Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Glenfield Angel

Gather 'round friends
Let me tell you a fable
That my grandfather told me
About the sweet Glenfield Angel

My grandfather was
A kindly old man
Who never once raised his voice
Or lifted his hand
At night he would sit
By my small bedside table
And tell me his tales
Of that dear Glenfield Angel

The angel, at day
Hid away from the world
Watching and guiding
The dear boys and girls
It hovered above them
It would listen in secret
And when it was able
It would write down their woes
Would the sweet Glenfield Angel

By night, grandpa said
The angel would flutter
And find the saddest of hearts on its list
To perch by the shutters
And in the sad dark
It would whisk them away
Those children of sorrow
Who knew only pain
And in its garden in heaven
It would give them a halo
To forever reside, without pain
Beside the sweet Glenfield Angel

I asked him one time
In the darkness around us
If the families had missed
Those who had left them
With fear in my voice
I asked, with a quaver
If it would ever come take me
That dread Glenfield Angel

But grandfather smiled
As he patted my head
And told me not to worry
As I lay there in bed

"You don't have to fear,"
He said as he smiled
"The angel only takes children
whose lives are all pain.
If they live without love,
Or with anger or sorrow
The angel will take them
Before dawn tomorrow
It whisks them away
Just as fast it's able
As it comforts their hearts
The sweet Glenfield Angel."

"And you, little one
You're loved and held dear
So from that sweet angel
You have nothing to fear
It is darling and kind
So no one is in danger
For what it does, is done with love
By that dear Glenfield Angel"

With one final smile
And a kiss on my head
Grandfather would leave me
To lay in my bed
Despite all his words
I never was able
To shake all my fear
Of that dark Glenfield Angel

With the passing of years
Grandfather grew old
When one year he passed
As the weather grew cold
In the middle of winter
When we went to his farm
To put things in order
We found by his bedside
A handwritten letter

"The children know peace now
Each one with a rose
I buried them deep
For their eternal repose
I took all their pain
And gave them a home
And I'll love them forever
As if they were my own"

The lights from the police cars
Flashed over the snow
As we watched shovels work
On the cold ground below
We answered some questions
As best as we could
Not really knowing
The things we were seeing

Under the garden
The bodies were buried
Twenty-some children
He'd thought he had saved
A beautiful rose bush
Marking each grave

I visited him
At the graveyard to see
If the monster they saw
had told his secrets to me
A long time ago
As I lay there in bed
Believing the angel
Was all in his head

There on his headstone
An odd image sings
Of a shepherd surrounded by roses 
With halos and wings
Below grandfather's name
Etched into the stone
It said "The Sweet Glenfield Angel
Has finally gone Home."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Grumpy Ghost

There was once a ghost
A grumpy ghost
Who was, once upon a time
A very grumpy man
This grumpy ghost
Haunted an old, creaky house
Where he boo'ed and he bothered
And scared even the cockroaches

One day though, to his house
Came a nice little family
In a red minivan
With 2 kids, and a dog
And from out of the van
They unloaded brown boxes
Marked kitchen, or bedroom
Or nursery, or bath
So our grumpy old ghost
With a ghastly old grumble
Said "I don't want these folks
In my old, creaky house"

So he embarked on a campaign
Of guerrilla ghost warfare
He started by breaking the boxes
Marked "handle with care"
Onto the floor smashed the family's memories
Old little glass nik-naks
And fine china plates
And the grumpy old ghost thought
"That will surely dissuade them
From making a living
In my creaky old home"

But to the chagrin
Of our miserly wraith
When the damage was done
Tears were barely shed
And the family just laughed
As they swept up the messes
Caused by the loss
Of things held so dear

And the cranky old spirit
Was provoked by the laughter
He stormed and he raged
As he watched the family settle in
To their new old house
That had once been his home

They sand as they worked
And repaired the old house
With new flooring and windows
And new cabinets too
And the grumpy old ghost
Felt his tactics were failing
As anything broken
Was just laughed away
The family seemed happy
As they painted their new home
But the ghost was intent
To have things his way

So one merry day
He sparked up the stove
On which rested a kettle
As he maxed up the settings
musing “now things will settle!”
The kettle whizzed and fizzed
And cosmic black
Its bottom became
Till it suddenly pushed over
A tissue box into the flames

One by one,
they shrunk as they flew
Into the fire
The kitchen was through
And with a gust it spread
To the living room now
The family wanted to leave
and wasn’t sure how

