Tuesday, November 19, 2013
“Now a few words from the sister of the bride and Desiree, the sister of the groom.”
My body reacted and I stood up. I walked towards him, reached for the mic and waited as Desiree took her place beside me. The mic was slightly warm in my grip.
I stood there, looking first at my sister on my left, sitting in an off the shoulder white dress at a small table just for two, her husband next to her. I looked into the crowd of people, sitting behind plates of food and half filled wine glasses. Some of them I knew from childhood, others were still strangers.
I looked into them, but did not really see them, not as individuals, not even like people. They were a mass of energy and even though they appeared as human shapes, my perception went past that simple quality.
I took a breath, my body somehow relaxing on its own without brain intervention. I looked at the groom, sitting in a suit and jacket beside my sister.
I opened my mouth and got exactly three words out before the fourth caught in my throat. I was immediately surprised by it, hearing it from a stranger’s perspective even though it came out of me. My years of training moved through me in that moment as I calmly kept going, speaking slowly enough for the words to move through me, a vessel talking to the great pulsating mass that went beyond us.
Later I understood that my sister wanted a party, a real party with dancing and energy. It was then I understood, it was then I decided that I would be that party. I would be the dancing body, I would help her create that invocation.
The only way to make a party is to be a party. I wiggled and jumped to rap. I bounced and sang to early 90s hip hop. I gathered my chiffon skirt up and did some grinding to Justin Timberlake.
We were on a patio, just steps from the ocean waters now black under the night sky. Between us and the ocean was a cement promenade, even at night there were people walking by. I realized we were on display, the dancers, the people standing on the sidelines grabbing drinks at the bar, the older couples standing against the cement ledge, we were all on display and I let myself be a spectacle, giving up self conscious thoughts about what the three black guys thought of us dancing to Tupac or what the couple walking hand in hand perceived as they saw us dancing in a circle around the bride and groom. I flowed into the pure ritual of it, allowing myself to be a dancer, a singer of repeated tunes, a sister of the bride, a wild invocant mixing tribal movements and fist pumping and flamenco to “I like big butts and I cannot lie…”
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
I wonder how much of his life, how much of my life was reflected in that paint, in the colors and shapes he brought into existence. How much of it was a blueprint for what was to come, the tea leaves of a man brought to vibrant life by his own hands, delicately choosing the brush thickness and pigments that would forever remain, at least in my thoughts.
The metal easel was set up in the corner of our large, light filled patio, my red child’s size easel was close to his…papa bear and baby side by side. The homeowners before us had added the patio and we used it for birthday parties and occasional grilling and for some time, perhaps years, I don’t remember exactly, an art studio.
The walls extended just to hip height, above that it was windows to the ceiling. In the right hand corner, just off from the sliding glass door which led to the formal living room, was a world of paint and chemicals in small metal canisters with thumbprints over them in red and black and mixtures of the rainbow.
Our large table he had made of an old wooden door that had been left in the garage and it was held horizontally by two wooden legs he had also made, using crude and rough lumber. Serving as a thick six foot table, he pushed it against the wall which faced the wooden deck.
In the corner, to the left of the table, were the easels, directly facing the blue pool just beyond the windows. He arranged his years of collected supplies in a methodical way along the back edges of the table.
Towards the middle were old jars in a variety of shapes and sizes which held the brushes. There seemed to me every size and option, thick-handled ones of smooth wood with a thick bunch of hairs at the end, other more dainty, with thin handles and perfectly pointed tips meant for delicate line work. Others had bristles in the shape of thin fans and there were dozens of other brushes, each designed for a particular purpose.
To the right of the jars and brushes were the chemicals; turpentine and paint thinner and half a dozen others I never bothered to learn. Beside them were empty jars to use during cleaning and a small pile of rags meant to wipe off paint and solution, though I ruined many of his brushes by neglecting this crucial step.
