Post-human partial participant: ten for today


So much work to do in the next few years, and it’s not about organizing or taking back the country. Taking it back from whom, from what? I can’t identify the enemy, the target. As always, I’ll look to discrete acts, situations and callings to make my move, do what’s right in my own estimation. Others’ fears and interpretations are not my own. Yes, it’s bad. And yes, it’s good. But as my father wisely said as he looked me dead in the eyes, “What difference does it make to your life? Will you change the way you live?”
 
I don’t know if his words are true, right, wrong or indifferent. It doesn’t matter. The compulsion behind his words was/is desire–to see me healed, less worried, less angry, what he would characterize as “back to normal.” Normal for me looks like balanced anger, kindness, and apathy. Normal. But his urgency snapped the alarm off, shut. The blaring horns insistently blowing, ah, ah, ah, ah!, clicked off. I could not stop hating everyone and everything. My trigger-shot temper could not safety lock. I wanted to gun things down, shoot up the world.
 
Ironically, that’s what my father threatened to do not three months before, when his world and cancerous body turned in on him, making daily waking like a whack upside the head. He couldn’t take it one day. His cruel temper, the one I inherited, could not be culled from the near mostly normal he maintained.
 
So, in a way, there’s the same to do as there ever was, even before the world turned riotously dark, sinister-clownish, and despairingly downfallen. Finding my own way never was more than what I was always doing. Being part of the world was always a part time gig anyhow. Not that I didn’t march, protest or speak up. I have. I do. But I don’t have to lose my mind in doing so. That’s the way it has always been. That’s been my normal.

Taco Love: Ten for Today

Another night. Of course, I had to. He tries so hard. And it is taco Tuesday all over the world, right? Okay, all that matters is he wants to feed me to say thanks. He believes I saved his life. But I simply nursed him back to health. He saved his own life. No one can save another’s life, not if he doesn’t want it saved.
 
His meds have changed him. Some would say for the better. He’s loving, kind and sentimental. Before he was mean, sad, angry and mournful, broken up with biting moments of crass humor or cutting sarcasm. We actually were more amused when he was an awful curmudgeon. I mean awful. The kids laughed at his foulness, how he’d get pissed off and tell his grandchildren to fuck off, or I hate that fucking kid referring to one of the small neighborhood children.
 
Not that he meant any of it–or not for long. He had no patience. He still doesn’t; he just doesn’t care. He’s Celexa free-bodied now. Numbed to the pain. Some would wonder why all the pain. But I know. I see him suffer in rage and frustration. That life he thought was promised, the kind with growing old with your wife of 63 years, bickering, holding hands and reminiscing.
 
He was always himself with her, no matter how much that meant the ogre unleashed his ugly all over us, all over the place. But he could apologize and laugh and lie peacefully in spooned sleep, snoring away the reality of another 12 hour day on his feet in the noise, no one treating him right, yet his duty, loyalty and ethics marching on, always.
 
On time. He had to be on time, always. Not miss any days in the factory go round. Proud of his stamina and responsibility. If anything, he’s been responsible and enduring. Sisyphus and the invisible rock.
 
And after all those years, those endless hours watching, walking, minding the machines, his retirement a promise of hundreds if not thousands of dealt hands and studied numbers (he’s a card counter and that’s why he’s so good), he finds her gone, only her bodily remains shadowing him like the cool shady relief of memory. But she’s a wound too.
 
So he feeds me. He thinks it’s love. I take it. My belly begs me not to. Because it’s not enough to love me two tacos large. It’s always four taco love, despite my refusal. Today, I ate. Burp.   

Dance, Abe.


Hey there, 6 foot 2,

You’re the legend I 

Never really knew,

Just tales and arms

That wrapped me up

In dreams disarmed.

At least I think so,

Childhood being all

Those decades ago.

No matter still, as

Memory lays bare

A wild man’s stare

And disheveled hair

From too much work,

Sleepless nightmare,

Slaving for the jerk

Who paid pennies

For our family of 7

And zero amenities

Like air, health, ice

Or places to sit and

Eat, but for the mice

And rats and broken

Windows in summer

Through winter then

All over again you

Worked and worked

Like honey bees do

Except for the sweet,

Endless years toiling

Making their mark on

Sharp minds unfolding

Like cards in a deck

The ones spread before

Your outstretched neck

As you glance at a play

Grimace in your mouth

And hunch in your sway.

