Thursday, December 30, 2004

Poured in the pearl blood of angels


Night before last and it was just past midnight. I opened the door to call Spook in. Spook is a six-month-old black cat. There's nothing racially denigrating about his name, which was given to him by me because his big yellow eyes appear perpetually rounded in terror as if he's just seen, and is continuing to see, a ghost dog. He has become spoiled about warmth, especially since it's gotten colder here over the past six weeks. Warmth is something we have in common.


So I called for him on the porch and saw that something was very different. The first snow of winter was arriving. It was an hour's worth of what would be three inches by morning. Silent, icy dandery fluff. I was awestruck. One seldom predicts the exact hour in which the first anything arrives: babies, postcards, messiahs.

I have experienced only three virgin drifts in my life. The first was on New Year's Eve in Springfield, Illinois. It was 1995. I was visiting the midwest with my then girlfriend, Stacy, staying at her mother's house. We had already been there for nearly two weeks and everyone had hoped for a white Xmas. No white came. Only c-c-cold and ice.

So when the first flakes began falling at sundown, it was the beginning of a much anticipated magic. Later that night, long after the noisemakers had been discarded and the revelers gone their many ways into the newly christened year, I watched delicate shadows on the wall made by snow falling outside. It was mesmerizing. The next morning, I looked out the window. Everything was white. No tracks, animal or tire, no sign of disturbance visible anywhere. The world had been miraculously poured in the pearl blood of angels.

The second time was on New Year's morning, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was 2001. The true outset of the New Millennium. I was spending the holidays with my then girlfriend, Kim, at her pueblo-style home in the rural township of Eldorado. We had spent days tumbling about the old streets and Plaza of the City Different, browsing the many creak-floored art galleries of Canyon Road, writing poetry, making art, sipping music and sleeping in late.

We spent New Year's Eve inside, eating things we made with our hands, attending to kiva fire duties, moving quietly within a cozy house in the high desert. Dawn brought grey flurries of first snow. I opened the door and ran outside onto the walkway, into the diagonal tread of windblown ice. I was shirtless in sweatpants and sand-colored Ugg shoes. My hair was long then, running halfway down my bare back in black twists of tornadic fury made more so by the mock-blizzard wind.

Kim snapped three photos of me, my upraised arms in jubilant snowy celebration. I have one of them on the inside cover of the priceless original art book she made for me. Later, that first millennial morning, we both drew our own portraits in pastels and colored pencils as a creative commemoration of the new century. Poets caught in the frieze of Time.

The third time was two nights ago, here in The Dalles. As Spook scurried in, I held open the door of my breath and slowly let an excited sigh slip into the halo above the lamp pole across the street. Midnight and the first snow of my Oregon days. I watched it descend for several minutes and several more after that. Snow bears a silence that is muter than most. It seems as if it almost wants to make sound yet, in the strain of listening, the secret nature of snowfall presents itself. It is something holy.

The poem below is titled from an excerpted line in a poem called, London Snow by Robert Bridges. It's also the name of a music piece called, Asleep, The Snow Came Flying by Tim Story. It became the starting point for what follows:


the snow came flying. It settled on the duffeled yards
and roofs, along the edges of new leaves never laden with
such wonder. It came in a moment between the worlds,

when miraculous things arrive in common places.
There was a music thimbled in hoar and quartz that formed
along the spiked flakes, no two alike. It might have been

piano, the striking of toy elements, one against the other,
like the gentle collisions of waking and dreamfulness. I was not
sure when the snow ever looked so pure, so made of the shavings

left by milled angels who stood too close to the turbines
that flew the gates of drift and ice and fell, fell, fell from
heights never fallen from to sift and swoon, sky and surge

in demon whirl and deviled wind, the softest down known
to redemption. And snow came flying as I, asleep in quarters
unguested, missed it all for darkness was all about me, deep

in the slumberdrowse where I made graceless absolutions there
to rise again, rise and walk from such unsleeping to see their white
robes amassed and strewn like sorrowed sails of a billowed ship.

Joseph Gallo
April 2002

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Beauty and the black rapture

Frost on windows this morning. Sun beckons migrating flocks, warms the way home for all weary wings. Two days before Xmas. Time is moving diagonally. Each day brings the discovery of a new way the human heart can be held against the light. Something is moving in there.

Today I deleted several of my journal entries I posted on an anonymous internet music website. I may keep a few of my poems there, but most likely I'll migrate my work here to Drachenthrax. They're tattered songbirds in search of more permanent sanctuary. It just feels right.

