Friday, March 27, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #156: Aging

I've been wanting to write about the wondrous movie "Everything is Illuminated," a movie I watched with three of my classes this past week (one of the many glories of the freedom of creating your own curriculum), and the SS girls want me to write about "Aging." This poem slouches towards both, bits and pieces of the sunflowered wonder of Liev Shreiber's film (and JSF's book, assuredly) caught in splashes of rampant amber.

The Last Brigade (for Trachimbrod and Baruch)

Radioactive salt,
The kind you sprinkle on your withers,
Morbidity, Sector One,
Venusian contraband,
The paschal lambs of the day after the
Floods of derivation,
Irrigated permutations
That wax the moons of memory,
The Last Chance hurrahs of Methodomes,
Crucified chutzpah, puffy tacos
Of the Last Brigade,
Telenovelas brimming with the good news
That what you left will follow,
What you see, you’ll get,
What you fired will amp your disarray,
What you seem will tar the feet of the last
To leave and the first to tarry:
Mercy crowds the sunflowers
Of illumination,
The half moons of life
From the grill work of ashes,
Tessellated wisdom:
When the shades come off,
The who you were,
Looking down the barrel,
Aims in return,
& repose will be your crystal nacht.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #155: I Come From

But, It’s All These

Fate deals you a dog and a street &
Voila, porn star you are—
Willard Contour, and at 458 Olmos Drive
You stop and wonder,
Roadways of stranger danger
The street smarts of adenoids
Blissfully ignorant of the
Ways and means of actuarial
Snow biz, Snopes trials
Of the beastly, the biochemical, prosciutto
Hung in the balance, if
You’re EF, then you’re from
Where you stand, but
Not all of the benighted are
So inclined, navigating by moonlight,
Asking after the calculated
Derivations of the one
True and mighty One and Only—
You crave inventions,
The crenellations, the visual
Depravity of the down and out,
Not a world you want to wear,
But it’s all these 5 and Dimes
Have to offer, ozone
Layers of frivolity,
Karaoke mamas of your good night fortune,
Shamans of the pledge of
Allocated time, Davy Crockett’s
Fine and dandy osprey,
Down the very last aisle
Of the very last basement
In the very last stacks of
The Rio San Juan.
Say a prayer, they say,
And you wonder at the audacity,
The kestrel fate that
Storms the walls
Of your last call to Jesus.
It’ll take you four days,
If you’re lucky,
& only if there are four not three
Who stroll in Monday morning,
Giorgio in his white linen,
Gasping for Galilee, ghostly
Fishbait in these feral climes.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #154: Dear Past Me, Dear Future Me

Dear Past Me

Deer passed me in the hall: hailed me with her usual aplomb. I was just back from El Dorado. Better known as Spring Break.
“Extension, Mr. B? Dog ate me homework—judiciously.”
“You’re hoping that last word will sway me.”
“I’m hoping your renewed vigor brings with it Trinitarian compassion, mon frere.”
“French venison. How quaint.”
“It’s all the rage. That, and The Kid’s Guide to Stranger Danger.”
“Your Trinitarian allusion, I was thinking Bloom, Harold.”
“You off on him again? Theoretical physics has more sass than HB, Mr. B.”
“Past 50, the moons get bigger. You long for more, you generate less. Wistfulness blesses all the virgins.”
“Mr. B, it was just an extension.”
“What are you now, a junior?”
“Is there a good answer to that query?”
“Probably not. You might want to take it up with Ms. Hall.”
“Guidance? Deus ex machina’s more my cup of tea. Guidance requires forbearance.”
“I’d think bears are decidedly not in your bailiwick.”
“Sidney, Australia do anything for you, Mr. B? Cuz I ain’t feelin’ these postprandial puns.”
“Who said anything about postprandial? I’m just here for the muffins.”
“So I’ve heard. You might want to cut back.”

