Saturday, June 29, 2013

More Than Fire

The human body.
its shape,
its swirling white
more than stone and water
fire and air.

Though the rock
is pink and speckled,
the collective
of blackness lingers
holds out its fingers
and I lick
just to get a sense
of the taste.

In this body
set out before me
there is something
Spheres and music
pungent earth
that threads
the meme.
Scent that holds
onto the white caps
of the ocean.

Others came and went
and the spheres
turned like magic
in the sky.
Grand moving strangeness.

Over there was
only darkness and
stars that called my
in code.

Though it starts to shine
in the setting sun
I hold my breath for
the twilight.

Later I would begin,
I could smoke
just as myths
just like sex
just like the dreams
I had always hidden away
under my pillow before the
rising light.

Did we truly live there
beneath the oaks
and yellow leaves?

Some will call them angels
others will forget
their calls and blue eyes
and the song that
carried their secrets.

The human body,
its shapes,
the swirling white
is more than stone and water
fire and air.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dancing Inside

Julie and Isa walked up to the glass and metal door at the far end of the lobby.  Visiting hours were over at the Santa Cruz county jail and the rows of chairs in the waiting area were empty. The large female officer behind a Plexiglas window at the receptionist counter had directed them to the metal doors in the far corner just past the metal detector. Isa reached out and pressed the cold silver button on the right side of the door.
“Yes?’ asked a deep and husky voice that rode the edge between displeasure and curiosity.
“Hi!”  Julie said with exaggerated enthusiasm that seemed to drip with false friendliness, “we’re here to teach the ‘exercising your power’ class. It starts at six." 
There was a momentary pause as they waited for his response and Isa imagined him shuffling through papers and looking at the list of scheduled visitors.
“We’ll send a guard to escort you in. It’ll be a little while.”
“OK! Thanks!” Julie said into the metal speaker embedded in the wall.
Isa turned to Julie, “Why are you so friendly with them? I hate the people working here, I hate cops.”
Julie shrugged, “They’ll do what we want if we’re nice to them.”
Somewhere inside Isa understood that to be true, but she was too angry to let it resonate and inform her behavior. She held the people there responsible for her own unhappiness, thinking each one of them had somehow contributed to Ray’s felony conviction, sentence and continuing drug and legal problems.
They waited in front of the thick reinforced doors for a while, it was one of the few portals to the cells behind the cinderblock walls where the humans in orange jumpsuits were kept locked away from sunlight.
Isa felt a loathing for every one of the people in dark blue uniforms. She thought they personally benefited from the containment and detention of people and could not contain her dislike when confronted by one of them. 
When a large male guard showed up and opened the door for them Julie once again used her most enthusiastic voice, it was high pitched and seemed to clash with the cold metal and whitish-gray walls of the interior.
“Hi!  How are you?”  she asked.
“Fine,” the man responded quickly, “follow me.”
To Isa, it seemed like he had been sent from a casting agency, fitting every cop stereotype she had ever seen on tv: round stomach, pale face, cropped hair, cold manner. Isa responded in kind, she stood there with a straight face as well, not a glimmer of warmth or friendliness towards the man. 
They followed him through the sterile hallway, the architecture screaming, “INSTITUTION.”  The space was all hard edges, angles, Plexiglas, metal, cold walls, thick doors, light paint that felt devoid of human emotion and compassion. It was the opposite of home, the opposite of love and warmth and rehabilitation.
The halls were well-lit with overheard florescent bulbs, the floors were shiny. On each side of the hallway were rooms with Plexiglas windows. They were unused at the moment and the lights were off, looking to Isa like dark portals.
They passed an inmate in an orange jumpsuit. He was holding a mop, a large trashcan on wheels was close beside him. He stared at them as they passed. Isa smiled faintly.
Julie spoke, “This is our first time here, we’ll need to tell the women what the class is about.”
“OK, I’ll bring you to the women’s dorm first.” 
They turned a corner and entered a darker space which was a very large central room. There were no lights on. Along the edges of the room were the various ‘dorms’ divided by sex. It was like looking into many fishbowls, they could look in and see the inmates. 
In the center of the main room was an unmanned desk. On the left was the room where the men were kept.  It was crowded with triple bunk beds. The room was teeming, men sat on bunks on the floor, men were walking and standing close to the window.
Some men took notice of Isa and Julie as they were led past the room to the women’s cell. Just a few more feet down, past the view of the men’s window was the women’s dorms.  They wore the same style of jumpsuit only in a dark maroon color.
The guard led them into the room and yelled out, “Listen up!  These girls want to tell you about a new class.”
The dorm housed one hundred women and all eyes turned to Isa and Julie. It was the first time Isa had smiled since entering the doors from the parking lot. She smiled, somewhat embarrassed to be the focus of such attention. 
“Hi,” she said a little shyly, “I’m Isa and this is Julie and we’re starting a class tonight called ‘exercising your power.’ It will be a combination of dance, exercise, journaling, writing and music.  If you want to check it out, we’ll be starting in about 10 minutes.”
Isa and Julie left and were escorted to the recreation room.  Isa plugged in the boom box she had brought and Julie lay out the journals and old magazines and glue sticks. The guards had confiscated the scissors. 
Then the women arrived. Isa watched them enter through the door, all of them shuffling in their county issued white socks and plastic sandals.
The single file group of women continued and seem to never end. Isa looked at Julie with amazement. When the last one had entered the room was crowded, there were at least forty women in front of her, almost all of them older than her. They looked to Isa and Julie, waiting for instruction.
Julie started, “So this is going to be a really loosely structured class. We brought music for the women that want to dance, we brought journals and art supplies for those of you who want to write. We want for this to be a creative space, so tell us what you’re into and what we can do more of.” 
Isa turned on the music, a cassette of disco/techno music she had gotten in Italy years before. She and Julie led the women in a free dance, exercise session. Many of the women suggested different moves and Isa looked around at one point and saw that everyone was smiling. 
Together, she thought, they could make it seem like home for a moment, maybe an hour.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rise Hawk Rise

