steam and fire


She asked me what a cloud feels like.
‘It’s just steam’ I said without thinking, but eagerly,
because of course the Wonder lives
in the pragmatic complications of the machined parts.
But she didn’t want steam. She wanted the solid stuff
seen from the rounded square,
the pressure-resisting porthole of a working 747,
the pink-tinted landscape of uneven cotton,
some of it mountainous and so on,
it looks like stuff you can stand on,
there are valleys to explore
and the cloud mountains cast shadows on each other
and you sometimes spot the shadow
of the aircraft itself tracking along below.
The clouds stretch away and away to a companionable sun
beneath the immense idiot wings and engines.

Our common space is not filled with mere magic
but a strong and weak nuclear force
and other such measurable gossamer.
‘Oh, my dear’, I will explain in a plummy and patronizing tone,
a Gielgud reassurance,
‘the stars are only fire,
self-important know-nothings in a large cold room.
A cloud is a buoyant puff of steam,
such as a teapot emits without ceremony.
And God has no beard.’
To the broken stare dulled by these exertions
I’ll make no further comment.


Power and Might

Power and Might
‘# 1’ by Mark Rothko

Morning sun paints the low mountaintops while in the foreground a Big Brand tire store anchors an immediate tattered blandscape, one can imagine Big Brand and the other dumb little buildings there of stucco and lesser stucco rising and melting and rising and melting and rising and melting in a Rod-Taylor-in-The-Time-Machine daydream of sick and meaningless renewal, the mountains in that time-lapse just standing there, unmoving and unamused nightclub bouncers with their arms crossed. The sun doesn’t know ‘paint’ or poetry, is an insensate fire set by forces describable with chalk and arithmetic, it nevertheless holds our hope(s) and this is how to encumber a fire that wants only to convert one thing to another in a soundless ‘space’ (as it’s known) but for that blowy roar that could be a burning tree. What of it. A star is exhaustible and at the end goes down swinging in a sad burst of gamma or something, an embarrassingly grand display of nuclear failure, falls in on itself and shrinks as if to compensate for eons of unearned braggadocio, eons of radiant literature thrown off in a laundry list of exotic rays. Sinatra had them screaming in their socks at the Paramount and may even have punched Ava Gardner if you want to talk about astronomical largesse, and in the end he doddered around his house not feeling great and would only occasionally join his guests in a game of poker, emerging from his large bedroom in pajamas, a mountain a fleeting thought a tachyon. Those are the choices.

song for us


When he boarded he saw in his familiar annoyed periphery the Beautiful Teenage Typical, already looking off with her studied thousand-yard stare, her paralytic nonchalance. ‘Yeah, I’m Beautiful. It is my misfortune and I can’t unlearn it now. I have seen it in the helpless puppy eyes of the boys since fourth grade recess, where it startled me at first.  I’ll have nothing to do with you now but a masked drinking in of your helplessly flung gamma.’ But he brought his iceberg zeal to the demonstration, as he had done for a lifetime, since Lisa devastated Tony. He took his seat and opened his book without looking up. If you are beautiful you have been furtively glanced at enough already. This will be for your own good. I can see it on your expression of studied indifference. Rewarding you with even a glimpse would be pouring gin down the neck of a furniture-smashing golem. Awkward girls and boys with dated hairbands and tucked-in shirts bought off the wrong rack, they are the prize, you are the wallpaper. Your carefully arranged, traditionally attractive sphinx-face is as thrilling as a spiral notebook. I’m still on fire, still on fire, I believe you broke me that day, and in the many days after that day. In Mrs. Petrie’s third grade lunch line at Clark Elementary in Cheyenne we waited in blanched sunlight and you told my penurious friend Tony, my quiet buddy with the always-mussed hair and worried expression, the farm kid, you said that of all the ink-clumped mimeographed recipes shared through our weekend assignment, his was the worst. ‘We tried your Breakfast Cookies and they were awful.’ Tony looked down and away, horrified. He’d worn the same checkered shirt all the previous week, the hem shiny and frayed with wear. Your macabre attack was an air horn in a stilled chapel. My scalding blood sprayed into my head and I saw stars. What did she say? Someone can say that? I looked sideways at Tony, his eyes brimming, and I crushed my beige circular milk ticket in my shaking right hand oh god! oh god I could have killed you, Lisa! I could have maimed you! In too many dreams that year I lunged at you, madly clawed your beribboned hair, your self-satisfied little face, your beautiful little ferret face with its cheekbones and haughty forehead. If you’d taken a shot at my mom’s Angel Food Cake recipe at that moment I might have torn you like a phone book. Rage at all the well-built assholes who criticize our Breakfast Cookies! ‘Well-Lisa-we-tried-your-cake-and-it-was-terrible!’ I bleated in cracking girl-voice, a Tourette’s attack that seemed to gush from someone else before I knew I was saying it, I could not believe these goings on. And you said ‘Ha ha! My recipe wasn’t for cake, liar.’

