Friday, February 24, 2017



 
--THERE’S ONLY THIS.  THERE’S ONLY US.

 
…So I saw “Rent” tonight (technically last night, since it’s morning now.)
I’ve seen it several times before in the theater, as well as the film (which badly needed editing.) Yet it never quite moved me as it did this time.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe I caught more of the subtle symbolisms or maybe it’s the day we live in, but I cried more at this performance than I ever have during “Les Miserables,” which is saying something.
“Will I” (Lose My Dignity) is such a touching piece.  There are really only about a dozen words.  It’s very short and punctuated.  It’s so poignant and heart-wrenching, and the chorus raised every hair on my body.
Then there’s “I Should Tell You” and “Light My Candle” and “A Thousand Sweet Kisses,” which may well be the fifth most romantic song ever.
Anyway, I’m still spinning a bit.  Jonathan Larson was pretty brilliant.  It’s incredibly sad to think he died the day before his masterpiece premiered, and sadder yet to think of all he would have created had he simply lived an average number of years.

…It feels like I am being swept away, sucked down in the undertow of death, lately. 
I don’t want to be. 
“There is no future.  There is no past.”

…And, besides, it’s the weekend.  Who doesn’t love a weekend?
 
...Here are just a few things that make me pause.  Maybe they will you as well.


-“To me, being vulnerable is just another way of saying that one has nothing more to lose.” Bob Dylan

-“No death for you.  You are involved.” Weldon Kees

-“Until we lose ourselves, we’ll never find ourselves.” Henry Miller

-“I have becomes what I have always been and it has taken a lifetime, all of my own life, to reach this point where it is as if I know finally that I am alive and that I am here, right now.” Tobias Schneebaum

-“That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.” John Berger

“Live life as if you are going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you are going to live forever.” Plato

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017



 
--SHE SHOWED ME THE MACHINERY THAT OUR WORDS PROTECT US FROM, HOW SHE COULD KEEP ME IN THE MOMENT, HOW THAT’S ALL THERE EVER WAS

  

