• in theory •

Self-aggrandizement, deflection of responsibility, blame shifting, obfuscation, and chronic obscurantism are classic symptoms of a narcissistic personality disorder. A man (in fairness, all things being equal, this could just as easily be a woman – no, really) with this condition is frequently hampered in situations involving – and, too often, to one degree or another, is found to be completely incapable of – compassion, empathy, emotional stability, consistency of thought or sustained and rational problem solving. Paranoia is almost always an accompanying presentation. Further, given sufficient power and authority, such a person is capable of any forced action, of rationalizing persecutions upon ‘outed’ groups, of deliberately undermining essential infrastructure, and/or any number of established policies, in addition to an unswerving willingness to commit any injustice or atrocity deemed ‘necessary’, all, without any self-doubt, or debilitating ‘pangs’ of conscience.
Now, if a people were to find themselves ‘ruled’, by such an individual, it might well be very worrying indeed. Of course, one could only hope, then, that the ‘checks and balances’ built into a form of governance by the wisdom of a thoughtful group of far-sighted ‘Founding Fathers’ would, be, in theory, at least, sufficient to save (said nation) from the clear and present danger afforded by such an appalling predicament. Would it not then be for these faithful to remain hopeful that the commitment, strengths, and courage of a competent, diligent, and united ,’We the People’, would sustain them through to a positive outcome? In such a case, I would, most definitely, unequivocally be, and, most of all, theoretically, thereafter, remain in their ‘corner’, to my dying day.
Whew! That was a close one.
Kinda scary, I’d say.
Good thing this is all, ‘theoretical’, eh?
~ Tim Burchfield



• here in me •

Like a mantra,
it runs through my mind,
‘Polk. Jackson. Reagan. Bush.
Pomp and brutality.’
Which is no help at all.
And then, a voice of reason,
which said, “Not in my house,”
and I thought that was quite right.
“Exactly,” I said, reverentially.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,
not here, in me.”
~ Tim Burchfield


• frank and fearless •

A belated well-wishes for Independence Day. I am big on independence, all kinds of independence: I adore autonomy, self-expression, and independent thinking. They used to call my type ‘free-thinkers’, though I can’t imagine what they were thinking, as we all know that ‘free-thinking’ is anything but free. In fact, it frequently comes at a heavy cost, socially. It takes courage, and a certain amount of independence (there’s that word again), and a willingness to pay that price, to exercise that modicum of autonomy. (There’s that word again, as well.) But I say, do it. Be that fearless and frank one who will follow one’s curiosity to whatever end that Nature has in store, for discovery. So again, friend, happy Independence Day!
I imagined a conversation with the girl, yesterday, where we are talking about art and artists, and philosophy, and I was sharing something I read from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without A Country, where he asks his friend why it was that some writers seem to have control over their writing, and why it was he himself didn’t feel that way, and his wise friend said something along the lines of, that “There are two kinds of artists: ones that respond to their writing (careers), so far, and those that respond to Nature itself.” And I realized that that can apply not just to writers, and artists, in particular, but to every sort of person, and groups of people, and to political parties, and cliques, and religious affiliations, and on and on and on: traditionalists, one might say, as opposed to, say, scientists, for example, who change their thinking continually, according to what is now known to be provable, and more importantly, disprovable, day by day. These latter sorts of people have to be frank and fearless in saying what conclusions their many iterations of robust inquiry have brought them to. Not the most popular guy or gal, at the ice cream social, I’m guessing. But that’s where the independence comes in. You have to have cultivated a certain aspect of yourself to be frank and fearless, and autonomous, in preparation for that happy (let’s be honest: or unhappy) day when you must stand alone and say, “Everything we have understood, so far, about (fill in the blank), is wrong, (and here’s why).”
Go for it, I say. Respond to Nature. Be frank and fearless, or at least, consider it. Happy Independence Day!
~ Tim Burchfield


