lover of the black rose; unfettered and alive; chief archivist of the western slopes; another of Yemaya's babes in the world; Joachim's distant star; boring stories of - glory daze
Friday, May 29, 2009
Sunday Scribbling #165: Covert
Royal Crown set her middling pudge down on the bench at the corner of St. Charles and McGuffin. Middling. Corseted, she was a taut sack of feed, burlapped coffee beans. Grey rainy day, no commiseration for the rolls beneath her gray sweatshirt. Forty years since the bounce and sproing of her cheerleading quiver upon asphalt, the gasp as boys to men felt the ache of her wet mouth in the shock of their loins. There were always rolls beneath her starched blue and orange uni, but the thighs that gripped their minds were rubber band tight; those most reverent saw no underwear in sight. Holy mother of god, even in the dry days of her ruin she could still feel the kiss of her gash upon pay dirt, the moment she wept to be seen, to be the gleam of an eye, fire down the alleys of dreaming lust.
"RC, sweetness,” says Blanchard, bruised lips from his afternoon of trumpet revival. He spits blood onto a banana peel in the street. His pallor is dubious; the wave of his hair lacks precision. “I see you got sugar on them beignets.”
“Take it downtown, B. I ain’t sweatin’ no fiscal gloom this afternoon. Your Standard and Poor is down, my brother.”
"That is trenchant humor, Miz Crown. You ask Kathryn if I ain’t sublime. You seen this lip or not? I’m talkin’ Miles, sister. Wynton be talkin’ smack about Beethoven this and Haydn that, but he ain’t exactly bendin’ over backwards, now is he?”
“Save it, B. I ain’t doin’ musicology on the fly. I got groceries to make.”
“That where you’re goin’, then?”
“Sure ain’t for breathin’.”
Streetcar rolls up. Blanchard stops the commotion of RC flailing to a standing position. His hand palms the basketball of her belly.
“Old times sake?”
It’s winter on the avenue, but Royal smells Metairie green lawn, the turf behind the wreckage of Grace King High. The slit of B’s eye behind the bonfire of a Marley-sized joint. AP History gone up in smoke. Six months later, the University of Chicago faded to Thibodaux and NichollsState.
“You on or off,” says the conductor. B’s still palming the ball.
“Avery,” says RC.
“Quo vadis,” says B. “I know this cat? I pinch his woman or something?”
Streetcar mutters off. RC uncorks a pint of KB vodka.
“AP History. Mr. Avery. You turned me out, you bastard.”
“Not what I heard, Crown. I heard it was the Rule of 78.”
“Rule nothing. I smell a confection.”
“This ain’t candy, my queen. Lord Avery had a sweet tooth for blue and orange. Carver brought it special delivery, but you punked out. AP smarts got nothin’ to do with the analytical geometry of the Rule of 78. I heard tell that only doggy style bought you anything better than a B+.”
“Take it out the Jayne Mansfield Highway, boy. Your head’s off, anyway.”
For a moment, RC looked him straight on, past the casual three-day grime, past the bulldog overbite, the sour smell of hands on himself in the very pants he was wearing. B. had been a soul brother, Teddy Pendergrass on his knees, ship out on the foam, arrogant minstrel with a socialist axe to grind. B. had blues to sweat and then some.
A sweet pea vine uncoiled and grabbed the finger still drumming the pudge. The middling pudge.
“Turn out the lights, Teddy.”
Teddy turned out the lights.
AnchovyHeights, third floor up. Emeril Lagasse in his demented mania goes landlord. Vegetable sconces, kitchen shrines of inlaid tile. Royal stands nude at her bedroom window, watching a big black mouth of storm brewing up off the river. She feels her body’s lines once again, survey lines of taut demarcation beneath its rolling tumble of wasted farmland. The wreckage is still there, menopausal belly, sagging oil can breasts, riot of pooch up and down the property, no evidence of capacity for bump and grind, just piddling huff and gasp. But, appearances can be deceiving. She’s always felt like fine metal in the pentathlons of her bed, bronze at the window for all the leering world to see, her mound a capacious forest of fall aspens, miraculous gold through the years of her long demise. She fingers her leaves, rounds her belly. Black sky crackles its appreciation, black swan leaning to his Leda.
“Angel’s face,” she says to her darkened lover.
B. mistakes himself as auditor, coughs a chuckle. His fingers trace the pepper sconce above his head.
Royal shapes the vision of dark wings about her face, figures the Greeks for fools to think it was a swan. What rampant god would loose himself in such effeminate garb? Royal had known the earthquake of a body taken by plutonian force, the gossamer lies that fill a room in its wake, and it had not been doggy style either. Title Avery had stood in full view above her on his desk, as she felt his torrid hunger tear a hole right through the last of her high blue Atchafalaya basin sky, his black waters flooding out the very back reaches of innocence, vulture-hung oxbow lake mausoleums of grim refuge for her haggard fall. You think Leda was coming back with the real story after that? The listening ear of a man always turns tail and runs.
“Landlord provide any real food, or just this shit on these walls?”
The stain of post-coital talk bled across her face. The bronze melted, she felt herself sucked back into her graveyard limbs. B. was B. again, not the dark screen of colors behind her eyes, the green waters she swam to oblivion in her long steady race to a blue swarm. Avery was the first and only she’d looked at. B.’s hairline was beyond imprecise, the riotous stew of a Mardi Gras street. Royal draped the afghan nearest, sat in white leather at the darkened glass.
