Beauty in the Hideous

There isn't a mission. There isn't a goal. It's just words on fake paper, sliding and tripping and flowing all over the place, because we're all full up on words in here and there is no way we can keep them inside. Like Tony says, "Nothing in here is true."

Monday, December 21, 2009

man sees moon and wonders

so I’m outside taking a leak.

what is a man if he loses his ability to piss outside?

besides, I’d wake the baby if I went upstairs.

The flush of a toilet can be startling to a sleeping toddler.

the air is spring water.

It’s like those hooded sweatshirt nights I used to spend slugging

Bottles of brown and green. Chasing

Something that was never there.

Vick’s vaporub atmosphere with a twinge of fireplace.

I’m balancing myself.

Bare feet on the patio’s borderstones. All tip-toes,

watering the rose bush.

Wondering about the soil’s ph levels when...

I get suckered by the moon.

It’s mammoth. Embedded in blue-black directly above me.

I look around my back patio. I can see everything.

It’s eleven at night and I can see the contents of each corner.

The dead leaves.

The bolts on the fence are sequins.

Then I honestly, sincerely, ask myself the philosophical mother

Of all mothers. The same

question that the bog bodies asked themselves

Before they became such. Their ignorant contemporaries asked it too.

It’s the same question

Two ranchers ask each other under a Montana sky before, with crossed legs,

The older one says, “it’s crazy, I know.” Then tips his Garth Brooks hat over his face.


This moon made me ask that cliché:

what the fuck are we really doing here?

To know the square root of 144?

Reminisce about the mentos campaign of the ‘90’s?

Bemoan our lost loves, write rap parodies about uncomely math teachers, discuss how much you hate Da Brat, or rather how much you hate street spellings of real words, obsess over the number of steps in everyone of your relatives’ houses, complain, daydream about broads, discuss the different names of toilet manufacturers, drink a certain type of booze until you throw up and never drink it again, yearn for the past and all its trappings, discuss the subtleties of wine, point to a flock of geese, diminish people, wish you were something else, hear somebody ask yet another: “do you know what the definition of insanity is?”, sleep, eat salad, get a well-rounded education, imitate darth vader, security checks in airports, know all the positions jose oquendo played at the major league level, counsel, be counseled, piss in slightly inappropriate places?

My manly stream comes to an end.

i shake off the pee dribbles.

Ykk my pants.

then, for some reason, another question:

What monkey’s eyes are larger than its brain?

Gotta google that.

Friday, April 10, 2009


This is the life, she thought, as she sat in the hospital bed recuperating from...what was it? Something had transpired that put her here; something pretty bad, she's guessing. She's got the pain in her elbows and knees, the dull throb on the right side of her face, and the little fluid bag thing which must mean something bad happened, right?

The nurse would be by again, she posited, and figured she could try asking some questions then. It would be fine to keep doing what she remembered doing for the last few hours, which was drifting in and out of a druggy sleep.

Striking Story

I don't think it was the first or fifth time or eleventh time she hit me that I realized I was going to lose my wife at the end of this fight. She hits me a lot, and I don't really think about it in terms of a defining characteristic of a fight that will end the relationship. I mean, if every fight where a punch got thrown ended the relationship, who'd have any friends?

Living on the Western Slope, it seems like you'd be pretty cooled out, off the wildlife and the stunning vistas and everything else. Flying in on an airplane, you're inclined that there are only two kinds of people on this side of the mountain: the super-rich and the flinty individualists. But there are folks of all stripes here, from sane and boring to half-crazy, and on through to crazy. Lisa and I weren't a perfect match, but I was a link from the edge where she dwelt to the rest of the world. People would say that I "spoke Lisa." I guess they meant it as a compliment, about our compatibility or my understanding as a husband. I guess.

She strayed so close to the edge, dabbled in this dark space where everything she said had a sharpened tip hidden beneath the flesh. No comment or action was without a looming consequence, and tiny barb waiting to sting you. Folks didn't steer clear of her (and us) outright, but over time people understood that it was safer for them and better for everyone if they just kept their distance. She was as funny as the day is long; others with poison in their veins found her to be absolutely unforgettable. "Your Lisa," they'd say, with envy behind their eyes for both her barbs and who knows what else, "she is really something."

When we met, I didn't think she was that much fun. She was, looking back, just refining her methods. She's not a killer or something, but she was more raw, working off the anger, tension and angst of a childhood which wasn't so much scarring as callousing. She had evolved incomplete defenses to lots of things a kid shouldn't need protection against. These sharp words, this drum-tight sense of wounding wit, the relentless cynicism, all came as weapons of self-defense.

But by the time adulthood set in, these weapons had overgrown their boundaries, and their original application was long forgotten. Lisa was the life of the party, and though she insisted she hated every second of it, she was helpless to stop. She was merciless, and was rewarded with the general affirmation of like-minded types whose own tarnished outlook made it nearly impossible for her or them to see how corrosive this behavior really was. They were blind inside it.

With that adulthood came all the normal obsolescence; we had a little girl in 93 and a little boy three years later. They were perhaps her greatest joys and her tenderest victims. She couldn't control these manic feelings, couldn't turn away from the microscope and the quiet angel inside couldn't act fast enough to slow the devil's tongue. They were cowed by her, quick to apologize, perpetually in fear. It was no way to live.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Sitting back on the couch, listening to that little chit-chit noise, drinking some leftover beer she bought for her dad to drink at Christmastime, she realized that it was probably a healthy thing she wasn't actually making lists about the potential success of an evening like this one.

This was the new normal for her, the way life would be for half the nights for forever. No kids in the house, no brain-scrambling moments of distress about whether they're awake or need something. No lunches to make or careless tasks to take her mind off the silence. And certainly no one interesting enough to disturb this pattern for the near future.