Along the back left side of the table were a mountain of white tubes, each one with a strip of color at the top which promised the containment of vibrant oil paint in every shade imaginable.
I knew he had been a painter, the walls of our living room attested to that. There were several rich and moody paintings of surreal shapes and people, the subjects of which seemed barely real. There was an aesthetic about his work that seemed to favor particular colors, or particular shapes of particular colors; he loved maroon, black, green and orange and touches of white for shading.
But though I knew he had been a painter, I had never seen him paint until the day he began his last.
The canvas on the easel went through a series of changes, I watched from my seat on the couch just past the other set of double sliding glass doors which led to the informal living room as he applied the first layer of white gesso, then later above it a background of dark green and black. He used the fine edge of his palette knife to push the paint on the canvas, the effect creating simultaneously smooth strokes with slightly thicker edges, all of which made subtle mixed textures of the green and black paint, blending them in such as way that it was hard to tell what was black and what was green, they seemed to melt into each other, just hinting of the other’s presence, an allusion to color that seemed to me full of questions and mystery and deep penetrating substance. Two colors that were full and alive, whose presence seemed to go deeper beyond the simple thickness of the canvas, deep into time and lineage and space.
For weeks, perhaps months, I cannot remember, he added more. Above the magical darkness, suspended among the undulating green and black was a single leaf. With no tree or branch beside it, the leaf hovered in bright contrast to the rich darkness and texture of the background.
It had a somewhat tropical feel, with a wide face and slightly wavy edges that seemed to mirror moving water in their ripples. I watched its existence manifest with layers of green, dark and light along some contours and in other areas of the leaf a hint of yellow.
He added strokes of white using both the thick and thin brushes and created definition and shading and movement on an still surface. To me, the leaf was bright and buoyant and perfectly contrasted the deep darkness where it floated.
I thought he was done, but then several weeks later he added more. They were big and bulbous drops of red, yellow and white water which, to me, looked angry and full of vengeance. The drops came from the upper right hand side of the canvas and crashed into the delicate veins and cellulose of the leaf in the center, pushing into it and destroying its simple existence.
If the leaf had contrasted the color and mysterious mood of the darkness behind it, then the drops were in direct conflict with the mood of the leaf. To me they seemed to vibrate with vicious violence, intent on destroying the cool elegance of the leaf with raw red power.
I was scared of what the painting had become. The drops of red and yellow and white filled me with a sense of fear. I cannot remember what I said to him, if it was anything at all.
The canvas never made it to our living room walls where the few survivors of his days as a painter hung. I never saw it again.
It took years, but at some point the many jars of brushes, the tubes, the table, the easel, it all went away, perhaps slowly, perhaps all in one day, I cannot remember. I do know it was the last painting he ever made.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
we watched the tide.
A trail of white lingered behind the breaking waves,
bread crumbs left behind for our thoughts.
I looked at her, wind blowing that long straight hair
like it was in a battle with the elements.
We were forest creatures,
standing beside this place of water.
Sounds we had still not become accustomed to,
scents never experienced.
If we remembered the trail of ants
over stumps left behind,
if we thought of mushrooms
and ferns and the rotting mulch of our
no, I could not think of it.
We would fall.
There are some things we cannot do, not now.
A dotted line entered my consciousness.
Two double-stranded helixes.
Pure form, all lines and angles, twisting,
Making bodies, shapes, information.
I looked again at her,
A world within a world.
A rose, within a rose.
We watched the tide, the fading white to blue,
Blue to white.
Long trails along the water like our thoughts lingering
on far away places.
She was an angel beside me, one angel
consisting only of truth, of beauty which opened wider
the more I looked.
We were forest creatures
made on the kitchen sink.
Dirt, the remains of bitter greens
and a splash of water.
It was simple once,
perhaps it still was, but my mind
was running with shadows,
with extra words
which seemed to spill over into the water
and run away from me.
I could not even make a move
to chase after them,
I could not spook the angel.
