Tag Archives: poetry

“Don’t You Know: They’re Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution? It Sounds — Like a Whisper!”

“People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.

I don’t ask them to be.

But sometimes I think about it.”

Charles Bukowski, The Crunch

There is a passion, in all of us.  It boils.  It protests:  In Rome*, Yemen, Africa**.  It pushes to break us out of our skins — out of our boundaries; shackles, limits, laws; cowardice — and to rebel.

Some have chosen to live quietly, getting by.  They seem to cause the least conflict.  And if on occasion they hurt one another — it will be most likely by accident.  A tiny demand will rise in their souls — a tiny rebellion against obedience that has seemingly earned them nothing.

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And they reach for something that the rest of the world won’t miss much.  They reach with passion.  There may be an accidental victim:  He’s gotten in the way of their reaching.

But what’s a little hurt — against a lifetime of groveling?

Nothing.

Others manages to tangle up their egos in the chalk lines of the score board that keeps track of the rat race.  They are a special clan:  They measure life in numbers.  In things.  In values.  Passionately.  To them, there always seems to be a deadline in life, called Work Until:

Work Until:  They get tired of playing.  Work Until:  They gain a debt, then pay it off.  Work Until:  They have a piece of land, for a house or a deathbed.  Until they pay off a palace, a chariot, a marriage, a child’s tuition:  A Happily Ever After.

Work Until:  They never need to work again.  Work Until:  They can rest.  Work Until…

Nothing.

Their days turn into discardable minutes:  Five minutes — Until.  Thirty years — Until.  Another person’s life — Until.  Until, Until, Until, Until.  They pump themselves up against the lackluster crawl of the minutes.  They lose themselves — in things, in numbers.  In scores.  With passion.

Some actually manage to get there:  God bless ‘em!  They get to their anticipated Until, for the sake of which, they’ve sacrificed so many minutes.  And some have even sacrificed their truths.  Their passions.

That’s when the real horror happens:  At the end, they soon discover that nothing, in life, lacks a price.

Nothing.

And they find that the price of Until usually turns out to be gastronomical:  Greed.  Sacrifice.  Health.  Denial.  Nothing.

And that shit isn’t refundable!

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And:

What happens to LOVE — I ask — in such a lifetime of Until?

Find me a man who knows the answer to that.  For I have asked too many men who’ve given me mere accusations in return.  Something about time, or timing.  Readiness and plans.  Something about their Until.  I couldn’t really stick around for their explanations for long:  Their fear was eating up their faces — and my time.  So, find me a man who knows the answer to:  What’s the fucking point?!  I find me one who answers with passion.

Oh, and don’t discount those poor suckers born with extremely sensitive souls.

“It’s okay.  They’ll grow out of it,” pediatricians tell their parents.

Most actually do:  Innocence is rarely immune to life.  

But what happens when they don’t?  Well, then:   Please, say a prayer for those poor suckers:  A Hail Mary for the Sensitives.  For they are stuck here, among us, with no delusion to save them from the ache.  And no Until.

“Oh, but everyone aches!” the others object.

Still, the sensitives get the worse of it, in this life.  They stumble around, among us, like unwanted orphans.  Like innocents.

“But do YOU ache?” they ask.

Poor suckers!  They insist on hitting the truth on the nail.  It’s so annoying!

“Everyone aches,” the others object.

The sensitives study our faces for signs that they aren’t the only ones feeling this much.  It’s innocence, at its worst.  It’s passion.

“Then, what do you do — to cope?” they ask.

“Nothing.”

So, they devote their lifetimes to taking notes.  They write down our words, then regurgitate them, in a prettier form:  Poetry.  Others jot down their sketches, finding beauty in our fear-eaten faces.  And innocence, or whatever is left of it.  Passion.  Some put on reenactments:

“Wouldn’t this make for a better picture, in life?” they ask.

The others scoff, look away.

They do not have the time for truth — Until…

They do not have time — for a revolution.  

No:  They would rather spend their lives suspended until the arrival of Until.  Or, they spend their lifetimes — groveling.

Surely, there will be small griefs that happen until the Until, and they’ll complain and demand attention.  They’ll demand a change, but only enough of it — and only if it’s convenient — and never for the sake of others.

Because everyone aches.  And there is nothing to be done about that.

Nothing.

But what would happen if we gathered our passions into a fist and planted a punch?

* Rallies Across the Globe Protest Economic Policies.  New York Times. October 15, 2011. 

** “Occupy”Protest Turns Violent in Rome.  Al Jazeera.  October 15, 2011. 

“But You’re Innocent When You Dream… When You Dream…”

It’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

I’ve gotten into this terrible habit, in the middle of my sleep:  When the alarm clock goes off, I yank its cord out of the wall.  As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if that thing has a snooze button:  I’ve never had to use it.  And I wish I could give up the habit, but I do it when barely awake.  So, it’s kinda like sleep walking.  Sleep yanking.

The thing is:  I LOVE to sleep.  I can hibernate for hours.  I sleep to cope with stress, loss, life.  I sleep on the road.  I’ve got no problem sleeping in cars, planes, tents; in new beds, in new towns.  The bigger the change — the longer I take to wake up.  Sometimes, I think I sleep to return to my innocence; or to somewhat restore it, at least.

And once I’m out, there is no noise that can wake me.

