Sand Castles

Ecclesiastes 1:2 – “ Life is fleeting, like a passing mist.
        It is like trying to catch hold of a breath;
    All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity.

 – The VOICE

5550623402_4320068e17_zLife. Breathe it in.
Breathe out.
It is all but a simple breath.
One line on a page.
The dot at the end of our sentences.
The breath between our words.
We are the pause while God wonders what next to create.
We are clumps of clay in toddler fists.

All those great towers we work so hard to build
cannot hold back the dancing waves
cresting on the shore.
No amount of shouting or raised fists
can hold back the rain.
Sand castles
competing for attention.
Constantly crumbling.

Vapor. Dust. Breath.
A drop of rain in the ocean.
A snow flake lost in the swirling storms of life.
Here today. Gone tomorrow.
A vapor. Dust. Breath. Sand castles.

Life happens in this moment right now.
None of us can start our life tomorrow.
No one can hold time in a bubble.
It will always escape us.
The only thing we have is today.
Today’s smiles and struggles.

What are those struggles of yesterday?
Bills and paychecks both meet paper shredder
The same way
Every time.
High school traumas disappear behind gray hair clouds.
Lost lovers break our heart, but heart can mend.
To a child the world is ending all the time.
That toy that is broken.
That vegetable they must eat.
That time they have to leave a friend’s house.
Bed time tears.
Dust on a camera lens before the picture snaps.
A breath. Vapor. Sand castles.

Why argue about the past?
Why worry about the future?
What does the falling sky mean to someone who never looks at it?
What are those things that we laugh about later?
What are those arguments, squabbles?
Those moment when we have to be right.
Those times when we just can’t get along.
When we put ourselves higher than everyone else.
Dust in the sun rays.
Sand castles in a storm.

Release those moments to God.
He holds all those cells together in your body.
You have no control over it.
He takes the smashed pieces of our hearts from the dust.
We can never keep it together.
He fashions us into something different, something better…
Something new.
And he does it today.
Not tomorrow. Not yesterday.
God lives in the omnipresent now that is gone before out next breath.

3760119097_7a84b1378e_zLet us not worry about sand castles
Or try to hold our fists tight with dried clumps of clay.
What grown up is still torn to pieces at their smashed castles?
Most of us.
All of us.
All of us who are in the future and the past.
None of us that walk with God where he is,

So be now.
When the waves lap at the shore
Get your feet wet.
When they crash down on your castles
Sing in the rain.
And after the storm
Splash in the puddles of the past.
Breath in. Breathe out.
That moment is now gone.
So what will happen in your next breath?
Where is God?
Where are you?
Where am I?

Tearing down our towers

building-blocks-1563961_1920“One. Two. Three.” She counts, one block at a time. The tower grows higher and higher.

I lay the foundations, a perfectly symmetrical square. The blocks meet in all the right places. It is perfection… until those little toddler hands give it a try. “One. Two. Three.” She counts. Each block is placed on the tower, and some actually complement the mighty frame which I built… but most of them add… creativity to it. No longer is the masterpiece a square, but a cockeyed leaning-tower-of-something.

It is easy to tell which parts I built and which ones she did. I frantically work to path the holes in the walls and keep the thing sturdy enough that it will withstand the next toddler assault without toppling over. “More blocks. More blocks, daddy.” These are the lyrics to the song in my heart, but soon the refrain is over and the bridge is out. The final chords strikes, an awkward finish.

“No more blocks. All done.” A pout smears her face as I say the words. I direct her attention to the empty bag which once held a mix of potential and the right dose of imagination. I feel the tears forming, great pregnant clouds behind eyelids.

“More blocks, daddy…”

“There are no more blocks,” I try to explain, “They are all on the tower. If we take it apart, we can have more blocks. Sometimes things have to be taken down before they can be built back up.”

My little girl follows suit, more than happy to destroy what we once so beautifully created. This part she has mastered. Me? I am struck by the words I just said. It seems we are all searching for the bigger tower, reaching for some sense of purpose so that we no longer have to work at life as if one day we will place that final block, sit back, and say, “I have arrived.” But this is when the tears fall. It is at these moments when we see the holes in our creation, the times when we were still new at this things called “life” and the mistakes we made along the way. The tower is never really finished.