She idly picked at the bottle's label, making a little pile of paper beads on the maroon couch cushion. She got up from the couch and the wrapper-paper scattered everywhere. Normally, a kid making -- plotting out, really -- such a mess would be worthy of a quick comment. But she let the beads fall. She ducked out of the tv room, down the hall through the back bedroom and out to the patio. She was hiding cigarettes, pitifully, from nobody but herself, and she shook one out of the pack as she collapsed into a plastic chair and eyed the darkness. She heard a car door in the next garage, or maybe just blocking the alley, but didn't think much of it. It was an apartment in a city that nodded but never went completely to sleep. Footfalls approached and instead of passing and getting quiet as they receded, they stopped. Close to the gate to the garage, she thought.

Friday, January 02, 2009


The chit chit sound of the nearly-frozen hedges dancing on the windows was actually doing its designated b-movie job of putting her on edge. The entire night had been a complete bust. The list she made of the events that would have qualified the night as worthwhile was actually pretty exhaustive, and yet not a single one would have a check next to it.

The unshaven face, the pissy attitude, the baffling fifteen minute conversation about cheeseburgers (cheeseburgers?), all of it was off the list.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Journals are things writers keep to keep the muscle tone, the systems lubricated for when they are called upon to truly write something. Almost no writer says, "The secret is to to only write when you feel like you've got something to say. Otherwise, just browse the web for a while, masturbate and go to sleep." No, of course they say, "The key is to write every day. Whether it's a grocery list or an epic poem or a short story about a short-sighted canary in love with a hand of bananas on the counter in the kitchen adjacent, just write."

And this is advice I haven't heeded up to now. Oy, I'm tired. And I can find something else to do every night and every day. Work is work, it swallows all the time, expands to fill the space like a gas and suddenly you aren't doing anything but work.

And there's family, and a dog, and the trash bins to take to the curb, and grandparents to update about the lives of the children, and bills to pay and small stuff to sweat, and suddenly you haven't written anything since the short story about the infatuation and the moonlight, which felt like genius but probably was more like meh.

What then to do? How to tackle this problem, reset the balance and find this sliver of time? Just do.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Four Little Keys

Sitting in the library, it seemed like the best plan was to put the entire business out of her mind. It would be better, she thought, if the rest of the semester – the year, her life – went by without another thought of all the nagging questions planted during her conversation with him last week. She was a person completely independent of all the forces around her. She was a force of nature, a creature unimpeded by the pressures pounding on everyone else. She was a rock, she was convinced, and nothing would shake her from the path, the path she had chosen, the road she had been on for something like half her life.

Then they sat innocently talking about life and family, but he kept making sharp turns, doubling back into her carefully constructed world when she was least prepared. The conversation lifted long-hidden questions up from under the crinkling leaves and blew them in her face like the bellows at the fireplace. She returned home and settled onto her old course, only with lurking, devilish doubts scooting between the study carrels and mocking her like schoolchildren in a strange neighborhood.

If she stopped to let herself think about it, the doubt broke through her fierce resolve – the trait in her most admired by her father – and ran roughshod over her carefully composed emotional architecture. Things were to move through the approved channels in this structure. Emotions weren’t admitted on an ad hoc basis. There was a process. She would flag these steps along the way in her conversations, saying, “I’ll have to think about this more,” and literally queuing it up for deeper reflection at some designated later hour. This was the way of maintaining control, and not in an unpleasant way.

To be sure, she wasn’t a cold or distant person. Rather, she enjoyed the sensations – from head to heart – that accompanied the emotions she felt deeply – unconventional feelings she characterized with unemotional words like “connection” and “synchronicity” and “grace.”

And this distracting, infiltrative feeling now, this was the first one to breach her defenses in quite some time, the first to mount such a campaign not merely to call the question about a relationship or a job, but rather to put all of it on trial.

The library was useless, she thought as she walked across the crumbly path to her apartment. This strange little half-loop of apartments had been her refuge for months and months, shared with friends and strangers alike. Living in the half-life of graduate school – too much work to call life easy, nothing like a career to convince people she wasn’t somehow slumming – she found the people accepting. They had seen graduate students come and go, but some never left, slipping into the brackish world of academia like a pair of worn-out shoes.

People around her here had long reconciled the idea that they wouldn’t know her long; she was destined for greatness, despite her unsurpassing modesty. She believed in the plan, and she made that clear. Her footfalls – sometimes coming fast as she hit the fine gravel for a morning run – echoed around the courtyard with a sense of purpose.

She reached the outer door of her little building, and stopped short, as if someone called her name. She half-spun and felt her pockets for her four little keys on a ring, and nothing was there. The bag on her shoulder was quickly searched, then the smaller bag inside that one, but no keys were revealed. She stood still for a moment. The functional part of her immediately knew to retrace the steps, back along the crumbly path, across the block of slightly shabby university-owned housing where untenured professors bring their acolytes for harrowing peeks into the world of academic dead-ends, over an ocean of asphalt for continuing education students, through the unguarded night entrance for library employees and heavy library users and back to the carrel where she began her reverie.

But her feet wouldn’t move. Rather, she stood stock still, feeling like the air flowing into her lungs was just enough to keep her alive. She wasn’t gasping for air, but she felt that any movement – any expenditure of energy at all – would have brought her to her knees. Her mind was unmoored and alit on a story her grandfather told about a Spanish superstition that a man who survives four attempts on his lift is protected by God. Her grandfather had joked that there were better ways of getting closer to God than dodging all these bullets. She knew she had kept everything together despite adversity and suppressing the wanderlust that nipped at her heels. But the tiny sliver of instability, the chink in her armor barely noticed after their conversation last week had grown somehow. She felt a chill and glanced up through a lock of hair loosed from her barrette. The clouds she knew were hovering overhead shifted silently to reveal a mottled half moon that looked as if it was shining for someone else.

To sit still, he thought, would be a great gift. To cease this numbing, jittery peregrination, zig-zagging for this reason and that to talk and talk and talk would be a kind of peace he hadn’t felt in a long time. It was his own fault, of course, this life of movement and jawboning. His restless soul had been trained by fears and an inner voice never satisfied to keep moving, not making much of anything from the people he knew to the places he connected. Just go and go, never stop, like a shark, moving forward to drag water into its lungs.

