Saturday, September 25, 2010

I sang.

I've been terrified to sing. Especially not karaoke, but just-- my voice sucks now. If I raise my voice I cough; I've lost my range, which wasn't very good to begin with. In college I took a class in opera singing, sang in a madrigal choir, and basically traded on what the nuns taught us in grade school, working myself just enough to sound ok at an end of the year party when my freshman crush and his band let me sing backup just one song. I knew almost nothing really. When the madrigal director auditioned me, he said I was second alto and I thought it meant, lower than a regular alto.

Anyway, I know I'm not that good. The songs I can sing, I mean, really, are the ones I've sung a million times so I know where I have to push from the diaphragm, where I can fudge an ascending progression (probably not the right word) with a little bluesy harmonic play on what's expected. It's scary. I'm about as good at it as I am at skiing, that is, who would want to watch but a sadist or someone who really loved me or wanted to get in my pants or both or all three.

But I need to work on it, not just because so many of my business acquaintances and friends are young and Asian or just young and into karaoke. Or just into karaoke. Mysterious shit. So maybe I should take lessons, but not yet. Anyway. The other thread here that matters is that I've been hanging out with the people I knew when I first moved to New York, because I'm lucky they found me again. Last week there was a Max's Kansas City reunion, and I showed up for two of the three nights. Sunday it was kinda slow, but the promoter and stage manager were my friends, Pete and Frank, and when the last band played, they saved House of the Rising Sun for Frank. He didn't know the all words, and for some reason I jumped up and sang backup on the chorus, then started the next verse myself.

I could hear myself in the monitor, so I knew I was on key mostly, and I could hear the power from deep in my chest. I knew I sounded fucking amazing. The hot asshat who'd been trying to pick me up earlier in the front bar had come in to see who was belting one. I saw the look on his face when he realized it was me. You can tell when people are horrified by the spectacle of your shame, and when they're mesmerized by your unexpected success. This poor guy had gone from she's a MILF to IMUSTHAVEHER in 30 seconds.

And then I thought of Meryl Streep in Ironwood, gave the guitarist one of those looks, and we killed it like the dregs of a good bottle. It kinda reminded me of the first time I read my poetry out loud. My first thought had been why are they staring at me like that?

I guess I need to learn to sing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The tragedies destroy us
we fall
or do not fall
When you fell
I tried to catch you up
it was too late to soften
anything like a landing
you wanted to go
It was I who said no


I think of you past judgment
past eyes

What you saw in me
your firstborn child the universe a piece of dust
the last thing you saw
falling away

and my son follows
beyond my reach

I held his foot
as he was cut loose from earth
I kept that last promise
for myself more than him
my firstborn child, my universe, my jar of dust

Here's what I want to ask you both
When we break loose do we drift and die
like fireworks across the sky?
or do we roam
across this planet we once called home?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yes, I said fuck 9-11

I was standing on 5th Avenue with a crowd of New Yorkers from all walks of life,watching the biggest buildings in one of the biggest cities in the world burn like candles. No one knew what had happened for the first hour or so. Once we knew it wasn't an accident and the city began shutting down like a fort under seige, we began dialing family and friends and the schools where our kids were trapped by untrained administrators, getting dial tones and terrifyingly calm computer voices telling us the lines were down. No one panicked, you can see the footage. We did what we had to do. Boats poured across the Hudson from New Jersey to ferry people out of harm's way. People put their kids' schoolmates up for the night, companies closed, neighborhoods were blocked off, there were lines wrapped around the hospitals to donate blood.

The next day the stench was unbearable and unavoidable. I'm reminded of it today because down the block from my office, a restaurant is on fire as I type. The sickening smell of burning meat and building materials and ozone is all too familiar. We were out on the streets, collecting things to donate to the rescue responders. There were no trucks, no food or supplies could come into the city then. We were in lockdown. On my street, rescue workers walked from store to store looking for bottled water and food, covered to their hips in thick grey dust.

Within days, when the city was running again, but the fire was still burning and ash floating all over us, we went back to work. My route took me past the armory, the local operations for the rescue effort. On the walls of buildings surrounding it, were photos of the missing, smiling out at the camera. I felt myself in the very shoes of the family member or friend who had taken that photo in a moment of joy, and now had to xerox it onto a leaflet begging to know if this happy face still lived. I cried as I passed this part of town. We cried at my office. My kids wore paper dust masks to go outside. The dust and ash blew through our windows. The stench didn't abate for months.

It was March before the fires were completely out. And years before the hole was emptied. New Yorkers flinched at the sight of low flying planes. We stayed away from the site, or trepidatiously peered, in full knowledge that we were walking on sidewalks strewn with the ash of our neighbors' remains. We were angry at photos of tourists taking photos of the site with smiles on their faces. Fuck them. We tried to be tolerant when family members visited and wanted to see it. Like asking to see fresh scars from some near fatal collision.

