One Way To Listen


in hopes that this reaches Patti Smith

at sunset the dead speak
casting a language
of eye and rust
sea and fire.

the dead speak to us
as we whirl about
anxious as marbles
through tambourine leaves
and whispering traffic.

they know about heights
and how they are among
earth’s most unforgiving things.

how blessed we are to have
been planted firmly
as mountains.
they say

between us
is only time.
all measurement
is of time.

every sky is a word.
many words.
one of Earth’s many
dead languages.

A True Story, More or Less As It Occurred, Captured on Video and on the Internet


The cop’s knee is in his back. All three-hundred plus pounds of his weight is applied precisely to the man’s spine. The man swallows air like ocean water. The man feels, distinctly, the pain of a rib against his expanding lung. There’s never enough air when you’re afraid you might die. Language tends to fall apart, too. The man cries for mercy. He pleads apologies but his words, slurred by the gauze of Schizophrenia and the copper taste of blood, are taken by the cops as provocation. The younger cop’s face glistens with sweat as he holds the man’s ankles. His partner’s broad back seems to swallow light in the dim parking lot. The younger cop thinks of catfish. More officers will arrive soon. The man can smell his blood in the wet cement that kisses his forehead. His arms are pulled far beyond any natural position. Wailing, he squirms, the cop’s knee pivoting his movement. Another car screeches to a halt just out of eyeshot. Soon another. The arriving cops’ steps are a faint rapping enveloped by shouting. The thwacking sound of a car door slamming or something worse. The arriving cops know only what they’ve been told; Some vagrant, possible burglary, resisting arrest. What is the legal definition of resisting arrest? Some officers use a sliding scale. Everything seems to add up, here. There’s no real time to assess. They’ve been trained to assist. Most importantly, they’ve been trained to assist their fellow officers. They shout at the man, telling him to calm down. The man is far far away. He is locked in a small closet in the basement of his childhood neighbor, amid half-empty paint cans and exposed fiberglass which he knows is not cotton candy. Just outside the door, the sinister giggling of children can be heard. His father, a police officer, is upstairs playing poker. The man can hear the screeching of the chair, sudden and sharp above his head, as he cries for help. He can hear the rapid thuds on the staircase and the children go silent as his father enters the room. He remembers how his father pulled him from the closet with just one arm and gathered his small body up under it, all the while, threatening to arrest whatever kid did this to him. No specific road led to this moment. Schizophrenics often begin to show symptoms around age 19. What is the legal definition of murder? The man cries for his father. Coming from the mouth of a 38 year old man, the cries sound a touch more helpless. The first cop, still on one knee in the man’s back, pushes the man’s face against the ground. The cop thinks of his younger brother. Children who are much smaller than him. He is annoyed and out of breath. He reaches for his taser. As he does so, an arriving cop fires his own taser. The sweet chatter like a tiny machine gun. There are many ways to skin a catfish. The man writhes uncontrollably. Now, involuntarily. The man has seen a gun before but never felt one against his skull, and certainly not at this velocity. He isn’t even sure it’s a gun. To be honest, he isn’t thinking about what just hit him. He is focusing on the gasps of air he can barely manage. The last thing he sees is a shoe, not unlike his father’s, kick him in the side. A wheel on a parked car. Orange light. For the rest of his life, the man’s father will wince each time he hears the word routine. His relationship with his old uniform will become troubled and somewhat problematic. He will remember his son, not as the swollen face in the news photos, but as he was before the illness took hold, a smart-mouthed boy, tiny and always afraid of being cornered.

Varying Degrees of Closeness


The Flight

After years of marriage, often the only link a couple has between who they were in the early stages of their love and who they had become is their children. Helen and Leonard, a couple whose marriage had long ago grown its own set of vocal chords, oddly, had nothing to say to one another during their flight from New Jersey to D.C. A mutual fear had bound their mouths shut. Leonard, for the first time, wondered how good of a father he had been. Helen was praying silently. Since Horsham’s phone call, all her private thoughts were litanies. Leonard, a man who normally was never short of words, was silent. He wanted to comfort his wife but each time he began to speak, it came out as a deep breath or sigh. Helen reached across the armrest and quietly placed her palm on her husband’s hand. It was the most they had said to each other in years.

After the flight.

Military facilities are like small states within states, fortified, autonomous complexes with their own inner workings, streets bearing the names of ships, or planes, or men of a certain level of honor.

Walter Reed Medical Center was no different from any other military facility. It was a place that, aside from the people passing through it, appeared unaffected by time. Rather, it seemed to be built by time itself. Old war tanks planted on patchworks of perfectly cut lawn stood like relics of some form of glory. The streets wrapped and arced, crisscrossing what could be mistaken for the same road over and over again, were it not for the buildings, whose shapes alternated between industrial and downright homey. The hospital itself was wall to wall of antiseptic marble tiling and green-white fluorescenty corridors, ending in double doors that always seemed to lead to more corridors. With so many hallways, one often wonders where hospitals find the space for patients.

The Martins’ morning began with a complimentary continental breakfast of shrunken bagels, an apple for Helen, and sweetened English Breakfast Tea. An old television flickered in the dining room. After breakfast, the Martins met a young officer named Bailey, who’d been assigned to take them to the hospital.