A rued B gazed back. “Kitchen’s closed, I reckon.”
The rain struck behind her head like a pounding monster’s heat.
"Ain’t your lucky dog I’m hungry for. Sorry.” The words–any words, in the glory of such a storm–were ashes in the mouth.
"Make a dash for Mandina’s?”
“I ain’t standing at the bar for your thirty minutes of vodka appetizers.”
“Pee Wee’ll get us in the back.”
“Back smells like the shitcan.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Royal. Ten minutes at the bar, max.”
“I fuck you for free and you say I drive a hard bargain? Five minutes, B, and then I’m walking, monsoon or not. As soon get my oysters at Sally’s where it’s on the table the minute I walk through the door.”
Feel the glimmer on skin: pretzel logic of limbs entwined, sweet-tanned won ton delight, global fever in the air, pecan shade of boys on the mount - perish the thought of non- immortality - Venus rising, sweet tea, a dervish merengue, tigress bounding, narwhals in heat, crescent moon wasteland & vigorous mongo-plasty: herbaceous scent nestled in the crater of Anodyne's complement -
[Following Panda Woman's lead, I jumped in the cafe pool: write for seven minutes, no stopping: the prompt is Anticipate. Imperfection is assumed.]
In the noodling afterglow, spoons derive pleasure that forks do not - cannot, in point of fact. Their pointed remarks gain nothing, even in the sassy fantasies of their sporky brethren, and let me get off this derelict metaphor muy pronto. See if you can't guess my next stop: I surely can't, just as I couldn't imagine what lay across the river and through the rainy woods of St. Anton that glacial August evening some, what now?, 26 years ago. Norwegian wood, you might have thought, but the blonde wood was challenging. Comfortable disarray, this five years after a proposal led as far away from intent and reliance could possibly veer. Byron and Shelley and Mary never had it so good, warming across the warm lake in warm sun with warm wine, warming to this woman from home, but not the woman I was going home to. Somewhere I remember Hemingway getting caught up in this delicious mess, must have been my own - and entirely different - farewell to arms: her arms. They were never met, if only dreamed. There were, of course, arms to meet back in the hills, the green hills, and they were, but the dreaming was hasty, and the arms -
(Following Kahlil Gibran's lead, my own "witness" to the woman accused of adultery and brought to Jesus.)
I was at my pots, breathing the morning's dust in the market when they broke in upon the day's bustling rhythms and stood her, half-naked, in front of him. He sat with tea amidst a motley group of companions. I'd heard laughter through the morning and cries of awakening, interjection, dispute, and...song. I'd seen him kneel in the white limestone dust and draw with his finger, maps of worlds only guessed at by our stale hearts. This was, mind, a hundred feet away, through reckless din, so my mind filled in the words not heard, the maps not seen. My story of him might be oceans away from what he was dreaming into their swollen hearts.
My body quickened at sight of her - what man's body would not? She was known to us all, not by physical touch, but by the envious touch of tongues upon our imaginations. To see her in the morning's light, wreathed by sun dappled through thatch, I'm sorry, there was nothing more for me to do but desire what I had only guessed - a thigh split the red of her skirt, the round of a breast through the gauze of her chemise, rough hands on her olive arms. Blood at the corner of her mouth, she stood in front of him a pillar of stone, sculpted shame.
Rude voices followed rude hands, insistent. Beasts of the air circled with their stones, called to sport by the morning's cries. I'd been lost enough in years past to be the first with my bilious cairn, in the open ranks, crying down vengeance upon those prized for their dissipation, their sacrifice to our blood's thirst.
I cannot say for sure if, under different circumstances, I would not have reached again. My eyes and heart strained for the glimpses of her body I was afforded. In the heat of my envy, I could just as easily have assented as I had at other times.
But, I watched him.
Watched as he finished the point he was making to his companions.
As he listened to the foul cries of her accusers, not once blanching from their ferocity. As he sought out, in fact, all that they might say, pushing their points along to the very edge of do I have this right, is this what you are saying?
As he stood and gently staunched the blood at the corner of her mouth. Took cloth from behind him and wrapped it round her; placed his rough palm upon her brow.
Rough? How do I know it was rough?
I felt it upon my own brow. Felt its heat, felt an insistence that coursed down through the muscles of my face, my neck, and into the wayward briars of my heart.
I felt the stone of our bodies fall away.
You can imagine. Venomous howls.
Spit upon the table. Spit upon him.
He stood and absorbed it all.
I cannot vouch for the words from where I stood, but I feel as if he said: "Are we finished here?"
They were finished. But, she was not. She sat with him.
Mary Magdalene: On Meeting Jesus for the First Time
It was in the month of June when I saw Him for the first time. He was walking in the wheat field when I passed by with my handmaidens, and He was alone.
The rhythm of His steps was different from other men's, and the movement of His body was like naught I had seen before.
Men do not pace the earth in that manner. And even now I do not know whether He walked fast or slow.
My handmaidens pointed their fingers at Him and spoke in shy whispers to one another. And I stayed my steps for a moment, and raised my hand to hail Him. But He did not turn His face, and He did not look at me. And I hated Him. I was swept back into myself, and I was as cold as if I had been in a snow-drift. And I shivered.
That night I beheld Him in my dreaming; and they told me afterward that I screamed in my sleep and was restless upon my bed.
It was in the month of August that I saw Him again, through my window. He was sitting in the shadow of the cypress tree across my garden, and He was still as if He had been carved out of stone, like the statues in Antioch and other cities of the North Country.
