Category Archives: dreams

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 Iconoclast Says Goodbye, a short story

illustration the iconoclast says goodbye

The Iconoclast Says Goodbye, a short story

Dear Zarel:

It was 1977.  You’d majored in filmmaking at the same expensive, private school Stephen Spielberg went to.  You were 25, and stalled.  For entertainment, you drew a cartoon strip, Fred and Edna — they were strange four-eyed aliens, and of course all the humor was sexual.  You had another idea for a cartoon — pieces of meat talking to each other, perched on barstools.  We met at Mr. Pip’s discotheque.  I was 5’ 7” and weighed 130 pounds but thought I was fat.  Everybody was skinny then.

All that cocaine; cutting edge.  You asked me to dance, I forget whether you asked my friend first or me.  I would have been slightly offended.  I knocked your glasses off on the dance floor.  It charmed you somehow.  We were drinking, probably vodka gimlets, that was my idea.  We went off in your car, you parked at the beach.  You got my number and said you’d like it if you could be my first lover.  You cooked dinner for me at your parent’s — they were away for the weekend.  I was impressed with your cooking, the French antiques and the view of the bay.

We took a sauna in your parent’s bath.  We went upstairs; I was only slightly spooked by the huge oil painting of your mother in full jewelry regalia on the landing.  Out came your pack of Trojans; it was difficult, painful.  I can’t say I enjoyed it much the first time.  “It’s just… got… to open,” you kept saying.  My muscles were clamped tight as a vise.  You worked up such a sweat trying to impress me, later you revealed you’d slept with hundreds of women.  Over time, things improved for me in bed, but the closer you came to me emotionally, the faster I started to retreat.

I always dreamed and schemed for love then got strangely revolted when it appeared.  I thought you were too old because you were approaching thirty.  I felt typecast, imported from the sticks.  Your mother seethed, your father smiled benignly.  Every Sunday morning, you brought my mom the finest nova and bagels — but my grandmother cast a dour eye on our trysts.

For fun, we drag-raced on I-95 — always a tie.  You said I liked to dominate relationships — to me it didn’t feel like domination, only self-expression.  I didn’t want to be owned.  You weren’t romantic enough, and never romantic at the right time.  It could have been worse, for my first affair.  If only you’d given me a nicer present our first Christmas together, maybe we wouldn’t have broken up.

I just didn’t like the sugar dispenser.  Then there was your plan for my prom — you were going to wear a T-shirt printed with a tuxedo.  I was 17 — I wanted to be taken seriously.  One night, lying on my mom’s couch we discussed marriage and children — you wanted to name our first Bozo — but the next morning I knew it was over.  My heart was sheathed.

I liquefied in your arms, then dribbled away. You tried for months, told me how wonderful I was, how beautiful I was, but I didn’t believe you.  You said you were too busy for friendship.  It had to be all or nothing.  After we broke up I saw men who reminded me of you everywhere, and every time my stomach lurched.  I waffled, waffled, waffled.  I bought a plane ticket to see you, then came an attack of conscience, or memory, or both.  You wanted to be my alpha & omega.  Nice dream, love  love love.

Goodbye,

your Iconoclast

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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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The Song of Women of Jaded Time, a poem

la voix humane simone signoret

The Song of Women of Jaded Time
(for François Villon)

Talk to me this instant, or don’t ever bother
talking to me again. You think your sorrow
is like a flower, you beautiful, pitiful Italian;
but you are not a paragon, not crying like this.

Underneath my foot you shall find perfection.
You are like an echo of my own will, you shall
learn to speak of my brutality all the time,
and love it. Under this river or in your hands

I shall drown — how beautiful is too much human pain.
May you sing your own black heart forever!
Listen to what I say, but don’t hear it with your ears.
Listen with your heart, you are like a blooming flower,

you wild, beautiful fool. Your injured foot is far more
beautiful than my own. Don’t repeat me, speak only
of my brutality all the time. Under the water I will drown,
or under your hands. How beautiful is too much fever,

or human pain? May you sing your black song forever!
Or, perhaps you are like the wise, able Heloise,
and my blessed foot will kick you hardest
when you are already down. Like her dim-witted

Abelard — for love, he ceased breathing. Love,
I think you resemble the king that commands
none but the harridan. First, jettison your silly bag
of river water. Long may you sing your black heart!

You are wise, and blessed, as are all ill-fated lovers.
For love, we cease living — we all resemble royalty
in this way. I command the bitch who is my deepest
self: first throw away everything you hold dear.

