“Carry on, Flower, Carry on.”

Posted: August 4, 2011 by zacharyandgillian in August


Somehow, the flower reminded her of the passions she had left behind.

That’s what made her stop, but it wasn’t quite right, and so her thoughts made her stay and examine the sight with more intensity.

The flower stood tall, the strong stem shooting straight up from the under-brush.  This was a being that was well beyond the roughage below, and it knew it.  The stalk that supported it was firm and thick.  Prepared to carry its burden with the decorum it deserved, it held against the sun and sky.  The wind itself would offer no threat.  It preserved poise.

The petals, if you could call them petals, were razor-blades of colour.  They echoed in the memory as sharp, intense blooms of a dedicated process.  They stretched out towards the world, save the precious gathering in the middle, which protected the initial bud with both duty and beautiful dignity.  They would not allow the precious center to be revealed a moment too soon.  And so, slowly, literally one by one, they peeled back.  Maybe only one or two would let go today.  Certainly only one let go very tentatively yesterday.  The world, they demanded as they clutched, would have to be patient.

What was inside must be very important to them; those strong little petals.

She looked closer.  The petals looked strong, but their texture was the very memory of sensitivity.  Uncurled and against the world, they were fragile.  Almost uncertain, and certainly brave.  The world was a place full of potential danger, and while their colours boasted brightly, there was an inner weakness to them, that made them soft.  She imagined that, in a different time and place, on a different flower, these petals would long to be brushed against the nose of a little giggling girl.

Very carefully, she let the very tips of them kiss her cheek.  They were princesses all.

As she felt it against her skin, she realized that this flower did not remind her of the passions she’d left behind.  It reminded her instead of a private part of her.  The part of her that had never forgotten those very important passions.  In her day to day activities, inevitably there was a hope here and a dream there that was not realized.  That had to be put aside in favor of responsibility and obligations.  But those things were never forgotten.  When the rest of the world demanded something of her that she could not refuse, she merely put her passions away.  Away in hopes of shining another day, when the time was right.

This flower was a hidden little reflection of herself.  Holding on.  Slowly, carefully, bravely, blooming.

That was why it was perfect.

Photography by:  Gillian Berger
Writing by:  Zachary Webster

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A Sound To Remember

Posted: July 22, 2011 by Zachary in July 2011

The first time he listened to God, it sounded like springtime rain sprinkling across the bare toes of his soul.

It was not the first time he had heard the sound of divinity.  He had heard it all the time.  In the sound of Sunday morning church bells, and in the allegories of great writers and subtle performers.  He had heard it in the back of his conscience before he kissed a married woman and whenever someone pointed at the sunrise and said “that’s why I believe in God.”

Perhaps the first time he remembered hearing it was in the voice of his angry mother when he was young.  Normally, when she was angry at him, she would shout and scream and go red in the face.  But there were a couple of times (exactly 2, in fact, for he kept count) when she did not get loud.  The first, when he was six, he had coloured on her favorite painting.  He had no idea that it was originally her grandfather’s, his great-grandfathers, and one of the only remaining items that she had of his.  Her chest puffed up and then down just as quickly, as her mind took in the ruined picture. Then her eyes deadened.  And when her mouth opened, her voice was a calm, steady, and unwavering tone of discipline.

He had heard it in the background of life, like the baseline to a song playing in the mall while you’re shopping.  Like the landmarks and tourist attractions that exist in your own city – all the ones you know exactly how to direct tourists to but have never made a destination of yourself.  It was like the TV show that was always on whenever you went over to someone else’s house.

But hearing and listening were two very different things.  When he heard his mother, he heard only that he had hurt her.  He was too busy looking to the consequences of his actions to really listen to the sound of actuality that was happening in front of him.  He was also too young.  (God says to be like the children to adults, but what can He say to children, save perhaps “remember what I sound like.”)  He merely heard a message, the way a computer receives a code, and interpreted it to his benefit.

And to his credit, interpret it he did.  He only ever hurt his mother like that one more time, and even then, only completely by accident.

He had, all his life, tried to understand this “religion” thing before.  He’d become infatuated with it since the first time he heard a friend explain it to him.  It filled a hole you didn’t know you were missing.  He didn’t know he was missing anything in his life.  He didn’t feel like anything was missing.  Still, he wondered what could be this thing that he could be missing, and so he looked.

He attended church services.  They did nothing for him.  So he quit going.

He attended a bible study or two.  They were fun, very academic.  But the TV was still on, and it wasn’t his.  It felt like he was at the mall again, and while they were all shopping through the emotive intellectualism of their religion’s finer points, he couldn’t figure out what this had to do with the background music that everyone was listening to and everyone said was “so important.”

