August 31, 2013

Corner Bar Laughter

Other people's din
can't spin
the convo we share
in the dim light
of our corner table
at our corner bar.

You promised me
a bite to eat
post whiskey drinks
post shots of a tequila
made in Old Mexico

and yet we continue
to chat and
cackle like Macbeth
witches, bitchin' 'bout
your days work at the 9
to 5: contracts, wordsmithing,
something about a contractual memo
needing memorizing in a few days.

Onomatopoeic chortles, chuckles,
and snickers float and fly above
us like the dragon flies we saw
on our lakeside walk;

          you said it was an insectoid
          aerial show, spoke in smarmy
          old timey voice simply by covering
          your mouth with the hand that left mine.

 Now eyes are on us
to perform
to play
to push our new poetic
yet their rhetoric is a squalor
to the hollers we share

          the bar
          the bench
you want us

          the bed

to laugh.

August 25, 2013

Post Op II

Doc says
          surgery went well
shakes my drug induced hand
          anything bothering you?


I tell him
I'm color blind.

I noticed
filling out tax forms
that included the vacation we took
                                                    to New England
but not the journal
you bought
                                                     in that Providence curiosity shop;

you noted
the extra P and E spelling.

Your first entry in our journal
I though it a tribute to
Updike would smile, wink;
you said, pushing a bony elbow
into a lower rib, rattling off
five shows I've never seen
because you're the pop culture
artist between us.

I tell the doc
the ribs

to clarify

do not hurt.

Back and forth
the journal exchanged
your hand, my
hand, your pen,
my pen, yours
blue, my black.

My colorblindness
outed itself
between tax lines 42
                     and 45
                               "sheltered annuities"
when my blue pen
ran out of ink
and I noticed
the ink in my
pen had been
blue all along.

Less concerned
                      am I
about the IRS
kicking through
my hollow
studio apt.
door, knocking off
books you left
behind, picking through
old file folders you
left behind, and
that empty drawer
which used to contain
the main accountant
wardrobe you left
for the week
when you'd stay;

my real fear
is less legal

finding that damn journal
and not knowing where
you began and I
left off.

          Dancing in the vineyard?
          Hiking the arboretum?
          Sipping drinks at the piano bar?

Doc reminds me
these are not
my concerns.

August 22, 2013

Walkin' Uphill At Barnes

As friends, family, and colleagues both here and back in Oshkosh or Las Cruces can attest, I spend a lot of time at Barnes & Noble. As corporate as I'm sure some would attack, I love it. It has always been a perfect place to read, look for random books, skim new comics, gander at poetry, stay mesmerized in the map section, sample some soup, sip a caffeinated beverage, get some writing done, procrastinate with homework, and even chat with friends.

Some of the B&N I have worked at have been split level, with escalators either flanking an atrium type area or making up one side of an open square. The three I frequent in Milwaukee (Brookfield, Mayfair, Bayshore) all have escalators. And while I have observed the phenomena I about to discuss many times previous, today it stuck with me.

(Almost as profound as sharing a table with an older gentlemen today who slowly inched all of his reading materials across the surface as if claiming land in a great battle. Since I am typically in massive Peter Brooks introverted time, I wasn't interested in pushing back. Yet, my friend across the plane of books and drinks also struck me profound given who he was...and something I will write about later after I've had some time to reflect on his humbling presence.)

Kids, at B&N, love to walk in the opposite direction on escalators. I'm sure this isn't uncommon at many places with escalators. And as I said, I've seen this for the longest time.

(Unrelated to my main point, but interesting to note are the different approaches each location has; Brookfield staff will make a large, non-specific PA announcement: "No playing on the elevators please."; Bayshore, where I was today, merely yells at the kids as professionally as possible; Mayfair, the most intimidating as one of the staff will stand on one entrance and stare at the kid until they make eye contact, then point, then guide them in the proper direction.)

As a kid, I am more than certain I have done this as well. And why not? It's a moving staircase. In some places I still do this. Airports. Especially when I have late night flights or if I'm walking with someone. I know I even once tried to out run the speed of the steps and make it to the top of down-escalator.

