Confessions at the End of the Tunnel

   It was the very end of our relationship, when it was past the point of ever being good again.  We both knew it but neither one of us wanted to say it, because that would mean letting go and both of us were still clinging.  Old habits, especially those born out of intimacy, are the hardest to kill.
   Several weeks earlier, after having returned from a month in Vancouver, I confessed to having an extended affair with a French barista, with whom I was still in contact.  Visibly shaken, but not surprised by this news, my girlfriend, Jeannie, confessed to having had a drunken threesome with two of her old college buddies—Lenny and Marcus.
   While I’m pretty sure I didn’t come across as visibly shaken, I was surprised by this news, and after several hard swallows and a brief spell of indigestion, I decided to continue our confessional carousel.  I told Jeannie about several other women I had hooked up with over the course of our relationship, which had spanned almost three years.    Our cards, unmarked, were laid on the table.  What next?
   We decided to stay together and tried to turn the corner.  The thing is, the corner we wound up turning turned out to be darker than we had expected.  Dark, not as in black, but a thick deep blue with the power to distort and obscure.
   A specific night comes to mind as a quintessential reflection of the corner we had turned: My friend, Pierre, a French-Canadian whom I had met in Vancouver, was visiting New York and staying with us.  Pierre was a tall, clean-cut, handsome young man, twenty-one at the time (Jeannie and I were in our mid-twenties), studying to be an architect.  Pierre possessed an appealing boyish quality, and reacted with unfiltered enthusiasm to things that moved and fascinated him.  He was constantly snapping photos of streets and buildings and churches when we walked around the city.  Soo fucckk-innggg amaa-zzzinnggg, was his trademark expression.
   Anyway, it was Pierre’s fourth or fifth day with us, and he was out strolling the city, camera in hand.  Jeannie and I were at home, seated on the couch, drinking chilled vodka.  Weed was Jeannie’s main squeeze.  I was the drinker in our duo.  But that had changed.  I don’t know if it was an if-you-can’t-beat-him-join-em-type-thing, but Jeannie began drinking more regularly and started keeping a couple of bottles of Absolut in the freezer.  I noticed that, after our respective confessions, I had a hard time being sober around Jeannie at all.  I had to be inebriated to be around her, and sex with her had become impossible without copious amounts of alcohol.
Can’t you fuck me sober anymore, she once asked, and I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing.
   So we’re on the couch and we’re both pretty lit by this point, and Jeannie started talking about Pierre, how handsome he was.
   Yes, he is, I agreed.
   Then Jeannie planted herself on my lap and said: Alex, can I tell you something?
   Yea, I said.
   Okay.  You might get mad at me but I’m gonna tell you anyway.  I think Pierre is so hot and I’d love to fuck him.  I’d love to have your friend fuck me.  And you could watch.  Would that make you mad?
   I could see where this was going.  I understood the implications of the gauntlet being thrown.  It was too late for us anyway, I figured, and we were both drunk, so I decided to play the game.
   We went back and forth, taking turns building on the Jeannie-fucking-Pierre fantasy.  The more intense it got, the harder Jeannie rubbed her skirted ass against my groin, and the more she wanted me to touch her.  So I did.  I massaged her clit, tweaked her nipples, bit her neck, and all the time, between low animal moans, Jeannie provided a detailed narrative about what Pierre was doing to her, how it felt, how she knew she was bad but couldn’t help herself, etc.
   I felt turned on and sick to my stomach at the same time.  Yet the sicker I felt the more turned on I got and when we finally did fuck, there was a passion, a sense of urgency that had been missing for months.
   Was that where we were at, I wondered.  Would this sort of thing now be the requirement in order for us to feel each other intensely?
   Part of me thought: Maybe this is what all relationships turn into eventually.  You’ve got to find things—barbed, prickly, perverse—to rise up out of the blankness you share with the other person on an all-too-regular basis.  Yet another part of me couldn’t believe that’s the way it was, or had to be.
