Tuesday, June 28, 2005

one day countdown (structured poetry)


5x5

I ran downstairs, tripped, fell.
No time for breakfast today.
Hurting every time I shift.
Should be at work early.
Decide to get coffee instead.

4x4

Good Kenyan, very hot.
Computer plugged to internet.
Reading the Times online.
And some blog sites.

3x3

Shouldn't I work?
Do need pay.
Don't want to.

2x2

Hours pass.
Many refills.

1x1

Lazy

© 2004 by Ira Socol________________________________

Sunday, June 26, 2005

geography

Because his teachers knew that he could not learn, he spent his school days staring at atlases. In third grade he lay on the floor in the back of the classroom and floated down the Ohio, from Pittsburgh, through the tiny towns lining its banks, past Cincinnati, along the divide between Ohio and Kentucky, and finally to that amazing spot where the waters poured into the Mississippi.

Those names meant nothing to him, he could not read them, but he instinctively understood the shapes of cities, the paths of roads, the rise of mountains. At first he didn't even look at pictures, just the maps, and most often one page for weeks or even months. This was assumed to be by all around him to be proof that he was at best sleeping, at worst someone with an extraordinarily low I.Q.

The kids laughed, the teachers and his parents looked at him with the expression usually reserved for injured dogs, and he knew all of that. But it did not matter. What was important was where he went. And he could travel.

He would pick something, most often rivers, but sometimes the roads or a mountain ridge, and he would move along, finding the contours that the maps expressed, and imagining the places, the scenes, the histories and the people.

From the earliest he most liked the smallest places. He could never really understand Pittsburgh. He saw it only as a crowded triangle with the mountains threatening to crush it. A mark that thick seemed unknowable. He preferred the smallest points. The tiny dots with names he could match up to the population lists with adjoining numbers like "48" or "267" or "124," and he could be in those places. He could stroll the dirt roads, or eat at the local restaurant, or, best, walk up the mile-long driveways to see his friends.

He moved from the battered old atlases of his school rooms to the World Book Encyclopedia his brothers and sisters used for homework. Pictures in the articles now merged with the map pages. He would carry a volume outside, and cross the yard to the little outcropping of stone that could hide and shelter him, and look for countries. Knowing no other way, he took the first book first and began: Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Australia. Gliding down rivers, hiking through mountains, riding through valleys. He got lost in the Sahara and rode a train across a continent before he ever got to "B."

His parents took this turn of events as proof of progress. "Nate! Nikolas is reading the encyclopedia! Now he'll do much better at school." But this elation proved short-lived. Nothing changed at school, and Nik never spoke nor wrote nor even drew pictures of anything from the worlds he passed through.

By high school he had learned to mix the maps and pictures with carefully deciphered captions and he gained more control. On spring and summer Saturday mornings he ventured out on his moped and wandered through garage sales, seeking unusual documentations of the earth's geography. The money he earned bagging groceries at the IGA went into the Atlas of European History (1922), Central Europe Today (1902), L'Indochine (in French), and a pile of thirty years' worth of maps from National Geographic. Now he went by boat the whole stretch of the Elbe in 1900, finding a momentary home in that break in the Sudeten Alps that is the "Moravian Gate." There he lingered many spring weeks in a little and very ancient city called Ursi. There he ate lunch with Austrian army officers, drank Plzn Beer with Bohemian nationalists, and fell in love with the blonde daughter of the Imperial Postmaster, whose name he knew was Kyza, and whose thin, warm body he saw and felt in his bed as he shot semen into the night.

Parents, teachers, special ed directors declared him lost. They started to push him out. He had a job, which was enough for them, enough for him. Maybe that was so. He had Kyza that season and with her he climbed the cliffs of these boundary mountains, and made love in alpine fields of wildflowers. They poured cold, white Bavarian wines into each other's mouths and laughed as the sun set behind them, sending its last sparkles into the river below. He wondered at this place. Wondered how long he might stay.

And still drifted through the Saturday yard sales, piling up choices for when it would be time to leave.

