check engine light romance

Gray mascara on the sky

over Monroe Avenue, the artery of this town.

When I pull up to the drive-thru at McDonalds

I switch Tom Waits for 98PXY. A lot of advertisements happen. It’s Huuuuge.

Hey, Anthony, I text, Meet me at the train

Past Scio. Sigh-oh. I whisper. I look like a mark in this coat.

Rochester is pretty yet so

common like a starling (Kodak photo fixer,

years dead, pooled in the river)  and I know it’s only fifteen minutes big.

Who doesn’t have a fine from the stoplight cameras,

a Lucky7 scratch-off dollar win (the smudgy pink and green one)?

Who else is kneeling with a temp-work prayer? They’re deep, the prayers.

They lead to a blessed life. Kiss the knuckle

of your hand when you say it; cross the air.

But it’s what they call a service-rich place

to end up down inside. HomelessKelly tells me “Sky for free.”

Also, copper’s at a premium, and social workers

paid to help even at the library downtown.   I stress the engine light;

it blinks twice a week, neither of us

frozen into (arsenic) acceptance, the gentle killer kind.

I tap the steering wheel, gently, say Claudia, c’mon now

Baby, shhh.  Next to a garage on Richland in the South Wedge,

She hangs her clothes in the birch trees.

letter to a woman who makes her way

You’ve gone a luminous blind.

Your paper street: more potholes.

You hide your meaning behind a parasol, spinning it (white flurry blur).

In this forest of misconceptions,

Although I guide you to the nearest blackberry bush,

While you are sustained, the sunlight is hid from us

By these high conifers; the words

We say have no echo.

I’m not even the diner waitress I used to be: “How can I help you?”

Said like, “You know where that coffee pot is, you refill it.”

You say to me, blackberries don’t grow near pines.  We starve then.

God’s around us, Kami in the fern shadows showing us everything is

Sense or green, past “known”, the puzzle tumble of Midnight’s Children.

You explain something for over an hour.  And we walk.

I escape your eraser-scrubbed logic (you’ve made a hole in the paper) or

Something more helpless: let’s say misfired synapses–

Something chemical rather than free will at work,

Showing itself for a series of selfish decisions.

I desist or damn us both, cut out

The overwrought way I speak, dressage instead of western–

At least you were interested in the intricacy. However,

It’s no use pretending I’ve gotten either of us

To the door of a friendly apartment,

In a city where the lights are on all hours,

Where a door will click; we let ourselves in,

We can get a glass of water

Or sit in a chair. No. We walk all night.  Finally,

I take off my coat and lay it down

There, over earth.  So? it’s dark. And birds loop

Nearby, watching.  Crow feathers like crow feathers, darker than the sky.

The Rosebud Diner

The Rosebud Diner, circa 1994

Jessie was a waitress who would flirt with your ugly grandpa and make you refill the coffees. She’d say, “You know where it is!”in a dolly-with-cancer teeny voice.

She caught the flat top of Lucky Sevens with a quarter during the lull between lunch and dinner, racking up just enough dollar winners to go on playing daily, plus it was a new type of scratch-off. The new ones hit more often.

The Diner is still with me, but no longer on the Commons.

Jessie preached and I learned how to smile-talk to strangers, make friends, judge assholes, and acquaint myself with a job, choose between beer and nicotine or getting myself, with optimism and diligence, to the next truth–truth as simple and repetitive as the coffee steady perking in the pot—weekdays falling forward, building up who I saw in the mirror, and in the warm eyes of whoever it was I was falling in love with at the time, depending on whether I took or ignored the dull steps towards dreams—the diner was where to rest and talk about any other kind of bull, but this.

Louise had a clippy British accent; she was an actress yet neat as a pin and unlovely. Michael, her husband, made me a bookcase, embellishing the edges with florettes which mirrored each other.  He was a Paul Revere. It was too small for most of my books, but oak, as promised.

Danny the owner ran the place from the kitchen, ladling batter from a stainless steel bowl, frying three-dollar all-you-can-eat French toast all day which people completely abused, passing one plate around to three or even four sullen (then capering then angst-ridden then saucy)  punk rock twenty-year-old Commons rats, leaving a one-dollar tip folded into a triangle or a crane.

