Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pressed Against the Pane, Part 3

Jack could not remember having ever felt so sad, ashamed and disappointed.

Mary gently caressed his arm, saying, “Not to worry, not to worry, I love you, I love you…”

Jack tried to smile strongly down at his beautiful, trusting wife, but his disappointment was hard to hide.

Jack’s performance that night was lifeless. His heart and mind were far away, and so when his knee twisted in the landing of a grand tour jete, he barely noticed the audience gasp or the pain shoot through his left leg.

Lying in the hospital for the following two weeks as the tendons in his knee attempted to mend, Jack kept imagining his father walking into the room, telling him he was sorry for leaving, that he was proud of him, and asking him to please come home. He stared at the door a lot.

But only Mary came to his room, and more truthfully, Mary rarely left the room in order to enter it.

The only other visitor was the director of the tour. After speaking with the doctor and hearing the negative prognosis concerning Jack’s ability to ever dance again, the director informed the couple that the tour would have to move on without them. They were devastated. Mary tried to hide her grief but her chest had sunk several inches. To have lost both biological family and adopted family in the span of a few short days was almost too much for Jack to bear. He fell into a deep depression and probably would have never walked again if not for the persistent presence of Mary at his side. As she silently moved his body to stand or to take one more step, her muscles spoke to his, infusing him with a hope that could not be contained by words. Their bodies kept them alive.

As he began to take longer and longer jaunts, the sight of Mary’s joy at his accomplishment almost erased the loss and disappointment clinging to his being. But not quite.

Leaving the hospital a few weeks later to begin their new life together, Jack made Mary promise never to mention his past in dancing again.

Mary began teaching in the small ballet school in Kansas City begun by Madame Najinska where she had been a student herself. Jack retreated to stocking shelves at a small, family-owned bookstore. The silence of printed words was a much needed respite from the limelight and applause of the dance world.

A few years later Mary had an opportunity to transfer to the Najinska School in Tulsa, and she convinced Jack that proximity to his family might one day lead to an actual reunion. Jack remained doubtful, but he wanted Mary to be happy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Two borrowed sound-images

High heels on wet pavement
When you cover your ears, the low sound that's still there

Sunday, January 28, 2007


People die of exposure. Nevertheless, we continue to speak.

Friday, January 26, 2007

3 childhood fears

As a child, I had thorough fear of God. I feared him everywhere I went. I feared being seen by him, being heard by him. I feared he would notice my movements, chastise me for placing a foot out of step.
I feared him most the day a very sweaty pastor told me the Lord lived inside my heart. I grabbed my chest, petrified with fear. “My…heart?” I asked weakly. “How did he get in there?” The pastor would look at me impatiently from his pulpit and tell me not to blaspheme. I had never heard such an awful word. I knew then I was a sinner of exceptional note.
At church I would not dare take the Holy Communion. I refused to drink the blood of Christ, let alone eat his body. I thought, how much more divine sacrament can I take into myself? How much more will the Lord tolerate me?
My heart would race as my family approached the altar, preparing to partake in the bread and wine. I knew the pounding of my heart was Jesus warning me. I thought, Christ wouldn't want to dwell in a body as unclean as mine. I thought, one day he'll burst from my chest, breaking through my body leaving me bleeding to death on the ground. As I lay there dying, I would watch in complete awe the amazing spectacle of God shooting up to the sky, back into heaven like a rocket.
I cried when the pastor placed the wafer on the tip of my tongue; cried when I sipped from the chalice of grape juice--cried when later, I wet myself in front of the congregation.
Perhaps I was better off though, discharging the contents of my bladder rather than that of my heart.

I am terrified of my mother. When her quiet broke, when she screamed at my brother and me--when we would hide behind piles of clothes. She became huge standing over me, her hands moving wildly, like a storm, like veins of lighting, scolding me for eating too much or leaving the milk out or dragging mud into the house. Mostly I was amazed at how much more alive she seemed then, moments before she slapped my open palms with a dinner spoon. She would do it again, again, again till she was short of breath and red in the face.
I'd cry and scream, but she didn't hear me, because already, she was holding me, telling me she was sorry. As she kneeled to hold me, her white apron would fill with air and rise like a gigantic, glistening swell of water, enveloping me in the scent of linen and dried fruits. And then she would cry.
I would tell her to stop crying, that if she wanted she could send me to bed early, take away my dinner, give me more chores--punish me in some additional way. She would only shake her head and apologize over and over.
So I would stand there silently as she cried on the ground, both hands turned up towards the ceiling. Looking at her, I felt as though I was back in the womb, kicking her but having no memory of it.

there is an urn in my parents house, an asian fantasy vase with blue chrysanthemums and white grasshoppers. it rests in a box under my mother's bed: she's hiding it from her mother, my grandmother. one day, that's where we will keep her ashes, and when she is dead and gone we will move the urn to a place of greater honor. the vase is a preparation, an example of patience.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


The cicada killed trees line the highway,
their brown tips ready to fall to the earth
and plant the eggs of these ancient bugs,
where they wait out a generation
of sorrow, war, love, ambivalence
and then emerge in droves
madly mating and dying quickly.

I’m lost on the way to your house
and I should dig my phone
out of my purse, call you, and find out
where I went wrong. But I wait it out,
hope to find my way.

We build paths to one another, coat them with tar and rock
and follow them endlessly. I’m embarrassed
in front of the cicadas. They don’t even have mouths,
but every cycle of 17 years they know
to rise from the earth to seek and to find.

I pull into a gas station and browse the aisle
hoping that the route will appear somewhere
among the red and blue packages
of beef jerky and cheese puffs.

Without an answer I fill up the tank,
get back in the car, and drive.
My phone rings and its you. I let it ring.
The sun is going down, the stars start breaking through.
The bugs keep breathing, the hours move along,
and I keep searching the long stretches of pavement.

