Wednesday, June 29, 2005



JohnWayne debarked from the Ocho Bus at the corner of Ashby and St. Mary’s and strutted down Ashby in the afternoon’s blazing heat. Palm trees, sassy in counterpoint to JW’s own strut, offered no shade or any other kind of consolation: just a slow sashay of long-limbed sticky hips.

JohnWayne’s skirt was a light blue denim, cut at the upper thigh, tilted forward to reveal more leg back than front: it seemed a calculated decision by the homespun seamstress who, with enough trips to the mirror, had figured out where superiority lay. Stodgy Ford grille at the headlights, Thunderbird fins sleek and longing at the rear. She longed: she wanted you to long along with. Farm boys would know that hiked up skirt from a pasture’s worth of Angus heifers: nature’s will to telegraph the ready somehow, when love notes were not an option.

Those legs were worth another paragraph of their own: a fetching orange, burnt sienna, tan in a bottle. The bottle had gone all to the legs: JohnWayne’s face and arms did not match, not by color or texture. Dark, yes, but farm rough. Garnet ear pendants no match for the cowpoke face. Yes, fruit juice would flow down those ski-slope legs, but there were too many mudflats and salt licks in the upper reaches – Valencia orange flesh torn between the chewed lips would pool and sputter, Amoreena (the fruit juice flowing slowly slowly slowly down the bronze of your body, Mr. Taupin) fizzle-dried out.

Still, those UT-orange legs owned the street and she knew it. Shuffling down in the street, not the sidewalk, her head a bob of Joe Namath curls, blood red drops at her ears, two inch platform blooms on her wide splay-toed feet. Tink, in her baby blue tee and camouflage cut-offs perched just southside of the bikini wishing line, stood on the porch of her sea-foam house and marveled at such proprietary dominion. She remembered the Mardi Gras Phantom of the Opera down on Burgundy in the New Orleans French Quarter, tuxedo clad, a six foot crystal chandelier soaring atop his head. Phantom owned Burgundy: thus did JohnWayne own – daily, mind, not just for special occasions – the neighborhood of Ashby and Paschal. Daily, too, was Tink’s unabashed fealty.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Quad slumming with the Rat:

Quad's been hoofing, pigged on catered La Fonda, drowned in ancestral queso. The Institute celebrating 22 years of departing Janet. Twenty-two years of anything is suspect, but 22 years of wanton puffery is bureaucratic leprosy. Quad, guacamole-bloated, was a little concerned that the cheesy clock and picture would be all she wrote and therefore confirming just how needless was that waste of years, but needless waste deserves - and thankfully got - better: fine looking wicker on the veranda, now that's what I'm talkin' about.

Pity Quad: the lurking, lately neutered anarchist was trapped at table with two lamenting vets: Jungle Wad and T-Bone, the former an avowed two-termer in the Kingdom of the Dominos, and the latter a venomous hippie-hating car salesman who no doubt filled Wad's stretchers with boys bent on being all they could be buying brodchen on the streets of Frankfurt, never once dreaming that their dreams would flame in the rainforest chessboard anarchy of Ho's making. T-Bone never saw a conflict he couldn't run (marathon run, mind you) from first, selling the chits of all his surrogates down river, those who, if they thought long enough about it, would jive to the somethin' happenin' here as not their sisterbrothers in the streets, but Mr. Ancira with his no dicker shake and bake down at the station. Woo woo, Chattanooga there you are.

T-Bone: "Our job is to kill and get out." (In point of fact, T-Bone's job was to shill and get out.)

Later, Wad to the breathless nervette at table right: "The new soldiers say, 'Give my life for my country.' We old boys said, 'Take a life for my country.'"

You see why Quad needed double-guac to get through the festivities. In the meantime, Tres Leches has grown desert hot. Last week as the ovens got stoked, Quad quaked: this week his portly round greets the street hail fellow well met, he fairly revels in it, his forehead a tarmac on par with the black tar at his feet.