Dear Future Me

“Dear, Future Me wants in out of the rain. Any chance you can oblige?”
“She wearing galoshes?”
“In a past life. God was watching the Weather Channel. Or so she said.”
“Put her up in the guest room. Make sure she gets the lavender towels.”
“It’s not like she’s MENSA. I think the beige will do. The ones from Uncle Donald? You ‘member.”
“If you like drying off with tortillas. No, give her the lavender. And break out the salsa while you’re at it. Wasn’t she Phi Beta Kappa at Brown?”
“She hoped to be, till the monsoons swooped in. Then it was Katy bar the door.”
“I once followed Margaret Licarione through Katy’s in Houston. There was a Texas-sized walnut table in the shape of Texas. Right around Presidio, I got a mouthful of hair.”
“That when you drove up over the median? That evening in Avalon? D-Feil’s bras hanging in the bathroom? Texas Group Psychotherapy Association at the Shamrock?”
“I think they were American Groups.”
“But the Shamrock, right? You out on Westheimer and the American Groups down in Irish town? Nancy Kern in the Heights and over at Zimms, right?”
“Ah, sandwiches. No wine?”
“Pimiento cheese. And yes, wine.”
“Dry white?”
“Nancy? Or the wine?”
“Dear, do me a favor. Please. Just future me, okay?”
“Agreed. What’s pasta is pasta.”
“Guest room it is.”
“Paisley Gideons in the side table?”
“Nunc dimittis.”
“My favorite bicep.”
“My favorite canticle.”
“Her favorite Martian.”
“Athanasius was a visionary, but Marty Robbins was the bomb.”
“Is indeed.”


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


It's here. Finally and wonderfully.

In my earlier post, I forgot to mention all the wonderful allusions to water in "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime." Not to mention these wonderful conversations that came from places of the unspoken, both flowing with and cutting across currents of the known, the unknown, the intuited, the wished for. Late in the film, there is a wonderful view of rain pouring down, outside the room where Juliette and her sister Lea sit. All of us here in Tres Leches have known of the rumors of rain this Spring Break week; as I watched the scene, I "knew" the rain would be coming today, Wednesday.

I woke early to the first round. Walden and I walked Blue: cool, breezy, beautiful pearl-grey sky. Drove downtown to the biblioteca: came out and it was pouring. Drove up Main Avenue and KSYM ("your only alternative") plays a bopping little tune all about rain, listening to the rain. Called the station when I got home: Nathan Johnson's, sure enough, "Rain." I can do without the goofy video (except for the rain), but I'll stand by the song: it was perfect for how it felt driving down the wet streets, Tres Leches has always been such a wonderful town to drive around in the rain, and we have been so damned deprived. Enjoy the song, minimize the video if need be, just listen...


Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long)

It gives away too much about this film to give even the smallest summary of its story, so let me give away this: this movie is sublime. In the magic of its own time-lapse photography, Juliette's story "unravels," as unravel it should, but each frame is painted with a painter's care, so much care around this woman and her face and her story and those who slowly accrue around her.

I've been wanting to see this film ever since I heard a snippet about it on NPR months ago, a feeling in my bones that it be would lovely and fine: it was all that and more, if you can imagine more to be had. I love Kate Winslet, I've not seen "The Reader," but I strongly suspect that Kristin Scott Thomas was robbed of an Oscar this year.

In this and one other film this year, I've been fascinated by seeing two actors whose bodies seemed to have absorbed the deep reservoirs of pain embedded in their stories: KST in this and Dustin Hoffman in the petite confection "Last Chance Harvey." In no way would I equate the two movies, but Hoffman's performance, through his face and his body, was riddled with pain, and the way he held and showed that pain was mesmerizing. So much - so much more - was communicated when he and Scott Thomas were not speaking in their roles.

Queue it up, folks.


Monday, March 09, 2009

God's Gift

(A riff off of Sherman Alexie’s story “Indian Education.” The juniors and I riffed together. Here's mine.)

Third Grade: Circle School

School started in circles, this strange place of carpets and veggies and no candy and stories on the floor. Jumping Mouse, I hear my first day, through the blur of sleepy eyes and the blob of a bean and cheese taco in my belly. Jumping what? Jumping why? Jumping who cares? Then as the bean and cheese begin to melt inside, I’m pulled to my feet, arms up, arms down, arms all around, something about Indians praying. Am I Indian? Do I care?