Haunted for weeks afterward I would recall the way we sat, the skeletal appearance of the emptying convention hall, Hawk's stoic candor.
I see it now, sometimes from his perspective, sometimes from mine, sometimes hovering beyond us both. I was leaned back in a chair with my long  legs in stockings stretched out in front of me, heels forsaken, devouring a bag of generic brand party mix. There I slumped watching exhibitors drag carts laden with boxes of comics and the trappings of their booths out the yawning cargo door 120 ft away.

I was waiting for my partner to bring the truck around. A moment earlier she called to say the line of vehicles waiting to reach the loading dock was wrapped around the hotel. It would be a while.
So I was resigned to sitting there in a numb stupor when Hawk returned to his table beside mine. Presently my chair was turned with the back to him.
When we started talking I sat up and turned sideways so that I could twist around to face him, gripping the metal back of the chair to stay in place.

At that moment I still knew him as Jim and not Hawk, the quiet artist that sat beside us for two days dressed in a black t-shirt and slacks, his steel colored hair being all that I could see while his face was turned down to his work.
On Saturday, I had decided that maybe he was a snob who thought himself better than us. He didn’t do much to initiate conversation or contact. That was the day that I wore the tight red dress with the push up bra.
On the morning of day two I glanced over and saw him applying color to a drawing of Harlequin. I felt a sort of jolt realizing that the perfect plastic look of these characters was coming from Jim’s attentive work. This quiet man wearing wire framed spectacles seated next to me was making those drawings look like that.

That was why at the end of the day as we started tearing down the booth I turned to Jim and told him I had taken the opportunity to watch him work and was impressed. I told him his work was beautiful.
He welcomed me to flip through the pages of his portfolios. When I had finished looking through them he offered  to let me choose one.
I selected the Harlequin I had seen him working on in the morning and packed it carefully away. Now he stood beside his suitcases on wheels and talked to me as I craned around in my chair.

Jim’s father had insisted that he would never amount to anything. He didn’t like or understand comics. He thought they were for kids and couldn’t understand his grown son’s interest in them.
One day Jim showed his Dad a copy of Arkham Asylum to demonstrate that comics weren’t just for kids. It left his father speechless on the subject ever after. Jim suspected that it was merely because he was afraid of being shown something like that again.

Jim bought and ran a comic store during the comic boom in the 80’s when you could find a comic book shop on every block. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the craze of the day.  It was during this era that Jim started attending exhibitions, carting all the wares of his comic shop into convention halls. A few years later his employees suggested he table as an artist while they ran the booth dedicated to the shop.

One year a boy approached and asked Jim to sketch something for him. Jim explained that he wasn’t that sort of artist. He was afraid of how it would turn out.
But when he saw the forlorn look on the kid's face as he walked away empty handed, Jim called him back and sketched a hawk man. The kid loved it, but Jim, not convinced that this was work he’d want to be known for, signed it “Hawk” rather than using his real name.

The following year the kid returned with an army of other kids, all eager to get sketches from Hawk. So Jim became Hawk, a fixture at the comic book conventions each year.
He was the longest tabling artist at Wonder Con. When they moved the operation from San Francisco to Anaheim they offered to fly him out to maintain the record. But Hawk had to decline because at this point he was caught up caring for his mother.

Hawk had to sell his comic book store after his father's death because the old man had left his wife with nothing but a mountain of debt. Hawk stepped in to care for his mother.
He took a job at Cisco Systems as the personal assistant for a man who wouldn’t walk five feet to fetch his own coke from the mini fridge.
He started building her a house. He still sold comics from a van to some of his old customers making special deliveries, but his finger was no longer on the pulse. He simply used the catalog to look up and order the items they requested and lost sight of the vast complicated scene that had once been his area of expertise. Slowly the number of customers dealing with him in this way dwindled until there were less than a handful left.

To  fend off the wave of sorrow that was threatening us with silence I said,
“But at least you still have your passion. You’re here.”
And Hawk looked at me and said,
“To tell you the truth I don’t feel passionate about it any more.”
I looked at him, Hawk, battered by the storm of life, weighed down by his father's curse; Hawk, resigned to being pulled into the abyss, and I cried.
“Then you have to find something else, something to be passionate about. You must have passion!”
Hawk blinked at me, digesting my outburst.
My partner arrived with the dolly and without ceremony we began to load it up. Hawk offered to help but we said we had it covered.
“See you next time.”
I smiled as we headed towards the light cascading in through the cargo bay. Hawk waved and rolled his suitcases towards the hotel lobby.

And so it was that for weeks I would be haunted by the incomplete tale of Hawk. Would he rise at last beyond fear, beyond his father’s voice within, beyond the mortal coil, to soar and grasp with outstretched talons the fire eternal that burns in the hearts of the pure?
Or would the cold gray wave that was the hand of his ancestors pull him quietly into oblivion?
And I hoped, I hoped that Hawk would rise, that the encounter with the dame in the red dress would shake the sleep from his wings and remind him of what it is to be alive and striving against the cold and the curses. I hung the picture of Harlequin in the hallway and I whispered to it:
“Rise Hawk. Rise.”