OOUnsurprisingly, Charles Pekar-Stein’s high school classmates usually called him Charlie Peckerstone. That name followed him to Cornell and on to graduate school, also at Cornell.
Charlie was the son of Cornell Professor Slade Pekar-Stein, the late Lepidopterist turned Ichthyologist. Charles had never left Ithaca except for a year in Vienna being home schooled by his mother while the Professor was on the trail of a particular Balkan butterfly species.
OOAs a Cornell Freshman Charlie had no idea what to major in. He enrolled in a philosophy course, because he thought he needed to HAVE a philosophy: a well considered philosophy, personal and generalizable. Once he had developed a philosophy, he could decide on his life goals , then on what to major in.
OOHe never actually decided on a major; he just never made it out of philosophy, even sinking deeper and deeper.
OOCharlie's particular area of concentration in philosophy was Metaphysics. After six years of graduate studies: classes, research, and mental note taking, he was nearing the conclusion that there was not much one could clearly discern or say about the world beyond the senses, and maybe one should not even try to say what cannot be said. All of that made it hard for him to get far writing his dissertation.
OOBy his sixth year in graduate school he was living in the rented house on East Shore Drive that his wife, out of loneliness had left him to, now hardly ever going to campus at
all, just taking mental notes for his thesis. He did not even have the radio on when he
did his thinking. It was his silence that had so irritated his wife. "Shit or get off the pot Charlie," she said.
OOCharlie couldn’t think a lot better, or take notes so well in the bathroom either, but he did find that his mind was instantly relaxed and freed even, when he sat in diners, early or late. There the noise was not a distraction but an inspiration. He even actually sometimes wrote notes to himself on napkins. Notes like: “ Spindrift and Etc.” which mean something only to him, or at least they did when he wrote them down.
OOCharlie relaxed his mind some more by visiting the junk shops, garage sales,
and thrift stores on his circuit of diners.
OOAt a church tent-sale he bought an unopened scale-model kit for a diner.
OOBack at the house. Charlie opened the box and took out intricately detailed pieces, tiny and perfect. He looked through the kit until it made him hungry.
OOHe never did put the model together, so perfect just as it was; but at a country auction, he bought up the furnishings of an old diner. He had already collected several Coke-themed wall thermometers and clocks, though he didn’t drink Coke. He drank coffee, and now had a five gallon coffee urn too, a many storeyed plastic pie-safe, frying pans that required two burners, chrome napkin boxes, two booths, six Coke-red leather stools on chrome stems, a lot of stuff he just had to junk, and a fourteen foot counter that he took apart in order to transport it.
OOHe did not think the landlord would object when he installed the counter and stools in the kitchen. To be accurate, he did not think about it at all. He had never met the man.
OOCharlie was especially fond of the pie-safe, but it had no pies. He made a special late night trip to the Grand Union and bought half a dozen frozen pies, figuring he could take them from the boxes, put the pies in the fridge and keep the illustrated boxes in the pie-safe.
OOWhile there, he impulsively gathered several loaves of Wonderbread shaped like railroad-car diners. He carted two packages of cushiony hamburger rolls; he bought ketchup and he bought mustard with the relish already in it; hot dogs, cheese food, frozen hamburger patties, a six pack of ham omelettes in half pint cartons, three windowed packs of little crullers, one after another like perfect smoke rings, several cans of beef stew, chicken in gravy and sloppy joes.
OOBut the big thing that caught his eye was the familiar Mermaid on a one gallon can of tuna fish sitting there, blatantly out of place among bags of cat food.
Made joyful by his prize, Charlie Peckerstone loaded the groceries into the back of his Rambler station wagon and drove home, ranch loaves lolling out of the mouths of the bags, a cigarette out of his and all of the car windows rolled up to keep anything from getting out.
Back in his kitchen he set each one of the bags on one of the diner stools, like customers. The one gallon Tuna fish can which had no bag, he set right on the counter by itself.
OOHe had never intended to open such a large can of tuna. This was not a real diner and he was alone here, but he was suddenly hungry. He loved that can as it was but he wanted a tuna melt, as urgently as one can want a tuna melt. He thought that he could put most of the tuna in plastic containers and store them in the freezer, then maybe make a lamp or something out of the can.
