Shut Your Eyes

“Doe je ogen dicht,” my mother invariably said whenever a breast came onscreen, even if silhouetted; she’d say it, as well, when a Hollywood kiss languored for two seconds too long.

Dutch for: “Shut your eyes.” And obediently I would.

Except that I always peeked. Having been already exposed to a bikini-clad Princess Leia; also the long-legged Gillette model that, at every General Hospital advertisement break sank sighingly into a bathtub of shaving cream; my libido was already and irreversibly informed before graduating first grade.

This wasn’t, mind you, warning of any precocious or untoward sexuality, rather proof of a normal one.

Regardless, I did get into trouble once with the playground aide. She blew a whistle on my particular wrapped-leg negotiation of the monkey bars, and she glared at me with an aspersive contempt generally reserved for vicars and Victorians. I was banned to the classroom for the remainder of recess, and I was confused for years as to what crime I’d committed, why my head was assigned to the desk.

“Doe je ogen dicht.”

Sexuality is a long-formed identity, not a swift and overnight maturation. Science class had us watching time-lapse films of seeds erupting into germinal tender, then flowers, then back to seed. It was all bad metaphor and precursor to the later conversations we would have about sex, that puberty blossomed as eruptively and quickly as the fast-forward flower on a science reel, that it needed be addressed as such.

Sex-ed was hidden beneath the innocuous term ‘Family Studies’, a pronouncedly sixth grade thing. It was a class to explain the suddenly sprouted hairs and the sudden need for hygienic pads, a week-long discussion only.

One week, then we’d return to the regularly scheduled program of dissecting frog bellies and discussing transitive properties. It was The Talk, school-sponsored, parental signature of approval necessary.

I remember my principal, Windsor-knotted and blazer unshed, responding to a group of playground-sweaty kids. He pulled pieces of paper from the lottery of anonymous questions.

“How does sex feel? Well, it’s nice actually,” he intoned.

The principal used the words ‘wave’ and ‘pleasure’ with little elaboration, unenthusiastically, even; he cleared his throat, then wandered rhetorically back to the idea of ‘responsibility’ before pulling a second question from the lottery. It was about puberty. He seemed more comfortable with the second question: scientific, anatomical, a do-able. Meantime, though, there were kids burgeoning adolescence, wondering, “What do these combined things mean?”

Birds and bees could’ve buzzed the room and landed in the rafters. Meanwhile, we just learned sex was pretty ok and that menses had to do with uteri. There was also something about Eve.

‘Take the Talk Home’ was the suggestion, in which case my dad unearthed his college textbooks and laid them out on the dining-room table every night after dinner. I got The Talk.

The textbooks, they were gross-anatomy textbooks. At the age of nine, and in eye-opening detail, I learned well before most nineteen year olds–the sweaty and unversed drive-in breast-petters–where exactly everything is located. There were glossy and colored diagrams, lines pointing to the mons, all the majoras and minoras, frenula and deferens. I knew all this years before ever seeing a tri-fold spread. My dad took The Talk seriously. Brass tacks, learn the Grey’s version of things, black and white, before the bees began buzzing too loudly in errant bee-direction.

He was beyond clinical though. It’s something I’ve held onto all these years and where I’ve always been hugely impressed with my dad. Over the cracked textbooks, my dad talked about sex as practice; as an expansive and loving act; not just a curiosity or an anatomic locking of A into B. We talked about sex as function, sex as expression, sex as technique. Imagine Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ paired with an instruction manual.

My dad did beyond well. He could have an emeritus in Family Studies.

I vowed I would do this, too—This Talk—with my own and eldest son. I was nine when I was allowed to open my eyes and understand that blossoming happens in slo-motion, that tender shoots need informative direction well before bolt and bloom. I have sons, not daughters—just like my dad—and I was prepared to pass on my dad’s wisdom.

Except I didn’t get the first chance.

My wife was driving, and my son was eight. From the backseat, and while Mama was navigating the roads, my son described something his friend had shown him. It wasn’t as if the boys had discovered a musty cache´of National Geographics in an attic somewhere, had tittered nervously over the photographs of tribal breasts, or milk-feeding women in Scandinavia–natural, beautiful anthropological pictures, women with mammaries, not ‘tits.’ They had found an internet cache´ instead, involving derogatory terms, crude hashtags, explicit video.

It’s how you as a parent fear so much easy access. What do you say, when The Talk seems usurped by broadband? The trick is—and it’s not a trick—you keep talking. You talk talk talk.

My wife was driving, so the conversation was necessarily obstructed by means of a headrest.

“That’s not exactly Love, Sweetie. That’s fake,” and my wife had to look into the rear-view to make her point, worried, and with hands gripping the wheel all the more tightly.

“That’s people pretending they’re in love.”

I tell Cayde later, “It’s ok. There’s a lot to learn. We’ll keep talking.”

I have to tell him sometimes: “That’s to yourself,” and I never chastise him, though now he knows how babies are made and his bath-time is his.

At the Home Depot, Cayde plays a game of ‘Hot Lava’, and he occasionally hurls himself onto a pile of fertilizer, the concrete floor something imaginarily magma. There are rows of plants, perennials and annuals, and I explain the difference.

“The perennials seed but keep living; the annuals don’t.”

He sits on a bag of compost.

“I never choose annuals, Kid. I don’t like ripping out dead flowers. The annuals only last a few months.”

“This,” and I finger a bladed Strelitzia, “This lives, right?” When you tap the purple on a Bird of Paradise, the seeds get exposed.

“Seeds, Dude.”

He smiles.

“These make more flowers, Kid.”

He nods; he literally sits on manure, but his feet are clear of lava.

“You and me, Kid, let’s pick out some more plants.”

He runs off.

“Hey! The ones that haven’t blossomed just yet!,” and I roll my fingers to rid the seeds and they drop on the concrete.

He picks a flower with a stalwart stamen, a phaelonopsis and a bit something Georgia O’Keefe. The Talk, then, must continue.

There is an incredible online resource now with videos that aid in The Talk: amaze.org. Great and accessible videos, which can help you with what is, always, a difficult conversation. You can follow the Amaze parents for #MoreInfoLessWeird on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AMAZEparents/ I have been compensated for this post, but all the views are my own, particularly the admiration I have for my father in doing The Talk well, and in hopes of continuing the same conversation with my sons.

Plank Pose

“You will need these blocks. No, no. Beneath the shoulders. This one, your hip.”

She taps my waist without permission, and suddenly I’m suspended on blocks in a pose I used to be familiar with, one I could do by myself, and now I’m pilloried by Styrofoam bricks; it’s a bad day when your yoga instructor has seemingly forgotten that breath is the most important thing, and instead positions your legs and arms A, B, & C; when she positions you like a wayward starfish in a recessed tide, and you’re left holding your air in a darkened studio.

My wife does a headstand against the mirror. She used to be a hundred pounds heavier, a weight which has transferred its molecules somehow to this part of me which doesn’t show it’s gain, but sits heavy regardless.

We change poses and the instructor is relentless. She slides a metal chair my direction because she thinks my Downward Dog is somehow inaccurate and all I want to do is breathe, so I can continue breathing, and she keeps making me stop; my diaphragm holds a hitch and I try to not cry. We’re not at Child’s pose after all. Can we just Shivasna already?

She positions my hands on the chair, and this is embarrassing. She says, “You’re not having a good day,” which is superfluous because she’s having me plank on a folding chair, telling me to straighten out when one look at my spine would inform her that I’m completely crooked.

“Better?” she asks.

How do I say, ‘no.’

“Sure. Better.”

At the front of the class, Ann demonstrates a perfect and unsupported headstand, a straight and poised line, and I want to be her for just a second, in order to feel some sort of alignment, which my body can’t seem to handle at present.

I draw up a plan to somehow survive this class; I draw up a plan, and it takes me a few days to find my breath, but part of the plan requires not quitting.