And my slave, the Egyptian, came to me and said, "That man is here again. He is sitting there across your garden."
And I gazed at Him, and my soul quivered within me, for He was beautiful.
His body was single and each part seemed to love every other part.
Then I clothed myself with raiment of Damascus, and I left my house and walked towards Him.
Was it my aloneness, or was it His fragrance, that drew me to Him? Was it a hunger in my eyes that desired comeliness, or was it His beauty that sought the light of my eyes?
Even now I do not know.
I walked to Him with my scented garments and my golden sandals, the sandals the Roman captain had given me, even these sandals. And when I reached Him, I said, "Good-morrow to you."
And He said, "Good-morrow to you, Miriam."
And He looked at me, and His night-eyes saw me as no man had seen me. And suddenly I was as if naked, and I was shy.
Yet He had only said, "Good-morrow to you."
And then I said to Him, "Will you not come to my house?"
And He said, "Am I not already in your house?"
I did not know what He meant then, but I know now.
And I said, "Will you not have wine and bread with me?"
And He said, "Yes, Miriam, but not now."
Not now, not now, He said. And the voice of the sea was in those two words, and the voice of the wind and the trees. And when He said them unto me, life spoke to death.
For mind you, my friend, I was dead. I was a woman who had divorced her soul. I was living apart from this self which you now see. I belonged to all men, and to none. They called me harlot, and a woman possessed of seven devils. I was cursed, and I was envied.
But when His dawn-eyes looked into my eyes all the stars of my night faded away, and I became Miriam, only Miriam, a woman lost to the earth she had known, and finding herself in new places.
And now again I said to Him, "Come into my house and share bread and wine with me."
And He said, "Why do you bid me to be your guest?"
And I said, "I beg you to come into my house." And it was all that was sod in me, and all that was sky in me calling unto Him.
Then He looked at me, and the noontide of His eyes was upon me, and He said, "You have many lovers, and yet I alone love you. Other men love themselves in your nearness. I love you in your self. Other men see a beauty in you that shall fade away sooner than their own years. But I see in you a beauty that shall not fade away, and in the autumn of your days that beauty shall not be afraid to gaze at itself in the mirror, and it shall not be offended.
"I alone love the unseen in you."
Then He said in a low voice, "Go away now. If this cypress tree is yours and you would not have me sit in its shadow, I will walk my way."
And I cried to Him and I said, "Master, come to my house. I have incense to burn for you, and a silver basin for your feet. You are a stranger and yet not a stranger. I entreat you, come to my house."
Then He stood up and looked at me even as the seasons might look down upon the field, and He smiled. And He said again: "All men love you for themselves. I love you for yourself."
And then He walked away.
But no other man ever walked the way He walked. Was it a breath born in my garden that moved to the east? Or was it a storm that would shake all things to their foundations?
I knew not, but on that day the sunset of His eyes slew the dragon in me, and I became a woman, I became Miriam, Miriam of Mijdel.
(Notwithstanding the fact that he offers the standard-issue Magdalene as harlot story, he had me at "Am I not already in your house?")
After the Essential Diva's throwdown over at the construction site, I was feeling diva-ish, feeling Chaka, feeling Duffy, feeling Lady Ivory, feeling Sarah Vaughan, but after this, I just felt the exquisite beauty of Ms. Shirley Horn:
Fretter-nales Falls imbibes The breath of endless memories, Cascade of daze gone by, Frivolous dissertations of The dirt beneath your feet As they quibble over The times not fested The games not played The wisdom never buried In the bones. Carry this to your grave, It says: You were heron once, Your glory faded, the genes of Your dissipation, after the Call of a wild beyond Your wildest dreams, Buried with the key That resounds in your ear, smothers Your hair, invites your Deepest worry: the end of all Worries next to the nothing Of your final breath, the Epithalamion of your newest day—
Rana was about to end his travels with the man from Trinidad. From Trinidad, though his people were from India. They had traveled to Trinidad in the nineteenth century, though the man – V – was never clear why. Given how much V got from the people with whom he traveled, it was odd how little he gave out about himself.
Rana, of course, knew where India was, though he was unclear about Trinidad. Atlantic? Caribbean? The mouth of the Amazon? It didn’t seem to matter – the man was so obviously from the subcontinent.
V’s latest travels had been to Malaysia, a far cry from the Islamic terror of Rana’s Pakistan. In V’s stories of that archipelago, Rana was given to believe that there was a softer side to the Prophet whose minions in his part of the world was so bent on raising a bloody desert out of what green ways were left in the hearts of his people. V’s stories of the Malays whispered that there might just be another way.
All of which meant little to Rana now as he wandered the cities of America. He was about to leave V, V who had himself wandered the southern cities once some twenty years ago. Rana was not going south: he told himself that he was traveling into the evening redness of the west, an expression for which he was quite fond, while having no notion what it really meant. He’d heard it also called the blood meridians, a description which lacked his favor, as it recalled Karachi, Bahawalpur, even Lahore: as, perhaps, it should.
Rana was seated alone in a plastic booth in one of America’s ubiquitous fast food emporiums, eating fried fingers of potato out of a thin cardboard bucket; he dipped the fingers in tiny cups of red sauce, drank brown gassy liquid from a paper cup. A man sat in the booth in front of him, eating and reading from a newspaper. Behind him, Rana was surprised to hear the tones and rhythms from his own black-suited world; he turned and saw her – a woman in black pants and a blue shirt, the universal uniform of this emporium, but skin the color of a madrona tree, black lustrous hair, decorative lines of henna braceletingher wrists.
