Archive for October, 2014

amityvilleIn the mid 90’s, after my mother died, my house was haunted.

The only house I’d ever known, The only place I’d felt safe and loved. But at the time there had been a series of deaths– not in the house, not violent, but all familial, all relatives. My father’s death surprised me. And I’m sure he expected to walk out of the hospital after his last visit. But after he died, I’m not sure if I

A) Really saw him looking at me from my bedroom doorway, which was weird because I thought he looked healthier than when he was in hospital
B) Really wanted to see him and talk with him one last time and apologize because I was an adolescent ass to him his last few months.
C) Was Really Dreaming, or Really Tripping

Several odd occurrances happened in the years between my father’s death and my mothers. But after my mom died, the weirdness increased.

I generally did think there were rats in the walls of that house, agitatedly chewing wood behind the wall. But I never asked myself: Why only my bedroom did that scratching occur? Why in one specific place– behind where I usually sat to watch tv, just behind the headboard of my bed? Because I thought it was animals, it annoyed me– it didn’t scare me. The deep crunching noise would begin and I would pound the wall in response to frighten whatever it was away. It would. For a while. I wanted to crawl beneath the house and find that sweet piece of lumber and see what teeth marks on it or evidence of an animal. I never did.

And skeptics call it sleep paralysis. Where you’re in bed, paralyzed, hovering between sleep and wakefulness. You’ll dismiss the sounds I’d sometimes hear laying in bed early mornings; a sound like a cocktail party in the next room where everone is speaking at once. A moderate conversational buzzing noise, all english, but I couldn’t pick out any words. Until after my mom died and deep within that noise I heard her voice. Not exactly what she said, but I could hear her, as you could pick out any familiar voice or laugh mixed in with others. The stew of voices usually scared me and I’d pull myself awake urgently, not understanding or wanting to listen. But my mom was my last close relative. I didn’t expect her to die either and without her I was desperately alone. When I heard her voice, I was no longer afraid or intimidated. I knew she wouldn’t hurt me. I kept saying to the voice, Help. Help. And since you don’t believe any of this, you also won’t believe I once heard her say in a huge, controlled whisper– as if she were using everything to speak– the words: One Whole Week.

I waited a week. I don’t recall what happened. But it must’ve been positive, helpful. I lived, and I’m still here living, Thank God, writing this now.

I recently went through old journals that kept me sane during those years. I was surprised to read and remember how after my mom died, she returned, and was a bit pissed off how the house was in disarray without her. In my sleep, I heard her in the kitchen say something about not having any laundry or dish soap. I was not with my mom when she died– her doctor called before sunrise one morning and told me. But I also journalled about having this ‘weird dream/sensation’ that I ‘met’ my mom in some kind of void, where I could see nothing except her and we hugged. The background was unpainted walls or smoke. All I saw/felt was her. She wordlessly approached, I felt her in my arms, and that was that. Maybe you’re a skeptic and you easily label it a dream and walk away.

My mom collected figurines, decorative plates and tea sets from all 50 states. At her funeral, many relatives took, claimed, stole, and asked for those plates. She had two wax candle figures of a little Quaker boy in a top hat, and a little Quaker girl in a blue dress. The girl was sculpted in a prayer position with her palms together, at her lips. One afternoon of depression and failing to find a job, I took the Quaker boy and lit his candle, then stood him center of a small plate. Only an inch high, he burned down to a grey puddle in less than an hour. Then, I took the little praying girl, placed her in the hardening puddle on the plate, and lit her.

She burned for about 12 hours. The flame went down to the tiniest yellow/blue seed in a small melted wax crater in the plate. By this time, I had roommates so I took the candle, and its flame and put it in my room to let it burn out naturally. The afternoon became night and I went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I awoke and saw that the flame had grown hotter and rose about 6 or 7 inches high, and had gotten so hot the plate it was on cracked. I watched it, and waited until the next day when it finally extinguished itself.

Coincidence, I guess. Huh? Bolstered by the wax of the first candle, the second thrived and burned the whole night through. Just science. Nothing weird, right?

