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The old stoopers on Clancy Street were in agreement about one thing, a sort of miracle on steps where the Bronx heat and boredom of summer had already driven Mrs Macready and the old Pole in the stained vest to a silent but angry truce. The child had red hair. The cop noted this fact and waited patiently as the fat tenant pulled out her false teeth to wipe them against the thin cotten of her sweat-soaked frock. When she put them back in, they clicked against her palate and the cop, revolted by her age, wanted only to be home with his wife who had small white teeth and breath that smelled of warm moist mint, and his daughter who had red hair too and a scatter of freckles on the brid ge of a button nose. The radio in the squad car clattered, and his partner turned away with the handset pressed to ear and head bowed. Then his partner let the handset fall away and turned back towards the tenement stoop with an anguished, terrified, expression on his face.


He left her on a bright morning when the air outside tasted like cool water but, in her room, she slept on, her hair tumbling in a loose train across the pillow. The twisted braid of lilies woven in her amber hair last night were now limp in the stale humming air. Her lips looked dry but he remembered them as, his mind had almost vocalized the word, moist. He had brushed a single strand away from her mouth as if its touch might awaken her.

A nurse arrived to remove the tubes and wires that were knitted into her gown and then his farewell was ended.

Coming back

"Get your shirt off, dad " she said, and he knew he was in good hands: he had always admired nurses who treat travails with cheerful practicality.

But he couldn't think about the cutting—that hurt too much.

The little gray thing was placed on his chest, clammy and terribly chill as if just brought back from a place of cold wet fog.

Her hand curled about his little finger and she moved against him, drawing in his warmth. And she warmed and he understood from the tiny pink mouth softly lipping his skin that soon his daughter would be well again.

As Was

I watch a jet-ski wend and weave across Tappan Zee bay and I close my eyes against the brightness of the water. My thoughts drift with my river.

A puffing Hudson riverboat butts against the chopping tide to New York. Her wheels churn, midstream, on a sunny Sabbath day. Below, she bears a cargo. Saw mill, iron beam, applejack and woolsack, and to hold both bar and barrel, New Paltz hay.

The Last Changeling

By the time they're in their teens they forget what they used to believe—mostly I get the look of ick, and if I'm real unlucky I'll hear some jerkstore thirteen year old mouthing off "gross... did you see that guy's face?" As for their parents—it's like I should be on a neighborhood watch list. But the real young ones, they look at me, make eye contact and giggle, because they know.

In the old days, I'd pay back by souring a cow's milk; even a few years back when they started delivering it in bottles I could still curdle a pint or two on the doorstep. Today—well, where's the fun in doing the dairy section at A&P?

I think they're not stealing babies nowadays—I know I'm the last one left in Sleepy Hollow.

Unbearable loss

Only when it happens to you, only then does the enormity hit.

57 people. Gone.

Cousin Irwin, whom I cordially detested in that embracing familial way, avoided his presence and labelled Zebedee for an obvious reason; my best friend Michael who was usually first in everything he did and wore that want like a badge and who I nicknamed Aardvark (although that name was additionally perfect because of his nose). The number of the loss is so large it helps to think of it like this, A to Z, somehow each lettered group being manageable—I can grieve coherently over Paul Entwistle, my friends Polly and Pat, but fifty seven is too many for a single moment of grief.

When this happens, they say, we flail blindly to regain the normalcy of our lives—I went shopping, to the Apple Store, and I bought myself an absurdly expensive and absurdly small slab of electronica that felt comfortingly silk smooth and almost alive in my hand , and for a moment I was distracted.

They also say that grief makes you blame—in my mind I railed against the bastard who was responsible for the tragedy, the bastard who picked up my cell phone and decided to keep it for himself.


