Working in the spacious cruise ship laboratories with their white surgeon’s suits and fresh paint, I couldn’t help but wonder about the disparities — the Chief Engineer, a man of distinction, the scow captain a man of disrepute.
Then the pure joy of stopping by a Mami-Papi comedor, soaking in fresh-fried maduros where this conflict of Miami faded away into nothingness.
Category Archives: Walter Bjorkman
Eddie always knew what the time of day, week, month and year it was, but never knew if it was the right time for anything. Marzy had a hard time getting past knowing the week, but she knew when the time was right for anything.
Chalky, the third wheel on this tandem bicycle, knew neither the time of day nor when the time was right, and as a result had been caught in situations like trying to smuggle in his pants two endangered snakes on a plane from the Everglades, the day after Richard Reid tried to bomb a plane with explosives he carried in his shoe.
Now they were railbirds at the Big A and as Fuggedaboutitkid rounded for home, Chalky was pounding his ass with a rolled up Racing Form as a whip, urging “getem! fuggedaboutitkid! getem! fuggedaboutitkid!” in increasing furor as the longshot whisked towards the finish line to top off an $18 thou triple that would erase all his gambling debts and set him up in the snake business for life. All with the tip that Marzy had given him and which she didn’t bet herself because Eddie liked The Dreamer, hoping to pay for the wedding he thought it was the right time for.
The nag finished dead last. Marzy smiled, for the wedding which Marzy knew it was not the right time for would have to wait.
No such thing a home when you are an afterthought the runt the grunt the stepson the one lost in the crowd because you do what you do and you never draw attention to yourself because the few times you did you were quickly smacked down into your place homes mean nothing they are just a place where you are supposed to stay to keep out of the storm and where you are supposed to do the things necessary to survive which put you in a vulnerable position to predators like cooking eating sleeping and taking a crap in safety but the predators live in that same space and shit eat and fuck while caging you into a corner then that ain’t a home no one does those things even if they say you are in a loving home the fuckers turn on you in a second if it means them losing anything michelle would poison barack’s soup if it came down to her or him it is total bullshit when anyone says they will die for anyone else we just hear people say it and they die running to save their own goddamn asses and we dress it up and make it that way after the fact because we can’t bear to face the truth so don’t give me this home sweet home because there ain’t no such thing
Blue. The first memory or memory of a memory, though it must have been white. He had never seen one before, be it in pictures or real life. This was when the differences were still blurred, the lambs and bunnies all lived behind that bulbous glass wall in the tall wood box that stopped him from petting them, and he knew they were not real, but had a hard time accepting that. This photograph, fallen from a book, was the first solid memory ever, holding someone within its borders that looked curiously like a smaller self, all swathed in blue, in a baby blue tv-like box lying on its side, though it must of — had to be white. He remembers the top of the doll-like head being large and protruded, like that screen that divided realities. The cradle the baby was in, different than the one he used to have as a bed, smaller, barely held the still boy, who was a cold gray-ashy white, not blue. His mother gently took the photograph she never looks at from his clutching hand and sighed at him, knowing that if the figure in her hands were still real, the one looking puzzlingly up at her would never be there.
–after Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
“I don’t even know if love exists, has anyone ever had a definition that fully satisfies, or a love that does? If they say so they are liars.”
“Something doesn’t have to be defined or definable to exist.”
“Now you are pulling in existential crap that can be used to justify or destroy anything or everything. Next you’ll be saying how do we know that everything, including me, isn’t just your imagination and nothing exists but you.”
“It could be true, even if you say how come we both have the same knowledge, of the events in Europe or the color of the street lights or that my dad is screwing his secretary; I could say that is because I imagined you to think that way.”
“We could go back and forth like that forever, but I can tell you why that argument is bullshit and everthing is as real as the taste in my real mouth of that really bad meatloaf we just ate.”
“If you, or I, are just imagining all this, why the hell are we sitting here just washing down lousy food with lousy coffee in a harshly lit diner at two am, paid for with our last two bucks, arguing about if I love you or if there even is such a thing, instead of fucking away in extended bliss in a bed of fluffed down while listening to Sarah Vaughan?”
monk lips bleeding green
No, you will not
There is a fortress not made by man that holds a place where I hid the most, formed by four fallen trees still growing in a place called Bliss. The limbs arch out over a grassy hill hanging over the harbor – statues, tugboats and dogs being walked, all unaware of the space between the convergence of the trunks. I crawled in there over childhood worries whenever I needed to be alone, but never did I cry so much as that day. The thick growth of summer muffled even a nine-year-old’s most intense sobbing.
That day my swift, mad rush to my secret world started after my approach to the bed in pure but nervous joy, as my hero – his also, hit the game-winning homer to beat the cross-town rival Jints in the bottom of the ninth. I always shared the tidings at his bedside since opening day; we would rejoice or bemoan together over dem Bums’ triumphs and defeats. That day I received no reply and I realized he was sent home to die, not live. After a few hours hidden, I emerged from the wooded burrow, crawled out to perch on the outstretched limbs as the harbor lights dimmed, looking out in stony silence beside the craggy slope just to the north, known as Dead Man’s Hill.
Three months later the Dodgers fled to the west coast, leaving a young boy with no heroes at all.
