Saturday, October 27, 2012

broken cars and stolen bones

            The Russian girl lisps when she’s on cocaine. Gives it to me subtly, in a sudden tweak of daylight, and we trot off triumphant in our own unique way. Craving scotch, loose and tipping over a bit, minus zero and suddenly in love plus a few too. She speaks of her village and her grandmother’s pirozhki. We take the temperature of parking meters and try to kill a few pigeons with just our looks. She smokes Pall Malls down to the filter, and winks when she’s happy. She spends the rest of her time kicking ass. Don’t bother me, buddy, with your tips on fashion, with your raven-at-my-window-with-a-broken-wing sadness. I’m settled and the score’s knotted at one. And that’s enough and all we want. The bars are all calling my name. So, drink away the cabs and kick the pinball machine down the boulevard. There’ll never be another way to scream, “Hotdog!” out the window. Not like this. Not only and ever like this at all. She’s got a mustache on her coffee mug and barbwire in her smile. Just trading mistakes for pinwheels, tossing silver chopsticks at a bum who’s sitting Indian style in the gutter while I tell an out-of-work fortune teller, “Everyone I know is either splitting up or getting hitched.” We stand still under a streetlight and kiss the frogs from the sewer grates while the wind sings our favorite song. It’s closer to four in the morning than it’s ever been. Somebody whispers, “She’s a walrus and she don’t like black.” We wander both sides of the street until the moon’s sunk and all the stars have gone shopping for silverware. My nickels are all spent. The Russian girl’s parlor hopping. Her hands find their stubborn way through the folds of my attire. She’s outside the law and she’s honest as all hell to boot. We stride with Stanislaus-County soda-pop-bottle mirrors while white bats dart and swoop above. We get as far as we shouldn’t, and then keep going. Nothing’s rushed or poignant but the plunk and drizzle of a little rain. Napoleon’s on the roof. We get by with a bottle of decent scotch and marching orders from Aristotle. It don’t matter. I quit staring at or in windows long ago. Nothing proper. Nothing avocadoed to a mayonnaised bun. Bronze trumpets and hirsute soldiers of the poor, born-late halfbacks and Tupperware salesmen and Montgomery Clift dolls in a sidewalk trashcan. Sold my TV for another drag of love. And nothing’s over. And nothing’s too much and not enough. But the Russian girl’s moving on to religious material. She waves armies home with never-kissed goodbyes. We stay up all night and shower at the Y in the morning. We cook breakfast on the hot concrete. The stray dogs bark for more and get what’s left, no matter what’s gone or far, or sleeping off the rest. We matter because we don’t. Don’t get any ideas. There’ll be more than enough change left to keep us the same. The Russian girl’s gone off to raise scorpions and leafcutter ants. She gets phone calls from Istanbul, and St. Petersburg too. There’s nothing left to steal. The Russian girl’s gone for bad. The Russian girl’s boiling crude oil in coffee cans. The Russian girl’s drinking stale beer in the morning and chewing nicotine gum. The Russian girl’s on the lam and in love with a voodoo doll of who I used to be. And me? I’m just kelp floating off on what just so happens to be her sea. Cue the piano music and shoot all the marathon runners. We’re taking chances with computer-repair-shop junkies. And the night’s still curdled with Debussy’s leftovers. And the nooses are all undone. And the Russian girl, she’s twitching and yowling to nothing new under the sun.  



give jesus a valium
and give the cross a new paint job
tell peter to shoot last and look even later than that
we don’t have names
we don’t tell on flowers or line cooks
we eat dust in the margins of victorian nudes
give the waiters all the cigarettes
trip a crossing guard and flip off a cop
we are running on coffee grounds
take paul’s place at the table
go neutral into the swell
it’s halftime in gethsemane
your face is drowning
and the icebergs are all on fire
do what mary does
for the sake of what she’ll say
stick to your guns
or get blown all away
give jesus a valium
and tell him to get lost
weep for the crawdad hustlers
sing for judas stowed away in the rafters
paunchy in the clutch of shadows
invent coins to toss to street cleaners
this coat of charm
it putters and dons all the wrong colors
our steps crush hard-candy dreams
and mash the bones of sardines
but please
give jesus a valium already
there’s nowhere left to run
and the night’s showing off just for us
belched to a dance
wrecked to starlight
you see
joseph’s got crazy ex-girlfriends and holes in his shoes
like the rest of us
and gregor’s miffed by insect noise
lost gas caps and shared space
i do not own a tent
so please
for the love of god
give jesus a valium already
so the rest of us here
can get some damn sleep
it’s either that
or i’ve got to sell the manger

