Finger Bitten by a Lizard

On one of my dying days of gardening, a common garter snake
crawled down my red mulberry bush. I was puzzled
by his beauty, his translucent amber head, underside celeste.
He sniffed the air with his tongue, headed towards me
as if eager to perish by my hands. I remembered a tango,

dancing with the other forked tongues and viper heads,
wearing towels over our shoulders like togas in the spas,
Palazzos San Francisco, circa ‘79, exquisite poses plastique
when the music would stop, when one of us would turn around,
the half-sliced fig caught lux in tenebris, darker shadows sfumato.
We vibrated to a deep bass rising up through the soles of our feet.

How so very polite, leave out the basket of fruit and the wine
for all the guests to imbibe. Tri-colored peaches with a tight
swinging cluster of grapes, seeds spill from a pomegranate split.
Apples blush, the sad one has a scar. But step closer and squinch.
Fungal spots spread over all the leaves. Insect eggs grow and, look,
one already burst, see the tiny spiders scatter all over the crown gall.

I lived with him you know, seven shortened years, my Caravaggio,
bouffant hair, plump lips, curly dark hair, slim hips, salvation
standing contrapposto against the broken columns as if announcing
“here I am, ecce homo!” His cobra sway was blinding, spellbinding
and his spit indeed venomous. I was drawn to him, spirit to light
languorous, Apollo Sauroctonos, shedding inhibitions like molting
of the skin. Spare, treacherous child, this thing creeping towards you.
Heed the Martial epigram. Watch where your fingers sink. Smirk
and snide and take a smiling bite out of the digitus impudicus.

Porcelain serpent paused, flickering, on the edge of sharpened hoe,
passed delicately over one podagric toe, past my patchwork plum
and violet ankles, then out of my garden. I do not understand this.
I once fell in love with a man who cried delirious when he died,
“I now go where the wizards go.” I did not understand this. St. John
in his Gospel wrote, “He was not that light, but was sent to bear
witness of that light,” and I understand this not.

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Umbra Mortis

Afflicted with this listless death,
I perform my arduous labors
like any other toilsome work,
drive defensively and
eat my $15 dollar dinners alone.
Wearisome days with a pinch of port,
forget to vacuum until the ceiling fan
begins to wobble loudly laden with dirt.

I’ll prick my finger tomorrow.
Abort another bruise, save
the contamination of a clean syringe.
Sleep fatigued after my 5 o’clock shit and
hope no telemarketers call my cell phone.

Yes, I am a patient of Dr. Nicholas Tulip.
Yes, my last doctor’s visit was January 16th.
No, I do not care to take a survey at this time.

Awake now and turn on the six thirty news.
A thousand injections needle into my right heel.
A thousand more cramp into my left arch.
Scratch my ankles, can’t feel my fingernails.
I watch Muslims kill other Muslims overseas.
A Mosalmán is killing others over in France and,
here at home, while I stare at my television walls,
my feet stage their own revolt, coup d‘état.

Eight physicians paid to be included in the painting.
They selected the hanged criminal to be dissected.
Two doctors focus their gaze directly on Rembrandt.
One poses and smiles as if he knows this will survive,
or maybe he displays ego, viewer can‘t tell. The other
doctor holds all of their names written on parchment
in his hand, the keeper of prestige, illustrious posterity.
The praelector himself holds his left in benediction
blessing his anatomy lesson, the manipulated tendons.

This winter was choking cold on the Bosphorus.
I hear ten million Muslims have crossed the Dardanelles
into the Aegean Sea. My own Theatrum Anatomicum
consists of my windshield or admiring these women
over my Dolce & Gabbanas. I can feel my sinister hand
contracting into a claw, feel my paroxysmal heartbeat,
my colic settling over my sight. I am afflicted with
an unstoppable creeping death and my skin blanches.

Ghastly Jisei,
I will wear my Totenkopfring
until my blood drains away.

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#JeSuisCharlie #JeSuisAhmed

Regardless where you fall in the political spectrum a troubling trend is beginning to appear in the media where the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo are being focused on as a possible reason behind the terrorist attacks. Most of the pundits who are doing this begin their apologia something like this, “I abhor violence and think no justification exists for terror BUT when you look at the satire of Charlie Hebdo….”

Let us get one thing clear. Islam is a lie. Islam is a lie just as any other religion is a lie. Mohammed did not talk Allah. Allah does not exist. Allah is not the one and only god. Mohammed is not Allah’s only prophet. The prophet did not die and ascend to heaven on a winged chariot or a horse. The prophet did not split a rock with a touch. He did not split the moon.