I stood still
presenting myself with a bit of falsehood.
Direct correspondence could cause the
winds to change.
The gray pearl might dart, might
jump into the choppy waters
that seemed to so adequately mirror the
We had wanted for nothing
there with the shade, with the dampness of
winters that never quite left.
Not now, there are some things I cannot say.
The water speaks,
a rose opens.
The fractal widens,
showing itself finally to
my fractured mind.
The cracks widen,
it seeps in, finally finding the opening for which
it had long awaited.
My gates had been sealed,
tightened and bolted.
The sea air has done its work,
smelling as sweet
as all that has been forgotten.
Unhinged, I now grasp.
We forgot all the names.
In the garden
our jaws opened,
your own widening perception
Mine broke and crumbled.
Then we wanted.
desire had been born.
Perhaps we would put it to rest.
The angel and I
the waters and the new passage available,
For a moment, a minute, a day?
We must jump,
The path is open,
oozing and bloody,
the seals and cement, the path
The secrets are open
and we must jump while we can.
The new world of waves
of seaweed and mermaids
in this new, unfamiliar world.
We finally jump away
from the trees and earth so familiar,
into the darkness.
A world within a world.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Not alone in the bedroom, she opened and took and the pungent seeds of time spilled into the darkness of space alight with imagination and moans and shrieks and luminous suns.
Let the blackness talk and whisper the secrets of life eternal, but do not mistake the body as its only source. The sky is full and traveling is not done only in carbon and flesh.
Drink of life like my mother did once.
Then drink again.
Water like my father did once.
Like my father.
Forever is not the end.
There is only eternal
An endless loop of purple and black, we sit in this circle and live out the revolution.
Time shifts as this carpet accepts our weight. As the walls hold us in and the black curtains postpone the sunlight from our eyes.
We go back into the dream state and journey through darkness and quiet spaces while the walls melt like jelly. We walk through them, licking the paint until our tongues taste like ocean water.
We circle back and flow in and out of the speckled windows, hearing the squeaks and moans of cars rounding the corner and delivery trucks halting by the door. The walls hold us in, ever intent on their quiet role, their shelter against the demanding brightness of day.
Grinding and sliding through the maze of our consciousness- like a serpent, the circle comes back once again. It is my turn to speak.
The ends are woven perfectly together and for once the ends of our fingertips flow out and back in like wisteria branches. Perfectly pungent and delicate- we glow imperceptibly in the darkness behind the curtains. Eventually the walls take in our vibration and the light between you and I starts to move like heat off a desert floor. Though my eyes are closed, I dance and dance, hoping over sand and the scent of old gun smoke and greased leather.
What is this space? I hear my mind ask. Never content to let the eyes talk for us, to let time shift and strain and begin to rewind and then leap forward in a spiraling dance around the circle of our words. And back again, receding into the darkness between the black curtains.
Endless circles as our fingers and toes merge back into roots and trees.
Monday, March 11, 2013
In the east the men fight, not just each other but the bugs and the cold that reaches in under their worn-out ratty wool blankets.
Each one stinks and is darkened with grease and drops of blackened blood. All blankets are futile attempts to stop cold or bleeding. The rations are paltry; the young men, babyfaced and pale, hold the balled up blankets to their cavernous stomachs to blot out the noises of hunger, they press them tighter to drown out the needling pain. Older recruits warned of the hunger. It would crawl inside and start to eat and gnaw from the inside, hollowing out fingers and toes first, it would soon find the plentiful reserves of thick, purple organs.
Just outside the camps made of canvas and dirt are the muskets and hastily made trenches, the mis-read maps that will lead to so many fallen lives on coming autumn days.
Out there in the fields and meadows and under the old trees they lay. Sometimes thousands in a week, sometimes hundreds in an hour. Too many to carry home, too many to bury in the soil and say a little prayer. They will have to be found by god, buried in snow and picked at by the animals of shadows. They will end up in the woods and meadows, spread out bit by bit by tiny squirrels and swallows.
