Friday, October 5, 2012

Any Given Tuesday on Chestnut Street

In jail there’s no friends and no real enemies either. Just fellow occupiers of space and time. So you get along. Or you don’t. But even when it looks like violence or oppression or coercion from the outside looking in, the reality is that the violence or oppression or coercion is just a particular tool or guidebook or road map for getting through the string of days, however long, until the days finally, eventually, inevitably end, one way or another.

So, after a few weeks in, when Smut says to Jack, “Hey, you know we’re related,” and when Jack replies, “Huh?” the relationship is commenced.

“How’re we related?”
“Your great-grandpa.”
“What about him?”
“Was my dad.”
“Swear to God.”
“Doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me, the truth is the truth whether you believe it or not.”
“My great-grandpa died a long time ago.”
“And I was born even longer ago….I’m his bastard.”
“…You got that right.” Head spinning, heart pounding.
“You got anything?”
“Course not, Dude. We’re in jail.”
“Well, if you do, remember, we’re blood.”

Months later Smut shows up on Jack’s doorstep, an Incredible Hulk lunchbox full of pills.
“So, this is how the white folks live…”
“I guess. Come in.”
“Came to help out my blood,” tapping his lunch box, winking.
“Come on in. Let’s go upstairs.”

Jack’s brother observing, wary and knowing, the familiar dusk of denial enveloping. “Hey,” he calls, rising hesitantly from his Cheerios.
“Just giving my buddy here the nickel tour of the place,” as the two of them climb the stairs.

In the bedroom, Smut parcels out pills. Small and white, evil benevolence. Jack clutches several and, as he draws them toward his mouth, his brother pushes open the bedroom door, sees what he sees and leaps into Jack like a cobra, seizing his clutched fist in his own, pulling him to the floor in a collapse of elbows and knees and noise.

“Cool it, Man!” Smut yells, his close-cropped, gray-black hair beading with sweat, his large glasses fogging. “At least it ain’t heroin!”

The brothers struggle on the floor, Jack spending all his strength on keeping his fist closed around the pills, as his brother pins it to the floor, vainly attempting to pry it open. “Drop ‘em, Jack!” he yells, “Drop ‘em!” 

But he doesn’t, and when his brother eases minutely, to see what Smut is up to, Jack immediately jams the pills into his mouth and swallows them. His eyelids flutter.

His brother climbs to his feet as Smut—this perfect stranger standing in the same bedroom he and Jack shared as kids—peers down at Jack, who sits slumped over, breathing heavily and slowly, quickly sliding into his familiar cocoon.

“He must not be adjusted to it yet,” Smut says. And as he finishes his sentence, Jack’s brother’s right fist slams directly against the meaty, pork-chop of his jaw. There’s a flash of light in Smut’s head and then nothing. Jack’s brother stands over him, panting. Still out of breath from his struggle with Jack.
Jack’s brother scoops up Smut in his arms like a dangling bag of rocks. He carries him, like a man carrying a drunken bride, out of the bedroom, down the stairs, out the front door, across the sidewalk and into the street, where he drops him like a bundle of shingles. Smut lies there, crumpled and unmoving. Groaning sounds come out of this mouth. His jaw swells like there's a balloon in his mouth. 

Jack’s bother leaves Smut in the street. He returns to the house, climbs the stairs, heads into the bedroom where he confirms Jack is still breathing. Next, he collects Smut's’s lunchbox, opens it. There are eleven bottles of various pills. He opens each lid and spills the contents of each bottle into the lunchbox and closes it. He shakes it. It sounds like a maraca. Satisfied, he bounds out of the room, down the stairs, out the front door and onto the street where Smut is up on his elbows, considering an attempt to raise himself.  Cars veer around him, looking. 

As Jack’s brother approaches, Smut's eyes widen and as he works to get to his feet, Jack’s brother kicks him hard in the ass and he sprawls into the street again, whimpering. Jack’s brother raises the lunch box full of pills over his head and smashes it with all his strength on the street. The lid separates from its thin hinges and a blizzard of white pills spill and roll in the street.  A car, and then another rolls by, gawking, crushing pills to dust.

“There you go, Pal,” Jack’s brother says, stepping over Smut’s outstretched form. “Enjoy your medicine.”

