Edward Kaplan (return to sender)

Baltimore Avenue looking west at sunset early these short days. Photo by Ed Kaplan 2020.

Two years ago in January Ed Kaplan, a good friend and fellow poet, died in his city of dreams, Philadelphia. He wrote this about himself:

“Ed Kaplan came ashore in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since then, his work has been published in well over a hundred magazines and journals – as well as books including Alvin (1974, Triton Press, Boulder Creek, CA), Seraphics (1980, Avalon Editions, Oxford), & Pancratia (1983, Swamp Press, Oneonta, NY). Educated as a boy living in Atlantic City, walking home by the ocean, participating in the roar of waves, inspired by the vastness and the grain of sand underfoot.”

Ed was influenced by the Beat poets, but his closest association was with Vincent Ferrini, the sprightly irritant and muse of the “Big Man,” Charles Olson. Ferrini was the grain of sand that caused Olson to form a pearl of words. Vinnie was a good poet himself, living by the sea in true urchin fashion in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1981, Ed and Vinnie and came to the poetry program I ran at St. Clement’s Church in Manhattan. After this, Ed read at the St. Marks Poetry Project with Ferrini and Joel Oppenheimer, saying this about it in 2020: we each were shades of that dynamic that asks… make a poem or be the poem? three different answers. back then, i didn’t get it at all; vinny did and joel wasn’t pushing it on me, kind of in the middle. but it was a great reading! tho vinny & me read at st. clements, hell’s kitchen (not lost on us). He told me in an email (after reading a draft of my book, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen) that Steve Levy, writer and journalist now with WIRED was in the St. Clement’s audience. Ed’s generosity, humor, and “poetry like weight-lifting” earned him respect in the writing community. He was not an academic poet, earning his living as an administrator; when I knew him in the 1980s he worked for a temple in New Jersey. In his later years he became a student of Zen and practiced meditation.

On December 27, 2020, Ed left a note on his Facebook page, saying, “ram dass was cremated, put in a cardboard box, marked . . . return to sender.” At the time his friends were unaware this was to be his last post.

He once told me the Facebook page would be an archive of his work. For the first year or so, I copied his posts and kept them on a computer file. Here are some of my favorites from those early posts as well as several of his poems.

first came the swimmers, lost on land, then the beatniks who commented, then the nudists then the fashion designers & models, poets, comedians, chefs & of course the players gangsters & spoilers, then modernists, then the big collider proved we are entangled, all one, not separate, then the music started & in 2525, we held hands and started over!!!!!!!!!

back from my morning ritual sending love to the street world…cold out there: one man, a regular of mine, refused gloves because his fingers are too swollen…one is too crazy to accept money (I think he may eat it). but the world rests there at that intersection of walnut street, 40th and love.

in the sabotaged ashes of my life, I sit; in the squandered pieces of my life, I sit; keeping my heart soft in spite of the complaining self, undeserving of this miracle, and at times, crying do over. I get it; I stay lost in it.

so much hatred manifest in our selfish melodramas, causes, opinions for the moment – judgments on everyone in the circus – awaking to this day, i seek to fill my heart with the good of people, their ability to change, to help each other with kindness, to drop the shouting, no matter how noble you think your path is – to honor the contradictions of being human while holding fast to the emptiness and the fullness of this too quick life.

still looking for something in the world – but it’s getting better – my story gets more ridiculous and less fantastic than I thought…and it’s perfect.

just a little history in zen about humor – sure, they smile those smiles, and the idea of “mu” or clown in Chinese Buddhism is dear to me, and in most traditions, real humor is in the background. You’d think that cosmic humor would sneak into any relevant theology. but zen isn’t theology. SO: as we turn a page on time everyday, another fiction, my prayer for the world is more laughing, vast laughters; laughter and wholeness before the big bang, and after, laughter in spite of, laughter because of, and laughter in the face of karma, just for a moment in our suffering. in between failed hopes & dashed dreams. at the site of hurting, directly on the wound. laughter at dying! give laughter a central role in your heart seeking. Apply a joke to your ambition. stick laughter on your frustrated relationships. watch children laugh like they are on fire!!

Ed Kaplan, poet, 2016
Power of Man
(from Table of the Permanent) 
a cold hand above the sea, to be immortal, he thinks
coals must be fed with stars, which, on eagles’ backs
lands in the rockslide sky like broken thunders.
he owns small cats & slate. he swallowed
the moon straight & it burned an albatross
inside his clumsy process from which he draws
his power of hammered gold & oyster foam.
poor men, he thinks, poor women: any of this earth
will survive your failure. his short days
have only flowers & no roots for memories
as he throws them into the open mouth
of his working riddle, the deep black guess
that somewhere he is considered the only one of his kind.
he cries better than anyone else. he staggers the mind.
he is the only wave that has come this far unbroken.
he is stubborn which means he crawls in her hair
shaking his fist in the soft face of the earth, arming himself
with dreams that only will be sold & gone & cold.
he is in front of a firing squad ready to prove otherwise.
he knows it's forever, that others will take everything
but that away. he touches the future which he keeps with him.
all these magnificent lies through which the little good
we do, one drop at a time, remains: he was a salesman or a
carpenter or a company man. he provides & clears his pride.

Power of Appointment

Indiana night driving in heavy snow
a single car stretched across route 74 at midnight
a truck two miles back slides out of the mirror
fierce wind & onelight houses by the highway
bones of prehistoric animals & lovers & theorists

100 miles of crowded solitude & jelly beans to stay awake
tossing cigarette ashes on the floor

we are salesmen in the thirties with belted luggage
we have families back home
it’s Thursday January 24
Indianapolis to Cincinnati

the brain is one third fat
two thirds extravagant gold sash

you are therefore never alone
angels are deft & spidery
drawn to drapes & lampshades
sit like parakeets on our shoulders or shadows

standing out in the cold between a satellite dish
and a double vision

as in love
as in death
as in the organized sex of our red bandanas
as in the serious theatre of her blood
as in being alone in the middle of a country at night
as in forest

I am surrounded by a ton or two of man’s rigor
peeling off into the organ moon as we always did
constantly surprized in our trauma
it’s a kingdom of crabs chains mace plums
emeralds brats and the unretrievable
the wood in the trees

the wind in the wind

As Olson lay convex

As Olson lay convex his liver

the ruling part

caught the attention of the Angel of Death

he tried deception
wanted to make the Angel
a fool
said
touch me & I will spoil

he tried accepting authority
Angel as physician
said
please don’t hurt me
you are a permanence
whose function it is
to terminate life on earth

he tried moving the cruel Angel
with his enormous need
to persuade her to shed a tear of mercy
he was a young girl
on the knees of an old gentleman
imploring
take her life instead of his

he used all the food at his table
his bones his animals his herbs his interior
a giant in the courtyard grabbing the fountain to his mouth
as if it would fit & quench

ran wild out of the ocean into jungles

a man who got taken in by lights & smoke

who was too damn heavy for the roof

he wouldn’t think of standing anywhere else

____

(I apologize for formatting problems. The first three and last three lines of “Olson lay convex” should be free-standing and single-spaced.)

