A collection of writing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


chiaroscuro. she could not move her hands and so could not paint.

that is when the visions started. stars would bang around inside of her head, bursting, the light coming from each one travelled toward the earth leaving its mark upon where it fell. her body was light and it would rise up, up, up into a cloud covered sky and looking down, she saw where the lit drawings lay.

she painted inside her brain like the blue ceilinged chapels you find on greek islands. more stars and more light. Raw siena danced with it's cousin, burnt siena, when umber would cut in, warm palets hurdling their way onto her mind's canvas.

phthalo blue mixed with dioxazine violet while cadmium yellow middle waited on the sidelines with cadmium red and viridian green. lamp black carved out a corner of payne's grey matter. but they were no match for crimson or indian yellow or cobalt blue.

her landscapes were textured and when the light of her thoughts hit the forms she marveled at the way the lines vibrated and pulsed with her heartbeat. why should she lift a brush when she could paint like this?

they came by to offer condolescences and she would nod to let them know she heard and understood. the chair she lived in and the dog at her feet werel too much for most and they would not, could not stay very long.

when she was alone with her paint she agonised the limitations of early work. she did stand at easel seven or ten or twelve hours a day. how could she have missed the glory that now danced in her head? these were the best paintings she had ever, would ever paint!

she died on a sunday morning, her dog at her side. when the postman came next day to find the door was not ajar he called the building super and when they opened the door the dog came to greet them, leading them back to her.

she was sitting upright. there was a vase of rinunculas of the palest pink on the table to her left. the window was open and a breeze came through and pushed some papers around on the desk.

there was the trace of a smile, her hands turned upward in prayer on her lap. she was wearing her painter's smock, and there was cadmium red on one of the pockets, too.

the package the postman brought on monday was left outside the front door where he had dropped it and one of the paramedics stepped on it as he wheeled her out to the waiting attendant. the address read: margaret (daisy!) winthrop, 109 third street, new york, ny 10012.

later when some friends got together to celebrate her painter's life, they pushed themselves into a small apartment over in east village and drank until the sun came up and then they went home to their canvas and keyboard and clarinet and dancing shoes. the dancer thought about her feet and the writer thought about his eyes and the clarinet player thought about her lip and the painters? they thought about daisy's hands.

The nurse left work at five o'clock.

The nurse left work at five o’clock. And as she walked she thought of what he’d said.

“I never walked a silver line or ran a race or fished. No woman in a nice red dress ever asked me for a light. There was nothin’ in my life like what I saw in the movies.”

Mr. Ralph was kindly and old. Older than God. He sat up on the side of the bed against the wishes of his doctor. He tried to roll his own cigarettes under the covers leaning conspicuously to the right of the bed toward the light of the window that looked out over a rather sad alley, the dust coming up when the rains were late or did not come at all. She knew what he was doing, but she didn’t have the heart to take the tobacco away. She waited instead for the night nurse to discover the curly brown threads decorating his top sheet. He often fell asleep mid role, his ancient fingers letting go, the cylinder dropping before he had the chance to put his dry tongue to the paper.

Mr. Ralph must have seen a lot of movies. He talked about them all the time. He talked about the ladies and the nice ‘mans’ and the worn velvet seats where he and his brother sat on Saturday afternoons and Wednesday afternoons.

Once she brought him a collection of DVDs from the library- Rudolph Valentino’s painted eyes gracing the cover. Mr. Ralph sat for a long while looking at the box and, when he raised his face to her, he said, “I never saw a sea of sand or drank a glass of fancy wine. But Rudy danced with girls in satin dresses, he did.”

So, she asked him, “Mr. Ralph, if you didn’t do any of those things, tell me what you did do, sir?”

He closed his eyes and smiled a little smile. He did not speak.

The highway outside of town ran east to west and invited very few to stop off. There wasn’t a museum or a concert hall. Folks had to go to the bigger towns up north for those things. She passed the same places every single day to and from the hospital- the primary school and two churches, one protestant and the other grander, Catholic one and a small, more expensive grocer before she got to the supermarket where her days usually ended.