 

 

 

 

 

Erased

The morning is meant to begin somehow, a reckoning, or change in birdsong. When the mockingbirds finally quiet, and the doves murmur apologies, that’s when Andy throws a cord of wood into the pit’s smoker, which sits like a galvanized submarine at the end of Thorn St., a black matte thing, cylindrical, and neatly welded. It belches smoke before the neighbors can crack their windows, else—if windows are cracked—the smoker still acts as a pre-dawn and somehow undetected something, just part of the morning, like the first pour-overs of coffee, else the rustle of corvids sounding like sheeted plastic when grubbing for palm nuts in the fronds.

Scent is the furthest sense away from our notice, but the first to conjure memory. Which means I will not forget this time nor place though I ignore the mesquite, the early waftings like fire in milky brush, the sap having to sizzle away before the wood burns correctly and without any startling snap; you don’t hear it except when nearby stoking the fire.

You have a sense of smoke, but that’s also the sunrise rising, and everything dissipative in the morning: the steam off a cup of coffee; the new clouds which the night made old; the water heating the brass fixtures, the brass heating the shower.

It’s the crickets that you realize have been ceaseless—for how long? They rise and fall in volume, yet exhibit a particular algebra when they saw legs, when you want sawn logs, and when there is nothing of difference.

It’s morning, and you smell it, morning and mesquite, both the same.

“I have this idea,” Chris suddenly says.

Chris is dead. So is Italo. In different ways, they are dead. Italo, though,–he crafted a monkeywood sculpture that still sits at the local Thai place. Italo had the clever idea of soldering chain-link so that it stands forever upright, so it never collapse into coils on the floor. Has its place next to the monkeywood sculpture. This is cunning immortality, if you think about it.

The chain stands frozen next to a five-foot pillar of a statue, a human figure with limbs still congealed in media, arms frozen to hips as with alabaster chessmen. The whole thing’s done up in tempera. Italo liked tempera.

“It is stupid, tempera.” He’d lean in. “The Acropolis was a whore. Painted up with color thousands of years ago. All this garish egg paint. It’s white now,” he’d say dangling a demitasse from his pinky. He used fresco recipes to slapdash whatever sculpture he could unfinish, knowing that the tempera was bound to fade. Apparently some Rembrandts, the deep dank Rembrandts, are still wet beneath six inches of oil redux.

“I order all these monkey-men from a warehouse in Tibet. I say, ‘Give me all of them, give me all the monkey-men.’ I love them, my little soldiers,” he scratched his temples, the seemingly only well-groomed part of him. “Let the monkey-men turn white again, then people will think I’m genius.”

He said, “Here, here,” to me and Chris, “I love these cranberry bagels. Have some. You are my protégés. We share coffee.” We sat in a grove beneath old-growth eucalyptus that still had paper-thin bark.

He wagged a finger and spoke quietly, “The Parthenon is an ugly thing because it became beautiful by accident.”

“Make things ugly first, on purpose,” he gnawed a half-bagel. “Make ugly things.”

“Tempera,” he points suddenly and inexplicably upward, “I use it. It is the best disappearing ink.“ Chris hooked half a bagel toward himself and chewed laconically.

Chris disappeared in Czechoslovakia, when ten pairs of Levis could afford you decent digs, and when Prague was advertised as the city of spires and bridges. All these cantilevered and beveled constructions, romantic in their concrete and wire defiance of physics, leaden exercises in suspension.

“Hello from Praha,” Chris would at some point write to me, a postcard done up in dumb paint with scrawl on the back. He had an upcoming art show. “In beautiful Czech Krimsky R—-“. The R— word was illegible, else cut off, because he was dead before the postcard arrived Par Avion. He was found face down in a bar, supposedly having slipped on ice outside the absint establishment, which placed a half-pour in front of him as subterfuge before the coroners could collect him. The bruises, though, were obvious on the soft of his neck, two heady whacks to the brain stem, which loosened up the passport from his pocket and left Chris without any ID, which had him shelved for three weeks as John Doe in the morgue before his parents began their Transatlantic search.

“I feel…,” he said before the blue set in beneath his eyes and cyanotically discolored his cheeks.

“I have this idea,” Chris says, leaning against the porch railing. His idea was more an observation that, like loosely drawn curtains that can either be open or closed, didn’t solidify him in any tense except the soon to be preterite.

“These vans that go by,” and we are near the University, “They have ‘Information Destruction’ written on their sides.” And he half-heaves himself over the railing, anchored by his elbows. He lands back on the concrete in soft sneakers.

“What if they actually vacuumed up everything?”

“You sound high. They just get rid of all the files and shit.”

“No, no. Like, wherever they drove, everything just disappeared.”

Chris scoots a geranium pot from one side of the porch to the other with a scraping sound and does the same railing trick, just backwards this time.

“Like, gone,” feet landing on the ground again, “And you could drive one of these vans and get rid of stuff, just erase everything.”

“Yep. You’re totally high.”

He twirls against the railing. “They’d play ice-cream chimes. Minor key. And, <shwoop>, no more dog-walkers. No more cars. Complete takeaway of information.”

“That’s not what the trucks mean.” I pause, then nod approvingly. “Still it does sound delightfully sinister.” He lights a cigarette.

The crickets are forever chirping because the house is situated over a crawlspace and it’s easy for them to seek shelter up through the pantry and into the warm corners behind the fridge. You get used to them, eventually, just like you get used to the mockingbirds so much that you no longer notice when they become doves; or when the juncos start their flitting and antemeridial search for bugs to feed the cowbirds crowding their nests, the children that don’t resemble them but which the juncos take care of anyway.

Chris was maybe 5’7”, short of average and with forever-sleepy eyes that seemed sleepy as affect. Always the thrift store cardigan, the threadbare canvas shoes, and unkempt hair. He was unpolished to perfect blemish, insouciant and under-eye bruisy. He was from Santa Cruz, and pincered his cigarettes accordingly. Chris boiled water for tea thrice daily in his kitchenette.

“Tea. You?”

“No, thanks.” I have my coffee.

“Fixes nothing, you know, you Degenerate,” I remark.

“It’s not supposed to fix anything,” he smiles, “But why not pretend?”

And the cars sit monumental, temporarily stopped. Andy throws the first logs into the fire to stir the air, which in actuality is just contribution to the morning, a new piece of the fabric. If the fire weren’t there, the morning would be incomplete. If I stopped waking up, as Chris did, the world would cease.

The mockingbirds of recent attention have stopped mimicking other birdsongs. They’ve taken to reproducing ringtones.

Hanging above the tea cannisters is a painting in unlikely color, something Chris has tacked to the inside of the cupboard. The woman depicted is ugly, else the painting is, and the fingers are prominent.

“You’re obviously not DeKooning, Friend. ‘The fuck is that piece?”

“Karen,” Chris says stirring honey into his tea. “Her name ‘s Karen. She presides over the Darjeeling.”

“She’s goddamn ugly.”

Chris taps his nose and acrobats onto the counter with a brimming mug, barely a slosh.

“But she’s got mighty fine fingers,” and he pats his crotch.

“Oh, shut up.”

The cars will sit for another hour, motionless, designed to look in motion even when stopped. It’s like a car can’t even be parked anymore, aerodynamic to the point of improbability.

Chris dangles his legs over the bar, the tea a medicinal effluvia of wet twigs. He scratches his scuff.

“Knew her in Santa Cruz. She’s down here now. Thought things could work out.”

He shakes his head. “Didn’t work out, but…” he trails off, touches his chin to his chest and rubs the back of his head. He moves his hand to cover one eye, then looks up to grin impishly, holds the tea cup at chin-level.

“Whatever,” he finishes. He inhales a laugh, which has him just rocking in his perch briefly, and he ponders a sip, rubs the side of his nose.

“Whatever.”

Italo would pace the classroom, and on unexpected days, he’d replace his belt with a braided rope. Always the same corduroys though, with wide waling and three colors of brown flecking the pants, the cuffs ragged at the bottom, and burnt marshmallow loafers.

His studio was set up in an abandoned water tower, a literal cylinder where you could walk literal circles around your work. It was junked up with monkey-men and chains and salvage-yard finds.

