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I Bet

Sitting in class during 6th grade, waiting for the teacher's arrival, a few kids engaged in a conversation about whether there was life after death.

My best friend was John. His father was a noted geologist who worked for the metallurgical society in Ohio.

Like his father, John was an atheist. He was adamant that we just go to the soil to be eaten by worms after we die. And that's all there is; there is no soul or spirit.

Somehow, that made no sense to my 10-year-old mind because I lived with a deep sensibility of the unseen even then. John got bitterly angry with me because I said I believed there is life after death. He even said he couldn't be my friend anymore if I persisted in accepting it.

My father never went to church, and I was pretty irreligious too. Still, from my earliest memories, I lived with the feeling of an unseen realm. I felt I was even visited on occasion. So, my belief was not conditioned by a religious upbringing at all.

John invited me on a picnic to meet his scientist father. It was an annual picnic for the metallurgic group his father worked for. John's father soon cornered me and asked me about my belief in an afterlife. He assured me that it didn't exist, that his scientific knowledge proved it didn't. Then he said that unless I gave up what I believed, I could not be his son's friend anymore.

Wow, a 10-year-old was a threat to a scientist. I felt like I was on another planet. It's important to note, I never pushed or preached my point of view. Others would draw me out by asking my opinion, and I was simply honest to state what it was.

After the picnic, John caught me at school and told me that his father had forbidden him to be my friend anymore. He said he would honor his father's wishes and that was that -- unless I renounced believing in an unseen world.

I told John that I couldn't stop trusting in some kind of life after death, though I had no idea exactly what it consisted of.

Emboldened by his father's decree, he made fun of me in front of the other kids.

I told him that I would make a bet with him. He agreed. I said, "Whatever currency is on the other side, a hundred." He scoffing, laughed, and said, "No worries."

John never spoke to me again.

55 years later, I still hope I don't have the opportunity to say I told you so.

 

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Hodgkinson’s Uncommon Sense Maxims

“It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.” –Mark Twain

All means of contact
cannot mend a broken relationship
until we restore connection within.

All alienation from others
begins as estrangement
from certain aspects of ourselves.

All ties to others are a projection
of our relation to ourselves.

Remember:
To love our neighbor
as ourself presupposes that
we love ourselves.

Love our neighbors as if
they are us.
“Treat others as we would want
others to behave toward us.”
Why? There is no other
way to love ourselves genuinely.

To “love God with all our heart,
soul, mind, and strength” is
to gift ourselves
with the highest honor.

Why?
Because who are we
if not, first of all,
a representation of the Creator?
Therefore, to honor our Source
is to honor ourselves.

–Limericist 2008

 

Punched Punches

*

this marine came from a long line of them
you know the ones flying the –don’t tread on me
claim that they never start it but proudly finish it
they like to say –don’t get my nationality up
as if that should frighten the bejesus out of you
they say –I’m a counterpuncher, watch out
yeah, I know, tell me about it –fraudulent
I know from personal experience, tried that
squirt, the bully name-called me
so I decided I’d break their nose first
wham, when I got cornered -this tactic stunk
why? because I broke way too many noses
and mine broken many times too
all abusers got abused first and justified
being hurtful to others, excusing themselves
if you dig deep enough, everyone has a story
told –take it on the chin –stiff upper lip
–don’t be a sissy –you got to get tough
we didn’t –just hid behind our scarred masks
something crosses our will; we get cross
words fly like patriot missiles, unfriendly fire
changing brothers and sisters into enemies
after all, the rage is justified –is that so?
–so, fighting fire with fire is workable in ’21?
How about spritzing some gas on it too?
–hatred must be snuffed by hating –correct?
yeah, get your nationality, color, whatever, up
–after all, they did it first
wait just a doggone minute

*

Limericist 2021

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2021 in About Me, Essays, Poetry

 

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African Wise Man

In Memory of Imbayi Francis

We walked together
with many smiles on those dusty Kenyan roads.
You taught me how to see
through your African face. We laughed. We wept.

