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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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by Richard Ives

File:Syrian hamster filling his cheek pouches with Dandelion leaves.JPG

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo by Peter Maas



The old woman’s dog sat in a tree and barked at a bird.


The old woman’s dog barked a song about barking a song. It was a song about longing, about the things you can’t do. Why did the old woman’s dog think the birds had something to do with this longing?


Shortly after the singing, the old woman’s dog chased himself into the house through a third story window (the tree was adjacent to the house) and peed upon her son’s new shoes.


After the dog had emptied himself, the old woman’s dog chased the old woman’s cat until the cat stopped running away. They discussed Mendelssohn and Kierkegaard. They disagreed, which was what they both wanted.


The old woman’s dog dropped off some cookies for the sick neighbor from a little basket tied around his neck, just as he did every Tuesday. The three that were still left after he had eaten the rest seemed more than enough for someone so sickly.


The old woman’s dog had had a lot of difficulty learning to climb a tree, but once he had succeeded, he sang many, many songs, including a song about climbing a tree. Way up there in the tree, only the birds could hear the dog clearly enough to understand what he was singing, and they didn’t need to climb a tree to put them in that position, which made the dog’s song seem more poignant due to all the labor invested in disseminating it, even if the dog himself had a personality that was far from appealing.


When the old woman went to town to get her prescription filled, the dog thought this meant that she had died, or would very shortly. Nothing had been prescribed for the dog. Meanwhile the dog’s fleas sang a song of their homeland and hopped about although the old woman’s rug confused them mightily.


Mendelssohn and Kierkegaard messed their multi-roomed playground tunnel cage and wished intensely that their children had not been so plentiful as to force them to move to this new housing unit. Life can still be a pleasant discrepancy, they wanted to think, but they couldn’t quite find the words.



The children of the old woman’s children came to visit not the old woman but Mendelssohn and Kierkegaard and found that they could no longer tell them apart from their babies or their babies’ babies, who had pleaded with great odor for their own little fish tank. The old woman grew a bit confused about her dreams of endless furry oceans, but she found that in her old age she could no longer smell them.


When the old woman swam to the phone, her daughter answered. It was lovely that she had called. It didn’t matter much what she said. She had learned to be more appreciative. The next time the phone wanted to talk to her, she didn’t yell at it and even looked forward to possibly finding that it once more contained her daughter.


The old woman’s neck rubbing group met on Thursdays, the geriatric sex appreciation group on Sundays. Saturdays were for chasing men. Homework for Fridays, which should not be put off until the last minute.


One day the old woman actually caught a man. He played with the furry babies in the fish tank. He joined the Thursday neck rubbing group. The old woman tired herself out and decided to share him. This rubbed the man the wrong way, but he was still enjoying himself too much to return to his imaginary wife.


The captured man was not really old, but he was wrinkled. Too much time in the sun had given him an appearance of wisdom, but the sun doesn’t just give you wisdom. He said some stupid things, which were charming. Men who seem to be old can still do that if they are not afraid of their aging.


The captured man, however, had wanted less attention than he was getting. Or, more accurately, the captured man wanted different attention. The captured man wanted to capture the attentive woman in a different way. He was tired of his prison of excess.



The captured man fed Mendelssohn and Kierkegaard tiny bits of wisdom right along with the hamster chow. The captured man fed himself in much the same way though he was less aware of the wisdom contained in his dinner because he didn’t have to make it palatable to another creature’s preferences. The old woman fed the old woman’s dog, which fed the old woman so much that sustained her that she seemed always to be eating.


The captured man needed the prison he had been living in to feed his need. The need needed to grow stronger. The captured man needed more than the prison could provide. You could smell it, and smelling something like that makes you hungry.


The captured man searched for the lifeboat. Then he looked for the water. The captured man put the lifeboat upon the water. The water smiled and rippled affectionately. The captured man invited the old woman’s dog into the lifeboat. The dog barked at the lifeboat. The captured man invited the old woman into the lifeboat. She too barked at the lifeboat. We should try to believe that it was for the same appreciative reason.