   There’s Got To Be More, and, This Is The Way It Is Or Always Will Be, were two factions opposing one another, and the fire-sparked result: drinking.  So as not to think about it.  A bypass, as opposed to a breakthrough or breakdown.
   Pierre came back some time later.  I saw him differently: not as a threat, but as an instrument.  Or a point of leverage placed in the middle of an unseen war.
   We drank, chatted, listened to music, and when I suggested we should call Zora, one of my ex-girlfriends who I was still good friends with, Jeannie was more than into it—she needed it to happen.
   Make sure you get her to come, Alex, use all your charms and get her over here.
   I could tell by the tone in Jeannie’s voice and by the look in her eyes, what she had in mind: a foursome.  Zora was a tall, sinewy Croatian girl, open to both sexes.  Jeannie knew I had a couple of threesomes with Zora in the past, and as a “straight” girl, she had been fascinated, but had never done anything with another woman.  Now, with Pierre thrown into the mix, Jeannie was ready.
   I got in touch with Zora, who was living on Orchard Street with her boyfriend, and after much cajoling and manipulation I convinced her to drop by.  She arrived about an hour later. Instantly I could tell that Pierre was attracted to Zora, and they sat on the couch together and chatted.  Eventually, Jeannie issued her request.  She said she wanted to watch me fuck Zora and wanted me to watch her fuck Pierre.  We could start with that and go from there.
   Zora smiled, talk like that never shocked or offended her, and while she was intrigued, she said she couldn’t because of her boyfriend, which surprised me.
   That never stopped you in the past, I told her.
   I know but I’m trying to be good now.  I’m trying not to cheat anymore.
   Pierre, who looked more boyish than ever, said: I don’t think it’s a good idea for me and Jeannie to . . . I can’t do that.
  Pierre smiled the whole time, trying to express: No hard feelings.
   There was a bit more discussion and eventually, what happened: Jeannie and I decided to make ourselves the Show and fuck in front of Pierre and Zora.  They would watch and if they were inspired to join us in some way, they should feel free to do so . . . but there was no pressure.  That’s how Jeannie had put it.
   So working our fingers and mouths and genitalia in various configurations, Jeannie and I played to the audience, though, surprisingly, I was able to forget they were there and that we were being watched.  When I was fingering Jeannie, she begged Zora to touch her, even if just a little bit, and Zora obliged by fondling Jeannie’s tits while complimenting her on their shape.
   After Zora was done, I told Pierre he could do it too, if he wanted, and Jeannie confirmed this, saying—Yes, it’s okay—and with a sheepish grin Pierre fondled Jeannie’s tits lightly, and cautiously, as if they were snare-traps that would snap up his hands if he applied too much pressure.  When he made his way back to the couch, Pierre tried, unsuccessfully, to engage Zora sexually.
   A short while later the night came to an end.  Zora left, Pierre went to sleep in the guest room, and Jeannie and I passed out.  I woke up around dawn, dehydrated and filled with lust.  I woke Jeannie by rubbing my hard-on against her warm bare ass and we did it in a dreamy feverish haze.
   Jeannie and I, in what I imagine was our desperate last attempt to salvage our relationship, decided to leave New York and move to Taos, NM, which we did about four months later.  She went back to New York after three weeks.  I stayed in Taos.
   That night sometimes comes back to me as bitter backwash, or as a point of disillusionment, sharply defined.  Yet most of the time I feel that none of it ever happened: There was no relationship, no infidelities, no Pierre and Zora watching Jeannie and Alex pathetically attempt to fuck their way through or past despair.
   It’s like it happened to someone else, some stranger who confided everything to me in a dark room, an isolated confessional, where very little light gets in.
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(Story from Freeze Tag.)
I had been dating Jeannie for two years and had been living with her for the past six months.  We had a place on 31st Street between Madison & Park Avenues and we could afford it because, A. Jeannie was making pretty good money working as an administrative assistant at a law firm, and, B. Jeannie’s mother, Susan, paid a quarter of the rent in exchange for a place to stay when she visited from Connecticut, which she did a couple of weekends a month.  I was responsible for the other quarter of the rent.
