Portland in the Alberta District

Only in Portland can the words real estate and karma be conjoined in a single sentence. I listened to two guys who embraced their coffee mugs as they talked about downsizing and how the “laws of economics” have done them in. Back and forth about fixing a roof and other do-it-yourself projects as one of the guys was getting ready to move into a two-room apartment. One has a long black ponytail roped off every inch or so with a rubber band; the other has a skull ring and tattoos running up his right arm with the name “Patricia” above his elbow. I have two tattoos, a crocodile at the back of my neck, and the other behind my ear, which means that everyone except myself can see them.

The coffee is dishwater. I would’ve been better forgoing the half & half, a real shame since this is the Alberta district where coffee houses abound every two storefronts alternating with bicycle, wine, and herb shops—mostly tinctures, teas, and smudge sticks. I could’ve gotten a better cup two blocks away in a place that roasts its own beans, or that’s what a person sitting next to me on the plane said. I guess it’s something else I messed up.

A few weeks before Halloween and time for Night of the Living Dead reruns. Orange and white skeletons dance along the windows. A black cat moans on a paper guitar. I stare at the floor beneath my feet that’s tiled with pennies, some are oxidized, others shiny, which give a nice transitional feeling like the floor is moving beneath my feet. Next time I’ll bring along pliers to take up a collection. People sit at tables and stare into cellphones and consult the oracle. Clothing is black and  paired with velvet capes, leather vests, and corduroy pants. Gratefully, ripped jeans do not seem to be a big fashion statement here. The Mavericks are playing in town, one of Bryan’s favorite bands , a country sound crossed with a salsa beat.

Flew out of Sacramento and didn’t let him know, wonder if he’s waiting for me at the house, not sure what I’m doing sitting here at this table drinking weak coffee and charging my cellphone. Maybe he reported me missing, or frantically called up my friends to see if I stopped with them after work for drinks and dinner and forgot to tell him. I’ve been missing for longer than he knows, MIA, missing in action, not sure how to the fill the emptiness, a chasm that opens when I’m not looking even when I’m teaching and standing in front of a room filled with students, hands waving at me as though they’ve found the answer to a puzzle they can’t wait to reveal. It’s good to discuss solutions.  Sometimes I wonder if we can see what’s happening to ourselves. These days it feels like everyone is being killed, burned, or washed away into the ocean.

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

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I Don’t Know What to Do Anymore

This morning
a massacre in Las Vegas
by one very troubled human being
with rifles stored in his hotel room
who a few weeks ago
sent his 90-year-old mother
a walker for her birthday.

Reporters said it was the largest massacre
in U.S. history, not absolutely true
if you consider the number
of Native Americans and black people
this country has murdered.
But don’t get me wrong.
Lives too many were lost.

Tom Petty sang and played
until his last heartbreak,
discovered unconscious in his home
and declared brain dead
after paramedics had rushed him
to the hospital.
Everything feels too late.

I went to Home Depot to buy pots
for my succulents
stood with my debit card
as the cashier cried to me
about a young woman
who never showed up for work.
She was killed in a head-on collision.

Spread out a newspaper
on my back patio,
unfolded
the business and sports sections
to catch dirt,
got instruments ready,
the trowel to loosen the roots,
a watering can,
transplanted the succulents
to the larger pot.
This was not an act of hope.
It was all I could do.

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

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The Hamsa, Hand of Fatima, Hand of Miriam

PHOTO OF HAMSAFive outstretched fingers
protector
of all those
at the crossroads
piles
of glass shards
vomited
between jobs
marriages
hurricanes
translucent
shimmery drift of sunlight
the crawl of ivy
altaring
the side of a building
stalks of dried anise
hold onto each other
as cars creep past
the tidal neck
between two bridges
I clutch the hand that’s offered–
let me find my family
let me find my way home.