The following video of the poem, “Seraphics,” about the issues around gun violence reflect his punchy style.

Holiday Season & News

Mastodonbooks.net

I’ve joined Mastodon and pared down my time on Twitter. My blog and daily emails from friends comprise the greater part of my internet life. However, Twitter allowed me to keep up with current news, often from the affected people themselves, and with my fellow book lovers. I used it to promote my books as well. Now that I’m on Mastodon I am enjoying the richer engagement I’m having with other writers and reviewers. You can find me at @Mclark@mastodonbooks.net

My Kindle Vella adventure continues. Passages had 6 readers in the beginning but as soon as payment was required that fell to zero. The message I’ve taken from that is to make it more compelling. I’ve discovered on reviewing the rules that episodes on Kindle Vella are not to be published anywhere else on the internet for free. I have to chose between publishing on my blog or on Kindle Vella. I’ve decided to keep working on Kindle Vella to see if it works. At least for the next few months.

In the spirit of the season, here are two poems. The first by Maya Angelou is well-known. The second is by Sally Young, now Sally young-eslinger, an old friend of mine. We knew each other in New Jersey before I went to New York and she to Chicago and later Kentucky.

AMAZING PEACE:  A Christmas Poem
by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

IN THANKFULNESS
by Sally young-eslinger

Let me go!

Please! Let me go

Flying out along the city’s avenues

To observe all the gatherings and meetings,

To examine all the exchanges of everyone…

And I will find

The most certain way to honor you.

Let me go!

That particular regard seems outside

All my experience gathered to date.

There is no simple acknowledgement known

For all I have been given, even without asking.

Oh, surely, there are things I will find

Within the stronger, sweeter dedications

Among the all, one to another?

Humanity’s born caring brings touches of God. Oh,

Shall I discover all the notes of

Sincere appreciation to be enough?

Lately, my words try to reach you — even those

Torn from my heart — but only sound pretending.

I need to flee out

To stretch into the depths of all enfolding love

For that cache containing

The one thing that holds everything top

Place within it and pull from it

All the ways I may thank and honor you.

Perhaps, leaves will become diamonds

More quickly, but my being courses steadily on to

That some new day when I will come with witnesses

And I will honor you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Notable Books 2022

Notable Books

From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides: An Autobiography, Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004)

I loved this book for its headstrong author who chooses to live on a windswept barrier island off Scotland’s west coast. She dedicates herself to preserving the old Gaelic folk songs and tales of the Hebrides. As part of the community, she documents their lives through writing and photography. She settles on the small island of Canna with her husband, where she hosts sailors from intrepid fishing ships, and writers and artists.

Ancient songs are often beautiful and surprisingly complex. Scarborough Fair dates to a royal decree in 1253. The song, “Scarborough Fair,” a traditional English ballad, has lyrics in common with a Scottish ballad, “The Elfin Knight,” traced back as far as 1670.

My Antonia, Willa Cather

My Antonia, Willa Cather

This book is part of my effort to read classic books I missed over the years. I’ve read her short stories but was wowed by the skill of this writing. She handles the plot and themes in a unique way. Although prairie life is sometimes romanticized, the pastoral scenes are a joy to read. Her descriptions of small-town life are cutting. She portrays the pull of city life in several of her characters, one succumbing to despair and isolation, another buoyed by whimsical humor, and the narrator by his choice. It was daring I think to tell the story of immigrants back  in the 1920s. Changes in the landscape, in farm life, and slowly, attitudes toward women, help tell the story. At times, I thought the narrative was overwrought and the pace too slow, but then I’m a modern reader!

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

Another one that deserves to be a classic American novel. It’s a brilliant expose of American life and its continuous debates between conservatism and liberalism, capitalism and socialism, diversity and racial segregation. The characters are wonderfully eccentric, full of vim and vigor even when half-starved and overworked, and obviously smelly from rarely taking a bath. Apparently, the young white girl can only smell black people though. At times in the portrayal of the black inhabitants of the small town, she refers to their smell. Sure. And sultry sexual undertones run through the story. Still, it’s a romp through the crazy land we call home.

Miss Benson’s Beetle, Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson’s Beetle, Rachel Joyce

An older woman finds herself alone and useless. One day she can’t take it anymore and throws the whole thing off. She takes her savings and decides to go in search of the golden beetle of New Caledonia. I enjoyed parts of this story more than others, but the good parts had a fine and may I say golden humor and epitomized the drive and love we feel at our best moments. I sincerely wanted her to find that beetle. Slogging through the jungle, up a mountain, fighting a crazed attacker, and knowing no one supported her, she had to do it by herself – but no, she had her assistant, the equally fascinating Enid Pretty. The ending is sad and brutal, but the denouement is funny and beautiful.

Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo

This book mixes humor and tragedy, as the title suggests. “Welcome to Lagos” is a sarcastic remark, a knowing statement about the true conditions of this capital city. At the same time, it shows a resilient humor. I felt I was in the city with its traffic entanglements, homeless encampments, idealistic journalists, and scheming politicians.

Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy

From Amazon: “Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica.” The main character, Franny, is mentally unstable. The time is the near future, when mass extinctions have taken place, and humans seem to be next in line. The whole world is unstable. A frustrating book in that the reasons for her actions remain a mystery until late in the story and then seem contrived or questionable. It’s a sad story with a somewhat happy ending, intimating that we and other species may be able to hang on after all.

Strange as This Weather Has Been, Ann Pancake.

A family living in West Virginia battles the effects of coal mining while being dependent on the coal mines for a living. They live with the threat of having their homes washed away by slush ponds or crushed by mountaintop removal. Pancake tries to explain the attachment to the land and why people don’t move away, and why things don’t get better.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, Erin Litteken

The story of the famine known as Holodomor inflicted on Ukraine by Stalin and the Soviet Union before World War 2 is told in two parts, one contemporary and the other set in the time of the famine.

I Dreamed There Was No War #Ukraine

Distant Flickers, Stories of Identity & Loss

~ 8 Accomplished Authors
~ 10 Memorable Stories
~ Compelling Characters at a Crossroads
~ What Choices Will They Make?

The emotive stories in this anthology take readers to the streets of New York and San Francisco, to warm east coast beaches, rural Idaho, and Italy, from the early 1900s, through the 1970s, and into present day.

A sinister woman accustomed to getting everything she wants. A down-on-his luck cook who stumbles on goodness. A young mother who hides $10 she received from a stranger. The boy who collects secrets. A young woman stuck between youth and adulthood. Children who can’t understand why their mother disappears.

The distinct and varied characters in Distant Flickers stand at a juncture. The loss of a spouse, a parent, a child, oneself. Whether they arrived at this place through self-reflection, unexpected change, or new revelations—each one has a choice to make.

Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss

Short Story Anthology

Universal Purchase Link

Book Trailer for Distant Flickers

Excerpt:

Opening Paragraph

“Diary Omissions: The House on Edgewood Road”

Elizabeth Gauffreau

April 17, 1907–June 1, 1907

Brother and I were still so very young the first time Father took Mother away, not long after we moved into the new house on Edgewood Road. Father had designed the house himself, and it was big—not as big as Uncle Henry and Aunt Lucy’s grand house on the hill, of course, but it was big for us, with four bedrooms, front and back porches, and a sunroom looking out through the trees. Father was so proud of that house. While it was being built, he would take us to see it every Sunday after church, all of us dressed in our Sunday best to gaze at the hole in the ground, then at the outlines of walls and roof empty against the sky.

Contributors’ Bios

Passages, Chapter 4, Maryanne

This is the second alternating chapter. As suggested by poet and reader Richard Spiegel, I’ve added information and clues to each chapter to illuminate further both characters and the overall story. In honor of Tuesday being Election Day, I’m including two songs from the late 1960s-early 1970s that would have been heard by Martin and Maryanne. The first, “Ruby Tuesday,” by the Rolling Stones, refers to a woman who won’t be defined or limited by others, (I’d wanted to include “She’s A Rainbow” for its psychedelic style, but this one is more appropriate for this chapter of the story.) The second, “Tuesday Afternoon,” by the Moody Blues, fits both the 1970s and our current times.

A year earlier. . .1974

My name is Maryanne and I’m tripping in my globe, an amniotic sac which expands as I go, but only so far before it explodes? I walk my dog. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog from my suburban New Jersey home to a public nine-hole golf course; colorless, on the bluff above, the country club. I know that if I fall, my neighbors will let me lie leeching life like the grass in the right-of-way.

A man yells out the window of a passing car, “Which one is the dog?”

Young and skinny, sometimes I look beaten. Sometimes I shine and men find me attractive. I turn away, rebellious.

Where to take that rebellion? With my eyes turned inward to my pain, I’m blinded by my confusion. Vibrations and small popping short-circuits shock my brain, its casing fragile as an eggshell but also heavy as lead. People pass me, images projected on a screen. They move in slow motion. Their voices fill the air with sounds. Each one is listening only to herself. The world around me is a movie. One step beyond my reality. I cannot reach out and be a part of their world. I cannot live as these other people do.

I’m waiting for the sun. I wrote that when I was a teenager. Now I’m pushing, willing it to rise. I will have my own perception.

I take my dog home, watch him curl up and close his eyes, to sleep, to dream dog dreams. At least, this.

In my dream, I’m playing softball in a field near a hill and country road. A large eagle circles above the hill, and as we play it soars ever closer. At a signal, the kids, mostly boys, pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among half-constructed buildings near the field. A huge shadow falls on the field. I look up to see the eagle, descending, talons outstretched. The others run away from the menace. I wait for the eagle, which lands outside my vision, but I sense it has transformed itself into another form.

I crouch behind a foundation wall. A man comes around the corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it away.

Who the hell am I?

In a world of countless people, I am alone. It’s raining as I walk among the trees. Stopping, I touch part of the perfectness. A bright leaf passes close and feels soft and gentle; a single finger traces a clear line in the dewlike wetness. Deep races the excitement from the second my finger shakes the cold even coat of rain until the leaf slips away. My feet stir the smell of leaf mold. In the rain-driven breeze, leaves dip and sway, but in the white noise, I cannot hear them singing. The trees, sidewalk, homes, all seem to be outlined: they stand out individually, sharply, distinctly, as though someone has taken a black pencil and traced a line around them. Etching stark, fine lines into my eyes. It is like finding myself where I belong. I want to be like that leaf. But where is a leaf in the world? It is lost. I am lost.

I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper, stop by to talk with the guidance counselor at my old high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of New Jersey. We have wild and exciting talks. Flareups of substance. He told me about Kurt Vonnegut, recommending Cat’s Cradle. After that, I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Poor Eliot goes insane but saves the day by turning to his advantage the opposition of those corrupted by greed to do what he wanted in the first place: to help them. I told the counselor he reminded me of him. “I’m not Mr. Rosewater,” he (almost) barked in his affected William Buckley style. And I laughed. At his indignation. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like the character in how he reaches out to the lost like me, how he is different but has fashioned a role for himself in a small, traditional town.

My little town is a white suburb of a long-established city which was the scene of a “race riot” in the late 1960s. The city’s antique train station is heavily in use, along with its many-windowed modern library beside a park with towering oaks. A black part of town is hidden from tree-lined streets with Victorian mansions. Since the riot, all-white neighborhoods are changing population to black.

A Molotov cocktail through a back window set on fire one of the downtown bookstores. I worked in the new store during and after college. The store’s bookkeeper and her daughter, my friend Sally, live in the city in a modestly middle-class once white but changing neighborhood.

Sally invites me to a party at her neighbors. In the dark living room, one candle in a bowl, the stereo plays psychedelic music. White and black kids listen to Santana, smoke pot, drink Kool-Aid which we joke about being laced with LSD. I don’t smoke pot, but I drink the Kool-Aid. No effect. Or maybe I wouldn’t know, my brain does its own trips without drugs. Someone hands me Mao’s Little Red Book.

We talk about the killing of a young black man in a nearby town. Going home after dark, crossing a parking lot challenged by an officer, he ran away and was killed. Recently, a policeman in the city was ambushed, murdered in an empty church lot. The police accused the BLA. A young black man in the city specifically. The black kids say no. I believe them. Sally says she thinks they know who did it.

February

I take the train to New York City looking for a job, fill out applications for copy editor at Scribner’s and Macmillan, leave resumé at Random House. No openings anywhere. I hope they notice the minor in English.

New York City is interesting. Didn’t get lost!

On the way home, I pick up the car at the train station and turn on the radio. Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” The song doesn’t say living “in the city,” it’s “for the city,” it’s about the dream and how it can be subverted and dangerous, but the dream still drives you.

One publishing company calls. I’m offered a job typing. I type with random success. What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m upset at inaccessibility of the professions. I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to write a play, or have a book published, or travel to Paris.

Would it help if I reinvented myself?

I think about changing my name. More than a pseudonym. My father wanted to call me Mary Ann after a character in a book. My mother thought Marian was better, as in Maid Marian. Marnie was my parents’ third choice for a name. She’s the troubled woman in Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy movie. I don’t think my parents saw the movie, but in any case, the name became popular. Marnie means “from the sea.” And they both wanted to live by the sea. The compromise was Maryanne.

I think I want to be called Valmarie. Val, for short.

That sounds courageous.

The books I’m reading. Why? The Way of the Sufi. Journey to the East. We make a fetish out of being wise: Confucius, Castañeda’s “Don Juan,” Siddhartha. All men. Amen. If the world was once matriarchal, have men been compelled to rebuild a world concept and reinterpret everything?

Now we have endless stories of men as “heroes.”

