Lange and Ruess - A harder mysticism...

You wrote: Someone to listen while I try to remember how to breathe.  Lord that's beautiful, it makes me all warm in the anima, but what does it mean?  This from Robinson Jeffers' 'Credo' -
I humbler have found in my blood 
bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.    

I'm a hard mystic, Lange.  I don't know squat about the true underlying existence of reality.  Give me coffee stains on teeth, salty tears when listening to Karen Carpenter, the always illicit rush of mounting stairs behind a woman's fanny.

Someone to listen while I try to remember how to breathe.  Flesh and bone it out, Lange. Give it two days and respond; that time'll save you from reacting, which is what most of the population does.

I'm listening.

Lange and Ruess (cont.)

Thanks again for talking with me after Nora's funeral.  I emailed your friend Ruess.  He's giving me a chance, I think.

You called him a spoiled priest.  Care to elaborate?


He was a minister for awhile.  When I first met him years ago he was the embodiment of idealism.  He claims the wine and women never got him, but the doubt finally did.  I respect that.

Ruess and his wife, Jane, used to have me over on Friday nights for tacos when Sherry and I first divorced.  Those two people kept me from drowning.  Jane died two years ago come November. Goddamn cancer.


Thank you.

Lange and Ruess (cont.)

Fast forward thirty years to our most recent family reunion.  Nora ignored the doctor's orders and made a brief appearance, maybe ten minutes, doting on the newest born and downing her signature Arnold Palmer.  She summoned me to escort her out to the car.  As I folded her into my uncle's Prius, she raised her bony palm to my chest and held it there.  She said you've forgotten.  My grandmother died the next morning.


What is it that you want?


Someone to listen while I try to remember how to breathe.

Lange and Ruess

Mr. Ruess,
My first cousin is Roy Satterfield.  I talked to him at a family funeral after the 4th of July.  I've never liked Roy. Before I left he handed me a post-it with your email address and said see if Ruess'll listen; he might not, but he might.  Roy called you a spoiled priest, but I don't know what that is.  But I've always trusted Roy.

My name is Lange.  Would you be willing to listen?


Your cousin Roy sent me a two-word condolence when my wife died: Shit. Roy.  I've since wondered how I might repay that singular kindness.  Based solely on that debt, I might consider listening.

Ruess is my first name, call me by that.  If you're looking for a guru, keep looking.  Better yet, stop looking.  And I can't help you with your mommy or daddy issues; my own hound me daily.  A genie gives three wishes.  I'm no genie, so you get two tries at explaining what it is needs listening to. After that I'll know whether or not I can make things worse.  Deal?


Strange, but yes, it's a deal.  Here is my first try.

Thirty years ago at a family reunion, my grandmother, Nora, spent the afternoon in a hammock.  Her feet always swelled when she sat in a chair.  She summoned me, the only grandson, to come and lay beside her.  I was ten and unafraid and I loved her, so I did.  She took my hand in hers and placed them on her chest.  My grandmother began to inhale deep and exhale long, deep and long, deep and long.  Then she moved our twinned hands to my chest. For the next few moments, I was breathing like her.


That's one.  You've got one more.

Pickup Man

He was young, maybe twelve.  His home was what some call 'broken' and a childhood accident left him scarred literally and figuratively.  He walked everywhere, just him and his dog.  He was always much more comfortable with adults than kids his own age. And he loved pickups and trains.  I liked him.

The church I pastored at the time celebrated every fifth Sunday evening by having a sanging...yes, that's spelled correctly.  It was basically open mic night at church...a sorta non-closed communion where bread and juice took a backseat to the human voice...all were welcome.  There were the regulars - quartets, duets, solos - they gave the people what they wanted to hear...Little Is Much When God Is In It...Have a Little Talk With Jesus...I'll Fly Away. And then there was the occasional shy soul who no doubt sat and watched the others for years thinking lord I'd like to do that someday and for some reason, nobody knows, he or she finally screws up enough courage to sign their name to the clipboard list and stand before the casual crowd and give it their all.  One Sunday night, he signed up.  He told me earlier he had decided to sing and his song selection...I approved of both.

Some folks were surprised when his name was announced.  He stood and handed his cassette accompaniment tape to the soundman and walked up to the microphone positioned just behind the table with the etched words do this in remembrance.  If memory serves me, the song prior to his was a Sandi Patti anthem, a goose-pimpling affirmation of faith with a key change near the end rounded by a full court press to the final orchestrated grace note...a true gift of gold, frankincense, myrrh.  Angels probably dabbed their eyes and said yes, yes.

And in that wake, the little drummer boy played.