© 2004 by Ira Socol________________________________________

Thursday, June 23, 2005

suicide

The way I want to die is this. I want to choose the moment. I want to go to the beach at Long Beach off Pennsylvania Avenue, the "No Togs" rocks between Dalkey and Killiney, Lake Michigan from Duck Lake State Park or the Pacific on that one day a year when its warm off San Francisco, and I want to walk in to about balls high, just when the cold tightens the scrotum as Joyce put it, and the cool rushes through the body, and then do an easy surface dive into the shallow water and start to swim. And swim and swim and swim the way I did as a kid, with only forgetting as a destination, and go way out onto the easy waves offshore. The sun will be brilliant overhead, the moon will be full, it will be blindingly hot, it will be a soft warm night with the Milky Way lighting the world like a theatre marquee. When I am so tired that I can not swim anymore - this could be a couple of miles but there was a time when I could do ten with ease and maybe that skill would return for this parting shot – I will drop into my favorite position on this planet, the dead man's float, and lie there surrounded by the silence of God's sea, and let myself stop breathing.
© 2005 by Ira Socol________________________________

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

love on the longest day

Colette promised to meet him after dark on Tuesday, at the little shelter in the park, and so the night before he'd gone out and bought wine and Trojenz because this must be the night. It had that sense of magic to it, or inevitability, and she had made it Tuesday which was not a "take me out on a date" kind of day of the week. And Tuesday was the solstice. But Matthew lived in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, almost as far west as you can get in North America's Eastern Time Zone. The North American Eastern Time Zone stretches for 38 degrees from eastern Quebec to western Ontario. Time zones are supposed to be 15 of the earth's degrees, which is how you divide 360 by 24. Maybe New York was the center of this zone. Maybe in New York at the Equinox if it wasn't daylight savings time the sun would be straight up at noon. But it was daylight savings time so even in New York noon would be one in the afternoon, and out here, two full sun hours later, noon was at least three. And at this latitude, if noon was three and this was a day with 18 hours of daylight...

Matthew thought of Colette's hair, her legs, her smile when she looked at him, thought about the way she kissed him, how with each night they had been together she had given him just one bit more, and pushed a little more into him, and he did the arithmetic. If noon was three and there would be 18 hours of daylight. "Damn," he sighed. "Midnight," he announced outloud. He rubbed his left hand across the crotch of his jeans in frustration. Then went back to painting Mrs. Devallier's yellow house.

© 2005 by Ira Socol________________________________
just an unimportant quickie from a Writers' Group exercise, one of those 15 minute stories. for the solstice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Baby Blue

Sometimes it's just so fucking hot in the city you don't know what to do. So we cruise the afternoon's sizzling streets behind sealed windows, air conditioning, and deep mirror sunglasses. And for reasons unknown the world is cooperating. No call in the past hour has required us to step out into the 96 degrees and 98 percent humidity. Then we see him. Kind of like a tiny mirage at first in the heat waves that rise from the sidewalk on 233rd Street just east of White Plains Road. He's probably just under three feet tall. Really thin. Completely naked. And he's running down the street in the direction gravity makes easiest.

At home Carolyn is pregnant. In the seventh month. We're going to birth classes. We're seeing midwives. In a tiny room by the kitchen I'm re-painting garage sale furniture purchases in bright white and primary colors.

We get out of the car into the blast furnace heat. Beneath the bullet proof vests the sweat immediately starts running down our chests. The boy is skittish and starts backing away but we close in slowly and carefully, talking softly. A crowd is starting to gather. When I finally scoop him into my arms there's a short cheer. Colin grabs a blanket from the trunk while I look at those around me. "Anyone know where he belongs?" There's no answer. "Anyone?" The only answer comes from a ten year old who appears to be lugging a quart of Miller in a paper bag, hopefully, I guess, back to mom or dad. "I never seen him before."

There's been one lost baby before this for us. But as these months have gone by the nerves have calmed and confidence has appeared. In the last week we've even started playing with names.

