I plant my elbows upon the kitchen table, prop up my chin, and think:  How and the hell did the needle of my compass get so out of whack and how did everything go astray? 

It’s no more than I can figure.  There really isn’t a thing to put my finger on.  A few setbacks from my own expectations, but no disillusionments with myself, not today at least.  Sure I’ve had my share of problems, with women, the law, my thought process, and all else in between. 

As near as I can tell though, I’ve led a pretty normal existence, yet came the day, when it was time for me to move on, I realized I wasn’t the same as I used to be. 

And in order to be who I am to be, I have to let go of who I thought I was.

Zeppelin III blares in the background, the phone chirps at me. I ignore it, and hit the silence button without thinking a distracted thought.

It is possible the seed of my schism had been planted some time ago, however minuscule or microscopic it had to amount to something that mattered to me.  But over time the gap had widened, eventually taking me farther away from the sight of who I thought I was supposed to be. 

If I were to think in terms of the solar system and maybe if I were to suspend my imagination for a moment, I should be somewhere between Saturn and Uranus.  A little past all that and I ought to be seeing Pluto soon.  And beyond that—let’s see—was there anything after that?

COOKING SOMETHING UP

I stand up to stir the spaghetti soaking away on the stovetop when the phone chirps. Again. Another moment or two and the spaghetti would be done.  I stomp around to a favorite song spinning away on the record player.  Perfect spaghetti cooking music I thought.  The phone chirps my way again. 

I hear it chirping, yet I tell myself, ignore it.  Let the spaghetti finish cooking.  It’s almost done and besides Plant, Page, Bonham, and Jones are stomping right along to a song of my choice. 

But on second thought—a distracted thought—I figure I should turn down the flame, lower the volume and stomp my way into the other room, trusted tongs in hand, to pick up the phone.  Unavailable ID.  Great, I think.  It must however be a friend, it occurs to me, possibly with the word of something promising, a side job so to speak.

So I answer the call.

“I need ten minutes of your time,” speaks a beautiful voice from out of the blue. 

“Pardon me?” I utter back in surprise. “What’s that again?”

“I said, I just need ten minutes of your time, that’s all I want.” The woman repeats.

I carry no recollection of ever hearing this woman’s voice before.  One of the things I’m proud of is my perfect ear for placing a voice.  So not knowing this voice, I’m sure was no mistake.  This is the voice of someone I do not know.  A soft, low, descriptive voice that was downright angelic.  

“Please pardon me in advance, but whom might you be trying to reach?” I put on my most polite customer service voice.

“What difference does it really make? All I need is ten minutes of your precious time.  Ten minutes is all it takes to come to an understanding.” She ties up the matter at hand quick and sweet.

“Come to an understanding?” I ask into the void.

“About this elephant and all of these feelings.” says the woman succinctly.

I stretch my neck back around towards the door and then into the kitchen.  A plume of smoke-stained steam rises gracefully from the pot of soaking spaghetti.  Zeppelin is about to conduct a crescendo.

“If you wouldn’t mind, I’m cooking something up right this minute. Spaghetti to speak with exactness.  It’s about to be done, and it might be ruined if I talk to you for ten more minutes.  So I’m going to hang it up now, okay?”

“Spaghetti?” The woman spouts off in disbelief. “It’s 11:11 AM in the morning.  Why would you be cooking spaghetti at this time of day? It seems out of whack, wouldn’t you think?”

“Out of whack or not, what’s it to you?” I mumble slightly annoyed. “I barely had breakfast last night, so I was hungry for supper this morning.  And as long as I do the cooking, when and what I eat I put away as my own business. Do I not?”

“To each their own. Hang up then.” She says in a low lullaby like voice.  A peculiar voice.  The slightest of emotional shift and her tone turns me on to another frequency.

“Now you just wait one minute,” I stammer into the phone.  “If you are selling me something, go ahead and give up on calling back.  I’m not working much at the moment and can’t afford things that I don’t need.” 

“How do you know that I don’t know that? So don’t offer it another thought. Just get on with it,” says the voice.

“You know that? But you know what?”

“That you’re not working much, of course.  This is as much of what I know.  So finish up your spaghetti and get on with it.”

“Who and the hell is—” my temper launches forth, when suddenly the phone fell silent on the other end.  I was cut off.  Too abruptly to have done it myself.  She pressed all my buttons with one little finger.

THE SPAGHETTI INCIDENT

Left hanging, I stare into the void of the phone and only then do I remember the spaghetti.  I toss the phone upon the couch and find my way back into the kitchen.

