Thursday, December 27, 2007

Talkin' New Orleans Susan Cowsill

You knew this was coming, from the man with too much surfing time on his hands.

Wizard Boy, Part II

Now, here's someone who knows what to do with his time. 1366 pieces, he sez. Vader's lair.

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Bouvet Island

Just a cool (well, probably a COLD) picture.

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Meme's the Word

Prowling the blogosphere, a meme taken from Tiger Beat. Give it a spin. (Damn, those Cowsills were scary looking. I think they were Vulcans. Dig the ties, though.)

1. What is your favorite flower?
Definitely not brown rice flour. Oops. Passionflower.

2. What word in the English language do you wish you had invented?
Mossforth…wait a minute: I just did.

3. What do you miss about your childhood?
I’ll let you know when I leave it. I just got here. (Nutty Buddies, in all its possible meanings, and of course, Julie Wentworth.)

4. What is the main fault in your character?
The Balcones Fault that runs ‘tween the two hemispheres of me brain. Inability to give a straight answer? (It’s Tiger Beat, for godsakes!)

5. Describe how you kiss in one word.

6. What in the world do you least desire.
The Captain and Tennille’s Greatest Hits.

7. Finish this sentence. "Happiness is a thing called....."
An ellipse with more than three full stops. (Or a bus route, with less than three.)

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tiger Eye

Detail from Tina Karagulian's newest painting, "Wizard Boy."

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Patina off for a quick afternoon sushi date: menus, napkins, another round of found patina poems. Thanks to Zet and Rudolf for taking Mr Baby, to make it all happen.

i. Dessert Menu

Free-form plums plummily—
Scented napkins draped over
The bend;

Ice wine zooming zoomily,
Tip the descanter to reveal
The unfolding—

“Here’s a bowlful of lemons,”
Infused with a splash of me,
Rich and beautiful pipers

Cannot transcend the
surround sounds,
of having you near.

ii. Chez Turtle

Crawled petals on black,
Caramelized in pearly onion—

Joy of zipping, joy of zush,
Save a craving or two:
Merry, if you ask.

Krakatoa chocolate melt,
I don’t care what Simon sez:

Turtle joy—the bliss of Mary—
I want more than your
Sleight of hand.

iii. Just Desserts

Decadent richness,
This creamy sensation,
New York frooshi mess,
A traditional favorite,
Mixed half and half or not.
Delicious warmed, tender loaded—
Polynesian wrapped
Ribbons of mellow flavor
Exquisite, sided & drizzled:
A not-to-sweet
Ending with a twist.

iv. Mount Fuji

Rolled in green tea
& fashioned with
Unbelievable calling,
Nothing better to clean
Than immersing yourself
In coffee, uramaki style.
Buttery tart,
For those who prefer sluicing.
Palate the saucy finish
In a most welcome burst:
Black sesame /open sesame
Will finish your line,
Will melt in your mouth.

v. Solstice Delivered

We loudly brew
In exquisite touring
The slow mojo of
Your scent.
Hearts ensconced,
Willows blazing,
The dance floor is on the ceiling.
Bronzed by the memories
Of ignightly passion,
Soaring gently in
Bold embrace.
Choose 3 pieces,
Without a trace.

vi. Slip Knot

Trace the outline
Of lips encircling
The chasm,
The syncopated
Mercy of dreams in black,
The fiery missed
Of all you lack,
The 12-pointed star
Of followed dreams
& yesterday—
Louvered blinds / blind lovers—
What matters
In the final recounting:
Love always unties the not.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Small Faces, Itchycoo Park

Apologies to the Faces: ItchyCOO, not ItchyGOO, Park. It's still all too beautiful...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

When Your Mind's Made Up

The movie Once: if it’s not a Christmas movie, then it’s a Christmas gift.

Everything is so exquisitely tiny about this movie: its length, its budget, its intentions. Director John Carney said he wanted to make a small budget film, and he liked the fact that the entire concept of the film could fit on something the size of postage stamp—but, O, what a postage stamp it is. (As a kid, I passed a brief period as a stamp collector, well, stamp hobbyist: two kinds of stamps stood out in those daze: the gorgeous stamps of San Marino, and the isosceles triangular stamps of the Magyar Republic.)

