Old Woman on the Bus (Boca Chinos)


She was old, but only in some physical ways. She shined, fresh and pink and lovely, through the humidity of the crowded Boca Chinos bus. I didn't meet her, didn't speak to her, but had I been closer I would have. She was gracious, and when her eyes met anyone's she smiled warmly. Her brows raised when she listened, and settled toward her temples when she spoke. She touched strangers' shoulders lightly as she exited the bus, holding the rail tight as she took the steps one by one. She waved goodbye to the driver from the side of the road.

A photograph exists, but only to spark a memory.
 

 

 

Boca de Tomatlan (Sandbox)

Children play in the sand. Are they kind to each other? Will they stay that way? Who is thirsty, who feels unloved?

Do they know yet that no one else is them, that every breath they take and the way they see color and the shape of their fingernails and everything they capture or set free by choice, mistake or reflex is absolutely unique to them? And do they know that this is what binds us, this very isolation, and that love is the word we use when we believe it has been broken? That true love is that which lets us pretend itís at bay?

And do they know yet that we are all so tightly bound by our uniqueness, that it is what's exactly the same about us all?
 

 

 

Las Animas

There is a bond between children that moves through water. Those on the shore are not yet included; they must dive or wade in. Once in the water, the children become one living thing, moving along the beach like a giant amoeba. They climb on small boats that aren't theirs and jump back into the sea. Boys throw sand; girls stand in the wave break and squeal. It is impossible to tell how many families are here, or how many languages are spoken. The teenagers forget themselves. Their parentsí faces soften to see them so young again.
 

 

 

Banderas Bay

Why are the fish not afraid of me? The water is clear; they can see who I am. They gather around my feet, my ankles, my thighs. They tolerate my floundering. They stay when the waves knock me about and I struggle with my footing in the sand. I am afraid I could crush them but they are themselves liquid, uncrushable.

I imagine bringing them home with me. I imagine their glass prison. I hold salty tears, keep this world inside me.
 

 

 

From Destiladeras

They offered us a ride. We didn't take it; the bus from this remote beach is part of the adventure. We sacrificed this: Riding in their truck, windows open, perhaps with a child on each of our laps - it would have been necessary to make room; scenery passing quietly because the only language we have in common is one of nods, eyes and gestures, which may or may not have included a light embrace when they dropped us on the side of the main road before turning north.
 

 

 

Releasing a Turtle (Nuevo Vallarta)

This tiny sea turtle is new. It hatched shortly before I held it. I was told they smell like algae, but this one smells like dust. Its odds of survival are very slim but given a full life span in excess of my own I'm not really sure what that means. The help I offer on its way to the ocean may or may not make a difference to any living thing but me.
 

 

 

Hector Ortiz

His name is Hector, and he helped me when I needed some help.

You have to understand, typically Iím notably self-contained, so maybe what I needed help with most was managing a particular vulnerability, or a small collection of them, as it were. It wasnít a real problem, at least not for anybody but me, and even those who know me and love me might have had to dig a bit for words of comfort in the face of a problem seemingly so trivial, though those very closest to me would understand, and would understand were I to take such a thing so hard.

So it wasnít the kind of problem that causes peril, or leaves or puts anyone in peril, not even me. It wasnít a perilous problem. It was another kind, the kind where a small, seemingly unimportant thing (or sometimes, a series of them) can become a profound one in the way it just makes you...lose faith - in things, in people, or, at its most acute, in the whole entire world. So I needed help, and this specific incident became, in its way, a crisis of faith, and here I was, publicly on the brink of tears, and though of course I was managing I wasnít managing very well. I woke up sad that morning anyway for no good reason and not even for a bad one that I could put my finger on. And here, this...obstacle, this petty little obstacle became an emblem of anything that was or could possibly be bothering me - right then, and maybe even for the few months leading up to that moment, since I had been a little...melancholy lately, and that may or may not have anything to do with this matter here.

So anyhow, I was on the brink of crying publicly, well, I actually was crying publicly, but not sobbing or anything like that, and even I donít know if the tears were about what was happening right then Ė frustration, maybe even a little esoteric fear (though nothing major) - or if the tears were about recent months (though I had met frustration and even obstacles in those months before, and certainly didnít cry over them). Or if the tears were about something else entirely: News of the demise of a close friendís marriage; feeling a bit tired; noticing my ďstomachĒ reflected in a window Iíd walked passed earlier that day. But in any case, point is, I had a problem. And either that problem made me sad, or I was sad before it and this problem was, so to speak, a...tipping point. And this may all sound rather tongue-and-cheek or even playful now in recollecting it, but in the moment, honestly, I felt like hell. And I felt lost, and I even felt ashamed - of what I considered to be my own stupidity relative to the specific needs and circumstances that created the problem and, as I said before, my present vulnerability - and even a little afraid (though not of my well-being or life or anything like that; more like of my lifeís work, if you want to put it that way). And did I mention I was far away from home? I was far away from home, so I also felt alien, and lonely.

And the infrastructure for solving this problem was not helping me. In fact, itís putting me on edge. Itís putting me on the verge of tears (okay, well, so I was actually crying, but ďon the verge of tearsĒ is a far better description of how I felt), and I was turned away, turned out. Call it what you will.

So next Iím walking down a hallway in an airport (did I mention it was an airport?) in a foreign country, and Iím crying (now more plainly sad than on the verge of tears), feeling defeated, and feeling like an asshole too because I know firsthand there are many real, significant, life-and-death reasons one might be crying - most particularly in, of all places, an airport - and I am not experiencing any of them. And Iím walking down this hallway, sad and defeated and more than a little ashamed - now for my stupidity, my priorities, and the selfishness that lets me think that this is anything worth crying over, really - and I am about to ask for help. And I do. I ask for help, already convinced of the uselessness of doing so, which only adds to the on the verge of tears feeling Iím back to now, since Iíd let some futile tears trickle out walking alone down that endless hallway (had I mentioned I was alone? - though probably youíd already assumed that by now anyway of course; consider your assumption here verified) and now was plugged back up, corked, tearless, or trying to be...tearless outside my eyelids in any
case; I could feel tears (if thatís what theyíre called at this point, before they are leaked or wept), tears thickening over my eyeballs. But I pretty much refuse to blink. And I ask this guy for help.

And the first thing he does, long before I finish telling him my issue, my story, so to speak...long before the end Ė well, pretty much when Iíd first started in, and Iím trying to stay calm, and to be articulate, and convicted, and Iím trying to hold back tears though I can feel them swelling against my eyeballs, but wonít blink Ė before I finishing telling him the problem and in fact pretty much when Iíd just started, when Iíd barely started in...pretty much right away he reaches out his arm and kind of puts it around me, or rather across me, across my shoulders, just lightly. This is even before I started telling him my story, after which, having once learned how trivial my problem really was, he may never have offered it all. But then he again he certainly would have - Iíll tell you about that later - but right when I get there, when I first walk up to him and Iím about to tell him my problem, he puts an arm around me. And itís so neutral in its kindness that you could think it was, well, professional, a professional gesture. But clearly, in any land, it is not a professional gesture to put your arm around a strange patron, at least not in this sort of circumstance. So the gesture, in this context, is purely personal, purely...human. Purely kind. And as if thatís not enough - cause it was, it is, enough...just that - as if thatís not enough, the guy goes and solves my problem. In fact, he goes out of his way to solve my problem, above and beyond some might say, especially given that my so-called problem was, in truth, fairly trivial, and mattered to no one in the world but me (though a select few who know and love me best might be able to empathize). But, and maybe this is too obvious to state, but I state it just the same, first because maybe itís not that obvious after all, and second, in a spirit of recognition and gratitude Ė absolute gratitude to this guy at the airport Ė since it may not be obvious and even if it is, in the spirit of recognition and gratitude, the sadness I felt was real, and this stranger, this man at the airport, he knew this.

And even though he had already solved the bigger problem I was having the moment he reached his arm out toward me, he went ahead and solved the ďlittlerĒ one too (though, conceptually speaking, an impetus is never little, is it?)

I see him once more as Iím about to board the plane. When I notice him Iím on the verge of tears again but now (obviously) for a completely different reason. And you might think that, by now, heíd be more than a little sick of me, having gone out of his way to solve a really - in the scope of things - minor problem for me, only for me; having offered himself up to me the way he did - him perhaps thinking that something really awful had happened, something terrible was happening to me or for me, when, in fact, it wasnít. In the end, all it was was that Iíd had a little problem, a minor problem. But then, it wasnít even that. It was just that I...was sad. And maybe I never even would have had the problem in the first place if I hadnít first been sad; maybe Iíd have handled things differently, or thought about them differently, or just would have thought ahead in a different way. But in the way that wet hair might make one vulnerable to a cold, my sadness had made me vulnerable to this problem, or rather, to having a problem, any problem, in the first place - and certainly more vulnerable to taking it hard, handling it poorly. So you might think that this guy, this guy who literally put himself out to solve my minor little problem, might be sick of me by now, might even, actually, dislike me. And if he did, even I would think heíd certainly have reason to.

But when I see him again, me about to board the plane and once again on the verge of tears though clearly this time for a different reason Ė or at least I hope ďclearlyĒ, but given no one but me can ever really know how I feel, and given that even I donít know how I feel half the time (as example, myself that very morning), who knows what he thinks when he sees my glassy eyes? I am more effective at holding back my tears this time, and in any case, I feel tired, and undoubtedly look tired, so the reason for my glassy eyes is, in fact, probably not obvious. But then again, it never was about tears or ďhow things lookĒ or the things you can see or the seeming reasons for them anyway, was it?

And the guy this time gives me a little hug, a friendly little hug because we are now apparently old friends, him an angel from some past life of mine or me from some past life of his, one where I saved him maybe and now heís just...returning the favor; we are apparently old friends, and he gives me a little hug, the lightest, kindest little hug, and heís smiling, heís not melancholy himself or sad or worried for me at all, and clearly, thankfully, heís not annoyed with me either. Itís probably just a natural thing for him, in fact I can tell Ė most certainly Ė that it is...that heís just kind, and that alone lets me believe that the world is - kind I mean, as in, capable of kindness. The guyís just kind, and he loves being kind, loves it even if he doesnít even notice heís doing it, like the way a dog can make you smile when youíre bluest or forget yourself when you need to Ė though with more dignity of course. Iím not comparing the guy to a dog. Though I do like, no rather, adore dogs, and think of them as inherently kind Ė yes, kind. Anyway, the guy smiles, and hugs me, just very natural and kind, and he doesnít realize (at least probably not) that he, in that moment, is, for me, the entire world...something natural, and concrete, and kind. But I realize it.

Itís only then that I ask him his name.
 

 

 

Mary

Death is a terrible guest.
It makes messes,
takes more than you can offer,
comes in even though the door was locked,
even though you werenít there when it arrived,
or were pretending not to be.
It imposes.
It doesnít care how you feel.
It doesnít care about you at all.

Death is poorly timed.
Itís too early.
Itís too late,
it let things go on too long.
Death is seldom welcome and even when it is,
it leaves holes.
It creates holes,
holes that seem impossible to you but never are.
Those holes.

Death only exists to the dead.
We live.
We live with a permanent reminder of things we want, sometimes more than anything,
but can never, ever have.

Then death fleets in its way.
We might forget it even happened then shudder in pain when we remember,
awed that we could have missed it even for a moment.
Shocked that relief is possible.

Death fleets,
and we are left with life,
our own and theirs too, the dead oneís.
Their life continues on like waves across the ocean,
traveling through the water until there is no water.
The grieving are the water.
You are the water.
You are,
or you will be.

And one day you will be the wave.
So you can think of this as a reminder to love those you love,
to forgive those you need to,
and these are good things, yes.
But what I mean to say is your earthly death will only end your life for you.
The echoes, memories and ramifications of your once-presence will
travel on across seas of hearts and time.
Your life will continue on without you,
it doesnít even need you.
So what I mean to say is: Be kind.

Big waves may be dramatic or beautiful but
inherently require distance, and break things.
Your life will outlive you.
Leave gentle waves,
like she did.
 

 

 

Light as Air, Heavy As Family

To know this Snow is to come to know Clouds.
See the resemblance as you stroke its cheek,
It reminds you so much of its Father.

To know this Snow tells the Lake who you are.
Snow describes to the Lake your delicate hands
You remind it so much of its Mother:
Light as Air.
Heavy as Family.
 

 

 

For Andy On His Birthday

My brother was in his early twenties when my parents sent me out to live with him the first time. I was thirteen. He helped me get a job at a dude ranch in town, fulfilling a dream and allaying my fears of a summer far away from home. He worked nights as a bartender but woke up every morning near dawn to drive me to work Ė not because I couldnít have walked there, but because he wanted me safe. That was the summer of ďMy Aim is TrueĒ and ďDarkness on the Edge of Town.Ē My brother forgave me when Iíd play ďWatching the DetectivesĒ over and over, so stunned was I by music that described its lyric so perfectly.

It was maybe six months later my parents sent me back to him. He signed me up for school. I remember waiting with him to register, each of us squirming in a hard plastic chair as we overheard a conversation where the guidance counselor explained to parents how their son had lost an eye that day in shop class. This was a small town with a small town school. Itís the only small town Iíve ever lived in. So I donít know if they all divide up into categories so plain as rulers and servants, but the counselor had determined the school itself was not at fault, and the two crushed parents exited his office with bowed heads, the mother weeping. A smiling counselor then led us in.

A new kid was something of a novelty there, so the principal sat in as I described the classes I had taken in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was late March. I was nearly two years through an accelerated program and scheduled to graduate a full year early. The principal said, ďWe canít have you graduating early. We get $3,200.00 for every semester youíre here.Ē I canít remember the precise language of the argument that ensued calling into question the schoolís particular priorities, but my brother is gifted in discourse. The principal clearly wasnít, and it nearly ended in a fistfight. This is the only time in my life I have ever seen my brother so angry, this in defense of me, his sister, and greater moral principles.

And thatís how it's always been Ė my brother standing up for me; my brother fighting for the best in all of us. My brother took care of me. He taught me about all the best things.

I have three siblings, Andy the oldest, my sister the second youngest and a brother in between the two of them. They are all very close in age, three years apart top to bottom. I came eight years after. Eight years Ė a lifetime to a child, with some literal lifetimes of place and parentage between us. Andy never made me feel separate, or different. He gave me culture Ė music, literature, philosophy. He gave me money when I was broke. He gave me a home when our parents couldnít. He taught me to argue lovingly. He let me believe I was special, and loveable, and good at things that maybe I wasnít even very good at, but his encouragement let me get better.

I wish everyone in the world could have a brother like I have. Weíre older now, maybe old even, but my very belief in the possibility of things like love, loyalty and security springs from him. Anything you like about me, I probably learned from him. Anything you donít like about me is probably something he tried to teach me that didnít stick. To know me is to know Andy. To know Andy is to know the best parts of me.

Happy birthday to my big brother. Happy my big brotherís birthday to me.
 

 

 

Lagoon

My presence on this particular beach was somewhat accidental. I could see that high seas had broken up the cove, but I did not realize the channel cutting through it was a river Ė so cold and clear, born in the mountains. From the far end of the beach Iíd wade through fresh water waist deep, my feet sinking into newly naked sand, the river pulling. I climbed its soft bank to reach a sandbar then continued into gentle waves, the ocean water salty and warm. Each trip back from the sea was cleansing in the one way that the sea itself is not.

Children were the first to let the river tow them, old folks were next, their laughter indistinguishable as the current took them exactly where they wished to be, effortless, weightless in an ocean that always sent them home.

 

 

 

Destiladares

You can say there are prettier beaches and Iíll tell you where to find them. But this is the best beach. No beach is better for swimming. No beach has so delicious a meal for you there, fish fresh from the ocean grilled over coals with love by a family of four. Four: They huddle, fanning the wood smoke tenderly.

No beach has a better bus ride taking to you to it, kind strangers making sure you choose the right stop and that you know where to catch the bus back home again; a driver pulling coins from your hand, then returning different coins to it.

This is the best beach. The locals know this too and do not hate you for going there. It is something they've always wanted you to know about them. As if you didn't love them enough before.

 

 

 

What To Wear To A Funeral

No one is going to save you.

No one is going to wake you up.

No one is going to call and tell you the funeralís been cancelled. No one is going to tell you the best thing you can do to help is just stay home.

You are not so high up on the mourning hierarchy. No one cares how you feel. You are just high enough up that you are expected to be there. Your loss is not as great as theirs is. No one cares what you wear.

But still you stand in front of your closet for an hour wondering which article of clothing to doom forever with the legacy of having been worn on this day, a day you donít want to remember even though it hasnít happened yet. Each of your mundane rituals of the living have themselves been marked by doom.

You dress yourself. You try to eat a little something. You leave dirty things in the sink to convince yourself youíll be back home. This is not your day, and this is not your day to die. But it is someoneís.

You grieve for them as if they were your own.
 

 

 

Weeping Willow

Do you remember crawling inside the weeping willow tree, parting its branches like curtains and believing you could live right there forever? Do you remember what was on the ground? Or tugging the weeping branches and watching a million small moths alight, then waiting, waiting for the moths to return, and tugging the branches again?


Do you remember crawling inside the clothing rack at the department store while your mother shopped, a preference for the rounds ones because these most resembled the tree that you loved, hiding inside a wall of sweaters, waiting for her to call so you could pop out and surprise her? Or, hoping she never would.
 

 

 

Rabbits Foot

Do you remember your lucky rabbits foot? Was it dyed purple, pink or blue? You were too young for keys so you used the chain to carry it. You were old enough to know you needed luck. Was there something you wanted? Was there something you had that you wished would go away? Did you rub it? Did you rub it until you revealed the little bones, did the tendons inside it repulse you?

Did you feel lucky when you lost it?
 

 

 

Man Bug

Do you remember finding a reversed ladybug, this one black with spots of red? You called it a "man-bug" and tried not let its darkness scare you. It was rare and exotic,


but you liked it less.
 

 

 

Ten Seemed Twenty

Do you remember being younger and wishing you'd turn eight? Then nine, then twelve, fourteen? Do you remember the autonomy you thought that age would bring you? And is it hard to remember now what on earth that may have been?
 

 

 

The Gambler And His Daughter

Itís funny what you remember. I remember what I wore, well, just the shirt. I think I must have been sick or something and this was my reward for healing. I donít remember being sick. But I remember my youth just well enough to know it wouldnít have happened otherwise.

My dad took me to the racetrack at 5am to see Canonero the Second run. Iíd made that horse my hero when he ran for the Triple Crown in Ď71 but he broke down in the Belmont. I guess they printed exercise times in the paper. Or maybe Dad got a tip from his bookie.

There was a snack bar at the track where trainers would grab coffee and watch their horses work out in that very early morning just like we were doing, Dad and me. Canonero the Second was the last to run. Dad held me up so I could see. We only had a black and white television then and here at sunrise this gleaming copper stallion, craning his neck as he galloped by. I remember the sound of cheering but it was just inside of me.
 

 

 

Over the River

I donít remember much from my childhood. Sometimes I think I remember something because Iíve been told about it, and I imagine remembering it, but really thatís more like making a movie - or adapting a script from a novel.

Anyway, I have a nice memory of Thanksgiving dinner at some auntís or friend-of-the-familyís, someone who was a really terrible cook. My folks stopped for White Castle burgers on the way home, dewy buns and onions steaming up the car windows.
 

 

 

Magnifier

Let me preface this by saying I was in a terrible mood. I was working in the garden. I moved a rock. Beneath it was a mass of red ants and a trove of little white ant eggs. Normally I would just put that rock right back in hopes of harming nothing. But today I didn't. I actually thought to myself: "Those ants have to learn to fend for themselves."
 

 

 

Someone Else's Story

There is a story I want to tell you. But itís not my story, itís a friendís. Well, not a friend's, the guy I had a crush on in high schoolís - he didnít have a crush back, so weíre not friends exactly. Heís more like someone I know. Thereís someone else I know in the story too, but he wasnít my friend either. He was the crush-guyís friend. But it was a small town and a small school so of course I knew him too, the other guy in the story. Iím not sure if telling it to you is stealing or not. It kind of feels like stealing. But the crush-guy never reciprocated, and was pretty cruel about it all really. So screw him. I can tell you the story. In any case, itís my version. Itís mine now. So anyway.

The crush guy is named Scott. I loved him because he wore glasses like Elvis Costello wore, or like Buddy Holly wore I guess because they call them Buddy Holly glasses, but I wasnít into Buddy Holly. I donít think I even knew who he was at the time. I was into Elvis Costello. And Scott had brown hair and wore Elvis Costello glasses, which was enough to make me think he looked like him. Which was enough to make me love him. One day I was somewhere where Scott was, some party or something or maybe even in the same car, someoneís car Ė not the other guy in the storyís - and I looked at him all dreamy-like and told him he looked like Elvis Costello. Scott was a senior when I was a sophmore. I thought I paid him the ultimate compliment but he kind of slanted away from me and said, ďFuck you.Ē That was my only conversation with him. Well, my only conversation with him in high school. After high school I hooked up with him a couple of drugged-up, messed-up times, but thatís another story.

Oh yeah, the story. Itís hard to believe, but itís true. Itís not the kind of thing you could make up. Well, I could I guess. Make it up I mean. But I wouldnít. I mean I wouldnít make this kind of thing up. I make up other kinds of things. But anyway, itís a true story.

Scott and Dave Ė Daveís the other guy, Scottís friend, but I knew him, well, I knew him like I knew Scott Ė Scott and Dave are riding horses up by Lawn Lake. The horses are Daveís. Daveís one of the rich kids, but Estes Park is a small, isolated mountain town, so rich is still a hick, just a hick with more money, a nicer truck. Anyway, Scott and Dave are riding Daveís horses up by Lawn Lake. Lawn Lake was a reservoir up in Rocky Mountain National Park, up above timberline. I know, it seems weird, a reservoir way up a mountain, inside a national park no less, a place thatís so supposed be all pristine and natural, right? But the eastern slope of the Rockies is dry, and they pipe over water from the western slope to irrigate the plains. Anyhow, I said it was a reservoir because the earthen dam that held it broke in the early eighties and caused a flash flood that killed people and nearly wiped out the town. So now itís not really a reservoir anymore. ''Too much pain and suffering from the flood to get away with rebuilding the dam. It wasnít a big lake to begin with, but now itís just kind of a pond, and only sometimes, when itís been wet. But everyone still calls it Lawn Lake, and Scott and Dave were riding horses on the Lawn Lake Trail, way up there in the mountains.

Well, that high up, twelve thousand feet, weather can change really quickly. The peaks are just a few hundred feet overhead and block the view of the western sky so you canít see whatís coming in. So Scott and Dave are riding horses, Dave in the front, Scott in the rear Ė the trail is just one-horse wide Ė and just like that a storm blows in. That kind of thing happens. But this time it was kind of nastier than usual, or maybe it wasnít really any nastier than usual, maybe they were just unlucky. Well, Dave was. Or not, depending how you see it. But anyway, theyíre up above timberline and this storm blows in, and itís the two boys on horseback, Dave up front, Scott behind him. And this bolt of lightning comes down out of the sky and hits Dave right in the head.

It all happens really fast. Of course. Lightning fast, ha ha. But anyway, this bolt of lightning comes out of the sky and hits Dave right in the top of the head. Scottís maybe four or five yards behind him, he sees the whole thing, feels the crash Ė instantly Ė and he panics, or maybe heís not panicking, heís just reacting, you know, doing what you do when you just watched your friend get hit in the head by a bolt of lightning, right? So Scott, he jumps off his horse and starts to run down the trail away from the disaster and itís not even raining yet and he hears this voice yelling, ďScott, Scott!Ē Well Scott thinks heís hearing a ghost cause he just watched Dave get killed and thereís no one else around and horses donít talk. So heís almost too scared to turn around but he hears the voice and itís Daveís voice so Scott is shaking (his word, ďshakingĒ, heís not the type to admit he pissed himself but I bet he did). Scott is shaking and totally freaked out and he walks back up the trail and he sees Daveís horse laying on the ground and hears the voice say, ďGet it off me!Ē

Well, lucky or unlucky, Iíll let you call it. But the lightning bolt came out of the sky, hit Dave right on the top of his head, went straight through him, grounded on the horse and killed the horse. Dave was fine. But the horse went right down, just kind of folded up and when it did Dave wound up pinned underneath it.

Horses are heavy, and dead horses are worse. Scott pushes and shoves and Dave squirms and pulls and they get Dave out. Heís all crying and stuff, not cause heís scared Ė itís Scott whoís scared, he saw the whole thing, Dave didnít even know what happened until Scott told him. Daveís crying cause his horse died. I guess he loved that horse. But anyway, Dave and Scott manage to get the saddle off Ė itís a nice saddle Ė and Daveís just fine, and they walk back down the mountain with the other horse and the saddle they took off of the dead one.

But hereís the real story. The two boys and the horse and the extra saddle come down off that mountain and head back to Daveís. And I donít know that I would have thought to do this myself, but I guess it is what youíd do. I donít think I would have thought of it, but Dave calls the Park Service to tell them what happened, and to let them know thereís a dead horse up on the Lawn Lake Trail. And get this, the Park Service, no sympathy at all, no congratulations or mercy, the Park Service tells Dave, ďYou have to remove the animal, itís not part of the park. You have two days.Ē And they tell him about some huge fine heís going to have to pay if he doesnít get it out of there. I wonder if theyíd have been able to track him down if he didnít say something, or if theyíd ever even know that horse was up there Ė since the dam broke and the lake is gone, not many people use the Lawn Lake Trail. But thatís it, they know, and theyíre total dicks about it. I mean, Dave could have died. And he lost his best horse.

So Dave and Scott are freaking out the way getting in trouble freaks out high school boys more than nearly getting killed does. Horses are big. Dave is saying how if they cut it up, itís still going to take like fifteen trips seven miles up and seven down that mountain each time. And Scott is a wreck, heís squeamish to begin with. He still gets teased for crying over a dead dog he found when the town was cleaning up after The Big Thompson Flood six years earlier. All the boys helped clean up after that one. It killed hundreds of people. And the weird thing was the flood had torn people apart, there were arms and legs and torsos all separate and horrible and Scott starts crying over a dog. But whatever the reason Ė maybe heís scared, or maybe heís sensitive, I thought he looked like Elvis Costello so of course I grant him the latter Ė whatever the reason, Scottís more freaked than Dave even.

But anyway, packing it out wasnít really going to work. And Dave might talk tough, but heíd already shed tears up there over that horse, and chopping it up into pieces must have seemed like a nightmare, even if he suggested it. I donít know who came up with the dynamite idea. But Daveís dad was in construction, and those Rocky Mountains are all stone, so heíd have some.

So Scott and Dave sneak into one of Daveís dadís sites that night, or thatís the way I heard it, though it makes more sense that dynamite would be in a warehouse or something, right? Anyhow, they get a few sticks of dynamite. And the next day they hike back up the mountain to where that horse is. And they blow it up. Thatís how they got rid of the carcass.

Blew it to smithereens. No butchering, no fines. And no telling anyone else about the crying part. At least not until those two had some falling out, then they each told a version where only the other guy cries.

So there it is. My stolen story. Itís true. I mean, I didnít even know you could get hit by lightning and live. I couldnít have made that up. And Iíd never kill a horse in a story I made up, never. And who could even think up something like a fine after you nearly die and your horse does die. I donít have that kind of imagination. Itís not dark like that. In fact, itís my tendency to try to make things nicer and sweeter than they really are. Thatís how I wound up with Scott for awhile. But thatís my story, and this one here is someone else's.
 

 

 

Mercy, In Practice

My mom killed her mom. Grandma had cancer and was living with us. She wasn't really that old, Grandma, and Mom was maybe in her mid-thirties. I was little. I was scared of Grandma then because she was bald (though she wore a wig most of the time) and smelled funny to me. And she once was fat and round and now she was brittle and thin. She lived in a red recliner in what had been our dining room. I'm not sure at all how long she was there...a week, a month, a year? I am very good at forgetting things I could only hope to forget.

Anyhow, Grandma pleaded with Mom to kill her. They were both dramatic types, but my mom was also a pragmatist. And she seemed to always have some measure of pity for her mother, even before the cancer. So she ground up a bunch of painkillers and fed them to her mother, crying. And Grandma died there in our dining room, and after the men came to take her away I could still feel her there. I was frightened of that room forever after.

Years later, when I was in my early 20s, my mom had a blood clot in her abdomen. She went into surgery and told the nurse attending to her that she'd never come out alive. The nurse laughed it off, it was just exploratory surgery - nothing out of the ordinary - and she was used to hypochondria (though not necessarily such direct and dramatic displays of it). But Mom was smart. That made her almost psychic sometimes. And she never did come out of it. Her heart stopped on the operating table for what I told was five minutes, which of course rendered her a complete vegetable. But clever Mom, she had, only weeks before, made a "Living Will" - the kind of thing that lets your life support be terminated in situations such as hers, which should be a thing to take for granted but which was, at the time, illegal in Colorado - they kept you "going" there forever unless you had stated you wanted it otherwise.

She gave me, her youngest, the power of attorney - not her husband (my father), not my three siblings (8, 9 and 11 years older than me respectively) - me. I was 22 I think. I walked into the ICU and there she was, the vainest woman in the world, all puffed out and filled with tubes. Some nurse had braided her hair, a thin little braid on right on the top of her head. It took me seconds to decide: Turn her off.

My dad wanted nothing to do with the decision. He'd always been that kind of guy, and disaster wasn't going to change anything. But my siblings were freaked. "What?" they all screamed, "We need more time! What if she wakes up?" But that was my worst fear precisely: That she would wake up.

By law there was a waiting period, I can't remember now if was 24 or 48 hours. Amazing how long that can seem. But all I remember thinking was, "Don't wake up, please don't wake up."

If she woke up, it was all over, option to terminate gone. And while I might personally fight like a demon and hang onto this life by any means, my mother's will to live was much more tenuous generally, and a woman who already found aging (and living more generally) some measure of torture would not be keen on a profound handicap. And I, a pragmatist myself, saw no romance in taking care of her, and no realism in the notion that she would wake up and tell us kids how sorry she was for her mistakes, and that she actually really loved us all. Cause that's what I think my siblings were thinking, that she could wake up and it would all be okay - as if it were okay in the first place, or as if trauma could make our mother's hard heart soft again. Fact is, we were all victims of what trauma had already done to her. My mom was a drunk whoíd never had an easy go of it.

So, I gave the order to turn her off, and we waited. And she didn't wake up, and they pulled the breathing tube and she died about twenty minutes later.

I think my siblings all think of me as cold, or even a little scary. But truth is, I am merciful. I'm willing to do what mercy requires of me.

 

 


I Named It Scotty


I grew up in a Long Island catholic neighborhood. My parents didnít want me to feel left out so we had a little christmas tree we officially deemed ďthe hannukah bushĒ, though that was kind of a joke really, calling it that. We mostly called it a christmas tree. It was two feet tall, maybe less, built of tiny glass beads on loops of wire. The tiny lights were built in, or built on, part of one whole thing easily utilized: Just take the tree out, plug it in, bend the wire branches around a little. I vaguely remember tiny ornaments for it too, standard, precious little glass balls, but those were lost early on in our relationship. I think my mother bought at Macyís or Bloomingdaleís in Manhattan. I think it was kind of classy, or thatís what I remember thinking, or believe I remember my mom thinking about it.

We used to go to Aunt Ruthieís and Uncle Allieís on christmas. They werenít my aunt or uncle; they were my motherís friends, but family as much as any other family was to us...my parents werenít sentimental. Ruthie and Allie had a real tree and served lasagna made by her mother who lived upstairs. They had a pool table in the basement and a couple of dogs that didnít get along, each tied up in an opposite end of the kitchen. I had three ďcousinsĒ there, all older, and wild. The adults would all get plastered. Maybe my cousins did too.

Their tree was pine or spruce, always beautiful to me and huge, perfect. One year Allie, a bricklayer, hurt his back and lost his job. That year the tree was a spindly fir. I remember Ruthie crying over this and a few cocktails. My mother comforted her by agreeing yes, the tree was pathetic. I thought that skinny tree was especially pretty Ė the tinsel hung straight, and you could see all the ornaments, even the old ones on the back side.

Gifts were never a big thing. When I was tiny, tiny enough that stairs were a challenge (and thus forbidden), I remember sneaking down them to peek into our living room on christmas eve just as my parents were putting a few toys under the tree. The one I remember was a stuffed scottie dog with a plaid back and a red beret. My parents woke me early christmas morning and brought me downstairs to see. The plush dog wasnít wrapped. My mother handed it to me and said, ďLook what Santa brought you.Ē Santa brought me? When I started to cry she called me spoiled and grabbed the dog away, tossing it dramatically in the kitchen trash though of course it was fished out soon after by my father.

 

 


A Few Americas


Her bare ass sits atop the hotel bed without consideration of all the bare asses that have sat on this bed before her. She is painting her toenails red. She knocks the polish over and takes her time in righting it lest she interrupt the cadence of perfect strokes that define toes three and four. A puddle of red polish hardens on the bedspread assuring that her own naked excretions will be the last upon it - that stain wonít come out, and like with so many things it is the innocuous but seeable that condemns it.

Still, the maid tries to clean it. She scrubs at it with paint thinner on a nubby rag she coaxed from the janitor, a favor sheíll have to repay. It is not her fault that the bedspread is stained but hers if the stain wonít come out, and this stain spreads - from shiny and hard to dull and pink and wide, more resistant than the blood she's removed from sheets and bedspreads before.

Itís ruined.

She removes the bedspread and holds back tears, not for the six hours of pay sheíll be docked for it but for all the waste in this country.

 

 


A Hard Shell


He cracks eggs the way his dad cracked eggs. It's a sentimental thing. It makes a bit of a mess sometimes striking them on the counter like that and he lacks his father's touch, often leaving albumen or god forbid some yolk behind to be discovered on the counter later on, glossy and hardened. But that's the way his dad cracked eggs, and that's the way that he cracks eggs now that his father is gone.

 

 


The Corn King of Clinton County


He claims to not have been sired, but sown: from a volunteer kernel in the field where he grew and formed cozy in an ear until an old farm hand spotted the bulge of his limbs and husked him into being.

He was raised by those who owned the farm, but was never really theirs. Thatís why they fought all the time. Thatís why, at 15 human years, he ran away and started a life in the city.

He learned the cityís weaknesses and power, became a part of each for awhile. But heíll let you know that corn is a prairie grass, resilient; so is he. He mastered the city he says, but the dirt there was all the wrong kind.

So he came back to the farm, not to the people but to his corn. He roams it night and day, chasing deer and crow lest his family be harmed.

The farmer and his wife say the boy just came back to shame them. The boy states this as further proof theyíre clearly not his kind.

 

 

 

Death Fossilizes Love

Death fossilizes love.

Turns it to stone,
perfect or a little broken,
holds it forever and
once again discovered
lets you see it from all angles

or just the ones that aren't buried.

Part life, part mountain,
mostly on a shelf now but
some days in your pocket,
the weight of it comforting you
           despite your fears of losing it,
           carrying it around like that.

You won't.

 

 

 

And the Mother Shares with the Child an Invaluable Truth

She sat on the edge of my bed, took a long draw then looked for a place to ash her cigarette. She stood up, ran into the dresser hard, cursed, sat back down. She brushed my damp bangs with nicotine fingers, didnít turn on the light when I asked. She leaned forward, bracing herself with both forearms. She licked my tears, her breath smoke and mint.

She was beautiful.

She took a drag and crushed with pointed toe the cherry that fell to the floor.
She placed the butt gently on the bedside table, the one with the light I wanted on. She took my chin in her fingers and traced my lips and my nose with her thumb.

She said: Honey, if you can wake up from it, itís not a nightmare.

 

 

 

Savior

(Some things you should know first: My motherís first husband died in a car crash. The doctor was my motherís first husbandís brother, my step uncle I guess? My mother called him in the middle of the night. No, I donít know why my parents didnít take me to the hospital. Maybe the uncle was closer. My mom was a drunk and my dad was the jealous type so it couldnít have been easy to call him. Mom said there was a blizzard, but I donít know how that plays into the story. Dad said I was gone for about ten minutes but Iím sure it seemed longer than it really was. I donít know that ten minutes is even survivable. Adrenaline, right in the heart. The uncle guy was so freaked out he put the first attempt straight through me and into the mattress. The second one worked though. Obviously. No, I never met the uncle. After that I mean. No, I donít remember. I have a little scar though, right in the middle of my chest.)

When I was two weeks old, I died of pneumonia.

Like any savior, I was resurrected.

 

 

 

Supergirl

The trip was too long.

Long enough that eventually homesickness gave way to the feeling she was home already, when she wasnít; long enough to believe in the friendships formed there even though within a few weeks of leaving she never spoke to anyone there again.

The trip was too long.

Long enough so that calls home became an obligation, and made her irritable.

It was work that brought her over. Maybe it was work ethic - application in the face of separation, or something like that - that kicked in. But it seemed so glamorous, of course Geneva seemed glamorous: Dinner out every evening in a quaint or chic cafť, drinking fancy French wine that someone else paid for in the company of intellectuals, or so it seemed; the way they smoked, the way they held their cigarettes; the timbre of their voices surely discussing art and death in a language should could not understand.

So that when the trip was finished and she did come home (really) bringing with her a belief that she had made an impression and formed bonds in the wake of a promise that she would return, she felt Ė well, briefly Ė that she had more in common with those sheíd left behind in Geneva than those she returned home to, and considered (rather seriously and even morbidly for awhile) that there was someplace else she belonged.

After so long in a hotel she resented having to make her own bed. She resented eating in and, for a week or so, found no charm at all in a home-cooked meal.

Her colleagues in Switzerland said ďSuper,Ē all the time. ďSuperĒ as ďYesĒ. ďSuperĒ as ďCoolĒ. ďSuperĒ in a such a way as to become a sort of soundtrack of Geneva, not unlike the synthetic tones of slot machines forming the score of Las Vegas.

One Sunday morning they drove her to the country where they took a tram up to a mountain top and ate brunch outside together in the cold. At the time it seemed so intimate Ė not at all like locals, obligated with entertaining her, taking her to an obvious tourist attraction they themselves would otherwise avoid. Still, the setting was beautiful, you canít deny it, and that particular Swiss catch phrase caught a song in her head, a pop song from college called ďSupergirlĒ. ďSupergirlĒ: For the balance of the trip it played over and over in her head. It made her feel happy and young.

When she first came home she dug out the record and played ďSupergirlĒ again and again, trying to quench an ache or maybe trying to make it act up. Because home in a suburb of the American Midwest, the idea of missing Geneva felt romantic.

But when her second round of letters went unanswered, and eventually her foolish third, home started to feel like home again, the place she was actually missed.

Now if by chance she hears that song she doesnít think of Switzerland at all. It conjures up a more personified vision: ďSupergirlĒ, heroine, possessor of unexpected strength and the ability to avert disaster.

 

 

 

Things I Lost, and Miss

A fringed buckskin jacket made for a young cowboy who certainly wasnít young anymore when I bought it at a thrift store in Fort Collins, Colorado. For twenty years that jacket was a sort of trademark. I recklessly left it in a hotel room in Moscow and I actually called after, trying to get it back again. Iíve tried several times
to replace it, but Iíve only ever failed.

The rock I found at Horseshoe Canyon, a perfect so-called Apache Tear. It was the kind of rock youíd buy in a souvenir shop but I found it, seemingly shining in the sand though really it wasnít shiny, just smooth, and soft in my hand the way a hard thing like stone can be if itís smooth enough. I carried it everywhere for four or five years, once leaving it on a restaurant table and calling back later: ďDid you happen to find a little rock?Ē and the disappointed-sounding hostess saying, ďYes, I have it.Ē So thatís not when I lost it. I lost it and something else at a punk rock show in Denver, but mostly I miss the rock.

A pair of sunglasses that fit my face just right, made me feel pretty and which flew into the Gulf of Mexico when a pelican on the dock bit my ass. It didnít hurt, but I started. I have a clear recollection of my glasses sinking into the water, and my temptation to dive in after them; my acknowledgment of the futility, and my fear it wasnít really futile but that I was just too scared or vain to jump in.

My first car, a red pick-up truck, from Alamagordo, New Mexico. I had worked all summer at a camp near there, saved up my money, turned sixteen in August and bought the truck to take me home. It blew two tires and a radiator on the way, costing me everything I had left. I donít miss that truck. I miss believing that a thing could make me happy or set me free.

 

 

 

Chicago #5

Fed crumbs to the sparrows at a sidewalk cafe. They were confident birds, coming so close, fooling me into thinking I could touch them (I tried) or have one perch on my shoulder (none did).

One little bird had a crippled leg dragging out beside it like a twig or dead grass. I aimed toward it but it was too slow to the crumbs, and afraid when I threw them too close. There was nothing I could do.

I wish I never saw it.

 

 

 

Dead Dog on the Highway

The previous time I saw a dead dog on the highway was in Detroit. It was a pit mix, black and white, huge and bloated up like a cow. I drove past it for each of the several days I was there. It left me pitying the city.

Tonight when I saw the dog in the road, I wasn't sure it was dead. When I pulled over I hoped it might be alive. I put my hand on its neck and I felt something like a pulse, but it was just a death gurgle.

A second car pulled over. It was the man who had hit it; heíd doubled back and turned around. We heaved the dog onto the shoulder and he asked me to call the police. I did. ďIt was a black dog,Ē he said, ďand this stretch of road is so dark.Ē I confirmed those truths. I commended him for stopping.

We killed time with nicer dog stories, his about the Springer he had had for fifteen years. ďWe got her for my daughter on her tenth birthday.Ē His loss seemed fresh but in subsequent conversation I learned his daughterís twenty-ninth birthday was a week ago.

I would stay until the cop showed up cause it didnít seem right to leave the man there alone. He was a kindly, stoic Minnesotan, not the type to cry. At least not in front of a stranger.

I left when the cop got there, somewhat surprised he came at all. He apologized for taking awhile, and handled the carcass in a manner that acknowledged its death in a way the man and I couldnít; we'd stroked it as if it were alive. "Such a beautiful dog," the man had said.

The cop took the collar off. Someone was going to get a terrible call.

The dog was a lab mix, grayed and old. I tell myself it was taking its last old-dog run. I thanked it for dying, sparing us the grief of trying to save it.

 

 

 

The Good Soldier

Itís funny how war can haunt a man.

He saw women and children die or dead but the only time he cried was when a dog stepped on a landmine and was blown to bits. The dog might have saved him but that wasnít what struck him at the time or even still and the dog didnít make him homesick. It was just he really liked dogs.

He made it home.

He's had women, and children. But he wonít have a dog.

Thatís what war took away from him.

