Ten Seemed Twenty
The Gambler And His Daughter
Over the River
Someone Else's Story
Mercy, In Practice
I Named It Scotty
A Few Americas
A Hard Shell
The Corn King of Clinton County
Death Fossilizes Love
And the Mother Shares
Things I Lost and Miss
Dead Dog on the Highway
The Good Soldier
It Was Nothing
Allergies, You Know
The Night Before Thanksgiving
Artist in Residence
Dear Dr. Frankenstein
Dead Mouse in the Birdseed
A Good Spell with a Bad Witch
When Clouds Pass
Why Girls are Bad at Math
Do you remember crawling inside the weeping willow tree, parting its branches like curtains and believing you could live right there forever? Do you remember what was on the ground? Or tugging the weeping branches and watching a million small moths alight, then waiting, waiting for the moths to return, and tugging the branches again?
Do you remember crawling inside the clothing rack at the department store while your mother shopped, a preference for the rounds ones because these most resembled the tree that you loved, hiding inside a wall of sweaters, waiting for her to call so you could pop out and surprise her? Or, hoping she never would.
Do you remember your lucky rabbits foot? Was it dyed purple, pink or blue? You were too young for keys so you used the chain to carry it. You were old enough to know you needed luck. Was there something you wanted? Was there something you had that you wished would go away? Did you rub it? Did you rub it until you revealed the little bones, did the tendons inside it repulse you?
Did you feel lucky when you lost it?
Do you remember finding a reversed ladybug, this one black with spots of red? You called it a "man-bug" and tried not let its darkness scare you. It was rare and exotic,
but you liked it less.
Ten Seemed Twenty
Do you remember being younger and wishing you'd turn eight? Then nine, then twelve, fourteen? Do you remember the autonomy you thought that age would bring you? And is it hard to remember now what on earth that may have been?
The Gambler And His Daughter
It’s funny what you remember. I remember what I wore, well, just the shirt. I think I must have been sick or something and this was my reward for healing. I don’t remember being sick. But I remember my youth just well enough to know it wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
My dad took me to the racetrack at 5am to see Canonero the Second run. I’d made that horse my hero when he ran for the Triple Crown in ‘71 but he broke down in the Belmont. I guess they printed exercise times in the paper. Or maybe Dad got a tip from his bookie.
There was a snack bar at the track where trainers would grab coffee and watch their horses work out in that very early morning just like we were doing, Dad and me. Canonero the Second was the last to run. Dad held me up so I could see. We only had a black and white television then and here at sunrise this gleaming copper stallion, craning his neck as he galloped by. I remember the sound of cheering but it was just inside of me.
Over the River
I don’t remember much from my childhood. Sometimes I think I remember something because I’ve been told about it, and I imagine remembering it, but really that’s more like making a movie - or adapting a script from a novel.
Anyway, I have a nice memory of Thanksgiving dinner at some aunt’s or friend-of-the-family’s, someone who was a really terrible cook. My folks stopped for White Castle burgers on the way home, dewy buns and onions steaming up the car windows.
Let me preface this by saying I was in a terrible mood. I was working in the garden. I moved a rock. Beneath it was a mass of red ants and a trove of little white ant eggs. Normally I would just put that rock right back in hopes of harming nothing. But today I didn't. I actually thought to myself: "Those ants have to learn to fend for themselves."
Someone Else's Story
There is a story I want to tell you. But it’s not my story, it’s a friend’s. Well, not a friend's, the guy I had a crush on in high school’s - he didn’t have a crush back, so we’re not friends exactly. He’s more like someone I know. There’s someone else I know in the story too, but he wasn’t my friend either. He was the crush-guy’s friend. But it was a small town and a small school so of course I knew him too, the other guy in the story. I’m not sure if telling it to you is stealing or not. It kind of feels like stealing. But the crush-guy never reciprocated, and was pretty cruel about it all really. So screw him. I can tell you the story. In any case, it’s my version. It’s mine now. So anyway.
The crush guy is named Scott. I loved him because he wore glasses like Elvis Costello wore, or like Buddy Holly wore I guess because they call them Buddy Holly glasses, but I wasn’t into Buddy Holly. I don’t think I even knew who he was at the time. I was into Elvis Costello. And Scott had brown hair and wore Elvis Costello glasses, which was enough to make me think he looked like him. Which was enough to make me love him. One day I was somewhere where Scott was, some party or something or maybe even in the same car, someone’s car – not the other guy in the story’s - and I looked at him all dreamy-like and told him he looked like Elvis Costello. Scott was a senior when I was a sophmore. I thought I paid him the ultimate compliment but he kind of slanted away from me and said, “Fuck you.” That was my only conversation with him. Well, my only conversation with him in high school. After high school I hooked up with him a couple of drugged-up, messed-up times, but that’s another story.
