the Frozen Man

His soul sleeps,
buried far beneath a long forgotten vertical landscape,
yearning for home . . .
it dreams of places remembered; warm places, complete and innocently raw

The perpetual journey through a cobwebbed labyrinth remains a stygian quest at best,
an unanswered prayer, a dimly lit votive, a quiet cry in the dark
the clouds thicken, the earth cools and a winter of the mind settles in

Rolling waves of emotion yield snowflakes of blue
that fall like sleet, slicing the spirit into oh, so many unrecognizable pieces of what used to be a life; where nothing fits or belongs but must somehow remain

still . . .

Who knows when, this sadly shattered thing will end
Only God knows when it started,
But it’s wearing pretty thin, as the winter settles in, covering the frozen man . . .

~m

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Pink

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I wanted to post to tell all you ladies that visit Smoke and Mirrors to PLEASE GET CHECKED!!!!
It’s important for so many reasons.
Early detection saves lives, period.
Please just do it.
I’ve lost several close friends to this insidious disease and I don’t want to lose anymore.
Check your body and check it often.
I pray for all of you, everyday.
A few risk factors you should know about:

  • what you eat
  • how much you weigh, and maintaining a healthy weight
  • how much you exercise
  • whether you smoke
  • whether you drink alcohol and if so, how much and how frequently
  • the types of chemicals in your environment
  • whether you took hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal symptoms for five years or longer

As my dear friend Carnealian says, “Feel your Boobies!!!” . . . .
Click HERE to give some underprivileged woman a free mammogram

~m

Nine Eleven

I remember the day vividly; there were crystal blue skies, warm and ample sunshine, comfortable temperatures, a picture perfect fall day in New England.

The date was September 11, 2001 and I was just getting into work (selling pianos at the time) when the phone rang.
It was my friend Colin, a piano technician from the store where I worked calling to tell me he’d heard on the radio that a plane had just flew into the World Trade Center in NYC.
It must have been a terrible accident we both agreed, a freakish malfunction of an old turbine perhaps, a minor incident but nevertheless a tragic loss of life of strangers neither of us would probably ever know.
At the time, it seemed safer thinking of it that way.
It was a small plane, Colin said and that made me feel better.
Fewer people meant fewer casualties in a city the size of New York.

 

After I hung up the phone, it occurred to me that something didn’t seem quite right about the conversation. Couldn’t put my finger on it but something was wrong.
I knew it and Colin knew it, we just didn’t want to say it.

I mean, planes just don’t fly into buildings, do they?

My question was promptly answered when the phone rang 15 minutes later.
It was Colin again sounding a bit nervous.

Another plane? Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on? I asked.

He went on to tell me that both of the towers were hit and that it looked like we were at war.

War? I thought, With who?

I went outside and looked up into the sky for a sign that the world was still alright and all I saw was the endless crystal blue of the atmosphere but I noticed something else; there was an eerie stillness and silence hanging in the balance.

Word got around quickly that the US had been attacked as we began adding words to our daily lexicon: WTC, 9-11, Atta, Al Qaida, Al-Jazeera . . .

The dark truths would begin to bleed through the seemingly impenetrable fabric of our lives virtually changing all of us, forever.

The phones started ringing at the store . . . but not from customers.
The calls were from wives to husbands, sons to mothers, sisters to brothers – with one simple question; are you okay?
By noontime the phones stopped ringing and business ceased as the United States was brought to its very knees.

I can’t help but think of the same three words I thought on that horrible day: God Help Us

 

I still pray for all that we lost that day; the brilliant lives, our {unjustifiable} innocence and our shattered sense of {false} security.
We were too blind for far too long.

My words describing that day are still woefully inadequate but my thoughts and feelings of incomprehensibility are still so incredibly tender and raw.

I want badly to forgive but I still can’t.

God Bless all those we lost.

As Annie said, turn those headlights on . . .

~m

my mother, lost…

I posted this when I was at Blogspot and thought I’d re-post it here.
It’s one of the nice memories of my mother.

