Thursday, February 20, 2020

One Last Wish


One Last Wish

If only I could articulate it, my one last wish. I can hear everything they say, clear as day: there’s little hope she’ll wake up; she possesses little or no brain function … only a matter of time … we’ll re-evaluate in an hour. I refuse to believe that my body is a mere shell. I wish I could scream, “I’m in here! Listen to me! Don’t give up on me! Don’t let me die!” Alas, I cannot move a muscle. Or open my eyes. I am breathing with the aid of machines that hum and hiss and make me want to spit nails, because I am alive. I am not yet dead. I am imprisoned inside of myself and at this point, I cannot, for the life of me, locate the escape hatch.

It was a freak accident, or that’s how I remember it. I think. I took the bus downtown. There was a spring in my step. I was wearing a new scarf; the sun was shining directly on my happily upturned face. Finally, the Rembrandt exhibit, a mere block away! I’d been trying for weeks to find the time to take it in. Between work and painting myself, there was little time left for much else. I chastised myself. How could I not find the time to be in front of original Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn work? The wizard of the Dutch Golden Age of art, master of light and shadow, his tremendous legacy is the whole reason I wanted to try my own hand at living an authentic artistic life. I took generous steps, two at a time, skipped along a busy sidewalk crowded with curmudgeons – one of them, inadvertently jabbed me with a quick elbow. I felt myself falter. I shrieked in panic, falling quickly into oncoming traffic. I saw a horde of hands reach out to try and pull me back. For a split second I was gladdened, one hand clasped around my wrist, one split second of relief, and then, for some inexplicable reason, it let go. My heart rose in fear. According to the reports being discussed about and around me, that hand belonged to someone who, because they stopped to help so quickly, caused a human traffic jam behind them, and was forcefully struck, thwarting my almost-rescue. After that, for me – fade to black, never mind Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar to ogle in awe. Laid vulnerable in a hospital bed, with the knowledge that at any given moment my loved ones would be encouraged to pull the plug, I couldn’t help but wonder, once I broke on through to the other side, if my artistic mentor would at the very least, show me the kind of mercy he’d never show himself in portrait. If he were to commit this sudden and unfortunate wreck to canvas, would I be treated to the exact pale I deserve? Or would he spare me the agony? Would you hear the death rattle in the brilliant strokes of his brush while he cloaked me in a non-descript hospital gown while my loved ones, weak in the knees, wailed bereft, at the tragic loss of me? It isn’t inconceivable. The Dutch masters tended to paint everyday ordinary life instead of sprawling biblical or military scenes commissioned by church or aristocracy. I am a plain girl in a grey room supposedly fighting for every breath – how much more ordinary can you get!?  But then, who the heck am I, to believe a master painter would find me a fitting subject. I’m arrogant in my current condition, one doth think, no? I say, a girl can dream. And, it’s a good dream – to be the subject of accessible, famous art. Even better than someone writing a song about you, which comes in at a close second.

It was my sweet mother, choking on her tears, knees buckling from underneath her, her tiny hands wringing mine, literally squeezing the life out of me. It took her in a million little pieces and a vital machine threatening to flatline, to comprehend. I was no longer in the bed. I was above, floating, hovering, witnessing my own demise. There I was, no longer inhabiting my body, my corporeal vessel, the flesh I dressed and cared for, close to thirty years, hovering above it all, making temporary contact with a water stained ceiling tile, sorting out what comes next. After a bit of time passed, I don’t know how long it was, my brother escorted my grief-stricken mother from the room. I watched them exit, almost in slow motion, move further and further away from me. And, suddenly I was alone with myself. I couldn’t help but wonder, while gazing upon the paleness of my usually rosy cheeks, who might be saved from my misfortune. The only function of the machines still drumming were to keep my organs viable. Would my dull blue eyes give someone the brilliant gift of sight? Would my young healthy heart, beat in another’s chest? Or maybe skin to soothe a burn victim. I donated it all. And then, what’s left, they’ll give to my family, in an ornate urn of some sort (I hope) so they might have a little closure. I feel deep guilt leaving them in such a quick and tragic way, but I didn’t advocate or expect such an early expiration. I had plans! First, my mother’s birthday dinner next week, where while seeing the exhibit I had hoped to acquire a unique present of some sort in the museum’s gift shop. I oversaw the gift and her cake. The gift I can’t do much about, but her cake is ordered and scheduled for delivery on the day. It’ll make her cry, posthumous confections from her dearly departed favorite daughter. I wish I could get word to my brother to intercept but I wanted it to be a surprise. A cake delicately decorated and airbrushed with memory photos of her life. Pecan crunch with butter cream icing, her favorite. What else? What other plans … oh! Istanbul. In five years. Or bust. I was also flirting with the idea of cutting my hair that has been halfway down my back for as long as I can remember to something daring, like a pixie cut or a short-inverted bob. Maybe give it a bold shock of color. I promised myself after a rather debilitating break-up that I’d live inside of every moment, push my crayons to shade outside the lines. Taste food not just chew it quickly to swallow it down. Relish the flavors and textures. I made a vow to myself to feel, to savor everything, take pause, enjoy. And now this.

