Just Pie

I have a pie in the oven, an apple pie. It might have been my father’s favorite, but I don’t really know. He treasured all gifts–pies, cookies, golf balls, tie clips. They were all wonderfully the same. He treated all M&Ms like they were the last on earth, hiding them in his sock drawer and eating them one at a time. His golf bag was full of dirty old tees my brothers and I would scrounge from the bushes when we caddied. And when he died I put his ashes in a simple, unvarnished wooden urn I knew he’d prefer.

My father enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in WWII as a private, firmly believing he wouldn’t survive. But rather than getting himself shot, he ended up two years later as a captain and base commander in remote British Guyana. Mildew and rum were the greatest threats there; and whenever he entered the jungle on regular patrols to find fictional Japanese troops, the only things actually in danger of being shot were the iguanas.
It was a simple but good life in the jungle. The water was no good, but the Army made sure everyone had all the Coka Cola they could drink. And, of course, the Coka Cola went well with the rum. To more righteously boost troop morale, my father would regularly hop a C-47 to Miami to buy small packages of cactus needles for the mess hall’s old phonograph–always small packages because the constant need for replacing the quick wearing needles required frequent return trips for more. I suppose he also felt his simple life needed some contrast for its full value to be appreciated. As well, Miami’s war population had swollen with pretty women (including a few princesses) who needed his attention.
In the meanwhile, my mother, whom my father had not yet met, was attending to her own captain. He was an Air Corps man too, and like my father, did not expect to survive the war. But after a short romance, he packed up their marriage and flew off to Europe in a B-17, never to be heard from again. And my mother returned to bucking rivets on a bomber assembly line. Her needs were simple. Having spent years kneeling in prayer in a cloistered convent, she could find peace standing up all day to miles of polished aluminum. I imagine each rivet was, to her, a bead on a rosary. For my mother, the simplest efforts were gifts to God in thanks for life given. I made her urn a little fancier than my father’s. It was mahogany with a lacewood top and included a little compartment for trinkets and prayers. She wasn’t extravagant but she enjoyed nice things.

The pie has finished baking and I’m crying a little because it was for my parents and it didn’t come out perfect. Not that they would have cared, but I feel like the pie barely survived me and my oven. “For Christ’s sake,” my father would probably say. “It’s a pie, not a war!” My mother would add, “Its the most beautiful pie ever made!” Then my father would see how stubborn my disappointment was. He’d smile and probably warn, “It’s wrong to measure a pie by the battle that was fought, and then forget its sweet taste.” I miss them both.

Happy Veterans Day.

G W Sisk


Watering the Horse

“…pain…lots…sometime in the next ten days…without warning…”

The doctor might as well have warned my penis will fall off sometime in the next ten days.  So how does one wait for something that’s possibly more painful—and less productive—than childbirth?  With practice slides down a giant sword into a vat of iodine?  Or nude skydiving through a Saharan sandstorm?  Maybe body surfacing at a dry ice plant in Juneau?  All three?  But in the meanwhile, I have to pee.  I have to pee now and I’ll have to pee again in fifteen minutes.  Except, I really won’t have to pee at all.  My brain says, “Warning, sir!  Your urine reservoir is nearing critical capacity.”  I reply that I peed just fifteen minutes ago, during the last ad.  Then—

“Negative, sir.  It is time to relieve your bladder.”

“Are you kidding?  You can’t say that while the leaders are on the eighteenth green.”

“I am sorry, sir.  If you prefer, it is time to drain the dragon.”

“Dragon?  I appreciate the compliment, but I really can wait.”

“Would you consider leaking the lizard, sir?”

“That’s the same thing.  Leave me alone.”

“I know you are a reasonable man.  How about paying the water bill, sir?”

“Clever, but I’m staying put.”

(Five, four, three, two, one…)

“Damn it!  I’ll be right back.”

“Very good, sir.”

(Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven…)

“Nothing!  There was nothing!”

“Did you not make the bladder gladder, sir?”


“I am sorry, sir.  My sensors are normally quite reliable.  But do you not think there is still some steam to release from the radiator, sir?”

“There’s some steam, but it’s not in my radiator.”

“I am regretful of your present circumstance, sir.  Perhaps, after the next television ad, you will be able to shake some dew off the lily.”

“What?  Where are you getting this stuff?”

I am sorry, sir.  You left your tablet open.  Shall we change the subject to last night’s French lesson?”

“Lesson?  Uh, sure.”

“Tres bien Monsieur.  Oui oui maintenant?”

“That’s not real French.  Damn it, now I have to go again.”

“To splash the pirate, sir, or to fight the fire?”

