Friday, February 28, 2014

Poem: Impact


Jaguar of dalliance, courage in a
bottlecap, jimmy the jungles till they
spill forth in a river of
specieage, gumdrop froglets,
remote control fish,
mosquitoes that do your taxes.

If you need it we got it,
a guy who knows a guy who
squeezes a wholesale from
the tendons of a twelve-
year-old in Sri Lanka.

A continent of ocean where the
dolphins play with water bottles,
where the whales eat sporks and
the jellyfish wear sandwich
bags like ballcaps.

The dinosaurs have come back
in liquid form to muck the
skies, foul the waters and
claim revenge for the
asteroid but seriously I
can get you that tie for
five bucks downtown.

The Ranfurly Review
From the collection Fields of Satchmo

Photo by MJV 

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Eighteen: Following an Ant

Buy the book on Amazon Kindle.

 He runs into Elena at Steve’s Doughnuts. She’s sitting in a booth, nibbling on an apple fritter. It feels like he’s run into a high school classmate, or a co-worker. The fritter is a hazard; he wants no part of guiltmongering.
“Hi!” she says. “Going on a mallwalk. Figured I better get some fuel.”
“Mallwalk? Aberdeen?”
“Where else?”
“Not sure I get the mallwalk idea.”
Elena smiles, a triangle of white between plump lips.
“Illusion. It doesn’t feel like exercise. It feels like you’re shopping.”
She dabs her mouth with a napkin and grabs her purse.
“Sorry, honey. Gotta dash. Running late.”
She struggles to her feet and kisses him on the forehead.
“Elena? Are you doing okay?”
“I’m doing fine. It’s a journey. That’s what they tell us: gear up for the long haul. Thank you for giving me the time for this, honey. You’re very sweet.”
“Hey, I’ve got my sidekick, Pablo.”
She squeezes his shoulder. “Thank God for those boys. Well! Gotta fly.”
“See you later.”
David watches her walk toward the car. Maybe it’s the warmup suit – a bright mauve that does her no favors – but he could swear that she’s gotten bigger.

Billy bites into a jelly-filled and smiles.
“Wow! That’s good. The usual swap?”
“Yes please!” says David. The soup is curry again, but now with Swiss chard, water chestnuts and amorphous clusters of pure ocean.
“What the hell is that?”
“Oyster. Abbey got some at Lytle’s.”
“Mammamia. Sort of funky and glorious all at once.”
“So what you’re saying is that oysters are much like James Brown.”
Billy runs his finger along a jelly-leak and licks it off. “I have this vision: the Eternal Gumbo. You just take what ingredients come your way and you throw them in. The stew changes every day, but it retains little bits of its history.”
David chuckles. “A gumbo with history. I don’t know.”
“Okay, so you boil it every morning to keep out the nasties.”
Billy peers outside at the harbor, a warm overcast laced with drizzle.
“So it sounds like this thing with your wife is bugging you.”
“A little.”
“It would bug me a lot. You made a deal with her, you made a sacrifice, and she’s not holding up her end.”
“Okay,” says David. “Allow me to spin you a metaphor. Y’got yerself an Eternal Gumbo, and maybe one day you throw in some geoduck, without really knowing what geoduck is, and when you take a bite you realize, Damn! I don’t like geoduck at all. And now you’re screwed, because you can’t go backward on an Eternal Gumbo, and this one is just filthy with geoduck. But here’s the thing: the overall stew still tastes pretty good – and back in May you felt like you might never have gumbo again – so once in a while you make a face, spit a piece of geoduck into your napkin and keep eating.”
Billy laughs. “You didn’t just stretch that metaphor. You hyperextended it. And what the hell is a geoduck?”
“It’s a large mollusk common to the Puget Sound. Looks like a big gray penis.”
That sounds tasty.”
“Had a friend, worked in a geoduck cannery.”
“You’re shittin’ me.”
“I always wondered, if she was so good at handling geoducks…”
Billy unleashes that high-pitched laugh, and David counts his metaphor a winner. He thinks of asking him about Abbey, but he considers his interest in her to be unhealthy. He’s had dreams – endless rewrites of the Weight Room Incident, none of them appropriate for family viewing.