• cave diving •

We all get depressed sometimes.
There’s no shame in it:
In point of fact, it may be best
To have plumbed the complexity
And profundity of thought,
To once again stumble into the quagmires,
Of one’s old haunts and fears:
To grapple with the thorny tendrils,
Of loss,
The bloody barbs of negativity,
To be filled with the lack of understanding
and drained by the lack of will,
to sit and sit in stillness –
To hear no sound,
to know no clocks that tick time forward,
to have no sense
Of how things get the way they can do:
To learn to deal with absence
And forced abstinence
due to circumstance.
Of the missing in multiples
Of a loved one or ones and twos,
Or of just the love that once was
With them still just there beside you:
When you can’t be filled
By food
Or wealth,
Or things things things;
Or, in a philosophical bent:
Of the dearth of meaning,
Of feeling useless,
Or undervalued
Even to yourself
To be so imbued with emptiness
Of dearth:
A cave dweller –
Discomfort itself, in skin.
At such times, as this,
Are we not adventurers?
Dicoverers? Explorers?
Delvers? Divers of diverse diversity,
From the University of experience?

Who is better qualified?
Who knows the dark places
Better than we,
Who better, of their usefulness?
Who better, of the knowing of
Where the treasure is hid, therein?
Who, where be, the troves of compassion, hid, than we?
Of the upwellings of humanity,
of kindness, of understanding,
from secret streams of clarity,
of the universal plights
through which we all must,
from time to time,
The cave divers.
We do.

We who emerge, bearing gifts
Formed in the dark,
Under heat, and pressure .
We do.

Cave diving the subterranean
Ventricles of the human heart,
Its eddies and streams,
Its lightless underground rivers,
Its undercurrents,
Its blind turns and fissures,
Its inexplicable fauna,
Its extremes:
Who better
to do the necessary surgeries, on ourselves,
than we?

So often we come out on the other side of such explorations,
Better equipped, to deal
with simple
stable reality:
Girded in unexpectation
Gilded with humility,
Clothed in cool compassion’s giving nature – giving, then,
again and again and again.

To go into the darkness
And come out laughing!
Better prepared in every way
To be a friend to Man.
To be a friend to Man –
Qualified to tell
the Story of Humanity
for the good of humanity:
To be the Storyteller,
with a plan.
That is the justification, and its end,
And it may be true, too.
In any case,
We delve.
~ Tim Burchfield


• watchin’ and prayin’ •

• watchin’ and prayin’ •

‘Jesus loves me, this I know. So the Bible, tells me so.’
I heard this every day of my waking life, until I was six years old.
That was when Mam, left us. She was just gone, one day. She had found something better. Something with better pay. I missed her singing, more than anything. More than her coffee-colored hands, more than her salty smell, more than her rice-n-chicken, more than her ‘watchin’. “Watch the ‘pitcher’,” Mam would say, meaning, ‘movie’. “I’m watchin’, Mam,” I’d say, “I’ma watchin’ yooou…” and then, I’d close one eye, and make the other bigger, and then, I’d go, “Uh-huh, Mam, I got my eye on yoooou!” And then I would press my little face into hers, and smush it all around, and she would laugh, trying to get me off her, and shout, “Honaay, quit on thayat nayow, git yersef doooooowwwn!”
I had learned to ‘watch’, from Mam. I ‘watched’, like her, she: I ‘watched’ everything. Mostly, she watched the ‘white folks’, and said, “Mn, mmn,” a lot. I had to admit, we ‘white folks’ was pretty funny.
As for me, ‘watching’ was everything. Like a sport. I watched bugs, and creepy crawly things. I had myself a ‘horney toad’ called ‘Slim’. He liked ants, and had the most delightful funny smell, about him.
I watched the girl across the way, Ray Nell Cannon was her name. She didn’t think much of me, onna account o’ I was ‘a smelly little midget’, she told me, one day. I fell for her hard, after that. From then on, when I watched her, playing with Trixie, her dog, I crawled under the shrub, my favorite ‘watchin’ place’.
The dirt was real dry, under there, and the fine grey dust, was the perfect spot to find little ‘sand lions’, that set the most amazing little cone-shaped dirt traps. And when an unsuspecting ant fell in, it weren’t long, before, whup! that was it, for that little critter. I may have ‘helped’ one, or two along, to becoming ‘dinner’.

