Edges 

It’s the edges that unsettle me, here in the dark of an unknown room. They hide horror. (Slip your hand down the edge. Slip your hand into its morass, the tar pit, the murky water.) The edges of a hole I will never understand only the dread, the cold sweat of a cratered body. Bottomless circles have a way of swallowing up order that way. 

But, it goes deeper. I’ve always run from edges. The time edge of a night, a precipice of mind death but worse since awakening was assured and those recurring holes filled my waking life with a texture that was dripping and crawling. Human life encased in a shell of naturally  clustered holes risked everything. It made the matter  in between the holes erratic, thin. It made waking look grotesquely accidental (though I’m sure it is not when I bob and float in my brain liquid). 

For a long time and being a practical person I tried to lengthen the time between sleep. This was for sure the method by which I would patch up my cratered existence; not just its surface but deeper. Filling in the dangerously empty tunnels of sleep that surely led to a blistering infection at the bottom with need of cauterizing. 

But after 30 years my body gave out and I could no longer engineer the bridges that cleaned and disinfected the relentless worming. In the holes there are not rats or snakes or stench as I encapsulate in the front of my head where my unease bellows and blows. It must be more that there is nothing or a change. 

And, if the matter would all stay fixed and malleable that’s all I can fit but a nothing starts with an edge and that’s what I cannot accept. The edge is a dreadful angle.

 And in it maybe there is rest. 

Fill in the blanks darkly 

Deep velvety curtains descend crossing 18th heading west. Enter betrayal. Enter the dark blood scent, bittersweet or cloying depending on whether she’s in her body or his. The men standing outside … Even now he’s gone some long months, the block still throbs. Their shared absence of ease in that space in their chest is still here on this block. [It’s in her head.] The innocent desire for a girl is entombed here. 

But, it’s she who’s a ghost. [The heavy curtain, the tomb can’t keep her out; it never could.] There are things that go bump in the night that live on this block and much more largely than she. She who tore through the earth. She who rips stars in the sky. Here she’s no substance at all; all but disappeared. She’s light as a feather, at the whim of the wind, emanating no light. She drives through and soon early evening’s spring rays  [she’s irrationally sure they come from the river and not from the sky] beckon and chase her back into form, into substance, into matter. She’ll hold onto that. 

Bricks and mortar 

The bricks in the pathway crumble at the corners. I still like them. Is it mortar supposed to be in between? 

I don’t know. 

There’s impossibly green shoots sprouting up amongst them instead. 

I can never blow all the leaves out of the half sunken basement doorwell. The other day, I blew the remnants around myself like an experiment in a science museum: “You can’t get out of orbit like this.” It felt real, like the wind in a movie. 

The dog wants to settle in my lap while I try to meditate. In reflex, I reject him. He retreats and a forced pause turns me into a like of his handsome little head. 

I don’t want to look to the eastward fence. I think it will hurt too much. It does but I don’t register it. My left eye twitches instead. We sat on our pink blankets out there once. When we had just moved in. You commented on the trees. I winced. The day was sunny and spring. I liked it all so intensely: you, our boy in a winter hat, the wild overgrown multitude of trees. 

We pulled weeds in the bed right behind me just yesterday, it seems. It was hot and sweaty work. We were side by side. I wanted to be an organic farmer that day. I didn’t tell you but if I had you would have looked at me and kindly agreed to my ever evolving plans to escape myself. Now, you throw your head back and laugh good naturedly. You tousle my hair. And, I can’t object like I used to. 

I don’t understand where you are now or what this all is supposed to look like. Is there something to do about the crumbling bricks? Is love bigger than the human relations into which we’re born or choose here in the land of bricks and weeds and trees and heat and dogs and pink blankets? 

You and I, we learned there are no missteps, no teetering blocks, no wrong and right ways. I am not overtaken by the wild mess of the big beautiful sprawling enclosure that is being alive. We did it. We really did. 

Expand 

Delia pulled the blinds’ cord in the small dark room. “Don’t do that!” Ms. June screeched. The plastic bracelets sounding on her arm tickled and delighted Delia tock tock tock tock tock. “I don’t want the blinds open. Close them!” Delia yanked gently on the cord again, her arm gliding, the blinds accordioning tock tock tock tock tock. 

“Stop! Stop!” Ms. June fever pitched the act so that a sliver only of the late afternoon sun shone on the wall and over Ms. June’s lap, over her spotted clutched hands. Delia sat down next to Ms. June’s twin bed smoothing her bright pink scrubs. “What’re we goin’ ta play tonight, Ms. June?” 

