fix my brother you goddamned bore

pat and snow

universe, omniverse, reversible four dollar belt,
you bore you bore you bore you bore
great endless room, bales of fire
holes to nowhere, mystery moons, rocks with rings
synchronicity, curved space,
twelve million miles a minute
doesn’t sound so fast when you put it that way
maybe the whole thing is phony
not wondrous, phony
just another car wreck
the physics of flying glass
“a comet is a ball of ice”
will you just shut up
does that look like a ball of ice to you, moron
don’t you ever say that again
don’t you ever dare say that again
mystery mystery mystery mystery
now we’re made of swarming dots
greek atomism in an un-ironed smock
elemental bits surrounded each by a void
says it right here
“surrounded each by a void”
wouldn’t you know it
when you go looking for them
the bits are nowhere
no wait they’re everywhere
where are they right now
we are not made to know
the table stops your hand from passing through
that’s enough
not for me it isn’t
I’m looking for my swarming dots
they comprise us, shouldn’t we be looking for them
then you find one of the dots
platonic singularity
its theme is uncertainty
thanks for nothing
no wonder ancient statuary looks so pissed
the machine is on tippy-toe and dizzy
my doomed little brother got arrested
why did you call the police
will he always have a sharpened chicken bone
jammed into the roof of his mouth
why did you call the police
you care for him, oh that’s it
sic the machine on him
he needs the tuned machinery
of a pummeling institution
i’m afraid
i can’t pull back far enough
to reduce this to inconsequence
all this awe and mystery wheeling around
giant clockworks with singing dolls, caesium, noble gases
why are there underwear sales at Nordstrom
what has that to do with the curvature
what has that to do with the archangelic blossoming
why did the chicken bone
penetrate my little brother’s hard palate
he was maybe three
why did you call the police
I don’t want parity or justice
i just want a machine
approximately as merciful
as it is fucking huge and stupid

 

T-Bird of Happiness and Crashboat

T-Bird Tragedy and Joy

Oh, and here comes the holiday season like a runaway Edsel, excuse me. It’s always a little surreal how suddenly it shows up. Another year? Really? Is that Jack Frost nipping at my nose or the taunting, flicked finger of the Grim Reaper? “It’s almost Christmas!” the little ones yell with unbridled glee. Yes, you tiny, careless immortals; it’s almost LAST Christmas. How’d the year pass by so quickly? Just a week or so ago we were throwing ourselves into the ocean in full-tilt escape from the brutalizing heat wave that we were sure would set the mountains on fire. Now, a couple of puny rain squalls later, the inevitable “fall” weather sweeps in as an almost reluctant little cold snap, and we Santa Barbarans respond by excitedly dragging on our pea coats and diaphanous, utterly useless Donna Karan scarves. We swoop our gossamer “winter” accessories around our room-temperature necks like NY hipsters or movie actors, turning up our collars and stamping our feet as if to shake the snow off our galoshes, we’re so giddy at the change of seasons and the prospect of candlelight and mulled wine. It’s the one time of the year you can gulp Tramp Juice from a soup-bowl sized mug without the other guests remarking about it behind their sleeves. The whole demeanor of the town changes

“Ooh, it’s a little chilly, isn’t it?”

No, not really. But let’s live it up. We get maybe 80 of these. It’s time to get about the business of Holiday Cheer. And what’s not to love? The city workers begin dutifully stringing the lights up along State Street, great arcing stars making of our downtown a glowing arbor. Suddenly the shop fronts all have paper snowflakes in their window displays, faux-Victorian carolers hunch and yell in close-harmony at every street corner, the chill evening air takes on that seasonally pleasant aroma as the town’s fireplaces gently surrender a fragrant bouquet of crackling cherrywood, and frightening soot-covered chimney sweeps flash-mob the rooftops with mad, high-stepping dance routines. Chim-Chimney, Chim Chimney, Chim-Chim-Cheroo, if you damage my ridge vent I’m likely to sue. Soon enough that strangely phallic Christmas Rocket erects itself near the Arlington Theater, they throw some lights on it and we’re off and running.