If sleep paralysis includes the sensations of someone sitting on the edge of your bed, then why haven’t i felt that in more than 10 years? At the house, for several weeks on a regular basis, I would feel the edge of my bed sink as if someone had placed a suitcase near me or, more precisely, just sat the fuck down. I kept thinking, if I could just move and look I’d see someone sitting Right There. I remember this happening maybe twice after leaving the house, then no more. Guess I’m all better now, huh?

What happens to us at death? Any senior citizen will tell you truthfully, they don’t feel their age. Their body may be 70, 80, 100… But inside, they say, they don’t feel old or like they think they should feel. What happens to that feeling, that awareness after the body dies? Do you expect it to dissolve like water vapor? Bad simile: water vapor never dissolves, it rather becomes something different. What do we become? Maybe you don’t believe in ghosts, and you doubt the black cut out I saw one morning was ever a real person, but instead a play of shadows, a sleep induced hallucination. I won’t bore you with the part of the story where others in the room saw it and spoke of it before I ever said anything. Because I was a child then, and no one would believe a child anyways. They’re all active imagination.

But I’ve told the story of meeting my grandmother before she died several times. I’ve talked before about the dream I had and how she woke me from it, her warm hand on my cheek before finally dissolving into the ether and never to be felt again. But what I’ve rarely shared is this: that years after that incident, I finally sat and spoke with my biological sister. I’d only met my grandmother 2 or 3 times after I found out I was adopted and just before she died. I’m still don’t clearly remember her name. I told my sister about that strange weekend; how I couldnt go to the funeral but dreamed I did. How the funeral was on a roof in my dream and there were flowers and an open casket and a lot of empty chairs, all stand ins for the relatives I’ve never known. I mentioned how the dream stopped and I felt a hand, but I couldn’t move until the hand raised off me and how that scared me and sent me to pray it away, even as I knew deep in my heart exactly who it was. Somehow I felt comfortable enough to tell my sister that weird story, okay if she just laughed it away or called me crazy or whatever.

Instead, she said. Yeah, that’s granny. She was always very touchy feely.

marionvasquez

The first woman called mid day Friday and left a voice mail. I called back an hour later, after I’d gotten out of the office. She said she had to prepare a story for a forthcoming live performance and felt stuck and needed help and could I… We arranged to meet at a bar that hosts a mid-week poetry slam, a place we both knew well. I sent a couple of texts, one when I was close by, another after I arrived and saw the bar was empty. I walked outside and text again, then began feeling antsy and wanted to leave. But she wrote back: Around the corner. Then: Running. I stood outside the bar, not wanting to be or drink alone and watched as she appeared a couple of blocks away down a tree-lined street, all glowing blood orange from the setting sun. We grabbed a table, and before ordering twin ciders, she plugged in her laptop and started talking.

I’ve known her for several years. Somewhere in the couple of hours we sat together, it came out this was the longest, most involved conversation we’ve ever had and it was a doozy. She laid out for me the extended version of the story she’d like to write. It’s not my story to re-tell, just know its as complex as any story would be involving love, various ideas of marriage including teen marriage, divorce, and the drama of being in a large, matriarchal family. The problem of her story is its a 20 minute life story she has to boil down to a 8 minute narrative, OK for stage and public radio.

We talked about relationships and finally she laid out her vision of an ideal marriage. She said: Don’t laugh. I want to live next door to my husband, live in my own place. Have space to not be judged or have to answer to anybody. And every other week he can take the kids and leave me alone so I can stay free to travel and write.

Perhaps like you, dear reader, I thought: that doesn’t sound like marriage it sounds like divorce. I laughed in response and considering my own empty bed and weekend habits, thought: I’d sign up for that. Realizing how little I knew about relationships and women and how unlikely it seemed I would ever miraculously be married or partnered with anybody. Maybe I missed my only opportunity to have kids because I foolishly realized I didn’t like my former girlfriends that much and maybe liking them wasn’t the point. And how do you Like Someone enough anyway? I mistakenly assumed love would emerge once I met the right person. But there is no right person. There’s getting right with self. Settling with who I am and realizing love isn’t an external force or condition granted you by another, love is your own experience that sometimes seems to be shared. Love is not a gift. Love is not external. Its like a computer program we don’t realize is running in the background. With the way most people use and apply the word Love, Love is mythic and unrealizable.