Ms. June shook her head speechlessly, brow furrowed, wringing her hands. Ms. June had long white hair hanging down her back. Delia lifted her arm tock tock tock tock tock and placed it gently on Ms. June’s childlike brittle back and silvery locks.

Big tears sprouted from the rheumy eyes, then began their long descent down Ms. June’s cheeks, finally splashing on her hands where her fingers interlaced into that deep canyon so that the sun glistened her tears. 


In response to writing 101’s assignment to expand on a comment. I didn’t comment but wanted to on a delightful post by Catherine on rhythm and sounds . Also this post is in response to a reader’s request for a story on a home health care worker. 


A story about Skipper, Greed and Love 

When we first moved to the United States in 1984, we packed pretty light. The advertisement must have read: “Leaving the country! Everything must go!” Mothers in nice clothes traipsed into my bedroom to pick through my toys. I stayed away at mother’s suggestion. I stuck by the windows in the living room, pressing myself as far as I possibly could from my bedroom, though I could still see its door. 

My cowgirl Skipper doll was the sole survivor of the everything-must-go-sale. And, I didn’t even really like her. She wasn’t Barbie. She was Barbie’s crappy kid cousin. But, take her I did to Oklahoma City, where the nights were impossibly dark. I had been a big city kid up to then. My whole previous life felt like practice for these cavernous eves riding in the backseat of my aunt’s big American car. The big black Oklahoma nights were rich and pure.  I rode along in a pillowy silent boat gliding on streets that were empty, even and clean. The big American houses with interminable front lawns shone with inviting porch lights. That soft yellow light coming from the windows was heartbreakingly lovely. I held my Skipper doll lightly. 

Over the next six years, I did manage to amass approximately 42 actual Barbies through single minded 1980’s American style determination. The Skipper doll remained a thorn in my side, however. I often considered giving her away but greed in knocking my count back kept me from it. Not a bad track record, from my adult perspective, though every single Barbie felt hard fought. I would sit in front of them recollecting the circumstances under which each one of them came into my grubby little hands. I still remember my first: Peaches and Creme, Miami Beach, my 6th birthday. I was a big girl and ready for my first Barbie, but I didn’t see it like that then. She was so beautiful but as I was expecting at least five Barbies, it hurt. I was that type of kid. Gifts felt earned. 

Home is defined as a place where one lives permanently. Every morning and every night my son, as a toddler, would gaze on four 60 foot tall trees from his bedroom window. Upon awakening and before retiring to sleep, he would watch the trees. He’s like that. I would watch him watching them. I’m like that. He self-designated them his guardian angels when I pressed him about them.

I no longer believe in death. Whatever binds us to each other is permanent.


{This post is a response to the writing 101 assignment to mine my own material. This is a re-draft of a post from earlier this year. Also, this post responds to a reader’s request for a story about a Barbie. 

The featured image is a photo I took this evening of a rabbit in my backyard. The nights aren’t quite so black here. They’re in between.}

Featuring 3 Gals’ Take on Rats

The other day, I wrote about rats at the behest of a reader and member of a small writing club of which I am a part. Below is her response to the rat post:

. . . I contest: “Commensalism is a relationship between two species where one of the species benefits and the other species is not affected. Rats often live with or near humans. They are not parasites. They are commensals.”

I AM VERY AFFECTED BY THE RATS.

Another member of the writing club commented:

I, too, have seen a rat in a toilet, and have not been the same since. Thought, it was small, so maybe a mouse?

The bit about the lab rats reminded me about an interesting fact I picked up from my time working with lab animals. Sacrificing non-human primates which is the actual scientific term for when your experiment is done and you need to harvest whatever organ you are studying, is a gruesome physically challenging act relative to the size of the animal. But rats are “sac”-ed in little rat guillotines!

Meanwhile, the third member of the writing club stuck up for rats:

I have some affection for the scrappy subway rats, especially the one running off with a whole slice of pizza! I also love the movie Ratatouille. So, I couldn’t help myself and I Googled rat guillotine. HIGHLY DISTURBING. I don’t recommend.

Later on in the email chain, the third member reiterated her recommendation:

. . . [s]eriously, don’t Google rat guillotine.

I think she really meant to say:

Please, please Google rat guillotine.

