Sunday, November 30, 2014


 One hopped up the stairs on crutches. Two felt the walls with flat palms, found the door. Three closed her eyes, felt vibrations in the wooden floor. Four wasn’t sure she could handle this in her current state of mind but she was hopeful. Five polished foggy eyeglasses. Six felt the coolness of air on her skin. Seven tried to focus her way into the present and out of a heartache. Eight smelled garlic and ginger. Nine felt queasy from the medicine, but she came anyway. Ten walked on legs that shook, that bowed, that buckled. Eleven ducked under the doorway so he wouldn’t hit his head. Twelve walked beside her dog, and this made her calm.  Thirteen wheeled himself into the kitchen, where the wood floor turned to linoleum. Everyone in the world was there, cooking, talking, singing songs, remarking how special it was when the whole family came together. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014


I’m sorry, she said to the corpse.

He didn’t say anything back at first. He just lay there in his coffin, smiling a little, his belly still full and lively, his beard pointy and dapper. Funeral wasn’t starting for half an hour, probably twenty minutes before anyone else showed up.

I guess I didn’t always appreciate you, she said. I mean, I was always so mad about how you treated Mom. And the divorce.

He had a scratch on his cheek. She wondered how long he’d had it, when he had gotten it, and how long it would have taken to heal.

I’m sorry I didn’t go to any parties at your house, she said. I’m sure they were really good parties. And that I never went to any of your concerts. Which I know were really important to you. I just felt weird going, with all your new artsy friends and your new life.

It was awkward just staring at him, so she looked down at the program. It had a picture of him standing atop his boat, in a life vest, doing something with the sail.

And I’m sorry I never went on your boat, she said.

He opened his eyes, smirked a little harder.

I never invited you on the boat, he said.

Which was just like him, opening his eyes and talking when he was supposed to be dead.

I thought that’s because I didn’t act interested, she said.

No, he said. It’s because I know you’re chicken. Boats are scary. You’re too scared to even go to a concert.

I wasn’t scared, she said. I was uncomfortable.

I don’t see the difference, he said. He opened his eyes a little wider. He wasn’t going to sit up, was he? Because that would cause a lot of problems. She could hear the funeral home director and the pastor talking in the hallway outside, and some other voices, maybe the first guests.

You see, he said? Scared. I was considering coming back to life, but I wouldn’t want to ruin your funeral. I know you don’t like last-minute changes to your plans.

No, stop it, she said. Of course you should come back to life, if that’s what you want.

No, no, you don’t really want it, he said. And I don’t want to inconvenience you.  Go on, go out, say hi to everybody. You wouldn’t want to be a bad hostess.

She hated when he got passive-aggressive, but she was also relieved. He had ruined so many events with his antics, his insistence on unconventionality.

Hey, she said, to change the subject. How did you get that scratch?

But his eyes were closed again, his face still. He looked peaceful, which was unlike him, but she thought it looked nice.

Friday, November 28, 2014


If she were a food, she wouldn’t be anything saucy. Everyone else at this dinner party was claiming chocolate lava cake, biscuits and gravy, Moroccan lamb stew. Sage and butternut squash tamales with spicy pumpkin salsa, one white dude said. Everyone was mmming and oohing, tasting the imaginary food while they nibbled on crackers, working up a frenzy of desire for the meal to come. Fettuccini alfredo. Burnt caramel sauce. Raspberry filling.

She was going to be something with no salsa, no butter, no melted cheese. Definitely no molten chocolate exploding from her insides. Nothing about her dripped, oozed, coated the tongue. Nothing about her was rich or comforting. Everything inside her was neat, minimal, functional. She knew they wouldn’t like it, but she couldn’t lie.

Brown rice, she said, when it was her turn.

The tamales guy rolled his eyes, said, Please.

No, she’s right, said their host, looking her up and down. She’s totally brown rice.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Things That Don't Exist

Things that don’t exist:
Dragons, fairies, unicorns,
Thanksgiving, perfect circles,
Love, hate, romance,
America, the dollar,
Socialism, capitalism,
The Dow Jones Industrial Index.

