Wednesday, May 20, 2015



--BEING ALL IN IS TERRIFYING



                                                                   It                                                  

            My wife’s face is always bruised now, even when it’s not.  
At breakfast, my eyes skim the flap of newspaper dangling in front of me as I steal a glance, seeing the swollen eggplant bruise around my wife’s right eye socket, her lip pulpy and blue-black, split in three places, her lower jaw stitched and covered with sheer gauze strips like a childish yet macabre railroad track.  It’s all imagination, a latent memory triggered by today’s date, yet I hate myself nonetheless because her actual face is as beautiful now as ever.
I try not to stutter or cough or choke or cry.  I reach inside of me, into my chest cavity, an invisible hand stretching fingers, tightening, forming a claw, reaching for something to tether me, to make both of us normal again, the thing we once were.
            My wife forces a smile.  She’s still not good at faking.  She’s stiff and too erect in her chair, either a puppet master or a puppet, I’ll never know which, yet she tries hard as ever, saying, “More juice, please,” while jiggling a glass in front of her across the table. 
I stand and fetch a jug and pour.  I lean down and kiss the potato-white scar where her hair is parted.  She sighs but does not reach for me, her hand on the glass, fingers firm, gripping it like a grenade.
            “You think Jess is up,” I say, “or should I wake her?”  Jess is our six year old.  We’ve woken earlier than usual for a Saturday, but neither my wife nor I mentions why, even though we both know why.
            “Give her another five minutes,” my wife says, a trite enough answer.
            I return to my seat and sit down.  I think about time, how it’s absurdly consistent, always marching, marching, marching, a dutiful soldier, unavoidable, unimpeachable, the one sure thing in life that cannot be swayed.  I think:  A year is three-hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  I think:  It’s three hundred sixty-five days.  I think:  A year can be torture or bliss, and for us it’s been mostly the former, a kite tail of half-truths and voids, distrust and raw reveals.  I think:  A year and a day ago my wife had not been raped.
            It’s our wedding anniversary today, as well as the anniversary of the night It happened.  It is how we used to refer to the rape in the weeks and months afterward, in bed at night, tense and unable to sleep, or else us at counseling sessions with the therapist who had a harsh German-sounding name and intense, wolf-blue eyes that always seemed to be glaring at us.  Now we never speak of It, though It permeates everything, all these days later, especially this one.
***
            The night of It and our anniversary we’d been happy, married five years, still very much lovers as well as spouses.  My wife’s mother had Jess for the night.  We were eating at La Coupole, my wife’s favorite French restaurant.  We’d feasted and had drunk nearly an entire bottle of wine.  Giddy and loose, we loitered once our meal was finished, fictionalizing the various couples and dinner guests around us, assigning them clever and absurd identities—
“He’s an Iranian spy, but his girlfriend doesn’t know it.” 
“Yes, but she’s in love with his best friend…who has is also a spy, which she does know.” 
Eventually the waiter needed our table and, rather rudely, he verbally shooed us away.  When the check came, I felt fuzzy-headed but signed the bill and threw the waiter a look he ignored.  Climbing up the parking garage steps, we paused in the stairwell for some sloppy kissing, our hands moving as feverishly over each other’s bodies as they had when we’d first started dating.  When someone passed by us, we both smoothed our hair and straightened our clothes. 
My wife asked, “You remembered your card, right?” because I was always forgetting my credit card.
“Of course,” I said. 
“Check to be sure.” 
When I pulled out my wallet and looked, I realized I’d done it again.  “Damn it.”
“You goof ball.”
“Idiot, is more like it.  And the worst part is I want you so bad right now.  You have no idea.  I’m dying.”
“You horn dog.  Go get your card and I’ll wait in the car.  We could do it there if you want.”
“It?”
“Make love.”
When I kissed her hard, she bit my lower lip and gave me an alluring grin.
“Be back in a jiff,” I said, tossing her the keys while I plunged up the steps.
Since that night I’ve bounded up those stairs thousands of times, sometimes in my dreams where my legs are cement-laden and the steps hover air-born and unreachable.  Sometimes I’ll be at work on my computer and the smallest thing will trigger a memory and I’ll be racing up the steps only to find they are just sets of stairs leading from one formation to another, like an Escher drawing, no door anywhere, nothing to do but keep climbing.

