Monday, August 24, 2009

Brother Cain, 4


We couldn’t find any clean water. South, after the quiet, dark rowhouses and the tall, dark churches, there was a liquor store. They sold water, but the bottle was covered in dust and we had to laugh as the asian store owners stared at us with straight faces, as though it were adequate. We scoffed at the thought of wasting one more of the world’s last minutes in there and stomped out across the linoleum with thundering footsteps. Solid, enduring, and familiar reality absorbed our indignation with the jingle of a doorbell.

We hadn’t, couldn’t have made it all the way to the harbor because of the fireworks. All of the nice families who had come in from the suburbs were crowded around the planned spectacle. For once, I was glad not to be rich. Each patriarch and matriarch would be offering their kingdom for a small yacht before the night was out. The book said the world wouldn’t be ending until seven o’clock the following morning but once we crested the last hill before the harbor we saw the masses were already running. Firecrackers, mortar rounds and bouts of mass hysteria were exploding in succession. Every glance I threw into the crowd seemed to land in a dramatic instant. A round-eyed man who looked like Jesse Jackson opened up his mouth and yelled. Cars made their way slowly along the streets, filled with pedestrians who had taken over. They all knew what the nice families down at the harbor were too smart to figure out. The money didn’t matter anymore.

Like the private autonomy that develops among those still awake for the wee hours of a good party, the finals hours of the world’s existence became a universe unto themselves. Where we found ourselves at every second revealed the bit parts we played in the last pantheon, the gods of which were foreclosing on civilization with haughty, ironic chuckles. We were a part of the story, watching from the corner of two downhill streets at a scene that looked like it would inspire an imitation of itself on a soundstage in California.

I had never seen Cain sweat before. We’d always said we were brothers. Now was his chance to believe it. He was a dangerously intelligent person who knew how to throw his feet up on the principal’s desk in high school, and run a raver-drug enterprise after graduation. He learned his art alone. Tonight he had developed the tic of looking from side to side and throwing twenty dollar bills at people who kept staring at him, like the lady from whom he’d finally managed to get a bottle of clean water.

We saw a guy coming up the street and he had the same freaked out look on his face I knew we had. He saw me, too.
“Tongi” I heard him say and I felt the name vibrating from somewhere far away. “Tony!” he corrected. I had just seen his ancestor in a jungle heading toward the heart of the Congo, so maddened and overwhelmed by a world of such multitudinous stimuli that he was reduced to outright divination with broken kola nuts. I know it made more sense to be assured one’s decisions were effectively arbitrary than to go on wondering about the integrity of our influences. Tongi was with his uncle, whose wizened eyes gazed compassionately from within concentric circles of age. He bore a mole or some sort of mark on his face that looked like a spot of paint, and wore a slight and constant smile that belied his nationality. He seemed to bob a bit as he walked, like the animated silhouette of a man riding a dromedary across the horizon, a shrewd Arab trader. He would be happy to trade with us.

We were agreed. Banding together determinedly against a great power had probably been inculcated through prolonged television-saturation. I felt as though we had accomplished something by finding these men. Reaching the end of an uphill block or choosing a direction was a democratic effort. Over a longer period of seconds I touched back to earth when the uncle suggested we go to the lighthouse. At that moment I may have started to sweat, squinting into my memory for the light. I had seen a sign, earlier in the day among the cards. The Hermit, the old man holding a lantern, wandering the darkness within the delicate gold bind of the St. Petersburg Tarot. What did it mean. Walking with our two new friends was beginning to feel like an adventure dictated by divination. We might be going somewhere or nowhere, and there was no time if we were going to survive until the final moments. Only now had I calmed down enough to understand that merely to survive until the end would be a legendary feat. Uncle suggested we stop by the liquor store.

