Stepping Off

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Stepping, stepping, stepping off, into the great unknown;
leaving behind familiar and comforts of home.
Red light of sol was shining directly in my face
when I made a left turn and headed north with haste.

One-hundred miles later, I made Jacksonville,
barely made dent in journey, had hours to go still.
I’m heading home to someplace, ain’t never been before,
Goodbye to yesterday, finer vistas at my door

Land of Mayberry Taylor, Opie and aunt Bea;
I’ll be facing hardship but I do so joyfully.
My life on desert island, surrounded by hot sand,
was not hoped-for paradise; Florida’s not my brand.

Twenty-three-million persons who call F-L-A home,
Leave them to their happiness, I never did belong.
I’m heading out like a baby anxious to be born,
Folks and places that I’ll miss, can’t claim that I am torn

Pray at my destination I’ll look around and see
winning combination that I’ll take to naturally.
I’m a man of four seasons, need winter, fall and spring
Sayonara endless summer, soul has grown new wings.

Stepping, stepping, stepping off, into the great unknown;
leaving behind familiar and comforts of home.
Stepping, stepping, stepping off, into the great unknown;
leaving behind familiar and comforts of home.

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January Sixth: Part 48 of 48

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“Nobody stole our plants?” Amber asked. “Was that really something you were concerned about? You sound like Bilhah. Kind of racist, don’t you think?”

“Oh. It was something Sean said. He was afraid that if we left the plants so close to the door that somebody might take them.”

“He was not!” she said with a snort.

John raised his eyebrows and his shoulders. “Uhm, that’s what he said. You’ll have to ask him yourself.”

“I’m sure he was joking. So, you’re definitely staying, right? Joni’s not going to be in that big house all alone?”

“I’m definitely staying and I thought we were selling that big house.”

“You know what I mean. She’s been through a lot.”

“She has. We have. And yes, I’m staying. In fact, I have a job interview lined up.”

Amber tilted her head to the side and nodded three times. “Nice. Where?”

“At the church. As a youth counselor.”

“At this church!? Wow. Well, good luck.”

Sean pulled to the curb in his Lexus GX and honked. Amber pushed open the outer door and said, “Well, I’m sure we’ll be seeing you around. Good luck with getting a job. Come on kids, Daddy’s waiting,” and left.

The remaining Hagans had moved into the chapel. Pastor Chris was saying, “Please, take all the flowers, vases, potted plants that you think you can use. If they don’t go home with you, they’ll probably just get tossed.”

The potted plants were the most popular of course and Joni, Payton and Jake took turns selecting their preferences. The selection process went smoothly and Joni made sure that she had collected all the cards so that she could write thank you notes to the kind souls who had left flowers for her mother. “Flores para los muertos,” John whispered.

“Flowers for the dead?” Joni asked. “I’d say flores para los vivos.”

John and Joni were last on Chris’ goodbye rounds and he approached them with arms wide open. “Joni, John, please let us know if we can be of service to you,” he said holding the couple in an embrace. “There are hundreds of people in this parish whose lives your mother touched. Hundreds.

“And John?” he continued, releasing them. “I’ve got my eye on you. I saw how you interacted with those young men back there, how you made Imani feel appreciated. Even in your time of sorrow. Coach Gable makes the hiring decisions for the outreach program but he usually welcomes my input. We’ll have to do a background check and all that of course but if you made as good of a first impression on Coach as you did on me then I’d say you’re a strong candidate. Good luck,” he added, extending his hand.

“Thanks, Pastor. For everything.”

Chris smiled, waved, turned and headed up the gentle slope to the church’s exit. “Well that certainly sounded encouraging, didn’t it?” Joni asked, slipping her arm through Johns.

“Yes. Yes, it did,” he answered, patting her hand.

“Okay,” Bilhah declared. “I think we’ve gleaned this field like locust. We ready to roll?”

“Ready,” Joni replied, nodding her head. “You guys want to stop at the house for a minute? It’s practically on the way to Amber and Sean’s. Greg, Monette? What are your plans?”

