Joey always felt like he was running late, even if he wasn't. He strapped his trumpet case to the wire stand behind the seat of his bicycle, pulling hard on the thick rubber bungee cord until the hook found the right cross-bar on the underside. You'd think that after two-and-a-half years of doing this every morning, the proper tension on the cord would be enough to convince him that he had caught the right bar. But no, he crouched down and twisted his head around to check what he already knew to be true, that it was all correct, and the weight of his overstuffed backpack shifted and wrenched his narrow shoulders. Every day, the same thing. Every day, thinking he was running late, yet still taking the time to check the bungee. Every day.
Today was Tuesday. Coasting down the short driveway, Joey glided out into the street and turned right, pedaling up to speed towards the first intersection close by. He suddenly turned left, though, when he got there -- just leaned and turned and suddenly he was going down a street he had never taken before to get to school. Sure, he knew that it would come out all right at the far end -- that instead of going up to the main boulevard with its broad sidewalk situated well apart from traffic, turning left there, and then making a straight shot towards Jackson Middle School 1.8 miles away -- that instead of going the way he had always gone to school for the past two-and-a-half years, he had somehow decided, in a rash instant, to make a drastic change.
This feels like an adventure! Already -- like an adventure! he thought to himself, and his scrawny legs pumped harder, propelling himself with his heavy backpack and his shifting trumpet case down the grainy asphalt of Zephyr Street which had no sidewalk -- and no lines painted on it even. Down he rolled, past houses he didn't know, houses painted weird colors -- like that one coming up that was dark blue with pale yellow shutters -- with strange trees and plantings and odd cars and trucks -- like that cable company van -- parked in the driveways. It may have been a street on a different planet. Why hadn't he ever gone this way before now, before today? Why had it taken him so long to discover this? Joey’s excitement became tainted as he pedaled. Why is this such a big discovery? Why did everything take so long for him to figure out?
He pedaled a bit faster as the street curved slightly to the left. He was veering away from things now, away from straight, and this would cost him some time, but not that much really. It was a brief curve, and just up ahead, it curved back again, and all would be fine. When Zephyr Street ended at Hemingway Avenue, he would make his right turn and go on up to meet the main boulevard there with the wide concrete sidewalk and all the other kids hustling to get in before the bell, and everything would be fine. He wasn't so late today, after all. This was still kind of fun.
Joey braked as the street met the avenue but not quite hard enough. His right turn was wider than he would have liked, and he was grateful that there wasn't a car coming. He realized then that he hadn't come across any cars at all going down Zephyr Street, except the ones parked in the driveways, sweating off morning dew laced with pine pollen. He realized too that he hadn't seen another soul either, until just then when an old lady walking two greyhounds emerged from behind a row of Arborvitae, and they all three turned blindly onto the road in front of him. They hadn't seen him coming. He would be coming up behind them now, and they wouldn't know it, because they hadn't seen him coming. Why hadn't they looked? He knew why, though.
Joey quickly but noiselessly shot to the other side of the street. He didn't have a bell or anything. Something like that would invite ridicule beyond all reckoning at the bike racks. Now though, if he could just breeze past the dogs without spooking them...
No, dog, don't look at me. No, dogs, no no no NO!
Both greyhounds bolted at him as he shot past and yanked the old lady right off her feet. Her head jerked backwards as her shriveled arm snapped forward with the tautened leashes. She landed face first onto Hemingway Avenue and slid about six feet before the dogs realized what they had done, and then they turned around to investigate things.
Joey thought, for a brief second, of just going right on.
He abruptly braked and wheeled around, coming to a stop when one of the dogs lifted up his head to look at him and sniff. Joey dismounted and stood up his bike, dropping his backpack down beside it. He then rushed over to the old lady still lying prone in the road. He gave the bewildered dogs a dirty look when one attempted a growl. Joey then ignored them and bent down to see how bad things were going to be. She wasn't out. She was panting and kind of moaning, and he managed to get her to turn over onto her back. She seemed fine though, except for all the panting. There was no blood at first, but when he untangled the leashes from around her wrist, he noticed that her palms were cut and starting to bleed slightly. She was writhing all around now, and panting, and staring blindly up into the high, cloudless, bright morning sky.
