Month: May 2017

What the Unicorn Is

ca. 1602 — The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino — Image by © Alinari Archives/CORBIS

Have you ever seen an actual live unicorn? What does it look like? How does it behave? How would you feel in the presence of this one-horned beast?

Just what is the unicorn, anyway? you may implore.

I’d love to answer that question, but prose cannot do the unicorn justice. Its essence can only be conveyed with poetry. And so I’ve written the following poem, explaining just what the unicorn is:

WHAT THE UNICORN IS

The unicorn cannot be fathomed by the rich,
Nor grasped by the poor.
No amount of money can buy it.
No vow of poverty can conjure it.
Many paths lead toward it,
But it is never found at the ends of those paths.
It cannot be summoned,
Except by its wordless name.
If you let it go, it will leave,
Unless you let go of the letting go.
A tamed mind cannot find it
Unless that mind goes wild again.
It is neither proud nor humble,
Happy or sad,
Good,
nor bad.
It is nothing.
Yet it is everything.

I hope this poem has dispelled all the mystery.

The Chichimeca War

It could have happened anywhere in the world, but this time it happened in Central Mexico. Central Mexico was then known as New Spain.

In 1546, just four years before the war began, a band of Indians possessed some rocks laced with silver. And they made a deadly mistake with those rocks. They showed them to a Spaniard. A silver rush quickly ensued, and soon these hapless Indians found themselves overwhelmed by hordes of Spanish settlers, greedy to mine their argent-rich hills.

But then another deadly mistake was made, and this time by the Spaniards. They decided to enslave the Indians and force them to work in their mines.

These were the Chichimeca Indians. They did not enslave easily.

They went to war against the Spanish, and these autochthonous souls held tremendous strategic advantages. They were one with the desert around them, and knew their territory far better than their adversaries. And they were nomadic, dwelling in caves, or in rudimentary shelters they could quickly construct and abandon. This made them difficult to track down. And they lived off the land, hunting and gathering, which made it impossible to cut off their food supply.

But worse than this for the Spanish, were their arrows.

The arrows they flung from their four-foot bows were long, thin, fragile missiles. In fact, these arrows were so lightweight and flimsy, it seemed laughable to the Spanish that they could pose any threat to their conquistadors clad in heavy metal armor. But they soon stopped laughing. These flying slivers were so narrow, they easily pierced through armor chinks, and slipped like cactus needles through Spanish muscle and bone.

And the Chichimecas were perhaps the best archers in the world. One Spaniard recounted a scene where he saw them heave an orange into the sky. As it soared upward, they shot that orange full of arrows. The force of the multiple impacts suspended the fruit in the air for an extended period of time before it finally dropped to the earth in disintegrated bits and pieces.

The Chichimeca conducted many successful raids against their would-be conquerors, and profited more from these sorties than the Spanish profited from their mines.

The Spanish became desperate and embarked on a campaign of “fuego y sangre”, or war of “fire and blood”. They were determined to kill any and all Chichimecas they could find. Problem was these Indians were like ghosts, and seemed to appear from thin air, and then disappear into that same element.

They exacted a heavy toll of blood and treasure on the Spanish settlers, with their raids. They even stole Spanish horses and learned how to ride them in battle, becoming the first Native Americans to utilize horses in war.

They fought like commandos. On one occasion, 50 Chichimeca warriors invaded a Spanish settlement of 2,000 people, and they slaughtered every single settler.

Statue of a dancing Chichimeca warrior.

Why did the Chichimeca fight so viciously? The main reason was slavery. They loved freedom, and hated the idea of being enslaved. So they made the Spanish pay a heavy price for this forced labor the miners relied upon.

The Chichimeca War spilled thousands of gallons of blood from 1550 to 1590. Both sides lost many lives during these four tragic decades, but the Spanish got the worst of it, by far. By 1590, they’d had enough and raised the white flag. This mighty world power conceded defeat to a small population of primitive natives.

The Spanish sued for peace. They abandoned their campaign of war by “fire and blood”, and replaced it with a policy of “peace by purchase”.

They gave food, clothing, and tools to the Chichimeca. They even gave them weapons for self-defense. And they replaced soldiers with priests, who gradually Christianized them, and helped them to assimilate into Spanish society.

Eventually hostilities died down, and the Chichimeca adopted a sedentary, peaceful lifestyle. They lived free amongst the Spanish, and ceased being a threat to them.

The Spanish colonizers learned a lesson from this and adopted a new policy. This new policy was aimed at peacefully assimilating natives, rather than trying to subdue them with violence, or force them aside.

More importantly, the Chichimeca War signaled to Spanish leadership that slavery was perhaps not the most productive or economical approach to business. And it fueled an ongoing dialogue within the Americas, Spain, and all of Europe over the abolition of slavery.

Nonetheless, the chains of slavery dragged on in the Americas. Support for it was on the wane, but even so, for the next three centuries more rebellions would have to be fought and additional blood would have to be shed, to free human beings from this treatment as chattel. Complete manumission in the New World was still a long way off, but the Chichimeca War was what really got the ball rolling in that direction.

Today the classical form of slavery that we know from history is practically extinct. But some argue that slavery still continues to a lesser degree, in various subtle forms. Forms such as poverty wages, socioeconomic repression, and suppression of worker’s rights.

And to the degree that it exists, resistance exists.

The spirit of the Chichimaca is in all of us. Because we all love freedom, and no one wants to be a slave. Thus, movements continue to thrive that pit employees against employers, the poor against the rich, and the powerless against the powerful. This is the way things will always be, to some extent. But with perseverance and determined resistance, it’s nice to know that freedom has a way of finally prevailing.

