Starlings in the Slipstream

Outside the Store, cowbirds and starlings dot the pavement, scavenging crumbs as they would other birds’ nests, ekeing out existence as robbers and cowards.

The starling was introduced into North America by a courtier of the English language, a patron of the arts who released two of every bird mentioned in Shakespearean language into Central Park as homage to the quill. The starlings proliferated and flew in murmurations across the country, gathering in numbers, thieving nests as they went.

And now they’re on the patio outside where, against better judgement, I toss them shreds of tortilla and watch as they look at me expectantly with varied colors of eyes.

“What do you have for me?”

“Are you my friend?”

And they’ll probably fly away with sated belly to fight a mockingbird—and you don’t fuck with mockingbirds—but they’ll do it anyway, just evolutionary subsistence and existence, the two sometimes being the same.

In the canyon, in the morning, I wait for the woodpecker to announce itself, rapping its head against the eucalyptus; I also watch the crows and wait for the hummingbirds. I’m depressed. I’m at the nadir of my bipolarity and I’m waiting for the lift, which is an exercise in patience, just like watching birds.

I’ve tried to describe this, but words fail, so I throw my tortilla crumbs to thieves and watch their rapid eyes dart as if in some cautious thankfulness.

What is wrong with me? I commune with the crows and the alley cats on my daily walks, hug the plants. I have made friends with the homeless people I meet, crouching down to talk to them, listening to their stories while they wait for sunshine and for the stores to open. My friend Doug—he says—I look better, right? And he gestures to his beard which actually is trimmed smarter than mine, and I give him knucks and we pore over the morning paper.

The other day I found Doug crying, and it wasn’t because of his situation or his friends downtown (which he’s told me in detail about), but because National City is now passing out carts to homeless people so there’s no more necessary thievery of grocery carts downtown, so that starlings of people can stop robbing Vons and Ralph’s of their carriages, and he reads this all in the morning paper. He offers to buy me a steak with his EBT. He is a good man.

I’m depressed. Doug points out the G7 conference on A-1, and I blanch. It’s hard for me to deal in this new world, and someone so used to Orwell, Huxley, DeLillo, and Wallace.

The can collector on 31st offers me a good morning and I’m happy to oblige a return. His life is harder than mine. He asks for a light, and I have some matches from Doug. The guy opens an Altoids can to demonstrate some effeminately-wrapped joints, and I light one for him as he roots around the cannisters. We all need our comfort.

Starlings in the slipstream. Starlings like a daydream. We can all exist and subsist and all at once. Love each other. Be thieves of love and murmurating participants in a bustle of wings. Love, and love.


Theory of the Crows

crowsSitting in the canyon watching the crows find the bare branches to perch, And it reminds me everyday of the crow that found sill on my younger son’s birthday, it leaving a feather outside the window while we received his diagnosis.

There’s the theory of the crows, and that they’re harbingers of something, collectively called a murder. Black, and it’s how I felt on Finn’s birthday, as if I offered up bad seed, as if I did something wrong.

There’s free-floating guilt, and I have a lot. Continuous performance, a continuous fight against genetic inheritance. My mind is both vacuous and busy at once and if I could edit the sad parts.

Finn was born six years ago. On the radio, on NPR, they were reporting about genetic testing, the new eugenics, and I punched the ‘off’ button. Truth is, as hard as the crow tried to deliver an omen, I birthed a unicorn.

My baby’s six years old now, my beautiful child.

This lady comes into my aisle—Jane—and she has with her a boy with Trisomy 21.

“I have an angel, too,” I say, and I’ve forgotten I’ve already told her so.

“Finn, right?”

“Yes—he’s six today!”

Jane’s son reminds me of Finn because, opposite his diagnosis, he’s long and lean. He’s tall for his age, yet wears spectacles. I’ve not seen him smile yet, which I’m sure he does, but he follows his mother like a rooster child. He’s beautiful and we shake hands.

I cherish beauty, more than anything else. I want to die of Stendahl’s Syndrome. My son—he provides. He wanders into our bed most nights come 2 a.m. and sleeps next to Momma. Almond eyes closed shut and thin flaxen hair. Blond eyelashes and long froggish legs always kicking against nothing in particular. Like I tell Jane: ‘he is my angel.’ Just no wings, curiously pumping feet, and a thumb resolutely stuck in mouth.

“I love you, Finn,” I say all the time. I watch the crows that don’t affect me anymore save for their raucous cries and curious behavior. I watch tem and don’t mind if they leave me a black feather. They are harbingers of nothing, just curious like my boy. I want them in my life, spread-winged and beautiful. Black angels in the eucalyptus trees.

Black angels, bad seeds: all of this my projection on things wherein life is otherwise perfect. Finn has taught me a lot. Six years old and magisterial.

