Monday, August 01, 2005

school of love


My boyfriend is bending into the Whetstone Brook, trying to retrieve something he lost in there. It is a wide and fast brook. I see that he’s lost his grasp of land and falls in. I watch from my safe vantage point on shore as one of the largest alligators in the brook scoops him into his jaws as casually as if it had just nabbed a trout from the water. I am afraid for myself but need to at least attempt to save him. I’m sure he’s dead anyway. I get as close as I dare and reach out to tug on the foot of my now lifeless lover. The alligator, in response, sinks his teeth down further into his body. I hear the watery squish of him and back off.

The reptile carries him into the basement of the building edging the brook. It is the basement cafeteria of a Wendy’s-type restaurant. When I finally make it in there, the diners have left. It is empty except for the cleaning man. I daydream about not knowing what to do.

I do know what to do—which is to say, tell someone. I wind up at my girl friend’s apartment. We shoot the shit for a while and I am so comfortable there I almost forget the news. Finally I blurt it out.

“He’s dead!” She gives me a serious look, as if she’s realizing the reason I’m here is to unburden myself.

“Is this really what is bothering you? Not something else?”

“Yes.” We are standing in her kitchen. Her other guests, those that knew him, start crying as I describe what I saw.

“Are you sure he’s dead?”

“Pretty sure,” I say.

A long time later, I have pretty much forgotten the incident and am sitting on the grass with my boyfriend, watching an outdoor show. Suddenly I remember.

“Hey! How come you’re here,” I ask. “I though you were dead! I told everybody!” I half-hear his explanation, I am so shocked. Also I am a little embarrassed that I hadn’t thought him clever enough to escape from death on his own.

He asks me not to tell anyone he’s alive. He has it all planned out: everyone can still think he’s dead while we sail off together in the boat I’ve acquired (legally) and make a living trafficking passengers (illegally). We must stick to this plan.

Disjointed things: trying on my underwear for all to see; a tall glass tower downtown, in place of the oil company, where you can ride up and look down on all the people; too many people squished together; charging the bank stall; a Vietnamese woman I just met.

I know where and how to look. A school teacher is in the stairwell when I come across her. She’s tiptoeing, as if trying to catch something unawares.

“What are you doing,” I ask in a whisper.

“Trying to catch a phoenix,” she replies.

That’s when I see Fawkes. The bird had been hiding. I walk up to her. Her feathers have all been plucked off and I see that she looks thin and distressed. It takes her a moment to recognize me. She asks me something, indicating that it’s been a long time.

“Just a little older that’s all,” I say, as if to say nothing has changed. She points to the teats on her belly that she can no longer nurse from. She is in utter grief.

“I know, I know,” I say. “We’ll have time. There’s so much more time.” I hold her and rock her. We are both crying together. We have both lost our children.

I had wound up in the school because I was running away from a “lover” (whom I’d never even slept with). We were on a date, at a party with plenty of other people who knew us to be friendly. My guy was getting very cuddly with me and I told him to stop it.

“Why,” he asked.

“Because I’m afraid my boyfriend will show up here.” He could be researching the party, or might even arrive with some friends of his.

“Boyfriend??” The guy yelled, infuriated. “Boyfriend!” He got furious in such a short amount of time. He was uncontrollable and took after me. I ran, back the way we came, through the field, past the marsh. Past blonde boys who’d been so friendly to me on the way in, but who couldn’t see that anything is wrong in my exit. I was pissed at those dullards. One guy even wanted to make sure it was the right turn to get to the party.

“I was right wasn’t I,” he shouted after me. I’ve slowed down by this point. I’ve entered a school and the halls are empty. I saw a couple of female teachers lurking around the stairs. That’s how I knew they’re looking for a phoenix.

I was truly afraid that guy was going to hurt me. He was a very large man, heavy. Fat, actually, almost like Jared, the Subway guy before the weight loss. Under his shirt, his belly hung over his belt.

He actually started off as a different lover, at a party I hosted. It was winding down, my guests were leaving. We were renewing our romantic interest in each other. He was now a tile maker. Tomorrow he was going to be showcasing his wares at a big home textile show.

“Who buys your stuff,” I asked.

