Friday, April 24, 2009


Photo: Diego Fernandes 2005

There are special kinds of thieves
Not that kind who long
For the solid clink of coin
Or the dry hiss of currency
No those are simple types, ordinary thieves

There is another much grander kind of thief
They do not long for economic power
Or tradeable baubles
Of mineral or metal
Those are easy targets

These are special kinds of thieves
Who enter with hungered looks
Slack-jawed they whisper for time
Once fed they chew furiously and ask for more
With great staring still hungry eyes

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Photo: Diego Fernandes 2009

San Francisco
My mistress
Told me today
To take off
My sunglasses
And look at her
In full color
She was wearing
That veil of fog
And carrying
A bouquet of flowers

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Little World

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2009

I used to carry pictures each of my siblings in a wallet
And showed them with pride to my fellow travelers
There is the oldest this one is the middle
That one our youngest member of the tribe

I don’t carry a wallet anymore or pictures
Season my Grandmother called those special papers
I discovered early on wallets accumulated stuff
So much became unreadable and indecipherable

And sitting on my siblings just seemed wrong
But sometimes I wonder whether pitching the pics
Destroyed a something in the living maybe
Somehow I threw a something away I shouldn’t have

There is no comfort in comforting my turmoil
Just sit quietly and listen with everything you’ve got
My beautiful intelligent sister still beautiful still intelligent
Lives in an idea world from a land of fantastic otherwhere

Some mind authority told me we could give her drugs
Another said you have a right to be mentally ill
Eyes of the lay just dim with incomprehension
Have you seen anyone they all inquire they all ask

What to do what to do what to do a jazz song sings
On foggy days in foggy old towns all upon a foggy night
You need to pay you need to pray you need to let go
You need a miracle you need god on your side

Sighing and giving a retelling of the tale told and told
Went here went there went here and there again
Talked to Dr.X Dr.Y Dr.Z M.D. PhD. D.D. LL.D MFCC see?
First it was sympathy and roses then U.S. dollars

It was kind of fun to see all those alphabeted people smile
The same kind of knowing well well well grin lean in
With the all-knowledgeable looks gravely visaged
Nodding heads all with deep voiced ‘very sad indeeds’

Then came the international internet research buttons
Looking for a magic pill a magic cure a spell
To wave at my sister up and down bibbity bobbity
A guardian angel winged fairy complete with wand

The mystery in the ruin of minds is mesmeric
Those demon guarded intellects draw weaponless knights
From across immense galactic divides to battle
But for the present those fiendish spirits prevail

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Photo: Diego Fernandes 2009

A throbbing beat of tropic drums
In sunlight spectrum split on the horizon
Wakes a mysterious green light under stars.

A voice sliding over light glinting
Off the western sea edge, remembers
Friends riding the sparkling edge of earth.

Scattered hither and yon the friends
Like flower petals on wedding paths
Gaze on a passing era conclusion.

Our green light sinking sun slips
Into the rising wind over eyes
Catching final moments of days.

A yearning holds our calm pledge
Inviolate against the way
Anchored in ancient origin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Five Beer History

