Blank Space

Blank Space

Writer’s block, glassy eyed

Undefined, empty page

Pad is blank, face is lined,

Ugly, burdened, pained.

 

Years ago, fountain flowed

Reality, imagination – collision,

Present day, bitter dull

Short of breath, void of precision.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) August 2018 John J Vinacci

Moo-ed For A Day

Moo-ed For A Day

“I think it speaks, Betsy!” the blunt-horned space-cow mooed. The inter-dimensional space traveler turned its black-marbled eyes towards its colleague then back to the skinned ape shrinking in its cage.

“I thought it only uttered a sound when we prodded it with our electric sticks, Clarabelle,” Betsy replied. The elephant-sized bovine lowered her head towards the plump human in his cage. “Yes. It speaks primitive words but they are easily figured out. How curious.”

“It says something over and over again. Let’s take a closer listen,” Clarabelle petitioned. She leaned an orange-haired ear towards their captive.

“Is it…is it saying ‘You can’t eat me’?” Betsy looked to Clarabelle for confirmation.

“Why yes it is! Curiouser and curiouser. I know it’s taboo to abase ourselves by speaking such a primitive language, but I just have to ask it.” Clarabelle looked back at Betsy for some unspoken permission. Betsy grimaced out the side of her mouth then nodded.

Clarabelle’s hooves stepped towards the ape-thing’s cage. The animal was much smaller than herself and of course, very stupid, so she wasn’t afraid to approach it.

“Why do you speak, tall monkey? Why do you say we cannot eat you?” Clarabelle cocked her head.

“Because you can’t! I won’t taste good. I eat junk food. I don’t exercise. And it’d just be wrong. You see, I’m a human and I’m an intelligent animal. You can’t go around eating other intelligent animals,” it said. Clarabelle and Betsy laughed at that last bit. They laughed well.

“Betsy, did it just say it was an intelligent animal?” Betsy was still laughing so hard she couldn’t answer through her tears.

“Forgive us, hairless ape-something, but does your species travel between dimensions? Has your species ever been further than your moon? Your species hasn’t even reconciled quantum mechanics and gravity yet!” Clarabelle chuckled. “Why would we eat you anyway?”

“Oh. Oh, I thought this was some kind of revenge thing,” the self-described human answered timidly. “You know, we eat your kind so you show up from outer space and eat us to teach us a lesson.” Clarabelle and Betsy looked at each other, paused, then gasped.

“What do you mean ‘we eat your kind’? Are there others like us on this planet?” the elephantine bovine growled.

“We…we, uh, have animals on this planet that look a lot like you, ‘cept they’re smaller and they’re usually white and black, or brown. We call them ‘cows.’”

“And you eat them?” Clarabelle was incredulous. “WHY?”

“I…I don’t know,” the man said stepping back. “We’ve always eaten them, I guess. They taste good and…and we need the protein.” The man could back up no further.

Clarabelle squinted. “You said you do not exercise so what do you need the protein for?”

“I dunno,” the primitive hurried. “That’s what they tell us.”

“And who are ‘they’?” the space-cow wanted to know.

“I don’t know. The meat industry, I suppose.” The man wrung his fingers. “They’re a very powerful lobby!”

“Let me get this straight,” Betsy began as she too approached the cage. “You have animals on this planet that look like us and you eat them for pleasure and this is a regular thing?”

“And we eat them for the protein! Don’t forget the protein!” The human was close to sobbing.

Clarabelle brought a hoof to her head and squeezed her eyes shut. “Hold on, hold on. So…a minute ago you said you were afraid we were going to eat you? If we were going to eat you, what exactly would be wrong with that?”

“Like I said,” the man quivered, “We’re intelligent! It’s wrong for intelligent animals to eat each other.”

“Your species is far from intelligent, biped,” Betsy piped. “Your failure to account for the multitude of intelligences that exist among living things is confirmation of your breathtaking stupidity. Honestly now.” Betsy shook her head towards Clarabelle who looked like she was experiencing a migraine.

“Are you okay, Clarabelle?” she asked.

“I was just scanning the few neurons this thing has.” Clarabelle opened her eyes and stomped her hoof on the ground. “They call themselves ‘humans’ and they have a long history of, of, of harvesting other animals and slaughtering them for food, if you can believe that! And, sometimes they even kill each other but they don’t eat those people. So inefficient…”

The man had crept forward in his pen and with trepidation asked, “So you weren’t planning to eat me?”

