joining the flock

In the summer of 1986 I joined the United States Army Reserve. I was 19 years old and had no inkling of the nature of my upcoming journey. I was young and naive with high expectations and childlike dreams. 

I required money for college; that was my primary reason for joining. I wanted to become a lawyer. Serving my country was an afterthought. The GI Bill was my road to higher education and a better future. I had initially walked into the Air Force recruiters’ office, college and jets on my mind. My scores were insufficient, so I could not join to become a pilot. I had to choose from jobs within my test range. Dejected, I ambled down the hall to the Army recruiters and officially joined the Army Reserve as 71L (Administrative Specialist), my MOS (Military Occupational Specialties). I don’t fully recall why I wanted to change, but felt compelled to do so.

Basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) were at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. At the time, Fort Jackson was said to be one of the most grueling basic training forts in the United States. I was unable to confirm this at the time, but it certainly felt like the truth. AIT was not as challenging, but still intense and demanding. 

I left Fort Jackson and headed back to the North Bronx, now officially a private and reservist. My monthly duty station was Fort Totten in Queens, built in 1862 (named Fort at Willets Point) and renamed Fort Totten in 1898.  Each month I made the long trip to Queens to spend two days conducting military business. It was unimpressive and uneventful. Once per year we went away for two weeks, with my first two week trip landing me in Colorado, knee deep in sidewinders and what felt like twin suns.

After nearly two years and incessant indecisiveness regarding what I wanted to study in college, I decided to join the Army full time. Becoming a lawyer no longer felt like a fit. I imagined defending the guilty and immediately became disinterested. I then decided to become a computer programmer and began learning C, C++, FORTRAN, COBOL and Pascal. While I enjoyed learning the many programming languages, I didn’t envision myself programming day in and day out at a corporation. Pre-lawyer dreams of becoming a singer, model and actress had long been dashed to the wind due to lack of support. I needed to get away. The Army was my escape. Silly, I know this now.

My first duty station as a full-time soldier was West Germany, Deutschland, winter 1988, Christmas week. I learned to stick shift in Deutschland and drove on the Autobahn (Bundesautobahn), speed limits be damned, within two days of learning manual transmission.  I rode on the U-Bahn, the railway system with no booth clerk at many stops.  A small ticket machine stole their jobs and left the honor system as a replacement. Some days I purchased my ticket, other days I took a chance, hoping a conductor wouldn’t float through to check tickets and give tickets to the dishonorable. I was caught once without a ticket, but that did not deter me from periodically rolling the dice like some Germans. My adventures in Deutschland are extensive and will find their way in other stories on another day. Of all the stories, however, there is one more I will share here. I was there when the Wall came down and many East Germans left what some would consider their prison and others would call their home. Small cars I called shoes, all piled high with luggage sometimes twice the height of the tiny cars, moved along narrow streets in West Germany. Droves of East Germans, excited to reunited with Westside family members, flowed like a stream over unfamiliar asphalt. The influx, although expected, was still a shock to the system in the West. I witnessed it. Got a piece of the wall and a cut of the original fence that remained before the wall went up. It was surreal to be there, a witness to transformative history.

Promotion to Specialist • West Germany 1989

I gave birth to my first daughter in Frankfurt, West Germany, October 1990, then decided it was time to extricate myself from an environment I had slowly realized was not conducive to the life I wanted for my child. After a bit of research, I found a loophole that allowed me to leave the military. I was tempted to remain in Germany given that I had fallen in love with the land and the people. But youth and inexperience planted fear in me, so I left. 

I learned many valuable lessons while in the military. It is an experience I cherish. I am not a “patriot” like many of my veteran friends. The military did, however, provide me with opportunities. I have been asked many times over the years if I would do it over, would I join again? No, never again. I would definitely not do it again. I believe the universe repeatedly attempts to provide us with lessons. If we avoid a lesson one way, we are given the lesson another way. I believe I would have received whatever lessons I learned in the military through some other means or method.