 

 

 

It Was Nothing

He stood right there. Me in the shade, him in the sun pretending not to see me. Maybe he didn't see me. It was closer than we'd been in years, years. Can I say it was nice? It was nice, just standing there like that. Anyhow. That's it. I better get back to work now. Anyhow, that's all there was to it.

Really, it was nothing.

 

 

 

Allergies, You Know

I'm not listening for his steps,
or waiting for his letter,
or hoping to run into him
or going to the places where
I think that that could happen,

or changing up my memories
to paint a sweeter picture
or saving small mementos
from the time we were together

and if I did I wouldn't look at them
or trace them with my fingers
and that shirt he left behind
with his scent still on the fabric

well I cut that into rags.

And if I happen quite by accident
to leave it on the night stand
I don't hold it to my face
for any other reason than

allergies you know.

 

 

 

Minneapolis #133

Weather is a constant companion. It knows everyone who has ever lived. It has stroked and assaulted your heroes. It has been intimate with your lover. It will never leave you. It will never spare you. It fills you, always, forgiving you the curses you make against it.

Weather is moody; I try to be tender. I invite it inside, offer up some tea. But Weather knows it's being patronized despite my best attempts. It whispers, I can enter without invitation; your gesture is insincere.

I just want to understand you! I shout, and nearly weep.

Is it not enough to feel me? Weather asks.

 

 

 

Minneapolis #132

(New Years Eve, 2010)

I have lived, and lived with you.
I was there in the beginning
           through the middle
and now here at the very end but still

I donít really know you.

I donít know what to make of you
or how youíll be remembered.
Iíve nothing to say to you except
           good-bye.

I meant to write a eulogy,
say something sweet and
special but really the highlight
was your seeming lack of
           lowlights.

For this, I am utterly grateful.

 

 

 

Minneapolis #131

(The First Snow)

This is our indigenous weather.
In Minnesota, we are meant
to see our water.

Summer is a fluke.
Spring is a transient,
            just passing through.
Autumn is adulterous,
            giving us something to love
            but never loyalty.

Winter is authentic,
showing us all of itself
            and soon,
daring us to love it.

I do, I do.

 

 

 

The Night Before Thanksgiving (2010)

The restaurant was busy so we decided to sit and eat at the bar. The bar wasnít busy but the bartender was, solo and mixing up the drinks for that full restaurant.

The bar was empty but a couple came in and sat beside us. The way the bar is angled made it feel less like they were next to us than it might have otherwise. They were a little loud and smelled like cigarettes. They called the bartender, Sue, by name and she brought them ice teas Ė two glasses each. She asked if they were going to eat but the man said they were too broke. ďLet me bring you some bread,Ē Sue said.

We wondered if we should just buy them dinner, but sometimes such decisions donít come so easy.

The man told a story of how ten years ago today, the woman he is with broke off their engagement. ďBut weíre still together!Ē he chimed. Sue refilled the ice teas. He went on: ďI was on drugs. I went to rehab that night at Riverside. But she stayed with me.Ē Sue filled the ice teas again. The couple ate their bread.

Our food came. I was grateful for the angled bar. I tried not to look at the couple over my shoulder. They asked Sue to refill their ice tea. Sometimes not looking doesnít come so easy.

The man said to me, ďYou sure can eat!Ē

Hereís my opening. I said, ďCan we buy you dessert?Ē

He looked a little indignant. ďNo,Ē he said.

ďYou sure?Ē

ďIím sure.Ē

ďOkay, well happy holidays.Ē I went back to my meal.

Then the man says, ďWell maybe a little ice cream.Ē Sue, quiet and observant through this conversation, brings more ice tea. The man says, ďSue knows what I like.Ē

I crane toward the woman. ďHow about you?Ē

ďNo thanks,Ē she said.

The man said to Sue, ďThen make mine a double.Ē

He eats his sundae. We finish our meal. Iím grateful for the angled bar. Sue refills ice tea.

The couple gets up to leave. The man thanks us. ďHappy holidays!Ē we say. Breadcrumbs and spent lemons litter the bar. The man says to Sue, ďToo broke! Iíll tip you next time.Ē

ďThat would be nice for a change,Ē Sue says.

On my summer trip I handed a five to a homeless man with out thought, but neglected to tip the hotel maid.

 

 

 

October 22

Gold yellow red that
    crash on retina
    bloom in brain
    die in camera.
Just look:
Like a play played slow;
just breathe, like gaseous wine,
    something old and red
    from Northern France
    aged in wood and
    penetrating you, today
    and again tomorrow.
    Penetrating you,
    with a hint of pain so that
    its leaving does
    not make you grieve.

Could there be a place on earth
more beautiful than this or
a moment in time?
Could there anyone on earth
more worthy than you of love?

 

 

 

Artist in Residence

I wasnít always like this.

I was young like you. I was a poet, an artist. I carried a sketchbook. I read about Matisse trading sketches for wine.

I ended up trading something else.

But things come around. How about I draw you a picture on this napkin and you can buy me a whiskey sour?

Great. Maybe we can trade a couple more.

 

 

 

Dear Dr. Frankenstein

Should I become part
of a mad scientistís plot
to build a being
out of pieces and bits,

please donít let it be
my knees
because they are weak
and ache all the time;

donít let it be
my hips
lest the pops and cracks
betray the hidden monster

or my shoulders
lest the creature is
intended to be hunched.

Donít use my heart,
itís always been feeble
and subject to breaking;
a monster of all people
needs a strong one.

Use my skin,
itís loose
with plenty extra
or my brain
if you donít mind
your Frankenstein
opinionated and
thinking too much.

But please most of all
do not conjure my soul.
My life has been full;

Iím tired.

 

 

 

Dead Mouse in the Birdseed Barrel

First let me say, Iíve no propensity for dead things.

It must have seemed like a windfall, like the lottery: Shelter from the cold and a seemingly never-ending supply of exceptionally delicious food: Sunflower seeds, cracked corn. I wonder if the mouse ever came to realize Ė too late of course - there was nothing to drink inside the bin.

The mouse feasted. He feasted until he was fat Ė he was notably fat when I found him. He feasted so that the level of seed in the bin was notably dropped by his gluttony. Thus escape Ė to source water, solve loneliness, or share with others his bounty Ė required a particularly strong leap; a particularly strong leap from a particularly fat mouse.

Was it weeks or days or hours? Did it occur to him to starve himself free? Or did he die as he only dreamed he might, old, with his gullet, for once in his life, full?

 

 

 

Corsage

Her first was an orchid,
pale yellow, with netting.
He pinned it to her gown
with trembling fingers.
It was as close as
a man had ever
been to her breast.

Later that night,
closer still.

Her last was on her
one-hundredth birthday,
made of carnations
and babyís breath.
She has grown used to
strangers touching
her, even there.

Now itís her fingers
trembling
as she strokes
rubbery petals,
recalling a night
eighty-four years
before.

 

 

 

A Good Spell with a Bad Witch

She was a notorious bitch and a barfly too so none of us girls could understand why he would bow to her, serve her, why he loved her like he did. He said, ďI love everything thatís wrong with her,Ē which left us all with something profound, and nothing.

His mother called her the devil. He said, ďThe devil's just an angel,Ē which left the devout woman with little left to say. When we called her a witch he would picture Glenda from the Wizard of Oz, speaking in riddles that make dreams come true.

Even after she broke his heart, he spoke of her with immense affection, so grateful to her for setting him free.

 

 

 

Mountains, Streams

There are friends like minerals,
firm to stand on or
            in our bones,
            growing us,
            weakening us if
            they leach away.

And there are friends like
a cool drink of water on
            a hot day,
            quenching us
            or even keeping us alive,

but only briefly;

passing through us,
evaporating,
replaced.

It's alright.

 

 

 

Marilyn Envy

I miss the days when a full-figured woman was typically considered beautiful, though I try to think about the former alienation of naturally skinny girls, thinking, ďThis is their time.Ē

I miss the times when being five feet tall was charming, though I consider the girls who hunched their way through our school years and hope they or at least their daughters are proud now, standing tall.

I miss the times when scandals were covered up, and we were still able to believe in heroes.
 

 

 

Populist Beauty

Clapton sang about
her Long Blonde Hair
as if that were enough;

as if we were supposed
to know,
from this
alone,

that she was very beautiful.

I was brunette.
I was fifteen.

 

 

 

When Clouds Pass

I blew a kiss at the moon and
made the moon promise to
deliver it to you when the
clouds are all gone and
the sun has set and

these miles between us
are nothing more than
celestial hours,
passed.

That twinge on
           your cheek?
                      It's not the
                                 cold.

 

 

 

Why Girls are Bad at Math

The odds against your being born are astronomical and yet, here you are. The earth crawls with life, the odds against which are nearly infinite, as are the odds against the fact of the very earth itself.

The odds against us meeting, enduring, are nearly incalculable, yet we meet, we endure, we sire more life to live in this universe which, left to figures, should not exist all.

The odds against love are phenomenal and yet we breathe it as casually as air, oblivious to the numbers.

 

 

 

Window/Door

He said to me with the most
ridiculous attempt at sincerity
(and no originality at all):
Eyes are the window to the soul.

What he meant was:
Your pussy is the door
to another dinner like this one.

It was a really nice restaurant.

 

 

 

The Bamboo Forest

It was supposed to be heaven. But they were late for to the airport and arrived rushed and sweating and if only theyíd checked cause the flight was delayed. Who should have called, her or him? The strategy to save their hunger for the plane rather than spend money on overpriced airport fare was poorly thought, since there havenít been viable meals in coach for years, and they paid five dollars for a box of crackers and potato chips. So it was before they even landed that a sense of dissatisfaction set in; that, and being taken.

Sometimes an argument isnít made with words. Sometimes itís posture, or hands, the way fingers migrate to assure even a paperís width of space between his and hers. They turn in their seats, trying to sleep in the noise and the chill with growling bellies and clammy armpits, meticulous in their unwillingness to touch, more deliberate than in the avoidance of a stranger.

But itís still early when they land, and the sun is bright and the wind is blowing, ďTrade WindsĒ they overhear on the shuttle to the hotel, which sounds romantic and reminds them why theyíre here; why the saved for this, and that dreams do come true.

Itís still light, early enough to see that the view from their ďocean viewĒ room is mostly of another enormous tower but yes, there is a sliver of sea. The window opens two and a half inches, just enough to blow their near-empty plastic cups from the desk, spilling small remnants of iced mocha coffee (double the price of home) onto the pale berber carpet, leaving yet another stain there.

The restaurant is too festive and they are too tired, though they try. They drink expensive fruity drinks - well, him one then back to beer - and order sixteen dollar nachos that come with pineapple and ham. ďTomorrow,Ē they say, still awkward with each other as they return to their sea-sliver view.

She wakes early and notes the crowd on beach already at 6:30am. Anticipating the warmth of the sun, she dresses quietly in her swimsuit, looks in the mirror, then covers up, pulling the robe tight around her throat and telling herself this is only because itís always chilly by the water.

She keeps her robe on in the chaise she paid to sit in, thankful she brought a little money down with her. By 8:30am she is starving, and forced to remove the robe to use it as a ďplaceholderĒ cause she doesnít want to have to pay for the chair a second time. She heads up to the room where her husband is dressed and furious, no idea where sheíd been. Sheíd forgotten to leave a note, or deliberately neglected leaving one, depending. She calms him, in reality glad to be off a beach peopled by the slim, fit and young. They decide on breakfast away from the hotel, after last nightís seventy-five dollar tab (plus tip) for more or less nothing.

Hawaii seems even less glamorous away from the hotel, where tired streets remind them of the part of town they grew up in at home, but donít go to anymore. They find a Dennyís. Breakfast is thirty dollars and takes nearly an hour. She is thinking about the money last night and now today, the costs she was budgeting for the trip Ė meals, tours, souvenirs Ė already failing to work out as planned. $150.00 dollars (with chair), sheís picturing the big screen TV with surround sound theyíd been looking into, breaking that cost down into Hawaiian days.

The sun is hot but the breeze is cold. Not breeze, wind. Itís windy to the point of sand lodging in your teeth if you smile. The sign in the lobby has rental cars starting at $25.99 per day (based on three, with a nearly equivalent amount of taxes and fees involved, but of course the sign doesnít say that). They rent a car (though the clerk pushed the jeep) for $45.99 for one day (plus fees and taxes) and buy a $6.95 map. On the road they soon learn the cost of Hawaiian gas. But climbing the coast road she could, in fits, forget the prices and the way he talked to her this morning when she had just lost track of time Ė it was an accident Ė and really one based in benevolence since, she said, she was trying to be nice, letting him sleep in; she could, in fits, forget how she felt in her bathing suit.

The road bends again and they are suddenly in a forest Ė just like that, a blink, no sign of rocks or sea. Thereís a place to pull out and other cars parked there (mostly jeeps); itís free. They joke that at least something in Hawaii is. There are three young people smoking marijuana in the parking lot (or so it seems). Her footwear is wrong for the trail but she stays quiet about this. The air smells good, like a certain kind of perfume and she suddenly understands why they call certain scents ďgreenĒ - she always thought green meant grassy, but this is different, fresh and wet. The woods are loud with birds that surely must look exotic but somehow can only be heard, not seen.

Then she remembers: The chaise, the robe. She forgot all about it. The chaise is one thing, but the robe! Theyíll probably charge them sixty dollars; how will she explain that on the bill? She is trying to keep herself from crying.

Her husband reads aloud a little plaque about how bamboo is really a grass. So she was right about that smell after all.

He reads aloud how the bamboo forest responds to adversity with a determined ability to renew itself.

He looks at his teary wife, takes her hand, kisses it.

 


 

The Writer

Everything good happened to him.

Iím not saying he didnít have talent. He did. You canít take that away from him.

Heís not the kind of guy you can picture going through those channels, the ones it takes to win a grant, or get his book published, or his script read by big name studio people. No, those acts seem...structured, and heís so nonchalant, nonchalant in a way that that lets you believe that everything that happens for him is lucky and accidental, reinforcing the idea that he is a good man and that good things just come to him whether or not he is and whether or not thatís how it happened.

He owns his house and a cabin and a farm somewhere. But not a washer or a dryer.

ďEvery neighborhood needs a Laundromat,Ē he tells me, ďSpeaks to the nature of the people there; young or transient or settled in and stubborn, unable to fix something broken. I get my best material thereĒ

But I know itís the maid who does the wash.

The Maid

She takes his soiled things home to her apartment because the machines are cheaper there. She puts the extra quarters into her little girlís piggy bank, whispering to her baby how sheís going to go to college and grateful for the extra two hours she can spend with her as his clothes spin and dry.


 


My Angel My Angel Do You Know Youíre My Angel

We didn't know you would turn out so beautiful. We would have loved you anyway of course and we might even have called you beautiful because to us you would be. We do. You are. But really, you are beautiful. You just turned out so beautiful.

 


 

The Barefoot Kind

I would ski down your ribs and sled across your belly. But you are not a mountain, and I don't like the cold.

I would dive into your hip and surf your outer thigh. But you are not an ocean, and my balance is questionable.

I'd sow seeds along your jaw and turn them into your throat. But you are not earth, and nothing I have planted in you has ever grown.

I would scale you, probing your crevices, pulling myself onto you, higher. But you are not stone. And I am not comfortable with heights.

I would see by you, melt by you. But you are not the sun, and I am not light.

I would run you sweetly between my toes, wiggling them then standing still, remembering how the feeling felt. But you are not grass. And I am not the barefoot kind.

 


 

Father's Day

He left the boyís mother when the boy was four and thought when the boy was a man heíd understand, but no. His own flesh and blood, nothing but venom. He likes to think he has another son somewhere. As a man, itís possible. He always drinks in the same bar, waiting to be found.

 


 

Dream Analysis

ďTo dream that you are walking up a flight of stairs indicates that you are achieving a higher level of understanding. To dream that you are descending a flight of stairs signifies you will face many difficulties.Ē

I pretend I remember ascending.



 

Liability

You are the yellow spotted peel on the hard marble floor. I shift my weight onto you; I crash and wind up broken but it is me who feels ashamed Ė having fallen in front of everyone Ė so I pick myself up again, telling myself: No one gets hurt the way I did.


 



I Feel Shame, Knowing Shame

She was thrilled; she was cheering. She was 45, maybe 50. The stadium camera turned to her and she jumped up and down, arms overhead, fists pumping. She was smiling, really joyful. She looked up and saw herself on the scoreboard. Quickly, reflexively, she touched the underside of her arms. She folded her arms then, lost her smile. Then smiled again, shyly, watching herself wait for the camera to turn away.


 

Resurrection

Itís not that I was dead just too long untouched until you took my hand.

 


 

Secret Messages Etched in Stone

I thought I had bad luck but then I realized he was being cruel. Wasnít my luck that was bad, it was my judgment. Iím not so wise, I didnít catch on right away or even right after. And thatís not why it ended.

And Iíll confess to you here there wasnít only one of them. X, Y, Z: All the same. I had a thing for cruel men. I gave them what they never should have asked me for; I gave them what they would have taken anyway. Z stole something. Y broke something. X left something behind and just when I got used to it, he took it back.

Now all these years later he still sends me secret messages. He tucks them into places he knows only I will find them. They say: It was all your fault.

 


 

I Dreamed of You

I dreamed of you.

I pretend that you can feel this. I pretend that you dreamed of me too, that I have conjured you, that I will hear from you soon/now before I shame myself writing to you again, saying:

I dreamed of you.

 

 


Lifespan

It will take all of my life to break these boots in. It will take all of my life for that oak to grow. It will take all of my life to know if you lied when you said I will love you forever.

 


 

Beautiful Woman Dines Alone at a Crowded Cafe

I noticed her at first because she was very beautiful. She was alone. I watched her at her table. I watched her when she ordered, and I watched her when her food arrived. She seemed happy.

Crowded cafe, a couple asked if they could share the table, a four-top. The woman said yes, and the couple politely angled their seats away from her while they waited for their meal. The three chatted a bit, but not readily.

The woman finished quickly, and left.

 


 

Devil/Angel

Itís easy to be a devil: Just strip down bare and indulge your senses. Add tridents and fire for atmosphere and be certain to rush, or better yet rush others.

Itís hard to be an angel: White is not my color and wings are just impossible. Restraint is clumsy. Clouds, ridiculous.

Kindness, unnatural.

 


 

Nobody

This isnít the first time I looked at a picture of someone else and thought it was me or looked at a picture of myself and thought it was someone else. It happens in mirrors too, not in my own bathroom of course but sometimes in a restaurant, a mirror across the room and me wondering who that woman is and why she looks so tired.

It's a feminine question: A compliment-fishing, celebrity-inspired, pseudo-secret pop quiz; if you're a woman you've probably asked a man. I ask him: So who do I look like?

He tells me: Nobody.
 


 

A Perfect Spectator

I wanted to play catch. But I was a daughter or a little a sister. And besides, no one had time. I wanted a bat. But they bought me dolls.

I wanted to go with them to the game. But I was a daughter or a little sister. And besides, I wouldnít understand. One day my brother brought me into the city and I saw the outside of Shea. I wanted to understand. But I was a daughter or a little sister. And some things are for men or boys.

My brothers moved away when I still small and one day my father taught me. By the sound of Scully and Garagiola a rookie named Cey broke the tie, walked it off in fact. My father was furious. They called Cey ďThe PenguinĒ and of course a small child is charmed by this. So I was thrilled he was the hero, but I kept that to myself.

I wanted to be a baseball player. But I was a daughter or a little sister. I didnít want to play softball. And besides, we moved away too often for me to ever join a team.

I wanted to be a baseball player. And of course it was obvious, but I was late to the fact that it didnít matter if I played on a team or not. I was a girl.

I wanted to be a baseball player. She said: If you turn out pretty enough, maybe you can marry one.

This was before Title IX. This started about the time that Aaron broke the record and for me it hasnít stopped. Scully is still on the air. Ron Cey is still remembered; he played for The Dodgers and The Cubs. Aaronís record has been broken, sort of. Puckett made The Hall and then left the planet early, like he left the game early, and they donít even play anymore on the street that bears his name. They built a new place, a prettier one, named for a corporate sponsor.

And I donít want to be a baseball player anymore. Of course not; Iím old now but I tell myself I was lucky. Itís a hard life, it ages you, all those days on the road far from home and family and working, really working all the time cause thatís how it is when youíre away. And there was what it took to get there too, living in other peopleís houses, sleeping on buses.

And itís hard on the body. And itís hard on the mind, feeling old at thirty-seven which is younger than I am now.

I donít feel old at all.

So I guess things worked out. I am a perfect spectator. I have seen amazing things: Two no-hitters so far, two championships. And a woman at the ballpark who played the game some herself, telling her daughter: You can be anything.
 


 

In Memory of My Father

Happy Father's Day, Julius. I'll sit in the stands today and understand because of you. I want to because of you. I'll remember our first time, and the second time, and the setting and the day will remind me of many settings and days but I will need to remind myself: I cannot call you. But imagination is more vivid than memories even and in my daydream you're alive and we'll talk after the game. And I'll tell you not only that we won or lost but the details I know you like to hear; the kind of things you taught me to recognize. And underneath the poo-poo in your voice for my team Ė victim of my league Ė I will hear the impact on your speech of lips curled up, teeth exposed. I will hear underneath the poo-poo in your voice the specific sonics of your smile; the particular, subtle affect that says what you're unable to, something about being proud of me.
 


 

163 to 1

What if you could have a second chance? What if you had a chance to do it over, or just again, and this time you win. You win or survive or get lucky or keep what you lost. You have a second chance, and this time it comes out just like you dreamed it would. Maybe then youíre satisfied. Maybe thatís enough.

Maybe we all live up to our level of satisfaction.

I admit I could be satisfied with less. I sometimes feel like Iím overflowing. I never thought Iíd live this long or thought Iíd want to live longer. Sometimes satisfied isnít really satisfied because, you still want more.

I never thought Iíd live this well, or see the things Iíve seen: The cycle, stealing home, winning The World Series twice. I want more. I want more cause it would be different now cause Iím different. Itís a paradox, see, ďmore of the sameĒ, wanting to live to be very old while worrying over the fact of whose mother I am now old enough to be; feeling twenty-four while dousing myself in hair dye and wrinkle cream. Nobody looks like they feel. Life is a sedimentary thing; it's layers, upon layers. Iím not only forty-six but every age that came before it. I am seven, fifteen, thirty-six. And each new layer on top of all the others makes it something new, like ingredients in a pot of stew, every little event changing the way it tastes, each ingredient still there, rendered less potent by adding more of them. Some are stronger than others.

I want to remember the good times, but I want so many they become hard to remember.

My favorite sound is Vin Scully and it has been since I was nine. Heís still present; I still listen. My home is gone. My new house is clearly better but that doesnít mean I donít miss the one I left.

Where is the line between second chances and fresh starts? Itís that sedimentary thing again, all that history comes with you and it turns out you didnít even know what it was you loved.

You remember when you picked them or maybe you canít because itís just the way you were raised and it came so naturally to you. And thereís another paradox lying right there beside your fresh start: Everything youíve ever known is already there waiting for you right now in a place youíve never even been before.

They say you canít go home again while they say you can find a new home. They say it canít get any better than this but it can, if only more of it.

They said contraction. We say: Play ball.
 


 

Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr.

Randy Johnson would shout at the batter ďStrike!Ē or ďOut!Ē - as if his height and velocity werenít enough. He didnít do it every time, and not exactly often. He did it once in awhile, so either you were waiting for it, or werenít expecting it. Either way heíd stress you out. And if he beat you he would pound his chest like an ape and call you juvenile names straight from a grammar school playground. I wonder what Randy Johnson was like in grammar school, how tall, and did that make him meek then, or terrible?

He played beside Ken Griffey Jr., the great, and in the days when The Twins were lousy and The Mariners were good there would be hardly a soul at The Metrodome. Griffey tripled, and an old man shouted from the stands, ďWhipper Snapper!Ē Griffey, like the rest of us, laughed.

Griffeyís old now and he alone draws a crowd. The last season in The Dome, back with the Mís, he hit a towering home run into right. A young man in the stands shouted, ďGrandpa!Ē Griffey, like the rest of us, laughed.
 


 

A Fan's Dilemma

I cheer. I yell. I heckle, just a little bit. I wear a lucky shirt. I wash a lucky shirt because it might have loser germs on it. I cheer. I yell. I try a different shirt. I think good thoughts. I think bad thoughts, just in case Iím a jinx. I yell. I cheer. I turn my cap inside out. I heckle, just a little bit and only sometimes. I sit in the same seat. I try a different seat, just in case itís a jinx. I cheer. I yell, all the while fully knowing I have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the game.

He said, What you do, it matters. That's when I knew he was falling in love.
 


 

Hydrangeas

He is thinking about Hydrangeas. Heís thinking about the ones in front of the house, how they sag. Heís thinking about when he planted them and heís thinking about when they bought the ring-things to hold them up, metal circles with a grid on stakes Ė the plants grow up through them, donít droop down. But they donít work, not really, and the plants lean down and break when it rains and you canít even really see the flowers.

They bought the rings at a garden store, not the kind of place he frequents but she brought him along ďto carry thingsĒ and walking through the rows and rows of boxed up flowers and the sour smell of certain ones and the dusty smell of others, and the sweet smells and the chemicals and his wife pushing the cart in front of him...she just looked so beautiful. He can still remember it exactly: The colors, the light. She was picking through Lilies. He walked up behind her. He put his arms around her Ė lightly, up above her breasts. He kissed her neck, her breasts against the heels of his hands.

She turned toward him.

There was fury in her eyes. She shoved him back, looked around. Set her jaw, turned.

Marched to the Hydrangea rings. They clanged into the cart he stood behind. Six clangs. She threw them in one at a time, her back to him.

He likes to stop the memory before that part. Heíd like to stop with her bending over the Lilies.

But drooping plants remind him. Itís too late this year, but heís thinking about a device. It has to be strong enough to hold the plants up. It has to be thin enough to disappear behind the leaves. Heís thinking about wooden stakes, or maybe rebar, with some sort of netting attached. He could get a sheet of loose netting and attach it to the stakes Ė maybe wooden ones would be best, he could staple the net to them. A stake every two feet, or maybe eighteen inches. He pictures himself at the hardware store, buying what he needs. He pictures himself in the garage, whittling the wooden ends so they plunge into the earth. He pictures himself putting it all together, and he pictures himself and his wife together, putting it up in the Spring.

He pictures it working.

 


 

Well

When the well would run dry heíd stop coming around. She wanted him to come around, so when the well was full or even when it only filled up a little bit, she would find him. He never asked if it was okay to take the very last drop but even if he had she would have told him she had more, even when she didnít. Her well left her thirsty but she wanted him near. She wondered what other wells he visited, where else he drank. He took all that she had but sometimes she only had a little bit. She started to borrow, just enough to please him though of course he didnít know. Sheís pretty sure he didnít know.

She borrowed and her credit was good and when it wasnít anymore she worked more and worked harder and she sold some things too. But work left her rugged and he liked to have fun and the work made her thirsty but she kept on because she knew there were other wells, and she wanted him close. There were other wells and she knew that he would find them and that heíd go to them too and maybe he already had; maybe he already did and when he filled up at her place maybe he was taking what she had over to some other girl, a younger girl who still had nice things and time to play with them.

She tried to sell her blood but they said it was too thick. She tried to sell her hair but it wasnít worth a thing what with all the hair people in third world countries were selling off cheap Ė long, beautiful hair. She tried to sell an organ but by now she was too sickly and she hadnít seen him in awhile and she wondered if she told him this - that she was ill - if heíd confess to her he loved her. But she wasnít sure where to find him and was partly scared to look. She wondered if he could feel her. The test would be the rescue. Would he come in time to save her? She cut her wrists and waited.

Some time later he stopped by the well that used to be hers but of course it wasnít any more. He found it full. He didnít ask the new woman there how she came to have it, only her name and the scent of perfume she had on.

 


 

Brother

I was the one who told my brother our parents had gone broke. Away at school he thought theyíd been snubbing him but really there was nothing left. They lost the house and ill-prepared for change left the furniture and family pictures behind. We moved into a furnished apartment then with dirty shag carpet and a cigarette-burned sofa bed into which our motherís new cigarette holes blended perfectly.

My brother thought the lack of forwarding address was deliberate. And it was, but not toward him. People were looking for us, creditors, maybe a bookie. Our folks were snobs and gave the air of being well-off and self-contained. Once exposed, they went into hiding.

My brother thought heíd been snubbed, related to wrecking Momís Skylark and asking for money for school. Work, our father told him. Then my parents disappeared, me in tow. He imagined us living in some new house nearer the sea. I imagined him in college, dashing and pre-occupied. Heís too busy for you now, our mother said.

At ten it hadnít occurred to me I could call my brother on the phone. At thirteen it did. We were in Ohio then, no where near the ocean or even decent public schools. When I told him what had happened, he sounded nearly relieved.

My teacher brought her daughterís old clothes to school, I said, For me.

Thatís nice of her, said my brother. I told him they were all too big. Iíll come get you, he said, The semester ends in two weeks. Iíll come get you.

My brother was twenty-one years old, a student, struggling with classes and a full-time job. He did his best. Heís always done his best.

Even at thirteen I was too practical to accept his offer. That or I was more comfortable with what I knew Ė however miserable Ė than with that which was unknown, despite its potential. Maybe Iím like that still.

I call my brother and tell him how my husband gambled our money away. I tell him how the car wouldnít start and I couldnít fix it and we hadnít paid the phone bill so I couldnít even call in and I lost my job Ė when really I just stopped going because Iíd missed work and hadnít even called and didnít have a car get to there anymore anyway. Leave him, my brother said, You can stay with me as long as you need to. I reminded him that I had no car. I said I was calling from a pay phone. Iíll come get you, he said.

No, I said. Just send another check.

He did his best. Heís always done his best.

 


 

Plane Trip #82

I imagine you in shirts I have washed or know the smell of walking along Melrose as I have done so many times. I imagine you in the desert likely places I have been looking at new skies yes but the exact same mountains. And mostly the same sand and stones.

I imagine you staring out the airplane window craning your neck like I do to survey the coastline; seeing further north and south as the plane lifts higher placing yourself where you've just been and considering all the life that you know is going on below you this even as California disappears.

Considering it, but not caring so much as you might if you were leaving not heading home.

 


 

Minneapolis #130

What did I do to drive away Rain? Did I taunt it, ignore it, fail to say how much I loved it when it was here? Did I love it when it was here?

I check the radar, like looking up an old lover, seeing what Rain is up to now, without me. I imagine that it misses me, that where it falls now is not as good as when it fell here and that sometimes Rain pretends that it falls on me like we used to, as itís falling on some other girl.

I've not been left stranded, I have a garden hose that answers to my every whim, that is there when I seek it and disappears when I tire of it or am simply not in the mood. But I do not love the garden hose, and I lie in bed thinking not of it but of the sound that thunder makes, and the wildness of Rain, it's terrible and wonderful timing; it's terrible and wonderful temper. I imagine the sound that thunder makes like some whisper in my ear saying: I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm coming.

 


 

I Dreamed of You

I dreamed of you.

I pretend that you can feel this. I pretend that you dreamed of me too, that I have conjured you, that I will hear from you soon/now before I shame myself writing to you again, saying:

I dreamed of you.

 


 

Minneapolis #129

And here rain finally came like a lover with temper. It stomped its feet and cried and cried and boomed like dishes thrown against the wall, then later whispered like the sweeping of those sorry broken dishes. A temper, yes. And while not typically one for outbursts or drama I am recklessly attracted to him and found myself whispering in his ear: Come back to me.

And today it did, just enough to taunt me, saving the best of itself for some other girl; deliberate, close enough for me to see its tears and fire but passing me by, not even touching me. I feign indifference - as becomes a lady denied - but truth be told: I still want it.

Awake I dream of rain.
Asleep, I dream of drought.

 


 

The Sweet Years

These are the sweet years. These are the sweet years, bursting with juice and happiness: The ones when I love exactly what it is that I have; the ones when I love exactly who I am. And I do not fear youíll leave me, poor health or other women. And I know that if you left me that I would still be okay.

These are the sweet years, where I realize my life has turned out better Iíd imagined it; that I donít think about what I deserved. Iím pretty enough still and only now can I look back and realize I was pretty then. And I can realize this without regret, without want to go back, not back so much as a single second: Not for younger face, or younger body, or younger ways of living. Because I was stupid then. I am still pretty enough and wise and I know that you wonít leave me and that even if you did that I would be alright.

 


 

Pink Blush

She is looking at the pink blush that never looked good on her. It looked good on the girl he was flirting with that day, their guide in Switzerland who took them on a walking tour of Zurich, which reminded her then of Madison, Wisconsin. She knew he flirted with the girl only to hurt her; she knew his type. The guide was not his type. He was handsome and rich and the girl responded, even though he was there with her, his wife. They all dined together and over lunch he focused on the girl, ignoring his wife so the guide ignored his wife too, not knowing then who was paying and that the flirtation would ultimately result in a truly miserable tip; a tip made to acknowledge that the protocol was well known, but small enough to demonstrate utter displeasure with the service.

She had seen him do this before, but in each of those incidents she had been feeling a certain confidence, which, looking back on it, she attributed to the newness of the relationship Ė they had married quickly and unexpectedly, to the shock of their respective families and friends Ė and what she perceived as her position of power relative to it: She was an heiress, and had recently come into her fortune. He was younger than she, and perhaps better looking, but she was rich and smart and felt good about herself. Now four months in her confidence was shaken. He was lazy and the particular brand of wildness he possessed Ė which was initially very attractive and fun Ė seemed, when they returned home from Las Lenas where they had met and had wed, considerably less charming. Her family didnít say a thing, but was clearly unimpressed. He took no one up on various positions offered to him and proved an utter failure at the Instructor gig he had landed in Aspen, prompting them to move there, only to move to her parentís condo in Laguna Beach some three weeks thereafter.

She remained quite attracted to him, and this made her sentimental. In an effort to rekindle things she took him snowboarding in St. Moritz, a destination, he had told her, he had always dreamed of.

From St. Moritz to St. Johnís: They went dancing in a bar with a sand floor. They had made love just prior and there was something in her that felt so desperate in the act that, subject to rum and blaring music, ignited a fairly manic response. She danced with utter abandon. He would not dance with her but she could not stop. She felt like everyone was watching her because she was wild and beautiful. He felt like everyone was watching her because she was old and ridiculous.

He would not dance with her. Strange men would come up behind her, trying to capture her hips. Sheíd dance away. A girl from Norway danced up behind her and she entertained this, feeling sexy and unthreatened. She danced with the girl and when the music paused just briefly the girl told her: I think you are beautiful. She laughed and said: I am old enough to be your mother. He brought them both drinks.

They had rented a house, a three bedroom (though they needed only one) because this was the finest house Ė staffed, and on the beach. At the end of the night the girl asked if she could stay there. Itís late, she said, I donít want to wake my mother. The tragic mistake: She said, Of course. She was feeling electric. She was feeling benevolent.

There the girl told her, I want to make love to you. Again she laughed and told her: I am old enough to be your mother. The girl said, My mother is nothing like you. She laughed again, feeling wise but not old. She said, Iím sorry but I am married.

Iíll sleep with both of you, the girl said, pleading now. The mania was waning. She felt instantly hung over. You are welcome to the downstairs room, she told the girl then climbed the steps, suddenly exhausted and nauseous.

He didnít follow her. She waited. She was suddenly awake again, lying on top of the sheets with heightened senses. She might have heard a laugh, but she wasnít sure. She might have heard music. She heard her heart beating and her bare feet on the marble stairs not certain if she was trying to make noise or trying not to.

They were sitting on the sofa. The girlís dress was unzipped and hanging forward; he was sitting behind her. Aside from the beauty that is youth the girl wasnít very pretty. Her bra was the cheap and padded kind, a childís bra, dingy white. It was unhooked, also hanging forward. The girlís hair was pushed forward. He was licking her back.

He was licking her back. She could hear the girlís quiet moans under the music, or she thought that she could. She stood there for awhile. He met her eyes.

She ran out of the house and across the beach. She stood in the surf, howling. From the water she could see the lights of the house but she could not hear any music. She was waiting for him. The waves crashed and the water was warm and she stood and shook and debated whether or not to forgive him.

The slap of the door woke her in the morning. She had slept in the weeds and her head was pounding. He picked up his surfboard and drove away. She remembered that that had been the plan: Heíd go surfing in the morning.

The house was empty. She packed very quickly and her overwhelming fear was that he would return before she had gone.

He did not follow her to the airport. She had to wait nearly three hours for the next flight. She flew first class and slept through both the take-off and the landing.

She was not involved in the proceedings. The marriage was annulled. She guesses he settled for a rather small sum. She does not know where he lives or what became of him.

Cleaning out a drawer she finds the pink blush. It never looked any good on her.

How did it get so empty?

 


 

Bug Trouble

It started with a plague of flies two years ago, they hatched in the cellar and took over the house. The ghosts still call out, luring flies from outside in. I am forever catching them, freeing them. Or pretending to when I just ignore them and let them die.

Next came the ants. Black ants. Iíve heard them called carpenters and I worried over what they were building, or tearing down. Invading like an army they disappeared like soldiers, suddenly invisible, faded, dead.

Last summer belonged to the flea, a special one and only one choosing me over canines or down, drawing blood from my ankle leaving fiery welts.

Winter now, I let two moths out the kitchen window and wonder where they came from. But it is some other crawly thing that torments me, six legs of infidelity and countless eyes. Nothing to spray, or smash, or let outside; wingless, dirty, jolting me awake in the middle of the night shouting But I can feel it and him assuring me: Thereís nothing there.

 


 

The Screenwriter

He hustles girls on the beach, flirting his way into giving them surfing lessons for forty-five dollars an hour. But he isnít a very good teacher. He also tends bar sometimes. Heíd find those jobs rather easily because he was cute and he was charming, and he lost them rather easily too Ė not necessarily because he did something so wrong, but because he was the kind of guy you just wanted to find an excuse to fire. Hired initially for his charm and boyishness, his co-workers would eventually hate him for it.

He was staying with his cousin. He never offered to pay rent but he cooked dinner sometimes Ė with his cousinís groceries Ė another skill honed for charming girls. At this he was well applied, and most of his good fortune came from this source: Girls who liked him; girls who wanted him; girls who wanted to pay him back in some way for making their vacation a special one. The good fortune came in the form of generally having enough drugs, cool clothes, meals, drinks and once even a surfboard.

Then he got a girl from Colorado pregnant. Sheíd flown home in the morning and phoned that evening with the news. She said she knew right away; said she felt it inside her. Home, she took the test.

There was something about her that said Money. Two weeks later he was headed West, ready for a snowboard lifestyle.

But she lived in Greeley, out on the plains, several hours from any mountains at all. Her father was a sugar beet farmer who hated him immediately. And she didnít really have any money. But she had a good job and an apartment next to campus, and though she hated the students there he enjoyed watching them. Well, half of them.

She was twenty-one and worked in a medical office. He was thirty-seven, but could pass for twenty-four. She was very pretty, and heíd always wanted a son. She promised him it would be one.

It never crossed his mind to get his own place. It was easy for him to get a job, but hard for him to keep one. She didnít like him tending bar, what with all the college girls and her feeling fat; she liked thinking of him at home, watching TV on her sofa, doing nothing, waiting for her. He fixed dinner. He made love to her every night.

He was working on a screenplay, a television screenplay. He was charming and you believed him when he said it: I'm working on a screenplay. He wouldnít tell anyone what it was about. She never saw him write. He said, I'm in The Research Stage. She liked how it sounded, so she said it, a lot: My boyfriend is a screenwriter.

My husband is a screenwriter: They got married in Las Vegas Ė at a real chapel, not a drive-thru Ė and spent too much money on a room at The Hard Rock Hotel. They got trashed after the ceremony and the next morning she, seven months along, felt guilty and awful. They didnít gamble. She felt too fat to go to the pool but he took a swim. Mostly they stayed in the room. They made love both nights.

Right on time, she delivers a son. He names his son Gordon after his father, even though he hates his father and hasnít spoken to him in over a year. His father didnít know he was married, and when he calls his father to announce the birth of his son his father doesnít say much at all, but mails him a considerate check.

She chooses the middle name Matthew, for her own father from whom she is now primarily estranged. Her father sets up a small annuity in the babyís name that canít be touched until the boy is eighteen.

They are both in love with the baby. He calls him Matthew and she calls him Pip but he wonít call him that because, he says, it sounds like a girlís name. She goes back to the office. He puts the screenplay on hold to be a full-time father. His favorite thing about his wife is that she gave him this little boy, the beautiful son heíd always imagined. Her favorite thing about her husband is more-or-less exactly the same. They have their love of the child in common Ė if not what they choose to call him.

Itís a small apartment. He likes it best when sheís not there. He holds his son in arms and stands with him at the railing of the exterior hallway he calls a balcony and points out to his son all the pretty girls. One day he inadvertently points out his own wife, not recognizing her from some distance. When she walks in, they make love for the first time since the baby was born. This time he wears a condom.

Greeley is stifling him. He canít find work, especially in The Industry. He has some friends in Los Angeles. He can earn good money teaching surfing there, and make contacts and work on the screenplay. He tells his wife that itís for the family. She encourages him to pursue his dreams.

He is thirty-eight now, but passes easily for thirty. The friends donít live near the beach, and being The Cute One is a taller order in Redondo or Malibu than it had been in Del Ray Beach. They want him to pay rent. He starts tending bar. Heís says itís for the family but really heís just scraping by himself, and thereís the extra burden now of daycare. Theyíre apart, and theyíre behind.

But soon she makes peace with her mother, who doesnít chide her or even comment because she loves spending time with her grandson, though the way she phrases it is: I hate seeing him going to daycare.

Itís been eight months now. Heís sent home a grand total of three hundred dollars and often complains how lonely he is, though each night when he calls her itís always so loud on the phone.

She does not want to kill his dreams. And she does not want to live out her life as a Medical Transcriber married to a Bartender in Greeley, Colorado. He is working on a screenplay, a television screenplay. He is doing research. He is making connections. This is what she pictures: Herself in white convertible wearing oversized Gucci sunglasses. Beneath the sunglasses are her perfect Hollywood eyebrows, waxed and groomed weekly at the salon she read about in In-Style that shapes the brows of all her favorite stars. Her husband is a screenwriter Ė a very successful screenwriter. Their handsome young son is a gifted actor, winning the lead role in every school production from a very talented pool, the children of all her favorite stars. And while agents phone her regularly offering film roles to the boy, she and her screenwriter husband say no to every one of them, and will until the boy finishes high school. They want him to have a normal life.

Everything they do, all the hardships they endure Ė everything they do, they do for their son.

