Tag Archives: lullaby

“Childhood Living — Is Easy to Do.”

Judging from what little profile I can see peaking out from behind her long hair, she could be quite lovely.  The lips — puffy and full — are enviable:  She’s got that Jolie-esque fold in her lower lip that promises that the size of it — is real.  The tiniest tip of her nose right above reminds me of that one exotic berry that starts with an “L”.

Carla Gugino for Esquire Magazine

Yes, she could be quite lovely; but ever since I’ve walked into this tiny joint, the woman, sitting at the corner table, hasn’t stopped speaking.  She’s got her iPhone, plugged into the wall, resting on the table next to two empty coffee cups.  Another device — a spinoff of the iPhone — is heavily protected with two plastic cases and a belt clip.  She takes turns dialing numbers on both things, and texting on whichever device is not being held up to her ear.

Her language — is foreign, heavily nasal; which makes her voice quite high.  And that pitch could be quite lovely if she didn’t sound like she was whining.  Whenever she switches to the iPhone, she returns to English; and I wonder if the list of her griefs, in that other nasal language, is similar:

“That guy is an asshole.”

And:  “I’ve got no fucking money!”

Oh, I get it, sweetheart:  Life’s unfair and hard.  But it’s 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and most of us haven’t even finished our coffee yet.  You — have had two.

From where I study the menu written on an overhead blackboard, I shoot her a glance.  Her hair is frizzy, unevenly straightened.  She is wearing jeans with a puffy vest.  On her feet, I see those thick-soled, oddly shaped shoes meant to shape a woman’s behind by replacing exercise.

She picks up her iPhone again:  The topic of the asshole guy is recycled.  Her volume could be quite normal; but the joint is tiny and she attracts attention of every human, still barely awake; including the mustached line cook who, upon my entry, asked me to try a sliver of bacon sizzling in his metal tongs.

“Breakfast, beauty?” he says and I imagine his previous life as a Navy chef.

I smile but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and smile again.

This morning could be lovely, still.

A pretty hippie couple is lingering at the register:  He is beach-blond, she is petite and an exotic mix of something gorgeous.  Whenever he speaks to her, he lifts up his arms and folds his hands behind his head:  He is shy — she thrills him.  His white terrycloth shirt rides up every time, and in the slender torso of this beautiful young man I can see the little boy stretching in his highchair, while waking slowly.  Gently.

The sound of some old song comes on over the radio.  It makes me think of a Christmas-themed lullaby and of slow mornings that are always lovely that time of year.

And this morning could be lovely — if only we could keep quiet and still for a while.

The radio switches to some dissonant jazz tune and the could-be-lovely girl, juggling her devices at the corner table, picks up her iPhone again and switches languages:

“That guy is such an asshole,” the petite creature ahead of me quotes discreetly.

I chuckle.  I get the couple’s attention; but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and chuckle again.

“Are we playing Cowboys and Indians this morning?” the man at the register says to me when it’s my turn to order.  I look up:  He’s wrapped a cloth napkin around the bottom half of his face and smiles at me, with only his eyes.

I smile; then, realize that half of my face is invisible.  So, I lift my chin — and smile.

“Where is your bathroom — or don’t you have one?!” the could-be-lovely creature interjects quite loudly, and with a single gesture of tongs from the mustached Navy chef, she storms off in that direction.  We wait for the passing of her busy noises and the departure of her griefs through the front door.

And when she does depart, her table is taken over by an older couple with a beautiful blue-eyed boy under their care.  He can’t be older than five, is barely awake and clutching a robot of military green.  The robot is wrapped in a baby blanket.

They could easily be the boys’ grandparents, but they don’t dote or baby-talk.  Instead, they are acutely aware, and they answer to his needs quietly.

