Cradle Tune

Cradle of Civilization

My light and my life, my engine, my fuel,
my nearly-teen, in slouching sloth
threw her bikini into the shower stall,
left it in a wadded bunch
of folded, warm and moistened cloth
where dampened floor meets dampened wall
a Smallish Bang of genesis
in activated fold and crease
where microbes programmatically
make thoughtless love without surcease.

To think what dough we’ve spent on drills
and go-carts in the Martian idyll
awash in stupefaction there.
Inspecting stones for flatulence
on shores we dream were slimed and tidal
bacteria would shout and glare
a Walden of the very Spheres
were Dillard left to sing the song.
Amino locked in laminate!
The God we’ve prayed for all along.

“O Life!” we whelp in lumpen lust
to know what is engendered there
for all that we are dumb and doomed
and reaching out for other souls
our robots marching everywhere
in search of Life beyond this tomb
da Vinci and a golden disc
still seek a plane of morning breezes
but here we fair dismiss our germs
or flog them into sandwich cheeses.

Wondrous Martian annelid
your sacrament is Heav’n-kissed,
this your body, that your blood.
-the while our hated spores and molds
define the Earthbound shopping list
we fear the swarming things in mud
that elsewhere beg our dreams to rise
down here on Earth we’re quite afraid
of parthenogenetic life
and see it off with bargain Raid®.

 

As I Become Less Likable I Can Clearly Visualize My Seldom-Visited Grave

Likable_JEF

As I become less likable I can clearly visualize my seldom-visited grave;

a bone-packed hole, an oblong tilted stone in a windless field,

pennies in a beaten, scratch-fogged jelly jar,

flowers and notes and such trinkets arrive to mildly sing the love I mildly gave.

That is, every 4 months or so, where several puzzled hearts annealed,

a carnation is tossed from a slowing car.

Fitty Sense

Tim Jeff Leslee (1980)
a few characters who have appeared, through no real choice of their own, in my novel

“Although Ebenezer stirred uneasily at these words, remembering his state of mind at Magdalene College and in his room in Pudding Lane, he nevertheless reaffirmed his belief in the value of human time, arguing from the analogy of precious stones and metals that the value of commodities increases inversely with their supply where demand is constant, and with demand where supply is constant, so that mortal time, being infinitesimal in supply and virtually infinite in demand, was therefore infinitely precious to mortal men.” (John Barth – The Sot Weed Factor – p. 568)

There went my birthday, past tense. 55! Impossible, like so much else we (I) take for granted and barely have the wherewithal to acknowledge in our (my) blurred comings and goings. And look at that grand old photo! Tim! Leslee! The Buick! ASU! Once upon a time! Me clutching a baseball glove! How can a day or a minute be ‘infinitely precious’ according to the intuitive laws of scarcity when the only mechanism we’re given to apprehend All This doesn’t mark the singular seconds with anything at all? Shouldn’t something as irretrievable as a Living Second have something like a cosmic cowbell appended to it? Oughtn’t we be allowed (or made) to know the passing of the seconds? Though each individual second be as unknowably dull as off-brand jell-o, in the aggregate they are a marauding, killing swarm. You want to talk about viral this? Viral that? Is there anything more ruinously viral than a lone second edging its way past the distracted sentry tower to join its secret idiot army? And whence dignity, he stated. This morning at work I glance down at my trousers and because I eat lunch in the haute couture manner of a doddering simp and swap my trousers infrequently, my corduroys are covered with a constellation of little white stains, as if a congested and overpraised Peter Dinklage stood before me and had a sneezing fit, or a single bold sneeze or whatever. I pour water from a plastic jug into a bunched coffee filter and thoroughly soak the stain field, the effect an oblong patch of dark wet that infers incontinence from an impressively dangling dispenser. This doesn’t fool anybody.

Juudje
my unfailing furnace, a smile like a supernova
Glad Sam
the artist as a young thang. here content

Time is like a river, but without the pastoral setting, murmur of water, leaping rainbow-tinted fish; without the birdsong or polished pebbles, without the grazing moose and striding, indistinct Sasquatch; a river without a larger osmotic body into which gravity or some other impenetrable force obliges it to empty.  If you’re not within earshot of a cheap wall clock with a cardboard face (talking about the clock’s face here) ticking away on battery power, the seconds move by unremarked.  The precious seconds. My mother is recently gone. My father is gone. I have a dreamlike memory, I always consider it my earliest, of riding a hobby horse down a steep staircase and landing like wounded laundry at the bottom, a crash attended by much abstract and imperfectly reconstructed commotion. I also recall being held by my father and throwing up demurely on the shoulder of his gray and white and red sweater. That doesn’t seem terribly long ago, and now this? Am I the same person? The Same Thing? I measure my Self against the scar on my knee. I had my knee sliced open in 1968, 2o yards off the coast of Treasure Island, FL. A gentle, tourist-friendly swell in the crystalline Gulf of Mexico nudged me playfully into a breakwater whose barnacles constituted a many-faceted razor and my knee came open like an unzipped costume. The emergency room doctor I tried to talk my mom out of taking me to gave me a warning before the deadening syringe was jabbed brutally into the open, vaguely vaginal rip in my knee. I have always remembered his tryptich of pain, as he described what I could expect.

