I – morning
I check for mosquito bites. fingers as pincers inspecting skin –
the smell of tigerbalm, snake powder, liquid light on walls.
breakfast a rambutan yoghurt – a windowless cold water shower –
the sound of next doors rustling gate. the ground thud of coconut
and stray mongrel dog. a truck that barks out elections.
I leave the house to cycle to my school, stand still for the anthem
by the noodle stall, the policeman dressed in formal black –
lego-like, his white mask conducting traffic through the dust.
the river breeze tremors the temple bell as novices walk on alms –
the buddha reclines in the shade, cloaked in a blanket of cats.
II – afternoon
the walls dusty and cool – three paintings from chiang mai –
blue amber green of a dusk pastoral. an alphabet poster
for a child. a paper umbrella imprinted with geishas –
the formal gold-leaf gaze of the king. I sit on the floor
watching the lizards catch moths, their tongues lolling
lazy on a fan that collects up and scatters the air –
pulsing red as a heart in this afternoon heat
in a season when even the bees swarm slow.
III – evening
this is a good memory.
shadow puppets on the walls from below our shutters –
the snout of a dog, the wheel of a bike.
we sit with empty plates rifling through atwood
the only books left from last years volunteers.
i’ve read the edible woman, am beginning the handmaids tale
when you come back clutching whiskey
your hands weighted down with fruit –
pomelo rose-apple tamarind and longan.
you sit with a cigarette and we speak in thai –
your ulverston accent navigating the high tones
my lancaster retort bludgeoning the low.
mosquito’s swarm us in their cloak of smoke.
this is a good memory. it glows in the gloom.
IV – night
my paddyfield village is an all night city:
the whir of cicada, the whip of a snake.
the murderous lift of a scorpion’s tail
the syringe nick moan of mosquitoes.
the night is an orchestra of dogs and crickets
an undulating nocturne that swarms the streetlights –
the creep of a cat hunting mice by the temple
the dukeh call of gecko counting down time.
rain brings the frogs out and trees stretch to bathe –
filling the shelves of my room with the lush scent of leaves –
eucalyptus, durian and steaming sugar cane:
thunderheads are pips in a peeled ripe sky.
The Ship Canal. And the Ballard. The Montlake, closed over the cut.
There’s the Southwest Spokane Street Swing bridge. And the University
over Portage Bay. Linking the U-District with the north. This is a city of bridges. One hundred and forty nine at last count. Steel and concrete skyways hanging
in space. I’m stopped. On the Aurora at eight AM. The commute like a funeral
procession. The steering wheel slick with desperation’s grip. Breaking my fall through an empty life. And there he sits. On the railing. Legs counterweighted above a concrete walkway. Back to the sky. The rest of us cantilevered over a gray expanse. Looks to be
a hundred and fifty vehicles. I figure a passenger in every other one.
Two hundred or so people. Which is how many have chosen, as Sartre put it,
to embrace the abyss. We name this bridge with relish. Suicide Span. Fremont Falls. Tourists rightly call it the George Washington. But Jumper’s Bridge rises
as the favorite. For the self-extinctively inclined, its thousand-yard length
and two hundred foot drop into eternity, serve as a stage to irresistible drama.
This guy’s got to be surprised by his reception. Half the drivers lean on their horns. The rest, out of their cars gawk or yell. Jump asshole. Jump. He reels some
as he pulls a pack of cigarettes from a pocket. Lights one and inhales.
Exhales. Wind yanks the smoke over his shoulder. It’s cold. One hand draws a
nylon jacket closed. Eyes wary, the other reaches down, unlaces his shoes. He kicks them off. I half expect a priest to show, bible in hand. Whisper a prayer
maybe. Walk him down a long corridor with his hand on his
shoulder. Bare lights overhead. A cop and two paramedics thread their way
fast through a crush of cars. Toward mid-span where the guy waits. More police whoop-whoop their way to the outer fringe of the crowd. A couple of women
are closest. Try to talk him down. He smiles his thanks. But no thanks. He
lifts his arms over his head. Leans into the emptiness. Pauses to look at us a final time. Back flips into the end of his life. The mob goes quiet. They climb back into their cars. Key their ignitions. Crawl away
north or south. Disappointed it’s over. I stand there. Against the fender
of my car. Hazard lights still flashing. The cop who almost reached him walks
over. Looks at me. Why do you think he did it? I don’t know. I’m just
wondering what it felt like to finally stop falling.
Proof that I’m an ass
Like last year’s attempt to rebuild a 34 year-old Japanese carburettor myself, which only added explosive back-firing to its symptoms, just yesterday I took another step away from self-sufficiency. I wished, as before, to liberate myself from high-cost, specialized services when unnecessary, in this case dental medicine.