Those gunshots are not even a faint ding on the horizon out in the yellow land of the west. This is the wasteland and the battle hymns and marches fall, losing their way between sand and stone.
In the desert and the old dusty towns there are other games to play. Gray and blue are just some of the colors, none are the desert dwellers' concern. The wasteland is full of games, big and small and meaningless, depending on the player. Each rider and beast moves towards gold or glory or woman or the rare gem of purpose at the bottom of a deep flowing river, the great golden treasure that calls from the heart of an ever receding sea.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
She stepped into the white neon light of the women’s bathroom and was met by an open window, the night air smiling hello as she closed to door to the stall. Separated only by a metal barrier, she could hear the woman next to her on the phone- her voice was patient, slow, as she tried to explain driving directions to someone on the other end.
“You drive east on Harrison, you’ll see a light ahead of you as you approach Whole Foods. Right before the light there is a driveway on your left. It’s a one-way driveway, but that’s ok, turn into it anyway.”
There was a pause as she listened.
“Yeah, turn into the one-way driveway. It will feel wrong, but just do it, it’s ok. You just turn into it and continue on and turn left as soon as you can. I am just going to say goodbye to a few people and I will meet you out there. Just make sure to turn into the one-way driveway. It will feel wrong. If it feels wrong, then you are going the right way.”
The woman was silent again as she listened to the voice on the other end. Then she said goodbye, flushed the toilet and left.
The words rung clear and true against the white walls and fluorescent lights of the bathroom. The night air rang and cried out.
If it feels wrong, you’re going the right way. Mechanical feels right, something so smooth, without friction, without the uncomfortable anxiety pounding against muscle and bone and the very rules taught since birth.
Try walking uphill as the crowd goes down. Try swimming against the current. Try going against every institution perpetuated by family and state, it will feel wrong.
It was late, well past midnight. As waves of weariness and sleep started to massage her eyes and shoulders she smiled, knowing for the moment that she was going against the signs.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
They nip at the beautiful sphere we create, puncturing it slowly until it collapses under its own weight. I stare at it, deflated and crumbled as candlelight still flickers- the glow reminding me of what we could have made. I see my reflection on its distorted shiny surface.
Work through the stinging bit of doubt.
They come up like weeds and sometimes I confuse them for tiny flowers and I let them open. Only when their faces shine up at me do I realize my mistake and see the death skulls laughing. But by that time I am far away and lost, floating on my wooden canoe.
Out to sea I remember shore. Far away there is a house and a garden. Far away a sage bush goes to seed. Far away is a protector, but I can no longer see him beyond the horizon.
My habits have carried me out here and water spills in over the side. Salt oozes up my leg and I begin to crack.
But there you are, holding the door open once again. The pathways are slightly more narrow now and the flowers have lost their scent, but here we are again in the dim afternoon light. The present is open and wide and we look into it with wide glittering eyes.
Once again we had stood on the edge, once again we clawed our way back from the crashing waves. Here we are again, a circuit of energy between us tasting of love.
Try to remember to breathe you caution. Next time breathe into the stinging bits of doubt, send some air into the caves.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Inside where there was at first darkness, the shape of a jigsaw puzzle formed. Hundreds of scattered pieces floated in space, some of them glinted with flecks of yellow and earth and trees blowing in the wind. She heard a voice.
“Sing the war,” it urged. “Let it come out in sound.”
Her mouth opened and she found the root and from there she bounced up slowly gathering colors. There were large bonfires with orange flames forming great cones of sweeping embers, they scattered up into the twilight. Looking down over the hillsides she could see half a dozen fires.
The peasants were running. Barefoot and dressed in white, the soles of their feet almost as white as their dingy rags. They ran as a great horde down the hillside and out of view, children and thick women with bouncing breasts, young women holding their newborns in their arms. They ran leaving all they had in their piece-meal houses of wood and refuse, just a few old men thinking to grab machetes.