The cupola shadows of the streetlamp were lifted from the figures on the still seedy but now chic lower east side corner. Writers and poets slowly departed the bar where a reading had just been held, where tales of voles and cancerous moles and assorted other stories of love, life and artifice had delighted the writer audience, now all feeling the glow of a luminescent light from the near moon night. One shadow remained in one writer’s mind, from decades before and a cultural abyss away. The figure roams the street measuring imaginary spaces in real places with an imaginary tape measure. What is the distance between here and there? It measures distances seen only by him, sensed by no one else. Half a stoop step. One eighth a lamp pole. A car handle to its antenna. In the office across the way those decades ago, well meaning people had no answer. The office is now a discarded shell of its former self, as is the concern of the bemused bureaucrats. The writer looks at the empty podium, standing in the exact place where the figure those years ago found an answer, a catatonic stare out his front window, a screaming ambulance run to Bellevue, a death as alone as his mind.
Stranger vultures of deadening ash-pits
the thin strangled birds heightened to stand
the now silent birds of prey
Slowly the dotted figures crested the hill
I stare out the pain
keeping my hair
let’s leave, I say
a farmer’s market
you don’t eat peaches
the fruitstand becomes
shadows are merely
for these times I will stay
It was a plain white papered bundle, held together by twilled white cord in a cross pattern, square-kotted and slip-bowed, tucked tightly high up under his arm. The train approached the station at quarter to nine, late evening. As the steam whooshed out from the undercarrige, the worsted-suited man rose up the steps, grabbing the railing with his free arm, the package securely cradled in the other.
He immediately turned right into the last passenger car and moved swiftly down the aisle towards the last compartment, opened the door to see the small, balding, mustachioed man he knew would be there. Sitting beside him was someone totally unexpected, a young, urbane, dark and stately woman in a large hat and veil. The strangers exchanged glances and nervous nods, as the package lodged now deep into his breastbone.
The pudgy man arose quickly at the next stop and lurched across the compartment as the train screeched to a halt. This left the strangers alone for the rest of the trip. Both read the entire way, the woman buried deep into the stock pages, the man holding up a folded newspaper in the one free hand, never letting go of his load.
Both got off at the last stop, the woman walking towards the dimly lit parking lot as the man got on a bus, still hanging on tightly to the now crumpled mass. He arrived home, placed the bundle on a table to open it but was tired and went to bed.
Your father was killed in a different war than my past lover.
Otherwise, we would feel the same about this personal one that you say we will, must get into — for you feel that you have a noble cause deep within that you think I also have, but that I do not, cannot possess.
Everything happens for a reason, you say, there are no coincidences.
This might happen, or not, I say, there are no no coincidences.
I will meet you tonight and we will finally have this out and you will see you will never leave, you said.
I am here, what happened to you?
all gone, ain’t gots, arreared
down and out, dead duck, disgusted
gone-gone, gutted, gazpachioed
junked, jived, jazz-exorcised
(get the pic? now I’m ionized)
mauled, mutilated, misogynated
(do i get a discount to hell for having a coupon
pissed on, pooped on, potter’s field bound
(you thought I got enough simile-ans on me to finish this sad
“Vaughan, Bordagaray or Galan. Arky, Frenchy or Augie, that is better, da.” The guard tower was just ahead and Boris couldn’t have been better prepared for his mission behind enemy lines.
The KGB espionage revealed that after all the papers were checked the final test would be the question “Who played third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the war?”
But which one? Vaughan played the most games at third, but he left for the military himself in 1944. Bordagaray then mostly took over, but Galan was planted there on V-E Day. Boris decided to go with Arky, more likely known to a guy from Iowa, where he was supposed to be from. Use nicknames, Americans big on them. Boris decided to throw in the last name, not be so familial. Igor, his partner in the spy game was on his own, as he was supposed to be from Philadelphia.
Both were whisked through the papers part – had access to the best forgers in Europe. The moment of truth was at hand, Boris first.
“Who played third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the war?”
“Arky Vaughan”, Boris put on an immaculate midwest accent.
Truncheons appeared and battered him into a pulp as the Sarge said “I’m from Joisy an I dint know dat. Gotta be a commie.”
And you . . . ? looking suspiciously at Igor, the supposed Philly lieutenant.
“Aw, dem bums suck lemons!”
“Pass right on through, Sir!” The guard snapped to attention.
The door of today
The latest scenes
My life your camera
Closing, yet making farther,
The Gowanus. Expressway, not canal,
How to write a bad flash:
1. Think about the theme, animal behavior
2. Make a mind leap to an obscure phrase about logic and probability that involves animals, to whit:
“Put a million monkeys in front of a million computers (typewriters) and sooner or later one will write the complete works of Shakespeare.”
keeping in mind that each keystroke has about a one in thirty-five chance, with all the punctuations, of being correct and in all of Shakespeare – ten million keystrokes? more? The statement is still correct.
3. The statement is about chance, not really animal behavior, so apply some, and have the monkey observing the humans as much as they are observing it.
4. Write about what monkeys do – beat off, throw shit.
5. Finish with a brilliant ending where it types the last line of Hamlet perfectly while doing its animal behavior, and blow the last letter. Then throw the shit at the crying researchers.
6. Result: Steps 2 – 5 are brilliant in concept and execution. But, see 7:
7. No one will make the obscure mind leap you did, they all have their own obscurities running around in their heads, and you do nothing to bring yours to light, making it a so what story where it takes all the way to the end to even realize it is a chimp that is thinking here, and not a sperm cell.
8. mmm – maybe if I change it to “To be or not to bz” . . .
Distinguished Classics Professor:
“Theseus walked through the maze to the Minotaur’s lair, sent there to slay the beast, saving Athens from having to send 7 virgin men & 7 virgin women as an offering every 9 years, when the full moon falls on the equinox.”
