Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Unapproachable. I imagine an L. Frank Baum novel with a hairy lesbian marching band in parade. The womyn visit the barbershop and keep their hair short like men's then let the hair on their legs and armpits grow like European women's.

The womyn are hippies in their way.

I have to look back at it: men in Madison guaranteeing the free speech of a preacher on the library mall. The preacher stands during lunch hour on a concrete platform and shouts at the group, perhaps hoping to save them, "F-o-r-n-i-c-a-t-i-o-n!" The beards face him braced at attention, forking the word in the cold.

I walk by watching them, not stopping, thinking, "What fornication?"

Later, ten years later, in Texas, I visit G.'s apartment. She orders the men to piss off the balcony but lets the women through the bedroom to the bathroom to pee. Pages of my thesis are strewn throughout the rooms and cover the floor. We sit on them and on old CDs. The visitors grow upset, to the point of hysteria, if one of their lovers sleeps with another of their lovers or husband or wife. "F-o-r-n-i-c-a-t-i-o-n!" I shout from the bathroom. The men hear it and send in J., the little drug dealer girl, to see.

. . .

When the man comes in the house with his girlfriend, he is hoisting a 12-pack of Bud, and she is holding her eye where he has flicked it with his baseball cap while driving. M. and I have been arguing about the future. At first we are glad to be interrupted. I immediately think of the two of them driving 25 miles out of Houston to get to us in Sugarland, but when I see that the girlfriend is injured, I get on my horse.

The man is wiry and jumpy. There is a tattoo on his upper arm of Charles Manson. He jumps and jumps. He looks like a man on a pogo stick. He will not stop jumping. "I'm going to smash all the windows of her car," he claims. "Stop him," I say to M., but M. does nothing except try to make peace with concentration. "You're not allowed to hurt her or her car," I say to the man, whose name I have heard once and forgotten. The man veers close to my face and says, "Who are you? Bella Abzug! Gloria Steinem!"

The girlfriend smiles then goes to lie down on the daybed in the dining room. The man runs through the kitchen and out the back door. When he comes back, he says, "I smashed the windows of her car." M. goes out to the driveway and returns. "He did it," he says. "Call the police," I say, and M. says, "We can't have the police here. The neighbors will complain about rehearsals."

Then the man jumps near my face. "I'm going to tell you a story, Bella, Gloria. When I was 13 my father beat my mother every day, and I threw myself into the fight and tried to stop him. I couldn't stop him. He was bigger than I was. You have TLE. I have TLE. You have bipolar. I have bipolar. But mainly I shoot heroin. Would you like to shoot heroin?"

"No," I say and look at M. "She doesn't do that," M. explains. Then M. leaves the house by the front door, and I pretend he will be right back, that he will not abandon me to a fiend. The girlfriend has not gotten up from the daybed to look at her car. She lies turned to one side holding her eye and shyly laughing.

I go to the master bedroom. I close the door. I leave it unlocked for M. The man comes running through the door, jumping and making noise. "I'm going to eat you," he says. Then he leaves and I lock it. I get in bed. I can hear him fucking her in the dining room. I hear her songbird sigh. I can try to get under my head. I pull the pillows over my ears and the covers under my chin. I pray, What solidifies them. What unites them: Blessed are these the workers of the world.

[Published in Wigleaf, 2010.]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hypogynormous ruble (exchange rates for Zynga)

Blackjack. A digression at Matchbook. Or Mississippi Review. Or Mad Hatters' where a thread started about irreality.

I had intended to spend $110 at FarmVille but have spent $250 -- $110 because that is how much I won playing blackjack outside Hinckley, Minnesota (across the border into Wisconsin). In my honesty or fastidiousness I adjusted our winnings ($220 or $110 split) for the speeding ticket that Peter got crossing the state line in his oversized red Japanese sports car I called the "sports Buick." When he was pulled, I had not been thinking of speed. He had once been a cop himself: I watched as he placed his hands carefully on the steering wheel, separated and displayed, and tweezed his driver license from his shirt pocket with two fingers.

The night before, we had "won" at slot machines then jumped on the hotel bed (WCCO was our sponsor), too giddy to wait until morning when we were sure we would win again. Morning came and we sauntered from the hotel to the casino to lose at automated poker. We went to the gift shop. I adjusted for silver wire blue beaded dreamcatcher earrings and a carton of American Spirits blue. By four, we were at the bar side by side slumped over gin and tonics gone almost still. The bartender suggested Wisconsin, the trading post casino where we ended up turning it at blackjack.

"Moodswing," Peter said, radio-style, confidentially, and we laughed.

I have the eerie feeling that I half-wrote that story but can't remember where I parted with it. Raconteurs shine when their stories find you. They know it when you shine.

When farming started in September, I thought of gambling, of my childhood best friend's marriage ruined due to gambling, and of farming as a trope for living in the Midwest. Could I ruin a marriage farming at Facebook? Yes, but if Peter were here, we'd be going somewhere, not stuck to a computer.

As with the trouble with gambling, I managed to spend beyond my self-suggested limit at the farm while [farming and] wanting to do little else. It became a chase for "money" (numbers like rubles), following a weeks-long passion for the perfect placement of each tiny animal, tree, and length of virtual fence.

I compared that to writing, while I worked. I thought it was nicer to "farm" than to write because there is no need to offer opinions when I farm, only to reveal biases in landscaping, my version of it: the so-called traditional.

In virtual farming, there is no chance of real money, only the risk of spending it.

70,600 FarmVille coins or 240 FarmVille bills can be had via Paypal for $40 if you can't or don't wish to wait for trees, animals, and crops to develop. A farmer can make it without spending real money, but there are incentives to buy.

In an email claim to Zynga, I wrote, “On December 7, I bought 595 FV bills for $100 USD. I bought 28 gumdrop trees for 560 FV bills or about $94 USD. I sold 12 gumdrop trees immediately for 12,500 coins a piece and kept 16 gumdrop trees to display on my farm. Since that time, the resale value of the gumdrop trees has inexplicably and without notice dropped to 3,000 coins a piece.” I asked for a clarification and price adjustment. I wanted them to know that I could track exchange rates for all four kinds of currency and points at FarmVille. I had lost a hedge arch (that joined the blue barnyard to the sheep pen) and wanted replacement coins for that. Zynga replied that the answers to my questions could be found in the FAQ. I had read the FAQ and the TOS. Now I wait and watch for news of lawsuits I had read about but pardoned for the pleasure and sake of farming.

With 60 million daily users, Zynga (run by a group of male inventors) had failed to produce a FarmVille flag for India, leading to worldwide protest and instatement of a flag. (Zynga has yet to produce a flag for Sweden or coats of arms for Scotland, either.)

What had I expected, given the tinny dialect: “howdy, partner!” "reckon so" and "cowpoke" crap, as if makers at Zynga hadn't heard a snow farmer from Mississippi speak.

"Hypogynormous ruble."

Terms of Service at FarmVille require users to link to the FarmVille or Zynga websites in internet references to them.

[Dec. 13 at 9 a.m. Zynga writes, "We have credited you 114,000 coins to your farmville account for the gumdrop trees you have sold. Your current coins balance is now 598,385. Thank you for your patience."

I needed no credit for the 12 gumdrop trees I sold but for the 16 gumdrop trees I have yet to sell. Zynga will still owe the price difference for four trees (38,000 coins or $21.53 USD).

Dec. 15 at 8 a.m. Zynga writes, "Thank you for contacting Zynga. We have credited you 38,000 coins to your farmville account for the 4 gumdrop trees you have sold. Your current coins balance is now 742,568. Thank you for your patience."]