He is a waiter at a gourmet pizza restaurant on the mall in Santa Monica. Gourmet pizza is presently out of fashion. He has seen his son once in the past year. He lives with four roommates. He is forty years old. He could pass for thirty-five. The woman he is sleeping with isnít very pretty but her roommate is an agent. He is hoping to be discovered.

He is not working on his screenplay.

This is what he pictures: Everything I do I do for my son.

 


 

A Christmas Tale

He is the man who lives in that house. He looks like heíd smell of cigarettes.

Itís not the first time today heís knocked on their door and theirs isnít the first door heís knocked on. All day she saw him, or heard; yesterday too. But this time he knocks when her husband is home. ďJust answer the door,Ē he tells her.

He is the man who lives in that house: ďYeah if you could just turn off those Christmas lights you know. My son, he died over there in Iraq.Ē

He meets her glance only briefly, his anguished eyes, puts his hat back on as he leaves, saying softly, twice: ďItís an oil war.Ē

White lights are spaced quite perfectly along the eave. It took the husband three hours to hang them. The ladder was aluminum, cold. He thinks about planting the spruce tree last spring; he thinks about digging the hole. He considers its white lights beneath the snow - he loves that, and the scent as he hung them. His neighbors' lights are solid blue, and multi, respectively. He thinks white is much more elegant, more elegant lining the eaves than those across the street that are draped rather generously from the roofline. He thinks they look more elegant than the blinking white lights up the block, and nearly as elegant as those that flash in sequence on the corner house Ė heíd like to find lights like those next year. He thinks the red and green lights on the blockís far end are really downright garish; the lighted Santa down the way is too much. He laces his boots. He pulls on his coat. He rifles around for his hat. This is his protest: Excessive bundling.

But she insisted.

The ground crunches beneath his boots. He neglected gloves, and the extension cord is buried in snow. He curses.

Only then does he notice: Theirs are the only lights on.

He unplugs them.

Hours later they are standing together outside: Coatless, hatless, gloveless, celebrating stars.

 


 

Plane Trip #81

I am leaving and Iím in the middle seat so I lean a little Ė not too much, so maybe I didnít lean, maybe crane is the word Ė I crane toward the window and even before I can really see anything Ė when all I can see is a sky the color of getting darker, I think to myself, ďThis is my marvelous home.Ē I am heading west and, were it solely up to me, I would not be leaving. I am worldly, I have seen and done things others dream of and that I had dreamed about and now refer back to to remind myself how I have lived. And while home might be my favorite place of all, it is clearly not inherent that oneís place or task always be oneís favorite.

Favorites change. Iíd have experiences and Iíd be decoding them as they occurred, distilling the mystery of them into anecdotes in real time, describing to myself what I felt and what was happening as a rehearsal of telling the tale of it to you. I canít say for sure if I wanted to share, or to impress. And I canít help but wonder if thatís what Iím doing right now, this very second, breaking down my present into bits of past and future. I am flying. The man to my left Ė sitting in the window seat Ė is on chapter 46. I do not know what he is reading. The woman to my right is reading a book in a language so foreign that I canít be sure those are letters.

There was a moment when my neck was craned and the plane was banking and I saw it in the light just before dark: My place. I saw a baseball diamond under lights and it didnít exactly leap out of the landscape so much as become part of it, a sweet part, like a pink flower in a green garden. I saw lakes, shore. I saw a river. I couldnít tell you which one it was, but surely it was one of mine. We were close then. Higher, I saw the lights, the artificial ones that are beautiful because they speak of people, and not just any people, but my own. I thought the view was more beautiful because it is my view. Or maybe it really is more beautiful. This is perfectly possible.

I am leaving, only briefly, a matter of days. Before I leave I start counting them, thinking about coming home. When I am away, I will forget once in awhile that where I am is not where I live. Or is it then?

I am thinking that I could return and never leave again, and you will never leave, and we will never be further apart than the distance I can walk, or even crawl if necessary. I am thinking I could be happy like that but I donít know how to change things up. Travel is a habit. So is staying put, which is why no one ever visits. Iíd like to have visitors, and Iíd like them to climb inside of me and see exactly as I see, through this specific filter of love. Would they see something more beautiful then, or would the eyes through which they take it in be merely more tolerant, forgiving?

He said, ďYou are so easy to please,Ē and I could see it disappointed him. I
never stopped being proud of that. Were I not so easy to please I never would have been with him in the first place. And were he not disappointed, my greatest loves and joys would have never come to be. I think about it, I think about how my worst pains have always lead to my greatest delights and I think this must be how people become so fucked up; this must be the source of so much drama and wasted, sacrificed energies. But who am I to say? I mean, look what it is I am missing. Look what it is I am lusting after. Look how little it takes to please me.

Look: What I did to get this.

 


 

College Sex

My college roommate prided herself on her virginity but would give a blow job to anyone. I became familiar with the sounds the various football players made when attaining orgasm, and they in turn became familiar with what I looked like when I was pretending to be asleep.

I began self-medicating. Beer, when consumed in adequate quantities to tune out coming sounds, created the sorry side-effect of my needing to urinate too frequently. Pot served only to amplify the sounds Ė my ears were suddenly high-fidelity. Pills: One or two were not enough. Five worked, but I failed to wake up the next morning, and was still asleep the next night. My roommate finally sought help after midnight. Her football player had complained I was starting to stink.

I broke my leg and cast plus limp rendered me invisible. I didnít mind this, except when bicyclists and popular cliques would nearly run me over. I got a black eye when the football players threw water balloons from out their dormitory windows - a black eye from a water balloon. I added a hunch to my limp, trying to completely disappear. It is only looking back on it years later that I realize: There was nothing personal about the attack. I just happened to be the one walking by.

I chased a gay guy for a couple of years until he finally gave into me. He broke up with me right afterwards, saying that the sex was bad.

I met Ron at a Halloween party, which is the wrong place meet a man. I fell in love with Underdog. But the next morning that I learned Ron wore loafers.

We liked camping. I liked that he couldnít wear loafers. I liked that he had everything: Every accessory and always state of the art. Made for a lot to carry, but, I was used to sleeping under my pick-up. Ron broke up with me the last day of the semester, because, he said, he had a girlfriend.

I slept around after that. Iíd do it once with a guy and then never call him back Ė that is, if he called. I can only remember the first one who gave me head. Not because it was enlightening, but because afterwards he took off his clothes, leaned back, and said: Now itís my turn.

I choked him down. I didnít return his calls and I didnít answer the door when he came by. I didnít read his letters and I didnít go to parties or places I thought he might be.

It only occurs to me now that I broke his heart.

 


 

Half

His friend is your enemy but you didnít know it then; not right away, why would you with all his comfort and reassurances? Still, there was something suspicious about the timing of his visits, always when your man is away. He asks too many questions. Prying questions.

You start testing him. You offer up fake secrets and false confessions designed to be detectable, but harmless. You say how you hate your manís pancakes. Soon after, your man asks and tells you: How do you like your pancakes? You like them, are you sure? Because if you donít like them, you should tell me.

You should always tell me the truth.

Itís strange he sends his friend to be his spy, another man. Itís the notion of another man that mandates the spy, and even though he doesnít find one he still gets angry. Or maybe because. He knocks out your tooth over dirty laundry. He blacks your eye over a dent in the car. Not a dent really, a ding.

His friend who is your enemy who is posing as your friend and is very nearly believable in it, he strokes your hair. He says you still look pretty even without the tooth. He says it gives you character. He asks if you would leave him. He asks if you feel tempted. Youíre not sure if this is an invitation or a test. He says: You know you can call the dentist if you want. He says: You like him, the dentist, donít you?

You tell him your dentist isnít a man. You giggle and call him sexist. You tell him Dr. Noonan is a woman.

He stops by to see your temporary cap. Looks better than a real tooth, he tells you. He asks: Do ever think of leaving him? He says: Come on, you must feel tempted.

You design and issue a new lie: No, you would never leave him. No, you donít feel tempted. You confess you are fool for loving him so deeply. You confess you are a cripple, unable ever to walk away. You tell him: He is the best and only lover Iíve ever had.

It gets back to your man of course and for a day or two he is gentler. For a day or two, he puts his hands on you only as a lover should. The first orgasm is real this time. The second and third ones arenít.

But it doesnít last and your man turns mean again. The temporary cap is gone, the hole is back. He breaks your toe with a hammer. He says: Next time Iím cutting it off.

His friend who is your enemy, he asks about the doctor. You say: The doctor was young and handsome. Your man breaks another toe. Hammer in hand, he tells you: No doctors this time.

He comes home late and you hug his legs, weeping, pleading, kissing. Inside you are laughing, hysterical, careless of the beating to follow. Because this, this: This is beautiful. You tell him you slept with his friend.

And the beating is a brutal one but you feel exhilarated, giddy. Vindicated, knowing as he walks out that door that soon enough, at least one of those bastards will be dead.

 


 

A Variance In Priorities

He is the kind of person who cares more about where he is than who he is with. He is typical in this way, perhaps a bit more handsome. She didnít know this as she trotted him around the globe, St. Moritz, Vienna, Havana, Bariloche. She didnít realize she was the kind of thing he would just add to his social resume, impressing some other girl with where in the world heíd been.

She was the kind of person who didnít care where she was at all. She was the kind of person who cared only about the company. She wanted to be with him.

She will never again go to St. Moritz or Vienna, Havana or Bariloche. She will find new places to go because those places, for her, are now haunted.

He will look for someone to take him back there.

 


 

How to Love the Past

Funny how our saddest stories can become our sweetest ones, so long as the sad storyís end seems, eventually, a happy one. They are the finest things that have ever happened to us: We forgive our own sad stories. We excuse the pain as if the relief of pain is sweeter than having never had any pain at all.

He very nearly died but his survival is the best thing that ever happened to me. Months of disease: Canít take that away.

Can only change my memory of it.

 


 

Best Friends

She was so broken up about it that even after all his cheating and his telling her about it; she was so broken up that even after all that she still wanted to be his friend.

He had nothing to lose in that proposition; she was generous and easy. She wrote him long letters. He wrote back short ones with much less frequency and never in direct response to what sheíd said or asked.

In hard times with other lovers theyíd each imagine getting back together. Sheíd imagine he finally came to his senses. Heíd imagine she was bisexual and wanted to invite other women into bed.

Eventually she did get over it. She wasnít really sure if she was (finally) angry about his cheating and his telling her about it or the fact that he never answered a question directly, or her doubts that he actually even read her letters at all. So she stopped writing to him.

Then, she stopped writing back.

She had a new love lost. And he: He lost his closest friend.

 


 

Handle It

Itís the way you say I can handle it as if I couldnít or as if I doubted that you could. I buy your company. You call me when youíre lonely so I hear from you from time to time. Iím trying to be frugal so I stop returning calls but I know that you can handle it.

I never doubted that you could.

 


 

Wish I Were Her

The first time you called me her name I cried and cried. My crying hurt you. Itís just a slip, you said, Iím stoned, itís nothing.

In fact it was a relief in the way that something one suspects being proven always is. It was being diagnosed after hearing for years There is nothing physically wrong. I was crying with peace.

I want to ask you how she did it and how it was better than how I do it. I want to learn everything about her. Maybe I can look more like her. Maybe I can fuck like her. I want to ask but I know youíd feel ashamed. Even though you shouldnít cause truth is: We both wish I were her.

 


 

Some Cancer

I am grieving my own younger body. I feel grief for that which I never properly loved. I feel resentment toward my belly. I feel loathing for the space that runs from below my armpit down to the top of my breast.

I have been told that a catastrophic illness cures vanity; that one gains affection or even passion for a body that merely survives, or works at all.

But it doesnít work, and I wonít survive, and my preoccupation is with how awful I will look inside my coffin.

 


 

Optimism

Generosity brings out the worst in people.

After a break-up I always wanted to take my shit back. I felt like a fool for doling it out so easily. With Marc I rolled up a hook rug Iíd given him lest the new girl Starlaís feet be warmed. It was as big as room and barely fit inside my car. With James it was a camera, and some music. I snuck in through the sliding glass door I knew he didnít lock. No report was ever filed.  

The David recovery mission took place at three in the morning. My heart was racing. With a pocket knife I peeled the state park admission sticker from the bumper of his AMC Javelin. I couldnít bear the thought of his taking the new girl there on my dime, and probably the next one after her. A fifty dollar parking pass: It was a lot of money to me back then.  

That was twenty five years ago. I try to look David up sometimes but to date I havenít found him.  

Sometimes when I feeling especially optimistic I think this may be because he is dead.

 


 

Project

I thought you were my friend but really you were my project. I loved you like a project. I invested in you like that. I pretended that my joy in you was about your specifics but really I was lonely. You could have been anyone who needed attention or money. Your specifics are my result: A man who is a failure and expects too many things for free.  

Itís hard to love a man like that.  

C-

 


 

Numbers

Numbers spoke to him. He saw them everywhere, numbers, and in them patterns, rhythms, even songs. They spoke out loud but always in code or otherwise some foreign language he didnít understand. He tried to decipher them. 19, 19, 19: Heíd see it everywhere for a little while. Then the sports scores: 9 to 1, 9 to 1. He should have bet on it. Sometimes he did.  

But just because numbers spoke to him doesnít mean they didnít lie to him.  

Heíd see it in the car, a series of 3ís, then on the clock 3:33, and before it 1:11 which added up to 3. Numbers spoke to him. He bet the number 3 horse in the third race to show. It was worthwhile, long odds, 33:1. He was sure of it. He brought $300, then went to the machine to take out $40 more. He knew he couldnít cover it but he also knew heíd win. He hands the money to the cashier who doesnít blink or flinch when he asks for 7 dollars back. She hands him one ticket. He wonders if he should have broken the bet into thirds, but that would have messed everything up.

He didnít win, didnít show, didnít even come close. Now heís busted, and heíll be 40 overdrawn come Monday.  

On the way home he sees another number: 666. Driving down the highway at 66 miles per hour he reaches over reflexively and locks his doors.  

Heís overwrought when he gets home some time past 6. He wonít check the clock, heís sick of all these numbers and the shit they have to say. Itís like some other fucking language. They speak in code and they wonít shut up or tell you what they really mean. Howís he going to get out of this? Heís got 7 bucks in his pocket. He could go buy some scratch tickets but heís not feeling lucky - the 6ís left him out of sorts. 7 bucks for lottery tickets. Or 7 bucks for everything else until payday.  

Heís got 7 bucks in his pocket. He owes the bank another 33 more, plus 26 for the overdraft.   

Sheís waiting for him like she always is. Sheís waiting, calm as always. He puts his head in her lap and she strokes his hair, cooing like heís a baby, telling him gentle things. But just because she speaks to him doesnít mean she doesnít lie. She tells him: Everythingís going to be alright.

 


 

T.O.Y.

I stopped thinking about you. I stopped thinking about you when I wake up and when I check the mail. I stopped thinking about you when the phone rings. I stopped thinking about you when I go to sleep and I stopped thinking about you when I day dream.  

I grew tired of pining over you and the cure is to stop thinking of you.  

I stopped thinking of you when I see the colors red or blue or when it snows light or hard or when I think of mountains or the sea. I stopped thinking of you when I hear certain songs that you and I heard together, or that remind me of you, or songs that I am tempted to read you into. I threw away all my pictures of you without thinking about you Ė I was just tidying up.  

I stopped thinking about you when I finger the shells we plucked from the sand on Sanibel Island. I wasnít thinking about you when I threw them away Ė I was just tidying up. I stopped thinking of you when I touch myself, in fact I think of someone else. And I stopped thinking of you when I hurt myself like cutting myself on my body where no one can see because I donít do it for attention. 

I stopped naming you in my equivalent of prayer. I stopped naming you in the hypothetical Will that I write in my head several times a week at least.   

Iím not thinking of you when I write the note that will see me suddenly appreciated and missed. Theyíll all say now how deep I was Ė how deep and ingenious Ė and everyone there will blame all this on you. Even though my brilliant note will say several times, and clearly: Iím not thinking of him. Iím not thinking of him. Iím not thinking of him.

 


 

The Agency

Sheíd get these terrible headaches. Sheíd curl up on the floor in pain, writhing; curled up in a little ball, shaking. Terrible headaches, sheíd puke sometimes and she couldnít stand the light. Sheíd be hot, or sheíd be cold, and the bed was too soft. Sheíd brace herself, lying in the corner on the floor. They didnít happen all the time. They only happened once in awhile. Most of the time she was fine. She was great.  

They worked together at the agency. She was the star. They started as interns together. They were the two prettiest ones, so pairing off was natural. It was encouraged.  

She was a star. Thatís what they told her when they gave her a raise and promoted her from Rep to Manager. She became his boss. He didnít mind. He knew he was lazy. She was the boss and there was something very hot about that; her having the power, and his ability to make her weak. It was sexy.

He didnít do much at work and he liked it like that. He didnít do much at work at she let him get away with it. She wasnít necessarily a good manager. They called her a star.

When they first moved in together they both claimed it was to save on rent. But really she had wanted to take the next the step, and really he had wanted to take some ownership of her. It was clearly known that he was the best looking man in the office, and he was frequently described as ďreally niceĒ, in part because the more accurate ďreally charmingĒ was an old-fashioned phrase, and thus didnít come to mind. He was the most handsome and she was the superstar. He felt that moving in with her would back other guys away. He liked what he had going and didnít want it screwed up.  

But couples are not defined by splitting rent, or by driving to work together. Couples are defined by doing things together, by being together. They did everything together, nearly always in groups of four or six or ten. Thatís the way it was there. The agency was your family, or really more like your fraternity, or sorority house Ė an allegiance based on your very acceptance there, your acceptance among a privileged few at the exclusion of many others. He liked that a lot. He didnít need his name on the door. The name on the door already was one everyone recognized; mention it and brows raise, eyes widen. It meant something, working there.  

There was a pool table in the employee lounge. He liked it and spent time there. He was the handsomest and also really nice, and he and none other was living with their superstar.  

She worked harder than he did. She worked longer hours and needed to start early. Theyíd head to the office together and heíd go work out for an hour or two. And when she worked late, heíd play pool. He became very good at it. And also very fit. He was handsome. And nice.  

Spend enough time there and soon enough youíll learn: There are always new interns. There is always someone younger, and hungrier. The word ďsuperstarĒ, one comes to learn, is somewhat bandied about Ė thereís one or even two in every new crop Ė usually a female; they work harder, and longer, and often for less.  

He is still the Handsome One. He is very fit, and really nice, and very good at pool. His Superstar makes it to Account Supervisor a full six months before he is even promoted to Manager. Upon her promotion, she is switched to a different account. It is a smaller account than the one they had worked on together, but also there are fewer supervisors, so the title bears more weight. They are no longer working together.  They are no longer on the same account and she is no longer his boss. She cut her long hair short and he doesnít really like it. He gets a new boss, and he worries about this, worries that it wonít be as much fun and that heíll have to work harder. He tells himself heís ready; that he wants a challenge; that heís ready to be applied.  

But really itís not like that at all. His new boss is, if anything, more lenient than his girlfriend was, or maybe heís just more relaxed. But the new guy is great. They run together twice a week and he teaches his boss how to play pool Ė really well.  It is his new boss that eventually refers him for the promotion which, based on such glowing reviews, he receives fairly readily.  

Itís like they are leading two different lives. He is not interested in the account that she works on, and he hates it when she complains about the managers. He is a manager. It offends him. They still move in groups of four or six or ten, always people from the agency. They entertain. They go out to dinner. There are functions and parties and events. She worries about a glass ceiling but she does not voice this, to him or to anyone. He manages several young interns. One is the latest superstar. She is very eager and he wields power over her. He finds this very sexy.  She comes on to him. It could be his looks, or his position, but he likes to think itís both.  

She gets terrible headaches. The bed is too soft. She lies in the corner on the floor. She rocks and she cries. There is nothing to be done.

One day he realizes: He doesnít care at all. He doesnít feel her pain, or even necessarily believe it. When she is like this she asks him to turn out the lights. It occurs to him that this request is because she knows how ugly she looks when she is like that. Crying and shaking in her short hair Ė he only feels annoyed.  

And curious, wondering if his superstar intern suffers from headaches at all.


Four weeks later she is all moved out.  Something happened at a company party; something humiliating, something public. Something like that undermines oneís authority, possibly forever. She pictures a glass ceiling and sees herself banging her head. She pictures a glass floor and imagines everyone there looking up her skirt. Did everyone know before she did?  

She should not have allowed to leave so easily. She should have been begged to stay.     

Her new title is Group Director. A  title like that justifies the change, even if the name on the door is considerably less prestigious. A title like that has authority in it. She has her authority back, and a great deal of cache, given the agency she came from.  

She allows ambition to numb her broken heart.

 


 

Plane Trip #80

He was wearing a shirt that said GROOM across the chest. It was a baseball-style shirt, ill-fitting with a straight hem Ė a style of shirt heíd never wear. Heíd already said no to this Ė it was a wedding plannerís idea. But on his first morning of marriage his wife, fully dressed already in a shirt that said BRIDE, coerced him with a series of whines, reprimands and denials.  She cried.  He surrendered.   

GROOM:  The cheap shirt is stiff.  He tugs at the hem.  In his face you can see the whole rest of his life.

 


 

Thanksgiving 2007

Cars that catch the light notice best: All the storefronts are dark, except the laundromat.

He picks out two washing machines, one for lights, one for darks.  

He puts money in the dryer and starts it up even though itís empty.  

He waits for the window to fog over.  

 


 

Comfort/Discomfort

There are those who would put themselves in an uncomfortable position to accommodate another, and there are those who would never consider this. The latter group, contemplating the premise, would say things along the lines of, ďWhy would I want to do that?Ē or ďWhy should I be uncomfortable for another?Ē or ďWhy would anyone want me to be uncomfortable for them?Ē In response these queries, you might describe a situation where, for example, oneís lover is sleeping so contentedly against {said respondent} that one might not want to move, even when one might find themselves cramping up. Here, {said respondent} offers, in context: ďWhy would I want to do that?Ē or ďWhy should I be uncomfortable for anotherĒ or ďWhy would anyone want me to be uncomfortable for them?Ē  

When the question is posed in a financial context, say, giving someone your last twenty dollars, or even borrowing fifty dollars on anotherís behalf, members of our noted group again reply: ďWhy would I want to do that?Ē or ďWhy should I be uncomfortable for anotherĒ or ďWhy would anyone want me to be uncomfortable for them?Ē  

When notified that you have in fact laid in terrible positions with respect to their comfort, and that you have in fact borrowed from your own friends when you had nothing yourself just so {said respondent} could have a little something in his pocket  - as heíd asked to - {said respondent} might call you foolish, or romantic, or might protest to some extent that such actions on your part were not requested, or that your execution of same was not fully or adequately disclosed. Or, perhaps grasping the concept of being uncomfortable so that another might be less so, or perhaps finally grasping the notion of maintaining some degree of discomfort personally so that another might, in fact, be comforted (even to some small extent), {said respondent} instead withholds any judgment of you, and sweetly whispers in your ear, ďOh you shouldnít have,Ē an act of some mercy on their behalf which, like staying still so as not to disturb oneís sleeping lover, is intended to maintain the status quo.

 


 

Strength

It takes all of my strength just to let him sleep; not to stroke and thereby wake him and not to hold him too tight.  It takes all of my strength just to lie still, my body bent awkwardly to accommodate his position.  I lie awake watching.  All of my strength:  Not to breathe; not to move fingers; not to breathe too deeply.  All of my strength:  To resist tiny kisses up the length of him.  Since I donít mean to shift and a kiss is never silent, it takes all of my strength to resist and hold still; to resist and be quiet; to take shallow breaths lest the expansion of my chest somehow serve to disturb him; to keep silent my shallow breaths lest the noise make him stir.  It takes all of my strength.  But he makes me strong.

 


 

He Had Perfect Timing

You were not the best lover I ever had but you were the one I was most compatible with. I liked the crudeness of your actions. I liked giving and you liked to take.  

Eventually I wanted something back and we ended there, the balance tipped and me no longer satisfied. Oh but when I hated myself: You were perfect.

 


 

Something/Anything

She didnít know herself then.  She has no memories of herself then except for the series of men she was rejected by.  Boys, they were boys.  She has no memories except of how she was hurt.  She has fantasies of how she was vindicated.  

She suddenly feels old.  She didnít feel old last year.  She didnít fret the quality of her skin except once in awhile for attention.  But now she worries that she scares little children in the manner of an old woman dressing like a young girl.  Sheís heavier but she justifies this.  She canít remember being young and she can imagine being old.  She wonders when, when will she know:  

Something/anything.  

 


 

No Peace For Anyone

After seven years she sees him again. Heíd broken her heart and she wants to punish him. So she asks if he knew how cruel he was and she asks if he knew how he awful heíd been and he tells her yes, he knew. He says: Canít you please get over it.  

She stands, and she leaves.

Alone at the table, he squeezes his dirty napkin. He bites the inside of his cheek. He makes it to the bathroom before he cries.  

What he meant was: That was the worst thing Iíve done. Losing you.

 


 

The Continental Hotel

Sheíd like to burn down The Continental Hotel where he gave her something she didnít want and he gave it to her over and over again despite the fact that she was sick and she was crying. Sheíd like to burn down The Continental Hotel where something precious became a weapon and something good was very bad and was never good again. Sheíd like to burn down The Continental Hotel where, in the lobby, he showed her the ugliest thing sheíd ever seen. She couldnít get it out of her head after that. Nothing that wasnít terrible ever happened to her there.  

Iíd like to burn down The Continental Hotel. I mean, she would. She would.

 


 

Flowers for Jupiter

Thatís just godís way of keeping your hand from having a dirty mouth.  

Some people who say their finger got cut off are just referring to the first knuckle, or even the just the tip. But to her thatís nothing: Her finger was cut clear off, the whole thing, right at the bottom where it reaches the palm. And the strangest thing, the strangest thing of all, maybe the strangest thing you know is that itís the middle finger thatís missing.  

The accident didnít touch the ones on either side but plucked the middle one clear off, down to nothing. Nothing at all.  

Her mother said: Thatís just godís way of keeping your hand from having a dirty mouth. Mother says that, like some kind of endearment.  

She wonders about her finger. Where is now? What became of the bones? Were they burned? Were they buried? Were they stomped into the ground? She cannot remember the loss, but she still feels her finger. It does not have a dirty mouth, but calls to her sweetly, itís voice not a song but a peep, like a tiny chick, and as with a tiny chickís peep she hears the sound of scratching in the background.  

She cannot remember the loss, but has been told the story enough times to believe she can remember it, or rather, she can picture it, she a player in a movie about a girl losing a finger. The girl is three.  

Did someone find that little finger? Did they think it was sweet and put it in a matchbox? Did it rot in the dirt, nearly too small for maggots? Did someone save the bones and are they treasured like seashells?

The girl is playing where she knows not to be, though one watching the film might wonder why one so young should be left unattended. The setting is not a park, but rather an empty lot beside an apartment building. The young actress sees a park, plays the role of a child in the park. A small child, a tiny child. Unattended.  

Is her finger in a jar filled with formaldehyde? Does her finger smell like chemicals, dirt, ash or nothing?  

They shot a number of scenes for the film, each with some variation. In one version it is a vehicle that catches the finger. In another, an appliance. In one version it is something sharp that takes the finger. In another something crushes it. In the climax the young actress portrays the mix of agony and will. Using as her motivation the idea of being punished for playing where she knows - even at three - she is not supposed to play, she tugs her hand away, the repercussion of an excised middle finger seeming less tragic than a spanking at the time.

The epilogue takes place in hospital whites, like heaven, surrounded by nurses who care and doctors who shake their heads, questioning either the will of the little girl, or the plausibility of the script more generally.  

What becomes of all the body parts, the lost limbs and other visible, familiar pieces? Is there some ceremony? Do they bury them? She has spent her life mourning her middle finger. Is there some partial funeral when some part of you is lost?  

She dismisses that idea, what with the time weíd spend, standing around our own graves.

 


 

Sandwiches

I fall on deaf ears. I ask. Just a little but.  
Sometimes more.  

Shout/whisper/act. Doesnít matter.  

I stand there waiting to order a sandwich. They talk, doing nothing while I wait. He walks up and stands behind me. They ask him: ďWhat can I get for you?Ē  I touch my face. He knows. He says: ďDonít worry. I can see you.Ē

I fall on deaf ears. I ask. Just a little but.  
Sometimes more.  

I want to be loved and I want to be cherished. But then, who doesnít? He was grading on a curve. He said: ďNot everyone in this class will deserve an A. And one of you will have to fail.Ē  

I pout and drag my feet. I hunch up. On purpose. I breathe in little bursts that sound like crying. I think of ___________ and I cry. He asks: ďWhatís for dinner?Ē

I tell him: ďSandwiches.Ē






The Director

He called himself a director then. He hung out in the ski towns working odd jobs to finance his film. He had some ideas, but. Mostly he got by on his charm. It worked on you. And it worked on him, the man who should have been his landlord but instead was his benefactor, wooed by the striking looks and vintage style and a steady flow of top shelf weed. He got by like that, tending bar on the side.  

An actor whose name youíd recognize Ė the actor too was young then, but already fairly established; an actor whose name youíd recognize came to town and took a liking (wooed by striking looks, vintage style and a steady flow of top shelf weed) - an actor whose name youíd recognize took a liking and bought him a high-end camera, like some extravagant gratuity to his handsome bartender and, laughing in a practiced yet captivating manner that could make you think he was joking when he wasnít and designed to take the edge off any awkward situation said, ďIíd like executive production credit.Ē And so the actorís talent was validated by how he could make an ultimately selfish act Ė the cost of the camera was nothing to him, a lottery-ticket-priced investment Ė how he could make an ultimately selfish act feel like a favor granted.  

Youíre not sure how much he ever used the camera. You heard he shot a video for some band from Argentina but then they never paid him. And by some obscene quirk in international law, they controlled all the footage too he said. And some guys from Vail or Aspen took him copter skiing in Alaska so he could shoot them ďfor the recordĒ. Personally, you never saw it. But you heard it looked really good.  

You had your year of fucking around, your year of top shelf weed. Then you moved on. You hear from him from time to time and generally speaking the amount of money he is asking for is typically so small that you never say no, and usually send a little extra, only occasionally wondering how many more there are just like you, how many had passed through over the years and if, perhaps, the humble request did sound a little rehearsed, or at least like several before you might have heard it. But it makes you feel young, like passing a joint to a stranger. Heís always asking for so little. So you donít mind.  

Then came some injury, a torn ACL or maybe thatís just how you wrote it up because of where and how you knew him. He has a wife and son in Texas of all places, miles and miles and miles from any snow so of course itís hard to place him when your paths cross in Marthaís Vineyard where you are on vacation and he is waiting tables and youíre not sitting in his section, but he trades for you. You catch up in bits and pieces between requests for forks and ketchup because he canít sit down right now, heís working. You ask him what heís doing here and he says, ďIím trying to make a better life for my wife and my child.Ē  

He said it kind of arrogant like that and when you tell him youíd love to meet Annie and the boy he says, ďThen go to Texas.Ē  

Youíre hoping the service is terrible because heís working outside his section and you leave him another extravagant tip he does not deserve, for another project he will never finish, hoping it smoothes things over enough for you to find out if he still has the best weed around; thinking Hey, Iím on vacation.

 


 

Firefly

Looking at it from where you are now do you feel shame, or pity? You tolerate too much. You get drunk on the smallest bits of affection. Youíre alone too much. You dream too much, pretending you believe that if you want something badly enough, it will come to you; that if you work hard enough, it will come to you; that if you donít give up, it will come to you. You neglect the role of talent in the equation. You fail to recognize when oneís dreams are frivilous, or even impossible. Dreams donít feed families. Dreams donít feed hope, when echoing across the bones of oneís inner ear is their motherís voice saying Ė not to be cruel, but rather that you might learn from her mistakes, because she loves you, and they hurt her, and she just as soon you not make them -  echoing across the malleus, the incus, the stapes a sound only you can hear: Her voice, sincere with death, saying, ďYou are among my greatest disappointments.Ē

In the darkened room you see the firefly, even before it lights up. Through some chemistry or electric pulse, it actually does glow, illuminating the objects on the wall: Framed photographs of her. Like you, it is trapped inside this house. Like you, it is uncertain how it arrived here, and though consciously out-of-place, it has no plans to exit. Like you it dreams of lovers it will never know and grieves for things that havenít yet died. It avoids consideration of its catastrophic failures, failures that have it here, like you, in this darkened room. It goes about its business. This was the dream. It will die in this house.






Jealous of a Dead Girl

Their college friend died and sure she was young and all that yes yes but he was taking it too hard. She had hardly ever seen him cry and had never seen him cry sober. But he cried over her. He insisted on going to the funeral even though they had to take two days off to do it and they were planning on a cruise in November so she worried this was going to screw things up somehow, using up vacation days. For what? For the funeral of a girl they hadnít spoken to in ten years.  

At the wake he threw his arms around her, got snot in her hair. She had thought about an up-do, something formal like that. But sheíd wanted to look mature, not old.
 
She was ashamed of his weeping at the service. None of their friends were crying like that especially none of the men and really most of them werenít there to begin with. She felt like people were staring at her. Like they knew something. This made her miserable. This is why she cried.  

Serves her right she thought.

 


 

Plane Trip #79

Between my vantage point and the sun waterways burn like jewels, blinding me. I seek them, lakes and rivers. I want them but am relieved when they disappear, when land rules and nothing shines or hurts my eyes. Leaving today is like that, with something I crave to forget but too that which I know I will miss; what I miss now and missed even before I left it, knowing the pain was coming. He broke my heart. I never thought he would, not ever. And the walls I love best are haunted and time passes within them in a specific way that makes it hard to take, or makes me feel like Iím taking it over and over.  

It feels good to leave, or will. But right now there is a vague mourning of another he, a he who has not broken my heart, not yet. And while he will and I know this there is some part of me that wants to suck up every single second with him before it happens. I am terrified of dying young, but terrified of outliving him.  

Infection rattles my chest and I imagine the sun will cure me with the same dedication that this rarefied air is likely to make me worse. Worse, and better, blinded and all the while thinking that what is right here in front of me is more beautiful than even tightly closed eyes can remember. Survival is the ultimate victory. So itís not that Iíve either lived or Iíve won.   

I want to suck up every single second. He will break my heart but he hasnít yet. I return more anxious than I depart.  

But that one, him, he came out of nowhere. I loved an invention and like all machinations it broke down. Itís the contrast see, the difference. It is sun shining until it hurts. It takes something of you with it, next time you will see less. Oh, but this time, this time.






Little Thing

There is a possession I treasure most of all. It does not feel like a possession. It feels like I am possessed; like I am owned. It feels like cohabitation, like free will, like choice. It doesnít feel bought, even if it is. It is my most prized possession. It is him, it is her, it breathes, it loves or I think it does, I say it does. I say it loves me.    

It sits beside me. It sleeps. It sleeps beside me. It doesnít listen. I own it. I found it. I bought it. I could destroy it if I wanted to. Someday I will. I fear it. I fear it terribly, miserably; discipline is reversed. It owns me. I call it. I say its response is voluntary, I have evidence because response is not universal, only consistent.  

Eyes, eyes, million mile eyes Ė they belong to me. I have seen them sink, float. I own it. I pay for it. I could kill and it will make me do this.   

We will both die, at least for awhile.

 


 

Minneapolis #128

The ice is off the lake. It happened outside my dreams. I had dreamed so vividly the ice was gone that for weeks Iíd been shocked by the sight of it.  

I was not shocked to see it missing.  

I do not want the leaves to come. Soon I will see leaves instead of sky. But the wish that this might last forever is one certain not to come true.  

I wish to dream of leafless branches, of buds and bark, this eternal spring.

 


 

At Armís Length

He keeps her in his life at armís length. He keeps her as a reminder of the worst mistake he didnít make, but could have. He almost left his wife for her. He almost left his life for her. But he didnít.

She was so pretty then. They matched perfectly in bed. It was natural to be caught up. Or maybe it was his catholic upbringing because Ė despite of course the adultery - he felt guilty sleeping with someone he didnít love. So he loved her.  

He loved his wife too. The whole thing made him feel so sad.  

The psychic at the company party was supposed to be a novelty, but when she took his hand and told him, ďYouíre in love with two people,Ē he could feel himself blanch. He wondered if everyone knew. He wondered if his wife knew. He didnít want that.

His lover didnít love him and she told him so. He found her declaration fairly noble, given the extent to which he was helping her out at the time. He was crushed, but mostly because he was used to winning. He was crushed, but. He had almost left his wife for her; his gentle, loving wife.  

He keeps her at armís length. They work together. He feels dirty sometimes when he says her name. He feels dirty when he says her name to his wife.  

At armís length, he sees her with some perspective. Older now, not so pretty, or maybe still pretty but. He sees differently. From his distance he does truly feel love for her, spring snow love, slushy gray and wet. His heart bursts with storms of gratitude.
She saved him.




Your Minnesota Morning

There was something that needed to be done: A door unlocked, a neighborís garage and a worker needing access... youíd agreed to help, and thus find yourself up a bit earlier than usual on a Sunday morning. Itís warm, warmer than it should be perhaps but that doesnít mean it doesnít feel good, because it does. Your eye makes note of lightís angle, you could never be fooled into thinking that an autumn day was a summer one. But itís that kind of air, tinged with an August hint of decay. There are leaves on the ground, but not many. There are leaves turning, mostly yellow so far, but not many of those, either.  

You take your bike to the coffee shop three blocks away. Itís busy there. There are tables outside in what may have once been a garage, or loading dock. Itís shaded, that part of the building, but frontless, outdoors. Each outside table has one or two people plus a dog. You pat a willing one on your way inside, a bristly pup named Buster Brown.  

Inside are rich colors and lots of sun. You order a large cappuccino and a raspberry scone and maybe it surprises you just a little bit that the fellow serving you is so pleasant, even kind. I mean, heís working on a Sunday morning, at a coffee shop Ė kind of hipster coffee shop, and it would be natural it seems for him to provide a bit of attitude to you, however subtle. But he doesnít. And heís patient with you when you ask about sugar, a lid. And heís patient with you when forgetfully leave your scone on the counter, peaceably walking up behind you with your white waxed bag, handing it over, neither discipline nor humor in his eyes.  

You walk back out through the dogs. Buster Brown is preoccupied with some fuzzy poodle-mix so you donít pet him this time.  Itís a bit of a strange choice, but you decide to sit on a high curb along the alley adjacent to the frame shop parking lot. Itís a perfect height for sitting, and the tall quiet guy at the frame store Ė you think his name is Neil Ė has planted a garden in the elevated flower boxes between the lot and sidewalk. Or rather, heís planted a farm: You eat crumbly scone and with your eye you pick the tomatoes, the peppers, the eggplant, the chives. You consider how your own tomato plants have ceased to produce since the sun crossed over into the southern sky, and consider without worry the green fruit on your own vines, wondering if theyíll ever come around.  

Back to the coffee shop to throw your paper cup and bag away, and there are a new batch of dogs, strange and total replacement, these all larger ones Ė a red Vizsla, a golden Labrador, a black and tan Airedale.  

When you woke this morning and managed to actually keep going once the neighborís door was opened (resisting the urge to just return to bed) you had a vision of all the things youíd complete today  - lawn mowing, bill paying, dish washing and a household sweep, all before your softball game this afternoon.

But this soft air, this time of year each warm day is duly named The Last One and so is loved accordingly; each day is the one that always says no to you, surprising you by saying yes. So you take it up.  

You weave the four or five blocks to the lake, taking your time, looking at the houses and the trees. There is an old tiny woman sitting in a lawn chair in a patch of sun, an orange cat splayed across her chest. They each look to be sleeping, but you see her hand moving, slowly, tiny, loving strokes. You pass a dog you know named Lady, wiry with ice-blue eyes, and you wince riding passed a favorite, giant elm that you know will soon come down, the orange mark of disease blazed across it like a scarlet letter. Itís been a bad year for the elms.  

In Minnesota, you live beneath the trees. They are not the prehistoric trees of the Northwest. No, these trees are your peers, or friends of your parents. They are so subtle and integral that itís nearly hard to even consider them, the dappled shade such a standard comfort, like oneís own skin. Maybe thatís why the lakes are so stunning, this lake, blue and open and offering some perspective.  

The streets to here were empty but the lake itself is active. There is a parade of walkers and dogs on the inside path closest to shore. The water is glistening, and a breeze from the north finds you adjacent to choppy water, which ducks ride with no mind and windsurfers slice with hunger and some glee. The outer path isnít exactly thick with bikes but there are plenty of them, a few helmeted racers; a few helmeted children with training wheels, their parents walking beside them on the grass just off the pathís shoulder; most riders just tooling, a pair of riders shouting a conversation that you hear in a snippet as they pass: ďAnd then he left on Friday for... Ēbut they are too far for you to learn where ďheĒ left to, or if he maybe left for good.

It makes you feel applied to ride fast. You call it exercise. You join the path, pedaling for all youíre worth, keeping pace with no one but rather setting your own. You pass serious and casual roller bladers. You keep your head down, pumping, even though itís tempting to look around, especially at girls and mansions. You are flying. There is nothing to stop you. Now the bird sanctuary is on your right, and the Peace Garden is behind you. You decide to do another lake, keep going. You take the branch of trail that veers north, stopping for no one, though itís natural for the cars to yield you right of way where the path cuts across the lake road.  

The next lake is bigger, more open, fewer trees along the shore. There are sailboats on the lake, all white sails and this isnít the first time you think about what it would be like to have a little boat like that, riding over just as youíre doing now, taking it out on a morning just like this one. There are already people playing volleyball on the sand courts beside the water. There are already motorcycles lining up along the lakeís southwest edge, their riders spreading blankets out beside them, sitting on the grass with legs outstretched, leaning back on elbows and tilting chins toward the sun, white bits of light from the water dancing on them.

Youíre still pumping. Itís hot, suddenly it seems too hot, too tropical for October. But you feel you are accomplishing something. You head north to yet another lake, this one with waving shoreline and great houses and then yes, ah, some shade, trees again. Youíre some miles away but you already feel it Ė the home stretch. You pull up some, coming fully upright near the dog park and slowing to watch a bulldog chase some leggy thing twice its height, which then turns, causing the bulldog to brake abruptly, panting. It shakes it head and spit flies backlit in filtered sun.  

Heading home along the western shore of the first lake you are fully tooling. You take your hands off the bars and place them on your hips. This lake seems cooler somehow, the breeze coming off the water, and you stop just before your usual turn up the hill home to step into the water. Itís still warm, or warm enough, it feels wet but not cold exactly; it feels good. You walk in up to your thighs and its little debate before you just dive in, coming up again some ten yards from shore, looking around you, feeling good, great even, great and lucky before swimming back in and sitting in the grass, now your own head tilted back, now white bits of light bouncing off the water onto you. Your eyes are closed.  

