In the Hills – Excerpt 2

I was first, then Cathleen and then baby Johnny. It only took a few years to have the three of us, but it changed life in ways mom and dad couldn’t really explain to us, although they tried. That change, or rather changes, that came into their world when we the world. The way they tell it they were very poor and very happy before I was born – romantically living paycheck to paycheck, eating canned peaches and stale bread and peanut butter and saltine crackers the couple of days leading up to the next payday and then after cashing that check they’d buy more of the same anticipating poverty again the next week. They were never ashamed or embarrassed to inform me and then Cathleen and me and then Johnny, Cathleen and me that their happiest days were before me and before us. It wasn’t me or us that made them less happy they told us. It was some unspecified, incalculable ratio of paucity and happiness; sometimes told as one-in-spite-of-the-other and at other times as a we-didn’t-know-any-better-but-that’s-still-okay-because-we-love-you-all kind of fairytale.

They also never tired of reciting the inventory of all their earthly possessions in great detail, which was easily done in light of the number of their possessions. They owned a folding table and three folding chairs that didn’t match as their kitchenette, a very, very old sofa with a back cushion missing and the folding chairs doubled as living room furniture, a double bed and a couple of crates covered with old curtain fabric as night stands for their bedroom suite. Add towels, everyday dishes, hand-me-down flatware, pots, pans and kitchen towels from my dad’s mom’s kitchen and they could cook food when they had enough money to buy food to cook. It never sounded like they bought fresh food, but I’m sure they did – like some hamburger or a can of vegetables or even a potato they shared in a romantic dinner-for-one-eaten-by-two moment they never forgot to rehearse for a table of five with more leftovers than they had for a month before me, before us, as they insisted on reminding us on many occasions.

Before mom became a Mom she was Mary and she was a typist in a secretarial pool. Three years of what we’d call high school education for a poor girl on the south side of Chicago meant typing, grammar and home economics classes. She claimed she only owned two dresses and wore one then the other and then the first one again, rotating the order the next week – that’s what she always told us but we didn’t believe it. And she met my dad while working at the law firm when he was clerking. He was in his second year, didn’t have a penny to his name, lived with his mom, and fell in love with a seventeen year old girl with a 22 inch waist accentuated (according to a photo of her) by a full skirt and tight sweater. He didn’t stand a chance. They had  cheap dates of free concerts in park, visits to museums, the zoo, parades, walks along the lake and anything else free the city of Chicago had to offer. They ate meals at the school’s cafeteria or at one of their family’s homes. “Mary, I have nothing to offer you but my love; will you marry me?” They were standing by the lake next to the Shedd Aquarium.

Like Shedd himself sort of. John Shedd started as a poor clerk in Marshall Field’s store and worked his way up to the top and became president and chairman when Field died – from poverty to riches and a story told through hard work for forty years. Shedd bought into Daniel Burnham’s “make no little plans” hook-line-and-sinker. He put up millions to build his fish tank and then died before it opened but after he paid for it. His own wife – his very own Mary – stood on the lake front and cut the ribbon for him. This made it something romantic and couples just happened to favor this spot for their proposals.

The aquarium was something huge and romantic and totally unrealistic. It took a million gallons of saltwater brought by train from Key West, Florida to fill the tank in this first permanent inland saltwater aquarium. And when did all this happen? Well right at the start of the Great Depression, that’s when! When everyone was dirt poor in Chicago (except Shedd obviously) he built that one damn huge tank of water that sat right there on the edge of Lake Michigan. It was as extravagant as it was ironic. And to top it off, literally, was its Beaux Arts design. That was a style used for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and everyone was so impressed by the Greek and Roman synthesis became a way of making Chicago “the Paris of the Prairie.” That’s why young couples went there to do romantic things, including propose marriage like dad did. They’d stand right there where John’s widow Mary cut the ribbon and promise to tie the knot.

It was a cool spring evening – a Friday they said – in May of 1951 when dad proposed. (Make no little plans.) He didn’t even have a ring to offer her, just a promise that he would always love her no matter what. He said he wanted them to spend the rest of their lives together, to have a family and it didn’t matter that they were poor. Mom told us all this more than once and it was the best story she told. She said “Yes” and now she was 44 weeks pregnant sweating through eighteen hours of labor and dad was pacing in the waiting room wondering how he was going to pay for me.

