Bones

o'keefe

I love bones. There’s something exceptionally pleasing about the way they feel in your hand, their smooth surfaces and occasionally jagged edges, their curves and swirls. I love their blankness, their lightness, their simultaneous earthiness and ethereality.

When I visited my old home in Colorado in April, my partner asked me to bring him something that could only be found there (“not a rock”).

I brought him some heirloom beans from the Adobe Milling Co. and a smudge stick made from sage I harvested on my grandparents’ property. I also gathered bones. On a walk around the old settlers’ road with my friend and her three kids, we happened upon what I guessed was a scattered rabbit skeleton. As I squatted to collect the bones, the kids helped, picking up tiny vertebrae and placing them gently in my hands.

“It’s a bunny skeleton,” I said.

A moment passed, and Preston, age 3, asked, “Are you making a bunny?”

I swooned.

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After I returned home, the bones languished in a wooden box for a couple of months before I felt sufficiently creatively energized to make the mobile I’d imagined. Per my partner’s request, I wanted to make something really special, crafted as an emblem of my love, and as a testament to the enduring magic of the fragrant, sky-suffused high desert landscape that’s one of my favorite places on earth.

As well as Southwest bones and rocks, I incorporated Northwest moss and driftwood, in a union between desert and sea, dry and wet, here and there.

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I Will Do My Best to be Who She Thinks I Am

She was sitting on a huge concrete block in the wide gravel no-man’s-land that constitutes a parking lot for shipyard employees, as well as a micro-neighborhood of people who live in old RV’s. I was thinking about where I would shelter if The Big One hit right then. There was a reasonable amount of open space, free from hazards like utility poles and power lines; but the soil in the area, as I’d just learned from a color-coded map, is highly susceptible to liquefication, and I was beneath a slope that would surely collapse into a tree-and-building-laden landslide in the event of magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Bad news.

(I’ve been anxiously fixating on the danger our region faces from a massive earthquake since I read this New Yorker article yesterday. As much as I like to think that I have a deep acceptance of impermanence and the inevitability of death, the thought of being in immediate peril from a natural disaster is horrifying. Strangely, even before reading about the Cascadia subduction zone, I’d been experiencing a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of those who, like me, exist in the complacent ease of relative peace and prosperity. The truth is, it could shatter at any moment. I’d been having vivid fantasies of what it would be like to be involved in a large-scale catastrophe—like the mega-quake we’ve been promised.)

She was sucking on a vaporizer, and Ayla bounded up to greet her.

“You’re such a nice person. Wow. You’re gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous, wow.” She traced the contours of an imaginary pregnant belly.

“Thanks,” I replied. “You’re very sweet.”

“No, I’m not sweet! It’s true! You’re gorgeous. I am so happy for you. You’re going to be amazing.”

I smiled and thanked her, a little bemused, but flattered. As I walked away, she exclaimed,

“Yes. Yes, thank God!” I wondered what she meant, and surmised that she was glad someone as great as she clearly assumed I was was having a child.

When I was about 100 yards distant, she called out, “What’s your name?”

I yelled a reply, but she couldn’t hear, and started running towards me on sock feet. Ayla turned around and raced towards her, and I followed.

I repeated my name, and she launched into an impromptu paean to my beauty, kind-heartedness, loving nature, and overall greatness.

“Your energy is so beautiful! Look at the sunset. Look at it! That’s the energy I see inside you. You have so much love in your heart. You’re going to have a beautiful baby son. Can I give you a big hug? Or just a little hug?”

I assented. She smelled strongly of booze and there was a dampness of sweat between her shoulder blades. A small red bruise showed on her slender arm, and she had a Chinese character that may have been a tattoo but looked like a pen drawing in the center of her chest.

As I walked away, she began to weep.

“You’re going to be a great mother! I’m SO glad I met you. Namaste. What’s your sign?”

“Aries,” I said.

“I’m a Capricorn,” she said, and bowed, forearms drawn together in front of her face. “I love you. I love you. I love you so much!” She sobbed.