After a couple of hours, we finished our session and ciders and walked out. I walked with her a couple of blocks before we hugged and I circled back to the bus stop. I got home to a message from the second woman, an old friend from high school. She was in town from Florida and wrote that she was going to sleep in and probably pick me up after noon Saturday. She did.

Hearing from her was unexpected. I hadn’t seen or spoken or exchanged emails with her in more than a decade and now to see her twice in a year. Back in school we behaved as siblings. In many ways, we are. She was in town because of her job and gave her day to me, to us. She discovered and suggested the car show happening in Alameda that afternoon and we drove to the event and walked up and down the street snapping photos of cars, time-travelling interiors, vivid paint jobs and glowing motor blocks. She’d coo at every dog, the little marble one pantomiming peeing on a wheel, and the poodle one woman pushed along in a small wire cart carpeted with blankets, which made the curly white dog look like he was in a mini-pope mobile. I enjoyed being pulled into an antique store. No sarcasm. My mom and me, she said, could get lost in here for hours. She and I tossed out of print paperback books to one another, laughed at 8-Tracks. I picked up a vinyl album and sniffed it, admiring the grooves like some would tattoo work.

motor

We crossed the street, settled on a bar and ordered pizza, talking mostly about work. At one point my phone went off. It was the young woman I’d been talking to the last few weeks, but was bored with. Having ignored her call last week, I felt compelled to answer. It was brief. I hung up frowning. Then my friend and I started talking about relationships, her saying: Don’t get me started. Me wanting to say more, as if she could help, as if I could figure anything out.

She was, in school, sexy. Took dance class and performed. She’s more sexy now as a grown woman in long dreds and an easy illuminating smile. Like me, she’s childless and would probably make an awful parent. Not for lack of love, but rather lifelong struggles with her own mother and a love of her independence. Her mother: A Legendary Piece of Work. She was the reason my friend left New York and came out here to California to live with her aunt and attend high school. Thirty years later, it was still her best move. She said her mom cusses her out for not answering the phone. She said: The phone was way on the other side of the room and I was on the couch and I’d just found My Spot. Do you think? Nuh uh. She said. She shakes off memories of former ex’s, boys and one temporary husband, preferring now to throw herself into her work and career. When she told me she cancelled her cable tv I immediately said: Who are you? and meant it. I know, she said.

To see us in such comfort with one another, wandering the neighborhood around a T–d– J–s, fawning over pastries, haunting the tea selection in a health store then unable to leave the display case at a jewelry store, anyone would have thought we were married very good friends. No one would guess she’d drop me off at home and we’d each return to our single rooms.

After The Reading

Posted: October 10, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags:

oldestbook

Riding in a packed car after the reading last night, heading down to the bar, the driver said: Look at the moon. And at the end of the street, the moon appeared as if it were doing some burlesque feather dance with clouds. The woman crammed in next to me who’d been talking about her month’s book tour in Italy took out her digital camera and reached between the driver and passenger and took a blurry picture of the moon, that resembled a tablet of asprin dissolving.

He pulled over in front of City Lights bookstore to put us out and for him to park. We, three of us, ran across the street to the bar and we were just in time for traditional after-reading pizza delivery. I used one of the 10 dollar bills I’d just made for a beer and sat down to eat.

I felt good and the reading had gone better than I expected. I got to the bookstore a half hour before the reading and explored the shelves. The reading pays with books and all the books here are used and 5 or 8 dollars and because of their clients, good quality, and both popular and obscure. I scanned over the aisles just as the 80-something host wandered over to me. All flowing gray hair and huge moustache. He steps in front of me quietly and stops.

“Did you find the African American section,” he said, with a sober concern.

I almost broke out laughing, but bit my smile down. I loved him. Yes, I told him simply, though the shelf and a half worth of African American books was barely worth labelling as such.

The reading was at Reader’s Bookstore at Fort Mason Center. Every week they have two features. The audience came in and filled the room, more folks than I expected. The cofeature arrived sometime after and brought with her bottles of wine and slices of vegetables and falafels. She said she was waiting for her daughter to show and asked if I would go first. Of course.