Things that don’t exist that can kill you:
Sadness, anxiety, war,
Disability, depression, hypertension,
Negative body image, diets, addiction,

Things that don’t exist that can get you killed:
Colors, race, God,
Money, debt, homelessness,
Sudden movements,
The appearance of disrespect,
The appearance of being an imminent threat,
The appearance of poverty,
Poverty, wealth, hatred,

Things that don’t exist that can make you live forever:
Poetry, community, art,
Stories, songs, conversations,
Knowledge, meditation,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


When she got home from the funeral, she cleaned.
She folded laundry, washed dishes,
Put books back on shelves.  She made the bed.
She filed important documents, put
Family photos in protective plastic covers.
She pulled dried and wilted vegetables from
The refrigerator, stuffed them into the
Compost bin. She got on her knees,
Scrubbed sticky spots from the floor.
She wiped grime off the sink, scrubbed
The toilet with a toothbrush.
She washed three layers of paint
Off the walls. She exposed rebar.
She scrub-brushed the bathtub until
The enamel melted away, and there was just

When she got home from the funeral, she messed.
She stripped the blankets from the bed, twisted
Them, threw them on the floor. She pulled
All the clothing from the closet, spread it
Over the bare mattress. She poured
Honey on the countertops, sprinkled them
With dry oatmeal. She put books in the oven.
She pulled dried and wilted vegetables
From the refrigerator, dropped them in
Crumbs onto the floor. She spread the
Tangled hairs from her comb over the sink
And toilet seat. She smeared pink
Stomach medicine on the walls.
She piled junk mail and telephone books
And shoes into a seven-foot barricade
Blocking the door.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Angry Fun for Ladies

Angry women should put on boxing gloves
To show how angry they are.
Boxing gloves symbolize pugilism,
Bellicosity, aggression, signal to your
Opponent that you are not afraid of confrontation.
Nay, that you invite it.
If you don’t look pretty enough with black
Against your face, no worries.
There are pink gloves for ladies.
In the biggest size they are quite
Flattering, making your lower arm look
Small and thin and dainty.
Pose with your boxing gloves, up
By your face. Make a grrr-face.
Really go for it, grrrrrr.
Wrinkle your nose like a hungry bunny.
Grrrrrrrrrr! How tough you are!
(Don’t worry, you don’t have to actually
Punch anybody to enjoy the toughening
Effects of boxing gloves.)

Also you could wear hand wraps with a bikini.
Hand wraps with a bikini is super sexy. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Eating Machine

Every day, during Carla’s twenty minutes of focused meditation, she thought about what she wanted to eat. Steaming bowls of noodles would appear in her supposedly clear mind, little bits of grilled meat on them, long strings of green vegetable. Fudgy dark brownies with mint-chocolate chips. The crisp brown edges of roasted potatoes. It didn’t matter if she meditated before she ate, after she ate, during fasting, right after a heavy meal. She always thought about food. It was like the meditation cleared all the extraneous clutter from her mind, and what remained was this purest need, this lust, this hunger. It was like, laid bare, in its purest, truest form, her mind was nothing but an eating machine.

That was depressing.

And so, as she meditated, she would pray: I wish I could stop being obsessed with food. I wish I could focus on important things.  Work. Art. Helping others. Anything but hamburgers, pies, omelets. Anything else.

And then, one Monday morning, when she got to work, she didn’t want her muffin. She had bought two of them at the bakery yesterday, beautiful cranberry muffins with a crust of sugar over the top. She had been so proud of herself for saving the second one, a treat for the first day of the week. But now, when she opened the greasy brown bakery bag, the smell made her feel kind of sick.

That doesn’t smell healthy at all, she thought. Which was a totally out of character thing to think. She liked to eat healthy and everything, but breakfast didn’t count. She would eat five muffins if she let herself; healthy was sticking to just one.

She took it out of the bag, set it on a napkin, tried to make herself admire its beauty. It had that nice crunchy sugar on the top, the bumpy cranberries popping through the surface. Objectively, she could tell, it was a nice muffin.

Just eat it, she told herself. Eat it fast so it’ll be over with.

She couldn’t get herself to start. She stood up, stretched, paced around the little office kitchen. Rifled through a newspaper someone had left on the counter.

Eat the muffin. Do it. Just start eating it.  It will be easier once you get started.

