Friday, October 30, 2009

Letting A Butterfly Go

It was a trailer that sat alone in a big dirt lot off of Grand Avenue, not too far from where it intersected with Riverside drive near the corner of the Lake where the old Machado house still stood hidden in a thicket of eucalyptus and pepper trees. From there to the ALANO building it was a short walk, and due to the lack of many other buildings, one could easily have supposed that the trailer was somehow officially connected with the ALANO club house, but this was not the case. The only other structure within close reach was a small shabby liqueur store to tempt the alcoholics on their way to and from meetings. A gravel road adorned with no trespassing signs ran from Grand Ave. along the side of the trailer and continued down as far as the lake where a loftier private residence was tucked behind a gate to protect it from the riff raff that congregated a half mile in front of its door step.

Jesse had once lived in a house further down Grand Ave. under the shade of the Ortega mountain range in Lake Land Village. There, for the majority of his life, he had dwelt with his mother and stepfather and two half sisters as a ghostly remnant of his mother’s past, haunting their wholesome attempt to build a family. He had been partially allowed to be a part of the new family life but at the same time he had been isolated from them by his origin and was permitted to drift in his own private life, mostly unsupervised, and occasionally reprimanded for his boyish exploits. His stepsisters brought their friends to the house in those days and he had been warned not to tease the little girls who were only two or four years younger than himself. At that age, however, two years younger may as well have been a decade, and four years a century, for while he was already stealing nudie magazines from the liquor stores and smoking cigarettes and throwing rocks at passing cars, they were running around barelegged in the front yard chasing bubbles and skipping rope.

Back in those days, the oldest of his two sisters, Morgan, had two companions that accompanied her most often, June, who was knitted to Morgan at the waist, and Lane who drifted about the other two like a lost butterfly. While Morgan was short and thick with mouse brown hair that made her seem as if she had been forged of clay, and June was about as short but less thick than Morgan, Lane was tall and skinny and fair haired. Jesse interacted with them minimally, either to quarrel with his sister or to trade them pogs for their lunch money. When Lane switched schools and vanished, he hardly noticed. That was in the time when they still lived in the house with its yard behind a brick fence. Then over the course of five years his mother’s drinking grew out of control and her husband threw her out and eventually Jesse and Morgan, now in high school, followed her to the trailer that sat under the blazing sun beside the ALANO club.

It was there in the trailer that Lane re-emerged one hot September evening alongside Morgan. It was a Friday night and both Morgan and Jesse had been permitted to invite a friend to spend the night. The girls would take the bedroom usually split between brother and sister, and the boys would stay in the living room. As in days of old, his mother had warned him to stay away from the younger girls, but it was no longer because she feared that he would tease them. She had a whole new set of concerns that, whether she knew it or not, were well founded. (Over the summer, Morgan and June had tagged along with Jesse to parties where they lost their virginity in a drunken revelry that left them stained with guilt. The two girls were avid Born Again Christians and Straight Edge punks by the time school started in the fall.)
Morgan led Lane to the room and played a Violent Femmes CD. Lane asked if they could listen to a Rage Against the Machine album that caught her eye. Morgan told her that it belonged to her brother and added,
“Besides, Rage Against The Machine sucks, Lane!”
Then she went to start her laundry in the old Kenmore on the back porch and left Lane alone in the room.

Jesse was waiting for his friend Brian to arrive so they could take a long walk down the dark wasteland of Grand Ave. and smoke marijuana and come back after his mother was asleep and try their hand with the girls. He came into the bedroom where Lane stood in her short cut off shorts, vintage polyester blouse and tattered flip flops. Her legs were long and pale, her hair long and blonde. While he dug around in the pocket of his leather jacket to retrieve his Zippo, she asked him about the Rage Against The Machine CD that lay by the stereo. She picked up the case and told Jesse that she loved Rage Against the Machine, even if every one else was into punk rock now. She asked if he still liked them. He said he did. There was something in the way that she spoke to him, without guile, without hope of looking cool. She still talked as though she were a little girl with no ulterior motives. She looked at him as if he were equally innocent. He was sure that she knew he was something else, but she looked at him and spoke to him with trust, like a little bird walking into the mouth of an alligator.