Once the Christmas tree is out of the courtyard, or even before, I can purchase the greenhouse (100,000 coins) and sell the manor (10,000 coins) in exchange for the lodge (800,000 coins) or the villa (one million coins). Then what? The villa is the top.

The future is not ours to see, que sera, sera.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Seven digits

The farm before harvest today, the day I made my millioneth coin on FarmVille. Grapes, sunflowers, roses, tulips, eggplant, cotton, corn. I bought a windmill.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why I Farm

I farm at FarmVille in lieu of last year's directive to "go to a hospital for codependency in Pennsylvania" where art may be a culprit instead of a constructive act armed in its power to ward off faux illnesses. Occupational therapists teach art once a week at psych. hospitals, where I visited briefly twice and made two important artworks, one a collage using a paper bathmat and magazines. There may be a fine line between imbibing (vis-a-vis making art) and intoxication (a kind of overpowering pride in creation) (something I'd miss). Not to mention the money in it, in farming, the concept of it at least.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Argotist Online


"Another girl to figure out," "Catnip," "Haiku Romance," "Head," "Key of James," "Many how are seid," and "This is Why I Loved You" from dog barks up a tree at the apple left in it under a deerslim moon (Orium Press for Dusie Kollektiv, 2009) appear in The Argotist Online, ed. Jeffrey Side.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Work on What Has Been Spoiled

New at Big Bridge 14, ed. Vernon Frazer and Michael Rothenberg:

"The Housecoat" (1987)

"Mugabe Western" (1985)

excerpts from Work on What Has Been Spoiled (1988-1993)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Turning Thirty

Of all the authors in the library, it was a wife from Maryland who called out from her marriage dormer I was not to read her. It might have been 2005. She shouted: “Some people should not be allowed to read books!” I intuited from Minnesota that the shout was for me, though we hadn’t spoken of or to each other since graduate school, nor even then.

On the cover of her book is a girl from the waist down in black skirt and shoes. It is one of many covers that began to appear after Reading Lolita in Tehran had delivered Lolita in a turn in planetary events as a beloved American novel to the hands of school kids and friends of Bill W.

I have a writer friend in her sixties who reads for language, for its sounds and expression. She does not read to be taught moral lessons. She reads to listen to language as if it were as abstract and lyrical as music, emotive and without argument.

I have another friend, nearing 60, who reads like a music librarian. He reads Vladimir Nabokov. He reads Robert Musil. He reads Alice Munro. He’s read more of Richard Howard’s translations than anyone I’ve met (Richard Howard, who knows the wife in Maryland and her poetry but not my reader friend). He reads scores. On the train he may read scores or he may conform and read The New Yorker. He might argue that music does argue, that he follows its arguments as if they were written in Italian rather than in notes on a page.

I used to read then write for the enjoyment of language -- Gertrude Stein through the Beats -- and when I read Lolita it was that way. I said later that Lolita was top shelf, not a book for messengers, but that might have been off, a dusty statement.

Then the covers appeared: girl from the waist down in rain boots. Girl from the waist down in Mary Janes. Girl from the waist down her socks slipping. Girl from the waist down on a park bench in the sun. These covers spoke as clearly as the bones and ghosts in titles.

After the Maryland wife telekinetically commanded me not to read, reminding me for the first time of child prostitution in her father’s native country, I turned away and didn’t read her book. A princess, she gave in an interview that she drank whiskey in a Manhattan studio before she married. There are different kinds of whiskey. Being there, reading. I didn’t know what game she’d won. I didn’t know how, whether with her glistening branch of hair; her pretty knees (knees I don’t recall); or her visionary decision to write with her writer husband their first sex in Nerve.

In John 4:18, the harlot is a Samaritan who has had five husbands, and the man she has now is not her husband. The husbands of the departed wives have strokes and sinus infections and seizures and lesions and kneecap replacements. They are celibate, though they may own someone.

I began not to care as I had cared that women I had known were at last publishing novels, except for the first one at 30 whose books I’d read, women trained to write poetry who had been cheerleaders in high school, multicultural cheerleaders who had married, had children, and in middle age signed novels about women turning thirty. I saw how parochial and sycophantic it might seem to care for novels written by women in friendships tested by beauty: Asian white cheerleaders! Latina white cheerleaders!

I had been a cheerleader at Lolita’s age or younger. In fourth grade in our red corduroy skirts and white wool turtlenecks we looked like the girls on the book jackets. It was a year of red, white, and blue bell bottoms, chokers, and mini-skirts. It was not a decade of pink stretch pants, pink sweatshirts, and pink snowsuits.

The police heard the music at my birthday party in fifth grade: a group of us girls had taken the portable record player to the park in the middle of the night and dropped our clothes. We hid in the willows from the cops’ search light, our outfits draped over the hockey boards. The light scanned the horse path in a staccato blare then passed. We were aware but not afraid. I had felt in my spirit a song, though not a song, about “freedom,” a poem that had nothing to do with law, religion, or sex. The girls who stayed curled in sleeping bags while the others streaked in the night became athletes and cheerleaders, sisters without borders of the doctors of “turning thirty.”

I had thought of reading every book by every writer I had met. When the wife in Maryland shouted across the country, I had read the novels of a classmate, for joy that she had come so far, for joy in the stories and surprises in language, for joy that she had beat the clock and found readers, not only the competitive and pilfering and preening writers who’d been her audience at school, but readers for a story.

The institutional preference for short poetry and novels rushes one at the AWP in the form of human bodies, younger women and older men, poets seeming to outnumber fiction writers eight to one with their sixty- to eighty-page collections surpassing fiction writers’ cumulative stacks of “nothing.”

The wife in Maryland had not studied fiction writing, had not sat in fiction workshop, and her novels with the girl from the waist down and the rainboots on the covers became New York Times bestsellers.

In 1997, nearing 35, I sent a short story about turning 28 to an editor at The New Yorker. The editor, a poet herself, called the story “ambitious.” It took eleven years, but Vernon Frazer published it as “The Sitzer” in Big Bridge. Meanwhile, an essay by Ben Marcus on experimental fiction appeared in Harper’s in 2005. Marcus writes, “ambitious” in menial code suggests “You stand not with the people but in a quiet dark hole, shouting to no one.”

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Solzhenitsyn Juke-Box

My handwriting, slow in coming over many years, is good for lists, but I don’t want to read sentences or write in it. Amber is on a list I wrote of things I want to remember of Russia: Rasputin’s death and Peter the Great (6’7”). One of my lists I read as a poem in the Bronx. A woman named Svitlana asked to translate it to Ukrainian. I know that if I were willing to write stories in longhand that better stories might result, yet I stay unwilling, realizing how stubborn it means I am, as when I pretended to have read Gulag Archipelago for the hell of it. Woiwode recommended Gulag to the workshop, had come close to requiring it, but decided to trust us by suggesting it instead, and everyone (except me) did it and didn’t speak of it but nodded his and her head silently in the hall or coupled over it. I jabbered away as usual. I said, “Write short talk long, write long talk short.” Years later, I wrote in an essay called “Hoss Men” -- I didn’t know where to send it -- write short, die young, write long, die old. I might have gotten a paying job had I read Gulag. It was the one fatalistic thought I’d had about recommended reading, not the one time I failed to read something recommended.