Greg looked to his wife. Monette replied, “None, really. Our flight back’s not until Friday; we figured we’d see some of the city.”

“Great,” Joni said, nodding her head. “Come over to the house?”

“Sure,” Greg replied, “love to.”

“Okay,” Jake interjected, “who’s going with who? Ashley, we got lots of room; Payton? We’ll be pretty tight with all the flowers, looks like you’ll have to walk.”

“Har, har, har,” Payton said. “You so funny. Yeah, let’s go to Mom and Dad’s. That’d be nice.”

“We’ll have to follow you,” Greg said. “Or should I put the address in my GPS?”

“No,” John assured him. “We’re really close. Home is like right here.”

As they grabbed the last of the flowers and headed out onto the streets he realized exactly what he’d said. ‘Home is like right here.’ That was close to the truth but there really wasn’t any room for that pesky modifier.

Stepping out into the daylight, surrounded by family he whispered to himself, “Home is right here. I like the sound of that.”

Within His Soul

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With slimmest chance of victory,
facing near certain defeat,
aged warrior contemplates
His tribe’s great and urgent needs.

Long gone are days of parley,
extinguished last hope for peace.
The flame of hatred’s burning;
against its strength can’t compete.

No longer truly matters
circumstance that hemmed them in:
Knows only course is battle,
though this struggle they can’t win.

Onward approaching dust cloud,
visible from far away,
is portent of disaster
from which there is no escape.

Swords are sharpened, loins girded,
they’re prepared for human tide.
No one discusses outcome.
Hopes and dreams this day will die.

With fury great and mighty
Warrior strikes the first blow.
With zero chance of victory
there’s no hope within his soul.

January Sixth: Part 47 of 48

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The “troop gathering” consisted of Jake, Bilhah, Daniel, Payton and Ashley, all of whom were sitting at a table with Greg and Monette Courtney. Jake looked up, raised his eyebrows and said, “Here’s your hat, here’s your coat, what’s your hurry?”

“Well, not exactly,” Pastor Cusick replied with a smile, “but we do need to clear the all-purpose room so the volunteers can clean up. I know that Imani is skipping school to be here, though I’m sure Tanya will write her an absence excuse. We were just going to collect the flowers from the chapel.”

Rising from the table Greg said to Monette, “I think that’s our cue to leave.” Extending his hand, he added, “Father? It’s been a pleasure. You did a great job.”

Monette seconded Greg’s statement and the Hagans clan all agreed. Chris led the way toward the chapel and as they passed the kitchen alcove Joni called out, “Thank you again, ladies! It is most appreciated!”

Michelle turned and waved. “You’re welcome! Don’t be a stranger!” and the other volunteers murmured support.

As they reached the door for Shekinah Chapel Amber said, “Chris? I’ll take Danann now. The kids are pretty tired. We really should go.” Tapping the largest plant with her foot she said, “Sean? Why don’t you grab that lily? I think we can find room for it somewhere.”

“Sure,” Sean said, shrugging his left shoulder. “Okay Breas, you take Mommy’s hand. Gersemi? Hang on to Gersemi, okay?”

“No! Wait,” Amber said. “Go get the car instead, won’t you? Ashley? Payton? Are you coming with us?”

Ashley looked to Payton who said, “No. We’ll help with clean-up a bit. Jake? You can drive us over to Amber’s, right?”

“Sure, bro.”

“Amber?” Joni ventured, “I was going to have everybody over to Mom’s for a minute. You sure you have to go?”

“Hmmm. Yeah, we better go. Danann’s getting kind of cranky. Get the car, Sean.”

As if on cue Danann emitted a squeal of joy which Amber ignored. Sean waved and said, “Deb, Dave. Father,” and lifted the big lily.

“Here,” John said, stepping forward and opening the inner door, “Let me get that.”

“Thanks, John. See ya.”

“I’ll wait here with the kids,” Amber said, entering the vestibule behind her husband. “Hurry, okay? I need to get to work.”

