Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Black Shoes

Dressed in a navy blue suit, a white shirt and a pale yellow tie, old George looked prim, immaculate. He reminded me of Ed McMahon without hair. I bet a dime that he could see himself if he looked down at his polished black shoes.

At the oak lectern at the end of a long hallway elegantly tiled in muted red, where mirror reflections of iris and carnation and gladiolus leaned out of tall vases in gilded walls, old George stood hunched, bespectacled, reading a reservation book. Five steps below was the dining hall, white with tablecloths, dotted with cherry-blossom pink napkins and bright with summer flowers in crystal urns. Flowers everywhere. Done inspecting each name for the evening reservations, old George folded his reading glasses, tucked them away in the top pocket of his jacket, where the tip of a pastel blue kerchief peeked out.

Around that time I would arrive for my evening shift.

Old George beckoned me with his forefinger to come closer to him. He dropped his gaze at my feet.

“Black shoes,” he said. “Tie and black shoes.”

I wore a tie. To keep my job. “No tie, no job,” he told me on my first day as I reported to work in this New York City restaurant’s cocktail bar. He said nothing then about black shoes.

“Okay, George,” I said.

“Okay, then,” he said.

He grinned. Unhumorous. His gaze trailed my footsteps. I felt it on the back of my neck as I skipped the stair steps three at a time up to the dressing room.

The following evening and the next, I came in when the bar was already packed with a Happy Hour crowd. Facing the opened windows for a rare summer breeze, big Lynn was swaying over the piano. You could hear the sound of the piano from across Third Avenue. Down in the dining hall, alone in a corner and away from the waiters who were folding napkins and cleaning wine glasses, old George was eating before the dining hall opened. He sat, head bent, a pink napkin tucked over his tie. You could see his shiny pate where the last glimmer of sun fell. During the evening, I slunk in and out of the bar to get supplies. I kept myself out of old George’s sight. Sometimes from nowhere the owner would walk into the bar and stand next to me, watching the boisterous crowd, enjoying himself in a piano melody. We talked. The Italian owner was a medical doctor who quit his profession for restaurant business. This upscale restaurant had a sister restaurant several blocks down Third Avenue. That one was painted all yellow like a ripe banana. Young people frequented it. But this restaurant where I worked cost a fortune for a family dinner. Across the hall from the bar and five steps up was a private dinette for special occasions. When you enter it, you’d see your reflection everywhere in wall-length mirrors. I found out that was the owner’s favorite spot where he’d sit in the dim lights observing everyone below, old George included. Then he must have seen and heard old George chastise me on the attire etiquette. But since we met, he’d never bothered with my attire, never glanced down at my brown Hush Puppies. Occasionally he’d entertain his guests in the dinette where voices were mere murmurs and the air smelled of fragrant candles. He must be a part of the Mafia family, I thought. Once in the bar he asked me a question. The music and people’s voices were so loud he leaned his head against mine and spoke into my ear. He smelled like a woman with perfumed earlobes. Usually in the late afternoon he’d come down from his upstairs office and sit in the dinette by himself and, if I came out of the bar suddenly, I could see him avert his gaze in the wall mirror, like a spy who got caught. Sitting up there he was a little God, the wall mirrors his eyes, and I was one of the mortals he kept a watch on. He had soft hands. I felt them on my shoulders many times. Lingering fingers. Reluctantly leaving.

Old George left me alone after those moments. What didn’t leave me was his gaze. Every time I came to work he’d turn from the lectern and eye my feet. He must’ve hated those brown Hush Puppies by his forced grin and a feigned unconcern. But that didn’t last long.

One afternoon, after watching me in the bar for a while, old George came in, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t you have any money to buy yourself a new pair of black shoes?”

His words dripped into my ears soft and loving. Preacher George said, “Dr. Mancini told me you’re saving money to go back to college. So, here.” He took out his wallet, lifted a 20-dollar bill and put it in my jacket’s pocket. Then he patted me on the back. “I want to see you wear black shoes tomorrow.”

I got home late. Tired, I loosened my tie and hung it on the wall. First the tie, now the shoes. “No tie, no job,” old George had said on my first day. “How about bow ties?” I said casually. “Ties,” he said, barely moving his lips, “not bow ties.” I hated wearing ties. Now I had to. But when I was going back to school after the summer, I’d never need a tie again. Why should I bother learning how to make a tie? After I said that to my sister, kindly she made me a tie. Each day after work I simply loosened the tie just enough to work it off my neck and free it from my head. The following day I reversed the procedures before leaving home for work. I didn’t need a new pair of black shoes either—not when I returned to school.

The next morning, with old George’s bribery money, I went out and bought a can of black shoe polish. Back at my sister’s place I cleaned my Hush Puppies and then put on a good coat of polish. Then with a piece of clean cloth, I wiped off any excess of black polish and let the shoes dry.

That afternoon old George saw me coming in and immediately dropped his gaze at my feet. I greeted him as he smiled.

“It wasn’t hard to do what I asked,” he said. “Was it?”

“No,” I said, “not at all.”

A few days later I was caught in a heavy rain on my way to work. I ducked in under a shop’s overhang. The rain didn’t let up. You’re gonna be late. I grabbed a newspaper from a sidewalk trash bin and covered my head and hurried up the street. I got to the restaurant wet from my legs down. I looked down, saw that all the black polish had been washed off my shoes.

Just before I disappeared through the door to the upstairs dressing room, old George called out to me, “Hey, you!”

I stopped, looked back.

From the lectern, he crooked his finger to beckon me to come nearer. Oh, if a crocodile could snap off his finger for that gesture!

“Yeah?” I said, hearing the wet sounds my shoes on the tiled floor.

“Are you going to change into black shoes when you come down?”

“Ah . . . I didn’t come from my place to work . . . And I was late. So I just came directly here.”

Old George nodded. And nodded. Like he finally understood my deep statement. Then he pushed his glasses back on his nose bridge, turned to his alter ego, the lectern, bent, and read the names in the reservation book like nothing had happened.

That night, after work, I stayed up, cleaned my shoes and then put on a thick coat of black polish. In the morning I applied a second coat and then waxed my shoes. The shoe polish hung in the air, in my nostrils. I scrubbed my stained fingers at the sink. The smell clung to my skin. Damn you, George.

