Heat and Flowers

Today, I walk early to beat the heat, but there is heat and there is heat. Even the shadows along the path are warm and clammy, jungle-like, a caul, and gnats swarm my shoulders and face and perch on my sunglasses. The air is still, the river is still.

Robins fill the oak trees like orange ornaments and greet the sunrise. Vultures and the island’s resident eagles perch and watch, awaiting a breeze upon which to launch. Cliff swallows attack a moving cloud of insects.

And then heat and flowers approach, pass, and a soft voice says, Good morning, and a lithe and barely dressed young woman smelling of lilacs jogs past and ahead of me, her heat burning my left arm, my brain, my eyes (which I must now pluck out, as I have sinned) following the cadence of her confident hips.

This is the season of egrets. They have hatched their young and no longer live in the bird nurseries high in the trees. But they are social, so they gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, and the babies make a terrible noise as they prod their old ladies for regurgitated fish. Great egrets are plentiful, snowy egrets are endangered—just enough pairs left to count and number.

The road and paths are littered with walnuts and acorns. I kick the acorns along, setting new records with each strike as the orbs roll down the path. From now until November, the path turns crunchy underfoot.

And then heat and flowers reverse course, and the lithe and barely dressed young woman smelling of lilacs jogs past and behind me, her middle sweat-soaked, revealing her flower, her heat burning my left arm, my brain, my eyes (which I must now pluck out, as I have sinned), but I daren’t turn and watch, and I silently curse old age.

I think of Burt Lancaster playing the old man in Bertolucci’s masterful film, “1900.” The old man climbs a tree and refuses to come down until he gets a woman: “I want a woman!” His children and grandchildren implore him to come down, the men grinning because they understand, the women exasperated by the horn-dog old man. In Louis Malle’s “Atlantic City,” Lancaster plays an aging mobster who watches a casino waitress (Susan Sarandon) bathe her naked self in lemon juice (to kill the smell of fish), and his longing is palpable.

I stop for a bottle of water at Stevie’s house, at the bottom of Clifton Terrace. Stevie keeps a small refrigerator on her porch, and if you’re a member of the club you can help yourself to a water—even a beer. Stevie is 80, a cook for the Oblate Fathers retreat on the bluffs, and sings in a choir. We watch the hummingbirds work her feeder.

Back home, an hour of stretching is ahead. Scout the cat loves the stretching ritual. She views it as play; she runs between my legs, and rolls on her back and circles around me and pretend-attacks.

I play “Care of the Soul,” a compendium of music pieces which make wonderful meditation music: “Alma Redemptoris mater,” “Tu solus qui facis mirabilis,” Pickers’ “Old and New Rivers,” “Vespers: Ave Maria,” “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” “Salve Regina,” “Fratres,” “Nuper rosarum flores,” Barber’s “Adagio,” Gorecki’s “Symphony No. 3, Second Movement.”

If you’re excitable or afraid or tired or elated, listen to this album and listen to your heart slow, slow, slow down.

Or lie stretched, eyes shut, visions of heat and flowers flooding your brain, remember, cry: I want a woman… and wait.

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We Are Schizophrenic

I walk with Ruby Puppy in the overgrown blackberry rows
butterflies and burst milkweed pods hanging over our heads
Peck’s skipper butterflies, a bellwether species,
small, yellow-brown, perch on tall grass stems
I pick berries and Ruby Puppy eats berries
sometimes out of my palm, and we work the field until it is empty,
the last two gallons of the season in my bowl,
a “bad” season due to blackberry blight
Hummingbirds flit in and out of pink and white blossoms
of Rose of Sharon
bluebirds perch on the fence line, bluejays squawk,
and swallows dive in defiance of physics
Misty rain, ominous cloudbursts, dazzling sunspots,
wind humming Samuel Barber’s “Adagio”
Ruby flops along the path and I rub her belly
with berry-stained hands and she utters whiny sounds
and nips my knuckles
We watch the ghost of Old Walt—recently put in a nursing home—
walk across the field to Orville’s porch:
Coffee? Oh, only if you got it. We got it, all right. Well then, black;
There were First People here 15,000 years ago:
When Orville used to plow the blackberry field, up came axes, spear points,
arrowheads, scrapers, fired clay shards
I pick and weep, mourning for my brother Ted
pick blackberries in remembrance of him.
I just saw him, we just saw him did we
see him had we ever seen him
Remember: “remember” is the weakest of words
Ruby Puppy and I dance a reel, me holding her front paws
while she jumps up and down I jump up and
down my shoes soaked with dew, we are schizophrenic
and who gives a good goddamn.

