Now and then

Here’s a response to my “On the Road” prompt.  It breaks all the rules and is not so much a haibun as a hyphen – a pause between one state and another.

The prompt:

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road


“I set out on a journey of a thousand leagues, packing no provisions. I leaned on the staff of an ancient who, it is said, entered into nothingness under the midnight moon.” -Matsuo Basho, The Record of a Weather-exposed Skeleton – his first travel travel journal.


Jack was standing beside a pile of battered suitcases on the pavement when an old Japanese man wandered up.   They got chatting.   The older man introduced himself as Mat.

“I had a feeling I’d catch up with you along the road,” Jack said.  “It’s that kind of road.”

“Do you know where we are exactly?”   Mat asked.  “I seem to have lost my bearings.”

“I think we’re on the astral planes,” Jack said.  “I’m pretty sure we’re dead,”

“I thought that might be the case,” Mat mumbled.  “We must be wandering the bardos.   Some call it the 4th dimension – the realm of thought forms, conditioned responses and old cultural ideas.”

“That makes sense,” Jack mused.   “I’ve been stuck in an idea for a while now.  I’m waiting for Godot but I don’t think he’s going to show up.”

“He always did have his own agenda,” Mat said dismissively.   “Do you want to wander on with me for a bit.  I could do with some company.”

Jack agreed and they set off together.   Around a bend in the road they came across an old Japanese style inn.  “I remember that inn,” said Mat.    “I wrote a haiku about it after a bad night there on my journey  to the Deep North.”
Fleas, lice,
a horse pissing
by my bed
– Matsuo Basho

Jack laughed.  “That’s a good one,” he said.  “I wrote something similar myself once”.
I went in the woods
to meditate –
It was too cold
– Jack Kerouac

Mat smiled and the pair wandered on reminiscing about their journeys and sharing haiku.  As they passed through a particularly scenic valley Jack asked, “Do you ever wish you could go back to the physical?   Sometimes I’d really like a drink.   The thought form of  bourbon ain’t the same as the real thing.”

“I’m always travelling,” Mat reflected as he quoted his last haiku.
Travelling, sick
My dreams roam
On a withered moor.
 – Matsuo Basho

“Sometimes I still feel the pull of the physical,” he said, “but these days I’m striving to get to the next level.   The 5th dimension.”

“Yes, it’s calling me too,” said Jack.  “I’m just not sure of the way.”

Mat straightened up and the years fell away.   “You open your heart and follow your joy,” he said with authority.

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True North

Going through my Word Document archives I found this very short story.  Make of it what you will – it’s even odder than most of the stuff I write.

Harriet had lost track.   Had she always been on this quest and what she questing after anyway?   Her memory had blurred when she crossed The Sea of Despond and had never fully returned.

But that was ages ago.  She couldn’t quite recall when but just yesterday when she’d forded river a jumble of discordant memories came flooding back.   Perhaps it was that Tribulation River she’d heard others speak of but her sense of direction was muddled along with everything else.   Besides what did the river’s name matter when she was struggling against the surging currents of muddied, bloodied waters where fragments of history, both person and global, hurtled along and threatened to carry her away with them?

She had stopped for a breather on a narrow midstream island.   There she had phoned her family and even called a friend.   She didn’t do that often for the disjunction between her quest and her old life was hard to breach.   This time though the familiar voice of her friend Jessica was reassuring even if Jess didn’t get what she was on about.

‘What do you mean you just got hit by a wave of anguish about the past,’ Jess said.   Her voice sounded a long way away.   Like maybe coming from a distant galaxy or perhaps another dimension.  ‘I’m up to my elbows in baby poop here and the toddler is climbing up the pantry shelves.’

‘I won’t keep you then,’ Harriet replied.   ‘I just wanted to hear your voice.’

‘Love you,’ said Jess.  ‘I’ll call you when things are calmer.   Take care now.’

And so it had gone on.   Everyone she called had been busy with their own life yet all had cared about her in a distracted, pre-occupied way.  The sound of their voices was reassuring all the same.   After all she was doing this quest for them as much as for herself even if she couldn’t remember just what the quest was supposed to achieve.   Some kind of salvation, she guessed but as to what form that would take she had no clue.  Still the voices of her loved ones had given her the courage to enter the river again and push on to the other side.

By nightfall she was far from those turbulent waters and resting in a Way Station beside the road.