   I worked part-time as a file clerk at an architecture firm located on the Upper West Side.  For a while I kept up my end of the bargain, but that had been in winter, and now that it was early summer and I frequently walked to work, I often pit-stopped at Bryant Park and got stuck there.  The accommodating lawn chairs, the sun-bleached green grass, the trees like friendly sentries flanking the park: all these things conspired to breed idleness.
   So my part-time became part of part-time and what was both good and bad: my bosses at the architecture firm could care less.  I barely registered on their radar even when I was there.  They were busy with drafts and drawing up plans, doing their architect thing.  I shuttled back and forth between my corner alcove and the room where the filing cabinets were, about ten feet away.  As long as the files weren’t neglected to a point that was noticeable, I could come and go as I pleased.
   Anyway, it was a Friday night and Jeannie would be working late.  She wouldn’t be home until nine or so, something about an important project.  On the phone she had asked me how work was that day.  I lied and said fine.  I had, with all the best intentions, started off for work that morning, but when I got to Bryant Park I saw that, at noon, the cast from Rent would be performing excerpts from the show, free to the public.
   Susan was staying with us that weekend and was out to dinner with friends.  I was lying in bed, propped up on three pillows, watching The Birds, munching my way through a bag of Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn.  The bulbous half-a-joint set in the ashtray caught my attention.  I didn’t smoke often but Jeannie was a chronic smoker and there was always weed in the house.  Again, I thought of elements favorably conspiring: The Birds, Orville Redenbacher, marijuana.
   I lit the joint, smoked most of it, and placed the remaining stub back in the ashtray.  The roasted scent of green made me think of Bryant Park, earlier in the day: the sun, the green grass, the trees, the lung-empowered song sung by that spiky-haired young man in Rent . . . and the associations spun on . . . Henri Bergamot’s articles on bohemianism inspiring Puccini’s La Boheme which gave birth to Rent, then my attention funneled outward and I saw Tippi Hedren on the TV screen, the mask of fear on her face ultra-colorful and vividly magnified.  The birds, which were now frighteningly abundant in number, screeched and screeched: windshield wipers wiping glass with nails.  Then I heard the door open.
   Our apartment was mostly one big room, except for the loft area, just right of the front door, which is where Susan slept when she came.  Our bed faced the front door and I saw Susan enter.  Her face was well-lit, almost as if it were coated with bright cellophane.  Once she said—Oh, hey, Alex—I could tell she had been drinking.  Her voice was thick and moist, her delivery slightly off.  She set her purse on the dining room table she had to pass en route to the living room.  She stood next to the bed and stared at the screen.
   Oh, The Birds, she said, I love this film.
   Yea, me too, I said, wiping my butter-greased fingers on the sheets.  Then she turned to me and gestured dramatically, the movement of her arms both mesmerizing and making no sense to me at all: Oh, Alex, you’ve got to go to this Mexican restaurant I ate at tonight.  It’s fabulous.  You and Jeannie have got to go.  It’s on . . . it’s on 47th & 6th and it’s called—what’s the name—oh, it’s called Pepe’s.  Pepe’s.  You’ve got to go.  It just opened and everything was so good.
   Susan arms pinwheeled the entire time she spoke and I noticed that her flesh was loosest just above her elbows.
   Yea, we’ll go, I told her.
   As if she were a teenager who wanted to confess before getting busted, Susan smiled and screening one side of her mouth with her hand, said: I had some margaritas.  Three.  No, four.  Yes, four.
   She seemed pleased to take me into her confidence and her smile stretched even wider.  I smiled back and said: So you feel pretty good?
   I feel fabulous, she said, in a haughty British accent while throwing her arms outward in a theatrical manner.  It was her attempt, I imagined, at playing the great boozy starlet.