OOThe can was too big for the electric opener so he had to dig through the kitchen drawers to find an old manual opener. The one he came up with kept losing its bite on the rim of the can so Charlie had to keep starting over again. Prying the lid up before he had little enough a flap hinge, he cut the web of his hand between his thumb and forefinger, but he never noticed the few drops of blood that fell on the floor and into the can, dispersing in a cloudy liquid in which was curled a sort of Merwoman. This was not a creature with scales like the one on the can label: the fish half of her was smooth like that of a trout, her back plum black, her underbelly white as fog, with spots like eyes up and down her sides, while her actual eyes were closed. The little Troutwoman’s face hadn’t a line of age or character. So vivid were her colors that she seemed not dead, but sleeping, or about to be born.
OOCharlie carried the can to the bathroom and set it in the shallow end of the tub, drew some warm water, then left the water running gently while he went to fetch something for her to perch on.
OOHe returned after a while…. with a nice reddish cobble from the edging of the garden, but maybe he had taken too long deliberating about rocks, because the water in the tub was already a foot deep and the Merwoman was making a noise like a kitten in pain and trying to swim up out of the tub.
OOCharlie caught her up and put her on the rock. She sat holding her face in her hands. Her nipples were purple. Charlie backed out of the bathroom and closed the door in front of himself.
OOHe stood there for a moment looking at the door, or trying to look through it, then went to the kitchen sink and washed his face with cold water, and went to bed, though it was not much after noon.
OOHe did not sleep well, or at all, but even as he lay and stood and sat awake, he dreamt about the Merwoman, but the dreams confused him. Was she merely a dream?
OOAt some point …he had no idea what time of day it was … he determined that if there really was a Mermaid or whatever in the bathroom, or if there ever was, then whatever she was, and there was no doubting she was a she (at least the above water part) then she would need food. He squirted some Cheeze Whizz on an orange cracker and ate it. Then prepared another and took it to the bathroom for the little woman.
OOHe found her now grown to the size of a small dog, or a large doll. She sat propped with her arms behind her back, her hands splayed behind her. Her eyes had no whites … like ripe olives, the eyes of this Mermaid, this Troutwoman, this star kissed creature whom … although she had no name and Charlie never gave her one … we will call Starkissed.
OOThe faucet was not running at the moment but Charlie heard a murmuring like the voice of a brook, or maybe more like a cat. "Muow mw meow." It was her. Charlie leaned closer.“Wan ou ,” he heard her to say.
OOSo it seemed she wanted out. But out of the tub onto the floor? Out of the air into the water? Or the other way around? Out of the house and into the lake? How was he going to move her anywhere at all.?
OOHe put the cheese cracker on the edge of the sink and backed out of the bathroom.
Charlie was not sure what he needed, but usually when he needed something around the house, he went to the Salvation Army thrift store. Maybe a baby carriage or a luggage cart would offer itself.
OOAt the Thrift Store he bought a wheel chair. It had seemed to be just the thing until he got out to the parking lot and saw that the wheelchair was not going to fit into his Rambler.
So he bound the chair to his bumper with a couple of bungee cords, and tied the orange dipstick rag to the chair as a caution. That arrangement held up okay although he sputtered to the shoulder of Rt. thirteen near the Arthur Treacher fish and chips restaurant,
out of gas.
OOBut luck was following in a black Chevy that pulled up behind him almost as soon as he stopped. A man in green overalls got out of the car. He had a thick neck and a slightly protruding lower lip that was grey as stone. He said not a word, but brought a gas can out
of his trunk and walked to the rear of Charlie's car, then rapped his knuckles on the fender until Charlie understood, and released the gas cap lid. The grey man emptied the can into Charlie’s tank then got back into the Chevy and sat there until Charlie pulled out and
OOHome again, Charlie brought the wheelchair to the bathroom, where he found Starkissed seeming to be larger yet than he was when he left: the size of a small woman or a large fish. A shivering Woman/Fish.
OOHer skin above the waist was goose bumped, below, not so bright as when he had just brought her out of the can.
OOCharlie realized that he was wearing a red flannel shirt, although he did not OWN a red flannel shirt and he did not recognize it. Charlie took off the flannel shirt and put it over her shoulders. Extra carefully, awfully slowly, he picked her up with his hands under her arms and set her in the wheel chair. She did not bend easily into the chair and she had no lap to speak of. But what could he do?
OOHe wheeled Starkissed to the living room and hoisted her onto the couch. He spread a bath towel over her lower half. He set a bucket of water beside her from which she could sprinkle water to wet her fish parts if she wanted to.
OOAs long as he watched, and he watched for a long time, Starkissed lay there on her side, her black olive eyes staring at the opposite wall. Finally, Charlie nodded in his chair and slept like a rock under a waterfall.