The poem below is one such wayfaring bird that has come home for the winter. If anyone read it in my journal, no comment was made to that effect. It might well be one of those pieces that people don't get or think is too weird. It does, however, reference a true story that happened in the summer of 2003, the day before Nicole left Santa Barbara to return to her home in Switzerland.

We had gone for a walk on the overcast Hammond Meadows beach. I was taking photographs of her standing on a fallen tree that had jumped into the sea from the cliffs above. It was quiet. Only the lazy lapping of saltwater. The tears of the world, perhaps. There would be tears enough to sail across as the time for parting drew closer. We sensed it. It fell over us like the unanswered cries of sorrowed gulls.

I had walked ahead, about thirty yards or so, to where a tide-ravaged seawall ran parallel to the shore. I began looking for good angles to shoot when I felt something hit my lip. At first I thought it was a fly that had been moving really fast and had blindly bounced off of me, but then another sensation exactly like it seem to come from the back of my head. I was under attack.

I had no idea what was happening until another bite of fire erupted. I bent over in instinctive panic, wringing my hands through my hair and knocking out several small, hard objects onto the wet sand. During all this, I had let out several yelps of profanity as more fires ignited in my scalp. I flailed and dervished like a fevered madman. By then Nicole had arrived to see what the matter was. It was waspelis, as she called them.

She quickly brushed the rest of the insects out of my hair and checked for stragglers. We immediately made distance from the seawall a priority. I angrily stomped a few dazed wrigglers into the sand, giving them an earful of pejorative English, which they couldn't, in forty million years of evolution, understand one diphthong of.

We slowly returned to see where they had come from and, sure enough, they had built a bustling, wrath-boiled nest in a medium-sized crevice near the top of the wall. In my blind focus to get an interesting shot, I simply hadn't seen them. Once the drama died down, the adrenalin release of laughter subsided and the smarting began. I was lucky to have gotten only five stings. I gradually succumbed to a mild anaphylactic reaction. The after effects would last nearly three weeks.

Of course, my bent poetic brain began whispering silly things to me, ominous things about omens and signs, dark messages meant to portend something I'm generally pretty good at creating from reading too much into nuthin'. I stopped myself. It was just one of those things. Armageddon and the Black Rapture would have to wait another day.

Two days passed and the numbing shock of Nicole's absence set in. There was an unmistakable swelling in my heart that made it feel full of toxic emptiness and longing. I thought back on our last days together. I thought of the following spring in Switzerland, when we would again see each other, even as the summer of 2003 ended and two whole seasons lay between us. And like her, amid overwhelming heartache, I coped.

A few nights later, I searched the world wide web to find what gregarious insect had smitten me so. Within twenty minutes, I'd found the culprit. I went on to learn about the order of hymenoptera, the families and suborders of vespidae, hexapoda, and apocryta, the excitability factors that send mud daubers, hornets and yellow jackets into frenzied fits of needled hysteria. Yes, I had archived just enough information in my paper-chambered brain to ensure complete irretrievability by morning.

However, I did remember that in Japan, when found in a new house, a wasp or hornet's nest is considered an omen of good luck. Since the Chinese are known to keep crickets in bamboo cages for good luck and, presumably, to taunt their kept nightingales into warbling 'til moonset, this didn't surprise me at all. This balm of knowledge became the poultice with which I wrapped the following poem:

These Wasps

After the shock settles in,
after the lip swells,

after the swelling subsides
after the venom courses,

after the blisters erupt,
after the eruptions quell,

there is the lucky omen
nested in your sill,

there is vanity grinning in the glass,
there is smiling without pain,

there is joy in hopeful eaves,
there is the full embrace of moon,

there is empty paper and fresh ink,
grey skies and the quiet warmth

of small rooms, rooms just small enough
for the glad portents of this life,

this life that swells and courses,
erupts and quells, so that

these wasps, too, may find
their dear and happy fortunes.

Joseph Gallo
October 7, 2003

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A vastness stretching the ligaments of my soul

It came this morning at 4:42 am PST. It was still dark here in Oregon. I missed the exact moment. Things like this used to matter; sometimes still do. These past two days have been spent huddled in reading, rest, and writing. A few of my favorite things.