I was a young, 28-year-old, hot-headed foreigner,
but you patiently led me by the hand
and showed me your home, taught me your language and customs.
You were my multilingual interpreter.

You were wise, and I, often, foolish.
So many times, I tested you,
challenged by my inability to patiently listen.
You deferred
and heard between the lines for me.

Your smile was always on the ready,
a palliative measure against my frustration.
You were the consummate diplomat.

You were the wise old man of twenty-five —
I, the American
who was supposed to know everything. Right? Nope.

You were also a tough footballer with feet like iron.
That afternoon on Shibuli field,
I was supposed to be the striker.
You accidentally confused the side of my knee for the ball.
I was hobbled on a crutch for a year.  Ouch.

We always enjoyed each other’s company.
You became my best friend. I believe you felt the same of me.

You understood I was the lost child there.
You guided me patiently
and taught me how to love Africa
despite my culture shock.

That sad day, you went to your last bed of pain.
Diabetes unwound you
until your black eyes disappeared behind your smile forever.  You faded away.
You were a friend of the Savior.
He carried you across in peace.
Now you know the whole story.

A piece of me left with you. O Francis Imbayi.

My eyes see more now because you once knew me
as a friend – and I knew you,
African wise man.

Brian Hodgkinson Jr. 2007

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2021 in About Me, Memoir, Poetry

 

Enigma Mine







*

I was exotic once
like brie and oolong tea
like pinot noir from France
I made a rare appearance
I was exotic once

I was quixotic once
devoted to romance
not afraid to take a chance
adventured with my lance
I was quixotic once

I was erotic once
like Don Juan, I’d dance
with heated tumescence
I’d often lose my pants
I was erotic once.

I was idiotic once
with pants full of ants
going on my rants
like a St. Vitus dance
I was idiotic once

I was dogmatic once
with air-tight defense
so sure of my stance
pronouncing my sentence
I was dogmatic once

I am enigmatic now
as my years advance
not so bothered by the ants
but finding new expanse
I am enigmatic now

*

Limericist, 2006/2021

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2021 in About Me, Poetry

 

Almost Entered

O moon, why are you vain tonight?
inflated with yourself so bright
I walk this forest meadow lit
by your luminescent grin

You cause the trees to cast about
as giants stumble when they doubt
from shadow creatures thin and stout
the crickets make a din

I see a chanted castle grand
upon a misted hilltop stand
it’s stretching out a ghostly hand
that tempts me to come in

The vision dimmed, the nightshades grew
your swollen face turned black and blue
eclipsed your glare, I lost my view
the portal closed within

I groped along the stone-toothed road
now dark as muck, though once it glowed,
and felt as if I should have slowed
to wait for you again.

*

Limericist, 2008/2021

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2021 in About Me, Memoir, Poetry

 

First Lesson

Traumatic experiences are always present-tense to us. I am writing my earliest childhood memories as they happened to me 60 years ago:

He lumbers up the stairs and smacks the door. “Are you home?” he roars. Mom sign-languages me not to make a peep. She pretends that she wants him to go away. Through the door, he hears her snicker and tries to force his way in, bawling his protests of being kept out.

I’m only three, but I help my mother hold the door closed, terrified. She pretends she wants to keep him out, but her smile is a fishy giveaway. She slurs her words and smells like what she’s drinking. The loud man comes in after banging and cursing. He smells just like her, a combination of cigarettes and drinks.

The man likes big-time wrestling and sits staring at a black-and-white TV in the smoke-hazy room. On it, big fat bodies are slapping each other. Brown bottles with cigarette butts litter the dingy room. In a stairwell with itching eyes, a 3-year-old boy watches.

Later, alone in my crib, I wait for someone to act like my mother. I wallow in a day-old mess, soaked and cold. A coke bottle with a rubber nipple stuck on it next to me.

Next scene, mom with thick reddish hair sits across a glossy table with her face in her hands, sobbing and repeating, “I don’t want to give you up.” She turns to me and begs, “Please always take care of your little brother.” I hear her but forbid her words. My mind argues, “You can’t do this. You are not leaving. I don’t accept this. This can’t stand.”