She started talking about good and evil, offering theories and observations, asking him his opinion. She used big words constructed in proper sentences void of slang. The way she spoke was more alien to him than the off color topic she wanted to explore. Drinking her in with his eyes he felt a stirring in his chest, a sort of painful ache.
“You’re pretty, but weird, you know that?” he said to her. Her look told him that by now she did know, and that knowing made her uncomfortable and proud. Then she asked him if they could play the CD so he put it on for her.

Later, after their walk Jesse and Brian lay sprawled on sleeping bags in the murk of the living room They snickered at the snores that drifted down the hall from his mother’s room. Brain, who had hooked up with Morgan once during the summer, said,
“Dude, I think your Mom’s asleep. Let’s go see what the girls are doing.”
Jesse imagined creeping into the bedroom and finding Lane in his bed. She would lie there and accept whatever he whispered to her and do whatever he wanted. He knew it with certainty and felt the aching in his chest again, remembering her wide blue eyes trained on him, the CD clutched in her hand, the instant warmth she had offered.
“No man, I promised my Mom.” He said.
“What?” Brian laughed, “So what?”
“So if she finds out, I’m out of here.” He answered truthfully, although he wasn’t worried about that at all. It hurt him a little to say it, because no one could tell him what he could do or couldn’t, and that was part of his cool.
“What?” Brian asked and his voice revealed his disappointment not only in the way the evening was panning out but also in his companion’s possible act of obedience.
“Just forget about it.” Jesse told him. “I’m tired anyway.”
And he rolled over and pretended to be falling asleep even though the room was full of an agonizing tension. He thought that Brian would say something else, but he didn’t, and, after a while, the tension began to fade and Brian’s breathing slowed down and he too rolled over and adjusted his pillow and soon he was making the deep snorting noises of a sleeper.

Jesse lay still and awake, awash in a bath of conflicted emotions. It would have been nice to touch her, and now he looked bad in Brian’s eyes. But for better or worse, she was unlike himself and his sister and the rest. He felt that she should be allowed to remain that way. He knew that a butterfly’s wings should never be touched. If they were, it would be unable to fly ever again and it would be a butterfly no more. It was a little sacrifice that he made, lying there in the dark of the trailer that stood by the ALANO club, a sacrifice that would keep her from joining them all down in the heavy muck that was confusion and regret and sorrow. Lying on the sleeping bag thrown over the worn carpet, by the couch with broken springs, in the trailer on Grand Avenue, not far from the old Machado house, he let a butterfly go.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ritual

I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the blue edge of the continent in the reflection. It was a thick line of deep blue. Up the hill I went, further and further from the breaking waves and clans of surfers and screams of the dingy boardwalk. "The city on a hill,” what they called the university of Santa Cruz. I passed the west entrance and kept going. The road began to curve and twist through the incoming forest that seemed to emerge in an instant. Green and black and holding secret promises. In the thicket were animals that refused to show themselves and caves that I had only heard about. I drove on.
I was looking for the right place. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, but I kept driving, passing plenty of pull-outs on the road. Sometimes, as I approached one of these flat dirt spots, I would press on the break slowly and look to the right, surveying the land and trees, but then I wouldn’t move, I wouldn’t turn the wheel to the right and the car would keep on going.
The sky was a bright blue and through the open driver’s window I felt the crisp air of an approaching fall. The day held the promise of cool wind and yellow leaves, but for a moment, perhaps just for this one day, we could all pretend that summer still lingered and the sun would be ever-present. I saw a black car parked on the long pull-out ahead. The road had straightened momentarily. The “parking lot” was a three hundred foot long space, just wide enough for a single car. The earth was a bright tan dust. On the right was a metal fence that was held between thick dark wooden posts. I saw the aerodynamic car empty and waiting.
Usually the sight of another car or person would have made me keep driving, I wanted privacy. But something about the sight of it pulled me in. I found myself turning the wheel to the right and pressing on the brake pad. The car came to a stop under my command and I pulled the keys from the ignition.
I sat. It was very quiet. The left side of the road was lined by thick pine trees that grew out of an elevated conglomeration of rocks and earth. The right was a narrow field of dried grass and weeds. They were nearly four feet tall. Behind them was a wall of tall pine trees that stretched into the mountains. There were a couple of narrow paths that began at the edge of the road and disappeared into the trees. I picked the one closest to me and headed in carrying a large gray sweatshirt and a woven purse.

