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Contact Mizeta at mizetasworld@live.com, or Howard at fhschneider@comcast.net

A Poem for Linda

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Back from San Fran and what a trip,

everywhere you go someone wants a tip.

I left there broke and spent too much money.

What you are charged for things isn’t even funny.

Nothing is cheap, and prices are high,

but I wanted to see San Fran before I die.

I rode on the Bart, and bus’s, too,

Saw Golden Gate bridge, there’s so much to do.

Hopped on a cable car which went up a steep hill.

After 3 days there, I had my fill.

It’s good to be back here with nothing to do,

except write this for Linda, and maybe make some beef stew.

Dogs

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Dogs are the best,

of this I can attest.

They love you no matter what,

even when you’re in a rut.

I like to watch them run and play,

they show us how to enjoy each day.

They don’t turn on you like people do,

you know they want to be true to you.

I wish the dogs could all run free,

they are such a gift to people like me.

 

Writing Class

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I need to think of something new to share in writing class,

Susan gives us homework, so I better get off my ass.

To think of something funny, like Howard does each week,

puts me under pressure and makes my bladder leak.

Each week we write for 10 minutes at a time,

another source of stress for me.

I’m no longer in my prime.

Which brings me to the topic of getting old like this,

I’m glad I haven’t croaked yet,

there’d be so many things I’d miss.

Our Summer Home

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I loved our summer home. The room ran the length of the house. There were two windows that faced the river. There wasn’t much furniture. Just a few chairs, a table, and an old mattress. The floor boards were a bit uneven, but Mom and my aunts and cousins didn`t care. We snuggled together and slept like rocks.

The family came every June and stayed until September. My Dad and my uncles preferred the outdoors and found a quiet place in the woods to sleep.

Mom and Dad were “night owls.” Mom began to get restless about sunset. She waited impatiently for the dark of night, then off she would go. My cousins and I would fend for ourselves knowing that she and my aunts would return by morning. They had a grand old time eating and drinking and who knows what else. Mom never talked about her night excursions but seemed happy and content when she returned. I begged to go with her, but she just smiled and said, “Someday.”

Finally, one night Mom whispered, “Okay it is time for you to join us.” The stars glittered in the velvety black sky. A crescent moon peeped over the mountain, and the scent of honeysuckle wafted on the breeze of hot, humid summer air. We stopped for a cool drink before joining some others. Then it was a night of feasting and dancing—with lots of swaying and circling.

We repeated this night after night, and I grew fat and content. Who knew you could gain weight on a diet of mosquitoes and moths?                                    

The Dancing Tree Bird

Dancing tree bird standing fifteen feet tall,

holding her head high with nose toward the sky.

She just stands tall all day long as people walk by

and admire how beautiful and green she is.

She stands with pride.

When night starts to fall,

the moon sits up in the sky, so bright and proud.

When midnight comes, she breaks free into her dance,

her head upward toward the sky,

her arms reaching for the clouds,

dancing gracefully on her limb toes,

moving off the ground and back down once again.

She does this all night until daylight starts to break,

then back she goes to her standing spot till evening falls.

Cat

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It’s evening, 6:30 to be sort of exact. 

I look out my window in the glass-paned door,

And there's “Big Goldie” as I call him

for lack of a better name.

 

He is a large, furry, proud gold cat.

He sits on the railing of the balcony, across the courtyard from my apartment.

The Proud Owner.

No one tells big Goldie what to do! 

 

Sometimes he’s in the window 

on the ledge

Sometimes he’s on the railing.

Always you feel he’s the boss.

 

I wouldn’t want to humiliate him by calling him anything else.

Not “just a cat.”

He’s a presence in the neighborhood.

His home is on the third floor

And even on cold days,

The window, or the door, or both are open.

 

My neighbor, Kathie,

who knows what goes on around here,

told me he fell one day,

from the third floor (yes!) to the ground.

 

But he doesn’t give up. He’s doesn’t allow himself to let a simple fall keep him in.

Like an athlete, he gets out there, back on the horse, as they say, and conquers the railing again.

 

An example to the rest of us; 

Keep at it! You only have one life!

Live it to the fullest!

Yes, you may fall, but get up and try again.

The lumps and bruises are proof,

That you have lived well and hard.

You are a survivor!