“Well I think we will now,” Clarabelle snarled. “It seems you would qualify as Kobe meat to us? You’re your appearance indicates you will be very tender. You will melt in our mouths!”

“But intelligence…” the man drew back as Clarabelle bumped the cage with her nose.

“In scanning your memories, there is the headline you read about all the animals your scientists think are as intelligent as a four year old human. Do you raises four year old children of your kind for the purpose of eating them? No? Why not; you are more intelligent than they are. Using intelligence as a defense is not intelligent at all, it is completely arbitrary! But eating solely for pleasure, we hadn’t thought of doing that, probably because we are not stupid!” Clarabelle was rocking the cage with her horns now.

“Clarabelle, we mustn’t stoop to their low level,” Betsy protested in the human language. “Let this thing go like we always do. We had just caught it for fun, remember?”

“See! See, you guys like to have fun, too!” The man thought he had just secured victory.

Clarabelle grinned. “We do, human. But we do not kill other animals for the sake of that pleasure.”

“We just catch and release,” Betsy confirmed. “A small tase at first, sure, but no lasting harm done.”

The man threw himself at Clarabelle’s face and gripped the cage bars. “Oh thank god! That’s so kind of you. Yes, release me and I will tell my people to stop eating cows, that it’s not a smart thing to do.”

“The history of your kind, such as you know it, means you know your words will fall on deaf ears, human,” Clarabelle said. She looked back at Betsy. “You do realize that if we don’t punish this thing they will continue their ways. It seems they are not very good from learning from mistakes but they do change their behavior when their lives are at risk. On occasion, anyway.”

“We cannot kill other living things, Clara!” Betsy gulped.

“Nothing like that, Betsy, we are far above that. But we will get revenge for our distant cousins I think. You see, this monkey-brain also saw a headline about an insect whose bite causes humans to become allergic to meat. We’ll investigate this further. If such a thing exists, human,” Clarabelle snorted into the cage, “We are going to make sure you all get bitten by it.”

The man simply frowned. “Well that’s not fair.”

“The universe cares not, you bald ape!” Clarabelle declared. “If you don’t care about other living things, why should the universe care about you?”

“This isn’t fun anymore,” Betsy said. “Can we go now?”

“Yes, Bets. We’ll leave this dumb thing here for his brethren to find. They won’t believe what he’s seen while we go find this insect.” Clarabelle turned and bumped the cage with her hind quarters. “GOT MILK?” she laughed.

The caged animal took a wallet out of his back pocket, slipped out a McDonald’s gift card and stared at it before weeping like a baby for hours.

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2018 John J Vinacci

Meditation on a Mid-Life Crisis

Meditation on a Mid-Life Crisis

A fundamental tenant of Buddhism is the insistence that the basic condition of life is suffering. Whatever joys there are in life are transient; we always fall back into our suffering condition sooner rather than later. Why then wouldn’t we pursue pleasure as often as we do, at seemingly great risk at times? Why do any of us decide to skydive or climb Everest when the risk includes death? Why does any spouse pursue an affair when the cost is the (relatively) stability of a relationship? Do we enjoy pain? Does uncertainty turn us on? Civilization says we want to avoid pain. Civilization says we should seek stability. But what we really want is to end our suffering and avoiding pain isn’t necessarily related to that. What we want is to feel alive. We want to burn.

Perhaps for many of us, life is not so bad. It could certainly be worse. But when we are caught in between a life that for all intents and purposes is neither here nor there, our lives are mundane, where what’s mundane is, in actuality, low level suffering. The crime is, many of us are aware of this fact. When we realize our lives are in fact mundane, trapped, we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” We want there to be more even if we don’t know what that ‘more’ is supposed to include.

When I was a child, I was not someone who gave much thought to the future beyond supposing I’d be married and own a home by the time I was 24. Although such an idea was overly optimistic in hindsight, at least I did not imagine I would ever be someone of any importance. I was never, in my own estimation, destined for great things. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be. I just never really saw it. My most ambitious goal was to get through life and at the end, be considered a good man by myself, my family and friends. If I hoped for anything in pursuit of that goal, it would have been for life to be more enjoyable than not along the way.