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2007

It would be hard to forget that first time
I saw You walking jerkily at the
End of that ‘host’s’ arm like an unwilling
Dog on a leash with your friend and You gig-
Gling into your hands every guy in that
Place following You with his eyes every
Guy except that Southern Boy sitting at
My table he was watching me with a
Deep hunger an appetite my naiveté
Couldn’t recognize at the time and I
Only saw for a moment because I
Was looking at You crossing that room
Like a beauty contest winner Southern
Boy and I both had our San Miguel sit-
Ting in front of us mine with my ever
Necessary lemon and he had sat
Down at my table when he found me there
Solitary sure that I needed com-
Pany sure that I needed his compan-
Ionship he asked so enthusiastic-
Ly if he could buy me a drink just like
I was one of your fellow working girls
Of course I told him I already had
A beer coming while I looked around the
Room for someone to dance with someone the
Most interesting faces the most in-
Teresting posture the most interest-
Ing vignettes and way over on the o-
Ther side of the room I saw Vince the fu-
Ture Mafioso catch my attention
Because he was teasing one of your fel-
Low working girls with slight of hand tricks ma-
King money appear and disappear and in
The darkest corner away from the floor
Show floor the married guys who worked out to-
Gether competed to see who could car-
Ry the most soda cases always want-
Ed to be assigned together they were
Sitting in that dark corner with a cou-
Ple of your fellow working girls who had
Small glasses of something in front of them
And had boredom engraved on their heavy
Make-up probably because those two mar-
Ried guys were fondling one another un-
Der the table that was kind of like a
Great secret little story going on
Which I lost the thread of because the ‘host’
Whom Southern Boy called a pimp arrived and
In an insistent tone asked us if we
Wanted a girlfriend and we told him we
Were having beers and he just repeated
Do you want a girlfriend he repeated
And Southern Boy and I said at the same
Time at the very same time Southern Boy
Said no and I said yes and I laughed be-
Cause it sounded funny so the pimp guy
The ‘host’ said to me again do you want
A girlfriend not like it was a question
But more like a necessary access-
Sory and I laughed and said Okay but
She had better be beautiful … in fact
She had better be drop dead gorgeous and
That guy had a look like you know is that
All? Like Woman Beautiful was in
Every corner and under every ta-
Ble a look that said Too Easy Give Me
A Challenge but I still thought and thought that
It was going to be interesting
To see who he came back with and then he
Disappeared and Southern Boy was starting
To lecture me about how they cheat in
Those places and the girls only drink tea
Instead of alcohol and ask stupid
Questions and want us to buy them stupid
Helicopters and didn’t I want to talk
To him wouldn’t I rather talk to a
Civilized man instead of a monkey
And he smiled and leaned across the table
And put his mouth on the neck of his beer
Slowly and after taking a slug of
Beer looked at me with droopy eyes and beer
Wet lips and then that guy the ‘host’ the pimp
Arrived with You and your friend in tow and
Southern Boy told him I told you I told
You I didn’t want one of your whores and
That pimp guy, the ‘host’ just ignored him and
Sat You down next to me and I couldn’t
Speak You were so beautiful I couldn’t
Stop staring at You and Southern Boy got
Mad and marched away left me alone with
You and your friend and I just kept staring
And that guy the ‘host’ the pimp said buy her
A drink so I asked if You wanted a
Drink and not to listen to that guy the
Pimp because he was a jerk and he said
Again you have to buy her a drink or
She can’t stay here and that was enough for
Me so I said whatever You would like
You can have tea or coke or whiskey or
Water I don’t care and then your friend laughed
And said something in Tagalog and You
Looked at that guy the pimp the ‘host’ and so
Politely said You’d have a coke and he
That guy the ‘host’ the pimp was mad because
You didn’t order something expensive and
I said Here and I handed him a lot
Of pesos and said go buy yourself a
Girlfriend then your friend laughed so loud every-
One looked at our table if they hadn’t al-
Ready been looking at You and You laughed
Softly and that guy the pimp the ‘host’
Was mad but took the money and said it
Was extra to buy the girls out of the
Bar I said I didn’t want to buy the girls
Out of the bar I wanted to drink my
Beer and listen to the band and he just
Flipped the money through his fingers and said
It was extra to buy the girls out of
The bar and your friend laughed and said something
To him the ‘host’ the pimp in Tagalog
And he the pimp the ‘host’ looked mad he looked
Stormy and walked away and that was the
First part of the story to keep and I
Laughed and I don’t know how she knew but your
Friend said to You that’s Gypsy and Gypsy
Was my nickname in one of the bars a
Bar somewhere else in the town because I
Read palms the lines in palms there but that was
Another bar on another night and
You weren’t there but your friend said that’s Gypsy
And You wanted to know why I was called
Gypsy and she told You to give me your
Hand I could see your future in the lines
I would look into the future of your
Lines and even though You looked doubtful You
Held out your hand and it was beautiful
So beautiful too so I leaned in ve-
Ry close so I could smell your scent and to talk
In your beautiful ear with the little
Earring because the band was playing some