It is a grunt and wet clomp that pulls you from your sense of touch back into your other senses: It is the sound of a dog prancing along the shore, wet like you are. You watch the dog pause the shake and donít even realize how this inspires you: You shake too, your own great head throwing water, and you pick up the bike and pedal home, distracted now admittedly, remembering already even though the experience is still happening, thinking about how sweet its been even though it still is. You make note of squirrels crossing your path and even one you catch walking, walking slowly, which seems like spying somehow since squirrels tend to be so busy and so fast. Youíre trying to stay in it, but here comes your alley and youíre home now, thinking about what comes next: Writing it down.





 

The Funeral

The mom didnít want to buy the whole overdose thing though it was more than clear to the rest of us. She preferred accident, mishap...even murder. She kept looking at us like we did this. And itís true, we did this. But only to ourselves.

There were six of us there well maybe four at any given time since weíd sneak away to smoke. The color of our leather wasnít enough to make us appropriate. Might have been drunk too.

Itís true, we did this. We all did then. Seven there that day including the dead one, down some from last time since one or two disappeared and another starting talking.

Only to ourselves: He had a kid we never knew about. We all hugged the kid and it stood there stiff little soldier at the tomb and thatís just what it was I suppose. I sobered up after that but only for a while. Was lonely without my friends.

Friends: Iíd lose them and replace them and stopped going to the funerals until my own which of course I didnít have a choice about. Five of them, younger, huddled around the grave not shivering this time cause of summer but dressed like all the others, black leather reeking of sweat and tobacco.






Some Things Can Be Returned

I gave a lover something precious but when I didnít love him anymore I wanted it back.  

Like the seasons he changed: From something new, to something soft; from something striking and volatile to something: Cold.  

So like a tree I cut him down. I did not use an axe but rather something else. Severed from his base, branches broken, vulnerable, where any part of him might be reached:  I took it back.





A Favor

(I am scared of dying young but Iím scared of living longer than you.)  

Do this for me: Take it slow. Do this for me: Suffer. Suffer terribly. Suffer hard.  

Suffer miserably, so that I will be able to let you go.





One Basket

I am waiting for you to resurrect. I am waiting for you to return to me. And when you do I will appreciate you more this time. I will believe you: All those times you told me you were holy and asked me to bend. I will forgive you for those times I bent and for how hard you tried to break me.  

I am waiting for you to resurrect. I am waiting for you to return to me. And when you do at last I will allow myself to love you. I will not be afraid to love you because you will never die. Those times you left me abandoned and treated me so badly that I was forced to abandon you; all those cruel words and all those other women: At last I will confess. I will confess that you were right when you told me to forgive you. I will confess that you were right when you told me not to go. I will confess that you were right when you said that you were the best thing that ever happened to me and that without you I was nothing, nothing at all.  

Now I devote myself. And after all those attempts to seduce and to please you you will be satisfied with something so simple as foiled chocolate or colored eggs. You will be my savior and I will be your subject and you will not be the subject of every conversation, every conversation that I have with therapist or friend.
                                 

In the South, leaves are dropping as the old you dies. Up here buds are breaking, buds are bursting and I:  

I am finally coming back together again.



 

Nothing Lasts Forever

(I am scared of dying young but Iím scared of living longer than you.)  

Iím trying hard not to miss you.  Here you are, right beside me, right here in front of me.
 
But of course you will not be here forever.  So Iím trying hard not to miss you.





How to Say Youíre Sorry

If you are apologizing to someone and you donít even know what you are apologizing for... yet the situation, letís say itís love because thatís a pretty one, though it may be you are only seeking peace, or avoiding something worse, like escalation; or even just saying it (ďIím sorryĒ) to seem bigger Ė no, not to seem bigger, but to be bigger, though this motivation may well play into one of the previously listed categories like peace, or defense, or even love - if you are saying you are sorry for any reason (short of being patronizing, or with the sheer intent to anger, irritate or perturb) always pretend you know what you are apologizing for, even if you donít. As such, never frame your apology with, ďI donít even know what Iím apologizing for...Ē, either before or after the ďIím sorryĒ or ďI apologizeĒ. And additionally, just as it is unwise that shouting a phrase like ďStop crying,Ē will actually have any positive effect in obtaining that goal, an apology should never be shouted, or yelled, or spit out, or even mumbled. Also, try not to begin any apology with, ďOkay then,Ē ďLook,Ē or ďFine.Ē If you must, for the sake of rhythm or diction, use a phrase of entry before your actual apology, try, ďPlease,Ē or if seeking language less...passionate, yet still heartfelt-sounding, you might try something like, ďGee,Ē as in: ďGee, Iím sorry.Ē Or, if still greater impact is sought, try the addition of ďSoĒ: ďGee {Please}, I am so sorry.Ē  ďVeryĒ can be added as well for still further emphasis: ďPlease, I am so very sorry.Ē  

Of note: The post-amble ďPlease forgive me,Ē tends to amplify the seeming sincerity of any apology. Utilize this phrase at your discretion where emphasis is desired and/or forgiveness truly sought.     

But: Never post-amble your apology with the phrase, ďCanít we just forget it?Ē or the similarly flavored, ďLetís just forget this.Ē Please note that to call into question whether any phrase, statement, event or action is forgettable versus memorable serves only to trigger the very act of memory, stimulating and enlarging it to the point of making any phrase, statement, event or action which one seeks to be forgotten (either long or short term) to be in fact remembered eternally, and increasing geometrically the likelihood of the phrase, statement, event or action which one has requested be forgotten in fact be recalled Ė and in many cases, embellished upon Ė by the recipient of said request, typically at the point of worst possible advantage to the requester. Please note further the eternal nature of this act of disadvantageous recollection by the recipient of said request, and thus let it serve as motivation to avoid the use of such phrases and requests except where the intent of such usage is to in fact bring about eventual negative confrontation.  

Lastly, if you are doing something to make someone feel better, please know not to mention that is why you are doing it. Telling someone you are doing something to make them feel better Ė or worse, telling them are you only doing something to make them feel better Ė well, it doesnít work. It doesnít make them
feel better.  

And apologizing to someoneís friend or rather telling someoneís friend youíre sorry for what you did to them, well I have to say thatís pretty chicken shit. And being pretty chicken shit tends to negate the chance for reconciliation. (Unless of course one is absolutely completely in love in which case even a qualified or half-ass chicken shit apology seems, in the eyes of love, somehow humble or even charming. In which case the points made here previous generally do not apply. At least not in present tense.)

But weíre not in love. Weíre family. Weíre goddamn fucking family.





Birthday #44

Iím working on the day before my birthday. Shooting a film in college lecture hall, and the director is being a real shit. He starts in on me in the morning and I know itís going to be one of those days. I keep away. I bide my time.  

I tell a joke and the director tells everyone: Stop laughing. I was the last one leave that night, washing our dirty prop dishes in a filthy public bathroom. I wanted to hang a sign: It was this way when I got here. I wanted to hang a sign: The puke in the next sink isnít mine. But no one comes in anyway.  

There was candy leftover on the craft table and I gave it to some little boys who were, quite oddly, roaming the halls that night. I exit the filthy bathroom and enter the vacant hallway which is now filled with crushed and smeared chocolate.
  
I couldnít leave it. Or rather, I couldnít leave it all. On my hands and knees on the filthy floor, trying to clean it up. Filthy. Dirty. A man walks by and shoots me a filthy dirty look. On my hands and knees, Iím thinking: This is not my mess.  

But this is my mess. And I bring it home with me. Crushed by unexpected pain from unexpected sources, collaborators and little boys.

I thought I was being benevolent.  

So my birthday rides in on tears, which I finally let go around midnight.  

And while my birthday may not have been singly notable, it is notable in that it was not the day before it. Relief is my gift, and can anyone argue that relief, if you think about it, is really the sweetest gift of all?





Secret History

He is a secret and he is history. And because he is history the secret seems more grand than it might. And because he is secret the history seems more sweet than it really was.  

It began as torque: All power and my pulse raced. It gained speed, short of breath, it came: To victory. 

The crash was inevitable. I have scars you canít see. You have scars, your flesh topographical. I run my tongue along the terrain of the valley where they put you back together again and the mountains formed from upheaval of your bones. Your country was inhabited yes but it is I who conquered you. It is you who colonized me, setting up permanently in my most remote of places, dominating me, dominating me still while I plan a revolt built of cryptic messages and intermittent contact I treasure a little too much.  

I answer to the crown, you, across the sea. And me, subject: To the smallest of affections. You called it a waste and itís true after all this time you are still the last one who ever traveled there. So I want to like you more than I ever really did. And because it is secret and because it is history it seems that at last, I do.






Needs

It was a socioeconomic relationship. She was always working. She was lonely. He was never working, always broke.   

They were off and on for years. Years.    

She kept on going back to him. He kept coming back to her. She was bored. He needed something.  

But eventually his failures made him unattractive. And she stopped loaning him money, which made her unattractive to him.  

The story doesnít end but is rather, simply, forgotten.  






A Note to the Southern Hemisphere, December 21

Today I give you all I have, every speck of warmth and daylight. Tomorrow, you will be satisfied from this, and we will begin to share. We will share until I have taken everything, and I feel compelled to return it, the sun, back to you, thinking it is the least I can do...  

Tomorrow I will already be taller, richer. It will be slight but I hope I do not fail to notice this. Tomorrow I will already be growing until I am big enough to give to you.

 

 

Dance

They beat the drum for war and we dance to it. They take the spoils of war and buy us a little gift with it. He profits, yes but what of it? We all do. We hear the drums. And we dance.

And when all this plays out we will have our new slaves. The newest here, willing to work for the least. When they have nothing for long enough they will settle for the smallest scraps. So make certain that, for long enough, they have nothing.

Dance to the drums and then dance to the violins. You have to work your way up to here. You are lucky to clean such a nice house, and that I am such a benevolent queen. Look, youíre in America now, where the best of yours is equal to the very worst of ours. You are far from the best and thus something even lower, where ten thousand of you could not equal one of us. No, ten thousand might equate with a single dirty house here. So you, just look how lucky you are with a chance to clean it up.

We dance to drums. We dance to violins. This is our right, because everyone else is deaf, or not listening.

We dance to drums, we dance to violins. We dance to the fiddle while we burn.


 

 

Plans

She had plans. She was going to take him to Burma. She would take pictures and he would write. Her father would finance the expedition. She had plans. They would make a book together. She would take photographs and he would write poetry. This would happen in the south of France. The book could be about anything, potted plants or cafes, because they were so creative that the subject didnít matter. They would go romantic places. They would go ordinary places and turn them romantic. They noticed every little thing. They really saw.

She had plans. She would be his agent. Beautiful women would all crave him but she would not be threatened because she and him, they were one. He belonged to her and walking down the streets of Cairo or of Paris together theyíd turn heads. Even in her daydreams she was concerned that this was because he was prettier than she, but even in her daydreams she knew it was neurosis, that no one thought so; that she was just as pretty and they turned heads because they shined.

She had plans. She would start by renting him an apartment, then buy him a little house. She didnít want to move in together because that was simply too conventional, and he needed a space in which to write. She preferred to think of her and him as distinctly individual, and voluntarily united precisely by that.

He had plans: To gain the quantity of stamps upon his passport that would impress the next woman or girl. He had plans to write great sonnets. It took beauty to know beauty and he was beautiful. He would write beautiful poems. He knew this even before she told him so.

He had plans: Not to ask for the laptop he wanted, but to hint. She had money Ė or her father did Ė and she was willing to give it up easily, a function of her being spoiled he thought. He was frugal and lazy and thought of her as an opportunity.

She had plans: To learn his heart and to work her way in. He stood crying in the center of the street in Cabarete, worried she had seen him with that teenage girl and as a result had left him there. He cried for being such a fool, getting caught and throwing things away. She knew nothing of the tryst and only loved him more for his tears, mistaking them for overwhelming joy.

She was a rebel and told him to explore other women, believing in an adage sheíd read on sentimental mugs and posters about loving something and setting it free. She told told him to explore other women fully believing he never would; believing she was already perfect for him Ė he had confessed as much to her their very first night together, a whisper exhaled post-climax in her ear but she pretended she did not hear him, not wanting him to know that she knew he was conquered. She was perfect for him and there was something about him that made her feel perfect.

From the Dominican they flew back to Melbourne, and when she went to Surfersí Paradise to meet her father he stayed in the city alone and began sleeping with another girl, this one a little older than the last one but still young. He liked how he felt more powerful than the girl. He liked how the girl made him feel more powerful than her and how the idea of breaking her heart made him feel like man.

After six days with her father she returned to the city and knew right away it was over. She could tell by the way he delayed their reunion Ė even though it was just by an afternoon Ė and so at that eveningís rendezvous she folded her hands on the bar, sitting very straight, facing forward instead of facing him. She was flippant, ordering pints and only making eye contact with him when the glasses arrived, lifting hers, smiling, and saying Hereís to our last beer together.

He was enraged. What he had wanted was to have a secret, and even that she had denied him. In truth she knew nothing of his new little girl, but if she had she would have been more offended by his choice of partner than of the affair itself. In truth what she would have resented is how his choice of woman was so dramatically different than she, and was so dramatically different in the most painfully revealing sorts of ways. But really her own doubts had sprung up in Surfersí Paradise, and believing she had heard same on the phone in his voice she didnít want things to linger. She had plans.

He was furious. In an instant he knew he cared nothing for the girl. And was certain that he hated her, and was certain he would stay with the girl just to spite her, aware of her preoccupation with her small breasts and her age and he would love the girl to spite her, because he hated her, hated her, hated her.

And it is in the same bar that they see each other next, not four years later and he with a child more than three. When she learns this she laughs Ė she doesnít smile, she just laughs Ė and with that laugh and with her looking so distinctly single still...and he with his fat son and his wife Ė who had just cut off all her once-blonde hair...with this his own daydreams of this moment have turned instantly to venom. And with her head flung back like that he wants nothing more than to crush her quaking throat.

But instead he feigns commitment and departs as soon as possible, surprising his wife with his early return and yelling at her for nothing, then just as abruptly taking her into his arms, holding her tight, and crying for second time in his adult life.

 

 

The Driving Range

I donít know why my father couldnít hold a job cause he always seemed to be working. There were some months of treasuring Thursdays, his day off at the hotel and a few hours with him after school. Sometimes weíd eat out on Thursdays, but my dad said he was always eating out. He liked my motherís cooking.

But he left the hotel and we moved again, this time to Columbus, Ohio. We were coming from down south, I brought with me an accent certain to get me ridiculed. I tried to hide it.

I grew up in apartments. Sometimes they were courtyard types, sometimes bigger buildings. We had a dog and that meant we were held to a certain standard of living. Blame the dog. We were generally relegated to some outskirt, our particular building or complex bordering: A development yet to be built; a freeway; the backside of a shopping center.

But in Columbus, there was the Driving Range. We called it The Golf Course, and my mother and I both felt very proud. It wasnít open much, and Iíd crawl under the fence like a million kids before me Ė mostly older Ė whose trail of wrappers and broken glass felt not like blight but like treasure. The Golf Course was magical, elegant. Iíd find things there. Iíd find balls and Iíd put them in box beneath my bed. I found a broken ball that was something new entirely, something amazing and mysterious and long. Once I found a twenty dollar bill. Twenty dollars.

The Golf Course was mine. It was my kingdom. Iíd take the teasing at school so long as I got to hurry home and rule the grass and dirt. There were broken vines in the fence that felt like serpents. There was an old broom Iíd ride like a horse, knowing no one was watching me. Iíd bring the dog, he was a horse too, a wild one I tried to catch mounted upon my broom. Iíd catch him too.

I was only there once when the place was actually open. My father took me, we bought a bucket of balls or maybe itís called renting them and I watched while he went from happy to frustrated to downright defeated, swinging at those stupid balls. It was as if they were people, telling him what he couldnít do, and him proving them right. I didnít try, it didnít look like fun, but then he didnít let me either.

Walking home he told me: Stay away from that place.

I did, too.

We moved to Lexington a few weeks later.

 

 

I Think of You as Heaven

You clipped my wings. You clipped my wings, you brought me home. I used to love the world. I used to love the world but I love you even more. I want to be with you. I want to be like you: Soft. This is where you are/this is where I want to be. You are so soft. Love clipped my wings.

Do I love him because he is mine or is he mine because I love him?

I think of you as heaven. I grieve for you in tides. Love clipped my wings and it takes so long to make it home walking/running. Once I would have flown but a heavy heart is not so easily lifted. A heavy heart is not so easily lifted and my feathers have been cut.

These days, no moon but I know for certain that the moon will come back. These days, no you, less faith and so much more gravity.

(I grieve in tides.)

I think of you as heaven. If I am very very good you are where I go when I die. Running/walking/wingless, like a moth to the moon in search of you. Running/wingless/walking, if this kills me.

 

 

Lives for Love

He lives for love. Part of her admires this.

He left her standing at the curb outside The Blake Hotel in London having told her to fetch her own cab; he didnít love her any more. She supposed the ending had been coming but still it seemed so sudden, her with her bags at her feet and the smell of grapefruit soap still on her skin; their dinner at Nobo still repeating on her. She half expected to him to show up at her gate, weeping. It had happened like that before in Guatemala. They had both been very tired.

She hates to think the issue was his allowance. She had wanted him to feel free, to be with her of volition rather than pure usefulness. She had wanted him to feel manly. She knows sheís better off but shivers to think of his return to Brazil wooing the other woman with her money. Sheíd known there was one. She hadnít really cared. For now she doesnít cry but sleeps so hard on the plane that they have to wake her up when it lands.

Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that the other woman is the one he married. They are dining in Sao Paolo when he tells her this, she there on some business, his email address unchanged. Readying for tonight, she had prepared herself as if to sleep with him, but seeing him there is no urge to, none at all. He seems awkward in the sort of place they had once seemed to live in. He gushes over rather poor Brazilian sushi, telling her: I havenít had it in years. She orders high-end red wine, his favorite, even though it clearly does not go with the meal. Italian wines are over-priced in this country. He drinks four fifths of the bottle.

He protests but she insists on having her driver drop him home. Itís a fairly long ride and he is drunk. His English has become choppy. I have three children, he tells her, please come up to meet them. Her driver waits for her. She climbs four flights of stairs.

It is the chaos of the apartment that strikes her more than the tiny scale of it, or the heat. He had always required such order, a trait he had blamed on his astrological sign but indulged rather seriously with perfectly efficient packing and the wiping up of sweaty beverage rings from the surface of glass or glass-covered tabletops in some of the worldís finest hotels. Two damp girls sit before a television and do not move when they walk in. A little boy is asleep, sprawled out on the floor. The wife looks at her and smiles, nodding, yells at the husband in Portuguese too fast to comprehend, then turns to her again, looking briefly into her eyes before casting them down like a servant. The wife is quite young and thus is pretty. The husband tells the wife: She is my business associate. This is business. He taps the girls and points, telling them to say hello. They wave and turn back to the set. He wakes the little boy who cries and hides his face before being handed back to his mother.

He walks her downstairs, where her car is waiting. He opens the door and she hands him all the money on her, a few hundred dollars. This is just how this started, she thinks to herself. He puts his thumb on her chin and turns her face toward him, a gesture she only now remembers. He moves to kiss her. She lets him then says good-bye.

She has her driver circle the block so she can watch him. She has seen this precise, particular strut of his before, then too through a car window when she left New York City a day before him. Then too she had handed him something and watched him unguarded as she drove away.

 

 

Minneapolis #127

Did I fall in love with it because it is mine? Or did I make it mine because I fell in love?

Itís not that Iím like the others so much as I love how others are; every inch, every leaf and living beneath the trees: Shelter inherent, weather terrible. Is it really so wonderful or am I just in love? There is no place or thing that is universally desired yet here I am, transplanted and taking root. And taking something else, more, and taking it with me when I go.

I told him too, I encouraged him. He said: You people there. Youíre all so prideful. He was right, in my case it was true and Iím not the only one. Do we know some secret? There is no universal truth. Maybe itís just that we found each other, settled here.

Have you stood in air so far below freezing and have you heard in dense air the voice of far away? Have you huddled inside when it was dark before dinner and felt grateful for it, for the dark, freeing you from spiritual obligations the day seems to carry? Have you seen the northern lights? Have you praised the lack of insects only to become frightened by this and have you seen the sun go down over water, ten oíclock at night?

Have you lived beneath trees, not giants, just normal ones, about the age youíd be at your death if you could live forever.

 

 

Minneapolis #126

The wind bangs the window and sounds like jets, like travel, like motion like oceans. Like aches. Wind is crying, hysterical. I ask it what is wrong but it canít hear me over the noise of itself. I tell it: Air feels no pain. I tell it: When you are still, it will end.

Wind stalls briefly, just long enough to hear. It says: The greatest pain is infliction. Look what Iíve done to leaves. The greatest pain is collusion. I carry something bitter with me and tomorrow you will shiver.

I say: There is no pain in apathy. Do you even try to stop yourself?

Wind says: This is different than addiction. Itís damnation. I want to stop but I cannot. I am borne of the war of temperature. I am borne of the war between light and dark. I inflict, hapless as a soldier.

I tell wind: You are too hard on yourself. Certainly you have brought relief too. I have seen you fan fires yes leaving little but bones but it is you too that brings the water; that brings rain. You have eased me during heat waves. I have begged for you. I have longed for you in such a way that I have used machines as your substitute like some form of environmental masturbation, me doing for myself what you do for me, or trying to. I know that this is sorry but I have missed you just that badly. I have wanted what you and only you could deliver to me. You and no one else.

Wind says: The greatest pain is to inflict. Look what Iíve done to you. Your pain would well be my greatest mistake if it werenít for your longing. Because your still wanting me after all Iíve done to you, well. I canít tell if youíre kind or pathetic.

I tell Wind: When you feel mournful for the pain youíve caused it makes me love you all the more. Knowing I am your great mistake makes me feel almost good. I like that you must look upon me. I like being kind. There is both charity and vengence is me. Iím being good but I still get my way.

Wind bangs against the house. Its pause was only briefly. It lost me somewhere between Kindness and Nothing.

Wind lost me somewhere. It doesnít pay attention. It left me somewhere between. Kindness. Nothing.

 

 

The King

When he was young gay men would always pester him, and this left him a bit uptight about that. Looking at him now it may be hard to recognize that he was once really beautiful, absolutely beautiful, the kind of beautiful that people break rules for; the kind of beautiful that lets a person get away with murder.

But he wasnít bad, and he wasnít lazy. I wonít say he wasnít conceded, I remember him peering at himself in the mirror for what seemed like hours at a time and once beside the pool he made an eagle out of band-aids and taped it to his chest, burning it in, or rather, shading it onto him. He was the kind of guy who could get away with something like that. He was the kind of beautiful that people called Kind. He was the kind of great-looking that people called Deep, and Creative, and a thousand other attributes that people apply to the most handsome among us when really they are merely usual, typical and of generally average intelligence.

But he actually was pretty nice, and while not particularly deep or creative that I know about, he was smart, too. He had the chance to get smart Ė teachers of both genders fussed over him, charmed Ė he had the chance to get smart and I guess he took it.

He had fun with it all, the eagle on the chest for example and the attention of many, many girls. But he fell in love young, and married her, and they are still together even after all these years. Heís not beautiful now, why, scarcely even average but he was beautiful then. He could have had anyone.

The people who knew him before still think of him as he was. Now heís bald and sort of fat but less fat than he has been because of the heart attack - he quit smoking after that, is careful what he eats. The whole town is looking out for him, he canít sneak a heater in the alley or order up some bacon without someone being on him. I wouldnít know where to find the resentment youíd expect, his life the storied one, successful and staying put, still here, still nice, still married. No longer beautiful but no one who knew him then seems to notice. The skinny guy in who runs the diner, heís looking better than The King at this point for sure, has a prettier wife, thicker hair, was beaten up in high school but never by him. The King doesnít get his breakfast for free but the guy at the diner tends to bring it to him personally, saying hello and asking after the missus. The King always smiles, turning in the booth and ignoring his hot breakfast to meet eyes and shake hands, usually asking how business is Ė unless business is slow on a particular morning, in which case he asks about something else. Heís just the kind of person you like to be next to, hard to say what thatís about. Itís like heís still beautiful even though he isnít. Itís like heís famous even though he isnít.

So he canít sneak a heater in the alley or a Slim Jim or order bacon without someone in this town getting on his case. That heart attack happened pretty young and they all want him to live. Talk to anyone in this town over age forty-five and mention it. They are all terrified of their King dying.

 

 

Title IX

She is a girl, not a woman: It is hard for you to remember this. It is hard for her to remember this too, and sometimes each of you forgets. She is accomplished and she makes her own decisions. She has fame, and she handles it but there is a part of her that wants a white horse as much as victory; that wants a kiss or flirtation more than the vibes and propositions that have become commonplace. Propositions: Thatís how you remember. Sheís just a girl. You protect her. You try to.

She is a woman, not a girl: She devours girls, she canít play with them anymore. She devours only some women, which makes her their equal. She is well aware of this. She devours boys, sets her sights on men. She is competitive. Gender goes away. Wisdom stays, skills propel. Sheís still learning. She is a woman. She wants to lead. She wants to win.

Heís a boy, not a man: He does not respect her. He mocks her. He does this because he can still beat her. He beats her too. He thinks it is because sheís a girl.

Heís a man, not a boy: He also beats her, but he knows it is because she is young. His own daughter, nearly her age, dreams of white horses and here she is, this one, with time she will defeat him and he knows this. Part of him wants this to happen. He has a daughter of his own.

 

 

The Perfect Stroke

You were god right then: There was the ball, a bloodless soulless thing with not an ounce of pity for mankind. So you smythed it. You damned it, you beat it, you made it do your bidding. There was one thing you sought to do right then and you absolutely did it. You smacked that little bastard and when you did you were perfect, you existed in perfection, and that bloodless, soulless ball that had mocked and disrespected you, well, you gave it the whack to atone for all its sins; the whack to atone for the sins of all balls against all men, defying them, demeaning them, making them feel weak and small. But you were god right then. You were god and wrought justice in a single perfect stroke, the kind of stroke that is downright religious. The kind of stroke that makes you a better man. You give the caddy something extra, buy a little something for the wife, just because: Because you are the master, and thereís duty in that. Driving home you hand a twenty to the guy with a sign by the freeway ramp. You even hand him the jacket you didnít need today after all, the weather was gorgeous, and it was just sitting on the seat beside you. Had you worn it today you wouldnít have been able to part with it because youíd think of it as lucky; youíd be thinking of it now as the jacket you had worn then, when magic happened. But you didnít even need that jacket, you did it on your own...on your own with these lucky shoes and shirt and a club youíll never part with now. So you hand off your jacket and some money to sad-looking fellow not with guilt but with generosity. You feel the difference driving home. Balls have been conquered, man can have new dignity. You were a god, and that makes you a better man.

 

 

Of Hell and Heaven


When she first started at the nursing home she hated the old people. She went in with the intent to taunt them. They called her an aid but she had no skills really; she called herself a janitor. Now she can remember the first old man that melted her, and why. She thought he was a letch when he asked her to come closer, she stood with her arms folded some feet away, inching. He closed his eyes and breathed in. He said Of all the things to miss what I really miss is cigarettes. She said Well I couldnít live without mine and he said You call this living?

She asked him his brand and he discussed it so sincerely and sensually that she ponied up and bought a pack, half thinking it was because he made them sound so good but half knowing it was something else. She didnít even ask him for money, she just walked in his room and gave him one. She lit the dying cancer manís smoke - once, maybe twice a day when she was working. He died about six weeks later and would have anyway but damn the way he lit up when she came through that door; the way she rescued him.

She missed that when he was gone so she started talking to other old men, not all but some, not the prudish ones whoíd frown at her shoes but the ones that would flirt with her. They would tell her she was too skinny. She liked that. Sheíd tell them stories of her nights in the bars and unlike your own grandfather theyíd never look down on you for getting drunk or waking up with a man it took you a cup of coffee to remember. To them she wasnít trash, she was goddess. Whatever her life was, at least she had one. They were jealous, sometimes thinking if they had it to do all over again, theyíd be freer. If they had it to do all over again, theyíd like to have tasted one or two like her. So she flirted. And she flirted with the fantasy that one of them would kick and leave her everything, a fortune, and then sheíd be out of there. Knowing that no one with a fortune, or even anything, would be rotting here in this place.

It was different with the women. They were fussy and judgmental. They never seemed to warm up, not that she was waiting mind you. But there was one that she liked. She was pretty sure she was an old dyke. She never had a family. That makes it less pathetic when no one comes to visit. She didnít flirt with her exactly, but she was interested. The old woman said Shoes like that make a woman feel sexy. And when the old woman said that, it was right when she needed to hear that, cause sheíd just caught two of the real nurses rolling their eyes at her when they thought she wasnít looking. Fucking bitches.

The old lady would tell her stories. Not stupid stories about how great it was to get your milk delivered or shit like that. Stories about ďActive WomenĒ. Stories about how she became a nun cause it was the only way back then for a woman like her to be ďInvolvedĒ. Stories about Hawaii in the forties and fifties, how she quit the convent because she fell in love with a sailor. Nothing came of it, but she didnít go back. She said People romanticize silk stockings but really they were terrible, theyíd bunch and theyíd sag. She said Itís really better now. God has given women true independence and I have lived to see it. Thatís what she called the aid: An Independent Woman.

Thatís one old lady that was really cool, and one old woman that made her feel damn good to be living now, and while she didnít believe in any bible jesus mumbo jumbo, the way that old lady talked, it made her feel...well, thankful. Or happy anyway, kind of.

Her day had been bullshit. Fuck those nurses, little bitches. Fuck the bus driver, fuck the car. She was pissed, yeah. Thatís why she was crying. Not sad, angry. She couldnít help it. She was sure her mascara was smeared. Fuck mascara. So she ducked into the old ladyís room. And she was crying too.

When theyíd have their little visits, the aid would sit in a chair. Sometimes the lady would sit in a chair too, sometimes just in bed. Today was a bed day. She didnít look good.

In an act that wasnít just unusual but was in fact, at this juncture, utterly out of character, in a way she never would have imagined she might have and in a way that made her feel nearly possessed, like it was not her, she sat on the edge of the old ladyís bed and grabbed her hand. They were both crying. She lifted the hand and hugged it under her chin and they sat just like that, quiet and wet. It didnít seem very long but it must have been cause the sun had dropped and was beating in through the window. She was worried about getting trouble. She didnít rush. She shifted, kind of leaned over, looked the old lady in the eye: Why on earth are you crying?

The old lady smiled, then flinched: Iím afraid that thereís no heaven.

The aid looks at her shoes, her chipped up nails, says: Iím afraid there might be.

 

 

Promise


When I was really sad you were really good to me thank you dearly Iíll never forget that and I promise if youíre ever really sad Iíll be that good to you. Iíll be there for you like you were there for me I will be just tell me I promise. You saved me I owe you Iíll be there. I promise. 

Okay then well I better get going. Get a hold of me? Well Iím really not sure. Iíll drop you a line when I get where Iím going Iíll call you or something now you take care of yourself. I promise.


 

The Last Day of These Old Shoes


Iíd caked mud on the bottom when it was still raining. So I left them outside to dry. Still it rained. Then came sun, and nearly drought, and the dirty shoes shrank, and bleached, and filled with the web of a spider I never saw or even thought about until today when I destroyed its home, donning dirty bleached shrunken shoes to the county fair where a misstep into manure or spilled ice cream is likely. The shoes rebel in anticipation of their death, or at least their acknowledged discarding, biting my feet when once they had been so comfortable. They arenít anymore, and so are easier to throw away.

But I donít throw them away. Home again I peel them from my swollen feet and place them in a bag of old things marked for Charity. Charity, right, my old filthy shoes, as if someone else would want them.

I have a habit of such shoe euthanasia, I pretend I am recycling. I take my oldest shoes with me on vacation, intent on not bringing them home. In foreign hotel rooms I leave them for maid, naming my arrogance kindness and saving room in my suitcase for treasures Iíve purchased, sashes and mugs that seem significant at the time but which now see their destiny fulfilled in the same bag as my county fair shoes which will litter the shelves of a suburban second-hand store, the proceeds from which will cover half the cost of a parking meter for the parent of a child running in the Special Olympics.
 

 

Break My Heart Slowly


You always have something for me to help you with. Itís nearly brave of you to ask. Itís your nature I suppose in a mix of intimacy and distance, affection and malice each more amplified in your own case than mine. Me, Iím the steady one.  

You tell me your plans and expect me to bend to them. I wonder if I will. You brag to me about your position then come to me with your misery. You always have something for me to help you with.  

I wonder if I will.

If I judge you by your woman you are innocent. If I judge you by your friends, you are false. If I judge you by your actions I should hate you. If I judge you by mine, I should love you.  

I wonder if I do.  

He said, ďIf only I could get there then everything would be alright.Ē  

She, being kind, says nothing.
 

 

My Loyalty is to You
 

My loyalty is to you.  

If you want me to like her, Iíll like her. If you want me to hate her, Iíll hate her. My loyalty is to you.  

My loyalty is to you. If you want to keep a secret, so be it. If you want me to testify, Iíll do it. My loyalty is to you. If you seek a pardon Iíll grant it no matter what youíve done or done to me.  

My loyalty is to you. And something else, too: I save you the last bite. I give you my last dollar even though you were only hinting and even though I need it bad as you. Iíd starve to watch you prosper. If you want me to like her, Iíll like her. Someday sheíll probably be gone. My loyalty is to you.  

My need to redeem. Your need for redemption. My need to protect. Your need for protection. Protection, protection, we should have used protection. I had to make a choice.

My loyalty is to you.

 


Ferry to Texas


It wasnít like my mother to say stupid things, but worldly and clever as she was sheíd barely left New York City. She said, ďWhen we get to Florida, we can take the ferry to Texas.Ē  

My father, who wasnít as bright as my mother but who had served in the army overseas, laughed at her. My mother punished my father for this the entire drive south and really for quite some time after.  

My three siblings, all much older than me, made the drive along with us but didnít stay long, migrating north at first chance to college or other business. None stayed longer than the summer.  

The house Ė the last house my parents would ever own but certainly not the last place they would ever live Ė had much foliage and a swimming pool which seemed very glamorous to me at nine years old. No one used it though, it was too hot and lizards and tiny frogs were often found dead in the chlorinated water. My dad started a new job and my mom was always sleeping. I have very little memory of her there, really only one, passed out on the bed and seemingly carefree while I curled up in the bottom of her closet weathering a storm named Fifi. My motherís lack of worry actually served as great comfort.

We moved from the Florida house into an apartment, and from there we moved to Ohio. I remember driving through the mountains of Tennessee, my mother terrified squeezing my fatherís thigh and gasping through the curves.  

I was also afraid of the mountains.

As an adult Iíve been told by my siblings that my mother was institutionalized for months down in Florida, but I have no reason to believe this. They site as evidence the manner in which my mother tortured my father for really of the rest their lives, but what do they know? Iím the one who was there.

Itís a dream not a memory but dreams can feel like that. We ride the ferry to Texas, waving back toward shore.

 


Stumbled Out of the Gate


I bounced around from family to family. Sophomore year it was the Holstroms. Carol Anne and I didnít have much in common except, well, we were both really tall, and we both had very long hair. Sometimes thatís enough to group two girls together.  She was a cheerleader and I was the new girl and Iíd spend the night at her house... first weekends, then school nights, then all nights. Iím not sure if this was because her parents were conscientious, or because they specifically werenít; if it had to do more with her parents caring more than mine did, or being drunk like mine were but with a bigger house.  

I thought of the Holstroms as the perfect family: Blond and popular. Carol Anne was the youngest, and when she went off to college her parents divorced. Turns out her dad had had a long term affair with a farm wife down near Grand Junction, and once the kids were gone he left too. I never saw him again.  

Mrs. Holstrom became a realtor. I still see her, well sort of Ė her face on signs. She bought the best house of all in Berthoud, Colorado, a doctorís old Victorian. She married a younger man.  

Sophomore year I lived with the Holstroms. Honestly, I donít even remember actually being friends with Carol Anne. Maybe I was her pet, they didnít have one. Her oldest brother Mark was in his early twenties. He dropped out of college in Colorado Springs and drove a Camero SS. He was always high and hardly spoke and I loved him.  

Brother Craig was a Senior, popular, pock-marked and athletic. He was ugly and dated the head cheerleader, a girl named Lori, beautiful but broke. Her parents owned a dive motel out along the highway, she had to clean the rooms but her looks would let her better herself.  

I canít remember ever speaking to Lori. I canít remember ever speaking to Craig at school. But when I stayed at his and his sisterís house, heíd call me into his room. It began with backrubs. I canít remember how that went down, what he said or how it started, whether I walked in there or snuck in there or whether he just came to get me. I donít remember being coaxed, and I donít remember being stopped, or prevented, or questioned. I do remember being afraid - of getting caught and sent back home. And I remember being repulsed, his acned shoulders and dirty room and sheets and fifteen yes but I was still in the phase of rainbows and unicorns and fantasies built of kisses with no tongue.  

But he was popular, and I was nothing. Heíd say Shoulders. Then later Back, then Stomach. Then Ass.  

Cock only happened one time because when he pushed my head down I knew it had gone too far. I started sleeping at home again. It wasnít as bad as I remembered.  

I canít remember ever speaking to Lori. I donít remember ever talking to Craig at school. I donít know if Carol Anne knew what was happening in the next room. I donít know if I was being molested or aggressive or abused. I mean, no one put a gun to my head. I remember pretty little all in all but I do remember the fantasy that some sort of involvement with the popular boy could change my shit life.  

That was more than thirty years ago. Still, Iíd like to hunt him down. Tell his sister. Tell his wife. But whatís the story here? Your bastard brother husband made me feel like I couldnít say no, so I didnít?

Mark wasnít into the virgin types. He wasnít into Journey either, but thatís what we did it to. He preferred Iron Maiden and Blue Oyster Cult. It started with a backrub Ė that must run in the family  -  then him pinning me down cause my primary response was to try to crawl away. It hurt. I thought that was a myth you know, that it hurts. Mark wasnít into the virgin types, he liked slutty girls with experience. I thought I was giving him a present and he thought he was giving me one. He did let me stay the night Ė much better than the next three or four boys Ė but driving home the next morning he drove fast up the shoulder of the road, running over gophers on purpose; killing animals to torture me. After some protest I just slumped in my seat and listened for sorry evidence, but I didnít cry till later. Yes he was clever that Mark and I have to give him credit. I never wanted to see him again. And I didnít.  

Tony Baracco was twenty years old and still a senior in high school. He was number two. We left the dance and he told me Strip all sexy-like but that wasnít what I wanted at all. I was already conditioned to acquiesce so he fucked me with my arms folded across my chest. Guess he didnít like the virgin type either cause he said Baby youíre the driver. That shit completely mortified me. I was bawling now and whined But Iím a virgin and he said Goddamn Liar which was true of course but thatís not the point. Anyway, I didnít have to face him much cause he left town soon after which Iím still thrilled about.  

The next one I still get a little hung up on. His name was Steve and he was vicious. To this day I pretend thatís because he was smarter than he was. I thought he was dreamy. He asked if I got a go go riding on a bicycle and I had no idea what he meant, or even what he might have meant. He only did me because I threw myself at him but at least it happened more than once. Three different times, three different nights until the last time when he threw something back at me Ė my clothes, out the window. I was outside already, having fallen for some story that he needed a Pepsi from the machine downstairs and up the hall. I was locked out when I got back of course, my clothes went flying. It was three in the morning and I put on those strewn clothes under the light in the dormitory parking lot, terrified that someone would see me. No one did. More terrifying though was feeling through my pockets and realizing that he hadnít tossed out my car keys. I had to knock, and beg. They eventually came out the window.  

Fast forward a few years. Maybe Steve was smart. Maybe he was never meant to be a carpet layer, but he is, just like his father. Heís as lonely now as I was then, and in desperation one strikes up the strangest relationships. Itís like being in a foreign country and anyone who just happens to speak your language is a fast friend all of a sudden, at least until the next stop. So Steve and I hung out a couple of times one summer, sat on his dirty couch. There was no touch, but the second time he tried to apologize to me. For that night, he remembered it, said he felt bad about it all the time. So now, to this very day, I consider him a friend.  

Before the boys or Carol Anne there were horses. When I was real little I mean. Iíd watch Westerns just to see them, hypothesizing their breed and offering up the technical name for their particular coloration: Mustang, Morgan, Appaloosa, Roan. I liked horse racing too, though the colors were less flashy Ė mostly Bay and Chestnut. I watched the Kentucky Derby and memorized the names of the every winner since the very first one, knowledge gained from the silk screening on a drinking glass my dad had brought home from somewhere.  

There was girl horse that was special, they said as good as the boys. I pretended I was her, calling myself her name, slapping my own ass and running around with the same leg always forward. I was a child. Iíd gallop and whinny. It was on T.V., they ran her with the boys.  

She stumbled out of the gate and never recovered.   

 


Minneapolis #125


He was very old. He was bent and not tall but he looked like the kind of man who was once really strong. He limped pretty good and wore navy blue coveralls. He was probably kind of deaf too, cause when he spoke he spoke really loudly.  

She was young and pretty and her arms were full. I was thinking I should have waited to open the door for her but now I was half way to the parking lot.  

He was limping pretty good but I saw him hurry.   

ďWait miss,Ē he called to her. ďLet me get that door for you.Ē    

 


Like Old


Go ahead tell me what you want to tell me go ahead just ask. Stop dropping hints hints hieroglyphs and all the time we waste trying to decipher them. Ask me ask me ask me because confronted with the possibility actual reality my answer will be very very different than in the fantasized memorized version of this conversation that I have with you over and over and over again in my head.

I dream I see I think I want to mention it but no no no where does that ever get me? We know you know I know we know we see we think or did we dream or worse worse worse did we make it up? Make it up, right, thatís what got us into this mess of patching up whatís broken and never ever getting a new one.  

I like old he tells me.    

 


Jinx


I was his mistress and he considers me bad luck. First he got caught, well sort of caught, and then he had an accident. He broke it off with me then and I made it easy because really I never had any feelings for him. Thatís good luck I suppose but he doesnít see it like that. He thinks Iím a jinx and thatís just one reason heís scared of me. So every six months or so I get back in touch, just a cryptic little note with a cryptic sign off. I like to imagine his stomach churning just a little bit. I figure itís my penance to his dull and loyal wife, him holding her face and kissing the top of her head, trembling at the thought of me
.   

