Soldiers from another fable

Under the low slung brassy moon our owl faced argonauts, most mendacious and titular, quarrel. The sea lay quiet, for a while at least, no wisp of wind or plish of wave to ruffle it’s wine dark depths. Though one might not expect them in this region of the earth (perhaps we are not on the terrestrial globe we think we are), several small otters trickle through and on and about the glittering black sand of the far off island, where the palm trees sway. (Solace of a desert oasis –  remember those floating images, those from the cigarette scented library books, loaded with pen ink illustrations of brahmin, rutabagas, white stags, and bright ruby carbuncles. The murmur of fairy besotted waters, a little heaven in the dry dry desert, some kind of resting place to smoke the genie from a lantern wrestled from the grotto ogres knobby digits – all these are mere memories from the dewey decimal stacks. Great tall shelves they were, and beyond the whoosh of air conditioned climate control, the stacks trembled with the raging clamor of gods, the fighting throes of cotton pickin’tar babies, and the bow shaped kissing lips of silver screen lovlies.)

Under the low slung brassy moon, in a most unexpected turn of events, the grave warriors of Ilion cross paths with Jason, and his well-worsted sailors. “Wool,” they of the fallen city cry, “wool to cover our weary heads, to clean the entrails of Troy’s last survivors, to mop the inevitable mess in Atreus’s dread halls.”

Jason’s crew replies: “But are you but wolves to feed upon our soft merino vests? Avengers to mash about in the carded rolags of our spleen? How can we know that our macedonian adventurers fit the mixology of your wily hollow horsemen?” The argonauts, led by a great liar, naturally distrust strangers from another fable.

The soldier of Ilion have answers in the form of questions. “Ah, but how do you know we are these so called internal jockeys, who race on counterfeit nags – perhaps we are the men besotted with the great hinny, the people who fell for ambiguas in vulgum spargere voces?” 

It is a quandary.


Music to Mine Ears


The musics of the mental ward confound, delight and distress. Writing the songs into a narrative would seem gauche, the titles coming off as blunt cliches, pathetic attempts at retread jokes. One would laugh the author’s words of the page. But to watch these melodies unfold, with no particular author directing the acts, and the song list plays like a subterranean echo chamber, swelling and bobbing in the memory. So I will write them in.

7 AM

Up and about. First morning, lockdown. What does one expect in lockdown? Now, facing the idea, I have no preconceived notion. So I slog out into the main room. A few women roaming around. Behind the glassed off official area, an official looking woman, the floor watcher, or whatever it’s called. She’s in a purple dashiki. Turns out, she’s got a different color daishiki for every day of the week. Her hair is tightly bundled to scalp, reddish with honey blond streaks, and a cluster of perfect tiny ringlets hanging from a forwards topknot, like scissor swiped ribbon, curling on christmas gifts, dangling a bit onto her forehead.

Breakfast arrives in a tall wrack. Before the individual trays of food get plopped on the table, all 5 or 6 women of the ward are whisked together, and we must, ”stand up, stand up, people. it’s that time again. face in and all join in!”  Purple woman raises her slender hands and clap, her long purple nails glittering in the florescent light. “The sun is shining this morning, it’s a good day, and we are singing Penelope’s songs!” And she sings in a beautiful voice, a voice ready for primetime gospel choir.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”

She prompts us to clap, clap along. “Everybody, I can’t hear you, lets do another round, this time, y’all sing out!”

You Are My Sunshine, Round 2. I sing heartily, worried we might loop the verse until all voices reach some arbitrary decibel level. The round ends, and she applauds us all. This is a relief, and I imagine sitting, when she waives, “Lets go, you know it, lets sing some more!”

I feel good, ba-da ba-da ba-dah duh – I knew that I would now, ba-da ba-da ba-dah duh.

The “ba-da ba-da ba-dah duhs” seem particularly poignant when mumbled by a group of grouchy morning mental patents.

 Monday afternoon in the big house.

Jim, the music therapist, arrives. He plays the baby grand in the main room for an hour each afternoon during the week. Requests are taken, and Caroline runs up to Jim and whispers in his ear. He agrees, yes, he knows that song. Everyone settles in for the performance.