Abbey shows up at the game with a box of blue T-shirts. It’s the shirt the tourists wear, In Case of Tsunami on the front, Run Like Hell! on the back. The players descend on them like crows on roadkill.
“Ilani Gifts,” she says. “Five bucks a pop. I figured this team needed a uniform.”
Billy performs a quick swap with his Cardinals shirt, revealing a surprisingly good tan. “This team also needs a name.”
“How about the Tsunamis?” says Pablo.
“I don’t know,” says David. “Kind of a sore spot around here.”
Derek pokes his head through his collar. “How about Run Like Hell?”
He’s greeted with a rousing mob affirmative.
“There you go,” says David.
The ensuing game is more like Hit Like Hell. Continuing the mantra of low and hard, the team scores 14 runs in the first inning. What’s more amazing is that their opponents, a notoriously weak team called The Chumps, contribute not a single error to the onslaught.
Although Run Like Hell suffers the inevitable let-down after this deluge, come the bottom of the fifth they are one run away from sending The Chumps home on the ten-run mercy rule. With two outs, bases loaded and Billy in the battter’s box, David calls time.
“Blue! Got a sub. Derek Falter for Billy Redman.”
Billy can’t resist the comic possibilities. “Geez, Coach – I told you I’d pay you that ten bucks on Friday.”
Pablo goes to the end of the bench and nudges his brother. “Yo! Dimwad. You’re up.”
Derek looks up from his scorekeeping. “I’m… huh?”
“You’re up! Here – use this.”
He hands him his green-and-silver Easton, purchased that very day in Aberdeen. Derek takes the grip in his hands. “Nice!”
“Two tips,” says Pablo. “One: see ball, hit ball. Two: leave your brain in the dugout.”
“Now I know why you’re such a good player.” Derek flees for the batter’s box before Pablo can smack him. His Dad shouts a neutral cheer from the box (“Humnow, get a good one, D”). Billy stands behind the backstop, clapping. The players in the field look tired, ready to call it a night, but pride demands that they try to earn another inning.
Derek takes a breath and runs his ritual. Dig a notch with the back foot, tap the plate, give the bat a left-hand loop and cock it over his shoulder. He decides to take a pitch, just to get his timing, to make sure he’s not too eager. The pitcher, a thin, long-haired rocker dude, stands with his feet together and makes a precise bowling motion. The ball loops up and lands an inch behind the plate.
His dad claps encouragingly. “All right D, you seen him now. Get your pitch, get your pitch.”
He gets back in, ready to swing, but the ball drifts inside and he steps back.
“Good eye, good eye.”
This one, he thinks. Anything close. This removes the thinking, puts his brain back in the dugout. The ball arrives knee-high on the inside corner. Derek takes a swipe. He makes contact a few inches up from the grip and sends a slow roller up the third-base line. He has rehearsed every possibility in his head; this one calls for him to run first and ask questions later.
The scene he leaves behind is pure chaos. Merzy charges for the plate, performing a tidy leap over the ball. The third baseman arrives two steps behind, but the pitcher shouts him off: “Let it go! Let it go!” He lifts his glove and passes to the right, then spins around, the two of them tracking the ball down the line like schoolkids following an ant. The ball begins to trickle foul but runs out of steam, coming to a halt two feet short of the bag, square in the center of the chalk. The two fielders stare at it, hoping for some miracle gust of wind, but finally look at each other, shrug their shoulders and head to the mound for handshakes.
“Game!” says the blue.
Run Like Hell lets out a cheer marked by laughter, and Pablo races to first to pummel his little brother. They join the line of handshakes and end up at third, where their father is bent over the ball, fixed in its place like a museum piece.
“Son, I wouldn’t want to accuse you of treachery, but have you been practicing this?”
“Even better,” says Derek. “I implanted a remote-control device.”
David snatches it up and shows it to the ump. “Carl! How much you want for this thing?”
Carl waves him off. “It’s all yours!”
“All right,” says David. “Let’s get this thing autographed.”
The players gather in the bleachers, passing around a Sharpie pen. David feels a hand taking his, and the familiar gardenia scent of Abbey’s perfume.
“You are such a good father.”
“Says the woman with the magic T-shirts.”
He gives her hand a squeeze and, much as he hates to, lets go.

Photo by MJV

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Poem: Petty


She carries her carnage like a
book of coupons, two for one,
grief and remorse.

