Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day Twenty-Three: Drive-Ins


Nothing in the world
makes me sadder
than an empty drive-in theater screen,
in a field full of weeds
that will never re-open,
and yet it is weirdly beautiful,
like a roadside shrine,
and filled with the same holiness.
If I pull my car over now,
I can let it wash over me
for an hour or two,
and then leave,

Day Twenty-Two: Monsters


there isn't any place
on the planet
that doesn't have
several monsters,
and you learn
to avoid them,
but only after they've eaten
a few of your limbs.
you learn to trust the ones
who look like the others,
and yet
are somehow different,
and better,
though you
will never understand why.
living in a dangerous neighborhood
might be
all you can afford,
but the monsters
go with the territory,
and you'd better accept it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day Twenty-One: Family Dinners


My schizophrenic brother came home for the holidays
and it wasn't a long-awaited reunion-
not for my mother, who had long since rejected him
and wouldn't accept his collect calls
or for my uptight sister, or my youngest brother, Josh.
I had ditched Danny many times,
but he always found his way back to me, because
I was the only person who would open the door for him.
It was the first Christmas the five of us had spent together
in more years than we could count,
none of us knew how to pretend that we were happy,
so everyone was hostile, it was our default setting.
Danny had spent most of the last ten years in prison,
mostly for petty thefts and fighting in public.
He never won fights, but he was always fighting anyway,
people just liked to punch him on general principle.
Josh was three years younger, good looking and sullen
with a laconic sense of humor borne of deep misery.
He'd submitted often to his brother's bullying over the years,
while my mother drank and had sex in the next room,
and couldn't attend to his needs, not that she wanted to.
In prison, Danny had developed a fondness
for antisemitism, an irrational hatred born of his punishment
at the hands of my mother, the mental health system, and the courts.
Since he was schizophrenic, his arguments
were punctuated by odd appearances from Satan
and other evil deities, and he talked non-stop,
sometimes pausing to look in the mirror and laugh at himself.
But Josh still nursed a grudge, he looked directly at Danny
and said, “Well, you know, we're part Jewish.”
Danny went completely berserk, his face contorted,
and he lunged directly at Josh, throwing a punch between his eyes
but Josh looked bored, like it barely fazed him.
With almost no effort, he contorted his fingers into a thick fist,
and punched Danny in the nose as hard as he could.
Danny's face was like a broken fire hydrant,
with more blood than I thought a nose possessed.
He let out a loud shriek, and Josh just smiled and said,
“Don't ever fuck with me again, or I'll kill you.”
My mother finally stuck her head around the door jamb of her room
and peered at the small pool of Danny's blood on the floor.
She said, “Goddammit, make sure you clean up that mess”
and disappeared again, leaving the tidying job for me,
even though I was no longer her daughter, but just a guest.
I wasn't sure what to do, so I made a pile of quesadillas,
and a weird calm descended over the kitchen
because everyone was hungry after all that fighting.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Day Twenty: Resurrection


Getting out of bed every day
is an act of resurrection.
The morning opens before me like a set of jaws,
with signs that point to the left and right,
but the letters are shadowy, so
I cannot read them without glasses.
I'm not sure if I forgot my glasses,
or was too stubborn to acquire them
in the first place, but every rising
becomes a little more difficult,
as if, with each new morning
I am a tiny bit closer
to being unable to get out of bed at all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day Nineteen: Wild Animals


Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
was my favorite television program
for a brief time during my childhood
I loved watching lions attacking antelope
and bringing the carcasses home to their families
and my parents always said,
“That's the way it is in the wild.
Eat or be eaten.” This made sense,
but I dreaded the commercials,
which suggested that death could come to us
as well, at any time,
leaving our loved ones without any security.
Many years later,
I still have no insurance,
and my loved ones have no security.
That's the way it is in the wild.