But the shoe polish stayed on afterward, rain or shine. Old George still looked down at my feet occasionally. Was that the man’s habit or his eternal mistrust in human beings? Perhaps I was some kind of enigma that caused disturbances to his orderly world.

After that summer I returned to school. The following summer before going back to New York City I bought a pair of Oxford shoes in shiny black. I also bought two ties. The first day I came to work the owner greeted me with a big hug in the sunny hall. He smelled like lily of the valley. From the bar big Lynn was playing the piano and the same old lady cashier blew me a kiss.

“You look good,” the owner said. “Real good.”

“You too, Dr. Mancini,” I said.

“I’m glad you’re back. We’ve been so busy.”

“I’m glad being back. Looks like no one has ever left.”

“None. Especially if it’s a good place.”

“Let me go upstairs and say hi to the boys.”

“I want you to join my family for dinner tonight. Take a break around then.”

“My honor. Thank you, Dr. Mancini.”

I turned to the door that led to the stairs. Then I stopped and looked back at the owner.

“Where’s George?”

Dr. Mancini removed his glasses and nibbled its temple. “George isn’t here anymore.”


“He killed himself.”

“Killed . . . why?”

“I wish I knew.”

“How did he . . . well . . . oh well.”

I went up the stairs. An odor of sweat hung in the air like ammonia. Old George. Killed himself. That didn’t make any sense. Didn’t seem right. No, that did not seem right. I kept climbing up the stairs, the heels of my shoes clacking on the wooden steps. The black leather of my shoes shone under the ceiling lights.

Good old George. Oh good old George. How could that ever happen to him?

[What brought back memory for the writing of this post was a post I read in Kim Ayres’s blog. His post was more than about making a tie, something emotionally deeper.]

[Image from]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Retinue of Demons

The pots of stew simmered
during hundreds of thousands of years,
Have brewed oceans of deep resentment
into hatred that’s hard to contain.
If you want to know the reason
for the disaster of weapons and troops,
Try listening at the door of a slaughterhouse
to the haunting midnight cries. [Shurangama Sutra, notation by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, p. 690]

As Venerable Master Hsuan Hua said, “Nowadays, slaughterhouses are usually located far away from populated areas, and so the sounds are not easy to hear.”

But besides killing living creatures, we human beings kill one another and the killing has reached the point where the killer won’t have to die to be killed in his next reincarnation, but someone alive will kill him in his present lifetime. The resentment deepens. Weapons and troops exist as the heralds of death. “If ten people do not kill,” Venerable Master Hsuan Hua said, “then there are ten spots of auspicious energy in the world. Those spots are devoid of negative influences and contain only positive ones.”

It started with a post in Kanani’s blog, a well-loved and much respected blogger among us. It’s about a young American soldier, 22, died recently in an ambush in Ganjgal, Afghanistan. She asked me if that post disturbed me with a bad memory, and I said yes. A bad memory from the Vietnam War. It’s reprinted here from my comment on her post.

The only haunting memory I have is about this woman who lived with our family since she was a child. We considered her a member of our family.

Her brother was a paratrooper of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), i.e., First Republic of South VN. One morning someone rang the doorbell. She answered the door in her usual merry manner. At the door was a soldier who wore a red beret and the familiar airborne unit's fatigues. I bet for a moment she thought it was her brother returning home on leave from the front.

The man was a friend of her just deceased brother. Killed in action. Body mangled by a mortar shell.

To date, I sometimes wonder why the government didn't send a telegram. Maybe they didn't know whom to contact, didn't know her whereabouts, though she was the dead man’s only blood relative.

But I remember the look on her face when she heard the news. Worse than reading a telegram.

[Image from]

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Light of The World

He went upstairs to Françoise’s old room. He turned on the desk lamp and sat down in the chair. On the wall above the desk was a Christmas card she drew. Yellowed along the edges, the card showed two snow figures wearing black top hats and holding hands at the foot of a hill, one taller than the other. Green pines dotted with white flakes covered the hillside. Children in bright colored scarves and mittens sledded down the hill. She colored the background pale blue, and the scene framed the greeting.

Très cher Parrain et Marraine
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

Other than the card, the walls were bare. The desk too was bare, except for a rectangular tin box on one corner. It could have been a box of chocolates stripped of its wrapping. He opened it. Inside were stamps of different shapes and sizes arranged neatly in layers. The stamps had come a long way and were all there, collected, safe—but she was not. He looked for one from Vietnam but found none. Then he looked up at the Christmas card, at her handwriting, neat and beautiful, just like her handwriting on the classroom blackboard. Such beautiful handwriting from a young person was surprising. Her writing hadn’t changed much since she wrote the card. What would it have looked like as she aged, as her hands grew tired and old?

The bed was cold when he slipped between the sheets. The pillowcase was cold, too, and smelled fresh. He thought of her lying alone in the coffin, scented with roses. Her brown hair was combed neatly, the part sharp. Her lips rouged, her cheeks lightly blushed. He had gazed as if from behind a one-way mirror into her absolute privacy that had no doors, no barriers, no self-consciousness. From here, no more turmoil. Only peace and eternity. He bent and kissed her forehead and found himself so shaken he had to leave the room and go outside. Perhaps they should have closed the coffin. Yet her serene expression followed him to the graveyard and now into her bed.

Dear God, chase these images away, he pled, and so he turned his mind to what was waiting for him when he returned. Her replacement for the class was a Vietnamese man in his late forties. On the day Jonathan went to give notice of his absence to attend her funeral, he saw that Françoise’s handwriting on the board had not been erased. Tôi mong gặp lại anh. I hope to see you again.

At the corner where he parked his car that day, the Chinese Tarot woman was at her usual spot and smiled at him.

“Where is your friend today?”

Jonathan hesitated. “She’s somewhere else.”

“Can I read for you today?”

Jonathan smiled, shook his head and walked to the car. He did not want to hear any more about visions. Still he felt sorry for the poor woman sitting on the windswept corner. Once, when Françoise had her fortune read on a windy afternoon, they stood between the wind and the cards so the cards wouldn’t blow away.

