Monday, April 30, 2007

Drawn To Those Ones That Ain't

That's my baby:

Miss Sasha: Mommy! Hang on a sec -
Tata: Why are you breathless? What's going on?
Miss Sasha: We're at the Petrified Forest. Mr. Sasha is watching the Park Ranger and -
Tata: What did you say?
Miss Sasha: Is he gone? One more minute?
Tata: Sweetheart, what are you doing?
Miss Sasha: When the Park Ranger disappears, I'm going over the fence. I have to touch the forest.
Miss Sasha: I need both hands. Call you in a minute!
Tata: Unless you're under arrest! Love you, Miss Sasha!
Miss Sasha: Love you, Mommy!

Timing is crucial. For instance, the Ramones' motto was that if you couldn't say it in three minutes you should shut up, so I hummed Sheena Is A Punk Rocker and before I got to hmm hmm hmming a punk punk, a punk rocker, the phone rang.

Miss Sasha: The wood feels like spongy rocks. It's really strange.
Tata: Where is the Petrified Forest?
Miss Sasha: I think we're in New Mexico.
Tata: Oooooh, that's great, because Johnny's in Santa Fe, though I know better than to wire your godfather your bail money. If you get arrested in Arizona, you're on your own, precious! And you're far too pretty for prison.
Miss Sasha: My husband just said that!
Tata: Well, isn't he just the adorable co-defendant!
Miss Sasha: Gotta go. Must make a clean get away! Love you, Mommy!
Tata: Love you, Miss Sasha!

I thought that'd be the end of vamping on these themes but no, it was just the musical interlude. The phone rang again.

Miss Sasha: Mommy! We got to the parking lot and there's pieces of petrified wood all over the place so I didn't need to jump the fence after all. I'm so embarrassed.
Tata: Don't worry, sweetheart! You impressed me terribly! Now, tell me again about your travel plans.
Miss Sasha: We're going to the Grand Canyon now and we'll be in Vegas by 3.
Tata: Sweetheart, there's a rule. You must spend more time than it takes to sing Stairway To Heaven at the Grand Canyon. It's not just grand, it's fucking huge.
Miss Sasha: We'll look at the hole in the ground! I promise!
Tata: Okay, then what?
Miss Sasha: Then we visit Uncle Todd. The next day, we go to Vandenberg.
Tata: I'm writing this down in case I have to describe it to Meredith Vieira on the Today Show.
Miss Sasha: You mean Geraldo Rivera. You're such a bitch sometimes!
Tata: Love you, baby!
Miss Sasha: Love you, Mommy!

She called one more time to tell me how much I'd love the Grand Canyon.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

All I Can Hear I Me Mine

On Friday, a friend and I had a dispute over the meaning of life.

Tata: We cannot get together even for dinner for at least a month. Life is fucking short! This sucks beyond belief!
Friend: We have - like - fifty years. What's the rush?

If he drops dead in less than three decades, I will be royally pissed - especially if we finally have reservations.

Anyway, it was as if this conversation changed the progress of time. Where weekends usually fly by, this one passed at an almost geological pace. Even the kittens seemed to agree. It was too hard for me to talk on the phone with friends. The speed of life at other places felt out of synch with the quiet of my apartment, so when Daria called to report that next weekend she's having a barbecue for baby Fifi's second birthday, it did not occur to me that day would ever come.

My solitary weekend habits picked up mostly where they were left off almost two months ago: Saturday, I made yogurt and set up bread dough to hydrate overnight after a walk to the grocery, drug and health food stores. Today, I baked bread. The online instructions for the clay pot Dad left me hinted the pot could be used to for this purpose. I thought the first loaf I baked would either turn out goopy - that's the technical term - or into a cinder. Instead, I got a loaf of bread that is beautifully moist with a crisp crust. I could hardly believe my luck.

That's salt and basil. You wondered.

It is a sign of this moment that I keep thinking of questions I'd like to ask Dad. Mayonnaise irritates my stomach a little. I wish I'd asked him to devise a handful of summer salad recipes for me - not because I can't do it myself but because he loved culinary puzzles. This puzzle is not much of one, really: kind of like the little sailboat cut into four curvy pieces.

It's just as well, then, that I spent my weekend coming to a point of quietness. All talk does not bring us to accord. Or dinner.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Between the Things You Want & the Things You Have To Do

Friday Music Blogging: Had Enough Of Myself Edition.

Friday Cat Blogging: Keep It Down, Down Edition

Left to right: Druzy, Topaz, Ta.

The first morning I woke up in Dad's house, I was wearing this pair of pants. They were 2/$7.99 at Costco. I sat on the edge of his bed while he was still sleeping. The house was silent. Darla slept fitfully on the futon behind me. I watched him breathe, wondering how he could be dying. How could it be? His face was full. His skin, long oddly pink from heart medication, was turning a healthy olive. He looked like himself. It was just the first of many mornings where I'd creep in and watch him sleep, saving up these tiny moments for the time ahead when he'd be gone. I'd need them. I still had the luxury of thinking nothing made sense. This particular morning, as I was sitting there, he opened his eyes, spied the cut-rate loungewear -

Dad: Those pants clash with themselves.

- and fell asleep. I burst out laughing but he didn't stir.

Topaz and Drusy wrestle, then there's a bathing emergency.

About 3 this morning, rain pounded against my bedroom windows, one of which was open. I got up and closed it, and while I was up, opened my bedroom door. Kittens, staging World War III on top of me, had been banished to the rest of the apartment. Now they padded back to bed with me and curled up around my legs. For a moment, all was bliss.

Then Alexis said, "Blake will always love me, you trailer trash whore" and Krystal slapped Alexis across the face and Alexis grabbed a handful of bleach-blonde hair and they wrestled and both fell in the swimming pool...


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Your Heart In This Fight

This song has been on my mind for a week.

I accidentally let myself get very dehydrated Sunday, so I've been fighting off a fever for a couple of days. This means when I do my daily "How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?" even I know I'm wrong. Yet, a fever means I lie flat and think of thinking, which is great indoor-outdoor fun for me, and what I've been thinking about is presence and absence in life. I mean, of course I have. Dad died, and with my siblings and Darla in our separate homes, it's as if I quit some substance I feel leaving my body.

I mean, fuck.

What courses through our bodies is every bit as interesting as what we do with them. Davening is a Jewish practice of praying with the whole body. It is a form of commitment to the moment, apart from all other moments, in which a person - usually a man but not always, anymore - is supposed to become entirely present during the Shema: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheynu Adonai Echad..* I couldn't put my finger on where the Torah described it, though Deuteronomy was a good bet. Siobhan, as surly a wildcat as ever put animal print lingerie to incendiary use, was a Biblical scholar in a previous life:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (New International Version) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

*1. Deuteronomy 6:4 Or The LORD our God is one LORD; or The LORD is our God, the LORD is one; or The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

The emphasis is mine, and it's important; that word is sometimes translated as might. One's body and vigor mean everything, which makes lovely sense, doesn't it? Anyone who says you can't dance with the cosmos is plain misguided. This reminds me of the Whirling Dervishes, described on YouTube as: The Whirling Dervishes are a sect of Islam taught to love everything. The ceremony is so beautiful I can barely breathe. Please go look at the dancers I can't embed on PIC. I've watched this half a dozen times now and when they open their arms, my heart races. Once, I danced in an aisle as Coleman Barks read this poem by Rumi, the Whirling Dervishes' sufi master, because I could do nothing else.
If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to "die for love," point

If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.

This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, the returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.

Like this.

When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.

Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.

Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.

Like this.

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?


How did Jacob’s sight return?


A little wind cleans the eyes.

Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us

Like this.

From ‘The Essential Rumi’, Translations
by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

I'm not sure I believe in God, but I believe in the astonishing beauty of becoming completely present at the right moment. It's not easy. Life appears to be long and it's tempting to fall asleep and stay there. If I've slept, I don't want to sleep anymore.

There are many ways to dance. Dance with me.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

There At the Turnstile the Girl

Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. Ta's gotta play with words.

English is Mathilde's third or fourth language, though she speaks more fluently than some native speakers I know.