People who believe these lies are delusional in their thinking and this delusion should be treated with savage mockery and disrespect. No site in Mecca is any holier than my own toilet. No submission to God exists. Sharia law is a sham. Sharia law does not supersede any other law instituted anywhere.

This extends to any religion which ignores reason, science, and secular human values for their own set of myths and superstitions. Jesus, if he even existed, is not the “son of god.” Moses did not talk to a burning bush. Abraham did not hear the voice of god commanding him to kill his only son, Isaac.

Sam Harris: “If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.”

Religion deserves no somber respect. No set of lies and made up stories has ever achieved any kind of deferential reverence and veneration such as delusional religious beliefs. If I were to say to you, for instance, “well, The Kwisatz Haderach is capable of accessing all ancestral memories and possesses organic mental powers that can bridge space and time” or “The Lisan al-Gaib is prophesied to one day come from outer space to transform this world into a more peaceful world” then you would be, in all likelihood, what are you talking about? If I were to give you the book of Dune, written by Frank Herbert, and tell you solemnly that this is my holy book and that Herbert‘s words were directly revealed to him by the one and only Reverend Mother, then I have no right to be offended if you laugh at me and turn around and throw the book in the trash.

Hell does not exist. No afterlife exists. Jihad is violence in the name of power, not in the name of any god. No virgins await in paradise. Heaven is a made up place. I have no duty to seriously consider and defer to any claims of heaven or morals or the afterlife of any religion or of any of the three Abrahamic religions specifically.

In fact, I retain EVERY right to mock faith and point out inconsistencies and contradictions and resist fantasy at every opportunity. I have the right to drown out the voices of the street preachers with savage ridicule and contempt and with a mega horn if I so choose. If you are of an attitude of “Charlie Hebdo mocked and satirized my religion so maybe they brought this on themselves” then forget you, no, YOU brought mockery and satirization upon yourself when you persisted in believing in bronze age superstitions and myths handed down by illiterate goat herders.

How weak is your faith that you must persecute and kill those who make fun of your religion? Is your God that much of a paper tiger? People make fun of me all the time, for my appearance, for my voice, for any number of reason and I don’t declare a Jihad on them. How weak is your prophet that he needs YOU to defend or avenge him? Forget Mohammed if he can’t take a joke. Forget Jesus nailed up on the cross. Forget Moses and his harelip. “Hey Peter!” “What Master?” “I can see your house from here!” Forget you Peter, I hope you pissed on your own face when the Romans hung you upside down and put a fire under your head.

Cabu, the brilliant cartoonist and painter, was killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The man was also an animator and a spot on political satirist on par with Gary Trudeau. Cabu had an only son, Mano Solo, who died almost 4 years ago to the date because of HIV complications. Mano was a haunting and beautiful singer/songwriter. I can imagine Cabu mourning the loss of his son and oblivious to the fact that religious forces would soon conspire against the ending of his own life.

Here is an unforgettable song by Mano Solo, I post this song in remembrance and in support of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper massacre:

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Point Blank Supernova

The Sun expanded into a huge giant red star
and pulverized the Earth whole into dust.
Jupiter drifted away and pulled
most of the known asteroids out of orbit.
We are all floundering out of orbit.

Rachel raced north next to the ICW
towards her favorite spot on Pompano Beach,
the place with the green peeling picnic table
and the marram grass scattered
all the way down to the brackish water.
She first made love lost amongst the sand dunes.
She lost her one true love somewhere in the dunes.

Charlie thought the invitation of a last meal
very fitting. Jesus Christ and the disciples
breaking bread above his father’s chair
at the far end of the table, Brussels sprouts
with bacon, Charlie got drunk
and offered a drunk toast to his old man,
may his old ghost burn eternally in hell,
and if not, if hell is but another one
of his elaborate lies, don’t know why
mother committed suicide, yeah right,
can’t pay another cent for college
because of the market crash, well then,
may his spirit alight ablaze
with the swelling of the Earth.

Rachel felt her hands floating
above the steering wheel
and she had to stop the car.
She made one last teary eyed call.
Her last day became gradually bright,
gradually light and then she stepped out.
One salmon colored espadrille was found
under the skid marks of the shuddering big rig.
The other still had the pineapple stitching intact.

