Tag Archive for Time

Lessons in Taxidermy

The silly humans who inhabited the Earth before us had a bad habit of using their mouths and throats for speaking, instead of for eating. All the time they would talk. Blah blah blah. Some of the more obsessed would even do it in their sleep, sharing their secret aspirations and dreams with their pillows.

—Kurt Vonnegut

Sometimes it can be like trying to type while wearing mittens.

Somewhere around second grade my mother decided that even in the summer I would have therapy for my stuttering. Lured by the location of the therapist (a cabin on a beautiful lake about a half-hour drive away), I couldn’t refuse. Once or twice a week I would be driven out to this cabin and would sit and talk with the therapist. She would talk about things I did, the things I should be doing.

We would go for walks, or take the canoe out and scare off the ducks, or just talk. There is one example of her teaching I still remember well which eloquently summarizes every theory, method, and protocol for speech therapy. I no longer participate in any therapy but I believe that it is no longer necessary for me.

It was a blistering seventy-five degrees in Willow, Alaska. Joan, the therapist, and I were lounging on her porch and she was playing a tape recording she had secretly made of us playing monopoly during our last session. I had been speaking fluently as I usually do when doing complex things with no specific purpose—in this case, playing a board game.

As we sat on the porch, she asked me why I found it easier to speak in more crucial situations rather than less important ones. I answered something about how doing difficult tasks were slower than easy ones. She then went inside for a moment without telling me why. Soon I heard her footsteps returning and turned to see her carrying two oranges in one hand. I wandered back over to the chair and she handed me an orange.

“I want you to try and peel this orange all in one piece, Ben,” she said. She began showing me how to accomplish such a feat. “You start in the middle and work the two hemispheres off in a spiral.” After she finished the peeling she held it out for me to admire and use as an example. ‘See? All in one piece, like a pelt, almost.”

I felt over the smooth and porous skin of my orange skeptically. Eventually I dug my fingernails in and haplessly tried to make a little pelt as well. I couldn’t do it, of course. I made one piece after another until it was just a decomposing pile of peels. She didn’t seem too disappointed, though—I still got to eat the orange. A few minutes later my mom showed up to take me home and the incident was forgotten for the time.

So, my life went on. Yet something from that day must have stayed with me. One day some years later, as I held an orange in my hand, the dim memory of fruit pelts came back to mind. I decided to make an effort to peel it in one piece. I began on the middle equator as I had watched Joan do so long ago and started to work the top half off slowly and carefully. Even with all my carefull dissection it ripped. I wasn’t discouraged and I liked the way this particular orange tasted, so I found another one and successfully skinned it, holding my new citrus pelt on my lap proudly.

Sometimes when I eat an orange now I try to peel it in one piece. The simple action of being calm and focused enough to skin an orange in one piece does more than any therapy has ever accomplished for me. Any physically able person who cannot, or does not have time to peel an orange pelt is too tense, nervous, or busy, even if not on the surface. Occasionally people will tell me I stutter simply because I’m nervous. I am no more nervous than they are; I wish it was that simple. They say this, of course, because it is they who are nervous being around me if I am disfluent. As to why it does happen sometimes more than others, I wish I knew. But even with people who make such accusations I will share an orange.

Victoria Day on the Island

I tighten the lid on my soft drink. A chilly wind moves through my light denim jacket. It seems too late in May for it to be cold like this, even though it’s nearly ten o’clock at night. I lean back to look at the million tiny stars. I am able to point out the big dipper by myself for the first time. It makes me wish that I could remember the names of some of the other constellations.

My attention is drawn away. I know the fireworks will be starting soon.

“How long?” I lean forward to ask my sister.

She tells me that there’s only about a minute. I sit back.

Little voices begin to call out from a nearby blanket. 10… 9… 8…

The sky lights up at the cry of one. I almost feel as if I should congratulate them on their perfect timing. My sister and I jump up, grabbing each other’s hand, and run toward the cliff before us.

As the orange and silver bombs burst a humongous flock of birds rush at us from every direction. They are nearly blocking out the fireworks.

“Come back. Sit down,” my mother calls.

I move backwards without looking away from the sparkles appearing like speeding constellations.

The birds continue their constant migration over and around us as I feel the damp grass beneath me.

I can’t help thinking of how, for as long as I can remember, we have had the tradition of coming to the island (just an hour ago my mother had told me that she had brought me here when I was only a few days old). Through all those years I’ve never seen the birds making such an up about the fireworks. It’s something different.

I can faintly pick up the tune of music playing on Parliament Hill across the river. Flashes continue to illuminate the sky.

I begin to think of all the other changes happening to the island. Years ago my family would stretch out on our blanket closer to the water, to the right of the trees, path, and totem pole. At first, my only knowledge of others on the island was the tee-pees that have since been taken down. They had about as much cultural significance to most visitors as the bridge. A picture of time gone by and a symbol of change.

I remember in other years having inhabitants of the area hold signs reading “please stay off our sacred land” and patrons of the Victoria Day celebrations being asked to leave. I remember this making me afraid. Why? Thinking back I can’t say for sure.

From the corner of my eye I see the fence. The fence on a spot that once looked bare, excepting a few trees and grass. Several years ago it first appeared surrounding not too large an area. Over the years it grew taller and wider until it was over most of the part of the island most commonly visited.

Since then fewer people have made the short journey here. My family and only one or two others this year. I can only assume that they are feeling cheated out of their rightful place on the island. I wasn’t a very big fan of sharing when I was little but I wished it would happen here.

I think of how I felt when we had arrived earlier this night. We were all reluctant to get out of the car at first, seeing how much the fence had grown. Seeing mostly darkness to its left. We were all afraid.

My mother had pointed out the blue SUV just a few parking spaces to our right. My mother matter-of-factly stated that it must belong to another family of celebrators because the “Indians” did not drive cars.

Only when we saw dancing sparklers belonging to other visitors did we lose this feeling and come out from behind our shield.

It bothers me that she said that. I continue watching the fireworks. I wonder if she was afraid.

The fireworks explode larger and larger on top of each other in the grande finale. I see a small firework shoot from the far side of the fence. They’re not afraid. Neither am I.


Is there anything as eternity?

When time promises it will never die.

But time with no end

Is time with no beginning…

Has time been living for eternity too?


I am told

That before the birth of the universe

There was no space.

But was there time?

And what did the clock measure,

When there was nothing?


I am told

That there is something like infinity,

The truth of which I can well believe.

But has the pendulum been

Swinging before creation?

Was there ever

Anything as eternity?


Do you hear me?

The wind whispers my name as it chills your spine,

shakes your body with cold.

You deny my acquaintance,

but I know you well.

I am that voice in the night you dare not listen to

for I whisper of could-bes, should-haves and ifs.

I am the feverdream of a poet;

his earthsense, his madness.

I hold your life in the palm of my hand,

and slowly I clench each finger.

Ever so slowly a flame is snuffed.

A star bursts; a display of terrible despair.

Planets move to my music

and are born, later to die.

I am the rust on farm equipment

left to weep red tears in the rain.

I have eaten away the wood’s paint;

the gold plate on a charm I’ve tarnished.

I have blurred the granite’s words, the face of its master.

A fading angel bows and murmurs “God bless.”

All things I make tolerable,

yet I am feared beyond all else.

A clock ticks

as a serpent devours his tail,

a wolf, the sun.

The wind whispers my name

as you despair of falling asleep;