No staff to yell at me. Just mom.

The incident today reinforced the concept of rules, something I have been studying a lot about lately in concern with writing. Why do we have rules? How do we enforce them? How and why do we break them? What happens when they go away? How do new rules appear?

The escalator rule, in many ways, is the best example of the structural function of rules.

First, let's look at the basic (presumed) rule: Do not "play" on the elevators. Play here of course is more than likely defined as going against the grain of motion. If you're going up, don't go down. If you're going down, don't go up. You can increase your steps in one direction (something I always do going up but never going down because I still hold this irrational childhood fear my shoelaces will get caught in the bottom teeth; highly associated to the Getting My Toenails Cut anxiety, I'm sure...thanks Dad). But, you cannot go against the motion.

Second, is the generic use of the word play in stated language to represent something specific. Obviously, the rule would also include "horsing around" and "general tomfoolery" but the motions for the most part are the same; there's not a lot of other "abnormal" movements you can make on an elevator. It's either stand, walk with, or walk against. I guess you could jump, but I haven't seen many folks do that. You can sit, yet strangely, sitting on the steps is not playing.

(It's also incredibly brave. At least in my eyes. I'm scare as shit my feet will get cut off, can't imagine what would happen if my butt got chomped on the escalator teeth.)

Third, ties closely into my second point, which is where it's posted that people can't do this? It's not. And yet, only a small number of kids, and a smaller number of teens, ever do this. Anecdotally, I would say it happens about once every ten or so times I'm at a B&N (and I got about 1-2 times a week or more during the school year). But the rule does not have to be stated for a large majority of people not to do it. I'm interested in how do we learn the rule if A. we don't violate it just by doing or B. we don't see someone else violate it?

My fourth thought on this is, why do we have the rule? I could ask a B&N worker, but I'm also sure it's fairly obvious: playing on the escalator will likely result in obstructing the traffic and flow of people, as well as potentially injure yourself or others. It just makes sense. It's the same principle behind not stopping your car in the middle of the road for no reason. Or walking at someone without getting of their way. Or not trying to cram through the same door space when others are. Simply put, don't stop.

Legally, I'm sure corporations and businesses would be more afraid of the injury. If I don't tell you to stop, and your but gets chewed up by the elevator, then I could be liable. I've seen a handful of kids stop before they are even reprimanded. And I've never seen someone actually hurt or hurt others. Usually, once a kid spots someone coming the other way, he/she stops. The only thing I've ever seen happen, is the elevator itself just shut down.

Finally, why do we mostly obey the rule and, inversely, why do we break it?

I feel the the answer to the first part explains why we tend to follow rules most of the time: it is the safest and easiest thing to do. I don't want to get hurt, I don't want get sued, and, to be honest, I probably have bigger things on my plate than to see if I can make it up the steps. It's not a time waster.

I think about this in writing sometimes as well. It's easiest to write a five paragraph essay with a traditional introduction and conclusion. It's easiest to do a quote sandwich. It's most practical--especially if my end goal is to get a good grade and again not waste my time.

Yet people still break these small rules.

(I get that people routinely break larger rules that feel like there's more common sense and more of a risk of harming yourself and others. It's these little small rules that, in all reality, don't have major consequence, or, if there is one, the odds of it occurring are so slim it's almost inconsequential. Hence why I also think about this with writing. The Oxford Comma is a great example. It doesn't matter if I write: cat, dog, and mouse OR cat, dog and mouse...the punctuation is correct either way.)

More importantly, we still have these small rules.

This whole little activity of going against the grain (other than the potential metaphor of individual spirit and triumph) made me realize that everything has a rule, even if it is small. The rule may not be stated, or obvious, but a rule does exist. Likewise, with the existence of a rule (or rules) there are the opportunities to break them, and begin to consider how the consequences affect those involved.

I believe this is why a very interested dichotomy exists in collegiate writing. On the one hand, there's essay writing. I see many students conform to a set of rules they learned in high school (again, there's no right or wrong with those rules or conventions). Personally, if a specific rule for them makes them comfortable, I don't try to push them out of it. Mostly, I am interested in why they make that rule.

