Friday, July 27, 2007


His real name isn't Chino at all it's, say, Henry Franz (ok, it's not this either, but something like this). He's half Mexican and half German, and its the narrow, dark eyes that earned him his nickname. He has five brothers. I've met most of them, and used to know them all by name. They would come into my bar and flirt, which is fine, and I gave them free drinks but only because their brother had saved my life and I figured it was a fair trade. Plus it wasn't really my booze to give, but Chino was also a fellow employee so I could write it off as comp. The bar had been someplace famous in the 60s and we were just making money off its reputation, but we had some great bands, and one of the first mosh pits, before there was even a word for it. The floor was marble and people made a little flump sound when they jumped off the stage chest first and no one in the crowd knew they were supposed to catch them.

Chino was my bouncer, and stone silent always, except for the lifesaving thing, where he actually asked me out loud which guy had pulled the knife on me before dragging the guy off. Later Chino brought me the knife, a six inch by half inch wide folding blade with a fake pearl handle. "He wont' be needing it," he said. Which I took as a little bravado. I still have it. I don't even look at it any more but it reminds me that at 21 I thought I was invincible and I wasn't at all. I still see it slicing through my ribs that night although it never got closer than about a foot away, thanks to Chino.

Chino and I didn't talk much, like I said. He would stand with his arms folded across this gladiator chest, looking much taller than his 5'7" (maybe less, he was shorter than me), his black ringlets tied in a 70s bandana (not the gang bandana style; picture Olivia Newton John in Let's Get Physical) and a black muscle shirt because it was the 70s. It was a good look for him, because of the high cheekbones and square jaw and brooding, Chino-eyed stare. He was such a softy.

I lost that job, because I went home for Christmas and um, let's call him Vinny, the manager wasn't happy about that. "We can't use you," he said when I called for hours in January. I was working at a better bar (famous artists instead of semifamous rock stars just out of SIR sessions) within a day or so, and I'd still see Chino's brothers, but never Chino.

I asked his brother Max (I think that's actually his real name, although he looked more like an alcoholic weightlifting housewife and wore striped spandex pants to prove it). And he told me Chino had been bad and "sent upstate." Crap.

Not till I'd gotten out of the bartending game altogether did I run into Chino again. He was strolling a baby through Union Square. Dude. Turns out he had been in college out by the Finger Lakes, not in jail. He'd gained some weight, lost some tension in his face, and met a nice drummer from I forget what band, but she was cute and the kid was too. I told him I still had the knife and he laughed, the way you'd laugh if I said, "I still have that photo of you with the lampshade hat."

Then I had two kids. He met them in the park when we'd run into each other, we'd make small talk, promise to get together and never do it. Then I lost track of him for awhile. Then a decade after that, I lost my older son.

Suddenly I run into Chino almost every other week, walking a little terrier. It's fate. I call him brah. He catches me crying on the way back from work, and just hugs me and lets me cry. His sister died of leukemia the year before, so he understands a little how it feels, how it never stops, how it shatters everything, even the weather. He's a masseur now, just got back from the West Coast, working with a famous star who did a movie that made him look and move half his age. (Chino made sure the guy could move the next morning at all.)

He looks happy, the stony quality completely gone. He looks like a papi chulo (I know, he's not Puerto Rican.) He tells me our old DJ is working at the cd store across the way. I still haven't gone in to see him. Not sure I want anyone to tell me how much older I look than I did 28 years ago, when we were all freshly minted rockaholics. Before anything had happened.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

About my father

Astronaut Proxy

My father would have loved these times
who once loved pointing me
to the stars
he would have seen two comets
one a smear of ice;

the Perseids and Leonids
dissatisfied with heaven
catch fire, come to earth
wheeling past years;

gathered everything he could read
to follow Galileo, Pioneer...

He would have would have
would have

All he sees now he sees
through my eyes
I take care to see everything
he would have
wanted that
how I show my son
how I show you
and show myself the heavens too

See how the shuttles fly
how they orbit
how they shatter
fall to earth as swans or stars

See how close Mars came to earth
how close then wheeled away but
he missed that too.

