The Sopris Sun introduces the Work in Progress section which serves to highlight the ample creativity among the local community. Submissions are swept with an exceptionally light edit to preserve the creators intended voice and style.
The Story-Teller and his Dog
By Tom Mercer
My Uncle Carl was a story-teller. Carl lived in a small house on the banks of the Illinois River. His hair was white and his chin generally displayed the suggestion of a beard fighting to take root in that location. Carl had a small dog (of uncertain breed) named Ulysses. On some days, my uncle would take his dog out for a short walk, and on other days the dog would take my uncle out for a walk. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement and they maintained the routine without fail.
In addition to being a dog-lover, Uncle Carl was a champion story-teller. He was particularly skilled at sharing a ripping-good yarn. It made no difference if the listener was a life-long friend or a complete stranger in the grocery store. The old man was able to share a seemingly endless number of colorful stories without repeating any of them to the same listener a second time. No one ever questioned the veracity of the old man’s stories for fear of missing a singularly good tale — whether true or not. Entertainment and fact are not necessarily linked together — they are only distant linguistic relatives. In any case, the old man had talent, a good dog and a comfortable home. It was a warm, overcast summer day when Carl shared the following story with me.
“It was a late night — probably about the middle of the night — that a local fellow named Walt Taylor entered the inter-city bus station and purchased a one-way ticket to Urbana, Illinois. The only other person in the waiting room was a young man that appeared to be in his early twenties. Well, Walt sat across from the young fellow and occasionally glanced up at the clock on the bus station’s wall. They were the only two passengers in the room, so, naturally they eventually introduced themselves. Walt noted that the style of the young man’s clothing seemed dated and out of fashion. This aroused Walt’s curiosity, and he wanted to know a bit more about the young man. Walt asked him if he rode the bus often and the man looked up and replied, ‘No, not often, but I am joining my fiancé in Urbana and tomorrow I’m going to meet her parents for the first time.’ His explanation was punctuated with a nervous smile. As their conversation continued, Taylor and the young man chatted about their hometown. Taylor found some of the young man’s responses odd, particularly when he referred to certain specific events in their hometown’s past as though they had just recently taken place. Taylor shrugged off his uneasiness and did not question the young man further. Still, Taylor did not remember ever seeing the young man around town and that seemed very strange, given the small size of their community.”
“Taylor’s musings were interrupted by an announcement emanating from the speaker on the wall of the bus station. Passengers for Urbana were asked to board the bus that waited outside. The young man stood up, gathered his belongings and headed towards the waiting bus, but Taylor decided to make a quick trip to the men’s room prior to boarding. When Taylor exited the restroom, he passed by the seat where the young man had been, and there, on the young man’s seat, was a ticket to Urbana. Taylor picked it up and headed towards the boarding area, knowing that by now, the young man must be frantically searching for his missing ticket. Taylor stepped up onto the bus and presented his own ticket to the driver. Then, Taylor handed the driver the other ticket, explaining that it had been left behind by a young man he had met in the waiting room. As the driver examined the ticket, Taylor scanned the faces of the few passengers on the bus, but the young man was nowhere to be seen.”
“Then, Taylor heard the driver ask, ‘Is this some kind of a joke?’ The driver pointed out that, although Taylor’s ticket was in order, the ticket that belonged to the young man was dated May 24, 1960. The driver added, ‘This ticket is for the exact date that the Wilkinson Bridge fell into the Illinois River, drowning everyone on the bridge at that time, including all of the passengers on a bus headed for Urbana.’ The blood drained from Taylor’s face as he haltingly made his way down the aisle to take his seat on the night-time bus to Urbana.”
Well, that was the end of Uncle Carl’s story. Ulysses wagged his tail in appreciation and I complemented Uncle Carl for another tale well-told. I wondered where on Earth Uncle Carl came up with the ideas for the stories he told. Perhaps Ulysses knows.
By Stephanie Zaza
You are not your thoughts.
Meditation gurus, yogis, massage therapists, psychologists tell me this. I don’t know if I understand it entirely, but I presume it is meant to calm and benefit me on some emotional level. I’m also not sure I believe it entirely.
And, really, I just can’t help myself – I must think about this idea that I am not my thoughts. If I look at my husband and am full of the thought of how and how much I love him, am I not the thought that I love this man? When I attend to the transcendent beauty that is everywhere here, am I not the thought that life is sweet? Am I not the thoughts flowing through my mind when I resonate to a piece of music, or surrender to the sweet-salt-butter-chocolate crunch of a cookie, or recoil from an unpleasant person? Must I surrender to the idea that I am not these thoughts? I don’t think I can. I am love. I am the appreciation of beauty and the sweetness of life. I am resonance and taste and bitterness.
On the other hand, I have many thoughts that are not sensory or emotional. Maybe it is these thoughts that I am not. But, they are my ideas, my intellect. Am I not made of these thoughts? Is this not how I identify as “self”? Perhaps I can surrender to the idea that I am not these thoughts.
I would like, rather, to be the cowgirl of my herd of thoughts — the cowgirl who rides gently through and around them, wrangling and corralling them; nudging them in a productive direction. Toward the rich pasture land where they feed and grow. Toward the creek to be watered and refreshed. I try to cull the weak ones from the herd, but I brand the rest with a hard, glowing, stylized “S.Z.” — they are mine. Are they me?
I build and maintain fences for my herd. I construct them carefully. These people cannot see this thought. These other people cannot see that thought. I must corral these thoughts — me — when I am with these people. My fences are strong. But then the fence is weakened by emotion or alcohol or exhaustion and a thought breaks through and lows softly, mournfully or screams in pain. And I try to pull it back in, rebuild the fence, apologize to the neighbor for the steaming cow pie in her yard. I deny my thought — that wasn’t me. I didn’t mean it. I was wrong…I am not that thought that dared to escape.
Without shepherding, my thoughts amble freely through the plains of my mind while I walk my dog, while I hike, as I glide up the snowy road on my new touring skis. Sometimes they stampede, spooked by the fear that things are very wrong and I have something to say and it’s hard to articulate and I’m maddened by the social media flies buzzing and biting my flesh and the howling of the news like coyotes yipping at my heels. My thoughts gather speed and kick up horrendous clouds of choking dust that I cannot see through, the hooves pounding a drumbeat of terror because I cannot figure out what to say, how to say it, why — or even if — it is important to speak.
If I am to be the cowgirl of my thoughts, I must also calm this herd. I quiet them in the comfortable shelter of my home, in the companionship of my partner who has corralled his own herd, in the warmth of a bowl of white beans with rosemary. The flames flicker from the fire table while the strains of a violin concerto settle over me. I sing a cowboy lullaby — ya-hoo tam-a-lam-a-day — scratch my dog’s ears, sip some whiskey, breathe in the sage and pine-scented air. The Milky Way is stretched across the sky. So settle down ye cattle ‘til the mornin’.
By Shelly Merriam
My jaw tightened
and I thought
but, ‘you don’t understand’
but, ‘that’s not what I meant’
but, ‘that’s not how it happened’
heat rose to my head
my thoughts muffled
by what I was hearing.
I started to interrupt
in that space between
where there lies
breath and calm
where there lies
grace and wisdom
I paused to choose
and none was necessary.
This poem was inspired by what it feels like to experience and live by Viktor E. Frankl’s quote:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
“Mother Mountain” by Benny Blue
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