Okay, she could do this. It was just a muffin. She ate muffins like three times a week. She’d never had any problems before. She sat down at the table, pulled the muffin in front of her, broke off a piece.  Put it in her mouth, chewed. See. Not so bad.

She felt a wave of drowsiness wash over her. Bordom. She stared out the window, watched a cloud block the sun, expose the sun, block the sun again.


She stood up, paced the perimeter of the kitchen again, looked a different part of the newspaper. At this rate, it was going to take her an hour to finish the muffin.  Maybe she should just skip it. Maybe she could eat it later, in a few hours, after she had done some work.

She flipped a page in the newspaper, and there she saw the most beautiful picture. It was of a doctor in central Africa, treating villagers with malaria. The doctor was a pretty young woman in a headband and a white lab coat, kneeling at the side of a young boy in a hospital bed. He looked sick and sweaty; she had a warm smile. Under the picture, the caption read, “Compassion for Africa’s Poorest Children.”  The words sent a chill up her back, a needy shiver.

I want to help people in Africa, she thought. Which was crazy. She was a graphic designer. There was nothing she knew how to do that would help anyone in Africa in any way.

She flipped the paper closed so she couldn’t see the picture anymore. Went back to the table, sat, ate another bite of muffin. It tasted like white flour. Also like butter and sugar. Fats and oils and powders. She wondered if there was something she’d like better to eat—maybe yogurt? Oatmeal? But the thought of sitting still, shoveling creamy glop or oaty glop into her mouth seemed like the most tedious kind of chore.

Africa, she thought.  Go help people in Africa.

Mindlessly, like a machine, she rose. Walked to the counter, opened up the newspaper and stared in hunger at the photograph.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Death wasn't what he expected. As it began to creep over him, to take over his consciousness, to shut down the systems of his body, it caught him off guard. From the outside, it had always looked like falling asleep. He knew that's what it looked like with him, too, because he couldn't keep his eyes open. His head was falling towards his chest and his limbs wouldn't move. He would try to look at the nurse. She was pretty, and when he first got to the hospital he had felt sad to recognize that she would never, ever flirt with him or find him attractive. For the past past few days she sat over him and spoon fed him watery jello that each day was more like water and less like jello. She would call his name and he would think about women calling his name and how he liked that. She would put the spoon in his mouth, leave the jello water behind. And now he couldn't swallow anymore and he could see it was causing her some amount of distress. Larry, she would say. Larry. I need you to swallow. I need you to. She would put her hand on his arm, his arm that he could feel was starting to disintegrate from the inside like a plant with rotting roots. And yet that touch was exactly like the first time a woman had touched him, startlingly the same feeling, the teenage thrill of a girl's hand on your body, of her smell as she leaned in towards you. And her words, whispered near his ear. Larry. I need you to eat. I need you. Eat. It drove to his body into something like an orgasm - a deathgasm maybe- a deep shuddering in his tissues. A new, different energy coming in to replace the lost one, the one rotted out.That new energy was building within him, clearing out the old, the worn and rotten. His lungs were choking, but with each cough he grew new lungs. With each bite he spit back up, he could feel all that was heavy and earthly discarded. He could hear the nurse letting out little sad noises - this must be a different day by now, wasn't it? Little coos, clucks, startled ohs. He wanted to tell her - sweetheart. Do not worry about me. Do not worry about the coughing and spitting up. Just put your hand on me and call me Larry again. Larry, Larry, eat, Larry. Speak his name as the old useless energy fell away and the new clean energy moved in. He thought: it is much less like dying and much more like being born.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Smell of Burnt Almonds

He squirmed in the hard, gray chair. Everything in this office was hard and gray. The walls, the chairs, the shelf. Even the woman sitting across from him.

“It’s about this thing that happened.” He looked at his right hand, explored it with this left hand like it was an unknown object. “When I was a kid.”

He looked up at her. She was sitting, watching. He looked back down at his hands.

“The world kind of—” He pulled on his middle finger. The knuckle popped, a loud crack.  “It kind of split open I guess.”

She was still just looking at him. Her face was thin and drawn, but her eyes were enormous.  She looked like one of those aliens from a movie.

