Proust is my Co-Pilot, #17

A brain spins in a stagnant room, sick with sweat. The city curls itself into a fat ball, nauseous on its own concrete. At the butcher’s booth, in the back of the market, an Amish man sells moldy cheese, thick yellow bricks, turned sideways to hide green fur, he smiles rotten teeth at me, lowering his price.         The smell of warm produce catches in my throat, sticks there drily, itching, scratching breath, my fingers in bins, of tomatoes, over ripened, rubber skinned apples, soft bleeding berries.

The air crawls on my skin, an infestation of flies, raising the scars
of memory, a monotony of course, thinned out by age.

The sidewalk is a hypocrite; A Pharisee of insincerity. I’ve little excuse for my animosity, no basis for my judgment, except that I have become slovenly, unclean of mind, full of bad intention.

An old lady taps my ankle, with her cane, as we stand at the corner of third and Verbeke streets. Cars drag themselves lazily past us, bumpers slicing humidity. I am a hunchback, stooped under the weight of my groceries, anxiously peering about for shadow. She taps my ankle again.       I twist to face her, but she is staring straight ahead, speaking through clenched teeth,

“A purpose. That is what you need. Walk with a purpose, child, walk with a purpose. The bastards won’t touch you, if you walk with a purpose. And lose the big bags, it just attracts attention…”

She steps from the curb. I stop myself, just in time, before giving her a push.

 

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Sunday Breakfast in North Philadelphia

My friend Carter pops the yolks
of his sunny side up eggs with a fork
and announces that someday
he would like to retire from optometry
and open a Curiosity Shop.

And just like that, the day seems
dangerous. As if we need to be careful,
lest it get away from us, or us from it.

“What sort of things does one sell in a Curiosity Shop?”

I ask, while scratching a mound of butter
from my wheat toast.

“You sell the unusual.”

I picture him growing into a fat-
thumbed, inquisitive sort, built
like a bundle of twigs, a wicker
knick knack of a man. A yellowed
Socrates, perched behind a scarred
counter, with fingerprints on his eyeglasses.

My mind makes me nervous.

The ladies restroom is an echo, a fine
place for some hysterics. The walls are
written in French, with an awful accent.
At the mirror, I brush my hair
in lengthy, slow strokes,
christen myself Banshee, and let out
a low wail, before returning

to the breakfast table.

Carter is eyeing up my toast, I offer him
a slice and he shoves it into what is left
of his runny eggs. I salt my home fries
and tell him that he will have to live
someplace warm, someplace with a
tourist season. People don’t often
buy curiosities

in their own hometowns.

I fancy his shop as small with little natural
light, on a side street, maybe below a
cheap apartment or two.
He’ll be an old man by then, pettish
and in need of a bath, wearing
the humidity tight, as a shrunken
wool sweater. He’ll be thick-necked

and mean.

I’ll visit each winter. We’ll drink
bitter tea from chipped mugs and
watch the dust build up around us.

I sprout nostalgia like a skin rash.

The parking lot steals our voices
in its wind and grabs at our jackets,
laughing in our faces. Clouds drop
beneath a dim sky, as the day becomes
an ugly stranger. The city
is a suffocation. Even my shoes,

feel too tight.

 

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Nell

 

 

This night we drove for hours, into the empty countryside, eating cherry pie
and drinking coffee, from a gas station. You steered us out of civilization,
away from the lights of any town, into a dark corner of the world, that neither of us had known existed. We turned off the radio, opened all of the windows, and let the night consume us, with darkness and sound. The sort you can only find, after dusk on a Pennsylvania mountaintop, in January.

Your old truck bumped up dirt roads, I spilled coffee on my coat, you cried. Softly at first, then thicker, heavier than your breath. You’ve always been a beautiful crier. I felt we had taken this journey before, and we had. Though it was a different night, a different road, a different car.

But, it was us, without a destination, I am certain of that, though we were younger that night, I provided the crying, over what I no longer can recall, but the night was as black any I have ever seen it, and you were driving us to nowhere, cigarette hanging out the window, hair ponytailed, and wearing that blank stare of yours.

Much like tonight, we spoke rapidly, as if the words would abandon us, if we didn’t get them all out, we were new then, or fairly so, just a year or two into this life we have built in darkened cars, this marriage of secrets, this loping and intersecting conversation, where we loot each other’s minds for the answers we do not know we need, nor want, for that matter.