Night Student Chalky:
“It doesn’t make any sense. This Minos guy gets cuckolded by a bull, I can hear the jokes now:
‘Minos, Pasiphae and a bull walk into a bar . .’
‘How many Cretins does it take to screw a Pasiphae? . .’
And I don’t even want to think about Aethra shtupping Posiden and Aegeus at the same time. Then that Daedalus – he builds a maze that only he knows the way out of? That had to be a scam to get the virgins for himself – maybe Icarus was in on it too.
Then we got Ariadne – she was supposed to be a real babe, ’cause Theseus is willing. Well, the choice is take her help and get hitched, or get eaten alive. She could’a been the second coming of one of LBJ’s daughters and I know I’d do it!
Finally Theseus’ pop, Aegeus. So the kid forgets to raise the flag as he sails in to show he is alive, and Aegeus throws himself to the fishes. Like I called my pops everytime I said I would – he didn’t take a header off the Brooklyn Bridge!
I tell ya – they all had a few loose screws!”
there I stand brave and tall
He would finally arrive
now this one on the last blanket
the runt of the pack, I was the first u-boat
three years later a visitor in the bungalow
now that heaven not ours but a cousin’s
lift it up to bring to the ebbing tide
Eddie, standing on the outskirts of SLC, thumb out, getting hot, thirsty, tired and pissed off.
“If I see one more damn pair of horn-rimmed glasses go by me with a mannequin-wife in the seat next to him, trying not to look at me . . .” he raised his fist to the one cloud in the sky that danced around the sun but never passed in front. Sure, why does he deserve any shade.
“Damn glasses are square glasses, for squares wear them, so their square mannequin-wives don’t have to look in their eyes, lest they see lust, which they won’t anyway. And they are solid black square eyeglasses which is a relief to their square mannequin-wives who can’t look in their eyes. And their two tiny square-clones in the square backseat in the boxy square-car, that can’t look in their square-father’s eyes either, and won’t look at me neither, wearing the same square black glasses at the age of three squared, nine. And, you, cloud, I swear you are changing your shape to be square as you not block the sun – if I could look directly at the sun, I’d probably see that it’s square right here in gaddamm Utah, a square state in shape, even the cutout in the northeast where Wyoming juts in is square!”
“Whew, glad I got that off my chest, I feel better now.” Eddie apologized to the sky, which wasn’t square, then immediately burst into square flames.
“So it’s at Herbst in Bay Ridge, same place my Dad had his, and even out to Oceanview on Staten, same place too. Wonder how many regular folk here took that final route over the years, three funeral homes a few blocks away from each other and three cemetaries within a mile on Staten, one each for Protestant, Catholic and Jew. And here we got a perfectly good one right next door, Greenwood. A Times reporter once said ‘it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live on Fifth Avenue, to take their walks in Central Park, and to sleep with their fathers in Greenwood’. I looked it up once in the Brooklyn library – Horace Greerly, DeWitt Clinton, Samuel Morse, Teddy Roosevelt’s wife, the Tiffany family. Even the mobsters had to be elite, no common street hood – Albert Anastasia, Boss Tweed, and just a few years ago Joey Gallo. Nope, not for our kind.”
“Well, my mom’s goin’ the first way too. I never got to know her much, she was sixteen when she had me, popped in and out of Granma’s until I was ten, then we only heard a little about her until the funeral. She married a rich dentist up in Nyack, guess we reminded her of nuthin’ but bad. A hunnert buck check showed up in the mail every month, we weren’t too proud to use it, pride is for suckers. Now we get to pay her back for nuthin.”
Mayflies decided to hatch on that humid day
At Bottom Dollar, in line behind a woman
The bus on the way home never came, or so it seemed
Same busdriver I had on the way down, kinda looney himself
driving me crazy
Onca Ole was a young farmer from Högbobruk, Sweden. One day in 1924 he jumped on a boat headed for America, where he landed in Brooklyn. Brooklyn sounded like it had a brook, perfect for farming. He got on the trolley and rode all the way to Coney Island, which he decided was not an island. There was no farmland anywhere. On the way back to the trolley, a loud man on a wooden sidewalk by the beach said he could guess Onca Ole’s weight within five. The carny guessed 200 and Onca Ole laughed all the way to the bank as he said “nay, jag ar 91 kilogram”, grabbed the man’s five dollars, put it in his shoe for safety, and went to Yellow Hook, were he took a room for 25c a night.
The only contact Onca Ole had was Ivar, a Norwegian who liked to drink and loved other people’s money. When he heard of the $5, he convinced Onca Ole to go out drinking at the soccer club. Ivar got so drunk he threw up all over the floor, and Onca Ole had to clean it up. The manager thought he did it so well, he hired him on as the club’s janitor.
Onca Ole retired in 1965 after forty years working in a 64 story office building in Manhattan, starting as a janitor, and working his way up to chief engineer, then building manager. Always keeps a $5 bill in his shoe.
Jesse walked unsteadily out of the wood shop, goggles flittered with sawdust. The fresh cut wood’s odor brought her to the small basement where her grandfather once worked on the same violin over and over, with his now shaky hands once patterned for finer movements. As a boy and a man he was a cobbler by trade, but his passion was in shaping the instruments of sound whenever he could.
