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She Hates Numbers

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Divine Love, Divine Hate, an essay

illustration divine love divine hate

Divine Love, Divine Hate, an essay

Scientists have of late discovered that music stimulates the same areas of the brain as food and sex. That’s why listening to music can bring a chill, raise the small hairs on the back of the neck. That’s why music demands — and gets — our closest attention. You need me, the music calls, you need me to survive, to perpetuate your species. Without me, you will have less well-being, less pleasure and satisfaction. What a design! Food, sex and — music.

The pleasure centers of the brain — the reptilian, primitive intelligence — is not involved in abstract thought but entrusted with the very essence of staying alive. Yet the impulses and desires which originate there find means of expression in our higher intelligence. Food and sex are necessary for survival, so necessary that sometimes it seems as though the whole human world, all human society and culture, can be thought of as nothing more than an interesting mechanism to keep us supplied with food and sex.

The appreciation of music springs from that same primal area of the brain — could this possibly mean there must be a God, after all — a God who gave us another instinct, one for pleasure and beauty, in addition to our basic instincts to survive? Music, a divine invention with no practical purpose. No purpose at all other than to inspire in us joy, mystery, fear and abandon.

Think of all the emotions we can express with food, sex and music:   passion, joy, disinterest, experimentation, violence, anger, tenderness, wistfulness, meditation, transcendence. Food, sex and music can be used to communicate, even intensify, all these emotions, yet the trio can also be used to push us past all of these feelings to a region of Godlike rationality and knowledge. Yes, occasionally our existence becomes clear, understood fully until surface complexity falls away into the deeper simplicity of detached understanding. A strangely quiet joy — a joy beyond anything prosaic.

A poetic joy, able to recreate itself in the mind forever. Sometimes the memory of such enlightenment is what keeps us going when the enlightenment itself feels as far away as Uranus or Pluto — as cold, as unreachable. Remembering how once we held it in our bodies and it filled us so there was nothing empty, noting lacking, nothing to fear — not even death. It is a knowledge, a contentment, which infants possess without awareness. To possess this peace with awareness is the greatest achievement, but one which few people are able to sustain for long. We hold it and fall in love with it and in an instant it twists out of our hands and flashes off into the distance like an agile, silvery minnow. Enlightenment as God’s minnow. Look at it too closely, try to keep it too long, and you may never see it again.

I myself have only a rather wobbly faith in God’s existence, but I nonetheless feel pity for people who declare without hesitation that nothing divine exists. What a drab, ugly world their interior castles must be, with only themselves for company.

The divine cannot be ruled out. We cannot know what exists beyond our senses.   Certainly people have been enraptured by the idea of divinity — especially, most recently, the notions of divine anger, divine vengeance — modern terrorists have embraced these, but without embracing the corresponding ideas of divine love and divine compassion. Yes, people have fastened their wills on the idea of divine judgment, but they have ignored completely divine forgiveness.

The cockroach is as marvelous a creation as anything — see it scuttle away from the light, a most marvelous mechanism, see it copulate, see it reproduce itself, see it taste its food with pleasure twinkling in its delicate, wavelike feelers. No less miraculous than us. But we have an ability the cockroach does not have — to be self-aware of our divine impulses — our duty as human beings is to dive both below and above our own ordinary human consciousness. To bring all our unconscious knowledge and desires into to the conscious realm — both those desires labeled primitive and those labeled exalted.

Some elements of love are to be found in the roach. It loves its life: flees from danger, attempts to avoid harm, and tries to survive no matter what the odds. This is where the terrorists have failed. They have embraced only half the divine order — divine hate — the half that appeals to them more and suits their political purposes. They need to stretch themselves, accept all things God has created — even those they find distasteful or abhorrent — and leave the judging to God. They need to cultivate in themselves divine compassion and divine love. Terrorists profess they love God, but they do not love God’s creation — therefore that love is flawed, is not really love at all. Their love has turned inside out into hate.

They need to learn from the cockroach, as do we all. We possess vast potential for divine virtue, yet are so capable of falling into the abyss of pride. These terrorists have fallen, and they are trying to pull us down with them. We must not surrender to only part of the divine order. We must catch ourselves with the feelers of the insect before we tumble too far.

I cannot blame anyone who feels the need to destroy the terrorists. I feel that need myself, the blood lust of anger and retribution. But we must find a response pleasing to the divine. That is what prayer is — thinking about what a divinely perfect being might do, waiting for the small voice to tell us the right way to handle this new permutation of evil — without ourselves falling under its wicked spell.

