Keep You There
You’re ten feet in front of me laughing. I walk up to shake your hand. Your smile breaks me. The heat that builds inside me is wildfire. And I think you look like my next, hungry distraction. And I hope I look like yours too. And you might have been a nightmare, but you were definitely wrapped up in dreams. And you might have been a nightmare, but at least you kept me awake. And your smile breaks me. And the heat that builds inside me is wildfire. And I think you look like my next secret. And I hope that I look like yours too. And we may have been whispers, but at least I could keep you to myself. And you might have been a whisper, but at least your voice nuzzled my ears. And your smile breaks me. And the heat that builds inside me is wildfire. And I think you look like my next dance. And I hope I look like yours too. And we may have spun in dizzy circles, but at least our steps matched. And you may have spun me in dizzy circles, but at least we always came back around. And your smile breaks me. And the heat that builds inside me is wildfire. And I think you look like my next destruction. And I hope I look like yours too. And we may have torn each other apart, but at least we built the moments worth breaking. And I may have torn you apart, but at least I razed your walls. And your smile breaks me. And the heat that builds inside me is wildfire. And I think you look like my next, infinite ending. And I hope I look like yours too. And you may have never ended for me, but at least I know I’ll stay for you too. And we may have never ended, but at least we won’t start again.
I still devour the voices
grab the sky to embrace it
rage the world ablaze
snuff out torrents of rain
sail the squall of tempests
I still devour the voices
dance in youth’s wild abandon
pluck the strings of truth
tear my soul in pieces
to let life into my heart
I still devour the voices
holding spring to my bosom
seizing the pennant of spirit
swallowing its nectar deeply
imbibing the dregs of youth
First time Dad said he loved me (without Mom’s prompting) I was 30. Not sure how I responded. Probably, “Love you, too.”
Had two kids at that time. One by my first wife; one by my second.
Having kids changes your perspective. (It changed mine.) Found myself more forgiving of my parents. Why? Because kids are impossible—cute though they may be. When they’re babies, they can’t listen. Not really. As they get older, they don’t listen. That’s a fact.
Dad and I hadn’t had the best relationship: I was a nerd-type before that term existed. He was a World War Two guy. Strong silent type. Worked construction. Me? Liked to read: Books. Magazines. Comics. Backs of cereal boxes. You name it.
My geeky behavior frustrated Dad. In every way. Whether I was sorting boxes of nails, screws, and washers, or holding a flashlight as he worked on cars, I’d mess up. Then he’d chase me way, saying, “Go read a book.”
Which, of course, I did.
After graduation, I went away to college. Hung out with the wrong crowd. Messed with drugs. Eloped with a girl I’d known just six weeks. Flunked out of school.
Couldn’t get worse, right?
Got drafted by the Army. (Joined the Navy instead. Why? Two reasons: First, I liked Navy pea-coats; second, figured I wouldn’t end up in Vietnam.)
Got in trouble with drugs—again. Got sent to Vietnam. Got a “Dear John” letter.
Bam. Bam. Bam.
When my four years in the Navy were up, went back home to see Mom and Dad. Had to tell ’em how bad things were; had to tell ’em I had no money, no-where to live.
They let me sleep on the couch.
I share this fall from grace to show how arrogant I’d been. Big shot. Self-important. Egotistical. Like a modern-day Prodigal Son who thought he knew everything and deserved everything—turned out I knew nothing at all. Deserved even less.
Eventually, I used my G.I. Bill to go back to college. Double-majored in Mass Communication and Political Science. Graduated Summa Cum Laude. (Amazing what you can accomplish when life smacks you between the eyes.)
Within two weeks of graduating, I got a job at a newspaper. Dad, who only had an eighth-grade education, subscribed to that paper. Read every article I wrote. Even gave me story ideas. We finally had a real relationship.
I cherish the day Dad said he loved me. It was great. Huggin’ that big bear of a man. Feelin’ him hug me back. Heart-to-heart. Soul-to-soul. I also remember the day about two years later when my brother Doug showed up on my doorstep. He was crying. Through his tears, he managed to speak: Dad was in the hospital. Paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors weren’t sure why.