Motha always jokes:

“Ze Russian tanks rrollin’g thrrough town von’t vake you.”

(This — is Russian humor.  Welcome!)

But on the other hand, I never seem to have enough time in the day to get shit done; so I rarely want to get to bed, at night.

First, there are my survival gigs:  The hustle.

Then, there are auditions and my projects of choice:  The very reason I’ve landed in LA-LA.

The rest of my time is gobbled up by writing.  Every week, the art claims about forty hours.  I’ve counted them the other day because I began to wonder why I was always so tired:  constantly wanting to sleep, but never wanting to get to bed; sleeping past the alarm, then running late for the rest of the day.

I clock-in for it every day, first thing in the morning.  And it must be the only reason I get to bed at all:  to recharge the brain and to start from scratch, all over again.  To return to my innocence — or to somewhat restore it.  To remember it, at least.

The rest of my comrades — are sleepless as well.  First of all, most of the time they’re hungover on jet lag, not remembering in which timezone they’ve landed a few days ago.  They are artists, bohemians, gypsies:  They sleep in my car on the way to or from LAX.  My comrades play by their own rules, live by their own clocks, in timezones of their invention.  They wear their watches like eccentric wristbands.  They use their phones and the bedtime of their beloveds to tell time.  And there have been many nights we’ve used to reconvene, while the rest of the world has long gone to sleep.

Because our love must be how we return to our innocence — or how we restore it, somewhat, at least.

“Bloody hell!  I went to bed at five this morning!” my brother from New York is always likely to tell me.  His voice is raspy when he wakes, but child-like.  Give him a cup of coffee and eggs with chocolate (a recipe of his own invention) — and he is ready to play again.

Innocent.

He should be here, in a few days; and for a week, my sleeping schedule will get jolted into a strange line-up of sleepless nights, midnight talks, crashing on couches, mid-day showers, and running late.  But there will also be tearful laughter, endless talks of art and love; and a closeness so intimate, it will rejuvenate my hopes for the human kind.  And even if it won’t return me to my innocence — it will somewhat restore it, at least.

Back in my college days, a decade ago, I used to be able to pull off weeks of not sleeping.  The weight of the world used to be on my shoulders — or at least, the world’s most poignant questions.  But then, none of us slept those days, especially before finals or the deadline to send our college newspaper to the printing house.  We were young artists, bohemians, writers, dreamers — lovers of the world.  We already suspected we couldn’t return the world to its innocence; but, perhaps, we could restore it, somewhat:  with our art, our hopes, the poetry of our youth.

With New York City as our playground in the backyard of our college, there never seemed enough reasons to get to bed.  But once we did — often at five, six in the morning — there was no noise that could wake us.  We slept calmly, as the innocent do; but only for a couple of hours, before class (and before starting the work from scratch).  Because there was nothing to restore yet.  Our hearts were full.  And we still knew — how to love.

But today, it’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

These days, I’m always seemingly late.  There is never enough time — to return the world to its innocence, to solve its most poignant questions — and there is less and less of it, as I get older.

The somberness of the day set-in as soon as I checked-in with the world before sitting down to work:  A decade ago, we have all lost our innocence — in New York City; and for the rest of the world, restoring it got a lot harder.

But we continue to clock-in, every day:  my comrades, artists; bohemians, poets; lovers, beloveds.  

Because even if we cannot restore the world’s innocence, we can at least preserve our own.  That is the meaning of an artist’s life; his or her most poignant responsibility.  

“Put Some Colored Girls — in The MoMA!”

She was brown, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink; and when she walked, the wind played peekaboo from underneath her skirt.  The hair was down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft, but with some mighty heft:  One could easily bury a hand in it, or an entire limb; or tangle up a heart.

On her feet, she wore a pair of sandals borrowed from some Amazon warrior, which buckled all the way up to her magnificent mid-calf.  The muscles trapped under all those belts and copper buckles moved and flexed; and at any moment, she could’ve shaken off the dainty shopping bags from her shoulder blade — and start leaping:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.

“God damn!” I muttered to my partner.

But he was already on the same page:  squeezing my bicep and smiling the grin of a six-year-old who has just discovered he liked girls — most definitely!  He waited for the creature to get another meter ahead of us, stared at the ground — out of his respect for me and for my brown dream girl — and he quietly said:

“I know.”

Immediately, I thought of that ugly, old dog I have been honing to become my muse, in moments of my literal dry spell:

“but why do they do that?

why do they look like that?

why do they let the wind do

that?”

Bukowski, Hank:

Always in love with some magical bird’s legs, treating every infatuation like a temple in which to worship a departed lover.

Just as I do.

Amen!

But then again, that’s all it took:  a flight of one magical bird, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink — and my hunger was resurrected.

I felt the urge to play again, to worship, to want.  To dream.  To love.

And the literal dry spell — was over.

Another one sat sideways on a tiled step of a whirlpool, reading The New Yorker, folded in half, lengthwise.  She barely looked at me when I slowly descended into the hot water.

Okay:  There was one glance.  But that’s all it took:  a glance by one magical waterbird.

Then, she returned to reading, while all I could think was:

“Was there a smile?”

Because I swore there was.  A small one.  The one that I use myself to thank a man for his attention but to prevent any further advances.  The pressed-lipped one.  The smile-off.  (You know the kind:  It’s kind.)