Cain was uncomfortable, quiet. He understood going to the liquor store, it gave him some focus so he could know where he was for a moment. His writhing threads of thought were temporarily brought into sync by the physiological anticipation of malt liquor. We all filed in and the effect worked. It seemed like a pretty normal Saturday night under the white lights. Maybe a TV was playing or maybe it was just everyone’s head buzzing. I leaned up against the plexiglass and watched Cain, going up to the window to throw more money at somebody. I wonder if I was pissed off for some reason. Maybe the sight of him, so dutifully buying forty-ouncers for everyone irritated me, or, more likely, the thought of being intercepted on our sacred path by a couple of clowns irritated me. Maybe anger had been feeling left out and had percolated up to the surface of my mind because when the man to my back knocked into me it was only hard enough to make me lose my balance because I wasn’t really standing on both feet. As though I’d had a real bad day I whirled around like I was ready to fight. He was older and looked like he came around to this place a lot more often than I did and he started barking. I can recall some sort of satisfaction at being so ready to bark back. That memory resides more in my body than my mind. I was ready to fight, and the first curse word to ripple out across the TV signal was uttered by me.
Where that moment split the end of the world spilled into the ghetto liquor store. A huge man who had been sitting unnoticed in the corner on our side of the bullet-proof glass had rumbled over to me and was yelling, unintelligibly, words that threatened to ball up my mind like tinfoil. Every reflex went into operation like a factory line. I apologized, I conceded, I uttered the words of diplomacy, I raised the white flag; even a herd of horses would have been more receptive. He was an avalanche. All present stood silently watching as the cap fell off the water bottle. A young asian guy kindly picked it up and handed it to me. I looked up into the dark face of the mountain as it dawned on me that he was somehow mentally challenged and was not going to listen. The though of the uncle danced around back and touched off the right thought. Letting go of the last of my whining, verbal protests I shut my mouth, swung my left arm out wide and bowed, deeply.
By the time I stood back up straight the dark mountain was smiling and shaking my hand. He said his name was Bouncer, that he was the bouncer and everything was okay. We all walked out, together, including the guy I was about to fight. I saw the asian guy through the window and he waved goodbye. I thought we were all walking off together.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Brother Cain, 1-3


Inevitable pinpricks up my back and I would peal another kitten off of me. They were darling, fey beasts who occurred naturally in the enchanted radiance of a a couple of tall candles.

Some evening, a weekend evening probably during the summer I quit work for a while, we stood out somewhere in between the symphony center and one of the state buildings, and he poured out some of our forty-ounce in honor of his old partner-in-crime, who’d been in a coma since a drunken bicycle accident. He said the old boy “couldn’t hack” his training.

We shared a compulsive urge to leave, which overpowered the confusion of speech. I declared we should bring water for the journey, and when I looked up to see a strange-looking fellow who’s eyes couldn’t decide on what to focus carrying a wobbly pitcher half-full of tap water in one hand, I had to wonder if it was unlike inviting upstairs the guy who bummed a cigarette in front of the liquor store.

The night we watched Soylent Green I felt like hiding from time in my apartment, scurrying out into the street to fulfill my inalienable right to do what was necessary to maintain sanity: walking to the bar, making contacts among the underground resistance.

A brisk walk would not suffice to quell my excitement so it occurred to me to take an old heavy metal trash-can with me to my house because I liked it and the world was going to end anyway. I thought we might still have the trash-can, once our lives had changed and we lived by our ability to think weird thoughts as survivors of the psychic fallout. I wasn’t sure about living on the third floor apartment during such times. It was destined to be an imminent future. I could feel the threat. TIme was going to try to kill us first, literally or by driving us mad. I hoisted the trash-can up on my shoulder, aiming it ahead like a rectangular rocket. At home, I put it down proudly in the kitchen. We sat around the table under the room’s bright light, whose naked incandescence did nothing to embarrass the admirable foreboding we felt for what the coming years would bring.

My brother was less than four months younger than me and from a different family. The first couple of times we met he wore a court jester’s tousled hat, but his eyes always wobbled back and forth. We got along like the naughty kid gets along with the impressionable kid who was taught never to play with fire.

One man played the drums when I dosed, played drums while I shouted an incantation, satisfied to pronounce it as best I could, saying the names of the spirit of the crossroads, honoring a spirit with words I found in a book. The man went to take a dump and I had a chance, in the calm of exertion, to look up and say “please give me a sign.”

“It’s really hard” he said. “Because you do all this work and no one believes you.” I yearned for such affirmative difficulties.


One night we didn’t have any weed and we set out for the county on the chance that a friend would give us a hydrocodone. We turned off the halloween episode of a creepy tv show and rode down the thoroughfare, behind one of the cabs whose phone number is 685 something. I recall the numbers enumerated to one, and I imagined the serpent was leading us along a singular path to somewhere we were meant to go.