Oh yeah, the story. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s not the kind of thing you could make up. Well, I could I guess. Make it up I mean. But I wouldn’t. I mean I wouldn’t make this kind of thing up. I make up other kinds of things. But anyway, it’s a true story.
Scott and Dave – Dave’s the other guy, Scott’s friend, but I knew him, well, I knew him like I knew Scott – Scott and Dave are riding horses up by Lawn Lake. The horses are Dave’s. Dave’s one of the rich kids, but Estes Park is a small, isolated mountain town, so rich is still a hick, just a hick with more money, a nicer truck. Anyway, Scott and Dave are riding Dave’s horses up by Lawn Lake. Lawn Lake was a reservoir up in Rocky Mountain National Park, up above timberline. I know, it seems weird, a reservoir way up a mountain, inside a national park no less, a place that’s so supposed be all pristine and natural, right? But the eastern slope of the Rockies is dry, and they pipe over water from the western slope to irrigate the plains. Anyhow, I said it was a reservoir because the earthen dam that held it broke in the early eighties and caused a flash flood that killed people and nearly wiped out the town. So now it’s not really a reservoir anymore. ''Too much pain and suffering from the flood to get away with rebuilding the dam. It wasn’t a big lake to begin with, but now it’s just kind of a pond, and only sometimes, when it’s been wet. But everyone still calls it Lawn Lake, and Scott and Dave were riding horses on the Lawn Lake Trail, way up there in the mountains.
Well, that high up, twelve thousand feet, weather can change really quickly. The peaks are just a few hundred feet overhead and block the view of the western sky so you can’t see what’s coming in. So Scott and Dave are riding horses, Dave in the front, Scott in the rear – the trail is just one-horse wide – and just like that a storm blows in. That kind of thing happens. But this time it was kind of nastier than usual, or maybe it wasn’t really any nastier than usual, maybe they were just unlucky. Well, Dave was. Or not, depending how you see it. But anyway, they’re up above timberline and this storm blows in, and it’s the two boys on horseback, Dave up front, Scott behind him. And this bolt of lightning comes down out of the sky and hits Dave right in the head.
It all happens really fast. Of course. Lightning fast, ha ha. But anyway, this bolt of lightning comes out of the sky and hits Dave right in the top of the head. Scott’s maybe four or five yards behind him, he sees the whole thing, feels the crash – instantly – and he panics, or maybe he’s not panicking, he’s just reacting, you know, doing what you do when you just watched your friend get hit in the head by a bolt of lightning, right? So Scott, he jumps off his horse and starts to run down the trail away from the disaster and it’s not even raining yet and he hears this voice yelling, “Scott, Scott!” Well Scott thinks he’s hearing a ghost cause he just watched Dave get killed and there’s no one else around and horses don’t talk. So he’s almost too scared to turn around but he hears the voice and it’s Dave’s voice so Scott is shaking (his word, “shaking”, he’s not the type to admit he pissed himself but I bet he did). Scott is shaking and totally freaked out and he walks back up the trail and he sees Dave’s horse laying on the ground and hears the voice say, “Get it off me!”
Well, lucky or unlucky, I’ll let you call it. But the lightning bolt came out of the sky, hit Dave right on the top of his head, went straight through him, grounded on the horse and killed the horse. Dave was fine. But the horse went right down, just kind of folded up and when it did Dave wound up pinned underneath it.
Horses are heavy, and dead horses are worse. Scott pushes and shoves and Dave squirms and pulls and they get Dave out. He’s all crying and stuff, not cause he’s scared – it’s Scott who’s scared, he saw the whole thing, Dave didn’t even know what happened until Scott told him. Dave’s crying cause his horse died. I guess he loved that horse. But anyway, Dave and Scott manage to get the saddle off – it’s a nice saddle – and Dave’s just fine, and they walk back down the mountain with the other horse and the saddle they took off of the dead one.
