Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to Sing

How to Sing

Catch the vowel, plastic wonder.
Extend. Spin to the realm of
vibration, incarnation of breath,
trick of tone

Pop the consonant, Shakespearean
neutral, crack another egg,
open to the lips, toothcarve,
tongueshift, ceramic wind,
sonic floret, bouquet, filigree

Puzzle the syllables into streams,
meander, slice the clock into
boxes, lay them inside.
Push the edges. Swing.
Sustain. Work the quiet.
Erupt. Goof around.

Reasons we do it:
erectus matesigh,
a shout carried long,
a sob lifted.
It seems to make us
human, takes the prison of
self and flares it
across the landscape.

It’s possible to connect the
song to a thing we miscall
the heart, but you need to
close your eyes and
briefly give up your life.

Have a drink. Have two.
Fill your lungs with sky.
Draw the spectrum across your
larynx; you are a stringed
instrument, gorged with overtone,
rimmed with bellstrike, a
cellular call to the
oscillating world.

One day, when the green flash
gives way to a blue moon,
you may find that the
song is singing you.
You may then call yourself
a singer.

Long Island University
Brookville, New York

from the collection Fields of Satchmo 

Photo by Michelle Sutton (of Cecily Rose Flores) 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fields of Satchmo

Fields of Satchmo

The highway sparkles obsidian,
arrowhead shavings,
cities named for the slaughtered,
a country built on crushed culture.

Our Fathers, coffeehouse Athenians,
half their fortunes pressed from
negro flesh so they wrote a
government full of wishes

Filled in the blanks with six hundred
thousand dead soldiers then told
the vanquished they could
go on lynching niggers so
long as they were free niggers.

Dangling bodies spoil a
proper party so we paper the
walls with righteous fictions.
Jazz, for example, as a
pure African form.

Explain the pianoforte, the
Turkish cymbal, the Spanish guitar.
Treble clefs running in
great herds along the Serengeti,
grazing on quarter notes.

If you are going to
survive the American mindfuck you
must embrace the awfulness,
fall face-down in the cattleshit,
open your eyes to find
Louis Armstrong sprouting like a
sunflower, sowing the plains with
peals of brass, smiling a
smile that no one forgets.

Child of slaves.
Handel’s trumpet.
Four-four time with tribal improv,
lyrics by Gershwin,
a swung note at the
tip of Jefferson’s pen.                                                               

Caveat Lector, San Francisco

from the collection Fields of Satchmo 
FREE on Amazon Kindle, Sept. 25.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Operaville the Novel: Free on Amazon Kindle

FREE on Amazon Kindle, Sept. 24: the novel "Operaville." A diva has an affair with her biggest fan. From the author of the best-selling Kindle book, "The Popcorn Girl."

5.0 out of 5 stars Brava! Brava! January 9, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When I first starting reading this I thought uh oh, so not my thing but by the end of the second chapter, I realized I was going to have to let go of a lot of preconceived notions. I’m not usually a fan of romantic tales with male authors or erotic scenes written from the male perspective or of first person POV pieces. But I enjoyed this rollicking romp through the main character’s love of opera so much, that I simply couldn’t put it down.

Mickey is such a guy. He’s so clueless about some things (mostly women). But his unabashed love of opera draws the readers (both male and female) into his world. Mickey’s ability to laugh at himself insures that the reader is comfortable laughing right along with him. This book was smart and witty; all in all, a fabulous read. Oh, and I really, really want to listen to Maddalena sing. Mickey’s descriptions of her voicing are so intricate that I can almost hear it.

The author’s vast knowledge of opera was liberally spread across the pages but it never dragged. I was fascinated by the backstories on the various characters from different operas. I’d love to add Mickey’s opera blog to my favorites list.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Fifty: Watermelon Seed

Buy the book at Amazon Kindle.


