elizabeth and bob

bob

Elizabeth (not your real name)
we were kissing
by the blanched light of a cheap floor lamp.
three-way bulb dialed down to nearly useless number one
i say nearly useless
the room was lit as if by candlelight
so, useless but for kissing by candlelight
you call that kissing
sprawled on a bean bag chair
faces dulled with rapture
no sale all purchase
wee hours.
through the window
occasionally glimpsed stars
shimmied in a desert sky
wavery lights arrayed over an oleander hedge
and glowing backyard pool
my parent’s house
my house and my parent’s house
in truth more their house than mine
I didn’t know from amortized
but its stucco and wood
surrounded and held me
cast a spell on me
in my unreliable memory
every room and every hour
are suffused with midday sunshine
people places and things
i can’t hold any more
though i didn’t care
to hold them then.

this tv room in near-dark
a display diorama at the Smithsonian
my teen feeling
of surreal gravity
wondrous and unrecognizable
is this happening?
our first dislocations
always at the behest
of sexual fumbling and half-light
you were on top
my 1977 shorty-shorts
working overtime
this was our first kiss
and would be one of our last
fueled by stars
in science class they’d said
we’re made of stars
or ‘star-stuff’
shut tf up we’re not ‘made of stars’.
well.
your hard breathing
made me breathe hard, and so on
the feedback loop
had my heart flopping wildly
i could picture it ululating in there
i had concern
is this a heart attack?
is it supposed to vibrate like that?
can it be moving any blood in this state?
will this tear my heart muscle?
i actually wondered these things
through feverish
shorty-shorts tenting
chambered slosh-muscle
crazily on the move
in its little calcium cage
making of the moment
an oven I felt
would consume me.
is it possible
to feel ones heart
abrading the sternum?

My dad walked into the room.
I’d heard him approaching
but like the startled
watchman on the Titanic
couldn’t believe my senses
nor the abject, impossible horror
of the immediate
and unavoidable cataclysm
my systems at full boil
registered movement in the periphery
is my father coming down the hall
at this hour?
Right now?
iceberg
iceberg
I said iceberg
iceberg. iceberg.
full astern godammit oh my god full astern
iceberg godammit oh godammit
this can’t be
it freezes the blood
iceberg
iceberg
oh no
what an emergency
it freezes the mind
and the blood.
strips the gears
i had feared an unchoreographed
burst of telling semen
now I fear I’ll vomit
where shall I turn my head
I can’t lie here
and turn my head and vomit
Elizabeth and I freeze
like sparrows
she clutches my forearm to signal.
‘I know’, I clutch back
iceberg
iceberg
‘oh fuck don’t you think I know?’ I clutch back
dread-clutching
‘oh my good god’ I clutch back
he’s in from the hallway
he’s in from the hallway
he’s in from the hallway
elizabeth, let go of my arm
he’s in from the hallway
he’s in the room with us
he’s in the room with us
what’s he doing
he’s looking right at us
he’s stopped in the murky lamplight
looking right at us
elizabeth let go of my arm
oh good god almighty oh my dear god
he’s in from the hallway and in the room with us
he’s in the dimly lit room with us
elizabeth let go of my arm
elizabeth you are cutting my arm
don’t make me cry out
oh god he’s standing right there
he’s like a golem in the room
and us on the bean bag chair,
frozen and clawing forearms

i see him in the very dim light
he is an indistinct
unmistakable figure
shirtless and out of shape
in baggy boxers
that tell a lifelong tale
two lifelong tales
my laissez faire dad
my vaguely loving but feckless dad
my orphaned unwanted dad
my dad in the next room like a kindly uncle
my dad who never threw ball with me
my dad who played cowboys with me once in 1966
my dad who couldn’t say i love you
my dad who secretly drank
my dad who feared much
my dad who never took us on vacation
my dad who was scarcely a dad
my dad with his prematurely gray hair
my dad with his easy smile
and this adored young girl in my arms
a juxtaposition that compels vomit
I love her I adore her
so this is how one grows love
so this is that heat
heat like a sauna
so this is where sex and love intersect
now I believe it
clothed bodies throwing heat
my tiny 70s shorts struggling.