The old woman’s dog may have once been a replacement for the affections of a man. The old woman’s dog may have been a man who misunderstood himself. If you misunderstand yourself long enough, people begin to see you as whatever you misunderstood yourself for. If this goes on long enough, it’s no longer a misunderstanding.


The old woman’s dog runs up and down the deck. What ship is this? Has the rowboat grown? Is that possible? The old woman’s laugh runs up and down the deck. What pleasure is this? Has the old woman’s pleasure grown more than the old woman has?


Then the old woman watched the dog put his nose in the air. What was it this time?

The captured man put his nose in the air. What pleasure. Does it really need an explanation?


Perhaps I am redundant, said the old woman. My dog speaks for me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have to say it all over again.


Perhaps I am, said the captured man. I am not the first man to experience this.



The echo of the captured man can often be heard in the cave of knowing. The echo of the cave of knowing can often be heard in the old woman. Perhaps only the old woman’s dog can hear it and really know what it is. Is it really knowledge, or only instinct, to gather these echoes and respond to them?


The ship upon which the old woman and the captured man and the old woman’s dog are traveling does not look like a ship. Perhaps it’s still a rowboat, but it has some houses and some streets and some disadvantaged parts of an old ship on it. It might appear to be a town. It might appear to be anchored by the smell of fresh earth turned in a new garden. It might not even hint at which streets lead to answers (of an indirect sort of course) and which streets are gangplanks.


The echo of the old woman’s dog, however, can only be partially heard. It extends back to a time when there was little difference between a man and a dog. It holds great affection for the oldest of old women inside its confusion over that difference. It spins dizzyingly around inside the heads of the oldest of old men. It wants to run around and around in the fields of timelessness. Over there, on the port side, next to the great cannon of dissemination pleasures.


Now the echo of the old woman lists gracefully to stern. It coaxes the rudder as it navigates both the ship and the waters. It folds into whatever it touches, and it opens with it to sail on to the next innocent station.


The echo of the captured man is no longer captured. It has broken loose, and it approaches the water with caution, but it enters joyously. It swims around in the thoughts of rain and returns again to the waters upon which the ship is traveling. It becomes captured by itself there and is no longer restrained by its previous understandings of its prison. The echo of the captured man is in this way free and could only have become so with the help of the prison.


The ship too has an echo. The ship’s echo carries the sound of waves and inverts them. When it rains on the ship, the ship flows smoothly between the heaven and earth of water. This is the moment of balance, a moment with all the tension and excitement of fleeting time, but a moment that lasts.



Somewhere in the past, the echo of the old woman went to the distant pier. The echo of the old woman said, Here is my ticket. The pier answered, but only in its echo, Yes, you have a lovely mind. Do you wish to leave the ship now?


The echo of the captured man found the old woman at the end of the pier. The echo of the captured man had only one ticket. Come back, said that echo.


The old woman’s dog went for a walk to the end of the gangplank. The old woman’s dog took the woman along. No echo. They didn’t know it, but it might have been the only thing that saved them.


Later the echo of the old woman’s dog could not find her. Nor could the echo of the old woman’s dog find the stubborn dog it had gone chasing after in its oldest echo.


The echo of the pier revealed itself after shedding many disguises to be the gangplank. Gangplanks do not echo. The echo of the old woman walked patiently to the end. Too many silent steps, it whispered too softly to echo.


Then the echo of the old woman threw her ticket in the waters of the secret waves and the constant rain. The sun could do nothing to help. Her ticket was a body as light and disposable as a bit of down.


The old woman listened and listened for her echo. Perhaps the echo was listening for the old woman. The waves and the rain were there, but they didn’t need echoes.


Finally the dog and the echo of the dog were united. They barked convincingly. The bark arrived at the echo of the old woman and sat.


