Copyright 2007 by Madeline Sharples
• What Is Loss?
• Blizzard in B
• The Last Night
• Thursday Morning
• My Jazzman
• September 23, 2002
• The Dreaded Question
• White Swan
• Done Deal
• Dream World
• Long Division
• Letting Go
• Three Cemeteries
• Remembering Paul
• A Poem that Wants to Be for Ben
• Making It Hard
• Meditation Practice
• July 14, 2001
• A Summer’s Day in New York
• Black and White Dreams
• Romeo and Juliette’s Wedding Night
• Through the Parking Lot, Into the Gym
• Tonglen Practice
What Is Loss?
I lose my keys or sunglasses and find them in my hand all along. I lose my little boy in the department store and he pops out squealing with laughter from under the clothes display. I lose important papers and find them in the stack of other papers on my desk.
I didn’t lose my son, Paul. Paul is dead. Death is forever. There’s not a chance of finding him.
The light I’ve left on in the hall for him every night since he died doesn’t show him the way back home. There are no more piano gigs out there for him. The Sunday paper entertainment guide doesn’t list his name at any jazz club. He can’t join the young guys at the Apple Genius Bar and help people solve their computer problems. Paul would have loved that job. He was made for that job, but he checked out too early. The new meds and surgery for manic depression, the new information about mental illness are not for him.
Why do people refer to death as loss? Maybe just to encourage people like me. Maybe just to keep me looking for him. Maybe so I can pretend he’s still out there.
Maybe that’s why I long to mother the strong young men at the gym who hardly notice me and the bright ones at work. They are the right age. They have the same look. They have the same appeal.
Every time I see a young man with close-buzzed hair, well-worn jeans a white t-shirt and a black jacket sitting outside of Starbucks sucking on a cigarette, every time I see a skinny guy walking fast across the street carrying a brown leather bag over his shoulder, I look to make sure.
Blizzard in B
It is mid March, 1993, and a bitter blizzard blows in. Some predict the century’s biggest.
Flakes of snow swirl in gusts to the sidewalk. Cold slaps our cheeks pushes through our clothes as we cling to each other, walk through the cavern at the feet of New York’s skyscrapers. The sirens set our teeth chattering as impatient cabbies honk, inch their way up the streets.
Yet, we trudge forward uncertain of what we will discover when we arrive. A more foreboding blizzard, perhaps, blows through our boy’s broken brain.
The Last Night
How could I have known it would be the last night? A night like all the others: the low creaking groan of the garage door, tires screeching to maneuver into the narrow place, the roar of the engine before silence. Then slamming the door, my son, sweeps down the long hall, calling out hello in his deep friendly voice. I startle as I hear his heavy strides pass my door, I call out to him. Returning, he enters my room – standing, staring, looking more calm than I’ve ever seen him. His blue eyes like sapphires fringed with thick dark lashes never leave mine while we speak. My lips kiss his cheek cool as alabaster. I marvel at his smile – lips barely turned up not showing his teeth. He looks like the angel he will soon become. He has already found peace. Only I don’t know it yet.
When all I heard was silence behind the locked bathroom door that Thursday morning, when all I saw was darkness through the open bedroom door, when Bob went to investigate, calling his name, Paul, pleading with him, Paul, open the door, when Bob went to the garage for a screwdriver to pick the lock, when he opened the door and closed it quickly from the inside while I stood on the stairs, waiting as Bob found our son in the bathtub, sitting in a pool of blood, blue, already cold and stiff, tongue hanging out of his mouth, when Bob came out of the bathroom face red, hands shaking and told me Paul is dead, when all I heard were sirens and the footsteps of the police as they stomped though our house, all I could do was huddle in the corner of the couch, my legs drawn under me, my arms folded around me, as I rocked back and forth, my hands clamped into tight fists.
There is no gentle way to say it: He killed himself Took his own life He ended his life He released his pain He committed suicide
What he did one night was put himself in the bathtub and slash his throat with a box cutter. That’s what he did. That’s the truth.