Now the bed was warm. The steam radiator clanged in the stillness. Rain tapped the window. Rain on the red earth in the cemetery. Would the wind blow away the flowers at the grave? He heard the wind and closed his eyes, tried not to think. She slept in this bed. Dearest Françoise. He turned on his side and pressed his cheek against the pillow. The fresh scent of linen lingered. What did you dream in this bed?

A while later the rain stopped. He got up, went to the window and sat looking out between the parted curtains. Raindrops veined the glass, clinging with a tenacious viscosity that defied wind. The street was dark. A single streetlamp cast a shining white glow in the night. As he looked at the solitary light he thought of a children’s story about the boy who lived in a house on a hilltop. One snowy night his mother became very sick, so his father had to go to town to fetch a doctor. Outside snow fell so thick it looked like white rain. The boy lit a lamp and left it at the window where he knelt and prayed. Have faith in angels and they will come to your aid. That was what the storybook said to do when a child needed help. His father returned through the storm, bringing with him the town doctor. The doctor gave the mother injections and said she was out of danger. Then he came to the boy and patted his head and thanked him. He said the road was impassable. They had to leave the car and walk. The blinding snow caused them to drift in the dark until they saw the light on the hill. Without the light, they wouldn’t have come in time to save his mother.

In the blue light of darkness, Jonathan made out the picket fence and inside the fence a white rose poised on its tall curving stem like a sleeping crane. He thought of angels and faith, and though he hadn’t said a prayer at her grave, he believed in the faith she spoke of. He thought about the angelic being who came to comfort her in unbearable moments. He looked at the white street light—a warm, bright light, steady and reassuring—until his eyes tired. He called to her in his heart and closed his eyes, holding that light in them.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Old Me

[Excerpt from FLESH, forthcoming novel, 2011, Black Heron Press]

In my twilight years, my possessions are sparse.
Among a few things I keep, there are two items that have been with me for who knows how long. You see, like most Annamese I don’t keep track of my age. In fact, a French priest I knew once remarked to me that most members of my race did not even know their own birthdays. Like being born into this world was enough a burden, he said. But they are old, these articles, at least sixty years or so since I had them at sixteen.
One of them is a pocket watch. You open its cover and on the inside there’s a woman’s black-and-white picture. She has been dead for many years now, but it still stirs me to gaze at her. She looks fifteen or sixteen—I’m not good at guessing a person’s age—and her black hair, parted sharply in the middle, coils in a long braid over her shoulder. I say my father was a lucky man, and I’m his fortunate son who has survived everyone in the family, including my angelic little brother. This watch belonged to a man who betrayed my father so he could step into the woman’s life—my mother. They were part of a gang of outlaws led by my father. All of them were beheaded except the traitor, who was rewarded handsomely and disappeared thereafter.

The other article is a human skull. It sits on my window ledge looking out from its empty eye sockets at birds, trees. Sometimes moths get into the eye cavities and flutter around until they give out and die. But there it sits on my window ledge, aged in ivory yellow—the traitor’s skull—and I bear him no more hatred. I polish him now and then, for I know his occult neatness. He used to arrange his slippers outside his sleeping chamber, so precisely even you could draw two parallel lines on either side of them. Only then could he sleep. His loveless, enigmatic life happened to cross mine. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elephant Girl

A half-Japanese woman returns to Tokyo after a twenty-year absence to face ghosts from her past, and meets odd characters who end up changing her life.

[My friend and novelist Aki Gibbons has a hidden treasure in this novel. She captivated me with the first 35 pages of her novel's first draft two months ago while it was a work in progress. Now she's taking her finished manuscript to Tokyo to baptize it. Like Hemingway said, sometimes in another place, another country you write better about a place you know very well of.]

[Image from]

Monday, September 21, 2009


How deep is your passion for writing?

How strong?

“. . . when I’m not writing I’m prone to developing certain nervous tics, and hypochondria,” William Styron said of his therapeutic writing. But, to him, writing itself as an act isn’t fun. Asked if he enjoyed writing, he said, “I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.”

Certainly, to each his own. Is the process of writing pleasurable? Ernest Hemingway said, “Very.” And is writing a pleasure or hell to Gabriel García Márquez? To that, the Columbian novelist said writing was a jubilant act when he was young, writing almost irresponsibly, knocking off 10 pages a day for a novel. Then when he became older writing was painful, simply because his sense of responsibility increased. “Now,” he said, “I'm lucky if I write a good paragraph in a whole day.” William Faulkner said the same thing. “At first, no, I enjoyed it,” he said of the pleasure the act of writing brings. “Now I hate to sit down to write. I dislike it so much that I don’t even write letters.”

However, your passion for writing, especially during your creative period, goes through ebb and flow. Each time you sit down (or stand up like Hemingway) to write, you must fight all sorts of demons that try to lure you away from your writing. They come out during your solitary moments and break your concentration with temptations. You find yourself daydream, and hours pass before you suddenly wake up to a still empty sheet of paper. Here’s the demon that keeps Styron distracted:

“I spend about five hours at it, of which very little is spent actually writing. I try to get a feeling of what’s going on in the story before I put it down on paper, but actually most of this breaking-in period is one long, fantastic daydream, in which I think about anything but the work at hand.”

Demons of booze and cigarettes, of late night drinking bouts and bad hangovers the morning after.

But good writers guard themselves against such temptations. It’s called discipline—the guardian angel of writing passion. Without it, the passion atrophies. Though known as a heavy drinker, Hemingway was always sober at work. There was a three-story tower at a corner of his house and in the top tower was a writing room where he worked. Unless when the passion of writing urged him to climb the long stairs to that room, he preferred to write in his bedroom. Someone once asked if it was true that he wrote each morning with a pitcher of martinis by his side. “Jesus Christ!” Hemingway said. “Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked?”

To write you must keep yourself focused. You might turn your room into a smoke cave like Gabriel García Márquez, smoking 40 cigarettes a day while writing One Hundred Years of Solitude, eventually a literary classic. Those cigarettes kept him focused, didn’t they? To keep the demons away, what did Hemingway do? Sharpening 20 pencils to keep his mind focused? “I don’t think,” he said, “I ever owned twenty pencils at one time. Wearing down seven number-two pencils is a good day’s work.” Well, perhaps he did sharpen seven of them.

