I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born. - Charlie Parker
WITHOUT A TRACE
Entering into the murky depths only one word comes into click click focus: Gone Gone Gone
the love of his life — gone
his way of life — gone
his best dog friend — gone
his best, or so he thought, human friend — gone, too.
Then his back gives out. Walking from class to car Guydalini freezes mid step crossing the campus quad. It’s a sunny day, a grey moth alights on his head. Statue like he waits for spring. Or a friend. Or some WD40. He’s like the tin man. His heart is gone too.
The poem of his life comes to him but he has no pencil or paper, can’t move, like the best idea in the world arriving while in the shower or while driving, and all he can do is live it, not write it, knowing it too will be gone without a trace.
He gets mad.
He sharpens his pencil, his elbows, his machete and slices his way
through life—a telemarketer, an unsuspecting typewriter, a bar of soap, a cup of tea . . . you & me . . .
as he goes on the attack his smile goes into hiding.
His few remaining friends go into the witness protection program. His bike tires go flat.
Tellers at the bank place money on the counter and back away. Flowers wilt in his presence. Kids wail, cats bail, and only the quiet piercing pain in his back sticks around, just for fun.
He loses weight. Gains weight.
Adopts an ulcer.
Hair turns grey.
Even cancer decides not to stay.
He sharpens his blade and wonders if being permanently pissed is the Cure.
Which only pisses him off further.
One morning he doesn’t get out of bed.
The house is empty.
The Sun has gone to Club Med.
Even Sciatica, that uninvited guest, left without a note.
The machete hangs in its sheath within reach.
Fuck it, he says, who needs it.
Who gives a shit?
Who needs to eat?
Who needs to fight?
Who needs to pay bills?
Who needs to hate?
Who needs to love?
Who needs to like, even?
Who needs to unlike?
Who needs to ask?
Who needs to answer?
Who needs to give or take?
Who needs it?
Bills pile on the doorway.
The phone rings nonstop.
The phone gets cutoff.
This passes for peace.
Power gets shut off.
The doorknocker raps.
The doorbell rings.
He slips into nothingness.
And then his teeth fall out.
He climbs out of bed feeling old before his time.
Being this old he should at least feel wise or proud or cranky or something.
All he feels like is taking a piss. Even that doesn’t go as planned.
He feels bad about leaving a mess for the maid.
Remembers she doesn’t come anymore.
Feels bad about not paying her.
Finds his checkbook. Has no idea of balance.
Does it matter?
Hell yeah it does.
She has mouths to feed, money to send back home.
He feels bad bad bad.
A pigeon alights in the tree outside his door.
Is this a sign?
If so, why a fucking pigeon?
Why not a hummingbird, an owl, or a crow?
Can’t he even get metaphor right?!
What does that even mean—Fuckin A? That’s what the hard ass kids who never finished 9th grade said, smoking in front of Safeway all day.
Is that who he has become with all his college degrees?
Degrees are such a myth.
The pigeon flies up into the beams under the outcropping of his roof. He imagines the window white with bird shit as pigeonettes are born, and later act out their pigeon teenage years by covering his house with their shit the way he himself had egged and toilet papered the houses of the Setzi’s the Anderson’s and the Karls, anyone who’d looked at him wrong or stiffed him at Halloween, when he was 15.
Nothing sadder than pigeon Karma.
He grabs a broom and scares the pigeon off—plump and pregnant thing.
Feels bad about that, too.
He hated his neighbors for years.
He put mirrors in the windows to deflect their bad juju,
a remedy he’d paid a Cambodian masseuse a hundred dollars for.
He’d figured it would keep the nosy bastards from even looking at his place,
and if perhaps the juju mirrors burned a hole in their wall on a good sunny day—ha, purely a bonus.
The twistedness of this logic, the pathetic nature of his petty rage now fueled his sadness.
He took the mirrors down careful not to break them.
Who needed 7 more years of this shit—and he hung one on the inside of his door.
Told himself to smile, but couldn’t remember how.
A parted lip grimace was the best he could do.
A vacant black crevice formed between his cracked lips where pearly whites use to shine.
The zz top beard was almost impressive given all the years when he’d had no hair on his legs, nor needed to shave.
He was sorry he’d been so nasty to his neighbors.
He was sorry he’d been so thoughtless to his love.
He was sorry not to be the friend his best friend thought he was.
He was sorry his loyal dog had died.
He was sorry that he was so sorry. . . and sorry about that too.
If it was true we learned from our mistakes, why wasn’t Mensa calling?
Then he remembered that the morning of his IQ tests he’d skipped breakfast.
If only he’s eaten his Lucky Charms that day . . .
And he was sorry about that too.
TAKE TWO BULLETS AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING
The house was getting smaller.
His clothes felt too tight,
even though he was a bag of bones.