“This is gonna hurt, an’ this is gonna burn, an’ this is gonna sting”, he said to me levelly, eye to eye, in the pleasant burr of the deep south’s professional class, and through frightening Buddy Holly glasses.

Hurt, burn, sting. I have never forgotten that. You’ll notice it handily covers, like the quickly drawn da Vinci circle, an essential truth.  He was right. I also have a ragged scar on my left thumb which I only rediscovered five or so years ago, confirming, as do the startled pilgrims in Hitchcock movies, that what I had thought was an antediluvian shadow-scrap of dream was in fact a happenstance; a car door slammed by myself on my own fool toddler thumb, so hurried was I to join a little schoolfriend I’d suddenly spied on the playground. On her tricycle. I remember that. My mom shouting at me, a psycho puddle of vivid blood. The scar records it. I’m looking at it now. Call it The Dumb Mystery of the Changing Vessel. Get as old and crazy as you want. Throw up on the caregiver, lavishly crap your diaper, horrify the busboy with a napkin-ruffling gust of methane you don’t even know you’ve loosed, walk slowly out of The Home naked from the waist down, hollering. Any close (and likely frightened) inspection will reveal that scar on your left thumb from the time you wanted to run on unskinned knees to your little friend on her trike. The event seems in remembering to be at the other end of a darkling tunnel, but it’s right next to you in plain sunlight. That is You. You hurt your thumb approximately yesterday. Someone tell the teenagers. You got to make the morning last.

Now I’ve grown. On this special day I picture myself running after the bus with my laptop case and little polka-dot lunch box swinging madly from their straps. I’m trailing multi-colored balloons in various deflated states.

Stella Sparkling
a face that throws light! and a haircut she has come to appreciate

Entropy is all. It’s a vicious word, too, because it presents first as slightly floral, or to do with butterflies?  A closer look throws a klieg light on the real message inherent in the thing. That message is not death, which we can helpfully obscure through mysticism and chit chat (yes, you can chit-chat death to death). The Entropy message is dissolution, a scattering of the parts, an occupation of the vast cold spaces around us with our components. This horrifies. It is not an end but a reduced continuation, unto forever. We deserve better. We’re insipid and pitiable and hopeful and we love each other and deserve much better. Or a little better, anyway.

Discouraged Sam - 5th Grade
here reconsidering

Ok. Where once I was able to run and turn and dodge like quicksilver on the middle school P.E. pitch, so lightning fast the principal of my middle school asked me to join the football team, I now walk with a spring in my step, the rust-mottled spring of a ’59 jalopy up on cinder blocks. I found myself trotting lightly up the driveway two days ago and noted that my previous ‘run’ was beyond my ability to recall. My bald spot has expanded such that from certain sunlit angles I am the tonsorial equivalent of a medieval friar, with a ring of desperately clinging hair marking the spot atop my bent head upon which G*d’s menagerie of flying things may freely unload their disease-teeming semi-solids.

How easily people fall into disrepair, and not for want of goodness. On a city bus the withered 30-something woman to my right, bleary and dessicated and missing her top teeth, surely just took a wrong fork in the road. She was once a sparkler, like my Stella. We all fall down. Ashes, ashes. But the wounded carry in their furtive eyes, in their reticence to look up at their fellows, the scarlet letter of their cognition. They’ve fallen and don’t exactly want to get up. And so this is the Time of their Time. That can break your heart, can make you misty on a day like that day.  My birthday.

Juud en Jeff- an hour before wedding
morning of our big day, Amsterdam, 1988. The La Boheme. my little apple-headed child bride!

 

The Wonderful World of Dizzy

Thoughtful Woodland Sprite - Tomorrow Awaits

On the drive into camp Stella was buoyant. So was I. The impossible ocean rustled and shone in the near distance, a scratched azure slate the color of a pastille; something to put in your mouth. A certain university campus loomed on its bluff to the right, fake-stately and blank-faced in the sun, the dumb buildings and plazas and towers and self-regarding architectural flourishes as muted as the gestures of an embarrassed arriviste. The helpless minutes are pouring by. In time the mighty university library will be a fallen H.G. Wells ruin of lost provenance, even the far-flung disabled Eloi no longer around to play stupidly amid the disintegrating books. The sea will still be turning there, throwing itself at the denuded shore, the sun not our sun but a swollen dying furnace near the end of its epoch. Stella will be gone by then, me too. Gone. So absolutely gone we will not even be forgotten. It’ll be as if neither I nor my sunburned, radiantly alive little girl were ever here at all. This stupidity pierces me, the bland cosmological fact of our nearly virtual transience. Look at her aimlessly grinning profile, her camp baseball cap, her sun-streaked hair. We aren’t here. My girl my girl my girl my girl o my little girl o my unknowing little girl with the sparkling v-shaped smile and barking laugh and nascent hourglass figure, I love you too too much. Why do we have to go?  Where are we? Where are we going? What have we been before? Where were we? How did we luck into this incandescence? Look how our paths crossed, Stel. Wherever we were 10,000,000,000 years ago, this morning we’ve arrived, two pinpricks of fleeting thought and laughter only momentarily suspended in a ray of sun. We’ll always be Stella and Dad, we’ll never be Stella and Dad again.

