Primitive Mammal

Early morning fogs
   rose from the river.

He waded through an eddy of
   warmth swirling slowly 
between bank and goal,
a heavily wooded island, 
   cloud hidden,
Spanish mossed limbs 
   penetrating
   opal curtains.

He felt time evaporate
   a hundred million years
as he entered the past earth.
and knew the river damp smell 
   was once familiar
   to a dinosaur,
that nothing had changed,
that his particular world's
   sights and sounds 
   were truant.

Reaching shore, he had
   no idea how close he was
   to the nest of guarded eggs,
as she burst forth through fog,
   the Great Blue Heron, 
screaming in the 
   very rasp of God,
   a cry so terrible
that he became a 
   wee twitchy creature, 
   scurrying to evade
scaly winged masters
   of his new world. 

Demon Casters of Asilomar

The Demon-Casters of Asilomar,
   in the great lodge room,
   huddle before fire,

Ess-word mutterings float,
  "...sssalvation...,
   ...sssatan...,
   ...ssssin...",
   potent, frequent
   "...Jesssusss...".

Bowed backs as
   shields,
Stares as
   needles, knitting,
White thin lips as
   prophet, knowing,

But no
   blue eyes on the
   lurking heathens
   (who suck your soul),

No
   flirtation,
   temptation,
   touching the
      unwashed.

This is a joyless,
   serious pursuit,
Saving the world.

Red, Blue, Yellow

My friend, the under-employed artist, sold photos to the Sunday edition of the paper. Strictly freelance, not a regular job. “Shoot anything but put three kids in the middle, in red, blue and yellow.” The formula never failed. Every Sunday, $25. It paid the rent.

Gutter Fish

I worked nights in Brazil, photographing stars. Coming home one morning, I found the neighbor kids gathered around the curb. All year, a trickle of water ran beside it, starting from a neighbor’s farm and moving down through the prosperous community below, eventually draining into the Rio Potengi.

“What’s up?”, I asked.

“Fish!” they answered.

They were on their knees, giggling, hands in mud and water. I walked over, expecting floating toys of sticks and leaves, but saw little flashes of color. A child’s cupped hands held a small, brightly hued fish darting in a bit of water.

I knelt beside the rivulet and saw hundreds of tiny finned creatures slipping through fingers of little people delighted by their beauty.

I lived a few degrees from the Equator. These were tropical fish, the real thing. They weren’t in an aquarium in a doctor’s office.  They lived free in their home, my gutter.

A Shave in Natal

Living in Natal, Brazil, was time travel. Evenings, we strolled and conversed lazily, danced at the social clubs, visited the dying in front rooms, surrounded by friends, and went to the barber for a shave — hot towels, straight razor, funny jokes and a rubdown, all for a dime, like an old movie.

Once, I was having a haircut. A man with no legs came in, selling lottery tickets. He maneuvered on a roller board, head about knee high. Everyone knew him. A few bought tickets, and he moved past the line of chairs where he waited. Why was he still there?

The barber to my right finished a guest and turned to the lottery agent. “Same as ever, José?”, who nodded. In a fluid motion the barber lifted him from board to chair. Question answered — a customer, like everyone else, and a frequent one.

A sheet billowed out and was pinned behind his neck, steaming cloth applied, and the conversation continued without break. A few minutes later, towels removed and face skillfully shaved smooth and clean, followed by a brisk massage. Second puzzle — the barber was in no hurry and the next patron seemed happy where he was. Gossip, sports, politics, weather flowed as ever in that global mens’ club. José smiled and chatted, a member in full standing.

I was done. My barber spun me about to face the grand mirror on the wall of every barbershop. “What do you think?”, “Looks great!”, universal query and response. My eyes strayed to the salesman’s reflection, head level with mine, great sheet before him down to floor. Puzzle solved. José sold them lottery tickets and a chance at riches. They sold him a shave — and added legs for a few minutes every day.