Late Thursday breakfast, at last I confessed myself
to a poorly-dressed but well-bearded priest.
This priest (I did not catch his name, so I will call him
Father, or perhaps lower-case he),
was a sleepy-eyed fool behind his drugstore specs,
and he did not recall the extent of my sins even after
I recited them from my torn sheet of foolscap.
Distracted, he told me his dreams of
a cemetery of trees,
of branches falling and ravens calling,
and stale mausoleums filled
with herbs and seeds.
There was no place for my words
to brace against his filthy cassock.
He seemed to be an aching arch of rumored bones
and unpleasant knees,
and I was concerned for his soul —
and sagging flesh and ash-stained hands and shallow chest —
as much as I was for my own design of infinity
and the fragility of my possible divinity.
“The God you may know,” he said,
“he is one slow hijo de puta
painting this canvas.”
He paused for effect, which was odd and yet
his breath and, saith he:
“This place is his divine piece, you see,
and we are what he has painted into the corners.
The poets — I see you are one, from your long list
of synonyms to best describe your best sins–
mostly suffer from agraphia when regarding the faith
of their pens.
But I forgive you, I guess, if that makes you less
inclined to bother me with your mistakes again.”
“These are not mere mistakes,” I cryeth,
“I have broken the Commandments, some of them
several times, and one of them in a brothel.
Perhaps three of them in the same brothel,
but at different times.
Can I please be forgiven?
What words can I say, what deeds need be committed
to memory, compounded by shame?
Give me the name of one who can forgive me,
if not you.”
Father and lower-case he, both being the same,
“Son, I have committed these same misdeeds,”
“which is why I myself became a priest.
My poor father. And my grievous mother!
But I could not help myself.
My sins were so wondrous,
and that was the curse given us,
given us all.
To feel good is so shameful, is it not?
And more so when you’re caught,
and even when you ought to know better!
Say twenty-and-three Hail Mary’s and
get thy gins behind thee,
and I will join you, boy, bring your coins with ye, boy!
Even now, in this comedy of errors,
before the devil’s veiled terrors,
I will join you in the brothel,
(and I know that sounds so awful),
but we will chant the prayers of the Lord,
over Scotch whiskey and flaming swords.
I am yet uncertain that it is not a sin,
but pour that gin, boy, and then pour it again.”
With that, he removed his specs
and wiped the lenses with his wet sleeve.
“It has been so long since I last confessed
my own misdeeds,” he said.
“They are sins, of course, a horse
by any other name is still a good wager.
I hear you belabor the forgiveness you seek,
but for cab fare and a peek
at that place downtown,
I will anoint your crown with my useless mercy.
“Indeed,” I said, learning nothing by and large.
“We borrow today to pay for tomorrow.
If you agree to go onward, by tomorrow
go forward, and sin no more.”
“Say no more,” saith I,
and my friend Father and lower-case he,
both being the same,
stepped outside, beyond our prison’d door.
There was no place for my words
to brace against my filthy cassock.
“Say no more,” saith I again
to no one in particular,
and then began to turn away.
Dimitri and me
we lived by the sea
we saw a horizon
hard and infinite
a great ruthless sea
a sea so calm yet god so deliberate
we saw and we drank our darkest wines
and we watched the deepest ships unwind
ahead of us
far beyond us far between us
for a life beyond the greatest hope of us,
for a life we waited and we wished for both of us,
we promised it would be us one day
if courage one day
would be our blessing some day
but Dimitri was killed
in March of 1948
I live in this place
where moon hides the darkest heart of
of foaming arrangements of the remainder you see
the brightest of lights of life upon sea
and my days and nights of Dimitri and me
that wash away
into the sea
of me and Dimitri and we
stay behind and live inside
a soft and infinite sea of us.
Dimitri and me
we live by the sea
and we see a horizon
wide and so infinite
beyond us a sea
of only Dimitri and me.
(Adult themes and language)
The East Coast light was delivered to them each morning on the cheap. It broke apart between the hand hewn beams Joanne loved so much, and then landed on her old West Coast quilt, miraculously complete. Dawn was the first trick of the day, she said: a ragged little something to make you believe you were waking up someplace else, somewhere more rugged, like Oregon or backwoods Appalachia. Goddamn Connecticut, she said. It fooled even smart people into thinking they belonged outside their natural state.