Mathilde: When someone wakes me up before the alarm, I want to throw them out the window!
Tata: There's a verb for that in English: to defenestrate.
Mathilde: What are you talking about?
Tata: In Italian, finestra means window.
Mathilde: Yes, French - finetre -
Tata: Right, so the infinitive is to defenestrate. I can't remember exactly who it was, but this word didn't exist until some important man started throwing people out his windows during the Middle Ages, I think. Killed a bunch of people. Must've worked for him the first time, and you have to go with what you know.
Beth: I can't breathe!
Mathilde: I don't know what you are talking about either. What?
Tata: Can't remember who it was. Sorry. Threw people out the window. Verb! That's what's happening.

Yes, I burst into song. Thought I wouldn't?

About an hour later, my new assistant filled the doorway of my cubicle. He is a giant of a man. When he sat down for the first time at my desk, I knew he was at the right place when I asked, "Are you left-handed?" and he said, "Yes, I am." Half the room muttered, "What?" "What was that?" "Did he say yes?" Exactly: in ten years, I've trained dozens of assistants and co-workers and not one ever said, "That mouse placement makes my ever-lovin' day." This really happened: my co-workers stood up, smiling hopefully, as if Trump Plaza landed on a wicked witch. I laughed like it was my week with the ruby slippers and the Munchkinland Prom was Friday night. We jumped up and down, clapping our hands. I can't explain that, other than youthful exuberance. My giant assistant thought we were crazy, but thrilled by his presence. As he stands in the doorway now, blotting out what little sunlight peeps into the basement, he clasps his hands across his chest.

He: I couldn't help but overhear your discussion of history and etymology. I hope you don't think me rude but I believe you were talking about the Defenestration of Prague -

I jumped up, grabbed the hand of this giant man who'd met me the day before and ran around the cubicle wall to Mathilde's and Beth's shared cubicle.

Tata: Tell them! Tell them!
He: There some turning point in Church history, something was at stake and some official thought achieving his ends would be easier without the bishops, so he invited them up to talk and threw them out the window. Unfortunately for him, they landed on a pile of manure and survived. They got up, brushed themselves off and walked away.
Tata: History is stinky!
Beth: I can't breathe!
Tata: I bet those bishops wished they couldn't!
He: And that's called the Defenestration of Prague.
Mathilde: You're kidding!
Tata: Right, even though Prague plainly was not thrown out the window, and that guy wasn't the heavy weight champeeeeen of defenestrating I mentioned earlier. Thank you! Thank you!
He: I'll be here all week...

Another man, a different image.

He: You are as beautiful as your pictures.

I stop cold. This could mean several things in so rubbery a language as English, where intent is all. This could mean: You are not so photogenic, Mrs. Lady; or Your image delights my eye and it amazes me that you draw breath. When someone says You are as beautiful as your pictures, it is impossible to determine what is meant without offending the speaker, though I am dying to know with every fiber of my being.

Me: Thank you.

Then I change the subject.

Lovely Thing 2 has a weepy right eye, so I took her to the vet yesterday.

Thing 1 is affectionate and loves me openly. She walks around my head while I'm writing, settling across my chest, where we sit nose to nose and she turns into the sweetest, purringest Princess Kissyface and my icy heart melts and she lies against me like a tiny five-pound baby and I have to muh-muh-muh kiss her nose and forehead and because I hate cute I could just KILL MYSELF. I feel pretty confident that Thing 1 would be okay going to the vet's office with me, and if she were frightened, she could sit on my chest and we could have a talk about boys in her French class. Thing 2, shy and reticent, I wasn't so sure about, but there we were, and I shoved her into a cat carrier the size of a Barcalounger, and off we went. Only once did she make a single distressed peep. The vet's waiting room was full of dogs and their people, and an older man sat down knee to knee with me so his Shetland collie, my new best friend, could lean on my leg. I didn't mind, so long as Thing 2 remained calm and watchful, and not freaked out and hissing. The older man was chatty and handed me a card.

He: Here's something you'll like.

He couldn't have been more wrong. His business card read: Joyce Kilmer Centennial Commission. Ugh. He seemed like a nice man, so I said something bland.

Tata: I had to memorize that poem in third grade.
He: Did you?
Tata: I did. My father had a piece of that tree.
He: Ah...
Tata: Yes, I know. Everyone had a piece of that tree.
He: Yes. It was cut down in 1963.
Tata: The year I was born.
He: Was it?

Fortunately for us both, before I could blurt, "I've written better crap on fucking parking tickets," it was suddenly my turn to drag the cavernous cat carrier down the hallway to an examining room, where the able assistant, the same woman who tried to talk me out of putting Larry, the little black cat once bent on stealing your soul, to sleep, took out a new file. Hey, two months ago, we were traumatized. I haven't held that against her. I opened the carrier door and out popped tiny Thing 2. The assistant, who has the whitest skin I've ever seen without pink eyes and whiskers, went all liquidy. I actually saw ripples pass through her body.

She: Look at those eyes!

It's true: Thing 2's eyes are a golden orange I've never seen before. I actually wondered if there might be something wrong with her because they just seemed utterly surreal. While Thing 2 and I waited for the vet, she scampered around the room, over and under and inside and through things, while I watched from a few feet away. Her curiosity was charming. She came to me now and then for reassurance, but she wasn't afraid. I watched her and thought: Topaz. Maybe her name is Topaz.

And maybe the blue/green-eyed kitten is Drusy.

So the kitten has eye drops for her lovely tigerlily eyes.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Wind With Its Arms All Around Me

Before cell phones, you could tell the crazy people in the street because they walked around talking to themselves. Now, all kinds of ear bud-equipped chatty strangers walk past you saying the most personal things you can imagine, if that's sane, and the crazy people are the ones who stop and make eye contact. The week before Daria left Virginia, she talked from the moment she opened her eyes in the morning until we stopped conspiring every night. Fortunately, as I was camped out in the next room, it sounded like Charlie Brown's mother was having a nervous breakdown on the other side of a cookbook-lined wall.

Daria: Fffaaaacch arbuchki bu bu bu wa banna? Ghippy zop nn koow!

In ways still difficult to describe, four weeks of caring for our dying father, his wife, four cats and our younger sister came to feel like a lifetime in its rhythms and stresses. After a week in the house, I believed this time would never end. We would always live in limbo, our own lives miles away and fading into obscurity. Daddy would always be dying. If not for cheap wine and Tylenol PM, nobody would've slept a minute. When I awoke every morning just before Ridiculous O'Clock, when it was at least light out, I'd talk to Atticus for half an hour, stumble to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Then to the kitchen, where I made a pot of tea for my stepmother. I live alone and I am used to quiet. Darla and Dad lived in a similarly quiet way; in fact, sometimes, they would go most of a day without speaking. Only in the very early March mornings was there peace in the house, which permitted me to think. I gathered up garbage, fed cats, put water into the many humidifiers and set up my laptop in a spot in the kitchen close to an electrical outlet. Everybody made the same joke at least once.

Family Member: Nobody puts Baby in a corner!
Tata: I despise that fucking movie...

The tiny variations between the days felt less like Groundhog Day experiments than Manhattan Project failures. For a while, I made yogurt every two or three days when I kept making thrilling new mistakes. When the van didn't start two and a half weeks after Darla brought Dad home from the hospital, it seemed like one in a long series of unforeseeable little disasters. Our teeny catastrophes weren't really important unless they created stress for Dad, so Daria's and my function in the house was to keep drum-tight control over matters domestic, mostly the same matters, every day.

For instance, when we arrived in Virginia, Dad wanted to get right to the business of distributing his stuff. Our jobs, as family members, were: 1. to suck it up and and make lists of objects we wanted, and 2. get stuff Dad gave us out of the way. One of the first things Dad said to me was, "Go to the ingredients closet and take the braised gluten." I got up, got a grocery bag and tossed eight cans inside. Then I took this bag upstairs and put it with my luggage. So: good for me. I love braised gluten. Weeks passed, Dad got sicker and a Chinese supplier peddled tainted wheat gluten to pet food manufacturers. We weren't watching TV, so it wasn't hard to keep a lid on news around the house. When questions arose about melamine-tainted wheat gluten entering the human food supply, I was glad Dad was past caring, because he would have been frightened and homicidally pissed. In November, during our frequent talks about why bread I was baking either succeeded or simply sucked, he told me to add vital wheat gluten to my doughs. I picked up a high end brand, Hodgson's, but only because that was what I found in the grocery store, and added several tablespoons to every loaf. Rational or irrational, logical or illogical, none of that matters when you get the idea that you might have accidentally poisoned your kid with baking tips. But all that happened later. So there I was every morning, sitting at the table reading email or trying to look in on a few of my favorite blogs, when Daria came down the stairs, talking.