Next, my brother and I are in a vast open dormitory-style room lined with cribs. I mark the one that’s my brother’s and watch it like a security guard. I am protective since our mother hasn’t returned yet. Likewise, I fear they may try and take away my brother too.

Above my bed, a square hatch is on the ceiling. It looks like a little door above my head. The other kids tell me that the boogeyman lives up there and will come down to eat me when I sleep. I am not planning to sleep ever again anyway.

All night, I tried my hardest to always watch my brother’s crib and the little door above. But waking in the morning only to discover my brother is gone. Enduring incredible frustration and fear, I am panicking.

Not only that, but I run around in circles asking everyone if they know where my little brother is. I am taken to a fat man behind a desk who tries to cool me down. He offers me candy and toys if I only stop my fussing. He says I don’t have a brother anymore, and I have to get used to the idea. I become louder and more tearful, shouting, “NO, no, no!” Toys and candy are nothing to me. I WANT MY BROTHER NOW!

Forlorn and miserable, I’m led back to the playroom. A boy named Jimmy tinkles on a metal firetruck while I watch. He says my little brother won’t ever be coming back. He continues, “Once they take them, they never come back.” I cannot accept this. Overwhelmed with grief, I blackout. I was told later that I was taken to the emergency room.

To my relief, my brother returns. I had crashed so entirely that they feared for my life. There were no two ways about it. My brother and I would stay together.

Next scene, our adoption agent, Mrs. Robinson, tells me that some friendly people want to be our new parents. I’m still convinced my real mother is going to pick us up. Furthermore, my mind tells me that I shouldn’t be in this situation. I already have a mom.

The day comes, Mrs. Robinson takes me to the bathroom and dunks my head in a sink full of hot water. She’s anything but gentle. I fight her off. Business-like, she teaches that I must make an excellent impression on our possible new parents. She rubs my ears red, noting how filthy I am. My brother isn’t with us because only I can talk articulately. I also can understand him, but no one else can. Mrs. Robinson drives me to a big red house with a lake. She tells me to go up to the giant front door and knock. I’m scared, but follow orders.

A beautiful blond-haired lady with a warm smile greets me, inviting me in. We sit at a wooden table in a dim room. She uses several telephone books to get my face higher than the table. She is pleasant and expresses surprise at how well we can talk together. I am her “little gentleman caller.”

I don’t remember what we discussed, but I sure liked talking to her. She asked if I wanted some coffee. Then she asked if I knew what coffee was. “Yes.” I fibbed. I did not want to miss out on whatever she was offering. She put warm milk with lots of sugar in a cup with a dribble of coffee. The problem is, I am lactose intolerant.

In a very few minutes, my eyes open wide with that urge. I shout, “I have to shit!” Shocked, she thought it hilarious. She asks, “What did you say?” I repeat myself. I warn her that if you don’t get me to a toilet right away, I will shit myself. She leads me to the bathroom. She asks me how I learned the word shit.

Her question puzzles me. She tells me that the word shit is a bad word. I misunderstand because, to me, a bad word means the wrong meaning. I argue, “shit is the word and I have to shit now.” She explains that “unintelligent people” use that word. If I want to be polite and intelligent, I say, “BM.” I insist that the word shit is the correct word.

She replies patiently, “It’s okay. I thought you were an intelligent and polite boy. But I could be mistaken.” So, to impress her, I repeat, “BM, BM, BM, I have to go BM.” In this way, I experienced my first lesson from my beautiful mother-to-be.