On that particular night on the way home she stopped off to pick up a roast chicken which she ate in front of the evening news, then fell to sleep with a collection of Agatha Christie stories.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mr. B.

Mr. B was a slight man but handsome just the same. Elegantly postured in white shirt and tie, he walked with a confidence that conversation betrayed. His head was shaven with traces of silvered salt and pepper and a slightly receding hairline that accentuated his fine features. The eyes were soulfully sad, the nose was straight and divided his face perfectly down the middle until the mouth, which on this day was curved upward in a smile, rested on a perfect chin, neck and smooth chest, seemingly without hair, yes, she was sure that his chest was smooth and without a trace of hair.

He sat across from her, his strongly defined hands resting on the sides of a black swivel chair, relaxed, as always during their time together, ready to talk, snappy wit intact alongside the sorrow that he held in his upper body and of which she had been acutely aware from their very first meeting.

Today started like all the others with a quip about his mood. He was in love.

I want to tell you that I am in love.”

Oh?” her face was open, inviting him to say anything.

I am in love with my personal trainer. She is very pretty and very young.”

Before she could ask Mr. B if his partner knew anything about this new development, he offered, “My partner is pretty, too, but not so young. She obviously knows nothing about my feelings. I’ve tried to convince her to love me more but she isn’t playing so I had to fall in love with somebody else.”

At this, she took a sip from the water bottle on the table next to her notepad and the welcome coolness (it was a hot day, even in the office) made her think of something Dr. Depock Chopra had said, something about never drinking cold liquid and it being bad for your system. When she picked up the conversation, he was in the middle of a sentence.

...so all you need is love, right? It takes the darkness away, brings the colour back, makes me light.”

You look thinner. Are you losing weight?” this observation came naturally and he welcomed the compliment and the question.

Yes, I am thin but muscular. I am working out seven days a week. Can you see me?” here he put one of his lovely hands on the opposite shoulder and, pulling the button down shirt sleeve tighter, she could just make out the curves representing hours at the gym weight lifting. Before she could offer up a comment he went on. “ never in my life have I run but now I run! I am born to run! Just like the Bruce Springsteen song! He wrote it for me! And now I run and run. I am running from my life, from my partner, from my child, from my responsibilities. I am the runner now!”

A few weeks later when they saw each other again, Mr. B. was decisively less energetic and worried about an impending doctor's appointment. “My stomach is falling apart. I can't eat anything I want. I am always hungry. I am always nervous.”

She asked him if this was affecting his work.

All I think about is food. At this, he pulled his I-Phone out of a pocket in his jacket and fiddled with it for a few seconds. “I want to show you some pictures.”

As she leaned forward to look into the little screen she could see that there were photos of all kinds of cakes, cookies and various other desserts. There was one of a banana split, sitting on a lovely plate in all of its splendour and in all of the pictures, the composition was interesting. There was always a hand present with a fork or spoon and ready to dive into the delicious treat. In some of them the hand was a woman's, in others there was the chubby little paw of a child. No faces. Just hands, eating utensils and sweet things on plates or in bowls.

These are all of the desserts that I cannot eat, but that my girlfriend and little girl insist on having in front of me.” He asked me, “Do you see? That is what I have to look at after every meal. They torment me. I am hungry all the time, yes, and I am angry.”

She waited.

I am angry and how do you say, bitter. Yes, I am bitter. I can't eat what I want. I gave up smoking five years ago. The sex stopped three years ago. I am the bitter man in the suit, sitting in an office, angry and, can I tell you a secret?”

Of course.”

He placed the telephone on the table and became quiet for a moment. Just as she was thinking he had lost his train of thought he revealed, “I have a fantasy. I want to talk to someone, oh, I don't know, someone in a military base about getting a Sherman tank and I want to roll over everybody in the street, near my house, in my town, in my office. I want to open the big gun and look through the target and put my finger on the mechanism and let it go- I want to watch people fly up off the street and into many pieces and I want to watch it from the little window inside the tank,. I had a friend who was in the Israeli army and she drove a tank like that. She told me the bodies fly up into the air and when they come down they are not recognisable. They are in pieces.”