“We’re not going but five minutes from here.” Bailey explained. “But the hospital is big and it can get a little confusing. I still get lost sometimes and I work here.” He chuckled, in an attempt to lighten the mood. “We just want to make sure you folks get where you need to be.”

“Thanks.” Leonard responded.

He was uncharacteristically quiet; His mind on Delroy. The last time he called, Leonard was busy doing yard work. Helen had offered him the phone but he refused, saying he’d call him back. He didn’t call back but it was just the same. The two hadn’t spoken in months. Their last conversation ended in some forgotten insult. Now that Delroy was too old to be disciplined, insults seemed to be the only bit of conversation they had left.

Bailey led the Martins through the hospital, past other military families, and doctors who even though dressed as doctors, still bore the rigidity of perfect soldiers. Delroy’s room was dim. The natural light from the window, mixed with the industrial fixtures gave the room a mud glow. Everything seemed to beep or tick. The temperature was cool.

Delroy’s was in a deep sleep, his head wrapped in a turban of bandages. Immediately upon seeing him, Helen fell to her knees at his bedside, sobbing, her weight shifting the frame slightly on it’s wheels. Leonard, overcome by his wife’s emotion, didn’t move. Bailey, who had been watching from just inside the door, helped Helen to her feet and sat her in a chair next to the bed.

“It’s alright,” he said. “He’s still alive. God didn’t let him die. He’s gonna make it.”

The doctor was tall and thin, in the way you expect doctors to be tall and thin. He carried a single manila folder attached to a plastic clipboard. He greeted the family with an air that was neither warm or cold.

“He’s lucky to be alive.” He said, looking at Delroy, but not really looking at him, rather looking at the space Delroy occupied. “I’m Dr. Wallace. I’ll be taking care of (he paused to look at his clipboard) Delroy while he’s here. Are you his family?”

“Yes, I’m Helen, his mother. This is his father, Leonard.”

“He’s in pretty bad shape.” Dr. Wallace said, adjusting the array of bags and wires attached to Delroy’s body. “The good news is that his heart is beating fine and there doesn’t seem to be any damage to his lungs but it looks like he suffered severe head trauma. Parts of his brain aren’t getting enough oxygen.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, we can’t say for sure, but it could mean brain damage. We won’t know until he wakes up.”

“Oh lord!” Helen’s face fell into her palms.

“When will he wake up?” asked Leonard.


Dirt and Gravel fell from the bottom of the garage door as it creaked open. Delroy pushed aside his old bicycle, a basket of wooden clothespins, and a set of dumbbells covered in dust. His father’s records were in two cases tucked behind two speakers, nearly twice his size. He squeezed behind them and unlocked the first case. The springing of the latch caused a tiny explosion of dust. A feeling of joy and mischief overtook him. There were at least a hundred records. Never had he been so close to them alone. The only time he got to see them was if his father had friends over or asked for his help cleaning the equipment. Most of the records had plain black sleeves, their titles printed in white, but every few records, a spot of color jumped out. Delroy resisted reaching for them. He wanted the classics and he knew those were always wrapped in white paper sleeves.

First, he pulled out Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse. He’d first heard the song when he was about 7 years old. It was a staple at Jamaican cookouts.  His father’s friends would stand around in the backyard with Styrofoam plates of curry chicken and rice, discussing what they called politics, but what really was just conspiracy theories on subjects like the death of Bob Marley and why The Knicks couldn’t win a championship. The women populated the tables, sipping wine coolers and talked about the men, often laughing at their inane conversations.  At some point in the evening, his father would put on Night Nurse and the mood of the entire party would change. The music would take over. Gregory ‘s voice, soothing and sinister all at once, moved something in everyone. Even the kids stopped and listened. Those who knew the words sang along. Those who could dance danced. Delroy held the record to his chest as he waded through the memory.

The second record he pulled out was a limited-release single of Mary J Blige’s Love No Limit. It had several remixes, one of which was a dancehall version that had Mary J singing a Sister Nancy styled version of Love No Limit over a dub beat. He had been searching for it all summer but couldn’t find it anywhere. That Leonard had it was not much of a surprise. Even though his father hardly spun parties anymore, he spent hundreds of dollars on records and deejay equipment. They were his prized possessions. Just being in the same room as the records, without his permission could get Delroy into serious trouble.

He moved quickly and covered his tracks. He set aside all the records he intended to borrow and closed the cases. He pushed them back into the corner, taking care to place his bike and the basket of clothespins where he’d found them. He was feeling good. He closed the garage door and walked back to the house.

As he walked into the kitchen, he felt his heart fall right into his stomach. His father was sitting at the table eating a sardine sandwich.

He had been caught.

“Delroy, what’s that you have in your hand?”  Leonard took a bite of the hard dough bread, tilting his head forward but keeping his eyes on his son.

“Nothing.” He tried to speak and swallow the word at the same time. “I mean⎯”

“I hope that’s not my records. You know you’re not supposed to touch my system.”