So you have a passion for writing. It is a volcano waiting to erupt. But when it emits only gases, you’re stuck. “It's the most distressing thing I know next to claustrophobia,” Márquez said. What’s the hardest part in writing then? Putting down words on a blank sheet of paper. Then he found help by heeding Hemingway’s advice on when to break off work, “The best way is to always stop when you are going good. If you do that you’ll never be stuck.”

Some were born with an innate knowledge of themselves being a writer. When asked “Can you recall an exact moment when you decided to become a writer?” Hemingway said, “No, I always wanted to be a writer.” Yet Márquez wasn’t so sure of himself when he was young. Then one day he read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis’s opening sentence, “As Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” He said to himself, “Holy shit! This isn’t right! . . . Nobody had told me this could be done! . . . Because it really can be done!     . . . So then I can! . . . Holy shit! . . . That’s how my grandmother told stories . . . The wildest things, in the most natural way.” What happened in the next 15 years was a concept of magical realism brewing in him until his passion for writing ripened. But it was through the serendipity of Kafka that Márquez discovered himself as a writer.

But to remain a writer, you must have persistence, discipline—both to keep alive in you the passion for writing.

*          *

The reason why I wrote this post was because of this unbelievable feeling I had after reading a recent story in The Washington Post. This featured story is about Danny Smith, the special teams coach for the Washington Redskins. It’s about Smith’s passion for football. As a writer, I thought if I could have an ounce of his passion, I’d never ride into the sunset.

As a sidebar, here’s the moment when Smith, then young and passionate, was applying for a job as an assistant defensive coach at his alma mater, Central Catholic High in Pittsburg.

Rich Erdelyi, the longtime offensive coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University, was the Central Catholic head coach at the time and invited Smith to his home one night to interview. Erdelyi asked Smith what he knew about a Cover 3 defense, and an excited Smith popped up and began rearranging the living-room furniture to illustrate football strategy.

“I told him, ‘Coach, it’s like this right here, that’s a wideout here, we’re gonna line up seven yards off, one yard out, this kind of stance, shuffle this way,’” Smith said. “I was moving all kinds of stuff around the house and I just kept going and going and going.”

At around midnight, as Smith briefly paused to catch his breath, Erdelyi jumped in. “He told me, ‘Look, I got school tomorrow. If I give you the job, will you get the hell out of my house?’” said Smith. “I said to him, ‘Coach, I’m only here to get the job. Tell me I got it and I’m out the door.’” [Source: The Washington Post, September 7, 2009, Redskins’ Smith Has Made Himself Heard]

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What If?

What if the Obama healthcare reform is enacted? The doctors ponder.  The  hard-pressed families wonder. The unemployed folks brood over.
Since December 2007 when recession was declared, more than 15 million people have lost their jobs. Many since then have changed careers, many taken huge pay cuts out of necessity. Many live in fear because they can no longer afford the costs of healthcare for their families.
Jobless, hopeless.
Men who used to be breadwinners have lost  three out of every four jobs cut anywhere. Women have become breadwinners while men are unemployed.
Now when you apply for a job, you face tremendous odds. Only few openings and a horde of applicants many of whom are more qualified than you. You used to make $100K a year. Now you make $50K and feel thankful for having a job just to make ends meet and, most important, restore your self-esteem.
If you don’t have a job, you’re joining 17 million people who are either unemployed like you, or have no healthcare coverage through their jobs, or are early retirees.
So everyone asks “What if?” What if the proposed reform becomes a done deal?
The reform will reportedly provide subsidy for those who cannot afford hospitalization; however, they still must buy insurance coverage. For those who buy their own insurance, in spite of the promised subsidy that will have them pay a premium of no higher than 9 percent of their income, they still must pay co-payments, deductibles. Swell. What about those who have had a history of preexisting medical conditions? These people face higher premiums and full deductibles.  Insurers sometimes reject them. Can the reform protect them? Can the government restrain the insurers from jacking up prices? If not, many of us better hope that we would live till 65 and embrace Medicare. Or work till we drop dead.
Well, doctors don’t like the proposed healthcare reform partly because they will be banned from owning stock in healthcare companies. Also, the reform will aim to stop the doctors’ overtreatment of patients, which accounts for 20 to 30 cents of every healthcare dollar.

Yet, despite several provisions deemed good in the proposed healthcare reform, many of us keep asking ‘What if?’ What if any of the following provisions become true (source:
  • A government committee will decide what treatments and benefits you get (and, unlike an insurer, there will be no appeals process).
  • The “Health Choices Commissioner” will decide health benefits for you. You will have no choice.
  • All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free healthcare services.
  • The federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer.
  • Taxpayers will subsidize all union retiree and community organizer health plans (example: SEIU, UAW and ACORN).
  • No company can sue the government for price-fixing. No “judicial review” is permitted against the government monopoly. Put simply, private insurers will be crushed.
  • The American Medical Association sold doctors out: the government will set wages.
Another ‘What if’:  Will the reform support the thrifty walk-in medical clinics? These are run by CVS, Wal-Mart, usually within a 10-minute drive from where you live. You don’t need appointments; you can walk in on weekends or evenings, and waiting time is short. You pay 30 to 40 percent lower in fees than at the doctors’ offices and 80 percent lower than at the emergency departments. So if the reform is to deliver improving value in healthcare, will these walk-in clinics fit the bill?
When is the healthcare reform to be voted on? In about a month.
Surely it will be the most ambitious healthcare reform in this century, if passed. Yet who has a handle on it? Not the doctors. Not us, the American citizens. Only the lobbyists, the special interest groups. Is it a disquieting fact to know that the most recent Gallup Poll showed that more, many more Americans still trust their doctors more than they trust the politicians?
All summer long, constituents have screamed and shouted at their congressmen, “Do you know why we aren’t  on board?”  Why? Because this impending reform will tamper with the holiest thing of our lives: our personal health. When it boils down to this, do you trust your politicians?
So, if we the Americans are kept in the dark in this healthcare reform crusade, we will keep asking ‘What if?’

Monday, September 14, 2009

Death Scenes

It happens. Somebody dies. Death can occur in the middle or the end of a novel. Someone’s death could spin the story around. It could be the protagonist’s death.

When death comes in the ending, devastation strikes the reader. Each writer writes his death scene with trepidation. How much should he write it without overwriting it?