Scootie lay in a haphazard clump, trying to hinge his jaws back together with a perpendicular yawn. A single woodshaving had attached itself to the inside of his mouth, and he had to whack his head against the side of the tank to knock it loose.
“Can you imagine every single meal being such a trauma?” asked Juliana. “I’d lose weight for sure.” She watched the softball-size lump making its way down Scootie’s body.
“Maybe so,” said Scootie. “But you’d only have to eat once a week.”
“Yeah,” said Audrey. “He can even go two or three if you’re on vacation. Makes him a little snippy...”
“You know,” said Juliana. “I knew a man once who had a friend with one of these, and it got out one night and strangled the kid next door.”
Audrey broke out laughing. “Oh God. Do you know how many times I’ve heard that? ‘My uncle’s next-door neighbor...’ ‘This kid who went to school with my cousin...’ ‘ into the crib and swallowed the baby whole!’ Hee!”
“Oh,” said Juliana. She was feeling a little defensive to begin with, and this wasn’t helping. “So you mean, none of these stories are true?”
“Not a single one, is my guess. And even if there’s a mishap here or there, it’s nothing compared to how often some kid gets their face chewed off by a dog. There’s just something morbidly fascinating about snakes, so we make up stories. We’re all a little hung up on Tarzan movies and the old Adam and Eve con job. Want some potato skins?”
“Yeah, try one,” said Scootie. “’Sgot parmesan cheese, and garlic.”
Juliana adjusted her vision from Scootie to the toothless grin of his namesake. If only the rat hadn’t been so cute...
“I, uh, I’ll try some a little later.”
“Okay,” said Audrey. “But don’t wait too long. You’re going to need a lot of stamina tonight. I’ll be right back with some juice.”
Juliana watched Audrey tap down the stairs, then spoke to Scootie in low tones. “What’s she got up her sleeve?”
Scootie shook his head. “I really have no idea.” In truth, he did, having noticed the depleted state of Audrey’s store, but he didn’t want to spoil her fun. She returned with glasses of mango nectar.
“Thanks,” said Juliana. She lifted a potato skin and tried a bite.
“So you’re not in the captain’s mansion,” said Scootie.
Audrey smiled. “Roger is ensconced with his mother and stepfather for a week of family bonding.”
“So, what? We’re sleeping in the loft?”
“Who said anything about sleeping?” said Audrey.
The mystery escalated when Audrey ushered them into Roger’s four-wheel-drive and headed straight for the mansion. When she got to the driveway, however, she bore right, and kept going for half a mile, pulling in at a dirt lot bordered by undergrowth.
“Come on down,” said Audrey, holding a jungle-size flashlight. They followed her to the corner of the lot, where she split the bushes onto a narrow trail. “It’s a little treacherous,” she called back. “Watch out for low branches.”
The trail emerged on a clearing of palmetto fronds, sweeping the hillsides like limp broomheads. Around a bend, they climbed a band of small boulders  and landed on sand, a small cove bracketed by overhangs of pockmarked rock. At the midpoint, Scootie could make out a jumble of shapes, like sculptures in a dark gallery.
It didn’t stay dark for long. Katie McGregor sent a pyramid of logs into broad orange flames (with help from one or two buckets of lighter fluid). The light revealed just about every percussion instrument known to mankind, plus a Deadhead-looking young man, smiling through a beard and two-foot dreadlocks.
“Juliana, this is Katie McGregor, my assistant manager and best pal, and this is Sal, Katie’s pal and bedmate.”
“Hi,” said Juliana, shaking their hands. “Nice to meet you.” Katie, a little overawed at the evening’s grand romantic overtones, squirmed her feet in the sand, rattling the jingle bells tied to her ankles.
“Well, that said, you may now leave us, troops.” Audrey handed Katie the keys to the four-wheel-drive. “And thanks for helping us out.”
“Eight o’clock?” asked Katie.
“Eight o’clock.”
They slid away with a flashlight, then Audrey took Juliana’s hand and led her to the other side of the fire. “I’ve got a few other friends I’d like you to meet.”
Scootie followed, and watched as Audrey gave names to the animals of her kingdom, and demonstrated their playing. She finished by handing Juliana a cabasa and spelling out the night’s activities. It was Scootie’s job to man the large membranophones – a trio of congas, the ceramic djembe, the Japanese taiko – and lay down the basic rhythms. She and Juliana were free to wander a shopper’s paradise, picking up smaller instruments – frame drums, rattles, gourds, bullroarers – and adding to the mix. They were allowed breaks for water, for working out sore appendages, and for exchanging instruments – but preferably one player at a time, lest the beat be allowed to die. The object was to produce an unending string of sound from the present time – a little after midnight – to sunrise, which arrived about six o’clock.
“Now. All that said – are you up for it?” asked Audrey.
“Do I have a choice?” asked Juliana.
“Smart girl,” said Audrey.