Caroline is in the hoozgow by mistake. She’s talked about her situation – it’s a matter she needs to settled on the phone. This is problematic. We can only use the group home phone for 15 minutes at time, and usually a line of grumbly people wait for you to wrap it up. Obviously, long phone calls involving legal technicalities are unpractical. Not to mention, to get a call back, the caller must have your patient number, which is a tad awkward on a message to police or county official. In any case, Caroline was accidentally brought to the facility after the police arrested her. Caroline’s sister, who has stalked her for years, and to make matters worse, bought the apartment building where Caroline lived. Then, the sister would sneak into the apartment while Caroline was asleep, and leave the stove’s gas on. This went down, not once, not twice, but  – 5 times. The sister clearly wanted Caroline dead. The last incident, when the fire-truck and police arrived, they arrested Caroline, not her sister, the true culprit. It was an egregious mistake, and Caroline now struggles with phone complications to get the whole thing ironed out.

But back to the music, wherein Caroline will entertain with her mystery song. She stands with invisible mic in hand, swaying to the jazzy chords of her intro. She tosses her burgundy red locks and begins, “My analyst told me, that I was right out of my head…”

Who could make this up? Or why would anyone make this up. It all seems so implausibly iconic and impossible in an actual situation.

In Closing

My last morning. It’s time for the first group therapy of the day. Who do I see? Penelope.  In a sky blue daishiki. “C’mon people, lets get ourselves into the room and participate with that which we know helps us!”  The woman smoking next to me mumble. “Oh Jesus. It’s Penelope’s romper room. Guess we better go in and get it over with.” She snubs out her cigarette and walks toward the room where voices emerge, joined in joyous song: ”You are my sunshine…”

Bereft of Levered Tongues

What lay on the cutting room floor? What caught the eye what was thrown to the dogs what seemed fraught with despair or not part of the throng, not standing above not keening and cold, not thrilling and proud?

The rough and shorn and bereft of levered tongue.

How might we forget, for just this moment, an alto trifle, the mendacious warble, the lisp that curls before the gaps of the vocal cord, then ending it all with a tired glottal stop.

All in all, there is a plan, but no intent. There is no meaning, except when applied with meticulous tedium. This is no place for symmetry or dewy visions of wonder. We demand the restless, those camel-backed yet liquidless bearers of unknown. Slay them upon arrival, since with our supposed knowledge  they bear bad news, we are unwilling to witness what their blackened throats utter.

These things we give to you: these seven heavens for one dying, these seven sorrows for one tear, seven heavens for just one dying. These many prayers for all those who lie in wait with bones sucked dry and cracklin’ white, porous by bathes of bleach and lye.

So. A round on the house! Here’s to milking the turn turn turn for every season there is an herb, to a piquant medicinal trifle to sustain one till advanced years with a fire filled belly, to hot blood and no more cold hands.

Locks Are All Around Us

“Are you have feeelings of paranoia?”

“Me? No.” Not at all.  The Intake Lady has hair the color of aging blond and she’s blue eyed and with the thick german accent and clipboard and fountain pen. I size her up, wondering if she is old enough for Hitler Youth. The whole place is beginning to worry me. Nagging doubts about where I’ve landed.

The Building itself, a Craftsman marvel, is basically my platonic ideal of a fairyland cottage in some old blackforest by the glimmer river. The cobblestone entrance, soft fountain, and entry arches, all freshly painted border flowers in tasteful colors, sans CFCs. Or VLPs or  BPS or whatever letters.

The young man and woman at the reception were silken blond, fair of skin and clear of eye shining bright oh so bright in the evening. Soft smiles. Indeterminately youngish yet adult. Maybe sort of town and country, the girl wears a pink fuzzy sweater. Another soft spoken blond person ushered me in a room and told me to wait. It was like a posh mortuary waiting room. You know, all nice leather couches, tasteful colors, silent orchids. Anxiety. Everything was so perfect. Was I going to made into one of them? Would I get stuck in this place and come out all honey hair and stepford?

Pink Fuzzy Sweater comes in with a digital camera to take my picture. I’m buried deep in the leather couch, wondering if I’ll ever sleep again, and if all of this was such a good idea.  She shows me the picture. My hair looks perfect, it’s grown wild during the past 17, 18 hours. A few leaves festoon the fizzing ends, and certainly I could be a Grimm  sylph, wandering the woods in an undetermined “long time ago” age. My flowing hospital gown could seem rather grecian if looked at in the right light.

