Sunday, March 14, 2021

GRIT AND GRACE – Tobi Alfier

Not especially surprised when I arrived at the poem Her Life is an Edward Hopper Painting, being in one myself from the beginning of Tobi Alfier's latest collection, Grit and Grace.

From the git-go:All that is left sometimes, is to hold faith in tradition and comfort—dog laying in front of the fire, a bit of spirit to make the kisses sweet, one last song hanging in the air.” Actually that’s the last stanza of the first poem, Before any Words are Spoken, but even at the first I’d succumbed to the mood of inevitability with its respites of blessed solitude. I was one of the nighthawks in Hopper’s diner, sharing space with a stranger or two lost in private thoughts as was I, ingesting Alfier’s knowing sensibility along with my coffee and wedge of lemon pie.

Alfier knows Hopper’s people. They live at the edge of survival, with little chance of ever realizing their dreams, and knowing it, but plugging along anyway, held together with determination if only just to keep on going. The unnamed gent who walks in the cemetery, following his doctor’s orders to do ten-thousand steps a day. “All that is left is his faith in ten-thousand, the footfalls of loping deer, headstones in icy winter, and the last song hanging in empty air, his bold baritone in the chorus.”

Or the three long-retired, unnamed barflies who habituate Harold’s Place: “These guys wear the stamp of fisheries, the prison, or the old scrap yard—stories told by scars, tattoos, language, and the speed at which they polish off their pension’s allotment of booze...They’ll die here, tilting barstools hug their asses barely shy of Heaven.” If they feel sorry for the way things worked out, they keep it to themselves, abiding Aristotle’s sentiment Alfier quotes:The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.”

Would that the patriarchal sage have known The Blind Woman [who] Touches her Toes in the Sea. “Gentle and chilly foam tickles her toes but does not scare her. The heart can only do this work alone, she thinks, as she often does, thankful that no one comes to ‘help’ her walk back to the street.” Dignity and grace—and love (for that you must read the poem).

Although “church” is no slur among Alfier’s people, the biblical “grace” would seem to be missing for many of them, but the occasional angel does appear. Most memorably for me is “Viv” the motherly diner waitress in Decaf or Regular who can tell when it’s time to cut off your caffeine. “She’ll know if you stayed up all night to study, fueled by No Doz and Red Bull—she knows the only way you’re gonna get out of this truck-stop town is to do well, or you’ll be takin’ the lunch rush over for Manuel. Not good.” She’s the girl in the Edward Hopper painting:

Lord God Almighty but she could put a hurt on a man—

hair up and wrapped in a smooth chignon that the glow

from a thousand fireflies of motel blinds makes shine

red as the sun in summer. A tight boiled-wool

skirt halfway up to hail Mary full of grace, shoes

to bring her eye to eye with the deep lines

in your weathered face.


She is the nightwind, the motel clerk, the diner waitress

rolled into the fantasy you’ve had since forever.

She’s the bartender and barmaid—

sometimes your desire. At others your regret.

In truth, this is your story. You are the one with shoulders

tight as the traffic that winds through the city,

not her.


She’s a bit dusty, like a wedding dress never worn,

packed away in a chest in the closet. Her cheeks the deep

rose of a hot desert wind. Her lips pursed—

with disdain or delight—it’s impossible to tell.

She’s the wildflower no one can name, windchimes

caught in a forgotten tune. A time-stamped photograph

of empty, she sits with her coffee, silent and alone.

 


 

Here’s a stanza from Aftertraces that perfectly captures the way I feel this morning, this spring, if you will, this Edward Hopper aperitif:


Hard winter days are changing into spring.

The odd dust devil kicks its heels up

the unpaved road outside her patio, masks the colors

of early wildflowers we can never praise enough

as they start to peek through mudded earth

in the fields beyond...





 

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominated poet and Best of the Net nominated poet whose poems have appeared in many publications. She is also the co-editor of the San Pedro River Review. You may contact her at sprreview@gmail.com.






