Formidable Tree

I am a formidable tree
that withstood ten thousand
battering storms
and yet still stands
reaching out with limbs
to touch the sky

I breathe the alpine air
and drink the dew
of the morning mist
With the power of nature
I become as strong as the mountains
as powerful as the wind

Aiming toward the sky
a living tower piercing the clouds
I fill the sky with birds
the ground with squirrels
the soil with fertility
and the future with life

Watching the twinkle of countless stars
Listening to songs of innumerable birds
I study the encyclopedia of nature
at the university of the great outdoors
And gain the wisdom
of two thousand years

I am a living book
writing the history of earth
in solid wood
My enigmatic rings
a store of knowledge
for eons to come

Fishing with Daddy

On Saturday morning I walked out of my room to meet dad who was in the driveway, all dressed up in pirate regalia that included an eye-patch and oversized tricorne hat. When he saw me he smiled and said, “Arrrgh, are ye land-lubbering cowards ready for adventure on the high-seas?”

(Dad enjoyed being flamboyant and dramatic, so when he took me fishing he often dressed up as a sea captain or pirate, and would speak with a pirate accent.)

“Aye-aye, captain!” I responded, then saluted him.

He noticed that I was carrying panda along with me, so he asked, “And who is your mate, that ferocious white and black furred beast?”

I held out the panda and said with a smile, “His name is Panda!”

He wind went back to talking normally and said, “Are you sure you want to bring Panda along with you? If he falls into the water, it might ruin his circuitry and you’ll not be able to play with him.”

“That’s okay daddy, I’ll be careful with him.”

Dad went along with it. Sometimes my mom said that my dad spoiled me by letting me get away with things all the time. But considering the way my sister, treats me, it balances out.

He drove me to a lake about fifteen minutes away from our house. It was surrounded by a beautiful forest of giant redwoods, filled with the songs of birds especially during the morning or evening. If you were lucky, you might see a deer or two drinking from the lake. Going fishing was more about reveling in the beauty of nature than catching something to eat. It was surprising that he caught anything in that lake because it was so small and shallow it barely had any fishes in it.

When we arrived dad took out his fishing equipment and said, “Are ye sea-salts ready to catch and subdue the infamous barbed-mouth shark of San Tomas Aquino?” I laughed when he said that, there was nothing in the lake except a few bottom-feeding catfish. It would be easier to find a shark at a local skating rink than in that lake. But I loved how he sounds like Popeye the Sailor Man whenever he tried to talk like a pirate.

Being an engineer, he built himself a special set of fishing equipment, including a crossbow for casting, a motorized reel and a robotic worm. He pointed his special fishing device toward the middle of the lake, gave a few hearty laughs, then fired the fishing hook from the crossbow. Unfortunately his device was slightly overpowered, and instead of landing in the middle of the lake it landed on the other side and got stuck in the bushes.

“Hell’s hounds!” he said, as he tried desperately to disentangle the fishing hook from across the lake. The electric motor on his fishing device struggle to reel in the hooks. After a few hard tugs, the fishing line itself broke, to which I responded by a bout of giggling. Dad looked at me and said, “Looks like the fishing hook has been swallowed by our old enemy, the menacing serrated-jaw holly bush.” After reeling back what was left of the fishing line, he said, “Don’t worry, I brought some extra hooks and lures just in case something like this happens.”

He fixed his fishing device and cast the line again, albeit this time far more carefully. He was more successful this time, but the line sat in the water and nothing happened. I grew bored and sat down to play around with Panda, checking the line every few minutes. After what seemed like hours the line jerked, and I ran down to see if we finally caught something.

“Yarrr, ’tis no mere fish, this beast is a Leviathan!” dad said.

I put Panda down on my chair and ran towards the water. The chaotic ripples on the surface was showing that something was struggling against the fishing line. As the line was being reeled in I could see a small fish just underneath the surface, making tiny whirlpools. The fish was so small that when dad pulled it out of the water he could fit it on his palm. My first thought when I saw it was how cute it was. Despite its slimy skin and musty smell, it had large, buggy eyes and a round, pouting mouth. I petted the sorry little creature, and wished we could take it home and keep it in an aquarium, but it had to go back in the lake.

Again dad cast his fishing line into the lake, but this time he immediately caught something. “Ho ho! Looks like we’ve snagged a small treasure,” he said as he reeled in his catch. I could tell from the ripples that it wasn’t a fish but a piece of floating debris.

“Holy Christ,” he said with his normal voice as he pulled the object out of the water.

“What is it?” I asked?

“A condom.”

“What’s a condom?”

He looked at me and was at a lost for words. “I’ll explain it when we get home,” he said while carefully taking the condom off the fishing hook and throwing it in the trash bin. I looked down at Panda and asked, “What’s a condom?”