The boy was burned bad, burned to the bone and when he came back off Tasker Mountain after a whole fall and winter of recuperating he was still burned bad, the skin congealed to shiny scar and his blue eyes gone as if someone just dropped a spoonful of egg into each socket a nd cooked that too—he would soon see good she lied, perhaps a lie for her own sakes, and she pushed the child's shoulder down to make him sit at her feet and told me what happened last summer, her chicken claw hand gripping on his shoulder though he didn't flinch or speak.

Seth McGinty was drinking hard the morning of the Fourth and by noon-time the oil barrel spitting and popping, so he sent Bud Dooley's youngest to the barn to get a length of rake chain: he had a mind to best his own record at the Waskaloosa County Show , and he would do it now, that day too, he would.

Seth spun about, the rake chain whirling, and the bird flew high at the letting go, flew in a graceful arc with the chain fluttering behind as if it were paper kite-tail or something and not ten pounds of rusted iron trailing a twenty pound turkey. But perhaps to young eyes it was a fluttering paper chain and the child ran following from the circle, following straight to the spitting popping drum, and as Bud and a dozen others shouted at the boy to get back, Seth's turkey arc'd perfectly into the oil. The splash came out big; being as it was boiling and the fire right there, it turned to flame, exploded to flame it looked (which is the whole spectacular point of a Waskaloosa turkey toss) and a sheet of wet fire wrapped itself into the young-un's face.

The boy was smothered in jackets and put in the horse trough in seconds but that heat, burning oil heat on a child's soft skin, only needs the same to do its work, and in those seconds the boy burned deep and blind, Seth was turned from drink though he didn't know it then , and this year the women are in charge on the Fourth of July.

QWERTY at the Plaza Hotel

Note: a challenge was thrown down , for six sentences starting with the six keyboard characters.

Queues at the Plaza Hotel are not what one expects at tea-time; Granny muttered something nasty about the hoi polloi and Eloise (and I snickered inside because she didn't realize the 'the' was redundant, the old snob) but we ordered afternoon tea anyway so she could snap viciously at the waiter when he offered her a single slice of lemon for her Earl Gray.

"Double, you fool," and I turned away in embarressment. Each year these visits get more painful. Are there memories, buried deep, of earlier days when this annual ritual was actually enjoyable?

Tea for two, two for tea please—I remember that phrase I think, and perhaps this is a post-reconstructed memory, said with a gay girlish laugh, although the laugh is gone leaving only a voice like a ratchet gritted up with the ash of too many Virginia Slims—oh my god , now I remember 'that ad', everyone thought it was so hip (the first women's cigarette seemed like a permission, though god knows what for) and how pretty she was then, when smoking was smart and, yes, tea with her at the Plaza was fun.

Why Granny dear, you've come a long way baby.

On Judy's He Said She Said...

So I read Judy Thompson's He Said She Said #6 (last one).

I liked it, not because it first struck me as particularly well written, but because I understood its sentiment.

I don't have a dog, and I won't have a dog, but I get it because of how she wrote.

So then I'm thinking "hang on, if I get it (because of how she wrote) it has to be good writing, right?"

Then I read it a few more times and I realize it's not only very good writing: I google 'all wag and pant' - the phrase has to be well-worn, ya think, but in the whole fracking googly web I can find only one instance of the phrase and it's right here where it should be , on 6S as originally authored by hers truly.

So brava, and that phrase is going in my notebook and it will be re-used.

Fifty Shades of QWERTY

Quips about obvious letters aside, the alphabet seems an odd fetish.

We rejected your manuscript because some of the associations are downright scatological. Eeeeee and no thanks! Reading this made us want to take a shower - not collectively, but individually, in Listerine. The only advice we can proffer is self-publication (and one hopes you don't interpret that as an auto-erotic activity).

Your future awaits and we won't be there; best wishes for your book, yours sincerely...

Chugalotachocalotl the Mayan Math Professor

Chugalotachocalotl the Mayan math professor was a having a bad day.

