Category Archives: children of alcoholics

Engine of Life, a short story

mitochondrial_electron_transport_chain_wiki_pd

What inspired her?  A seemingly insignificant little turtle, named Max… Max who sneezed.  Dear, little, humble, Max!  How the mighty could fall.  Schadenfreude:  a word she had to admit was genius.  After Max?  Then there came the little red hen.

“Listen, honey,” the Wife told her friend.  “Go on then, and fuck him.  Go on, confide in him your hopes, dreams & fears! You go on, beg him for mercy, for forgiveness, for permission to have a life apart from his.  Go on now, and you be his wife.”  The two of them sat frozen, four icy blue eyes wild, two heads of hair crackling, one jaw hanging an inch with shock.  The wife licked her lips.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover; and certainly not by its dust jacket. Everybody’s story has more than one side.  Don’t believe everything you hear.”

The Other sat, listening for the answers with every cell of her body.  She could feel mitochondria working inside herself, she could feel the mitochondria chugging away in every single person in the restaurant — the fuel of molecular energy turning substance into the stuff of life. But she perceived only silence.  The engine of life, the mitochondria?  She stared off into space.

“Look, you asshole,” the Wife said, and she stood up & grabbed the check, her gauntlet thrown.  The icy, motionless, blue Other sniffed loudly.  The Wife kept on, plunging a sword through the Other’s breastbone… twisting.  The Wife wanted blood, as was her right.  Her old life was over.  Her new life was being born, right that second.

“How dare you,” the Wife told the Other.  “You will need me someday.  You might learn you have influenza and mononucleosis at the same time.  You could need a year’s bed rest to heal your lungs & liver.  Someday, you might get arrested for something which isn’t even a crime!  You might find out you have a brain tumor.  You might die in jail.  A wise, wise man I know told me the ends of things are always coiled up, rising from their beginnings.  He changed my life.”

 

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To My Blood Sister

illustration two women sophia loren

When you drink, your voice thickens sweet &
lethal as syrup. I know that sweetness —
once I let it go all through me, I let it stay & stay.
I don’t know if we will cry together, like sisters,
my nose pressed against your neck, but for now
we can drink together from the same bottle &
descend as one into our true blue depths, united
by our sadness, our terrible failure to be loved
enough. I will not flinch from your bloodstained
towels, your green veins, your broken arms.
I understand why you weep for the dead —
though you never loved them. Still,
the yearning to save rises in you as bread rises,
doubling your volume, your capacity for pain.

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The Rosenbergs & Me, a reflection

ethel and julius rosenberg
The Rosenbergs & Me

Ethel arrived for court that day in a wool elf hat, beaming.  Her chin had grown double; her skin was flawless and glowing.  She wore a bit of lipstick.  Julius didn’t smile or frown — he looked like a man who had just woken up from a long, dreamless sleep.  Ethel draped her gloved hand over her belly as if to shield herself from unseen bullets.

Ethel & Julius grew up poor in New York, and came of age during the Great Depression.  They grew up going to rallies for the WPA, listening to radio broadcasts by FDR.  I grew up watching the rich debauch themselves in South Florida, and came of age during the Disco Years, the anything-goes Seventies.  John Travolta, spinning like a dervish in his white polyester three-piece suit.

Ethel and Julius and I were all politically inflamed at an early age — I wrote to Nixon at age 11 to protest lax emission control standards, and got a personal letter back, signed by Rosemary Woods, Queen of the Accidental Erasure.  Julius was contacted by the KGB and asked to spy for the U.S.S.R.  He found it flattering — was he really that important? — an offer he couldn’t refuse.  There were no KGB agents contacting me, but if they had… how would I have answered?

Unfortunately, in addition to the political, I also got inflamed past all reason by my mother’s drinking — I used to fling her gallon jug bottles of wine into the canal in the backyard.  My reaction was a type of revolution:  I wanted to throw off the chains of her alcoholism and be free at last.  I wanted to throw off the chains of her drunken love just as much, if not more, than Julius wanted working men and women to throw off the chains of their capitalist oppressors.