“I leave in two days,” she was saying to a woman whose skin was charcoal black. Rana felt a pang – hers or his own? – of homesickness in his belly; he’d not felt his own in all these many weeks of wandering: though he wanted to reckon the sickness hers, he could not shake the feeling that someone from home was calling him, and djinn-like, had traveled the vehicle of the woman’s own desire to return. He imagined her free of her drab uniform and dressed in colorful cloth, her feet bare on a dyed cool concrete floor, laughing at the sound of a river outside her window.
No, the homesickness, and the desire, could not be his.
Twenty feet in front and above him was a television screen, absent the afternoon dramas he’d so often seen in such places; this screen was showing a movie, set in snow, with an old man struggling along a snow-clogged country road. A young man, driving with his wife in a truck, stops to offer the man a ride. The old man quickly enters the truck as if it were his due. He is taken to the house of a blonde woman: Rana notes that the woman’s mouth has been ruined by something injected into her lips. The ruined mouth is not that of the character – it is the actress’s mouth. Rana has seen her other times, before her disfigurement. In the world that he intimately knows, disfigurement is meant as punishment, for men and women alike; here in America, disfigurement is an act of vanity.
No one in the restaurant is the least bit interested in the movie. Men and women in camouflage outfits come and go with their food in bags; old men and women sit quietly alone and contemplate meat sandwiches held prayer-like in their hands; young couples sit and ignore the food between them. To his right, a very large woman and her very large daughter, sit sullenly and eat out of two clear bags of packaged fruit slices. On Rana’s table, beside his mound of potato fingers, the face of a young white American doctor on a thin placard is exhorting people, out of both sides of his mouth, to make sure they add good foods as well as delete bad ones from their diets. He finds this a very odd thing in such a fried food Mecca. He has seen this doctor on the cover of many other books and magazines touting good foods for the heart, and wonders who could have possibly arranged this marriage.
“Bloody Taoist,” thinks Rana.
He has, at the moment, a raging headache that is spreading down the back of his head like the many islands of the Malay archipelago – here, there, the pain is all about his occipital lobe, darting across his neck and shoulders, fully hammering away at the crown of his skull as well.
He wonders, strangely, if the pain is because of his clothes. This morning, quite impulsively, he discarded his shalwar-kameez in favor of blue denim dungarees and a blue cotton shirt. On his feet are brown ankle boots, not the sandals in which he has walked across half the earth. His hope had been to blend into this south Texas city, not to inflict pain. He knows it is perhaps somewhat irrational to blame a headache upon his clothes, but he is wary of dismissing the thought as just another of his usual mental shenanigans: back in Lahore, as he boxed his black suit into its mothball casket, he felt the yoke of tension he’d carried through three years of law school and ten years of practice lift right off his shoulders. He would have not thought it possible that a change of clothes could effect such change. For years, his family had encouraged him to visit the healer of their old village; friends, returning from schools in London, had offered handfuls of candy-colored pharmaceuticals; he’d resisted them all. Finally, a naked woman the color of his black suit had visited him in a series of dreams. She’d laughed at his obvious embarrassment, even in the private confines of his own mind.
“No, I am not one of Karachi’s African whores,” she said. “You can uncover your eyes; my breasts will not bite.”
She had a proposition.
“Five card stud.”
Rana did not like the sound of the last word; he’d no idea what she was talking about.
Out of an electric blue string bag, the woman fished for a deck of playing cards.
“Every time you lose, you will give me an article of that infernal suit.”
Rana felt himself a captive in the suit, but disliked the woman’s attack upon it.
“And if I win? You have nothing to give me,” he said, looking boldly now at her naked body.
She let him look long at her beautiful lines, casually slinging a leg over the arm of the chair in which she sat. Then she burst into laughter that roared like the sound of the River Indus.
“If you win, my little brother? Well, let us cross that bridge if we get there.”
There were no bridges. Within thirty minutes, Rana was stripped to his undergarments, which the woman graciously allowed him to keep. She sat across from him in his own black suit. Fetching, in her way, but moments after tying the tight knot of his cravat about her neck, she pulled a match from her string bag and made to set the suit on fire.
“Wait!” Rana screamed – but needn’t have. The woman was consumed in a torrent of blue and green waves, his black suit carried quickly out to sea behind her.
She crossed to him and pressed his face into her black belly: she smelled of ocean, of salt, of the darkest patchouli. He could have sworn, as he woke, that he felt the slap of a large fin in his face.
In New Orleans, Rana had seen the woman of these dreams once again; not the same color – this woman was golden – but the same unmistakable look upon her face that defied any man to shirk or desire her. Rana caught her scent and the look upon her face, before he heard a word she said.
“I am she,” she said. And that was all she said.
Two days later, walking through the market in the French Quarter, he had seen her again, holding out a plate of bright red watermelon slices to passersby. He hoped to avoid her eye and walked by.
“My little brother,” a hand firmly grasping his arm. “You would deny me? What – am I naked before you?”
He feared to look.
“Look at me.”
He did as he was bid. He could have sworn the blue and green Caribbean was in her hair.
Her hand cupped the back of his head, as she drew him to her, and kissed his forehead. In his ear she whispered, You have nothing to fear.
Releasing him, she said, “Take,” and placed a red piece of fruit into his open mouth.