                                                 Thieves
 

          She steals.
          I watch her in the wine store.  Instead of going for a normal-sized bottle, she takes a showcased magnum of champagne shaped like a black missile.  Somehow it stays inside her flouncy skirt. On the counter is a silver platter with three, pie-shaped cuts of brie and a fan of domino crackers.  She filches the entire thing in one swift swoop.
          Outside I say, “You’re amazing.”
          She tells me, “You need to stop telling me that crap.”
          “But you are,” I say.
          “You just haven’t seen my dark side yet,” she says.
          “You won’t let me.”
          “Well, it might help if you had corrective lenses.”
          We’ve been dating for two years.  Her name is Ivy.  Ink-black hair, cut-across bangs, thin lips that go pink when she’s excited, which is all the time.  I love her so much that I eat razors trying to muster up the right things to say.
          At the book store, Ivy waves her arm around and looks at me with tear-soaked eyes.  “Just think,” she says, “someday soon, this whole place will be a Kindle.”
          She steals Charles Baxter’s entire collection, some Beatty and then every Anais Nin.
          “Where do you put all that stuff?” I ask.
          “You weren’t listening.”
          “Yes, I was.”
          “Ah,” Ivy says, potato peeling forefinger-to-forefinger in a Shame-on-you motion, “but you didn’t believe.”
          Ivy claims she has been culled, that someone excavated her against her will.  She won’t say who or anything else, just that.
Once, while I was kissing her, Ivy said, “Go ahead, stick your arm all the way down my throat.”  I chuckled until I realized she was serious, then my jaw locked up.  “Shove it past my tonsil bell,” Ivy said. “See if you can reach down into my belly.  It’s just a big ol’ empty room anyway.”
          I told her to stop screwing around.  I punched her soft on the shoulder as if we were both second-graders.
          “I know you think I’m making this shit up,” Ivy said, “but I’m not.  I’m gutted.  I’m hollow.”
          She grabbed an arm, tried to force my hand into her mouth.  I told her now she was scaring me.
          “Okay,” Ivy said, “but if you forego the proof, then just stop doubting me.” 
          There are things Ivy won’t share.  She only talks about today or tomorrow, the future, never yesterday or before.  The past, she says, is a black hole just like her, so I need to get used to skipping it, or else get a new girlfriend.  Ivy nibbles my earlobe as she warns me, secreting saliva, yet I can tell she means the threat.
          One day we stop by a school.  “Let’s break in,” Ivy says.  I don’t want to, but I’m more afraid Ivy will leave me than I am of getting in trouble with the law.
I crack a window at the building’s north end, and we rummage through desks and leftover backpacks.  We stumble into the hall.  When we get to the band room, Ivy lights up, her lips so pink they border on magenta. 
She jumps over rows of seats to get to the instruments up front, takes a trumpet, two bongos and a tuba.  I don’t know where they go, but she’s got them and they’ve disappeared.
        “Let’s get the hell out of here,” Ivy says.
         At 7/11, Ivy steals a Slurpee machine.
         At a gas station, she steals the debit card instrument panel.
         At the pet store, she steals a school of fish and one obnoxious macaw.
         At the zoo, Ivy opts for a wiry monkey, then a rhino that bolts to the end of the fence where Ivy dangles a bag of unshelled peanuts coated in Dijon mustard.
         After each instance, I tell her the same thing.  “You’re amazing,” I say, wishing I had better words.
         She kisses me like a wire brush on the lips and I feel fire. 
         One night we lay on the bed.  I rub Ivy’s stomach through her Syracuse sweatshirt.  Her flesh is flat, pliable.  She says, “Go ahead, push.”
         So I do.  I obey. 
         My hand sinks.  I force further, worrying I’m hurting her, until Ivy smiles and says, “It’s okay, really.  I don’t feel a thing.”
         When Ivy rolls onto her side, I push also through her back until my hands would be touching if it weren’t for Ivy’s two skins.  “Told you,” she says.
          I blink.  My eyes burn.  I get it now.
          I roll my cheek up against her neck like a cat, remembering the times Ivy would flinch at certain pronouns, or whenever we were around bald men wearing wire-rimmed glasses and wrist tattoos.
          Ivy says, “Your cheek feels good on my neck, like an important cloud.  That’s the best place for it.”
          I want to explain that no matter how hard she tries, Ivy’s not going to be able to fill what’s been uprooted.  I’d like to tell her that damage doesn’t have to be permanent, that theft can be atoned or forgiven, and that the only reason our planet still spins is because of grace.
          “Hey,” Ivy says, “are you crying?”
          “I’m okay.”
          “What’s up?”  Ivy tries to cock her head around, but I burrow my chin against her shoulder bone like a metal bookend.
          “Steal me,” I whisper. 
          Ivy arches her back and I can see the flesh on her ear puckering.
         When I say it again--“Steal me, instead”—Ivy takes my hand and puts it to her lips, just holds it there, gripping it tight.

           

           

 

Monday, February 20, 2017




TONIGHT I ASKED ALL THE STARS TO PRAY FOR US

 
 
A Better Man
   for Rod Simons

 
It’s preposterous.
We only have these seconds, minutes and days.
They roll up on our cheeks
as acne or sweat
from sex that is not sex at all,
but rather love,
even if it’s puppy love,
even if it’s slippery and elusive.
And all those seconds, minutes and days,
they conspire, collide and clog in order
to simply stop your heart one day,
as sure as sundown,
and you are gone,
just like that,
no questions asked,
perished, banished for good.
All the old photos come out afterward.
“Remember this?”
“I think this was when you were really drunk and fell into that _____while he was laughing his ass off.”
“Remember when you lost your shit and car keys and _______  ________ saved you?”
We’re all going to die.
I get it, I do.
That’s why life holds meaning.
But the rationale doesn’t make it any easier.
Can I just whine a while,
say that
I’m sick to death of death,
that death can go fuck itself to death?
Take me, not him,
is what I’m thinking.
I’m ready.
He wasn’t.
He was such a better man.
Can someone come and tell me
where I’m wrong on this?





 
 
--MY HEART IS OPEN WIDE AND I AM ON YOUR SIDE

 
…This weekend I read a lot of poetry and finished a few volumes, including “On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths” by Lucia Perillo, which was one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012 as deemed so by The New York Times Book Review.
I had no idea what she was trying to convey in almost every one of her poems.  It was a smarter book than me, or else she was just being clever to fool her readers.
I dislike poetry that is so obscure, although hers wasn’t necessarily.  It was very specific most times, but the larger points she was making always left me lost and confused.
My one big take away is that art is truly subjective, or that I don’t know how to decipher cryptic language, let alone enjoy it.