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Online Dating Contest

Annabelle was my best girlfriend and by that, I mean the one who’s seen me through a divorce, at least two abortions that I’m willing to admit, and the birth of one of my children with shit coming out of my rear end as the nurses tried to get my feet back in the stirrups. Always the voice of calm in the eye of a storm even when I wasn’t sure I’d qualify for unemployment benefits due to some scum bag boss wanting to stab me in the back, and the only person who would return my phone calls within a one-hour’s time frame, no matter what else was happening in her life, even a pile-up, she’d pull over and call because that’s what we did for each other. I won’t bore you with how we first met, but it was in second grade when she tapped me on the shoulder since she had no implements to write with and our teacher, Mrs. Woodcock, was about to dismiss her from the room for coming to school once again hopelessly unprepared, a teacher who delighted in locking her charges in the clothing closet for the smallest infraction. Some would pooh-pooh this as an exaggeration of a deranged mind, but I assure you that is not the case. I saved the day with my offering of a pencil, and inconspicuously threaded my fingers into her palm. To show her appreciation, Annabelle shared with me her peanut butter and jelly sandwich that oddly tasted of Campbell’s Tomato soup, which I greedily ate, since my own mother had prepared a bologna sandwich that had fallen out of my bag and onto the yard during recess, a gravelly mess. Since then, we’ve been BFFs forever, so whenever AB wants to tell me something, I listen.

I’d been languishing after yet another failed relationship, which had gone into a Tomb of Annihilation. I’d found little solace in thumbnails of online daters, all who blended into a generic profile, and after several years of making my way through these pathways of disillusionment and single-handedly keeping several coffee shops in business through a revolving door of prospective daters, I vowed to retire to my queen-sized bed with a good book and my cellphone. “I’m done with it,” I told AB and put down my cup of coffee on the drain board. “Not by a long shot,” she said, and opened up my computer to a site where they were advertising a writing contest for stories about online dating. “Who better, my pet, than you?”

 

September 18, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Galatea, the living statue

Galatea statueThe longest Galatea had ever held one pose was for two and half hours while sitting close to the port of Barcelona where tourists strolled by wondering if they had actually reached the end of La Rambla, and seeing no further displays of magnets, scarves, or mugs to capture their attention, crossed the street leading over a small bridge to a Starbucks with a view of the pier. Every fifteen minutes or so, there were a few tourists who paused to see if she would move, a quiver in her finger, a turn of the head. Most tourists understood she was a living statue in an elaborate costume sprayed gold and black, ridiculous in the summer heat, but well worth the money the agency paid her to do nothing. In fact, those were the words on their flier, “Get Paid to Do Nothing,” which she’d found stuffed inside a newspaper.

A month ago, they’d given her a half-hour of training, a young man with rotting teeth who claimed to be a sculptor, predicted how the very instant she assumed her position on the plaza, she’d feel an overwhelming urge to shift, scratch her nose, pull her panties loose from her ass. “Recognize what’s going on, but think instead, how your feet hurt, or how your mouth is dry. Transfer that feeling to another part of your body.” Galatea tried to remember his advice, stood there on her first day in a black mantilla and gloves, balancing her weight evenly between her two legs and trying not to clench her muscles. “Whatever you do, don’t blink,” he told her. “That’s how people can tell that you are human.” He kindly suggested that she might want to buy a pair of contact lenses, which helped the whole eye problem blinking thing. He wished her good luck and explained that he had to get back to a large block of marble.

Galatea wanted to excel at something, having wandered around Barcelona since she’d arrived in the spring trying to sell God’s eyes on street corners near metro stations resulting in being chased away by the police, who threatened her for not possessing a permit. As weeks went by, she got better at being a living statute, enjoyed those moments when a family gathered around her with their little girls, each one of them removed a fan from her pocket, and posed while their mother or father took a picture with a cellphone that they’d immediately relay back home. Galatea enjoyed those moments, the only time that she dared to move, handed out her fans and collected them back again; the family then smiled and walked over the bridge where she knew they would be greeted by a real beggar.

She took her job seriously, practiced achieving true stillness: read up about yogis who slowed their pulse rates down to almost nothing; it took time, all of it took time, but before the end of the summer, she had calmed her nerves into slowing down their electro-chemical impulses and stopped the constant twitching of her muscles. Everyone gathered around her and pointed at the statue. They threw money into her pockets.

One evening the sculptor came by and unfastened Galatea from her spot on the plaza, carried her off with some difficulty back to his flatbed truck and to his studio where other statues of women were waiting.