“May I sit?” said a voice to his left. The woman was as dark as his card-playing dream, but she was clothed in one of the hot camouflage suits he’d been seeing go in and out of the restaurant. “Lunch is crowded today. I wouldn’t have bothered you, but—”
“No, please: sit. I was just—”
“Your fries are half eaten, brother. I wouldn’t want to run you off. I’ll be done in a jiffy.”
On her tray was a single cup of coffee. She caught the question in his eye. “Headache. A miserable one.”
Rana was about to say, “me, too,” but realized that his had lifted. The islands on the back of his head were just islands, no longer spikes of fire. He realized, too, that he had slipped off his boots and was sitting with his sock feet stretched out across the booth.
Her hand stayed the retreating ankle. “No way. You were here first.”
The camouflage of her uniform was resolving into improbable patches of blue and green. There was the smell of salt in the air.
She took a careful sip of the coffee, breathed in its stout relief, and said, “Two more days.”
Rana was still swimming in blue and green. “I’m sorry?”
“Two more days. I am out. Twenty years in this proverbial black suit will be over.”
“But your suit is not black.” He was going to say it was blue and green, but managed to eke out “it is patches.”
“Figure of speech, my brother. I bury people. Over there,” cocking her head behind her to the south.
“Well, no, I don’t do the actual digging. But, arrange the services. It feels the same. Folks look at me as if I’m the devil decked out in black.”
All Rana could see was ocean and, he was embarrassed to realize, the iridescent black sheen of his card partner.
“First thing I do, come this Friday, is cremate these rags. I’ve got a kiln over at my duplex – these are going in for a nice long bake.”
Rana wished he had thought to burn the mothball casket.
“Then a quick hop up to Austin, take a right on 71, and head straight out for the Blue Flame, some of Swish’s finest coldest cans of beer. Rattle my wisdom teeth, they will. Sit out under his big pine trees in the back and watch that sun burn its way into the west.”
“The evening redness,” blurted Rana.
“The evening redness. I like that.”
Rana smiled. “Please. It is yours.”
“Then, after that evening redness, my brother, I am going to drive back home to Sumner Drive, peel whatever clothes I’ve left on me from driving home with the top down, and walk naked beneath my ceiling fans until I figure one good goddamned reason to put a lick of clothing back on and go out into this infernal world.”
There, seated in the booth of a fast food joint at the corner of Harry and the Austin Highway, Rana knew he had finally set down in America. He knew two things: one, this woman was not propositioning him in the least, and two, even though there was the image of a magnificent black ass sashaying in full mahogany bloom about her living room, there was no evening redness upon his face.
He looked across the booth into the woman’s face. He held her look for a good minute, while the old man in the movie was whining to the blond woman with the ruined lips.
“And then?” he said.
“And then what, my little brother?”
Rana smiled. The camouflage had resolved completely to blue and green. There were turquoise lights in her hair. He held her look again, pulled back his feet and slipped them back into his brown boots.
“Your headache is gone, yes?” he asked. He did not wait for an answer. He stood up beside the booth, gently cupped the back of the woman’s head, and kissed the center of her brow. With his thumb, he pressed a rose into the squashed dent of her inner eye.
From his back pocket, he fished out the deck of cards and placed them on the table in front of her. “Then, my sister, it will be time for a little five card stud.”
Ms. LDM, the Instituto's resident Rimbaud and so much more, bestowed upon me the gift of a bound collection of all her writing this past year. This was on the volume's dedication page:
I dedicate this amateurish work of shit to my three-year English teacher, Paschal Booker, for convincing me off my ass only to set it back down in front of the computer in the back of the room. I would like to let him know that I got a paper cut on an ant bite while compiling this, thus I think that the lack of wrapping or cover can be excused.
Hardly amateurish, and hardly shit. L sits in the back corner of the room: when she's not throwing down some of the most astounding fiction and poetry I have ever read (note that I do not say most astounding student fiction and poetry), she is off discovering the trails of her ancestors: this past week, she pinned Tristan Tzara's Dada Manifesto to my bulletin board, after which she asked if she could print out the Surrealists' 26-page manifesto, while she went off on a disquisition on Breton. This is a young woman bound for glory. In my awarding her the Outstanding Student Award for English III at this past week's Awards Day, I called her the Queen of all Genres, the Archivist of the Western Slopes, and a writer who is herself a living manifesto...
Her discovery of herself and the treasure within her is what we teachers live and love to see...
Tarry not, tis a bounty kept in hearts, bright hearts - none gathers brightness more - ask sun, ask moon, ask kestrel perched on ashen wire in grey sky not gray. reason spoils the joy a simple boy knows well, gainful simplicity, unruly as chestnut loosed in blue. I did not look twice and will no longer: love nays but the wary: me she kissed.
Green of Hearts
This was essence thought beyond pale incense that you blew 'cross bare arms: thus need is identified, never to be announced as parting: disclosure kissed by all the bodies I bring you. I am - I was - heart-severed, a green lunatic returning to portion sustained and echoed not. You were called & guessed the simplicity lurking, not here, but underneath the white stone rosary. It lay to us to read the signs, though for you inclinations are signs in and of themselves. Ask me, my love, if the darkness of your eyes nears mine own echo, and in the trailing, answers.
Go and be merry: what wilt thou, sweet wag, yearning into autumn's plenty? Near the heart a tree stands, evening's light upon light limbs. Tis love warms, waters, feeds - 'haps, too, swells the heart - ache of time worn thin, current nearing, magick beyond silent palm. Didst come to worry? Nay, ride white dawn as roar the mighty, ope heart as ascending orb - rampant against cerulean blue - yestreen's naught: tis now the dream warms dreamly.