I turn off the flame. I strain the spaghetti into a colander, top it off with a hearty homemade red Italian gravy, that had been simmering since dawn. Then I eat. It’s an overcooked mushy mess thanks to that distracting phone call.

This is not a matter of life-and-death though. Nor am I one to fancy a mood that fusses over the subtle art of perfectly cooked spaghetti—I’m way too damn hungry to care.  I simply listen to Zeppelin about to send it as I eagerly dispose of every last strand of spaghetti into my stomach.  

I finish up the dishes. In the meantime the tea kettle builds with its own crescendo.  I turn it off before it whistles it’s own sort of dixie. I hang the so-called Zen flavored teabag over the side of my cup.  As I gingerly sip the Zen from my tea, my thoughts turn to that phone call.

So we could come to an understanding?

What on earth did she mean, calling me out of the blue like that? And who on earth was she?

10 MINUTES TO UNDERSTANDING

The whole thing a mystery. At the moment I cannot recall a more mesmerizing mystery, as I have not the slightest clue what she wanted to discuss.

What the hell I tell myself, what do I care about understanding some unknown woman’s feelings anyways.  What possible promising goodness could come of it?  What matters now is that I find some work to keep me busy.  Then I can settle down into a new life cycle.

Yet as I return to the couch to resume the book, a mere glimpse from the corner of my eye upon the phone sets my mind spinning.  Just what were those feelings that would only take about ten minutes to come to understand, about? I mean seriously, ten minutes to come to understand a lifetime of feelings?”

Come to think of it, she specified precisely ten minutes right off the bat. Seems she was actually quite certain about that exact amount of time.  As if nine minutes weren’t enough and eleven minutes was too long, ten minutes was perfect, as the same goes for spaghetti al dente. 

What with these thoughts running through my head, I lost track of the plot of the book altogether.  So I decided I would do some quick pushups, and perhaps go run ten miles or maybe just two.  Lately whenever things get muddled from the swings of my mood, I had to run it off in order to work things out.

After pushing myself up over and over again, I was thirsty and found my way back into the kitchen for some water when the phone started chirping again. Here we go again, I think out loud.  For a moment, I ponder of ignoring it altogether and keep on going in whichever way I am headed. 

But you never know, so I retrace my steps back to where I just was and pick up the phone.  Again it reads unavailable ID. If it’s that woman again I’ll say I’m in the middle of something and hang up, instead of giving her a piece of my mind.

WORKING IT OUT

The call however, is from my buddy. By the clock I see, it is almost noon.

“How are things?” He asks.

“I’m feelin’ alright,” I answer with relief. 

“What have you been up too?”

“Working things out.”

“Anything wrong?” My buddy asks. A slight tension summons from his invasive voice.  He always knew my mind was unsettled when I was working-things-out.

“Not a thing. I just feel like working out, no particular reason,” I say as switch the phone into my opposite hand. “Is there something you need at the moment?”

“Yes it’s about work. There is a possibility of a job.”

“Go ahead,” I say.

“Can you write poetry?”

“Poetry!” I shot back with surprise. “What’s this craziness about poetry?”

POETICALLY SPEAKING

“It’s a promising publication where someone I know works puts out this semi-popular daily fiction for all folks young and old, mainly women though, and they’re looking for someone to brush up on their poetic submissions. They want a choice selected poem a day. The work is easy but the pay not-so-much. And if things work out they may string you along until there is some real editorial work to be—?”

“Easy? Are you crazy?” I say. “And now you hold on just one minute.  I’m looking for something more along the lines of manual labor. Something that makes good use of my hands. And just where did you come up with this idea of brushing up on poetry?”

“Well, I remember you said use to write poetry and other things when you were younger, like high school and whatnot.”

“For the high school newspaper, yes I wrote. But not poetry. It was more such and such second team won the state spelling bee; the JV soccer squad put a beatdown on the Varsity’s season of dreams; the physics professor fell down the stairs and into the principle’s chair. Silly little articles like that I wrote. But not poetry. I have not a clue about poetry.”

“Not real poetry, just the kind of poems women and men alike of all ages might like to read and think on. They don’t even have to be that good. It’s not like they are expecting you to write like Ginsberg or Shakespeare, just whatever you can work out and make do.”

“I absolutely cannot write make-do poetry,” I scoff at the very idea.

“Umph!” Pouts my buddy. “This talk of manual labor though. Make me understand how this is materializing for you, could you be—?”

