Saturday, December 20, 2014


Lupine Near Native American Village Site

   Parking in the dirt by a load of rubbish near Fancher Creek, I pulled up the parking brake: No one in the immediate vicinity. Then I grabbed my buck knife from the glove compartment, slid it onto my belt, and trotted across the oiled, single-lane road which snakes through one abandoned Native American village site after another in the lower foothills. Before I jumped up on the rock and stepped over the barbed wire, I noticed Fresno etched in the distance, so I rushed back to my car and checked the doors again.
   The region safer than most urban areas, I could hike all the way to the Kings River if I wanted to, my path only blocked by orchards just before I made it to the river. Cows might ignore me or stampede in complete terror away from me (or toward me), quail would occasionally burst out of the bushes, coyotes would pause and gaze and lope off as if hoping to be chased back to their lair. There was a slight chance that I might encounter a bobcat or a mountain lion or a rattlesnake, but with my buck knife I was ready for anything.
   Most of the paths on the bluffs converged in the floodplain of the creek, whose bed miles away had functioned as the Valley's first irrigation ditch for a farmer who lured the railroad, the catalyst of urban growth, to the area. I chose a favorite path, noting all the pounding stones and pestles and house pits along the way that had apparently evaded the sight of the average trespasser, and perhaps of even the rancher, for over a century. 
Path Leading to Abandoned Village Site
     After my first discoveries, I had trained myself to notice flat stones where I might find round holes filled with water or earth and grass and leaves, slightly tapered stones possibly used for grinding, and midden earth in oblong or circular indentations in the ground. These, along with the paths kept distinct by cattle and horses, were the only signs of a civilization that had flourished in the area for thousands of years, gone now over a century, in which time the city had grown one pop-n-fresh neighborhood after another, subdivisions leap-frogging toward the hills.
   It was hotter than I had expected. I had planned to hike for a mile or two in my work clothes, but after only about half a mile, I was thirsty and unusually tired, so I took a detour to my favorite pounding stone, where eleven pestles still waited. As I approached the pounding stone I noticed a bobcat in the distance stalking something in the grass, suddenly pouncing, then carrying a squirrel away in its teeth. After the bobcat skulked away, I found the site of the kill dotted by feces and stained by a streak of blood, far less gore than I had expected.
Pestles on Pounding Stone
   A squirrel in the rocks was chirping loudly in fear or grief, or both, even though I was only a few feet away. At first I thought that I was only projecting human emotions onto the squirrel, but I had never before heard a squirrel make such a racket, even though it was still in danger because the bobcat and I were both in its vicinity. The squeals may have functioned as an alarm, but after a minute, they began to resemble sounds of utter despair.
   I plopped down on the pounding stone as the squirrel's cries began to taper off. I had been unable to grieve at my own father's funeral. No tears. No moans. No outward display of emotion. I leaned against a tree and closed my eyes. In my mind's eye, I saw my father's coffin in the funeral chapel, so I cleared my mind. Having a mind free of everything, even the woodlands, was more pleasant than I had expected. After a while a few images flickered across the screen of my mind, but I cleared everything away again by focusing on blackness, going into the gap between words, between sounds.
   Suddenly I imagined myself climbing a tree, the leaves wet with dew like tiny stars, and golden eagles wheeling around it. As I reached the middle of the tree, I gazed at the sky and saw, not the sun, but a bright, golden, equal-armed cross hanging, completely still, in the blue. Floating at each end of the cross was an indistinct angel, each one dressed in a colored robe, one blue, one red, one yellow, and one white. 
     I continued to focus on the cross, hoping that each angel would become clearer, and suddenly I was bathed in a warm, golden light, which felt so good that I didn't want to move. I continued to rise, almost against my will, as though I were floating upward, not climbing. People and cars in the Valley below moved slowly in the distance, utterly impermanent, as I rose closer to a brilliant light more intense than sunlight. I looked at my hands, which were empty. My entire body was empty, only transparent, crystalline light. All was emptiness except for the light, which permeated everything. At the light's edge, my mind truly became blank for a moment. I was only a spark, a point of consciousness.