*

Limericist, 2008/2021

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2021 in About Me, Memoir

 

A Crossroad Day

a crossroad day
arrives with a soliloquy of
whys


sweat drenches the bed
an overhead fan is moving
very slowly (flies are hopping a ride)
i watch it be useless
it hums hypnotic

tears run sideways to the ears
i smell bad to myself
nose itches filled with disgusting
black boogers from sooty smog
a cacophony day and night
from please-honk-okay vehicles
blaring laaree gari & motor-ricks
traveling some 40-odd kilometers
from the airport to Ramat Hotel
clingy sounds and smells
follow into the room
and onto the bed
unwelcome


jet-lag & bleary-eyed
lying in bed and watching a fan
in Mumbai near Grant Rd train station
there to speak at a college
but feeling useless and empty
beat-up from family issues
numb from paddle-wheel
conversations
self-pity throat-sobs convulse
but hear an almost audible voice and
know it from some distant long-ago life
and realize a lost child is speaking up
to prevent self-destructing
by a reality-check
saying

there is only one
you & i
must live with
on this earth
here and now
and it is me
myself
and i
so why should you shame
your undivorceable life partner?
you are your own traveling companion
from this moment to your last breath
and possibly beyond
so why waste the journey
trying to change what you cannot?
never
never
never
never
side with anyone against yourself
no more from now until my last breath
vow to honor, respect, and love
me, myself, and i
from this now to every other
as the very best way
to honor my source

the other dress-up self scoffs
arguing chanting
its familiar diatribe began
it is all gone
you loser
repeat gone
you flunky
pronounce it & say it
certify yourself a failure
wrong to the root

hearing the familiar mantra
then noticing
a legion demon-voice
mimicking mine in a thousand others
that crossroad day
the next moment budded like a spring day
from hearing my forever-young child
its word is here now
and always nearer than my breath

knowing now with fresh self-respecting eyes
a father
mother
sons
daughters
relatives
no matter how I try to hold them close
crying pushing
and shoving is futile
for these cannot be anything else
then what they already are
non-negotiable facts

awake now
must use the bathroom
almost would rather piddle the bed
resisting the strange fishy commode
but finally
venture to tinkle in its hole
do not know how long i lay in that putrid bed
lost track of time — it may have been days
I feel a new adventure beginning
living with myself on my terms
with my child at one with source
from now on determined
to cultivate the experience
of being
my own best friend

from that crossroad day
the child wants to soar through
former shadows up and out
making them into new playthings
for everything is a chance to allow
the constant romance
it can seem like a long way off
to reach a crossroad day
the junction can be found
where the pain is seen as only pain
and nothing more
not someone or your self

Never allow yourself
to be taken hostage
by the story of
another but also
release everyone
you may be
holding captive
to yours

ignore the parroting mimic
those false dress-up selves
who would steal your voice
and your very life
then you will discover
your child is always waiting
to come out
to play

the giggle of a child resurfaced
lying on a wet stinky bed near a train station
on a crossroad day

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2021 in About Me, Essays, Memoir, Poetry

 

Hasira Hasara

Hasira Hasara

When I was about 5, I remember my dad’s books. It was the 60’s and one of them stuck out to me:
The Ugly American.

I went to Kenya in my mid 20’s. I was there for humanitarian reasons. When I arrived, I met other Americans who were squabbling over a Kenyan development project. They were bitter because they felt the other team cheated them. They were even taking their matters to the Kenyan courts against each other.

I was saddened and disillusioned by the behavior of my fellow citizens overseas. The organization that brought me to Kenya wanted me to join the fray against their opposition. I opted out. I did not sign up to be another ugly American overseas. I went to Kenya to be an ambassador of good news and to give hope to suffering people. Within a few weeks, my organization had vilified me like I was a rogue and renegade, all because I refused to fight for a wrong cause. I could not, in good conscience, claim to promote good news while acting like bad news.

The leader in Kenya withheld my support funds to force me back to the States. I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle, it seemed. But I knew that I had not gone there for the reasons they wanted me there. So, against all odds, I decide to go independent depending only on God for my support.

I stayed in Kenya for 14 years as an ambassador of good news. My family of 6 was with me.

I remember asking my friend Imbayi Francis, “What do you think of Americans?” He was a humble and shy person but answered with a grin, “Why do they talk through their noses?” That struck me as hilarious, and we guffawed together heartily. Yes, we use many nasal sounds compared to Africans. He continued, “Americans seem like angry people. Why so angry when they have so much?”

