A Better Man Might Have Said…

Posted: June 11, 2013 in Fiction
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Silence is the first verse in the song of forgetting.

And he knew he fucked up.  Treated her like shit because he wanted her to feel a little of the pain he was feeling.  Wanted to have an effect on her the way she had an effect on him.  He wanted to have some power over her to match the immense power she had over him.  And it back fired in ways that he had not even anticipated.  And what was left to him now was her silence. He was sorry he was so sensitive and emotional.  Sorry he wore his heart on his sleeve.  It was a symptom of his upbringing.

I grew up with my mom and my sisters, he implored, so much so that I practically have a vagina myself.  I care too much and too often and too easily and I let that guide my behavior way more than I should.

Is that such a terrible thing, he asked her at the cusp of exasperation. Was it a bad thing that he wanted to hear from her everyday? A bad thing that he wanted to hang out with her everyday?  To hear her laugh and to tell her jokes that made her laugh again and again? Was it such a terrible think to notice the littlest things about her; like how her fingers elongated every time she would make a point; they punctuated the rhythm of her sentences and gushed over him like fresh and living water.

And don’t even get me started on the tenderness in the shape of your neck, he warned gravely, and how it ebbs and flows as you breath.

He didn’t know how to share the truth of his heart with her.  That gave her way too much power. But for moments at a time, he was perfectly OK with relinquishing so much power to her. Her kindness and tender heart would have absolved him of the tyranny of his fears and self-doubt, his insecurities.  But rather than sheer honesty, he was cryptic and coded.  Wreathed himself in drunkenness and desire and became but a burden on her.  He was erratic and careless with her friendship. Used her as a springboard for his own selfish desires. And for that, he was deeply ashamed.

In all honesty, I was proud of the way you handled me.  Extremely proud of how you shut me down because as you said: “I don’t play that shit.”  I couldn’t have been any more proud of you were I your brother or your father.  I remain utterly impressed as your friend how you stood up for yourself.  I would’ve been the first to tell you: Don’t ever let a man treat you that way!  You don’t deserve that bullshit; drop this fucker like it ain’t no thing!  It is to my complete and utter humiliation that I let myself be that man.  I am ever more thankful and grateful for your kind heart and gentle spirit.

Silence is the first verse in the song of forgetting.

I suppose he deserves her silence now.  Can only assume, because it was the one thing that brought him the least amount of pain, that she was simply letting him cool off and accept the reality of their relationship: Dear friends and nothing more. But certainly nothing less.  He looked forward to the days when, again, they could share in this life together. In laughing and sharing; on roads headed toward times well spent and days worth remembering.

I shall not forget the greatest truth between us: before anything and everything, you are my friend.  Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

He must now have the strength and the courage, the faith even, to trust in her. Trust that at the root of this silence placed before him there lies her kind heart and gentle spirit.  The very reason he ever loved her in the first place.

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Pernicious

Posted: June 3, 2013 in Life
Tags:

into-infinity.jpg

The thing about a rugged individualism:

It’s almost always done in the name of God, family and country.

Therein lies the irony, the pernicious myopathy

The blinders that lead to suffering of other people

Who are often a means to an end

Rarely do the blinders come off

Lugar de Agua Y Nopal

Posted: May 16, 2013 in Fiction

In a fearful state of mind grass in the wind sounds like a hissing snake.  A babbling brook a rattler’s tail.  Out here I was being philosophical, coming up with all sorts of reasons why he was better than me. Why she was so aloof.  Shit like: Well, you’re feelings aren’t real.  They are but a perception of events, an interpretation had through a prism.  A very broken prism, but a prism none the less.  You have to isolate and distance reality from you perception of it.  She not wanting you is one thing. Assuming you don’t deserve her is quite another. Just then, I heard from among the trees what ought not be there.  Footsteps. I thought I was alone.

Perdoname señor, perdoname.  Puedo molestarte por una gotita de agua.

Were I thirsty, I might have thought the better of it. But I had gulped half the bottle of water not a minute ago so thirsty I was not. Seguro que si, I say

Ando caminando desde Mexico, mijo. Ando bien cansado.  muchisimas gracias por el agua.

He slumped on the ground, heavy of breath.

No te qiuero molestar mas mijo asi es que; por casualdiad no trais…

He gestured with his hand some kind of universal sign for money. I admit, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that my first reaction was: This fucking dude!  I just spent my last dollar on a girl who didn’t even bother to hug me last night.  Last week I gave my last twenty-five to a bill from twenty years ago. And now this guy wants the last of my cash now?! I took a single deep breath, the sigh of which, encapsulated my immediate sentiments.  I observed his broken down form, his beleagured spirit. His dark skin looked sickly and inedible.