Pestle Removed from its Mortar (and put back)

   Suddenly I heard a loud shuffling and with a jerk came back to myself: only a squirrel scurrying through dry leaves. I had instinctively grabbed for my buck knife, but I couldn't pull it out immediately because a button held it within its sheath, which troubled me a bit, so I looked around carefully. Gazing at the pounding stone, I noticed that two pestles were still in the mortars, with grass growing out at the edges. 
     The silent stone communicated nothing about the people who had pounded acorns there for millenia. I stepped into one of the house pits and closed my eyes. In my mind's eye I saw a Yokut's woman, light moving over her face and shoulders, as though I were envisioning either her image reflected in a pool, or the light from a pool of water reflected on her shoulders and face. Then, adrenalin shot through me as I recognized that the image could be like the reflection of someone looking at herself in water. 
     I felt as if something were tugging at my ankles and shins and that I could drop into another order, as though through the center of the earth and out the other side, yet I felt at the same time that I was being presented with some choice, as though I were standing in the shallows of a pool, looking out toward the deep. The Yokuts often buried their dead in the earth under their houses, and I imagined my mind somehow mingling with the mind of the Yokut's woman, as if time were an ocean, as if I were somehow part of all of the energy fields of the world throughout human history and beyond.
Pounding Stone with Pestles
   And it was empty. The act of putting one foot in front of another, empty. The act of thinking, empty. The city in the distance, growing like an anthill a moment before, gone in the silence a century or a millinium. I gazed at a baby blue eye, no longer myself but the eternal gazing at itself, the observer and the observed and the process of observation. I was the flower and the stone and the oaks, a point of consciousness within a tapestry of infinite consciousness, and I felt the pressure of innumerable points of consciousness communicating with me in the heat in countless messages that I couldn't understand.
   I felt a timeless, eternal emptiness, the emptiness of form. Within seconds I again separated myself mentally from my surroundings, out of habit, carrying with me both the sense of timelessness that imbues everything in the woods and the realization that I was losing the sense of oneness--which made me want to go back. 
     Regretting that I was returning home sooner than I had planned, I headed to an old, disintegrating road, partially on private property and partially on public land, which sloped down to Sycamore Creek. Sliced by rivulets and broken up by roots, the road, unused for decades, descended about half a mile to a "gauging station," a measuring stick cemented in the creek bed. Although it appeared that no other signs of civilization existed for miles, hidden by bushes on the other side of the creek, the remains of a stone wall stood next to two piles of rocks, both the size of graves. A mile beyond the confluence of the two creeks, the walls of another stone house stood, the stones on top pulled down for two other piles, also the size of graves, nearby.
Stones from House on a Grave?
   The first time I had trespassed in this place, I knew when to stray from the old road into the grass to the pounding stone on the ridge, perhaps because the faint rushing sound in the distance pulled me from the road or because I had noticed a trail etched in the grass, but because of my excursions in the foothills I had begun to believe in retro-cognition. I couldn't see the past, like a truly gifted psychic, but on occasion had known with overwhelming certainty, in places that I had never been before, where I would find trails and pounding stones. Once, sitting on a pounding stone, I actually heard the laughter of women, as if the earth and the stones were all to some degree conscious and retained the memory of all that had transpired, and I could access that memory because I could tap into the timeless consciousness in moments of profound stillness.
   Several times during a long hike, possibly because of the heat, I had lounged in the shade, part of an ocean of consciousness holding all time, near a trail thousands of years old. I was the rock, the tree, the squirrel--my consciousness not just a wave but the ocean itself. I also extrapolated that I was also one with every human being but dismissed that thought immediately. 
   When I had first started trespassing, I had dismissed the possibility of finding house pits as unlikely because at least a hundred years had passed since the tribe had occupied the area. For a long time, I had believed that resting cattle had made the indentations in the ground, but after witnessing many abandoned village sites, I finally understood, with a slight shiver, the significance of circular hollows near pounding stones.