My mother and brother were not yet settled in the car when I propositioned God. Asked for a favor. One last wish, the one I did not think I could articulate. Before I embark on whatever predestined plan was set for me, could I please just see one original Rembrandt? The request seemed trivial all things considered but given that I have no idea where I was going or what will transpire, the momentary joy of standing before an original painting by someone I deeply admire seemed like an even trade. You know what? It worked, albeit granted with an ironic twist which confirms God has a decent sense of humour or is outwardly arrogant. Or, perhaps a little of both.

I found myself, just as I was before the accident, agile and enthused with the same spring in my step, my favorite scarf on display and a happy face forward, studying a real live Rembrandt, Head of Christ. I don’t know where in the world I was. Berlin. Paris. Destination unknown. But, the painting. Breathtaking. 1648. The romantic head of Jesus, slightly inclined, long dark curls, short full beard, in a reddish-brown cloak. Noble and pensive. If my heart was still inside of my chest, it would have raced, fast and furious. His features are nothing to mistrust. They calmed my newly minted soul. Someone directly connected to Rembrandt’s piece was receptive to my prayer, it was no accident to arrive before this exact rendering. A stark reminder that in life, there is a reason we worship beautiful things.

***

I pecked at this wee piece for a little bit. It was a writing prompt, I executed it with a twist: write a scene or story that includes a character fulfilling their or someone else’s last wish. I started writing without even knowing where I was going with it. The idea just ran with me. It was another exercise just to keep my fingers moving, to maintain my meandered thinking. I don’t know if this is interesting or if anyone will enjoy it, but I liked writing it.

Any thoughts are welcome.

In propinquity,
Nic



Monday, February 3, 2020

Bingo Bags



Bingo Bags

Saturday night, a 1980s bingo hall.

The noxious cloud cover of cigarette smolder was already imminent when Tibs and Millie approached their usual Saturday night seats armed with bingo cards and over-sized over-the-shoulder purses teeming with colorful dabbers, ice cold Coke, and salty snacks. Gertie was already seated, cards organized in front of her, puffing Cameos, her sweaty can of Sprite in its right place.
Early bird catches the worm, wha? Awful early, you shit the bed or something?” Tibs opened, plunking her wide arse down on the bright orange unstable chair.
Gertie’s lanky face coiled into an instant blush, “No, I ain’t shittin’ no beds. Cyril had darts and made a big friggin’ fuss about me always making him late, so he dropped me early to the bingo.”
Tibs chuckled, “In such a hurry you forgot to crack them curlers out, wha?
Gertie touched her kerchiefed head in a panic, “Sufferin’ Moses, Andy!! Lucky my head is attached on this ol’ body or I mighta forgotten that too.
Millie’s chair scraped loud on the grimy tiled floor scooting her chair in closer to the table with the might of her wide girth, “Why didn’t cha call me, coulda swung by and picked ya up. I had to get Tibs anyhow.”
Gertie waved her thin hand, “No matter, thought it best to come and save our seats since them there idiots tried to hork ‘em last week.” Gertie threw a thwarted nod to a motley crew several tables down.
Tibs scoffed, “Buncha turds. We’ve only been sittin’ here for wha, a million years!? Like to see ‘em try again.”
It’s as if the Head Turd heard Tibs’ jeer. She fixed her eyes on the trio and straightened her lean to move her faded orange mop and blotchy face toward them, “If it ain’t the Get Along Gang back for another week, hoardin’ the lucky seats.”
Not one for confrontation, Gertie’s face, looking smaller than it is with her head full of rollers, turned beet red. She looked away, taking a nervous drag off her menthol. Tibs, about to rise and meet the Head Turd’s antagonizing gaze was stopped by the gentle hand of Millie, who calmly regarded the intrusion, “Ain’t got nothing ta do with luck, you know that. It’s alll chance.”
Head Turd cleared her throat, “That so? Well, maybe one a’ ya might lend out that horseshoe ya got jammed up your collective arse. Give the rest of us a “chance” at winnin’ a god damn game once in a while.”
Millie offered a pregnant pause, “Ya … nah.”
            That sent Head Turd, agitated, shuffling back to her gaggle. Tibs let out a howl and high-fived Millie, “Hooligans ain’t takin’ no foolishness, wha! Ha!
            Millie snorted, “That bunch there reminds me of them things the grandbabies like, Garbage Patch Kids. Spit right outta their mouth!
Gertie shook her head and put her cigarette out in a clean ashtray, “Let’s play already, frig.”
Without a game having started, Tibs’ voice filled the smoke hall, “Bingo, wha!” her enthusiasm was met with a collective smatter of, “Shaddap.”