“Mostly they’re from other countries,” he said. “Argentina, Bolivia, and Germany.” (I think.)

“I missed you,” he said. His face was still youthful and yearning.

“I missed you,” I replied. What we meant was that we missed pressing our bodies and lips together. It had been at least a decade since we’d last been together. We assumed we would have so much time together, and so were saving sex for later. Even the kiss was being saved. My plants needed watering. I tried to steer the conversation away from emotions towards getting to know more about each other. Besides, there were still a few stragglers.

He was also a teacher or staff person at the special summer session I was attending. We were split into groups, each headed by two team leaders. He was in my group. The staff needed to take photos of all team leaders so they could be printed on their paychecks.


A bunch of us are carpooling for a long trip. After not being able to find another group of people to ride with, I settle for riding with my employer, who is a typically eager chaperone. I’m also with my ex-boyfriend’s relatives.

I’m celebrating a belated Mother’s Day in a cramped, dark comic book store in Florida. I don’t know anyone there. My brother arrives, with a couple of his “friends”. I invited along an ex-boyfriend, who loves my brother’s cat. The party had been delayed because of rain, and was held back where I used to work a couple of times—a car dealership. I find it difficult to make conversation.

In the between times, I’d go to a yard sale with my brother and some friends. They are displaying some of my belongings to sell while I am rummaging through the free pile. They rest and I wander off only to come back to the empty field where the picnic had been. I poke around. The grass was wet and the air misty. I approach a brown, ramshackle barn that looks like it is being used for storage. My bike might be in there.

It is roomy inside and the sun spills in rhomboids onto the dusty floor. Nothing moves except my breath. An acquaintance appears at the door, notices me poking around.

“What are you doing here,” he asks. He is wearing work clothes—jeans and t-shirt.

“I’m looking for my bike,” I answer.

“No luck?” I shake my head. We both know it isn’t going to be here.

I find a dirt road along the field and walk it until I come to a friend’s farm. He is working a ways off, but sees my approach. We shout greetings to each other. He is cutting flower bouquets to sell.

One of the friends I’d left resting at the yard sale appears from inside a building and walks down a path away from me. She is wearing wedding white and meandering as if in her own world.

“Erica!” I call to her. “Erica!” Her head is bent to her thoughts. The farmer’s voice soon joins mine. She turns around.

“Do you know what happened to my stuff,” I ask her. She waves her hand and jerks her head to motion for me to follow her. Her niece joins us and we walk the grassy path together.

In time, we find the edge of a dirt road where it forks off. Across from us is another grassy swell. Cars stop here at this intersection then speed off, kicking up swirls of dirt. We watch as a car slows to the intersection, then makes a sharp turn onto the field of high grass across from us. We run behind as the car plows down the grass enough for us to speed through. It was the reason we stood waiting for it. We arrive at what I realize is the comic book store.

I am again away on something like holiday. There is a large buffet party in a hotel conference room. I keep coming back for more, and end up the last person still eating.

Although I know a lot of the people here, I’m not socializing much. There is a rather attractive young man who I see and make small talk with in the buffet line. His name is Jake.

A young woman I used to go to high school with sticks her head in the door to find someone.

“Is anyone here from group one or two,” she asks. I think I belong to one of them, but have a hard time remembering which. But I notice someone else had volunteered to help her out. He left with her. I remember I was in group one.

Jake and I are still running into one another at the buffet line. Apparently, we’re the only ones either of us want to talk to. Then I see a couple of dear friends across the way and I invite him to meet them with me.

We walk past the open door that leads into the hall. Out of my peripheral, I notice the woman who needed help is leaning forward grasping the carved finial of the wooden staircase banister. The hall is dark, but light is falling from an upstairs window. She is still dressed in business attire, but her panties are down to her ankles. She’s moaning quietly. Behind her kneels the man who volunteered, his fist in slow, intentional strokes beneath her skirt. He’s a poet I’ve greatly admired, but never would have considered for a desperate sexual favor. They both seem to be enjoying it very much. I am glad I didn’t volunteer to help her.

We greet and make plans with my friends, one of whom looks past my shoulder and sees the same hallway scene I just passed. She winces and chokes on her food. Realizing this, and wanting to shield her from it, I hurry to cover her ears, but am too late. I whisper nothings to her like, forget it, it’s okay, it’s nothing…. She runs off, completely disturbed by what she’d just witnessed.