Trailing dreams like stars, imprint dawns. Her name neither stills nor lengthens, it quickens, as hand to fin, hand to mirth, kalends to an idle heart. April burrows - ravenous - as night asks here? now? why give back that which utters peace? As linden I am sent, leaves imbosomed, gathered, no accident of birth, but starred, sent nevus upon the nick of time.
A chapter from my first novel, Scarred Angels. The nefarious deeds...
A week later, Frank paid me a visit at the end of my shift, accompanied by a fat sandy-haired stranger in dreadful polyester. In addition to the state of his attire, the stranger had the look of someone who'd taken a few too many blows to the head. I would come to rue that appraisal in due course.
It was a tough call when I got to the booth. Frank was big. His friend was wide. I chose big and scooted in next to Frank. Meg came up behind me and slid three coffees across the table between us.
This decaf, honey?" said the stranger. Meg shook her head. "I gotta have decaf. That real stuff'll give me the jitters."
Frank draped a beefy arm behind me on the back of the booth. "Mac," he said, "meet Sgt. Clyde Miller. Sarge."
Meg interrupted the handshake with a cup of decaf and a tiny pitcher of milk. "Skim, right?" she said, to which the sergeant nodded briefly. He turned his coffee beige and then ripped open three packets of sugar. Dumped them in, but didn't stir. This was our ace in the hole?
He flashed a quick look at me. "You don't look like a boxer," he said.
"I was telling Frank on the way over about your daddy, how he used to coach the team over at the Army air base. They used to beat hell out of the citizens."
"You knew my father?" I said.
"Nah, he was way before my time. I ain't as old as I look. But, my uncle, now that's another story. Your daddy broke my uncle's nose back when they were both fighting in the old Catholic League. Anybody who knows anything about the fights knows about your daddy. He busted a lotta noses."
"Gee, and all this time I thought he was just a sky hero." I was trying to be smart, but I was actually hurting. It was odd to hear some stranger going on about someone I should have known something about. I'd seen the pictures of him and his boxing teams, his Spencer Tracy looks and the godawfulest looking bunch of human animals. It's a wonder they didn't eat their opponents. Still, those pictures were just that, pictures. For Sgt. Clyde Miller, my daddy was a living, breathing memory.
He slurped some of his liquid candy. "Hell, your daddy didn't need a crash to get a road named after him. That was a damn shame."
Funny, of all the things I might have said about my father's death, I never said that. It would have taken a lot less self pity on my part to get it out.
Clyde Miller got silent after this last sentiment, maybe in honor of my father, I don't know. He picked up another sugar packet and thwacked it against his palm. That called Meg over for refills.
Frank cut into the conversational lag. "Mac, it looks like Sarge has got the puzzle pieced together."
I looked over at Frank's mentor about to perform another triple sugar drop into his coffee and wondered how he could figure out anything.
Clyde Miller wasn't interested in any snide looks I might throw his way. He began his story. "The Central Catholic High thing was easy, it just popped out. The wedding thing, piece of cake, bunch of us got invited to the wedding anyway. Damnedest homily, all full of twelve syllable words. We're snoozing in the back of the church, but during the actual ceremony itself the little genius keeps calling the groom by the Captain's name. It's all groans and snorts from us in the background, but hey, we're not gonna make a federal case out of two guys being friends from way back. So the little prick got to be the Captain's XO and pissed off some other would be war hero. Nah, I needed more, and I knew the department was not where I was gonna get it."
He slurped his second cup of coffee, was about to thwack again for Meg, but she beat him to the punch with a brown mug, already prepared. "That's three sugars usually, ain't it?" she said.
He eyed the mug. "This size, I'd say five probably."
"I made it six. One to grow on." She actually raised a smile on the sergeant's face.
I tried to pick the story back up. "So, where did that leave you?"
He took a deep breath, stifled a belch. "You Catholic, Mac?"
"What, I don't look it?" I said.
"I'll take that as a yes. But what I gotta know is, how Catholic?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Hell, Mac, lemme spell it out for you. Most folks, you got sprinkled before you knew better. When you got older, the nuns scared hell out of you, but you liked the idea of dressing up for first communion, wondering was the Bishop gonna slap you or your friend Billy. CYO was a great way to meet girls. By the time you're old enough to know better, it's too much trouble to switch. It's like growing up a Democrat. Who the hell cares, as long as there's refreshments at the parties? That's the kind of Catholic I am. Frank, too. How about you, Mac?"
"What's CYO?" I said, smirking.
"Funny. Your pal's funny, Frank, you know that? And no, you don't look like a Catholic. Not any kind."
"What's my religion got to do with this, anyway?"
"Everything. What I know ain't pretty."
I thought of what I knew that Clyde Miller was a long way from ever knowing. "Not pretty, huh, Sarge?" I said. "You find some good decent priest willing to tell all?"
"Who needs decent? I needed someone who could cover the necessary years. That led me to Uncle Bertie."
Frank, who'd been sitting through all this with the loving attention of a disciple for his mentor, finally woke from his rapture. "Sarge, you never told me he was a relative."
