There’s something about a day like this. It whispers to every sense, entering pore and soul. Winter is coming, it says. The light has fallen behind a season, the shadows cast are deep.
On the sidewalk, skin hung bones of desperate black and blue humanity - homeless, drug addicted, deformed - fold makeshift tent, umbrella and tarp homes, and move on; or they’re stuck, leaden from drug hangovers and starving pain, pain that rattles oblivious traffic with a sorrowful howl. In the city’s streets of warehoused poverty, a virus’ kiss, a fentanyl overdose waits around brick corners in alleyways. Molten, wet leaves flutter to the ground, sweeping tears, vomit, feces, candy and Doritos wrappers into corner genie spirals. But there is no magic here. Animation is in the mind.
The billboard clatters in the empty parking lot as it flips between old advertisements for Pepsi and a now-abandoned restaurant. A few birds argue on a barbed wire fence, railroad cars are parked on the other side. Hoary clouds roll slowly under dark iron clouds, burying sky and mountain, like a kettle lid shutting. I climb the wooden stairs, and step over a dead baby mouse, soaked from last night’s rain. An alarm sounds. The space is deserted, dark. I alone disarm the alarm, turn on lights, shut a window that ushered in the night’s cold.
Light breaks in as a flush of warmth, the seconds it takes to see within a frame. On a patch of oversized clovers, sunlight catches red and orange fall leaves buried in the thick weave; on a still, mirroring lake a beam finds a viridian tree and ultramarine sky meeting seamlessly; a vignette encircles a long-necked, tiny-headed, russet-red mushroom; a sunray cuts through clouds falling on cargo containers haphazardly layered creating a painting-perfect geometric color balance; yellow lamplight encircles her high-boned face, lids nearly shut, as she reads by a window.
Someone arrives in the adjacent office; his voice is mealy, vowels too round. A photo text of my daughter’s eyebrows appears on my phone showing a raw spot where wax took away skin. A pre-fab house is hauled piggy back on a truck up the ramp in front of me. A chalkboard black, tubular railroad car sits on the tracks, carrying something flammable. It’s black is dusty, dabbled with rust.
The train moves on, opening a grey concrete canvas. An overweight woman in an orange reflector vest walks the tracks like a tired coyote. A murder of diaphanous clouds pass over the patchwork, clear-cut mountain. A van passes below my window after picking up beer from the brewery, yeasty odors bellow inside.
Reds push on my back, calling for my attention. In my imagination, the desert is plastered in flat, bold light. A fox with giant ears sits on a human’s lap, the human stretching her hands out, reaching for stories like ribbons of color floating in and out of light.
There was a simple pine box in my father’s office desk. The box, like the entire drawer, smelled from a small bag of pipe tobacco he kept there with a couple of used corncob pipes, cream rims brown from smoke. His other pipes, those of fine woods but not his favorites, hung from a metal rack on top of his desk.
His box contained a small, soft leather pouch the size of a plum, a few handwritten notes, a Saint Michael protection card printed with gold-ink, a tiny, faded photograph of his mother and a couple clip-on pins given in recognition of his community service. The pouch held a stone fox, the color of iron, with a piece of turquoise tied on its neck with a slim leather strip. A note inside the pouch read, “Thank you, from the people of the Navajo Nation.” I found these things after he died.
By opening his desk, I learned that he, like I, had a secret place for talismans, superstitions.
It was strange to find this stone fox because a month earlier, I’d given him a small, stone grizzly, about the same size, also tarnished iron, also from a Navajo artist. I bought it at a roadside shop in Southern Utah because it reminded me of him. Thick and strong bodied, it had a long nose, a slightly tilted listening head, warm turquoise eyes. The grizzly fit perfectly in my palm. I could wrap my fingers around it, heat it up, fill it with life.
I placed it on my dad’s nightstand where it stayed while he died.
For fifteen years, I've kept the grizzly by my bed, wherever I sleep, wherever I go. When I’m most afraid, I clutch him in my hand.
