Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Measurements of Loss

Oliver Sacks has an article in this week's New Yorker about Clive Wearing. In 1985 Clive was struck by an infection in his brain that wiped out the parts of his brain that control memory. He lost completely his ability to lay down new memories, and he also suffered retrograde amnesia, wiping out all his memories after about 1965. Clive's short term memory is so destroyed that he feels from second to second that he has "just awakened from being dead."

He has kept for years a journal that mostly consists of this statement in various forms "May 18, 7:05 pm, I AM ALIVE for the first time! I am properly awake for the first time in years!"

This is then heavily lined through, and replaced with:

"May 18, 7:11 pm. Despite previous entry, NOW I am properly awakened and ALIVE, was dead before this moment."

Utterly, utterly lost.

Myriad interesting facts about Clive's life follow, his coping mechanisms developed after twenty years, his musical proficiency almost untouched, etc. When he plays music he is his old self again, conducting, living, feeling, all present and alive, but when the music stops, so does he. Lost again.

The other thing, and this is why I write about him, is that when he sees his wife, he comes alive. She is always new to him, always a revelation and a haven and his only lodestar and she has stayed with him through these twenty years of lost and sorrowful confusion. She's written a book about it, too. But she's stayed, and she loves him. And he loves her.

Although they don't say it, it seems in some ways he loves her like a dog loves its master. When she's gone, his world is erased, and when she reappears, everything comes alive again.

It is an approximation of how I feel about my own wife.

When our ship of state is swamped, I am utterly at sea. I could have money and power and success and spiritual creaminess and without her all would be ashes.

Yet I persist in my failures and my stubborn-headedness and my small heartedness and my greed and selfishness and my myriad sins against her.

For what port am I bound then?

Only the open sea and the loss of my bearings and heavy weather I am unsuited for.


She is my rock and my salvation.


I am blessed beyond all measure that she can tolerate me reasonably well.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

At Work

Today one of the guys came into my office and asked me to take a look at some autopsy photographs and render an opinion. She was a gunshot victim and there was a constellation of injuries that nobody could quite put a name to, or get a handle on. The entry wounds and the exit wounds were pretty easy, but there was this weird bunching of avulsions and friction burns clustered on her upper chest that the prosecutor wanted explained.

I went through all the photos. I got a picture of what happened.

What seems odd, though, is how goddamn interested in it all I was. I felt frustrated not being able to grab her arm and move it up and over so the one wound would line up like I knew it wanted to with another one on her chest. I wanted to have her there in front of me so I could really figure it out. I wanted to probe the wounds and excise the tissue around them and to see the myriad tiny details that a camera will never capture unless the guy shooting is as obsessive and compulsive as I am when it comes to figuring out the mechanism of injury on the newly dead.

I was hungry for it.


After that I went into the bosses office and reminded him that if he needed anybody from the office to attend any postmortems, I was the guy.


I don't know. It maybe sounds a little bit sick and maybe it is. But I got a gift for it, I know I do. I would have been a hell of a cutter. But they never get to hit anybody or point guns at them and they don't get to drive fast in car chases. And they probably have to go to college and med school, even if they don't have to do very well there. I mean, somebody goes through all that and all they want to do is cut stiffs? I'd say they have a confidence problem.

But for me?

I could do it over and over again.


I like the science and the medical stuff, but mostly I like the figuring out what exactly the murderer did and what exactly the victim experienced and it is those things that I want to have and to know and to hold close to me. Because I should know. That is my job.

A lot of cops, it surprises me, they don't give a shit.

"She's dead, he killed her. Who cares whichever way and whatever wound, etc.?"


I get it like an itch.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Destined For A Distant Land


Perhaps the sun will continue
to light up the green leaves of whichever tree
you happen to lie down beneath,
turning the undersides brighter;

white sparkles of light
where the sun pierces through
small, wind-shifted gaps;
where the blue sky holds itself
still and distant and aloof as a parent.

you will be spared.


But already the distant machinery
starts up, the heavy gears grind.
A bolt goes home; the smell of oil and hot steel
admixes with the scent of sweat and tears and
the darker redolence of
blood, piss, and shit.

It is a massacre.
It is a conflagration.


I remember once lying in a ditch,
bloody and dazed; shattered glass
dusted over me, ears ringing,
a man seemingly far off shouting was I okay;
and once flying over lake Michigan in a Cessna
and the door swinging open
as we banked over the blue water and how
my grandfather held me in the wild space
with the plain strength of his clenched fist
till he could yank the yoke over
the other way and I fell into his lap, stunned
and breathless; and another time
holding a man who was dying and
rocking with him as he went and it
was like a swimmer in the ocean who with every wave
gets a little bit farther
out to sea until at the end
you can't say
when you lost sight of him exactly.

And the many bodies of the dead.
And the stories of them;
or those who lacked
even that.

It is folly to think you will be spared,
yet somehow you persist in it.

As if you knew no better.


Give grief your last morsel of bread and make for it
a space by the fire; you will at least not be


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

rabbit gun


I'm back.


Front Sight is this kind of crazy gun training compound out in the Nevada desert. I went out there with my brother and a bunch of cops from five local agencies and we joined a couple of hundred others for four days of pistol and rifle shooting. I've been a cop for almost fifteen years, and this was the most rigorous, exacting, and challenging gun training I have ever received. I can not believe what they were able to do for me in such a short time. I thought I was a damn good gunfighter, and I was.

But now I am something else entirely.


As part of the training they have a man-to-man competition where two shooters stand on line and on a signal they each engage a hostage-taker target, where the hostage is in front and there is just a little sliver of the bad-guy's head to shoot at. You take that shot from about ten yards, then engage two other steel targets farther out. The fastest shooter who does not hit the hostage wins.

So I beat everyone in my class of about forty, and then I go up against the winner from the other class. When the other guy steps on to the range, everyone is laughing. He's about a hundred years old, little guy, huge coke-bottle glasses, practically in a walker, hands all shaky.

He steps up next to me, we shake hands, and the whistle blows.

Before I've made my first head shot, he's nailed all three targets and is back in the holster.

The crowd went nuts.


I can't wait to go back again!


It feels so incredibly good to be home. I miss this place so much when I'm gone. I'm a big baby when it comes to spending time away from my wife. I cain't stand it. I fret and pace and whine like a dog at a closed door.


It's good to be home.

Real good.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Closing Time


Off for a week. Going out to the desert for four days of intense gunplay.


I'll tell you all about it when I get back.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Striving For No Striving


I have been craving time in the garden, and this weekend has given me that. Hard work, sore hands, tired body, empty mind.

I may be on to something.


Emily. Emily. Emily. I am excavating a palace for you in my heart. Not the one I built you as a little girl. Not the one I built for who I thought you were going to be. But a new one. Right now it looks like a gaping hole, a smoking ruin, but that is only because I had to destroy what was there. It was trying to blind me to who you really are. It was a beautiful dream, but you cannot live in a dream and when you choose between what is real and what is just a dream, you take what's real.

You take that, and you make a place for it.

My plan is now just to make this space and hold it. If you want to build a new palace there, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine, too. If you don't move in at all, then it will still be the place in my heart where you are. You will be the emptiness. You will be the 'not going in' ness of the room wherein you do not dwell.


The thing you are teaching me, Emily, is that I have a great and wild country inside me, where there is a cold, deep river coursing, and thick grasses and trees lining the banks and all manner of beasts residing. In my heart you show me that there is a stone like a mountain that will not be moved.

I think sometimes I am done learning what you have to teach me, but that is an illusion.


The steady love of the world is revealed by attending to small things.