Category Archives: marriage

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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Where Does It Begin? a poem

.new zealand stream

Where Does It Begin?
(originally published in The Charlotte Poetry Review)

Possibly with well-steeped tea,
gooseberry jam on raisin bread,
lots and lots of idle chatter;
later, he could try daily walks

through the woods — though she
has resolved she is finished with
nature — still he persists
in pointing out the log in the creek

holding five mossy-backed turtles;
if all else fails he could try
brushing her hair in the rough manner
of a mother, offhand, impatient fussing

to decipher knots. He could place her
in a room filled with the images
of budding spring trees, on a wide,
comfortable sofa, her stockinged feet

perched lightly upon the armrest
as she reads. The sight
of the frail new leaves will work
upon her, surely? Better yet,

he could fill a bowl with fruit,
three kinds of berries,
layering green upon yellow
upon blue upon red, teasing her

with a few squares of chocolate,
protesting all the while
that he always says the opposite
of what he means. Who lived my life

until this day? she will say. I could
ask myself the same question, he will
say by way of answer, placing his hands
lightly, lightly upon her shoulders

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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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How Art Thou Received? (a prayer for refugees)

How Art Thou Received? (a prayer for refugees)

Imagine: suddenly, without warning (because that is how war arrives) you are a war refugee! Simply running away from being murdered. And how are you received when you can finally stop running, when you are out of range of the guns, the bombs, the blood? No countries to take you. No one to feed you. You are a skeletal pawn in a skeletal game.

Embalmed corpses declare war on the living and fight for their “territory” against other embalmed corpses using armies of young people; embalmed corpses feeding on fresh, young blood.

I know something is very wrong, somewhere. It must be addressed, and addressed properly. Our prayer, our incantation, our spell to heal, must be more powerfully crafted, more distilled, more essential, than was the horrid spell we are trying to break: a tradition of might over right, strong but wrong, a spell of ignorance which has caused so much harm, and is trying to do more… powered by the love of power, the love of control over people.

The scarred parts of the heart can be replenished; the broken parts, glued; the weak parts, strengthened; the fear assuaged, the pain relieved. But the desire to change, to truly alchemize oneself, spin that straw into gold… the gold of the sun… the silver of the stars… the red planet… the North Star… primal navigation by looking not at the ground, but by looking up, to the sky… that kind of desire doesn’t visit often.

If you want to know where you are going, be sure your map is accurate, or at least doesn’t kill you. Migrating birds know this. Power & Liberation. Slave & free. Joy & Suffering. High & low.

Craving slaves, some are trying to roll us back to serfdom, only they can use our own science & technology to rape us! Serfdom: tied by birth to land. You are a pawn, a source of income; in thrall to your Lord and Master. Freeing serfs is always a struggle. Brute force arm-wrestles the human race, and brute force often pins people to the mat, but… you cannot keep people down for long. The oppressed will continue to spring up and defend their inalienable human rights. All people are created equal: including our ancestors, who existed long before the self-anointed first “private property” owners. Human beings are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, yes? The earth cannot belong to any one of us. Period. We own this planet. All of us.

 

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Judy Garland and The Banana Tree, an essay


illustration judy somewhere over the rainbowillustration banana tree

A banana tree is a metaphor for life, really… it dies after it bears fruit. It gives its life to produce the next generation. Banana leaves are so useful. Useful when they’re green, and useful when they’re brown. Generation upon generation. That really is a sacred word, generation. WE generate ideas, too. So can’t WE generate more peace, rather than more war? Can’t OUR fuel be love, not hate? Yes, just like the banana tree, sometimes destruction is necessary to create new life… recycling? Reincarnation?

One way of looking at things is to take a leap of faith – decide that when WE die, nothing will be lost; everything will be gained. WE leave behind US a legacy, all of US, shaping the reality of the UNIVERSE. The UNIVERSE is alive through US! The UNIVERSE writes songs and stories and mathematics and music through US! WE are engines! WE are alive! WE are organic! WE, human beings, are evolving right this second! LIFE doesn’t stand still! LIFE adapts, or ceases! LIFE IS EVOLUTION. Trying to cling too desperately to the past is to entomb the SELF in stone, alone, buried alive, dying. WE’RE alive until WE’RE dead.

Value this opportunity. Don’t throw it away. Take care of OUR home, planet Earth. Take care of OUR fellow travelers. Send not a sword, but an olive branch to OUR enemies as well as OUR friends. OUR bitterest enemy may turn out to be OUR best companion. Only time will tell. WE live within moments, WE exist within history, and WE are passionate within the spirit. Train that energy! Use passion to create, not to destroy! Destructive passion, combined with weapons of all kinds, might kill US all. Respond to life with logic AND emotion. Let US use OUR brains and OUR gut. Instead of the falling abyss of dread, the rising flutter of joy… and at the end of life, may WE all have truly, truly, truly found PEACE.

