Noctiluca and Dinophysis

The Noctilucales are a peculiar order of marine dinoflagellate (Greek dinos "whirling" and Latin flagellum "whip, scourge").

They are small and beautiful.

relief, baby, whisper

I’m glad to be sipping my cherry drink because there’s no telling when my father will finish his long story and I like how red my tongue becomes – I eye myself in the mirror behind his head – and I like how when I stick it out the lady next to me clenches her thighs together. I guess she has an identity problem, otherwise why would she be on a date with my dad and me in this East Side bar-slash-restaurant with the best burgers? I think my Dad’s in the CIA: he tells these stories you can’t argue with: the facts are given in a whisper and he makes you think he’s an expert at something. I wonder if there will be a nuclear war.


The green fabric of the lady’s skirt loosens and tightens across her like the ground rippling in an earthquake. When I was a baby I had erections. Sometimes I get scared. My mom used to pinch me on the forearm and it was a relief to remember where I was. Dad is up in arms about the students at NYU because he apparently works at Dow Chemical (or used to; or will) and 500 students demonstrated against company recruitment and Dow makes a chemical they use in the war, and so on. The lady nods, “sagely.” I like that word, “sagely.” I want another drink when this one’s done. A Shirley Temple, maybe. I’m getting an erection again, but then it subsides. There were two famous people shot since April. My grandmother was in the paper. It will be a relief I guess when all this stuff is perfect and complete, when the long summer is done, when the war is over, when my dad undoes the buttons on the back of this lady’s dress, when my mom doesn’t call anymore. At ten, I’m an expert on everything, is what I want to whisper to anyone who’ll listen.

Trail, Pool, Snake

She had developed the habit of giving me the finger. Yes - my wife. Whenever she left for the day, there was the finger, raised, pointing up, wordless, and me adrift with the suspicion that she was cranky. She worked hard, my wife, and I’d lost my job 27 months ago, so for her I was a fraud. She said, “You seem too comfortable.” That was when she was talking at all, early on; before she started showing signs that to me she was growing allergic. Early on, I looked for work; I walked the want-ad trail. Shuttle-driver, apartment leasing expert, laundry technician, account executive, PHP developer, dog sitter, sleep study subject – I would do anything that seemed steady.

It was late October of last year that I began to rise late, to read a book over coffee, and then, for hours it seemed, instead of scouring craigslist, to gaze at the surface of our pool. Sometimes leaves would scud over its ripples; other times it would be still; the unusually warm weather and the fact that I disdained chlorine allowed it to turn a pleasing pale shade of green.  I watched the day lengthen over our house and the hills of the Sierra Nevada and over our pool and enjoyed it all because it was free. I was free. I rose earlier in the mornings and sat on a zafu by the pool before my wife left for work, timing my sitting so that I could prepare coffee for her before she left, before she left for work without saying goodbye save to raise that middle finger. Sometimes she cast a look of hatred my way, her eyes and skin glowing pure, emerald green. More often, nothing but the finger and the accompanying sound of the coffee machine gurgling, dying, the plinking of its drip.

The trees around the pool grew larger and wider, their leaves greener and greener, the underbrush thick, the little copse of dwarf palms lush. There were too many jobs out there, too many possibilities; and besides, each day here, by the pool, in the woods, I would see things: a turkey, deer, an owl, a rattlesnake. One day a rat. I was better alone; there was no group I wanted to join. I saw the snake eat the rat, bulging; I thought it would sleep or burst, so tumescent and beautiful was its tissue.


The glue holding them together was based on the delight of hatred, a rose cream with a peanut butter texture. The massing of years of unspoken, carefully nurtured resentments rose above their heads like cumulus clouds. A bullet wouldn’t be enough to destroy them. There is no cement stronger than the one holding a miserable couple together. I told them this, and wondered idly why, between our meetings, they didn’t do the homework I assigned them. You know: speak to each other as if you’re interested, repeat back to each other what the other has said, notice when you become defensive; listen, listen, and then ask questions, like “Are you saying that _____?” and then attempt to understand in your own words, like “I hear you saying that _______” and follow them with I-statements like, “And I feel ____ when you say that _______.”