One of my two remaining wisdom teeth is in the midst of another agitating growth spurt. The tooth is in a state of “super exposure,” meaning it has protruded from the gum enough to require no incision for extraction.
Having had two such wisdom teeth pulled last calendar year, I was freshly familiar with the simple operation. For those who haven’t had super exposed wisdom teeth removed, it involves nothing more intricate than grabbing hold of the tooth with pliers, prying the tooth from side to side until the root bone cracks, shimmying the tooth from its place, controlling the blood loss, making sure the blot clot remains in place and avoiding infection until the wound is healed. The cost of this simple procedure performed by a dental medical doctor is approximately two hundred dollars. Rip off!
After a day of pensively fingering the tooth and considering the possible dangers, I decided to perform the extraction myself at home. My principle concerns were blood loss, clotting, infection, and pain. For blood loss, I had on hand paper towels wrapped in wet gauze. These I would stuff in my cheeks and gently bite down on until the wound clotted. It is common that oral blood clots become dislodged by suction and complicate the healing process. For this, I reviewed the do’s and don’ts as prescribed by dentists following tooth extraction. For infection, I rinsed my mouth with Listerine before the extraction, and resolved to rinse it gently multiple times daily after the extraction. For pain, I had in stock Ibuprofen, Aleive, and some left over painkillers prescribed to me when I sprained my neck last June (also self-inflicted). The best defence against the daunting pain, however, would be unyielding toughness. For this I prepared myself mentally and downed a glass of Geary’s Winter IPA.
I chose the pliers from several pairs in my tool set. At first I thought needle-nose pliers would work best, but the level of torque seemed insufficient. Next I tried the square-headed Lineman’s pliers, which could not properly grip the tooth. Though I think vice-grips, had I owned them, would have worked best, I decided on the basic slip-joint pliers. With their cupped and toothed head, they gripped the tooth sturdily and would provide enough torque.
My housemates on the first floor, I secretly set up the materials on the second-floor bathroom counter and washed the pliers thoroughly with hand soap. I looked myself in the mirror and chose not to second guess the controversial plot. I set the pliers firmly on the unwanted tooth. Gripping the handle ends tightly I tested its torque with a wiggle that produced a small but distinct fracture sound. Now I pried with controlled but heavy forced on the tooth, bending it outward until I heard a crack, then bending it inward until it produced an equal sound. I repeated this step to ensure complete detachment.
The endeavour was all going even more smoothly than expected. I imagined myself healed and showing off the extracted tooth to friends and strangers, saying, “You don’t need to go to dentist for simple stuff like wisdom teeth. Just pull them out yourself like I did.” The extracted tooth would be a keep-sake symbolic of my courage, self-sufficiency, invulnerability to exploitation by said specialists.
Now that I had completely fractured the root, I pulled upward on the tooth, shimmying it, in an attempt to complete its removal. I expected to admire it in my palm momentarily. I expected to see and taste a great wealth of blood flowing forth from its socket and second. The tooth, however, was not coming out.
My failure at extracting the tooth turns out to be a most fortunate stroke of luck. I removed the pliers from my mouth and sensed a quantity of pulverized tooth matter release from where the pliers had grasped. Though I had experienced some jolting pains deep below the gum line, my efforts had resulted in little more than busting apart the tooth. I sent in my fingertip to assess the new situation. To my great dismay, it was at this moment that I realized I had been trying to extract the wrong tooth! Distracted by the various preparations, I had selected my target absentmindedly. I had bust apart and loosened a perfectly good molar, behind which the nuisance wisdom tooth sat unharmed!
I awoke this morning with the memory as fresh on my mind as a disturbing dream, and for the split second it took my tongue to reach the wrecked tooth, I prayed it was one. Not a year ago, I paid for a dentist to fill a cavity in this molar with the intention of preserving it.
My right jaw now throbs benignly, and when I attempt to chew with the back right molars, even lightly, I experience a shooting pain that is not benign but paralyzing. Of the molar, perfectly good until yesterday, I busted off about a third of the tooth’s volume. Its surface is now shallow, jagged and sensitive. I can no longer enjoy cool beverages.
This proves nothing.
Yours, insufficiently self-sufficient,
When you cross
Camus wrote that
he never crossed
a bridge at night
It doesn’t matter
When you cross it
A bridge is an
outline of the soul,
Indifferent to choices
It only steadies
for the sun
8 NEW WAYS OF LOOKING AT WAFFLES
1. the mind (in its righteousness)
2. the conscience (in its scrupulousness)
3. the heart (in its cupidity)
4. the soul (in its annihilation)
5. the tongue (in its appeasement)
6. the skin (in its lethargy)
7. the body (in its luxury)
8. life (in its delirium)
The bloated filters of cigarette butts float through the putrid mire of a swirling moat murky with mosses and molds, and the occasional faded coin flopped into the scummy shallows. The bits of spare change wallow in piles as poor bastards, paid to plunge day after day through plumes of billowing manufactured soot, dive to the gloomy depths and rummage, briefly, for handfuls of the soiled money. The sopped thespians ascend for air, sputtering against their bogged heavy shoes, and emerge splashing futilely at the choreographed flames licking the sky when the desert wind doesn’t blow hard enough to cancel the show for fear of the whole hotel burning down with the ill fated ships jutting from the building’s façade.