Before FLESH (Black Heron Press, 2011), I wrote a novel whose ending witnesses the death of the main character. He is shot and dies in his lover’s arms.

He fell. The lights glared beyond. He got up, fell, and got up again. He saw lights wildly searching the darkness and heard voices descending on him.

She cradled him, weeping. He woke as if to a whitewashed memory and in that moment he knew all that he had lived through. He saw her eyes and her face as if he had never left her, as if nothing had happened or changed, like the smell of the earth.

“Jonathan! Speak to me, Jonathan!”

She turned him on his side so her warmth would keep him awake.

“Hold on, Jonathan. Just hold on.”

Red hot pain dimpled his back, so hot his breath seemed to flame. He felt her hands touching his back and saw they were red when she covered her mouth.

“Wrap him. Stop the bleeding,” someone said, hovering over him.

A monk. He knew the face, but the name didn’t come. Hands touching him. His body no longer seemed to belong to him. He felt an energy shrouding him and a deafening commotion without sound. He saw a young girl who smiled as she walked hand in hand with him through a valley yellow and red with autumn. He saw cranes sleeping in the lagoon at low tide, and among their mirrored white bodies he saw himself cloaked in white.

She pressed her cheek against his. “Jonathan.”

He closed his eyes; the scent of the earth came to him. He saw her eyes very close to his, then his head fell against her chest. The dimple of pain went away. [THE FLAME TREE]

Some death scenes are so memorable they never leave your memory as long as you read books. The first that comes to mind happens in the ending of A Farewell to Arms by Earnest Hemingway. Here is the scene that captures the moment after the death of the protagonist’s lover in a hospital. The doctor then offers to take him back to his hotel.

“Good night,” he said. “I cannot take you to your hotel?”

“No, thank you.”

“It was the only thing to do,” he said. “The operation proved—"

“I do not want to talk about it,” I said.

“I would like to take you to your hotel.”

“No, thank you.”

He went down the hall. I went to the door of the room.

“You can’t come in now,” one of the nurses said.

“Yes, I can,” I said.

“You can’t come in yet.”

“You get out,” I said. “The other one too.”

But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

To date, I have always thought that the best—very best —prose ever written in the English language is found in the opening and the ending of A Farewell to Arms. And if you are keen enough as a reader, you will notice its influence on Cormac McCarthy’s prose especially in his award-winning novel All The Pretty Horses.
That brings us to Cormac McCarthy whose hero in All The Pretty Horses meets his death in Cities of The Plain, last book of the trilogy. In this scene, John Grady Cole lies dying from a knife wound and his friend, Billy Parker, goes out to get Cole a glass of water. When he comes back, death has taken his friend away.

When he got to the packingcrate the candle was still burning and he took the glasses both in one hand and pushed back the sacking and crouched on his knees.

Here you go, bud, he said.

But he had already seen. He set the waterglasses slowly down. Bud, he said, Bud?

The boy lay with his face turned away from the light. His eyes were open. Billy called to him. As if he could not have gone far. Bud, he said, Bud? Aw goddamn. Bud?

Aint that pitiful, he said. Aint that the most goddamn pitiful thing? Aint it? Oh God. Bud. Oh goddamn.

When he had him gathered in his arms he rose and turned. Goddamn whores, he said. He was crying and his tears ran down his angry face and he called out to the broken day against them all and he called out to God to see what was before his eyes. Look at this, he called. Do you see? Do you see?

In his short story The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, William Saroyan portraits a young writer who dies from starvation. Through the protagonist’s eyes, the reader sees death.

Then swiftly, neatly, with the grace of the young man on the trapeze, he was gone from his body. For an eternal moment he was all things at once: the bird, the fish, the rodent, the reptile, and man. An ocean of print undulated endlessly and darkly before him. The city burned. The herded crowd rioted. The earth circled away, and knowing that he did so, he turned his lost face to the empty sky and became dreamless, unalive, perfect.

Death claims author Ian Frazier’s young brother in his non-fiction book Family. In his well concealed emotion, Frazier detaches himself from the scene as his beloved brother breathes his last breath.

We stood around the bed and told him we loved him, in raised voices, as if through the windows of a departing car. His breathing became so shallow that his chest barely moved; then it didn’t move at all; then all that was left was a muscle reflex moving in his yellowed neck; then that faded, too. The nurse came over and removed the oxygen mask and turned off the flow of oxygen from a switch on the wall. Darkness filled his open mouth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


