Monday, August 04, 2008


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fronda of the Plains, Part 2

Once Lance had wrapped the tiny bones in sagebrush and sweetgrass, he carried the bundle inside and placed it in a cardboard box, a shoebox he’d emptied of screws, widgets, and razor blades. The bonnet that had come with Fronda he placed gently on the green mound in the center of the box, and he put the box on the windowsill. “Now you can look outside and watch the tumbleweeds,” he said. He stood there before the window, his hands holding either side of the box, head bowed. “Fronda, travel well into the deadlands,” he said. “May your journey be peaceful and your rest be sweet.” That much he remembered from some prayer he’d heard once, when an Indian girl had died over on the reservation. He wiped a last tear from his rugged cheek and lifted his head. He released the box, and lifted his arms – and, with a growl, turned on his heel away from the window and towards the cabin door.

Holding his arms, his hands, up to the light that blared in through that opening, he growled again, “And now I’m-a-gonna catch me the bastards that done this. And when I catch ‘em, they’re a-gonna wish they never had a taste for the sweetest flesh that ever graced a bushy-tailed baby. I’m a-gonna rip out their sinful, gluttonous tongues and then I’m a-gonna ignore their tongueless calls for mercy. I’m a-gonna kill them twelve ways dead! They won’t forget, even when they’re a-crossin’ the river Lethe into Hell. I’ll send them to a special Hell, where big strong men who eat delicate beauties such as Fronda go to suffer. Where they are ripped and ground up, over and over again, by nasty giant molars, in huge smelly mouths. They will suffer!”

And he took his head in his hands and crumpled to the floor, muttering. “Who could it be – who could have done it – who in all the lord’s creation could be so terrible? Who? Could it have been Old Patch-Britches what lives down near the crick? He likes him some squirrel flesh. But he would never cross me, no, he learned that way back. Elvira, the crazy cat lady? No, she don’t cook her food, just swallows it up all whole and sometimes still kickin’. Now think, Lance! Think…now… those feathers in the cinders, sticking up in the cinders, that’s a strange thing, some kinda creepy ritual thing. That’s like some kinda gang work. That gang, that gang what wears ‘em the funny headgear! Them guys where’n you cain’t see their faces! Who knows what they get up to out here in the country! That’s it! Musta been them! But how do you find ‘em, when they’re not a-wearin’ that funny headgear? Think, Lance, think!”

He sat there crumpled up on the dusty floor, rocking and holding his head, muttering to himself. The day turned hotter and brighter, light poured in through the door, he sweated where he sat and muttered, muttered, and rocked, and after awhile the light got less, and yellower, and oranger, and when at last the first streaks of pink entered the square of sky framed by the rough wood of the door, he stood, quietly. He gathered a few things – matches, a pan, a hunk of bread, his canteen, his bedroll, and a bottle of golden brown hooch – and stuffed them in his saddlebags. He picked up a cinder from inside the wood oven and wrote on the wall under the windowsill, where Fronda’s little box sat, “HERE LIES FRONDA. REST IN PEACE. SHE WAS LOVED BY A LAWMAN. HE HAS GONE TO AVENGE HER. BEWARE ANY WHO CROSS HIM.”

And saddlebags over his shoulder, he went through the rough wood frame door of the shadowy cabin, the door which had framed the violet and pink evening he now stepped into, whistling for his horse.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Twisted Shakespeare Fall '07

And this is the production from Fall of this year, when Peggy and I worked with 3rd graders. (See last post for details.)

Twisted Shakespeare Spring '08

This is what I've been working on all week... These are plays by kids we work with at PS10 in Brooklyn. My co-teacher Peggy Stafford and I work with 4th graders to write, produce, and illustrate radio plays.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fronda of the Plains, Part 1

A Lance Lawman story, by Gimp Pecosa

Lance woke early, fingers of hot sun poking through the chinks in the mortar and prodding him to “get up, get up, see to what needs seeing to.” It was going to be another scorcher, he thought, as he dragged himself out of his sweaty burlap sheets and damp mattress-ticking, and up and out the cabin door. Blinded by the sun, whose force was more like a mean left hook than a poke now, he staggered across the yard to the water trough. He scooped up a handful of tepid water and threw it over his sweat-greasy face. “What a way to enter the waking world,” he thought, and said, to no-one in particular, “My aunt Beatrice, but it’s dang hot today!”

