If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.

"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chapter IV.6

Long Hard Road Out of Hell

The Last Time

I didn’t know to ask
is this the last time
I will ever see you again?
I didn’t see
what was hidden
in your eyes
that said no more—
leave me to my lies!
I was too fucking stupid
blinded by my fears
not hearing
the words within the words
or the non-existent tears.
That was the last time
I ever saw you
sad eyes in the snow
the very last memory
sad ties growing cold
and now I see the mountain
that used to remind me of you
silent and so far away
far as yesterday
and what would I say
say if I could
how would I ask
without being rude
will I
ever see you again?

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do enough to call myself a man. My father never bequeathed me with that. He has stolen that from me and I believe that he will take it to his grave with him. I don’t know if he ever himself felt that he was a man. He may have spent his whole life running from the fact that he did not think that he was— though I think it was less that and more other things (the non-journey of the anti-hero).

So I join a thousand, a million other “Cains’”— forced to wander the earth, untouchable, carrying the burden of what we are not.


Cloaked in the sweet perfume
of time
a thousand years melancholy—
Cain passed this way.

Leave it to Beaver

Jump-started a one-eyed Ford
headed for the Promised Land.
Got to move, get outta here—
beat My Death to Home Plate.
To stay
is to sit, think
trying to figure out
who are Fathers were
trying to do
the things they done
knowing somehow
that they were
and knowing even deeper
their pastimes
will not make it so with us
and the booze and drugs can only blank out
so much pain and emptiness.
Desperately seeking
the Holy Grail
the thing that will say
I know you—
in your innermost!
Following footsteps
only leads to
the known,
the past—
so richly undeserved,
and yearned for.
To have come so far
so deep—
a lifetime beyond
cut to the bone
and still so far to go
the Demons terrifying
in their darkness
and hunger
has it always been this way?
Will I beat my Wife
Leave my Children
Fuck Strangers to fill the hole in my soul
Die Empty, Alone, Unknown, and Unsung?
A Prophet sings,
“Once a Man and
Twice a Child
and Everything is just for a While…”
And so It Is.


Sunday’s fathers
slowly fading
back into Monday’s morning

2000 Trip
Sat up late that second night in Canyonlands— after everyone else had gone to bed— drinking, listening to music, writing…mind just unhinged by a beauty so perfect and deep that it hurt. We made some good karma that night.

I knew that Tom and Rube were going to leave the next day but it seemed so far off, like it would never happen. The reality of it started to sink in when we finally made it to the next campsite, had lunch and started to divide the gear and supplies. Suddenly I was terribly sad and there was a huge weight on my chest that made it hard to breathe. I didn’t want them to go. The feeling of loss was so great that I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry myself to sleep and not wake up till it was all over.

We actually split up at the trailhead for the Anasazi ruins. I remember having made it around the hill and coming back out to where we could see where they had gone— watching as the white speck of Tom’s Jeep slowly made its way down the trail towards the Green River, pausing for a minute and then jetting off behind the high river brush and trees. It felt like my world had ended, that something so bad had happened that my life, my world would never be the same. Rob and I turned and headed on towards the ruins; he was excited about the prospects of what we might find, but there was no joy in it for me.

Even the mood of the trail had changed, slowly metamorphosing as the miles rolled under the BFG All Terrain T/As. No longer were we on top looking out over everything but slowly falling down into the canyons; constrained, boxed in, fallen. The weather had also changed with dark, ominous storm clouds crushing in from the east, pushed by a hard, cutting wind. An onslaught of torrential rain seemed imminent— a reflection of my dark mood.

The rain only threatened though the wind did not relent. Atop the small mesa we found the ruin, much to Rob’s delight. But somehow it seemed hollow to me. In the .30 cal ammo can that held a paper about the ruin and a place to sign your name I wrote, “For Tom and Rube— who came so far but couldn’t make it.”

Others will follow and make the two-something mile trek there and read that. They will probably think that Tom and Rube had always wanted to come there but had died before they could. I didn’t mean it that way though. But anytime you honor the past or a memory, you honor the death, the passing of that, even though the people involved may still be very much alive.

We got down to the river— cool water at last— after the hike back to the Jeep but it just wasn’t the same as the first day. We didn’t spend long there and set about setting up camp and getting some dinner.