“That is DOPEY,” he’d berate a student occasionally. “You’re not dopey. Why do you make dopey?”

He’d walk across the room to readjust a needle on a turntable.

“I love Phillip Glass. All this modern jazz —no return to theme. Like when I first came to New York. I thought: why does everyone in America like yellow so much? Yellow is the worst color, so distracting, and all these cars. Yellow. Why?”

He slapped Chris upside the head.

“Dopey.”

Chris grinned, and ducked accordingly.

“Just exploring the media, Prof,” as he squished clay into another unrecognizable mess.

“They were taxis. I thought everyone just liked yellow cars. You people. I like the UPS trucks, you know. THAT is a fantastic color. Should all taxis be like that.”

“Was kidding about Karen, y’know,” I tell Chris.

“Oh, I know.”

Wet twigs make for bad perfume.

“Sorry—didn’t know she was your girlfriend.”

“Yeah.”

The crickets chirp, now I realize in chorus with the ceiling fan, the thrumming of regular noise, which by its constancy, fakes a rise and fall in pitch. There is actually no greying of white noise; it exists as an operant singing through radiator vents and conduits. The fan pulses, less helicopter than suggested; it’s the inconsistent buzzing of a light bulb fritzing out, the grinding and electric noise of insecure things. The fan swings on its swivel.

Chris ponders his tea, and points.

“Rauschenberg erased that DeKooning canvas, remember?”

I nod.

“Made it his own by erasing it.”

“Balls.”

“Erased DeKooning,” he announces, as if having erased the canvas himself, stupid art student.

Chris died on the street; in actuality he died in the bar, but his life escaped him on the street, that moment he crumpled and wondered, on hands and knees, what had hit him exactly—what was fastly deleting him. No blood, just a purpling contusion that surrounded his brain stem, which made him less likely to breathe, more likely to sleep.

When you don’t what’s hit you, there’s nothing to struggle against. It’s the cheapest, least fulfilling manner out.

Chris taps the overhead lamp; it’s flickering. “Karen—I really like her. I’d really like to be with her.”

“I don’t doubt you, Dude.”

“Wanna beer?”

“No—‘m good.”

Chris hit his head on the bar once, fell bodily, pulled himself up a second time and managed a drunkard’s posture with forehead against crossed forearms. He turned his head to exhale and let his right ear fall against the recess of his elbow. Cleared his throat.

The end of the bar was hinged, south of a football jersey stapled against the wall, red and black, the colors which shifted as Chris nestled deeper into his forearm.

Red. Purple.

Green, green with one eye open, the outline of the jersey in luminescent green as his pupils penned.

Please, back to purple, please, not green, please, back to purple, don’t. The number three, no eight, please don’t

“Buddy. BUDDY.” The bartender nudged Chris’ shoulder and Chris’ head slipped its hold, his nose falling bent against the bar. His mouth fell slack.

Green.

Chris was served an absinthe, on the house, while his cheeks turned blue.

“Yellow,” Italo announces, and seeing Chris’ gaze, “No, no, no. Have some more bagel.”

Chris picks at the crumbs, dislodges a cranberry for inspection.

“Yellow is dopey. Make nothing dopey. Yellow is the worst color, hard to erase. I like green, but that is me,” and he situates his coffee cup next to a small plate.

“Still–it must be erasable.” He crosses his arms. “There are colors you can’t forget; to be forgettable is the way to memory.”

“Do you ACTUALLY believe yourself, Italo?” Christopher asked, smiling, flicking the cranberry to the floor.

Italo leaned back in his chair. “I remember all the taxis,” he laughed, “But also I don’t. You see?”

Andy stokes the fire pit, and the embers match the orange sky. He rakes the coals to either side, watches them wither from black to white. There is the snap of mesquite releasing its hidden syrup and the brushing of the grill. There’s waiting for the fire to extinguish and the subsequent delivery of smoke, the smoke that eventually wafts past the porch and lingers in the gable as parcel to the morning. The mockingbirds have stopped; now the juncos, now the crows.

Karen told me that Chris was gone, years ago, a postcard of regret, a condolence, her fingers touching my shoulder.

“His parents were a wreck.”

“I imagine.”

I always have a hard time remembering his face, and the crows pick through palm nuts as if imagining there’s food buried deep within, their feet losing traction on slippery fronds. Cars are stopped, there is the scent of tea; there is signal of a present tense, and the morning begins and begins and begins again.

 

 

Magic Sprinkles

“Can you come into my bed for a second?” Cayde says, “Or Mommy. I want to talk about Grandma Carole.”

And Mommy may have been the better choice since Grandma Carole in Heaven is Jenn’s mom, departed; but the opposite could be true in that my eyes would be less wet, my voice less quavering, in talking about her.

Still, I was there when Carole passed; I at least knew her and Cayden is bothered because he didn’t.

“What I want, Daddy,” and he pauses, “Wherever Grandma Carole lives is I hope she eats something with sprinkles, like magic sprinkles, and that she winds up standing alive on top of her grave.” He pauses again.

“Well she doesn’t have to be where she’s buried? But she gets to come walking through the door while I’m watching TV or something, and that I get to meet her for the first time.”

“…”

“I bet she was really smart. Her brain was too big, why it probably didn’t fit in her head.”

I tear up, don’t undermine his logic. The surgery hadn’t worked, but he didn’t need to know all that.

“The heart’s supposed to be as big as your fist. I bet hers filled her whole chest.”

“Yeah, Cayde. It did.”

I look at him.

“You look like her a bit, you know. You look a little like me, a little like your mom. Finn looks like me.”

“Uncle Timmy, he looks like…”

“Uncle Chris?”

“Yeah, Uncle Chris, but Chris looks more like Baba. Timmy and your Mom look a bit more like Grandma Carole,” I explain. “We all look like each other. We’re family.”

“Listen, Kid—you know how some women wear headscarves? Dresses to hide their faces?”

“Yeah—like Indian women?”

I don’t want to get into any Cultural Studies; it’s not the point.

“Well, sometimes. Anyway, I met this mom and dad once—their kids, too—and she was wearing this headscarf and I couldn’t see her face, but I looked at her and her husband, then her kids and I kinduv knew what she looked like though I couldn’t exactly see her.”

“Not supposed to see her,” I correct. I hope he doesn’t ask why not. All not the point.

“How’d you know?”

“Because. Family looks like each other. And YOU look a bit like Grandma Carole. I remember what she looks like when I see your nose, or Mom’s nose. I can close my eyes and still see her. Momma has her cheeks, so does Uncle Timmy. It’s how I remember Grandma Carole.”

I worry about my analogy, but Cayde seems satisfied and I know he’s following as best possible.

“I wish she was still here.”

“We all do, Friend. It’s ok. You can have these thoughts.” I pat him on the leg and kiss his head.

“Not sure about magic sprinkles, though. We can look at pictures in the morning, at least.”

“You, ok, Kid?”

He pulls bedsheets over his shoulder in response and buries into the pillow.

“I’m ok, Daddy. Love you.”

I linger before turning out the light, before the moment comes when it’s dark and I can’t see his face and when, lastly, it’s just the white of the bed sheet as he goes to sleep.

Rachmaninoff Hands

The surgeon who fixed Finn’s heart had Pygmalion hands, well scrubbed and seemingly cast of marble. Hands you’d want to see in a surgeon, with long fingers, tapered at each knuckle, nails buffed and professionally rounded.

These are hands you’d allow into your child, because—as the surgeon explained a day prior to procedure—this surgery necessitates a cracked chest-bone and exposed viscera. So far as infants are concerned, the heart rests close to the spine, a fact you realize once the rib cage is open like a grotesque and calcified blossom. The heart beats slow and sedated while awaiting the scalpel.

You’d like ‘nimble’ to be a resident fact on the doctor’s CV.

This isn’t like junior high when you’re slicing into frog alimentaries with a dull X-acto and making off-color jokes with your tablemates.

