There Are No Bad People

I’d like to someday understand violence. It is, at its core, an illogical, chaotic force, but also one as old as humanity itself. I look upon the examples of non-violent heroes such as Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, among others, and I’m inspired. On the other hand, as a rather emotional human with a Y chromosome, I’m familiar with the aggressive tendencies that come along with testosterone. I see it in my toddler son as he winds up to hit me while upset. Years ago a friend, transitioning from female to male, recounted how unnervingly aggressive the testosterone made him feel. Like most of us, I would much prefer a world without violence, and find its inescapability guiling.

At the turn of the most recent century, I lived in a home in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood. The neighborhood was blighted, to say the least. A pimp named Yellow lived two doors down, and it was unclear what else was going on in that house. Even so, my roommates and I were all fairly idealistic, all under twenty-five, and somehow established a détente with Yellow. I mostly felt safe walking around that neighborhood at any time of the night or day.

Eventually I moved to Chicago and got married. My wife and I lived in Pilsen, a neighborhood groaning from the early stages of gentrification. Still fearless, I walked with impunity, my biggest concern the role my white skin might be playing (or seem to be playing) in the shifting of the traditionally Chicano neighborhood (“but my wife is half-Mexican!” I imagined myself explaining).

Parking in Chicago can be an interesting experience. Beginning at our apartment, I would drive in concentric circles, taking the closest parking spot I could find, often blocks away. Such was the case late one night when I was coming home from work. I quickly discerned that I had positioned myself between some gang members (possibly the very same who lived in our building) and the police from whom they fled. I wondered what would happen if one group started shooting.

Eventually a variety of factors brought us back to Minneapolis, where we rented an apartment in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, just south of East Phillips. I remember taking long walks into the Powderhorn neighborhood years before, marveling at how much safer and more stable it seemed, how much more beautiful and well-maintained the houses were. Powderhorn had been the dream, and now we were there.

One night we were returning DVDs to the Hosmer library. It was a warm autumn night, maybe ten o’clock or so, a time we often walked the neighborhood to talk about our dreams and aspirations.

Chalk it up to the nice weather, but things seemed kind of electric that evening. That’s a difficult thing to explain. I’ve worked in public education for ten years, and know that things often feel electric in a building right before a big incident like a fight. It’s maybe a skill that is cultivated over time, like a dog that can be trained to recognize a seizure before it starts. Mine was not yet cultivated.

On the way there we passed by two kids, one on a bike and one on foot, making their way somewhat aimlessly through the neighborhood. At one point they stopped to ask if we had a light. We didn’t, and I didn’t think anything of it.

On the way back, those same kids appeared again, and however uncultivated my senses may have been, I could tell that something wasn’t quite right. Even so, we were closing in on our block, and so felt pretty safe.

Once on our street, I heard, “on your left.” It was The Kid On The Bike. I moved over just in time to receive a punch to the jaw that knocked me down. Before I could figure out what was happening, The Other Kid ran up, talking to his friend about the “burner” (gun) under his shirt. They demanded my wallet, which I freely gave. For my troubles, I was punched again, in the exact same spot, and they were gone. We were about three quarters of a block from home.

It’s worth noting that my wife, threatening as ever in a cute sundress and just under five feet (a point she’ll contest), talked all kinds of shit during the entire altercation. Luckily, she was completely ignored.

We called the police, received one of the blue cards that they give to victims of crimes, and waited. In the end, nothing happened.

Except for this little wrinkle: I was working as a paraprofessional at the time at a school for students with severe emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD). I worked as a bus aide, too, riding to and from school with the students. I had moved since then, but the route was the same I’d had before, and mostly hit the same neighborhood.

One day about a year later, driving down Chicago Avenue, I noticed just how familiar the kid sitting across the aisle looked, and I put it together. He had been The Kid On The Bike, which meant that he had also been younger than I’d realized. Even so, his two punches had been enough to knock me off my feet, twice (seasoned fighter that I am), giving me a permanent dimple where previously there’d been none.

We dug around for the little blue card and contacted the police. A few days later we were informed that the county attorney had decided not to explore the matter further, citing just how much change can take place in an adolescent’s life over the course of a year. I understood the liberal thinking, but wondered if the county attorney knew that this same child was in a Federal Setting IV E/BD facility.

The cops came by the apartment anyway and gave my wife an array of mug shots to choose from. It wouldn’t be binding, they explained, but wanted her to choose anyway “for shits and giggles.” She correctly chose the kid who was my student, a kid she’d only seen a year prior on the night of the mugging.