The woman running the place was kind and had given her a change of clothes.   Hidden in the folds of the fabric Harriet had found talismans and amulets.  ‘You’ve earned them,’ the woman said.   ‘They will help you in the next part of your quest for that involves a passage that must be undertaken alone.’

Harriet sighed.  She’d been pretty much alone for much of the journey but somehow she’d always known that was the way it had it be.

‘On one level you are never really alone,’ the woman added.  ‘There are many who walk this path now and the number of questers is legion.   Searching for the Holy Grail some call but that is old terminology and doesn’t always apply.   A journey into the light is perhaps the best description.’

‘Of course,’ Harriet muttered.    The words had re-awoken her zeal.  ‘How could I have forgotten that?’

‘Forgetting the reason for the journey is a stage along the way.   Many give up at this point and attempt to return to the familiar old ways but that can be tricky,’ the woman explained.

‘Yes,’ Harriet agreed.  ‘I have considered trying to go back but I’ve been through so much now.   All those travails across the Wastelands of Apathy and the treacherous journey across the Seas of Despond in that leaky boat.’   She thought some more of where she’d been these past few years.  ‘And battling those dragons back in the Ruins of Dreams!   All that stuff is hard to dismiss.   I don’t think I could fit back into the narrow confines of my old life now.   It seems like there is nowhere to go but on.’


‘Just set your compass to your True North and you’ll get back on track,’ the woman counselled.


Life after Hell

After she’d done the deal with Hades and ensured her daughter Persephone could return to the land of the living every spring, Demeter was at a loose end. What was she to do next?

The quest to rescue her daughter had been archetypal.  She knew it would be told and retold down through the ages. Many would see Persephone as the heroine and look to her yearly return as a kind of salvation.

All that was as it should be. Of course the beautiful young woman clothed in the glory of her own fertility was the star of the story. Demeter’s role as the mother was to be applauded and her journey to the underworld was laudable yet Demeter knew there was more to the story than that.  After all she’d lived and breathed the quest. It had occupied her entire consciousness for so long she couldn’t just shrug it off and say that’s it, job done, end of story. There had to a sequel.

For ages she wandered about the countryside mulling over what she’d been through.  The overwhelming grief and deep depression she felt when she realised her daughter was lost – that terrible rage when she cursed life itself and caused the crops to wither in the ground then the long and perilous journey into the darkness of hell, that place of shadows and haunted, plaintive wailings had changed her forever.  She couldn’t just go home and sit by the fireside.

Restless, she wandered on and on.   After a time she came to a gracious city.DSCF8112

The people there were curious about her.  ‘We can see you have travelled far and suffered much,’ they said.  ‘Please tell us of your journey.’

Flattered by their interest, Demeter told her story.  In the retelling she came to understanding the deeper meaning of what she had experienced and was able to devise a method whereby others could journey into their own darkness. Within the protected of the city walls she initiated people into processes that enabled them to explore the unconscious aspects of the self.  As they confronted the shadows within their own psyche the potential trapped there was released.  After such journeys initiates returned to the bright light of day restored and renewed.

As more and more people experienced her teachings, Demeter’s path became known as The Mystery Religion for embedded within personal journeys towards individual regeneration lay a deeper mystery. Somehow personal resurrection contained within it the seeds for the regeneration of the Earth itself.

Even as she taught the people Demeter knew there would come a time when the Mystery Religion would be forgotten. People would grow afraid of their own shadows and seek to live only in the light. They would exploit the Earth in their pursuit of pleasure and the gratification of their every desire. Crops would wither in the ground and vast tracts of the planet would become a wasteland.

For many, life would then become a kind of hell on Earth. Demeter knew that the desecration of the Earth would sear the hearts and minds of humanity. Many would feel such pain over the destruction of the planet they would cry out for salvation. It would be then that the old archetypal stories would once again reveal their deepest truth – the way to the light lies in embracing the darkness.

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Into the Mythic

All week long my neighbourhood has reverberated with the sound of chain saws as my neighbours cut down trees for no apparent reason.  It feels like the perfect time to reblog this story I wrote a few years ago.   I made concertina book in the photos at the end of the story around the same time.  

After wandering through the woods for quite some time Mirabelle was relieved to stumble upon a gypsy caravan.   ‘Of course it’s a gypsy caravan, what else could it be?’ she muttered to herself. ‘This whole experience of being lost and alone in these deep, dark woods is totally archetypal. I am convinced I have strayed into the realms of the mythic and the mystic.’

