Dillon Beach

The wind from the ocean blew up the dunes that sunny Sunday when I was twelve and my mother sat beside me under an egg-blue sky on morning-cold sand that lay under the stars the night before and now formed to our bodies if we wiggled back and forth to make little troughs for our legs and butts.  “In the Name of the Father,” the priest began, his voice muffled by the wind rushing up the dunes and carrying his words someplace else away from us, but we knew the drill and made the sign of the cross sitting in the sand with sixty other kids and the chaperones who cooked our food these past four days and made sure we didn’t get into fights in the tents.  We were like happy dogs on the beach, running everywhere because you can run everywhere when you’re young and then sleep and run some more later.  The tent was different.  

Mom held my hand while we listened to the cool priest say cool things, and I wondered if she thought this was okay, having mass outside with a bunch of sixth graders when my dad said public schools had no business getting into the religion game.  I didn’t know about that because dad was behind in his child support and the priest said things about nature being God’s temple and how cool it was to get outside to worship God, so why not be here in the sand thinking about Mark Sager in the tent the night before and Shawn Ayre who was mean but seemed to want to get close to me in his sleeping bag, moving inch by inch by inch until he was right next to me with his arm resting just where my side met the ground. I was sleeping on my side and his hand rustled against me and didn’t move even when he fell asleep and continued breathing deep and low, deep and low.  I went back to thinking about Mark Sager with his shock of blond hair when all the rest was brown and his baby-faced smile.  He wore V-neck shirts to school and his skin under his throat looked tanned, but we were poor so I wore one of my mom’s V-neck shirts to school one day.  It was cut too low for playing four-square and the kids started to laugh even though I was better than them and could kick their butts in four-square.  Mark Sager and I weren’t friends anymore after that but our tent requests were already made so he slept far away from me in the six-man tent that smelled like a wet dog, lined up next to ten other tents that probably smelled the same.  He tried to switch when we got to Dillon Beach but they wouldn’t let him.

Mom held my hand as the priest said a muffled Gloria that was also carried away and then the readings began as I thought about the sea anemones we touched the day before, how Aaron Mills put his tongue into one after being told not to and had to be taken to the chaperone’s motorhome to make sure his tongue didn’t swell up too big.  Mom and I sat in the cool sand under the white-blue sky and listened to the readings and then the homily, which was probably more about how the beach was God’s temple and we didn’t need walls to pray to God for whatever we needed, so I prayed that mom would forget what Arvelia Johnson told her over the chili pot, and she seemed to forget because she held my hand all the way through the mass.

The wind was warming up and the sun was on my back.  I was no longer cold from the night in the tent next to Shawn Ayre with his closed eyes and arm on my sleeping bag right up against my back. I wanted to roll over to see if he would move but also didn’t want him to move at all, and then it was morning and the tent was cold and wet-dry, dry but the air inside was the kind that made your hair sticky.  Beach air.  Mark Sager told me not to look at him while he got out of his sleeping bag and that woke Shawn Ayre up but he didn’t move his arm away, in fact he moved it closer, further into the fold between my side and the ground so that I was caught a little.  I could hear his breathing change when Mark Sager opened up the tent flap and told me again to stop looking even though I mostly wasn’t, and then Shawn Ayre’s arm was more under my side so I rolled a little towards him and onto his hand and I could feel his fingers through the sleeping bag move near my butt before he whispered “fag” so that only I could hear it, so I rolled back on my side and then he sat up and said, “Hey, look!  Beckman’s trying to roll on top of me!” Suddenly everyone was awake and pointing at Shawn Ayre’s arm almost buried  under my side, and he’s acting like he can’t get it out, like I wanted it there and he was innocent when I knew he wasn’t because I could see it in his low eyes.  The kids laughed and said “Fairy” and ran out of the tent in their shorts yelling “Fairy” until a teacher told them the next word he heard was going to get twenty pushups.

I was alone in the tent until my mom came to get me and we walked up the sand dune to mass.  Maybe she didn’t hear.  Maybe they kept quiet around her because moms would never want to know what Arvelia Johnson told her and what they went yelling through the tents until they were told to shut up.

We sat in the sand until mass was over and the priest said “Go in peace” and a teacher stood up and started telling us about breakfast and how we would be leaving Dillon Beach after eating.  “Don’t leave anything you don’t want the ocean to get,” he said.  His sunglasses shined light back on us and we all started to laugh because kids were diving out of the way of the rays. Then I started to stand up but mom put her hand on my shoulder and we sat together until everybody else had gone to breakfast.  She said, “You know, you don’t have to like them.”  And I decided I didn’t like them, not even Mark Sager, but I still liked Shawn Ayre because he had low eyes and kept his hand there but then made me look like I was a fairy.  I squeezed my mom’s hand and looked at the sand between my legs.  She said, “I couldn’t wait to get out of school.”