Apoplexalotl the Emperor, had woken that evening, his birthday (every day is birthday if you're a Mayan Emperor and last night's birthday party had been a real zinger), and had a distinct feeling of déjà vu as he gazed across the Great Plaza towards the apex of the Pyramid of Disembowelalotapopl, where the latest batch of subjects were neatly lining up to be eviscerated, all perfectly framed in the disc of the setting sun.

It was a postcard moment (though those hadn't been invented yet) but Apoplexalotl was troubled, and suddenly it occured to him that he had seen the same sight many times in his life strangely, all on birthdays albeit quite a few, a regular number in fact, of birthdays apart and that, ergo, if the world was truly a terrestrial planetary body orbiting a Type G2 star, its frequencyof rotation must be Apoplexalotl's brow furrowed in concentration roughly 365 birthdays; he then had his eureka moment: it was high time for someone to invent clocks and calendars and he knew of just the man.

Chugalotachocalotl was duely given the commission and once he'd hashed out the trivial mathematics of the problem, he started on its design.

Apoplexalotl liked big (big partiesbig pyramidsbig ritual executionsbig... well, we won't go there) so clearly this calendar had to be BIG, but since it also had to be portable for moving up to the palace, Chugalotachocalot decided to make it round too, a disk, so the slaves could just roll the damn thing over to the Emperor's pad once it was all carved and inscribed prior to the standard inaugural ceremony with celebratory mass disembowelings and canapes.

But as the stone was pushed away for the festive event, exhausted Chugalotachocalotl (who had, with abandon, this last sleepless week, and was thus madly over-caffeinated) realized the disk was big alright, and a very big mistake, for the immortal Emperor must surely notice that a calendar on a disk eventually has to end when the current date completes the circle and arrives back at the Very First Date, which would therefore imply the end of time and Apoplexalotl's mortalityat this point Chugalotachocalotl decided his head hurt and it was high time he took an extended vacation in a safer place far, far away.

Sometimes you don't need a reason

"But Cindi, I do worry about them. There are all these things going on nowadays that our parents just didn't have to worry about—sometimes you just want to keep them safe at home all the time, you know what I mean, so you can keep an eye on them and be really involved in their lives. Hang on hon, kids are screaming—what is it, Clare?"

"Mom. I can't find Timmy anywhere. Eeeeee! that's just gross—MOM! Timmy's put his sneakers in the toilet."


I woke with larks and a SNEEZE! this morning. It was, I suppose, in my nose a warning.

Summery breezes, out-doorsy things, mad frolics, fun wheezes, sadly come with stuffed SCHNOZZES and SNEEZES! But daisies are marching, bursting blooms stir a'peeking, swallows dash, their insect breakfasts seeking, as bugs hum by prim stands of daffodil sun-dazed beetles rattle by the sill, and hid in dirt life thrives and creatures till.

The message in this pome? GET OUTSIDE, don't stay at home.

Run, Run Away

What they did, they each did in the worst of possible ways—he hit her when he was only slightly drunk, a clumsy blow that stunned her by its singular ugliness and left a rime of reddening defeat under her eye, then left to drink more and black out the earlier event—whilst sh e, she who should have ran, run far away, crawled across the floor and rolled to a foetal memory, clutching her mother's fringed shawl from the couch at her back like some filthy umbilicus to her stomach, and reverted, wanting nothing but the small quietness inside.

But she failed to run away.

So then she lived in a particular american culture of crime, make-do poverty and pervasive corrosion of secrecy: when he returned, momentarily contrite but drunk again soon, neither had anything to say about what had passed, even to each other, hitting became his habit and when he was indicted on an unconnected charge some years later, the lady assistant district attorney, who had taken a sympathy to the woman, failed to connect the dots of a newly-broken wrist, fearful wan face and monosyllabic responses.

Awhiles, the broken wrist was a godsend of sorts: much needed money in the form of roxycontin—roxies for the pain, ten bucks a pill for certain neighbors and the discovery of a doctor who would do thirty-day scrips for a quite different way of getting done himself.