Stop panting so you can tell me that you're all right, goddamn it! Joey shouted in his head. The greyhounds stood aloof, quiet and subdued, and Joey stepped on the ends of the leashes so they couldn't wander out in front of a car. God, please let no one come by right now!
Wednesday morning it was raining -- hard. Joey did have a poncho, which he told his mother he wore on rainy days, though he never did. He figured that he would be ridiculed about it at the bike racks when he arrived there. Probably not, though, but he didn't want to take the chance, in any case. If he had been a girl, he thought, he could get away with it. Probably, as a girl, he'd be ridiculed if he hadn’t worn the poncho in the rain. But in any case...
He turned, half-consciously, down Zephyr Street again, and strained to keep his mind blank for as long as possible; but even before he reached the first curve, he had remembered it all over again.
At least she had been okay. Except for the scrapes on her palms, she had been all right. She finally told him that she was okay, finally, after she stopped her panting and looking up into the empty sky at nothing. She looked right at him then, all bewildered like her goddamn dogs, and then her look became somewhat cross. But she didn't say anything mean to him -- probably because he was helping her up off the asphalt, and telling her that her hands were scraped up, and offering her the leashes to take back. He wanted to scold the two dogs, but he didn't. And he could tell that she really wanted to scold him too, but she didn't. They just parted somehow after five or six tense minutes in the middle of Hemingway Avenue. Anyway, the bell didn't ring until right after he sat down at his desk.
This is just too much friggin' damn rain! Joey suddenly decided. He was soaked already. He had thought he could make it there without getting soaked, but he was wrong, and it was raining even harder now. Suddenly, he turned off and shot up the driveway with the cable company van parked in it and slid to a stop inside the open garage. There was a little red car parked inside with a dumb racing stripe painted down the hood, but he found room enough to turn around and point his front tire back out towards the road. Everything was dark around him.
The windows of the house had been dark. All the windows of all the houses so far had been dark too, he realized. Who lived in these houses with unlit windows and weird paint schemes and strange bushes and odd vehicles? Which ones had dogs in them? More rescue greyhounds, perhaps? Joey had wanted a pet dog for so long, but his mother was allergic, so... And anyway, greyhounds do not make good pets, he had decided. He couldn't love a greyhound, he told himself. He knew it was a lie, though.
Joey's father was a smoker, so he didn't immediately notice the stench wafting around him until he caught a glimpse of the gray-white plumes crossing in front of his face. Then it was unmistakable, and turning his head, he traced the smoke back to its source. In the deep shadow of the garage, on the other side of the little red car and away from the opening, stood a shirtless man holding a cigarette out in front of him. He was just standing there, stock-still and wide-eyed, staring right at Joey. He didn't say anything, and Joey didn't say anything. Joey smiled awkwardly, seeking for a way out of having to explain himself, when he noticed that something didn't look quite right about this man standing in his own garage next to his own car. The man looked frightened. Joey became frightened then too, yet he still held out in the shelter of the garage, as the rain came down in buckets right outside. There was something off about the guy -- something visually off. And then Joey saw it. Through the dimness of the garage, through the swirling cigarette smoke, he discerned the narrow, repeating angles of a black, pleated skirt.
Thursday morning, Joey blew right through the intersection at Zephyr Street and pedaled purposefully towards the main boulevard with its safe, commodious sidewalk -- down the way he had always gone to school and would go for the rest of his middle school career, which was thankfully only a few months more. Then he would have to take the bus, because Chandler County High School was much farther away from his house than the middle school was, much farther than the two mile radius outside of which the buses must stop and pick kids up.