Off the cuff, I find students make writing rules for two reasons: 1. Comfort and/or Mastery: either they did a good job with a specific approach or it's been the minimal amount that they needed to do to be successful so don't challenge it, i.e., if it ain't broke... 2. Fear: a teacher drilled into their heads that they MUST use the Oxford Comma reinforced by either a failing grade or some type of negative feedback.

I am also interested in why they don't want to break them when it comes to expository or academic writing, but, when it comes to creative writing, it's not uncommon for many students to be like "Eff, the rules!"

(On both side of the coin, this always reminds me of a teaching pet peeve of mine which is when an educator provides an example of extreme rule breaking and experimentation, only to condemn writing choices when trying to follow that lead. It's the "Don't try this at home" maneuver, which is ridiculous, especially since writing should be a space for experimentation and understanding why certain choices may or may not work.)

The usage of dialogue tags frequently gets broken by creative writers. I broke this rule often when I first started writing. I know that the desire to not use "he said" or "she said" is to achieve a speedier dialogue. Yet, I also learned, from doing so, that if you write a lot of dialogue, and have a lot of characters, shit gets confusing quickly without it.

So how do we discuss the rules of writing in such a way that doesn't A. Bore our students to death? B. Cause them to feel like the rules are 100% black and white? C. Alienate them from understanding why a rule exists; even if it is ridiculous.

Returning to the B&N escalators also brings to me a rule's lasting effect. Let's say someone does play on the escalator (like I did today). The worst that will happen, is that I will be removed from the store and sued if I hurt someone else in the process of being Superman flying up while the escalator is trying to take me down.

Yet, the escalator will still be there. And the rule with it. And, if anything, that one action, out of a million other actions, will only reinforce the rule more.


August 17, 2013

Augusts Are Summer's Sundays

I remember myself stretched out on my parents vomit orange living room floor, all the windows open except the checkerboard front window, the pre-Indian Summer breeze, sans humidity, sans oven baked air, sans the songs of cicadas strain through the black mesh screens that kept the soon to be dying mosquitoes from dying on our window sill while the ash tray colored fly struggled against the cooler air.

I remember late night, last minute drags through Target, families packed like wolves, moms howling at pups--Do you want Rainbow Brite? Large ruled or college ruled? Why do you need a green pen for math?--myself staring at the blue notebook cover I will soon tag with innocent graffiti, keep secrets in along its spiral spine, and make crooked notes my teacher couldn't decipher with the Rosetta Stone.

I remember my stomach twisting at night, realizing these were my last days to sleep in, devour a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles, and another, and another, cataloging the summer places I hadn't visited (Great America, Jazz in the Park, The Domes), and the places I wanted to return to (Mayfair Mall, Brookfield Square Mall, Southridge Mall).

August is baseball's warning track for my mind
Sundays are two-minute warnings
there are no time outs
or fouls to give
I simply play out these last days/hours
holding onto the play of the last months/weeks
         late night coffee after Alewive's comedy
         the cinnamon-orange latte at a humid Gill's
         early morning bus rides to malls
         the permeating black top at Summerfest
         camp fire laughter turned tall tales of fright
the daunting prognosticating that future days
will have no play.

August 15, 2013

Dirt Tats

Itching, days on end,
I peel beige bandages
flesh and hair married to
the first rush of
non-hospital air
relives the dull pain
of sutures
dried blood
finally gets washed
with a hot water
anti-bacterial sting

A day later
I look down
at a bloated
lazy days belly
and map
  Incan burial mounds
  sacrificial Aztec spaces
  an ill-planned tennis court
  schematics for condos
across the week long glue.

For fun
I draw stick figures
in its spaces;
hieroglyphics for the next
anthropologist to travel south.

August 12, 2013


New nurse in pink scrubs
rolls into my room
asks if doc has clued me
on post-op instructions.

The fleshy straw doubling as my throat
groans out a yes accompanied by a sore
neck head bob to confirm and reaffirm
because doc gave me the one two three

be careful moving, eating, and sleeping.

