Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dog Day (for my mother, who no longer reads…and perhaps never did...)

Morning is static in the untuned radio of your day...
It is reunion time, the 40th anniversary
And you cannot find the station
Months seem out of sequence
You prefer your calendar pages white
A bird outside
Could be just some form of tinnitus

A woman’s mother will not let go until
She has her own child
The blessing is a wound
You may fear that you will not love this baby
And it is with relief that you begin to worry

We seek the missing where there is none
Cut what once was whole
Juvenate before we rejuvenate
As birth is the beginning of loss...
The child is a bandage
A stranger
The first thing my mother could not claim

Memory is shorter these days
Does not contain words like dreaming
Loose and innocence
Surely you will discard mornings, collect sunsets
Thinking it must be Always Safe to Shoot
At Things with Holes
Helping the voices to a kiss
Let the wrong one in, they say
Some days you Forget how to walk up stairs...
Some days you remember this is good
With 3 m’s

Forget the last exam
Discarded postcards
Stamps look unfamiliar
And cheap denominations are
Without meaning
Your belief needs bifocals
Just to see the windshield crack
After all, it could be your eyes
Your glasses…
You must check to feel which you are wearing
After all
A whole day can go by without speaking
Perhaps no one would listen

You slip into a room where someone reads a poem
The author used to stare
Pursue you to the door
Procure your number...
If you had a dog you might forget to walk it
Some days these things worry you
Some days you worry that they do not
Next week it might be Christmas
Holidays pile up like ex-boyfriends
Faces of men you might have slept with, might have looked at
From a desk on Parent-teacher night

The dirt is now forgivable...
Dust reassures that weeks still pass
Windows are troubling, or perhaps mirrors
The softness of your breasts surprises; no one has touched you this week and you are not one to touch yourself
Bloody but you cannot say stained
When did you cease being shocked by the grinds and  spatters of last night’s fiasco
in the afternoon light
The mail tells you
een summoned to You have been summoned to testify for solitude
Opening the envelope brings
The vague ghost of someone’s spit
Adds  to the suspicion that someone has vomited
And hidden in your downstairs
Which has spread to the bedroom

Perhaps you’ll borrow a dog to sniff out the source
But you are afraid he will dislike youtude:
Or worse, obey the unpretty version you’ve become
Despising your fear
Ignore the stench...
Not just overnight
You have become a sort of weed
Poverty seeps in like damp
You cannot wash it out
It has changed me, you apologize
To the dog who has not come
No matter how many times you whistled his name
Barked his pride and prayed for rain

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

..Die He Must...

My father never really loved me. Maybe at some point he had some pride in my adolescent achievement; after all, I graduated with high honors from a top ivy college, turned down a scholarship to Harvard-- -stuff parents can 'bank'.  But person to person?  He couldn't look me in the eye, we both cringed if a goodbye hug was required, and I used to sigh with great relief if he worked late and couldn't make a school play or performance.

Teachers would always comment on how handsome he was; that was useless for me.  In fact I used to wish he'd never come home so my mother could marry someone who wouldn't ask me if I was a moron when I had a question about something.  I didn't feel hurt or sorry; for years I thought that's what fathers did.  I learned to use books.  They were reliable, available, kind and patient.

Maybe I grew up and rejected men who doted on me; it didn't feel right.  Of course at some point I realized that shame and alcohol had a lot to do with our family dynamics and my penchant for truth seeking was an unintentional finger pointing at him.  He's 95 now.  I can feel him squirm if he picks up the phone when I call my demented Mom, old cranky fuck that he is.  Once or twice he actually blurted out 'if you wanna give me a present, don't ever call me.'  The honesty is a relief… then every once in a while he says something almost 'paternal'.  He actually likes my son.  He's a boy.  He's not an unmarried poet who plays bass guitar in downtown clubs.