Calling it dying, passing away does not change the reality for me and his father and his brother who cared for him and loved him. but couldn’t keep him from his destiny death by suicide.
My jazzman beat it out on the mighty eighty-eights played those riffs tapped his feet bent his head down to the keys felt those sounds on his fingertips. Yeah, he was a hot man on those eighty-eights.
But, all too soon his bag grew dark. He went down deep down. My jazzman played the blues lost that spark closed the lid. And, yeah, you got it right, quit the scene. laid himself down in that bone yard for the big sleep.
They came in droves at first out of concern, out of curiosity. They sent flowers, cards and sweet notes saying call anytime anytime at all.
Now it is quiet. A few friends invite us out, or come by. The rest have moved on glad to have done their duty.
Don’t they know I’m not contagious? My son’s death will not rub off. I’m the same person I was before. A sadder person, perhaps but needing my friends just the same.
September 23, 2002
The phone rings once startling me awake from a deep sleep. I jump out of bed to answer it knocking the Waterford perfume bottle from my dresser, and there is no one on the line.
Only 5 a.m. but I am up for the third anniversary of Paul’s death, a day I dread every year. All I can think is Paul called to check in, to let us know he is still around:
I go out on the porch and watch the orange half moon set behind the trees.
Bathroom: We don’t have to look into that room anymore and wonder if spots of blood still remain on the floors and walls. We’ve demolished the scene of the crime. We will no longer step into that tub and see Paul in his white long sleeved work shirt and khaki pants sitting against the shower door in a bloody puddle. They’ve taken it all away. The old aqua blue tub the toilet, and sinks. the faux marble counter with burn stains from the tiny firecrackers he set off as a teenager. The god-awful blue and yellow vinyl flooring is gone. Sterile white tiles and fixtures will take their place in a room with no memories either of life or death.
Bedroom: Six years later instead of the dark room he walked out of for the last time leaving the door slightly ajar his bed never slept in his dirty laundry slung over his over-stuffed chair, his paychecks left on the side table uncashed for weeks, his pictures and posters meticulously thumbtacked in perfect rows on the walls his books and records all lined up in alphabetical order in his closet along with his shoes and plaid shirts from second-hand stores, his keyboard, electronic drums, amplifier, and his music, each tape labeled and packed in a canvas bag, so we could easily choose a piece to play at his funeral. Instead, the room now totally bare except for a new bay window that looks over the garden and new shiny hardwood floors.
A writing table and a comfortable sofa will go in there with space in the closet for shelves of poetry books, files of poems hoping to be published.
Garage: Boxes labeled Paul’s fiction A-Z Paul’s jazz records K-O Paul’s rock and roll A-F stacked where I can see them as I open the door park my car every evening after a long day at work. On top of the boxes a pile of dungeons and dragon games one tarnished brass duck bookend he got for his Bar Mitzvah, the purple treasure chest where he kept his pot, a cigar box filled with metals and belt buckles his uncle brought him from Russia.
Leaning against the wall a roll of drawings he made in Bellevue’s psych ward each declaring his love for Sally now married with two children. A photo of her with high pointing breasts, slim waist, flat stomach, and round, firm buttocks shows her proud, and so ready, though Paul was not. He let her go He let it all go with one sweep of the knife.
The Dreaded Question
It happens again like so many times before. I’m at my sister’s house, talking to her neighbor someone I’ve just met and she asks me the dreaded question one that I’m avoiding by talking about what a great day this has been in Portland and isn’t my sister’s garden just beautiful and what do you do for a living and where are you from. And there it is, after I’ve tossed the salad greens put the tomatoes in the bowl and sliced in the avocado “How many children do you have?” she asks. And never missing a beat I say, I had two but now, only one. My oldest son died. Then I leave to get myself together and wonder what she and my sister are saying while I am lying down in my room.
