Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The Nation reported that back in 1991, another candidate had sort of pointed us in the direction of those "bitter", frustrated, gun totting people.

"When their economic policies fail, when the country's coming
apart rather than coming together, what do they do? They find the most
economically insecure white men and scare the living daylights out of

Yeah, you know it: one William J. Clinton.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


My favorite lecture given was called The Dark Night of Our Souls’ Democratic Vistas. It linked Whitman’s poem about the dark side of the hubris of empire with the religious concept of the Dark Night, an example of which were the dark times that Mother Theresa experienced from 1948 until almost the time of the her death. It was revealed when her letters were published that during very painful years, long years of service, she did not feel God was with her. Also, John of the Cross, who when in captivity under the Inquisitor wrote his Dark Night poem. Incarcerated and under torture, John composed and committed to memory 40 stanzas. In them he recounts how in that darkness it was safe for God to come find and console him, completely hidden from his tormentors. I was not looking forward to being sequestered in a chain hotel in a remote New England town for three days with what I would fondly call supernerds. But there I was, fully into this first of many lectures, at this conference. I reminded myself that it was a rather decadent privilege to spend time throwing around big ideas. Even if sequestered in a chain hotel in a remote New England town, if not especially.

Once I threw myself into it, it was on. On the one hand, the professors spend the days giving brilliant talks on Cicero, Darwin, Cervantes and Aristotle; on the other hand, they spent two rowdy nights closing down the hotel pub with me. In the pub which was called The Pub, we enjoyed the musical stylings of a brillinat and married, duo whose repertoire fittingly seemed to ponder the question of "what is a classic?": Fleetwood Mac or Donna Summer? The vocalist, a woman who was half Joan Jett, half Susan Lucci, and all woman, while her partner was a Carlos Santana look alike, but darker and with less hair. On the second night we were at The Pub, along with the band, we were entertained by another duo, this one of fans. They were clearly a fixture of Saturday nights at The Pub and whatever the song, their dance was the samba, I think, but ballroom style. Or maybe it was proper disco, Saturday Night Fever style. She, probably mid 50s but hair blonde like Britney that she wore it in a style that she clearly mastered when she was 15 and never changed. He, mid 70s, lightning on his feet, a show-off, twirling his woman, clearly the Gene Kelly among his people. He was wearing an ascot tucked in a white shirt and although some of us said it was just a turtleneck, I prefer to remember it as an ascot, mostly because I know that’s how he’d want it. After they had danced to 4 songs in a row and shown no sign of distress, respiratory or otherwise, the band challenged them with their impeccable rendition of Enter Sandman by Metallica. When they passed with flying colors, there were digital cameras offered to me and mentions of YouTube but I felt that was not in the spirit. If the spirit could be rendered in flesh it would have been Mabel who, when she walked in, around 10 PM, had trouble walking. Her back was curved and she wobbled on her heels. Unemcumbered by all that, Mabel, walked in splendidly alive, a beloved regular, and was greeted with “it’s great to see you off the wagon again Mabel!” She wore lipstick and wonderfully tasteful earings. It was clear that this was the highlight of her lonely weeks and we were glad for it. The only dance Mabel could dance was with her scarf, which she twirled, as provocatively as a stripper twirls a bra. She sat at the bar long enough to sip one glass of wine. They sang her Patsy Cline songs of course.

There’s a way it all could be summed up in the space between the panel about the erotics of and what happened in room 107. The paper about Moby Dick poured over the journey of Ishmael—whose name I was told at the panel, means “God will hear”. The woman was pretty and nervous. She spoke breathlessly about Ishmael's development from the purely intellectual study of whales, outlined in the endless nomenclature of those middle chapters of the novel nobody likes to read, to the real experience of his down and dirty close encounter with the real thing. Much discussion time was spent thinking about the corporeal dimensions of our pursuits of knowledge. Much was time was spent talking about teachers who consciously engage students erotically in order to teach them well. A man who was trying very hard said “before you know it here” (and pointed to his head), “you gotta feel it here” (and pointed to his chest, which relieved me for I was certain he would grab his balls just then). A woman who could say it better explained that to teach her students, they have to come to care about her as a person, and understand that she cares about them and that their relationship matters. Myself, I told them to remember not just teachers but parents as the first teachers who traffic there. The panel left us all sort of spent, strangely happy, for subtly obvious reasons. At a most basic level, I extrapolated from the discussion that you can do your 6 hours of panels but only if you can also do 4 hours of booze at The Pub, playing at who can guess the cover song the quickest. Darwin (another good lecture that one was) said that in our “bodily frame” we humans carry the imprint of our “lowly origins.” Lowly, as in, you’re going to have to get down.