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The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

A ruby-throated female spent a long time at my feeder this morning. Normally, hummingbirds act territorially, but the lady was calmly sharing with what looked to be a bumblebee, a small black flyer at the tube next to her.

Then the bumblebee rose up and flew straight at the hummer, and the hummer rose with beating wings and put her beak on the bee, which wasn’t a bee at all, but a baby hummingbird being fed by its mother, a sight so breathtaking that I wept. Its face was that of Roberta Flack’s song.

And so this day went. On my walk, seventeen egrets—five snowy and twelve greats—lined the shore of Scotch Jimmy Island. Some of them had youngsters chasing after them. One mom fluttered up and so did her youngster, and the mom flipped and flew, and so did her youngster, and the mom landed and so did her youngster. We’ve all been there. Can’t get any me time.

At the top of Stroke hill, a bald eagle perched in a sycamore tree and watched two puppies in a back yard. I shouted, and the eagle soared off. Along the river, yet another eagle drafted over the treetops.

The cicada chorus sang its mad-inducing ascending and descending song, and frogs joined in. Carolina wrens and mockingbirds shouted each other down. I know I am among the last on earth to hear and see such sights—birds are disappearing as are insects—and so may this essay be part of the last record of the last days.

It is grasshopper season. Every step along the river path stirred the hoppers up and away on dry wings. The last of the summer butterflies root in the dust and puddles along the way, soaking up nutrients and minerals. Dog-eye sulfur butterflies flitted about and so did tiny purple hairstreaks and giant, fan-shaped purple swallowtails.

The local roads have begun wriggling with fuzzy caterpillars wending their way forward. I have never seen a bird pluck up a caterpillar. Perhaps some chemistry is involved. Swallows flit around the bluffs and gorge on butterflies.

This is the worst tomato season I remember. I love tomatoes, have been known to eat five or more a day in good years. My friend Farmer Orville’s tomatoes are red and chewy and tasteless. I bought five tomatoes at Ringhausen’s Orchard, ate one and threw away four.

The three greatest tastes on earth: Tomatoes. Peaches. Women. I could eat all of them every day and never get tired. Not necessarily in that order.

I walked up past the hummingbird feeder. Three ladies sipped nectar cocktails. Maybe the baby, sated and drowsy, maybe the baby, nature’s ambsace, maybe the baby

was asleep.

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Stanley: An Appreciation

I watched Laurel and Hardy last night in “Sons of the Desert.” It’s one of the great comedies ever filmed, with a skewed look on marriage (Stan’s wife is out duck hunting). Stan and Ollie join a lodge, Sons of the Desert, and they scheme to go to the Chicago convention but are terrified to tell their wives.

I love Ollie, but Stan is in a class unto himself, a world class actor who invents things when he’s not the focus. He does five things with his hair in seconds. Watch him eat a wax apple and get more and more into it. “You… wax eater,” sneers Ollie’s wife. And Stan goes from content apple eater to melting man in a long take of his elongated face.

There is no record of Stan Laurel knowing Samuel Beckett. Maybe I should invent such a meeting in a play. Beckett is the greatest writer of the 20th Century. And Stan Laurel is the dream actor to star as Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.” Steve Martin killed on Broadway, Laurel would retire the masterpiece because there would be nowhere else to go.

I was at Symphony Hall in Chicago once to hear Edward Albee lecture. He told a story about calling up “Art Miller” and saying, “Art, let’s go to Moscow and meet some dissident Russian writers.” And Art replied, “Let’s do it. But, let’s stop off and in Paris and hang around with Sam Beckett.” This is a writer’s wet dream of a scenario.

Stan Laurel grew up in a theatrical family, and he excelled as a mime. A mime, that is, not in whiteface but just another guest at the party who, while the other guests verbally interact, lives out a silent and devastatingly funny side existence. Slowly, your eyes gravitate to the silent partner who makes drama out of every little contrivance. You also look for the foil (often Oliver Hardy or a disgruntled wife), someone who sees what you see but wants to kill the partner or the husband.

I could watch Harpo Marx chase women in the Marx Brothers movies forever. But for substance, for sheer artistry, Stan Laurel ranks above Chaplin (Stan understudied for Chaplin) and the great Peter Sellers.

