We traveled to another planet on a rocket ship. It was strange to finally hurdle through space after staring at it our entire lives. The beings there led us into a structure. There was carpet on the walls, magazines were shaped in circles, pictures were under a clear substance on the floor, the ceiling was transparent, and they were kind to us.
We went for coffee with my mother-in-law. It was a walk up place on the boardwalk. The coffee was served in fancy tea cups and my wife said she wished we had cups like that. My mother-in-law looked at me and said with a judgmental voice, “Why haven’t you bought her cups like that?” I told her I’d never really thought about it before.
I no longer dictated my functions; my ability to think, evaluate, grow, all were degenerating: arboreal, amphibious, human, ghost. I see now, as I begin to recall what exactly happened, that life is so simple, so resolute in the functions that we have, where we place our arms and so on.
I can see the sunset through the front picture window in the reflection of the back window. The sky is purple, beauty looming above me, in reflections, in air, in sight. I’m holding back information because the moment I reveal anything I will be thought of as insane. Even more frightening to me is the fact that if I start telling you what happened I will have to relive the experience. There is a knife in these memories, they blindfold me and push me down stairs.
The red and blue rooftops are in black and white. I stand inside a picture from my past reacting to the flash. The purple sky is gone; there is no beauty to distract me as my future runs viciously through a foot of mud. I am an elephant crashing down into sleep. In the darkness I can see the lights of airplanes coming and going, moving across the sky like crabs move across the sand. I can hear the highway racing all around me, the city lights buzzing quietly in the grid.
Photo by Christopher Jug George*Voyageurs National Park*August 7th, 2012
Ron and Linda entered their motel room near Mount Rushmore. Linda sat on the bed, Ron fetched a couple of Buds out of the brown mini-fridge. Linda lit up a cigarette, Ron sat on the bed next to her. Their hips were touching and Linda put her hand on Ron’s knee. They were looking out the rectangle window next to the door. They watched cars fly by on the highway. They heard horns honking in the distance. They saw black smoke billow from trucks. They heard shouting in the room next door. They saw a billboard across the highway with a neon red Pegasus shining brightly. Above the billboard, green clouds were gliding across the land, moving stealthily toward the motel room window. A piece of hail smashed against it, then another. They heard fireworks going off, they heard thunder, they heard fighter planes and sirens.
Photo Christopher Jug George*Voyageurs National Park*August 6th, 2012
If bones didn’t heal when they break we’d be a sorry looking lot. Slowly, bodies would lose their parts, a leg here, an arm there, people would wear down with a heart pounding away in their chest, unbroken.
The world stretched out for miles, twisting and turning in Terry’s mind. He could see it so clearly, but in his world, the roads were made of grass and the houses were all inviting, the dark places were buried and everything was alive. Everything.
Nature goes on in the storm. Nature is not scared. Nature breathes, is breathing. Terry is starting to breath with nature because he has no other choice. His mind has put him here and there is nothing he can do about it.
“This is what you have to get through.” Terry tells himself. “These are the moments.” Terry’s having a moment. A large moment. “Don’t exaggerate this. Don’t make this bigger than it is.” It’s pretty big though no matter how Terry slices it. Terry is formerly fragile. He feels like a conqueror though, out there sawing wood. “Saw away you righteous fucker.” Terry never used to talk to himself or call himself a fucker. He’s drinking too. Sort of. Beer after beer, meaning two in two hours. It’s making him look at the blue world seductively.
Terry has done a lot to stave off the weight of the world. He knows about things, he knows secrets that are obvious, they are in the air he will tell you. “It’s all happening right now! Everything!” Terry likes to say. “All of it!” It’s a mechanism for him to stay in the present. He says this in his head at all times. His saw is happening at this moment, although it is under performing. It’s stuck in a knot so Terry lets it go, like he’s done in his head so many times before. Terry knows how to let things go. It makes him feel better. “Let it go, let it go, let it go.” Terry pulls the saw out and hears it gasp, curling up into a ball. He sets it at his feet. He can’t stand to see things die so he walks away.
Down the stairs, Terry is walking to Gold River Diana. He will sit there and stare at her even though she’s not talking to him right now. The Blue World is talking loudly. All of its sounds are gathering right outside Terry’s ears. He can hear the rumbling and knows they are about to enter him. It starts slowly, first the call of a bird seemingly coming from the other side of the world. It’s an extended chirp that starts out soft but is building steam, getting closer to his head and enters his ears. Then there is wind traversing through leaves building a large sound. It’s about to engulf him, Terry takes a deep breath and lets in the sounds.