‘When is that guy you like coming back from his vacation?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said, shrugging lightly with an almost convincing nonchalance..

“You excited to see him?’

‘He has a girlfriend,’ she said without ceremony.

‘…he has a girlfriend?’

‘Yeah. But…I don’t care,’ she said, shrugging again, more emphatically. She angled her face away from mine. I glanced. She was staring at the dashboard, her little jaw set in an unmistakable attitude of resignation. My throat seized. O my little girl! This is the stuff! Here comes the flood tide! It’s what people are for.

Stel, your mortal life awaits like an unlit movie set. When the movie is over you’ll join the ether. It’s that simple. For now you’re almost ready for your closeup, sweetheart. You can’t know this yet. It’s a short feature. Look around the sound stage. It’s littered with glory.  The Battle of Thermopylae, Debbie Reynolds singing ‘Tammy’, Groucho, Neil Armstrong flubbing his line and hopping like a bunny, da Vinci, Peter Gabriel, Judy Garland hunched in form-fitting black, spotlit, cropped black hair throwing sweat as she reaches for the note, inoperable cancers, the middle east, the far east, Clint Eastwood in ‘Two Mules for Sister Sarah’, Sam Peckinpah, the last afternoon of the last Neanderthal, Thomas McGuane, the Fall of Rome, the Cambrian Explosion, Johnny Mercer, the Impact Event, Harold Lloyd, Sartre, Ava Gardner, Saul Bellow, Anthony Newley, Bob Mould, Neil Aspinall, Stu Sutcliffe, Henry Mancini. The world is huge and doesn’t pause. Imagine what you will. Expansive fields of waving grasses and dark-skinned strangers walking there, absolutely unaware of you, people sitting down to eat all over the world, children pushing toys under beds, then naked children sprinting down sun-dappled forest paths; Hawk faced George Gershwin massaging a Steinway and glancing coyly over his shoulder – the grand, straight unbrowed nose, the slight underbite. Enola Gay, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Nouakchott and Wilmington kiss in the night, Henry Fonda, the Marianas Trench, Steve McQueen, Dana Andrews. Jimmy Stewart collapsing atop a paper-strewn table and sliding to the floor. Noel Coward, Glen Matlock, Isaac Newton, Andy Partridge, the Magna Carta, the first bird, the first fish, Gene Kelly, the hasty burial of Pompeii, Dodge City, Verdun, Auschwitz, Cary Grant walking off into a snow-filled evening, Caligula, Captain Kangaroo, Franco Nero as Lance, Dresden on fire, Gene Kelly again, Nelson Mandela, and a distinguished pack of tuxedoed figures standing around a brilliantly underlit emerald swimming pool in the dead of a desert night, pinching martini glasses and tossing heads back congenially, in laughter, free hands in pockets, backs arched, knees bent slightly; the orgasmic synchronous bomburst of everything happening, and having happened, everywhere, every second, even as our dear tormented rock pirouettes lazily through an empty living room.  In the company of all this gorgeous mayhem, a dumb little kiss, your very first, Stel. It will infinitesimally slow the stirring of the stars. I believe this. I BELIEVE IT.

Stel, we’re 2 molecular swerves, two frequencies made flesh, anomalous waveforms, Fancy Children of Christ, bumps in the night. We’re the same age, the same dust and water. We’ll very soon return to the mix. You, my temporary angel. I don’t like to think about it. The day is not long enough. This time I’m your dad and you’re my adored, adorable Stella. Next time, who knows? I can’t hug and kiss you enough. We’re alive we’re alive we’re alive we’re alive we’re alive, honeybun. Small matters of the heart will outlast us and the galaxies. That’s not made up. What we Feel is as large as all of outer space, Stellie, all this black velvet jewel box is a boring hole in time compared to a kid’s awakening heart, compared to you and me in this car under this sun. We look at each other and laugh. That’s no illusion. We’re stardust. We’re elementals. Just forget that two-timing 6th grade lothario, sweetie.