Chili was on the menu for the night but we had run out of Tabasco and I forgot to get the ketchup from the cooler in Tom’s Jeep so the only thing to put in it was seasoning salt and Castillo’s rum— neither of which did anything for the flavor. As I’m stirring up the chili the wind begins to blow something fierce— before things calmed down I’m sure there were gusts that topped 80 mph. I look down the canyon and it was all blacked out and I can’t tell if it’s flying dust or a black wall of rain; either way, things are about to get cataclysmic.

Rob and I run around with our plates in one hand and knocking stuff down with the other, trying to get stuff on the ground and under the Jeep so it won’t blow away. Finally, even though we had his tent tied down to about seven good-sized rocks, Rob had to jump in it to keep it from blowing away.

The black wall is dirt kicked up by the screaming wind and visibility drops to about thirty feet. My eyes feel like I’ve had them stapled open and handfuls of sand thrown in them. Then the rain comes. I hide out at first under the tarp I had put up ‘cause I want to keep an eye on things which I can’t do in the tent. I try to eat some chili but it is now intensely gritty, which does nothing to add to its already bland taste. We are actually fortunate, for the moment, because it is raining on us and downstream, not upstream. I start contingency planning for a flashflood in my mind anyway. Eventually I climb in the tent with Rob as the rain worsens.

It probably rained good and hard for only ten to fifteen minutes. I remember looking at my watch. It let up shortly and Rob immediately begins securing the tent with all the rocks he can find— no rock within a hundred feet is left untouched, if it’s too small to tie a line to, it’s big enough to stack on top of other rocks. I dig a trench around the tent with my e-tool; begin cleaning up from dinner and packing everything that we don’t need at hand, in case we have to leave fast.

The rain comes again but not like before. We again retreat into the tent. By this time I am just exhausted— probably from staying up the night before and the excitement of the storm, but mostly the toll Tom and Rube’s departure’s taken on me.

Rob pulls out a deck of cards and we play some form of gin; think I won once out of about five or so hands. The biggest decision was whether to open the doors of the tent so we don’t sweat to death or keep ‘em closed and therefore foil the fucking mosquitoes. We finally decide on fresh air.

Once again it doesn’t rain for long and we walk back up the trail we had driven down earlier, partly for something to do and partly to try to escape the fucking mosquitoes and no-see-ums, which we manage to do for a while. We see a rabbit and throw some rocks down into the gullies, but it’s not quite the same as the two days before. It’s just too quiet with only the two of us. I realize that I am a force of nature with a predilection for grand vistas and sheer drops.

We walk back down to the campsite. The sun hasn’t even set yet, though it has dropped beyond the west canyon walls and our view. I go to bed. I’d like to watch the moon rise but we’re so deep in the canyon that it’d be hours before I ever saw it— a silver cool white light reassuring and bathing my parched and lonely soul— and I can’t stand to be conscious anymore, not even long enough to try and get drunk; never a sure thing. Rob climbs into his tent and reads some of the book of Indian myths I gave him.

It’s a restless night, the worst I’ve had since we got here. It rains a little. The wind blows, strange noises. I toss and turn a lot— restless, nervous, hoping the fucking night will hurry up and end, as if tomorrow holds some unseen promise for me.

Woke up early the next morning, breaking the cycle of sleeping in later each day. I don’t know how Tom and Rube’s departure effected Rob but we were both ready to get out as soon as we got up. Maybe it was the fucking mosquitoes, which didn’t seem to sleep at all, but I don’t think so. We were packed and on the trail by 0800. By 1030 we were in Moab at Denny’s ordering Shamrock Slams though the corn-beef hash wasn’t as good as it had been that first morning. What did Ruby say before his tent almost blew off the 1,500-foot cliff, hunger is the best condiment?

It started to rain on us before we cleared the canyon on I-128 and pretty much rained up till past Rifle— fucking cold, wet and miserable. I had originally planned on driving back through Aspen like I had in ’98 but both Rob and I were ready to be done, to be home. It was snowing, for christ-sakes, above us as we crossed the pass at Breckenridge, but I still wouldn’t have brought the doors for anything. It was fucking cold though.