Wending the course of this moment, along abandoned roads, abandoned lives, that we no longer take ownership of, as if we have lost track of time, if not each other.
With only a thirty year conversation to guide us.

 

 

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The House of Franks

for Michaella

 

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, in Midtown, Harrisburg,
staring up at the second floor windows, of a house partially hidden behind shrubbery, brown and dead in these final throes of winter.

“That’s the house of Frank’s,” she whispers, breathlessly, to me.
“The upstairs window. Look! There’s a Frank!”

And there, pressed to a glass windowpane, is the face of a pure white cat.
I smile, for the first time in days, possibly months, and laugh, “It is a Frank!”

We left the real Frank, an hour earlier, asleep on her dining room table, spread on his back, a large puff of white fur, the bluest eyes, and sneaky as hell, if pressed we will swear up and down that he talks to the dogs. And he isn’t nice about it, either. The word instigator, comes to mind. We are convinced he once belonged to this house, to these other Franks, before she found him on our street, dirty and injured, just a year ago.

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, where Penn Street
meets Sassafras Street, “That’s the house of Franks!” she hisses excitedly to me.

We count, one, two, three Franks, each in a different window, ghostlike faces
interchangeable. Michaella and I stand close together, unwilling to pull
ourselves away, from the question at hand. Asking in hushed voices,
“How many Franks do you think they have in there?”

It’s the end of March, barely springtime, we’ve been coming here for months, for nearly a year. The dogs know the way, tugging at their leashes, around corners, along alleyways, that deliver us, each time, to this squat house, this litter strewn courtyard, where we pause, to count the Franks. A ritual, of sorts, the two of us, standing close together,
in this skinny alley, counting cats, pointing to windows.

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, where winter meets spring, thick scarves wound about our necks, feet still stuck in winter boots, with the sun in our eyes,
“They have at least five Franks,” she tells me matter-of-factly, “I’ve seen them.”

I move closer to her, wanting to re-direct her attention to the bushes just in front of us, the dogs are aware of what I have just noticed, a pure white cat, standing a foot or so away, very still, hoping to go unnoticed. “Mike,” I say out loud, though barely, my arm raised, one finger pointing to the ground before me”Look!”

The cat moves, so suddenly, as her gaze shifts into reality, he inches to the left, and back, to the right, and back again, the dogs, strain at their leashes, each pulling in a different direction, as if to corner him, and capture this prize together. We struggle against them, attempt to haul them in, next to us, while talking to the poor cat, that seems hell bent on not making our acquaintance, and especially confused that between our cooing and purring, we keep calling him Frank.

My friend, Michaella, and I, are standing on the corner, the street is empty, and full of wind, “A Frank!” she murmurs and I feel her freeze next to me.

I have always been drawn to secrets, rituals formed out of the ordinary, between two people, a simple conversation, with a vocabulary that means nothing out of context, outside of a story, that cannot be explained, not entirely. How does one make sense of a bond, based on something so fleeting as counting cats in a set of windows, in an overlooked alley, that few have ever noticed?

How does one explain a house of Franks?  Or what it is that keeps bringing us back here, to this dingy house, on this desolate corner?

My friend, Michaella, and I are standing in an alley, in the middle of the street, scanning the bushes for a white cat, that was standing there just a moment ago, she sighs and says,” let’s go open a bottle of wine.”

And we make our way, reluctantly, away from the house of Franks, along the alley, toward her house, the dogs pull ahead of us, leases stretched, anxious for their after walk treats and the warmth of her sofa, we discuss, bringing a cat carrier on our future walks, and decide a carpet bag, would be a less conspicuous place to stash our furry treasures, if we get so lucky again, as to smuggle someone home with us, as we have done in the past.

Micahella looks over at me, as we cross Verbeke street, and says, ” the dogs make for great companions, but cats…”

“…cats are easier to steal.” I answer her. She smiles, and we laugh, the March winds, dancing around us, as we make our way down the empty alley way.

 

 

 

 

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I heard the news today, oh boy…

And you told me everything is going to be just fine, to give a MAN a chance,
without jumping to judgment, so very early in the game, but
this game started generations ago, and has been brewing ever since,
brewing in our ranks, rumbling and chugging a path, around this game board,
time and time again, yet somehow we never passed Go!
and never collected our gender equality,
much less $200.

And if you asked me how I feel today, I would answer this: smug.