Needless to say, it was an affecting encounter. One could as easily dismiss her words as the illogical, and entirely unfounded, ramblings of a drunk. After all, I’m in the habit of dismissing (okay, attempting to dismiss) the nastiness directed my way by strangers who know nothing of me: the guy whose road rage prompted him to label me a “dumbass,” for instance. The screwed up thing is that his entirely unreasonable assessment precipitated a full-fledged emotional melt-down: Whereas the casual cruelty of strangers confirms what I suspect about myself (that I am bad, unworthy, stupid, etc.), the (often far more intense) avowals of my goodness that random people occasionally heap upon me make less of an impact. I don’t really believe them.

“She doesn’t know me,” I thought. “Where is she getting all of this?” Also: “She’s drunk.”

I’ve been feeling great guilt about bringing a child into a world that seems more frightening and unstable by the day. I feel selfish and foolhardy; even though I know that I did my due diligence in trying to prevent my pregnancy, I sometimes question whether it was morally correct to continue it. I question my ability to parent, my fitness to steward a vulnerable life, and even my capacity for love, on a daily basis.

But this evening’s encounter was a ray of hope. The total belief of a complete stranger in my essential goodness, her fulsome praise of my very being, her jubilation at my fruitfulness, buoyed my belief in myself. It made me think that maybe I can be a good, even a great, parent. That perhaps my existence is not a net loss for the world, and that, rather than hastening its demise, I might actually be contributing to society by raising a wonderfully compassionate and effective human.

And it took my mind off the Earthquake.

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Sunday Morning Danish in the Park

There’s something very fine about getting up early in the morning. But although I love to, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so. My nocturnal work schedule, and the desire to draw out my sleep by staying in bed for as long as possible, meant that, for quite a while now, I’ve been rising late.

This past Sunday, I was up at 7:00. Of course, 7am isn’t all that early for many people. But it’s the crack of dawn for me, and I was excited to revel in the solitary pleasures afforded by being (I was sure) one of the only people up before 9 on a Sunday.

Heading to Café Besalu (pastry Mecca, makers of Seattle’s best croissant) after dropping my partner off at work, I looked forward to buying a perfect pastry without waiting in line. At a little after 8am, there was already a line out the door. Still, it wasn’t snaking down the block, as Sunday Besalu lines tend to do.

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After a modest wait of less than ten minutes, I held in my hand a glowing nectarine danish, its seductively twisted edge and glistening innards beckoning me to take a bite, even though I planned to save it until I got to the park. It was fragrant and flaky and gooey and still a little warm: ecstasy.

my flip-phone capture could not do this beautiful thing justice
                                                  my flip-phone capture could not do it justice.

On to Discovery park, I imagined that my favorite dog-walking zone would be pretty much people-free. As it turned out, though, lots and lots of people are up and about early on Sunday. Apparently, many of them go jogging in Discovery park.

Walking along the south bluff, it was a little disorienting to see so many people running, all in different directions, as if fleeing invisible foes. In my still-sleepy state, their vigor and energy made me a little dizzy.

I sat on a bench overlooking the sound, facing Mt. Ranier in its mist-cloaked glory, and finally ate my danish. Shards of pastry showered my protruding belly, and I was grateful.

People Watching

On the ferry.  A pair of women who look to be mother and daughter. One thickset in black shorts, pearl grey blouse, the younger one svelte in a flowered sundress. Each with long, blondish hair, painstakingly highlighted and straightened: expensive hair. For some reason I find this hair depressing. Tragic, even.

A man leans against the lifeboat cage, gazing at his screen. He’s got on jeans holey at the knees, a black baseball cap with a red Polo logo on it. He sports the kind of trucker ‘stache I’ve got a weird weakness for.

A plump girl with curly auburn hair displays her butt in cutoffs, her belly in a cropped shirt. Though I admire the confidence and body acceptance evinced by such a getup, I can’t imagine ever being comfortable dressed like that (unless I was at the beach, maybe).

There’s another girl wearing pink shorts so short and tight that they grab at her crotch, jam themselves aggressively into her butt crack. They’re smaller than most of my underwear. She tugs at them, and I wince in sympathetic discomfort.