Teaching peace, I keep hearing, but someone hasn’t told Isabella, goddess of war, hoarder of green paint and crayons, thief of scissors and lunches and anything else not nailed down. Peace, Isabella, peace, sweetheart, coo the waffle-teachers in the wake of her Shock and Awe.

Someone needs to take chica out, but fast.

Fifth Grade: Praying Mantis

I pray every day that I’ll meet my birth father. Every day. Every day, every day, every day, every day. Dear God, please please please please please, let me meet him.

They say my name means God’s gift. I don’t know about that, though I suppose I am Lena’s gift, me, the only one of her four—now five—children she gave away. You don’t need to tell me how much my adopted parents love me, what a great life they can give me, how much Lena must love me to have given me a better life, blah blah blah. Just tell me this: Did you draw straws? Was I too rough on you in your belly? Too much morning sickness? Did you not like my mug in the ultrasound?

This is what I think. This is your revenge on him. I’ve got nothing to do with it.

You know where he is—and I hate you for it.

Seventh Grade: Just About Midnight

Three of us crammed into a storage closet, spray painting posters for the dance, glitter in our hair, headaches throbbing from fumes and lust.

Norma Torres is all dressed in white. I am all dressed in terror, but I must. I walk over to her and ask if she wants to dance; she keeps looking up at the stage at the idiot in orange buckskin hopping around to “Gloria.” I swear he can’t even spell it, it sounds like he’s leaving out the “i.” G-L-O-R-A…Who the hell is “Glora?”

I can’t tell if it’s amusement or interest that has her attention; she still hasn’t looked my way. I turn to go, but Elena Trapani catches my eye, nods her head back towards Norma, mouths the words Ask her again. Now.

I shout this time, over the din of Orange Julius. She turns and looks at me, the sweetest praline walking the halls of Artemis Junior High. My knees have wobbled since the first day I saw her.

She nods. We inch our way through the crowd. Wayo is diving for fish with Sandra; I’ve no clue what dance Weston is doing. Thomas? Thomas speaks for himself.

Orange Julius turns deadly on me as we reach a cleared space—plops a slow song right down on us, surprisingly good choice, surprisingly good voice.

I’m not sure who takes Norma by the hand. I’m sure it’s me, but it doesn’t feel like me. That hand in mine is soft warm candy and my body is pure grape jelly. Norma is not shy; she wants to cuddle. Warm face against my shirt, hand on the back of my neck.

I died that night and still haven’t come back.

Eleventh Grade, Sort Of

Castillo came by and banged on the doors and then the windows and then climbed up on top of the roof and yelled down the chimney like some crazed Santa. Get your ass back to school, you idiot. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know he was drunk out of his skull, physics teacher gone wild. He dropped his fifth of scotch down the flue and it shattered in the living room, stinking up the place.

Role models. Can’t live without ‘em, right?

When he sobered up the next morning on Miguel’s couch, I brought him three tacos from the Haven and poured tomato juice down his gullet. He whined for vodka in the V-8, but he was grinning. Said that the Harvard rep had come by again, wanted to know why I hadn’t shown for the interview, those SAT scores were going to kick the roof off the admissions committee, I could write my ticket.

“Said with those scores, they’d probably throw in Shakira and Beyonce both.”

Cayete,” I said.

“You’re a fool, you know that, right?” he said, trying to catch my eye. I wouldn’t give it to him.

“Take the damn scholarship, fool. Get your degree, make your millions, and then throw your life away. You can leave the money to me.”

“I said, shut up, Castillo.” I didn’t need Stand and Deliver all up in my face. I sure didn’t need to smell it.


I told the Ivies they could kiss it. Said the same to Stanford with all their hip shake and bake let’s get jiggy with it nonsense. When it came right down to it, I really didn’t care where I went. I knew all the work was gonna be mine anyway. When I dig in, I dig in. I could dig in at Northwest Vista, but the chicks weren’t worth it. Tulane in New Orleans ponied up enough to keep me solid, Katrina cleared the way for only the most righteous of partiers, and I’d gotten a tip from Lena in one of her drunken rages that the asshole was probably still driving cabs up and down Canal Street, instead of taking care of his kids.