Daniel’s father was not an architect, but he knew how to read a blueprint, how to lay hands upon brick and wood. This place was built as a wedding gift, and the old man died two days before they moved in. It was a heart attack at a traffic stop. Hardly the combative adieu most men hoped for, but it worked as decent after-dinner conversation.
On the first night in their marriage bed, Joanne told Daniel, “I’m the most tragic piece of ass you’re ever gonna find, Danny Boy.”
He smiled and nodded. “Likewise, Jo. I hope.”
They were a reasonably contented 20th century couple, cemented in stubbornness and tradition, until Gloria arrived. They did not invite her, of course, but they knew she would not change her schedule for them. And so they waited on her.
September 27, 1985 – 4:42 a.m.
Daniel at the helm of the bathroom mirror, inside it, stained inside it, exhaling Listerine, objecting to the flat space between the layers of his himness. Who is staring at whom, you might say, that certain cliché: am I real, the real deal, and who is this pretender before my throne? Am I firmly in place, consigned only as a load-bearer, as the pillar holding up all this shit and disgrace until it topples? Awful, yes, to consider there are these light fixtures and shiny polished faucets to maintain, oh, and the codified hand towels and ornamental soaps, the fuck is that about, eighteen dollar dollops of molded soap imprinted with cherubs, and I’m not even allowed to wash my hands with them? and the vodka still rages and it smells a little like mouthwash and a lot like backwash vomit. Fifty-two years old and still acting like a kid sneak-drinking Mateus, hiding the vino under the passenger-side seat of the old man’s wagon, except now it isn’t always vino, and it definitely isn’t rolling around in the back of the Olds. Joanne would have a cow. Is that the right expression, having a cow? No, she would have a fully-formed, prime Grade-A, fucking clot of beef if she knew I was still drinking five-dollar potato vodka. What do you say, Opposite-Me? I say go back to bed, asshole, it’s going to be the shittiest of shit days and she’s going to need you. Gloria’s on her way.
“You okay in there, hon?” moans Jo, her voice a blur, a smoker’s burr, barely aware under the quilt, barely awake but cognizant of his absence.
“I’m good, baby. Go back to sleep.”
“Rough day ahead,” he says, but it’s more to himself, because she already knows that, and why doesn’t he just do the right thing and fucking die already?
September 27, 1985 – 7:18 a.m.
Joanne at the edge of the bedroom mirror, beside it, hiding from her nakedness. She’d put on too many pounds since the Fourth. Maybe since before that, since last Christmas. Or maybe since forever. Fuck. Weight and shame, that’s all this was. All. This. Is. Daniel never said a word, not a tot of encouragement, not a nod of acknowledgement that she was suffering. What do you call this? The Middle-aged Blues? Might as well romanticize it, and why not? Growing old before you could really gather up all the facts of how you’ve lived so far? No one wrote songs about this kind of loneliness, did they? As your husband merrily lives a life outside of you. People have a way of forgetting the ways the other half fades. The primal organism of love, not just the smooth camera-ready surfaces, all the playful erections and generous curves and the wet boundaries of touch. They forget about the chambered heart, the damaged blood, the aching ligaments and the splintered bones. They forget about the ovarian cysts and the broken skin and ugly scars that still look like billboards in the dark. They only see the before and after in the photo album, and they nod and reminisce about the rocket-powered orgasms of newlywed bliss that always always always obscures the disappointments and stained regrets. We are childless, honey, because of me. We both know it and have never spoken it, not aloud, it’s not allowed, even when the other is asleep. And I weep. You know it, Danny, I weep. And you turn over in your sleep, and you turn the bottle over to your lips, and you pretend that we’re both too old for this nonsense, it doesn’t matter. But it matters. It has shaded us. And now we really can’t stand to look at each other, can we? But we do. For the sake of ourselves, we do. Because every morning, we awaken to the terror of our calamity. And calamity is what we know but haven’t quite expressed yet.
Will you be sober for the disaster of today? Because I really doubt you will be, and I really don’t need you to be. Because I know we’re going somewhere together, and I really hope we get there soon.