“The dead we can imagine to be anything at all.” Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
He sits cross-legged in a tree deep in concentration, the way he would sit on the floor of his room learning against the bed doing homework, composing music, talking on the phone. His closed-mouth grin shows he is pleased to be where he is. No longer a skinny rail, his cheeks filled out, his skin clear, his eyes bright. His tree has everything – soft jazz sounds flowing from all directions, deep vees and pillows for sitting and reclining, the scent of incense and flowers, branches of books by Miller, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky the music of Davis, Gould, Bach and Lennon, and virtual communication to those he loves. He needs no furniture, no bedding, no clothes, no food. Those necessities are for worldly beings. The passing clouds give him comfort and the stars light his way. Heaven takes care of him as he imagines himself to be anything at all.
Paul is a bully.
Always waiting to take over my poems.
I’m writing about my mother
who starved herself last year,
hanging on for weeks in a morphine-induced coma,
using up every bit of energy I had
until she finally died.
And here he comes pushing her aside to get to the front of the line. He brags so the whole playground can hear. “My suicide is bigger, I used a box cutter; she just stopped eating.”
And he’s right. Compared to his death hers was a bump in the road. He was my beautiful sick boy, she, a not-so-nice shriveled old woman who had wished for death for years. She’d call me a bad daughter for saying this but I don’t miss her at all.
We sat at the wooden table shaded by large heart-shaped leaves. The crone with wispy white hair hanging in strings around her face, a mouth that’s forgotten how to smile, skin drawn, pale like rice paper hunched in her wheel chair listening or not.
This is where you’ll be for the rest of your days, this is the end of the line. You’re done moving, I said. You’ll never be able to be on your own again. No matter how much you hate this place, get over it. It’s a done deal.
Then, I laid out the plan. I’ll give notice at your retirement hotel, put your things in storage minus the few pieces you can bring here. And, don’t worry, I’ll keep them all safe.
Not saying anything in return she tapped her painted red claws in between the grooves of the table. When she couldn’t see or hear me anymore I pushed her chair inside while her vacant eyes filmed over stared out into the gloom.
I look toward my mother’s bed in its sunny spot by the window. Her young nurse is smiling. So is mother. She lies in a blue hospital gown printed with triangles, squares and circles in shades of gray, burgundy and dark blue. Her skin looks healthy. Her thin, white hair brushed off her face.
After the nurse leaves, she looks at me with wide eyes and asks, “Do you want to play bridge? We need a fourth.” “I haven’t played in years,” I say She accepts that excuse and points her long painted nails to two or three other people she imagines in the room. “They will play,” she says.
I stroke her damp forehead, holding her bony hand bruised from the needles that had been stuck into it. I brush my fingers down her white, silky legs, now devoid of hair. “Do I look a mess?” she asks. The sun casts a shadow across her bed. “No, you look wonderful,” I say. She smiles at me, not minding that her mouth has no bottom dentures, and brags how her cousins tell her how good she looks and how well-dressed she is. Even here with her gown hiked up to her diaper, she cares. I try to pull her gown down but she keeps grabbing it. I cover her with a sheet, and sit down to watch her play cards.
“Six spades,” she proclaims, “Play out.” I play out. Using her night gown as her bridge hand, she tries to lift off each pattern section one by one as if it were a card and place it on an imaginary table in front of her.
I want to know what happened to her, and what can be done about it. “Hospitalitis,” the nurse says. She has seen it a million times before. I go back to the bed and continue play-acting. I am thankful too. Her mind is taking her to that other place where she is young and beautiful and lives on the west side of Chicago. “I like this little room,” she says. “I’m glad,” I say.
I gathered all the papers piled on my desk for weeks and put them into neat stacks – Medicare receipts, bank statements, insurance policy, taxes, unpaid bills, funeral records, and a special pile called “Memorabilia” – with her typed-up life story, her citizenship decree, and her husband’s death certificate.
We had already divided her things: each piece of furniture, each piece of silver, china and jewelry laid out and chosen one at a time. My brother got the breakfront, my sister the Illadro figurine and I kept the diamond watch.