But here’s the real story. The two boys and the horse and the extra saddle come down off that mountain and head back to Dave’s. And I don’t know that I would have thought to do this myself, but I guess it is what you’d do. I don’t think I would have thought of it, but Dave calls the Park Service to tell them what happened, and to let them know there’s a dead horse up on the Lawn Lake Trail. And get this, the Park Service, no sympathy at all, no congratulations or mercy, the Park Service tells Dave, “You have to remove the animal, it’s not part of the park. You have two days.” And they tell him about some huge fine he’s going to have to pay if he doesn’t get it out of there. I wonder if they’d have been able to track him down if he didn’t say something, or if they’d ever even know that horse was up there – since the dam broke and the lake is gone, not many people use the Lawn Lake Trail. But that’s it, they know, and they’re total dicks about it. I mean, Dave could have died. And he lost his best horse.
So Dave and Scott are freaking out the way getting in trouble freaks out high school boys more than nearly getting killed does. Horses are big. Dave is saying how if they cut it up, it’s still going to take like fifteen trips seven miles up and seven down that mountain each time. And Scott is a wreck, he’s squeamish to begin with. He still gets teased for crying over a dead dog he found when the town was cleaning up after The Big Thompson Flood six years earlier. All the boys helped clean up after that one. It killed hundreds of people. And the weird thing was the flood had torn people apart, there were arms and legs and torsos all separate and horrible and Scott starts crying over a dog. But whatever the reason – maybe he’s scared, or maybe he’s sensitive, I thought he looked like Elvis Costello so of course I grant him the latter – whatever the reason, Scott’s more freaked than Dave even.
But anyway, packing it out wasn’t really going to work. And Dave might talk tough, but he’d already shed tears up there over that horse, and chopping it up into pieces must have seemed like a nightmare, even if he suggested it. I don’t know who came up with the dynamite idea. But Dave’s dad was in construction, and those Rocky Mountains are all stone, so he’d have some.
So Scott and Dave sneak into one of Dave’s dad’s sites that night, or that’s the way I heard it, though it makes more sense that dynamite would be in a warehouse or something, right? Anyhow, they get a few sticks of dynamite. And the next day they hike back up the mountain to where that horse is. And they blow it up. That’s how they got rid of the carcass.
Blew it to smithereens. No butchering, no fines. And no telling anyone else about the crying part. At least not until those two had some falling out, then they each told a version where only the other guy cries.
So there it is. My stolen story. It’s true. I mean, I didn’t even know you could get hit by lightning and live. I couldn’t have made that up. And I’d never kill a horse in a story I made up, never. And who could even think up something like a fine after you nearly die and your horse does die. I don’t have that kind of imagination. It’s not dark like that. In fact, it’s my tendency to try to make things nicer and sweeter than they really are. That’s how I wound up with Scott for awhile. But that’s my story, and this one here is someone else's.
Mercy, In Practice
My mom killed her mom. Grandma had cancer and was living with us. She wasn't really that old, Grandma, and Mom was maybe in her mid-thirties. I was little. I was scared of Grandma then because she was bald (though she wore a wig most of the time) and smelled funny to me. And she once was fat and round and now she was brittle and thin. She lived in a red recliner in what had been our dining room. I'm not sure at all how long she was there...a week, a month, a year? I am very good at forgetting things I could only hope to forget.
Anyhow, Grandma pleaded with Mom to kill her. They were both dramatic types, but my mom was also a pragmatist. And she seemed to always have some measure of pity for her mother, even before the cancer. So she ground up a bunch of painkillers and fed them to her mother, crying. And Grandma died there in our dining room, and after the men came to take her away I could still feel her there. I was frightened of that room forever after.
Years later, when I was in my early 20s, my mom had a blood clot in her abdomen. She went into surgery and told the nurse attending to her that she'd never come out alive. The nurse laughed it off, it was just exploratory surgery - nothing out of the ordinary - and she was used to hypochondria (though not necessarily such direct and dramatic displays of it). But Mom was smart. That made her almost psychic sometimes. And she never did come out of it. Her heart stopped on the operating table for what I told was five minutes, which of course rendered her a complete vegetable. But clever Mom, she had, only weeks before, made a "Living Will" - the kind of thing that lets your life support be terminated in situations such as hers, which should be a thing to take for granted but which was, at the time, illegal in Colorado - they kept you "going" there forever unless you had stated you wanted it otherwise.