Finn’s surgeon could have passed for a Bond villain. I say this approvingly. He sported a Vanderbilt haircut; a Slovakian name; hands you could envision, within a different context, cinematically threading a silencer onto the barrel of gun. No apparent emotion, his only obvious proclivities being a surgical precision of language and a double-starch of the lapels.

You want an assassin when it comes to life and death. Assassins have good trigger-control.

“It vill be fine,” he held up palms. I thought of Rachmaninoff, who himself had long and expressive hands, the result, perhaps, of acromegaly: a genetic defect of human growth hormone. Genetic defects had been on my mind for the last three months. Finn was diagnosed with Down Syndrome shortly after birth.

The surgeon was either unerringly decaffeinated, else a Batman-type who maybe woke early everyday, breakfasting on half a grapefruit sprinkled with cinnamon; a neat and measured demitasse of espresso; and a plain hard-boiled egg. He was a man who had control of his faculties, who would maybe finish his evening with ten sets of rowing exercises in a cedar-lined room before retiring cross-armed to a mattress. He wore no ring on any of his impressive digits.

Me, on the other hand—I have dumb and stubby fingers. On the day Findlay was born, I sat in a fluorescent-lit hallway, too early, fumbling a Nikon camera and checking the light registers by taking pictures of the ‘Exit’ sign. I was in the hallway because hospitals sometimes make dads tourists in the birthing process, especially when C-sections are involved. The hospital either aids else emasculates Dad by curtaining him off from his wife before she’s cut open. Both my kids were born this way. I’ve therefore seen my fair share of hallways and surgical drapes, spent much time twiddling my clumsy thumbs.

‘You can’t handle this. Go sit for a spell.’ Take the pictures, cut the cord, be the et cetera, just don’t be here to hold any hands. We’re literally going to remove your wife’s insides for a minute and set them atop her chest.

<Click> ‘Exit.’

I can actually handle these things, just like I could’ve held the surgeon’s hand while he knived tissue from my son’s pericardium to later sew into his heart. I can, I could’ve. These are heart and gut things, and I specialize in heart and gut things. I’m still bad with a camera, though.

<Click>

The obstetrician who delivered my son had massive hands, a celestial exaggeration of his calling: a guy engineered to pull life into the world on the regular. The backs of his hands were neatly haired, fingers smoothed by pumice and iodine, still masculine despite their polish.

When he lifted my son into the world, he held a red-haired, flap-eared raisin up for review, and my initial and guilty thought was that Findlay was not as beautiful as Cayden upon leaving the uterus.

The obstetrician was triumphant, hands clasped around Finn’s waist and the baby was passed to robotic attendants who were eager to wrap Findlay’s frog-belly into swaddles.

“Dad—come here for pictures!” And I cut Findlay’s cord like I hadn’t with my eldest son, Cayden. The nurses had me fake cut it a second time because the first picture came out blurry.

“Why isn’t Dad cutting the cord?” Cayden’s attendants had asked five years prior, and from behind surgical masks. With their mouths covered, you could only see the nurses’ raised eyebrows. There was a table lined with blue huck cloth and neatly autoclaved steel, but goddamn if the only instrument they cared about was the camera. How you complete memories with the only unsterilized gadget in the room.

My hands were busy holding my wife’s hair in a bundle. She was puking into a plastic depository, and my hands were better deployed holding her sweaty ponytail, while the surgeon re-threaded her fascia and peritoneum back together with God-knows-how-large a needle.

“Guess, Dad’s not cutting the cord,” the nurses shrugged, while my wife retched for a second anesthesia-induced time.

Fast-forward five years and Findlay’s obstetrician, triumphant, hadn’t noticed that he’d just delivered a baby informed with excess, noadisjunct chromosomes. Essentially: Trisomy-21, in a womb-soggy, redheaded vehicle. Findlay had these constellated eyes that still and stubbornly remain Sinatra blue. They were open.

The OBGYN passed off Finn to the attendants without remark. It was akin to having just delivered a unicorn while deeming it a horse.

Children with Down Syndrome often have Brushfield spots, these stars that ring the iris. It’s a trick of the tissue, something buried deep in the 21st chromosome, and it’s a tell–an obvious one. Kids don’t usually have galaxies for eyes before getting their first astronomy book.

Obstetricians aren’t palm-readers, either, nor do they always look deep into infants’ eye upon birth. Doctors have flesh to sew, which is a real and corporeal thing, especially when narrowly looking through the fenestrated window of a surgical cloth. There’s the room full of bustle and the next appointment to consider.

Also, the lights in the OR are bright. They don’t always reveal the miracle of birth or its sometimes accidents. I’m sure the lights better highlight the work left to do, the reds and yellows of things left to close, the blue nitrile gloves and the Betadine-swabbed torsos. I figure the obvious is most likely ignored when urgency takes precedence and the attendant nurse hands you a stainless-steel tray of sharp things.

“He’s healthy! It’s a boy!” There’s the declaration, but then the obstetrician has to duck back down, thread a needle, and remember the stitch-loops he’s practiced on apple-skins back in med-school (form a bight in the end of the line, and tie an overhand knot, form a bight in the end of the line and tie an overhand knot…)

These things we do with our hands.

We generally always see the backs of our hands, never our palms, when working. Unless, of course, we’re juggling. But juggling is a trick, and work is not. Palm-reading is also a trick, but as mentioned, doctors aren’t palm readers.

When a doctor delivers a baby by C-section, the doctor’s thumb is perhaps the first thing the baby grips. The baby wraps his hand around any of the doctor’s available fingers, and hides his palm by enfolding it around the digits that delivered him.

The OBGYN didn’t see Finn’s eyes, or Finn’s single palmar crease when delivering my son. Finn, like a good blackjack player, hid his ‘21’ when holding the doctor’s thumb.

‘Always hide your hand,’ is the advice.

Finn, apparently, knew as much in the womb. The single palmar crease, like the constellated and almond eyes, is an obvious tell that a newborn has Down Syndrome. It wasn’t until the Recovery Room that these things were noticed. The attendants there were better palm-readers.

As far as fortune-telling goes, Finn’s diagnosis came with its predictions, less psychic than scientific.

“He’ll most likely have a heart defect.”

“He’ll most likely need surgery.”

“His heart will most likely be ok.”

At the hospital, days before scrubbing in, they show you a plastic doll with a multitude of wires trailing from its pretend heart-space. It’s a mock-up so that you’re prepared to see your baby hooked up to as many, if not more, cords and filaments and sensors immediately following surgery.

The sight is enough to make your own heart feel suspended by wire, cruelly commandeered by some unseen marionettist.

Finn’s cardiac surgeon, our man with the Rachmaninoff fingers and heavy accent, explained the procedure one day before surgery. He was clinical, matter-of-fact without somehow sounding clip or cold. His voice had right angles; his hands, however, posed as they were in various ways to demonstrate Finn’s heart and how it was to be fixed, had softness to them. I imagined the surgeon cupping Finn’s heart as if it were a newly feathered thing, a fallen sparrow, a creature to be gently returned to its proper nest.

The plastic doll had my wife and I in tears; the surgeon’s pantomime of Finn’s heart, to what nest it would be returned, had us dry our tears just as quickly. There is comfort to be taken when gestures alone conjure confidence, when panic is disappeared through a particular and subtle kinesic. The surgeon, for lack of a better term, presented as suddenly and consolingly able.

When Finn’s gurney was hurried down the hallway following surgery, there was a coterie of nurses running alongside the rig like a team of gowned Secret Service agents. Four sets of hands on the transportable bed, more steadying the rack of wires, the swinging bladders of dextrose and lactated Ringers. All ran in soft shoes, their orthopedics still covered in surgical slip-covers. It was a near silent 100-meter dash from OR to ICU. I leapt up from the waiting room couch in order to join the controlled footrace. The surgeon followed the gurney at a moderate distance, his surgical mask removed and dangling loosely like an awry runner’s bib. I searched the nurses’ faces for sign of an outcome, for assurance that our quickstep down the corridor was one of expedience and not urgency. They, however, were a hive of back and forth buzzing, a language of numbers and stats fluently exchanged. Any edgewise word would’ve seemed an interruption, though I am the father.