Postage stamp, if you will, or maybe a small rough garnet, polished up a bit, because small though its budget and intentions may be, Once is a beautiful polished little gem, showing “Dooblin” off at its finest and lovely bits of the sea. Garnet, because many of the night scenes are drenched in a lovely red wash.

About a week ago, I first heard a NPR-snippet about the film’s coming out on video, describing it as a contemporary musical: the “organicity” of the film is what struck: rather than Julie Andrews and company pausing ominously in preparation for the next big production (and then we’ll just go on about our street business as if half a million dollars of production expense never just got spent…), in Once, the music is placed in such a way that it unfolds naturally. (In truth, “musical” is not what Once is; it’s simply a film with lots of music.) ANYWAY, after the NPR-snippet, I felt the strongest desire to see the film. Afraid that it might slip my mind, I emailed a note to myself: I needn’t have: seems everywhere I turned over of the past few days, I ran into mention of it.

Probably the first movie ever to have “earned” its R rating for language alone. There is nothing the least bit R-ish about the film, and easily 80% or more of the “focks” are in the film’s opening scene. I watched the film with my 9 year old son, who thoroughly enjoyed its magic, after one brief bit of commentary from him about “that word.”

And O, what a sweet bit of resolution.

Of course, it does not hurt that this is an Irish film, since the Irish make the best films, bar none: look no further than Hear My Song, Into the West, The Secret of Roan Inish, Waking Ned Devine, In the Name of the Father, and Local Hero for proof. Yes, I know Local Hero is set in Scotland, but it is Irish through and through. What's it but a bit of pond water tween the two, anyway?

Passing note: I was emailin’ me sister earlier this week about funeral music, how our friend Steph long ago pegged Van Morrison’s “And the Healing Has Begun” (from the Into the Music album) as his funeral march. Van’s song, sung by Glen Hansard, opens the film.

Here are the first chunk of ideas for music at me wake. No particular order, and just off the top of me head:

1. Van’s “Sweet Thing.”
2. Joni’s “River” and “Court and Spark” and “Barandgrill.”
3. Small Faces’ “Itchygoo Park.”
4. Some Erik Satie (got to get me some Erik Satie).
5. Sting’s “A Sailing Ship.”
6. Lush Richard Rodney Bennett soundtrack music; though not RRB, the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack fits this category.
7. Cream’s “Badge.”
8. Neville Brothers: “Fiyo on the Bayou.”
9. Sun Ra and the Arkestra’s version of “Elephants on Parade.”
10. Van singing JB’s “It’s a Man’s World,” and plenty Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass.
11. Cassandra Wilson singing Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
12. Stevie's "I Believe When I Fall in Love This Time It Will Be Forever."

Plenty more where those came from.

And we'll walk down the avenue again
And we'll sing all the songs from way back when
And we'll walk down the avenue again and the healing has begun

And we'll walk down the avenue in style
And we'll walk down the avenue and well smile
And we'll say baby aint it all worthwhile when the healing has begun

I want you to put on your pretty summer dress
You can wear your easter bonnet and all the rest
And I wanna make love to you yes, yes, yes when the healing has begun

Go see Once

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Friday, December 21, 2007

When All With Baby Hearts

The trees were dripping lights.

Down out of the Austin hills usurped by suburban manicures and anonymous similarity, down the death trap of 2222, once a line of demarcation, now just another exit to colossal growth. But, this enchanted evening we’re headed back into and not out, in search of the Austin that needs no EKG to register its beat. Down the ghost of Balcones Drive, across the now tamed MOPAC highway, diminutive sister to the sprawl to come, almost an asphalt oasis with her genteel curve down what can never again be construed as a west side. East on 35th down the back alley of 34th, across Guadalupe, deep in our annals the street of the virgin and there is and always will be something pure in the virtue with which she threads and guides those who never wish to be lost. She ushers us into a neighborhood grand in its demise, a grandeur Jim Bob Moffett (a man seen in Austin for what he really is) can never hope for in his hill desecrating communities of 18 hole golf.

