Poetry from Emma Bernstein

 

Dawn

the stars spread themselves thin, long-bodied,

stitching the sun into the sky,

crisp fold of linen on the window sill,

like the roll of coffee from a pot,

lulling the darkness to sleep,

beckoning the grass to shiver and grow into the sky,

blue melted into green,

all of us humming birds,

all of us fluttering,

leaves drift gently to earth, softly brushing

my eyelashes and fingertips,

the branches tune violins fashioned of wind

Emma Bernstein can be reached at emmabernstein1@gmail.com and is a repeat contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine. 

Travel essay from Jeff Rasley

 

My Second Home, Basa Village

 

The first time I went to Nepal it was 1995 and I was amazed and bewildered by the cultural potpourri of Katmandu. The drive from Tribhuvan International Airport to the Mustang Hotel was a moving feast of color, sounds, and smells. Dark women in bright yellow and red saris mixed with street vendors shouting out their wares. Tuk tuks bleated and puffed out moist carbon monoxide fumes zipping around bicycle-powered rickshaws. Dogs lolled in the sidewalks, cows ambled through the traffic, while beggars and lepers with watery eyes in ragged loincloths held out their hands and mouthed words I did not understand.

And then I saw the white caps of the majestic Himalayas. I fell in love trekking to Mt. Everest. It wasn’t just the phantasms of the high Himalayas; it was the people who lived up there. Sir Edmund Hillary described the Himalayan villagers who befriended him the strongest and kindest people in the world. He was right. And I had found a second home.

 

In 1995, my house and family were in Indianapolis, where I lived with my wife Alicia and our two boys. But, mid-life alienation had disrupted the warmth and equilibrium of our home and family life.

I had come to feel trapped by the responsibilities of marriage, children, mortgage, and law practice. The American dream had become Poe’s nightmare of enclosing walls of financial and family pressures.

Work and responsibilities beat and fashion the adult American into a tool of production and consumption. At the systemic level our society and economy value the acquisition of material wealth over all other values. In succumbing to this cultural imperative we are conditioned to believe that our meaning and purpose are determined by job and profession rather than by love, family, and enjoyment of life. To press the point, in our culture when one is introduced the first question is, “What do you do?” Our selves are reduced to a name and a job. It is not that way everywhere.

My high school history teacher, Mr. Slavens, liked to say, “The average American male, dead at thirty, buried at sixty.” I don’t remember who he was quoting, but it haunted me. At forty I was definitely feeling lost, if not dead. I did not want to lose my humanity, but I felt life being sucked out of me as I measured out my days in six-minute billing-units at the law office.

So, Alicia wisely and firmly told me to go traveling, to do what I loved but had been denying myself. Not just a weekend or week-long road trip; she told me I should go take a hike on the other side of the planet. I should go trekking in the Nepal Himalayas.

 

Fifteen years later, Ganesh Rai, Buddiraj Rai and I sat by a campfire on the Ratnagi Danda, a 10,000 foot high ridge in the eastern Nepal Himalayas.  Our trekking group had successfully delivered the equipment to build a little hydroelectric power station for Basa village.

 

I had gone back to Nepal almost every year during that fifteen year period. In addition to developing the skills and experience of a mountaineer I became involved with various development projects in remote Himalayan villages. The first was a water project in the Dolpo region of western Nepal. In the last few years my efforts focused in the eastern region of Solu, mostly on Basa village. Villagers and climbing friends had formed a foundation to work with Basa to improve its standard of living in ways the local people decided they wanted. A village school with five grades, smokeless stoves for all the homes in the village, a hydroelectric plant, and a water delivery project were the fruits of our efforts. Because of my relationship with the people of Basa, I was called Jeff Dhai, “big brother” to the village.

 

Ganesh and Buddi had agreed to enlighten me about the ancestral legends of the Rai people of Basa.  They told me their people “in the old days” had a written language and sacred texts, but the written language and the ancient texts were lost in the mists of time.  Their local language was spoken only by the native villagers of their valley.  As far as they knew, no other “white man” had been told the stories that had been handed down from generation to generation in Basa.