She flexed her fists on the cold bed railing keeping time with her heartbeats, Soon her hold relaxed, and fingers intertwined she wrapped her hands gently around the bar
Drugged from the morphine potion placed kindly under her tongue she lay there in a ball like a sleeping skeleton, head tucked into her sunken chest I sat with her, stroked her arm like a skinny rail itself and soothed the damp hair off her forehead until she pushed me away, took hold of the railing again.
Finally too weak to reach her metal friend, she allowed her folder fingers to rest on the bed. And I, kissed her gray, fading face. A woman strong until the very end took 94 years to finally let go.
Reaching for a Star
It used to be comforting to see her at her computer as I passed her office door. Sometimes we’d nod or say hello. Other times I sat in her guest chair against the wall and we’d chat. I don’t remember about what – our work maybe, her art projects, my poems, or an exhibit one of us had seen at the Getty, LACMA, a gallery at Bergamot Station. Now her door is closed, her name and title still on it, but, she doesn’t work in there anymore.
Now we sometimes chat in her nice third floor room in a tall building on Prospect Avenue in Redondo Beach with her favorite books around her along with photos, writing papers, art supplies – even a big screen TV – all the comforts of home.
Not at a computer anymore, she sits propped up in bed in an aqua gown, an oxygen tube in her nose and a permanent IV shunt in her arm to receive the doses of morphine that increase day by day. We look at the ocean as she tells me her plans for her death. Her ashes will fertilize several gardens and her spirit, happy to miss the daily catastrophes of the living world, will soar to her own personal star. If all goes according to schedule, she’ll be there in time for her 52nd birthday in August.
You didn’t even touch me, Mother. I was just down the hall, sitting against the shower door in the blue bathtub. I was cold in there. Why didn’t you touch me? All you had to do was step inside the bathroom. I was still there sitting on my box cutter in a small puddle of blood. I was dressed. I still had on the clothes I wore to work, my white long-sleeved shirt and khakis. It would have been okay if you came in. You didn’t have to keep the door closed. I was lonely in there. You could have come in.
Why didn’t you come down to the garage to kiss me goodbye? Strangers from the coroner’s office put me on a gurney stuffed me in a plastic bag and took me away. I didn’t want to go, but they had to make sure I was my murderer not someone else. You could have unzipped me down to my neck and kissed me on the forehead or on my lips. I wouldn’t have minded. Even though my tongue was sticking out a little I didn’t look too bad.
I know you weren’t allowed to visit during my four days at coroner’s office, but I don’t understand why you didn’t come with Dad and Uncle Ken to the mortuary. That was your last chance, That was your last chance to see me whole and you stayed home. Why did you stay home, Mother? Oh, sure, Dad probably told you to. But you could have come anyway How come, Mother?
I wanted you there with me before they took me away for good before they turned me into a bag of ashes. Were you mad at me, Mother? Were you mad that I did it? Were you mad that I killed myself? Were you frightened to see me dead?
Swaddled in this black bomber jacket all weekend, I am safe from the Big Sur chill. It’s too large for me. And that’s okay. It was Paul’s. I bought it for him years ago at American et Cie on La Brea before he went crazy and decided to leave us way before his time. I like how it snuggles me, like he’s in there too giving me a hug. It’s the only piece of his clothing I have left. I’ve given away the rest: his favorite plaid shirts that smelled of sweat and smoke, the torn jeans he salvaged from second-hand stores, his worn brown Doc Martin oxfords that took him miles on his manic escapades, and the tan suede jacket he had me repair over and over because he couldn’t let it go. Like this jacket – I’ll never let it go. It has stains I can’t remove and threads unraveling, My son is gone. But, this jacket – try and take it from me. Just try.
On a cool, sunny day in Normandy the breeze does not disturb the graves at the American Cemetery. No matter where you stand, looking diagonally, horizontally, or straight back and forth, each alabaster white grave marker each chiseled engraving in perfect precision and symmetry as far as the eye can see. The grass covering the graves mowed just the right height a shade of green from a Technicolor garden. The surroundings – a rectangular reflection pool the curved wall inscribed with the names of 1,557 Americans missing in action, the center bronze statue commemorating the spirit of American youth, and the Omaha Beach below – create a restful setting for the 10,000 allied soldiers killed in 1943 or 44 during World War II.