On his way out through the garage,
Charlie thought fuck this and slit
three bags of fertilizer and threw
them in the pool. As the manure
settled and sank, he kicked over
a can of diesel, a can of unleaded
all around the Lexus, lit up a spliff
and walked back into the house
to finish off his Brussels sprouts
(with bacon) and to spread
marmalade on Wonder Bread.

On the day of the Apocalypse,
I was distracted at the drive-through,
paid for my meal, drove away,
then noticed my receipt.
Back inside the Mickey-D’s,
I asked why I was charged $6.88
for breakfast #4, which only costs $5.62.
“All the prices changed this morning.”
“Alright, but still, not how this works,
a customer only pays what is on the sign.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I understand.”
And as I walked out counting my
dollar twenty six
some dark shadow pointed
right at me
a shiny metallic stick.

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Elliot’s Hatred

Elliot boiled with hatred.
He took walks all around Canoga Park
feeling angry and hateful towards the world.
“I continued going on my usual long walks every day,
feeling angry and hateful towards the world.”

His parents separated and divorced.
He lived with his dad one week,
lived with his mother the other week.
His mother lived near the mall
and an internet café. At the mall,
Elliot would sit above couples holding hands.
He would seethe with jealousy,
all those couples holding hands.
At the internet café, he would play
internet games. His friends could never
beat him in the World of Warcraft.

“During mother’s week,
I would walk to the mall and sit
on the balcony overlooking the food court
next to the AMC theatres.”

“A beautiful environment is hell
if you have to experience it all alone.”

So many beautiful girls,
none of them gave him a chance.
Elliot did not understand
why girls were repulsed by him.
He did everything he could
to appear attractive to them.
He dressed nice.
He was sophisticated, magnificent.
Elliot had a nice car, a BMW.
He was polite, the ultimate gentleman.
Girls never gave him a chance
and he never knew why.

Elliot put forth effort into dressing nice.
He wore $300 dollar sunglasses!
Giorgio Armani!
Look at how fabulous he looked!

But beautiful blonde girls walked around
and paid no attention to Elliot,
beautiful girls in revealing shorts,
pretty faces making him feel unworthy.

This is such an injustice!
Elliot was magnificent and deserved
girls. He wasn’t like all those obnoxious
slobs kissing the girls. Elliot is gorgeous!

At Trader Joe’s,
Elliot was shopping alone
and miserable, always miserable,
when he was insulted
by the sight of two girls,
count them,
two girls kissing
and hanging on to a disgusting
looking loser.
Elliot had to suffer
the indignity of watching
other guys enjoy their lives
with beautiful girlfriends
at their sides.

Elliot could only imagine how amazing
their sex lives must have been
since he’d never had sex
or anything like that.

“[At the AMC theatres] I would see
all the young couples
lining up to see a movie,”

Elliot had a plan,
a plan to find out why
girls hated him so.

Shadow. Elliot became embroiled
in shadow boiled
in hatred.

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Groom of the King’s Close Stool

My throat, grimy as the 101,
every day I swallow every car
on this grimy expressway
heading home,
step over the grime and dirt
of my carpet floor.
My heart broke a long time ago,
my vacuum only about a year ago.

My hanging television finally fell
and cracked on some past industrious award.
I had to untangle all the knotted cords
and plug them into a new power supply.
Fantômas’ bluish mask now looks red.
My hepatic foetor smells
just like the breath of the dead.
Oh somnolence, stalking me,
peripatetic somnolence,
any panegyric is analepse.

Desu Desu Desu Desu
Desu Desu Desu Damn
Desu Desu Desu Expectoration
Desu Desu Gardyloo
Desu Poo
I’m the groom of my own night stool.

I sit outside the Pita Grille to eat
and watch all the merchandise being returned
to the department store across the street.
I have my gyros, I have my chips,
I have my Diet Coke cloaked in Styrofoam.

A wheelchair bum rolls up next to me,
up to my table as if he knows me,
“Are you gonna eat that hummus?
Because I can eat the rest of that hummus.”
His grimy fingers blackened by wheelchair wheels,
his rotted teeth widen ready to make a deal.
I hunker down like a felon in prison protecting his meal.
“I can see you’re not gonna finish that hummus
and I can eat the rest of that hummus.”

“Get the FUCK away from me.
I’ll pick you up and throw you into traffic.
I’ll throw that fucking chair on top of you
while you’re dying and bleeding in the street.
Get the FUCK away from me.”

