Missionary Positions

It was a day like all others. Only the spring was still springing. The doorbell rang. I answered it. Before me stood a man and a woman in their early twenties. They were dressed in dark blue suits and had big smiles on their faces.

“We have good news for you, brother,” the young man said.

“Yes, good news,” the young woman repeated.

“Good news?” I asked. Then said, “You mean that the world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket?”

“‘Tis true,” the young man said. “It is that. But Sister Naomi Musette and I have good news.”

“Yes,” Sister Naomi Musette said, “Brother Obadiah and I are here to show you a better path.” Her smile looked all shiny and new.

“A righteous way to not fall into darkness,” Brother Obadiah said. “A way to light a candle and see your way forward amidst all the world’s troubles.”

“Did he say amidst?” I asked myself.

“He did,” the little devil sitting on my right shoulder whispered in my ear. “Tell them to go to hell before you get caught up in the foolishness they’re offering you.”

The angel on my left shoulder said, “Now, hold on. Don’t do that. It won’t hurt to invite them in and feed them some of your homemade chocolate chip cookies and give them a glass of milk.

“Don’t listen to her,” Devil said.

But I did listen to her. I hadn’t had a chance to test my new cookie recipe out on some victims. I mean, guests. They tasted wonderful to me but what did I know. I could neither taste nor smell the darn things. That’s what happens when my allergies take over and I am sneezing my way from here to Loch Lomond and back again. After downing several pills of medication, I finally got the allergies under control. But I still couldn’t smell and taste worth a darn.

“Would you care to come in?” I offered. “I have a new batch of chocolate chip cookies and some milk if you would like.”

“Of course,” Brother Obadiah said. “We’d love to come in.”

“Chocolate chips are my favorite cookies,” the good sister said.

“I did not know that, Sister Naomi Musette,” the good brother said.

“‘Tis true, Brother Obadiah,” Sister Naomi Musette said. “I haven’t found a chocolate chip cookie I could resist. And I am sure that this brother’s are wonderful.” I had never seen such enthusiasm for chocolate chip cookies. And her enthusiasm was the bubbling over kind.

They came into my house and I introduced them to the sofa. It fit the two of them perfectly. I then retreated into my kitchen and soon returned with a plate of chocolate chips and two glasses of milk.

“Help yourself,” I said as I set the cookies and milk on the coffee table before them. Then I eased into my big chair and relaxed. I was ready to give these good people a bit of my time.

While his companion ate a cookie, Brother Obadiah said, “Brother, we are two missionaries on a mission from on-high. The angels have sent us forth into the world to deliver a message of good news. To all willing to clean the wax out of their ears and listen. Are you willing?” The good brother was not susceptible to the charm of a cookie. He did not take a cookie.

“I am. I haven’t had a good wax cleaning in a month of Sundays,” I said, leaning forward to hear their message. Anything to get out of the way of the avalanche of bad news that had lately come our way. There were earthquakes and tornadoes, plagues and contagious viruses, wars and rumors of wars. And if that wasn’t enough, just the day before, two polar bears had walked down Main Street, trying to hide from the global warming that had been stalking them for days. Any good news was welcome.

Sister Naomi Musette had eaten two cookies by the time I had gotten through with the last paragraph. She finished off her milk, then wiped cookie dust off her mouth. “Mmmm good,” she gave my cookies her imprimatur. Then she asked, “Do you know Jesus?”

“I haven’t met Him personally,” I said, “but I do know who He is in a general sort of way.”

“Well, all you’ve heard,” Brother Obadiah said, “is incorrect. We are here to give you the Real Deal.”

Sister Naomi Musette continued, “Jesus didn’t walk on water.”

“I did not know that,” I said, amazed.

“‘Tis true,” the good sister said. “He waded through the water.”

“You don’t say,” I said, amazed some more.

“Yes,” the good brother said. “We do say. What’s more He did this because He wore platform boots. When He saw Simon Peter throwing his net out into the water to catch some fish, the Master said to Peter, ‘Follow me, and I will give you platform boots.’ Well, Peter being Peter, he couldn’t resist. Anything to get out of the flip flops his wife insisted he wear.”