He reached up into the closet beneath a hat from Salzburg that he and his love had bought on their honeymoon, beneath a love poem he’d written
though the words scarcely looked familiar, beneath a stack of magazines and newspapers with his stories and a childhood picture of him on a stick horse brandishing a six shooter in one hand while holding his cat by the scruff – lovingly—with the other,
and he felt the pearl handle of his .38 special.
He held it in one hand, mirroring the pose he’d struck, age 3, minus the stick horse and cat.
“The ending of every story is inherent in the beginning,” he used to say to his class.
“If there’s a gun on the mantle in Chapter One, it better go off by the end of the book,” he used to say.
He used to say a lot of shit.
Used to write a lot of shit too.
“Whoever says suicide is the easy way out never put a gun to his head,” he’d said more than once.
Finally it dawned on him that everything that was happening in his life, he had already written about in one of his stories or poems. Maybe not exactly, but close enough, in the ballpark, which was all any metaphor man ever really needed or had a right to ask for. He tried going back and rewriting all the endings, but only succeeded in ruining his stories with fake twists and phony denouements, on top of his askew and broken, but unfake life.
Being a writer, he wrote about that too.
And what passed for a laugh escaped from that dark cavern of his mouth, out the dark crevice between his cracked lips, and into the grey light of day. And he realized, dreaming or not, that he’d just laughed alone. He honestly, authentically couldn’t remember, at that moment, if this had ever actually happened to him before (or had he just written about it – ha!)
“Bang,” he whispered, placing the gun on the mantle and reaching inside his desk drawer.
With the wall as his canvas, he used the only writing utensil he could find—a pink Sharpie:
“I believe in the second amendment.
I believe in my right to bear arms and shoot
myself in the foot. Multiple times.
Turns out I am quite a marksman.
Apparently practice makes perfect.”
excerpt from my memoir:
Take Two Bullets and Call Me in The Morning
– Guy Dalini, xx guydalini
HOUSE OF HANDCUFFS
He ventured out to the mailbox and dared to open the hatch.
An avalanche of letters, notices, and bills consumed him.
And one card which fluttered in the air and dropped into his hands.
It was from Leila. Leila who was ’70 through’ had been his student once upon a time.
She wrote stories from other lifetimes. Her memoir was from the Tang Dynasty. She once said, the present wasn’t about being written, it was about being lived.
He shaved and bathed and drove to the beach and sat near the water’s edge.
He gathered every heart shaped rock he could find and piled them into his crappy convertible until the chassis sank low to the wheels.
He drove home, parked across the street and couldn’t believe what he saw. His house was made of handcuffs, not wood.
And looming over it was a monster—a
(or was it an, he wondered?)
He tried to remember the difference between octopus and squid, decided not to stick around to find out.
Shit like that could be googled. He loved google—so forgiving.
Even if you couldn’t spell the damn word, even if you were just in the gene pool, it would help you find what you were looking for.
Though it was true you couldn’t prop a door open with google like you could with a dictionary, which left those prehistoric thick tomes with some value anyway, in addition to using them for arm curls.
He remembered a story he wrote called Drunk Octopus Wants to Fight. But couldn’t recall how he’d ended it. He’d never much gone in for endings anyway, always the hardest part in writing, but merely looked for a place to land a story. Like a pilot in a small plane running out of fuel – looking for a way, a place to bring it down and walk away in one piece.
Oh shit, was he channeling himself now too?
He used to say that, as well. Now, he believed it. Hoped that it was true.
He found his way to Leila’s and pulled into the driveway next to her fire engine red Mustang. Carefully, he unloaded the heart shaped rocks into her shaded garden.
From her window, She watched him placing the stones with care. She noticed their chips, their shapes, and their cracks.
And she put the coffee on.
WHAT WE CALL JOY
She was a small, well put together woman with red hair and blue eyes the color of the sky around her.
Her cane was turquoise and black with a feather.
They sat in her living room surrounded by art she’d made over the course of her very long life, though which life he did not ask.
She listened to his story as if it was a dream and he listened too.
She wrote her own dreams in a book and loved to discuss them with the dream ladies over coffee at The Bagel shop.
“The Octopus of Grief,” said Leila, “with tentacles you’d never guess were grief. It had you in its grip.”
“And how do I fight it,” he asked? “Tell me how to deal.”
She smiled. “Would you care to meditate?”
“I’ve never been much good at doing nothing,” he said.
She closed her eyes. So did he. She began to count and breathe.
He went somewhere. Somewhere deep. And vast and dark. But not scary. And he saw colors – purple and amber and then a bright gold sphere.
And when they returned to the room, he somewhat reluctantly, he felt light and peaceful and serene and he told her about the bright gold enormous sphere.
And she said, “That’s what we call joy, Guy.”
They drank their coffee.
She told him how her life had fallen apart at just his age.
One day she realized she didn’t have to keep hitting her head against the wall — she could simply leap over it.