I had read Russian literature in translation though only a story or two by Solzhenitsyn before I went on the Russian cruise. The Kempinski was home in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg has thirty sunny days in a year; I was there for three of them. That was the end. Moscow was the beginning. The Volga and the seas were in between. Looking at bookracks in St. Petersburg affected me like being lost. The English translation section, though the bookstore was large, was meager. Nothing I tried to find had been translated. What had been translated seemed obscure except a tiny book of one-acts by Chekhov. The world did not exist in English there, as it does in some places; once I even snapped at someone who didn’t understand my request for directions. It was frustrating, even a little frightening, to be in Russia and unable to read the alphabet. I could make nothing of the words. We took a week of lessons in Russian on the ship, and I realized my brain had grown too old to learn a difficult language. The boy from Eton already knew the alphabet and many phrases. His grandfather, Sal, said his grandson was a world-class genius whose musical compositions had been performed at the New England Conservatory though he was only 16.

A tour group from Switzerland spoke German, and I listened to them. These Swiss were very sexy people, by land and sea, where we met them, not only because they were Swiss -- I wouldn’t know about the Swiss aside from euthanasia -- would euthanasia make a people sexy? These were rich Swiss people in middle age, sexier than Americans and Russians: one woman wrapped her head in a diaphanous black scarf and flicked her legs jauntily in belled slacks and one of the men looked like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. We were visiting islands and later in New York when T. got his hair cut, I said he looked like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. One of the Swiss men asked me to take off my clothes and join them in the hot tub on Mandrogi. I smiled and thanked him then strolled the island with the widows in my group. T. ran up a $2,000 bill calling the ship from Manhattan.

I tiptoed out of the dining room in the evenings with one of the widows, a woman from Turkey, to smoke on the deck. Smoking was allowed and cheap in Russia. Our group of mostly Yale Alumni frowned on tobacco but sipped vodka at the piano recital. The Serbian bartender recommended Imperia vodka instead of Beluga, and the Turkish widow and I drank Imperia on stools and smoked cigarettes. The Swiss smoked and drank vodka before meals, wine with meals, and vodka in the afternoon and at night.

A retired feminist literary agent named Jackie and her boyfriend, Jock, were on board. Jock was kind as one might expect of a man traveling with a feminist, and Jackie was happy yet stern. She mentored me one day over lunch. She said I had to push a novel to get an agent. She said I’d ruin my life if I got married without a book. I thought I’d ruin my life if I got married without a child. Novel as dowry. I didn’t bring up my prose poetry chapbook while we were sailing Stalin’s Reservoir: XAM: Paragraph Series published by a couple of anarchists farming in rural Wisconsin. I’d seen a Russian anarchist shot to death in a play set in Chicago; his girl committed suicide. Russia with its furs in tents and vodka huts and painted icons: my novel?

. . .

On the flight back from Frankfurt a six-foot-tall black woman sitting behind me asked me not to recline my seat. She was American, a youth activity director, fit as an athlete, also returning from Russia. Since we were both tall, I agreeably understood. Russia seemed mostly white and a little Asian and not very mixed. An estimated fifteen million people live in Moscow, yet I saw only one black man there -- dressed in a Revolutionary War costume.

I had taken leave of the widows when they went to their seats in first class. I thought T. might have thought of that when booking the ticket: to seat me with Yale ladies on the plane. My legs swelled on the flight. Then in the middle of the night in New York, a large painful lump formed in my breast. I spent the next several weeks in doctor appointments and ended up with a partial mastectomy. The lump had been some sort of infection, not cancer. The scar mostly healed, and T. said it had healed. One of the widows on the trip, Phyllis, returned to New York to learn she had pancreatic cancer, and though we called and wrote emails, we never saw each other again.

The day I flew back to New York from St. Petersburg, Solzhenitsyn died. T. was personally affected since Solzhenitsyn had been his neighbor in Vermont, and Solzhenitsyn had met T.’s dog, James. I wondered if the obituary were the cure for not reading Gulag. If I submitted old stories to major houses -- something I had avoided in the 90s in favor of submitting less old but cold stories to smaller houses, who later claimed not to want short fiction -- I might call them “early” or “neglected” and still find a job.

Two friends solicit me for prose poetry or something like the Bronx list. It’s turning me suspicious that they can’t get through anything longer than a few words unless they wrote it or the writer is famous, famous like Solzhenitsyn? Prose poetry is for rebellion, I say.

A mystique has settled on my sister’s hair. My sister is an artist. Rather than feel bad, if she and her friends are going to feel sorry, for her uncle the psychiatrist or her sister the writer who have bipolar -- her bipolar sister who writes -- she mythologizes her kinship to them -- whatever that is, she says.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sound Experiment (2)

1. At Ana Verse select the Gabcast recording of Swedish folkpoems. Play the first song, "Rida, rida ranka."

2. Play Leo Kottke's "Big Situation" (c) 1994 as the Swedish folkpoem "Varan Prost" begins.

3. When "Varan Prost" ends, play "Basal Distance." Let "Big Situation," "Ode to Coffee," and "Basal Distance" play simultaneously until "Basal Distance" concludes the experiment.


My savings account had $16,000 in it. There were $16,000 in my savings account. I was on this side of the economy. I sided with the economy: get on up, banks, get on up!

Barbara hadn’t called for a year before her position at the biotech company had been eliminated: Six years after her chapter seven, she owed $16,000 in credit card debt, and her wisdom teeth teemed with cavities. She was unemployed, and her wisdom teeth hurt.

Aaron called to say his wife’s sister had been killed. She’d been beaten for an hour then shot between the eyes by someone she knew, someone backing a jealous girlfriend. I didn’t believe that, but I believed someone had killed her -- until they knew more -- slain. He asked me to pay for the funeral. After his divorce from his rich second wife, he had filed chapter seven. He said, “You have money,” and, “My wife’s family are white trash.” At one time he had wanted to marry me. He could have said “my third wife’s family,” but he said “my wife.” He had a job. I said, “Aaron, you earn $90,000 a year,” and he said, “Shut up” and “fucking bitch” as I might have said “goddamn.”

Nancy called to say the housing market had slowed to a creep, and she was running out of cash. Her mother had died leaving her several million in real estate and locked assets. She was tired of it! she said.

My sister called to ask for $200 for a dress form for her clothing design business. She pitched it like a saleswoman. I had spent $400 on her birthday the week before that, thinking it was extravagant and due to having something.

My mother called to invite me to a play. I felt like I owed her, and I did. I bought the tickets.

At 60, Brian, a music prodigy, who had rent control and a house he inherited in New Jersey, never called. I called him. He and his wife, a publishing executive, couldn’t buy groceries except rice and beans. Chop-chop salad, I said.

Jason called before his chapter seven to ask me how to file. He worked nine-hour days trying to sell Chevrolets and had borrowed $60,000 to pay bills: daycare, mortgage, food. “Black is up, red is down,” I said, knowing he turned to pleasant memories of lawbreaking when he felt discouraged. I asked him to meet me for coffee. He said he hadn’t bought a coffee in a year.

When I was poor, too poor for lunch out or coffee, cash poor but rich in time, the word broke had too catastrophic a meaning, so I said poor to give it balance, to live inside it. I was eating, practicing at gentility and at saying “fixed income.” My friends lived flamboyantly with millionaires they ended up not marrying. The therapist for the county suggested I move out of my mother’s house and into government housing.

Who remembers? What do any of us remember of those times?

I am a would-be philanthropist with my nest egg, but I would go down. The egg came from winning a poetry contest: $20,000. The text of my poem is as follows and appeared in a hard cover volume called Touch of Tomorrow, $80 a copy:

Florence’s Weekend

Grace brought Ryan
with his saw
to grind the trunk
and make the logs
build the stack
and clear the leaves
the tree left
when it died

I had told three people who later called broke of my success. I said they can write a poem, too: anyone can! They said they didn’t want to write a poem. They said they were too busy working to write poems. When they realized all I intended to give them was a story about a poem, they said: Why didn’t I get a job (if I couldn’t be useful)?