Our camp was a clearing within a rhododendron forest on the high ridge above the village.  The porters and kitchen crew were finishing their simple meals of rice, lentils, and tea.  The crew had already cleaned up our communal dining tent.  As soon as the guys finished eating they would pile into the dining tent sharing body heat for warmth while they slept.

Before we sat down by the campfire, Ganesh and Buddi had spoken with our senior porter Kumar Rai about my request to be told the old stories of their village.  Kumar is a descendent of shamans (called “purkets” in the local Rai dialect) in Basa. He was also the eldest member of our expedition staff.  Kumar does not speak English. Kumar assented that the stories of their gods and rituals should be revealed to me. He reminded the younger men of some of the details he wanted me to learn. 

Buddi is the son of the caretaker of the Kali Devi shrine outside of Basa. Buddi will succeed his father after the old man’s death.  Buddi was the assistant sirdar (guide) for the trekking group to Basa I had organized in November-December 2010.  Ganesh was our sirdar (chief guide).

Buddi sat on the other side of the fire from me. Buddi’s voice was low and resonant. He was chanting trance-like in his Rai language.  It was a little unsettling, because Buddi is in his mid-twenties and full of life. On the trek he was always smiling and joking while he bounded down the trail on springy legs.  Now, he was solemn and serious.  His chanting voice on the other side of the crackling fire under the moonlit Himalayan sky created an eerie ambiance.

Ganesh sat between us translating Buddi’s words into English. Ganesh and I have hiked many rugged miles together on trails on Himalayan climbing and trekking expeditions.  He was the sirdar for several expeditions we organized to introduce American friends to the alien and wondrous culture of Nepal and the highest mountains on Earth. Our conversations were normally playful, enlivened with jokes and laughter.  But Ganesh wasn’t laughing or joking beside the fire pit on the lip of the Ratnagi Danda. 

The flames of the campfire flashed and licked at the stack of sticks in the fire pit.  Kumar and the guys had placed three stones around the edge of the fire pit as required by Rai taboo.  Red sparks wafted up into the great open sky above the Ratnagi Danda.  The stars were so bright I could see the Milky Way and the constellations I’d learned as a child.  I listened in rapt attention as Buddi chanted and Ganesh told me the ancient stories of the Rai people.

Jeff Rasley is a returning contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine, with a prior story about visiting Wounded Knee. He may be reached at jrasley@juno.com

 

Fran Laniado’s review of Adam R. Brown’s Astral Dawn

astral dawn cover

Review: Astral Dawn: The End of Paradise

by Fran Laniado

If anyone were to ask Caspian Knoll what he was doing with his life, he’d probably have tough time coming up with an answer. At twenty-two he works a low paying dead end job, and lives with his parents. His idea of an exciting weekend involves something good on TV, and he’s never had a real girlfriend. That’s not to say Caspian is “a loser”. Quite the contrary. He’s basically a decent guy.

He is intelligent and inquisitive. He wants more out of life. But he isn’t quite sure how to get beyond “wanting” it. He’s held back by a general sense of fear and anxiety. Of course he doesn’t seem like the type of person to save a heavenly realm from invasion. But are the people who save other worlds ever, really, the people that you would expect?

One Friday evening, Caspian picks up an interesting looking Ankh necklace when he stops into an antique store on his way home from work. Other than that nothing else remotely atypical happens, and Caspian goes home, has some dinner with his family, watches some television and falls asleep. He awakens in a strange Heavenly realm. He’s taken to places with names like the Clear Path, Inspiration’s Light and the Way of Ascension before his arrival in the Celestial City.

Here he finds a guide who tells him that a) he is dreaming (he kind of figured that one out on his own) b) This is somehow different from a normal dream c) He’s in what humans traditionally think of as Heaven and d) He’s not actually dead- just visiting. All seems well in the Celestial City, as you might expect. But Caspian begins to notice some folks around that look like they don’t belong in Heaven. In fact, they look like they belong somewhere a bit further south… But for some reason, Caspian is the only one who can see them. It comes to pass that Caspian might be the only thing stranding between Paradise, and an invasion.