At 11 he had a shotgun arm.
He threw the football hard and long. My hands hurt at times when I caught it.
I was so busy most of the times he’d play by himself in our backyard until his cleats started tearing up the sods. He’d throw the ball and then run under its short flight to catch it. When he wanted to throw deep, he threw into the apple trees, the myrtle trees. He’d throw the ball across our yard so it landed nose down on the little hill that rose up on a deep incline. The impacts of the ball left many holes in the grass.
Four months after he turned 11, I enrolled him in one of the many youth football organizations in our Washington metropolitan areas. The Silver Spring Saints. The day we came in to get his uniform and equipment, he said to me, “Guess how old are the Saints, Dad?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Fifty-six years old.”
We arrived early. He wanted to. So he could pick a jersey that bore the number 12. Tom Brady’s number. The QB of the New England Patriots. His idol.
The equipment man said to him, “You want twelve?” and sorted through a pile of burgundy jerseys and then handed him one. His face beamed.
They weighed him and put him in the Pony 85lb team.
“You know what?” I said to him. “You may not play quarterback at all. So . . .”
He said nothing. Moments later as we were leaving he said, “I know.”
He’d practice three evenings after school, then play on Saturday. August heat and mosquitoes and flies. At eight, the two-hour practice ended. The sun was still bright and he’d stay back to throw the football with his friends. A wide receiver, a tight end. I wanted him to leave, go home, eat dinner, wash up and do his homework. But watching his teammates running routes, the spiraled ball arching in its flight that found the receiver on the spot, I decided to let him stay on.
The season began a week before the Labor Day. The coaches had him play corner, safety and backup quarterback. He was smaller than most of his teammates; yet he was agile in drills. Still his size put him at a disadvantage against bigger players. Twice I saw him tackle a running back and his head jerked and he was left clinging on to the kid’s shirttail.
His team opened the season with a win on the road. In one series he was sent in to relieve the QB, because every kid must play on both sides of the ball and they tired out quickly. Into September, losses mounted. Tough opponents exposed his team’s weaknesses. Teams ran sweeps late in the game and often scored touchdowns, when his entire defense was leg tired. Teams with big running backs punished them at the goal line. His team’s QB was rushed, sacked each time he stepped back to pass. His running back often got stuffed.
Late one afternoon after a game, I was walking across the field to meet him when the tight end’s father saw me and said, “They should’ve put your son in. He got a bazooka arm.”
“You think so?” I said. “Peter wasn’t that bad. His line couldn’t protect him.”
Peter, the QB, had played the previous season. I stood in the middle of a dirt trail when he was coming up. The air was thick with smoked meat and I could hear yells from the bleachers. His face was red and sweaty. His burgundy jersey was yellowed with dirt and clods, his hair matted on his brow, and his mouthpiece dangling on his helmet’s facemask.
“Drink this,” I said, handing him my iced tea bottle.
He shook his head, kept walking toward the parking lot.
“Not a bad game,” I said.
“Pete sucked.”
“You think you could do better?”
“He always looked for one receiver. Like he already made up his mind before the snap.”
“He wasn’t dumb.” I shook my head. “If you have no time, you’d better get that ball out quickly.”
“He sucked.”
“No. You want your teammates to badmouth you every time you make a QB mistake?”
“I know I’m better than him.”
“Be a team guy.”
“It’s true, Dad.”
“Because you haven’t been in the spotlight yet. Trust me.”
As his team was losing more than winning, I got used to seeing him standing on the sideline among the reserves, shirttail out, helmet in hand, mouthpiece hooked to facemask. A few times I thought he was on the field but then as I looked again toward the sideline, I saw number 12 on the back of his jersey.
I never questioned the coaches’ decisions. Those men volunteered their time, asked for nothing in return, and coached and mentored the youngsters the best they knew how. After a losing game, we walked out to the parking lot and I said to him, “Your friends looked dead tired when they scored that last touchdown on you.”
“Pete said he couldn’t move his legs.”
The kid played QB for several series and when his offense failed to gain a first down he didn’t leave the field but join the defense. He was knocked back to the ground at the goal line, and I was twenty feet behind the end zone watching the humiliation.
“It’d help,” I said, “if your coaches rotated players. Get fresh legs in. Put in the reserves, get them involved. That’s how you learn and gain experience.”
“My coaches are the worst.”
I let him stew. I decided not to side with the coaches and darken his mood even more.

His team finished its season with a 4-5 record and missed the playoff. Winter came and he’d be out in our backyard on cold days in his hooded sweatshirt and his old football that was nicked in several places where white linings showed. He’d throw, kick. He’d go through imaginary snaps, scramble and throw on the run. Perhaps he learned that from his last seasonO line could be leaky. Spring came, then summer. Sometimes I’d go out playing catch with him. Running routes as a receiver. Snapping the ball on different counts. We played until his face dripped sweat, flushed with excitement. Then I got busy and busier with my novel and couldn’t play with him anymore. He’d play with Li, my neighbor, who was a soccer coach. One morning I was reseeding the bald spots left bare by his cleats when he came out of the house and asked me if I could play.
“You’re killing the grass,” I said. “Go play on the street.”
He looked down at my work, turned and mumbled to himself, “I wish I were Mr. Li’s son.”
I paused from what I was doing. I looked at the ground. Then I watched him play by himself on the cul-de-sac. The black-topped road wasn’t made for playing football. I put away the bags of grass seeds and topsoil. Moments later he was back in our yard and we played catch.
The new season arrived. He joined his old friends and new players in the Midget 95lb team. He and two of his old friendsa tight end and a running backwanted to play QB. They all could throw. After two practices, the coaches made him third-string QB.
During the first scrimmage against another crosstown team, he played in one series on defense as an outside linebacker. In that series the other team ran a sweep left away from him and scored a touchdown. The coaches shuffled players in and out and he remained on the sideline. Most reserves sat on one knee, helmet by their side; he stood, shirttail out, left hand in glove. I could tell it was him, for I couldn’t see the number 12 on his back from where I stood. For the first time, I felt his dark mood.
After the next evening practice, he told me on our way home that he might get cut.
“What?” I said.
“We have too many players. So they’ll cut six of us.”
“Cut? You mean you can’t play anymore?”
“I can play. But with a B team. With those kids who have no experience.”
“We’ll see. When, then?”
“Next practice.”

The following night I waited outside the school where they practiced. It was over and parents and kids milled around in the parking lot. In the glares of headlights I saw him walking toward me. He was looking at the ground as he walked. His face was drenched with sweat, strands of his long black hair hung across his brow. The car door was opened for him. I started the engine.
“I got cut,” he said as he climbed in.
“You mean they moved you to the B team.”
“Any of your friends got cut?”
“Just one. He quit.”
“He said he didn’t want to play for the losers.”
I pursed my lips. Drove in silence. The road through the wooded area was dark save the bright headlights of our lone car. He was a small shape slumping in the backseat.
“You still want to play?” I said, looking straight ahead.
“Good. Look at it as a blessing in disguise.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“Listen.” I glanced quickly at him in the rearview mirror. “Do you want to stand around as a reserve with your old team, or get to play every snap with your new team?”
“I want to play. But I want to be with my friends.”
“Well, you’d better change your thinking quick, ’cause it’s not gonna happen for you.”
He said nothing, then took a draw from his Powerade bottle. “My old coaches told the new coaches to make me the main QB of their new team.”
“Because you’re probably the only player with experience.”
“Just three of us. We played for the Pony last year.”
I chuckled. “This isn’t right. You have the first game of the season in a week. And they started putting this team together just now?”
“We had our first practice together today.”
“Is that so? Then you’d better get to know each other quick. Who backs you up at QB?”
“No one. And our center, he’s a small kid. I don’t know how he can block. The coaches call him Donut.”
I grinned. “Donut?”
“His name is Donnie. Kinda chubby. But he’s too small for a center.”
“You’re in it together. Win or lose. Hear?”
He said nothing. He wouldn’t talk back when he knew I was right.
The first game of the season was an away game. We drove 45 miles to an evening game, the last game of the day at 8 PM. When we got there an hour before game time, the coaches said the game would be delayed until 8:30. There were two games still going and the lights came on for the night games. Coaches yelled at the kids when they were romping in the staging area.
“Don’t run yourself out of gas. We have a game to play.”
Soon they walked single file into a practice field for the pre-game talk. The sky darkened. Droplets of rain wet my face. I went back to our car, opened my laptop and soon forgot time. Lightning came with occasional flashes. From the football field the screams and yells stopped. Then someone knocked on my car window. He was looking in. He didn’t wear his helmet.
“Why’re you here?” I opened the car door.
“Game cancelled. Lightning, Dad.”
It had been a long day for all the kids. First their game was rescheduled from 1:30 PM to 8 PM, then delayed to 8:30 PM, and then cancelled.
“Does that mean you’ll have a make-up game tomorrow?” I said as we drove out of the park.
“No. Coaches said nothing about it.”
Sunday was reserved for make-up games. That usually meant they would have it in the middle of the week to avoid back-to-back game came Saturday.
On Tuesday practice the team was told to play the make-up game on Wednesday. An evening game. Forty-five miles away back to the same park. Then return to their practice schedule on Thursday and Friday, and then play the next game on Saturday.
I was upset. I said to him, “You’ll need lots of rest this week. Or you won’t have legs on Saturday.”
On Wednesday he did his homework during our ride to the park. Then when I asked him a question, he didn’t answer. I glanced at the rearview mirror and saw him fast asleep. Dusk fell just before the game started. I saw him practice the snap exchange with his center. He fumbled the snap. Then the coach sent the team in. I ate a bar of chocolate to calm my stomach.