If you have any luck, the yarn the two of you have so carefully woven will begin to unravel. But you won’t have any luck. Did I say that to them? Because they tasted so good, I hated myself. Some people are bent on their own destruction.

I wanted to tell them that I was glad, in a resenting kind of way, that they were paying my salary. But I was beginning to feel under my own ribs the pain they must have carried in theirs. I wanted to say that the palms of my hands became damp when they avoided each other’s eyes and didn’t talk. At the end of their last session, I told them where to find a cheap moving company, and the man, the ex-husband-to-be, looked at me and grinned and said, “Ah, you’re a full-service therapist,” and he got up and left me and the wife. “Sorry he was so rude and nasty,” she said. “It’s nothing,” I said. “I’m just trying to be helpful.”

News That Stays News

It’s a caffeine-fueled pep talk he tries to give her Monday morning, jittery: bouncing around the kitchen on espresso, eager to get to his writing but desperate to tell his daughter exactly what he thinks about her ex-husband without coming on too strong - thinking ‘I need to express equanimity’ and let my fear, hatred and delusion pass through me:  ‘Anger is like a hot coal held in one’s own hand that injures the carrier.’ And, ‘When the pimp’s in the crib, ma, drop it like it’s hot,’ he mutters. He’s channeling his rap vipassana teacher and suddenly stricken that he’s violated the precept of taking intoxicants — the coffee this morning to counter the beer last night, not to mention the weed he’d smoked over the weekend in the hot tub with the divorcee from the W4M ad who’d gone on to give him the best blowjob of his life. It’s a wonder he’d slept at all. To the toaster, the fridge, back to the sink, the kettle, a sip of coffee, a glance at the newspaper (“stocks showed little impetus to recover from last week’s losses as Herman Cain tried to get sexual favors in exchange for his help finding a new job for a woman who had recently lost her post”) — always a source of inspiration for new poems — Ezra Pound: “Poetry is news that stays news,” and so on, et cetera;  and ‘My son-in-law’s a son-of-a-bitch.’ Breathe.

She’s pulling on her socks, sitting on the floor of the mud-room, tears streaming down her face while she avoids looking at her father - who’s breathless about something too - but still she smiles at Bozo the yellow lab that’s bouncing up and down (and sideways) and whacking her with the wag of his forearm-thick tail; the dog’s not a coffee drinker but he’s acting like one. He’d slept beside her all night long and woke her by licking her foot; I’m sure my father put him up to it, she thought. Her father is hovering the way fathers do; she imagines he has the words inside him and only once she’s out in the garden with the dog will he be able to say something and then probably only on paper. He’ll hand her a letter when she gets back from the walk, she thinks, or one of his poems; and while it’ll be perfect, his brand of compassion and art mixed into one, it won’t relate to what she’s feeling right now. Some trick of the morning light makes the tattoo on her ankle look like the burn from a branding iron. She had watched her father as he slept last night. He was handsome and innocent, like a baby boy. Yesterday she had been to see his doctor and to hear the results of the tests and she had not been able to tell him what she had heard, and besides, he was absorbed in thinking about her asshole of an ex-husband.

Then her father kneels beside her and she feels his hot coffee breath and his hand on her shoulder. “I know I’m getting fruitier by the year, but a father will always want to protect his daughter, you know,” he says. “I’ll make you some jello while you’re out.”

mud, radish, bedsheets, snap, snip, progress, plan, husband, lift, beehive, dark, color, patch, drip, beard, pancakes, minute

August 16.

