Monday, September 29, 2014

Rhyming Pittsburgh: FREE on Amazon Kindle, Sept. 29

FREE on Amazon Kindle, Sept. 29


I set out to give my heart to a woman. Instead, I gave it to America: the songs of Hoagy Carmichael, Conde McCullough’s bridges, five pinball machines, the city of Pittsburgh, and Jack Kerouac’s nickels. But the story begins with Carolyn Johansen, who was the best screw I ever had.
I met her at The Wit’s End, a bookstore in Seattle’s Fremont district that hosts a weekly poetry reading in its cave-like back room. Carolyn’s schoolmarm features – spectacles, curly blonde hair, a small, brilliant smile – had an immediate effect on my nerve endings, but there was nothing I could do about it. She was a bad poet. Sooner or later, she would roll over in bed and say, “Honey? What do you think of my poetry?”

            She wrote what my pal Rob calls “emu poems” – flightless creatures that roll along from exit to exit, taking you exactly where you figured you were going. He tags it with the foulest word in his vocabulary: “discursive.”

            But then, something wonderful. Carolyn began to ask questions. What do you mean when you say an image is “trite”? What is a line-break supposed to convey? What is the point of a surreal leap in an otherwise linear poem?

            The human mind responds to change, I said. When you throw in something unexpected, you re-engage your audience, put a bend into their thoughts.

            Oh! she said. And the brilliant smile, a rectangle of teeth.

            At the next reading, her poem sprouted an eskimo. A week later, an elephant. Then she began a series of prose-poems about a mulatto rodeo-rider, written in first person.

            She joined us for our post-game blitz at the Triangle Lounge. I asked her out. After the movie, she was at my apartment, at my disposal. I was hesitant, looking for half-measures.

            “Carolyn, have you ever tried mutual masturbation?”

            “Not yet.”

            A week later, we had dinner at her house, near Lake Washington. It turned out that poetry was a first step out of chronic fatigue syndrome. (I had always been skeptical; I considered it a physical manifestation of ennui.)

            Two poets seeking intimacy tend toward Scrabble. We kept up the pretense till the occasional meetings of thigh and shoulder caused us to start losing pieces of clothing. Soon we were naked, in her bedroom. She knelt before me.

            “You’re so good at that,” I said.

            She took me out and laughed. “My old boyfriend said I was ‘unafraid of the penis.’”

            Given my previous hesitation, she was surprised when I pulled out a condom. From there our activities were underscored by enthusiasm, which means much more to men than we will ever admit. Maybe it was the years of fatigue, the years without sex, but Carolyn simply adored it, and exploded twice a minute. I enjoyed her enjoyment so much that I wore myself out. She removed the condom, washed me off with a warm cloth, then used her mouth to bring me back to erection.

            “What can I do to finish you off?”

            “Get on top,” I said. “Face away from me. Now. This’ll take some effort, but lift yourself into a squat, and when you go down ... don’t go down all the way.”

            Now I had the all-important visual element, Carolyn’s generous white bobbing ass. It didn’t take long.

            A week later, we met up again at The Wit’s End. After the reading and the Triangle, I walked her along Lake Union. Her car was parked beneath the soaring towers of the Aurora Avenue Bridge. I began with a kiss.

            “You know I’m leaving tomorrow?”

            “Yes.” She smiled shyly.

            “That’s why I’m trying so hard not to make promises. I want this trip all to myself.”

            “I understand.”

            “By the way,” I said. “You’re becoming a hell of a poet.”


Photo by MJV

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Anywhere Fair

The Anywhere Fair

occurs at a time and place that are
completely unpredictable,
making publicity problematic.

First indication is a subtle surge of
blood from the aortic valve to the
left wrist, followed by a
slight breeze from the southwest.

Two minutes later, you will find
yourself telling a joke involving
two rabbits and a popular children’s toy.
Later, you will realize the
joke makes no sense.

Two songs hence, you will find
yourself swinging a dark-eyed
Italian girl through a series of
moves that would not seem to
be physically possible.

She finishes a spin, plants a
silver heel on the hardwood and
strikes a pose once assumed by the
most favored of Nefertiti’s handmaids.
The room fills with a thousand
mosquitoes composed entirely of light.

Now is the time.