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Timecoded Tragedy

This first world tragedy happened between the hours of 6pm and 7:15pm and unfolded something like this:

18:00- left the abode. I am headed to Crossroads in Studio City because I need a new-for-me used and cheap rain jacket since neither one of my hoodies are of any use in the rain and I can’t find my old one.

18:10- arrive at Crossroads. Strangely, I am the only one there at first. Not so strange is the fact that they do not have anything my size. I blame hip-hop culture. A culture which promotes kids get clothes sizes 5x bigger than they need. So any clothes my size are always sold out unless I go somewhere specifically like a Big and Tall or a Casual Male XL.

18:20- SCORE! I found a Big Dog reversible one-piece cloth hoodie, blue and grey, which fits me loose. Nice. Not really a rain jacket but lots thicker than the hoodies I’ve been dealing with.

18:25- after a brief wait where somebody brought in five bags of clothes, I paid for my purchase and left the store. When I went outside I took a minute to wriggle into my new used hoodie, grey side out.

18:30- drove to the post office on Laurel Canyon and Ventura and dropped off a letter in their outside mailbox.

18:32- Zipped into the strip mall next door, parked, and entered Pick Up Stix.

18:35- Ordered a General Tso’s chicken plate with white rice and spring rolls and a large lemonade.

18:36- The server gave me a large empty cup and I went and filled it up with lemonade from the soda machine then I sat down at a table to wait for my dinner. Took advantage of the wait to check my e-mail and Facebook. I liked a post somebody made and then I sent a friend a pictogram of a fox in a tuxedo holding a glass of wine.

18:45- my food was placed in front of me at the table. I get all ready to eat by mixing in the chicken and the rice. I need soy sauce. They do not have soy sauce in bottles, instead they have little soy sauce packets next to the soda machine. I got up and grabbed three.

18:47- ummm, this soy sauce packet is hard to open with my fingers. I try harder. Suddenly, I rip the packet in a feat of strength but soy sauce squirts everywhere. By everywhere I mean that soy sauce squirted all over the front of my new used reversible Big Dog gray and blue hoodie I had just bought 23 minutes ago.

18:47:30- I realize I just squirted soy sauce all over the front of my new warm and cozy hoodie, grey side out.

18:47:45- I stare at the soy sauce which stains the entire front of my new used grey hoodie which I had just purchased less than a half hour ago to wear in the rain.

18:48- quiet fury.

18:48:15- I consider walking up to the workers behind the counter at Pick Up Stix and cussing them out for not providing regular and lite sodium soy sauce in regular normal bottles at each table for the customers. I now realize that soy sauce packets are for cheap restaurants which lack class.

18:48:20- I reconsider my rash thoughts because I actually think the food at Pick Up Stix is pretty good.

18:48:25- I consider my rash thoughts again and consider cussing out the workers and flipping them off or something. The cheap hard-to-open soy sauce packets are for cheap-ass restaurants and lazy workers who don’t want to refill glass bottles with regular and lite sodium soy sauce. Screw them and screw that noise.

18:48:30- I take deep calming breaths and don’t do anything stupid.

18:51- after a few minutes where I feel calm enough, I go to the bathroom and clean the front of my hoodie as best I can with water and paper towels.

19:15- I go home. But I was pissed off the whole time I ate my dinner and I thought the food was tasteless and unappetizing.

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Officer Ferguson

Full of magic tricks, fond of parlor jokes,
collects fruit flies, “For the coroner,” he jests.
Kind-a guy shows up at a party in uniform
a-hard knocking down the door,
“We’ve had a noise complaint at this address.”
“Just kidding, no, but seriously…”
“Don’t drink and drive you bunch-a drunks.”

Such-a nice guy, he once donated a bag of mice
to the local college herpetarium and took the time
to wrap bullets with rubber bands around the necks
of each mouse like a portentous necklet tied,
“lest the rats and the finks and those pesky snakes
get any funky I-deers” and, yes, he would mispronounce
the word “ideas” as “I-deers” and describe DUI suspects
as “salubrious” and wrinkle his nose at week old carcasses
and complain about the sickly sweet “ordure”
and when the excited time came to chase down a fugitive
he would call for his shotgun and a half-dozen barking
“corpse sniffing tranimals on those spiked short leashes.”