I walked, deviating from the trail once I was beneath a ceiling of green pine needles. I let my body lead the way until I saw a thick trunk that called to me. The earth was slightly elevated at its base, but yet flat enough for me to sit upon. I leaned against the bark, on a thick pad of leaves and very thin twigs. There was sap and decomposing yellow needles. It was the smell of earth. The smell of the cycle. I let it fill me. I nearly cried with the warmth of it, with the calmness of the elements. The earth and tree were like the loving arms of a mother I might never have had. Without thought or judgment, I felt them holding me.
“Will you help me?” I asked the tree. “Will you please take all the sadness and fear that I have? Can you take it out of me and transform it into oxygen?”
I leaned into the giant beauty. The old man. The calm wonder. I imaged a backwards flow, a multi-channeled river that escaped through my back and head, taking with it all the sadness and anxiety my muscles had held for a week. The bark was solid and strong, I heard thoughts inside, “how come you don’t do this more often? It feel so nice.” The bark was scratchy and soothing. I let a tear roll down my cheek.
“Please take what I don’t need.”
I imagined the flow of tension move into the tree, up the trunk, into the branches and needles and disperse into clean oxygen. There were birds somewhere in the thick canopy of pine needles above my head, but my eyes were closed and I could not see them. Their sounds were pretty and trebly and short, I imaged little birds with thick breasts.
I leaned against the tree for a while until I felt the moment was right. I opened my eyes. The day was bright, the sky was a bright blue. I could feel the cold wind coming, but we still had a little more time. Rays of light shone though the branches and warmed my thighs.
On my lap was a gray hooded sweatshirt with the word INDEPENDENT across the front in a thick red font. I picked it up and held it to my nose. It smelled of him. The faintness of his Tommy cologne I liked so much, vaguely smelling of grapefruit. I inhaled again, there was sweat and fabric softener. Its softness soothed my face. I imagined his eyes and lips. I let another tear run across my cheek.
I put it back in my lap and cleared the blanket of needles and twigs from a small space in front of my crossed legs. I found the deep brown earth, then I dug my fingers into it, making a small shallow hole. I pulled out the knife from my pocket. I held the silver blade to my finger. I tried a couple of times to force it through my skin, but it only left a faint indent on my flesh without the gash of red that I needed.
I unfastened the safety pin that I always wore on my pant’s pocket. It was small and not created for this purpose, but it did the job. I just needed a little bit of blood. I pushed the tip into the pad of my pink index finger. A small red bead formed. I watched it drop into the small hole within the earth. It disappeared into the soil.
I thought of his face. I tried to feel him in his cage. I remembered his smile. I pulled the sweater over my shoulders and wore it. I imagined his skin. I imagined the shape of his shoulders in the sweatshirt and the way he would wear the hood when he was cold. I took a deep breath again and smelled the remains of him.
My back fell into the tree once more and I asked it again to take what I didn’t need and transform it. I imagined his DNA within my blood. I imagined a small part of him fusing with the earth. I pulled out a small piece of paper and a pen from my purse. I wrote a few lines about him and us and what I wanted and hoped for. I wrote it quickly, letting my hand move nearly as fast as my thoughts. I folded it and held the flame of a lighter to it. The ashes fell into the hole with the fallen drop of blood.
I sat for a while longer, feeling the steadiness of the tree holding me close to the earth. I covered up the hole and placed some stones over it. Then I stood and began to walk back to my car.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Do We Leave El Salvador?