Upcoming Readings:

 

September 16, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Janis in Port Arthur, Texas

Janis Joplin

Excuse me, sir, but need an assist? I can see that you’re sitting around like a hang-dog watching the water recede from your porch like someone’s pulled the bathtub plug and it’s all going to shit. Pardon my potty mouth. If you didn’t live so far out, maybe one of your neighbors could lend a hand. All I’ve got is an extra cold beer. Take it. Let’s say I have my own private stock. But what I really wish is that I had something stronger to offer. Me? Like to drink whiskey on a couple of unsteady rocks.

See that you’re working in the refineries, got that company logo on a blanket pulled around your shoulders. Doesn’t matter anymore even if people are watching. I always peddled out to Sabine Woods, loved to watch the loons and pelicans away from the sound of those catalytic reformers and desalters. Fuck, this place stinks. Always has. Always will. Curious about what we’re drinking? Curiosity almost killed a cat. Got it from one of those microbrew places in Austin. Glad they didn’t get washed out, and hallelujah to that!

Names for all those machines come to me second nature. My daddy was an engineer at Texaco; mom was a registrar at a business college. See you have a few guitars on your porch.

Back in the day, I stood on stage with a white python wrapped around my neck, draped over my shoulders like an ermine. Wore sequins up and down my velour pants, red and purple sparkles; the audience kept clapping. Everyone was stoned out of their minds. No, didn’t come here for some benefit concert. FEMA workers running around with clipboards. Red Cross workers unfolding cots faster than you can say, Open Sesame. Ha! I’m here for your benefit–to the rescue. Let’s drink to that!

You feel me? You play?

Mostly, I wanted to see if that marker in front of my old house got washed away. Curious, I guess. Whole thing had nothing to do with me, more like a way for the city to rope in tourists. Called me a misfit. But what did they expect me to fit into, this stupid refining shit?  You got that right. What we got on our hands is a Biblical flood. We need to build the Ark and sail away.

I like what you’re playing. Cool licks. Sounds like the rain and the wind having a hissy fit. Back where I came from, they’re celebrating the Summer of Love, By all accounts, I think it’s the 50th anniversary. Glad I stopped by to cheer you up. Aw, let me give you a kiss. Can’t you move? Are you dead or something? 

A bigger kiss. Take a little piece of my heart now baby.

Upcoming Readings:

September 2, Oakland Beast Crawl, The Good Hop, 2421 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland

September 9, San Francisco, Quiet Lightning, Candlestick Point SRA, 10am to 5pm: Literary mixtape readings by: Gracia Mwamba, Rich Baiocco, Lisa Piazza, Kimberly Gomes, Raina J. Leòn, Linda Michel-Cassidy, Tomas Moniz, Peter Kline, William Vlach, Lenore Weiss, Abbie Jeanne Amadio, Yael Hacohen, and Jill Bronfman!

September 16, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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The Divorce Papers

They’d been married for more than 20 years but hadn’t lived together for most of that time, she firmly fastened like a paper clip to one side of the country, and he to the other, collecting frequent flyer miles in the space between. She made sure their children had a stable home, a decent school, a good group of friends. We understood those things, how parents defer their personal happiness so that their kids can get ahead, which was the supposed reason she continued to stay while Michael accepted federal appointments that kept him based in Washington D.C.,  so when Kathy made her final announcement, all her friends including myself, expected to hear the d-word. All those years, we’d wondered how on earth they’d managed to hold a marriage together, questioned their faces when they did appear together at annual July Fourth parties holding hands to plaster the cracks. “How are you guys doing?” we asked. It goes without saying that we applauded their successes: Kathy as a mom who had built her daughter’s bulimia into a national campaign, and Michael for having the ear of the Capitol’s environmental policy makers. Most of our marriages had busted up for far less reason–boredom leading to infidelity. If she’d said they were getting divorced, we would’ve been relieved. Why keep up the strain? As friends, we got it. We’d be there for both of them. But when Kathy called her inner circle to say that she planned to move in with Michael, and that they would consolidate households, cut down on expenses, and were considering taking a real vacation for the first time in that many years, the top blew off, everything in disarray.

I called her. “Kathy, honey. Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?”

Upcoming Readings:

September 2, Oakland Beast Crawl, The Good Hop, 2421 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland

September 9, San Francisco, Quiet Lightning, Candlestick Point SRA, 10am to 5pm: Literary mixtape readings by: Gracia Mwamba, Rich Baiocco, Lisa Piazza, Kimberly Gomes, Raina J. Leòn, Linda Michel-Cassidy, Tomas Moniz, Peter Kline, William Vlach, Lenore Weiss, Abbie Jeanne Amadio, Yael Hacohen, and Jill Bronfman!