Anger management, the therapist said, so I went. The therapist there scowled at me for coming in late. I realized I was angry because I knew no one who could meet for lunch. Why did poor people go to therapy? They borrowed money for housing; why not borrow money for business school? What had I learned at leisure school: the days went by slowly, the weeks went by fast. I didn’t know how to pass time; it passed me, and it couldn’t be saved. Time kept running at me, flapping its salty deck in my face like A/C.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Queen of Spades

I changed my mind about what had taken place: I had failed improperly, not, as I had at first believed won every heart. I had not won every heart. I had failed to note it. The hearts were in the field. The hearts, our hearts, our two tall hearts, our too-tall friendship, too tall for men, our hearts in our eyes, at a level, to the side, our hating to do this: to win, we lose. In shoot the moon, one must win the Queen of Spades and win every heart besides. The Queen of Spades is worth 13 hearts. I had lost the Queen of Spades. I had not kept my eye on the prize: the prize is men’s eyes, eyes of surrogates, lechers, lepers, lawyers, leaders, landholders, landlubbers. The Queen of Spades had not won every heart, but it was not in her heart to realize it, and now: what difference did it make? She had reported her gain. Had she not won her own heart repeatedly, to her own self-satisfaction, had she not concealed it, not robbed? Didn’t she make sense to herself, wasn’t she pleased? Didn’t her publisher—name withheld—vie for her in the heart-sniffing world of connoisseurs? Didn’t the losers sign off at the end, due to a formal requirement that they admit defeat to her, the winner of hearts? Didn’t her hearts all fear her? I was not yet beginning to fear her. I admired her, as I admired all good people. Her quip was a dagger that stabbed out of her mouth, insisting on the laughter of the people around her. Incest, she laughed first, to a famous poet about a famous poet, whose biographer vied to be yet more famous.

Did her face require so much studious fascination? I had looked at the side of her face more ways than one—the sort of face she wore but also the sort of face her parents, who were God to her, had given her, her ancient bone structure, her judge’s eyes, her smile like the Mona Lisa’s. No man would add a mustache to that face. I had not “bested” her. I was not best. I was better and “sincerely.” It was for men that we had slowly abandoned our happy female natures, in favor of our female utility. There were men who had not seen her naked (in the flesh) but who had wanted to: She looked better naked, men said, following counsel; she had a little widow’s paunch. She went giddy turning down hearts of five men and breaking open the marriage of a sixth. Later, she bore two children and took another from its mother; in that year of winning hearts (all the hearts, she still firmly believed, her looks like a dragon’s), she bore herself like a “widow.” Men edged up to that spot, to that kinetic circle with one woman inside, the men on the skirts of her central position, wanting to touch him: her father, wanting to meet him, to know him, to pass his tests, to be put to the test for his riches, but they’d already had her, and the father, not hearing all of this ridiculousness, girl-to-woman, woman-to-man, serenely born, knew she was not a widow! The hearts-winning the mystery, in that year of her life.

She had not won every heart, though she had won the Queen of Spades, and I had failed to win her: Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King. I had lost, sorely, had failed like no other: no diary could tell it! She flew pyramidically to the bank, in generous forms of self-appreciation, nodding to buyers that she had “shot the moon,” that the anonymous missing other person had failed miserably while trying to shoot the moon, a quip, a dagger, her laughter lunging ahead of theirs, required. Neither of us thought of real winning. We set about brilliant losing, dark angel forms of luck and greed, the desire, the craving, the need to lose so strenuous, in fact, that one wins, but we tied at 13. She was 26 when she faked her victory; I was 29 when I lost mine.

Under the covers, the dark bleeding iris melts its moon, its room, is first one iris then two, then a triple gold, a girl, a follower, a believer, a friend, just sniff her: she’s real, petals the scent of themselves, of each phrase. She is dowager, maiden, handmaid, kitten, coat rack, stamen, the height, the glory; the night she leaps toward and whispers to, the air, the pillow that buffets her crazy hair, without its claws, its courageous stare: it is and isn’t there, both dark and fair. The queen of hearts is worth one there.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Composing in my head this afternoon, I wrote a fast masterpiece. I had not had a glass of wine nor eaten a fruit; I had climbed a hill in high gear. Pushing against the pedals in sport sandals and pedal pushers, a “crossbody mini” (as such purses are called in the industry) holding my nature-man cigarettes, phone, keys, and no notepad, bobbing against my backside, my organic cotton royal blue t-shirt, I saw phrases, a seven-pack of lines, every line its reasons: nothing reasonable on the page's blank and nothing out of order. Every minute its thing. Every thing its minute memory. Every memory its own account threading rivulets to sea, spilling water to wall flowers.

What would be perfect.

Here, indoors, sitting merely where the equipment is, after a drink with the meal, nothing comes but the memory of heightened tactics.

I sing better in my mind than I sing aloud. Mentally, I sing soprano.

The story was about the adulterous man who shaved his head in spring. The story was about the Houston police devising a punishment for the adulterous man -- shaving heads of adulterers would be an excellent idea to them except the adulterer had beat them to it -- never letting him cut his hair would be another. Not that the courts would cite it. Not that the adulterous man was balding or a skinhead and so had shaved it; he was a thespian. The Houston police devised a punishment for the adulterous thespian that would not hurt the nights or household income of his French young wife. The Houston police caught him drinking. The parking lot behind the tavern emptied of its hundred cars. The police wanted that one bald thespian's car: The car was a Houston police car bought at auction and stripped of its decals. The police in their turquoise squad cars followed the thespian in his plain turquoise car as it followed a slate blue car Mondays and Wednesdays to a street far from where the thespian lived with his wife. The thespian smoked a roach on the way, proudly unaware that the police were following him, preferring to think that they were riding beside him.

That time the judge sentenced him to five AA meetings per week, a work permit (he kept the car), plates in the driveway weeknights by nine.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At the gate

Red door
Collected Chekhov
Collected Montaigne
Childhood silhouette
Grandfathers' photos
Nonfiction collection
White vinyl chair
Le Fanion urns
Surrealists by Man Ray cafeteria tray
Childhood books

Friday, June 26, 2009



She imagines Carlisle in a wheelchair. One of her friends in Minnesota said, “Is he in a wheelchair? Is that why you aren’t talking? Is he old and in a wheel chair?”

Mill imagines him in a wheelchair; she imagines him standing miraculously to touch her hair. She imagines him old and miraculously turning fifty. She imagines the denouement.

“Come up and see me sometime,” she drawls. “Is that a pistol in your pants or are you just happy to see me?”

When the doorman rings, Mill remembers Carlisle can read her thoughts. “Let him up,” Mill says. She is wearing an African kaftan and briefs and a bra under it. She is glad her legs are waxed, her hair and nails are fresh. She slips on flat sandals and pulls a brush through her hair. She douses herself with Dior, leaves the door ajar, and waits.

Carlisle steps in to the apartment as if he were there to build it, mysteriously raising his foot as if stepping over a stone fence. He is wearing a black suit and hat.

Mill blushes as if she has nothing to hide.

“Come here,” Carlisle says. He locks his fingers behind her neck and pulls her to his mouth. They fall into a bookshelf. “You’re not getting out of this.”

“I quit my job,” she mumbles.

“You quit your job in twenty-ten,” he tells her.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dual citizens

The phone rings: Carlisle.

“Good evening,” Mill says.

“Where are you?” he says.

“At home,” she says.

“Are you in for the night?” he says.

“Yes,” she says.

“Have you thought about the upcoming year twenty-ten?” Carlisle says.

“Is twenty-ten what it will be called?” Mill says.

“Your voice sounds sexy when you're sleepy," he says. "Look it up.”