   Obviously I could not prove that where I stood uncountable generations had loved and slept and given birth and died. I couldn't prove that settlers (probably all killed around the same time) were buried under those piles of rocks unless I wanted to dig up the bones, and I lacked both the time and the stomach for that. Showing how those settlers had taken over an ancient village site would change nothing. Proving that an ancient civilization once thrived there would not keep the area from being developed. Far worse had happened there already with the help of the government: most of the tribe had been killed or driven onto a reservation where the members succumbed to alcoholism and disease and starvation, the most recent generations growing rich from the casinos on reservation land. I was quite certain of one thing after finding many abandoned village sites along the creeks in the lower foothills: after a point no mercy had been shown anyone. And history, I suspected, without a major change in the human psyche, would keep repeating itself.
   I counted the mortars in the pounding stone again and stared above the tops of the sycamores to the ridge on the other side, squinting to see a hint of the other pounding stones across the creek, my gaze finally following a slope down to another ancient village site about a half mile away on a small hill above Sycamore Creek. I tried with my binoculars to make out the trail that led on that slope to the village site near the ruins of the stone house, again without success, but I could make out without difficulty the house being built on the ridge half a mile away.
   I could still go out on a little night hike, since no one was living in the house yet, douse the wood with gasoline and light a match, and no one would know that I had started the fire, in all probability. This was my window of opportunity. I decided then to hike on the trail next to the creek, past other pounding stones, climbing over barbed wire to the building site.

Pestles Uncovered from Under Moss and Leaves

   Standing on a slope overlooking the creek, the house was less than a mile from a hub of ancient Native American trails where a rancher had dropped blocks of salt. On a forty acre lot, the house was ostentatious, commanding a view of a large territory that I had explored for years, with only cattle witnessing my intrusions. In that area alone I had found a pestle collection and three pounding stones with pestles still in the mortars. Two of the trails led over a hill down to a huge abandoned Yokuts village next to another creek several miles away. For sale signs had popped up all along the road advertising forty acre lots, with wells and utilities.
   Each time I trespassed in the hills, photographing the artifacts and the rare or threatened species, I imagined spear-heading an effort to preserve the lower foothills, pressuring government officials to buy up development rights along a fifteen mile stretch where ancient village sites were still connected by a network of continuous trails thousands of years old, but even that would provide protection for only so long. An activist for many years, I had seen how the system of private property, coupled with “representative” democracy, remains the instrument for piecemeal development that primarily benefits landowners and developers. Elected officials were continually changing zoning and land designations whenever expedient. Most aglands and wildlands were doomed, it seemed to me, yet very few people were watching.

Pounding Stone Near Friant-Kern Canal
   The ranchers probably did not go beyond their own lands. No one else seemed aware of the significance of the trails or the mortars or the pestles. (I estimated that about one out of eight pounding stones I had discovered still had pestles on or near them.) A freeway extension was being constructed in the valley just over ten miles away from the main village site at the base of the hill, but along the creeks, little had changed for over one hundred years except for that house.
   I sat down on a pile of wood and pulled out a box of matches from my backpack. I struck the match and let it burn down to my fingers. The house where I had grown up was still at the end of its street, nondescript, occupied by another family for many years. This mansion, on the other hand, was being built for elites, promising a life of seclusion and happiness. I had just turned seventeen before my father died, and I discovered that my family members harbored little sympathy for each other. We couldn't grieve together, and soon the family dispersed. We still saw each other occasionally at Christmas.
   The thought occurred to me that I was in a fire of illusion, which made me chuckle for a second as I lit another match. Little was left of what had been my family, which everyone had considered normal and well-adjusted before my father died. After ten or twenty thousand years of occupying the area, the tribe was totally gone. I had failed to hold most of my relationships together. I had failed to hold a job for more than five years (though that was not entirely my fault given the nature of capitalism--I was expendable like everyone else.)