“How is he? How is he?”

The surgical rig disappears through a series of automatic swinging doors, my son and his zipped up chest, closed eyes, and fortune-foretelling palms swallowed up by a secondary corridor.

“How is he?” I turn lastly toward the surgeon, and he barely looks my direction. He says simply, “It vent vell.” Despite having emerged from surgery where the lights were undoubtedly intense and the minutiae of needles and scalpels as stressful, say, as choosing whether or not to cut the red wire—maybe the blue—the surgeon was nonplussed and devoid of sweat.

“He is fine,” and the surgeon, too, disappeared into the corridor leaving me for the second time in three months, the father at bay, staring blankly at a hospital exit sign.

<click>

I looked down at my hands and spread wide my fingers. Rachmaninoff could play C E♭ G C G with his left hand alone. I could maybe duplicate that feat with both hands together, but—as they were—my hands were slightly trembling, and unfit for piano keys let alone otherwise surgical poetries. I curled my fingers into my palms, exhaled mightily, then turned back toward the waiting room.

 

_____________

 

The Recovery Room has natural light by means of a large plate-glass window. Though it overlooks the parking structure, the windowed room is welcome respite from the fluorescent halls, the dimly-lit waiting areas, and labyrinthian stairwells.

Findlay lies in his bed, less the marionette than his post-op and ersatz Pinocchio. There are only a few wires still attached, sensors which inform the technician how Finn’s heart is performing beneath all the stitches and an already-knitting breastbone.

Finn smiles—smiles!—atop his sheets, and wraps his hand around my extended finger. He’s effectively hiding that palmar crease again, the one line that divides his hand neatly. My hand has the usual two. The irony, though, of him having an extra chromosome means his body is sometimes made simpler: fewer lines, smoother eyes, an inexact heart. All these things used to scare me. I adore complication, after all. It’s maybe why Finn hid the fact of himself for nine months in the womb, why he escaped detection in the delivery room. Why he held his hand tight close to his chest.

I smile down at him. The surgeon appears in the doorway. Two days out of surgery, and the doctor doesn’t even enter the room anymore. He simply stands in the doorframe, waves and nods, before walking quietly away. His work is done.

Findlay continues to hold my fingers, my clumsy but suddenly capable fingers, and my work is just beginning.

Jack in the Patrick (Unpop Goes the Weasel)

Patrick is holding court on the back patio. A seated Trout, who is reluctantly in attendance and working on the Sunday crossword, is not even sure if the back patio should be open. The cafeteria is closed, and the septuagenarian Ms. Ellen, who earlier taught seated yoga in the Group Room, reminded Patrick that the back patio is available during eating hours only.

She also reminded Patrick to wear a shirt, as there is a dress code. Ms. Ellen, though is retiring in two days, and her day in-day out seated cow-cat doesn’t exactly manufacture authority. Nor do the fact of orthopedic shoes during Vinyasa.

Patrick had been sunning himself earlier, and journaling, out by the asphalt walking path, near the fenced-in pool, which was for who knew what patients. The schizophrenics had the Ping-Pong table in the South Wing; the pool seemed to be for the pool guy only, who fished out the water bugs with a skimmer at 10a.m. daily. The pool was otherwise a failed Hockney painting, bottom-murky.

“Trout—you gotta hear this.” And Patrick was busy punching up texts on his phone.

“How’d you get that phone in here?” Trout asked. “Never mind.” He shakes his head. Patrick is practically manic.

Trout was stuck on 47 down.

James pipes up from his recessed seat near a potted cycad. He’s wearing a black hoodie pulled up over his head and hiding a cigarette. Earlier, he had admitted to being busted twice by the Korean security guard while trying to steal a smoke, but—since he’s withdrawing from heroin—tobacco only seemed fair.

“What’s up, Patrick?”

James is hiding his hand behind the potted plant, which is already yellow, and there are wafts of illicit tobacco.

“This message—from my girlfriend!”

Patrick is a short-timer, needs a ride to Mojave.

“Fucking hot out there,” Trout says. “Death Valley was 127 degrees yesterday, second highest recorded temperature on the planet. Seven degrees shy of hottest.”

Trout is still stuck on 47 down.

“I know! And Mojave was like a hundred-fucking-nine. I told my girlfriend it’s 73 out here and she told me to fuck off.”

Eric suddenly appears in a red flannel crew neck and blue flannel pajama bottoms. Comes out of some side door from somewhere, and—like a mad gibbon—moves opposite the caucus and places two hands on the vending machine glass at the patio’s far end. He then disappears behind the vending machine and crouches down.

Trout: “What the fuck?” putting down his paper. His pants are neatly cuffed, his shirt sleeves neater. He’s the asshole of the bunch.

Mike speaks up: “Monkey looking for Freon? Hell if I know.”

Mike is sitting behind Trout’s left shoulder, shirt off, and with a Vikings hat creased to resemble a BDU patrol cap atop his head. He’s a handsome black man, portly, with a neatly trimmed beard. Seated he’s exactly two rolls–stomach and tits—and has deftly sharpened pinkie nails which he hasn’t trimmed after almost four weeks of Program.

He’s VA, like Patrick, and they call each other ‘Chief’ out of deference.

“Here it is, here it is,” and Patrick holds up his phone.

He reads from his illuminated screen: “Hope you’re ready for me when you get here. I’m gonna fuck your brains out.” He laughs, “Ha-HA!”

Patrick is Nazarene-chic with a caved-in chest and wasted pecs. He wears shirts, generally advertising tequila, and is bandied on all wrists and ankles with assorted beads and twine. He looks like every Donald Sutherland film of the Seventies with bouffant hair and an anachronistic moustache. He wears cock-eyed Ray-Bans with tape on the earpieces to hold them in narrow place.

Trout had a hard time figuring out why all of Patrick’s shirts were ripped two inches south of the collar, but—in keeping theme with the hemp bangles—Patrick also wore assorted necklaces. Two inches south of his collar was a roughly cruciform pendant, battered silver, with a bauble in its center. A poor man’s pave´.

Mike says: “Nice. Can’t wait to get me some pussy.” James takes a drag from his cigarette, looking around.

James is all hawk-nose and probably could care less about the banter at present. He could only get out of bed twenty-four hours prior.

Trout shrugs. “Good for you, Man.”

Eric comes bounding over from his simian perch behind the vending machine.

“Dude, dude, dude!” he says to James. “Let me have some of that!” James obliges.

It ‘s safe to say that Eric has the dumbest haircut on the planet, a buzz cut of sorts, but with a hairline opposite of receding. His forehead is made small by wolf-boy overgrowth, and he’s got those goddam mismatched pajamas.

Trout figures out 47 down. On to 63 across.

“So how you gonna get there?” Trout asks Patrick.

“Gotta get a bus, but I need my license first WHICH I told my sister to send me.” He punches the air with his contraband phone.

“Wait,” James asks, retrieving his cigarette, ”You need a license now for a bus?”

“Well, YEAH,” Patrick says.

“Like MTS?”

Mike laughs. He usually only talks when pussy is the conversation d’jour, but he’s still a few rodeos ahead of James.

“Greyhound, Dude. Greyhound.”

“I told my sister to send me my license, but then she says she ‘feels uncomfortable’ sending that sort of stuff by mail,” Patrick is exasperated. He holds hands like electrical charges above his head.

“I KINDUV NEED THAT, I tell her.”

“So not MTS?” James asks again.

Mike chuckles, and no one bothers answer.

Eric is reaching for another drag, but James has already extinguished his smoke against the trunk of the potted sago. This is a complete disregard of prehistory. Sagos existed in the time of dinosaurs and well before Sir Walter Raleigh. Tobacco showed up only a few millennia before Christ.

Patrick bounces in a circle with hands still above his head. “Goddammit! I need to get on that bus!”

Trout: “Because of…(?)”

“Tina? No—not just Tina. I need to get into the VA Center downtown—I need my personals.”

“So, like one hundred nine degrees and then a 180 back? To the VA?”