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thurman Munson Is Dead

            A wet dishrag of a thing to care about, really. Staved time, spun from April’s leadoff hope to October’s last licks. Midnight’s pinstripes are a dead dove streaked with coffee, while airplanes dream up better weather. Doubles to left and triples to right. Punchy with an inside-out swing, or a Butcher Boy with two on and two out. And we care about the strangest things. The creased folds and worn grooves of a pine-tar stained mitt. The faint sappy stink of a wet rosin bag. Grandstand shadows creeping over the mound at twilight. Tobacco breath. The light’s lumpy here and nobody robs it. Billy sighs from the dugout steps, “Sip the water from tulips and take a moment to cry.” We’ve all got hocked confidence and a million on the wrong team. Unie’s torn with feathers and the sienna rubble of infield dirt. Going south for the summer while the north cries hallelujah and stalks along on groomed grass. A truck driver’s son, a Rookie Of The Year and an MVP, a backstop captain gone. I can’t wake up anymore. And dad’s just a shadow in some desert shack. It’s all just one long sleepy streak of Mondays. Swoop, lumber, prowl away from the herd. It was propellers and the engine's drone, and a sky bluer than any damn thing I’d ever seen. The maples are all on fire. Hell. So much is lost in so little. Falling asleep to the sound of a sellout crowd while Ohio calls my name, and missing doesn’t do much good, still, or maybe just at last. No more bags to pack. No more squats behind the dish. No more putting down the signs. No more weepy skies of another off season. No more pop ups, scrambling after bunts, foul tips in the mask, or collisions at the plate. No more rainouts in the belly of my determined soul. There’s just an empty space on the lineup card where my name used to go. I’ve got a bag of sunflower seeds in my back pocket, spikes hung over a shoulder, a blue-and-white-checkered shirt on, and some black slopped under my eyes. Tell my wife, Ich liebe dich. There is no here, forever stalled in a touch-and-go over a rain-slick runway. Trust me. There is no longer a thing to be afraid of. I’m moving on. And maybe in some somewhere that’s never a there or a here to get to, well beyond the hills of Canton and the char marks of who I was, there’ll be a day-night doubleheader, Neil Diamond blasting over the PA, some pepper with Pinella and Murcer, a game of catch that never ends, and a standing ovation just for me.  


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fenwick’s In the Manger

(part 6, born on a train)

            You’re the rattletrap scream slapped on the smudge-slick walls, like murals murked with a copper glaze, as the horizon’s brushed with a mirage of distant painted mountains, some flat-topped and rubbed raw, the clay and creosote terrain like a valley on mars, bent crosses of ancient telephone-pole shadows on it and the scrub bush patchy in places on the streaks of flatland punctuated by these tiny hillocks of grassy yellows and burnt red, faces in the rubble of a thousand jagged rocks jutting out like rusty scars, and above giant stationary swaths of cloud hanging like discarded moth-eaten sheets, lonely semis plugging along on invisible roads in the midst of nothing, and the telephone wires racing along, and the sudden blur of a passing train in the shadow of yours, and then that slight slam and whisk and swoosh of it as you charge through the desert on a track in the middle of nothing.
            Through the dry-raindrop stained glass the squatting mounds of tree-laden hills roll, and the low-lying wiry stems of future tumbleweeds flail in the hunch of a light breeze. Mustard blurs and blowsy greens scuffle for breath in an instant’s spotty sea of blue-green. The Colorado river, lazy and sparkling, meanders away through the ghosts of boxcars and rocky debris. Windswept gullies striped from blood-red to roseate. The hitched pull of a turn. The gentle rocking gone to a thrust and yawing rumble of a switchback, and the tracks screech and whine as the whistle howls all’s well through a rain-splashed night.       
             A thrashing well past midnight as the bunk slips and lunges, as you’re bumped and shook out of dreams to a coffin-low ceiling and gurney-like straps hemming you in. Spun and dazedly muddied into fits of half-turns and pillow-squashed horror, you balance your sanity on a burnt-out match tip. A constant turn that beckons your body close to the plastic cabin partition, and then a sweeping roar buried deep within the confines of night’s massive black curls. A crunched tilt, weary and dolorous, squints on borrowed sightlines, and you are sweaty and lost in a whirl’s list and bob. Staring tiredly into a blankness that borrows stars from your eyes and makes everything spin, you wind and unwind at once that spool of your life’s thread, and somewhere behind the thick pulled curtains the moon’s out there harvesting the sky’s leftovers, and you wish for rest and roll over, head still hung with bluebells and cedars and the golden sparkles of aspen leaves on the river.    
            Rushing through forests on a dining car. Coffee cups jackhammering their saucers, silverware jostled from napkin to tablecloth, the puttering whine of it all: that high-pitched howling train whistle, the tracks’ metallic silver screech and bumpy plaints, and the discordant smattering of about two dozen getting-to-know-you conversations. A tacky glint of a seriousness that welds smiles into place, and you’re off and on to a lush sprint through treetops and gaping boulders in the hillside: a verdurous landscape littered with crackled red-yellow-orange leaves and the thick webs of a thousand cypress and cedar branches huddled and spread in massive bunches all the way up and down impossible-to-believe valleys and river-cut gorges. Moods waning gibbous in a felled tree's former shade, and you’re chalking it all up to misery’s biding time in the duality of perspective’s constant flash and flurry, passing, always passing, always just ahead and a tad behind. Wider strains of being wise smile backwards while a protective coat of idiocy covers what’s left of the surface. The snack bar’s open late. Somewhere kindly beyond any cocktail you’ve ever known lies the path of most likely resistance. You are under a table. Hot dogs are served with mayonnaise and avocado. A few passengers have been thrown out an emergency exit marked For Conductor’s Use Only. There are kites tangled in the ceiling lights. You have become rather obsolete.                        
            Vast farmland stretches skimming by, tracts of light trapped and warped in sloped distance pull me into some very serious contemplation over my life, where it’s going, and to whom I am going to attach it. My jokes on loan for the night to an upstart ribbon salesman, reappearing loyal and jumpy to the rest of the at-hand mourners. To just say things to fall out of love over and over, to just hold rust-steady for making a jerky start at wildness. Hankering on to other Wyomings, I’m sold long, insufficiently interested in what others have got to say. Appended and lunky, very lorded over and sometimes serious. A honked horn of guilt stabbed blind in a rather ornery hurry that, let’s say, is making do. Let’s just say.    
            Last time around everything was sloped. Vanishing acted its part. The men were less wise than they should’ve been. The yard sales lost their feathers. If the thread of steamed passiveness let on anything but the parts it never played, if the yearn of doubt overstayed its wellness, then a shallower cup might follow what’s left of now’s substance. Around this time or next I’ll be shoveling loose gravel from my smile onto somebody else’s road.
            Cramped quarters, narrow halls, stooped shoulders and a sailor’s mouth, fingerprint smudges on the window. Stirred and settled. The lights flicker. Nobody’s comfortable. A staticky voice crackles over the ceiling speakers: “Is it afar? Bought slowly. In chance per the leaving rate. You had us. It was wrapped in clover and bacon. There’s a cuss word I can’t guess. It’s putting up with. It’s jotting up too. We don’t dump coffee all over anything, except ourselves. Stronger still. Oil slicks what remains. Try to pass the rolls. We’ve got all the jelly in the world at our disposal. Bumped and brambled to stink alone. It is not beautiful.”
(part 9, clarinets & rings)

