If I roamed in speech like Mark Twain, Making sure of my woods, river, sea, I'd wander in a circle, find an old goat, A grandfather, a porch, gold, river pirates. A wooden rocker and an audience, newsprint. Of innocents abroad, of jaded women here. If I enlisted like Mark Twain, casually, Caustic humor, avoiding combat, dinner. Serving for two, yes two, weeks And late for dinner. Tents and shovels. Tour of duty, the South, Rising late For breakfast, late home for dinner, Lectures from well meaning adult fools Who don't understand that war means blood. If I prayed like Mark Twain, for he did, It would be short, sweet, to the point, An argument of reason, intellect, An avoidance of familiarity, a face, questions. He prayed for salvation for his absurd truths. He never even got a letter in return. I am not Mark Twain, although I ramble in A concrete jungle, a zoo of originality, Of pauses and starts, hesitation, then Galloping on two feet with little hands. Children are my joy, his too. I enlisted, found a hole with my name, Foxlike I waited for the big dog, But all he wanted was sex. Sex, with me! Fraternizing with peers, I said no, and no, I found the door to file papers of abuse. Learned men are a grouping of Rotten apples, grapes on a vine. I have no time for old boys. Networks, bah. I don't pray. No, never got an answer, Not even a no. I figure God will Send me a postcard, or an email Asking for money, when God gets around. Everyone wants money. I have a hole in my pocket. Leaking. I am an emotional clamp, holding together A family of squirrels. Who knew? Mother always knew best, then I, Me, became the All Knowing Mother To mine own be true. Schools and crossbows Peeking from Concrete towers of sand. Sand stolen from the river. Free. Wait, there's a charge? Grumpy black bear, Moose Feet, It's something Twain saw, In the City of Gold at sunset In San Francisco, My dream city. Twain and I would have whiskey Talking politics, reading Dickens. Laughing at the words lost On a system of learning. Unlearning. Creeping, shadowing, loathing. We'd chat, sympathize, reconnoiter The political landscapes with Enough comedy for years of shows. Appalled that thinking people still hate. Appalled at the randomness of the bible Applied at a voting booth. Politics And religion rarely join joist to hinge. Mankind at its best, condemning sky, water, Others because they can, do, lust after. He'd shake his head, write a book, Find Adam in the park. Discuss with disdain, And I would listen, rapt, filing for later All of the similarities through time, A century of time, of things he thought Would mend, but haven't. So I write.
I didn’t intend to write this story. I had something else in mind. But as I looked at the isle, something hit a dark place in my mind. The Isle of the Dead is where an atrocity had to have happened. The music that goes with it, well, it just pushed me to write. A harsh challenge to take on.
They called it the Isle of the Dead, but no one was sure why. Townsfolk from the nearby town wouldn’t talk about the island, nor would they venture near it. Being a stranger on vacation as a change of venue, meant to help me overcome the malaise that haunted me, I didn’t understand the hesitation that followed every enquiry I made about the island I had seen from the plane upon landing.
“It’s not a fit topic, lady, for someone as young and beautiful as you. Best to avoid it. Best to find something else in this town to occupy your mind. Just let it lie.” My landlady was the first to give me that advice. She wasn’t the last.
I wandered through the town’s market, a strange combination of “Made in China” and woodcarvings. The buildings of the town were straight from a tour brochure. White stucco houses with red tile roofs contrasting with the business section where the colors alternated between yellows, blues, creams, and pale greens. It was all organized. The creams were restaurants, yellows were full of odd local creations, blues were clothing venues, and pale greens were all of the artsy stores. With each store declaring it’s originality, they were all the same.
I saw the painting in the window of the very last green store on the left as the road went back into the residential section. It contrasted with the soothing color of the store. A slim man dressed in white being ferried to the island. Grays, blacks, whites gathered together like storm clouds on the horizon and created a chill that went up and down my spine. I’d never fully understood that cliche until that moment. Taking a deep breath and gathering what nerve I had left from living a daily life so boring as to be insignificant, I entered.
“About that painting in the window? Is it for sale?”
“No.” That was all the clerk said, meeting my eyes with a hostile look.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I’m from out of town. We flew over the island when we arrived and it’s striking in its natural beauty. But no one will tell me about the island, they just hush me and tell me to move along in my thoughts to something cheerful. Can you at least tell me what the painting is called?”