‘That’s exactly right dear. That’s where you are,’ said a round faced woman poking her head out the caravan door. ‘It’s time you learned to trust your intuition.’

‘My intuition? I don’t think it’s working. I’m looking for my way home but I can’t seem to find it,’ said Mirabelle.

‘That’s because you are meant to come here first and have your Tarot Reading,’ the gypsy woman said with a knowing smile.

‘I don’t think so. I don’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo.’ Mirabelle was very clear on this. How could little pictures on pieces of cardboard possibly have anything to say to her. She believed in a rational, objective approach to life.

‘Just as you like dear. It matters not to me. I can read the tea leaves or even the autumn leaves if you prefer – the I Ching or the lay of the land. The point is you will not find your way home without some metaphysical guidance. As you said yourself, you have entered the realms of the mythic.’

‘Read the lay of the land then,’ Mirabelle said with a note of challenge in her voice. ‘I’ve been walking through these woods for quite some time now and I’ve noticed there is something amiss here. Things don’t seem quite right.’

‘You are very perceptive my dear, you really must learn to trust that,’ the gypsy woman said  conversationally as she climbed down from the caravan and joined Mirabelle on the path. ‘Come, let us walk. The lay of the land will guide our footsteps.’

Setting off at a brisk pace the gypsy woman led Mirabelle down a winding trail. As they walked birds sung in the trees, butterflies flittered past and the golden rays of sunlight piercing the tree canopy illuminated their way. After a time they came to a natural clearing where a small spring bubbled up between round rocks. The woman took a seat on a carved stone bench nearby.  Mirabelle sat down beside her. From here she could see straight through a gap in the trees to the open land beyond – a wasteland of withered thorn bushes and dreary expanses of grey grass. A chill wind moaned as it whipped over the land and Mirabelle shivered involuntarily. jordan and london 303

‘As you can see from the lay of land, things are definitely not right around here and haven’t been for some time,’ said the gypsy woman. She looked deep into Mirabelle’s eyes as if searching for some gleam of understanding. Mirabelle returned the look. The woman’s eyes were a soft deep brown flecked with specks of mossy green. ‘Like pools of  water in the forest,’ Mirabelle thought as she travelled deeper into the mythic.

The woman’s voice came to her as if from a great distance. Murmuring like a forest stream the voice told stories of ancient times when faerie folk danced across the clearing and elves sang sweet melodies in the trees. After an eon this was replaced by another reality where tall beings clad in white moved among the trees holding ceremony and murmuring incantations. Then, like the clarion call from the devil’s trumpet, came the Iron Age – the Kali Yuga – the times of war and mayhem. Blood lay thick upon the ground as the wounded moaned and  death wraiths streaked  across the desolate plains.

Mirabelle cringed as men felled the trees and mined the earth to find the raw materials to build their weapons of war. As the battle cries and the whine of machinery intensified she broke free from the woman’s gaze.

‘What are you doing to me,’ she whimpered. ‘I know nothing of these things. They are not the world I walk in. I just want to get home to my family.’

‘Perhaps it is that we have all lived many lifetimes and been many things,’ the woman replied. ‘Perhaps it is that these memories are encoded in our DNA. We are all involved on some level or another.’

Mirabelle nodded. ‘I’m doing what I can to live a better life,’ she said earnestly, ‘but I’m just an ordinary person living an ordinary life. All I can do is can change my part of the world. I am endeavouring to live more sustainably and I am working on my consciousness.’

The gypsy woman remained silent as Mirabelle looked out across the wasteland. Here and there she noticed new life burst forth amidst the weeds. The new growth looked puny against the vastness of the devastated space. ‘It just doesn’t seem to be enough,’ she said forlornly.

Still the woman said nothing but instead, rummaged through a cloth bag slung over her shoulder. She pulled down out a tattered manuscript and passed it over. Opening it Mirabelle saw it was an illustrated map engraved with strange directions. Bemused she glanced to where the woman had sat only to discover she had disappeared. For a moment she looked out to open land and noticed that although the new growth was small, it was vibrant and healthy. Returning her eyes to the map she read the directions – perhaps they would lead her home.