            It’s hot. The whole damn town’s got their windows open all night. It’s undershirts and pants cut off at the knees. And the buses are overheating, and the things you pick off the street are shriveled and dried out. It’s hot. The moon’s cutting close to full in the rhubarb of a huddled porkpie-black sky. Bath water boils, and tacks pop from walls. A night of humid longing, starved for some girl’s smile. And the girls around here are barely wearing any clothes at all, dancing up hills in high heels, champagne drunk and singing all the way to the top. All the former good guys finished at last, sweating and defeated. Some ladies want to play Kissy Face with me in the street, and I tell them, “Look. I already got me a girl.” But they tell me, “What she don’t know…right?” It’s an uppercut to my usually drunk sensibilities, and I have to reel myself in to walk faster than needed away from them. It’s hot. It’s way too damn hot. I’m on vodka tonics; the ice cubes my best friends for the moment. Somehow I feel it’s absolutely better to not kneel to Old Buk’s female flowers, but to let on that I am. I’m hired help to a dream that died long ago. You get to racking your brains over what you don’t know about somebody you thought you knew, and you realize you never know, never, about any damn anybody-- not even yourself. And it doesn’t matter. The yes you make believe you're saying for your own good, it gets you less than nowhere. At some point the river rises higher than you can handle, and you’ve got to swim or drown in your own misery. It’s hot. Too hot for TV. Too hot for a little rumba. Too hot for suspicion. It’s riled derailed ambition. I’m all out of last times. Some guy’s trying to fight me on Polk Street at seven in the morning. The sweaty cockeyed bastard kicks at me screaming, “The next time I’m gunna punch you in the face! You think it’s funny? Huh?” I blink twice and walk away. Nobody’s got the weather. It’s hot. It’s unbearable, a frying pan along with the fire beneath. People should stay inside when times like this come around. But they don’t. Hitched to a try at being somebody, they walk with fire instead of letting the fire walk with them. I could’ve been somebody. Any old somebody, or a piano player. On a night like this, dark and moonbeamed to death, I walk like death into a closed window with only a bottle to my name. I play alive. I concur with streetlights. I un-tuck my personality from the pants of my spirits, and I sidle up to lampposts who can’t quite corroborate my story.    
            The next girl I fall in love with will know who Norma Shearer is. She’ll like old books and the smell of spit, and when the trash gets too full she’ll squash it back down with a fist. The next girl I fall in love with will have dreams of pirate-shaped tattoos and Mercy-Springs ghosts. She will be kind of blue. Sometimes we might talk on payphones way into the wee hours, and we might just ride the subway all through the night too. She’ll snap when she makes decisions. We’ll have martini olives for dinner while the crickets sing God Save The Queen. Her favorite color will be black-and-white. Together we’ll be lofted rumpled way past the hounds of it’s-nobody’s-business-but-me-and-my-baby’s. And a candy-proof smile just might mess around with what we don’t got. But what we do will be enough. There will be places to be. There will be places to be from. And we won’t hock our story for the sake of a lousy buck. And the accordion in my heart will always be playing our favorite song. And we’ll sleep whenever we want to. And, also, the next girl I fall in love with will love me back.
            It’s hot. There’s no use in trying to be someone. The lawns are all on fire. The wind’s a blow dryer. The butter’s melted all over the counter. I really dropped a tomato in today’s ketchup.                       
            Wasting away in a little Spanish town. The flattery of belly-smooth leaves. Cauliflower light in the bower of cloud streaks. Jailed hurt cracked apart, spilled to a splattered stain. I am open to suggestions as the muted late-night TV glows in a corner. All the umps are blind, and the bridegrooms are defunct. Talking to copper walls and harboring the misgivings of sleeveless cheats. I’m all out of leaving. Socks pulled up. Hat on the bed. And there’s not a fan around for miles.
            You don’t dress for weather like this; you undress for it. Open all the windows and shoot the crooks with slingshot gumballs. I’m past all tenses. I’m crushing so-be-its with bare feet, abetting folded-up umbrellas boxed away for a season, clearing tables with a sneeze. I fold, asking the tablecloth, “Are there airplanes in your pea soup?”        
            Some real toilets, these places I’ve been shouting around in. Sharing terrain with a headless statue of Walter Matthau and a box of expired cereal. The TV’s chewing the cud of empty hours with infomercial charm. I’m buying a knife that’ll slice a cement slab like a loaf of bread.