“The Isle of the Dead.”
“So it’s like that story with Charon and his love from the world of the living?”
The clerk sighed, her disappointment in yet another tourist etched across her forehead. She fumbled behind the counter for a moment, then produced a tablet, brushes and watercolors.
“That will cost you 250 Euros. Your shuttle to the island will leave tomorrow morning at 6 am. Are you sure you need to know the story?”
“Wait, you run a shuttle to the island? Why did no one tell me about it? I’ve asked all over.”
“Do you want the tour or not?”
“Yes, I guess I do. What are the paints for?”
“You must be an artist to be permitted on the island. You are an artist, are you not?”
I paid the money, gathered the bag of supplies and my ferry ticket to the island and left. For the rest of the afternoon, I wandered the galleries, but found no other paintings on the subject.
Dinner was somber at my accommodation that night. My landlady had seen the package I carried tucked under my arm. She had asked what was inside, but my answer had left her with a haunted look. Lamb, potatoes, green peas, leaks, and a desert of peach strudel filled me, but the silence emptied me as quickly. Finally, pouring a glass of wine for the two of us, all of the other tenets having retired for the evening, she broached the subject.
“So, you decided to pursue the matter. You have the tour in the morning? You mustn’t go. Keep the paints and tablet, but keep your sanity, as well. Don’t go. Don’t get on that ferry for any reason, I beg you. I’ve seen the results all to0 often.”
I didn’t listen. The power of the unsaid mystery had gripped my soul, and it wasn’t letting go.
Gray mornings, the light just before dawn, had always delighted me. The morning would sneak in, one little strand of the sun’s rays at a time, the color would return to the world. I had forgotten how much hope the early hours had given me. Life in reality ran into the dark for me, this was a pleasant change.
The boat wasn’t a ferry, but a skiff. There was one crew member who took my ticket, shook his head and pointed me toward the last seat in the skiff. He untied the ropes mooring us, pushed us away from the dock with his oar, and off we went. Waves don’t bother me, and that day there weren’t many. The man said nothing until we were well away from the town’s dock. Then he began to tell a tale in time with the thrusts of the oars that carried us swiftly out into deep water.
“It used to be called the Island of Hope, back before the war. Youngsters would go camping there, their parents staying overnight on a yacht that was more a hotel that a sea going adventure. Newly married couples from all over Europe would come and stay overnight, and when they left the island the next day, they were more in love than when they had arrived. The Isle put roses on their cheeks. Then the war came. and the Isle became troubled. Youngsters complained of hauntings, of chills, and of noises that struck the soul numb. We laughed it off, there in the village. A bad wind calling, a wave that struck the rocks in the distance cracking against them whiplike, or maybe it was the tucker that the youngsters filled themselves full of before they arrived. A bit of seasickness compounded by a stomach plagued.”
I was fascinated. He never looked at me, telling the story as if to himself.
“Was there a haunting?”
“Ain’t no such thing as a ghost, Miss, ain’t no such thing.”
“What caused the change in the visitors to the island?”
“Now, Miss, if we knew what started the change, I’d tell you. But listen on, there’s more story than this.”
I nodded, spellbound like a child in the reading circle at a library.
“The Nazi’s came, of course, bringing with them their particular breed of fear and loathing. We tried to live our lives with them observing everything we did, oh dear God, we tried. But the suspicions they sowed between us, the hatred of all good, the theft of all that was ours being sent off to one of them storehouses that evil man created for his great museum, it was more than a fellow’s intellect could handle.”
“But that was before your time, surely. You don’t look a day over 45. Is this a tale from your grandfather’s time?”
“No, no, I was there. I’m the last one who was there. They brought a bus full of old timers down to the docks, said it was a trip to celebrate their age. The town was all for that. Giving some old folks a trip to the sea was worth the effort to prepare them a picnic lunch and a few of the fisherman’s boats for a holiday. It was a present of goodness out of a fearful black existence. We were such fools then. I was a boy, fourteen and barely grown into my legs. I was a good looking boy, too. I had the tousled hair from the wind, a deep brown, brown eyes that could see the frigate birds in the distance and the occasional kite. I loved working for the fishermen. School had never filled my head with the excitement being at sea gave me. So, I helped rig the sails, then I dropped down with the Grandpas and Grammys and gave them a cheerful story of escaping school and falling in love with a girl whose nutty brown skin and green eyes had captured my interest for all times. The sun was up, sky was blue, and how could anything be better in the world.”