The everlasting hum of body against instrument, instrument against air, contained too many small niches for Scootie to recall. Some he would have to reassign to dreams. Four exceptional moments, however, managed to leave a mark, and he would return to them later whenever the opinion-infested path they were destined to trod got him down.
The first was the discovery of Juliana’s innate rhythmic sensibilities. For the first two hours, he stuck to the straight-ahead drive of four/four, but eventually he got bored and had to shed a few articles of his musical clothing. He began with a 7/8 (which always reminded him of Jewish folk dances), delved into the triplicate of waltzes (rarely associated with drum-jams) then spun off into a circular string of syncopations that he must have picked up from some Indian tabla recording (the changes were so random, in fact, that he couldn’t even assign numbers to it). At each of these turnoffs, he would catch Juliana tilting her head quizzically, hands running a stall on her instrument-of-the-moment till she could sort out the new pattern and begin punching in accents. He was thrilled by the flash of recognition, the thoughts rising from hands to head. She was, in short, a natural.
Moment number two arrived at about four hours. With reddening palms and Jell-O forearms, Scootie swore off the hard edges of the djembe and relaxed on the tumba, largest of the congas. He thumped a beat in the soft center while slapping the sausage links of his free hand against his jeans, praying for resuscitation.
This is crazy, he thought – and not the “oh, ain’t we nuts” jocular kind of crazy. Literal mental dysfunction. If there were local authorities within their sound waves, they would drag them off in a second, before they wore off one of their limbs. But then he had no choice, did he? If he were ever to attain the silver bracelet charms that make life worth living, it would be with this flame-kissed goddess, shaking and slapping international trinkets before him. His reward came at sunrise, and it required only that he ignore the pain, and lay down a beat.
At moment number three, Scootie found the crescent moon rimming their southern overhang like the point of a can-opener. The other crescent was Juliana’s smile, as she snapped two blondewood sticks together in rapid divided beats, then flipped them over to reveal their marshmallow tips. Timpani mallets. And wasn’t that something, sweating from her brow on a forty-degree morning/night, halfway to walking pneumonia, drum cancer or some other rhythmic disease, but still thinking of him, of his tortured hands. He took the mallets and rang them down on his congas, eliciting a tropical chime like steel drums, the round handles rubbing smoothly in the pocket of his palms. Juliana strolled back to the fire, down to coals, blue snake-tongue flames flicking out here and there, then lifted an orchestral triangle and dropped a shower of tinkerbells into his hair.
Vision number four. The three of them had spoken no words for an hour, but knew, the way that jazz players know each other’s riffs, that the sun was approaching. The Apollo-worship began in earnest, the gauging of eyes to eastern shades of blue – the kind of blue that Renoir swirled around his wife’s parasol, that Matisse  set into tall glass panels, that Warhol set around prints of Campbell’s Soup cans. Any of these would do.
When it finally arrived, pulling baby blue sheets over the ceiling, Scootie set his ruined thumbs into a samba. Audrey motioned Juliana to a sack of objects near the boulders, and they returned with Indonesian chimes on their forearms, Peruvian sheep’s-hooves around their ankles. They pulled their feet into a skip around the fire, then, suitably warmed up, stamped their feet and shook their arms with a miraculous physicality (the final giveout before the long-awaited rest).
Drawn up by this view of the city limits, Scooite beat his flapjack palms in a happy generic dance over his congas. He spied the first buzz of sunlight striking the ocean and accelerated to the tempo of “Don’t Wanna Be Your Adolf, Baby.” Audrey skipped by, smiling deliriously, having dropped her Irish sweater somewhere. A little later, she cackled by with no T-shirt, her breasts barely contained by a black lace bra. Scootie retained enough native anxiety to hope that none of this was inspired by female competition, then found Juliana cavorting his way, topless, breasts bobbing as she lifted her face to the lightening sky and howled.
As Scootie raced the tempo into speed metal, more and more laundry fell to the sand, and the two of them finally abandoned ship, stripping their bells and racing to the waves, where they slapped Alaska-cold water all over each other. Scootie raised his arms over the congas, let his palms fall with one final exclamation point, then strung a trail of clothing across the beach as he ran to join them.