This is what all religious searching has been aimed at. Whether we believe God exists or not — we can imagine God, as God might exist. Sometimes it is better to die than to kill the blameless. We can feel such things in our deepest selves, and these places are just as important to reach with the conscious mind as the highest levels of abstract thought.

We can imagine God, we can love God, we can honor God, and that is what matters most, not whether God truly exists. Good and evil, love and hate, right and wrong, call it whatever you like. It is our uniquely human gift, our uniquely human burden. Did we ask for this? Be careful what you wish for, goes the old admonition. Would I rather be my dog, or my cat? Sometimes I envy their peace of mind. They don’t know about world wars. But my most divine pleasures, feeling them and knowing that I am pleased, and knowing why — in this way I have my cake and eat it, too. The lure of that apple in the garden is a lovely allegory, whether it happened or not — we invented it. This is the quality of our humanity which we can never give back, no matter how much we might want to.

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Blood Mother, a poem (sculpture in the Orsay Museum, Paris)

illustration blood mother
Blood Mother, a poem (sculpture in the Orsay Museum, Paris)

She is made of wood, a silken hardness that begs touching.
Should anyone reach, trail a fingertip across her flesh,
the man in straps would speak, his mumbled words rasping
through the stopped air, turning beating cells boorish,

piercing desire’s heart, killing a love so old, so pure,
it has no real name. Such is obvious from the way she stands,
lifting her heavy hair, each hand the careful cynosure
of being — she drapes the primal fiber like garlands,

letting it flow free only to capture the thickness of trees.
Her eyes are closed. Under abraded lids resides the look
everyone knows: pupils enlarged by pain; simple refugees
from knowledge received of the body, woman’s final textbook.

The belly asks first. It says come, reside here within me,
neither cold, nor afraid, nor desirous — twirl and dream
of nothing but this spare salt universe, wear only veins, silky
wisps of hair, discreet, pale limbs enfolded by soft cream.

Her feet nourish the ground, her head becomes the forest.
Walk where her shadow falls, seek the margin of her arms,
soothe your tired neck in mother’s lucid heat, hedonist
entity you have become, set in blind motion under charms

worked by no laboratory scientist in a trim white robe.
Rather, you emerged redly from a thousand other deaths,
one messy cauldron holding shapes; the patient, springy web
of chosen elements drawn together, joined by many faiths.

The breasts want, too. Child, they sing in unison, nourish your
body with our thin white blood — suckle, cradle the nipple deep
against the palate, pull the flow from a dozen small pores, gnaw
strong like a velveted vise, drink true until you swallow sleep.

The need to believe is more than skin. Need is the whole glossy
image on this lonely wall; what it means to be such a mechanism!
She never schemed for her fey power — nor does she expect mercy.
You exist, mere fragile accident, in perfect jeweled synchronism.

Not as simple as punishment, nor as complex as grace, her skills
for life reside at a place men cannot enter, no fault of their
own. They build instead the world, of brick, stone; shy stabiles
meant to appease longing, courageous memorials to light, to air.

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Why I Hate You, a poem

illustration why i hate you

Why I Hate You

You know why I hate you?  You’re a weak vine, needing to be propped up, needing more comfort than a baby.  You imagine bugs, crawling up the walls, down your hair.  Their wings whir in the night like soft sobs.

I hate you because you’re ugly — a slob, a slut, a sucker.  Because you saw your mother passed out on the carpet in front of the television, one too many times, but you didn’t kill her the way she wanted to be killed.  You didn’t help when she needed you.  Because you let yourself be unimportant for so many years and did nothing to help yourself until it was too late, until you’d already lost the war.  Peace came on unfavorable terms, the enemy couldn’t be placated.

I hate you because you’re afraid of the dark.  When you’re with a man, you lean on the solidity of his body, the real beat of his heart, you listen to his rhythmic breathing, and you’re not afraid anymore, but you start to get antsy.  His body sounds so much stronger than yours.  They don’t cry the way you do.  Does that mean they don’t feel?  Why do they want to be with the likes of you?  You don’t have the slightest idea what you want from them.  Late at night is the worst.  The stars unfold ahead of you, and you can’t find your way to the future, stupid bitch.

That’s when I hate you the most.  You’re utterly without honor.  You imagine your ex-husband, fat and happy in his bed, eating candy.  He doesn’t suffer like you do, he has already forgotten why he married you in the first place.  He is perfect.  He is way above you in the cosmos, he is light, reason.  Your life is insignificant, ignorant and small, and won’t leave a shadow.