“Yeah,” Sean replied and exited.

“See ya,” John said. Alone in the vestibule with his sister-in-law and her children he added, “Well, thank goodness nobody stole our plants.”

Too Left Feet

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I got no rhythm, I got no beat
and when I dance I got two left feet.
String together words that I call songs
but the cadence always comes out wrong.

Songs are lacking dance-ability,
my rhymes are clever but all can see
that my talent’s only in my head
and music majors call my songs dreck.

“Stuff the rhythm,” sure would like to say
beat is my nemesis musically.
Into my world I’m sending invite
and with my words I hope to excite.

Excite your passions and evoke thought,
at end of day see what I have wrought,
I don’t work metal, I work with words,
I can sail my boat without halyards.

Stream of consciousness, great circle route,
is what my song writing’s all about.
Words come to me then go on a page
Meaning and rhyme my brain does engage.

Feel like the kids in Wrinkle In Time
when bouncing balls gotta fall in line.
With Whatsit, Which and a gal named Who
I’m afraid that It’s in hot pursuit.

I have done my best to keep a beat,
though I know rhythm me did defeat.
If you’re blessed with a musical mind
then I’m sorry for my offbeat rhymes.

Songs are lacking dance-ability,
my rhymes are clever but all can see
that my talent’s only in my head
and music majors call my songs dreck.

I got no rhythm, I got no beat
and when I dance I got two left feet.
String together words that I call songs
but the cadence always comes out wrong.

January Sixth: Part 46 of 48

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Amber was swiping her phone and apparently losing her battle with boredom. Deb held Danann as she and Dave cooed to and played with the baby while Sean sat, elbows on table, face resting in hands, watching the older children play with their tablets. “Mind if we join you?” Joni asked as the trio sat.

Dave looked up from Danann and smiled. “Nope. Don’t mind a bit. You okay?”

Joni smiled and patted her father-in-law’s hand. “Yep. Thanks. I know it’s going to hit me hard in a day or two, just like it did when Dad died, but for now I’m okay.”

“Good,” Deb answered. “I’m so glad that John will be here with you. I know for me losing my mother was even harder than losing Dad; right honey?”

“Well, you lost your father first,” Dave answered. “I think once both your parents are gone everything just seems so final. I know for me losing my dad was worse, but then my mom died first. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a same sex thing or maybe it’s that last chapter closing. Guess we’ll never know.”

“In my experience it does seem to be both,” Chris said. “Men tend to identify more with their fathers and women with their mothers. Lots of exceptions of course! I’ve seen families where one parent was beloved and the other was, shall we say, barely tolerated? Difficult no matter the circumstances of course.”

“Amen to that, Father,” Dave replied.

“Pastor Chris,” Deb said, emphasizing the word pastor just a bit, “you really seem to have a lovely congregation here.”

“I do indeed,” Chris confirmed, “and thank you so much for saying so. It’s been an amazing journey getting here.”

“Yeah, Pastor,” Dave said, glancing at his wife, “you said that you were brought up Catholic? How’d you end up a Lutheran minister?”

Chris shook his head, smiled and said, “That question could fill volumes. Let’s just say that I have had an avocation to serve my whole life. Well, at least my adult life. I tried service in the military, both because I wanted to serve and, frankly, because with ROTC I could afford to go to a great Catholic school like Fordham, but the longer I was in the military the clearer it became to me that the service I was providing for my country really wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d hoped, so I started looking into being a Chaplin. I even started seminary in Maryland, a little school called Mount Saint Mary’s.”

“Mount Saint Mary’s? You’re kidding! Deb has a good friend who graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s back in, what? Eighty-one, right?”

“Yes. Mary Tiernan. I don’t suppose you knew her?” Deb asked with a big smile.

Chris smiled in response. “No, can’t say that I did. Of course, this was for graduate work so I wasn’t there until the early nineties so our slim chance got reduced to none. Lovely place; I really enjoyed my time there.”