But first…ah, yes. First there is Thanksgiving to get through, the weird, uber-American ritual whose most famous visual expression remains that nightmarish Normal Rockwell painting of an aproned matriarch proffering a slain and naked bird; recumbent, belly-up, beyond embarrassment (the bird, I mean), its truncated little wing-arms relaxed at its sides, its formerly strutting legs now stiff and shortened and dressed in paper anklets. In the iconic painting, which like most of Rockwell’s stuff is meant to embody and crystallize the rubberized American Soul, the homespun Ma and Pa figures stand at the head of a table crowded with strangely leering family members in da Vinci-like attitudes of conversation, but strangely feral; all teeth and eyebrows and clasped paws. It’s an unnerving work of art. In the upper left-hand corner of the photorealist painting is a grinning boy with a slightly reptilian expression, and seated beside him a little sister figure likewise stares down the length of the table like a drowsy viper. In the lower left of the painting a man is laughing maniacally at the empty air, displaying a scary set of choppers, while a sunlit pear with a suggestion of humanoid countenance looks balefully up at him from a bed of grapes. In the lower right corner a man’s haunted eyes stare back at the viewer. Even for the diabolically exacting Rockwell, it is a strange and unsettling hymn to the Holidays, one of the most singularly dread-inducing paintings this country has ever produced. What did Rockwell call this thing? Freedom From Want. My alternate title, you ask? Horn of Plenty Heebie-Jeebies.

But Thanksgiving means well, and however cynically plasticized and oversold the “gather and be thankful” vibe is this time of year, however much it is leveraged by the Commercial Sector to brace us for the aptly named Black Friday, all doubts fly up the chimney with the cherrywood smoke when you start mingling with family and friends in closed quarters while through the windows brisk, happy breezes stir the trees and foliage in blanched autumnal sun. As hard as the numbskull forces of human avarice try, they can’t completely wreck Thanksgiving. They can’t strip away, for instance, my hard-won memories of my mom coming over on those Thanksgiving mornings.

Per the yearly ritual I would have dropped in on my mom’s apartment at Villa Santa Barbara the evening before to remind her of our Thanksgiving breakfast the next morning. She would inexpertly and comically disguise her uncertainty as to who exactly I was, and we would have our usual bemused summit for a couple hours, watch the home movies for the several-hundredth time, bat the same over-familiar questions and answers back and forth. I’d long since stopped being maddened by mom’s endlessly repeated questions, and came to be charmed by a universe that oversaw our elderly parents exasperating us with the same ninny repetitions they’d had to suffer when we were mindless little non-stop blabbermouths. Fair play.

The next morning, Thanksgiving morning, I would stop in to nab mom for the drive over to our place and explain our Thanksgiving date all over again. “Hey! What are you doing here? And who are you, again?” She would laugh nervously at her own question sometimes, but she knew in her core that I was on her side, that we shared something. “I’m your son, mom. Jeff?” “Right!” she would laugh again, making comic gestures of dismissal, still not quite believing it. But she would grasp my arm, dance me into the elevator and veritably skip from the Villa Santa Barbara lobby to my car parked on the street outside.

We would take the long way to our place, the miraculous, palm-lined, ceaselessly stunning Cabrillo Drive, the unlikely Pacific sparkling off to the left like an over-earnest special effect. At our condo, mom would be greeted like royalty, Judie and the kids rushing her at the door. Mom’s face would be simultaneously aglow and bewildered, Judie’s Dutch broodtafel likely adding to her dislocation as it featured breads and cheeses and sliced meats and hard boiled eggs. This isn’t what the Indians and Pilgrims ate, is it? I can clearly picture mom sipping delightedly at her mimosa as the rest of us blab away in conversation she only half follows, her sated half-smile turning to each of in turn as we speak, her expression a sort of uncomprehending exaltation in the moment. She didn’t know I was watching her watching us, her indefinable love and gratitude shining like an aura. She’s gone. This year will be our second Thanksgiving breakfast without her, and I’m unspeakably grateful for the sometimes harrowing 14 years we had her in town.

Sometimes after Thanksgiving breakfast we would flop onto the couch and flip through a photo album, one of the weird old ones I’d known since childhood. It had a dissolving, nautically-themed cover and stiffened pages to which the fading photos had been sloppily fastened an eon ago with now-opaque squares of yellowing scotch tape. I’d seen all these pics a hundred times or more growing up. When I was a kid I was bored silly by the album (as by everything else to do with my parents), all the black and white snapshots of laughing men in government-issue khaki, lots of pics of my mom – the beauty, the dreamer – now an 89 year-old with failing faculties and loose-fitting flesh. Of course as I grew older I became forensically interested in what the album held, particularly a photo of my dad, now long gone, as a 14 or 15 year-old. Wonder of wonders.