Ten days later, Dad died. It all happened so fast. Too fast. It took me months before I could cry. When I did, it was at a store in the mall. In the men’s department. Where mannequins wearing work clothes stood guard. Blubbered like a baby. Wishin’ I could hug Dad and say, “Love you, too.” Just one more time.
921 days without you
There is no way I can open up a can of black olives without thinking of you. What are the olives trying to say? They do not speak but they remember for me, because much of what happened back then is fuzzy, but not the day we decided together by pooling our pennies, we had double the buying power. Why was it that both of us deeply craved black olives at the exact same time? Could it be we could read each other’s minds? I’ve often wondered why we didn’t choose to buy a black and white cookie or Carvel flying saucers instead. Did we crave salt because of all the tears? I know you cried too because I felt your pillow in the morning. Why did you hide your tears from me? I could have held you like you always held me. Remember when we decided we couldn’t take it anymore and we would run away? But how could we? Where we would go? You made it all possible, planning every detail, always taking charge. “Go to the window at midnight. I will be waiting for you below. Trust me. When I say jump. Jump. I will catch you.” And I listened. Believed you. And you caught me without blinking, stoically, as if all along it was your arms I belonged in. Could it be we were two bodies, two beating hearts as close as the moon and earth during a total lunar eclipse? Born second, 921 days after you, what did you do for all those moons without me? Were you lonely? Waiting? Did you wonder what I would look like when our mother held you lovelessly on her lap with me right behind you in her womb? Could I have known the one that carried me would not be the one who carried me through, caught me? It was you all along, the one I sang Edelweiss with in the subway station, under the earth, too young to be off on our own. Fledglings. She would send us away again and again to be rid of us and we went, wandering aimlessly, wondering when the nightmare would end. It didn’t. We both know we are still haunted, but can we stop for just a minute and think about what it would have been like if we didn’t have each other? I cannot. Will not. And if the time comes that you need to be carried, please know I will be here to catch you. Let me. You have carried me for far too long.
As Simple as That
When my soul smiles
My heart follows
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
My soul, a translucent pond,
Waters clear, imbued with the light
Of the golden burning sun
Not a drop disturbed,
Not a wave displaced,
Another comes along,
Splashing through what is unknown
I only wish to remain here,
A deep trench,
Filled with love, laced with life,
Free from woe, safe from strife
This is all I wish for
Why can’t you respect that,
And leave this habitat of mine
Alone, a sacred temple
Only for me to know
‘Je ne regrette rien’
He heard a sound of a hiss. Was there a snake or worse snakes in his chamber? The curtains near the window were moving back and forth- by a slight midnight breeze.
Landel stretched his arms and got out of his bed. He placed his hand over his mouth, as he yawned. Why was he up again? Ah, he had heard a hiss close by.
He walked to the balcony and looked around. Landel stood still peering at the moon.
Then he heard someone ask if he had ever seen the moon this late at night. He turned around, soon he started to tremble. What was she doing here?
Landel: (In a whisper) Marbel? Why are you here & this late in the hour?
She laughed when he turned his head in fear, placing his hands over his eyes.
Marbel: (sighs) Oh, hmm. I came to pay you a visit, my darling. Its been a while since we had a chat, or even looked into each other’s eyes. Don’t worry, I promise to not turn you into stone.
Landel felt really nervous. When he first met Marbel, he had fallen head over heels for her. She was his soulmate. The one time that he had seen her turn some poor fella to stone, he decided it was time for him to leave. Everytime they had been together, she had a hat or wrap covering most, if not all of her hair. Now he knew why she had been doing that.
Marbel: (chuckles) I thought you would treat me fairly, Landel. I have seen how things are going to be from here on. I came with my precious ones this time. They were curious and wanted to get to see you, my dear.
Landel shook his head. His heart started to leap and beat like crazy. What was Marbel trying to tell him anyway?
Marbel: Huh! Hey, don’t be rude dude. At least look at me when I’m talking to you.
Landel slowly peeked around and glanced at Marbel for a second. That’s all it took. The snakes on the top of her head were so pleased, that they hissed with lots of joy for getting to see Landel. Marbel thought she could control her powers, that was not the case. Her eyes glowed a bright purple and she saw her love begin to turn to stone.
Marbel tried to close her eyes and look away. Landel felt his whole body, heart and soul begin to feel heavy.