   Despite everything, I wanted my life to matter, so I would have to be careful about losing myself too much in the timelessness of the woods. I let the match singe my fingertips. The mansion was the first sign of urban sprawl that in the next fifty years was going to engulf the foothills. The last traces of a whole race would be wiped out in the process, conveniently eliminating all signs of genocide committed by a system spreading into the far corners of the earth, ecocide the logical partner of genocide.

Poppies Near Ancient Village Site

   I held up the flame, hearing woodpeckers cackle and the peeps of bush-tits, the air growing cool. Being an activist in the Central Valley was like stepping with a bow and arrow into a mine field to face the tanks of a well-equipped army; I would have to continue by fighting an anonymous, covert war alone until they caught up with me. I was stuck in stupid jobs, working as a substitute teacher and also as a part-time instructor at a rural community college for fifteen years (without benefits). The vast majority of the teachers I subbed for could not write a one-page lesson plan free of grammar or punctuation errors, yet I suspected that I would never be hired as a full-time teacher even if I went back to school for a credential.
     People who attacked the system were sooner or later slapped down (usually sooner, if effective) and they were not forgotten by those in power, only by the public. A few had lost jobs, professionals had been slandered with impunity, organizations had closed down because of bogus lawsuits, one activist, a teacher, was fined and bankrupted for using his democratic right to sue the government for higher review of a local land use decision. I had witnessed or heard about activists threatened and blackballed by developers and government officials and townspeople alike. 
   I felt spaced out, a little unsteady on my feet, unable to belch, with pain in my joints, all symptoms of my allergies. I had indulged in several pieces of toast (which contained gluten and corn) at breakfast and was suffering the consequences. If I ate any more gluten or corn, I would risk severe muscle and joint pain, fatigue, depression; I might have difficulty functioning at my job the next day. If I continued eating it despite the warning signs, I would begin to believe I had some terminal illness and would feel hopeless. 
   I would not be able to function in jail. 
   My life was significant now in relation to what surrounded me, no more and no less than the tribe members before me, no more and no less than the buckeyes and sycamores and oaks, the bluebirds and the juncos, the rosinweed and blue curl.
   Wouldn't it be nice to burn up this entire sorry civilization, I thought for just a second, every last bit of it. I should feel anger like a clean flame (I chuckled), not self-pity or even mercy, and I should let it burn out all the corrupted places, cauterizing as much of the cancer as possible, not just a little.
   I was making a speech again in my head. Sighing, I put the box of matches away and sat extinguished in the growing darkness. I envisioned a white flame at the crown of my head, the flame forming a crown at the highest spiritual center of my being, the flame stretching down to my heart, then down to my groin and feet. I was on fire while everything around me was swirling, transient, empty.
   Bats looped silently overhead, the sun kindling the bare branches of the oaks in the distance. The moss-covered stone, cold in the light, now seemed almost as warm as an animal in the cooling air. The buckeyes and sycamores smelled dusty and wet at the same time, the creek still gurgling, making more sense than I could ever understand and no sense at all. The first lights were appearing in the valley and the sky, one constellation on the ground for a moment appearing to reflect another in the sky. I stood up with a groan and began the hike back toward my car. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Path 29

     The coffee maker began sucking, groaning, and growling, resembling both a huge salivating insect and an angry crowd off in the distance.
     "Oh, sh-t," I thought, "I should have put on the water first." The water for the oatmeal would have boiled by the time I finished making the coffee if I had followed the proper sequence. 
     Late again. As I was dumping the second cup of water into the pot for oatmeal, I remembered vowing the night before to be attentive at work. Strive to make eye contact and actually listen and respond thoughtfully, I told myself.
      Stomping toward the shower after waiting for the water to boil, I heaved a sigh--not because I wasn't feeling well-adjusted but because I didn't feel awake, I thought.