Jesse never could master the strings, nor did she have the desire; she was more intrigued by this hunched figure with his green visor, working the wood over and over in his palms for twenty years, the last five on what was his fifth and final one. Well into his seventies, he’d stare at the work table, hands trembling as he tried to position the bridge just right, then stringing, tuning and lifting into the folds beneath his neck, the sound only to disappoint once again. He never gave even a sigh, just methodically placed it down, then turned his head to the overhead window to the alley. After a quiet minute or two, he went back to the bridge, or at times disassembling the body – was it perhaps a misshapen or improperly positioned piece that made his masterpiece incomplete? This went on month after month, five days a week. Jesse sat quietly, trying to make sense out of his gyrations, learning never to question the whys or whats that so desperately wanted to be heard.
Nov 20th, Megans Bay
Children!! Having so much fun on this 30 day cruise to the Caribbean and South America you gave us for our 25th anniversary. Pops is still wearing his black socks with the sandals, he has become a laughingstock with all the sleek, tanned South Florida crew onboard. I told him to at least wear white ones. But I hardly ever see him, he always has somewhere to go, and I caught him sneaking into the room at 2am for money!! I think he is hitting the tables pretty hard.
Nov 25th, Cozumel
Dad got thrown out of Carlos & Charlie’s last night, I was so embarassed – no one gets thrown out of there. He was dancing on the tables with a local named Concertina or something, and got into a fight with the manager when asked to stop. He was drunk as a skunk and is sleeping it off. – Mom
Nov 30th, Aruba
Well, here we are – I had to stay behind, your rotten father missed the ship. I guess when we find him we will have to fly to the next port-of-call. Conchita, who turns out to be a masseuse from the ship, is missing also. At least I know the house is in safe hands with my wonderful children.
* * *
“Mrs. Norman? The purser’s office wants you.You have a call from Nebraska, something about a drug raid and weapons in your house. Oh, and we filed the missing persons report.”
“Acceptez-vous le Seigneur comme votre Créateur?” the driver, wide as the front seat and short as it too, croaked out.
“Ah, acceptez-vous, do you accept. Ah, le Seignor, uh the mister. Votre, wait Latin, our, creator” Eddie was translating by the seat of his pants. Do you accept the mister, comme-communist?
“Do you accept the communist as our creator?” Had to be it.
“Nah, I’m apolitical” was the best Eddie could offer.
“I think he means ‘Do you accept Him with a capital H as your Creator?’” Sid finally chipped in, knowing French, but wanting to see what Eddie came up with.
“Well, I’m agnostic, that’s religiously apolitical” Eddie reasoned.
The driver had picked them up in Fraser Canyon, nicknamed ‘God’s Valley’.
“Look, we can’t call our world ugly” Eddie preached to the preacherman and Sid. “We call it all beautiful, astounding, God’s Gift. What kind of creatures would we be if we thought earth was ugly, think how it would put a kibosh on exploration, just getting up in the morning. It would be counter-productive to survival.”
“The poet would recite: I think that I shall never see, a poem so revoltin’ as a tree.”
“So of course we think it beautiful, it had nothing to do with god.”
“Eddie, your reasoning is, is, is . . . “ Sid thought long and hard about what he just heard.
“There are-a no bad haircuts, justa bad heads” was his favorite saying.
Scanio’s dad rose up from his dad’s humble Brooklyn barber shop beginnings to become an officer at the Lincoln Savings bank by day, but still gave haircuts at night to the neighborhood kids and some parents, as much for the love of it as for the extra income.
The Scanio’s lived in one of the rare detached wood houses found in this neighborhood, down by the Staten Island Ferry. Their backyard bordered the alley behind my house on the adjacent dead-end block. Greg was a best buddy for a few years; we played streetball and dished up real Italian ices in the summer to folks on their way to the country, from a tool shed Scanio’s dad converted into an over-the-counter into-the-street shop.
One day, Scanio’s dad offered me a free haircut. At age ten, I didn’t care, though mom was concerned – she had seen the results on her paying brother. No need to worry. After the final little snips, the haircut in the mirror was the finest ever seen on this bad haircut magnet.
Then the shadows of drenched hands loomed above, scarier than any Vincent Price movie. In a splash and a comb it was gone, slicked back into a glossy magazine cover, soon to be hardened into a concrete slab in the summer sun.
Odell Hair Trainer, reserved for the under-nine set: it never met a good haircut it did or didn’t like.
Billy the Bunny never caught a break. It was a tough kindle of rabbits to be brought up in, especially as the last, and runt, of the litter.
The eldest, Peter, well none that followed reached his level of belovedness, so falling short of him was no shame. But then to be preceded in rapid succession by Thumper, Bugs & Roger, well Billy just never had a chance. Not that rabbit parents did much tendering anyway, or for very long — they were off fucking like hippies after a month or so.
But in the eyes of the public, Billy the Bunny was off the radar. He resorted to taking a gig as a model for the cheapest, hollowed-out stale chocolate Easter bunnies found in last-minute CVS gift baskets, but that paid only for services, no royalties, and the association with such a travesty was too much to bear.
So that leads us to the tragic 1974 Halloween night that found Billy crossing Brooklyn Bridge on his way to Bug’s toney Brooklyn Heights party, carrying plastic leaves of grass and muttering something about all along the watchtower, and joining the Jehovah’s Witness protection program. He was promptly arrested for public sanity, taken to Bellevue, and wound up in a ward with the cast from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Bob Dylan was his only visitor, but wouldn’t give him a smoke.
His current whereabouts are unknown, but no one cares.
|Why is it that we put the birth & death date on a tombstone? I mean, are these the two highpoints of our life that we want to be memorialized for? The first one you have no recollection of, except somewhere deep inside you that this shit really hurts! And the death thing, well hell, that’s why you’re lyin’ there in the first place.