Women, in our distant pasts, might have put our feet squarely on the earth and our heads into the universal flow, and though we have no specific memory of what we knew then, archetypal imprints remain deep in our unconscious.

“Deep in our unconscious.”

Oh yes.

What a grab-bag phrase.

Mother Earth! We’re eating the earth’s power. Musky mung sprouts. This bean growing is the result of a Simon and Schuster salesman sending me three books: Journey to Ixtlan, Our Bodies, Ourselves which I already had, and The Beansprout Book.

All because I print a hundred copies of a community rag with book, theater and music reviews and poems on a mimeograph machine in the basement. I’ve also been trying to help publicize the works of an artist who lives nearby. Emmy was born in Moravia, studied in Vienna, learning the Old Master style and lithography, and had to flee that city with her husband when the Nazis came in. They stayed in India during World War 2. While there, she was introduced to Gandhi. Eventually, he allowed her to do life sketches. She painted a life-sized painting of him crossing the sea from Africa to India. She tells me of the epiphany of discovery in later life as she learned new techniques, how to use found objects and acrylics instead of oil. Some of her paintings depict factories at night, the romance of industry popular in the 1930s, others are scenes of people dancing outside in circles. All have her brash and sure style.

Spring.

I haven’t touched another person in months. Except for Robbie who lives on my street. A hug now and then, a squeeze of affection, desperate dry humping.

I am twenty-three and living with my parents. He is twenty-one and living with his parents. He is the crazy one. Everyone says.

My younger brother has a job and his own apartment. Our parents helped him finance a car. They won’t let me borrow the car in the evening after work to do volunteer work at the local theater. I joined the theater group for the company of human beings. To be around creative people. I did get tickets to see the “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” at the playhouse. My mother will go with me.

Sally is writing fantasies set in local diners. People are good, warm-hearted, but live in a cold, sterile world. The only hope we have is to reach out to one another.  

I have a headache that goes away when I write.

I’m reaching out.

Is anyone listening?

Summer.

I visit Emmy in the hospital, frail and pert by the window as she presides in bed telling me stories from her childhood. Bright, breezy stories. She’s disappointed I don’t laugh more at her stories. How can I hide my worry seeing her like that? This woman who charges the walls of her home with electric paintings, vibrant, dancing, joyous.

Emmy was apparently a member of the privileged class. That was long ago. Still, she smiles, and she means it, she’s one of the survivors.

She took her paintings, the ones she could easily transport, and began a new life. How can I escape? I’m paying my parents’ a meager rent from my savings. My former psychotherapist, Dr. Leo Walker, is sending past due bills, but I have no money. I wonder if I can claim bankruptcy. That wouldn’t be fair to him. Somehow, I must earn the money to pay him.

My Psych friends took jobs with the state Probation and Parole departments. Some have gone on to graduate school, either working full or part-time.

I hear from child protection services that I’ve been scheduled for a job interview.

On a damp cloudy Tuesday, I walk into a government building. Weeping drifts down the empty hallway. I hesitate, look at the paper I’m carrying with the address and office number I’ve been given. This is the correct address. I walk down the hall. An open door. A man rises from a desk in a darkly furnished office, curtains drawn, and gestures to a chair (as if there’s no weeping.)  

He asks why I’m interested in this job. I can’t tell him of my own experience of abuse. I make it seem as if I’m concerned and want to help. The child psychology course I took was made memorable by the professor’s response to my thesis that fathers are just as important to children as mothers. No! he’d written across the top of the first page, they’re not. Mothers are most important! No grey areas, no discussion of time, that mothers in infancy might be more important, but as we grow, fathers can be as important. Especially if they start criticizing and beating you.

The interviewer tells a horror story of child abuse. He asks me what I would do about it. My answers seem to amuse him in a macabre way, as being unable to stop suffering is one of the lessons we must learn. He explains child services workers must work with the abusers and try to persuade them to accept help.

“Do you think you can do the job?”

Given my temper and my history, I doubt it. I want to lash out at that parent. To get that child away from her. Sometimes the best thing is to be taken away from your parents. I wish it had happened to me.

He says, “You hear that young man crying in the room down the hall?”

I nod.

“He thought he could do it.”

Is that what I want? A life in bureaucracy, years of drudge work not making people’s lives better? So that I can have a place to live.

August. A knock on the door at 7:30 a.m. An older couple, friends of Emmy on the doorstep, are the message.

“Emmy died last night.”

I imagine them being with her. The long wait ’til dawn to come here.  

“We’d like you to write her obituary for the local paper.”

I will. I feel inadequate to the job. How can I describe her flight from hatred and destruction and her indomitable spirit rising above them? Are they revealed in a listing of places and accomplishments?

I hand-deliver the obituary to the Central Jersey paper before noon.

In the world? News bulletin. President Nixon is close to resigning.

Watching TV. Watergate hearings. Cast of characters, personalities, allegiances, betrayals. Nixon is flailing, talking to himself. Power can make you crazy, loss of power can, too.

Watching TV. PBS shows, cinematic productions with British actor Ethan L. in major roles.

The way he moves his hands, the inflection of his voice, I am captured between the two. I follow his movements in time and space, cues and clues that I can feel. Like a hunger that has always existed, as though waiting for this moment.

He seems to me to be the man, the woman, the father, the mother, the lover I have always wanted. I conceive of him as round and soft, and watch his eyes half closed, suggesting, thinking, caring, misunderstood, misunderstanding, and understanding too much. I turn on the television and see my brother stare back at me. Ethan L. reminds me of my brother when he had the round, open face of a young boy. The little boy look, the older man, the alluring female, which in swift combination fall between —–:

charms me and threatens to end my ambivalence toward men. I stare at him as if we are alone in the same room. He is self-effacing and immodest at the same time. He crashes into acts of bravado. I laugh, knowing the feeling. I accept him happily, some harmless fantasy, someone I will never meet.

I write about it in what I call Celebrations (I don’t want to use that word too much, as though it’s sacred).

#

Also on Kindle Vella

Passages, Chapter 3: Martin

This is the entire third chapter, now on Kindle Vella as well.

A year earlier. . . 1974

My name is Martin and I live in a Jersey suburban home on a road down from a nine-hole golf course where the working class plays the wealthy’s game. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog in the shredded grass of the right-of-way. I know that if I trip and fall, the neighbors will let me lie by the side of the road. They might call 911 to complain, but no one will come to my aid.

A girl yells out the window of a passing car, “Which one is the dog?”

I’m young and skinny and sometimes I look defeated. Sometimes I shine. Both men and women have come on to me.

I hardly flinch. Insults are common parlance.

I am the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I am the rivers drifting and the big fat sea. I have my own world and many, many visions. I want to fly and learn physics and have a book published and travel. I believe life – Life – is complicated, with uncertainties and changes in perspective. I want to drown in it, rather than walk about on the surface. Not to be a trendy “celebrity” saying foolish things, superficial things. Where I can’t be a total person. As if I’d ever be a celebrity. I’d rather be anonymous in the midsection of American life, flowing with the blood, losing, winning, decaying, renewing.