I remember all that I’ve gained. I also realize all that I’ve lost by joining.  In the end, it balances out. I suppose. It is what it is. I had an experience. It was valuable. It is over. I honor it and would never wish to do it again. I do not believe anything but bullying is solved by war. Death always follows. For a moment in time, I was a part of that as I out-processed soldiers for the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield. The hands of time cannot be reversed. And that is ok. I am here and I know something I did not know yesterday. 

save words

i will save words for you. bottled and pickled words for you.

then feed you synonyms of me, so you will always remember my taste.

i will flavor your life until all your tongue remembers is what it is was like to come…to come…to come

…into my dreams.

and stay a while. a long while. until you are…

…exhausted from eating synonyms that uncover every inch of me.

 

on the edge of rest

Photo Challenge: Edge

I cannot sit. The edge is too near, too daunting. The cloth is stripped away as surely as my soul is stripped of the bravery to simply sit and let life unfold as it should.

I look over the edge of what would bring me rest and remember that life is in constant motion, never at rest; always wanting for atoms to collide and light to manifest.

I cannot sit. I must collide and birth the second self into existence. I must let the chair remind me of the edge of life, the space between rest and creation. I must not sit. I cannot.

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the skies above us

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Photograph by zaji

This was the sky over my house yesterday. Such a beautiful sight.

The sky is a constant reminder of my mortality. When I am gone, the sky will go on, into millions of years that I will never live to see. Nothing from this moment in time will be recognizable. No one’s name will be known or remembered. In a million years, even the dust from our bones will be like smoke dissipated into the air. Someone in the distant future will find themselves digging up a femur, discovering it was from a woman, then calling it some strange futuristic name that will itself become meaningless a million years from their find.

We are but shadows and dust. More shadow than dust. A shadow dissipating with the setting of the sun.

dinnertime fruit tree

Photo Prompt: Dinnertime

…This week, share an image inspired by dinnertime — whether you take a photo of food or simply shoot during the evening hours is up to you!

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Photography by zaji, April 22, 2016 @ 11:45 am CST

Our little peach tree is coming along nicely. The peaches are growing rapidly and getting larger each day. I estimate that by the end of May they’ll be ready for eating. This is my idea of dinner. When they’ve matured, I’ll spend many days outside enjoying dinnertime by the peach tree.

the story of leaves

I took this photo more than five years ago. Each time I revisit it I see something I never noticed before. It is not only majestic, but the leaves tell a story I am still trying to decipher. I look at the veins across each leaf and imagine the blood of leaves running through each vein. The water droplets quench their thirst, even as they lay dying on the ground. They have come through a long line of DNA that remembers the long history of Earth, a history we may never understand or realize, no matter how many scientific breakthroughs we achieve.

In many ways, I wish I could have connected with those leaves in some way so that I could hear their stories, what they’d seen, what they’d been through, how they’d felt. Yes, even how they felt, and, while on the ground, how they felt about their process of dying.

The story is in the leaves.

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Photograph take by zaji

a haiku for the night-blooming cereus

Below are pictures I took of a Night-Blooming Cereus my mother has in a giant pot by the pool. All day the buds stay tightly closed, unmoved by the sun. As the sky turns gray, yellow, then red, the bud begins to slowly move, yawning to welcome the night. No sooner than the stars begin to twinkle, the flower is open wide, spread gloriously to present herself to the night sky. The dark rays flower her. Only the dark rays force this flower to smile with regal admiration for the night.

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Photo taken by zaji, 2011


A Haiku for the Night-Blooming Cereus (or, Queen of the Night)

The sun leaves the sky

Night rays birth your elegance

Stars dance to your scent

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Photo taken by zaji, 2011

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Photo taken by zaji, 2011

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Photo taken by zaji, 2011

sitting with existence

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Photograph by zaji • April 7, 2016 • circa 1:30pm CST

I’m sitting outside on the grass, writing. The ground beneath me is cool and firm. The sun is almost at the top of the sky, peeking through the trees I’ve chosen to hide under. The air is still and warm. The leaves barely rustle.