That was my cue to check out their feet. Both missionaries wore platform boots. When I first saw them at the door, I thought they were a bit tall for their ages. But they being so friendly and smiling and all, it had slipped my mind.

He pulled a large book out of his shoulder bag and opened it to the first page and read:

“In the beginning was God. And God went around naked until one Tuesday in May He realized He had not a stitch of clothes on. Then He reached down to the fig tree and pulled a fig leaf off that tree to cover His nakedness. At least the genital part of His nakedness. Then He made Hisself a business suit to wear over His fig leaf. It was blue to match the Lord God’s blue eyes. Navy blue.

“Then He made Hisself a pair of blue jeans and a pearly white t-shirt for the one day a week He is off for some well-deserved R and R from all the work. That t-shirt, being a holy t-shirt, had writ in bright blue letters on it the words,, ‘Go Cowboys.’ After all, despite what ESPN says, the Cowboys are God’s team.

“Then He made Hisself a pair of platform boots. Two He made. One for the right foot, one for the left foot. And He saw that it was good. They fit His size 16 feet oh-so comfortably. And everything and every being around the Lord God was happy because He now had a pair of platform boots to let him step over all the manure His creatures shat. God was pleased. Very pleased and He pronounced it all, ‘Good.'”

“That is unbelievable,” I said, not believing a word of what the missionary was reading.

He closed the book. “Have a look for yourself,” B.O. said. S. N. M. passed the black book over to me. Embossed in gold letters on its cover were the words, “Catalogue of Ye Platform Boots.” I opened it up and truly there were the words the good brother had read.

“How come I never heard of this before?” I asked.

“The One True Prophet Barnum of the Circus only revealed it to his people some fifteen minutes ago.” the good sister said. “It’s only been fourteen minutes since he incorporated the Church of Jesus In Platform Boots in the State of Florida. And a little over twelve since the Church was given its 501c tax status by the IRS. So you can see how legitimate we are. We are no fly-by-night scam religion. We are truly a true religion.”

“I can see that,” I said. “What must I do?”

“Our Congregation,” Brother Obadiah said, big smile on his face, “the First Church of the Church of Jesus In Platform Boots, meets at the corner of Nowhere Street and None-of-your-business Avenue for services every Sunday at ten in the morning. Come and ye too will be given your own pair of platform boots.”

“And,” the good sister followed up with, “they are very fashionable. I just love mine so much I am getting a second pair. All I have to do is convert ten people to the faith and that second pair is mine. It’s called the Second Pair Quota and all the members of the Congregation are vying for it. But I will be the first. I already have fitted nine Suckers for their boots.”*

Suckers?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” Brother Obadiah said. “That is what the Holy Book calleth newbies who join The Church. As the One True Prophet Barnum stated in his Sermon in the Big Tent, ‘There’s a Sucker born every minute. All we have to do is go out and reel them in.’ Such wisdom from the One True Prophet.”

“Hallelujah, Brother,” Sister Naomi Musette shouted out right there in my living room. At first, I thought she was speaking in them tongues, but then she continued in good ol’ American chicken-fried English, “You would be amazed at what it means to be a Sucker. It changed my life. Before Suckerdom, I was a down-in-the-mouth complainer, always saying f— this and s— that. Now that I have had my feet fitted and slipped on my pair of boots I am hallelujahing all the time. It’s enough to give a horny person an orgasm.” Her enthusiasm made me think she was about to have an orgasm right there in my living room. Now, I am not opposed to orgasms as long as I am a participant. Since I wasn’t participating, she was getting downright embarrassing.

“Preach on, Sister,” Brother Obadiah shouted. “Preach on.” The shouting was getting so loud that I was wondering if the neighbors would call the cops.

To calm the two down, I asked, “So you want me to come to church with you?”

The two nodded their heads yes. Then Brother Obadiah said, “Will you commit to just one service? You will not regret it.”

The good sister looked at my feet and sized them up. “I can see you are a size twelve. Brother Obadiah, we have never had a size twelve.” Then to me again, “The angels shall shod your boots, then you too can sing ‘These boots are made for walking.'” She was giddy with her enthusiasm.

“Now, Sister,” he said. “Let’s not get carried away. The brother has not even agreed to attend.”