Patrick points emphatically and taps his philtrum, the divot above his upper lip.

“Yes, yes, yes, Trout. I’m supposed to get a bed there. Year-long program. Christ—haven’t been downtown in thirty years. I hear my boot camp is now all shopping malls and shit.”

“Wait, what? Whendja go to boot camp?”

“’80.”

“Liberty Station?”

Patrick taps his nose and prances another circle: “YES!”

Trout laughs for the first time.

“That IS all shopping malls and shit. Golf course, greenbelt, restaurants, playgrounds. That place got closed down in ’86? Yeah—they finally re-zoned it. Now it’s all commercial.”

Trout puts his paper between his knees, momentarily. “Where did you serve, Patrick?” He cocks his head, suddenly and keenly interested.

Patrick has bled-out tattoos, green ink on his forearms where the track marks could be, and these are military souvenirs when there aren’t otherwise medals. The pool at the end of the patio is likewise green and nondescript. Moths fly in the low light, to be fished out tomorrow from the shallow end.

“Central America? Iraq?”

“No.” Patrick points, Jack in the Patrick, “No—DC! The whole fucking time!” This is a ribald joke.

Trout picks up the paper again. The last answer was ‘ayeforaneigh’, some crossword nonesuch involving horses and politicians. He decides the crossword is stupid, a dalliance, a needle in the head jerk-off; he folds it away.

Wolf-boy Eric says, belatedly: “Downtown. You can totally score downtown.”

“Greyhound station in particular,” Patrick whirls and, again, points to Eric.

He then reels himself in, reversing his sprung accordion.

Un-pop goes the Weasel.

“Shit.”

James meanwhile has fallen asleep.

“What’s up, Chief?” Mike asks, readjusting his hat, wiping his armpits with his discarded but matching Vikings jersey.

Patrick shakes his head. A Greyhound bus to Mojave would take sixteen hours. By car, six. Ten hours extra is the devil’s time, especially as passenger and not as driver.

Mike intuits something and scratches the side of his nose with his pinky nail.

“My roomie here, Trout—he normal. Right, Trout? You normal?”

Trout turns toward Mike for the first time. They’ve roomed together for a few days, have ignored each other’s snoring. They’re easy, throw snacks back and forth between beds.

“Relative, my friend. Relative.”

“Yeah, well—we ain’t normal, Chief,” Mike says, returning attention to Patrick.

Eric really should be a baboon. His blue flannel bottoms match a mandrill’s indigo ass.

“Yes! The Greyhound station!” His Librium hasn’t kicked in yet. He murmurs something about meth.

Patrick intones, “Every time I get on a Greyhound—shit—it’s the same story.” There is momentary pathos as the vending machine hums it advertisement of Fiber-One bars and Chobani yogurt—rehab food.

He perks up, can’t be a sad clown.

“It’s always some motherfucker from Corcoran sits next to me—ha!”

Patrick pins his chin to his chest and baritones: “Hey—I just got outta Corcoran. Wanna score in the bathroom?” Patrick giggles and jazz hands beneath the outside flourescents: “And I say, ‘Sure!’ Probably where I got Hep-C.”

Trout picks up the paper again, sighs. This is Willie Wonka shit.

“Shooting up in the bathroom of a Greyhound with bus tap-water isn’t probably a good thing. And that’s, like the first twenty minutes.”

Patrick taps his temple, pretending to Scarecrow-think.

“Nope—nope, not a good thing,” he decides.

In a patient-guided meeting earlier in the week, Patrick mouthed every single word of the twelve-step preambles. The preambles—seriously—take up half the time. It’s like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but with nine extra verses, hand over your liver, not your heart.

“Think I’m gonna go upstairs,” Trout says, pushing himself out of his chair, molded as it were to resemble some Henri Moore sculpture, organic and unlike the asterisk tattoos on Pat’s arms, else Eric’s dumb haircut.

“See you up there?” He gives knucks to Mike.

“Oh wait, wait, wait, Trout. Gotta tell you this. So Pam wanted to shave her legs tonight and needed a nurse to watch…”

“Who’s Pam again?”

“The Goldie Hawn lookalike. Goldie Hawn!”

“314?”

“Yes!”

Trout thinks to Goldie Hawn, plays deuces in his head and comes up with a wither some 1.5.

“Sure, Man, sure.”

Patrick excitedly pulls at his ripped collar. “I said: Hell—I’ll watch!”

(Patients can’t use razors without the badges witnessing, eagle-eyed)

“Get this, Trout—I’m gonna go up to the nurse’s station tonight and ask what it takes to get a condom up in here. Funny, right?!”

Trout smirks. “That’s funny, dude.”

“Right?!”

“See you upstairs, my friend.”

Mike calls after Trout: “Hey, Roomie—you always be sitting by yourself at lunch. Me and Chief here—we be repping with the Ladies.”

Moths do their peripatetic thing and Patrick finally sits down on a table, strips his Wabo-Cabo tank off and places his fist to his chin, the sudden naugahyde thinker.

His wife died two years ago.

Trout sits with the paper in the upstairs. Downstairs is scary, all DT cases and medical instruments jamming the hallways, whereas upstairs is hotel-like. There is the fact that you can descend the elevator to breakfast, which makes the upstairs Four Seasons in comparison to downstairs’ one-star.

Patrick charges past Trout to the nurse’s station. He speaks quietly but rapidly to the nurse.

“The bus is 186 dollars. I don’t have my license, yet.” The exchange gets quieter and more hurried. After a few minutes, Patrick taps the desk and says loudly, “Thanks, Erica!” and strolls away.

“Hey, Trout!” And he leans in. “I did it.

“Did what?”

“Asked for that condom—ha!”

“That’s funny, Man.”

Patrick strolls off down the hallway. He refuses his pills; Mike, too. Says they’re making things too weird. Everyone’s supposed to have their vitals taken and their pills administered before bed.

But this is all voluntary. All an act of good faith.

The day before, Roberto, the tattoo artist from LA was discharged. Greaser hairline, all-black, svelte, manicured, the words ‘Meat is murder’ stenciled along his brow. Ropy veins and swallows decorating his neck. There was cake in the courtyard, the schizos played Ping-Pong on the other side of the fence. Ten people gathered, wishing Roberto well. Even Trout got a piece of the pie.

Patrick separated himself.

“Hey, Trout.”

“Yeah?”

“Isn’t that beautiful?”

“Sure?”

“I mean, ten people laughing, not one drug. It’s beautiful, Man.”

He fingered his necklace through the ripped collar, the battered pave´.

“I wish, Man, I fucking wish,” he says, slowly shaking his head by the penniless fountain, water in a constant recycle, the sound of white noise.

 

 

Misunderstood

The guy at the pool party had a chest-piece, which looked like spread moth wings. It was bannered with the word, “Misunderstood.” I liked this, thought it was about moths being mistaken for butterflies. He said, “I hate this tattoo. I was eighteen and high.” He then showed me scar-work on his side which was more thought out. It had both Polynesian and Filipino script. I liked them both; said, “I still really dig your moth wings. You shouldn’t hate that.”

The High Royal Order of Tinmen, a prologue

Antarctica is something Pre-Cambrian in age. The continent, on the whole, is a great thrustal uplift of limestone and sandstone. The continental rock sits atop dead seas, fossilized and regularly sedimented. Ice covers everything.

It’s ironic: Antarctica houses the global majority of freshwater, but it remains a desert. To date, the highest, driest desert in the world. Antarctica’s wonderment extends outward into the Southern Ocean where—as winds warm the seas and polypnas of calm and unfrozen waters form in between measures of pack ice—life blooms in explosions of phytoplankton and krill; great pink and green sub-oceanic clouds hemmed in by circular tides; heavy salts precipitating into bottom waters. These are waters populated by barnacle-crusted baleen whales, by penguins; and these are waters, by virtue of movement and density, that create convergent lines definitively separating south from north.