I can’t remember the last “real” conversation I shared with my mother.
I’m sure it was your indispensable ‘what’s new with you? Ah, nothing’ variety.
She’s now moving through the late stages of Alzheimer’s and there’s nothing much left to talk about, nothing to be said that can be understood—at least from my vantage point.
I’ve all but lost her.
I sit quietly and listen as she innocently tries to carry on a dialogue that only she can speak and understand.
The last time I visited her at the nursing home, we sat and looked out the opaque windows of the rec room listening to the rain pitter-patter on the long rectangles of glass.
The sound of the rain seems to have more of a calming effect on her than I ever could. Sometimes when I’m sitting there next to her, my mind drifts and I look back on our life and all that we shared, ultimately coming to the sad realization that there’s not much left in the sharing department either.
It was as I was leaving one day that I bent down to kiss her forehead (my own ritual) and absentmindedly asked if she needed anything.
She replied, “How ‘bout a cold one next time?”
That brief moment of clarity, if that’s what it was, caught me off guard and I laughed out loud.
She looked up at me from her wheelchair (where she spends most of her time these days) and began laughing as well.
I smiled; amazed that after all her weary, cobwebbed mind had been through, she could still laugh.
I took comfort in the fact that the simple act of physically expressing happiness still lives and breathes somewhere inside of her.
For now, I’ll settle for those rare moments of laughter that still unknowingly connect us.

~m

Grace, revisited

I’m running short on time and thought I’d re-post this small piece that was published in The Sun.
The ‘Readers Write’ section is a space devoted to writing from various subscribers based on a one word prompt from the magazine.
Topics range from A to Z with many in betweens.
This was my spin on the prompt “Grace”…
~m

It’s a Sunday morning and I’m kneeling in the Church of the North American Martyrs, a house of worship I’ve gone to for the past 20 years.
It’s always the same old prayers, same old pew, same old church, the same old me.
My wife and at least one or two of my three daughters are next to me (one is always an altar server these days).
From the outside, I appear to be in a state of deep prayer, and maybe I am.
I’m usually praying for two parents that are steadily approaching the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, praying desperately for money that I can never seem to make enough of, praying for people that I don’t even know, maybe selfishly praying for myself – but sometimes I am just praying.
It seems fruitless and shallow some Sundays, but I do it anyway hoping that in some small and insignificant way my life will spontaneously be easier to bear.
The crosses I carry in life are there, so I’m told, for reasons unseen and I usually pray to Mary for the strength and vision needed to make sense out of my life, maybe to just do good.
With my daughters growing older and away from me, to my own health (physical and mental), to the mortgage payment that’s habitually late, to a wife that’s never gotten what she truly deserves, it’s on Sunday mornings that I kneel and pray for some divine intervention to make sense of it all, to make everything in my life suddenly understandable.
I’m reminded of a recent incident in Colchester, Ct., where a propane leak inside of a church ignited and blew it quite literally to pieces.
Nothing was left save for a statue of the Virgin Mary, standing virtually untouched and unblemished – a visible prayer, my rock.
I sometimes see the wreckage of my own life strewn about me, the shattered and lost minds of my sick parents, promises broken, missed soccer games, unspoken ‘I love you’s’, and I pray for the wisdom and grace to still be standing amidst my own ruins, like the solitary statue of Mary.

© michaelm 2005

Just like Chaplin

We had my father over for Easter dinner on Sunday.
My sister wanted to pick him up and bring him over; something I believe she had to do.
I think she fears there won’t be many more left to share.
Sadly, I would have to agree.
Actually, I would have agreed over a year ago.
I have to give her credit for going through the rigmarole of getting him ready, seated safely in the car and bringing him over to our house.
I've been there, done that and bought the t-shirt.

