Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The old man walked up the wide sidewalk, right on the edge of the big city park, as the traffic zoomed by beside him, in a mad frenzy to get to the next intersection. The old man was draped in sweaty smelly clothes, several layers of them, which created a kind of force field around him, a field of stink that was almost visible in the sunlit air of this particular afternoon. Being protected by such a field, in a day such as this, made the old man feel invulnerable and safe, and he walked as if he truly had no care in the world, which was almost true, except he had been hungry for the last few days, very hungry, too hungry to ignore it, and he had just been lucky enough to find three cans of dog food by the side of a parked car. He took them without looking back, in one quick swift motion that would have looked like a single silver curve cutting through the green and brown of the bushes and the walls in the background, except nobody was looking so it didn’t look like anything at all. He placed them deep in his thick armor of jackets and shirts and held onto them with his left hand, while looking all around him to make sure that nobody was running after him, to make sure that nobody was about to completely ruin this beautiful sun drenched day by calling the cops on him and then he would have to talk and then he would have to explain and then he might even have to spend an afternoon in a dark room surrounded by angry men and desperate men and sad men and scared men and he would much rather be out here, in the open air. Wasn’t that the point anyway?
He looked around at the two joggers who purposefully did not look at him. Two white men in long red and blue shorts, talking as they ran, their T-shirts drenched in sweat, their arms glistening. The old man knew he could look at any civilian with impunity since they would never look back, he reminded them of things they would rather forget, they in turn reminded him of what he wished to remember: that what they had did not pay for what they lost and here he now had everything, for he had been hungry in the last few days but now he had food and that was all he was really lacking. That and a screwdriver or a knife with which to open the cans. For that he might need some help.
So he walked straight into the park, crossing the intersection as a sightseeing bus went by, several pairs of eyes landing on him and quickly looking away. He could feel the heat from them almost as distinctly as the heat from the sun itself, and they were all fuckers, he said to himself, they didn’t know what life was really about, how could they, not up there in their red bus staring out at the world as if it was some goddamn movie. This was no movie, not a drama, not a comedy, not a thriller, not a romance. It wasn’t anything they could wrap their little minds around, all those dumb civilians staring down at him from their red sightseeing bus. It wasn’t for nothing that he was out here and they were there and he didn’t envy them one little bit. He would rather die than be one of them. Here, where things were real, where so many paths extended before him, covered in asphalt blue and sidewalk white and long leaf green, here, where he was free to take any of them or none of them at all, here, all he needed was a screwdriver or a knife to make his existence complete.
He found it in the form of a young Latino man with whom he had shared a drink or two in the past. He was lying against a tree, on the edge of a dark patch of green bushes and he looked up at the old man and said “hello” and the old man looked down at him and nodded and then he said, “hey, you hungry?” and the Latino man nodded and the old man said, “I’ve got some food but I will need something to open a can with. I’ll share with you if you have something” and the Latino man asked, “Is this some kind of trick or something?” and the old man shook his head, and he didn’t take any offense to the question because he would have asked the same question if someone had made the same suggestion to him. It was all a dance, a dance he himself had danced a thousand times.
Soon enough the young Latino man said, “look, let’s go up behind the big white building… there’s some tables there and there’s hardly ever any people…” and the old man nodded and he knew the place that the young man meant so they walked off together. Now they both felt the heat of people’s eyes as they stared briefly at them, crossing the main road, walking slowly up the little curved road that lead out of the park, and then finally turning onto the little paved path and onto the abandoned little courtyard. They sat in front of each other on the old dirty wooden tables and then the old man took out the cans and the young man nodded and said, “yeah, these look good, very good…” and the old man couldn’t resist so he said, “yeah, I told you… we’re gonna have ourselves a banquet today!” The young man nodded with eager approval. Then he took out a big long screwdriver that was crusted over with rust and dirt and he went right to work on opening the three cans.
Just as the high pitched sound of the metal being cut was starting to echo lightly over the overgrown pavement, there was movement from a bench just a few feet away. A second old man got up from where he had been sleeping, lying out in the sun, his back on the little green bench, his already sunburned face staring up at the empty sky. He saw them sitting at the old table and opening the cans. He could smell the rich scent of the dog food and he nodded with instant recognition, and then he said, “You got something good there…can I have the leftovers…?”
The first old man took a deep breath and regretted having come here, and maybe he could have had three cans all to himself if he had a screwdriver or a knife to begin with, but now it was two and now it was three and he couldn’t just eat happily while this old man sat there staring at him, because it would be too much like him staring at people eating, while he was trembling with gut wrenching hunger. He didn’t know how they could do it. He only knew he had never learned the skill. Maybe some other day this old man would have had three cans of dog food and he would be the one whose stomach was growling and then he would remember the day he ate while the other one stared at him with animal need. It was all too much to think about so he just said, “well, we got three of them, and one of them is kind of dented… you can have that one…” and the young man looked up at him, just a bit annoyed that his work was being given away. But it was too late, because the second old man was already sitting beside them, and all their various smells combined into a single cloud of deep aroma. They ate quietly for it wasn’t that often that they had such a rich dinner and it wouldn’t do to talk in such a special occasion. Every so often they stared at each other, but none of them had anything to say, so then they just ate some more.
The first old man smiled. They sure didn’t know what they were missing, the civilians, nothing like being out here under the sky, eating and knowing that there is no care in the world, no care at all. No worries, no future, no past. Just three cans of dog food and the warm company of strangers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Book

The three story bedroom house was quiet and still. In the many suburban neighborhoods that surrounded the home, all the children had been put to bed, all the cars that been shuttered in their respective garages, the land was quiet, a brief pause in momentum before another day. Inside the house, after hours of bright illumination, the talking heads on the TV were finally off, the energy of them was finally settling on the dinning room table and the pale beige carpet like dust, settling down ever so slowly. They were probably still mumbling out there, somewhere in the ether world their voices raged on, but not here, not while the clock ticked quickly towards the new day. The refrigerator mumbled softly, turning on and off in uneven intervals. His wife was asleep, covered below a pile of thick comforters. His “snow queen,” he would jokingly call her, since the woman always seemed to be cold. This was his chance for a little bit of peace, a brief moment before the cycle of his life had to begin again with coffee and an incessant alarm that was objective in its dire warning. Before the newspaper, before the search for work began on the internet. He could look now, but…this was a special time and he would not squander it on the fruitless perusal of classified ads. There were just a couple of lights on in the house: the dim kitchen light over the stove had been left on accidentally, the outdoor porch light his wife insisted be left on throughout the long hours till morning, and one more, the only light he really needed, the soft yellow bulb on the end table, right next to his blue lazy-boy recliner.
