Slowly adding photos to my blog. With Sarah Paulson at a wedding back east in 2006.
Coming up blank, nothing here, finished Hillbilly Elegy, decent book, important message, but I find myself more drawn to the lyrical, the spiritual, the poetical, the not so logical words that dart around the page like a mouse in 3am’s bread drawer, that is me though, evader of the legal profession, where my sister and dad took constitutional refuge between the lines on the field, far from where I sit up in stars looking down on fireflies blinking in the long grass, with toads jumping into the pool when my grandma and grandpa are away-summer nights daydreaming about this, rearranging truth into fragments, run-ons like some kind of Kerouac adventure, Ginsberg howling out, making sense of the nonsensical, half-truths are what we grasp at, the beyond where life exists or we imagine it so.
the second tower went down
when I was in the car
heard disbelief, NPR like me
unable to stay calm, explaining
the before of white shirts waving for help
specks of humanity jumping out of windows
their hail hit while
I was eating my cereal flakes
at school, televisions on in every room
sirens rushing sound all over screens
the towers falling over and over again
repetition like practice, it happened, it happened
“what does this mean?” I asked my students
as if they knew
“we are going to war,” one said
he wasn’t wrong
I put my classroom flag out in the hall
duct taped it up for all to see
half-staff in my mind
everything in disarray
some TVs stayed on the whole day
kids asked the one teacher from Manhattan
who she knew there
almost excited to hear loss firsthand
like watching people on CNN
holding photos of sisters, mothers, dads
the forever gone
they swarm toward
warm light, winged sunbathers
wriggling in rays
then dead on the floor
more come each day
invisible, their home is
nowhere and everywhere
we live with them
they live with us
chewing our house
they must be
but all i see are
their bodies strewn about, then
sucked up by vacuum
they will all die
when the big tent comes
mobile gas chamber
all the air isn’t air
ashes, dusty bones, charred remains
houses gone in flames
owners up with wind
all the air isn’t air
hangs like fog, toxic smog
i can’t see the bridge, they say
san franciscans miles away
all the air isn’t air
masks they wear masks
white covered faces after
the climate changed
all the air isn’t air
endless clicking on screens
will the forecast change?
smoke only smoke
Novels tucked in tight seat pockets, cramped legs try to move, little lunges forward, stretching under plastic tray tables.
Some snore, eyes covered like blind pirates, others fixate on movies, their wine breath stale from hours without teeth brushing.
Global travelers, temporary residents sharing armrests, shoulders and knees touching like kids in the back of a station wagon.
Uniformed flight attendants permanently smile as carts collide with elbows, offering tea and coffee to the awake ones, wired from traversing time zones.
Babies cry while parents stare vacantly at lit up red “occupied” signs, waiting for locked body-filled closets that flush.
A map traces the flight, earth flat on a screen. Single white plane over ocean, a planet circling a planet.
when words appear and appear
idea takes form without
prodding, one letter after the next
pelting drops of rain
unabated it continues this
storm, lightning flashes
perfect cliché, but like a sneeze
it happens, a small clearing
breathing in new oxygen
effortless arrival, like it
was there all along
Sweaty fingers, dozens, paw me, arms outstretched, dirt and grime under fingernails. Above crusty noses, brown eyes peer out searching for my soul. I try not to look at their faces staring into me, focus on their tattered shirts. Money they want money, tugging on me like indigenous feral cats. “Just kids,” I tell myself, pace quickening to cross the street, get away, get back to my hotel, get past the security guard, into the air conditioning. For a minute they are with me like pigeons and I’m the bread. We walk together, my unwanted children. Wordless, I’d like to pause, embrace each one, but I quickly close the heavy hotel door.
October 16th 1997, I arrived at Malcolm X Elementary in Hunter’s Point to sub a 4th grade class, I was the 20th substitute they’d had in twenty days. The original teacher quit after being punched by a student. I didn’t have a credential, I hadn’t been in a 4th grade classroom since I was 10.
On my first day I heard them before I opened the door, the shouts, the taunting, the loud fuck yous. When I walked in, they momentarily paused, looked me up and down, then ignored me.
There was Brandy whose mother had just died, sullen. Herman who had already been drunk, had the nickname Bad Boy. Randy, a former crack baby, had impulse control issues, hit other kids, then forgot why. Alonzo, who looked me in my eyes, asked me if I could find his father. Cammie, her biological mother entered the classroom drunk, started touching her cheeks. Ralphie, who entered 4th grade illiterate and left the same way. Donnie, who I implored to stop grabbing the cakes (bottoms) of girls in the hall. June, who’s mother I restrained from whoopin’ Ralphie’s little butt. Jasmine who I let sleep for the first two hours of school, because she stayed awake during the late night drug deals at her apartment. Rachel, who’s dad fought pitbulls and threatened to bitch slap one of my colleagues. Bevaun, who I took hiking on Mount Diablo, he liked to sing doo wop with me. Thuy, who stayed in my class for one week before her parents had the foresight to have her transferred out. Gene, who threatened to kill me, threw chairs, and was eventually transferred to another school. Then there was Ozzie, he was homeless, would fight anyone, was fearless.
There were a total of 23 kids, five barred windows, and one me. I started by being bigger, louder, but they knew that one, that was all they knew. One day I just closed my eyes and sat in the center of the room, quiet. I was amazed that they became quiet too, they just stared at me. I wasn’t meditating, but I figured out that me just sitting still had power.
The mornings got better, math, language arts, multiplication, some writing, except for Ralphie, he sat singing to himself. Before Christmas we practiced our song for the show (Christmas is Coming), I heard love in my voice, in some of their voices too. During the winter rains they sat next to me at lunch, asked me why I ate tomatoes. We had recess inside, everyday. Spring, I took them to Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco and Mount Diablo in the East Bay, we did outdoor silent sits, some fell asleep, curled up by oak trees.
June arrived and they left. Years later I started to google them. Thuy was a teacher, Brandy graduated from SF State. Alonzo was in lock up for drug distribution, Amir for assault and battery. And Bevaun, my Life Could Be A Dream doo wop partner, he was dead, killed in a drive by shooting. Most of them have probably forgotten about me, but I never forgot them, my first class.
Whiskers start in June
mostly black, some gray
pushing through skin
like sunflowers they emerge
carefree, unrestrained by razors
of other seasons
when they are scraped away
like speckled truth
man’s primitive nature hemmed.
Summertime, I let them grow for days
like a backpacker searching
for my lost youth.
Long hours of shadowy sun
my face like time