Oct 31, 2005
5 current songs, for Sarah
The Soul of a Man, by Blind Willie Johnson.
Freedom Hangs like Heaven, by Iron and Wine.
Rocks and Gravel, by Dave van Ronk.
Dead And Lovely, by Tom Waits.
Ballad of Hollis Brown, by Bob Dylan.
Oct 28, 2005
We woke up on the bus to the sound of the engine on idle. The driver was gone and snow was coming down. It was, I was thinking, late in the year for snow and I even checked the month on the paper in the box. Middle of May, middle of Montana and I don’t know if it's normal, but it was snowing. I hadn’t brought my coat, so I put my hands in my pockets and hunched my shoulders and stamped my feet awake.
An older man and I looked at the advertisements pinned to the board by the door and talked about auction season, auctions and auctioneers. He said the driver was sitting in the kitchen and saying we weren’t gonna move until he got the all-clear call. Driver was sitting on a stool slumping against the wall waiting for the phone. They said how he was falling asleep, all last night, falling out our lane and then waking up and jerking back over. All you can do, the older man said, trying to temper the kids who sat in the back and made jokes about toking up, who were saying how they should just leave this driver and drive this damn bus away, all you can do, you can’t do anything, but be patient.
What’s the time, I said to the waitress inside, and she said going on 4:30.
I was thinking how once a man like that older man told me that people talk all wrong about travel. When they come back they say I saw this and went there and then and they don’t normally say about the waiting. In the movies, and the stories, and the family videos, the plane just takes off and then it lands, the train turns around two scenic corners and comes into the station. The car goes under a bridge at sunset. And if they say anything about waiting, they’re complaining, because everybody believes in teleportation and trains that run on time.
There ain’t no reason, the sleep-headed girl said, that we can’t be driving. He just doesn’t want to. Lazy ass son of a. You can see cars out there driving on the highway. I can’t miss this connection. But of course, you always can. What are you gonna do? There are lines, delays, and detours. Hang ups, break downs, lay overs and late storms, and all you can do is either get mad thinking about how this isn’t what traveling was supposed to be and how now everything’s ruined, or you can pass the time. Sometimes it’s just that way, where traveling’s not about going anywhere.
This is one of those stops the bus always makes, both ways. Some diner outside some town and I remember it from last time. Place has a bowling alley in the back, pretty unforgettable. So I ordered breakfast. And whatcha wanna drink, honey the waitress said and I said coffee. One of the locals was telling a story about a pickup truck. She bummed a cigarette off a him and went back to sweeping the floor. I drank coffee and built a pyramid out of little cups of jam.
Oct 25, 2005
Oct 24, 2005
He lost his wallet in the woods, in the undergrowth of fallen leaves, fallen limbs, native weeds, and coming up suckers. We tramped around in circles, in back and forth rows looking for it for 45 minutes. He kept swearing to himself and saying it had to be there. We went back to work, after awhile, just giving up and going back to work saying we’d keep an eye out, maybe we’d see it but knowing, you know, knowing that was pretty hopeless.
When the boss came and we told him to keep an eye out for a wallet, he went over to the woods, standing outside the first trees, took off his ball cap and said, Lord Jesus, help me find this wallet. Lead me right to it. And that’s what happened. Right away, without circling or trampling or kicking at fallen down limbs and decades of dead leaves, he found it. He walked into the undergrowth in a straight line and just said, here it is.
The next day, retelling the story and laughing nervous at how strange, how weird, we said to him so, do you believe now?
He paused. We waited.
Well, he said, it’d be really useful when I lose my keys.
I, II, III, IV.
I'm building the wooden tracks for a wooden train, laying track end to end around a curve and up, stacked up high. Around me four people talk about trains and toy trains and about this track I'm building. They're sitting on the floor and I'm laying on my belly looking down the left groove and we're all there in familiarity, easy peacefulness, meandering talking and laughter. A child drools on a piece of track.
Oct 21, 2005
Oct 20, 2005
Oct 19, 2005
My almost-6-years-old brother Luke has become fascinated with Bigfoot and is finding foot prints. Bigfoot has, he says, been sneaking around, leaving marks on the living room floor and, he thinks, a big toe print in the concrete of the patio.
I don't know how he heard about Bigfoot, since it's not the type of thing my family'd normally talk about, but he did and he is, he is. It's the Northwest, too, last time I was in Seattle the city's telephone poles all had Bigfoot pictures advertising a music festival out at George. And we occasionally gets Sasquatch in the news, with one of the S'Klallam's reporting strange sounds or tracks or some tourist talking crazy and looking for fur up in the mountains on the rainy West end. Run that together with a storybook picture of Wild Things, a probably only half remembered retelling of Grendel, and the way children feel monsters in dark corners, and you have a 6 year old's obsession.
Oct 17, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Oct 15, 2005
The pancake syrup was running down into the eggs and sausage. My dad and his brother were talking while I was looking at the orange pulp clinging to the wet glass of the Denny’s cup and wondering why the orange juice tasted so bad after the syrup. Like after toothpaste. My dad buttered every pancake, lifting the top one to get the one underneath with a pass of the knife.
Outside, through the scratched up plastic face of the gratified newspaper box, the Chronicle cover was showing a concrete wall covered in spray paint colors, the rebar bent where it was coming through the ragged edge of a pick hammer hole.
Three men on bar stools at the counter drank coffee and read the paper, holding it out in front of them as tents. It would be funny, I thought, if they were all reading the same page. The men reached for their coffee without looking, feeling around blind, upsetting a fork, and then turning the mug until they found the handle. The steam rose slightly grey.