But here, in this desolate airport, trapped in the hours-long gap between stand-by flights, there was no possibility of movement. The goddamn building was a circle and he had wandered it once and then twice before giving up on being different from the few other airport waiters. The absurd time of day, his flat batteries and read magazines meant there were no distractions, no strangers in the airport café, nothing to steer his mind away from her.

He didn’t even have a right to be disappointed. Nothing in their brief interaction had given him anything like a stake. It’s just his way to zero in on the person least likely to give a damn about his opinion and forge a connection, as if he craved deep inside a person who would challenge his thinking and push back on his inflated persona, forcing out the air and making him gasp, feeling something.

They talked late into the night, meandering through a range of shares and keeps, and handing over both, for some reason. She unsettled his illusion of outer calm when she drilled into the ideas he had floated casually about the nature of the human connection most call love. He described, in language he hadn’t used before, the little rivulets he had sensed but not witnessed that course through person when that emotional link is created. He switched easily between pronouns to maintain ambiguity, and found himself describing an unwieldy hybrid of puppy love and vertigo. His brief description maybe lapsed into a form of ham-fisted poetry, but her gaze never wavered.

He stopped, and figured he had said too much, or lost her somewhere a hundred circular words back. Her expression was skeptical and focused at once. The air filled for a moment between them with something almost palpable like doubt or guilt or regret. He wasn’t sure if, in that instant, he had crossed some boundary and mistakenly revealed the broken man within, or perhaps made a new friend into an enemy somehow. She remained silent, looking mostly into his eyes while her brow furrowed slightly.

“I’ll have to think about this more,” she said, after shifting her body slightly to face him directly.

The four little keys were missing and frozen for the moment in the space between going inside and finding the keys, she stood staring at the moon’s mottled light falling elsewhere in the little courtyard. The word “reflect” and its derivations hung in her Broca’s brain as she stood with her hand lingering at her waist, all her bags having dropped to the ground, somehow. The sliver of uncertainty he had somehow slipped past her elaborate defenses was metastasizing, exploding into a kind of full-blown paralysis, and she felt lost. The two thousand feet of sidewalk, gravel and macadam might as well have been ten thousand miles. She was rooted to the spot, and her ordinarily nearly inexhaustible energy suddenly disappeared, like the water that rushed violently out to her beloved ocean when the rusty municipal floodgates opened without warning.

First she thought he was mocking her gently, pushing back on her ideas about people and love because she was younger, and kept her parents’ relationship on a pedestal. She refuted this position absurdly by revealing more than she planned – more than she normally would to a good friend let alone someone she barely knew. She confessed momentarily without shame that this idealized relationship was built on a shaky foundation, and he seized on this without malice to dig deeper into his ad hoc thesis about the elusive nature of love, even for those whose lives were inexorably linked. His arguments – a rhetorical stroke of luck, he admitted – folded comfortably back into each other, reinforcing earlier doubts he had evinced about the way people make decisions about their lives and then won’t subject them to revision. None of this was new for her, and if she had the ability to step outside herself at that moment she surely would have seen his careless episode of devil’s advocacy as simply that. But standing on the gravel path a few feet from her door, absorbing all those doubts and questions and comparisons like body blows, she wasn’t capable of any such defensive maneuvers. Her stomach lurched some, she mentally recorded, and the fine hairs on her arm were standing up, but not from the cold.

He walked home feeling ugly and wondering if he had made a fool of himself. It was not a feeling he enjoyed. His mouth tasted ashy from too much wine and the hot dry air from the fire, and no doubt from talking. The fearful sensation that he had angered her, or snowed her under with his possibly insane ravings, or portrayed himself as a black-hearted skeptic all played in his mind as the snowfall picked up.

He was talking to her, and he was responding to her, but he was equally troubled by the dialogue happening in his head throughout. His life was this struggle to stop moving, to moor itself, to be at rest. As a squall of snow danced in the sulfur streetlight, his quick pace carried him past an break in the row of cabins separating him from the creek in the valley below. The sound of the water -- amplified as it bounced up the valley's steep ascent -- snared him and his heard turned slightly toward the muted roar. Even this pause felt like a failure.

When he was a boy, he feared the basement of his home, believing irrationally that once he began the voyage up the staircase, he could never tarry. He was to pound up those 13 steps without so much as a hiccup to impede his progress. Every time -- every single time -- he climbed those stairs, an image took vague shape in his head of some shadowy evil a pace, an inch, a hair behind him and ready to pounce if only he would hold his step for an instant.

Some time passed, possibly, or maybe it was only a minute or two. The door behind her opened and the spell was broken when her downstairs neighbor said, “Hey, V_______.” She recovered slowly, mumbling inside herself as she bent to pick up the bags. From a few inches closer to the ground, she could see the four little keys maybe ten paces back along the path, looking dull in the sulfur streetlight and somehow dodging the cold light of the moon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on My First Visit to Jerusalem

I came to Jerusalem to train some NGO people on using the media for something or other. The trainings are going well. Jerusalem is a strange place.

On the Nature of Time: The people here obviously live in a parallel universe, where every assumption has a caveat designed to make life more complicated and difficult to manage. I'm here during the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah (started last night) and the Muslim month of Ramadan (starts tonight). These two holidays represent the beginning of new years on each religion's calendar. They also represent the end of daylight savings time, roughly. Except the Arab's I'm meeting with in the West Bank are falling back tomorrow, while Jerusalem and the rest of Israel is falling back Saturday. I can go back in time as long as I can get through the Israeli checkpoints into Ramallah.