(part 7, of the certain unalienable rights of drunks)

            Leroy was monkey-dancing his was through Thrift Town, throwing ties at people, taking clothes off their hangers and tossing them over the racks and onto the floor, and somewhere in the Ohio of his mind a dancing misery ensued, and his whole demeanor sagged beneath the weight of either a-few-too-many or a-few-too-few whiskies, his eyebrows even seeming to wilt, and I had to grab him before he did a face plant on the carpet.
            “That girl. When we came in. Leroy! Are you listening? That girl says she used to live with you. She knows your name.”
            He shook his head, rather disgruntled, but understanding. “Girl? I never did live with no girl! What the fuck! Who? Where the fuck is she?”
            I pointed rather sheepishly in the general direction of where I remembered having heard this voice, this girl’s voice speaking, in a group of people huddled by the board games, when we’d, rather obstreperously and with much bravado and boisterous ado I might add, made our way into the store. Then again, I’d hade a good fill of whisky also, and wasn’t completely sure of this girl’s whereabouts, or if she even existed, though I was pretty sure of it.
            “She’s over there man. Keep your voice down. Jesus. Just forget about it. Here. Help me find a tie. That’s all we came here for. Come on.”
            There were roughly two thousand and eleven ties on the silver tie racks. They were smashed together on there, hanging there, kind of lonely looking if you ask me, like never-to-be-adopted orphans, and I was having a hard time wading through them. Most were about a dollar or so.
            Leroy fished through them, snaring giant fistfuls, and grunting and laughing and shouting the whole while. “All these fucking ties suck shit! Not one goddamn decent tie in the brunch!”
            “In the brunch?”
            I also began rummaging through this bevy of silk and cotton neckwear, and Leroy had a good point. Most of them were stinkers.
            “In the breakfast!”
            “In the supper!”
            “In the soup! Soup! Soup for all the sumbitches!”
            We both kept screaming things like that as we searched through the ties. Many people in the store had started to stare. It didn’t affect us at all.
            “Look at this motherfucker! It’s gorgeous!” Leroy was holding a red and white striped tie with little green bells on it. “And look. It’s fucking polyester! You can’t beat that shit. A polyester tie. Look at that. It’s unbelievable.”
            I had to agree. It was really something. Unfortunately the security guard patrolling the thrift store didn’t see things our way.
            “Okay boys. Time to move it on out.”
            He was a real stickler for the rules, that guy. A faux-gold badge glimmered from his chest, and I spotted a Taser gun in his second-hand gun belt. Not a man who took himself lightly.
            Leroy was having none of it. “We’re shopping. Leave us alone. Is it illegal for us to shop? This is a store. People shop here. That’s what people do in a store. We’re shoppers. Leave us be.”
            “You guys need to keep your voices down. You’re scaring the customers.”
            It was true. I saw an old lady in the next aisle pulling her shawl a little farther over her head; and a little kid in the Kitchen & Dining section seemed about ready to burst into tears.
            I tried to reassure the poor man. “We’re just going to grab this here tie here and be on our way. Don’t worry about us. We’re cool as cacti.”
            Leroy gave me that look that meant, “I’m about ready to beat the living shit out of you so you better take your damn glasses off.” It was a look I knew well. He gave it to me a lot when we we’re hanging out.
            The security guard wasn’t quite convinced that we were going to behave ourselves, but decided to give us the benefit of the doubt, and, while still keeping an eye peeled for us, went on his merry way stalking up and down the aisles again.
            I took the polyester tie and joined the line to pay for it. A bald man wearing only the vest of a three-piece suit over his hairy torso, who smelled like Old Spice and bacon, stood smiling in front of me, slightly rocking back and forth, and humming the theme song from The Love Boat. He was wearing loafers and didn’t have socks on. I hated him. I held my tie in my fist and waited.
