The Hungry Pelican 

Exploring Creation Through the Lens of Faith and Creative Writing

June 13, 2017

     Every step broils ungodly pain in my legs. Up – Up – Up. I’m quite certain death is near. First there are beads of sweat, then trickles of salty water, next I wonder if I’m capable of lifting my foot and pushing forward. Up – Up – Up. That is the course of the Bote Mountain Trail, and my truck is just now barely out of sight. It’s iffy that I can make it. I am less sure how badly I want to try. I could turn around but I won’t. A camping backpack is actually fastened and tied around me as though I’m a pack mule. The Smoky Mountains belittle my best efforts, chiding me with schoolyard taunts. “Fatty.” “Pudgy.” “Bowl of jelly.” And when I round one more curve thinking the trail surely must reach the summit soon, I see the footpath just continues to crawl around itself, bending and twisting further up. And the mountain whispers, “Get off me; you’re hurting my back.” I unsnap my pack, hoist it off my shoulders, and sit on the ground. The cool breeze instantly chills my sweat-soaked bac...

June 8, 2017

     The mannequins of the Biltmore arrest my thoughts – a haunting appearance of shadows fading darker, existing less. They are ghosts standing lifeless in nearly every room, the fleeting something that was, clasping this world with apparitional bodies. Half of the mannequins are without a head, but, if there is a face, all the sundry details of expression have been scrubbed away by the lack-remorse pendulum of time. Even though yesterday is gone, folded back into the nonexistence of forever, the mannequins stand defiant. All their efforts will come to nothing, though. They are from nothing. Yesterday does not exist, just as tomorrow does not exist, yet.

The mannequins never will rematerialize back into this world. They are gone. And here they stand. Yesterday drifted away into history books and historical dramas, vestiges harbored in today’s crevasse: inexistence contingent upon the existent. So, the mannequins stand with a dishonest air of eternity, “Look at me and I a...

June 4, 2017

    

     If Asheville goes to war, the world will be gasping for and wheezing with the last good breath God deposits into the collective nostrils of Adam. Our souls will be cleaved from our bodies – where both will shrivel into darkness. And then, there will be a resounding silence escaping the furthest reaches of the universe.

     If Asheville goes to war, humanity will face a giant mirror and be so dazed that we will turn around to look for ourselves. And when we see nothing, we will believe that we are not. We will call our world and neighbors and our ourselves illusory, figments, scraps of hallucinations projected by an extinct demiurge. 

     If Asheville goes to war, shared harmony and compassion will whittle down the branches of the tree planted by streams of water. The last sinewy thread will fold into the water and be carried away with the current to the chaotic floods where leviathans feast. And no one will be robed in white or wave...

May 30, 2017

     When John Keating lectured his students in the hallway at Welton Academy he had Mr. Pitts read Robert Herrick’s famous poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” Gather Ye rosebuds while ye may, the poem started and was repeated again and again by Keating until he began whispering in the ears of his students, carpe diem.

     And with that scene from Dead Poets Society, new clichés were born. Carpe diem is, of course, the better worn than any others, but today I want to think about roses.

Gather Ye Rosebuds while ye may

Old time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

To-morrow will be dying.

     Why don’t we cliché to death scooping cat litter? Or dirty dishes? What about a morning without coffee? I’ve never heard anyone say, “That’s as bad as a morning without coffee.” I have heard, “Not until I have had my coffee.” But that’s different. There’s the implicit promise, or at least the expectation, of coffee. It’s coming. It just hasn’t arri...

May 25, 2017

     I am in Charlotte, again. I go inside Rite-Aid and buy another Mead, flip-top notebook exactly like the one I bought last time I was here. The same homeless man is sitting outside the store begging for “a cool drink, please,” so I buy him a bottle of water hoping I too can live in Abraham’s bosom. When I hand him the bottle of water he looks at me with unabashed gratitude. I walk across the street to the same table I sat at the last time I thought it would be a good idea to journal about Charlotte. That was August 4, 2015. My first sentence in that journal was “I’m sitting in an artificial shadow beside an artificial pond with artificial people in downtown Charlotte.”  The artificial shadow was cast by enormously tall buildings. The pond was really a fountain, and the people were statues. Today it is the same shadow, pond, and people but today, maybe today, I’m not as cynical. It is all beauty and art, humanity’s effort to express meaning, to say something about what it means to b...