Walking my drug sponsor down to the train station the orange sodium streetlamps set his scaly skin aglow in the light of dusk. He was looking green by the time we parted ways where the bridge met the avenue, which was fine because the point was to be alone.

I walked away from the bridge in one direction and continued, taking it easy among other pedestrians, getting to look around a little and observe that one fellow seemed to shrink away as my walking posture grew straighter and more confident. I almost began to experiment, but this idea became instead a game of arriving at each street corner and dowsing out which direction to travel by inner intuition. I saw a statue ahead. His look was acutely severe. Only one unaware of being watched could have held it. I suppose he was simply intense enough that I stood by, occupied contemplating my little existence and reflecting upon how it felt, perhaps to reach a destiny for a brief rest, knowing one was free to be for a spell. Somewhere within, an excitement shined like a searchlight, focusing somewhere ahead when it occurred to me there was a plague to read. “Dreaming dreams no mortal dared to dream before.” and I was humbled to stillness. An interminable, meandering staircase creaked where my thought had echoed a moment before. I read the name of the Capricorn-born soul commemorated before me, and heard hollow laughter escape the bronze. For the last time such a revelation tickled my senses and saw me off warmly looking for more.

Such a ponderous thought grew until it weighed down my mind. As I strolled past the opera house an interior motion detector was activated. I shrank away in shame and cowered for nearly a full second before turning from the next moment to catch myself in the middle of some sort of self-induced compulsion. As though publicly vindicated I stood up straight and nearly brushed myself off. I strode past the opera house and further down the hill into the art school’s railroad house gallery.
The craft in the gallery was flawless. Every lacquered square inch of one piece covered superimposed colors under lines forming duplicate images of advertising cherubim, and in the center of the hall what appeared to be an automatic weapon capable of firing the largest caliber bullet in existence in rapid succession aimed up at the mezzanine. ONly the long painting on the left shone beyond the lacquered shine of perfect technique. The painting bore the gloss of perfection as well, though less complete than the others. Like an overwhelming seismic reading, rich cadmium illuminated with pure, sacrificial white surged into activity at irregular intervals across the ebony-coated canvas. Art school seemed a pastime.

By the time I made it to my house I was a prophet. The majesty of my street-corner, where lay-lines connected Madison Park to Bolton Hill, downtown’s left shoulder with the road to Liberty Heights, it seemed impossible that I should just happen to settle at such an obvious crossroads of forces and necessities, situated so shyly up in my candlelit, kitten-infested hovel.


My street in the bright, early sunlight looked like it stood atop a cliff and the third-story windows bent back to catch as much living room-soaking sunlight as possible. By the time the Rockford Files came on UPN the bright wash will have abated. Eating little meatball subs from Nice-n-sleazy, I thought about what I’d rather be eating and how I’d rather have been able to buy cigarettes too.

Three-hour candles were attached to the little, thirty-five cent holders by heating up the spike and plunging it into the bottom end. Early one the mornings after I’d freed myself from the constraints of regular employment I sat dutifully mediating, stretching my mental awareness into the world around me like a hand into muddy water. At the center of a long moment of silence within, I took a breath and spoke to the stillness, striking its taut constancy with four words resounding. “Give me a sign.” I remained poised, my faculties extended, maintaining a stretch as I had once been taught, not yet recognizing the gleam of golden light that had begun to outshine the candles below until it outshone the abundant light in the windows. The yellow candle and its flame were consumed by a small sun near my right hand; my serious face crumbled into a stupefied smile as the light died down again and soon vanished. I began the day renewed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Vingette #1

The metro has come to another jolting halt (must be his first day on the job). We’re between stations. This is línea 3, the pea soup green line, the line with the dirtiest maps, the icon of Zapata with his bullets, Pancho Villa on a horse who I didn’t recognize until I came back here to live. The train car is an underground tropic. For two minutes each passenger continues to shuffle about their small area, carrying on the sway of a travelling car. Then, collectively, we exhale, comprehending that the train is stopped in a tunnel and pushing up the temperature a full degree.

Vingette #2

Don Manuel waves and nods, putting out his large hand. He and the family are filling in potholes. All from Michoacán and possibly not related by blood, he helped many of them come here. I don’t know what he does, except that he has managed to fincar an extra three or four floors of concrete and gray brick on top of his house. He rented me a space on a handshake, the people who sold flavored aguas at the market sent me. He likes me. He probably likes having a foreinger around and acting like it’s no big deal, and he’s said more than once he loves having only one person living in a space. I hear him all day upstairs, singing rancheras. I think the woman with the baby must be his wife and not his daughter. The other tenants would give me looks if I had a girl stay overnight.