Shabby tourists, corralled safely behind the bulky spindles of an unravelling rope, blindly thrust their video recorders into a sea of uplifted arms to capture the sight of a cannon’s wrath splintering the enemy’s beleaguered sinking boat. Only the folks down front bristle in the fire warming their skin and cower in frightened unison as one battered mast splits and topples upon the stubborn captain refusing to abandon the soaked planks sagging under his feet. The remaining horde, jostling for a glimpse, must wait to revel in the action until they arrive home and sink into familiar sullied couches and flip through the stacks of developed photographs. Some will linger to watch the mayhem replay on miniature iridescent camcorder screens before they wander up or down the strip or into the casino to waste untold riches in hopes of hitting a jackpot of innumerable nickels or quarters with the flick of a wrist.
Tonight, a young man adrift in the mob flinches at every rumbling echo awakening his unsteady nerves. He doesn’t care about the show.
Instead, Seville chuckles at the actors’ shaved chests peeking from the plunging necks of their ruffled blouses as they heave banal soliloquies through blaring rock shaped speakers quivering along the shore.
He delves into the thick of the crowd, careful to avoid stumbling off the curb where the other pedestrians scurry around the entangled spectators by wandering into the street. The enraged throngs of impatient motorists gnash their teeth and consider swerving the wheel to smatter a couple of the unsuspecting stiffs before sputtering to a stop along the congested boulevard where the strip clubs and wedding chapels unfurl into downtown.
Seville scuttles down the sidewalk, scuffing the tattered uneven heels of his beat brown boots and mouths silent apologies for brushing the loose flapping fabric of the shirts and shorts dangling from the flesh near him.
The cast bows for unsolicited curtain calls and the stampede of onlookers hastily scatters into the neon addled night. The people rise onto their tiptoes as they scoot about in search of the most efficient egress and silently curse the pokey fuckers at a standstill somewhere down the line. They all slowly grind to a halt.
Strange calloused hands grope Seville’s thighs and an elbow digs into his side. The fellow behind him juts his meaty palms into Seville’s spine and hollers, “Hey, we’re moving as fast as we can here,” at the hooligans in the rear creeping mercilessly into the agitated cluster of bodies swapping petrified glances.
Some imbecile at the heart of the surge leans back in the vain hope of quelling the pushing masses, but his fervent shoves uncoil like a spring and, after breeching the outer recesses of the crowd, ebb back again, cramping everyone in tighter.
The air, saturated with sweat, hangs over Seville’s head like a fog and his skin shivers and tightens with bumps. The blood rushes from his face and prickling numbness slides down his cheeks, settling under his chin.
The fray nudges impossibly closer and the lips wriggling along his ear whisper, “Buddy, you all right,” but the moist breath drifts between the muffled yowls of fright menacing Seville’s thoughts. The muddled voices holler for release.
Seville suffocates with each gasping huff and he wretches his shoulders like a bird flapping in the throes of flight. He aches to bend his knees and grind them into the cold concrete spinning beneath the flecks of stars above.
“Please give me the strength to make it through this moment,” he groans into the coarse linen sleeve wrinkled against his face.
Seville has silently mumbled the prayer to himself countless times before but now he obsessively repeats the incantation, faster and faster. His frenzied tenor elicits stifled sobs from the woman beside him as she desperately clutches her purse to her chest.
Seville’s supplication spreads through the minds of the people near him and they mimic his pleas and soon a chorus of chants soars upward, away from the crowd and floats on the vapors rising from their warm skin. His spirit separates from his flesh and hovers above him. But the words, lighter than his soul, soar beyond the highest floors of the hotels, higher than the mountains towering above the strip, and up into the clear violet night.
Miles to Go
When uncertain I return rhythm, dead,
useless when used obtusely. Hidden
is key, see?
Internal, like an unread
song, sang, hummed, whispered, a bed once ridden
with lovers now covered in blue-striped sheets.
I bleat ‘I can’t’ and ‘I can’t’ between crossed
ankles. Even while suckling on teats,
elite or otherwise, Plath, Sexton, Frost,
all is lost.
Keep it at a soldier’s walk,
a Lawrence Welk-ism, Anna One, An-
na Two, Anna Really Big Shoe. Oh, clock.
I wish to ride in that famous Frost Sleigh
and track horse hockey in the night decay.