Pandemic Diary Excerpts
Togetherness and banishment,
wife and I smoldering on the living room couch,
our tiny continent.
I open the amazon packages.
She reminds me to wash my hands.
I escape into her beauty.
From the window, I watch my neighbor
kiss his dog on the mouth.
Life through a telescope.
Mornings are inexhaustible.
What to talk about?
Our poop vocabulary is expanding;
two current favorites:
Night Train to Memphis,
Children of a Lesser God.
Mornings are exhausting.
Sitting in the back yard,
a lone bird floats across my peripheral vision,
a blurred half-silhouette, like a mystic sign.
Time of lost time.
Every day I walk through the neighborhood
past faceless windows and overgrown lawns.
I am hungry from morning to night.
Is it this easy to undo the world?
I am a swamp of murky thoughts.
I try not to dwell, but fear creeps into me,
my body charged with mortality.
Last night, dreams filled with trees,
the trees full of crows.
The house draws into itself.
I am mesmerized by my metabolism.
Life through a microscope.
We need to move.
In which I Consider the Weather
A New York friend says
we have no real seasons in the Coachella Valley.
Come fall, the death of summer, and we feel like feathers.
Birds prance like runway models on the telephone wires,
leaves toss in the twilight wind.
Winter keeps us cool—
the last of the fall leaves look up from under the trees
as if on the verge of speech.
With Spring, freckles of peppery warmth,
a wonderment in the blood,
nerves purr, and the abyss holds off.
Then Summer—early mornings, the air still benign, bright,
But by eleven, images begin to dissolve—
a dog crosses the street, a crow lands on the fence—
a succession of blurry moments,
mopped up, one by one, by the burgeoning heat.
Across the street, two doves park in a palm
above a pink couple from Minnesota
on their third poolside margarita,
committing slow suicide by sunburn.
To walk outside is to wobble between reverence, collapse,
and a kind of puzzlement: Can it really be this hot?
Why, for the love of God, are we living here?
We try not to think about it.
We try to regroup—
we swim, we air-condition,
we cocktail, we reconstitute,
but the vast, untractable heat has pinned us down,
songbirds shuttered, sidewalks barren, car-less streets.
A hummingbird hovers over the bougainvillea
as if to paraphrase the simmering silence.
At eleven, the shiny woman on Channel Seven proclaims,
Tomorrow’s expected high: One hundred-twelve,
and the expectation of blistering heat forms
into a noose around the neck of another day.
How they wandered in the desert,
how they bowed their heads to pray,
how they bowed their heads to blend in,
how, robbed of their rings, they sang
and drummed upon their own skin,
until their skin was taken away,
how they lived in shelters of bark,
lived in buildings with chickens and knife fights,
endorsed heaven and enclosed themselves with a wire*,
and made with the wire a province of inside,
wheels inside wheels, water in water,
fish inside men, lakes inside women,
how they pulled the wire taut around all they cherished,
all in accord with the scalding judgment of their god,
babies and medicines, canes and keys,
the laws and their songs, all saved
by the strength of the wire.
*The wire in this poem refers to an eruv, an urban area enclosed by a wire boundary which symbolically extends the private domain of Jewish households into public areas, permitting activities within it that are normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath.
Middle of another night,
my mind colonized by the evening’s headlines.
It seems like the world is losing all its tenderness.
I try to fall asleep by counting my breath.
I imagine myself a wakeful dream, dreaming itself.
I review the day—a white Corvette convertible
ablaze with sunlight, smoke from barbecues
drifting over the neighborhood,
ghost vapors rising out of the sidewalk,
a man at a bus stop tearing up pieces of paper.
Lying perfectly still, suspended
between the soft witchery of words
and the rough skin of the world,
I doze on and off.
The long day softens,
and just as my body begins
to ease its beseeching,
her family arrives—
her mother’s heartless fingernails,
her little brother’s fury,
Grandpa Harry’s penis joke,
and, fresh from smoking
weed out by the garbage cans,
her sister, careening, her attempt
to kiss me on the mouth,
stumbling, falling onto the kitchen floor—
How We Met
Do I have any pets?
“I’ve been wanting to get a dog. I’m kind of an old soul,
and I think dogs also tend to be old souls.”
Psychobabble to convey depth—
I don’t like dogs.
She finishes her steak,
Faint lipstick fragrance: gardenia.
“You smell good,”
which I considered saying earlier.
The waiter asks if we have room for dessert.
I am in her purse,
jiggling around with the loose change.
How We Met
She walked behind me at first, then alongside. When I reached home, she simply walked in, sat down, and immediately fell asleep. She woke, as if at the end of a long illness. We ate grilled fish and sat together in silence. She spent the night and the following day, which turned into another, and soon a week had passed. We got along. She came and went as she pleased. I often watched from the window, never sure if she’d return, certain one day she wouldn’t, and one day, she didn’t. Looking back, she both was and was not what I needed at that time. Some days, it felt as though the two of us had been shipwrecked together, a random companionship. Others, our union felt inevitable. She lived deep in herself, spent hours sitting still, museum-quiet, in a posture somewhere between dignity and disdain, like a cat. I realize now, in retrospect, that she may, in fact, have been a cat.
In the thick
of our holy quarrel
you leaned in
the most important thing,
but were silent,
and I wanted to leave you
across the table
on your device,
but I knocked over our old vase
spilling the violets,
and you looked at me
as if before they fell,
you’d seen them
I set out to attain nothing more
than myself, and before long,
had no money
and only one tooth,
the price I paid
to locate this exotic kingdom,
where mud-caked holy men
wander barefoot from place
to arduous place,
where the people need salt,
find it in the sea, call
what we call sea, “The Salt,”
and sing, “Let us walk
along the shore of The Salt.”
Yes, that will be the title.
My big brother Harry was something: Leave the crude undamaged beneath the sea, he said, sold his car, and even refused for a time to ride in cars. (Later, he lived in a car.) Immediately after college, Harry changed his name to Harrison Redwood, moved north, and chained himself to an old growth redwood. There was an article about him in The Seattle Times under the headline “Defender of Trees.” The camera loved him.
But none of that actually happened. In reality, Harry never finished high school. He died of a rare blood disease when he was eleven. Still, I can remember an earlier time when Harry told Miss Beitler, his fourth grade teacher, (and this part is true) that he used to have another brother named Mr. BlueWhite, who died and was buried upside down under a redwood, his feet sticking up through the grass, one blue shoe, one white. Unfortunately, this is not true either; I am an only child.