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.
Just like clockwork…
The winter has begun.
Bumbershoot is over, winter’s upon us.
Oh, we may have a few more decent days
Of Indian summer
But winter’s coming.
So, there’s a real strong marine push today.
And here we were, Felon, my dog, and I
Walking down to the alley
And coming towards us
A guy I knew from my brief stint in the 76 store
This guy used to visit frequently
During a shift – say 12 hours and 2 or 3 visits –
And always make the same buy,
The fortified beer…one can…in a bag
Perhaps he needed that to be healthy
Which he always appeared to be.
I knew him from the church,
Ozanam House for the Chronically Homeless.
He had a nice warm bed and three wholesome meals a day.
I wondered if he didn’t actually need that frequent drink
To keep the ship aright
But that would be another story.
So…me, Felon one way, this man the other in the alley…
And it was the first time I ever saw his feet.
(The counter obscured view from the waist up when we’d interact at the mart)
And as we came slower towards each other,
He and Fel lock eyes…you see, they were buddies.
Fel loped his happy dance toward him and both sets of eyes brightened.
He had to re-ask Fel’s name, and each time he chuckles when I say “Felon”
“Like a criminal”, just to translate
He always says, “Oh, he’s not a criminal!”, with a great big smile.
And, not sure how he comes ready with pepperoni stick in pocket,
But he does, every…well almost every…time
Today, tho, I saw his feet…first time…
He had a Reebok on his right foot
And a Rockport on the left..
And while he and Felon were exchanging hugs and kisses,
I longed to get the “story” of that mismatch.
“Business on the left, party on the right” came to mind
An old comedy routine
At it’s inception a sociological statement about a type of haircut,
But topical here, it seemed.
And, of course, me, the storyteller reached inside to my things…
How I became “branded”.
And here’s the one I made up here…
Once upon a time…
And the story was about this man,
Living on $756.00 a month plus food stamps.
He has shelter but this costs him dearly
Fifty-six bucks left,
At about $7 a can,
He needs that extra cash from his pension
To stave off those infernal shakes.
And, so, shoes take a different place in his life. Amen
Whew! He’ll just make it! On the beers.
They walked along together,
Or I should say he walked…the dog lingered
In areas where the scents were just too intriguing.
And the sun-kissed morning that was so pleasant
Beckoned the dog to dawdle.
“C’mon, C’mon, boy!”, he would exhort.
The dog heard but did not listen,
Digging in all the more.
“You’re dilly-dallying. C’mon!”
He’d keep exhorting the dog.
“Let’s go! Let’s go home!”
This spot, that pole, a bush, wet with urine…
All of these beckoned the dog,
Too precious to pass by.
Carrying too much dog information to gloss over.
“I’ve got a bag of shit in my hand!”
He said, falling on deaf ears.
The dog added his organics to a post
That, from the look of it,
Was a favorite of dogs who’d passed by earlier.
Sort of like the dog would hit “Like”
On a Facebook post he’d fancied, if that was a thing for dogs.
He pulled, he tugged.
Finally, as accorded by the dog’s schedule,
The dog lumbered on beside his master, home.