Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Jumper's Bridge

The Ship Canal. The Fremont. And the Ballard. The Montlake,
closed over the cut. There’s the Southwest Spokane Street
Swing bridge. And the University over Portage Bay. Linking
the U-District with the north. This is a city of bridges. One

hundred and forty nine at last count. Steel and concrete
skyways hanging in space. Stopped. On the Aurora. Eight
Grinding a commute towards my grave. Life empty
like the
passenger and back seats of my car. And there he

sits on the
railing. Legs counterweighted above a concrete
walkway. Back
to the sky. The rest of us cantilevered over
a gray expanse.
Looks to be a hundred and fifty vehicles.
I figure a passenger
in every other one. Two hundred or so

people. Which is how
many have chosen, as Sartre put it,
to embrace the abyss. We
name this bridge with relish.
Suicide Span. Fremont Falls.
Tourist rightly call it the
George Washington. But Jumper’s
Bridge rises as the

favorite. For the self-extinctively inclined,
its thousand-yard
length, and two hundred foot drop into eternity,
serve as a
stage to irresistible drama. This guy’s got to be
surprised by
his reception. Half the drivers lean on their horns.
The rest,

out of their cars gawk or yell. Jump. Jump. Egg the
guy on.
He reels some as he pulls a pack of cigarettes from a
pocket. Lights one and inhales. Exhales. Wind yanks the
smoke overhis shoulder. It’s cold. One hand draws a nylon

jacket closed. Eyes wary, the other reaches down, unlaces
shoes. Kicks them off. I half expect a priest to show,
in hand. Whisper a prayer maybe. Walk him down a
long corridor.
Hand on his shoulder. Bare lights overhead. A

cop and two
paramedics thread their way fast through a
crush of cars. Toward
mid-span where the guy waits. More
police whoop-whoop their
way to the outer fringe of the
crowd. A couple of women are
closest. Try to talk him

down. He smiles his thanks. But no
thanks. He lifts his
arms over his head. Leans into the
emptiness. Pauses to
look at us a final time. Back flips into the
end of his life.
The mob goes quiet. They climb back into their
cars. Key

their ignitions. Crawl away north or south.
Disappointed it’s
over. I stand there. Against the fender
of my car. Hazard
lights still flashing. The cop who almost
reached him walks
over. Looks at me. Why do you think he did it?
I don’t know.

I’m just wondering what it felt like to finally
stop falling.


I wander the halls of the interred, search the names
etched in marble or granite of those I might have known,
while their lives walk me vault to vault. I’ve come
seeking a last visit with you.

Save the Mexican caretaker, only I and the dead have
arrived for the ceremony that will honor you, bring
each of us a false peace. I fear I will not find you;
it is easy for the dead to hide from the living. We
are near certain they have just stepped away,
out of sight for a brief moment.

But at last I see you, in the rose garden. Sixty ounces
in an ornate urn wrapped in a tasseled felt bag. Atop
a wooden dais, where you can survey old and new
friends alike. Just you and I now, as we share a
moment before your procession of mourners comes
to lean upon each other, and commend your
soul to their separate heavens.

Your daughter and her sons are the first to join us;
your sister and her god take their front-row seats.
My brother would not come when you were alive,
why now? Your first husband sits sobbing, at home.
The second waits in the ground. Faces taut,
each mouth a rictus, as if it is they
whom we bury. A tired minister,
rented from the local classifieds,
takes his place before we gathered.

I do not fear the dead. For me they differ little
from the living, except they do not chatter
incessantly to keep terror at bay. Nonetheless I
am unsettled; you and I have changed in some way I
do not understand. I feel the disconnect while
holding my sister as she sobs. Pours your ashes into
a hole, her tears nourishing the soil to which you
return. I set a sapling maple in your hands; the
migrant porter sweeps dirt around its burlap
edges. I want to ask him who it is we
place in this earth.

Where is the coiffed blond hair, even into your
eighties; the perfect makeup? Your nightly cocktail
untouched. Your kitchen’s air suddenly
smoke-free. Why have you stopped laughing?
No longer seek the lights?

The old grave tender shakes our hands as we file out,
whispers his regrets. I tell him a week has passed,
and still you don’t answer your phone.