Pressed Against the Pane

After Jack’s younger sisters began taking classes with the world-renowned ballerina Bronislava Najinska, Jack told his parents that he would meet his sisters after class to escort them home, for safety’s sake. He failed to mention that he arrived to meet them early enough to take class himself.

Madame Najinska perceived his potential as a dancer almost immediately. His lyricism came natuarally, and he was stronger than the other boys due to his father forcing him to labor on the oil rigs.

His secret life continued for several years until age seventeen when Madame Najinska recommended him for the touring company, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. Faced with the opportunity of dancing all over the world, Jack could not say no. Imagining his father’s reaction, he realized that he could not share his plans with his family. He merely told his mother that he would be leaving, not to worry, and that he would be in touch. Despite her begging him to stay, he packed his trunk and boarded the train to Kansas City.

As the tour began, he quickly scaled the hierarchy of the company. He smiled to see himself featured on playbills and his name printed in bold letters in the program notes. It was on this first tour that he changed his name from Jack Duffer to Jacques Dupre. Jacques Dupre seemed a worthy name for a world class danseur partnering the likes of Alexandra Danilova.

But it was also during this first tour that entertaining became his second love. Mary Drake entered the stage early in the tour. She had been a student of Madame Najinska’s satellite school in Kansas City, and having shared a dance mentor, they immediately felt a connection. To Jack, Mary sparkled on stage and her intellect and humor sparkled off stage.

When the company returned to Kansas City in 1955, Jack decided that it was time to wed Mary and to be honest with his family. Jack and Mary were headlining that night in Blue Danube. Jack called his family a week prior and invited them to come meet his new wife. His mother was delighted to hear from him but confused as to why they had to meet them at a theater. Jack insisted that they go there, though he lacked the courage to tell them why.

Jack wanted to believe that once his father saw what a smash hit he was, what a name he had made for himself, and that he was as hard-working and successful as his father, Harlon would be proud. Finally, he and Mary could be a part of the family.

Jack never knew if they stayed for the show to see him or not. His mother came around to the stage door during intermission to hug him, meet Mary and apologize. “You know he can’t handle this, Jackie.” She said.

“No I didn’t,” he thought.

She fussed with the sequins on his bodice and tried to smile at him, but she couldn’t look him in the face. “Be in touch, dear,” she said as she turned to go.

“Aren’t you going to stay to see our big number? We’re starring together!” Jack asked in disbelief.

“I’m sorry Jackie, it’s just too much…it’s just too much…” her voiced trailed off as she quickly walked away.

situation with one and many values

a is greater than b

b is greater than c

c is greater than d

d is greater than a


Fire and respect, ch. 1

...words, which are made for singing and enchanting, rarely make contact with thought.

Sherpas unite!

I am a Sherpa. I walk the line between carrying and hauling. I am a human masquerading as donkey via Sherpa. I make my way along the city streets of my neighborhood. I carry boxes, bags, odd shaped items along the paths of concrete en masse to my abode. My seasonal trek depends on need, location and connection to the places I navigate.

Sometimes I see other Sherpas making their way through the canyons of my city. I see them in the distance, colorful silhouettes, schlepping backpacks, odd shaped cases, packages and bags. Most often, I see them with odd black bags on small wheels that they pull along, walking fast, eyes darting about. Typically, taxi cabs as yellow ego mobiles honk at us as we parade along our daily routes, their honks portraying their lack of understanding of the Sherpas' urban pedestrian ways.

Most Sherpas have tugged cardboard boxes, two or more suitcases, large packs of toilet paper shrink-wrapped and white bags with groceries weighing us down. An experienced Sherpa will know that it is best to carry the carton of milk with double plastic bags. Periodically, I will see a Sherpa wrestling with a chair, or large bags of what appears to be laundry. Most Sherpas are polite to others along the high-streets, we know how to carry the items without bumping others, we know that we are practicing an inner code of silence when sharing the city streets.

As a good Sherpa I travel to and fro along the train lines that connect my urban village to others. A good Sherpa knows his or her way around and understands the intrinsic value of the map. As visitor to other villages within the confines of my city, I am identified as "other." I carry items with me that denote I am from another place. The local is "other" confined within the locale.

In my treks outside of the transit free-zones, I realize that the way of the Sherpa is that which is a shared experience. I see a Sherpa approaching with a perambulator with a baby tucked inside, the Sherpa is carrying items in brown bags, as well as the four-wheeled device which is loaded down with items. I try to catch her eye, as if—"We are the same, I too merge my life as a Sherpa"—she glances away and pushes off into the distance behind me. I make the humble realization that our group has not unified as of yet, as there are too many of us navigating the city at any given time.

Monday, January 22, 2007


How honest do we allow ourselves to become?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Memory, Mercy, and The All-Seeing Sun

A friend told me she believed that a memory was an agreement between two people and the space in which the event occurred. I told her though I’d never thought of it that way, I agreed completely. She used a word other than ‘agreement’, maybe it was a ‘contract’… should I just stop writing here?

The things we see are of course not the things we see but light reflected off of them, perceived by our eyes and put together by our brains and then associated with some language we have stored away up there. Two people can see the same object or event, but the light waves that mediate this event are different, coming from different angles, and, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, even at different times to the observer. So we find the same rock sending each observer similar, but unique observations. Here I would like to cite Mr. John Cage saying, “Everyone has the best seat in the house.”

To speak of the same event then, even if perfectly recorded in our memories – every detail crisp, every book in order, every shade perfection; and this for both parties – is impossible as there is a fundamental discrepancy in our recording of the event. Perhaps the word ‘compromise’ would serve us better than ‘contract’. Or maybe not. Enter mercy.