I had to ask three months in a row to work there. Something about The Rosebud matched my idea of myself, cramped, smoky, with its yellowing seats and speckled tile; it was the shabby gathering place where Danny’s daughters each managed to find enough issues (a new word then) and enough of a motherless run of the place to keep Danny muttering indefinitely.  They kept the grind from being one.  Danny respected and liked me even years later for calling in a favor at Darien Lake Theme Park and getting him free tickets for his family– which he had to trust me about, the comp’d tickets waiting at the gate three hours west of Ithaca.  Even though I was often late and sat as often as I stood, he never let me go.

Mister Kool (his nickname was Spades) was the dish and mop man, Billy was the prep cook. Both had a keen sense of how to work smooth and sure with their hands and both considered it not-their-real-life.  They had a band called Wejah Stone.  Get it? I was often comforted by Spade’s methodical sweep of the restaurant each evening, he knew what the fuck he was doing, or I was such a slob a solid sweep was impressive.  Also, he only smoked two cigarettes a day, after sweeping.  Baffling.  Billy made me rare bacon, each day a little more rare as I liked it, until it was more or less just warm and raw.

You all showed up.  Jewl and Czech, vixens with skin tight black and red like anarchy was suddenly sexpot glorious, stopping in for coffee they dolloped with whiskey and a Camel Filter chainsmoke (I never saw them eat food). . .Kieren and Smog nearby, balancing six packs on their spiked leather shoulders and shoving the plates of gravy fries around the table like a ceramic Nascar race.

Moody DT playing Magik with the cards he and Sidhartha stole from 3DLight.

Marcus and his grrl, Jet, actually came to eat the food; Marcus may have had cheetah spots on his skull, and Jet a short spiked stopsign red haircut, but they had prince and princess manners wherever they went.

Kraven with his commentary that made everybody wince and grin, in that order.  I never met someone so sure of his perceptions yet so uneasily resigned to the tough, muscular frame he inhabited. He never ate the food either, but he was often there.

Jake who I would conversationally betray as easily as the sun comes up and nearly as often, cheerfully as if nothing could ever hurt him and besides, he was impossible to age correctly but young! I called him the Tao of Ithaca to make up for it.  He refused to let me buy him food when he was poor.  We were all poor.

My dear friends Melany, Trix, and Briana would stay for hours to keep me company, bringing in wonders from their travels to delight the world with: cameo jewelry unearthed from a Goodwill, bowling shoes rediscovered as fuck-as-punk awesomeness, remnant tiles purchased from the hardware store to make a quilt on the floor of a trailer.

Johnny Rotten’s doppelganger, I met later.

You were my dearest fiends on the Commons:   you smiled and listened carefully, and glared and scorned the collegenitalia…you snarled and wept and drank and spat and caught the spit from below (too romantic) and screamed and sang and boozed and shot up and ran away and hurt the normals and busted down doors and wrote songs and had eviction parties, bring your own hammer.

I loved the end of my shift, I loved my cigarette breaks, and if you’d asked, I was on the edge of the life I knew belonged to me: I was the living at the plastic hem at the top of the carton of milk, dry-flecked, dusty and blue.  It’s true I made melancholy into a condition I’d rouse from only with angst and lucky whining about my fate.    Fast years… best . . . spattering against me only when I’m walking, though I mostly (truth, now) drive.

relationship advice

The burnished tan ten speed coasted with a tick tick tick tick tick tick tick down the double hill of country road near Nesbitt’s Pond, and almost directly across Pine Hill.  I got to the road after a languid flat gray road leading to it, one which demanded a rest stop or die of dullness—so I stopped and stepped through the ticklish field grass and cornflower raggedy stalks, crickets and grasshopper leaping in arcs around me as I bent the grass with my bike.

I visited the old barn to see the hound dogs tied up inside (distinguish this from the new barn, where the farmer and the workers went multiple times a day because of the heifers inside).  The hounds were sad and bayed roooo roooooo at company and snuffled at my knees as I walked up to their little pens and dirt circles.  They pulled on their rope collars but they didn’t jump.  Horseflies circled my head in loud droning nastiness-having woken up with a swollen eye a few times I knew they bit horribly and swatted at them (of course the trick was to cool off.. only when my head was sweltering hot did they hold onto a halo path and orbit so relentlessly.  After petting the poor loud hounds one last time I stepped out of the soft dust-mote light of the barn back into the blind white sunlight.

Back to riding the ten speed and learning that to nudge the gear forward made the bike harder to pump but propelled it further along.  I learned, too, how going uphill, it was better to shove the gear back, with less forward momentum, but with an easier time pumping the pedals in a lightweight loop.

Occasionally I’d hit the top of the hill where it crested and forget to switch gears, and my feet would not be able to keep up with the ease of turning the pedals coupled with the ease of pedaling downhill.  You can coast in any gear.