The trinity got busy at their specials, concentrating on the win. Gertie’s goal of the evening, as it was every Saturday night, was to fill her whole card and win the Bonanza. Tibs took it home the weekend before and the weekend before that, Millie won. So, Gertie was hoping the winning streak would continue with her tonight.
Tibs, aggressively dabbed her bingo books, dangerously close to winning a game by coloring in around the FREE asked, “We gettin’ donairs tonight if we win, wha?
Millie confidently replied, “Ain’t if, Tibs. It’s when.”
Gertie turned up her nose, “Ain’t there anything else we can eat? Donairs give me some god-awful gas and I ain’t in no mood listen to all the goin’ on Cyril will do, especially after darts when he’s half frisky.”
Tibs cracked up, “Two of ya need separate bedrooms. Works out good for me ‘n’ Dickie. He snores like a sombitch and I need my beauty sleep. Plus, we gave up tryin’ ta knock boots. All we bang anymore is bellies.”
Gertie closed her eyes and shook her head, “Now ain’t that an appealin’ mental picture. Lord Christ, Tibs.”
Tibs shrugged with a hearty laugh, “Either that or D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”
I like my single livin’,” Millie interjected, “I can pass gas all the live long day and ain’t no one gonna give me no guff.”
Explains why that tabby cat of yours disappears for days on end. Can cats even hold their breath?
The three friends laughed so hard half of their table missed the caller yell out, B5. Millie dabbed her book like a bat out of hell, “BINGO!” Shortly thereafter she was fanning herself with a fist full of twenty-dollar bills, “Gonna be an exxxxtra-large donair night tonight, ladies!” Tibs did her signature silly-arms-pumping happy chair dance while Gertie rolled her eyes internally knowing full well, she’d indulge despite her husband’s inevitable scorn. And, what the hell, she still had her rollers in. Cyril won’t have anything to do with those suckers wound tight on top of her pretty head.

During a break between games, the friends started to reminisce. Head Turd and her posse assaulted the canteen for the last of the greasy burgers, the trio stayed seated like they always did, for fear someone might steal their seats right out from under them, not that they were territorial or anything. Millie ripped open a bag of Ketchup chips and began, “I miss when Gertie’s Nan still came to the bingo with us. Eighty-four years old, sneakin’ nips of gin in her Sprite cans, remember that?”
Tibs, with a hunk of Oh Henry in her mouth said, “Oh, I miss me some Nanny Mona, she was a friggin’ hoot, wha. Little bugger was always walkin’ off with my pink dabbers, only ones she could see good.”
Gertie nodded, “Wasn’t so funny though when she finally lost all her hearin’ and yelled Bingo on the Bonanza and never had one god damn number that was called, remember that!?
Millie’s eyes went wide, “How could ya forget that!? Lil ‘ol bitty near started a riot in the bingo hall! She was some sweet though.”
Tibs banged her meaty paw on the wobbly table in a fit of remembrance almost knocking the open Cokes over, “Remember that feller, stayed with the what’s-their-nuggets up the road there by the store!? Went and streaked bare arse naked right up through the bingo hall, in a Jesus snowstorm no less! From the front door right on down the back!”
Millie all but keeled over wiping tears from her eyes, wheezing, “Oh my gentle Jesus yes! Drunk as a god damn skunk he was. Ain’t ever gonna forget that pasty white flat-as-a-pancake arse.”
Gertie, characteristically, shook her head full of wonky curlers, “Didn’t have a whole bunch goin’ on in the front either.”
Tibs and Millie said in unison, “Bush whacker!”
The three friends laughed so hard the caller sternly requested, in the microphone, they simmer down. This, to be clear, was not an isolated incident. It was, however, enough to settle their kettles enough to focus on the task at hand, winning bingo.

It was a tense night of bingo. Millie won a few cards, Tibs won a few and now it was Gertie’s turn. Gertie and Head Turd were set for the Bonanza. Gertie, waiting on N46, Head Turd holding out for O75. Millie, completely out of character started to pray, the more the sweat gathered on Gertie’s top lip, the harder she implored to the good Lord Jesus for her friend to cash in even though she knew it unholy to muse on a sort of gamble.
The caller announced, “O74 … 
Head Turd cursed, “Come awwwwwwn!”
The caller called out the next number, “B10 …” Head Turd growled, Gertie’s nervous frame started to rock back and forth.
The caller called out the next number, “N … 46 …
Millie and Tibs called it at the same time, “BINGO!”
Head Turd wailed, “God dammit!”
Gertie, wide eyed, looked at her friends, “Cheese and crackers, did I just go and win the friggin’ Bonanza!?”
Tibs gave her friend a fat slap on her lean back, “Donairs gonna be on you now, wha?!
Gertie laughed, “Heck sure, but we ain’t eatin’ them at my place! Rather Cyril didn’t know I got any extra in my pocket.”
Millie piped up, “Come on girls, let’s get us some food and scarf ‘er down at my place.”
Gertie nodded, “Done deal.”

