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    Monday
    Dec082014

    Leif and Thorvald

    I dedicate this story to the wonderful people and puffins of Iceland.

     

    From the island of the North, of ice and snow,
    Of blossoming valleys and blue mountains,
    Of the midnight sun and the dreamy mists,
    The home of the goddess of northern lights.

    -Icelandic verse inscribed on the shield of the Thorfinn Karlsefni statue, sculpted by Einar Jónsson.

     

    Or, if you prefer:

    We come from the land of the ice and snow,
    From the midnight sun where the
    hot springs flow.
    The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
    To fight the horde, singing and crying:
    Valhalla, I am coming.

    -Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin

     

     

     

    Iceland, 1005 A.D.

     

    The two had been walking all day.  In the light of the midday sun Leif carried an iron axe, and his sidekick Thorvald carried a satchel containing their paltry foodstuff.  Thick carpets of moss covered the vast expanse of volcanic rock that they walked across toward a smoldering mountain range on the horizon.     

    “By God,” said Leif, “There’s not a single tree in sight.”

    “Yes,” replied Thorvald, “It’s certainly treeless, save for the occasional birch, which is a very small kind of tree.” 

    “Þingvöllr must lie within a day’s journey.  By my estimation we’ve trekked fifty kilometers inland.”  Leif looked to the sky, “I haven’t seen a puffin since the wreck.”

    “Well, sir, they are birds.”

    Leif stopped walking, assessed the wondrous terrain, and then shook his head toward Thorvald.  “’They are birds…’” quoted Leif, “What is that supposed to mean?” 

    “Well, –” began Thorvald.

    “Of course they’re birds!” yelled Leif, “They’re puffins!  Have you ever seen a puffin that wasn’t a bird?”

    “No, not in this place.”

    “Oh?  Then in another place perhaps?”

    “Yes.”

    “Where?” demanded Leif.                                                                                                      

    “Oh, you know, it was just a place.”

    “Thorvald,” asked Leif, “have you ever been to place that wasn’t a place?”

    “Yes.”

    White clouds raced through the sky in wild, enigmatic formations, distant geysers erupted sporadically, sending towers of water into the air, and the steam from sulphur vents drifted along the base of olive green mountains.  Leaning on the knob of his axe, Leif gazed upon the surreal dreamscape encompassing them.  “Look at this place, it’s like a green moon,” he said.

    Thorvald looked around and said, “What place?”

    Leif shook his head. “I’m glad you’ve finally lost your mind.  It’s about lunchtime wouldn’t you say?”

    “I would say,” said Thorvald, opening the satchel, “It’s about lunchtime.”  

    “I could eat a whale.”

    Thorvald removed a dried herring from the satchel and moved the fish through the air as though it were swimming.  “This is like a small whale.”

    Leif watched Thorvald playing around with the dried fish.

    Thorvald continued, “It’s like a very small kind of whale.” 

    Leif’s stomach growled.

    “Is your stomach auto-cannibalizing?” asked Thorvald as he placed the fish on a rock.

    Leif sighed, “Damn you for conjuring up such a bloodthirsty image.”

    “Your stomach?” 

    “Cannibalization,” said Leif, “You shouldn’t mention such a dreadful thing in a bind like this.”
    “Oh,” said Thorvald, poking his finger into Leif’s stomach, “touchy subject?”

    Leif swiped Thorvald’s hand away and said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”

    “You’re going to eat me aren’t you?”

    “If you don’t slice up that fish I may.”

    “Have you ever eaten anyone?”

    “Regretfully…yes.”

    “What?” exclaimed Thorvald, “I was only kidding, that’s crazy!  You never told me about that.”

    “I was starving, and it was in defense.”

    “In defense?”

    “In Vinland.”

    “Defense is a place in Vinland?”

    “No, it’s not a place –”

    “Is it a place that’s not a place, is it a place that’s not a place?!”