She pressed hard. “You will attend?” She held her breath, afraid that I was about to say no.

Devil and Angel were back. It was feeling kind of heavy what with three heads on my shoulders. Ms. Angel said, “Please don’t do what you’re thinking. It’s not nice.”

And I’m thinking, “Since when was I nice.”

Mr. Devil had the biggest smile on his face. “Go ahead. Do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

So I said, “Yes, I will come to your church. On one condition.”

“Of course,” the good sister agreed without taking a moment to consider the proposition. “As the Holy Book of the ‘Catalogue of Ye Platform Boots’ says, ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you.'”

“If I come to your church,” I said, “you have to attend one service of my church. Will you agree to that?”

“Absolutely,” the two said in unison, assured in their faith that one of their services would be all it took to make a Sucker out of me. After all, wasn’t it a very holy woman who once said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

“We would be more than happy to attend your service after you attend ours. Like the Book says, ‘A deal is a deal.'” The good brother put out his hand to shake mine to cement the agreement.

Then Sister Naomi Musetter asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question. “When, and where, is your service?”

“You know where the KMA Park is?” I asked, smiling and thinking about the gotcha that was fixing to come to pass.

“Sure do,” Brother Obadiah said. “Before I converted and repented, I spent many an hour there, giving the passers-by the old moon pie.”

“My church meets there on the night of the full moon at midnight,” I said.” You promise to be there? Oh, and one other thing.”

The good sister was turning from her nice tan to a pale white. It looked like she didn’t want to know but the good brother plunged ahead, enthusiastically asking, “What’s that?”

“You’ll need to bring a live chicken for the sacrifice. And, bring something to throw over your clothes. The chickens always shoot blood all over our clothes when we do a beheading.”

The two missionaries jumped up and ran out the front door. And they didn’t even say goodbye.

That was right down rude of them.

Do Animals Have Souls?

What a question! Of course, they have souls. Just look into your horse’s, your cat’s, your dog’s eyes.

I know when I look into my cat’s eyes I see a soul looking back at me. Sometimes her soul is saying, “I love you. I love you a lot.” Sometimes she is saying, “What the hell do you want?” And at other times, “Man, that was a good rat. Yum.” Or sometimes, “What a great day. Enjoy, just enjoy.” Then she goes off and runs or jumps into the bird bath just for a drink of water and she enjoys her complete catness.

I am sure that if you looked into a horse’s eyes you might see those eyes saying, “Gee, I love to run. There is nothing quite like it.” Or “Man, you need to lose some weight. Everytime you ride me, my back hurts for a week.”

Or a dog’s soul saying to his master, “You may be an s.o.b., but you’re my s.o.b.” They love us unconditionally, never holding back. I remember seeing a movie called “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”. Hachi’s master had died, yet Hachi waited for years for his master to return on the evening train. They were friends, and the dog loved his friend more than anything.

So you can’t tell me that if there’s a life after death that there won’t be animals there. I am not going to believe that. Because a life after death without my cat ain’t any kind of life at all. So there. That answers that question. So on to the next one. Do people have souls?

Maybe. Then again maybe not. At least for some.

I’m a man who likes poets … and poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so this one is for all ye poets out there, and all ye who read poetry.

I’ve been told that if you want to be a poet, you should support poets. And not just the old dead ones but the living breathing ones. By buying their books. Well, I have my share of poets on my book shelves. There’s a special place because I believe poets deserve better than they’ve gotten over the years. Don’t know any that make a living off of their poetry. Just talking, better known as lecturing, and teaching about poetry.

On my shelves, it starts with Old Man Gilgamesh himself. Compared to Gilgamesh, Homer was a modern. Then there’s the ultimate anti-war novel, The Iliad, and his partner, The Odyssey. Both are translated by Robert Fagels. I like him. I like him a lot. Haven’t gotten his translation of The Aeneid yet. And then there’s The Divine Comedy about a man who suddenly goes middle-aged crazy. That’s the male version of menopause. Some might blame it on Beatrice. I blame it on middle-age. You can tell that’s what the man is suffering from by those opening lines of The Inferno, Canto 1:

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

He couldn’t buy that new red Ferrari, so off he went on a journey, to hell and back so to speak. And right by his side is another fellow I like a lot, Geoff Chaucer. Geoff is English for Jeff. His journey begins in April and “When in April the sweet showers fall….” Elmore Leonard says don’t begin with the weather but it seems to work well for old Geoff. Course, next door is the Poet Supreme, the House of the Bard. I’m talking Shakespeare here folks, and my version is the big fat volume of The Norton Shakespeare. A lot of Shakespeare in a lot of book. Not sure about what to say on Elmore’s advice about the weather cause here’s another writer starting off with the weather:

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York….”