The idea really did not fully cross my mind. I was not ahead of that curve. We were all just drinking together. Most of us were from my own university but two were recent graduates of the program now teaching in a small liberal arts college and he was one of those two. I intermittently saw that he was looking at me perhaps because I was looking at him but I am not sure. He volunteered how much and how late he was used to drinking in his own world. He told me tales of the local bar and how he had come to become one of the guys. He quickly mentioned a brother, a sketch of a failed marriage. He told small bits of things about himself that conveyed complex things simply. His adeptness at communicating through so much booze and noise called attention to itself, and kept surprising me. Our interaction narrowed to just us and implicitly signaled that other folks would leave and we would stay. I found myself happy to look at him. He was for lack of better words, very professorial in appearance despite being young. Tweed jacket or close, great shoes, black rimmed glasses, perfectly slicked back hair, a classically distinct appearance, topped off my a great tie. All of it fitting like a second skin. The idea of any of it being removed was as inconceivable then as it became necessary later.

When sex enters the picture I am very used to exiting it, whether the person I’m with knows it or not, so the way the air trapped me in the picture was new. This was not one of my scripts where I raise up all my pathologies vis a vis sex and then stage the situation to cure them. It dawned on me, somewhere between our deciding against sneaking (naked) into the hot tub and being (naked) in bed that the whole communicative aspect of sex has barely existed for me. I think this was an epiphany. In my sex life there have been few if any dialogues except the ones I have with myself. Embattled and precarious, my sex life has mostly been about leaps to foregone conclusions of success or failure, without any of the steps in between. My sex life has mostly been me, like Ishmael, talking shit about whales that terrify me but that I have never seen up close. Between the hot tub and the bed there was a moment of us just sitting, our legs in the hot tub, when I had to confront this: the impending next steps and my inability to take them now that I was present in myself. He watched me get stuck there, and he moved in, and he kissed me in this way that was like if a kiss held your hand to cross a street. He gave me a bridge-kiss. Back inside, in the room, we were mostly silent, steadily distancing ourselves from the point of being strangers. In that quiet, a delicate sensory communication was taking place. It involved touch and taste and entries into each other, all towards figuring it all out. To me, maybe figuring out, what this was different, and how we were this sexy suddenly, and how so tender if he didn't even know me. To him, clearly not so much to figuring out, except maybe very patiently, figuring me out. And he did that, through some of the easiest and the sexiest moments.

At the Dark Night lecture the professor had proposed that the Dark Night could also be thought to be the penumbra, the time post darkness that ultimately ushers the light. Maybe it is not that the light is not there, he suggested, but rather that the light is so bright that it destroys our intellectual faculties for grasping it. Maybe we have to accept that in the quiet dark moment your head can’t wrap itself around things and you just have to feel your way through.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I am the Leftover

It’s like: how when glass breaks and you clean up the shards, sometimes only when you walk barefoot on what you think is clean floor do you notice—because you cut yourself—that there is more. There on the seemingly clean floor of this or that day, where I dare walk airily and barefoot (I even felt free!), there they appear, and they cut. They are smaller than I thought they could be. Answers to my questions about when will this brokenheartedness end limp out of me, unconvinced.