Like any other book, Astral Dawn: The End of Paradise has its share of strengths and weaknesses. Impatient readers be warned that some of the weaknesses appear first. We get a preface and a prologue that are set in realms that we can assume are Heaven and Hell, but without really having an idea of who these beings really are, or the stakes, it’s hard for the reader to engage, or even understand. Push though this.

Once we meet Caspian things start to look up. He has found himself in a similar situation to a lot of other “new adults”. He’s been told that he may have to pay his dues but eventually if he tows the line he’ll have a good job, a family, and a happy fulfilling life. But he’s not sure how to get from point A to point B. He sends out resumes, but not much seems to come of them.

When he sees a girl who catches his interest, he can’t think of anything to say to her. A lot of readers may sympathize with Caspian in this, because it’s a point in life that’s very similar to where a lot of readers either are of have been once: the point where we once assumed that everything would come together, only to learn that it’s not that easy. As a sympathetic and realistic character, he gives the reader a firm foundation in the familiar. Therefore when he starts to encounter realms that are more fantastical, he needs the same explanations that the reader does, in order to understand what is happening. He also gives the reader something firm and familiar to hold onto, in spite of some of the more bizarre goings on.

Things do get weird. We are essentially taken on a guided tour of Heaven here. We learn a lot of “rules” for travel, fighting, and communicating in this new realm. There is are hints along the way, that Caspian’s journey is not yet through by the end of this book, and will be continued in a sequel. There are plenty of loose ends at the finish of this book, but that’s alright as long as they are tied up in later installments.

Author, Adam R. Brown, also deserves credit for setting his novel in a multicultural world. Well, technically two multicultural worlds. He rarely dwells on a character’s race unless it has some relevance to the plot or characterization- which occasionally it does. In his character descriptions he’ll mention that a beautiful woman appears to be of Hispanic descent. We learn that Caspian is African American early on via a few off hand comments, but his race doesn’t define him. There’s a sense of balance in Brown’s depiction of race and culture. It is a part of who his characters are, and sometimes why they act a certain way, but it is never their defining characteristic. This balance is refreshing in fiction, where often all characters are given the same cultural background as the author and/or the intended audience.

Overall, Paradise as seen in Brown’s novel is a vividly created world that is not always what you’d expect of Heaven. No angels playing harps on clouds here! It is the way that the novel subverts our expectations and ideas about Heaven and Hell that make this an interesting read.

Fran Laniado is a recurring writer for Synchronized Chaos, from New York, NY. She may be reached at fl827@hotmail.com 

 

Poetry from John Grey

 

THE GIRL AT THE BAR IN THE DREAM

 

Sure I wanted her.

But wanting isn’t everything.

There’s also fumbling and mumbling.

In the end, I turned away.

My wants and I moved on.

 

There was the dream of course.

No compromise there.

Everything desired became immediately accessible.

My words…her surrender.

But then I awoke.

 

There’s a world in my brain

where the most amazing things happen.

But there’s this other world,

composed of one part frozen tongue,

one part trembling knees,

and one part okay but nothing special looks.

Can’t expect much from it.

It’s a raw deal long since dealt.

 

And sure I wanted her.

But, most of all, I wanted an excuse.

She was waiting for someone.

She wasn’t really so hot.

It’s the lights. It’s the cleavage.

And she was probably dumb as three twigs.

Is that what I want for a lover?

 

But in my dream, she looked no different.

And she was sure no Einstein.

And she was waiting for someone.

She just didn’t know it.

She was waiting for me.

So my dream was a compromise after all.

Nobody’s perfect.

They just look that way.

 

And sure I wanted her.

Why not want what you can never have.

And even if you did have it,

it would just leave you wanting more.

And there’s always my dreams.

My wants like it there.

 

THE BETTER OFF

 

A man walks past a poor woman,

under a gray sky borne

beyond themselves

but for now each step

carrying iron down a rocky path

flanked by a flight of birds

which they cannot follow.

 

He’s ignores her,

his head in hands, her mind alight,

her vision immeasurably far

in a shabby sort of way,

in flame, in silence,

burdened by this path to truth.

 

It’s too quiet,

no alarm to raise, no message,

just a bare tree, a bare-footed woman,

and he recently returned

from every other place,

rests in front of her, on a stick.