My father comes to me in dreams
bored sometimes, back for good
dissatisfied with heaven
fades with the dawn
but once
to nod in your direction and wink at me
as if to say,
“he's okay.”

Eden Park, Cincinnati 1967

a flock of third graders settles in the glade
it's the year of the locust-- giants in flight
their window pane wings
the ominous whirring
the gated mouth

We knew they ate nothing
after crawling from the dirt
some dead thing clutching a tree
burst open
to become something else entire
something wet and black
glistening, shuddering
in the pale sun,

then leaping away from its own corpse

Screaming girls
and squeamish boys.

I was my father's daughter.

I picked their empty bones
off the bark(their shrunken claws reluctantly give)
and stuck them to my sweater like brooches.

Now no one could touch me.

In Medias Res

When I was born
my father often told me, he hated the doctor
for whipping off my crib blanket
to show my parents I was a girl:
He should have had more respect for women.

I don't remember that of course
though I think I remember
my mothers knees dropping away
below me as I rose
aloft by my ankles
into the cold yellow world.

I remembered it for a long time, you know.
I just didn't realize that's what I'd seen.
Mostly other things (the curved top of old ice crusher, a cartoon whale's head) reminded me of a shape
that turned out to be the shape of the tops
of her bent knees past the edge of the world.

My father I remember first
sitting by while I fingered the piping of a chair
watching me pull myself up
with an astronaut's ecstatic focus
exploring this new world
where walking existed.

Years later the
baby whose genitalia he'd defended
would be crouched over him in a nightgown

pounding his heart
counting and begging
knowing that we wanted opposite ends
to our last moments alive together.
funny what comes out of our mouths
when we're not paying attention.

Later, the doctor took us in
to show us the body
his mouth gaping like any dead animal
it wasn't the animal I wanted.
We can only relight one candle
so many times.

Getting close to the six month mark.

I remember this point, after my dad died. Where the grief level you thought you'd left behind sneaks back up on you. You find yourself crying on the way to anywhere. Crying when you say goodbye to people after a dinner, or a chat, or an email. I think I have abandonment issues. And what worse abandonment is there than death? Last night I lay awake thinking about how much easier it is to be dead (like I have any idea. Maybe the afterlife has a tightly packed schedule).

It feels self indulgent to remember him. It won't really bring him back. It'll make me cry. Does he feel me missing him? Does he know? Or is there really nothing after life? In my fantasy afterlife we all reconnect. We all understand what happened in life, and forgive, and love each other without all the interference of earthly life and biochemical reactions and bad breeding. How is that any more or less likely than anyone else's?

People treat me like it never happened. I find that odd, and then I remember that to them, who didn't have their jagged lives hollowed out for them by deep volcanic forces (I am a geode, yes), things went back to neutral again after they said they were sorry for my loss. They have no idea that I am in flux. That I am on a different time, in a different world. They expect me to act like a normal person, but I've left normal way, way behind. (Some would argue I had done that long before, like maybe as a toddler, ask my mom.)

I have these two notebooks, journals I kept for Jesse and his brother in case I died before they got to know me as an adult. I didn't want them to go through what I did with my dad, not knowing who he was, what he really thought, no reminiscences, no anecdotes that change over time to reflect the changes in our relationship-- things you take for granted when your parent is there with you, things you may not realize you are missing. Perspective. And now Jesse is gone and will never read his. I struggle with this. I can't read it myself. Just thinking about it hurts. I don't know whether to give my younger son his now, before it's too late. Or add more to it.

I added one last entry to Jesse's. There's something profound about writing to the dead, knowing he will never open his book and read it, as the words flow from the pen. How do we do this? How do I do any of it. I'm at a loss to tell you more than this: I wake up in the morning because Jesse's brother exists. Because my present misery is less important than what he would feel losing me, too after Jesse and his father. That's my purpose in life, not to die on him. To set aside my grief a little and be his mother. If you're searching for more meaning than that, good luck to you.