Archive for March, 2009

Plant sitters


beardediris1“I bet it’s the one with the beard,” she said, and she pointed at an iris sitting in a planter near the door. The walls of the kitchen were painted a rich egg yellow, and the iris was in full bloom; the colors stood out against one another, hot, almost jarring. The house was awkward, hallways leading nowhere, doors that appeared to be ordinary at a distance but up close were too small, or didn’t open, or didn’t close. 

Mary said, “I think maybe they aren’t home,” and looked around the corner. She walked past the iris, through the kitchen and into the small sunroom that was full of books and smelled humid, tropical.

“It would be a big help if they’d left us a note,” she continued. “I have no idea what we should be doing.” She handed her bag to Dana and sat down on the butterfly chair near the open window. Dana opened the bag and rummaged in it, looking for her notes. They sat quietly together in the room, looking out at the hummingbird feeder, the watering can. Mary picked up a book: Plant and Phantom. Dana whistled a happy quiet morning song. When Miriam came in behind them through the kitchen a few minutes later, they felt startled, like she’d just walked into their home, not the other way around.


Zuzu trims her words



We are trimming the verbiage early this spring. I took my clippers and my shears and eliminated adjectives, superlatives, an embarrassing overgrowth of verys, goods, and littles.

How does one fracture an overgrown root clump, a collection of twisted, knotted, entangled word sins? Might be done through confession, through deletion, through a combination of bleach and a cold wrap placed on the root ball. I’ve killed bores before, growing on word trees. My peach tree produced even as it was dying, sweet blush stone fruit hanging heavy on three limbs and a stunted trunk. It is in the nature of nature to grow whatever it may grow even in the process of dessication, aging, and a sinking downward into the ground. Bury. Reincarnate. Bury. Return. Turn.

I greet Poison in the spring and offer it a drink: please sit down, Mr. Poison, there is no reason to ostracize you just because your nature is to destroy, not to seduce or convince. I give Mr. Poison a seat in the yard, which is tender and thinking about blooming, and he waves at Mr. Lopper, they being old friends and collaborators from back when. We have iced tea, from a pitcher that is made of a hard plastic substance that imitates glass, which is made of sand, sand blown so hard and hot that it is harder than the desert and the sand that makes your feet hard as leather when you are a child and hard leather feet are appealing, like you’ve grown mocassins on your feet. I remember walking across the parking lot, the Piggly Wiggly, in July with the brothers, all of us running barefoot from one white painted parking stripe to the next. The paint just enough cooler than the tarmac to keep us from blistering our small brown feet. Where the hell were our parents? I think that was the year of mom’s diet pills and dad’s embarassing toupee. Cripes, those mid-life crises were really something back in the 60s.


How is it that people can not talk about things, can avoid verbs their entires lives until suddenly verbs are spilling out of every crevice and every confession is followed by another? Zuzu’s locked herself in her small apartment and is sitting out on the back porch stairs every evening looking at the patch of city that she can see over the fence. The city is full of verbs; she doesn’t know how she’s spent her 35 years not noticing this before. There’s a boy on a scooter; he is scooting. There, a man has broken a bottle. Over there, a bus smokes as it passes and a woman in lime green linen is smoking, too, with her back to the street, like she doesn’t want to be seen by someone she knows. Zuzu can see the woman’s face, which is lit by a street lamp as the sun is going down. The street is steep, which is not a verb but describes the effect of the street on the action of those ascending and descending. She is thinking about action, Zuzu, and she is thinking about postcards and how they used to come all the time from people on vacation, but now it is e-cards, which she can’t imagine she will be able to buy in those little trash-to-treasure stores that are fading like the peach tree in the tiny yard behind her apartment. Still giving out the sweetest of surprises; she even likes the smell of old stores. Dust falling in motes, a lavendar powder in a compress, the sharp smell of rust on nails in rickety wooden furniture. She smells past, she smells future. Zuzu sometimes dreams in French, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in smell. She wakes up and hovering on the edge of her dream there is cinnamon and peppermint, there is the smell of envelope glue, there is the smell of rain. She used to chase thunderstorms back before she got here, on the coast, where smells blow in from the sea and hang in the fog, where they are partially hidden.

Zuzu stayed home for a week after she got a postcard that said “The tide’s gone out, will call later. Don’t worry. Love, Billy.” She sat on the back porch, smoking, watching the woman in green linen hiding her bad habits. “Don’t worry” was hovering in the air all week, a hummingbird, a seagull, a thin mist hanging, an unfinished thought.  Zuzu sat waiting for the next card to come.



