the center of the universe

“Today most scientists would agree with the ancient Hindus that nothing exists or is destroyed, things merely change shape or form…the cosmic radiation that is thought to come from the explosion of creation strikes the earth with equal intensity from all directions, which suggests either that the earth is at the center of the universe, as in our innocence we once supposed, or that the known universe has no center.”

–Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

Brought to you with sherpas and a good GPS tracker, by Journaling as Sacred Practice: An Act of Extreme Bravery. Available now on Amazon.

so long 2015

Before setting intentions for what lies ahead, we always like to take a minute to reflect.

fiction valentine 1.2

butterfieldwe’re sharing stories of love this week because love is so big and one day is so small. today we’re starting a little catalog here. sort of . decide for yourself.

excerpted from “ALMOST CANADA”

She moves up the aisle toward the dining car to pass the time until the train resumes its forward motion. At the narrow counter, she takes a stool beside to a dark haired man, orders a glass of ginger ale. The man is working on a burger.  He shifts his eyes toward her, measuring. His hair is glossy, black as a raven feather and close-cropped above his collar.  One long border of bristled hairs makes a ledge over his eyes, his nose hooking sharply over a pretty mouth.

“Gotta love ther rail, right?” he said. He hitches a smile in Antonia’s direction.

“Excuse me?”

“One goddam delay en anerther,” he explains. There is a mole on his neck, just behind his left ear that moves as he chews and talks. It is the size of a grain of rice.

The man tilts over the counter toward his food, hooks his arm around his plate forming a border between his fried potatoes and Antonia. He is not a small man, or bird-like, but his movements suggest the motions of the ravens that inhabit the tree outside of her office window. Antonia watches the bubbles rise in her glass of pop, thinks about what she knows about ravens, which begin to court at an early age, and then mate for life. In part of the mating process, a male raven will demonstrate intelligence and a willingness to procure food or shiny objects. Egg laying begins in February so courting must take place in early to mid-January.

Antonia is a vegetarian more by disposition than philosophy. This is to say, she will eat meat to avoid hurting her neighbor’s feelings if invited for dinner. In a restaurant, she will select venison if the side dishes or greens are inferior. The man makes the hamburger vanish, chunks at a time, washing it down with pale beer.  When he finishes, he wipes the corner of his mouth with a large, square thumb. His eyes rake her face, drop to her sweater.  “Wheer ya headed? Goina Canada?”

Antonia stares at the chip bisecting his incisor, wonders what it would feel like to run her tongue over that rough surface. Her mouth forms a watery smile. Common ravens are highly opportunistic. “Almost,” she says, leaving money for the pop and spinning away. “I’m going to Almost Canada.”

She is mutable, an object of desire. She is a screen upon which projections are made: a bold maiden, a volatile spinster, the girl with the long grey skirt and the blouse with pearl buttons.

The man swipes twin circles of pickle from his plate and drops them on this tongue like holy wafers. He watches the twin moons of her rump as she moves away.

Antonia returns to her seat to find that in her absence, the pair of facing seats across the aisle has been occupied by three girls, sisters, traveling on their own. The oldest, a teenager with sleek black hair, presses out text messages on her phone, while the two younger girls share a laptop computer and review the Facebook posts of friends. They are fundamentally beautiful in the way of youth and by heritage; their ancestors  inhabited these coastal meadows centuries before Europeans arrived with their fur trades and their thirst for whale oil. Antonia peers beneath her own lashes at the contrast between their dark hair and their alabaster skin, the curve of their lips above the slow arcs of their chins.

She feels a rush of gratitude for such vigorous charm, such tender virtue.  As the train begins to slow for the next station, the oldest, the managing sister, switches from texting to making a call to determine at which city the trio will depart the train. The girl says It’s me. We’re coming to the station. Do we get off here or the next one? Antonia wonders how there can be confusion about the care of beautiful dark-haired girls. Mom, the girl says. Mom, please don’t yell at me. I just need to know, which station?  And like that, a picture develops; the first one, the responsible child, the good girl.  Antonia’s heart breaks a little for these sylph.


Cynthia Gregory

safety of the marshes



Pam Lazos

Chapter Sixty-Nine

After a breakfast of rice with buttermilk, chicken soup, flat bread and strong, bitter coffee, Robbie and Amara boarded Sayyid’s flat boat and with Sayyid at the helm, set out on a journey to look at the recently refreshed marsh towns. Sayyid poled the boat through the water, skimming past huge clumps of papyrus and cattails.

Robbie watched the scenery change, enchanted by his surroundings. The fear that had sat in the pit of his stomach during their midnight exodus from Baghdad and which caused the bile to rise to his throat with every human encounter had hung an “out to lunch” sign on his esophagus, but given that the sun had barely crept above the giant forests of reeds, an “out to breakfast” sign would have been more apropos.

Robbie had cloaked himself in the customary robe and turban of the Iraqis and upon Amara’s urging, had remained silent the entire trip. Amara told the various drivers that she was taking her mute brother to Al Huwayr, a boat building town near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where they intended to buy a mashuf and return to Zayad, their recently reflooded ancestral home. Already, Amara said, their uncle and aunt and three children had returned. The ruse had worked and here among the bulrushes and papyrus, Robbie rubbed elbows with the ghosts of the last five millennium along with a way of life he hoped wasn’t dead, but merely on life support, and like the reflooded marsh town of Zayad, could be resurrected and helped to thrive again.

“These are the biggest reeds I’ve ever seen,” Robbie said.