Marbel walked slowly toward Landel and placed a hand on his chest. She couldn’t feel any beating from his heart. It was now a heart of stone.
The tears from Landel’s eyes trickled down his face. Marbel wiped them away, and bid farewell to Landel. She slithered away with no regrets. He didn’t want to be with her any more. So, she made sure that no one would ever be with him. Landel should have known not to mess around with a gorgon!
Hard Pussy was the one who pointed it out to me. She ran the bar at Butch’s, a narrow joint wedged between the deathtraps and bum flops in Old Town. Butch’s was the first place in the state to buck the local ordinances and offer, as the neon said, LIVE GIRLS TOTALLY NUDE ONSTAGE. Another neon featured a curvy dancer swiveling her hips. You could see it for blocks.
The stage wasn’t much, a single platform thrusting like a dock between the tables. There was no pole or any of that fancy crap that newer clubs had. There wasn’t even a DJ, just an old Seeburg jukebox at the back of the stage, its arc of yellow lights glowing through the haze.
Hard Pussy had been in the Merchant Marine during the war, cutting her hair and passing as a man for the duration. She said her real identity “never came up.” She had a face like a work glove, meaty hands and a genuine Sailor Jerry tattoo on her arm. She’d worked at Butch’s since it opened in 1948, so long that most people thought that she herself was Butch. She’d set them straight on that score if they asked. Most didn’t. There may have been a real Butch, but I never met him.
Butch’s did good business, even in the daytime. There would be at least three or four men in the joint fifteen minutes after it opened at 11, guys with outside sales jobs, cops and firemen, construction workers on lunch. For the talent, Butch’s was either the first rung on the ladder or the last, depending on the dancer’s age and ability. Once in a while there was somebody extraordinary, like the black girl with a bass clef tattooed on her ankle who went on to play with a famous jazz trumpet player in New York City. It was rare, but it happened.
Pretta was a girl like that. I thought so, anyway. She was my favorite. I was in love with her, I realize now. I was twenty-three, new in town. I had no friends, an outside sales job I hated, and the start of a drinking problem. It was a cliché for me to fall for a stripper, but there you have it.
I’d come in and watch her, try to figure out what she was thinking. I knew she was smart because sometimes she’d sit with me and make jokes. I never got to know her at all, but you couldn’t have convinced me of that at the time.
I loved how she leaned against the jukebox, fingers in her mouth while she flipped through the selections. It didn’t matter how carefully she picked. Her music was always shitty. Some dancers have a knack for picking the perfect song, but with Pretta it was just the opposite. The music never fit the mood and was always inappropriate for her style of dancing, if you could even call it a style. Lena Horne and a fast gyration. The Electric Prunes and a slow swivel. It was always just wrong.
I guess she was maybe 20, with a the lovelest face I ever saw in my life. Long black hair like a crow’s wing spilling over high cheekbones and huge dark eyes that seemed half asleep. And a body without flaw, smooth and pearly in the smoke, a figure carved of ivory by a Chinese master. Pretta habitually wore an expression of intriguing blankness, a canvas upon which anything might be written. Sister. Daughter. Whore. Maybe all three.
Hard Pussy gave me my drink, rye and ginger in a beer mug. I offered her a smoke and we lit up. “Say, Charlie,” she said in that diesel voice, low and rattling, “I think you’re shit out of luck. Your honey’s taken up with Doctor Bob.”
Hard Pussy knew I had it bad for Pretta and teased me about it whenever I came in. I tried to always be there when Pretta was working, so lately she’d had plenty of opportunity.
The news about Dr. Bob was bad, but I can’t say it was a surprise. I’d been around long enough to see it happen a few times. Sooner or later Dr. Bob would come in to check out the new girl. He’d stand and watch the stage from across the room, sipping his bottled tonic and not tipping a dime, leaning his pointy elbows on the tall table like he was at a livestock auction. Then he’d leave. This would go on for a while, but one time he’d saunter across the bar and drop a hundred at the dancer’s feet, looking at her face from behind his tinted glasses.
Some girls would fawn all over such big money, but the cooler customers would ignore it like it was fifty cents. It was his test. If the dancer treated the money like shit, then the Doctor would be interested. If she so much as presented her ass to him he’d have nothing more to do with her. More girls than you might think passed the test.