I filled up the tub after dropping Rob off and unpacking most of my kit. I remember leaving the TV on for company, The Truth About Cats and Dogs I think, as I climbed into the tub to try and warm up, because all of sudden it seemed so damned lonely. In spite of how it ended, this has truly been a great expedition.

And I don’t know when I started thinking about this exactly, the day Tom and Rube left or the next. I had felt the same sense of hopelessness and loss before. And then it hits me— this was how you felt that Saturday afternoon, the day after Christmas…the closet to your right, the kitchen and your parents in front of you, and your sister to your rear and left (right?)— this was how you felt when your fucking parents told you they were getting divorced.

And all of a sudden, I want to hit the wall and keep hitting it till my fist or the wall breaks, screaming. I can’t ever remember being pissed about this till now. The past year has seen so much anger physically pouring out of me and I don’t really know if it’s really easing the pressures within or if I’m trying to drink the ocean with a thimble.

I remember telling my parents…christ, the day after Christmas, the fucking day after Christmas…I remember telling them that my sister didn’t understand what they were saying, that they’d have to explain it to her again. I could see it and they couldn’t. And then I remember being up on the hill behind the campus at La Sierra, Mt. Evans I think it was.

I rode my brand new ten-speed that I had got the day before, think I left it at the slides near the day care center and climbed the hill alone. I remember sitting up there and looking down, thinking how small the dumpsters behind Caulkin’s Hall looked. I don’t remember the ride from our house there or the climb up. All I remember is sitting up there alone and looking at the dumpsters. I don’t remember the ride back or how I got through the following days, weeks, months, or years. And I’m sitting there in Canyonlands watching Tom and Rube leave and it’s the same thing, feels the same only I couldn’t put a name, an explanation on it.

I’ve felt so strongly the last two years that I let my sister down somehow, that I didn’t protect her from something I should have. And I don’t know, maybe this was it. I couldn’t stop it, all I could do was say that I knew that she didn’t understand what they were implying, I couldn’t take her with me, I couldn’t stay. They didn’t stop me. No one came after me. And maybe it just wasn’t my sister I couldn’t save, maybe it was me.


You didn’t see it
coming to this
did you,
didn’t see the death
lurking behind tomorrow’s door?
I wonder if I
even suspected
in the back of my mind
think I always knew.
I have
felt pain like this before
like the day
sat in the rain
body knotted up in rage and pain
trying to get
out, terrified that
it would
consume you.
Trying to remember
that thing
too terrible to sea.
I tried to tell
tried to keep it away from
and somehow
I failed
at both.
And so it goes
I guess.

138 Gr. SJHP— A
James Brown is Dead— LA Style
(Rock Radio Mix feat Chris Randall)
I Sit on Acid— Lords of Acid
????? — Rave Generation
Busy Child— The Crystal Method
Take the Long Way Home— Faithless
Smiles— Atomic Babies
What Time is Love? (LP Mix)— The KLF
Roses are Red— Aqua
Herewecome— ME PHI ME/Jeriko One

138 Gr. SJHP— B
No Good (Start the Dance)— The Prodigy
Song to the Siren— The Chemical Brothers
Time to Get Up— ?????
God is a DJ— Faithless
Missing— Everything but the Girl
X-Rated Movie— Sister Machine Gun
Mercy Killing— The Dream Academy
Flaming June— BT
Rhythm of Time— Front 242
(victor the cleaner mix by The Orb)
Alive Alone— The Chemical Brothers

Lying in bed several weeks ago, half asleep, half daydreaming…and maybe, in a split second of extreme insight I wondered why all my daydreams of reconciliation with Gwen almost never seemed to work, to play out, to end happily; why there always seemed to be that one hurdle too big to climb— to unconditionally trust, love, open myself, to forgive?

All of that, in a second split second of insight, made me think that I was replaying, trying to solve something with my mother; but what I do not yet know.

Sad Songs and Waltzes Aren’t Selling This Year

London Moon

I dreamt of you
under a London sky
the wind gently running
leaves along the Thames
rippling under a half-silverfish moon
your gaze
somewhere far off
where I can never follow.
I think of all the things
I meant
to say to you
and never did—
a seemingly endless chain of words
linked together in purpose
that would magically explain
how I felt
somehow explain me
but just didn’t seem right.
Now I fear
that there will never be words to repair
the silence
to bridge the gap
I left between us.
And even now,
in the darkest corners of my dreams
I still feel your absence
like the pull
of the half-silverfish moon
on the rolling, sleeping ocean
tossing and turning
waking alone
in anguished silence.


