Wednesday, October 16, 2013


…Well, last night’s reading was a success on many levels.  It was brief.  The readers were great writers, and some friends, and it was relatively well-attended for an event such as that.
I read five very short pieces (If you’re from Seattle, or have been here, you may recognize some things.)
Here they are:


At first he saw clouds, pale blue blemishes, and then his sight left him completely. 
He phoned his daughter.  He thought he might die at any moment.  He was an old man, had lived a rugged but fair life.
She drove out that night.  He sat on the porch waiting, listening to the crickets bleating.  When his wife was alive, after a long day of hard work on the farm, they’d sit in the rocking swing, holding hands but staying quiet, surrounded by green silence.
His daughter said, “You’ll have to live with me now,” and the old man almost vomited because he knew she was right.
Her condo overlooked Elliot Bay.  “It smells like glass cleaner,” he said.  “And pigeon shit!”
He wanted to go back, die on the farm.  His daughter kept talking about new beginnings, second chances.  He thought she might be nuts.
She preferred windows open for fresh air and the street noise below made his ears bleed.
One Saturday she took him to Pike Place Market.  He smelled brine and lavender and berries.  He heard the fish hawkers and squealing children, birds cooing, a guitar.
His heart thrummed.  It felt like a bomb inside his chest, and he liked it.  He felt different, alive.
His daughter put his hand on what she said was a sculpture of a giant pig.  “For luck,” she said.
He laughed at that, the irony, how he had traded a live sow for a fake, how small the world really was.


On our descent to Seattle, the sound of screaming woke me.
Outside, the sky crackled with streaks of lava.  When I looked closer, I saw that it was actually jagged branches of lightning.
Then turbulence struck.  Like a bomb.
Our plane leapt and bounced and veered. 
Children squealed.  Someone yelled, “Terrorist!”  Latches ripped off their hinges and sundry kits flew down the aisles like missiles.
The woman next to me looked oddly unafraid.  I figured she’d gone into a form of shock, so I took her hand and shouted, “We’ll be all right!”
She pressed her other hand to her lips, peaceful, kissing the trinket from her necklace.
Then, just as sudden as the turbulence had hit, it ended.  We flattened out, the plane continuing its descent, finding the runway with little-to-no wheel skid.
It reeked of vomit.  I stank, as well, my shirt dripping sweat, pants soaked with urine.
I tried to cover myself with a napkin.
On a pad of paper the woman wrote, “Are you okay?”
When she tapped the paper, I realized she was deaf.
“I’m fine,” I said. 
She smiled, stood up, walked down the aisle and out.
A boyfriend met her at baggage.  They kissed, then signed.  She made bumping motions and laughed.  Across her neck, the silver cross jangled.
My heart felt small, but it beat hard, filled with so many questions I’d never ask: what it was like to be deaf, brave, to be so certain.



Riming the volcano of garbage are vultures—fifty or more, their black plumage inky in the smoldering sun.  Big as toddlers, they cock their crocked necks as if they know my thoughts, but they do not, no one does.
Last week my son fought one of these evil birds.  Marco had discovered an uneaten sandwich in the heap when the creature swooped down.  Thank God Marco had the bent-up umbrella he always carries, sometimes using it as a bat (“Look, Papa, I’m A Rod!”), a dancing cane, (“I’m smooth like your favorite, Gene Kelly!”), a golf club (“Now I’m Chi Chi Rodriguez.  How do you like those apples, Papa?”)  I watched him beat the bird, heard their tangled screaming.  We were in the middle of sorting recyclables from other’s people’s discarded waste.  My wife implored me to intervene, but I knew that would only make Marco soft, and soft does not survive here.
We used to live inside the dump, among the maggots and rats, until the missionaries came.  Now we have rows of tin boxes to make our homes.  Still, a narrow, dirt road is all that separates our make-shift town from the dump.
Miles below sits Puerto Vallarta.  At night, she shimmers, a bejeweled gown.  A cruise ship glows with its windows white as American teeth.
When I was young like Marco, I often plotted an escape.  Now that I am wiser, I watch my family sleeping and feel embarrassed to be this rich.

Lips, Mouth, Heart

Instead of piano, my daughter takes lip-reading lessons.  She says that way she’ll know what the other kids are whispering about her. 
“That’s stupid,” her brother says. “They can just cover up their mouth with a book or their hand or something.”
My daughter screams, overturns her dinner plate, and runs off. 
“It’s okay,” my son says, “she never eats anyway.”
A week later, my daughter looks happy, determined.  She’s seated in a chair on the opposite side of the room with me on the couch. 
“Just say what you’d normally say, except don’t speak out loud.”
I cock my head, imitating, Sherman Alexie, our often befuddled Labrador.
“Just mouth the words,” she says.
So, I mouth, This is really weird.
She tells me to do it slower.
I mouth, I’m sick that your mother’s not here.
She crinkles her head and tells me she’s not anorexic, even though that’s not what I said, even though we both know that’s a lie.
I mouth, Your mother fell in love with my best friend, but at least she left me with you two.
My daughter says, “Not so many words at once.”
I mouth, It’s not even funny how much I love you.
She says, “I know just the trick,” goes to the kitchen and returns with Pepto-Bismol.  “This should help your stomach flu.”
I mouth, It’s not my stomach, it’s my heart.
She breaks out laughing, busting a gut.  She says, “Sometimes you really crack me up.”

Listening Device

She tells me I don’t know, I don’t know,
I never knew.
She claims I only see spots and scotomas,
that I miss the truth
hiding in the fringes,
out of breath but beautiful.

Another time she says she is a cut-out,
not flat,  
not like that,
but living pages and improper pictures.
“Here,” she says,
running my hand across her spine,
“maybe you can read me a story.”
The nurse pokes her head in, mouths, Everything okay?
the same way she does every day.
When she’s gone,
I turn back to the woman on the bed
whose eyes are a blind man’s milk-blue.
I hit Record on the device,
say, “Tell me again how you met Dad,”

and she begins to laugh.

No comments:

Post a Comment