Perhaps because of the times we are living in, the ennui that has set in, the deep sadness I can’t shake, perhaps because all the suffering in the world hovers in the atmosphere like pollution, for whatever reason, my grizzly has materialized.
He lumbers around my apartment, smells of sweet pipe tobacco. Mostly though, he cuddles into the couch pillows, sniffs the ocean air. Sunflower-colored seagulls, lizard dayglo green crows and persimmon and pomegranate songbirds have been attracted to him. And with them, pink and purple petunia-colored butterflies.
I have felt the long arm of time reaching around the earth's curve into darkness. Silence is heavy. The kindness of strangers is gone.
Come here, sweet bear. Rest your head on my knee, your velvet nose shortening the distance to the horizon. Let us wait for a songbird to sing, a butterfly to whisper to the wind as fragile wings open and close, open and close, open and close and we will find peace.
Early morning on the beach, a misty, dirty cloud covers the sun. A low haze hangs over the sea. The waves are weak. It’s already hot. Two days ago, my daughter said, “I want to leave.”
“You want to leave Spain?” I asked.
“No, I want to leave.”
I knew what she was talking about. I'd been thinking the same and I told her so.
For a moment, we both felt better.
Only a trickle of people walk the water's edge. Some out to exercise; running or striding quickly. Almost everyone wears bathing suits, women with straps tied around backs instead of shoulders. No tan lines, I guess. An older woman’s breast hangs out of her suit. She doesn't bother putting it back. No one cares. Women go topless here in Alicante.
Couples, most all. I am alone.
The silver sea is capped with foaming white waves. People pass like illusions. Wondering what their lives are like, I gaze down at footprints in the sand. The impressions dissolve with two or three brushes of waves, just like me, just like I have dissolved from lives, cities, jobs, friendships. How nicely this metaphor, this cliché, works.
Pale, cushioned benches under yellow umbrellas line up in neat rows, a new addition on Campello beach. Tourists, most from Madrid, have dropped in with big city arrogance and cash. Past tense are days of silence teased by palm branches brushing the balcony railing, birds chirping choruses accompanied by pulsing waves. The Spanish people are beautiful. Especially young girls with black eyes, long faces, large, long noses and thick, black hair. Picasso proportions.
When did my anger morph to despondency? I've risen, like the waves, to the occasion, crashed it, turned around healthy and gone back in again. Too many times. I'm tired of fighting for alright, joy, my verve. I hate getting older. Just one more thing out of control.
Only a few people wear masks on the beach. One blue-masked woman carries a purse which she lifts to her face like a tiny wall each time someone passes. People protect their health, their lives. We’re survivors. It's in our DNA. But I want to leave, end the fight for fundamentals, bread and water, work, love, belonging.
Did I become so strange no one wants me? I’m tired of blaming myself. Tired of knowing no one wants to hear me asking for help again. Tired of putting my chin up, my chest out and pretending I can do it alone. Tired of the pain of losing people who loved me but are gone like footprints after a few gentle, morning waves.
Afraid of the future, disappointed in the past, the present as elusive as a just world.
I ran to a Spanish desert
from cruelty, injustice, people,
fled with my sense of helplessness, ineffectualness, meaninglessness. Intimidated by hate. Afraid of civilization’s monsters. Ashamed that I am not David or anyone at all. That I am vulnerable and tired.
I cower in solitude.
A child looking through a crack in a door
as adults fight and the mean adult pushes the weaker, kinder adult against the hard edge of a suffocating knee, and going down the kinder adult, the gentle giant, takes the sheets and drapes and comforter and all the murdered innocents along. A flimsy torn, tired piece of cotton catches a candle’s flame. Fire crackles, cracks like a breaking windpipe, and consumes the room. My hair catches fire
as I watch the room burn,
my daughter’s room,
her grandmother’s room,
her father’s room,
her granddaughter’s room.
The desert around me, dry and dark, is ready to burn as well.
For hope, the house comes down.
They are not birds’ wings.
Not really a Biography
I have always been inclined to move forward, roll the stone, down, and often up, hills. I've tried to write through it all. Everything on this blog is written by me.