The annual 9-11 ceremonies were tasteful, heartbreaking, and at some point, too boring to watch. When 9-11 was renamed Patriots' Day, when politicians started using it to scare people into voting for them, when radio talk show hosts and cheap tin pastors started using it to boost their audience ratings, when people who had never been there and had no right to wrap themselves in it began doing so, 9-11 ceased to be sacred. Now it's just another insincere glow in the dark plastic trinket holiday, co-opted by people who say we, who lived this horror, are not real Americans. The people who died on 9-11, and the people who ran in to save them, we're not patriots. The people who died together: Arab, Hindu, Christian, Jew, European, African, Latin, Asian, Indian--every strain of human bloodline, every religion or lack thereof-- and the people who ran in to save them, recover their bodies, and mourn them, all of us, are now the sworn enemies of the people who hold 9-11 up as their rallying cry. We're atheist godless, idol worshiping terorrist lefty liberal New York assholes who hate the constitution and the country and our troops and real Americans, and unborn babies and fuck you.

I'm done with that three ring circus.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


There were two fires today in Staten Island, one surrounded firefighters till a change in the wind opened up an escape. Last week there was another fire, on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River. Whenever fires occur so near each other I think arson, but that's not a professional opinion so much as a personal prejudice. When I was in college in Ohio, there were fires in buildings here and there throughout the years I lived in the town. It wasn't till the middle school gym, that I realized someone was doing this on purpose. The first building that went was an old granary-- my college town was in the middle of cornfields and rolling hills just north of the twon where I'd grown up. I'd seen the granary nearly every weekend when I was a kid. My dad drove us to his parents' farm on Sundays, and the route ran right through the town of Oxford.

At 9, I thought the word painted on the grey board building said "Canary" and wondered about the potential for yellow birds inside. I can't remember when I found out the first letter was a G; but I can remember the building as if it were still there, at a bend in Route 27, just beyond the main part of town. By the time I started school it had stood empty for a few years. And it was gone in a night. My freshman year.

The next building to go was an unoccupied frat house, I think, and then something else, and then the middle school gym. That burned near the beginning of my senior year, in late August, so there were rumors one of the students meant to extend the summer a few more weeks. But the lumberyard. People were working there, unlike the rest of the fires.

I'd been standing out on the street, a humble small town street, with cracked sidewalks and small houses; I was talking to friends whose faces I can't even remember. We were under these two huge trees, still flush with green leaves. An unexpected man in a suit ran past us, toward the center of town. We watched him. You never saw anyone in a suit in Oxford then. You certainly never saw one running. Next it was a group of college kids like us. We stepped out from under the trees an realized the sky was aflame. A crowd had gathered down the block where the lumberyard stood hidden behind a row of houses, on our side of the train tracks. Without thinking about it we were running with everyone else, but by the time we got there, anyone left in the lumberyard had been rescued, and there was nothing to do but watch it burn. The crowd became a bit festive once it became generally known that no one had been hurt. Someone suggested a keg party. The communal sense, the relief and excitement at this contained bit of chaos. It shocked me at first, that we were all so jolly. That was why he did it, whoever it was. He was somewhere in the crowd. Or nearby. But no one would ever be arrested, and for all I know there were more fires after I graduated.

I don't remember the fire department ever showing up, but I'm sure at some point they must have. Everything seemed to blend, one moment into the next, so naturally that, like the G in the Granary sign, I lost the recollection of anything but the most unexpected.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back in the hole

Today I found out that Jesse's favorite oncologist just moved to Sloan Kettering. The article announcing it appeared on what would have been Jesse's 26ht birthday. Welcome to New York, Dr. Tallman. If you'd gotten here 4 years ago, I'd still have Jesse.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Getting better.

There's this feeling I get, nearly every day, when I realize Jesse is gone forever, as if realizing it for the first time and somehow in my mind I am crumpling onto the floor, while I seem to be standing up, perfectly fine. I may not actually be on my knees, but I feel it. I can hear myself screaming in my own head while on the outside I am calm.

And I asked myself today--is this any better? The pain of missing him has become more or less the same feeling as loving him. I see children who look a bit like Jesse did at a given age and there's some relief-- that there are still children? That I had Jesse in my life at that age? I can remember him without sobbing (mostly).

Looking at where I was 3 years ago, and where I am now, well; I can go all day without crying on the outside. It's not that I'm forgetting Jesse. It's just that I can make myself put off thinking about loss for a sustained period of time. It's an act of will. In a way, that's worlds better, but really it just means I have a little more control.

I don't want to forget him. I want to be able to be a full person even though he's gone-- a mother to his brother, a wife to my husband, a friend to my friends, and so on. It's just that every bit of love I feel for the world and the people in it has been touched by Jesse, and therefore, by loss. There is no world with no Jesse in it, not for me. It's just that I can't see him. Otherwise, he is always with me.