Later, he’d have them over for a table dance or two, talking quietly to them all the while. Hard Pussy frowned on table dances, except for Doctor Bob. He paid for that unique privilege.
Within a few days, the dancer would belong to Dr. Bob. She’d still get up on the stage to do her set, but afterwards she wouldn’t sit at the bar with the other customers. She’d sit with the Doctor and ignore any other overtures.
Hard Pussy didn’t mind because even though Dr. Bob only drank tonic water, he would always drop a hundred or two every time he came in. Hard Pussy didn’t pay the girls. They worked for tips. Some of them cleared five hundred a night.
Usually, Doctor Bob’s chosen would start to put on airs, showing off some new ring, necklace or a dress. Before long she’d be staying up at his house. Sometimes she would disappear for a week or two, showing back up with a cosmetic improvement like new tits or a nose job.
And then she’d be gone altogether. A month or two. Maybe longer. But then she would come back, looking like she’d been though the wars. Hard Pussy told me the longest any girl had stayed gone was six months. That was Jaqui, whose father was a lawyer. Jaqui was hard as rocks about getting her way, an amazon, six-two with red hair and eyes like a pirate. “But even she came back, ” Hard Pussy said. “And she looked worse than all the rest of ’em put together. That Dr. Bob knows how to tear down a woman, chew her up so small she chokes on herself.”
Hard Pussy wouldn’t say what went on up at the Doctor’s house, but I found out later he was a trust-fund MD who didn’t need to practice. He had particular tastes, most of which he’d keep to himself until the moment was right.
With each new girl he would create the illusion that she was the one. And so it would go, Dr. Bob asking more and more until one day she’d refuse him, refuse to allow a further escalation. The next thing the dancer knew she was outside the front gate, lucky if she’d been able to grab an outfit or cabfare. Plenty of girls knew the humiliation of flapping down the streets of the affluent Hills neighborhood in slippers and a teddy, cried-out mascara giving her raccoon eyes as she squinted in the harsh sun. These broken girls would usually dance for maybe a month or two, shadows of their former selves. Then be gone for good.
I figured I knew what Pretta’s fate would be with the Doctor. Everybody did, except Pretta herself. It was like the last act of a farce where all the actors but one are in on the secret and the audience laughs along with them at the fool who hasn’t figured out the obvious. Pretta was mindlessly picking out her music because the poor kid actually thought that her ship had come in. She was positive that within a year she’d be driving around in a Mercedes , a pink poodle on her lap.
My take is this: a guy like Dr. Bob only feels alive when he ruins something beautiful, like a vandal who slashes a Monet. I guess up until he met Pretta, he never found one he couldn’t destroy. Maybe that was why he did what he did.
I was out of town when it happened, but it was spectacular enough that it made it onto the evening news. The neighbors had heard the screaming and called the cops and one of those nightcrawler vultures with a police scanner got there before the police and took that footage that made it to the crime show. Most of it had to be heavily edited because it was too much even for cable, but the blood on the walls and the carpet told enough.
The picture they ran of Pretta must have been from her high school annual. She looked about fifteen, but her eyes still had that look, that never-touch-me stare like she stood alone on some island you could never get to. That look could make a man fall in love, or worse. They gave her real name, too. A little girl’s name. It didn’t fit her. I could see why she had changed it.
I never said goodbye to Hard Pussy. I got a regular job in another town, quit drinking, and settled down with a girl I met at church.
With her long black hair and big dark eyes, my wife looks like she might be Pretta’s sister. But her eyes are different. They invite you in and ask you questions.
It’s not the same kind of love I had for Pretta. It may not be love at all.
But it’ll do.
time is a road that never ends
it has been my privilege to pretend
that i’ll walk with you forever and a day
i cherish these unspoken thoughts
for unheard will never mean forgotten—
my soul unwinds, slow and gentle, in your wake
i would ask the wheeling sphere of stars
to unfurl itself, so that worlds afar
might comfort you and lie beneath your head
for there would i lie beside you, breathing,
listening beneath the skin, where beating
is a silent mark of all we’ve done and said
the greatest of which was in defiance
of that ending so distant, so pale and silent
which neither of us could comprehend, anyway…
so until that silence comes to pass
i will wait with you here in the long, green grass
where the space between our words has more to say