Crouching slowly beside him, I spat upon the ground beside us expelling the bitter taste of superiority that dried my toungue.  I tilted my great head and was like: dejame pregunarte una cosa. Encontraste a Dios en el camino. Lo enconraste aqui, este lugar de agua y nopal?

Dejame decirtelo haci mijo, he said, de lo tanto que qiueria oyir una voz; hasta pedi por el.  Solo oyi el voz mio, que es voz de angustia.

His shoulders shrugged, his eyebrows lifted and his lips puckered in sheer acceptance.

Pero, he continued, cuando esta muy fruerte el sol busco la sombra.  Cuando viene la oscuridad, lo tengo miedo.  Cuando…ya no puedo mas, lloro.

He lifted the bottle of water in the air. Cuando me da sed, me dan agua.

He smiled

Y, nodding his head, cuando encuentro la maravilloso digo “Wow!”  Mijo, en el camino , como aqui en este lugar, son los hormigas el que te quita lo pendejo, no la voz de un dios.  Las Palmurranas.

I rose to my feet ready to give him money from my pocket.  In the distance the train echoed its haunting refrain and beat its wheels into the track like mighty drums.  This jolted him out of his pensive state. I gave him the last of the money I had in my pocket.  We locked in a gaze for a second, then turned and walked away.  Walking back from the brush, I came upon an old pier that was alone and disheveled, left to fend for itself.  I thought about the old man and how the two were eerily similar in form.  I thought about the memories made on that pier andabout the memories he had locked away in his heart and mind.  Among the miscellany of carved out words and sentiments drawn in ink, I noticed one particular one dated June ’96:  “I was here, she was not.”

Dije “Wow!”

Pier DKP

Dear reader:

There’s no sense in going further.  After all was said and done, the fact remained, I fell for it again.   When will I ever learn? And it began with a rush of wind; a blistering hope that was poked and prodded but left to scab in the open air.

She was looking good, really good. Far beyond me.  And for moments at a time I felt like another man; wholly another man in the shade of her smile.  Someone worth her effort, worth her affection.  There was no time to tell her, left it up to the gods to do that. But they were silent last night. Silent like the screams into my pillow.  Felt like the first grade fool I always knew I was; a chump even.  But there I was, longing for her touch, silently begging her to calm the wolves of my desire.  Leaving crumbs like clues, desperately hoping she’d follow them.  But the wolves prevailed and they devoured me.

I don’t have the strength to live in that world; never the man worth the effort. Worth the affection. Sad to report I am less a man and more a bundle of meaningless words.  Words that get me nowhere.  Mediocrity is my first and last name and I can’t erase it from the blackboard.  Never been good enough, never will be.  And yet, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I fell for it again.

I’ve often think of castration.  Thought about it so much it scares me: perhaps Origen was on to something.  Of what use is thirst if water is far off and undrinkable.  Or rather, it is my fountain that is tepid and forgettable. Utterly unworthy to hold such flowing water.

Here I am, dear reader: angry, besmirched, feeling foolish beyond measure for even having entertained thoughts of her.  Alive and wide awake in an ever gathering dark and I cannot contain it. It consumes me more and more, day by day, night by night.  My cup overflows with the filth of my existence. And I am but a bundle of meaningless words.  Expressions that go unheard.

Does she wither at the lack of me? Does she writhe into her pillow cause I’m not there?

There’s no sense in going further.

The Bell

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Fiction
Tags: ,

“It’s not the act of death that bothers me,” she said, “it’s the unanimity.” And she laughed as she said it. Sure, I thought it a curious place for a laugh and I told her as much. But she shrugged her shoulders in that familiar form and the irony of what she had said fell off of me like a meaningless insult. I went on telling her the story:

There is no real concept of hell in the Old Testament. It’s a rather ambiguous place called Sheol. It’s there the Patriarchs went after they died. When the Nicene creed reads Jesus descended into “hell” it probably doesn’t mean what we think it means.

She thought for a moment and asked, “so it’s kinda like when we say the underworld?”

Something like that; yes, I replied.

“Do you think maybe the Hebrews got the idea from the Egyptians; you know when…”

Just then, a knock broke the intensity of our conversation. We stared at each other, almost as if we had been caught doing something wrong; or perhaps it was that we hadn’t heard a knock at all. Then the jolting sound of the doorbell followed by a distant knock echoed through the hall into my room. It was the front door we finally surmised. I was halfway to the door when I realized it was a Fed-Ex delivery.

“Something from Amazon.com for you, sir!”