She shook her head, not in agreement, but because she could see the bodies in her mind, rising up and coming down and she understood the picture and even if it repulsed her, she tried to find a way to understand why he wanted to get into that tank and why he wanted to take out all those people in his neighbourhood. Men were violent, she thought. Or at least they seemed to be more comfortable with violence. They play with guns and soldiers and they must imagine these scenes from the time they are children.

Sitting in front of the news one night many years before she had breached this subject with her boyfriend. Motioning towards the TV where the scene of havoc in some Central American country was playing out where a scroll of death counts was rolling from left to right at the bottom of the screen, she had asked him a question. “How does it feel to be a man and part of a group that for centuries has fought wars and picked fights and caused so much suffering?” There was no anger in her voice. It was a real question because she wanted a real answer.

Her boyfriend was thoughtful and then he said, “It must be strange for you, huh? To look at history and watch the news now- to think about how women don't start battles, just kind of get sucked in. Women, children, bystanders forced to see how it all plays out. It's our game, you're right, you are. How does it feel? I can tell you that many years ago when I was waiting for my number to come up in the draft, thinking about going to Nam, I knew I couldn't go. I knew I would be on my way to Canada. My bag was packed under my bed. I didn't know how I was gonna do it, I just knew I wasn't going to Southeast Asia. In the end it's all about the testosterone, I suppose.”

Now she was shifting in her chair and looking at Trevelio Maria Batista. Was she witnessing the result of surging testosterone? Did it show on his face? He looked so calm, so civilised and gentle. He had a drawing of his daughter’s on the wall, framed, behind him. He was a father, a learned man. A thinker. A philosopher. The anger was swallowing him. Then the hour was over.

I'll see you next week.”

His hand came out for his leave taking. She shook it and lingered. She wanted to offer some sort of relief to his suffering but she let go of the hand. It was raining outside.

You hear about people who are ready to blow, pushed to the edge, to a limit and who, losing their minds, offer signs of their distress and anguish before the storm. She wondered if Mr. B was one of those people.

You know that movie, 'Falling Down' with Michael Douglas?” Today the sun was hot and it was plenty humid.

Yes, of course,” she swallowed.

I read that they changed the ending.”

Did they? How?”

He was excited now, “In the original screenplay he kills more people, destroys more property, goes completely crazy. Hollywood gave it a different ending, much more sentimental.”

Her brow knitted as she searched for the visual. “Doesn't it end on a bridge? His wife and daughter, or, I can't remember. He dies, right?”

But Mr. B. had already moved on. He nodded agreement, and then said, “During my first two years of analysis I had to talk about my dreams. My doctor was a Freudian and we spent every day on my dreams. I became very good at remembering the things I dreamed- I can remember a lot of them still but if you asked me what I dreamt last night, I shouldn't be able to tell you.”

She wrote something on her notepad, and looking up, smiling at him, she said. “Do you like sleeping?” This seemed a more banal question than the one she really wanted to ask: can you sleep?

Predictably, “I don't sleep well. I can't stop thinking. My mind is always going, always running things in and out of my head, and I am tired. Tired of the things in my head. Sometimes I think about suicide- just so I could stop the thoughts and be quiet and not think anymore.”

Castaneda wrote a book on dreams,” her voice travelled to him from across the table, “'The Art of Dreaming', where he talked about the ability to enter your dreams from the sleeping state and actually change the outcome, respond differently, working with the scenes to resolve conflict or anxiety.” She had the book on her bedside table.

I have always been fascinated in the way my mind goes, works, functions. But you know, I think it is quite possible that during our meetings, my analyst was falling asleep!”

