When Ned came to the island with his dog
greeted by the men in bulging Speedos
some he knew and many that he didnt
he saw the tip of an enormous iceberg
the submerged of which would quickly be revealed
men and women would die in agony and pain
Ned wanted to rise and rail and shout
urine on the steps up to the Capitol
never silent always loud and angry
in counterpoint to their deafening silence
and that accomplished his and their agenda
so that in these days the trigger has become
accepted resigned to and complacent
as if everything has now been put aright
The problem is that many still are suffering
but now the kettles taken off the boil
And all thats left is us to brew the tea
The men met
At the corner of Cherry Street and Terry Ave.
The one with the dog
Was dapper, groomed, face washed,
Warm in his Sherpa jacket
A dog in tow on a retractable leash.
The one with the deeply lined face,
Puffy eyes, 3 day old scruff on his jaw,
Missing several teeth, others in dire need of repair,
With no coat, wrapped in a 12th Man flag,
Spoke with the strong odor of ethanol and decay
Emanating from that disheveled gob.
“That’s a fine-looking dog.
I’d love to have a dog like that,
But I’m not responsible enough
To have one.
What’s his name?”
“Felon,” the other man answered.
The man with the dog noticed a puzzled look on the questioning man’s face.
This happened ALL the time.
The man with the dog noticed it, expectantly.
Must be his pronunciation.
“Felon…like a criminal,” said the dog handling man.
That man saw the light go on in the other man’s face and eyes.
“What a COOL name!” said the snaggeltooth.
“He’s a fine animal.
You see, I’m an alcoholic,
No news flash.
“I have a dual diagnosis. May I pet him? I always ask.”
“Sure! Fel…come here and meet…ummm…”
“…Gary. Come here, boy”
The drunk reached out a trembling, weathered hand,
And gently stroked the dog’s wide,smooth head.
The dog’s tail wagged as it always did when shown such affection.
“He’s a fine dog,” he murmured breathing out fumes.
“Maybe someday I can have a dog like him.”
“Well, I hope so,” said the dog’s owner.
“I wonder what you’d have to do in order for that to happen?” he asked respectfully.
“Well…stop drinking, get a job, and a place of my own.
But that’s really hard.”
“Yes, Gary, it is.
It can be done tho.”
The dog’s chaperon thought back,
Twenty five-odd years earlier,
His own drinking and cocaine use brought him to his knees.
Couch surfing after a hospitalization, faced with the same dual diagnosis.
So bewildering…the dog walker had made it through
The maze of the strong pull for release promised by substances,
The seemingly endless maze of one set of meds
After another, and another, and another.
And yet, here he was
Just doing the next best right thing after the next best right thing.
How would Gary do it?
Without even a couch to surf from?
Burned bridges strewn in his past.
Burnt out friendships and relationships.
No job, no anchoring to any semblance of reality
That the man with the dog had found, after much searching.
“Well, I’ve gotta go,” said Gary.
“You have a good day, Gary”
“Thanks!” And Gary shuffled off, body lurching from impending DT’s.
Right down the street, Straight to the convenience store
To get that “magic potion”
That would set him aright for a few more hours until he required another dose.
“I guess not today, Gary,” the dog’s owner thought,
As he headed home.
And not him?”
Five trees with dying leaves. The center tree and the one to its left ablaze with the dying rays of the sun. A beach house stands at the end of the row. Abandoned. The marshy tufts of grass swept by a wind from off the beach, which slopes gently away from the grassy turf where the trees stand, erect against the sea breeze.
The dark outline of the beach house is captured stark against the evening sky with wisps of clouds blurring the outline of the golden sun.
It’s 3 PM and there’s a chill in the air as I walk toward the beach house, almost a silhouette at the end of the plateau close to where erosion has claimed and continues its claim on the plot of land where the arbor stands. Eventually they’ll either need to control the erosion or let the sea take the beach house. Even the trees flirt with the edge. I’m coming up the berm and climbing up the edge that spills into the flat space where the lonely trees wave gently against the sea breeze that drives the waves I can hear to my back. When I finally get to the flat grass where the beach house sits, I need to make a sharp right to walk along the edge of the plot of land to move toward the cabin.
I enter the cabin. I’m not alone. The tinkling sound of another man standing at the trough that serves as a urinal. I step up to the line on the floor delineating where one needs to pee over to hit the intended mark. The warm organics flow toward a central drain where we both hear our work flowing into the sewer.
Five trees. Two golden in the sunset. A sea breeze.
Stark against the evening sky.
A chill in the air. The eroding of the shoreline.
I walk to the cabin.
I am not alone. A dimly lit figure beside me works in the same way as I.
So, we have this task, see
To create a piece based on words
Selected by another
Based on their expertise.
This is tough for me.
I’m a one-trick pony.
It’s a pretty slick trick…
I can cut a person open
and then put them all back together again with ease.
That’s about it.
So, I picked these geological terms.
A subject I know nothing about.
…any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris that occurs in both currently and formerly glaciated regions on Earth
I’m thinking about how, embryologically,
The human spine is formed…
Backbone a synonym for moraine.
…like Devil’s Tower
In that Spielberg movie
I went to nightly while ill
…a glacial island
I’m reminded of this woman,
Her cancerous flesh
Jutting out from her pale breast skin.
…a mountain lake or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier.