Daria: I feel like a grilled cheese sandwich. Could you use a grilled cheese sandwich? You like them with tomato. I don't think we have tomatoes. We gotta get tomatoes. Ooh! I wanted to try the stuff in that can. Maybe that's for lunch. Do we have enough bread? We have to plan dinner now because it's morning - it's morning - it's morning, then it's 10 pm and we haven't eaten yet. How does that happen? We don't know/ When we go shopping today, we might have to pick up more ice cream. I think we're down to five kinds and Italian ices. What do you think? 'Cause, not for nothing, but we could run out, and we can't have that...

Listen, I narrate. Say, I'm at your house. I look right at where the camera should be and say something to advance the plot -

Tata: Suddenly, we were attacked by cheese-wielding Jehovah's Witnesses.
(SFX: ding dong!)

- do it all the time, but Daria's chattering was alarmingly different. The strain of making sure her children were cared for, her house was still standing, getting Dad's legal matters in order, keeping Dad comfortable and Darla fed was finally too much for her. Some people come out in spots. Daria came out in wave after wave of breathless talk. Some mornings, I stared at her. Some mornings, I tried interjecting, which didn't help. Mostly, I kept typing or reading, though it became really difficult to blog. When her four-year-old took a powder and Daria had to leave, Darla's parents arrived. I was terrified. I didn't know them, but they were lovely, well-informed, brilliant people, so in that respect they were like Darla. I thought we'd have quiet. And the next morning -

Nina: We'll be going into Staunton today to return the wheelchair. Have you been to that hospital? We've driven by there once before, so we've seen it, but we're not precisely certain where it is. We'll get Darla to draw us a map. We'll also stop at the grocery store for a few items on the list. Can we pick up anything special for you? Would you know that we're out of anything?
Tata: See that box of pink wine? Darla's going to need a refill. And while you're there, please, a bottle that just says WINE for me?
Nina: Anything special? We'd hate to disappoint you. We don't drink, you see, so we'd hate to pick up the wrong thing. Do you favor one brand, for instance, or different varieties?
Tata: I like a chardonnay that doesn't say "Bottled in Doug's Basement, Utah."
Nina: Oh. You don't have any preference?
Tata: Yes, please, I prefer not to be up all night.
Nina: What are you doing on the computer?
Tata: Writing.
Nina: The traffic in Detroit was terrible! All that construction and the roads never get any better. Are we out of tomatoes? A ripe tomato is one of life's true pleasures...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Michigan Seems Like A Dream To Me Now

Miss Sasha sent along this thrilling image from Italian New Year's Eve, which was Christmas, Part 3: The Fattening. Perhaps I'm telling Dad to go stuff it, perhaps demanding he quit lifting heavy stuff with that backache; we don't know. He spent the next few days in bed with excruciating back pain, but he'd done that on occasion all my life. As Miss Sasha pointed out, he'd eaten a slice of my cousin Monday's apple pie, which is generally good, and said it tasted off to him. I didn't remember that.

What I remember was that in the kitchen we were all making wiseass remarks about each other. My sisters Daria and Dara said, "Daddy, I'm the daughter you always wanted" and "No, I am." I said, "I'm the son you always wanted." Dad almost dropped the roast.

The Crack In Everything

A Woman Is Talking to Death

- Judy Grahn

Testimony in trials that never got heard

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands

we were driving home slow
my love and I, across the long Bay Bridge,
one February midnight, when midway
over in the far left lane, I saw a strange scene:

one small young man standing by the rail,
and in the lane itself, parked straight across
as if it could stop anything, a large young
man upon a stalled motorcycle, perfectly
relaxed as if he'd stopped at a hamburger stand;
he was wearing a peacoat and levis, and
he had his head back, roaring, you
could almost hear the laugh, it
was so real.

"Look at that fool," I said, "in the
middle of the bridge like that," a very
womanly remark.

Then we heard the meaning of the noise
of metal on a concrete bridge at 50
miles an hour, and the far left lane
filled up with a big car that had a
motorcycle jammed on its front bumper, like
the whole thing would explode, the friction
sparks shot up bright orange for many feet
into the air, and the racket still sets
my teeth on edge.

When the car stopped we stopped parallel
and Wendy headed for the callbox while I
ducked across those 6 lanes like a mouse
in the bowling alley. "Are you hurt?" I said,
the middle-aged driver had the greyest black face,
"I couldn't stop, I couldn't stop, what happened?"

Then I remembered. "Somebody," I said, "was on
the motorcycle." I ran back,
one block? two blocks? the space for walking
on the bridge is maybe 18 inches, whoever
engineered this arrogance, in the dark
stiff wind it seemed I would
be pushed over the rail, would fall down
screaming onto the hard surface of
the bay, but I did not, I found the tall young man
who thought he owned the bridge, now lying on
his stomach, head cradled in his broken arm.

He had glasses on, but somewhere he had lost
most of his levis, where were they?
and his shoes. Two short cuts on his buttocks,
that was the only mark except his thin white
seminal tubes were all strung out behind; no
child left in him; and he looked asleep.

I plucked wildly at his wrist, then put it
down; there were two long haired women
holding back the traffic just behind me
with their bare hands, the machines came
down like mad bulls, I was scared, much
more than usual, I felt easily squished
like the earthworms crawling on a busy
sidewalk after the rain; I wanted to
And met the driver, walking back.

"The guy is dead." I gripped his hand,
the wind was going to blow us off the bridge.

"Oh my God," he said, "haven't I had enough
trouble in my life?" He raised his head,
and for a second was enraged and yelling,
at the top of the bridge—"I was just driving
home!" His head fell down. "My God, and
now I've killed somebody."

I looked down at my own peacoat and levis,
then over at the dead man's friend, who
was howling and blubbering, what they would
call hysteria in a woman. "It isn't possible"
he wailed, but it was possible, it was
indeed, accomplished and unfeeling, snoring
in its peacoat, and without its levis on.

He died laughing:           that's a fact.

I had a woman waiting for me,
in her car and in the middle of the bridge,
I'm frightened, I said.
I'm afraid, he said, stay with me, be
my witness—"No," I said, "I'll be your
witness—later," and I took his name
and number, "but I can't stay with you,
I'm too frightened of the bridge, besides
I have a woman waiting
and no license—
and no tail lights—"
So I left—
as I have left so many of my lovers.

we drove home
shaking. Wendy's face greyer
than any white person's I have ever seen.
maybe he beat his wife, maybe he once
drove taxi, and raped a lover
of mine—how to know these things?
we do each other in, that's a fact.

who will be my witness?
death wastes our time with drunkenness
and depression
death, who keeps us from our
he had a woman waiting for him,
I found out when I called the number,
days later

"Where is he," she said, "he's disappeared."
"He'll be all right," I said, "we could
have hit the guy as easy as anybody, it
wasn't anybody's fault, they'll know that,"
women so often say dumb things like that,
they teach us to be sweet and reassuring,
and say ignorant things, because we don't invent
the crime, the punishment, the bridges

that same week I looked into the mirror
and nobody was there to testify;
how clear, an unemployed queer woman
makes no witness at all,
nobody at all was there for
those two questions:       what does
she do, and who is she married to?

I am the woman who stopped on the bridge
and this is the man who was there
our lovers teeth are white geese flying
above us, but we ourselves are
easily squished.

keep the woman small and weak
and off the street, and off the
bridges, that's the way, brother
one day I will leave you there,
as I have left you there before,
working for death.

we found out later
what we left him to.
Six big policemen answered the call,
all white, and no child in them.
they put the driver up against his car
and beat the hell out of him.
What did you kill that poor kid for?
you mutherfucking nigger.
that's a fact.

Death only uses violence
when there is any kind of resistance,
the rest of the time a slow
weardown will do.

They took him to 4 different hospitals
til they got a drunk test report to fit their
case, and held him five days in jail
without a phone call.
how many lovers have we left.

there are as many contradictions to the game,
as there are players.
a woman is talking to death,
though talk is cheap, and life takes a long time
to make
right. He got a cheesy lawyer
who had him cop a plea, 15 to 20
instead of life.
Did I say life?

the arrogant young man who thought he
owned the bridge, and fell asleep on it
he died laughing:            that's a fact.
the driver sits out his time
off the street somewhere,
does he have the most vacant of
eyes, will he die laughing?