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Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story

illustration heavenly dances heavenly intimacies

Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story

“Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?”

Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

How can I be “dead” to any of the men I once loved?  They are not “dead” to me.  Not even H.  How can I be “dead” to H.?  They — even H. — are each as alive as when I was with them; as alive as the first time they touched me, whether tentatively or with confidence; whether softly or roughly; whether with passion or mere lust.  It is shocking and appalling how H. lurched so radically to the right after 9/11.  He began that journey to the Tea-Party-Mad-Hatter-Neocon-Bill-Buckley-Wall-Street-Apologist-Fringe-Brainless-Faux-News-Right when Ronald Reagan was shot; I was with him the very night it happened.  We had a short affair, right then, because we started thinking the end of the world had arrived and we decided, like the crazy college students we were, to get married to celebrate our courage in the face of chaos!  I realized very early on (but still way too late!) I was embarrassed to be seen in public with him.  Did you ever start seeing, and marry someone whom you later realized you were embarrassed to be seen with?  Perhaps the person in question was “dorky,” “geeky,” dressed “badly,” or had questionable “taste.”  H. readily admits he was a “dork” in high school.  He was on the debate team; need I say more?  When you can’t bear to be seen in your lover’s/spouse’s/significant other’s/partner’s company, things usually don’t work out.

Still, I put in ten dutiful years, trying to make amends for my mistake in marrying H.  The second he started making the big bucks, he dumped me.  He left me for my best friend!  I guess I deserved it, not taking control of my own life & filing for divorce two weeks after we married.  And I guess I deserved how my ex-best-friend S. ruined me, as she subsequently did.  She was in charge of the whole group we had socialized with:  dictating how everyone in our “circle” should think, speak, act, or react.  H. was dead wrong about most everything, but, to his credit, he was dead right about her.  At the time I thought him merely woman-hating, but I see now, even though he did hate women, there was something more than simply being a “woman” he hated about her.  He was covering up the fact he loved her by pretending to hate her.  Now, I have no desire to see her, not ever again.  She is definitely “dead” to me.  Yes, I understand intellectually, a living death (call it shunning) can happen to anyone.

The upshot of all this boring history?  I’ve been waiting for something a long time.  I can’t blame anyone but myself for my unhappiness, not anymore.  There is something dispirited inside me, something empty, drained, and beaten — something sick, something tired, something that has surrendered.  I gave up, when?  When my first ex-husband arbitrarily said no to children, breaking his solemn vow.  When I realized I couldn’t find happiness outside myself — not with an old love, not with a new love, not with any of my subsequent husbands, my friends, my eventual children, or my family.  Yes, to casual acquaintances and virtual strangers I am “happy, happier than I’ve ever been.”  And it’s true!  I’ve never been this happy, this contented, in my life.  Yes, there are still problems.  My oldest son is still half the world away, fighting an endless war on behalf of my “country.”  My youngest son still has an ignorant, racist, rabidly conservative father.  I am getting old.  My face is melting.  My neck is turning into a wattle.  I am drooping.

Still, I cannot imagine any of them, the men I have loved or made love to, being dead to me the way my former best friend, S., is dead to me.  Yet that is how they must feel about me, the way I feel about her.  Wanting her removed from my memories.  Wanting never to have met her.  Not missing anything about her.  She wants to see me, I heard from a mutual friend I still speak to.  I don’t want to see her, or even see the mutual friend.  I don’t even want to get as close as that!  Because of reasons.  Top secret, NSA, DOD, CIA, FBI, SEC, IRS, FDLE, GPD, ACSO reasons!  No further comment!

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Baby Chicks and Free Speech, a short story

illustration baby chicks and free speech free_speech

Baby Chicks and Free Speech, a short story

Here I am, sitting on the long, narrow side patio of “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor” listening to yet another, tiresome & self-aggrandizing, homeless guy tell some adoring young female his “war stories.” So this one night, under this bridge… they usually begin, as does this one.

And then they arrive as quickly as possible (as does this one) at the “no one dares to call the police on me anymore,” stage, or is it no one dares call the state troopers, or the FBI, or the CIA, or the NSA? Whatever. Boils down to the fact that some dangerous, or just plain, old, drug-addled sociopath, is trying to pick up a drunk, defenseless-seeming chick (and I do mean chick – even her hair is fluffy like a newly hatched & dried chicken’s) on the side porch at “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor.” Then I hear the magic words: crazy bitch! Bingo!