            Leroy was prancing all over the place, writhing and bellowing and doing a lot of frown-smiling. He somehow became engaged in a heated debate with the person in charge of holding people’s personal belongings while they shopped. This person gave shoppers little laminated tags with numbers on them in exchange for their bags and purses. It seems Leroy had managed to grab one of these numbers, but had no stuff to get back, as he’d brought no stuff in with him, well, aside from all the cashews he’d shoved in his pockets at the bar we’d been doing our afternoon drinking at before going on this tie-finding rampage. There, of course, was a lot of confusion, and a lot to be confused about.
            “But I’ve got a number! I give you my number, you give me my stuff. That’s how it works, right? Am I wrong?” Leroy looked around for some corroboration. I looked away. Getting involved in this pointless, and possibly dangerous charade was not in my best interest. Then I saw that girl we’d seen on the way in. She was whispering to her friends, who were all huddled around her by the women’s clothing section, and she was pointing at Leroy and laughing. Her friends looked a bit scared. I didn’t blame them. It wasn’t a pretty sight, Leroy going bonkers like that. He probably smelled strongly of whisky and B.O. as well.
            I ignored everything going on.
            “Next.” A cashier called me over. I proceeded to purchase my tie for $1.19. I gave the small Filipino woman at the counter exact change. She was extremely pleased by this.
            Leroy came up behind me. “I don’t like the cut of that guy’s jib,” referring, I surmised, to the guy who wouldn’t take his number in return for Leroy’s nonexistent stuff. “Fucking daisy plucker.”
            I shook my head, took my new tie, and walked outside. Leroy bounded his way out behind me. It was bright and windy.
            Now, why was I out looking for a tie at a thrift store, half-drunk, with a soused Leroy tagging along? Well, it seems we’d started off the afternoon at The Uptown, one of our favorite spots to have a few daylight libations, and while there had fallen into a conversation with the bartender. I’d expressed remorse over my tie-less suit. The bartender was sympathetic. She told me I looked a bit too casual for dancing. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded about right. And I love to dance. So I decided to down what was left of my beer, grab Leroy-- who was hunched over a stool working on his beer-lifting technique next to me --and head down to Thrift Town, which was only a block away. There was something scrambled about our walking, and I was limping a lot, as my bum knee was acting up. It often does so when the weather gets mean.             
            Mission was all jammed up with midday bargain hunters and bacon-wrapped hotdog venders. Leroy’s deliriousness took a breather as we trotted along, and I decided to stop and put my new tie on in the reflection of a taqueria’s window.
            “I know that girl!”
            I continued with my tie tying. “Who? What? Where? Why?”
            “That chick in the thrift store. You know.”
            “I do?”
            “Yeah. She’s the clown!”
            I shook my head in a very serious manner, continuing the dexterous motions of tying a four-in-hand around my neck.
            “She’s the one who moved in with me when I needed some extra rent money. The fucking clown!”
            Leroy was staring at me grimly in the window’s reflection. His mustache was a limp, dead tarantula. “Do you have any fucking idea at all of what the fuck you’re doing?”
            For some reason I was struggling with the tie situation. “No. None.”
             I finished the job, rather obscenely, and strode off down Mission, heading south. Leroy pranced along behind me, throwing cashews at pigeons and stop signs, and darting in and out of the oncoming foot traffic like a downhill skier on acid.
            I wanted strong drink. I had no time for anything else. Soon I came to The Bar on Mission, and I went inside. Leroy came flopping and floundering his way in a few minutes later. I sat at the bar and ordered two whiskies, neat, and the tallest glass they had of ice-cold beer. The bartender was a bald burly guy who hated my guts immediately, and told me, “I only got one size glass, buddy, and I ain’t got no ice, so nothing’s going to be ice-cold.”
            It was okay. I didn’t care. I just sat there and stared into the bar mirror, enjoying this nice dark place to be inside of, to be away in, to be far from the horrors of the outside world. Then The Weight came on the jukebox. Nobody sang along. And it made me inconsolably sad. I just sat there and tried not to care. Eventually I was able to convince myself not to. And I didn’t. And I didn’t. I sat there like that for hours, and I didn’t care at all.