“And it was like I could see the whole meaning of the universe. Not see it. I mean, I was it.”

He wished she would ask a question or something.

“I guess my whole life, I’ve been trying to see that again.”

That was it. He was done. He looked up, but she still wasn’t saying anything. Just watching him with the giant eyes. Maybe this hadn’t been a good idea. His friend had told him about the psychic, about how she could heal anything broken in your energy field. It had seemed worth a try. He had been feeling desperate lately, like if he didn’t get this fixed, he was going to have to go somewhere, leave his family, get out. Wander.

“So that’s what I want you to help me with,” he said.  

The woman—Linda was her name but it didn’t seem to fit—frowned, closed her eyes. Ran her bony fingers over her forehead. Then she opened her eyes again, pointed them at him.

“It’s not the vision that matters,” she said. “It’s the truth you understood from the vision. That’s what you’re trying to get back to.”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s right. How do I get back to it?”

“The truth is the truth of what you are. The truth that this world is an illusion of your perceptions. The truth that there is no you.”

She waved her hand across the room. The gray hand, gliding over the gray backdrop, gray on gray on gray. The air was gray, too. The air was the color gray. He could see the air, the space that separated him from her, and it wasn’t space at all. It was full, it was matter, it was gray. Her hand was on his wrist, but it wasn’t her hand and it wasn’t his wrist. They were both part of the gray air, their hands, their arms, their organs, their minds. It was a soup, an undefined soup of matter and energy that extended past their bodies and out of the room and out to the far edges of the universe.

Then something moved and she was back in her chair, and he was back in his. He couldn’t see the air anymore. Just a void between him and the gray walls and the gray chairs and the gray shelf. A void between him and the woman with the big eyes sitting across from him.

“That was it,” he said. Exactly it. That was the thing he was looking for. There so completely for a moment, then so completely gone. “So you can help me. Please, can you help me find it?”

She shook her head. Strands of hair floated like gray straw.

“No one can help you find that,” she said.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Best, Okay, Worst

These are the best things:
Cat purrs.
Green hills in winter.
The first cup of tea.
Dry sweatshirts over cold sweaty arms.
Middle school jazz band.
The sky when it’s pink or very bright blue.
Pie instead of lunch.
Eating toddler food
With your best friend and her toddler.
Falling down laughing at jokes
You won’t remember tomorrow.

These things are okay:
Alarms to get you up in the morning.
A job. A car. An apartment.
Keeping on top of things.
Being resilient.
Having a strong body.
Knowing that things will work out somehow.
Emergency planning.

These are the worst things:
Routine tests.
Gossip, addictions, lust.
Breaking things.
Moving away.
Moldy forgotten apples.
The need to eat.
Lack of knowledge.
How time only goes in one direction.
The infiniteness of space.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Internet Addicts Anonymous

My name is Karin, I say,
And I am addicted to the internet.

They all nod, encouraging.
Some sympathetic frowns.
Some knowing smiles.

Welcome Karin, says their leader,
In tinted glasses, ugly white sneakers,
No hairstyle, no makup.

You are in a safe space, she says. Everyone,
Let’s welcome Karin to the Oakland chapter
Of Internet Addicts Anonymous.

Welcome, Karin, they say in unison.

So, Karin, the woman says. Tell us everything.

I gulp, calm my racing heartbeat.


Go on, she says. We’re not going to judge you.

I can’t even imagine where to start.

Tell us what you look at, says the woman. You know. When you go on the internet.

Well, sometimes I look at recipes. But like, recipes I’m not ever going to make.

Oh, that sounds like a horrible waste of time, says the woman. What else?

Well. Sometimes I google my ex-boyfriends.

Of course you do. It’s okay. Let it all out.

And then I find out who their new girlfriends are. And I google them, too.

Nothing too shocking there, she says. What else? What are you most ashamed of.

Sometimes. Okay, sometimes I go on facebook and I just scroll up and down, up and down. I can do that for hours.

What are you looking for, she asks.

I don’t know. Anything. Just anything at all. Something that will make me feel--I'm not sure what.

Good, says the woman. What else?

The woman is excited now, face flushed, speech quick.

Shoes, I tell her.  I look at shoes.

