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Across the Years by Tony Press

May 13, 2012

The guy walked to his motorcycle, climbed on, made the sign of the cross, and drove off. I wondered did he do that every time or was there something on his mind that prompted the act. There was no church on the block, so that wasn’t it. But away he went, heading south toward the highway, and I continued in the same direction, but on foot, and, as far as I could tell, less protected than he. I’ve heard that poetry is prayer, and I’ve read that writing is prayer, and I’ve played in both pools, but I’ve never felt any more secure after doing either.

For most of my life I had no religious or spiritual leanings, but I have a sort-of-a friend who is a priest, and a real friend who used to be a nun. I also knew an ex-priest toward the end of his life, and that was a powerful time for each of us. I think had I known him earlier – he had been a priest for thirty years, then not one for twenty – I would have learned something more, though I can’t say what it would be, about my own life. I now claim I’m a Buddhist but sometimes it is only a claim.

Once I was a disc jockey, in the days when disc jockeys played music and spoke into the night with dulcet tones. I worked the late shift, and sometimes the all-nighter, spinning tales of woe and wonder and lust, with 45s, albums, and my own voice. I felt connected to unseen folks in ways I’ve rarely felt with people right in front of me. It’s like when I travel and speak Spanish, and I find my self far more open, with new friends and with strangers, than I am at home, in English. Speaking into the microphone, tucked into Studio A and the dim light of the board, I was both encouraged and encouraging, with no sense of expectation. Would that all of our conditions offered the same.

I wasn’t religious or anything, in that radio time of my life, but there was something about giving my words into the night airwaves, just putting them out there, where they might descend beyond my control or imagination. Everyone should have such an opportunity. All these years later, I often wonder if anyone remembers what I might have said. I can remember much of the music, but little of the language.

All these years later – there’s a phrase I never anticipated – I speak less, and listen more, if someone speaks to me, or near to me, and feel more alone than ever.

Maybe the motorcycle guy feels the same, and that’s how he deals with it. At the corner, coming from a jukebox across the street, I hear somebody sing: “I’ll never get out of this world alive.”

I make the sign of the cross and walk on.

Tony Press lives near San Francisco. Poetry: The Postcard Press; 34th Parallel; Postcard Press; Contemporary Verse 2; Right Hand Pointing; Inkwell; Spitball; more. Fiction: JMWW; Rio Grande Review; BorderSenses; SFWP Journal; Switchback; Toasted Cheese; Boston Literary; Qarrtsiluni; Foundling Review; Menda City; 100 Word Story; Tales from the Courtroom; and more. Non-fiction in Quay and Toasted Cheese. He strives to live with compassion and awareness.


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  • May 23, 2012

    Thanks for sharing that intimate reflection, Tony. A poet who reads locally her in the San Francisco area burns incense before he does so–he says it is the tradition of his people to sanctify the air before speaking so as not to offend the gods. I like the idea of treating public speaking as a sacred act, or at least as a privilege to be respected. Your service as a disc jockey brings this to mind. It is a privilege to speak for others — as a poet, writer, lawyer, politician — and the privilege is to be honored. I connect with the allusion to Hank Williams', "I'll never get out of this world alive." So true! And so healthy to laugh at the absurdity of a life that ends, as Hank does in that tune, as Mexicans do during Dia de Los Muertos. You've done a lot with few words, good sir.

  • May 23, 2012

    Lovely words spun as usual into something that leans toward the sacred, yet humble. Well done.