At first, I brace myself:  The boy could be quite lovely.  But he could also be a complete riot:  His physical beauty could fully justify his bratty habits.  But he slides into the chair near mine, stretches the corner of his baby blanket on the edge of the table and rests his blond curls on it.  The older woman sits next to him and buries her gentle hand in his hair.

The beautiful blue-eyed boy stretches, while slowly waking.

The couple grabs a newspaper from the counter:  She reads the news, he skims through the Calendar section.  They speak to each other, quietly; while the boy drifts in and out of sleep.  When the food arrives, he shifts.  The mother (she IS his mother after all, I figure out) begins helping him with his utensils.

The boy whimpers:  He wants to do it himself.  With a single gesture, the woman calms him — “Hush-hush, my gentle little man…” — and the family returns to their quiet morning routine.

Ah.  This morning could be lovely, still.  And it could be quiet. And I wonder for how long I can keep holding on, today, to this gentle start of it — and to this gentle pace.

“So, Let It Rain, Rain Down on Himmm… Mmmm…”

Oh, but it’s raining.  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.

Yes.  It’s raining.

No, not just drizzling, in a typical fashion of LA-LA’s summers, when a few dirty raindrops smear the layer of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars; and for the rest of that week, we all drive in polka-dotted vehicles, too superstitious to wash them.  Because the law of LA-LA-Land is such:  Washing a car — brings on new rain.  The drizzling type of rain.  The rain that smears the layers of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars.

But today:  It’s raining.

Now, I wouldn’t call it “pouring”, for I have seen some of the worst rainstorms, in other spots along the planet.  I’ve seen the traffic stall in Moscow, its yellow cabs glistening with rain while their drivers, numbed into indifference by common despair, would pull off to the sides of the road and wait out the chaos.  And I have witnessed the swamps that rain makes out of Russian villages, like the birth place of my father; and the people would make portable bridges with loose planks of wood to walk across endless puddles of rainwater and mud.  Because Motha Russia is notorious for its unkept roads:  She is too enormous — to upkeep.

And I have seen the New York Subways shut down entirely, flooded overnight with aftershocks of a storm going much further south.  I have walked along the black-clad New Yorkers, obeying the barely comprehensible instructions over the groveling radio; so that we could take the bus shuttles, already overcrowded, above the ground.  And I watched them endure — the owners of those magnificently strong hearts — and they rarely complained.  Because that City — is not meant for weaklings.  In the last decade, that City has learned to persevere past unthinkable tragedies.  So, what’s a little rainstorm — to warriors?

The most nonchalant characteristic of San Franciscans — is their readiness for the whims of weather.  I have been amazed before to watch their instantaneous transformation into rain-ready attire, as soon as the first heavy raindrops give them a warning.   Sometimes, it’s just a few minutes of rain.  Other times, the precipitation comes down violently and all at once, as if dumped onto their heads by buckets of an impatient laundress.

And then, it passes.  It always passes:  The San Francisco blue.  And when the sun peaks out of the gray layer, suddenly the streets are filled with girls in summer frocks and boys in flip flops.  How ever do they do that:  The exceptional residents of their exceptional city?

But today, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

Oh yes!  It’s raining!

Photography by Russell James

I heard it, early in the morning, when I woke up amazed at my uninterrupted night of sleep.  There were no nightmares today.  In my bed, I wasn’t missing my beloveds.  Neither was I stuck with my chronic prophetic visions, on their behalf.  Neither did I catch myself dreaming.  No.  Today, I rested, lullabied into the sleep of the just — the sleep of the fulfilled — by the drumbeat of heavy raindrops, outside.

And when I first opened my eyes this morning, I thought:

“Oh, but it’s raining!  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.”

But then, I looked outside.

The windows appeared streaked, and the pattern of the settled down moisture reminded me of other windows I had looked through, in other spots, along the planet.