On Explosions: The odds were very slim that I would encounter anything like a real explosion of any kind while I was here. Jerusalem probably hasn't had a bombing in a few years. But because I am naturally paranoid, I must remind myself relentlessly of this fact, and walk around the city freely repeating like a prayer under my breath "nothing will explode." Therefore, when I diesel truck starts just as I'm walking by, and I jump half out of my shoes, it is from preparation that I am jumping, not fear.

On Explosions II: My second night here, traffic was very bad crossing Jerusalem. The roads, which normally function at capacity, were suddenly buckling under more cars than they could bear. The reason was that two mysterious packages were found and destroyed in controlled explosions by Israeli police. As I listened to this story at dinner, I remembered sitting in my room after my training and hearing what sounded like an explosion through the opened window. I dismissed it as more of my paranoia. Who's paranoid now?

On a Backpack: Today I went to explore Jerusalem's Old City. I've been to other open-air markets in the Arab World -- most notably Khan el-Khalili in Cairo -- and the Old City isn't much different from it. It's like Khan el-Khalili with the most important sites of three major religions sprinkled here and there, seemingly at random. There are tons and tons of useless cheap Chinese-manufactured junk, acres of fresh fruits and vegetables, complete with incredibly loud hawkers who wail the price and quantity of their wares at startling volume. My favorite piece of Chinese crap was a backpack with a picture of Snoopy and the word "Spoony," like he was America's favorite beagle, and he loved to cuddle.

On the Old City: The most compelling characteristic of the Old City is its mystery. There is no signage to speak of, no way for ordinary people to maneuver without whipping out a map and inviting aggressive targeting by beggars, shop-keepers and rolling limes from the fruit market. I decided on a system where I would walk aimlessly until I found a store with something cheap enough I wouldn't mind buying it. Better still would be if I wanted said item. Anyhow, I would go in, and buy whatever, and then use this exchange as an excuse to ask directions. This was a good plan except for two problems: 1) I am bad at following directions; 2) these directions make exactly no sense whatsoever. To find the Holy Sepulcher, an Armenian man told me to take a left and another left, presumably at "streets." I bought a photograph from him. I bought fabric from a man who told me to make two rights, "go something of five meters" and make a left to find the Dome of the Rock. Hours passed and by the time I bought a very expensive bottle of water to get fresh directions, I was told it had closed for the night. The two lefts in fact took me directly to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

On the Whimsical Nature of the Location of Things: I found the Holy Sepulcher and went inside. Truthfully, I wasn't really thinking as I headed over there what exactly old Sepulcher really was. Of course, this is the church built on the ruins of the very place where Jesus crucified, and where he was interred after said crucifiction. This is a very serious place. It is two lefts from an Armenian photo shop. Following these directions, you approach this church from the left, or, as I'll randomly assign it, from the East. There is a large courtyard where exhausted pilgrims breath. heavily and lounge on two thousand year old rocks. On leaving the Sepulchre, I notice a small passageway on the right, or, as I've randomly decided, the West side of the courtyard. I pass through this passage, and arrive in a spot I stood an hour before, COMPLETELY UNAWARE THAT THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF CHRIST WAS TEN FEET AWAY.

On Approaching the Final Resting Place of the Human Form of Jesus Christ: I approached it completely unawares, and found before me a stone tablet not roped off and protected from people and the elements, but rather touched, kissed, fondled and kissed again by all manner of people. Pasty Europeans toting plastic bags loaded with who-knows-what from market stalls right outside were besotted at the site of the stone tablet on which Jesus was laid in the tomb alleged to hold him for a mere three days. There are no signs inside the Holy Sepulchre not in Greek. I only knew this was, in fact, a resting-place stone because a gigantic mosaic directly behind the slab portrayed a dead Jesus laying on a stone slab. I was not prepared for any of this, and I leaned casually against the wall accidentally checking out the underpants of prostrate Christians and wondered what the fuss was about the slab. Then I noticed the mosaic.

On Touring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: From the Jesus slab, a visitor can walk around the church if one wishes to increase one's own befuddlement. There are alcoves in which beautifully detailed mosaics of Mary, Jesus and other biblical luminaries are installed, often over a jumble of Greek letters and perhaps a display case carefully illuminating a piece of rock, or a different piece of rock. There are several of these as you encircle what is clearly the centerpiece of the whole shebang, the tomb of Christ. Here, more tourists, with unattractive t-shirts, matching badges advertising their tour company (presumably so they aren't inadvertently subsumed onto another tour and sent back to a different country by accident), and noisy collections of shopping bags again congeal. A priest is singing to his followers and the rest of us while an enormously loud but completely concealed pipe organ blaringly joins him for the chorus. Then he stops, and a soft-spoken British priest tells the people that their introduction is complete (in Latin?) and now, four at a time, they may enter the tomb of Christ. An African Franciscan monk steps in to handle crowd control. Immediately, there is nearly a fight between a disorderly Russian tour group clearly attempting to cut in line (they didn't even listen to the singing/organ combo!) and an extremely orderly German group waiting in a line with fanny packs and some walking sticks.

On the Streets in the Old City: Like the other ancient city/open air bazaars I have visited, Jerusalem's Old City has an extremely loose definition of the word "streets." Streets are essentially any passageway navigable by something as large as a housecat, or larger. And there are cats here, slinking down impossibly narrow shafts and looking at you as if to say, "too fat for this "street" idiot?"

On the Very Nature of Oldness: This is one of the world's oldest places. There is so much oldness here, the age of things seems to be taken for granted. Oldness is worn by buildings in America in grand style. The floors creek reverentially and most everything is protected from humans by velvet ropes, plexiglass or signs that explain we're not to use flash photography. Nothing gets to be old in this way in Jerusalem. Probably such restrictions would put half the city off limits. Pilgrims slobber freely on Jesus's own cold stone. God knows what they do in side the tomb. I stumbled upon some Coptic church (seemed important), and was directed to go look at the cistern where holy water is drawn. It's a good echo chamber. Trash floats in the water, and what looks like a campfire, or arson, is evident across the open space above the water. Ancient churches across Jerusalem sport television antenna like midwestern homes in the fifties.