“Pretty neat trick,” said Scootie, flopping back on Miguel Barran’s bed. “How did you manage this?”
Juliana smiled and stashed an informational plaque under the mattress. “I’m the president of the board, sonny. For all the shit I put up with, I deserve an occasional historical-site roll in the hay. Besides, I think I owe you one. If you hadn’t figured it out, I was the one who slipped Aggie that anonymous tip.”
“And granted her enough local-history brownie points to last the length of her forced retirement,” said Scootie.
Juliana straddled him, holding her fists like sledgehammers. “Are we even on guilt yet? Can I bop you on the head for that comment? Please say yes.”
Scootie managed a sit-up and planted a kiss on Juliana’s snarling lips. “I have for you a token of my esteem – a diploma of sorts – but first, some final questions. Are you eternally, helplessly drawn to me, like a Greek sailor to sirens, like a Republican to country clubs, like a teenager to the kind of his music his parents can’t stand?”
Juliana smiled sweetly. “Yes.”
“Are you ready to support the proposition that two people can share wildly disparate worlds, no matter the differences in their upbringings and social standings – provided a bond of core values like petting cute dogs on public sidewalks and never leaving the movie theater until the end of the credits?”
She placed a hand on Scootie’s chest like a faith healer and shouted, “Amen!”
“Lastly,” said Scootie. “Do you pledge, here before the sacred woodcarvings of Miguel Barran, that you will never, ever conspire to deprive Scootie Jones of his position as publicist and manager of the rock band which shall henceforth be known as Gelatinous Bubba, nor any other positions of gainful employment which he should henceforth fake his way into?”
“Hands off,” said Juliana, and crossed her heart.
“All right, then.” He fished in his pocket and pulled out a pair of rawhide loops, each of them strung through a New York City subway token.
“Scootie!” She pulled one over her head and studied the double ring of nickel and brass.
Scootie ran a drum-callused hand along the side of her face. “Thirty-Fourth and Broadway, Juli. From here, we can go anywhere you want.”
“How about Houston?” she said.
“Yes. I have tickets for tomorrow morning. We’re driving from there to Galveston, where we will meet Jackie Simmer at a restaurant called the Balinese Room. We will sit on a terrace overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, eat oysters on the half-shell, then adjourn to the beach for a sloppy messy dessert of papayas.”
Juliana nodded vigorously. “Yes. Papayas.”
Overcome with boyish glee, Scootie took the top button of Juliana’s blouse between his teeth, ripped it out, then twisted sideways to spit it like a watermelon seed. It landed on the nightstand, next to a charcoal sketch of Harlan Fetzle. 

Photo: the author and the inspiration for Scootie, Jr., "Simic."Photo by Hilary Schalit, Willow Glen Resident.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Forty-Nine: Private Gotham