I have watched the water cascading down the tiny windows of my grandmother, in a house she had moved to, as a widow.  She would arise early, to tend to her livestock (and whatever other magical business she couldn’t help but conduct).  But before leaving her tiny wooden house, she would sit in front of a poorly isolated window and unbraid her long, graying hair.  Unleashed, the hair would fall below her waistline; and she would hum, and she would sigh, while running an ivory-colored tooth comb brush, up from her temples and down to the knees.  She could’ve been a siren — a mermaid — playing a harp for her long awaited lover.  For surely, there had to be some magical business she wouldn’t help but conduct!

The windowpanes of our apartment in Eastern Germany would leak, quite often, when rainstorms came to town.  Motha would fuss.  She would dig out all the old towels from underneath our tub, divide and distribute them along our windowsills.  Flabbergasted, she would eventually storm out of the house — “to fix her ruined manicure” — and leave me with the task of wringing out the drenched cloths, until dad would arrive home, to help.

And when he did, the blue of the day would suddenly depart, and we would have an adventure:  stuffing all the cracks with putty and cotton, covering them with tape.  Motha would return to find our windows sweating from the inside, and the two of us — flushed, soaked in rainwater and giggling.

“Well!” she’d command over us.  “I guess I’ll be in the kitchen — slaving over soups.”

And we would pretend to help, but only until motha’s blues would depart, and she would start howling with her very specific laughter.

I would do the same trick at my Riverdale basement apartment, for three years.  I would use it as an excuse to make pots and cauldrons of soups, and play house, for a while.  I would scrawl down my speed dial to check which one of my beloveds was nearby — and hungry.  And I would wait for their very specific laughter to steam up my windowpanes, from the inside.

Ah.  But it’s raining today.

Yes, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

And I think it’s just the perfect day — to stay in bed.

“On Lonely Nights, I Start to Fade. Her Love’s a Thousand Miles Away.”

It’s 2 a.m.  Here come the monsters.

Cute little buggers they are, whispering quirky thoughts into my ears while nibbling on my earlobes or jumping rope with my braids.  My hair has gotten longer by now and has taken on that sun-kissed frizz of LA-LA’s summer.  But if I leave it untamed, my little monsters get tangled up in it while playing thumb wars and building castles out of my mane — fluffing up magnificent pillows for their hairy elbows and messy heads; and then I’m up until dawn, cutting off their cruddy nails and wiggling out their paws — to get them out of my hair.  And then, they’ll whimper, aiming at my dormant ovaries.  So, I’ve learned my lesson by now.  I know better.

In the kitchen, the humming buzz of the fridge should be enough to make me doze off, but the girl next door has gotten one of her terrible chronic cough attacks again; and I cringe away at my desire to fetch her some cough syrup, or water at least.  She is lovely, from what I’ve seen; quite luminous.  And she has one of those laughs that make you check the corners of your joint for the little girl that may have gotten lost there; and while waiting to be reclaimed, the girl-child plays house — a make-believe, much kinder than her reality.

2:17.

The birds outside are going bonkers.  What could possibly be in dire need for their negotiation, at this hour?  I’d like to think they are planning their next destination, or dissing the previous one:

“Whose idea was it to slum it, in Texas?!”

Or, maybe, they are just like me:  Insomniacs with misbehaving monsters roughing up their feathers, after midnight.  I attempt to tune them out, get reacquainted with the humming buzz in my kitchen:  My early morning lullaby.  It reminds me of my basement quarters in the Bronx.  Those days I fancied myself a Master, waiting for his pornographic witch of Margarita.  She never descended though; but all that waiting in the daytime and chasing monsters in the dark has created quite a bit of inspiration, but never quite enough poetry.  So, I’ve learned my lesson by now:  Leave the ghosts unattended.  I know better.