A young woman with pale skin and chin-length dark hair passes, wearing a long skirt of diaphanous ochre, a short-sleeved polka dot blouse, and black strappy sandals. Her elegant, flattering ensemble is a refreshing departure from all of the awkward and ill-fitting clothes I’ve seen today.

Sated on salad, fries, and coffee, hot sun beating down, stroked by sea breeze, Ranier’s majestic bulk looming across the sound, the smell of salt water exciting pleasure as keen as a lover’s caress. This place is paradise.

Inextricably entwined with Seattle summer’s idyllic nature, though, is an awareness of its ephemerality, an insistent anxiety that nibbles at the edge of consciousness, reminding you that it will be gone all too soon.

 

Crushin’

His feet are filthy, dirt in various shades of brown coating the soles in a mottled patchwork, the nails longish and jagged. I want to touch them.

I’m eager to impress and aware of it. I watch myself, amused, as I try to sound smart, to act nonchalant, to rein in my eagerness and play it cool. Is it working? I can’t tell.

I feel obvious, foolish. I want to break free of the game, of the need to put on a show, and instead be completely genuine.

Ah, but where’s the fun in that?

Perhaps it would open a realm more worthwhile than mere “fun.” I can hear K telling me as much.

People fetishize the concept of “life.” I see it manifest in a couple of ways:

1. The idea of life as interesting and noteworthy in of itself, i.e., life on Mars (microbial, whatever).

2. The idea of [human] life as somehow “sacred,” imbued with divine essence.

These views seem to be often at odds. I’m thinking at the moment of environmental degradation, the cataclysmic changes that are occurring as the result of human activity on the planet.

It seems like those who believe the earth was created to be our pleasure garden should want to preserve it in a state as close to original creation as possible, whereas those who believe that all life, simply because it is alive, incredibly, through a confluence of circumstances far from inevitable, would shrug and say, “life persists.”

But in practice it’s often the opposite.

I was thinking about astrology a minute ago, the idea of planetary phenomena causing (or, depending on your school of thought, merely predicting/correlating with) outcomes in human affairs. I think it arises out of a desire to feel connected, at home in the universe. To know oneself, not as pathetic and arbitrary and alienated, but as an integral player in the world, no matter how small the role.

I like the concept of fractals. Echoes of the big in the small, the minute in the vast. The way clouds mimic fossilized swirls of primordial mud. I believe that this phenomenon extends into the realm of ideas and feelings. From the individual all the way up to the cultural, and eventually, the collective unconscious, the Noosphere: The struggles and misapphrehensions and surges of insight and passion and madness that occur on the individual level also happen at the group level.

I want to believe he’s watching me, even though he’s not. It’s a titillating fiction, to think of him gazing out the window upon me unfolded on this rickety lounge chair, writing in my little notebook. The thought of being desired by someone you desire is catnip for the ego.

Running my fingertips over my thigh, I feel how it is both soft and rough. Soft to someone else, maybe, who’s used to the coarse bristles and tough skin of their own masculine leg. Rough to me, because I know each scuff and burl, each little eczema patch and inflamed hair follicle.

Its okay that I’m not all that good at drawing. It’s okay that I take off my shirt to sun my belly, wanting to not give a fuck, then think about putting it back on, giving a fuck after all.

Life’s like a lucid dream: We wake up when we die, and none of this will matter.

I don’t much like your tattoos, but I do like the warm rankness of your flesh, the raw grassy smell of your sweat.

Breaks in the clouds like veins through marble.

Sometimes you just gotta make out with a tree.

The fact that there is injustice in the world doesn’t absolve you from exercising common sense.

Thoughts on a Cloudy Day in July

This tide pool is teeming. Hermit crabs tumble and scamper like little sentient stones, ill-fitting shells in various hues bumping through the still water. A forest of kelp below. Jagged barnacles, cubiform dark rocks.

I want to swim, to plunge into the placid lapping sea. I’m not completely heedless of my comfort, though, and I know it to be cold. Raindrops pattern its surface with concentric circles. People pass by on the little lip of land above me. The brightness of a man’s shirt seems garish, an offense against the day’s quiet coolness.

I just had to nap. The grey of the day coupled with accumulated sleep-debt demanded lassitude, indulgence, permissiveness.