I’m the leftover, I’m the left. I am no longer someone that is loved and I am not held and I am not wanted and I am not needed. And when I need I am not met. All the while I have to sit and watch it happen to them, barely one giddy eight-year old’s account removed. My son barely has a memory of a family with me and his father in it while, before my eyes, he falls in love with the idea of a new family that definitely does not include me. The details, the concrete logic and inevitability of it—hell, even the fundamental reality that all involved are better off this way—that’s a universe entirely distinct from days like this. Days where the world is one 360 degree mirror on the worse fears, most lonesome darkly held fears I ever had. And days like this I have had too many--they are like dogs that roam the streets for endless hours but no matter how far they get, they find their way home, only dirtier and hungrier. All my dances end at hasty midnight and my stardust-happiness, shortlived and aprehensive all along, is blown away. My carriage a pumpkin again.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Manica Series#1

My grandmother--phenomenal woman, Manica, a legend awaiting proper treatment in biography that I have every intention of making for her, celebrates her birthday today. Everything about her has always been legendary including the way she eats a chicken and the way she gets sick.

Firstly, about the ailments. Manica never has normal diseases—only obscure variations of them. A case in point was when I was about 8 and she had an ear infection. But she didn’t just have an ear infection, she had, what was in my child's mind, the Worse Disease In The World. She had an ear infection so brutal that it filled her ear cavity and surrounding area with disgusting secretions, it deformed her face, it caused swelling that shut down on side of her face, it put pressure on her brain, it made her delirious and outright nasty looking for us little kids in the house who were forced to go in every night and give her kisses goodnight. It put her near death. The Ear consumed the house and populated with it with girlfriends, who moved in to serve tours of duty as caretakers to her and to us, her now orphaned husband, children, and grandchildren.

My room’s door was by the staircase and it felt to me like this staircase always had two women on it: one coming up to keep watch, and one coming down from keeping watch. Most often the one coming out would fall into the arms of her replacement, in tears and in terror. They would whisper. I would watch this turning of the guard, and think in my tiny trembling heart, “is she going to die?”. The impossible had never seemed so close.

The Ear also made it necessary for her father, the progenitor legend, the Most Famous Doctor In The Land, to begrudgingly allow an inferior human being—meaning, a surgeon other than himself—to perform this life threatening surgery on his daughter. He did not allow this because he was her father and too emotionally involved. He only allowed this because a stroke years back had given his hands a tremor, and he knew steady hands were vital to avoid permanent facial nerve damage.

Legend tells of this conversation between my great-grandfather, the eminent Dr. Fonseca and the poor man who would operate on his daughter. It has been said that Dr. Fonseca threatened physical harm should his daughter come out of surgery with even the slightest permanent paralysis. Threat or no, the surgeon performed with my great-grandfather calling the shots in the room. My grandmother had surgery and The Ear was healed. But not before we had another scare because Manica has violently unsafe reactions to general anethesia. The way her father put it, "whenever we put her out, we risk not being able to wake her up."

Secondly, about the chicken. My grandmother eats everything a chicken has to offer except its head (as far as heads she only loves them on fish). Growing up it could be hard getting through chicken soup dinner because her own bowl would always have two chicken feet sticking out. To me, they looked like little children’s hands with overgrown nails. Her bowl would bring to my mind the little children from the story, who are kept in captivity and fattened for the witch who will eat them. The nails had grown long in captivity, you see. My grandmother would relish the sucking and chewing of those chicken feet. The noise like a horror movie soundtrack. My grandmother would next attack her chicken's bones with her teeth and commitment. Her chicken bones were completely consumed, the plate cleaned, like chicken never happened. Through a methodical succession of tactics to tear, crack, and chew bones, my grandmother incinerate her chicken. Often, her enthusiasm would lead her to choke. Her doctor sister, the younger but no less legendary Dr. Fonseca, would admonish, her face a complete dead ringer for her father's, “Nica, one day you are going to really get in trouble with a bone.” The choke was always an operatic, tragedy of a choke—a choke with flailing arms, tears, red face, hacking. Those were the longest few seconds when I would ponder, again in my tiny trembling heart, “is she going to die?”.

Today on her birthday, I got word from Cape Verde that while Manica is doing great, she just had emergency surgery to remove a chicken bone that was stuck in her throat.