Smug because, I am frighteningly aware for the first time, just how far
you have come, have fallen, have given up what you claim to be your
moral compass. Yes, my republican, conservative, christian comrades,
you have relinquished so much more than you are capable of realizing,
this dreary, wet winter morning. You have celebrated and defended
that which I have listened to you speak against for my entire 43 years on this earth.
Your smugness, is now mine to wield, mine to toss back in your face,
at every turn, and every argument you make. You have made yourselves clear,
you are NOT the party of family values. And I thank you, for that admission.
I thank you, for giving up on your visions of moral superiority.
We will ALL be better for it…

You see, I have listened to you all of these years,
listened closely, with my ear to your religious ground,
I grew up in your ranks,  went to your churches,
studied your beliefs, and read your bible. I sat at the knee
of your rigid viewpoint and tried to understand. I gave you
the benefit of every doubt, that while I could disagree
with you, I could not disagree with your convictions, your
faith, your commitment to your religious code. These strong values,
you held so high above the head of anyone that you perceived
as falling from that grace, that you held so dear.

And now, here we are, January 2017, and it is YOU that have fallen
from that pedestal you so happily built, from that grace
you so ruthlessly defended, from that upper tier of morality.

You following me?
Please, I beg of you, for the love of your god, just admit it.

Admit it, own it, take pride in it. We are all get it wrong, at some point
in life, and it doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us, well, wrong.
And there is no shame in that, there is no shame in being wrong,
as long as you admit.
Otherwise, you are a hypocrite.
Stop! before you freak out and your blood pressure goes up,
before you start screaming sound bites and campaign slogans.
My intention is not to shame you, or belittle you, we are, each of us
guilty of this at one time or another. Today, is just your day.

Here, is the standard definition of the word hypocrite, as listed
in the Oxford dictionary:

hypocrite (noun)
1. a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion

2. a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

I have heard a lot of talk, straight from your mouths, about the decline
of family values and morals, in this fair country of ours, I have heard it
at a near constant buzz, throughout my lifetime, sometimes it buzzes louder,
than other times, granted, but it has always been there. Buzz, buzz, buzzing away.

For the past year, I have heard you lament about transgender folks, and the danger
you feel they pose to your children and yourself, by sharing a public bathroom.

I have heard you lament on the loss of innocence your children will endure,
from seeing two homosexual people hold hands or kiss in public.

I have heard you lament about a lack of decency in our society, most often
linked to the lack of modesty you feel women have shown in their attire.

Yet, you just proudly, and I might say rather loudly, elevated a man into
the highest position our country offers, that once made the following statement
in regards to women:

“Grab ’em by the pussy.”

I will repeat it for you.
“Grab ’em by the pussy.”

And before, you make the utterly ridiculous argument, that I know is brewing
in your head, that this was taken out of context, I ask you this?

What the fuck possible context could this statement be acceptable in?
What conversation could possibly be underway that would rule this acceptable,
in your definition of morals and family values?
What would your Jesus, your God, your Holy Ghost say if confronted
with such a crude statement?

I know you want to defend, feel the need to cite other examples, of other men,
behaving in a way that you find morally unacceptable, it is part of human nature,
this need to fight back, but, I wish you could see, I am not fighting, nor am I attacking,
I am, honestly, at a loss, because I just do not understand. I cannot fathom
any of this, I feel like I am wandering through a hazy fog, that never lifts.

I know, you feel this is too simple, and that I am omitting so much from these past few years, that you feel you based your decisions on so much more than this one statement,
that you saw past it, and persevered regardless, because you felt it was your best option,
I have no wish to argue your choice, nor your right to make a choice, I only question
your silence on this statement, and for some of you, your defense. I stood by, speechless,
as you chose to not address something so morally low, and offensive as:

“Grab ’em by the pussy.”

You, morally superior, christian conservatives, have thrown me for a loop.
It’s like being on a roller coaster that never pulls back into the docking station,
instead, it just goes and goes, spinning upside down and spiraling into itself, making
me giddy and nauseous, at the same time. As much as I admit, that I wanted you to fall
from that moral pedestal, now that the day has finally arrived, all I feel is sick.

This is why: as I grew up in your ranks, I took a few things from your teachings,
through my years in your christian based schools, from my countless sunday mornings
sitting in your pews, to my teenage years that marked my heaviest church involvement,
with your  youth groups and work retreats, I had thought that I had gleaned, at the very least, a few basic, yet important principles. A certain goodness, a sense of the right
and, yes, the wrong way in which to carry myself through this world.