“So it was wonderful then?”
“I’ve already said to much.”
He focused on his oars, turning the small skiff into the wind, and the island came into view. Breathtaking would be an understatement of what I saw. There was one other skiff anchored six feet offshore. No one was to be seen. The gray of the morning had risen to be lemon yellow behind the island, and the rocks stood in grim contrast to the sun’s cheerful face.
“I’ll set you out on the sand then. Just wave to me when you are ready to leave. One other thing, be careful. There’s things out there you don’t want to find.”
Taking my shoes off, I stepped out of the skiff and waded the three feet to shore. Pines grew on the island, junipers with that biting aroma treasured in candles. The beach was white sand, created by pounding waves against coral. Warm and soothing though it was, I rinsed my feet and put on my shoes. There was a trail that led into the island and I took the tablet out, sketching a quick view. Wandering down that trail led me to an area that was blackened by a great fire. Nothing grew there. The rest of the island was full of life trying to climb above the rocks, but not here. No moss to soften to jagged edges of rock. Looking closer, I realized that the rocks were cracked by the heat of the fire.
As I stepped onto the first of the burned rocks, there was a cry of sorrow and fear. There was no one in sight. I took another step and a soft cry of sadness rose to blend with the other sounds. With each step I took, the cries became more. First a duo, then trio, a quartet, an ensemble, a symphony of sadness.
I noticed a glimmer of something on the far side of the area. Stepping carefully between rocks and soil, I found a small bracelet. It was engraved.
“I forgive you.”
Astounded, I looked around to see if there was anything more. In my haste I set the tablet and paints to one side. For the next two hours I searched, finding two wedding rings, a broken locket with a badly weather picture inside, and a lapel pin.
Noon brought with it a reminder that I was hungry and thirsty. I walked back to the beach and waved at the captain of the skiff. He rowed to shore for me.
“Is it lunch then?”
“Yes, I found the strangest things.”
“Where is your tablet?”
“Oh dear, let me run and get them. I set them aside as I explored. I only started one sketch.”
Back I went, picking up my things and returning to the skiff.
As he poured me a cup of water and opened the sandwiches for the tow of us, I washed my hands in the sea. “Salt water to cure anything ill,” my grandfather had said.
“So, what did you find?” A question to pass the time with.
“There is a section of the island, behind the pines and below the mountains, that was subject to a terrible fire at some point. The rocks themselves cracked beneath the heat. I walked out into the area and found that some soil had eroded between the rocks. I found this.” I showed him the bracelet. “I was so excited by the find I put the tablet down and kept looking. These wedding rings, engraved with “Forever and Always” on each. The bracelet, look it says “I forgive you.” Who would give a gift like that? and I found a tie pin. It looks like the one my grandfather wore for his toastmaster meetings, but it isn’t quite the same, it’s…take a look. I’m not sure what it means.”
The man sat there silently for a minute. “You should take these back after lunch. They belong to the island.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Take back my new finds?
“Take them back, young lady, you have no claim to these.”
“Okay, but why?”
“The Nazis arrived after the picnic was finished. They sent us to the fishing boats, but the promised the old ones a walk. We never saw them again. No one has entered the island since the fire the Nazis ignited on the island. We should have done something.”
I put the items down on the skiff’s seat and moved to sit on the same seat as the captain.
“I don’t see how you could have done something without endangering your whole town. Those days lacked hope for a reason when the nazis came.”
“I should have done something, anything. By not doing anything, by not protesting, I sold my soul. Now I carry passengers to Hell in my skiff as my penance, and I will continue until the sun no longer shines in our world.”
“That can’t be true. There’s no such thing as a curse. You must forgive yourself.”
“Go put the things back.” So I did.
I returned to the skiff, but the captain was gone. While I waited for him, I opened my tablet and looked at the first sketch. Someone had finished it. Color had been added, people added, and joy added. I turned the page to look at the backside, seeking a note from my collaborator. It was blank, but the next page was filled with scenes of a picnic. The page after that had scenes of the boats moored close to shore and there was a drawing of a boy, maybe fourteen years of age, with legs that were just a bit to long for him. He matched the description that my escort had given of himself. I wondered how many trips this man had taken to the island. I turned another page, and the sky turned red with flame against black mountain. The theft of the items the old folks carried was the next photo. The horrors continued.