I can’t understate the lessons I began to learn about myself and about human nature. The night of the mugging, after we ran home, my initial inclination was to get in the car and chase the kids down. The particular fantasy I was entertaining at the time, my brain flooded with adrenaline, was to open the door as I drove past and take them out with it. Sort of an update on jousting, I guess.

Once I realized who The Kid was, I had other violent revenge fantasies. These were none too complicated, but involved finding a small room in the school, locking The Kid in it, and beating the shit out of him.

But my moral compass, if trembling somewhat, hadn’t been knocked completely askew by his punches, and in the end my violent revenge fantasies remained just that. In fact, I didn’t let on that I had been his victim or knew anything about his extracurricular activities. For all I knew he robbed people all the time, and I was one of many anonymous victims (I’ve since discovered this to be true, as he’s been in and out of jail since for similar offenses).

Besides, I began to learn other lessons. For example, The Kid was kind of likeable, and I wasn’t really prepared for that. I’d be unlocking a classroom door or something, and he’d say “you dropped your pocket.” I’d look down and he’d be flashing a wry smile (it’s only now, in typing these words, that I recognize what I’m certain is the unintentional irony connecting pocket-dropping with wallet-surrendering).

If The Kid, who had visited an act of violence upon me that permanently altered my face and sense of safety, was funny and likeable, what did that mean about human nature? 

I don’t claim to be a sage, but I think I have arrived at an answer all the same: there aren’t bad people, or good people, but people who make choices, who do things. Maybe some people make better choices and do better things, on measure, than others, but are those people uniformly good? Of course not, and neither is anyone else uniformly bad.

That makes logical sense, but to really live as though you believe it can really fuck with whatever convenient categorization you’ve previously utilized.

Anyway, there was another lesson, this time about revenge, or consequences, or justice. I’m still not entirely sure. One day we were pulling up to The Kid’s house. I’m not sure if the bus driver had been irregular in her pick up times or what, but The Kid’s mom was at the door in a brightly patterned mumu, shouting something about how if The Kid missed one more day of school he’d have to go to jail.

This was to be my second bus epiphany: I realized that, no matter what had happened previously or did happen in the future, The Kid’s life sucked, plain and simple, especially when compared with mine. I tried to tell myself that this was my revenge, that here was justice, but I can’t get there. I maybe find something like peace in the ability to move past the incident, but the circumstances of The Kid’s life, then and now, continue to sadden me.

I’d like someday to understand violence. I doubt I’ll ever get there. In ten years as an educator, I’ve seen students beaten by each other and by police. I’ve had students who committed murder and students who died by gunfire. I don’t understand violence, but I do have The Kid to thank for my understanding of human nature. I hope that I can use that lesson to disrupt cycles of violence.


On Lives Mattering: Erasing Privilege

Our country has awakened, recently, to the tensions between communities of color and the police who work in those same communities. Certainly many Americans, particularly Americans of color, have been aware of these tensions for some time. I remember hearing about Amadou Diallo getting shot 19 times in 1999 by four NYPD officers who fired a total of 41 bullets at the unarmed Black man. That's as far back as my memory for this sort of thing stretches; I humbly acknowledge that for others, pigment and circumstance have necessitated a longer memory. Diallo got some national attention, and even a Bruce Springsteen song about the killing, but in the end the officers were acquitted and we all went on with our lives. There have been other killings of unarmed minorities by police in the years since, some of which have garnered more attention than others. Oscar Grant was unarmed and lying on the ground when he was shot in the back and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer. Grant got a film; the officer got involuntary manslaughter.

Still, though, many of us hadn't woken up. Trayvon Martin's death was even more high profile, though if you're paying close attention and disinclined to agree with the path I'm cutting, you'll likely point out that he wasn't killed by law enforcement. Fair enough. Even so,  George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain, and, it seems clear enough now, used his position of authority in order to wield power over the unarmed African-American teen.

If the details were different, the trend is the same, and reveals some troubling attitudes buried deep in the American consciousness about how we feel about young Black men.

And many of us still slept.

Around the same time we began to hear criticism of the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk program, a consitutionally murky protocol that disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos. This seemed to capture our attention for a while, then fade in to the background somewhat as other news items garnered the spotlight.

Among those: Eric Garner and Mike Brown. The killings of these two unarmed Black men by police (and the non-indictment decisions that followed) woke us up as a country. There were protests, there were riots, athletes wearing shirts that said "I can't breathe" (Garner's last words while being choked to death by police), and social media campaings.