“Several prospects had already come my way. The final word will come sometime soon. If these fall through perhaps I’ll consider this poetry thing,”

“Oh? Okay. Have it your way. Hey say, what day is it today?”

“I haven’t a clue,” said from a simple thought. “Why do you ask?”

“You know why,” he starts in with a new tone of voice. “Do you really think you need more work? You always go off looking for something more when you are bored.”

“Please enlighten me?” I spurt out. Yet another surprise? Is everyone in this universe out to shake me up over the phone today? “Why shouldn’t I be looking for work? Another three plus months and my nest egg will dry up. Do you not understand? This is no time for idle hands.”

“You’ve got a handle on things. You always do. You and your odd creative habits keep your hands plenty busy. Besides, you are blessed enough to have food on the table. And to provide with your perpetually full plate?”

“I don’t know,” I say with complete honesty. I really don’t. “Let me see how I feel after I think it over.”

“Do think it over,” he reiterated. “Oh and by the way did you hear about the woman in Nevada that somehow snuck that elephant out of the zoo?”

“An elephant? How and the hell? Caught off guard, I realize I’d forgotten about the call drawn up a short while ago. “No, I haven’t heard of it.”

“Sounds crazy right? What would make her feel like an elephant needed to be snuck out of a zoo? And get this, according to the news they might be hiding out near you.”

I give an off beat, spur-of-the-moment reply, switching the phone back to my “write” hand. 

“If they’re anywhere near here, my guess is that they’re probably hiding out in that clearing at the end of that one path at the fork in the road.  You know out by where the bluebird sanctuary is? The one bricked in by the wild? There is plenty of room to roam free for a beast that big. You know where I’m talking about don’t you? Out there on the edge of—?”

“I’m afraid I have no clue,” my buddy stops me short. “Never once have you mentioned that be—?”

“Sure, I have.” I repay his interrupting ways.

“You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t recall you ever mentioning such a place. But I have to run now. Remember to keep an eye out for that elephant. I hear there is a pretty significant reward for whoever gets it back to where it belongs.”

“Okay. Hey one more thing. Something seems different about today, so I’ll do it,” I say.

“Do what?”

“It may sound crazy but I’ll try my hand at that poetry thing.”

“Perfect! Let me know when you are ready, and I’ll get you set up. I promise you, you are going to fit right in. It’s right up your alley.”

“What if I’m ready now.”

“Well then give me something, so I can show them what you got.”

I hung up the phone and wrote a little poem.

The record spins in silence, except for a slight repetitive thump upon every other revolution. Into the void of the phone I stare for a moment before tossing it back onto the couch. I dig deep for what little faith I have left in myself. Perhaps it hides in a place I could not see.

A PROMISING DIRECTION

I put on my worn out shoes, stomp out the door and go for that run.  I knew exactly where I was going for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. I come to the path at the fork in the road. I take the way in which no one saw coming, not even me, because the path I have chosen is my own.

I approach the clearing. A bluebird chirps wild with celebration. There stands a woman alone. She looks a little out of place but nowhere near lost. She looks like Heaven.

“Have you seen an elephant around here?” I ask surprised.

With a smile as wide as a mile itself and glowing crystalline eyes, she says with the slightest tear and a little giggle, “I set him free.”

“Really! How?” asking with astonished amazement.

“I’m not sure. I guess by just being me. But in all reality you’re the one who drew this all up. So you tell me, why did you do it?”

“I was woken up by the strangest phone call this morning and—by the way, who are you?”

“How was your spaghetti?” She asks without answering.

“Oh, you know me, overdone and a bit too mushy. But enough chirping about me. How are you?”

“I’m fine!”

“Now you tell me? Do you like poetry?

“Sure. Perhaps maybe I do.”

“Well here, I cooked this mushiness up for you.”

IN RETROSPECT

I have had a lot of time to think lately. A lot. Thinking about all the words, all the creative avenues that I choose to allow my soul to travel through. The writing, the amusing of musical instruments, the photography, the cooking, the anonymity, the mentoring, the teaching, the cheffing, the creating, the fathering, but the one that most makes up me other than being a father, is indeed poetry. It has for a long time. I just never wanted to believe it, or in myself for that matter.

But the only way I can achieve the creative dream I wish to achieve, is by allowing all of these imaginative avenues the right to finally intersect in the heart of me. So if you fancy mediocre poetry, click on the link for a look see at the hidden poetic side of me.

https://www.instagram.com/promising_poet/

And to think, perhaps, ten minutes is the perfect amount of time that it takes to let the bluebird sing and not just cooking spaghetti al dente.

Now where were we…

—Ryan

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