 (part 3, epistle to a sunflower)

            They kicked the brittle, cracked, fall-colored leaves around on the sidewalk; shoes scuffing; heads down; hands straightjacketed around their middles. A squirrel sprinted up a palm tree and squatted at the base of a large, drooping frond.
            “I’m thinking of asking your sister to marry me.”
            She didn’t say anything at first. They both kept scattering the leaves around with their feet. A slight smile played around on her face, but slipped away before it did anything telling. The air was crisp with stillness. He put both hands on his lower back and arched.
            Nobody said anything.
            He balanced himself with his toes on the curb’s edge, holding his arms out perpendicularly, as if he were preparing for a back dive, lifting his body up and down, slowly, with a somehow unnatural rhythm. She scrunched her face, then stopped, allowing her small features to spread out and conform to a mold that seemed forced and calm at the same time.
             He remembered being young, just a kid. Maybe ten or eleven. Fainting. The quick rush of blood. A sudden tremble, your head tingling like a limb fallen asleep beneath you. And then that pinhole of light guiding you away into darkness. Being nowhere, suddenly. There was a certain safety there, and he wanted that comfort back, now.
            Above, a poplar dangled its maroon and blood-orange leaves from gnarled branches that were like long, scrawny fingers poking around for lazy eyes. The sky was bustling with scattered clouds and speckled bands of dying sunlight. A small sedan crept by slightly below the 25-mph speed limit, almost breezy and complacent, not in a hurry, just moseying along without purpose. They both gazed at it for a bit longer than seemed appropriate.  
             “There’s probably something she’s not telling you about. And it’s because she doesn’t even know it herself, what it is.” She didn’t rush her words; they flowed as if of their own volition from her small, soft mouth. “Oh. She’d blush about it, sure. But, well, I’m on to you two, you know that?” Somebody opened a window in the house across the street with a swish and clack that seemed obscenely loud.
            “Nothing’s happening…” He halted, almost stuttering, “with, that.”
            Her face cherried. She brushed her bangs away from her forehead with a forced swiping motion. She looked everywhere except at where his face happened to be on this blustery late-afternoon fall day. Her hands went hunkering to her sweater’s pockets, trying to seem as if she were ignoring the chill peppering her skin with goose bumps.
            “I know.” She spit it out like a mouthful of overripe pomegranate seeds as her head swiftly no’d back and forth.
            “Nobody’s telling.”
            “I know. I know.” Everything about her body felt as if it were shifting, expanding and shrinking, losing its shape and then darting back to form, over and over. Nothing felt like it was hers.
            The house on the corner where they were standing was surrounded by hydrangeas. Pink and white swirls puffed all around the well-groomed yard, spotting the foliage like dumped confetti with their soft petals. He thought of grade school, of waking up after the unconscious nowhere of a faint, of all the faces hovering in a blurry oval of sight, the laughing shock of it, and that feeling that something was missing, like a piece of his life had been sliced away never to return, and in its place was just an empty triangle of loss. Woozy regret shifted and stole through him, and he coughed into his hand to mark this place in the pages of his thoughts. None of this mattered. People did things and moved on with living.
             They’d been walking around the neighborhood where the two sisters had grown up. It was quiet, tree-lined, with narrow streets; each house distinct; unlike the suburban realms he’d known as a kid, where every other house was exactly the same, as if they’d been cut out of a mold and placed there like dominoes, every driveway, fa├žade, and lawn the same. Paint color and shrubbery almost the only things separating your home from somebody else’s. It was different here. Each home had its own unique architectural flourishes, shape, and character-- though most were similarly bungalow-styled. He wondered about the lives of people who lived in such homes, if they were more rich and meaningful than the lives of those who were raised in the drab cookie-cutter shapes of endless conformity. Maybe even the cockroaches were different, more elegant and refined in their taste.
            Down the street, a dog being walked barked at another dog being walked towards it. The owners reigned in their leashes to separate the beasts. A certain longing washed through the air, wringing away a bitter stab of forgiveness. 
            They looked everywhere except at each other.
            They kept walking. A breezy fluke slipped through them, and there wasn’t anything to say, so they just walked, gazing at the leaf-littered sidewalk, the high curbs above the mildewed gutters, and the flaring green of lawns. Everything was happening as it should. There was no to-morrow, and today was a Scantron test that’d never be filled in. A moth gulped. The streetlights flickered to sodium-yellow life. He made believe that he was a mosquito, that he could buzz girl’s ears while they slept, land on their skin without waking them, and…
            …that’s as far as he got. He’d been crossing the street. He hadn’t heard anybody screaming at him. The car, it was going too fast. There wasn’t any time. The sound of skidding tires and a dull thud, and a small mewl escaping from his lips that, if anybody’d heard it, might just have sounded like the word, “love.” The moon was the color of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Life went on its way without him.

 (part 1, curbside melody)

because you don’t love me, because, love being one thing, and two another, love, that is, as love’s tug is heavier when light, brushed to burst, love is, because you, love, don’t love, feel love, really, love not lost or found, merely a sometimes guess, a rendered yes, to love, out of or in, where the when’s just a who, because, love, i do not understand, love, what it is, this chance, if it were love, or if, it might, by chance, love, be mine, or yours, or a stranger’s, or even ours, through dooms of haunted afternoons, or, love, tonight, we’d take it, yes, love, to say things like you don’t say, or let me get that for you, or you shouldn’t have, love, or catch the next bus, love, kind of let loose to be caged, or no, because you don’t know yet, without a phone call or a postcard or even the flying trapeze, and we go with love, styled to love, and without it too, for a change, worth being constantly partly at risk, at least, swaying if near to a dance, love opts for more, and nobody ever had a damn fool’s chance, love, in the first, or last place, with all this cockamamie talk that we talk about love, not cigarets or barbwire, love, so please, love, pick me, over here, please, love, over this-a-way, love, look, it’s me, call me back, love, and you, you’re not love, too smart for love, to be in, lost, never more lonely or afraid, love, tossed towards the gutter, squinting in the moonlight, love, chased and left, maybe over, mostly eking out a sorry, hand-holding slumped past trying, knotted and borrowed, love, we look to an us to save love, just a trailer without a movie, meatloaf sans ketchup, love, slaked beyond knowing love, it is an estimation worth not making, wet coffee grounds filled with dead cigars, a break between commercials, more than a like but less than toast or handwritten notes in the mail, and it swings, cruelly nice, yes, not even the baboons or dreaming periwinkles notice, faking a cry for love, a no doesn’t stand a chance, because, love, free to be trapped, you don’t, by love, have what makes love, this, already kind of a dying shark, before what gave love’s loss a tie and not a win, love, tripped to fall all apart for, without a windy night or a stick of gum between us, love, it is hard to spell backwards, almost a sometimes, love, that gets heartstrings tangled and roseate elephants trampled, because commandeered love, like this, doesn’t stick, so it’s crazier to be left, love, if staying’s gone kaput, then by love, or without it, as it’s an only that’s lost an if, if anything, we get drunk to love, by or with it too, if, love, we get to play for keeps, love, or have something left of love to do, wed to sky blue trades of love, simple, love, a missed call but no message, love makes grief out of promise and katzenjammer from great depths, kindly yielding, love, in the end, what love will not do for love, soaked in mandrake, choking a scream, plastered and hopelessly outraged, love, sewn farther than stars between love, for everyone else but oneself, love, it will not have an end, love, because we are not good enough, in the end, paddling on borrowed smiles, love, not alive enough, like this even, hatless, for the likes of what it means, love, growing old with love, whatever love might mean to ever one day be, love, for the birds, love, with or without the likes of me