Until about then, I hadn’t realized, that anything was expected, of me. They say, I didn’t speak a word, until I was three. Mam, was my defender, “Lookit. He don’ say much, but lookit thayat faaaace! He gots them big eyes, an’ they gots plenny to say!”
That was a true thing, what she’d say. Mam, I mean. Why, I ‘talked’ all the time, ‘in my mind’. Aaaalllll the time. To myself, that is. You ever tried to ‘shut off’ your brain? It can’t be done.
My brain. It was always saying something. One minute, it was somethin’ like, “Do I have a granddad? I never met one.” And then, it’d be, “How do I know if green is green, or for sure, that red is red, when all on the T.V., is black and white?” (T.V., if you don’t know, was all in ‘black and white’, back then.) On, and on, and on, it went, like that.
On and on and on, it went. I couldn’t get it to SHUT UP!! I was so busy, what with just THINKIN’ all the time, it never occurred to me, to speak. That’s all it was. No great mystery. I wasn’t retarded, or nothin’, like a lot of white folks was ‘in-clined’ — that’s a ‘Mam’ word: she liked that one, and so did I — to think.
Until Mam left us, I had never known a true silence. It was then, our house ‘came empty, and quiet, was when Mam left.
After that, things just wasn’t the same, ’round the house. Momma, in bed, all the time. Poppa, workin’ all day, ’til dark, ‘cept for Sunday, and that was ‘Church Day’. Or, fish in’ or huntin’, or somethin’, or just ‘stayin’ away’. Beats me, where he’d get off to. But, at least it kept the screamin’ down. Momma was screamin’ a lot, in them days. Cryin’ too. I did’nt know what to do. So I ‘stayed gone’, too. Just playin’, outside. Explorin’, crawdad fishin’ with a string and bacon, in the ditch in front of the house, by the gravel road. Or playing with my parachute, that I had made with a rock, some string, and a hanky I stole from the dirty laundry. There was always lots of that. I loved to crawl ’round in it, like a old huntin’ dog, and lay in it, especially my daddy’s work shirts: they smelled like sweat. I liked that smell. Didn’t miss him so bad, then.
And big old cardboard boxes. Boy, did I love to lay around, and roll, and crawl, and just — think — in them. My own little house, all to myself.

To be honest, with Mam being there, always, I had never ‘missed’ either of them, my mom or pop, that is, or, for that matter, anyone. It just never was a thing to think about, so I din’t.
Until Mam left, I had never known loneliness. With Mam there, life had been, one, big, ‘one’. Love, all the time. Mornin’, noon, an’ night.
But, then, one day, she was gone.
And, that was, more or less, it. Then, after that, come the ‘sick time’, which went on, forever for me, and I saw my death, in a ‘booger suit’, all nasty, and boogery, sneakin’ up on me. That was when they called on the Preacher man, and it was on that day, when I had a fever of a hunderd an’ six, they said, when Jesus, my blessed Savior, ‘walked in’.
Momma had a Bible, bound in white. It had a zipper, all ’round it. To keep out the ‘bad stuff’, as I saw it. Otherwise, what would be the point of it?
It was, about then, too, more or less, I guess, that, ‘the bad’, crept in. That booger man didn’ leave, at all, he just hung around, waitin’ for me to ‘be bad’.

Momma. Poor Momma, how she suffered
At first, it was her ‘sick headaches’. ‘My Grains’ she called em’. Crawlin’ around, in her head, like maggots in a dead cow, I’d seen, one day, by the road, all expanded, and everything. I could just see them maggots crawlin’ round, in Momma’s head, with no room to expand, it hurt me, just thinkin’ ’bout it.
Those ‘sick headaches’, it seemed, they went on, and on. It was an everyday thing, when she wasn’t polishing the floors. She couldn’t get anything clean enough. It was ’bout then, she ‘took to’ beating us.
Those floors, they gleamed. They hurt my eyes, when the sun came through. ‘Switche’s were her thing. We’d all l’ine up’, the four of us, all a’cryin’, askin’ her, had we ‘done’ anything. Sometimes, that took all morning. And then, we took to ‘scrubbin’. A house can never be too clean.
She changed her hair. She was a ‘normal redhead’. And, then, it was black, one day. She put on blue velvet, and sat on the couch, and waited for our Daddy to come home, with a big knife in her hand, and she didn’t watch, ‘Guiding Light’, even though it had, ‘Rob and Laura’, for which, we had been waiting, for weeks, to find out, ‘what happened’, but I did.
When I heard his car, coming up the driveway, I ran, to meet him: I always did, but today was different. How it was different, I could not know, but somehow, I knew. I don’t know what happened, having been sent to my room, but, the Police came. Momma was in ‘the hospital’, for a while, after that. Mrs. Cannon, from across the street, took care of us, for a while: she was nice. She taught me ‘macramé’.
“Jesus loves me, this I know,” after Mam left, we still sang this, in Sunday School. And, then, after that, it was something different: it, somehow, became, ‘this, I knew.’