Daniel, yelling from the kitchen, “Are you ready for this, Jo? She might still miss us.”
His words don’t sound too blurred.
“Hurricanes never miss,” she says. “Who can ever be ready for something like this?” Did that sound like a chant, did it have a sing-song singularity to it, the proper note of resignation? She hoped so.
“I hope my dad built this place strong enough,” he says. “I think we might have a chance if Gloria turns a degree or two to the north.”
“Goddamn Connecticut,” says Jo. “Goddamn Gloria.” And, under her breath. “Goddamn us.”
There are some days when I am so tired of the words. My words. Their looseness, their tightness, their clutter, their chatter, their aloofness and evasiveness, their show-and-tellness, their hip-hoppiness. They’re too unrefined, too shiny, too abstract, and they float like blots of snow in a Rankin/Bass Christmas cartoon. I want them to be sweeping, I want them to be respectful, I want them to weep and soar, I want them to be dramatic piano notes, each. one. a. slow. plink / plunk. and. then. echo
I WANT THEM TO
like BUBBLE wrap, and startle children and small animals, and then I will put them in the corner because they know what they’ve done AND they won’t stop giggling. I want to dress them in jeans and a paint-splattered T-shirts, in expensive tuxedos, in riverboat finery, and I want to retire the old ones, fuss over the new ones, and dig a big hole in the backyard and discover all the dinosaury ones. I want to invent brand new words that open up brand new ideas and I want them to line up for a proper photograph wearing their bestest-best smiles and show everyone how friendly they can be. But mostly I want them to let me rest. I am so tired and they always want to play with me. I want to save them in a big glass bowl and chew on them one at a time when my chewing teeth are ready and I want to swim with them on fresh white paper or on creamy parchment and tickle them with ink when the lights are just bright enough to glow upon each one of them and then. walk away. and just let them. SLEEP. for just for a few minutes each day.
But then, what would I do, what could I do with no words to renew or paragraphs to imbue, what would I do? What could I do? And what, I shudder, would they do, I wonder, suddenly broken into pieces asunder? I wonder and I wake them up as fast as I can just in case they want to stop playing, or forget what they’re saying. This is no time to rest, I guess, no time at all.
There are some days when I can’t keep up with the words, can’t catch them at all. My words, plunk / plink, and that’s what I think.
He and I, we simply align ourselves
at opposite ends of a path.
We disguise ourselves as amiable strangers
(though I would know him better if I asked).
The pain of his gist was his least obvious gift,
and a profoundness shortly occurred to me.
Pulling his legs from the clay field drifts,
with sensitive voice, he shortly demurred to me:
“In my sorrowed mind, I wander blithely
around my own mangled tale,
writhing between eloquence and ignorance
— to what avail?
“I wash all my scars until the old blood runs fresh.
and the longitude and latitude shudders my flesh.
I tinker with the dams that hold back my prose,
shocking my ears from so many sharp blows.
“And you, sir, you stand there, unequivocally calm,
my heart blisters over, and you hear it as balm.
My travails and hardships leave your disposition unchanged:
surely he exaggerates, or in the least is deranged!
“I assure you, good sir, my story is as plain as I say,
that I tell it so simply, I can say without shame.
Though we each cross these meadows in slow studied gaits,
I appreciate your pass on my way to my hay.”
I confess, my transgression was not meant as aggression,
and I mumbled my apology through quivering lips.
Alas, no begrudges as we partook our bucket lunches,
we reared to dislodge each rider from our hips.
you know my excesses / delilah / for the bleeding abscesses / of sunsets strung
you and I we tasted the soft meat of our virgin hearts / wasted blind drunk in an absinthe state of sex and regret / and I whispered and may even have worshiped you / delilah
I tried to wash the veins of dead leaves / from my cold feet but they roiled
and uncoiled / and still crossed the border and folded across your clean / parquet floor and
our limbs mashed in a tarantula pose / we rose and fell and slept in veneration in our clothes
like a dance
in a trance
and still I ask
is if you know that I wish I was as certain of God / as I am of death / and of you /
and who / just this once / is thus subdued under a spill of moon / that traces our bed
and warms our faces /
I did not think I would reach the age
where a decent 12-year-old single malt
would be considered
a regrettable choice.