But, the spirit of this evening is Tiny Tim’s and not Scrooge’s, Dickens takes a back seat to rollercoasting the hills and hopelessly (and eternally) bad 9 year olds’ jokes. We spill out of our donkey van into our Jerusalem Medjugorie of lights, a night when all with baby hearts are assured of miraculous vision as we spill down the avenue of trees. Impossible to think of this wonderland as a month of Sundays spent grousing away from football games, thumbs impaled by errant staple guns, curses as the highest unsupporting branches of oaks are painstakingly climbed and cloaked, surely it was as much a miracle of light for the unreconstructed hippie denizens of 37th street, to wake from dreams fueled by acid dropped 30 years ago and wander into an Oz of some hill fairy’s making. Better yet to imagine an abandoned neighborhood brought back to life by Glinda’s wand because where after all were the tenants who left us their yards their streets their porches their cars their motorcycles gleaming glistening in an afterstream of light? The centerpiece house with lawn chairs for all the twirlers, all of us spinning tops, fighting nausea to see candy colored meteors of our own making. Wrapped entirely in black plastic, an 1800 square foot condom house proclaiming light as our essence our joy our most secret desire: cow lights, pumpkin lights, lizard lights, flamingo lights, chili lights, underwear on clothesline lights, apple lights, bottles of light, spools of light, bubblewrapped lights, egg cartons of light, and the mad genius of packages of light stapled whole to the side of the house. Was it to show us money was no object in our pleasure, was it fatigue at the end of a long day, or was it simply a mirror to the internal circuitry that glows unbidden and tangled within us all?

Catty-corner, then, from Xanadu to Santa’s top, a 20 foot high kaleidoscope of lights where spinning is done for you, a visual bedtime story, your only labor to lie beneath its spinning point, a cluster of light you want to reach out and lick with your tongue it is so near. If Xanadu was phallus then the spinning top is Santa’s breast, a spinning world under which we lie, orphans all brought home, reunited by the circle of our crowns, leaves and wintergrass sticking in our hair as Rosey, my 5 year old new best friend lies beside me proclaiming her love for the green lights, and I wax on for blue, and Tommy is Romeo for the orange freckles in the midst.

Where else to end this magi’s wanderlust but at the speakerphone of an A&W root beer stand, a tray of 6 black cows mooing at us from frosted mugs, suspended from van window, Christmas caroling with Bing or Mel or Nat or even my scorpion sister Joni telling me which way to Barandgrill. Where else indeed, but that would be my own It’s A Wonderful Life Jimmy Stewart dream, back from heart’s death at the bridge, over the frozen river, face warmed by tears of joy and angel wings.

And on those angel wings we will fly to Onion Creek and D. E. Crumley’s grocery store, the progenitor of all the Christmas lights spawned on 37th, a place where every night was Christmas, a veritable junkyard of light, a place where once a lost 27 year old boy, his cheetos bought for a trip south, looked up into a cobalt blue sky and saw that like the moon, the lights never go out, they just are clouded by the industrial strength of our sun-driven dreams.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cinco x Cinco

Found this “5 x 5” prompt at House of Lime, one of San’s commenters. Seasonal fun.

5 Favorite Christmas Movies:

1. It’s a Wonderful Life
2. We’re No Angels (DeNiro/Penn)
3. White Christmas (for Kaye more than Bing)
4. Fanny and Alexander
5. Love, Actually

5 Favorite Christmas Songs

1. Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat (sung by mi bambino)
2. Barandgrill (Joni Mitchell)
3. River (Joni Mitchell)
4. What Sweeter Music (The Cambridge Singers)
5. Cheech and Chong "I Played with That Dude, Man"

5 Christmas Memories

1. That beautiful Madonna and Child, in the candy lit cave in the trees on Bridal Path, Austin.
2. The discovery of the psychedelic wonder of Austin’s 37th Street.
3. Christmas Eve trek into the lunar glory of West Texas, on the way to my own private Idaho, New Orleans long long gone from my rearview mirror, into the near radiolessness of a black black night—the ONLY radio voice that comes blaring through is—que dice?—Buddy Diliberto from, yup, the River City.
4. The Christmas scenes in my first novel, Scarred Angels.
5. University of the Incarnate Word, Say-town, Christmas light-clad (yes, clad), champagne drinking reveler on Broadway.

5 Favorite Christmas Cookies (this will have to be 5 Favorite Christmas Foods)

1. Amy’s Ice Cream, 37th Street Special: Mexican Vanilla ice cream, with the fixin’s chopped in: dark chocolate chunks, pecans, and strawberries.
2. Champagne and King Cake from La Madeleine.
3. Tiramisu, after an Andrea’s feast in New Orleans.
4. Tamales, comono.
5. Any Armenian food set before me.