Sacrificing non-human primates, sac-ing lab rats with little rat guillotines, just the stuff of writing. While I did not Google rat guillotine, I did go down the rabbit hole yesterday with ecological associations and their fuzzy borders. I tried too hard to understand the distinction between commensalism and parasitism. It took me to the unintended harvest of the fact that viruses are the most abundant biological entity on earth, with which I could do so much. I also now know more about human head and body lice than is probably good for me to know, given my history. Head lice feed on discarded scalp skin while body lice actually puncture the skin and suck the blood. Some say that head lice are commensals while body lice are ectoparasites, but there is not agreement.

The rabbit hole did lead me, this time, to the very specific answer sought. Apparently, scientists agree that humans are affected by rats though the borders of that are still not entirely clear.

Since the word commensal implies no damage to the host these rodents [brown rats, house mice, roof rats] might more precisely be termed kleptoparasitic.

– Researchers D. McDonald and M. Fenn

Kleptoparasites steal the food of their host. Let us not forget, that rats are also vectors for and direct zoonotic carriers. 

Another researcher suggested rats as synanthropes. A synanthrope is a member of a species of “wild animals or plants that live near and benefit from an association with humans and the . . . habitats humans create around them (houses, gardens, farms, roadsides, garbage dumps).” A synanthropic species “includes a large number of what humans regard as pest species.” A pest is a “plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concern,” with rats causing the detriment of “infestation.” Infestation means to be overrun by pests or parasites. A very quick look at the Orkin site puts it more in perspective. Rats steal our food. In the process of stealing our food, they can contaminate it with their rat stuff and carry disease into human habitats. And, they multiply quickly. 

Enough said. I remain enamored of the word commensal, but rats are synanthropes. They are kleptoparasites. They are pests. They are vectors and direct zoonotic carriers.

The featured image is totally unrelated. It’s meant to take your mind off the rats. This was seen in Georgetown this evening. There were more. It was a gang like the Penguin’s in Batman Returns. 

Post Metric

My three top posts in views are Le Gourmet (A Greedy Child) (3), An American in America (2) and Don’t Feed the Fears (1). An American was an interview and as such it was circulated to a wider circle than usual by the interviewee and his family. However, that post continues to get a few views each month, I think because it comes up on the WordPress “related post” function quite often (for some reason).  The Fears post was shared on Facebook by a friend when it was first published and that generated a lot of traffic, but did not get any more views after the month following publication. 

Greedy Child’s traffic has been a mystery. It got the regular amount of views when it was first published. However, it continues to get views, sometimes not in insignificant numbers, each month. Writing 101’s recent assignment in statistics spurred me to look into it. The views come from Internet searchs. Most of the time, the search terms are unavailable. However, when I do a Google search for the Picasso painting after which the post is titled and which acts as its illustration, the post on 1874 comes up fourth. Mystery solved. 

However, did this mystery need to be solved? It reminds me of the Gad About Town’s post on metrics and my response from what seems a long time ago. 

Mark Aldrich asks in I, Toward a Metrics of Me:

Am I my numbers? Am I my metrics of me? Everything in the world can be counted, and that number can be known and disclosed, but more often than not this one fact does not make it information.

Now, I’m better at editing and it’s been a year since my last written reflection on metrics. Here is my response to Mark Aldrich today. 

The saddest thing is to have trouble imagining a vast and infinite world, to have an inconsolable ache to be measured then compared. Looking at my metrics was my mortal morality, my answer when the going got tough. When the going got tough, the tough got going and I reached for my metrics. My metrics would get me through. It would sort me out.  I would know where I stood. 

Then, an essay into the realm of the spirit, an immortal morality, a life without metrics. All the rationalizations and indignation crowded in, raising their hands officiously with questions and concerns.  But, the metrics link just didn’t work anymore. The link was broken, never to work again.

There are people out here, not just numbers. I don’t need to be right now because my strong man metrics is gone, and I’m just me. I can hear others better now because my confidant metrics is no longer whispering in my ear. I can give people the benefit of the doubt now because the asshole-police metrics hung up its badge. The way I interact with life is infinitely more . . . direct. I’ve removed the middle man metrics. 

Now I can believe that there is a vast an infinite world out there because I’ve seen it. It is post metric. 

A post about rats to expand your vocabulary

I took a cue from one of my readers who wanted a story about a rat. Perhaps later a story, for now, this: a random collection of things I find interesting about rats.

Commensalism is a relationship between two species where one of the species benefits and the other species is not affected. Rats often live with or near humans. They are not parasites. They are commensals.

Endemism is “the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere.” Many species of rats are island endemics.