I don't know if you've ever heard Joe Diffie's Pickup Man, but that evening, in Dolby sound, we did:
"I met all my wives in traffic jams/
There's just something women like about a pickup man."
I sat on the backrow and watched folks squirm and blush...I'm sure a few thought hell itself was gonna open its jaws and swallow us all, me first.  Several cut their eyes at the pastor throughout the song, that you can stop this look.  But I didn't.  He and Joe sang it to the end, to the final two words - "that's right."

I don't know what you believe about God and the Church and all that, but here's what I think.  Once upon a night, years ago, in a south Arkansas gathering, a quiet boy without a dad stood before those who'd been knowing him for years and sang from an ember deep in his life called desire.  I believe on a higher plane than Arkansas some of the angels began to squirm and blush and shake their heads no, no.  But then there were shouts of let me through! let me through! as the man of sorrows elbowed his way across the angelic throng, to the very edge of the heaven itself and he raised his nail-scarred wrists and thundered be still...he's singing!  can't you hear him?  he's singing!  And a grin the size of salvation broke across our hero's face as he leaned in and listened to the rum-pa-Joe-Diffie-pum-pum of a shadowed little boy struggling toward the light, toward life, toward love.  I believe Jesus listened all the way to the end, finally saying yes, yes.


Advice To My Son

It's important to be good at something.
The something is not as important
as the fact that you're good at it.
You could be a circus master
or a gynecologist,
either one's fine
as long as you're good.
Of course you could choose
to be a man, a good man.
Now that's something important.

Lee's Side

Her note held no regret, just explanation:
The wind.  I could no longer stand the wind.
Our union held three years,
survivors lashed together
living bent against the onslaught.

But she finally cut loose.
I do not blame her;
she did not grow up under the wind.

The postcard came months later,
sent from a languid state
somewhere downwind,
on a final updraft of grace:
I'm sorry.  But I have tulips now.  Love, Lee.

Gotta have faith-uh, faith, faith...

I believed that to have a horse between my legs, to extend my pulse and blood and energy to theirs, enhanced my vision.  Made of me a seer.  I believed them to be the dappled, sorrel, roan, bay, black pupils in the eyes of God.
 - Mark Spragg, Where Rivers Change Direction

The question was 'what do you want for your 12th birthday?'  She answered 'horseback riding lessons.'  Rest assured, there were other gifts on her list, but that's the one that caught my attention. So, I sold my gold watch and my girlfriend sold her hair and we cobbled together the profits and moved toward this gift.

She partied yesterday afternoon with girls her age.  They went to the movies, ate cupcakes and ice cream, talked girl-talk.  But last night, just about dusk, I stepped in and we drove to a place I'd heard of on Doolittle Road.

It was just to be a meet-n-greet, something tangible attached to the note in her card that read 'horseback riding lessons, love mom and dad.'  The owner introduced herself and took us on the grand tour of barn and horses.  We met creatures with names like Ellie, Cinnamon, and Joe.  One of the kids asked which one is your favorite?  She replied well, the one I happen to be riding at the time.  Yes, I liked this lady-horse-whisperer.

I realize all of this may go 12 yr old not-so-little-girl may not take to the lessons, she may get spooked, get sick, get bored...its all in the gamble of kids.  And I'm not using 'gamble' in some, I mean the straight-out-roll-of-the-dice sense.  I routinely roll snake eyes, but last night, for one evening, the house was gracious.  

The parting gift was watching horse and rider show off.  Dusk took her brief stage and we stood along the white fence while a lady-in-boots and her gentle giant danced for us.  An arena loudspeaker played a lonesome tune sung by a fallen angel.  The wind whipped and cooled our backs, dust filled our eyes.  Two barn cats watched a performance they must see daily.  And the green of Colorado was a hue to break your heart.  It was one of those moments, one pregnant with the essence of things hoped for.  It was a happy birthday.


Things To Remember

There is no i in team,
but there is an i in faith.
There are only two adjectives
in the 23rd Psalm - 
green and still.
The first line in Hamlet
is the same as Billy the Kid's last words:
Who's there?
It's hard to tell a grieving widow no.
If your life is what you do,
then its pretty easy to lose your life.
Virga is when rain falls and fails to reach the earth.
"You never outgrow the way you grew up."

Special Providence

There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow...
- Shakespeare

Sometimes its hard to understand the drift of things.
Sources say she left a note, drove to the overpass,
parked her pickup, paused a moment to synchronize
with the oncoming bus below,
then jumped.

A forty-two year old sparrow fell twenty-five feet.
God watched as traffic rerouted.

Sources did say there were personal problems,
the loss of a business, friction with friends.
But sources didn't mention if her eyes were green
or if she wore a turquoise watch
or if she liked biscuits with honey
or dreamed of horses.
Or how long the sadness clawed.

Sources will eventually release her name.
But facts have little to do with the truth.