Two cell phones. Cheap/easy
Semantics Wall, Palestine, Jerusalem

Sunday, February 11, 2007

beer pig stories

“Yeah. So she was like: oh yeah, I love when a guy’s got big balls…”


Where does he find them? That’s the only thing I ever really want to know.

He’ll go on about his dick. His dick in this pig’s hole. His dick going in and out of whatshisname’s girl’s mouth, etc.

I don’t care about any of this shit. I just want to know where he finds them. That’s all. These broads. But I never ask. I never ask or say anything while he’s soliloquizing about his abhorred infidelities. And it bothers me that I don’t. I just hit him with the placating “really?’s” and the “oh shit!’s”. That’s all he needs while he drives like Mr. Magoo and tells me beer pig stories.

The ten-years-ago me, woulda smacked him in the back of the head during one of these tales. I woulda told him that his dick stinks and it’s gonna kill his wife. But I don’t.

It’s probably because my face is fucked up. I can’t talk for any prolonged period of time because it’ll get noticed. My words’ll come out all half-assed and garbled ‘cause I want the staring to cease. I got Thomas’ English Muffin cheeks. Nook and cranny scars from zits. All over my face. I’ve seen people who got it worse than me; but it’s rare.

I used to get nasty zits back in high school playing games that required helmets. The ten-years-ago me. Every tackle would rupture a new zit or zit cluster. My face and chest would be caked with dried blood after a game when I had a good amount of contact behind the plate. This is what led to the moon pocks that I lament today. I would’ve quit the team and taken zany yearbook pictures of all the “most likely to’s”; if I had a crystal ball illuminated with images of my marred, future face.

I notice that when people talk to me, they rub their faces. They probe their always-perfect epidermis with curious fingers to feel if they have what I have. It’s almost as if they’re in a horrible dream where every mirror they look into reflects Edward James Almos. They need their flesh-enrobed phalanges to reassure them that their face remains a still saucer of butter cream. I could complain a hungry dog off a chuck wagon if I wanted to about my facial plight. Truth be told, I could have something worse. Cleft palate would be bad. But still, the dermatological problem sponges up that last little puddle of self-esteem on my confidence kitchen countertop.


When I saw you up McDonald’s, all sweaty and dirty, that made me so…”

I tuned him out like I literally used to do Jack Tripper right before he made a misunderstanding ass out of himself at the Regal Beagle.

“…She wanted the wang, dude.”

…“Oh shit, really?”

While he unabashedly crafted the golden god-chicks dig me-I fuck it all- self-portrait, I drifted.

With the window down, I could breathe in the spring. Feel the air that reminded me of cutting school with a new pair of sneakers on. Air that was full with the promise of finding someone with the same pet peeves as me: someone who reviles nose-breathers and is also just as concerned about newlyweds who choose Disney World as their honeymoon spot as I am.

His mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear anything he was saying. The whites of his eyes were creeping me out. I homed in on them. I studied the capillaries. The moisture content. The eyelashes index-finger-summoning me. Pointing. Telling me, this is where the truth is. This is where you’ll find the poisonous dog. The whites told me that he does bumps off of toilet-tank tops in the bathroom at DP’s with that guy who looks like Koy Detmer. The whites told me that he’s still banging Chris’ wife. Fat Eric’s fat wife probably got done right here in this very seat I’m sitting in. They said he kicks dogs because his convict father does too. They said he’s the worst kind. There’s no salvation for him. End this ridiculous friendship. He’ll never be the funny kid you grew up with ever again. Your embracing of the Jimminy Cricket role in this cock-sucker’s life is commendable, but ineffectual.


I thought about the new ballpark. We were almost there. At least he loves the Fightin’s. I was impatient. I couldn’t wait for the underwhelmingly less famous pinstripes to take the field. We’d park and get out. His beer pig stories, my hammered complexion and his whites would stay right here in this fucking car. Where they belong.

Monday, December 04, 2006

II. Three Weeks Before I Arrived Home

Three weeks before I arrived home, I got a letter in the mail informing me that I would be called as a witness in the trial of three kids from my junior high class. The youngest of the three has admitted to a college friend that she had seen a dead body once, and eventually the whole story came out.

People should not tell these kinds of stories at two in the morning in the communal lounge of a dorm at a large state college. Because someone is going to know someone else whose dad is a federal prosecutor.

State troopers pulled Lona McIntyre out of a mid-term exam and she hasn’t seen her classroom since. Within a day she had spun an astounding but not entirely unbelievable story about a student in her junior high class whose sister had gone missing and stayed that way. The other student was arrested – picked up quite literally off the street where he had been living for five years. His best friend from high school – a career FBI agent, as it turned out – was also implicated in Lona’s story, and he was brought in for questioning.

By the time the time I heard anything about the story, all three were on trial for negligent homicide and obstruction of justice.

I was received the summons and things started to slip. I could see the hand covered in dirt, the skin color at once bleached and ashy. I couldn’t shake the oppressive smell of fresh earth and the first hint of what I later realized was decomposing flesh. I had effectively walled off all the sensory information about what I had seen. I wasn’t tortured by it, wasn’t in therapy, wasn’t really experiencing the information in any meaningful way. But it was obviously there, because the doors had opened and now it was pressing down on me like a brick wall with no mortar. I couldn’t hold it back.

Your emotions aren’t what you expect at this moment, one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. You think you’ll be solemn and thoughtful and composed, but it’s messier than that. I feel responsible, sick, confused, terrible, and stupid. I didn’t know it was her. I didn’t even think it was real, couldn’t believe ordinary kids from an ordinary town had stumbled on – let alone created – an actual victim of a heinous crime. It seemed ridiculous. We thought it was thrilling, just a few years before, when Rif Gardner stole money from the closet of his senile aunt down at Ben-Gay Manor. Nobody was killing siblings and burying them in dirt.