“It isn’t in the dictionary,” she says after a pause. “It was a science fiction novel and film. The census is next year and the winter Olympics in Vancouver.”

“Twenty-ten will be a good year,” he says.

“Everyone is hoping,” she says. “People say this was a bad decade due to the War.”

“Obama won,” Carlisle says.

“Yes,” she says, “Obama will be President in twenty-ten.”

“Miss Mill will be Mrs. Carlisle,” he says.

“You borrow trouble,” she says.

“I eschew borrowing,” he says. “It’s a fair topic.”

“We’re not equals,” she says.

“Look it up,” he says.

“Es-choo,” she says, “sounds like a sneeze. I prefer es-skew, but it isn’t listed. It comes from old German meaning shy.”

“We are equal under the law,” he says.

“Equal in legal contexts,” she says. “Otherwise it means identical.”

“You're sure?” he says.

“That is what it says right here,” she says.

“I thought I would call my lawyer,” he says. “You call your lawyer, and we’ll sit down and hash it out and come up with a prudent agreement.”

“I never wanted a big church wedding,” Mill says. “I lost my belief in God early. It was like losing my virginity by falling off a bike or horse; I lost connection with God when I hit the ground. I got back on the bike or horse and rode away, but I was godless.”

“Religion is the source of true fiction,” he says.

"I feel like a mail-order bride from Canada," she says.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Mill rolls her chair under the desk and turns out the light.

The phone rings: Carlisle.

Mill answers in the dusk.

“I talked to your mother,” Carlisle says.

“She’s in Eau Claire,” Mill says, not bothering to turn on the light.

“She’s back,” Carlisle says. “I asked her why you left Texas, and she said, ‘Truck.’”

“She’s flirting with you,” Mill says. “I told you she is a modern.”

“What is ‘truck’ in her lexicon?” Carlisle says.

Mill turns on the light and budges the mouse. “'Keep on trucking’,” Mill says, “‘to carry on with work or life in a cheerful and relaxed way, in spite of problems (informal)'.”

“Your mother is a contemporary of Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, and The Grateful Dead,” Carlisle says.

“Truck that hauls or carries,” Mill says.

“I get the idea you didn’t ‘fall off the turnip truck,’” Carlisle says. “Or the ‘Swedish carrot’ truck to be German about it," he adds, referring to last week’s discussion of "rutabaga."

“‘Truck’ is archaic for barter,” Mill says. “That is probably the sense she means.”

“What sort of truck was it in Texas?” Carlisle says.

“Small as truck goes,” Mill says. “Smaller than a full-size pick-up.”

“If full-size pick-up means you killed someone?” Carlisle says.

“No, if eighteen-wheeler means someone else did,” Mill says. “It wasn’t my truck.”

“Whose truck was it?”

“Dean’s,” Mill says.

“Go on,” Carlisle says.

“Dean is my former boyfriend,” Mill says.

“Dean is his last name?” Carlisle says.

“Dean is his middle name,” Mill says.

“Did he hurt you?” Carlisle asks.

“If by hurt, you mean dismayed, disappointed, or chagrined, yes,” Mill says.

“I mean ‘hit,’” Carlisle says. “Did he hit you?”

“He hit the wall next to my bed,” Mill says.

“Are you still in love with him?” Carlisle says.

“It was last century," Mill says. "I’m in love with The Doctor as I told you.”

“Whose doctor?” Carlisle says. “Your doctor?”

The Doctor,” Mill says, “my cat.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


She speaks to her mother on Tuesdays, but today her mother is in Eau Claire with her garden journey group.

Her mother knows that Mill has met Carlisle in person, but certain others in Minnesota suspect that she has never even seen him. They quiz her during return trips on his appearance: Is he tall, broad, handsome, good-natured, good-looking, older, younger, available?

"He's my boss," she says, or "he is he," when cornered.

Carlisle asks for discretion in relating details of her position to anyone except her mother, whom he has judged (without meeting) to be of the older generation, from the set who survived the Great Depression and World Wars, who preserves homegrown tomatoes, who is old school. Mrs. Mill is all that, and she is also a modern.

Mill misses the wildlife of her home in Wayzata: the rabbits at the birdfeeder, the deer in the woods, the gardens and wild leeks. She misses the moths and butterflies, the frogs that climb and toads that crawl. She misses Tilly Artaud, an American toad who sat at Mill's glass door every midnight for a summer, as if she had swallowed a Timex watch battery. She misses her cat, The Doctor: his bushy gray tail and Roman nose, his pacing the hallways at night as if carrying transcripts of her speeches to Congress.

Carlisle has urged her to get a dog to walk in the morning. If she gets a dog, his name will be "Johannes." If she doesn't get one, she'll consider a bird.

Monday, June 22, 2009

La discrimination positive

Mill sits down when Carlisle calls to ask why she isn’t married.

“Rig-a-marole,” she says.

“It’s heating up,” Carlisle says. “Look it up.”

“It’s an alternate spelling,” Mill says, feeling apologetic for her one-more syllable, as when she says real-a-tor and Viag-a-ra. “I saw Niagara when I was three,” she says.

“Three is too young,” Carlisle says.

“I was in high school when the Equal Rights Amendment didn’t pass -- the Supreme Court said then that women are ‘people’ under the Constitution -- a lot of people were listening,” Mill says. “I thought it meant I would become an ‘adult person’ not a ‘woman.’ All we got was ‘privacy’ amid street protests and religious cantilevering over abortion.”

“We are all people of color,” Carlisle says.

“Some people are slower of color than others,” Mill says.

Under the hood

Mill lives graciously without love in the 00s. A student of modernism, the 80s were her 20s, the 90s her 30s, the auts her 40s.

Her lifetime is an odometer reset to zero. She is a car parked at auction, an antique or classic, not a roadster. She is a beauty restored to a season, not a hot virgin or spinster, but an old maid with a lesbian’s timing. Bidders ignore her or come in low.

There was an ice storm not a hurricane when she lived in Texas.

Men gently used her to make love without commitment in her 20s. In her 30s, the men were more vigorous, and she once called the police, believing police were the bureau to care; the policemen stood at her apartment door with sheepish blue eyes and bulges at the hip. She hoped no one would fire a gun. One of the officers said, “Let sleeping dogs lie,” while the man most presumed innocent by the jury said, “Don’t lie to the officers.” Mill thanked them; the next day she resigned her job and packed suitcases and boxes for Minnesota. The men were all cowards, Mrs. Mill said, and, “Justice has been served.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A motto for love

Before Mill moved to New York to work for Carlisle, she lived with her mother to spare expenses. One night Mill asked idly over supper what love is, not believing her mother would know.

Her mother said, "Many people live without it."

Mrs. Mill did not seem to wonder about love after Mr. Mill had died nor during forty years of practical marriage. Yet Mrs. Mill knew enough, perhaps all there was to know about love.

Mill set her heart on living with it.

He heralds newsworthy deaths

Telephone rings: Carlisle.

“Hello,” Mill pretends not to know.

“Are you sitting down?” Carlisle asks.

“I’m pacing,” she says.

“Why do you pace so much?” he asks.

“It’s exercise,” she says.

“It’s a lunatic asylum in there,” he says. Mill’s ancestors were more stable than Carlisle’s.

“The market is down,” he says, but that's not why he's calling. "Are you sitting down?” Then, as is his custom, Carlisle reads the Times obituaries page to her.

“It’s curtains for Curtin,” he summarizes before reading the text. “Scholar of the slave trade dead at 87.”

Bogle bit it,” he says.

“Founder of Vanguard?” Mill asks.