OOWhen Charlie awoke, the wheelchair was not there, and the waterfall was the bathtub faucet running. He found the wheel chair in the bathroom with only the shirt in it while Starkissed was turning and squirming and murmuring in the bathtub. “Meout Now,” she said, clearly enough.
OOSo he turned the water off, lifted her into the wheel chair and brought her back into the living room. He left her in the chair close to the window so that she could look out over the road to the lake while he went to get something that she might eat. He prepared a plate with a few leaves of lettuce and another cracker with squirt cheese on it, left it on table beside her, and then went back to the kitchen so that she could eat without being watched, if that made a difference. He himself ate several crackers and cheese there in the kitchen.
When he looked back into the living room the cracker and cheese and the lettuce were gone. Starkissed remained staring, or not staring with those black eyes, at or out the window.
OOCharlie put a short stack of National Geographics on her table, and occasionally he would see her looking through one, but mostly she just stared darkly. He grew tired just watching and trying not to watch her. After he finally slept, on one of his diner stools with his head on the counter, he woke again to the sound of running water.
OOThat became the regular daily pattern. But she shivered a lot wherever she was, her trout skin often dry and cracked, her lady skin the same, or puckered. Charlie went to the drug store and bought half a dozen bottles of skin creams that he removed the tops from and set in a roasting pan that he put in the bath tub where it would float when the water rose and be available if she tried to use it.
OOAnd when he was not looking, Starkissed did sample the creams and oils, but she was never able to please both halves of her body at once, or much at all. Her fish half had to be wet and needed a temperature of about sixty degrees and her upper half was always too cold, even in a warm room, because of the cold blood in her veins.
OOThe old house had been built on a steep slope. The upslope and downslope walls were of unmmortared stone that allowed the ground water to seep through right through and to a stone and clay cistern about the size of a double bed. For weeks after any rain at all, water trickled out of that wall into the cistern. He kept his beer and a five pound block of sliced cheese in the shallow end.
OOCharlie went down cellar to fetch a pack of cheese slices for himself and Starkissed. It occurred to him on the way down the stairs that he could enlarge the cistern for Starkissed to have a more natural place. But that water was very cold. That was why he kept the beer and cheese there. He would have to heat the water.|
Charlie had not noticed that no rain had fallen for weeks.
OONow the cistern was barely even wet, and two rubber boots protruded for the soft bottom-clay : green boots with grey felt soles.
OOCharlie used the claw of a hammer, and then a trowel, to excavate the boots ….. hip boots seemingly with legs still in them but only clay, then a shirt occupied by clay, and a canvas fedora over clay and sunglasses in the right place.
OOThe only part of the clay fisherman not full of clay, was inside the pockets of his tackle vest. The pocket zippers were hard to find but inside was a round cornered aluminum fly box with ventilation holes so that the flies could dry off after use, or so that they could breathe. In the box were the most beautiful trout flies Charlie had ever seen. He had bought and lost a lot of trout flies himself. Also he pulled from one of the pockets a round tin of a preparation labeled “Shnurfett,” with a picture of a Kingfisher on it, apparently meant for greasing fly lines. Maybe the clay fisherman was a German.
OOHe brought the Shnurfett and the fly boxes up stairs where Starkissed sat in the wheel chair brushing her hair. She pulled some hairs from the brush and dropped them into the bucket beside her. Hairs already in the bucket seemed to be swimming around.
OOHe took the top off the Shnurfett and set it among the skin creams on the chance it might be at least as helpful as the other remedies. He set the fly box on the shelf over the skink, then walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and stood looking into it with the door, which would have preferred to be closed, leaning against his back. He did not know why he was standing there looking into the refrigerator.
OOAfter an indefinite period of unproductive thought, Charlie stepped out of the refrigerator and went back down into the cellar. He sat under the bare light-bulb and smoked several Chesterfields. He did not smoke often anymore, but when he did, he did it in the car or down cellar as if to hide it from himself and always several cigs at a time to get it over with.
OOStarkissed got around in the wheel chair well enough, in and out of the bathroom, to the couch and back. He pretty much left the bathroom to her during the evenings and only entered to check on her or to get his tooth brush, which he used in the garden. Would she like the radio on? Often yes. She seemed to like talk radio. Would she like a cracker?
Starkissed had opened the fly box revealing the Fan Wing Royal Coachman, and Pink Ladies and all the fancy floaters.
She murmured to them.
OOOne morning Charlie found Starkissed sitting on the sofa with three flies on one shoulder, their points into her skin. He could almost hear the flies buzz.