Castillo wanted to give me his six-month chip as a graduation present—I told him he needed it way more than me, but that I would take his third row Stones tickets, what the hell was he going to a rock concert on six months sobriety, anyway?

He gave me his three month chip. I taped it to my mirror.

I take it day by day.


Glory Day

(This was not the EW photo I used as a prompt, but she is gorgeous. Yemaya, through and through. I could not find the prompting photo.)

Big bull of a woman stopped cold. The wall came down, misery in the sopping wet. Long hot Farish Street afternoon and all the gods most punctual. Fate came down the streets and closed up all the shops—every damn one. Did she see? You bet she did. Saw the wings of the women fly by to Wednesday, saw the ever-living Son of Man as he thumped down the street in his green Cadillac—no convertible this, just an old heap shot to hell by life and longing and pure and utter disarray. The day met her—black bull stopped dead in her tracks.

“Three days,” she thought, the words bubbling away into soapy nothingness. “Three days, and I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Ophelia and her pretty hands and pretty white angel-wing dress, and what is this ‘you see me, sister—three days and all will be well. Weren’t just the good blessed Lord in his glory: it’s all of us. You watch: wait and see. That boy’ll be shinin’ next time you see him.’

Brother Jim the dog rounded from sleep, seemed he caught something in the dead air. The cat might have already been dead: on its back, head crooked, tiny pink wedge of tongue peeking through the furry mask.

Phoenix listened to the metal tick and pop of the tubs and the tin roof overhead. Listened to her fast-beating heart in a body left for dead. Felt the wave of her boy’s spirit as he flew on down the lane.

“Times is dark. Ain’t a word of God flyin.’”


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dle Yaman: Isabel Bayrakdarian

Confession: Life of a Fool

Excerpt from my email to Soul Sister San in Santa Fe:

Tina and I watched a very cool movie (from the Producers of "Sideways," was it?) last night: "Smart People." Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church,
Ellen Page, and the reason I initially dissed the choice, Sarah Jessica Parker. I was about to say that in my middle dotage I am hopelessly (and shamelessly, and unrepentantly) bigoted about certain things and people, SJP being one of them, but in truth, I have always been so bigoted, and I am probably even a little less so in this extended dotage. One of the notable characteristics of my bigotry is that I typically know very very little about those towards whom I am bigoted. I do not believe that I have ever seen SJP in anything. I question how she could possibly be married to Matthew Broderick. (My bigotry compounds.) All by way of saying that SJP was very good in the movie and I thoroughly enjoyed this little film about what the director kept referring to, lovingly, as a group of emotional idiots.

Tina once again questioned why I would doubt her 95% success rate in choosing movies. I question my questioning, too. My success rate probably hovers around 40%, and after my championing of "Landscape in the Mist," even that 40% is suspect (especially since I still champion LITM).


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #153: Listen Up

Excerpt from my short story entitled “The Temptation.” Suicidal farce, if you will: Ben Smythe, off in Cambridge-ville with younger sister Bess, ensconced at Radcliffe, lover of Pam down at Emory in Hotlanta (Bess, that is). Bennie is a bit of a histrionic: his temptation is to hightail it to what he calls his “cordovan brother,” a brown leather journal book from the leftovers of a father he never knew…as I say, hightail to this tome whenever he feels he has suffered humiliation from which he feels he cannot recover. His journal entries are suicide attempts gone awry, largely because of the impeccable timing of Bess, who has a penchant for showing up just as the histrionics are about to go full blown. For those who know the author, I will swear to a familiarity with the frozen ass and the elegantly black-sweatered cursive infrastructure. And, sadly (at the time, anyway) the ubiquitously mentioned Teddy.