Terry knows he needs to be sawing wood. It’s cold and there is no electricity. Terry looks at the mangled saw at his feet. It disturbs him but then it makes him laugh. The saw was alive when he found it in the shed earlier in the day. It even winked at him when he first held it as if to say, “Don’t worry, champ, I’m good to go, I’m not as old as I seem.” He picks it up gently and holds it in the air. Its eyes are closed, it’s a mangled stiff. “The saw is dead. I saw the saw almost die. I ran away. I saw the saw, I saw my fear, I saw my fear in half by running to her, Gold River Diana, I saw her at the bottom of the stairs, she is ignoring me, and I saw her below the Blue World. It’s all happening. Everything. All of it. I let it go. I’m going to see if I can saw a new saw.”
Terry looks into the cabin where it is dark except for a pocket of orange inside the black wood stove. He thinks it is so beautiful. When Terry sees beauty, he feels beauty, so much so that he can barely stay on the ground. Seeing the flames lifting, stretching upward and snapping off before giving way to flames below causes Terry to lift off the ground ever so slightly, his chest is growing, and he feels like he’s going to explode. He’s happy again and thinks ‘I’m happy most of the time these days.’ It never used to be that way.
Terry walks toward the shed. The shed smiles at him, its doors are already open. “That is such a nice shed!” Terry thinks, but he’s concerned that the doors were open when the saw died. He knows how ugly and unpredictable it is inside. He’s ready for anything and gets in position to tackle something if need be, or run. He hopes none of the objects in the shed saw the death because he knows that everything else in the shed will be sad and be of no use until they’ve properly mourned. Terry enters the shed to find a 3 foot tall Cardinal sitting on an upside down bucket.
“Yes?” The Cardinal says.
“Who are you?”
“Cardy! Who are you?”
“Well, I know that! Gawd. I mean, whooooo are you?”
“You are a very curious cardinal aren’t you?”
“I wish you would answer me, you see, I’m quite bored. I’ve been on this planet for 100 years now and I have no idea what to do with myself because for some reason, cardinals never die unless we kill ourselves. I mean, it’s our decision! Think about the burden of that!”
“Blue Herons are the same way!” Terry exclaims.
“Except they don’t want to die. I hate them for it. They are so, um, happy.”
“Blue Herons seem to be kings.” Terry says.
“Shut it, Terry.” Cardy retorts.
“Listen, Cardy, I know you’re having a moment and all, but I really need to find another saw because the sun is getting low and I need some wood for the night.”
“I understand, Terry. We all should do what we do. There should not be too much transference of weight in this world, you know? It is my burden.”
“It’s my burden.”
“Yup. Have you seen a saw?”
“Did I saw a saw?”
Terry and Cardy shared a laugh. It was a moment and they both recognized it so the world paused for them. It may have been only 5 seconds but they both felt the warmth of the paused world.
“That was nice, Terry.”
“Sure was, Cardy, now if you don’t mind.”
“Be my guest but I have to warn you, everything is sad in here because they saw the saw, um, you know.” Cardy said.
Photo by Christopher Jug George*Voyageurs National Park*August 7th, 2012
Today, in the early evening, seeing her standing in the dining room wearing that navy dress with polka dots made me crumble. It wasn’t the way it clung to her hip or how the shoulder cut sleeves gave way to her soft skin or how the sunlight fell just below her chin and across her golden curl. It was the smile above the dress, it was singular and for me. I closed my eyes for a second, then barely opened them as if a pinhole camera. The sunlight flashed across her smile and a picture was taken. I hid it in a place where I can always find it.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * July 7th, 2012* Le Sueur, MN
The Cowboy was almost home to her when he felt an emptiness near his heart. His pen was missing, left 3 hours back down the trail. It matched the color she painted her fingernails and when he tapped it on his desk it made him miss her less. He could picture it sitting high on the table in that Winona outpost.
His bulky brown car swung wildly through a service turnaround and he galloped back in time. He tied up his carrier outside the limestone and steel building and, while striding down the hall, his boots punished the linoleum floor. He pushed through the swinging doors of the conference room, his hands by his hips, staring at his pen unharmed next to a blue ashtray. He snatched it off the table and put it in his pocket protector; he pulled his hat lower on his forehead and set off back into the night.