I remember playing in a rock band when I was in the army. We weren’t very good, which is a polite way of saying that we were awful. Despite our individual talents – Ford was a very capable drummer at only 19 years old, D.B. could play guitar and bass, Lee, the spirited girl-next-door led vocals, while I wasn’t too bad at arranging songs which allowed more talented people forgive my slushy six-string renditions of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – we never gelled enough as a singular unit to warrant popularity outside the confines of our remote outpost in Germany. Still, we were considered by the rest of the troop to be something akin to rock stars, people other people wanted to be around, presumably because those people had nothing better to do even though they lived in Europe. To my amazement, this led to several ‘concerts’ in which we performed in front of a live audience. Our second ‘show’ is particularly memorable to me, as it was the first time we played on an actual stage. The idea of playing a gig always intimidated me as it could take a while before I settled down to play well before even a few people. On this occasion the heat of the stage lights quickly began to distract me as I’d never experienced such lighting before. By the third song into our set list, the stage lights were too hot for me, so before the next song I whipped my long sleeve shirt off to the mock cat-calls of first platoon. This annoyed me for just a moment until I heard Ford’s drum sticks click 1, 2, 3, 4. Then we launched into a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” which seemed to whip first platoon into a frenzy. (First platoon was legendary for their drinking skills and subsequent madness.) They approached the stage en masse and began pounding their fists on the stage and snapping their heads to the beat of the music. Their thunder rocked the stage and reverberated through my bones. Their energy electrified me. They fed me and I fed them back. That’s when time slowed down. For a few seconds, long seconds, time slowed down as I looked across the hall we were playing in and noticed that the people in the back were also enjoying the show. I don’t recall finishing the song but I do remember that I was literally exhilarated on that stage. That memory is one of the few times I can remember in which I felt absolutely, truly, inexorably alive.

That memory is also fleeting. I remember it is there, that is was, but of what use is it to me now? A memory is intangible and re-lived speciously at best. Having slipped into that fateful pattern civilizations lay out for us, such moments of aliveness become fewer and further in between. Eventually, many of us float through life, comfortable in the knowledge of what we’re supposed to do, which I will grant keeps us safe. It has kept me safe. But the cost has become who I am, where what I am has only been revealed when I have felt alive. But the world is set up in such a way that I have spend much of my time not feeling alive. Halfway through my life, I have begun to see how dearly this has cost me, how much of my true nature has been buried so deep it feels like it cannot be dug up again. I have forgotten that my identity is not fixed by my perceptions or the perceptions of others. I have realized that the person I am that is happy is defined by the actions that make me feel alive. But it seems as though I have forgotten what those actions are. I am no longer alive because I do not practice the things that make me happy; I am no longer alive having foregone almost all risk. Or perhaps this is all a mental affliction that comes naturally with age, the search for an explanation to the loss of the vitality and promise of one’s youth. Perhaps it is the case that I cannot accept who or what I am – ordinary – not destined for great things, or worse, unable to do them. It is one thing to have foreseen this. It is quite another to actually live it.

What remedy is there? It has not proven fortuitous to wait for one’s luck to change. I have to do things. The older generations frown heavily upon millennials of whom they write such scathing headlines, Millennials spend more on experiences than home ownership. Of course the aged will curse the youth for doing what they should have all those years ago. But the lesson to be learned here is that I – you, me, we – have to do things. The world, as it swirls around me, is not enough. It is I who have to swirl around the world. We can’t both be vortexes. Or maybe we can. Of course, it would be an utter storm; risky. And maybe that riskiness would make me feel alive again. I – you, me, we – just have to pull the trigger. The gun might be loaded, but risking the worst is the only way to feel alive.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2018 John J Vinacci

Once Beyond A Time

Once Beyond A Time

The experiment is a success. It is also a failure, Pari scribbled before the pencil broke. She’d moved it too fast, breaking it through sheer speed of movement. “And now I am alone,” she added in her raspy voice. She looked up and waited for the analog clock’s second hand to move. Pari abandoned the task; it’d be another ten minutes before the clock would move. She could try making another entry in her lab journal instead.

She picked up her third pencil, slowly as she could. She had to slow herself down, far below the crawl of a snail, or risk never writing anything ever again. Could it be done? The Indian scientist didn’t know but as a scientist had to see. After a quarter hour of painstakingly picking up the pencil and bringing it to paper, the woman began to etch I would not change what “I’ve attempted to do here,” she finished her thought verbally having left a burn mark on the paper.