    “No,” yelled Leif, “I was defending my settlement in Greenland!”  He stared at the clouds that mutated into the shapes of his memories as they churned above the mountains. “I ate the natives who attacked us.”

    “That is insane,” Thorvald said, “How did they taste?” 

    “I don’t remember actually.  I was hallucinating heavily on amanita muscaria and reindeer piss at the time.” 

    Thorvald handed Leif several slices of fish and said, “Here you go, don’t eat me, you big oaf.”  But before Leif took a bite Thorvald interrupted, “Wait, not so fast.”

    Leif paused with the herring in his mouth.

    Thorvald said, “It’s 1005 A.D., and we’re in Iceland.”

    “So?”

    “Sooo, Iceland’s converted to a Christian land since we last visited Þingvöllr five years ago.  The General Assembly adopted Christianity during that big ceremony at Law Rock.  Remember?”

    “No.”

    “You were drunk, yelling at the goðar during the vote.  Then afterward you stood on that waterfall and helped Þorgeir the Lögsögumaður toss statues of the gods into the Skjálfandafljót.”

    “Oh yeah,” Leif smiled,  “I forgot about that.” 

    “Well, in Christendom we should give thanks to God before eating,” said Thorvald. 

    “But what has he done for us?”

    “I don’t know, but I think that we should at least pretend like we subscribe to the religious decrees of the Parliament.  We don’t a want to show up looking like bunch of heathens, do we?”

    “But we are!” said Leif, “And who’s going to see us anyway? We might as well be in the Ginnungagap.  We’re like two amoebas in a floating through a giant petri dish, there’s no one’s here but us Vikings.”

    “I don’t know what a petri dish is, but the Christian God is supposedly omnipresent.”

    “Like an elf?”

    “No, elves are just invisible,” said Thorvald.  “The point is that if we go to the Alþingi beseeching the assembly for food and scarce wood to repair our ship, then we’d better pretend that we’re not the primitive barbarians that we are and act like we’re on board with the teachings of the Bible and all.”

    “What in thunder is the Bible?”

    “This is the Bible,” said Thorvald, pulling out a large, leather-bound book from the satchel.

    Leif looked into the now empty satchel which contained no more dried fish.  “Thorvald, you brought a book instead of food?”

    “Well, yes,” replied Thorvald, now feeling a little silly. “What did you bring, an axe?”

    “I always bring an axe!”

    “Well then, I always bring a bible!”

    “Oh, okay, I don’t suppose it’s made of out of fish, is it?” Leif joked.

    “Actually it is.”

    “Really?”

     “No, but I have an idea,” said Thorvald, flipping through the bible.  “If we pray, we may be able to turn the fish we have here into more fish.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “Here it is.”  Thorvald read aloud, “‘Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the grass. Then he took two fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples. And they that had eaten were about five four thousand men.’”

    Leif was thoroughly confused.

    “So,” said Thorvald, taking back Leif’s fish, “All we have to do is give thanks and then these fish will multiply into enough fish to fit into in the Eldhrímnir of Andhrímnir like Sæhrímnir to feed all the Einherjar in Valhalla!” 

    “Yeah, that’s not going to work,” said Leif. 

    “Get down on one knee like this.”

    Leif looked around for anyone and then he began to kneel.  “My left knee or right knee?”

    “Your left…No wait, your right.”

    Leif knelt down on his right knee.

    “Close your eyes.”

    “This is absolutely ludicrous,” said Leif, closing his eyes.

    Thorvald said a grace:  “Dearest Christian God, thank you for this little fish and for crashing our longship, and thank you for illustrating the value of a solid Viking crew by having ours be swept away to drown in freezing arctic seas.  Thank you for bringing Leif back to us after his journey to Vinland, from where we thought he would never return and where he ate people for some reason…”

    Leif was shaking his head.