Even though she probably heard, I became quiet and peaceful in the cool sand under the warm sun, and thought I didn’t care so much if she did hear because she hated school too and now all the kids thought she was beautiful and friendly and she was the most popular chaperone on the beach trip.  We got up and walked down the sand dune and into the camp and left for home.

*

Miracle of Life

“You came out talking.”

I hold my breath against this metal world,
this chewy phlegm and snot-dripping contraption, 
close tight my eyes against the green-gowned monster
and think:

“What the fuck!  Deceiving womb!”

Sweat and salty tears now on my cheeks —
why is she crying?  Narcissist.
I was the one ripped into a rotting cell that tasted of —
is that excrement? —

birthed into man’s horrendous hall,
his macabre theater of death and religion.
And she’s crying?

I scream.
(Was that the “talking” you heard?)

*

Note:

Coming home from college for the first time, I told my mother what I’d learned in my philosophy class: “Your fifteen minutes of passion condemned me to death.”

Her response: “Sounds like your philosophy teacher needs to work on his stamina.”

Lake House Memory

The coffee pot sticks a little
to the warming plate.
Sliding-glass door’s a bit rusty.
I love it cracked open,
lake-smell gets in,
grass and summer rain, 
trees on the breeze — 
maybe the morning doves
will come again.

It’s good to feel stiff old shag,
see stacks of books we’ve partly read,
stacks and stacks. 
Your grandpa’s kitchen table,
Ruth’s worn chair,
dusty Mantovani on the player.

Paintings hang crooked, 
curl on paneled walls,
fading in memory and slow-days,

that other house, the city one,
already forgotten.

*

Good Ol’ Gal

The grandmother never existed.
I made her up — the convalescent home,
the diabetes, a high school lie.  
Her name was Betsy,
and she never asked for candy,
or walked me through the Depression.
Hand-made soap, aero-planes —
the whole shebang 
kinda not true.

But she was a good ol’ gal,
always ready to listen to my 
teen-boy problems, so open 
to “these new-fangled relationships” —
“It’s not like we didn’t mess around
in our day,” she once said.
“Just don’t get anyone pregnant!”
She knew there was no girl,
nodded when I told her how 
all my friends — you — stared at me	
like I had depth, like I was heroic 
just for visiting The Elderly.

Well, Betsy would’a liked that.
She would’a liked that just fine.
If she had ever existed.

*

Sea Wall with Mountain in Background

“Do you love him?”

We walk the Sea Wall.
He studies the sound,
Grouse Mountain, green-black 
cross-hatch of hemlock and fir.

      “No.”

“Sure?”

      He talks past water
      lapping round rocks,
      love near water
      breathing distant trees.

“Because it’s okay if you do.”

      A canopy.
      I love this place.

“I love that mountain.”

      He loves the mountain.
      Vancouver.
      He loves me.
      All that love.

“Two trees in a forest, eh?
You and me.”

      Side by side,
      friend I love; 
      side by side,
      roots entwined.

      “Yes, you and me.”

*

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Shimmering

I tried to run just like them,
the gods of track whose ankles worked
as they shimmered before crowds,
High School Heroes of ambitious dimension.

I plodded desperate for legs, 
then arms, then breath 
up the curious street of my youth.

My feet slapped ridiculousness
as wild elbows jabbed wildly
at dreams I didn’t fit — 
lungs wheezed 
vapid sissy-fire before 
an incredulous emptiness —

I bent without a friend,
alone on the side of the road,
and thought:

“Speedos are way-sexier
than this!”

*

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Any Day

The phone vibrates twenty-seven times
between Beowulf and lunch.  I 
snap each time. Students always know.
They look at me carefully, compassionately.  

I dial the number. Wait. “What, Mom?”

Labored intake:  “Took you long enough.”

She says the chicken’s spicy.
She says she’s always alone.
She says no one cares if she lives.
She is my dying mother.

I listen, stare at the wall,
wait for the tears to subside.

Beowulf.
He had it easy.				
Monsters and a dragon?  
Any day.