I’m going to this, I’m going to
that, all the things to
which I am going.

And yet, not enough for your
share of the meal, a loan which
will not be repaid.

Tell me when it was that you
opted out of the species.

I reach into the glove box to
gather change for a cheeseburger.

A handful of pennies, two lonely nickels,
twenty minutes when you sat in
my car alone.

The scent of narcissus overwhelms the
room, until finally the
blossoms must be tossed out.

The Ranfurly Review
From the collection Fields of Satchmo

Photo by MJV 

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Seventeen: Something Deeper

Buy the book on Amazon Kindle.

It just so happens that the signup deadline for the August/September league is two days later. Billy’s ulteriors could not be more obvious: having gotten his music back, he now wants his softball back. The wholly unexpected development is the interest of David’s sons. Pablo was headed for the junior varsity until he discovered girls and pizza (or, as he likes to put it, “tail and retail”). David has pegged him for left field, which would go a long way toward patching the hole in his father’s heart. Derek’s experience is limited to his career as a bookmaker, but David is not about to ask questions. Besides, he’s an excellent scorekeeper.
The men of the house are gathered at the kitchen table, wolfing down toaster waffles, when Elena enters, wrapped in a navy blue robe.
“You’ve all taken newspaper routes? How sweet!”
“We are baseball men!” Pablo barks. “We wake up early and grunt and sweat and knock the stuffing out of spherical objects. Arrgh!”
“The team’s back? Fantastic!”
“Billy’s idea,” says David.
Elena clucks her tongue. “My family is run by a homeless jazz singer.”
“He’s our mystery man,” says Derek. “Our Shoeless Joe Jackson.”
“And until recently,” adds Pablo, “he actually was shoeless.”
David stands and carries his dishes to the sink. “All right, comedians. Let’s roll.”
The two of them conduct an orange-juice chug, then grab their equipment bags and head for the garage.
Elena waits till the door clicks and says, “Derek?”
“I have no idea,” says David.
Elena gives him a kiss and pats him on the butt. He’s not sure, but she might be flirting.
“I’ll try to keep them from breaking any bones.”
“You just do that.”
He enters the garage with a head full of questions. It’s been a month; she has lost not an ounce. But she seems happy, so he is not about to mess with it. It’s just like Billy said: he needs to get to a place where his only job is to loft a ball toward home plate. He enters the truck to a familiar debate: Pablo asserts that any sudden improvement in a big-leaguer’s performance indicates steroid use, whereas Derek’s flair for jurisprudence demands concrete, proveable evidence.
Given that normal people work on Tuesday mornings, their practice roster is limited. The only regulars are Merzy, who works nighttime security at the casino, and Oscar, who cashed in on an early retirement at Microsoft. The situation has “batting practice” written all over it. Pablo goes first, conducting savage attacks on David’s pitches, all with the same result: long, soaring flies along the left-field line, half of them foul. Billy joins Merzy in center, while Derek runs himself ragged.
A few pitches later, Billy jogs toward the infield. The historian/detective notes the half-and-half of Billy’s outfit, brand-new Cardinals cap and jersey matched with worn cleats and grass-stained pants.
“Can you call time in a batting practice?”
“Like to have a word with your eldest,” says Billy, and proceeds to the batter’s box.
“Greetings, young Falter,” he says, and offers the trendy knuckle-bump. “I’d like to propose an idea, one which may save you a lot of trouble. In ancient days, I came to my first slow-pitch team with great ambition and a swing just like yours. Problem is, suddenly the ball is floating in like a free steak dinner and that baseball swing will only get you long, impressive outs to left. I hit .250 that season. I want you and those youthful legs to be on base much more often.
“So here’s the idea. I want you to wait for a pitch on the outside corner and drive it to right. This will force you to hold back for a split second longer, will keep your shoulders and hips from flying out, will keep your eyes focused on the ball, and will help you to hit line drives instead of fly balls. Tell you what: just try it out for today, for the rest of your at-bat, and see what you think.”
David watches the weather fronts drifting over Pablo’s face: initial annoyance (who is this guy?) followed by increasing levels of interest and acceptance. The capper is Billy’s final note: it’s perfectly optional.
Billy returns to right, David targets his pitches for the outside corner, and Pablo produces five garbage swings: a weak fly to Oscar at second, two pathetic grounders, a foul ball and one complete miss. But number six is a low drive down the line, and seven is a hard grounder up the middle. And so it continues, as Billy greets each success with cries of “Yes!” and “Awesome!”
David is paying equal attention to Derek, who was actually doing a pretty good job tracking Pablo’s deep drives. His style falls into a distinct type: a fielder who looks extremely shaky but who manages nonetheless to catch most everything hit his way. (One of these cases, in fact, was his late friend, whose early nickname was “Scary Larry.”)
With a bat, Derek is as raw as a plate of sushi. He’s got a solid approach – even stance, bat cocked over his shoulder – and he makes consistent contact, but the results are profoundly mediocre: weak rollers, pop-ups to the pitcher, foul balls. Still, he seems happy, so David keeps pitching. Oscar keeps gathering the refuse, and the outfielders stay in their spots, since crowding the infield would be insulting.
Days later, on his first attendance at the mini-bottle break, Billy is asked why he offered advice to Pablo but not Derek.
“A good coach sticks to adjustments. Derek has nothing to adjust; he hasn’t developed a batting style. Screwing with a swing this early in the process just ruins it. Hey, and don’t think he can’t become a good player. One of the best teammates I ever had started playing at age forty.”
And who was this forty-year-old? thinks David. And where did this team play? Writing the Billy Redman biography was going to be a long process.