If you’re anything like me, those unsymmetrical moments of confusion in your past cannot just be built on top of and forgotten. They will always be there, buried somewhere, bothering you. Not until we take apart what we thought was perfect do we find them again. There is always a way to improve our tower.

When playtime becomes philosophy and recess retrospection. This is the way of an artist’s mind. There is always a story to share, always a message behind our methods. Perhaps my little girl didn’t get it, just happy to be playing blocks with her dad, but do we truly get it either? Don’t we throw a fit when something stands in the way of the life we thought we were building? Don’t we rebel when someone says that we are putting the blocks of our life in the wrong direction and it will just make the tower shaky and unstable? Don’t we also struggle with those moments of deconstruction.

“Sometimes things have to be taken down before they can be built back up.” I so often reach those heights when I think that I have “arrived.” I can defend my point until I don’t even know what I’m fighting about. I can do a job–that should really take two people–like moving furniture all by myself (because I don’t need any help. I’ve figured it out.) I can back up my parenting style with logical reasoning, and my way of interpreting the Bible with enough “proof texts” to make my Bible College professor smile. I don’t like to take things apart, but oh the release I get when I finally give up, release those tears, and take the blocks off my tower.

Why does pride come before a fall? Pride won’t always “make” you fall, but sometimes it exposes the need. The fall doesn’t have to be hard and messy, it can be slow and voluntary–one block at a time.

As I go through the cycle of building blocks with my little girl and tearing those towers down again, I wonder how many towers I have held up too long when they should have fallen, how many questions I have refused to ask, how many blocks I don’t want to pull our and inspect because my whole life might come crashing down if I do. I don’t think I will ever stop building towers, but I hope that I won’t ever stop tearing them down either. I hope that I never settle for one tower so long that it destroys my whole world when someone starts to question the blocks on which my life stands. And, if I ever do, I hope that my little girl is around to help me do what I am not willing to do. She is already better at smashing towers than I ever was.

John Cleaver

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How can you wake the dead? There is a point when we all must die, a point when life is a fading memory, when we have nothing left to hold onto, grasping at air but none will come. They say, in these times of darkness, weakness, and all that lies in between, that only one thing will draw us back. One thing, one thought: love. If we can reach out, find that thing that causes us to live, to want to life… the we can wake ourselves from the mighty beast: Slumber. Some may slumber until they sleep, slowly fading like a memory of past lives lived: there… but not really there. This is the way, though sad it my seem, we all wish to go. Some say they want to go out fighting, but

if we fight all of our lives, why then desire it in death? These people lie to themselves, trying to look strong for others, but flirting with weakness when they are alone.

Death is nothing pretty. It is the face between those fading memories that wills you to forget the love you want to hold onto, fights your will to go on… survive.

Many, without knowing it, are minions of the Great Slumber, servants of the beast. He causes emotions to battle each other until one prevails. Love is the enemy of our enemy. He does not battle against us, does not hate the living as it may seem Death should. No, death fights emotion with emotion. If love is that one thing that can bring us back from Eternal Sleep, that single thought to which we must hold for salvation, then Hatred is what drowns us.

We can justify many things. It always seems that the wrong is against us, at least this is the lie. Brother against brother. Sister against lover all vying for that last slice of pie as the plates come hurling towards us. When life gives you lemons, the trick is to make lemonade… but first you have to catch them.

For me, it was not a citrus circus from the sky, nor did the crowd throw stones. As a funeral director, death is a paycheck, though I don’t think of it that way. My opportunities are incredible, emotional times of final farewells, but also times when the worst of humanity comes out. It is as if the love of the loved one has run out, so those who remain have none left to give. If it is love that keeps us alive, no wonder so many people die, seeing the state of those that remain. Their canine claws pick over the remains, searching for scraps from the table of Death. (As if they didn’t have enough to feed themselves.)