My friend
it has been such a very long time
I have wanted to write, to know
but somehow the distance
seems to have grown insurmountable
and I worry that more words
will only widen it the more.
Your absence has torn at me just so—
a little a day
a little a year—
and I don’t even know that I know
how to bridge the gap
the misunderstanding.
Sometimes, I wonder,
if I were Sherman
(but maybe a little better looking)
would Mr. Peabody and his WayBack Machine
be able to set everything aright?
But in the morning
there’s just me—
the wrong parts
of all the right things…
and so it goes.
I sat in Wash Park
and watched the moon
rippling in the pond.
It was late that night
and I thought of you
thought of fading away
thought of letting go
and it might be the right
thing to do
but I couldn’t without
one final Hello.
It has been such a long time
my friend,
I just wanted to write,
wanted to know.

From: "Gwen"

Date: 09 Aug 2000

Well, shit, Racer X. How the hell are you?

I figured I'd just write you back immediately, even if I say all the wrong stuff for picking at, because if I wait for trying to think of the right thing to say and the right way to say it, it just takes me years. Plus- I just couldn't compose such a nice poem about it anyway.

Time goes by then, doesn't it? Whether you mean for it to, or not. I keep all your emails on my list; they're the 3 I never delete. I keep thinking I'll answer them, but then I read them and think about what to say, and then I put it off, and then there's another day. It’s gone on 500 times or so.

We miss you. We keep a lizard on our couch for you. It’s terrible to know you're so close and we haven’t met to throw Chipotles on the floor or have a drink or come for dinner or anything. Okay. Well, none of us are actually close anymore. We got about 2 weeks notice before they sent Ivan to Saudi. He has been busy as hell. He was working a second job and taking classes. He was on a 7-day rotation work schedule with night shifts and everything forever. He could never get a normal routine together, get a normal amount of sleep, he was always trying to catch up with everything and never quite got there. He felt bad about not being able to meet you when you two were supposed to get together. He's really been pretty stressed out and distant lately. He's not quite himself, and like me, I'm not sure he knows what to say, but I know he'd feel a lot better if it were sorted out.

Pathology kicked my ass last year. It took me forever to study for that stuff, plus with the lab and the commute, I've been putting in long hours too. We got Ivan off, and I finished my finals and exams in time to leave for England, I've been in London since June. When I think about it, the last two years have been a whirlwind. Really. We don't know what end's up or down.

You should stay out of Wash Park at night. You're likely to get yourself killed. Or flashed. By answering immediately, I've cut myself short of time. I'm scheduled for the microscope and am late for it, so I need to go. To put things blankly and clearly, we miss you a lot and wish things weren't so funny. Let’s talk this out if we can, alright? Let’s not point fingers and be angry about it. No one is angry here, not at you. We were frustrated with you, and you ended up being right about you being too much for me to deal with. I told you I'd take it on, and then couldn't, so you were right about it. But no one ever meant for years to go by and things to be out of sorts like this. We should be home mid September or October, Ivan will get there before I will. You should email him, if you want. I don't have time to figure out how to say this right-way-round, but it would help his issues if the conversations weren't just between you and me, right?

I really have to get going. My email address has changed. I'm checking both of them several times a day from here. We may be able to work out a chat time; I've got a chat room on msn network somewhere. Okay. Thanks for the note, it was really lovely (my british) and I'm really very touched and really very sorry. We need to get this sorted, it’s important to me.

Take care of you,

(Beatrice) Wandering

I followed her North
up King Street.
It was a sultry summer
Charlestonian night
and the breeze felt cool
on my troubled brow
as she made a right in the alley
before the King Street Station
where I lost her in the shadows.
Years later
I learned
(from an old friend
who’d run into her at a bullfight
in Barcelona)
that she’d stepped from that alley
into The Land of the Buddha
beyond the mountains of Burma
where lightning bugs
dug their own
phosphorescent graves
in the rusty-melancholic evenings
of early autumn
and the children were both wise and sad
beyond their years.
She had said that,
five years later,
she stepped out of a utility closet
in London, near the Thames
on a gray, rainy Wednesday evening
in late February
with a crazy taste
for quantum physics
and Tango’s.
My degree in accounting
held my belief in
and I felt terribly sorry
for whatever dementia had claimed
such a young, beautiful, and vivacious mind.
But, somewhere deep down,
and very far away
I wished that I had
followed her
into those shadows
all those years ago.
And when I wasn’t looking,
the regret
hurt like hell.

