“The trouble is, you think you have time.”
This is such a great line. It seems simple, almost even silly on the surface yet becomes much more complicated upon further consideration.
The quote is telling us that death is here among us, not some far away distance. It’s almost to say, not that it will occur but that it is occurring as we speak. That is, we do not have time.
If I understand correctly, Buddhism is about presence. To be in the time and place in which one physically occupies. To take full advantage of every breath we make. To enjoy the miracle that is our own existence. This will take away our fear and hopes of the future and our regrets or pride of our past, which could be called wasted breath. When we die, all we have is the single moment of its very occurrence. Nothing else holds weight, has any value.
What are you doing this very moment? Whatever the answer, that’s it, all there is. It is all of you. This very moment is our entire life.
At first, it’s a terrible thought, to stare death in the face. It goes against human nature too, to ignore all the distractions of the human mind.
But ultimately it is a beautiful idea. It suggests death cannot conquer they who smile in its presence, those who are present with great serenity in every breath.
King of Kings
There is a theory, which seems to get more legitimate each year and backed by scientific research in well received magazine publications, which argues that mankind is a simulation, each human a highly computerized and encoded digital creature, maybe even preprogrammed before birth.
This would suggest that there’s an entirely different, new world beyond the so-called earth in which we inhabit, occupied perhaps by angels awaiting our passage. One can imagine great walls and concrete doors dividing us from some celestial nirvana.
Maybe it’s a ridiculous thought. But when I listen to the music of B.B. King, I reckon I might believe it.
You can close your eyes and see the music of B.B. King. It reels into your heart like fishing line and the hook sets right in, opening up doors and breaking down walls to worlds never known before.
His music, the roaring voice like the echo of lions and dynamite guitar licks that erupt constantly, each note screaming through the eardrums like bullets and gliding so perfectly through the soul, as though they are trickles upon the canvas skies—it pulls you out of water. It stretches through outer space, bursting like a star, sets Mars afire and paints the rings around Saturn, bends around galaxies and unlocks a door to a dark room and strikes light from the sun like a match before your face, leaving one nearly without words, save for Jesus Christ or Holy Shit.
It could be called a religious experience, leading you past the churches and altars, the crowds in the pews, the boring sermons, the lifeless hymns and directs you straight before the angels themselves.
Finally, it leaves you without breath, stopping your heartbeat, then with the closing of each track, tosses you back into the water.
That is B.B. King.
Do not be saddened by death, says the ancient philosopher Socrates just before his own execution in 399 BC, for in death the mind is liberated from the confines of the body—which is troubled by necessity for food and exposure to disease, and comprised of earthly desires, lust and fears, constrained in constant torment and misery, seeking the stuff of endless uselessness, forever suffering—and one’s soul ascends unto wisdom in the non-material world where it can obtain supreme virtue and justice, not in life but only through death.
In truth, we will never fully or wholly know what Socrates thought, as of all that he wrote in his lifetime, only his lecture-notes have survived. There remains almost no record to his life, his philosophy. What we know of Socrates, was written by one of his students named Plato, who was about 26 years old when he died.
2000 years after his death, the image of his execution was painted by Jacques-Louis David in 1787, during a period and culture of art, influenced greatly by ancient philosophy and biblical imagery, known as the Renaissance, a French word meaning rebirth, as though, among the many paintings and artists of this era, The School of Athens by Raphael and The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci and the interior of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo, all strove for a rising of the soul of earth, its history, through the strokes of a paint brush.
Stax Records, on McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1960’s—at the height of a world meeting a long-coming crossroads, with the musicians on the label delivering through their songs, from their soul, a voice determined to part seas—conjures up imagery reminiscent of a Renaissance painting.
The rolling current of the Mississippi River. Dark and muddy waters below a starry black sky. Some of the stars, Cursa and Acamar and Eridani shine upon the river and cut the waters pale and luminous and aqua-blue, revealing the motion underneath of channel catfish, smallmouth bass, common carp and bluegills. The ghosts of a runaway slave named Jim and reject of civilized society Huckleberry Finn riding down the river together in a log-slated raft. An integrated church congregation in the process of baptism. Old ropes tied to the branches of live oak and magnolias along the banks.
The Hernando De Soto Bridge, linking Tennessee to the world west, still under construction. Teal blue and steel arched brackets shaped as two Egyptian bread loaf hieroglyphics.
The middle of the canvas, a urine and dirt colored building called Satellite Record Shop with two large storefront windows on either side of the entry door. Customers outside, holding albums by Ray Charles and Little Richard and Etta James.
Right beside the shop, connected as one building in whole, a two-story faded red brick theater. A triangle shaped marquee hanging over the sidewalk in a red and blue border. Red electric bulbs on top of the sign spell out STAX, and slapped on the sign itself, where movie titles would be or the dates for a concert, spelled out in buzzing red, glows Soulsville USA.