Yesterday, I received a wonderful gift in the mail from my dear friend, Joni, a book called, In The Shadows of the Morning, by Phil Caputo. It is a collection of essays of his adventures and travel experiences; moments from a life in movement. I have already begun to read it. It's a perfect companion for this winter's commencement. There was also a card that accompanied the gift. In it, she wrote that she had come across a random line in the book that read, The vastness of it stretched the ligaments of my soul. I love that. I knew she and I had both hit on something vital.

I also received card from another friend, Marti. It bears a painting by Peter Malone from the book The Possibility of Angels, inspired by the story A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Tale For Children by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story tells of a decrepit angel who, on his way to take a sick child to heaven, accidentally falls to earth and becomes a neighborhood sideshow.

The image on the card is of an old man angel at the seashore standing in windworn island clothing, slightly spread tattered wings, a red rooster in flight over one shoulder, a dove over the other, another rooster perched on his hand and yet another at his feet along with five red crabs. He is haloed with the unmistakable arc-plating of implied angelhood. All powerful and personal images to me.

Her note went on to say that she intended to read my poem, Tamales, at a local salon-style venue. That would have taken place last night at the Blue Agave in Santa Barbara. I am honored that the memory of my maternal grandmother was spoken in the company of strangers by a voice other than my own.

Lastly, my mother's Xmas card arrived as well. A simple Santa with outstretched arms and inside, a check for $25. My mom doesn't have a lot of money, so I will let her know that I do not intend to cash it. Unless she absolutely insists, then I will place it toward a new book or an art frame to make a gift to someone else. It's all about moving the chi, passing along the love energy, isn't it?

Here then a new poem written today, Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year:


The sun stood still today. It did not spill itself
over an early farmer's field in gushing rays
of gold and bronze, nor rise in the vigilant
eyes of a girl set adrift in the middle of her heart.

Instead, it nailed itself to a pale shard of blue, allowed
thunderhead to pass without as much as a vaportop
glance because this was the moment it comes to be stilled.

As in every year, even the most consummated must retreat
within the flames. Let radiance confer divinity another day.
For this moment is the time of unbuilt butterflies that have not
yet fashioned wings for skies that have not yet taken hue.

Let this be the least of us. From this morning on, sing
sweetly that the day remains to paint your song with light
in fruiting boughs. From this morning on, promise
the mute stars that all you gather will be thrown against
the pressing dawn, poured in the honeyed breath of children
as they rouse from dreams they never share with another soul.

From this morning on, let this be the least of us.
Let each day offer less and less, as the time to offer
grows long and wide. Let this be enough to sustain
our days into the foreshortened bliss that summers
our skin an ocean away. Only then will the sun move
among the ruins again. Only then will the sun truly endure.

Joseph Gallo
December 21, 2004

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I sing the body decrepit

Time is catching up with me. Slowly, surely, the wear and tear of decades of playing hard mid-level tennis courted by flashes of brilliance and moments of divine intervention have come to collect the ferryman's toll. And it finds me gnashing and wailing.

About three years ago I was ready to receive serve in the ad court, made an ever so slight move forward to meet and blister a perfectly delivered backhand, when I heard and felt a pop from somewhere in my lower body, a pop that could be heard clear across the court. My next step sent me sprawling in a rolled mass of incredulous flesh as I tried to understand what was happening. It was my left calf muscle.

What felt at first like an errant tennis ball that had hit the back of my leg, was actually the group of muscles that make up the calf experiencing some kind of distress. These muscles are vital in the game of tennis. Everything springs from them: the propulsion for serving, the necessary combustion for setting the body into the proper position for tattooing ground strokes, the elevators for overhead putaways, the rockets that make passing shots break the sound barrier and kiss gravity somewhere inside the court beyond the reach of your windswept opponent.

Had the muscle somehow come off the bone? That was my first conscious thought as I dropped my racket and rolled onto my side reaching for the leg. The sound had been this muscle group tearing with a fierce ripping force. I went immediately into mild shock. My tennis partners all came rushing over as they had all heard the pop and thought I'd been shot. I was nauseous, unable to stand, lying on the painted green meadow of the court. I was helped to a bench. I heard myself cussing from somewhere far away.

After nearly an hour of sitting courtside while they continued on without me (tennis people are the cruelest folk on Earth and will play over your fuzz-encrusted carcass if they can get another set in), I found the hobbling balance required and drove home somehow. The nausea finally subsided. I began the long hours of icing and immobilization. The next morning, I could not set any weight on it at all. The ankle and foot had turned completely purple and black with pooled blood.
It was a bio-Picasso.

