Friday, September 18, 2009



Whenever I think of something waning, I think of Gertrude by Hermann Hesse. The last line of the book reads, “…I hear my youth like a wonderful song which now sounds more harmonious than it did in reality, and even sweeter.” And here we are now, summer slipping away on the soft sounds of lost daylight. And perhaps the months past seem sweeter, more perfect than they actually were. They undoubtedly will when we find ourselves again in the standstill of winter because summers in the Midwest are units of time onto themselves; years within years. They are seasons bigger than seasons, their importance measured in the negative, the degrees that flank them. As this one ends, I have begun to reflect on all I’ve done.

I’ve had an itch this summer, a drive.
Maybe it’s because I knew at its close I’d be 29.
So, I made a conscious decision: to live like so.
Heart as sail,ballast, rudder, bow.
Rowdy. Indulgent to excess (Italicized portion from “Loose Woman” by Sandra

I traveled to Eau Claire, Menomonie, Madison, New York (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island), Colorado via South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa. I, an agnostic feminist, became ordained. In Eau Claire, I married a dear friend to the boy she loves most. And there was power in that, the words “I now pronounce you…” coming from my little red mouth, an appropriation of religious power to a female, ex-Jehovah Witness, unbeliever. I attended the annual Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison and drank delicious microbrews. Afterwards, at the Sirloin Strip, I sang karaoke, specifically “Fist City,” with my best friend. I ate free pizzas with purchased pints, and then drank whiskey at the Buttermilk in New York. I rode the Staten Island ferry while drinking a 40 oz bottle of Blanca Carta. Then, on Staten Island, I ate a delicious onion bagel in the rain. In Colorado, I lost my breath. I crossed the Continental Divide and touched a glacier. I went to the Bar Bar and saw the People of the city, the ones whose stories are verses of wrinkle and missing teeth. I cried. I ate too much, drank too much, thought too much, loved too much, walked too much, rode bike too much, slept too much. In short, I lived and lived and lived until I was exhausted. And it was worth it, all of it, the money spent, the time spent, everything.
I repeatedly think of something my dear friend Mark told me long ago. He said that the people we sometimes think of as “loose” are the people who milk life for all it’s worth. Would I classify myself, as Cisneros did in her perfect poem, a “loose woman,” because I made a decision to live this way? No, that would not be the appropriate term. Something deeper, something hungrier, something where the coordinates of fear and beauty meet, a word for living that constitutes courage, if only recently found.

Or perhaps there is no word: perhaps that’s just milking summer for all its worth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cold Mexican Beer

A steel bridge buckles into its reflection. Cars burn. Bodies bend, contort. In the sky, god or a well-placed hand wraps itself in a blanket of cloud, letting only beams of waning light out from underneath. And somewhere someone yells across a gap. And somewhere someone is baking with cinnamon, sugar, and butter. And somewhere someone screams genocide to the wind. And somewhere someone is drinking cold Mexican beer or bleeding or eating a nectarine or feeling the sun or taking water in his lungs. And here a heartbreak; here a triumph. Here a tragedy; here a tragedy that hasn’t happened yet. Who knows when it will be that molecules pull from one another until there is no floor at all and we are left to solve the problem of trying to walk without making a sound.

Portrait of Shop Window

Portrait of Shop Window

Department store windows light
inscrutably lipped manikins holding
empty gifts.

Nicollet Mall is nearly
bright as Grafton Street. Both too
bulbed and sequined.

I like old things.

Stuttering limestone fences, doorways that open
to waves. Dun Aengus and
the Seven Churches.

Old things, your Ghost of the Holy Spook shirt,
misproportioned, sleeves hanging, gap-waisted.
Things worn soft,
things like us.

America: the plum blossoms are falling.


I just read that in Iraq, pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca were open fired upon. Sectarian violence. I feel sick.

I just want to wake up and have it all be over.

I remember the first time we invaded Iraq. I was 10 and my father was away working in Indiana. My mother, sister, and I stood in our living room listening to the television. Night vision images blared into the room. Targets hit. But who were they killing, really?