Saturday, March 6, 2021

COLOR and LINE – Carole Mertz


I would say Carole Mertz's new collection of poetic writing is, were it a drink, a supremely fine Cognac. Upon reflection, it is a drink—of words and spaces distilled with intimate care to reveal a portmanteau of nuances aged in loving casks from as far back as nearly five centuries (not considering how many years Sofonisba Anguissola might have spent painting The Chess Game from which Mertz took the inspiration to write The Learned Ladies).

I say “would say” because, frankly, my palate’s sophistication deficit could easily betray me and confuse the Cognac with a cheap brandy. A waste to the connoisseur, presumably, but I’ve a worldly acquaintance who swears by a budget-friendly Portuguese brand that I’ve tried and found startlingly agreeable. What I’m trying to do here is lay a little groundwork for a confession that my palate for poetry is so personal I can’t really vouch for...waaaaitaminute—that’s the whole point of poetry! From the heart and mind of the poet. Period. A bonus should the poem connect directly with heart and mind of even one other human being, if only for a flash.


Mertz’s collection, Color and Line, contains a myriad of insightful flashes, some so sublimely lucid and intricate they’re still gamboling on my brain pan, and may well continue tickling its synapses for as long as they’re alive. I’m already happily drunk on them! And there’s a presentation bonus with this collection: examples of different styles and types and traditions of poetry, including a “cento,” which borrows lines from other poets, a “title poem” taking titles from other writers and arranging them into a story, and one built on a familiar hymn. Several are “ekphrastic,” which are inspired by visual art, such as The Learned Ladies.

My favorite of the ekphrastics was inspired, I venture to suggest, by two separate paintings—The White Soup Bowl, done in 1771 by Anne Vallayer-Coster, and Antonio Lopez Garcia’s 1971 work The Dinner, which I found displayed side-by-side when I googled the older painting. Mertz doesn’t mention Garcia’s depiction of an adult and a child alone at the dinner table, nor does White Soup Bowl reveal any human beings at or near the groaning board. Mertz might disagree, but I submit she saw the two paintings together, and her imagination took off from there and gave us Francois Enjoys an Evening. She starts out describing the bowl: “a very heavy cooking pot made of twice-baked clay. Do you hear the lid scrape the lip of the pot? Do you smell the onion soup brewing within...” I sure can. It’s making me hungry, and I just finished a bowl of chili! 


Now she takes us behind the curtain of steam rising from the pot: “you are surrounded by friends, and the talk is lively...” OK, I’ll take her word for it. No choice. But now the adult and child (or poetic surrogates) step from their painting into The White Bowl, and come alive. “How charming that young girl looks, across at the table to the left. Her father, busy with the chatter, does not see her drop her napkin and reclaim it, the curls of her rich brown hair falling briefly across her face, concealing for a moment her wide, dark, and beautiful child-eyes...” We find ourselves part of the scene, caught between two centuries, wanting to dunk some bread into that steaming pot and make small talk with father and daughter, involved in a story told in the sensuous, evocative language of someone who likely spent more time choosing her words, getting them right, than the chef spent readying his cheese and onions for the broth.

First runner-up (sounds better than second place) for my favorite ekphractic poem in Color and Line grew from a painting by one of my favorite artists, Vincent Van Gogh’s cafe scene La Guinguette. The poet titles her inspiration Come Share a Glass with Me, describing in fine detail what she observes in the painting and bringing questions and ideas from what the scene says to her. The “guinguette,” she tells us, quoting from a French dictionary, is “a small cabaret either with or without a small dance hall where people can gather to drink a cheap ‘but malicious’ light green wine. She draws out attention to couples seated in the outdoor alcoves. “What do the people discuss? Do they talk of the rising price of cabbage? That Jeanne will meet Pierre after his shift ends?”

Alas “guinguettes died out when the cheap wine could no longer be had,” Mertz informs us, “when Parisians no longer swam in the nearby Seine. Their habits changed; they no longer came to the guinguette for a relaxing glass of that light green wine.”