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

wish-powered factories of whys

-- That’s not my mother.
-- How do I know?
-- I just told you.
-- The hair?
-- No. But it’s the same.
-- Equally disturbing.
-- A lump sum. Yes.
-- Garages won’t store it.
-- Nope.
-- What she’s not.
-- A mother?
-- Perhaps.
-- Relevant.
-- So-so.
-- On a good day it’d be somebody’s.
-- On the bad?
-- A crumby bumbling…mom?
-- Yes?
-- Nothing. I was just calling. I was just worming my way out of trouble.
-- It’s not.
-- Mother?
-- Yes.
-- How’d one know, if one were to ask, and to whom?
-- It’s different with each gone consonant, each mark of absence, the diacritical hives of repair and redo, redo and do more, and more too.
-- Mother’s not home.
-- Yes. A crestfallen absence.
-- We’re working on togetherness.
-- At all times.
-- A mother’s will and loyalty with a smidgen of love, that’s about what it’d take to launder our souls.
-- Reeking of motherhood. Scented with fabric softener. A hint of Lemon Pledge on the windowsill.   
-- That is what my mother resembles, in a TV-show sort of way: a harpoon delicately balanced on the back of a whale. Who are we to tell what’s different and the same?
-- Mother?
-- No. Feeble. Germ-free. Tagged and twerped with shuffled insecurity.
-- A base to never steal. A mother’s pride and honed instincts for survival. Gosh. No. Golly gosh. Wait. Good gosh? No. Just the same, I guess. Fat with shade and warmth. Mother.
-- Mother, you are my calling card. We have time to never spend.
-- Is it not she?
-- It must be and it cannot.
-- She it is who dwells contrary to logical assumptions, in the space of air between forest trees, in the holdout heavies of another gone-by lurk.
-- Mother, it is or is it not?
-- Who’s asking?
-- A shale-and-rebar sort. An all-year sucker. A crowing has-been cowboy. A pied piper’s stolen quips from the short and over-rested. Mysticeti. Journeymen.
-- As if a mother’s ease could ever be taken for granted. As if mother would swim farther from shore than we’d care to notice. As if mothering’s comfort has termites. Mother, I get shunted for less in the arbor of my days. Put right the works. We are mothered in our born-free nicks.
-- My mother? No. It cannot be, so you’d have this kind of girl believe. So it is, back to the front of this gist, yours and mine alone, that was prattled on through and rescued from the fire escape of what we could never believe maternal guts could achieve. Are we blind to our own estimation? Mother? It can and cannot help, as we choose or do not, as we mingle the threads of upbringing with the fabric of who we’ve become.
-- Mothers.
-- But not mine.
-- Yes, if you’d like.
-- A bundle of care swaddled in banded hope and corrosive persuasion. Twerps like us don’t get what’s what in the chandelier light. It takes car batteries and a hydraulic lift perhaps, something that cranks and has a certain, I don’t know, heft.
-- You fold too easily. I am soon and now in my past, except when it comes to what is, but not what will be, or could.
-- Get it or don’t. I mother my own disasters one boxcar at a time.
-- Trained.
-- No. Steam-engined.
-- Caboosed!
-- Or merely tied to the tracks. Who’d choose one out of not enough?
-- Your mother.
-- It’s not.
-- So says the woman on the brink of squandering somebody else’s good time.  
-- We are tempered with honor here in the Taft-Hartly neons. Phone’s in dispose.
-- So it goes and doesn’t. It is a mannequin bust in a suit jacket obliged to be dull in a store window. The flush of traffic rises and dies in the sunset’s crimson over pylons and cement fixtures in the landscape.
-- A stuttering attempt at streetlight flails, disconsolate with ordinary yellow, and a retreat of cabs is ambushed by a thick swath of braking red.
-- No. It is more a mother’s triumph of life’s sturdy plight, the neglected farming of automobile parts and hard-to-tell curbs, and a nosing of garbage cans, lids clinked like martini glasses all through the night.
-- We are lost in crowded lanes, 12-car pileups, slashed by yellow and white lines, and there’s sugar in the gas tank, and we find it hard to ignore the windshield’s glare.
-- The arrhythmic music of car horns juxtaposed with greedy sirens eloping in the Dopplered distance.
-- We make plans, mother. Yes, mother. We unmake our beds.
-- Ah, the shoddy retreat of valets on the make, the horoscope makers, the cheaters and the almost-nearly bums. It all turns a few less heads than a lion tamer’s first drink of the night. And the rats slither away with all your winnings, most of it burned up in a fire anyway, and the burps keep adding up to a few more nights on the lam. Pouring more than enough drinks into you every night than’d drown a better man for a week, while food and stomach just aren’t getting along.
-- Let’s talk cheap hotel rooms, a bottle of whisky and an ice bucket calling my name. There’s nobody here to tell me that I’m no good. A moon outside the color of soap, and the eyeliner stain on my collar matches my socks, and I’m hard up for box scores and dirty blondes and the smoke of steam engines. I squint through the estuaries of dawn and let the whole damn fort go to hell. It never rains when it should.