Look for beauty
Use discernment – question everything
Create our own path
Be courageous but harm none
Seek freedom012


Misc’s Emporium

About half past midnight or maybe even later Allie came across a ramshackle store on the edge of town.   The moon hid behind a veil of cloud and a shadowy half light lay across the world. Strangely, given the late hour, the store was open. MISC’S EMPORIUM read a faded sign above the door.


Entering, Allie discovered the placed was packed with an unlikely selection of consumer goods from the last hundred years or so. She noticed a selection of Glo-mesh handbags artfully displayed beside some green and orange curtains from the 1970s. Large Victorian jardinieres stood nearby. A network of cobwebs lay over everything.

“Can I help you?” asked a dishevelled woman emerging from deep in the interior.

“You look familiar,” Almurta said. “Have I met you before?”

“Everyone asks me that,” the woman said with a dispirited sigh. “It’s because I’m Misc.”

“Misc? What do you mean? I’m not familiar with that word.”

“Misc is short for miscellaneous,” the woman said with another sigh. She had obviously explained this many times before. “It’s my name. It comes from the label my father scrawled on the jar in his shed where he shoved all the loose bits and pieces he came across whenever he cleaned up. I’m number ten in a family of eleven children. No one had any idea what to call me. All the best names were already taken. I was a bit superfluous really.”

“Oh dear,” Almurta said sympathetically.

“Oh, I was loved and all,” Misc explained. “It was just that I never had a clearly defined role. I was the youngest for a bit but then my little sister arrived. She was unexpected so everyone made a fuss of her and I got overlooked in the crowd. When I grew up I decided to set up this Emporium as a storehouse for discards and rejects. I do a roaring trade. Some people come here searching for items they accidentally misplaced years back. Others come when they seeking out particular items they had always planned to get but somehow never got around to.  In a way you could say this place is a repository for forgotten aspects of the self. If you poke around in the stuff here you’re bound to turn up parts of yourself you have discarded or forgotten about.”

Allie began flipping idly  through a box of old vinyl records in front of her. ‘Rubber Soul’, she read, ‘The Planets by Holst’, ‘Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition’, ‘Kraftwerk Autobahn’. “These are Avid’s records”, she muttered to herself as read the familiar titles.

Avid – just the name was enough to turn her mind to memories of the time she had rented a room in his house when she was clueless kid just arrived in the city from the southern town of Bland. Avid was an older man. A friend of a friend of a friend. He’d offered her a room for the year while she worked two jobs and saved enough money to go overseas.

She still remembered the evenings she’d spent curled up in an armchair in Avid’s study reading through his library. “Listen to this,” he’d say as he carefully unsheathed a record and placed it on the turntable. He would give her a short lecture explaining where the music she was about to hear fitted into the world of music before filling the room with sounds she had never heard before. On her free weekends they would go to art galleries and art house movies. Over coffee they would discuss what they had seen and heard. She was a bit in love with him but they both dated other people. She got drunk with silly boys while he courted sophisticated older women. Neither of them ever succeeded in developing a lasting relationship. When she’d saved enough money she shouldered her backpack and said goodbye.

Years later she heard from a friend of a friend that Avid had put all his possessions in store and gone travelling himself a few months after she’d left. The news surprised her. He had been so settled and had told her often enough, travel did not interest him.

Many times over the years she’d wondered what it would have been like if things had been different and she and Avid had become a couple.  One lonely night she’d searched his name on Facebook. She found others with the same name – football stars, head honchos of corporations and young kids holding up beer bottles in their profile photos but not him.

As for herself she had moved states several times and her name had changed when she married.   She hadn’t bothered to change it back after her divorce.   It would have been too complicated at work.    It would be hard to trace her unless your were a detective.  Besides, she reasoned, why would Avid search for her? He had made it clear that sophisticated ladies were more to his tastes.

So many years had gone by now. Avid would be an old man. It was too late to even consider trying to find him. Still as she fingered the old vinyls she wondered why she had stumbled upon them in Misc’s extraordinary store. What discarded aspect of her life did they represent? Whenever she thought of that time she always thought of everything Avid had given her. Now as she stood in that dingy interior it came to her that she had bought something to the equation too. She’d bought a fearlessness and an adventuring spirit. Somewhere over the years she had misplaced that.

“I see you found what you were looking for,” Misc said suddenly reappearing from a dusty alcove. Almurta looked at her in surprise.

“That fearlessness you’ve just discovered,” Misc said by way of explanation. “Grasp that and you’ll find your way forward.”

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