Collateral damage. That's the way you say that people got in the way.

I felt sick, 10, even then.

I had dreams where soliders marched endlessly. Over and over again, lines and lines of faceless men who went everywhere and nowhere. I woke up and it was all over.

Maybe I should just consider myself lucky: I can sit and sip tea in the quiet of a cheap apartment. Feed myself, work, plan a trip to Ireland, go to graduate school at a private university. I'm not scared of 24th Street, of Lyndale Avenue. I don't worry about random acts of violence or about my family's atoms being scattered by a car bomb.

And isn't that what we're fighting for?

Well, then I guess I owe "W" a big goddamn thank you. I hadn't realized that Iraq was such a threat to my ability to sip Lemon Zinger and listen to Leonard Cohen.

Collateral damage.

I think this freedom has become a liability.

"America when will we end the human war? / Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb." (--"America" by Allen Ginsberg)

St. Francis in Belfast

We float through second day fog, through the holy music of helicopter blades.

"Someone must be moving arms," St. Francis says, "The lacerations have healed, but there are battle scars."

He leads us into the candle lit trench. We watch arms moving, palms penitent in prayer.

For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch. And palm to palm is a holy palmer's kiss.

"I have made peace with Muslims," he says, "I have made peace with Muslims, and yet I couldn't stop Belfast from turning on itself."

St. Francis settles behind us as we sink into the wooden pew. In the golden light, people come and go. We begin to cry.

And So It Goes.

At 4:22 am, the world is well asleep, and I have watched nearly every light turn out in the city. As each becomes extinct, I wonder about the points of light on which human interaction hinge. Turns of phrase, intonation, diction. A whispered word into cartilage that unfurls a velvet lobe. I think of William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" and the line "so much depends upon” and I wonder what determines dependence.

Everything is a deal. We are all ambassadors carrying suitcases. I bring nothing but insomnia, a dry mouth. Clean fingernails and red-painted toenails. I am alone. I am silent. And as I am, the house, too, is silent. This is the deal we have made.

And so in this house, whose silence is signed, dated, the world is beginning to feel impossible. For how can I possibly navigate it when so much depends on variables whose identities invariably lie in eyes of the beholder?

As light after light turns out across the city, people in their apartments or their houses pad softly wearing bathrobes and socks from kitchens to bathrooms to bedrooms where they sleep alone or next to someone else. And for those who sleep next to someone, deals are made as breathing becomes measured duet. Alone, moving from darkness into light, I break the deal with my house and turn on some music because so much depends on words, on sound, on a melodic distraction to pull me from the tangle of my thoughts, which race faster as the break of day nears.

Context and Relevance

The more I contextualize myself, the more irrelevant I feel. Perhaps I’ve made the mistake of reading too many contemporary short stories in internet journals lately—the forum in which I’ve been attempting to sound my voice. Loretta Lynn, along with other artists, writers, and musicians, shied away from listening to music by her contemporaries because she didn’t want to be influenced by them. But I wonder if being influenced is the true risk or if the true risk is contextualizing oneself into seeming irrelevance. Because I think I could. And then, egoless, how could I continue?

I heard on the radio once that people in the 18-24 age group (or thereabouts) generally have the strongest desire to leave their mark on the world. This is why young people—especially the disadvantaged—are often seduced by terrorist groups. It could also be why young people might join the military or the Peace Corps or try to become artists or writers. They turn to terror or service or creation to say simply: “I exist.” But I can’t think of that; I can only wonder at point that desire subsides. When does one accept her condition—her place in the universal problem of life, which is that humans are all just small, brief lives?

I talked with a dear friend who recently lost her husband. She started to cry because something happened and she thought, “I have to tell ___ that when I get home.” Her next thought was the reality of his death. I hugged her as she wept; I asked her if she tried writing him a letter. She said, “I talk to him every night.” It led me to wonder if perhaps our real relevance is in the context of those we love, the world we influence composed of little more than that, which is both infinitely more frightening and more reassuring.