On a gray, rainy day in Prague, hordes of tourists stroll through the Jewish cemetery. Their feet crunch the brown and yellow leaves covering the ground. Housing 800,000 graves – some over 12 layers deep – this cemetery, not functional since 1787, on the verge of collapse. The packed gravestones lean every which way in a hodgepodge of rectangular, square, and triangular shapes so old, so worn and broken the Hebrew or Yiddish markings are hardly readable. Just like the Jews who were forced to live crammed together in the Prague ghetto, these gravestones want to escape the barriers that keep the visitors and vandals out.
On a stormy day in Los Angeles we drive through the gates of Hillside Cemetery and curve around the drive to the back wall and a small plot of miniature flat rectangular gray and black marble gravestones lying flush with the closely cropped grass marking the cremated remains of fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents.
Full sun interrupts the downpour just long enough for us to kneel at our son’s grave on his December 31st birthday, wipe away the raindrops, leave a smooth black stone, and four yellow roses and allow our tears to fall.
I’ll always remember he slept
without closing his eyes all the way
I’ll always remember he walked fast
and way ahead of us
I’ll always remember he had long, thick, black eyelashes
surrounding clear blue eyes
I’ll always remember he played the piano
legs crossed at the knees, leaning
way down over the keyboard
I’ll always remember he liked to wear
second-hand clothes and didn’t mind
if they were ripped
I’ll always remember he stood
at the pantry door munching almonds
I’ll always remember he liked to climb –
trees, rocks, diving boards
I’ll always remember he was meticulous and anal about his things
I’ll always remember he could play almost any tune by ear
And that he was always a loner
And how much he loved his girlfriend
and wasn’t touched enough after she left him
I’ll always remember he was sensitive
I’ll always remember he drove too fast and erratically
I’ll always remember he got lots of parking tickets
I’ll always remember he was in love with John Lennon
I’ll always remember he liked Doc Martin shoes
I’ll always remember he tapped his foot when he sat down
I’ll always remember how he sat
all folded over like The Thinker
when he drank coffee at Starbucks
I won’t ever forget the feel of his cool pale skin
the last night I saw him
Or the sound of his voice
I’ll always remember his hair was thick
I can’t forget he knew all the nursery rhymes
by the time he was two
and he said he wanted to watch a record
when he lay down on the red and black plaid couch to take a nap
I’ll always remember he and his brother
called the back of the station wagon,
“the really back”
I’ll always remember he loved to fish.
A Poem That Wants To Be for Ben
They are always about Paul, my dead son the one who died of his own free will so many years ago. My hordes of poems go on like a mantra: his mania, depression, his delusions, escapades, his suicide. They never fail to mention his piercing blue eyes, the little half smile that never showed his teeth, the smoky smell and the way he slumped over the piano like the thinker as he played. Paul and his death have been my muse.
Ben’s living eyes brim over with love as he looks down and folds me in his arms. He is the son who says I love you every time we speak. His smiles are wide even when he faces disappointment in his own life. This son is the reason I choose to live. Why isn’t he the reason I choose to write?
Twelve Hundred Head Shots
I scroll through them one by one. Each a full-face shot in black and white. His clothes change – tee-shirts, dress shirt, tie and suit jacket, a sweater slung over his shoulders, a shirt with open collar and loose hanging tie. But the poses repeat again and again.
First his face is serious, eyes slightly squinting, looking dark and foreboding, His hair slicked back not one out of place. This guy means business or he’s got a gun. Next he shows a little half smile, long dimples on the sides of his mouth but no teeth. Full, dark brows, deep, friendly eyes reflect the light of day. Finally he smiles wide showing teeth, dimples, and crow’s feet around the eyes. His jaw is long, square, honest. This is a guy you can trust to be your friend for life.
When this young son of mine played tournament tennis as a boy I sat on the sidelines at every match with all my fingers crossed and my legs crossed and my arm crossed as if my body language and my wishing could win him the point.