Driving down the highway he could feel that pen next to his heart, her finger pressed into his chest, her laugh allied with the wind outside. Every time a car passed he believed it was a slide show, it would be dark, then light, then he’d see her face.
Thank you for having me over for cake. It was fun sitting there listening to each other breathe. My stomach started to hurt shortly after we ate. I approximated a contented face the best I could. It was the longest hour of my life.
An elementary school teacher put on a gas mask in the classroom once. His name was Frank. I always thought the first names of teachers were strange and I thought Frank looked eerie wearing a gas mask, especially with that first name of his. He looked disorientated as he bounced off his desk before bracing himself on the chalkboard. He wiped his hand on his hip and white chalk was visible on his brown polyester pants. I was thinking about candy when the deep, altered sound of his voice coming through the voicemitter immediately made me think of Darth Vader. I instantly thought of movie theater candy but then he said something about the possibility of nuclear war. I looked around the room at faces gripped by fear and confusion. I gazed out the window and there was a woman walking her dog. I pictured her wearing a rain bonnet over a gas mask, I then wondered if dogs would wear them too.
Sometimes, in the darkness of an early December evening, I could barely breathe when I walked home from school. I would cut through people’s backyards to get home quicker, still sweating from eighth grade basketball practice, seeing strangers in their homes getting ready for supper or already sitting down. I would see lit up houses with walls filled with pictures of their family. I would also see an eerie darkness inside of empty places, sometimes with cats’ eyes shining in the windows.
There were dogs that barked at me or looked at me with friendly eyes. There were large pine trees, backyard sheds, the golden moon behind leafless trees, and a reckless path in the snow created by my hurried boots, day after day.
The stillness of that small town was too much sometimes for a heart that was already breaking.
It had become a ritual for me. Before I went inside I would sneak into our backyard and look through the living room window at him resting on the couch, to make sure his chest was still moving up and down.
Then I’d look at his face and hope that I would know him for the rest of my life.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * St. Croix River * 2011
Ed warned us about his Tom & Jerry’s over the phone. He said we’d better walk if we came over because they would do a number on us. Ed and Dotty were more neighborhood acquaintances than friends. We happened to run into them at the liquor store and Ed excitedly invited us over, he later called to confirm. We’d never been to their house before, it was big and gave the appearance of them having money. I remember going into their kitchen and thinking how nice it was. I thought about our shitty kitchen and how I wished we had a kitchen like theirs. We sat in the living room and drank Tom & Jerry’s. It was strange because Ed acted like a big shot and fell asleep in his chair after his third drink. We made small talk with Dotty, she told us about some committee she was on and some airplane trip her and Ed were going to take. She didn’t ask us any questions about our lives. We were about to leave when the phone rang. She left the room and we could hear her in the kitchen talking with a girlfriend. We waited awhile before deciding to leave with a simple wave goodbye. We stood in the kitchen doorway and gave her a quick wave, she acknowledged us by waving back but continued to talk. Their kitchen suddenly seemed ugly to me. I realized how happy I was that we had what we had. On the snowy sidewalk out front I put my arm around my wife. She rested her head on my chest just below my shoulder. I loved the way her head felt right there. She turned to me and pressed her lips against mine, we made snow angels with our feet while we kissed.
I learned how to be funny from my Grandpa. He was a ham. I don’t think there is a better word to describe him because I remember his house in the woods often smelling like ham. He fought his way through many disappointments in life, one of those people whose smile got bigger the more you knocked him down. I get my sadness from him too. I realize now how much that man felt.
Photo by Christopher Jug George *St. Croix River* October 26, 2011
There’s pain in there somewhere, I realize, pain I thought I’d conquered. It poured out of me this past weekend and I started to wonder if it was real. Had I been guessing when I told myself I was ok? On Christmas Day I was watching 8mm home movies of people, of family, of strangers, of strange family, of Christmas, some of them I used to know, some I never met, one who disappeared from the world on that very day. They were so happy or pretending to be happy or sad, I couldn’t tell. I forgot what year it was on the street in front of my house and had no concept of time inside my house. I was lost and overwhelmed and had to press stop. I went outside to feel the present. I found myself on a path cutting through the park that ended in the middle of the road where I was dodging cars and further still, along train tracks then sitting beneath the Summit Avenue bridge watching my dog bark at birds as the world darkened and while sitting there I went further into the woods, where I saw something I thought I’d lost or forgot or made up. I saw a flash in the distance and even though I couldn’t see it clearly it was enough of a glimpse for me to know I’m not the great conqueror I thought I was . . .