Between two observers, a memory has to be a compromise. We are separate beings with separate experiences. The following diagram is one my roommate showed me. He is much smarter than I and I think it had something to do with a man whose name sounds as though it would be spelled “Flousser” but that looks French and I believe the ‘er’ is pronounced as in ‘her’, but it deals with phenomena and projects and I don’t want to say, “The way I understood it is…” but rather I’d just like to take the symbol and use it as it crystallized something in my own thinking. Besides, I don’t think my interpretation is too off…


The horizontal lines are experiences, events, or projects, the vertical lines are individuals, observers, phenomena. That may be completely wrong, but the idea is clear either way. Where an event and an individual cross, there is an experience, and even if two individuals cross the same event, the experiences are located in different places and thus not the same experience.

Without common experience, perfect communication is lost because sometimes I mean this and say that and you hear what and you think who. This is why we need compromise. Even more, this is why we need mercy. To know that we’re always speaking in approximations, we’re never getting it right, we’re never fully understanding one another can make interacting fairly discouraging. We are often misquoted, mistaken, downright wrong, and with this fact in place, we are in need of grace for those unfortunate individuals on the receiving end of our blunderous attempts at social interaction.

But the space knows. The sun, the source of all light knows. Something happened in this room, and though there is no possible way to record this happening, the past is past and any record is a mere representation, a biased angle of specific and unique information, not the totality of the event, but the fact is that it happened. A short story for the end:

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine , eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer - not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc. - is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.
-“Argumentum Ornithologicum” by Jorge Luis Borges

Milwaukee Ave.

Shortly after B and I met each other, moved to Connecticut, and decided to become cleansed brothers, we made a trip to the great windy city. Our trip lasted for a strange two years. These were a strange two years that we did not count on. Our stay became one of miracles.

The first thing we encountered was a large white man. His skin was blue and had a big fluffy white hat. His skin was made of small balls of a hard something that I could not put my finger on. He was homeless.

I said, “Hey, man, how goes it?” and handed him a quarter.
“Fixin’ to git me a bottle of wighn…”
“Right on man,” we concluded.

Shortly after, walking down the same street, we ran into a band consisting of 3 organists, a trumpeter, two drummers, a beat machine, a screaming transvestite, and another homeless man. They were right outside of a bright, small grocery advertising healthy cigarettes.

We jumped in with the band instantly becoming expert clappers as if some great reggae spirit of love gave it to us. The man running the show and playing the bottom and loudest organ clapped and yelled with his pants pulled up on his waist way too high. He said, “lets do that dub song, now.” and they did. We walked away and stepped over a sleeping student.

Pressed Against the Pane, Part 1

She smiled as she approached Jack and Mary, sitting regally at table 9. She always admired how gentile they were; Jack holding open doors, his hand protectively at the small of Mary’s back. Although he always respectively deferred to her opinion or plan, Jack always seemed to be a few steps ahead of her. Preparing for the unforeseen setback or opportunity before they even glimmered the horizon. Mary’s bravado hid her deep dependence on Jack’s loyalty and stability. Part of his charm was that he didn’t need her to care for him but he let her care for him anyway.

It was Jack who had fallen in love with Gold Coast first. He bought all of his wardrobe at the men’s boutique, Hannigan’s, housed across the courtyard. Jack detested wasting time in stores, and once he had found a suitable tweed blazer, year-round wool slacks, and a tailor he liked, he was set. Hannigan’s loved his loyalty and stablility almost as much as his wife did.

He first saw what would become Gold Coast in the Spring of 1985. Jack had received an unexpected windfall of cash as an inheritance from his long estranged father. He hadn’t spoken to him for over thirty years, even though they both lived in Tulsa. That they never crossed paths in all that time was both a testament to his father’s good planning and stubbornness as to Jack’s.

Although a realist in many ways, Jack’s romantic sensibilities always won out concerning his father. He had been convinced that one day he would come to his senses and reconcile with him. Jack felt too much shame and disappointment to make the first step in forgiveness himself. He’s the father, Jack thought, he should be the grown-up.

The last time he’d seen his father was also the final night of his dancing career. Ironic that his father would cut off communication the very night he ceased doing the very activity that spurred the disownment.

Jack had been keeping his career a secret from his father for years. Male dancers in America, and especially in Oklahoma, were a rare and ostracized breed. Jack knew that the last thing his father, the oil prospector, wanted was a dancing son.

Jack’s father, Harlon, had started with nothing, moving from the plains of Kansas to the plains of Oklahoma in the late 30’s. He came to try his luck in the oil business, and he drug with him Jack’s mother, who in blind love followed him to the desolate former Indian Territory. She couldn’t have imagined how different life would be from Kansas. Flat is flat, she thought. But the red clay soil ate up produce instead of producing it as expected, which quickly left her, Harlon, and their newborn son, Jack, in dire straights.

Harlon though remained optimistic that their future lay not above the ground but underneath it. His brother soon moved down, and they partnered up to drill for oil. Their first big vein hit set the family smiling for nearly a decade. Despite a short setback when Harlon and his brother were sent overseas to serve in the army during the 40’s, with only Harlon returning alive, the oil business continued to pump along quite well.

Harlon fancied himself an “every man.” He was courageous, risky, hard-working and successful, and his oldest son was supposed to follow in his footsteps. But Jack was never awed by or even interested in oil and the tough Oklahoma terrain that was home to it as Harlon was. Jack was a mystery to his father, and instead of getting to know him for who he was, Harlon assumed that Jack was merely rebelling against him and his unspoken expectations. How does a son not know what’s expected of him? he wondered.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Space vs place

Before birth and after death, we’re in space.
After birth and before death, we occupy place.