I wrap up this mystery child and tell Colin to drive. Colin's single. Cruises the most interesting Manhattan clubs on off duty nights. Forgets his handcuffs when he comes back to work. I'm not knocking it, of course. Probably I'm a little jealous. But now, the kid is mine to take care of. He circles the block. We look for frantic moms. We open the windows to the summer and ask endless questions. Then we circle two blocks, then four, then eight. We ask on the radio. He looks ok, except for no clothes. Doesn't look sick or abused. Then I look at him again. Guess his age, and realize he hasn't said a thing.

I guess I want lots of kids. That's always been this idea. I imagine, in completely unrealistic form, some big farmhouse with a huge porch and five or six children running around. This fantasy is not shared by Carolyn, who seemed almost reluctantly pregnant this time around, though she's warming up to it.

Back at the Station House I fight off attempts by female cops to take over. Sending them out instead for diapers and clothes and food. He and I play on the floor of the squad room, using the patrol guide books as blocks. The bosses keep coming in and asking what we're doing. "Waiting for mom to call," I say. Our shift ends and turns into overtime. There is no call. We send other cops out for dinner. After four hours I've gotten him to imitate the car noises I make while pretending our portable radios are cars rolling past our notebook structures.

Carolyn wanted to have the baby at home. I've refused. I put up a brave and insensitive front, saying, "Who's gonna change the sheets?" But honestly I'm too scared for that. Not that I haven't delivered babies. I have. But as a cop what you mostly see is what goes wrong. I've seen too much go wrong.

Five hours into overtime the lieutenant tells us we've got to find a place for the kid. "The mother's not calling," he says bluntly. It's almost eight hours. No missing kids call. Nothing. Colin points to me and says, "He'll take him home." The lieutenant says, "No. He won't," and leaves. Colin starts to make phone calls. He's on the phone for three hours. In a city the size of New York you'd think there'd be space for one not quite three foot tall boy.

She says Emma if it's a girl. It would be the name of her great-great-grandmother, still alive out in the midwest. Dozens of names flow through my head as possibilities for a boy. Ethnic, literary, friends, relatives. What does a name add to a child? How does it direct their life?

Finally, close to midnight, the boy with no name has fallen asleep in my lap and Colin has found the one available shelter. It is in Coney Island, almost as far away as is possible within New York City. OK, I guess we could be heading to the far end of Staten Island, but otherwise... Colin drives. I hold the kid. He is fascinated by the brightly lit red button. So I let him push it. The siren yelps. He laughs. The laugh amazes me. He keeps pushing the button. I keep switching the siren: "Classic American," I say. "Martian." "Nazi." Am I the first adult to share language with him? Across the Whitestone Bridge, around Queens, over the Kosciousko Bridge into Brooklyn, we roll under all those East River bridges sparkling in the night. It is dramatic enough that he stops playing with the siren and coos in delight. Past the Verrazano, along the ocean shore, then down along Surf Avenue past a still humming Cyclone and Astroland and Nathan's Famous.

At home we have conceived of everything. The colors. The shapes. The mirrors. The way one can see the window from the crib. The aquarium that will be night light and humidifier. A carpet assembled of remnant patterns for extra interest in eventual crawling. The books that are already waiting. The music our child will hear from birth.

The shelter is really just a big apartment. There are at least twenty cribs, plus other beds. It might not be describable as filthy, but it sure isn't clean. It is way too hot. The kid holds onto my neck. I hold on to him. I'm not sure whose grip is tighter. "You have to let him go," Colin whispers to me. But it takes a long time before I can. I glare at the person I hand him to. I am about to say something. To warn them. To swear vengeance if anything goes wrong. But my partner pulls me out the door.

"I need to drive back," I say. "We probably need beers." "You need to go home," Colin tells me, "you need to think about your own kid." I drive to the nearest bodega, grab a six, and slam the first one. I drive back the long route to The Bronx, trying to decide why I am not crying.

© 2004 by Ira Socol____________________________________________

Sunday, June 19, 2005

jello story

We decided to move in together. There were plenty of reasons, plenty of pressures to do so, not a lot of thought. One of those things.

So I packed up my stuff and moved. Among the stuff was lots of "pantry-type" food, you know, the minimally perishable stuff of dark kitchen cabinet shelves. I always have lots of this stuff, bought with intentions of meals that never come true.