The events of the day remain sketchy, only the incident itself, with the bundle of sights and smells have sharpened since I read the words on the yellow piece of paper notifying me that I was a witness in a trial in Westover County. When I saw the names of the people on trial, it was like I fell backwards, chair and all, and just kept falling.

I guess I was trying to get back to the spot where I had received this oppressive weight. I wanted to give it back, rebury it in the half-dug wall of dirt partway down the mountain-hill behind the old school. I think I wanted something from that wall of dirt because I felt like it owed me now, after a month of hauling around its tonnage. I didn’t know what I thought I would get from it. I was pretty fucked up by the time I mustered the strength to go to the school.

The building’s gone now, weirdly covered over with the kind of grass that doesn’t normally grow in Elgin. Creative horticulture, or the unique conditions created by razing an asbestos-laden monstrosity meant that the new groundcover was spongy short grass like you’d find on an English soccer pitch. It flexed under my feet and made me feel like I was walking on an engineered surface, Astroturf or new playground. The old building loomed over the road like a bent-back vampire, poised to strike. As you passed in a car, it looked menacing, and if you had the misfortune to walk into it, the effect was heightened by angled walkways and a final staircase. You didn’t enter the building, it ate you.

Now the low stone wall that started this effect was all the remained. The short, neat grass curved smoothly from the wall and continued to the rusty fence that separated the property from the craggy drop behind. As I sat in my hospital bed, thinking about the fourth doctor I had seen (the first one whose name I remembered), I realized that the I couldn’t satisfactorily explain to myself how I got to the school, got over the fence, and began to tumble toward the train tracks and creek bed below. Surely, the body had been found and the wall had been tramped under a hundred beat cop, forensic team, coroner and detective shoes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I. Rescue Eight

By the time they got to where I had fallen, I was pretty sure it was too late. All the things dying people describe in books – their hands getting cold, vision fading to black, peaceful sensation – I had felt each one. Oh, it was my end, all right.

Then I saw that kid with the giant teeth from the fire hall and I realized I was probably going to be saved. I never even thought about the fact that those kids with the mullets and the “Rescue 8” t-shirts from high school actually rescue people. I never connected those people with the tangible, critical act of saving lives, pulling people out of wrecked cars, or extricating them from a tangle of thatches and tree branches, immobilizing their necks and hauling them halfway up the hill behind the old high school.

But that’s what they were doing to me right then. I was cut and bleeding all over, and somehow my coat sleeve had become caught as I was coming down and nearly pulled my arm out of the socket. It hurt something fierce, and was the main reason I just hung out in the bramble expecting to die with an obstructed view of the twinkling lights of the Conrail repair facility below.

The Rescue 8 guys were very professional about everything, moving me around carefully but talking as if I were an awkward piece of furniture they were moving down a staircase lined with family photos. They were all “easy” and “put ‘im down gently” and “careful with the leg” and they really were careful. I’m sure I was a sight to see, with piss in my pants, blood all over my shirt, a crazy cracked up arm and one missing shoe. I don’t remember the ambulance ride much except for the beginning. I remember thinking about the sound of the cobblestones of the street under the chained wheels of the ambulance. It sounded like sudden water rushing over loose pebbles, or your dresser-top box of quarters when your sister throws them down the stairs.

The doctor was neither stereotypically Asian or anachronistically upbeat. He was dour and white and older than you thought a doctor in an emergency room in the middle of a February night should be. He was wearing ugly scrubs with an unrecognizable hospital logo repeated all over them, possibly to discourage physicians from stockpiling free clothing at home. “We didn’t know where to start with you. The arm was bad, but the bleeding was a bigger concern, because we couldn’t figure out all the different places it was coming from.” This is the first thing the doctor says. I didn’t catch his name, but immediately decided that was okay, because I wouldn’t be seeking him out for any future treatment.

After his initially upbeat assessment, things leveled off. My arm had been dislocated but was slipped back into place in a scene I don’t recall but I’m sure was really, really painful. It would hurt for a long time, and there were stitches inside my shoulder underneath other stitches, all of which would dissolve while causing plenty of itching and being drowned in ointment. I was covered with cuts and bruises – the doctor called them contusions, which sounded vaguely made-up because I’ve only heard it on crime or hospital dramas – but most would heal after some time.

Apparently I was in something like an intensive care unit, though they called it something different, like critical care center or crucial care corral. My room was really like a stall, and from where I lay I could look out the door and window past the foot of my bed. Through the glass nurses and slouchy-looking other folks (orderlies?) hustled around, creating a reassuring murmur of activity. I had stopped listening to the doctor, but it’s possible he had stopped talking. I heard him ask me my name.

It seemed weird to me that he had put stitches in the cartilage in my shoulder but didn’t know my name. I said my name was U___________, which was really my middle name. I don’t recall if I was intentionally being evasive, but he seemed to think so. Honestly, I was getting morphine or something in my good arm so I could have said my name was Angelo Bruno and I wouldn’t have known the difference. He turned to go and said that someone from billing would come to get all my information and figure out who to call to check on me. My eyelids felt heavy and unbalanced, and I felt one droop closed as the doctor stood in my doorway with his back to me. He had set my chart down somewhere, and he pushed his empty hands into his pockets. My other eye closed and I heard his voice in the hall, but he wasn’t talking to me.

When I was a kid, I visited what was once called Elgin High School only a few times. For the last fifty years of its life, Elgin High was called just called “Fourth Street” by pretty much everyone. The school district of the bedroom community that had grown up around Elgin had eventually absorbed the little town’s half-dozen school buildings, and the high school had become a weird stopgap middle school between elementary and junior high. Everyone spent a year at Fourth Street before going on to one of the two junior highs known only as “North” and “South.” Both sucked, but North was close to the high school and therefore enjoyed an undeserved sense of superiority. Townies from Elgin went to South.

