The Tangerine Tree

 
 
We lived at Quo Vadis then, a dumpy avocado colored complex 

across from the dying strip mall sputtering out, 

stores no one shopped or missed when they closed, belly up or dying out. 

Remember that pizza store with brothers in the name? 

There for 20 years, like an institution, and then closed its doors one day

no warning

though someone knew the owner had cancer.
 

We were in our twenties and striving, 

you selling pots and pans and me in school.

And Barry would be on the couch some days, 

popped out of nowhere watching t.v. while I was in the bathroom.

The apartment door was always open and he wasn’t shy.

Sometimes he would show up at the door and knock.

And there he would stand dressed in snow gear.

“Let’s go skiing.” 

No matter that we both had school and jobs.

And we would go.
 

I was trying out my domestic skills then.

So I grew house plants filling the light of the window,

hung in fives across the ever-open blinds.

Those were the days of open, unlocked doors, drop-in neighbors,

never closed blinds, royal blue apartments and sleeping naked.

We cared so much about the world and so little about everything

but the intimate and local, the near and myopic scope of our lives.
 

But it was just like you–who you are really–to toss those seeds

behind you,

without a thought to the life already existing in that pot, 

the spider plant fledgeling waiting to hang

though still nestled on the window sill 

waiting to flop its trestled wings over the burnt clay lip.

It must have been a luscious, tinny sweet tangerine that held those seeds.

Because now, dozens of years later, 

that tree that grew from strange sprouts 

crowding the spider plant on the sill, a puzzle to me then, 

and with time snuffed out the baby spider buds for soil, space and sustenance, 

room to grow and then outgrow that small pot to a larger one and then 

a larger one yet, moving with us from apartment to house to house 

where it now lives in the backyard, 

bursting with abundance.
 

It took 25 years for that tree, 

grown from thoughtlessly tossed seeds 

by one too lazy to get off the couch and trash them,

to bear fruit.

It simply grew and followed us from home to home, 

life to life, childhood to adulthood, 

and then our children’s childhood to adulthood,

and our puppies and kittens and hamsters and birds and fish and frogs

to their graves, 

some feeding the soil of tangerine tree roots, 

finally strong enough

firm enough to bear the weight of hundreds of sweet orange sun nuggets.
 

You, unwittingly, mindlessly, grew that tree you love so much now, 

picking one tangerine each morning, 

cold from the morning’s chill dew,

sucking its sugary juice and tossing the peel to the soil, 

just like you planted it 31 years before, 

when we were young and the tree was yet to be, 

its fruit long time coming.
 

And now the fruit is plentiful and we are old and love infertile, 

like sterile lovers circling, unwittingly trodding the soil of our graves.

A Cello Rests

 
 

A cello rests in a room, its neck snugged to the corner, 

nearly facing the wall in neglect as if ashamed, 

calumny’s dust. 

Never her fault, I never loved enough, not until late, too late.

I played for spans.

A public school music teacher examining my third grade hands declared, 

“You have long fingers; you’ll play the cello.”

And pronouncement became performance.

I practiced and played: solo, ensemble and orchestra.

Competitions endured at the lust of a failed cello teacher and complicit parents

yielded no more than a B plus plus, merely a red ribbon.

But I scored Romberg’s cello sonata into my fingers for life.

And the taste, a hint of burning desire–first conquest, then mastery.

Until the mid-70s teen culture enwrapped me in smokey rock concerts and pubs,

boys and weed.

And the cello lay low in my childhood home ’til California stole me.

She plays me time to time, decade to decade since then,

testing my resolve and desire, the want-it factor.

She breaks my every attempt, every dream of recapture,

having long ago mastered me.

 

credit: clker.com

Hollywood and Vine

The acid days

  
But before Fred was Randy and the first frozen yogurt store. Randy and I laughed and played well together, so naturally we partied together after work. One time we tripped all night on Hollywood Boulevard. We rode a bus there from work in Century City, swallowing the tiny tabs on the way, but then got separated after de-busing. I don’t recall much of the night other than walking up and down a strip between Hollywood and Vine and the three blocks north and south from Vine, back and forth, stopping each time I came to the open doors to this plush hotel with a sprawling carpet of captivating geometric design, loud and colorful squares and diamonds in endless interchange and contiguity, looming hugely before me in my psychedelic state so as to paralyze my feet and mind into staring just long enough to prick my consciousness that I was being obvious. It seems that I was often in that state throughout my youth: trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, working hard to blend into the safety of anonymity, working my incognito frame of drug or fantasy addled mind behind a shield of placid indifference that an indecipherably bland, disinterested face shows in the ordinary wading through human streams of passing feet, chests and faces. 