5 Favorite Christmas Specials

1. Babar and Father Christmas, with the wonderful Rataxis.
2. Charlie Brown, natch.
3. Not mine, but certainly Madonna and Child’s: The Heat and Snow Miser special.
4. Okay, the Grinch (said the Grinch).
5. ? and the Mysterians, singing 96 Tears. (You’re right: I completely ran out of ideas: You’re gonna cry, cry , cry, cry…)

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Attic Tapes, III

Light was just peeking in the windows when Charlotte woke, smell of coffee in the camper. Ben leaned up against the galley counter, looking pretty spruced up. He’d been out to the mudroom in the Optimist motel and taken a sponge bath, complete with shampooing his head in the sink. He handed a mug of coffee to Charlotte as she sat up. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Mmm, coffee,” she replied. “Thanks.” She held the mug under her nose and breathed deeply.

Ben said, “You didn’t get much sleep, but I figure those babies are already chomping at the bit for Christmas day.”

“They are now. Thanks to you. At least I don’t have to be a complete asshole and on the defensive all day.”

“You ever see an old black man pushing a stuffed shopping cart or gardening on some godforsaken stretch of sidewalk, that’s your Santa. Those were his tips in the coffee can. He refused to take them.”

“This CDM coffee we’re drinking now?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Charlotte took a sip of the drink and then looked off through the window for a good minute. When she looked back at Ben, a lone tear rolled from the corner of her left eye.

She said, “When you pulled the money out of the can last night, I noticed that there was another.”

“This time of year, you can never have enough coffee.”

Charlotte wiped the tear with the back of her hand. Had a hard time getting it out, but said, “I figured it might just be another little bank.”

Ben smiled. “You did, did you?”

He watched her face and felt the struggle within her. He took another drink of coffee to stifle the impulse to help her out of her own mess.

Tears fell from the corners of both eyes now.

She said, “Thank God for Mary, otherwise I’d have had my hand in that other one. That was my plan, anyway.”

Ben set his coffee on the counter. He said, “Charlotte, I don’t think Mary had anything to do with keeping your hand out of anything. I suspect she came to you once you made the right choice.”

“I’m a long way from giving myself that kind of credit.”

“Well, I’d say today’s a good time to start.”

She let a few years’ pain roll out of her as she wept on the cot. Ben handed her a clean dish towel to wipe her tears. She drained her mug and stood to go. Before he could open the door for her, she pulled him close—she still smelled like a bower of roses. Into his ear, she said, “You’re a good man, Ben.”

“On some days,” he said, “yes, I am.”

She squeezed him once more, kissed his neck, and then headed for her car. A chill in the air, but a bright blue sky.

“Hey,” Ben said. “Your coat.”

He walked it out to her, watched her climb in the car and drive off.

The Packers beat the Bears and the Lakers beat the Heat, and Charlotte was headed out the door for more beer Christmas evening before she found the money from the other can in her coat pocket. She flew down San Pedro and Basse for the lot, but by the time she got there, the camper was gone and Ben and Ray were crossing back into Louisiana.

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Baby Hearts Rising

The Mecca: Austin, 37th Street
"And Lord of all this Reveling"—Robert Herrick

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Attic Tapes, II

[Excerpt from my story "Bitterroot." Set up: Ben travels every December from Mississippi, to run a Christmas tree lot at the corner of McCullough and Basse in San Antonio. Lives in a trailer at the lot. Charlotte pretty much speaks for herself: mother of a young boy whose mouth is destroyed with a cleft palate. Ben has slipped a whole month's worth of earnings into little Sam's pocket; hard Charlotte ain't so sure about his motives. The knock on the door is Charlotte's second visit that night...]

Three o’clock in the morning, a softer knock on the door of the camper. Ben dragged himself out of sleep. Charlotte alone, a brown paper bag in her hand.

“Don’t pity me, mister,” she said.

“Not mister. Ben.”

“I don’t care who you are. Don’t pity me.”

Ben scratched his head, shivered in his sock feet and shirt sleeves. “I do not pity you. Believe me. I might feel a lot of things about you, Charlotte, before I’d ever get around to pity.”

“I seen you with my boy. I seen all that in your eyes.”

Ben stepped back from the door, motioned for her to come in. “It’s too damn cold for existentialism in the doorway, Charlotte. You want to debate my motives, get your ass in here.”