I snuffle at my thumb to feel the pleasant roughness of ragged cuticle on my lips, and smell nutritional yeast from where I touched a little bag of it moments ago.

You know you’re absolutely crazed with lust when the scent of someone’s sweaty unwashed feet sends you into a libidinous tizzy.

We don’t speak, and don’t look at one another. A heavy mist of repressed longing hangs over us, obviating other topics of conversation. I finally break the ice by asking about tea.

I stand at the sink and feel an oppressive sadness. Wanting to say something genuine, to breach the silence with words that are real and pure. But sometimes… diplomacy must rule the day. Or, maybe, propriety. Self-sacrifice, in the name of peace, or…?

This looks like a lot of nonsense.

The main feature of my sorrow is the knowledge that my desire outstripped my capacity to see another in their fulness of their humanity, clouded my perception and made me insensible to someone’s subjectivity.

I want to tell him that I admire him. I’m not sure if the sentiment is reciprocated. To think of speaking it causes painful pangs of anxiety in my chest. Sometimes I think myself desirable. But then I’m not so sure. What I bring certainly isn’t for everyone, and I can’t simply assume that everyone who prefers my gender and basic phenotype will want me. And yet – is it so far-fetched to think that my feelings are not in vain?

Ha!

I was trying to find a different way to say “reciprocated” – funny that I went with “not in vain.” Because is anything ever really in vain? Isn’t feeling a feel worthwhile for its own sake, even if the outcome isn’t what you’re wishing for?

On Killing

Today Ayla caught a rat at the park. She mouthed it primly, as if in delectation, never fully chomping, but squishing it enough to injure it severely.

I told her to “leave it,” which she did for a moment; but it looked damaged enough that its life-chances were in doubt. So I let her at it again, hoping she’d kill it and finish the job. A few minutes of piteous squeaking later, it was clear that she wasn’t going to. Since it was no longer running, she’d pretty much lost interest; a couple of crows were circling overhead and periodically dive-bombing her, vying for possession of the doomed creature.

I weighed my options: I could leave it to be pecked to death by crows, or die slowly of its injuries. Or I could give it the mercy of a quick death. So I picked it up by the tail, laid it on the sidewalk, and smashed its little head in with a rock. It was gory. It was brutal. It seemed like the right thing to do.

There have been a few other instances in which I’ve felt it necessary to kill: A mouse was caught in the trap by its leg. Ayla got hold of one of my chickens (I cut its throat, inexpertly, with a kitchen knife. Then I butchered it and made mole). A pack rat that had been living in my truck’s air filter was captured by Ayla after I pulled it out by the tail, but, true to form, she didn’t kill it, so I had to (I used the blade of a shovel to decapitate it).

Killing is not something I enjoy. I would never hunt for fun. I’m not much of a meat eater (though I don’t call myself a vegetarian, I don’t buy meat and don’t order it when I’m out. At most, I’ll try a meat thing if it seems particularly interesting).

And yet… I can imagine folks’ disgust at my actions. Many people would find it more repugnant to kill a rodent (commonly recognized as vermin) than to eat bacon – a food made from the flesh of an incredibly sensitive, intelligent, emotionally and socially sophisticated animal.

It’s easy to eat meat because we don’t have to take responsibility for the animal’s death. Eating a burger and killing a cow, seeing its fear and pain and watching it twitch as the blood seeps from its still-warm body, are two very different experiences.

So we compartmentalize. We leave the dirty work of killing to others. We tell ourselves that we are better than recreational hunters, that killing for pleasure is sick. How many of us would still eat meat if we had to do the killing ourselves? Does our removal from the act of slaughter absolve us from complicity in the act?

Taking a life is profound, and, I believe, becomes more so the more we can relate to the life we’re taking. Killing a mosquito is easy; killing a chicken is harder; killing a pig is harder still.

But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I don’t have a taste for it. Killing my chicken, although I did eat her, made me more reluctant to eat meat. But I can kill a rat when I need to. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing. But I do think that eating meat while being squeamish about killing is morally inconsistent, and symptomatic of our contemporary disconnect from the true implications of many of our choices.