Clearly, to employ the SS prompt, Bennie wants us to listen up because what he has to say is important. Even if we (and Bess) may disagree. For those who may be worried, Ben is, with sister Bess’ ministrations, a consummate survivor.

age 22
16 december 19—

never thought i would die in the cold north, never thought i would die this close to xmas, i thought i was way past all that e jarvis crap, even if i have been prowling for three and a half years here in ee cummingsville, no i’m not copying him, i’m a damn government major, thank you, poli sci to the rest of the world, it’s just that my hands are cold and i can barely make lowercase letters as it is. up to my ass in de tocqueville, a. hamilton, marcuse, and hayek—try writing haikus with them as your muses—i didn’t know jack about monsieur lowercase until the scintillating black turtleneck-sweatered ms. alison leverett came along, gorgeous menthol-mouthed tobacconist with a tongue that seemed shockingly intimate with the whisky sours she had a moist hankering for. sister bess, who much to my chagrin had traveled north on her own william randolph hearst full scholarship, only to junk it in the charles river for the likes of e pound and c olson, leaving mom, well, leaving mom’s new jillionaire boyfriend holding the bag, as the citizens kane were not slopping their mega-noodle scholarships around for the likes of chicken coop poets and gloucester megalomaniacs—as i say, sister bess is horrified that i should consort with such a floozy: the blackwooled breasts are not the issue, sister b i now know can appreciate cursive infrastructure with the most hard-boned of the rest of us, and no, she can even forgive the fact that I stink of whatever smoke the sublime ms. l happens to be blowing out her nose, it is the woman’s choice of devil water that has sister b in such a dither, having quickly upon arrival adopted a scotch-only policy, with ample double cheeseburgers from hazen’s on the side. thank god, my sister has the metabolism of a spider monkey (ateles geoffroyi geoffroyi; my minor is zoology), or she’d be packin’.

i should get on with the evening’s details before the reaper pays his visit. ms. l—for whom i would sever all further ties to anything in the new south that teeters anywhere near progressivism but in fact bears closer resemblance to semi-moderate republicanism, for whom i would venture into the streets as a stark raving sacco and vanzetti anarchist—ms. l two nights ago asks if i have ever seen the movie mccabe and mrs miller. billy jack and mary tyler moore being my usual cup of tea, i reply in the negative, which occasions this night’s plunge into the overheated and undersounded brattle street theater where i was tempted to suggest we pop our own popcorn, not wanting to disturb the junkie concessionaire who seemed more intent on sating his own sweet tooth than those of his few customers. after i sit through two hours of men and women in furs, crackling fires in the snowy Canadian northwest, the unintelligible mumblings of warren beatty, and the scandalous table manners of julie christie (though i do consign a developing crush on the sublime ms. c to future consideration should the cursive infrastructure sitting beside me in the dark ever pack up her tinker toys and leave), after all this and a seasonally inappropriate hot fudge sundae at bailey’s, i found my cold ass sitting on the icy concrete landing outside the cambridge earth shoe store, dim street lights dimly dimming my heart as i sat beside the beauty whose ass was presumably also freezing, and as i froze on into the night i came to the horrifying realization that there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot left in the personal inventory i call my Self to keep this woman the least bit interested in me beyond my walking her back to her, not my, dorm. was the third mention of teddy the ice hockey player and his sleeping with his winter windows open remotely related to this flash of dismal intuition? as good queen bess was wont to say of her benighted older brother, benjie—only she got away with that nickname—you’re a sap, but you’re not THAT much a sap. inventory depleted, all reserves gone, i committed the cardinal sin that not even vanderbilt commodore pre-med dougie would ever stumble to: i confessed my inadequacy to the dark star seated beside me, and wasn’t that the most palpable tremor of revulsion i felt stir in the icy air around us, the few last spidery tendrils of interest in my woe were sucked right off my skin, and buddy, let me tell you right now, right then and there on darkened brattle street, i was taken off of all life support. life draining quickly, we stumbled back charles river-ward to ms. l’s place, suffering yet another three teddy-mentions (i believe my testicles fell off as we were crossing mt. auburn); from the outer gate of her dorm, i crawled on over here to my tower window to lay down and die. ms. christie keeps calling from the vault to which I consigned her, but hey, i KEPT my hearst scholarship, i’m smart enough to know when the jig is up. forget that crazy as a loon mississippi compson boy in turgid faulkner, i don’t need to jump in no damn icy river off the bridge, i can damn well just lie down in my own damn bed and let the evil worm bring it on.

what the hell is it now? somebody banging like keith moon on my door, good lord, does she have a nose for this stuff, of course it is my sister, come no doubt to stake a claim to whatever physical effects i have about my lair. she has an unconscionable crush on the voice of samuel p. huntington, presumably she will want all my papers from his seminar, just to swoon over his comments on my B minus papers and smell that disgusting pipe tobacco he smokes while grading them.