My favourite funerals are those like my most recent final farewell. There is something special about sitting on the docks before the family arrives, waves laughing between your toes. They are so weak on the surface, yet great secrets swim underneath, power deep within. It is this taste of power that draws me in, the temptation of a little lap against my skin promising more further out to sea. It may be this that has, of late, caused so many to favor the waves over a dark, empty, lifeless pit for their dead. As the waves pull those pyres out to sea, it is almost as if they are alive again, slowly waving goodbye as they slip away. Then, once the waves have taken them over, the fire is lit. Flames explode in the distance to signify the power and glory of their final resting place. Not a dead hole, but living water, raging fire: not going out fighting, but the elements give the onlookers a taste.

But power is seductive. It sucks us in like those tiny lapping waves, tempting us to go deeper, deeper still until we are drowning in it. Then the fire erupts in our hearts, we burn for a while, die out and are forgotten.

I will never forget the power of that day: the eruption. It didn’t start until the whole family was gathered. So often, with challenging families, there is evidence of the danger before it comes—arguments over how to do the funeral: who will speak, how they will dress, what format to us, and (the more important) who will pay for it.

John Cleaver was known for being a quiet man, but went out with a bang. He planned it all down to a “T.” The letter was delivered to me at the moment of his passing by the attending physician. In Mr. Cleaver’s breast pocket was found two copies of a letter and instructions of where to mail them when that final sleep came for him. I received one, signed and seal, and its details were confirmed by the other recipient, John’s brother. He, as it happens, came into my office just as I was reading John’s final address for a second time. The letters were compared and confirmed to be holistically identical. From then on, there were no questions asked.

Mr. Cleaver left, in trust, a large sum of money to pay for all of the proceedings. And so it was that the late John Cleaver was attended by his family at the docks of Lake Lucifer. Not a word was said, save for the few between the brother of the deceased and myself at the delivery of the letter from John. I thought, as it seemed, that perhaps John was the father of their inherited silence. Slow to speak, thoughtful of the future, and the most humble endurer of long-suffering that I ever did know. Perhaps, if such had been the state of his family in its entirety, the funeral would have gone off without a hitch. As it were, however, there was another letter that Mr. Cleaver left with the attending doctor, one to be delivered a week later. Its contents, though I never learned their exact instructions, had to do with the matters of his estate. The postal system had been much improved since John first penned the letters, and so his intentions for the second letter arriving after his final farewell happened one day too early.

Each sibling pair (spouse and all) was the proud recipient of an identical letter insuring to the most minute detail who would inherit of the great wealth which he had accumulated over the years. It was not up to me to deal with such affairs, and all the better for it, yet in these moments of high emotions and low tides, I was the unfortunate recipient of the emotional results.

John never owed any debts. He didn’t believe in the concept, and as if such musings were enough to keep the claws of desire from him, John died as he had lived, no debts to be paid.

The proceedings began as usual, but there was something strange in the air. It was not simply the breeze from the west instead of the east. No, this was something far more foreboding, as if a cloud hung over me, though the sky couldn’t have been more clear. As I spoke of Mr. Cleaver, none seemed to notice me. I could have been speaking about an entirely different man and those in attendance would have made as much complaint as John himself. If the clouds had indeed decided to give way, the storm I felt coming made evident, surely the family would have drowned. Each and every nose in that place was up so high that the drink would have poured right in.

I kept my head down, secure in my notes about John. The more and more that I read them, the more I felt that surely this was the wrong funeral. I spoke of how loving Mr. Cleaver had been, how kind to all, always willing to give a hand. The man had more skills in his frail bones than everyone in attendance combined, yet more humility than a peasant. It appeared that the great Lake Lucifer would be more likely to reach up and pull me in than any of John’s family, would fate have it that I light myself afire when performing the final rights.

Slowly the event came to a close. With each word I wished that perhaps, this time, I had less to say about the dearly departed. But no, I could not slight Mr. Cleaver because of his family’s indifference towards the affair. The barge was waiting, John’s remains bobbing up and down with the rhythm of the waves. A soft drone began as the bagpipes picked up their tune. In and out, the waves matched cadence with the wind. In and out of human lungs, swirling, heaving a somber drone of farewell. The flutist began with a flourish, picking the notes carefully, as if plucking them from the water and drying them off before kissing the mouthpiece of his instrument and breathing out the tune. There was not singer in the group, but all knew the words.