In your shirt pocket, you will
find the Jack of hearts.
Thrust him into the air.
He will assume a position next to
the mirrored ball and accelerate into
a spin, producing a sound resembling
a sleeping yo-yo or a russet
hummingbird dining on bottlebrush.
Everything else in the room will freeze.

Move freely among the statues.
Steal one of Roberto’s cookies.
Pour yourself a hefeweizen,
Please do not fondle the barmaid.

Have a seat.
Savor the tableau:
Mallory at mid-laugh, hands flying;
Rick and Darlene in a promenade;
Howard at the mic, holding a high G;
Randy reaching for the soundboard.

When you’re ready, set down your
drink, take the Italian girl’s hand,
and the room will spin into life.

When you get home, kick off your shoes.
Place your wallet on the windowsill.
Loop your keys around a lightswitch.
In your left rear pocket, you will
find a matchbox from the Tonga Room.
Light one. Blow it out.
Watch the smoke feather to the ceiling.
Hum a few bars of Misty.
Open your favorite book to page 213.
There you will find the Jack of hearts.

Save this for later.

Columbia, Maryland

from the collection Fields of Satchmo 
FREE on Amazon Kindle, Sept. 25.  

Photo by MJV

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter Twenty-Two: Profoundly Pale Polar Pestle

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Profoundly Pale Polar Pestle

One day, during the loftier stretches of our romance, Frosty and I were out on our rounds, and I had let him wander on ahead.  I was near the creek in front of Hotel Row when I found a small bank of rocks just under the breakers.  What I saw then was amazing; it looked like a white pestle, about four inches long, ready to go under a wave.  I’m guessing it was a punt, the part of a wine bottle that extends inside from the bottom.
Being a veteran of the frosted glass wars, I understood that there was no reason to panic, because a piece that big was not about to get buried by a single breaker.  But I was wrong.  The water rolled back and the pestle was gone.  I waited there for breaker after breaker, but it refused to reappear.  I pulled off my shoes and socks and waded in, digging frantically at the rocks and sand.  Then I became enraged, cussing blue streaks all over the Pacific for this gross injustice, this jealous withholding of its treasures.
Oh, and I know what you’re thinking.  You’re way ahead of me on this, and have already written up some endings.  She finally gives up, continues her walk down the beach, and two hours later, on her way back, she discovers the pestle lain out on the sand, gleaming in the sunset.  Or perhaps, a bunch of kids have built a sand-man, and are using the pestle for its nose.  In either case, the waves of the Pacific will have conspired to reward Sandy for her acquiescence, for her patience, and now the profoundly pale polar pestle provides the centerpiece for her most wonderful mosaic.
Well, you’re wrong! Here’s how it really happened.  Once I gave up on the pestle, once I excused myself from the rage and let go of my fondest desires, that was when I looked just beyond the creek and found a starfield of smaller pieces, tiny flashes of green, brown and white punctuation, so many that Frosted Glass Man himself could not gather them all. Everywhere I looked, small, unimpressive delights, there for the taking.