As his eyes began to adjust to the nuclear brightness of the Texas morning sun, he looked out over the plain and wished, for the thousandth time, that the tiny cottonwoods he had planted on the edge of the paddock were higher than his knee. He wished for trees – any kind of tree: birch, maple, oak, willow, it didn’t matter, so long as it stood solid, large and proud against the sun and cast its sweet cool shadow over him. But instead, the bald horizon stared back at him, curving downward like an angry mouth. He kicked the bare ground and winced at the little plume of dust that rose there. Then he turned and started back to the cabin, stopping to relieve himself against a fencepost, cursing the lack of trees again.

As he let his stream go, as it hit the dust and sent little whirls of dust and steam up into the hot air, he looked around the bare paddock. And something – there, right by the edge, by the baby cottonwoods – caught his eye. A pile of blackened brushwood, cinders. Had someone built a fire – right here, on his property, while he slept? He tucked himself in and went to investigate.

It was indeed a pile of cinders, surrounded by a well of footprints, marking a distinct circular pattern. There were three feathers stuck standing straight up in the middle of the cinders – marking the spot where a tiny skeleton, bits of flesh still clinging to its tiny ribcage, lay – or rather stood, posed as if it were sitting up, head perched on top with rather a lot of blackened skin and hair still covering it. Some kind of rodent. As big as Lance’s big hammy hand, with sharp teeth and little claws and – “Oh god!” Lance uttered, almost realizing it – “Oh my god! A squirrel!” – and he turned on his heel and beat it back to the cabin, double-time.

“FRONDA!” he cried, as he ran. “Fronda! Baby, are you there? Little Fronda, my little Fronda!” – and burst back into the gloomy cabin, where he shook his head, trying to make his eyes adjust, as he stumbled toward the corner. There stood a willow-bark cage. Empty, as empty as his tobacco-tin piggy bank, as empty as the promise of Cherry, the beautiful girl who had first brought Fronda to him in a basket lined with linen cloths, a tiny bonnet on the squirrel’s little furry head. “I’ll be back for her soon,” Cherry had said, “I promise. And when I come back there’s something in it for you too, you big hunk of lawman.” That was a year ago, and since then he’d gone to the general store every week to get the pecans Fronda liked, had lined her cage with fresh grass, and had told her all his stories, his joys, fears, and sorrows. And he had dreamt of Cherry night after night, and sometimes in the dreams Cherry had little dark eyes like Fronda’s, and she nestled against him with the same little soft burrowing motions that Fronda made.

And now Fronda was gone. Gone forever, irreversibly gone. An ache started deep in Lance’s chest and swelled and swelled up, up to his throat, his mouth – and he opened his mouth and released a cry, an inhuman sound, a wounded animal bringing the dark matter of his pain out into the sunlight, a wrenching, grating syllable: “NOOOOOOOO!”

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

[An] Historical Day, Chosen

coming into Pittsburgh 5am
train from Cleveland
hills plume down lit yellow
into the valley itself blue neon:
history, federated (green)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Legasus, etc.

OK, check it out -- my doctor gave me these pictures~ I think they were taken by the orthoscopic cameras... grody, right? I made 'em real hard to see in these pix, didn't want to inflict the scanned version on any innocents.

This is the "before" shot. Where my bone was supposed to be, there was a red hole!

And here's the "after shot" -- by shoving a bunch of donor-bone "croutons" (I kid you not -- my orthopedist told me) into the tibia, they pushed the plateau up to where it is in the pic below -- a nice white bone shelf for the femur! So, here is a successful surgery:

Ick, right? It's pretty cool though. On the X-rays you can also see a great big piece of hardware holding the plateau up. BIONIC KNEE!

Surgery itself was an extremely intense experience, shot through with long, boring periods of waiting in bland spaces. Weirdest of all, perhaps, the holding pen with a bunch of freaked-out, dozing people with shower caps lying in gurneys, watching each other with trepidatious, glazed expressions...

The pain was pretty intense and still bothers me sometimes, but mostly my leg just feels like a piece of meat (see above). Now I have a new friend, the Legasus:

My new friend. We spend four hours a day together... it makes me feel like I am flying! I'm serious about the name, by the way!