David is a connoisseur of softball fundamentals, and finds watching Billy play to be extremely entertaining. In the second inning, he strokes a single to right center and runs to first, rounding the bag. When the outfielder bobbles the ball, he sprints for second. Even though he’s far ahead of the throw, he performs a pop-up slide, as smooth as icing on a cake. In a sport where most players would rather eat glass than slide, Billy does it because it’s the best way to stop.
The next batter walks; the batter after that hits a grounder to the pitcher. The pitcher throws to third, and Billy does something that David has never seen: he performs a takeout slide – nothing dirty, just hard and through the bag – to make sure the third baseman can’t throw to first for the double play.
He also notes the effect that Billy is having on Pablo. On a grounder through the infield, with no one else on base, Billy drops to a knee to field the ball. An inning later, Pablo does the same in left. On a base hit toward the line, Billy fields the ball and fires it to second, even though the runner shows no intention of going for the extra base. It’s what you might call a demonstration throw, and the message is clear: I’m going to do that all night, so don’t even try it. Pablo performs the same quick throw on his next four chances.
David’s team has found a sparkplug. Larry was a sparkplug, too, but a different kind: a talker, encouraging, prodding, slapping backs. Billy doesn’t talk much, but his play is so sharp it’s impossible to ignore. The balls come off of his bat low, hard and to the right; the results are so impressive that even the sloppiest of David’s batters are swinging for liners and grounders. David has to smile, recalling the uncountable times he has shouted the words “low and hard!” to little effect.
The new approach has his team keeping up with last season’s champs. Come the bottom of the seventh they’re tied up, one out with the bases loaded and Billy at the plate. He waits out a ball and a strike, then lifts a lazy fly to center. David tags at third and scores the winning run.
Naturally, the student is not about to let the teacher off the hook.
“Hey! What’s with that weak-ass fly ball?”
Billy laughs and gives Pablo a knuckle-bump. “Okay, tell me this: what’s the worst ball you could hit in that situation?”
Pablo gives it a thought. “Grounder to the pitcher, to home, to first. Double play.”
“Yes. And several other double-play combinations, all of which take place in the infield. So if you have a flyball swing in your arsenal – and I do – why not avoid the whole issue?”
“So what you’re also saying,” says Pablo, “is that my left-field flyball swing might actually come in handy.”
Billy stops and smiles. “Okay, you got me. From now on, three left-field bombs per batting practice.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear,” says Pablo.