And here was a curling picture of Crashboat Beach, in Puerto Rico, 1956, at the foot of Ramey Air Force Base, that particular stretch of sand and surf a scene of so many storied parties and languorous afternoons during that time, my parents, Bob and Aloha, drinking and talking and laughing with Air Force chums and wives, a rough circle of lawn chairs, the men leering comically at the camera and hoisting cans of Falstaff beer, my dad there with a can in each hand, his smile-worn dimple catching the late afternoon shadowfall just so, his black curly hair already hinting at the premature gray that would soon compel comparisons to the actor Jeff Chandler. In the fading picture the seated women are wearing scarves over their hair, and Capri pants, and beautiful bug-eyed sunglasses. Just a lovely thing! Their legs are crossed, they’re all laughing with their lady heads thrown back, happy yaps aimed skyward forever. The men and women and the kids present are all turned toward the camera in a posture of hilarity (one! two! THREE!). Over the sea, in the sky behind the party, a single towering cumulonimbus cloud boils straight up into the sepia sky with frozen, explosive force, and mom has her feet up on the lawn chair and is hugging her knees. Though her face is turned away, the flesh is seen to follow the smooth cornice of her jawbone where it meets her neck, cleaves as snugly as the velour skin of a new love seat. Unlike the rest of the gang, she’s looking away from the camera and out to sea.

8th Grade Science Outrage

handandatom

Back to school night
slumbering parents sag through rooms
look brightly at each other, wrinkling noses
then drop masks
plop into plastic saddles
their asses stir to remember
in history the teacher exults
“the kids didn’t mind the Mayflower!”
frightening me badly
in maths the teacher
is lanky and thick-haired and cheery
wearing a lanyard and i.d. badge
like a classified scientist
thoracic concavity and blousing shirt
conveying underfed youth
a distance runner
at the spring dance
in his excited kid voice he says
“we’ll study exponential variances.
So, geometry.”
I bark a weary laugh
look around at the parents
jaws open, dogs awaiting a tossed mercy-snack
worst is Physical Science
eyes bagged and non-responsive
grups looking tiredly at their iShit
the teacher is a former materials engineer
wonderstruck by her subject which is
the Crushing Vastnesses, plural
our real-time embrace of the growing void
things are moving away from each other
as one would expect in an explosion
but accelerating as the mess blossoms outward
teacher talks about kids finding passion
she calls it “their passion” like everybody does
a common mistake.
the dead are unmoved
occupy the eternal moment daintily moving fat hands
over phone screens with pinkies extended
“We’ll study what makes up the atom,” she says.
The Atom!
they stare at her through draping eyelids
my blood leaps like a synapse
I attempt to stand
I can’t wrestle myself free of the school desk
with its sanguine pencil groove
and perpendicular tubing
heads lazily turn
I’m momentarily constrained
unable to free myself I begin shouting
from a semi-crouched, prostrate position
legs held fast by gunmetal
“Oh! Are you bored of the Atom!
Space is a windless field of rocks!”
So self-righteous, I later realize.
Possibly being dumbstruck
is not a sound measure of spiritual wholeness.
We go home and microwave mini pizza
the first greedy bite fastens a scalding flap of cheese
to my hard palate
and I scream o god how I scream

flatworm

justanumber

Age is just a number
but at this number
I no longer feel comfortable
carrying a stupid
little fabric lunch box,
if I ever did.

Now I’ll eat only flat stuff
so I can secret my lunch
in my shoulder bag;
flatbreads, mashed bananas
flatworms, and so on.
I’ll have to develop
a taste for flatworms
but the epoch demands it.

I should have a rolltop desk
so stuffed with documentation
visitors who see it
are moved.
A desk to match
my tastefully graying temples,
my lightly shaved
George Michael beard,
my gravel drive.

Instead of a rolltop
I have a bus;
an unmentionable sorrow
I can’t help but mention.
This morning the glaring bald guy
with the fist full
of tattered papers
passed all the open seats
to squeeze in next to me.
There he began
his ritual bug-eyed
spraying consumptive cough.
eh-haagh-haagh-haagh!
eh-haagh-haagh-haagh-haagh-haaaaaaagggh!!
And me there,
refusing to alter expression, stoic
but for the little fabric
lunchbox at my feet.

How will I develop the taste for flatworms
which my new persona requires?
The same way one gets to
Carnegie hall.
Practice.

Looking Back at the Surprise Attack

Jupiter II!