Vingette #3

Searching the tianguis for vhs cassettes; my mac can’t play pirate vcd’s. On blankets, thrift store junk next to parts a plumber would recognize. A wall of shirts fitted to half-mannequins with no backs. Te doy precio, amigo. Everyone will give me a price. Walk into the tunnel. Under the yellow tarps the price is high. Smells like leather. Good punk jewelry. Good pirate music. Mexicans love their kraut-rock. The pulque man trudges through and on wheels he pulls a large, military-style gas can filled with the fermented milk of the agave. I get two liters and he invites me down to the farm. I didn’t really listen when he warned me about shaking it up; when I got it home and opened it a liter and a half shot up so high it soaked the cieling.

Vingette #4

Jumping from one lippy crevice to another, pox-marked volcanic rock so mossy and dirt-cured as to oscure its age.

Vingette #5

Avenue Nezahualcóyotl is technically an east-bound extension of Escuinapa, which is the sun-blasted gauntlet I run in a combi on my way to points north and west. Heading east I get to move farther and farther away from where the microbuses drop me off, crossing longitudenal streets named after indian tribes I’ve not yet learned to pronounce, and unique landmarks on foot, and pleasant internet cafés with fresh white paint. Avenue Nezahualcóyotl is lively at night. The pharmacies glow golden green, and corner stores hang chorizo from the rafters next to fruit baskets. All the way down the hill I choose the most agreeable stetches of sidewalk and wonder about the esoteric routes of passing combis. At the bottom of the hill is a little park that cuts off traffic, and the store where my friend gets drumstick ice cream cones. He rents a spot in a house in a garden, where we can see trees in the windows.

Vingette #6

Waking up at Jeremy’s place, I throw the window wide open and breathe. Marco and Martha laugh, and they haven’t even seen where I live. The kitchen is so small I’m shoved up against the green air as everyone mills about before going to work. If I leave now I’ll still be late, and that’s without putting on a fresh tie. I’m welcome to roll a joint so I let go, leaning back on the window frame, half-seated on the sill, over-laundered blue shirt open two button with wrinkled slacks.