She jumped up with her voice, going higher. She saw the great metal monsters of the American and Salvadoran army, huge helicopters painted a pale olive green. Men jumped from the open side of the metal birds with their guns in front of them like precious babies. Jaws locked and faces hard, they hit the ground running. They jumped onto the overgrown hillside, the whirlwind of the helicopter blades moving everything in a rush. They ran towards the jungle looking for targets.
The sounds of her voice got louder, stronger, coming from a place of complete commitment, the story told in tone and quarter notes while the saxophone kept along, leaping like a faithful dog by her side.
And then the face of a pretty young woman, mocha skin and dark eyes and smiling for the camera. The same girl, standing in a jungle clearing, sunlight illuminating her from behind, baggy pants and long sleeved shirt rolled up to her elbows. She stood looking into the distance lost in thought. The same girl, hands tied behind her back moments before the end.
And then the singing stopped as a wave of emotion rushed forward like a giant sweeping in, coating not just her eyes, but her legs and arms and chest and back in chills and tears. She opened her eyes and looked around, seeing the same familiar collection of people and things, tables and chairs and an assortment of collected instruments on the shelves.
No one was there to meet her eyes, no one had seen the fires or metal birds, no one had seen the girl but her.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
I could hear them fighting over the tablet playing cartoons. As I listened to the vocal coaching on my computer and tried to sing along and practice, their constant bickering moved through the glass door and found me and pushed me away from my concentration.
I could imagine Noah trying pull the computer more towards him and Jonas pulling back, finally strong enough now to defend himself against his older brother.
It was the endless struggle for property that would stay with them until death. Territory and desire and anger, they were fully present even at three years old. They were even more evident than in adults, due to the lack of social flitters and niceties and the many disguises the adult world has devised to cloak those inner urges. When those little boys wanted the computer, the cookie, the train they took it. Available responses of the other was tears, or a scream or to hit back.
I could not hear any response from Noah, so I assumed he was the perpetrator. I had stopped trying to intervene. I had grown tired of trying to make them share, or warning them, threatening to take it away, now I had just grown silent. I had other things to do. I sunk back into the music and left them alone, it would be survival of the strongest.
Occasionally I heard Jonas’ weapon of choice: that scream. The high pitched wail irked me from the inside, one of those sounds which physically chilled me and made me shake and try and shrug off the noise. I closed the door to the living room. They were going to do what they were going to do. There could be no reasoning, they were too young, they were little machines.
The boys used to sit with me as I did my vocal work. When Jonas had just learned to sit up by himself I would put him on a chair next to me and he would look at me with huge, smiling eyes and laugh at some of the sounds. Noah would sometimes sing along and then we would dance.
Just a few years later and fully human, they were more interested in Dora and Umizumi and their computers and ignored me as much as I tried to look past their fighting. The babies had recognized the work, they could sit with me, patiently waiting sometimes as I went through the things I wanted to do; these little people did not.
They had fallen. It was only a matter of time, all beings must descend, become human, become mere machines.
Maybe one day they would stop fighting and hear me singing from the other room. Maybe they would remember some of our early nights together when we sat in three chairs in the living room and they would come out to join me once again: singing, dancing, laughing.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Those hands of yours with the roses sprouting from below the white nails are leading to my bed where the sockets sizzle and burn, sometimes exploding like certain moments in a hot jungle with a stove nearby and a woman in a blue uniform caressing the colored light between us. Ouch, the fire of electricity snaps me up. Eyes, open. We know where we are.
Eyes open, we look out the window together and regard the little bird at the top of the tree. Ouch. Another slap and yes, I am listening. There is nothing that hurts more than a blind ear. A deaf eye. A mute look.
We stare out the window. Stare. Stare and state the purpose. Bird out on the tree, sitting on the tippy top, bending the last of that cypress flare.