Shoes, says one of the people in the circle. And another one, under her breath: shoes. They are leaning in, intent like the leader woman, eyes wide and frantic.

I look at people wearing cute shoes!  Cute shoes with cute socks! I could look at people wearing shoes and socks all day!

One of the people in the circle falls off her chair. Another is panting loud like a dog.

STOP! The woman yells, waves an accusing arm over the circle. I think you are experiencing VICARIOUS INTERNET PLEASURE.

Everyone in the circle gasps, denies it. NO, NO, NOT US! We are just being supportive!

One woman says, Tell us what the shoes look like.

I’m turning off the lights, says the leader. When she does, a few tiny screens float in the darkness.

PUT YOUR PHONES AWAY, she yells!  Close your eyes. Quickly, we must meditate!

The sounds of rustling fill the room, squirming noises, small whimpers.

Close your eyes and be calm, says the woman, who does not sound calm at all. Take deep breaths through your nose and clear your mind.

Tell yourself: there is no internet.

There is no facebook.

There are no.



Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Self-Market

First of all, you need a gimmick.
Not a gimmick that seems like a gimmick.
It shouldn’t seem gimmicky.
It should be sincere.
The work should speak for itself.
So make sure that comes through in your
Self-marketing strategy.

If your work is light, friendly, if it invites an audience
Like a warm pumpkin hug on a cold fall day,
If upon hearing about it, people cannot help
But love it already
Then you can make like a facebook page.
A horoscope. A quiz. Something fun.
Everyone will tell everybody about it,
And in no time at all, you will be famous.
Oh, and know your work. Yes.
Of course. In no time at all
Everyone will know your work.
So that in a nutshell
Is how to self-market.

Oh, hm, right. If your work is heavy,
Dark or off-putting. If upon hearing about it,
People shrug, shiver, roll their eyes,
Pour extra stevia packets into their lattes.
Yes, of course, what then?
What then.
Perhaps try greater reflectiveness.
Turn inward. Find a religion.
It doesn’t matter which one; the point is
That you should really believe in it.
The power of prayer will be of value to you.
Pray that your work is good.
Pray that it is the deepest, purest form of love
In the form of art that one human can express to another.
Pray that you are the secret genius you secretly know you
Are not but secretly desperately wish to be.
Pray that the work is world-shaking.
True greatness is the most effective marketing, so pray.
Pray for greatness.
Pray the work will speak for itself.

Nothing 7

Louis was kneeling in the dirt, pulling dead sage stems out of the ground. He was getting pretty good at pulling things up,  weeds, old roots, dead stems of living plants.  The whole team came out to the gardens once a month, raked leaves, threw out garbage, dug up dirt and put in new plants. But Louis came a lot more than that,  every Saturday. He was getting tan, and his arms were getting ropey looking, which was a little exciting since his ex-wife used to always tell him he had programmer physique.

When he first suggested it to the team, they’d looked at him like he was crazy.

“I ran into Ben,” he said at the Monday touch-base. A few guys snickered. They thought Ben was crazy.  Everyone thought Ben was crazy; the way he used to come to work, do his job and leave. The way he never wanted to go out for lunch, not ever, no drinks after work, because he was saving his money. And then the way he left. A senior engineer, and he just put in his two weeks and took off.  No new job, no plans. Just gone.

“He’s doing this gardening,” Louis said.  “We should go do it with him.”

That got more snickers. But then he reminded them how they still needed one community-help and one team-build before the end of the year.

“We could do it twice and count it for both,” he said. And they agreed, eventually, because everyone hated coming up with ideas for the community-help. And for the team-build, all anyone ever wanted to do was have cocktail night, and after the last one when J.P. fell and knocked out two of his teeth, Walter had said their team wasn’t allowed to do cocktail night anymore.

They whined a lot the first time, but by the end of the two hours, they were into it. Even Walter was into it, surveying their work, whistling through his teeth. “It looks good,” he said, bare arms crossed over the chest of his gray t-shirt. Louis had never seen him in anything but a suit (he came from investment banking so he had a lot of suits). Everyone liked it so much, they decided to do it for all their team-builds and community-helps. 