“pam sez hi,” says my bloodhound sister, a marvelous opening gambit to our little death waltz—throwing out the name of the first person to send me writhing to my cordovan confessor. ever since her rescue from the horrific snow queen bunnies, sister bess has never been far from her savior; bess foregoes her meal ticket for phone money, staying as close to p vincent at emory in atlanta as 1100 miles will allow. she phones on mom’s dime, and eats on mine, snarfing food off my trays in the dining hall.

oh, does she, i reply, but bess has bigger fish to fry. she’s seen the open journal beside me on my bed, sits down at my desk in the corner, she’s fishing for more sammy p.

you get the marcuse paper back yet?, to which i sniff, i’m a little busy here! i can feel another wave of shame coming my way, shame i always prefer to do alone, thank you, does my sister care, hell no.

what’s this?, she asks, flipping open an unmarked manila folder, my transcription of the lyrics to “anyone who had a heart.” transcribing sappy love lyrics—no doubt a pre-morbid sign of my imminent decline. just this morning i transcribed “windy”—you KNOW i’m dyin’.

“that burt bacharach—some poet, huh,” says miss smartass. “this for your moderns class?” a lazy afternoon in alison’s living room, gorgeous fall weather in through the open window, listening to the stones’ goat’s head soup while she recites early yeats, maud gonne’s yeats, damned if i didn’t sign up for perkins’ modern poets the very next day. midterm c and not even a sammy p b minus on my first paper, it finally hit me, doof, it was mick’s “winter,” not poor silly aedh that had me in such a poetic dither. a second hand goat’s head soup would have saved me from the bucks i plunked down on that damned norton anthology, and all the prufrock readings over at the fogg, jesus, ben, that wasn’t w b yeats in your ear, that was mick:

Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you
Sometimes I wanna keep you warm

Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you

Sometimes I wanna but I can't afford you

what the hell, all the more reason: a good day to die, if i can just get my sister out of here, not exactly something you want to do with company around, you know?

can i help you?, i say.

don’t use your baskin-robbins server boy voice on me, says bess, i’m not just another of your pistachio almond fiends. i see you are in the throes again, haven’t seen your little leather brother out since—what?—dougie/elaine, right? helluva thing, though truth be told, i never could see it, you and e, that hamster voice, hell no, that would have killed off “never my love” boy lickety split, but no way that would have been self-inflicted, that voice, that’s manslaughter, easy.

i repeat, i say, can i help you. and: i never liked “never my love.” that crappy organ solo, no way.

she: sorry; i forgot, you can do with “peeking out from under a stairway,” but hang that organ. alright, alright: you want me out of here, got your little date with the reaper, what i want to know is, you still got my carole king?

me: your? you told me if the earth moved one more time—

she: i know what i told you, okay? just tell me: do you still have it?

me: and where else would it be?

she: hell if i know. i figured by now fitz would have won it off you; you know you’re backgammon-lousy, and for a black man, fitz’s got the strangest taste in music.

me: relax. he got the carpenters.

she turns to the 400 plus pristine albums shelved in the corner, save for the cat-scratched spine of the very album she was looking for, sticking out plain as day, but no, she has to ask, yet again.


this i don’t even dignify.

rock or vocals?

my pre-phi beta kappa sister, never known so much as an a-minus in her life, and she’s gotta ask, rock or vocals, but then i realize that this is our last conversation and i choke up a bit as i say, vocals, of course. carole king’s funky bare toes on the cover doesn’t make it rock, sis.

c or k?