*

North Hollywood Elegy

Lankershim Boulevard was better
when Grammy took me to the
Jewish Council Thrift Store
to buy me an out-of-date
Writer’s Market, and I looked up
at her against the naked fluorescent
tube lights, and wanted to write
a story that would make her rich
and me famous
so that we wouldn’t have to shop
at the Jewish Council Thrift Store
again.

*

There was once a time —
you’ll have to trust me —
when Dad would write notes
for cigarettes and liquor,
and off I’d go to Dales Jr.

And then if I was fast,
he'd give me a sip.
It burned all the way down.

Probably how I got so good at track.

*

“I want you to stay away
from that guy upstairs.”
Old Shirley’s hair was frizzier
than usual. She held a glass.
“Something’s not right there.”

“Okay, I will,” as I walked 
past her window
down the driveway
out onto Oxnard

remembering how he 
held me to his chest
and showed me I was happiness.

*

Roam around the stories here. They’re pretty good.

I’ve Tried

I’ve tried
to not want my City,
to make life here,
far from the streets and hills and men
that brought me life in such breadth that I gulped lust
at every turn, bodies and books and 
sweet blessed fog, busses, parks,
crazies four floors beneath screaming
“HELP! HELP!” though there’s only a streetlamp,
three-hundred-dollar theater seats steps from
human defecation (it’s not pretty) —
tether-bridges to windy and windy headlands and 
mystical beaches and sex — 
where to walk is to be enveloped,
in love.

I tried 
to love her instead of him, once upon a time,
way back when lies meant caring, 
and my brain and niceness said I 
shouldn’t hurt anyone so I 
drowned Aaron in hope and went on screwing
and became good at it and talked about;
but each night, laying on top of her
sweet and forgiving body, sculpted
ballers did sweaty lay-ups in my room,
in my head
in me
and if it wasn’t for those players,
she never would’ve cum,
so it seemed like it was okay.
But it wasn’t.

I tried Return of the Native.
I tried The Glass Menagerie.
Everything by Faulkner.
All I wanted was Sassoon,
maybe a little Woolf,
but I’d lock myself in my room
to read words words words,
and I’d yawn yawn yawn —
while A Room of One’s Own
whispered slyly to Suicide in the Trenches:
“He’s missed the point.
“He’s really missed the point.”

Sushi Streisand Dances with Wolves
mango con limón my dear friend who wants 
to be dear so he must be but…
no-fap novenas TED Talks on writing
guys who aren’t built
who really aren’t built
who seriously aren’t built
great personalities
no-fap
try try try
John Cage
no-fap
“Thy will be done”
Los Angeles
Christianity —

when all along, sweet lullaby,
sleeps the not-tried, the true, 
until I put on a jacket
against cold San Francisco freedom
and smile

destiny.

*

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Notes: San Francisco, Ruins (2018) — annotated

Sacred Space — Arrival

The wrinkled woman
resting in the doorway
hustles aside,
her bones twitching hard:

“I'm sorry, Sir,”
as I pull my bag into
the Inn on Folsom Street1.

⥨

Exposed brick walls try hard
in my suddenly empty room.
Industrial.  Rough-Masculine.
I don’t...feel anything.
I thought I’d feel something.

No ghosts. Nothing.

⥨

I know the old fairies flew south
years ago.  No place for the
Auden-faced.  And the demons?
Those super-charged leather
dangers stalking prey in red steam? 
Now they cam2 from rented rooms
in Sacramento and San Diego, 
their hunting names changed 
from Steve to Chase, TwinkChase3,
ever-so-sweet-and- 
special Chase.

I don't know what to pray for
or to, not in this abandoned church.

⥨

Walking While Thinking — SoMa4

What if the usurpers,
the influencers paying $1.9 million 
for a pissed piece of SoMa,

are just waiting for us

to die?

What if these squatters,
these supplanters,
are the Old City’s fevered urge,
lusting after land and
Better Homes-ness,
trading-in sweaty stories
for a kid in an UPPAbaby5,
the ultimate accessories? 

Makes sense as senses
now scent safety,
porning lean clean high-pitched
action-figures in Lower Castro6. 

Everyone’s lost their balls.

⥨

Pause — Phone Call Home

“Mike called,” says the man on the phone.
My boyfriend.
Back in LA.
“What’d he want?”
“Know where you were.”
“What’d you say?”
“Up in San Francisco. Probably getting disillusioned.”

That’s why we’re at 20 years. More or less.

⥨

Exhibit — Dolores Park7 Cafe. Conversation, overheard
while eating expensive steel-cut oatmeal.

“And so he's interested in you 
finding a tenant for your property.”

“Yeah, and we have so much
in common!” 