White Lightning

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Mark and Kevin are the only ones on the swing shift. Though they were raised less than thirty miles apart as Jim Crow flies, in 1961, their home towns remain worlds apart in culture and history. Mark drives to the city from northern Virginia, where he lives among the remains of the first and second Civil War battles of Manassas. Kevin, from Chevy Chase, Maryland, has always felt the waters of the Potomac River separate him from a foreign territory, the South. A land where, if one didn’t watch what flowed out of his mouth, one could drown in prejudice. The little exposure to the war that lingers in Kevin’s world are “White Only” signs on restrooms, bars, drinking fountains in rural Eastern Shore, Maryland. And, oh yes, cars sporting a rebel flags on antennae. In Manassas these are frequent, almost required sights. Some might say Mark isn’t fully committed to the Southern cause. He flies no flag. Kevin’s flag is a work in progress. Working together will be interesting.

After a few weeks of cautious forays, they begin to explore their different worlds. To get a taste of alcohol, minors in Maryland depend on sneaking into their parent’s liquor cabinet or approaching strangers who lurk about liquor stores. Kevin explains you give money to the lurker who buys a bottle for himself and one for you and your buddies. Mark’s experience is more of a family affair. In the woods around Manassas, everyone and his cousin sips moonshine. Late one dark-of-moon night, on an unmarked dirt road, Mark introduces Kevin to his cousin who provides his first taste of ‘shine. Burns Kevin’s throat and sears his eyes, that liquid lightning from a backwoods furnace does.

Like a post Appomattox parley, those sips begin to dissolve barriers. Gradually, they probe and poke a little deeper into the worlds they inhabit. Religious and social differences raise their heads in conversation. Though the one is a southern Baptist, the other a Catholic, they remain open and deferential. Discussions about birth control, celibate versus married clergy, a literal understanding of the bible, the Civil—or War of Northern Aggression as Mark’s folks prefer to characterize it, ease into the room. Not that either one takes an absolutist stance on any topic, but they do glimpse new perspectives on life. Slavery and Negros never comes up. However, it is clear that for Mark there are no shades of color, there is white and then there are, “The Colored.”

Eventually another southern-bred joins them on the swing shift. He is older by ten years and taller by half a foot than they are. This one hails from the hills of Eastern Kentucky, where the land can roll over, into, under and against itself. Travis Mac Tagert, descendent of Scottish scratch farmers and wrangler of raw dreams. He carries his shoulders hunched and his chin punched forward, wanting to dominate the landscape with the excess verbiage he stores in his ample jowls, as if they are dogs waiting for the master to call them to a ‘coon hunt. He likes to revel “the boys,” as he calls Kevin and Mark, with stories of his prowess and acquisitions. He has every first pressing of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, a flintlock rifle collection second only to the one in the Davey Crockett museum, and has eaten real southern bar-b-cue in every town east of the Mississippi and south of Vicksburg. In fact, if you’ve done it, seen it, or have it, he slides the trap door of his bald spot open and conjures as to how he owns more, has done more – is more. The Wizard-of-Quite-a-Lot, he likes what he sees in the mirror, Travis does.   

One night, Travis is sitting in the corner on break, Mark and Kevin are talking quietly. The topic of race peeks out of the woodwork. Mark says he doesn’t think Negros and whites could live together as equals. For instance, who could ever elect a Negro sheriff? In that moment, in that sterile, institutional green, windowless office where the floors are spread out in shades of out-house brown, a would-be idealist attempts to wade into the waters of separation. Kevin disagrees.

“They read the bible and live by the golden rule much as anybody. Someday Negros and whites might even have families together.”

On hearing Kevin, Travis jumps off his backside and barks, “Why, no white man in his right mind would marry a Nigger, not on your life he wouldn’t.”

Kevin glances at Mark, who is studying the floor, then rubs his nose in preparation for opening his mouth. He barely gets out an “I” before Travis cuts him off. As if he’s throwing his grandfather’s moth-eaten, white sheet and cotton gloves in the face of a relentless foe, Travis rises to his full height, takes a preemptive, three-stomp-march forward, thrusts his chest into muggy air that likes to cling about him and jabs a trembling finger at Kevin.

“I know, by damn, you wouldn’t let your sister marry one of them darkies, buster.”

Attempting to complete his foray in the third battle of Manassas, Travis struts back to his corner, puffs his lungs out further, thrusts a clenched fist to the heavens as if he is the second coming of Stonewall Jackson and fizzles slowly down to his chair.