    Thorvald continued, “As you can see, we’re in somewhat of a sticky situation here.  We’re headed to the Þingvöllr to attend the Alþingi, which declared Iceland a Christian land in your honor on our last visit five years ago, but instead of delicious fish I decided to fill our satchel with the bible, which is a great read but it is very large and also inedible.  So, we’re taking a page out of the good book itself and are asking your highness to do us this one little favor of multiplying this single fish before us into many fish, just like you did for Jesus at that fish party, or simply to bestow upon us a plate of cooked horseflesh, although we would accept it even if it were raw, or maybe an ice bear instead, or perhaps a narwhal, or a maybe just a tiny minke whale, Leif said could eat a whale, or maybe –”

    “Thorvald!” Leif yelled.

    “Thank you, God, for listening to our prayer.  I guess we’ll just wait right here until something different happens.”

    Thorvald and Leif knelt in the moss beside the rock which held their meager fish.  For a minute nothing happened, and then it started to rain.  They opened their eyes and saw the fish getting rained on.

    “Goddamnit,” said Leif.

    “Hmm,” said Thorvald, “maybe you should switch knees and we should try this again.”

    Leif stood up and sighed.  “Fuck it,” he said, “let’s keep going.”

    “Would you like to chew on this book cover?” asked Thorvald, holding up the Bible.  “It’s made of leather.”

    “Let me see that.”  Leif took the Bible from Thorvald, took several steps back, and then threw it with all his might.

    “Oh,” said Thorvald, watching the Bible soar through the air.

    Leif turned and began walking away.

    “Hey, you don’t want to eat your fish?”  

    “No.”

    “Suit yourself,” said Thorvald, who ate both shares of the soggy fish. 

    Through the rain they walked in silence, Leif with his axe, Thorvald with his now empty satchel, heading inland toward a chain of volcanic hills.  As the hours passed the rain stopped.  Rainbows beamed in the troposphere and then faded away as the clouds dispersed.  Like a pendulous orb the sun swept low across the magenta sky in an inverted arch and kissed the horizon.  The sun was going down when Thorvald spoke up.

    “Leif?”

    “What?”

    “Are you mad at me?”

    “Mad at you?  Why would you say that?”

    “Well, you threw the Bible pretty far.”

    Leif stopped walking, caught his breath, and then turned toward Thorvald.  “At first I was mad at you, and then I realized that in our circumstances dwelling on the past is unhelpful.  And it could always be worse.”

    “But it could always be better, too.”

    “Thorvald, do you remember when we were teenagers and we razed York?” 

    “York?  York…was that in France?”

    “No, England.”

    “Oh yes.  Drab scenery, mundane architecture, horrible food, funny looking people who couldn’t hold their drink.  They didn’t put up much of a fight, did they?”

    “Well, can you blame them?  They had nothing to fight for.”

    “I suppose not,” said Thorvald.  “Come to think it, they should have thanked us for burning their homes to the ground.”

    “Do you remember why we left?  We were so bored with the porridge and the inferior women that we hastily took sail at night, but I read the star chart upside down and we ended up in Africa!” Leif chuckled. 

    Thorvald nodded and smiled, “Yes, I do remember that now.”  He laughed, “We almost died of dehydration.”

    “And when we finally made landfall the Maghreb, the Berber pirates tried to enslave us, so I had to open up a can of whoop ass on them?”

    “Ha ha ha,” laughed Thorvald, “I don’t know what a can is, but, yes, I remember!  Didn’t you make some remark to the Arab patriarch about him having intercourse with a camel?”

    “Yes, I did, I did say that!”

    They both rolled in laughter.

    “Oh, good times, good times,” said Thorvald, wiping the tears from his eyes.

    Leif placed his hand on Thorvald’s shoulder. “Thorvald, you are my greatest companion and without you I would not be here.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being my friend.”

    “And I thank you, Leif.”  Thorvald looked up at Leif and then down at Leif’s hand on his shoulder.  They looked at each other for a moment and then Thorvald said, “Umm, you’re not going to kiss me are you?”

    Leif quickly removed his hand, “No, of course not.  Jesus, why, what the…?  Do you want me to kiss you?”