So, my uncle said, does Danny know the historic events that’re taking place in the world right now?
My dad shook his head. He had a mustache then and was I think, still wearing the yellow sweat shirt from the night shift in the freezer. No, he said. My eggs ran, and the line of yellow yolk twisted a little into the syrup.
It’s an important time, my uncle said and then they said nothing.
So? I said, impatient I think. What’s happening? Later my dad would look for a new world map and say he wondered how I was going to learn geography when the names and lines were always changing.
Oct 11, 2005
Pentecost at the Columbia
I stood in a phone booth on the bank of the river, trying to make a phone call with my voice out hoarse from sickness and lack of sleep but the wind wanted to blow away the business card with his number written on the back. I tried to huddle down, hunch over clutching the phone between my shoulder and my ear, tried to read the numbers now rubbed out smooth and shiney.
You sound, my friend said, like a 50 cent whore and through the phone feedback I can hear the roar of the wind, coming down the Columbia to this bridge. The bridge is the longest I've ever seen, right in the middle of the state, coming out of the high rumpled hills in a curve on the East to an arch off-center and then low sloping straight to this gas station. Vantage, WA. He can't hear me above the noise so I only say my name and tonight, really loud, and hang up.
I have never seen a wind like this, where it seems like everything will fly away, blowing down so violent that even the compact cars struggle to stay straight in their lanes. This is the wind children draw as an old-man cloud with puffed out cheeks puffing gray lines. I walked across the parking lot like a drunk man, 9 in the morning and I'm staggering against the force of it. It's like I need, I think, a new way to walk.
(See also Ash Wednesday)
Oct 10, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Oct 9, 2005
She always tells the one detail. She thinks it’s funny and it’s funny how it frustrates him, the way he keeps protesting no no that’s not true, you weren’t there, that’s wrong.
Mom doesn’t normally tell stories about before Dad, unless you ask her. She tells stories about kids being born and she tells her side of the stories she shares with dad and she mentions the coat that didn’t exist. He had a purple coat, she says, with fringes.
She holds up her arm and makes the fringe motion, wiggling fingers for fringes 12 inches down, smiles and we said really?
That’s how people knew he was a drug dealer, she says. Dad says though they knew because they knew who he was or somebody told them or, before that, before jail making him serious and organized crime’s making him the LSD dealer, because he’d stand on a corner with all the Berkeley students and the hippies and everyone 10 thousand a day walking by and he’d say in a low voice a list of drugs he could sell. He had a leather jacket, western style like all the hippies then playing out some tweaked over reversion of Cowboys and Indians and my dad was doing deals in the parks where they usta play with cap guns. And he had a purple shirt, velour, something that pulled over. And blue pants, cotton striped with different patterns. And a VW bus painted like an American flag and after the People’s Park riots they were in the unorganized parade celebration right up front honking the horn.
Mom doesn’t tell Dad’s stories, not like we kids do going back to the beginning and saying well you gotta understand in the beginning my dad was a drug dealer on LSD for two years and LSD’s only dealer and then he was converted by a street preacher and a cop back with the first wave of Jesus People. She treats it like a fact, if she mentions it, and she says Dad doesn’t have a short version of the story only the long and the longer. And she says he wore a purple leather jacket with fringes.
It’s not like a purple jacket woulda been out of character for my father. He coulda worn a purple leather jacket with fringes, like it’s the one crazy thing that didn’t happen but of all the insane details she doesn’t remember how he got sick eating abalone out of season or how one of his bodyguards ended up beheaded or how the city’s sergeant promised promotions to anyone who busted him but they never did.
It’s this other detail, the wrong one, that fascinates her and seems to symbolize my father, picturing him appearing so mad with charisma you’d either have to hate him and want to break him or you’d have to follow him, even if he was just standing on a street corner. To her, that’s my dad.
Oct 5, 2005
Oct 3, 2005
Up the long low steps, Rocky’s steps where the tourists still run and hum his theme in their heads, up the marble block stairs that will later serve as seats for cummerbund jazz, rising over Rivera’s flat faced peasants armed with sombreros and horses, around and past the tapestries through the arch on the left, I come. Here again. I come to the museum's icons: Christ carved crucified and suspended from the ceiling, Satan with stonewhiskers cast beneath St. Michael’s feet, a rock cloister rebuilt here around the shush of the penny-filled fountain of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.
Some art teacher stands before Mary and murmurs, reciting a history of symbolisms. The rooms are temperature controlled and dehumidified and the guards sit sleepy, checking their watches and watching the city out the windows. The place is quiet, a sanctuary, but always a museum and never a church. Maybe it’s the light softening the shadows around the framed saints, or the fact they’re arranged in clustered symmetries. Increasingly, that bothers me. These icons don’t point out anywhere. They stand all in a circle, these saints, idle.
Here Benedict and Scholastica face each other, across an aisle, hollow reliquary busts with heavy lidded eyes. The paint is worn a little thin, with a thick grain raised and showing through. They’re about waist high, the founder of Western Monasticism and his sister the nun, wooden heads with little windows. Stooping down you can look through the windows, the glass now clouded and dusty, to where the relics once were. Pray and work, Benedict said, that in all God may be glorified. But here they face each other, here Benedict’s sign refers to Scholastica, Scholastica’s to Benedict, and as I read in this circle I begin to mutter, around and around, muttering into empty windows.
Oct 2, 2005
My reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands. This is the confession of an unconfident reader.
Asleep, listening to the television, I imagine plots.