She wore the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.  And in between flipping the pages, she would put the magazine aside and go under the swirling, hot water entirely.  The silky hair of her Persian heritage would float above; and when she would come back up — it would cling to her long neck and the upper arms like second skin.  Or like an oily film on the wings of some magical waterbird.  She would read some more, do that thing again.

And when she slowly ascended out of the hot water, the hair continued on:  sticking to her lower back and all along her toned, capable arms; and it would invade the boundaries of the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.

“you don’t know how exciting life can get

around here

at 5:35 p.m.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

The dry spell, how ever literal, was over.

Back home, on my phone, I’d find a message from a creature an ocean away.  She was brown, caramel-brown, to be exact; and she had a library of hair styles, each more striking than the next.  At times, she’d wear it down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft but with some mighty heft:  and every time, I would bury my entire heart in it.  Other times, she would tame it with a scarf the color of dry grass on the veldt of her heritage.  But my favorite was always the halo of tight curls, each perfected with some potion that only the brown girls know — and seemingly with a twirl of her long, pinky finger.

She would get inside my car and unleash her hair, filling the air with the aromas of coconut and that very magical potion that only the brown girls know — and with the perfume of her dreams.

“God damn!” I’d say and yank us into traffic.

And I would start speeding, as if we were a pair of Amazon warriors, about to leap out:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.  But really, my only excuse for speeding was to make her laugh, while shaking the halo of those tight curls in which I would bury my heart — for keepsakes.

“200 years ago they would have burned her

at the stake

now she puts on her

mascara as we

drive along.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

Her message on my phone had come from the veldt of her heritage.  She had flown home, after a break-up; and instead of healing herself in the arms of the next lover, she went off to help the others, more in need:

To save the children and to defeat the monsters.

“God damn!” I muttered, this time to myself, and I sat down to write.

Because that’s all it would take:  a flight, a bird, a wing, or a kind heart.

And my dry spell, how ever literal, would finally be over.

Amen.

“And Do You Have Any Clue: What I Had to Do — to Get Here?”

“Hey, baby!  When I write — I am the hero of my own shit.”

I watched Hank last night.  I watched his beat-up, used-up, lived-in, wasted, wrinkled, exhausted face with traces of pockmarks digging into his skin like tear trails; and I let his effortless voice lullaby me to sleep:  a meowing of an aged cat on my doorstep, so demented he had forgotten all other pleasures in life but eating and fucking.  But mostly eating though, at this point:  Fucking — had become too strenuous for his joints.

It was a documentary, and a short one at that:  How do you make an epic about someone without an epic life?  Hank had insisted on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; and surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Elevating himself above the rest of us wasn’t his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his colleagues — the pretentious poets who always wished to write about their suffering but who haven’t lived enough, among us, to know what that’s like:  To suffer.  Because suffering — is bad for one’s skin.  (Just look at Hank’s face:  That fuckin’ Bukowski was a wreck!)  And it’s scary.  Suffering is scary.  So, they left it all — to Hank.

Instead, the pretentious poets got themselves jobs as critics and professors.  They became people of higher esteem:  “The professionals”.  People would pay them for their opinions and carefully manipulated big words.  (The bigger the words — the more esteemed the professor.)  And the professionals would wonder how could they suddenly run out of things to write about.  They would try to write about their tired marriages and affairs with their students.  But boredom always makes for terrible plots.  So, they’d return to their criticism and conference papers, with carefully manipulated big words about anything but suffering.

“What are your plans after graduation?” I remember my own teachers prying during the last year of college; and before they could wait for my answer, they’d spew out:  “You should teach!”

“Really?!” I’d think to myself.  “You mean you don’t want me to go backpacking through Europe and learn a dozen of languages from the pillow talks with my future fifty foreign lovers?”

But I wouldn’t say that.  In those days, my intuition wasn’t perfected yet; so I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of that nausea invoked by those well-wishing mentor chats.  Instead, I would just listen, tormented with doubts and restlessness, and with my own temptations for a more esteemed life.  And then, I would look at my watch, demonstratively, and I would say:

“Ow!  I better get to the diner:  I’m working a double to-night.”

Esteem.  It’s kind of like beauty, right?  It’s in the eye of the beholder.  Except that with esteem, you are the beholder — AND you are the subject.  So, it’s entirely up to you, this esteem thing, despite all the other suffering.

There would be many more waitressing gigs, after graduation, and office gigs, and freelance gigs, and gigs of self-employment — all of which I insisted on committing with esteem.  There would be esteem in serving a table full of cops at 4 a.m. who would flirt and get rowdy, like college boys in love with their substitute teacher; and one of them would always offer to give me a ride home, in his black-and-white Ford.  (Later, sometimes, they would drive down my street and wave:  Heya, pretty!  It made me feel like others feel when they come home.)

There would be esteem in finding the patience to handle a hysterical student with no knowledge of English at my daytime campus gig, when the rest of my employers just wouldn’t have the time for her fearful nonsense.  (Later, she would pass me in the cafeteria — still a child in her age, made even more helpless by her venture in a foreign country — and she would smile at me, with something that combined gratitude and a very fragile secret.)

And there would be more esteem in taking the last train out New York City after my internship at yet another editorial department where I would become adopted by a group of esteemed professionals — or the poets to whom they vowed to cater.