Mertz is Book Review Editor at Dreamers Creative Writing, a Member of the Prize Nominations Committee at The Ekphrastic Review, and served as advance reader for Women’s National Book Association’s 2018 poetry contest. She judged (in formal verse) the 2020 Poets and Patrons in Illinois International Poetry Contest.

There’s a freedom to writing ekphrastic poetry that appeals to me,” she says in Color and Line’s preface. “One can allow the artworks to speak directly and in specifics or one can muse on the artist’s intentions and leave unanswered questions.

At times I research the artists and introduce a bit of their history into my writing. Often first impressions work themselves onto my pages and I let them stand. Sometimes I allow myself free rein to stray into open pastures.” 

 

 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

TALL: Love and Journalism in a Six-foot World – Nancy Stancill

Guess
Seeing the title of the first chapter of Nancy Stancill's autobio, "Cutting Ingrid's Legs," made me wince. Still does, even though I know the rest of Tall builds on a crescendoing awareness that being a comparatively tall female hasn't been the bummer of a ride girls may fear it will. But still...

That some young females actually consider chopping off a few inches of thigh bones to better fit in with the herd is bad enough, and knowing some actually do it breaks my heart. Social tyranny on a par with Chinese foot-binding.

Shame on our society!

"I’ve talked to many tall women who recall good times at the midpoint of childhood," Stancill tells us. "They didn’t worry about how they looked, how they dressed, or whether boys (or the larger society) approved of them. Then puberty kicked in and their lives would change abruptly." She looks back at her own gig with the "mean girl syndrome" and the social hierarchy it embraced. "I was low on the popularity pole. It was a lonely period in my life."

Having parents who understand helped ease her anxiety. In high school, where she was the tallest girl, she felt additional pressure to distinguish herself. It seemed natural to try out for the cheerleading squad, “that apex of high school success,” following in her sister’s footsteps. But the idea of “jumping up and down and screaming about football” didn’t appeal to her. She put off telling her parents, worried they’d be disappointed. Their response, when eventually she shared her misgivings: “‘Honey, you do whatever you want,’ my dad said. ‘You don’t have to do anything for us.’

My parents came through by that simple act of acceptance and I never forgot it. You can forgive a lot of less-than-perfect parenting if you know your parents really see you.”

Getting good grades and serving as editor of the school newspaper didn’t hurt her confidence, either—and helped launch her on an award-winning career as a journalist. Her investigative reporting for The Houston Chronicle and the Charlotte Observer helped bring criminal convictions and prison time for wrongdoers. And her involvement with Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a nationwide network of journalists, included a five-year stint on the organization’s board of directors. “Journalism tends to be a lonely profession," she writes. "Sometimes you feel like it’s just you and your computer against the world. IRE eased that feeling for me, knowing that good colleagues would help if needed."

Her stories included exposures of a rogue CIA agent selling arms to Libra, a sheriff running an illegal speed trap, and a landmark case testing whether Hispanic students should have bilingual education. Both the rogue agent and corrupt sheriff were convicted, and the judge ruled in favor of bilingual education.

She titled one chapter “Was I in danger? I’ll never know,” and recounts her investigation into suspicions that the chancellor and the president of a Texas community college were involved in shady deals with the CIA and military bases. Here, she says, is where her physical stature proved to be an asset: I think my tallness made me appear stronger and less vulnerable to college leaders seemingly intent on harming me. I know that being six feet tall in this situation made me feel like I had an invisible shield of safety." Perhaps that edge in fact did save her life. A couple of confidential informants—one a mid-level administrator of the college—told her that an instructor there who’d tried to blow the whistle on the college had turned up dead in the Houston Ship Channel.

“I never could confirm whether the chancellor and president were involved in the teacher’s death," she writes, but later used the ship channel death as a scene when she segued from journalism to writing fiction. Both of her novels—Saving Texas, and its sequel, Winning Texas--feature a tall, attractive, intrepid female Houston journalist, uncovering political shenanigans and criminal activities mined from Stancill’s personal experiences at the Chronicle. Her historically based fictional themes are as current as tonight’s TV breaking news and tomorrow’s front page headlines.