    Thorvald thought and said, “Well, this may be a bit awkward, but perhaps just a little peck would be nice.”

    Leif said flatly, “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

    Thorvald directed his eyes elsewhere and shrugged in an “I don’t know but yes” kind of way, he then shut his eyes. 

    Leif rubbed his hand against his face and said, “Alright.  Fine.”  He scanned the wasteland to confirm that no one else was there, and then he closed his eyes and leaned in to kiss Thorvald.

    “Whoa!” said Thorvald, backing away.

    “What?”

    “Jesus, I didn’t think you were actually going to do it!”

    “But you asked me to!”

    “Yeah, but it was a joke!”

    “Goddamn you, Thorvald!”

    Thorvald tossed his head in laughter.  “Holy shit!” he said, backing away some more.

    Leif turned red and raised his axe instinctively.  “You fucking bastard!  If you ever tell anyone about this I’ll smash in your head in!”

    Thorvald crouched on the moss in a ball of laughter.  He raised his arm and said, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry...I swear to Odin I will never tell anyone about this.  I promise you, Leif, I promise.  You are a good friend.  You are my best friend.”

    “Fucking-A,” said Leif, lowering his axe and shaking his head.  “I should just kill you.”

    Thorvald extended his arm for Leif to grab and Leif helped him up.

    “I’m sorry,” said Thorvald, still grinning.

    “You’re lucky you’re my friend, you piece of shit.”

    They continued on to Þingvöllr.  They trekked across the chartreuse earth toward the base of great hill.  The sky grew darker, yet never dark, and in the crepuscular light of the midnight sun moths began to stir.  Leif and Thorvald trudged up the ashen slope of the hill and they were very tired.

    In the front and breathing hard, Leif said, “By my estimate, Þingvöllr should be visible just beyond this ridge.  We shall be merrymaking  and soliciting the assembly before you can say Eyjafjallajökull!”

    From behind, Thorvald said, “Okay, but what if it’s not?”  He was chewing on a moth.  “What if it’s a place...”

    They ascended the ridge and Leif’s heart sank when he saw what lay before them: an endless and unforgiving terrain of heathland plains, sulphuric slopes and primordial mountains, a vast and verdant hell of acidic mudpits, boiling geysers, and toxic gas vents, hot steam and whirling clouds that screamed across the crimson sky.

    “Shit!” yelled Leif, “Where is Þingvöllr?! Where is the sea?!  Are we not in Iceland?  Have we entered Helheim?!”

    Thorvald gulped the moth and assessed the desolate highland, “Oh wow,” he said, “we are way off.”

    Leif erupted into a profane rampage and began smashing rocks with his axe.  In his tirade he hollered, “Goddamn...Þingvöllr...stupid...fucking...hippies!”

    Thorvald sat down on a mound of volcanic sand.  He gazed upon the ever-changing landscape and then turned toward Leif and watched him smash rocks.  Leif struck a pile of rocks and when they toppled over a peculiar, creamy-white object rolled out.  Leif paused with his axe raised and watched the oval object roll to a halt beside Thorvald who picked it up.  It was warm. 

    “What the hell is that?” ask Leif, walking toward Thorvald.

    Thorvald held it up and turned it.  “It’s a puffin egg.”

    “How can that be?  There’s no sea in sight, nor a bird of any kind.”

    “Well, this technically isn’t a bird.  It’s a puffin egg, which makes it a puffin that isn’t a bird.”

    “Let’s eat it!” said Leif.

    “Hold on, let’s think about this.”

    “Think about what?  We’re starving!  We’re going to die out here without sustenance.”

    “Go eat a moth.”

    “No!”

    “We’re not going to eat this little egg.”

    “Why not!?”

    “Because it’s not right.  Had we not come along and disturbed it it would have hatched just fine.”

    “And then what?  It will die if it hatches in this hellhole.”

    “Maybe.  But we came along and can now help him.”