I rather have: Wednesday, April 6th, 1959 – aced history test without studying, instead listening to Fats Domino and Buddy Holly for the week prior.
Or: Saturday 2:00 AM, February 2nd, 1970 – had Little Richard as a cab fare, got a joint for a tip.
Or: Tuesday, August 8th, 1978 – gave Petula Clark the finger and the Ratso “I’m walkin’ here” on 52nd street when she almost ran over him in her limo.
And the epitaph – Beloved Father and Husband, well, one out of two ain’t bad, but again, mine should read:
Poets should not try to be stand-up comics. Evermore.
|Life’s highlight: I’m walkin here|
At the top of the subway stairs a line took him down into the depths of the tunnel, musky grays with vile creatures darting out of corners. It proceeded out into a sky of late Autumn sun desperately clinging to life in a shroud of winter air. It veered up five flights to a sweltering summer night on the roof, Sande in his arms, the barely moving air holding back suffocation from rotting streets below. It climbed a ladder to the stars where he rode a moonbeam to other galaxies. On the other side of the universe it took him to a tropical beach with piñas and niñas waiting for his delight. It boarded a catamaran sailing him back to the city, now in a Cuban-Chinese on eighth avenue, ropa vieja on his chin as fat ladies danced in the laundromat next door. It boarded a bus that clanged its way up to a bucolic meadow where people laughed, threw frisbees and fucked out of sight of police. A pelican picked up the line, drawing lazy patterns in the now gloriously blue sky, swooping him back to the station.
“Hey, pal — you gonna buy a token or just stand there like a looney from Bellevue?”
He dropped out of the token line and threw a twenty into the saxophone case of the player that layed down the solo line. Took off his coat and tie, dumped them in the trash, headed to Central Park to look for a moonbeam.
I’m gettin hungry, I always do after, but he hasta get back to the ship, so instead we walk the two blocks to the pier. I’m holding tight to his arm, I figure he’s back, what better do I have, not youse guys, I’m your night moves, you go back to the Slope every morning – ain’t gonna bring me back there. He’s makin nice too, givin me that nuzzle on the neck that gives shivers. So I says to him I guess we can pick up again, what are you in town for a few days every few weeks? He starts to get a jitter in his left leg, shakin his right hand in his pocket, like he always does when he’s hidin somethin. So I ask, right out, “You gonna see me, right? This wasn’t just tonight?’ Now he starts to give me the tears, he sits down on the edge of the dock an’ tells me he’s been married these past three years, to that bitch Lena he used to see every now and then. He looked for me – bullshit! and when he couldn’t find me – more bullshit!, he got back with her. So I pick up a two by four and I’m gonna whack him over the head. Figure they’ll find him washed up in Gravesend Bay in a week or so. But I dinnt, just left his no-good drunken sailor ass there. I figure sooner or later Lena’ll do it.
You spin in that downward vortex of your dreams towards the darkness of the edges. Sometimes it is too dark to see anything, other times too bright. Lichen stains on a South Dakota rock and multi-colored algae in a Death Valley mudpot converge as tannic stained waters yellow-diamond fall in the Upper Peninsula. The kid wouldn’t give you your sneaker back when you got fired from the group home, so you go home on the bus and ferry one shoed. The vest she was wearing at the airport when she picked you up, she found as she rode the Andes alone in her young womanhood while you cried in the Pacific ocean. “People’s Park”, the charlatan Berkeley rebel proclaims as he shows off the blood on his collar and the power hunger he so despises, yet wants, needs, in his eyes. A can of fresh-picked walnuts and figs sent wrapped in a painted coffee can across the country.
“I think, in spite of it all, I’d rather be the yellow bug” Sid proclaimed.
“I don’t know, Sid, the red one is the mean mother, only the brown one keeps trying to get by her, nobody’s gonna top her, she got it made, she established dominance.” They had decided the red bug per force was female, after staring for the last two hours at the picnic-style table top in the campground in Anacortes.
“We gotta finish this stuff off before the border” Eddie had wisely noted.They were brought up to waste not, want not, so they divied up the one tab left when they awoke.
The three bugs of different types did a rival’s dance for the two hours. Both agreed they wouldn’t want to be the brown bug, who constantly tried to get past the red one, only to be had at, bitten or stung and then retreating. The yellow one tried to invade the red one’s space just once, got bit, and hied it to the corner, just occasionally glancing over, but never trying again. They tried to make the scene in front of them into a stage play, a metaphor for life, trying to find deep meaning infused by the artificial and false insight of their altered state.
Finally, Eddie leaned back, took in the astonishing view of mountain and fjord before him and declared:
“They’re just stupid bugs, I don’t want to be any of ’em.”
“Whhhheeeat” came through her pursed lips as the gentle whoosh of wind from them only accentuated the picture, already formed in Eddie’s imagination, of fields of grain arcing in the Kansas breeze. Professor D. Gale always began her weekly seminars on the history of the amber grain in America’s Heartland this way. Eddie hadn’t missed any of them.
“Kansas has Whhhheeeat” she exhaled again, this time with a glint in her eyes that revealed her youth through ruby sparkles of memories that Eddie could not resist.
‘The Last Time’ was the topic for this nineteenth week. After the fields had been harvested by the horse and tractor-drawn, the children’s chore was to spread out in the fields and gather up the isolated areas of shoots still standing, with the elders swaying the scythe. They were not finished until at least eighty bushels were added for the family’s own winter needs, no matter how many days it might take. A bushel is four pecks, but a last is eighty bushels.