Outside, those who can only afford 
the sidewalk are no-shows to the 
convention of web-developers and 
Mommy-n-Me in Lululemon8.  

I’m a haunted old spirit:

“The best never survive.”

⥨

Walking Richmond9, after searching
GG Park10 for Signs of Life.

They all have money, or They have all the money.  
Houses high atop garage doors painted
in expected candy-shop pastels.
Millions couldn't buy in. But it's also an 
attitude; they fit. This kaleidoscopic 
nursery is their world.

I like the sidewalk now; it’s original,
the hard-marked past, bones of my city,
cast when these houses were just houses,
you could hear shouting because people
shouted back before dot.coms and Grindr11, 
when bandanas12 spoke not conclusively, 
you had to look a guy in the eyes
and the park was full of risk and joy. 

My world: on that older hill,
the one covered in open-faced beauty
and daring, weathered desire. 
Somewhere.
Or sometime?

⥨

Processing — SFO13

A cocoon of security.  We pay
to pretend.

You can’t pretend in 
bus stations.

But here, I wonder with
beating breathing heart:
What would I do
if I was asked for spare change
at the United ticket counter?
If I wanted a cigarette? 
If someone stood up and said
preferred pronouns are simply 
an expansion of binary imprisonment?

If an out-loud not-texted internet-free
political need happened?

Their aggrieved-teenager answer:
“Is it so wrong to live unencumbered? 
Does everything real 
have to be uncomfortable?”

It’s easy to get turned around
by children.

Now I miss their sandcastles,
the peaceful playset neighborhood.  
Nobody who doesn’t belong wanders by.
It’s nice.  Just like an airport.

It’s all that’s left.

⥨

Reflection — Flying, looking back

San Francisco: where dreams 
and memory
lay buried.

Only ruins survive;
fate has fashioned them weapons
hope can’t overcome:
marriage bourgeois magazines health 
money a future an attitude 
clean pecs
success.

But still... 

I look back as the plane banks
for SoCal, for LA and my 
old boyfriend who will greet me
outside third-world LAX14 and drive
the stained and broken 40515 home, 
where books and vacuuming
wait; and I see my once-home fading
into a sunsetted Ocean that touches
every time I’ve cared about, waiting,
just waiting, 
and I find myself praying:

Maybe you will be broken again,
so like me when you led 
my strange and halting body 
through cracked unwanted lovely 
streets to flowers and eucalyptus,
pro-offered grass in sheltered 
shadow and men became yours, 
cool-touching breeze, wounded 
naked-love in pine-fragranced 
gasping way-too-crowded dirty 
Heaven…

I miss you.

Shake off this juvenile dream.

Please, God, let us be in love again. 

Notes:

1 	past and (somewhat) current location 
        of San Francisco’s gay leather community
2 	interactive filming of oneself engaged in 
        sexual/intimate acts, either alone or with 
        others, for a live internet audience, in 
        exchange for money and/or tokens
3 	unblemished young adult male, typically 
        between the ages of 18-20, who utilizes his 
        perceived innocence or actual lack of 
        sexual experience in the pursuit of (generally) 
        older adult males/“daddies”
4 	South of Market; historically, the economically 
        disadvantaged/“seedy” section of San Francisco
5 	high-end baby stroller; average cost: $850
6 	once known as GayMecca, the center of San 
        Francisco’s Gay Liberation Movement of the 
        mid-1970s
7 	somewhat successful example of urban 
        revitalization/renewal; once known as DrugPatch 
        Park
8 	high-end workout wear favored by teen girls 
        and their mothers
9 	neighborhood/district in the northwest corner 
        of San Francisco, just north of Golden Gate Park
10    Golden Gate Park; known for its Victorian-styled 
        Conservatory of Flowers and lengthy wooded 
        trails;  iconic location for public sexual activity
11	dating application designed to identify and 
        communicate with potential gay male sex 
        partners; lists inclinations and availability, as 
        well as possible locations for sexual activity
        (host, travel, public, etc.)
12     heavy handkerchief positioned in the back 
         pocket of gay males to communicate sexual 
         inclination;  historically, the color and side of 
         placement indicated sexual appetite (eg:  
         hunter-green in right-hand pocket = looking 
         for a “daddy”).  No conclusive guide existed/
         exists for the placement/meaning of the bandana.
13     San Francisco International Airport
14     Los Angeles International Airport
15     also known as the San Diego Freeway;  largest 
         connector between the West Side of Los Angeles-
         proper and the populous San Fernando Valley

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