Dinners were, more or less, cooked alternately. We both liked to cook but made very different things. There was no reason to piss off either my kid or her kid two nights in a row. Whenever she cooked, she made Jello. My kid and I thought this odd, we never ate much Jello, and never for dessert, more a "I'm sick and can't keep anything else down" solution. So every other night, leftover Jello would pile up.

Finally I said, "What's with all the Jello?" And she said, "Yeah, what's with the Jello?" And I said, "What?" And she said, "You brought all this Jello, I figured you guys loved it." And I said, "Hell no, we had all this Jello cause I bought it years ago and we never ate it." And she said, "You're really weird."

When I moved out a year later I took no Jello at all.


© 2004 by Ira Socol____________________________________

Saturday, June 18, 2005

edge of night

My father had talked about putting a dormer, or at least a skylight, over the top of the stairs, but it had never happened. He'd talked about putting dormers on both sides and maybe making a bathroom upstairs but that clearly wasn't ever going to happen. It was an accomplishment to nail two-by-fours together and sheetrock to those to make walls and to put some insulation in the roof and sheetrock under the rafters. It was a big accomplishment. There had been three of us in that one bedroom, with my brother on the couch in the living room, my parents in the tiny
bedroom behind the kitchen and my grandmother in the little room up front by the porch that was probably the nicest. Now my brother was gone but the rest of us had our own rooms, Alice at the back of the attic and me at the front, and my grandmother, she'd be gone in a year or two, that was obvious, but the stairs were still totally dark unless you turned on the hall light at the top or the light on the wall at the bottom, neither of which I'd do because then I'd give myself up.

If my dad was home my mom would sleep. If he was gone she wouldn't. Not really. Every siren that she heard would drag her from bed. I'd hear her steps as she'd move across her room and look out the back, then move down the hall, through the dining room, the living room, to the windows on the street. What frightened her? Did she imagine her husband dead? That they were coming for one of us? That fire would spread through the crowded alleys where wooden houses sat six feet apart?

What in her childhood or adulthood had given her these fears? I'd listen. I'd sneak through the dark and down to the turn in the stairs. I'd wait for her to return to her room. Then I'd retreat to my own window, and stare out across a silent street, with maybe a dim flash of red light moving somewhere on the periphery.

© 2004 by Ira Socol__________________________________

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

staying

He wondered if the only way to get himself to give up was to be cruel enough to get her to cut off contact, but he couldn't do it to her face, couldn't possibly do that, so he packed up everything she'd ever given him, even the drawings he'd done of her and printouts of every email from her to him. He was surprised by the weight of it all, humbled by it, especially by all the words, and then he took her key because he still had that, and knowing that she was at work, he slipped into her bedroom and placed the pile neatly on the green chair in the corner.

Of course he couldn't stop crying as he did this, and he wouldn't look up, wouldn't look around at the room, surely not at the bed, and he turned and started to leave knowing how hurtful this would be, because, well, obviously, because, well, he was fighting what he thought was rejection with what he knew was rejection, and he got three steps outside her bedroom door and knew he couldn't do it.

He'd walked away from relationships before. Walked away from ones that had better chances, that made more sense than this one. Walked away from ones that had lasted longer. Walked away from ones that had included far more commitment on both sides. But he also knew that in this region of the ways of the world, logic was no help.

He turned once more. Once more entered the bedroom without really looking. Went to the chair. Picked everything up. Carried it all outside. Locked her door carefully. Carried everything to his car.

Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter,
And there’s not a friend to help you through.
Tryin’ to stop the waves behind your eyeballs,
Drop your reds, drop your greens and blues.

He knew he'd get hurt. Of course he hoped somehow he wouldn't. But he didn't believe in that. Still, he had no choice. And so he drove back home. The Stones' Sweet Virginia offering a lonely soundtrack.

I want you to come on, come on down sweet Virginia,
I want you come on, honey child, I beg of you.
I want you come on, honey child you got it in you.
Got to scrape that shit right off your shoes.

© 2005 by Ira Socol____________________________