In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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Bullies, Terrorists, and Congressmen: Ten for Today


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My head aches with the world, swollen with the chaos and calamity of it. No salve of good will and transcendent detachment patches the soreness, the inflammation, and the throbbing anger.

When I reactively shout at him, my father’s happy. Negative attention is better than none. I’ve raised my children, done my job outmaneuvering ration-less beasts. Why do they appear in full grown men’s bodies now? I’m mad that I can’t return to my former childless self—be the child and not the parent.

And then that runaround with the country of Kaiser. Institutions are built to crush people who pay for them, give them their existence. Medicine is meant to be waved before the eyes of the sick, taunting, “Catch me if you can.” I hated when boys stole a poor unsuspecting victim’s wool hat and played keep away, tossing it just above the desperately grabbing hands reaching for it.

I’m not alone in this now perceived defect, empathy. Yet, it drains the very peace from me, feeling it all, the hands of every eternally colonized American—women, children, people of color, and the poor—with raised hands clutching at their wool hats—respect, pay, opportunity, voice, healthcare, food, dignity—just out of reach by bullies gleefully foaming at the mouth as they expand their world by shrinking others’.

Always a zero sum game to psychotics, paranoids, terrorists, and congressmen.


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Wheat germ and almonds: Ten for Today


 That girl at the party sitting in a chair, plastered from too many beers slurred, “You smell like wheat germ and almonds.” I wasn’t sure whose scent she was describing, but I was the only one close enough to be inhaled and registered.
 
I remember thinking then, almost thirty years ago, what an amazingly precise olfactory perception for a nearly senseless drunk. I laughed after she said it, but she didn’t seem to mind, not taking it as ridicule anyhow. It wasn’t. The weirdness of her image drew a laugh to fill the gap that most certainly emerges after a statement like that.
 
She brought on the chuckle because she used the word wheat germ. Back then, who at this Bruce Springsteen-blaring keg party would know such a thing? Not me. And then I worried about how I smelled. I didn’t know whether wheat germ smelled foul or fragrant. I wrenched my neck to sniff my pits. I still can’t smell myself.
 
Almonds? What do they smell like raw? Nothing. Roasted and chopped, they smell heavenly, like earth and sun. If a lover ever told me my aroma was nothing lovelier than freshly roasted and chopped almonds, I’d blush with the flattery.
 
But here was this inebriated partygoer unconsciously tossing out poetry as if no one was listening or worrying about body odor. She might have been talking to herself, but my youthful narcissistic self felt besieged with momentary muse-filled doubt.
 
A few days later I asked my mother what wheat germ smelled like. And without a second’s notice of the question’s oddness, she replied, “How the hell should I know?”


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Zero-sum waiting game


 
They say a watched pot never boils. And pasta doesn’t cook in the 8 minutes they say it does on the box. Forget about my oven. Add a half hour or more to every cooking time mentioned in a recipe, any recipe.
 
My oven is old as is the rest of my house and the inhabitants in it. My children are now 21 and 18 (in a matter of days)–older children, not grade schoolers any more. And their parents’ late fifties make them older parents. And my parents, who had me when they were in their early twenties, are old. My father will turn 83 in a month, and my mother won’t live out the month. Though younger than my father by four years, she’s older than us all. Her demented body attacked her and made her old.
 
I’m awaiting her death. She breathes laboriously, with her whole body. Her lungs can’t do it alone any more. She needs to breathe with her belly, once ballooned with sweets now shrunken down into her spine. The hospice nurse says this belly barely breathing is yet another sign of her “transitioning.” I tell the caretaker to give her morphine. She doesn’t look like she suffers but just in case. She’s tired of living.
 
I wait. I watch her chest rise and fall. She doesn’t open her eyes any more. Her hands have begun to swell, turning her fingertips purple. Weak kidney function. Soon, maybe tomorrow, she’ll forego all food and water, her body turning on itself for a little peace, just a last bit of peace, for fuck’s sake, mercy, mercy, please peace. She’s waiting–and we too wait, watching her wait.

 

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I told you I don’t want to know.


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Can they not understand? I said I wanted to bury myself in work. I meant it. What do they mean, leaking toxic waste into my air-tight, sealed cave? I thought they couldn’t see me, didn’t know I existed, like hiding under the blanket when you’re scared in bed as a child. If they can’t see me, I’m safe.

But no, they found an opening. And all those words, words upon words, upon which I built my impenetrable wall, well they were just too airy thin, too porous. The poison seeped in. The words I didn’t want to read, they were all there. I thought they had left me in peace for a while. Yes, they did. I remember the relief. Maybe I got too used to not seeing those oozing, infectious, pus-filled pockets of venomous ink.

And no wind, seagulls, rain, wave, or chimes will wash them away clear now. My fingers curl under their weight, and my arthritic knuckles ache. You’d think I’d be grateful that I have any words at all. But today’s not the day for patience, compassion, tolerance, or ease. Today’s the day they sullied my ocean’s ark along the curb, street side of nowhere else to go. 


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Stinky Fries: Ten for Today


 
Saturday night, stool-side at my usual digs, the corner wine bar. I come here to write in the evening, when it’s time to switch from coffee to beer.
 
“I have Stone on tap. Interested?” The bar tender knows me. I’m past the initial flinching at that recognition.
 
“Looks like you have two.”
 
“Yep, this one has pineapple and tangerine with a…” Jason, I think I call him (I hope that’s his name).
 
“Whoa, no fruit in my beer,” interrupting his pitch.
 
“Agree.”
 
That first sip…not sure which bliss compares aptly, not quite orgasm, but not far below. Not three steps, anyhow.
 
Uh oh, the guy next to me peers over at my screen and squints.
 
“How do you see that tiny print? I mean it’s so…”
 
“I manage.” Yeah, I’m a bitch. Pick a different intro.
 
My stinky fries arrive just then, anyhow. The sirracha-ketchup is the bomb.
 
Long day nerding over AI and healthcare. Auditioning a piece for a real journal. I’ve claimed expertise in the area, but it’s really just gushing sci-fi enthusiasm. Yes, I’ve written a few thousand words on it for my weekly health tech start-up gig, but this is big-time. My head’s a bit spinny.
 
“Ready for another?”
 
Shit, I washed down half the fries with an entire tall one already?
 
“Okay.”
 
I still have a half plate of stinkies. It’s the melted cheese over them that lends them their title. Ah, I’m going to hell anyhow. As my father reminds me daily, “I’m going where it’s warm.”


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The Alarm


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The alarm goes off yet again, screaming. It’s not a bell or a song. It’s not even electronic. It’s in my head, under my skin. It yells anger, fear, irritation, and doom in fire red sirens. Every day the alarm sounds, no matter how many times I shut it off, slam it down, throw it across the room, mat, or freeway. I try covering my ears with my palms vice pressed against them, try squinting my eyes skin-swallowed inside shut, and try tensing my body blind from the sound, skin, and shaking–to no avail.
 
And then it’s gone. Quiet follows. Later, I can hear the soft gongs, smell the incense, feel the rubber under my toes, and breathe. But sometimes, too many times, my left foot won’t lift off the ground, my toes won’t dig themselves snug into my right thigh, and I can’t stand tall on one foot, balls of the feet gripping the axis of the earth. No balance. Off kilter.
 
Other days, I can kick up both feet off the ground, jettisoned by balls and big toes–left and right–and half-pipe myself slowly, silently cannoned through vast, airy nothingness before grounding earth in thud landing, shock-waved cement-gravity from toe to head.