So, to cut a long, boring, pointless ordeal short, I let him have it in the face with both barrels. Told him from where I sat, not even lifting my head to look, or my pencil from page of the blank composition book I was writing in, that if he could call someone a “crazy bitch” loud enough for me to hear him all the way at the opposite end of the uncovered concrete patio, then I could call him a “stupid, fucking sociopathic, prick asshole” as loud as I wanted to, from my end of the patio.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s your right of free speech.” And then he went inside to have the management call the cops on me. Ooh, he just trotted back out to tell me he works at the College of Law — he’s real important!

The poor, homeless chick I was afraid was going to end up as a body dumped by him somewhere along the nearest exit of the nearest interstate is not going with him now, she’s clutching her head and moaning how she was “just on my way to the lake, man!” She sounds like Janis Joplin after a shot of heroin and half a bottle of whiskey. I just kept telling her I loved her, over and over and over. And that he most definitely did NOT love her. Or have her best interests at heart.

I gave him a fucking piece of my mind. Maybe I didn’t save her life, but I definitely saved her poor, little, skinny ass from a predatory, muscle-bound hunk of steroidal ego-maniac-ism. With a tanning booth tan, or maybe it’s a spray tan, who gives a fuck. I think the other patrons inside this place just told him to get the hell out of here. We’re all here, some of us twice a day, almost like clockwork – since this is the first time I’ve ever seen him, I doubt he is a “regular.”

Oh, but the poor, unjustly accused, wee man-child protests plaintively he was “just trying to do somebody a favor, buying a homeless person a cup of coffee.” The “crazy bitch” he referred to outside on the patio was, drum roll please… his mother! Wow, there’s a shocker. What sociopath/serial killer/manipulator/user/con man/misogynist/racist/violent/physically or emotionally or financially abusive A-hole doesn’t blame their “crazy bitch” of a mother for everything they’ve brought on to themselves!

I told him she must really love him, his mom, especially when he calls her “crazy bitch” to her face on Mother’s Day! I thought his head would explode right there, all over the rusty, rickety, nasty tables the owner is too cheap to replace. Why I keep coming back here, I’ll never know. My nephew says it’s haunted… maybe the spirits are trying to get me here so they can tell me something I desperately need to know. What if I don’t want to listen to them? And I don’t! Not the bad ones, anyway. So I generally try to ignore them all, altogether, because trying to sort the good spirits from the bad spirits seems like tempting fate.

Miss “Chicken Little/Little Chicken/My Little Chickadee” would have paid handsomely for that “free” iced coffee drink with a priceless piece of her tiny, bony ass. Look on the bright side: maybe she would have left him with a little something infectious and/or potentially itchy to remember her by. Of course, if she had gotten pregnant, he would have denied everything, including ever having met her. And pity the poor child born of such a freak-o-zoid union!

Now the musclebound sociopath is gone, back on his expensive racing bike, continuing on his way to the neighborhood weightlifting “meat market” joint three blocks down the road, where he can peacock his spray-tanned asshole-ry around for all the other macho/macha bodybuilders. College of Law employee? We’ll just see about that. Yeah, that’s what I thought… nobody on the staff possesses his distinctive face. How considerate of the College of Law to have its own mini-facebook thing! Legal Sociopath Dude vacated the premises, and quickly. Thank you, all good spirits haunting “Ye Olde Neighborhood Coffee Parlor!”

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She Finally Had Enough, a short story

illustration she finally had enough

She Finally Had Enough, a short story

One fateful, thunder-stormy, early summer, north central Florida evening, this thrice-divorced, somewhat neurotic, fairly attractive for her age, fifty-three year old woman suddenly and completely unexpectedly decided she’d finally had enough snuggling. Not just enough for the moment, the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year — no, she’d finally had enough for an entire lifetime. From February 15th to June 15th, she tortured her brand-new, super-hot boyfriend (who had long, luxuriant, ginger hair with a couple of silver strands mixed in to add visual interest) with so many snuggling demands, and he was so kind, so generous with his snuggling (and other) abilities, which were, shall we say, subtle, complex, and mature, as well as multiple in nature. If you get the hidden meaning. No pun intended. That’s a damnable lie. Every pun intended, and included for general salacious effect upon you, dear reader. Deal with it! Go get your own damned snuggling, right this second, from whomever it is you most wish to snuggle. Maybe it’s your wife, your husband, your child, your parent, your neighbor, your bitterest enemy, your dearest friend, maybe it’s Adolf Hitler or George W. Bush, or your dog, or the armadillo that’s digging a big trench next to your driveway and gave birth to a litter of babies last week, maybe it’s your hippie nephew you’ve taken into your care who’s living in your former mother-in-law suite, whoever. Maybe it’s the lonely woman eating at the take out Chinese restaurant downtown, maybe it’s the funky bartendress at your favorite liquor lounge, maybe it’s the espresso maker at your local coffee parlor…. See the picture? Find yourself somebody to snuggle and leave me the fuck out of it!