What I’m searching for is communal and infinite. Like on a crisp clear night when you see the stars above the golf course. In daytime, it’s something less. You can’t get a hold of anything. It’s not like being underwater where it’s peaceful, quiet, a continual world. Everything is linked together. On the surface, people in their boats with beer cans, things are not connected.

I must learn to cope with the disconnected, the abrasive. When I close my eyes, it’s dark, peaceful, eternal, infinite. Opening my eyes, I will have my own perception. I will. Can’t let anyone or anything knock away my vision. Lose so much. If people come up to me and ask: Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Or a homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual? Or a commie or a cappie? Or a socialist or a socialite? Does your detective debutante know what you want? It’s all so stupid.

I take my dog home, watch him curl up and close his eyes, to sleep, to dream dog dreams. At least, this.

I dream I’m playing baseball in a field and look up to see an eagle circling above. The huge bird plunges to earth and recruits the kids, who pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among the half-constructed buildings near the field. The kids, and men and women among them, apparently cannot harm me. They melt away. I look up to see the eagle hovering, talons unsheathed. They’ve run from the menace. The eagle lands on the other side of the wall, but my perspective has changed, I can see it’s turned into a person about my size. He comes around a corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it.

Not a man, a beautiful woman.

Mid-January

I feel no pain. Or pleasure. I am a dull, grey person floating away from a dull, grey planet. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about the birds that flash before my eyes. I don’t care about the trees or the grass or the blue sky or the big fat sea. I don’t care about the feel of the earth against my feet, the swirl of water, the living texture of a tree, or sex or the best sex in the world or beds or twilight. I don’t care about the fear I feel at the top of a tall building. I don’t care about my parents, my friends or airplanes or the stars or books or films or children of my own. But so what? Don’t read no poetry at me. I don’t care about truth, beauty or justice or Washington or spring or chocolate milk shakes or the wise men of the East or being wise which I’ll never be. I don’t care about the highways, the patterns, the order, the noise of the city or the high I get from drinking too much. (If it doesn’t mean anything to you – I know. It very seldom means anything to me – all this not caring. But tonight, bless me, I feel no pain. My brain is sanitized, everything gently eased away. I am left with a proud child: isolation. And to me—the terrible thing is I had this thing right in my head, but I can’t remember it now. Can’t remember the things I don’t care about, and the right sequence. Color. The color of something. Rainbows? The planets in space. My bones beneath the skin.)

During this inner monologue, I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper with its theater and music reviews and poems, stop by to talk with my old guidance counselor at the high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of the state. We have wild and exciting talks. Flareups of substance. He told me about Kurt Vonnegut, recommending Cat’s Cradle. After that, I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Told the counselor he reminded me of him. “I’m not Mr. Rosewater,” he (almost) barked in his affected William Buckley style. And I laughed. At his discomfort. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like Mr. Rosewater to me because he distributes his wealth – in his case, of knowledge, and his insistence that people live well.

February

I take the train to New York City looking for a job, fill out applications for copy editor at Scribner’s and Macmillan, leave resumé at Random House. No openings anywhere. I hope they notice the minor in English.

What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m writing, thinking of writing something rambunctious, flashy, to break into a career. Ah @*!

I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to do a film, probably never a book and so on. It’s depressing to waste, if I may say so, talent, ideas, energy. It won’t matter in the universal plan, but I and many others, man, we haven’t got a chance.

I feel like chiseling a design in the walls of my room. A Design for Myself.

Redesign. Redesignation. Martin is my second name, the first is Avery. Sometimes I feel like Avery. I think it was part of the name of a steamship my great-grandfather skippered. My grandfather remembers his father taking him out on his boat in New York Harbor to witness the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Avery fell by the wayside before I was three because my sister couldn’t pronounce it. She said, Vree. I like Vree, it sounds like verity. Authentic, real. And free.

Snowstorm. Winter in NJ. 

Writing a new thing, to pass the time, about death.

Should I take the job delivering news? Old news? Ripostes of revenge?

I help make dinner. Throw in mung sprouts I’ve grown in a glass jar on the windowsill. Not bad. This bean growing is the result of a Simon and Schuster salesman sending me three books: Journey to Ixtlan, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and The Beansprout Book.

All because I print a hundred copies of a community rag with book, theater and music reviews and poems on a mimeograph machine in the basement. I’ve also been trying to help publicize the works of an elderly artist who lives nearby. Emmy was born in Moravia, studied in Vienna, and had to flee that city with her husband when the Nazis came in. They went to Russia, and then to India, where they lived during World War 2. While there, she was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi. After some gentle and persistent efforts, he allowed her to do life sketches and from them she created a life-sized painting. She learned the Old Master style in Vienna, but also does modern Expressionist work.

Spring.

With my friend Sally, my only friend besides Robbie who lives on my street, I go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, then to their house to look at her boyfriend’s paintings. I don’t know what to expect, happy his stuff isn’t terrible.

I take him to Emmy the artist’s house, and he goes crazy over her Gandhi painting. Very excited, which makes me happy (I was afraid he wouldn’t be impressed). He keeps saying, “I don’t believe I’m here. I don’t believe I’m actually here” when he’s looking at the Gandhi. Practically floats out of the house.

That experience, that high, even if things fade later, is priceless.

Sally is writing plays. One about people dropping out of the sky. Idea from painting of a woman lying in a desert with no footprints around. So, people drop from sky, don’t know what to do, start hand-signing then reach out and touch each other and so on. About what are we doing on earth. There’s more, but I’m tired. A little nauseous.

I haven’t touched another person in months. Except for Robbie. A hug around the shoulders now and then, a squeeze of affection, or more I don’t know.

No job. No money in the bank account. I feel the losses. I feel the doors shutting.

I am twenty-three and living with my parents. He is twenty-one and living with his parents. He is the crazy one. Everyone says.

My sister has a job and her own apartment. Our parents helped her finance a car since she’s working. Getting to use the family car depends on my parents. My mother says it can be used for work, but not frivolous activities. I’ve joined a theater group for the company of human beings. To be around creative people. I bought tickets to see “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well” at the playhouse. My sister says she’ll go with me.

I wish I could throw my words up like a rope on the walls of this prison and climb over them.

Summer.

Emmy, the elderly artist, is in the hospital. I visit her, frail and pert by the window as she presides in bed telling me stories from her childhood about 1900. About her sailor hat blown off by a gust of wind and flying into the horses’ hooves on a wide cobblestone avenue. Bright, breezy stories.

My writing needs inspiration, to breathe in, to be breezy, light, cheerful as her laugh. She’s disappointed I don’t laugh more at her stories. She shows delight in my ability to read German. Haltingly I read her letters from a friend in the old country. Remembering Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I read it in the original German, never thought that language could be beautiful until I read that book. This is one of the gifts of a college education.

Emmy was apparently a member of the privileged class. That was long ago. Still, she smiles, and she means it, she’s one of the survivors.