     "You jerk," I hissed as I adjusted the hot and cold water faucets, launching again into the litany of self-deprecation which flowed out time and again when I was having an allergic reaction to gluten or corn or milk. This was the classic stage three reaction: the onset of depression, which included a lot of self-deprecation. Fortunately, all I needed to do was adjust my eating habits, alternating my foods more, and I might be emotionally placid in several days, if I were lucky. If I didn't take those measures, I would be mumbling on some street corner in no time. I sighed again, realizing I was one of the lucky ones who could identify the allergies and chemical sensitivities, but I laughed bitterly at myself for striving to overcome alienation in the workplace.
     As the shower drops pelted me, I thought to myself, "Everyone else flies along steadily with a little turbulence now and then. But you have to go suddenly into a tailspin, spiraling downward always when you least expect it. So far, you've been able to pull yourself out of it, but every damned time, you believe it won't happen again. You should never, ever make that idiotic mistake again."
     I hid my symptoms from everyone at work and at home as much as possible. Even my mother suspected I was faking. The illness was undeniable when, as a child, I doubled over and groaned and cried for hours due to an allergic reaction to eggs. Physical symptoms carried no stigma. However, self-hatred and depression were psychological problems, not obviously connected to anything in the environment: I should be able to overcome any negative feelings through sheer effort of will. 
     Suggesting that chemicals in foods caused debilitating depression made people uncomfortable even though nobody questioned the often detrimental, mind-altering effects of drugs or alcohol. By questioning the effect that basic foods had on me, I was also questioning authority, questioning the capitalist system and America's blessed way of life, questioning a government that had conducted a de-facto experiment on the populace by allowing copious amounts of chemicals in food and air and water for over half a century. If my illness were real, major changes would be called for, changes beyond the ability of average citizens to make--unless they banded together and organized a huge movement. For the most part, I realized I was considered a liar, a madman, or a revolutionary, or a little of each. Those who actually believed me, even if only a little, treated me like a personal and political oddity, something between a communist and a leper, so I kept my illness to myself.
     I toweled myself off and suddenly found it difficult to get dressed. This is just another bad reaction, old man, I thought. You'll be okay in a little while. Just hang on. I slowly put on my clothes, feeling suddenly exhausted, shaking a little, then downed my coffee and dashed out the door.
     John Blackmore had pretended to understand, only because John at first wanted to appear to be my friend, so that he could destroy me more easily later on, without causing suspicion.
My Children's Book
     I barely made it to the office on time. I worked as a part-time, contracted employee, a "quality control consultant" for a video distributing company, which meant that I sat in a cubicle all day and tested a program being developed for a new computerized cash register, which, besides handling transactions, also kept track of the inventory and remembered your childhood. I would go through the motions of conducting every transaction possible, in every imaginable order, writing down each new path I had taken, finding "bugs" just about everywhere in the new system. When the programmers fixed one bug, two more would surface. I could tell that everyone in programming and management was getting pissed at me even though I only documented the bugs.
     Around 9:00 AM, while the radio was playing "Don't Forget Your Second Wind," a real bug, like none I had ever seen before, crawled out of my computer. At first, I thought the insect was lovely, but on closer inspection realized that it was just odd--pale yellow with a faint stained-glass-window design on its body, and with long, stick legs and a thin abdomen. I had read about synchronicities where external reality suddenly mingled with a person's internal state, as though both were actually part of one reality, so I pondered the bug carefully. It sat on the face of my computer, fearless, in no hurry, completely at home, while I inspected it. I finally realized that I shouldn't waste any more time, so I brushed it onto the floor with a piece of paper. Twenty minutes later, realizing that it might have been shipped inside the computer case from another country, I searched for the bug and couldn't find it. I wondered if it had crawled back into my computer, but I couldn't find a hole large enough for the bug to crawl into--or out of, for that matter. 