“It was lovely. I visited Mary twice and Dave and I attended her graduation.”

“So, you were in a Catholic seminary but you became a Lutheran priest, huh?” John said. “Probably not a lot of folks who can claim that.”

“No, I’m pretty sure we’re pretty few in numbers. Not that it matters all that much. The denomination I mean. Service is service and too often we confuse trivia for essentials.”

The all-purpose room clean-up had progressed to the point where tables were being folded and stored out of the way. Chris looked around the room and said, “Folks, it looks like there’ll be no rest for the weary. If it’s not too much of a burden now may be the time to load your flowers so the volunteers can finish?”

“Oh,” Joni replied, looking around the room. “Right you are,” she said, standing and opening her arms for an embrace. “Thank you, Chris. Your presence was always a joy for Mom.”

Chris enveloped her in his arms and said, “And vice-versa. Come on, let’s gather the troops and load those cars.”

Releasing Joni, he held his arms out to deb and said, “And how about if you let me carry little Danann? I need to stay in practice for my nieces and nephews.”

Fast Forward

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Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward through life,
let’s get to the car chase, the sex scene, the fight.
I need stimulation to know I’m alive
fast forward, fast forward, let’s hit overdrive.

Contemplation is boring, discourse is for fools;
thirty-seven tabs running with caffeine as fuel.
We need to grab all the gusto that we can reach,
you can practice moderation but for god’s sake don’t preach!

Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward, young man,
fast forward and grab all the living you can.
Aesop was an idjit, it’s easy to see,
his ants been exhorting toil since time BC.

Ben Franklin loved to party, way back in the day,
never said beer proves God wants us to be happy.
Old Ben loved singing, along with women and wine;
beer wasn’t his preference, thought wine was divine.

Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward, that’s right!
I’ll be hungover tomorrow but, wow! What a night!
We’ve only so many hours to be alive
and I ain’t wasting my time on boring ass jive.

I’ve got a candle that I burn at both ends
may make my life kinda short but let’s not pretend
that what counts is the years we have in our life,
when we all know that hard living makes us feel right!

Sometimes I’m perplexed by drunkards that I call friends,
though that slows not a whit partying and carousing,
I gotta keep running just as fast as I can
because short are the days of longest lived men!

Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward through life,
let’s get to the car chase, the sex scene, the fight.
If you need to find me you know where I’ll be,
holding on for dear life trying to get my feet under me.

Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward, young man,
fast forward and grab all the living you can.
Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward, that’s right!
I’ll be hungover tomorrow but, wow! What a night!

January Sixth: Part 45 of 48

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Parishioners and other mourners had comfortably filled Shekinah Chapel and directly after Lottie’s ten o’clock funeral Mass the tables in Our Savior’s all-purpose room had barely accommodated the crowd that stayed behind to nosh and visit. Now, as the clock approached noon, there were more empty seats than full ones and the squad of volunteers who had arranged and managed the after-Mass breakfast were beginning to switch from serve to clean-up mode. The food, though still plentiful, had been picked over pretty thoroughly. Joni, John and Chris each selected multiple offering which they added to their plates in small amounts.

“You should try this pulled pork,” Chris said, adding some to a small role and placing it on his plate. “MS Helen’s pulled pork is to die for.” John and Joni followed suit and the trio made their way down to the end of the line.

Cary Grant walked up to Joni and extended his hand. “Joni? I’m afraid I should get going. I’m so sorry about your mother. Truly a wonderful woman. John?” he said, shaking his hand, “I’ll call you about the outreach program. You should hear from me before the weekend. Chris, I’ll catch you later.”

“So long, Coach. Take care,” Chris said. “Outreach program? You two got something you’re working on already?”

“Oh. Sort of. I mentioned I was looking to work in an afternoon program and Charlotte introduced me to Coach Clark, that’s all.”

“That’s all? That’s a pretty big step for somebody who’s fresh off the bus. That’s great, John. We need strong youth leaders.”