Aha:  A bath!  That sounds like a great idea, tested by time.  Who said there was no ailment of the mind that a perfectly drawn bath couldn’t fix?  It had to be a woman writer, with a closet full of ex-lovers’ ties and head full of stories; someone who knew how to put pen to paper — then, mind to rest.  The water is of perfect temperature, but only in the summer.  Perhaps, the secret is in the juxtaposition of body to air, skin — to the world.  I submerge.  Immediately, I am aware of the throbbing exhaustion in my limbs; and while I count to ten, I hear my little monsters clasping their manicured fingers over the ledge and pulling up their funny faces, wanting to crawl in.  I let them, pushing up a few hairy bottoms with my palms.  Some prefer to keep hanging on the ledge; and with their breath, they drill caves through the while peaks of my bath foam.  Cute little buggers.

2:41.

I get out:  Much better.  At least my limbs are mellowed out, and the mind is slowing down its pace.  I let the skin get air-dried and walk out into the living-room:  Body to air, skin — to the world.

From the window, I can see the Observatory on the top of the hill.  It stays lit up at night, and it always makes me wonder if LA-LA’s angels go there, for naps and foot rubs, and maybe even nightcaps.

The patter of little feet with manicured nails tick-tocks across the kitchen tiles.  I turn my head:  There they are, my cute little buggers; and they hang back, making funny faces and imitating my frowns, and they wait for me to wave them over.  I do.  They yelp and leap, slide their wet feet across the floor, bodysurf on the doormat, do cartwheels on the carpet.  They climb the poles of my chair’s legs and the ropes of my braids.  One of them clasps and unclasps his paws, asking for a lift again; and he whimpers, aiming at my dormant ovaries.  I give him my hand:  He sniffs it, then climbs in.  I sit him down on the windowsill.  I’ve learned my lesson by now:  It’s better to not resist.

The birds are still at it, dissing another suggested locale:  “Why the hell would we go to Canada, in September?”  And, by the way:  Where the fuck are the coyotes when you need them?  We could all start a bloody choir around here:  Us Versus the Moon.

3:02.

A ghetto bird flies by:  A treacherous, dark hunter.  How come I’ve never heard those, in the Bronx?  Perhaps, there, all hunting — is done on the ground.  Speaking of ground control:  I hear the police sirens.  They seem to echo a lot longer in this city, especially when LA-LA’s angels takes nightcap breaks at the lit up Observatory, on top of the hill.

But:  What was the name of that lullaby he used to sing to me, after midnight?  He left a while ago, and by now, I’ve learned to wane myself off his voice in the daytime.  But at night:  Alas, at night, it’s a whole different tune, around here:  Us Versus the Moon.  Between the humming buzz of the fridge in the kitchen and the clicking tongues of my nibbling little monsters, my memory gives out.

Perhaps, I would be better off, putting pen to paper.  After all, I am a writer, with a closet full of ex-lovers’ ties and head full of stories; who’s learned her lesson by now:  It’s better to not resist.  It’s better to surrender.

It’s 3:32 a.m.

And here come the words.

So, Hush, Little Baby… Don’t. You. Cry.

Guess who just hibernated for half a day?  Not kidding, kiddos:  Twelve hours of sleep!

And I would’ve kept going if it weren’t for my self-delusion that someone out there was waiting for my words; that my art was relevant (some days), and that this daily activity made up my life’s meaning (for now).  On such mornings, I wonder what it would be like if I had a child to feed.  Or a goat.  Would I still exercise such selfishness in my sleeping habits?

And let me tell you, my kiddos:  I’ve got sleeping habits galore.

According to my motha, I was never the child to refuse a midday nap.

“Vera?  Boom!” she would order me whenever she caught me spying on her from behind the bars of my crib.  (She’d always be saying my name in such a way as if I were perpetually in trouble.)

“Vera?!  Boom!”

That shorthand command for sleep would interrupt all of my activity, and I would collapse into slumber.  I could be gnawing on my toe, or constructing caves out of crocheted blankets; or trying to balance on my pigeon toed feet while frowning at our black-and-white telly:  If mother said “Boom!” — I was out, in seconds.