Joey was looking forward to that, actually. No more riding his bike. He couldn't understand how, when he got to school yesterday, no one seemed to be very wet, despite the heavy rainstorm. He was soaked, right down to his underwear, and his sneakers were heavy and squeaky. His clothes didn't dry out completely until after lunch. He was teased about his wet backside for four straight periods, and he just couldn't figure it out -- why it was seemingly just him and no one else. But he dared not ask anyone straight out. Finally, as he noticed how few bikes were locked up in the bike racks that afternoon, it dawned on him -- their parents must have taken them all to school that morning. You know -- 'cause of all the goddamn friggin' rain! Why, why did it take him so long to figure stuff like this out all the time? Somebody else would have figured it out right away. Somebody else, too, would know what to make of the guy wearing a black pleated skirt, standing in the dark, smoking a cigarette, watching the rain pound down in the morning. Somebody else, anybody else, but him... And yet, he could think of no way to ask...
He started running towards Joey, flailing his arms desperately, out of breath and sweaty in his smart polo shirt and shiny basketball shorts; and Joey knew right then that he was going to be majorly late for school. As Joey had turned left onto the sidewalk, there coming towards him was a young boy. Too young, Joey thought when they finally encountered each other. Joey said nothing but simply stared at the kid, lamenting -- resenting -- his own misfortune. Resenting -- so much.
“Can you take me to school on your bike?!” the little boy pleaded frantically. Joey couldn't tell if he was crying or just sweating all down his face -- couldn't tell if he was sobbing or just breathing hard from running off-and-on down the sidewalk towards his elementary school, the one way back behind Joey in the opposite direction, 0.7 miles away. Joey glowered down at the boy until he saw him become bashful, almost ashamed. Joey suddenly felt ashamed of himself. Where the hell had this kid come from, anyway? He knew that the elementary school had already started almost an hour ago. Why hadn't anybody stopped to help this kid before now? Why, why did it have to be...?
"All right, all right. Hang on." Joey unstraddled his bike and pointed it in the opposite direction towards the elementary school. "You'll have to sit on this, I guess," he said, patting the top of his trumpet case, wondering if it was rigid enough to support the weight of a kindergartener. "Are you in kindergarten?" Joey asked then, thinking he looked too young for anything else. The little boy nodded warily, still breathing hard but now mostly through his nose.
In a couple of minutes, they were grinding their way down the sidewalk, Joey's legs burning already, pushing down the stubborn pedals even as his knees, alternately, raised up his backpack which had been repositioned to his chest. The other way, it had been too big and bulky to allow the kid to sit behind him and also clutch him around the waist, and it was way too goddamn heavy for the kid to shoulder it himself.
"Go in and tell them you missed your bus this morning," Joey commanded as they trundled into the parking lot. That was true enough. "Tell them you had to walk the whole way." Well, that wasn't true, but there was no more time to be lost. Joey had had enough. Just -- enough already. No more. He stopped behind a maintenance truck, trying to keep out of sight. He had to pry the kid's hands apart from around his waist. Joey wearily lifted him up off of his trumpet case and set him down on his feet. "Now, like I told you..." he began, but the kid bolted away from him towards the front doors without a word or a look back. "Shit."
Joey's legs were on fire, but he couldn't risk being caught and further detained. He wasn't really even sure if what he had just done was the right thing or not. He felt like this whole thing should have been handled by some sort of an adult. He didn't understand why he had to deal with this stuff. He was just a kid too, after all. Didn't they know that? Didn't they know that he was still just a kid, too? As Joey pedaled back down the sidewalk, back the way he had come, he figured he would keep going until he was out of sight of the elementary school before stopping to let his legs rest for a bit.
He didn't stop, though. He just kept right on going.
The bell rang as he was locking up his bike on the overcrowded rack. He paused at the water-fountain in the hallway for a long, gasping, choking draught, and nobody noticed when he opened the classroom door and slipped into his seat. The teacher wasn't even there for a while, for some reason, and the other kids were all over the place anyway.