I watched my lover float away
Beneath that moon of yor.
We’ll meet again on that day
Beyond the distant shore.

While the pipes droned and flute hummed, I pulled my arrow set with pitch. Two torches stood like mighty Gabriels, one to each side of the docks. Each guarded with swords aflame, grave robbers be warned. A nod to those pilgrim keepers and my arrow was lit. I drew back, fletching to ear, tail feathers whispering, one final message from them to beloved John Cleaver. I loosed the arrow. It flew, soared, the singer in those operatic skies whistling a farewell.

He lived with love and selflessness,
But now taken away.
No saviour from the selfishness
Of those crystal waves.

The arrow struck true, a tiny speck of light in that night so dark. Then, in the space between darkness and light, death and life, all was silent. The bagpipe drone faded, flute played out the tune, and I almost heard the wind whisper the name of the deceased. That single moment of silence was the culmination of the life of Mr. Cleaver. A moment that finally faded, yet not forgotten. The fire blazed, roared with its final farewell. A life well lived, death well reserved, soul taken to the clouds in flame. All that John once was burned with his body, the old dead and gone.

As a funeral director, the imagery gave me a blissful chill. What a beautiful sending off! I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t notice the fire raging behind me, until it was too late. No, not a fire of physical proportions, but one of rage. A raging ball from the family of the late John Cleaver: the man who loved the world so much that there was nothing left in those Cleaver genes.

Some say they want to go out fighting. I have never said that, never been one to pretend to be something that I am not. But Death, though I spent much time with him, shared no sympathies. I was not on fire, yet Lake Lucifer came for me. For one with a profession such as I, and so attuned to the symbolism of the waves, it may be assumed that I shared aquatic aptitude. That assumption, however, would be as false as those which I thought were John’s family. My end was not glorious: dying in battle, but not the way that some imagine. The waves acted as minions of the Great Slumber. Choking, coughing, gasping. No saviour from the selfishness of those crystal waves.

Between blinks of life and death, Mr. Cleaver shone: a beacon in that night so dark and cold. Logs spilled off the barge as flames ate through the ropes which held them fast. Around and around they tumbled in the waves until the fire were all but extinguished. Those loose cannons rolled while the great pyre at the centre blazed on, warmer than the man whose body was there laid.

It might have been that I knew Death, but He knew me not. John, however, knew me well. My. Cleaver owed no debts, not even to me, yet in one final act of love he reached out. The pyre flames morphed as they rose, higher and higher, great Gabriels to the right and left. They sat atop chariots set ablaze, horse hooves smoking as they descended. Great clouds of steam bloomed from the deeps: fire against water. I saw, between the waves, a figure standing amidst the flames: the very image of my late friend, John Cleaver. His hand stretched out toward me, a flaming spectre on a chariot. His voice was a whispering flute, yet so loud that it droned through the noise of the flames.

A saviour from the selfishness
Of those crystal waves.
We’’l meet again on that day
Beyond the distant shore.


It is from a place above that I now write you. No, not even the greatest imagery of my past profession could describe this place. John’s sending, though glorious it was, held no comparison. But, it is not of this that I write to you. Instead it is the witness of a doctor who has joined me in this place. A doctor who, in John, held a common friend and saviour. A doctor who also received a letter at the point of John’s passing regarding the estate of late Mr. Cleaver.

“I owe men nothing but love. May that be the treasure of my inheritance. I instruct you, dear doctor, to sell all that I own and buy gold by the pound. Place it beneath my pyre and let no man take hold of such treasure.” Unbeknownst to myself or the doctor, the family was not made aware of these arrangements until that final day, one too early, with me at the docks, and the great treasure of Mr. Cleaver floating among the waves.

The greatest minions of Slumber are these: wrath, greed, and pride. John’s family showed all of them. I have no more time to direct the Dead, myself having joined their ranks. Whoever it might be that takes my place, I leave to you this one final word. “If it had not been for John Cleaver who was on my side, when men rose up against me, they would have swallowed me alive. The waters would have overwhelmed me, and the swollen waters would have overtaken my soul.” Pride comes before a fall. And, if you ever get a chance to meet the lost family of Mr. Cleaver tell them this story. Tell them that in these dark times, only one things will draw them back: love.