     I decided to search for it on the way to the bathroom. As I ambled along, I gazed at the floor of the hallway and in all of the cubicles I passed, without success. The bug might be on the wall or the ceiling, so I paused and looked all around. Still no luck. As I proceeded to the restroom, I recalled another bizarre experience with bugs that occurred many years before, not long after my father died. I was on a camping trip with my brother and mother, and we were all eating cold cereal for breakfast. I complained that my mother didn't seem to care that my father had died. My mother cringed and groaned, staring down at her cereal bowl. Innumerable bugs were squirming in her cereal. 
     "How could they all end up in your bowl?" I demanded, spooning through my own cereal and then searching through the rest of the cereal in the box carefully without finding any other bugs. "You put them there yourself," I sneered, then stormed away into the woods. Could that have been some kind of synchronicity, I wondered, as I was urinating into the urinal. 
My Concept Album
     I recalled a dream that had occurred soon after my father died. I was fixing lunch while watching television and bugs started crawling out of my sandwich. Soon I noticed that bugs were crawling out of the TV, so many of them that I couldn't find a place to stand that was bug-free.
     When I returned to my cubicle, I discovered Brian, the head programmer, standing by my desk. "Oh, there you are," he said. "I've been looking for you. Let me guess, the program still isn't bug free?"
     "That was a lucky guess," I joked.
     Brian smiled and looked down. "I'm afraid we have some bad news. We are running out of the money that we had budgeted for quality control. I'm afraid we can't keep you any longer than the end of this week."
     I grimaced, "What if the program is still full of bugs?"
     "We're going to have the other programmers do some quality control and pray that the program works good enough after we release it out in the field. We can't afford to do anything else, at this point. You've been doing great work, but we need to move this out of production. I'm sorry, but it's time we make a real-world business decision here."
     "That's understandable," I replied, partly relieved that my work was over.

A Fairy Tale with My Harp Concerto

     "Thanks for understanding," Brian said sympathetically. "Just try to document as much as possible before the end of this week. Thanks."
     "Sure, no problem," I replied as Brian was leaving. After Brian was gone, I muttered, "This is the worst possible f-cking timing!" Then I quietly hissed, "Nobody gives a sh-t." 
     Just then the head of production walked by with "a suit," examining the recently installed cubicles. The suit boasted, "You can see that the cubicles are effectively eliminating waste conversation." The head of production smiled and nodded, unaware that the programmers had obsessively consulted each other about their work before the cubicles were installed. 
     "You better watch what comes out of your mouth," I thought. "You still have two more days to go."
     Then my phone rang. "Who the hell could that be?" I wondered. "Nobody ever calls me." I imagined an insect at the other end holding up a telephone.
     "Hello," my wife mumbled. "Can you talk?" 
     "Oh, hi," I responded. "Yeah, but why are you calling here?"
     "They found Russell's body," she groaned. "From what I hear, he surfaced with roses tangled in his hair."
     "Oh, my god, I'm so sorry," I murmured.
My Blog
     "I just thought I'd let you know."
     "Thanks," I replied, and hung up the phone. I assumed that my wife had been having an affair with Russell, which served me right, since I was having an affair. We had agreed to an open relationship, which had led to her staying out all hours after her shift at the IRS. My wife, though, insisted that she and Russell were only friends.
     Suddenly I saw the bug crawling up the wall. I felt the urge to squash it, but I was too appalled to move. My wife had been staying with a friend for several weeks. The last time I had heard from my wife, she had informed me that Russell had drowned. Russell and his brother had gone out drinking in a boat on Millerton Lake at night with a friend. The brothers had gotten into a fist fight on the boat, and, according to the friend, Russell's brother had fallen overboard and Russell had dived in after him. The friend had waited a long time in the boat, but the two never surfaced. They dredged the lake but found nothing.  A memorial service on the lake was performed where the two had disappeared. Russell's ex-wife threw roses into the water at the service.