Now I click through the head shots and wonder which one, which look, which outfit will get him a part on a TV series as a smart aleck lawyer or sinister gangster or a part in a movie as the leading man’s sidekick or better yet, the role perfect for the Tyrone Power, Laurence Harvey,or Montgomery Clift type that his new manager says he is – the role that will find us both sitting together at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Academy Awards night. He in his Hugo Boss tux, I in my long Armani gown waiting, holding hands, squeezing them together until they hurt, until his name is called and he goes up on stage to accept his prize.
Making It Hard
The bright room is almost full. Four walls of mirrors reflect women and men in baggy shorts and sleek black tights. The music so loud the woman in front of me stuffs ear plugs in her ears. Lisa G says, “work from the core, your workout relates to your real life.” I want to get on with it. I don’t come here at 6 a.m. to listen to a lecture. The neon sign on the wall says, “sweat,” and that’s what I want to do. The woman behind me complains. I don’t know her name, but she’s here every week. Always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black. Black tights, black sports bra, black thong leotard, black headband on her head of black hair. Even her lipstick looks black.
A drill sergeant in baseball cap and high-top aerobic shoes Lisa begins her mantra. “If it were easy, everyone would be fit,” she shouts “Don’t come here and expect it to be easy.” She doesn’t single me out. I like it that way. I like being anonymous here I don’t know anyone and no one knows me. Being anonymous is a benefit. It keeps me in shape, calms my mind, gives me the space to be myself. It’s a mini vacation from the horrors of my life. So, I thank Lisa G for getting me moving, for making it hard, For making it hurt, for helping me trade one pain for another.
I face the shrine, place my palms together bow and walk into the room. I choose a spot in the second row and sit in the middle of a brilliant red cushion, cross my legs, straighten my spine, take a quick look around before I gaze ahead, lowering my eyelids until my eyes focus on the gold leaf mandala adorning the lacquered alter. Soon the tang of incense sends up a trail of smoke, like a fine silk thread. It disappears above my head.
I begin to settle down and listen: my breath moving in, moving out. It sounds like I’m in an echo chamber. This is not my breath. It’s the sound of something far away. I keep listening. The echo louder, enveloping me, swaddling me in its raspy arms. I’m lost in this warmth until I startle, my head lurches forward, my eyes pop open, my body arches. I barely catch myself from keeling over.
The instructor at my side nods. I unfold my legs, and leave the room with him. I sit with him in another room, a smaller version of the shrine room, to hear his lesson on how to meditate. I try to listen carefully, I try to stay focused, I try to stay with him and his words but my mind is anxious to try again.
I take his words with me as I open and close the creaking shrine room’s entry doors. I go back to my spot and sit again, I fold my legs again, I straighten my spine again, I fix my gaze again. Yeah, I’m ready this time. I can do this if only my right ankle will stop distracting me, aching, giving me fits.
Okay, focus, like the instructor said. Pay attention to your breath. If you get distracted, count your breaths cleanse your mind. I must let my ankle hurt, let my nose itch, and watch my breath move in and out I must push invading thoughts aside. Okay, take it easy, Stay calm. How hard is that?
The leader, sitting slightly elevated in front, strikes the copper gong once, twice, then produces several more short bursts of sound, letting the prolonged vibrations permeate the air. It’s time for walking meditation, and boy am I ready for that. I know I can do that. My legs feel like a couple of stiff rails. but, wait a minute. Is this supposed to be a walk in the park? No, of course not.
I enter the circle of my fellow meditators walking the perimeter of the room. I tuck my left thumb into my left fist and cover it with my right hand, holding my spooned hands close to my belly just like I was told to do. I begin to become aware of my feet as I take slow step after slow step around the room. As I walk my arches rise, my toes curl like a ballerina’s, my feet are like wings made to propel me, elevate me into a perfect pirouette. And,
I am there, walking, breathing, getting it, one step one in breath one out breath at a time.