So anyway, in four short months this awesome dude donated so much snuggling to the fifty-three year old woman that she’d finally, finally, finally had enough. And just like that, she never needed to be snuggled again. The teletype machines couldn’t spit out enough copy; she was nominated for International Lifetime Snuggling Achievement Woman of the Year, the Decade, the Century, the Millenium, in whatever year you think this could happen in, whichever is your favorite year, whichever year of the cat or rabbit or duck or dog or snake, whatever year you want to choose, pick the year you were born, for example, or the year in which you’ll die, whatever year gives you the most satisfaction. Because when the Stones sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” that was a vicious lie, a piece of propaganda promulgated to make women everywhere stop expecting said “satisfaction,” and to make skanky little slutty Mick Jagger seem more handsome and powerful than he actually was. The Beatles will forever kick the Stones’ lame asses. Forever and ever, amen. No matter what cowards who enlisted in the Coast Guard to avoid being sent to Vietnam might think. Cowards can’t be trusted. Ever. And that’s my final word on this subject. Forever and ever, AMEN.

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Ojai is the Chumash Word for Moon, a prose poem

illustration ojai is the chumash word for moon

Ojai Is the Chumash Word for Moon

1. When I See the Moon She Comes Back to Me

Everyone else has something good to tell. This is what I have. This is what she gave me. Even now I see my mother’s face, soft and drunk, pale and frightful, moving through the darkness, soaring over me as mysterious and unreachable as the moon. Her affection waxed and waned, never constant. When she’d had enough Scotch, she loved me, but the way she went about her mother-love, pulling at me with sorrowful, clumsy arms given unnatural strength by liquor, made my flesh wither under her touch.

2. Possessions

My mother and father lived in a solidly built house, outer walls nearly two feet thick, in the oldest and grandest neighborhood in their town. They lived where people like them had lived for hundreds of years. My father felt comfortable with his mahogany furniture, his linen upholstery, his hand-woven Orientals. He collected, among other things, antique, cut-crystal decanters. They were displayed in a case in the living room, unfilled, sparkling, sharply defined edges, here and there a tiny chip but that only added to their elderly charm. Things weren’t supposed to be new; he took satisfaction in the fact he’d inherited most of the contents of his house. His life, its outward details — wife, child, home, furniture, and car, standing in the community, salary, and immediate circle of peers — had functioned for many years like a brick wall, and he found himself hiding behind that wall even as it started getting chipped away.

3. Fathers and Mothers are Our First Lovers

My mother had skin like rose petals, eyes like a deer’s. Too needy for most men, she could not be promiscuous — she was not strong enough for that. There were times when she forgot to be sad, if only when some equally sad-eyed boy noticed her. If a boy loved her to the point of obsession, to the point of contemplating suicide, she imagined she might find the strength within herself to survive, but she eventually rejected all such suitors, only wanting those who were unattainable, as her father and later her husband, my own father, were. Remote, a source of funds and orders and criticism, the two closest men in her life approved of her external beauty but not her soul. They didn’t care what she wanted — they wanted her to be like all the other girls and women, to be beautiful and obedient and never talk to dead Indian spirits. They broke her will; she broke their hearts. Distance was how they both managed her. If she could have hardened herself on the inside, if she could have seen either one of them as just another man she could conquer with her flesh, it would have helped.

4. Intimacy

My father and my mother were having sex one night, and my mother was on top of him and she got that silly, dreamy-eyed look, like when she read a romance novel. “Remember when you were little?” she said, still sitting on top of him, him inside her.

“What do you mean?” he asked. He and my mother were aliens to each other anymore.

“Don’t you remember sitting on your mother’s lap, in her arms?”

“My mother?” he asked.

“Wasn’t it good to feel her arms around you, as a little boy?”

He was inside her still and he felt his penis start to shrivel. His mother! What had she got to do with anything? “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked.

“Your mother, holding you in her arms, when you were a tiny little boy. It must have felt so good.”