I spent the entire weekend at the nude beach without my husband because it was the logical thing to do and above all else, I value practicality and logic. I’m sure he would have preferred I be at home to make the Sunday pancakes after his usual fruitless attempts to wind me up in the bedsheets and make me have an orgasm or get himself off or neither or both. That seemed to be his weekend morning plan and no matter what little progress he made each week with me, he seemed drawn back to the same old, same old plan the next week. It was driving me insane. I told him so. I told him that the beehive he had for a brain was overpopulated and that he couldn’t seem to go for one minute without desperately thinking that I was going to leave him when I’m sure I gave him no evidence to that effect at all. He did all these things to get me to stay – that was his logic. He sent me flowers at work after an argument; he sent me long text messages apologizing for something he thought he’d done to hurt me but which I’d forgotten hours ago – or at least didn’t invest with the same meaning he did; he endlessly cleaned the kitchen and the house and I could see his color change with the combined resentment and hope that it would make a difference. I could see him grow old and bent before my dark eyes; it became so easy to topple him into guilt, despair, and hatred that I nearly enjoyed myself saying this or that thing that I knew would feel like a punch in the gut or a stab in the back. I had fun making him believe he was wrong. Can you blame me? Our relationship tasted like a radish. All I wanted to do was to get him to snap at me. So, inch by precious inch, I would snip, snip, snip away at the cord he wanted to bind us. He began to grow a beard without discussing it with me. This was when I realized it was all about to drip away and then evaporate. He wasn’t around when I woke up Saturday morning and I didn’t think he’d be back. So I went to the nude beach and smeared salty mud on my breasts and lay out in the buff and when a pot-bellied man with a small ass sat next to me and made small talk, I let him stay.

navigate, turkey, bleak, slim, wander, flea, germinate, timbre, fiend, gentle, jello, pillowcase, bear, wink, grimace, milkshake, overdone, cans, joke

A turkey, a flea and a milkshake fiend walk into a bar. Now bear with me, he says, giggling, grabbing my arm.

My mind is drifting. How have I managed to get myself into one more godforsaken bleak date with one more godforsaken supposedly divorced man on a Saturday afternoon? It was the rain, I thought. I had nothing else to do. I’d been drowning in my pillowcase three hours ago and why didn’t I just stay there? The online “wink”, the phone call, the text message.  I crumbled.

His tone was gentle, at least, so I listened. The punch line made no sense; I laughed anyway. I told him my joke. Horse walks into a bar. Bartender says, why the long face?

Outside it’s still raining. We’ve gone through three cans of Guinness each. I’m waiting for drunkenness to germinate so that I can take him home and fondle what I imagine will be a very slim dick. A Slim Jim. When I chuckle to myself, he thinks I’m still laughing at his joke.

Glad you’re humored, he says. When you got all quiet on me, it made me uncomfortable. You’re pretty quiet, you know – and the wounded timbre of his voice makes me grimace. How the fuck did I get into this? What lonely insanity? I put a hand on his arm. I think I’m getting a cold, I say, am I not talking enough? It makes me uncomfortable, he says, you’re clearly not interested in me. No, I am, I say; but it’s overdone, too much emphasis on the “am.” He looks up and away at the big screen where the Jets have a first down.

Some cubes of jello with whipped cream would be perfect right about now. That’s my favorite dessert from school with the nuns. How does anyone pretend to “navigate” the waters of life after a divorce? I wander, wander, wander and hope to get lost.

rub, meals, folded, nose

Below the white dome of the Peace Pagoda, on the pebbled walk, I will burn myself. I am walking there: hitchhiking, in point of fact. One thumb out, I walk backwards down the road. I must look like a traveler whose car ran out of gas; in my other hand, a red jug of gasoline. Buzzing towards me: a red VW Beetle. It swerves suddenly and stops.

Where you headed?

Down the road a piece.

MA Route 2 is one lane here. I figure if I can hitch from Greenfield to Turner’s Falls then I can get another ride down Route 63 towards Leverett and then walk to the pagoda, that white stupa in the woods. In the blink of an eye I could be there if I could fly like the other monks. But I can’t fly. I can only levitate, and only a few inches from my sitting position. Once there, I hover, but no force of will or imagination enables me to move horizontally. I think that if I rub my nose in a certain way I can cast a spell on me, but in meditation I’m not meant to move. It’s like wearing a corset to go only so far and then to be bound by limitations of time and space.