    “Him?  You’re not thinking straight, Thorvald.  Give me the egg.”  Leif held out his hand.

    “Look at it this way,”  Thorvald said, “We’re lost in a place that seems like a very bad place.  There’s nothing of promise out here.  Yet in all this chaos we find a beautiful egg that can flourish if we take care of it.”

    “You have until the count of three to give me the egg.  Or else I will be forced to hurt you and will take the egg all the same.”

    “Leif, this egg is a survivor, it’s like you and me.”

    “One...” said Leif.

    “What are the chances of happening upon such a rare and elusive thing out here? It’s like Þingvöllr!”

    “Two...”

    Thorvald was afraid for the egg and held it close to him.  The sun was rising and Lief appeared as a silhouette, his hilltop shadow stretching far across the world below in the bloodred dawn.

    “This egg is like the Earth itself, Leif.  It’s a miracle.”

    “Three!”  Leif dropped his axe and then lunged at Thorvald.  Holding the egg to his chest, Thorvald rolled out of the way and leapt to his feet.  Leif had landed on the ground. 

    Backing away and attempting to expostulate with Leif, Thorvald said, “We’re best friends, remember?!  Didn’t we just talk about that?”

    Leif stood up and roared, “Give me the egg!” 

    Thorvald started to run away but Leif dived and wrapped his his arms around Thorvald’s waist and rode him down.  The egg was still cupped in Thorvald’s outstretched hands which slammed into the earth as they hit the ground.  Thorvald uncupped his hands and saw that the egg had cracked.  There was a little black beak protruding out through the shell and it was moving.

    “Leif, it’s hatching!” 

    Leif rolled over on Thorvald’s back and looked at the egg.  Furry feathers were emerging and the puffin began chirping.  The newborn bird pushed apart the top of the shell and popped it’s head out.  The tiny, dark-grey puffin looked at Thorvald and Leif and chirped. 

    “Oh my goodness,” said Leif, “Look how cute he is.”

    “He’s hungry,” said Thorvald.

    “Well then, don’t just lay there, go get him some food!”

    “Well then get off of me!” yelled Thorvald. 

    Leif moved and sat cross-legged holding the bird that Thorvlad had handed him.  Thorvald ran off and when he returned in a minute Leif was talking gibberish to the chirping puffin.  Thorvald dropped to his knees, put his lips to the puffin’s beak, and then transfer a chewed-up moth to the mouth of the puffin.

    “That’s disgusting,” said Leif.

    After the puffin finished eating the moth it began chriping again.  Thorvald ran off, found another moth to chew on and regurgiatate, and then fed the puffin once more.  This process was repeated three more times after which the puffin was so stuffed that it fell asleep in Leif’s hands. 

    Leif smiled, “Poor little porker, he stuffed himself full.”

    “What should we name him?” asked Thorvald.

    Leif thought for a moment and then said, “How about Muffin?”

    “Muffin the puffin?”

    “Yes.”

    “Okay.”

    The morning light washed across the valleys and illuminated the hills encompassing the smouldering land to the east.  Above a distant plain on the horizon, wiry tendrils of black smoke could be seen rising faintly into the clouds.

    “Leif, look,” said Thorvald. 

    Leif saw the smoke and squinted.  He stood up to study the smoke and said, “Þingvöllr... Thorvald, it’s Þingvöllr!”

    The motion and yelling woke the puffin up and it began to chirp.

    “Can we bring Muffin?” asked Thorvald.

    Leif considered the bird.  “Þingvöllr is no place for a baby puffin.  A puffin needs fresh fish to eat and sea cliffs to dwell in for protection.  We cannot bring Muffin go to Þingvöllr.”

    “But we can’t leave him here.  He’ll die if we don’t take him with us.”

    “What if one of us went to Þingvöllr and the other one goes back to the ship with Muffin?”

    “Who will do which?”

    “Well, since you don’t seem to mind eating soggy fish and insects and feeding Muffin with your mouth, you take him to the coast and wait for me.  I’ll go to Þingvöllr to petition for wood and help.” 