The traditional early-August rainstorm has killed business at the hotel, leading Roger to let the musicians off early. They all stick around regardless, David and Isaiah at the bar, Billy and Abbey in their regular booth.
“How come you never played ball?” asks David. “You’d…”
“Make a great first baseman. No. I would make a huge target – a target that could more readily translate ancient Sufi texts than catch a thrown object. Besides, I wouldn’t want to imperil these golden fingers.”
“Point taken.”
“So how are the boys doing?”
“I think Derek gets the deal. He’s still got to work a little before I can put him in there. But he seems perfectly happy to hang out, and he keeps a beautiful scorebook. He’s also going to give us a weekly printout of our stats. Players love that shit.”
“Especially when they’re playing well.”
“Yep. As for Pablo – The Natural, as we call him – that’s a little trickier. He asked me why he was batting tenth, and I told him flat-out, politics. Some of these guys have been on the team five years, and they’re very comfortable in their spots. Batting my own son tenth is a good way to show respect for the veterans and simultaneously put those speedy legs right before the leadoff hitter.
“The scary thing is, that leaves me chasing my own son around the bases, and he is definitely pulling away.”
“Hey, most men your age are playing shuffleboard.”
“Thanks a lot.” He touches his longneck to Isaiah’s, a toast to all things good. “So. Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”
Isaiah grins. “I have begun to suspect that Billy’s ancestors were slaveholders, and that one o’ them Scarlett O’Haras had a taste for dark meat.”
“Shocking! Would explain a lot, though. He ain’t Satchmo, but he certainly captures it.”
A burst of sound rises from the back booth. Billy is painting the room with his high laugh, as Abbey covers her mouth, scandalized by some joke.
Isaiah smiles. “You have transformed that man.”
“And vice-versa. My sons worship him.”
“So what’s this thing with Abbey?”
“Ya got me. It’s not a May-December thing, but it’s not a just-friends thing. Something deeper.”
“Maybe he gave her a mission when she was tired of being the patient. Didn’t he show up right after the accident?”
“Yeah,” says David. “Maybe.”

Photo by MJV

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Story: Deck

From the collection Cafe Phryque.


Coco Shell on new redwood,
soaking up sunrays,
chasing a golden tan.

I dip my brush and
slap it on. The open
grain fizzes like soda.

Coco rolls onto her stomach and undoes her top. I try not to stare.
“Was it hard being a stripper?”
She laughs.
“It was hard stopping. Men telling you you’re gorgeous and handing you cash.”
I kneel at the meeting of house and plank, sliding the stain along the siding, drawing it
forward to take out the laps.

“But you’re still in showbiz, right?”

A scornful yip.

“And free ocean voyages.”

Her voice sinks an octave.

“They hide us below decks like slaves. No fraternizing with passengers. Like I’m gonna
run off with some octogenarian with a blue pill.”

I crank the edges of a can and fill my tray to the grill. Then I dip the brush and work it
into the cracks.



“Is this place… private?”

I lean on my paintstick and scan the vicinity, endless walls of redwood and Douglas fir,
the yellow surprise of big-leaf maple.

“We’ve got one neighbor up the road, but I think you’re safe.”

“Good. We’ve got strict rules about tan lines.”

I hear her shifting on the chaise but stick to my work, scrubbing the inside of a knothole.

“Oh for God’s sake, would you go ahead and look? It’s not like you’d be the first. Or the


Rupert hails me from the drive. He’s wearing his client clothes, artfully layered to hide
the splashes of stain underneath.

“Yo! Bossman.”

He stands at the top of the steps and leans forward, appraising my work.

“Tremendous! Beautiful work, Maestro. Do you think we could’ve gotten away with
Golden Tan?”

I take off my hat and use it to wipe my forehead.

“No. There’s some old stain on that back section. Too much of a contrast.”

“Did you give it a light sand?”

“As always.”

He picks up a can and studies the label.

“Ah yes. Nothing like Coco Shell to cover the flaws.”

“It’s like dipping your deck in chocolate.”

“Aha! I may use that on a female client sometime.”

“As long as she doesn’t actually lick the deck.”

“Oh! Imagine the slivers. Well, I’m off. Must do an estimate in Scotts Valley. Wish me

“Kick ass!”

Rupert walks to his truck, tossing micromanagement grenades.

“Remember, stop at five! Dewpoints! Oh, and tidy up the cans, would you?”


“No fuck-ups!”

He revs the engine and charges the hill, kicking up gravel. Coco peers around the corner.

“No fuck-ups? Seriously?”

“Our company motto.”

She readjusts the chaise and settles back down. I take the prior invitation and give her a
once-over. Her skin is coffee and cream, with subtle gradations: Sumatra, Kona,
Ethiopian, Italian roast. Guaranteed for three years with normal sun exposure. She catches my
gaze and smiles.

