Saturday, October 24, 2009


I turned up, knocked on the door bearing nothing. No flowers, no bottle of wine, no melt-in-your-mouth truffles to carry her through one tedious moment to the next like a bridge. I was bundled against the winter night wind, it blew up my jeans and found my ankles while I waited. When she opened the door I saw immediately the sorrow, how weary she’d become from the pain of a floundering marriage. We embraced tightly.

It took some time to get the children to bed. The excitement of my presence fueled them, miniature whirling dervishes, playing out their energy in loose, free spins. She put dinner together on a chartreuse tray: baby carrots, kalamata olives, hummus, guacamole, blue corn chips, sharp cheddar. She poured sparkling wine into two glasses and we arranged ourselves with pillows by the smoky fire and talked while music played too loudly and children feigned sleep. We talked around her pain giving it wide berth.

As I was leaving she gave me a chocolate orange, it was heavy and smelled like Christmas. This is like her, giving and giving to those she loves, a heart always ready and open to love.

When I got home, he was still awake.
“How’s it going?” I said, nodding to the stacks of papers surrounding him.
“Boring...” He smiled sleepily.

We hugged. I kissed his ear, smelled him. In the kitchen, I pounded the chocolate orange hard on the linoleum floor. It segmented inside the wrapper like magic. I peeled it, put a wedge in my mouth, and put the rest in the refrigerator so the ants wouldn’t find it in the night.

At 2:30 AM I lay awake. I got up and walked through the dark house. The full moon lit up the backyard, shone down brightly on the frozen banana trees. Crumpled old men of the backyard. The leaves turned in on themselves, brown and papery. I couldn’t imagine how they would ever recover.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Essential One

it should come as no surprise:
the ESSENtial one
my ESSENce
the two words sharing like they do
a simple matter of letters forming,
a gathering
strength in numbers
the sum total
greater, more powerful than its parts

like these two
the we that holds this house upright and steady
the beautiful total of two
the totality of the we---
the sum of us

the essential one
comes to me
with dreams of sand and sweat
warm lips on cool skin
a universe away
and yet always here between us
a steady beat
a metronome of heat
pulsing us along

the essence of me held in us both
so should i begin to falter
you then breathe for two

our sum is small
but we are mighty

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Flight 1293


Anna looked ahead at the shortening line and watched as the herd closed in on the airport security gate. Her intestines churned as a bead of sweat fell from the soft fold underneath her left breast. She knew she could have requested a private screening, but this would have belied her resolute belief in her body, the trust she has in its inherent strength and beauty. She removed her shoes and backpack, and with trembling hands placed them in the plastic bin and sent them down the moving belt. Anna bent to lift the leg of her jeans to just below her knee, revealing the prosthetic that was as familiar and as much a part of her body as her hands.

A pasty, mustached guard motioned her through and began the standard procedure to swab her prosthetic for explosive residue. Some people looked away in an attempt at respect, while others watched with fixed eyes. She wanted to head butt the guard; elbow him in the windpipe; send the titanium right between his legs. His labored mouth-breathing delivered rank coffee breath directly to her nostrils.

When he finished, Anna lowered her jeans, shoved her feet into her shoes, and grabbed her pack. She inhaled deeply, felt the integrity of her body, its completeness, then turned and headed toward her gate.


Marvin was a large man, 6’6”, 350 pounds. Flying was not easy, nor was it enjoyable. He avoided it when he could, but this time he could not. His Uncle Murray had passed and he was determined to pay his respects, even if it meant the awkwardness and humiliation of air travel.

Everything was a squeeze from the moment he handed his ticket to the attendant and entered the walkway. The walls of the tunnel closed in around him, his steps rocked the bridge to the plane even though he tried to tread softly. As he stepped onto the plane he held his arms tightly at his sides and turned sideways through the door. He saw the dread flash across the pilot and attendants faces, then shift back to the standard mannequin smiles. He’d been forced to fly first class for the few extra inches it provided. By the time he was 18, Marvin’s knees would push up against the seat in front of him, shifting its occupant forward and toward increasing annoyance.