His childlike candor struck me like a slap in the face. I knew he was right. I asked Imbayi, “Why are Kenyans so laid back when they seem to have so little?” He paused a moment and said, “We have a proverb that says in Swahili, ‘hasira hasara’ which means in English ‘anger is loss.’ Our proverbs tell a story. The direct translation of hasira hasara is a word picture from Mombasa. There is a fish in the ocean we call ‘hasara.’ It is a proud and angry fish that will attack anything. Though it is a small fish, it will always attack what is bigger even if it’s a fishing boat. It will beat its head against the boat until it brains itself to death. Americans need to know hasira hasara, anger is loss.”

I went to teach in Africa and was taught by Africa.

Limericist, 2021

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2021 in About Me, Essays, Poetry

 

Passengers

Passengers

I am a space traveler. I have tried to figure out how fast this satellite is moving. It boggles the mind. Earth travels several billion miles every year in its orbit around the sun. The sun and solar system travel through the galaxy at an almost inconceivable speed as well. There is more. The Milky Way travels through the universe with the other galaxies too. The universe travels too?

We are all travelers on a journey without end. The nature of energy is that it’s always on the move. The light within every atom is in vibratory motion. What scientists believe is that all matter is relative to light. In other words, everything is a form of energy. And, as I pointed out, it is moving.

If there is one thing that should unite us, it is this: We are all traveling into the Great Unknown. And, we all fear the journey to varying degrees. The fact is that everything travels. This movement means everything has the capacity to collide. Everything crashes sooner or later. None of us get off this flight alive. It’s universal law.

I’m a flight attendant among many passengers. I am a passenger too, of course. My purpose is to make others comfortable during their journey. While serving others, I am cared for too. We are all part of this universal process.

Even though I care for others, the most important trust I have is to care for myself. In fact, my care for others can only be as good as my care for me. This agrees with the idea of The Golden Rule. “Do to others what you would wish they would do for you.” Do I wish someone to help me? Then, help them. A question I want to explore is what I wish others would do toward me. As a fellow traveler, I come up with ideas of how I can assist others. This takes mindful consideration of my own wants and needs.

Interstellar travel is fun and exciting but also frightening. There is no getting off this ride alive. One could decide to take an early exit, but most of us will fly to our destination. One thing is for sure, it can be a bumpy and uncomfortable experience. Suffering is universal, though I am thankful I am not aware of it all the time. Suffering does not have to be miserable. Suffering is inevitable, while misery is optional. Misery is from a dramatic story I tag on to my allotted share of suffering. It makes suffering intolerable. Pain caused by unavoidable circumstances produces suffering. Though most suffering is inescapable, I believe we can overcome misery. It can be avoided altogether.

Misery results from resistance to suffering. It is remarkable for its psychological and emotional angst. It has a strangling effect on life. It is amplified by excessive worry and complaint. These are products of fear. The compounding effect anxiety has on pain accentuates misery. It is suffering squared. Maybe this is what FDR was getting at when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fearing fear magnifies inevitable suffering into a bogey man of giant proportions. Fearing fear often kills faster than the killer.

So, the main discomfort on this flight is the fear of departure and arrival. As a flight attendant, I understand. I try to give comfort by making sure refreshments are always available along the way. I’m ready for whatever my fellow passengers may want or need. The only limit to this is my own self-care. I have to refresh myself first before I can help anyone else. I am not advocating crass selfishness, but rather a healthy self-interest. My attention to others is reflective of my own for me.

My job on this flight is to make the transition from departure to arrival easier. When there is turbulence, I try to allay fear and give comfort. I remind the passengers that the greatest Pilot is in control. There will be turbulence. I do not like it much either. It is what it is, and nothing more: turbulence. I encourage the passengers to fasten their seat belts. And, if necessary, brace for impact. I know it is coming. So do we all. We should all help each other get through this. Yet, whatever this is, I know one thing: A safe landing is ahead.

Limericist, 2012

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2020 in About Me, Essays, Memoir