My captain didn’t return. As the time passed, I began to wonder how I was going to be taken back to town. The ocean was getting rougher, the sun was now setting. Still my captain was missing.
I was lucky that evening. Eventually a fisherman, returning with full nets and lots of gulls, saw me waving at him. He sent a young man, legs just a little to long, to get me to his ship. I told the fisherman my tale, but he said the skiffs had been abandoned many years ago. I told him of the tablet, and his face grew clouded with sorrow.
“An emotional wound of such horror leaves a mark on the world. That man you saw sounds like my great-grandfather. He died in 2000, bitter at the world. May I see the tablet?”
“I found a bracelet there. It had engraved upon it, ‘I forgive you.'”
“I hope she has.”
Climb a Mayan Pyramid,
Meet the Jaguar God,
The protector of the family,
The thief of the Sun,
The ender of days,
Beginner of nights.
Feel the cool wind
Arriving from the East,
Bringing the Moon
Protecting the dream
From the Nightmares
Who flee at Dawn.
Climb a Mayan Pyramid,
Meet the Sun,
The divider of days,
The multiplier of one
And zero. A binary god.
A sponsor of sport.
Meet the team, team Jaguar.
They compete with ferocity
To be the companions
Of the Gods. They strive.
They lift the children
To the sun to be seen.
Climb into the past:
Chichen Itza, Dzibanche,
Where the water
Meets the future,
And the lens is clear
To see into another world.
All photographs and poetry@Ann’s Eyes, by Ann WJ White 2006
As a little girl,
She read a book where whitewashing was done on walls and fences.
She pretended to be Tom
Swishing and brushing to put a shine
Where the fence was between
Swish, splash, she turned her head
Looking for missed spots in the surface.
As a woman,
She worked long hours for a firm
That asked her to clean up
After their long day of dealings,
So she bent over her computer
Editing the to and from
The up and down
She washed the pages clean of color
Transposed them into a harmless key.
As an ancient one,
She sat and snipped her luscious
Thread, using the rainbow
Stitching and splicing
Ribbons created of long colored
Memories that never
Were just as they were remembered.
She thought of her paint brushes,
Dry and gone, from when she ran out of white paint.
I never thought I’d see the day that teachers would ask parents in approved letters from school administrations to keep the news from children because it would cause discipline charges. If anything, when I taught I wanted my students to watch the news and look for elements of who, what, where, when and why. A short article written to summarize the important news of the day that could be used to teach how the correspondence of knowledge, application and discovery shaped our worlds was a positive thing. Of course, there were problems with discovering what was important and what was simply to incite a feeling that wouldn’t be allowed in polite society. But these days, I’d make sure my children didn’t watch the news when politics are highlighted. Running for the highest office in our land must show figures who, with integrity, have a positive regard for our country, the office, and the outcomes of public service. At least that is what I believed would occur, right up until this year.
This year I am embarrassed to be known as a voter. I’ll be even more embarrassed if I don’t vote. What are my choices? A bully pulpit like Theodore Roosevelt? A moralist? A preacher’s pet? A shrill voice shouting, “Mememe” without room for punctuation? How can these people be taken seriously? If I choose one, whose message is not only consistent but in my best interests to speak about, am I guilty if I promote my opinion about him?
I have never seen such a snarl of childlike behavior coming out of grown men and women. I get emails asking for money multiple times a day as the sky is falling. Watching the skies, I have seen the heaven’s holding in their assigned place, clouds up where they belong, and the wind sweeping up after their parade. Watching the television, I have see a grown man inciting to riot, to violence and then blaming it on anyone but himself. He’s a front runner. I have seen a woman portray herself as one of the people but taking the very money from sources that she had urged her presidential husband to veto during his turn. I have seen an older man criticized because he is over 70 and in good health. How can that be a disability? I have a disability. He’s been at work for over 55 years and now they want a physical before they let him run? Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t have a physical first and he had heart issues as well as suffered from the effects of polio in his life. Edward Kennedy came out in opposition to forces within our society that were actively seeking to control our every waking moment. He was against racism, poverty, organized crime and intellectually destroying movements who wanted to commercialize our foreign policy. And Humphrey, poor man, struck down by cancer when all he wanted was to make the world a better place for all of us. Jimmy Carter has done more good, and set a better example, after he left the office of president. When he was President, the congress refused to act positively on his proposals. Now the man has not only a sterling reputation for fairness, concern and compassion, but his cancer is in remission because of presidential funding of research.