I love you Finn. Happy birthday. Happy birthday.


Canyons, and Proof of Water

Today, I left my usual perch in the canyon, where I watch the crows (who have successfully fended off the hawks) to explore further into the gulley. I walked past the bungalow hidden in a copse of trees to find a series of makeshift benches and ramshackle drawbridges, more quizzical houses deep set in the ravine, and a series of stone and wood sculptures, proof that I’m not the only one that walks this walk.

Cayden graduated elementary school this morning, and it was like discovering a flagstone staircase, else a burgeoning flower on a warp of cactus. New, but not unseen before. New to me.

I couldn’t be a prouder dad. Gold merit awards, certificates of bilinguality. Cayde with his chosen bow tie and beaming smile. My furiously independent kid with his fading fuschia hair and curious questions, off to middle school where he wants to learn a third language and continue his math. My kid, MY kid, beautiful and rambunctious, explored and unexplored at once, like the gulley that opens up into a bigger canyon, a dry river bed that shows also proof of water.


Missing Janet

It begins again—the morning—where crows have replaced gulls, the squirrels run gaily up palm trees, and the woodpecker raps on anything tympanic to prove his skull is a sound thing, sound and sound, looking for a mate by tapping into any resonant thing that will prove he is a good forager and worthy companion.

The eucalyptus has dropped a few limbs; I have been up walking, then descending into my usual canyon sit where the aloe has managed a pup, and where the Australian trees have rooted and grown tall.

I walk this route every day, do my canyon sit; I say ‘hello’ to my friend, Chris, at Qwik Stop where I pick up a ginger beer and walk the avenues.

At 7 in the morning, the restaurant supply trucks come through, air brakes on point, grumbling their wares down Restaurant Row, and the joggers are out with absent-face determination. I like this antemeridian existence, where suddenly I recognize everyone that does, too. The dog-walkers and runners, the bus-riders and morning-risers. Awake with the sunrise and feeling the first light of the day; seeing it, but also feeling it.

Occasionally, only occasionally, it can be lonely. Like today. I miss Janet. I miss my Mamó.

“What do you always say about April?” Jenn asks, while she does her ablutions and I have a cup of coffee on the bathtub lip.

“April is the cruelest month.” This is from TS Eliot, also my memoirs.

April has taken away three people from me, three important ones. I don’t have a lot to say this morning; I fall laconic. What can you say sometimes?

Jenn rubs my knee and looks at me lovingly, wordless.



chrysalisI wake up with the sunrise everyday now. I make Jenny coffee and I sit outside to watch the horizon brighten. I have a particular chair I sit in. This a few hours after my Middle Awakening, when I’m up at one o’clock for an hour before settling back into bed.

A caterpillar has made its way up my chair, a bannister variety of chair with scroll arms and a rustic finish. The caterpillar made a chrysalis where its body will emulsify before being reformed, essentially liquefying itself before re-emerging more delicate and built of paper. More beautiful, like the magenta bougainvillea sepals that brighten our windows, else the poppies that have since bloomed.

Jenn was first to notice the cocoon and wrote to me: the caterpillar spinning itself with silk is not a metaphor, but a literal thing, an ornament on my chair, grey and comma-shaped and something saw-toothed.

But it is a metaphor. I insist.

I’ve been told I look younger these days, a Benjamin Buttons transformation, and more on butterfly wings than on spines. In being so, I feed on nectar now, and my fragility is less important that I am no longer an earth-bound thing.

A metaphor of metamorphosis. Both words from the Greek: the former meaning ‘to transfer’, the latter meaning, ultimately, ‘to transform.’


How We Can Die

How We Can Die: a Story

Frankie had asbestositis, terminal, but he told all the nurses, “See I still have all of my hair!” And he had a full head of fine black hair, coifed despite his pillow-rest.

“And all these are mine,” he said smiling counting the teeth in his head.

He was a dancing man, but was bed-bound. His nurse climbed into bed with him the evening before he died, and she flung her weight up and down on the bed so that Frankie could dance again, and one last time.

He died the next morning.

This is a true story.


Dear Delaney (3)

Dear Delaney:

1) The rain is gentle and it falls from a white sky. No perceptible clouds, just white. I stare at the sky with my wife who I love increasingly each day until my heart is a heart-shaped thing, and not just a muscle in my chest. I close my eyes and they are as blank as the sky, as if they had no memory.
2) Turns out I’m a good part Irish, but you probably knew that. You had intuition that was otherworldly, and I’m only now learning that you knew things about me that I didn’t when you were still alive. St. Thomasin.
3) I always wonder what you saw when you died—’det’ you called it in prediction of your demise—and when you said, “O there you are,” and I wonder who ‘you’ was, was it maybe that you saw yourself in a cosmic mirror, at the end of your life. You always meant to understand yourself.
4) I have split sleep this days: first and second, and in the witching hour I write and think of how we used to pen letters back and forth while the laundry tumbled at 2 in the morning and the only sound was the mockingbird that lives atop my roof.
5) Only five bulletpoints today, my Tin Man friend, five as a trinity but added with two, as we were, my Friend—a two of star-crossedness, and shy of Orion’s belt. I miss you, Delaney, and still love you. xo