He sighed, a long expansive exhale that just kept going and going…did he really have this much air inside? His chest caved in, releasing every bit of carbon dioxide he could manage to push through his open mouth. He felt himself sinking into the plush blue fabric, the chair that had been his companion for nearly fifteen years. How many hours of his life had he sat on this very spot? While the earth continued to spin, while the weather morphed from heat to rain, while a hundred wars came and went on distant soil, he sat here, in this exact spot in front of the TV with his wife on the couch beside him. They took turns picking shows to watch and she always insisted on watching the female news hour, that’s what he called the assembled cast of TV-ready personalities that gave their disgusting opinions on everything from warfare to the newest diet pill. They truly made him sick, they, people who had no real-life experiences to back up what they professed as truth. It was the time of the day he least enjoyed, watching their glossy lips move up and down, chatting amongst themselves. He always felt like a voyeur, an unwanted guest in a living room full of squabbling idiots.
But he had nowhere else to go. His work area in the garage had long ago been crowded out by boxes and old clothes and other things he considered useless junk. The extra room held even more stuff, a lifetime of their acquired memories and the third bedroom had been converted into a gym for his wife. And because his muscles were sore and because he had already eaten and didn’t want to sit in the kitchen on one of their hard-backed wooden chairs, he remained where he was, enduring the six gabbing voices, shrill and ignorant and loud. But thankfully, the sixty minutes passed, just as all expanses of time eventually do, and his wife had started yawning and she stood to turn off the box and she gave him a single kiss on the forehead and walked up the stairs to the bedroom.
This was the silence that he did enjoy, the precious moment that needed to be grasped and held like a beating jewel. It was an endurance race and he was just a little ahead, able to keep his eyes open just a little longer than his wife or the other people on the block. He felt just a little more alone, a little more at peace knowing that every house in the area had their lights off and all the TV sets had fallen silent. He felt the energy of the quiet streets, he felt the wind calm down just slightly, allowing him a little more room to breath and think.
He bent over and reached over towards the small ledge between the legs of the end table. He emerged with a hardcover book, a thick 1000 page tome with a black and white cover of a battle scene. He studied the cover, just as he did every night when he picked the book from its somewhat hidden shelf. It was a scene from the Spanish Civil War. A small group of men in casual clothes and rifles pointing in the direction of an unseen enemy. His new friend had sent him the book four months ago, his new friend who was really just a man he had met while waiting for his car’s tune-up at the local dealership. They had begun talking and the stranger with a full head of gray and a whiter beard had turned out to be a retired war historian. They talked, long after both their cars were finished and ready to go. Not long after, he had received the book in the mail.
He leaned back and stared at the cover, as he had done each night since the stranger had sent it, examining the haunting picture without opening the book. He held it for an hour, studying every detail of the men, their clothes, their posture, their fingers on the triggers of their guns and rifles. He imagined the photographer, not focused on the approaching violence, but on the men at his side. These men where a thousand lifetimes away from the talking heads that filled his living room every night. Here there was no incessant laughter, no incessant opinions and no speculation. For them, there was only the crystal clarity of action, beyond words, beyond thoughts, beyond argument. There was only action and nothing else. It was action that moved them, action that made them great. Tonight, he felt a wave coming over him, a mounting pressure that made his heart begin to beat harder and his palms begin to sweat. A sting of tears came to his eyes, it was a distantly familiar feeling, something that he had known before but had forgotten somewhere along the way. Tonight was the night. It was time to open the book.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Little Man And The Map

It was a crisp day, a morning bright with blue light that showered on her from a cloudless sky. The leaves of the dense woods were tinged in varying shades of yellow and orange and the cold air bit at the tip of her nose and left stinging kisses along the edges of her ears. The young girl walked alone along a thin trail that wound itself through the woods in lazy, meandering curves. Fallen leaves crunched beneath her feet and under the weight of her shoe, she left them as small as confetti pieces. The scent of the leaves mingled with the aroma of earthy soil and she inhaled it all deeply, letting the cold scented air fill her lungs with its raw life. She felt more than alive, she felt electric beneath the changing canopy of trees, amid a world were words were useless simulated communication. With each step, she saw more and more, as through each move forward took her deeper into a world of mystery that usually lay beyond her grasp. Now she was here, walking, alive. She saw tiny brown capped mushroom heads sprouting from the ground. A bright green caterpillar inched its way across a fallen twig. An owl interrupted from his nap by the sound of crunching leaves flew overhead, looking for a meal.
In a curve of the path, the little girl saw a large tree, thirty steps away. It looked like all the other trees that surrounded her, only it wasn’t, there was something different about it. Filled with curiosity, she stepped off the path. She approached the tree slowly and saw there was a small opening at the bottom, a little door just big enough to poke her head in. She got down on her belly and pushed gently on the wooden door. When her eyes adjusted to the dim light within the thick trunk, she saw a small Native American man sitting on a tiny stool made of bark.
He looked to her and their eyes held steady and she knew he had been expecting her. Had he waited a thousand years for her to walk the path, to see the owl, to find the tree? She smiled and said hello. He did not move his mouth, his expression did not change, he sat still on his little stool, but the little girl heard him,
"Hello!" he said back enthusiastically.