A gray crush of coals

When I was a kid my dad would build fires that raged for
Propped upon the floor by elbows, chins cupped in
our hands,
my sister and I would lie inches from the
fireplace. Caught in
the hypnotic blue-tipped flame and

radiating heat, we were
spellbound. He tended these fires
well. Kept them burning with
poker and thong. He would
position and reposition oak logs.
Provide vents for updrafts.
A hot fire is a clean fire he lectured
my sister and me. And

never a wisp of smoke or residue escaped
his fiery
destruction. As the blaze softened we’d move closer and

marvel at the embers of red and gold. It was easy to
make-believe buildings. Engulfed in flame. Their

consumed, leaving crimson skeletons charred and
gutted. A blue
corona of St. Elmo’s fire. Turned to ash while
we watched. My
father was a clean man who cared for
things, little for people.
When cinders cracked and flew from

the grate to land on his
carpet, his voice would freeze us: I’ll
be a son of a bitch! But
eventually he’d lose interest, find
the news on TV or a second
piece of pie from the night’s
dinner, long cooled. He would leave
little evidence of

previously set fires. Along with the molten
pitch that had
vaporized, each log and every piece of kindling
was reduced
to a cold residue. When all he set fire to had
burned away, he would sweep its remains into a

coffee can. Now I’m older than he was when he
taught me his lessons. With wood, paper and
kindling lying
on the hearth, I revisit the memories of a child
grown old,
the remnants of my first fire in years now only a

gray crush of coals. The only sound I hear, the hiss of my
fallen on hot ash.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

splattered green tea

a rivulet of blood seeks an iron
grate planted in an adjacent slab of
a dark red ribbon tying a sewer to
her wet, matted hair

a curtain of rain reflects
the lights of the city’s night
and neon creates black contrast
to the temporary life that shines
through a glass door

a tinkling bell sounds
surprised patrons warily
a tattered gray overcoat that
separates a prostrate life
from the rain
a fallen and shattered life
like a red and gold porcelain
dragon and its splattered green tea,
from small hands

strong, smoky smells of
and peanut oil
contend with
the odor of urine and
and the
vomited remains

rapid sing song
voices and busy
fill this false refuge with
deception and for a short time
the condemned laugh at the
black night

photographs of a brown color
resembling sepia,
plates of food
line a wall and
playing in the background,
our god is an awesome god
outside an old woman
gone cold
gives over to the night
the color of her portrait
long ago faded

somewhere in the streets
the wail of a siren grows louder
lies are served up
and steaming.


the call came in as
we were sitting down
to dinner
between sobs
she said I should come now
he's actively dying
she said

my friend of so many years
not yet forty
loves his wife and little girl
and a brand new baby
a boy
the guys down at the warehouse
think the world of him
my friend
who will soon no longer exist

he told me it
feels like an execution
went in for an annual check-up
walked out a condemned man
sentenced to death and
only god knows his crime

the only people I’ve lost
are still alive
but to lose this man
we’re best friends
it goes unsaid
but we love each other
he’s someone I laugh with
cry with
count on
and he can tell me anything
even how much dying scares him

he’s gone by the time I get there
refused entry by some family member
I’ve never met
I sit in my car
in the dark
alone with my disbelief
while those inside
no doubt stumble about
in some horrific grief
that must surely come
in the presence of
one so young and dearly loved
now so newly dead

I look over at the light on the porch
as it shines out on a landscaped yard
a tree lined street
try to make some sense of this
a couple walking their dog
moves past on the sidewalk
from here
it looks just like a
normal house


I’ve cracked the window
to let the dark in
rest my heart
in the stillness that enters with it
rain comes
comes like the footsteps of
an unexpected friend
bringing welcomed news

my new life has arrived
even if it has turned up empty handed
that panicked terror
of so many years is absent
I fear nothing
neither living man
nor he who steals life
not even myself
at last
I have become who I am

so let the harlot gods of
my misfortune
titter amongst themselves
I measure tomorrow
for refuge
from today
and will sit quietly should loss
decide to quit me
though I suspect it stays because
it likes my company

but I have learned too of happiness
and its nature
it is a snare
a truss of perverse hunger
that keeps loneliness alive
even when freed of it
it will mock me with its apparitions
of tomorrow
yet I know with nothing to lose
there will be nothing to fear
just how long is dead anyway

thus am I reconciled to my fate
life will run its course
and I will let it run free
though it comes to me that this freedom
from affection may be captivity in disguise
no matter
this narrative of loss tethers me
to my doom
I will be alone
I will not trust
I will not love . . .

. . . and then I kissed her
the lies I invented drowned out by the sound
of my pounding heart
and suddenly I’ve wanted this for so long
she says she’s coming home with me
I ask her if that means what I think it does
she reaches over
gently lays her hand on mine
neither of us says a word
all the way back to my place
for the first time
in a very long time
I am afraid

I keep running out of metaphor

here, I’ll put my mind on display so that
you can peer through the
window of my words like
some peeping tom

open my life to walk-by business as though
I am some sidewalk hawker
soul for sale
soul for sale

let me provide you a view through the
transparent tissue of my heart,
its fluid passions pumping through
pipe and valve.

if you like, you can feel exhilaration
as fear and anger
race the raging current of
my blood

you can sit poolside
your slapdash toes splashing
in the love and hate submerged
in raw crimson lochs

I will strip
the aging skin from
my body
reveal its factories of
knotted muscle and bone
pulleys and levers to make it all
work and move

or . . .

or rather come share
my days
my white hot

listen to me laugh and cry
be afraid
be brave
watch me
feel me love you