 

She’s only just awakened,

Soon she must find food, shelter.

But now, she tells him,

that all straight lines sear away

the streams, winds, bear us,

the yearning’s tunneled down, turned aside.

gives gossamer to the eyes

that match day’s narrow prism,

that see only fake horizons

as up ahead we travel weathered

 

What could she say,

What survives the dead?

What does it mean

to ask whose heart is fire,

with a fiery knowledge,

with one absurd center,

with one unwitting voice?

 

RHONDA RECOUNTS

 

I walk down to the mailbox in the shivering cold.

I would not do this if it weren’t duty.

I slip, slide, in the snow.

Ice cracks under my slippers.

Birds, whiter-thin, nibble at the feeder.

Is that a rabbit? And is it frozen, dead?

 

Inside, Amelia won’t get out of her sick bed,

prefers the flakes on the window

to the letters in my shivering hands.

No two alike, she says.

But every day like the one before.

 

I hear mice scrambling between the walls,

Good luck to them

if they can live in such uninviting, dark places,

They hate the cold as much as I do.

 

More orders from Amelia’s bed.

She’d like a cup of a coffee.

Is there a magazine in the house?

Could I bring the small black and white TV

up from the kitchen and place it on the dresser.

 

I vacuum. I rinse dishes.

I throw clothes in the washing machine,

turn on its cycle,

listen to the burps, the grinds,

the rough and tumble, of cleansing.

 

Later, I sit in the chair beside her.

I still haven’t dressed, still haven’t showered.

I’m still subject to time

but the demands of a single day elude me.

Amelia is my hours, minutes, seconds now.

 

She recounts a dream of her husband pushing a cow up a hill.

And then one of her father sinking into a swamp.

She says, at the end, all she can see is hands reaching up.

She laughs though it hurts her insides.

 

A voice inside me whispers, “You have no life of your own.”

It’s simply Amelia, in her bed, somewhere behind my rib-cage,

some place so near the heart.

 

DEAD MEN POSING

 

I’m staring at a picture in a magazine,

two guys in their seventies probably,

in a Maine General Store,

circa 1976.

They’re dead now,

I keep repeating over and over and over.

They’re dead as door knobs,

as door frames, as donuts,

even the ones made on the premises.

They’re dead as the racks of Maple Syrup

on the shelves behind them

or the shovels, hardy and deep,

for that wicked Nor’easter snow.

Some cameraman figured he was snapping

a picture of life as it used to be

but it’s really death as it can’t help but being.

Those wise eyes, that skin worn down by

too many mud seasons, that leathery mouth…

all gone, now nothing but the skull

that almost penetrates where cheek meets bone.

The flannel shirts are dust.

The overalls likewise.

And those shoes, resoled more times

than they’ve had hot pancakes,

are all soul now, all spirit.

They’re captured at a moment

when one dead man is telling the other man

a long dead joke.

One’s about to grab a newspaper out of the rack.

Nothing deader than a newspaper in this day and age.

And a rack too for that matter.

The other slips his hands into his pockets.

Neither hand survived.

 

INTRUDER

 

Cougar snarls,

what am I doing in its Eden.

All of the heathen

in a lone intruder

is broached in one long

defiant coyote howl.

Junipers shake

to my trample of a twig.

Wind shifts

at the impediment of my flesh.

I sit on a rock

to clear my head.

But suddenly the rock’s head

is as cloudy as the upper sky.

A man is on its throne.

Water falls from high ledge in disbelief.

A creek cannot understand

why it trickles that first step

toward the river and the towns downstream

when civilization is already here,

a pebble toss from its novitiate current.

Send the man away, whispers the canopy.

Who needs his junk, his anxieties,

his hypocritical pieties.

Every forest creature hurtles away

from any place my foot may fall.

The trees would if they could.

Yet I am only here

to wallow in their peace, their loveliness.

How war-like, how ugly that must be.

 

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in The Lyric, Vallum and the science fiction anthology, “The Kennedy Curse” with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Natural Bridge, Southern California Review and the Pedestal.