“You’re sick,” he said, pushing her off him.

“Sick?” she said. “What do you mean, sick?”

“Asking me about my mother at a time like that, it’s sick.”

She rolled over and was silent, and then he heard her start to cry.

“Oh, Christ,” he said. “I’m going to sleep downstairs.”

“No,” she said, bolting out of the bed. “I’ll sleep downstairs.”

“That’s it, after this I don’t owe you anything,” he said to the ceiling after she was gone.

5. The Coastal Mountains Cut Off the Sight of the Sea

My mother was sent away at 14 to boarding school in Ojai, where she refused to eat. She wanted to turn back the years already. The moon drew her, she felt herself drawn to its inaccessible height, its untouched opalescent skin. Looking back as if from a far distance, she mourned her own childhood while it was still happening. Her eyes rolled back in her skull, the whites looking like two small moons. She howled at the moon without making a sound. Though she began menstruating at age 9, for years she shaved her pubic hair off in secret with an old, dull razor because she did not want to become a woman. Dreaming of the ocean, hidden behind the coastal mountains, she wanted only to be clean. She felt how the spirit of a Chumash Indian warrior possessed her. As she grew thinner, harder against the world, she rejoiced that there would be less of her to feel pain, less of her to bury. The other girls at school were as mysterious to her as stars. They sparkled while she could only reflect sadness. Her clothes hung on her bones and she was sent to a psychiatrist — that very night the moon was full and blue. They don’t understand me at all, she thought. In her own way, she was a visionary, a trend-setter. Doctors didn’t have a name, then, for what was wrong with her.

6. Anger

Finally, after 15 years of marriage the wall between my mother and my father fell. Then my mother wanted to figure out who she was. She wanted her own personal growth; she wasn’t able to focus on anything else. She needed space and time. At first, it was only the beginning of the process, and then it became the end. She couldn’t suffer any more, so she killed those feelings that brought her pain. She didn’t want to try to sort them out just yet, maybe not ever. In the end my mother’s feelings for my father were dead, gone. She didn’t know where they went.

7. She Owed Me that Much, Didn’t She?

She and my father lost their virginity with each other. Much later, when I knew her, she was memorable for simple things: her rose garden and her Scotch & water, her menthol cigarettes and her Pucci nightgowns, her ladylike hands and her A-cup breasts, her bitterness, her resignation, her unending string of sentimental, alcoholic boyfriends. She taught me how not to be. How not to live. A psychic told me she was my soul-mate, that my heart had been broken on the day I was born, that first hazy time I looked into her eyes and saw nothing there for me. One normal thing I remember is hanging clothes out to dry with her in the backyard when the dryer was broken. Once, she even took me out to the movies. Darker engrams always swamp whatever happy little memory-boat I manage to stow away in — like when she drove drunk for the umpteenth time and hit a kid on a bicycle, breaking his arm. I remember protecting her from the police, making sure she wouldn’t end up in jail, but later coldly stealing money from her wallet, cigarettes from her purse, clothes from her closet. In the end, she drank too much, and that killed her.

8. Madness

Toward the end, my mother said she was on fire from the neck down. Her arms and legs felt like they were glowing, orange-red, molten. But her head felt like a block of ice. She was emotionally or spiritually paralyzed, and worried about whether the condition was permanent. She felt like the nerves from her head down to her body were cut, and she didn’t know if they would ever grow back.

Right before the end, she said she could not distinguish life from dreams — she slept little, ate even less. She didn’t feel mad, she felt terribly, irrevocably sane. Everywhere she walked the ground seemed on the verge of opening up into blackness, into fire. If only she could go mad, she said. When they found her cold and stiff on the living room floor, she wore nothing but blue nylon panties and a wristwatch.

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Jack, the Triple War Veteran, a nonfiction

illustration triple war veteran

Jack, the Triple War Veteran, a nonfiction

I met Jack, the 91-year-old, 52-years-of-service-including-3-wars, Army veteran on May 31st, 2013, approximately two months after I “woke up” from what was [then] my life, when I went to go fill my mom-mobile (white minivan) with mid-grade gasoline products (it may be only a mom-mobile, but i have a NEED FOR SPEED) at the Gate convenience store/gas station two blocks or so from my house.  I saw him sitting over by the vacuum/air/water station, on the round, concrete base of a streetlamp, his sleek, black, wheeled walker/chair thingie so piled up with odds and ends of clothes, shoes, and bags of snacks that it looked more like a shopping cart from across the parking lot.  His hair and beard were striking:  long, silvery white, shiny and silky and clean.  He looked like a very trim, fit Santa Claus, and when I first saw him, I would never have guessed he was 91 years old.  I approached him because I am what some people call a “bleeding heart liberal,” that is, my heart sort of sags and melts when I am confronted with people having needs that, to them, loom insolvable, and in actuality can be solved with a couple of $5 or $10 bills.