I’d been gone for a little over fifteen minutes.  The restaurant was more crowded than when we’d first arrived, a clot of people jamming the entrance.  I had to muscle my way through, warding off aspersions from patiently waiting couples.  When I found my waiter, he pointed me back to the host who seemed flummoxed and handed me off to a busboy.  No one could locate my credit card, until finally fifteen minutes later when a black-haired, acne-faced boy held it above his head like some rare medal he’d won. 
Fifteen minutes for It to happen, for my wife to be brutally attacked, for Us to be ripped asunder.
                                                      ***
During therapy my wife was persistently apologetic, as if It was somehow her fault.  She was sorry for everything—
“I’m sorry I can’t talk about it more openly.”
“I’m sorry I get angry a lot, but when I’m not angry I feel dead and wasted, like a dry sponge, and then feeling that way makes me angry all over again.” 
“I’m don’t ever want to celebrate our anniversary, no reminder.  Promise me we won’t.  I don’t want a card or a present or anything.  I know how horrible that makes me.  I’m sorry.”
I did get a card, however.  It was one of those with an illustration—just a simple sketch of a cord of rope knotted together in the center—where the two inside pages are left blank.  On them, I’ve written down how much I love my wife, how I will always love her, how she’s the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.  When I read the words over last night they sounded juvenile, something a kid in middle school would say, but they were my words, honest ones, all of them.  I didn’t write about It.  I ended with—I know our future is going to be great—thinking that too was an adolescent thing to say, but meaning it nonetheless.
I’ve hidden the card in the kitchen cupboard above the sink, under the stack of plates we got all those years ago as a wedding present when we’d registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  As I sit at the table staring at my wife’s pile of scrambled eggs that resemble orange entrails, I can almost hear the card in the cupboard, ticking like a detonated time bomb.
“I should wake Jess,” I say.
My wife glances over the top of my head, perhaps staring out the window over the kitchen sink.  She never looks me in the eye anymore.  When she nods in the slow, uncertain way of an aged person, a blade cuts through my chest and the air smells flat and dead again.
                                                    ***
Jess is already awake as I enter her room.  She’s reading Goosebumps and seems bored by my presence.
I want to say something funny or light, like, “What are you doing up here so late, we thought you were dead,” but that and everything else that comes to mind is anything but light or funny.
“You coming down any time soon?” I ask.
“Uh huh.”
“Like today?”
“Maybe.”
“It’s Saturday.  We can do something.”
“Uh huh.”
“I love you, you know.”  I don’t know where this comes from, or perhaps I do, and I wish I hadn’t said it but it’s out there now, the words floating and gluey, when Jess pauses for a second and looks up and wrinkles her face and then sticks her tongue out at me, as a dam breaks, tears welling in eyes at once, so that I have to leave her room and rush to the bathroom down the hall.
                                                    ***
Though my wife says she’d like to stay in, I convince her to go to the zoo.  It’s Jess’s favorite place.  She loves the giraffes--their necks and stripes and snouts, their dopey-looking ears.  The majority of our visit is spent where they’re corralled.
“Daddy, can we get a pet giraffe?  Maybe for my birthday?”
“I don’t think that’s legal.”
“Why not?”
“Giraffes are supposed to be out in the wild.”
“But this isn’t the wild.”
As with her mother, I’m often at a loss with Jess.  It doesn’t make me feel less intelligent or insignificant so much as it makes me feel cowardly, not knowing how to tell the truth in a convincing yet lenient enough way.
My wife says her stomach has started to give her fits.  She’d like to go.  Jess pouts.
“We can stop at Dairy Queen on the way home,” I say, seeing the look my wife gives me, laced with equal amounts of scorn and weariness.
“Did you not hear me?” my wife asks.
“Can I get a hot fudge sundae?” Jess asks.
We skip Dairy Queen and drive straight home.  Jess heads up to her room, presumably to continue pouting and reading Goosebumps.
My wife doesn’t even bother removing her coat, just slumps onto the couch.
“Could you draw the blinds for me?”
When I try pulling the drapes shut, they catch on the left-hand corner, the way they always do, and I’m again transported back to forgetting my credit card that night, the way I had forgotten it at other restaurants so many times, and then I’m in the parking lot stairwell again, climbing steps that shrink and jilt out of the way each time I try to take one, and I have to physically shake my head in order to get the image to disappear.