“No, to visit the wizard, smart ass.  I know a few of those, too.”

“I am impressed, sir.  I took you as a piddly man.”


“I am sorry, sir.  I was going to say you could point piddly Percy at the porcelain.”

“Screw you.”

“Sir, I am your brain.  You have been screwing with me for a period of decades.  Is this a self-indictment?”

“Screw you twi…  Damn it!  I’ll be right back.”

“Leave no stone unturned, sir.”



Gavin W Sisk

July, 2016



All’s Fair in Love and Golf


At the driving range–
I’m swinging pretty well lately.  Really, better than I ever have.  Most of the improvement has come from recognizing my age and not swinging out of my shoes.  I may even be earning smug rights.  Catholicism be damned–why do I always need to feel bad about what I love and for coming out on top.
Anyway, the guy two stalls down is struggling to recognize his own age.  He’s also struggling with every club in his bag.  And he’s pissed.  Somewhere in his thinning hairline is the pin to a head grenade, and it’s coming loose.
“God damn it, Mike!
“You chump!  You freak!
“Just hit the fucking ball, idiot!
“You suck!  You suck!  You suck!  (He did.)
“Stupid fucking practice balls!
“What the Hell is wrong with me!
“No, dick head; not like that!  That’s bullshit!  Bullshit!
I used to sound like him too, sometimes.  When I did, others avoided me like potato salad left in the sun all day.  And though I’m generally helpful to strangers, I avoided this one.  I was almost out of practice balls and, with an empty wallet, wanted to concentrate on making the most of the ones I had left. But I couldn’t avoid him for long.  After a while he walked over to watch me.
“Jesus, you have a great swing.  You gotta have a single-digit handicap.”
“Actually, I don’t play golf.  I just come to the range once in a while to try and remember what it’s like.  I played years ago but wasn’t very good.  I certainly couldn’t hit very far.”
This wasn’t entirely true but I knew what was coming next.  I raked another ball from the tray with my eight iron and made an easy three-quarter swing, sending it on a high flight that ended a yard left of the 156 yard flag (my best swing all month).
“There, you see?  I pulled that one.  I’m getting old and I’m really not that good.”
That was that.  He walked back to his stall, picked up his clubs, and left.  That worked great for me.  He left about a hundred balls behind, and I got them all.  I probably could have followed him to the parking lot and bought his clubs cheap.  Senior discount!
Life isn’t fair, but golf always is.

Gavin W Sisk

Appealing a Banana

So, I went to my doctor because something needed looking at, and he poked around and looked at it very closely, and he referred me to a specialist who’ll look more closely still–who’ll use a camera on a ten-foot pole (a bendie ten-foot pole) to look really, really close. And at the same time, my doctor noticed my blood pressure is up, about which I thought: no duh, we both knew that ten years ago. So he ordered the phlebotomist to stick me in the inside-ouchy part of my elbow to suck out precious bodily fluids for testing because everybody (the nurses!) knows I don’t eat well most of the time (because I’m always in a hurry or late or whatever excuse is handy for shoving more carbs and fat and salt down my throat). Maybe I should change my ways–eat bananas at lunch, leave the alfredo sauce off my pasta.
It took just three days to get the lab results, which is, like, three weeks before I was really ready because I know I’m going to have to answer to somebody (oh God, the nurses!) for all my gastro-illogical sins. And then I read through the pages and pages of details of acronymical chemistry and all the ranges of values and the not-so-valuable values we all should value staying far, far away from. I read it all, digested it all, and timidly put my values up against their ranges to see how close so far to a heart attack or stroke I’ve come. And finally I found my doctor’s disappointingly breviloquent note at the bottom of the last page: “Everything normal.” And all I can think is, shit! After stuffing all that junk into my body, shouldn’t I have something more to show for it than two words and a prescription for water pills?

Dec. 2014

Tidal Fugue

Hana and I were meandering through Herring House Park on the Duwamish River Tuesday afternoon.  She started making fun of how easily I get disoriented on trails (and streets and sidewalks, public buildings, our neighborhood, our home, the bathroom).  She said it was my topical agnosia.  I told her my condition had nothing to do with the Caribbean, which made her laugh.  She said, “Dad, I said topical, not tropical.”  That was funny and it lead me on a couple of tangents before I figured out the real mistake.  I explained it’s neither topical nor tropical agnosia; it’s topographical agnosia (likely from a head injury on the farm when I was young.  But I digress).  I’m not even sure topical agnosia is a real term.  And if it were real, it would probably only denote some dysfunction related to following conversations. 