Ever since my uncle Charlie Horse died, I’ve been singing a blessing way. He was a fat man, looked more like a Buddha than a Lakota, is what my cousin Lila told our aunt Linora when she came back from college, where she was studying either philosophy or comparative literature, according to her. Linora made pies for Charlie Horse, and every time he came back home, he brought the fattest sheep and there was a dance. Mutton stew and banana crème pie was the favorite feast meal on the res at that time, and a lot of that was thanks to Linora’s good cooking and Charlie’s sheep. Charlie was a lucky man, was the thinking of the cousins and uncles and nephews. The babies in the res in those years were fat like Charlie and looked good playing on the ground at his feet. A fat baby in a good year gets in the habit of eating well, that’s what Charlie said, and he talked about his own childhood, how the first two or three years there was no hunger in the Couer d’Alene, there was no hunger in the prairie land, and there was no hunger among the babies or the coyotes. Bunnies, sheep, high grass, even the fish were plentiful. This was a time of generosity, and baby Charlie never forgot it; he never felt hungry his entire life. Fat on the plenty of his childhood, that was Charlie Horse, with his hands that were never cold, never empty, and a smile that always said that was just right, Linnie, just right. Satisfied. Charlie Horse was satisfied, right to the last day of his lucky life.

The five year plan


I once watched a calf being born. The sides of the mama cow distending, stretching like a rubber balloon. I saw the leg of the calf pushing, the knees bending. There was steam and the morning was cold. I was wearing a hat, I remember, and I put my gloves in my pocket because I could not reach and pull with the gloves tangling up my fingers. That was enough of birthing for me, although when I saw a goat birthing the next year, and then a number of children over the years after that, I did not have the same visceral response – the steaming breath, the labored grunting, the mud, the sensation that my arms would be torn out of their sockets. Everything else seemed like a Hallmark card by comparison.

Back when I first started writing copy, my hair went past my waist and all the way down to where I could sit on it. I wrote copy for condolences, for congratulations, for best wishes and for getting well again. I wrote my copy in a little room with a wooden desk, a Selectrics electric typewriter, and a window that opened. The building was old; there were pigeons on the ledge, and since the window opened, I kept it open and wrote copy for pigeons: thinking of you and your missing foot; congratulations on your new eave; best wishes to you and your hatchlings. Then there were the hawks and the condors hovering over the city, nesting in historic sites. Higher copy. That was when copy was cheap. There was an intern, a little baby intern getting work experience while in college, who made copies of copy that I was paid almost nothing to write. Then the intern would finish college and come in as a baby journalist, ready to know more about copy than me a scant six weeks after retiring their copy machine.

It’s possible to know too much about nothing and thereby to step into space, unaware of gravity, of gravitas, of the somber impact of doubt and failure. I was writing Hallmark copy, cheerful and vacuous, and looking out the window at the pigeons, and started a punk rock group, the Mangy Pigeons. We played head bang all night and wrote happy chappy greeting card copy all day. Paid by the line, the first year, then by the page when we could crank it out in bulk. Line after line. Me and three pale punk writers, great vocabularies, a bit too existential to acknowledge a plan. What do you want to be doing five years from now? Remember that team building activity? Let’s see, in five years I want to be attending the funeral of yet another pigeon, whether punk or feathered, and I want to be selling lines of copy to big corporations to print on pastel paper and be bought by ladies in tailored pant suits. Yes, there is a path like that, that may be followed. That may have been followed, although never expressed in a clear, concise, greeting card format:

Congratulations and best wishes on your aimless creativity.
Your parents must be proud.

Ten minute verse



The limerick packs laughs a bit anatomical
The hyena forestells disasters astronomical
The hermit sees shows that are not so comical,
The blowtorch makes glass that is curved or conical.

What happened to the moment of limit, not limited
by greed or shape or sudden inhalations, some primitive
wishing for Jesus or Joseph or Mary
or Bill ‘O or Monroe or rich guys who nary
a word said against them are nonetheless wrong or words
said against them are strong in the long
run where there is no fortress no mercy no song
where whatever there is, is where rope may be hung
on a cassock, a limb, on a boat, where he clings,
where the deep gapes its maw, like a song that he sings
a song like a cris, like a prayer, like a dirge, like a bell
that is ringing, clanging, as day runs to a well
of night, of night, of light that fades and well it fades

Smooth, grey, velvet rays darkening in times astronomical
the hermit lights the lamp in a night long and comical
the blowtorch makes glass that is curved or conical,
a limerick packs laughs a bit anatomical.


 (ten minute freewrite at the end of a busy night of writing)


Billy’s funerals

I am so shocked and celebrated, celibate and debauched. I knew there was a typhoon, I knew there was a storm that would make my mother’s hair curl. My mother, who goes to Larry’s to have her hair washed and set every week. Please understand.