“What’re you doing?” my wife says.
“Huh?”
“You look like you’ve got wasps caught in your skull.”
I think about all the things I might say, all the lies I could spew, but I don’t say any of it.  Instead I say, “Maybe I do.”
“What’s that mean?”
I want to tell her I’m sorry, that I’m the one who should be sorry.  Fifteen minutes or sixteen minutes or however many minutes was too many.  It was me.  As much as anything or anyone, I was It.
  Still, I know she doesn’t want to talk about it.  We quit therapy six months back.  Since then the days have all been dull thunderclouds where we dance around each other and what’s brought us to this place.
It’s suddenly hard to breathe, like I’m being held underwater with a hand gripped against the bones of my throat.  I suck down a full swallow of air and hold it several seconds before exhaling, before mustering, “Hey honey, what do you think about us going out for a bit?”
My wife’s head lolls as if she has no neck muscles.  “We were just out.”
“No, I mean just us, you and me.”
“What about Jess?  You’re not planning on leaving her, are you?”
The way she’s said that, spitting out words in a speed I’ve not heard in over a year, makes me wonder if she intentionally left out…like you left me.  You’re not planning on leaving her, are you, like you left me?
But I know she didn’t mean that, didn’t think that, it’s just my discombobulated imagination taking over again.
“We can call my mother.”
“Why?”
“I told you.  So we can have a night out for our own.”
My wife’s hands are slunk halfway down the sleeves of her black coat so that it looks as if she has no hands at all, just fingers.  She brings her hands up to her face and cups her fingers across her eyes as her chest starts to buck and heave, crying softly, trying to mute the noises.
When I say, “Hey,” she flails one of her hands in the air at me.
“Just let me have a moment.”
A moment alone, is what she means.  She wants to be alone, perhaps forever.
I don’t know the right thing to do.  Part of me wants to force myself on the sofa beside my wife, pry her hands away from her face and make her look me in the eye for once.  Another part of me wants to walk out the door and get into the car and drive, just drive for miles, heading anywhere or nowhere.
One of the last things the therapist said was a kind of warning.  He said we have to fight the desire to isolate.  He told us that isolation quells fear, but it also strips away courage and any hope for resiliency.  “If you put your head in the sand too many times, and for long enough, you might as well expect to choke to death on that sand.”
I walk past my wife and go into the kitchen and reach into the cupboard.  As I maneuver the stack, the plate on top jostles loose and flies free, exploding loudly in the sink.  I stand motionless for a moment, me leaning over the counter with my left hand holding the stack of plates and my right hand clutching the card I’d placed beneath.  I expect my wife to come into the kitchen or to yell, asking what’s happened, but neither of those two things happen.
And so I take the card and carefully set the plates down.  I walk back out to the living room.  I tap the card against my ass as I walk, swatting wasps that aren’t there.
I notice that my wife’s in the middle of the couch and that there’s really not room for me to sit on either side of her, yet I do just that, cramming in on her left.
I say the words quick, like a dire confession I’ve been holding back for some time.  “Happy Anniversary.  I know what you said, and I get it, I do, but it’s our anniversary and I got you this card and wrote some dumb things in it and I want you to have it.”
I peel my wife’s fingers away from where they’re still clinging to her cheeks and brow.  I force her to grip the card, molding her hands over it.  When she does nothing else, I take the card myself and open the envelope and hold up the cover of the card and open it to the center page and read aloud what I’ve written.
When I’m finished, I say, “It might seem crazy, but I really believe it.”
She’s just been staring the whole time, without blinking, like a blind person, and I’m not sure if she’s heard anything, if she’s even coherent, or if she’s reliving It as I’ve done so many times, but then it’s like a frond breaking through ice, her cheeks pinking, her eyes flicking alert.  She leans across and buries her face against my neck, her mouth just below my ear.  I hear her breathing, feel a warm broom of air sifting through my hair.
Finally she speaks.  “Do you really think so?”
I take her hand.  I touch her face.  I say, “I can be the man you need me to be, if you’ll let me.”
“But you are.  You already are.”
“I can be better.  We can be.  We’re just going to have to work at it together.”
She lifts her face to me, her beautiful unblemished face.  He lashes flicker.  Her eyes are on mine.  Then she smiles, a familiar expression I recognize.
“Okay,” she says.  “Let’s start.”
“That sounds perfect,” I say. 