“Sir,” I said, “I don’t want to offend you in any way, but do you need anything?  Can I do anything for you?  Anything at all?  Do you need a few bucks, maybe?”

“Honey,” he said.  “I’ve been saving my money all my life!”  He took his wallet out, showed me a bunch of folded bills, and pulled a big stack of quarters out of his shorts’ pocket.  Jack was born in West Virgina, called himself a good, old hillbilly.

“Jack’s a great name,” I said.  “One of my grandpas was named Jack.”

“They named me after the dog!” he said.

“Well, they must have loved that dog,” I said.  “It must have been a terrific dog!”

“They still named me after the dog,” he said.  I have named pets after people, and wanted to do the reverse, just never had the actual opportunity.  (Wait for it!)

“I went to West Virginia once,” I said.  “I was in Morgantown.”

“The University of West Virginia!” he said.

“I know, it’s a beautiful town,” I said.  “And the state is beautiful, all those green hills.”

Turns out, he’s hanging out at the convenience store to get away from his daughter.  “She wants me to be the child, and her to be the parent, now,” he said.  “I’m too old for that!”

“I hear you,” I said.  “Does she know where you are?”

“I don’t really want her to,” he said.  “She lives right down the street, in a house I bought her back in 1972.”

He named his first rifle Miss Betty….

He was with Patton in N. Africa, at just 18 yrs. old, he was for a brief time Patton’s assistant?  Patton’s army was chasing Rommel, he and Jack started arguing over which way Rommel should to go; they disagreed (he & Patton) but Jack turned out to be right.  In a rage, Patton grabbed his (Jack’s) rifle once & shot into the air with it.  Yes, I could see General Patton doing such a thing.  Hahaha.

His daughter, whom he is on the lam from, is nicknamed BooBoo:  she got that nickname because as a baby she’d hide behind cabinets, furniture, poke her head out & say Boo, Daddy, Boo!

He is not married now, he likes it that way, nobody telling him what to do.

When I told him how nice he looked, how he didn’t look 91 at all:  “I take care of myself!  I’ve got to!  People say I’m a loner, but it’s three of us:  me, myself and I.”

God’s on his right shoulder, sometimes God tells him things, what to do or not to do:  sometimes he doesn’t listen, does what he wants, not what God says.  Later, he hears God saying, I told you so.  God has blessed him.  Every time we shook hands, me trying to exit stage right because my own 15 year old BooBoo was at home waiting for me to get back, he said, “God bless you,” and I said, thank you so much.  His eyes, the pale clear blue of a child’s, the twinkle of a child’s, the mischievous, rascally soul shining out of them.  But a good, good man.  Stationed all over the world and the United States of America.  The state of Florida was the site of his last posting.  He got misty-eyed thinking about one of his predeceased children, another daughter, however, he did not mention her name, and because of aforementioned misty-eyed-ness, I did not ask.

They once had a terrible episode of anthrax on the farm, when he was a child?  The cow had to get shots from the vet, they couldn’t use the cow’s milk for 6 weeks, then it was OK.  That cow gave so much milk, she had to be milked three times a day, not just two.

He wore dog tags, wouldn’t let me look at them:  “the last person that sees these is the one who’s supposed to bury me.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to be the last to see them, then,” I said.

A student buying beer stopped & handed him a tall cold water bottle.  Jack thanked the boy warmly, saying “God bless you,” then after the boy walked off, he handed me the bottle.

“Aren’t you going to need this?” I asked him, concerned.

“I’ve got everything I need right here,” he said, pointing to his loaded “sulky,” a plastic grocery bag hanging:  was that the water?  “Besides,” he said, “that’s too cold.  And besides, I really like beer.”

“But you might need this water later,” I protested.

“Look,” said Jack, “he gave it to me, I’m giving it to you.  I’m just in the middle.”  I had to accept, gracefully, so I did, but I still felt a bit guilty.  The gift was Jack’s, but he wouldn’t keep it, he had to pass it along to me.