When not queso-bathing, he's traveling, training cross south Asia with T, who's suddenly sweetened in Burma: pity cries out, a shining black-haired nayad calls to him to leave life and limb for the long sweep of her comb beside the hamlet well, the edge is blithely dulled, cats at bay. Quad can only imagine that something unsaid lurks beneath the procrustean uttered, a lance too close to the heart of the traveling curmudgeon impaled on some lost vision of Upper Burma - Maymyo, Candacraig, Lashio, the Goktiek Gorge.

Quad thinks of St. Anton, the welcome drear of an August winter, world turned upside down, even peas for dinner cannot shroud his splendid gloom. It's been years since Quad has yearned for those tracks, but yearn he does now, chasing T's ass through a madman's chase for Browning luxury in a stand of eucalyptus. He's hocked his pride to enter the poetry sweepstakes, money down on a dark horse to take the rail and fly like a bat out of hell.

He's gearing: PT, Coe, Sinclair, Ackroyd, the aptly named BS Johnson. Pinter in the wings. CM wants to keep him stateside, but even he yearns for Yeats, the Irish Kings, no country for old men. Can he build fire enough to blaze them? Where? And how far? Florence. Orebro. Sifnos. Malaga. Barcelona. Munich. Yerevan?

Leaving Bangkok for Butterworth: 7 in the morning. Ciao.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


horses dark

pour the fat of sweet love
and pain will know you well
all the hours of nights and windows painted through
all the homes of your imagination
second sands the dunes of other seas.
night breaks open:
desire knows when
desire knows how
the heart’s moon a mask
missing the song of the harbor
seals that bathe the mind’s diagonal reef
angles of fugitive riddance, angels of the orange noun
invisible plants of somber elegance drown the room
i am shaken / withered / in equine bloom
my nouns shun the slopes of grassy intent
i am poverty’s rain in your midst
a revolution of blue flowers, aching tumult
trouble rounds the gerunds of errant ardor
and I am bloomed, all semblance colored by lucid dreams
a miracle of chase, an evolution of dark horses
through the crimes of citrine entanglement I am cut:
lapidary fate: crossed by a bat’s vision of sacrifice:
you wore this crystal morn
you shaped this ashen heart
you crowned this amber vision
at the precipice of love’s embrace
detonated folly most warm
down the wisdom of your azure gate

Sunday, June 12, 2005



Rana walked in the afternoon heat down to the street corner. He watched his feet pass over the black surface, dusted with the mustard yellow of oak pollen. There was something rich and fine about the dust – a fine gold to the modest neighborhood in which he walked.

He stepped up into the shade of a looming elm tree, its teardrop leaves all round him, and greeted the dark man already waiting in the shade. The man was dressed in black jeans and a red shirt, with another black shirt slung over his shoulder; he kept peeling the red shirt off of his chest to cool himself. When Rana asked him the time, the man ignored the large watch face on his wrist and flipped open the tiny phone in his hand.

“4:49,” said the man.

“Thank you,” said Rana. “Which of the two buses are you taking?”

“Whichever comes first,” peeling the red shirt again.

The two of them stood on silently in the cooling shade. Rana noted the electric blue cars on the busy road to the east, watched one bus pass and then another take his shade companion away. Across the elm yard, a shaggy blond poodle was stretched out in weedy grass. Seated in a lawn chair beside the dog was a frail old woman with dark purple sunglasses on. The dog stretched and rolled over indolently; one leg stayed straight up in the air. The woman toed a bowl of water the dog’s way. Neither leg nor dog moved any further. Rana was about to wish for a life so still, but then noted that he, and not the dog, had the shade. When he looked again, the woman was standing and slowly guiding the dog through the front door. She then sat back down in the sun.

“Eyes are shot,” said the woman to an audience that could only have been Rana. She’d thrown the remark forty feet to reach him. He reluctantly walked out of the shade, her shade.

“I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?”

She hiccupped a laugh. “Oh, not me; it’s Dime. Couldn’t see a dimwitted grasshopper if it peed on her.”