Stalks were scythed to submission one stroke at a time, she sweeping the fallen strands from behind her uncle’s rhythmic swings, gathering the golden reeds into the fold of her dress.
When the children had gathered a last, their reaping chores for the season were done.
Eddie awoke from a deep sleep in his Topeka apartment and realized it was all a dream. A last would be 4,800 lbs and even with a wizard’s help those munchkins couldn’t make it happen.
“One, two, three, four, five and six. Why not play them?”
“You crazy? That’ll never happen.”
“Last week’s winning numbers were three, thirteen, eighteen, twenty-six, thirty-nine and fifty-two, how about that?”
“Same six numbers twice in a row, what are the odds of that?”
“Same as if you picked one, two, three, four, five and six.”
“See what I mean, never happen!”
“What are your numbers?”
“Four and six for my son’s birthday, fourteen for my favorite baseball player as a kid, twenty-four because as a kid I always thought I’d get married at twenty-four and didn’t until I was thirty-four, saving ten years of grief. So I’ll throw in ten. I once walked into a bar in Elko, placed one ten buck bet on thirty-three, which was my house address as a kid, it hit for the three hundred sixty buck return, so that’s in.”
” Just as likely as any other numbers, like one, two, three, four, five, and six. ”
“Now I know you, craaaaazy, man, that’s never gonna happen!”
“Sorry guys, too late, computer won’t take any more bets.”
“Shit! Man, I felt good this week, all this talk of one, two, three, four, five and six made me miss it! You gonna owe me a hunnert million when they hit!”
I’d like to say that one through six hit, or our latecomer’s numbers, in a cruel twist, but no, it was two, three, four, five, six and seven. The lone winner picked her lucky numbers.
“Acey-deucey, pot it!” The smile changed to fuckit when another Ace popped up. “Sheet, that’s it man, I’m busted.”
“Damn stupid game anyway, no sure winning hand in the game. I shouldn’t even be here, I should be back with my Carmen doin’ the nasty.”
“How’d you wind up here, anyway?” Phil swooped up the sixteen bucks in the pot as he calmly hit on Jack-seven and drew a ten, going against the odds. He knew when to stick the dagger.
“Fuckin’ Pops, thought I needed ‘direction’ or some BS. Truth is, he just didn’t wanna pay for school.”
“Hey, I didn’t wanna be here either” Eddie chimed in, sympathetic to Jackson’s losses. Eddie mostly came out even, letting luck fall on either side to the other two. “Damn woman left me, I signed up in anger, by the time I got my head back, I was here.”
Phil was silent, thinking about what local he could get down with long enough to blow his winnings.
“So out with it, what happened to you, Phil-fuck?” Jason wanted to screw with Phil’s high.
“Me? Ahh, had nuthin’ better to do, dropped outta HS, couldn’t get a job that paid anything, figured here I get room & board and a few bucks too.”
“Get offa your fuckin’ asses, slackers, we got some gooks to check out.” The lieutenant was in no social mood as the three picked up their weapons from the My Lai ground on March 16th, 1968.
Kat is Haitian and makes
the best, never produced one
without the required
head of sugar-foam
and the two headed
they take turns
in my present department
but when the going gets tough
and Kat’s on a sales visit
and our filter is broken
I descend the Juan Valdez
ladder to purgatory
down to the fourth level for
Gilda, an ex-boss
who started the tradition
if she is not around
it is down to the lowest
level of Hades
the ground floor
cross the caféteria Styx
on the way
and have to (shudder) pay
75 cents for an automated
(ever made any yourself?
stirring the sugar into a frenzy from the first few drops?
then adding a bit more and whipping it up in a froth?
then pouring the rest in with quick flicks of the spoon at the end
so you create a transition from the slightest bit of coffee at the top
to the rest, with just enough sugar to cut the bitter?)
it can be religious
I did it twice
the first was actually
café cubana bliss
the second a total disaster
I needed total concentration
they are talking business, or joking
while sub-consciously doing it
it is like when you master a song
and it becomes part of you
we all do it for work
typing, eating on the phone
but when the sub-conscious
café cubana bliss
what could be better
I got my fix
In the land of Nosleep the natives are restless. The new neighbor on the block was building an addition to his house, a section about two-hundred sqft jutting out the side. Every house in the land was the same, an 800 sqft house that contained the same rooms: a kitchen, two bathrooms and a common living area with tables for eating, chairs for sitting and large screens for entertainment, lining all three of the room’s walls.
The new neighbors were friendly enough, warmly accepting the standard kneepads given as housewarming gifts, and taking part in the weekend communal feed trough gatherings. They gathered to watch and cheer along the Ikea Cribbage Championships Bowl, the county’s biggest sport for the last decade (previously it had been water pistol fights and before that thumb twirling).
One night after it was finished, the Mayor, concerned, went out and looked through this strange piece of glass that opened to the inside. There he saw the mysterious couple, naked and seemingly dead on a cushioned slab.
Then a gruff unearthly sound came from the male. He arose from the dead, walked into the bathroom, came back and seemed to die again within a few minutes!
The Mayor ran away in confusion and utter fear of this couple’s strange power. He never mentioned it at the next weekend’s chow-down on BBQed groats when the couple showed up quite alive and well. He took it to his own grave, vowing to avoid them until that very day to ask them how they do it.
There was no way you were going to let that star fall without catching it, putting in your pocket and never letting it fade away. Kamloops is a town that releases its secrets right in your face, unless you are younger than young and don’t have the intelligence of the caribou coming down the mountainside from the early September snow up above. There, you glided above cloud tops and soared over a raging Upper Columbia River, Banff some dark ceiling on a map hovering up above, with no symbols or markers of a land traversed by men, like Hel in ancient times, the deep unknown.