Loud rock anthem and I could see your lips
Moving and they were beautiful too but
It was like a dream because they were mov-
Ing they were talking to me and what was
Coming out was loud rock anthem and I
Tried to hear but the band was trying to
Speak for You so I leaned in very close
So I could smell your scent and talk in your
Beautiful ear with the little earring
And said I don’t want to read your palm I
Want to kiss it and I was so embar-
Rassed because instead of something ro-
Mantic or intimate You said really
Loud WHAT because the band was playing a
Loud rock anthem so I couldn’t repeat what
I said because I wanted to kiss your
Palm so I took advantage of your poor
Beautiful hand and ravished it with my
Aroused fingers I reached into every
Line and I ran my fingers around the
Outline of your nails and folded your fin-
Gers together with mine so I could feel
Them touching the webbing between my fin-
Gers and I made your hands and fingers dance
On mine and I could tell You didn’t quite know
What to do so I made up some bogus
Future for You when the band got quiet
And then I was shouting in the quiet
And I kept staring at You and asking
If You wanted another drink and You
Hadn’t even finished the first and I kept
Wishing the band would start up again be-
Cause I wanted to lean over very
Close so I could smell your scent and talk in
Your beautiful ear with the little ear-
Ring and ask You why You were wearing that
Strange prim little blue dress with the white col-
Lar and not what the other girls wore those
Clear plastic shoes with glitter embedded
In the plastic and low cut dresses with
Glitter embedded in the small buttons
And those bright colored stockings I wanted
To ask You why You didn’t wear those things I
Wanted to but I didn’t I just kept fin-
Gering your hands and creating your faux
Future fortune and pretty soon You laughed
At something I said and your laugh was too
Beautiful and when You laughed I could tell
You were relaxing because You gave me
The littlest hit on my hand and then my
Arm and told me I was bad I would have
Bought You and your friend out of the bar right
Then but your friend knew everything I didn’t
And told me if I wanted to leave then
It was more money and the guy the pimp
The ‘host’ would get it and I would have to
Wait or come back later but I was a-
Fraid You were like a rare sale item that
Would disappear if I left so I couldn’t
Think and while I couldn’t think I thought of ways
We could just sneak out or leave that place or
Push that guy the ‘host’ the pimp off the bal-
Cony because I didn’t want to stay there
And I didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want
To stay and I didn’t want to leave and then
The band started playing a loud rock an-
Them and I ordered another San Mi-
Guel and I hated it and I hated
The band and I hated that guy the pimp
The ‘host’ and I hated your friend for being
So sensible and I stared at You try-
Ing to not be able to think and I
Did silly things like looking through the beer
Bottle at your beautiful chin and eyes
Wiping the sweat from the cold brown bottle
Onto the table and writing stupid
Made-up words and stupid made-up al-
Phabets and yelling questions at You o-
Ver the loud rock anthem about where You
Were from and why did You leave and how come
There was a war and did You like this loud
Rock Anthem and did You like the band and
How did You get here and did your whole fam-
Ily come and why couldn’t we just leave
And You were very patient and You answered
All my stupid questions two or three times
Over the sound of a band playing a
Loud rock anthem just like You were taking
A test in school then your friend said we should
Dance and I really really wanted to
Dance and You really really didn’t want
To dance and because I really really
Wanted to do what You wanted to do
I said it was okay but I really
Really wanted to dance with You and I got
Kind of mad and asked your friend to dance but
She said I ought to dance with You but You
Wouldn’t so I couldn’t and I got kind of mad
Because I could still see the married guys
In the dark corner holding hands under
The table and all I could do was play
With your hand on top of our table so
I pulled You toward me like I was going
To talk in your beautiful ear with the
Little earring or tell You something a-
Bout your faux future and I couldn’t help
Myself I kissed inside the crease of your
Right elbow and smelled it at the same time
You jerked your arm a little but then You
Relaxed when I put my head in your lap
And You put your left hand onto my head
And brushed my short hair back and forth and your
Friend laughed and I could see the girls with the
Married guys looking across that room at
Us because they had to keep tilting their
Heads and craning their necks one way then the
Other to see around the crowd on the
Dance floor where I really really wanted
To be dancing with You but You really
Really didn’t want to dance and I really
Really wanted to do what You wanted
Even to the music of a loud rock
Anthem so I had my head in your lap
And your friend was laughing and the married
Guys were feeling each other and the girls
With them were watching us not dancing and
Mafioso Vince was doing tricks and
Then my friend showed up he started looking
At your friend like I was looking at You
And he bought her a drink she said something
In your beautiful ear with the little
Earring I couldn’t hear because the band
Was playing a loud rock anthem but You
Looked at me while she was talking like You
Were afraid I could hear and then You said
Something to your friend in her ear and my
Friend asked what was going on and your friend