 


Grace


It was difficult to gauge their relation: Two couples each of whom seemed unfamiliar with the other. Each couple described where they lived and the nature of the terrain and the climate there.

The waiter, a particularly demonstrative sort of old man as easy to imagine in a boarding house as a yacht, with a thin but very upright frame, big shoulders, bad teeth and tied-back silver hair recited the daily specials with a particularly demonstrative flair, just as he had at my own table.  

A rounded, silver-haired man of similar age and difficult to imagine in any setting other than an oversized, treeless suburban one wished to begin with some small plates to share. He ordered the crab stuffed mushrooms and fried calamari.  

The waiter left the table and the four people making up the two couples all leaned in together and laughed. ďGet a load of him,Ē the silver-haired man said, rolling his eyes and gesturing his thumb over his shoulder.    

The too thin and very plain woman who very much appeared to be his wife said, ďIíve never had calamari.Ē

The first course arrived and the four people making up the two couples all leaned in together, this time to pray, with a particularly demonstrative flair.  

They began eating. The silver-haired man winked as he waved the waiter over to table and asked him to again recite the specials.

 


Used to Love Me


In truth I donít like wind, it makes me uncomfortable. I find myself lying in bed listening to it with my teeth clenched. I moved away from there partly because of it; because of dust in my mouth and feeling unnerved. Now here itís as windy as it ever was there. There are thuds on the roof. There are leaves and other things that canít hold on any longer and they are dying. Wind is killing, accidental and untimely. I think about villains, there are in truth so few of them but it only takes a single one. I think about cancer. Iíve none that I know of but it starts with a single cell. And I think of us, safe now but I see the signs that tell me youíre not so different and itís just a matter of time until youíre no longer blown away.  

 


User/Hero


Are you my hero? Are you the one that rescues me from everything? Are you the one that saves me from the mundane and the lonely? Are you the one whoís sweeter? Are you the one whoís near? Are you the hero, are you the one, the one Iíve always dreamed of or will dream of for at least a dozen years? Are you a user? Do you only want me for one thing? Youíre just like all the others only softer, sweeter, nearer.

 


Peers


Comfort is the wrong word for it, the way I am relieved to see homeless men, someone to talk to. I donít wish it on them. But like the waiters and the bellman these are my peers. I am awkward around fellow guests at this seaside hotel who contend that you can earn it, as if you could, as if luck or nature didnít deal a better hand, or even just the ability to deal with the same hand better. See you canít earn anything really, you just get lucky. Thatís the truth no matter how you slice it up. You just get lucky. Like me, weekending at this seaside hotel. Or like them, still being here after the rest of us have left to various cold, land-locked obligations.

 


Flowers


I bought flowers from an old stooped woman on the street corner. Two bunches, because she was steeply bent and it was very very hot outside. I was a traveler that day with no where to put them but Iím not much of one for flowers in any case because of how they die. He was crossing the street and I rolled the window down. I am guessing he felt the cool blast of air from the inside; he stepped closer. I handed him flowers and he smiled, sniffing them on his way to the bus stop. Green light, in my rearview I still see him, sniffing, smiling. The next bunch I handed to a woman in a parking booth. Young, pretty, maybe she was used to flowers. She held them like a princess and smiled like sunlight. She said, How did you know? And I told her: I just did.

 


Wealth


I gave money to a rich man. I mean, like charity. He didnít exactly ask me for it. He just kept saying how hard things were, so I offered. Later I learned he lived in a palace. Later I learned he used the money I gave him to take a woman to dinner Ė a very nice dinner. I didnít know he was rich at the time. He talked to me about art and hardship and I am a sucker for each of those things. I mailed him a couple of hundred bucks before the holidays and something else he needed.  

Now that Iíve told you this story please ridicule me for it. Reprimand me for this, and not for the ten dollars I hand a panhandler on the street. One manís story is art when anotherís truth is hardship. I am a sucker. I gave money to a rich man and he bought an actress dinner. He never really asked, I offered up.  

Sweaty heat is amplified on the subway car, so is the stench of a filthy man. He never really asked, I offered up. He looked at me like I was shit on his shoe. He said Who do you think you are?  

The best sushi places are crowded, especially on a Friday. Actress on
his arm and my money in his pocket, he said to the maitre de: Donít you know who I am?  

Iím always helping demons cause an angel never asks. I make more time for enemies, I make more enemies, too.  

And me, always with the best of intentions.

 


Secrets


Secrets last longer than friends do so I try not to share them. But you can lose a friend by not telling them secrets so I make things up.  Even false secrets last longer than true friends; Iíve heard them repeated from time to time. I feel bad for lying but Iíve kept my secrets longer than I ever kept a friend.  

 


Thank You Letter


Thank you, you donít know what your actions have meant to me. I donít know how to thank you I try and fail. That ride/that loan/that time I turned left in front of your car nearly killing us both but in that terrible moment between two drivers that had nearly collided I was expecting your reprimand and you only shrugged. You looked at me and shrugged. You could have hated me but. Itís been twenty years since then and Iím still grateful. On my knees grateful. I needed a break and you gave me one/taught me to give and/you, thank you, I donít even know your name.  
 

 

Feeling Whole
 

Four years into marriage he had his first affair, and it was a blast, seriously. It had all the cliches, a flight attendant, his wedding ring slipped into his pocket, the dark bar, the proposition. And she rocked. She loved it. He loved it too. He wonders if sex is best sometimes when you donít even like your partner. Like you can punish them a little bit, or just be selfish.  

No one knew.  

He wanted to tell someone, he wanted to share. He had to, he was bursting, why shit!  But there was no one. Fours years in, his first affair, and his first realization that every friend he has now is really her friend. He eyes a couple of guys at work for his secret, but thatís not happening. He doesnít even trust them to talk about him, much less talk to them. He works with a bunch of fucks.  

So he writes about it. He writes it all down with every juicy detail. And fearing his wife or anyone else will come across it (even buried deep in a drawer or computer file, I mean, what if he was killed?) he sends it off to a menís magazine. He doesnít use his real name and he opens a special email account, itís about more than it seems, I mean, a man is entitled to a little privacy.

So he mails off a sex letter with a pen name and a secret address. He feels flushed and illicit doing it, but does it just the same. See, itís more than just a letter. Itís like a comic book and Dickens and porno all mixed together. He was on a business trip. She was a stewardess, Swedish for gods sake!  I mean, itís his opus. Itís his big win, itís like winning a million bucks at the poker table and not being allowed to tell anyone because they all know youíre not allowed to gamble. He mailed it off.  

And kind of forgot about it, and even kind of forgot about his secret mailbox which he does check but only from time to time and about three months after the letter which is about fourteen or fifteen weeks after the initial event so that the whole of it is starting to fade from him, thereís something from the magazine. They want to publish it, as in, like, a story. The email was sent a week earlier, and there is the offer to pay nearly two thousand dollars for the ďpieceĒ. Holy shit.  

Heís worried heís too late, but he isnít. The piece runs. Only he and a discreet editor know itís him. He hopes to overhear other men talking about it Ė in a locker room, a bathroom, a bar Ė but it doesnít ever happen. He buys his wife a nice present with the money, he feels guilty somehow, guilty but great too, and sad, cause this is just another victory he canít tell anyone.

The magazine wants another piece, a little longer. The offer is even better. So he takes the bit of money he didnít use to buy his wife the bracelet and tells her about a seminar, required, a privilege really, bound to lead to a little bonus at work. Itís that easy. And itís easy for him (good hair and works out) to find the right woman when he tells her heís writing an article for a menís magazine about the worldís greatest sex. He goes by his pen name. He doesnít carry a copy of the magazine.

Sheís a cocktail waitress with the kind of body that melted men in 1950s and still melts a real man today. His wife is thin, sinewy, a runner. The cocktail waitress, sheís really working it too, not bursting seams but totally testing them. She stripped for him for crissakes, a wish come true, he could see her garters every time she bent over in the bar. Sheís bending over now just like that for him. There were even their glasses on the table which he swept off with his forearm just like in the movies. He pulls her hair. Her tits are soft and big and real. Thereís a mess for the maid to clean up, he leaves an oversized tip, feeling good.  

Now he writes a four thousand dollar a month column for a high-end menís magazine. He takes one lover a month, sometimes two if the first one wasnít up to snuff or if he knows or suspects he wonít be able to make it to his ďseminarĒ the following month. No one knows except a discreet editor, well, maybe a few there now, and some great women who know him by his pen name. Heís getting a little famous in some circles. He learns there are amazing women everywhere: Omaha, Lincoln, Cedar Rapids, Sterling. He learns that women who look a little
chubby in clothing tend to look the best naked Ė that neat, stylish women are generally too thin. He learns women can be as hungry for it as he is, that it can be as fun to give as receive and that thereís always something new to learn. He takes these values to his day job, where he is now prospering. In his head he pretends that he is a reservist, a Sex Reservist, serving one weekend a month to better the world.  

His wife is very happy, she loves it when he says she is too thin. She loves it when he buys her chocolates. Even more when he buys her gold. Heís a success at work and gentle in the bedroom, just the way she likes it.  

He thinks of himself as happily married, a leader, young-looking and athletic. Life is great. He makes almost as much off the magazine as he does at his job. He can be generous, and heís investing. Heís missing out on some endorsements and other commercial opportunities his pen name could provide, but cover is more important to him. I mean, the truth would wreck his life.  

And the best part? Heís an artist now, a writer. Itís better than the sex, better than his neat life or anything else. I mean, the opportunity to express oneís self! Itís important. Heís moving people. He is changing lives.  

He feels whole.
 

 

Plane Trip #78
 

It was dark and I didnít know quite where we were. In summer at night when the trees are full itís more difficult to identify the pause of the lakes that make me feel like I am home, or nearly so. By chance it showed in the S-curves of a river, sometimes silver, sometimes white...just a patch, the intensity determined by the specific triangulation of moon, river and me. Delightful.  Incredible. Moonlight spells river Ė Iíd never seen it before. It lasted about a minute. It didnítí happen again but I never stopped looking for it.  
 

 

Plane Trip #77


He was a disgusting man. I feel guilty saying so, itís a strong word, but I mean it. Our flight was delayed and we both sat in the concourse bar, me to look for ball scores and him to drink. My eye contact with him was accidental though I am friendly by nature, but the fact that such eye contact had been made by virtue of mine flicking and by virtue of his dogged stare was sensed instantly by me to be a big mistake.  

He crossed the room and proved me right quite readily by telling me the tale of his cooler (filled with walleye) and how in Omaha (where he was presently living) they eat carp. ďOnly blacks and jews eat carp, ď he said to me.  

I wanted to say something right then but itís difficult, and really, frankly, I wasnít quite certain if his remark, as stated, was actually racist. Well, of course it is and truth is it made me nervous, he didnít make me nervous but what he said did, nervous to find the right words to tell him what I meant to and me frightened the whole time to be countered, to be wrong in calling him out  - even though being wrong would be, in this case, a salvation.  

I left the bar and he followed me to our collective gate, chatting away. He
touched my hair but quickly, asking me about the color.  

I hid in the bathroom for a while. I returned and went directly to a seat between two occupied ones. I opened my book. He asked the woman I was seated beside if she could move so he could sit next to his friend.  

I sat stiffly reading but he spoke anyway. I was disgusted, not afraid.

I picked up my bags. ďExcuse me a minute.Ē A minute. I went back to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall, reading peacefully there for about an hour. Then I stayed out of eyeshot of the gate waiting for the call to board. I didnít wait for my proper turn either, I butted in, ignoring the row that was being called, and panicking until the seat beside me was occupied by a nice-seeming young girl.   

The last time I saw him he was working his way down the aisle, passed me. Iím not sure if he didnít see me, or if he purposely didnít look. I was purposely trying not to look, but still I saw him, and as he went passed I really did feel sort of badly for no bothering to tell him good-bye.
 

 

Life Line


He had a short little lifeline. She was preoccupied with it. It made him more interesting than maybe he really was. She was broken when he called it off, begging him to stay in touch. And he did too, stay in touch, mostly to ask for money. And she gave it to him too, mostly without question, still preoccupied with that short little lifeline, anxiously awaiting its fruition.   
 

 

Just Another Little Death


She left too suddenly, he canít get used to it. She was too young to die, too young to die like that. The notion of it just doesnít sit with him. The world is so full of misinformation, why not this time? He thinks theyíre all wrong; he talks to her anyway. At first itís a private thing, then a public one, his rebellion and his fury in the crinkled face of all of their lies. He talks to her. He talks to her standing in line, he talks to her driving then talks to her walking once they take his driversí license away. Heís not crazy; she doesnít ever answer him. But he thinks he can conjure her up if he tries hard enough; he believes he can call her forth. He doesnít set a place for her at the table but he does cook or order in all the things she likes best. Heíd know if she were really dead. Heíd feel it. Isnít that the way love is supposed to work? He doesnít feel it at all.  

But months go by and she doesnít come back. She doesnít flicker a light bulb or appear behind his shoulder in a darkened mirror. She doesnít telephone, hardly a soul does. Heís lonely. He decides that wherever she is, he wants to be there too. No one stops him from a buying a gun, itís easy, an anonymous clerk having no knowledge or concern, a splintered group of family and friends having no time, or, time for him on his terms.

Sorry, he canít see the bright side of this. Sorry, heís not interested in a second chance, coming years, food, motorbikes or cinema. Heís interested in her, finding her. He smells her things in the drawer, her drawer, a drawer the sister tried to empty but he nipped that in the bud. She might come home. She might come home no matter how incredibly unlikely that may seem. Incredibly unlikely things happen all the time.  

His suicide is not one of them. Maybe they saw it coming or maybe they didnít, but truth is itís a relief to everyone involved.
 

 

A Little Victory
 

It ended badly but a year went by and she was still thinking of him. Sheís the kind to stay in touch, she tried to think of happy times together but there werenít so many of those either. She crafted her letter to sound vague and unsentimental, yet welcoming. He wrote back.  

She wanted to be there for him. She decided that friends is what theyíd always been and it was sex that messed them up. Her genuine friends think it was a fling but that she went and fell in love with him.  Her year apart had been much better than his had been and on some level she feels bad about this, like it had been some duty to care for him and sheíd failed. She sometimes called him ďbrotherĒ.  

Over the years she does what she can for him, slips him money and doesnít tell a soul. She wants to be, to him, the kind of person she knows she isnít.  

Eventually his trials begin to bore her. Sheís not sure why. Confrontation is in order, she picks this classic fight: ďYou never ask me how I am.Ē    

ďBecause you are always fine,Ē he tells her.  

It feels like a little victory.  
 

 

Dogs Playing Poker
 

Dogs are not very good at cards, and those that are truly committed to the game must cut off their tails. I mean, cut them all the way off, down to the spine, lest the tail reveal them, or their hand. Dogs are no good at bluffing. Even without their tails they can rarely hide how they feel, or even what they mean. The best players are usually those who have survived as strays Ė they get used to hiding their true selves; they get used to being manipulative. This translates well at the card table. Meanwhile, even the best among the dogs is no contest for a cat. Even a mid-level cat player can generally take a great dog for all its worth Ė cats, being cats, are used to withholding - what they are thinking, or even what they mean.  

Once a generation or so the best of the dogs convinces himself he can sit at the cat table. Once a generation the best of dogs sits down to play with the cats. And is, inevitably, taken.  
 

 

Minneapolis #124


They are so beautiful and sweet and even before they have begun I canít help but think of their passing. I look at tight buds and see their petals falling. I feel soft air and read its future as something pregnant and oppressive. Conception is the delight, isnít it? After that itís just a matter of death and its timing: Magnolia blossoms, tulips and my flesh and our bond.   


 

Plane Trip #76
 

I hadnít looked in awhile and it was night when we left, but still the darkness shocked me, or shocked me just a bit, canít say what I expected but itís pleasant, the dark is, even pretty, pretty yes, thereís more to see than just blackness and really it isnít black anyway itís blue, deep blue, even this late and even this high up and I have no idea why, why blue. There are cities, or towns, signs of human beings living in this particular historical age, yellow lights the mark of them, all lined up or following a contour of earth invisible in the dark. Life spreads out. Itís populous here, not really, not really much at all and driving this would be nowhere to be sure; the distance between things and clearly tiny places but for all that I look south/east/west and everywhere in all directions there are signs of us.  

There are stars too, clustered differently or rather not clustered at all, little pinpoints, white, I imagine shooting stars along the horizon or really Iím just pretending, pretending I see them, while certain lights on the ground are blinking, flashing, specifically calling to us, meant for us, calling or maybe just telling us something.  Lights tell us up here of tall and dangerous towers but from this seat the idea is laughable, we are that much higher, closer to stars than to the tippy tops of towers, closer to mountains which offer no warning and have no lights at all. In the dark only turbulent air tells their story, or reveals their position like terrible soldiers crouching with bad intent.  

As much as night surprised me I do remember taking off, I remember looking at places more or less familiar maybe not recognizing that particular plaza or mall but knowing in general whereabouts it must be. I remember looking at the vacant shapes of frozen lakes, not seeing where they are but where the people arenít, where lights donít exist and in those moments close the ground I was looking at my city thinking Itís too big; thinking Itís too big and I am too small within it and somehow I felt more or less perfectly random, like the life I know is random and where I lead it is random because there is so much everywhere and what is the reason after all that I am where I am, why here? And in all seriousness I had to look away.  

And now, same night, maybe even the same hour of it as time and I each migrate west and I look at city lights or rather more like towns and itís clear to me how tiny it all is, how connected, and that even though I am away from home it still exists, it is right there behind me and with enough time I could walk it, like nothing could keep me from it and nothing could matter more or fit better than it does, all these lives but thereís one thatís mine.  

I canít be certain if those shapes below me are snowfields or low clouds. I canít be sure where I am, well, only most generally, en route, somewhere between X and Z. I canít even be sure Iíll make it back, canít take it for granted that I will even survive these mundane travels and while statistical truths should negate the need for faith at all, still thatís how I comfort myself, not with odds or facts or evidence but with pure emotion, the kind that lets me believe that you make me invincible, or at very least inseparable, always headed home.   
 

 

Birthday #43


ďI produce commercial photography.Ē  

Thatís what I tell a person who asks me what I do for a living. Not so many follow up by asking me what that means, but Iíll tell you: It means I find places and people necessary to set-up a fake situation that, when photographed, looks somehow or relatively real and natural. Or supernatural. They do it in the movies all the time, they build a scenario to the point where you know where an imaginary being lives, how theyíd act, the places they go. They build say a space city that you accept as authentic Ė sure, thatís a space city, one probably exists somewhere and thatís just what it would look like I bet.  

So, picture a single-frame of a movie, and you have a commercial photograph. Only the goal is rather different for the photograph, a more sinister goal if you bother to consider it...the goal of the photograph is to sell you something. Commercials too, but I donít work on those. I make the advertising pictures you see in magazines, no I donít take the pictures. I just bring the elements together. See that new Lexus did not just pull up into that barren desert at just that moment, the windows arenít usually black and hey take a look at the license plate, or the lack of one. That party where the beer is causing all that fun didnít happen. We faked it. That chemistry between that willowy brunette and sculpted, ultra cool fella? Well, heís gay, and she didnít speak a word of English. I created it. I set the situation up and someone with tech skills and better taste than me shot the picture after approving the various elements Ė this girl, that place, those pants for sure, we love them Ė and now you believe it. Or at least, you donít question it. Maybe, if we did it right, you feel good or bad when you look at, depending. And the fact that youíre looking at it says we did our job. I did my job. You stopped there.  

So, I produce commercial photography. On January 7, 2007, the gods of irony saw to it that I spend my very own real, actual birthday setting up fake birthdays. The template was an office party. Only our office was hipper than yours. And co-workers there cared more about their buddyís birthday than most people do their own kids Ė we had streamers, banners, balloons, a hula theme complete with skirts, tikis and coconut punch bowls. Oh yeah, and those co-workers and their buddies? All fabulously good looking. And, incidentally, unable to work more than ten minutes without demanding a drink of sparkling water. Through a straw. Donít mess up those perfect lips.  

I turned 43 that day. Iíd cut my own hair a day before and people had the nerve to tell me I ďruinedĒ it. But thatís only after I pointed out my handiwork Ė handiwork I was personally very fond of. What I mean is, I cut a foot off my hair and no one noticed. I figured it would be like that. I also figured it would be like this: After faking birthdays all day long, replete with elaborate cakes, candles, and chorus after chorus of ďHappy Birthday to YouĒ (I do good work Ė the singing adds authenticity and I tell you it takes some do-it-yourself Enthusiasm to keep a crew engaged and in key for ten straight hours), my own cake would come, and the chorus would turn to me. It was sweet and well-intended, but by dayís end, seriously, who wants to hear it? And since I wasnít producing my real birthday, someone else was. And that someone else didnít have my experience or timing...candles werenít lit, we all stood around waiting, suddenly no one had a match...okay, maybe Iím making it sound worse than it was, but truly, it was awkward. Me standing there with cheer and surprise on my face, not wanting to disappoint, and all the while the clock ticking, the one that pushes us into overtime, big expenses, and problems... So hurray the cake was lit and covered with baseball player figurines Ė a distinctly nice touch Ė and one last hoarse round of Happy Birthday, me still singing loudest. And I blow out the candles and spend my wish hoping to get out of there on time, out of the space we were using cause each fifteen minutes beyond six oíclock is going to run an extra couple of grand, no matter how nice I am to anyone, and no matter that itís my birthday.  

So maybe I rain on the parade by not having a piece of cake but instead doing what I can to pack us out of there Ė but by the same token, I didnít keep anyone else from enjoying a piece of cake, and sure enough, people did, while the Birthday Boss packed and swept and hustled. But my birthday wish came true. We were out of there in the nick of time.  

Let me add here that I was working out of town, as in, not in the town I live in.  

But I was working ďlocalĒ, they call it, meaning I was basically ďpretendingĒ I lived there, paying my own expenses for the trip, an investment in my overall earnings. It had its pros and cons. I stayed in an admittedly funky yet strangely comfortable motor hotel located on one of those gigantic LA intersections, seemed like twenty lanes converging, yet, there were often people walking on the sidewalk Ė not scary people really, but it kept me from opening my street-level window (or rather, kept me from sleeping with my window open) so my little room Ė devoid of any artwork whatsoever, which may fall into the pro category, or may not Ė was kind of hot. The pool in the courtyard was empty and had yellow security tape Ė KEEP OUT Ė around it, but the little wooden booths nearby reminded me of travels in South America. I thought of the motel as having a certain European sort of feel, but truth is I never Ė and I mean, not once Ė encountered another guest.  I was keeping work hours Ė out at 6am, back sometime between 9 and midnight and never heading back out again. I struck up a sort of comraderie with the desk clerks Ė three of them, one in the evenings, one in the mornings, and one that was sort of a floater I guess, he the only male, and, in his 40s, considerably younger than the two women Iíd encounter.  

It was the man who was at the desk when I decided to cut my hair. It was late, well, maybe 10pm, late for a drugstore. I asked if one was around. ďWhat do you need?,Ē the desk clerk asked in hoarse rasp.  

ďScissors,Ē I said.

 He opened a drawer. He had an accent. ďWhat size? What for?Ē  

ďTo cut my hair with,Ē I said.

ďWhat?What? You canít cut your own hair.Ē I told him Iíd gotten the same story all day at work, but that indeed I could, and that I would like to. ďThereís a place right across the street,Ē he said, pointing to the darkened Supercuts across six lanes, ďWait until morning.Ē

ďI donít want to have someone else cut my hair, I like to cut my own hair, I just need scissors,Ē I told him.

ďCutting your own hair at ten oíclock at night is a crisis, not a hair cut. I will not give you scissors. You are having a crisis. Wait until morning.Ē And he closed the drawer and turned away.

Back in my room, I found blunt-tipped kiddie scissors in my travel kit, and did the deed. Like I said before, I like it. And funny, the desk clerk Ė there still or again in the morning Ė was the only person that actually noticed: ďYou did it. You cut your hair. I admit it now, it looks good.Ē

So the clerk noticed. And liked it, as did my three paid assistants, they liked it too (once prompted that a change had taken place). Frankly I didnít give a shit that anyone said I ďruinedĒ it Ė thatís LA for you, not the bluntness, but the hierarchy of long locks over a more punkish do.  

Anyway, Iím not really a local.  

I was spending my birthday working out of town. I made a birthday plan with a friend, a good friend, but in my bones I knew it couldnít happen. I knew the job would own me, and local or posing local or whatever, dinner plans had been made for me. Dinner plans with the bosses. I was to spend my birthday night holding my exhaustion in, nodding and listening and smiling, with the clients.  

Wait. I like the clients. And the photographer who planned the dinner was careful, brazenly arranging people at the table in an effort to keep the ďcreativeĒ folk (throw me recklessly into this group) at one end, and the ďbusinessĒ folk  at the other. I was tired. My throat was sore. To my left a group became very engaged in talk about real estate investments, then investments more generally. Itís not my topic. Across and two my right the matter was Politics Ė often a preferred topic when sitting at the ďcreativeĒ end of the table. But not tonight. The launch point was a particular retail entity known for unfair business practices and low prices Ė a particular retail entity that these ďcreativesĒ happen to do the advertising for. So it was me against the world, countering the argument that ďpoor people have no choiceĒ with my own observation that ďthere is always a choice.Ē    

I could use this forum here to highlight to you the pertinence and brilliance of my particular counters and viewpoints, because surely the pertinence and brilliance of my debating is what led to my client saying, ďWell thatís just a typical, rich white liberal talking.Ē  

When struck in that manner, it is very tempting to brag about oneís own economic humility Ė in my own case, the truth is I grew up poorer than anyone at the table. I grew up poorer than my friends from big families who think they grew up poor. My clan jumped from apartment to apartment Ė the kind of apartments that allowed dogs Ė running from creditors. I went to twelve schools in twelve years. Iíd have two maybe three shirts and one maybe two pairs of pants, and Iíd rotate them, never wearing the same combination two days in a row. This is not metaphor, itís my truth. True too is the fact that I never felt poor, not once, and never even really thought about it.

I had a scholarship to a state college but couldnít keep my grades up, so after the first year I worked full time and went to school full time. I didnít like school as much as I liked having a job, but I got by. I wasnít a star, but I made it.  

Like most producers, I just fell into it. Or, put another way, I just got lucky. After college I worked in a record store. We sold concert tickets. The concert promoter offered me a part-time gig driving him around on show days. I was responsible. He liked me. Gave me chances. I made good. Burned out on concerts and did a few commercials, same sort of work. Switched to photography cause it was more in line with my art degree, thought Iíd learn more
about taking pictures. And I did learn more about that, and about what I wanted, and what I didnít want. Stuck to producing. Still conflicted about it.  Selling soap when I should be helping children. I tell myself I do what I can. I give money, volunteer sometimes. I never shop at Walmart.  

It is neither elegant nor wise to brag about oneís poverty, and it is certainly not humble to point out oneís humility. I fell into that trap for a second, thinking I was defending myself. But I caught myself, and I stopped. I regained my composure and smiled and nodded quietly, listening a little easier than talking had been, my sore throat aching and me suddenly completely exhausted, visualizing the long drive back to my motor hotel and thinking to myself But itís my birthday, itís my birthday, itís my birthday.
 

 

Plane Trip #75

There is a super old man sitting next to me, they brought him on in a wheelchair so I'm holding in my pee, don't want to climb over and don't think he can get up. I followed him down the jetway and the man who was with him (who's now sitting further back) was being so brusque and nasty to him, I felt awful.

So I was kind of glad when the old man was seated next to me. He couldn't open his mixed nuts, so I helped. Or his pretzels, so I opened those too. I liked helping. He was struggling with his cookie too so I leaned over again to open the package and he just barked at me: I GOT IT. I GOT IT. Which made me feel stupid for helping him so informally and worse made me feel stupid for kind of wanting to help, to feel useful, like maybe I was using the guy to feel like a hero or something.

But every time I helped I thought to myself how I just love when someone helps me, helps me put my bag up or helps me get it down or even when the flight attendant brings me water - help is rare and it makes me feel warm and nice and that's part of why I try to give it back, because to me it feels good. And actually as I was helping the old guy I was thinking that it will be okay to be that old someday, flying on a plane, people will help. It will be okay to be old cause people are basically good natured and when my hands are knotted up and don't work so well anymore or when I move more slowly or typical things seem heavy it's going to be alright cause there are people like me, or like the really nice flight attendant on this flight who, when he asked the old man if he'd like a salad or a sandwich and the old man said, "Yes, sounds delicious," came back to the old man a minute later and said (rather slowly and loudly) to him, "I am so sorry, I am just so forgetful, did you say you want the warm Ruben sandwich? Or the cold lettuce salad?" (Knowing of course that the old man would want the sandwich, the match of lettuce, garbanzo beans, fork and quaking hands really no match at all, and thus with his query so politely framed offering the old man both dignity and an ideal outcome). I mean to say I was feeling good. Hopeful and helpful. 

But now I'm just feeling like a busy body, or self-righteous, like that woman on a flight a few years ago who was "rescuing children from Haiti" and wearing a tee-shirt that said so, "HAITIAN CHILD RESCUE 2004" or something like that; I remember how awkward I felt because she was doing a good deed, yes, but seemed so egotistical about it, and racist too, saying how the "natives" thought a cleft palette meant the little girl she had in her arms was "cursed by the devil", and how they, in their ignorance, left her to die.  But meanwhile she had a needy baby in her arms, and what did I have? A computer? Some hipster jacket? So who am I to feel condemnation when the "rescue worker" is at least doing SOMETHING, and me, just watching, critical... 

Anyhow, I'm now avoiding eye contact with the old man, lest he have to look upon this shitty do-goodie brat that serves only to demean, to remind him how old he really is but ha ha ha the joke's on her, she'll be just like me someday, old and rickety, and she can see then how it feels to have some righteous little punk open your peanuts like you're some goddamn baby or maybe ha ha ha the joke's on her anyway, cause she probably won't live as long as I have anyhow, what with her Pepsi, cookies and butter.

Perhaps my most generous acts are invisible ones: Not drinking even though I'm thirsty and not getting up to pee even though I have to. Perhaps acts are ONLY generous when they are invisible.

I concentrate on that for a while, distracting myself from my bursting bladder.
 

 

Minneapolis #122

Along the Canadian border in November and flocks of birds fly north. Iíve been warned of pending catastrophe. I keep checking locks but some things wonít be kept out. There are mice in the kitchen and I fear what they leave. There are mice in the rafters and at night I dream them winged, flying north, terrifying as birds. Outside it pours, just a matter of time until the basement floods. The roof will cave in, I stake out the middle floor, checking locks and yelling at the top of my lungs, only in part trying to scare away the vermin.
 

 

Minneapolis #121


It smells like snow. It is not snowing. It is just cold.  

Maybe Iíve had it wrong. Maybe snow smells like cold and itís easy to mistake.

Maybe itís just been too long, my summer-and-warm-autumn nose perplexed by the usual scents of winter, which is either here or coming, depending upon whether your particular orientation declares Winter by calendar, temperature, snow or length of day. Thursday I was coatless with the top down on the car. Saturday the empty garden hose was frozen like a stone snake. That isnít to say it wonít warm up again because it will. The question becomes whether it will come within months, or days; whether it comes when I am still like I am right now, or whether it will come once I have changed.
 

 

Dining with Millionaires


When you were dining with millionaires you didnít realize that that was just another way of serving them. They let you sail their boats and ski with their daughters, but you were serving them then, too. You may own the cafť now but youíre still bussing tables. And taking their orders it only just occurs to you then the dynamic that is playing out here. And of all the things a man in your situation might think, the one that occurs to you is: Stay useful.


 

Minneapolis #120

Was it enough that I grieved for the little bird?

I spotted it on the ground in my own backyard. It moved along the patio, burrowing into fallen leaves. Its feathers were puffed, it looked juvenile but there are no baby sparrows in November. It let me get too close. It breathed too hard. I thought about a box, about something to keep the bird warm. I had some place I needed to go to.  I reached toward it and it flew, just a little. I told myself it was alright. I figured it probably wasnít. I didnít know what to do. I go inside, hoping it will fly away, or somehow disappear. I step back out and its on the ground again. It digs along the base of the fence, to no avail. There is no place for it to go. I think about the cats Iíve chased out of the yard. I pretend the bird is preening. I think about a squirrel I once saw out the window, sprawled in the dirt beneath the maple tree. I banged on the window, it didnít move. I thought it was dead. I was afraid it was dead. I went outside and startled it, it had just been sleeping. Really, it was sleeping on the lawn. The squirrel was fine. I think I saw that squirrel that day so I could believe on this one that that little bird is okay. Thereís really nothing to do. What comfort can I offer the bird by terrifying it? It occurs to me to kill it, but I never could. My kindness is to let it suffer. My kindness is to hope. I hope that I hope rather than pretend. Pretending is kindness too, spent mostly on myself.  


I hope itís enough that I grieve for the little bird.  

I pretend that is.
 



Plane Trip #74

I looked out the window and thought We are desperate for rain. Iíd forgotten it was winter. There is no ice and no snow. This palette is not drought but dormancy, the hibernation of growing things and fields usually hidden, or rather, dressed. Dressed in white. Today is just brown as far as I can see, call it tan perhaps, or sand. There was a time when this land was not cultivated.  

There was a time when this vantage was impossible.

Impossible: Or so it seems, ice and snow headed south. But this has happened before.  I am considering this, a particular time a particular flight the particular man I was sitting next to then. I remember his hands, baseball loverís hands. His son played college ball. I remember.  

Then Pilot says To the left youíll see the diamond, beautiful even in winter. Seated right, I missed it.  

What I see instead I imagine: The pilotís hands.

Baseball loverís hands.


 

Circles

After his girlfriend dumped him he found that he was suddenly and completely in love with his wife. Just like that all of the things about her that had bored and bothered him didnít bore or bother him anymore. The wife, oblivious to the affair and in love with her husband all along, did notice the sudden wave of affection, and passion, and she reveled in it. She bloomed in the light of his adoration, and became herself more beautiful somehow, more worthy of it. She fixed herself up a bit more or more often. She threw away her favorite sweatshirt, the one she used to wear when she was sick but had taken to wearing whenever she watched t.v. They set up a date night. She started taking yoga class and switched salons, updating her hair.  

But romance can be expensive. Just take date night: Thereís the dinner, cocktails, wine; an outfit or at least something new; maintaining colored hair. And of course the babysitter. Plain young thing, but it made the wife uptight whenever the husband drove her home. She wasnít sure why.  

The husband meanwhile is oblivious to the issues of date night. Heís not the one balancing the checkbook, heís not the one shopping for the kids, or fixing them something to eat before they go out nor is he the one placating them when they realize Mom and Dad are leaving. He just pays the babysitter, always includes a wink and a little tip. Heís the one who picks her up and drives her home. He is further oblivious to his wifeís jealously, and at first is oblivious to her anger. But the latter keeps brewing.

Date nights end. There is a new bulky sweater for the wife to watch television in. The husband finds another girlfriend. His wife is happy when he works late, hoping for more money, a little extra breathing room.   

It goes on like this for eighteen months, until the new girlfriend leaves him and he falls in love with his wife all over again.  


 

Squares

They spotted her husband leaving the hotel bar with another woman. They were at their ten year reunion in Concord, New Hampshire; who knows what he was doing up there? What were the odds? They hid in a deep booth rather than encounter him, and debated (rather briefly) about whether or not to tell his wife. When they arrive home, they sit their friend the wife down and tell her in detail the sorry truth: Her husband left the bar with some slut.

A series of looks flash across the wifeís face but in the end thereís little reaction. Or at least a lot less reaction than her friends expected, and not a single tear. Afterwards, the friends call each other on the phone, discussing the nature of withdrawal and shock and the symptoms of suicidal tendencies. They worry about the wife. They feel just awful for her too. They expected her to weep, maybe even to thank them - they did go out on a limb with that confession and theyíd thank her if she did that for them, of course they would. But the wife doesnít mention it again. She doesnít call any more often or seem any less together and the friends fret her apparent denial to the point that they agree that something must done. They decide amongst themselves on a sort of intervention. They confirm amongst themselves thatís there no such thing as a perfect couple after all.

So they sit the wife down again. Itís clear to them she should leave him. Itís clear that she should want to. They describe in detail the woman in the bar: Her age, her hairstyle, what she wore. They tell her she should pack a bag. They tell her sheís still young.  

The wife listens quietly with folded hands. She says I appreciate your concern but itís okay.  

Whatís okay? Her friends cry. Itís not okay, heís a cheat!

But really I donít mind.  

Donít mind? You must be kidding! Really, you donít have to put up with this.

Itís okay, says the wife, I know about it. I do it too. 

What? Ask the friends.

And itís strange, they came over pitying her. And left, disappointed somehow and hating her guts.


 

Triangles

How do you see the shape of your life? She said. She said: How do you see the shape of your life?

Answer her: Sometimes a circle, sometimes a square...

Thatís not what I meant
, she said.

She never understands you. Thus leading to triangles.    


 

Generosity #1

She is a kind-hearted woman; she didnít want to hate him. She spun her hate to pity and she pitied him instead.  

Then she asked herself: Would I rather be pitied, or hated?  

So now she hates him again, kind hearted woman that she is.  
 

 

Wrong Answer

Best friend yeah, sure. But I was still pissed. She knew it too. Kept her distance for awhile. 

Then she asked me: Are you mad at me about something?  

I told her Yes and I told her why too, but Iím pretty sure it was the Yes alone that did it. 

We never spoke again.  


 

Movies

It was her dream to make a movie. It would be a good one too. She knew she was pretty but she didnít know if she could act. And maybe her own story was a little bit boring really. But she could make a movie. It would be as if making the movie was reason to make a movie; like making a movie would make her boring story interesting.  

She moved out west where everyone was pretty and it was hard to find a job even waiting tables and it was impossible to live off of even if you did. No rich man scooped her away. She wound up in the sex trade. It started out okay, and she told herself it was just for awhile.  

Sheís not as pretty as she once was but her story is finally interesting. But sheís lost her taste for movies, and sex and rich men that often scoop her up but never take her away.  

She lost her taste for movies and sex and everything else.


 

Love Letters

She wished for poems but all she got was puns and rhymes. She just needed some kind of structure in that way.  

He sent her love letters. They made her flush. She was terrified someone might read them. They were corny and poorly written. She knew what she was bad at and didnít do it. But this one, this man, he was brave Ė as in: Romantic. Or, he was arrogant.

He would send her love letters and theyíd make her flush. Corny, terrible love letters. Sometimes with candy or flowers. She just couldnít imagine exposing herself in that way. And she doesnít.  

She would never pour her heart out like that. And she didnít.

Maybe one day sheíll burn them.


 

Opportunity

He got real sick and nearly died. Weeks in intensive care and me right beside him but he pulled through. We pulled through. It seemed miraculous at the time, like a miracle.  

We had a couple of good months after all that.  

But now I hate that bastard more than anything and if Iíd known when we was sick what this would come to; if I had only known then how crazy lucky Iíd had been if he just died; how blessed. I dream about it now - the grief, the mourningÖ and the life that would have come after it. I guess it could happen again, a chance like that.  

I hate to think that kind of opportunity only comes once in a lifetime.


 

Minneapolis #119

The first snowflakes ever fell from the sky just today. There were not so many of them but so thrilled to be arriving here, charming, dancing or just dancing around like little children in the park. Or in waves. Their joy reminds me: Donít be afraid. Turn your face to the wind, it is not here to harm you. Wind carries a surprise, and it just canít contain the secret; itís Windís nature to hint. It whispers: Winter is coming.  Wind speaks to me like this, it knows I understand completely. And just like the wind, I canít contain myself, either. I tell you: Winter is coming. Me and Wind, we hope you understand. How snow makes ugly things beautiful, and freezing water turns us into god.


 

Six Days in North Carolina

I.

I thought he liked me but there was nothing personal about it. He was in a new place and needed a friend for a little while. Over southern breakfast I knew already he would leave without so much as a goodbye. But I had the last laugh. I was never his fucking friend.  

II.

I asked the man if it is usual for snakes to swim in his water. He said No, itís special. Having never been here before, it is my own truth that every time I stand here I see them. The next day I touch one. Later, he holds one for me, like he knew.    

III.

You are banned from the word pretty. But itís a reflex, like how one firework elicits one vowel sound, and the subsequent one another. It really was pretty. I couldnít help myself. Or him.  

IV.

She is terrified of spiders. I let it crawl onto my wrist and take it away. I am terrified of her. Iíve seen how she talks about people.  

V.

He is blunt and he tells me: Sheís not your fucking friend. Heís not my friend either, thatís the funny part.  

VI.

No, no. You misunderstand me. I loved it there.


 

Hate

I donít want to hate but canít help it. I wake with hate in my chest. I exhale and hate makes my breath bad. I want to let it go but it keeps coming back up. I want to love. I want to pity. I try to picture kind things. But I wake from dreams of him and dreams of an axe; I curse the dream as I curse myself for remembering it. Still I hold tight to that dream axe. I lie awake and sharpen it. I smile as I swing it against his hideous neck and for a few hours after I am free from hate, the peace of revenge taken in its place.
 

 

Fear

Iím scared of being scared. Iím scared it makes me weak. Iím scared weakness leaves me vulnerable and  Iím scared vulnerability is dangerous: Show it and someone will strike you there. Iím scared of failing. Iím scared of losing. Iím scared of hating. Iím scared of love because love leaves a weak spot. Love is just another way to hurt me, and Iím scared of being hurt.
 

 

Grief

Itís been what twenty years? But in fleeting moments I canít remember just plain forget and wonder hey why havenít I spoken to...and I swear itís just a second, less, but thereís the first shot bang like I forgot to call or something then the second one bang, the one when I remember that weíll never speak again.  


 

Love

I hate how much I love you. It leaves me feeling vulnerable. The only way to hurt me is to hurt you. And Iím scared of being hurt. Take a look at this. Can you see why it stops me, why it moves me? Tell me is it truly beautiful or am I just in love?  

I grit my teeth to keep from biting, my hands shake in little fists. Tenderness does not come natural. I didnít want to live forever until then.  

Wait. Itís you I want to live forever.


 

For Dad, My Patron Saint of Baseball

Not all of you will understand, Iíll say that to start out. It helps to be a sports fan, first off. Better yet to be a baseball fan, specifically. And though I hope this isnít the case for you, Iím afraid you have to know some grief too, that sense of missing someone, of wanting nothing more than to talk them, and perhaps pairing with that the idea that only they can understand what you mean or what youíre feeling Ė but theyíre gone.  