I read these words, and I wondered what you meant.
No, more than that, I wondered how you felt about what you meant.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

regressing through meta-analyzing

say it dirty but put it in the third person, he said, and it's poetry.
say it dirty but blame the second party and you're just transferring blame.
say it dirty with authority and get it right.
not saying anything dirty but only talking about dirt and you're a scholar of poetry.

advanced lesson in French

je mange et jeu au soleil le jour brillant
vous piaulez et dites, "obtenez-de ma manière"
il viande et touche mon oracle
elle coupe et donne un coup de poing mon strudle
nous écrou et pompenons leurs caresses
elles complètent et basetent nos nouilles

i eat and play in the sun shiny day
you peep and say, "get in my way"
he meat and touch my oracle
she cut and punch my strudle
we nut and pump their cuddles
they top and bottom our noodles

Monday, January 15, 2007

for dearest sara (on the occasion of her death)

The women are alone again tonight. I wonder where their husbands are off to. She lights a cigarette, someone complains. I sit in front of his door, and she looks at me, you had better stay out of trouble, she says. Yes I agree. Yes, I know. But I know nothing, I admit to her. She laughs, Why not find yourself a nice girl and settle down? Yes, but I don’t know. She smiles and asks the girls where their husbands are off to. They don’t know if they’re coming or going! But whatever it is, they’re gone, I say. We don’t talk like that, they say and they fold their hands on the table. She feels the pattern of the lace, the low relief, the familiar lines.

In prayer I hear her digging up the sand on the beach, in front of her house, in front of her view. Of the few things she owns, there is this view—soon to be in limbo and orphaned. This is the first time I've watched the sunrise in maybe 60 years, you know. I didn’t know that, and I’m interested in why. But there is no answer, of course—she’s looking away.

Now she is quiet and I strain myself to hear her. I turn on the bench, look through the floral print wallpaper and see her, leaning beside a window, open five or so inches, legs crossed, looking outside, over the seagulls. What is so interesting about those birds? Whatever answer they can give, whatever mystical advice will always be opaque. That’s right darling, she’ll say to me.

Yes, I answer. I do not knock on the door. I will not see her or hear her again. Outside, it is beautiful winter on the Oregon Coast. I hear a car passing, I hear Yiddish—nothing particular, nothing to speak of.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

She has no idea what she means

My brother was the beast.
My brother is a mystic.
My brother is Hildegard.

A pastor preaching on power
cited a theologian who wrote,
True power is when something holds us, and we don't even know we're being held.

Ours is a city yet to be, she said, ours is a city already present.

I entered your history.
(Authoritative witness is most clearly revealed when all forms of authority are lost.)

And we swim underwater with our eyes open.


The sky is dark for five o’clock. Heavy. We walk slowly, deliberately, savoring each step in each other’s company. On one flank little city lights peep out from behind thick clouds holding what will be what holds us back and what will keep us there. Our other flank is endless with sky, water, and a healthy greenness. We are walking towards the water.

The coolness pricks our skin and the breeze forecasts the wetness that is to come. It is just beyond comfortable but we ignore any sense we have: to turn back. We move forward.

We arrive and sit, our backs against the concrete wall that shields us from the stares of the city lights. We look forward into the water and wordlessly our gazes fade into the distant water-sky.

A drop falls. A second. The clouds relieve themselves. The wetness is cooler than the air and the hairs on our forearms and shoulders start to raise, the backs of our necks alert to the imposing weather. Now that we are there, that we’ve arrived, we can’t turn back. We’ve waited for this for too long. Wordlessly we endure the increased stress on our bodies to stay warm, we shiver and wrap our arms around ourselves, hugging our knees and struggling to keep our bodies from shaking. I look at you and see the rain running in-between your eyelashes, around your eyes and down the crease of your nose onto your lips. Suddenly we are completely waterlogged. Your face has now turned into a landscape of water currents, your hair matted snuggly to your head.

We get up and slosh away. I’m following you, you choose a railing up along the concrete armature of a building. You navigate to a sheltered cavity beneath the windows. We sit upon the rocks/ drainage system. Centipedes slither in and out of our refuge among us. We lean back against the concrete wall. We stare out into the downpour. It is arresting. You look at me squarely and say with weighty eyes, “I have to go,” but neither of us can move. You turn your back to me and slide your wet shirt off to put on a dry sweatshirt from your pack. I see your back muscles and look away, into the distance.

We try to wait it out but it just keeps coming. Drop upon drop, thick as static on the TV. We sit and stare out of our newly nested burrow, family of bugs and rocks and chill, and stare through the downpour to the water-sky. Above us the rain pellets drum off the glass, then glide down the panes in long sweeping channels. Water likes to stick together.

You say you have to go again and although I don’t believe you, you pull yourself up and grab your things. I follow you out from our shelter, unready for the next shockwaves of shivers and chattering.
We slosh back, picking up our heavy legs with our heavy pants, and this time our silence is also much heavier. Cold and wet, neither of want to leave, but you feel you must. The irresolution remains unspoken.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Camping - day 3

The water in the lake does not move much. When it does, I am surprised, anxious, irritable. Why have I come here? I ask myself, again and again. Is it so bad in the city? Is it so easy for us to access this nature, this landscape that is neither ours or its own, on its own? Things are complicated, I hear the voice say. Things do not make sense because they make sense. I can see the Chicago apartment, the stack of bills unpaid, debt.
We drink some whisky and swim just after noon. I feel less frustrated, and on my back in the water I think I could be like a sea mammal, a blue whale leaning on its side to expose one big eye to the sun. The voice goes away at some point, and I am left alone, only buoyant--just floating.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Memorial (day)

She pulled a drowning child from the pool today.