Better Than Sex

When I was young I loved sex. It consumed me. In fact I was mentally obsessed with it. About 90% of my waking thoughts involved plotting and planning on how to get laid. The other 10% involved how to make a living so that I could live long enough to actually get laid.

Sex was very frustrating. With all my plotting and planning, my rate of success finding a partner was similar to Wile E. Coyote’s success at catching the roadrunner. Except for one very willing partner whose name was Rosy Palm.

Just the same, I believed sex was the best thing in the world. I couldn’t imagine anything more thrilling or satisfying than a roll in bed with honey.

But then I got married and sex became a regular, routine activity.

And after 25 years of wedded bliss, I have reached the point of what I call, “sexual maturity”. As a mature, older man, I have come to realize that there really is something better than sex.

It’s called sleep.

A deep slumber sends the mind floating down a serene river of nerveless relaxation that is impossible to experience from sex. Sleep refreshes and renews one’s spirit, whereas sex consumes the spirit. The pleasure of sleep lasts much longer than the quick thrill of sex. And sleep has many other advantages over sex.

Men always fantasize about having multiple partners. But having multiple partners can be dangerous. It can ruin your marriage, spread horrendous diseases, and lead to paternity suits.

But under the aegis of sleep, a man can dream about having sex with many different partners, with no negative consequences whatsoever.

I’ll admit that after a good night’s sleep, my body feels kind of stiff and can have a kinked up neck or shoulders. But good sex wears my body out even worse. And the kinkier it gets, the more kinked up my body feels afterward.

Sex can require weeks, months, or even years for a man to seduce a willing partner. But if I stay awake past 9:00 pm, no seduction at all is required to lure sleep into bed.

Women can enjoy multiple orgasms, many times per day. But older guys like me can enjoy multiple naps many times per day.

The lure of sex for many is the thrilling, orgasmic climax. But I enjoy the anticlimax better. There’s nothing like that soft suasion of deep drowsiness drawing me to dreamland just minutes after the Big Bang.

So go for it, young men with raging hormones! Keep pursuing, persuading, and cajoling, trying to fulfill your sleazy fantasies. Hunt for the cunt on that long, frustrating trail to the tail. You can have it.

Meanwhile, I’ll prop my feet up on an easy chair, turn on the Golf Channel, and settle in for a long, afternoon snooze. At long last, I’ve found something much better than sex.

Marathon Heart

My father-in-law, Jake, has worked and played hard all his life. He was a machinist, and his job involved heavy lifting, hard sweating, and complex mental absorption. Back in his day, he was a man of brawn and brain.

He married his sister-in-law when he was 24, enduring all the internecine slings and arrows this relationship with his brother-in-law’s ex-wife generated. He accepted his two nieces as his own daughters, and had several more children with his sister-in-law.

Then his wife’s parents died, leaving three children of nonage. He happily took these three underage orphans into his already crowded home, and raised them into adulthood.

In those early days of the Cold War, the aerospace industry was booming, keeping machinists like Jake very busy. His average work week was about 80 hours. And the overtime pay allowed him to support and raise his large extended family, which he did cheerfully and without complaint.

Then he went into business for himself and prospered even more. His machine shop earned a nationwide reputation amongst those who needed the kind of specialty work his shop performed.

He kept very busy within those metal walls of his shop, toiling away long hours, doing the heavy lifts, sweating, straining, and responding daily to all the challenges before him.

And then abruptly at the age of 60, he retired. This man with a busy mind and active body suddenly found himself with nothing to do. But he didn’t twiddle his thumbs for very long.

Jake turned to athletics. He began competing in marathons and triathlons. He put all his mettle into this sport for the fleet of foot, and set world records for his age group.

Not only did he win many trophies and accolades, but his cardiovascular health benefited from this new hobby of his. He was in tip-top aerobic shape.

He was also an avid hiker in his retirement years. He took me with him on several hikes, and I always struggled to keep up with his fast, enduring pace. Sometimes I even had to persuade him to stop and take a break, lest I collapse.

But in his early 70’s Jake had to slow down, and then finally stop. All the heavy lifting from his machinist career, and all that post-retirement marathon running was catching up to him. His joints grew spurs and the discs in his back compressed.

He began using a cane. And now, at age 89, he’s traded the cane for a walker. Yet even with a walker, he is barely able to stay upright. He’s fallen several times and hurt himself, and has had to be helped back up to his feet. He dreads the future. He fears that soon he may be confined to a wheelchair.

Yet his heart, his heart! Oh that marathon heart of Jake’s is as strong as ever! He takes no heart medication, yet his systolic blood pressure reading is often in the 90’s, and his diastolic ranges between 45 and 70.

Poor Jake. He wants to die. He hates living like a cripple. But his heart won’t allow him to die. He’s in chronic kidney failure, and his body is bloated with water. But that marathon heart pumps strong as ever.

The doctor says that cancer may have invaded his body. He coughs a lot, and lives in constant pain. He’s incontinent also, due to stenosis in his spine. And even when he can make it to the toilet, he requires help with his hygiene. It’s very embarrassing for this man who prides himself on being independent. This man with the marathon heart.

And he can’t sleep well. But that strong heart of his won’t allow him to die in his sleep.

Jake is a hero to me. But a hero of the Greco-tragic ilk. Be careful, you marathon runners, or you may end up just like Jake. Your strong heart will force you to endure the humility and helplessness of a crippled body. It will keep you alive through the torture of all kinds of chronic illnesses. And the mercy of the grim reaper will be held at bay, while you cry out in pain and plead for the end, every day and every night.

Relax on the couch and watch TV. Eat potato chips. Allow your cholesterol level and blood pressure to rise through the roof. And persuade that coronary to overtake you now, before it’s too late.

You don’t want to end up like Jake.