You traveling incognito? Says the driver. She’s a young woman, maybe 18, probably a student at one of the colleges around here. I like the little lotus flower she has stuck in the cup holder. It’s an automatic Beetle and I keep expecting her to downshift to go up the little hills, but the transmission takes all the guesswork out of the driving. It’s like the car’s meditating, steadily breathing. And so I shrug a little, wondering what this young blonde woman means, and what she’s like in bed. Incognito? I say. Because of the sunglasses and shaved head?

More because of your robe, she laughs. You don’t see many handsome white guys in orange robes out here. Halloween is still a week away.

I’m a monk, I say. My car ran out of gas. I gesture with the can, pointing ahead of us, the gasoline sloshing. She thinks I’m handsome, despite everything. I burn inwardly with the warmth of her unexpected comment. But tell me, are not all comments unexpected, coming as they do from the roof of the world and out the mouth?

Should I frisk you? She says. I mean, you could be carrying anything under that robe. It would be a citizen’s arrest, she says. What do you mean, I wonder, without speaking. She is playing music, the Cranberries, and bouncing to the beat in her seat. It’s a sunny October day, beautiful; a gust of wind springs leaves loose from an oak tree and the car is showered in them and she giggles again, slowing down.

Aren’t monk meals made of mush and grease? She laughs. And don’t you love my alliteration?

I do love your alliteration, I say. I will pipe up to you now: I plan to picket the pagoda on this pleasant day. She giggles again.

Perhaps, she says, perhaps. On the ridge up there you can just see the top of the stupa, she says, and it looks like a big old flame.

Somehow we have driven down Route 2 and Route 63 and North Leverett Road and Cave Hill Road in a matter of seconds. What did I miss? How? Have I been asleep?

She says, It’s like it’s burning, a golden fire on top of the white dome of that thing. What’s that thing for, anyway? Why do people walk around it in a circle? Who goes there, anyway? Can we?

Now she is holding my hand and we are circling the pagoda and she is reciting the Lotus Sutra in a low murmur as I answer.

Folks like me, I say, Folks like us. Folks who can no longer stand being folded into themselves in this world, and who unwind by walking around the pagoda, which is meant for peace. You can always solve things by walking, I say. I look at my can of red gasoline and know that I will, in the end, just fill up my tank. Where is my car?

owl, glass, deer

He calls it an owl glass: he’s allowed: he’s six. I flip the owl glass upside down and the sand begins to peel down in its thin stream, which makes me anxious because I have the tendency to think that there’s not enough time and watching it pass before me so concretely reinforces that feeling: I want to turn the owl glass on its side, and sometimes I do, and feel better, more relaxed. We’re playing Boggle, a game kind of like Scrabble; sixteen cubic dice with letters on them in a box: when the sand timer runs, you see what words you can create. I figure it’s a good way to learn words, and to help him learn to print, which he’s taken to by himself, without prompting, amazingly. Sometimes he reads words from the car – road signs: “Deer Park Spring Water,” matching the images on the sign with what he imagines they mean.

Tonight, somehow, around three sides of the square, he has traced “pregnant,” while it remains invisible to me. I see “lock” and “force,” words which don’t carry as many points as his eight-letter winner. His little brows are fiercely knit as he studies the word tray; his both hands are busy, squishing cubes of cheddar cheese into the Triscuit crumbs in his bowl to mop them up, the remains of crackers he’s devoured in this cocktail hour time after nap, before dinner, waiting for his father to arrive home. I would be happy to wait much longer for his father to arrive home, but not him. We play Boggle and time slows down. It becomes a compartment. I drink a glass of white wine and time slows down; I nurse it along: between sips, I place the glass (a Bonne Maman strawberry jam jar from which I steamed away the label) out of reach of my child – more out of reach of his flailing legs: he’s on his stomach on the floor, propped on elbows, studying the words, his knees bent and feet swishing back and forth, his calves and clay-tinged white-socked feet like windshield-wipers.

