So, it is Fat Tuesday. Meaning it is almost Lent. In Milwaukee. Meaning it is Pączki Day. And the office fun committee made sure those special Polish pastries are available for staff in the lunch room.
Not from Milwaukee? Not Polish? A member of the fun committee smiled and said, “Everyone is Polish on Pączki Day.”
Yesterday’s afternoon walk was a bit chilly. Air temperature was around 10°F with wind chill of -7°F. Especially at the corner of Broadway and East Wisconsin. It was practically a wind tunnel. Crossing Water Street was not much better. But I finally made it across the bridge and to the River Walk.
The river was not quite frozen. And for the most part, very few people are out for a wintery stroll. One woman pulled her faux fur lined hood over her head and quickly shuffled out of the Wells Fargo building to a waiting SUV. A couple guys, both dressed in thick dark coats, waited for a bus. There was a man waiting at the street corner smoking a cigarette. He wore a red flannel jacket and no gloves.
Funny how cigarette smoke is so distinct in the frigid air. The subtle distinctions between Camel Turkish Gold 100’s, Marlboro Red, Newport Menthol Blue and Chesterfield Bronze is almost as unmistakable as the scent of a fajita or a falafel. Wondered why he had no gloves.
There was a Tranströmer poem I tried to recall as I walked along the River Walk. My breath, thick clouds, attempted to signal a line of the poem. What was it about? A train? A couple in a hotel? Something about night? Or was it a horizon? The frozen river surface does not help. And forty minutes in the cold temperature sent me back to the warm harbor of the office building.
So, the highways and roads were a bit slippery with tonight’s snowfall. Traffic was slow due to multiple auto accidents and road conditions.
But it is Wisconsin. And it is January. And it warmed up to 13°F — which is better than this morning at -8°F.
Glad to be off the roads. Time to warm up with a hot toddy. Awhile back I read this article from The Guardian on how to make the best hot toddy. My tonic is pretty simple: 2 ounces of boiled water, 1 ounce Knob Creek, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, a pinch of nutmeg and 3 cloves.
But what if I am out of cloves?
Here is the big question for tonight, do I substitute nutmeg and cloves with a stick of cinnamon? What is your recipe for the perfect winter night hot toddy?
It is difficult to believe that it is winter in Wisconsin. The weather reports offer that snowfall is in the forecast for this weekend and sub zero temperatures. But for now, a lunch time walk along Milwaukee’s River Walk is a damp pleasure.
Often, lunch time is in opportunity for a walk. It breaks the day up and offers a time to disengage from work-related tasks and refresh the mind. Walking also allows some exercise for the body. Or at least that is what I try to tell myself as I walk down Mason to Prospect in below freezing—but sunny—weather.
I brought my camera along to see if I could capture some construction site photos for an ad I am designing. Once I get to The Calling sculpture by the art museum, I start thinking about composing shots of the subject. It is a high-rise building under construction.
I remove the lens cover, select camera filters, and compose a shot; the sound of heavy machinery fill the lakefront. It is a sound of one clattering, moaning creature that rises into the sky. The sound from the building site can be heard blocks away—as far as Cathedral Square. Some days I get to the office early—before the construction site roars to life—and I hear the call of lake gulls echo off the crowded buildings of East Town.
I take a dozen shots before walking a block to get a different angle of the subject—new perspective, change of lighting, and so on. That’s when I notice her.
I had been scanning through the photos on the camera’s display screen and dodging patches of ice on the bridge walkway to the War Memorial Center before I noticed her. She stands to the south of the bridge in a space outside the War Memorial Center that overlooks Lincoln Memorial Drive.
She looks at me as she switches cameras. There is a vintage quality to the camera in her gloved hands. Looks like a Hasselblad 500C/M. The other camera looks like a Yashica-Mat. And a third camera looks more like mine—a DSRL. I slow my pace. Do I want to photograph the high-rise building from the same spot has her? Based on her gear, she knows what she is doing. I hate to disturb her shot.
But she packs her camera gear. We pass on the bridge. I take a dozen photos where she once stood. I cross the bridge, pass by the Cudahy Tower, take a few more shots on Mason Street and return to the office.
A thought follows me like a shadow. In anonymity we captured the same subject matter. On the same spot. The same day. During the same hour. We will both have a record of that moment. But we will never meet.
Sometimes you have to share a moment with a stranger.
The wind chilled my hands as I walked. Needed to stretch my legs after a long commute. I had watched the sky from the green space west of Oak Leaf Trail. Had not planned to compose a photo of the scene. Only enjoy it.
But the desire to compose a photograph won over and I moved closer to the walking bridge over Lincoln Memorial Drive. I stood for awhile watching the beauty of the morning unfold. There will never be another morning like this. Not in thousand years. Once a morning is spent, it can never be duplicated. I have read how the great masters of haiku captured moments in a few lines. Saved them for centuries. Could I do the same? With a photograph?
I do not know how long I stood there. But after I composed a few shots, I placed my camera back in my bag. I noticed an older man to the north. He stood near the walking bridge. I had seen him while walking, but did not notice him while photographing the scene.
We stood there for a moment together watching the sun rise, the clouds, the lake, the lights, the darks. Amid the roar of construction behind us and the wind, it was a quiet moment. My hands grew cold. I saw the stranger pull a mobile device from his pocket. He held it to the sky. Tried to capture the same thing I did. We tried to haiku a morning in a thousand pixels.
He still stood there when I departed and walked north on Prospect Drive.
There is so much to confess. A thousand things must be confessed.
Thirteen moons since last I confessed (see previous confessions below).
What is confession? The admission of guilt? A written or oral disclosure of activity committed that requires reconciliation, restitution, and restoration?
Confessional poetry of the 1950s and 1960s (think of poets like John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell) forever changed the course of American poetry. It was less of a religious expression and more of a psychological therapy for the poet(s).
When I first started posting confessions it was somewhere closer to a Japanese renga meets an American confessional poem meets to-do-list.
But those confessions, those poems, those lists, fell into my beard and the rain washed them down Jefferson Street to the Third Ward. I’ve been trying to locate them… in coffeeshops… underpasses… side streets… and park lots…
Two authors provided me with food for thought during the last week or so. “Courting the Gargoyle”1 by Sheryl Monks explores the dichotomy many writers experience.
“I’ve taken to describing myself as part cheerleader, part gargoyle. The cheerleader, . . . is a powerful avatar, . . . . hopeful, peace-broker . . . . She sees the world democratically; it’s flawed, . . . but it’s not without beauty. . . . the gargoyle is fragile. The gargoyle sets the bar too high, and as a result, the world and the people in it disappoint.”
While you digest that idea, Ann E. Michael confesses that she is too busy to write. Unlike many writers who become jaded and obsessed with lack of discipline and failure, she is hopeful.
“I have not been weeding, as I have not been writing. Other priorities are claiming the be-here-now of my life; but I’m happy to find that the garden, and my writing life, can be sustained through other things and returned to at better times.”2
I confess, I have not weeded the garden either. Yet, providentially, the tomatoes, beans and chard have grown in abundance. I am part gargoyle. The part that never sees the light of social media. I have not written consistently (or as consistently as I planned. . . the gargoyle again.) Midimike commented that there will be time “to write about all those days when you were too busy to write!”3 I am part cheerleader. The brief smile that flickers across the light of social media.