrived and everyone should dump their stashes. What was the code word, you ask? ‘Blueberry pancakes’. So two words. And there were blunts and joints and pipes and even little bongs. I tell you, contact high is spelled H-O-O-D-S-L-A-M.

The fights went on and on, as did the chanting, though there were occasional breaks for Broseph to serenade the audience, pour booze into waiting mouths (or spray it onto fans from his own) or announce raffle winners–100% of the proceeds of which, by the way, go to an Oakland after-school program (I think? It’s something cool like that. The dearth of information on the internet about this and all other Hoodslam-related material is astounding.). So, you see? A redeeming quality. Something for everyone at Hoodslam!

Finally, there was the Battle Royale, the winner of which gets to fight in the Golden Gig (I’m not sure exactly what that is, but apparently it is Hoodslam’s biggest honour to win it). This final event pitted two fighters against one another, with an additional fighter coming in every minute. The only way to be eliminated was to be thrown from the ring, both feet touching the floor beyond. People had been thrown out before (landing atop rapturous fans), but this was nuts. How these folks didn’t break something is beyond me, yet everyone seemed able to stagger to their feet. Batmanuel did not make it to the end, sadly. Nor did Drugz Bunny, Link from Zelda, or Cereal Man. I honestly don’t remember who won, and it’s not on their website yet that I can find. But someone did win. I am certain of it. And that someone felt very special, I’m also certain.

But then it was over. The lights came on, and everyone milled out of the place, dazed. It was as if we had been abducted by aliens en masse and were emerging from what we would later convince ourselves was some impossible shared hallucination, wondering where we were and how we had gotten there. Frankly, by the time it had all come to an end, my mind was so sluggish that it would not have surprised me to turn around and find that we had just emerged from an abandoned building–that it had all, in fact, been a dream. At least until the first Friday of next month, when Hoodslam returns to rock Oakland yet again.

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Exile’s Return

My eyes are on fire,
And smoke billows from my lungs.
I have passed through flame
To emerge with skin
charred and cracked,
With hair fizzled.
My heart has burst from unbearable heat,
And my soul is all but seared.
It was a long journey,
And though I have traveled far,
It is not nearly done.

Weary and wasted,
I followed light’s slow descent
Into the land of evening,
Pursued by voices from the ether,
With words of songs both familiar and un-:

Strap from you tether
Some kind of madness is
Swallowing me whole.
I think I’m breaking down

They tease me,
They trip me,
They loose my feet from the stirrups,
They send my head swirling,
They threaten to cast me down from the saddle.

But other words break in,
Unbidden, yet welcome:

Carry on, my wayward son!
There’ll be peace when you are done!

They echo through the night,
Off mountain walls,
Through forest halls,
And they set my heels back down.
My back is straight,
My head aloft,
The danger of falling
Has passed for now.
A thought emerges:
I am my own soundtrack.

My faithful steed,
From East of Mississippi way,
Veteran of many a campaign,
Ever-present confidant
And comforter.
We have passed through the fire
We have arrived in this place
We may rest now.
We may heal now.
But then we must toil anew.
It is a strange sort of paradise,
But for now,
For better
Or for worse,
We have returned.

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Quitting the Light

As we hurled ourselves into the darkness, the-approaching-darkness from www.examiner.comthe clouds boiling toward our advance, I do not believe that there was a single one of us who turned his head to look back. Whatever was there was past. But it was not even that, for the past at least informs the present, shapes the future, no matter how irreconcilable it may become. What we left behind us that day was barely a memory. It had no place where we were headed, and so we set it down at our feet and continued on. We sloughed it off like something dead and useless, as if we were being reborn and crawling out of our protective shells to find them coarse and ugly–abominable things that we would sooner not recognize as the transformative and life-giving vessels that they had been. This was how we quit the light. No farewells, no final glances or mental photographs or fond reminiscences of the life that had been. We rushed toward the darkness, and it embraced us. We knew the light no more.

What choice did we have? Who could have turned his head and not his mind? What heart could ever glimpse that fading glow and not retreat, not return? What soulless thing could behold that promise and not long for it, and in that longing forsake its duty and cower in the remnants of light before the encroaching shadows? And so what hope might we have had if we had let ourselves believe that there was something more than darkness, that there could be a path other than the one we marched, if only for a whisper of a moment?

But that is what we abandoned along with the light. We abandoned the hope of light, even the desire for hope, and in doing so we condemned ourselves, however pure our ambitions or holy our task. We turned our backs on the very thing for which we fought, for to see it again would have meant its destruction instead of merely our own. Our courage was born in our forgetting, and even now I dare not think on this too long. Just as I dare not look behind me for fear that I might see the light and hope, for fear that I might not see it and despair. Just as I dare not look to my left or my right, for fear that I might confirm what I have long suspected: that I am the last one facing forward, the last of the willfully hopeless, inching further into the dark, alone.

