Unauthorized People

the road not taken has a chain link fence across that says
no trespassing
this means you
the ones who don’t pay me rent,
who don’t know the code.
i am the toll keeper,
the one that keeps you on the sidewalk
where you belong, outta my parking space
my breathing place
heathens in my empire
barbarians at the gate —
this sunshine is mine, so’s the water
and the cushy sand where our children play
but not your children because you don’t pay
rent around here

The Virus Is Someone Else’s Problem, and Racism Doesn’t Exist

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The late, late 80s was a time when I was boy crazy and music crazy and doing whatever I could to buttress myself of my family life. The best of times was Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake at the Orange County Speedway. The worst of times, going home after the shows. In between was trying to figure out a life post-high school, anchored to my dysfunctional family who “needed” me to save them. I remember Tiananmen square and the Challenger tragedy and grieving. I remember the concert in Germany, a host of galactic stars performing The Wall to commemorate the wall coming down and rejoicing for democracy.

I remember hearing about HIV/AIDS and feeling bad about it and a measure of concern but it didn’t really touch me. It was a problem that needed to be solved and it was sad, but I was too busy thinking about dating and my family and basically, whatever. One afternoon I was joined by a male crush down at the river. He said, “So hey your boy died.” I was like, “What?” He said, “Freddy Mercury.” It felt like a punch to the gut. What the hell? How could this be? And how could he be so callous? Let it be known we weren’t close after that, and it was the first time I felt like an epidemic touched me, by one enth. You see, HIV/AIDS was something I heard about and felt bad about in the most fleeting way. Sounded awful, this is a problem, but I didn’t hear or feel a call to arms to help in any way. This wasn’t an “all of us” problem, it was “one of those” problems, that I hoped someone could figure out how to fix.

I recently watched an episode of “Last Week Tonight,” hosted by John Oliver. He was passionate as always for righteous causes. But as I listened to him advocate for the dilemma of covid-19 and how it affects those in jail and prison all I could think of is “Where was this passion and demand for those suffering HIV/AIDS?” It rather caved me in. A terrible guilt came over me, one that I can only shield myself from by saying “I was too young and too involved with other things to understand,” and that’s still not good enough. Well now I am not too young and too involved with other things to understand that unless we personally are affected by injustice of any kind we rarely do anything about it whether it’s a traffic stop, five-figure hospital bills, inability to pay bail for having some marijuana in your pocket. So too the stigma of contracting novel coronavirus-19. To understand the weak excuses and swatting away of “Well, it doesn’t effect everyone the same. Well, I don’t hang around in areas where I’ll catch it. Well, even if I get it I’m healthy and it’ll be ok. Well, I don’t need a mask because herd immunity will help us. Well, this is a vast left-wing conspiracy to dominate the presidential election”

NO.
NO.
NO.

Stop you all in your tracks before it’s too late and realize the world don’t revolve around you, baby. You’re healthy and employed and educated and prayerful so you’ll never catch a virus or spread one to someone who isn’t so lucky? Oh really. Or you’re not part of a group or a state that might be carriers so you’re not worried? WEAR YOUR FUCKING MASK in public. Do all you can in your power to slow down and stop this virus for the love of people you don’t even know in states you don’t care about. Support social distancing, handwashing, respecting others who do. Support local businesses, mask on, as they work through this pandemic. Love your children and partners as you are sheltered-at-home. Reach out for help when they’re driving you crazy. There are resources to help you during this time … as there were not when our fellow Americans were struggling with the physicality and the stigma of AIDS.

All these very same things can come along with Black Lives Matter. “Oh, I can’t support that, that’s a black thing.” “Oh, I can’t watch that movie, it’s a black thing.” Time and time and over and over again I hear us saying why we can’t be a part of something because it’s not something that has to do with ourselves. Ask our neighbor if they ever read “Between The World and Me,” and they’d probably be like, “I’m not into books, ” or “That’s a black thing, not for me.” I ONE HUNDRED PERCENT GUARANTEE IT. And THAT is why the virus is someone else’s problem, and racism doesn’t exist.

Birthday, Mom.

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Whose dumb idea was it to get in the car and drive to Jersey, huh?
Probably yours, glad I came along for the ride, though.
Good thing I did because if I hadn’t you’d still be standing there on the
turnpike weeping.
(As I have done several times.)