L is for the way You look at me

photo by Janet Tappin Coelho
photo by Janet Tappin Coelho

Summer nearly two thirds gone
the doomed ninnies running down the shore
as any hireling might in a Don Henley video
sea beats anciently under ancienter sun
somewhere through the glare Hubble gawps at nebulae
it’s all of a piece
for all the thumb and drang the body of salted water
is clear and busy and simple
a cheap sheet of foil turning and pitching
Someone, Roseangela, exultant with fear
arms raised in fear, motherfear, the oldest fear
a child in the water and electricity approaches for its own reasons
‘Get out of the water!’
so saying, Rosangela is struck down in the shallows
her little boy escapes, let off with a warning; he was never the lightning’s theme
a photo taken by happenstance captures the instant
if not the transfiguration, which is concealed behind a pickup truck
though we are afforded a glimpse of human vapor
eyeblink shows the lightning absent its Special Effect
a drizzling-down of death
suggestion of cupcake sprinkles
delivered by the swollen mitt of a gourmand
you don’t know where the fury can be stored
you can’t let the fury seep out or rush out
that is its own mayhem
a daisy chain of damage
someone could get hurt.
but this fury is anyway as frail as you please
the chemical fury has outlived the Furies
and no longer serves a useful function
is but temporary and earthbound and inconsequential as a dryer sheet
despite squalls of sorrow and raging headaches
there is no ledger or other illusion of mathematical redress
Thor, or Odin, or whomever, thins the herd like an angry drunk
then offers succor
then offers someone else a seashell by the seashore
what is this damaged Superthing
that waves us like dolls
gives us lower case babel, organ donor cards
and a sacrament the size and shape of a tiddly wink.


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


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.

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!”


The Opus in Gethsemane

Easter Sunday 2014 (‘…in three days I will raise him up…’) my mom walked cheerily out of her independent living apartment for the last time. She’d stopped whistling several months before or she surely would have been whistling as we left, as she had been whistling every day of our lives as far back as I can remember. I have her by the arm now. This particular Sunday (he shifts into full-frontal present tense) we walk arm in arm like a couple of pals going out for a stroll, her thrice-broken left linked trustingly to my right. She is wearing her familiar black puffy vest and red sweater. Her apartment is the usual mild mess with small stacks of newspapers and books everywhere, her bed hastily made.

“You like the way I make my bed?” Umpteenth.

“Yeah, where does one find a blind butler these days?” Umpteenth.

Today, with no preamble and no ceremony, we just walk out. Goodbye, apartment. And something irretrievable just…ends. All brouhaha to the contrary, when stuff ends in this life it just ends. Your dad dies forever and you drive home from the hospital and sit on your dumb familiar couch with your mom and sister and little brother and the cheap wall clock in the kitchen seems not to know that some big fucking thing just happened in the universe, the biggest thing so far. My father died about 2 miles from here, in a hospital bed! My big sister was with him when it happened! I was driving my mom home so she could get some rest and he passed while I was driving back to him! I found my sister crying and rushed in and kissed his cooling forehead, inadvertently trapping the startled nurse by the stilled machines so that she had to stand there jammed in the corner and look away while I kissed my dad’s face! O ticktockticktocktick. Now some 20 years later, my mom and I walk out of apt. 206.

Her Door, her Life Door? It’s beginning to close, and it’s an enormous Door, so large that its swinging massively on its hinge produces a movement like that of the moon across the sky, or distant mountains on a cross-country road trip with the family. There is movement, but it’s imperceptible. Imperceptible but by the fucked and very very useless gift of hindsight. But this hasty afternoon Aloha is going down and down and down to the dungeon of her last days on Earth. I’m taking her there with our arms linked. The import of this day must not mean much to me as we leave the apartment, because on the way over to lead my poor mother to slaughter I have done a work errand, dropping off some documents with an architect. ‘I’ll just work this into the morning on my way over to move my mom to the slaughterhouse’. She has her questions, once I’ve reminded her again that today is ‘moving day’.