Church-like wooden doors swinging open, revealing inside a studio with music being made like a gospel choir in practice. A fiery tint from the ceiling lights, sunset shaded curtains along the walls, a semi-circle of plastic and metal framed school chairs, a drum set lifted slightly off the floor on a wooden platform, a walnut made electric organ, guitar cases with Gibson Flying V and white Sears Silvertone and blazing orange Jazzmaster Fender electric models and a red-faced acoustic guitar, chest high amps and speakers, a half dozen microphone stands, snare drums and conga drums, gold and silver tenor saxophones and trumpets and a grand piano with a few musicians sharing the seat and a few more gathered around the cover lid, titian stranded shag carpet covering the floor as though where they recorded music were a corridor within the sun’s metallic heat and hydrogen.
In the control room, the engineers and owner Jim Stewart, wearing a bow tie and Atticus Finch styled glasses, dance a honky-tonk type shuffle. Vice President Al Bell nodding his head in a cool rhythm, wearing dark shades, a shiny dark suit and a shiny watch, a stylish anchor beard with a few inches of hair hanging just below his chin, pointing with his left index finger to the singers through the glass.
Along the walls hang portraits of the Jordan River with channel catfish and common carp seen through the surface, Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman.
An integrated house band playing the instruments, heeded by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, laying down tracks for Sam and Dave in matching black suits without ties, the Staple Singers with Pops in funky dark and gold framed glasses and his daughters Mavis and Cleotha and Yvonne with natural afro hair styles wearing cheongsam flower printed dresses, Albert King playing a Flying V guitar in a checkered jacket and a pipe in his mouth with smoke coming out his nostrils like a bull, Rufus Thomas in a silk onesie suit that cuts off at the knees with a cape over his shoulders and his daughter Carla Thomas in a gold sparkling dress, Eddie Floyd in all dark blue denim and Wilson Pickett with an afro, mustache, gold chain, green silk shirt and jacket made of gold jewels. In the center there is the King of Soul, Otis Redding, wearing an oversized double-breasted jacket and big-knotted tie like a Baptist preacher, singing from down on his knees, moved that way, from the prowess of his own voice, singing as though he were a direct descendant of God, singing so one can see the walls crumpling from the breath of his lungs.
The sound of thunder rumbling, repeated like a thousand artillery roars across the desert. Hardened hooves setting prints into the earthen clay, washed over like the ocean current through time.
Locked in their eyes appear to be the souls of lost angels, roaming the desert. Their heads a perfect medallion. They wear the fur on their chest like medieval royalty. Listen close and hear their heart beat in the dark like frogs on water banks.
Racking gunfire in the distance appear as a sea of shooting stars.The gunpowder crackling like fireworks on Independence Day.
Screeching metal. Tracks laid out across half a continent. The engine screams, churning and coughing out a great black smoke that spirals into the sky like a great plague.
It blazes at the speed of light—racing as rapidly as one’s thoughts of his entire life just before death—sketching in its path an armor will of man.
In the dust where the bones of the bison are buried by the sands, in the reflection of the rusted metal, sunlight trickling against it like the drops of a steady rain, ghosts illuminate the air, dancing and singing and rising and you can still hear the baseline of the bison hooves somewhere roaring like the word of God rupturing the earth.
I remember the light in her eyes the way the sun hit them in the morning. They were an oak forest and my soul seemed to walk an eternal bliss looking into them.
She told me her name was Evelyn. Many men knew her by many names. Many nights they’d fight one another just to lay beside her. I’ve had my ass whooped a few times.
She had a high lonesome glare in her face before walking a man to her room, like the sound of railroad whistle, or the shine of a moon and sleepless wolves far off.
There were nights when her face was bruised, she had cuts on her hands and her neck. Old man Crews hollering at her for this or that. Yanking her every which way.
I asked her before why she does it. She said it’s better than the Reservation.
We’d talk all night about dying and becoming stars, the fire in our souls, the breath of peace. All that, like after a long night there will be a greatorning forever. I never spoke with anybody about such things.
I worked all week for the railroad, camping out, scraps for food, just to spend one night with her at the end of each month.
Her touch was like being born anew.
The last time I went into New West she was not there.
They found her in her room, dead. Nobody said what had happened.
Only a few were at her burial. The preacher read some verses, asked the almighty for forgiveness, then the groundskeepers stumbled a bit and laid her down. Packed the dirt down. The preacher tried singing. I never heard the song birds so clear as I did that day leaving the cemetery.
I still think about her, most days, working in the heat, thinking about seeing her again in some other place.
I can see her smiling in the mornings, sunlight seeping through the windows. Her holy face.