They don’t have to lynch the women anymore

death sits on my doorstep
cleaning his revolver
death cripples my feet and sends me out
to wait for the bus alone,
then comes by driving a taxi.

the woman on our block with 6 young children
has the most vacant of eyes
death sits in her bedroom, loading
his revolver

they don’t have to lynch the women
very often anymore, although
they used to—the lord and his men
went through the villages at night, beating &
killing every woman caught
the European witch trials took away
the independent people; two different villages
—after the trials were through that year—
had left in them, each—
one living woman:

What were those other women up to? had they
run over someone? stopped on the wrong bridge?
did they have teeth like
any kind of geese, or children
in them?

This woman is a lesbian be careful

In the military hospital where I worked
as a nurse’s aide, the walls of the halls
were lined with howling women
waiting to deliver
or to have some parts removed.
One of the big private rooms contained
the general's wife, who needed
a wart taken off her nose.
we were instructed to give her special attention
not because of her wart or her nose
but because of her husband, the general.

As many women as men die, and that's a fact.

At work there was one friendly patient, already
claimed, a young woman burnt apart with X-ray,
she had long white tubes instead of openings;
rectum, bladder, vagina—I combed her hair, it
was my job, but she took care of me as if
nobody's touch could spoil her.

ho ho death, ho death
have you seen the twinkle in the dead woman's eye?

When you are a nurse's aide
someone suddenly notices you
and yells about the patient's bed,
and tears the sheets apart so you
can do it over, and over
while the patient waits
doubled over in her pain
for you to make the bed again
and no one ever looks at you,
only at what you do not do

Here, general, hold this soldier's bed pan
for a moment, hold it for a year—
then we'll promote you to making his bed.
we believe you wouldn't make such messes

if you had to clean up after them.

that's a fantasy.
this woman is a lesbian, be careful.

When I was arrested and being thrown out
of the military, the order went out: dont anybody
speak to this woman, and for those three
long months, almost nobody did;       the dayroom, when
I entered it, fell silent til I had gone; they
were afraid, they knew the wind would blow
them over the rail, the cops would come,
the water would run into their lungs.
Everything I touched
was spoiled. They were my lovers, those
women, but nobody had taught us how to swim.
I drowned, I took 3 or 4 others down
when I signed the confession of what we
had done            together.

No one will ever speak to me again.

I read this somewhere; I wasn't there:
in WWII the US army had invented some floating
amphibian tanks, and took them over to
the coast of Europe to unload them,
the landing ships all drawn up in a fleet,
and everybody watching. Each tank had a
crew of 6 and there were 25 tanks.
The first went down the landing planks
and sank, the second, the third, the
fourth, the fifth, the sixth went down
and sank. They weren't supposed
to sink, the engineers had
made a mistake.       The crews looked around
wildly for the order to quit,
but none came, and in the sight of
thousands of men, each 6 crewmen
saluted his officers, battened down
his hatch in turn, and drove into the
sea, and drowned, until all 25 tanks
were gone.       did they have vacant
eyes, die laughing, or what?       what
did they talk about, those men,
as the water came in?

was the general their lover?

A Mock Interrogation

Have you ever held hands with a woman?

Yes, many times—women about to deliver, women about to
have breasts removed, wombs removed, miscarriages, women
having epileptic fits, having asthma, cancer, women having
breast bone marrow sucked out of them by nervous or in-
different interns, women with heart condition, who were
vomiting, overdosed, depressed, drunk, lonely to the point
of extinction: women who had been run over, beaten up.
deserted, starved. women who had been bitten by rats; and
women who were happy, who were celebrating, who were
dancing with me in large circles or alone, women who were
climbing mountains or up and down walls, or trucks or roofs
and needed a boost up, or I did; women who simply wanted
to hold my hand because they liked me, some women who
wanted to hold my hand because they liked me better than

These were many women?

Yes.            many.

What about kissing? Have you kissed any women?

I have kissed many women.

When was the first woman you kissed with serious feeling?

The first woman ever I kissed was Josie, who I had loved at
such a distance for months. Josie was not only beautiful,
she was tough and handsome too. Josie had black hair and
white teeth and strong brown muscles. Then she dropped
out of school unexplained. When she came she came
back for one day only, to finish the term, and there was a
child in her. She was all shame, pain, and defiance. Her eyes
were dark as the water under a bridge and no one would
talk to her, they laughed and threw things at her. In the
afternoon I walked across the front of the class and looked
deep into Josie’s eyes and I picked up her chin with my
hand, because I loved her, because nothing like her trouble
would ever happen to me, because I hated it that she was
pregnant and unhappy, and an outcast. We were thirteen.

You didn't kiss her?

How does it feel to be thirteen and having a baby?

You didn't actually kiss her?

Not in fact.

You have kissed other women?

Yes, many, some of the finest women I know, I have kissed.
women who were lonely, women I didn't know and didn't
want to, but kissed because that was a way to say yes we are
still alive and loveable, though separate, women who recog-
nized a loneliness in me, women who were hurt, I confess to
kissing the top a 55 year old woman’s head in the snow in
boston, who was hurt more deeply that I have ever been
hurt, and I wanted her as a very few people have wanted
me—I wanted her and me to own and control and run the
city we lived in, to staff the hospital I know would mistreat
her, to drive the transportation system that had betrayed
her, to patrol the streets controlling the men who would
murder or disfigure or disrupt us, not accidentally with
machines, but on purpose, because we are not allowed out
on the street alone—

Have you ever committed any indecent acts with women?

Yes, many. I am guilty of allowing suicidal women to die
before my eyes or in my ears or under my hands because I
thought I could do nothing, I am guilty of leaving a prosti-
tute who held a knife to my friend's throat to keep us from
leaving, because we would not sleep with her, we thought
she was old and fat and ugly; I am guilty of not loving her
who needed me; I regret all the women I have not slept with
or comforted, who pulled themselves away from me for lack
of something I had not the courage to fight for, for us, our
life, our planet, our city, our meat and potatoes, our love.
These are indecent acts, lacking courage, lacking a certain
fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised fist, the
sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will
starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra. Yes I have com-
mitted acts of indecency with women and most of them were
acts of omission. I regret them bitterly.

Bless this day oh cat our house

"I was allowed to go
3 places growing up," she said—
"3 places, no more.
there was a straight line from my house
to school, a straight line from my house
to church, a straight line from my house
to the corner store."
her parents thought something might happen to her.
but nothing       ever       did.

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands
we are the river of life and the fat of the land
death, do you tell me I cannot touch this woman?
if we use each other up
on each other
that's a little bit less for you
a little bit less for you, ho
death, ho ho death.

Bless this day oh cat our house
help me be not such a mouse
death tells the woman to stay home
and then breaks in the window.

I read this somewhere, I wasn't there:
In feudal Europe, if a woman committed adultery
her husband would sometimes tie her
down, catch a mouse and trap it
under a cup on her bare belly, until
it gnawed itself out, now are you
afraid of mice?

Dressed as I am, a young man once called
me names in Spanish

a woman who talks to death
is a dirty traitor

inside a hamburger joint and
dressed as I am, a young man once called me
names in Spanish
then he called me queer and slugged me.
first I thought the ceiling had fallen down
but there was the counterman making a ham
sandwich, and there was I spread out on his

For God's sake, I said when
I could talk, this guy is beating me up
can't you call the police or something,
can't you stop him? he looked up from
working on his sandwich, which was my
sandwich, I had ordered it. He liked
the way I looked. "There’s a pay phone
right across the street" he said.

I couldn't listen to the Spanish language
for weeks afterward, without feeling the
most murderous of rages, the simple
association of one thing to another,
so damned simple.

The next day I went to the police station
to become an outraged citizen
Six big policemen stood in the hall,
all white and dressed as they do
they were well pleased with my story, pleased
at what had gotten beat out of me, so
I left them laughing, went home fast
and locked my door.
For several nights I fantasized the scene
again, this time grabbing a chair
and smashing it over the bastard's head,
killing him. I called him a spic, and
killed him. My face healed, his didnt
no child in me.

now when I remember I think:
maybe he was Josie's baby.
all the chickens come home to roost.
all of them.