In cleaning up the plates, I find the note my friend left behind for me. In it, she apologizes for dashing off, but she was in such shock. The handwriting is disjointed and mish-mashed, not her usual fluid style at all. How could he, she bemoaned. Our poet. He’s such a sweet guy…

I take the note with me to read more fully as Jake and I find our way outside. We are lazily walking towards “home”. Night has fallen, though a sliver of light behind the mountains is slow to leave. We pass a soccer field where men are practicing. It is summer and the evening is pregnant with undeclared, unknown things. Our footsteps are wet on the asphalt.

My friend’s note is still in my hand, and I try to read the rest of it by the slim light of the lampposts we pass under.

“I can understand her needing to get some pie,” my friend wrote. “But not him—not that he couldn’t want any, but did he have to with her? She’s not a heartbreaker.” I put the note away, slightly amused at her desperation to understand. Jake had been silent while I read.

“Funny,” we both say at the same time.


“Sorry. I—uh,”

“I—no, you go first,” he says. There is a gladness I hadn’t noticed before about him.

“Well,” I say, embarrassed. “It’s funny how fairly easy it is to stay in touch with people given that I don’t have a phone.” I realize this isn’t really funny.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. People leave notes for me all the time,” I say, holding up my friend’s note as illustration. “And I leave notes for them. It just goes back and forth.”

“Hmmm.” He has no other response. It did sound a bit like boasting.

“What were you going to say?”

“Just that the birds were singing,” he says.

We’ve passed by the barn I had wandered into, looking for my bicycle. Up ahead is a car, parked on the side of the road. As we approach, we notice a woman inside, throwing clothes out of the passenger side, onto the road. It is my car. They are his clothes. She is his ex-girlfriend. A diamond ring tumbles onto the pile.

“That’s my diamond that I lent you,” he says, surprised to see it.

“Yeah, well. It’s just a diamond,” she sneers. It appears to me that she’d rather dispose of it than return it to him. “It didn’t cost you your life, did it?” She pauses to take stock of him. He is shirtless, really fit.

“Isn’t that the H-shaped styling I showed you,” she asks. She’s talking about the way he wears his jeans.

“Yeah,” he says to be rid of her. She is getting more and more frustrated. I am moving to take control of the car.

“What about me, Jake,” she shouts, “do I pass?” He shakes his head. “Do I pass??”

“No, you don’t pass.” He has been trying to control his anger, but loses it. “I want a fight,” he says. “Where can I get a fight?” He turns to me.

“Do I pass,” I ask him quietly.

“Yes.” He gets in the driver’s seat. I straddle the space between the seats, even though I have to drive. A disco beat surrounds us and Prince is singing about black and white. We speed into a starry wilderness we can’t see.

The following is a draft written after experiencing the dream described above. Haibun is a Japanese form incorporating prose poetry and haiku.


We took off to forget the insides of things—slow intentional fists squashing hope with every salacious thrust—bowls with gaping mouths smacked in Peruvian colors—chokes of bean-tomato salad—leaning leathery barns slit open in the surgery of rummaging through lost and forgotten reminders of our youths. I would have sold them if I could. You pulled me away from white walls—into watery night—stars like ice cubes brewing in desire too hot to last for long. Funny, I said. Funny, you echoed, shifting reasons. Distressed clamoring of my friend’s hand. You called it song. Our footfalls amplified so birds scissor the wind with their beaks. We’ve walked from Beautiful Strangers into Awkward Something More. Jake. Even my car, which squats hirsute, a fallen boulder in the margin, emanates loveliness. Even that tessellated ball yearns for punishment from cleat-footed men in pursuit. Even that girl dumping your clothes to the street is chocolate and pomegranate. Her head is lit like the room I’ve already forgotten, where we filled our plates yet never ate. Jake. She has tasted the organs and innards of you. Jake. Fabric clots like blood on the street—heap of arm chutes and leg hollows. Her mirthless laugh. Jake. Take back that ring you gave—it clatters like a coin to the tar.