He read a book.  A book about someone who saw God in everything.  It was a good book.  He thought it was better than THE Good Book.  This is where he got the idea that he must be missing it the way locals miss local tourist attractions.  This book explained that once you do see the divine, you can’t stop seeing the divine.

He tried prayer.  He prayed with others, but that felt false, so he stopped doing it.  He prayed on his own, but that provided him with no response, so eventually he just forgot about it.  He did talk to the sky once in a while.  Mostly while waiting for the bus, or when walking in the rain.  But it was more like talking to an imaginary friend who had super powers, rather than a God.

He cannot say how, or even exactly when, it happened.  He described it ever afterward as a kind of happy accident.  Like a picture with two images, he focused on a search for God with scholarly devotion, trying to discover the detail that would shift his understanding and reveal this other gap-filling image.  And yet, all he saw was God.  God here, God there.  He began to know the baseline so well he could conduct an orchestra of God woulds and God shoulds.

And then, one day, he stubbed his toe.

His girlfriend had left him a month ago when she found out that he had made out with a married woman.  And he was now moving out of the apartment that they had shared because the lease was up and he couldn’t afford it on his own.  He was angry about something else entirely (as it turned out, there was nothing worth watching on his TV) and turned around the corner just quick enough to stub his toe on the corner of a box.  It was heavy, containing a bunch of his old porn magazines, and didn’t budge against the meager force of his little toe.

It really, really hurt.  He let out a string of curses, including but not limited to “God damn it.”  And then, in his pain, he chuckled thinking to himself that God would not have damned it.  If anything, God endorsed it.  He let it happen.

He sat there for a moment, on the ground.  Next to the box.  On his un-vacuumed floor.  His toe throbbed, the pain fading with each pump of blood into his foot.  God let this happen.  He was here, in this moment, with his stubbed toe because he had put that box there.  God let him put that particular box, full of those particular things, in that specific spot.  Because he was moving.  God let the landlord decide that the rent needed to go up, and God let lots of people know that this spot was available for rent.  God let him drink too much 2 months ago, and let him give in to passions he probably shouldn’t have.  And God gave him the dawn to encourage him to fess up and say the right thing.  And God let his girlfriend walk out the front door the next day.  All the while, his imaginary friend in the sky merely walked along and smiled and never asked why.  But it was all the collective reason that he was there.  On the ground.  Next to the box.  On his un-vacuumed floor.

That’s why God wouldn’t damn it.

He smiled.  The image changed.  Listening to God was not about seeing the picture of His image.  It was about seeing what was made in His image.  And what was there was, quite simply everything.

His toe felt much better.  And it was true – he couldn’t help but listen all the time after that.  When he stretched in the morning, or when he bumped into an old friend.  When his morning coffee wasn’t quite right, and when he hit a red light right next to a church.  When he saw sunsets he didn’t look and point – he closed his eyes and felt the breeze against his skin.

When someone asked him what it was like, he didn’t bother telling them the story about an unknown hole in your soul being filled up.

No, he just told them it was like listening to the rain.

Inside Voices

Posted: July 6, 2011 by Zachary in July 2011

We all have two voices.
The one with which we speak in,
And the one with which we write.

One for our outside whims,
And one for our inside plight.
One is the mask we wear to polite occasions,
To the campfire hall and water-cooler conversations,
But the other walks the flesh with sacred posture,
Indulging in naked persuasion.

The subtle difference is not of art,
It’s not of doing, but of heart.
Because when I speak in the moment, I am alive,
But when I write, my spirit thrives.

My inside voice is not the inside voice used by little kids,
The kind that is used for quiet discourse between 9am and recess.
It’s the kind that’s inspired by “God bless,”
And inspires “God, yes!”
It is the sound that remembers the spirit of Shane Koyczan and admires the poetry of Shakepeare;
That is finally finished with hoping and dreaming,
And instead has started pointing and screaming.

“What, the fuck, are you doing?
“Don’t ‘just breathe’, just seethe!  Don’t let the anarchists of emotion force you to secede,
“Your mind was meant to teethe.
“Let it bite down on the boiling bile and bubbling joy.
“Take a lesson from Troy.
“The world should move for love, and die for the part.
“When you stop ‘just feeling’ and start thinking with your heart,
“You think smart.

“Our soul is not two roads diverged in a Frost’s wood and we one traveler.
“We can travel both.  Arm in arm.  Hand in hand.
“As surely as your life is attached to your birth,
“Your heart is attached to your sense of worth.
“And when you let your logical mind be a sword for your lust,
“You encourage a soul’s trust.