We pay athletes millions of dollars. A man or woman, working blue collar jobs, will make in their entire lifetimes less than these young men make in a single year. Those who can take time to have a social life, vacation and go to concerts in addition to their occupations will live much longer than those of us who try to exist from paycheck to paycheck. The oil industries, gas industries, and coal industries treat their employees as expendable while they put profits in the pockets of their blue suits (or black suits or even a leisure shirt from Hawaii) and don’t use it to update and safeguard their resources. Then they turn around and swear that prices are so low for the public that it will ruin the economy. Word folks, the people who work to do all of the menial jobs in this country were very appreciative when prices fell. But do the bottom and middle of society not count?
There are people who work for others; teachers, nurses, firefighters and yes, even the police who continue to do their jobs just because they are needed. Bad apples aside, shouldn’t they have healthcare? No, not insurance, yet another bloated industry. HEALTHCARE. You bet they should.
I’ve seen HOAs who work for their communities turn right around and hire management groups who work against them. The management groups are turning quite a profit and neighborhoods become less neighborly as a result. Mine will charge you a 36% fine if you are late by even a day. 36% is about the beginning of title loans, which capture families who have little and are about to have even less. Food is not a luxury. Clean water is not a luxury. We have in Michigan a governor who encouraged Flint to use water they knew was unpalatable and downright poisonous. Can’t we on the bottom pay for a dollar a bottle? How come we don’t have those resources, now that industry moved away and jobs are found at the dollar store?
I’m angry that somehow the spirit of the United States that advocated “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” has been swept aside and replaced with “We the masses have the right to be prosecuted and detained because of the color of our skin or our income levels or sexual preference to the point of execution that needs no justification and has no limits, to be given fearful messages by leaders that ensure compliance to new legislative whims, to starve, freeze and die of illnesses before our time, to become the least educated country in this world, to have militant organizations terrorize our own people, to destroy our natural resources, to bully and insight to riot whenever it is possible the subjects who live within our borders, to keep out any and all compassion towards the rest of the world, to profit from all moneys taken and abused and misused by the rich…” I’m angry.
I have a right to be angry. I served in the US Army, even though women were given treatment I wouldn’t inflict on a stray possum. I taught in this country’s public schools. I taught in a school system that the newer residents who were wealthier got new schools and the best equipment and opportunities. I also taught on the poor side of town. I taught school children in buildings that were old, worn, and dangerous. I taught where there weren’t enough text books to give each student one, and certainly they were not current textbooks with newly learned science and technology lessons. I put my personal money into buying books for students to read, to learn from, and I was glad to do so. I stayed every day, subjected to every illness that a child brings to school on the hands or in their sneezes when they should have been home safely in bed. I contracted an auto-immune disease. Perhaps the sneezes were part of that, perhaps not. But I want, I DEMAND, that I and every other person on the face of these states that banded together in brotherhood and sisterhood to create a nation that would rise to be a star at the top of the global factions called countries because of its policies that would eradicate poverty, racism, violence, hatred, bigotry, disease, religious zealotry and more. Those who target the poor and middle-income in an effort to increase the divide between the classes need to be put on notice that their moment of greed is at an end and that we as a people will be entitled to live our lives productively, happily and able to share in those “Blessings of Liberty” and tolerance that we were promised.
I remember the 1960s when JFK spoke about working together, when the Peace Corps was a way to serve the world, when Martin Luther King Jr used the teachings of Gandhi to mandate a peaceful reproach and civil disobedience in the face of wrong doing so that the wrong doing would end. I remember Robert Kennedy speaking and the enthusiasm of his voice proclaiming that the time had come for things to start becoming open to humanity and its needs. I was watching the TV as a child when John, Martin and Robert were murdered. I watched my parents who were numb after all of the violence. I wanted the “Blessing of Liberty.” I still do.