Death and disfiguration

One Christmas eve my lovers and I
we left the bar, driving home slow
there was a woman lying in the snow
by the side of the road. She was wearing
a bathrobe and no shoes, where were
her shoes? she had turned the snow
pink, under her feet, she was an Asian
woman, didnt speak much English, but
she said a taxi driver beat her up
and raped her, throwing her out of his
what on earth was she doing there
on a street she helped to pay for
but doesn't own?
doesn’t she know to stay home?

I am a pervert, therefore I've learned
to keep my hands to myself in public
but I was so drunk that night,
I actually did something loving
I took her in my arms, this woman,
Until she could breathe right, and
my friends who are perverts too
they touched her too
we all touched her.
"You’re going to be all right"
we lied. She started to cry
"I'm 55 years old" she said
and that said everything.

Six big policemen answered the call
no child in them.
they seemed afraid to touch her,
then grabbed her like a corpse and heaved her
on their metal stretcher into the van,
crashing and clumsy.
She was more frightened than before.
they were cold and bored.
'don't leave me' she said.
'she'll be all right' they said.
we left, as we have left all of our lovers
as all lovers leave all lovers
much too soon to get the real loving done.

a mock interrogation

Why did you get in the cab with him, dressed as you are?

I wanted to go somewhere.

Did you know what the cab driver might do
if you got into the cab with him?

I just wanted to go somewhere.

How many times did you
get into the cab with him?

I dont remember.

If you dont remember, how do you know it happened to

Hey you death

ho and ho poor death
our lovers teeth are white geese flying above us
our lovers muscles are rope ladders under our hands
even though no women       yet go down to the sea in ships
except in their dreams.

only the arrogant invent a quick and meaningful end
for themselves, of their own choosing.
everyone else knows how very slow it happens
how the woman's existence bleeds out her years,
how the child shoots up at ten and is arrested and old
how the man carries a murderous shell within him
and passes it on.

we are the fat of the land, and
we all have our list of casualties

to my lovers I bequeath
the rest of my life

I want nothing left of me for you, ho death
except some fertilizer
for the next batch of us
who do not hold hands with you
who do not embrace you
who try not to work for you
or sacrifice themselves or trust
or believe you, ho ignorant
death, how do you know
we happened to you?

wherever our meat hangs on our own bones
for our own use
your pot is so empty
death, ho death
you shall be poor

From Work of a Common Woman

Thursday, April 19, 2007

About A Lucky Man Who Made the Grade

Here, general, hold this soldier’s bed pan
for a moment, hold it for a year—
then we’ll promote you to making his bed.
we believe you wouldn’t make such messes

if you had to clean up after them.

- Judy Grahn, A Woman Is Talking To Death

I'm sick of this irresponsible bullshit chatter about appointing a war czar. We have one. It is the President of the United States, acting in his capacity as Commander In Chief.

If the person holding this position doesn't wish to fulfill its responsibilities, that person is free to fucking step down.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This Flat Old Earth Is In Your Gentle Hands

We at Poor Impulse Control Secret Headquarters take one step forward and fall two steps back in our Iron March to Technical Adequacy. We get the main site back, we lose the actual artist pages. We set up something in the template, then it disappears. It's not Siobhan's fault PIC leaks like an old oil barge. That might be the fault of the original designer who constantly made the mistake of saying, "Hey, Ta, what do you think of all this work I've done for free?" And then I said, "My stars, that's shiny." In other words, because I don't code, bad code is my fault. Well, fuck me. Slainte!

Today, I put the above image in that column off to the right and it may be there now or not, depending on your browser. I get a broken link now but I could see it from work. Prosit!

I'm all for NTodd's Incivility Pledge. See?

1. We take responsibility for our own words and reserve the right to call stupid people names when they fucking annoy us.

2. We won't tell anybody to fuck off if we wouldn't tell them to fuck off in person.

3. If tensions escalate, we will start a metablogpissingmatch, if only to generate traffic.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we escalate and get more personal and nasty.

5. We allow anonymous comments because who the fuck really cares? It's a goddamned blog.

6. We troll other sites for shits and giggles.

7. We encourage parody sites because if you can't take a fucking joke, you're a goddamned moran and shouldn't be blogging.

Moreover, I promise to be a fresher hell, a foul-mouthed free-range freak with a fine manicure, a thing that goes bump in the day and night. I'm not going to get religion or take myself more seriously - no, those days are waaaaay over. I won't sit down and behave because it's ladylike. I can't wait to dye my little old lady hair a color that clashes with tropical fish. Naroc!

Civility as defined by Bill O'Reilly is censorship. The solution to questionable speech is more free speech, not less. Plus, there are an awful lot of people I've told to fuck off in person. Salut!

To Hear the Words That Keep Falling

Thing 2, left, is actually the smaller and pricklier of the kittens. When I take out a camera, Thing 2 usually makes herself scarce. This time, Thing 1 heard the whirr of camera start up and started to bolt. A second later, the larger, friendlier cat, the one on the right, was off in a cloud of dust.

Things are not always as they appear. Or are they?
Man Shot By Puppy Arrested On Animal Cruelty Charge

You may feel a little pressure. I know I do.
PENSACOLA, FL (AP) - An animal cruelty charge was filed against a man who shot himself when one of the puppies he was preparing to shoot made the gun discharge, deputies said. Jerry Allen Bradford, 37, of Pensacola, was arrested Friday and held on $1,500 bond, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office said.

Hell, I didn't even know we were arming puppies. I feel so out of the loop!
Bradford was holding two puppies, trying to shoot them in the head with a .38-caliber revolver on Sept. 8 when one wiggled, sending a bullet into Bradford's wrist, deputies said. Bradford had shot and killed three puppies before he was wounded. Bradford said he decided to shoot the 3-month-old puppies because he couldn't find another home for the shepherd-mix dogs, the sheriff's office said.

Deputies found three of the puppies in a shallow grave outside Bradford's home. The other four appeared to be in good health and were taken by Escambia County Animal Control.

Now I'm sorry I'm not arming puppies. There's one last thing:
The shepherd-mix pup that "fired" the bullet was renamed Trigger.

Good doggy! Bad human! Can we talk now about getting Mom fixed?


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

No Other Place I'd Rather Be

Yesterday, I cleverly drove to work from one side of the river to the other. A few hours later, rising flood waters prevented my boss from making an almost identical, embarrassingly brief commute. Three of the five routes across the river closed in rapid succession, and the route to a fourth quickly became impassable. I calculated the best path out of town to Route 1 North and took it. When I arrived home safe and dry half an hour later, it seemed like little short of a miracle. Maybe it was pretty good guess work and extraordinary luck, I can't say; however, I felt strong enough to face the task I've avoided for a week: reading and answering condolence cards.

Siobhan's mother died when Siobhan was 19. I assure you that Siobhan, whose flawless complexion is doubtless the result of keeping a hyperactive portrait artist locked in her attic, hasn't seen the sunny side of 30 in an eye-rolling while.

Tata: We're having a monsoon. I'm going to read condolence cards. I'm going to do it.
Siobhan: I have a drawer full of them.
Tata: You what? I haven't opened mine.
Siobhan: Me neither.
Tata: Okay, just to be clear: you have a drawer full of condolence cards from your mother's death before we met?
Siobhan: Yes. I despair of ever answering them.
Tata: I...think I hear my mother calling me.

Oddly enough, it was Mom, Queen of Procrastination.

Mom: I understand I have new grandkitties and wish to see them.
Tata: Perhaps you'd like to wait until visiting Rancho Rococo no longer requires the assistance of rugged rescue personnel.
Mom: Within the week, then. What are you doing?
Tata: Contemplating answering a pile of condolence cards.
Mom: You should do that. You don't want that hanging over your head.
Tata: Did you just...did you just advise me to do something in a timely manner?
Mom: Could be.
Tata: Impostor! Put my real mother on the phone!

I sliced open the envelopes and read each card. My co-workers in the giant library system sent individual and department cards, where handfuls of thoughtful people signed at improvised angles. A few friends sent cards but most of my local friends had moved couches and stocked my refrigerator and collected my mail, so a card would been a bit much. I owe so many people for helping me concentrate on what I had to do in Virginia, and for kind words, and now, people who barely know me rush up to squeeze me and coo. My impulse is to punch them. Instead, I thank them absently and hide under my desk.