“Why am I moving?”

“Remember? The management here says, and they regret it, because everyone loves you here, they say you have to move. Because your memory is getting dangerously bad.”

“My memory!” she galumphs and hangs her head like Walter Matthau. “What’s that got to do with anything!”  I’d been explaining to mom, sometimes 6 or 7 times in a 10  minute period, that her increasingly (if still mildly) erratic behaviors had obliged the management to ask her to leave the apartment she had lived in for 10 years. She would be moving into a place (I was careful not to use familiar, horrifying bromides euphemizing safety or security – buzzwords to failing seniors that only say Incarceration and Death) where a nice couple would be able to watch over her; benign caretakers who would make sure she didn’t fall. Of all the useless things to avoid, to take such lavish steps to avoid. FALLING!? Falling on an unattended walk is the finest champagne, ambrosia –  the delicious afterglow of a dream she wakes from every daybreak.

I explain again now to my mom, in telegraph; I’m tired of explaining this! Her behavior at the senior independent living apartment house had changed a little recently, her demeanor had begun to change a very little. She had yelled at a dining companion who had complained about her constantly singing at table (always ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ or ‘Two Sleepy People’), and then mom had lost her prize seating by the front window and been moved to a table in the center of the dining commons. The next day the lackluster and frankly inept manager of the facility complained to me that Aloha could not remember to go to the new table. Then she’d walked out of the front door at 2am in her nightclothes, made her way down to State Street and been gently returned by two good Samaritans and the police. This late-night episode of ‘wandering and elopement’ (episodic dementia terminology that is cruelly ironic in its seeming reference to marital joy) had been boldly marked on the indemnifying mimeograph the slack-faced building manager had asked me to sign a couple days later. The form protected the apartment owners from legal action should my mom walk into traffic or simply walk away.

At the obligatory doctor’s appointment mom was asked a series of questions in my presence; had to know the date (nope), the year (nope), what city she was in (nope), what a pen was (got it), what a ring was (got it), had do redraw a Venn Diagram right next to the original drawing (strangely, no), had to spell world backwards (she got as far as d and l). She did get three things right and was amusing besides, for which they give no extra credit.

When the doctor asked her height mom said ‘5 foot 5 1/2. And that half inch means a lot to me! ‘ During the cognitive test the nurse asked her ‘what State are you in?’ ‘October‘, says mom. The nurse and I exchanged glances. ‘No, what STATE are you in? Are you in Wisconsin, Florida? Maine?’ “Ooh, what STATE,’ mom says, and thinks about it. ‘August.’ she says. Then she starts laughing. Then, resigned; ‘I don’t know what state I’m in.’ A couple weeks before, mom and I had been about to enter a watch store to get her watchband resized. As we approached the door she pulled back on my arm and said ‘I can’t go in there.’ ‘Why not?’ I asked. She pointed to a sign in the bottom of the window. No Bags Allowed.

Today, though, the Move. All the cascading elements have been leading to this. She is copacetic

“Oh well, whatever. I have to move, right? So let’s do it. I don’t mind moving.” The stiffened girlish shrug. Even then, I felt relief and not sorrow, despite knowing full well she would very soon now find herself enclosed and confused and frightened and without a single scrap of the hope that had, for some years, been dwindling in concert with the square footage of her shrinking domiciles.

“Yeah, you like to move, right? Born into the Army, married into the Air Force,” I said. She laughed.

“That right!”

So anyway we close her apartment door. “Take a good look!” I say enthusiastically, but feel the first mild sinking. She looks briefly around and nudges me playfully.

“Let’s go!” o god o god o god if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew if she knew

We walk downstairs. When we pass through the hallway behind the reception desk, by the mailboxes and sign-up clipboards, she completely surprises me by saying ruminatively ‘I’ll never see this place again’. Some of her friends and acquaintances there haltingly sense something and gather. Where is Jeff taking her? A couple of them look at us with troubled expressions, not sure how to process this. But they know, with whatever increasingly fine-tuned avian sense these fragile wraiths develop as they move forward into their own winnowing-down, they know that what is happening is The Thing. It is The Thing. The Thing That Happens. As if in the increasing fineness of the structural physical body there is more resonance, a heightened sensitivity to changes in timbre. They know. And now the group of glorious, chummy oldsters, they who have so lovingly seen my mom through these 10 years of falling action, they are murmuring the dreaded ‘goodbye’ – another one of their friends being weeded out, like  a soldier in a battle of attrition, or a siege. And now we’re just heading out the front door of the place. Just like that.