Yet, soon enough some part of you will demand more speed on top of the speed the hill naturally hands you.  Then, in the wrong gear, your feet can spin around and around at the lack of resistance and fall all over themselves. Such times, I ended up looking about as silly as a Tom and Jerry right before Jerry gets away:  zoom-zoom-zoom-in-place.

The only worse luck than looking foolish was if I also managed in the same way to monkey with the chain and jammed the pedals altogether.  Then I might also tumble and gravel-pock my kneecaps.  A jam didn’t happen too much but when it did, chances were just about even I could maneuver the frozen bike over to the grass by the side of the road and fall on the springy grass. Usually even if it scared me full of adrenaline I’d rise quickly, and fix the chain, or if I couldn’t do that, walk it under the sun the whole way home.  This isn’t about the cool indoors where I’d stand by the sink and dunk my head in the tap and sip, but that’s generally what would happen after that.

beyond the beyond

“sad” is made

of the thought

beyond the one beyond the door

of what is felt

“melancholy” is the extra

crimson parasite vine

on a September poplar,

it quietly sways in the wind,

squeezing the tree

into dead.  the calm,

roundeyed worldview seems owlish

and is not easy—example:

there is a silver bowl

with a sand colored dowel

where my son dropped it

after making the bowl sing

along its edge.  it makes a sound

like clarity. it makes a sound

that soothes the seared edge

of caring like this— “I” care

“I” fear.  “I” feel so, very much.

So difficult to bleed back

into the spectrum

of colors, as a tiny mote

near green, trying to imagine

what’s beyond the beyond

ravishing, tacky azure.

Bitches Be Trippin (or, ‘staring at a blue tribal tapestry settles my unease long enough to type’)

I accept the day like a polar bear
floating on his back on the sky
in the cobalt dusk. I shudder
like a pearl colored petal,
veined with tenderness as the rooftop gutters
cascade yellow lava, freezing honeysuckle
into volcanic forever-black.
I drive, breathe, demand you:
an electric feeder circuit
swinging by the sides of the bed.
I build my timescape
as if my imagination were sifting
from a soft gray bag of cement.
I open the throttle at my heart;
I clack furious and tacky and loud
as an over-cleaned keyboard. I am the malachite
with smooth stripes of elegance
rippling the green (I think
I mean love). I am sweet and endangered
as the panda baby born near Chernobyl this morning.

love in air conditioning, quiet n cool

here, the AC blares cold on my hunched posture

the prayer flags dry on paper towels on the floor

mazzy sings me not to feel too good at a time

who trusts good all the time? nice is this vague word

i am eating like an orange, the edge of the peel of nice

stinging the outside of my lip.

memory number eight is my legs kicking the cement wall at the graveyard

from my perch. Nuzzling the pebbled concrete nostalgically

not a moment too soon for sentimental– I still know

how edgy i was between gasping moonlit adoration

how you took the opportunity to flick the worry from my face

with a soft, fastidious fingertip.

all of my love is swimming with determination

I want to scold my heart: drown! wave! something!

but she seems to know where this is.

to all the power

To all the power, loving, Skyful Dipperful of Stars which One Becomes and Named like waves:

God, recede, expand upon the sand

HP, Kami, Sidewalksoul, Gaia, Pele,

Suki, Angels, Spirit, SkyGod, Citygod,

Within and without, KnowingStars, Malah,

Phaedra, Carcinus, Anipos, Hera,

To all the helpers

Nymphs and Ents and gnomes and elves and fae and Yoshua….

Shed Light for a little near the steps of my soul

Close enough for better sight not so close I’m blind

Show me how my ear is tuned to hear truth and call out lies

In the spirit of compassion divorced from pity.

Show me a pure and fearless way,

allow me to set down the shadowy cloak

of fear I like so much the feel of,

Show me my heart needs no shell– how You are my shell

Show me I belong on the sidewalk

Show me my strengths: my quiet, my appreciation,

my understanding, my intuition, and my creation

All enough to be here, just as valuable as the next Josephine.

Show me my strength so that, a Reed, I birth the universe, like everyone.

The Thruway

When I was nine the teacher said, “Draw a map from your house to the school.”  I held paper in my lap and drew the way while I sat on Bus 63 on the way to school that Tuesday. I added and took away from my map on Wednesday and Thursday, sensing the detours to the Kaufmann’s house, the Eick’s, the Perry’s and the Beach’s, didn’t count as on the way, but not sure how to get back my bearings once we made the left uphill or the right and around a block.  I wasn’t sure what counted as the path to get there.  I turned something in, but I was embarrassed at my effort and knew it was wrong.  (It was.)