   Susan turned to the screen and stared at it quietly.  I went back to screen-staring as well.  Then, without taking her eyes off the screen, Susan lowered herself onto the edge of the bed, and when she moved in a bit, half her skirted ass covered my socked foot.  My foot froze and warmed simultaneously.  Or went to sleep and woke up at the same time.
   I continued to eat my popcorn, munching at a much lower volume.  I figured that the more quiet I kept, the greater my power of invisibility, and I could enjoy both being there and not being there at the same time.  It almost felt like I was watching a scene from a film about a young man whose foot is suddenly half-seduced by the ass of a middle-aged woman.  That this young man happened to be me gave the scene an extra edge of reality.
   Susan continued to glare, glassy-eyed, at the screen, either lost in the film or lost somewhere else.  My angle, in relation to where Susan was sitting, was diagonal, so I not only saw most of her face but also her body and her legs, which were neatly crossed.  The rounded part of her knee stuck out like the nylon summit of a mountain.
   Susan was an upper-middle-class Jewish woman with high, hairspray-sculpted hair, a cross between a beehive and cotton candy, and a deeply tanned complexion.  The puckered roadmap of wrinkles on her face reflected her age, fifty-seven, but her legs told another story.  They were the well-toned legs of an athletic twenty-year-old.  I sensed that Susan was proud of her legs in the way that Tina Turner was proud of hers. Susan was an avid jogger who had jogged five miles every morning for the past twenty-somewhat years, and while she emphasized how good it was for her mind she also knew how well her legs took to the discipline.
   I was getting hard thinking about Susan’s legs, but luckily I was under the sheets and had arranged them in a billowing lumpy sort of way, so as to conceal any sudden growth.  We sat like that, Susan’s ass snug and warm on my foot, for a silent couple of minutes, then she turned to me, her ass shifting ever-so-slightly, and said, in a high-pitched baby-voice: Does Little Alex like watching The Birds?  Does Little Alex like The Birds and popcorn and Aunt Mary?
   Then she laughed a demented laugh, which turned into nose-first snorting.
   I smiled but was freaked the fuck out.  Everything was turning into something else.  Why had Susan suddenly started talking to me in a baby-voice?  And even though she knew that Jeannie and I smoked, I didn’t think she knew the term Aunt Mary.  Wasn’t that modern hip terminology for weed?  Did Susan secretly listen to Cypress Hill and Sublime to keep up with the lingo?  Who was this woman, and what did she want from me?
   I hoped, or rather prayed, that the babytalk was over, but Susan went on: Is Little Alex taking care of my Little Jeannie?  Is he?
   Again the crazy laugh and the snorting, this time joined by a hand half-covering her mouth, as if trying to staunch the flow of hysterics.  Tears now filled Susan’s gray eyes and her mascara dribbled dark streaks along the upper part of her cheekbones.
   Dabbing at her eyes with the sleeve of her blouse, she wheezed—Am I running, am I running—and before I could answer I heard the front door open.  Jeannie was home.
   I don’t know if it was the sound of her mother’s laughter or the fact that she was sitting on the bed with me, but I heard the rap-a-tap-tap of Jeannie’s heels clacking hard against the wooden floor and she made her way to us quickly.  Susan’s laughter cut off abruptly and she quickly rose to standing.  My foot now felt cold and alone: numbness minus the heat.
   I wiggled my toes, trying to stimulate circulation, and adjusted my position from comfortably slumped to attentively erect.
   What’s going on, Jeannie snapped, her eyes dark and fixed directly on her mother.
   Susan played it off cool and casual, continuing to dab at the corners of her eyes with her sleeve.  What’s going on, she said, I got home from dinner a little while ago and I was watching The Birds with Alex.
   I don’t remember The Birds being that funny, Jeanie said tersely.
   Susan smiled: Oh no, no, no, that was something else.  A joke.
   There was a pause, then Susan touched Jeannie lightly on the wrist and said: Jeannie, you’ve got to go to this new Mexican restaurant I ate at tonight.  It’s fabulous.