With all my staring into space and complaining, writing responses took all afternoon and some of the evening. Then I wrote condolence cards for four people I knew who'd lost a husband, a child and a father in the last month. I felt as if the fine powder Dad's death ground me to had been tossed into the wind and disappeared. This morning, I put stamps on the envelopes and mailed them.

Somehow this is certain to bring May flowers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Radiate Everything You Are

Thing Two.

It's raining. The northeast is in the grip of a nor'easter. Siobhan and I intended to go schmatta shopping but postponed. The kittens are sleeping. I'm thinking of dressing up reasonably rainproof and going out for a hike in the wilds of wet suburbia. Or maybe not: Jacques Pepin is on at 2, and it's always possible I might learn something.

No, really. It could happen.

Playing on Daddy's cookbooks. Yes, I put away the cookbooks and gave them the box.

Darla is very excited about new cats. In my family, they constitute "grandkitties." This afternoon:

Darla: Did they tell you their names yet?
Tata: Not yet. It's tempting to go ahead and name them in relation to one another but they're so different it'd be a mistake.
Darla: You might do that anyway. Like what?
Tata: Harriet and Sojourner. Krystal and Alexis. Joan and Jackie. Lena and Dorothy. Billie and Dinah. I thought for a while we could be Josie and the Pussycats if I could be Val, the smart one. Daria suggested Cirrus and Nimbus.
Darla: They'd have to be white and fluffy!
Tata: I said Igneous and Sedimentary.
Darla: Rock and Hard Place.
Tata: Scylla and Charybdis. Pride and Prejudice.
Darla: But not Sense and Sensibility!
Tata: Heavens, no! They're much too young for that!

Thing One surveys the landscape.

Darla and I talk often. Yesterday:

Tata: How about Demeter and Hecate?
Darla: Demeter and who?
Tata: Hecate. It's got a great beat!
Darla: Agggggggh! That's a terrible pun! When I made puns, your Dad would say, "That's awful! Leave the room! One more like that and it's back to Canada with you!"
Tata: I made a joke like that one day and he was annoyed I'd reached for the easy punchline. He said, "It's time for you to go home now!" I said, "I know the rule, Daddy: Use a pun. Go to jail."

Being the kitten is exhausting!

Thing One, left, likes to rub her tiny face against mine and put her paws around my neck. She likes to kiss me, but she doesn't like when Thing Two comes anywhere near me. I have to go to Thing Two and scritch her. This afternoon, between phone calls back and forth regarding the funeral home's most recent fuck up, I lay on my bed so the cats could climb on me. Thing One lay across my neck, purring sweetly. Thing Two I could hear prowling around the room but couldn't see until I had occasion to look at the floor near my head. Finally, she lay down at my feet, but by then, I was so pissed at the hillbilly attempt at extortion, I had to get up. Thing Two opened her eyes for a moment when I took the picture, but they're both sleeping again. This is a relief because it demonstrates the kittens are relaxing into being here, together and with me. I'll worry less about going to work all day tomorrow and leaving them alone.

No, come to think of it, I'll worry about them just because I can, and that's nice.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Everything Is Easy 'Cause Of You

Do you know why I am so happy I can barely speak in a register audible to the human ear?


They came with doofy Catholic school girl names I can't stand.

I'm pretty sure they'll tell me their names.

In the meantime, let's call this impetuous gal Thing One.

She's very affectionate. She licked my nose.

Thing One!

She has blue-green eyes. It doesn't look that way, but I'm not much of a photographer.

It took her mere moments to warm up to me, if by "moments" I mean about an hour.

At the time of this picture, the kittens were walking all over my apartments, in every direction, looking at everything.

Black kittens on a brothel-red couch: ooh la la!

This is Thing One, deciding I might be okay to play with. Maybe.

Note the papers for the vet. Both kittens are already fixed.

Thing One bears a striking resemblance to Larry, the Little Black Cat Once Bent On Stealing Your Soul.

Meet Thing Two.

Her eyes really are that amazing, intense orange color.

I introduced her to all she could see outside the bedroom and living room windows.

She took a little longer to warm up to new kitten toys, the new apartment and the new human.

Their personalities are quite different.

Thing Two!

It's a beautiful day and the squirrels nibble, bound and chase one another.

Thing Two, I was warned, would scarf down all wet food I put out for both pussycats.

She doesn't like to be picked up.

While lovely Thing Two monitored the local fauna -

- equally lovely Thing One subdued me.

These girls are tall and lanky. They weigh so little I hardly know what to make of them.

When she walked all over me, I hardly felt it. When she decided to lie on my head, I couldn't object.

Couldn't breathe much, either. Didn't mind.

As I write this, a kitten is falling asleep on my lap.

As for the superstitious SHHHHHH! of yesterday, an explanation: whenever I tell people what my favorite show is, that show gets canceled. It's funny, right? Yeah, sure. It's funny. While I was in Virginia, I discussed my favorite show with Darla's parents. Last weekend, I noticed it wasn't on the schedule anymore.

I also say that when I talk about things in the works they don't happen.

I really needed this to happen. And now it has.

Thank you. I am so far beyond happy I had to share.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Up On Love And Silly Rhymes


We've got a secret. It's a big secret. It's a big, happy secret. Something is supposed to probably happen tomorrow afternoon that maybe means in thirty-six hours I post pictures of two new - SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

So, we will have absolutely NO CAT BLOGGING today. None!

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I mean it! As a token of my esteem, please view, courtesy of my brother Todd, this delightful video of a charming man singing oven instructions.

Zip it!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vonnegut! I'm gonna stop payment on the cheque!

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007

From A Man Without A Country:
But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father's kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

via puputonian at Hullabaloo

Down In Sheets Of Linen

As a temporary concession to our archive problem I've doubled the page size, which is going to drive reader Bob a little crazy. I'm sorry, Bob! I'll put everything back when the simple stuff starts making sense again. In the meantime, the here and now is rather odd.

When I returned from Virginia, the driver's side rear tire on my car was flat. I was confused because the tire that'd disappointed me twice a week before I departed was the passenger's front. If your eyes are glazing over, imagine Siobhan answering the phone with, "Which is it today?" Yes, it's a bore. So I inflated the rear tire and it deflated with extreme prejudice. Inflated. Deflated. Inflated. Deflated. After wailing, "Why can't we all just get along?" I took it to the mechanic, who pronounced it my first flat in ages he understood.

Him: When you take the nail out and plug the hole it works a lot better!
Tata: Yahtzee!

Rational explanations are good for what ails me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

And I Want To Be A Paperback

Poor Impulse Control's archives since September or October - back in our misspent youth - are hosed and if you can believe it, neither Siobhan nor I noticed. Our lives are so glamorous, we assumed everyone kept copies or at least records of our antics. Heaven knows we're constantly autographing come-hither documents from go-whither police officers who insist we quit admiring ourselves in the rearview and/or totalling other people's cars.

How rude!

We're working on it. In the meantime, I'm gathering up the posts for January, February, March and April so you late arrivals - aren't you cute as tiny bubbles! - can join our story in progress. It's a poignant tale of a man, his cancer, four yelping children children, unruly animal companions and pie on every surface. So: a love story, an adventure.

Wish us luck.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Boy, She's Waiting There For You

Much of what Jesus said boils down to put up or shut up, which is pretty good advice. Actions count in this world. I'm sure of this because when people talk to me now I feel my eyes slide off their faces and into space. I can't do anything but freeze and hope I look like I'm still there, but Christ, I'm nervous whenever someone draws a fucking breath to talk. Naturally, then, I went out to dinner last night with my erstwhile drinking buddies for Sharkey's birthday. The woman across the table didn't let me get away with disappearing for even seconds, which Sharkey knew would be good for me. I felt like that woman was stabbing me in the forehead. We had a great conversation. Today, I'm ready to start putting me back together like I mean it.

Dad died and gave me homework.

This morning, I made coffee, went out for a good long walk and bought seeds to try growing basil, lettuce and cilantro in small kitchen-size pots. Last year, the kitchen herb garden failed when not a speck of sunlight hit the plants, but I am Italian. If we find a pile of dust in our kitchens we plant basil. I need basil plants in my kitchen. I need them! I've put up a grow light and hope the DEA realizes fresh herbs are actually good for you.