The tree was silent, he was silent, and yet, he spoke to her and she could feel the warmth of his voice, the tenderness of his heart. The little girl smiled again.
The little girl broke their contact naturally and turned her head to look around the small room. There was a small fire in the far corner which gave off just a bit of warm light. The little man pointed to the back wall. She turned her gaze and saw a map carved into the tree. "Where will this map lead?" she asked her question silently, thinking her thought and then sending it to him like an open letter.
"It is a map to your heart."
The little girl was taken aback
"To my heart?!?!" she squealed.
The small man with tan skin nodded. She turned her head again to the map. A faint blue light came from it.
"To my heart." she repeated.
She stared at the map, letting time fall around her, letting her limbs grow numb, letting the forest continue on its charge towards death and rebirth. She stared at the map, her eyes fixed on the charted path to her own heart, the internal voyage that seemed a world away, an odyssey of a task. The image burned, though her eyes, past the various masks already imprinted on her young body. She let the map burn, moving through her bones, past her personality and past her learned habits and she let it burn itself into her soul. Each line of the map went in, becoming a new vein, a new course, a new path to follow.
The little man handed her a small rock. It was a small cracked geode. She held it tightly and tilted it back and forth, the sparkling center twinkled in the light of the fire and sent sparks of light across her face. She peered through the crack, looking deep, as deep as she had when she saw the details of the forest. She looked and looked and looked some more, and then, she saw it, inside the illuminated center of the geode was a smaller version of the map on the tree wall.
"Take this with you wherever you go,” the man explained. "It will be your Guide.”
The little girl put it in her pocket.
“How can I ever thank you enough?” she asked.
"Use the map. Follow your heart. That is how you can thank me."
The little girl smiled, wider than she ever had before. The sun opened in her face, the world came through her eyes and she held out a finger and touched the tiny man's heart. It glowed blue and she felt the ground let out a slight tremor and then he disappeared. She ran back to her house, clutching the geode in her hand the whole way. In her room, she placed the rock under her pillow, the soft place she kept all her treasured possessions. She was anxious to start the search for her Heart… but first, it was time for a nap.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Our bus slipped through the intersection and we entered the park. We had already driven through the heart of the city (all busy and noisy and exhilarating), past the tall long pyramid (a strange sight in the middle of so many rectangles), past the main plaza (where I envied all the women with their shopping bags in hand), past the cable cars (which were as cute as I had pictured), past the many homeless people (horrid and pitiful at once), past the adult video shops (which did made me curious even though I tried not to look), past the little parks (with their mix of vagrants and executives and bike messengers), past the big houses in the marina (which made me wonder if I would ever have one of those and, from there, it was only a little jump to wondering who would live there with me), and now I was feeling tired, in more ways than one. There’s only so many thing I could see in one day and I would rather see them at my own pace. The voice through the loudspeaker was getting annoying and I felt like going to the bathroom. I was a bit too hot and the sun was a bit too bright. Just now I would have wanted to leave the bus, to leave it all by myself, and leave my sister and her boyfriend all to themselves as well. After all, they should have come by themselves in the first place, there never was a need for me to be here, they could then kiss all they want to and not try to hide little pecks while I’m looking over the metals bars of the bus, like they just did, right then, just as I was thinking of it. I could have been at home, maybe going out, maybe staying around the house for days on end, I really just wanted to rest, but she insisted, my sister, like she always did, like she did back when we were little and I didn’t want to go to summer camp and then she cried and cried and cried, and she said “We have to go! We HAVE to go!” and she wouldn’t stop until finally my parents decided that we did indeed have to go, and it was up to me to be with her because she couldn’t be alone, and so it was again, this was like summer camp and once again she had the boyfriend, all muscles and strong arms and little smiles and bright blonde hair, and I was looking out the side of a bus, mostly just so I wouldn’t look at them, and I didn’t even know or care anymore what I was looking at, more men on bikes, more people walking hand in hand, more cars driving around the bus, looking at us as if we were the strange sight ourselves, as if we were the curious attraction. Right then I really did just want to walk out of the bus, and maybe I could just stand up, and make my way to the front, and at the next stop sign, I could jump over the side and then I would be free, and I could say to my sister (or at least think it really loud), “go ahead, kiss each other all you want, you don’t need me, you never did, you could have done fine in summer camp without me, you could be having a great vacation here without me!” I wouldn’t have to be hearing the droning voice over the loudspeaker or feeling strange every time her boyfriend and me stayed together, and he smiled at me and somehow I knew that he knew, he knew that I liked him, I liked him so much that it hurt to look at him too long, and maybe he liked me too, but I would never know and I could never even try to find out. I would rather look somewhere else, like right now they could be whispering, but there was no need to whisper. I could simply be gone, running up that green hill that was just coming over the corner, right past the girl in loose red shorts jogging down the street, right past the man pushing the big shopping cart full of garbage bags and cans, I could be sitting in the shade and forgetting all about my sister or her boyfriend or about that voice through the loudspeakers that just wouldn’t stop and what was the point of it anyway, since I couldn’t quite hear what it was saying, not with the loud motor of the bus, and the cars honking… and here came another turn, and there were another two girls running, both bobbing their heads up and down to the silent music being pumped into their ears. Maybe if it was only my sister and me, maybe then we could talk and point at things, maybe we could say what we liked and what we didn’t, maybe we could shop together and try on things, maybe we could even talk about things we had never talked about before. But how could I do that when the boyfriend was there, right up in my face, too close to forget about him, too far away to reach out and hold his strong solid hands. Now here came the museum, and then the bus was about to stop. I wished right then that I could just slide away, maybe they wouldn’t even notice I was gone, maybe they would just look up at the sky and wonder if something had just happened and maybe it was just some little bird that flew past them and maybe they wouldn’t even say anything at all, completely forgetting that I had ever been there, and they would walk into the museum without me and then they could kiss all they wanted and I would simply disappear and never show up again. (I wondered where would I go? I wondered if things would work out better somewhere out there and then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have to worry about so many things anymore.)