Baseball knows a long season. It starts with exhibition games in March, and starts officially in April, Spring, the nexus of eternal hope. On the first day of the official, non-exhibition baseball season, every team Ė no matter how unlikely such a thing may seem Ė every team has a chance. On paper your team may look terrific, brimming with the potential to fulfill your dreams or break your heart. On paper your team may look downright unfamiliar, yet you know going in youíre likely to fall in love with them. Or your team may look weak, or feeble or full-up terrible. But on the seasonís first day, you are still believer. On the seasonís first day, weíre all tied first place. Early in the year, any team can hold that place for awhile.  

Well, predictions and affections aside, Iíll fess up my team was never in first place. Not really. They lost the first game of the season. Iím not sure if itís true or not, but my father once told me that of all the teams that missed their respective championship by one game, something like ninety percent of those teams lost the first game of the season. Iím not sure if thatís true, but the lesson stuck. Every game counts, and there are one hundred sixty-two of them.  

Thatís part of what I like about baseball, the everyday-ness of it. To those that listen it is a sound more steady than rain. Ballplayers have a job just like the rest of do; they go about it every day, like working men.

I also like the green-ness of it, starting and ending again just after an equinox. It marks a period of long days, of planting and harvest, from buds trembling to falling leaves. Spring can seem so long along come autumn, especially as far north as I reside. But with this game there is a constant presence of it, I see the playing field in July and October and think of April - sometimes the one passed, more usually the next one coming. Because in ball-speak ďnext yearĒ means ďAprilĒ, and if your team lets you down, youíll start thinking about it in June.  

My team had a miserable April, meaning we played badly, offering little reason for optimism, and losing a lot of games. By early May I had next April on my mind again. I was comfortable with that too, the psychoacoustics of the radio relaxing rather than thrilling, the green-ness of the season enough.  

Things turned around in June and by July we were hot like the weather. We hung close enough to the real winners that we could feel like we belonged there. By August we were thinking April again, but this time we thought about the April passed, what would have been possible if hadnít been so lousy back then. We might be in first place, if only.  

But we never really were in first place. I was in Boston when we held that title for all of a couple of hours. Itís called a ďhalf-gameĒ when you sit out while another teams plays, or vice versa. We were in first by default. The ďrealĒ contender played and won, extending their reign. And my team lost, despite how very badly at that moment I didnít want them to.  

That happened twice in September, first place by default. And I donít mean to be dismissive of that particular thrill because it means we were in there. We were in there. We were going to get there. I think all fans knew this eventually.  

Now itís the last day of the season and Iím at the game with my family. Math said a specific sort of sports miracle Ė finishing the season in first place Ė was possible, however unlikely. We were late in arriving to the ballpark, and the miracle mathematics were becoming fine print, illegible. My team needed to win. The first place team needed to lose. My team was losing, the first place team was winning, by a lot.  

My team does what they need to, they win. My family cheers and jumps because no matter what, we were okay. We went from bad to good. Itís a thrill and relief in oneís life experience to see that such thing is possible. We were heading to the playoffs, the post-season, and it really doesnít matter how we got there.  

Meanwhile...the miracle does in fact occur. The ballplayers like the fans are dizzy with joy. My team finishes in first place, and in fact this is the first time all season they were firmly there.  We were in first place for one day. The right one.
 
Sure I can draw all sorts of life-lessons from this experience. I can live optimistically because I have witnessed impossibly wonderful things. I can stay young forever because I have seen that one perfect day can overwhelm a seeming eternity of less perfect or even awful ones. I can draw hope from mere survival. But in real time I hug my spouse, and I hug my nephew and he lets me even though he hates to be hugged. I hug strangers, and we slap together our upraised hands, we will remember this day forever.  

Yet there is something melancholy in being able to share this moment with strangers but being denied this delight with my father. See, I try to spell it out for you here, how it felt and why. But my dad just would have known. My teamís not his team but this game is his game. And if I trace my own breathless happiness of this exact moment, I trace it back to a herculon loveseat in Pompano Beach, Florida, my dad walking me through a Dodgers/Giants game, how he explained it all to me that day, the purr of Dodgerís announcer Vin Skully in the background (to this day my favorite sound) and my father pointing at the television and calling it Ė actually calling it Ė Ron Ceyís walk off homerun. So I knew my father was a mystic, a seer. And if he were he alive I could pick up the phone right now and heíd answer and I wouldnít even have to say a single word for him to know exactly how I feel.


 

Mr. Shitty at the Ballgame

Mr. Shitty has a son who hasnít yet followed in his footsteps and might not. I saw them together at the baseball game, front row seats of course. The son is twelve and wore team colors special but not because he got them just by asking. The son leans on the rail and watches the game without a peep. Mr. Shitty got the tickets, thatís enough. Baseball is for boys, he brought his son. But Mr. Shitty is a man and a man has things to do like read the paper right there in his front row seat and damn it would be easier if the boy didnít keep getting up thank you but it just disturbs him for a moment and heís back at it, business news. He brought a magazine too despite the plan to leave early, even though now the game is tied. And the son protests but Mr. Shitty whips this out: What do you care? Getting up all the time.  The son is waiting for his father to ask him Why? Why? Why? But he wouldnít have the guts to tell him why he leans why he gets up why he doesnít make a sound so he frowns and he follows, stomping on the forgotten magazine on his way out.  


 

The Best He Ever Had So Far

Fucking her was a profound experience. It was epic. It was huge. It was like burrowing into the soil and waking up on top of clouds. He had never met anyone so willing to please. He had never met anyone so willing to focus on a single sense. He would become completely lost and absolutely found. True in life, true in bed: That one worked her ass off.  

And it was great. It was powerful. Powerful medicine. He felt magical, like a magician, like he could turn her into anything. Like he could saw her in half and put her back together again. oLike he could make her disappear.

But any ride becomes dull if the trip gets too long. Or maybe you come to take the view for granted. Sure, but you know sometimes a man just wants to get laid. Simple laid. Like just lie there and take it, or, just give it to me. He started doing other women. He knew it was stupid maybe, but hey. He was a charming guy. Maybe other women are his nature.  

She tolerated the first couple of them, looking the other way once and straight up forgiving him the second time when he told her: Theyíre just little sprinkles. Youíre my river and my hurricane. She thought maybe she could go on like this. She thought maybe it was enough to be the special one. She was confused, she wasnít sure if she really minded or if it was that she was supposed to mind. She pictured herself as his home.  

The end wasnít about other women.  

They were fighting. They were fighting and he knew it was because of him. She was the easy one. It made him feel mean. He managed to deliver blows disguised as a sort of benevolent critique, without a hint of anger in his voice. She was clumsy, desperate, boring.


You might wonder how she could fall for this kind of thing, how she could fall for a cheating a heel in the first place and how she could believe him when it is clearly his intent to hurt her. Some suggestions for you: Inexperienced, an alcoholic father, reverent, literal, in love.  

She never fully recovered. She became a millionaire. She dresses well. He got a girl pregnant, married, is stuck in a restaurant.  

Still they remained friends.  

And the friendship survives over the years because each has something the other one needs, or something they need to remember. Inside he believes that messing it up with her was the worst thing he ever did; that his life would be different and better if he just could have...  

Inside she figures he feels this way, and she likes to believe she is just toying with him. But...

Part of him wants to tell her. He wants to tell her he was wrong, that he was young then and scared. He wants to tell her that to this day he masturbates thinking of her, touching himself as she touched him. He wants to tell her he made a mistake, a great one and itís hard to live with it. He wants to say heís sorry. But he doesnít.  

Part of her wants to scratch his eyes out. Part of her wants him to know the extent to which he wounded her, and to tell him that she hates him. But she doesnít.  

There are lots of hints when they converse. Each of them does or chooses to remember more good parts and than bad parts. Fact is that each is the tie to what the other had and lost; that keeps them civil: Neither of them wants to lose it twice.  

So itís funny, he was her last lover. She will never tell him this. And itís funny, she was his last love. He may confess this to her sometime when he needs money.
  
 

 

Rain Drowns Memory

It had been so hot, so dry that once heard I exited my bath and headed straight out into rain. Crossed deck, standing on grass not soft but wet at very least, sky unquiet I am balance, silent in it. I lift my face drops tiny stray but I manage, realized against backdrop thunder, high, brief lighting.  Remember rain of sultry Yucatan and running in it? Drenched, laughing, it was duress that made sweetness sweeter just like now. Remember rain against tin drowning any thunder sounds? That was Bethlehem, you whispered something in my ear so sincerely I couldnít make it out and all these years after I still try to, rain louder than theory so again I let it go.   
 

 

Minneapolis #118

Winter was so mild or even barren that the transition into spring was noted by the calendar rather than my bones. Iíd seen green grass in February and tasted soft wet air in March. On Thursday I worked in the garden. I kneeled in the dirt, although that wasnít necessary. I moved the soil with my hands, though that wasnít necessary either. When I have known the earth this intimately the lakeís dismissal of its winter ice lacks fanfare. I just expected it to be water, and it was.

I let you know me like no one had or will. I was reckless with you. I gave you everything but there were some things I should have kept. There is one thing I should have saved.  

But you lost it. You left on a plane, in a hotel room in New York. You left it on the telephone. You could have gone back for it. You could have gone back but you were lazy. That was your moment, now itís gone.  


 

Dog Lover

Itís just that the owner was so rough on her. She decided not to say anything when the dog bit her. I mean, it was her fault anyway, the womanís, she shouldnít have grabbed that chicken bone of all things. So she didnít say anything. Then after the barbeque with her hand all swelled up she didnít want to go to the doctor. She heard they kill dogs for biting, even when itís an accident.  

She wound up telling her man, the woman did, and he was pissed off. He wanted her to go to the hospital. NOW. She did, they went together, and when they asked her what happened she said that her own dog had bitten her, a perfect cover story: No, it wasnít vicious, yes it was an accident. Yes, it had all its shots including recent rabies.  

An hour later she has an IV of antibiotics going into her Ė blood poisoning they said, moving toward her heart. By now her boyfriend is so fucking furious he calls the mean dog owner. He tells the bastard what happened: Your fucking dog bit my girl.  

The dogís owner, rough, as weíve stated here says: That fucking bitch is lying.  

Two hours later violence ensues. Someone drives someplace, thereís a fist fight first, then enter a metal fence post... Cops are called. At the end of the day, both men wind up in jail. Sheís in the hospital, doesnít have to deal with it.  

Her boyfriend dies in the holding tank. They called it some sort of mishap but the man did have a temper and probably just mouthed off to the wrong guy. Anyway, looking back on it, sheís still really glad she didnít rat on that dog. She thinks about her all the time and hopes that sheís okay. 


 

Where It Hurts

He was crying. He said I donít deserve this. Was he being punished? Yes. He was crying. He said I donít deserve this. Was he being persecuted? Yes. He was crying. He said I donít deserve this. Was he loved? He was. Does he deserve this? Yes. Or maybe thatís why he is crying.  


 

How He Made Her Feel

How he made her feel: Low and stupid and clumsy. And sexy sometimes. And pathetic, sometimes for feeling sexy.  

Ask her how he made her feel and she says: He gave me chills.

How he made her feel: By hurting her, insulting her. By taking things too far.

Ask her how he made her feel: To this day I still miss him.

How he made her feel: Relieved when he left, relieved and very tired.  

Ask her how he made her feel: I never did get over him.   
 

 

A Little Him

He said he left her because she didnít want children. And itís true, she didnít. She couldnít understand that about him, he is quite nearly an ugly man and his father and his grandfather both died of heart disease. ďItís not about genetics,Ē he said but to her that seemed like all it was Ė he wasnít interested in children generally. He was interested in, like heíd say, ďA Little Him.Ē Heíd say: ďWouldnít it be fun to have a little You running around, a little Me?Ē

She had no interest at all. No woman in her family had lived passed the age of fifty-two. And there was alcoholism, but she knew those were excuses. She already felt like she never had enough money. She already felt like she never had enough time. And she didnít love herself in a way that made A Little Her sound at all appealing. ďA Little Her.Ē Her own mother was drunken and cruel. Sheís been trying to get away from that. She didnít have the kind of childhood youíd exactly want to relive.  

So he left her for another woman, one that wanted to breed. And truth is, she was crushed by this, really crushed Ė not the how, or when, or even that it happened, but the Why, the simple Why of it all. Cause see, she thought he loved Her. She really did. But the idea of Him Ė even fifty percent of him Ė
turned out to be more than the one-hundred percent of herself that she gave him. She thought he loved her. She thought he loved her. She thought he loved her. She thought he loved her. But in the end he didnít love her half so much as himself. Cause after all, thatís who he left her for: A Little Him
 

 

St. Kirby

Our St. Kirby, who smiles down on us from discarded seats high above The Metrodome field; who smiles with that laugh in his eyes because he knows how funny we really are, and we are funny yes; our St. Kirby, who changed us all and made us so proud and so large...

We worried for St. Kirby, because we wanted to love him just like that forever. No, we worried for ourselves, that our own dreams of a hug for a pal our arms wonít fit around might smolder. Because the fact of St. Kirby is that you wanted him to know you. When you watched him at the plate where he was so beautiful and when you watched him in the field where he surprised you over and over you just couldnít help but imagine the saintís backyard Ė that he was shagging your flies, that he was launching your pitches and when he laughed and smiled cause he knew how hard you really tried youíd have a seat in his lawn chair next to his grill, you and the him there laughing, recalling. St. Kirby had a quality that made you want to be his friend. But better, St. Kirby had a quality that made you believe you were.  

Today we lost our friend. And that banner high up in those abandoned reaches of the metrodome, we are worried here in March it will become almost eerie. But come April weíll be proved wrong of course, and St. Kirby will smile down on us like he has from on high, and he will be watching us, laughing at our sorrow and our joy.    
 

 

Desperate/Lonely/Fucked

Are you so lonely that youíd come to me as friend? Are you so lonely that youíd crack that door, even though the burden of guilt must be so great, knowing what a monster you became?  

Am I so broken that Iíd take you in and are we so desperate that this fucked path may actually be our destiny?


 

Hope v. Irony

I.

His kidneys failed and he nearly died. Very nearly. There were two weeks in full blown intensive care, and even after that it took months. It was the worst time of their lives. But he made it. He fought so hard and they did so much and now she is in constant fear that something truly stupid like a tree or a bathtub is going to kill him.  

II.

She used to hate him for being so damn loveable now she loves him for being so damn hateful. She could have wound up with him or she could have wound up hung up. Itís when she thinks how bad things got that she feels truly blessed. His evilness set her free. She has him and god to thank for that.    

III.

He worked sixty seven years in a factory making building trusses and later drywall, retired a foreman but never got off the line. He was a beer drunk on Fridays and a rye drunk on Saturdays. He loved a bacon and egg sandwich and sometimes ate one twice a day. He died forty pounds over weight and survived prostate cancer before a massive stroke took him at eighty-one. His whole life long he smoked like a chimney.  

His son can barely sit through a movie what the way they glamorize smoking. Heís become an activist of sorts, writing letters to the paper and even getting in the face of strangers, telling them how cigarettes killed his father.  

IV.

Theyíd been dating for about four months when one night she overheard him on the phone with his mother. He didnít know she could hear him. He was talking with his mother and he referred to her, the girlfriend, as ďAdorable Girl.Ē Adorable Girl! So sweet and he was telling his mother all about her. No one could see her and he didnít know she was listening but still she blushed. She felt all fluttery and it was that very night that she gave into him with complete abandon and let herself fall in love.  

Theyíd been dating not quite five months when she, hopeful fiancťe, goes home with with him to meet his mother. The motherís long divorced and he is her only son. When our couple pulls into the driveway Mother comes running, straight to the driversí side. She coos and fusses about her son, his girlfriend supposes this is natural and smiles despite the fact that sheíd expected a hug or something like that; acknowledgement at least, really! But she smiles. Sheís campaigning in a way, and drunk with love and therefore altruistic. When Mother casts her a glance, itís from ten feet ahead looking back over her shoulder. She says, ďGrab the bags will you Gail?Ē  

Gail grabs the bags, climbs the steps, juggles the bags a bit then opens the door. Mother and son are together in the foyer. Gail stands at the door, a bag in each hand plus a purse and a satchel and itís only now that her desired mother-in-law stops to take a look at her. The mom straight-up inspects her, like head-to-toe. Gail just blushes and smiles. Mother pulls her hand to her chin and turns to her son. ďYouíre right Hon,Ē she says, ďShe really does look durable.Ē  

Adorable Girl. A durable girl.  

Goddamn bitch!  Fucking bastard!  But really itís too late for Gail. Sheís in love and thus only capable of being of hurt, not of leaving.         
 
V.

She got rid of the baby because he didnít love her. After that, it was never going to work.  

She got pregnant because he didnít love her.  And theyíre still married.  

VI.

They are best friends and they are inseparable. Whenever they think of going someplace, they are thinking of the same place. And itís not just that they laugh at each otherís jokes but they laugh at each otherís jokes before they even say them Ė one can just point, and the other knows exactly why and they even find their own chemistry funny, the fact of pointing and half-finished sentences. It cracks them up. They like to drink together. They double date, but surely itís a bit tough for anyone they bring along. Friends start to call them by a single name, a combination of their two names mashed together. They toast to their new name. One points, and they both laugh hysterically.  

When youíre together all the time like that itís hard to gauge the passing of it; like whatís a long time and whatís a short one. So it could have been a day spent differently or it could have been two weeks away, but something fell apart. Itís not the kind of thing you name or even talk about. But they had one name and such great times and now canít come up with six words to say to each other. One of them wonders if they were ever friends at all. Only one of them.
 

 

Plane Trip #73

Before the door closed, the woman behind me was on the phone speaking to her friend about her friends: How one is skinny but flabby and has cottage cheese on her legs, another cut her hair and looks forty, yes she saw her but it was terrible cause she smokes. There was a list like this.  

The man besides me is empty heís crass to the stewardess and me, ďDonít wake me,Ē so I keep getting up. The chick across the aisle is likely anorexic and I canít tell if sheís a woman or a girl. She has pretty lips and bones jutting through denim. I want to ask her how she is so thin and I wonder how long she will live.  

On the right is Las Vegas. On the left is Boulder, Nevada. We flew over mountains and they were covered with snow. Next ridges of tan and brown. I wonder what it takes to live there, ridges of tan and brown and then comes red and I wonder why red rock is prettier than tan or brown but it is.  

People on this flight are really drinking. It will be morning when we land it was morning when we left and the stewardess carries water and white wine and pours more of one than another. Who is the Bloody Mary for and the other flight attendant waves her hand in a circle: Any of them.  

Thirty five minutes to California. A tailwind headed west is strange, yet itís happening. I ask him what heís listening to and he says Johnny Cash like to impress me but I had overheard: Johnny Cash was once some time ago. Heís listening to something else now.  

The sky is blue and you can see the moon so clear and I wonder what it looks like from the ground.  

Itís mostly all just sand and brown and I wonder what it takes to survive there.  


 

Birthday #42

It is my own year forty-two. I am reminded to persevere, and to try. It is my time to change things up; my time to pioneer. Donít act up, just act. Let the number inspire. I waited for this you know.    

It comes to pass in intensive care, I hold him in my arms and admit I am far from ready to let him go. I canít tell if heís still fighting or if I am. It passes with him in my arms, the only time he sleeps. It passes with him in my arms, the only part I choose to remember.

This story has a happy ending, but I didnít know it then. Perhaps it takes something that terrible to allow for this degree of joy. Perhaps relief is the greatest joy of all, and I wonder if thatís just, or pitiful.


 

Girlfriend

I told her to stop calling her dog ďher boyfriendĒ even if she was kidding since no man was ever going to go near her if he thought he was going to be on the same level as a dog. I told her flat shoes make her look stumpy and I told her five pounds can make all the difference in the world between being attractive and, well, not. I told her itís right to color her hair but if sheís going to do it she needs to go lighter, lighterís better and older women just canít wear dark hair. I tell her what doesnít look good on her so she doesnít run around like a fool. I tell her to keep that mouth shut around men, no one likes a woman acts smart and no one cares what she has to say anyhow. It takes guts to tell the truth you know, more than it takes to hear it. I tell her I am her only friend.

But I love him to very bursting of my heart, doesnít that count for something? And how sexy can I be if I walk like a newborn calf? How sexy are bunions, I donít want to know. I told her I donít use a scale itís better for my head to go by feel and she says Ďwell not for your body.í I told her my hair is brown and so was my motherís, brown same as mine. I told her Iím not afraid of being a fool and most people say Iím quiet anyhow. I tell her not to be so sure, and I tell her she forgot about the dog


 

Angel Food Wasnít It

Iíve become one of those people: I am heading back to a circumstance I know is doomed I am staying in a situation both terrible and familiar Iíve condemned so many for actions I now take for staying or not leaving or coming back for more I know something of why now how it happens you think there are choices that arenít really there you think there are different paths but become grateful for having even one even one long and doomed right back into the heart of greatest misery because once and maybe only once a very very long time ago once and maybe only once or twice or three times or a week or month or year it doesnít matter you find yourself marching back to the heart of your greatest misery as if it hadnít happened at all because once or for awhile before it became what it is now Ė admit it Ė for awhile before it became what it is now once for awhile it was more or less okay. You walk right up to the knife that stabbed you in the back because you can still taste that cake it had cut Angel Food wasnít it so light and sweet and simple.
 

 

Context Determines Pace and Vice Versa

It takes three days to fold the wash. It takes. Three days. To fold. The wash. It takes three days to make the bed. These are not the same three days it took to fold the wash. It takes. Three days. To make. The bed. It takes ten minutes to fall asleep and ten hours to wake back up again. I remember the second you fell out of love and the weeks I spent ignoring it. For months and months I tried still it takes years to recover something. I can hold my breath for a very long time but Iím too old now to faint from it.

Tell me is there is something you want to say before the first of us dies? Tell me.
 

 

Burns Bright/Burns Out

We charged the air; we wrecked it. We made stars fall and saw it happen; we made the sky come apart. The sky came apart and left a colored scar between the blue and the grey; we saw that too. We are a fortress and wine that survived the war, old and ready. Weíre lucky like that. We are waves that crashed and made others fall down wet and us better than them. We are waves that entice then rob you blind. We are a machete in the hand of a child, dangerous and generous both and deciding which to show you. We are suspicious, or were then. We even hated you for a while.

We are slopes and ice and dangerous curves, weíre a reliable car thatís driven too fast. Fast, yes: Itís speed that took it all away and sent us home. Speed: It lifted us, we were even upside down and landed when others crashed, we were spotless then. We left broken ones behind. We ate yellow, we ate living things, we ate each other like no one has or would but I remember.

And we breathed. We breathed in green and blew out gold and in that currency we lost ourselves. We lost ourselves and we lost other things. We lost a life and chance to repair stars and cuts and those left in our wake until that very moment when we washed (separately) into some otherís, and we were the ones there melting, sputtering, broken. Now no one believes me.

We were too lucky. Something had to give and it did. But in the end Iíd rather be your victim than be you.
 

 

Charleston, South Carolina

I liked the beach, that was my favorite part.

She had a headache the whole time and tried to chase it away with alcohol. Everyone did. He picks fights with the waiters and she orders another round. Weíre too drunk to taste the food, but he complains about it. I leave big tips and cross the street recklessly, waiting for one of us to get clipped. Hoping for it.

They sell old slave posters in the market. Runaway: Dressed Liked a Boy. Runaway: Carrying Children. Plow For Sale, Mule For Sale. People. Sheís says it so we donít forget but I wonder who would buy such a thing. I wonder who makes them, who profits.

But For the Grace of God it says. But for the Grace of God. It happened.

I liked the beach, and I liked him too. I like when the sun comes up and when I can hear the birds wake nothing bothers me then. I wonder how it feels to wake up singing, this more mysterious than flight.

Itís harder to pretend by say the third day. No one noticed me before though they wonít now.

Goodbye Bug Island! He says with too much joy; he says with superiority, like these mosquitoes are worse than the roaches he knows so intimately.

She hates: Geese and beaver red wine the boss and the friends of her children.

The sun rose and the tide shifted and waves and I thought to myself For all time it has been just like this. I wonder if nature stirred my forefathers or if then there was just too much of it. I wonder how a man can live to own another man. I wonder of lust strong enough to continue. Living I mean living.

There were dolphins in the bay, in the bay so close to us and in a tidal pool I touched an anemone and it pulled as if to swallow me. I touched an anemone and it felt like a cactus, a specific one I felt one day in Southern California. I remember those spines precisely, but here, an animal.

He said The bugs were horrible! Horrible! There were dolphins in the bay and light was speaking to the water kind words, romantic ones. I think of this and scratch my bitten chin.

She hates: The waiter and the waitress and him and maybe me too.

Hate is a very strong word.

 

 

Minneapolis #117

Snow gives off a specific light. You will know it has happened before you turn to the window; before you are even awake, or have opened your eyes. You believe you must be dreaming beautiful to see, this beyond silver more humble than gold. You will know it has happened before you open your eyes. You think you are dreaming but no. Snow gives off a specific light eyes closed beautiful and heaven when you open them.
 

 

Mariaís Cafe


The ex-patriots drink too much. I see them near the water at sunrise, up early so maybe itís fine to have the first beer at ten. You can spot the Americans, always a beer in hand: On the beach, on horseback. Ex-patriots wear neat shirts, the tourists are in swimsuits Ė thatís how to tell them apart. I am instantly local, covered up as I am.

The last night is when the band is playing. They are either good or itís just good to hear them, under bright room lights in a little cafť. It is good to be able sing out loud, careless. It is good to be the native, even if the label is a false one as will be proved by tomorrowís departure. It is good to be beside my friend, to share this, to eat this, to make noise and to listen.

He is a good singer because we can hear the sadness in his voice.

I wonder why heís like that, living as he does in his paradise.
 

 

Nayarit

A humpback whale, or parts of it; its breath spouting, its steam. That was the first day, I couldnít have realized the sight was unusual. Privileged.  

A ray, thatís what I think it was. Out there, black, triangular and spinning Ė spinning in leaps and fits, plunging into water, then air. Was it dying? Was it living? Was it playing? Animals play.

Later, the sun behind the waves, giant waves, giant horses tearing apart the beach with their hooves. Crashing in. The sun behind, revealing: Fish swimming inside of them. It didnít seem possible, waves like monsters fish swallowed up but no, swimming. Animals play. Again, I couldnít have realized then the sight was unusual. I kept looking for it again.  

Children play, sometimes too rough with a pup still smaller than my hand. In and out of the surf, milder water yes but the dog is trembling. I offer to hold it but despite its distress it prefers its own children, and cries for them. I take it against my chest, My heartbeat will calm it down. I carry it into the sun, trying to warm it. It settles yes but unhappily, in a tiny ball near the childrenís things. And this concludes my own day.  

The morning that follows is tinged with destiny, or thatís my excuse for the small delays of forgotten objects or necessary refreshment, unavailable. Road trip, North along the coast. Skip three towns opting for the forth. Skip three venues opting for the forth, for breakfast. I face the street and meet some eyes, familiar and I place them. She heads to a truck and opens to door, and brings me the puppy. Yesterdayís animal. It is no longer distressed. I enjoy its musky kisses. I consider the odds, impossible. And yet, here we are. Maybe forty miles, maybe twenty hours. Time plays.

It was like that there.  

I play. It is a game of my invention, spotting a stone and chasing it, trying to get to it before the a greedy wave takes my rock forever. I win about half of the time. I am like this for hours. I win about half of the time. I win.  

I think of him now, an ordinary man lying on the beach but on his side, curled slightly, not much. Sand like bed, forearm is pillow. He is an ordinary man lying on his side, facing away from the water. He is lying on his side, listening to the waves, running his free fingers through the sand.  


 

Minneapolis #116

Well I havenít seen you naked in so long. Now look at you standing there. You look good, pretty good, not as good as well before but you are just buck now arenít you? And while you have no choice about it Ė none Ė you look pretty good. Now you donít have any choice about it see but really it feels natural. It feels natural even though remember youíve got no choice in the matter none or maybe this is as natural as it gets, having no choice at all.


 

Fires and Hurricanes

I wouldnít do it now, but back then I was rolling in it. It made me reckless, not just with money I mean. I felt charmed, I felt golden like anything was possible and everything was mine.

Wind comes to bring something. Wind comes to discipline. Wind says Spoiled girl, you have everything but it isnít enough.

I say Itís something I want. Not everything.

It was dangerous frankly, looking back on it.

Clever fox twisting words! I bellow from your mouth meaningless, destructive. Itís bad enough to think and worse yet to say. You try to keep me out but youíll fail. Like fish I return to my source. You are a river polluted. I use my strength to dry you up.

Things changed. They always do, theyíre always going to. I lost it and I lost you too but like I said I was reckless then.

I think happy thoughts and say them too I tell Wind. Even if theyíre lies.

I did dangerous things.

Lies? Cries Wind. What is a lie? I do not know of this, I lift what tries to. Iíd lift you if I could but youíre heavy. You are weighted down. With everything.

I lost it, I lost you.

Wind comes unexpected. It eats broken leaves. It takes the last breath of summer and chokes it off. This is its attempt at truth. But beware Wind, it is not to be trusted. It is never still and will leave you. It will leave you just like everyone does. Wind thinks itís better but it isnít.

You can yell and hammer I say. Shouting doesnít make it true. You pretend to lead but youíre chasing. You wonít even be here tomorrow. You pretend to care but youíre ruling. Or try to. Iíve no respect for you, not here. Youíre not a real problem just a little inconvenience. You can push others to harm but you yourself are harmless. Youíre noisy is all. If I cause you then I can will you away just by thinking
differently. Why only today I breathed life into something positive; something selfish. I am wishing for something, not everything. That alone makes me humble and good. Youíve not blown me away, not hardly. Youíve not blown me away and you canít. You wonít. Not hardly.


I donít think you liked the recklessness but I think you liked the stuff.

Wind isnít romantic though youíll want to think so. Itís just as likely to dirty teeth or poke eyes. It teases like a child does. Wind is afraid of love.

I tell it so: Wind is afraid of love.

I think you still have some of it.

Love is my absence, Iím destined to fear it; Iím doomed to Says Wind. Love is stillness love will kill me. But Iím willing to die. Iíll cripple myself if itís something you want.

I think I still want it back.

I say: It sounds like the quarrel is over.

Listen for me Says the Wind.
 

 

Minneapolis #115

It was my favorite Summer ever so Iím sorry that itís ending. Does it suffer as it withers as do I?

He says: It is not dying; it is sleeping. Remember.

It was my favorite Summer ever so Iím sorry that itís ending. I am not sleeping; I am dying, remember?

Does it suffer as it withers as do I?
 

 

Plane Trip #72

I am doing my best not to have my happiness soiled by the two women one seat over and across the aisle who keep complaining Ė through the stewardess Ė that I ought to pull down the window shade when itís clear that I am taking in the view, my body turned toward it, looking out. Once, twice, three times now Iím asked. Three times I refuse, replying, ďBut Iím looking out!Ē The forth rebuttal had already formed in my head: ďI am happy to accommodate you, but not at the expense of my own experience.Ē

Beneath me: The Gulf waters, who wouldnít want to look? The patterns, the textures in the water lead me to believe I see the reflection of clouds, but there are none. Spider veins mark the surface like a drunkardís nose; like a waitressís ankles. You could imagine the coursing blood in those blue veins.

I cannot hear the conversation of the two women, but I cannot help but hear certain words: She, she, she. Bitch. Annoying as hell.

In the air over these blue waters I am waiting for the sun to set. I am waiting for the angle of light to change, anxious for it. I am waiting for the sun set to relieve
me of the piercing eyes against my back and shoulders. She, she, she. I am waiting for the sun set because I am looking out of the window and there is power in numbers. They number two, and they want me to stop.

Boats leave marks: I see their paths on the waterís skin and I wonder how, why.

Girls leave marks: I admired them when they first came on, I smiled behind their backs. Two adventurous travelers, two friends. I remember myself with mine. It was recent.

Girls leave marks. And I wonder: Is there really any such thing as traveling alone?
 

 

70 Miles

Seventy miles south of here is the county fair where I saw my first demolition derby. About seventy miles south of here is the county fair where I saw the human cannonball; he was old when he landed, but young when he was flying. Around seventy miles south of here I fed a spider monkey cheerios through a plastic tube. The way he stretched when he saw me coming; the way he held his end of the tube, waiting; the way he stared with eyes too blank to plead and how he moved and laid down after in the sun like a satisfied man - all scared me. Driving home, the sky was red with sundown. Arriving home the house was dark but I flipped a switch and seventy miles.
 

 

First Steps

His son took his first steps on a day he really needed him to. Heíd been fighting with the mother that day, fighting about money. Heís not sure when that became his sole responsibility. He retaliates by accusing her of flirtations, and while he has no real evidence supporting this, he knows that for him at least these situations recall to him all his former lovers Ė each of his former lovers, he fantasizes not about the sex so much as the various destinies each one may have brought him. Belgium, Athens, Dallas, LA. With that one heíd have a Porsche and a Moto Guzzi. With another he may have been a poet, living urban and shooting up. His wife has a great ass and is nine years younger than he is. She signs her cards to him I want you and he used be very taken by this but now he thinks maybe sheís more literal than passionate, her feminine urge, the need for another one. He worries heís merely some biological necessity, providing for, donating. Sure he feels resentment and it manifests as bitterness and everyone thinks it just because he doesnít get to ride anymore. Everyone thinks itís just because she doesnít let him fuck around like he used to.

His son is walking. A little boy canít understand the freedom that represents, just walking. And the funny thing is heís been thinking a lot lately of just walking himself. Heís been thinking about walking, but itís his own son walking that makes him decide to stay.

 

 

Some Destiny Happening You and Me

Hey you might think youíre all done with me but youíre wrong cause we still got some destiny happening you and me sure youíre going to leave me now and you might even forget about me for a little while but that wonít last cause we ainít finished youíll be coming back youíll be coming back to me cause someday your drugs and your good looks will both run out and then where will you be see it hits a point when all a body wants is just a bit of comfort youíll be looking for some comfort so youíll be coming back to me cause you know Iíve got the money to give it so go ahead and leave me now or try to cause itís temporary I know youíll be back youíll be back cause I got something you ainít got the guts to ask for and once youíre tired youíll learn just to sit beside me look pretty and enjoy the fucking ride.

 

 

The First Lie and After

It is the first lie I distinctly remember telling:

I must have been five years old. Colleen was the new girl. She and I were crawling through the hole in the fence that united our yards when Colleen got caught up. She had long brown hair tangled in the rusty wire. I think I was before her, already on my way, but maybe I was behind her. Maybe I pushed. Colleen said something like Iím stuck, I really donít remember what she said but I remember what I did. I said: I donít care. (That wasnít the lie.)

My mother through an open window in an upstairs bedroom heard me. She was already suspicious of my nature due to my astrological sign. She thought I was cold. When I came in after, my mother was furious and aloof. I didnít know what was wrong but knew something was, and kept my distance. With a clenched jaw my mother tucked me in that night. In truth Iíd forgotten my crime from earlier in the day, and frankly at this point in the story I wasnít aware it was a crime at all. My mother wouldnít kiss me. She said I heard what you said to that little girl today. Okay, I knew what she was talking about, or maybe I didnít. Maybe I played dumb or maybe I was right then. Me: What? What? Her: That girl got caught on the fence and you told her you didnít care.

In my mindís eye I saw it, in my mindís eye I still do even if I see it differently now. But I saw it then, the long tangled hair and the scratch on her back and here is where the lie comes in: I didnít say I donít care Ė I said move your hair. Did my lie sound real because I was exasperated? Was I exasperated because of what Iíd done, or because Iíd been caught doing it? I was five years old. She believed me. She softened, kissed me goodnight.

This is maybe thirty-seven years ago. Colleen, I am sorry.

Other lies I told and got away with:

Of course Iíve done it before.

No, Iíve never done it before.

Iím fine.

Itís natural.

I donít need any help.

I fell.

I like it like that.

No I donít miss it, I donít miss it at all.


And of course, there is the worst lie of all, the one I get away with day after day even though the one Iím telling it to is myself.


 


Her and Me Confused

When you told me I was a boring lover it messed me up for awhile. We stopped doing it then, me just giving you head because you told me this is how I can please you. Everyday it was like that and itís funny how love will make you break down but then you went and got her pregnant and unlike me show wouldnít get rid of your baby. So you left then coming back maybe once or twice for a treat but even that stopped. So you went for that golden ring the wife and the kids and that made your parents happy and you for awhile, believing. But you hate being a husband and you hate being a father and why didnít anyone ever warn you or tell you the truth? Now your wife wonít go down and wonít let up but she needs you and she takes you and she plans to make an army of these, these children serving as soldiers in her war against you. And you feel so trapped you canít breathe sometimes and even see a doctor hoping sheíll take the hint, that they all will, that sheíll let you go to see you live that sheíll let you go because she doesnít want to kill you; that sheíll let you go because she loves you and wants you to thrive but right there is where you have her and me confused.
 

 

You Were There

You were there. You were there with the cathedral right outside your window almost like you owned it you were there.

You were there. You were there when you were beautiful. You were there when you were flying and she thought you must have wings and called you Angel.

You were there when you screamed Coward! from the streets you were there when you screamed so hard you broke the vessel in your eye you were there when she made a memorial of every tiny action This is the last time weíll be in a taxi together - This is the last meal weíll ever eat together - This is the last time that weíll ever say goodbye.

You were there. You were there before you ran up a tab and borrowed money and left her when she needed you and said the most fucked up things. You were there before the baby died you were there before you wished for this you were there before you smoked too much and drank too and did much too little to keep it all from getting away from you.

You were there. You were there no matter how hard it is now to believe you ever were.






Misspent

I didnít know I was pretty until I wasnít pretty anymore. Itís only now that Iím not pretty that I can see that I once was. I can see the difference in how Iím treated.

I didnít know I was young until I was old. When things started to fall and ache, only then could I appreciate how it felt to be careless, effortless. That was pretty, and now prettyís gone.

I didnít know I was stupid until I got smart. But now itís too late to make it work for me: Careless, effortless, beautiful.






Even Less Likely Than You Are

Why didnít you come? Just because I donít see you doesnít mean I donít love you. Just because I donít miss you doesnít mean I donít love you either. Where are you? Whatís with all this unseasonability? Down south I smelled fertility in the air and you lack that still I know who you are by scent. The sun beat on me there like some sort of sensory pornography, my skin rose to its tingle but you are who you are. And youíre willing. Thatís something.

Stop it. Stop bullying me. Stop running me over. Itís a habit yes but a habitís still a choice and you have to make the choice to stop it now.

Are you punishing me? Have at it if you must. Perhaps being convicted is better then simply being accused. As if I were ever free anyhow.

See Iíve never really gotten over you in the sense that Iím still thinking about you, only in different ways. Iím still fantasizing about you but my fantasies are different, I picture bad things, accidents or arrest. I rather just forget you, but you didnít leave a hole you left a lump. I keep running my fingers over it, hitting the spot that hurts. My skin rises to its tingle but you are who you are. So call me a poor flake and surely youíll be right but I just want the truth. And pity me too cause you know already I am even less likely than you are to find it.






Minneapolis #114

No one but me knows that the birthday message flashing on the scoreboard is recognizing a dead manís. If someone in the ballpark notices, perhaps theyíll wonder about it Ė not the greeting Happy Birthday J----, but the part beneath that says Wish You Were Here. Perhaps someone in the ballpark is wondering if this particular message is being shown on television. Perhaps someone wonders if the message is intended for a photograph, to be snapped now, shared later. Perhaps theyíre wondering, since clearly J----- isnít here, if heíll ever see his message at all.

Perhaps I wonder this too. Yet still I put it up there.






Minneapolis #113

She said: I had dog named Susie that looked just like her. She died when I was in fourth grade.

So add Susie to the list of dead dogs I never knew, but did. Like my motherís Brandy, her stillborn puppies buried in Central Park, a shoebox full of them carried on the train from Brooklyn a lifetime before I was born. There is the violent end of Georgie Dog, a wooden cross bears his name on the roadside.

The night before the morning my father died, I panicked. Lock the doors I cried, Set the alarm. But I couldnít keep the death out.

I dreamt a song last night, I remembered it in the morning. It has no words, just:





The Shit I Did and Survived

Everyday since and again tomorrow you are inspiration to remember or forget and I canít say. Itís unexpected places that recall unbelievable ones that I had such adventure and a lover and this life. Oh you brought me sorrow and you pitied me my sorrow which was worse than just the sorrow and brought more. I had a baby and I named it for you I had a baby and I killed it for you I want to baby you but Iíve done that before now havenít I? And god did that backfire. Youíre a thief a fraud a user a liar I must hate myself to love you still I hate myself to love you still. I hate myself. I love you still. Perhaps thatís some exaggeration or perhaps itís just the season or those unexpected places that recall those inconceivable ones. The shit I did and survived, itís just incredible.




Johnny, John and James

The tickets came from a scalper. But of course they were going to; itís Fenway, on a Sunday. Right field seats, it was relatively calm or at least the local version of it, where donning his little league suit Ė with the specific team name and colors of the opposition Ė he drew no boos. He drew cheers from those calm right field seats when he was spotted waving on the Jumbotron, and high fives from them when they figured out that he was a Red Sox fan, too.

He didnít want to leave.  

You have to understand that thatís something in life of a boy, when sixth inning boredom turns into a sense of outcome, and a want for it. He didnít want to leave. But the game was tied some three hours passed his bedtime. It could have gone on forever.  

It could have gone forever.  

He didnít want to leave. 





Pools

I.

I remember that day looking up at the sky and how the sky looked just like the surface of the lake back home and for just an instant I was lost. I was lost and I was upside down with no idea where I was or when. It happens sometimes nearby or far off I canít remember where Iíve come from or where I slept and I will tell you the truth sometimes it just all boils down to whether I am with you, or not.
  
You pool around me. You said She was a cool shower on a hot day but you my love are the ocean. It worked on me back then but like the sea I nearly killed you; like the sea it was my destiny to swallow you up. You said You are perfect.  Then: Youíre perfect for me. Then: Itís not you; I just get bored. And last: I swear to god youíre drowning me.  

I pool around you. You are the low spot, so of course itís bound to happen. I want to be the ocean again but Iím reduced to this, shallow and each time you step on me thereís less. I dream of your forgiveness and I tremble in my sleep, waking the man beside me. I pool around you and if only youíd be cold for long enough to turn me into ice but no. I pool around you youíre the low spot and you tug me like the moon and reduced as I am it doesnít mean Iím not still under the influence.  

II.

Iíve never understood a swimming pool beside the ocean, but then that which is unnatural will always attract certain kinds. I smell chemicals or salt. I dive, or I frolic. There are barstools in the pool and while I know this is ridiculous, I have to try. Cabo San Lucas, I order Tequila. Ridiculous, like waiting here in this hotel knowing full well you wonít show up.  