He found his seat on the aisle and ducked into it. Marvin hoped no one would be sitting next to him. He struggled for a moment to extend the seatbelt, but it was stuck. Tiny pearls of sweat formed on top of his shaven head. One of the attendants moved toward him.
“May I help you with that, sir?”
“Thank you.” Marvin pushed back into the seat as she leaned across him to pull the seatbelt looser. Her sugary smile encouraged him. He smelled her hair. He wanted to hold her tiny head in his hands, wanted to circle his thumb and index finger around her bird-like wrist. Women liked him. Liked his mass. If there was one thing Marvin had learned in his 38 years it was this: Women liked to feel small.


The crotch of Elaine’s pantyhose now resided three inches below where it should have. The waistband of the control top hose was not controlling anything. Instead it had rolled down creating a rubber band of sorts that dug into the fleshiest part of her belly, creating an uncomfortable roll of that sighed over the top of the hose and pressed against the waistband of her skirt.

She pushed the idea of a hot flash far from her mind as the heat rose up from behind her neck, swept over her head and face, and spread across her chest like flame. She’d missed the chance to remove her blazer and now it was too late. The sweat would have created large stains on her silk blouse that she couldn’t possibly expose.

Elaine rose to retrieve her bag from the overhead bin so she could prep for the meeting once more. As she lifted her arms, a sour, yeasty smell closed in around her. She was quite certain what she smelled was herself. She’d changed time zones so many times in the past month she’d lost track and had not set her alarm correctly. There had been no time to shower in her rush to get to the airport. She was not prepared for the meeting, she missed her bed and her cat, she was drenched in sweat, and she was hungry. She was beginning to not like people very much. Elaine had been on this plane for too long.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Exit Wound

On December 22, 1983, Jarvis Meriwether made his way on foot to Craw County Hospital on the iciest night of the year. Craw County didn’t see much in the emergency room except broken bones and heart attacks. But tonight, Jarvis was bringing them a gun shot wound. The bullet had entered his hamstring and exited his quadricep. He could feel the blood in his socks, his flat foot sucking the wetness each time he took a step. He’d tried experimenting with bending his knee, but that had been a mistake. The blood pulsed out each time he bore weight on the leg. His hands shook. Sweat rolled down his back, tears from his eyes, snot from his nose. He dragged his forearm across his face and let the worn flannel absorb the wetness.

He looked up to find the moon. He felt like if he could just put his eyes on it he’d be okay. After a moment he found it behind him, hanging full but dull, circled with a halo of light, a bull’s eye in the night sky. Jarvis struggled past a speed limit sign, broke off an icicle and stuck it in his mouth.

Darlene hadn’t meant to. He’d come up on her hard and fast, sure, but she was a good woman, a little stupid, but not mean. But there was no space to contemplate his wife’s stupidity or blame. The freezing air and the loss of blood were making it harder to will his muscles into action and he had a few blocks left to go yet. No cars were on the road. The ice had left the small town empty and silent except for Jarvis’ grunting that pushed the air from his mouth, white and frosty, in great, burdened puffs. A few inches above his knee, the wound wept warm blood. A shocked circle of bloody denim tendrils reached out into the bitter air and just where the surface rounded, began to freeze.

Surely, Darlene hadn’t known. She wasn’t that good a shot. He’d started to run at her, to try and scare her a little, and she’d fired a gun he hadn’t even known she was holding. She shouted something loud and broken Jarvis couldn’t make out and slammed the door, leaving him in the front yard, thrown flat on his ass. What he felt first, before the bullet, was a whisper of pride, maybe even excitement, that his wife had actually pulled the trigger. That was the kind of woman he wanted. When he realized he’d been hit, he said to the night, “She shot me.”

Eventually he reached Craw County Hospital, stumbled through the automatic doors of the hospital and let the push of heated air move over his wet, aching body. Jarvis closed his eyes as the bright, lavender-white light took him. A gurney, a needle, scissors at his jeans, oxygen mask, tugging, pulling. He slipped into the timeless float of anesthesia and saw Darlene’s face. The spots on her irises, the baby-soft skin of her earlobes. He felt her hands, the brittle, ridged nails running over his lower back, her mouth sucking his upper lip.

When he woke mid-morning he saw Darlene’s face in every nurse that came to check his IV and clean and dress the leaking wound. He called out to one, tried to reach a hand out to grab her. She puts his hand on the bed firmly, covered it with the blanket, then moved on to his moaning roommate. Jarvis slipped again into the darkroom of morphine-inspired unconsciousness, dreaming in red and black.