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Forty Nine

Margaret Lane drew a finger along the edges of her daughter’s eye, where the blood from her wound had settled in contour-line rings of purple, blue and black.
“Daughter, if I didn’t know better, I would have that young man of yours carted away. Are you sure you’re not trying a little too hard to prove your devotion?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose, Mother. My assignment was simply to participate. And it was fun.”
“And maybe a little dangerous?”
Margaret kissed the skin above her daughter’s wound and smiled. “Bless you, Jewel. You’re learning how to live.”
“Living hurts.”
“Yes. But it saves on eye shadow. Shall we return to the men?”
“If they can stand the sight of me.” She lifted her fingers like claws and made a horror-movie expression.
“A little wound can be an exotic thing,” said Margaret. “I have occasionally received appreciative comments about my C-section scar. Shows I’ve lived. You never know what will arouse the male libido.”
“Just about anything, is my guess.” And that was how they made their entrance, letting out cirrus clouds of female laughter. Scootie and Rico, who had been talking shop (they were both in marketing, after all), turned their attentions to the doorway.
“How are the men doing?” asked Margaret.
“Conspiring to sell CD-ROMs of Gelatinous Bubba at Lane’s Cupertino,” reported Rico. Rico possessed a double package of charm: a hyper-romantic exterior (cleft chin, big gray moustache) and an Oxford-educated diction, approaching Shakespearean. “And what have you women been discussing?”
“The women,” said Margaret, “have been discussing the surprising beauty of wounds. Have you ever seen a purple more lovely than the one over my daughter’s eye?”
“Once,” said Rico. “In an Edward Hopper nightscape. Off in the corner, almost indistinguishable from the black.”
Juliana was beginning to feel like an actor in a play, in which no lines had been written for her. Scootie, on the other hand, was perfectly happy to study their host and hostess. He was certain that this had gone beyond the genial friendship previously advertised. As if on cue, the two of them exchanged a pair of glances and smiles, then Margaret clapped her hands together.
“Before dinner, Rico and I have a little entertainment for you. Come along.”
She led them upstairs to a room Juliana remembered as a playroom. Ping-pong table, bumper pool, pinball machine – that kind of thing. Margaret stood in front of the door and said, simply, “Rico and I have been very busy.” And let them in.
Juliana’s eyes landed on the art-deco candlestick of the Chrysler Building, and she knew immediately what was up: the Empire State, the sharp green rectangle of Central Park, the snaky ribbon of Broadway. Covering the room, except for a three-foot walkway on all sides, her mother and Rico had constructed a scale replica of Manhattan.
Scootie had nothing much more to say than, “Hachiwawa!”
“God, Mother. Did you spend my inheritance?”
“Not even close, hon. Rico had superb connections with a New York souvenir company. Check out the bottom of the Empire State.”
Juliana leaned over 34th Street like King Kong and read the words, “Made in Taiwan.”
“We had to throw off actual scale here and there,” said Rico. “Most of the smaller buildings are just generic skyscrapers from a hobby shop.”
“Stew-pendous,” said Scootie. He walked down what would have been the Hudson River and studied Wall Street. “But I thought you were into trains, Rico.”
“Now, now,” said Rico. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” He rolled the shades over the French doors as Margaret flipped a switch behind Yankee Stadium. Stripes of faint blue light descended the length of the city, revealing the tracks and trains beneath the streets.
“Subways!” Juliana shouted. Margaret took a transformer and started the 1/9 from Washington Heights toward Times Square. Rico pressed a switch along the East River, sending an army of yellow taxis scattering like cockroaches, then used another to start a horse and carriage through the Park. Scootie found another transformer and revved up the A Train, whistling the appropriate jazz accompaniment as he tooled into Greenwich Village. Then Rico headed for the Brooklyn Bridge and, grinning broadly, switched on the grand finale: a hornet’s nest of miniature Christmas lights, wired into each of the city’s prize buildings.
“Margaret,” said Scootie. “I’m glad someone like you gets all the money, because you sure know how to enjoy it!”
Margaret let out an “Amen, brother!” as she pulled into Battery Park and slid into reverse for the climb back uptown. Juliana took the Flushing Local past the Public Library, noting that the giant screen of One Times Square featured an ad for Lane’s Stationery.