The most notable of these is #blacklivesmatter, a simple hashtag that captured the country's attention.

Unfortunately, when the spotlight came on and woke us all up, many of us weren't ready, and had a hard time seeing clearly.

Enter #alllivesmattter, a reactionary hashtag that seems to suggest that we live in a post-racial utopia with a Black president and everything, and so should get over the notion that any of us is different than the other. In some cases it seems to be an attempt to drown out voices crying out for racial justice, in other cases it seems perhaps a genuine belief that we're all living the same reality. Some demonstrate a limited understanding of the law (and cast minorities as criminals).

Implicit in #alllivesmatter is the notion that anyone was saying that it's not the case, or that #blacklivesmatter is actually suggesting somehow that #blacklivesmattermore. This is false.

What's not false, and what is absolutely critical context for this whole discussion, is a ProPublica analysis of police killings from October, 2o14, which states the following:

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

21 times greater. To say #alllivesmatter, then, is to attempt to erase the privilege that whites enjoy, one in which, by and large, we get to worry about being killed by the police 21 times less than African-Americans.

That's completely staggering. We are not, then, all the same. Those who try to suggest that we are and that we are all living the same experiences are not, I'd venture to guess, familiar with very many Black people.

Since #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter took hold in the collective consciousness, we experienced another tragedy. A mentally ill Ismaayil Brinsley shot and killed NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. They were ambushed and murdered in their car, a brutal killing, like so many others, that should raise questions about our country's attitudes towards guns and mental health.

Instead it spawned #bluelivesmatter and #policelivesmatter, and here's why that's incredibly offensive.

Again, setting aside fringe elements like Brinsley, in the main, no one is suggesting that police lives don't matter, least of all me. In fact, my brother-in-law credits a police officer with saving his life by busting him for dealing drugs, an event that directly led to his own sobriety and pursuing a career as a chemical dependency counselor. Police do heroic work and face great dangers. They are not infallible, as we've seen, but their lives do, in fact, matter.

Here's the problem. Social media users, seeking to advocate for law enforcement, could have come up with any number of clever hashtags to do so. To advocate for police at this very moment, however, using the very language that, let's be honest, communites that have been oppressed by police are using to advocate for themselves, is insulting. It is tantamount to the kind of cultural appropriation that minorities in this country have faced since its inception. It is, in fact, like saying #policelivesmattermore.

And do they? NYPD officers turned their backs on mayor Bill de Blasio at Rafael Ramos' funeral, a reaction, no doubt, to de Blasio's criticisms of the NYPD's history of police brutality. The action seems to suggest that, perhaps, the two officers would have been alive had de Blasio been quiet (in the face of racist violence). Ultimately, they turned their backs on Ramos' grieving family, as well.

What's more, they have obfuscated the issue. To ask police to stop killing unarmed Black men is not the same as being anti-cop. To say that #blacklivesmatter is not to say that white people don't matter, or police, or anything else, but rather that we need to figure out a way to work together to create a society in which we do not have a racial predictability about which group is most likely to be killed by the police.

Those of us who, by virtue of our skin color, enjoy unearned privilege in this society need to put off guilt and shame and defensive posturing and instead examine and own our privilege, and in fact use it to create a more equitable world than the one we were handed.

UPDATE December 2014

I intentionally avoid using this blog for conventional blog posts. There's enough of that on the internet, and my goal in maintaining a blog is to have something of a presence for my more real-deal literary pursuits. Even so, it seems some updating is in order. In August I wrote an update indicating that I was residing not in my hometown of Minneapolis, but in my wife's hometown of Santa Ana, California. I remember writing that post I tried to be careful not to tip my hand too far; rereading it now I see I didn't do that great a job of hiding my unhappiness. Scrolling further, the poetry that came out of that time gave further hints ("Jilting" was me vowing to return a Minneapolis I left stranded at the altar -- I'm that important, while "On the Realization of Dreams" was about just that -- holding the reality of a life in California up to the dream of it, and also about how tragedy can feed a dream).

So we're back in Minneapolis, and for a variety of reasons, none of which really make enough sense on their own, but which taken together were like a tractor beam from somewhere deep below Minnehaha Creek. It's a period of adjustment, to say the least, both in terms of housing and employment, financials and long commutes and, frankly, the guilty feeling that comes from snatching a toddler out from under his extended family. We had that feeling in California, too, and it's clearly a situation for which there are no easy answers. But this is home, and despite everything, it makes so much sense to be here.