Day Eighteen--Concerts


My father called me one spring,
and told me he wanted to take me to a rock concert.
I was eleven, and he was nearly fifty--
a neatly attired businessman of southern European ancestry
who always wore a suit, or a sweater with slacks,
and had never been to a rock concert in his life.
Neither had I, so as a consolation prize
for visiting with me so infrequently
he promised I could attend any concert I wanted.
Jack read a long list of band names
to me over the telephone,
hinting strongly that he wanted me to choose the Carpenters,
but I thought them insipid, and opted instead
for Creedence Clearwater Revival.
I felt certain that their folksy sound
would be less disturbing to him than the Rolling Stones,
whose zippered album cover was making a sensation
in all the respectable newspapers--
and he reluctantly agreed, sounding fearful.
On the day of the concert, we took a cab
to an enormous concrete structure on the edge of the city.
We emerged from the cab and entered the fray,
amidst throngs of pot-smoking hippies
and the loudest music I had ever heard.
After begging my father for Coca-Cola,
he agreed to buy one for me,
under the condition that I listen to a lecture first
about proper dental care, and
I listened as we stood in line
behind a bemused guy with a beard
and a hairy chest with love beads
whom I am certain was eavesdropping.
After some grumbling about prices,
my father and I entered the amphitheater
and were instantly pummeled by music
that was so ear-splitting that it almost knocked us backward,
but both of us struggled bravely to our seats.
Without a doubt, we were the only
eleven and fifty year old people in the place,
the only father-daughter combo of any kind,
and this made me nervous,
but I wasn't sure why, exactly.
I soon realized that it was because
it was impossible to sit still for either of us
because the music made us physically uncomfortable
as if a catastrophe of some kind was about to happen.
The weirdest thing was that Creedence
wasn't playing their usual tunes, the ones
I always sang along to on WLS radio,
but instead a bunch of songs I had never heard before,
and didn't particularly like.
A man named Bo Diddley played a couple of numbers,
and this made the crowd weirdly ecstatic,
but then more head-pounding music ensued,
with lyrics I couldn't understand--
except for one song that began:
“Shut up, woman. Shut up and sit down.”
The audience laughed loudly at the delivery of this line,
though I failed to see why it was so funny.
During the intermission, my father asked
if I was willing to go home early,
and I assured him that I was happy to leave
and return to the comfort of his Chicago apartment.
It was the first time
we had agreed on anything that evening,
and it felt perfect, so without further discussion
we left the building, got into another cab, and went home.
After that, my father never took me to another concert,
and this was fine with me, because
we always had much better luck when we went fishing.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day Seventeen--Losing


The Love Family sprang directly
from the moist soil of Washington state
during the 60's—a quirky combo
of Jesus-freak idealism
mixed with anti-materialistic fervor.
They did more than straddle the fence
of lunacy, they just hopped right over
and made themselves at home in western Washington--
eschewing their birth names
and taking on new ones
that espoused their most evident virtues,
names such as “Patience” and “Serious.”
Their leader was a charismatic spirituality salesman
named Paul, who changed his name to “Love”
and the family adopted the surname of “Israel.”
They settled together, began breeding in earnest
and spread from a house in Queen Anne
to the surrounding neighborhood,
assimilating properties at a speed that was astonishing
for a cult which once swore it wouldn't touch money.
The Love Family grew larger
and Love himself more powerful,
while happily exercising the most important privileges
of a male cult leader--
bedding the family women,
and keeping the money for himself.
Eventually, Paul Allen's son, “Logic” Israel
used his most potent virtue to figure
that he was being screwed out of his inheritance
and led a revolt, in which the main financial backer,
a man whom Love had affectionately named “Richness”
abruptly demanded most of his money back.
The coke-addled Love was unable to defend himself,
and lost a large portion of his money,
a commodity he had once despised so much
that he wouldn't even handle it with gloves--
but he just bounced back up
like a child's clown-faced punching bag
and declared to the remaining members
that they were through with the city,
and would move to a large compound in the woods
north of Seattle, near the town of Arlington.
The group bought acreage and built several homes
with Love's mansion as the centerpiece
and began producing events,
the hallmark of which was the Garlic Festival,
an annual August celebration of beer, sex and garlic,
inexplicably mixed with Christian music
played on string instruments by white-clad women
who never smiled.
There were rock bands, as well,
and sensitive singer-songwriters,
hoping for a piece of the action,
and usually receiving it with no questions asked, nor quarter given.
The official statement from the cult was
“The Love Family can really throw a party.”
Unfortunately,the one thing they could not do
was pay taxes on their property,
and as the debts mounted, the festivals disappeared,
except for the Garlic one, which continued
until they were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Two months before the county took the property
the Love family held the last festival,
They pathetically attempted to raise money
in whatever manner they possibly could--
charging three dollars to tour their wildflower gardens
while regaling contributors with an edited version
of the Love Family Story--
an offer that netted them about a hundred dollars.
Meanwhile, the female cult members
made a lot of the vendors very happy,
wandering freely through the booths
buying expensive handmade guitars and velvet dresses,
spending as if price was no object--
and it occurred to me that they still
felt guilty about handling money
and secretly wanted to fail
to punish themselves for their wanton materialism;
they were just a bunch of Jesus freak hippies, after all.
And fail they did,
the county took the land on Halloween,
and the few remaining family members
moved into tents on the bank of a nearby river.
Love was in his early sixties by then,
a time when most people are desirous of more comfort,
rather than being suddenly stripped of all material security,
but he merely said, “well, it's interesting,
I guess we've just gone back to our roots.”
It's hard not to admire such grace,
even from a man who had been the duplicitous leader
of what was once dubbed “the Teflon cult”
because no matter what he did, he never got into trouble.
He just settled back into his tent on a rainy November day
as if it was the natural order of things--
inwardly thumbing his nose at all his detractors
and silently proving to every person
who had ever challenged him over the years
that losing is a matter of perspective,
just a temporary way station until you can swing a new deal.