Guess these guys can break the rules if they want to. Beside these fellows is Alfred Lord with his Idylls of the King. Must admit that one of my favorites of his is “Ulysses”. Ulysses is Roman for Odysseus. In the poem, Odysseus is an old man and longing for the adventures of his youth. When you get old, you too will understand his meaning.

Now I am not partial to Walt Whitman and Emily D, though I have a volume of her stuff on my shelf. Though her poems don’t fit the form, I think you can call her the American haiku-ist. I’m sure Basho would be honored to have her in his company. They do fit the spirit.

I even have a couple of T S’s volumes but he’s not someone I would call a friend. Too brainy for me. Nor do I care much for Robert Frost. I lose something of the meaning of the poem because he depends so much on rhyme. Oh, I know how hard it is to do what he did, but it gets a bit distracting.

No, it’s Basho, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Dylan Thomas, Pueblo Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Derek Walcott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shahib Nye and Garcia Lorca for me. Some dead, some living. I tend to turn to these friends when I am looking for some good companionship. They all wear well on me. And I even have a local poet, Summer Rodman’s “A train came by and slow ed”. Reminds me a bit of John Ashbery. And these are just a few of the two or three shelves of poetry I have.

There was a time that I found e e cummings interesting. But I tired of his gimmickry, although I still pull out “On Being Brand New” for a good laugh.

I’ve always read and bought poetry. I’m not sure why. I just like having them around to whisper in my ear their secrets and their beauty. It took 9/11/01 to make me value their value. Afterwards I picked up Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, Anna Akhmatova’s “Reading Hamlet”, and the one Whitman I like. Though it is awfully wordy and seems to go on way too long, it is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. In it, Whitman mourns for Abraham LIncoln. There are moments in that poem that are intensely moving. As far as Akhmatova is concerned, I keep coming across those words,

“To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,
beyond it the river’s dull blue.”

That seemed to measure my feeling after 9/11. Guess I am a little bit strange to feel that but I did, and sometimes still do.

I don’t know how I came by this love of poets and their poetry. It certainly does not run in my family. No poets among my kin. Nary a one. Maybe it came from reading The King James Bible and The Psalms early on. I sure do like reading Jesus’ Blesseds and Psalm 23 in the KJB. Haven’t found a better translation. Maybe those were the sections Old Will worked on. I just know that poets give me great comfort and I wish there were a hell of a lot more of them. Perhaps if there were, we’d have a bit less war and injustice.

I’ve often wondered why I have watched and studied politics so much over the years. If Boris Pasternak and his Zhivago should have taught me anything, it is don’t give a damn about politics. It never solves anything. And often makes matters worse. Then there’s Yeats’ wonderful lines:

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

Again maybe I should have embraced Zhivago as a role model. Maybe I would have been much better off. I know politics gives me a headache these days, hearing arguments about things that most of us don’t take any comfort in. A lot of this and a lot of that. Mostly tweedledee and twiddledum. Why don’t they just get on with it? As the fellow said on Saturday Night Live a while back, “Just fix it.”

One of my favorite intros to poems and poets is Molly Peacock’s How to read a poem … and start a poetry circle. She introduced me to Jane Kenyon’s wonderful poem “Let evening come”, one of my favs these days. In all my poemer-writing years I have never come close to something so lovely, so beautiful. It reveals to me how much beauty there is in the world if we only look and see.

So here I am late on a Saturday night. I’ve finished my weekly chores and I find myself turning to a poem or two for comfort. Not sure what has gotten into me. But I raise my glass and toast them all everyone. Thanks for the poems that have been spoken and that are to be spoken.