Soliloquy on the 11

Napolean's Death Mask_In a Bus Essay
This is Napoleon’s Death Mask

The driver today is Nick. His wrinkled ‘At Your Service’ piece of paper, above the driver’s seat and to the right in an inexplicably battered black frame, says so; a gesture of civic mercy seeking to ameliorate the anonymity of someone whose daily work it is to just drive us around, drop us off, and pick us up again later. Cabbies have a similar nameplate affixed to the dashboards of their little ships.  The nameplate speaks to the centrality of the professional rideshare’s role in the larger progress of the Anthill,  a humanizing device that stills and fixes the blurred driver for the moment it takes him to get you to your destination.  I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name. The paper in its scuffed frame is just to the right of the blinking arcade of nonsensical green and red lights, square little lights; the wide NASA-like panel with switches, above the driver’s head, that I’ve long suspected is just a phony sideshow placed there to remind the benumbed passengers that the Secret Underside to Everything also holds sway on a city bus, as of course it does, and with much more of the swagger than is found in places more conspicuous as temples and places of self-important congress. They always place the switches in these machines above the drivers – airplane cockpits, space shuttles, ocean liners. You always see these Argonauts reaching up to flick some switch or genteely turn a knob above their heads. This arm-raising confers a Pilot Importance to the proceedings. Han Solo, Luke. Chewy. And what was that thing Darth kept screwing down in the final Death Star scenes? He’s closing in on Luke and the other rebel flyboys as they attempt to loose a nuke into the anal pore of the Empire’s pride and joy, some of the good guys sporting double chins and conspicuous 70s mustaches as they zip around, dodging Establishment torpedoes. When Lucas cuts to Vader in his black space-bullet, he seems to be continually screwing the lid onto a jar of peanut butter or something.

This morning Nick is holding forth in a stream-of-blather at the top of his lungs, the whole way in to campus. The oblong concavity of the windshield  amplifies the shouting and sends it rolling in a crisp mid-range wave down the aisle of the bus. Like drivers everywhere, but most familiarly those on t.v. and in the movies, he’s looking straight ahead and yelling at the windshield while he talks. It’s as if he’s talking to the air, or to His Time, and maybe that’s also an intended or unintended effect of the yammering driver/philosopher, a worn and condescension-gathering trope. We’re charmed by these philosophers the way Rousseau is charmed but have no intention of being swayed or moved. But this guys is a moving speaker. I can feel that his blabbing is the wallpaper covering his room, his happy motif, his pleasure in the sharing of this and that, and then this again. The simple fact of a man happily shouting detailed, harmless, personal information into the air in a confined space? It’s upsetting to people, the Everyday people (not the Sly Stone kind). The bus passengers clear their throats and avert their eyes, or in plain vanilla fear zero in on their little hand-things and glare intently at them. As his shouting continues I look around to poll my fellows on the bus. One or two of them meet my eyes with Mona Lisa grins, concurring with what they believe is my projected opinion that the driver is a funny embarrassment and an anomaly and a sufferably bad deal, a regrettable entertainment. That is not my opinion, you bore.

But Nick? He’s loudly alive. Yeah, he knows it, which is sort of disappointing. But he’s still a hothouse orchid. He may be proselytizing, saying nothing of import but this: ‘Hey, morons! You can shout if you want, no one gets hurt. You can sing in public, feign a seizure, skip a rock on a pond, do a fucking jig in the funeral parlor, talk loudly to a stranger. This is all a lucid dream. How many times you gotta have that shown to you?’ Every minute or so he shoots a glance at the long mirror installed by the manufacturers, a rear-view mirror whose only contained ‘rear view’ subject is Us. When he can see us, we can see him; such is the nature of the aimed mirror. He flashes his dark, laughing, beetle-browed eyes at us through the mirror, just his eyes, that’s what we see. He’s checking his captives and shouts through what could be an approaching fit of laughter. Behind me a woman is talking into her cell phone.

“Pierre Cardin,” she says, then more plaintively, “Pierre Cardin!”

“I went to El Monte High School, in L.A.!” Nick shouts, really seeming almost to laugh. Is that how I write that? “I remember our young handsome substitute teacher, in 1966! On June 6; 6-6-66! You see? He told us — ” and here I think Nick is going to say the thing about the three sixes being the Number of the Beast and so on, the mark found under the hairline of the sleeping boy when Gregory Peck or Lee Remick go in to check. But Nick says something more interesting than that – something, though, that is also vaguely related to the End of the World. ” — he told us we’d need to wait 11 years for this to happen again!” He laughs like a bad actor in a movie. Though the laugh is unforced and genuine, it has that loudness of a half-performance. I’m alive and a hothouse orchid! “Then we’d have to wait for another 11 years for it to happen again! You know? July 7, 1977! My school was just a few blocks from the Ambassador hotel –” here I look up from my laptop. The Ambassador —

“That’s where Bobby Kennedy was shot,” a withered and toothless guy in the seat behind me says through his gums, and I nod to him, once, and murmur agreement with a half-smile, and the withered guy looks at me with a slow aiming of his head that yet manages to convey a surprising gratitude.  The fanning creases at each of his mouth corners are an Egyptian delta clogged and crusted with what look like the stains of crystallized tobacco juice or something. The crusted scum there exaggerates the downward turn of his lips, which are themselves supple and not cracked, just bracketed by this awful scum. His eyes widen briefly at my remark, I suppose, his sunglasses pronouncing the arch of his eyebrows above the frames.  He briefly radiates a fascinated gratitude.