From the fence where I stood with other parents, I could hear him bark out the signals. He barked and changed the cadence of his voice. The defense jumped offside.Twice he ran with the ball on designed run plays for the QB. Twice he rolled out and threw on the run and completed both passes. They scored two touchdowns but couldn’t convert the extra points. Both times his offense was stalled. In this youth league, most teams opted not to kick the extra point. Injuries did happen during the extra point kick. At the goal line when his coaches called for a run play to convert an extra point, he barely got the snap just as a linebacker charged through and knocked him sprawled on his back. I stared across the field as he slowly got up and walked gingerly toward the sideline. They won the make-up game, 12-0.
On the way home, he said, “The Terps are just average and we could barely beat them.”
“You did OK. You guys played hard. And that’s good to see.”
“Dad, they had only 14 kids. We have 22.”
So they ran out of gas. We got home late. While he ate a quick dinner I washed his briefs so he could have them back for the next day’s practice. He was sound asleep when I came in his room to kiss him goodnight.
After the Friday evening practice and during our ride home he said, “We had so many false starts today, Dad.”
“That’s the coaches’ job. Correct the mistakes on the spot.”
“They did. We kept doing it.”
“You play Maplewood on Saturday and you’d better play a mistake-free game. They’re very disciplined.”
“They’re our archrivals. We could never beat them.”
“Any team can be beat. OK? Play with discipline and let it be.”

It was sunny that Saturday. The dusty field in Maplewood Park was bright at high noon. As his team marched onto the sideline, the Pony team of the Silver Spring Saints was trotting off the football field. They hooted and hollered. They just beat the Maplewood team 7-6.
Maplewood Midget team was to receive the kickoff. The coaches had him play special teams, and I watched him position himself on the left side of the ball. Maplewood kickoff returner fielded the ball and streaked down the right side untouched. The first touchdown came within 20 seconds into the game. From the sideline you could hear his coaches yell at the two players who sleepwalked in their assignments.
He moved his offense slowly. They only passed twice. He rolled out on both plays to avoid the rushes. Short completions. He drew the defense offside once; in return his O line false started several times and killed the drives. Third quarter saw Maplewood leading 21-0. Then his team woke up. The running back scooted out of the backfield on a toss and left the defense in the dirt. But on the extra point, he got stuffed near the goal line.
Maplewood came right back with a pass, caught a corner busy looking at the QB instead of the receiver. The easy touchdown got coaches fuming. With three minutes left, he and his offense were 30 yards from Maplewood’s end zone. Maplewood was all geared up to blitz. He could barely get the snap and got blasted. He fell facedown. Get up, I screamed in my head. He sat up on one knee. His coach yelled, “Zee, get back in! Huddle up!” He pushed himself up, his burgundy jersey, his black pants yellowed with dirt. He gingerly walked like he didn’t know where to go. “Zee, move!” His coach frantically slashed his arm in the air. They lined up. His running back fumbled, the ball squirted loose, everyone pounded on it and his tight end scooped it up and ran in for a touchdown. They regrouped quickly for the extra point. From the opposite end zone I could barely hear him call the signals. Then he took the snap, stepped back and ran through the O line into the end zone.
They lost, 13-27.

I waited at the entrance of the park while his team huddled up in a corner of the field for the prep talk. The team’s Moms gave them refreshments and chips. He looked filthy, like he’d just wallowed in mud. I took his helmet and carried it to the car. I noticed his limp.
“You hurt?” I said, glancing down at him.
“Here.” He touched his crotch.
“I saw that you took a good lick.”
“I hate this stupid protecting cup.”
“What’d you mean? It’s there for a reason. That’s why the league makes you wear it this year.”
“I couldn’t move around. It hurt whenever I did that.”
“Better than getting a knee in there and likely you’d get hurt even worse.”
I opened the car door. He stood there, looking up at me. “I might get all this dirt on the backseat, Dad.”
“Get in!”
I drove out of the park. I didn’t hear him crunching on his chips. He usually ate the snack right away.
“Eat something,” I said, glancing up at the rearview mirror.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Then drink. Drink much as you can. Don’t let yourself dehydrated.”
As I waited at a red light I looked at him in the rearview mirror. He sat, chin tucked in his chest.
“You sleeping?” I said.
As I pulled away through the intersection, he said, “Something wrong with my testicles.”
“Your what?”
“My testicles.”
“What’s wrong?”
“They hurt.”
“Must be from the protecting cup. You got a bruise. Bumps and bruises.”
“They hurt, Dad.”
“I’ll look at itwhen we get home.”
A silence. I drove without any thought. Then I heard him.
“I might quit football.”
I squinted at the sun glare. “If you can’t put up with little pains, don’t play football. But you don’t quit on anything you started. You just don’t.”
He said nothing as I drove on. When the road was quieter with no traffic I looked at the rearview mirror. His head was falling to the side and he was asleep. Sweaty, dirty. I held in my gaze his angelic face, like he were still a baby a good many years before.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Best Parody

The following opening sentence won the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in the detective fiction category. It is parody in the vein of "It was a dark and stormy night" which was often parodied in Charles Schulz' Peanuts comic strip.
"She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Floridathe pink ones, not the white onesexcept that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn't wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren't."