She smiled at this, amused at the view of an psychiatrist's office, “were you lying down?” He confirmed with a nod. She could see him in his analyst’s office, staring up at the ceiling, and an old Freudian doctor, sitting in a nice, comfortable chair strategically placed behind the chaise lounge. She was sleeping, her head dropping toward her right shoulder, the pen in her hand relaxed, slipping through her grip, ready to fall to the Turkish carpeted ground at her feet.

Mr. B's face then turned toward the wall behind her now and she glanced to see what he was looking at. “There was a nail on the wall in front of the couch and when I laid down my eye went to that place and I would stare at that nail for the entire fifty minutes we were together. One day I asked her to remove the fucking thing and you know what she said?

This was a rhetorical question and did not require a response. “She told me I didn't have to ask her to remove the nail- that I had to find a reason for the nail to be there. To understand why I felt the way I did about the nail and how to feel differently about it.”

When she left to go home that afternoon she thought about the nail and what it meant and why it bothered Mr. B. and how he said he couldn't face another day looking at the nail in the wall. And she wondered if there had been a picture hanging there, or a framed diploma or if it had been left by the previous tenant and the Freudian had just never got around to removing it, or using it, or maybe had never even noticed it until her patient called it to her attention.

Mr. B was casually dressed at their next meeting. It was the first time she had seen him in blue jeans. She didn't ask why, choosing instead to wait for him to fill her in. He immediately started on the subject of Batman.

He's my brother. We are brothers. No, I am serious, completely serious. I have been a fan since I was a boy and I miss the old Batman. The one who was drawn more simply and who had a real crusade. The new one is so, well, what's the word, he is so rubber. Covered in that rubber suit. The suit has become more important than who he is and what he does. I have an action figure. A gift from my partner, you know? It's true that it is beautiful-the things they can do now with toys- but that suit. You can see every part of him. His muscles and his, how do you call it, his six-pack? Incredible.”

They were quiet for awhile before she asked, “Do you believe in heros? Do you know any real life heros?”

The tangent went something like this:

Honestly, for me, the true hero is the extraterrestrial. I want them to come, to see us, to make their observations and I want them to see every little terrible thing we do to each other and then I want them to put everything to an end. To push a button and make it finish. Then to get into their ship and go away and the big black hole we leave will stay forever. To remember how ridiculous and disgusting we are. This is my idea of the hero. I like the idea of the colony of extraterrestrials visiting and stopping the mad things we do. Yes, he was satisfied with this, “I like the idea a lot.” He wrapped it up here.

She was always fascinated by Mr. B's train of thought and where it took them and what he said and how he said it. The way he held his head when he was making a point. When he was feeling hatred his forehead would become lined. When he was pleased with himself his eyes would shine. When he was fed up, his shoulders would slump.

One time he told her about the rug in his childhood bedroom. “My father loved John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He loved him so much that he bought me a rug with the American President's face. Every morning, I climbed out of bed and looked down at that face but I never stepped on it. I stepped around it.”

Once, while talking about September 11th, she shared her disappointment in herself, explaining that she had an unhealthy fear of people on the street who were obviously of Muslim background.

I'm discouraged that my fear has got the best of me,” she had offered. “I'm surprised in myself. I feel nervous and anxious. I don't like feeling that way.”

Mr. B paused before commenting. Then he said, “you mustn't feel uncomfortable with those feelings- they are realistic, even natural. The Islamic world is closing in around us. They are multiplying, moving to Western countries, imposing their rules and lifestyle on adopted lands. Asking us to remove crucifixes, insisting on wearing their veils to school. They are evil.

She felt her body stiffen.

I want them to go away and leave us alone.”

Her face must have betrayed her discomfort.

You think I am crazy. Maybe you think I am prejudiced. Ok. I am. I don't want my daughter to grow up around little children who see their mothers living an unnatural way.”

She waited for him to continue.