I seemed to be working from the conclusion that north was the direction I gazed at, unless I was at my house, in which case “north” was the direction of Lake Erie; when I knew where the lake was, my North became less me-centric.

I still get lost when I don’t take the familiar roads.  I have come to enjoy the not-seeing very well, which comes with the adrenaline’d response to being lost: I see less of my surroundings, and because my fear has whittled down the scenery to a few bright things, they are brighter than usual.  The gas station perched in the unknown hamlet near a hill looks like a banner announcing welcome help.  The landscape, turning dimly green in April, and stretched out on both sides of the car, is like saline on parched eyes.  The world is slightly mystical, both inviting and a threat at once.

I have also taken to heart the musician’s idea that if you must play a wrong note, change it quickly to the one in the proper key.  I back up the car, murmuring to myself, “turn around turn around turn around” when I know it’s the wrong way and going further will make it worse.  I am now better at the correction intuition than the go-the-proper-way intuition, which is hampered by my unreasonable flights of fantasy: “the directions say go 441, but this feels fucked up, I haven’t seen a soul in a while, fuck it, I’m turning here.”

Often I just take familiar roads.  Somewhat recently, I discovered that a road I’ve been taking for as long as I can remember has, through municipal error, become something of a quagmire of construction.  It will never not-be a pain to use this road.  The tax collection procedure for the betterment of this road has been perfected by the state and the unions have ensured that the work on it will continue indefinitely.  Why not? The Thruway has got something for everyone: the workers, the city, the fleecers at the tax department, the transportation department, and the dull fast food joints lined up all along it.  The drivers seem not to complain that it is always a 45 zone somewhere along it, and that the tickets are doubled for speeding in these areas.  I too was pretty fucking used to it.

In the Fall of 2011, the Thruway became heavily flooded.  I was driving from Albany to Rochester on it, and the flood detours, mostly near bridges which were sodden with water near their supports, were everywhere.  I was driving with a friend, and the trip took eleven slowly crawling hours.  We drove at less than 30 miles an hour the entire, car-packed way.  It was an endurance convention.  We never stopped talking, which helped, but I resented the road and the hot sun baking the car and felt I wanted to escape, to cool off, to get away.  I wanted to strand the car and walk.

On the way back in, two days later, I was frantic to avoid the Thruway.  I could take that ponderous path with someone else in the car, but I’d dropped off the friend and now was driving alone.

Finally, out of a clawed-out-of-ignorance desperation, I bought, at the second gas station I inquired at, a map. I took the southern meandering beeline across New York State using the map, especially near Triangle, New York, when I started to get afraid the road had become a different road, that I wasn’t on the right one anymore, that I was truly and irretrievably lost and would have to go back to that old route, which had, via a flood, traumatized my patient endurance and showed me how long I’d hated it’s flat sameness for so many miles across the years.  

The map was readable, at least once I turned it in the direction I was gazing and read from there (in this case turning it to rest on its east side).  I made it back to Albany, only returning to my familiar feelers-approach once I got to the outskirts of the city: now hospital signs, now left, now right, coast past park and onto Morris….

I was dizzy, by the time I got to my hood, with the impact of taking a new way.  I can’t explain if you haven’t taken the Thruway, and forgot to hate it for so long.  I can’t explain if you aren’t reliant— not on a sense of the sun’s hint at East and West, nor aware of the idea that the Earth is distinct from the eyes that see it but instead—- on a gutsy intuition and a right to be wrong, often, and a willingness to adjust endlessly.  If you get that, I tell you—take the new roads.  Take a map with you, and practice trailing your hand across it, as often as you need to.

lupus love

U don’t expect relief any more
U expect to grow with it, like a sibling’s familiarity
Either you fuss with pain, and pain you, or your two bent heads
grow close over something else
A distraction the name of your game now, but it doesn’t go away
It’s as central as your inhale.
You get tired some days
The pain does not. So, in it, one day, as if you were a crystal
yard: luminous diamond, rose quartz
Blue lapis slippery frozen stream icy over the horizon, a green
growing thing appears. It doesn’t belong,
Here there is no organic anything, ever
Nothing can sustain it—the dirt–water—sun—lacking– o god o cherish
You grip your hands together you are
not praying it stays a while, you are making heat so it will live.