Typing the word personal up there in the paragraph about themes reminds me I nearly overlooked the truly personal stuff promised in Tall’s subtitle: Love and Journalism in a Six-foot World.” Romance: another challenge she found her height threw her way in a society that likes its women to be at least a little shorter than men. She dated a lot working her first full-time newspaper job, in Charlottesville, Va., but nothing stuck, none of her boyfriends were able to overcome her anxiety over simply being too tall. This all changed when she fell in love—for the first time—with “Gary”, an advertising salesman at the paper. First love/first fooled—isn’t that how it goes? Eventually, after Gary’d stolen her heart, she found she’d mistaken his “domineering attitude as self-assurance instead of self-centeredness.”

Moving east to Newport News to work at a bigger paper, she met the love of her life. It happened in her kitchen during a party she was giving one night in October 1973. She and Len Norman are still together, now happily retired. They live in Charlotte, N.C.

(He’s shorter.)

 

 

 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

IMPORTANT MESSAGE!!


 

THE FACE (as featured in Dead Man's Gun) - Ed Gorman


Of all the valuable stories in this collection "The Face" alone is worth many times more than the $2.99 you commit to download the book. Many times more. It is a masterpiece of craft, sensibility and sheer artistry. If you are uncomfortable with the image of the revolver pointing out from the cover of Dead Man's Gun, you may find solace in regarding it as a symbol of the cruel, true and timeless poetry "The Face" will fire into the depths of your heart.
For this price, every high school history and English teacher in the country can afford to download it in the classroom, and every high school student should be assigned to read it. There need be no test given afterward. "The Face" will stay with them the rest of their lives, as it will with their teachers and with you, as it will with me. This I can guarantee without fear of contradiction by any who have read this brief, profound, elegant, haunting story, no matter their religion, their politics or their station in life.

I came to "The Face" because I am a longtime admirer of its author, the late Ed Gorman, a prolific, masterful spinner of tales in almost every genre imaginable. This book contains the first of his western stories I've read, and although westerns are not ordinarily my cup of tea those in
Dead Man's Gun are no less entertaining and enlightening than his mysteries and political thrillers - my preferred genres. "The Face," in fact, falls outside all three of these categories.
Ed Gorman
 It's a story from the American Civil War, as told by a Confederate battlefield surgeon. I'm something of a Civil War buff, having grown up in the Midwest and lived most of my adult life in Virginia. I do not exaggerate when I say "The Face" is the most sublime, horrifying and memorable Civil War story I have read. It may well be the most powerful anti-war story ever published.
I would not be at all surprised to learn that many if not most as they read "The Face" will hear in their minds and hearts, as did I, the hallowed strains of that old plantation gospel song, "Down by the Riverside" with its achingly hopeful refrain, "Ain't gonna study war no more." 

 While “The Face” stands out for me in this book, the entire collection has deepened my appreciation of Ed Gorman's extensive talent. In another story, “Gunslinger,” he combines the art of suspense wrapped in intricate detail with the unveiling of a human life and personality aimed at an inevitable showdown so filled with tragi-comic irony I could only gape in admiration.

Gorman, with characteristic modesty, admits he has felt the same way reading other masters. In Dead Man's Gun's last entry, a nonfiction piece called “Writing the Modern Western,” he calls The Shootist, by Glendon Swarthout, an exemplary modern western— its prose real poetry at times, its psychological portraiture so considered and wise that you feel decimated after finishing it.

I have yet to read The Shootist, but the stories in Dead Man's Gun have shown me precisely what Gorman meant. 