Check this gag, his favorite gag,
he handmade his own gilded box inlaid with mirrors
and he would set the box in front of you
and walk behind you and whisper, “open to see
whom you really are inside, your wicked sin,
people are having oral sex, semen spitted on the floor,
feces rubbed on the wall, married men cheating
on their wives, married wives jerking on black peni,
huge ebony black peni, big, bulbous purple PENI,
thick as eggplants, filthy, totally against society,
totally against the Bible, you hate it, you hate that sin,
you hate it with a passion, you hate it…” and when
you opened the box you saw a warped reflection
of your own image in a smoked mirror inside,
with a distorted forehead, a cockeyed nose,
dark lips, a circus afro on your head.

THEN he would reach around you and flip the box
and whisper, “open to see your redeemer,
he who must watch while you sleep quiet and secure,
you, who hath wasteth your substance with riotous living,
you know not your provender, he, who must watch
hidden in the amber-grease lest you might slip
and fall and lay drowning in the cesspit
of your own ceruse and spit…” and when
you opened the box from the flipside you looked
into a regular mirror with Officer Ferguson
peering over your shoulder and leering back at ye.

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Red Tide of Vieques

This story is confused because I am confused, or rather the sailor who told me the story, in the brig, the whole week he seemed to be in a daze, barely stirring, and eating nothing but soup and bread, and when he seemed more like himself he would stare incredulously at my questions and would change the story or simply claim he did not remember, which may be the truth of the matter.

I was actually with him when that evening began, on shore leave to attend El Festival de los Reyes Magos, the patron festival of the Epiphany, on Vieques that is actually how they celebrate Christmas, belatedly in January, and a group of us were eagerly anticipating a night away from the base. This would have been my third time out but for some others their first and we warned them that the local drink was strong on purpose so as to make things easier for them to part with their hard earned money. Soon we had attracted a few local ladies in the verbena and were full on our way in acquiring shots of pique rum and other sundry goods at every kiosko and grill at the fair, each spaced apart every five feet. Let me tell you about this plate, mofongo from heaven, mashed green plantains with pork and bacon and bits of crab, fried together in a chicken broth of garlic and olive oil, the most mouth watering delicious dish that can be found in the Caribbean. Top that with a cold beer and maybe a spoonful of Italian ice and your night is set.

I last saw him that night with a little bottle blonde lithe thing eagerly leading him by the hand. These young seaman recruits always attract the good looking ones. An old seadog like me can only hope for a swarthy brunette and I had a cockeyed one pestering me and feeding me all night. When she would laugh her big bosom would have an epileptic fit; when she would dance she would bend over, put her hands on her knees, and swing her backside wide to one side, wide to the other. Then she would pump her fist up in the air as if she just won the perfecta at Pimlico, her hair wild and getting wilder. And she would crush me in a bear hug and bite my ear. Made me want to cry and sit down on the cobblestone street, out of gratefulness. I followed her everywhere.

That is not to say that I didn’t follow my own advice. I drank sparingly and kept my hand firmly on my wallet when she brushed close to me. I still had my wits about me when we ended up on the beach of the bioluminescent bay. The sight took my breath away. I saw her wade in and leave a colorful trail and I’ve never seen such beautiful glittering cobalt and ultramarine blue. The superstitious Spaniards grew afraid when they first encountered this spectacle, thinking the radiant effulgence was the work of the devil, naming this bay Punta Diablo. They tried to block the channel by dropping huge boulders into place. All they managed to do was add to the dazzling luminescence. I should have heeded their warning.

After a quick naked swim and some tussling in the sand where I felt her rough callous hands and noticed for the first time her Adam’s apple, her rank breath, I grew lax and threw her off me. She disappeared into the red mangrove trees, I thought to relieve herself. She came back offering me an unopened coconut and before I could make sense of that she struck me hard enough to stun me. Then I guess she followed up with a few more swings of the coconut. The Lieutenant who X-rayed me in the med-ship confirmed a hairline fracture above my right eye, so she tagged me pretty good. This fact did not prevent me from spending a week in the brig or suffering disciplinary action. She also tried to drag my unconscious body into the treeline, which proved to be too arduous, then she simply covered me up with palm leaves. To this day I can only speculate as to why she actually did that. She took my wallet, my hat, and my insignia but at least left me my clothes, folded.