She watched his small
pale body
red hair
open eyes
floating peacefully with the water's movement
twisting and swaying
keeping what rhythm
only he knew
if he knew at all
as she struggled to understand what it was she was seeing
the moment she saw him
his light-dappled body beneath the surface
this was not right
this was not right
this was not right
and so her eyes stayed with him
as her own children held her close
smiling in sunshine
until a few seconds
an eternity
she convinced herself this was not a game he was playing
holding his breath
counting to ten
or more
swimming past knees and ankles and shins
changed into peculiar incandescent forms
by blue reflections
this was a child dying
perhaps already dead
and she reached
letting go of one child’s hand
holding another on her hip on the other side
and she pulled this child out of the water by his arm and raised him up
strangely heavy
high above the water and moved with him like that to the pool's edge
as she called for help
with a voice
it seemed
they could not hear
again and again
over the noise of the other children and their parents
(where were his parents?)
laughing and playing
enjoying their first taste of summer

He did not die.

Negotiating Rapture

The piece kept showing up. Uninvited. Not unwanted, just uninvited.

The stark neon. The relentless flashing on and off. Red: You breathe, you live. Blue: You breathe, you die. Red: You want, you die. Blue: You want, you live.

So much death, so much life. Too much to absorb. Real and yet artificial. Red: You create, you live. Blue: You create, you die.

An isolated individual gazes at the neon from an exclusive, elitist hotel in Japan.

Two friends cry, side by side.

It’s all too much this unbearable lightness of being; This good news; this plurality and ambiguity; this calling to go where angels fear to tread…Only book titles can save me now.

Camping - day 4

Hungry and tired, we walk back to the campsite. We take a back way that we noticed only the day before. It is more overgrown, but also more direct to the lakeshore. I fall behind, letting my friend get ahead of me far enough for me to be alone. I sit by ferns and shallow shrubs. I dig my fingers into the soft topsoil. And when I look up, I see him. He is an Elk: like a perfect Aryan myth: cherry-blonde and broad shouldered, noble chest, erect neck. He breathes a cloud of condensation at me, and I am looking straight into his eyes. I have known this fear before: at sea, far away and looking across deserts, waiting for lightning, swarms of bees, my first plunge into the ocean.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Muscle Memory

Walking into the ballet studio on 33rd and Harvard felt like walking into my soul. I wanted to somehow convey to my family that as they stepped into these hallways, dressing rooms, and studios, they were walking through me. Passing through my skin and beholding who I am. I swallowed instead.

The studio always hosted an odd mix of smells. The excessive amounts of resin used for point shoe traction lent a certain dryness to the air but underneath, girding all smells was the damp, pervasive odor of decades of perspiration. I am countless different people when I walk through the door. A scared 5-year-old at Nutcracker rehearsal, who is overwhelmed by the limbs and kicks and afraid of disappointing the fierce lady with dark eyes; a shy 8-year-old who never speaks to anyone, ironically longing for friends and yet cherishing the one place I can be silent and no one finds me strange for my silence; a gawky 13-year-old who is weak, struggling, jealous, and fighting the natural instincts of my growing body; a confident high school student who begins to take risks in both dance and life; a college student, who finally feels the proud eyes of Ms. Larkin doting on me and my dancing. I still felt unworthy, but basked in the glow of her pride.
And now she sits in a chair in Roman’s office/her old office and she does not remember. She is alone, and so I am alone. She forgets me, she forgets herself.

Roman walks us through the studio showing us the changes that have been made. I fight the urge to run to my place at the barre where I stood for so many years. The place where I sat fairy princess-style, watching Ms. Larkin skip around the room, a delicate crystal prism dangling from her fingertips. As the rainbows of light flickered in our eyes, she invited us to imagine that we too could be prisms, magically transforming music into movement. And so we’d stand at our assigned places, bending, stretching, kicking, and waiting to turn into rainbows.

Roman gently escorts his mother on our tour, she barely notices the change of scenery.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel, cruel disease.

Before we leave, I pause to write a note to one of the other teachers, Ms. Hope. I notice the purple décor of the waiting area and know that she must have played a design role, considering purple is her favorite color. Ms. Larkin stands behind the receptionist’s counter and I want so badly to see the true Ms. Larkin—just once, if only for a fleeting moment. It feels as though I have been dismembered when I no longer see the best version of myself in her eyes. I am left with only my stories and perception-clouded memories.

I receive a miracle. From my limited work with Alzheimer’s patients in Hospice I know that many times the only way to connect is to delve deep into the past to our earliest memories. The oldest memories are often the most accessible. I begin to tell her of how I am teaching ballet and how I use her “5 Positions Song” to teach the basic five positions of the feet and arms. She still looks blank but I forge ahead. I begin to sing and move, “First position and second position…” By the time I get to third position her eyes connect with mine and she begins to sing and move in synch with me. As we come to the closing pas de burre her eyes twinkle and she smiles at me—the true Ms. Larkin smile that always said to me, “I am pleasantly surprised that you’ve made me proud of you.”

Then she was gone, lost in her own world again. But I had received my miracle. What had been lost had been re-membered. As we left the studio, there was a quiet sadness within me and yet a breathless thankfulness for the gift of muscle memory that can re-member us when our minds have failed us, for the sinews that can hold us in community long after our minds have severed all ties to reality. To live she must stay at the studio, surrounded by the movement that has taught her to live fully in the present moment, thankful for this breath, this step, this person beside her, this dance that is the breath of life made visible.

I learned that hot August day to trust my muscles and the memories that lie buried within them.

“Night is drawing nigh. How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has taken, how you have needed every second of it.” Dag Hammarskjold

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What's art but a secondhand emotion?

For AK:
Direction, or That to Which I Point May Be Exactly What I Want You to See.
Don’t You Trust Me?

Once upon a time, this is what she wrote:

Question: Is art elitist? Should it be? Is everyone an artist? Should they be?
Answer: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I am an artist. And sometimes, some things can be, simultaneously, more than what they are and exactly what they are. A museum can be a swimming pool.

It is all about trust. Art can be real. Art must always be made with a nudge and a wink, especially sincere art. Art must be more real than the art world will let it be. Art must be more art than the real world will let it be. Art is on dangerous ground. And that’s good.