In June of 2011, somewhere amid this all, an emperor penguin got lost. Invariably lost. Serendipity doesn’t usually pair well with lostness by virtue of language or circumstance but that’s how I met Delaney: in the crux of it all, the in between space where south and north meet. Turns out words, too, seam a convergence.

 

Apoastic

Thorn St. Brewery is all distressed wood, chatter-shot floor plank rearranged into ceiling beams, French-bled and cross-wise. There’s a skylight with a retractable panel.

It’s been raining the whole morning through, a hot rain informed by tropical storm Claudette just off the Gulf Coast. Humidity moves over the city in dervishes and a collision of weather fronts has the clouds discharging electricity in a rare show of lightning.

Lightning strikes twice on the sidewalk in front of Alexander’s, the Italian joint just west of the tavern.

Alexander’s is exactly four blocks from my house, upon exit out the back door and up the alleyway. The alley’s overrun with bougainvillea and the neighboring magnolia is meanwhile choked with magenta sepals, high above the fence line. Behind the fence there’s that barking dog, always fucking barking.

The alleyway’s white concrete is buckled because the roots underneath are tuberous and over-tumescent, one hundred years in the growing. The kids jump their bikes here, without oversight from Parks and Rec. A broken street can be a fun playground, just sometimes littered with discarded mattresses and unclaimed dresser-drawers that Waste Authority refuses to pick up.

Ryan and I are still at home when there’s a remarkable crack. Then another. I’m awakened twice. I’d been restlessly day sleeping in the bedroom, pouring sweat into the mattress with windows half-open.

The rain has proven unbearable, its pressure system uncoiling in a clockwise fashion. It’s a Coriolis effect, sent via the Great Basin and with all the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts combining efforts. Moisture is pushing from both the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez, the combination of heat and humidity something particularly Southwestern, an isolated and specifically Arizonan phenomena.

(The classic monsoon prototype hails from Rajansthan, but that’s half a globe away).

The street begins flooding and, as quickly, slows to a trickle.

Squalls obscure certain highways. The 95 way out east, well before it hits the 8, is surely replete with traffic warnings. No doubt there are parking lots of red taillights somewhere across the Anza-Borrego.

Meanwhile, cumulonimbus clouds accumulate upwards. Big boomers on the horizon.

“I dunno, Man. Sometimes waking up. Fuck.”

We exchange the word: ‘dread.’ Of the existential variety, with a modern-day Sisyphus eternally pushing his boulder, clutching a Day Planner that is simultaneously empty and overbooked.

Outside the tavern is a spattered sidewalk. The evidence of rain fades as the lightning advances seaward, and a bar back on break smokes in the stairwell, hair already dry.

“I’ve always said anxiety’s like falling upward. You wake up and you’re already on the ceiling. Depression, though…It’s like prodding the air every morning and asking, ‘Are you here?’ It’s got form. You wake up, hoping to Hell it’s not there, but then you feel the plummet. It’s so physical.”

I order the IPA, and Ryan gets the brown.

“Both are, really—physical, I mean. Anxiety, depression. You just fall in different directions depending on which one you wake up with.”

It’s all vertiginal, as when Ryan quick-shakes his head on the walk here, realigning the humors that otherwise keep him upright and in a straight line. He widened his eyes briefly, shaking it off, trying to shake off that something we’re both currently having a really hard time shaking off.

We’re best friends.

“I’ve been getting that lately,” he said, apologizing for, else explaining his vertigo. I confessed to routinely having tremors, this exchange reducing our neuroses to trading cards.

The physical side effects are new and distinctly middle-aged. He has sciatic issues, mine are lumbar. It used to be that the body would massage out its own pains, a self-lubricating machine, but there’s the recent sense that the body is beginning its protracted stop, rust collecting in the gears. The grey hairs are simply filamental reminders, strawberry days being over.

We have our pints. Foam laces down the glass in neat concentrics and where we sit is a roughshod table, south of the skylight. Pothos plants are tucked high in the corners, too high to water properly; all with anemic leaves mottled white and trailing into smallish limbs.

Thumbs in the house apparently lack green. The glasses pile up as the TV plays the current soccer match.

Mac collects our empty Shakers, says ‘hey’. She’s attractive in her always-tight jeans, and a welcome distraction.

(The first bolt was blue, a straightforward discharge hitting the sidewalk in a frizzled mess of spent ions. The second was its kinder, gentler rejoinder).

The lightning isn’t fancy—it doesn’t fractal or make for anything more photogenic than a bright flash. It’s just determined energy, hitting the earth outside Alexander’s where, currently, there’s a wine special, and where—on Valentine’s Day—lightning is meant to strike exactly once, sealing the deal for patrons patronizing the window-plate tables, having just met, having dinner and sharing the tortellini. Young people, young in love.

Alexander’s is the Italian restaurant with graphics of Vespas on the frontispiece. It’s ‘the most romantic spot in town’ with white trim, white tables and faux marble. The ivy along the sidewall is halfway established, tendrils finding little anchor in concrete, the ‘A’ of ‘Alexander’s’ still only half-covered in leaves after ten years.

Next door is a waxing clinic and the sign features a graphic with a star in replacement of the waxed parts.

“I dunno,” I say fingering my glass, “When I feel my worst, when I relive those worst moments, I imagine a gun to my head. I pull the trigger exactly twice.

“Just, you can’t pull a trigger twice.

“I take it to mean I don’t really want to end things. Mostly, I don’t like myself.”

I pause. “No, that’s not it—I just don’t like how I feel. Not the same thing as not liking myself.”

I like myself, I think, and say so. How different it would be if I could say it more resolutely.”

With the lightning still moving, wandering westward and over the ocean, the skylight opens. Everyone applauds. There are residual thunderclaps, overheated air from the electrical discharges trending away. The sun peeks out. Lightning changes color as the air also changes: blue to green to pink. Clouds dissipate and the sidewalk outside the welcome mat is suddenly dry like the bar back’s hair.

On the sidewalk outside Alexander’s, there are fern-like patterns, looping Lichtenberg figures where the lightning has hyper-heated the sidewalk, alchemically converting sidewalk sands to delicate tubules of glass. These form because lightning is amazingly hot and has a remarkably arabesque signature.

I forget who says: “You just wake up knowing there’s so much to do and you just can’t. Like, terror.”

“Yeah.”

I have a photo of us and we’re smiling in the grass, smooth-faced and awkwardly adolescent. There are a thousand—a hundred thousand—photos like this in memory, with him and without; the accretion of minutes in snapshot time. It all suggests life is long, so varied in color and contrast. It would take forever to sit through the slide show: green grass, brown grass, scutch, and then chaff. Young face resolving to crow face.

There are those rocks we used to climb, mercurial red, sandy-textured like the ladder-steps up the playground slide, rough-surfaced just like the grip-tapes of the ascendant diving board scaffold.

Gravity used to be a plaything, when falling down or diving in was fun.

We sit across from the CCV’s that contain the wort, cylindrical vessels, which take up space in the tavern.

“They say if you know the end of the story—and most people read the last page first—it’s like 60 percent or something positive saying you’d rather know the end. That the story becomes better, automatically. Attractive. Like you can amplify your own happiness by knowing the end.”

The digital read-outs on the fermentation vessels flicker back and forth. Red numbers climbing and falling, keeping something in stasis. Occasionally there’s a negative number.

“I’m gonna go get another.”

 

___________

 

I visited Ryan’s house in summer and the philodendron was untrained in the corner. There were apothecarial details like dried and browned lemon halves in the windowsill—dried flowers, too—earth-toned things decorating the house. The cherry tree was cherry-picked by the mockingbirds and corvids, the garden in need of staking. Ryan showed me his bed of collard greens and flagpole beans, which regardless of everything, was sprouting.

There was still green grass despite the drought that had extended northward. Any green was welcome respite from San Diego’s chaparral where a verdant lawn was recent cause for neighborly suspicion.

Our first day was spent travelling.

“I think we need to be on a mountain,” Ryan announced. This meant driving east and we spoiled ourselves with the rations:

Finnochionna salume, sweet coppa. Cubano sandwiches and pork-fat frites. Baguettes with a walnut pomegranate spread, raw-milk brie.

