Archive for July, 2014

Playing Dead

There is a war going on, and pointed sticks,
with a KAPOW, have turned lethal.
Clutching your chest, you fall to the ground.
The battlefield momentarily goes quiet
as you groan and thrash in death’s cold grip.
But your time in the spotlight is brief;
before you can expire with a final shudder,
the war’s noisy ferocity begins again.
Punctured with wormholes, the ground is
no comfortable bier; its prickly grass
exhales a sickly sweet odor of roots’ decay.
How boring it is to remain dead,
lonely and forgotten, unable to move until
you have counted to one hundred.
Distracted by the cloud-spotted sky above,
a circus parade of bizarre creatures,
losing track, you’re forced to begin again.
What if you are truly paralyzed or
the game concludes before reanimation?
Testing each limb for movement,
you decide to cheat death, jumping ahead
in the countdown to ninety-five.
Bloodied with grass strains, but impervious
now to the bullet’s stinging bite,
you’re a tomcat with eight lives yet to live.
Declaring yourself resurrected,
you charge into the fray with stick blazing.

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Reading In The Dark

Already engrossed in
a story that does not include me,
with measured breaths,
you are turning the pages of sleep.

When exhalation slows,
I wonder if you are puzzling over
a difficult passage,
taking delight in the plot’s twist.

Tonight, I am slow in
being able to decipher this dark,
that space you inhabit;
I have yet to open my inner eye.

Sleep is a familiar novel,
but without a bookmark’s anchor,
how do I resume reading
amidst all its unnumbered pages?

Following your example,
no longer the author of thought,
when I wake to silence
the pages are turning themselves.

Even Silence Has An End : My Six Years Of Captivity In The Columbian Jungle / Ingrid Betancourt

At the turn of this century, Ingrid Betancourt was an up-and-coming politician in Columbia. The party she led was campaigning against the wide spread corruption in the country. It also was calling for negotiations with FARC, a terrorist guerrilla organization that controlled wide swaths of Columbia’s rural areas. In 2002, while traveling as a presidential candidate into a region where the guerrillas were active, Betancourt had the misfortune of being captured and held hostage by FARC.  Even Silence Has An End is her account of the abduction and a detailed description of the next six and a half years spent as a captive in the wilds of the Amazon rainforest. She recounts several failed escape attempts and how, as punishment, she was chained day and night for long periods of time. During her captivity, Betancourt was held in various locations, along with a group of other hostages. A few were politicians like her, but there were also captured soldiers, policemen, and two Americans. Living in close quarters and harsh prison-like conditions, squabbles between the hostages were common, and many of them tried to curry favor with their captors by informing on fellow prisoners. As she portrays the situation, captors and prisoners alike often singled her out for brutal treatment. The reasons for this, she surmised, were because of her status as a well-known politician and her refusal to play by the rules set down by FARC. But I also get the sense that she was not an easy individual to get along with, and that she often offended both foe and friend alike. Throughout the book, she presents herself in the best light possible while finding fault with others who failed to live up to her expectations. That quibble aside, she does an excellent job of describing the despair, the moments of joy, and the strong will it took for her to survive. While the treatment from her captives was often harsh, she also had to battle swarms of insects, disease, and the crippling effects of boredom. Betancourt was forty years of age when captured, and the mother of two children. By the time she was rescued in 2008, she was forty-seven and her children had grown to adulthood without her. Betancourt’s story is a fascinating one, often heartbreaking, and a testimony to the indomitable human spirit.

Plagues And People / William H. McNeill

In this book, William McNeill dives deeply into epidemiologically informed research to trace the impact of plagues upon the course of human history. Starting with our pre- and proto-human ancestors, he pieces together the evidence to present a likely scenario of how microparasites have been among us from earliest days. But it is only when man the hunter moved from small family groups to city states that these parasites were able to spread across the globe. McNeill focuses primarily on the civilized regions of Eurasia, discussing the importance of trade, war, and migration in carrying microparasites into virgin territory. Their spread, from areas where they were endemic into regions where immunity had yet to be conferred, resulted in devastating plagues and major losses of lives. This led to a plunge in population numbers and often caused the collapse of empires. In a later chapter, he explores the impact of the medical sciences and governments on helping to readjust the equation in the human’s favor. McNeill is a meticulous researcher, and the evidence he presents is comprehensive. Without a doubt, it is a book that prompted much excitement in the scientific community when first published in 1976. But for the casual reader, his dry presentation and bombardment of facts and figures might be off-putting. The book was written a number of years before the AIDS pandemic swept across the globe. But in the author’s concluding remarks, he suggests the likelihood of such an unknown parasite emerging, with lethal consequences. As his book shows, microparasites have continued to mutate into new strains, and we will need to be ever vigilant. While Plagues and People is not an easy read, it presents proof that, while humans might believe they are at the top of the food chain, we too are constantly being hunted by these formidable microparasites.

A Picnic Of One

A beer bottle, unlabeled,
still cold and weeping,
is cradled against my bare chest
in the clammy heat,
its fruity aftertaste slowly
dissipating as I lean
forward and wait to be found,
although no one’s looking,
not even those walking past,
for in speckled sunlight
I have uncorked the sweet
brew of idleness
beneath a tree’s canopy,
and adorned with its stripes,
I’m all but invisible
to responsibility’s faint call
on this picnic of one.