“Sirhan Sirhan shot him!” Nick shouts with a strange joy, voice fraying with near laughter. “That busboy helped him! Remember? That busboy bent down and helped Bobby! Remember? Remember the picture?” I remember learning as a pre-teen that the photo of Juan Romero in his busboy-whites tending to the calmly staring Bobby K was not a strange studio composite or other trick, as its nightmarish perfection had always made me suppose, but a captured moment; Kennedy looking past Juan with a bored expression, the crazy mannequin sprawl of his body beatified in the corona of light on the wet floor, an unexplained clip-on necktie on the floor there with him. “They got John in November, 1963!” Nick continues, almost laughing again. “They let us out of school early! I had to walk 18 blocks to get home! I shoulda taken a cab!”

 

Chance of Mist

our beloved betaan

My cubicle colleague calls out
“I have a cat story for you”.
She rounds the corner into my little fabric-covered veal pen
and starts in.
There is an old cat on her cul-de-sac,
statuesque and stubborn.
In the wee hours it is causing her patio motion sensor light
to blare into the dark.
Suddenly my eyes inappropriately mist.
One day I shall be old and infirm and confined to my bed.
The memory of this idiot anecdote will come to me,
limned in platinum, as will an unbearable synaptic snapshot
of the dull carpet of this office, the gay laughter of my office mates,
the stink of burned coffee and the numb deciduous trees
right outside that dust-streaked window
shivering in sunlight,
My colleague sees my eyes watering and recoils.
Walks back to her ergonomically pristine computer chair.
Surely this is the carpal tunnel of love.

Side Wise

A Man Alone_A City No Longer In Ruins

Riding sidways on the bus (that is, seating yourself so that your view is out the side windows and not forward), you face head-on what you are really only supposed to see peripherally. The pencil and autocad-pushing ladies and gents who lovingly concoct our cities, towns, villages, and even our gated, gilded class-battlements, don’t typically account for the passenger perspective that looks at their handiwork askance, so to speak.

Alleyways and natty neighborhood cinder block walls (those that separate, as effectively as a sheet of paper might, lush green back lawns from gusty exhaust-fogged thoroughfares), side streets and jarring undeveloped meadows that threaten to disrupt the urban dream immersion; these elements stare fleetingly in at you through fist-streaked bus windows, an enormous book out there; cityscape as the fanning pages of a book. The designers and urban planners lay everything very carefully out in order that our helpless headlong motion through the civic space is informed by soothing symmetries, the glossy whizzing by of visually linear shapes and objects, a bleary and satisfied projection forward into the fabric-covered heart of the vanishing point. Viewed from the side, though, the city takes on a wholesome new persona undisguised by all this design fretting, and you see the byways and side streets and middle-distant, starthistle-choked parcels that describe an accident in happy, infinite freefall. As it should be.

Later the bus pivots stiffly to the left and climbs a little hill on approach to the university. The morning sun, humping itself over the self-same ocean for the estimated 2.2 trillionth time, laying down upon the undulating water its painterly and overdone stripe of gold, pours in through 30 feet of Metro Transit District window and you close your bespectacled eyes to receive it. Ellipsis here.

What a Deferens a Day Makes: A True Story

what deferense does it make

How does a vasectomy work? Where and how is the cutting done? Is there pain, or ‘discomfort’ as medical professionals call it? Are the feet hung in stirrups such as those the ladies are made to suffer? May I keep on my black Timberland Steel-Tip Blizzard Stalker® work boots in that case, the better to mitigate the gender assault and maintain a firm grasp on my manhood? Where does one buy such boots at sensible sale prices?

A friend’s halting and approximate description of the procedure made it clear he’d had his eyes squeezed shut and his fists clenched the whole time, his mouth likely a twisted Charles Nelson Reilly grimace before the doctor even entered the room. But I was determined. Judie and I had been talking about it for quite a little while. It was stupid to have her taking that scary chemical bomb whose possible side effects included Sudden Marsupial Pouch Syndrome and a little something called Dumbo Neck. I mean…Dumbo Neck? A quick little outpatient procedure would address the issue structurally and permanently and without any cryptic synthetic mischief. Downside; at a particular and inevitable moment in the foreseeable future a stranger would be lunging at my wiener with a knife. Once the appointment was made it hung like a cloud. The appointment, I mean. The friend offered assurances when I began to murmur my panic aloud one evening. Leaning in and draping his arm fraternally across the back of my chair, he gave it to me sotto voce.

“Hey, look. You’re in and out. It’s quick; an office visit. It’s a simple thing, doesn’t really hurt. A little discomfort is all.” Shit. Then he’d leaned in further with that prone, code-throwing man-face that in the old days used to precede a wink. “And after that? Anytime, anyplace.” This man-to-man would normally compel a reflexive high-five, but I’m not an ‘anytime, anyplace’. I need a bed, nice blankies, some walls, a locked door, a hallway motion detector dialed up to 11, maybe a candle or something? I’m not the hard-breathing tat yeti hurriedly nailing his Old Lady behind the funnel cake concession. My Old Lady and I had once done the hokey-pokey with ‘abandon’ in a ramshackle field next to a music festival in Belgium. I’d been in the host position, a jacket tossed over a puddle, my bare back abraded by several flesh-rending varieties of European fuck-sticklers. The whole time my distracted eyes were trained on a circling helicopter that was surely filming us for the Belgian evening news. This was Europe! As Eurythmics hammered out Sweet Dreams 100 yards away, I was having my back chewed to hell and my startled gingerbread man face filmed in telescopic close-up from above. When we got up to return to the concert and I managed to unfasten myself from the grasping, angry flora, the flesh of my back was aflame.  For the remainder of the afternoon and into the night I was madly trying to reach and scratch, windmilling my arms backward, my paws scrabbling at thin air, people staring. Anytime, Anyplace.