Brother, Frankenstein by Michael Bunker

25451480Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a killer robot? Maybe you were curious about what goes through the mind of those who are considered “mentally handicapped” by the elitist society around us? What if you could experience both in the same package. Michael Bunker delivers a thrilling story of one autistic Amish boy stuck in the body of a killer robot. Talk about a culture clash!

The Good:
Bunker‘s writing style, once again, comes to the forefront. It makes you feel like an outsider looking in on the lives of a troubled doctor and his pet robot. This is not to say that the story in unengaging or the characters hard to relate with. On the contrary, the reader will feel conflicted as if this book is the type to be enjoyed on the back porch swing with a cup of tea but as equally practical in the low-light of a bus terminal at rush hour. You can relax with this book but can never put it down, even with the world screaming at you.

Bunker shows that research is important. He is so well-versed in the Amish culture that you feel like you’re there. His knowledge also shines in the mind of an autistic boy. It’s almost as if Bunker was autistic in his former life, providing an intense attention to detail with the inner-workings of a troubled mind. Believable is putting it mildly. The author provides just enough detail to get you invested, and just enough emotion to keep you there. The characters are believable, relatable, and cared for (even if one of them is a Amish autistic child stuck in a robot body).

The Bad:
Though not every book needs to have a long, sprawling plot, some could benefit from more. Brother, Frankenstein is one such book. It is by no means plotless, and what is there is engaging, but it feel like the story is just getting started as it ends. This shows Bunkers focus on characters and plot (which are essential), but it couldn’t hurt from a bit more plot intricacy. There was nothing here that surprised me.

Bunker provides a pleasant journey through the a troubled mind. Every character is well developed and gives the reader a reason to cheer them on (or hate them). The setting is wonderfully laid out and the premise is unique, but nothing in the plot really stands out. If you are looking for a lighter read that sucks you in with its small-town feel while maintaining the elements of sci-fi that we all love, this book is right for you.

Where to buy it:
Amazon (COM) (CA)

Waiting For You



I can’t tell you how many times I thought you were here.
I thought I saw you last night
hiding beneath the shadow of the moon,
but that was just the sunshine
waiting for me to see it hadn’t gone anywhere.
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought you cared.
There were the little things like Sunday afternoons,
or the way that you would invite me over for a kiss,
or how you would whisper my name—
an orgasm trying to find space between the clouds of emptiness—
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew you.
You were the one who could make life seem magical.
You were the one pulling rabbits
from every black hole in my heart
until you showed me how the trick was done.
Until you showed me that my clouds are still full—
even though you made me forget how to cry—
scratches on the edges of my heart
Waiting for me… to fall.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought you were beautiful
because beauty is not a mathematical equation.
It is not a symmetrical face + big boobs + winning smile – body fat =
It is not something that you add to or subtract from.
It is more like a rabbit you can pull from a hat
before you realize the hat was empty all along,
and I’m left with darkness on one side of the equation and the “=”
waiting for me on the other.
Waiting for you.

I can’t tell you how many days it has been since the first day I saw you
because it feels like you never left.
It feels like maybe, if I scream at the clouds loud enough
they will stop to take a breath.
Or maybe, if I cry hard enough, the clouds will hold up their hands
in defeat because there is no competing with
me trying to get rid of something—someone—who just won’t leave.
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought I would never leave you
but some days I wished I had the strength to
because I knew no matter how much abuse this body could take
you would never leave any marks,
but I thought I knew you.
You wanted me to be the villain in this story, but you got tired of
Waiting for me.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought we could make it work.
Some things belong together, are never apart
but how can a bowling ball love the pins
it keeps knocking down?
And every time I pick myself back up
I just stand there shivering at your near misses
wanting to pick you up out of the gutter,
but I know you will fight if I do,
so I stand up again and flinch
Waiting for you.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed you.
How can I be in love with a broken mirror
that cuts me up as if I were your reflection?
But I’d rather be broken, smashed and bleeding
than a puzzle all put together with missing pieces
Waiting for you.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Mature-content Rating: PG (coarse language, mature themes)

A tragic tale of one girl, one mother, one father–one family–who loses everything: their sister, daughter, and the only thread holding life together. Eleanor desperately tries to keep her family from falling apart while dealing with her own grief in short snippets. Her world slowly drowns, waves of time passing, taking her sister further out to sea… but not forgotten. Eleanor is lost and time is out of her hands until she learns that time is a river, it flows in a circle, and she knows how to swim.