She gave me, her youngest, the power of attorney - not her husband (my father), not my three siblings (8, 9 and 11 years older than me respectively) - me. I was 22 I think. I walked into the ICU and there she was, the vainest woman in the world, all puffed out and filled with tubes. Some nurse had braided her hair, a thin little braid on right on the top of her head. It took me seconds to decide: Turn her off.
My dad wanted nothing to do with the decision. He'd always been that kind of guy, and disaster wasn't going to change anything. But my siblings were freaked. "What?" they all screamed, "We need more time! What if she wakes up?" But that was my worst fear precisely: That she would wake up.
By law there was a waiting period, I can't remember now if was 24 or 48 hours. Amazing how long that can seem. But all I remember thinking was, "Don't wake up, please don't wake up."
If she woke up, it was all over, option to terminate gone. And while I might personally fight like a demon and hang onto this life by any means, my mother's will to live was much more tenuous generally, and a woman who already found aging (and living more generally) some measure of torture would not be keen on a profound handicap. And I, a pragmatist myself, saw no romance in taking care of her, and no realism in the notion that she would wake up and tell us kids how sorry she was for her mistakes, and that she actually really loved us all. Cause that's what I think my siblings were thinking, that she could wake up and it would all be okay - as if it were okay in the first place, or as if trauma could make our mother's hard heart soft again. Fact is, we were all victims of what trauma had already done to her. My mom was a drunk who’d never had an easy go of it.
So, I gave the order to turn her off, and we waited. And she didn't wake up, and they pulled the breathing tube and she died about twenty minutes later.
I think my siblings all think of me as cold, or even a little scary. But truth is, I am merciful. I'm willing to do what mercy requires of me.
I Named It Scotty
I grew up in a Long Island catholic neighborhood. My parents didn’t want me to feel left out so we had a little christmas tree we officially deemed “the hannukah bush”, though that was kind of a joke really, calling it that. We mostly called it a christmas tree. It was two feet tall, maybe less, built of tiny glass beads on loops of wire. The tiny lights were built in, or built on, part of one whole thing easily utilized: Just take the tree out, plug it in, bend the wire branches around a little. I vaguely remember tiny ornaments for it too, standard, precious little glass balls, but those were lost early on in our relationship. I think my mother bought at Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan. I think it was kind of classy, or that’s what I remember thinking, or believe I remember my mom thinking about it.
We used to go to Aunt Ruthie’s and Uncle Allie’s on christmas. They weren’t my aunt or uncle; they were my mother’s friends, but family as much as any other family was to us...my parents weren’t sentimental. Ruthie and Allie had a real tree and served lasagna made by her mother who lived upstairs. They had a pool table in the basement and a couple of dogs that didn’t get along, each tied up in an opposite end of the kitchen. I had three “cousins” there, all older, and wild. The adults would all get plastered. Maybe my cousins did too.
Their tree was pine or spruce, always beautiful to me and huge, perfect. One year Allie, a bricklayer, hurt his back and lost his job. That year the tree was a spindly fir. I remember Ruthie crying over this and a few cocktails. My mother comforted her by agreeing yes, the tree was pathetic. I thought that skinny tree was especially pretty – the tinsel hung straight, and you could see all the ornaments, even the old ones on the back side.
Gifts were never a big thing. When I was tiny, tiny enough that stairs were a challenge (and thus forbidden), I remember sneaking down them to peek into our living room on christmas eve just as my parents were putting a few toys under the tree. The one I remember was a stuffed scottie dog with a plaid back and a red beret. My parents woke me early christmas morning and brought me downstairs to see. The plush dog wasn’t wrapped. My mother handed it to me and said, “Look what Santa brought you.” Santa brought me? When I started to cry she called me spoiled and grabbed the dog away, tossing it dramatically in the kitchen trash though of course it was fished out soon after by my father.
A Few Americas
Her bare ass sits atop the hotel bed without consideration of all the bare asses that have sat on this bed before her. She is painting her toenails red. She knocks the polish over and takes her time in righting it lest she interrupt the cadence of perfect strokes that define toes three and four. A puddle of red polish hardens on the bedspread assuring that her own naked excretions will be the last upon it - that stain won’t come out, and like with so many things it is the innocuous but seeable that condemns it.
Still, the maid tries to clean it. She scrubs at it with paint thinner on a nubby rag she coaxed from the janitor, a favor she’ll have to repay. It is not her fault that the bedspread is stained but hers if the stain won’t come out, and this stain spreads - from shiny and hard to dull and pink and wide, more resistant than the blood she's removed from sheets and bedspreads before.