dad looked at us
a vaguely visible silhouette
in really baggy boxers
in my memory
a talking cat, a specter
a man alone in the other room
watching sports
wanna sit and watch sports with me Jeffry?
no thanks
wanna sit with me and watch this?
no thanks, I gotta go
you sure? come sit with me
no thanks, I gotta go, dad
come on, just sit with me
naw, I gotta go
ok, Jeffry
always Jeffry with him
a helpful distancing formalism
disguised thinly as bemusement
now in his enormous boxers
by phony candlelight
I see the boy in my dad
I see the boy in my dad
iceberg iceberg

‘what’re you doing out here?’ dad said
I remained frozen and silent
why? why? why? silent again
in five more seconds he said
‘oh!’ in a tone I’d never heard come from him
revelation
he walked on to the kitchen
turned right into the family room
went back to his bed.
i saw the boy in my dad
as if all the lights were on.
it struck me and then it left me
Elizabeth said
‘i’d better get home’
yeah. let’s go.

Zeus or Apollo
whatever titan runs this place
take me back
i won’t ask again
when dad comes into the room
i’ll run to him this time
throw my arms around him in the dim light
all the way around him
the man in his oversized boxers
will see a startled kid jump up
his skinny kid-arms thrown wide
it’ll really surprise my dad
just take me the fuck back.

I was thinking about my last hour in the world

uplifted_sidewalk_omniverse

“If confirmed, the predictions would indeed be stunning. They would mean the universe is relatively small, something like 70 billion light years across.”
-New Scientist

I was thinking about my last hour in the world
because that is a real thing up ahead.
A chair. The sidewalk.
A bouncing rubber ball or a chain link fence. Plain.
Recent reports of the demure limits
of our Omniverse? Unhelpful.
Just another expanse
beyond the sunken living room.
Shag carpet as far as the mind can see.
And I’m all “There go my atoms.”
Not tomorrow but the usual Day After That.
I’ve always known it.

Sitting at this bus stop Tuesday,
my heart fluttered with the first hard-edged sadness
the Occasion has ever occasioned.
The incongruity of Sadness briefly trebled the sadness,
and I was scared to think,
but had to think of all the analog
particulate minutes
the bread crumbs in sunlit relief
on their maddeningly unswept kitchen counter
and tears for absent friends, arguments over movies
and concern for our kids,
the yelling at the kids to please help
keep the place clean,
and those uniquely awful hours
that I sometimes couldn’t hurry along
for the life of me.
We’re on our knees and shuffling
into the important-sounding Omniverse
with shoes on our knees so we look very short.
Our arms, as we leave the room,
are outstretched and aloft.
Pure vaudeville, but the tears are real, more or less

It was a quick sadness at the bus stop
but it was ordinary sadness.
Plain as a pillow.
It came and went;
Jungian mayonnaise sandwich. No meat.
Or it was a flashing cramp.
The inexplicable flashing cramps and stabs we feel in our guts
with no physiological cause
and finally no consequence.
“Oh those are growing pains.” wtf? Since when?
I thought “growing pains”
were allegorical,
the manageable torment of a first kiss
or the humiliation by the swingset after math.
The flash was like that. A growing pain. It shook me.

What do I make of it?
You’re not asking but I’ll tell you anyway.
The abstract is surfacing
and behemoth, ascending from pineal depth,
preceded by its shimmering curtain of air
the shimmering curtain beautiful
to see from this unlikely angle.
Then a glimpse of undersea flesh
rubberized and black
humping out of the water’s vastness
to briefly take and test the homely glint of sunlight.

There’ll be a room and I’ll be in it
and it’ll be my last time in any room
save the shag-carpeted room
of the previously infinite Omniverse
through which my component quanta
will soon waft like a cheap plume.
Again, the Thornton Wilder.
Not tomorrow but tomorrow.
I think of my last stand as an afternoon
but it doesn’t have to be an afternoon.
It could and will likely
happen at some idiot hour,
inconvenient and crushing,
lit by a crummy government-issue lamp.
Will I look into the air
and appear to my few visitors to be
seeing something?
They’ll follow my gaze, just in case,
but there’ll be, like, nothing.
In a billion years the dice
that drove Einstein to such distraction
may (MAY) reconstitute me as a flower,
but a space flower.
Aw. What’s the use.