Told him he was going to dance with her
And I really really wanted to dance
With You but You really really did not
Want to dance and I really really did
Want to do what You wanted to do if
Even to the sound of a band playing
A loud rock anthem so my friend and your
Friend they gathered the floor under their feet
Under the flashing lights flashing to the
Rhythm of the loud rock anthem and faces
Flashed and feet moved and hips moved together
Then apart and turning and I just looked
At You and asked more stupid questions a-
Bout where and how and who and You asked how
I became Gypsy and I asked when and
How and who and if You liked to read and
You said no and I didn’t care because
I was looking at your beautiful face
And your beautiful eyebrows and your strange
Prim little dress with white collar and
No glitter anywhere I kept thinking
About how your face disappeared in the
Black light while your white collar glowed and my
Black jacket vanished except for speckles
That glowed like my white shirt that showed bright blue
Then the house band stopped playing the loud rock
Anthem and the dancing stopped and my friend
And your friend came back to their drinks and our
Table with the beer bottle sweat rings and
The chairs with padded bottoms and that guy
The ‘host’ the pimp came back and asked my friend
If he was going to take your friend out
‘On a date’ and your friend said my friend was
Going to buy her another drink and
My friend did and then he bought me ano-
Ther San Miguel and asked if You wanted
Something and I said You didn’t then You
Said You did and I got a little an-
Gry because I wanted to buy You a
Drink and You said no and I asked if You
Wanted to dance when the music started
Because I really really wanted to
Dance with You and I wanted to dance slow
But You really really didn’t want to dance
Fast or slow and I really really would
Do whatever You wanted me to do
So the music started and my friend took
Your friend and they danced under the flashing
Lights and they slow danced and I grabbed your hand
And kissed the palm but You pulled your hand back
You pulled the palm back I kissed and picked up
The drink my friend bought and touched it with your
Beautiful lips and put it back down in
It’s very own sweat ring while the house band
Played a loud rock anthem so I said once
Again I begged again I pleaded a-
Gain I asked again to dance to slow house
Band loud rock anthem and your face changed once
To a silly smile and You said okay
But first I had to dance alone You told
Me I had to dance alone so I took
Your beautiful hand again and said and
Then asked and begged and pleaded and pleaded
So really really first I’ll dance alone
Then You’ll dance with me and You said sure yes
Go dance and then dance alone and I will
Really really dance but I really don’t
Want to dance but dance alone and then You
Pointed with your beautiful finger to
Some place under the flashing lights dance there
Alone and then I’ll dance with you and You
Know I jumped up to dance and the music
Changed and flashing lights slowed and on the floor
All the people left the dance floor even
The married guys who danced with the girls who
Drank at their table then danced together
And neither knew who was supposed to lead
But it was funnier when they danced hard
Because the girls got drunk at their table
Then I could hear a Mafioso laugh
And the lights slowed down and the music slowed
Down and the people sweating slowed down and
Everyone but me left the slow music
Dance floor and walked with drinks in their hands or
Hands in their hands or empty bored eyes and
Everyone walked through the slow flashing lights
And back to their tables that were close to
The door or close to the corners or on
The balcony everyone except me
Because You said dance there dance there alone
And pointed your finger and You said You
Would dance with me if I first danced alone
And I really really wanted to dance
With You but You really really didn’t want
To dance then You said You would if I danced
Alone by myself in the slow flashing
Lights to the slow moving music alone
With everyone watching I danced slowly
Like Fred waiting for Ginger I stood still
For a moment then gathered my courage
Because when I finished You said You would
Dance and I danced to slow lights and I danced
In slow motion and I danced alone and
I turned and I made my hands into strange
Monsters and touched the floor that was dirty
And I crouched and I stretched and I
Reached for the lights but I couldn’t reach so
I jumped up and I made my arms swing like
Apes in a forest and I made myself spin
And I almost forgot You were watching
But You said You would dance with me and I
Wanted to dance and the lights stopped flashing
And I stopped moving and the music stopped
And You were looking at me and your friend
Talked in your beautiful ear with the lit-
Tle earring and your friend and my friend pushed
You into the lights and onto the floor
And into my arms and a light flashed and
Some music played and my leg touched your leg
And your beautiful body and I put
My head down next to your head and smelled your
Scent and looked at the floor behind You and
Remembered it was dirty and wiped my
Hands on my pants then put my arms under
Your arms and You hardly touched me with your
Arms or your body but I pulled You close
Because I really really wanted to
Dance with You then the music changed and You
Walked away and went back to the table
Where the beers and drinks my friend bought were there
Waiting in their very own sweat rings and
The married guys were feeling each other
Mafioso Vince was doing tricks and
The house band played us a loud rock anthem