Stan Laurel didn’t invent Absurdism; he was Absurdism. His face was a great work of art. His splendid fingers were machines invented by a genius. His sense of balance—watch him go from staggering to balancing on one foot steady and unswerving—was unparalleled. He was an athlete, a dancer, an acrobat. He drew himself on his own blank slate of a face catching fire with wonder every few seconds.

Watch “Sons of the Desert.” Watch Stanley get up the courage to admit to his wife that he is a liar. Watch his reaction when his wife looks longingly at the barrel of her ginormous hunting rifle. Watch Stan and Ollie dance a hoochy-coochy with Chicago showgirls.

Pardon my Transcendentalism, I can only hope that in the Oversoul of the collective consciousness Sam Beckett and Stan Laurel are dancing and juggling and waiting for Dave Chapelle to join them in the ultimate human statement of meaning and hope and humor that is “Godot.”

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“Pick Hits” by Blue

It was the 70s, man. My good friend and fellow musician Dennis Gordon told me that there was an opening at the “underground” newspaper, The Chicago Express, for which he served as a copy editor. The job was a column, “Pick Hits,” in which the writer would list events happening in and around the Chicago area.

We changed the name of the column to “Pick Hits by Blue,” reflecting the nickname I still answer to. But very quickly I got bored with the format. I proposed to Dennis that I start making up stuff: fake events, turning the column into humor instead of information. Go for it, Dennis said.

One of my first fakes was something about the actor Mary Lou Henner appearing at a coffee house on Lincoln Avenue, to try out a singing act involving her newfound religion (totally made up). It was plausible, as Henner had appeared in Chicago in the very first production of “Grease,” when it was staged in a storefront theater with a twenty-seat capacity.

But I listed the wrong address for the coffee house. Back came a letter from a nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital: “You can go to that address, but you’ll get a thermometer up your ass and a lollipop.” Sure enough, I met the nurse, we posed for a photo, and the readers loved it.

I wrote that Bob Dylan was in town (true) and would be handing out promo free tee shirts for his new album, at the Lincoln park Zoo (false). The Lincoln Park Zoo had a one-day spike in attendance and a lot of explaining to do.

Next, I wrote that the kidnapped Patty Hearst would be traveling along Interstate 80 (true) south of Chicago, and that such and such a rest area would be along her route at such and such a time (false). Sure enough, some hippies drove to that rest stop and reported back the next week on “seeing” Patty. After that, my column was totally made up.

Two weeks before the Fourth of July, the staff met to discuss the cover art. We were riding high on comedy and satire, so we wanted something funny but patriotic. I suggested that seven of us have the words “FUCK COMMUNISM” painted on our bare butts, with one butt cheek serving as a space.

The idea was funny, but the actual process of butt painting was not. No one wanted to be in the room with anyone else in the painting phase. So, each of the seven got painted privately, bright red paint of course, two letters per six butts, one butt with a letter and a space.

On the day of the shoot, staffer Neil took photos of us clothed and set the camera just so, so that the naked moment would be quick and with as little embarrassment as possible. We would disrobe, run to our marks, and on the command “Bend over,” we would do our thing.

The guys stood to the left and disrobed, and the girls walked to the right and did the same, and we swore like sailors and made the worst jokes possible, and we all covered our groins with our hands (so much for sexual liberation) and waited for Neill.

The order came: “Go!” We ran to our spots, turned our backs to camera. “Bend over!” We bent over. Click. “Hold it, guys,” Neil said, “Another shot.” Click. “One more. I need you to bend further.” “Neil,” Neil’s wife Denise scolded, standing naked next to me—I was the ‘CO’ and she was the ‘MM’ of ‘COMMUNISM’—cut the shit!” “Done!”

We ran for our clothes. And had a party, and after a few inhales of weed, started mooning our fellow anti-communists, and laughing—pardon the expression—our asses off.

But. Neil, after looking at the photos, decided that “FUCK COMMUNISM,” while funny, might offend some readers. Plus, in an era before photoshop, Neil couldn’t remove certain other bits that were in the photos. One of us had completely shaved the “area,” (it wasn’t me!) the rest of us were various degrees of hairy. Save for Denise, none of the naked posers ever saw the photos.

There is no record of the event. Neil is dead, old lady Denise is somewhere out there in that vast land of ours. And I am Mr. Fake Story. So some of you say.
 
Happy Fourth, and don’t embarrass your grandchildren.
 
FUCK COMMUNISM!
 