“It is called qasab. It is a phragmites, like you see at your American bays. But these plants have been allowed to grow undisturbed, and without pollution,” Amara said. “They can grow as large as twenty-five feet. We use them for many things, our mashufs, our huts. Too, we build our mudhifs from them. These are large building where many people can gather. Like your community center.”

“This portion of the Al Hawizeh marsh is all that’s really left of twenty thousand square kilometers of fresh water marshes,” Sayyid said. “You know this measurement? It is the maybe seven hundred miles. My people lived here for centuries,” Sayyid said. “We believed we were comfortable. We believed we were safe.”

“Here they raise cow and oxen and water buffalo and spend much time in prayer,” Amara said.

“Water buffalo?” Robbie said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real one.”

“The water buffalo are very important to our way of life,” said Sayyid. “Early each morning the young boys take them to the feeding grounds. They do not return until the evening. All day they spend with the water buffalo.”

Amara laughed. “My grandfather told me a story that once he was up all night with a sick buffalo. He covered it with a blanket and nursed it back to health with a bottle and songs.”

“He sang to a buffalo?” Robbie asked.

“Yes. It is not uncommon. The Ma’adan depend greatly on the buffalo for their existence. He gives milk, among a great many other things and they thank God for this by treating the animals like family. It is not like America.”

“How do Americans treat their buffalo?” Sayyid asked

“I won’t tell you what happened to our buffalo,” Robbie said. “But I guess the modern-day equivalent would be the cow. We have two kinds, dairy and meat. The dairy cows have a cushy life compared to the meat cows, but nobody sings to them. At least not that I know of. Although I did hear once about a farmer who played music to his watermelons.”

Sayyid laughed, then grew quiet as he poled the boat through the water. “These marshes are all that is left. The Al Hammar and Central marshes are gone. Vanished. Like my people who inhabited them.”

“They will come back, Uncle. When the water returns, they will come back.”

“If God shall be willing,” Sayyid said. “You know this group? Assisting Marsh Arab Refugees? The AMAR Foundation they call themselves.”

“Yes. And I have read about another group,” Amara said, “called Eden Again. The head of this group is an American, born in Iraq. They seek to return the water, to bring back the fish to the marshes. It is this group we come to work with. To offer our assistance,” Amara turned to Robbie and squeezed his hand, “at great personal risk.”

“How do you plan to help?” Sayyid asked. “No doubt you will use your schooling that was so important to my brother.”

“Yes, uncle. I am sure they will need another biologist. And Robbie knows something about…” she turned to him for assistance.

“Environmental science. Back home I’m working on a degree,” Robbie said. “For the first time I have a good reason for it.”

“Uncle, may I?” Amara reached for the pole and Sayyid relinquished it with a smile, exchanging places with Amara in the boat.

“I know who you wish to find. Tomorrow I will take you to them. But today, we tour Al Hawizeh. It will be something for you to see,” Sayyid said, turning to Robbie. “This place is like nowhere else in the world. What Saddam has done is a crime against God and nature. He seeks to destroy the Ma’adan by destroying their way of life. But my people have inhabited these waters since the beginning. This is the Cradle of Civilization where the world began. Saddam thought to make history. And what has he done?” Sayyid spread his hands wide to emphasis his point.

“Not just genocide, but ecocide, uncle,” Amara said.

“Yes.” Sayyid turned to Robbie. “History will not be kind to him. But you have caught him. Now there is hope.” Sayyid returned his hands to his lap and gazed out over the water. “I am not a naive man. I do not dream that it all will be returned.” Sayyid gazed after the reeds and bulrushes as the boat glided past. Robbie noted the comely, proud profile.

“Do you find it strange that they should take your name?” Sayyid asked Amara.

“Who, Uncle?”

The AMAR Foundation. Do you find it strange?” The marsh narrowed and Amara directed the boat toward a dense forest of reeds. “They say a man’s name predicts his future.” Sayyid raised his eyebrows in speculation. “Perhaps this is your destiny, Amara. To save your ancestors. To restore their lands.” Sayyid stood and took the pole.

“I can do it,” Amara said, but he motioned for her to sit down so she did.

“So much like my brother,” he mused. Amara smiled, trailing her fingers in the water.

The flap of wings, the sounds of fish surfacing and retreating, the smell of dense, wet vegetation, and a million hues of green, fanning out across the landscape all formed a backdrop to the peace rising up in Robbie’s soul. He felt the adrenaline and terror ebbing away with each rhythmic pull of Sayyid’s pole and that, coupled with a full belly, conspired to put him in a state of calm, the likes of which he had not experienced since he came to Iraq. A turtle jumped off the marsh and into the water. Amara pointed and turned to see if Robbie had noticed it, but like the baby Moses adrift in a bed of papyrus, Robbie now lay hidden and in the safety of the marshes, he slept.

to be continued. . .

read what came before here

copyright 2013

the name of things

zaca-lakeZaca Lake

A white-bellied carp breaks the water’s

surface, crickets chirp a background chorus.

Bats fly a crazy trajectory, then

fold like origami, cling to the eaves.

A great horned owl swoops, glides

above an old man who fills mason jars

with what he calls sacred mud of the healing lake. 

In the lobby of faded sun, I pass row after row

of pinned butterflies under glass.  

Memento Mori of old hotel, long-gone guests;

of Anise Swallowtail

Mournful Duskywing

Cabbage White.

Days of green and summer’s

sulphurous heat that bursts cocoons.

Fragile speckled wings that someone felt

the need to pin down.

You’re awake as a child until they teach you

the names of things.

Sandra Giedeman