“Goodbye!” I say, as much to prompt my mom’s awareness as to actually, really say goodbye. I’ll be back to clear out the apartment, explain to everyone what has happened, apologize for the abrupt departure. I’ll be back. “Goodbye, goodbye.”


Lupe, a longtime Aloha booster, comes hustling out from behind the reception desk. “I can’t let you go without a hug!” she says, hurrying to my startled mom and throwing her arms around her in a very demonstrative and unquestionably final hug of farewell. This is a Last Time Forever. Aloha doesn’t raise her arms at first, but then she does, hesitantly. When Lupe pulls away tearily my mom turns to the door and she has a furrowed brow and water falling out of her eyes and an expression that says “Why am I crying?

I’m not a liar, I’m a traitor.  For Aloha this is the end of the day. The day I was born she would not have guessed that I would be the bailiff ushering her to a lasting confinement. Through an unremarkable little gate. Let’s keep up the cheery chatter, the terrified chatter, because what am I doing to my mother right now in full sunlight? I’m giving her a drink of poison, a long slaking draught of poison, not from a chalice but from a fucking jelly jar.

We walk the sidewalks of the City College campus, look appreciatively at the striking Pacific Ocean and while away the minutes, a little delaying tactic, and as the minutes pass I see a black mountain looming, just up ahead there. An hour? A friend of Sam’s walks by and says hello. Aloha seems mildly embarrassed to be seen, but as always she is suddenly not 90 but 40.

“Hey, nice to meet you!” she says with that trailing laugh I’ve known forever.

An hour later we pull up to her new House, the couple who run the place come to the gate to greet us, the gate is swung open, and with my splayed hand on mom’s back…my mom just walks right through the gate. And that is the end of that. We walk into the house. A speechless crone with long gray hair sits in a wheelchair at a lovely dining room table working her jaw and my mom looks at her with horror. Frank, the burly husband of the two who run the place says to Aloha –

“You like apple?” He puts his arm across my mom’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” she says cautiously.

“I’ll cut it up for you!” he says and strides off. My mom sits down, and I sit down with her at the dining room table. The crone is bobbing her long face and her long stringy gray hair, she’s babbling – a crazy old ghoul from Central Casting. When my mom can take her eyes off her she looks at me. The little light flickers on.

“Let’s go. Let’s go home.”

Here it is.

“Mom – this is home. You’ve moved here.” Of course she looks at me blankly for 5 seconds – and then her face, very very suddenly, you would say ‘spontaneously’, her face folds into a grimace of horror and her very blue eyes are aswim in sudden water.

“Oh, no!”

Clench your fist under the table, asshole. This is what you get, asshole. Keep it together.

“Mom – ”

“Oh, no, let’s get out of here! Oh, no, Jeff.”

“Where do you want to go?” I ask stupidly, my blood on the run, heart slamming.

“Let’s go, oh, please – let’s just go! I don’t care where! Let’s get out of here!”  Never seen her like this, not since Pat’s accident. And her blue eyes are full of water but it won’t fall down her face. The fullness of the trap makes itself known, it’s slammed shut already. When I watched her walk blithely through that gate in the driveway, I should’ve grabbed her. NO! Let’s go, mom! Forgive me! It’s a trap, a trick! But now 20 years of sickened anticipation is over, the surreal is real, and the gate is shut. This is that moment. She knows it. It has struck her like a wave. She raises her hands –  her arms –  raises her arms up as if to fend something off and lightly brushes her temples with her fingertips, a horror actress about to push her hands through her hair.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

“Mom …let’s walk to the back. C’mon.” I adopt the ameliorating tone of a confidant. “C’mon, let’s walk to the back.” This is what ‘unbearable’ means. This is what that means. I can’t bear it. Just walk and hold her. There is a long driveway, it bends to the left as you walk to the back of the property and there is a sitting area with an umbrella. We sit down, but I don’t remember what was said, because within a half-minute Frank comes walking boldly toward us. My rescuer.