She laughs now when she reads these words.

A: Why don’t you say you love me?
B: Why do I have to?
A: If you loved me, you’d say it.
B: I love you.
A: You’re just saying that.

Would I lie to you, honey?

to Aunt Leonie

Aunt Leonie
Purebred invalid
Say your vespers
And drink your tonics
Nobody said you were sick in the head
How’s the asparagus?
Thick as your sick head
Please don’t get out of bed
We wouldn’t want to trouble you
Or worry your little head
How’s the Virgin?
Where’s the grocer?
What’s so charming about staying in bed?
Nobody wants to be in your head
More than me
And in your bed
More than Leonie


Monday, January 8, 2007

Fear, the first time

It was a river that dried and filled with poison hours before he came up for air. A lifetime spent floating in the warm salty water of her belly.

A beginning, a very long time long ago

I do not yet know how to write what I must.

This sentence occurs to her as a plausible place to begin. In fact, the longer she considers the matter—and, of course, she does consider the matter for some length of time—this sentence seems to her to be the only place to begin. She who spends her days almost exclusively in the company of those without speech. She who is unable to complete one thought from beginning to end and for whom reflective activity has become a form of nostalgia. She to whom Derrida finally makes sense. And, as she considers the matter further, this sentence seems, at the very least, to be simply a place to begin. It is her place to begin. It is this sentence that will mark her beginning.

I do not yet know how to write what I must.

And, then:
There are fears I dare not speak nor write.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

from Mali

Pleasure in the faces when little lone white girl greets-- in Bamanakan. Men on motorcycles hugging full-size, headless, skinned cows. Smog in this valley of Bamako. Regal and wise looking Muslims striding slowly with perfect posture and high heads. Confusion as the cops in full African army garb (fatigues and teal beret) ride past me, waiting for my schoolbus, white and bright on the corner. The market being set up.


A man beat his wife tonight. A woman hit a child with a stick; the other kids yelled "Tubab!" at me. A donkey had a sore above his eye and the rope halter dragged on it. The woman at my bus stop is gone, she doesn't sit and fry meat on the corner. She's sick. Amputated or malformed beggers. Rude gestures from a vender angry at me for encouraging my friend to bargain him down. A man beat his wife tonight. She screamed it out so that everyone would know. Her defense, her revenge, her weapon was our knowledge, her "refusal to be silenced," the moral condemnation, the prick of conscience, self-consciousness, embarrassment. We listened. We heard. We women, we did nothing.

Camping - day 5

For the fifth day now, we’re camped a mile and a half from Lake Pile. There’s a little fox that’s been scouting the perimeter of the campsite—looking in and figuring out our alien humanness. Last night I think I heard him, whining east at the sad faced moon, pale yellow and surrounded by the evening fog like the fur collar of an Eskimo. There is his whine, his voice, his tiny feet stirring twigs, wind through his tail. There is this grey countryside, his dominion of dens and underground trails. There are the pups, their tiny mouths, the feathers of a brown bird—her blood and her feathers and the left over bones.


Pigeons swarm the intersection at Ashland and 3rd.
A woman sits on the floor next to a thimble of semen and overeats a pile of orange oranges.
The capacity of breath to trust and invest.
She rides through gray congestion fascinated by her changing mind.
Face red heart racing—she finds illiteracy across the park.
Territory—the human land animal who marks her turf.
She mapped the floor with rubber strips to figure out where she belongs.
White snow falls
some are colder.
She dissects
to find a sack of fetuses.
Drills, bits, blades pully. She prays for god
to use her.
Level router sander plane.
The way things work
is that eventually
something catches.


“How is she doing?” A trembling voice on the other side of the telephone connection replied that she is not doing well. I felt a cold distance, not sure what to say next, because I already was aware of the situation.

After some silent seconds, I heard, “You want to say something to her?” The cold distance mutated, as I instantly imagined that the phone was put near her ear to hear my voice.

“Hello, Louise…I am sorry I can’t be there, but it’s going to be okay, I love you.” A muffled sound interrupted me, as another even more trembling voice took over and said that she just took her last breath.

I cried.

An hour in my home/The things in my throat

Lately, I have been trying to take it easy. I sit on my couch and it is dirty. A jerk lived on my couch for a while and made the cushions very fucked up and burned by cigarettes. I sit on my couch and listen to slim slinky guitar jazz. Sometimes, I read a book called The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. It is very good. It is very funny and inventive. It is about a librarian who can never leave the library. Fortunately for him, he has a perfectly proportioned girlfriend.

I go to the kitchen and make a salad. It has greens, lots of greens. I am trying to eat good things. I keep getting sick, and I believe it is because my body is feeling down because I don’t feed it good things. My soul is also damaged because I don’t feed it good spiritual things. It needs a clean house and a god to pray to. I need always nice, never drunk, friends. So the salad has all sorts of leafy greens in it and cucumbers, too. Then onions, Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. I make it in a big white bowl that I used to use for popcorn when I lived with my last roommate.

I go to the couch and shake a little bit. I think I might have fever. I can barely speak because my words just sound like squeaks once they get past my lips. No one can understand me because I sound so funny.

On the couch, the jazz is still slinking and the octopus lights are hanging above the armchair that I bought from a woman named Gillian. I think she almost killed me when I didn’t pay her for the chair right away. The lights and the chair together are a very pretty picture. I have taken many photographs of them together. I also find it soothing, especially when there is slinky jazz on.

I think about my friend who went home to have surgery. They performed surgery on her cervix. When I was on the phone with her I mistakably asked her how her clit was feeling. I was not coming on to her. They were extracting irregular cell growths. It was a good thing they took them out because they could have eventually become cancerous cells. I once had bones extracted from my feet because I was born with an extra one in each foot. So, I sort-of know how she feels.