Knew You When

There is a weathered old man here
with wrinkles around his eyes
and a half smoked cigar
who claims
he knew you when
you used to drink
cold gin and tonics
in the labyrinth of narrow
streets, shops and bars
in the shadow of
the Garrison of Lost Companions
or walked barefoot
in the sun
along the beaches of Majorca
smiling face to the wind,
stride long and sure.
He tried to tell me
of balmy, Mediterranean, candle-lit nights
and a smile that made him feel
years younger
and his heart race—
dangerously so
till he thought it might burst.
He asks about you now
where you are,
what you are doing…
and lost
in the heart of Alicante
I haven’t the spirit
to tell him—
as if he might suspect my desperation
and blackness—
that I too
am looking
for some kind of answer
that I don’t have
to give him.
So I lie—
it tasting like much bitter ash
in my mouth
my spirit—
and he smiles
laughing and nodding
unlit cigar wobbling
between his brown teeth
pumping my hand up and down in his
in gratitude
and patting me on the back.
I met a weathered old man here
who claims he knew you when
before you became
a ghost to me

Weekend after the 4th of July was the party at Jeff Burton’s place. That was the day I broke my left pinky toe and smashed up my windshield again. The toe breaking was an accident and I was so ripped that it didn’t hurt nearly as much as it did the next day, not by a long shot.

Anyway, as the afternoon had worn on and after I had broken my toe, a little kid, probably about five, came to the pool with his dad. I really don’t remember anything about the dad except that I thought he was a fat shit-bag. But a certain sense of poignancy hits me ‘cause he sat there and watched his son like I know my dad must have done, especially that time he came and got me one Saturday when I was a kid and we went to the beach.

I could have only been about four at the time and we were living in Yucaipa. Dad had moved out and was living in some apartment, where the bed folded up into the wall, with bimbo of the hour. He came without warning one Saturday morning and got me— saving me from having to go to church. I remember praying, holding my mom and sister’s hands, that the Holy Spirit would bring dad back and wondering what the hell the holy spirit was. We drove out to the ocean somewhere. There was a street behind us that was about 6-8’ higher than the level of the beach and to the right, when looking out at the ocean, was a pier. I remember wearing some horrible (polyester?) pea-green shorts which make me think of the name “Phillip”, though for the life of me I don’t know why.

I played in the surf alone. I had a green stick about two feet long and had broken off of something bigger. It was very thin, only about a ¼ inch in diameter or so. Anyway, I would stick it in the sand and then see how much sea grass I could trap on it as the surf came up and then receded. That is the only thing I remember of the day, except that till even now I have always felt that dad just sat and watched me, feeling both happy and sad.

So anyway, this kid and his dad show up. The kid gets into the pool wearing water wings and starts talking to me. I don’t remember anything we talked about— being just incredibly fucked up— except that he wanted to start going underwater.

I sat there in the shallow end for at least half an hour going underwater with this kid; yelling underwater to him, and throwing pennies or something on the steps for him to dive and get. I would have stayed there forever with that kid.

Everyone was leaving and Wendy was yelling at me ‘cause she was going to drive me home in my Jeep. I didn’t want to go but somehow they all talked me into going, which was probably a good thing since I would have ended up dead or in jail if I had driven.

So we’re driving back and I’m sitting in the passenger seat and Wendy and I are talking and she tries to tell me about how it is for me and it just pissed the fuck out of me, having something to do with me and the kid. I’m so fucking pissed that I take a swing at the windshield with my left and completely miss. I take a moment to recalibrate my aim, probably squinting a bunch, and proceed to nicely bash the windshield, starring it mightily. Owww. Wendy pulls over crying and I have to assure everyone that I am A-okay and not going to hit anything else on the rest of the ride home.