And then, of course, there would be my fifty future foreign lovers, teaching me their languages during our pillow talks.  But mostly, they would teach me the language of my own humanity.  And there would be plenty of esteem in learning that my compassion would never fail, no matter the messy ending to each loverly story; and no matter the suffering that came with it.

To the effortless voice of Hank, I had fallen asleep last night:  He was reading his shit at some poetry hall in San Francisco, filled to the brim with hollering humanity.  And the audience would cheer him on every time he tipped his beer bottle into his crooked, wet mouth.  He would chug it down, like a man dying of thirst, smile fleetingly and bashfully at the dividends of his compassion — and the dividends of all that suffering; and he would resume meowing out his poetry.  Sometimes, he would raise a ruckus while taunting somebody in the audience:  To him, it would be just another bar fight.  But he would always seem so much calmer, when in the midst of doing his shit.

“the price of creation

is never

too high.

the price of living

with other people

always 

is.”

And yet, he would insist on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Being too good for others — was not his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his esteemed colleagues:  “The professionals”.

And if he could, he would kiss every one of us on the mouth, the same way he kissed his women:  pornographically and with an open, wet mouth, smelling of rye.  Because no matter the price, we were his beholders AND his subjects; and with that, we granted him — his esteem.

We made his life — his tortured, used-up life worth his suffering.  And he would be one of us, becoming “the hero of [his] shit” — even when he wrote about others; when he wrote — about us.

“‘Cause I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl!”

“Any woman who counts on her face is a fool.”

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Not the first time I’ve heard a beautiful woman call herself “a nerd”!

As a matter of fact, I think it must be some sort of an insider saying of my clan — my half of the species capable of dusting off a compliment either due to its insincerity or whatever insecurity it has activated.

“Oh, you mean:  this old thing?”

But she would say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd,” — and she would pout, do that thing with her eyelashes; flip her hair, shoot down your heart from behind its cascade; and thrust forward one of her magical hips.  She would take a stand:  “You have no idea!  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.

And doesn’t it make you want to die at her feet, like a sacrificial slave at the pyre compiled in her name?  You goddess!  You perfection.

Celebrities say that, and all the pretty actresses.  Some stunners have testified to their once-upon-a-time addiction to knowledge as well.  And I get it, but still I find myself doubting them ever so slightly.

But of course, of course!  Brain and beauty — is one powerful combination, and I am a lifetime fan.  (Just ask my girls.  Or, just look at them, really.)

But by its very definition, it seems, beauty cannot be isolated.  It shouldn’t be isolated because we all want a piece of it, so much.  Oh, but it consoles us!  It fools, even if just for the duration of being in its company.  For just a little while, it disorients against the ugliness of our griefs.  And somehow life begins seeming quite alright.  And we all seem so much more deserving.

So, it would be so unfair, so odd, or mismatched when a beautiful thing claims to have been burdened by so much knowledge it makes her socially inept.  Because theoretically, a beautiful person should be better equipped than the rest of us:  Attracting attention with one’s mortal coil must come with a life-long skill, right?  An advantage.  A leg-up.  An in.  Otherwise:  What’s the fucking point?

But last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.”

And then, I flipped my hair.  Oh, you mean:  this old thing?

Knowledge has been an addiction of mine for — what’s the expression? — “longer than I can remember”.  Back in my childhood, I was a loner, perpetually hiding behind the book covers of all the heavy Russian dogs.  Because while peaking from behind Nabokov’s spine, life seemed mellowed out by melancholy.  And with Bulgakov — it was just a fucking trip!  A joke!  A comedy of the absurd.  Leo Tolstoy intimidated right off the bat, even my own people; while Yesenin attracted conversations:

“Did you know he fucked around with Isadora Duncan?”

Scandalous!

“They killed him in bar fight, with a knife.  Like a dog!”

And Akhmatova:  She always demanded for me to lower her stanzas, even if because I couldn’t take her any more, with all that sobering truth.  And she ordered me to take in life, instead.

Adolescence would be spent behind the spines of other dogs, more foreign, more worldly; and much less in love with the Motha’land.  But then came a day, on a bus ride to my father’s town, when I lowered a tome to catch a breath and found a pretty thing distorted in the window’s reflection, with nighttime behind it.  From behind the cascade of my hair, I examined her; did that thing with my eyelashes — and then, I went back to reading.

Because it wouldn’t change a thing:  I would still chase the big dogs and dust off the clumsy compliments from young boys and the drooling older gentlemen either due to their insincerity or whatever insecurity they would activate in me.  And I would chase my dogs far enough to the edge of the continent.  And when the big dogs jumped — I jumped right after them and swam to the other coast.

Years later, I still find myself addicted to my books.  But more than that, I have perfected the addiction to fit more life into it:  I am now addicted to learning.  Any learning!  All the life’s new things:  show me, tell me, guide the way!  And often pro bono, I grant my life the immediate curiosity so easily available from behind the spines of all the big dogs; and it, most of the time, pays it back –tenfold.

So, last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.”