Watching and grinning
The mayhem and madness
Our grumpy old ghost
Was suddenly overtaken by sadness
The children, they cried
And the dog ran in circles
He created this mess
And brought forth these hurdles

On to the garden he floated
In vain
What could he do
To lessen their pain?
And just as he felt
All his ideas were dead
One quickly manifested
inside his head
He glared into the garden hose
With all of his might
And with great focus
Concentrated his sight.
It ruptured and outwards
Gallons of water poured
Quickly dulling the rabid fires
As it gushed through the doors

And just as he vanished
The family got a glimpse
Of this kind stranger
Who disappeared ever since
They kept screaming
And raising their voice
Chanting and pleading
“we now understand your choice!”
“Please come back,
we are forever grateful
We can all live together,
none of us is hateful”

But though they summoned him
With all of their power
The ghost never returned
Later that hour
He was not seen around
Later that day
But then a toy was found
With which the baby would play
On it a note,
was scribbled
in bold dark red:
“I’ll stay if you want me

But I need a friend”

You may, of course, notice a small stylistic shift in this little piece at a point midway through. That is because I had written the first part as a sort of joke and had never intended to finish it. However, my dear friend Jessy (who has been mentioned before on this blog, when it comes to poetry!) insisted that it be finished. So, I told her to finish it, and she did! Her portions of course, are posted here with her permission and blessing! Enjoy your Halloween season!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And Still I Waited

Outside the iron gate
We parted ways
I, to the oceans
You, to the peaks
Promising to return, one day
Amid smiles and fond farewells
To this same portal
And meet again in the shade of these trees
Where a soft cinnamon wind blew
Carrying with it the scents of hope and youth
With goodbyes said
I watched you shoulder your burdens
And carry on, alone, down an old road
As I made my way to the shores
Thinking already of a day to come
When we would meet again
And so, eyes on the horizon
And mind already adrift
I sat, and I waited

Days were not always kind
Though the world was not always so fierce, either
I carried rich tunes through sad days
And sang sad melodies through summers so fierce
And beautiful
That the world seemed cast in gold
Upon distant shores I found love
And in dark seas
Lost and aimless, thirsting for revival 
I faced the void
There were monsters there
And storms that promised to smash our ships apart
Days when I thought I would be adrift forever, alone
And forget simpler days
Near green trees and that black iron gate
Where we met, and played
All those years of our childhood
Still, I had made a promise, and it would be fulfilled
But not yet
Not until I had seen my fill of the world
And so, I waited

Many moons ago
With clear skies and clear eyes
I rested a weary hand on a black iron latch
But you were not there
Your adventure not yet ended
So I stood, staring at the ghosts of my past
Alone, with my memories
Watching the burning leaves of autumn 
Fall like the promise of snow
And still I waited

Frost kissed rusted hinges
As bare wooden skeletons reached to gray skies
As if stretching towards the green life they had left behind
My eyes turned towards snow-capped peaks
Bleeding their whiteness down into the hills
No thought to the cold
As I imagined tracing your footsteps
But that was your path, not mine
And I could not follow you to the mountains
No more than you could follow me to the sea
Our stories had parted ways beside the gate
Where we had promised to come back together
And still I waited

Garish colors broke the silence of winter
Vibrant blooms born of green life
A shifting sea of hope rising from the mud
Arranged so prettily among other memories
Fragrant blooms and pouring rain gracing the days that passed
Beneath the white blossoms of the trees
I stared out at the gate
And to the deep oceans beyond
Where I had not found any answers
But where I had made myself
Alive in my remembrance
While trying my best to remember your face
And all of my promises
And still I waited

In the still of one gray morning
With a shriek of protest
The gate opened
And you came back to me
Tired, and old
Much older than I had left you
With worry and pain etched into the lines of your face
A road map to the stories you had yet to tell
Your eyes gazed slowly
Until they found me
And you stood still
With no smile to light your features
As I had once remembered
Your hand rested on the rough bark of the tree
Where we had carved our names as children
Silently you turned and walked away
And still, I waited

When you finally came
You came slowly
Solemn and serious
Sad, stormy orbs looking down as you sat beside me
Regaling me, in soft whispers
Of your time spent among the mountains
And a life well-lived, in triumph and tragedy
You asked me about the seas
Without pausing for an answer
Too intent on loosing the torrent of time lost
To listen
And so, patiently, I waited