Before heading in the front door, Jack’s brother takes one more look. There’s Old Smut, with whom he either does or does not share blood, on his knees in the street, sweeping drug dust into his hands, crying.
# # #

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fade to Black

One of my favorite idiomatic factoids regarding the “inherent hopefulness of being” (forgive me, I know.) is a sort of philosophy disguised as a word-play/semantic game. Here it is—you’ll surely recognize it:

“Black is not a color, but the absence of color.” Or, even better:  “Darkness is the absence of light.” I love that.
At some deep level, this makes excellent and hope-inducing sense. The concept that “darkness is the absence of light” implies that the default position, the natural state of reality, is light. Not dark. So, it ain’t so much about the light cutting through, painfully penetrating the darkness, but rather, the natural stateis light, the absence of which, is not natural at all.
 And yes, my physicist friends and their astrophysicist/microphysicist brethren will contradict this point with telescopic evidence of deep space and sub-atomic photography, where blackness and emptiness are the oceans to the observable islands of pinprick galaxies and unimaginably tiny matter.
Of course this is beautifully factual, as the evidence provides.  And the presence of such “infinite” blackness doesn’t wrankle my light-based sense of reality in the least. We share an underwhelming understanding of the concept of “infinite.” And most physicists—scientists and artists of any discipline worth their salt agree that: “what we know is infinitesimal compared to what we don’t.”  You might add: “what we experience is infinitesimal compared to what we don’t.” As such, the potential for the abundance of light is…well, infinite.
So…I agree that what we can see out there in greater outer space, and down there in the sub-atomic landscape, is dark…giving the impression that darkness is the norm. But I know from my own life, my practical living experience—all 47 years of it—that what is observable, knowable, even, is but a tiny representation of the larger truth beneath what senses can observe, much less what we’re able to articulate. Try explaining to a stranger how much you love your wife. Or child. Or Mother. Or golden retriever.  Words quickly fail. As do senses. As does intellect. …When we utter the word “infinite” we are mentioning the presently unknowable. And not knowing something doesn’t make it untrue any more than knowing something necessitates its truth. At one point in our history, we “knew” the Earth was flat. And generations of mariners behaved accordingly. What we think we know is as discombobulating as what don’t think we know.  Lots of room for light.
…When my youngest son was a toddler he somehow escaped his car seat, which was securely strapped into the backseat of our sea-foam green Taurus station wagon. I was driving, my wife in the passenger’s seat. No one else in the car. In the middle of a left turn at the intersection of Carlton Avenue and 14th Street, the driver’s side back door flew open, my son clinging like a barnacle to the door handle, his legs dangling a few inches off the pavement, the sound of rolling tires, horrifying.
Instantaneously, my wife’s mouth opened in a scream and she exploded into the backseat like a torpedo, her body stretched over the seatback, feet on the dashboard, arms reaching, grabbing, then purchasing. Thankfully, she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. I pulled the car over next to Skutevik’s and sat there, hunched over the steering wheel, listening to my wife gasping, my son slowly whimpering, casual traffic passing, heads turning.
“How did that happen!?” my wife screamed, cried, begged to know.
“No idea,” I replied.
“Well, how’d he get out?”
“How’d you catch him?”
The distinction between light penetrating the darkness and darkness stabbing into the light.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Those Brilliant Greeks

(to a moderate clapping rhythm: 4/4 time)

Moderation, that’s the key.
Greeks come by it, naturally.
Germans, Congolese, Croats, Celts—
Mo-der-a-tion ain’t modest for anyone else.
In the Klan I come from, no one knows
What “equilibrium” is, what the Greeks propose:
“A little of this, a little of that—nothing extreme,
that’s where it’s at!”
So back-and-forth we thrash and howl,
like the Bankrupt Greeks, by tooth and jowel
we love, then hate, then fight, then kiss
then spend, then save, then hit, then miss.
Moderation, that’s the key,
stings like compromise, at least for me.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Croatian Dream

Who is that Croatian girl
                Who visits me in my dreams?
What’s the name of that girl I see
                Whenever the yellow moon beams

Through my window, winter night,
Through my dreaming skull,

Who is that Croatian, green-eyed girl,
                 Whose whispering voice does lull
…me back to dreaming, back to black,
Takes me, loves me, takes me back

To paradise.