   Jeannie gave a slight nod, but the charge remained in her eyes.  I had been on the receiving end of that look on many occasions and knew it well: It was a look that would strangle if it had hands; that would draw blood if it had claws.
   Susan either paid it no mind or pretended to pay it no mind.  I’m going to bed, she said, and yawned.  She turned to me: Good night, Alex.
   Good night, Susan, I said, and it felt strange to hear her address me in her grown-up woman-voice.
   Susan brushed the dark curls away from Jeannie’s forehead, planted a soft kiss there, and said: Good night, sweetheart.  Sleep well.
   Jeannie nodded.  Susan went to the loft.
   Jeannie gave me a funny look, as if trying to gauge something, then sat down on the bed next to me, but her ass did not find my foot in the way her mother’s ass had.
   How was work, I asked her.
   Work was hard and long.  I’m exhausted.
   Then she asked, with a briskness bordering sarcasm: How was work for you?
   Not that hard and not that long, I said, wanting to be honest without telling the truth.
   Jeannie nodded but didn’t look at me.  Then she turned to me sharply and asked: What was going on here, Alex?
   What was going on, Jeannie.  Nothing.  I was watching The Birds then your mother got home and she started watching The Birds with me.  That was it.
   Why was she laughing like that?
   That was a more difficult question.  Why had she been laughing like that?
   I don’t know, I said.  She was a little drunk.  You know how some people get when they’re drunk.
   Yes, I know, Jeannie said, with a slight insinuative jab meant for me.
   Then Jeannie exhaled what sounded like pure disgust and said: You don’t know my mother, Alex.  You don’t know her at all.  If you wanted to fuck her tonight, you could have.
   I didn’t want to fuck Jeannie’s mother, not really, but hearing those words come out of Jeannie’s mouth, the way in which she had spoken them, as if she were her mother’s pimp by default and circumstance, turned me on.
   Jeannie went on, sounding exasperated: She’s always been like that.  She’s always needed attention from my boyfriends.  Since I was a teenager, she’s always been that way.
   I tried to imagine what that had been like for her, drawing to mind my own mother and sister and their relationship.  Yet despite all the conflicts they had engaged in, none had ever resulted from that sort of thing.
   I took Jeannie’s hand and told her to forget about it, nothing had happened and nothing like that would ever happen: I was into her, not her mother.
   Jeannie was twenty-six, super-intelligent and compassionate, with a gorgeous head of dark curls, alabaster baby-face, and compact body highlighted by an eye-pleasing posterior.  Her mother might have had her on legs, but that was it.
   I kissed Jeannie on the cheek, then on the lips, then we made out for a while.  Afterwards she looked in the ashtray and saw the stub-of-a-joint and laughed.
   You smoked it, she said, her eyes bright.
   Yea, I said.  The Birds, Orville Redenbacher, and Aunt Mary: it’s a winning combo.
   Jeannie laughed some more.  For some reason, which I didn’t understand, Jeannie found it hilarious when I smoked by myself.  She got her stash from her dresser drawer and started rolling a joint.  Susan came back.
   She was in a loose-fitting pink nightgown, which concealed her legs, and her make-up was washed off her face.  She looked a lot older.
   Jeannie, she said, don’t forget that we’re having lunch with your father tomorrow.  One o’ clock.  Alex, you’re more than welcome to join us if you’d like.
   Thanks, I said, maybe I will.  I knew that I wouldn’t.
   Yes, Ma, tomorrow at one, Jeannie said, without looking up, intensely focused on the rolling of her joint.
   Good night, kids, Susan said, and went back to the loft.
   After Jeannie smoked her joint the day melted away from her.  She was in a supremely relaxed and gelatinous state.  She clicked on Law & Order, her favorite show, and asked me if I could massage her thighs, which I did.  She passed out halfway through Law & Order and I clicked on ESPN to catch up on the day’s sports.