He walked a few feet more into the sun. “Dime is your dog, then.”

“Dime is my bosom pal, my young friend, and Dime is dyin’.”

“I’m sorry —”

“Bloody cancer in that leg she likes to stick up. Guess she likes the sun on it. I’d buy her the damn sun, if I could.”

“Something for the pain, perhaps?”

“Only thing for this pain is pure D death. Till then she can stink up my sheets all she wants. Poor thing’s hardly got a bladder left to speak of — leaky as an old bucket, little darlin’.”

Three blocks away, Rana saw his bus stopped at the intersection. He nodded his head to walk toward the street —

“Why don’t you set a spell? Care for some tea?

The number 8 bus blew by his stop as he was formulating his polite regrets.

“Why don’t I prepare a cup for you?” said Rana.

“Nonsense. Got a jug right here.” She leaned down to retrieve a two gallon jar from its perch in the tall grass in front of her. A white top was screwed down tight and several tea bags floated in the tea water.

She nudged her sunglasses back atop her skull and took a good look at Rana. “You’ll be wanting sugar in yours, I expect.”

“Yes, please.”

“Well, sorry. Not gonna. Orwell may not agree with me about cooking in the sun, but I completely agree about no sweets. That ain’t tea — it’s candy.”

“Orwell is your husband?”

“Don’t I wish. Actually, I don’t. Consumption bit that boy good. Looked worse than me when he died, and only 47 at that. Helluva thing.”

“Orwell was a friend, then.”

The old woman was incredulous now: she gave Rana’s madrona-colored skin and shalwar-kameez no slack. “Orwell, my good man — George Orwell — wrote the last century’s biggest nightmare, a nightmare we still haven’t figured out the half of. The nightmare wasn’t dictators far off in the wild blue yonder; the nightmare was them’s right under our own damn noses.”

Rana was no fool; he’d just not known George bloody Orwell to have been as opinionated about tea as he was about farm animals.

“I don’t know about biggest nightmare, ma’am. I believe General Zia wrote a fair masterpiece himself, only his wasn’t in a Garamond font.”

The old woman wrinkled her nose up at him in a way he imagined she used to sixty years ago, to enchant a younger generation of tea-drinkers. “General Zia? Touché.” Her smile turned grim. “My apologies.”

“Please. No need. It is water under the bridge.”

“It is never that, my friend. Never that. Blood, maybe, but never water. Come help me with this jug, if you would.”

Rana followed through the front door with the warm jug of tea, its color a fair match for the color of his forearm. For some reason, given the weedy state of the front lawn, he’d expected an inner version of the same. Not the immaculate white carpet and furniture, set off by French doors in the back leading into an overflowing English-style garden wrapped round a lovely old brick fountain.

“I leave the front ragged on purpose. I find it works better than burglar bars.” A bright male cardinal flew to a perch just outside the back door. Wishing bird, he’d heard a girl in the street call it.

The woman took the jar from him and walked to the open kitchen to the left of the back doors. “Yard temp, right? Please, take a seat.”

He was sure any resistance to tea plans was futile, so he walked to an overstuffed chair that looked inviting. Behind it was the door to an immaculately white bedroom. On the bed, to the right of a rotary fan, Dime was sleeping soundly. Until he saw the faintest rise of the dog’s chest, he wondered if it was the final sleep.

The woman was back beside him. “Here you go, Mr. —”

“Rana. Rana.”

“Here you go, Mr. Rana.”

“No. Please. Just Rana. My first name.”

“Yes. Well, then. Rana — I like that. And I am Margaret. From your Zia comment, I take it you are not from round here?”

“Lahore.” It was a delight to finally not have to draw a map. Who would have thought it, in this shabby little village of San Antonio?

“You’ve read Naipaul?” — reaching behind her to an overstuffed bookcase. She pulled out the familiar grey book.

He smiled. “I have read him. And I have traveled with him.”