“Do I pass muster?”

“Always, Coco. You’re gorgeous.”

“At forty bucks a gallon, I should be. So why does Rupert call you Maestro?”

I press the button on my CD player. It’s Renata Tebaldi, from Suor Angelica.


“Also, I’m good with a stick.”

She stretches her arms.

“I will just bet you are.”

A swallowtail flutters the
railings and lands on
Coco’s stomach.

I dip my brush.
A breeze feathers the evergreens.

Photo by MJV

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Sixteen: Take Five

Buy the book on Amazon Kindle.

 Abbey Sparling. Mrs. Abbey Sparling. Professor Sparling.
            Abbey sat on a sofa in the women’s room, a refugee from her own reception, running her new name through her head like a starry-eyed teenager. Anyone in the university chapel would have predicted the bride as a party girl, the groom as a shellbound turtle. But Randy was upstairs, regaling the hoi polloi with amusing stories from their courtship, while Abbey was absolutely burnt out, praying that the women in the party had strong bladders. They had warned her about this – the blurring time warps of wedding day, the frustration of twenty-second conversations constantly interrupted by twenty-second conversations. None of which went anywhere. To a recent recipient of a Masters in Literature (with a thesis about Whitman’s influence on the development of American free-verse poetry), this was maddening! Uh-oh. Ten minutes. Better get back before they begin the annulment. She took a look at herself in the mirror – still shocked to find herself in a wedding dress – and set out for the hallway. Standing in the lobby was Billy, dressed in white tux and tails like an envoy from a Busby Berkeley musical. She raced his way; he lifted her into the air, as he had since she was a toddler. At the apex of her flight, she planted a kiss on his cheek, and he set her back down.
            “I hope that isn’t too hard on your back yet, ‘cause it sure is fun.”
            Billy unleashed his ringing, high-pitched laugh. “Just don’t gain any weight, or I’ll have to pass those duties on to your husband.”
            “I’ll consider that an incentive. Oh, Billy. Thank you for the songs. I knew you would come up with something brilliant.”
            “When the bride and groom hail from Chicago and Georgia, the choices are fairly obvious.”
            “You made me cry, too. You jerk.”
            “I hope to God you were cryin’ about Georgia.”
            That sent them into a good laugh, followed by an awkward silence. Abbey could guess the cause. She and Randy were moving to Seattle, which meant she and Billy wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while. Maybe Thanksgiving. Maybe Christmas. Every other year. When Billy looked at her again, those intense blue eyes were misting over.
            “Honey. You are, without a doubt, the most beautiful bride I have ever seen.”
            Abbey wrapped her arms around his neck and held on for a long time.
            “Any requests?”
            “You think they know ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’?”
            Billy snickered. “They want to stay in business, they better.”
            She took his hand and they started up the broad staircase. She felt like an animated Disney princess.
            “Oh!” said Billy. “I forgot to tell you my news. Frankie won the ticket lottery. I’m going to the playoffs!”
            Abbey stopped and gave him an excited grin. “The Blues?”
            “Game Six. I tell ya, honey. You gettin’ married and all – this is the year. I can feel it!”
            Knowing the travails of Memphis baseball fans, Abbey thought it best to smile and say nothing.