He was a tall pale fellow, rather lanky. His hair was styled to be messy and jet-black almost as if he had colored it the night before and the true color hadn’t taken just yet. Considering the myriad tattoos covering his arms, I thought it quite fitting. It seems early 90’s ‘grunge’ has yet to die out, I thought to myself.

As I signed for my parcel, it struck me that his jovial nature and the excitement with which he had presented himself was at odds with his styled look.

“Last name?” he asked.

Oh, Al-va-rez I retorted.

“Is that with an ‘S’ or a ‘Z’?”, he clarified.

With a ‘Z.’

“Cool man, thanks!”  he said, jogging away.

And before I could say anything in return he was in his truck and off to his next delivery. As I made my way back to my room, Ariana called out: “I’m over here”

I stopped mid-step and turned over to where she stood.

“What are you doing in the kitchen?” I asked.

“I figured I’d make us tea, what do you think?” she inquired, already knowing the answer.

“Sounds very refreshing!”

“Is that the book? Huh, Huh. is it…IS IT??” she inquired playfully.

“Yes, yes, yes and yes it is. It’s finally here!” I said matching her silliness.

It was a book of photographs I encountered while browsing Amazon.com. Very specific pictures. It was a collection of black and whites of two 3rd century catacombs from Jerusalem and Rome. Early Christians used the underground necropolis for burying their dead. Some say they also took refuge. Some say they even had fellowship there; that the earliest expressions of the Eucharistic Mass took its form in that underground world.

Whatever the case, they left their mark in wall carvings and in frescoes and mosaics. What was of interest to me was the specific manner in which they depicted Jesus, the miracle worker. Whether it was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead or Jesus multiplying the loafs and fishes on the Mount of Olives, invariably these early images placed in Jesus’ hand a thing which can only be described as a magician’s wand.

I had become interested in the correlation of Jesus and magic after reading a paper called “Magic and Meal.” In it, the author, a former Roman Catholic Priest, expounded upon the sociological difference between a “miracle worker” and a “magician.” He had come to the conclusion that there really was no substantive difference between the two. It was a matter of semantic nuance.

His analysis across many societies had persuaded him that the only real difference, in whether a person was called a miracle worker or a magician, was the difference between official and unofficial religious practice. That is to say, within an official accepted religion the harbinger of wondrous deeds was called a miracle worker and within unofficial and unaccepted religious practice, the harbinger of wondrous deeds was called a magician. Or as he put it: “we” practice religion, “they” practice magic. “We” say prayers, “they” cast spells.

With the dark smell of brewing tea hanging in the air and the gurgling cadence of percolation breaking the silence of the room, I tore open the package. The book was not of an impressive size. A sure clue that the photos within were not heavily laden with text from an editor’s hand. A chamber from the Roman catacombs of St. Callixtus adorned the cover. The frescoes that bordered the ancient loculi were small given the size of the book but enough was revealed to tantalize. Seeing my excitement and taking advantage of my inattention, Ariana grabbed the book from my eager hands.

“LET ME see it!!” she barked as she ran off in a giggle.

Annoyed, I gazed at her making sure she noticed the offense.  But it took only a moment for me to realize, yet again, that such attempts at passive aggression were futile. She had always found ways to cast them aside by rolling her eyes, like a moody teenager.  But this time she perked up and looked back at me square in the eyes.

“What?” she asked with utter bravado.

“This book will always be with you; but me you may not always have,” she said as she turned again toward the book.

Then she halfway looked up again, and through her hair she flashed a muted smile, wanting to know if I had picked up on the gospel allusion. In fact, I had.  As I approached the sanctum of her remark, I noticed she was paused on a certain page. And gazing at the picture of the Cubicle of the Sacraments she asked pointedly:

“Isn’t it more important to study what they said of themselves rather than what we say about them? Of all the images they could have used to commemorate their dead, why these? A Shepard, a communal meal,” and she trailed off, quietly looking through the book.

As she pointed to the frescoes which surrounded the four loculi hewn into a wall she continued:

“I mean, even if you find anything approaching “Jesus the magician” in these pictures, wouldn’t that just tell you about the people who made the paintings rather than Jesus himself?”

“That is one of the aspects I’m curious about myself,” I replied, “either way, it’s fascinating.”

“Well you’ll have to do that on your own, I have to go,” and she cast the book aside on the couch.

Ariana mooned about the room gathering her things thinking aloud.

“These catacombs are from the 3rd or 4th century. Even if it could be shown that what Jesus held in his hand was, in fact, a magician’s wand and not, say, a walking stick; it would still be required to account for how far back the idea went.”