“Have you? And how is —”

“Forgive me. I should say that I have traveled with him here,” pointing to his heart.

“I understand.” She set the book down beside her on the couch. Her hand smoothed out the white cushion. “Done a bit of that myself.” She picked the book back up. “This book —”

“Yes. All of it. All of it. Or, all of my country. I cannot speak for the others. But I can imagine.”

“Zia…Zia was a very wicked man.”

“General Zia was a very religious man, Margaret.”

“But —”

“Please. I will not offend you. In your West, it is so easy to call someone wicked, or like your President, evil. That misses the point, it lops off too much understanding. If you start with the crucial point of General Zia’s fervor, you begin to understand the truth of all righteousness – be it Islam or Christian: religion kills. And it kills back. Mrs. Herring – I believe, had she been there – could have just as easily hung Mr. Bhutto.”

“You know of her.”

“I’ve been to Houston’s libraries, too. I walked Westheimer, wandered the streets of River Oaks. Often enough was asked to help carry out the garbage, even in my shalwar-kameez. Does this look like the uniform of a slag heap?”

He had not expected so much emotion to rise. He’d thought it was all tightly wrapped in his silent conversations with Naipaul. Now, here, in this white shrine of a living room, he felt thirty years of bile spilling out onto Margaret’s immaculate floor.

“Margaret. I am very sorry.” He set his glass of tea on the table beside him and rose to go.

“No. Rana. Please stay.” She walked over to him, and gently pushed him back into the chair. There was no force: a cool, gentle touch.

“We will finish this,” she said.

But first there was dinner to be had. “You weren’t actually going somewhere, were you, Rana?”

He thought of all the streets and passenger faces he had planned to study, as he took the proffered dinnerware to the table near the French doors. Napkins and tablecloth were already there.

“That dimple in your brow tells me you’re just being polite, Rana. You needn’t, you know. Another 8’ll be passing by, and this won’t be the first time Dime and I’ve eaten alone. There’s always classical, when there ain’t company. Please. You go on and keep your plans.”

“No. Margaret, it’s really okay. I’m sorry, but I’m an old stick in the mud. Part of me gets stuck going one way, and has a bit of a hard time moving with the river. I have to rule that part of me with a firm hand. You caught me in the admonishing stage.”

“Nice that he listens to you. Mine just walks away.”

“I wouldn’t say listens; he’s just outnumbered in the body.”

“Body politic.”

“Oh, yes. He’s always calling for new elections. At his most disgruntled, he calls me Zia.”

“After the food, Rana. Zia ain’t for the table.” She handed him the salad and a long loaf of French bread; she carried a curried rice with vegetables, then went back to the kitchen for a small plate of food for Dime. She set the plate on the floor beside her and in a mother’s voice said, “Here, Sweetie.” No sound of movement from the bedroom. “I let her decide. I give her the kind of hospice I hope I’m lucky enough to get when I’m peeing on myself.”

From the side of the salad bowl, Margaret took out a large avocado and slit the skin all round. “I like mine on the side: how about you – in or out?”

“In, please.” He watched an elegant pair of hands slice the green fruit another dozen times and fan it out atop the salad. Not since his mother’s flat in Lahore had he seen such care given to the making of a salad. Beneath the fan of avocado lay a feast in itself: roasted pecans, mushrooms, sliced carrots, red cabbage, purple onion, cherry tomatoes, arugula, three different lettuces, and slices of mandarin orange and strawberry. To this, his mother would have added the seeds of a pomegranate. There was not a drop of dressing on the table or in the salad.

“Mr. Orwell prefer his salads dry, too, Margaret?”

“That bit of ornery is my own. You’ve been lost in America too long, Rana. River floods on the greens.”

“The Indus in spring bloom.”

“No doubt.”

Dinner was chased by hummingbird watching out the back doors. Margaret cracked the doors open, the better to hear the whirr from ginger bloom to hibiscus to nicotiana and red yucca. There was a forcefulness inside the commotion that Rana had never sensed – he’d never been this close up.