But nurse nanny with tiny fanny
looks to mesmerize with her memorized litany

No walking, talking, running, jogging
hot dogging, and leap frogging
(I throw that one in for the kids)
or skateboarding or bicycling or motorcycling
since those sitting angles are all acute--
less than 90 degrees you know--and we need
your toros and legs at an obtuse--
more than 90 degrees--angle at all times
so blood can flow from head-to-toe
and pool at the apex of your abdo muscle,
uterine wall, and intestines and riding or
driving in any of those positions are acute
and A-tagonistic to your healing; some
movement is of course ok, and almost
impossible not to have but you must
only shuffle, or pace, or slow walk--
I call it Frankensteining--and make sure
you have a guide or cane or cell phone
because while you are at a 180 degree
body angle which is primo, you're also
vertical causing that blood flow to cascade
and like the singing cicadas of the summer
irritate and annoy your bowel, doubling you
over on the sidewalk; indoor motion too
needs to be monitored so, make sure you place
5 psi on each side of your abdomen when you cough,
sneeze, snort, clear your throat, urinate, flatulate,
and defecate bringing me to the perils of fornicating
with your pelvis and thus AB-staining from the S-E-X
for at least six months.

Nurse scopes out my parents.

Although, apparently not a problem
since both your 'rents are here and any S.O.
is clearly M.I.A. from this affair, so let's move
on to consumption seeing as how you won't be
conusmating any time soon; for the first 72 hours
you may only consume clears: water, ice, popsicles,
soups, broths, teas, non-carboniated sodas, pulpless
juices, and jello. After 72 hours and before 96 hours
you can move up the ruddy ladder to muddies like
puddings, milks, semi-pulp juice, creamy soups,
low pulp stews, low pasta sauces, and soft breads,
which you should dip in everything you have to soften
then more since your digestive track is finally on track
after your hernial wall went awry allowing your bowel
to go A.W.O.L. (I throw that one in for the military men)
and slowing your movements to standstills; after 96 hours
but before 120 hours you can have pasta.

Not lasagna, just pasta.

After 120 hours you can return to eating normal things
but you must not goo all country buffet or golden corral
on your body.

I tell her I write poetry
and I wrote a poem
about eating at buffets.

Finally, finally, finally we have sleeping
you must sleep, but you must sleep no more
than 8 hours and no less than 6 hours
in a position no more or less than 180 degrees
horizontal on your mattress; arms and legs
must be parallel to your body, maybe at most
bent no more than three degrees or seven total
per limb, you're not a tree you know
(I throw that in there for the arboristas)
your head can be at any degree or turned any
way as long as it's comfortable with you
anything not comfortable with you stop doing
I know that sounds odd, but you'll be uncomfortable
anyway with all of the cutting and such we gave you
so attempting to make yourself more comfortable
will only result in you becoming uncomfortable.

Do you have any questions?

I linger

and due to throat
constriction cannot ask:

Were there alternatives to this surgery
since I visited my doc weeks ago when
I thought I had a heart attack
originally thought it was heart ache
after considering heart burn
caused by consuming several animal types,
at least six different opaque cheeses,
and an entire I.V. bag of Dr. McGillicuddy's
(I throw that in there for all the nurses)
within a four hour sitting at a Superbowl party
causing me to pass out in blissful joy with one leg
over the sofa, one arm on the floor, some vomit
trickling down my mouth for no less than three hours
and no more than four hours during which my ex-S.O.
and ex-B.F.F. decided to have the S.E.X. on his pool table
in obtuse positions because he was more acute than I
causing me to first feel stomach pain, then dismissing it,
then feel chest pain, then dismissing it, then getting it checked
only because I was on her health insurance
and figured that heart surgery was a more expensive F.U.
then pissing in the soup she makes for her family every year
yet causing me to rethink this plan
due to your list of rules which clearly
apply to no one on the planet beyond your husband?

I nod instead
sitting at 91 degrees
looking out the window
and forward to the pasta.