I played again within two months, but was tentative and cautious with it for a long time. It took well over a year before I could no longer feel the sore knots deep inside the muscle. Since then, I have re-torn different parts of it four times, in comparatively lesser degrees than the first, the latest and worst being about seven weeks ago. There is scarring deep in the muscle tissue, which over time, somehow crystallize into mineralized bands that become brittle and break. And it's a pisser.

While recovering from this latest tear, I was mending well and decided dancing was an option. No problem. But in favoring the left side, the right calf pulled just enough to say Howdy, glad to meet you! When one part of the body is impacted by injury, other parts set themselves at risk by foolishly compensating. This is what has happened. So, tonight at tennis, the right calf benched me for the next several weeks.

I have come to realize that in order to minimize or prevent this from being a chronic, continuing problem, I must begin cross training. My legs, my back, my body, my brain. I will have to seek professional guidance. Am I lacking in minerals, vitamins, potassium, electrolytes, alien DNA sufficient to keep my advancing decrepitude in check? Or is it just normal wear and tear and at fifty-two years of age these things will now be on the permanent weekly menu, sit down, quit whining, take your man pill and eat your medicine?

Do not go gently onto that brave court. I will spend the next few weeks learning what I can do to keep the timemaster at bay a little longer. Then I'll have to put into action what I've learned. Gone are the days when I can just stroll onto a tennis court, play for five hard hours with minimal warm-up, no stretching, and still go dancing later the same night as if I were immortal.

If these are the wages of spin, then I am a very lucky man.
It could be a whole lot worse.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The meaning of it all

The original name I came up with for this webpresence was Marrow Nectar. It sounded good at first, but then wore me down with its undeniable pretentiousness. The idea of something deliriously sweet at the core of the bone was what misled me. I'm not sure I've done any better with this new title. It certainly has a higher STQ (sonic testosterone quotient), but beyond that, what the hell does it mean?

Drachen is, of course, dragon. In the Germanic tongue, it is the colloquial pejorative for that much maligned mythic beast. Drachen is also the German word for both kite and spitfire.

Vermithrax Pejorative was the name of the vicious, offspring-protective mother dragon in the 80's fantasy film Dragonslayer. Vermithrax translates into terrible worm. I conjoined the two words into this title.

Therefore, Drachenthrax means literally, terrible dragon. Put that word into Google, and voila: you get me.

It is also the year I was born in under the Chinese horoscope. My 16 year-old son, Camlen, was also born in a year of the dragon. Dragons seem to follow me around much like the number 11. Always have. One day I will have the drachenadler (dragon with the head of an eagle) Nicole designed for me tattooed on my back. Hopefully in Switzerland next spring, by the same artist who did hers.

With regards to Drachenthrax, my webpresence or blogsite, as I prefer to call it, I am going to make a concerted effort not to write about the trivial details of my daily life, but rather attempt to express the inner worlds of it. I am certain to fail from time to time and include meanderings that have me doing laundry in my basement while deciphering hidden messages in the algorithms of spiderwebs. So please forgive me in advance.

I also ask forgiveness of those of you in my life I mention, or neglect to mention. It is bound to occur, either way. I will not in these posts castigate nor hold to ridicule those of you whom I love. If I do cross the line, please e-mail or comment in the appropriate area. It is my intent to be as honest as my fibimometer will allow in sharing the world through my oftentimes occluded eyes.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I wish i had a river so long

Went to a late afternoon Xmas party this past Saturday, at a cozy home atop one of the summits of a flange along an eastern flank of the Cascade Mountains. The typical thing: food, drink, sweets, merriment, well-dressed folk, live music. My energy was low, so the batteries quickly wore down and I coasted on reserve into the early evening.

A faint blue hue enveloped me, one I didn't try to resist. I was in no pretending mood whatsoever, especially with myself, so, after a reasonable round of holiday greeting and conversing, I found a quiet unassuming corner of a room and sat with a glued-on arc of a wan smile, lest anyone inquire or intrude into my personal holiblah glaze.

The party was a precursor to a dance held at the local chapter of the Eagles. A band called Phoenix was scheduled to play. Figures. Birds within birds; myth intertwined with the prime reality.
They supplied the live music at the party with a barebones acoustic version of their regular act. So, as the party concluded and after a quick stop home to re-caffeinate, we all headed down to the Eagles Lodge.