I had an ongoing fantasy:  a mother who could be confided in, a mother who wouldn’t judge, become angry, or load me up with confessions of her own, far greater problems than mine would ever be.  Once, I dreamed Ethel was my mother and it was a relief; I knew she’d fight for me; have my best interests at heart.  She looked to be a normal mother, cooking meatloaf and mashed potatoes in her tiny apartment kitchen, smoothing her boys’ foreheads after bad dreams, murmuring soothing words in the darkness.

My father and his left-wing ardor neatly complemented the Rosenbergs.  He once ran for Santa Monica, California city council on the Communist Party ticket.  It was only a few years after Kent State, the simultaneous apex & abyss of the “age of Aquarius.”  My father and I never discussed the Rosenbergs; we were in agreement on most things.

Ethel, Julius and I all studied Marxist doctrine, and I toyed with the idea of joining the American Communist Party.  I read the Party’s official platform (from the 60s), and decided, after considering Ethel & Julius’ fate, that joining wasn’t such a great idea.  To think was private, to act, public.  Plus?  I wanted to be a lawyer someday.

The Rosenbergs had a larger purpose — to transform society from what they viewed as unfair to something more egalitarian.  This is what most political rebels have wanted.  But who defines fair?  Those in power?  The USSR  hardly turned out to be an entity worth dying for.  Are Julius & Ethel content in their graves?  Maybe I should have been sent to the electric chair.

All of us spin out of control in some fashion; Ethel & Julius got caught committing actual crimes.  The main evidence against them was the testimony of Ethel’s brother, a man who turned State’s Evidence to protect his OWN WIFE.  He didn’t actually believe Ethel & Julius would ever be executed.  The government only wanted the Rosenbergs to name names.  They, however, remained silent.

After their deaths, Julius & Ethel were laid out in religious garb.  They didn’t look dead, just asleep.  The embalmer did an excellent job.  Three hundred people came to look at them.  The dead Rosenbergs left behind two young sons — I left behind my mother, slowly dying.  She was a child who wouldn’t grow up.  I couldn’t be her mother — her own mother couldn’t even be her mother anymore.  She had worn everyone out!  Julius, Ethel, don’t ask for God’s forgiveness — I can’t bring myself to.  God should be asking us for ours.  Our enemies have already forgotten us.

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Giant Redwoods, a poem

illustration muir woods 2

Giant Redwoods

(Statements in italics taken from Ethics, by Baruch de Spinoza)

Look farther and farther toward thin blue sky, until the green feathery tops of the trees are like the northern pole on some dream planet.  Put the anger back in its bottle. These trees are generous.  Hatred can never be good.

Your carsickness from the ride up the mountain begins to fade, leaving behind a breathless, weepy echo not unlike your first religious fervor.  Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.

When have you not been afraid?  The random can be scrutinized for meaning, the puzzle solved, when surveyed long & carefully enough.  Anything may be accidentally the cause of either hope or fear.

These trees have plenty of time.  As a child, you stared at Jesus’ sad face for hours, wishing you could marry him  — wondering what it was that made him love you.  Could you sacrifice yourself for the sins of the world, if it was that simple & necessary? Cathedrals turn us small and vulnerable again, for reasons both blessed & cursed.  Devotion is love towards an object which astonishes us.

Vague, starry eyes like yours feel at home here; the air is weighty, burdensome & solemn. You’ve loved trees before; this is different.  These trees have plenty of time – more time than you.  If we love a thing which is like ourselves, we endeavor as much as possible to make it love us in return.

Your nerves are suddenly frozen, by the unaccustomed richness of perfect light.  Your guide is tall & slender, hesitant to speak.  Her mother has the tattooed forearm of a Polish Jew of a certain age.  The knowledge of good and evil is nothing but an idea of joy or sorrow.  Sorrow is [a hu]man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.

These trees have plenty of time.  She touches your wrist, and for a moment, you, too, want to grow taller, leaving the surface of the earth behind forever.  Shyly, she picks up a tiny pinecone, smaller than a toy.  You both laugh when she tells you this is their seed.  Joy is [a hu]man’s passage from a less to a greater perfection.

These trees have plenty of time.  And all around, their wise, fallen, hollow bodies litter the ground like the bones of saints.  Childlike, you understand a wish to die here, never to leave this hush.  They’re only trees – your neck bent back as far as it will go; only trees, yet wondering if the giants can hear your thoughts.  Love is joy, with the accompanying idea of an external cause.  Love and desire may be excessive.  When the mind imagines its own weakness, it necessarily sorrows.