I was going to say that it feels so wonderful to be here, but it isn't, for the most part, elation, it's more a constant comfort, or rather, the absence of longing. It's knowing where the bathrooms are at First Avenue, or ordering a drink from someone at Muddy Waters I used to work the Monday afternoon shift with at Extreme Noise fifteen years prior. All sort of dumb stuff, but nice all the same. Turns out I was too old to start over, and I know it now.

In the meantime, though, the world is still a mess. I just watched a room full of students pledge allegiance to a country whose Central Intelligence Agency apparently thought rectal feeding was a thing that made sense/was humane/might produce some good intel. Further, it seems we are a country who thinks that white cops killing unarmed black men is completely inactionable. I believe in beauty and goodness and hope, but sometimes it's difficult to imagine.

And I know, too, that it's complicated. To quote the always brilliant Propagandhi:

"And yes, I recognize the irony.  The system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds.  That's exactly why privileged fucks like me  Should feel obliged to whine and kick and scream.  Yeah, until everyone has everything they need."

So that's the update on my whereabouts and general feelings about the state of things.

I also have some writing news, which is maybe why you tune in. I'm thrilled to announce that my essay "On Infertility" will be in the final issue of Rad Dad Magazine. Their online presence is a little tricky to negotiate, but I believe that the tenacious among you can order your copy here, though it may take some clicking.

I find it tough, for whatever reason, to commit to serious writing during the schoolyear (did you already know that I'm a teacher?), and so don't produce a lot in the way of poetry or essays during these months, though I do have a lot of ideas ruminating in my head. I do, however, continue to write about music at my other web location, the Shuffler. I hope you'll consider clicking on over there as well.

As always, thanks for reading.

On the Realization of Dreams, etc.

On the Realization of Dreams, etc.

A floor littered with empty film canisters,
you and I tangled in acetate spools.
A projector hums, chokes, and bursts into flame
in the back of the locked room.

We’ve held each frame to the light
to bend time. “Put this one on,”
you pleaded. “Maybe it will work.
Maybe we can go back.”

But I wound it wrong,
to a time of slow drives
through suburbs after ultrasounds.
Giant snowflakes and hope, light as air,
falling to the ground.

You covered your eyes and I scrambled
for the next one, and that’s when I felt
the first bit of film, taut against my bicep.

I’m pulling now, frame by frame,
time speeds up, and a family sedan
races down the mountains
from the Coninental Divide to the Pacific.

Still shots now. One sits
under a palm tree,
another by a beige strip mall,
one’s ankles are in the ocean,

wondering now, about the movie
they walked out on.
The reel of
What it Would Have Been Like
burning brightly,
and us, trapped in knots
of empty frames.




From our Desk of Elegant Solutions: I'm cranking out the music posts with far more regularity than I am the more literary works that this blog was intended to showcase. That's cool, that's kind of how it works sometimes -- the other stuff takes longer. But poems cohabitating with posts about Atmosphere or whatever seemed like kind of a strange set-up, and ultimately, this wasn't meant to be a music blog.


I've migrated the music posts to a new corner of the internet, There you'll find all the old stuff, plus some new stuff, all with a snazzy new design that I think suits its purpose a bit better.

Shufflers 0001-0013 will continue to live here for a week or two, then this blog will turn back into the quiet library of poetry, essays, and short stories.




With your beard newly full
and the banks of your eyes
failing, I turned, unceremoniously, and left.

An altar of stone, countless arches
receding to the kind of tiny ache
that grows to insurmountable heights.

This, put plainly, is loss.
It’s every friend I ever left,
the time I narrowly escaped arrest

protesting some illegal war or another
only to watch it unfold in night vision
on the cable news networks of the day.

Grandiose gestures are the bricks
we hurl at inefficacy, only to wind up
pushed down, wriggling out of flexicuffs.

Please wait for me at home, as I await
processing. I swear I’ll make it up to you,
I swear this time I’ll stay and fight.



Por un Futuro Mejor

Archbishop Óscar Romero's birthday was last week. My family marked the date with a trip to a pupusería for dinner, something I know some other friends were doing a couple time zones away. I know that the Catholic church is in the process of beatifying him, which I think is maybe how you become a saint. No longer a believer myself, I'm only glad that I was able to pray at Romero's tomb while in El Salvador in 2002.