So almost every year, more often than not, one or two or more midshipmen and sailors don’t return from leave and are considered AWOL, absent without leave. Discipline varies. In unintentional cases, they throw you in the brig for an indeterminate amount of time, which translates to “as long as possible”, then they write you up for misconduct and more importantly dock your pay. If you get a suspension that really hurts. One week in the brig with a two week suspension means that you basically get don’t get paid that month, a real humdinger. And then you have to live with the guilt of your stupidity. So while I had good reason to miss the ferry that would take us back to the base, our young confused friend with what I think has the more interesting story was simply late. Yes, he drank too much that night, I guess kissed his fake fair maiden once too many times, looked at his watch, realized he had minutes to spare, and sprang for the docks. He tells me that the wake of the ferry was still swirling when he called out to the departing lights of the boat to no avail. He thought he heard laughter before the foreboding honk of a horn. So he was stranded.

Here is where the story starts getting tricky. He says that he turned around and that the town was completely dark and empty where a few moments before the place was festive and jubilant, full of people. I say the Bumboo rum, which is no better than grog, distorts your sense of time and that by the time he stumbled back into town the carnaval was long over. He remembers the streets as uneven. The blue cobblestones of Isabel, the main town of Vieques, are indeed uneven and unkempt and treacherous, all the way to the ancient Mirasol Fort. The paved roads and side streets are not much better. I am certain he was just aimlessly wandering around with no clear distinct direction. He claims he was trying to find a hotel or a rooming house or anywhere that was open so that he could just sit down. He was not ready to lie down like a drunk on the street, regardless of the fact that he had undoubtedly reached just such a state.

Music, he said he heard music, and a faraway singing, like an Angel, he said, at times faint, at times stronger, carried in the salt breeze and stinging. He wandered the back streets and alleys for a long time. He walked forever, until he was completely exhausted, searching. And when he thought he could no longer put one foot down in front of the other, he saw a light, an open doorway in a corner building, he no longer had any idea where or in what part of town. I tried to retrace his steps later and couldn’t find the café as described. I did find one similar in the next village over, a half-abandoned barrio, no thanks to the United States Navy. We had purchased much of the agricultural land on the island and evicted all the residents during World War II and converted the land for military use and weapons testing exercises. Many of the nearby villages became deserted since the sugar and coffee industries vanished. Slowly those small towns became repopulated with squatters and other destitute islanders. A great many of the existing houses and structures are patchwork, aluminum and cardboard, many don’t have the basic amenities.

Apparently this café had both water and electricity. He recounts a jukebox against one wall, a tiny bar against the other, a rattling refrigerator, ceiling fans, a half-dozen tables with chairs, a large neon sign. He said that the place became completely silent when he entered, including the jukebox, and that he felt frozen in time. Then a record turned over and a moth flickered against a light and the fan blades cast flickering shadows against the wall. He took the first empty chair in the closest table and sat heavy and nauseated. He said maybe there was one or two people in the back, maybe playing cards, or drinking. He said what looked like a bartender stood or sat behind the bar. He has described this man as wrinkly with tufts of grey hair. He has said that the man smoked a cigar or maybe not and that he read a newspaper or a magazine or maybe not. He can’t rightfully remember. He does recall that all ignored him and spoke nary a word, including the woman standing next to the jukebox against the wall.

He didn’t notice her at first. In fact, he says, that when he first glanced in her direction he thought a huge fish had been hung mouth first against the wall or maybe left there leaning. How can you lean a fish against a wall, I asked him, a woman-sized fish leaning against the wall, how can that happen? I don’t know, he said defensively, maybe the fish was stuffed or glazed or coated or preserved like those wall mounted swordfish by a taxidermist. He thought she was a fish until she moved. And then she suddenly transformed, through his sodden eyes, from a bloated fish into the curvature of a woman. She was gently swaying to the music. An acrid smell hung in the air, a fulsome smell, he said, ineffable, although he tried to relate this smell as something sour between acetone or ammonia or cat piss poured over rotten fruit, he couldn’t be sure, but between sour and sickly-sweet.

And she wore a tattered dress. And she cast a green light or maybe reflected the flashing neon sign or the changing hue of the jukebox. She had ribbons hanging or tangled up in her hair, like seaweed maybe algae. And when she looked at him intensely the room turned blue and when she turned away he felt as if he was outside again forgotten beneath the expansiveness of the stars. He felt repulsed and horrified and soothed simultaneously, insignificant, mortal, guilty, exposed, naked, as if he could never win or get anything he wanted, ever, as if God did not exist, as if he were the only thing she ever desired and he had to give himself completely over to her. He used all these words and expressions to describe his feelings in her presence, after my repeated questioning, until he grew annoyed at me and retreated into his cell. At any rate, her whole body trembled as she swayed and she would close her eyes in ecstasy. He thought she was resplendent and alluring like a classic movie star, Betty Davis, he said, Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake, so much for good taste.