Zoonosis is the transmission of infectious disease from (usually vertebrate) animals to humans. In direct zoonosis the transmission is direct through air, bites or saliva. Zoonosis can also occur through a vector or an intermediate species that remains unaffected. Modern studies suggest that the Black Death, the pandemic that killed between 30-60% of Europe’s population in the 1300’s, was introduced into Europe by fleas that fed on the black rat passengers of merchant ships sailing from Asia into Europe. Rats live only about one year. In the late 19th century, specially bred pet rats came into vogue in Europe.

Metacognition is “the awareness or understanding of one’s own thought processes.” After rats became laboratory rats, scientists started to wonder whether rats have metacognition. The jury’s out on that one. At the very least, we could say that rats seem to have a psychology similar to humans. Snakes eat rats.

Rats have ben trained to detect land mines and tuberculosis through smell. Rats feature prominently in the “bamboo death” in northeastern India through the stuff that make up nightmares, the so-called rat flood. Rats have the ability to swim up sewer pipes and into toilets. I have a couple of phobias: claustrophobia and musophobia (fear of rats or mice). The musophobia I can trace back to one of my earliest memories. My mother was screaming after a rat climbed up a sewer pipe and into our toilet in Bogota, Colombia in 1981. I was two. For years afterward, I would double and even triple check the toilet before using it. I’m not sure where the claustrophobia came from. Perhaps, the metacognition.

The pied piper of Hamelin led rats away from an infested town and then the children, in punishment of the fickle nature of humans.

Ten Minutes 

Her little face was shiny with the soon to be confiscated lip balm. She didn’t remove her eyes from the yellow orb and lifted it slowly and deliberately to her mouth. “No, Tedda,” I say. She lowers her lids and then looks up at me, seriously and calmly. She holds her prize delicately between her fingers like a nugget of gold. She touches the balm to her cheek instead for a brief moment, asking with her eyes whether this is the appropriate way to use this magically wonderful prohibited goodness. She wants to know. Better on the face than ingested. I nod my head for approval. She stands very carefully smearing her already luminous cheeks with more lip balm. “Good job, Tedda. Good job,” I say.

We never get a chance to sit, so we do. We’re tired and it feels luxurious to sit facing each other in our own family room. The couch feels like a blanket to sink into like a hug. Like a spa. “She’s eating it,” I say. “Tedda, stop,” he says. She holds the yellow ball in front of her mouth, and looks at us. I can’t see what she’s doing now. “Is she eating it?” I ask. “Tedda, give it to daddy,” he says with an extra nice voice. He stands over her in a friendly a manner as possible positioning himself to take it from her. Gus swoops in from behind and takes the offending piece of CVS loot. I feel secretly vindicated. “Got it!” he cheers and skips over to me with it, dropping it in my hands. I quickly slide it under my leg as Tedda takes a huge gulp of breath in order to maximize the impact of her indignant wail.

I admire the birds on the wall before me. They hang over Karl’s head. The paint color should match the background color in one of the smaller insets. But, I won’t say anything about that. “When will your thing be over then?” I ask. Tedda is over by Karl trying to grab Gus’ cup from him, still sore about the lip balm, intent to not give him a moment’s rest for his nimble betrayal. They’re both protesting loudly pulling on the cup. Gus wins and walks away to more peaceful environs. Tedda plops herself down on the floor to really cry it out. I throw Karl the lip balm. “Just give it to her.”

Karl holds the precious object out to her. A peace offering. She stops crying immediately upon the proffer and stands herself up. She walks a bit unsteadily over to him smiling through the big fat tears still rolling down her face. Tears like that can’t be controlled. She places her small hand daintily on his knee and with the other delicately takes the tiny valuable from him, not taking her eyes from his, smiling as hard as she can. The victory is both of ours, she suggests with her smile. She holds no grudges, she says with her eyes. She turns around to me with kisses fluttering off her lashes. The lip balm makes her so happy. Who are we to stand in her way?

Vignettes

It half happened, if that’s possible, in a muscle car. None of it seems remotely appealing to me now. Then I got serious and it fully happened in a Motel 6. I had to be home by 11 which might as well have been 5 pm. We could have used that room to party all night. 

It half happened, if that’s possible, in my bed one morning. I woke up to a carefully crafted text which sunk into my bones. Then I got serious and put an end to the ambiguity and the vagaries of post modern correspondence. Night boredom is a bitch. I started watching Netflix.

It half happened, if that’s possible, 10 years in. Maybe I married the right guy after all. It still seems an improbable stroke of good luck. Then I got serious and realized that this shit’s hard. I can’t be fixed all in one day. 

The nights are still too large sometimes. I expect more of the stars than is rightfully mine. But, at least now I know what being tired feels like.