Neil did the wash and took out the garbage. Those were his self-assigned chores. I did everything else. For him, cooking meant popping popcorn and boiling his signature artichokes with red peppercorns hidden at the core. On Thanksgiving, he coated the turkey with freshly pressed garlic, hands slick with olive oil, massaging the bird inside and out from sternum to neck. The last step was to rain down an assortment of salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning before opening the oven to a three-hour wait.
Like many men, he’d appointed himself Chief Barbecuer; one year he boiled the ribs and spent hours dripping his homemade sauce over the grill, sucking the meat from the bone in long threads. I remember how he enjoyed going grocery shopping and the security of a full larder after growing up with Cheerios for dinner. Once we’d pulled into the driveway of our East Oakland home, he opened the door. I was the one who emptied the trunk and carried the bags into the kitchen.
By that time, he was too sick from congestive heart failure and diabetes to do anything physical. Doing things together meant eating out. He was not adventurous about new foods, but preferred returning to the same restaurant until the quality fell off. Emerald Garden in Alameda was a favorite, a Thai restaurant that steamed vegetables and cooked slices of chicken at the table. Later, we patronized a Cambodian restaurant at the edge of Chinatown where he enjoyed the fried fish and cabbage salad, sparkling with vinegar. I could say it was a good marriage, but it wasn’t. His sarcasm curdled the heart and made it bitter.
After he died I walked along a fire trail and talked to a bay laurel tree.
Gym time I’m bombarded by three screens, one with news of Trump, a Michael S. coming to the Bay Area for a Special Somebody visit, columns of football scores. Who’s winning? Loud music dressed in a special costume. A long line-up of ear buds. Shopping at Fruitvale Farmer Joe’s. A woman sells newspapers living in a hotel with her children and tells me that her husband’s in jail. I believe for every drop of rain that falls. A man in the parking lot with a cardboard sign sees my newspaper and nods. A white-haired woman with a shopping cart reaches into the coin slot of a parking meter and comes up empty. Another woman in a wheelchair navigating the street with her Chihuahua, moving over the white traffic lines with pushes of her feet. Paint from the street mural next to the Wells Fargo is flaking off. Get me out of here.
She always wanted to smoke and so once did inside the cafeterias of corn bread and red beans, a borough away from the paperweights of blue jellyfish. There in the vacant lots of mica schist and chicory, took up residency inside an empty box. Her mother called over the clotheslines, “Come home!” After awhile, everything changed. She had tasted the freedom of stray dogs living between apartment buildings, went forth expecting no less, always in a bittersweet half-life, wheeled on a gurney and waking up inside recovery rooms. Around the same period, she took up knitting.
Growing green or falling to the ground. Another leaf. My father’s arch support store near Bellevue Hospital changed into a fortune telling storefront with an orange cat in the window. The vacant lot I used to play in as a kid, now two-story units. Public school buildings go charter. A shoe store on the corner of Lake Merritt, turned into successive reiterations of an Egghead Software, gym equipment, Sprint telephones. The steps of a dance studio now leads to a Korean church. A kosher bakery dispenses Hot Wings. A political movement reconvened inside a motherboard. An anti-war movement marches parallel to another anti-war movement. A highway overpass serves as the roof for a tent city.
PROMPT: I smell tobacco on my index finger but I haven’t smoked for years.
She always wanted to smoke and so once did inside the cafeterias of corn bread and red beans, a borough away from the paperweights of blue jellyfish. There in the vacant lots of mica schist and chicory, took up residency inside an empty box. Her mother called over the clotheslines, “Come home!” After awhile, everything changed. She had tasted the freedom of stray dogs living between apartment buildings, went forth expecting no less, always in a bittersweet half-life, wheeled on a gurney and waking up inside recovery rooms. Around the same time, she took up knitting.
Smoking came later; a sweet smell of clove. But from whenceforth came this eau de Krakatoa? She really knew not, except it might have been a paramedical thing, but to be a member of a group, a girl whose knees broadcasted from ripped jeans. Not an object property belonging to a neighborhood, a city, a state, a country as defined by Google property and inheritance, wanting to form her own relationships without any givens.
Into the annals and nasty innards of dusty library books she studied until she came up with a plan to travel outside of herself and timed it just right– a solar eclipse of the sun whereupon everything was lined up perfectly. That evening, sparrows gathered on telephone wires as though they were waiting for a signal, a pass from the backcourt, and in one sliver of an instance, covered the sky with the small blackness of wings. Into the sky’s lining she burrowed.
Blue velvet smoke drew upon her like a curtain and then dissolved into a orgy of statues that stood around a fountain fucking each other, water spewed from nipples and dicks with a constant orgasm of water flowing between a wood nymph’s thighs. She pushed the falling hair from her face, took a long drink, and sighed. Love was in the air.
“Where am I?” she asked. A group of women and men paddled out to greet her.
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Links to my work
Saturday, April 22, 1pm Book Passage, Sausalito, 100 Bay Street with Charles Burack and Kendra Tanacea to celebrate National Poetry Month.