But the most interesting part about her, as told, was her voice or lack thereof for he never actually saw her sing. He is not even sure if the music emanated from the jukebox or her body. But he thought he heard a choir or an operatic diva softly singing Aida or Ave Maria or some faint familiar song, with a salsa beat or a jazz background. The music was transcendent. He felt flush. He felt weak. He felt a burning pain in his liver and his penis retract into his body. At the same time he never felt more aroused or frightened or scared at being excited, tired as he was. He could not tell if she hummed or exuded the harmony but enough false notes clanged and at times her voice croaked that he kept transfixed to his chair. I was transfixed by his story. He could not abide to go to her although his resolve was crumbling. He was drawn to her rhythm.

Then the fighting couple burst in like a whirlwind from a door in the back or maybe materialized into the room. The upset woman was a screeching hellcat and the man was a gesticulating idiot waving his arms about like a crazed marionette. The couple immediately made my friend’s eyes hurt and his ears bleed, all reverie was broken. The woman slapped the man in the face at least once, maybe thrice, and the man shook her by the shoulders. Our inebriated witness was sure the woman had been spurned and thought that infidelity was involved but they were yelling in a foreign language he did not recognize but that he was certain was not Spanish. This woman wore a scarlet dress and the man wore a matching red cap, a ridiculous cap, he thought, that flopped up and down like a stocking on his head. They both looked like characters from a costumed drama as did the truly exaggerated scene and the histrionics. Finally she succumbed to tears and grabbed a glass from the bar, which she attempted to throw at him but which sailed wide and bounced harmlessly off a wall. He laughed heartily at her and then stomped out. She took a moment to compose herself, shake her hair, and then followed.

All this took maybe a moment or maybe longer or maybe didn’t happen at all. He was suddenly alone in the bar with a silent jukebox. The men drinking or playing cards in the back corner were gone. The barkeep smoking or reading was gone. The swaying dancing woman or fish or apparition or whatever was also thankfully gone. Weariness took over and he capitulated to fatigue. He laid his head down on the table and that is the last he remembers of that night. The next morning he was awakened by the MP’s, who were obviously called by the round of new faces in the café. He left a tiny pool of slobber on the table and the lingering odor of crusted mustard on dead fish.

Here is where I insert myself back into the story for I also awoke abashed that morning, albeit naked, with a cracked head, in the rutted sand, underneath a pile of dried palm leaves, with my clothes folded neatly beside me. I was nudged awake by a wild pony and the animal seemed as startled as me before galloping away. And the morning only got weirder because as I walked back to the pier, along the beach, nursing a nagging headache, I came upon an unfolding curiosity. A group of local fishermen had hauled in a drowned man in their fishnets. Or they thought he had drowned and then been eviscerated by hungry sea turtles; they could not figure out what kind of fish could leave bloodless striated gashes diagonally along his mutilated body. The wounds reminded me more of a bear attack and I was also perplexed at what in the ocean could create such lacerations save claws of some kind, the beaks of multiple turtles or a giant squid in a feeding frenzy abruptly interrupted. Or the explanation could be as simple as the propeller of a motor boat gutted him, several times. The corpse was exsanguinated, so a determination of death by drowning could only be made after an autopsy, to which I would have no access nor did I really care at the time. The dead man was a passing happenstance curiosity on a morning when I had more personal pressing matters. I had no extra thoughts for the hungry red tide of Vieques.

I also noticed that the man on the beach died wearing a red Phrygian cap. I did not know this type of cap at the time nor did I know this detail would be important or even of interest to me, at least not until after my fantastic series of dialogues the following week with my fellow brig mate. I came across a hand drawing of Marianne, the French lady liberty national emblem wearing this same exact type of cap, and cut the drawing out of the military magazine and kept it on my person until I ran into our friend again. This happened on the deck of a frigate docked at Roosevelt Roads about a year later. He was standing watch and acted uncomfortable when I approached him. He confirmed the Phrygian cap but was adamant that the couple was not fighting in French. He could recognize the French language, he claimed, and anyways he was feeling harassed that a Petty Officer kept badgering him about a drunken night all the time, a night he’d rather forget.