Or maybe I’m still that boy from 1999 who wrote the same thing, in a 12 years ago way, in a novella:
I had to run but all of these people stepped in my path with indiscriminate looks on their faces, faces with no real connection to my current situation but rather just happening to move that foot, inch, or five feet in my direct line so that I was running through them and they were only concerned about tea, or how to get to the Nevesky bridge or what was said about them under someone’s breath, and every large person in the district gathered in one spot and pushed their pianos to that spot with them, and I scaled them swiftly as if I had the ability of the tiger that I saw within my dead Uncle, and next a thicket of thorny bushes that attached to my jacket only to get to a brick wall that I somehow managed to pass through, orange and black stripes flashing through my skin only to encounter every one in the Nevesky Prospect eating dinner in a straight line that adjusted to my path so that I stepped in people’s soup and on their meat and they acted as though they would be disappointed if I didn’t when finally I reached this point of isolation, these woods surrounded by birds . . .
I’ve been battling forever: with myself, with others, with memories, with life, with death. Fighting in a quiet way, mostly with my eyes and my thoughts. I’ve run from you, I’ve hurt you, I’ve tried to dismiss you, but, ultimately, I just ignored my wrongs, my rights, my gifts, my pain, my struggles with reality and then I think of a day like this one, when I was happy and oblivious. When I realized, for the first time, the world sometimes looked like my dreams and my heart pounded because of how golden yellow could be, how beautiful dying things were, how the landscape rose and fell, and gracefully gave into forever.
Photo by Christopher Jug George *St. Croix River-Gold River Diana* 4/28/10
You are a river, Diana, you are high. You are rushing and taking lives. I’m not even sure when you took mine. I’ve been negotiating a merger between the surreal and real for a long time. The deal is about to be struck. I was not here before, I will be gone again.
This is the part where we do what we can to make it all work because we can hear life’s clock ticking . . . as a reminder of this, we should all own clucking clocks with funny birds inside of them that come out every hour and do hilarious things like chirp, waddle, and splay.
My brother Jimmy is named after my Uncle Jim. When I was a kid I thought I had a bunch of uncles and aunts. I eventually found out they were all greats so I didn’t know any of them very long. I have known my brother forever. He made it a point to save my life.
Rushford is a small town in Southeastern Minnesota that is surrounded by movie backdrops with bluffs painted on them. It is green there and black and blue and golden. The sun and moon are made of cloth nailed into round wood frames and lit up from behind by spotlights. There is a silhouette of a woman stitched into the fabric of the moon and you can see her day and night. You can see the outline of her hair, the tip of her nose, and the purse of her lips. You can see her shirt sleeve hanging just over her shoulder, her elbow jutted out and her hand resting on the curve of her hip. You can see the wire above the moon holding her in place so she never leaves.
Photo by Christopher Jug George *Brugge, Belgium* October 1996
It was the last year of the century and we were walking the city streets during the good part of that summer. It was our favorite thing to do. We stood in front of an apartment building on Spruce Pl. and I told her that I thought Keith might live there. I pointed at a random window on the third floor and we both started yelling “KEITH!” “KEITH!” I remember her feet leaving the ground on one of the yells and I put my hand on her shoulder to keep her from floating away. I already knew she was going to float away.
We didn’t see any ghosts that day because everything we looked at was real. The woods sat in silence listening to the joy emanating from the people gathered there. The day ended and we had to go home but if I was standing there now I would still see the people I was with that day. I often have wondered if that’s how ghosts are made, moments like that, because every once in a while there is a day that never leaves you. Then life becomes like that.
Photo by Christopher Jug George *St. Croix River* May 12, 2011
The world tilted to the left that day and no one could walk straight. Horses were running everywhere and the hills lined up outside of houses as if they wanted to get inside. I was hiding behind a fallen tree, afraid to move as my world came undone. I fell asleep there and when I woke up it was the next day and everything was back to normal.