“Heeey! Let’s eat!” he says, Telly Savalas announcing supper. Slavika is with him in her apron; a nice, humor-filled Croatian couple. Been doing this for 30 years. Highly regarded, fully licensed, seen it all. Done it all. They shower their stupefied residents while wearing surgical gloves. Aloha, my mother, looks at me and grabs my forearm. I can’t. I CAN’T!! Frank looks at me conspiratorially as he says –

“Come on, we got dinner.” He face is motioning to me – Now is Your Chance, she just needs to acclimate, it’s better this way. Aloha gets the whole routine, though, and she looks at me. THAT look. And she just takes her hand off my forearm. And now I can see her door closing and the moon sweeping across the sky and all the bullshit gears working their phony magic. Frank gets on one side, Slavika on the other, they’re very gentle, they coax her to her feet and she rises from the cushioned lawn chair with difficulty.

“Come on, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Slavika assures in the singsong mantra of a caregiver. My mom, to my surprise, seems relaxed, her posture has loosened. But then I see it’s a striking surrender. Frank looks down at her and speaks very gently.

“You like potato salad?” My mom, while I watch, looks up at him with a sort of doomed leer, a gallows smile. WTF is that? I’ve never seen that expression. Has she ever used it before? She looks up at him and smiles, a ‘sad’ smile, a smile of saddened new ‘hello’. She is more alive and aware and aflame than anyone else in the scene. She looks right at his eyes.

“Yeah. I like potato salad,” she says with disgust, smiling. The white flag.

She lowers her face, she lets herself be escorted down the driveway. Am I seeing this? Frank and Slavika make faces and gestures – you can take this time to leave – it’s the perfect time. It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay! Go to your car, she’s fine. I’m afraid, though. My mom’s going to look over and see me leaving, Judas slipping between the guards. But she just walks between them without looking back. What is this? She puts her left hand on her hip as she walks between them, a gesture of fortitude, of putting her back into something. To my puzzlement, she doesn’t even look back toward me, doesn’t look back at all!  The goddamndest thing. Ever. EVER. I didn’t picture this. Her rounded shoulders obscured by her new keepers, she shuffles up onto the porch and through the open door. And that is how I killed my mother.

defecatory mayhem and spirit beings

gods, hear me

I was standing in a public restroom, frankly, whistling ‘Mrs. Robinson’ through my teeth while self-consciously dispensing a repurposed cup of recent Earl Grey. Without warning or preamble there issued from a closed stall at the other end of the room an amazing basso profundo blast whose endurance and brief series of modulations almost mimicked primitive speech. In the echo chamber of the lavishly tiled room the sound reverberated like the report from an elephant gun. I stopped my tinkly winkly in momentary shock, heard a sharp intake of breath followed by a muted sigh of what sounded like surrendered frustration. This closeted unfortunate had hoped to mute Gideon’s Trumpet and so be surreptitiously about his business. He would deliver the flowers then slink out of the little booth when his peeled ears told him the coast was clear. We all know that at any given, panicked moment, I Am The Only Human In The World Who Defecates. We are at pains to keep this weakness a secret. ‘If the others find out I crap it’s all over!’ etc.

The brief rolling echo subsided and I silently commiserated. Those among us brave enough to void our solids in public restrooms are a nervy lot, and count on a certain element of stealth and a kind of secrecy to see us through the ordeal. The horror is of course only partly cultural. Animals in the wild are most helpless when hunched backwards over their processed steak tartar and the predator is programmed to strike when the prey is prone this way. It is physically very difficult to run and defecate at the same time, your Indian Fry Bread Incident at the Arizona State Fair notwithstanding. Nature knows this and many of our brethren in Darwinian steerage are overwhelmed and consumed while themselves in the process of unpacking their own recent meal. This is an aspect of the Circle of Life that Disney won’t likely ask Ms. Dion to describe in song.

I continued my tinkly winkly and hoped to assuage and screen my fellow human’s distress with a concealing bit of water music and some mercy-flushing. I would lay down a bit of urinal white noise that would put this desperate and already humiliated shitter at his ease. I reached for the silver handle, so like the sphincter-taunting joystick of a damnable airplane, and another sudden and prolonged blast roared out of the closed stall. It was literally extraordinary. This one sounded like an angry vole trying, with desperate tooth and claw, to free itself from a snare that had captured it about the neck. For about 20 seconds the strangling vole clawed and howled, louder, louder! Let him go, for God’s sake! When this soundscape ended it did not do so with a bang, but petered out into a long, whistling, defeated Cminor chord; the vole’s death song. The sound was positively inhuman, and it broke the spirit of the musician who loosed it.