I put my phone on the podium to record myself and after a few minutes watched as it silently went off with a rare incoming call. It was my friend who, I earlier mentioned this reading to and she said she couldn’t make it but asked if I’d record it and I told her I was and would send her an mp3. Looking at her name on my phone, I thought: So much for that. So much for wanting to post it here.

But the reading went fine. I read the newer pieces that emerged earlier this year, all while asking people to buy copies of my chapbook now because Christmas is Coming. The poems that really resonated, in ways I could unexpectedly feel as I was doing them, was the poem on Apologies that I wrote about last July. Even after I finished reading it, my heart felt swollen and I said: “That was … heavy.” And felt like I needed to read something funny.

I read a poem about Drunken Cuddling also. At the end of the night, back at the bar, an older Russian man at at the reading said, “I liked this poem but its too long.” He was right. The poem is about 6 or 7 stanzas, and though I like it, it spins its wheels a bit. Its a lot of description without moving forward. I know it should be trimmed down, but I’m too close to it to figure it out.

The co-feature was amazing and did poems on and inspired by the Palestinian/Israeli confict. She read with music, a zitar CD that flowed around her words. She read 4, 5 poems and said: “I’m tired, now. Is it almost the end?” And the host asked for another and she took of her jacket and read a poem featuring her daughter. A lovely night; I sold 6 or 7 books and joined several of the folks in the audience for the after reading pizza party at a literary bar in North Beach. I didn’t expect that reading or night to go so well or to come away feeling so good about, but there you go. Credit the full moon turning me into a more pleasant person.

Before The Reading

Posted: October 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

stacksbylynnjohnson

Tonight after work, I’m heading out to Fort Mason to do a poetry feature. I’ll write about it tomorrow, but you can peep poems and info for myself and the night’s co-feature, Lorene Zarou Zouzounis here.

The above also counts as the first time I had a poem published with typos. I’ve struggled a long time to get Bandon Beach to sound ‘right’. I think I did a good edit, only to have them mistype it. Oh, the laughter in heaven right now.

I like reading for that series and I’m ready. Even as my writing has been scattershot this year, I still have a handful of poems I’ve never read publicly. Over the last few days, I pulled the new ones together, read over them and did some rewrites. But I haven’t worked on my set as hard as I have years before. More on this tomorrow, though. I’ve been writing all morning, so I’m in desperate need of sunlight and food right about now…

Dream Alley

Posted: October 6, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

damnationalleycrawler

I promised myself to write poems based on dreams. But the one from last night was so fragmented, I’m not sure what to do with it. And my memory of it is weird: am I pulling from different dreams scattered over the last week or did everything happen last night? I pick up my dream somewhere in its second quarter with me in a large, long mobile home. Similar to the one my father owned when I was a kid, only this one was larger and I was the only person in it, I believe. I didn’t explore it. I can’t recall where the dream started me, but I appeared inside and sat behind the wheel and started the motor. The inside of the mobile home was comfy and wood panelled. I was driving downtown in a desolate city I’ve never known, my subconscious Sacramento, my assumed Elsewhere. The squat brick buildings, modest independent storefronts, all looked empty and vandalized. It seemed to be a hesitant dawn as no foot or motor traffic moved except me. I made a servicable right turn onto one street, only to see it blocked with large debris. Picture the aftermath of a superhero battle. Two cars were over-turned like huge beetles mating. Another car midstreet, not parked, just left where it was. Everything dusty and broken. The one way street was scattered with stray bricks and bulky trash. The camper I drove was too big for a U-turn. I presume I drive up onto the sidewalk, then made another turn onto the freeway where traffic buzzed along. Where was I going? Where was I coming from? There had been long, undulating two-lane highways roping through forested mountains. There was a neighborhood of smooth concrete archways and overpasses and dimly lit tree-lined streets. There was a quiet festival where people walked around with streamers hanging from their belts. I saw no rides, no food. There was just me venturing wide eyed from one place– an open mic that was more like group therapy– to another: no focus, just a frantic going, searching. Running… Running out of time, running late. But to where? I felt like a character in a game no one was playing.