     "Explain that," I demanded of the bug, which was just underneath the clock on the wall of my cubicle. I had the uneasy feeling that the bug was going to crawl inside the clock. I believed for a moment that John Blackmore had planted a venomous, exotic bug in my cubicle, which was perhaps the first intuition I had that Blackmore was thinking of murdering me. I didn’t of course figure out until later that Blackmore was probably even then entertaining the idea. But even then, Blackmore was just too damned old; my wife was only interested in Blackmore as a friend, someone who would come running when she needed help. In retrospect it is obvious to me that Blackmore was beginning to channel a homicidal energy into his soul, the most negative energy in the universe--he would become like a man possessed after I moved back in with my wife six months later. 
     Something even stranger: a girlfriend and I had eaten dinner with Russell's widow and her new boyfriend the previous Saturday night and had watched a video afterwards. My girlfriend and the widow both worked as waitresses at the same restaurant and had become quick friends. Fresno was not a small town anymore. The odds were overwhelmingly against such a chance occurrence. I had seen Russell only once as he was driving away in a pickup at sunrise. How could Russell have come to figure so prominently? After dinner, we had watched the Star Trek movie where the alien, some superhuman Latin lover type, had placed a bug that looked like a tiny crab into Checkhov's ear. Chekhov had writhed and screamed, and I had grimaced and turned away.
     I took my eyes away from the computer screen, no longer motivated. The bug was gone again. I suddenly wondered again if the bug was poisonous and stifled the urge to dash out of my cubicle.
My Essays
     "This is just sh-t," I hissed. I couldn't hold on to a job. I couldn't hold on to a relationship. The whole world was being poisoned by mindless videos full of hatred and violence, which people would soon be able to rent at their corner mini-mart, thanks to me. It was being polluted every moment by huge corporations. At that very moment, as I was staring at the computer screen, the government was making and stockpiling weapons, chemical and biological and nuclear weapons that were unimaginably destructive and poisonous to the world. I took a bite of a candy bar and gagged.
     On the way to the restroom, I cringed when I saw a programmer, a woman who had attracted me for weeks, chatting with another programmer in the hallway. She didn't notice me at all. As I passed, she wiped a strand of hair from her mouth, and for a moment it appeared to me that a bug had just scurried out of her mouth and down her neck, and I had to stifle the urge to moan.
     I returned to my cubicle and rebooted the computer. I felt a tickling sensation on the back of my hand but did not look down and did not move my hand away from the keyboard. Instead, with my right hand, I picked up the soda can and took another sip, placing the can down next to the computer, in direct violation of the rules regarding food in the work place. Instead of swallowing the soda immediately, I swished it around in my mouth, feeling the tingle of carbonation on my gums, holding the soda in my cheeks a moment before fluttering my tongue to rinse my palate. Then I took another bite of the candy bar, which contained several ingredients that made me ill. 
     I felt the tickling sensation again on my hand. This time, realizing with great certainty that sensations, even very small ones, don't occur without reason, and imagining an ant maneuvering between the hair follicles on the back of my hand, I shook the hand violently and returned it to the keyboard without looking down. The motion, though practically unconscious, distracted me for a moment, just long enough for my eyes to wander to a painting above my desk. 
My Children's Poems
      The painting was extremely bright, with a large, intensely orange oval floating just above the center of the canvas. The paint appeared to explode around that orange balloon, as if it were a source of life. At first the painting appeared to contain depth, as though it were an expressionistic landscape, but after a few moments of scrutiny I realized that, in fact, nothing was delineated enough for the painting to be considered figurative. The orange oval, though evoking the sun and its symbolism as the source of life, was really only bright orange paint on canvas. It just was, or is, I thought, like a flower. Again I shook my hand and placed it gently back on the keyboard, envisioning the hand of Buddha lifting up the lotus flower in his most profound, wordless sermon. 
     On the computer screen, a man and woman coupled doggy style, the woman with a pained expression on her face, and I felt a slight, involuntary arousal, as though a slug were slowly stirring awake. The figures seemed for a moment almost alien, a coupling of inscrutable protoplasm. Just as I lifted the soda can again, imagining that I was lifting a flower, I felt a stabbing pain in my left hand. A bite of some kind was all I could think as I shook my hand again, before I grew dizzy and my vision blurred.