 

[For more Short Story Wednesday links visit Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]


 

 


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS – Robert Coover

 One of the enduring theories of art is that it provides symbols that point to truths extending wider and deeper than they appear on the surface. The enigmatic smile on the haunting face of DaVinci's Mona Lisa has provoked admirers over the centuries to guess its meaning. Psychologists tell us the imagination is where it all starts—sexual attraction, wonderment, infatuation, jealousy, rage, the entire gamut of emotions, even love, whatever that might mean. Filmmakers know well the power of suggestion in images and sounds that seem to replicate life, frequently keeping the starkest drama in shadows or off the screen entirely—murder and copulation come immediately to mind—providing just enough clues to prick the collective imagination of audiences into providing a perhaps more inclusive scene in their minds than the one created by actors in front of a camera.

Take the classic romantic drama, Casablanca, for example. Peter Lorre's character is killed off screen, although we know enough about his situation to know he was shot trying to escape from police. The romance between Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), despite its dripping sentimentality and ultimate heroics, doesn’t really give us much background to work with to enable us to fill in the blanks. What was their situation in Paris besides riding in a convertible and drinking wine and making toasts--here’s looking at you, kid--and googly eyes at one another? I don’t recall seeing them even kiss, and if they did there surely was no evident tongue action or lip wrestling. How could we not have remembered that?

Robert Coover obviously had the same questions when he took a peek beneath the scripted scene years later in Rick’s Café Américain when Ilsa tries to persuade the heartbroken Rick to help her and her husband escape the Nazis...you know all that. He refuses, she pulls a gun, he says, “Go ahead, shoot. You’ll be doing me a favor.” she melts, they embrace (I think) and pledge their love—at least she does, etc. etc. That’s what we’re given to stimulate our imagination. Coover takes us all the way. He leaves no doubt about whether they embrace after she melts. He...well, here’s his version:

She seems taken aback, her eyes damp, her lips swollen and parted. Light licks at her face. He gazes steadily at her from his superior moral position, smoke drifting up from his hand once more, his white tuxedo pressed against the revolver barrel. Her eyes close as the gun lowers, and she gasps his name: “Richard!” It is like an invocation. Or a profession of faith. “I tried to stay away,” she sighs. She opens her eyes, peers up at him in abject surrender. A tear moves slowly down her cheek toward the corner of her mouth like secret writing. “I thought I would neffer see you again… that you were out off my life…” She blinks, cries out faintly—“ Oh!”— and (he seems moved at last, his mask of disdain falling away like perspiration) turns away, her head wrenched to one side as though in pain. Stricken with sudden concern, or what looks like concern, he steps up behind her, clasping her breasts with both hands, nuzzling in her hair. “The day you left Paris…!”


 The scene picks up steam and trundles, hell, races down the track for more than thirty pages in excruciating detail. I’ll give you one more line, and if your imagination hasn’t gotten on board by then you’ve missed the train. “He can’t seem to stop his goddamn voice from squeaking. He wants to remain cool and ironically detached, cynical even, because he knows it’s expected of him, not least of all by himself, but he’s still shaken by what he’s seen down in the bar. Of course it might help if he had his pants on. At least he’d have some pockets to shove his hands into. For some reason, Ilsa is staring at his crotch, as though the real horror of it all were to be found there. Or maybe she’s trying to see through to the silent crowd below. ‘It’s, I dunno, like the place has sprung a goddamn leak or something!’”

Six more pages to go….

This story’s included in Coover’s collection A Night at the Movies, with a dozen more fiction pieces. I’ve read a couple of the others, but I don’t remember them, one whit. But this? Who could forget it?

[Find more Short Story Wednesday links at Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Thursday, November 19, 2020

SHAKESPEARE'S DARK LADY – John Hudson


 I've borrowed "Prof. Pecksniff" from Dickens as a repository for the plethora of loathings aroused in me by John Hudson's better-late-than-never tribute to William Shakespeare (a surname that meant "wanker" back in the day, by the way) for sticking his neck out for the woman whose life he undoubtedly saved by sticking his name on her plays. Hudson's book detailing this magnificent Elizabethan sacrifice can be accessed by clicking the hyperlinked title here: Shakespeare's Dark Lady.