…Pete the eagle has flown by a few times already.  It’s hard to tell if he’s a happy bird.  He’s pretty serious-looking.  I just hope he’s not too hungry.  Being hungry sucks.

…Geese are a paradox.  I love watching them fly in a V.  I love watching a group of them on land, because they really are picturesque.  However, I do not love them on my lawn destroying it.  Whenever I see them on the grass, I scamper from my desk downstairs to shoo them away.  Somehow, cute Lucy knows exactly what’s going on, or else she just senses my ire, because she’ll charge after me barking (she almost never barks) and will run out on the deck with me barking away (she’s pretty fierce for a six pound Shorkie.  actually she’s anything but fierce.)  The other bad part about geese is they are mean animals.  Inevitably the group will gang up on a lone goose, snapping at his wings.  I guess bullies exist everywhere.  I guess lots of people (and geese) think they’re hella tougher than everyone else and need to prove it.

…Anne Elizabeth did a little review of a story I wrote, four paragraphs down:
http://www.thereviewreview.net/reviews/lively-interchange-between-words-and-images
 
…One day a few years ago I saw this elderly couple at Safeway.  I just pulled my cart to the side and watched them for a while.  They were arthritic and hunched over, but still looked very much in love and dependent on each other.  Back at home that night, I looked across the lake and wrote this story, which I’ve performed at a few readings:
 

Center and Fringe
         
            I want you to lie to me. 

I want you to pull my hair and threaten to leave me again, tell me every soiled thing you loathe about me but, later, do a paint-by-numbers watercolor on my chest, inserting a subliminal message between the stripes of a rainbow.

            I want to cuddle with you on this bed of pine needles so scratchy we’d never be able to sleep, the frosty air cold enough to make our noses bleed, dribbling down our chins like scarlet fondue. 

I want the taillights glowing rat-eyed across the lake to be your eyes, fascinated by me on this winter’s night.  I want the cones of light reflected on the wafting water to be a cloud that morphs in undulation so that we can find new characters and objects in its wake, its center and fringe. 

I want you to see what I see, the people who own that light and the house where that light glows, the ones that have been together since before the war against Germany.  I saw them at Safeway yesterday.  She was testing a melon with her gnarled thumb while the brittle little guy manned the cart, hunched, grinning like a very happy gnome.

I want our skins to spot and sag together.  I want us to molt and refute what happened last weekend.  I want magical powers, the ability to make you stay put, to cause that car to miss you, take a different corner, let you live.     

I want to take it all back.              
 
                                

Friday, February 17, 2017



 
--IT’S SCARY TO LEARN HOW VULNERABLE YOU CAN BECOME

 
…I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.
Boy, death is something I really hate. 
But, after contemplating it, I’ve come to realize that without death, life wouldn’t mean as much as it does.  It wouldn’t be so sacred.  In fact, it might be fairly meaningless.

A long time ago I saw this movie (whose title escapes me now) where there was a creek with this magical water, and if you drank it, you never aged and had immortality.  It wasn’t a very good film, but the premise stuck with me.  Instead of being overjoyed, the people who drank the water regretted it.  They stayed the same age forever, unable to experience life as a year older.  Life had lost its purpose for them.  They didn’t have to fear car wrecks or heart attacks or brain aneurisms.  They were immortal and it felt, to them, like they’d cheated on the biggest exam of their life and were being eternally punished for their crime.  I’m not explaining it very well, but it was the first time I understood that death serves a purpose, as does aging--that they're both important and crucial.

A friend of mine’s dog died yesterday.  She was incredibly distraught.  If you don’t like animals or don’t have a pet, feeling anguish over the death of a dog will seem inane to you.

I have a dog, Lucy, probably the best dog on the planet.  I spend more time with her than I do any other living being.  She follows me everywhere.  We often communicate without speaking.  I know when she gazes up at me while I’m at my desk, with that certain, desperate sparkle in her eye, that she’s asking, “Can I please have one of my favorite bones?”  And then when I give it to her, (actually I tease her a bit, saying, “Is this what you want?  Huh, Lucy?  You want this?” before tossing it on the floor), she does this really cute thing where she pounces around it and spins and pounces and spins some more, as if the bone is a living thing, a new puppy perhaps, before finally clutching it in her jaws and taking it to another room.  (Take my word for it, it is really fucking adorable.)