Is there anything we have less power over than our own tongues?  These trees have plenty of time, growing wise as the Buddha, in their silence.

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Oprah’s Closet, an essay

O_Magazine_cover

August 14, 2016

Oprah’s Closet, an essay on priorities

It’s Super Soul Sunday on OWN, Oprah’s personal TV network. She sits with an author on a self-help book & discusses how, she, Oprah stands inside her walk-in closet & decides it’s not making her happy anymore.

Assumption number one: we, the viewer, can stand inside our closet.

Assumption number two: we, the viewer, are far enough ahead in the game of “net worth” to be able to discuss whether or not our large walk-in closet makes us “happy.”

Oh, Oprah. And just as I was just about to feel really good about you & your legitimately valuable achievements again! I mean, come on. You name EVERYTHING after yourself, and then justify it by saying it’s inspiring others to reach what you define as their “full potential” or some shit.

What the fucking fuck? Seriously? You just snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Who gives a fuck about whether their closet makes them “happy?” Oprah, when did you get lost?

Priorities. Resources. Allocation. Social goals. Civilization. Society. Government. All people are created equal, and deserve at least a level playing field. A level playing field. Let our society make sure that every child starts the game on a level playing field. What we agree upon as humane. HUMANE treatment for humanity. Imagine that, Oprah!

Forget your closet! Let no child go hungry; unwashed; unloved; uneducated. Let no child languish in the care of a family which cannot care for them. NO child. Not just yours. Not just some theoretical children, in the abstract. Real, live, actual, living children, sitting in their living rooms, none of which should be scary, or dirty, or smelly, or empty. We are all equally entitled to the resources of this particular planet. And any other that anybody reaches.

Ain’t nobody owns the moon. Or the sea. Or the stars. Or the air. Or the water. But they WOULD LIKE TO. Therein lies the problem.

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Tunneling Bivalves (Lithophaga palmerae), a poem

ilustration tunneling bivalves Shipworm Boring

Tunneling Bivalves (Lithophaga palmerae)

I have eaten stone. I have tunneled through the hardest
hearts. For ten years, I was in the hands of a wizard
who, little by little, made me forget everything I knew

before I met him. He fed me stones. I became a small
soft thing, covered with two hinged shells, digging
farther away from the world outside, the world I thought

would hurt me. I shrank smaller each day, tunneled
deeper. I wanted to disappear. While I was enslaved,
I learned to use silence as a weapon. My shells

closed tight, tried to protect my softness, but the wizard
jammed gravel in and devoured me. We used to swim
together, in dark water, his robes hanging over the pool

like a tent. His robes were warm, and sheltered me.
His robes were stifling, and smothered me. I was not
a good apprentice. I failed all the exams, I was held

back to repeat the same lessons over and over.
He wove elaborate spells to keep me in my place.
He was content for me to be his forever.

I was his slave, though I hated him and made him pay
for my service in other ways. I thought the hardness
of his heart was a sign of God’s presence, of God’s wisdom.

I forgot to look for God’s grace, God’s joy. My tears
fell and anointed the floor. I was like a religious pilgrim
who brought palm fronds home, nailed them

to the wall of her room, slept with one eye open,
to see if dry leaves caught fire. I was a staple
for the wizard, I gave him everything I possessed,

willingly, and when he would not give me the knowledge
I sought, I betrayed him. His anger was mighty,
and destroyed much of my beauty. When I first fled

the wizard’s castle, I felt powerless, I felt alone.
The wizard was happy I was gone — I had learned
the lesson he had been trying so hard to illustrate

all those years. The one about peace, about power.
He was my teacher, for that I am grateful.
Injury comes from inside, I know that now.

I try to remember to feel God inside. Still, sometimes
I forget I am not eating stone anymore. Sometimes
the food I prepare for myself still tastes like stone.

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Pretzels & Chocolate, a poem

jim-valvis

PRETZELS & CHOCOLATE

(rented room, cigarettes)

I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs

with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue

(rented room, cigarettes)

so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate

sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine

my body molds to yours

(rented room, cigarettes)

retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth

I am eating chocolate
thinking of us
together

(rented room, cigarettes)

illustration mockingbird mimus polyglottos

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