-- The ice melts and dews the glass. An old book of names of clowns serves as a coaster.
-- Sometimes you just can’t get alone enough for anything to matter or make sense. The pool splash of a song. The harried reminder of better times in the squashed luck of mother’s lost voice. A cure for jealousy. The best juggler on the block. We get what we get. And it screams no more at the mirror in the dark. I am trampled by what’s not left in the bottle.
-- A no-where-else that I can’t ever remember wishing to be. It whiffs on a full belly but never skimps on the tip.   
-- Mother?
-- No. A sick sense of wonder gone to the dogs.
-- Mother?
-- Nope. Just a wholesome account of the shoddiest means of escape. Buck up and never be counted on again.
-- But those waterfall eyes, the fire-scarred earlobe. The impatience of certain gestures.
-- One and not the same.
-- The crooked slant of her mouth, serious lips chiseled on like crust for an unbaked pie.
-- Who knew?
-- Mother.
-- No. It’s all what we’re left with, and it’s all merrier times sloping leeward towards a wind-ravaged ravine.    
-- Mother knows.
-- Not mine. Not yours. It is a scoop’s mixed results added to a bowlful of apprehension. Which way will the wind blow? And who will be hungry upon leaving?
-- The bottle hangs on. It scrapes and digs in for what it’s worth.    
-- Ah. Yes. The always failing light of ex-splendor.  
-- Mother, make me a pair of shoes instead of wings, or so says so-and-so.
-- It’s around and it’s far.
-- A mother’s failings are not your own. Still, we harbor such stuff as winged hope in the breadbaskets of our bigger selves.
-- Mother. Mother. Make me shoulder your burden while you weep for mine.
-- Shoddy dribble. It don’t take. It really don’t.
-- Are we here then who we really are?
-- Don’t go around mentioning what you never meant to say.
-- Overheating over a mountain pass, something that resembles an uphill journey to you, at least, and it is jumpy at best, the way you react.  
-- Should’ve been a potato eater.
-- Sure. “I am always doing what I can't do yet in order to learn how to do it.” That’s the somehow ticket to nowhere.
-- Not in the teeniest bit of a way. Van Gogh craved disappointment. He wallowed and thrived in it.
-- To sell or not to sell. That it?
-- Not a choice really. It just happens.
-- All mothers let go and grip tighter all the time.
-- Not mine.
-- I didn’t say.
-- My mother’s hair is less auburn. You should’ve noticed.
-- But I wasn’t…
-- Was it yours? Mine?
-- Does the difference matter?
-- I wouldn’t ask, even if I were in favor of such gambling.
-- Groan. Go ahead. Mother was late for dinner. She’d cooked up an awful mess. We were testy, and we got our bedtimes moved up.
-- Whose?
-- More of the difference, moonlighting for the rust of the earth.
-- Not, I tell you, not mine. Not even close. Yours? No. I don’t believe that either.
-- And the fact that we compose a different outcome from either of those suppositions tells more about who we are not then what we’ve always been too timid to become.
-- We?
-- The plural of this countervailed contriving, this glassine for being God-blessed and bountiful.
-- Mother sewed on me a pair of eyes. Mother said, “Here. Try these on.”  
-- Yes. And, “…still I could not see.”
-- Or something-or-the-other as rudimentary.
-- Let’s place the blame as far from home as we can.
-- I don’t attract attention for just anybody.
-- How much is left in the bottle of who we are?
-- A few slugs, maybe. Enough for mother, and therefore for the universe.
-- Certainly less dark and stormy, under the cover of zinnias and convolvulus, as we scurry through self-made scuppers and ostioles of pristine laughter to escape hearing things like, “Pascal’s got a winning record, and Muriel sculpts all her gargoyles for joie-de-vivre drunks in the blood-red sunset.” We are not here to announce such trivialities.
-- That cannot be…that is not my…my…my anything.
-- Oh, mother. Whelps like us were born to hobble. We build graveyards in the jagged rock of mountainsides.     
-- Not mine. Not yours. Not at all like what we’ve always thought and will think.
-- Dear mother, who day by day…
-- …calls back the cruelest April of her prime.
-- Oh, well. Her glass is never quite full enough. The water, it goes and goes, all over and through the country. 
-- Swim out so far, farther than even anybody’s grandmother ever swam, and get back to where you’re going, go out and over it all, and make yourself back and forward into what’s there, not what isn’t. Outlive the barnacles and the seaweed and coral and the insufferable brain in your worried head. Be held and small in the crook of an arm, delicately cradled there, light and innocently soft; and then gnash down with all you’ve got into that arm. Take it. It does not belong to you. Go ahead. It’s not only necessary, it’s vital. 
-- …Mother?