I pull my sweater and t-shirt over my head, turning myself into a monster or zombie to any honest passerby. No one is passing by because I am alone in my living room. I am in my shirt and stare at my belly that is getting fatter because I have just been eating at the terrible Midwest pizza joints and at the good Mexican place down the road. Faith tells me I am fat, but she is just kidding. I wouldn’t mind looking like Will Oldham in his movie Old Joy. He is fat and bearded and very lovable, like a big fuzzy, folk-singin’ teddy bear. I wouldn’t mind being that someday. I feel warm and like a sock inside my shirts but I take my head out to try and eat my salad.

I have put too much dressing on my salad and it splashes all over my face and on my sweater. I don’t do anything about it. This is partly because I am preoccupied with something else. Something bigger. I eat as much as possible, trying to dredge up the good walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese from the bottom of the bowl. It is very difficult. I succeed in the end and eat the whole thing.

I am very nervous. I want my mother. I am sick and feel like a child.


To know
true north
and to carry it, magnetic,
my self

The great towers and the industry that used to be

I am walking like a skeleton. My bones are banging against the bags that are my skin. I can walk however I want. I am alone, and there are big towers everywhere. Everything is gray, and the only thing that shows color is my blood. I am definitely somewhere, because I am with myself. But I could be anywhere. Therefore, I am nowhere.

But I am not nowhere in the sense that everything is lost and nothing means anything. I am nowhere in the sense that I am separated from the other humans. My actions are being watched, alone, by the great creator.

I am stumbling between building and building. Great big gray water towers. Little restaurants here and there. Underneath train tracks that are so loud. These tracks would not be tolerated in the downtown, in the uptown, in the hip parts of town. These are the remains of humans a long time ago. Factories and towers that people used to slave in.

These train tracks and water towers that are way high above me are only here in this nowhere part of town. There are no nasty people. There are no nice people. There are no rich people. There is just me, huge stone and metal, and the sky. This is the only place in the city where lost souls can wander and actually find something.

I can walk the way I want here. That is my freedom. I walk with my heart and let my bones throw themselves to the north, the south, the east, and the west. My body is my home to decorate the way I please. If I really walk with my heart, God will be pleased. Here, God and I are one, and everything is just fine.

My clothes are long and drag on the floor. My clothes bunch and bunch as I get shorter and closer to the ground. I am flannel, I am cotton. I disintegrate, God watches as I become dirt and nods his head in assurance that I am following my heart. Then he cackles with a giant smile like the Buddha as I appear beside him.

Then I have to leave and things come back into color. I am not the only red. I have to get on trains and buy groceries and lather myself in soap. I have to paint boxes and use vacuum cleaners and tip tap my fingers on aluminum machines that organize my thoughts and collect my data for me. Everything is too many colors, and God can’t see me through all of the bullshit.


I don’t know if there was a path that led up to this place. There must have been, but in this recollection it is entirely self-contained, and an entrance or exit would be contrary and entirely against the completeness this small space has associated with it. I’m not even certain if it is real, but there is a striking image of someplace I now associate with my neighborhood as a boy in Columbus, Ohio. The space comes back to me in three colors: a golden yellow that is the late sun diffused through yellow vines with yellow leaves, this light soft on the red brick that made up the path, and the wrought-iron that composed the table and chairs placed on the bricks at the end of the path. There must have been flecks of green here and there as well. The space was a small enclosure, perhaps a chamber in a garden. There was a small path wide enough for one person to walk down, a typical path, and at the end of the path was a small, round enclosure. The path wasn’t very long, as the entirety of the enclosure could be seen from wherever this recollection begins, but I do remember that there was a pause between start and finish, and I believe that this was a pause more of awe than of distance. The use of the word enclosure is due to the fourth and most striking detail that this entire space was covered completely by an arch of vines, roof, and walls; as though a tunnel like structure had been built of wire allowing vines to completely grow over the tunnel. The vines themselves, as already stated, had mostly yellow leaves with some green here and there, and I want to say they were of the same type found in my back yard of which I do not know the name. The lighting was old and quiet, late in the afternoon. The iron table was small and round, just large enough for the two chairs on either side of it. I must have been a young child, as the chairs seem to relate themselves from a higher angle than I am used to seeing now. There was no one in the chairs. I have no clue as to their purpose or owners. I do not remember how I came to be in this place or where this vision ends. This could be a dream that I’ve mistaken as a memory or perhaps a scene from a movie I’ve adopted as my own experience. Either way, it is distant in time and strong in feeling.