 

Elizabeth Hughes’ Book Periscope

 

 

 

The Eyes of Abel by Daniel Jacobs

The Eyes of Abel by Daniel Jacobs

Daniel Jacobs’ The Eyes of Abel

The Eyes of Abel is a very good novel with surprising twists and turns. It is the story of Roger Charlin, a journalist, and Maya Cohen, a security agent for El Al Airlines…or is she? Charlin poses undercover, and tries to go through the security check point at El Al.

However, Maya figures out who he is quickly. She agrees to an interview with Charlin and they develop an unlikely relationship. They are both working on a fusion energy project that would lead to less reliance on oil from the Middle East. Their goal is to prevent a war in Israel, when other countries have missiles pointed at the country.

The Eyes of Abel is an extremely good novel and keeps the reader riveted to every page all the way through. It is full of nonstop suspense. Mr. Jacobs, I rate The Eyes of Abel 5 stars and very highly recommend this book. The Eyes of Abel is most definitely ‘my cup of tea’!!!

Elizabeth Hughes is a reader, dog lover and book reviewer from San Jose, California. She welcomes paying writing and review gigs and may be reached at hugheselizabeth@rocketmail.com 

Cristina Deptula on California’s Redwood Ecosystem

californiaredwoods

 Around five million years ago, the trees of the California coast redwood range would have looked quite familiar. Common plant life, now and in the past, includes sword fern, alder, madrone, dogwood, and big leaf maple, all of which budding naturalists can learn to identify on hikes by their characteristic leaves.

 

As Emily Burns, of the Save the Redwoods League, explained last month during a volunteer enrichment talk, California’s redwoods store a great deal of carbon, but are highly influenced by climate and moisture. They also provide a living historical record of temperature, as Burns dramatically illustrated. Specimens of redwood trunk reveal almost no growth in 1580, which proved a mystery to ecologists. Until they searched the surviving written records of explorers from that time, who mentioned weather so cold that snow lasted nearly into summer and crew members dreaded getting out of bed.

Ecologists and meteorologists say that temperatures in the North Coast have stayed roughly the same, while the Bay Area and Santa Cruz have seen warming. Also, the region has experienced fewer cold days, rather than more hot days, and the frequency of foggy days has declined. Less fog isn’t good for the swordfern, which depends on the moisture, but may actually be a positive for redwoods, who need sun. Students and teachers at Chabot are tracking changes in swordfern frond size through the Communicating Climate Change initiative, as the plant gives a fairly accurate record of the amount of moisture at any particular time. Much of the predictive modeling surrounding climate change has focused on how redwood ecosystems withstand greater heat, so adjustments to the models are likely necessary to fully understand the effects of change.

Redwood forests reached their peak millions of years ago, and before European settlement of California, they covered 2.2 million acres of land. Now, there are 1.63 million acres of redwoods, 93 percent of which have been harvested and replanted. 23 percent of these live within parks or other protected land, and some of the protected trees date as far back as 328 and 474 A.D.

Changing forests bring about varied effects on the diverse animals and plants within the habitat. Owls are returning to newly replanted areas for better foraging, but still need old growth areas to hatch their eggs. The spotted owl now faces competition from the eastern bard owl, due to cross-country migration. The Steller’s Jay, which eats the less abundant marble merlet’s eggs, has now multiplied after eating food crumbs picnickers and hikers leave behind. Also, to the consternation of ecologists, black bears are now eating the sugary redwood bark.

Forty percent of wood growth by volume occurs in a redwood tree’s branches, and an older tree continues to expand there even when its rings become smaller with age. Researchers have found that redwood growth actually accelerates as trees get older. One ancient tree known as the Big Emerald puts on 1.6 cubic meters a year, enough wood to produce 2.3 million pencils. Conservationists seek to preserve trees of all ages, as young forests let in light for new growth, while older, deeply rooted trees better protect streams from erosion.

There is some reason for optimism about the future of the redwoods, as recent centuries have seen huge annual growth in the mass of California redwood trunks. With awareness and intelligent management, we can continue to preserve and enjoy this natural area for many more generations.

 

Cristina Deptula is a staff writer and may be reached at cedeptula@sbcglobal.net – and she welcomes paying freelance and professional writing positions.