“Take the goddamned power you feel and put it in the palm of your hand.
“Each moment is a grain of sand,
“Which you use to build your castle, your bridge, your wall and your brand.
“And 10 fingers grasps so much more than 5 can.
“Ecclesiastes may come to blow it away,
“Yes, it is true.
“But to hell with him, is all you have to say.
“Yours will be the best vapor on the wind.

“Don’t stay crystal clean; a house of tin,
“Redefine what it means to fucking sin.”

My outside voice sounds like whatever you hear,
Whatever you know.  Whatever you fear.
I cannot control the sound that comes from those vocal chords,
Those proper vibrations meant to send my expression toward,
The object of my desire.
I cannot determine whether I sound like Barry White or a cute little kid with a Ninja Turtles kite.

But my inside voice sounds like the morning’s first breath of fresh air,
where the dawning sun and virgin sky brightly declare
that there is meaning.

Because there is.

What do you sound like?

Midnight

Posted: June 30, 2011 by zacharyandgillian in October 2010


Technically, the world begins anew at the darkest of hours.

But you wouldn’t know it.

Those first hues that a day see are the quiet hues of a shadow-owned world.  Where the only light is granted by moonshine, and fatigue bears heavily upon living creatures.  At midnight, day-dwellers are sound asleep.  Shops and stores have long since closed, aside from a few holdouts that cater to the misbegotten.  The streets, the streets begin their slumber too.  Cars begin to disappear from the roads.  After a mere 2 hours into the new day, they will be completely abandoned.  The shadows claim them.

The bars call this time late, not early.  At 12:01, they begin exchanging their bottles of rum and rye for the watered down dreams of their patrons.  It is a practice that has long accompanied the morning proper.  Take the beating hearts of men who have bought your product, and sell them the proverbial cherry on top; hope that yesterday’s drink was a celebration for tomorrow’s expectant good will.  Just a couple more hours.  A couple more beer.

(How rarely the day, half over, greets them with gratitude when they rise from slumber.)

How can this be the way the world begins?  Trumpeted in by club music and marched along in the arms of the drunk and stumbling.  All the while the moon is chosen to lead us in.  In to a new day, through the meager hours of infancy and into an adolescent dawn.

It is true that we do not remember our earliest years, so too is it true of the day.  It does not remember those shadowed hours that claimed its first moments.  It merely emerges somewhere in the future, its memories starting to form with the sunlight.  So too the day starts for us.  We do not remember our real beginning.  We merely awake to our first memories – of sun through the window or clock alarms going off.  We arise as children, not as babes.  As babes we were watched over by the stars and the moon and by the scary things that go bump in the night.

At midnight the world begins.  At midnight we begin again.  Though our minds are fresh with the drink or alive in a dancing medley of the shadow-world or tucked under the cover of our slumbering dreams, it is then that we begin again.  It’s then that we start being the people we want to be for a brand new day.

The dawn is when we learn to walk.  But it’s in the dark that we are born.


Departure

Posted: June 15, 2011 by zacharyandgillian in June 2011

Gate 61
T-minus 7 hours, 24 minutes

They walked with stoic purpose.  Synchronized in their footsteps, their march was a dance perfectly timed.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Stride, swoosh, step.  4 legs that moved as two down the Ground’s Hallow, they always moved in pairs.  This was the time.  So familiar with the way, they did not hesitate at the passage’s winding uniformity.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Their professional pant-legs, a deep blue, ran perfectly down the length of their athletic appendages, to a single inch above their shoes.  Tight enough to rub against the inside of their thighs, loose enough to conceal their genders.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Their shoes left an echo down the narrow hall.  There was no other sound but the music of tradition and procedure playing in their minds.  Dress shoes, with heels slightly raised kept the beat to an ode to purpose.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Stride, swoosh, step.  The white walls with their strange and subtle illumination were their only audience.  They needed no other.  They walked with purpose.  Stride, swoosh, step.  Stride, swoosh, step.


Gate 34
T-minus 3 hours, 58 minutes

They entered the Green Way.

“Are you scared?”

She looked at him as the doors closed soundlessly.  The lift began slowly, with an organic hum.

“No.  Are you?”
“Kind of.”

They could feel themselves rise, their bodies lightly stimulated by the pressure of an increasing velocity.  It was designed to be pleasant.

“What do you suppose it will be like?”
“The Destination?”
“No.  The journey.”

There was a subtle but systematic beat as the lift’s muscles flexed and relaxed to bring raise its burden higher and higher.

“I mean, we have no idea how difficult it will be.  We barely even know each other.”
“That is the point.”
“I know, but we’ve never done this before.  What if-“
“Don’t worry.  I’m nervous too.”

