Monday, June 27, 2016

Vignette -- Time Market

Two friends stand next the dish tub where they have just deposited their bused coffee cups. They are both lean and tall and look at each other with the ease born of years of friendship, familiarity, trust. It is summer so they both wear the casual clothes of the season: shorts, sandals, t-shirts. One wears his Boston baseball cap.

I see them at a distance. I stand near the entrance, the other end of the market/cafe/pizza and beer bistro. The old woods floors speak to the place's past, give it a Western feel.

I am injured, on crutches, in some pain. Things have taken on a poignant glow because I am so helpless that I need a ride to get to places like this, to share coffee with friends, to get anywhere other than home, bed, and convalescing.

These men are the supports of my life. They carry me in hard times. They don't know that I look at them, immersed in their casual, routine, ordinary conversation and see a crystalized moment of life as one might see it on a death bed. The sweetness of it almost sends me crashing to the floor as my knees weaken at the frailty, the ephemerality of this life.

I see it all, too much at times. The friends talk at a distance. A worker sprinkles the produce to keep it fresh. A barista looks out the window, past this small scene, to something very distant. She bites her lip, wants to be somewhere else, thinks no one sees her. She is young. She has dreams.

The friends continue to chat it up, to joke about something, to chuckle as they walk up the aisle, past the glass display case, the pizza oven, the cashier, toward me.

They take me in with their gaze and open the talk to include me.

"Well, time to go?" asks the one who will give me a lift home.

I scan the market, one side to the other, taking it in, seeing it for once, as if for the first or last time.

They open the door for me, and I crutch out. There is a new handicap ramp.

"They built this just for you," one of them says.

"I guess so, " I say. "I'll take it," I say. "I'll take it."

And I do. I hobble down the ramp, the latest proof that change is everywhere, that the street car will run long after I, and all I know, are gone.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Dear God --

Just between you and me, I was wondering what it is you wanted me to do with my life. I wonder this in general, in the big picture, the years remaining, but also in the short term, this time recovering the torn Achilles.

Healing is going so slow I don't see any progress. Day after day I am still stiff, in pain, and sick feeling. It's hard to pee; I can't sleep; and everything from washing dishes to changing clothes is a hassle. Sweeping the porch after the storm yesterday was exhausting.

I don't want to complain or seem ungrateful for this opportunity to learn something, but the days are getting pretty boring, if not downright depressing.

Part of me wonders if this is some kind of punishment for having failed so miserably at having fulfilled my potential. I admit that I did not marry my talents as a writer to the work necessary to succeed. I did not commit to my art, or suffer all that much for it, but chose security and comfort.

For that I am sorry and have to live with regret. I do still have some time though. I can make something of what remains.

In this down time, this dead spot of nothing to do, nowhere to go, of weakness and funk, I see where I have failed to act, to meet my demons, and have chosen instead to put things off, to procrastinate, thinking -- erroneously -- that there was plenty of time.

I need some help to see this injury as something other than just a painful disaster that has destroyed my summer. I need to get up, in spite of the pain and carry on.

If I am honest with myself, I feel that I am done, that I have gone as far as I can. What I don't know is whether or not you feel that way. Am I done? If I am not, how far do I still need to go?

I don't know how far that is, but I am not one to give up; I am, as you know, too damned dumb to quit.

So I will sit here in the place of slowness, of boredom, of discomfort and wait for your reply.

Thanks for your time,


Monday, June 20, 2016


It was the juice he wanted, the juice in the live wire that was heroin cooked in a spoon, a jazz riff that caught the wave, the line of verse that almost touched the elusive pulse of magic. He could do with no less and had learned over 60 years of chasing that he would never catch it. That made him cynical, fatalistic, down on himself. "Oh, there you go again," he would say, admonishing himself, "fucking up, as usual," whenever he missed a measurement of sheet rock or backer board on the job we were doing. I knew that he was chasing the wrong things, that the real burr goading him on was his pain. Oh, the therapists had told him that, he said. He knew it. Twenty years in prison, rehab, and counseling had made that clear enough. Yes, he knew it, but he couldn't accept it, or stand up to it, or face the cold fact of it. So he kept running, running, chasing that perfect impossible relief, that taste of the magic juice. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Convalescing, bound to bed, he has again gotten used to the emptiness, the nothing, the nowhere. No calls, no texts, no messages, no visits, no anythings. Well that's not entirely true. He still lives in a body, still holds a place, still takes what he needs to maintain and fuel a bag of bones. There is also that intrusion of pain, the irrefutable reminder that he is bound here to this carnal form. He does have a cat, and he does hear his breath go in and out, and he does have to wheel the chair into the bathroom to pee and brush his teeth once on a while. But mostly it's nothing. Sleep. Morphine. Light through the blinds. Darkness other times. He doesn't know where the moon is in its cycle or who the latest celebrity is or what scandal or crisis has dominated the contest for attention out there in the scramble of somethings. He tries to get good at this nothing thing, the emptiness project. Memories, fantasies, the chemical euphoria of drugs are all here, vying for attention. The emptiness he seeks is beyond them, beyond the usual fare of being stuck in bed. He listens to music of silence, the grace of stillness. Once he surrenders to it, it's not such a bad place to be. In fact, he likes it, finds it soothing, draws strength from it. Like everything else, nothing will end soon enough. Then the somethings will come trickling in, and then become a flood. Until that happens, though, it's nothing for a while, just spinning in an eddy, while the main current carries the heavy loads of something downstream. He has been here before but forgot what it was like to dance with Methuselah, the man he will join further down the road. In a way, he has always striven to be good at nothing, to get ready for the final and permanent nothing. Now it's time again to practice, to learn not to fear nothing, to remember nothing, to carry nothing with him. It is out of nothing that a worthwhile, heretofore unknown, something might come.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

If I Were a Horse

The better run-up was blocked by fancy, Adirondack-style chaise lounges.

The one I decided to use was short. That meant I would have to throw everything I had into the spring to gain enough height to complete the somersault into the pool. I had to hit the deck hard and spring harder before curling into a tight ball for the flip. (Never mind the age-inapproriateness or the show-off motives of the act.) So I ran, lifted a leg to set up the spring, bounced hard with both feet, and then lifted off the wooden deck with a crack of the wood and a pop of the tendon. The two reports were so close together that no one beside me noticed them.

I spun, opened, and hit the deep water knowing that I had done something very bad to my leg. My foot hung loose at the end of my right leg. Not so good.

The implications would become clear over the next days: no driving, no walking, no bike riding, no swimming, no carrying, no weight on the leg, and nights of deep pulses of pain.

The Achilles tendon had ruptured completely, and I was now pretty much good for nothing beyond hobbling. If I were a horse, they would shoot me. But I am not a horse. If I were teaching, I would have to go on disability. But I am not teaching right now.

What I do have is one day at a time to figure out how best to respond to an injury that in other situations might be the end this crazy life. So I play the game of health-care, laying my insurance cards on the table, betting that surgery and an MRI will be worth the promise of mobility by summer's end. I will have to start over, to get back into shape, to re-schedule work on the house in New Mexico.

But mostly I have to learn again that there are no givens in this life, that run-ups can seem workable until things go bad, that a small bit of tendon can change the trajectory of what is possible. The days that were so full are now open, empty, and waiting.

That's a chance and a problem horses were not lucky enough to have.