She removes the bedspread and holds back tears, not for the six hours of pay she’ll be docked for it but for all the waste in this country.
A Hard Shell
He cracks eggs the way his dad cracked eggs. It's a sentimental thing. It makes a bit of a mess sometimes striking them on the counter like that and he lacks his father's touch, often leaving albumen or god forbid some yolk behind to be discovered on the counter later on, glossy and hardened. But that's the way his dad cracked eggs, and that's the way that he cracks eggs now that his father is gone.
The Corn King of Clinton County
He claims to not have been sired, but sown: from a volunteer kernel in the field where he grew and formed cozy in an ear until an old farm hand spotted the bulge of his limbs and husked him into being.
He was raised by those who owned the farm, but was never really theirs. That’s why they fought all the time. That’s why, at 15 human years, he ran away and started a life in the city.
He learned the city’s weaknesses and power, became a part of each for awhile. But he’ll let you know that corn is a prairie grass, resilient; so is he. He mastered the city he says, but the dirt there was all the wrong kind.
So he came back to the farm, not to the people but to his corn. He roams it night and day, chasing deer and crow lest his family be harmed.
The farmer and his wife say the boy just came back to shame them. The boy states this as further proof they’re clearly not his kind.
Death Fossilizes Love
Death fossilizes love.
Turns it to stone,
perfect or a little broken,
holds it forever and
once again discovered
lets you see it from all angles
or just the ones that aren't buried.
Part life, part mountain,
mostly on a shelf now but
some days in your pocket,
the weight of it comforting you
despite your fears of losing it,
carrying it around like that.
And the Mother Shares with the Child an Invaluable Truth
She sat on the edge of my bed, took a long draw then looked for a place to ash her cigarette. She stood up, ran into the dresser hard, cursed, sat back down. She brushed my damp bangs with nicotine fingers, didn’t turn on the light when I asked. She leaned forward, bracing herself with both forearms. She licked my tears, her breath smoke and mint.
She was beautiful.
She took a drag and crushed with pointed toe the cherry that fell to the floor.
She placed the butt gently on the bedside table, the one with the light I wanted on. She took my chin in her fingers and traced my lips and my nose with her thumb.
She said: Honey, if you can wake up from it, it’s not a nightmare.
(Some things you should know first: My mother’s first husband died in a car crash. The doctor was my mother’s first husband’s brother, my step uncle I guess? My mother called him in the middle of the night. No, I don’t know why my parents didn’t take me to the hospital. Maybe the uncle was closer. My mom was a drunk and my dad was the jealous type so it couldn’t have been easy to call him. Mom said there was a blizzard, but I don’t know how that plays into the story. Dad said I was gone for about ten minutes but I’m sure it seemed longer than it really was. I don’t know that ten minutes is even survivable. Adrenaline, right in the heart. The uncle guy was so freaked out he put the first attempt straight through me and into the mattress. The second one worked though. Obviously. No, I never met the uncle. After that I mean. No, I don’t remember. I have a little scar though, right in the middle of my chest.)
When I was two weeks old, I died of pneumonia.
Like any savior, I was resurrected.
The trip was too long.
Long enough that eventually homesickness gave way to the feeling she was home already, when she wasn’t; long enough to believe in the friendships formed there even though within a few weeks of leaving she never spoke to anyone there again.
The trip was too long.
Long enough so that calls home became an obligation, and made her irritable.
It was work that brought her over. Maybe it was work ethic - application in the face of separation, or something like that - that kicked in. But it seemed so glamorous, of course Geneva seemed glamorous: Dinner out every evening in a quaint or chic café, drinking fancy French wine that someone else paid for in the company of intellectuals, or so it seemed; the way they smoked, the way they held their cigarettes; the timbre of their voices surely discussing art and death in a language should could not understand.
So that when the trip was finished and she did come home (really) bringing with her a belief that she had made an impression and formed bonds in the wake of a promise that she would return, she felt – well, briefly – that she had more in common with those she’d left behind in Geneva than those she returned home to, and considered (rather seriously and even morbidly for awhile) that there was someplace else she belonged.
After so long in a hotel she resented having to make her own bed. She resented eating in and, for a week or so, found no charm at all in a home-cooked meal.
Her colleagues in Switzerland said “Super,” all the time. “Super” as “Yes”. “Super” as “Cool”. “Super” in a such a way as to become a sort of soundtrack of Geneva, not unlike the synthetic tones of slot machines forming the score of Las Vegas.