If he knows the grandkids are coming
he leaves piles of quarters and
nickels and dimes on his nightstand,
along with a few starlight mints.
He's been doing this for years now.
He knows they never ask,
just take, all they can get.
He gets a grin out of it,
them getting away with something of his.
It's his way of giving them a tie
to bind, later, after he's gone.
Remember when we used to steal Papa's change?
Yeah, I think he always knew.
Yeah, me too.
And maybe, just maybe,
they will love the small and poor
as they were loved.


Frank was a wire hanger of a man,
a backrow Baptist deacon
who always wore a hat
and a white-faced Timex.
He knew the history
of that place -
the land and her people,
their dreams and sins.
He roughnecked when the oil
boomed rich and black.
There was a movie house
and three doctors in town,
plus a school to be proud of.
A bonafide Canaan.
Frank stayed when the oil slowed,
days of the exodus -
why would I leave home?
He had the habit of sittin' 'til bedtime,
visiting on his porch or maybe a neighbor's.
They'd talk, laugh, eat pie and drink chicory coffee,
When the sun finally gave up he'd rise and always say
Thelma, we've got to go to bed so these folks can go home.
One Sunday morning, early in my tenure,
a baby wailed during my entire sermon.
The temptation was to buckle, but I stayed.
Frank shook my young hand after the service,
You did good, preacher.  I figured if you couldn't outtalk
that baby, then maybe we called the wrong man.
Frank spent his last days in a nursing home.
I'd go visit, take him a vanilla shake,
and we'd sit and listen until it was time for me to go.

Early Morning Drama

What is the gender
of a cloud, or a mountain,
or the sun?

He rolled in this morning
sly, puffed up,
She lay stone-still as he blanketed
her ridge, holding at treeline,
giving the appearance of snowcap,
postcard perfect.
For moments they were one.

Then, like clockwork, the eastern sky
ignited, golden,
Suddenly the whole affair dissolved.
The rival trailed away
as the sun began his watch.
But clouds are patient,
evening always comes.

She faced the day like any other day,
unshaken, integral.
Only the rocks live forever.


He arrived here broken.
Not Humpty-Dumpty broken,
more like broke.
Not ain't-got-no-money broke
(although that's true),
but mainly, you know, broke -
not a winner.
He used to pray for an invasion of angels
to come and heal him
of this grievous wound;
gift him with assertiveness
and impulsiveness
and fasterness.
But God didn't listen.

He remains here reticent,
measured -


     They say it's a terrible thing to see a grown man cry, but when you see a whole roomful of tough-as-jerky, dried-up old cowpokes who never talk except to say hello, good-bye, and excuse me, all broken down with weeping it's a kind of relief.  That day in the auditorium there were a lot of very tough people, men and women, choked up.
 ...Other people stood to speak.  The preacher talked about Jesus, but was honest enough to allow that, though Frank took Christ as his saviour, he was no "Religionist" and never went to church, but worked on Sundays like any other rancher any other day.  He never needed any church but the one he rode over on his horse.
     After the audience filed out I sat as the pallbearers loaded the flag-draped coffin into the hearse, and then the room was empty except for Frank's old saddle up on the stage, an old, burnt-up lariat coiled loosely and hung over the high, old-fashioned pommel and saddle horn.  All around it were flowers.
- James Galvin, The Meadow

Old Buechner said to take notice at tears, to follow them for they reveal much, if not most, about you and who you are and what you're here for.  I read this passage from Galvin's redolent book this morning and sat and wept, just wept.  I don't rightly know why, but I just know that this grown man cried and while it was terrible in one sense, it was a kind of relief in another.  As I've had a few moments to trace the tracks on my cheeks, I've sensed the tears have something to do men and toughness and Jesus and horses and the tender land...and no doubt, my father.  I pray this sense will stay present with me throughout this day, and that all around it there might be flowers.


He'd heard of fundamentalists who,
when faced with most any decision
would close their eyes, open their Bible,
and let their finger do the walking.
Their tip was divine will
on the matter.

Larry cheated, again.  What should I do?
"Jesus said...'until seventy times seven.'"
Yes, Lord.
But sometimes God plays.
We've narrowed it down to the Accord or the Jetta.  Which one?
"Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister..."
Do what?

He wasn't a fundamentalist,
just a man searching for a poem's first word.
His little black journal slipped
through sleepy fingers, somehow hitting three keys.
The screen revealed creation's mirth -


We are perpetual spring farmers
scattering words like seed,
most thieved by thorn or crow,
your opinion and my sentiment
burned before memory.

But occasionally autumn falls
and solitary drifters pitch crimson pearls and copper coins
that burrow, take root, grow -
     How do you handle being pretty?
          You write what your father dreams.

These seeds care not for thirty, sixty, or the ninety and nine;
they bear blood-red blooms for the one.
He who has ears let him hear.