changeling

dime is like a river
I’ve found my place in the cosmic order
marked it with a pen
content with my apprehension
of the eternal.
But in the all-too-temporal process of
peeling off my tight trousers
doing the helpless
suburban man-dance
in the previous quietude
of my room
a couple shiny dimes noisily fell
from a momentarily inverted pocket
and I shouted “oh screw you!”
The dimes rang accusingly
on the wood laminate floor.
Such small coins,
but commandeered
by mathematics and Gravity.
Mysterious and inexplicable Gravity;
unknowable energy field
into which the large bodies nestle
quantum thorn in the side
of the Grand Unified Theory.
We know this much –
the Mystery wants to see a dropped coin
perform an eviscerating hula,
each point of the milled edge
in its turn contacting the floor
in a round-robin rejection
of our race, our opposable thumbs,
our dreams of flight.
Thanks, Big Bang.
These goddamned coins!
They rang and rang and rang
and rang!
“Aaaaaahh! screw YOU!”
I had time to say it again
as the dimes whirled their lil’ dervish
for what seemed five full minutes.
I said it loud,
hissed it with meaning,
one aging chicken leg
yet ensconsed
in Tom Jones sale trousers.
Another scalding victory
of the inanimate.
I so want to live.

Koninginnedag

juud wit finaal

I’ll put it this way;
two electric mothers have I known.
One I laughed and loved alongside,
on summery bandaged days, the hours a pulling, dimwit tide,
the other rushed in, also laughing, when I had fully grownAloha Gist MN circa wter paper

Now in a grassy eastern park
the one sleeps in a laughing mom’s well-earned repose.
I’ll dream her on a quiet night and laugh anew,
and remember her love of life and light, and you
who, as I hurriedly type, take coffee and croissant in a rumpled bed
absent your Sunday clothes.

Love is all around
as the crummy poets never fail to say,
but, look, it’s a fact: the sunshine falls in a radiant sheet,
a confectioner’s glaze to make a mom’s day circle unbearably complete,
and where the bright light drapes down, it clings like syrup today.

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.

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.

steam and fire

Goutte-nanostructure

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.

 

a hideous sibilance

ctygwxcv2lsn8igcs2zs

So the guy in front of me orders his accompanying sandwich sauce, and it’s that sauce I absolutely love, but whose delightfully tangy flavor I have long since had to forgo. The sauce has a name that can’t, or shouldn’t, be spoken aloud without blushing, so potent and spiritually crushing are its delicate, sibilant particulars, its phonetic suggestion of fey, doomed humanity. We didn’t claw all this way up from the trilobite just to stand in a little line and delicately ask that Sweet Onion dressing be applied with a squirt bottle to our Black Forest ham sandwiches. Did we? Who wants to be illuminated so strikingly on the Sad Mortality Radar? So I order mayonnaise now. The word is comparatively robust and plain, despite its sounding, on repeat murmurings, like the name of a little French village with a water pump in the town square. ‘Sweet Onion’ is an inapproachable sauce name so alive with sibilance it collapses the Moment.

“Sauce?”

“…mayo.”

But this guy in the line ahead of me – he just says it without stammering or blanching, because he wants it on his sandwich. As if that’s reason enough. He just wants to taste the sauce on his sandwich, never mind that he has to pronounce the sauce’s name aloud to our common shame. He would rather have a great tasting sandwich than his pride. If only it were that simple.

For him though, this knapsacked specimen with his neck beard and staring inspection of chilled lunch meats through curved glass, it is that simple. There may be a lesson here. He isn’t afflicted with the crippling self-awareness that hobbles the rest of us when we are ordering sauces or buying chewing gum or shirts. What a grinding mockery our sauce orders invite! Our little sandwich predilections, the watchbands we lean over and choose with such deliberation, our carefully sat-through new haircuts and the mirror our beauticians hold behind our new hair or behind the reflected image of our new hair, so we can make sure that, even where our eyes can’t go, the hairs are arranged correctly and cut and shaped correctly, these micro-trunks of cracked dead protein sprouting out of our fool heads, so that people whose eyes CAN go there see what we are paying to have them see. Who do we think we’re kidding?!

“Sauce?” asks the wall-eyed kid in his visor.

“Sweet Onion,” the guys says, seemingly without hesitation. My skin jumps once and begins to crawl in earnest. I grasp the vestigial little ledge that is offered, like succor, by the Subway set designer. Who in his right mind would say that? Move on to another sauce, you dumb brute! Hearing the sauce-appellation spoken aloud I feel the tingle, the icy straight-pin piercing my groin. I’m about to double over. Who are these people who can say ‘sweet onion’, just like that, without a helpless, grand mal shudder? Who are these freaks? I ask you.