“You’re prickly,” my husband said. “hard to get along with “and snappish.” I just stood there, surprised. “I’m sorry for being prickly,” was all I could think of to say.
I am never so blunt when critical of him. He would retort as he’s done so many times before, “I guess I’m just not good enough, “You should just find someone else,” he’d say. And, of course, I would quickly shut up,
I wonder what prickly means. Do I hurt to the touch like little pin pricks? Do cacti envy my prowess? Do the cats that roam the streets and sleep under cars hiss and scatter when they see me coming? Do the few stars that burn through the haze look down at me in wonder?
A Summer’s Day in New York
My back is hot to the touch. Still, the sun beats down as the whole world strolls, taking in the smells at the Union Square market. Fresh basil, warm bread, cut flowers, vegetables as vivid a still life, all the way from New Jersey farms. We go to breakfast at The Coffee Shop, across from the square, and eat mountains of eggs and crispy fried potatoes while listening to live jazz. Afterward, we head uptown on the subway breathing in the soot, the pee stink, and body odors to see the Jackie O exhibit at the Met. The lines are so long we huddle against the wall for an hour, but we don’t care a bit. Then we push and shove our way through the crowds just to get a glimpse of her clothes. Over 80 dresses are there – by Givenchy, Cassini and who knows how many other designers who made those 60s A-shaped dresses in stiff fabrics that hit just below her beautiful knees or skimmed the floors she walked on with matching coats or capes and little pill box caps she wore way back on her head. The sparkly strapless white gown, its gauzy train made her look like a fairy princess. We think of her that way, mouths open, teary eyed, watching the clips of her upstaging her husband, beaming at Nikita, Nehru, or Charles de Gaule, speaking fluent French and Spanish as she ignored those rumors about Marilyn. Those were magical times for both her and me before our tragedies changed everything.
We leave the Met walk downtown on Madison Avenue browsing, trying on dresses, Jackie O sunglasses, and shoes until we can’t take another step. So, we perch ourselves on bar stools, sip some Chardonnay, and watch the hordes of people go by.
We sat across the table covered with a white cloth. Her bright face glowed in the light, her smile radiant punctuated by deep, long dimples in each cheek. Simply dressed in black slacks and a white sweater she spoke confidently in English. And, when speaking her native Italian, she spoke slowly so we could understand her words. At this first meeting in the quiet La Casa Volpi Ristorante just outside the city, we ate heavy ribollita soup, we dipped our bread in oil from olives grown and pressed nearby, we drank smooth, dark Chianti, and we knew we would be friends.
We lingered, over biscotti and vin santo giggling about our language goofs, not wanting to end this evening and our time in Arezzo in northern Tuscany. When we parted we embraced with hugs so tight I knew she would forever have a place in my heart. She must have thought so too.
The next day, as we were leaving her city, she told me she was giving me a piece of herself – lavender she picked from her garden packed in a heart-shaped sachet.
Black and White Dreams
I feel like snuggling in, feet up on the coffee table watching whatever inanity the tube spews out to attract me. Like the dashing Paul Henreid lighting two cigarettes as his eyes smolder in their glow, Lauren Bacall flipping her hair off her face as she gives Humphrey the come to momma look
There was a world one could live in, black and white and out of focus, where one could get lost in dreams. We’d sing, we’d shout, we’d kiss and do the Continental down the wide boulevards of Rio.
All our endings would be happy as the credits roll over our bodies locked in a smoky embrace.
Romeo and Juliet’s Wedding Night
The black drapes open on center stage, a bed covered in heavy red quilts and pillows with a red satin cloth sweeping up into the rafters from the headboard. The bed covers and white sheets crumpled in heaps by the bodies of two lovers on top, then underneath, then on the pillows at the foot of the bed, then on the floor as they wrap their arms and legs around each other, first one on top and then the other, never separating as they kiss and stroke each other until almost daylight and it is time to part. But still they don’t part. While he buttons his shirt, tucking it in half way, she, wrapped in a sheet, long dark hair covering her breasts like a halter, her arms out to him, kneels on the bed, pleading, “Don’t go, not yet,” calling to him to come back crying in full soprano voice, “It’s not light yet.” And he turns around and looks into her eyes. His tenor voice roars, “Yes, I’ll stay,” and he tears off his clothes again leaps back onto the bed again pushes her back down and enfolds her in his arms — again.