The Good:

First, it should be noted that anyone with a heart greater than a lump of coal might cry during the beginning of this book. Jason Gurley sets up Eleanor with her sister, mother, father, as this wonderfully happy family. It is such a delight to read their interactions and see the two little girls bantering back and forth like siblings will. The characterization is beautifully executed so that the reader smiles at the cute little girls, feels the nagging pain of a mother’s headache, and the longing of a father who is away from home. Why, then, would non-coal-lump-hearts cry? Because this is just the beginning. The book synopsis leaves no room for questions. Eleanor’s sister dies.

The set-up really makes the reader care about Eleanor as a character and able to feel and relate with her. The book is extremely depressing as any book should be about a girl who’s world is slowly falling apart. Gurley pumps emotions into the scenes so tangibly that they almost jump off the page and drag your heart into Eleanor’s world.

This book, however, has much more to offer than depression (thank goodness). Gurley shifts point of view adding much suspense to each encounter and heightening the emotional impact. This also gives the pacing a unique flavour as some of the POVs are in this strange “other” world that Eleanor finds herself slipping into. What is happening, where is this strange world, and who is in control?

This mysterious “other world” feeling lasts right up to the very end. There is little explanation until everything comes to a head in the final pages. Some things are still not fully explained, but this just adds to the fantastical nature of the tale. Does everything have to be understood perfectly in a fantasy world?

The Bad:

There is not much bad to say about this book. The only complaint I had was with a single scene that takes place far in the future of most of the book adding some pacing issues. Because of the amount of time that was skipped over, certain elements had to be explained using tell instead of show. Because of the emotionally wrenching potential that this skipped over scene could have had, I felt a little bit cheated as a reader (especially because Gurley is so good at pulling my heart out and slapping it around the page until it has nothing left to feel). This one scene, however, is short lived and does not detract greatly from the book over-all.


I don’t suppose there is any better way of putting it: buy this book! I remember a number of times while reading where I had to stop, wipe an eye, shake it off, and verbally declare, “Jason Gurley, you are a god.” If you like an emotionally packed tale filled with mystery, suspense, drama, and fantasy this book is for you. If you don’t… then your heart must be a giant lump of coal.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Amber Bridge Pre-order

Remember this old photo? It is my original half-done concept cover for Amber Bridge. Why, do you ask, am I talking about some silly looking photo that was created while half asleep and generally bored? It might be that Amber Bridge has a new cover, and it might be that this cover is the “official” cover. By “official” I mean it has a reason to have a cover, and that reason is that it is done! After writing and re-writing and squeezing it through multiple layering of editing, this little story is ready for consumption. True, it is no 5-course meal, but it also is no speck of sugar on your tongue. This little novelette is a snack to get you through those cravings. (Don’t ask me what cravings. This metaphor broke down a while ago.)

front-coverAmber bridge is set to officially release on July 7th. You can currently pre-order it on Smashwords and it will soon be available for pre-purchase on my local store. For more information about Amber Bridge, here is the official back-flap excerpt. “A man searches for the meaning of life: stuck in neutral between the green light of birth and final Red Light. Everyone has a choice: follow the amber lights along life’s bridge, or simply sit, watching them burn. What lies at the end of this bridges, that place where the amber lights meet? Where will the Amber Bridge take this man, his thoughts, and life?”

If you interested in any way, please don’t hesitate to pre-order this book for just $1, or you can hesitate, but only to wait for the book to be available at my local store. After that, hesitation is just mean. I have some little tags ready that say “I am a meanie” on them, and they will end up heading your way if you ignore my blatant self promotion!