Cut Flowers

  
He was out of his mind stoned when he lured me into his bed after pounding drums at ear splitting decibels in his dark, stuffy room for way too long for anyone’s interest but his own or another drummer’s, not mine, and I don’t even know how good he played. It hurt, I bled, and it was over. He seemed proud and then disinterested. It didn’t last long–the act– nor the relationship and I felt like shit about the whole unlovely experience.

“I don’t understand. Why did you let yourself go there?”

I was 14, homeless in my heart, thoughtless and living some dream I doodled on a piece of paper during math class. I was dis-embodied, my life sidling the edge to the left and my body flanking the right. What does a 14 year old know about the rest of your life and sweet-tongued, scrupleless scumbags? I wanted to grow up and be in love. 

Ghosting

 

 
I learned this term today in an elephant journal article.  It means “ending a romantic relationship, by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out.”

Like the writer who defined the term, I am in the dark about new trends, words and expressions quite often despite having two teenage daughters. I often think how far behind the times I will fall when my contact with them is not daily–in my house. They keep me fresh and as close to hip and trendy as I will ever be (which is not very close), often with exasperated faces, slumped shoulders to punctuate the sheer agony of educating an older person.

However, rudeness is not confined to youth. I agree that ghosting is rude, excluding abusive relationships, of course. Treating people as if they are disposable plastic bags, discarded (probably on the ground) after use without a thought to future ramifications (pollution-physical and emotional) to other beings both human and animal is more than unkind, more than cruel. It is brutal. 

The kindest gift is knowledge with all of its up and downsides. I may be rejected, feel bad about being rejected or even about myself, if someone dumps me face to face or in an email or text, but ice that rejection with someone’s cowardice or cruelty to keep me ignorant in the face of such dumping, well that is too much. 

First, I not only wind up feeling rejected but ashamed on top of that. Once I discover the ghosting, I am bound to feel doubly embarrassed that I did not know the person I cared about was such a coward, such an unethical person. That is the part that would throw me into despair. How could I not know I was dealing with an asshole? 

That realization–that I am stupid, unobservant and/or naive–kills me more than someone rejecting me for being me. I do not need validation from someone else, though it certainly feels wonderful to be appreciated. But I DO need to know who I am dealing with–for my own safety. For how do I make wiser decisions in the future if I have a defective bullshit detector?

The battle is always between the bravery and freedom to trust against cautiousness, the wisdom to discern others’ intentions and needs, and whether those fit my own. The difficulty, of course, is in achieving clarity, sorting through what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. They get conflated and confused sometimes. Is it me who wants exclusivity or am I capitulating to some unspoken or spoken desire of the person I HOPE to build a relationship with in time? It gets complicated picking through the nuances.

Knowledge is the best armor. Knowing the self and observing others is a lifelong study. I hardly ever get it right. The attempt is all I or anyone ever has, but the trick is to develop an intuition or listen to the one inborn, weak as it is, mixed in with recollection of tendencies and traits that are recognizably lethal.

I believe ghosters are detectable to those paying attention. 

Barring the sociopaths, those who would do others harm smell differently, and I mean that more in a metaphoric than a literal sense. Tight listening to instincts, like wearing infrared goggles, reveal the dark hidden. If only we use the gear at our disposal: eyes, ears, heart and mind, take note of the signs, the hints, looks and words–not in suspicion but in curiosity, like an archeological exploration, seeing what the landscape bears underneath, hopeful of gems of discovery but mindful that the earth may be barren or even collapsable and dangerous.

Perhaps ghosting is more a phenomenom of youth with its inexperience, fewer notes on lived case studies. Or it should be. But even young people have inherent tools to sniff out fear, falsehood and feelings. If only they respect themselves and their abilities, without trepidation over likely mistakes. 

Buddha proclaimed it way before I did. Suffering, though inevitable, is minimized in the mindful.
 

credit: futuresequence.com

Train of Thought

  

Mayhem in the morning, it felt like
a kind of dismemberment of the mind from the neck down.
Nothing a silent session of steep stretching would not cure.
 
Sometimes sleep affects the whole day that way,
with a whisper of promise, something more like
a train ride through a New Mexico sweep of pronghorn elk.
 
That trip through the beltways and tracts of the country,
the clacking wheels syncing the spin of my mad days,
in orange rinds left on the porch swing as evidence of hollow thirst.

 
credit: dougwebbart.com