“Hence the book!” I announced.

“Good luck with that one geek!” she spat off in her pithy humor and left, closing the door behind her.

The Bell

South Texas is a place where memories linger. Legend has it that the flat land, where one can see for miles around, allow the memories of its people to wander for there are no mountains to guide them upward into infinity. I had often wished to be born elsewhere. Rome or Greece, I had thought, would be the best place to be born. It was so rich in history and memory that to walk the roads under the Parthenon or the streets along the Colosseum on any given night was to walk where ancient people had walked. And that had always struck me with a gong of romance. It was a far cry from South Texas to be sure. Our history went as far as the arrival of the Spaniard in the 1500’s. As impressive as that can be, it was eons away from those great city-states.

I had come to the Bell Library in Corpus Christi on the cusp of a memory. Years ago I had come with a friend, Juan Solizeno had invited me to peruse the family history section of “the Bell” as he had come to call it. He was particularly interested in a set of papers collected in early 1760. The Englehardt Papers preserve, in four journals, the travels of Daniel Englehardt, whose journey along the Rio Grande, gives us the first glimpses of the families living along the great river. He details a number of family names, local customs, laws and other information that had remained unknown until Englehardt’s journals were discovered in the 1930’s.

“Here it is.” mumbled Juan. “This is why I love the Bell, a 18th century collection cherished and preserved as if it were from the first.”

“Here put these gloves on,” he insisted.

I obliged and while he removed the journals from the safe-box, I imagined we were archaeologists viewing the documents for the first time in history.

“I want to tell you of the first time I encountered these journals,” he said mysteriously.

“I was 34 years old when these journals were brought here. I was teaching English at the high school when the city hosted the event in conjunction with the library. It was a huge deal when the choice was made to house them here,” he recalled, savoring the residue of the memory.

“I thought it would be a good idea to somehow incorporate these journals into my lesson plans. So I would read them an hour each day after school and find ways to use them.” He continued: “One day I came across this page.”

He pointed halfway down the page. The irony of primary sources struck me like a death punch. I could not read the handwritten text. My eyes were not accustomed to deciphering quickly the cursive handwriting of Mr. Englehardt. Noticing my struggle, Juan took liberty.

Allow me: “…some miles south of the River, encountered a most curious regional aspect. head of the household proudly boasts his family as first to bring the printing press to the region. A quaint little ranchito called El Solizeno. All manner of material printed by their nimble hands…”

I looked at Juan with a puzzled look. That is your last name.

“Yes. Yes it is. This is where genealogy became real to me.  I had always been interested but with this my curiosity soared! It was the start of a long journey. A journey I continues to this day.”

“You know it’s funny. I remember sitting on the porch with my grandparents, my aunts and uncles when they would tell stories about our family. Most of the time it was boring and I wasn’t interested but there were times I couldn’t help but listen. One such story was about el jacal abajo de la casa.  Way back, when our great-great grandparents lived on a ranch in Mexico, there was talk of a shed or a shack under the house.  The details about what was in there differed from telling to telling Some say gold and silver, others say precious jewels. Based on this Engelhardt account, I think it was books they stored there.”

My recollection suddenly burst,.

“What are you doooing?” Ariana asked in her stylistic playful greeting.

“I’m trying to find a book.”

True to form she added: “That shouldn’t be too hard here in a library.”

“No silly. I’m looking for a book I found years ago while here with a friend. It was my first time here at “the Bell” so I wandered. I came across an archaeological report about a site on the Gulf Coast, here in Corpus. I seem to remember the remains of a shipwreck found.  In my rush to take in the facilities I only quickly read through it. But I recall it stating that Roman denarii were collected and that it might be dated to Roman times. The only evidence of a Roman ship on the shores of Corpus Christi. But that’s all I remember, so, I’m trying to find it and read the full report.”

Above Water

Posted: January 27, 2013 in Life

Hands reaching above water

He continued, though many on the committee had begun leaving the room:

I want the bulk of my work to be a testament to the diversity of our small town…

A few turned around on politeness alone and to them he smiled, but to the others he shouted further:

I believe it is a rare thing indeed to have such a small community in South Texas as diverse and varied as the population we find in our city…

There was a cold silence as the last committee member shuffled her way out of the room.  It was Marquesa.

Not her

he thought

not her.