Lake Powell was built by flooding canyons - the guy Iím with laments this. Think of all the villages buried under water. I want to curse the water with him but Iím just stunned by this miracle in the desert.  

This pool was like that too. A miracle in the way that something you want finding its way to you always is. Or rather, you to it.  Somewhere in Mojave, I can smell the baked-on exhaust and I can see the empty highway and air is heavy and pressing in on me. Turn a key for shade, open a gate for water. Dive in. Itís warm but itís the wetness thatís significant, that conquers grit and sand and soothes your skin. I donít watch the sun set but I watch it get darker. Now turn the key for light.  

I was shooting pool and he told me I was using the wrong hand. That, or I was using the wrong eye.  

This pool is more valuable and lovely than I will ever be. Despite the fact that shallow things repel me, I am taken by her beauty. But pretty as she is, sheís used to better. She says No diving, no admittance. So I sweat, and I long. And I spit into the water.  

III.

This is the hardest one to get out. I mean, itís everywhere. Itís inside me but will kill me if I let it. Itís in the air I breathe but if I breathe it in, I die. I reflect in it, I reflect on it, the repetition of its waves soothe me. The repetition of it dripping drives me nuts. I like the way it tastes but Iím told it tastes like nothing. I can taste it and when I say this he tells me Iím a snob. It used to be free and now Iím paying for it. It used to be free, now Iím paying for it every single day.  
 

 

Pittsburgh #1

Itís likely that you might not even notice that the bridge is named for him, and itís possible too you might walk right on passed the statue. That spot along the river there is named for him also; I saw it printed on the map. I wonder if it is his philanthropy or prowess that lingers most, that stirs those of us who travel just to see this, just to walk across that bridge or gaze upon that bronze, sneaking in to touch it. Even in metal he commands respect, even in death. I remember him a little but I know people that heís moved; that he changed and inspired and saw come all the way here like pilgrims to stare into his twelve foot form and young as I was I still know he was bigger than that, and he lived passed his numbers and he died saving lives and sure he was a ballplayer and a great one too but if one measures greatness in how one makes others greater I can tell you straight up he touches me, and I am one of many.


 

Pittsburgh and Someplace Else

In of all places, Pittsburgh: I took the incline up the hillside and I remember that day or morning after when you took me up the mountain you were trying to impress me with that romantic epic choice. Do you believe that Iíd forgotten until one afternoon in Pittsburgh though the ride was so much shorter there I saw that morning after the intensity of sunshine heat and light flew off the snow. There was this great potential then that only comes with newness when so much less is yet familiar and so much less had passed between us and it wasnít until Pittsburgh in a trolley I remember the Chinese dinner after and itís strange that Iíd forgotten when it seems I might have dreamt it all perhaps forgettingís natural but thankfully in Pittsburgh on that commute up the mountain I remembered who I was then. And that is what I did then and you are one Iíd known then and Iím shocked that Iíd forgotten it was good for awhile with you.
 

 

Minneapolis #112

I am coexisting with black ants. Sometimes I evict one or two, banished to the oak tree out back. But they are feisty, and protest. I ask myself What makes this kitchen mine? Lack of any answer causes me to relent. Roam the counters if you wish to; seek out butter. I must admire how you work collectively. I must admire how you work, when here I am, idle. I envy you, Black Ants. I know how nice this kitchen is and what it is to be on a mission though right now I havenít one outside of my intolerance toward you. My sleeping dreams are mundane things, battling ants and taking out the garbage. My waking dreams are fantasies where mundane things donít require my attention. And ants live outside and you call me after all this time and that alone is an adventure.
 

 

Minneapolis #111

It came, it happened. There wasnít much fanfare. Not like there should have been. It already went from warm to hot, itís been hot - by some standards a comfortable summer but here still early spring. So, in driving or walking past it, that dark grey ice didnít seem anticipatory, and it wasnít enticing. It was merely and somehow in the way, something that should be finished and just like that it was. From dull grey ice to nothing there at all; from dull grey ice like a laden sponge, dank, straight on up to blue water. And the funny thing is I havenít seen it blue. I passed the open water in the dark - not all that different really, itís just the way the light plays. And sure it is a sweet thing, but then itís straight up hot already this heat and leafless trees and it shouldnít be this hot and it shouldnít be this bare if itís going to be this hot and itís like one little spark will burn down the whole entire world.  

Itís like one little spark will turn that lake to dirt.
 



Sweet Dreams, Bitch

Hey Brownie, you need me and I need you so letís get together. Hey, come here, hey, your hairís so silky and your skinís so soft. Itís a shame you donít want me touching you. Hey, why not lay down with me, hey, did I tell you your breath smells just like coconuts?  Hey, donít turn away, get over here. Get over here now. I wonít touch you just lie up against me. I could force you but I wonít, just sit still. Sit still or Iíll make you.  

I donít know why youíre so damn unhappy.
 

 

Plane Trip #71

It was sixty-seven degrees when I left, sixty-seven and it isnít even April.  Sixty seven today, yesterday, before.  It was a warm winter and now a warm spring, one that might seem too early but temperature is misleading Ė warm throughout the winter, warm approaching spring, but it was on its official date of arrival, on March 21, like some appointment kept Spring announced itself to me quite formally by virtue of its scent.  I opened the door that very morning and I smelled it.  I hadnít smelled it the day before.

The plane lifts and I look to see the Minnesota river, flowing in a strange shade of green.  Open water.  Iím pretty sure it never froze.  But it is the openness of this river water flowing which contrasts the frozen pond water beside it; the pond is frozen, as it should be.  And in truth I only live a few miles away from here but Iím hit with this senseless panic, is the lake near my house frozen still?  Itís too soon.  Tell me I didnít miss its recession.  Itís too soon.  Tell me I did not fail to notice its retreat.  Itís too soon itís too soon itís too soon.  Each year some landmark, some watermark of time itís a ritual to me the day the ice gives way and sinks or lifts and flies away turning the lake back to blue; allowing me no longer to ride upon its back like a child but willing to let me inside it like a man.  

Of course it is still ice, just like that pond.  Itís a pool of still water or is beneath that frozen cap and it will strip itself down slowly like a comfortable lover and in time Iíll see it naked there and wet.  Iím just going for a few days.  I havenít missed a thing.

I am most stricken by my homesickness the day before I leave.  I am surrounded by all most important to me and I will leave it for esoteric reasons.  This warmth I feel beside me will be absent tomorrow night by my election.  The world may end in the three days I am gone and this is what I will flash before me then.  This is the life Iíll remember.  I am most stricken by homesickness the day before I leave.  

There will be a moment sometime just before I return when I will feel plucked from that particular breast too, but that pang will be much more fleeting, and is weaker.  

The plane bumps and bangs as it ascends.  I feel the tail buck out and imagine sideways momentum.  It is a conscious mantra that turbulence doesnít bring down me nor planes. This is just some obstruction, one you canít see but you feel just like so many others.  This is just a distraction, some perspective on home.  This is just an interlude, not riff or refrain. Problems solved prove to be only little inconveniences.  I thought heíd die young but already itís too late itís too late itís too late.
 

 

Good Friday

Resurrection may be coming but today Iím just plain dead.  Iím dead, deader than dirt which harbors something or can cultivate it; deader than stones which have some hope of migration.  No, today Iím just as dead as Death, and resuscitation seems impossible.

What killed me I wonder?  What got me in the end?  So many little things, what I built, what I turned into -  today, I am not merely dead but Death itself, touching beautiful things and watching them wither.  Today I am not hope but conclusion, taking things into my own hands and seeing that there is an end to it.

I remember standing at the airport and all the flights were booked.  Thatís how we ended up there.  But that takes place in the future, I mean the past.  Today is a different anniversary, of trials and bitchy girls and trying so hard to get it done but having so little left to work with.
  
Meanwhile, yesterday I felt it, that tentative touch of green with things not so much starting as starting up.  And today it may be cold again and damp and white and all those things; the walk be slick and dangerous even but yesterday I felt it and truth is the next breath is inevitable.    

 

 

History (Abr.)

Iíve been a stone you stepped on to cross the river.  I kept you dry.1  Iíve been the ant you stepped on just for fun.2  You focus on me with that magnifying glass3 and of course Iím going to get burned.4  Iíve been your mother when you needed a few bucks or something new5 and I was your father when you needed someone to feel proud.6

1So that makes you mighty and

2that makes you cruel. And  

3that makes you curious and

4that leaves me hurting and

5that means I love you and

6thatís why I let you go.
 

 

One Old Man Walking

He looked like a boulder on twigs and he moved like that too, like those twig legs required perfect balance to hold up that weight.  But he looked so damn happy walking along like that, meeting someone perhaps, going somewhere.  He looked so damn happy that I found myself wishing for my own twig legs, my own boulder frame.  Or to be in a place or state that allows me to forget my physicality entirely except to smile.  

 

 

Palm Beach Gardens

The sea turns us into a child.  The man tumbles in the surf, he letís it push him down.  He digs in the water, runs up past me:  ďShells!Ē he shouts.  ďThe wife and kids are going to be jealous!Ē  I figure the wife and kids are up north somewhere.  The Florida locals think itís too cold to get in, but he doesnít.  I donít.  We are a child, shouting like that and fearless.
  
The sun turns my skin to an ocean, pulling it like tides.  The heat lifts my flesh and waves move across my body.  Behind me somewhere country western is playing, I hear it pleading with me Just Remember.  Iíd expect to melt down into this chaise but Iím melting upward instead, evaporating, accumulating, turning into clouds.  As clouds I block the sun and rain back into my chair.  Behind me somewhere he cheats and feels remorse.  Behind me somewhere she is tempted.
  
The grass turns the air to a story.  I sniff and read about growing things, and water resurrected.
  
My brother turns me to a sister.  I sneak a cigarette at night and whisper late into the phone.  The night turns me into a child, calling home.    

 

 

Plane Trip #70

The gate agent was telling people to hurry up, not block anyone.  She couldnít take a delay for this:  ďI donít want you to give me delay.Ē  She even came onto the plane, slamming bins, ordering the checking of things, but we passengers were calm and united.  We did some rearranging, it worked out fine and we even shared a laugh.  She didnít get us out in time.  

The old couple I followed onto the plane fell prey to The Gate Keeper.  They handed over their tickets and were reprimanded:  ďI already called the Exit Row.  Where were you didnít you hear me?Ē  The Gate Keeper was parent, principal, obnoxious.  Contagious:  I follow the old couple down the jet way and I listen:  ďI told you they called us!  Now look!Ē

The three hour flight was late getting in of course.  I get off the plane and again Iím behind the old couple.  Theyíre still fighting about it:  ďNext time, you listen!Ē  ďThat will never happen, you never give me the chance!Ē - And on, and on and on they went, jabbing not the gate agent, who deserved it, but each other.  Who, it seems, deserved it too and will get it for the rest of their life.  

 

 

Yeah, Maybe

He can keep your secret cause he has some himself.  Cigarettes, business deals Ė he has an attorney he can call.  These things make him vulnerable, and that makes him gentle, or maybe heís always been gentle but itís not something youíd guess, even knowing so.  I mean, he has an attorney, and heís a big man, strong.  

Meanwhile, Iím grateful just to spend an hour or two him, like petting a wild animal though I donít know if he was ever wild, or for that matter if heís tame.  But heís gentle, like a deer, so wild or not he doesnít scare me and itís great you know just to get close.  I pretend that I smoke so he doesnít do it alone, and I turn my face away so he wonít see me gagging.  But he can keep your secret, even the ones you donít tell him.  

His wife calls and he snuffs his out before he lifts the phone.  I look up as if ears are eyes, directional; I look away so it doesnít seem like Iím listening.  There is comfort in this when of course I can hear him and of course he has to know this; there are appearances to be kept up, even if itís disappearing.  Heís got something I need but heís not writing a check and I donít ask.  Heís got something I want, and if the wife hadnít called I like to think he might have given it to me.  

After the call, he smoothes his lapel and sniffs his fingers.  Itís a casual gesture but I take it as a cue; I stand to leave.  He raises his eyebrows just a little bit a pinch, sees that Iím ready now to go.  He puts he big palms on the desk and lifts himself.  He says, ďThanks for coming by,Ē but somehow I hear, ďSee you later.Ē So he says, ďThanks for coming by,Ē and I tell him, ďYeah, maybe.Ē  

 

 

Propositions (Abr.)

I.

He was about a hundred years old and of course he caught my eye, dapper in his wheelchair and sitting at the top of the stands.  There was something else about him too, people would stop, shake his hand.  The guy in front of me says They used to call him Double Duty.  I canít remember why.  

So of course he caught my eye, and his eye catches mine and he calls me over.  I guess he doesnít see so well; he pulls me in tight.  He was about a hundred years old and he squeezes my thigh and whispers Baby what are you doing later?

II.

They clinched that night so everyone was wasted.  I mean, it was a celebration.  He weaves into the elevator with me and says Can I come to your room?  I laugh and say no but itís so innocent I smile.  The door opens to my floor and he adds this:  Please.

I tell my friend later who is admittedly excited about a hero seeming so desperate and a regular woman shooting him down.  

III.

I was in town for the series and homeless men gather in the square or pan handle on my route to the ballpark.  I gave him a couple of bucks and he walks up beside me and says to me Baby letís do something together.  

I kept getting hit on by homeless guys.  

IV.

Another elevator, I was younger then.  He was too and I didnít know his name.  Itís his first day up in truth and Iím not sure if heís feeling good or if itís some kind of dare but he follows me into the elevator and says Want some company?  Rookie; I shot him down quick and he asked me too quickly, doomed now to ride ten floors with me looking pretty smug.  What I really wanted to know was does that ever work?  Iím not sure if I asked him; I think I might have and smug as I may have seemed in truth I was feeling somehow diminished and what I wanted most of all was the hell off of that ride.

For years after that I could look him in the eye and heíd look down.  For years after that Iíd look him in the eye just to see that happen.  

 

 

Birthday #41


Personally, I liked the hotel.  It was old, I could feel it.  Victorian is the nice word for old, it was that too.  And it was strange, Iíll give you that, and a strange choice for a business trip sure the pillow was lumpy and all that but shit you have one.  Downtown, lots of folks here donít.  Does warm weather lure Homeless men like Nothern birds, or does it merely expose them?  Bare branches this kind of climate.  In any case, they lock the lobby door at night.  

It started out bad.  

Leaving before sunrise and the night clerk is crazy.  Sheís looking to pick a fight over things like valet checks or opening that door.  She tells me There are predators outside waiting for a victim.  So when this man comes up to the woman outside, a woman leaving, I open the door again to check on her.  

Sheís calm about it, the woman leaving, she even touches the crazy man whoís standing too close really but Crazy heís forgiven, sheís gentle and I respect her for that.  Heís saying Iím a gentleman Iím a gentleman Iím a gentleman.  I canít tell you it wasnít my intention to become involved.  Someone fainted on the plane on the flight out, I couldnít help then so thereís this leftover mission.  I check on the woman whoís leaving, the kind one.  And calm.  Sheís more calm than me when he pushes the door and stands in my space:  Iím a gentleman Iím a gentleman Iím a gentleman.  

Sometimes itís hard to know the difference between mercy and ignorance.  How do I know this crazy man is safe?  Heís not peaceful.  Thatís what I should have given him.  

But the crazy clerk comes over and sheís huge and in his face and his mantra gets faster and louder but doesnít otherwise change and Iím wondering about the strength of crazy men and what it takes to pull one down.  I back off and call the cops because clearly things are escalating but itís over before Iím taken off hold so I hang up Iím thinking Shit I just want out of this lobby and this town.  

It gets better after that.  Thereís a cake, and flowers, and a card from folks who are more or less strangers but you know the rules are different for strangers, so the effort alone is a gift.  

And Iím wondering now which part of the day Iíll best remember; which sense of it will endure because there just isnít room in me for both versions.  
 

 

The Fountain

I meant to make something so beautiful that I would compel you and youíd feel me and youíd call me I would answer. But look, look what Iím stuck with, what Iím left with, what you left behind as youíve forgotten me or maybe just let it lapse but know that I have not let go of you even when I might have wanted this. I am too old now to miss you I am too old now and doomed to long to miss seeks some reunion still and Iím too wise to think of that. So longing is how miss evolved I long for when you might be missed for hope of some reunion there are scars from wounds we canít remember getting there are places where the scars should be but arenít now we didnít get away with much did we? Weíd dream back then and swear that one anotherís death would be felt not torturous but we were attached then you and I and swore weíd know. And then this we let each other die away and even my dearest lover canít feel it when I stub my toe oh yes we were dreamers but then isnít that being in love?  We stopped dreaming we stopped calling because even nightmares are compelling itís when it turned to nothing I was already reflecting as in remembering as if there were no future I was right. It is night and I am here remembering and trying to make something beautiful so you might be compelled to call me you will feel me I would answer. Isnít that what hope is after all but that isnít what I call this because even then in the most romantic part I canít separate your want from need and isnít that what use is after all?  But I am too old to remember the grief and too old to remember why you stopped loving me or rather calling me or I you. So now I try to make something so beautiful that I would compel you to remember that you loved or rather called me then it meant something it meant something it means that I was useful once and thatís something I meant, or not. But after all this time I am still young enough to think that I could make something so damn beautiful that at least you would remember why you used to think that I could make something so damn beautiful that at least you would consider it. And isnít that what youth is after all?
 
           

 

Loveless

I survived the gang rape that killed my sister, in our room there was more than one of them but I canít tell you how many for that hairy ass on my face nearly smothering me very nearly and he got scared I guess and shit me and I got septic shock but my sister they just plain fucked the life out of. It was such a long time ago now but I dream it like yesterday and I swore off men and I havenít touched one since, nor one me.

But it was group of women who held me down and shoved something up inside of me that broke me in a way I canít be fixed. There were seven of them they called me uppity and thought I meant to steal their men. If only they knew, if only I had killed each of them, slowly, after some humiliation. I swore off women after that and I have lived in isolation, or mostly isolation since complete is fairly impossible but Iíve never met a soul I trust since that night eight years ago. Or rather, afternoon.

They said her skull was too narrow for her brain and thatís why these things happen. My dog turned on me. She nearly tore my face right off but that didnít make it any easier to scrape and claw and twist her neck. I cried the whole time and weeks after too. They said her skull was too narrow but maybe Iím just hateful. So I turned to god.

And I prayed and hoped and I let that man love me and his son save me and Mary heal me. I poured myself into my savior in the hopes of coming clean. In the hopes of being saved, or even just spared. Spared any more of this.

But then god turned on me. The cancer could have stripped my female parts Iíve no use for them anyway, and theyíre broken. Could have plundered my face whoíd notice with all these scars?  Could have attacked my heart which I know canít be repaired and which god may kiss to heal and I would bleed my sins like Jesus oh but no the cancer went and ate my bones. Ate my bones, is eating them, and it hurts more than the tongues I speak in can describe and it hurts more than rope around my ankles or my wrists and more than a bottle stuffed up my crack then broken. It hurts more than the sound of my dogís cracking neck and worse than it felt to realize Iím lucky to suffer and worse than it felt to learn I get what I deserve. It feels worse because itís not a notion itís a flavor like choking on sulfur and begging for mercy but knowing that you came to god too late and ugly and broken and that even he and his mother couldnít love you any less.
 

 

Minneapolis #110

A friend phoned today for the specific purpose of expressing and thus sharing elation. She was driving through the desert some 250 miles outside of Los Angeles, her childhood written in landscape. I knew what she meant by this or maybe I just knew what this meant to me.

The tears I cried were for various reasons.

Driving down the road tonight I saw a wooden cross on the shoulder of 50th Street. It read:  Georgie Dog. I knew what was felt or maybe I just knew how this felt to me. The tears I cried were for various reasons.  

Itís cold now, the wind brought it in after crashing against the walls like so many sets of giant waves. Like waves it brings an undertow.  Tomorrow I will buy flowers and will set them at a cross on 50th Street, trying to keep myself and whomever else afloat.
 

 

Minneapolis #109

Itís nearly four in the morning and too warm for December. The lake is wet some blocks away I convince myself I feel it. Mammals this lake does not house come up and gulp of air, grateful for it. The creek is wet some yards away I convince myself I taste it. Fish this waterway does not host leap celebrating its yielding surface.

Itís nearly four in the morning and Sheets call my name. They say Come recline in fibers here and know the continent from which we hail. Come roll in that which we surround and feel the geese who once donned very these feathers. Share with these long dead birds that sense of December water still flowing like the blood they spilled for your pleasure.

I tell Sheets and the geese:  I donít know if Iím ready.

Ice will arrive soon enough and then water again. You think of time too presently, what you know or do not will return. What you worship now youíd curse in June. Come to sleep, silly girl, itís four in the morning.

I surrender to the sheets and turn myself to wind, restless like that. I ask Sheets Who made you?  Who picked you?  How many fingers touched you before my own?  You have a history that I will never know. You have lineage and a past.

(Nothing is melting because nothing has yet frozen. Nothing has happened since nothing has been done. I can wait and wait for it to come to me...)  

And whoís past might you know, whoís past might you ever know?

I can wake up tomorrow and go after it.
 

 

December 7

It feels not like spring or fall but straight up like summer. I stand on the deck out back and yes I am wearing a sweater but itís not the attire so much as the action, standing out here, outside, with back door cracked so I hear the music from the living room. But itís winter and the air is tighter I hear music and not neighbors but the sounds of the expressway more than a mile away. Itís night time so there is no length of day and it could be ten or it could be midnight as it is and were the light up Iíd know more certainly the flowers are dead and branches plucked itís really fat squirrels that are the true give away not skinny like the spring and the bird feeders busy still and Iíd watch them if the light were up. But itís midnight is that my breath I see or smoke?  It feels straight up like summer not the air or green but the action and you wonder why I let it go and Iíll tell you that yes he is my enemy yes but I know him and his truth so I am doomed to pity him. For that reason alone I had to.
 

 

Near Disasters

I was in a fire.

My nursery school was held in an old wooden church building with swings and a slide in the yard. It was autumn, fallen leaves. The upper floor, probably just the second one, I was drawing a turkey by tracing my hand. I was specifically proud of this one. I'm not sure if I remember the smoke but I do the urging and I didn't want to leave. Second to the last one, being urged again and still down the wooden spiral stairs.

We're marched through the exit door, the building now a bonfire a triangle just like that all aflame. Swings in front, empty. Fallen leaves. A hand grabs the back of my coat, not my coat, a coat loaned from somewhere and too big, he grabs it like a scruff of neck his boots all big and rubber and his coat and he lifts me over the chain link fence. An uncle who happened to be driving by, he picked me up and took me home.

I was in a flood.

College job at a greasy spoon in a mountain tourist town, the dreaded early morning shift when no one comes or tips. The sun was shining. A man comes in, he's shouting:  "The Dam broke!  Run!"  We just stared. He moved on.

Next comes a police car. The police car turns things serious. Dreaded early morning shift there's hardly anyone around. Two customers, they pay and leave. Me and the cook standing out front when water comes trickling down the street.

It starts like that:  A trickle. Like someone up the road is washing a car. But quick the water gets broader and then sticks come washing down and for just a moment I panic wondering if there's time to move my car, my favorite thing at the time and parked there on the street. I move it.

I drive up the hill behind Main Street and from just above my workplace I watch it go down. The water turns to herds of Buffalo, big and brown and furious. It trashes everything, buries it all, I was glad I moved my car and wondering if I should be terrified. I mean, I wasn't watching a movie. Six or seven people died, I saw one bob by or just the sleeping bag they never knew what hit them nor me precisely what I saw.

I was in a hurricane.

We lived in Florida then I was still a little girl. My mom was drunk and didn't care but I hid in the closet. Or maybe I wasn't hiding because in truth I really liked it in there. I listened to the storm. I saw the after: Swimming pools filled with branches and baby coconuts which sink and frogs that died and clog the pool drains.

I was in an accident.

It was a tough left and I never saw it coming. I didn't think to be as concerned about myself as I was the car, or the date I had later that night and how I was going to get to it. I stood there shaking and wondering what it takes to get a rental and I didn't put it together the next day when I couldn't turn my neck.

I was in an accident.

The horse spooked and reared up and fell over onto me. I was lucid through the experience I still taste every moment I was thinking was considering how I thought such a thing would kill you. I grab the hoof and turn my head and don't even mind the hair the hoof pulls out since I am lucid and I know that it could have crushed my head.

I was in an accident.

I was on a ladder and the ladder broke. It was a rickety thing and the rung popped out and my leg got caught and my knee bent back and I nearly kicked myself in the face with my own tangled foot. But I just kept about things, and later when I fainted and my leg was all swollen up someone asked me what had happened and I swear I couldn't remember.

I was in a movie.

It was just a bit part, and even small as it was and wordless too there was something in my acting. I came off false and looked ridiculous. My friend said: There's too much of you in there.

I was in California. Mexico. Switzerland.

I was in love.
 

 

Mr. Shitty #2

Mr. Shitty wants to know if I make love or fuck. Heíd be funny if it werenít for his swollen red hands. Heíd be funny if he were novel but he isnít. Mr. Shitty just might have me thrown out. He could do this -  

Weíre in a booth and the tabletop is pushed too close to my side. I sit there speechless leaving him to wonder if only for a second whether heís thinking or talking out loud. I take his confusion in my mouth and suck it hard like candy. When it turns to something else I spit it out onto the floor. Heíd be funny if his puffy fingers burst like boiled hotdogs. Iíd squeeze out of this booth and leave him there to bleed.

I knew Mr. Shitty when he was a boy. He kept telling me I wanted something that I really didnít and even though I told him this he gave it to me anyway.   
 

 

Minneapolis #108

It was snowing when I woke up the classic kind heavy and slow like a globe so enchanting I was lost lost inside the clusters for a time I forgot about the charming neighbor who chatted me up for awhile because after all he wanted to store a car in my garage. And if you keep you eyes upon them itís like dancing though not spinning still itís dancing or maybe the way that dancing makes you feel if youíre happy to be doing it I guess it really doesnít look like dancing much at all. And if you keep your eyes upon them you forget about the strangers fully six of them who called because they wanted something from you you canít help yourself you help them and thereís just that in return. But does any of that matter when you didnít hear the forecast so the flakes not only classic ones theyíre also a surprise and sure it snowed a little last week too but that looked more like shaving cream and didnít cover grass blades up that poked on through like whiskers no this snow is whatís imagined when you say Itís snowing here. You forget about your errands or the things you need to do or worse the things you need to finish because almost isnít done. And you wonder what it tastes like if the snowflakes are some antidote from errands chores and neighbors close your eyes and open mouth. But still beneath the covers youíre just watching through the window and that adds in to the snow globe thing you want to taste and feel them hey maybe it can cure you though youíre not sure what youíre sick of so you dress it takes an hour and you donít know where that time went now the zenith is still white grey pale horizon has turned blue. And suddenly the flakes are gone the flakes are finished falling and it happened as you stood there yes indeed there was a moment and sure the flakes were smaller then but still you saw it ending then and still you it ending then and still you saw it gone. Youíve done this with the pendulum youíve seen it stop its swinging just in time to wind the clock again without missing a minute and you hear the tocks the flakes have stopped while you just stood there watching it can happen to the weather it can happen to the neighbors I wonder what it tasted like when it was in the air.  
 

 

Minneapolis #107

I have a squirrel feeder out back a wooden box with a window and a little flap of lid over the top and most squirrels just throw the top back and feast but this one is demure. This squirrel is downright delicate and it takes the corn out a kernel at a time and closes the lid each time as politely as lady sneaking olive pits into a spoon. Iím watching and it continues on like this never hurried or impatient or reckless or rude or even messy no this squirrel is tidy, look at it, perched there like itís modeling for a postage stamp and careful even graceful, graceful yes none of the other squirrels are this way. And Iím thinking to myself that if I were a squirrel I could not manage to linger in this opportunity no I couldnít be that comfortable and certainly not that dainty hell Iím not that dainty as a human nor as comfortable nor patient so as a squirrel please I could never be that, well, pretty sitting there like that so it occurs to me then that this squirrel makes, as a squirrel, a better squirrel than I would as a squirrel which leads me to thinking what kind of person that squirrel might be so poised and sure and pretty and who the hell does that squirrel think it is does it think itís better than the other squirrels arrogant little bastard thinks itís better than me itís better than me a squirrel, a squirrel!  All still and calm and graceful-like and shit I may not be so poised and pretty no but whose yard is it youíre sitting in bitch itís my yard, this is my house thatís my corn I put in that feeder with my money and my thumbs you ungrateful little bastard. And being bigger than a squirrel I chase that bastard away.
 

 

Cold Front

Itís cold and crisp and clear and dry. He wants something he doesnít have. She has something she doesnít want. He is trying to decide what sweater to wear. He doesnít want to do the work. She dreamt last night of taping empty boxes shut; she tells him this. He pictures her dream and is intrigued by the boxes, light as a feather, containing a treasure. In his mindís eye, he looks for a blade with which to open them. She is standing in front of a closet, the door is open.

She needs to choose.  
 

 

Cleveland #6

After all these years of wishing to be invisible youíd think Iíd feel okay when it finally came to pass. But no, I view my seeming invisibility with the same sort of distress that I had previously viewed attention:  The impetus is negative and I am somehow inadequate. So while the ability to move through does have certain perks attached, I feel the lack of notice like a sort of put-down. Used to be that Iíd meet a glance and reflexively swipe across my nose it must be running cast my own eyes down. Now I look up and into and search and itís like I havenít any face at all.

I thought thereíd be some comfort in that.

Iím not sure when I turned from a Miss to a Maíam. I dine at a favorite restaurant where they used to call me ďPrincessaĒ and now cannot remember me from the day before. I think Iíd gone three full days without really talking to anyone at all. This is where I am.

Where he is, I remember him. He tends bar at the Marriott. The context is consistent, and he has become some frame of reference here, a face I see in

Cleveland. This is where I am:  A hotel bar in Cleveland. And given what I told you about where I have been, can you imagine how it feels to be remembered?  

Simply recognized. It had been fourteen months. And it doesnít feel like a parlor trick and it feels like only yesterday and he asks me today about the project from those months ago and yes, itís still in progress.

And I wonder if he saw me somewhere else would he place me?  No. He is the bartender I recognize and I am the lady in the bar. And they used to call me Princess and you used to call me Miss and subtle bold invisible it doesnít matter how you see it because thereís one single way that I do.
 

 

Mr. Shitty

I have a name for him. He the tassel shoed man beside me on the plane, or behind me in a line. He is any of them, all of them. I call him Mr. Shitty. Mr. Shitty is indignant. He is indignant because you should know who he is and what he is responsible for. He can make or break you, beware. He expects you not to cheer at sporting events, nor express political views unless they are the same as his.

Mr. Shitty is inconvenienced. He is inconvenienced because you are in his way. You are in front of him, or behind him making noise. You have taken the seat that he in his position is entitled to. Mr. Shitty voices his disapproval by waving a hand and making you disappear. If he wants something from you he snap his fingers. It is in your best interest to listen up.

This Mr. Shitty pushes his way in front of me. I ask him if they are boarding and he says:  Donít worry. I doubt theyíll leave without you. I follow him onto the airplane.
    
The stewardess flirts with Mr. Shitty. She laughs when sheís supposed to and touches his arm. All their arms. I want to push a dollar into her cleveage. She is working and I respect this and there should be some reward other than mere relief but then thatís something a collection of dollars canít buy.
    
That Mr. Shitty is talking about women. His voice is loud and it booms from the table behind mine at the outdoor cafť where I am dining alone. He tells his companion how he nearly left his wife and children over the sex. His voice is loud and in this sense he is telling everyone:  I donít understand a guy being that Ďin loveí. Not even wanting to look at these things? and he gestures toward a pair of women walking down the street. Every once in while, there is relief from his booming monolog when he pauses, telling his companion Get a load of that thing. He once had a female friend, he says. Theyíd go to breakfast, or the theater. She was truly interesting. But in the end, getting laid is a lot more interesting.
    
Mr. Shitty used to hate me. He hated me until he realized that others didnít so there might be something to gain from me though he canít imagine what it could be. He pats my shoulder, or worse, the top of my head. I should pant and take his newspaper in my mouth and chew it up into little pieces.
    
Mr. Shitty was a boy once and I knew him then. He said You could be pretty if youíd just put a little make-up on but that didnít really seem to matter to him when he was drunk. Heíd throw his arm across my shoulder, or worse.  
 

 

Minneapolis #104

I saw what I believe to be the last moth of the season. It attached itself to my bedroom window, and I wonder if it knows. There are flowers on the vine still but berries on the trees and the pattern of their consumption by birds tells me the fruit near the end of a branch is sweetest. One could be fooled:  The coolness in the air feels as if breeze has touched springís lingering snow piles. But there is no snow yet, and there are flowers on the vine. And the events of the past week weigh on me it is autumn, the weight of the week assures me yes, it is fall, and I will know spring not by the nature of familiar coolness in the air nor the absence of this weight so much as a shift in it, from burden to memory.

 


Minneapolis #103

Iím worried he resents me for loving him too much. He doesnít say this of course, I see it in his eyes. Not always, but sometimes. He might feel trapped by how I love him, how it keeps him my prisoner especially when I refuse to let him leave. The look in his eyes, I kiss him over and over but I fear he merely submits. And now, curled up beside me, I want him to know. I want him to know how much I love him, and I want him not to resent me for it.  

I wonder what it feels like, being loved like that.
 

 

Minneapolis #99

On the bus ride there I noticed this little boy looked just like a friend who had died. I knew what Chris was going to say before he said it, his friend really and the boy looked just like him. JUST like him. Moved that way too. The boy was thrilled, the bus to the Fair, and we could couldnít help but stare at him, he impetus for small memories, for nearness. For hope, Chris says It is him, and he has another chance.

Chances: A lamb hours old, and the right to touch it. A calf minutes old, tiny hooves on the earth for the first time, womb to bedding, wobbly legs, a miracle, the act, our timing.  

Rain.

West: A fiery sunset.

South: A rainbow. I wish there were another word for it. I had to point it out to him.

It was a perfect day
(they all are).  

It was a lovely day
(I woke up).  

Wait: I saw things and did things today that made me feel
(happy).
 

 

Minneapolis #95

It is White Sky Season. Late summer and all this water in the air. Not gray like pending rain, not blue like I think it should be. The sky is white. Not white like clouds, clouds consume the shadows; white skies make them. The sky is white, there are shadows, itís a season, itís a pattern. It will leave and it will come again. The sunrise is yellow, not orange or gold. White sky season sees the yellow sunrise sky, the light feeling like something lunar, like the light of an eclipse. Yellow sunset tricks you into thinking weather is coming in. Yellow sky sunset makes you think of a tornado, the light just before or after it, even if youíve never seen one. White Sky Season skies are not the cloudy skies of Autumn. These late summer skies take the color away, depleting it, setting up the pending Autumn to seem that much more spectacular. There is water in the air and it turns the sky to white. It is flat like paper and there are no clouds nor tool great enough to draw upon it. There is not much to draw from it, rain is not born here this is camouflage, like a fawn or a bug. It is not what you think it is it is not what it appears to be except white, thereís truth in that.  

I know a man like the white sky, deceitful. I know a woman like the white sky, recurring.  I know a child like the white sky, hiding.  I know the white sky like a neighbor, lingering.  I know the white sky like a mirror, some let down.  I know the season as a season, to be relied upon and there is some value in that even where love is absent.  
 

 

Minneapolis #94

Donít give me that. Donít give me that youíre the one that wanted to come back here. Youíre the who wanted...

What are you giving me that for? I donít want it. Why do you have to bring that here, now. Get rid of it. I donít want to look at it. Donít look at me like that. This was your idea. What do you want me to do about it now? I hate when you look at me that way.  

Come here. Come here. Please. Please just come here. Come here. Come here, please you know I love you. Come here. Come here.

Ah, then fuck you then.  
 

 

Plane Trip #69

The light on the asphalt when I was coming in and there was no moon and there were no stars and it was hard to remember there was no snow, it wasnít a salty lot in frigid air, but summer. Hard to remember.  

There were crystals on the window, ice. Dim light struck them and they sparkled. Ice looked like spider webs, starlight like sun.  

We all got lucky I guess. I needed a cab. I had to go back to the hotel for my bags. I had to make it to the airport. No cabs but the one he jumped in. I watched, and waved despite myself and the situation. Cab pulls over anyway, asks where Iím going and him if heíll share. He said yes.  

I paid his trip in full; it was along the way. Taxi waits while I run inside, takes me on to the airport. And me so grateful, small graces avenge small gloom safe and timely and fortunate and knowing it and now, this.
 

 

July 2

I ride my bike and barely bother to pedal it. I just coast. Itís a holiday weekend and the city is nearly abandoned. As others depart, I just
remain and the place changes, different things pronounced.  

Like the conversational tones of two kayakers tooling down the creek, barely bothering to paddle. I heard them from so far away. We exchange greetings as they pass me in something like a whisper.  

And that shabby little house, I could say Iíve never seen it before but in fact I just never noticed. Two blocks down and one over a woman is walking a husky. The woman is very old, and a husky seems like such a young personís dog. I feel too conspicuous to follow her.

Occasionally a bottle rocket crackles, and a little boy squeals, or a man. You should have seen him jumping up and down, that kind of joy from a boy of say seven as his teenage brother lights fireworks in the yard. His mother sends to me a smile that feels like an apology. Maybe she is sorry for the recklessness of her sons. Maybe she is sorry for our age and our gender, caution rather than glee even if we donít act on it.  

There is a neighborhood dog that is my favorite, oversized head and seemingly sawed off at the knees. This dog is always running, its legs so short stiff but itís never moving faster than the dull man or dull woman who walks it, walking slowly, made interesting to me only by this unexpected choice. I donít know where the dog lives, but I always feel like Iím looking for it.  

Today would have been my fatherís birthday. Or maybe it still is.   
 

 

Outside of Orlando

I thought the little town was so quaint. Until:

1. The woman in the antique store ripped me off.

2. I learned that ďMoon CricketĒ was a racist term after leaving the Moon Cricket Cafť.

3. The local history museum filled its storefront window with a collection of minstrel-inspired packaging labels.  

I thought the little town was so quaint.  Until:  1, 2, 3.


How to Tell Itís Over #2

1. You used to look at their photograph and swoon.

2. You look at their photograph and cringe and wonder what it was you ever saw there.

3. Their photograph triggers something more like nothing.

4. It takes a moment Ė the slightest wisp of a single second Ė to remember who they are at all.

5. Things become sentimental and void of any real emotion.

6. Thereís a weird faraway pride, like hearing someone from your old high school just won the Nobel Prize.

7. The fantasizing stops too.

8. Or, the fantasizing changes, from something sexual/romantic to something almost vengeful.

9. You have visions of acknowledgment that you were right and they were wrong.

10. You have visions of acknowledgment that they lost the best thing that ever happened to them.

11. They say itís over, and you believe them.

12. You say itís over, and donít care whether they believe you or not.

13. What was it we were discussing here?

14. Oh, then yes, definitely.

15. Itís done.
 

 

Minneapolis #83

I donít know if that thing is going to budge at this point. You let it go too long. You shouldnít have. Now look at it. What a mess. Maybe if you help me, maybe if we both try. We can push Ė be careful.  Itís slippery too, donít want to get hurt. Wouldnít want you to hurt yourself. Man, that thing is rigid. Itís going to be tough.  

I think it might have been sitting too long. I donít know if you can fix it. Rust makes things fragile, so are we. It is sinking into the mud and now itís stuck. I donít know that you can pull it out again. I hope that mud is deep enough that you donít have to look at it sitting there. I hate rust, the way it feels and sounds. I just want that thing out of here.  

Maybe if we both try, maybe if we both push. But be careful, itís heavy. Brace yourself or it will break your back.  

Man, it might just be finished. It really might be. I mean, I am not convinced you can do anything with it at this point. Maybe if we go slower. Maybe if we go faster. I just donít know what to tell you. Itís really bogged down, Iím serious here.  

Maybe you can make something out of it. Maybe you can turn it into something. Thereíre parts. Maybe you can use them.

Guess you can just leave it. I mean, doesnít look like itís going anywhere. Just let it sit. Maybe something will give, or dry up. Maybe someone will give you a hand. I donít think you can do this by yourself and Iím in no position to help you.  

I mean, you can try. Iím just not convinced. Look at it. Itís a mess. How long did you leave it go?  

Maybe if we both push.

Maybe if we both try.  

Do you think we can fix it?  

I donít know if we can fix it.  


 

Minneapolis #78


Is it that youíve taken something away from me? Or that you allowed me to have it for a little while?

---

This house holds a secret, I can tell. I ask it nicely. I stroke it with a broom. It utters only this: I am not haunted, but you are.  

The broom says: How lucky you are! Your imaginary friend has come to life. How lucky you are with a chance to know someone youíve always dreamed of.

And the floor pipes in: I feel your soul against my wood. I let you be naked before me. This is a gift I offer you. Itís your lucky day.   

I tell them: You make me feel indebted for what Iíve given you; you make me feel indebted for what I let you do to me.

The cigarettes on the table cry: We cannot stop ourselves from tempting you
for some reason.

I tell the cigarettes: The very thought of you makes me sick sometimes, but the truth of our interaction makes me light.  If only I could forget this and stop coming back to you. You are terrible for me. Our every engagement kills me afterward. Our every encounter steals seven minutes from the final hours of my life.  

The cigarettes debate: You can see us surrender too. You suck on us like that. You suck and we feel your soul move through us no matter how passive we remain. We pollute you as a way of getting even. We need to harm you to protect ourselves. We feel your soul and your lips and the space between your fingers and we never asked for any of this. There are others we want much more than we want you. Frankly, something for us is missing. You make a lousy wife. Youíre too old to bear a child.  

I tell the cigarettes: It is your attachment to traditionalism that precludes me. You take too much for granted, focusing on what is absent instead of the beauty
which is there; you focus on what is missing when the blinders of your perfectionism prevent you from seeing what you need is right there next to you. You are filthy but still I love everything that is wrong with you.

And to me, say the cigarettes: Focus on whatís missing? This is just another way that we are like-minded. It is you who wants more than you have. It is you who is unsatisfied. It is you who expects this to be healthy somehow when it canít be, or at least isnít.   

Something is missing?
Chimes the broom on my behalf. Just the fact that itís usually there doesnít mean itís a good thing. Perhaps you are mourning pretense. Perhaps you are mourning dishonesty, or if not the lies themselves, the part of you or her that doesnít really want to know the entire truth.  
We can embrace that which exists, we can modify it sometimes.  We can reject that which exists, we can even deny it sometimes. And we can hold onto our fantasies forever, our plans, our details that preclude possibility in just the way that you are precluding her.