Having my academic life artfully split between a Catholic school in bad decline and the public school system when the cash ran out, I never attended the churning sausage-grinder of Fourth Street. The Catholic school’s disastrous basketball team periodically practiced in the Fourth Street gym, whose floorboards creaked like a back porch or an unfinished attic, but were finished like the dark-wood gyms of the Midwest. The ceiling felt claustrophobically low. I was tall and thin, and completely lacking in the coordination necessary to play basketball or any other sport. I remember an errant pass hitting the ceiling of Fourth Street and a chunk of plaster or tile or asbestos splintering off and spiraling to the ground over a fleeing center. He put both hands up to protect his head and ran toward jittery bleachers in a maneuver I don’t doubt he perfected after years of being menaced by garden-variety bullies.

Otherwise, Fourth Street was a mystery. Elgin was a small downtown set on an unnamed creek and weakly climbing the hill away from the water all the way to a highway that predates the Freeway. The creek winds around the town and carves a deep gash traced by a windy two-lane and a pair of railroad tracks. As the hill climbs out of town, the place feels two-dimensional to newcomers. “What’s back there?” I remember my first girlfriend asking once on a car-tour of Elgin. Fourth Street was still standing back then. It seemed like a strange question to me. “Back there? Nothing.”

Because back there was a steep, shaggy drop of unmanageable trees, bushes, vines and ivy, maybe half a ton of trash deposited by sixth-graders and the reason I ended up in the hospital.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Road in Mind

There are times in your life -- Bob wrote about this in a poem he read onstage at Carnegie Hall about Woody Guthrie -- when your back feels completely against the wall. I don't think it happens for most people in a physical sense. You rarely feel do or die, really, with a life change hanging in the balance. But by the end of his poem and by the moment of truth for most of us, it's clear that the challenges pushing us closer to the border line aren't loaded guns or cold steel at our throat.

Rather, you're just at your end. People reach this point and quit jobs or break up with girlfriends or get divorces or move out of their apartment with a post-it note on the door to the asshole roommate, or whatever.

Bob's poem ended with advice. When you feel this way, he advised, you can go to the "church of your choice" or to Brooklyn State Hospital. He said you can find God at the church of your choice or Woody at the Brooklyn State Hospital. But he said, quoting now, "It's only my opinion, and I may be right or wrong, but you can find them both at the Grand Canyon, sunrise."

And I don't really know if I get there sometimes. Everybody's a little wrecked up from time to time. Artists paint, my favorite band no one knows keeps struggling along, endlessly destroying themselves and rocketing through the cosmos playing their hearts out while they dissolve like tablets in water. Real writers -- who write to live, not to eat -- probably sit to compose and feel breath failing in their lungs as the letters fill the page.

I'm a million miles from that. Nothing fills the lungs with oxygen, everything feels like choke in a bottle. Everything is pressing on and nothing's shifting for safe passage. Another writer asks why it always feels like I'm in an undertow. It does.

It's the scene, I guess, for the fantasy drive. On the fantasy drive, it's cool and the roads are carless. The vehicle is compact and it feels like a capsule or a pod rather than a car. I stop rarely and when I do I can hear my wheels cut into the asphalt as the speed decreases and the final movement of the tires sounds like someone approaching in heavy shoes.

The fantasy drive has no weather to speak of, but a coolness and open windows and no squinting. If it is overcast, then the rain, when it comes, will be perfectly attuned to the beat of the wipers and mists so the windows can stay down and the windscreen feels clear always. The air feels fresh, like life itself could take hold in the atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. The air finally enters my lungs, pushes in deep and floods every vesicle, every little floret of crusty tissue, shaking the dry collapsed edges of my disused organ. The rush of breathable, sweet air pouring in the windows lights my brain up like a beacon on a tower, spinning, scanning, suddenly anything but idle.

God, I need a drive.

Friday, September 29, 2006


I was in a hat store the other day and I thought about buying a porkpie hat. I didn't actually try it on, because it's weird to pop a hat on your head in a store. They recommend ordering a hat to your hat size, which I don't even know.

Anyhow, I was in a coffeeshop today and saw some guy in a porkpie hat and was really thankful I didn't buy one. He looked like an asshole, and I'd have to hate myself all the time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

your pizza

without passion, like most professional athletes
who wear stoles or ridiculous chinchillas befitting only of Phyllis Diller,
you knuckle and knead like a substitute teacher teaches.
and your lack of fervor is evident with each successive bite I take.

your slouch-shouldered, knock-kneed technique.
your blasé ingredients.
pats and dough-sprinkles delivered with teething baby acuity.

haven’t you ever thought about its origin? Naples, Rome.
maybe somewhere surprising. Crete perhaps.
then over to the boot, where it was later perfected.
how about the utopian tomato?
was it fare of the workers or aristocracy?
or maybe the murderously delicate Mediterranean sun;
did you ever noodle around with that one?
Apollo’s rays unleashed upon the Seven Hills.
sandals and thick granite.
semolina fields wavering to Orpheus’ lyre.
Hannibal-tainted skin and olives of the same color.
ample women wearing careful smiles leading obedient kids to the table.

i want a large Anne Sexton.
a T.S. Eliot with half pepperoni-half Etheridge Knight.
your pizza is a roses are red, violets are blue poem.

Monday, August 28, 2006

haiku for the birthday of byoo

one year a vapor
image embodied in text
left behind like seeds

Saturday, August 26, 2006

discs of cake

floppy like eight-paneled hats, flatter than a can of grandpap’s blatz,
saturday morning pancakes more massive than channel cats,
not all the time, but once in a while they’re an event,
akin to running into that girl you love--wearin’ a scent,

slap butter on 'em like yarmulkes on heads in synagogues,
now shrouded in fat like london-night beds hidden in fog,
but that’s the flavor, as you already know too well, me maties,
pancakes without butter is like a devil-less hell, a styx-free hades,

not to be outdone by the all-enveloping sap of the maple, of course,
syrup sinks into my shortstack like absorbine jr. soothes a charlie-horse,
but easy on your pour, i’m not the guy for excess sugar that relax in tooth cracks,
this is a hungry man’s breakfast, get your hyper toddler some sugar smacks,

eat them quick, the heat’ll vacate the premises now that the syrup’s aboard,
rip into them with a utensil, in relevance to your plate, the fork’s starboard,
aft i’ve had my fill, my stomach’ll appear to you as a hogshead offshore,
my tee-shirt snug, holding on for dear life, clinging close to my core,

i pound down some one percent, the red cap is a bit too heavy,
my belt and i are gonna bust like brian bosworth, his movies, and louisiana levees.