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Sleep Walk

And when we sleep,Sleepwalk
Let us loose ourselves fully from the waking world–
Unbound from its mortal constraints,
Disentangled from conscious fears and notions.
Let the light not meet our shuttered brains,
That we may escape,
For as brief a spell as may be,
The illumination of our darker reaches,
Awakening within that shadowed space
To find it glow at light’s surrender.
Let our wanderings there be pure and unencumbered,
Unlike in those gossamer dreams,
So thin as to be transparent,
The kind that bend around us
As if to stand in for reality,
But in a way that is ineffectual and transient.
They recede almost as quickly as they appear,
And although they pretend at being
Specters of the imagination,
They contain much of the waking world in them.
They do not have the power to create,
Only to enhance,
Interpret for their own ends:
The room becomes a hall,
Thoughts of loved ones become people,
And traffic from the street outside
Adds color to the otherwise faded and fading quality
Of the realm that fights so halfheartedly to exist,
If only for the smallest and most insignificant of moments.
Let us drink deeply of that nether world,
That place of power lost and forgotten.
Let us linger there with hearts of wonder,
Seeking neither knowledge nor understanding,
But healing and acceptance.
Let us think little and feel much,
Interact with what is real within us
Rather than with the shadows of what we have experienced without.
And let us approach with awe
That subtle hum that lies at the core–
Become lost in its presence,
Become found.

But on waking,
On waking let us journey slowly,
Release the world we have traveled in sleep
With the calm awareness that we need not cling to its memory,
For it is a part of us that can never be lost,
Only forgotten,
And even then not forever.
Let us carry with us that acceptance,
That healing,
Into the world of the light.
Let them illuminate our waking lives
And stream out with a brilliance all their own.
Let us greet the day with passion,
Not longing for the place we left inside.
Let that boundary between those worlds,
So thick and strong while we were away,
Be permeated from beyond at the time of our return,
That the sensory realm,
So blinding and seductive,
Might be tempered in its perceived importance
By the hallowed presence with which we are filled.

Let us walk the world not as sleepers, though,
But as those who have truly slept.
Let us embrace our wakefulness
Not with reluctance,
As we might a hollow alternative to what lies within,
But with an outpouring of enthusiasm,
As a celebration of a world that is filled with other beings,
Each possessed of inner fire.
And let us hope,
Dear friends,
That they, too, have known true sleep,
That they have escaped this place and returned
To share what they have dreamt,
To bring back some of that light
That thrives only in the inner blackness.
Let us return fulfilled and awakened,
That those who sleep with open eyes
Might see and close them,
Release the fear and fall into the dark,
To return once more themselves,
Perhaps one day to remind us
When we ourselves have forgotten how to sleep.

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You find yourself on the floor. Although you’ve been there for a while, you’re not quite sure how you got there. Did you wake up there? Have you even been asleep? Did you fall? At some point these questions are less important than the more immediate one: why are you still on the floor? And then you remember what you were doing just a few minutes ago. You were trying to stand. It’s easy to do, so just do it already. What are you waiting for? Up! Off of the floor! But you’re still there. You haven’t moved. You know that you can move; you just shook your head, shrugged your shoulders, put your palm to your face, wiggled your toes. So what’s the problem? How to begin is the problem. You’ve forgotten how it starts. But how could you possiblyimage courtesy of ev2bk.com have forgotten? It seems like such a simple thing, standing up, but you just don’t remember how to get going. Every time you muster up the nerve to try, you either get distracted or you’re too busy trying to figure out how to begin. So. Now it’s time to just do it. You analyze it logically. For the first time? You’re not sure, but that doesn’t matter. You’re going to figure this out. The beginning is the hard part. After that it should be a breeze. You remember it being easy once you get past that first step. But where does it start? It’s got to start with the legs. You feel like that’s a given. The legs and the feet. You really don’t know how else it could start. But how could you possibly be sure? Maybe it’s one of those things that seem so obvious but are really much more complex. Like walking, for example. But you should focus on standing first. Perhaps the legs really aren’t the way to go. So you try starting with the arms, but as soon as the thought crosses your mind you’re overcome with how silly it seems. How could it go arms first? You remember what the end result looks like, at least you think you do, and the arms don’t seem to be involved at all. Or are they? Do the arms come into it? You try it with the arms, lifting them the slightest bit from the floor, but you’re no closer to being upright. It can’t be the arms, then. How is this supposed to go? Surely it’s not the elbows, or the knees! It has to be the legs. There’s just no other way that makes sense. It’s decided. Start with the legs. Legs then feet. Or knees? No, not the knees. The knees come…they must come later. But what do you do with your hands? Hands seem so important, don’t they? Shouldn’t they be doing something? And what about your head? That’s the most important thing. It should start with the head. Yes. It definitely must start with the head. You move your head, but you’re still on the floor. You think about standing, but you’re still on the floor. You try not to think about standing, to fool yourself into remembering by accident, but you’re still on the floor. Seconds stand up and walk away, joined by minutes, and yet you lie there. Why don’t you get up and follow them? They are leaving without you! But how? Where to even begin? Seconds and minutes have it easy, but you have an entire body to contend with. But it’s been so long already. So much time has passed. You need to get up before you waste more. How long has it even been? And how did this even happen? How did you get on the floor in the first place? Did you wake up there? Have you been asleep? Did you fall? That doesn’t really matter right now, though. You can figure that out later. After you get up.

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