Instead I walked down with them, and I smiled when I was supposed to smile, and I paid for my ticket and I walked into the imposing new museum in the middle of the park. I saw the bus parked by the sidewalk, all empty and alone and I thought then that I was very much like the bus that carried me here, a receptacle for other people’s holidays and then a thing to be left alone and forgotten when something more interesting came along. But then it was cool inside, and there was air conditioning, and maybe now everything would be alright, if they could only stop whispering, and if it wasn’t so crowded, and if there wasn’t so much noise, maybe I could just run out, when nobody was looking, when everybody was distracted, maybe if I ran out and truly disappeared, then I would finally be free, as free as I had never been before. I walked next to them into the first exhibit hall, where the echoes of so many conversations surrounded me like invisible insects, intent on not letting me think or decide. Soon my time would come. Soon I would finally change everything. Soon. Very soon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Lion's Face

His name was Tad which was short for Thaddeus. Thaddeus was his father’s name. He was sixteen years old and unusually tall and lean. His hair was the color of straw and tended to be a mess. No one had ever taught him a way of combing it and he had cut it himself just to keep it out of his eyes since he was six years old. That was after his mother had run away to California.
He sometimes got a postcard or letter from her. He had received three to be exact, two postcards and one letter in the ten years since her departure. Her name was Helen. She had married Thaddeus Sr. when she was only fifteen. She ran away to be with a traveling vacuum salesman and get away from the town of Bethlehem where she had lived her whole life up till then.
Tad was in the high school marching band. When he wore his white uniform and bright red cap he resembled a matchstick. He played trombone. That was until the day that Pauly, Cash, and Steve pried the case out of his hands after school. Pauly was the shortest, with a mean square jaw and a buzz cut. What he lacked in height he made up for with pure aggression. He was the ring leader. Cash was the lumbering giant. Big and dumb with a perpetually bruised eye. At home he was the punching bag, but at school he did all the punching. Steve was of average build, not too lean and not too hefty, neither short nor tall. He wore a leather jacket and sold ecstasy, acid, and reefer to other kids, all of which he obtained from his older brother Stan. While Pauly was the brains, and Cash the muscle, Steve just struggled to keep up and laughed no matter what was happening, encouraging the other two with his enthusiasm.
Tad tailed after them begging to get his trombone back. Whenever he got close enough to make a grab for it, Cash just gave him a rough shove back while Pauly continued mixing insults and abuses with the occasional taunt and Steve trailed behind the other three, doubling over with laughter now and then when the abuses were particularly amusing. In this way, they paraded all the way down to the river where Pauly flung open the case, made a few more quips, and dumped the instrument into the brown water. Now Tad made his greatest effort to reach the trombone, but Cash threw him down on the muddy bank and pressed his cheek into the wet earth. Pauly kneeled and tilted his head to face his victim.
“What’s the matter? I’m doin’ you a favor. Your never gonna get any girls if you spend all your time fiddling with your trombone.” Steve erupted into a fresh burst of chortles and flopped down onto his rear trying to catch his breath.
“Yeah.” Pauly said, “Have you heard from your mom lately?’
When Tad’s answer was to try and struggle with Cash, Pauly continued, “Aw. That’s too bad. She stopped by my place last night.”
And so it went until the trombone was long gone and Tad’s uniform was soaked and stained with mud. Cash then let go of him and the three tormentors strolled away. Tad lay in the muck waiting for their voices to fade into the distance. Laying there studying the mud he noticed something shiny protruding about two feet from his face. He reached out with his hand and plucked it was of the moist grime and brushed its surface clean with his fingertips. At first he thought it was a coin, but then he noticed that it had a loop to run a chain through. There was a lion engraved on one surface, and on the back, “For my Katie.” was inscribed in a flowery script. Tad clutched the amulet in his hand and stood up. He spent the evening searching the banks down stream for his trombone but all he found was the case.

Tad could not tell his father about the trombone since it had cost a great deal of money. Neither could he bear to explain the manner in which it had been lost. In the weeks following the event, he carried the empty trombone case away from the house to keep up appearances. He often didn’t make it to the school at all. Instead he strolled along the river bed, musing over his treasure, wondering who Katie was, imagining that he might meet her one day, looking for her medallion among the reeds. He imagined she would be so pleased that he had found it, that they would agree it was fate that had brought them together. Katie might have long brown hair and green eyes. She might be someone from the school that he had never seen before, or somebody’s cousin just visiting, or even an older woman, a college student come home to care for ailing parents. They would fall in love and she would beg him to come with her, away from Bethlehem to New York, or California, or wherever she went to school.
Soon he no longer debated whether he should go to school or take another walk. The river seemed to be calling him, Katie was waiting for him. Each day, he left the house a little earlier and he came home a little later.
He wandered farther afield than he had ever gone as a boy, following the river upstream, under bridges, through pastures. Breathing the fresh air, stretching his legs, examining the amulet, he dreamed up pleasant conversations with Katie, picnics and swimming in the river, first kisses and second kisses and more and more and more.
On one particular Friday afternoon, he passed the point at which he usually turned back home. His father would go to the bar after work and he would be home late. Tad would be home late too. He pressed on and caught sight of a distant orchard. The sun was poised in the center of a blue sky beaming warmth down on his straw colored hair. He whistled and ate a sandwich and drank a root beer he had packed. On the opposite bank he caught sight of the ruins of a burned out house. The whole bank surrounding it was charred black. The remains of a few trees jutted up out of the ground mournfully. Tad put away the uneaten remains of his sandwich. He stripped off his shirt, socks and shoes and put them in his backpack. The medallion, which he wore on a bit of twine around his neck, gleamed in the noonday sun. He sat the back pack down in the grass out of the river’s reach and waded in. The cool water felt good after a morning of walking. The current was gentle and he waded until he had to swim and soon, he made it to the opposite bank.