“Some say they represent Joy. I’d say hell-fired determination.”

Rana laughed. “Isn’t that what Joy is, Margaret – in this day and age?”

There was a new wrinkle in her nose this time, perhaps the willful exclusion of grief.

“I’ve been sitting out watching folks stand in my yard for the bus going on forty years now, Rana. Faces blending from white to pink to black to coffee brown to whatever you want to call that gorgeous color you brought into my yard this afternoon. Nary a one has ever turned down my yard tea, not a one given me the least bit of trouble. I’ve had bona fide crazies sit down and talk about my roses, ask after Dime, read me the riot act for swearing off sunscreen. You name it: I don’t know what this world in my yard has to do with hell-fired anything. Joy never came to me with a whip.”

“Begging your pardon, Margaret, but I still think your refusal of the whip is also hovering at 90 wingbeats per second. How can Joy not be the determination of steel?”

Before she could answer, the faintest click of toenails advanced across a stretch of wooden floor. Rana saw the wingbeats of his host stop altogether as she slipped to the floor and gathered Dime into her lap.

“Hey, you sweet thing.” Her hands very gently stroked the pup’s old lady hair. Rana sat down upon the floor across from them and placed his hand upon Dime’s back. His hand felt tremors: shudders: her eyes were clouded, her face distant — a clouded look he’d seen in the morphined face of his dying mother.

“I guess you’re right,” said Margaret. For a moment, Rana thought she was answering his question about Joy, but then saw that the answer was for Dime. Margaret looked at him and said, “I promised her that all she had to do was tell me when it was time.”

“What can I do to help?”

Margaret gently lifted the dog and offered her to Rana. “If you’d just hold her while I call Rachel.”

Rachel Toms was a throwback vet: she made house calls out of an old converted postal truck. Rana met her at the door with a large red smash-nosed leviathan of a dog sitting beside her. Large dogs had been a favorite toy of General Zia. He, too, was a throwback — to the Romans and their killing mastiffs. Rana stepped back from the screen door.

Rachel smiled a big country girl smile. “He’s big, but he’s a baby, Mister. You want, I can put him back in the truck, but we’ll have to put up with his whining. It’s pure D pathetic.”

Margaret advanced to the door with Dime in her arms. Big Baby stood on his hind legs and leaned his front paws heavily upon the screen door. Even through his fear, Rana could have sworn the dog winked.

Margaret opened the door. “Get in here, Thunder. Dime’s been waiting for you.” To Rana she said: “He’s Rachel’s traveling assistant. Calms the patients.” Before Rana had time to demur, a velvet black mask pressed softly into the hand behind his back, followed by the long swipe of a wet tongue.

Rachel Toms caught first the flicker of Rana’s horror of her dog, followed by the easing of his breath with Thunder’s kiss. “Better than drugs, my friend. Better than drugs.”

The two-legged patient calmed, Rachel turned to little Dime. Margaret handed her over and Rachel sat down on the floor. Thunder lay down beside her and set his massive head upon her thigh.

All Rachel could do was coo and stroke the blond ragged fur. Her eyes were filled with tears when she looked up at Margaret. She glanced at Rana, and laughed through her embarrassment. “No matter the fifteen years I’ve been doing this, it doesn’t get any easier.”

Rana remembered the swept cool mud floor of the hospice where his mother had passed in his arms. The white-clad nurse across the room had said much the same thing.

“I am Rana,” he said to Rachel. “What can I do to help?”

“That black bag on the sofa behind you. If you could hand it over —”

Said Margaret, “I promised her we’d do it out by the fountain.”

Rachel bent down and kissed the top of the dog’s head. “Anything you want, little one.”

They walked out through the French doors and settled in front of the fountain; tiny drops of water splashed their arms and legs. The air was cooler than it had been thirty minutes before. Margaret spread out a cushy green dog bed that Dime had given up when she moved up into Margaret’s bed for her six weeks of hospice. Across the bed she laid a bright orange linen cloth with bits of red and blue embroidery.

