When someone sends a message that he’s dead, I shut down the computer and go into the living room, but it’s on the news. So I hide in the bathroom a long time, as if needing time to compose myself, but the problem is
I can’t pee. It’s a peculiar symptom of stress, a nervous tic like a twitching eyelid or a clenched jaw— the bladder seizes up, and that’s that.
I sit on the toilet, looking at the speckled floor, let the news anchor’s voice staccato the space beyond the locked door.
Then another person relays the news, and another, plumbing emotion—grief or poorly concealed delight? A sleepless night, a yellow Valium. No tears. The composure that eluded me those desperate years has finally surfaced, along with the other muted blessings of middle age.
That long stain he left on my early life impermanent after all. He had chosen to die
at noon on one of the last days of summer, before the predicted deluge. It arrived as heaviness in the air, a mass of humidity a pressure change that sent me to bed after lunch with a migraine. Then the spatter of rain on the deck, rain close to hail with its loud contempt, like hot spit hawked onto the sidewalk. Pain,
Dickinson wrote, has an element of blank— but so does its absence, so how to tell the difference?
The grey obscures the blue. Last year’s drought-damaged trees, half-drowned. The conversation, when it’s not about weather, or real estate, is
Are you writing? No one’s writing. Everyone’s in a funk, waiting for words. We sit and stare at screens, sharpen pencils, self-medicate. The lucky ones
go on retreats, eat local and organic, pay a guru to teach them stillness for a week. Somewhere there’s a stash, a cache of words, if we wait. If we listen
and meditate. Or try the reverse— grab a coffee, catch a movie, pretend normalcy. Maybe that’ll jar something loose. Maybe the muse doesn’t like
to be courted, doesn’t want the red carpet laid out for its arrival. Prefers to drop in unannounced when we’re in the shower or asleep. Yes, we’re aware of the limited
time left, these dwindling days a blur of cloud and rain. We’re waiting for the blaze of July, its brief and precious light. All the tour buses
are full, their upper decks under canopy, under sky. Tourists huddled in ponchos, faces hidden by cellphones. The first day of the August heat wave, we’ll complain.
At first, the flooring guy at Home Depot flirted with you, cocky in his orange apron.
By the umpteenth visit he was curt and clipped, casting his gaze over your shoulder
at the next customer. The problem was, you couldn’t commit. For two years
you crisscrossed the Cambie Street bridge to pace the flooring aisle,
head swivelling left and right— laminate, engineered hardwood, vinyl.
You clicked through spinners, fingered quarter rounds and transition pieces,
poked spongy squares of underlay. This was the dilemma of choice—
sweet sugar maple, cinnamon gleam of cherrywood, buttery slats of bamboo.
In the end, you went grey— a whitewashed oak, scraped and sanded,
a silver fox. This floor was aspirational, floated in from a glossy magazine
where everyone wore Ralph Lauren and lived on Martha’s Vineyard.
Love it or hate it, it would be yours for life.
pacific inn, san diego
Amtrak passes in the night, a rumble on the wrong side of the tracks. The homeless in San Diego have been roasted by the sun
into psychosis, ponchos caked desert-brown, faces spiked like cacti. Afternoons, you nest in the lobbies of luxury hotels,
pretend you belong among white orchids and golden chandeliers. Avail yourself of free Internet in the business centre,
avoid the doors marked Private Banking. The paper towels in the granite bathroom seem spun from silk and linen,
the finest vellum on which to pen your poems. By economic measures, you’ve failed at everything. Is this what’s called falling
out of the middle class? Now the dollar is below seventy-five cents, and at Whole Foods you can’t afford to eat the rainbow.
You pay with a clutch of coupons, order tap water from the dwindling resource. Shame is a spending spree, a waste of energy.
A store owner gives you a too-ripe persimmon and you carry it through the streets of Little Italy like a beating heart
cupped in your palm. Thirty years ago, you were a homeless teenager, and now you remember how to live on nothing.