Unlikely Event in a City of Thirty Million

Traffic pounded the intersections on either side of Rosales continuously. What was left of an old viceroyal manor stood above an exit from metro Hidalgo where street urchins huffed glue. The large vintage shutters of the new apartment did little to muffle the noise, even throughout the night as I was soon to learn. It would be necessary to visit; I was glad not to be living there. Without joy the ancient moldings and fixtures were a nuisance; the quarters were enclosed by nothing but an old door. Everything was old, and used, except for a cellphone on a bedside table. I liked the blue screen, but it seemed like such an odd thing to have in that place.
Mayday was Moving Day. Everyone was amicable. I even felt comfortable enough for new words in Spanish I hadn’t known before to come out. Still, the festive prospect of lunch or some snacks made me realize I would rather it just be Monday already. I walked over to Oxxo for some coffees and Bimbo snacks but didn’t know how to use the Nescafé machine. The lady behind the counter had the cups, and once I went up to pay for everything she felt free to be less than courteous about charging me for the one that had gone down the drain. What I didn’t yet realize was that the proprietors of Mexican stores tolerated no shrinkage and the cashier would be charged for all three coffees, because I was offended, and had just said she could keep them.
I crossed the street indignantly under the bright sun, thinking about how they had to intensely advertise Nescafé because it was shit and at the same time there was a scream. The stout woman on thick legs in her red and yellow Oxxo shirt stomped into the street in plastic sandals and wrapped her arms around me, demanding I come back and pay. I was too astounded to be moved. Breaking free I continued to the other side and her partner followed, keeping a two-meter distance and cursing me from his vantage point as the cashier grabbed me again, unthinkingly determined to drag me back to the register. I pled no case, I returned no curse, nor did I manage to scare them away with my eyes. Their hate circulated through me like heat and I expelled it back at them in silent shock. No one up in the apartment could see me from where they were and I wouldn’t have liked them to. Even the urgency of the moment was being imposed on me by a cowardly man I would have enjoyed hitting and a desperate woman who was probably stronger than me but too short to tip me over. All the way on the opposite sidewalk she clutched and grabbed at my body and a stubborn rage finally began to manifest. For the police to become involved was going to cost me. A stranger walking by joined the cashier’s partner, calling me white man, and a little taxi pulled right up to us at a high speed.
From the green and gray vocho emerged Sophia. She was my coworker at the English school and I had never seen her on a Sunday before. We’d been to breakfast more than once and I had impressed her by freely deducing what eight out of ten emotional intelligences must have been. As though she had foreseen everything, Sophia walked up and spoke with the confidence of a kindergarten teacher. The Oxxo woman let me go and the onlookers left. Sophia lay a hand on my arm and asked me to wait right there. I stood and tried breathing steadily as so much blood pumped through my head that she was walking back across the street toward me before I realized she had paid for the coffees. First making sure I was well, she allowed herself to laugh, but had to move on because she was late for an appointment at the nearby yoga studio where she was a student and a teacher.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Relying upon the tiniest fractures in my mental health, I compare myself to born rock stars and insist that I, too can be an artist.
My comrades and their personalities loom over my memory. I hear them speak, and continuously imagine how I’d respond. We interact like diffuse call signs that inhabit a signal of such intensity that it bleeds over into neighboring frequencies. Spasmodically, the quiet is interrupted by a voice, albeit heard or imagined, and I conclude that it’s good to hear voices. It turns out that I do listen to people. Listening to others hasn’t always come naturally. For many years I lived in a bubble; not even fear was enough to corral me fully into the community of those who communicate in subtleties. It was as though I were separated from the world by a protective membrane that reduced the significance of people’s messages. For me, many things people said carried little importance. Fear ultimately needed drugs to help jar me into wakefulness.
It took more than a few good trips to get me going. First was braving the company of other people, like Halloween when I was nineteen. I put on clown make-up and we went downtown. Generations of the Moscow circus dripped into me from the collective unconscious as I cocked my head to the side, rolled my eyes and waved hello to people. When we headed back to the car that night I looked at all the pink glitter spilled on the sidewalk and lamented the end of the magic, only to find the ground had falllen away and I was happily balancing for dear life on the thin trail of sparkle that held me aloft. And there was more. Monogamy. Sex. True contact with another human being was an epiphany to say the very least. By learning to appreciate a woman, despite all our differences, I learned to be a man. Beyond the innocent trips, however, were waiting experiences that would take the breath out of my lungs and the blood out of my belly. There was the first bad one, which was pure. I suffered from raw, unparanoid anxiety. All I had to do was come down. Much later, after enjoying more of the sort of trip that transforms a life came the really bad ones. More than once I saved myself from permanent psychic emasculation thanks only to the terror that had paralyzed me before before I could seal my fate. Through a laborious process I came to understand that listening attentively to what people say could be a powerful technique.
Drugs isn’t what creates a star. Nonetheless I’ve come into contact with many starchildren where drugs are to be found. In such places alliances were formed, some few of which even survived the light of day, and still endure. Such relationships exist as proof of inspiration beyond hallucinogens; I have verified the existence of such a life. I anticipate reaching that point any moment now.
In the past there were friends who practiced their art without ever caring for a drug. Few artists intimidate me because my greater fear is instead of those who have never needed anything to expand their vision. Taking acid helped me separate myself from them. Fucking superartists be damned.
Contemplating stars becomes tiring. I heard that since the seventies there’s been an increasing number of children born with extra strands of DNA, even with psychic powers. I’m the starchild among starchildren who chose to enter life one hundred per cent human, with no cosmic advantage. So then, for me awareness of the truth is more like a memory. I’m afraid to draw on the magic of the world around us, afraid my touch isn’t delicate enough, that when I try to part the veil and reveal the painting of energies beneath the surface that it will only tear like an overstretched polymer. The fear of sobriety is the fear that my cherished insanity has burned down to the embers. Feelings of inadequacy stem from the sensation that I have quite unfortunately found myself to be whole.
There is a friend who seems broken within, harmed irrevocably in one massive strike, early on in life. Since arriving in our city she has become a veritable legend, and I have adored her. The woman’s soul has sustained a trauma, and the energies that escape from it react violently to the exterior world. They form a cyclone of atom-splitting force. Like a shooting star, her life is like a path of fire, seemingly destined to skid along the atmosphere of our world with her dramas and elogies. The power within her surges in constant augmentation because of an error. Her mind has not been able to compute the total effect of what she once had to suffer, even through so many years during which she’s gathered such formidable intellectual strength. Now it is the total effect that she has on us that we cannot compute.
I’m glad that nowadays I can at least envy my friends their glamour. Back when dance clubs where awe-inspiring and I believed in appearances I could stumble right by the starchildren without ever realizing that we actually coexisted. It took me years to observe who were those that made themselves into the princes and queens of Saturday night. Way back there was a fellow I believe was of old country nobility. Like a gothic godfather he granted audiences in a private spot at the end of the bar. I recall the night I entered the restroom where he was conversing with another, a sort of punk general of the old crystal meth regime. I know nothing of their personalities and believed their personas down to the quick. I didn’t even eavesdrop on their chat as I pissed, for that would have been a lack of respect. I wasn’t just clothes. My girlfriend from those times had been friends with the godfather (who wasn’t so old) and they had come up tripping together. Whatever I believed about him was less than first-hand and more than a reputation. Sometimes I can’t imagine who the real stars might be. These two guys I remember were really just a couple of geeks like me who understood all the same sci-fi and role-playing game references. The difference lies in the subtle degrees to which each of us has suffered. It remains to be seen if starchildren truly suffer, or if only they know how to suffer with true dignity. Between the fellows I remember and myself, one has only to gauge the magnitude of the glamour that surrounds each of us in order to determine the exact degree to which our spines have been respectively twisted. We’re similar in so many ways that one could extrapolate the nature of the derision we’ve been dealt by observing our posture in various social situations. Do I stand up straight at a club? Do I stand up straight at work? Does a cigarette in hand excuse a hunched neck? Possibly. While I have come to enjoy a bit of proper mystique by this point, I know what has had to happen and what I’ve had to put myself through in order to gain access to some power within.
There is an inner being of pure light that is protected within a shell that is ultimately vulnerable. Some of us have been sheltered. The egg is cracked, battered from outside until light escapes. Pure, evolutionary drive is what pours forth, and it is of a nature meant to be contained. With no recourse but to bathe in it, abused startchildren who know not how to properly heal themselves begin to evolve uncontrollably, and by the time they have found equilibrium of their personal volition they have become like superbeings limited only and particularly by the state of their imagination.
The wise among the surviving starbabies have learned. It is nothing less than our dream-mind that makes any meaningful thing possible. Their lives have been determined by the wishes they managed to make in a distant past. Those among us who do not prefer bitterness may remember what our wishes were, the old ones, from when we wished hardest.