At daybreak, finally getting up, picking his clothes off the floor, he dresses, this time for good. He pulls her to him, crushes her body against his, jumps over the balcony to the ladder. He begins to climb down and stops, looks back up at her on the bed, the new light glow on her pale face. He raises one hand to her. She runs out to the railing, Leaning, reaching, stretching her arms out to him, until she almost falls over,. Their fingers touch once more before he climbs down and runs from her, before the full morning light discovers them together on this their wedding night. And, we all know, this was their last night together alive.
Across the Parking Lot, Into the Gym
5:30 A.M. in the dark, the cold rain, lines of cars jockey for the space closest to the door. The huge gray flatbed always in the compact section just to piss me off
Inside blinding light reveals every pore, frown, furrow, sleepy eye, yawn, bed head every drop of sweat, every added inch gained chomping on chips, shoveling in the cookies pizza pies, McAnythings.
The same folks line up like race horses in rows of stairsteppers rows of treadmills rows of elliptical trainers rows of bikes rows of rowers ab crunchers, thigh shavers, hip slimmers, arm deflabbers, chest expanders dumbbells, barbells, bars with no bells and no whistles.
They’re on slantboards, flat boards, balance boards, wood floors, carpeted floors, balls, bozus You ask what’s a bozu – it’s a half ball. You have to be there. They wear baggy tees, baggy sweats, long shorts, short shorts, tight shorts, skin tights, tight tights, bra tops, tank tops, see-through tops, no tops – whoops, did I say that? Really, they all wear tops. Guzzling, suckling like babies their sports drinks from those ubiquitous plastic nipples.
They’re plugged in to iPods, CDs, cassettes, radios, TVs. Anything to drown out the drone the cacophony of weights bouncing off the floor, feet clip clopping on the treadmill, Anything to miss the macho guys yelling across the room, ridiculing, riling up their buddies, exposing their pecks and their sex lives. Anything to erase the voice of the brunette with glasses still gloating over W’s win – The I told ya sos And so what? Others running, climbing, cycling, walking, flexing, flaunting, strutting their siliconed stuff The old geezers checking out the babes. The comes ons, turn ons, hard ons and on and on.
They’re all there when I’m there every morning Day in, day out. 5:30 A.M.
He folds her in his arms and looks down at her with his deep blue eyes and a small, closed-mouth smile that shows just the hint of dimples in his ruddy cheeks the way he looked as he stood at her apartment door on Mentone Avenue that first night, his hair straw blonde, cut short, stuck straight up, his beige raincoat damp from the March drizzle, carrying a bottle of champagne under his arm.
He remembers how after drinking champagne after dancing so slow they hardly moved after she invited him into her bed they were up all night exploring, tasting as they got to know and feel every inch of each other stroking faces, necks, thighs, feet, kissing, mouths open, almost swallowing each other, coupling, coming, resting, one on top, then the other, spooned, joined over and over again until dawn and hunger drove them out into the rain to find a place to eat.
And though he admits nothing,
has ever come close
to that first night,
his memory of it
and the girl standing in the doorway
with short dark hair,
a tight-fitting yellow dress,
black patent-leather stiletto pumps,
keep them joined together
It’s the mothers and fathers I care about.
When my son died, I grieved for him and all mothers and fathers who ever lost a child. I breathed in pain, and with each exhalation prayed that no parent would have to feel the pain of such a loss again.
But I can’t do it alone. The mothers and fathers over all the world must practice Tonglen with me.
We must take the pain into our bodies, into our souls, into our hearts, and cleanse it with our healing breath. Then with our collective breathing out give this world a chance to be safe for all our children – all our sons and daughters.
Breathe in, breathe out now, forever, breathe.