 

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Lost manuscript…

manuscript

This started as the tale of a lost manuscript,

an idea that became a story that might have

become an enjoyable book but never will be

as it took a turn while contemplating what was

sacrificed to produce something that’s now gone,

consuming more time than good should

these years of distraction when everything pleasing

around me twisted, lovingly straining to keep

me in the middle as each new wheel began to spin

its own rings, feeding off the others,

once so close their energy sparked blindingly,

now bouncing in their own orbits here, there,

it all happened so slowly, so perfectly, and I

now know I missed too much that I hope they

each captured while I pounded out words

of a fictional life no one could possibly lead

as my own unbelievably wonderful one spun

in and out of days and seasons and states

that are now the lost manuscript of my life.

In the Hills – Excerpt 1

1958Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Like you I had the privilege of being present for my own birth. I was right there with my mother but my dad was relegated to pacing in the waiting room. Relegated to the role that no Dad has been trained for and no Dad worth the name accepts easily. He got to pace, back and forth, back and forth and wait; left to worry about paying the bills, wondering what he’d done, how mom was doing and how long he was going to wait – pacing, pacing, pacing. Mom and dad had already waited almost four more weeks than they should have since I was officially 27 days late. Doctors just let you go until you popped-out back in 1956 – no pitocin drip to stimulate contractions, not even old wives tales about drinking castor oil (which only gave you a bowel purging anyway) or having sex to induce labor (which was a little of the hair of the dog that bit you so to speak). Instead they just waited.

Mom just waited in her gravid state for forty weeks plus four. She never let me forget that especially when exasperated with me, ‘I carried you for 44 weeks to have you act like this?! Oh, no, I don’t think so…’. Sitting around the dinner table with all of us waited-for children years later she told us how she was in labor for 26 hours with my younger sister Cathleen and just 9 hours with baby Johnny (and with my 18 hours that equaled 53 hours of contractions – 2 days and 5 hours of labor, of pain, of unexplainable and excruciating discomfort). The math got us started. ‘Okay, okay, so how long were you pregnant with me?’ Cathleen asked. ‘Well just about 40 weeks, not like the 44 weeks with Danny, but Johnny was only 38 weeks.’ ‘That means you were pregnant for…, for…, well…, let’s see….’ I tried to calculate these overwhelming numbers in my head when Cathleen quickly answered, correctly, ‘That means you were pregnant for 122 weeks mom.’ That’s more than 28 months, two and a third years, and that’s 845 days, to be exact. After hearing the math mom never forgot it and never let us forget especially when we were annoying her. But I always thought I was worth it. At least that’s what I imagine.

I’m also pretty sure I was a normal and attractive baby – clean and without blemishes. In labor I may have mildly discomforted my saintly mother who perspired mildly but was a-glow with a hint of make-up and hair quaffed appropriately, covered modestly in a fresh gown and centered in a homey but antiseptic room softly lit with ambience and even pleasantly fragrant. Dozens of medical professionals buzzed about excitedly anticipating my birth. Nurses who were plainly attractive but not one as pretty as my mother were helpfully attending at her head and side, dabbing mom’s brow with a cool cloth and whispering maternal encouragements – secrets shared and understandable only to the uterine gender. The doctor – the only male in the room, before me that is – smiling, directing attention to my imminent appearance but averting his eyes from the vaginal portal whence I emerged lubricated through elastic drapes of privilege allowing only a glimpse of the reproductive secrecy of the origins of my life.

I’ll admit dad was a vague participant in my origins, but only in the masculinity of his grip and biceps and that strength he explained as ‘elbow grease’ and I took to be the determination and commitment and supervision he exerted in our world which was for most of my young life also just the world. Dad was paternal and masculine and sturdy and stalwart. He needed no time to collect his emotions in a time of crisis. He acted sacrificially and bravely without a moment’s notice. He was reliable and a provider of food, shelter, comfort and treats like ice cream on Sunday afternoons and a sip of his beer after a summer Saturday’s gardening. His odor communicated faithfulness – a sameness in his aftershave mixed with the sweat of toil and exertion. And besides the times he was pacing in a waiting room for his children to come into the world I didn’t imagine him waiting for anything.