That evening, Joey entered the living room where his father was sitting in his recliner, doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Joey stood there, watching his father's subtle movements -- rocking the pencil in his fingertips, eyes darting over the page, thinking hard -- and Joey realized then that he didn't know how to talk to his father. No, that wasn't it. He didn't know how to talk -- to anybody. And what was more, neither did his father. Neither did anybody.
"Dad?" Joey said.
"Hmm?" his father replied, or rather stated, without looking up. "Hmm."
"Can you drive me to school tomorrow morning?" A pregnant pause.
"Why? What's wrong with your bike?"
Nothing. Nothing was wrong with his bike. Goddamn it anyway. "No, it's not... It's just..." Joey stammered. Another long pause.
His father was waiting, Joey realized -- waiting for him to fail. Waiting for him to lose confidence and knuckle under. Waiting for him to realize that whatever it was, it was just too much. Everybody's got to be somewhere first thing in the morning, Joey, and nobody can be late. Dad's got his car. Mom's got her car. Joey's got his bike. It even has a stand in the back for his trumpet. Next year, Joey will walk down to the main boulevard and catch the bus there to the high school. It's not that far to walk, after all. It's not that far right now to ride his bike to the middle school, either. Only 1.8 miles. They had measured it with the odometer in the car that one time, remember? Remember? Now, that's enough. No more. And so...
"Hmm." Joey's father flipped the pencil over in his hand and erased some letters he had made, smacking the folded paper to remove the rubbings. Finally, he looked up at Joey.
"Never mind," Joey said, and he turned and left and went into his room and closed the door. He set his trumpet case on his desk and opened it up, pulling out the glinting instrument and fitting the mouthpiece snugly into it. He balanced his sheet music against the upright lid and read the title: Advanced Etude for Brass Quartet. Beneath that, in smaller print: Second Trumpet.
This was the piece they had long been preparing for the annual competition. It was nice, Joey supposed. It was kind of slow, which was good. Not too many high notes either, at least for him. It sounded strange, though. He knew his part very well and could play it flawlessly, but to him it was very -- strange. Somehow, it didn't make much sense. The melody wasn't, well, obvious to him.
And when they all played together, he and the other trumpet and the trombone and the French horn, it didn't make any more sense to him then, either. If anything it was, well, more confusing. He couldn't pay much attention to what the other three were playing, because then he would get lost and screw it up for everyone. It was an advanced piece, Joey thought, because the melody wasn't very clear.
He wondered then if the other three thought that also. They hadn't said anything about it, but he suspected that they might feel the same way. He suddenly realized that he could ask them, the next time they practiced together -- ask them if they thought it was a strange piece too. But then again, they had already been playing it for so long -- and nobody had said anything.
Evil from north pole
Issues from antiquity
Colder without love
Sun, farther off, yet watches
Level-set on horizons
Mankind falls, earth lists
Year divides, divides again
Fourfold the seasons
Star-crossed the constellations
Keeping gates which square heaven
Sun, moon, stars and night
Immutable in their spheres
Wheeling round and round
Strange wanderings for the earth
And her peripatetics
Eagle and stinger
Angel drips water through air
Raking bull, fire mane
Golden chain and silver cords
And bridge arched over chaos
Motion moves moment
Spinning wave-like over time
All comes round again
Different places though, so old
New turns old, and pole turns pole
The story begins
The tale always beginning
End it though you try
Draw serpentine, bite your tail
And compass round the whole point
I am nothing.
Wait. On second thought --
No, I am not nothing.
If I was nothing, I would be an absolute,
Which, if you think about it,
Is really something, after all.
No, I am something just this side of nothing.
I am practically nothing --
Not really much of anything at all.
And there is nothing worse than that.
Yesterday as I was walking, someone who I thought I knew
Came around the corner, and I didn't know just what to do
Should I stop and speak to her, or should I stoop to tie my shoe?