Michelle, who had donned a white apron to protect her black pants-suit, stood behind the half-wall partition, her back to the all-purpose room, directing the volunteers and supervising cleanup. She turned, caught sight of the Knopicks and Pastor Chris and her mouth puckered into a small, round orifice.

John suppressed a smile as he watched the external signs of her internal struggle. Michelle’s eyes closed, her nostrils flared and then a forced smile decorated her face. “Joni! I was wondering if you was going to get a chance to eat anything. You holding up?” she asked.

“Oh, pretty well, thank you. Being around people helps. Those first few nights alone were rough. Thank you again for keeping everything running so neatly. I feel honored by the parish’s turnout.”

“Well, you know your mother. She’ll truly be missed. Pastor mentioned that I might have not given you good directions on the altar flowers? Take your time about moving ‘em, just be sure to take any that you want’s to keep; okay?”

“Yes,” Joni said nodding. “I got it. We’ll be sure to take the ones we want before we go. Thanks.”

“Oh, sure, sure. Don’t mention it. You’se wants iced tea?”

“Yes, please,” Joni said nodding her head. “John?”

“Tea would be great, thanks.”

“And how about you’se, Chris?” Michelle asked. “You’se wants tea?”

“That would be lovely, Michelle. Thank you.”

Michelle filled three, tall, hard plastic cups with ice and tea, placed them on the counter and said, “Sugars over there,” pointing to a small table a few steps away. “Glad you’re doing good, Joni.”

“Thanks, Michelle,” Joni answered as they made their way with food and drink away from the food line and out into the all-purpose room. “John, your folks are stuck with Amber, why don’t we go sit with them. Father?” she added.

“You lead, I’ll follow. After all,” he added in a conspiratorial tone, “It wouldn’t be fair to leave anybody stuck with Amber; now would it?”

January Sixth: Part 44 of 48

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After Clark Gable left Joni and John excused themselves from the church ladies and their granddaughters. John elbowed his wife and whispered, “Look who’s breaking the color barrier.”

The who was Dan, and the where was a table where Pastor Chris stood talking to half-a-dozen teenage boys. The boys had all draped themselves over their seats and were eating from heaping plates of food in front of them. Dan’s winter white color stood out among the others’ skin tone which ranged from a black so deep that it looked blue to shades of brown, ochre and taupe. “Looks like he’s enjoying himself,” Joni replied.

“He does. Join him?”

“Mingle, mingle, mingle,” Joni said with a smile. “And if you’re thinking about working with the parish youth seems like this is a pretty good opportunity to meet some of them.”

Chris’ face lit into a smile as John and Joni approached and then stood next to him. “Guys,” he said, “I think most of you know MS Lottie’s daughter Joni; and this is her husband John.” Pointing with his fingers Chris added, “And this is Cesar, Devon, Malik, Elon, Taye, DeMarco and I think you know Dan there; right?”

Joni smiled and John nodded, saying, “The one with jug ears who looks just a little bit like my wife? Yeah, we’ve met. Gentlemen, pleased to meet you. You keeping my nephew in line?”

“Danny here thinks that the Vikings are gonna win the Super Bowl,” Malik said with snort. “As if.”

“Yeah, right!” Danny replied, shaking his head. “They only got an eleven five record. Wait! Isn’t that like the exact opposite of the Bears? Don’t hate the great! Support the Vikings fore it’s too late!”

“Like those sorry-ass purple people eaters are even gonna make it to Fifty. No way, bro!” Malik retorted. “Packers. You’ll see.”

“Packers!” DeMarco hid his face in his hands and shook his head. “No way. Vikings, Cardinals.”

“Vikings, Cardinals!” Danny exclaimed. “They’re in the same division!”

“Pats, Green Bay,” Cesar chimed in.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, gentlemen,” Pastor Chris said, “but I’m afraid you’re all wrong and most of you are letting your regionalism show. Cesar is a little bit closer to reality than the rest of you dreamers but this is not going to be a Midwest slugfest. It’s going to be Broncos versus Panthers and Denver’s going to win twenty-one to fourteen.”