The newspaper lists more jobs now for people with Psych degrees and I’m optimistic that I can get one. My former psychotherapist, Dr. Laura Walker, is sending a plethora of bills, but I have no money, so that’s that. I wonder if I can claim bankruptcy.

My Psych friends did get jobs with the Probation and Parole departments. One closest to me, whose intelligence is greater than mine, with a stable temperament and good humor, has taken a job as a parole officer. I think his gifts will be wasted in that job. Maybe not, as he can help people in situations where they are usually abandoned or pushed down even more. And he might rise in the department or find a better job. Some of my classmates have gone on to graduate school, often working full or part-time.

I hear from child protection services that I’ve been scheduled for a job interview.

As I walk into the government building, I hear weeping. Office doors are open but there’s no other sound. I slow my walk, disconcerted, checking the address, then move ahead and find the office number I’ve been given.

A man rises from a desk in a dark office, a large polished wooden desk, two sturdy chairs in front, curtains drawn. Lighting seems a secondary concern.

He asks why I’m interested in this job. I can’t tell him of my own experience of abuse. I make it seem as if I’m concerned and want to help. My memory of the child psychology course I took is marred by the professor’s response to my thesis that fathers are just as important to children as mothers. No! he’d written across the top of the first page, they’re not. Mothers are most important! No grey areas, no discussion of time, that mothers in infancy might be more important, but as we grow, fathers can be as important. And mothers can turn on you.

The interviewer paints a scenario, painted words with blood on the walls, across my temporal lobe, of a mother scalding a child with a hot iron.

“What would you do about it?”

I said, call the police, remove the child.

“No, you can’t do that.”

He explained child services workers had no authority to do anything other than observe and talk to the abusers.

“Do you think you can do the job?”

Given my history, I doubt it. I want to lash out at that parent. To get that child away from her. How can I forget my asking a teacher when I was twelve, can you adopt me?

I think so, I say, as my uncertainty mutes my voice.

“You hear that down the hall? That young man crying?”

I nod.

“He thought he could do it.”

In my dad’s white Corvair before I pick him up from work, I drive the streets black and white. The radio plays Curtis Mayfield’s “Keep On Keeping On.” I want to believe in what he’s singing. My little town is a mostly white, working- and middle-class suburb. My blue eyes behind sunglasses, I cross the line a few blocks from home into one of New Jersey’s oldest cities. The city’s population is changing from white to black. I drive past stately homes once belonging to the city’s white elite and now black families live in them, I see their children playing in the yards. A woman who works with my father has invited us to a party at her home. It’s one of the gracefully aged mansions. Her blonde hair is streaked with grey. She is generous, intelligent, with minimal makeup, and not moving. Her garden is tended with love. The teacups are translucent. And her garden party is a blip on the screen as the frames change.

I’m back in the shade of lilacs. A hedge grows between our home and our neighbors. Azaleas bloom by the living room’s picture window.

It’s an early August morning. A knock on the door at 7:30 a.m. I open it and see a man and woman who are friends of Emmy on the doorstep. Classic messengers, timeless.

“Emmy died last night.”

Oh. The breath goes out of me, gently, slowly. I feel myself fade slightly. But I’m very much here. Reality is a weight in my hands.

“We’d like you to write her obituary for the local paper.”

Yes, I say, I will, feeling inadequate to the job. It’s a special trust, of course, so I must.

I run the obit into the paper’s office before noon.

In the world? News bulletin. President Nixon is close to resigning.

Watching TV. Watergate hearings. Cast of characters, vivid personalities, allegiances, betrayals. Nixon is raging in the halls of power.

Watching TV. Excellent PBS shows. “Anna Karenina” and other BBC productions with Simone, a beautiful British actress.

The way she moves her hands, the inflection of her voice, I am captured between the two. I follow her movements in time and space, cues and clues that I can feel. Like a hunger that has always existed, as though waiting for this moment.

She seems to me to be the woman, the man, the mother, the father, the lover I have always wanted. I conceive of her as sassy and sensitive, and watch her eyes half closed, suggesting, thinking, caring, misunderstood, misunderstanding, and understanding too much. I turn on the television and see my sister stare back at me. She reminds me of her smart-mouthed, wide-eyed face. Simone’s teen girl look, the bad boy look, which in swift combination falls between —–:

charms me and threatens to end my ambivalence toward women. I stare at her as if we are alone in the same room. She is self-effacing and immodest at the same time. She vaporizes the world in acts of idealism and bravado. I laugh, in welcome at the feeling. I accept her happily, some harmless fantasy, someone I will never meet.

I write about it in what I call Celebrations (I don’t want to use that word too much, as though it’s sacred).

#

What is your favorite Civil Rights song?

What is your favorite Kurt Vonnegut book?

Passages, Chapter 2: Maryanne

In this chapter, the story is told from a woman’s point of view. The chapters will alternate throughout the book.

I spring from the needy gardens of youth, coming to the amphitheater of hope, and I only know that I will be demanding, I am not going to be turned away.

I stroll through icon-strewn paths toward an image of the past, someone I knew, not father or brother, but familiar, an archetype sealed in glass as I approach golden doors leading to a stage. I see the image, an icon in the lead role, emerge in flesh and blood onto the stage, a fantasy with the audacity to take life and trespass on the fantasizer’s territory.

My passion-riven ghost haunts the theater to watch the actors take their bows and when the audience is gone, I stand behind the rows knowing I must someday be part of the ritual. No difference between waking and sleeping, the dream is always present. I walk day after day, until an aging usher in a burgundy suit turns away with a wispy smile to let me approach the stage, and stagehands glance at me cool and curious, they understand the need of people to touch its wooden eminence.

Opening the door I slip inside, not knowing what I will find. A security guard steps into the hallway and asks what I am doing, and I leave again to pass through image-postered paths, scanning them for a sign that will tell me what I am doing.

Voices, and there he is, walking from the stage, talking with the stage manager, looking as he does in the movies and on TV, he is beautiful. He asks, what did you want to say to me? I can’t speak. The lights go off in the hallway. Now! I must say something. Time’s running out.

In the darkness I find the courage to speak and follow his direction into another room, while he dances round the room before he sits by the light-encircled mirror, and I am sitting across from him.

His body reflects his personal drama as his hands flit about and twitch with all the awareness of an ordinary human being in a world of other people; by his hands he is moored, linked to the external world and with them he weaves his greatest illusions because they tell nothing of the truth about himself.

I follow his cues, to hear him say he originally wanted to beguile the world with his hands, he wanted to be a pianist.

And how can I ask him to place his hands on me, to hold me because I need to be held together?

You could at least touch me, I say, and the moment I touch his hand, I feel a passion that is unspeakable. I feel the elevation and violation. Followed by a sadness that is unbearable, a burden of sadness I have carried for years, which flows in a suffocating, bitter poison throughout my body. It is a sorrow too great to be felt alone and survive. I seek solace in his eyes, and they draw back, huge ancient doors, revealing an isolated hell, an endless plain filled with nothing but occasional circling wind and a singular figure. Is that him? A reflection of myself?