After that, every day, was ‘new’, if not, better. And, it was so. So very different. Every day. It became, so very. Different, from any other. Every day was something different. I learned about ‘horny toads’, and ‘black- widder spiders’, and ‘huntin’ dogs’, and scorpions.
It even, eventually, became, as they say, as in fairy tales, ‘sticks and stones, may break my bones.’
Yes. Yes, bones were broken.

Yes, bones were broken, but ‘scratch’, that. That’s a whole other story. I haven’t the strength, to go into that: but, I almost killed my little brother, by accident. Broke his legs in three places. Spent a whole year, in a body cast. Some things, you cain’t never forgive yer’self, even with Jesus’ love. I know, ’cause, I asked. I was eight, then.

Let’s move foreword. To dates, beyond that.

I met Ray at Revival. They were there, all, in their chairs.

Some, were small, and soft, and demure. But, there was one, an Hispanic man, small, hate-filled, and, ‘badly burned’, not more than twenty, who dared, it seemed, the so-called, fucking-‘holy spirit’, or, so, he spewed, vocally, irrevocably, he dared, ‘His Mercy’, to come within two yards, of him.
But, by then, at twelve (“Thank you, Jesus!”), I was ‘filled’, with the ‘Holy Spirit’. It was him, for me, and me, for him.
God, I just knew, we together: “We”: would ‘fix’ him. When I was done, by God, and Jesus, through whom, I spoke, he would walk, and talk, as I did.
“In the ‘Nam, it was all fucked up…” he had said. He never pre-fixed, or suffixed, his sentences. Usually, if he said anything ‘useful’, it was ensconced between profanities. Yeah, he carried that burden, but, to my eyes, ‘through the eyes of Jesus’, to me, he was good.
Ray Ramirez was not worried about ‘going to Hell.’ To hear him tell it, he was in it, already. How he moaned, and continually complained, and cursed God, and the government. In flames, continually. Abandoned, or so he said.
Somehow, I felt, it was my ‘job’, to ‘transport’ this…sad man…from the depths of ‘realism’, to the realms of ecclesiastical ecstasy. And I was the boy for the job, and I would do it. “In Jesus, all things are possible.”
Little, did I know. Ray did not need a man of God. What he needed was, and I say this with all humility, and humanity, was a psychiatrist.

There was within our congregation, our little band of followers, a homespun hauteur, when what was needed was humility, and even though we had the right to remain humble, as the saying goes, we hadn’t the ability.
And so, ‘enfilled with the Holy Spirit’, we took our little vials of sacred oils, and making our way to all the churches of our town (I rode in the back of the truck) and anointed the entrances to every one, praying in tongues, what ones of us could, and asking, no, commanding, as was our right as we saw it, the great and terrible warrior-angel Michael, bearing a great sword of justice, to bring down upon these unwary sinners a flood, a deluge, of the Holy Spirit in a great fire of revival, as it happened in the Bible, in the Book of Acts, when all those present were suddenly filled with His Spirit, and all spoke in unknown tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, and, though diverse they were in their origins, for that time, all had a flame over their heads, and did miracles, and understood each other, and in His Holy Spirit, were as one. Revival was about to come, whether they wanted it, or not, and we were about to see to it, as with God, all things are possible, and with Him with us, who could stand agin’ us. This much, we knew, and for sure — come hell, or high water — It would come.
Ray Ramirez lived in a wheelchair, in a one-room apartment next to his sister’s house. His burn scars covered most of his body. He had partial use of his hands, but they weren’t much good. He had no dexterity to speak of, except for verbal abuse. In this, he was a master. Jesus had sent me to his house, to bring ‘Jesus’ love’ to him. That was all I knew. He took one look at me, and put me to use. In no time, I was his personal slave.
I am not stupid, though you may think so, if you will. I had the example of Jesus to follow, and follow Him, I did. I worked harder than I ever had, in all of my twelve years, but I was also given a gift: the gift of compassion, and of the understanding of suffering, beyond what I imagined, even Jesus did.
Ray was a ‘hard case’. There was no compassion in him. He was beyond cynical. There was a ‘black hole’, in him. And that ‘dark gravity’, inextricably, drew me in.