When do we leave El Salvador?
Do we wait for a certain day
When the sun slides over the shivering leaves
And drips from their green edges like golden teardrops
And the sky itself is so blue as to seem transparent
And the wind is like a constant caress
From the most gentle of lovers.

Or do we leave on a day of storms
When there are gunshots in the distance
When there are large trucks full of black clad killers
Roaming through the shadows
With large heavy machine guns over their shoulders
Looking for their next victim,
Looking for a place to unload their wrath.

Do we leave when the walls have turned to dirt
And the dirt has turned to mud
And the mud has turned to sickness
And we can’t live here anymore
For we are just one step away from dying
And to be a step away
Is worse even than death itself
For it is shivers and pale faces and open eyes
And nights of waking dreams
And days of bright red nightmares.

Or do we wait until we are old
So old that the days themselves have grown shorter
And death is no longer so terrifying
For it has danced close to us so often
That it has become a well known friend,
And our body is slowly turning to dust
Right under our very eyes
And we can do nothing but allow it to enter
And take us where it wants to go,
And look into the distance and wonder
If something else comes later
Anything at all.

Can we ever truly leave El Salvador?
Or do we carry it with us,
Like a stone that we swallowed when we were little
And it refuses to dislodge itself from our loins,
Is it now a part of us
As much as our eyes, our brain, our heart,
Is it so much an element of our nature
That no matter where we go,
There will come a morning of light breeze
And bright clear sunlight
When we will hear the bells of an ice cream cart outside the door
And we will hear the sound of kids laughing in the distance
The sound of feet hitting a plastic ball
The sound of cars turning slowly at the corner
And it will all be so clear as to be blinding
And the clarity will rush up to our chest
And hurt us in a way so strange,
So strange we won’t understand,
So strange we won’t even try to explain,
And the windows will be open
And the doors will be open
And our eyes will be open,
And then we will know
That we never truly arrived,
And we can never truly leave.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


In Lake Elsinore, where I grew up, there was a bald hill hidden up behind the old downtown. This spot, which connected to the town via Franklin St., was known as the Rodeo grounds. From 1974 to 1992 a serial killer spent his time nabbing streetwalkers from the little community of 15,000 residents, and it was here among the pepper trees and low growing shrubs below the hills dusty crest that a number of bodies were discovered. This particular killer was so busy that many of his victims were never recovered and it is more than a little possible that their bones are buried under the layers of sun baked dirt upon which the carnival annually erected its tents. I knew nothing about the murders, of course. I was only a child, a dirty faced little darling with tangled blonde hair. I knew that lady bugs crawled on top of each other sometimes and that the cat, Tommy, killed gophers and left their bodies on the astro turf carpeting the front porch, and this was all that I knew about sex and death. I could not know that I stood with jellied sandaled feet over the mummifying corpse of a whore while my mother purchased a pink puff of cotton candy for my sister and I to share.

We attended the rodeo when I was very young and it upset me greatly, so much in fact, that I have buried all detailed recollections of it somewhere deep within the hills along the Franklin street of my own mind. I recall the metal bleachers and an overwhelming sense of horror, not for the cowboys, but for the animals being roped and dragged and dominated for sport. I have been sensitive to the point of madness since childhood. I remember seeing them chase and rope a frightened calf, pulling it right off of its feet with the rope around its neck. Watching this spectacle I felt suffocated and strangled, as though I were the one in the center of the ring of bleachers being handled by rough men for a crowd of uncaring spectators. People hollered and hooted and clapped. The disparity between the emotions they were expressing and the pain I was feeling confused me deeply. I think I asked my mother if we could leave. I can’t remember if we did. She might have made me stay because we had paid to be there and she didn’t like to waste her money. In truth, the child that went in never came out, something of me was mutilated then, something delicate and invisible from the exterior.