    Leif kissed the puffin on the head and then handed it to Thorvald who place it in his satchel.

    “Take care of our baby boy,” said Leif. “You will make a good mother.”  He extended his arm and shook hands with Thorvald.  The puffin was chirping in the satchel as Leif swung is axe over his shoulder and prepared to walk away.

    “Leif,” asked Thorvald, “what if this plan doesn’t work and one of us gets lost or dies?”

    “In that case, my friend, may we reunite in Valhalla.”

    “Valhalla?  Does that even exist?”

    “It’s a place that’s not a place.”

    Leif thought that his last remark was incredibly clever and hilarious and he roared in laughter.   He turned around and walked down the hill, laughing the entire way.

     

    http://puffinpalooza.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/puffin-skip.jpg
    Image from:  http://www.puffinpalooza.com/

    Friday
    Aug082014

    Poems IX

    Dark poems for dark days

    Every human generation has its own illusions with regard to civilization; some believe that they are taking part in its upsurge, others that they are witnesses of its extinction.  In fact, it always both flames up and smoulders and is extinguished, according to the place and the angle of view.

    -Ivo Adnric, The Bridge on the Drina

     

    There once was a world
    Filled with beautiful girls
    Old castles and marvelous things

    Like bridges and songs
    Blue skies and white swans
    Rivers and mountains and seas

    There were churches and bells
    Heavens and Hells
    Men who would die to be free

    Yet these men were slain
    And the world did sway
    Away from a beautiful peace

    And just like before
    The demons of war
    Emerged like a fatal disease

    So the bridges and songs
    Were forgotten and bombed
    And Hell on Earth did man see

     

    Upon dark shores they stood in wait
    Men of Hell and wreckage
    When Heaven fell, the horsemen reigned
    And sealed the Earth in carnage

    image.jpeg

     

    Little by little
    While Death plays the fiddle
    Humanity sinks into the tomb

    Men stand aghast
    Before their hideous past
    Their screams are melodious tunes 

    They are buried alive
    The earth muffles their cries
    And the world begins anew

    Civilizations arise
    Civilizations despise
    And fiddle in hand Death doth loom

     

    I have seen the future in Pompeii
    Where bodies lie in casts

    The eruption of Vesuvius
    Has turned
    Pompeii to ash

    So too the last of men shall perish
    And weep in desperate mourning
    For the civilization that he burned
    For the planet he is burning

    He will beg for bygone eras
    He will gasp for air to breathe
    In the night of a nuclear winter
    He will pray for a day of spring

    Yet nonetheless the ash will fall
    The ash will fall like snow
    Like he who gazed into Medusa’s eyes
    His world shall turn to stone


    The Last Day of Pompeii, Karl Brullov

    Sunday
    May042014

    Aaron's Drawing II

    Sunday
    Apr132014

    Poems VIII

    Writing poems is easy because they don't have to make sense.

    Tito and Tesla
    Two peas in pod
    Drank wine on a death ray
    And talked about God

    They watched as the world
    Flowed into the shitter
    With Mussolini and Mao
    Joining Stalin and Hitler

    And across the Pacific
    All the way in Japan
    Prime Minster Tojo
    Drew up some war plans 

    Tesla loved knowledge
    Tito loved power
    Hitler loved hatred
    Mao golden showers 

    Mussolini loved women
    Tojo loved peace
    But no one understood him
    Because he spoke Japanese

    Stalin loved death camps
    Mao and Hitler did too
    God loved all men
    Except during World War Two

    Mussolini and Hitler
    Bad apples indeed
    Could not talk to Tojo
    Because he spoke Japanese

    Yet nevertheless
    The Axis attacked
    But the Allies responded
    And knew how to do math

    Churchill and Stalin
    Roosevelt too
    Helped stir up the pot
    Of European war stew 

    And over in France
    Charles de Gaulle
    Fought like a Frenchman
    And soon France did fall