After a merry half an hour of playing Transit Authority, Scootie and Juliana slipped out to the balcony as Margaret and Rico went off to prepare dinner. Scootie wrapped his arms around her as they watched the traffic on University Avenue, Silicon Valley commuters headed for the woodsy neighborhoods of Palo Alto.
“It was fun going to New York. We’ll have to do it for real sometime. I’ll take you to Washington Square and propose to you under the arch.”
“Scootie, hush! We’re not there yet.”
“That place where we get to make plans together. We’re closer, thanks to that teenage thug and his elbow, but...”
“I’m sor-mmph...”
Juliana clamped a hand over Scootie’s mouth and squeezed his cheeks together. “Don’t you dare apologize! You want me to lose points?”
Scootie peeled her hand from his lips, laughing. “Okay, okay. I’m glad for your internal bleeding. In fact, I hope it gives you a headache, and blurs your vision. Ha-hah-hah-hah-hah!”
“That’s better.”
Their moment was interrupted by the sudden rip of a motorcycle. Scootie watched it go, a brightly striped Japanese comet.
“So what do we call this place?” he asked.
“Let’s call it Square One,” she said.
“So how do we know when we get there?”
“I think you’re the one who will know first.”
“Why?” asked Scootie.
“You’re entitled. And you’re the one with the Spiderman senses.”
“Young Peter Parker, exposed to a radioactive dose of John Cage music...”
“Yes, and maybe the fact that you pay attention to life instead of covering it up.”
Scootie was puzzled. “Could you... say that again?”
Juliana unfolded Scootie’s arms and leaned against the railing, facing him.
“My mother and I reacted to my father’s death in very different ways. My mother took that stab of mortality and ran with it, throwing herself at obstacles and leading the kind of life my father would have admired.
“But it’s not good for a child to know death at such an early age. I followed every safe path I could find, working like a little brain-on-wheels to get the good grades, go to the right school, get the perfect husband. You see where that got me.”
“It doesn’t matter how you get there,” said Scootie. “As long as you get there.”
“Yes. But I guess what I’m saying is that Square One really is Square One. Once we come down from the adrenaline of romance and adultery, and return to the everyday decisions – your concerts, my board meetings, who to have over for dinner on Saturday – there will be times when I will return to that person. Maybe I did such a good job of playing Tracy Lord because I am Tracy Lord, a sheltered society girl who needs a few bottles of champagne before she’ll go skinny-dipping with Jimmy Stewart. Oh, what the hell am I getting at?”
Scootie took her hands and pulled her back his way. “Let’s get to Square One first, and then we’ll talk about it.”
“Okay.” She settled in for a long, damp kiss, but was interrupted by her mother, rapping on the glass.
“Hey, you horndogs! Dinner’s ready, whenever you’re finished cleaning each other’s teeth!”
“Ew, Mother!”
Margaret laughed and disappeared, leaving Scootie with a wide smile.
“What are you grinning about, Tin Man?”
“I think I like your mother very much.”
“You know, of course, that that mini-Manhattan is just another sneaky ploy.”
“After Dad’s death, Mother and I used to escape the dread holiday void by spending our Christmases in New York. We stayed with friends on the Upper East Side and took taxis to all the sights: the stores along Fifth Avenue, ice skating in Rockefeller Center – the usual culprits. Well, one day, inspired by some liberal urge to mingle with the masses, Mother took me on the subway. I loved it! To a kid from California, the idea of walking underground at Eighty-Sixth Street and popping back up in the East Village was pure jelly-bean magic. And so much hustle and stimulus – so many types and colors of people, carrying packages, briefcases, bouquets from the florist. Old black men playing saxophone for tips. With all that distraction, I was able to drop the orphan act and enjoy myself. And I gabbed and gabbed, to anyone who would listen. And they did, because I was a very cute little girl.”
“Of course.”
“After that, it was nothing but the subway for us.”
“I think I like your mother even more,” said Scootie. He opened the door to their private Gotham. Juliana aimed her raccoon eye along Broadway, to the big theater marquees: Cats, Miss Saigon, Late Night with David Letterman. “Scootie? Instead of Square One, let’s call it Times Square.”
“Nah-ah,” said Scootie. “Too obvious. Let’s call it... Herald Square.”
“Okay. But that’s where Macy’s is, you know, and I love to shop.”
“Uh-oh. By the way, your mom’s got the hots for Rico.”
“No! You think so?”

Photo by MJV