He was struck by the notion that the plot of Life was a series of little “letting goes”, all in preparation for the Big One.
The ultimate ending that had always scared the crap out of him.
Leila smiled as if he’d spoken this aloud.
And then she said, “I’d like you to choose a piece of art.”
Some paintings were missing from the wall; He saw their outlines in dust.
Felt a thrust of sadness.
Looked deep into her blue eyes, saw only a smile.
She was no complainer. He chose a clay rhino she’d made.
She led him to a painting, a collage, and waited until he understood this too was for him and his eyes went to the gold sphere and yes he knew. He knew.
There was nothing to fight.
He garnered his strength and at that moment he experienced the power of yield, a power from woman, and he understood it took great strength, much greater power to yield than to fight, to know when to engage and when to release.
Tears surprised him. She hugged him and saw him to his car, the convertible up off its wheels now, for the art weighed almost nothing.
“In India,” she said, “I heard my master whisper, though he’d been dead many years, ‘don’t get attached to the teacher and don’t get attached to the teachings.’”
Leila lightly tapped his car with her cane, smiled, and said no more. He had a vision of her resting peacefully, eyes closed, breath in, breath out, breath no more . . .
ADIOS TO DOGMA PARK
He drove home and swept the floors and closed the doors.
Put the rhino in the window, tucked her painting under one arm.
In the backyard, he climbed the camphor tree, past the pigeon in her chirpy nest to a platform at the top.
From there he saw the house of handcuffs made of locks and steel and he saw the waving tentacles of the Octopus of Grief beckoning, harmless to him now.
He deeply missed his old love
his old friend
his beloved dog
his double mochas,
those wake and bake mornings.
He felt himself letting go of anguish and despair and anger.
Guilt, regret, and denial went next.
As a bonus, he tossed in pettiness too.
And when Ego came a strutting, Guydalini laughed and sent that rooster packing.
He drew a small box, a caja de muerta like the ones the coffin maker he’d lived with in Guatemala had made, and that’s where he placed all that he was letting go, including old stories and drawings and unsent letters . . . and he put them to the match.
This was the other side of creating — the side that left the smell of sulphur on your fingers. He sniffed his hand and grinned.
Something whirred near his ear.
He felt it coming before he saw it, reached up, caught the trapeze, & leaped with a push of his toes.
He soared through the air, above the rooftops and backyards of his childhood, past the kitchen where he’d stolen a kiss, the basketball court where he’d learned to fight, past all the ways he used to indulge himself, past broken promises, betrayals and put downs uttered, all that he knew so well.
He would never forget them.
But they would not hold power over him any longer.
They in fact had become his teachers.
He waved Adios to Dogma Park.
Sayonara to the Islands of Grief –
such a sad and seductive archipelago, home of the Octopus now out of reach.
And as he soared, Guydalini admired the view of borrowed landscapes.
Others flew too. To the east and to the west.
Some landed on platforms, and happily nested like pigeons.
Some landed and languished, trapped and ‘cuffed in the grip.
LISTENING TO THE WHIR
At times he still glides, at times he still floats, at times he lets go and lands someplace new. New love. New friends. New stories, which he emails to himself.
And when the weather turns harsh or the vibe changes,
or a pushy neighbor moves in or his oatmeal grows cold,
he doesn’t complain or succumb or become attached to his discontent, nor addicted to his grief, nor entangled in regret.
He listens for the whirr, opens his palm, and grabs that bar of chance flying by.
The poem that got away
Grief reaches up and grabs you by the throat.
It takes the flesh off your hand before you know what’s hit you.
It’s the octopus with 8 tentacles.
It’ll hit, pummel, and squeeze you.
It’ll take the pork chop out of your hand in a flash.
In a fight, you don’t stand a chance.
It forces you to let go.
It forces you to replace what you had before, with itself.
The only way to win this fight is not to fight. That is true strength.
To let go of what you had, of what was. It’s just stuff.
To yield is movement and flow, rhythm and grace and power.
It’s choice and control. It’s mastery of self
Like the decision to smile, to give irony its due.
To feel the sun on your face wherever you are.
To live in this ha ha moment.
To realize the guided float is now.
He held the postcard with the words: between the leap and the landing, bending it between his fingers, noticing its spring and give.
“And what if I’m afraid?” he asked, looking down, looking away, far away from the shame he was feeling. “How do you leave the ledge?”
Leila ‘s blue eyes sparkled. “With courage. And fear makes courage possible.”
“Just like mistakes make way for discovery?”
“Naturally. Fear is paralyzing. Regret is toxic. It’s one of the tentacles of grief.“
She reached up & lightly kissed his cheek.
“You can’t change the past. You can’t fight it or deny it or blame it on someone else. But you can use the past to change your future, and change your now.”
Guydalini slipped the postcard in his pocket.