The Carnival I remember better. I remember it because I was a little bit older.

A little older.
A little older.

Driving along Junipero Serra Blvd. in a far away land veiled in mists, I pass the parking lot of the local Bowling Alley and catch sight of folded carnival equipment under blue tarps. I suddenly turn the radio down and blurt out that the Carnival is coming to town, that maybe we should go. My two daughters are buckled in the back seats and listen to me tell them of the Carnival that came every year to the Rodeo grounds in Lake Elsinore, where I grew up. I tell them that the place where the Carnival was held was the place where the bodies of murdered prostitutes had been found.

The Carnival I remember better. I remember it because I was a little bit older.

It is also possible that I profess a clearer memory of the Carnival than of the Rodeo because we attended it more than once, and every visit has been pooled together in my mind to form a single memory. A memory of a place that exists separate from the world of stability, a conglomeration of rusty machinery and red and white striped tents that spring up over night in the eerie hills like the toadstools of a fairy ring. To my child’s eye these were unabashed delights; brightly colored helium filled balloons, sweet treats, big eyed plush animals stuffed with Styrofoam beads that hissed softly when the toys were moved, and live gold fish that could be won with the toss of a coin. But I saw more than what was being presented. I just couldn’t say what I saw.

(Humans and dogs are the only two animals on earth sensitive to misdirection. If you take two cups and turn them over and show a small child a cookie and then place the cookie under one cup and point to the opposite cup, the child will not believe its own eyes. It will turn over the cup to which you point. The same would occur if you repeated the experiment with a dog.)

There was a high curving yellow slide, higher than any slide that ever graced a school yard or common park. It captivated my attention. I wanted very badly to try it, so my younger sister and I waited in a long line, mounting one step at a time until we reached the top. Here there was a man setting the children down on empty potato sacks and launching them down the curvy slope.
Him, I will never forget, him reaching towards me with his hands. I will always remember his hands.
He had no fingers at all, just palms with stumps. I can hardly picture his face. It’s his hands that burn vividly in my mind, emblazoned within the word CARNIVAL. His flesh was glossy and marbled with red. I looked for his fingers and I became transparent. I felt myself as him, just as much as I had empathized with the calf of the rodeo. My little curious eyes scorched him. He felt horrible, dirty under my prying glance. It made him angry, in a subdued, directionless way. I stared at him and I felt him seeing me stare at him. Then he picked me up with those hands and set me on the sack and he pushed me so that I slid down, back into the bed of that garden of earthly delights stretched over its transient skeleton of rickety rides and mournful Carnies.

After school my daughter presents a black and white flier stapled to a pile of corrected papers. I look at it and I think of the blood and sweat soaked hills off of Franklin, of the empty dirt lot that screams with desolate quiet under sun and moon. I think of a nameless whore gestating in reverse within the belly of the parched lands of my youth. The ritual torture of animals tumbles forth from a forgotten corner of my psyche. It is all there in the flier that my daughter has provided, nestled within the words that are written in bold letters beneath a photograph of a Ferris wheel. I hold the dog eared photo copy in my hands and read:

Where Memories Are Made.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


There is a woman with wide white shoulders. As a white bird soars across the field of her vision, her arms open as wide as they possibly can. She feels the pull of her muscles, straining under the weight of her will. She feels them, yet gives them no time. The radiance of her chest leaps out to meet the wind. She opens herself to the sun and moon. They linger, suspended next to each of her hands. Streaks of red clouds light the sky with a brilliant brush. Those long fibers of movement are the commandments of a civilization. Wisps of red move on the wind like ink in a glass of pure water. They move and move and move, there is no resting place for these long strokes of crimson. No place they will ever “be.” Their existence lays in the movement. Their life is the journey. From rain to ocean to sky. The cycle is the way, their process of being.
There is a woman with wide white shoulders and long dark hair. Long strands of black tangle behind her in the breeze. There comes a storm. There comes a fresh start. There comes a much needed fucking. Brilliant red clouds release their blood. A small spout opens up in the only way it knows how. The earth, without thought, without desire or disdain, the earth accepts the gift of the sky. It accepts what is given. It takes. Uses. Transforms.
There is a woman with a tangled mess of long dark hair. She stands upon the highest peak of the purple mountain. The earth below her is open. Open with fire, open with water. It is cracked and gushing. From the height of the mountain, she sees the river. The channel of blue that has carved itself into the porous land. It flows past the base of green and yellow peaks. It wraps itself along the edges of great boulders. Its existence is the movement, the process of constant flow and constant journey.

The river travels and moves up. It flows up the purple mountain, up and up until it reaches her feet. Then it disappears. At the tip of her toes it enters her, for she is the beginning and the end. The great blue river enters through her white toes. It travels past the muscles of her calves and the bones of her wide pelvis. Up and up, circling her chest, rising to her crown. She stands, an open vessel without thought. Without sentimentality or pride. She takes what comes through her. The water rises and at her peak, at the top of her head, the mist forms. Around her is a halo of blue mist. Pale vapors swirl like mini tornadoes and then they rise, higher and higher, into the great wide sky above.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Anaconda On The Loose

One day the pet Anaconda in Mr. Wagman’s 1st grade class got out of its tank.
The class had forgotten to feed him for a whole year, so he was very, very, hungry.
He slithered behind Mr. Spooner who was mopping up somebody’s spilled milk.
He slithered up the long stairway.
He slithered past the 5th grade classes…
And past the 4th grade classes…
And past the 3rd grade classes…
And right into a second grade class room. Room 22, to be exact.
Nobody saw him wriggle by. Nobody saw him lift the latch with his nose, opening the guinea pig cage.
Nobody saw the guinea pigs leap out past the big snake’s wide open hungry mouth.
They ran right out of room 22 and into room 21 and leaped into the fish tank to hide.
Would you believe that nobody saw them come in?
Would you believe that nobody saw the Anaconda come slithering in either?
He was on his way to drink up all the water and swallow both guinea pigs and all the fish when something better caught his eye.
Cassandra and Olivia were cutting out paper apples.
The Anaconda wrapped himself around both Cassandra’s and Olivia’s chairs and started to SQUEEZE!
Then he swallowed both girls whole.
Elizabeth screamed.
Reem fainted.
Kayla didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
Joshua shouted, “Ms. Robinson, you should get them out like I would get them out!”
“And how is that Joshua?” Ms. Robinson asked, but he didn’t answer so she called the office.
Meanwhile, it was dark inside the Anaconda.
Cassandra thought fast. She still had her scissors so she used them to cut the Anaconda open.
Cassandra and Olivia sprang out of the Anaconda’s belly.
Everybody felt sorry for the big snake so Ms. Robinson sewed him back up just like a surgeon, only she used purple thread.
After that, the Principal, Mrs. Berk, called the zoo and they came to take Mr. Wagman’s Anaconda away.
They put him in a cage and carried him past the 3rd grade classes…
And past the 4th grade classes…
And past the 5th grade classes…
They carried him down the long stairway.
They carried him out behind Mr. Spooner who was mopping up somebody else’s spilled milk.
At last they stopped by room 4 and Mr. Wagman’s first grade class said goodbye to their pet.
The kindergartners poked their heads out of the doors and waved goodbye too.
Now the Anaconda with the purple stitches in his belly lives at the San Francisco Zoo and he is very happy there. The zoo keepers never forget to feed him.