I have been pacing my apartment — with all the big dogs lining-up its walls with their spines — and I have been sweating my ear against the phone while trying to explain the new curiosities of this year.  The poor comrade could not have known that I’ve been laboring over my work for eleven hours already:  that I had written for five and researched my media for the rest.  That I have already played with a few other bloggers — other nerdy and, as I imagined, very beautiful girls taking a peak at life from behind the cascades of their hair and from behind the spines of their laptops in their own apartments, illuminated by nothing more than the light of the blogosphere.  That I’ve had a day full of life already — and full of curiosities paid back to me tenfold; but after the town shut down, I still wanted more life.  And I would find it — behind the spine of my laptop.

“Yeah.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd,” I giggled.  Or maybe I didn’t.

But I do remember flipping my hair and thinking how light it was — and how easy! — to grant my life the immediate curiosities so easily available from behind the spine of my laptop.  And even though most of the hours of my learning have been spent in solitude — in isolation so typical for a nerd — everything seemed so much fuller:

Of life.

Of light and lightness.

And of purpose whose source of enlightenment was not only knowledge — but gratitude itself, paid back to me, tenfold.

“The Blues Is My Business — And Business Is Good.”

What’s this nauseating feeling looming in the pit of my stomach?  That time of the month?  Or maybe I should just lay off the coffee.

Back in Manhattan, I used to live on that shit.  Now, I limit myself to three cups a day.  On a good day.  Nights don’t count:  Nights keep their own count.

Sometimes, I forget to eat, too — a habit of my student days that hasn’t dissipated despite the new habit, of my non-student days, for daily running whenever my anxiety strikes.  Back in the student days, I could just call up a lover and get tangled up in that mess.  Not now though.  Now:  I just run, for miles.

And, oh, I could run for miles, right now!

But first:  Must have some coffee.

Or maybe I should lay off the coffee.  I hear it invokes anxiety.

Anxiety.  Ah, that.  It looms in the pit of my stomach, and it’s sickening:  this battle of mind over matter.

I lie down on the floor.  I should meditate, I think; or count some fucking sheep.  Whatever it takes to get rid of this anxiety thing, looming in the pit of my stomach.

And coffee:  I should definitely lay off that shit.

There is some drilling happening somewhere in close proximity; and because it’s been hot enough this week to sleep with all the windows slid wide open (come on in, thieves and ghosts!), the sound has awoken me, long before I was ready to get up and do my thing again.

What IS my thing, by the way?

Well, it starts — with making coffee.

Which I do.  I get up from the floor and stare at the drip.

“thinking, the courage it took to get out of bed each morning

to face the same things

over and over

was 

enormous.”

Bukowski.  That old, ugly dog was the bravest of them all, never whoring himself out to academia, yet always producing the words, despite being ridden with vices, not the least of each was the endless heartache of compassion.  And he knew a thing or two about clocking-in every day, at some maddening day job for a number of decades, then over his unpublished papers, at night.

Because nights keep their own count.  And days — are mostly spent with some nauseating anxiety looming in the pit of the stomach.

“and there is nothing

that will put a person

more in touch 

with the realities

than

an 8 hour job.”

But he would do that, until the day job was no longer necessary — and the papers were finally published.  And after that happened, did the nausea vamoose for good?  Poof!  Or did he continue drowning it in liquor, exhausting it on the tracks or in between the thighs of his lover-broads; then getting up for the grind all over again, in the morning?

I stare at the drip as if it’s going to give me some answers.  It reminds me of sitting by the life-support machine and staring at a sack of some gooey, transparent liquid — but not transparent enough to give me some fucking answers.

The pot’s half full.  I think I’m supposed to wait for the whole thing to finish, or it ruins it.  It interrupts the process.  Fuck it.  I pour myself a cup — I interrupt — and take it back to the floor.  I lie down.

Maybe I should count some fucking sheep, I think.  Or get me some poetry.  It has put me to sleep last night, with all the windows slid wide open.  Because the fucking sheep refused to be counted, at night.

And because nights keep their own count.

I take a sip of coffee and close my eyes.  Open them:  The drilling has started up again.  I haven’t even noticed the silence.  I put down the pen, the Bukowski.   Start listening to the drill.

It reminds me of my never made dental appointment for a check-up.  A check-up?  What the hell do I need a check-up for?  Just to see how much damage life has done to my enamel — with all that coffee — the timid receptionist called Lisa quietly explains, in so many words.  She is always kind, whimpering her messages into my answering machine like a cornered-in mouse.

Goodness.  Thank goodness — for kindness.

I should meditate, I think, after all.  I take a sip, close my eyes.

Whatever happened to that girl, I wonder, remembering a colleague gloriously succeeding somewhere in this town.  I had known her for years by now, but haven’t seen her for half of those.  We began to lose touch, two of my lovers ago, after a row of coffee dates were meant to be broken.  Eventually, the colleague and I forgot whose turn it was to make plans for the next date, to choose the next coffee shop.  It must be a self-protective thing with her, I realize.  She is successful:  It’s hard for her to relate.

Oh well, I think.  I’ll just keep in touch by overhearing some good news, on her behalf; and keep drinking my coffee alone, outside of coffee shops.

But then, I bet she too gets up to the grind, every morning.  She too must feel the looming nausea in the pit of her stomach until she forces herself to meditate.

Because after years and years of getting up to do my thing, I realize that it pretty much summons success.   

Success is simply getting up again.

But then again, there must be more to it.  Certainly, there must be more to life — than getting up.

I get up, take my coffee with me.  The drilling has stopped.  I stare outside through the windows slid wide open.