She never thought of herself as a drug dealer, an addict and certainly not a whore, but curiously, without any intent and driven only by circumstance, she became all three and was punished for two; later she walked from sixty days county jail into inevitable series of arrests for misdemeanors solicitation and DWI, and finally another drug possession, now a felony.

At her sentencing to state prison the judge, who flipped her arrest record mug-shots as a paper animation of progressively aging misery, had a brief self-congratulatory thought of his own good sense in only using escorts (how he preferrred that word !) from outside the jurisdiction, before piously wondering what on earth had gone wrong? in this once-pretty woman's life, but there was no one there who could tell him that, all those years ago, she had just not known enough to simply run, run away.

Run, it's the Blob

Not woken by the larks but by an outraged four year old who's discovered the itchy red spot so lovingly adorned with the Sponge Bob band-aid has indeed changed, big time, so lately safe from scratching nails. She clambers on the bed, I find a hand-mirror and we peer at it, fascinated.

Magnificent, I offer.

It hurts, she tries an experimental lip-trembler.

No it doesn't, let's make waffles, I counter. That works, one-nil, Dad.

Pott's Fracture

Pott's Fracture I ain't got
though Tim Haynes has squished me
six foot plus to five foot eight
I wished the bleeder missed me
at 2nd halfin fairness
I'd caught a scrum half fly
but that was in the previous half
for that I nearly died?
He caught me in the act
of leaping like a hare
and although I was good to run
the ball was nowhere there,
Chase the ball! Down the line!
your's truly head o'er arse
landing with Tim H on top
flat in the muddied grass.
Recuperate, hellish passage,
O corridor infirmal
prints by Charlie Waterton
matron's faux-maternal.
But it wasn't Pott's Fracture.
Nor quite a case of bruiséd pride.
Just the breaking of an ankle-bone
by a bugger twice my size.

note: Charles Waterton was an English naturalist who wandered in South America, invented the bird box and was a prolific artist and taxidermist. In the early 1970s the boys' infirmary at Stonyhurst was decorated with his work; I believe the bulk of that is now in the Wakefield Museum, UK. CW had a sense of humor:
a famous tableau he created consisted of reptiles dressed as famous Brits and entitled The English Reformation Zoologically Demonstrated.

Opposite - how Señor Hector Alvarez ended his engagement to Miss Eleanor Weld of Beacon Hill in Death Valley California

The opposite of a bleeding wound is the dry desert. The opposite of its scorpion is a cactus flower. The opposite of the flower is stench of stale sweat. The opposite of its owner is a prim Boston maid. The opposite of her scorn was suicide. The opposite of the gun in his hand was that bleeding wound.

Note: this was a response to a 6S challenge by Angela, six opposites that are not literal.

Clip Job

Tony works in the marble and oak-panelled basement of a law building; a 12 by 15 off the corridor with barely room for The Chair and three wicker-panelled ones to wait on.

Tony has been there for 32 years but he has no son and the six grand-children who adorn the mirror, mostly boys, all close-cropped thick black hair, white smiles and young olive skin, will not follow him.

He is old-school and this place, his domain, smells of pomade and witch-hazel, clipper-oil and men, with today's Post and last month's Sports Illustrated on the radiator.

Tony cuts lawyers' hair and he is their equal: here he knows each by first name, where their children are schooled, their problems with painters and pool boys, and in return he gives his attention to the bladework about their necks and fast scissorwork above, stoops forward eagerly to singe their errant ear-hairs and accepts his role, and large tips, without embarressment.

I waited impatiently to be here, two weeks whilst Tony was on vacationCopenhagen, Saint Petersburg and a Baltic cruise, with Italy on the calandar next year.

"For the wife," he says.

Missed Bliss

Sharing a pack of gum is uncontroversial, most colleagues won't be impressed if you help yourself to a swig from their water bottles but my friend D___ shares her hand cream.