He approached the charred ruins carefully, watching for broken glass or anything that might injure his bare feet. There was very little to see. A wall stood with a bit of sooty wallpaper still intact. He had almost satisfied his curiosity and made up his mind to swim back when he noticed something glittering beneath a mound of ash. Walking on the balls of his feet he approached gingerly and brushed away the soot. He caught his breath. It was a lion’s face, like the one on Katie’s medallion, gazing at him from the lid of a pewter jewelry box. The box lay open, it’s hinges fully extended. He lifted it, but there was nothing underneath. His hand drifted to the amulet at his throat.

Saturday morning, Tad mowed the lawn for his father. Thaddeus Sr. sat under the shade of the porch drinking bottles of cool beer one by one. When the lawn was finished, Tad left his father dozing on the porch and stormed the garage. Every Sunday for the last three years the Nors County Tribune had been left on the porch. Tad’s father read the funnies and the sports section and then deposited the paper in the garage to be recycled someday. There, in the stuffy darkness of the dusty garage, the young man searched around for the most recent papers, carefully reading dates and arranging a stack that spanned over the last 12 Sundays. Then he retired with them to his own room and began a systematic search starting with last Sunday’s paper. In the third paper, he found what he was looking for. A fire in east Nors county had killed 82 year old Kathleen Sims in her home. She had no children to survive her. Her ex-husband Ralph Sims still lived in Florida with his second wife.

On Sunday, Tad walked the length of the river only as far as Old Pete’s bridge. He stood in its center, watching the water rush by, disappearing under his feet. He remembered that his mother had brought him here to Play Pooh sticks when he was small. It was a game she picked up from an old children’s movie which she played for him every morning while she did the housekeeping. The game involved each player dropping a stick into the water at one side of the bridge and then rushing to the other side to see whose stick came out in the lead. She’d had to hold him up so that he could drop his stick over the side at the same time that she dropped hers. Then she would rush with him in her arms so that they could see whose stick had won the race.
He thought about his Katie, the way he had imagined her, and of the picture of the wrinkled little woman from the newspaper photograph. If they had met while she was alive, she might have baked him cookies and he would have done her yard work. If he had been born 66 years sooner, then maybe she would have been his green eyed black haired Katie. She would have married him instead of Ralph Sims and they would have died together in the fire. He turned the lion faced amulet in his fingers and watched the sunlight reflect from its golden surface. He heard them coming long before he looked up to face them. They were practically on top of him before he acknowledged them with a glance.
“Where you been Tad?” Pauly sneered. “Haven’t seen you around school lately. You been here looking for your trombone this whole time?” Steve snickered.
Pauly caught sight of the amulet pressed between Tads thumb and forefinger, “What’s that? Was it your whore Mommy’s? You missing your Mommy Tady wad?”
Pauly’s hand darted out to snatch the amulet but Tad was a hair quicker, jerking his own hand out of reach. In an instant, Cash was behind Tad pinning his arms behind his back.
“Throw this moron into the river.” Pauly laughed at his own suggestion because Steve was too occupied with slumping against the railing as if he were falling asleep.
Tad struggled while Cash endeavored to heave him over the rail. He wiggled and kicked and his head was slammed against the rail just as the bigger boy managed to flop him over the side. Katie’s medallion fell ahead of him glistening in the sun as it went. It hit the water just seconds before Tad’s inert body came crashing down over it, forcing it down to the river bed escorted by tiny green bubbles. Cash and Pauly hung over the rail waiting for Tad to resurface so they could throw in a few more abuses. When he did, he was face down in the water and completely motionless, drifting slowly downstream.
“Shit.” Pauly said after a few moments of stunned silence. “Shit! You banged his head on the rail!”
“I didn’t do nothin’,” Cash protested.
“Fuck.” Pauly said. “Fuck. I think you killed him.”
“I did what you told me to do.” Cash puffed out his pudgy chest.
“Oh shit.” Pauly said looking around to see if they had been observed. “C’mon, lets go.” He didn’t have to tell Cash twice, but Steve didn’t move.
“Steve,” Pauly said, “C’mon, we’re going!” He pulled on the leather jacket but Steve was out cold now, sitting with his back propped up against the rail and his mouth draped open. Pauly pulled him until he fell over on his side and murmured something indistinct.
“Whatever. Forget him. Let’s go,” Pauly commanded and he and Cash hurried away with shoulders hunched.
Katie’s amulet followed Tad’s dead body downstream for a while until he drifted up onto the bank not far from where they’d met. Then it kept going on it’s own, carried along by the current, until the lions face was once again shining in the sun, miles away from the town of Bethlehem.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mr. Money

He was named after his father’s love of finance. He was born with the scent of dollar bills on the floor and he was bathed in the hope that he would grow to carry a pungent-smelling leather briefcase and that he would wear slick tailored suits and that his stomach would never know hunger. His father believed in the power of personal perseverance, in dreams that start slow and turn softly for years until a boiling point is reached and then, then the fire is hot and the market is screaming for action, then is the time to lay with a mighty hand what has been stewing in the dreams and guts and labor of the self-made man. His father read to him in the womb. As his mother slept with a belly full of movement, his father read the financial journals and he read from the texts of economists and he spoke of the hopes for his unborn son.
When he was born, they cloaked him in new dollar bills and they used hundreds to stuff his pillow. They hoped the scent alone would be enough to drive him, they hoped it would provide subtle traces along the path, leading him like a keen dog down the long road to financial fulfillment.
And like a star in the distance, he followed the path laid before him. With nudges at his feet and trashings when necessary, he stumbled along the road sprinkled in gold, always with the vision of more to come. He groped at the doors of Wall St. With a puppet’s obedience, he studied the same men that his father had studied and he read from the same journals. Together, father and son, they spoke the harsh language of commerce. Its brutal and gray forms covered the light whisperings of daises and shadowed the color of twilight. The path to money left little room for swing sets and girls, the quest blinded him to the flower-scented sex, deafened him to the language of music and imagery.