Crowded around Millie’s single woman’s small kitchen table, the friends inhaled their meaty nibbles – thick slices of spiced beef on warm pita bread, topped with generous chunks of onion and tomato, then drizzled with the Donair’s signature sweet garlicy sauce which inevitably ended up dripping from their fingers and faces.
Tibs broke the snack silence, “Ain’t even sure what I love more, Donairs or eatin’ them with y’all.
Millie concurred, “Don’t even taste the same if I ain’t eatin’ them with you guys.”
Gertie sipped a fresh Sprite, “All that stuff is true for sure, I just love winnin’ a wad of money. I ain’t gotta job like you two. Cyril only gives me enough enough allowance for the bingo.”
Tibs scoffed, wiping her chin with a napkin, “Well frig you too then, wha!”
Gertie rolled her eyes, “Don’t go twistin’ the words comin’ outta my mouth, Tibs. I’m just sayin’, all of it, goin’ to the Bingo, winnin’, havin’ donairs like this here, well, it’s what I most look forward to. ‘Cause, Millie ‘n’ you, well, you’re my best friends. I ain’t ever had friends like y’all before I moved here. I appreciate yas.”
Millie smiled, reached and gave Gertie’s shoulder a warm friendly rub in agreement. Tibs hung her head, “Well shit.”
Gertie replied, “It’s all good, Tibs. I know you ain’t got a lotta time for feelins and all. I ain’t never learned now to not be so damn sensitive.”
Tibs looked up at her friend, “Oh, ain’t that. I just dropped a pound a’ the sauce down in my titties. Pass me that there napkin will ya.”

***

I’ve been plucking away at this snapshot for what feels like eons. It isn’t meant to be long, more like, (as with everything these days), a writing exercise. Just to keep my imagination and my fingers moving. No pretensions here. A few chuckles maybe, but all in fun.

If you took a second to read, thank you. I hope you had fun.

In propinquity,
Nic




Monday, January 13, 2020

Luftmensch


Luftmensch

if he
had two cents to rub together
he wouldn’t know what to do
but ask him about his long list
of embellished yearnings and
witness his empty head rise up
and through the billowy clouds
            the songs he could sing

***

I thought about this word my whole morning commute. I noted it some time ago and happened upon it while packing things in my work bag. It was scratched on a wrinkled piece of paper. If it’d been left unattended at the bottom of my things, it may not have survived much longer in a receipt purge. I’m grateful to have found it. I’m grateful it helped me deliver this small verse. It felt good to put words together after attending two funerals in the span of a week. Being able to create something, even as miniscule as the above poem, did my heart good.

To increase my spirit, which has been lacking a great deal for some time it seems, I have set out on a new, slightly humorous piece of short fiction. I’m confident this little adventure will add levity to my days. It’s all scribble and notes for the moment but I shall endeavor to mold it into an enjoyable (I hope) read/escape. I may call on a few of you for select details!

Happy Monday.

In propinquity,
Nic

Thursday, January 2, 2020

If I Were Brautigan

Brautigan, San Franciso 1965

If I Were Brautigan

            if I were
Richard Brautigan
I’d be penniless &
drunk on watermelon
                        sugar
in some warm giddy
bar w/ optimistically
wrecked poets
            if he had been
me
he’d admire some man &
the casual way he tipped
back a can of Coca Cola
before moseying toward
December
through an
impenetrable paisley fog
           
if I were
Richard Brautigan
I’d be published &
contented to succumb
in a haphazard bodega
dying of thirst
            & a ripe peach
in plain sight

***

A poem, my first in 2020, from a writing prompt. 

Here goes nothing, a new year. New words.

In propinquity,
Nic

Monday, December 30, 2019

My Most Judgmental


My Most Judgmental

for the briefest of moments
my most Judgmental reared
her swollen head to purport
my beloved night-singing
has gone out of fashion so I
ought to go on & give it up
this from a would-be stargazer
whose stagy bark never quite
matches that of her
aggrandized bite
there is something so off-key
about my most Judgmental of
late … off-putting even, callous
enough to secretly bid her to
float upward just so she might
fall (for once), wicked a wish
I know … dangerously akin to
the desires that twist inside her
            I shall endeavor to be
unlike those like her who are
scattered & lost, destined for
ruins … not for merit but for
the shrill music that plays in
& around their blindest eyes
whose smile loses shape for
every wound doled out on a
loving heart who loves to sing
just to be closer to Heaven
            I shall endeavor to be
better … she believes I am so
easy to abolish, my most
                        Judgmental
but I’ll still sing high above
her scarred mountaintops in
direct light of the sun, every
word finessed to ease … ease
whatever & whomever may
require calm … even my most
Judgmental – who may be made
warm enough by the melody’s
sweet persuasion to take pause
& weep for all the things stated
that cannot be taken back