    Japan occupied China
    And no translation was needed
    For all men speak war
    The universal language

    When the Japanese left
    Mao rose to power
    And with gun barrels he took
    Golden baths not just showers 

    Tesla and Tito
    Shared a bottle of brandy
    And on the death ray they danced
    The Yugoslav Dandy 

    They watched the Axis and Allies
    Fight the bloodiest war
    It made them sick to their stomachs
    They could watch it no more 

    So Tito took aim
    Tesla fired away
    And as world was burning
    They danced in the flames

     http://greynotgrey.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/europe_after_rain.jpgEurope After the Rain, Max Ernst

     

    There was a man with Google Glass
    Who forgot what he did one day…
    So stared at the screen in his eyes
    Til’ he found what he wanted to find
    And yet he continued to stare
    Until he stood there
    Watching him watch himself
    And on the day that he died
    He seemed not to mind
    For never saw it coming

     

    My name is John Jerry
    I was born in Bel Air
    And I blew off my head
    In a parking lot there.

    Saturday
    Apr052014

    The Prisoner and the Nurse

    Flanked by corrections officers, the prisoners gazed at the outside world as they stepped up the walkway of the hospital in the countryside.  They had come from San Quentin Prison (inmate population 5,256), sixty miles to the south.  The name and location of the hospital was not previously disclosed to them, and the remote town of Sebastopol was unknown to them.  There were a dozen prisoners – donning orange jumpsuits, shackles around their wrists and ankles, chained together like dogs.  They had arrived to receive medical treatment for varying problems.  Most were there for minor procedures, namely colonoscopies, but a few were to receive more serious operations such as having their gallbladders removed or their kidney stones broken apart into small pieces.  Just as the prisoners are not informed beforehand of where they would be sent for their operations and who the doctors that will be operating on them are, the hospital staff is not informed of the names of the prisoners, but instead reference them by their inmate identification numbers. 

                The prisoners walking into the hospital are criminals convicted of murder, rape, or involuntary manslaughter, and are serving sentences ranging from twenty years to life.  For all of them, the day trip to the hospital is the first time in years that they have seen the world outside the confines of the San Quentin.  Among the shackled prisoners stepping up the walkway was James Young, a sixty-five year-old inmate.  He had blue eyes and looked to the bright sky and the tantalizing mountains in awe.  He marveled at the vibrant colors of the fertile landscape with its green pastures and rolling hills, the perfect clouds and little birds.  He yearned to be part of the natural world again, to be free and experience the beauty of the outdoors and to do things right – if only for a day, for an hour – but this he knew this would never be. 

    James was serving a sentence for a crime he had committed in 1983, when he had murdered an innocent man in a car heist.  He was apprehended, charged, convicted, and sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  After the trial his pregnant wife of seven years had filed the divorce papers and made a sole visit to James to tell him what he already knew.  Their final exchange is seared in his mind as a heartbreaking and painful memory.  James and Pauline were separated by a pane of glass.  Tears were streaming down her face as she cradled the bulge of her stomach and wept.  “James, I can’t go on like this.  I have to do what is best for me and my baby.  I’m sorry, James, I’m so sorry.  I love you.”  And with that she stepped away forever.  Only through letters written by old friends was James informed that she had given birth to their daughter, and several years thereafter she remarried.  Pauline now had a stable life, a good family, and a well-paying job that she enjoyed.  She had become a surgical nurse and was working in the post-anesthesia care unit of the operating room at the hospital that day. 

                The prisoners were led into the outpatient room and they shuffled into chairs or gurneys depending on the type of operation or procedure they were to receive and the order in which it was to be performed.  James was told to lie in a gurney and once he did a guard came over and handcuffed his ankle shackles to the railing.  He was visibly nervous about the operation.  His gallstones were to be removed and he did not like the idea of being gassed into unconsciousness, having his belly slit open, and tools inserted into his body to remove something that he knew had to go.  A nurse came over and had him sign several documents related to the operation. 