The Pecksniffian legions dismiss Hudson's tribute for various reasons I shall get to shortly (some can be found in Amazon's amateur "review" section--"laughable drivel," is one). Their objections reflect the sort of tenacity seen more recently in a conviction that refuses to die blaming the ongoing yearlong COVID pandemic on a global myth managed from her Deep State bunker by Nancy Pelosi to discredit a Falstaffian character resembling the literary version conjured by Amelia Bassano Lanier, the "Dark Lady" in question. In each instance, curiosity and critical thinking take a back seat to inertia and the more pressing concerns of self interest.


Michael Posner tells us, "For the vast Shakespeare community at large – the worlds of academe, publishing, the theatre, tourism, merchandising (a multimillion-dollar annual industry) – there simply [is] no Shakespeare authorship question to debate. People who [think] otherwise must therefore be either half-cocked conspiracy theorists or literary snobs – somehow incapable of believing that a mere country lad from the Midlands with a grade six education could be capable of writing the plays..."

Academia’s approach is pragmatic, Hudson contends, "rather than taking a rational approach to investigating evidence. In part, a commitment to the status quo makes it easier to get grants and lucrative positions: announcing that you don’t believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare will not only fail to secure grants, it will make you unwelcome in English departments. Dr Ros Barber, for instance, recently described the subject as ‘completely taboo’ since if she wanted to do serious research on the subject it was made clear to her that ‘[she] would not be allowed to research it at a British university at all’."


Prithee! Tempest in a teapot, I say. I mean, who really gives a big cahoot who wrote the greatest literature the world has ever known? Does it really matter if the plays came from the pen of Willie Wanker or a highly educated Jewish Italian lass who spent a decade mistressing the queen's illegitimate cousin whose realm included the entire British theatre? I daresay! Isn’t it vastly more important to know Mr. Wanker gallantly allowed his name to appear on the cover of plays that promoted feminism and parodied Christianity, for which England would have executed their author had her identity been proven, albeit the lesser risk of the shallow Lord Dunsdon penetrating the sophisticated subtlety of their deeper meanings? Couldn’t some little smarty pants courtier have run to the Queen squealing. “Your Highness, Your Highness! Guess what those lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream really mean??” Oh sure, Wanker, known as a finagling, money-lending con man with a dashing goatee, might have wriggled his way out from under the executioner’s axe, I give you that. Yet even with a wee bit of risk, such a man of such shady reputation must deserve some credit for calling upon even the tiniest shred of noble inclination in such a dicey situation. Not quite a Tale of Two Cities sacrifice—I’m not reaching that far, perhaps an extra garland on the man’s grave, which, by the way, is rather ornate, beflowered and royal-looking, whilst the Dark Lady is buried without so much as a plaque in the parish church of St. James in Clerkenwell. Serves her right, some might say, for making fun of the Holy Trinity. 

Willie Wanker's tomb

Amelia died in relative poverty, while her literary protector left a rich estate, altho, oddly, including no manuscripts or books or anything remotely resembling literature by anyone. More importantly, are their souls resting peacefully? I would say yes. I do say yes! The wealthy Wanker with the insouciant eternal joy of having pulled off one of the greatest hoaxes in history; his Dark Lady with the sublime satisfaction of having contributed a supreme celestial gift to the mind of humanity.

I trust you aren’t expecting me to prove any of this, to persuade you to join in my celebration of Truth at last. Truth ultimately. Truth with a capital “T.” I put this little fiction scenario together to lure you into the pages of John Hudson’s book so you can decide for yourself. Go ahead, stick your neck out. Make your day.

Prof. Pecksniff be damned. But keep in mind that all’s well that…oh, you know what comes next. Sing it!



Saturday, October 3, 2020

SECRET WARRIORS, PSYCHIC SPIES – Roger Mannon

Neither Roger Mannon nor any of his team stared at goats or walked through walls during their training with the U.S. Army’s first experiment in psychic warfare. Yet his account of their six-day session at the mountaintop Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia, is sufficiently bizarre that in order to feel comfortable reviewing Secret Warriors, Psychic Spies I had to do a little research of my own, albeit mostly with Google, gathering online information about the training site and the only participant in the experiment besides Mannon not given a fictitious name: Major General Albert Stubblebine.