Live your life by life’s rules.  You want the lesson, there it is.  A few things you should know, however.  Nobody knows what the goddamn rules are, nobody knows what language they’re in, and some goofy bastard comes along every night and changes them.
As for my own freaky self, I have learned the hard way that I have no control whatsoever over my own life.  When it comes to the lives of others, however, I seem to provide a powerful conduit.  My spiderweb has grown to amazing proportions, beginning with Silicon Valley.  Panosys could not quite function without me, so McNeal staked odds against a third flake-out by hiring me as a half-time consultant.  He also found out, through his accidental introduction, that Frosty could write code – and, what’s more, had a brand-new family to support.
As for Carlotta, about the same time she missed her period, Gilda’s went out of business.  The Knickerbocker neighborhood was just not busy enough to support a restaurant.  It might, however, support an art gallery, which is exactly how Carlotta convinced Hessie to front her the cash for the space.  The inventory began with the bright realist paintings that were (conveniently enough) already hanging in the restaurant.  The store eventually embraced Oregon’s glass-art community, including decorated net floats, free-standing sculptures and hanging wall-vases, as well as frosted-glass mosaics made by some chick in Portland.
Sandrina Fingertip has settled into a big live-work space in East Portland, mere blocks from the Rimsky-Korsakoffeehouse, where she lives with her hyperactive standard poodle, Java.  Her tables have become all the rage among Silicon Valley’s post-dot-com set, providing her with additional excuses to visit her darling sister and nieces.  She has also had some chances to spread the wealth; if you walk into McNeal Conowith’s Los Altos mansionette, you’ll find a five-foot-high, twenty-foot-wide artwork composed entirely of blue and red bicycle reflectors.
Hessie and I are the best friends that we were always intended to be, and I continue to take lessons from her fearless, sometimes foolish way of living.  Every few weeks, I drop Java off at Pauline’s house and Hessie and I head for the Bel Canto, where I check up on my works at Carlotta’s, take long walks on the beach, and visit the Waterfront for large doses of seafood.  I have also learned to take advantage of Jeremy’s long-simmering affections.  (That’s the thing about these younger men – they’re great with condoms.)
I am careful not to intrude too much on Frosty’s family, but once in a while they invite me to a bonfire, where we roast hot dogs and then gather around while Frosty tells tales.  If I needed any reassurances, they came last year, when four-year-old Grace began calling me “Aunt Sandy.” I kid Frosty that his daughter’s name sounds like an Asian immigrant trying to say “glass.” Frosty responds, “I have always been of the opinion that glass is very close to grace.”
As for the fetus that would have become our child – that knowledge will never see the light of day, but will remain as a small, permanent crease on my heart.

Photo by MJV

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter Twenty-One: Surfing the High Breeze

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Surfing the High Breeze

On the day that I saw Frosty again, Knickerbocker Beach was full of small delights.  I had spent a rainy night in the Manon Suite (The Carmen Suite was taken), but the morning brought bold sunshine.  I was a hundred yards out when I found a little heart outlined in the sand with pebbles.  No names or initials, just a sort of community valentine.
After Jonathon’s rave review of my craps table, I was tuned in for brick, so when I registered a spot of red I ran right over to investigate.  Closer study revealed a ladybug, looking a little bit lost.  I corralled the little sucker onto my fingertip, and tried to remember the game we played when we were kids.  Was it maybe, if the bug flew off your finger (“Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…”) that you could get just about anybody to be your boyfriend? Kids have such weird ideas.
This particular ladybug was an acrophobe; she wasn’t going anywhere.  I contented myself with counting her seven spots and flicking her into the air.  She fell to the sand like a tiny pebble, flopping around on her back till she could extend her wings and right herself.
I walked all the way to the breakwater near Archer Bridge.  On my way back, I was alarmed to find a ladybug flattened against the sand, as if she had been stepped on.  I picked her up and was strangely relieved to find only six spots.

One of Jonathon’s patrons was an abortion doctor in Beaverton.  I was relieved that I didn’t have to ask Pauline, because now that I had come to my decision, I didn’t want Hessie to know about it.  What’s more, the clinic was very out-of-the-way, so it didn’t tend to attract protesters.
The whole issue has become so monopolized by extremists that the average person doesn’t get much of a say.  Was it difficult? Did I feel guilty? Damn straight.  Every time I listened to that story about Coyote and the moon, I was forced to consider the possibility that I might soon be taking a life.  Or at least, preventing one.
The decision was difficult – but not the action.  Once Jonathon’s words had lifted me up the remaining ten steps, I wanted the whole thing to be over with.  And except for that harrowing, noisy three minutes, the procedure itself was straightforward and pretty much painless.
Beforehand, however, I was still shopping for reassurance.  The clerical staff was wary of discussing philosophy with a patient, but not my doctor, a stocky, fiftysomething who definitely fell into the category of “tough broad.”
“I don’t mean this in a negative way,” I said, “but just because I’d like to know.  How was it… that you came to choose this particular field of medicine?”
She laced her fingers together, the way doctors like to do. “It was in med school.  Our OB/GYN professor informed us that the female body performs dozens of natural abortions during our lifetimes.  The egg is fertilized, everything’s ready to go, but for some reason the body says ‘No.’ Not the right time, not the right mix of DNA – sometimes for no good reason at all.  Somewhere a switch goes off, the egg fails to implant, and the next menstruation kicks it out.
“To me, this was quite a revelation,” the doctor continued. “It changed my entire view of the birth process.  I began to form the opinion that we, as intelligent beings, should have at least as much say in the production of new life as our bodies do, that we should not have to live our lives as slaves to biology.  Does that help?”
“Yes,” I said.  “A little.”
“None of this,” she added, “means that you’re not going to have moments of doubt, probably for the rest of your life.”
“Yes.  I know.”