A diamond within coal isn’t grand
Unless the eyeless star
Accepts the universe of a hand


Someone is teaching us a language. I am catching up. My cousin and one of my best girl friends are visiting. My friend has a younger sister with the same name. I introduce the both of them to Prageeta Sharma (who goes by something else). They start talking in some East Indian language. Everyone is staying at my place. Another girl friend is going to be sleeping in the same bed with me. The others all together on another bed.

JFK published his autobiographies in two volumes, making it easier to serialize and market them. One is called “Summer on the Island With Jody”, the other is “Year in the Life”. They include stories about life on Martha’s Vineyard and his term as President.

A woman who’s said that I “see too much” has been almost drowned, but is kept alive enough to still torture for information. Somewhere an official asks for a person to find the performance of any school in any other country he wants to. The person wags his finger.

“I’ll get my son only when I want my son,” he says. [or did he say “gun”?] We watch a slide show.

An older man reveals to me how much he’s loved me, despite my not wanting him. We’d lived and worked together for a long time.

Later, I forget and I end up half-naked in front of him. He confronts me.

“How much longer will I continue to torture me?” he asks. “Don’t you know what I must be going through?” He is torn by respect, desire, and integrity.

“I’m sorry,” I say very sincerely. I’d forgotten. “I can change if that’ll make you more comfortable,” I offer. Honestly in my mind, I’d changed how I felt about him after all our time together. I hadn’t ever told him this: I’d grown slightly attached to him.

Two of my young female friends are locked out. I come across them and take them home to my place. Later, they’re supposed to go home, but at least one of them is still in the fry.

The old man is a detective with a much younger, more attractive partner. I was sent into a high-security building to stealthily retrieve something after our job both in and outside the building was complete. It ended up being just keys. Everyone had to go through the metal detectors, like at an airport. Some folks got frisked.

The moment I emerge from the crowd, he sidles up to me and slides his arm around my waist in relief. This is how we hug one another. I do the same. It is a moment of understanding. Both of us were glad I got through okay. Next, we have to try to mix in with the rest of the world walking along the sidewalk, so as to not bring notice to ourselves.

“We need to walk through here separately,” I whisper to him. We break. Even in our growing understanding, we must be discreet. His young partner has still not been told of this attachment. He is witnessing it for the first time.


Two of my best girl friends come to visit at school, where the students have to make their own music festival.

The Westminster West Historical Society can no longer afford to publish their own histories—and who reads this stuff anymore? There is a somber sort of social to discuss this. The matronly women are wearing pink outfits, like they were attending a ladies’ tea party. Everyone here loves my book. My elementary school psychologist attempts conversation with me twice, telling me how much she enjoyed it.

“An Historical Society event is really not the best place to be presenting the book to the public,” she says, apologetically. I hadn’t solicited to anyone to promote the book for me, but she seems to need to apologize that she couldn’t do it for me. “They’d all be associating it with Death,” she continues.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. I have to be a gracious celebrity today. Every other historical society who publishes their histories gets the costs written into their town budgets.


I have vegetable gardens side by side with a girl friend’s garden in the Philippines. All the big fruiting plants belong to her. I’d gone to visit Mom & Dad’s garden. An elderly Pakistani man is also visiting them. My boyfriend or my brother is to give me a tour of it before dinnertime. While watering the garden, I trample on some of Mom’s small seedlings. We start to dig up part of the garden.

“One of the elderly guys inside found some ground nuts here,” my brother explains to me. “So we started digging and grinding them up.”

“What do they look like,” I ask as we dig. He shrugs. “Peanuts?”

“I dunno,” he says.

I’m attending a reunion at a bar. There are a couple of guys from high school that I didn’t know well. They were always tall and lanky in school. It’s a whites party. There are only a couple of people who wear dark dinner jackets. I realize this while sitting in the room being thankful that I had an all-white outfit on, due to my all-white summer wardrobe. The party is wrapping up and I guess I had been trying to get someone to write a story about it—a couple of those guys tease me about it on the way out.

I’m in an English or history classroom with a male professor. I continue to sit towards the back of the classroom everyday. I appreciate the class like none of the others do.


A Peanuts comic strip story. The panels show Chuck eliciting Marcie’s advice about how to break it to Peppermint Patty that he’s actually made a date with another girl—one that he likes!


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