At first, it amused her to no end.  She’d wait for me to be entangled in the most awkward position, like trying to reach one leg to the top bar, or braiding myself into a pretzel.  (Apparently, I was always quite bendy.  Still am, to this day.  My lovers — are so lucky!)  On command, I’d drop everything and hit the pillow; and she would laugh and laugh — in the way that only my motha could:  violently and shockingly loud.  Then, she’d tell my father to go check on me.  (Apparently, tucking me in was his duty alone.  Still is, to this day.  My lovers — are so unlucky!)

For a while there, she swapped my name for “Boom!” altogether.  Why waste her breath, right?

“Boom?!  Boom!”  (She’d still be saying it in such a way as if I were perpetually in trouble though.)

Eventually, the joke got old; and although motha still utilized shorthand for most of her parenting, she would no longer laugh, at my expense:  violently and shockingly loud.  It must’ve made me sad then.  I don’t really remember.

These days, it is my lovers’ lot to suffer through my sleeping habits’ galore.  Many have testified to some violent shit that goes down on my side of the bed.  Some have even had bruises to prove it.  And many have wondered about all the heat and sweat I produced when in the grips of my unconscious:

“It’s like a war zone, in the tropics — sleeping with you,” one of the departed joked.

And if I get comfortable enough, I can fall asleep anywhere; which is why all of my beloveds harbor anecdotes of my naps in the strangest and most unlikely places.

“I was afraid to walk out of the room,” another, most recently departed recently testified.  “I’d come back:  and you’d be flat on you face, asleep…  I’d have to wake you up, just to make sure you were alive.”

Yesterday, I fell asleep on the beach, my kiddos, waiting for a brown honey to join me.  She was running late:  My love.  But while I was dreaming of her hips and soul (both quite generous); while I was listening to my own heart moan with gratitude for this love (one and many); while I suddenly discovered myself no longer alone in this lonely city; someone must’ve said, “Boom!” — and I was out, in seconds. 

Or may be it was the hissing of the Pacific that knocked me out.  It was so violent and purposeful, kind of like my motha’s laughter.  Fucking lullaby.

Or perhaps it was the background murmur by a group of young French boys who insisted on dropping their towels two meters down from my brown ass.

“San-tah…  Moni-kah?” they took turns pronouncing.

“Shhh,” the Ocean joined in; and I was out, in seconds.

Occasionally, I’d wake up, look back over my shoulder and catch one of the boys grinning his silly smile, at my ass, then my face.

“Yourr velkom,” I’d think.  My brown love was still running late; so I waited to go back to sleep while watching the planet do its thing from underneath my Lorrie Moore novel, with which I’d covered my eyes.

At a mat nearby, an aging, balding athlete was fixing a bulge underneath his navy blue speedo.  He would seem ridiculous, but his bulge was no laughing matter.  And he was oh so serious!

“Mazel tov,” I half-thought, half-dreamt, and turned my face the other way.

I watched young, limber women get dressed.  The way they got up, caressed themselves from dust and sand; the way their hair flapped in the wind, like the Golden Fleeces — it made me wonder if they were already in my dreams.  Their curvatures blocked the sun.  (Or was it Lorrie Moore, on my face?)  I watched the intricate workings of their zippers, and buttons, a ties; and they would be so focused and calm, I had to have thought them up.

A handful of young kids walked by my head — each a mixture of several countries — talking their eco-politics.  Oh, they were so of the now!  Bits of sand got separated from their feet, landed in my hair and woke me up — to their now.

I rolled over.

At the other end of the beach, half a dozen of boys were playing volleyball.  I watched them move, so unlike me.  So unlikely.  One young one was standing to the side, with his hands on his locked hips.  He reminded me of a three-year old I’ve never had; and of a man-child I’ve just finished having.  I started to weep, into the open pages of Lorrie Moore.

But:

“Shhh,” went the Ocean.

And I was out, in seconds.