“So, what? You got like, insider information from God?” John asked.

Chris smiled. “No, but I do enjoy my fantasy football league so I am a treasure trove of statistical tidbits; and I’m telling you the numbers say Denver and Charlotte with Denver by seven.”

“That because they from the Mile-High City, Papa?” Taye asked with a smirk.

“Funny, Taye, real funny,” Chris responded with a smirk of his own. “You know what else is funny? Suicides instead of shooting hoops. I bet you Coach Gable would love to have you guys do some gut drills; don’t cha think?”

“Oh, come on, Papa! You know I’s just kidding!”

“Well, I sure hope so, because that stuff is definitely bad for growing men. Or women! You know even in Colorado you have to be at least 21 and the psychologists tell us it really isn’t anything somebody under the age of thirty should be using? Thirty, gentlemen. Of course, here in Illinois it doesn’t matter because the only people pot is legal for is folks with a prescription, and that certainly isn’t any of us, now is it?”

“They gonna change that, Papa,” Taye insisted. “They gonna make pot legal here.”

“No, they’re talking about decriminalizing pot, not making it legal. Fines, not jail. If the law gets changed. You got an extra two hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket? Plus, still going to have to be at least 21. Hugs, not drugs! You need a big ol hug, Taye?” Pastor Chris asked, arms spread wide, eyes bug eyed and a huge, open mouthed grin on his face.

“Shoot, Papa! You know I don’t smoke no weed.”

“Right,” Chris said nodding his head. “I know. I know you signed a pledge not to at least,” he added with a wink. “Telling you, read the research. Thirty!

“Joni, John, you get anything to eat yet? If we don’t eat it they’re just going to throw it out you know,” Chris asked.

Joni and John looked at one another. Joni said, “No, we haven’t. You want to grab a little something?”

“You took the words right out of mouth.” Chris said with a smile. “Come on,” he added jerking his head toward the line of crockpots and cold platters. As they exited toward the food Chris hollered over his shoulder, “Hope! Not dope!”

Spinning

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My head it has been spinning as I look back on my years
I fear I’ve been restricting both laughter and tears.
Living like a WASP with a stick poked up my ass,
far too apt of a description, though I grant that it is crass.

I have been a victim of crimes that I did perpetrate;
need to escape this mental prison before it’s all too late.
Now I’ve a clearer vision of the sphere I’m living in,
and my new perspective’s rejecting sickly sweet saccharine.

Gotta reach for the heavens, man, set sight on the stars!
Kneel at altar of Venus while giving sacrifice to Mars.
Contraindications, contradictions and contrarians
urge us to live life of ascetic while showing aesthetic of sin.

What’s your vector, Victor? Which way are we being pushed?
If my body is a temple then is my temple’s incense kush?
Bubble I’ve been living in is at its breaking point;
feel the pull of food, wine, sex and an extra tight rolled joint.

Mostly lived life as a Boy Scout, done a good turn daily,
will courteous, kind, obedient be replaced by debauchery?
Sometimes in the course of human events we must set politics aside
izquierda diablo, derecho ángel, gotta figure out just what I can abide.

I am not alone in my great big, king-sized bed,
my mate sleeps by my side, unaware of thoughts within my head.
Middle of the night is apt metaphor for my middle years;
seems that my clutch is slipping and all I’m doing’s grinding gears.

Emotions are the spice we need to make life savory
but getting sucked in by their power can affect us adversely.
We’re all in need of finding balance as we walk high rope that’s tight,
paradox of staying grounded while soaring is eternal plight.

There’s a rush of emotion that’s turning me around
need to integrate my thoughts, hopes, dreams, make a decision sound.
Thoughts and feelings that rush through my mind lying here in bed
are things I need to explore more fully someday before I’m dead.

It is with anticipation that I face my coming day,
thankful for the blue skies that will soon chase away the gray.
Need to treasure every moment as they’ll never come again;
and I’m feeling optimistic on way life’s begun to spin.