It comes out of her purse (a miracle of discovery worth its own story), she squeezes a dainty line on her palm, and proffers the tube to a girl-friend who repeats the manoevure but hesitates before offering to the next-in-line, yours truly.

"Go on, try it," says D___ , who is often unimpressed by certain types of male objections, so I do, but what I notice is how ungreasy it is, how it sinks into my skin and the redolence of exotic sunsets or some other nonsense which, even as I enjoy , my man-brain snarkily carps is likely a synthetic pong created in a lab next to Fresh Kills landfill in Jersey, and now my forearms feel as soft as the proverbial babies bum.

The next day I go to the ladies' aisle, rather than the section where they stack the cheap vaseline-based junk for guys and unsophisticated people who don't know The Secret: Spa Indulgence's Mediterranean Bliss, infused with Olive Leaf, Fig and Green Tomato.

I rush home, strip off and put dollops of the stuff all over the bod - a bit of jogging and lots of this stuff and an irresistable summer physique is just round the cornershazaaam, baby !

Then I notice the goup ain't sinking in, I read the label and discover I've schmeered myself with Mediterranean Bliss Body Wash.

A Bit of the Spider got Insider Her

Mom, come right now !
Please tell me how
next to my bacon
(That I saw you making)
Something's moving, lurking,
Eight wriggling jerking
Horrid hairy spider legs,
Right here in my scrambled eggs ?
Eeeeeh, mom, it's not eight,
There's only seven on my plate.
Yuck, Mom, it isn't funny.
I swallowed one. It's in my tummy.

Budging the sluggard...

...ripples of the Somme, he wrote, and I imagine the young soldier laying down his book, grass-stalk in mouth, to watch the hospital barge drift by in the reddening varnished sunlight. Perhaps that afternoon he was on leave, a few still hours respite from the cacophony of Flanders.

There is something fierce and sad in the writing of this war poet and the best of his poetry came in the single year before his death in action by another canal. He described men marching asleep, the 'ecstasy of fumbling' at the clarion 'Gas! Gas!' and 'The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est / Pro patria mori.'
And in his dream,there, 'How unto Avalon, in agony / Kings passed in the dark barge...'

Wilfred Owen wrote those words on December 8th 1917, exactly 73 years before the birth of MCH; he fell eleven months later at an age close to hers now, one of nearly 900,000 of his countrymen, and one of the few who left a legacy of the carnage in haunting verse.


Leaving aside for the moment the idea that he should do it lying on the floor because every thing is more fun that way, Joe does his letters in an odd way: he sits at the table and then he takes a sheet of paper, lays it flat and pushes a book up against its left edge, a table mat (which is made of felt and one of those easy things to steal so he'll chase me into the bedroom and that big old bouncy bed!) against the other, then he rolls up up the sleeve of his right arm and writes.

I moved in after his wife died and we got real friendly, real fast. Okay, shoot me—so I'm easy that way. But friendship becomes love, and what I love at this moment is that he speaks as he writesJoe always knows exactly what he has to sayand he puts it down as he says it, no mistakes and no going back, and I love this because I can curl up on the couch a nd just listen like it's a story for me: the old house to Peter and Martha, and his money to be divided equally between Tilly and Jonathon (his grandkids), all in graceful words of his love for his family. He sighs and sits back, then takes the paper and shakes it, as if to dry the inkI know that move, he's finished writinghang on, and I'm chopped liver?

Joe has arthritis real bad, and the paper falls from his fingers (how I love the touch of those fingers!) and I move quickly, retrieve the letter, and because I'm a flirt I stand in front of him with the sheet and I make panting noises so he'll know what I want , but not so bold as to head straight for the bedroom.

I feel those wonderful fingers"You're right, old fella," says Joe, "I'll put that in too... and the best goddam' retirement kennel for the best seeing-eye dog there ever was."
*          *          *
This was from an idea by Robert Heinlein, in a letter to Theodore Sturgeon,

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