They exited the Great Shadow.  A rush of light brushed over them – pouring through the semi-transparent walls of their verdant lift.

“My god…”
“It’s beautiful.”


Gate 42
T-minus 1 hour, 03 minutes

They were early.  That was a relief.

All who arrive in earnest will arrive before their time.

It’s not that there was ever a doubt in either of their minds, which is perhaps why it was strange that they would even spare a moment for the thought of relief.  Still, they spared it, and then moved on.

The entrance-way of the Exodus lay before them, like layers of silk.  They stood in a large circular platform which contained a violet hue.  The colours here were brighter, sharper even in their subtleties.  Long draperies of blue curtain hung from an unsupported ceiling like tapestries hiding a non-existent wall.  Layer upon layer, they cascaded across one other, delicate doorways to a great beyond.  The light that they had previously basked in on their way seemed now to pour through the layers, outlining each individual layer and filtering its pure illumination into a tolerable bliss.

All who would know the destination will know the light.

There was a sanctity in the journey they were about to embark upon.  They had never considered the Holy before, but now, standing here, they felt it with a profound sense of splendor.  As the poets suggested, they looked back at the way they had came and honestly spared a moment to wonder if they should ever again to return.

It was suggested that some would.  That some might perform their journey and still return to the Earth-of-Dark-Colours, to begin the process anew.  It was suggested that others still would bask forever and ever in the journey, meant to flourish and bloom.

What now?

With a sense of sacred grace, and earnest wonder, they began to draw back the silk.

Moving Mountains

Posted: June 1, 2011 by zacharyandgillian in June 2011

Atlas had been working out.

She felt good.  She felt bigger, strutted around while she walked.  She had that kind of high that you get after the sweat is showered off and you’re walking to your car.  And she walked with a bounce.  There was a spring in her step now.  The kind that you earn through finishing a grueling work-week with poise and accuracy.  Her muscles were toned, her skin was gentle and her spirit was high.

For the first time in years, she felt sexy.  Truly sexy.  Not the kind that comes from knowing that you are wanted, or even wantable.   She felt sexy because she knew she was becoming exactly who she was supposed to be.  She never bothered with robes or lingerie.  She didn’t believe in covering 10% because that’s more sultry than being naked.  Frankly, how she appeared never even entered her head.  She certainly didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about her.

She had carried the weight of the world on her shoulders, for Christ’s sake.

But not anymore.  Now she would no longer let some random guy with a god-complex tell her what she should do.  That argument was a long, long time ago, and to continue as she had for so long was pointless and painful.  Fuck. That. The time of self-flagellation was over.  Now was the time to shed her sense of suppression.  And she was beginning to feel just right.

She did not know where this strength to overcome her burdens had come from.  The mental tormenter that enjoyed keeping her down had turned her into a hunched figure, yearning to be stretched.  And, for what seemed like centuries they had crippled her, drawing her to her knees.  She had become a mother to uncaring miseries.  Her friends told her to relax.  To shake it off and start over, but it was not that easy.  They didn’t understand how hard a shrug could be under such pressure.

But overcome it she did.  Eventually, that pain that she had carried around for so long, that had defined her, had cracked open her armour of personal suffering.  And what poured out was far worse than any wickedness Pandora’s little misfits had concocted.  It was a sense of self-loathing.  A self-loathing that she had not looked at in a long, long time.  And she hated seeing that far more than bearing what she had become.  That was worth working towards never seeing again.

So, she did exactly that.  And what she came to know was that she was stronger than she had ever been.  So too, she had gained an insight of personal understanding.  Her family’s sense of character pulsed within her.  She began to understand how her brother had trusted humanity with passion, even if it meant his end.  He had believed in something, and he didn’t give a shit about the consequences.  She wanted to be like that.  She could be like that.

She would be like that.

And she began to share the sense of entitlement over existence her father and uncle had maintained.  They had dominated life in a way no culture or religion could ever teach.  They laughed at Gods and looked to the sky to claim entire planets for their own.  She felt alive with ownership over servitude, awash with capacity that only her grace, blood, sweat and tears had earned.  This existence was hers, and hers alone.

No longer would she bear anything upon her back.  Now, she would keep the world on a string and the sky at her fingertips.

Atlas felt good.

 

Photography by Gillian Berger
Writing by Zachary Webster

 

Scars and Hearts

Posted: May 18, 2011 by Zachary in May 2011

Nervously, the doctor recommended an ointment that would help reduce the scarring.  I had to smile, and I politely declined the information.