The Truer Truth… to begin…

Begin

“There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth.” – Agnes Repplier

It’s time.

It’s time to transform our lives—from the ordinary that shouldn’t have become normal for people like us to the life we’ve hoped for.

It’s time to live our hopes.

Solomon said there’s a time for everything.

Everything.

That means we always live in the time for something.

And now is our time.

No more excuses, no more delays, no better-things to do. In a voyeuristic culture, in a voyeuristic world, and in the mind-game of ‘I like to watch’ it’s time to do something worth watching.

And we are ready.

It’s our time to do something worth watching.

We’re ready for whatever is next because what’s next is all we’ve got.

The past can’t be changed. We can play with it, or twist it, but if we try to ignore it we will be haunted by it. It won’t go away.

The present—our now—is ephemeral. It’s worse than brief, faster than fleeting; it’s timeless and seductive. And it’s gone… just like that. If we listen closely we can hear it laughing at us, mocking us.

What’s next is all we’ve got.

And what’s is next is up to us.

It’s time.

Our time.

Our timeThis is the truer truth.

Confession and other silliness…

confessionalConfession is good for the soul of gossips – that’s the way the expression should read.

This is a paragraph from an unpublished manuscript entitled Elizabeth Parsonage:

That was where the pastor met with people – in the study; it was a safe place, almost officially so. A confessional, but with a couch and chairs and a desk and shelves lined with books. Sometimes the books were about the Bible, sometimes about theology, but ever since the 1950s they were more and more about feelings and relationships and marriage and love and how to handle rebellious children, but they didn’t seem to help much. It was like they were commentaries but not solutions like they seemed to promise. This book could save your marriage. Follow this advice and your teenage girl won’t hate you. But they didn’t work, at least not as much as one would wish. People would come to the study and spill their guts as if the pastor knew as much as God knew, and they’d say everything with the promise that Nothing would leave this room. And if the walls could talk they’d tell you things about divorces and pregnancies and hatred and tears and deaths and scandals and sickness and pettiness and revenge and although most would be curious about other peoples’ troubles, any real human being listening to what the walls had to say would be in tears and tell the wallpaper to shut-up.

 

And this is a little something which, I confess, means more to me than it should…

Confessor Cat
There’s a black cat that visits my home every day,
walking carelessly toward my door, toward me
looking at it out my window, with eyes that flash
bright when lighted, then quickly darken again.

And when I see it, I count my sins, unprompted
I rehearse the errors of my ways while the cat
slows and gracefully sits, staring at me like it knows
what races through my mind, and how I’ve erred.

It isn’t hurried, nor is it asking anything of me;
there’s no deep-seated memory from my youth,
no intuition of the deities of ancient Egypt,
just a feral beauty at ease without need of home.

My mind races through the rights and wrongs
without a tally, and the black cat waits just long
enough for my silliness to end; and because
gifts are exchanged, I now feed my confessor
in sacramental pâté, but first returning thanks
for the privilege of a conscience assuaged
by the simple act of being seen by a black cat.

Please share with your friends – like, click, repost, report as spam, or otherwise  show the world you’re alive and kicking…

Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 1)

Anonymous_4The weight of anonymity is a crushing load to the egoist; a blessed burden for the insecure; and a career obstacle for any and all who wish their mediocre product to be thought magnificent by virtue of reputation.

Without Fame
His name was never known
never asked or in demand;
he nameless lived and died
after countless seeds sown
tending the many firsthand
famously fame denied.

What Isn’t There
How many a writer or poet has been ruined
by reading Thoreau’s Walden only to retreat
to her own obscure pond and wait for those
pronounced feelings of nature, god and life,
perched before a blank page, ready to write
infamous words that will change everything
about seeing the sun rise, or a low moon,
the seasonal wrenching of life from death,
or death from life in the anonymous vacuum,
only to end a long, lonely day exhausted
and uninspired by the page called life
with no words to express what isn’t there.