First meeting was the orientation. Five of us were shown to a dingy little hospital meeting room with AA type folding chairs. There was a pall of silence,  no chit-chat whatsoever. The sound of labored breathing and nothing else made the wait in the little room seem French and absurdist, doom-laden.  In a minute the doctor showed up in his long white coat-thing, a distinguished sixty-something with baggy eyes, an annoyingly full head of snowy white hair, and a nonchalant demeanor that he’d carelessly sculpted over years of otherwise frightening genital assault. The consultation itself had been weirdly glib. Big Cock and Little Cock jokes, of all things. He hastily and ineptly illustrated the procedure on a yellow pad with a ball point pen. We  were made to understand that the tubes he’d be tying off would stop the sperm from entering the cannonade, but that the Lovin Spoonful (10cc, Material Issue, Pearl Jam, etc.) would still spray unabated, to no purpose now but to keep the paper towel magnates in lobster bisque. That is, our mighty guns would still fire but the barrel would now pop out a silken little spring-loaded teal flag that said pow! in calligraphic lower case. I’m paraphrasing here.  Plus his presentation featured an unnerving quantity of jittery giggling and awkward, sighing silences during which he would look off into space with something like melancholy. He Who Would Be Incising Our Scrota was not putting us at our ease. We candidates for the snipping looked at each other uneasily. I tried to fixate on the stethoscope. It looked like the real thing and not a mail order fake.

The evening before the operation I’d gathered up the courage to research the procedure online, probably the most common mistake one can make, and the most horrific. What I saw on my computer screen caused my qwerty to curl back from the keyboard in a spasm of frank horror.  In panel one a scrotal thingamabob bulged obscenely through a slit in a hospital-green cotton sheet, looking like a sickly, roughed-up, newly-hatched chick tottering in panic toward the camera.  Seeing this I thought ‘no need for the operation; I will never have sex again’. In panel two the outraged chick has its throat neatly slit (the procedure relies heavily on slits) and the deferens is extruded like a delicate bloodied single strand of angel hair pasta. It’s a saddeningly mechanistic glyph, this one; to think of all the history owed to that pale little thread – the Spartan armies at the Battle of the Hot Gates, the banner-waving Crusaders descending on Jerusalem, the unstoppable Barbarian hordes who finally managed to bring mighty Rome to her knees; on the way to those glories they first had to shimmy like giddy little guppies through this tiny strand of tissue. Even Attila the Hun! Even Shatner!

**

My name was called and I put down my magazine, kissed Judie on the cheek and marched grandly down the little hall to the room on the right. A freckle-faced  Candy Striper greeted me cheerily with her clipboard, the Bic Medium Point held aloft and ready to record my responses.  The semi-inclined gurney awaited, just there, but I didn’t look at it yet. I sat in the plastic chair that was offered.

“Have you taken anything?” the Candy Striper wanted to know. What? Was something missing?

“Sorry?”

“Have you taken a sedative of any kind?”

“Oh. No, I haven’t.”

She nodded appraisingly and made an appreciative face to the floor.

“Allergies to any painkillers?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Is someone here to drive you home?”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“Okay.” She pivoted with some deliberation,  placed her clipboard on the counter. Turned to me. “Please remove your pants and underwear.”

“….what?”

“Please remove your pants and underwear?”

“Take off my pants?” I remember actually saying, already cooking up delaying tactics as the blood rushed straight out of my weiner and up into my furiously blushing head. I was suddenly so alarmed I could feel even the back and sides of my head blushing madly under my hair. Then she said the strangest thing, nodding and slowly blinking her eyes.

“It’s me.”

I knew these professionals were unflappable, even in the face of things with flaps. I’d been handled and probed and juggled and squeezed. What of it? I made a show of calmly removing my pants. She bade me lie down on the gurney, naked below what would have been the belt.

“Are you comfortable?”

“yyESS?” I heard myself chirp an octave too high.

“Are…you cold? Can I get you a blanket?”

“No, I’m fine,” I said, then looking down saw that my Doric Pillar of Manhood had been reduced to the little opaline snap that fastens the velveteen pajamas around a four-year-old’s neck. “Yeah, I guess I’m a little cold.” She opened a cabinet and withdrew a crisp, cold blue sheet and handed it to me. With a great slow show of nonchalance I unfolded it and drew it over the terrified little bump down there.

“The doctor will be with you, Shorty.”

“Huh!”

“The doctor will be with you shortly,” she repeated, finally looking annoyed.

Five minutes later Dr. Baggy Eyes strode in with an air of impatience. He did not have his stethoscope.

“We all set?”

“Yes, I think so.”