Among the crashing waves and falling stars
It is easy to learn patience
Recalling storms and restless days
With lands unknown spread before us
On maps marked with dragons
I had so much wonder to share
Before life had claimed its due
Stories on stone tongues
For no ears to hear
And I'm sorry they came to carry me through the gates
Before you could return
Beyond rusted iron and towering oak
Where we had promised to wait
But among the earth and stone
It is easy to learn patience
As I'm sure you know, from your time in the mountains
And they lay me here, in this old place
With a spot beside me
As open as my heart, for you
Though I know you have mountains left to climb
And storms left to weather
Before you can rest beside me
For whatever passes for forever
And still, I'll be waiting

Sunday, July 30, 2017

He Looks How I Feel

He looks how I feel
The remains of the ghost
Of a man whose dreams
Hang as slack
As his feet do now
Almost tracing the ground
A gentle twist
Grim, grinning chimes
Dancing through forces; uncontrolled
A resigned, ceaseless smile
Plastered, unfeeling
Twisted under the weight
Of a world only interested
In what his last few pieces have to offer
Torn open
Laid bare

The dry limbs rattling in the wind
Settled with always-open eyes
A reminder of what we are all destined to become
A lovely future to aspire to
Stripped of the trappings of existence
Revealed inner recesses
Stripped of life and love
Where memories no longer rest
A world experienced, now snuffed
An empty cage where a heart once beat
Pinned up on display
Like a butterfly
A curious reminder
Of life lost, left
Remembered for nothing it was before
Held together
By cold pins and wires

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shipwrecks and Sailors

Endlessly amazed
That we can exist in the same world
Without the twisting contradictions of us
Tearing the fragile fabric
Of this uncaring universe
Adrift on tired wings
Eyes closed to the possibilities that danced around us
Like a choir of ghosts

Demons deeply entrenched
In the twisting labyrinth of a miserly mind
As impossible dragons soar overhead
And monsters stalk the edges of our hopes
Blurring the edges of a map
Clutched in sad, determined hands
We have walked in these forbidden lands
Supping on the exotic tastes
Of a life so far out of reach

Upon a desk, beside blank pages
A single candle burns brightly
Casting long shadows across pristine paper
The untold story an unknown adventure
With the only X marking any treasure
Carved deep across lonely hearts
So that you can know where to find me

Tomorrow lay before us
Uncharted, unknown
Faced silently, through the fear
Because there is some knowledge in us
That together, we can brave the dark places and open seas
Fearing no dragons
We set sail for new days that rise like a phoenix from the ashes
Of yesterdays that now seem so wasted and wanting
I have found solace in the maelstrom
Storms breaking overhead, as we are doomed to break upon the rocks

We brave strange times, not in spite of the monsters
But so that we can face the fears as they come
The intangible grasp of slick serendipity
Rising from the depths 
Like some great beast
Something deeper and darker
Pulling us down where we belong
Like shipwrecks and sailors

Monday, July 10, 2017

Small Talk, Big World

A warm grey morning
Spent on sunny hills
Where flowers bloom in the back of a mind
Settled over a view
Distinguished by its indistinguishable nature
We met at the apex
Of the tallest hill
Exactly where we had agreed
As the Dreamscape's skies
Fluttered like butterflies
With smoke curling in pink fingers
To caress the green clouds
We walked, together
As you nursed the poison
Coursing through tired veins
Fighting what eats away at you
Like a swarm of insects
While I resigned myself to the poison
Curled like a sleeping cat
Inside my frantic mind
Clinging to normalcy
Like a child clings to their favorite toy

You took my arm then, with a smile
Apologizing for the weight
As if friendship could be a burden
We made small talk
About a big world
Or so you say
Shrouded in gentle currents of timelessness
The conversation turned to life
Or maybe books
But probably just about how much we both like cats
I did my best to ignore the elephant in the room
And you did your best to stomach my concerns
With so many unknowns
And undesirables
You sat, talking to a stranger
About missing the ocean
The smell of freedom in salt winds
The crash of surf on stoic rocks
Singing a song of a sort of freedom 
Vaguely remembered
As we did our best to ignore
The reality flooding in around us
Where we draw straws
To see which of us gets to play the optimist
And since it is your mind
I use the short straw to draw silly pictures
In the shifting sands of an old shore
Where waves crash with longing
On warm sands
Below a sunny hill
Carpeted with flowers
Where we had walked
In the back of a tired mind

Friday, May 19, 2017

An Academic Journey: A Premature End

It was my intent with this blog to catalog and describe my experiences with my doctoral studies. The first year was weird and kind of great. At the same time, it was also kind of disappointing and frustrating.