“A condom is a contraceptive device. Usually a sheath made of rubber, it is put over the penis before sexual intercourse to act as a physical barrier for insemination. It can also be used for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Dad was miffed, he scratched his head and said, “I didn’t think I would do it this early on, but some time we need to have a talk about sex.”

“You don’t need to talk to me about sex, I already learned it from reading a college biology textbook. Did you know dolphins have prehensile penises, meaning they can move them the way an elephant moves its trunk. I don’t think human penises work the same way.”

“No we don’t, although I wished I had one, that would make mom a lot happier.”

“I also saw a Nova documentary about how babies grow inside mommies. They showed a bunch of sperm cells swimming and surrounding an egg cell, then explained how when one sperm cell enters the egg, chromosomes mix and that makes an embryo, and that’s how you get a baby.”

“Well, it looks like you already know a lot about sex. But do you know anything about contraception?”

“What’s that?”

“That’s when the man and the woman has sex, but do something to prevent the woman becoming pregnant.”

“Aww, that’s sad.”

Dad looked perplexed, then asked, “Why is that sad?”

“Because it means the man and woman don’t want to have the baby.”

Dad nearly laughed aloud, then said, “It’s not because the man and woman don’t want any babies, just not too many babies. Let me put it this way: having one cat is awesome, but imagine having ten cats, think of all the litter boxes you have to clean.”

“That’s true, I hate cleaning litter boxes.”

“Not only that, being pregnant is not fun. Imagine carrying a watermelon in your belly for a few months, then pooping out that watermelon.”

I felt extremely disgusted when I heard that. “Sounds like it would hurt a lot.”

“Oh, you bet it hurts. When your mom was in labor with you, she was in so much pain that even I was sedated. I think this had more to do with how effective she is at making other people feel her pain, but still. I have never experienced labor pain so it’s impossible for me to explain to you, but according to your mother it was like that scene from ‘Alien’ where the xenomorph bursts through that guy’s chest.”

That was unnecessarily graphic imagery, I felt like I was covered in blood and guts as depicted in that movie. After taking a moment to process those thoughts, I asked, “Ugh. Why does being born cause so much pain?”

“Well, according to evolutionary theory, millions of years ago human beings started to evolve large brains in order to survive the challenges of a drying African ecosystem. But as the head evolved to be bigger, the birth canal cannot get bigger because the pelvic bones are in the way, so what ended up happening is the birth canal is too small for the baby. That’s why childbirth is so painful for humans.”

“That sounds awful.”

“Hey, that’s nature for you. Good thing we invented technology to make it less painful, or made things like condoms to prevent it.”

“So how does this the condom work?”

Dad still looked embarrassed, but said, “The condom over the penis so the sperm goes inside the condom instead of the woman.”

“And then what happens?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what happens to the sperm after it goes in the condom?”

“It gets thrown in the garbage.”

“Aww, that’s sad.”

“Why is it sad?”

“Because sperm cells are alive, they have a head and a tail and swim like a fish. You wouldn’t think of throwing away a puppy in a trash can, would you?”

Dad smiled and said, “They’re alive, of course, but they’re not sentient. They can’t feel pain, or existential despair about their ultimate demise. Besides, even if the sperm cells get inside the woman, the vast, vast majority die anyway. Remember that only one sperm cell ever enters the egg, the rest simply die.”

“But it’s still awful when you think about it; the human body just makes billions of these living creatures and allow all but just one survive. Why does it have to be so cruel?”

Dad stopped to look at me in the eye and said, “Look at it this way, all of the sperm cells that died didn’t die in vain; their bodies were recycled by nature to make other living things, like babies, or that giant redwood tree over there. You like redwoods, don’t you?” I smiled, he spun me around so we’d both look at that redwood tree. Then he started to sing:

From the day you were born in the gonads
And wagging your flagellum around
There are more of you than can ever succeed
More of you than are eggs around

There are too many barriers to get through
Like a giant condom right in your way
But don’t be too rash
When you’re thrown in the trash
Take the long path through the web of life

It’s the Circle of Sperm
And it moves us all
Through the female vulva
Through the garbage heaps
Till you find your place
To make more babies
It’s the Circle
The Circle of Sperm

After dad finished his song he looked extremely satisfied for about five seconds before he became more serious and said, “Now we can only hope Disney doesn’t sue us.”


The Digital Religion

A black screen glows
A kaleidoscope of images and sounds pours forth
A new religion is born

A church built of electrons
sitting in the clouds
floating on fibers of light

What dedicated worshipers sit
in silent meditation
Rapturous gaze at holy icons

Minds meld across the electronic aether
Adrift in collective trance
A digital nirvana

No greater god existed
than the gods of glass and silicon
Cradled in our hands

Take a picture of yourself
Post it
You are now a god

Followed by image-worshipers
from here to the ends of the earth

We are all gods in a sea of gods
Electronic souls raptured into a silicon heaven

Part 12: The Funeral (Part 2)

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. See the previous chapter here.