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Photo: Diego Fernandes 2008

I was lying there in your light
That warmth you always have
When you grace the known

Dozing through your daydream
Conversation concerning shadows
You asked me to explain

Places alien to your nature
Foreign to your sightline
But how could I tell you

Your bright presence invented dark
Creatures you never see
They shape quick fantasies

Conjuring strange visions
With a memory of your radiance
Swindling the unregenerate

My comfortable luminous torpor
Augment my witless intemperance
Please ask me again tomorrow

Reclining against your day
Those fiends and ogres of shadow
Seem so exceedingly far away

Friday, April 3, 2009

To Float Upon The Sea

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2008

To float upon the sea
We must make ready
To leave dry land.

Floating on the sea
Treasure is my vessel
And air to breathe.

Floating on the sea
Storms and current stir
The voyager to alien shores.

Floating on the sea
Cast overboard your coin
Acumen crafts purchase.

Floating on the sea
Answers have doubt
Packed in the hold

Floating on the sea
Needs launch and harbor
A mystery to solve.

To float upon the sea
I do not need a name
But a course wants plotting.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

After The Leaves Have Fallen

Photo: Diego Fernandes 2008

One sunny spring day, my brother and I were riding on the open tailgate of the family station wagon, bouncing along the long dirt road that led to our rural home. I remember most of the ride as being like a roller coaster or carnival ride, without the safety bar of course.

The dusty lane was filled with potholes from every preceding winter rain and innumerable automobiles and trucks passing over it. Some family drivers living on that road drove carefully and slowly around the holes, while others simply drove as fast as they dared, leaving great clouds of dust in the dry season.

My father was one of the more cautious drivers. Asking him one day, why some drove so fast, or rather, why he didn’t drive faster, he told me there were two theories of driving over potholes. The first being the way he himself did, driving the road slowly and avoiding many of the holes by driving around them and when that wasn’t possible, driving as carefully as possible through them thereby avoiding possible damage to the car. The second method was much simpler. Just drive as fast as possible, hitting only the tops of the bumps.

That particular day our ride felt more like my father was using the second method, and it was quite exhilarating until we rounded a particularly sharp corner and I lost my grip on the hinge of the tailgate. In turning the corner the car had hit a rather deep pothole and launched me skyward, forcing my hand loose from it’s anchor and as the car sped forward, I merely remained where I was, poised in the deep blue sky for what seemed like an eternity.

Then my electrifying flight ended abruptly as I hit the dusty road, somersaulting endlessly backward in the direction from which we had come. Now a number of things went through my mind as this happened, the first being, this hurts. Another thought was about the steepness of the hill whose downward slope I was traversing rather acrobatically. The last thought was really about whether I would survive my tumble, but that was interrupted by the sounds of my brother and someone else in the car yelling that I had fallen out.

The strangest thing was I don’t remember if my father stopped the car or just kept going. It was only a matter of few dozen more yards to our driveway and it wouldn’t have been unheard of for him to simply look in the rear view mirror, see me moving and think something like, “he’s okay, he can walk home.” He had done similar things before and certainly afterward. I believe he stopped; I’m just not sure. I may even have waved them homeward, or returned to my seat on the tailgate. I seem to remember the car continuing its progress homeward and walking the rest of the way.

What has occurred to me is this: even if he did stop, there was no examination of my possibly abraded body or even a questioning of whether I might be seriously hurt, even while moving. My father did say later while laughing, that he had seen me rolling down the hill in his side mirror.

I have realized watching parents lately that when one of their children, whether self-induced or otherwise, has had an accident, there is at least a cursory examination to determine possible injury. My parents lived by a very different philosophy I think and, while it may have had the appearance of treating their children in a ‘rugged pioneer’ sink or swim manner, as I look back on it, it seems more psychopathic than anything else.

In another incident, as I was coming out our front door one day, the family dog came to greet me rather enthusiastically and tripped me, pitching me into a decorative rock wall erected by my father at my mother’s request. The stones were sedimentary shale with the rocks laid with the layers perpendicular to the ground, giving the edge a scalloped look. The shale’s edges were also razor sharp. Although those walls have since been relayed in a more conventional manner minus the shale, it is clear that at the original erection safety wasn’t a primary concern.

As I fell, my hand slid along the edge of one of the stones, slicing into my right palm deeply. The blood immediately began to flow copiously out of the cut. I ran to an outside faucet and started to wash the hand free of dirt and realized how deep the cut was by how far into my hand I could see, muscle tissue and sinew exposed to open air. What I did was try to pinch the cut closed with my left hand to slow the blood flow, which didn’t work, so I cupped my right hand, which actually seemed to have an effect. I knew, even at the time, I needed stitches.