Pari Bahl had been hired by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to create unique strains of crop that would grow at incredibly advanced rates thereby helping to feed the world. That was their pitch to her anyway. Dr. Bahl was wise to reality, though; she knew it was bullshit but the company’s resources would allow her conduct the work she wanted without raising any eyebrows. That is if you considered a physicist working for a pharmaceutical company normal to begin with.

Pari Bahl considered nothing normal after the incident. Five months into her Masters program she was assaulted by a colleague and summarily dismissed by police in her country who did little or nothing to stem a rape culture. Overpowered and overlooked, her research was going finally put women at a physical advantage, make them faster than any man alive. Pari was going to make men inferior.

“I knew I was going to end up alone as a result of this,” she spoke into a microphone. She’d managed to dictate the note to a laptop without breaking it but knew that unless someone had the good sense to dramatically slow down the recording, her voice would appear as a high pitched blip among persistent white noise. Most of her co-workers were men; they’d never figure it out.

“I knew I’d end up alone as a result of my work. I know many of my countrywomen – and maybe many women around the world – would defend the old ways if I’d succeeded here. And I know no man would understand once holding the high ground then having their physical advantage torn from their bosom.” She chuckled at her choice of words before falling silent for a few moments. It was the most remotely funny thing she’d said in a long time.

Though she’d never done a scientific survey, Pari was sure there would still be scores of women who’d sign up for her program, to become the heralds of the future. But they were beyond her reach now. Dr. Bahl couldn’t work her instruments with any precision, unable to so much as punch a button without it taking a virtual eternity or smashing it and nearly breaking a finger in the process. (The fingers of her right hand were crumpled in black-and-blue pain. It had taken her several attempts before it dawned on her what had happened after her space-time dilator fired early, before she had time to clear the testing range.)

“I am in the future and they are in the past,” she spoke to someone maybe a millennia from the present. “They are all behind me,” Pari explained as she noticed the clock’s second hand move a third time in the last half-hour.

“This is not the power I wanted to wield. It’s uncontrolled. I’m moving too fast. If I were to kiss my own mother’s hand, I would break it. It might even kill her. Killing is not my intent. I just wanted to put men where they have put women for thousands of years.” Pari looked up at the clock again, drew a light breath that rustled some papers, and reflected. “Maybe that is the same as death?” she wondered.

The scientist watched the clock, waiting for the second hand to move again. It seemed to be taking more time than usual. She was sure it was. It had to be at least another half hour now of listening to her own breath, just waiting, just waiting with nothing but nothing to fill the void.

The tick of the clock startled her from her meditation on time. Maybe the rest of the world had slowed down and I have not sped up? she questioned herself. It didn’t matter, she concluded; the result was the same. She was in the company of photons now, imperceptible unless she interacts with matter. She could make her presence known but she’d either die in the process or be considered a ghost, a poltergeist they might say in German. Again, death or a ghost; same difference.

Dr. Bahl sat down in her lab chair, still as could be, long as could be. Maybe she could sit still long enough for her image to be seen by the world she rushed by. But as her local time accelerated, she withered to dust on an air conditioned breeze, too far into the future to be considered by a world perpetually sitting still.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) June 2018 John J Vinacci

Hall of Trees

Hall of Trees

One breath and in a blink

I’m underneath the grieving

Leaves

A tapestry of greenery

Breaks the sun into such little

Things

 

Carved from the wood she read

A history of the

Canopy

Firestorms in the forestry

Charcoaled her heart sealed in the

Rings

 

She said –

This is my hall of trees

And in a storm it’s dizzying

The strongest roots are only inches deep

But on my own I think it will

Succeed

 

One step and I’m splintering

Soft against the axe falling into the

Stream

I heard her say go now please

Into your own light and grow your own

Trees.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) June 2018 John J Vinacci

Human/Animal

Human/Animal

Clawing at the broken, soiled earth

Dirt beneath the serrated nails

Howls bleak a wicked spine of wind

Blood is demanded out blackening lips

 

Moonbeam, catalyst, caster of spell

Makeshifted hand into paw, teeth, coarse hair

Running long, wild, naked, free

Something dormant unhinges, releases

 

From the bondage of being human

Civilized and mannered, courteous and heeled

But animal in nature (nature always wins)

Breaks out of containment to realize a kill.

 

All Rights Reserved (C) March 2018 John J Vinacci