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.


Vignette 10 1/2

He has dreadlocks that—like Stevie Wonder—are beaded, just in gold. Cuffed pants, striped socks. Perhaps on something, because he’s clutching a selection of golf clubs and an iPad while sitting on the staircase next to the bar at 8 in the morning.

I am nonplussed. This morning I said my mantras, and the sun peeked and warmed me.

“What’s up, Brother? That’s a good song,” I say because he’s playing Vampire Weekend and I like Vampire Weekend.

“I like this song, too,” he says flashing a smile while wielding a nine iron and wandering a circle.

I like this song, too.


Vignette Nine

My hand has developed a new crease from where it rests on the laptop, and a new callous.

Cayde’s mouth hurts; he stays home from school, where Jenn, too, is sleeping.

We go to Luigis for some pie and billiards. The table is out of order, so we play shuffleboard.

A police officer walks up and at first I think truancy, but the guy just asks if Cayde wants a sticker; I say ‘yes’ and he goes to his SUV and delivers Cayde a badge.

“Thank you for your service,” I shake his hand. Because my cousin-in-law is blue and has seen people crumpled accordion in their car and has also been tasked with finding decapitated heads down the freeway markers. He shakes my hand with a grip that is as hard as the grip I lend to him.

We play shuffleboard and Cayde comes back to beat me: 11-10. He is a whiz.

The veggie pizza is the best and we leave badged and better, pie in the belly and loving this place we call home, life precious.


Hummingbird Heart

hummingbird heartTwice in the canyon today. Once at daybreak when it was 37 degrees and the birds were waking; second time in a more crepuscular hour when an explosion of parrots dominated the eucalyptus, conure hybrids from escaped cages happy to be alive.

Cayde was away in the desert with his cousins, watching the jet planes do their practice runs, and there was a particular ease to the day. I had Finn for the better part of the morning and—typical—he asked for ‘Wench Wies’ (French Fries) so I atypically took him to the fast food joint where we could get a cheeseburger to share, and where he could get his potatoes. We sat in the breakfast nook, and passed the burger back and forth, exchanging bites. Later, when I was writing, he snuck into my closet and—discovering some foot powder—gleefully antiqued the house with aplomb, dusting everything in white. Little imp. Too tired to clean things up, me having been awake since three, we just retired to bed leaving the house white as an Elizabethan mask, his stuffies and rugs resolutely covered in talcum snow.

Jenn and I cleaned things up later—together—a quiet team, and it was then that Jenn showed me the mail. We received some monies—substantial monies, monies with promised and residual return that will change our lives.

And I celebrated by taking a walk to the canyon where I would see the paraques and warblers, but first I passed the bar where Mac was working and I swung around the countertop to hug and kiss her because she is beautiful and teaches piano to children; still I said: “just passing through.” And Mac gripped my hand seeing that I was happy and because my life is an Altman film starring Richard Gere, and I sat in the canyon with the leaves all fire-shot and stared at the beauty of a telephone pole which peeks out over the canyon rim.

On the way home, I serendipitously ran into Jenn who was just leaving in her car to pick up Cayde and I climbed in so we could all be together. Once in the backseat Cayde said all these bodhisattva things, my little foul-mouthed empath, who also said: “Mommy—you have a shitty memory—sometimes you say things to me twice in a row.” My little bodhisattva boy whose head is matched by his heart and who remarks to me that he wants to help the homeless and cries at movies when families get separated.

We went to a chicken joint to celebrate where we sat beneath space heaters and were warmed inside and out, me enjoying a bed of chicken oysters and celebratory libation, and where I looked lovingly at my bride, my champion, my girl, my Isolde, the love of my life (and I’m the Story of hers); and felt the contentment of being in absolute control of my destiny, no longer feeling lost as the setting moon, wanting only the sunshine of better days.