***

I overheard a conversation on my commute this morning that inspired this poem, with a little real life thrown in for good measure. The sentiment is universal, and you can take it any which way you like. It isn’t so much about a person but rather a feeling. Perhaps it’d be different for the person whose conversation I stole to create it, I’m certain it’d be someone very specific. It isn’t exactly the most optimistic poem to end out a year of scattered writing, devout reading, and a gaggle of ups and downs. And then there was Elizabeth Gilbert. Workshopping with her saved me in more ways than I can express. It’s why the poem above still sings despite it all. I’ve learned a great deal of what it means to be your most avid supporter. And in that, there’s no more chasing people, only dreams. I’m cool with being on the fringe of circles I no longer belong. I’m cool with aloneness. I’m cool with my own company. I’m cool with my fears and my enchantments. I’m cool with how to face it all, and that’s with my head held high, a smile in my heart, and contentment on my face. I will never pretend the bruises don’t hurt. I am just more equipped, for reals, for how to deal with them. It was the greatest gift of my life. You always think you know and then you realize you don’t. Until you do. And, when you do. There’s no other way, but You. Your way. And, how you put love and goodness into the world.

That’s all I’ve got going into a new year. No resolutions except to say I welcome whatever it is that comes my way. I’ve got the tools and I ain’t afraid to use ‘em!

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2020!

In propinquity,
Nic



Monday, December 16, 2019

Bat Kol


Bat Kol

What’s that exquisite word I’m looking for? Ah yes, pococurante. I am not the least bit galled when confronted with the level of accused pretension my pilgrimage garnered. It matters very little to me what others think of my packing a small bag and setting off for Montreal, Little Portugal to be precise, in honour of an artist that filled my creative life with bourne, charging the boundless aim of my capabilities. My trip, despite being in search of an idol’s final resting place, denotes a sublimely joyful and peaceable moment in time. What’s that other delicious word? The one to perfectly ascribe to the trek. Ah yes, halcyon.

Prior to my departure, I fell bored. Begrudgingly succumbing to the monotonous humdrum of waking each morning, toiling nine to five then returning home to meticulously dust bookcases. All of which are in perfect authorial alphabetical order. Creative pursuits were devilishly evasive, my appetite nil, my heart unfulfilled. It was a deep internet dive that inspired my mission. I arrived, after hours of mindless perusing, to a link hosted by CBC. It answered an unplanned prayer. The remedy to my malaise: time away. A quiet retreat. To fill the well. Browse, on foot, by way of a detailed walking tour of the earthly place a beloved and fallen artist lovingly called home.

I arrived in Montreal on an amiable flight, early dawn, an autumn morning. The cloying sun offered the city a clandestine suppleness, just before it was fully awake, and the avenues filled with bustle. I hailed a taxi to my accommodations, a charming Air B&B, spacious and bright with a private terrace. Austere with a hint of whimsy. Perfection. It suited my needs. A place to lay my hat, and a desk for writing. First order of business, coffee. Something to go with the fig-cheddar bun I purchased from a hide-away bakery for breakfast en route. The sleek galley kitchen housed a Nespresso machine. It was good in a pinch before my adventure’s official start.

That first day, ah, magnificent. One foot in front of the other, my scarf knotted ardently around my neck. Mine eyes feasted. Mine lungs exorcised by fall’s crisp waft, taking long languid breaths to exhale lazily. All at once, I felt airy and parched. I ducked inside a little bistro for a nip.  I chose a window seat, atop a narrow yet sturdy pew, and sipped a concoction made of tequila, Cointreau, agave syrup, lime, orange, and citrus salt. One glass. Two. I drank. I mused. And, because I imbibed, hunger struck. I lingered to indulge. Fresh oysters served with mignonette, michelada, and chamoy. And then, with a warm belly, I was off.

Quincaillerie Azores’ was a frequent haunt for the fallen. I stood inside and wondered what sundry things might line a receipt deep into the silk of his jacket pocket: hand-held tools, keys, locks, fasteners, hinges, clamps, thimbles, chains, utensils, plumbing provisions, paint cans, paint brushes, housewares? The possibilities endless, and then the wonder of what he’d do with his purchase, what he fixed or created or threw in a drawer for a later date. My imagination, rampant in that moment. The walking map was correct when it boasted the corner store rife with hardware, had a generous assortment of Portuguese earthenware. To preserve my visit, I bought a small piece to carry home and place as a memento on the bookcase housing works by writers whose last names begin with C. A small ornamental bowl, I knew would eventually fill up with pocket change.