No, don’t, I don’t know about begging. My mother went to Larry’s every week to have her hair washed and set. Before the storm that drug everything out of Mayhem, everything. The pet store, the garden and farm supply store, the pharmacy, the liquor store, the churches, the churches, the churches, the banks, the banks, the banks that rose with the water and washed away our sin.

I remember it, I was planting bulbs and thinking about the wisteria and the wind was rising. Mayor de Troi was holding a press conference to say we are all prepared, we are all prepared, we are all prepared to meet our makers, and she said this with a salt shaker in one hand and a lime in the other.

I’ve been writing for this little weekly newspaper for 12 years now, since I came home to take care of mom, who’s been washed away, washed by the blood of the lamb, only truthfully it appears that it was high tides and bad management that washed away everything in Mayhem, Texas, other than Helen’s big mouth and that parrot. I suppose if I’m a journalist, I’ve got a responsibility to write what I see. And so I did.


Billy Gumball became a man the day his mother was washed away by Hurricane Margarita. Zola always thought so, and when she came home to attend the funerals and wear the hair shirt that the prodigal children all wear, she saw him and he was not the same. They embraced, cotton meeting cotton with the familiarity of cousins, and she smiled at him.

That first funeral was numb like novacaine, like stroking out, and half of your body is missing. Half of your body is missing, and my body is my home, my neighbors, my mother, our candy shop and my celibacy. It rained and the wind blew and on my knees I met my maker and I was good and made. Then mother was dead, the parrot was sitting in the window of the candy store where the glass used to be and he was singing yo ho yo ho far away on the Santa Fe Trail.

That was when I knew I would be leaving, and when Zola showed up with her little girl and that coat with the fringes hanging down like she’s Custer only tougher, I knew we’d be going together.

Have you ever been to a funeral for an entire city? Have you ever carried your pen, your laptop, your tiny voice recorder with you to death after death to record in the mud and the stench that all is lost and somehow that is not a dramatic overstatement, but an actual statement that is more literal than anything you’ve ever said before in your life?

I had insurance. Not being dead, I was actually able to collect on it, unlike most of my neighbors, my mother, and Zola’s entire clan. We shook hands at the funeral, I gave her some lemon drops, some ginger chews, some extra hot peppermint, and some rye. In the evening, as the waters receded and the bones of my life were exposed, we drank the rye, and we planned out first steps out, away from Mayhem.

Naked with socks


Here we are, we are, you and I standing in the moonlight naked except for our socks. Our socks are there to keep our feet warm; do we need to keep our feet warm at this moment? Flashes through my mind and is gone, disappeared into this warm spring evening. Did you see Venus? Did you see how is snugged up into the new moon’s arms and they embraced? Did you see the spraying comet, the juice squirting into the air above the grapefruit, did you see the dust devils stirring, dancing and changing partners with every little wind?  Do you smell it? It is spring. Early but unmistakable in the strutting of the little roosters, the raucous group sex of the geese in their morning pond, the erotic overtures of the cats towards everyone. Cats know spring, feel it in their melting bones, in their wandering eyes.

If you were a girl who used aquanet to keep your hair in place, and aquafresh for your kissable mouth, and if you liked an aqua velva man, and you’d made a few mistakes after a couple rounds of aqua vit with the liberated few in your office pack, you would be about 78 now, looking back on a lifetime of lipstick and rat packs, and songs that seduce, that make a kissable girl like you melt like brown sugar in a pecan pie. You’d been dancing in a tavern on the nights when you got away from the tabernacle where you’d been studying and learning about the nature of sin and sacrament and sacrifice and this made you pack your tapestry carpet bag and drive to Sacramento with a girl named Edna, with whom you got an apartment with three other girls from a secretarial pool. And you did live the good life there, lipstick on the cigarette butt, a drink with the girls after work, a swimming pool in the apartment complex where you and Edna and your cohort of girlfriends could lie back in your yellow and blue two-piece suits in the Saturday sun. You still remember pineapple, pineapple sweet and prickling, the inside of your mouth burning with pineapple juice in gin. You still remember those heels with the ribbon that wrapped around your ankles, and the straight skirt that you smoothed down over your fine bottom as you sat down to take dictation. You still remember the moonlight hitting the blue water of the pool, and venus snugged up in the new moon’s arms, and you still remember standing out there in the early spring, 3 a.m., naked except for your socks, and smelling the bouganvillea and the wisteria, a little hint of honeysuckle and a high cloud skittering across that full moon, and you still remember taking off your socks, diving in, and coming back to the surface to kiss for the very first time.

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March 2009
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