I guess this is where I should sound off. But I’m an imbecile, the type of muttonhead that obsesses over trivialities. I returned to Vieques and Isabel and the surrounding municipalities as much as I could before being transferred to the Navy Repair Yard in San Diego. I drank with the natives, socialized with them, and tried to engage them in the local myths and superstitions, of which there are plenty on the small island. I never did run again into the femme fatale that left a scar on my forehead, nor did I ever find the mysterious café, which must have existed since one of the arresting MP’s validated the place but could not recall the exact location. I did find an infamous Ceiba tree, purported to be over 500 years old. And I learned about the feral horses that roam free all over the island and are descended from Spanish stock. The bioluminescence in the bay is created by an overabundance of dinoflagellates, tiny microorganisms that leave a glowing trail of lustrous blue whenever the water is disturbed.

I also learnt that the cancer rate in Vieques is 30% higher than the rest of the Caribbean. The place is completely contaminated. We have saturated the eastern part of the island with bombs and ordnance and all kinds of toxic elements. We’ve tested and fired napalm, depleted uranium, cadmium, and utilized the scuttled wreckage of the USS Killen, a struck nuclear class destroyer, as a target ship. I’ve heard a range of unbelievable stories, from the fearsome Chupacabra to air breathing octopi that can climb up on land to various other mutated animals and creatures that terrorize the populace. I’ve heard that the frequent Naval sonic booms are enough to drive sane men crazy and that egregious acts of violence and bloodshed have been committed after a prolonged barrage of military exercises. I’ve heard claims that many of the residents suffer from vibroacoustic disease, the wind turbine disease related to low frequency noise that is similar in nature to mad cow disease with an added thickening of the arteries of the heart.

So why not believe that classic sea monsters of old could be attracted to such a chaotic place on earth? Mermaids that can entice you with a song and a glance. Benign females that display an unexpected desire for bloodshed. Rifts in time that can transport people from the past or the future, whether they realize such or not. A pod of killer sea turtles or the deadly kraken known to render mariners limb from limb. The red tide is held in general ominous awe, this when the flourishing algal bloom is considered a portent of the trickster himself walking among us and causing mischief, even on the night of the Epiphany. Perhaps the Spanish colonizers did know something after all when they tried to choke off the bay from the ranging ocean.

I met a nice enlisted lady during my tour in San Diego. She was a computer specialist, a data analyst. One night I told her part of the story and I wondered aloud what may have become of our flustered friend. She called me the next day with startling news. A dirty secret that the Navy definitely keeps under wraps is the number of annual suicides in the active-duty fleet, which hovers around 10 per 100,000 sailors or roughly about forty a year. Of those about a third are men lost during maneuvers in the open sea. I guess that maybe the call of the siren was too much for him to bear. We lost him somewhere between Bermuda and the wide Sargasso Sea.

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Little Mean Things

Throwing an elbow at the skating rink,
Stealing gum at Disneyland,
Goldfinch shot midair
from three pumps on the BB gun,
these are the mean little things
which return to me while I’m trying to sleep.

Dude with long hair grabbed her waist
during our assumed couples love song,

admonished not to touch store merchandise
with my brown and greasy hands,

reproached for not being a man
because I do not like firearms,

these are the catalysts for mean little things
which return to me when I’m almost asleep.

I followed that stringy uncut hair stealthily
through five swift curves of Kool & the Gang
and when he hit the wooden rollerway
I know he cracked a front tooth hard
and some backwards skaters landed hard
and created a tangled hirsute mess of wheels
involving matted blood and sharp scissors
and a forgotten ripped up concert shirt of Queen.

Chewing together three wads of Sour Cherry Bubblicious,
stuck to the seat of the pantaloons of the racist manager,
Minnie Mouse costumed foul mouthed bitch not paying attention
to the fond gifts I left for her on her stool behind the counter.

Given the choice of pellets or round shot,
shown how to pump the lever,
tense the air rifle,
waiting for all of us to join the Marines
together, at twelve years old.
Challenged by the admission I don’t like guns.
Where’d did you come up with that?
In church, my feelings pulverized by the pulpiteer
sermonizing patriotism only through weapons and God,
I foolishly told my friends I don’t like missiles or God.

And here we are, absconded in the city woods,
presented with the opportunity to prove my pride,
my American pride, lest I betray my heritage,
my skin color, my accent, the reasons my family
immigrated to this country, or be fully exposed
as Socialists pigs secretly colluding with the Reds.

I saw a flash of lemon yellow in the sky,
somebody threw a tennis ball up in the sky.

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