She stepped in as Ben switched on a small lamp. Yellow light buttered the small room. He offered her his reading chair and sat back on his cot. Charlotte eyed his stacks of books, sniffed back at his tiny galley kitchen.

“Coffee suit you?” said Ben.

She held out the paper bag. “Or this.”

He slid the wine bottle out of the bag. Screw top.

“Merry Christmas. I spent five bucks of your money on that.”

“Your money.” He grabbed a couple of mugs and poured the wine.

“Good God, that’s nasty,” said Charlotte.

“Imagine what the three dollar bottle tastes like,” said Ben. He raised his mug. “Cheers.”

She tapped his mug.

“Ben what’s your name, you just dropped more money on me than I’ve seen in the last six months. You sure you weren’t angling for a good fuck?”

“No, I was not. But thank you.”

“You think I was offering?”

“I do not know. But, thank you if you were.”

“Ain’t that supposed to be, ‘thank you if you was?’”

“Probably,” said Ben. He winced through another sip of wine.

“Well, I wasn’t. But thank you anyway.”

“For what?”

The hard-bitten fell away, and a smile struggled through years of exile to spread across her face.

She said, “Ain’t nobody ever thanked me before, if I was or if I wasn’t.”

“Well, you’re welcome.”

The smile grew bolder. It was lighting out for the territory. She had gorgeous teeth.

“Good God, those are gorgeous teeth,” said Ben.

“They are, ain’t they?” She shined them on him some more. “About all I got left from the glory days. You wouldn’t know it to see me, but I was one hot Edison Bear.”

“And that would be—”

“That would be your high school a couple of miles west of here. Under this two hundred and twenty pounds lies the remains of a head cheerleader.”

“Go Bears.”

“Head quarterback bear fucked me up good my senior year. Asshole might as well have stoned me. Party boy gets a four year scholarship to Baylor and I end up with a six month scholarship to Annunciation Home for Unwed Mothers over in New Orleans.”

“Pardon my math, but your babies don’t look old enough for that adventure.”

“Oh, that one’s long gone. And not the only one either. There’s three mini-me’s running around with crater-sized holes in their hearts. Never known a momma home not to put the screws to you to give ‘em up.”

“I’m sorry,” said Ben.

“Hell, I’d have been a lousy mother. Still am.”

There was no suggestion in her tone that she was fishing for words to the contrary—Ben gave her that. Which is why he followed with, “Have to agree on that, Charlotte.”

“You’d be a fool not to. I’d have to think less of you if you didn’t.”

“I thought I was already as low as I can get.”

“You keep drinking your nasty wine—there might be hope for you yet.”

Ben poured again and they clunked.

“You takin’ my little boy home with you? You certainly won his heart. Course after the way you doted on him, my two olders hate your guts. Delilah’s offended you didn’t take to her, and Billy’s pissed you didn’t slip him the money. Says he’d have kept it to himself. Which he would have.”

“That Sam’s a sweetheart.”

“That baby’s the only one I carried sober. Lotta good that did—God fucked him up royally. Smashed his mouth up good and then moved in with a buzz saw. It’s not for lack of money that I steer clear of these damn tree lots. If I was the whore of Big Bill Gates, I wouldn’t want to spend a dime on all this hooey. Give a fuckin’ hoot for the baby of the one that fucked my baby over? Like I give a shit.”

“So, why come—even after hours?”

“The one of my babies who ought to be on my side screaming to high heaven is a fuckin’ sap. I have to listen to that damn land mine of a mouth of his ooh and ah from Halloween on. Mary this, Jesus that. Jesus loves the little children, my ass.”

“He was smitten. I’ve never seem my own babies that lit up.”

“Fuckin’ sap, he is. How many you got?”

“Three. One of my own, and two that might as well be.”

“I seen you living out here for the last few weeks—you got ‘em stashed in the closet?”

“Back in Mississippi. With their mother.”

“Hell Ben, I know Mississippi is sucking hind tit, but this the best you can do for work—play Santa for the almost dead of Olmos Park?” She slung her arm left and spilled wine on the floor. “Goddamnit, I—”

“Let it go,” said Ben. “Let it go.”

She slipped to the floor, started wiping the wine with the sleeve of her jacket.

“Charlotte, please. Let it go.”

When she looked back up at him, the hard had bitten again. Clamped down tight.