Tiptoeing past my middle-passage afraid of rousing (or worse, arousing) whatever cloaked figure awaits the creak of a floorboard or the sound of a stepped-on garden rake levering up to thwack my beak, I am nevertheless confident in the New Day. May it bring an Elysian lawn chair or the romance of slaughter at the disputed Hot Gates.

Startled by the flying beige flag! Yes, teens, my decline and your prom are coincident, this bit of manufactured magic acquires a seam once the liquefied plastic is blown in and all the Wonder of wonder bread is its balloon-daubed plastic bag. Einstein fires a bullet in a car traveling 800 feet per second per second, and another per second thrown in.

I know exactly where you are: the sweaty, temporal nightmare of roiling youth and feeling good, when Elton murmured from my Panasonic ball and chain like a man singing through a hangman’s hood.

So, yeah. Speaker tech and outerwear? Much later the radio “sounded” better. But we lost through that advance the letter of the law; Gilbert O’Sullivan stands down and in sweeps Ke$ha. We threw it all away for a pair of fancy-pants.

Really now; imagine actually waking one day, Samsa-like, to find you are an older man with sudden dappled paws. And I don’t mean “Perhaps”. That happened to me. Hand-backs shiny with Arbus cross-hatches and arranged spots like those that trouble the failing sun and indicating the same collapse.

The microwaves turn back around and the heat-death of All This sees God tiredly lifting the latches again, this time to let it all back in, tired energy pouring homeward from near and far, as was expected all along. “The day is done! Lamplighters, would you please snuff this dim embarrassed star? And turn up the stereo one last time on Billy Joel’s ‘Zanzibar’! Jesus, what a song!”

Star light, Star bright, the star our God turned off tonight, I wish I may I wish I might be delivered of this overbite. No more to burn the petals or leaves, and buh-bye melanoma. O teen you have some insufficient inkling but you won’t grow comfortably into this weirdness any more than I will return to pinrail and glory in the wings of Oklahoma.

But I I I I…I have the plucky interiority of a 30-something and have retained, against every expectation of my own childhood certainties of decay, a sense of timelessness, and now see kids glance sidewise at me several times a day.

I used to shiftily spy on ‘older adults’ with whom I would periodically be trapped, utterly trapped and panicked, my expression naked with dread. “Kid” (I’ll say); “as strange as you think growing older is going to be, I’m here to tell you that your untested powers of imagination are not up to the task of painting that picture on the inner walls of your earbud-deafened head”.

Now it occurs to me that, in the space of some individual year, no way of knowing which one, in a future whose approach I only guess (not a calendar year, but I’m supposing about 1 year of adventurism from a stem to a stern, more or less)

I’m likely to unravel like a ball of yarn, my sensory nonchalance, this thoughtless unenlightened physical well-being of my middle passage will be cruelly undone, my spirits in flight like foul bats from a foul barn.

An inexplicable, sudden cascade of cancers, renal failures, plummeting bone density numbers, aortic blockage, and x-rays that cause my doctor to breathe hard and raise his hand to his mouth – a melting pilgrim’s cornucopia of disintegration as my architecture takes the express line south.

That will stun me! Stun my hapless fa-mi-lee! Clusterfeck of bewildering setbacks and teary, faux-philosophical internal and external monologues (arms waving around like those of the over-earnest Branagh), hug the wife and kids and step onto that ceremonial last banana.

Questions, I have but a few; could we have been less murderous as our cowboys headed west? At the top of the Space Family Robinson’s flying house what’s that little bubble do?  This is what I have to look forward to.

Visionary thinking, an aching frame, every day the same sustaining pill. Don West and the older Robinson girl? Not Penny, but Carol or whatever? Thanks to Captain Robinson’s intransigence and the finally distracting Alpha Centauri mission itself, they never got together, and now they never will.

i have anger like a highly polished gem, one that has been so obsessively buffed it is warm to the touch

 

angeray

I have anger like a highly polished gem
one that has been buffed with a specialty cloth.
the facets shine like brilliantine
and are warm to the touch.
Brilliantine is a word my head has always admired.
Is brilliantine a stone or a trade name?
Whichever. It’s fucking inspired.

I have haste like a cruise line without brakes
don’t know from whence it came or where it’s stored
Carnival Cruise plows through soil and steel
roar that buzzes and rips the air
Is brilliantine a stone or a trade name,
or the glow in Eddie Cochran’s hair?