Time, cards, pills, and

Withering you rue it

All, taking for granted

Though you may intuit

That all you worked

For in shaving off days

Return in unseen perqs

Of watching the world

Change as you leave it

For survivors to unfurl

And laugh at the effort

Knowing it’s fruitless.

I watch you watching

Me with that wry smile

Sneering, laugh, a poke

A jab, a joke just to rile

Me, anyone who’ll hear

And play the game of

Conversations unclear,

Skills you never master

Unbothered to learn its

Nuanced turns faster.

But here you are 82

And not worse for 

The wear as you do

Your days like song

On repeat every hour

Seeking to belong

Longing for your arm

Missed as she’s gone

And none to replace 

The world you built

Sweat leaving no trace

Of life fretted in years.

Though sad and sagged,

You have plenty of life

To give, receive, begin

Again if you so wish,

Children, grandchildren

Happy that you exist 

As am I who love you

With much heart, laughs

anger and admiration too.

Happy Day, Father, to you, 

Dance the potato chip dip

Crazy, ape-shit, Abie-poo. 

 

 

Bait

image
Baiting, he says, “You’re a procrastinator.”

I ignore it a full three seconds and then bite:

“Some people have more to worry about than themselves.”

To which he replies, “You’re full of shit.”

I abstain.

“Why do you have to push everything to the last minute?  You know we had to get gas before we leave for the doctors…”

Just keep driving, eyes on the road, I insist to myself. I know he’s baiting.

I know how he deflects the dissatisfaction of an 82 year old man who needs to be driven to doctors now, and I pray for patience and composure to rise above my own self pity.

“I mean, it may be okay for you who always runs out of gas…” 

“Dad, I haven’t run out of gas…oh maybe once, but…”

“Yeah, don’t give me bullshit; you run out of gas the way you put everything off.”

Fucking traffic at 7:00 in the morning…it’s my one day off before I work tonight…

“You like living like that but I don’t like ruining cars like you do…”

“The car did not need gas; it was not even below a quarter of a tank, and your fucking neurotic obsession about insignificant bullshit doesn’t change that fact!!!”

“Yeah, sure, you know best. I’m not as smart as you. We all can’t be as smart as you.”

Shaking my head in silence, the anger spat out of me like a solar flare, scarring its landing like the faint white stitched line just below my abdomen ever reminding me that we evolve, leaving behind ancestral appendages no longer useful to us as outgrown beginnings. 

Baited, I bit. Again. Just waiting for the flip side…and three…two…one…

“But I appreciate everything you do for me. Really I do. I can’t thank you enough.”

And so it goes, we two relics, this dance we substitute for conversation underneath which lies halved relationships lost to time, decay, disorder and disease. 

National Kick Butts Day

kick butts

Oddly enough, I smelled cigarette smoke today, and for the first time in many, many moons, it smelled good to me. I used to smoke cigarettes–an on again off again affair. I started in elementary school, forcing myself to trade un-labored breathing and clean smelling clothes for cool. I stayed with the habit throughout junior high and high school, developing a full-blown half a pack to full pack a day habit back in the late 70’s. Cigarette packs cost less than 50 cents then.

When I moved from New York to California, the cool changed and so did my habit. Californians did not smoke like New Yorkers did. And I met a non-smoker who encouraged me to quit to avoid the kissing an ashtray repulsion he wished to avoid. So I did, many times in as many years, sometimes for months and other times for years at a time. I had not smoked for 5 years when I enrolled in a summer school graduate school program back in 1989. The first day of the semester brought on a half a pack a day habit instantly. But the last day likewise signaled the last cigarette. The longest non-smoking stretch spanned ten years or so, the child-rearing years.

All in all, I tally the smoking years against the non-smoking years and the latter wins out handily by a 4 to 1 ratio (yes, I include infancy in that calculation). Mollifying my conscience about healthy aspirations is one reason for the calculation. The other is the sneaking suspicion turned confirmed of late.

My father’s smoking ratio is about 1:2 smoking to non-smoking. He quit tobacco 31 years ago after visiting an old friend dying of emphysema, leaving behind a wife and kids. Watching this formerly cool, tough Italian macho tote an oxygen machine like a child’s security blanket was not so much what did it as the look on his wife’s face, knowing she would be left to take care of it all. My father quit after that Florida visit and never smoked again, despite a three-pack a day habit. My first cigarette was one I snuck from his maroon soft Pall Mall (he pronounced pell mell) pack and lit on the school playground–during recess!