Honestly, I always felt a little intimidated by you. You seemed so steadfast
in your convictions, in your sense of decency, your sense of propriety.

It seemed my beliefs, my code of conduct, was always just a bit shy of the
rapture that was your belief. You seemed so content. So calm and collected.
So utterly certain, of everything you preached. So morally sound.

So, I thank you, my christian friends, for finally revealing your faults, your hypocrisy,
your lack of conviction, because it sure makes it a lot easier to exist alongside of you.

Not to mention, a hell of a lot easier to accept you, and someday, perhaps,
even like you.
So, go ahead, celebrate today. I am celebrating as well, I am celebrating
the final nail in the coffin of the idea that you, and you alone are the gatekeepers
of all that is morally right in this world, that you are somehow the protectors
of these elusive family values that you feel are so in need of preservation
in our modern day society.

I, eagerly, look forward to future discussions, on how to handle the issues
that our great country faces, without having to navigate the trappings
of your religious beliefs. Because, as of today, those trappings,
have no relevance. They are inconsequential, and you have only yourselves,
to blame. And we are better this way.

We are equal in our amorality.

And I will make you a deal. I will promise to get past my smugness at your fall
from moral grace, if you agree to admit to your lack of moral conviction.

Admit it, own it,
and change your dogma.

We will all be better, for it…

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for my writing desk— with love and squalor…

I bought you a new chair today. Dark wood, to match your own rich grain,
with a cane back, and red velvet seat. I offered it up, slid it’s sturdy legs beneath you,
and sat down. You are not impressed. But, you seldom are.

I have moved you about the house, so often, it seems you would be able to find at least one place suitable. I kept you in the attic, for years, under the skylight, or next to a window that looked out on the river, or tucked securely into the crook of a corner. Thick green carpet beneath you, and a slanted wall of sky blue, above.

I visited you daily, brought you flowers and books. In return, you collected dust,
refused to allow your front drawer to be opened, and began to sag in one back leg,
as if you had gone lame, from my lack of productivity.

I carried you down two flights of stairs, on my back, around corners,
through narrow passageways, and stood you at the dining room window,
a Rose of Sharon blooming just outside, and the morning sun dappled across you.

I gave you a small fish tank, with a soft light, sapphire stones, and a fat, little
goldfish, named Henry. He was bright orange, he did a sort of swim wiggle,
that was rather charming. You killed him within a week.

I placed you in the center of the house, at the center of attention, and
commenced to having my breakfast with you, careful to use a placemat
for my toast, and a coaster for my coffee, which alarmed the kitchen table,
left empty each morning.

In response, you shorted out the electrical socket next to you, and scratched
the floor with your spindly legs. Also, you tossed the tiny gold, tinsel
Christmas tree I gave you to the floor. Which was promptly eaten by one
of the dogs and cost quite a bit in veterinary bills.

I moved you to the front room, to a window that looks onto the street,
with wooden shutters, that can be opened when you want the sun, or
simply desire some fresh air. I wrote every day for months. It felt, as if,
I had finally reached you. At last, appeased you.

To celebrate, I brought you a marble hourglass, and a lamp shaped like
the Eiffel Tower. An antique handle for your drawer, that now opened easily,
and a small bookcase, to relieve you of the burden that is my vast dictionary
and thesaurus collection.

The next day, you broke out in splinters along your front edge, and filled my
forearms, with slim, sharp pieces of you. It took an hour with a pair of tweezers,
and much cursing, to rid my skin of your sharp daggers. My arms were scratched, red
and itching. To the eye, it appeared as if I had lost a fight with some particularly difficult, shrubbery.

So, I bought you a new chair. Dark wood to match your own rich grain,
with a cane back, and red velvet seat. Make no mistake, this will be my
final olive branch. My last attempt at reconciliation. You see, today
I didn’t just buy you a new chair.

I bought an axe, as well.

 

 

 

 

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Midtown in November or How I gave up my so called right to vote…

They’ve elected Donald Trump’s penis to the presidency. They’ve elected a man for simply being a man. I am standing in the garden, grinding my teeth. I can think of little else to do, with such news. I feel stopped in time, caught in this moment, this one single moment, that nothing and no one can make subside. Wind tosses the tree branches, above, as if to say, we are still here, the world still moves, you can move too. But, I cannot. I am stuck. A statue in a dying,  November garden. I am turned to stone. An icy granite, absent of arms and legs. I am the Venus de Milo and my teeth hurt.