I do not know what to think, I have a mission on this day, and I am running out of time. I feel a heavy weight above me, and he leans down so that he can see my face, our eyes locked in a suicide pact.

All my strength subsides as my momentum carries me forward in a cradle of inertia. His hands leap to catch me. Everything goes dark except a light very close around my body. I become incoherent admissions confessions omissions on every level as time spins out of me and I am jettisoned into nothingness, I feel nothing, I did not expect that, I freak so far I am afraid I will not come back. In the void, a vital energy sparks from unknown and unforeseen love-rage. I am alone, but in the trip I’m taking I am not alone, I am a child again and he is my father, the father of my adult self, as I link to the iconic figure I have chosen from all others.

I am in a glowing dark green world with definite boundaries where light comes from one source. A small human-shaped form is connected to me, a girl in the same position that I am in, and I am her protector, her guide, as she grows up into me. I feel my blood rush like sacramental wine in the womb as I am a parent to the person I am becoming. I move to the next level of associations and feelings. Leave it alone, said a voice, and I am hooked into an infinite space of pain, infant pain, until the light breaks, and time varies and hits distortions at different places and events, and in all these stages I am aware of the archetype’s hand, wizard’s bones, his touch.

I travel back through childhood and its years of abuse, and ahead into my independent life, growing through the years in a span of moments, while I hold on for protection when I feel defenseless and for the ride when it feels good. We speed through time bonded as a double helix, flying in tandem, father and daughter, and to be separated from him at that moment would be to die.

I pass through stages to regain consciousness. Connected to my father’s anti-agent I have grown stronger. Coming to the light I realize the icon is holding me, as I had wanted in the first place. Progressed into more, and into less. Something tracks the other way. Is this what I came for? And separating, watch him adjust as I take flight.

Downstairs, I push open the door, and a light bomb explodes in my face, cupped in the hand of night. I stop at the threshold, struck by time’s passage. A man turns toward me, smiles in the hot white brilliance beneath the marquee. And I leap into the light. I feel triumphant. I’ve made my fantasies real. My reality is transformed. Nothing can be denied me anymore.

Passages, Chapter 1, Martin

This is the new chapter 1 of Passages.

Now available on Kindle Vella

Martin

I spring from the needy gardens of youth, coming to the amphitheater of hope, and I only know that I will be demanding, I am not going to be turned away.

I stroll through icon-strewn paths toward an image of the past, someone I knew, not mother or sister, but familiar, an archetype sealed in glass as I approach golden doors leading to a stage, and a performance that repeats itself endlessly. I see the image, an icon in the lead role, emerge in flesh and blood onto the stage, a fantasy with the audacity to take life and trespass on the fantasizer’s territory.

My passion-riven ghost haunts the theater to watch the actors take their bows and when the audience is gone, I stand behind the rows knowing I must someday be part of the ritual. No difference between waking and sleeping, the dream is always present. I walk day after day, until an aging usher in a burgundy suit turns away with a wisp of a smile to let me approach the stage, and stagehands glance at me cool and curious, they understand the need of people to touch its wooden eminence.

Opening the door I slip inside, not knowing what I will find. A security guard emerges from a room and asks what I am doing, and I leave again to pass through image-postered paths, scanning them for a sign that will tell me what I am doing.

Voices, and there she is, walking from the stage, talking with the stage manager, looking as she does in the movies and on TV, she is beautiful. She asks, what did you want to say to me? The lights go off in the hall, backlighting her silhouette, leaving me in the dark, and in darkness I find the courage to speak. I follow her direction into another room, while she dances round the room before she sits by the light-encircled mirror.

Her body demonstrates her personal drama as her voice resounds with awareness of a mortal being in a world of other people; by her voice she is moored, linked to the external world and with it she weaves her greatest illusions, and realities. Her voice brings it all together. Mellow, sad, passionate.

I follow her cues, to hear her say she wanted originally to beguile the world with her voice, she wanted to be a singer.

She is suddenly immense and filled with energy, and how can I ask her to place her hands on me, to hold me because I need to be held together?

You could at least touch me, I say, and the moment I touch her hand, I feel a sadness that is unbearable, a burden of sadness I have carried for years, hard as a brick in my chest, soften and flow in a suffocating flood throughout my body. It is a sorrow too great to be felt alone, and survive, but her warm voice vanishes in the silence as we gaze into each other’s eyes and her eyes draw back like gates, revealing she is stronger for having been self-contained in an isolated hell for so long, and this hell is an endless space filled with occasional circling wind and a singular figure, her or you, the staring adventurer into this ultimate desolation.

Seeking respite from loneliness, I have thrown myself into a person as lonely as I am. I don’t know what to think about that, I have a mission on this day, and I am running out of time. I feel a heavy weight above me, and she leans down so that she can see my face. She seems unable to keep herself from waltzing into hell with me.

All my strength subsides as my momentum carries me forward in a cradle of inertia. I have never felt emptier; everything is dark except a light very close around my body. I become incoherent admissions confessions omissions on every level as time spins out of me and I am jettisoned into nothingness, I did not expect that, I freak so far I am afraid I will not come back.

In the void, a vital energy sparks from unknown and unforeseen love-rage. Alone but not alone in the trip I’m taking, I am a child again and she is my mother, the mother of my adult self, as I link to the iconic figure I have chosen from all others.

A glowing world with definite boundaries where light comes from one source changes to a larger enclosure with plastic-like translucent walls. A force is beating on the walls. Threatening to break in, break it asunder. I feel the blows, softened by the malleable walls and distance.

A small human-shaped form is connected to me, a boy in the same position that I am in, and I am his protector, his guide, as he grows up into me. I move to the next level of associations and feelings. Leave it alone, said a voice, and I am hooked into an infinite space of pain, infant pain, until the light breaks through, and time varies and hits distortions at different places and events, and in all these stages I am aware of the archetype’s hand, relic’s bones, her touch.

I travel back through childhood and its years of abuse, and ahead into my independent life, growing through the years in a span of moments, while I hold on for protection when I feel defenseless and for the ride when it feels good. We speed through time bonded as a double helix, flying in tandem, mother and son, and to be separated from her at that moment would be to die.

I pass through stages to begin to be fully conscious, connected to my mother’s anti-agent I have grown stronger; yes, you can go back again and recreate yourself.

Coming to the light I realize the icon is holding me, as I had wanted in the first place. Oh Euphoria, my friend, where have you been? Let me savor the moment. Moments.

Oh Eros, you’ve winged your way in.

A murmur of dissension from the majority opinion. Hesitation. Is this what I really want? I break the shell, the spell, and separating, take flight with my newfound joy.

Downstairs, I throw the door open. Blazing marquee light strikes me in the face. I blink, stop. See her arm holding the door beside me. A man on the sidewalk bathed in white-gold light smiles as I cross the threshold. I feel significant. I have made my fantasies real; my reality is transformed. Nothing can be denied me anymore.