“Fuck you, Ben. I can clean up my own goddamn…No…wait. Wait.” She turned around and set the mug on the counter behind her, then picked up a dishcloth and very carefully wiped up the spill. With equal care, she found the cap to the wine and screwed it back down.

“Told myself I wouldn’t do this.”

“Do what,” said Ben, gently.

“Go off on you.” She started to cry. “Told momma I didn’t want to go off on you.”

“Hell, Charlotte, plenty have and plenty deserved the privilege.”

“You lit my baby up—over and above his confounded rambunctious mother. Nobody gives my babies nuthin’—least of all that son of a bitch we’re celebrating today.”

Softly, Ben said, “Charlotte, I just can’t do this right now. My head hurts. You’re absolutely right—there’s no way but that you and your baby weren’t absolutely royally fucked over. But, I just cannot go there right now. I can’t. I’ve spent the last six weeks of my life sucking on the big mother tit of good cheer, and I’m sorry, it’s got under my skin. I don’t even really want it to, but it does—turns me into an unimaginable sap. I tear up at damn Karen Carpenter, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Ella singing “Sleigh Ride,” and don’t even get me started on George Bailey and Scrooge and Danny Kaye and all that mess. It’s ridiculous—it flies in the face of everything that runs around in my black heart the whole rest of the year. Every year in mid-November, I come flying down the Palestine Highway, and way deep inside of me I can feel this little boy just burning to cut loose, a boy every bit as beautiful as your beautiful Sam, positively lit up inside with candy lights. Call me in two weeks and we can go completely off on that little son of a bitch in his manger, but right now, I’m sorry, I just can’t. I just can’t.”

Tears streaked from the corners of her eyes. She said, “I just want to lie down.”

“By all means,” said Ben. He started to clear off the other cot. “By all means.”

“No,” she said, putting a hand on his. Roughhewn, but beautiful, too, in its own way. He liked the feel of it on his skin.

“With you,” she said. “Just to lie down. Just to hold you.”

He felt a huge weight lifting off his chest, a weight he had not known was there. Who’s weight—hers or his?

He pulled back the covers of his cot and lay up against the wall. Charlotte slipped off her shoes and jacket and lay down beside him, as close as she could press into his body. Her hair smelled sour, her clothes smelled of fried food, but beneath it, around it, within it, the smell of roses. The more he smelled it, the more the rancidity faded.

“Nice perfume,” he whispered.


“Your perfume.”

“I don’t wear any,” she said, and started to cry. He pulled her closer, gently stroked her hair.

“I smell roses. I swear I smell roses,” said Ben. “And it’s on you.”

“She always does this to me, no matter how angry and crazy I get. Always.”

“She who?”

“Mary. She’s the roses. Mary. Good night, Ben.”

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Attic Tapes, I

[Time for some Christmas-y fiction. This has shown up before: excerpt from my novel Galilee. Not quite "Barandgrill," but we'll get there, while I keep rummaging around in the attic.]

Kyle Lewis did not return to Montgomery riding a crest of expectation and hurry—had a mother not been dying, he would not have returned at all, or so he thought at the time. Even that bit of news was fortuitously conveyed: Montgomery had long ceased being a stop along any of his ways. Midnight truck stop in Lawrenceville, outside Atlanta, Kendall Blake slid in across the greasy booth table and said, “Hear about your mama?” Kendall bought the coffee and the pie, old neighborhood ministration, watched the sinkhole chest of his old buddy sink that much farther, and—as far from intended homily as he thought possible—concluded the visit with, “Kyle, I’m the last to tell you what to do, but there is Viv to think of,” Viv who, for forty-five years had lain by whatever open bedroom window Shelley Lewis could find in apartments, duplexes, and even the occasional sputtering house, if the rent was low enough, or the sexual expectations of the landlords not too excessive—Viv, who after two pretty baby years was stricken with something no doctor to the poor had the time or inclination to explain to an already too much burdened woman who knew one damn thing for sure: she was not the least bit interested in the saccharine assurances that permanent residence in the state home for the mentally declined was just a signed application away, she could wipe terminal spit and drool and shit as well, if not better, than any minimum-wage bureaucrat, and she could and would do it with love, and do it beside an open window, beneath whatever ash, oak, pine, or magnolia tree was shading whatever shady domicile was home for the time being. She did not begrudge the beautiful and healthy son, who miraculously appeared twelve years later, his palpable disdain for his sister and her place in his mother’s fathomless heart. Once out the door to a life lived apparently as fast as he could run from all the sadness that had smeared his own heart, his mother prayed Godspeed—but, she would be goddamned if she would see her life as misery, blessed with two beautiful and perfect children is what she said and what she daily thanked her good Lord for. Family, friends, slippery midnight bedmates, even door-to-door recidivists flat broke down in the face of her love and compassion, incapable of the emotional calculus at which she so clearly excelled. Remedial math was the best her son could handle, fleeing the day after his high school graduation. In the earliest years of his exile, he circled back through a labyrinth of guilt, shame, and—yes—love for the expected occasions, but the abyss of his sister’s ruin was a horror that grew, no matter how much distance he put between himself and Montgomery; in time, letters took the place of visits, then cards replaced letters, then silence. Did he live better, lighter, in the silence? Who said I ever lived in the first place, he would have answered, if asked.