One Sunday morning they drove her to the country where they took a tram up to a mountain top and ate brunch outside together in the cold. At the time it seemed so intimate – not at all like locals, obligated with entertaining her, taking her to an obvious tourist attraction they themselves would otherwise avoid. Still, the setting was beautiful, you can’t deny it, and that particular Swiss catch phrase caught a song in her head, a pop song from college called “Supergirl”. “Supergirl”: For the balance of the trip it played over and over in her head. It made her feel happy and young.
When she first came home she dug out the record and played “Supergirl” again and again, trying to quench an ache or maybe trying to make it act up. Because home in a suburb of the American Midwest, the idea of missing Geneva felt romantic.
But when her second round of letters went unanswered, and eventually her foolish third, home started to feel like home again, the place she was actually missed.
Now if by chance she hears that song she doesn’t think of Switzerland at all. It conjures up a more personified vision: “Supergirl”, heroine, possessor of unexpected strength and the ability to avert disaster.
Things I Lost, and Miss
A fringed buckskin jacket made for a young cowboy who certainly wasn’t young anymore when I bought it at a thrift store in Fort Collins, Colorado. For twenty years that jacket was a sort of trademark. I recklessly left it in a hotel room in Moscow and I actually called after, trying to get it back again. I’ve tried several times
to replace it, but I’ve only ever failed.
The rock I found at Horseshoe Canyon, a perfect so-called Apache Tear. It was the kind of rock you’d buy in a souvenir shop but I found it, seemingly shining in the sand though really it wasn’t shiny, just smooth, and soft in my hand the way a hard thing like stone can be if it’s smooth enough. I carried it everywhere for four or five years, once leaving it on a restaurant table and calling back later: “Did you happen to find a little rock?” and the disappointed-sounding hostess saying, “Yes, I have it.” So that’s not when I lost it. I lost it and something else at a punk rock show in Denver, but mostly I miss the rock.
A pair of sunglasses that fit my face just right, made me feel pretty and which flew into the Gulf of Mexico when a pelican on the dock bit my ass. It didn’t hurt, but I started. I have a clear recollection of my glasses sinking into the water, and my temptation to dive in after them; my acknowledgment of the futility, and my fear it wasn’t really futile but that I was just too scared or vain to jump in.
My first car, a red pick-up truck, from Alamagordo, New Mexico. I had worked all summer at a camp near there, saved up my money, turned sixteen in August and bought the truck to take me home. It blew two tires and a radiator on the way, costing me everything I had left. I don’t miss that truck. I miss believing that a thing could make me happy or set me free.
Fed crumbs to the sparrows at a sidewalk cafe. They were confident birds, coming so close, fooling me into thinking I could touch them (I tried) or have one perch on my shoulder (none did).
One little bird had a crippled leg dragging out beside it like a twig or dead grass. I aimed toward it but it was too slow to the crumbs, and afraid when I threw them too close. There was nothing I could do.
I wish I never saw it.
Dead Dog on the Highway
The previous time I saw a dead dog on the highway was in Detroit. It was a pit mix, black and white, huge and bloated up like a cow. I drove past it for each of the several days I was there. It left me pitying the city.
Tonight when I saw the dog in the road, I wasn't sure it was dead. When I pulled over I hoped it might be alive. I put my hand on its neck and I felt something like a pulse, but it was just a death gurgle.
A second car pulled over. It was the man who had hit it; he’d doubled back and turned around. We heaved the dog onto the shoulder and he asked me to call the police. I did. “It was a black dog,” he said, “and this stretch of road is so dark.” I confirmed those truths. I commended him for stopping.
We killed time with nicer dog stories, his about the Springer he had had for fifteen years. “We got her for my daughter on her tenth birthday.” His loss seemed fresh but in subsequent conversation I learned his daughter’s twenty-ninth birthday was a week ago.
I would stay until the cop showed up cause it didn’t seem right to leave the man there alone. He was a kindly, stoic Minnesotan, not the type to cry. At least not in front of a stranger.
I left when the cop got there, somewhat surprised he came at all. He apologized for taking awhile, and handled the carcass in a manner that acknowledged its death in a way the man and I couldn’t; we'd stroked it as if it were alive. "Such a beautiful dog," the man had said.
The cop took the collar off. Someone was going to get a terrible call.