He awakened and looked outside. The snow was beginning to melt. The sun was high in the sky. He will go home today. He will kiss her soft earlobes, hold her freckled hands. He will kiss away the tears of regret. He will take her back. She’s not a monster after all. His sons will come running; he will catch them up, fall onto the couch. They will climb up his leg; Darlene will tell them to be careful, laughing. They will eat a meal together as a family, maybe fried chicken. She will bring him the frosty beer he’s been dreaming about. Darlene will put the boys to bed, then they will fall into bed themselves, tired and happy. She will be timid, afraid to touch him, but he will reassure her. It will be brand new. She will stroke his forehead, change the dressing clumsily, bring him pain medicine, and they will fall into a deep sleep wrapped up in one another; limbs, hair, breath. Yes, he can see it now. He is going home.

Darlene packed everything she could force into the dying station wagon. She will drive until the children are begging her to stop. Until she’s so exhausted she considers a stopping at a dirty diner, ordering French fries and orange juice, and then leaving them there. She will drive until she runs out of road or money, whichever happens first.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I hadn’t planned on spending the night at IKEA. At least not at first. I was there that evening to buy the BOKIS book-ends. Clear polystyrene book-ends for $0.49. $0.49! I needed at least twenty. Getting out of the house had been hard. Jack was pissy, the kids needy, and by the time I got there it was already 8:45 and the store closed at 9:00. I’d seen them there a few weeks before in a bin, but they weren’t where I remembered them. I still hadn’t found them when the announcement came over the speakers encouraging all shoppers to make their final selections and move toward the check-out.

I needed those book-ends. I’d be damned if I was leaving without them. Hoards of people moved past me while I continued my search. They looked like ants carrying crumbs of food the size of their own bodies---a little frantic, excited about their finds. Their carts were overflowing with affordable Swedish ingenuity. I moved against them until I finally found them in a bin in the Storage section. I began loading my cart with them. More and more. They were only $0.49. Much more than twenty. More than I needed.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the towels. Bright blue, orange, hot pink. They weren’t wet and laying on my bed. They weren’t waiting to be washed. They were stacked neatly, clean and beautiful. I thought about the bed linens. The delicious colors and designs. The softness. I could smell the pungent, earthiness of the Kilim rugs. I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t go back home to my filthy, cluttered house. I wouldn’t.

I waited until the last of the shoppers passed me. I saw two employees coming toward me, their bright yellow and navy shirts giving them away, and I ducked. After they passed me, I made a quick leap behind a shelf of towels. I crouched down and waited. A few more employees walked by laughing, then they were gone. Silence. All the lights were still on. I took off my shoes and carried them so I wouldn’t make any noise. I walked back through the Marketplace, deep into the belly of the massive store until I reached the Showroom. Just when I found the Bedrooms, I heard voices. The cleaning crew. My heart pounded. I ran on tiptoes to the Living in 390 Sq Ft showroom. A perfect little apartment inside the store. A large cityscape print hung behind the bed. The lighting was impeccable. I moved the shower curtain silently, stepped inside, then let out a silent, deep breath. A cleaning crew moved through quickly with floor polishers, then they were gone. I was sweating. I wondered if Jack would even notice I was gone. I stayed in the shower for 45 minutes. The lights began to go off in sections, until finally I stood alone in IKEA in the dark. I’d done it.

Now I was hungry. I stepped out of the shower and put on the fuchsia and orange robe that hung on the SAGAN stainless steel double-hook. $2.99. I left my shoes by the bed and walked back to the Restaurant. I felt lighter with each step. I wanted meatballs, but knew I would have to settle for something refrigerated. I grabbed a tray and fork, and chose a Buffalo Chicken Wrap, a carton of orange juice, and a slice of Chocolate Overload Cake. I got some Diet Pepsi and found a table.

It was so peaceful. No Jack asking for dinner. No Katie or Max needing help with homework. Just me and my dinner. Best meal I’d ever eaten. After I finished, I bused my tray and walked back to my apartment. I hung the robe and climbed into the MALM twin bed. $149. It was heaven. Organized, solution-driven, affordable Silence. Just right for sleeping.