A portrait of a cowboy circa 1870s by the painter Virgil Day. The cowboy rides a black horse with a fire red mane and a translucent glow illuminating its shape. The rider hangs low behind the head, almost becomes swallowed by the darkness in the night. His six shooter at his waist shines, the same tone as the moon.
The moon appears to be an eye for some great deity, sketched faintly and masked with clouds and colors in the sky. Or it could be a fire, maybe distant, seemingly close, like a mirage. Fowl ride either toward its light, or from its fire and almost appear as humans making camp for the night.
Virgil Day said that the man was based off a poem about an outlaw turned sheriff.
The man in the poem had killed four others, supposedly in self defense and was wanted for three years in seven states before a US Marshal handed him a badge.
In the poem, the narrator describes the cowboy as not knowing what he is running from, not knowing what he is looking for.
Ancestors my grandfather told me about.
They traveled out west to California in 1840s, much like the cowboy in Virgil Day’s painting. They starved on their way out west, froze in the desert at night, nearly died of heat exhaustion in the daytime. Had biblical visions from the great gaze of the fire in the sky. Jubilee wrote in his journal, “Saw birds eating my eyeballs this morning. Sure it was not a dream. Haven’t ate in four days now. Dreamed we cooked up father last night for supper.”
In California, they struggled for eighteen months surviving, mining for gold. Finally in a place with the reputation similar to the phrase, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,’ they strike gold.
They were on tribal lands, which they agreed not to enter, and were scalped and drowned to death by the natives.
A story about my first dog when it died.
They say it wanders into the wilderness when it is time to die. I searched for it high and low and between. Every day before and after school. I cried at night before I went to sleep.
I have a reoccurring dream at night sometimes about scathing the desert in the old days searching for my dog, like it is lost and crying somewhere for me. Like it ain’t dead, like it ain’t watching me, lost myself, under the pale moon, starving and cold.
I can still hear its soft bark, a yelp, see its shadow form under the moonlight waking me from my sleep.
Way Down Yonder, Ole Kentucky
I am not from Kentucky but I do love Kentucky.
You can hear the wind move the pines in Kentucky. Hear the echo of jubilee church singers somewhere deep in those pines, deep in time, the baptism of thousands of souls hundreds of years in the making.
You can hear the word of God in Kentucky. Better than anyplace I’ve ever been to. And I was abroad in Jerusalem and Rome before. And I’ve lived in Texas. But God breathes best under the moon and upon the hills and through the Daniel Boone forests of Kentucky.
You can chase pigs on a Saturday morning from Hale’s farm all the through downtown Lovell on Cedar Street, covered in mud, car horns honking, go-carts and four-wheelers racing by.
You can smell grandma lying in the grass, the chords of a bluegrass banjo always rustling godly music.
I do love Kentucky. But I won’t return.
After about a year living to Lovell, Kentucky, I was invited by my new neighbor to a Kentucky Meat Shower.
He knocked on my door and I answered and he had Colonel Adams chewing tobacco in his mouth and a fifth of Jim beam in his hand.
“Come on on over for an ole fashioned Kentucky Meat Shower tonight my friend. We’re whooping up some brisket and ribs and pork. Cheese grits and collard greens, fried catfish, fried okra, fried chicken, fried pie. Shit, fried everything. Mama’s ole and famous potato salad recipe. We’ll have whiskey, beer whatever you want til you get rowdy like all Hell.
“And I’ll tell you brother,” he said. “It’ll be a hoop and holler and shouting fun. Gonna be a whole lotta drinking, fighting and fucking son let me tell you. Yes sir there ain’t no good a time as a Kentucky Meat Shower.”
I thanked him in kind and asked what I ought to bring.
He said, “It don’t make no difference none. Only gonna be me and you there.”
Typically, I have my own stories I’m trying to work out and then post them here on Prose.
It is an awesome outlet with a wonderful, insightful and encouraging community.
I enjoy looking through the challenges and reading what the prompts have inspired.
I have occasionally entered challenges and usually end up writing something I never would have considered myself ever trying to do. It opens up the the mind in new and unique ways.
To me, even though I don’t often contribute, the challenges are mostly a reminder of how great this place is.
Hank Aaron (epilogue)
His lifelong and childhood friend Robert Driscoll said that he remembered him always the same way throughout his entire life, and one can almost hear Sam Cooke’s, “If I had a Hammer” or Leadbelly’s, “Take This Hammer” as Driscoll describes his friend Henry Aaron, how when they were real young and first started playing baseball in league games they were put on a schedule to play on Saturdays and Aaron would be late every time, as Saturdays—just like Sunday was a day for the Lord—was the day of work and a day for weekly chores, and after a few innings, after Aaron hustled to finish his labors and bolted toward the baseball fields, the players could look out beyond the outfield and see a line in the rows of cornfield whipping and weaving as it were a blessed wind that stirred them, and by the time everybody knew it was Henry Aaron running through there, there was the image of his head rising up above the stalk, emerging unto the playing field, and just as quickly too there was the image of him standing in the batter’s box with a cross-handed grip, replacing whoever was up at bat, fixing to hammer out another homerun into the seeds of destiny, like the forming of a myth and legend first being shaped and drawn, witnessed in the beginning, in the flesh, fixing to come into being.