The dog was a lab mix, grayed and old. I tell myself it was taking its last old-dog run. I thanked it for dying, sparing us the grief of trying to save it.
The Good Soldier
It’s funny how war can haunt a man.
He saw women and children die or dead but the only time he cried was when a dog stepped on a landmine and was blown to bits. The dog might have saved him but that wasn’t what struck him at the time or even still and the dog didn’t make him homesick. It was just he really liked dogs.
He made it home.
He's had women, and children. But he won’t have a dog.
That’s what war took away from him.
It Was Nothing
He stood right there. Me in the shade, him in the sun pretending not to see me. Maybe he didn't see me. It was closer than we'd been in years, years. Can I say it was nice? It was nice, just standing there like that. Anyhow. That's it. I better get back to work now. Anyhow, that's all there was to it.
Really, it was nothing.
Allergies, You Know
I'm not listening for his steps,
or waiting for his letter,
or hoping to run into him
or going to the places where
I think that that could happen,
or changing up my memories
to paint a sweeter picture
or saving small mementos
from the time we were together
and if I did I wouldn't look at them
or trace them with my fingers
and that shirt he left behind
with his scent still on the fabric
well I cut that into rags.
And if I happen quite by accident
to leave it on the night stand
I don't hold it to my face
for any other reason than
allergies you know.
Weather is a constant companion. It knows everyone who has ever lived. It has stroked and assaulted your heroes. It has been intimate with your lover. It will never leave you. It will never spare you. It fills you, always, forgiving you the curses you make against it.
Weather is moody; I try to be tender. I invite it inside, offer up some tea. But Weather knows it's being patronized despite my best attempts. It whispers, I can enter without invitation; your gesture is insincere.
I just want to understand you! I shout, and nearly weep.
Is it not enough to feel me? Weather asks.
(New Years Eve, 2010)
I have lived, and lived with you.
I was there in the beginning
through the middle
and now here at the very end but still
I don’t really know you.
I don’t know what to make of you
or how you’ll be remembered.
I’ve nothing to say to you except
I meant to write a eulogy,
say something sweet and
special but really the highlight
was your seeming lack of
For this, I am utterly grateful.
(The First Snow)
This is our indigenous weather.
In Minnesota, we are meant
to see our water.
Summer is a fluke.
Spring is a transient,
just passing through.
Autumn is adulterous,
giving us something to love
but never loyalty.
Winter is authentic,
showing us all of itself
daring us to love it.
I do, I do.
The Night Before Thanksgiving (2010)
The restaurant was busy so we decided to sit and eat at the bar. The bar wasn’t busy but the bartender was, solo and mixing up the drinks for that full restaurant.
The bar was empty but a couple came in and sat beside us. The way the bar is angled made it feel less like they were next to us than it might have otherwise. They were a little loud and smelled like cigarettes. They called the bartender, Sue, by name and she brought them ice teas – two glasses each. She asked if they were going to eat but the man said they were too broke. “Let me bring you some bread,” Sue said.
We wondered if we should just buy them dinner, but sometimes such decisions don’t come so easy.
The man told a story of how ten years ago today, the woman he is with broke off their engagement. “But we’re still together!” he chimed. Sue refilled the ice teas. He went on: “I was on drugs. I went to rehab that night at Riverside. But she stayed with me.” Sue filled the ice teas again. The couple ate their bread.
Our food came. I was grateful for the angled bar. I tried not to look at the couple over my shoulder. They asked Sue to refill their ice tea. Sometimes not looking doesn’t come so easy.
The man said to me, “You sure can eat!”
Here’s my opening. I said, “Can we buy you dessert?”
He looked a little indignant. “No,” he said.
“Okay, well happy holidays.” I went back to my meal.
Then the man says, “Well maybe a little ice cream.” Sue, quiet and observant through this conversation, brings more ice tea. The man says, “Sue knows what I like.”
I crane toward the woman. “How about you?”
“No thanks,” she said.
The man said to Sue, “Then make mine a double.”
He eats his sundae. We finish our meal. I’m grateful for the angled bar. Sue refills ice tea.
The couple gets up to leave. The man thanks us. “Happy holidays!” we say. Breadcrumbs and spent lemons litter the bar. The man says to Sue, “Too broke! I’ll tip you next time.”
“That would be nice for a change,” Sue says.
On my summer trip I handed a five to a homeless man with out thought, but neglected to tip the hotel maid.