But before my mind was made up, she had disappeared from view
Anyway, I kept on walking, trying not to misconstrue
Whether it was Anna Belle or Katie Lynn or Cindy Lou
Who was in possession of those soulful eyes of ocean blue
Worthy of and rivaling the awesome power of that hue
Racking, as I did, my brain to finally alight on who
It had been or could have been, I plied myself at a breakthrough
Then, all of a sudden, I extrapolated from that clue
Yes it was, could be no other, definitely -- it was you
Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk as though stuck with glue
I thought that my going home was something that I should eschew
Rather, I must double back and try at least, or attempt to
Find out whither you had gone and seek to gain an interview
Oh, I know! -- I said aloud, as people glanced at me askew
Maybe you were headed, for some reason, to a rendezvous
At the place where, long ago, we used to sit and talk and chew
And, I'm not ashamed to say it, publicly would bill and coo
Soon enough, I reached the little cafe called The Kangaroo
There, I found you by yourself, though at a table set for two
Speaking with a waiter who was bidding you bienvenue
Who then, most solicitously, lowly bowed and then withdrew
Maybe you arrived there early, or the other's overdue
I could not determine rightly which was false and which was true
Either way, my confidence in who you had been only grew
Because I identified your little butterfly tattoo
Musing all this time that, if I got the chance, I would renew
Our relationship which was, for me, the best of very few
I, with reckless courage, dashed between the cars and waiting queue
Causing everything behind me much chagrin and ballyhoo
Then I wondered to myself what I had gotten me into
Too late now to turn around, for you had seen my derring-do
Pulse was racing much too fast, and sweat clung to my brow like dew
I approached you out of breath, and all that I could say was -- Whew!
Suddenly as I looked on, I saw you seized with an ague
Shaking like a leaf, you were; I watched you lift up your menu
Covering your mouth as though to hold back what must now issue --
Laughter from the inside out; what you would swallow, forth did spew
Well I guess I had it coming and, I guess, deserved it, too
Dripping wet with scalding coffee, my whole face covered with brew
Down it flowed over my chin, a caffeinated Fu Manchu
So you tossed to me your napkin, to collect the residue
There I stood humiliated, spare the next turn of the screw
You gestured for me to sit and willed that it should continue
Circumspect, I cast about for someone else to then debut
I've been waiting here -- she told me -- I've been waiting here for you
Following My Dreams
The other night, I dreamt of Death.
"Ah, this is Hades," I said to myself
But possibly to someone else --
Possibly to everyone else.
I plucked him off of his coal-black steed
And placed him on a silver buckboard.
He was only the size of a figurine,
And he and his horse were coarse and ugly
But not unfriendly.
Last time, I dreamt of a sleek black panther.
The cadence became interrupted,
And turning, I beheld this almighty beast
As it passed me by, ignoring me
Yet coercing my attention away from inanity
And onto its own grace.
It slipped away, and I woke up.
The next day, I was told my grandmother
Today, an old scar opened up on my shoulder.
It was one of those nervous, self-inflicted wounds
Effected with too long a fingernail
And too long a hiatus from, well, everything.
I tried the cards again:
Lots of swords --
Running with swords, piercing, pinning.
Kinetic swords fastened to the
Entropic mechanism of the universe.
There were cups, too:
Cups in the future, cups of the future.
Nearby and in the sky.
Cups of Home.
The key to prophecy presupposes some sort of lock --
Between now and then, and there.
Keeping time in rooms
With doors only and no windows...
And beds in the corners.
Unicorns don't breed
Like horses, goats or donkeys
A dozen a day
Whenever the world needs one
One appears ex nihilo
The horn absorbs pain
The pain of the world, children
It's a mystery
Only when you look at it
It has no other purpose
Cloven hooves, bearded
A white without a spectrum
Though, like everything, stardust
In one eye, the past
In the other, the future
Time will stop in the present
To let a unicorn move
Reflections in pools
Difficult to see itself
The fish make ripples
All things gather round to stare
Good, now look at each other
What does the world need--
Another horse, goat, donkey?
Uniqueness held in common
An infinity of horns