   From time to time I would look at Jeannie’s face: peaceful and framed in dark curls.  I knew that at some point I would have to get serious about something, but the future, for now, could wait a little while longer.


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(Story from Freeze Tag.)
   L & S was a candy store and newsstand located on the corner of 60th St. and 18th Ave.  L & S, which stood for Louie & Son, was owned by Louie Varinella: a burly, slightly balding man with chipmunk cheeks, bushy brown moustache, and distrustful eyes.
   His son, Louie, Jr., was in my class, we were both in the fifth grade, and had been classmates since kindergarten.  Louie, Jr., was a tall solidly-built kid with a scar just above his right eye that looked like a tissue-textured music clef.  Louie got into a lot of fights and was fearfully regarded as one of the school’s genuine tough guys.  Louie might run his mouth a lot but he would always back up his words.  Same with sports: Louie was a natural athlete and would often brag about how good he was, but it was true . . . he was that good.  Whether it was baseball, basketball, football, dodgeball, Louie was tops, but his best sport was football, and later on, as a sophomore in high school, Louie would be named All-City as a Defensive End.  In his junior year he would blow out his knee, and come back in his senior year only to blow it out again, officially ending his promising football future.
   My Uncle Eddie lived with his mother, my grandmother, Maime, down the block from L & S.  He worked as a fruit vendor in the city, his cart usually stationed somewhere in Chinatown or City Hall.  Before going to work he would pit-stop at a methadone clinic just off Dekalb Avenue to get his morning medicine.  After work he would pit-stop at his dealer’s house somewhere on Prospect Avenue to get his nightly fix.  I had worked with my uncle on several occasions to earn pocket money and knew his rituals, which also included bringing home a bag of mixed fruit every night.
   It was a warm spring evening and I was in the schoolyard, located directly across the street from my grandmother’s house, throwing a blue ball against the wall.  This was one of my favorite solitary past-times: picking two teams, usually the Yankees and Red Sox, and playing a full nine innings, throwing the ball against the wall and fielding grounders and flyers as if batters were hitting the ball to me.  I’d keep track of each player’s stats for the game, and later on write them down in a notebook.  I had compiled several seasons worth of notebooks.
   A Red Sock, I can’t remember who, flied out to end the game, and the Yankees won 7-6.  I went to sit on the schoolyard steps to conduct the post-game commentary and interviews.  I had been talking to Mattingly, one of the game’s heroes, when I saw my Uncle Eddie walking across the street.  I was about to call out to him then saw Louie, Sr., and a fat man tear around the corner and they were quickly upon my uncle.  Louie grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around.  The fat man hit him in the head several times with a closed fist.  Skinny and junk-filled as my uncle was, he went down right away, and the brown bag that was tucked under his left arm fell to the sidewalk, several plums rolling out of the bag. My uncle covered his face with his hands and drew his legs up toward his chest, trying to protect himself.  Louie snatched the bag from the sidewalk, and with the fruit as his ammo, pelted my uncle in the head, one piece at a time.  When there was no more fruit in the bag Louie threw the empty bag at my uncle then kicked him in the side.  The fat man spit on my uncle.  Then Louie and the fat man left.
 My uncle stayed down on the ground for a while and I stayed on the steps, afraid to move a muscle. When my uncle finally got up, he walked home unsteadily, holding the side of his head. I waited fifteen minutes before heading to my grandmother’s house, where I was eating dinner that night.
   When I got in the house I saw my grandmother half-leaning over the kitchen table, one hand pressed against the edge, seeming to prop up her diminutive frame.  My uncle stood by the kitchen sink, a wad of blood-dark cotton plugging his ear.  When I came in he looked at me with glassy eyes, weakly said hello, then looked away and cupped a hand over the cotton-stuffed ear.  My grandmother didn’t acknowledge me at all: at first she seemed to be in a state of shock or recovery, then she came alive and alternated between screaming and cursing at my uncle for what he put her through, and asking him, in a soft fuzzy voice, how his head was feeling.