I’ve been meaning to write about this since it happened but never got around to it. I’ve always felt since then that the kid was some small chance, some small way to pay penance, to right a wrong that I allowed against another. But when I told Rhonda the story she was like, you were looking after yourself. I had never though of it that way, but it strikes me that it is the truer of the two.

Went down to see Gwen and Ivan last night. Sitting in my Jeep, shutting down the GPS and stowing the radar detector I ask myself if I’m afraid. I do a gut-check and I’m not. Yeah, I’ve had a cocktail on the way down but it is not nearly enough to kill those kinds of emotions.

When I walk in though, there is an awkwardness between Gwen and I. I’m standing too close to her— like we would hug each other but neither of us do. There is a flurry of niceties but it’s her eyes that grab me— they look hurt, like I hurt them because they cared at one time. And I believe more than ever that she loved me at some point.

God, she is as beautiful as she ever was. But my heart didn’t leap into my throat— thank god.

This is the first time I’ve seen her since the 2nd of January 1999 and about the fourth time I’ve spoken to her since then.

Through all that time she has been in my dreams. And I wonder why. She stopped being a person on that day and I wonder if I keep her dreaming about her because of what I think she represents or something that she is or was. I don’t know.

I asked myself for the first time last night if I cursed the day that I fell in love with her. God knows it’s caused me enough pain and heartache. But I really couldn’t say that I did. I never planned or asked to fall in love with her— it just happened. I have felt guilty about it since. All I want is to know that I never hurt her or did anything to betray either of their friendships.

I think that part of it is that Gwen really touched me like no one else ever has. And because of that she continues to represent something I long very much for. That’s part of it at least.

I took the last two days off from work, complaining of back pain; which was true but not nearly to the degree that I led them to believe. I needed to catch up on some stuff in my life.

It seems like I’ve had a hard time getting up in the mornings lately so I show up to work later and stay later; and even if I didn’t I’d still be staying later because of the amount of work we have to do. And when I get home I just don’t feel like doing anything— cooking, cleaning up, reading, writing, running, homework, or even drinking. Suddenly you find three weeks have got behind you and you haven’t done a damn thing.

And just lately, I’ve had this awful feeling that nothing I do, have done here has any meaning. That when all is said and done I’ll be left with four empty walls and a hard floor echoing hollow footsteps.


called a Disease
an addiction.

Kool-Aid and the Unpardonable Sin

The Kool-Aid had smelled funny to you— bitter, like almonds and your nose wrinkled up in distaste.

She told you again to drink it, to be, “mommy’s good little girl,” and you tried, wanting to please her. But you couldn’t get past the smell, the way it made your stomach turn.

She raised her own glass to her lips, with two hands, and made an overt show of drinking hers. But even she could not avoid betraying her own distaste for the flavor and somehow in the back of your three year-old mind you knew that everything was not alright but you couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

You stepped forward ever so slightly, meaning to comfort her; the obvious distress you saw in her eyes. You hadn’t meant to spill your Kool-Aid but your right foot caught the white, stuffed polar bear that you slept with, Mr. Baar, and the clear plastic cup tumbled from your outstretched hand, somersaulting in slow motion to the floor as globs of red Kool-Aid spilled from the cup like marbles— catching and reflecting the late afternoon sun streaming in through the kitchen window. Your breath caught and time slowed for an eternity until the cup hit the linoleum floor with a dull thunk

Instantly, tears sprang to your eyes as you dropped to your knees in distress, trying to salvage something, anything from the wet, red mess. You looked up, pleading, knees coated in red liquid, looking for that love and reassurance you had found in so many accidents before.

You recoiled in terror though from what you saw, cowering with your back against the wood cabinet doors and your knees now pulled up tight in front of you.

A red Kool-Aid moustache traced her mouth, now pulled back in a half sneer, half grimace as she lurched unsteadily towards you, eyes glazed over with an emotion, an expression that you had never seen before; knuckles white around one of the kitchen knives you had been told never to touch, blood running down her fingers from where her fingernails were digging into her palm.

Incorrectly, you thought that all this was somehow your fault.

You tried to call out her name, to apologize, but all that came out was a tearful, frightened, sobbing, “…ommy…orry…orry…” as you shook your head sadly.