He opened another cabinet and withdrew a silver tray with some horror instruments on it, then produced a sheet of some kind with the little aperture in it, through which he would tug my business until it looked like a trapped fetal bird.  He lifted away the sheet I’d been given, pulled up his rolling stool and sat down to stare frankly and intently at my genitals, which I could feel edging slowly away from the doctor and into my already crowded pubis where I imagined the various blood vessels and cartilaginous structures making room and complaining.

“Are you cold?”

“Yeah.”

“So let’s just take a — ” He paused, made a disgusted clucking sound and drew his device back. Very suddenly he was bellowing.

“I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO SHAVE YOUR BALLS.”

“JESUS!!  ssshhhh!!! ssshhhh!!”

“DIDN’T I ASK YOU TO SHAVE YOUR BALLS?”

“ssssshhh!! …what? Yeah, yeah, yeah, you….I…I did that –”

‘SHAVED YOUR BALLS?’

“yes, yes!”

“WELL YOU DID A TERRIBLE JOB.”

What can one say to that?  He brushed quickly past the gurney and flung the office door open with great windy force. As I craned my neck I could see him making that clipped ‘c’mere, you!’ hand gesture that the powerful and monied use to summon those they are about to school.

“STEVE,” he called out, jabbing at the air like an asshole CEO summoning the new guy in accounting.  Then again. “STEVE!”

A stricken teenager in hospital baggies slunk slowly into the room, uncertain and tremulous as a seahorse. I saw him in my periphery but couldn’t look.

“PLEASE SHAVE THIS GENTLEMAN’S BALLS,” Dr. Baggy Eyes hollered with contempt; one of those very particular utterances that only fit a very few occasions. He snapped off his rubber gloves in one fluid businesslike doctor’s gesture and swept out of the room like a man wearing an ermine cape. Very very strikingly then, it was just me and Steve and my ill-shaven packaged goods.  The woebegotten intern-trainee looked me briefly in the eye as one must look at a firing squad after having been refused the blindfold. This may have been the youngster’s very first shave, a perversion of that particular Right of Passage. He positioned himself at home plate and in an approximate catcher’s crouch. I looked at him down there between my legs and thought maybe  an ice-breaking chat was in order.

‘Hey, how’s it goin’?’

‘Fine.’

Stevie then scraped terribly away at my tropic zone while I stared at the wall in blank existential freefall somewhere between overpowering embarrassment and sheer terror as this jittery neophyte-with-razor timidly worked away.  Something in me knew this episode marked the end of whatever med school aspirations Steve’s parents had been boasting to the neighbors about. He finished and stood, looked to be pinching the razor and holding it aloft like a dead rat. He fairly dropped it on the counter.

“Thanks,” I said, and he looked at me with a haunted expression.

“‘..welcome..” and he shuffled out.

Dr. Baggy Eyes returned, snapped on a new set of rubber gloves, gave me a little crotch-deadening magic (hold your comment, reader) and snipped. There was discomfort, briefly, and of an otherworldly variety. When I flinched a little the doctor said, with an odd relish, “It’s a different kind of pain, isn’t it?”

“mm hmm.”

15 minutes later it was over, but for a tired-looking older man with sewing kit parked between my thighs, staring intently at the wounds and sutures,  his long smocked arm rising rhythmically with the length of thread; a strangely domestic scene. Put a smashed bonnet on his head and you’ve got Betsy Ross.

I stood, my privates feeling mildly kneed. We shook hands. The shaving misstep had soured him a little and he took his leave in something of a huff. When I turned to go I saw that the Candy Striper and Steve and three other youngsters in medical baggies were gathered in the doorway opposite, with bemused, expectant expressions, like the cast of One Day at a Time.

“Thanks…everybody,” I said, trying to be funny. I waved. They all sort of smiled, one or two half-raised their hands in response then thought better of it. It was clear that ‘Steve’s Close Shave’ had already made the office lightning rounds.  I saw too that Steve was smiling more expansively, like he’d summited something.  A testicular Sir Edmund Hillary.  Is there any other kind? Maybe he’d make med school after all.

What Is This Earth Kiss?

man madness

I

Presumed innocent, we combed and showered fools
and our famous twig-twisting thumbs
begin another day,
for the 840 millionth time
awaken to our bag of stupid tools.
The pitiful ribbon of smoke rises again
from the dried leaves and hammered clay.
By late morning (it should be noted)
we are not entirely surprised
to be slapped blind, deaf, broken and dumb;
two flashes of orange, the usual ragged consequences,
a vanished child,
a bath of cooling blood,
the plodding search for comfort,
beyond the firelight’s phony, oversold defenses.
This wild ruin no longer has the effect
of removing the scales from our eyes.
The Road to Damascus is a Hope and Crosby cul-de-sac.
Stop the presses: we have wasted what was meant to be
a scouring do-over; we’ve squandered our only Flood.