    “Don’t worry,” she said as she prepped his IV, “It’s a very common operation.”

    “Will there be a lot of pain afterwards?”

    “Some, but they’ll do what they can in recovery to alleviate any pain by giving you pain killers.”

                James was not registering all of what she was saying as he nodded in consent for her to insert the IV needle into a vein in his hand.  As she taped down the needle he contemplated his position amongst these people in this new surrounding.  He thought: “Who is this nurse and what is her life like?  What must she think of me?  I will never be free like these people, like these nurses and guards, like the people I left behind.  I will never get to go out there and grasp that land and breathe that air.  No more freedom, no more love, no more life.  I will never be a part of this world again.”

                He was the first of the prisoners to go.  An operating room nurse and assistant came to retrieve him.  They were all smiles as they wheeled him down the hall, a corrections officer following close behind.  They passed a courtyard and James saw the lush plants and colorful flowers growing outside.  There were two people sitting in the courtyard holding each other in sadness and James thought that they must have lost a loved one, and he too grew sad for he knew that no such grieving by others will ever occur over his death because there would be no one who cared.  

                The double doors to the operating room were pulled open and the air was cold inside.  James peered from side to side at the incomprehensible activity of the busy workers – people who knew freedom and were disciplined enough hold jobs and were dutifully filling their roles in a society where he had but one role to play which was the very lowest – that of the prisoner.  His station in life was lower than that of a slave, for even a slave makes some contribution to society, whereas James made none and would die in prison.

    He was wheeled under the fluorescent lights and into the operating room and tried to understand all the foreign machines in the room as nurses wearing latex gloves and face masks helped transfer him from the gurney to the table and then strapped him down.  He could see in there eyes that they were kind and he could tell they were smiling and he smiled back.  The anesthesiologist placed a breathing mask over James’ face and administered and injection of a milky white anesthetic.  “Alright, buddy, you’re gonna go to sleep now,” said the man.  The surgeon stepped into the operating room as James slipped into unconsciousness.

                James woke up to the loud voice of the anesthesiologist saying, “Wake up, buddy, we’re all done now.”  He had already been transferred back to the gurney and the guard was placing the shackles on his ankles and handcuffing them to the rails at his feet.  James was nauseous and tossed his head as he was taken out of the out of the operating room to the recovery unit.  There, a corrections officer stood by and the anesthesiologist stayed with James for a minute while the recovery nurse confirmed that his vitals were stable. 

    “It think we’re fine, doctor.”

    “Thanks, Pauline.”

    James saw her and whispered her name.  Pauline had not looked into his face but her line of sight ran up this man’s arms and her heart sank upon recognizing the tattoo of a panther on his outer bicep.

    She looked to his face and cupped her hands over her mouth and gasped.  She looked into his face, and the memories and broken promises and heartbreak came rushing back. 

    “Hi baby,” said James, wiggling his fingers.

    “Oh my God, oh my God...”

    “You look like an angel.”

    She clasped his hands and burst into tears, leaning her head toward his chest.

    “It’s okay,” whispered James.

    The guard stepped in and said, “Mamn, is everything okay?”

    “Yes…yes.  I know this man.  Everything is okay.”  She turned to James and asked, “Are you in pain?”

    “Not anymore.”

    Pauline held her head on his chest and wept.  On a desk in the recovery room was a picture of a young woman holding her infant son and they were the living flesh of James himself.  James held the head of his former lover and wife for the last time in his life.  He thought about how it’s a curious thing that peoples lives cross and weave together like thread and then so often glide away thereafter.  Everyone moves off in their own direction, having friends and families, dreams and struggles, experiencing profound and beautiful and melancholy things which are unique to their own lives and independent of those whom they had loved in their past.  And ultimately these men and women will pass away, and so too shall everyone else that we have ever crossed paths with or not.  James thought about this as he closed his eyes and embraced the only woman he has ever loved, and tears streamed down his face.