I intended to pass by his homestead at the end of my visit as an official bon voyage and a thanks for the dance nod, but I found myself unable to delay. I stopped, awed, in front of his residence, 28 Rue de Vallieres. A single tear dropped and rested on my cool cheek. I envisioned the grey limestone, that sorrowful November day, converted into a place of worship, muted candles, heaps of fresh flowers, and mournful messages mounting in commemoration. I took refuge in Parc du Portugal across the street. Found a sturdy bench to sit and reflect. It has been said he preferred comfortable slippers as shoes. How many times had he tread across these pathways, scuffing toward any given Glory? Sitting to work out the poetic mechanics of gentle soliloquies full of dark humility, glorious works he left behind. The simple brilliance of the reverie swelled an emotional lump in my throat. Still, in the shadow of his genius, a tremendous blessing. The bench was the edge of the earth. I lost track of time there. A park forged to commemorate Portuguese immigrants in search of a new life. I took several photos of the quaint summer pavilion, and of the gates and fountains comprised of glamorous glazed tiles. I had a nagging desire to stay but my physical hunger championed inactivity.

For dinner, as per the walking tour map, I sidled into Moishe’s Steakhouse. According to local lure, it’s a Montreal institution. The meal I enjoyed cost almost as much as a night’s stay at my Air B&B. Alas, it had to be part of itinerary, so I did not deviate nor dissuade myself by worrying about vacation economics. As there were so many to choose from on the extensive wine list, I asked my server to surprise me, something red. He did not disappoint. There were hints of rich chocolate and deep plum. I sat languorously, legs crossed with a crisp napkin across my lap so as not to spill the delivered hors d’oeuvre, succulent shrimp cocktail, on my wool slacks. A steakhouse it was but I am not one for red meat, so I opted for Alaskan Black Cod with grilled oyster mushrooms, spinach, and potato latkes. Sinfully delicious. While I digested both my meal and my surroundings, I nursed a hellishly fragrant cup of coffee. The scene then begged for the accompaniment of a cigar. One that would impart a creamy, buttery flavor with notes of cocoa, wood, and toasted bread. I had one such after a poetry reading with friends. The memory of its slow burn and deliberate upward smoke curl, made my mouth water.

I shuffled back to my Air B&B, feeling abundant and melancholic. Inside, I shrugged off the coldness that infiltrated the evening’s wind, hung my hat, and sat at the desk to write. Wholly inspired by the day. This is the poem that materialized before I retired for the evening:

All Possible Calm

I mulled
gazing the skylight
all hours I gathered
& steadied myself
elegant
& intent
pen poised
notebook open
page blank
in all possible calm
determined
to compose a
dust
jacket proclamation
worthy of discussing
with you over wine
in a five-star hotel bar
for first rate writers
            shy to admit I
require your sublime
assurance before I am
able to write another
                        word

I awoke with purpose. Sunrise lush and radiant with autumn’s gilded palette. The city enveloped me as one of its own the second my black patent shoes clipped the sidewalk stone. It was too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, so I acceded to the lure of decadent confections. An extravagant storefront display enticed me in with the pledge of sugar. It did not disappoint although it took far longer than it should have to choose. I, in the end, opted for a generous share of grapefruit pistachio layer cake. It towered sumptuously over the mille-feuilles and eclairs, tasted twice as good. I required something of heft in my belly before finding my way to Mt. Royal Boulevard to Shaar Hashomayim Congregation Cemetery; the final resting place of my idol, the sole intent for my excursion. I found myself stood before a handsome stone, befit for a mensch. A visitor before me placed an impeccable bushel of mini mums in esteem, a beautiful cushion of seasonal colors in shades of deep red, burnt orange, vivid yellow, pallid peach, and snow white. I knelt, in respect for the man inside of the earth, buried humbly in an unadorned pine box close to family, laid to rest in a traditional Jewish rite. From my pocket, I pulled out a prayer in the form of one of his very own poems. One, I hope, wherever in the vastness of the universe his enlightened spirit roamed, he stopped to hear. Paused to smile at my offering:

I lost my way.
I forgot to call your name.
The raw heartbeat against the world
And the tears were for my lost victory.
But, you are here.
you have always been here.
The world is all-forgetting,
and the heart is a rage of directions,
but your name unifies the heart,
and the world is lifted up into its place.
Blessed is the one who waits in the
travelers heart for his turning.