OOIn that moment, Charlie realized he desired this creature, and at the same time he realized just how impossible his desire was. But he might have settled for being nothing more than a fly buzzing on her shoulder.
OOStarkissed however, did not seem to be particularly interested in Charlie. One morning she sat in the wheelchair already shirted and quilted, up close to the living room window, looking out with her unreflecting eyes: Longing to be out of doors, Charlie could see.
Charlie stood beside her looking out at the day. He did not know what day it was. As he watched, a man came out of the house across the road and went to the mail box. Charlie had never noticed who lived over there, but he could see now the big stony underlip, and he recognized the man who had given him a transfusion of gas that day he ran out of gas. The man put something in Charlie’s mail box, glanced up the driveway, then went back across the road.
OOCharlie went down and looked into his mail box. There was a note in it which read:
OONo name on the note. Only “Your neighbor.”The name on the mail box for the house across the road was C. Splake Lingum, but I can tell you right now that his neighbor, at least right then, was actually his landlord, Cecil B. Wrathbone.
Just who Cecil Wrathbone was and
what happened when Charlie wheeled
Starkissed across the road,
are not another story entirely, but we are
still sorting it out, and those are matters
to be shared at another time.
In the cemetery the tall guy told us he had written a letter to his governor to suggest that he might want to go for a walk in the cemetery. It being a somewhat old and fine cemetery surrounded by highway, a bubbly crick, poison ivy, a cigar bar, and an old house that won’t let anybody in to see it’s basement. Something went on about how his father walked somewhere with the governor’s father. How he knew the governor’s wife likes to go for walks. How his children like to go for walks.
(go to story)
Since I don’t really have anything to tell you, let me mention some things that happened on Sunday, August 20, 2017. I was dropping off a bag of used clothes at The Thrifty Store where even rich people shop for twenty-five cent shirts. Slumming it is big now and everybody loves a bargain. The place was closed and management prefers folks to not drop off donations on Sunday but people do anyway. Which makes it a good day for poor folks to get something they can afford, namely, something free. (Go to Story)
I have read poetry, novels, books that have inspired me, and listened to music that makes my breathing uneven.I hae seen art so powerful that I had to put my hand on a wall to keep from being dizzy (page #2 of this magazine). There is, however, only one time I felt something that came from inside of me; an idea so fully formed I could not escape it. A vision that would not fade. (go to article)
Inspiration is the process of clearing ourselves and bringing in wisdom, guidance, divine revelation, healing energy, or the sacred breath from Spirit. Call it channeling one’s muse, if you like. It is the process of connecting with the divine, getting our human selves out of the way, and allowing Spirit to move through us. (go to article)
Our Poetry section includes some of our favorite poets, click on ther names to bring yourself to special inspiring poems:
Robert Graves -
To the Muse Goddess (visit)
Dante - ‘’Purgatorio’’,
Canto I, lines 7 to 12 (visit)
Peter Fortunato -
Four Poems (visit)
Mary Gilliland -The Language of Bees (visit)
Nancy Cuto - Madragana Wears Her New Name (visit)
The Atlantic, June 1961
The original significance of this word has long been blurred by dishonest or facetious usage. The Muse, or Mountain Mother, whom the preclassical Greeks worshiped on Parnassus and other sacred peaks, seems to have inspired the poet in much the same sense as the loa gods of Haiti now “ride” their devotees. And, although by Homer’s time her invocation had become a mere formality, subservice to the Muse has ever since been avowed by counterfeit poets in the service of politics, learning, or the church. True possession has occurred sporadically down the centuries as a phenomenon that can neither be provoked or foreseen. (go to entire article)
The nine Muses are the offspring of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory. Before the invasion of the Olympian gods, the Muses, goddesses or guardian nymphs of springs and groves, tutelary spirits, belonged to a preliterate, oral culture. The original three are the daughters of Mnemosyne, memory, although they were raised by a wetnurse or foster-mother, Eupheme. Even this biographical snippet must be a late revision, since Mnemosyne is said to be the mother of the Muses with Zeus, so is already a literary corruption, the first euphemism. Mnemosyne is a personification: Memory. (go to article)
the Second Attention
(Emphasizing the Recall)
I closed my eyes and immediately recalled the Elders advice.
“Nothing might temper the spirit of a nation as much as the challenge of dealing with impossible people in positions of power.
If you face the uncertainty with impunity, you will acquire the strength to withstand
even the incomprehensible.
And for this, peace will guide your way - then you shall know how to proceed”.
(go to the beginning of article)
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