I was surprised to find many articles confirming Mannon’s references to the government’s fascination with the psychic concept, which dropped its Top Secret cover and went public over a decade later when the CIA revealed what had evolved into Project Stargate.

Also aiding me in gauging Mannon’s credibility was my having served in the same Army intelligence and security outfit as Mannon, albeit some twenty years before Gen. Stubblebine picked him to join with twenty-three other GIs from stations around the world to comprise what the Army secretly called “Center Lane.” Their mission at the Virginia mountain institute was to learn if they were capable of developing the psychic ability to gather strategic military intelligence by means of “remote viewing,” in other words using out-of-body mind travel. This was something Stubblebine claimed to have experienced personally.

SFC Roger Mannon
Non-readers’ first exposure to these experiments came with the fictitious movie comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, in which the character “Gen. Hopgood” was supposed to represent Stubblebine. The only scene I recall in the movie suggested by Secret Warriors, Psychic Spies is when one of the trainees wigs out and runs naked across a training field at Fort Bragg shooting a pistol. Mannon reports that one of his team, a young lieutenant missing from training, was found wandering nude on the institute grounds “quietly babbling to himself” and “playing with his fingers like they were strange and foreign protrusions that he did not quite understand...The training staff told us they had managed to get him under control with little effort. He was not violent but calm and pliant and lost in his imaginings,” and he was removed from the project. Mannon said the episode was believed to have killed the Center Lane project, of which upper command officers had been skeptical all along, questioning the program’s legality. Gen. Stubblebine retired shortly afterward.

The question immediately coming to mind is drugs. The lieutenant’s “psychotic break” as described resembles the classic LSD trip. “Just exactly what drugs were you on? That’s what you’re thinking,” Mannon says, addressing us, his readers. And drugs figure prominently in the movie, but Mannon denies with vehemence the likelihood of any unauthorized use of psychotropic drugs by anyone in the military intelligence community.

Using drugs could get you thrown out. Even rumors of drug use could get you thrown out. Close association with friends that did drugs could get you thrown out. More than just thrown out of the unit, it could get you a court-martial and a dishonorable discharge from the Army.”

He also doubts they were getting drugs in their food, or being hypnotized to lose control of their minds. The program’s aim, he emphasizes, was to train them to control their own minds. Yet, he leaves the door ajar for dedicated skeptics: “After battling your way through this narrative, you could decide I am just a little crazy. I don’t feel crazy, but I am not sure any insane person does.”

Does Mannon believe he had out-of-body experiences? Yes, with confirmation from other members of the team who’d not only experienced their own but recalled him entering their isolated chamber during training. He describes the chambers as extremely comfortable, soundproof, darkened units where each trainee lay on a bed while pulsing sounds and Monroe’s voice was piped to them through earphones. The group met together after each session to compare notes.

Here he describes one of his experiences: “I listened to the instructions and experimented with freeing myself from my body. The low, pleasant voice rumbled from the tape: Think how nice it would be to float out and away.’ Thinking of floating away and how it would feel, calmly holding the feeling inside my mind, I felt my mind, my ethereal self, begin to move and flow with the next instruction. ‘Turn and slowly roll over like a log floating in the water. Easily detach. Float up, remaining calm and serene.’ I rolled and, for a moment, had the feeling my physical body was slowly rocking back and forth in the chamber. Keeping my eyes closed and mind focused on the voice from the tape, I pictured myself floating up like a helium balloon on a calm and windless day. I felt the gentle touch of air flowing softly across my face.