Since I knew my mother would not appreciate me bleeding on the floor, I tried to get someone’s attention by yelling but that didn’t seem to work. I also knew that moving quickly would increase my heart rate thereby speeding the bleeding, so I slowly walked into the house to the kitchen where the family wall-phone hung near the breakfast table.

My mother was in the kitchen occupied in something like washing the dishes and saw the blood cupped and over-flowing from my hand and asked what I had done. When I told her that I had been tripped by the dog and fell on the rocks, her response was as close to boredom as I ever saw in her. It almost seemed she didn’t believe the cut was deep enough to warrant inspection and that maybe I had been saving up the blood in my hand for some unknown purpose. When she told me to open my hand flat, internally I was worried about getting blood on the floor, and rightly so, because when I opened my palm, the blood seemed to form a waterfall and the cut began to hemorrhage quickly.

Her first reaction was the statement; “You’re getting blood on the floor, close your hand.” Then she said, “You may need stitches.” She edged her way around me and the pool of blood on the floor and picked up the phone to call our family doctor’s number, but as this was the weekend probably got an answering service that referred her to another office. She then called that office and every once in a while looking at my hand, described the situation in tones that sounded to me like I was interrupting her day’s activities. At one point in the conversation she asked the person on the other end, “well, yes the cut is pretty bad, but can’t I just put a bandage on it? Do you think that would do?”

Evidently the answer was that I’d better be brought in so the doctor could examine the problem first hand. We had to wait for my father to return from somewhere and then I was taken into town for a visit to the only woman doctor then practicing in our county. She was an older woman who looked like an owl with large glasses and iron-grey hair piled into a large bun on her head. The receptionist saw my father and I enter and said, “Doctor will be right with you. Sir, you need to fill out these papers.” Then she did an odd thing to me; she requested to see the cut and exclaimed rather excitedly, “Oh! It looks just like it was made with a doctor’s knife!”

After the subsequent five large stitches, my father and I returned home where dinner was waiting. When we were all seated the conversation turned to the event of the day and the only part that my father seemed to remember rather scornfully was the receptionists comment, which he misquoted as scalpel. When I corrected him he brushed it off with, “Who cares? What a stupid thing to say.”

When one of my siblings asked how I was supposed to wash my hands, my father answered. My mother commented after hearing how many stitches I’d received, that, “Your brother needed seventeen stitches in his finger when he got it caught in your grandfather’s saw.” Then the rest of the conversation was about injuries my parents had received, and another retelling of how my grandfather was blown off a truck and burned.

I admit, rehashing an injury is not the most interesting or stimulating conversation but I am still amazed at how quickly the subject turned back to my parents. When I try to remember the initial conversation with my mother, I try to keep in mind that I was probably in shock and maybe the conversation wasn’t as casual as I thought it was at the time. But I am pretty sure I am not misremembering the words she used, or my father’s strange commentary on what the receptionist had said. Were those comments just prompted by panic and used to calm some internal dread?

I sometimes ask myself that if some of the things I saw my parents do I might have given too much significance in memory. Here’s one example.

My parents, I believe had developed a kind of us against them mentality and the ‘them’ was everyone other than themselves, including their children. I state this merely as belief, not necessarily fact, because they are dead and cannot argue for themselves. They did argue between themselves a lot.

After we moved to the Sierra foothills, my mother stated in an announcement whose tones suggested a Sibylline prediction that ‘we’ were going to start a herd of cattle. My father must have agreed because he bought rolls of barbed wire and numbers of cedar fence posts and my brother and I assisted him inclosing about five acres. He also reused some of the ancient fencing already laying about the place and built a ‘corral’, which was actually just a wooden addition to the end of the pasture with a gate made by sliding wood six by two planks across the opening. The planks could be easily removed if an animal needed to be led out or in.

The ‘herd’ consisted of two bovines, which they bought as calves. One was a bull calf and the other a heifer. I don’t remember where they purchased them, but I remember being taken along in the back of the pickup as some kind of wrangler and had the job of steadying them and keeping them from falling out of the truck. Even though the calves were small, they were still big enough that had they fallen on me, or against me (and they did) I would have had difficulty getting them off. I remember they were quite frightened.