(Edit: Amber Bridge now available for pre-purchase at my local store.)

PS: So, those tags I was telling you about. They really exist guys…


Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

My Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Coarse language and violence)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start again? To some, this may be paradise–leaving mistakes beneath dust clouds of the past, but to others this may be a sad thought. Everything you once knew has changed: family, friends, way of life. Enter the mind of Jedidiah Troyer, emigrating to the planet of New Pennsylvania where he will work shovel and trowel to build an Amish paradise for his and his own. The question is, how much does one Amish man lose by entering a world of electronics, the internet, and spaceships, and is such loss of “plain” comforts worth the price of starting over?

The Good:

Michael Bunker has a unique way of blending the slow paced Amish world with the magic of new worlds on a thrill ride of culture clash. He speckles nods to “plain” living like stars set to contrast the black night of space itself. Way up there, science fiction thrives, yet never does Bunker forget his roots–seemingly oxymoronical, yet relevant. Cultural blending through compare and contrast has been something that I have come to love about Bunker’s writing style, and Pennsylvania does not fail my expectations of such brilliance. He sets the pace, builds the world, and defines the characters like Adam in Eden: placed just so.

Not only does Bunker have a handle on setting up his universe of Pennsylvania, but such is used as a launching pad for the thrills that follow. The reader is neither thrown blindly into the action, nor are they held back from the ride too long. As the pages turn, what seems at first to be a simple trip to some other world turns out to be much more than meets the eye.

Bunker has collected 5 episodes into this single Omnibus edition. Each episode ends with cliff-hanger excellence, but this does more than keep the reader invested in the series. Many episodes end with a nod to the next, revealing minute mysterious clues that keep the reader’s mind turning while they are hanging onto the edge of their seat for the next page’s revelation.

Unlike W1ck (see my review of W1ck), Pennsylvania has a satisfactory ending. The conclusion still comes rather quickly, but not overly so because of Bunker’s unique writing style. The wrap-up is much more conclusive while leaving room for some expansion into further forays of Amish/sci-fi delight. In short, it satisfies.

The Bad:

There is some amount of tell instead of show when it comes to describing the culture of this new world that Jed has entered. Instead of fully fleshing out the cultural discrepancies, Bunker glosses over them making the world and Jedediah’s integration with it less believable, and equally loses reader satisfaction points.

Much like W1ck (though different in it’s own ways), the whole Omnibus collection feels like a prologue. Bunker clearly has a plan for future books within this universe, but Pennsylvania has a distinct “book zero” feel instead of a “book one.” There is a lot culture/tech explanation as well as character introductions, but very little plot. Bunker has a handle on crafting worlds with nonchalant flavour, but his plots are the furthest thing from complex or surprising.

Conclusion: All in all, if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with Bunker’s ability to shape worlds and craft cultures. These pros are what keep me coming back to books by this author, but the lack of plot complexity and endings that leave things hanging, as if Bunker simply ran out of words, leave me a little dissatisfied. This, however, by no means dissuades me from reading more excellent Amish Science Fiction, but it does not put Bunker on my oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-wait-til-the-next-book-comes-out list.

Where you can find it:
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

On Feeling Old

Note: Sometimes I feel older than I am and like to joke that I am an old man. This is a tribute to that feeling.

I am not old.
Not even close.
Yes, I enjoy 70s style diners and shelves lined with dust,
But better than dust
Books and a creaky rocking chair
Spelling out all my not so many years
Between front porch slats.
These whispers take me back to times
I never knew.
The antiques in my home remind me of all the years
I never had
But feel clinging to my scars like bookshelf dust.

I know about aching backs and popping knees
And that pain in my chest hides behind a cavity of bitter bones,
Skeletons too long in the closet:
Left to rot.
I know how everyone under 30 is irresponsible
And 50 is just waiting to dust off closet bones
Put colour in scars where it never belonged
beneath a coffin lid
Heaped with dust.

I grow out my hair and scuff my jeans,
Suicidal scrapes of falling down,
on my knees
Too often.
But there are decades between each lack of wrinkle
On my face.
Time says I am 23… or 24… 25?
Doesn’t matter.
It’s all a lie beneath 50 years of closet dust.