Gold yellow red that
crash on retina
bloom in brain
die in camera.
Like a play played slow;
just breathe, like gaseous wine,
something old and red
from Northern France
aged in wood and
penetrating you, today
and again tomorrow.
with a hint of pain so that
its leaving does
not make you grieve.
Could there be a place on earth
more beautiful than this or
a moment in time?
Could there anyone on earth
more worthy than you of love?
Artist in Residence
I wasn’t always like this.
I was young like you. I was a poet, an artist. I carried a sketchbook. I read about Matisse trading sketches for wine.
I ended up trading something else.
But things come around. How about I draw you a picture on this napkin and you can buy me a whiskey sour?
Great. Maybe we can trade a couple more.
Dear Dr. Frankenstein
Should I become part
of a mad scientist’s plot
to build a being
out of pieces and bits,
please don’t let it be
because they are weak
and ache all the time;
don’t let it be
lest the pops and cracks
betray the hidden monster
or my shoulders
lest the creature is
intended to be hunched.
Don’t use my heart,
it’s always been feeble
and subject to breaking;
a monster of all people
needs a strong one.
Use my skin,
with plenty extra
or my brain
if you don’t mind
thinking too much.
But please most of all
do not conjure my soul.
My life has been full;
Dead Mouse in the Birdseed Barrel
First let me say, I’ve no propensity for dead things.
It must have seemed like a windfall, like the lottery: Shelter from the cold and a seemingly never-ending supply of exceptionally delicious food: Sunflower seeds, cracked corn. I wonder if the mouse ever came to realize – too late of course - there was nothing to drink inside the bin.
The mouse feasted. He feasted until he was fat – he was notably fat when I found him. He feasted so that the level of seed in the bin was notably dropped by his gluttony. Thus escape – to source water, solve loneliness, or share with others his bounty – required a particularly strong leap; a particularly strong leap from a particularly fat mouse.
Was it weeks or days or hours? Did it occur to him to starve himself free? Or did he die as he only dreamed he might, old, with his gullet, for once in his life, full?
Her first was an orchid,
pale yellow, with netting.
He pinned it to her gown
with trembling fingers.
It was as close as
a man had ever
been to her breast.
Later that night,
Her last was on her
made of carnations
and baby’s breath.
She has grown used to
her, even there.
Now it’s her fingers
as she strokes
recalling a night
A Good Spell with a Bad Witch
She was a notorious bitch and a barfly too so none of us girls could understand why he would bow to her, serve her, why he loved her like he did. He said, “I love everything that’s wrong with her,” which left us all with something profound, and nothing.
His mother called her the devil. He said, “The devil's just an angel,” which left the devout woman with little left to say. When we called her a witch he would picture Glenda from the Wizard of Oz, speaking in riddles that make dreams come true.
Even after she broke his heart, he spoke of her with immense affection, so grateful to her for setting him free.
There are friends like minerals,
firm to stand on or
in our bones,
weakening us if
they leach away.
And there are friends like
a cool drink of water on
a hot day,
or even keeping us alive,
but only briefly;
passing through us,
I miss the days when a full-figured woman was typically considered beautiful, though I try to think about the former alienation of naturally skinny girls, thinking, “This is their time.”
I miss the times when being five feet tall was charming, though I consider the girls who hunched their way through our school years and hope they or at least their daughters are proud now, standing tall.
I miss the times when scandals were covered up, and we were still able to believe in heroes.
Clapton sang about
her Long Blonde Hair
as if that were enough;
as if we were supposed
that she was very beautiful.
I was brunette.
I was fifteen.
When Clouds Pass
I blew a kiss at the moon and
made the moon promise to
deliver it to you when the
clouds are all gone and
the sun has set and
these miles between us
are nothing more than
That twinge on
It's not the
Why Girls are Bad at Math
The odds against your being born are astronomical and yet, here you are. The earth crawls with life, the odds against which are nearly infinite, as are the odds against the fact of the very earth itself.
The odds against us meeting, enduring, are nearly incalculable, yet we meet, we endure, we sire more life to live in this universe which, left to figures, should not exist all.
The odds against love are phenomenal and yet we breathe it as casually as air, oblivious to the numbers.
He said to me with the most
ridiculous attempt at sincerity
(and no originality at all):
Eyes are the window to the soul.
What he meant was:
Your pussy is the door
to another dinner like this one.
It was a really nice restaurant.