O, I wept. I guarded my inexorable tears with my chin tucked into my chest, the wide brim of my hat tugged tight enough to protect mine eyes. I could not linger; I was overcome with emotion. I did not expect to be taken over in such a deep and profound way. And so, I bid him adieu. Regretfully. I just couldn’t bear the thought of being found on bended knee, bawling like a baby. I required comfort. Food of some sort. Something of note. I took the advice of a passerby to take a late lunch at Schwartz’s, the oldest deli in Canada. I hailed a taxi to the famed Montreal landmark since 1928. The passerby alerted me that I may have to wait in line for an extended period of time to be served but I walked straight in, took a seat at the counter, and before I knew it, there was a towering smoked meat sandwich teetering in front of me complete with a gargantuan dill pickle and heaping dish of coleslaw. Between doleful sips of Coke and bites of lunch, I continued to flick rogue tears from mine eyes before they had cause to fall. He is in every atom of the city. Every breath of air. And what’s more, while I paid the kind folk for their abundance, ‘So Long Marianne’ sounded on the radio. One of my fellow white-haired counter patrons perked up at the song. His shoulders straightened, a smile formed, and between bites of his meal, he hummed along to the treasured lyrics. Proudly. A purr of honour. It wasn’t too long after, I was back at my Air B&B, equal parts full of food and flounder. I dove under the covers for a siesta. Rest was necessary to regain my composure for an evening of live music. I hoped.

I arose after only an hour or so, had a long shower, ironed my favorite shirt, dressed in my finest outfit and hopped into a taxi. In very broken French, asked the driver where I might find a bit of good live music. He replied in English blanketed it with a thick French strum, “I know jus’ ze place! You will need to wear your coat though.” He let me off in front of Jardin Nelson, a few days shy of closing for winter. A seasonal garden style bistro-type spot. Like nothing I’ve ever seen. I was in the mood for a hot drink and rhythmic jazz and ended up with a pitcher of melon sangria and a meal I won’t soon forget. Jackfruit Poke.  Green jackfruit, marinated in spicy sesame and soy sauce, with avocado, edamame beans, cucumber, lettuce, jasmine rice, vegetables, nori, wakame, gari, spicy vegan mayo, and peas – a direct quote from their menu. I wrote it down on a scrap of paper for blogging purposes. I first chose the brie fondue with pesto and pine nuts, then changed my mind to the duck leg confit but I have a soft spot for jackfruit. It was divine. I missed out on the jazz trio. They were late for their gig and my hands started to go numb from the cool temps and the sangria. Tipsy, I stumbled out onto the street in search anything else. A busker, a dead ringer for a young Tom Waits, with his battered guitar case open and a spray of pocket change across the fuzzy purple interior asked if I had any requests. “First We Take Manhattan”, I cooed, the scent of melon wafting from my tongue. Tom Waits grinned, “Ooo la la, Monsieur Cohen, ah?” He leaned closer, “Don’t tell anyone … but I prefer version Jennifer Warrens do.” And with that, he broke into song. I joined tentatively at first, but the liquor found its way to all of my cortexes and soon my voice was soaring with his in unison, “I’m guided by a signal in the Heavens/I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin/I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons/First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin …

I woke the next morning with no knowledge of how I made it back to my Air B&B. My head, akin to a kick drum sufficiently rocked, threatened to roll. I accosted the Nespresso machine as if we the last thing I’d ever do. I sat out on the private terrace, overlooking the sweep of the city, mid-morning, balled up in a bulky sweater, and sipped. The fresh air slowly started to make me feel more human than human. As the cobwebs cleared, so did my memory. My recall revealed an extended performance with Tom Waits – Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, anyone’s version of ‘Stand by Me’, Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. It all came flooding back. My customary posturing did not prevail. I, uncharacteristically, let loose, as they say. That had to be remedied. It is not that I’d ever see Tom Waits again so my perfected reputation was not in peril, it’s the simple fact I allowed my very tailored and restrained self to run amok. I confess, it felt extraordinary. Alas, I feel more comfortable in my skin buttoned up and discreet. Reserve. Ostentatious. Thus, on my last day in Montreal city, I bent back into my true self, and set off for home.

My morning flight was delayed so after a quick stop for a few extra cups of coffee, and osso bucco breakfast poutine with cheddar biscuits, I spent the rest of my wait at the Montreal Holocaust Museum. I was quite taken with Edith Gluck’s story. She donated an object of note in 2010, what is titled ‘A Clandestine Cookbook’. During her imprisonment in the Lippstadt concentration camp in Germany, she compiled two hundred recipes, all written in pencil on beige and pink paper that came from the munitions factory she forced to work in 12 hours per day. From memory she recorded many of the meals she prepared before the war and called on her fellow inmates to contribute. Together, they used this act of resistance to maintain their humanity and preserve their cultural history. The booklet, written in Hungarian, bound together with orange thread also from the factory, had to be hidden under the ground. And, since it was written in Hungarian, if found by the German soldiers, it would be deemed a diary and elicit a severe beating. Her bold efforts took my breath away. I stared at the aged pages for a long time, imagining these brave women whispering ingredients and instructions to Edith who scratched them quietly into the pilfered paper. A guide called Vilma in the museum shared the most horrendous fact, music was used to admonish prisoners. Nazis consistently directed captives to sing while marching or exercising. It was done as to mock, humiliate, and discipline. Inmates who dared disobey or didn’t know the song demanded only gave the SS an excuse for severe arbitrary lashings. Vilma told me, “If you did not know song, beaten. If you sang too soft, beaten. If you sang too loud, beaten. SS, ack, savages!” Luckily, the conversation ended on a positive note. Vilma, while straightening her name tag on the lapel of her tweed coat told me, “As you well know from Edith’s book, the prisoners were resourceful. They also composed and performed songs written inside of the camps, a survival technique as a means of psychological resistance, you see. Music then, was a means of survival and an instrument of terror for the SS. Some good, but mostly bad.” In that instant, I knew the second I arrived home, I’d order everything Amazon sold about this dreadful period of history. More knowledge, necessary. I became transfixed with their very human stories in the face of such adversity. I berated myself for knowing so little. Vilma’s parting words were, “No worry, you don’t deny Holocaust happened. If you did, then we have problem.