   Fine, Ma, my head’s fine, he would say whenever she asked, mostly looking at the floor.  I hadn’t moved from the doorway and tried to stay as still as possible, hoping to perpetuate my invisibility.  Then, as if my presence had suddenly registered on my grandmother’s radar, she held out her brown liver-spotted hands, which were trembling, and said: Look, Alex . . . look at my hands.  Do you see what he does to me?  I can’t take this anymore.  My nerves can’t take this.
   Ma, please, my Uncle started, but my grandmother’s voice raised a fiery octave and cracked—Well I can’t.  It’s true.  I can’t take this anymore.
   I looked at my uncle then at my grandmother.
   Why don’t you sit down, I told her.
    How can I sit down when I’m like this?
   My uncle stared out the kitchen window, a sullen look on his face.  My grandmother started muttering—That sonofabitch, that sonofabitch—and as if those words cued her next move, she went over to the phone, which was posted on the wall, and began dialing.
   Who you calling, Ma, my Uncle asked—Ma, who ya calling?
    My grandmother didn’t answer my uncle, continuing to mutter—That sonofabitch, that sonofabitch—the phone pressed hard against her ear.
   Louie?  Louie, this is Maime . . .  what did you do to my son Louie?  What did you to him?  He’s sick, Louie, and that’s what you do to him.  He’s sick, you sonofabitch.  What?  You’ll get your money, you sonofabitch.  You’ll get it.
   My grandmother slammed the phone on the receiver.  Then she held out her trembling hands—Look at my hands.  Look at them.
   My uncle shook his head, went to his room, and closed the bedroom door.
   That night my grandmother and I ate dinner and my uncle stayed in his room. Except for my grandmother’s occasional outbursts concerning the state of her nerves, we ate in silence.
   I went home right after dinner.  When I got there I saw my mother on the phone in the kitchen and knew that she was talking to my grandmother because of the dramatic look in her eyes and the charge in her voice.
   I went to my room, closed the door, and watched the Yankees game, which kept my mind off what had happened.  After the game was over, though, I started thinking about how my uncle was a fruit peddler and a junkie, and how Louie Varinella was a store owner and a loan shark, and felt weak and small and ashamed, as if Louie and his son were better and stronger than my uncle and me, and they would always be better and stronger than us.
   I wanted to take pride in something, find secret strength somewhere, but I kept on seeing my grandmother’s trembling hands, the wad of blood-dark cotton in my uncle’s ear, Louie firing fruit at my uncle’s head . . . again and again, those images came to me . . . and not knowing what to do or make of them, I catalogued them under Fiction and let silence do the rest.


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Gravity Girls

(Excerpt from Raking the Dust.)
It was some time later, back at the drink rail, when I heard—Hey Spider-Man—and felt a hand press down on my shoulder.
I turned around and there was Jose, his eyes a couple of pinkish slits and the bat on his neck pulsating.  He gave me a bump-hug.  I introduced him to Julius and Lucien, Angel having left with his dance partner, and after getting a Crown and Coke Jose joined us.
He told me that Sammy had re-hired him to play The Hulk until the end of the summer.  He was doing that and pizza delivery for Domino’s.
You need to come back as Spider-Man fool, Jose nudged my shoulder.
I told him my web-slinging days were over.
It ain’t easy being green homey, Jose reminded me, clinked the bottom of his glass against the neck of my bottle, then went on to tell me that he and Nicole had gotten back together a couple of months ago.
I fuck around, Jose said in a serious voice, but family’s family. I don’t wanna go through this life without Nicole and Jose, Jr., know what ahm sayin?
Jose and I bullshitted about this and that and were in the middle of reminiscing about killing zombies together, when Lucien emphatically announced—Eh look boys, the cheerleading team has arrived.
A wave of blondness drifted toward the bar.
Six girls in all, each one golden-haired and infomercial attractive.
Nah homey, Jose said to Lucien, that ain’t the cheerleading team, that’s the fucking Barbie convention.