It's a fairly big place: stage chest high, tables on three sides of a roomy wooden dance floor, two bars, pool tables, dining area, glinting garlands twisted up along every available festive pole.
Phoenix plays the typical beer-bar fare exacting everything from ZZ Topp to Creedence to Seger to Thorogood, songs I would normally have turned the dial against, but with a few surprises thrown in.
The Cars, The Kinks, The Beatles, and even Journey got some nice renditions played as their lead singer can hit every impossible high note Steve Perry used to be able to nail with ease. No easy task, unless you're a castrato, I might add.

So I danced and danced some more, recovering calf muscle injury and all, only to newly injure the good calf due to favoring the not-so-good one. The tennis gods, of late, seem to be exacting their tariffs and dues for decades of unhampered playing now that I am in my 52nd year.
And I'm not too happy about it.
Taking a break from the dance floor and running cocktail napkins across my sweat-matted hair and brow, I could hear the faint throb of a sad piano, a Joni Mitchell song called River rising from a long way off, from somewhere deep inside of me:

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly . . .

There was comfort in my vision of the mighty Columbia frozen over and my sore calftorn legs carrying me westward downriver towards the Cascade Locks, except the locks and dams were disappeared and only the river raced glazed and unobstructed toward the sea as it had for millions of years.

My river was all iced-over in a blue mirrored gateway that refracted the sky all the way to the apron of the cold Oregon sea, drawing white veils of scented snowspray as I skimmed along on wondrous skates of light, past Astoria, Ilwaco, skirting the agitated confluence of the Pacific, collapsing at last into the willing arms of Cape Disappointment.

Only later would I come to find expression for this mood, this undercurrent of sorrow, when I spoke with Celestina about my feelings for Nicole, how she is still so deeply inside of me.

It may be that I will carry this river within me for the rest of my days. So be it. Like so many who have said it before, I am happy to have loved once than never to have loved at all.

When two souls encounter one another as mine and Niggi's did, there is no mistaking it for anything else.
Perhaps one day, the river will move again, though I can't imagine it now.
I don't want to.
I don't need to.

I wish I had a river . . .

Friday, December 10, 2004

Recollections on fogged windows

At the outset of this holiday season in my new environ, I am compelled to post this remembrance of my maternal grandmother, Fidela Arroyo.

Here is a memoir of an East Los Angeles Christmas from days of yore, which still breathe their warm recollections on fogged windows of the heart.


These houses in East L.A. are all built of corn husks and masa.
The same familiar smell of sopa fideo leads even the most blind into a kitchen where there is always an abuelita in seamed hose and short-heeled black shoes, cauldroned at the stove stirring cantos in the broth that sings just about ready.

As a boy, I hunted for those savory pieces of miracle meat hidden

like jewels crowned in seasoned Mexican angel hair curling in tides of delicate spices steeped first in Gramma’s heart, then in black Chihuahuan cast iron.

It’s Christmas Eve and the couches are cold and covered in clear plastic. The tree is afire with colored light as sainted votives move playful ghosts across communion-white walls in this living room.
The plastic is for me, the brusero, a thin shield against all the food
and dirt a young hellion can devil onto brocade cushions pristine as collection plates.

This is the year Gramma will break her wrist after slipping while carrying the first tray heavy with wrapped red, wrapped sweet, sweating and steamed from the tamale line where the daughters, the cousins, the aunts, shoulder to shoulder, the sisters, the women have midwifed something divine to be adored.

And this is the year Gramma will go to the hospital, have her wrist set and cast, return home and resume wrapping right where she left off: sweet ones, red ones, no fuss, say no more about it. The men will find out about it when their empty beer cans bring them in for more between rounds of patio recountings of infamous fighters: Rudy Navarrone, Julio Reynoso, Hector Braca, Ernesto Morales, and
of course my Uncle George.

The cold weather has kept us kids inside and guessing by weight, shape, and vigorous shaking as to which might be whose. Then,
by accident, we discover instant refried beans as we slide across the couches making farts on the fitted plastic and laugh the candles right out!

This year the tamales are sweeter somehow and Gramma is smiling, Manishevitz wine in her pale hand, glinting ornaments from her glasses. And as we eat I watch her, amazed she has not said a single word about her wrist which surely throbs like a fractured bell in her silent bones, and I see that joy is suffering wrapped in Christmas bandages and corn husks, red and sweet as candy canes, swollen and breathless when the toys at last march out of the tree.

Joseph Gallo
December 1992

Monday, December 06, 2004

Scent of snow, trace of love

Snow. The first thin coat of it dressing the high hills across the river in Washington. An inch in the foothills above The Dalles. Snow scent fills the air.