That was in the days when I loved you and wanted to be your rock
and your friend, a companion of sorts. Our road trip to Jersey
sheltered in the deep sheepskin seat covers of an ’81
Berlinetta Camaro, beautiful bronze, you remember?

We limped past road signs with names and numbers
we sat on the side of the road and counted the pieces of
amber glass, green glass, white glass, and loose cement
while we waited for the car to cool down.

I made it my job to make you laugh, you remember?
What the fuck is a Cheesequake and why is it a state park?!
Matawan. If that’s not a Native American word nothing is,
“bad riverbank” indeed, the name of our trip.

Well Chummer, we’re not standing on the side of the road anymore
wondering what to do next, phoneless, clueless, helpless.
I have Google, now, to solve all my problems, haven’t I?

8 minute morning

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Popped a big chicken pot pie in the microwave and tapped in the cook time: about 8 minutes.

Streamed 1/3 of a TV show while waiting: about 8 minutes.

Sitting at a writing prompt staring at the page for 8 minutes trying to figure out something creative and wild and awesome to say, and it felt like forever.

Asked to hold a plank position for 10 seconds, 20, 30 seconds and it felt like forever.

Remembering all those summer days poolside at our neighbors house, learning how to hold our breath and swim laps around the pool under water. I wish I could remember how long I held mine, the longest of long. I know it was pretty long and I can remember now as I hone in on those days the feeling of my heart pounding and my lungs getting hot. Breaking the surface for air was a bummer of an instinct, wanting to keep going.

Writing in my journal this morning for 8 minutes saying not much of anything. Mostly committing to page details of a quiet life and the emotions that come with it.

I want to write and tell you about the new cat on the sill across the way, keeping me company at 5 in the morning. It’s the first hot morning of the year and the dragonflies are here trying to find their way, and the cat is deeply interested in their appearance. I wish them well and hope they find nourishment and rest and achieve the apex of their life journey.

All I know right now is 8 minutes is a long, long time to be on my stomach with hands in cuffs and somebody keeping their knee in my neck. Why hell, I could be into a chicken pot pie and the tensest part of a Deadwood episode by now! Doubt me? Put your timer on your phone 8:46 and see how long “long” is. That’s your child, your brother, your sister, your father down there. But hey, what do I know.

Fire

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The sun is travelling out now, rising over the water instead of above the pavement in the mornings. We witness its return, soft, silent, and bright. We sip coffee or notice our breathing or stand in tree pose as the morning mist burns away.

This morning before I got out of bed studying the sky, I wondered how to cook the chicken I bought yesterday and realized I have no rice to pair with it. I could feel my face furrow and frown with concern and disappointment and concentration. It’s just too early for this. Then I read the news and I paired my concern and disappointment with pain and that overwhelming helpless feeling. Minneapolis is burning and for good reason.

I am an advocate for loud and inconvenient protest. Nothing changes unless the world sees it and hears it and says, “Well yeah, by golly, maybe cops shouldn’t keep killing unarmed black people.” Yet it seems only meaningful change comes after the wings of fire sweep in. Got your attention, forcing you to ask the question “How did we get here?” Well my dear, it wasn’t via a peaceful knee on a playing field. The sun burns in the morning, a police station burned all night, and I am burning now because I can only type a little screed on a little screen far away and not be with you, wherever you are, to demand equal justice for all.

I am not in favor of harming people or property to deliver a message, though, looking back (and I do so much looking back), it seems we are wired for fire and nothing short of that makes real change come around and *stick.*

Do you know the process for treating genital warts? It ain’t pretty so put your helmets on: by freezing or burning them off. They don’t go away with nice words and fancy words and throwing money at them or prayer. Big change comes after fire, after pain, after enough is enough.

I’ve taken stock of my morning, my life, and re-prioritized. Cooking my chicken is the least of my worries today. My other concerns will be dealt with in some sort of fashion. All I know is, right now, I can’t get “four dead in Ohio” out of my head because our president said, “When the looting starts the shooting starts,” which is not an original thought of his. We are angry. We are grieved. When will real change come and stick?

We Hardly Knew Ye

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I did not want to see the attendants take his body away, though I knew it was coming. If I had waited just five minutes more, or checked five minutes before, I would not have witnessed the transition. But maybe I should have seen, maybe it was for the best that I saw the pattern of his blankets.