I thought by now
I would be reading Chaucer,
maybe listening to an opera or two.
My second ex-wife says Pucccini is good,
though he’s no Frankie Sinatra.
Now I stand before this mess,
examining the sodium content
of my boil-in-a-bag chow mein.
Today I fed the last of my muffaletta bread
to the last of the winter sparrows
assembled in the Radio Shack parking lot.
There’s free parking around back
if you can navigate
between the crates of broken gin bottles
and plastic bits of modem.
The birds don’t seem to mind
the evaporation stains.
They leave wormy puddles on my door mat
when they come to regurgitate
breakfast to their scuttling chicks.
They don’t even try to aim anymore,
they’re like the tenured drunks
who fly to the urinals at Giuseppe’s Taproom
because because because because because
pissing on your pant cuffs is the secret code
that you’ve given up on the things
that make faith your last resort.
I did not think I would reach the age
where I would sit beside serious women
in a skatepark.
They wear the colors of homemade knit blankets
foaming across their laps,
and they carry pretzels in their purses to pass
to the finches flickering around that
with the petals blowing
onto the quarter pipe.
They share a flask of bourbon and tea,
and, yes, they are more interesting
than the rubber-boned 12-year-olds
still learning to appease the laceration gods.
Some of us never grow away from our choices.
There was a bruise on her thigh
the size of my eager young thumb,
the shape and color of a cat’s serving of
Neapolitan ice cream.
It was not my intention to cause her such a harm,
but it was the mark of my drowning eagerness for her,
a thoughtless expression of my wretched rawness.
I did kiss her quick,
a slight sweep upon her hip,
my lips a light touch upon her caramel skin.
She did not flinch or brush me away,
and in her eyes I saw a reflection of myself:
ragged, thin, braced against a cracked nighttime window
framing my narrow frame into a surprising self-portrait.
And I, unexpected, delivered her no preach of the affection
she had overwhelmed in me.
She poured over my every pore,
and my thirst for her was abated, though my heart was dispirited
that I caused her even this unintentional harm.
When in our purest form
we sang the songs of rain to a hard blessed sky,
and what poured down was our predestined selves
compelling us to praise, to drown, or swim, or else.
Oh, there were hours of song and of prophesied drink,
and the vessels of my heart grew weary of such things.
What dog barks at a well-off man, he asked.
I did not live
among the poorest of the poor to give ye comfort.
I brought ye here to earn a wage
from a rich man who would despise ye.
For He gave us Classic Rockabilly on a clobbered portable radio
when we had no chance but to climb the razor fences
and drag our punctured bellies across the stretched quilts of our mothers,
stitched together with the stripped threads of all they owned.
Yea, the fowl will stand beside the sated dogs, between the children
and the irreproachable young men who wore the mark of
Yeezus on their T-shirts,
their blood still dripping from their well-accomplished hands.
They will watch us with care and they will covet each of the moments
we stand without handcuffs.
Oh, there were hours of song, hours of watered down prayers,
and the vessels of my heart grew weary,
my heart grew weary.
My father sat with me to watch Hee-Haw on Saturday nights,
I think he thought I would want to learn the ways of the fiddle
or at least appreciate Roy Clark’s excellent banjo playing.
Instead I learned the violent prose of Labatt 50 ale and Player’s tobacco
in the same room.
He taught me to be hungry with my hands.
Supper was served at 7 p.m. sharp
on fold-up tin TV trays with milk glass rust stains,
and the main course was a bowl of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli
and buttered sliced bread,
and dessert was a tin of fruit cocktail
(with only one cherry, maybe) served in a Dixie cup.
We sat in front of the television screen,
our sock feet folded in front of us,
and a dish towel to cover our shirts,
and we listened to Buck and Roy
and I wondered why
the women who walked by the front door on their way to Bingo or Bridge
or to movies at the downtown theater,
all wore pink or blue nylon scarves
over their hair,
and why they all looked like Jackie Onassis
on their way to an important soiree,
and wore the same perfume my mother preferred
before she left
and then Minnie Pearl would say something outrageous and I forgot the loneliness
until another lady walked past the doorway and I wondered if
she could see the holes in my socks
or notice that my father was reaching for another beer.