“Bob of the Ventures,” he says. “You’re too young to remember Hawaii Five-0.”

“I am not!” Mill protests foolishly, tired of hearing him say she is too young to remember things. “I washed dishes to it.”

Mill learns more about life from Carlisle’s daily slog through the obituaries than she likes to admit. She pretends to an estranged discomfort at the thought or mention of death -- shudders on cue at it -- but she is in fact glad that people die: and not only people but all living things. Mortality is the universal sign that democracy exists outside its documents, that it has a natural basis, she thinks.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


It was Mill’s dumb luck that Carlisle’s favorite president was Jimmy Carter. At least, that’s what he said when he phoned her mother’s house in Wayzata. That and his mother had grown up in St. Paul.

His mother’s father had given him a dictionary that had belonged to Mark Twain. The dictionary was signed by Twain and lying in a safety deposit box in Connecticut. Carlisle had read it in its entirety the summer after boarding school.

Carlisle told her he was glad that a Minnesota gal had answered the ad, and, “not just any farm-fed," he said, "but a gal with English and a little economics under her belt.”

“We belong together,” he said that first phone call, “as John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle.”

“I read an article about their fire in The New Yorker,” Mill acknowledged.

The New Yorker delivers out in Wayzata?” Carlisle said.

“Their subscription center is in Red Oak, Iowa,” Mill said.

“Boone,” Carlisle corrected her.

As a child, another child had called Mill “Little Miss Know-It-All” and “nigger lips” on the same day. That child was a woman by then, a divorcing and foreclosed woman with two children and a married black lover.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Time tells her

Mill attended the University of Minnesota in the 1980s. She majored in English. One of her friends from childhood, Nancy O’Reilly, acted as if she had outgrown Mill by college. Mill saw Nancy O’Reilly days in Coffman Union reading psycholinguistics textbooks. Mill sat tables away reading Donne or Pope or Dryden or Swift but not the Romantics. Mill knew her own heart too little, the result of having a formal mother. If Nancy O’Reilly had stayed her friend, if their intellects had banded together, Mill might have realized she wanted a career in banking.

Had she realized she wanted a career in banking, she might have met her husband. Had she met her husband, she might have had children. Mill became an office worker with progressive responsibilities and static paycheck, and Nancy O’Reilly went on to earn a Ph.D. in linguistics. Mrs. Mill got a thank you note from Mrs. O’Reilly after Nancy O’Reilly had become Nancy O’Reilly-Kemp, though Nancy O’Reilly hadn’t invited Mill to the wedding. Later Mrs. Mill learned from Mrs. O’Reilly at the grocery store the O’Reilly-Kemps had two children.

Mill wrote, “Bookkeeping is to the Romantics as Teheran is to Carter,” and sent it to Carlisle’s blind box ad.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Mill pans the indices for gold. “One ’roid or two?” plays in her mind like a strain from a musical. Couple of street paranoids, it says. “’Zat one ’noid or two?” she rehearses. “When ’noids talk, money listens.”

One male ape to another: “Is that a butt or a breastplate through the trees?”

The phone rings: Carlisle.

“What is O-I-D?” Mill says.

“Oxford Indiana Dictionary,” he says.

“The suffix is from Greek,” Mill says, “and means ‘like, resembling, or related to’ from eidos: form or shape.”

“Original Issue Discount,” he says, “or H-O-T.”

“What’s H-O-T?” she says.

“You,” he says. “It’s Hell on Taxes.”

“A porn koan,” she says.

“Hah!” he says.

The goose escapes the glass.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Talk of the weather

The rain changes the shapes of trees. It changes the buildings, though not, she thinks, this building. This building stays dry and firm. Mill takes out her magnifying glass and begins to harvest statistics.

The telephone rings: Carlisle.

“Hello,” Mill says.

“You want to know how bad it is?” he says.

“It doesn’t look all bad,” she says.

“It’s a black cloud over a picnic before it rains. It’s a jammed pistol. It’s a dictionary with half the letters removed.”

“It’s a tornado that hits your barn not your house,” Mill says as he hangs up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cognates in the Post

In the morning Mill arrives at Carlisle’s suite with Post in hand. The Post lies ravaged on the empty desk. Her chair is parked in the center of the room, wheels askew. (She leaves it neatly positioned under her desk with its wheels pointed toward the wall.) The spare chair is in its usual position tucked under the empty desk. She inclines it toward her desk then straightens the wheels of her chair by sliding it along the lines in the Persian rug and sits.

The telephone rings: Señor Carlisle.

“Hello,” Señorita Mill pretends not to know.

“See page 7,” he says.

Mill opens the clean copy of the Post to page 7. “Baseball topper,” she reads, “tests plus for ’roids.”

“ ’Zat one ’roid or two?” Carlisle says.

“The article doesn’t go into it,” Mill says.

“Spell hemorrhoid,” Carlisle says.

“H-e-m-m,” Mill says.

“Look it up,” he says.

Mill wakes the computer. “H-e-m-o-r-r-h-o-i-d,” she says.

“Baseball topper’s ’hoids test-us,” Carlisle proffers.

“Calumny,” Mill says, flanking her hair.

Carlisle is silent.

“I hired you to follow stock reports,” he says. “I keep you because you know the word ‘calumny.’ Read the definition.”

Mill toggles the mouse, “1. defamation: the making of false statements about somebody with malicious intent
2. defamatory statement: a slanderous statement or false accusation

“15th century. From Latin calumnia or false accusation (also the source of English challenge), from calvi ‘to deceive.’"

Monday, June 15, 2009

He can read her thoughts

Mill knits Carlisle a pullover evenings. The pullover is dark brown with a beige v- at the neck and stripe at the cuff. Carlisle does not deserve a pullover. Carlisle deserves a lump in the head for his incessant phone calls and demands. A man ought to buy his own newspaper, she thinks, ought to buy his aunt a birthday card. He ought to move his chaise longue and see to it when he needs towels. Carlisle hired her to keep books, yet the labor is indivisible. She feels indentured, not like a service worker. The service workers have position and pride. She has no pride. She has little pride. Carlisle's idea of service would shape a Founding Father. Smoke rises from her tender temple. She puts on water for tea.

"Miss Mill," Carlisle begins when she answers the phone.

"Yes," Mill says. She wraps the teapot in a crisp dishcloth.

"Your service is unimpeachable," he says.

"It's nothing," Mill says. He can read her thoughts after hours, when all the shops are closed. He can read her thoughts at a distance of city blocks. He can read her thoughts over the din of books on the bedside table. He can read thoughts she filters with J. S. Bach.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In for the night

The telephone rings: Señor Carlisle.

“Hello,” Señorita Mill pretends not to know.

“Where are you?” Carlisle says.

“At home,” Mill tells him.

“What are you wearing?”

Mill is silent.

“What are you wearing?” Carlisle asks again.

“A skirt!” Mill says.

“The skirt I bought you?” Carlisle says.

“A skirt my mother gave me,” Mill says. “And a lightweight cardigan.”

“The brown skirt?” Carlisle says.

“It’s beige,” she says.

“What are your plans?”

“I have no plans,” Mill says.

“You’re in for the night?” Carlisle insists.

“I’m in for the night,” she says.

“You’re safe?” he asks.

“Perfectly,” she says.

“This is New York City,” he reminds her.

“I’m safe in my apartment,” she says.

“Your door is locked?”

“Yes,” she says.

“You have plenty of food? What are you having for dinner?”

“Sandwiches,” she says.

“What kind of sandwich?”

“Grilled cheese with salad,” she says.

“And you have shopped?”

"Yes,” she says.