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Rain They Say

Three inches of rain, they say,

and an inch of hummingbirds

ruby throats frenzied at the feeder,

bathing in a limestone cup of water

 

Two inches of northern sky

I measure with my thumb and forefinger

a rose-colored sash across the horizon

the plaintive bluesy songs of evening robins

 

Then a quartet of jazzed Carolina wrens

call and responses from the high oak tree

one landing on the porch to torture the cat–

the cat clacking teeth and dripping saliva

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The Blue Marble

On June 23, 1988, James Hansen, director of the Godard Institute for Space Studies, in reply to a congressman who asked him when global warming would arrive, replied that it had already arrived. I don’t remember that hearing. Do you?

Since the hearing, conservatives and liberals alike, kowtowing to Business and fighting nearly all attempts to reign in human greed and behavior, have spent careers denying global warming. Chances are you have heard some Republican at some party explain the feeble analogy of ice in a cup. Fill a cup with ice and water, let the ice melt. The melted water takes no more room than a similar cup of water. Therefore: Melting ice in the arctic regions cannot raise sea levels. Logic! Right Paul Ryan?

Except, glaciers are on land. Earth’s glaciers have lost 279 billion tons of ice, creating 67 trillion gallons of water, from 2002 to 2017. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melted 455 billion tons of ice into water. The oceans have risen three inches in 25 years. That is 6,500 cubic miles of extra water, enough to cover the entire United States with water nine feet deep.

Why isn’t this news? It is. The trick is, you have to read the news. New York City and New Jersey are quietly redesigning and raising the height of all seaports. So are the major Navy shipyards. Parts of coastal Florida go underwater at high tide every day. Government entities have been preparing for global warming even as the Trumpuppets says it doesn’t exist. The Army is most concerned; global warming will affect our very security.

What? You haven’t seen the videos of apartment lobbies filling with water, the little old ladies demanding their mayors stop it? Coming soon: Ground Zero underwater for major parts of each year. Half of Florida—gone. Louisiana—gone. South Texas—gone.

America and Europe have warmed 1.89 degrees. Heat is rising faster in the north than in the south. A climate denier has his hand up: Couldn’t this be natural change? No. The sun has been going through a period of weakening. Natural change would mean Earth is slightly cooler right now.

In fact, the early climate change warnings are off by fifty years. Climate disruption is fifty years ahead of 1988 predictions. Earth is hotter, weather stormier, wildfires rage at record pace—twice the rate of thirty years ago. The Arctic Ocean is now navigable: Business rejoices.

Here is the problem I hope you will pose to your beautiful kids. Earth already has three times the amount of people it can support. Factor in the above statistics. In thirty more years, how many people will die from starvation, exposure, thirst, violence, etc. due to a global disaster? If you answered: the entire Third World, so you don’t care, you may be a Republican. You child will get it immediately.

Remember the Dust Bowl? Of course you don’t. John Steinbeck told us all about it. But Dust Bowl 2 will be dustier, hotter, more arid; the Joad family that rides Dust Bowl 2 out will lose everyone.

Oh yeah: no butterflies, bees, coral reefs, peaches, fish, eagles, blueberries, hummingbirds. There will even be a last tree, for people to post selfies next to. Then the tree will be cut down for lumber.

God opened up a chemistry set and unleashed the Big Bang—to see what would happen. A blue marble way off from the center of the universe coughed itself into existence. Then, after a puny four billion years, the blue marble died coughing. There was no vaccine.

No way?

Way.

For: Finn, Veronica, Katie, two Matties, Amanda, Mikey, Declan, Ellie and her sister, Abigail, Davey, Elise, Bekira, Tali, Vanessa, Sophie (who just might change the world), Skylin, Zoe, Luke, Morgan, Charlie, Jason, Stephen, and David. With love.

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WD-40

Orville and I sat on his porch, Ruby Puppy resting comfortably on my feet. There was a slight breeze, a tickle maybe. It is third nesting season around here, another round of male cardinals and finches and robins fighting one another for dominance. At Genehouse, two broods of two finches each already hang out at the feeder and scream at their parents to feed them. A third nest is now in place and eggs laid.

My friend had a heart attack a few weeks ago. He’s fine now, or I wouldn’t be writing bout him. He refuses to stop working, joking that if he doesn’t weed the tomato plants I would curse and throw a fit. He won’t let me do some weeding, of course: There is the Orville way and the highway. His kids and grandchildren have been showing up unannounced, grabbing his riding mower and mowing while Grandpa sulks in the kitchen and watches Fox News.