“You sure?” said Rachel, meaning the cloth, not the decision.

Margaret ran her hand across the linen, smoothing out a wrinkle. “Absolutely.”

Rachel set Dime upon the orange cloth and reached for her bag. During a brief interlude of needle and syringe preparation, Margaret curled up around her pup and whispered into her ears. At one point, she reached for Rana’s hand. “Feel this, Rana.” She placed his hand down upon her belly. The tremors and tightness he had felt earlier were gone.

“But, she’s so still,” he said. “Why now?”

Rachel’d got her voice back. “When these sweet babies finally know the release is near, they can relax. All that shaking is their body just trying to hang on for us.”

He’d felt the same thing with his mother. All the tension had drained from her in those last minutes, after weeks of hard steel within her broken body. For his father, he could not say. At what point is an end near, when there is a noose around your neck, and your bound son is forced to look on? Why had the son not turned his head from the pistol at his own temple, forcing the issue with a refusal to witness?

But, his mother, he’d felt her release from pain, and her release from worry for him.

“Cut loose his hands,” the executioner had said to his assistant. Was his father’s struggle with the rope at his neck cowardice, an unwillingness to let go of his pain, or was it a defiant act of love to hold on to his son even while struggling to breathe?

Rachel’s hand touched his. “Rana, I’ll need to get around you here.” She shifted places and said to Margaret, “You just let me know when you’re ready, dear.”

Margaret gathered Dime closer in, careful to leave Rachel access to the vein she needed. She placed her lips atop the blond head, looked up at Rachel, and nodded.

How many times through the weeks and months of his mother’s cancer, Rana had prayed for such an easy deliverance, cursing bitterly at those who presumed to know better. She’d found her release at last, but she, a woman of 58 years, a shining voice in the horrible din of Lahore’s chaotic fundamentalist rabble, had not been able to demand or petition for what this fourteen year old pup had simply asked for.

He’d sat behind his mother on the hospice bed, her body gathered up between his knees, her back pressed into his chest and belly. He’d held her hands and gently stroked the hair on her forearms. In his throat stirred a song he’d not heard since she’d sung it to him in his sleepless nights as a nightmare-ridden child. This odd coupling, a man birthing his dying mother, both gazing out the window to a line of blue chenar trees. After the lurch in her body, he felt the release, the easing, her waters flowing out through the open window, joining the indigo shade beneath the trees, flowing down to the river in the distance.

Rana looked down at the blond animal on its orange spread. He could see that Margaret, Rachel, and even Thunder were following the traces of their own sighted rivers.

A hummingbird hovered beside his ear. “Joy,” his mother whispered through the startling wingbeats. “Distillate joy.”

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Let us Pray

Quad didn't, though Lord knows he wishes he did. Instead, HE did: Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian (Or: The Evening Redness in the West), a vatic pause in the vatic gore:

The expriest shook his head. Oh, it may be the Lord's way of showin how little store he sets by the learned. Whatever could it mean to one who knows all? He's an uncommon love for the common man and godly wisdom resides in the least of things so that it may well be that the voice of the Almighty speaks most profoundly in such beings as lives in silence themselves.

He watched the kid.

For let it go how it will, he said, God speaks in the least of creatures.

The kid thought him to mean birds or things that crawl but the expriest, watching, his head slightly cocked, said: No man is give leave of that voice.

The kid spat into the fire and bent to his work.

I aint heard no voice, he said.

When it stops, said Tobin, you'll know you've heard it all your life.

Is that right?


The kid turned the leather in his lap. The expriest watched him.

At night, said Tobin, when the horses are grazing and the company is asleep, who hears them grazing?

Dont nobody hear them if they're asleep.

Aye. And if they cease their grazing who is it that wakes?

Every man.

Aye, said the expriest. Every man.

[And, for the yet unconverted, know that there are just 47 shopping daze left till the release of CM's No Country For Old Men.]

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