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The Upside-Down Man

The street was crowded with us. We, the workers, the commuters. We were on our way home from jobs. Home from jobs. I was among them. It was Friday, this past Friday, and the collective thought of us all was the Friday thought - a weekend. Home. A throng of us was approaching the corner of Battery and Bush when I saw a man who was upside-down. This didn't seem at all strange to me.

The man was standing on his head on the busy street corner surrounded by us, the suits and cellphone set. The light was against us so we waited for it to change. The upside-down man, I noticed, was not resting the entire weight of his upended body on the pavement, on his head, but was resting his head on a sort of plate or dish that has a narrow base or foot. It was clearly a device of his own making. The crown of his head fit perfectly into the cup of this wooden stand. I stood less than six inches from him. He had before him a clear plastic cup with money in it. One of his legs was folded, his knee bent and crossed over his other leg, like some sort of yogi or mystic, as I have imagined so often in my fantasies of India.

We made eye contact. I could see that his eyes were bloodshot and very wet. I could see the struggle in him, the effort it required to maintain a stable posture, upside-down, on a busy street corner, with traffic quite literally inches away from him. He looked at me and I at him. In that moment we had met.

I spoke. I said, If I had any money on me I'd drop it in your cup. He smiled. He said, that's alright. We have this. We have this connection. Then I said something I still cannot explain. I said: If I could, I'd make myself small and jump into your cup. I have no idea why I said that or where it came from. But the upside-down man, whoever he was, smiled again. He looked at me. He looked at me with the eyes of knowing, a look you can only feel from strangers who are not strangers at all but who you have someone always known. He said to me: You're already there. You're already in my cup.

This transaction (and I consider it a transaction because an exchange occurred, an exchange of love) lasted no more than 30 seconds. The amount of time it takes to deliver to me an advertisement for a brand of soup. Yet, it stayed with me. The upside-down man and his cup.


On Sunday morning I went owl-hunting. I needed an owl. There is really no way you can understand this. My need for an owl. Upon the advice of a dear yet very new friend, I took a solo hike into Tennessee Valley in Marin. It was a cold and gray morning but that meant that the trail would be quiet and empty. Armed with my Moleskine notebook, a pocket volume of collected Rilke writings and a digital recorder, I set off to find my owl, and then, to the sea.

As is usually the case, an unexpected chain of events led me to my quarry. I saw a deer. It was a lone doe, feeding on a ridge above the main trail.  I left the fire road and followed her up a steep trail. In  the distance, hidden behind a large Monterey Cypress, I saw a boulder that was completely ensconced in an ancient tree stump. I moved toward this stump, knowing that I must see it, touch it, photograph it. I was walking carefully through the thick undergrowth when I spied the remnants of what appeared to be a large lozenge of hair on the ground. An owl pellet. I knelt in the dried grass. I pushed the pellet with a twig and it fell apart, revealing its treasure of tiny bones. I soon found more pellets. I looked up an discovered I was directly under a cypress tree. Horned owls love Monterey Cypress trees. I promised myself that once I was done exploring my old stump, I'd go back to the tree to look for the owl.

I photographed my stump. It was beautiful. About as big as a hot tub and completely hollow. Then I went back to the tree. I looked through the grass and found more pellets and also a large guano spatter pattern. The owl spent a lot of time above this spot. If I was lucky he'd be there now. I stepped back a few yards and looked up. There he was. A Great Horned Owl. My heart jumped. It would be difficult to describe to you what owls mean to me. They are my spirit guides. My totem animal. And when I see one I am usually at some kind of crossroads in my life. It had been over a year since I last saw one in the wild and I am indeed at a major crossroads.

I photographed the owl and I spoke to it. I will not tell you what I said. That was between myself and the owl.  But I'll give you a hint. What I say to owls is similar what I say to God. Help me. Grant my strength. And since I am lacking in what the owl has an abundance of, namely sight and hearing, I ask for a little of that too.

I left the owl and walked to the sea. The rhythmic crashing of the ocean resets my soul-clock. I just need to be near it. 15 minutes by the water's edge does more for me than any therapy session. Hawks, vultures, a rabbit, the owl. I found a tree branch where a buck had been rubbing its antlers. I spoke to a raven. And I read from Rilke to the very sea itself. Rilke. How can I explain how this man and his hundred-year-old words has saved me? Time and time again.

I think about the upside-down man and how he invited me to enter his little cup. I think about how I have been an upside-down man. I think about the owl and the hare and the raven and the deer. God is everywhere and in every thing. And He is not a silent God. It is I who can so often be deaf. Blind. Noisy. Be like the owl, He tells me. And go quiet into your night.

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Funny how one thing leads to another.

Funny how one thing leads to another. While I enjoyed your quiet, meditative piece, I am not that interested in Owls. This is, however, the second time I have heard Rilke's name mentioned today. The first, believe it or not, is in Country Singer/Songwriter Rodney Crowell's song "Come on, funny feeling" Something about "Rilke's panther, locked up in a cage."
With two such wildly divergent voices mentioning the same thing, I feel obligated to find out more about this guy.

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this guy

Letters to a Young Poet is a seminal must-read David. Thank you for your comment.

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The Upside-down Man


Thank you for this lovely poem. You presented it as prose, but to me it is poetry. The upside-down man with his "eyes of knowing," this stranger who is not a stranger, like someone you have always known.

And I like how you spoke with certainty, that "horned owls love Monterey Cypress trees." "Guano spatter patterns" -- oh, my.
"You needed an owl" -- who doesn't, when one stops to think about it?

You spoke to the owl, then walked to the sea, spoke of Rilke to the sea, and reset your soul clock. Spirit is always with us, if we listen and allow ourselves to see.

Thank you!


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Another excellent piece brother. Very resonating with me. I have a similar bond with falcons. The peregrines. And Rilke...what can be said about Rilke that you don't already know.

I live my life in growing orbits
Which move out over the things of this world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
I am circling around God,
Around the ancient tower,
And I've been circling for a thousand years.
And I still don't know
If I am a falcon,
or a storm,
or a great song.

One of my all time favorite pieces. Period.

Keep on keeping on friend.


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Josh, I have never read that piece, but it speaks to me. If you don't mind I am going to repost. Beautiful. And thank you.

Jeanne, your feedback was most welcome and lovely. Thank you.