The books fall into three general categories: bread, herbs and spices and Jacques Pepin. I am interested in or frustrated by these topics - or both. I called Dad quite often to discuss something as simple as why a recipe might call for an ingredient, and could I substitute another? Sometimes, Dad would say, "Sure, and don't stop there." Sometimes, Dad would say, "Do that, and you will die before dessert." Cooking may be frought with peril, but as you can see from the breadmaking gadgets pictured, Dad's legacy to me is not one of objects but of curiosity. Of the item on the right he said, "It's your job to learn what it is and how to use it." In essence, he left each of his children keys to different kingdoms, connected and changing, and very much alive.

This is the clay pot he wanted to talk about the day I roasted the chicken. He was too weak to explain to me the use of this vessel, so Daria wrapped it up for me with the proviso that I learn how to cook with it. The challenge appealed to me, since I had no information as to the pot's pedigree. The instructions say there's no need to add fat for cooking. Hmm. The instructions also say to soak the pot for ten or fifteen minutes before use.

Damn right, I brined.

This is a cornish game hen bathed overnight in the fridge in Dad's basic brine formula plus Italian seasoning, pepperoncini and cracked black pepper. Consider brining insurance against dry fowl when using a new cooking method. Anyway, while this looks grim and like the Ground Zero of a cross-contamination holocaust, it's actually fantastic and you should try it. Refrigeration and enthusiastic use of disinfectant on hands, surfaces and tools will save your life. If you choose not to disinfect, please call me so I can laugh at you.

Location, location, location.

It turned out beautifully. The flavor was exciting, the meat really moist, the skin crisp. The potatoes had steamed and roasted. The bed of onion and carrot turned into a nice jus. This experiment was a complete success. Figuring out how to share my findings with the LongItalianLastName Food Science Committee may be beyond me. The thing is just too small. That hen's stuffed in there nicely but a full size chicken? I'm not so sure. I'll have to try that next.

The instructions also say this clay pot can be used to bake bread, which I'll try next weekend. The clay is supposed to create an excellent crust. It's an interesting possibility.

In the meantime, I polished my toenails, fixed my manicure and Naired my mustache. I'm considering taking a glass of wine and Shirley Corriher's Cookwise and spending an hour in the bathtub after the Mythbusters quit blowing up stuff. After a month of no TV, it's a joy to watch a good, vigorous explosion. Today is Miss Sasha's birthday and Easter. Plan your own resurrection accordingly.

Friday, April 06, 2007

We Is All On the Cover of Newsweek


Friday Cow Blogging: Spaghetti-YAH!

I'm home now but Tuesday, I was still at Dad's and Darla's house in Virginia. The day was warm and sunlit. Because I was Phone Monitor and fending off callers of all types, I'd accumulated techno-debris. Moving from place to place became complicated. So I held still in the sun and typed smutty email to a handsome man, which was just funny.

At some point, I looked up the driveway and saw something odd through the trees. The mooing of cows in the pasture in front of me took on a peculiar nagging quality. I called to Darla, working on her laptop on the living room floor.

Tata: Hey Darla, want to see something weird?
Darla: Always. Whatcha got?
Tata: Um, are those cows outside the lines?

Indeed, I would've freaked about then but a week before, Daria had found a cow loitering on the driveway, so of course she called her husband in New Jersey.

Daria: Tyler, there's a cow on the driveway. What do I do?
Tyler: What's it doing?
Daria: Chewing. I can't get home.
Tyler: The cow is between you and the house?
Daria: Yah huh!
Tyler: It's not going to hurt you. It's a cow.

Daria edged the van closer and the cow ignored her. She inched closer still. The cow slipped under the barbed wire and disappeared through the trees, leaving those of us unaccustomed to ways most bovine with the impression that a random cow in the driveway has got places to go and cud to chew. Darla, who lives in the house surrounded by cow pastures and paths, was not interested in cows outside the lines and returned to her laptop. I was sure, however, something was up, and up something was. Within a few minutes, a sizable number of cows stood at an intersection in the driveway. And then they started walking toward me.

Tata: Hey, Darla! The cows are coming.
Darla: I'll get a camera.

The driveway's long and winding and parts are obscured from view by trees. Plainly visible from our vantage point on the front steps were the calves. As the cows walked down the driveway toward the house, calves and cows inside the barbed wire and electric fence walked along, mooing madly, because cows tell on one another. Oh yes, they absolutely do. And cows don't just have arguments - which they do - they know their voices attract the attention of attendant humans, so when there's a lot of mooing, someone will show up with a flatbed.

Tuesday afternoon, cows headed for the house and I was entirely amused until they crossed the PVC bridge supposed to deter them from coming over for picnic lunches. Cows don't like unstable surfaces so the pipe bridge should make them turn around but these cows were especially clever and walked around it.

My jobs at the house as Dad lay dying were Cat Wrangler (in charge of keeping cats happy, fed and out of Dad's hair) and Phone Monitor (keeping interlopers from interloping) and I figured This here is the intersection between pet care and border patrol. Rock on. So with Darla snapping away behind me, I got up and walked toward the cows without the first clue what might happen.

Cheese it! It's the cops!

Turns out cows are scared of Jersey chicks. I came around the trees and said, "Hey gals, whatcha doin'?" Nine giant animals that could have crushed my skull with one hoof spun around and skedaddled up the driveway. That was a surprise. When I stood up, I had no idea the girl gang would go without a rumble. I'm going to add Cowgirl to my resume.

I'm purty.

During the month we ran a household and cared for Daddy, Darla, Daria and I didn't always get a shower every day. We reported this to Dad.

Daria: We have a game called I Am the Cleanest Of the House.
Dara: I shower before school every day so I am always The First Cleanest.
Daria: Right now, I Am the Cleanest Of the House but yesterday -
Tata: I was the Cleanest Of the House until Darla showered.
Dad: I'm out of this game, right?
Daria: And you smell fine.
Tata: I, however, cannot bear to smell me and must fix that immediately. I will shower two days in a row! I'm mad, mad with cleaning power!
Daria: She's going to be a bitch about this until someone else gets the title.

Obviously, that wasn't Tuesday, since I chased cows up the driveway in pajamas. An exciting footnote: to the right of me is the spot where I first saw cows outside the lines, and I hoped they'd slide through the fence. Instead, all nine cows turned left and went up the neighbors' driveway. So. When the neighbors came home, they found cows on the lawn.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Me But Only Part Of the Time

When the undertaker arrives, I'm pouring chicken stock into a saucepan and tossing in rehydrated shitake mushrooms, a bay leaf, dried sage. When I return to the living room, Dad has been dead three hours. Darla hasn't budged from her spot, bedside, where she caresses his right arm. Her parents have assumed protective positions between the undertaker and the front door, which interests me since I assume we should be clearing that path. I say nothing and sit on the bed at Dad's left hand. His skin is cool to the touch but still soft. I am also interested because the undertaker is a young, nervous blond boy in a brand new suit, and he is shaped like a question mark.

Kid: Hi um um um my name is Randy um um um I'm with -
Tata: We spoke on the phone. My name is Domenica.
Kid: Yes um um um I'm very sorry for your um um um loss.
Tata: Thank you. Please sit down. Would you like a glass of water? Would you like to use the bathroom?
Kid: No, thank you. Um um um I have a few um um um questions -
Kid: Yes, um um um we'd like to assure you we'll um um um take care of everything, including um um um getting enough death certificates for your needs. Do you know how many you'd want?

We look at each other.

Tata: How many do people generally ask for, Randy?
Kid: Five or six, and we can always get more.
Tata: We'd like seven. Dad has a minor child who will certainly need copies.
Kid: And we can always get more.
Tata: Excellent.
Kid: Do either of you know your father's parents' names?
Darla: He's my husband!
Tata: ...and my father, and his father's name was Alessandro. A-L-E-S-S-A-N-D-R-O. His mother's name was Edith SicilianName LongItalianLastName. I'll write down his children's names for you.
Kid: Thanks. Um um um about the medical examiner -
Darla: What about him?
Kid: We'll um um um speak to him for you.
Tata: Thank you, since we're not sure what we'd be discussing. Which can be so awkward.
Kid: Oh, I'm sorry I'm wearing a pink shirt.
Darla: What?!
Tata: Dahhhhhhlink, we thought it was just fashion-forward for morticians.
Kid: I went to a breast cancer um um um funeral this morning and um um um -
Darla: Why are you apologizing? Why is he apologizing?
Kid: Anyway, I do apologize -
Tata: Randy, dear, did you come here alone?
Kid: Actually, my associate is waiting in the um um um vehicle. Why do you ask?
Tata: Because otherwise you and I were going to carry Daddy to the hearse.
Darla: I wondered if you were going to throw Dominic over one shoulder.
Tata: I'd do that just for you, sweetie.