When mom looked at me sporting a fashionable bowtie she was delighted and asked me where I learned how to tie a tie. Of course I gave her an evasive smile and jammed myself into the car to embark on a trip to the cemetery. Of course Cupertino is a town that has a high cost-of-living, and apparently also a high cost-of-dying. Even buying a burial plot around there is more expensive than a place more out of the way, such as Gilroy. So we packed together in the car for a long journey which, depending on the traffic, takes more than an hour. But as we headed out for the highway Caroline did not cry; she withheld her tears for three weeks after her parent’s death, so there was no question that she could withhold her tears for the duration of the trip to the funeral.

Throughout the trip I couldn’t help but look at Caroline, especially since she was attired in Emily’s fancy yellow dress, the one with the puffy sleeves and frilly collar and hem. Her bare, delicate lower legs were poised in such a graceful manner, and the fact that she was wearing a thin veil of makeup made her especially beautiful that day. This time I couldn’t even pretend that I wasn’t constantly looking at her, staring at her for half of the ride. My attention towards her was broken only when we passed redwood forests, because I was constantly thinking that I must see the last glimpse of such majestic beauty before the progress of ‘civilization’ irrevocably destroys it. Caroline apparently enjoyed the attention I was giving her, she didn’t mind my blank stares and smiled slyly when my eyes were looking towards her instead of outside the car window. At times I noticed Caroline was glancing at me in her own evasive fashion, as though like me she had reasons to hide her true feelings towards me.

We arrived at the cemetery, indicated by a small sign by the side of the road reading “GATES OF PEACE Funeral Home and Wedding Services.” I thought that it was merely a typo on the sign but as we drove past the we we saw a couple, the man wearing a tuxedo and the woman wearing a white gown, on the lawn sliding rings on each other’s finger in front of a field of headstones.

“They’re having a wedding right on a cemetery,” I said, “isn’t that a little inauspicious?”

“Four weddings and a funeral,” Caroline responded playfully, then smiled sourly but still in a cheerful mood, “you’re not superstitious, are you?”

“Definitely not, my mother once took me and a bunch of my schoolmates to visit a cemetery on a Halloween night. I remembered it to be quite a boring experience, the grass was very well-manicured and the tombstones were nothing more than blocks of rock with names carved on them. I saw no cobwebs, creepy overhanging tree limbs or wandering ghosts of the dead. In fact I was rather disappointed by the mundaneness of visiting the cemetery by night, I might as well have been eating a piece of celery or slaughtering a pig, except it was even quieter.”

“Then why are you complaining about weddings taking place in cemeteries?”

“It’s mostly the symbolic meaning, what message are you sending reciting your vows in a field of corpses? That your relationship with your future spouse is about as dead as those people in the ground?”

Caroline laughed, the sound of which reverberated throughout the car and nearly broke the glass and almost blew out my ear drums.

“Are you okay back there, Caroline?” mom asked, thinking Caroline was screaming because she had cut herself.

“I’m perfectly fine,” Caroline said with a straight face looking at mom.

When mom’s attention switched back onto the road Caroline looked at me again with her playfully mischievous face.

After the car was parked I realized why a cemetery would be such a perfect place for a wedding. There is a chapel situated on the right of the cemetery where any type of religious service, be it wedding or funeral, could be held. The rolling hillside which is owned by the cemetery but is as of yet free of unsightly tombstones is a perfect place for putting on weddings. There were a few taking place that day. I watched the couple, with a rabbi by their side, having a wedding on top of a small hill as I walked towards the chapel.

We all entered the chapel and sat ourselves on the benches in the back; the funeral the proceeded ours hadn’t yet concluded, the body of an unknown stranger was still on the stage, and the organist was still playing a somber tune. Not soon after we had sat down four men in suits walk up to the stage and carried the casket out of the chapel, the entire crowd that seemed to fill the pews began to stand up but it seemed to take forever for everybody to file out of the building. At this point I was beginning to believe that the funeral for Uncle Cecil, and don’t even mention Aunt Dana, will last for eternities, considering the amount of time it took simply for people to enter and exit the chapel.

After everybody left mom walked up to the preacher and talked with him. Even though the chapel was dead silent and the acoustics was good, I couldn’t hear them because they spoke in such soft voices. Mom then asked us to raise our small butts off the benches and move up to the first row. The preacher stood back and yelled, “Crank up the music, Connor, we have another wooden box coming through.” Organ music quickly started to fill the chapel with a somber march, which quickly turned the mood of the entire chapel into one appropriate for a funeral. Six men carried a casket through the front door and onto the stage. The casket fell on the stage with a rather loud thump, the six men began massaging their arms, presumably because the casket was so heavy it strained their muscles.