He loves to plant his feet in red clay; the footprints take at least a day to dry and he demands that I bake them to make the time go faster, but it barely helps.  “When are we going to grandpa’s house?” he says. How do these questions arrive to him? “I want to take a dip in his pool when we go there,” he says. “It’s too cold, now,” I say. “What about the circus? Will you and daddy take me to the circus this year?” I am fingering my grandmother’s fleur de lis brooch, pinned to my gray sweatshirt, a study in contrasts. The circus is the farthest thing from my mind. Rather I think of a concert, a sad violin concerto. It’s dark outside. My husband’s train will be arriving soon. He’ll get in the Volvo and drive home. When the headlights flash up the driveway and into the windows I’ll feel like a deer, caught; but my eyes will be down, reading the words my son and I have written tonight.

avenues, puppet, sky, room, nature, dog, exist, nostalgic, exist, folded, fur, wings, wolf, hunting, bomb, language, habit, nose, choice, feathers, lean, cups

Once again she was in a state of mind that she hated. She knew it made no sense to be nostalgic for things that had never happened – she knew it made no sense to rebel against her very own nature: to try to pretend that her rage, her attraction to a certain man, her feelings were somehow wrong and shouldn’t be. Her meditation teacher called this habit of hers “shooting yourself with the second arrow,” or something like that. Irritating. The long October sky gave plenty of room for her walk down Fifth Avenue but inside she was restless. “I know,” she said to the dog, which was procrastinating on their walk, lollygagging, sniffing and pissing at everything. “I know I shouldn’t feel broken hearted or angry. But I do!” She tugged at his leash and nearly tripped over a discarded pretzel. “Disgusting.” And recoiled, flipping her long black hair over her shoulder.

At least there was Fifth Avenue, with its soldiers of doormen, taut green canopies, streams of buses, ladies with poodles, and the gray flecked octagonal tiles which she loved to count that paved the walk on the park side of the avenue. She knew she was attracted to men whose habits infuriated her, and it infuriated her in turn to recognize this. She began to pick up her pace, urging the dog forward as if they were on a hunt, her heels snapping on the pavement. A group of pigeons waddled around a lost hot-dog and its bun crumbs and the dog lunged forward – a bomb of feathers exploded around her – wings flapped like dominoes cracking – a spray of pigeon droppings on her Chanel – expensive knockoff - jacket. “Shit!” she said. “I’m like a goddamned puppet with that man.” Of the five hindrances, she reflected, her meditation teacher would say this was craving. Wanting. Desire. Why doesn’t he call?

“I have a choice, I have a choice, I have a choice,” she hissed to the dog. “That’s my mantra, dammit. Right?” He glanced up over his left shoulder to acknowledge her, smiled, then resumed his forward trot; his nose to the ground, he pulled her toward a certain entrance to the park near 63rd street that he particularly liked.  She let him lead. “That’s what I do best,” she sighed.

Thinking of that man again. Who didn’t answer his phone. Who responded to her text messages a day or two later, and then not by text but via Facebook, or email, or voice message left at a time of day which she was certain he chose because he knew she couldn’t pick up. She both loved and hated the way he was getting to know her, assimilating her, the fluid watery way in which he had taken to her; but she hated the way he communicated with her. Still, she felt reluctant to judge or label him (“That’s ANGER,” her teacher would say. Am I really the self-centered one, she thought, me, needing his attention so much?) “I’m intrigued by you,” he had said, after she had told him how much she liked the red soles of Christian Louboutin shoes. But God, really – why not use faster language, like “I want your legs wrapped around my neck”?

She was so folded into herself that she hadn’t noticed where the dog was leading them. They stopped. There was the polar bear, swimming back and forth in his cold tank. Climbing out and shaking. Then walking in a circle. Standing on a rock. Looking at the darkening sky. Picking at his fur. Grunting. A fishy smell. Her dog looked up to her as if to hint “See? See?” She smiled back at him and then for an hour they both watched the bear. In his cups.