He was a character. That’s probably the best way to describe him, one all us residents would agree on. He said silly things, used conspiracy words, he played little games with conversation. He made us feel uncomfortable and cringey and weird, befuddled, and some of us downright pissed.

One summer weekend some kids were visiting from out of town, riding their bikes, playing hide and seek everywhere, including our balconies which he did not take kindly to. After he got no satisfaction from their parents he called the cops on the kids. The next day we came out to our respective balconies, he on his, me on mine, (we rarely stood next to each other except for that one time), and I called him out on it: I told him that was a shitty thing to do, calling the cops on the kids. He was angry and went back inside and … after a few weeks he went back to waving hi to me.

They told me not to loan him money anymore because he uses it to buy pot. I often wondered if his lack of filter was due to a head injury. He told me stories of his youth, that once he was in military school. His hair was long and gray and white and braided, then one day it was cut back short like a regular dude hidden beneath a ballcap. I liked it better the other way. He used to take short walks down the balcony, and I think half the reason he went out was to look for someone to tease or be a wiseguy with, not hurting anyone, just looking for someone he could interact with in his weird little way. He had no one else to talk to.

He left the world, he left us, he left everyone, by himself and that’s what bothers me most. I hope his transition, his dying was peaceful. I wish I could ask someone if it was so. I want to believe that it was.

Well, J, it’s someone else’s turn to look after you. I hope you don’t tease and annoy them too much. Take your ease, bro. I think you’ve needed it for a long time.

A Post From A Most Imperfect Mom

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I awoke thinking about connections. That we were once connected. My body has proof, it says we were. I remember your flutter when I sipped vanilla shake from McDonald’s, I could feel the cold going down and sure enough, there was the movement, like you could feel the freezy vanilla, too. Your angles alive in my bowframe, pushing or kicking like a boxer on the speed bag. Today we are connected by the green phone in a speech bubble app. Technology brings the distant close? Is that our miracle? Sometimes it is because when you sent me that hug I could really feel it from here.

We are in strange times right now because of a contagion, one we’re racing to understand, mitigate, and hopefully vaccinate off the planet. We are in quarantine or semi-quarantine, struggling to cope with who and what is essential. No paychecks. Trapped in our homes with wild children or good children turned wild and spouses we thought we recognized but never knew. Many people are turning to their creative side, making, mending, sorting, doing the best with what is at hand and making it better, bringing their children into the activities. Many are bend-breaking in the stress because they feel trapped. Some are sharing cruel words about their kids on social media which brings me here this morning:

I used to laugh at the commercials of parents singing and dancing while going back-to-school shopping as their children dragged themselves miserably in the wake of their parents glee down the aisles. Ha ha, that’s cute. Or teachers who post “here you go, parents, take your kids back, they’re all yours” in June. And now we feel “trapped” with children we chose to bring into the world? How did we lose our connection to our children and families and neighbors and each other? Oh I know how we lost it, the question is rhetorical.

I ask you today, what *will* we do to get our healthy connections back?

May For Me

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Today is the first of May. A familiar time for someone who grew up in New York disliking winter with its 10-foot piles of snow, the dirty frozen kind you fall on as you’re walking to school and cut your knees on. Come spring, save us from stiff fingers and toes while we’re locked out of the house and snow angels are for people who can breathe and laugh and run in this dry scene, not the rest of us gasping for air.

Welcome, May, a doorway to peace, winter not so far behind, a time for skin to relax and receive heat without fear. I grew up in echoey castles devoted to candles and hymns and discipline. I wanted so much to taste the beef broth that was simmering in the halls when we walked from here to there. In May we went outside and crowned a plaster statue with living flowers and prayed to her, that was somehow supposed to relieve me of the passion and suffering, the bleeding torture and death of the christ we experienced year after year?

My kindest memory of May was a prayer when someone said Mary was the Star of the Sea. I do not know why this went down into me and kept me and held me. Mostly I felt strange to honor a plaster thing in white and blue robes or nearly naked on a bloody cross. All my young being asked what exactly am I doing here and why does this feel so strange honoring a thing with things when what we are feeling is incomprehensible?

Today I recall hearing the prayer that mentions Mary Star of the Sea. I appreciate and approve that devotion though I have never been. The sea is incomprehensible, a dangerous mystery to me, and perhaps I will never comprehend. I feel closer to the mystery outside of me because moonlight and sunrise. The End.