Photo by Christopher Jug George *Amsterdam* October 1996
I met a self-proclaimed ex-assassin from Eastern Europe at an Amsterdam Hostel once. His eyes murdered me when he asked for a cigarette. Two nerdy British girls hung around him that week. He liked them because they almost made him laugh. They asked me to have beers with them one night. He laughed and glared, laughed and glared.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * St. Croix River * October 26, 2011
His friend held him up for one of his last walks. They talked about serious things but not about his imminent death. It was the stuff they always talked about. There was no hint of sentiment or foreboding in their voices as the two understood their place in nature.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * St. Croix River * July 21, 2010
I wondered why that older lady from across the street didn’t eat any watermelon. Everyone else had red juice all over their fingers and chins. She sat there smoking and scowling. It was like she wasn’t even there. Eventually, her patio chair lifted off the ground and she floated into the sky like Mary Poppins with a frown.
When I was a kid there was a man operating a ride at a carnival who looked like Frank Sinatra. I walked up next to him as he yanked down a lever and I was convinced he was Sinatra. The ride kicked into gear and Sinatra reached into his apron and gave me a free ticket. He put his hand on my head, messed up my hair and winked at me. The sky grew dark and it started to downpour. The ride groaned and howled in the wind. It sounded like anyone could die at any moment. A nearby carny worker slipped on a thick black chord and fell to the ground. Sinatra pointed at him and laughed out loud to the point of exaggeration. That had to be Sinatra.
I wish she would have waited until we got home from Florida to tell me what was bugging her. She pouted the entire plane ride down there. At first I thought she was unhappy with the amount of orange juice they gave her on the plane. “Why can’t they just give me the whole can?” Then I thought she was annoyed with the size of the towel at the hotel. “It’s too small! It barely covers my body.” Then I thought she was mad because they didn’t give her enough melted butter for her lobster. “I’m going to soak it all up with the first dip!” She broke up with me in the frozen goods aisle of a Supermarket in Coral Gables. I told her I’d see her back at the hotel. I remember looking at the the lines on the floor. There was a green one that led to the produce. There was a red one that led to the meat department. There was a blue one that led straight out the door.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * Brugge, Belgium * October 1996
I walked along a canal in Brugge at a crucial moment in my life. I was swallowed up staring at her. There were people there, somewhere, but then they went home. The treetops leaned across the canal and met in the middle. The green and the water and the stone bridge became a room. I’m still sitting in that room. It’s so obvious now.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * St. Croix River * September 1, 2011
We drove to the country to see reindeer in a valley. I was very excited. It made me think of Christmas and all the stuff I would get. The reindeer were gathered around a feeder and I realized they were just big deer. Then I remembered the day I saw a dead deer strapped to the roof of a car in the driveway next door to our house. I will never forget the way those eyes didn’t look at me.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * St. Croix River * May 11, 2011
I saw a black orb in the sky. It looked like a planet or a space ship or something not of this world. I told my friend’s dad about it and he said he didn’t see it. I pointed at it and said “it’s right there!” which it obviously was. He said there was nothing there. I’ve never forgotten seeing that black orb and now I understand why he didn’t admit to seeing it which I’ll never understand.
This is my life with him here. My wife is in the bedroom sleeping; my children are in their rooms sleeping. We are talking about the kids. He adores them, he sees himself in them. I see myself in him. I’m old enough to know him. I’m old enough to realize the parts of me that are him. This is life if he never died.
I saw a child’s bike lying alone in a field next to some woods. It made me think of a neighborhood girl I liked as a kid. I was with her and she said something about hating her home. I told her she could come live with me. She said that she didn’t want to be in any homes. She left her bike and walked into the woods. Before she did, she kissed me on the cheek. I remember thinking that at least it was summertime and she’d be warm in there.
Like boxers the people remain in their corners, sometimes peeking out windows at each other. There is tension when two people arrive at the same time in opposing driveways, how they have to figure out if they are going to acknowledge one another. The world has changed and getting inside quickly has become the fad, as if the air is poisonous, the trees are scary and front porches shy from contact. They run even when the world is warm and beautiful and green. They no longer need one another.
Photo by Christopher Jug George * St. Croix River * September 1, 2011
Some people might call Frankie and me fuck-ups but it isn’t like that at all. There is freedom within life if you can find it, a freedom without the perks, that’s what Frankie calls it. He told me about it one night when we were sitting around the yard with Lisa and Betty. Frankie said “If you forget about everything and everyone, well there you are, alone in your own world and hey, if you have friends along with you for the ride, well that’s even better.” It’s friends, you see, that’s what Frankie taught me, real friends make all the difference in the world when you decide to live in your own world.