Randy slips outside and I duck back in the kitchen to add more chicken stock to the pot, to lay out plates and flatware. Milk and instant potatoes wait for me in measuring cups. Butter softens on a plate. I'd opened a box of expensive frozen burgers, which someone will explain later to be a concession to the sewage taste cancer left in Dad's mouth. Canned vegetables wait in plastic containers to be microwaved. In the living room, the kid and an older man prepare to move the body. I kiss his cheek, say, "Goodbye, Daddy," and march back to the kitchen, where frying pans heat, ingredients simmer and the microwave whirs. The front door slams and what we've all dreaded happens: Darla collapses in her mother's arms and sobs for her lost husband. I sob. Nigel sobs. Nina sobs. We all sob. Years-long minutes pass. Darla hiccoughs.

Darla: What's for dinner?

We dry our tears. We eat burgers with pepper relish because three of us were born in England and it happens to be tasty, and mashed potatoes, creamed corn and cut green beans. Our new motto becomes: You have to laugh or you'll cry, but you still gotta eat, and we ate that kid in a pink shirt for breakfast.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sing When They Take To the Highway

When I left a month ago, it was winter. This evening, I walked to the family store in a light spring rain. My friends filled my refrigerator with fresh vegetables and light Lebanese food. My new couch is gorgeous. My apartment smells like sachets and air fresheners I like. After a month of almost no television, RAI news is on in Italian in my living room. I cannot get used to speaking above a whisper.

Finally, I have come home.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

And Hope That I Might Find You

Monday morning:

Daria: How's your hangover?
Tata: Why are you screaming?
Daria: I'm whispering. You're hungover.
Tata: How could you possibly know that?
Daria: Because the sounds of my little children's tiny steps on my kitchen floor feels like roofing nails being pounded into my brain.
Tata: Anya told me everyone wound up at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's last night. I thought she was sobbing but she said "I'm so allergic to InExcelsisDeo's dog I could plotz."
Daria: Anyway, I don't have to be there to know that when I might've been a teeny bit intoxicated you were a dirty drunk and so was Darla.
Tata: No such thing. We have Get Out Of Jail Free cards. We could run naked through city hall shrieking Rod McKuen poems and not get arrested because we're the grieving family of Dominic LongItalianLastName.
Daria: Wait, so I was a dirty drunk and you were afflicted family members?
Tata: Yup.
Daria: I need a better zip code.

On Saturday, Darla asked me to write Dad's obituary and I admit to panicking a bit. Darla found a recent bio for some festival Dad was planning when he got sick. I stared at it, then called Daria for help. Dad has led a complicated, sometimes secretive life the details of which remain obscure. After many fits and starts, I tore bits and pieces out of the folksy bio and added a list of surviving relatives. Then I looked across the kitchen table and found the solution to my what-am-I-omitting? problem.

Tata: Summer, read this and tell me what I'm forgetting. Please!

Dad's second ex-wife and my baby sister Dara's mother Summer put down an elderly copy of People and stared at the text file. First of all, everybody who wandered by said the same thing.

Mourner: He didn't write his own obituary?
Tata: Nope.
Mourner: ...I didn't see that coming!

Summer, like the rest of us, couldn't believe Dad hadn't scripted his demise and screened sponsors. He was a prowling, growling set of uncompromising standards for himself and others and this cancer thing was unacceptable, so when he told Darla he hadn't written an obituary, even she didn't believe him. There's a magnet on his wonky oven that reads: CULINARY CONTROL FREAK. Naturally, we searched his computer for tributes he'd written to himself. We braced ourselves to read posthumous revelations like Now it can be told: Dominic LongItalianLastName invented pantyhose in 1958 so he'd have something to peel off women in 1959, but he was true to his word and we found nothing. Summer read an obituary draft rough as a gravel footpath and asked, "What about his bonsais? Remember when he was a professional musician? Didn't he take pictures for a living? How many countries did he visit? Did he make that Olympic team?" Christ, if I knew. I wrote it all down, rearranged it, and emailed a draft to Darla, who was, of course, in the living room with Dad. Then, I added something, and emailed a revision to Darla, still only thirty feet away. Darla rewrote the crappy draft I'd sent her in a competent manner and sent it back to me, in the kitchen. The timestamp says 4:12 p.m. She hit send, she said later, and turned to see why Dad made a funny noise, which turned out to be a last breath, then no more. As I mentioned before, Darla's father Nigel told his wife Nina Dad was dead. She came to the kitchen table where Summer, Dara and I waited and said, "I'm sorry but he's gone." Summer and Dara burst into tears. I stood up, walked around the table like an apparition and into the living room. I saw that Daddy was dead, that Darla was sobbing, that Nigel was distraught because his daughter was distraught, and I pulled the list of phone numbers off the wall. I said, "I will take care of this," and walked back to the phone, where I called hospice and got the answering service. It was Sunday, after all. An insufficiently understanding operator spelled and re-spelled LongItalianLastName five or six times, though it should have been clear to her that the person leaving this message had just lost a significant figure in her life. Someone was supposed to call back immediately. Fifteen minutes later, no one had, I called back and made it entirely clear I was reporting a death and delays were - say it with me, children - unacceptable. At just about 5:20, a very sweet on-call nurse arrived, checked Dad's pulse and respiration and smiled at us. She had no legal power to say the words, "He's dead" and since I knew that, I'd already called the funeral home and said, "Dudes, it's happened. Stand by for a hospice nurse to call you." She called, over and over, for an on-call oncologist to pronounce Dad dead. In the meantime, sobbing at the kitchen table had given way to frustration with procedure and staring into space when the nurse sat down with us. I couldn't move this process forward without taking a hostage, so I changed the subject for my teenaged sister.

Tata: So: thanks for leaving me that load of laundry.
Dara: problem...
Tata: I'll tell you what I said this morning: "That's enough! Those bitches are going to fold their own thongs!"

Summer and the nurse burst out laughing. Dara stared at me for a second, then snickered.

Dara: Nobody folds their thongs. What, do you fold your underwear?
Tata: Of course not. I solve that problem by not wearing any.

The spell of the last months is broken when mourners and the hospice nurse can't stop themselves from doubling over. I don't know what possessed me to say this but I should be checked for ectoplasmic fingerprints.

Tata: Listen, there's no reason for you to stay here any longer. Why don't you go home with your mom?
Dara: Daria will come back tomorrow, right?
Tata: Right, and you can have the cuddly sister then but in the meantime, why not go home?
Dara: I guess I could...

She ran upstairs to pack while Summer looked at me like What just happened?

Dara ran back downstairs with her backpack just as the nurse got a doctor on the phone. The formality of pronouncing Dad dead occurred two hours after his last breath, and then the mortuary people could leave their office an hour away. Dara kissed Daddy goodbye and I walked her and Summer to their car.

Dara: Hug me!
Tata: I...just...can't!
Dara: You're prickly but you're gonna get over it.
Tata: I'm prickly, but you're all trippy and fall-downy. Talk to you tomorrow.

When the vehicle from the mortuary arrived in the driveway, dinner was ten minutes' from ready, by which I mean everything on the stove bubbled gently. We have been eating where he slept, but I worried it might be too much for the undertakers to arrive and find us passing the gravy, especially since there was no way Darla would leave Dad's body. So. Again, we waited.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

And That's All I Know

Dad stopped breathing a little over half an hour ago. We're waiting for the hospice people to come and begin the legal aspects of the end of Dad's life.

If we can choose the manner of our deaths, and some of us do, we are lucky indeed. He was asleep. Darla and her father were sitting bedside, talking quietly. He was breathing, then he didn't draw another breath. Then, Darla's father called to his wife, and we in the kitchen clearly heard him whisper, "He's gone." Everyone sobbed and I called hospice. Once again, we are just waiting.

Someplace So High Above This Wall

We had a very hard night. Even the cats are restless.

I'm so tired.