 
             


Monday, May 18, 2015



--SOMETIMES AN ESCAPE ROUTE IS THE BEST THING



                                                               Lava and Light
                                              (Near Mount St. Helens, May 1980)

In the morning they woke to find the sky a dark purple, not so much the color of a bruise, but something strange and dire, like an admonition from God.
Each of the young men was nervous about it, but they would not say so and instead they exclaimed minor wonder or made jokes about an apocalypse.
This was years and years ago.
They loaded their car quickly and headed back to the university.  It was a three hour drive but they planned to make it in two.
As they drove, the sky grew darker, even though that seemed impossible, the morning looking like dusk at 10 am.
On the radio they learned what had happened, and the news filled each young man with individual relief or disappointment, depending on their desire for danger.
They talked about their friend they’d left behind, the one who had dropped out to get married at the questionable age of eighteen.  Each said they would never do such a thing.  Two of the three friends said they would never even marry.  All said the groom was a sap, though secretly each of them was astonished by the groom’s determined leap into the real world, a place they greatly feared.
They could not see the regal volcano, but an hour into the drive they saw the remnants of her power and anger and resolve, ash falling as wide gray leaves, clotting the sky, then blinding them like a blizzard.
They played a Jimmie Buffett tape, singing along because it seemed perfectly fitting.  “I don’t know where I’ma gonna go when the volcano blows.”  They played the song several times until the radio went dead and the headlights turned useless against the insistent storm of falling ash.  After a while, the motor began to whine and cough and one of them said they should pull over and another said no way, are you fucking nuts, we don’t know what’s out there.
It took them seven hours to make it back to campus.  They’d later find out the car’s engine was ruined.  They’d later learn the groom’s bride was pregnant.  They’d later learn more about life than they ever thought--certainly more than they required--and through this they’d discover disillusionment. 
But that night, alone in his bunk, one of the friends lay under a great swath of blankets, teeth chattering, lights off but for a luminous lava lamp that burped eggs of assorted  shapes and hues.  He hadn’t known why he was so afraid, but the lamp’s glow soothed him.  The different globules of color became capsules of his future.  In the yoke-yellow blob he saw himself a happy groom.  In the moss-green bead of goo he skimmed stones across a lake with a boy who liked to squeal and say Good one, Papa!  He watched his life form and reform, and in doing so decided from then on, he would build himself a life predicated on light. 


Friday, May 15, 2015




--YOU CAN’T TAKE APART WHAT YOU CAN’T PUT BACK TOGETHER



                                                           Traveling Mercies
           
My daughter enters room with unborn child showing inside sweater like a tub and I am think, This is all wrong, my baby having baby, one just sixteen years and the other creature floating in fluid, a strange alien astronaut, same as ones I have seen in American television programs when handsome actor doctor says it’s girl or boy, “Look, right here’s the evidence.” 

My baby is pawing her baby, a basketball player dribbling wrong who will be called for traveling.  I know American basketball rules.  Holding ball too long inside palm is named traveling, a penalty.  And who should pay this penalty?  My daughter has no boyfriend.  Some lewd man just shoots his seed in my poor baby.  He holds knife to her throat and it leaves a mark like this > from the pressure of the tip, an etching of his crime.  Abortion is fine, I say, it is legal in such cases, but my daughter says, no, life is life.

I am crying, weeping hard as my daughter comes across the room.  I am think she will slap me.  I have told her how hard it’s been to make something of ourselves in this country, and now this.  It is a bad sign.  The child will be evil.  That’s what I said, such a cruel bastard I can be.
  