All the way to the airport, with courageous holocaust survivors on my mind, I could hear my idol’s voice inside, still circling me in his city, caroling, “And let the Heavens hear it/The penitential hymn/Come healing of the spirit/Come healing of the limb …” And, I didn’t mention the mural of him, or me standing street level, craning my neck at his artful greatness nine stories high on the Cooper Building. That happened somewhere between my repentant hangover and Edith Gluck. And the, in the heart of the city, another piece of public artwork in the form of a handsome mural on Crescent Street, 1,000 square meters. I saw both, photographed them, tipped my hat, and bid him farewell. I arrived in a city I’d never been to before in search of his resting place, to pay my respects, and I departed with an indescribable yen. A strange ache. As if I were leaving something or someone precious behind. And then, I suppose I was. It also occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t something being left behind but a reminder that in my years, I’ve not done anything of note, surely nothing to warrant a universe size mural to lord over an entire city or to have moved other human beings so much they’d pack a small bag and set off on a whim just to sit grave-side, to be near. The experience only rivaled that of seeing him perform live. Once. In a whole lifetime of worship. The man, aged like a fine wine, had more energy than I’ll ever have. He was sharp and witty and prolific, performed encore after encore. Jaw-dropping competence. I aspire to be so Zen, as fertile, agile. At any age.

Many friends, assorted colleagues, and select family members scoffed at my indulgent jaunt. As I mentioned, I am in no way incensed by their assessment. I can’t expect them to understand. I am an Artist. I use unscented soap. I like everything in their right place. I enjoy the elegant curve of exquisitely formed flowers. I drink bourbon before bed. I shine my shoes. I often sport a pocket square in my breast pocket. I do not wear my heart on my sleeve. But I feel. And ache. Love. Suffer. And then, it all goes on a canvas, into a song, or on blank page. While I hold most of them dear, dull accountants and soccer moms cannot comprehend the artistic temperament, the need, the appreciation of others who have come before. I need not have to explain further.

It was hell, it was swell, it was fun.

And, who am I fooling? Surely not myself. I love pretension. I am pretension personified. Proudly. Except, for those few drunken tunes with Tom Waits, I was as free as a bird, soaring high until I came face to face with Bat Kol, the divine voice that reveals the will of God. Or, as it were, the anointed voice of my hero.

***

I’ve been pecking at this for a good long time. It’s not a perfect piece of writing but I had the most delicious time creating something full of intentional affectation and heart. I would really love to set out for Montreal to visit Leonard Cohen’s resting place. So, until I am able, this little ditty will have to do.

In (intentional) propinquity,
Nic

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Liberty


Liberty

it seemed fitting to befriend the
weeping willows when you left us
you, whose happiest laughter
caused an uprising in the rose bushes
the bees dizzy and spilling their golden
honey, the trickle creating words that
stacked themselves neatly into poems
we had no idea they were writing our
dreams until your absence illuminated
the truth about the azaleas who winked
warmly whenever we’d call your name
after bright kites whipping in a winter wind
it seemed fitting to befriend you that day
in a room full of romantic minds and
intellectual hearts, words in hand, waiting
patiently to impart a tiny piece of
themselves onto a small sliver of the
world who were willing to listen, even
with their eyes closed, and you, you
listened, you smiled, you clapped your
gentle hands, and after I took my turn
you leaned to me and said, “that was just
lovely, good work, kid” – those willows
weeping, are no substitute for you

***

My dear poet friend, Kay Liberty Wynne passed away and my heart is broken. It took me a little time to compose something in her honour. She was such a wonderful human being, funny, full of amazing stories, and so easy to be around. I am so grateful we became friends. I will cherish the time I was able to spend with her and think fondly of her often. Oh, but that laugh of hers. I will miss it the most.

In propinquity,
Nic