When he was old enough, he moved into the corner office of a building that nearly reached the clouds. In his softer moments, when the world still lay in a blanket of blackness and when the army of immigrant cleaners had finished their duties, he dreamed of leprechauns and he thought of the empty sounds within bank vaults and heard the orchestra of cash registers. He ate all his meals while watching the minute movements of the city below. The yellow cabs veered and curved through traffic, he could hear the sirens scream with the hysterics of new mothers, he could sense the disconnected wandering of the people a thousand feet below and he watched it all with a thread of indifference. He preferred the cool, regulated world of his cubicle, where the TV brought him all the news he needed, where the computer was an extension of his mind, providing him with every fact he could hope to discover. This was his home, his sanctuary of eternal fluctuation. He would wake every morning with a new set of numbers, a new outlook on the day that would determine all his decisions, each and every correspondence.
When she came in, the only woman that ever punctuated his leather-smelling sphere, he hid himself in his papers, he buried himself in the world of numbers fearing the waft of her perfume. It was the scent of tigers, the smell of domination in silk sheets and lacy panties. He would not look up, he would close the blinds to his office, shuttering himself from the small world on Floor 708. In one week, she undid all he had learned. With the curve of her back, she released the rope that had tied his mind to the desk and to the numbers and to the bidding men half a block away.
He felt the sound of the jungle roar deep in the hidden caverns of his chest. He imagined doing what he had only seen on his computer screen. He saw himself twisted in the white of her flesh. He saw his hands ripping the fabric of her tight skirt. He imagined screaming, unleashing the desire that had taken twenty-seven years to build. The numbers on the screen began to blur, red and green numerals mixed, blending into geometric bodies of heat and power, struggling to accumulate more with their union.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Law of Fractals

If you listen twice as hard, the silence will rumble with the raucous calling of birds. Awake to this reality, this invisible landscape that colors your every move, that washes you in the sound of its desire.
They dance right in front of you! They make love on your bed! They play chess on your cheeks! The sounds of their laughter makes the dogs run in circles, their moans are the source of your fevered dreams. It is all right there…next to that little toe.
If you look twice as much, with every bit of those speckled brown eyes, with every fiber you can summon, the sidewalk will turn from a gray slab to a complex pattern of texture and stories. The view will begin to wobble and twist, the houses just beyond the path will scream out with their colors and the energy around the roof will begin to ripple and the ghosts will call to you from their seats on flower pots.
If you listen, clearing your thoughts…if you listen, opening your heart…you will hear the sparkling spaces between words. Small clusters of letters will reveal themselves, showing themselves to be simple vehicles for a greater discovery. With enough patience, the clusters will melt, falling back to assume their place among creatures of orbit and light sound. They are just the link between home and adventure. They are just the servants, the thinly clothed language for discovery.
If you listen twice as hard, the sounds of the refrigerator and the murmur of the passing car and the clink of the neighbor’s hammer will rise and create the Orchestra of Random Sounds. Each exclamation is a welcome addition, a new spark that lights the path. This is the music of unwitting contributors, musicians with no microphone, no stage. They live, so they create. Some know this and listen.
If you listen twice as hard, the shouting becomes a song. The squeals become a symphony of organized anguish. I pull my hands from my ears, I throw off the blanket and fall into their pool.
A muted beat comes from the cage within me. It supplies the steady beat, the deep base that never falters. Boom, boom…booom….I am part of you, the bird cries shower me in lilting pleasure. The roar of a motorcycle plays with the skin above my breasts, wrapping me in its vibrations of ecstatic rotation.
If you look twice as hard, perhaps you’ll notice the lights are sparkling with electric blue dots. Perhaps you’ll see the naked woman with the key around her neck, beckoning you forward. If you listen twice as hard, you’ll hear her words and maybe you’ll taste the wisdom she sheds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bardo Birth

The desert of Ninh belonged to the Bardo, an intermediary place, a nowhere between somewheres. With hot winds spilling sand down its golden dunes, it seemed to go on forever. The sky was blue and bright. Standing on the crest of a dune as a surfer stands on the crest of a wave, Miracle looked out at this eternal corridor with eyes as wide and absent as some nocturnal animal. His black robe whipped around his legs, making a solitary sound that joined in the soft symphony being played by the rushing wind and the tinkling sand.
He had lived here so long that birth was a bad habit he could scarcely recall. Even beginning to remember it would be a sign that he was slipping, loosing his grip on this now, which was eternal. He stood on his dune staring at the far off horizon where gold met blue in a thin line, an invisible line which was neither sky, nor sand, but an infinitely small space between the two, a space like this place, the desert of Ninh, a nothing between somethings.
A distinctive characteristic of this desert was that there was no sun. The sky itself gave off its own illumination, as did the dunes. There were no markers by which to count the passage of time or determine cardinal directions. Night never fell and stars never shone. The heat was intense nonetheless, and uniformly distributed throughout the vast expanse. It was this uniformity which made it most uncomfortable, a complete lack of fluctuation, the absence of change. The winds neither cooled nor warmed. Nor did they ever cease to blow. This too was difficult to endure. One may enjoy the wind as it comes and goes, but when it never ebbs, but continually speaks in ones ear, it becomes like an unscratchable itch. Thirst too could be counted upon to drive a being without great resolve from the desert of Ninh. The only escape was to leave this corridor, to choose a somewhere that could ease the thirst and allow for peace and comfort.
Miracle had developed a habit for enduring discomforts and allowing pain to be a companion. It traveled with him through the unchanging desert. If he walked with it as he had been trained to do, the landscape remained unchanged. Vaguely, he remembered the day that reality first bent and melted like silver in the forge. It was a vision that bled into his mind from the edges, slowly creeping in like a shadow. This was the thing which he must try not to do, but it was happening without his consent, coming over him the way sleep descends upon every weary traveler. A room with a clean wooden floor and a tidy little bed. A table with an opened book and a burning white candle dripping with wax. A window overlooking a garden where men in earthen colored robes weeded and tied vines to trellises. A yellow rose turning its face up at him from its bed beneath the windowsill. And then a palm that he is studying, he is tracing the lines with his eyes, and then his own palm, his own lines and everything around them, it all begins to drip and melt like the candle on the table.