Cue Judy Garland, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

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Lilies of the Field, a short story

illustration lilies of the field

Lilies of the Field, a short story

Harry: Boy With Car

In the picture, Harry leaned back on his car, his arms crossed over his chest, tautly, the muscles bulging underneath his white T-shirt. He wore sunglasses and his hair was blown back off his forehead, as if from great speed. The car was a ‘57 Chevrolet, bright blue, brand new. He’d just left his mother’s house to live with a girlfriend, not Joanna — he didn’t meet Joanna for another 10 years. For a long time, he subsisted off a series of dead-end jobs and girlfriends while masquerading as a college student. The women he lived with all had a few things in common: uneducated but bright, a love of dogs, and perky telephone voices. They leaned against him in the front seat when he drove fast and their hair whipped his forehead. He was confident in those days, nothing had ever broken him. He had not yet been given the gift of suffering.

Joanna: The Queen of Grief

Joanna, in a state of grief and intoxication, returning from her grandmother’s funeral, sat in an automatic photo booth in Atlanta, eyes closed, lips pursed, head tilted back, her skin glowing white, her face blurred, too high to be captured on film. She met Harry in the local airport when she got home. He was intoxicated also, and was leaving to report to the Marines. She gave him her address and phone number and one of the blurry photos. He kept the picture in his wallet and called her every day, collect, from boot camp. She lay awake all night thinking about him, reciting romantic poetry into a tape recorder, then sent him the tape. She was disappointed in love before, but only by herself. She was cold and polite while others were warm and fumbling. How did one love another, anyway? She was, at heart, a hermit, but too much of a coward to live as one. It made for a tumultuous love life.

If Wishes Were Fishes

Harry sat in profile on the edge of a riverbank, his hair dripping forward over his forehead, his shoulders hunched, wearing red bathing trunks, and his black boots lying on his crumpled clothing. He refused to look at the camera. A pale straw hat had fallen off his head and lay directly behind him. The day was bright and clear. He was home from the Marines after 8 weeks, having been excused on medical grounds. He phoned Joanna upon his return. He lived in his car until he moved in with her. Harry said he despised her money and wished she were penniless. Secretly, he realized it didn’t hurt that all the bills were paid regardless of what else was happening. He took to collecting glass paperweights, and Joanna bought one for him everywhere she went. Gradually, Harry started to acquire her taste in champagne.

Woman with Drugs

Joanna stood on a wolf skin rug over a floral Persian carpet, in front of a lace curtain. Her dress reached the floor, white, with puffed sleeves, taken in at the waist by a narrow belt with a small bow. She held a sprig of marijuana in her left hand. Her hair was dark red, her lips painted scarlet. Her skin was only slightly darker than her dress and the curtain. Flowers were scattered in front of her feet on the wolf-fur. Harry was behind the lens, mocking the Impressionists. He admitted to himself for the first time that he was glad Joanna had money, though he would still love her if she were penniless.   He was the opposite of a snob — he made Joanna feel guilty that her family had taken advantage of his by accumulating more than they’d needed. The shadow of her money hung over them like a disused, rotting gallows.

Drawing the Line

Harry and Joanna were dancing. He had his arm tightly about her waist. She wore a red hat and looked away from him, over her right shoulder at the ground. He asked her to marry him, and she refused. He kept asking, and in a year she got pregnant and said yes. She didn’t believe in abortion. He began to ask her to put some part of her assets in his name, for the child’s sake. She refused. He accused her of frivolous spending and waste. She took an extended trip across the country with the baby, leaving Harry at home to care for the dogs. While she was gone, he brought a prostitute home and lived with her for a week. The prostitute wore all of Joanna’s lingerie and jewelry, but Harry didn’t let her sleep in their bed. When Joanna returned, Harry had drunk half a bottle of whiskey and vomited on the kitchen floor.

Acquisition

Joanna stood in the yard wearing a blue silk windbreaker. It was bitter cold and windy. Her hair obscured her eyes. Both she and Harry felt like he was taking her picture for a “wanted” poster. The baby screamed while Harry took the photos. In the beginning, Harry had wanted Joanna to make him feel real, rooted, and loved, to have all the accoutrements of material wealth without having to actually acquire them himself. To acquire material wealth, oneself, was such a tiresome prospect. After all, thought Harry, Joanna did not have to acquire it herself, she got it from her family. Now he’d be satisfied if she paid him with a bit of kind attention. She waited patiently for him to commit adultery, not knowing about last year’s whore. Meanwhile, their life in bed had dwindled down to almost nothing. Partly due to his drinking, partly due to her disinterest.

Disposition

Harry sat on a kitchen chair, elbows on his knees, and hands under his chin. He tried to look cute. Joanna pointed the camera at him and smiled, hoping to hide her inner revulsion. The problem was, they never fought about anything specific — they just fought. She wanted Harry to want her in a way better than the way in which she wanted him. A needier, nobler way of wanting — something that would take the whole heart, not just a sad, tacky corner of it, the way she felt wanting Harry occupied hers. Unfortunately, Harry didn’t seem capable of neediness and nobility, no more capable than she. How much money would Harry want, she wondered? She had an appointment with a lawyer in the morning. Joanna had been lonely when they met. If she expected comfort from Harry, she did not get it. It was too bad about the child, it was always too bad about that.

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