The store clerk, a young African American lad, came out to check on us; I think he wanted to make sure I wasn’t endangering Jack.  Jack handed him a huge pile of quarters, asked if he’d bring him out some beer.

“What kind?” the young man asked.

“O.P.,” Jack answered.

The clerk was confused.  “What’s that?” he said?

“Other people’s,” laughed Jack.

“I think he means it really doesn’t matter what kind of beer you bring him,” I said to the young man.  So he went inside with the money, came back out with a boxed six-pack & Jack’s excess change.

A woman, with a hard-lived look, came over to talk to us.  She knew Jack already, addressed him by name.  She was also a veteran, Operation Desert Storm.  She asked me if I could spare some gas money.  “It’s the end of the month,” she explained, “and I’m coming up short.  I just have to make it a few more days.”

“Sure,” I said, relieved that I could at least give her something, fulfill the impulse that had brought me over to Jack.  I went to my purse, grabbed a ten dollar bill.  While I was doing that, I saw Jack getting his money out to give her some, too.  He brought out a fiver.  Jack and I handed her the money, she shook my hand & thanked us both, and went to pump her gas.

Jack was dressed like a cool surfer guy; shorts with a nice braided belt, no shirt, his dog tag necklace, a pinky ring carved out of some sort of jade on his right hand, a couple of funky/hipster/hippy bracelets on his left wrist.  Quite fashionable looking, and I couldn’t get over the condition of his hair; silky & clean & shiny & sparkling silver, and the same with the beard, it grew to a natural point just below his breastbone.  The only long beard I’ve ever seen that looked beautiful!  His skin was amazingly smooth & healthy looking, considering the amount of sun exposure he must’ve seen!  I mean, he was 91 and he had very little sun damage, not many wrinkles, though of course a bit of sagging around the jowls.  No frown lines!  His only physical flaw was some missing teeth; it was apparent he could have had dentures or a bridge if he’d wanted them, but I think he was more comfortable without.

When I was leaving, I blew him a kiss.

“I’d rather have the real thing,” he chuckled.

“I can’t,” I said, “I’m married.”  We both laughed then.  If I had known that day, May 31st, that my husband was going to dump me, unceremoniously, in front of the yard man, in the side driveway, I certainly would have kissed him (Jack!), full on the lips!  Like, a billion times!

[If he’d had all his own teeth, not only might I have given him a closed-mouth smooch, but I probably would have tried somehow to fix him up with my former mother-in-law who live[d] in my attached guest house (that I built for her & her husband, who died 3 years ago, but who would be 91 now) (who was the only decent person in THAT entire FUCKING FAMILY).  Said former “mother in law”
was, and is still, an ignorant idiot and would have been put off by Jack’s missing teeth.  Plus, she is, as we used to say in middle school, “mental.”]  *ahem*  NO FURTHER COMMENT PERMITTED, BY LAW.  Did you know, that for IRS purposes, you can NEVER GET RID OF AN IN-LAW?  Once an “in law” for tax purposes, always an “in law.”  The law presupposes that divorced persons might still have attachments to one another’s family members.  Hahahahaha.  Isn’t that FUNNY?????

Oh, P.S.  I, myself, now have a dog named… wait for it… JACK, a rescue from the Dixie County, Florida animal rescue organization, a sweet one-year-old weimaraner/yellow lab mix!  Jack the dog’s eyes are yellow/green & deep….

Oh, and P.P.S.  And you’re not going to believe this!  On the way to present this piece at an “open mic” at Coffee Culture on 13th Street in Gainesville, Florida, the fabulous Tristan Harvey, emcee & manager of the joint, in any case, ON THE WAY TO THE FUCKING OPEN MIC, i ran in to jack, on the way!  it was raining, i pulled over & asked him if he needed a ride.  he said no, i said, isn’t your name jack, and HE LIED BECAUSE HE THOUGHT I WAS THERE CAPTURING HIM to take him back to his daughter!!!!!!

GODDAMNED TRUE STORY.  BELIEVE IT, OR NOT.

um, but if you know what’s good for you, you’ll take my written words as GOSPEL TRUTH.

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edward snowden & me

illustration Edward-Snowden and me

the act of confession benefits the penitent; not the confessor. it is not always appropriate to tell the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing BUT the truth. they crucify people for that, both then & now. just how brave am i? time will tell. was edward snowden being brave? or just being a criminal? time will tell. he needs clarence darrow to reappear on earth, i know that much. being a lawyer is in my DNA; it’s not what i do, it’s what i AM. sorry about that. it can’t be helped.

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