“Umberto said you came in twice this afternoon -- that you were ‘working.’ I said that unless you were in the room upstairs that you were bamboozling him. He didn’t know the word ‘bamboozle.’ ”

"I’ll explain last weekend’s overtime then,” she says.

“Define bamboozle,” Carlisle says.

“Gyp,” Mill says.

“Look it up,” Carlisle says. “Read it to me.”

Mill goes to her computer. “1. cheat somebody: to trick or deceive somebody through misleading statements or falsehoods
2. perplex somebody: to make somebody confused”

“I bamboozled Umberto,” Carlisle proffers.

“Yes,” she says.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

At the drugstore

Mill puts the receipt for the glasses in her wallet and leaves the store, bell klingeling. She crosses the street to Whitney Chemists. The bell rings.

She fishes in her wallet for Carlisle’s prescription.

“Ten minutes,” the pharmacist tells her.

“I’ll wait,” Mill says and sits in the solitary chair.

She fishes in her satchel for a plain white envelope, a pen, and a roll of stamps. She writes Carlisle’s address on the envelope and puts the receipt for her glasses in it: $386.

“Here it is,” the pharmacist tells her. “$127.”

“Do you have his insurance card?” Mill says.

“Viagra isn’t covered. We called.”

Mill gives the pharmacist her credit card, signs, then tucks the receipt in the mailer.

When she gets to Carlisle’s building, she gives Umberto the packet from Whitney Chemists.

“Thanks, Umberto.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Mill. Still working?”

“Still working,” she says.

Mill drops the envelope in the mailbox at Broadway then walks the three blocks home.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A new pair of glasses

“Miss Mill,” Umberto greets her when she gets to Carlisle’s building.

She lifts the bag of groceries over the counter. “Good noon, Umberto. This is for Mr. Carlisle.”

“You’re not going up?”

“I have rounds,” she says.

“What do I tell him?”

“That I have rounds.”

Umberto stares at her hopefully.

“Errands,” she says.

“Work for Mr. Carlisle?”

“Yes,” she says.

“I’ll tell him. Good afternoon, Miss Mill.”

“Goodbye, Umberto.”

Mill passes Il Cantinori on her way to University Place. Its french doors are open, and lunchers sit at tables half inside, half outside, sipping wine and eating dull bread.

At Devonshire Optical, the bell klingels as she opens the door. She fishes in her red wallet for her prescription. She wants green frames. She peers through the cases. There is one green pair. The clerk lets her try them on, but they do not suit her face. She sees a light brown pair.

“These,” she says to the clerk. The clerk sits with her at a fitting table to take adjustments then writes her name and address and telephone number on an index card.

“We’ll call when they’re ready,” the clerk says.

“I’ll wear these until then,” Mill says. Mill paid $3 on Minnesota Care for the wire pair. In Minnesota, she wears them for driving and at the theater. In the city she wears them to see to the end of the block and discern faces on Law & Order. Carlisle told her to get new ones.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Miss widow

Mill takes her assignment and heads with it toward Broadway to walk past the windows of discount shoes. She thinks Carlisle lives in the Shoe Box District, but she hasn’t said it. She asked for leave to visit a club in the Meat Packing District, and Carlisle said he’d send her to the Diamond District if she wasn’t careful. She imagined riding the subway alone to the Diamond District to size her engagement ring, but nothing came of it besides banter about the burden of money. “The Statue of Liberty is the color of money,” he told her on a Saturday. Apples at the Farmers’ Market are the color of dairy barns not green. Carlisle means “Granny Smiths” from New Zealand.

Mill picks the firmest green apples from the bin at Modern Gourmet. The deli is out of the Post, so she buys Raisin Bran as a joke at her expense. The shopkeepers are not fluent in the vocabulary of groceries: Motrin for margarine. All the service workers are fluent in the ways to pay. Currency is universal. The owner’s wife takes her dollars and returns her change. Mill puts the coins in her pocket to give to the man outside.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Her boss calls during lunch hour

To a pedestrian crossing at 14th Street: “Am I facing uptown or downtown?” “Up," the pedestrian says stopping. Directions and hybrids blur in the mind while rotating. Apple stand, mint, wheat grass juice, rutabaga, tie-dyeds. Amish wagon to the curb. Sunshine breaks an egg over Phillips Ambulatory. Tall -- for walking -- espresso on ice. Lunch crowd milling. 9.8 per cent out of work. Telephone snapshot of flower stand.

Telephone rings: Señor Carlisle.

“Hello,” Señorita Mill pretends not to know.

“Hello,” he mocks her.

“Don’t mock,” she instructs. “Hell-o,” she says.

“Where are you?”

“Union Square.”

“Is it raining?”


“Pick up a Post and a pair of green apples.”

12 sentences

One blade of the ceiling fan flew off the base. (10)
He loved me last century. (5)
It blew him back and singed his eyelashes to light the oven. (12)
I loved his face in profile. (6)
I loved him from two barstools. (6)
Irish bar, Irish ale, Irish jukebox. (6)
I loved you over the phone. (6)
Your books are old for men younger then. (8)
My books are for friends. (5)
There are books yet to read inside me. (8)
One of them is Der Zauberberg. (6)
Final words: “Am I facing uptown or downtown?” (8)

Monday, June 08, 2009

A misreading

The Army ad ran alongside an article about Marfa. I read the word “Army” as “Amy.” I thought, “Amy could go to Marfa.”

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bird sanctuary

Saga Lundberg checked her Facebook home page: Eleven eligible men advertising singleness -- “for the whole world to see” -- were not behind the times, were networking. Mistake in perception: married men on Facebook were not seeking out dames as well. Dames herselves were seeking? Connubial bliss. As described on Oprah. It begins in the perfect pair of blue jeans and moves from there to perfect abs. Perfect abs lead to the sunny sport of one-ups-man-ship: grabbing abs and opportunities. Manship is not a word in the dictionary of this word processor, but Facebook, capitalized, is. One-ups-man-ship desvío del saco. To be Serena Williams in tennis; to be Saga Lundberg in love. Saga -- who might believe the What Is Your Swedish Name? application might name a short story writer Saga? Believability the first yardstick in prejudicing us for make-believes.

140 words in previous sudden paragraph that dips you uppity into real life -- a slice of life. A slice of Saga Lundberg's life is a slab of gingerbread served thick with fresh whipped cream. “Gingerbread” reveals more about her than do her Facebook practices. In practice, she visits Facebook daily while trying to keep a low profile. She dusts her tracks. She limits access. If her Facebook friends were to visit in real life, she would not lose a day to loneliness. An endless roll of traipsers would come at odd hours to her living room, where she’d set a rug to wipe their feet: people she’d pick up at the airport from Ireland, Germany, the UK. They’d dine at nearby McCoy’s Public House. They’d politically digress.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Eloise's porter

Eloise went into her closet to pick a pair among her hundred pairs of shoes. 100 x 2 = 200 shoes. A pair of shoes equals a pound. Her shoes weighed 100 pounds. She admired them in their mound on the floor of the walk-in: Glossy red, tawny orange, forest green, metallic gray, black, brown, ivory, pointed toes, square heeled, tall boots, ankle boots, patent leather, suede. Eloise wore a 7AA.

Eloise picked her favorite pair of blue jeans; a long-torsoed embroidered white blouse with satin blue ribbon; a delicate pale pink and white underwire bra and panty set; and matte royal blue low-heeled pumps. She assembled herself without difficulty and threaded the jeans with a narrow alligator belt. Voila!

Her clear, smooth skin was too pure to need make-up, yet everyday she hesitated near the mirror: There were people who rejected a woman’s face unless it was camouflaged. She wore mascara and as with her fetish for shoes and boots, she fetishized mascara colors, what few there were. Navy blue Chanel, she selected. Sheer plum lipgloss to vaunt her pearly whites.