That was almost a year ago—let’s see, eight, nine months—and actually, the whole team was getting pretty good at gardening. They’d started their own little vegetable garden in the courtyard, and a bunch of people had started calling them “team dirt.” Half the time they went to the garden, Ben wasn’t even there, and they still worked, worked hard and took pride in their work like someone was watching.

Louis usually tried to work with the sage because he loved the way it smelled, sappy and medicinal. Today Lara was working on it, too. She was probably his favorite person to work with on the gardens, because she actually knew about gardening. She was a little older, a mother of teenagers, and she would teach Louis a little trick here and there, a better way to prune flowers, a method of turning the spade on its side to pry out the big rocks blocking his digging.

Louis looked up, watched the team digging, raking, watering. He looked at Ben, who was wearing gloves and picking withered fruits off the giant prickly pear cactus. When he was there, he was there first, and he would stay and keep working after they left. He barely talked, just smiled and worked.

Louis wondered if Ben was happy doing nothing. He wondered if he could do it. Nothing. He knew nothing wasn’t gardening all day, that this was the most something part of the day for Ben.  Imagine—cleaning up after plants and then not doing anything else. Doing nothing. Maybe not yet. But you had to admit that there was something really interesting about it,  something appealing.

Louis pulled a handful of dead root from the ground, closed his eyes, took in a deep breath of sage and dry wood.  Exhaled and cleared his mind.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nothing 6

Ben was cutting dead blossoms off a hydrangea when someone said his name.

“Hey Ben!”

Ben looked up. Standing on the sidewalk a few feet away was—it took Ben a few seconds to remember his name, but then he remembered.

“Louis,” he said.

Louis used to be in Ben’s group, three cubicles down. It had been two years since Ben quit, and he hadn’t seen Louis since. He looked the same, balding, tech conference t-shirt tucked into jeans, hands in pockets, white sneakers.

“So, this is what you’re doing now?” Louis said.

“Sometimes.” Ben didn’t work on the gardens every day. Probably most days, though.  He’d meet Sammy around noon, find out what needed to be done. Some days they worked together; others, like today, they split up. Some days Ben didn’t come to the gardens at all. Some days he walked the opposite direction, wandered through the cemetery like he had done the first day after he left his job. Some days he walked until he reached the water, headed along the beach. Some days he stayed at home cooking. Some days all he did was sit.

Louis smirked. He was shading his eyes with his hand to block the sun.  “I heard you weren’t doing anything.”

“Mostly not,” Ben said. “Mostly I’m doing nothing.”

“Sounds nice,” Louis said. Ben was used to this by now.  That’s what pretty much everyone said.

“Where are you going?” Ben asked.

“Around the block,” Louis said. “Doctor told me to exercise.”

“There are a lot of great places to walk around here,” Ben said. He was about to make a suggestion, but Louis shook his head.

“I hate walking,” Louis said. “So aimless. I just want to do my ten laps and get it over with.”

Ben looked down at the sheers in his hands, looked up at Louis, who was, Ben realized, already a little sweaty from walking in the sun.

“Pulling weeds is good exercise,” Ben said. “Want to try?”

Louis smiled in a slight I feel sorry for you way. 

“Thanks, but I’m gonna keep walking,” he said. “Nine more to go.”

“Alright,” Ben said. “Enjoy them.”

“Probably not,” Louis said. “I’d say goodbye, but I’ll be seeing you a few more times.”

Ben had moved on to the lavender patch by the time Louis came around again. He was stuffing dead flowers into a paper grocery bag. Sammy kept a compost pile in the garden up on Parkview.

“Hey,” Louis said. He was sweaty and panting. “I was thinking I would try some of that weeding.” He smiled, this time a smile of I’m pretty pathetic, aren’t I?  

Ben took the spade out of his belt, wiped the handle on his jeans, handed it to Louis.

“Start over there.”

Ben pointed to the dirt under the hydrangeas. The weeds under there were thorny and tough. The clippers would be better to use on their thick, woody roots, but Ben only had one set with him. Louis would have to hack through them with the point of the spade.  There were easier ones in the dry dirt over by the cactuses, the kind that you could pull out with just a light tug of your fingers, but since Louis was looking for a workout, Ben didn’t mention them.