There was no way you were going to get offa that cloud teetering on the ridge between Pecos Baldy and Pecos Baldy East, a narrow ridge suspended on the continental divide, the headwaters to the Gulf trickling out of the ground to your right, to the Pacific off to your left, the purple below slowly receding in distance and height as they faded into endless horizon.
There was no way you were going to return to the campground after that moonless night on the banks of a small stream in a clearing in the Northern California mountains, with no, absolutely no, ambient city, town or even campfire light to obscure the Universe from your youthful blitzed-out gaze without becoming an astro-physicist, or a poet
Twenty one of age, watching a health and safety film in the mess tent preparing for his job as assistant waterfront director. Better made film than those old safe sex and don’t smoke pot ones, and that’s what made it worse. Outdated information for a rich kids’ camp these days, like how to suck out the venom and tie a tourniquet, but required viewing nonetheless.
Film shifts, hospital scenes of therapy and surgical procedures. Close-up of a bare back. Broad needle heads straight for the bottom of the spine.
He gets up, stumbles to the back of the tent and collapses in a heap. When he comes to, he is asked what happened. He can only wheeze “I don’t know”.
Two years of age, crawling down the hall towards the living room, warm sounds of clinking cups and saucers and friendly chatter invite, golden aromas of walnuts and cinnamon fill the air.
Forty-eight and eighty-eight years of age, likely looking one last time at photographs; there is one of a young tot with one shoulder now drooped lower than the other. The mother says to the boy “They never found out what caused that. I never felt so guilty in my life as on that afternoon after the spinal tap, as you looked up at me with those eyes. The ladies meant well, but I should have told them never mind, I needed to be with you. I had heard your screams through two closed hospital doors.”
Totally uninspired by the theme Red Meat, the writer decides to immerse himself in the equivalent of Method Acting, deciding to eat red meat tonight. And the next. And the next. Fully aware the Method Writer has eaten red meat the same 3 times in the last six months.
Mmmmmmmmeatballs and spaghetti crowned with a thick, stick to the top of the pot tomato sauce, laced with thin sliced garlic-sauteed green peppers and mushrooms, frosted with an aged rime of Pecorino Toscano.
One and one quarter pound packs of highly fatted ground are the smallest pre-packaged ones on the shelves, perfect for three days of red meat indulgence. No filler used, just fresh ground peppercorns, minced scallion and a dash of sea salt. Browned in olive oil over high heat to perfection. Set to simmer in the over-sized pot as the sauce reduces, mingling just slightly its meaty juice into the fold.
Gotta make this all at one time, the greater the volume, the better the cooking, the mellower the taste. Big fat meatballs too, not those tiny cocktail ones.
“Your shit is floating in the bowl, you didn’t flush all the way as usual.”
“Well, so it floats, what’s that mean?”
“Animal fat. You agreed to go vegan. Our last chance to make a go of it, you know how much it means to me. After four months, I go away for the weekend, and you’re back into the red meat! I want a divorce.”
[after Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Lewti, or the Circassian Love-Chaunt]
The light bright, the amber-glow dream
And the glint of a star
Flew from Loki, my roomie’s cat’s mien;
The just-waxed floor brightest by far.
They partly out of my view
By flowing veils of whitened hue. —
So glows my Lewti’s fur so fair,
Emanating out of her to the musky air,
Picture you Lewti! On your behind
Depart; for Loki is not kind
In a nonce then the sight
In a nonce they set ready to fight;
I had no portent this would occur,
Ne’er did I see this happening,
Not days before, nor those coming;
Have only seen them over and over,
Backs curved only to ignore:
Then scoot away from sight,
Now fiercely snarling and tight,
And Loki’s ivory incisors show
As fiercely snarly can glow.
Out! this picture in my mind
Depart; for Loki is not kind
We know where my Lewti flies
When cat-nip has dilated her eyes:
It is under the laundry hamper-cover,
The birdsong twitters in her head:
If only I could! Save the hour
That waxed hall’s floor to tread,
And cat-paw, like you, no sound ahead,
I might be able to save your plight
Entering horrific to my sight.
What then! these two cats together cleave
And passionately begin to conceive!
Ah! If only this I saw in my dream,
And dreamt they made love, not war;
Less time wasted would I deem
That all’s good, as lovers are!
I’d cry not atall, if I could foresee
Their bodies entwined in glee!
“OK if I grab a smoke?”
“I like to smoke, not with cigarettes, but with chicks, hot chicks.”
I inch as close to the door on the right and as far from the driver as I can, have to get outta here, but how? I’m hitching into Salt Lake City for the night, and on this desolate run from Pocatello, there are no excuses.
An empty boat trailer rattles unexplained behind the monster Olds.
The smoke trails up over my head and out the crack in the window; if only it could carry me with it, out of this nightmare.
“You can close the window if you are cold. I like to be in a smoky room. With hot chicks.”
“Yes. Even if I die trying.”
Did this specter add “and take you with me”? I heard it, even if unspoken.
The deliberately slow words are ominous, spoken the way a wraith might call me to death. I get lost in the smoky haze of the shadow of gray memories protecting me, but the voice comes again.
The stranger pulls into a gas station in the center of town.
“Need to get gas, can’t stop on the way back.”
I lam off down an alley, go around back to have another Marlboro, making sure I cant be seen from the road, trying to not think about why he won’t be able to stop on the way back.