Narrow enough to approximate current fashion without reaching it, Kimmy’s rectangle glasses perch awkwardly on her thin head, befitting her personality more than her appearance, much like her perennial topknot of leaf-brown hair. Her binder is about six inches thick with papers and books she’s insistently asked to borrow from her teachers. Kimmy is content to work and prefers to play and executive role in the decision-making process. During class she pursues clandestine Spanish studies, paging through the textbook she keeps in her lap more as a polite signal that she’s working apart from the others than as a vain effort to hide it. I decided to lift the pressure on her solitary pursuits last week when she impressed the other students in her group with her capacity as a secret weapon. They won the jeopardy game on Friday, much to their surprise because she was able to methodically sound out five and six syllable words without double guessing herself.
Her soul comes to us from across recent generations, like an old lady whose spirit not long ago inhabited a body on a Highlandtown stopp, skinny in old age and able to speak without dropping the long cigarette from her chapped lips. She probably lived on until death finally landed the killing blow, swiftly and after several attempts. Reborn for the twenty-first century the Ebonics speak has subsumed the east Baltimore strain of our distinctive Maryland diphthong. Kimmy talks tough and pledges to protect her friends in the traditional language with which the black girls decree. Still, when she’s relaxed and occupied with some sort of task like erasing the board, she sputters off contentedly out of the side of her mouth, turning her head back just enough to throw her speech at us like a well-aimed lugger and I can see her washing ground-floor windows instead, prattling away with neighborly familiarity on a string of anecdotes meant to demonstrate wisdom and experience beyond her age. I can see her with a well-earned face of wrinkles and a Benson & Hedges menthol one-hundred dangling from a dry lip as she does so.
I haven’t once seen her wear her hair down. She keeps it long, connoting some sort of vitality to her ego. It seems to exert all the strength it can muster in its effort to gather up the stray strands of hair and shoot them out of the elastic tie like a geyser. Unruly, stubborn strands fall loose around Kimmy’s ears and down the back of her neck, refusing to be tied back for the sake of appearence or comfort. Occasionally Kimmy reminds us that her personable demeanor is not to be taken for granted. With reasonable regularity comes a day when she declares her meds have been screwed up and refuses to pick her head up off the desk, or she comes to school out of uniform and makes sure we all know it even if she had something to gain by staying quiet. Even if she’s mad she’ll pass by the door a couple of times to make sure I duely refer her to behavior intervention. Other times she forgets herself for a moment and smiles sweetly. A young woman shines past her funny glasses through the acne in such moments, and briefly, we glimpse some future incarnation.

