Gutter Fish

I worked nights in Brazil, photographing stars. Coming home one morning, I found the neighbor kids gathered around the curb. All year, a trickle of water ran beside it, starting from a neighbor’s farm and moving down through the prosperous community below, eventually draining into the Rio Potengi.

“What’s up?”, I asked.

“Fish!” they answered.

They were on their knees, giggling, hands in mud and water. I walked over, expecting floating toys of sticks and leaves, but saw little flashes of color. A child’s cupped hands held a small, brightly hued fish darting in a bit of water.

I knelt beside the rivulet and saw hundreds of tiny finned creatures slipping through fingers of little people delighted by their beauty.

I lived a few degrees from the Equator. These were tropical fish, the real thing. They weren’t in an aquarium in a doctor’s office.  They lived free in their home, my gutter.

A Shave in Natal

Living in Natal, Brazil, was time travel. Evenings, we strolled and conversed lazily, danced at the social clubs, visited the dying in front rooms, surrounded by friends, and went to the barber for a shave — hot towels, straight razor, funny jokes and a rubdown, all for a dime, like an old movie.

Once, I was having a haircut. A man with no legs came in, selling lottery tickets. He maneuvered on a roller board, head about knee high. Everyone knew him. A few bought tickets, and he moved past the line of chairs where he waited. Why was he still there?

The barber to my right finished a guest and turned to the lottery agent. “Same as ever, José?”, who nodded. In a fluid motion the barber lifted him from board to chair. Question answered — a customer, like everyone else, and a frequent one.

A sheet billowed out and was pinned behind his neck, steaming cloth applied, and the conversation continued without break. A few minutes later, towels removed and face skillfully shaved smooth and clean, followed by a brisk massage. Second puzzle — the barber was in no hurry and the next patron seemed happy where he was. Gossip, sports, politics, weather flowed as ever in that global mens’ club. José smiled and chatted, a member in full standing.

I was done. My barber spun me about to face the grand mirror on the wall of every barbershop. “What do you think?”, “Looks great!”, universal query and response. My eyes strayed to the salesman’s reflection, head level with mine, great sheet before him down to floor. Puzzle solved. José sold them lottery tickets and a chance at riches. They sold him a shave — and added legs for a few minutes every day.

Lost Poems

Ten years ago, I moved from Salt Lake to California and lost neighbors, views, streams, opera, a packet of poems from 1996, and so much more — but, last week I stumbled across the poems.

It was exhilarating and emotional, like coming out of a suicidal coma and finding life is wonderful after all!

Well… a little like that. Maybe just a touch, for this very specific event.

Hmmm… To tell the truth, life has actually been quite interesting this last decade. The discovery was a bit of a rush, a stimulant, an exhilarant, a mood elevator.

A better metaphor: Imagine that you discover that the little toe on your right foot, which you thought you’d chopped off with an axe 10 years ago, has all along been folded in a peculiar fashion under the other four toes, and that a little clever autochiropractic manipulation pops it right out — now when you prance on naked tippy toes around the house, everything feels just right.

More like that, perhaps, than the suicidal coma.

See them here, if you wish, but, for the most part, they are raving doggerel. They are purposefully scrambled. Do not try to find any thematic continuity in their arrangement.

Russell's Teapot


Russell's little red teapot
   grew tired of avoiding
      Venus and Mars
   and waiting for the proof
      that it was not there.

It sits quietly on my coffee table,
   prefers serving up up tea,
      brisk and hot,
   to playing games with God
      all the time.


What Was the Name of That Bread?

We’re sitting in the living room, and Dad asks, “What was the name of that bread”?

“What are you talking about?”, says Mom.

— “That sponsored the ball games”.

— “What ball games”?

— “On the radio, when I came home from work”.

— “You don’t work anymore”.

— “When I worked — past tense”.

— “That reminds me… Once you came home from work and sat down in the living room, this room right here. It was late, you were tired, the TV wasn’t working, and you said, ‘I think I’ll go to bed’. And I grabbed you by the hand. You said, ‘What’re you doing?’, and I said, ‘I want to show you something’, and I took you into the kids’ room, and I woke them up and said, ‘Hey, kids, I want to show you something. This guy here, he’s your father’! Well now, they thought I was crazy”.

— “Home Farms”.

— “Home Farms”?

— “The bread. It was white”.

— “What does that have to do with my being crazy”?

— “They did the ball games. You asked me why I always bought it. It was the ball games — I wanted to show my loyalty”.

— “And for that you call me crazy”?

I put my book down, and look at Dad. He’s wearing a half paper plate wedged between his glasses frames and head. He’s shading his eyes from the floor lamp, and told me years before that he found it better than wearing a hat in the house. I realize that, tonight, I’ll never read this book. The story I’m part of demands attention. It’s compelling, droll, insane. It’s exhausting.

Time for bed.

End Noise

Part 1

 Old folks die noisy deaths.
   This is not the received wisdom of youth
  	who firmly believe in the
  	silent slide to oblivion
 "He just closed his eyes,
  	and was gone!"
  	she gushed with a smile,
  As though describing a child's first steps.

 The truth is

 Great-aunts drop casseroles onto
   	hard kitchen floors,
  	as their chests burst,
  Widowers knock over tables
  	lurching from bed
  	clutching their throats,
  A farmer scolds his dog,
  	-- gone 40 years --
  	for chasing sheep,
  And the mother rips
  	tubes from her arms,
  	cursing the nurse
  		for poisoning her.

Part 2

 The dying man
  	hears the loudest noise.

 He carries from birth a
  	metal bowl into which drop
  	steel balls, at odd moments,

 He walks alone down a long
  	crystal arcade, lined
 	with glass cabinets.

 The bowl becomes heavy
  	and he grows frail.

 He pitches forward and the perfectly elastic
  	spheres bounce everywhere,
   	a cacophany of clack-clack-clack
  		and breaking glass.

  He lies, clinging to the sounds,
  	life oozing from his mouth
  	with each moan,
  Not fully gone
 	until silence follows
  	the last tap.


  PINK  I just saw an old art joke --
         "PINK" in purple ink --
  A T-shirt on a sad young girl
         Stalking out of (what else?)
         A gallery, and thought
  Of the drowning man
                   Beneath a grate
         An inch beneath the surface.
   He breaths through a straw
         Penetrating the screen,
         Will live only if he
   Inhales slowly,
          Calms his anxiety,
                   Relaxes until
   He dies from hypothermia,
         Or -- if in the Carribean or
         The Gulf of Cortez --
   From starvation,
         But never from thirst
         Or the color pink.

Tree, dog, cat

tree_dog_catLumbering, misshapen, looming tree, no symmetry, favorite by far, visible for miles in my flat land, shading two unlikely litter mates — dog, ugly happy thing, flabby jowls, stubby legs, marching by sister cat — two same-day born beings, carried box to box by mothers, confused, unsure finally of offspring, form & laws of inheritance — he marches beside that creature dearest in his life, who in turn leaps into air, runs beneath dog belly, rolls in plowed earth of the great shared field — these three allies standing guard against sun, assassins, and tiny jewels floating in dusty rays.