“I listen and the City of the Angels

listens:  she’s had a hard row.”

I remember:  I’ve got to start the work.  Because isn’t it what I’ve gotten up for?

I pour myself another cup.  I begin.

But what’s this nausea looming in the pit of my stomach?

“the impossibility of being human

all too human

this breathing

in and out

out and in

these punks

these cowards

these champions

these mad dogs of glory

moving this little bit of light toward

us

impossibly.”

I take another sip.  I continue.

The nausea begins to vamoose, giving room to the acidity of my coffee, incorrectly brewed; interrupted.

“Life Is a Beach — I’m Just Playin’ in the Sand”

Ah, kittens.  I have been watching you, playing in twos, every time I get myself out to the beach.

There is something very honest about humanity out here.  It’s dialed down, calm.  Quiet.  Everyone is hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean; and you better be painfully exhibitionist — uncomfortable, in skin and silence — to be louder than the waves.  (But I had seen those types before as well:  They make me move my towel, as if switching subway cars to avoid the destructively insane and the painfully lonely.)

I have been running away, out here, to fall asleep on the sand until the magnificent tongues of the Ocean lick my feet with the aftertastes of the opposite shore where, several decades ago, I was born.  Out here, I have been running to get a better glimpse of humanity, a more complimentary view of it.  Out here, I have been running away from the dusty hills and the heated asphalt of my neighborhood, just so I can sit on my ass and pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

But it’s fine!  It’s fine where I’m living.  It’s perfectly fine.

Here, between the mountains on one side and the downtown skyline on the other — and the apocalyptic clouds of smog all around, as pink as cotton-candy-flavored ice — I cannot see the bloody horizon.  And that’s fine too:  because it keeps me bolted down to my chair, in the midst of work, to which there is no end in sight — to which there is no horizon.  But it’s fine!  It’s perfectly fine, where I’m living.  For now.

But when it chokes, when it moves in and looms above — this lack of knowing as to what it’s all for; when I cannot defeat the despair with mere discipline, I run away.  I cannot run far, for there is indeed a limit to this city — an actual edge.  And I cannot run away from the work, to which there is no end in sight:  no bloody horizon.  But just for a day, I can run away and I can watch them kittens play in twos, in the sand; and I can let the giant dog of the Ocean tickle my feet with its magnificent tongue.

Yesterday, he was brown and very manly; athletic but in that stocky wrestler sort of way.  Even when he stood above the body of his lovely, he seemed to be hanging close to the ground, hovering.  And she:  She stretched and purred underneath him — a caramel-colored kitten, in a two-piece bathing suit of mismatching colors.  Her head was wrapped with a scarf, and its edges coming undone tangled up in the loose hair at the top of her neck.

The two of them had pitched their burgundy cotton sheet just a few meters south of my ass, and like me, they immediately got quiet.  He stretched out on his stomach, she — on her back; and although they spoke little — hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean — their every gesture was filled with tenderness and certain intimacy that only lovers well-acquainted with each other’s bodies can have.  Without looking over for her target, she would throw her perfectly carved leg over him; and he would reach and caress it with the tips of his fingernails.  (Sometimes, poetry is written on the inside of a woman’s thigh.)

At one point, in between my nap sessions, I pitched myself up on my elbows and saw that she had climbed on top of him, her stomach perfectly contouring his lower back; and there seemed to be no grander bliss that he could be subjected to.  And when she unleashed her wet curls from underneath the head scarf and covered his head, absentmindedly, habitually, he reached up and buried his giant hand in them:  He knew her, so well.  And oh, how well, he loved her!

This juxtaposition of their physique, the intimate tangling of their bodies filled me with something so serene, I nearly forgot that I had ran away out here, to pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

A few more meters down from our congregation, there rested an older couple.  She belonged to the type of a handsome woman that had managed to defeat her age with sport and boyish haircuts.  When she strutted toward the hissing, foaming, teasing waves, her back astonished me with its tautness and form.  He was watching her as well.  Between the two of them, he seemed to have done all the aging on their behalf.  Balding and under the influence of gravity, he sat on their towel and he worshiped her.  Every time she granted him an over-the-shoulder glance — he waved at her, boyishly.  And although, like me, and like the two brown people south of my ass, the two older lovers were quiet:  Oh, how he loved her, he seemed to say, with silence.  It spoke volumes:  How he loved her!

I would check out again, drifting into dreamless sleep that would leave me thirsty and teary-eyed.  And when I jolted myself awake, I heard the hollow heartbeat of a ping-pong ball:  Above my head, a couple of young lovers were sending each other running — across the sand and across distances that seemed to be unaffected by mutual fear (for, surely, neither has been hit with shrapnel yet).

Besides her occasional giggles, they would remain completely quiet.  Every time, she couldn’t strike back on time, she would run toward the ball, giggling; and he would play with the strings of his swimming trunks — and he would watch her, in silence.  There were beginnings of manhood in that gaze:  the self-esteem of someone with a beautiful physique and a gentle heart, who would never have to work hard for a girl’s love.  And there would be other girls — certainly! — for any life is treasured more once hit with shrapnel.  But in that moment, in that particular silence, he seemed to speak volumes of his love — for her.

Oh, how he liked her!  And how he loved!

“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.

I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions — Are Good!