Friday, August 25, 2006

your set of 32

your teeth, your teeth,
allow those words to pass by,
they should’ve slammed shut like
heavy black gates
in almost any movie you can think of.

them teeth of yours.
32 flags of surrender,
giving larynx carte blanche.
foolish bicuspids,
i bet you're sorry the ones with wisdom got yanked.

those teeth that are in your mouth.
aren’t judicious. they don’t edit.
they just linger in hot darkness
like stalagmites and stalactites,
caring nothing of your blather.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

XX Observations About Life Now

1. When I walk around my city, I'm secretly worried about terrorist attacks. All the time, I eyeball every threat suspiciously. Each random overstuffed plastic bag, every open grate venting subway heat, everything makes me think of the devastating explosion that could follow. I think about how easy it would be to completely terrorize this city if half a crazy really put his mind to it. The special effects in my secret worst-nightmares are incredible. I'm stepping on the concrete between two grates when the explosion hits and shielded from the heat and force of the blast. I'm rounding the corner of the next building when the dingy Toyota I've seen circling the block detonates its charge. Time passes between bouts of hysteria and these thoughts subside. Then some crackpots get about a quarter of the way down the road to pulling off a scheme, and it all comes rushing back. ¶ The worst thing about these imaginings is that I feel a vertiginous pull toward the aftermath. In all these strange little imaginings, I narrowly avoid disaster, and by surviving, I am a suspect, and as I peek down that rabbit hole, my life is destroyed, and I wish that the explosion took me instead.

2. Keen focus on mortality, if kept in reasonable check, can be a useful thing. It's this focus that makes people go to the gym, run marathons, eat diets free of carbohydrates, wear seatbelts. I ride a bike, based on my physician's insistence that I will eventually die if I don't do something other than leisurely stroll from the train to the office and call it 'walking a mile.' I zigzag around the streets like the worst courier in America, collecting sneers from cabbies and the obvious derision of other people on bikes, and putting myself into stupid positions like being caught heading the wrong way down a one-way street with a high sidewalk and no curbcut, thus having to stop completely and awkwardly crab-walk my bike over the giant curb. ¶ The other day, the forecast was miserable, so I took the train to the office. I was again leisurely strolling to the train station, but now feeling like a tourist because normally, I'm telling myself, I ride my bike. At one intersection, someone is jogging and is caught by the red light. They jog in place, huffing, to keep their wind up. The light turns and we all step off the curb, and the jogger breaks from the pack and heads up the hill. Bad red light timing reunites us all at the next intersection. In my head, despite my blatant bicycle amateurism, I ask, "How fucking inefficient is jogging?"

3. The power went off hours after a recent lightning storm. Throughout the low-cloud lightshow, our electricity held steady, with nary a flicker. The post-storm humidity is insufferable, and the house is locked up tight so all the air conditioners can perform at their peak efficiency. My wife is upstairs asleep, as are my children and dog. I'm brushing my teeth, and everything goes black. ¶ I spit. I wait for my eyes to adjust, but there is simply no light. There is also the eerie sensation of hearing no sound; eerie because our home is normally host even in quiet times to the constant thrum of fans, air conditioners and dehumidifyers. They are all silent. Nobody moves. Nobody else in the house even knows the power is out. I follow the walls to get candles, matches, flashlights. My dog tragically walks down the pitch-dark hallway and slips on the top step, roll-falling down the entire staircase, kicking up a spectacular racket. I recognize immediately that it could be no one falling down the stairs but our dog. If someone stopped me on the street and described the situation and then said, "Then you hear something falling down the stairs," my response each time would be, "That's going to be the dog." ¶ The dog is stunned and sits at the landing at the bottom of the stairs. I've gassed the first floor of the house with a strange mixture of musk and vanilla, since the only candles we have are a mismatched passel of scented candles. I arrive at the landing to make sure the dog hasn't broken a bone, and the warm teaberry and vanilla aroma rushes up behind me like a vampire's cape. The dog raises her nose to the scent, sniffs a second time, then exhales gruffly, simulating a derisive snort. I have no response. ¶ Everything is electric now. The phone doesn't work, nothing works. I find my cell in the dark and call the power company. The touch-tone response system is metallic sounding, and the long pause to 'research my report' leads me to believe that either I have beat my neighbors to reporting our outage (the entire street and houses behind ours are similarly dark), or something more sinister and ominous is afoot. The voice chirps that I have reported a new outage, it is being investigated and there is no timeline for repair. The line goes dead, and as I stare at the words "Ended" on my phone's screen, the silence makes me feel for a candid moment like I'm the last man on earth.

Monday, June 05, 2006

poetry, pre-wifey

i write a poem for them, and they
say aww, that’s so sweet. what made you
think of that?

but that’s the wrong response.
not the one I was looking for.
i shrug and play humble like it’s a member of the woodwinds.

awkward silence now spins me around,
slaps me on my ass,
and sends me forthwith.
my heart topples like a redwood in the most guilt-
arousing deforestation documentary ever.
a systematic voice yells timmberr.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


rain comes down as if God lost someone.
like i should expect to see shut-eyed orangutans
and pot-bellied tribesman stalking dinner
outside my window; water beading-up
on their slick straight bangs.

but i dare not rise from pillowed comfort
to separate the hanging sliced privacy
to bolster my suspicions.

instead, i lay like stones
that are perfect for skipping,
while God uses window sills and wet
to send monday morning morse code.