I took my daughter to the beach last weekend. I saw, (and here he laughed to himself), I saw a woman in a veil and caftan, shoes and socks, in the water. She was in the sea! Fighting the water, she wasn't free! She couldn't swim, she was wrapped in material, couldn't move. And it was normal for her. Then I saw her husband. He had on a bathing costume like mine! A bathing costume! Can you imagine? What religion makes a woman go into the sea like that?”

Aren't you offended by that? You are a woman!”

That afternoon she walked home, the vision of the woman in her head. The billowing fabric, the waves pushing against her fully clothed body as the sun beat down on her veiled head. And she tried to make peace with the way it made her feel and what she knew was right. That she could not judge that woman or that man, no matter how put off the scene was or how it insulted her sensibilities.

At the end of the day Mr. B was one of the most interesting students she had. And even though it was true that she sometimes worried about his state of mind, she knew that sometimes an English lesson was more than an English lesson. Sometimes her role would shift and the dance would change and she would have to be a little bit mother, a little bit mentor, a little bit therapist. She would have to nurture. Her patience would often be tested. Italian culture would never cease to amaze her. She would always learn as much from her students as they did from her.

As far as Mr B, she was grateful to him for keeping the conversations lively. He had found a way to express himself and talk about his fears and anger, his family and his triumphs, his prejudices and insights into the human condition. Her students were always surprising her that way and they made her life more interesting. She was thinking about that as she stopped in on the way home to have lunch in the bar around the corner from her house. It was a pasta with pesto and she enjoyed it very much.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

For as long as I can remember

For as long as I can remember, my sister hasn't been able to remember anything. By anything I am referring to sentimental memory. She remembers where all the things are in her house because everything in her house is so meticulously arranged, how could she not? There is none of that messy stacking or pushing plastic containers aside to find the right lid. She has managed to place each and every thing in its each and every place; blocks of post-its are colour-coordinated, bills are in chronological sequence, her remote controls set side by side always in the same order on the coffee table: the TV one is next to the DVD one and the VCR one is on the end because she comes from an age of VCRs and they coexist with the more modern technologies.

Her sentimental memory leaves something to be desired. She has conveniently forgotten most of her childhood and is proud of it. Whenever I ask her to tell me what our mom, who died at the age of 37, was like, she pauses and then, in a most nonchalent way declares, "I don't remember."

This lack of common historical data makes the nice, old time family memory exchanges most unlikely and when they do occur they tend to be a one-sided affair. Most discouragingly, even if she claims to recall nothing, she will not hesitate to correct what she perceives as my mis-guided memory.

"I remember we took egg sandwiches to mom, " I proudly assert.

"You were two. I don't think so," she then tells me that she is going to the kitchen to make something for lunch and asks if she can put me on speaker.

We have been having these speaker conversations for years, but now they are sincronised to the different continents we reside upon. I in Europe, Italy to be exact, and she, Nebraska, in the middle of the United States in a place so flat and so cold that she refuses to leave it, just to spite it, and as it would seem, to spite herself.

My sister has always been plainly honest, unkindly so, arriving painfully to the point in almost any discussion, no matter how grave or delicate. When I told her that I was thinking of having a baby, she told me very plainly that it was just because I missed my dollies and that it would make more sense to go buy one of those than for me to bring a child into the world. Ok, it turned out she was right, but it's the way she says stuff that gets to me.

When I called her from a phone booth in Milan to recount the panic attack I had on the flight that took me to my new home in another country, she announced without conscience or diplomacy, "That was God punishing you."

When I asked her if she was an organ donor, she was quiet and then told me that there was no way she would donate her organs, ever. When I delicately asked why not (explaining how compassionate a move it seemed to me to be), she volunteered that it was nice that I felt so strongly about my convictions and then changed the subject, with a tone that meerly tolerated the musings of a younger sister.

Her insights are extremely versatile and all encompassing. She knows a lot about a lot of stuff and our quarterly conversations usually take the greater part of a day covering everything from soap operas, to film scripts, from child development to political philosophy. This is what makes her interesting and is the reason I like talking to her.

