Children’s Story

Once there was a pine nut and a sprig of basil. They were pesto friends …

The Internet

Each moment reimagines those before and after. This is the essence of performance and the mystery of progression. How do we understand ourselves as the audience of our own show? How do we live on screens?

Banana Gangsters

Picture a short banana in a fedora accompanied by a tall one—the muscle. A third banana, tied to a stake, has beads of sweat on his brow. “Banana Gangsters,” reads the caption. “Still not talking?” says the boss. “Ok Mugsy, peel him.”

Us North Americans

Late in the party, with the last two handfuls of us gathered around an island in the kitchen, Ben says, “Would you rather be smarter or happier?”

Katie says smarter. Cory says happier. Alice says we need achievement in our lives. We all agree that the options feel forced. There’s too much competition in North America and too much talk about money. There’s also an orange peel on the floor.

Annie shifts to stand on one foot. Kathy smiles as Ryan and Sionnach settle together in a chair. Then Peter raises a glass and I say, “Good question, Ben.”

Early Millennium Diary Entry of a California Girl

I met a tourist on the beach today. He said he’d been napping. I was playing guitar, high, and then we got in the water. He followed me home. I don’t know if Gran heard.

Home Base

How do you make sense of a traveler’s life? Put it in boxes? Organize loose categories of pictures, keepsakes, timelines? I have a collection of coins and crumpled bills, some from countries I’ve been to, others that have come into my possession in ways that remain mysterious to me. Sometimes I feel I should be leaving everything, even my memories, in alms bowls at airports and other crossroads. But I don’t, even though most of what I keep loses its currency. Even a lot of these words.

Dispatches From

The bathroom is unisex at The Palace in Toronto, a rooming house. There’s nothing sexy about the place. It reminds me of certain shit-holes in India. Guests must be out by eleven. Traffic on King Street scores the night. A disposable razor stuck through two metal loops on the door keeps it locked from the inside while I sleep. But first I leave my bag and visit a nearby brothel.

The default place I find myself after coffee in the morning is the library. It’s brimming with the borderline insane. They come in for the toilet, the warmth, the buzz. The other major cohorts among the stacks are comprised of children and recent immigrants to the city. I read books. Works. Some aren’t bound traditionally. They’re electronic. It’s the twenty-first century (as if I’ve been counting from the beginning). Where do you find real stories anymore? It seems like everything’s been covered, from the gods to the gutter.

Star Sign

Once I was really thirsty on a bus. We were driving through Nevada. The land outside the window was cracked from the heat. A young woman beside me with full breasts and white, flaking skin told me about her quest for self-discovery. “It’s like I’m trying to quench a deep need,” she said. She also said she was an Aquarius. I wanted water. A convenience stop was three hours away. For two hundred miles I traced sun-baked grooves in the earth with my eyes. I literally thought I might die. Silly. Have you had these moments? I’ve never been so thirsty, not before, not since. I carry a water bottle always with me now. And I’m not even an Aquarius.

Fountains

Montreal, summer 2002

A fountain washes water with itself.
The trees around it shade the rippling flow
while scattered people rest on the grass
and shifting coins create an undertow.

Nostalgia is resolved in children’s cries
who cannot yet conceive the sky above.
Ambition settles well in the skin,
as energy defines the ways we love.

 

Montpellier, summer 2011

The fountain, further off in the square, echoes
softly in the air along with crickets’ wings
and kids’ cries for more.

There’s also a pond settled lazy at the feet
of several dozens of people
gathered, who share eyes, experiment with speech.

And in the midst of so many and so much
the presence or absence of one
tows me to this side of sanity, is stability, is touch.

Bowie Versus Weiwei

The work of Bowie and Weiwei once appeared simultaneously at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Bowie called his show “is”. Weiwei, as if to respond, called his show “According to What?” Both exhibits were reflections on late twentieth century identity possibilities. Both dealt with an individual’s relationship to a new sense of the world.

The main difference between the exhibits was that while Bowie capitalized on certain contingencies of this period, Weiwei confronted them. A couple of the more relevant contingencies include the rise of a global pop culture and the rise of a global economy. There are very different things at stake with Bowie wearing a coat made out of the flag of Great Britain and with Weiwei photographing himself dropping a two thousand year old Chinese vase on the ground. (Yes, it breaks.)

Another way of characterizing the key difference between the exhibits is that Bowie has a genius for recognizing emerging trends but Weiwei is actually a deep person. There’s a stark contrast between their two types of brilliance, between Bowie’s celebrity and Weiwei’s courage.

There’s no doubt that celebrity is a hugely relevant human reality. Bowie came off in his exhibit as intensely interested in himself, not as a participant in life, but as life’s star. He, “is”, which is what a lot of people want and need to see. Knowing someone else is on stage can give you the confidence to be yourself.

But, the courage evident in Weiwei’s pieces is a more relevant long-term thing. Weiwei’s pieces suggested that he’s compassionately attuned to society, with its participants and problems. He asked us to think about when we define ourselves, “According to What?”

Cottage Country

So you meet your friend in cottage country. It’s summer and people are having a good time. You relax by the water. Go out for drinks. You know. You know the writer Leacock? Sunshine Sketches? We’re staying at my uncle’s place not far from Leacock’s old summer estate. I’m showing my buddy Josh around Ontario.