Ruby Puppy jumped up and ran into the yard and intercepted a vole dumb enough to appear above ground. Ruby learned from mama Reba (now deceased) how to pick up voles, toss them in the air, catch them head first and swallow them whole. There is regular dog breath, and then there is vole-swallowed-whole dog breath, the latter making loved ones in the vicinity fight the urge to hurl.

I stood up, citing work and naptime coming. I had to stand for a moment and stretch and move my hips, legs and shoulders, stiff from my four-mile walk early in the cool morning. I can still climb the bluff hills—three 300 footers a day on average—but afterward I turn stiff as a board.

“I ever tell you about our old neighbor Evelyn?” Orville said. “And this ain’t no story. Evelyn, she was like you, exercisin’ all the time but stiff. She got the bright idea to take a bath. In WD-40. She poured two five-gallon cans of WD-40 into her bathtub and laid in it and rubbed it all over herself. Then she’d drain the stuff—it went into the septic tank—and she’d shower regular.”

“You know this how?” I asked.

“Well, I wasn’t in the bathroom with her,” Orville said. “You know, you lay in ten gallons a WD-40, it ain’t gonna go up over your belly. You squish-like in it, rub it all over yourself. Evelyn, she knocks on our door and tells Bev (Quilt Queen) she found the elixir of life. You could always tell when Evelyn had the treatment—she smelled like a lubed car engine.”

I walked home thinking it had been a long time since I squish-liked in anything. There was the incident of the cans of blue paint in the Monticello Women’s College scene shop where the goddess Donna and I stripped and painted each other. It was the 60s, man.

Come to think of it, I might just take a whole jar of my favorite Palmer’s coconut butter and rub it all over…

Nah.

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Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

Today I met with Kim Jung Un. What a guy! He looks like a fatso Munchkin! He could walk the Yellow Brick Road with Judy Garland! His eyelids were so close together I never saw his eyeballs. I wanted to reach over with my thumb and index finger and open those lids and say, ‘Hey in there!’ But that stupid John Kelly told me do not take hold of anything but the Oriental’s hand.

Remember when I told my followers I could kill somebody and nothing would happen to me? Well Un—or is it Kim—bragged that he had killed over 300 people!

“Poison them, Donald. Poison make them linger and think about you while their insides boil! Shooting—no. Garroting—no. Over too quick! Poison their bananas flambé, watch them puke their guts, void their bowels, writhe in pain—all the while thinking of the Kimster (or Unster or Jungster—whatever)!”

Words to live by. I’d like to poison that gay guy Mike Pen—Anderson Cooper.

Kim—or is it Jung—has a harem. He offered to share with me. He’s got Geisha girls who pee on you, take it up the back door, girls on girls. But that stupid John Kelly won’t let me have a little sampler—much less an adult sampler. ‘What if the American people find out?’ Is he kidding? American men cheered me on when I did it with that randy whore Stormy D.

Boooooooooring!

I told Jung—or is it Un—that North Korea has great sandy beaches. I could see them in the top- secret photos of their nuclear tests, huge sandy beaches that just beg to be developed by Trump. The little bugger’s interpreter kept saying, ‘We’ll see. We’ll see.’ Which means yes. It better mean, yes. Of course, they can’t see anything with those slanted eyes.

I’ve got a secret! Somebody’s here that should not be here! Michael Cohen is hiding in Air Force One with bags and bags of cash. Everybody’s talking about my first Trump-Un—or is it Trump-Kim—handshake lasting so long. That’s because Cohen put a little device in my palm that transferred funds to Kim’s—or is it Jung’s—tiny little device in his palm. Ka-ching!

Why do people hate me? Crooked Hillary and Crooked Penis Bill say they hate me. My sons hate me. My daughter won’t sit on my lap anymore—that’s it, I won’t date her now if she begs me. One bag of Cohen Cash each, and they’d all be tickling my scrotum! It doesn’t matter. I now own half the globe. Full globe by the time I’m out of office.

Not much in the way now. Just ask Lil’ Kim Jung Un! Uny—or is it Jungy—said to me ‘What you think I am?’ I said, well, we already established what you are. The question is: How much?

Night-night, Diary

Love, Donny

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After the Storm

White marbles smash down

petals shed to petals’ dust

and rent red lilies

 

Slight teacup finch nests

swirl above the just-cut grass

their pied eggs unharm’d

 

The storm passes south

its path a stream of tree limbs:

Rush, ripe rite of spring

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