September 16, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Gus Bigman, the Giant

There once lived a giant, not your ordinary run-of-the-mill giant. Spiders and beetles fought each other for a place to room in his greasy hair. He never brushed his teeth. They were greenish-yellow. Some people who lived in the next state over said they could easily pass out if they got downwind of his breath. Clearly, he knew nothing about mouthwash, let alone toothpaste.

His hands were so large that ten basketballs could fit inside a single palm. He used his nails to plow the earth for corn and soy beans. Unfortunately, Gus got boulders stuck beneath his fingernails and cried out when he used a stick to pry them loose, bleeding everywhere and making the rivers run red.

I know you’re wondering about his feet. There wasn’t a shoe big enough to fit his horny toes. Gus was so big that the country where he lived named a state after him. It was called DeGus State, the de someone’s idea of French to make it sound fancy, as though that would help. Anyone who was crazy enough to cross into his state, found a big gold post with a huge sign, also gold, that said: Keep Out. Most people were glad to turn around and go home, except for those thrill seekers who wanted to have an exciting story to tell their grandkids. That wasn’t easy. DeGus State was surrounded by an electrified fence. The country of Gratis Land was happy to pay the bill to keep their families safe.

Gus was a loner. He was happy to grow corn and soy beans and to be as dirty as he pleased. But he began to get agitated. You see, there was a mountain in his state that was taller than Gus. He couldn’t stand how it cast a shadow on his fields. He wanted to be the only thing tall enough to cast a shadow. Mountain! You’ve got to go! The mountain was stubborn. It had been in the same spot for generations. The mountain dug its feet deep into the earth and stuck a bunch of trees up his nose and down his throat. Gus got so angry, he scooped it up with his two hands and tossed the mountain outside his state, which killed hundreds of people and caused an earthquake. Everyone hoped this would be the end of it. Things were quiet for several months until Gus realized that the sun was his real problem. It had nothing to do with the mountain. He was embarrassed to admit that to himself, but oh well. How could he have known? So Gus looked up at the sun and said, Grand stander! Get your shadow off my land! I’m the only one to cast a shadow!

The sun laughed as he shook his fist in the air. You’re just a silly little man, it said, and whispered to the moon. The moon smiled. Gus was trying to find something to climb so he could pull that imbecile sun off its pedestal. He’d show him who was boss! But Gus already had destroyed the mountain. And just then, the moon crossed in front of the sun. Slowly, the sky became dark and day turned to night. For the first time in Gus’ miserable life, he became very very scared.

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Hit the Road, Jack

A family of quail scurry out from stage left and stage right and plow into each other. All of them look like drama queens. I tell her, “Watch out. You don’t want to be downwind from a port-a-potty.” She waves me off the set. Turns toward the quail that are looking like Isadora Duncan on a bad day. Murderous. (Whose idea were those freaking purple feathers stuck in their hats?). “You stink,” she says, “All of you freaking stink.” They run outside to check a smoke, mumbling curse words. “Good riddance,” she says. “And don’t come back no more.”

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Zumba Class

zumba dancers

We started going at the same time, angling to get a spot not too close to the front of the mirror, but not too far in the back either. One day Jan and I both showed up wearing identical black and white-patterned leggings.

“We could be twins,” she said. Not quite. I was older and thirty pounds heavier, which is why I had signed up for zumba in the first place. High blood pressure. She’s this little thing, a ponytail pulled so tight, I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head. I found out she’s the chatty type, small and chatty. Next class, she told me a story about her aunt who’d raised two sets of twins.  Every week she had another update in five-minute segments before zumba started, the story about a neighbor who sold an ice-cream truck route for $100,000, or  someone with two tiny uteruses who was going to be interviewed by People magazine.

“Is that the aunt who had two sets of twins?” She didn’t know what I was talking about.

Months later she whispered right before a Wednesday class, “I’m leaving him.”

“Leaving who?”

“That bastard.”

I’m on the elliptical and feeling like a Clydesdale horse. Clop. Clop. Clop. The doctor said I have a heart murmur. No more zumba. I never saw her again.

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