Please share this with your friends! Thank you…

Look for Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 2) coming soon

Pennies, nobodies, and parents…

coppy-penny-investing111If you like pennies, nobodies, and/or parents (or at least your own mother and/or father), here are a few for you…


Pennies, Pennies Everywhere

Honest Abe is hiding in plain sight,
too insignificant to bother with,
ubiquitous to a fault, a commodity
of commonness and plain speech;
he is become a decimal of taxation
and useless beyond being ignored,
unless discovered heads-up, then
he might be a token of good luck,
but fleeting in the day he’s found;
trying to double-down I’ve tossed
him into a fountain and wished,
collected hundreds and hundreds
in a Mason jar for my life savings
that never amounted to much,
tucked him in my new Bass loafers
purely for decoration, I believe, and
slipped one under the folded hands
of my casketed father back in 1971
and prayed a pure prayer for a
miracle that I’m still waiting on.

 

On This Day

On this day in history
absolutely nothing of consequence
happened, to anyone, anywhere;
no ships sailed, no princes born,
discoveries in science, medicine
just didn’t happen on this day,
yesterday and tomorrow are
filled with life-changing people,
events, battles that turned great
wars into peace, even the subtle
alterations to the fabric of everyday
life made by once anonymous people
which reverberated into time and
made history; remarkable things,
great consequences, overwhelming
tragedies and brave exploits
all happened on other days, just
not today; of course some were born
on this day, babies loved, wanted,
even prepared for, but they remain
nameless to all but their mothers,
unknown to school books and
will never fill-in-the-blank’s of
literacy exams for they just were
and are no more; and the closest thing
to notoriety they’ll enjoy is that on
this day in history they’ve been
written about, sort of.

 

Stories worth telling

doctorshistoriansThe complete absence of medical doctors at their patients’ funerals is shocking, obvious, and upsetting. Yet, no one seems to care.

Their task – their one task – is to preserve life. And they fail. Every time. I know, I know… they don’t see it this way. They do keep people alive longer than they’d live if it wasn’t for their life-saving work (never mind that this longer life is lived in the waiting room before another doctor’s appointment). And this explanation satisfies everyone it seems. (If I had a 100% failure rate, I’d come up with a good explanation too.)

The other, obvious, god-like, grand and detached profession which contributes to life is called ‘the historian.’ Not just history, as in what’s happened, but the profession assigning meaning to all the crap that’s happened as if it had to happen – that’s the task of the historian.

Doctors and historians – can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Humanized Anonymity

It has come to my attention
that doctors have a 100% failure rate,
if life is what they preserve,
and I’ve never seen one attend a funeral
unless it’s theirs, of course,
so I propose they be required to show
last respects for all their patients,
by law they must be there, embarrassing
as it will be, and apologize
along with everyone else saying ‘I’m sorry’
in the line winding around
the casket, and they will be one of the
only ones who truly mean it;

while I’m at it, I propose that
historians be forced to stand in public
at regular intervals, reciting
the names and a brief paragraph about
the millions and millions
they gladly ignore or anonymously label
when writing their big books
of sweeping, majestic generalizations
while a mother’s baby failed
to thrive and died in her arms yesterday,
a stupid boy, so unloved,
thought nothing of shooting a neighbor
so he might belong to a family
he’d never had before, or the paranoid,
wrinkled woman named Lucy

who spied out of her drawn drapes
at her new neighbors because
they didn’t belong in her neighborhood;

with funerals well attended
and public recitations going on daily,
we’ll be quite entertained but
probably not concern ourselves as we
go about ignoring important things
until we see our doctors dressed to mourn
or hear our name recited; and,
doctors would be so busy with funerals
that they’ll be unable to save lives,
and the writing of history books would
suddenly include observations
of the practice of public recitations and
how this is just a concession
to a silly and meaningless public clamor,
for meaning for humanized anonymity
that they’re happy to supply.