Passages, Chapter 3: Martin

Passages

Mary Clark

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.

– Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 7

Part 1

3   Martin

A year earlier. . . 1974

My name is Martin and I live in a Jersey suburban home on a road down from a nine-hole golf course where the working class plays the wealthy’s game. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog in the shredded grass of the right-of-way. I know that if I trip and fall, the neighbors will let me lie by the side of the road. They might call 911 to complain, but no one will come to my aid.

A girl yells out the window of a passing car, “Which one is the dog?”

I’m young and skinny and sometimes I look defeated. Sometimes I shine. Both men and women have come on to me.

I hardly flinch. Insults are common parlance.

I am the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I am the rivers drifting and the big fat sea. I have my own world and many, many visions. I want to fly and learn physics and have a book published and travel. I believe life – Life – is complicated, with uncertainties and changes in perspective. I want to drown in it, rather than walk about on the surface. Not to be a trendy “celebrity” saying foolish things, superficial things. Where I can’t be a total person. As if I’d ever be a celebrity. I’d rather be anonymous in the midsection of American life, flowing with the blood, losing, winning, decaying, renewing.

What I’m searching for is communal and infinite. Like on a crisp clear night when you see the stars above the golf course. In daytime, it’s something less. You can’t get a hold of anything. It’s not like being underwater where it’s peaceful, quiet, a continual world. Everything is linked together. On the surface, people in their boats with beer cans, things are not connected.

I must learn to cope with the disconnected, the abrasive. When I close my eyes, it’s dark, peaceful, eternal, infinite. Opening my eyes, I will have my own perception. I will. Can’t let anyone or anything knock away my vision. Lose so much. If people come up to me and ask: Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Or a homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual? Or a commie or a cappie? Or a socialist or a socialite? Does your detective debutante know what you want? It’s all so stupid.

I take my dog home, watch him curl up and close his eyes, to sleep, to dream dog dreams. At least, this.

I dream I’m playing baseball in a field and look up to see an eagle circling above. The huge bird plunges to earth and recruits the kids, who pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among the half-constructed buildings near the field. The kids, and men and women among them, apparently cannot harm me. They melt away. I look up to see the eagle hovering, talons unsheathed. They’ve run from the menace. The eagle lands on the other side of the wall, but my perspective has changed, I can see it’s turned into a person about my size. He comes around a corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it.

Not a man, a beautiful woman.

Mid-January

I feel no pain. Or pleasure. I am a dull, grey person floating away from a dull, grey planet. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about the birds that flash before my eyes. I don’t care about the trees or the grass or the blue sky or the big fat sea. I don’t care about the feel of the earth against my feet, the swirl of water, the living texture of a tree, or sex or the best sex in the world or beds or twilight. I don’t care about the fear I feel at the top of a tall building. I don’t care about my parents, my friends or airplanes or the stars or books or films or children of my own. But so what? Don’t read no poetry at me. I don’t care about truth, beauty or justice or Washington or spring or chocolate milk shakes or the wise men of the East or being wise which I’ll never be. I don’t care about the highways, the patterns, the order, the noise of the city or the high I get from drinking too much. (If it doesn’t mean anything to you – I know. It very seldom means anything to me – all this not caring. But tonight, bless me, I feel no pain. My brain is sanitized, everything gently eased away. I am left with a proud child: isolation. And to me—the terrible thing is I had this thing right in my head, but I can’t remember it now. Can’t remember the things I don’t care about, and the right sequence. Color. The color of something. Rainbows? The planets in space. My bones beneath the skin.)

During this inner monologue, I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper with its theater and music reviews and poems, stop by to talk with my old guidance counselor at the high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of the state. We have wild and exciting talks. Flareups of substance. He told me about Kurt Vonnegut, recommending Cat’s Cradle. After that, I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Told the counselor he reminded me of him. “I’m not Mr. Rosewater,” he (almost) barked in his affected William Buckley style. And I laughed. At his discomfort. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like Mr. Rosewater to me because he distributes his wealth – in his case, of knowledge, and his insistence that people live well.

February

I take the train to New York City looking for a job, fill out applications for copy editor at Scribner’s and Macmillan, leave resumé at Random House. No openings anywhere. I hope they notice the minor in English.

What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m writing, thinking of writing something rambunctious, flashy, to break into a career. Ah @*!

I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to do a film, probably never a book and so on. It’s depressing to waste, if I may say so, talent, ideas, energy. It won’t matter in the universal plan, but I and many others, man, we haven’t got a chance.

I feel like chiseling a design in the walls of my room. A Design for Myself.

Redesign. Redesignation. Martin is my second name, the first is Avery. Sometimes I feel like Avery. I think it was part of the name of a steamship my great-grandfather skippered. My grandfather remembers his father taking him out on his boat in New York Harbor to witness the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Avery fell by the wayside before I was three because my sister couldn’t pronounce it. She said, Vree. I like Vree, it sounds like verity. Authentic, real. And free.

Please visit Passages on Kindle Vella. The first three chapters are free.

Passages

It’s been a month since my last post. A new project and health problems kept me from working on the blog. I know my blog isn’t the usual kind of personal observations, original poems, photographs, or serial editions of novels. My blog does focus on poetry, excerpts from my writing, and book reviews. I thought, I’ve been doing this for a decade, it is time for a change. Recently, I looked into Kindle Vella. Unfortunately, much of what I read there is of low quality. The blogosphere contains much better work. I will give Kindle Vella a try, though, and publish some or all of the new work on this blog, beginning with serial posts of Passages, my latest work in progress. I’ll continue with the poetry theme as well.

Cover in progress

Passages is a story of finding one’s place in the world in terms of sexuality, work, and social action. It involves gender fluidity, childhood physical abuse, sexual awakening and love. The time is the “anything goes” 1970s. This may not be for every one of my readers, I understand that. The writing is not graphic, but some passages may be considered erotic and others may trigger traumatic memories.

I’ve split the story between two people, male and female. Martin and Maryanne are twenty-somethings who have basically the same story. They are evolving into adult sexuality as they dream, fantasize, and explore real life relationships. They become involved first with a rising film star (Simone/Ethan) and later with a hard-working immigrant (Rafaela/Rafael) in the bustle and hustle of Broadway and Times Square, New York. All the while they try to untangle their experiences of domestic violence and mental instability. As they work through these complex relationships, they pursue their dreams of being poets and useful, creative people.

Will Maryanne’s and Martin’s gender influence readers’ reactions to the same situations? Will the words and actions of the male characters be viewed differently than the females? Passages is an experiment. Some parts of the narrative are repeated word for word (which may try readers’ patience!) In these, however, often a few important sentences differ. Other passages appear in one narrative but not in the other (and these contain clues or additional information to illuminate the other narrative, a suggestion by a friend ). I hope my readers will enjoy the literature, art and music mentioned, discussed, and/or quoted by the characters. At the end of each chapter, I’ll post author notes.

I welcome any suggestions and comments.