Like Crater Lake
Where I and my son’s mother abused one another
For the sake of Shakespeare.
…(from the German for mountain cleft)
German, like mittleschmerz,
The “middle pain”…
Free blood in the peritoneal cavity after ovulation.
Then things got easier…
…what I am –
Or at least had been –
On the day before the anniversary
There it is!
…an ice hockey player whose primary function is to check opponents,
Like Coburn, or Sustr.
I knew one!!
Hockey, being another skill I’d forgotten about.
All this for the craft of poetry,
Which I’m hoping will be
A way for me to say
About grief, and loss, and dis-ease.
IF I said them
And Boys Don’t Cry
And I’m a boy.
It was our pride and joy, that boat…our prize.
We’d go to Key West every year in fall,
After summer downpours left the noon.
We made our pact there as we both had suffered
from the plague ungluing all our lives.
Now I’m here next to David’s pallid body –
pale blue masque on, jaw a slack, grotesque.
He made the leap; he had escaped, was gone
Upon a journey I could not attend.
He left me all alone to sail solo,
Yet, He was captain and I his lowly mate.
Who would pull the spinnaker to catch the breeze?
Or talk with me as a person, unaffected?
Now, I was all alone just cast upon the water…
The needle slipped in so easily
And created a profound change.
I was sickened first from the hepatitis my patient transferred to me
But there was more.
A madness that turned me from normal
To having long periods where no rest could be found
Despite the narcotics, the barbs, the benzos.
My unwanted companions for 13 long years.
And between the hyperactivity,
Bone-crushing depression for which I sought help
From amphetamines, cocaine, meth.
Over that decade plus,
I treated myself, a fool for a patient,
Having more and more trouble
Modulating these foreign moods
Which had become commonplace and routine.
4 marriages, 3 divorces,
Another marriage on the rocks.
And becoming habituated to my chemical compounds
At one time thought of as friends but now enemies.
It was this fourth marriage on the skids
And my separation from my son that wore me out finally.
I chose the barbs as my exit tool.
Lying there conscious of the fact that I needed to remember to breathe.
Somehow a friend I had known from years’ back
Just happened to show up,
Just happened to find me in a stupor,
Just happened to act rapidly to call 911,
Just happened to.
I was comfortably numb during the resuscitation,
I really have no recall until I was transferred to Rehab
For detox and a 30-day drug and alcohol program.
After detox I was diagnosed…
Bipolar 2 was the name they gave me.
“And, oh, by the way, you have AIDS, too.”
I recall the perfunctory way the doc
Just slipped that test result in front of my face
And said only, “Don’t do any more drugs.”
Not noticing how dumbstruck I was
Offering no compassion.
Perhaps he knew the relationship of AIDS to Bipolar?
But I uncovered it and thought back to 1977.
That gave me insight.
Whenever I’m sick
It’s best for me to create a mental picture of my illness.
So now I had one.
A link back to that patient in 1977
The one with dementia
And weight loss
And cryptococcal meningitis
After all those years I had, unknowingly,
Made one of the very first AIDS diagnoses.
A dis-ease I had given myself!
Despite tremendous personal, financial and professional issues,
Despite the cognitive impairment that went with that diagnosis,
Despite the endless array of varying combination of pills and potions,
I aligned myself with the BEST practitioners I could find.
I followed treatment plans to the very letter.
I enrolled in experimental protocols.
I struggled to survive
Not one, not two, but three
After 25 years, it finally paid off.
The lynchpin was dumping the “drug of choice”
And starting an atypical and two antidepressants-
An SSRI and SSNI.
I suddenly became calm
And normal like I hadn’t been since before the fateful day
Back in 1977.
It was almost as dramatic as flipping a light switch
And flooding an unfamiliar room with light.
To see the unseen for those thirty plus years.
To be back in my own skin again.
To achieve normalcy.
After those eighteen years of work
The rubrics cube of me was finally aligned correctly.
Today, I’ve been in the same relationship for over a decade.
Today, I’m residing at the same place for fourteen years.
Today, I’m an effective father and spouse.
Today, I have personal responsibility for myself
And my remission.
Today, I engage in activities that are congruent with my nature,
Which is that of an intelligent, empathetic, resourceful person,
Able to deal effectively with life on life’s terms
And share my successes with those who would have them.
Recovery IS possible
As long as one has the capacity to work hard
And their healthcare team
IF I could do it
That means it IS possible
Like anything of value
It requires effort
And, I’d guess, a bit of luck.
I was on my way
To a place I grew up in.
I knew I was on the right road-
The big mountain was right where it was supposed to be…
The Brothers had lost most of their snow-pack
In the waning throes of that summer day.
But…the spidery cranes and laborers
Carrying sheet rock to and fro,
The skeletal web of girders and concrete
Everywhere I looked…
Not a familiar sight at all.
The bookstore now a high rise…very disorienting.
Gone was the PETCO
Where Ms. Kiddy had her nails done.
Gone was the old tavern
Where we’d drink and sing karaoke
And brunch together on Sundays.
Was this actually the right place?
It was so
All over the city…
Places I’d visited many times…Gone.
Yet, in the midst of all that change,
There it was…Easy Street.
The familiar breakfast,
The records now replaced with CDs.
But Paul was there, and Alice, and Scott;
Teresa even made a cameo.
The same but different.
In the midst of change,
We ate, we talked…
Even went by the old house, still there.