That’s when he had somersaulted, tumbled freely, swallowing himself endlessly before awakening in the desert. At that time he had welcomed the transition. Now that the forms of things left behind were calling him, he felt eager for them. He hungered to look upon the face of a yellow rose without understanding what it was, where it had been, why he should long to return to it.
These memories sent him roaming in search of that state he had left behind so long ago. His footsteps quickened. His pupils diminished in size. He took out the old senses which he had relied on whilst inhabiting that once familiar region, the habits that make a world. Pushing pain aside, he took thirst by the hand. Thirst would lead him to water. Thirst changed the terrain, calling for something until it came rolling in like the tide. Dunes gave away to flat terrain, sand parted for small jagged rocks and then for boulders. The horizon disappeared, replaced by looming purple mountains. A sun glittered over its peaks.
Here, beyond the border of the desert of Ninh, he found his dead body where he had left it, in a bundle upon the monastery floor. The candle still burned on the table. He looked at his crumpled shape curled like a fetus on the gray stones beneath him and then he found himself at the window. In the twilight outside, a spider tip toed across the roses face, prowling for a kill. His gaze fell into its most secret folds, traveling into its depths, into the heart of a flower, its smell enveloping him. Tumbling, falling, laughing for a moment, embraced by a familiar warmth until suddenly he was curled like a fetus again, adrift in a warm sea, listening to the pulsing heart beat of a yellow rose. This was a somewhere, a drink for a parched something.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No Cherries

Maybe you were right, silly little puddy headed boy sitting on the forest green carpet in a dim living room. An old man is snoring on a couch in an adjacent room and you are questioning me, why the masks?
Why the masks? You ask me, but you aren’t really asking, you already have an answer in mind.
You tell me I am very sad. Ha. Of course I am. That is all that I am. I am the sound you hear when you place your ear to a seashell, that gentle whoosh of nothingness that they say is the sea. When you strip me of those scary masks and paints and then tear away the pinkish flesh we are so accustomed to seeing each other in and then shred off all the layers of muscle and break the bones like glass and watch all of the vital organs explode like balloons filled with red paint punctured by an artists dart, all that is left is a silent wailing, a complete and utter sadness.
That is why I smile so much on the average day, and joke as often as I can, because on the surface I can do what in the depths I am not able to do. One is to compensate for the other. One is a scattered toe taping dance desperate to stave the other off.
One day I will not have a face to curl up into this silly grin. Silly grin will be gone, gone, down the drain, and nothing is all that I will be. A little bit of nothing that was briefly something, a something no more unique than one blade of grass is from another, a something that could be blotted out and never be missed by anybody. A replaceable little something coating an endless nothingness.
I told you that wasn’t the point. That I didn’t need to be analyzed. I was fine. I was right then, just fine, as fine as I have ever been or ever will be. Yes I am sad, but that is unimportant. The I in that phrase makes the sad completely insignificant because I am very, very, very forgettable.
I confuse you and make no sense because I don’t seem to want what you want, but of course everybody wants the same things, so what is it that’s got me all twisted up? You wonder and you guess, stabbing in the dark with your words and questions like a little oriental man pulling down the arm on a slot machine, hoping to get three cherries, hoping for the sirens and flashing lights and the sweet “ca ching” of everything you ever wanted cascading into your hands, waiting for the sigh and surrender, but you get a lemon, a cobra, and a green skull.
What the hell is this? I tell you to beat it. Off you go, and away I fly to wear my masks and be sad and embrace a philosophy that agrees that suffering is unavoidable, coming soon to an experience that is you (or in this case me). We are going to be alone you see, forever and ever, always meeting strangers and finding ways to paint them as familiar, or maybe getting shredded up by our unaccountable differences, like those blades of grass I mentioned, being chewed mercilessly by the glittering steel blades of a gas powered lawn mower.
Then we’re gone, or crippled, gimping around dispensing lemons and cobras and skulls out of our mouths, the way the witches of Eastwick made folks dispense cherries, an unending supply coming from what seems like nowhere.
Cha cha cha.
You were right. I am sad. Most likely you thought that you could make me happy, like I thought I could make you happy by distracting you from your concerns when we were youngsters. That’s where you were wrong. You can not make me happy. Maybe you are capable of experience happiness. I am not. Happy is just another mask, a temporal state. I am sad all the way through. Life and death both make me want to cry. They both make me laugh.
Existence is suffering. And existence is endless.
I might as well get used to it.
Maybe I’ll learn to like it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The white spaces between words
pulse with heat
they melt into moans of adoration
shouting with their force
screaming their silent vowels of seduction.
The electrical flow rebounds
and moves in,
to mounds of flesh,
molding itself from love
grinding itself into compassion.
Emotion tumbles like a gentle river of blood
moving with grace
though its many flaws,
winding its way past white bones of identity
it searches for the true self
it seeks the silent light that hides in shadows,
the attentive stare that watches with no eyes,
the lover that cries without tears.
Love is consumptive,
it spreads with the force of a wild fire,
and breaking sticks in its paths
winding around the mountain like a ring from hell.
Sparks break free and rise to the night,
the ceremony of adoration is complete
and breaks through
the white between worlds.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Violins At The End Of The Day

The late afternoon wind plays with the stray hairs from my pony tail, little strands that escaped the tight clutches of a pink rubber band. The wind sends them armed with tickles to dance on my forehead and cheeks, and through the fluttering mask of hair, I squint in the late afternoon light, looking to the young violinists that have begun to play.