Hank Aaron (part eleven)
And so it was, in the fourth inning when Aaron came up to the plate for his second appearance the earth shook yet again. The first pitch skipped low and just above the plate and Aaron held off it. He kicked the dirt at his cleats, touched the center of the plate with his bat, and gave a few half swings. Then he anchored the bat behind his shoulder and leaned into his stance. The second pitch flew chest high somewhere around 95 miles an hour and appeared to drop slightly just as pitcher Al Downing whispered to himself, “Oh, please don’t swing,” and Aaron torqued his body, and his bat chopped from shoulder to belt, straight and horizontal over home plate, and connected with the ball, and he turned the bat up toward his other shoulder and to the skies in a fluent motion and so rapidly that it resembled the stuff of a superpower, almost not of earth an act next to godliness. The sound was loud and whispered, quick and forever, and powerful and peaceful, like the voice of a man baptizing the New World.
The crowd knew the ball was gone by the time he swung the bat. They roared a stampeded and atomic roar to be counted by the Ages. Imagine the thunder from the throats of over 53,000 awaiting a miracle they now know has just been fulfilled.
Fireworks, crimson and ocean-silver and a lustrous amber as it were precious metals buried deep behind the sky, exploded like Sherman’s cannons and lit the dark night.
While Aaron rounded the bases, each opposing player he passed shook his hand.
Second baseman Davey Lopez gave him a high-five and patted him on the back with his glove while he trotted by so swiftly and quick that shortstop Bill Russell barely could just touch his back with his glove. Not once did he leap for joy or raise a hand in the air or reveal any celebratory triumph at all to suggest his excitement and status as the greatest of all time.
He jogged the base paths like a stallion’s stride after winning the Kentucky Derby, and plastered to the wall behind him were great wooden billboards as big as the scoreboard itself advertising Budweiser and Coca-Cola. Lit across the electric scoreboard in over a hundred fiery blazing bulbs, was the number 715.
Some reports said the ball was worth $60,000 at the time, more than twice what Aaron’s salary was throughout most of his career.
Two fans, one in a navy sweater and blue jeans and the other with shaggy hair wearing a brown felt coat came up behind him as he picked up dirt with his cleats headed toward third, and they were sprinting to keep up with his trot. In the stands, Aaron’s wife closed her eyes and feared the worst. Feared they had guns or knives and feared what they might do to him. His personal security guard kept a pistol in his binoculars case and almost reacted by shooting, based on what they did next.
They reached out with their arms for Aaron’s shoulder blades where would have been planted a set of wings and tried to hug him, and nearly tripped trying to keep up with him, and they had smiles on their faces fit for a child, and they leaped in the air behind him and appeared as a people who had just been led to a Promised Land. As Aaron rounded third, they dispersed and let him have the moment.
The third base coach Connie Ryan swung out one of his hands and Aaron slapped it and with his other hand Ryan patted Aaron on the back as he turned the final bag and headed home.
The twenty or so seconds it took for him to lap the base paths after hitting number 715, when watching the clip, seem to pass as quick and brief as seven seconds, as though all it was, was just seven seconds. But the crowd, there, in Atlanta, Georgia made sure the moment existed beyond earth and beyond time. The heavens heard them. They didn’t quit screaming to sip their beer or to try and breathe. They screamed until God listened.
In an article for the Bitter Southerner, George Lancaster remembers being fourteen at the time and taken to the game by his Presbyterian minister father, with seats in the upper level called the nosebleed section and after the ball dropped over the wall he saw a beautiful mature woman strip down from all her clothes and run up and down thirty or so stairs wildly and freely, totally naked as though the Garden of Eden had just been made again.
When Aaron crossed home plate, his mother was there waiting for him, screaming in ecstatic tears and bear hugging him as though she had just witnessed the resurrection of Christ.
Legendary Dodger announcer was calling the game and he said, “What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country, and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South, for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron. It will be seen all around the world. And you can hear Georgia around the world.”
Aaron was given a microphone to speak to the fans and he thanked them and then thanked God it was finally over with. When he found his wife in the front and they hugged each other, he told her he’s so glad it’s over, so glad that it’s over.
At a party at his house in celebration and honor of his incredible and monumental achievement, he walked down the hallway and into a room all by himself, got down on his knees and began to cry.
In that near five seconds when he hit the homerun, where the ball appeared tied to the constellation and horns of Aries, that ram in the sky sketched by the stars, one can almost feel and bear witness to the tides of eternity.