Mexico Untitled #1

At the supply closet door one evening before my first class I noticed a new teacher standing contentedly to the side, waiting his turn. He stood solidly and offered a simple and amicable greeting. I could see he had a few years on me; he seemed unfazed about being in a new place. Ignoring all the reasons one might have to be nervous, he seemed to smile an acknowledgement of the awkward fact that he had appeared unanticipatedly. It was easy to say hello to him.
That same season a bunch of us guys and one lady ended up in new-level training together, which meant a lot of goofing off with the supervisor and making lude jokes in mixed English and Spanish. Once we performed a grammatical analysis of how the word for “asshole” could range in form across the various verb tenses. “Te estabas apendejeando” meant “you were being an asshole.” “Te habías apendejeado.” meant “you had been an asshole.” We all had a good time and around the middle of the summer I had a party. It served the ostensible purpose of celebrating some Cancerian birthdays, but any pretext that resulted in people showing up was adecuate.
Teachers, students and a few old friends from before my professional life showed up in numbers even before dark and patiently set to conjuring up the pachanga. I had not idea they would. They seemed only to settle in with each other and chat pleasantly to whatever music there happened to be; it was the time of evening for music in English, still. José Luis came with Mari, who was a funny girl and had been in one of my first classes. The early evening reached a peak just after sunset when everyone was standing and conversing excitedly; some people were singing. I remember José Luis threw his head back and laughed, returning to clap me on the shoulder and say how glad he was to have come. Later, once the drink was all being procured from a collective pool but before the hootinanny came the rock in Spanish. I’d heard it before. Some of the CD’s were mine but I had not quite caught on yet. A parellel universe of rock n’ roll existed and I had finally, inadvertantly pierced the veil in between. Understanding lyrics in another language sealed me in a surreal experience that seemed to doom my chances of ever having to lead a normal life again. I found my house inhabited by a spirit that was foreign to me, and it was content to be. José Luis said I should get with Sandra, a skinny girl whose braces belied her age. She was a great banda el recodo coach, dancing quebradito with me so that even our legs moved in unison. The party went on until the respectable hour of dawn.
José Luis had so much fun he said we should hang out more and I thought “cool.” After a session of training at the school once he even said we should take LSD some time. I thought “woah, that’s serious,” but realized I’d enjoy what he was suggesting. Running around the quiet cobblestone streets of Coyoacán, former site of Moctezuma’s aviary, seeing the organic nature of concrete and stone revealed. I said “cool, let’s do it.”