What hurts more? Out the window, looking in this bed and discovering the world beneath the covers. Covers are for the modest and asses out- the narrow light coming through the window catches us, immodest and glaring white and covered with hair.
The savages have come with urine scented hair and teeth, the shamans rarely stand on hilltops with white robes. No- the tribe has arrived, beautifully described with yellow teeth hanging from rope necklaces made of human hair- skulls used easily as drinking cups. All manner of earthly remains used for decorations and I was hoping to get one for the small altar.
Pain is my friend, without it I forget. Without it I would forget myself in this warm house covered in sugar and red and white candies and the fluff of terrycloth and inertia. Pain is nothing my friend. Pain is everything.
I look into your eyes, share that spark once again. The sockets will be jealous as will the memory of a story in my mind.
Can they see us now? Our colors pouring out the small shaft not always meant for light- grunting and brutal- the light hits us from behind, illuminating our forms on the white walls, casting a shadow that travels out and up- beating against the wall of the room, radiating out out out and up up up until we no longer recognize it, have forgotten what was done on the bed in the name of pain and practice and exchange.
But the clouds are there and have been since we began, and they seize it all up and turn it into seed and send it back.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
For years, every December I would think of buying a living tree from some nursery, or just a tinny-tiny little one that could fit on my kitchen table. I remembered the History Channel special that described the winter tree as a pagan ritual, but I also remembered my mother’s threat to me and my sister:
“I hope you know that when I die I’ll be looking down at you from heaven and if you ever have a Christmas tree, I’ll be very disappointed.”
My sister was so small standing behind me. We seemed, the three of us, illuminated by a bright stage lamp used in theater productions.
And each time I thought of getting a tree, as I drove past the lots, I would caution myself. After all, did I really need to spend $20 on a tree?
Today I walked into the lot. Something had come over me, some type of determination that could not be swayed by price, or dire warnings, or the guilt of a thousand generations.
The small lot was rich with the sweet-sour smell of northern fir. Children ran between the rows of towering trees and young couples holding each other close for warmth stood by while their chosen tree was assembled with base and stand.
Looking around I knew that these were common memories for them all- people who had picked and decorated their trees every year, memories that began before they could form words. For the children, they would perpetuate the tradition. One day these children would bring their own children to these lots, and they would watch as they ran and played and hid behind the cut, fragrant giants.
I stood virgin to them all, wondering if they could perhaps sense my alien nature, my shinning brightness that had no precedent.
A big black man with an African accent stood beside me as I pointed to the two foot tree.
“I’ll take that one.”
The narrow trunk ended at a wooden “x” which was nailed into the bottom, allowing the tree to stand upright.
“So I just put this whole thing in a bowl of water?’
He looked at me with a perplexed look. “How are you going to do that?”
I imagined a very large bowl but was unable to bring it out into the open.
“I don’t know,” I said smiling a little nervously, “I’ve never done this before.”
“You never had a Christmas tree before?”
“No,” I said smiling, shaking my head.
“I don believe it. You need a bowl,” he said authoritatively.
He took the tree from my hands and used a hammer to knock off the wooden cross it stood on, then attached a plastic bowl and another wooden “x” below it held together by a single nail.
As I walked out of the lot holding the tree in front of me like a giant gift finally attained, a wide, somewhat guilty smile on my face, a feeling of happiness and a rush of energy overtook me.
I felt as if people could tell. Did they see the obvious clash of symbols with my Semitic nose? I was not supposed to be holding one of these. No matter how much Brandon Tulley tried to persuade our Hebrew school teacher twenty-five years ago, there was no such thing as a Hanukkah bush. I could hear my mother’s warning through the day: "not even dead."
I spent the next few days decorating the tree with small shells and pearls and beads from my collection. A ribbon of bright green sequins wrapped around its trunk. This was the tree I was not born to have, yet it was here, atop my small fridge.