“I know, Dad.’ His palms were hot. His skin itched and he could feel his underarms begin to sweat. His father must have seen the garage door open.

“Anything good in there? Let me see.”

Delroy handed him the records.

“You know you’re not supposed to touch my records.” Leonard’s face tightened. “They’re not toys. Go and put them back!”

“I know they’re not toys. I’m not stupid.”

Leonard catapulted from his chair and grabbed Delroy by the collar. He pushed him against the table, then spun him around and pressed him against the wall. “Who ya tink ya talking to?” His accent thickened.

Bits of sardine and spit flew into Delroy’s face, the smell so strong he could taste it through his skin. He trembled with anger and fear.

“Get off me!” He struggled to break free but couldn’t.

He took a hard swing at his father’s rib. Leonard laughed, pulled him in close, and pushed him back against the wall.

“A fight ya whan fight?”

Delroy threw another punch. His knuckle connected with the back of his father’s head. He was scared, his face swollen with adrenaline. Tears ran down his cheeks and onto his father’s fists, which still held him at the collar. He didn’t want to fight. He wanted to run away. He always wanted to run away. He hated his father and wanted to get as far away from him as possible. He tried to speak but couldn’t. He tried to move but couldn’t. Exhausted, he dropped his hands and wept. Leonard, still holding him, looked at his son and shook his head.

“Stop crying like a lickel girl!”  He snapped, loosening his grip. He pushed Delroy aside and left the room. “And put back my records!”

Still sobbing, Delroy picked up the records and brought them back to the garage.

Good Friday


“I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it. Me and Momma was going to meet my Daddy at the bus station. I was hungry and asked if we could stop for something to eat. We walked by the hot dog man and I wanted one so bad but Momma said she didn’t have no money. I didn’t say nothin’ but—I mean it—if it wasn’t for Momma being there, I’da took one.”

“You wouldna took nothin’! You know how hot them dogs is? You can’t just stick your hand in there and pull one out! That hot dog man be on you so quick.”

“Shut up, Kenny. Lemme finish.”

The three boys formed a half circle. LeMonte, or Montie, as everybody called him, stood almost a foot taller than the others. The charcoal fabric of his slacks were worn grey at the knees. A patch of faded navy covered a hole in one of his back pockets. Kenny purposefully whacked the dusty concrete with the broomstick they used for stickball. Chuck was the youngest. He crouched down real low, like a catcher, his butt up against a street post, listening intently, as he ran his thumbs up and down his suspenders.

“Hurry up and finish telling it then. I wanna play already.” The broomstick flinched with each crack against the pavement.

“We didn’t get no hot dogs but Momma must have felt bad for me ’cause we stopped at one of them newsstands next to the shoeshine boys and she bought me a Charleston Chew. See, I still got the wrapper and everything.”

“Yeah, yeah. We all seen a Charleston Chew before.”

“Kenny! Shut up!”

“Okay okay.”

“So after that, we keep walkin’ and we gettin’ closer to the bus station and everything, when, outta nowhere, all these police cars come shooting pass. Their sirens was goin’. I could see just up the street there was a whole bunch of people crowding up, maybe five hundred people, look like there was something real bad had happened. I asked Momma what happened and she said she didn’t know but she hoped my Daddy was alright.”

“Did you find out?”

An old black car roared pass. The boys squinted through the dusty smoke and into the afternoon sun.

“Momma wanted to go around the crowd but we couldn’t ’cause the police wasn’t lettin nobody pass on the side. We had to walk straight through all them people and what I saw I ain’t never seen nothing like it and I don’t ever want to see nothing like it again.”

“What was it?!”

“Yeah, Montie, quit holdin’ out. What’d you see?”

“Well, you gotta promise not to tell.  ‘Cause Momma don’t know I saw it. She told me to look away but I’d already seent it.”

“What was it?!”

LeMonte leaned in real close and opening his eyes wide as two moons he whispered. “It was a dead white lady.”

Six moons.

“She must have been a movie star or somebody real important too because she had a white dress on, but it was all torn up. The police wouldn’t let nobody get close except for this man taking pictures.”

“What happened to her?”

“Don’t know. She was on the roof of this smashed up station wagon. There was glass everywhere and you could see her foot hanging off the side and one of her shoes was almost in the middle of the street.”

“Dang! You think somebody killed her?!”

“Don’t know. It looked to me like she fell right out of the sky.”

What We Talk About


“Hmm, What’s my favorite part of a woman’s body?”

“I don’t know. I’d say a woman’s ass but that feels a little too obvious.”

“No, obvious isn’t wrong exactly. It’s just, you know, I’d like to think my taste has gotten a little better since high school. It’s like the guy in his mid-twenties who’s still really into boobs. After a certain age, you’d think titties would have long been demystified.”

“I like thighs, i guess. Or like this space just behind your ear, where I can sort of smell your shampoo interacting with your lotion.”

“Wait, actually, you know, there is one particular part of a woman’s body that I absolutely love. Turn around. Onto your side.”

“This –– This space, right here, from your hip to just below your rib cage. I think that’s the most beautiful part of a woman’s body. It’s this natural kind of S-curve you can hold onto.”

“Did you come?”