Eloise’s hair was in arrears. It was brave straw sprouting from a vase. Her forebears had owned slaves.

Friday, June 05, 2009

In the suburbios

As far as I was concerned, she had done it. Her foot had done it. Her right foot, to be exact, had not coordinated with her eye movements in time to avoid hitting the lady. A sin of omission, an error in haste.

All this talk of “woman” “man” “man” “woman” “lady” “girl.” At death crossing an intersection, do you want to go out as a lady, spread flat against the curb, hit by a lady driver in her 40s -- not a very young lady -- or do you want to die a woman? “Hey, lady, you just hit a woman, killed her.”

The lady who died was old. Relatives on both sides of the story say it was no one’s fault. The lady driving didn't care deep down: Her kids had not been in the car, but her mother had been there, her mother before suddenly developing Alzheimer’s and moving to a home. Poof! Esther’s crossing-the-street dead! No blame nor cause for a civil suit: an innocent taking of burdens off the street one burden at a time.

Belinda’s darned for money, strapped, house full of renovations, nannies to pay and kids in private school.

I bring up the death because though Belinda did it, she is not quick to forgive. I haven’t hit so much as a squirrel.

There were breaches of etiquette in her first marriage; her first husband took a piss on a bush outside a museum. The children were watching, the boy and the baby. Her second husband is “ordinary” but decent, lets Harry pay.

No need to pay for the accident because it didn’t happen “that way.” The cel phone didn’t do it. Her foot didn’t do it. Her foot didn’t fall.

"Bless everyone mentioned in every news story, no matter where they stand or what they do. For what we bless is delivered to divine right order. Bless those who do harm as well as those who do good, for any judgment blocks the light and keeps miracles at bay. Becoming emotionally reactive when we are confronted with darkness only serves to keep the darkness alive. Reacting with fear merely feeds the fear."

-- Marianne Williamson

Thursday, June 04, 2009


In the um. In the, um, beginning. The, uh, founder of wide-margined porous-prose steel prospective mother. Counsel. In the beginning, before the beginning, until the end, she, headstrong, rose clairvoyant into the next. Stomach. Surprise. Etwas auf Deutsch gesagt würde. Strumming heels. Fixed Parkinson’s. Herr Drueder saw her at Caribou. Saw her at Starbuck’s because there were no Caribou's in Texas that I saw. He saw her at Starbuck’s, but I would rather that he’d seen her at Dunkin’ Donuts. I don’t remember whether there were Dunkin’ Donuts in Texas. There is one in New York, across First Avenue from Beth Israel Hospital. I fell for the advertising. I did not buy a donut, but I bought the famous coffee after learning it was famous. There are cups more famous than that at Dunkin’ Donuts. I bought two cups and had no way to carry them with my umbrella extended, so it rained. I had vertigo. Crossing the Avenue with vertigo was as anxiety-provoking as if I had been crossing against the light without vertigo. I feared collapse midway. I feared that my legs would give out under me, and I’d fall to the pavement and that help would not arrive before the light changed and the cars moved. I stop typing to put a latex glove on the right hand with which to eat cheese curls. I lick the glove clean, remember chewing popped balloons like bubblegum, and resume typing the story. Tell it in nine words. Lazy.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


It was a long morning that began with a hymn on the radio. She turned in her sleep, roused awake by the singer's training.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Wall Street

Try to write a short story. The first line of the short story is about trying to write a short story. Trying to write a short story is like trying to type a letter for a secretary who could type her own letters, but since she is an administrative assistant, the agency pays me to do her clerical work. She will not file. They trust me to file for her. She consults files when she has a question, a question that derives from her own intelligence. Probably she has a bachelor’s degree. I have a master’s degree. She wears a navy skirted suit. I wear a navy skirt and white floral blouse. I am not to use my intelligence, my autonomy, my independent sense of what has value and meaning or my sense of license in writing. The agency does not pay for my health insurance. The law firm pays for hers. The old barrister (her boss) comes in at eleven or one. He smiles at me knowing all too well. The summer intern, who sits on my desk (once), sniffs me out as a lay then is told that I finished graduate school and am technically, get off the desk. I am peripherally his senior, except that law (his field) has more clout, more entity, more finality than mine, though mine was a terminal degree. I type for her. He barely notices her. He notices her. He is to treat her equally, as with respect, but he is to treat me for one hopeful morning as a prospective lay. I tell him that I’m engaged to take the pressure off these other hierarchies, to relate. I would only type for him if they asked. I aspire to work as an old school secretary directly for the barrister, but no such luck.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

These females take no prisoners

Reading posts I've noticed that sometimes Women's Poetry Listserv members use the word "female" to designate "woman" and "females" for "women."  An adult female human being is a woman.  Woman is the generic.  Newspapers have ruled in style in favor of "woman" for decades.  I've noticed that many women avoid saying "woman" or "women" in favor of "gals," "ladies," "girls," "grrls."  Sometimes these women are poets.  Is it due to study in feminist poetics that the word "woman" is meaningful in a way they wish to avoid, that it suggests a profile or designates a philosophy they are seeking not to define?  It seems while concerns over "essentialism" have increased in feminist poetics, a return to "female" as a noun has also increased.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My sentence-maker went out for lunch

Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis on Thursday elaborated its title in a realist mode for three and a half hours. It is Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman if half the family were gay. Yet it is more complex than Miller's play because its characters have compounded adjustment disorders. Kushner's saga of a fourth-generation Italian family in Brooklyn is a celebration not merely of family or of diversity (something it also is) but of reality. In reality, people have histories and complex layerings; in a family such as the Marcantonios, lives are as complex as veins of leaves that cling to the same small branch.

A synopsis for this story might read: "Gay man's father wishes to commit suicide." That covers about one-eighth of the drama with none of the detail. "Gay white male scholar married to a black male atheist theologian after moving to Minneapolis to evade a love-affair with a white male prostitute in Manhattan is called home to Brooklyn to attend to his Italian-American communist father's (Augusto's) decision to attempt suicide for a second time in a year to commemorate his wife's death at giving birth to his youngest son." That covers about one-third of the story.

The adult children in the story are: Pill (Pier Luigi, the gay man who has moved to Minneapolis), Empty (Maria Theresa, a labor lawyer), and V (Vito). Empty's former husband, Adam, lives in the basement of the Marcantonio family's brownstone. During a family consensus hearing called by Gus's sister, Bennie (Benedicta, a lapsed nun), Empty slips downstairs for a comfort fuck with her ex-; by morning Empty's pregnant lover, Maeve, appears at the family meeting to inquire, in particular, about the "proceeds" if Gus should do himself in and Adam buys the house. Maeve is pregnant with Vito's seed. (It comes to light that he did not in fact artificially inseminate her.) Empty is to become the lesbian mother of her niece or nephew. Meanwhile, across town, Pill who cannot resist paying Eli for sex goes for a session at Eli's efficiency. That covers about two-thirds of the story.

I'm leaving out labor and communist party history. I'm leaving out Bennie's decision to leave Gus and return to the projects in Paterson. I'm leaving out the woman Gus met at an Irish bar whose husband committed suicide who can teach him exactly how to do it. I'm leaving out the suitcase pulled from the wall after Vito and his father take turns punching it. I'm leaving out Pill's impending divorce if he chooses to stay with the prostitute. I'm leaving out the dialogue, more complicated than any contemporary dialogue I've heard on stage, more complicated than Chekhov, as complicated as Austen, cusping on Shakespeare. I'm leaving out the family diaspora and Eli's visit to Gus. I'm leaving out the end.