But now my baby walks up.  She takes my tear-soaked hand, places it on the mound that is moving, under inside my palm, and says, “See?”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015



--THERE ARE MORE STARS THAN ANYONE COULD NEED


…Last year $2.7 billion was spent on legal marijuana in the US. 
That’s a lot of smoke.
Still pot seems to retain an illicit or taboo label, even though here in Washington State where it’s considered no different than alcohol.
Last week, I went with  my best friend to a pot store in Vancouver.  I forget the name of the place but the experience was pretty surreal. 
We arrived at 9:20 on a Saturday morning and there was a line out the door.
Inside, the place was sterile, with bleach-white walls reminiscent of a hospital, with a similar eerie stillness to it.
Everything was very professional and felt discreet.  There was plenty of staff on hand.  The space was about 10,000 square feet, yet it was very angular. 
You entered in one corridor, took a turn and then went down another which opened up into a bigger space with two very long glass counters on either side.  Every few feet, on top of the counters, were iPad-type devices where you could scroll through the various strains, of which there were more than 500.  Each strain was articulately described, much the same way wine is.  You picked out your selection by tapping your thumb on a book, typed in your first name, journeyed to another section, gave your name, paid, walked a few feet and picked up your goods.
It was as easy as buying a pack of gum.
Our particular purchase was called Blue Cheese.
The pot wasn’t for us.
Really, it wasn’t...

…Bumbershoot is coming soon.  I’ve went a couple of times.    When I was last there with my son, we were standing in a very long line waiting to see Wiz Kalif and McLemore.  A circle of eighteen year olds (if they were even that) passed around a gallon of Captain Morgan rum and one of the girls fainted.  My son caught on the fall, saving her from splitting her head open.  I looked around and realized with the exception of one lifeless security guard, I was at least twenty years older than the oldest person within sight.
Still I’m going to go again this year.  I want to see The Airborne Toxic Event.
Here are some other bands playing that I’ve never heard of, but that have clever names:

Childbirth
Talk in Tongues
Epik High
Flosstradamus
Tracksuit Wdding
Moon Hooch
The Floozies
Grizzled Mighty
Nacho Picasso
The Bots
Bread & Butter
Cambodian Space Project
Constant Lovers
Lil Dicky
Deep Creep
Minus The Bear
Misterwives
Smash Putt
Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Beware of the Dandelions
Fly Moon Royalty
Acid Tongue
The Milk Carton Kids
The Tallest Man On Earth
Pure Bathing Culture

…So it’s Wednesday and here a few other things I like midweek:

  “What causes laughter is the sudden transformation of tense expectation into nothing.” Kant

“Let all flowers wither like a party.” John Berryman

“I hope we never lose sight of one thing—it was all started by a mouse.” Walt Disney


Monday, May 11, 2015



 --BE CAREFUL.  DON’T LET YOUR MIND GO TO A DARK PLACE


…Do you get allergies?  I hope to God not.
Mine started out of the blue about five years ago.  Now when they hit I’m a snotty, blurry-eyed mess.  Getting rung up at Safeway yesterday, an attack underway, my eyes started tearing so bad that the clerk asked if I was all right.  She was probably thinking I was sad about Mother’s Day for some reason. 

…Do you ever wonder why it is that country singer’s names sound country, while pop singer’s names sound pop/rap?
Dierks Bently
Brad Paisley
Brantley Gilbert
Cole Swindell
Eric Church
Tim McGraw
Keith Urban
Little Big Town

vs.

Jay-Z
Eminem
Marilyn Manson
Wiz Kalifa
Beyonce
Tov Love
Ellie Goulding
Tupac
Biggie Smalls

It’s probably just marketing, fitting the name with the niche, although most country artists’ names are their real names.

 …I learned some interesting, albeit random, things last week:

-A third of all people say they have less than $1,000 in savings

-In 1950 Detroit’s populations was 2 million.  As of 2013 it’s at 750,000

-10 percent of the Russian government’s income comes from taxes on Vodka

-Only 2% of the world’s population has red hair

-Leonardo Da Vinci designed the first tank and helicopter hundreds of years before anyone even thought of them.

-Seattleites see more movies per capita than other city in the country.


..Some noteable Facebook posts last week were these:

-I left my underwear at the hospital.

-Have you been cleaning your house? Tidying up? Putting things away when you're done with them? Silly you. Don't clean it. Put a cat on it.