I woke early, forgetting for a moment where I was. I lay in bed, waking up slowly. There was no work shirt to iron, no lunches to pack. Just more silence. The SUSA alarm clock ($4.99) beside the bed read 7:43 AM. I knew employees would be arriving soon. I put my shoes on, walked around for awhile. It occurred to me that IKEA must have a lot of employees. That no one would know me. That no one would notice one missing bright yellow and navy shirt. When the Restaurant opened, I had a $0.99 breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash browns. I walked out the front door light and free. I found my red Honda hatchback, drove it to the parking lot across the street and walked back to IKEA. I needed coffee. Lunch would be served soon. In 12 hours the store would close again and I would be here. Because like the IKEA ads say, home is the most important place in the world.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Waiting For My Rapture

Raised eyebrows and whispers rode on her long train as she walked out the church door. Only their eyes followed her. She continued down the street. If anyone were watching they would have seen her remove her shoes, place them neatly on the curb and continue up the hill where she stopped to stand.

She did not see me---startled, unmoving, holding my breath. I crouched down low, leveled my back with the tall grass, let the rock in front of me bear some of my weight. Dry weeds entered my nose and open mouth, but I remained still. As I waited, candle wax dripped, second hands jumped, mothers sang lullabies. The moon watched her and smiled, the stars fought to get a better look.

She freed herself from the shackle of satin ivory, the heavy mass puddled at her feet. The air rose around me fragrant and heavy. Lavender, magnolia, mountain laurel? I couldn’t place it, it wasn’t mine to place. She moved to stand on a jagged boulder, a fang on the side of the cliff. She stood close to the edge, wrapped her toes around its strength, and held her face to the endless night sky. Dark hair fell across her back; skin silvered by the moon's light.
“Are you ready for me?” she asked. Her voice was song.

The moon winked. She closed her eyes, and she was gone.

I’ve grown old now. Over the years I think I’ve seen her face in the yellow-pink shadows of dusk. Sometimes I hear her song in the moments between sleep and waking. I have lived my life mostly forgetting, but sometimes remembering what I saw.

Late last June I climbed that fanged hill. Stood naked upon her rock and squeezed my crooked toes around it. I looked to the sky, held my gaze on the moon.
“Are you ready for me?”
The moon did not wink. I stood, arms reaching, stretching for her light. I was much too far away.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

First Sight

Yesterday I think I fell in love with a man that works behind the food counter at K-mart and smells like hamsters. To be honest he looks a bit like a hamster too. His cheeks are fat and round and his upper lip arches so that his front teeth show all the time, not just when he’s smiling or talking.

I’d never eaten at K-mart before. I was there to get a garden hose and gumballs for my penny machine and I got lost. I wandered around and found myself standing in front of a short wall that separated me from department store concessions. At first I just wanted iced tea, but then I saw the hot dogs straining in their pink skins, rolling over the hot metal treadmill. Anyway, I don’t know what happened, but I saw those hot dogs and I saw him standing there looking like Bandit, the hamster I had when I was nine. My heart pounded as I stepped forward. He wore a plastic hairnet with a red baseball cap over it and khakis that were cinched too tightly at the waist.
“Hi. What can I get for ya?”
“Can I have a large iced tea and a hot dog with onions, please?” My voice squeaked and my throat itched. I leaned my hips into the counter to steady myself.
He just nodded and pushed the buttons on the register. His name tag read “Buddy”.
“$5.23…Hey, I could put some of the nacho cheese on there for ya. That’s what I do. It’s real good. I won’t charge extra.”
“That’d be great.” I wondered if he offered it to everyone, or just me.
I wanted to offer him a gumball of his choice. I wanted to jump the counter and bury my nose in his neck to inhale enough of him to last my lonely drive home. I wanted to wear that hairnet.
“Here ya go.” He handed me my tea and hot dog. “Tell me what you think.”
I didn’t want to take a bite in front of him, but I smiled and did anyway. The cheese was so hot it scorched the roof of my mouth and I had to spit the whole bite out into the paper boat it came in. The ball of food landed and sat at the corner steaming.
His eyes opened wide. “Oh.” he said quietly.
We both stared at the half-chewed bite for a second. My eyes filled with tears. I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to say or do, so I leaned across the counter, inhaled him deeply and turned to walk away. I set the gumballs down on the first table I passed and ran out the automatic doors without looking back.

On my drive home I smelled my hands and tried to pick up his scent. With my tongue I gently prodded the growing blister on the roof of my mouth. Then I pushed into its softness until it gave. I thought about his big, yellow front teeth. His fat, round cheeks. They were plump like the hot dogs and I wondered what he had stored in there.