[Image from]

Sunday, September 6, 2009


The sound of falling acorns on the roof took him back to that night at her house. Bobby Edward remembered it. He remembered her phone call past midnight. He remembered her hysteria, hours before he last saw her. He remembered Marianne his wife screaming at him as he hurried out the door of their house. Whore, whore, whore—damned whore. He remembered the look on the young girl’s face. The yellow light on the porch of her rented house was dim, throwing shadows around her cheeks. She had seen a ghost. The ghost of a person without a head standing by her bed. She was alone in the house. Her roommates, both French girls, were away for the weekend. He remembered her almond-shaped eyes, elongated, liquid brown, staring at him as still as painted.  He kissed them, and she let him. It was his first and also last kiss. She had the most beautiful eyes for a Vietnamese girl. Twenty-three years old, half his age. He had never dared even hold her hands. She was his teacher. She taught Vietnamese at a language school on K Street in Washington, D.C. Six students in her class. Five of them came from the Agency for International Development; he was the only Army man, freshly assigned by the military to participate in a pacification program still in its formative stage in South Vietnam.

*   *   *    *
He tried not to think by keeping his eyes on the curvy road, the wind whistling past his car’s rolled-down window. He thought he smelled  perfume. He flipped up the visor. Now the sun fell in his eyes, and the sky blazed in spun gold. He blinked. Her almond-shaped eyes brown as liquid maple sugar. His stomach warmed. Yes, he was twice her age. He’d told her that and it numbed his feelings the way Novocaine numbed one’s gums. At a corner of the intersection stood a church with a white steeple. The red light gave him time to gaze at the red-brick church, its steep spire, and his mind went blank.
He took a deep breath. The fragrance was gone. Why must he deny what he felt about her? Why must he put it out each time it came flaming up from the bottom of his heart? He hadn’t felt this warm, intoxicating sensation in a long time.
Once when he was a young man, at a Christmas party, he had felt such an intoxication. He was twenty, a second lieutenant, having just finished the basic training that summer at the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. He was to go on to finish college and, before his graduation, return to the OCS for advanced training. Both his college degree and the completion of the OCS advanced course would give him a commission. He’d chosen American History as his college major, for growing up he was a history buff, fascinated by the American Civil War. The first time he ever felt truly sad was the time he read a letter written by a Confederate soldier who said he would give up all of Virginia to see his wife and his two-year-old son again.
After dinner at the Christmas party, he was chatting with another young man who went to the OCS, and it was at his parents’ house in Fredericksburg, near Quantico, that they celebrated his graduation. When they gathered around the dining table, the mother brought out the cake and everyone in chorus said wow. Heaped from the top were white orchids and red roses, creamy, lustrous, tumbled down the side. They called it a Twelfth Night cake, even though it was Christmas Eve. In one half of the cake, before it was baked, the host had buried a pea and in the other half a bean. Now the cake was cut in two halves and the half with a pea was served to the girls and the half with the bean to the boys. As she served each girl a slice of the cake, the mother said, “The princess and the pea, may you find it in yours.” The boy who found the bean would become king for the night, and the girl who found the pea would become his queen. On the third bite Bobby bit into something hard. He stopped and felt it with his tongue, then, just then, the girls were squealing from a corner of the room.
Marianne found the pea!”
A red-haired girl was ushered out from the corner, pinching the pea with her fingers.
“Who found the bean? Any one of the gentlemen?”
Timid, blushing, Bobby held out his hand with the bean sitting on his palm. The girl came forward, her eyes riveted on his. She was tall, big-boned, her hair flowing to her waist shone reddish in the brilliant gold lights from the chandelier. He met her gaze as they stood face to face. Her eyes were longish and pale blue, paler than his. Her gaze held an abandon and he felt wanted.
Her name was Marianne McGillis, a freshman from a small town in New Hampshire. She traveled with her cousin who dated the boy soon to be a commissioned officer. That evening she played the piano to the applause of the crowd. Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi. Then she pounded away Up on the Housetop and the crowd tapped their feet and clapped their hands. She swayed her head, her fingers danced on the keyboard, and she winked at him leaning against the door a few feet away as she sang,
Give her a dollie that laughs and cries,
One that will open and shut her eyes.
In the ho, ho, ho, faded away the tinkling piano and the crowd applauded. Marianne sang The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Slow, raspy, and her cousin resting her head on her boyfriend’s shoulder joined in and her voice was clear, gliding above Marianne’s scratchy voice and the crowd hummed along. . . .
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtledoves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.
Every time Marianne sang the words “My true love gave to me,” her eyes would  casually meet his. He had butterflies in his stomach and now, twenty-six years later, he felt that flutter again warming him like the first sip of coffee in the morning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Maybe it is just a day
Like any other days
That has crept into my squalid youth,
Long long dusk,
Before I met you.
I walked last nightthe night of the 13th
Down a dingy street
It was quiet at ten
A full moon hanging like a luminous disk
Bright as 22 candles
All lit up avidly for sure
On your birthday cake.
I walked upon my shadow
Wishing it were yours
But what's the difference, now?
Tried to make up
A profound poem
That would burn
Longer and more brightly
Than those 22 candles.
Only could I smell
The stench of the garbage in the street,
The gasoline-infected air.
I raised my face skyward
Saw the stars twinkle
Far away
In the inky-blue sky
They looked like a bunch of fluorescent moles.
I wandered till I ate
All the peanuts in my pants pockets,
Sniffed at the air,
And walked back home.
I opened up the windows,
Turned out the lights,
Went to bed and
Thought thirstily of you,
Now invisible
Like a nocturnal sun walking somewhere in the darkness,
Then fell asleep
With my unwritten poem.

[Image from]