It isn't that she doesn't love me or appreciate me. She helped me write a report on the book, 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' when I was eleven years old, gave me the Boston Women's Collective publication of 'Our Bodies, Ourselves', introduced me to The Byrds' 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' and Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellowbrick Road' and invited me to stay with her every summer in Denver, San Diego or Boston, depending on where she was living at the time, rescuing me from, well, our family. She shared her space, her time, her friends, her money, her daughter, her clothes, herself with me. It's just that she doesn't remember any of that, so you can't really sit down and reminisce about the good old days with someone who was there but hasn't got a clue what you're talking about.

Recently I got up the nerve to suggest that she be kinder with her words. She told me to grow a thicker skin. About seven years ago, during one of our marathon conversations, I said, "God, you and I are completely different!" This for me, was a revelation.

"Well, duh," she said.

My sister could ice skate. there are photos of her and mom on the ice across from grandma's house at 102 Waterloo. They look natural, dotting a white canvas with long, extended leg, pom-pom stocking caps, striped socks and felt skirts.

I tried to skate once and was coaxed out into the center of the rink by my schoolmates, guiding me as I weaved the blades inward and outward, inward and outward. Then when I thought it could get no worse, a whistle blew and a man's voice, interrupting the BeeGees music blaring from the speaker system, told everyone to clear the ice. I waivered. I tried to move but could not. Twenty seconds later I was alone, in the middle of the skating rink, a mere echo of myself, mortified. The humming of the ice cleaning machine came closer when I realised that the guy was going to have to swing by and pick me to take me to safety of the carpeted corridor that ran from the ice to the place where you rent your skates. Sitting down on one of those long benches, I unlaced mine, tears rolling down my face and off the tip of my nose. I never skated again. That kind of thing would never have happened to my sister. She liked sports.

She follows football and my dad loves that about her. (I pretend to be interested in football so I can talk to my father about something when I visit.) She knows the game, the players, the rules, the records, the trophy winners and the coaches. To me The Cornhuskers are the team that I used to pray would win so my dad would be in a good mood on Sunday afternoons. Otherwise, things could get ugly. Spit would fly while curse words intertwined with the names of players I never heard of and I would run into my bedroom, put on Liza Minelli records and lay low until he went to work the next morning.

This last Christmas she had some old film restored and transferred to a digital format as a present for our dad and our step mom Patti. I asked her if it had been sad to watch it.

"I sent you a copy- you can watch for yourself."

Is it sad? I persisted. No, she said it had not been sad for her to watch the footage of babies growing up and puppy dogs in the grass and the old house on Jackson Boulevard and the baseball toss in the yard and the little boy, our brother Scott, who at the age of 47 would commit suicide. It had not been sad for her.

I sat down the afternoon her package arrived and watched the frames of a lifetime away that started before I was born. There was my sister, first child, round, dimpled, smiling. There was our brother blowing out the candles on a chocolate cake. There was our dad and mom at the Bronx Zoo and the cherry blossoms of our nation's capital. And there was me. That footage had been taken after mom was gone. I was two. There were cousins and a cat and dog. There was a dolly on my lap.

When she asked me what I thought about the films, I told her she was right. They weren't sad and thanked her for putting it together for all of us. I told her that it was cool to see Scott and she agreed it was and then we talked about manicures and books. She went into the kitchen to fix something to eat and as I pictured her under the light of her stove, opening the fridge door, cutting up vegetables and picking herbs from her balcony, she put me on speaker. By the time I hung up, the sun was down on my side of the world while her day was just getting started. I picked up my dog and took him to bed and as I lay in there, I thought about the time my sister and I took the bus, 15 hours north to visit grandma. She was teaching me French phrases from her high school course. The next time we talked I reminded her about that trip to Rapid City but she told me she didn't remember.


About Me

My photo
That's my fabulous dog, Martin, who models the 'downward-facing-dog'yoga posture for me each and every miraculous day. He is a great companion, stellar traveler and all-around lovebug.