 

 

dogged

happyleader

My dear stumblebum child
the glass is half empty. I’m sorry.
The race does not go to the swift,
but merely the dogged.
The fleet of tongue and mind
shall have no place in the dominion
of those with office doors.
The intellectually magnanimous,
the marveling, the loquacious
and gifted and teary wanderers,
those with an enrapturing ken
and a grasp of Life’s translucent arc,
shall ever defer to dim bulbs and half-wits,
they whose wherewithal it was
to push, weedlike, through the sidewalk.

NASA Rules

who do you think you are

don’t unscrew your gloves while outside the vehicle.

don’t “drive” the spaceship. the sleep-starved guys on the ground in their crewcuts and short-sleeved shirts, hands frequently folded behind their heads in terrified attitudes of phony repose? They are driving the spaceship.

relax, but sleep lightly with one hand near the Charles Nelson Reilly thrust actuator. like you need to be told that.

keep the earthworms fed and watered and happy and no more games.

don’t get uppity, you have the ass of Captain Kangaroo in that dumb outfit. this isn’t Gemini.

ignore strange sightings or at the least don’t report them, we’ve got enough going on.

we saw your eyes tearing at the pre-launch press conference; wtf. one more of those and you’re out. keep the lid on.

don’t jawbone about The Wonder in an unguarded moment. wonder is a sandwich bread. we’ve been over this.

Don’t pull an Aldrin.

The fecal evacuator is not a toy. we won’t tell you again.

godspeed.

We dream in a winsome swoon

anything could happen but generally doesn't

What is it
I’ll tell you what it is
my daughter turned that corner
and there is naught to do

a fantastical moonshot
made flesh, and me staring like a stone
We dream in a winsome swoon;
childhood,

age of the single bandaged miracle,
and every stumbling nincompoop romp
through a field of dead grass becomes
an emerald-framed painting of Then

we gaze at the lilliput epoch
with wondrous half-smiles
did that all really happen
yes, bird-brain, it did

and it ‘happens’ yet
stop looking wildly around the room
why do you not now
scratch the wall

with a loving pictograph
of yourself reaching for the ketchup
starting the car wrong
and flooding the whatnot

running embarrassedly
from little foaming dogs
let the spelunker’s lowbeam
trace the startled slate

this is the second childhood
with beards and breasts
the intoxication of a recalled moment
from its moribund oxygen-tented future

or is it just the morphine drip
and iso-tank silence of the ward
your now is incalculable. You don’t feel it
always looking back, a guy headed for a tree

today is your fever dream
seen from tomorrow
recalling through manageable tears
the gold-leaf normalcy of these turning days

the kids still at home, still kids.
their high voices and lovely needs
kid-arguments a piercing symphony
o to pick up their socks and flung notebooks

just the one more time, 8 minutes back there
would do it, Hawking make this happen
This is your past, you dingdong
happening in a real time

you will one day haltingly attempt to grasp
through the ping of sustaining machinery
a treasure that has fallen out of reach
but sunlight is bathing

the parks and stucco strip malls
and seems thick as syrup
feel the elegy this morning
drill into your stupid hardened khaki shell

remember all those graying adults
looking down from the ceiling (they were all graying!)
kindly smiles plastered, middle-aged chins
doubled with the effort of a down-tilted face

we were short but grew taller
broccoli becomes bone like mom said
and they were tousling our hair
why always the tousling

because the older ones are balding
men and women both. They want their hands
on any hair they can touch
without attorney involvement

while musing over cocktails
staring back through a lighted tube
conferring unspoken, graying temples inclined
around the vermouth

then staring down with over-eager smiles
which to us looked merely patronizing
oh these kids these kids
are they gonna be surprised.

Older Woman Waiting for a Ride on Sunday

Steenwijk_what a church

Though god sees mostly
through and inside us,
she is wearing her best earrings,
wielding a shiny purse chosen
for the occasion.
Though god at a stroke
swamps and destroys,
unleashes cholera on the already-ragged,
crushes to death
3rd graders in Haiti,
and In His Mystery
swipes with seeming anger
at luckless townships in Tornado Alley,
she shivers with the anticipation
of cozily hunkering down in her
pew among friends and loved ones,
all that stained glass,
the bath of color,
sunstruck pastels of the hereafter.
The dispossessed
and the well-fed
praise god;
one wanders tearily through diseased muck
clutching with starved paws
a mortally wounded baby
begging for God’s goodness,
one hugs herself beneath the vaulted architectural
dome of heaven,
pleased in her new earrings
feeling the beatific dullness of Christ,
daydreaming about coffee cake,
wishing the loquacious kindly pastor
whose words are meant to edify
would shut his trap.