Those two cattle were actually terrific breeders and between them had two offspring, one that we aptly named Ribroast. The bull was temperamental and both my brother and myself had run-ins with him where he tried to finish us off. He caught my brother unawares walking through the pasture one day and mauled him. On the day I was caught by him he had gotten out of the pasture and in trying to bring him back, he flipped me into the air and butted my chest with his head, which doesn’t sound bad as I write it, but one thousand pounds of angry bull pushing on your chest wasn’t fun. In flipping me to the side with his head, I landed with my back against some sheep fencing with my right leg twisted so far under and behind me that my foot was pressed between my back and the fence. My youngest sister, who had followed me, saw all this and came charging forward, yelling and waving, what I seem to recall was, a surveying stake like a scimitar.

I guess two against one didn’t seem fair to the bull and he ambled off to return to his previous occupation, watching a neighbor’s cow on the other side of a more escape-proof fence. It was a bit of work but my sister helped me stand and the pain was excruciating. It was like I had done the splits and then some and to get to the standing position I had to drag my leg from under and behind me. I do not know this but it could have been dislocated because I couldn’t put any weight on it without blinding pain and then there was a kind of adjustment and while it still was a ten on the one out of ten pain scale, at least it wasn’t a twenty. Using my sister as a crutch, I limped back to our house and as we were making our way to the door, my mother leaned out her upstairs window yelling, “Did you bring that bull back?”

At that question, I wanted to throw a rock at her head if I could have bent to pick one up. I angrily asked her if she was paying attention and that I could hardly walk. Her reply was to tell me that I needed to go back and bring the animal home, to which I replied, “If you want it so bad, tell Dad to go get it.” I will never forget her very angry response.

“Your father hasn’t had his breakfast yet!”

I was so angry I couldn’t speak but my little sister, bless her heart said, “Neither have we.” In a united act of disobedience we continued into the house. I limped painfully for months afterward.

I try to excuse my mother’s actions and reactions because she spent so much time in and out of mental hospitals and wards, but what I saw my father do, I have no reliable explanation for.

Many years after the bull attack, on a late summer day, the cow had become trapped in some fencing near the house. She had a hind leg entangled in the wire somehow and was bawling loudly and continuously. I think I must have just arrived home from a walk because I heard the ruckus and went to see what was going on. When I rounded the house I saw my father, trying to disengage her leg from the fencing. I ran up to assist but he didn’t seem to want my help much, and when I started to go around to the cows head to lead her forward, which is easier to do with a cow than pushing them from behind, my father became quite agitated, angry even and demanded that I return to where he was to assist.

I asked if maybe it would be easier to cut the fence but he very angrily retorted that he wasn’t going to fix the fence because the cow was stupid enough to get caught in it. We spent the next few minutes trying to get the cow to pick up her hind leg or pushing her to see if she could walk forward and drag the leg out of the fencing but nothing helped. Again, I said maybe if I went around to her head and put a rope on her I could pull her forward, or at least encourage her to come forward, but he got even angrier. There wasn’t any exact thing the cow did or didn’t do differently that provoked him but at one moment he just seemed to pop.

My father habitually carried a Buck clasp knife in a hard leather case on his belt. The case had a snap cover that was difficult to unsnap and the knife itself was difficult to unclasp. I say these things because what he did looked vicious to me. He had to stop pushing the cow or whatever he was doing to accomplish what he did. He had to turn, and using one hand to hold the case and the other to pull that hard snap loose then remove the knife and using both hands pull the blade away from the handle, very deliberately. Then he stabbed the bawling cow in the haunch rather like it was something he really wanted to do, and not because it would get the cow to move her leg or maybe make her panic her way to freedom, but just because he wanted to and could. Because she was already panicked, it was useless as a motivating action, and then he stabbed her again and maybe because that didn’t work or because he hadn’t got the response he was seeking, he calmly refolded the knife, which was even more complicated than unfolding it because a lock button had to be pushed very firmly, and he put it away in the snap case.

I remember watching him struggle a little to close the snap because it was designed, I think, not to open easily, and thinking why did he do that? Why did he do that? I have no answers.

I honestly believe that it was because he didn’t get the reaction he wanted that he said, “Well then, she can get herself out, unless you want to help her. But do not cut the fence! I couldn’t tell if the last was a reminder or a warning to me. He then gave the animal a last disgusted look and walked away. I know I got the cow loose but I don’t remember how, but I do remember him asking, and me just saying ‘yes’.

Another incident of this variety caused me to make up my mind to enter the Naval service.