Silence, wanting to take up residence, slithers out from the corners of the room and slinks along the floor sucking up any spare oxygen. Mark ducks in a furtive smile. Kevin edges under the fluorescence, willing its meager clarity to wash over him. After a moment’s pause, sporting a red face, more from fear for what he is about to say than anything, Kevin stammers, “It’s not my decision who my sister marries. Besides, if her choice is between you and any Negro, you’d be dead in the water.”

Second Innocence

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Dour dawns, where do they come from?

I wake up in danger and fear. When did that start? The last few years, a decade maybe. I know as a young man, in my twenties, thirties, forties, and so on, I woke up as bright as the morning sun, ready to have fun, knowing I could walk into the day feeling the warm swathe of life about me, knowing good things were afoot. But that has changed. Perhaps after I left, the kitchen, the desk, the pulpit, after I turned the corner of my careers to a certain age and began to wander about—beginning to feel mortal, wondering how far this retirement thing is to go; what do I have left to give, get, or be; that’s when it started.

So, I ask, what is here for me to make into a worthwhile day? I have the three writing groups, conversations with my son, wife, friends. And grandchildren, yes three granddaughters. Hey, maybe that’s the secret about grandparents and grandchildren: there is pure innocence in the one and the search for lost innocence—no, the search for a path to return to innocence, in the other. I mean us oldies once knew what innocence was and now we so much want a reprise, an encore, a déjà vu. But we fear it’s no longer to be had at this age, because, in truth, we can’t quite recall the look, feel, and touch of that pure, fresh morning-sky-innocence. We feel lost in the vapor of a memory in which innocence resides, fogged over now in a dissipating contrail of time and fears.

Somewhere out of the depths of our past our innocence calls for a rebirth. But this seems impossible. Decades of mortgages, performance reviews, words in conflict and confusion with significant others, strangers, and friends as to how we can do this life together, have drowned our connection with the virtue of the uncontaminated and good life. But each granddaughter lives. She lives in the pure field of expectation that life is here for her simply because she is alive. She smiles and the world smiles back. She is a special person and it is all good.

Maybe in the next decade I’ll find the courage to return to those plains of grace where I know I am special and life is here for me. As it was for me then, as it is for her now, as it should be for all of us, always, equally. I mean there is enough to go around. The stars cannot not contain the hopes and the faith we wish to have about those hopes. But, if we look closely, if we allow the natural compassion and grace in our hearts to have their say, we will find we do retain all the beliefs and love of the pure soul of a three-year-old.

What's New in Your Life?

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Some might ask “What’s new in your life? Why are you sitting in a darkened parking lot in the middle of the Mojave Desert?”

I raise my eyes to the night sky, to millions of points of light shinning there, visible to the naked eye now that I’m away from city lights and I wonder the same thing—Why am I sitting here under a night sky? What am I waiting for?

Afraid of the answer I already know, I pull my eyes away from that infinite sky and scan the parking lot again, looking for headlights on a slow-moving car looking for me. I see nothing.

Amazing how still the night can be, and how everything can disappear until you hear only the quiet.  Straining through the darkness and soundless night, I try to imagine how it will be when it’s night forever for me, no stars to see, no quiet to hear.

I fall asleep with the image I have been carrying with me since the day I decided to actually go on this adventure. I imagine him knocking on my car window, a wizened Paiute Shaman saying “Hi, Rolling Thunder’s the name, healing’s the game.”

I wake just as the horizon is showing itself in a spray of pink and lavender, the sun not far behind. Looking to my right, I see Cyndi, my wife of many years, looking towards me as she smiles and reaches for my hand. “Let’s try the campground at Cave Lake again,” she says. “Maybe a campsite has opened up. The girls should be arriving sometime today.” (The girls being our two daughters, now living in Southern California, but willing to drive up and meet us here in Ely, Nevada, for what all of us are hoping for— a miracle fueled by desperation.)

Back to the campground.  We circle, but see only one man in a too-small olive drab G.I. shirt walking a cat on a leash. “Are you leaving?” we ask. The man leans on the hood of the car, shows us a toothless smile and answers, “It’s going to be a pressure cooker today.”  Upon seeing the camping gear for four people piled into our back seat he added, “you folks live in your car?”  Dumbfounded by his wisdom, we press on.