            David is reading Stephen Ambrose’s account of Lewis and Clark and is fascinated, as always, by the way the two had to bribe their way across the continent, ingratiating themselves with the Indians by giving them beads, tools, tobacco and whiskey. Today he walks the ocean side of Point Damon with his own offering: an ice-filled Zip-Lock bag holding two beers, tucked into his backpack. He learned this trick from Elena’s cousin Esteban, who works a vineyard in California.
            The day is 50/50 clouds and sun, with a brisk wind and impressive waves that curl up like a fist and smack the sand. He keeps a weather eye; he has heard too many stories about “sneaker waves.” Lately, his life is nothing but sneaker waves, and that’s why he’s here. Perhaps this is endemic to those who forgo human contact and speak little, but David is convinced that Billy has some sort of answer for him.
            The driftwood teepee is there, along with the customary plume of smoke. David keeps to the shore, taking in the carousel, which today is pulling along like an express train. There has got to be a way, thinks David, that an extreme sports athlete could take advantage of a circular current.
            He makes a point of whistling “Take Five” as he approaches, to avoid causing an alarm. Billy is perched on a log next to the fire, reading a tattered book; he looks up as if he’s been expecting him.
            “You didn’t bring your bass?”
            Already feeling like a trespasser, David does not immediately recognize this as a joke. He recovers quickly.
            “Couldn’t find a long-enough extension cord.”
            Billy chuckles and sets down the book. “Pull up a crate.”
            David squats on a red milk crate, sets down his pack and liberates the Zip-Lock. Billy’s eyes perk up.
            “Are those what I think they are?”
            “They are.” He undoes the seal and hands him a Tecate. Billy pops the top, takes a swallow and looks like he’s about to cry.
            “Have I told you lately that I love you?”
            “Van Morrison.”
            “I sometimes talk in song titles. So. I imagine you have brought me a question.”
            “I don’t give answers much, so naturally people ask me questions. Also, you’re a history teacher – and boy do I have a history. Not that I will tell you the least bit of it.”
            “So I surmised. Tell you what. Give me some of that soup, and I will talk completely about myself.”
            “You realize you’re taking your life into your hands. A homeless person does not have the best access to fresh ingredients.”
            “But isn’t that why one makes a soup? To boil away the nasties?”
“Touché.” He fills a tin cup and hands it to David. The concoction is just as delicious as it smells, and coats his mouth with a spicy warmth.
“Now that could get you through an Ocean Shores winter.”
“Abbey found a ridiculously good deal on curry and gave me half a shitload. I may have to convert to Hindu. You know, I used to get some ingredients from your son.”
“One of the few who didn’t shoo me away. In fact, he began making me a special bag of leftover food and leaving it next to the back door. Sweet kid. Sorry about the holdup.”
David takes another swallow and lets it soak in. “That was a trauma.”
“You’ve had quite a summer. Losing your friend, Derek’s poem… Well. I apologize for knowing so much, but I’m sure you know where I’m getting my info.”
“She’s very fond of you. She says she couldn’t have made it without you.”
They fall silent. Billy adds a piece of kindling to the fire, then slaps his knees.
“So! What’s the question?”
“Well, you’ve got the first part – this continual shitslide beginning with Larry. But now I find that various superheroes – my eldest son, my new singer, Parthenia – have swooped in and spun it all into gold. So what’s my problem? I should be having one hell of a time!”
Billy cannot resist the obvious move of rubbing his beard. He drinks the last of his beer and lets out a contented sigh.
“Tell me two times, this month, when you were one hundred percent happy.”
“Okay. When the three of us were playing for that packed floor of dancers. And… last Sunday, when Pablo and I were up against a tremendous rush.”
“What do the two have in common?”
“Let’s see. Large crowds. A bit of fear. Um… focus. Full occupation.”
“Lack of thought?”
“No. Lots of thought.”
“But not worry-thought.”
“Being in the moment?”
Billy laughs. “I’m sorry. You’re right, of course. But God we have slaughtered that phrase, right along with words like ‘spirituality’ and ‘patriot.’ Absolutely devoid of meaning. However! Here’s the question: if full and focused occupation is the medicine that’s working for you, where do you think is another place that you could get some of that?”
David gives it a full effort but finds himself stumped.
“I got nothin’.”
Billy produces the small miracle of a grin and holds up two fingers.
“Two words. Soft. Ball.”

Photo by MJV

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Poem: Disengaged


Red tumbles over yellow till the
coupling turns orange.
Yellow and blue in a corner,
making a perfect green of themselves.

He has met the compound colors and
seen the tire tracks on their faces.

The two-two tango is natural,
as is poison oak, lyme disease,
an unfortunate strike of
lightning to the temple.

He has taken the trip and yeah,
it’s a thrill ride, a levitation,
a Valentine’s Day fuckfest.

But one develops immunities,
a need to up the dosage,
operational expenses, wear and tear.

Alternative medicines:
a rainy night in San Francisco,
the diminuendo of a soprano,
a dozen daffodils in a coffee cup.

A friend who thinks you’re brilliant.
A stylist who massages your scalp.
A dog who thinks you’re God.
This poem.
This line.
This ending.

Sacramento, California
From the collection Fields of Satchmo

Photo by MJV