Clyde Miller smiled at the refill Meg poured before him. "Father Albert Carmine is related to anyone who will sit and listen and ply him with the necessary Jack Daniels. I spent a week of evenings over at Sisters of Mercy watching him suck bourbon through a straw. Eighty years old, riddled with palsy, but his mind, God, what a garbage dump. Still smart as a whip, though. He's pissed, too. For years he was part of the royalty downtown at the Cathedral. Was in on it all. Quite a fall to be farmed out to a retirement home on the west side of town, at least as he sees it. The place itself ain't that bad, but the sisters can't stand him, and the feeling's mutual. So, while he drooled bourbon I had to hear all about the nuns, the asshole Archbishop Schultz who farmed him out, and his old pal the eminent Archbishop Cannon, no longer a pal because he never visits from his pricier digs across town. After all that, I wiped his chin, and we got down to the business of the Captain and his smutty friend Bastrop."
I was beginning to wonder if I'd have to wipe Sarge's chin first, too, but he did it for me. His table manners matched his polyester. Sitting in that crowded booth, I was getting irritable. The bullshit was killing me.
Sarge could tell. "Hey, Bollinger, you're not a patient man. Good thing you're not a cop. You ready for the goodies?"
"Humor me," I said. "I got a meeting at six."
"They got 'em around the clock is what I hear." It was just a quick slap to remind me to mind my manners. He went on.
"Apparently, Bastrop was old Cannon's boy from way back. Even before his warrior days in high school. Bertie never spelled it out, but he sure did enough winking and snuffling to make sure I got the drift. Turns out, as smart as Bastrop was, Notre Dame took a pass on him first time around."
I was shocked. "He was good enough for three Ivy League schools, but the Irish said take a hike?"
"Yeah, I wondered about that, too, but then I took another look at the yearbook. Edited, and largely photographed, I might add, by Bastrop himself. The Ivy League stuff never happened. As editor, he could type in whatever he wanted."
"So I take it Notre Dame was bullshit, too?"
"As it stood in the yearbook, yes. But he did finally get the scholarship, after Cannon raised a holy stink with some friends up there."
"How the hell did Bertie know all this?" I said.
Sarge smiled. "He offered to write a letter for Cannon during the first go-round and purposely never did. He couldn't stand Bastrop."
"That's one for Uncle Bertie," I said, but Sarge could care less about my opinions by then. Meg was taking good care of him, but I had not been a very hospitable, or grateful, host. He rolled on.
"Anyway, golden boy returned triumphant some years later, academically and spiritually anointed. Papa Cannon said he wanted Bastrop downtown with him, but that wasn't in Bastrop's plans. He wanted some turf of his own uptown, so the doting father gave him St. Peter. You know the place?"
I knew the place, smack in the middle of my old stomping grounds of AlamoHeights. My mother and I never went there. I think she thought it was too rich for us. "Kind of a long fall from St. Peter to St. Ann," I said. "What happened?"
Sarge set his tiny hands on the table. "All in good time," he said, laying emphasis on the last word and daring me to get smart. "First we gotta catch up with the Captain."
I looked at him, feigning patience. He shook his head and glanced at Frank. "I'm not sure your friend here deserves all this," he said.
Frank squeezed the back of my neck. "Aw, Sarge, give ole Mac a break. He's just never had the pleasure of a gifted storyteller like yourself. Right, Mac?"
"Right," I said, wincing from Frank's hand on my neck. Six years of listening to Marvin go on about Lawrence Welk apparently counted for nothing.
Sarge was not appeased, but he kept on anyway. "Seems Bastrop ain't the only one inventing his past life."
I cut in. "BostonCollege just a cover story for Harry Carson?"
"Not exactly. He got up there. Just never stayed. He knocked some girl up, high school girl, his freshman year, then hightailed it on down here with her to get married, make a go of it. A big mess, but all taken care of through the intercessions of Papa Cannon. Acting, of course, as a favor for his golden boy up in South Bend."
"So what," I said. "So Harry Carson marries early, then turns into a big time family man. Eight kids later he's canonized."
"Cannonized is right, three n's, not two. Remember, we're inventing lives here. That little girl wasn't the current Mrs. Carson. She was the first. After a year's go of it, she and the kid went off into the night. Haven't been heard of since and as far as the Church was concerned, they never existed in the first place. The Captain finished law enforcement school up in San Marcos, brought home a fiancée from Galveston, and with a little noodling amongst Archbishops, they had themselves a big fancy wedding in the Cathedral in Houston. Bertie rode over in the Cadillac with Papa Cannon and his visiting protege from up North. Bertie was pissed. He had to ride up front with the driver."
"Spare me the details," I said, getting nauseous.
"Nothing to spare," said Sarge. "Bertie never went beyond his winks and snuffles on that count. Anyway, story dries up—"
"Dries up!" I shrieked. "You mean to tell me this is your vaunted puzzle?"
Frank's hand was back on my neck. "Easy, Mac," he said. "You really oughta give Sarge a break."
"Sorry," I said, not meaning it. Clyde Miller's hands were back on the table. I noticed he softly tapped each finger in succession. Frank told me later that's how Clyde counts to ten when he's pissed off. If I remember correctly, he must have counted to thirty sitting across from me. I'm sure he didn't continue for my sake.
"It's another few years before things get smelly again. Long honeymoons for both, you might say. Then the big one falls on Bastrop. Some parishioner's daughter spills to her daddy that the holy reverend is arranging private counseling meetings to take artsy photos of her and some of the other kids. In the buff. Bertie snickered about this one a long time. Apparently the good Father was going on all the time in his homilies about the sacred beauty of the human form. Pretty progressive stuff until the little naked pilgrim spilled the beans. Papa Cannon was beside himself, as you can imagine. As Bertie tells it, though, not for any of the right reasons. This little girl's daddy was forking over plenty for renovation and expansion of the Cathedral. That's where rising star Detective Sergeant Harry Carson came in. Time to return a favor. He dug deep and came up with enough dirt and muscle to shut the father up, provided Bastrop got buried."