And so, I work my knee joints,
Forget the oil,
Cringe as my chest gives out
It’s message to the world
Just to say:
I’ve learned how to grumble with the best of them,
The rest of them,
And hope someone will find the colour
I lost beneath these scars
In my unwrinkled skin
To brush out this dust-greyed hair.

A Letter to My Unborn Child

Life starts in a womb room.
Walls block our way, but we do not think of them.
We push against the sides, not knowing what lay beyond,
Longing to find all the flavour and colour outside of this room that we do not think of.

Life passes us from one room to the next,
a mother not wanting her child.
Childhood holds us too long,
a small room we push against
hoping to crack its shell.
Adolescence is shorter still, yet feels even longer:
a smaller room with black walls of despair and empty promises.
But adulthood… adults, we wish to go back:
Not enough time to love our honeys, raise children—just make money,
And looking back, the rooms always seem larger than when there we were trapped.

Find a road, tunnel, river: whatever analogy you prefer.
See that little light shining at the end?
That is what we all work towards,
but desperately do not want to reach.
Lightposts, walls, tree branches clatter closer as we walk further,
and further, and further away from the first room of our conception
Until we are trapped between a rock and a hard place:
No amount of pushing against the walls makes either move,
and we have no conception of how we got there.
The road, tunnel, river gets smaller closer to that light.

You’re going to miss this,
these wide open spaces where you can stretch your arms
run back and forth, prolonging the trek forward.
The end is so short, so small, so darling
do not run into it.
It will not greet you like a schoolboy when you drop your books,
and when his hand touches yours you may feel the heat,
But that is just a light quickly expanding from heart to fingertips
because it has nowhere to go.
A tree with no more sky.
A child with no more room to run.
A stream finding the lake it has been drawn to all along
then finding out that the lake does not run with under-toes of adventure,
Merely sits.
Nowhere left to go.
Seemingly large and free,
but quite small in reality.

Darling, I do not know you yet.
This is maybe something that you will never get,
But I am afraid,
Afraid of the opportunity I will never forget,
And do not want to regret
never sharing this with you
Or forget.
So, darling, this is my message to you.

Stay in your room until it will hold you no more.
Yes, I do so long to hold you,
and in my dreams, you are already there, but please
The next room will wait.
Explore every corner.
Jump to the highest spaces that you can manage to reach
and if you need a step ladder, always ask.
Do not wait to grow longer legs
because in that next room where the legs wait…
the ceiling is lower. The world is smaller.

There will be times when room confinement feels like the worst punishment
When the world has grounded you, and you do not want to learn the lesson it wants to teach you, but please…
Darling, stay in your room until the door bursts from its hinges
so when you look back, it is not vacant,
empty: a white space filled with “if only”s.

Do you hear my words?
What language do they speak in that womb room, darling?
It has been so long.
I do not remember.
I hope that the day you understand my message to you—
That day when you can read this poem, and comprehend the language of my heartbeats—
the large rooms behind you are already full.
True, I could wait til then,
Maybe, til I know a bit more about you,
But then my message will arrive too late
Like a letter sunk with the ship,
and you have to find it tucked inside a coral reef
Long after empty rooms yawn taunting, empty mouths:
A toothless shark
Just grumbling snarls.

And when you finally do grow
and after we have met
and after, or before, or while you are still in the room where I left this letter to you:
Stay in your room.
So when I come up, you have not flown out the window,
So when I come to speak with you, you are there.
So when I ask what you have learned,
you will not grumble and give me no answer
But show me all the spots in the paint job that I missed
tell me of how the bedsheets crinkle just so when I sit,
and how the window whispers message to you
and contemplate the conception of the world itself.
Darling, this is not a punishment,
but a time to learn.
A time to never miss the little things:
The way the clock ticks in the hall… or doesn’t,
and why sometimes I wish it would just stop
so we could sit together in this perfect moment.
So when I ask what you did when sent to your room,
and you come out to tell me,
you will say
“Everything, daddy. Everything.”