Another friend of mine was in a horrible auto accident, hit by a drunk driver going over the lane on the freeway.  I saw pictures of her car.  It was mangled so hard it looked like a crunched beer can.  The EMT’s said they were shocked she wasn’t killed immediately.  She’s fine now, though when I saw her at AWP she let me feel parts of her arm where there were still windshield shards of glass imbedded under her flesh.  Since the accident six months ago, she’s had shards popping out of her skin every couple of days.

When I think about death, or near death experiences, I feel very lucky.  I believe in God, I believe in Heaven, though a lot of that seems like mumbo jumbo and I simply take it on blind faith that it’s real.  Still, I don’t want to die.  I want to live.  I want to do things that make me feel alive.  I want to be with the people that make me feel more alive.  Those are two of my resolutions for 2017 and I’m going to try very hard to make them come to fruition.

I’ve been incredibly fortune.  I’ve had an amazing life.  If I died tomorrow, or even today, I’d still be able to say I was lucky enough to have done more things than most people dream about.  I’m not bragging.  Not at all.  I’m just saying I’m one very fortunate guy who is blessed for inexplicable reasons.

…Okay, so enough about death.  After all, it’s Friday, the weekend looming.  Here are a few things that make me think:

-"I think I'd like to be remembered as someone who beat the odds through just plain determination. ... that I persevered. Because I think that being somewhat of a pest to life, constantly plaguing and pursuing, will bring results." Sylvester Stallone

-"Is the life I'm living the life that wants to live in me?" Parker Palmer

-"You're only given a little spark of madness. You musn't lose it." Robin Williams

 -“The failure of love might count for most of the suffering in the world.” Marie Howe
 
-“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” Audrey Hepburn

-“I could hardly look into his eyes.  I looked more often at his mouth, and could raise my eyes only briefly.” Marie Howe

-“The pot at the end of the rainbow is not money.  I know because I have it.” Marin County

-“Over a lifetime, there are only four or five moments that really matter.” Deadpool

-“If you want to fly, you’ve got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” Toni Morrison

 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017



 
--I DIDN’T THINK ANYTHING COULD BE THIS PAINFUL

 
The One Lie I Never Told You

I’m doing what I shouldn’t do,
listening to those songs where
everything is perfect and magnified
like frail wands of light
splayed across balled-up bed sheets.
Someone might call that sadistic
and they’d be quite right.
When I stare out the windows
the trees whip in the wind
full of the energy and wrath I wish I could muster.
Is it pathetic to be jealous of evergreens?
Of the wind?
I tried trusting the moon
with its wide, jolly face,
but he turned on a dime, gave me the cold shoulder
and nonchalantly slid behind some clouds.
The birds have no answers either.
They just hang there on a branch
taxidermied, staring back as if I’m a
carcass even they wouldn’t consider eating.
To know that you are somewhere,
breathing and blinking,
life oozing in and out of you,
is to have my ribs split open,
my heart diced into steaming clumps
until they steam no more.
So I’ll go now.
I’ll stop the music and pull the curtains.
I’ll let the darkness tell me
what to do next.
I won’t think of you even once,
though we both know that’s a lie.

 

A Reason To Burn

The razor is dull,
a useless guillotine,
a tool not unlike me.
The mirror’s no better,
telling me I need a reason to smile
as if it’s someone else’s life I’m living.
The water’s cold against my skin
but it’s not frigid enough.
The sun is already up.
And the eagle just flew by.
And the lake is rippled like a frosted cake.
And tomorrow will show up, too,
the dependable employee every boss can count on.
So I’ll just take these empty plans
and make a fire of them,
watch them smolder, hear them crackle,
so full of oxygen for once,
finally finding their purpose,
burning burning burning,
warming the coldest room
on the planet.

 

Somewhere Else

Somewhere else things are happening,
a day replete with surprise or boredom,
Lover’s Day having already nodded its head good night.
Hours ago there was still something to hold onto,
look forward to,
boats bobbing on the India Sea,
a khaki canopy rippling in the breeze,
beach sand and every kind of wave
right there at our feet.
Somewhere else things are happening.
I hope they’re everything you need,
the peace I couldn’t give you.
 
 

Monday, February 13, 2017



 
--PART OF YOU POURS OUT OF ME IN THESE LINES FROM TIME TO TIME

 
2017 AWP: Askew & Akimbo

How to talk, or write about, AWP? 

How to talk about you? 

How to talk about Jesus or the universe, for that matter?