“It” ended up being a roadtrip south to San Pedro Tlanisco, which overlooked a valley, to the house of an old man. I remember the Mrs. offering a quiet greeting from the shady end of the room and my gentle reception of such, glad to receive it readily. His daughter prepared lunch and he brought out the morning’s harvest of mushrooms. It was a weekend, when trekkers ventured out from the city to trip. We chose the little jump-up pajaritos and don Nicolás said we’d be back by around four. I remember questioning his assessment.
We started down the hill, making sure to swallow every bit of what we ate, José Luis began to instruct me. It was my first trip with a guide. At the bottom of the valley we trounced through dry silt as the halucinatory effect took hold. I became tired and quietly frustrated so we turned back up the little stream toward a clearing, where José Luis bad me to sit on a rock. He sat on his and we closed our eyes.
I was in a gazebo made of distant sunset colors, perhaps of the same tones seen from behind an eyelid. Women, not of flesh but of soft light fell toward me as if fauning over me, and my fear was discovered and forgiven simultaneously as their hands came only close enough to affect me, but not to touch. Allow us to be women, they said silently, just allow us to be women. And when we opened our eyes I was calm. The sun neared its zenith, obscuring the rising land above and the Eagles’ Peak in white light. We stood in the clearing together but I paced, uncomfortable under direct sunlight and José Luis questioned why. It was a fair question, and it didn’t freak me out that he would ask, still I couldn’t respond. Not with fear but with acute nervous apprehension the present moment seemed to have me by the head. I craned my head against the sun as if it weakened me and stumbled around in the sand, aware of the futility of escape and still confounded at what to do with the present moment. It’s unsettling when one is suddenly abandoned by the comfortable distraction of the never-ending moment-to-come. I ended up on my knees wretching as if I’d eaten bitter cactus, but such was not the case. Yet I did perceive in the sand the arrangement left after the last rain. The grains remained where the water had left them, indeed where they needed to go as the water had been absorbed. It was not unlike a honeycomb, only more arbitrary, even like human development seen from the air. The larger patterns, such as would normally be obscured by atmosphere or cloud cover I saw here in the same, strange style of line-drawing utilized by the Maya and Aztecs. I felt to be in the land where the trip had been born, and had just pierced the veil, in the act of crossing the threshold.
José Luis, who had retired to the shade came back out after I finished wading in the stream and singing to the valley. Some former visitors to our clearing had arranged stones, in arrows and a winking smiley face. “Oh, that’s just like you wacky Maya,” I thought. “You clowns just winking and nudging the denizens of the next galaxy without a care in the world.”
I put my jacket back on and felt like a cartoon swashbuckler when I pulled my shirt cuffs out from under my sleeves and José Luis laughed. That was the second time in my life that putting back on a jacket brought me back to my self. I was well again, and at ease almost the same noonday sun. I welcomed its warmth on my head.
. The eagles cirlcing the valley and the peak named for them were visible now in the yellow light of afternoon, and my brother and I climbed like them, perching on craggy overlooks as we went. José Luis spoke of his wife-to-be and the house he’d build for her. I suspended myself over the path, back to one boulder and boots stretched out to the other, light enough to be carried on the wind.


My suegro was my girlfriend’s father and one of the last things he said to me was that he couldn’t shake my hand, and later he asked my word that I wouldn’t call her or the house again. I’ve always remembered that Casillero del Diablo is a good wine because he approved the selection. Few Mexican people seem to love wine, but Victor was inspired by Spain. His daughter would comment in passing that she’d like to take him there one day and I am only able to picture him being happily lead through the streets by his small, adult daughter in a genuine stupor of joy. He did shake my hand again when we said so long, likely enough because it slipped his mind not to. We’d drink wine around the kitchen-sized table in the living room at their place. There were often friends or relatives around on Saturday evenings and my girl’s mom loved to gamble with poker chips. We ended up reliving those days when we returned to Mexico. One night, after much wine Victor said to me “¿sabes lo que me gusta de ti, Joseph?” and I thought he was going to say I was unafraid to criticize my country. That was the night he had me pick up the guitar, but not to play anything.

My girlfriend’s sister played the piano, for which her father had gladly sacrificed. He played the classical guitar like an over-excited child, tackling the notes quickly enough that memory couldn’t escape. One of the public TV stations would air an opera every Saturday afternoon. I saw The Magic Flute and recognized the melody in “una furtiva lágrima” from a Speilberg film. I must have slipped when I mentioned once that I mused about playing the guitar. Victor’s daughters heard me and, completely ignorant of the delicate reverence I possessed for such a prospect, set to firmly encouraging me into asking him for lessons. I had known many musicians. Only such a delightful obligation would have convinced me.

For the year I was away I had practiced. Victor wasn’t listening for the melody when he put the guitar in my hands, and he was pleased. I didn’t comprehend what he said he liked about me. I remember understanding all the words and being confused out of anticipation of a compliment. I think he said I wasn’t afraid to call something for what it was; such a thing just didn’t seem plausible to me. Maybe what he was trying to say was that he knew I chose to see what was real in the world. For him, it was never in question. Even the day he came to take away his daughter’s possessions was simple. He had no harsh words for me.