Every day is a new day, some better than others, and today was a day writ in giant red letters, like the Beatitudes, and I was happy for everything in my life: napping with Finn in a talcum-dusted house; hearing Cayde, my backseat Buddha, speak his compassion; working together with my wife in loving our family; the explosions of birds, which not only populate the trees but which explode thrice in this, my hummingbird heart.


Dear Delaney (1)

Dear Delaney:

1) The day begins in the devil’s rain, and I am bodhisattva outside and my kid is spinning in it while my other one crawls into my lap on my perch on the porch.
2) I help walk Nic’s dogs and I take her into the canyon. She has a hummingbird tattooed on her right forearm and I want to show her the baby hummingbird that just learned to fly. They’re her spirit animal, and the dogs run around the canyon and we speak poetry sitting in a think spot while having coffee and the two hawks are there in attendance.
3) I chat with Elaine and it’s gotten to where we finish each other’s sentences and we share writings back and forth.
4) I have a great date with Frances Hap-Top. (she’s my laptop) I write prose with a stopwatch as challenge. I make beauty in ten minutes; I make beauty despite my name being writ on water, and with there being a need for permanence.
5) I meet Sara at Thorn St. and it’s like we’re new old friends, and we have some Japanese lager and chat furiously and I’m able to close out my tab while still sober, and I go home to where I’ve decorated the house in clippings of yarrow and lavender and where my wife is home.
6) Our friend Gary sends me menus and today I got the prize from Gary’s venture at Robuchon; Sara does the same thing: all this collecting of cookbooks and menus and today I scribble down suggestions for Ottolenghi; she collects Lucky Peach just like the t-shirt Gary sent me from Momofuku, but despite her husband being a chef doesn’t know Ottolenghi so I underscore the titles she needs to buy.
7) I bathe with charcoal and pine tar. I have a shrimp burrito with griddled cheese and chipotle mayonnaise. I have a burger with avocado and jalapenos, bacon and mushrooms. I know you appreciate the details.
8) I go see the Globetrotters with Cayde. Not sure if you’re aware of them, but they are the best. Cayde signals to me that the courtside seats are unsold, so we spend the last half of the show in the front row and high-five all the players. You’d totally dig this Delaney since you could do back-flips off a bar-top, but they set up a trsmpoline in front of a backboard and did somersaults and forward flips while shooting dunks. I yelled till I was hoarse.
9) I wrote part of a song today and am going to collaborate with my musician friends to grow it.
10) I make coffee for Jenn and sit with her as she applies makeup. “You’re the love of my life,” I say; “You’re the fucking story of mine,” she says, as we kiss in the rain.
11) Nic tells me a funny joke: “How do you tell when a blonde’s having a bad day?”……””When there’s a tampon behind her ear and she can’t find her pencil.” I know you’d find that funny. I tell Nic what Freud says about laughter, that it’s the id breaking through.
12) I go on a late night walk and get some ginger bee from Ricardo and we discuss cooking and the proper way to make a stesk. We shake hands compadre.
13) My cat keeps waking up my kid with her yowls; she wants my attention.

It was the best day, Delaney. Thought you should know. Love you, my Friend. Wings out and xo.


Backseat Buddha

rosecrans_st_eb_at_pacific_hwy_02The man in the magenta sweatshirt wanders across the freeway exchange to stare quizzically at the interstate sign, as if marveling at the number five for the first time, some neanderthalian wonder at the curious hashmarks and curlicues that signify, signify something. He stands there staring at the five and we have to slow the car to allow him his confoundment and our instant reaction is to laugh: WTF?
But our little backseat Buddha pipes up at the sound of our nervous chuckling.

“Mommy,” Cayden says, dead on sober, “Don’t laugh. That man’s just struggling in life.”

And Jenn and I look at each other, completely schooled by a ten-year old, who empathically noted that the man reading the sign was signing to us that his brave walk across the freeway and his cock-headed study of the interstate marker was not exactly normal, and despite the sardonic humor of the situation, was signal to Cayde that the man was not well. We all struggle.