Wednesday is my day to get groceries in Harlem; something always on special at Pathmark and I get to absorb some uptown culture.  Pathmark in summer is my version of Coney Island.  It's massive, it's crowded, it's filled with colorful displays and distractions, most of which I'd rather observe than partake of.  There's tons of exposed skin and strange fashion statements… and at any given moment, a good percentage of the crowd is not intending to buy or participate.  Some are taking in the moderately cool air, some are consuming anything they did not intend to purchase… gaping, butt-watching, hand slapping and commentating.  There is plenty of narrative, family drama, the PA 'barker' beckoning the shoppers to sample the specials and bargains, old ladies shuffling and squeezing things, muttering, judging and spitting.  In front of me on the huge snaking line, a young family with 2 giant carts loaded with frozen entrees and french fries, boxed pies and cakes, gallons of juice and punch, pounds of hotdogs, pancake mix, canned icing---  the usual… and a virtual team of kids--- the girls packing and helping-- the 8 year old boy in glasses asking his Mom constantly -- how do you make ice cream cones, what's a ingredient… can you put a motor on the cart… until she whacked him…'No more fuckin questions, you hear me?'  The kid didn't seem hurt; he just leaned on the window sill and looked out at 125th street and fidgeted and talked to himself a little.

Of course the white liberal over-educated humanist wanted to pick him up and take him to a library-- I mean, I'm not predicting he's going to grow up and become an angry gangsta or a nerd who gets the shit kicked out of him at Promise Academy.  Maybe he'll be a teacher.  My own mother wisely bought-- from her housekeeper's handsome strapping football-playing son--- a set of Collier's Encyclopedia.  I could look everything up.  Jerusalem.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Penis.  I no longer needed to fear my father's impatient wrath.  I was saved.

Back in Carnegie Hill this evening, one of the investment banker fathers walking behind his little girl… barely 3, in her little Jacadi frock and the Bonpoint shoes, with her pink my-little-pony and her neat pigtails…Are you sure?, he is saying to her?  Are you SURE?  And she is saying… mmh hmMM! with the little upswing… and just as I pass them, he actually says… 'and WHAT IF SHE ISN'T?…. '

What if she isn't?  What kind of twisted manipulative question is this to ask a 3-year old-- to plant doubt and fear and anxiety and all shades of grey in a tiny mind where everything is not only black and white but pink and blue… Is this what his boss asked him today when he put in a huge margin call betting that the market is going to drop tomorrow….And what if it doesn't?  Your Stepford wife will leave you for a richer man and your tiny daughter will imprison you weekends until she is old enough for boarding school?

We are born with eyes and ears and a mouth, the lucky among us.  We trust the people who hold us and swaddle us and feed us.  We smile at them and helplessly let them pick us up and put us in vehicles and cribs and baskets.  And some people pick us up and scold us when no one is looking--- they take our toys and touch us inappropriately and show us things we don't want to see and tell us things that give us lifetime nightmares.  Some of these people are even our parents or relatives.  And like random soldiers in a brutal war, some go home unscathed,  and some are blown up.  Some lose limbs and some become emotional amputees.  What happens to the Robin Williamses and the Heath Ledgers and the Philip Seymour Hoffmans that opens up a tiny fissure of doubt or fear which compels them to laugh and entertain and compensate and develop extraordinary talents that do little to cover the gaping wound that no one sees?

I know parents who, while bragging about their children, I can see in a nano-second when there is no love here.  I have seen these kids overdose, binge drink, do rehab and jail time.  And some of them become presidents and rockstars.  Actors.  Or men like my Dad who are heroes and wonderful human beings to someone but are emotionally cruel to some of the women in his family… yes, these people had their own wounds and damages… I try to understand.   And I pray none of my eccentricities ever hurt my own kids in some cavalier and branding way.

We read and watch footage of our beloved Robin Williams on every network… the great irony of the brilliant comedian--- the sad clown.  We have read this story before.  And knowing in this toxic media world that no secret would be kept sacred, that no detail would be spared… and still, he couldn't find the will to NOT go through with this…. well, we are chilled to the bone in the August summer.  Some of us feel the undertow every day of our lives.  We hold our ears against the screams of the Sirens and we struggle to make it to another day because even though the darkness beckons, we hesitate to leave this legacy of wreckage for the few that actually might love us.

Personally I thank my father for giving me an inroad to these souls, to the dark side.  And as much as we feel the shiver of this passing, we feel a tiny bit of relief…he is free,  we have a little vicarious 'what if' moment… and we mourn and go on. .. with our talents and our sadness and our curse of compassion and our gaping hearts…and we ask questions that are not answerable in any Encyclopedia or bottle or needle or warm bed.

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