My father has a difficult time walking these days reminding me more of Charlie Chaplin than the man I once called “Dad”.
It's an unfortunate physical side effect of a brain at war with neurological disintegration.
We eventually got him into my living room and plopped him down in my favorite chair: one, because the chair is just so damn comfortable and two, because when we finally let him go, it would be impossible for him to miss it.

We all sat down to eat and my sister and I filled his plate with ham, green beans and Augratin potatoes, all of which we cut up into pieces to make it easier for him to feed himself.
And feed himself he did.
He ate everything on the plate.
Either my cooking was really good that day or where he’s currently staying is really bad. Whatever the case, it was wonderful to see him enjoy a meal.
He didn’t speak a word as he ate.

My wife caught him stabbing at an empty spot on his plate. She gently rotated his plate to where the food was and he was none the wiser.
Mission Accomplished.

The rest of the afternoon went off without a hitch.

After eating, we ushered him back to my chair where he fell asleep; perhaps shuffling through his own little world of monochromatic movie screens and silent dreams…a sleeping Chaplin.

We woke him an hour or so later and got him back into the car.
As I fastened his seat belt, I looked at him as he peered over the rims of his glasses and I said, “No Boston Marathon for you tomorrow, young man.”

I’m sure he didn’t understand a word I said but knew enough to do a little chuckle and mutter, “Yeah”.

He plays the game so well most days so why the hell can’t I?

For me, the Easter cupboard was somewhat threadbare in terms of holiday revelations and personal epiphanies but I did get to marvel over the way my Dad still gets through his days. In many ways, he’s graceful in a way I will never be.
As long as his surreal movie keeps playing, I’ll continue to watch him as he shuffles through his seemingly silent world, just like Chaplin.

~m

Somewhere near the corners of Penny and Memory


My usual Saturday stop on the way to the train is to a little place on Grafton Hill called George’s Bakery. It’s a Lebanese/Syrian bakery that boasts several types of olives, feta cheese, grape leaves, kibbe, Baba Ganoush and the best damn meat pies in the city.
While I like their Baba, their Hummus leaves much to be desired.

If you like Hummus, try my recipe below:

1 lg can of chick peas (has to be Progresso, this brand works the best)
1-2 cloves garic
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ – ¾ cup of fresh lemon juice
1 cup of sesame Tahini (available at most supermarkets)
Pinch of cumin and cayenne

Pour contents of can of chick peas and half its liquid into food processor (save the rest!).
Process for 30 seconds.
Add remaining ingredients and blend.
If too stiff, add more liquid from chick peas (or water) until desired consistency.
Serve in a shallow dish and sprinkle liberally with olive oil and paprika.

Over the years I’ve custom-tailored it to my own preference and have found I like my own best of all. While at George’s I’m usually good for a few meat pies with feta and some grape leaves. Heaven on earth, for me.
There used to be a wonderful place near George’s on Wall Street called the El Morocco.
They specialized in Lebanese cuisine serving up dishes like Port Said, Stuffed Eggplant and Lamb Shish. My wife and I had our wedding reception there we liked it so much but sadly, it closed its doors many years ago.
Quincy Jones wrote some lyrics that went,

"Everything must change.
Nothing stays the same.
Everyone will change.
No one stays the same."