There’s this bar in town and an Italian guy, out alone, attaches himself to us. He’s talkative. He starts talking to a bachelorette party too. The girls are in pink tops with tiaras and a checklist.

So I get Virginia’s number and Josh gets Sylvie’s. It happens naturally enough and we drift naturally enough and I’m dancing naturally enough and later the four of us are standing at a tall table outside and I’m defending my smoking as a stage that I’m in and two of us are talking about Africa and two of us are talking about jobs. The others from the bachelorette party are looking for the bride (the Italian’s disappeared too) and then the bar staff tells the crowd on the patio it’s time to go home and Josh and I lose the girls in the shuffle.

One pairing seems to have more potential than the other so it’s me texting Virginia about the pool back at my uncle’s and why don’t you girls come and yes I’m cheeky (suggesting we all go skinny dipping) and sorry I smiled at your friend just being friendly that’s all I thought it was a good move to get to know your friends, wasn’t it? But it’s no use. The girls are already on their way to a cottage outside town so the boys (being us) are left with nothing to do. So we eat.

Then I show Josh the Orillia Opera House and the new library as we turn toward my uncle’s place. Josh goes for a piss somewhere acceptable and while he’s in the bushes a van passes with a kid who yells “asshole” out the window. I step onto the road. The van stops. And this kid walks up into my face and starts saying things. I’m saying things. I finish my last cigarette.

The idea this kid and his friends have is that Josh and I should back off. So then this kid knocks out a tooth, of mine, which is annoying because I don’t really have dental coverage but the punch isn’t hard or well-executed and really what happens is a tooth chipped before, also from a punch (that’s another story), get re-chipped—as in this kid knocks out the patch. So. Do you hit a kid back?

I take a breath and ask for a smoke instead. Our conversation goes why do you want to bum a cigarette you guys are like thirty-five years old is the direction the conversation takes and I actually squat on the ground as if there’s some primal business to conduct like come down son because it seems the kid never really had a father. Just back off just walk away he says my father’s in prison he killed someone and I can only see him if I go there so you can tell the police my name, my name is … As for me, I want to talk over a smoke together but no one has any and this kid and his friends are getting much worse than edgy and not understanding at all what I’m trying to say about how learning to take a punch is part of growing up.

The thing that’s so cool about the word “father” is that it sort of means pattern. Like your father is your pattern. The histories of the two words are related. My father was around when I was young but not much after the divorce, so I think I can relate to this kid. And we seem maybe to be getting somewhere as I’m still literally squatting and the kid and his two friends are asking why we care and why don’t we just back off and I say the wrong thing, which is that maybe I’m trying to listen and give you what your father never did.

Things go violent now again.

So Josh and I are jogging backwards because two more of the kid’s friends have gotten out of the van and one of them has handed the kid a shotgun. It’s not like we’re running away really but more like finally backing off—and but now it’s the kid who wants to talk. He’s shouting you don’t know my father come back here I promise I won’t hurt you. And this seems like a funny promise to receive. We’re still not going to run, me and Josh, but we’re not going to fight what’s now five teens with a vehicle and at least one visible weapon. So the move is again toward understanding. We slow down.

The kid wants me to touch my forehead to his own and he wants an apology. I perform one, pressing my skin against his troubled skin. I am sorry I mentioned your father, I say.

It’s only after the incident that we realize they were probably high on meth. I dial the police and decide to charge the kid. Oh yeah, we know him well, says the responding officer. Charge him, I say. So at least my traveler’s insurance will be sure to cover an emergency trip to the dentist.

Self-Portrait of a Studio

One way to work abroad is with the dishes undone for days and laundry in different stages around the flat with bent cans, ashes, coffee grounds, fresh music, missed calls, old cum, pillows on the floor, paper, crumpled paper, technology, pens, sweat, sunglasses, crushed insects, dead skin, dictionaries, disposable razors, sketches taped to the walls, scratched tables, floss, bills, foreign currency, bills, soap stains, piss, shampoo, shades drawn, ten diaries, torn jeans, learn how to stretch at intervals, wear a hat, ripen fruit, unscrew the lightbulbs when the buzz bothers you and things are too bright, then wonder why you live with neither spouse nor a lover and what family, community really mean to others as you claw out one sentence from the jet-planed foundation of the place.

Sadness

It feels like the first fall Saturday of the year. Air cool since yesterdaynot cold at noon yet but weathering toward winter. An Instagram online reminds me of Montreal. I moved there at twenty (in the fall) to write poetry. And the leaves and echoes of that place seem the saddest for me, in the rich way that sadness either starts or completes us.

The Man Whose Audience Broke

The acupuncturist said it was psychological. Or perhaps something I’d eaten or ate on a regular basis. Time to eat less gluten, corn syrup, selves.

Walking down Broadway from the university, I frightened quick and my legs were sore. Uncomfortable thoughts stayed with my gaitly rhythm even through the turn west toward the park and the slowed prance I made to the Delacorte machine. Twelve p-m. A summer’s day. The awkward industry of another generation bequeathed held still my attentions (almost). But there was a document that said things I didn’t understand in unassailable language in my briefcase.

I am me all the time, am I not?

Intertia permitted me only this. I could not grow. I could not step to death.