Or the silky violet sunsets that somersault over summer skies, making a fool want to skinny dip in the lake, even at such an old age, even when it’s freezing out? 

Isn’t that a tall task?

Oh boy, it’s not easy, that’s for sure.  Not many things—beyond the mundane-- are.  But I will try.  In a way, I will.

Let’s see… what did we have this time around?

A crush of Convention Center bodies. 

Walls (walls?  really, I’m speaking of walls in this day and age?) of books wherever one looked.

Lots and lots of laughter.  (We’re talking belly laughter, mostly).

And equal parts drinking (if I’m being honest here, which I always am).
 
A Broken ankle.
 
Grey's Anatomy come-to-life.

A Nile river of murmuring, a mumbo jumbo chorus, a cacophony of voices, peripheral vision working over-time, having gone bat shit from hour one.

A tick on the skin below the eye, even on the pupil itself, pulsing there, typing out rabid code that no one can decipher.

A sledgehammer to the heart--once or twice or thrice.

An anvil tossed over the side of the boat, hitting the target—Boo-yah!  Got you, Sucker, and you weren’t even looking.

Have you lost weight?  Come on, I know you have.  You look happy.  Ah, but you look well.  Thanks, so do you.  Well, goodbye then.  See you next year.

Do you remember that AWP when we ______________________ and you said _____________________  and I believed you?  I think I replied with something like ________________________ and you grinned a shy smile, saying __________________________.  It was cute, but really fucked up as well.  Well, wasn’t it?  Come on, wasn’t that really messed up?  Tell the truth.

Next time, please don’t ask me about the weather/Seattle rain/Seattle summers/the suicide rate in Seattle/Nordstrom/our President/their President/the President’s daughter’s fashion line that’s been pulled from Nordstrom/if I’m going to the vigil/if I’m writing a novel/if one of my kids is in college now/if I’m having a good AWP...

And please don’t ask me open-ended questions either.  That’s a shit ton of pressure for a twig like me. 

Just talk and I will try very hard to listen.  I will watch your marionette lips move.  You are real, and I will know it’s so because your lanyard will tell me as much, but I am not so real, and that’s the problem right there.  I am that mannequin in the store-front you passed by without noticing how badly her handbag matched her shoes, or didn’t match her shoes—see what I mean?  No?  Well, what I’m getting at is I’m a train wreck around all these people.  I’m that collision right before metal meets metal, just before the ultimate crunch.  Boo-yah! squared.

Next time, let’s just admit that this is bigger than both of us.  But honestly, I mean truly, I am proud of you for having won a Pushcart Prize and for being on ________ Podcast two different times last year.  You made it!  Goddamn it, good for you.  I am happy for your success and I am so sorry for your loss.

I think I saw the real You looking back at the stupefied real Me at some point.  You were shining so very bright, like a radioactive fire fly while texting away on your cell.  Your light burnt back the shrubbery and azaleas.  Right then You were the most beautiful butterfly ever hatched.  All of your fans saw what I saw then, so it must have been real.

We were all there, all 10,000 of us happy campers.  Don’t numbers count for something?

I’ll try not to linger over all that.  I’ll try to remember the people I didn’t see this time around (Sara Lippmann, Meg Tuite, Bud Smith, Ben Loory, Michael Gillian Maxwell, Katherine DiBella Seluja, Shaindel Beers…) and  those I did see but can’t remember all of—Jensen Beach, Windy Lynn Harris, April Bradley, David Atkinson, Michael Seidlinger, Ben Tanzer, Nancy Stohlman, Brandon Hobson, Jan Elman Stout, Gay Degani, Christopher Allen, Grant Faulkner, Christine Texeira, Bill Yarrow, Tammy Sherwood, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Gloria Mindock, Annie Pluto, Liz Pettie, Jennifer Carr, Joani Reese, Matt Bell, Roxane Gay, Francis Badgett, Ralph Pennel, Dorriane Luax, Molly Peacock, Sherrie Flick, Lori Brody, Anne Elizabeth, Nancy Petersen, Sandy Longhorn, Pamela Painter, Diem Jones, David Galef, Kathy Fish, James Thomas, and of course, Robert Vaughan, Robert P. Kaye and Karen Stefano.   

Next time, I’ll try to keep my chin up and my eyes focused on the carpet.  You can find loose change that way.  It helps defer the cost of all those over-priced drinks.