The circling didn’t work— too early in the day. We find a nice little parking spot adjacent to the road directly across from the campground and settle down to wait for a camper-looking vehicle heading out; then we’ll make our move. One does and so do we.

Spot number two has opened up and we secure it. Success was inevitable, not through adroit planning, but by blind luck and happenstance—two factors which I have become convinced rule most things in life.

There is no shortage of sunshine here in the desert. There is also no shortage of pesky little bugs, ones that bite with a vengeance. Our time spent waiting was filled with both, interrupted only once when a cloudburst, complete with lightning and rolling thunder, made us both believe that complete health was near, we were certain it was an omen of things to come.

The girls arrive. We exchange wondrous stories of the desert and the pesky biting bugs before we set out to find Rolling Thunder. There is a Shoshone reservation outside Ely, and since Shoshone are closely related to Paiute, that’s where we are headed.

I had held images of rows of Tepees with smoke rolling from the top in my mind, but since it was now around one hundred and ten degrees this was bloody unlikely.  I settled for pre-fab homes with air conditioning.

I looked around for a building or structure that would tell the story of this noble culture, something, anything-really, that said there is wisdom and knowing inside, you have only to seek and we will show you the way. But all I saw was a laundromat with a picture of the Marlboro guy on the front. It looked like our best shot.

There was a smoke shop inside the laundromat with a very Indian-looking lady standing behind the counter.  I felt this was it—I knew we were close. “We’re looking for Rolling Thunder,” I said. “Do you know where we might find him?  He’s a Shaman, a Medicine man of the Paiute tribe. I’m sick and we’re hoping he can help me”.

“I have heard of such a man,” she said, “but the Paiute are up around Battle Mountain and Pyramid Lake. You need to go there.” 

But Pyramid Lake is far from this place, and it would be well into the night before we could get there. I was growing weary of chasing promises that I knew in my heart would not heal the brain tumor slowly taking my life away. 

We returned to the campground to assess the events of the day. 

That afternoon was draped in desert glory, the sun rode low on the horizon and the blue of the sky met the desert in an unbroken line of stark beauty.  A light wind arose, and the yellow desert sun muted to a cool gold. Clouds rolled in from the West. The air grew still. The creatures of the desert grew still. We grew still; a lightening flash and then the rolling thunder again.  

As the rain came, we all took shelter in the little nylon tent and I began to feel that real shelter was experiencing this moment with those who love me and whom I love.  Perhaps that’s all I really need.

Obsession

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As I sit here stirring the peanut oil into my natural, crunchy, non-homogenized jar of peanut butter, I can only imagine the number of jars of peanut butter I have consumed in my lifetime.  Sandwiches on squishy soft white bread were made for school lunches, snacks, and summer camp. It is what I desire when I return from vacation after eating plenty of rich foods at restaurants. Of course, I try to make it healthier now and have ditched the white bread.  Now these days I favor the whole grain, high fiber bread that I scorned as a child.

I come by this obsession honestly. My Dad loved to eat a big scoop of peanut butter whenever he was hungry and his favorite evening snack was grilled peanut butter and Miracle Whip salad dressing sandwiches. The rest of the family turned up our collective noses and preferred grilled cheese sandwiches.  Of course, we insisted on using Velveeta cheese. It is not hard to see how those extra fat calories landed on us and stuck fast.

No one really knows the complete history of peanut butter. Peanuts were known as early as 950 BC and originated in South America. By the 1800's the first commercial crop was grown in Virginia. It is said that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented a process for creating peanut butter from raw peanuts. He served it to his toothless patients in the Kellogg Sanitarium. I learned many facts about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg from the book “The Nuts Among the Berries"

In 1903 Dr. Ambrose Straub patented a peanut butter making machine. As time went on, commercially available peanut butter was made from roasted peanuts (which I believe made for a much tastier product).

You can ask any number of folks what their favorite addition to the peanut butter sandwich is. I bet that is a good conversation starter. The list would be endless: butter, jelly, honey, Nutella, bananas, pickles, mustard, bacon, raisins, mayonnaise, or goat cheese, not to mention all the cakes, cookies, pies, candy, entrees, and (of course ) ice cream that includes peanut butter. What is your favorite?

I must admit it is only one of the foods that I could call an obsession, but our lives would be pretty boring without it.

 

 

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