Sometimes things change for the good but more often than not it tends to go the other way; the shadows of yesterday obscured by society’s penchant for progress.
When I was a child, when ever I went to see my grandmother she would leave two quarters on the counter for my sister and me.
We’d take the found money (a fortune back then) and head off down the street to Phil’s Corner Store, one of my favorite destinations as a child.
Phil was an older man with a welcoming face; a paradox considering his curmudgeon-like attitude. I think Phil actually liked us kids, he just didn’t want to admit that fact to anyone.
He had the city’s best selection of penny candy, bar none.
At the time, penny candy actually cost a penny (a revolutionary concept long forgotten).
My sister and me would set about filling our wicker baskets with licorice whips, flying saucers (a communion-like wafer filled with candy dots), peach stones, Swedish Fish, candy cigarettes, Squirrels, rainbow colored boxes of jawbreakers and candy lipstick.
A quarter bought a sizeable bag of happiness stuffed with enough candy to last until we got back home. The store itself was dimly lit with a dusty, wooden planked floor.
There was no Keno, Lottery or credit card machine.
I don’t even think Phil’s had a phone.
If I could freeze any single moment in my life it would be the feeling I got walking into Phil’s, my childhood paradise. I drove by the old store this morning on the way to George’s and felt that undeniable pang of sentimental loss.
Phil packed up his wonderful glass jars of candy and cases of original Coca-Cola long ago.
He sauntered off into the sunset joining all the other small businesses that sadly made their way to the retailing boneyard.
The store is now called “No Name Grocery”, with neon lights in the windows covered with security grates to keep the crackheads out.
Yeah, the neighborhood has changed a bit since my grandmother died decades ago.
This store is as strange and dark as a Skittles commercial.
And there’s this obtuse Spanish feel I get from the signs haphazardly screwed to the sides of the building that read:

Food Stamps!

Casaba!

Yuca!

Plantanos!

Tortillas!

(rank profanity and nasty racial slurs were here before I decided to delete them.)
The sight would make my grandmother fill a case of Depends.
Phil’s spirit has long since been exorcised; a peccadillo that seems profoundly sad and intrinsically wrong.
Some things should never change.
Maybe that’s what memories are really about…

~m

Shamrock

the whisper of a song…

In the summer of ’98, we moved my mother to an assisted living facility called Hearthstone.
At the time, it was getting downright dangerous for her to stay at home for a number of reasons: she was driving my father up a wall with questions, she was becoming increasingly paranoid and she would leave the house on a whim and disappear in a wisp of smoke.

The facility we placed her in was secured and specifically designed for people with progressing dementia.
This was to be my first foray into the deeply fragmented world of Alzheimer’s.
So many things happened while she was out there.
From the clinging and uncomfortable goodbyes to the sad moments of epiphany when I realized I was becoming a total stranger to her.
I liked to think I took it all in stride, showing the world my brave face and big shoulders when in reality, many a visit found me in my car afterwards weeping bitterly while forsaking the heavens above.

The God I thought I knew was turning His back on my mother with a deep negligence and offering me little to no discernible shred of mercy.
I was the only one that saw the situation for the tragedy that it truly was.
I felt He “owed” me.
These days I’m beginning to believe that maybe
He was there after all.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I believe there were many small “miracles” that happened way back then.
I was just too angry to realize it.
This story is about one of them…

It was St. Patrick’s Day in ’99 that I went to see my mother.
It was a routine visit at best.
I sat with her in the common room at Hearthstone and talked using my one-way conversation that had become a learned ritual.
Usually, when I ran out of things to talk about it was time to leave.
I went into the kitchen and poured a cup of juice for her and went to leave.
For some reason, I decided I would check her room to make sure everything was clean and in order. (Another story in and of itself)

Everything was fine and after talking briefly with one of the aides that took care of my mother, I went downstairs to leave.
There’s a long corridor that takes you past the common room before turning left to the thick oak door that led to the free world outside.

My memory of that walk down the hall goes into slow-mo right about here.

I had a gazillion things buzzing through my mind at the time.
As I approached the doorway leading to the common room I began to hear music—Irish Music—Danny Boy, to be specific, one of my mother’s favorite songs simply because her father sang it to her when she was a child.
As I walked towards the door leading outside, I stopped.
Someone was singing the song.
I turned and walked back towards the doorway recognizing the voice of my mother. I looked into the room and saw that all the residents had their heads bent down, prayer like.
There in the middle of the room was my mother, head back; eyes closed, singing every familiar word I’d known since I was a child.
Ten minutes ago she couldn’t say or remember my name and here she was going solo.
I began to mouth the words sotto voce along with her.
It was about as close as I could get to her in that one solitary moment in time. And it felt wonderful.
It was really her once again.
I’d been given mercy.

~m