Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: August, 2013

The thing about heaven

IMG_20130612_130405Asha is in her bed. Joe is in ours, just a little too unnerved to sleep on his own due to stories about Bloody Mary he heard from day camp. Deva is swaddled up in the corner, his form barely illumined by the light of our computer screen. We are continuing our game of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, sharing chocolate and trying to keep our laughter down so we don’t wake our sons.

Then the chocolate is gone and we decide  to catch up with some of our favourite TV shows. We slip into the living room, depositing Joe in his own bed along the way. My HDMI cable is finicky, and it’s a while before we can connect the computer to the television. By the time it’s done we’ve forgotten all about Dexter and Breaking Bad. We lounge on the floor while watching our favourite anime opening themes on YouTube. We laugh together as we share the last beer.  We make out under the light of the TV screen. We slip outside and make love on the balcony, wrapped in Toronto’s fragrant darkness.

Later, I sit alone staring at the city skyline, indulging in a rare cigarette and reveling in a now-familiar settled joy. The night air is gentle against my face.  The moon climbs the sky while I watch.

The thing about heaven is that it’s right there–in my grasp, in my heart. I sip my cool water and wonder why it took me so long to figure that out.

Another thing about the past

IMG_20130531_100823There is an Event I anticipate.  It’ll be fun.  It draws close and my excitement grows.  And then it comes and I throw myself into it.  I enjoy and consume the Event, drinking my fill and even a little bit more.  Waves of happiness roll all over and it’s exactly how I had hoped it would be with the laughings and huggings and tomfooleries.  And then it ends.  And I’m the child who cries because he finished all his ice cream.  The past killed the Event.

That’s the thing about the past.  It consumes all Events, every single one.  And it’s good that it does, otherwise I’d be stuck.  I’d be static.  And I can’t think of a worse hell than boredom.  That’s why Alexander wept when there were no more lands to conquer.  Just what else was he supposed to bother staying alive for?

I don’t mourn when the night of wild laughter winds out.  I smile at the smoldering campfire the next morning.  At the challenge of making pancakes without spatula or bowl.  At the gentle pull of gravity on my shoulders.  I smile that the powerful play goes on, and I get to contribute a verse.

Memorizing Mondays: When I heard the learn’d astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

– Walt Whitman

I first heard this poem about a year ago and I didn’t get it.  Not that I didn’t understand it, that is, the words of it.  I just didn’t get it.  Then I saw it quoted on an episode of Breaking Bad.  I get it and it’s lovely sauce.


Scribblings while camping

The delicate stillness of the highest leaves
and the shimmer of the air above the fire.
The washed out blue of the sky
and the two raccoons tight against the tree trunk
staring as I pass.
The crow screams in midflight
While the sun slowly scales the trees
just because I want them to.

My little fire
in the light of the sun.

stretching through the twisted branches
to set the smoke aflame.

The scissors are obviously of good quality, though sluggish because of leftover grime and a splash of blood.  Sharp and halting.  You wonder how they would sound after a quick cleaning.

Morning Commute

I finish my tea and go back to my house.  We eat fried flat breads with last night’s chickpeas.  A bit of yogurt and raw onion to make the taste dance.  More chai.  I adjust my pathan cap and sindhi ajrak and gently carry my bicycle down the narrow stairs.  My wife follows in her burka, with our son.

Pakistan 097

My son sits on the bar in front of me.  I screwed a little padded seat there for him.  He grins as he clutches the handlebars.  My wife pulls herself up on the rear rack while I hold the bike balanced.  Then we’re off.  What things can I see while we go through the streets of my town?  The shop we buy our firewood from.  The only honest yogurt vendor in town.  A child defecating by his front door—the same time every day.  I see goats tied to electric poles, red-mouthed paan vendors and little boys running to delivery steaming little tea pots and nearly clean cups.  I see rich men in large cars blocking the roads while I slip easily by them on my three-person bike.  I see yellow rickshaws crammed with schoolchildren and teachers.  I see the natural world of humanity, busied and arbitrary.  There is no difference between this place and the place I was born.

Memorizing Mondays: Ozymadias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. … Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

– Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelly

Chai Khana

The Chai KhanaI slip down the dark narrow stairs onto the bright dusty street.  There’s a lot going on.  Our corner of the intersection is the electrician’s part of town.  The shop right by our  door is owned by the guy who put in our line to the communal backup generator.  The shop around the corner is owned by the guy who fixed it when it exploded a day later.  The line, not the generator.

I cross the intersection, lazily dodging a motorbike weaving around a milkman’s donkey cart.  The milkman is bringing milk to the chai khana.  The chai walla smiles and raises his hand to me.  I shake his and sit on the bench, huddled in my chadar against the surprising chill.  Akbar and Faisal are there.  Akbar tells me a story about his village.  I hardly understand a word because he’s spoken Dhadki to me ever since he found out my wife was from a related tribe.  Faisal makes fun of him for it in Sindhi.  The chai walla smiles and hands me my chai on a clean saucer.

The thing about the past.

I used to regret some of the choices I made.  I looked back on my high-school days and wished that I had been as clever and socially awesome as I am today.  I looked back on college and wished I had asked better questions.  Relationships I could have saved.  Sufferings I could have prevented.

This is not a fish.

That’s the thing about the past; even though it didn’t even exist, it could still make me sad.

But what if I had had a better time in high school?  Would present me—the only me that even exists—be better off?  I suppose not.  I suppose the only reason I regret any of the choices of my past is because I empathize with the younger Matt making the choices, much in the same way I empathize with the characters from my favourite movies and novels.

So I didn’t do all the things I would have liked to do as a child, as a high-schooler, as a guy in his 20s.  But that’s fine because Matt the child and Matt the high-school and Matt the 22-year-old don’t exist.  Only I exist.  And there’s no point in feeling sorry for those Matts because they aren’t around to appreciate it.

Memorizing Mondays: Invictus

William Ernest Henley

Memorizing things is fun.  Back in the day I used to memorize tons of Bible stuff, even packing down an entire epistle once.  It’s a great way to keep the brain in shape, look awesome in front of friends and carry beautiful things around in your head.

I am resolving to memorize a bit of awesome every week.  Last week’s awesome was William Ernest Henley’s poem, ‘Invictus.’

Out of the night that covers me,

black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

for my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

my head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

looms but the horror of the shade.

And yet the menace of the years

finds, and shall find, me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

how charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate.

I am the captain of my soul.

This week I’ll either memorize ‘If-‘ by Rudyard Kipling, ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley or the soliloquy from Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet (To be or not to be…).

What awesome things have you memorized and which ones should I add to my list?

Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed


On a scale of 1 to 10, Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, was Awesome-Sauce.  Here’s why:

  • The story is a wild ride that touches you right down in the viscerals with serious love and pain.
  • It has all the right elements that made The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns Awesome-Sauce: enticing, complex characters, powerfully real settings and delightful prose.
  • Hosseini pushes himself to tell a wider story than he has before, giving us more characters to invest in and telling a broader story that rightly shows the ripples of consequence choices of love, hate and neglect make.
  • The characters are deep and real. The reader understands the ones who hurt and sees the flaws in the ones who love.
  • When I finished reading it, I felt like a slightly different person. The way you feel after an awesome meal or workout.

Read Khaled Hosseini’s, And the Mountains Echoed. Some people have found it difficult to follow the story because of the relatively larger cast of characters. I say to you, try harder. It’ll be worth it.