I opened my eyes, needing to see if I was imagining the feeling of floating away from myself. I saw that I was no longer in my [chamber]. I was somewhere else! In another [chamber], floating above the bed and looking at [Bob], one of my fellow trainees...” From there he floated to another chamber. “This time it was Nancy. A young (twenty-something) and a gorgeous officer assigned to the administrative staff at Arlington Hall Station. I was looking down at her soft brown hair and wondering if this was all a dream when she opened her hazel eyes. She looked at me and smiled. When our eyes met, I was transported back to the crystal universe, and, for a moment, I saw the golden-yellow crystal rose again. It was superimposed over her body. And then I was gone. Again. During that session, I popped into and out of several [chambers], each visit faster, briefer than the last, but the ones that stayed in my mind were Nancy and Bob.

The session ended, and I rushed down to the white carpeted meeting room to see if I could catch Nancy before the discussion started. I did find her, but she was talking to someone else, and I did not want to interrupt, frankly did not know what to say or where to begin. I was glad that she was busy. On the way down to find her, I had been wondering how I might ask her about the session without telling her my version first. I did not want to feed my vision to her but to have her independently verify, or not, if that were the case, my experience…

As I listened to the group discussion, I found it harder and harder to control my excitement as one after another, the people I had visited talked of someone else being in their units with them...They had not all been aware of who it was. But I knew. I had been there in all their units. It was not something I controlled. I had just been floating above each of them for a few brief moments. I kept waiting for Nancy to say something similar, but she did not…

The discussion period ended, and it was time to enjoy the long break we were given each day...I walked outside into bright sunlight. It had been cold and windy when we had arrived on Friday afternoon. The sky had been heavy with low, dark clouds filled with moisture that never fell. I remember it being only twenty-five degrees that afternoon…I had just lit a cigarette when I saw Nancy walking quickly towards me. She tugged at the sleeve of my military issue, grey sweatsuit with ARMY boldly stenciled in large black letters across the chest. Her eyes were large and sparkled with surprise and excitement. In one quick breath, she said, ‘I saw you. I saw you in my room! You were floating right above me!’ I was thrilled, amazed, excited by her words…

Quickly, breathlessly, she spat out the story in one long stream. ‘I knew it was you because -- I saw you. Well, your face really, floating above me – you were there...It should have been spooky – I know -- but it wasn’t – I wasn’t scared at all. ‘cause I could feel you there too, you know? I knew you were there before I ever saw you. I sensed you, your presence, knew you were with me, in there...You weren’t there long. Maybe only a few seconds, less than a minute, I’m sure. There, then gone. I started to say something, you know. Open my eyes and say something, but you were gone. You just went away, poof, like that. But I still felt you with me even after I couldn’t see you anymore. Right there beside me. Just invisible.’

Gen. Stubblebine

She stopped and just looked at me, eyes still wide with wonder? Doubt? I didn’t know and don’t think she did either.”

On the last day, after Gen. Stubblebine addressed the team and opened the floor for comments, two team members who had kept themselves apart from the others, spoke up, dismissing the project as “‘Nonsense. Just a load of crap and a waste of time, money and people,’ said one. ‘Bullshit,’ said the other…

They told the group...their superiors, suspicious of the nature of the training, worried about the negative impact should...such a brainless experiment ever become known. And God help us all if the National Security Agency discovers our leader and highest-ranking officer is a fool who believes this shit,’ one of the two said. “He pointed at at the General, ‘this man believes it and spends money better used somewhere else than on some kind of search for magic, a god damned crystal ball of intelligence that does not fucking exist.’”

Mannon says that although Center Lane was shut down shortly afterward the project was shifted to the Defense Intelligence Agency, where it was “reborn as Project Sun Streak.

Twelve years later, in 1995, the CIA’s Stargate Project and its history, a history I suspect is still incomplete, was revealed to the public.”

MSgt. Roger "Grandpa" Mannon (Ret.)

Long retired from the Army as a master sergeant, he offers this philosophical opinion of his psychic experience: “Those who don’t believe won’t believe despite evidence to the contrary. And, likewise, those who do believe will continue to despite any lack of definite proof. The existence of psychic phenomena, like life, is not cast in black and white but shades of grey and, if one looks, marvelous things can be found in the shadings.”