The creation of a comfortable life out of an old woman's bones

Jason: You should come running through the fields with me or down the side of a hill…we’ll get our ankles all covered in dew and roll until we can’t roll anymore.
Annabelle: Oh, you sound like a poet. You sound like Joan Baez or something.
Jason: Well I read a lot of Hemingway, and this is how I speak…and it's with my own tongue too.
Annabelle: Well, it’s adorable. But we’re supposed to be talking about my new apartment.
J: Right.
A: Is the tape rolling?
J: Yeah. Hold on, let me check the mic. Okay, it’s good. Go.
A: Don’t you think it is important that my doorway does not stand completely tall? The doorframe is crooked. See? It’s leaning slightly to the left.
J: I realized that the other day…after you first moved in…it’s the same in the floor. I was on my hands and knees, mopping the wood, and the soapy fluid kept running down and underneath the refrigerator. I think your whole building is slanted.
A: I do, too. I think it’s important to live in a space where at least one doorway is crooked…and if not a doorway, then the whole building.
J: Or, at least, a place that had been inhabited by an old woman with lots of grandkids or maybe some kind of shut-in religious freak who had bazillions of books.
A: You would never believe that an old woman had lived here, though. A few hours after we had unloaded the truck, I began sweeping and dusting in my closet, and there was hardly any dust.
J: That’s really nice. My place still has those big cockroaches.
A: It’s terrible at your place…such bad vibes. Once when I slept in your bed, I had this horrible dream.
J: What happened?
A: Well, I remember this strange man in beads. He was short and stocky. He had a funny hat on, too. He killed and skinned this poor blonde woman in the basement of my parent’s house. The woman owned an ice cream shop down the street on Broadway. He stuck her in a black garbage bag and handed the bag to me. I don’t know how he got in to the house or why he was carrying out the deed there, but he was. So, he hands me the bag and tells me it is my responsibility to dispose of the remains. But of course, when he turns around, I call the police and I drop the bag and run down the street. I don’t remember very much more of what happened.
J: Jeez, well, that’s bad enough; you don’t have to keep going.
A: Anyways, ever since I moved in here, I haven’t been having any nasty dreams. I feel a calm in this place. Sometimes old tenants leave bad traces of themselves behind. But the old woman is truly gone. Her lovely scent is still here, though. It’s like roses, isn’t it?
J: Definitely, roses.
A: So, now I have pleasant dreams. And on nights when it’s raining, I have the privilege of listening to the rain tip tap or lap lap on the vines that grow up the side of the building.
J: That’s so peaceful. Listening to the rain outside my window…ooh, or on the roof as I was going to sleep, was definitely a highlight from my childhood.
A: Mine, too.
J: Hey, but what’s with the blue work light in the bathroom?
A: Oh, that…I got frustrated with the pull lamp and tugged on the chain too hard. I think I might have ripped it out of it’s hole.
J: The blue light really does give the room a specific ambiance.
A: I’m going to throw bath parties. But instead of filling up the tub we’ll just let it overflow. We’ll all get naked and just lounge in a very wet bathroom.
J: Sounds great, I can help you set up. Oh yeah, I also dig that photograph of a bathroom that you hung up in the bathroom. Strange dynamic.
A: I bought that at an art fair. The woman knew I liked it so much that she sold it to me for dirt-cheap. It’s a real expensive print, too, you know.
J: How much originally?
A: Oh, I think…um…eighty bucks or something.
J: You always get those kinds of wonderful people cutting you breaks.
A: I have a pull. Hey, you know what I was reading about today?
J: What?
A: I was reading about when the sun first came into existence.
J: I’ve never thought about that before.
A: The universe was bathed in complete darkness.
J: I guess that’s logical but I never thought about it like that before. I just figured it went straight from god to sunlight.
A: Well, it was completely black, and all of a sudden, the sun came into existence and flooded the entire universe with a blinding light. But there were no living beings, so nobody got to see it but god.
J: He gets front-row tickets to all the best Broadway plays, too.
A: Every night!?
J: Every night.
A: I hate Broadway theatre.
J: Yeah, I hate it too, but I’m trying to get used to it. I’m trying to find something culturally or spiritually redeeming about it, but it’s hard. It feels so empty.
A: Well, I guess the people making the shows put a lot of hard work into them.
J: Yeah, that’s good enough for me.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Bard 6

It is her nature to participate. She wasn’t scared.
She was.
Armored with a tank in her brain and a bike between her legs
she would ride for days.
Stopping only for meat, sleep, and conversation with children who were often moody.
Sleep gave dreams. Fresh meat allowed another day.
When homesick, she made calls to grandma bigot whose floor plan was made in Cleveland.
the large room for fields - the small room for concrete
The road led to water and complicated women.
One was named Indigo Bunting.
She made the journey difficult and complete.


To investigate the real substance of our lives, to know, truly, the spaces we inhabit, we must forget to think of the “false,” the “inauthentic,” for they are no more than cultural fabrications, mere anxieties.

Thistles and houses

And so it was strange, then, how, on our very first walk after, the house started to come down. She had died only the night before and had walked past that house with us the morning before that. There was a purple flower, thistly and tall, she had stopped to smell on our last walk together, just next door to the house that was now, before our very eyes, being demolished. I had been inside that house, only once, but even so . . . it was a house filled with memories. Soaked into its plaster and paint, its tiles; its very beams had absorbed and supported a family’s history there together. And now, their history--and mine and yours and hers (does she have a history still, being no longer alive to carry it?)--flies around in the air, dust motes shimmering, sparkling, scattering, settling in new configurations upon new surfaces.

I remember the garden still

You remembered the gardens and told me of them. They were magical to me, you said. And I think of our children and the magical spaces that they inhabit daily, places made special by what is noticed: the trail left by the insect crawling through the sand, the leaves on the small tree near the trail turning from green to red, the map that shows us where we are and where we’re going and what was once here, the sound of the boats bobbing in the harbor, the remembered names of the flowers out back and the birds singing overhead, the mud puddle that becomes swimming hole, costume, and exquisite confection all in one. Their favorite places, experienced once or experienced often, are always known intimately and held within their hearts as magical, and this is the gift they give to us, their magic, and it sustains us. Their favorite places become our favorite places, and their magic is shared with us and becomes ours, and we remember. We remember and inhabit once more the boundless field of a child’s experience, a field rich with wonder and magic, experiences direct, unmediated, and always fully present.

And now, later, I reflect upon those memories that are mine and are not yours.

We inhabit one another

The spaces we inhabit are what we believe them to be. Our beliefs are based, in varying proportions, upon our expectations, experiences, memories, hopes, and fears, which, in turn, are formed by, with, and in response to movement, touch, heredity—in short, our bodies, in other spaces, with other bodies.

Culture is our context. That is, we become the context for one another. You are the place against which, through which, and with which I understand myself. We learn, appropriate, adapt, alter, and create anew one another's forms, and my forms become yours, yours become mine, allowing each one of us the possibility of creating, recognizing, communicating, and experiencing a meaningful existence.