The multiple memories of a bustling farmer’s market are captured in the song of two musicians. The day had been hot and crowded. The strawberries of the season had everyone excited, there were new babies in strollers and the park across the street was a playground for adults dancing and doing yoga in pairs. The small street had been jammed with people, familiar faces who wave at me and those I recognize but have no contact with. I watch them walk by, with their carts and bags and children who have larger vocabularies each time I hear them. The day had been full, there were street musicians every couple of feet and little kids eating ice cream. I had been talking, chatting, pushing the people who were somewhat curious of me into interaction. I had used a lot of energy, and if I sat back slightly, just listening to the violin players, I could feel the pull of tiredness.
Now, even though the day was still very warm and light, the blocked off street was nearly deserted, the market had closed only minutes before and the shoppers had scattered into Berkeley. There were just a handful of late shoppers looking for a good deal and vendors sweeping up piles of lost spinach and stray strawberries that had fallen to the asphalt.
The sounds of violins wound their way around me like a cyclone, coating me in a moving song that held softly to the melancholy of a movie approaching its credit roll. Yes, the market day was almost over, the energy of a Saturday was being folded and packed up and put into trucks and rolled away in large vans that smelled of the fields they had journeyed from. This was the song of the end, the finale in golden light and swaying plains and drifters headed for a train car that stood idle on the tracks. This song was everything we did, everything we were, everything that was...everything that IS.
I was folding my tablecloth when a man stopped to look at me, his hands holding plastic bags full of produce.
“I love walking around here at the end, it’s so cool, I get to see what’s under the display. Like, under your display, it’s just a couple saw horses and wooden planks.” He smiled at me.
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s like seeing the man behind the wizard’s mask.”
We smiled at each other and he walked on. The violinists played on, holding the moment for me just a bit longer.

Friday, May 1, 2009


The man slowly stood up from the wrinkled bed. It was already past noon and he had just opened his eyes fully for the first time. He had halfway opened them a few times as the morning progressed, but each time the light would hit his pupils like acid sliding across sandy paper, and he decided it was still too early. That kept on happening until the morning was gone. Now he was finally getting up and the light still hurt his eyes as it fell through the window in a mass of yellow transparent harshness and the wooden floor felt cold on his naked feet but he was hot and sweaty all over because it was noon and it should have been morning and then it would have been cool, but the morning was gone by now, and nothing he could do would bring it back. He walked into the bathroom and the white tiles of the floor were even colder than the wooden floor in his room. He shook all over for a moment and then he let out a loud burp and smiled at himself in the mirror. He reached down and felt his hard penis, which was so hard it that it rubbed up against his lower belly and that gave him a slight taste of pleasure. It made him think of the Vietnamese girl he had seen a few days before in the park, the one with the long black hair and brown, tanned skin, the one who danced for a moment on the bright green grass while he played the drums. He knew that she wasn’t just dancing for him right then, or for anybody for that matter, but it felt as if she was. Just the thought of her slender body moving to the deep sound of the drums made him even harder. He walked over to the toilet and realized that he couldn’t pee as long as he was this hard. So he masturbated quickly, quick rapid wrist movements and closed eyes, and, as he climaxed, he exhaled loudly, he opened his eyes wide, and he looked up at the dirty yellow ceiling of the bathroom. He just barely heard the small splash of sperm as it fell inside the water of the toilet bowl. He breathed slowly for a moment and then he peed, looking down to see his penis shriveling back down to its normal size. He exhaled once again, finished peeing, flushed the toilet and walked over to the sink. Again he smiled at his own image as he washed his face quickly and then he walked back out into his room. That was as good as having a morning. Now he was ready for the day.
He surveyed the expanse of his kingdom and he found it to be very small, specially now with all that light streaming through the window. He thought that soon he should get a curtain. If it was dark enough maybe he could sleep even longer. Now it just looked like a little room, about four hundred square feet, with a single door, a little closet, a bathroom and a window, a window that he wished wasn’t so bright. He sat on the bed and looked up at the little frame that held his three medals. In a flash, he was back where there was rain and tall green trees and pain and arms that would come off of their sockets and wide open eyes and friends that asked for help when you didn’t have any help to give them and it was all too much to think about right now, and that had been true all along but it became true once again with every day, specially in the daylight.
Now the morning was gone and he leaned over towards the bedside table and took out a few marijuana joints that he had thoughtfully rolled up a few days before. He lit one up and sucked in the smelly smoke, and then, once again, the dark trees and the screams of pain and the friend asking for help, it all faded away as it usually did. He walked over to the window and the light wasn’t so bright anymore, in fact it was becoming very beautiful. He looked outside and he could see the green lawns of the park from his window and he remembered that that was why he picked this little room over all the others. He got dressed quickly, still taking quick tokes from the joint, and he began to smile. It was always good when he began to smile, that meant the day had truly begun and the light that was so harsh just a moment ago was about to hit him like a shower of little kisses as he walked out the door.
He arrived at the heart of the long lawn, not even a half hour after taking the first hit. The glimmering colors were already multiplying. What had been golden and warm and simply delicious, now became a rainbow of ecstasy, in the shape of a girl in tight blue pants and a light top, swirling and dancing in front of him, and smiling, smiling so beautifully that right then he could see the whole love of the world in her eyes. He looked around himself and there was an old man looking up at the sky, with his eyes wide open in a gesture of pure wonder and amazement, and there was the love of the world once again. He walked towards the circle, where the loud sound of the drumming was coming from. He stepped right into the center and everyone knew him and everyone smiled and tacitly welcomed him even as the drumming continued and he placed his own conga drum in between two others who shifted aside to make room for him. He began to beat the drum with abandon right away, falling smoothly into the driving pulse that the others had established. There was an old Latino man swinging the maracas and there was an old black man banging on a djembe and there was an old hippie banging on the bongos and here he was drumming with them, whoever they were. For as much as they were strangers, they were the circle, and the circle changed every day, but the circle always stayed the same. He was now at the center and he was no longer in pain. The help that he couldn’t give so long ago would now be openly forthcoming, and the drums were loud all around him, and some girls were dancing, and some men were juggling, and a few couples were kissing and rolling around up on the hill behind him and the pain had disappeared as easily as a puff of smoke disappears on a breezy sunlit day.