 

Stories Worth Telling

There was only one Charlemagne,
and thankfully so; one Genghis Khan,
Alexander the Great, and one wishes for
at least another Sojourner Truth, George
Washington, or Eleanor Roosevelt,
and
 on and on my books tell me about
this great thing 
called history and how
billions of lives 
twist and turn, begin
and end, are 
rich and poor as the earth’s axis
is made to turn on the life of just one,
usually male, usually violent with
mothers’ babies, usually loved
and hated simultaneously, and usually
infatuated with himself,
while we try kindness and hope,
recite ‘there but for the grace of God’
as consolation or cautionary tale,
dream and cry our way through days
all to be forgotten – dust to dust
in the unhistorical metamorphosis,
and the best one can hope is to be
a victim of a great man it seems,
or his see him once, or better yet
to be unseen by god-makers – historians
who don’t know our names and study
so as to not care or have to plainly say
we just don’t matter, he was
a perverse soul, another was brave
with words, a child afraid, and another
never knowing love or kindness
except for a sibling uniquely private,
one generous even in her poverty,
another loved her baby who failed
to thrive through no fault of hers
and lived with the loving guilt of a wish
for just one life among the billions;
all ignored, and necessarily so, for
there isn’t room on my bookshelf
for every story worth telling.

Not from a book…

Grandparents used to say things like “There’s book learning and then there’s the other kind of learning.” I spent the first twenty years of my life avoiding book learning (that didn’t take me far), the next twenty years with book learning (which earned me a couple degrees and a nice job), and the remainder of my life trying to discover “that other kind of learning.” I’m not sure I’ve found it, but it may not be find-able. It may not be a destination.

If we ever asked what they meant by “that other kind of learning,” we would have heard something like this: ‘Along the way – that’s where the “other kind of learning” is found, but only by paying attention.’ (I imagine that because that’s the way grandparents sound, oh, and they’re sure we’re not paying attention.)


Taurus on Fullerton

I used to want a Taurus station wagon;
don’t ask me why because I just did;
the bulbous blob of 80’s style in all those
muted tones of earthy discoloration
wrapped in my romantic recollection of
childhood transportation complete
with rows and rows of seats for rows
and rows of kids, now all mine, an
idyllic lifestyle of contentedness and
satisfaction – it’s what I’d wanted;
so imagine my surprise when idling late
last night at a red light next to me
was a parked a Taurus station wagon
all rounded and earthy, hiding in plain
sight on Fullerton Avenue, and the
windows disclosed what must have
been the worldly possessions of the man
asleep with his forehead pressed
against the glass and every inch inside
crammed with clothing, books, bags
of stuff and more stuff untidily packed
around him like a cocoon of some
discontent and what I imagine must be
dissatisfaction; this is not the dream
I had of a Taurus station wagon
and I doubted it was the dream of the
man dozing in the driver’s seat.


Coffee Shop

You make me wonder, as you sit quietly,
considerately across the small table from me
in the midst of our busy, loud and impersonal
coffee shop just around the corner from home;
we don’t speak and only occasionally,
accidentally make eye contact interrupting
our reading – mine of a book, yours a newspaper
and you’re gracious with a small smile,
almost embarrassed by our casual connection,
returning to the worlds on our pages as we
escape the crowded space we choose to share;
our coffee’s are the same, right legs crossed over
lefts, comfortable together like we’re not
with every other person around us;
strangers don’t matter in this place right now,
like they don’t matter so many other places,
and I can tell you wish it was different
like I do, as if this place was in a Paris spring
or rainy London or beside a university campus
with smart ideas filling the air around us
like leaves falling in autumn – expected, raked
together and burned for that sweet aroma
which stings the eyes yet doesn’t drive us away;
but we’re in our cold city on this January morning
and everyone else has someplace to go
and they’re only stopping for their coffee
as they run to work because they’re late or
just  have somewhere more important to be,
while we linger, two perfect strangers
who civilly share a small table together
in an act of pure humanity, anonymously.


Not From a Book

When all’s good and all is fair,
she is close and love’s a dare,
season’s all but winter least
fondness lingers, cares ceased,
songless tune, birdless song,
edging shade and time is long,
I’ll find a way, way to be
as close to you as you to me,
and when we’re called we’ll answer not
hearts be filed with headless thought,
learning ways and teasing look
such is not learnt from a book.