My mind wanders, though, it is ever active. A family party from my girlhood, my mother’s brothers, in a group, swigging beer and discussing women in the workforce. They shouted and laughed about women trying to be men. There were so many words, words I had never heard. Broad. Dyke. Bitch. Cunt. It seemed that the only thing worse than being a woman, was being a woman that wanted to do a man’s job. It took a penis to run a company or drive a truck. To fight fires or write a paycheck. It was the first time that I realized, that my body was turning into the most dreaded of things. A woman. Men whom had doted on and adored me as a little girl, would grow to dislike me, to distrust me, more and more, with each year that my body sprouted further into womanhood. I had a fleeting feeling of wishing to stop my body’s metamorphosis. To slow down the growth process. To be loved, freely, just a bit longer. I have little contact with those uncles now. I am a woman. They have little use, for the likes of me. Aside, from seeing me at the occasional family gathering. And telling me my hair looks pretty.

In the garden, over thirty years later, I think of them. I think of how happy they must be to have defeated a woman, again. To vote for a man that says all of the things publicly, that has been unacceptable for them to say out loud, for decades. The freedom they must feel, to finally vote for a man, just because he is a man. That women have gotten away with usurping their god given right to jobs and power for years, and they could help stop them from taking over this last job, that has always belonged, solely to men. I think, they must feel smugly on top. Smugly, in charge. Smugly, superior. That it has been such a long time, for them, for them to feel, as if they, the older white men, have stood their ground, and defended their status in life, the power they were promised as boys, that they would grow up one day to inherit. Simply for having a penis. I unclench my jaw. Unlock my knees. And drop myself into one of the metal garden chairs.

I muse over my first job, in a large department store, from high school, through my first college years. I was a good employee. I ran the department when my manager was away. I worked hard, and was paid very little, the minimum to be exact. My last year there, a young man was hired as my co-worker. In the stockroom, as I stood atop a ladder, I felt his hand snake up the back of my skirt, it startled me, and I slapped him away. I can still hear his laugh, as he walked out of the room. A cackle. A chuckle, really.  In human resources, I lodged my complaint,  the manager shrugged, shook his head, and said that my co-worker seemed like a good kid, probably had a crush on me. I made three more complaints. Three more hand up my skirt incidents, before they  transferred me to a new department. Six months later, that good kid, with the slithering hands was promoted to department manager. I questioned his promotion, my being overlooked, my years of experience with the company, his blatant and unchecked sexual harassment. It seems I was too much drama, those slithering  hands, were in my file. I was not a team player. I was too much trouble. They couldn’t risk it. During lunch, I went to my car and cried, then quit the following week.

And here, in the garden, on an overcast November day, there is a chill that reaches deep inside me, grabs at my bones, throbs an ache right behind my left eye, and makes me keep very still. If no one speaks to me, I am safe, I will not scream, nor cry, nor spit in the eye of any man who dares look at me. Two little girls, occupy my mind, ages six and seven, the daughters of my aunt’s daughter, influenced by a mother and a grandmother that proudly voted for Donald Trump. Being taught, that it is better to give a job to a man with no qualifications, than a woman with many. Their little girl heads being filled with the same words, I once heard. Broad. Dyke. Bitch. Cunt. I wonder if they will feel as I did, as they pass from girlhood into womanhood? Will they be angry or complacent? Will they believe that how a man treats women is less important than having a male president? Will they carry the burden of womanhood in a male dominated world, or just accept it, believe what they have been taught and continue the cycle?

I haven’t a clue, but as we rip out the pages, and burn the chapters, of the progress we have made, eradicating the first chance we have had at true gender equality, perhaps for generations to come, perhaps in my lifetime, I respectfully give back the hollow gift that is my right to vote. It is meaningless to me, the choice of voting for one old, white man over another. Limited options, to keep women in their place. Limited options, that are a slap in the face to every qualified woman that loses a job to a man, simply because he is a man, and she is not. Without a woman on the ballot, my conscience keeps me from punching that button, that green light of a vote, because none of them can truly represent me, only lead me, and I am fed up with being led.

Otherwise, it is just a choice, the same old worn out choice, between two penises. And they are all the same to me. Every goddamned one.

 

 

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