Here's a couple of chasers from the weekend I spent at my mom's recuperating:

My mom was wonderful to me, convinced me to take naps and washed my hair and cooked enough so that we don't have to cook all week.

I am back in Brooklyn, hanging out with the cats.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"A strangely costumed ballet on wheels," Part 1

"You sort of get glided into a surgery. It's like a strangely costumed ballet on wheels." -- Juliana Francis-Kelly

A week and a half after she got her crutches – got them, like a trophy, after enduring a long and arduous, if slow-moving, emergency-room drama – she was standing by the flowers outside the bodega on 2nd Avenue and 6th Street. Rather, she was balancing there with the crutches tight under her arms, resting her weight right upon the purply bruises she had discerned in the mirror yesterday. Bunches of full-blown peonies, their ragged-tissue glory veined in dark purply-pink, breezed themselves in little dufts in the warm May stormy city evening.

“Dufts,” that was the word she was busy inventing for the little wafty gusty drifts of peony fragrance that found their way into her nose, when she saw another gimp approaching from uptown. With a drawstring purse dangling from his cane-gripping hand, and the other hand grappling with a cell phone. “I’ll call you then,” he was saying, “let me call you later. I’ll call you from home.”

Little bunches of late-Spring pleasure seekers sauntered by, oblivious to the quality of their own jaunty steps, to that extreme, thoughtless ease of ambulation. “I used to be one of them,” she thought, and turned to watch the gimpy guy fumble with his cellphone and try to tuck it away somewhere on his disheveled person. He was rather a large gimp, wearing lots of black, with black sneakers, slightly shiny with thick orthopedic soles, the uppers pulling away from those soles (probably daunted by the demands of their occupation).

She felt for him, hard as it was for him to get down the sidewalk – and then realized that, far from being the kind of quiet observer that she could usually impersonate, she herself was currently a gimpy curiosity in the cabinet of the busy New York sidewalk. She and the gimpy guy exchanged a wry smile, and he gimped slowly on down the way, and she went on smelling the dufts from the peonies. Her husband emerged from the bodega and kissed her on the head. She re-entered the layer of the city that was more familiar to her: a youngish woman with her youngish husband, poor enough and rich enough to live here on the edge, and live here well.

For a moment she had felt herself to be part of another city, the one made of the watchers, the slow-movers, the people on the edge who stand out of the way of the restless momentum on the streets. The people in wheelchairs and with canes who make their way through the city as if the streets were strands of taffy, feet sticking there. Invisible curiosities.

There is another city, the one she sees from her bicycle, in which the walkers are hopelessly slow, and clumsy. In that city, everything stands still as you go through it, and the expressions on walkers’ faces are frozen there because you only pick up one split-second of them, only enough for a snapshot. Perhaps that’s what she and the gimp guy look like to the walkers.

New York has a particular charm in its striations, the way that it is made of millions of simultaneous cities, almost a kind of extradimensionality – when you are a gimp, you are in the gimp city. When you are a biker, you are passing through the solid brick and potholed still city, in the city of the wheels.

There is a knishery on Houston Street, Jonah Schimmel’s. Much of the old character of this city, much of what made its reputation back when – the tenements on the Lower East Side, pickle shops, pizzerias, accordion stores, cobblers – is disappearing, or becoming an imitation of itself. Jonah Schimmel’s is different, and, some believe, is one of the anchors holding the alleged character of New York City in its somewhat tenuous form. If Jonah Schimmel’s were to shut down, the city would become something other than itself, which would of course become itself – but that’s the way of living cities.

Anyway, in Jonah Schimmel’s bakery, they have never removed a coat of paint. No, they have painted over them – and over them, and over them – until the place looks layered, kind of like Queen Elizabeth’s eggshell makeup (with poppy seeds, white lead, borax, and alum), estimated to be an inch thick at the time of her death. The paint at Jonah Schimmel’s is at least an inch – probably 3 – thick. It is one thing from the outside, and many discrete layers within – each layer encasing its own coat of matter, tree-rings of flour and – yes, eggshell, borax, and dust.

She thought of this as her husband kept a modest pace, walking with her, bridging her gimp city and the walking city. She swung herself down the sidewalk.