We rumbled down a road that was persistently green, down a road that Ryan drove fast since it was one he’d frequented most his life. The road’s a one-way by virtue of its ten-foot width. Ryan drove fast, but there was no one driving the other way, so we were safe.

Earlier we had passed the basalt of Steven’s Pass, the amphitheaters still-snowy two hours east of Seattle, even with it being June. It had been weeks without precipitation but the snow clung fast. We wound up at a campground off of Highway Two. After navigating narrowing riparian switchbacks, we parked at a fairly primitive campsite above a waterfall.

The waterfall’s a cataract rushing precipitously downward, dangerously, the whitewater made more impressive by its three-angled course over graduated walls of boulder. It’s somewhere you wish to keep your balance, and where, actually, Ryan’s birth father didn’t when Ryan was just three weeks old.

On that fateful camping trip, near forty years ago, Ryan’s dad fell in, having slipped while dancing stupid on a wet boulder. He wasn’t exactly sober and he was above coursingly lethal water. He actually survived, though his ligaments were twice stretched over, twice having been subject to cascading breakwaters. He could’ve easily been broken in a variety of manners, but he survived. Just his soft-tissues were damaged, stretched and purpled; all his calcium things remained intact.

Lucky sunovabitch.

Ryan and I set up camp above the moss-hewn boulders at the crest of the river, where the water takes its first dramatic turn. We were the only two people populating the place. It was a Wednesday. The yew had new and chartreuse growth, matching the phosphorescent lichens. Our campsite was above the waterfall, and across from tall trees.

Ryan built a fire, fueled it with dried branches while carpenter ants fiddled their antennae at the general goings-on. We weren’t exactly roughing it. We had speakers and music, toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate, also a full and varied ice chest. Our campsite was given border by a sturdy and smoothed log, which we alternately sat on while the waterfall remained constant.

The sky was on full display. I’ve only seen the full sky with Ryan, not with my kid yet. The skies had been cloudy in Yosemite, also Tahoe, when I took Cayde to places I thought would be appropriately dark.

“The stars will be out tomorrow, Cayde,” I’ve promised, and he still hasn’t really seen them. That the dark can be polluted by light is an ironic phenomenon not lost on me.

In sleeping bags years ago, Ryan and I saw the sweep of the Milky Way. We were kids visiting Arizona. We saw what seemed the whole of the sky, which actually is just an obfuscated view of the universe interrupted by stars. We remarked the satellites unblinkingly coursing the horizon, lapping the slow-dial stars doing their clockwise slow-creep.

Above Highway Two, it was the same: the constellational arc, satellites replacing falling stars by being failsafe and fair-navigating things, nothing you would actually wish upon.

They fall to the peripheral right, these satellites, disappearing, until reaching the apogees of their orbit, furthest from their centers of attraction. Far away but still tethered.

(Satellites land on outgoing comets these days, the newest metaphor for something).

Ryan was looking up at the stars. He’s always been the handsome one, always well tailored, and his hair has since grown long like back in high school. People called him Jesus then. He was the first to point out to me that I had an absurdly long neck, which I hadn’t considered until he said. The mirror did confirm it.

I guess sometimes your neck is a kite string, floating your head, and sometimes your head floats to that apoastic point, ‘apoastic’ just simply that outdated term bandied by astronomers, meaning, in the end, ‘You’re faraway from Earth.’ Just short of leaving orbit.

Ryan and I remarked how bright the moon was before realizing it was the sun rising. We went to bed in sleeping bags again, like when we were kids, just with it being morning. The orange tent smelled of ash.

 

___________

 

At Thorn Street, the lightning having passed and quickly, it’s another afternoon. There are the neighborhood neighbors, their loosely tethered dogs getting tangled up in the barstool legs while greeting each other. There’s a feeling of present tense as the place fills up, women in calculated skirt-lengths and ankle boots, guys with beards and ironic t-shirts. Orders are placed and delivered while the soccer guys kick a ball back and forth on the screen.

“How is it I don’t get it?”

There’s laughter, and a new selection on the stereo.

“Why not feel happiness when it happens? I have a problem doing that. I shouldn’t. I feel happiness later, after I’m done thinking about it, after I’m done writing about it.”

 

____________

 

Driving back through and past Everett, it was a depressing descent from the mountain and west toward Seattle. Yelp suggested cuisine far and away from its home: seafood too distant from the water, pho buried in strip-malls. Back in the city, nearer to the lakes and Locks, we found a place where one chef manned a single-burner, simultaneously churning out okonmiyaki and Zabuton steaks. We ate there, joined by Ryan’s girlfriend and her noteworthy cheekbones. We devastated the menu and over the course of the dinner decided to swim the bracingly cold lakes the following day. We also decided to visit the spa. Some place we could sit in hot baths and cold plunges, sit in hot rooms to make us ok. Quick changes in temperature do well for the circulation.

 

______________

 

At the Korean spa, the bath table presented as a mortician’s slab, resolutely concrete, there being a garden hose and a five-gallon bucket over-foaming with lavender froth. I’m gestured to lie down, naked. The Shinto tradition is about the trinity of thinking as with all other religions, and so the masseuse claps my back three times when he’s done scrubbing my back. He seals his treatment: clap-clap-clap, three times the cupped hands on the large of my back before flipping me over with smoothed palms. Years of water and oil have his plantar pads sealed, like seal-skin, like raccoon paws, and he ladles water onto my chest, then pelvis, before adjusting my penis aside as if it were an afterthought, moving it aside with a sideways brush, covering it unnecessarily with a terry-cloth before scrubbing my stomach in broad strokes.

I’m silent, prone. My skin falls off in small measures and later I sit in a robe in a heated room. The second masseuse places me in angles, beneath an oven-warm sheet, and mashes a palm against my shoulder, trying, and trying and trying again to get rid of something, that something which is beneath the sheet and somehow seated south of my head. There is the scent of cedar and I go ahead and let her just fucking try.

 

 

Silverfish

I keep my laptop plugged in next to my corner of the couch and, at night, it sits atop a milk-crate full of records. Some are new—Walkmen and National; there are some plastic-sleeved Smiths bootlegs; most are a bunch of thrift store finds, the Reddings the Beatles, the Dylans. The milk-crate is perfumed, slightly, with attic effluvia.

If you know birds, you’ll know that to truffle their feathers is akin to taking in the comfortable smell of a hall closet, a wardrobe of old wool and mothballs. Musty, in a good sense. That’s how old records smell, too, else old books.

There’s some transference late at night, some communiqué between the records and the laptop.

When I needle Cayden to, please, just pick up a book, he’ll roll his eyes and unswervingly say: “But, Daddy—I’m moodern.” He prefers his electronics, the movie versions of things, all the things I eschewed as a kid while I plied through the 1958 Encyclopedia Brittanicas my parents had on hand. There was also the aged Merriam-Webster with its laminate thumb indexes. It teemed with silverfish, and silverfish: they live off of carbohydrates. The dictionary, having a thousand pages of starch, always proved good home and a constant buffet.

Cayden did read ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’, so he understands the figurative intrigue of closets at least, the cedar and mink and mothy perfumes that exist before fantastical exit out the back wall of cupboards.

But he doesn’t understand reading, has no patience for it. I mentioned transference, and despite not having kept company with silverfish, Cayde still manages to best me with knowledge he picks up from wherever the place.

Dylan jokes: are you with Pound or Eliot; Morrissey says Wilde is on his side while Keats and Yeats are on yours. Cayde announces: “I saw this on YouTube…”

Second bit of transference: because my laptop sits atop a basement supply of records, currently a pediment of Buffalo Springfield and John Lennon Live from NYC, I’ll occasionally open my laptop to write and a silverfish will fishtail across the QWERTY, probably having lived in the laptop for a night, confused at the lack of starch. Literal bugs in the system, probably transfused from some record or other, querying the silicon and CPU and assorted drivers.

I’m modern, too, Cayden; but I still keep company with the dictionary-eaters. We’ll both at some point win here.