Him: “You know, you really aren’t any taller, its more like an optical delusion.”
Her: “Illusion, you mean illusion, not ‘delusion.'”
Him: “No, I mean delusion. An illusion is a lie from the get-go, an oasis. With a delusion you trick your own mind.”
Her: “Thanks for clearing that up.”
Him: “Like your wedges.”
Him: “Well, a delusion is also more like the moon seeming larger near the horizon.”
Her: “But an illusion can be a delusion too.”
Him: “Not so sure – can an illusion be seen wrong?”
Her: “Say you saw a girl like me — you thought it an illusion, like an oasis, but it isn’t. It’s a delusion because you tricked your own mind into thinking you saw the girl.”
Him: “I see. A girl like you in the desert when others imagine palms. But an illusion can’t come from a delusion – because of the time line. The pic has to get to the mind first.”
Her: “So an illusion comes from being delirious not delusional.”
Her: “So that means my wedges are real, and delude no one. They just are.”
Him: “Ah – a self-illusion is a delusion – you are getting in too deep for me here, my brain hurts.”
The moon slowly grew larger as it began its descent to the horizon, the desert night’s relief soon to end.
I came to the sands to forget the hourglass, tiny droplets of coral casting diamond specks of eternity towards the sun.
I came to the dunes to remember the times we laughed, screwed and slept beneath the Van Gogh night skies on the cooling blanket of particles.
I came to the beach to talk of banjo men with Donovan’s Starfish on the Toast, “holding welkes and periwinkles twinkling” in my hand – fully aware they hold me too.
I came to the surf to remember my first one – a blackfish so small my Father could not feel the tug with his calloused work hands, but his young son’s gentle ones could.
I came to it all trying to forget, but remembering, building a raft of driftwood that summer he died in my ninth year, wanting to sail away from reality and onto his seahorse back-rides just one year before, the sands and surf of the beach my playground, not my memoirs.
Big brother was just short of twelve and this was his biggest job yet. “You are the man of the house now” they told him a year ago, in the weeks after the death of their father. Now he was entrusted to guide his younger brother across the Atlantic on a four-prop silver bird, with the occasional helping hand of an airline employee.
He was scared as shit. Sure subways, buses, even the last steam powered LIRR line had been in his past travels, but always with an adult watching carefully beside him.
The plane coughed. His younger brother, by only 19 months, had used both barf bags to perfection leaving Idlewild, and he felt as if he could use one right now. Young brother awoke as the plane buckled, swerved suddenly and started dropping. Big brother’s stomach rose over his head, and the eyes from the arm rest beside him, pillowed to sleep by Nordic stewardesses just a few hours before, awoke in confusion, fear and hurt never seen before that day a year past. Outside the window the far engine began to billow dark smoke. Anywhere but here, he thought anywhere but here.
“Allan, what’s happening?” the tiny tremelo voice asked, a voice once happy and strong.
“Looks like we are taking a side trip to Coney” Allan answererd with a laugh, his far hand’s fingernails tearing the stuffing out of the other arm rest, out of the sight of all, especially his brother.
The first thing Stephan remembers as being made of gas but seemed at the time more like space was the hole in the middle of one of the granny squares on his favorite blanket, a delicately woven one made from real wool yarn and natural earthy dyes, not like the one over at Aunt Margrit’s place that was big, fat and not wool and with those loud fake colors. His blanket itched more, but was much more comforting. Stephan would poke his finger into those holes so craftily created, noticing that it passed through the blanket, but never really went into it and through to the other side, so what was this stuff between the solid? Stephan wanted to ask why is this stuff there? You can’t feel it, touch it, experience it, but it surely was there.
Bow Ties & Brooklyn Dressing by Fancy Me
At first we wore them
for special occasions,
to birthday parties
first day of class
Then, the true test
to tie the tie of the name
to struggle with the bow for
Then, they were forgotten
narrow other ties
sharkskin pants, fancy me
Then, we ran naked
through the sixties
collars of obedience
discarded in the pyre
with draft cards and bras
Then, when we grew up
got a job
wide was cool
gaudy was de riguer
Garcia would’a been proud
Then, corporate silk
no suit, no tie
Then, something happened
at least in Miami tropic
bow to the heat
tie to the reality
no suit, no tie
Now – here I sit
with Brooklyn tomatos
Barilla bow ties
that I devour,
and want to pick one up
to my neck and wear one
but then I think better
– and don’t
garlic clarifies ties.
Do the Breadfruit Mash, Baby by Walter Bjorkman
I had a breadfruit tree in my backyard in Miami. Well, in my new neighbor’s yard, but much of it hung over the fence. Used to be my yard, not really, just an empty lot with the fruit trees on it, owned by the guy who sold me my house, gave me free reign of this fruitfulfiefdom, just for caring for it. Then the Trinidadian new neighbors, then the fence, the orange and grapefruit trees bulldozed. The mango and avocado trees hung over that fence too, providing plenty for all, but were not yet in season. The breadfruit tree was new, transplanted in a condition that bore some small fruit, not ready for harvest, what good is it. And that damn fence that now divided me from my past bounty. I seethed inside, as only the Key Lime tree on my side of the fence was bearing now, so I would pour a coupla Cuba Libres and we would sip them alone in our lounge chairs, staring at the new neighbor’s yard and our old trees, muttering to ourselves.
Then they invited us over for a night of masi, the fermented mash beverage from the breadfruit, from their yard back in Trinidad. All was forgiven, the memories of the past becoming a vision of the future and future friends.