I don’t have a big problem following conversations, but squirrels can distract me–distract anyone, really.  We eat chocolate bunnies but feed squirrels.  That’s nuts, isn’t it?  So anyway, I told Hana about laws in many states making it illegal to capriciously shoot distracting wildlife that are indigenous to an area, and that some of the gray squirrels in the park may be quite shootable–presuming I was recalling correctly that brown squirrels, not gray, were indigenous to Washington.  I might be wrong.  But of course, we weren’t there to shoot squirrels.  There weren’t any squirrels anyway.

We wouldn’t be shooting bunnies either, which were what we actually came to the park to find, to watch.  We’ve seen them on other visits and wondered if they were wild (indiginous?) or just discarded or escaped pets.  It’s hard to know.  We didn’t see any today–maybe because we wandered the north half of the park.  We usually walk the south half, closer to the nature preserve on nearby Kellogg Island.  If the bunnies are associated with the island–if they’re indigenous–if the bunnies swim from their marshy island hidey-holes each morning to nibble the lush park grass, if they’re too tired to hop an extra few hundred feet north, then that would explain why we didn’t see them today.

Anyway, instead of bunnies (squirrels too), we found an old barge tied up near the shore at the far north end of the park.  Maybe it was a salvage barge–hard to tell.  What was really interesting was its rotting wooden hull.  About one-hundred-fifty feet long with a rusty steel deck: it must have been a hundred years old.  Yet it was still afloat.  Well, actually, it might not have been afloat.  The tide was unusually low and the barge was steady and very close to shore.  It could be it’s been hard-aground for decades and at high tide looks like an old dock.  And maybe it’s really just sixty years old and a hundred feet long.  It’s still cool. 

If the bush we avoided really were poison ivy, that too would have been cool.  That would have finished the story nicely.

April 16, 2014

Of Motes


My mother was a tough nut, but I made peace with her before she died.  “I love you,” was the last human sentence she heard.  I spoke it.  I also whispered it at the funeral home as I watched her body slide into the crematory oven.  The technician shut the door, lit the burner, folded his gloved hands, and smiled kindly.  I watched for a while before retiring to a stroll in the surrounding cemetery.  I was given more than a year to prepare for my mother’s death.  What I had forgotten was that the process of death, unlike birth, has an industry, but no product.
Outside, ashes were falling from near the crematory chimney.  As I reached out to catch a large gray flake drifting through the air, it suddenly blew away.  I understood how crematories operate and that flying ash could only come from a hearth-fire in a nearby residence, but I hoped it was my mother.  A few minutes later, as I sat on a shaded bench, a small gray squirrel scrambled up to my feet.  It stood on its hind legs and looked straight into my eyes.  Squirrels have always been good to me, so I bent to give its head a friendly scratch.  I wondered if my mother had sent it.  The little emissary hurried away before I touched it, before I mistook I could touch my mother.
Memories of the dead often dart like unexpected swallows in the evening sky.  Sparked from our cloudy minds, they wheel on sharp wings before dissolving in a mist.  A friend calls them grief motes, though they sometimes make us smile.  My mother was a bigger bird, swan sized, with wings to crack a man’s head.  She should therefore spark a bigger mote with a trumpet call to scare the Hell out of me.  Instead, she’s mostly soft and mute.  Neither a hurried squirrel nor darting bird, she hums softly in the garden, leaving my other grief motes alone.
Life is the product of birth.  Memory, imagination, and death, are processes of life.



May 27, 2013



The Big Send Off

Funerary urn for Gwendolyn A. Sisk

My mother is on her way to Spokane.  She went as Express Mail via USPS.  I tried to FedEx her but discovered that FedEx won’t ship cremated remains.  Same for UPS.  So off to the local post office to face the madding crowd.
Not a good day for the madding crowd.  Or rather, a good day to be far from the madding crowd.  And either way, it was a maddening crowd.  The line was out the door and down the side of the building.  Folks at the front of the line had pigeon shit on their heads and shoulders, so I figured Postal Service was even more oxymoronic than usual.
Instead of toughing it out as a stationary target drone for dive-bombing feathered rats, I drove home and took care of the postage from my computer.  It took about ten minutes to open a personal account, input package and service information, and print out a self-stick Express Mail label with paid postage.  All that was left was to drive back to the post office and put the package into the self-serve package drop-off.  Piece of cake!
As I walked up to the self-serve kiosk and positioned my left hand to pat myself on the back, I discovered my package was one inch too large for the self-serve option.  Pigeon shit!
I ended up waiting in line for half an hour so I could simply place the package in front of a live postal person and say, “Here.”  If I had been in a better mood, I would have said, “Here. Take my mother. Please!”  I’m sure my mother would have laughed loudly enough to be heard.

April 15, 2013