Come back, said the bark without moving a single muscle.


The echo of the captured man heard the bark and fell apart. The bark was not for him, and it made him lonelier. The captured man looked more closely at the prison’s bars, and they fell apart.


Too many silent steps, said the bark, too many unanswered questions.


Too much useless chatter, said the waters. Listen to me.


But the echo of the ship upon which we are traveling does not need to travel. It waits for the travelers to arrive at their destination, and then it shows you where you have been. What took you so long?


The echo of the moment of balance, however, was still not in balance with the moment of balance. The moment of balance let the bark pass through. It held its balance. The echo hadn’t arrived yet, which is a different kind of balance.



The last time anyone saw the old woman, she was walking the dog to a pet-washing clinic. The dog didn’t understand. He didn’t have any pets unless you count his food dish, and they hadn’t brought his food dish with them.


The last time anyone saw the old woman, she was wearing her blouse inside out. This might have been amusing to the people she passed on the street, but the people who knew her and stopped to talk to her felt the odor was a bit overdone. Was she really so forgetful? Was she making a statement?


Perhaps we should discuss the nature of perfume here. We should share the impact of the old woman’s miscalculated plea for further affections as a dimension not included in the olfactory combinations that resulted in too great an awareness of what might once have been subtle maneuvers on her body’s part. If the captured man hadn’t yet fully departed from this state of affairs, it could have been because the old woman’s new behaviors were left open to interpretation, just as most odors are.


First you must gather the ingredients and then you must carefully extract their essence. This can be done with alcohol, whale oil, marriage, and the impression you have of the size of the ocean, which is much slower but equally effective although the salt sometimes remains to remind one of the nature of the experience. The old woman’s mistake was choosing her own version of the extended extraction process of placing the perfume upon the intended (herself) (too quickly) and attempting to increase its effect before removing the ingredients’ less attractive overtones. The principle of olfactory increase has been well-known over millenniums of human interactions, but distillations cannot be adequately consummated while the perfume’s ingredients are still forming. (The old woman was sweating into her own sweat.) Sometimes you have to wait patiently for your pleasures.


What hasn’t yet been discussed concerning this oddly condensed moment of alteration is the manner in which the old woman had worn herself inside out, which made the blouse just a natural extension of her personality. Perhaps it shouldn’t be discussed. Perhaps the example of the woman’s disappearance is enough to suggest the extent to which the woman had fallen out of herself. While this may contain hints of a certain sexual appeal, this particular type of excess tends to consume itself, and the old woman would have had to be sealed in a waterproof container and celebrated right into the ground to be held in abeyance. The dog, of course, appealed only to other dogs of a certain equally advanced age and certain puppies still in need of fathering, and thus it retained a freedom the old woman did not have.


It remained hidden to all but a select few, who understood the particulars of the dog’s howling, that the old woman had become very ancient and distilled. She had succeeded in transferring her essence aurally into the dog’s pitch and rhythm and phrasing so well (through the effects on the creature of a certain kind odor perhaps?) that the dog’s howling contained a song of ancient longings and hidden meanings. But is it really necessary to rediscover this? Don’t we remain aware that we are not merely ourselves?


Mendelssohn, Kierkegaard and the quickly extended lineage of their furry little ancestors, it should be added, spread themselves out by way of procreation and thereby were able to give part of themselves to the old woman’s grandchildren, who nevertheless gave them all away to friends and enemies alike, merely to be rid of them, and then they simply wore themselves out on the treadmill of ordinary impulses (let’s face it, slowly, and perhaps a bit meaninglessly, a procedure not at all limited to hamsters).


The arguments then of Mendelssohn and Kierkegaard, including all that they implied, resolved nothing, but made each creature involved feel at least for a few moments here and there that they had an important, if irreconcilable purpose, and they felt driven by it to listen for the echoes, which allowed them to experience themselves from another angle, even if they didn’t understand what the echoes were saying.


The rowboat, however, sank.