The Holdfast

holdfastTook a beach walk with my family today, and—just as the morning started—the afternoon was interrupted, too, with silent and solitary meditation. Separated myself briefly and found a bench overlooking the ocean. We had been poring over the rocks looking for heart-shaped ones, my aunt and I, and remarked the tributaries of micah sand that flowed around the beds of stone. We looked for a kelp holdfast—didn’t find one—but when you break open a holdfast you can find brittlestars that fit on your thumbnail.

This morning I was awake and listened to last night’s rain drip methodically through the ficus leaves and this afternoon I saw the waters multiplied in the expanse of the ocean, me alone on a bench overlooking the sea. It’s the law of optics that the horizon is a mile distant, but in that short mile there was a multitude of colors, the grey of the crashing surf and the deep lilac of the more distant waters, just beautiful.

There was a lone surfer and an even more lone pelican, wings outstretched and riding the breeze, narrow and made to ride the zephyrs. All was quiet despite the multitude of Winnebago campers and the sun was something hazy behind the clouds.

Beauty reveals itself to those who watch, and my eyes were open, my knee something of hurt, but there on the bench—just like the bench in the canyon this morning—I cupped my hands and prayed to the Universe, accepting the calm, Laughing Buddha, watching as the sea expressed its sometimes peace. I was happy.


Dear Delaney (2)

Dear Delaney:

1) Guess what? My aunt revealed the results of her ancestry study today. Turns out I’m not 100% Dutch like I thought. I’ve got a good dose of Irish in me, which helps explain our kindred nature, and why you still appear to me in dreams, even if to walk by my side silent. Signs and omens, omens and signs.
2) This explains Finn, who you loved, all of red hair, fair skin, and blue eyes; a
unicorn like you. Finn McCool, you called him.
3) I stared at the ocean today.
4) I stared at a garden today.
5) You would burn white candles and crawl into the confines of an empty bathtub when you wanted to be chuted, your auti bits needing satisfaction, just like my brain which sometimes needs emptying and me needing chuting as well, wrapping myself deep in my grandmother’s quilt, just like your sojourns beneath your Gramma’s tree.
6) My uncle showed me a picture of the mausoleum plaque of my grandmother, where she resides in a wall, and it turns out her maiden name is a Dutch derivation of the French, Picard. I am French and Irish and Dutch: a N. European mutt. We have Viking ancestors, the both of us, and to have a funeral where they shoot a burning arrow to burn our bodies, just like when you went to the ‘toaster’ years ago, turning your mortal coil into something of ash.
7) You would like this: a million Adelie penguins were discovered in a place called Danger Island, which has an OZ sounding name, Tin Man. In a desert you’ve been to, a million penguins can still hide. They’ve been sought out for years. I know Feets is your number one, but how amazing to find so much life relocated?
8) I’m in love with my wife. In a way I’ve never known before. You were always curious about love.
9) I’m continuing your tradition of Breakfast Bops, and Janet’s revealing letters you’ve written. You are loved in your departure.
10) I love you forever, my Friend xo


Canyon Song

videoblocks-four-crows-fly-away-from-an-eucalyptus-tree-slow-motion_s5tz5_w5_thumbnail-small11I sit in the canyon and it’s not crepuscular, so fairly few birds are out. Crows dominate the scene and I ask myself: “What dominates me?” And an hour before, I laid with Jenn on the bed with my arms wrapped around her and I told her that she was my soulmate. With fullest intention, with all of my hummingbird heart.

And the crows were gliding, the warblers were absent, still I sat in the canyon with my stupid ginger beer and watched the trees as they creaked their eucalyptus voice.

Did you know I’m a writer? I write in my head constantly, even if just saying declarative words to post-stamp the things I see. I’m an existential notary. I’m a poet. ‘Bees.’ ‘Flower.’ ‘Children.’

I meet Kim at the top of the canyon and she’s sitting and thinking, too. Just with a bag of Cheetos and a cigarette.

“I’m Thom. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Kim. This canyon is nice.”

Her Toyota Camry is parked neatly, and I do this too. Park neatly and sit and think.

What crime is this to talk of the trees, when there are so many other horrors? Yet, the smell of clean laundry fills my nose, the sound of my baby’s laughter. Hearing my wife’s voice echo in my head like a kind Apollo’s helmet.

Just the sound of her voice, the canyon. Life and how to live it.