Pink Fuzzy askes me a lot of medical questions, then giggles. “I – I have to ask you, but I dont want to, because I know you just don’t, but do you have any STD’s – I know you dont, I sorry I had to ask…” Way to go lady, make me feel even more freakish when I answer in the affirmative. Enough already. Back to Intake Lady.

The paranoia question, which I flatly deny. If they are nazis, I dont want to let on that I know.

Intake Lady wants to know if I have thoughts of suicide.

I think about it – “Now…Or ever?”  buzzzzz. wrong answer.

I gather this from her sidelong slightly narrowed eyes, like a B-movie actress in a cold war spy movie. She merely says: “Vhatever you choose. Either one.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” buzzzzz. wrong answer.

A very calm nod, and as I read every word of my check in papers before I sign – and I have never read a document so slowly – she asks:

“Would you like to go to Mariah East, Lockdown or the First Floor? Mariah is smaller, all female, you have your own room. Less distraction, not so many activities. Very peaceful. Locked down, to keep everything alright. Or there is the First floor, no guaranteed of a room of your own, and there are many more people, many groups to go to. So, where would you like to go?”

“Ummmm. I dont know? What do you think?” buzzzzz. wrong answer.

“I think Mariah East, Lockdown, is best. There, you can rest.”

“Really?” I haven’t had the best ideas lately, maybe she knows best. She sees my doubtful look.

“After all, you may always leave if you dont like it, and the doctors feel it is a good idea. Mariah has locks, but do not let the words, lock down, frighten. The front door of the lobby is locked right now. This keeps us, you and me, safe.The gates are locked, the doors, there is a fence.” She raises her hands in a beatific gesture and smiles. “But really, everything in the world has locks. Locks are all around us.”

Mariah East: exhibits A and B

Mariah East. Romantic, colorful, morose and windswept name, no? Mariah East, lockdown for women; a place inbetween, a place lost, not quite where one wants to be yet nowhere else seems to exist. One cannot possibly understand the mechanisms that roll you into such a reality, if reality is the word I’m looking for.

See, nobody ever knows how they got here.

“On my way to the airport – I was going on vacation with my husband, and somehow everything got mixed up and now I’m here.”

How long ago, one might enquire. Shrugs. A week or so. And enough clothes for a months. A huge suitcase, stuffed with fashion items for every occasion, and when Hawaii got irritated, she’s retreat to her room, and reemerge in a new colorful boutique dress, striding with more confidence and a slight hostile tip of the chin. Lesson of the day: this packing, I must remember, next time I’m on the way to lockdown.

No one may fathom how the exact route.

“The van was supposed to take me to physical therapy, and now… I’m here.”

How long, one might enquire. A slow back and forth of the head. That goes to the heart of Mariah East. No time or space.

Maritime Confessional, Pt. II

The Master and Commander speaks his piece. Lashed to the mooring of the ship, embraced by a wooden sea goddess, the siren song seems so delicious, so dangerous, yet so very far away. Danger nullified, excitement maximized – in this little game of faux terror and tempting tragedy.

Dearest sailors, hast thou spoken amongst oneselves? Discovered why the bossman can look and listen but not touch, while you my dearies, stay ignorant, deaf and undelighted?

If the song spreads horror and death, then your captain, oh captain keeps you safe. If it’s all a lie, all a lie for him to enjoy undisturbed, uninterrupted, unable to respond… then you are cheated from your own experience, your own choice, your own discovery, be it horror or delight.

Is mine a siren song, or freedom? Is it worth finding out?

Maritime Confessional, Pt. 1



The siren’s silent call. Hard to hear, but once intuited, impossible to forget. Imagine the scene, if you will – fully trussed to the prow of your tall ship, clutched to the breast of a wooden mermaid by strands of hemp, twisting in the salt air, you strain to hear the call. will it rise? Will your ear bend ’til your drums bleed and gums recede into the night, into the foggy, foggy night?

Tiara boom ti-aye!

Tiara boom ti-aye!

The siren’s searing scream. The stars went black, the air so cold, in a space no one can hear you and yet, the tears and questions, what is this folly, the maritime crucifiction, this rosy tender confession? The mermaid’s fine carved features betray no longing, no lying, no literate intimation of sympathy or tea. Does the tea steep, do the deep seas boil? Does a wine dank winsome engine sleep in the wine dark roiling ocean?Image