Truth be told, he’d known beyond his ability to know his own knowing that he’d planted something, someone, in the belly of Ella Williams, the night they’d spent together. Dozens of nights of running passion, he’d never seen such colors, and never, never, never, the face of his sister like a shining benediction in the dark night. Not the Viv beside windows, not the pretty baby of two-years’ worth of pictures, but unmistakably a Viv within the slobbering cocoon of his childhood, a beautiful butterfly-Viv whose wings gently rocked in the darkness of Ella’s room, and gently touched him through all his years of benighted departure.

Ella had not been able to hold him, nor, in truth, had she wanted to, and the road claimed him until his Lawrenceville annunciation. He’d left the truck stop no more moved by Kendall Blake’s homily than by any of the others delivered through the years, and yet, something resolute within him drove him straight home to Montgomery that very night.

His mama held on another six months, long enough for him to slip in beside her at Vivian’s bedside, watch the leaves turn and fall outside the second floor window, and then listen to his mother’s breath catch one last time and release, in the glow of blue lights on an artificial silver Christmas tree in the corner of Vivian’s room.

There was no convenient release from Viv herself: the day in, day out grind of feeding and cleaning and watching birds out the window continued unabated, and Kyle could not have told you when the tectonic plates of his shame and horror shifted to quiet acceptance of his older sister as a companion for life, but shift they did. It was not shame that kept the door closed when May barged into their apartment, it was simply Vivian’s nap time, safely and blithely free of the brouhaha the empress had in tow.

“Hey, baby,” May whispered to the woman on the bed, when the door was finally opened by her brother, and the three men also walked in. Vivian’s eyes didn’t leave the flight of her beloved cardinals, but her fingers reached along the stubbly tufts of her white bedspread to feel the warm rasp of May’s hand. Kyle calmly walked up beside the bed and made the introductions.

"Thought we might make a little trip, Viv, if you’re up for it,” said Kyle. “Someone we both need to meet.” In the months since his mother’s death, he’d learned to read the simple rise and fall of his sister’s breath, as others might read oracles decidedly more portentous, and he could see, to his surprise, that there was anticipation and glee beaming from her, like the shimmering afternoon light on the waters of his beloved Demopolis Lake.

May caught it, too. “Baby wants to ride, she say.”

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

[Padre Pio, With His Head in Them]

He sat atop his church in the evening light, book in hand: not King James, nor Tillich, nor Borg, nor Kung, nor Bonhoeffer. In point of fact, it had no title. American Splendor he would have called it, but that title was taken, robbed by a piss ant cartoonist wallowing in the postmodern irony of cancer remission. He wanted none of it. Irony had worn him to a frazzle, a minefield of nudging and winks. Looking across acres of meadow into the burning demise of a purple sun, he thought of a child of six, a boy, slowly disappearing from view in the cloud room at Sisters of Mercy.

“Altocumulus,” said the boy.

“Mackerel. We call it mackerel,” he said, pouring water from the pitcher of plastic pink.

“Dead sea. Nothing lives. In no time I will be cirrus fibratus.”

“Horse’s tail. Where are you running, George?”

“Time was, I would have said, Erlangen, in Germany, or Metung, in Victoria. Now? I can’t see the end of the road.”

“They’ve marked you down as Family B, mid-level.”

“I can’t see it. Never long wet and never long dry.”

“Stratocumulus praecipitatio

“I’m sorry. I can’t pray anymore. They found me in the stalls.”