I found a Victorian bed-and-breakfast in Sheridan with a view of the Yamhill River, and spent a week recuperating.  By the end of my stay, I decided I was still a little short on atonement.  I needed to repair the damage I had done to Carlotta and Frosty.  After stopping at Spirit Mountain for more dice, I headed on to Hirshfield.
I had planned on Frosty being out on his usual rounds, but there I was at Mocha Rock, a bank of stormclouds hanging over Whalespout Ruins, and not a sight of him.  (I was not about to pop in on his campsite.) I was just about to head south in defeat when the Gerrymander Lighthouse began rapping on my vision.  I realized I had not once paid a visit to Gerrymander, so I ascended Frosty’s Steps and took a left.
Making my way further into the Pacific, I passed the little deer-trail that led to Nudie Dorker Cove, and then I cruised by the visitors’ center (which was closed for the evening) and on to an overlook with illustrated displays of bird species.  The lighthouse itself was pretty much what I expected, a big ghost-pillar tapering from its broad base to a lamphouse with cubist-looking gears and reflectors a hundred feet in the air.  Sort of a letdown, actually – although I did enjoy the “1923” carved over the door.  I walked around the base, a circular lawn covered in hardy, broad-leafed grass, and became intrigued by the steep hill behind the parking lot, very lush and Irish-looking.  I had never noticed it from the beach.  The hill was criss-crossed by a narrow path, so that’s where I went.
By this time, the clouds were kicking up a wind, and the hillside was feeling very Wuthering Heights.  The trail required four traverses, two through knee-high brambles, two through calf-high grass, then a brief ascent along the ridge.  When I got to the top I found a dead end, the far side being a sheer drop to the visitors’ center.  As much as I hated backtracking, I had no choice.
On my first step downhill, I spotted a hawk, still as a kite, surfing the high breeze.  He stayed there, frozen, for thirty breathless seconds, then turned a feather and skated along the point, speeding sideways toward the lighthouse.  And there was Frosty, standing in the trail.
“Frosty!” I nearly hurled myself down the hill to hug him.  Frosty laughed and reeled me out at arms’ length.
“Sandrina Fingertip! You have this great habit of surprising the hell out of me.”
“I could kiss you a hundred times,” I said.  “But that’s not why I’m here.  I’m here to get you and Carlotta back together.  I’m so sorry for what I did, it was so selfish of me and…”
“We are back together.”
“You… Really?”
“In fact,” said Frosty,  “we’re married.  In fact, Carlotta’s pregnant.  I wanted to send word to you, but Hessie’s been out of town, and… well, quite frankly, I’ve been kinda busy.”
My reaction was the same as my reaction to the Puccini table: a shriek of recognition followed by wave after wave of laughter, only this time the laughter stayed on.  It was one of those uncontrollable fits where every time you stop, you think of the thing that made you laugh in the first place, and off you go again.  And every time Frosty tried to say something, it was like throwing plutonium on the fire.
Ten minutes later, I was flat on my back in the calf-high grass, sore in the ribs, sore in the mouth, my eyes red from watering.  Frosty knelt behind me, massaging my temples to keep me calm.  I looked up and saw three more hawks, raking the gray sky.
“I’m really sorry for taking all that glass,” I said.
“‘Salright.  Lot of that glass was yours, anyway.  Just wish you hadn’t ripped up the tool shed.  Did you use them for mosaics?”
“Nice mosaics?”
“Can you handle some more news?”
“I have to tell you anyway.  Did you ask for the Carmen Suite last night?”
“Yes,” I said.  “They said it was taken.”
“Do you know who took it?”
“Jerry Lee Lewis.”
“McNeal Conowith.”
That got my attention.
“He’s been looking for you everywhere.  He wants you back.”
I would’ve started laughing again, but I didn’t have the energy.  Frosty finished his thought.
“For his business.”

Photo by MJV