II

Networked to hell and back, HDTV,
a silver car on Mars;
there is much gloating to do
and not much leisure time in which to do it,
you won’t have all afternoon
to patch the roof, weed the yard.
For all that we have reached this happy zenith now,
pleased as punch with our stripes and bright stars
one angry synaptic misfire + a credit card
gifts us the fleeting strength to see right through it.
Even then, it’s not as if the lesson is ours.
It’s not a truth we have the means to own,
not the narrative our forebears chose.
Despite our best efforts, our hand-holding,
our blue-helmeted peacekeeping, Audrey Hepburn,
UNICEF, NATO and Jonas Salk,
the species is a bland corpse,
a doomed ninny in bland repose
on a burned-out street, roughly outlined
with the coroner’s dime-store chalk.

III

A Starship Captain on a starship’s bridge,
his sleeveless metal tunic
reflecting sparks, machinery aflame,
amid a chaos of warning strobes and crashing starship alarms,
(a hopeless fantasy of what we could have been),
takes a green space babe in his soot-streaked arms.
Her tungsten tiara is askew, yes;
the hieroglyph in flamelit bas-relief.
There is cinematic fire dancing
all along the edges of the expensively appointed set,
a scene that begs a more authentic show of grief.
This ship plows down
through killing atmospheres, the hull yields
and folds and breaches, an inrush of poisoned air; and then
intercut with tragic blinking frames
of extinct fauna prancing
in overpainted, childishly rendered Elysian Fields,
the Captain’s handsome face stirs
and in a desperate attempt to touch before the crash
he fastens his Starship Captain’s mouth on hers.
She looks into his eyes. Of course.
“What is this…Earth Kiss?” she asks,
but has the wherewithal to shed a bewildered tear.
The bulkheads crack, light screams in,
heat and death flow around them like water.
“We wonder,” he says. “And the wondering has cost us dear”.

Big Deal

Liz-1953

Okay, so the autumn sidewalks are littered with the crispy husks of the dead, these dumb survivalist earthworms. Darwin’s champions. They lay around like the fallen, as if there’s been a desperate and cinematic battle of some kind. In fact they were caught out in the sun. With the rain they came out to revel, and were trapped on the sidewalk when the cloudburst passed. These things that have survived every extinction event the exhausted cosmos could throw at them don’t have the sense to go home when the rain stops. There is clearly a mechanistic virtue in stupidity and self-abnegation. These guys preceded the dinosaurs and handily survived the Flood despite having not been invited aboard Noah’s Yacht. It would have taken them another three years just to make it up the gangplank, drowning everyone.  Our temporary perch atop the food chain is clearly more Sears-Roebuck than ‘what a piece of work is a man!’  If these crispy idiot worms can both precede and follow us, what good are we. Period.

On the bus the older woman regards with furtive, fleeting, desperately curious glances the baggy pants teen drooped like a weakened sunflower over his phone, his neck parallel with the floor as he smiles thinly at something on the little screen. We lavishly imagined but do not have rocket cars, nor moon bases. There was one jet pack at the LA Olympics. This is the actual future. We have supernaturally fabulous telephones. This says what needs to be said about us. What would moon bases have said? ‘Escape! Explore! Live! Climb You Sonofabitch!’ Our pouring the intellectual magic and firepower of the race into telephones says ‘Enough, already. We’re not going anywhere’.

Liz Taylor acted her ass off in Butterfield 8 and the Albee movie, a couple of for instances. In the end (in the middle, actually) she couldn’t act her way out of a moist paper bag and embarrassed us with her perfume commercial.  She doesn’t owe us anything and g*d rest her. But that heavily painted moment at the very end of National Velvet? When she catches up to Mickey Rooney and stands alongside him in that garish sunset? The long shot? The music blares shamelessly. That is what they should have sent on the now-interstellar Pioneer, our metalloid message in a bottle. Heartbreak should have been the keynote of that message. Not a golden LP with Brahms or whatever. Barely sufferable bittersweetness and heartbreak. Liz and Mickey, kids at sunset. And the horsey.

Sea birds drift with casual purpose above a dawnstruck ocean, like bugs. More languid, though. They screw and they eat. These are the kingdoms, animal and plant.  From dandelions to squid, we’re not the serfs, we’re the kings, all of us.  But let’s not wave our scepters too grandly. Screw and eat. It’s still glory.

An office complex is festooned with pink ribbons. Cancer Research Supported Here. The ribbons are our testimony.  Why do we cling? This eyeblink hardly merits all this art and chatter. This is likely only a staging area. We awaken, see that we’re awake, and are shown the door. The door is set in the ground. Then some time later we’re adrift in ancient space and maybe later still reconstituted into extragalactic flowers or monsters or bacteria. We’ll see each other again under another sun and not realize it.  As explained with heartbreak and gusto by Frankie in the Rodgers and Hart resurrection tune Where or When.

Diana Ross? What happened? Why did she sing Upside Down? Whence her mojo? ‘I Hear A Symphony’? ‘Where Did Our Love Go’? What the hell happened? In her disco period she couldn’t even keep time. Did we do this to her?  Her and Liz? Or was she all along riding on the wings of song with not much of her own to offer? When the songs died out from under her she fell, Icarus with big staring eyes. Do you know where you’re going to? Wasn’t it me who said nothing good’s gonna last forever?