I was dreaming last night.  I always dream, apparently; and my occasional sleep witnesses always testify to it not being a very pretty picture.  Actually, fuck “pretty”:  Apparently, the “picture” is not even tame.

And every morning, when I make my bed, I must agree with them:  As I untangle a mount of sweat-soaked sheets, feline hair, crumpled up pillows and turned out blankets, I always wonder:

“What the fuck went down in this joint last night?”

Sometimes, I am able to remember these wild dreams in the morning.  But they have to be particularly disturbing for me to launch into the research of their meaning.  One thing is for sure, though:  My brain is never at a deficit — for bloody metaphors.  (Now, okay:  They aren’t always “bloody” bloody, but when they are, they make Quentin Tarantino’s flicks seem like Disney toons in comparison.)

Some metaphors get written down.  Most of the time though, the dreams simply get retold to their participants:

“Had a dream about you,” I usually start.

“Oh yeah?”  And the poor, non-expecting suckers always get so excited:  They are clueless as to what I’m about to unload onto them.  “What about?”

“A’right:  Here we go.  You’ve asked for it.”

As I watch my dreams’ cast members get petrified and puzzled, their faces deconstructing into a Miro-esque canvas, I think:

“I could’ve given Freud a fucking head trip or two.  Dora’s got nothin’ on V!”

And in the mean time, my people have no idea about the challenge of my having to choose calmer vocabulary to describe the utter atrocities they were doing in my head the night before.  Still, even when watered down by my mercy, this shit ain’t “pretty”.  Or “tame”.

“So… Yeah.  You go figure this one out now,” I tell ‘em.  “And, um…  Have fun with that!  Yourr velkom.”

During the times of coping with loss, such as death or a break-up (same shit by the way!), my dreams get even more intensified.  It’s hard to believe that my head can go even further out, and yet it does.  Sometimes, I get more than one viewing in one night.  Several scenarios, one madder than the previous one, play out against my closed eyelids.  So, no wonder I tend to get reacquainted with insomnia during times of change:  It’s not that I have troubles sleeping:  I just don’t want see this sick shit again.

But last night, I had a dream that made me realize that I’ve finally hit the bottom of my current, death-related disturbance.  Just two nights ago, in my dream, I got struck by a weird looking black snake with erected scales.  I woke up screaming.  (Lovely!)  So, when I finally talked myself into hitting the pillow yesternight, I was prepared to be awake — and screaming — in a matter of just a few hours.  Instead:

I dreamt of San Francisco.

It was like that one passage in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that signifies the end of the world, or death;  or the ultimate love:  “In the Hall of Continental Principalities; Heaven, a city much like San Francisco.”

All the major players of my life were scattered around a Victorian house in a small vineyard, somewhere by the Ocean.  (We couldn’t hear that ancient monster, but we tasted its salt in the air.)  And I couldn’t see all the cast members, but somehow I knew:  Everyone was there.

My godchild who’s grown into a less dainty version of Frida Pinto was writing poetry on a crocheted blanket in the tall grass of my front yard.  (Or was it a dissertation on curing cancer via meditation?)  Her mother — my best friend, the love of my life — was reclining nearby, gently stroking her daughter hair, looking older, like her own mother; yet still in awe of time.

Younger women, related to me by spiritual adoption, not blood, were dusting off a rustic wooden dinner table by the bushes of lilacs.

I could hear the voices of my friends:  

My brother from Bohemia, whose contagious laughter was punctuated by the clicking of shutters, was making my motha feel young and beautiful again:  He was making her howl;

Women who had married other women and gave paths to more women; who have granted me a dozen of artistic births throughout my own life but never claimed authorships of it — they were gathering giant strawberries from heavy vines underneath apple trees;

Broken hearts that have been replenished by my love — but never fixed — were nibbling on platters of Mediterranean snacks coming out of my kitchen on a verandah with chimes;

Exhausted artists, always so hard on themselves but so kind on me, were napping in hammocks and tree houses;

A fellow insomniac with the voice of Tom Waits was sitting on the front steps, and with his poignant imitations of the human race was making me do spit takes, over and over, into my glass of Malbec;

Lovers who have loved me — but loved my freedom even more — were arguing over a game of backgammon in my master bedroom;

A reincarnation of Nina Simone was singing anecdotes to gypsies up in the attic while they unpacked and dusted off my books;

The sound of wood chopping resonated from the garden:  Dad!  Dad, refusing to give up on his country’s habits, was getting his pre-dinner workout on.

Were we all living together, or had we gathered there, to rest; to drink away the night?  Had I flown in my hearts to celebrate the news of another book contract — or some incurable disease? 

And what had happened to the world, in the mean time:  Had we had survived another Chernobyl?  Were we even closer to the coming of the end?  Or had we snapped to it — finally! collectively! — and retracted our mistakes, apologized for the gaps in our love and redeemed ourselves with more kindness, served for dinner?

I didn’t know.  But this morning, as I untangled my sweat-soaked sheets, I remembered the talk with my brother from Bohemia, whose contagious laughter just a few nights ago was making me feel young and strong again (and it was keeping me awake from my nightmares).

“Is the end of the world still coming; or is it the beginning of it?” I asked him then.

“But does it matter?” he answered.  “We’ll still be kicking ass — with kindness.”

Good Woman Down — and Up! Up! Up!

Define “good”.  I bet cha you can’t.  Well, not precisely.  Not on the dot, not really.