Such an outburst from a broom humbles a cigarette, but still their magic exists and I am drawn. I am searching for a match when Cigarettes tell me: You have no choice. Destiny has accounted for your free will already.  

The house says: I am not haunted, but you are.  

---

I am on my knees, where my shins crave wood but merciful rugs sit still and keep quiet. I am on my knees and the heels of my hands trying not to think of just yesterday here or Kansas now at seventy miles an hourI clear my throat so that thereís no mistake in what House or Broom or Tobacco might be hearing. I tell House and Broom and Cigarette and Floor: I can change you or leave you empty. I can burn you down or walk away. I can fuck or die inside of you. I can replace you, I can flood you. I can end this, now. I know youíve heard this all before, but this time I am serious. Ask yourself what you expect me to put up with. Ask yourself if you are better for my having been there. Ask for my forgiveness when you find I am still here, waiting for you , loving you despite your follies. Do not make a single sound. I will interpret your silence to mean exactly what I need it to, and you should be thankful for this.


Tell me: Is that youíve taken something away from me? Or that you allowed me to have it for a little while?  

And: When might I have it back again?


 

Minneapolis #77

The sky is blue, summer blue, without mist. The birds are singing, songbirds, singing like it is summer and all around is the sound of running water. This is the sound of the melting ice and snow. I listen to birdsongs and I listen to surrender but I do not; I tell this day, out loud: You are a goddamn liar.  

You masquerade as Spring but I know better; it is February in
Minnesota. You are seeking to mislead me. You do not offer reprise but rather pure deception. You withhold important details that have impact on me. You will only make it worse. Soon all of this will freeze again. I can already hear you laughing at me, holding your sides as I slip and fall on the ice.  

The day just ignores me, but I cannot ignore it. Yes, Iíve been seduced. The snow reminds me of some eyes, the whites of them so flawless and more dazzling than any color. The sky reminds me of some eyes, the water of wet breath and kisses Iíve only yet imagined. The music of living things reminds that the day itself wonít speak to me, and I wonder if this because Iíve offended it, or because Iíve called its bluff.  

And I think if a day could be so dishonest Ė even if well intended Ė and if I could be so foolish Ė even if the myth is joyful; if a Day can be so dishonest and I can be so foolish, then how vulnerable am I really?  

How vulnerable am I really, and what of me and you?     

 


Big Pine Key

Iíve seen it happen: A child walking on a ledge or playing on the monkey bars is told to be careful, then falls, as if the suggestion of failure is enough. Cartoon characters dance on air or float like feathers until they are reminded they are unable to, and then come crashing down.  

I am in the midst of joyful experience. I am floating on air, I am playing at the shore. I am nine years old. And it occurs to me: Be careful. It occurs to me I could come crashing down. It happens just like that.  

So maybe this is how falling feels, maybe this is how danger does. Or maybe this is how it feels to climb down under oneís own power, to step safely back on the ground realizing that flying was a myth, and that the time of belief in its very possibility is all over.   

 

Death Valley #1

What can I tell you about this hotel, or the two meals at that restaurant? What can I tell you about so much conversation, with him or with myself?  

I can tell you that these rocks never spoke to me, even though I begged them to. I can tell you there was no silence at all for all this noise inside of me, the tortured souls of settlers looking for an easier way and the brays of ten thousand mules worn and beaten into the basalt.  

I can tell you that certain native people knew to stay away, and that avoidance is often a fine technique for making something sacred. And how I long to practice this on you but am unable to.  

 

Greater Las Vegas #1

There was no food to be found in Death Valley after nine, and I was really hungry. So I drive right on into Vegas. Everything was booked up, the Martin Luther King holiday apparently which, inside my being, sits pretty much diametrically opposed to the city I was in. I wind up in a fancy hotel, an expensive room but not a nice one, like a woman who wears heavy make-up waking up in it the next morning. There is just too much loss in the room, too many intimate things sold out or paid for, too many hopes dashed or hopes that were false and too fragile.  

Something happens, and tired as I am I canít sleep at all. I walk around, very late or very early, so obviously ill-fitting and maybe even obviously grateful for this. Iím feeling isolated and misplaced. Las Vegas infects me, not like a drug but like a toxin. Iím burning and I want something to open up the skin and suck the feeling out. But it doesnít happen.  

Leaving Vegas, off to the desert. Here the grief is balanced by natureís grace, but I am too wound up to find it. So nature, being graceful, finds me.

And the best moment comes as the day itself is ending. He finally stopped talking. And I walk almost far enough away from the car not the hear the music blaring inside it. And I walk far enough away from the car not to have its lights drown out the stars, which come to me like rescue; which shine without gold or intention, and make not so much sound as even a sigh or a heartbeat.  

 

Minneapolis #74

It feels good to be susceptible after all this time being immune. But that doesnít mean I donít fight it.  Something entered me like a virus, and all the drugs in the world wonít cure this. No, relief requires time.  

There is green grass in my backyard as the year turns over in Minnesota. Even the snow has surrendered. Snow, beloved ally, I should follow your lead. But surrender does not come natural to me.  

I try sabotage instead.  

I wear a sweater I do not need, this in the hope of being reminded.This in the hope of being alright.  But my mindís a blank when it isnít racing, and though so recently I believed Iíd up and left this planet, the universe has shrunken to my city and my room. The scent of Mars is overwhelmed by the weight of a telephone in my hand. The way the surface gave beneath my feet made me faithful then, but now I just wait for a call.  

Relief requires time.  

Itís warm here. Sweater finds purpose, I walk in the thick dark without a coat. I was hoping for an incident, but the warm, wet air is enough. I pander to my vanity: Happy is pretty, unbearable is just that, and I know it.  

I coax myself to lighten up.

***

Magic does not work across this great a distance. You thought it was a spell, but itís a charm.  Iím prepared to walk away but thatís the one thing Iíll take with me: Happy/pretty, feeling light enough to soar; or just to leap, higher than Iíd ever dreamt, free at last however briefly from all of this gravity.  


 

Setting Irrelevant

A friend of mine was sad. Well, not a friend really. This person. This person I know, he was sad. Something  trying had happened - trying, maybe tragic, and yes, there was irony. There always is.

This friend of mine was sad. Wait: Not a friend exactly . This person. This person I know was sad.

This person I know, he had to make a tough decision. And I thought: Whenever we are forced to make a tough decision, it is lesson for us to know to judge others less.

And this person I know, he heard that lesson. He didn't judge me for being completely unable to help him.


 

Baltimore #3

I am in the process of becoming familiar - familiar with, and familiar to.

The former is acceptable in the way that learning always is. It is the latter that is unsettling me. I am fairly addicted to my own anonymity. I fantasize about invisibility - not for what I'd do, but for what I wouldn't have to. Socializing does not come naturally to me, and like dancing, I like it best when I fail to consider that I'm doing it at all.

I discuss God with a stranger in a bar in Baltimore one night. It is the sort of experience that feels amplified - even tiny sounds are starling when borne of seeming silence. I don't know if this moment is charmed, or cursed, or just some sort of slip up.

I forget myself.

Conversation with a different stranger in a bar the subsequent night, I can't tell if the man is just friendly, or if in fact I'm being hit on. I'm ashamed of my suspicion. I'm ashamed of my naivetť. One of these two are correct.

I forget what we talked about.

I consider that joy can in fact become familiar; I consider how comfort surely has. I consider that reality often exceeds my dreams, and unlike dancing, life is best when I am conscious of living it. At least one might hope for some interesting story.

At best one might hope to begin to make a friend.


 

Baltimore #2

My luggage was lost on the way to Baltimore, and by the next morning still hadn't arrived. I get up early, put on the same clothes as yesterday, and see what I can do about things.

I'd never been to Baltimore. I've always wanted to go to Baltimore. And now I am here. I am here, I'll see a ballgame, and better yet a best friend is coming soon to meet me. She'll be in this afternoon. So I'm up early, seeing what can be done.

The drug store opens at eight, so I head there first. I've never walked these streets. I have to keep from skipping. I pick up: Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and barrettes. My head and armpits seem to be taken care of.

Next I'm off to a downtown shopping mall, seeking underwear, socks and a shirt of some kind. The mall is near the harbor. I've never seen the harbor before.

It starts to rain. I'm walking toward the harbor which I've never seen before, and the mist takes on some form. A shower starts lightly, and I'm feeling utterly romantic, that same sort of romance that is taking a bubble bath alone by candlelight.  I'm smiling. I'm walking in Baltimore rain, my first time. My best friend is coming here and tonight we're going to a baseball game. I'm giddy.

And it starts to pour. The rain is coming down in sheets, I'm smiling and taking it in. I am that steeped in color, the moment and the romance, the anticipation and the glee and wait!  I have no luggage. I'm out here right now because my luggage is lost. I'm full of myself and now soaking wet and wearing the only clothes in my possession. And it's pretty warm outside, or at least it seemed so at first, but now I am soaking wet in the only clothes in my possession on some downtown street corner shivering in front of a downtown mall door, taking in the fact now that the place won't open for nearly an hour.

So I take my ridiculous happy self back to the hotel, where I brush my teeth, blow dry my pants, and laugh out loud at my sopping reflection.


 

Baltimore #1

I've been lucky when it comes to cab drivers. I can still recall a man in Chicago who had lead a life so charmed that I found an excuse to pat his shiny head, hoping his fortune might rub off on me. I remember a man in New Zealand who told me Petra was the most amazing place on this earth, thus reiterating the belief of the charmed man in Chicago.

In Baltimore I met a man who had been a photojournalist in Russia. He articulated poetically about the nature of Art, and I felt a thrill greater than I might have having heard an obscure and favorite song coming through the radio. I resisted the urge to consider, "What is this man doing driving a cab?" because to do so is demeaning to all these amazing men I've encountered; because to do so is demeaning to this man before me now.

But this cab driver does not dismiss this thought, voicing a notion that paints himself as so much less than he is. Because I can see this man is an artist, and I tell him so; because how often is it in this life that another person actually takes you exactly where you want to go? 

 

Somewhere Outside of St. Louis

Today I found nine four-leaf clovers. Yes nine. Nine real ones. I found the first eight in what felt like an instant. I was enjoying the view and looked down at my feet. There was one, I saw it from standing height. Then another. And another and five more after that over an area of about fifteen yards.

I was thrilled by my discovery. Thrilled by my luck. No one seemed as impressed by this phenomenon as I was. But it didn't matter. I found an old magazine in the van and pressed the wilting clovers between its pages.

A friend walked up then. "I just found eight four leaf clovers!"  And as a friend would, he shared my joy. I asked this friend if he'd seen the view, the meadow near the pond where the clovers had been found. That's what we walked there for this time, together: The View.

Of course we had to look for clovers too. He had a few false alarms but I indeed found one more true. The ninth one. The last one.

I handed it to him.

 

Minneapolis #55

He was a good boy, but that's not why I miss him.

This isn't why I miss him, either: He was easy. Even his death he made easy on me, the illness sudden and definitive. Sure, I had to take him in.

Someday I'd love for one of them to do it themselves - in their sleep, when they are very very old.

Still, he fell apart in an afternoon and died on the vet's table, that sterile room filled with three weeping people and one dead little dog, cute even then, I wanted to take him home again.

But I left him there, not even asking after his ashes. What I hold from those sixteen years is no match for physical matter. He was good, and he was easy, but that's not why I miss him.

 

Minneapolis #54

Today in Minnesota it is fully two clicks below the freezing point of water; merely two clicks below the freezing point of water. Tiny pale deep birds with breasts of faded dawn - these small things too know the theory of weather relativity. Little creatures, old dungarees with blushing chest, they dine on last season's blood colored fruit just outside my window.

Small muted blue chased away by larger, lighter ones. Do jays migrate?  I can't recall having seen one recently, nor early. It is early, still February, scarcely past the midpoint. Thirty degrees on the bank's efficient signage, blinking time (early too), blinking temperature, so early.

I am driving with a friend. "All she wants is for me to happy."

"You must be a huge disappointment to her," I reply.


 

Minneapolis #51

What is the nature of a friend?  Tonight I smoke at a bar with a relative stranger, known only in a particular context, this for years. Here real interaction is replaced by sheer endurance; I find there is equivalent value in both the exchange of time and thought, and the fact of survival without either. In this way, a familiar face becomes a dear friend, or, a friend dear enough. I kiss her check in greeting, and again to say goodbye.

Meanwhile, my own life is papered with echoes. I call out in this voice, and it is this voice that comes back to me. I take this sound as proof that you have heard me, too.

 

Mexico City #3

Today is the vacation day of my working vacation. I should have taken it on the front end. I should have detected my own warning signal when last night I carefully laid out my clothes for the two days subsequent then quite carefully and thoroughly packed absolutely everything else away. My actions are a physical symptom of homesickness. There are other symptoms too: Clock watching, Disassociation, Mild Anticipatory Dread. Inadvertently yet helplessly, I squander my day in the city. Clockwatching: 36 hours to departure. Disassociation: Failure to take in present magnificence. Mild Anticipatory Dread: I am unmotivated despite great reward for small effort.

But still I walk around. I walk around and breathe and try to stay involved, though my greatest involvement is not with my setting, but with my own sense of longing. And I wonder, is longing time squandered?  With it, have I wasted precious time?  I try to engage in the scene, rather than turning it consciously into memory even though I am still there. I mean, still here.

Today I long, tomorrow I travel. Let me take it all with me, this day and this longing. Let me pack it up like a souvenir.

I brought you back appreciation.


 

Hawaii #1

He couldn't quite be mistaken for a beached whale, but surely for something that has crawled out from the sea, or washed upon it. The large, hairy, middle-aged man lie on his back in that spot where the waves have broken and spread upon the shore like down. He curls and wriggles with such innocent joy, a man a dog a child, shoulder and hip heights rising, crashing, arms waving in the air, or flapping in the sand, fleeting angels. His bliss is intoxicating, water, air and sand. Intoxicating as to heighten my own appreciation of it: Of water, of sand, of air.

This man has become my own memory. He has waited his whole life for this moment. I wait for such a moment as well, when I am so oblivious, when I am dog and whale and water.

 

Minneapolis #36

A homeless man asked me for a light. I handed him my matchbook, told him to keep it. The matches were from The Ivy in Beverly Hills. Perhaps you know the place. Perhaps you are very wealthy, or very famous, in which case you might have been there yourself.

A homeless man asked me for a light. I handed him my matchbook, told him to keep it.


 

Minneapolis #34

The house was yellow, the sun was low, the was tree perfectly placed.

Shadows of the leaves from the varying distances of the branches changed the shadow's focus and texture. In the peak along the roofline sharp outlines of twigs and leaves, crisp black. Then bouquets of deeper gray, then mere dappling - all of these at once, diverse as the air on this last day of summer, too the last day before fall.

But this is not enough to counteract a little spat in the grocery store. So I do not mention it and do not point it out.

We drive home in silence.


 

Colorado #3

My father is not buried in Estes Park, Colorado; he's buried somewhere in New York. But I had his name carved on the stone beside my mother's - the body is not relevant. And neither is a marker. I admit it is a memorial to me every bit as much as my father.

I have come to this grave to spread the ashes of a dog, a dog chosen by my mother and hers for a time, hers and his; then just his, then mine. The dog lived with me for six years, but was never really my own. She was and still is my parents' dog. Even after she had outlived them. Even after she is gone.

The ashes are likely a conglomerate of various sad Minnesota dogs having died a certain day, but I name them for one particular dog as I name a tombstone for my father. None of this is a physical matter.

Or maybe something is, a physical matter. My stomach churns and my tears, so rare, will not listen, will not stop. "It's hard to go back," my friend has warned, "You're different now. You've changed."

And it is hard, it's so hard, harder than I ever imagined. But it's not because I've changed - it's hard because I haven't.

The ash is a heavy package in my hand, weighty and gray and less like ash than like sand. I poke a hole in the bag that contains them. They spill out in a line and I write with it, having just the perfect amount of material inside to complete my drawing of a peace sign. On the grave I draw a peace sign, since peace is what I wish for.

Don't worry Friend, your luck change, will change for the better, it's certain.

Don't worry Friend, your luck will change. But I urge you not to wait for it.


 

Colorado #2

I saw a lot of wildlife on my way up the mountain, mostly elk, so picturesque wading through the rocky river. Surely cliche, and striking in this manner. It's great to see elk, I'm watching them, plenty as I'm driving along. It does occur to me that wildlife is just that, it's wild, it's life, and that it's curious that we, their observers, should apply a hierarchy to nature.

I'm thinking that, in reality, an elk isn't any cooler than a squirrel.

It's just that one is more common than another. This another hierarchy.

I share my train of thought with my girlfriend, a mountain local, who tells me that here, a squirrel is in fact more rare than an elk, and that she personally would be more struck by seeing one, a squirrel. "Elk aren't any cooler," she tells me, "Just bigger."  And she sums it up this way: "People like big."

People like big. I'm thinking about this, and thinking about us, two tiny women in my rental car.

People like big. I add this to my list of unsolvable problems.

 

Minneapolis #32

Do you know the sound of children in the schoolyard?  This is the sound on the bus that takes us to the Fair. It is the sound of sparrows in the trees before the rain. On the bus is this sound, one octave lower than the schoolyard, two octaves lower than the birds.

Behind me a man is generous with his daughter. He explains the nature of a bus, how it usually pulls up along the curbs, picking people up, dropping people off. "Your grandmother never owned a car," he tells her, "She used to ride the bus downtown everyday."  The bus we ride is a shuttle. The sound is the voice of the this generous man, the sound is the breath of his curious girl. The sound is the thrill of children in a schoolyard. Only, one octave lower.

I did not know that a candy bar could be fried, but I now know people will wait in line to try one. I did not know that the sun could shine so convincingly while the rain could fall down this hard. From my vantage point in the treetops, riding in an open tram car, I really don't mind at all. It is too romantic for me to be concerned with being soaked, or maybe it's romantic because of this. From so high up, I can't hear the rain landing, can barely hear the rain at all. It's just a hiss, then we land and hear the patter, punctuated by the slap of running feet on puddled walkways.

Trees work to hold back the rain until they themselves become saturated. I wonder if a tree most enjoys protecting me, or dumping lumpy water on my head. I give up the tree. Mostly lovers it seems are walking, shoulders back, through the storm. These pairs make eye contact with other ones, celebrating their union of youth at any age. The more timid or chilled now huddle in doorways, merchants located indoors are celebrating their good fortune. The rain ends and more people than before are carrying things, bags of taffy or jerky, or a space-age floor duster peeking florescently above a plastic bag.

Farm kids curl up in the hay of the cattle barn, which smells almost shockingly sweet. I envy how they must have experienced the rain, against the warmth of a docile beast in clean straw. The drumming water on the ancient roof is enemy fire. The comfort here makes them bulletproof.

The sun is down. The lights are on, dim and bright all at once, unlike a ball field and much more like Christmas. The innocence is down too, at least a degree, the romance now fading into something sultry, more like lust. I imagine more salty things are sold now, less sweet. I think of fried candy bars, how they must be both. A clever angle it seems, a flavor to balance night and day. I do not try one.

The bus ride back is a more subdued one. One seat contains two giant stuffed animals, cheap and opulent both. Riding behind the toys is a Winner. I'm a winner too I think, nearly dry now, and full, and just at that point of atmospheric re-entry that allows me to remember where I've parked the car.


 

Minneapolis #27

I was sitting on the stone steps in my backyard when a tiny slug popped out right next to me. I mean, I watched it, caught it in the act. A tiny thing, a half to three-quarters of an inch long, depending on the particular arc of its movement. At first I mistook the slug for a worm, and I was feeling pretty lucky to be witnessing the actual Emergence of a worm - I'd never seen that before. But exposure complete, the contracting/expanding form proved to be just a minute little slug, a snail without a shell. I felt pretty lucky still, having never really seen a slug's travels before, either.

He came out of a crack and then migrated some centimeters across the flagstone. He was rather isolated and seemingly out of context. I saw an ant walk right across him. Twice. Well, maybe it was two different ants, each walking across my friendly slug at two different instances, but I think you know what I mean. I expected the ants to attack the slug, but it didn't happen. The ants just kept going, ignoring it. I wasn't ignoring it. I was fascinated, and, additionally, worried - worried that the slug was too exposed, was naked out there on the rock. When I lost him momentarily underneath a curled up leaf, I got up to find a flat one. I got up and grabbed a flat leaf so that I could move the slug to safer ground, into the mulch along the fence bottom.

It only took a second. Flat leaf in hand, I sat back down in the exact same spot, and moved the curled-up leaf aside. Beneath it was the slug. Dead.

I don't have any real conclusions about the last moments in the life of a slug, except to say they were active moments, were cute in fact, and that death came on, as it always, always does, unexpectedly. At least, it seems, for its witness.

 

Minneapolis #17

Everyone is complaining about the weather. The sky is gray and breaks no promises, it rains. It is April. The air is soft.

I let the water touch my skin, reminding me how it feels to sweat, sweat some weeks away. The water on my face, my hands, I pretend to sweat. I pretend to have exerted, and with this to have been purified. I pretend.

Were I the sky I'd cry these sad tears, that I could be so lovely and still so unappreciated. Were I the sky I'd cry these happy tears, that one person, even one, should understand my intentions.


 

Minneapolis #16

The sun shone for two days and Thursday's new deep snow has receded from the walk. Dover cliffs reveal greening grass beneath them. Greening grass, a theme here in the North, wet matted grass yes,  but look: See it stretching?  See it stirring, inhaling, blinking its eyes?  Grass not green but greening, some steps toward the color in a color hard to here to describe. It is greening, just as freezing air is warming, warmer today at the precise temperature it was some months ago, or some hours. This same cold air is warmer, this same dead grass is greener, Spring is knocking, demanding the door be opened by whomever holds the key. Spring will not be turned away, it will linger til you answer.

Spring touches me today with premonition fingers, fingers as certain and as real as my own. Spring is imminent today, imminence as real as your shoulder. Grass is greening, snow receding, Spring's premonition fingers.

My premonition fingers, your imminent shoulder, did you feel me there this morning, something like the Spring? 

 

Cleveland #3 and Cleveland #2

 

The hotel bar stretched across the hotel lobby in such a way

that when crossing the hotel lobby one was forced to walk through the hotel bar. When I did - both, walked through the lobby thereby walking through the bar - two old men waved to me a way that made me feel like I should know them. They weren't waving per se, they were waving me over. I obliged, two old men with flag pins, red noses, urging me to join them. So I did.

During the next several hours, I learned they were each retired, had each worked in the grocery business, had been friends for fifty years. One had been married for forty-five, the other was widowed, but in love again. They lived nearby, they knew the bartender, another old man, old friend. Turns out each had a daughter I reminded them of. So I was not jealous when they flirted with the waitress.

One of the men was in a wheelchair, he was the one in love again, or rather, "Anew - it's something completely different this time."  The other man kept leaning across the table, brushing my hair out of my eyes.

And for maybe the very first time since his death, a few hours past when I did not miss my father.  

 

***

 

A sushi bar is a great place to dine alone, since the nature of the seating makes one inconspicuous, and is perfectly placed for either interaction or comfortable distance, since you're not really looking directly at anyone (except maybe the sushi chef, from whom you're separated by a large glass case), and yet may be physically next to someone, so if you'd like to interact, well, an excuse to do so is as simple as "Can you please pass the soy sauce?"

I ate sushi in Cleveland, not fearing the geography (some friends won't eat seafood in places not adjacent to the sea, but I am of Fed-Ex culture, and thus do not subscribe), and longing for that particular sort of interaction - a greeting for the chef, my back to the rest of the room, eavesdropping continually and, in this case, speaking fairly little. And behold the joy that is Cleveland, since I discovered (after having devoured my meal) that I forgot my wallet at the hotel, and told my waiter I was walking back to get it ("I'll just be ten or fifteen minutes") without any issue at all.

Leaving the restaurant, a homeless man handed me the local homeless newspaper, and sought a donation for same. "I'd love to take the paper," I told him, "But, quite literally, I have no money on me, not a cent. I forgot my wallet at my hotel, I haven't even paid for my meal, I was just walking back to get it. But tell you what?  Will you be here a while, on this block?  Hand me the paper and I'll hit you on my way back." 

"That's nice," he said, "But you can just have the paper."

About thirty feet past the homeless guy, a shiny business man and his happy happy date approached me. The business man said, "Hey, I'll give you a dollar for one cigarette."

"That's no problem," I replied. While digging one out for him, he added, "Well, I'll give you two dollars for two." 

"I'll give you two cigarettes," I said, "But you have to give my two bucks to that man standing there," and I pointed to the homeless guy.

"That's so sweet," the happy date-girl said, "So thoughtful."  And I lit her smoke while the businessman walked over to my homeless friend with my donation, upped a few bucks, I'm sure on her behalf.

When I returned to pay my sushi bill, the homeless man was no where to be seen. I hoped he was off getting something to eat, or drink, or whatever might make him happy.

I was happy myself. I might have been humming when I strolled into the hotel lobby barÖ 


 

Cleveland #1

When going to parties alone, or to a bar or a show alone for that matter, I had this tendency to check my watch a lot - to check my watch, look around (an excuse to peruse the room), frown, scowl. No one goes to a party alone. I feigned no difference. I was merely waiting for someone who hadn't arrived - whom in truth I hadn't yet met (and if fact was quite unlikely to), and thus I'd no idea when or if they'd arrive. Yes, I was faking it. I went to a party alone and spent an undue amount of time checking my watch, pretending I was waiting for someone. Because I was brave enough to go to a party alone, but not brave enough to confess to this.

My watch broke a few months ago and I just stopped wearing one. Me, whose only tan line is the one on my wrist where my watch always sits. I can check the time on public clocks, or catch a glimpse of others' wrists. Or, I can always ask.

The first time I went to party alone after giving up my watch, there was some panic, then adjustment. In truth I was addicted to the watch. I shouldn't even notice its absence. Heck, I'm at a party. But I look at that extra-white vacancy on my arm, I'm like a reformed alcoholic offered up a drink. I'm forlorn staring at the white spot. I don't stay at the party very long.

The second time I went to a party alone after giving up my watch, I pretended only upon entering to be looking for someone in particular. I was aloof for just a few minutes. Then I started talking to strangers. With my watch to protect me, this hadn't seemed an option. It was like I was married to the thing, it possessed me, I came with it, no flirting about with others. Without it, I felt empowered and divorced. I felt naked. I felt sexy.

Okay, I confess. My watch didn't really break a few months ago. I just saw the bulbous blue thing loitering there and I simply threw it away. Really. I left it in a hotel garbage pail in Los Angeles. I haven't missed it since.

In fact, I'm thinking about ditching all my mirrors. It's a more challenging task. So many mirrors are built right in.

 

Minneapolis #8

Autumn bears the perfect scent. It is one you know, the scent of red leaves, of yellow ones. The wind is a gypsy. It stirs the leaves, it tells me my fortune: Soon your fingers will be cold, soon your breath will tell you the shape of your own lungs. Meanwhile, there is this: The scent of red leaves, of yellow ones.

This Fall air is powerful. I take it in deeply, let it rest upon my tongue.

Tell that gypsy I am fearless.


 

Minneapolis #5

The ice is not off the lake yet, but every day I check it.  I wait for it, some magnificent omen, nature's lucky number.  Perhaps even today I will walk down there and see water.  It rains and rains, the ice gray and unhappy now.  I wish to limit the role of the rain; I want the ice to break rather than sink.  

I will dunk a cold toe in and know the truth.


 

Minneapolis #2

It snows again here, these flakes all Minnesota, so many different sizes now and light beyond belief.  In the air so cold and packed so tight, they can barely fall.  They sink slowly into night like a dense feather bed, I almost hear them sigh and stretch before they stop, aloft, asleep.  

I put on big boots and wake them up.  They are quickly alert and scatter on the walk, an inch of snow so airy even the bottom layer jumps.  The snow loves to be free, it averts me. Slick gloves pack slick powder into worthless balls which rebel, disintegrating before I even throw them.  These flakes are spirited, they gather in my hands and on my shoulders, they wish to be carried, carried before they fall again tonight, like from the sky but not so long this time..
Air so thick toward the ground it's like they parachute down, the descent so slow, the view incredible.

These flakes are all Minnesota, so many different sizes.  I relate best to the smallest ones, hellions they are.  I try to catch the smallest ones, pretend they are my children, tiny spirits sent from heaven, from heaven down to me.  They act up, they act out, avoiding mother's grasp.  I pretend to be more strict with them than I really am.  I hold the shovel to scare them, but I don't wish them to obey. I wish to watch them rejoice and rebel, that's why I hold the shovel, to taunt them and egg them on.  I always wished for wild children.  Tonight for a while, I have them.  

I pretend, before they land and fuse, thus rejoining their real mother.  But even then, they whisper to each other, they say, "We are lucky to have so young an aunt."  And the air's so dense I hear them, I don't tell them, "Go back to sleep," but I don't move, either.  I want to overhear.  This way, I know they love me.  And I know their love is true.

Tonight, in my own feather bed, I watch them through the window.  And instead of sheep I count them, my baby flakes, and I fall asleep blessing every single one of them.


 

Los Angeles #3

I spent election night 2000 at a hockey game in Los Angeles. We watched as the vote tallies were posted on the arena's giant animated scoreboard. My friend and I were rooting for both a particular candidate and a particular team, and with this fell into a superstitious pact. We assigned a candidate to each side, and so found ourselves exceptionally and emotionally invested in the outcome of the game.

Our candidate of choice was represented by the LA Kings, who came back against the Phoenix Coyotes in third period. But game went into overtime, and ultimately ended in a tie.

Just likeÖ

(I have rarely felt so wise, or so powerful.)

 

Minneapolis #1

I've been seeing a therapist about once a week. Each time, I park in a flat lot next to her building. It's a drop-your-keys-and-get-a-ticket kind of set-up, and given that's it's a weekly ritual for me more-or-less, I've developed a sort of relationship with the parking attendant there. I do not know his name and he does not know mine. It was around week three when he stopped asking how long I'd be, cause he already knew: I'd be about an hour. He always put my car in one of the best spaces - right up front, never boxed-in - and a few times, when I had to wait while he helped other people or moved some other cars around, on these days, he didn't even charge me. He'd just hand me the key and say thanks, not even a wink, though we both knew when this happened that we'd shared some little secret.

My therapist lost the lease on her office and moved to a new one about eight blocks away. I saw her there for the first time today. And leaving the new space, I'm thinking maybe it's time to quit therapy for a while. Digging in my purse for the key, taking the stairs to the ramp and climbing wordlessly into my car, it occurs to me that maybe it's just not helping anymore.

 


Paris #1

Picture this: A medieval painting of the Passion Play hanging low on the wall. In the first panel, far left, a naked Christ is tied to a stake. His pale body is slumped and riddled with one thousand bleeding wounds, each like a tiny, seeping mouth. A sinister figure holds a cat-o-nine-tails. He smiles. He's done the whipping.

In the center frame Christ is nailed to the cross. His hands and feet are bleeding, bleeding. A small rigid crowd stands beneath him, looking up.

Every figure here seems helpless.

In the final panel, all the way to the right, Christ the figure is dead.

Mary holds the body in her arms, the wounds are broad and gaping but do not bleed. The painting is medieval, hanging low on the wall. The wall is in the Cluny, Paris's museum of medieval art. There are many such paintings there. But this one is hanging especially low.

Picture now an American girl, a little girl, blonde, likely around nine.

She's not alone of course but it seems like it kind of, her mother twenty feet behind her. Our painting of the Passion Play is low on the wall, at perfect nine-year-old blonde girl viewing height. Maybe this is why her quick museum-bored gait ends, she stops dead at the painting. I watch her, I am mesmerized by how she is mesmerized. Cause she is, she's stopped dead.

She is glued to the painting.

The mother comes up behind the girl, Girl feels beside her for Mother's hand without looking away, her eyes are set, they will not move. Her hand a pink butterfly, feeling for then alighting on her mother's hand. The girl is nearly breathless. Right hand safe inside her mother's left, Girl raises her own left hand, points to Frame 3: "Isn't she scared to touch him?" - she's referring to the body, the body of Christ, how Mary cradles the body in her arms. "He's dead," is what the mother says, she's not sure what to say here. "I know," replies the girl, "Isn't she scared to touch him?"

"No," is all the mother finds.

Girl points to Frame 1: "Isn't he strong?  Can't he get away?"

"It's the Passion Play," Mom here replies, as if this explains a thing.

She's a patient mother pretty much, I admire her inherently for having her daughter here, here today, at the Cluny museum in Paris. This fact works for me on many levels. But I wonder if the mother, shocked in her own way but unlike her child, I'm wondering if she's questioning that distance from faith, if the mother's own mother is calling now in her ear, "Send her to catholic school!  She needs to be baptized!" - this my own speculation of course, my speculation of guilt. Or is it just the mother's surprise that takes her words away, surely the woman who brings her child here, here to this place, she'd have something wise to say. But there's not much talking going on.

There's a slight tug of hands, Mom turns to move on. But Girl, she's still there. There's one frame left to address. The girl touches the painting, left hand's now the butterfly, tracing Christ in the center panel, she gets to too, touch the painting I mean, the gesture is so innocent and shocking that the butterfly lands before net of Mother's hand pulls her back away.

"Don't touch!  You'll get in trouble!"

But it's not the scolding that knits across the girl's face, wrinkling her brows, bringing water to her eyes. The painting is exactly at her eye level. The pale crude figures, the violence drawn upon them, it is right in her face. Right in her face!  Her hand is restrained now or she'd touch it again I'm sure. "Isn't there anyone who can help him?"

The mother is upset too, but it is not the upset of her child. She just says, "No."  Now she tugs the little hand, they both turn away, and my own viewing here is over. I saw them both in the hallway maybe twenty minutes later, light and chatty like a pair of little birds.

I am chatty too, but with no one to talk to, I speak the details to myself like remembering a dream. I file the details, and report them to you here.

And I wish I knew this little girl, wish I could keep some contact with her, just so I can see if, with time, this particular incident had the greatest impact upon her mother, her, or me. Though I probably know the answer to that one already.

 

New York #1

I'm walking along Times Square. It's around 11:00am, really hot, kind of crowded, as is usual August in New York.

There's a construction site, big plywood fence. I'm merely strolling, smiling to myself this hot summer day. A gap in the wall, I look inside a big cement hole, so deep and so large. A worker is there, our eyes meet, just briefly, his mouth curves down, "What the hell are you smiling at?"  He says this in a mean way.

This does not change my expression, it's warm and I'm here. I barely see him at all. My view is grander. He's in his mid-forties I'd guess, mustachioed and bald, his face hardens some more and he throws me that four-fingered, under-the-chin gesture.

When he does this, I see his hand. I see his wedding ring. And a step or two passed him now, I'm thinking about his wife. I'm thinking about her, this is her whole life, "What the hell are you smiling at?"  Or, at least it was, since I imagine she doesn't smile much anymore.
 

 

Bobble Head Night at the Dome

Tonight was Bobble Head night at the Dome; the first of four such nights this season. A special promotion meant the first 5000 fans in attendance would receive a small, ceramic bobbley-headed doll. Tonight's commemorated 60s slugger Harmon Killabrew. Needless to say, I was very excited about this.

The gates at the ballpark usually open at 5:30. Anticipating an added crowd, I arrived around then. Walking to the stadium, it was easy to notice so many fans, grown men, primarily, walking away from the Dome with armloads of little cardboard boxes. Nearing the entrance, I saw a friend. "Run!" he yelled when he saw me, "They're almost gone!"

Still I walked, lined up, handed in my ticket. Throngs crowded at one end of the doorway. There was shouting. "They are no more," an usher was announcing, "No more, here or anywhere!"  People pushed and shoved. I actually saw one man grab another's shirt, pulling it, maneuvering around him. There was grumbling, swearing, small children cried. The special prize, a ceramic doll, became a loss to those who did not receive one.

I enjoy batting practice, it had been a while since I'd seen it. I was glad to be there early, the stadium so cool on this hot humid evening. The real Harmon Killebrew, Killebrew the man, he was there tonight. He walked across the field and those who actually stayed for the game stood and cheered.

Harmon waved.

I think about all those walking up the street with armloads of boxes. I look around the park, see people carrying totes filled with same. I listen to the whispers, complaints and laments, toys owed to each of us, cheaters and prices. Mostly, I think about the children, crying in the hallway, angry parents or absent dolls?

A few months ago, in London, I reached the airport and realized I'd neglected to mail several postcards. Penniless and cornered, I approached a stranger, an employee there, and sought their kindness: "I've no right to ask, but I do just the same, might you be willing to mail these for me?"

The woman complied, she took the cards. At that moment, I thought I'd met an angel.

None of the postcards ever arrived at their destination. And now, sitting here, I picture that woman's face, and I see her walking down these Minneapolis streets, boxes of Bobble Heads teaming in her arms.


 

Plane Trip #3

Budapest to Amsterdam, a short flight, an incredibly turbulent one. "Moderate" was the purser's description, but as we banged and rumbled
through a world of gray without horizon, ceiling or floor, it surely felt like more. There were the sounds that drove each of us to clutch the armrest, tightly, the quakes and dives that painted my fellows as businessmen flaunting bouncy, shiny hair. I'd have panicked, but for the laughter of the co-pilot exiting the bathroom. I'd have grabbed the hand of my neighbor, but for my want to seem so cool, the worldly traveler to whom such drama is merely inconvenient. Maybe I am that cool. Or maybe that's what cool is, the will and the practice of the absence of awe.

Having landed, I turned to the man beside me: "Nice to be on the ground, after such a bumpy flight."

Gentle and meek, his eyes were the smoke from water on a fire - wet, dark, heavy. His English was tentative, though not exactly broken, using it he said to me, "This is my first time on a plane."

Suddenly I was embarrassed, not for him, for me, I don't think I can tell you why. "Oh!" I said, and patted his shoulder, "Congratulations!" He
still clutched the console, I added then, too loudly, "Don't worry, it's not usually like this. This was a tough one! It's all downhill from here!"

Born in Hungary, raised with oppression, this was his first trip out of his country. "To learn more about computers," he's attending a seminar. Proud, he opens the guidebook. He shows me. "Here is the train station. Here, the convention center. Here is where I stay."

I wish him luck and a pleasant trip. "Amsterdam is lovely," I say. And I think about the feelings that kept me from taking this man's hand, earlier.
And I wonder: Would I have frightened him? Would I have given him comfort? He, an aviation virgin, this his first time, thus the gesture, the holding of hands, to him, usual, commonplace. And might I have there created a tradition, the taking of another's hand when truly it is or would be nice, to him, this always happens, this is how it is, a gentle, kind and honest gesture destine with him to be spread around world, since, to him, this man, this is how it happens: If the plane or flying scare you, just hold your neighbor's hand. And with him, and with this, a breaking down of barriers, acknowledgement of our own humanity, our fears and loves and deaths, this is the man who starts it now, touching comfort on a plane.

But I just held the armrest, coolly. He held his armrest tight. And now, another soul has learned this: Keep to yourself. Show no fear.

And what I have I learned? Keep to yourself. Show no fear. You yourself will never change the world.
 



Someone Trampled Me

I was only five in first grade. My parents sent me early, I'm the youngest. It's easy to understand their want to have those hours to themselves during the day. I was smart, they sent me early, smart, and I could draw. And paint, I could paint, and was probably in my second week, second week there in grade one, when I painted a giraffe so impressive it was to star on Parent's Day, an evening actually, Parent's Eve, slated for week three. It was the student teacher who deemed me Van Gogh, the brown giraffe with yellow spots, small black centers within them. A student teacher named "Miss DeNasi", we'd slip and call her "Mister Nasi", or maybe we were learning even this, not a slip but a crack, how to tease adults. Miss DeNasi was easily ruffled by this, I'd laugh when she was called "Mister", but was not so brave myself. After all, she loved my giraffe, a project over days, made better with sticks of bright green grass, a big round yellow sun. My favorite color was red, there was no red in my hero picture. I told Miss DeNasi, "I want to paint bright red feet." Miss DeNasi was mortified. "Don't do that! You'll ruin it!" But at five, a persona ready to speak and express, I added them.

Miss DeNasi could not face me the rest of the afternoon. I'd bastardized my promise, the promise of talent, real American artist talent, a giraffe had rarely looked so...real. I went home proud. Then wound up broken. My giraffe, the star of Parent's Day, apparently needed repair. So when I left that night, finished, proud and safely home, Miss DeNasi, she sought a rescue. And scissors in hand, I imagine the safety kind, she cut around the beast. The sun was gone, the grass gone. Gone the bright red feet. And in preparation for Parent's Day, Miss DeNasi trimmed then glued the giraffe, my giraffe, on blue construction paper. Giraffe poised proudly on the wall, a central spot at ideal parent-viewing height, my giraffe hung front and center. And looking up there from my own child-viewing height, this is how I learned of the creature's repair. And all I could see, and all I see now, are the wrinkles from the glue, and the sorry amputation. And even at five I couldn't understand Miss DeNasi's battle with a child, a kid my age. Could it be so offensive for me to love red? Or is it the offense of failing to listen? And, now, thirty one years later I can't understand my battle still with Miss DeNasi. And for the record, my own parents, they did not attend. And on Parent's Day, I'm pretty sure, no one else's parents were either impressed or in mind of that lovely, realistic giraffe.


 


Plane Trip #1

The girl sitting next to me must have Turrets She's squirming, yelping. She's colonized the armrest, and has her left foot tucked beneath the seat in front of me, probing my bag there. She's young, but obese, so it's hard to tell her age. Fat makes her busty. I'm guessing eleven.

Walking to my seat, I only wanted to love her. Such a hand to be dealt! At that moment, I'd slipped into her Keds: Heavy. Braced. Frizzy. Sixth
grade, I'm thinking. Another girl's first kiss. My girl's first night home without a sitter - a night spent alone, imagining, eating. I wanted to take
her hand. I want to take her pain.

But right now, it takes all my strength not to kick her. She plays with her food, stomps on my luggage. I pretend to be sleeping, using this posture to flinch, stretch, flying elbows claiming an inch of armrest as my own. Momentarily.

Sitting in front of me is a very bitchy woman. She's hit the sacred Call Button three times already to summons another Diet Coke. Three times
accommodated, she still complains: Hunger, temperature, headset charges. I think about the girl to my right, I think maybe I'm where her luck begins and ends today - working so hard not to kick her, when the lady in front of me surely just would. Afterall, airline seating is so random. And I'm certainly not the worst draw on this flight.

To the right of the fat girl sits a little sister. She looks like an angel. When our eyes meet, hers shine. She's so lovely. I find this utterly depressing.

So consider this. Four females: Me, woman #1. Bitch in front, woman #2. Beside me two girls, women of the future, one all troubles, the other,
grace. And you tell me, cause I do need to know, what is the saddest part of this story?