On the occasion of my graduation from high school, a notice had been sent out from the school that only parents were to be guaranteed chairs in the audience section and anyone else would need to stand, so I invited only my parents. This was in some ways unnecessary because when my brother and older sister had graduated the only other family members to attend was our immediate family. But it was obvious from the crowd that many people other than parents were attending.

During the procession to our seats I was paired with quite possibly the most desirable girl in the graduating class and I received at least a half dozen offers of payment to trade places from male classmates. One so lucrative, I asked the young lady in question if she would rather walk with the fellow who made the offer; I received a resounding negative response and she grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t you dare! He’s a creep.”

When the ceremony was over, my mother’s first question was, “Who was that girl you were walking with?” in a strangely suggestive tone. I know that parents imagine their children with various partners, but this was the first time she had ever asked such a question to me. I tried to laugh it off at the time, but her insistence in knowing also prompted a rather ingenuous addendum to her first question, which was, “Have you had a date with her?” (The only dates I had ever been on had been group dates.) I explained several times that we were simply put in alphabetical order and our pairing had been a complete accident.

When the conversation ended my best friend Mike walked up with his family, including an uncle, aunt and brother, as well as his mother. His mother made the statement that if she had known the true situation she could have gotten a lot more family to show up and made an apology to Mike.

In response, my mother said that it wouldn’t have mattered in my case, no one else would have wanted to come. My father said, “Congratulations, son.” When my father called my brother or myself ‘son’ it was his way of putting us in our place; it was not an affectionate recognition of blood connection.

After saying a cursory ‘nice to meet you’ to Mike’s family my mother said with finality, “Okay, let’s go home.” I must say I did not expect very much but the abrupt treatment of my friend’s family and that ‘we’re done here’ kind of attitude placed another black mark in a book already filled with them. Mike had just previously invited me to dinner with he and his family and I simply told them, “Mike invited me to have dinner with them and I accepted. I will see you later tonight.”

I think it was my father who said, “Well, you’re eighteen, I guess you can do what you want.” They both turned and just walked off. I wonder if they thought I was being snooty.

The look on my parents’ faces was so startling that Mike asked me after a few minutes if everything was all right. I remember taking a breath and saying that even if it wasn’t, it didn’t matter, I’d made my decision, and I have never regretted that decision once.

The dinner was delightful and it was one dinner I remember for the chief reason that there was not even one little argument; it was actually fun. Afterward Mike drove me home and wished me well and told me to keep in touch. I did the same and braced myself for an unknown reaction when I entered the house.

My parents were sitting at the table, drinking the red wine that anaesthetized so many of their nights, when I walked into the dining room. My mother’s first words to me on seeing me enter were, “Your dog is dead. You'll have to bury him.” That was my greeting.

I know they had not planned any kind of special graduation dinner for me at home. They had not given my brother or my sister any kind of graduation present and I certainly was not expecting one. There was no ‘hello’, no ‘how was dinner’, there were no other words of congratulation, just, “Your dog is dead. You'll have to bury him.” I knew in that moment I had broken through some unspoken and unwritten rule they had about parental precedence and this was a kind of revenge. I could give a number of reasons why I believe this to be so but I will not.

That night I lay in my bed unsleeping, wondering what I was going to do now that I no longer had school as an escape and after hours of thinking of the dog’s bloated body and the efforts made by my two little sisters and myself to transport that corpse somewhere away from the house, and hearing my mother’s words burning in my ears and trying to blot them out with the rock-and-roll of Wolfman Jack, I finally changed the station to listen to KCTC.

KCTC was an easy-listening station, elevator music, that I hoped would put me to sleep, and the inspiration came from there. As I listened to the boring violins of Mantovani and Hugo Winterhalter into the night I counted bars of music and tried to breathe quietly to avoid bothering my brother. At around two or three in the morning, a rather insipid choral version of a Noel Coward song played that I had never heard or known of:

Matelot, Matelot,
Where you go my thoughts go with you
Matelot, Matelot,
When you go down to the sea.

I do not even remember what the rest of the song was about but in that moment I made the decision to enter the navy, and for that night at least, gratefully entered sleep.

In the years since my mother’s suicide and my father’s slow death from alcohol, smoking and pulmonary emphysema, I have asked myself many times what kind of people were these? I still wish to know.

I haven’t forgotten that both of them liked to laugh, and were creative, gifted, intelligent people, neither have I forgotten nor forgiven their cruelties, and this is what I wish and seek to do.