Jose blew laughter through his nostrils and high-fived Lucien.
A potato-faced man sitting near us pitched in his two cents—No, no, it’s the Pussy Posse, ese.
After hearing that, my mind went cartoon.  I saw six Power Puff cowgirls riding into a dusty town on hobbyhorses.
Jules invite them over, Lucien suggested.
You invite them over, Julius countered.
No they don’t want me to invite them over.  They want you the black man.
Jose extended Lucien’s line of reasoning—It’s true homey. That’s a whole lotta sunshine over there.  They need some dark to keep shit balanced, know what ahm sayin?
Julius laughed hysterically, slamming his hand on the drink rail.  And remained seated.
Next, Lucien tried me—How about you Mr. Alex? Go over. Tell them I want to buy them a round of drinks.
I shook my head.
Come on, Lucien urged, you’re good with words.
I continued shaking my head—I’m not interested in champagne girls.
Champagne girls?  What the fuck is that?
They’re champagne girls.  I’m not into them.  I have a thing for gravity girls.
Champagne and gravity, Jose clapped riotously. This fool’s gone astronautical on us.
Julius was intrigued. He leaned in—Champagne girls and gravity girls. I’d like to hear more about this.
The words rapidly tumbled out, as if ready made.
Gravity girls, I explained, are like a fine burgundy, velvety and complex and full of subtle undertones. A champagne girl.  A champagne girl is not good or real champagne but cheap shit that’s too sweet and goes to your head like soap opera bubbles.
Soap opera bubbles WHAT THE FUCK, Jose cut in, his head bowed by laughter.
I stayed on track—A gravity girl would be like a Neruda poem or maybe.  Maybe Ahkmatova.
Ahkma who, Jose said.
Ahkmatova. She’s this Russian gravity poet. And a champagne girl would be like a Hallmark greeting card, y’know?
Yes, Lucien reasoned, but you don’t stick your dick in a poem or a greeting card.
Maybe he does, Jose quipped, and gave me a we-cool-bro slap on the back.
Julius continued with his inquiry—And what tells you that those girls are champagne girls?  Their blondeness?
No no it’s got nothing to do with hair color.  It’s a matter of.  It’s something else.  Let’s just call it a hunch, even though I could be dead wrong.
So you wouldn’t fuck a champagne girl, Lucien pressed.
Of course I would. I have. What I’m saying, when it comes to connecting with a girl, really connecting and deep-down feeling her, I prefer gravity girls to champagne girls. Fuck soap opera bubbles.
Which instantly became our impromptu toast, as we raised our glasses and bottles and declaimed in unison—Fuck soap opera bubbles.
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By fever,
and sappy resin,
that bodies,
in thorny solder,
invent new ways
for souls
to portend
and commit arson.



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the wrinkled pool
of lusty glaze
and somatic charge,
of aural bouquets
teasing cherry-bled
and fragrance
from whetted lips,
fasting to shape
a comely beckon,
moon-fed by dark.
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true to your own scythe,
perpetrate with fierce love,
small necessary deaths,
whispering sweet winged words
of encouragement to your reaper,
Hurry now, slowly,
and bless my broken softly,
bless every last ghost
through the numinous host
of reckon,
and watch me
this side of dream,
to the swell
of commonest prayers.


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the lighted bidding
to know my own heart,
to take a chance
on every last fretted me
I neglected to face,
or boldly mention,
to sow gaping closure
with intent.


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Kiss my shame,
she said,
the moistened outlet
to my sealed-in history,
run your tongue, but gentle now,
gentle, over my heart-shaped booboo,
make it sing, as if the moon, a secret maestro,
was drawing the most beautiful notes
from where I hurt, where I ache …
know me in this way,
and feel time collapse
under the weight of new water,
shaped like a viscous sea
of me
and me alone.
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She knows
who she is,
the one
who placed
a piece of the moon
under my tongue
when I wasn’t looking,
when I speak of night,
light follows,
to gild
my bated communion.
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