The last thing you saw before squeezing your eyes shut as hard as you could and burying your face in your little arms was the look in her eyes— the same look she had when she tucked you into bed and kissed you goodnight after reading your favorite story, the one with the penguins and turtles.

When the sobs finally subsided and you peeked out from behind your arms daddy was there, holding mommy who was lying still on the cool linoleum. He was shouting into the phone. His face was tight and he was breathing hard. Later you would remember a red slash on his left arm.

You slowly uncurled from yourself and slid to where your dropped cup lay, thinking that you would finish the Kool-Aid inside, no matter how bad it smelled and show them that you were a good girl and then mommy would get up and daddy would smile and everything would be okay.

You flinched in fear, the cup raised to your lips with two hands, as your dad looked up, eyes full of dread, and slapped the cup from your hands, catching you on the left cheek as well, the glass slamming against the wall where red Kool-Aid trickled down the white paint and pooled on the linoleum. You stared at each other; eyes locked wide, bodies frozen, until your mother spasm’d, coughing and your dad turned back to her.

You scootched back into the corner, arms wrapped tight around your knees, sobbing as quietly as you could so as not to bother anyone, little sides heaving, silently, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Mr. Baar at your feet, staring forlornly up at the ceiling.

Later, as you peeked out between your arms, men in blue uniforms rushed in with a white and silver-wheeled stretcher and knelt by your mother, oblivious to the red Kool-Aid on the floor. Gently, they lifted her onto the stretcher and raised it up as they wheeled it out the door, your dad holding your mother’s hand tightly in his own, knuckles white, just like hers had been.

The next-door neighbor came running in as they wheeled your mother out. Your only thought was that if you could at least clean up your accident than everything would be better and everyone would be alright. But as you tried to mop up the mess as best you could with a solitary paper towel a police officer gently picked you up off the floor and away from the Kool-Aid a you began to cry in earnest on his shoulder. When your sobs had faded into quiet whimpers he set you on the counter and picked up Mr. Baar, who had somehow escaped the whole incident without so much as a single red splotch. The policeman looked him over carefully, turning him over and about in his hands and holding him up to his nose before giving him to you. You clutched him tightly, burying your face in his white belly, needing him and the safety that he brought like your life depended on it. The policeman picked you up again and held you in his arms until the next-door neighbor came downstairs with your little blue suitcase in her right hand.

You went to her house and immediately took a shower. Everyone tried to be nice to you but you had already retreated into a place you had never known existed.

They tucked you in that night, in their guest bedroom, and reassured you that your mother would be okay and that your father would come see you in the morning. They left the door cracked and the hall light on but come morning, they found you asleep, sitting in the corner of the room with Mr. Baar.

Your father came for you the next morning. He was wearing the same clothes he had been the evening before and there was a bandage on his left arm. He looked tired and he hugged you so hard when you slowly went to him. His face was scruffy from not shaving and you could feel the hot tears on his cheek as he told you how much he loved you and that he was sorry for slapping you the afternoon before and leaving you at the neighbors.

You timidly asked if mommy was okay and he said that she was sick but that she’d get better with help from the doctors. And then you tried to apologize for spilling your Kool-Aid— couldn’t even explain how it smelled and made you feel before you were crying and your dad was crying and telling you that it wasn’t your fault.

And even though it made you feel better, you never quite believed him, and to this day you can’t spill something up or pick up a knife without tears welling up in your eyes.

Don Q

He was a knight
in Autumn’s armor—
rusty and blood-stained,
creaking with each labored movement
sword heavy
and dulled with contrition
lance snapped apologetically
at the tip.
He gazed out
under low leaden skies
the left eye
wide with romance
the right
squinting with cynicism and reason.
On his shield was the sigil
of a peyote button
in a two-thumbed fist
and inscribed beneath
were the words
“Somos Pocos Pero Estamos Locos—
(Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money!)”
Beneath him,
his mount stood nobly, firmly
red flanks dirty
and sides heaving
with effort and exhaustion
puffing little clouds of steam
into the crisp, biting
He stood alone
silhouetted against the dark stone mountains—
and somewhere,
very far away
like a distant cry on a moonless night
or a bad dream slowly departing
his soul stood
perched on the razor
between salvation and damnation
held ever so slightly
by the terrible emptiness
within him.

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