“That was unction. I wasn’t praying. I kind of think we’re beyond that, don’t you?”

“More your call than mine.”

“Safely? I hadn’t checked. I’ve lingered, but I don’t like to press my luck. Did you know there are freckles on your head?”

“I’m here to entertain. How else would the nurses pass the time?”

“Anointing a king was equivalent to crowning him; in fact, in Israel a crown was not required.”

“I’m happy for you. Have you considered pre-paid?”

“I try not to. Too much debt.”

“They say that Marilyn tried, but DiMaggio bailed out.”

“Figures. It says here, she thought Albert was a girl.”

Time was, I thought Albert was a girl: this, atop the girded borders of Resurrection. It no longer seemed to matter what Albert was. George had passed his test: oort, mammatus, wall, tag, little fluffy (Norma Jeane’s favorite), sankhara, noctilucent—king mackerel he were, sailing into clear blue sea.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Out of the mouths of...apes?

The Monkees Riu Chiu

Second Sunday in Advent

First, this passed on from the inimitable Mary Earle, in her class on Philip Newell and the Celtic vision of creation. Her focus today was on the Sabbath, the day of rest, and its resonance with Death, the eternal Sabbath. This prayer is from The Carmina Gadelica:

Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter,
To thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer;
Thou goest home this night to thy perpetual home,
To thine eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber.

Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep, thou beloved, in the Rock of the fold.

Sleep this night in the breast of thy Mother,
Sleep, thou beloved, while she herself soothes thee;
Sleep thout this night on the Virgin's arm,
Sleep, thout beloved, while she herself kisses thee.

The great sleep of Jesus, the surpassing sleep of Jesus,
The sleep of Jesus' wound, the sleep of Jesus' grief.
The young sleep of Jesus, the restoring sleep of Jesus,
The sleep of the kiss of Jesus of peace and of glory.


Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm,
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of guidance,
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves,
Sleep, O beloved in the Lord of life,
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life.

And then, during the service, this:

(Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming)

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, aus einer Wurzel zart,
Wie uns die Alten sungen, von Jesse kam die Art,
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht mitten im kalten Winter
Wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Das Röslein, das ich meine, davon Jesaias sagt,
Ist Maria die Reine uns das Blümlein bracht.
Aus Gottes ew'gen Rat hat sie ein Kind geboren
Und blieb ein' reine Magd.

Das Blümelein, so kleine, das duftet uns so süß,
Mit seinem hellen Scheine vertreibt's die Finsternis.
Wahr' Mensch und wahrer Gott, hilft uns aus allen Leiden,
Rettet von Sünd' und Tod.

O Jesu, bis zum Scheiden aus diesem Jammertal
Laß Dein hilf uns geleiten hin in den Freudensaal,
In Deines Vaters Reich, da wir Dich ewig loben.
O Gott, uns das verleih.

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as those of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger they found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

[Retrato de uma princesa desconhecida]

Time’s desolate caress:
the fossil owls, limpid
frontiers, east & west,
testament to shadows
in the heart—
princes beyond air
beyond the touch
of amber.
Gaia’s mist—
cruelty of fear,
compassion of an exiled fate.

(the seed pod: Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen)

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Thursday, December 06, 2007


All you fools for love out there: Y'all get yourselves out there and beg, borrow, buy Mr Herbie's Joni Letters: no, not because it is now up for Album of the Year Grammy (taste of folks these daze, that's almost reason NOT to), but because soon's you get it, you have GOT to crawl right inside some headphones and live this sucka of a disc. Lord, have mercy. "Edith and the Kingpin," oy vey. You can feel the WET on Mr Shorter's reed, it is just dripping Joe Henderson, Gato Barbieri, Stan Getz, all of which is just utter nonsense, because the mighty Wayne Shorter drips NO ONE but himself. And we are all so Yemaya-blessed for it. Nuff.

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[hands contrary]

rocks the color of blue sky
old stones in the waystream
dream into black

an altar of hands
contrary the call
of ardent hearts

100 hands have given

1000 hands have taken away
green arms
at the precipice
in verdant care
the loss of
mortality & breath

conjure paradise:
call the end of ages
call the sixth & seventh voice
dawn to the Mother's breast
in the garden of harrowing labor
on the grounds of our whispering deaths.

(chasing octavio paz)

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