May you sing with your thick blackness in my life.
The queen of white is coming to lie — she chants
regally in a serene voice. I was born of Bertha
with her grand feet, she of Beatrice, Alice,

harem dancers all, colored in the main for beauty rather than wisdom.
And we come, too, from Joanna, the beautiful Swiss girl.
The English back then were belligerent, though mainly
in Rouen. Or do I see in your sad eyes, your oldest

unforgotten queen? May you sing of your black, tight
heart until the words choke you with regret, with forgiveness.
I was once a queen, of all I surveyed.
I sang with a stilted voice. My mother,

my grandmother, my great-grandmother
were all such foolish harem dancers,
too lovely to look at and let live.
And the beautiful maid who cleaned

my rooms… I was always bitchiest
to her just before the dawn. O, your
sharp eyes went through me like a sword.
May you sing your own praises until nightfall!

O Prince, do not ask to love me except for cruelty,
do not wonder where those other ladies are, this year —
what a sad refrain your unshaven face reminds me of.
I used to know someone, he was a lot like you.

May you sing lullabies to your faithless black heart!
O my lord, do not ask me to come to you out of
kindness — do not ask where I have lived until now.
What an ancient sorrow you have reopened!

May you sing this pain into the book of all eternity.

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Conceived on Valentine’s Day, a poem

illustration-valentines-day-a-poem

Conceived on Valentine’s Day, a poem

In the beginning, I almost hated them for bringing me into the world…
alone as egg, one floats weightless, drifting peacefully like a helium balloon,

and as sperm, one swims in ever-widening circles with serene joy.
I never approved the union: his tiny-tailed kamikaze wriggling to oblivion,

smashing headfirst into the mammalian membrane of her egg.
But now I love my frail universe; evidence of their short, fraught marriage.

They cooked me in the kitchen, first upon a midcentury, glitter-red dinette set,
then on gleaming, spotless black & white linoleum. I remember my mother

at that exact moment, the way she arched dizzily beneath him half-clothed…
her strapless formal askew, her silk stockings awry, her feet bare

after kicking off her spike heels. Barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen, she learned
quickly to live with organized madness. A love collision, a soft accident, birthed me.

She opened her soul to my father like a flower opening to the sun & he did the same;
my hands, my feet, my face suddenly called into existence by heat & explosions.

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Pretty Young Women, Playing A Game, a very short story

Pretty Young Women, Playing A Game

The stupid party game I suggested that night was called “the worst moment of your life.” A half-dozen of us were playing, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor. The prettiest, Kelly, resembled a long-past period of fashion, with her trembling dusty-yellow curls, her sharp little chin — her eyes were bright blue, her frame delicate. We had been up all night; the sun was close to rising, but the birds hadn’t started their relentless cheerful, spell-breaking noise.

Kelly didn’t want to play at first, but the rest of us insisted, figuring what? That not making head cheerleader was her life’s worst tragedy? That’s what happens again and again to women like her, they try to explain why they don’t want to talk about it… but no one listens.

The second prettiest one, Vicki, was pale and fleshy, moving with a clumsy, yet charming, slowness that made the rest of us wonder if it was an act… or could she really be that dumb? Across the undersides of her velvety forearms gleamed a network of thin white scars… the baby she’d left at her mother’s that night was not her husband’s. Mistakes get made; the child’s father was never heard from again.

Oh, but now Vicki wanted to get remarried so badly it made every other woman in the room flush with embarrassment just hearing her mention her latest lover’s name. We knew because of the kid that wasn’t his he would never agree to marry her; but she was so beautiful… scars, sad eyes and all… that he couldn’t say no to what she offered up nightly.

So, after being pushed & pushed & pushed & pushed & pushed into participating, Kelly narrated the worst moment of her life. Her twin sister was in the middle of a divorce. We never knew she HAD a sister. A few days before Christmas, the estranged husband called — he had lots of presents for the kids. She agreed to meet him at a gas station down the street. The only thing he gave her was three bullets — one in the spleen, one in the right lung, one in the throat.

“At least he had the decency to shoot himself too,” Kelly says sobbing. “How does marriage turn into murder?” The rest of us watched tears plop out of her eyes like clear glass pearls; we heard the birds finally, blessedly, began to chatter, bringing relentless life back into the world.

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Ruby Bridges, Civil Rights Icon

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