"Which was where?" I said, polite now, attentive.
Clyde took note of my shift in tone, and smiled briefly. Somewhat sadly, too. This was, after all, his sainted boss he was dismembering. "Papa Cannon sent Bastrop to the Ivies this time. YaleDivinitySchool. Bastrop announced to his flock that he was off on sabbatical to study some mystery hoopla. Packed his cameras and left."
"Hell of a punishment," said Frank. "Cost of developing supplies and film must be outrageous up North."
"It's still a long way from Yale to St. Ann," I said. Not pushy, just interested.
"Papa Cannon brought him home eventually. Kept him downtown, then they had a falling out and Papa sent him to the sticks. Godawful parishes."
"What was the big split?" I asked.
Sarge shrugged his shoulders. "Try as he might, even Bertie could never get the answer to that one. But needless to say, Bastrop didn't wait around for reconciliations. Somewhere along the way, he hooked up with the holy reverend CPA Larry Kestor, who was already in big with then Monsignor Schultz while he was organizing the palace revolt. So, Schultz squeezed old Papa Cannon out with help from Rome, ascended in his place, and positioned Kestor for the time being at St. Ann, while he cleaned house. Kestor was happy to give Bastrop a kingdom to play with as long as it freed him up to lunch with his pals down at La Louisianne. Bastrop, obviously, could give a shit about palace politics. He's a businessman. All he needed was a steady supply of naked orphans."
Sarge, who'd been tearing through his story like a greyhound in pursuit of a metal rabbit, stopped on a dime. I wasn't sure he was finished at first, so I kept my mouth shut, waiting, looking for clues. He just sat there, fiddling with his brown mug, laying a hand over it when Meg came with her umpteenth refill. I got the impression that Clyde Miller was like a mole, happiest digging underground, not too keen on the light of day. Probably accounted for why, after twenty years on the force, he was still mucking around as a sergeant on the night shift. During that moment of silence, I warmed to the man, sensing this meeting had been a real stretch for him, that his coming was a measure of his affection for Frank. When after another thirty seconds' fiddling with the mug it was clear the story was over, I spoke.
"It seems an open and shut case to me."
Sarge grinned wryly at his partner. "God save me, Frank, we've got more of a real Catholic than I ever imagined."
"I don't get it," I said.
"Obviously, Bollinger, you believe in a lot more of what I call the Big Crap. You know: infallible Popes, Friday fish, Truth, Justice, that Oswald killed Kennedy all by himself. Open and shut cases. My ass. No such thing, altar boy."
Foolishly, I responded. "You've got a chief of vice confiscating evidence of child pornography, shutting down the case on an old friend that goes way back, a friend he's bailed out more than once. Furthermore, turns out this same chief, Mr. Antismut, is the fucking hit man for the Church of the Holy Pedophile. Forgive them father, they know not what they do, just send them down to the Valley to wiggle it at the little wetback kids who won't know any better. This doesn't stink enough for you, Sarge?"
"Oh, it stinks plenty. But, tell me, Bollinger, who you gonna tell all this to?"
"Hell, I don't know. The D.A., FBI, the papers, for chrissakes."
"Hey, Bollinger, wake up. They already know."
That one felt like a blow to the head. I just looked at him.
"You citizens," he said, softly now, all full of bedside manner for a dying patient—or, in this case, a dying illusion. "You think all this law and order pomp is to catch the bad guys, cuz that's what we do. Well, it certainly helps the PR and nails down the federal matching funds. But, I'm telling you, altar boy, what we're really there for is to help the big guys out of a tight jam when some nosy janitor goes prying into their business."
Frank was squirming during this last speech, one he'd obviously heard before. "Not all of us happen to agree with Sarge's philosophizing, Mac. You're getting his dark side now."
"Frank's still a rookie," said Sarge.
I flailed a few verbal jabs Sarge's way. "Don't give me that crap, Clyde. What are you doing in a job that stinks that bad?"
He smiled back at me, that heartbreaking, sad smile. "Up until a few years ago, I was a rookie, too. What's that our cop shrink always says? 'Denial's a tough nut to crack.' Well, Mac, I still ain't fully cracked. My loss, I'm sure."
"So why tell me all this, why go looking for it in the first place? You could have saved a few bucks on booze bribes and not had to wipe the drool off an aging priest."
"It's a curse, Mac. You know, Frank tells me you're a true city boy, never been hunting. Take quail, for instance. You and a good point dog. A good one, he's wired tight, his whole purpose for living is to get your fat ass out in the brush and freeze when he finds you a covey. His body and soul are there, knocking on heaven's door for you. Does he want you to pull the trigger? Maybe. Would he like to chow down on the treasure? Absolutely. But there he is, still, motionless, more beautiful than any statue in your fancy museums. Well, twenty years ago, Mac, when I graduated first in my class in the academy and was willing to die for the opportunity to make detective, I knew I'd found my purpose for living. Take Keegan, the best dog I ever had, he was fourteen years old and peeing on himself, but if I took him into the hills, he was ageless. That's me, Mac. I'm forty-two years old, peeing all over myself with grief, but put me anywhere near something that needs figuring out, I'm like Keegan, I can't help myself."
Bitterly, I laughed. "Hell, Clyde, you need a higher power."