May 22, 2017

     

     Herewith. These birds living near me.

     The laughing gull, settles on a post, satisfied to perch, looking over an ocean of food. A wary eye on me, the black-capped seagull keeps: Every move, every gesture, the smallest hint of change in my behavior is scrutinized. I take one step too far, and the gull leaps with a two-wing flap to the next post. I slowly approach that post with my camera ready. He flaps to the next post and the next until I’ve frustrate the bird, and he sails off. Didn’t he know I just wanted a picture?

     I open my front door and walk outside. A pair of barn swallows swoops out of the nest they’ve built underneath the eaves of my house. They fly acrobatic rolls and careen through hairpin turns and rush at my face before breaking off. Their chicks poke their heads up from the nest and open their mouths. I stand and watch the show. The two barn swallows are joined by neighboring squadrons of swallows, and they launch a cho...

May 17, 2017

     February 7, 1982, not long after 8PM, my dad told me “It’s time to go up.” I didn’t want to “go up,” that is, go to bed, but when you are in second grade and tomorrow morning is Monday, there’s not a lot of bartering power at your disposal. The television debut of Superman was on ABC, and right when my dad said, “it’s time to go up,” Lois Lane and Clark Kent were dragged into an alleyway by a mugger with a gun. In the background were stacks of newspaper, air-conditioning units mounted to windows, and fire-escape stairs sandwiched between old brick buildings decorated in graffiti. Lois Lane kicked the mugger, who fell backwards, and then pulled the trigger. Clark Kent, I mean Superman, grabbed the bullet out of the middle of the air, and feigned a fainting spell. “It’s time to go up,” my dad said, again with impatience.

     To my mind, that was the first time I had ever seen an alleyway. I didn’t know that it was called an alleyway, of course. I only knew that an alleyway...

May 13, 2017

     I am flat on my back – again. Today I’m just taking a picture. Most times, though, it is a position of defeat, of humiliation. On my back, I see the world differently. The bed and the sofa don’t count. Reclining the seat in my car doesn’t count. The few places where we are supposed to lounge and sprawl and unwind on our backs give us nothing. Getting so drunk I can’t get off the kitchen floor counts. Having a medical event on the sidewalk, where numbers of strangers lean over my head and look down into my anguished face, yeah, that counts. Getting knocked down counts. And what I am doing today counts. It may not count as much because I am doing it on purpose, or, maybe, it counts even more. But if the goal is to see things differently, it counts.

     Oddly, I never seem to notice what’s above me first. The dog hair that dodged a broom. The gritty texture of asphalt. Other people’s shoelaces. How often do you ever look at someone else’s shoelaces? Today, I see and fe...

May 10, 2017

     The Red-winged Blackbird skittered just a feather’s tip above the marshy spikes of smooth cordgrass and glasswort. It seemed less a graceful bird caressing the subtleties of air currents than a dragonfly, jittering near instantly between one place and another. And then the bird plundered the carpeted bog for shelter in a pocket of thistle. Conk-la-ree, conk-la-ree. The bird cried from a hidden stage, auditioning a part for the ear of God. He cried again, and again, conk-la-ree. A guild of songbird companions responded with measured chirps and trills. And the low-tide estuary freighted the weighty chorus of an old, holy song: Holy, holy, holy…the whole earth is full of his glory. Conk-la-ree.

     In a heartbeat the Red-winged Blackbird dashed from veiled chancel to chancel, and sang his Sanctus. I aimed to capture this transition – this flight of liturgy. I leaned against the railings of the planked jetty, aimed my camera at only what I could anticipate as his next f...

May 4, 2017

     A fistfight broke out on an airplane. The President of the United States repeatedly lies. Whether or not the poor deserve medical treatment is actually debated. Far away, children are dying from famine. These were just some of the stories leading the news the other day.

     Sometimes I feel that taking pictures and writing about the beauty of a flower or a bird or adorable children is gratuitous – a narcotic of sorts, anesthetizing away the vulgarity of our communities. Christians are, after all, called to see the least, the lost, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, the diseased, the most painful and grievous this world has to offer.

     Jesus tells us to assume the burden of the cross, to bear the unbearable.

     And I post a picture of a lily. It neither toiled nor spun. It doesn’t worry. It doesn’t care. It simply is. Just as the birds of the air come swooping down to my feeders and eat seed they did not plant. The Father, Jesus t...

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