Not that I’m complaining. I have now known sin, and its opposite, revelation. It was a gift to a twelve-year old boy, who had naught, but Jesus, within. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It was knowledge I wanted, and had done, since I was ten. I once spent two weeks in my room, as punishment, by my parents, for something I did. I thought that was a long time. Two years is forever, by comparison, to a kid.
So, all during Christmas vacation, after I had done my chores, I would go over to help out Ray, in any way I could.
“Where you been, motherfucker?” he, inevitably, said.
It wasn’t like I had to pray all ‘the time. I had been Jesus. It was in me. I had been beaten. I had been scorned. I had been misunderstood since the age of remembrance. Even I didn’t know what I was about. I was a mystery, even to me. But, I was, as I am, now, and always, though I have my faults, and an inveterate pain in the ass, I am, essentially, good. I don’t need to be nailed to a tree, or anything else, to know that.
So — Ray. He had a story you won’t believe, except, that it’s true, unless it’s not, but one look at that man’s burned and scarred and broken body, impoverished and ignored, striving to live, would make you ashamed, as it did me, to doubt him, to not take him at his profane, God-and-man-hating, word.
Even so, I couldn’t help loving a man. He was almost dirt, so like me, and like me, for no reason I could understand, he was still breathing. Broken, like me, nothing else could break him. We were almost one person: the darkness of him craved my light, and my ‘light’, as I was, so Jesus-filled, craved him.
It stunk. Everything about him, was redolent of piss, and shit. His eyes gleamed, with hatred, for me, and everything. And yet, like me, a worthless thing, he, too, wanted to find — it — whatever form it took, the ‘good’. Well, maybe me, more than him. But I wanted to find it, and more than that, I wanted more than anything, to bring Ray with me. I knew I could see it. It was there, just out of reach, and was, to all ratiocination, unattainable, but for prayer.
You wouldn’t think I’d turn out an atheist, but I did. Ray helped me, more than I can say. Yes, it is a love story. He became my Christ. Just a dirty-minded, distraught and defamed, and discarded, young Vietnam vet, in a one room apartment.
I don’t know ’bout your Christ, but my Christ, was a burnt-out, broken, paraplegic, patriotic, foul-mouthed, despondent, Hispanic atheist.
What, couldn’t you love a man, like that? What, after all, was Christ, all about. I think I knew one, in our time.
And, as it turns out, I am, even after all that, in this man’s opinion, so much, the better, for it.
~ Tim Burchfield


• gestures •

• gestures •

Mrs. Queebee’s daughter
gave me a ride home,
When I got lost, when I was six.
She drove me home
In a yellow Volkswagen,
The sound, of which, as it drove away,
It was the sound of gratitude,
I shall never forget.

Daniel let me ‘hang out’, at the lot.
Rick forgave my hundred dollar debt.
Iva let me park, in her spot.
Coach Robison taught me to drive,
And to love my kids, above all else.
Douglas taught me to laugh.
Erin, to give and to give and to give.
Diane: how to let go,
And keep the good.

Karin, that love is O. K.
Skip, of listening.
Pepper, of books,
And the love of reading.
Ryan introduced me to play,
The gift of gifts.

Ultimately, it’s the gestures
Of affection,
That last.
~ Tim Burchfield