-Overheard from the table next to mine at lunch today, "I tell my patients that sadness lasts forever, but happiness is fleeting." What do you suppose he meant by that? (He is a psychologist)

-I thought I had an alarming new mole, but it was actually just a melted piece of chocolate on my collarbone.
 …And here are some things I like to start off the week:
  

“I will make love my greatest weapon and none on who I call can defend against its force....My love will melt all hearts liken to the sun whose rays soften the coldest day.” Og Mandino

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. “ Norman MacFinan

“The ability to concentrate and to use time well is everything.”   Lee Iococca

“When all is said and done, the writer may realize he has  wasted his youth and wrecked his health for nothing.”  T.S. Elliot

“I write to close my own eyes.” Kafka

“There is nothing more foolish to think you can stop war by war.  The only thing war can stop is peace.” Harry Truman


Friday, May 8, 2015



--BUT YOU KNOW, YOU NEVER REALLY KNOW




Ways to Remember Birmingham


She gives her pets
street names—
 Hunter and Red Mountain,
   Oak, Valley, Tuscaloosa.
The gold fish are 1st through 9th Avenue.

She has the city tattooed across her chest so she can see
the campus in the mirror when she’s on top,
but the truth is
it’s been a long time,
and the fish are floating belly up
and the dog has diarrhea
and the embryo inside her has grown bad boy hair by now,
his hands and feet itching
to make their way into the world
with or without you,
you bastard.



The Rain in Birmingham

is wet luggage
that smells like hot bread
slathered with salty slabs of butter
that dribble bitter as your lips.

Your dad said he saw you
in a stole and shoulder-duster earrings.
I was wondering when you started liking ballet
instead of Birmingham
and boys like me,
born bearded and black-holed
so that rain shoots out ear-to-ear.
If you were here
you probably couldn’t stand the splatter
of all this inky oil that’s pooling
in my lap now,
taking the form of a head,
a face quite
similar to yours.



Molted


I keep leaving pieces of myself
in different rooms.
At first I think they are socks or candy wrappers
but one’s a finger and one’s a thumb,
and then there’s the issue of an eye in the sink,
two toes afloat in Dad’s old beer stein.

Wolfgang wails through the speakers
and I think he’s found my foot but instead it’s
in our Labrador’s drooling mouth.
I feel for my crotch and sigh because we’re still good there,
but then you walk through the door with a Chanel handbag
made of alligator and eel
and I recognize their color and stain,
the distinctive scars and skins of
your last boyfriends.




Wednesday, May 6, 2015



--ALL MY LIFE NOW SEEMS TO BE ONE HAPPY MOMENT


…Yesterday the wind blew so hard I thought my windows were going to crack.  I thought I saw Dorothy and The Wicked Witch flying through the air.
I watched some sparrows struggle with the gusts.  The eagle didn’t seem to have any trouble.
Twigs and other bits of detritus nicked the glass in my office.  It sounded like a pellet gun being shot at the windows.  It was slightly startling.

…I just left and you didn’t even realize it.
The power went out.  It was out for six hours.  Apparently a tree fell across the road and took several power lines with it.
During the outage I read until it got dark and then I got a lantern and read some more and finished a very great book: “Dept. of Speculation,” by Jenny Offill.
I’ve never read anything like it.  You should give it a go.  It’s quite short, not even 200 pages, but here sentences and observances are fantastic as you’ll hopefully see at the end of this post.

…Last weekend was something else.  A last minute trip to Portland for a boy’s weekend to watch the big fight.  Groups of guys together are a lot different than groups of women together.  Guys are pretty stupid.  You have to drink a lot, or at least fake it well.  One of our party threw up in the bathroom and then kept hugging and kissing my cheek (he’s not gay, just quite affectionate.)
The fight raked in millions, maybe billions.  But the fight wasn’t about the fight.  It was akin to The Super Bowl.  Cronyism.  Bonding.  That sort of thing.
It’s good to have friends.  When I’m with mine, I feel more alive.  I wish they didn’t live so far away…


-“The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.”

-“There is nowhere to cry in this city.”

-“There’s that moment, you know, for most people, when you decide you want to wake up in the world for one more day.”

-“You can never fucking outrun entropy.”

-“There is still such crookedness in my heart.  I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it.”

-“To live in a city is to be forever flinching.”

-“Evolution trained us to cry out if we are being abandoned.”

--Jenny Offill, “Dept. of Speculation”