He was my inspiration to both quit and not-quit. If he could quit a 30 plus year habit cold turkey, I could quit a smaller habit. But the thought was always: any day I could just up and quit like my dad did. He just decided to do it, and then quit. And so did I. But I didn’t stay quit.

I haven’t smoked in a long while, not sure how long. I don’t like to count. I don’t like to think about it at all, though I often have a twinge of angst about the damage done. I have heard and seen those pictures of dirty and clean lungs of cigarette smokers. I have read that the deleterious effects immediately begin to dissipate as soon as you stop. But it seems to me there would be some residual damage, some frayed edges somewhere for the abuse. The subject has never brought me even close to researching. I probably don’t want to know or trust what I read.

Yesterday I sat in the doctor’s office with my 81 year old father and questioned the doctor about the tumor discovered inside his bladder. I asked why he needed surgery rather than a biopsy if the tumor was just discovered. The internal medicine specialist matter-of-factly turned to me as if I were on fire with ignorance and replied, “because with his smoking history and the location of the tumor, these tumors are almost always malignant.” Malignant and tumor in the same sentence made my jaw slack and eyes widen.

Funny thing about looking up the National Day (a habit of mine)–National Kick Butts Day–I did not automatically think of cigarettes. My immediate understanding was kicking butt as in overcoming or winning or beating. The notion made me smile. I like kicking the butt of obstacles, like just today submitting an article due at 7:22 right on the dot at 7:21 after my day got away from me and I toyed with extending the deadline. I also re-negotiated a couple of contracts to more favorable terms, turned a few students on to poetry and astronomy (two current passions of mine) this morning in class, and whittled down a stack of essays needing grading. I’d say it was National Kick Butt Day today for me if not for the nation.

But also for my dad. The doctor did add that this type of malignancy–located in the bladder–is one that commonly spreads. The surgeon removes it and done, out patient even. At least that is my hopeful understanding. Though I have no desire to research this one either, I am going to take this news as equally kick-butt as enlightened 18 year olds to poetry and astronomy, hard to believe but absolutely, positively plausibly true.

Happy National Kick Butts and Kick Butt Day!

 

credit: scoutingmagazine.org

The Hunger

  

Silent morning crashed by knuckled knocking–

“Do you want breakfast?” he asks like clockwork.

A man who eats to fuel his quest for the next meal.
 

I remember the bed and breakfast crawl we made

visiting New England in late fall of the festival trees

the first snow of Vermont outside a barn-turned pub.

 
The magic peppered with the strafing questions like

“Do you want pizza? Are we getting soft serve?”

And we just finished breakfast not even an hour ago.
 

We laughed and sighed heavily too mocking the man.

Mom was herself then and could join in the jeering.

This man she married from birth delivering herself too.

 
Broken windows, airless in vomitous heat of rat breath

this sweat shop he worked in nearly all of his adulthood

feeding too many mouths that barely spoke to his image.
 

He convinced himself from so fateful a day–stay boxed

when only he tripped on the rug pulled under his feet

by friends joy riding days to sweet steals, jobs or dying.

 
A mind goes empty in the cabin of fear dank and dark

communing with foreign tongues, solemn shells of skin.

Like solitary confinement for 48 years, no one remains.

 
So we dwell on the asking, the feeding, breaking bread

we two who watch our center fold in on herself slowly

eking death out slow-steady for lack of a conversation.

 
“No, I already ate,” he hears expectantly but undaunted.

“Come on. You’re too skinny and you need to eat more.”

Words endlessly cut and pasted on a screen of our lives.

 
Other words fly scatter shot red-orange like those trees

the ones in New Hampshire that year we traveled miles

from my rage-ful grimace, head banging steering wheel.

 
Remind me of a father’s daughter teetered on seesaws

lifted by the weighted desire dreamed in obedient love

and grounded earth bound to shackled birthright chains.

 
Invisible strands heated like electric coils of metallic sin

knit our knotted ties seemingly eternal yet dust shallow

as we journey the branches we are and make complete.

 
The insatiable consumption of air heats the moving parts,

wills an engine movement to carry bodies across lands  

upon which fathers and daughters feed the mime of time.