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Photograph by zaji • April 7, 2016 • circa 1:30pm CST

Tiny bugs crawl onto the cloth I’ve placed on the ground. I spray a mixture of rosemary oil and distilled water into the air to keep some away. Those who don’t mind are persistent and join me as I read a work by James Baldwin.

I am mindful of the fence, the dogs barking and the moving shade. It inches away from me causing me to move further under the trees. Eventually I am overtaken by the sun and I can no longer follow the shade. So I sit with it and allow it to beam down on my skin the many rays carrying the past. Encapsulated stories spread across the lawn. The sun tells every blade about its existence and what it has seen since it was born.

I want to hear the whispers and understand the words. But it is too much, too fast and in a language I cannot translate, much less hear. We are far removed from what was once a natural ability.

Now, I try to hear with tainted ears the stories of Earth told by the sun. The sound is ever so faint. But I keep listening in hopes that great truths will come through. Even more, great answers to sometime small questions.

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Photograph by zaji • April 7, 2016 • circa 1:30pm CST

they picked me

Writing Prompt: Pat on the Back

Tell someone you’re proud of just how proud you are.

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Aviance and Kenya circa 1999

I’m proud of my two daughters, Kenya and Aviance. They are the most amazing young women I know and are determined to make a great life for themselves. They are strong, wise and persevering. They both learn anything they undertake quickly and with great clarity. They have wonderfully gentle souls and want nothing more than to be happy in this crazy world.

They have both made it beyond two decades of living and continue to make me proud to be their mother. As I’ve told them a dozen times before, I am thankful that their souls picked me to be their mother. I’m humbled by their decision and try my best daily to honor their choice by being the best mother I can be.

in the soil

i spent a couple of hours outside in the soil today. i mothered the dirt to prepare her for seeds. as i turned soil and removed plants that could strangle the food i intended to grow, i observed the robins and blue jays flitting about looking for lunch. the soil is a dark rich brown teaming with life—worms, tiny insects and grub.

i trimmed trees and small bushes that lined the driveway. leaves pilled high from the magnolia and oak trees littered the walkway. we raked them into a small hill and placed them near the side of the road for the garbage man.

in the front yard is our peach tree that has already begun to bloom. watching nature reminds me of the cycle of life and how everything we rely on for sustenance is born again each year.

below is the flower on the peach tree. there are dozens of flowers and buds preparing to open into flowers. watching life unfold teaches patience. i patiently await peaches.

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February 2016 • Our Peach Tree

meditation

Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

This week, find inspiration in a piece of art. Then, imitate it.

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Meditations captured on used and mottled papyrus. The soul lives in the stained paper, where hungry words become burning images that tell forgotten stories of lost time—there it will be, in the spaces between rips and tears, splitting mind and soul down the middle. Pictures don’t need a thousand words, only one. Tell her story in a blazing word filled with more meaning than definition and there you’ll find her, waiting for you on fire.

© zaji, 2016

torn

I am torn between sunrises and snow flakes, between Timbuktu and Saturn. I am wedged between the grass blades between my toes and the forgotten places in realms beyond this flesh and bones. I am the blood pumping through my veins, alive and wanting Earth, then, in an instant, I am the selfless need to be your ghost watching over you as you feel the sun on your wanting skin. I am torn.

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© zaji, 2016

whispers from the vibrant stones

Photo Prompt: Vibrant

This week, share a photo of something vibrant. Vivid colors, a lively portrait, or perhaps a delightfully colorful landscape, if you’re in a warmer climate. Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors to keep the winter gloom at bay.

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When I first saw this photo prompt, I was excited. Sadly, I looked around my room and saw that everything looked rather dull except for the many books that laced the room walls with various colored spines. I thought about photographing them, then I remembered my crystals and stones.

Crystals, rocks, stones, gems.

The planet is abundant with these life forms. Like many flowers, shrubs and trees, they come in thousands of vibrant colors and shades. Crystals, gems, et al, typically have more of a variety of colors than flowers. Isn’t that amazing?

This photo I share of my babies is a reminder of how vibrant our planet is. The wonder of color is not reserved for flowers alone.