You will grapple with your memories of what it must’ve felt like — to be “good” — but you won’t really know what moved you, to be that way.  To make that choice.  Maybe it was something your parents have taught you (or whoever made up for your parents).  But all you will manage, at best — is to spew out a few other ambitious words, or juxtapose “good” against antonyms, equally as vague and forsaken.

“It’s the opposite of that…  You’ll know it when you see it!” you conclude, perhaps impatiently.

Maybe, you’ll have better chances at recollecting memories of when “good” was being done to you:  Because it’s always easier to accept, than to give it.  Not many protest when they are submerged into someone else’s “goodness”.  (Well, at least, not until the self-loathing kicks-in, and they start splashing around in it, like a hysterical woman in a jacuzzi, making a fuss about her hair.)

Some of you will go full-fledged to religion or philosophy:  Someone surely must’ve written about “goodness”, even if they’ve forsaken it right after.  Oh maybe, poets have captured it, that wretched lot of humanity!

“I know this, I know this!” some of you will slap your foreheads and snap your fingers in space, as if trying to remember a name of an actor from one of those black-and-white movies we’ve all agreed to treat as a masterpiece.  Or that tune — “What’s the name of it?  I know this, I know this!” — and it’ll get stuck in your head for hours after.

And many of you will smile, while searching for the answers.  Yep.  Experts say it takes extra muscles to smileanother degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  Kind of like “goodness”, no?

The other day, I had frantically reached for the definition of “my goodness” to the woman, who, on this planet, besides my motha, has known me the longest.  For years, this relationship was based on having nothing to prove to each other; and having nothing to need.  No matter my own idiotic choices throughout our history, she had never offered up a judgement:  Because she is “good” like that.

As before, she took her time answering, just so she could do it precisely.  On the dot.  Because she is “good” like that!  She couldn’t have known that my urgent need for her reassurance had come from an accusation by a scorned lover.  (Oh my goodness!)  I waited for her response.

In the mean time, I went off to stumble around my day in a state of some sort of walking sleep.  I bounced between my commitments, occasionally pulling over to the side of the road to jot down lists of “good thing” — things I was grateful for; things that I was hoping to discover later, just so that I could be grateful again.

I stopped by a girlfriend’s office:  She had been missing me, she said.  Always a stunner, this time around she looked even sharper.

“Sorry, I’m such a mess,” I said in comparison, pulled up my dress, then zipped up my jacket to hide it altogether.

“Nah,” she said, chewing on the black cherries I’ve brought her.  “I dig this look on you.”

She was busy.  I drove off.  In traffic, my phone lit up with her name:

“U r always so good to me!” said the text.

I felt dizzy.  Pulled over.  Jotted down a few things.  Remembered I needed food, got myself to the closest store.  In the “Canned Goods” aisle, I suddenly felt the urge to weep:  Months ago, in the same store, in a similar aisle, my departed lover had confronted me — with goodness:

“Look at you,” he had come upon me unexpectedly.  “Smiling at strangers.”

Clutching my random future purchase, I stared at the labels.  A gorgeous girl with a headful of Grecian curls reached around me:

“‘Scuse me,” she smiled.  I smiled simultaneously despite my face feeling exhausted.  Sorry:  I’m such a mess.  I watched her choose a can of hominy beans (not chickpeas!) and smiled again:

“‘Scuse me?”

She looked back — “Yes?” — and smiled.  (Damn:  That’s pretty!)

“Your tag’s sticking out,” I said, and without waiting for her to feel embarrassed, I reached for the back of her neck and fixed it.

In my car, I took a few bites of the food:  Not feeling it.  Jotted a few more “good things” down.  Started the car, pulled out, waited for all the pedestrians to cross.  (They tend to look so disoriented, in this city.)  Started driving, pulled over again.  Got out, grabbed my lunch; walked over to a man reading a newspaper in the bushes, with a nearby parked shopping cart.

“Hey, Keith,” I said.

Keith raised his face.  Sweat was dripping off his face and onto the newspaper.  He looked unusually bewildered.

“You want this?  I just bought it.  Not feeling it.”

I unloaded my hands into the shopping cart, and without waiting for him to feel embarrassed, got back into my car.

Three locks to get into my apartment:  One down, two to go.  Matching the keys to the keyholes, I was trying to keep myself upright.

“V!” a kid stormed out of his apartment down the hall.  He always storms out — out!  around! — and he speaks in exclamation points.  Already in the midst of some anecdote, as if we didn’t have a couple of days since seeing each other last, he was making me laugh.  But I was still playing the matching puzzle of the keys to the holes.

“Where are you going?!  What are you doing?!”

I laughed.  “I gotta do some work, silly goose.”  (In truth, I was just anxious to find the definition of “my goodness” — precisely, on the dot — on the screen of my laptop.)

“Well, lemme take a picture of you!”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I’m such a mess!”

“Nah!  You kidding!  I dig this whole look on you!” — and without waiting for me to feel embarrassed, out came the kid’s iPhone.

He stormed out.  I decoded my locks.  In the darkness of my apartment, while I was waiting on my laptop, the phone lit up with a text:

“…and you deserve all the best!  All the best!”

The kid.

I smiled.  

Experts say it takes extra muscles to smile — another degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  

Kind of like “goodness”.  

Yes.