Of all the members, not her. She was the only one who had agreed to the lunch.  He thought he had her, that she had believed in his idea.  He sat on the rather large seat of the Chair of the Committee; sank into it, as they say.  Spinning around with his feet he decided to finish the task he had begun there and read what he had prepared for the committee in the silence of the boardroom:

To that end, I want my stories to burst forth with a light composed of the many voices of our little city; from the ubiquitous Kineño cowboy in the chaparral to the Mexican land laborer, from the Pakistani store owner to the group of Chinese students that meet on the third floor of the library to study.  Together, through the crucible of our lives and the decibel of our stories, we will serve as a spring board to the top.  That our existence here on this tiniest of corners in the world and here in this tiniest moment in time can be seen like outstretched hands above the water.

He sighed and walked out of the room, leaving the text of his remarks on the chair.

On the cusp of this Election 2012 in the United States of America, I sit at this laptop with a decision to make. (Actually, I’ve already voted!)   To put it to you slick: Vote for O or vote for Ro?  That is the question before us.

Many would have you believe that this is the most important election in our nation’s history.  We stand on the brink, they say. On the brink of a fundamental shift in the fabric of these United States.  Many of the conservative persuasion see the inexorable decline of the Obama administration into a “European style government,” (kinda like the Magna Carta?) where we tug at the strings of “Socialism,” (kinda like what Jesus and his disciples practiced?) as an usurpation of the Constitution; a negation of what this country used to be.

Many on the liberal side of the equation view President Obama’s policies as a necessary tonic for the ills we find ourselves in, a “tussin” poured deep into a flummoxed nation after two terms of a hawkish Bush administration.

I agree this is a defining moment in our nation’s history.  I believe, however, that the most important election in the history of this country is always the next one, because it implies we’re still around.  That may sound like a hustle, like a sidestepping of the gravity of this election.  But I assure you it’s not.  It is the result of a practical aspect of my citizenship; the pragmatic nature of my politics.

When I voted for G.W. Bush the first time (after having voted for Clinton), I was voting for a Texan and the “Fuck you, I’m from Texas” attitude.  The form of Republicanism G.W. Bush espoused, what he called “compassionate conservatism,” I felt was a push in the right direction for the country.  I was listening to a lot of talk radio then and it showed. And in any case, I just could not see myself voting for Al Gore.

When I supported W. the second time, I was voting for a hawk.  A macho man Cowboy to lead the U.S. into the sunset like so many John Wayne movies.  Anything to get out of the 9/11 funk we were in and to restore a semblance of strength to our nation.  Boy, did I back the wrong horse on that one. We went form strong to bully in no time flat.

In 2008, I cast my vote for John McCain (I know, right?)  Again, talk radio was influential to some degree but I voted mostly on the side of experience.  With multiple wars raging, I felt that John McCain was who I could trust the most in that arena.  When Obama won the election, I was not completely disheartened.  My world did not come to an end is what I’m saying.  I can now say, I’m glad he lost the race.  I’m fairly certain not only would we still have an active war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Iran and Pakistan as well.  The Bush Doctrine would win the day.

In the end, the financial crisis was much more suited for Barack Obama than John McCain.  The decisions that had to be made simply could not have been made by a Republican president.  We would have a collapsed car industry (thanks you bailout!) and a still plummeting housing market (thank you bailout!). We would have a more hostile country for many many people the establishment considers “other” at best, “anathema” at worst.  And those of us who “have never met a payroll” would still not be worth the air we breathe.

Today I voted for President Obama.  My first Democratic vote since Clinton! Again, it is the result of a practical aspect of my citizenship; the pragmatic nature of my politics. I used to think that the above dichotomy between conservative and liberal was only useful within the flash fiction of CNN and Fox News.  To borrow a phrase from Rush Limbaugh, that it was the bread and butter of the “drive by media.”  Meant to first entertain, then inform.  To engage, then educate.  I no longer see that as the case.  There are very real differences between the two parties.  I reject the notion that voting is what matters, that it doesn’t matter WHO you vote for as long as you VOTE.  Well, that is rather like saying it doesn’t matter WHO you have faith in, as long as you have FAITH.   Rubbish! Of course it matters.

What’s the character of your candidate? More importantly, what is the content of that character?  What good is even a billion more jobs if the nation has lost it soul in the process?  What good is equity in our country if our government is bankrupt?  I don’t have the solutions to these problems and the reality is, neither does any candidate currently running for office. The solution to the issues we face will not be found in a party affiliation. It will not be found in a religious book. It will not be found by making more money, in the private sector or the government.

So to Romney supporters: I know how it feels to lose.  However, I don’t know how it feels to harbor the sort of bleakness and apocalypse I’m seeing all across the Republican party.  It’s only four more years and you even get to keep the House.  If there is any truth to the post election fallout it is this: what happened on election night is four more years of more of the same.  I can live with that. So can you.