Some people call their bodies a canvas, a place for piercings and body art.
Others, call it a church.  A sacred frame of reverence and importance.  The art of the divine.
I even knew a girl that called hers an amusement park.  She always promised a good ride.

Mine is a graveyard.  Simple lines of contorted flesh the tombstones of buried hearts and broken body parts.

With my shirt pulled up, I had lay in relative comfort when he started.  He wasn’t quite satisfied with his first stitch, so he asked my permission to do it over.  I didn’t mind.  My skin was numb.  The cold tugging at my flesh was nothing more than a detached reminder of mortality.  I’d felt worse.

Unexpectedly, the blood got significantly in the way for the second and third attempts.  Twice the nurse interrupted, to check on his progress.  The look on her face bespoke the mounting complaints she had to politely fend off out front.  People were now lined up – his walk-in clinic backlog of sick and needy increased with his every mistake, adding pressure to the already difficult stitching.  I heard him sigh.  He was the only doctor on duty.  With my eyes closed, I could feel the pull and stretch of his workings increase in speed.

In the end, he botched the job.  What was supposed to be a minor mole removal, would instead heal to look like a thick knife gouge.  I could see that he was torn between feeling bad about the work and running to help relieve the suffering horde that waited down the hall.

I waved him on.  He had seen only a tiny part of a body that had nothing to lose by adding another blemish.  Another addition to an otherwise disfigured body.

On the other side of my waist, hidden by my shirt, an ancient scar wraps around my rib cage.  A shawl of an olde weave, it is one of my eldest.  I have never not known it to be there crawling across the speed bumps of my side.  It ends at the furthest reach of my fingertips, slightly below my shoulder-blade.  A piece of my own suffering that I am at pains to be familiar with – so far out of time and so far out of sight.  It is at an awkward angle, even for mirrors.

Sometimes, I don’t even recognize it anymore.

Down the center my chest is a mausoleum of fixed wounds.  This is the line that everyone sees, that identifies me as once-broken.  Though few understand the depth of the loss.  From collarbone to upper stomach, a line denoting the entrance and exit into a heart of many deficiencies.  The line is ordained at its tip with a bright red sensitivity, and is opened to the public every 10-15 years for retrofit and the benefit of new med-students.

The organ pumps regularly now, as it was originally intended.   You can mend a muscle simply enough.  The damage to the incorporeal not so.  If only cow-skinned stitch-work could repair the injury of betrayal and emptiness.  But it can’t.  Instead, surgeons repaired a carcass.  Who can know that a scar is merely a cradle for the dead?

A patchwork soul is a marvel, but never a proper substitute.  This is not me.

Below that, two small dots.  Meaningless medals of honour, they represent a byproduct.  A temporary requirement to surgery, with the cost of a permanent and specific memory; a sensation that should not be remembered.

Further below, to my upper left thigh, two scars sit atop each other.  The occasional pain in my lower abdomen a reminder of my own cowardice and ignorance.  The lengths that we will go to forget ourselves is unparalleled.  Here one scar sits from a repair that I long neglected, and refused to admit to myself until the damage became too great.  And on top of that, another, to aid in a previous surgery.  They overlap because I failed to know myself.  They overlap because I accidentally misinformed the doctors of the previous scar.

Because I didn’t know myself.

There is a dull ache there, when I bring my mind to it.  A lopsided phantom pain.  And real one when I overuse the muscles where the scar-tissue resides.  Even clothes do not proffer an escape from that reality.  That is what these 2 scars give to me – no great hidden wounds, merely a reminder that my wounds cannot be hidden.

Clothes do not maketh the man.

The vanity of skin’s perfection does not apply to me.  It never will.  I was born into a body that required an invasion merely to experience existence.  There will never be “normal” for me, nor a need to conform to a magazine image.  There will never be even a hope of conforming to it – so far removed from possible is it for me.

My back is crooked, my spine twists unnaturally.  Curved to reflect the nature of my foundation.  What once stood tall has warped over time, under the pressures of growth and experience.  A reflection of my morality and will throughout the years.  The doctors politely lie, saying that it is as good as it once was, and that such contortions do no damage.  But we all fear the specter of a hunchback in our futures.  The shadow of another grave looms here too.  Eventually the problem will be fixed, another part of me repaired.  Killed.  With only a scar to show for it.

A refurbished house provides a strange kind of home.  You live amongst things that are not yours, yet you must accommodate.  Like cells attempt to reject foreign bodies, your soul wants to reject this outside of reality.  But it can’t.  These fixes are for the best.  And they are for you.  They provide a roof over your head, and fix the leaks.  How could you not accept them?  And so you live.  A Frankenstein of body that hides a Jekyll and Hyde of mind.

This isn’t me.  This is what is left.