Nicole wrote today, first time in a few weeks. She must have heard the poem I read at the Xmas party I attended this past Saturday night. Just seeing her name in my inbox does stuff to me. I am trying. Trying to be and allow and let go a little, and be a source of good things, not the fathomless well of sorrow & self-pity I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into.

So this is for her.
Because I still love her.

Model Man

Look at the signs
Look at the symptoms
Look at the slight
Calm before the storm

I feel the silence
I feel the signals
I feel the strain
Tension in my head
Well, what more can be said...

Not a model man
Not a saviour or a saint
Imperfect in a word
Make no mistake
But I
Give you everything I have
Take me as I am . . .

King Crimson

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Gravity loves you

One can see how each day can be colored or hued by merely deciding which miniscule part of it to include in an entry. So this is what will make this day remotely memorable for its decided mundaneity.

This morning, December the 2th, I drove my friend Perry to the doctor's office for some follow-up work. He had received a cortisone shot a month ago for a sore shoulder. While waiting in the place they make you wait, I wrote the following poem:

Ten Pound Shoes

Everyone wears them while being weighed at the doctor's. Some pull stones and bolts of raw copper from their pockets and make unnecessary apologies to the nurse who is interested only in how deeply gravity loves them.

She will tell them chidingly that clothes weigh only three or four pounds, so it behooves them to bring dispensable ballast for all the excuses of too much pie and jettison praise for the sedentary hours spent in blissful digestion.

This is the stuff of waiting rooms. At this very moment around the world, in cities, towns, villages, and pinspecks so small few maps have ever noted them, are rooms of concrete steel carpet wood glass linoleum tile sand mud straw flies and piped-in country Christian music singing the salvations of saddlery.

And in those rooms, waiting to see doctors, millions of patients are practicing patience. They sit and fidget over dog-eared magazines worn with the press of worry, sniffling and aching, ascending and declining with maladies mal and imagined. Physicans and boneprodders, curanderas and quacks, soulstitchers and shamans will get it done best they can.

Here in The Dalles, they'll get it done no matter how it turns out. Medicine is more about mystery than it is about miracle. But once in a while, what is beyond understanding makes itself known in part, enough so that magic avoids eviction and the holy name of hope is praised from awestruck and trembling lips.

So fill your pockets and lace up them ten pound shoes. Step lightly onto the scale. There are no fairer judges in this world than the nurses who weigh us.

Joseph Gallo
December 2, 2004

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What have i ever lost?

Yep, I got it. Spent the last two days in bed with fever, bodyache, eyestrain-thing-what-feels-like-needles-being-
driven-straight-through-yer-greymush. The body wasn't meant to lie for so long upon such a firm futon as I have, so doing so creates other echo aches that exacerbate the inner ache, which turns it all into an ache amplification loop I'd rather not find myself spinning in.

So my fever broke at 4am this morning and I was suddenly awash in sweat and hot salt, lying on my bed naked and burning until the chill prodded me to cover up and fall back to sleep. Small thing, the flu. Upon waking and rising like a Lazarus from my prone sepulchre, I checked my e-mail to find a letter from my friend Richard.

It wasn't good news. His wife, the beautiful Marina, is slowly succumbing to pancreatic cancer and he is in terror trying to hold himself together for himself, his 3 year-old daughter Tiana, and for Marina. The pain has become worse, more prolonged. His overriding fear and feelings of impotence are peaking as the time draws nearer toward that time the body says enough and the spirit bids adieu. I don't know how they do it. I just don't know.

My dear 17 year-old nephew, J. D., has leukemia. Cancer of the blood. He is quite fragile and cannot have regular visitors and usually no visitors at all. I think of him often. And I think of Marina. I am ashamed to offer this and this only. Is it love or denial? Both, I think.

I send you both my love and light and whatever might pass down to you in the form of angels or healing from places invisible and beyond all understanding. I wish for you that there be no pain. I wish for there to be only love present in the room, in your homes, in your hearts. I wish for strength to be conferred upon those who care for you, those whose daily caregiving brings them to sacrifice themselves for your comfort.

I sent this poem, written by Rumi, to my dear friend Richard. It was all I could think to do:

For millions & millions of years I lived as a mineral.
Then I died and became a plant.

For millions & millions of years I lived as a plant.
Then I died and became an animal.

For millions & millions of years I lived as an animal.
Then I died and became a man.

Now what have I ever lost by dying?