“God I’m so embarrassed!” he yelled from behind his closed booth door, surrendering everything.

A miracle! Part of me wanted to rush to the stall, flatten my palms against the gunmetal and hiss “We’re all in this together!” “We’re only human!” or maybe “I also crap!” But I didn’t. His outcry, though – what a wonder. An oath to heaven from a momentarily enlightened little animal in deepest space. Why are we so terrified! At the end of all this crapping-in-secret, kissing our sleeping kids’ heads when they’ve become too leggy and self-aware to allow it during waking hours, watching in delicious awe as our spouses grow older, taking our parents’ hands for the last time, making heat behind locked doors, awkward and strangely thrilling periods of onanism (as the Bible says, ‘Jacob I loved, but Onan I really really loved’) and bouts of weird grief and looking backward; what do we have? We have it all. We have it all right now. Why can’t we know it? The present tense is for fools and glory. Why be bashful? Why self-edit? There’s no time. When a guy jumps out of frame by yelling out how revolted and shamed he is by the yowling of his own ass, he is beatified.

Gas. On our one family trip to the local planetarium years ago, the lights went down, the sonorous recorded voice began to yammer, the ceiling miraculously became a night sky. The stars began slowly to wheel and in the awed hush my adorable toddler turned to me and said in his loud girlish voice, “DID SOMEBODY MAKE A POPPET?”

Your Femur In the Next New World

Femur Fever
we shall continue to strive

Cosmologists, physicists and math wizards assure us we shouldn’t be here.  We so shouldn’t be here it can almost be persuasively argued that we aren’t here, that we are, in effect, virtual. And our brief, present reign is characterized by ingenious and puzzling bits of joinery.  Our touching terror of loose ends has us piecemealing all kinds of things so that no awkward termini need affront of discomfit us.  Sidewalks meet streets, travel for blocks and then stop, or as we say, end. But where a sidewalk ends you will likely find some bit of machined urban planning, some formed appurtenance, a thing.  The thing has a design function; it is to mitigate the ending of another thing of purpose. Walls meet floors, buildings conjoin, and the seam-centric work of human planners bespeaks a generalized belief that we have arrived and are determined to capably glue the parts together into a familiar whole.

Quantum Field Theory features, among other mild insanities, the snap-crackle-pop appearance of ‘virtual particles’ that appear very briefly and then annihilate. We are that, in our shirts, blouses and tasseled dress shoes, in our hats and coats and shorts and unembarrassed corduroy ensembles. The insensate scalability of Time makes our duration as individual Things infinitesimally, improbably brief. And yet we are materially indefatigable. The Law of the Conservation of Mass says that the quantity of matter is unchanging through all space and time; matter cannot be created or destroyed, only moved around; horses become apples, become clouds and comets, become wondrous drifting interstellar smoke. This means, among many other things, that the bone running down the middle of either of your thighs will specifically inhabit the roiling undercrusts of the Earth in eons to come, and thereafter the silent bell jar of deepest space and time. Sentence fragment. Your leg bone and Jayne Mansfield’s head will survive every cataclysm, every Big Bang yet to come. Hers is not such a special head but for the lore it wears like an especially difficult hat. It’s no more or less momentous than your leg bone. Your femur.

You will leave your consciousness behind. Strike that; reverse it. It will fly quietly out of your cooling carapace at the moment of your heat death, a warm tiny vapor gone to some unrealized quantum brane or maybe to the clear air over your living room carpet and the startled bridge players there. But your lovingly machined parts, in describable pieces or in atomized clouds of Stuff, will inhabit this Place. In 600,000 years your femur will be someplace on earth. Know. Is it true that infinite time naturally yields the realization of every single possibility? Intuitively it seems so. Given the fullness of time, then, you can stare up at the Crab Nebula, or cast your gaping glance to the general vicinity of idiotically distant z8_GND_5296, and know you are there in a thrilling present tense.

Gawp all you want at the Hubble Deep Field. * (sighs distractedly with something like frustration while biting a burnt veggie burger) * We awaken only very very very briefly and then are cast out into Everywhen. Why do we awaken? There are no purposeless moving parts in this machine. What is this for, cognition? The other animals procreate and eat and flee their adversaries without it. Why do we need it? Why awaken at all?  Is our immeasurable little snap of wakefulness the door we have to hurry through? I think it is.