To that end, with the academic year coming to a close and my future entirely up in the air, that I made the decision to leave the program.

The doctoral program was maybe not as rough as I had expected. The academic work was easier than what I went through during my masters program. Rotations were great; every project I worked on went smoothly and got successful results. My fellow students, both senior graduate students and those in my cohort were pleasant, and even friendly at times. Some were even helpful, which was nice. The non-faculty staff were amazingly helpful, despite a few hiccups in paperwork and stuff throughout the experience. The faculty were... a mixed bag. 

The classes we took were all over the place, as far as difficulty. Of the 8 professors that taught the two core classes, and the two that taught ethics and conduct, most were at least acceptable. Having classes focus on specific research interests rather than useful knowledge was frustrating, as I believe that that type of directed learning is the purpose of journal clubs. A few professors took time to tell us how stupid we were, and how bad our institution was as far as quality of education. Those moments were a little off-putting, as a student. Furthermore, it sometimes felt like the classwork was simplified, and existed merely as a formality. I excelled at it, and I did not expect that. Rotations were undirected and in my experience there was no real way to address the absence of expectations or direction of the work. Rotation students weren't treated like potential graduate students, we were just treated as 8-10 weeks of free extra labor. In one rather awful case, I was belittled and insulted daily by a PI, to a point where other graduate students and faculty began to take notice. Nothing was done about it, because such behavior seems to casually condoned: everyone else had it rough, why should the new people get a break?

To sound a little bitter, this exposure to academia made it seem like they were all nothing but fragile egos living in this awkward bubble of unrealistic ideas of the world. They didn't seem to know how to treat people properly. It's like they have no understanding of the portion of their job that requires them to teach and mentor. A building full of intelligent people, who have a history of success, and yet are so far removed from common human interaction that it would be laughable if it wasn't so bad for the people who rely on them to do their job. It was a frustrating experience to be treated poorly while simultaneously doing well in most facets of the program. 

My experience is likely not a unique one. It wasn't even unique in this department: half of my cohort left the program; the three at the top of the class academically, with the most experience outside of academia.. in the real world, so to speak. I'm just glad that I was at a point in my life where being treated poorly and being miserable for six years was not something I wanted. I'm sure there are other places - institutions, labs, what have you - where I would have been happy, and done even better. None of that was present here, and rather than make a commitment to destroy my mental health, I made a choice for my dignity and well-being. Academia, especially in the sciences, is a bloated, draconian institution which has yet to address growing problems with how it functions. Postdocs and graduate students are often poorly treated, and definitely under paid. The time it takes to obtain the degree is slowly growing. Many professors are hired only for their research background, and have no business being around students, or being responsible for training and mentoring the next generation of scientists... some few grew into the position, but it isn't encouraged or examined because it isn't seen as important by administrations which see research only as a vehicle for money. Curiosity and creativity take a back seat to pushing whatever gets funding. At second and third rate universities, trying to emulate larger, more successful institutions is a recipe for disaster, because the resources and infrastructure don't exist. In my experience, academia attracts a very specific type of person, and from those experiences it isn't the kind of person I want to be. It isn't the life I want to lead.

I know that sounds a little more bitter than I really mean it. There are a lot of great scientists who have inspired me. I had to try to do this, and I truly believe that in other circumstances, in another place, I would have been able to keep going and accomplished this. Fortunately, I also don't regret this as much as I thought I would, despite having spent so much time and effort working towards getting into a program. I think I did what was best for me, given all the factors. That is the thing I want you all to take away from this: don't force yourself to be miserable. Don't force yourself to settle for things that are less than you expected, and don't let yourself be treated like garbage by 2nd rate academics at 2nd rate institutions. That one may be a little specific, but it still applies. If you're thinking of graduate school, please remember that it is okay to walk away. By no means does leaving a program mean that you're stupid, incompetent, or incapable. Sometimes things just aren't a good fit, or you're not in the right place or state of mind. Don't be ashamed to choose yourself in these situations. If you find your mental health being compromised, or your physical health, you really need to take steps to rectify the situation. To anyone struggling with their graduate school issues, please just tackle the problems. Step on toes. Take nobody's shit, even a miserable PI. Temper it with as much patience as you can, when you need to. Play it smart, but don't lose sight of your humanity. 

Now as I enter this weird new phase of uncertainty, I feel nothing but relief about my decision. I miss the science, but I don't miss the bullshit, or the bad people. Maybe some day I'll get back into it. Maybe I'm just going to be an outside observer, and that's alright too, right now. If things change, we'll see.

Good luck!