Americans would do well to understand that our current refugee crisis with unaccompanied Central American minors has everything to do with the atrocities against which Romero bravely preached and U.S. involvement in those atrocities.

Por un Futuro Mejor

When asked about the war
Miguel lifts his shirt to show
a tangle of scars from
a homemade bomb.

Imagine Miguel in conflict outside
el Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña,
tracing the lines on his stomach,
which is now so uneasy.

A neighborhood of sadness and struggle,
como la linea.

La Linea where he makes his home,
a sprawling slum from San Martín
to Soyapango and beyond,
a sea of shacks on a decommisioned rail line.

Miguel remembers it wasn’t always this way.
He tells a story of a boy he grew up with
who lost his legs to a speeding train.

“The existence of poverty as a lack
of what is necessary
is an indictment.”

Miguel never heard the Archbishop’s words
broadcast on rebel radio
while fighting on the other side,
but he can’t get them out of his head.

Imagine me in Morazán
outside that same museum.
Me and Miguel and Monterrosa’s ghost
and a myriad of unanswerable questions
about life and death, wealth and without
and history’s immutable thirst for blood.

On Infertility

What follows is an essay I wrote about two years ago. I've tried here and there to find a home for it since, but to no avail. It is extremely personal, and so it bothered me to not have it out in the world. I still hope that it can someday find a home beyond this blog, which I suppose is what I hope for all of my writing, but this one especially. In the meantime, here you go.

On Infertility

I’m in a busy diner during the lunch rush, waiting for a friend to finish paying. I’m struggling to manage the weight of my infant son’s car seat. He’s not terribly heavy, but the seat is tricky to maneuver in tight spaces.  It’s pouring rain outside, and I’m trying to remember where we parked when the restaurant staff start doting over my son.

To be fair, he’s adorable. We share no biology, something I’ll expand upon in a moment, but suffice it to say that I can take no credit for his incredible cuteness. Let’s be honest, there are some funny looking babies out there - luckily, we were able to dodge that bullet.

For most of my marriage, I wasn’t sure I wanted kids. It wasn’t a tough decision to make as we were usually broke.  If we were going to have kids, it would have to be when we were financially secure enough to swing it; if that never happened, we could take all of that extra money we didn’t have in the first place and do a bunch of traveling. Either way, it seemed we’d be able to find a happy outcome.

But then I got the bug. You hear about this happening to people, but it sounds so trite, like an eleven-year-old-girl back from her first baby-sitting gig. And even though I cried during The Notebook, I still somehow thought I wasn’t given to such emotional frivolity. If we were going to have kids, it wasn’t going to be because I was a total sap.

Turns out I was wrong. All it took was seeing dads and kids at Target and Home Depot, and I was gone. I’d see these tiny people, barely up to their dads’ knees, teetering along, slowly, deliberately. And they were holding hands with Daddy.

I was stricken.


My wife and I soon began trying. This was a revelation for me: despite what you may think, trying-to-conceive-a-baby sex is some of the silliest sex there is. In place of passion, spontaneity, and romance, are pressure, obligation, and a foreboding sense of timing.

It becomes rote, and both of you are aware of how strange that is, and maybe feel guilty about it, but still, the show must go on. And then you try to change it up, and next thing you know, you’ve got blankets spread out on the bathroom floor (which really sounds so very disgusting in retrospect, but isn’t sex kind of gross to begin with?), but the sink is running because it’s cold outside and the pipes are frozen (!) and halfway through you’re both getting splashed in the face with sinkwater, and who can take any of that seriously at all? Not the guy who’s complaining about the cramp in his back, I can promise you that.

As it turned out, all of our trying was in vain, and so eventually I went in for a test. In an interesting twist of medical nomenclature, what could have been dressed up in jargon, couched in all kinds of Greek and Latin prefixes, is instead called by the somewhat undignified moniker of “semen analysis,” probably to avoid giving the mistaken impression that there would be any self-respect happening anywhere in the process.

The office was decorated in dark oak and oriental rugs, something like an alpine hunting lodge.  This overt expression of masculinity struck me as incredibly transparent, rooted in the idea that men in my position might need some sort of testosterone-based reinforcement. But just because I could see through their design choices didn’t mean that I was immune to the inherent discomfort of my situation. I’m a teacher, and I had a colleague covering my classes for me (“I have a doctor’s appointment…”); could I face a room full of high schoolers when this was all over?

A nurse led me back to a small room.  She was older, maternal, in the gruff, all-business way of so many older, maternal women. The room’s main feature was a reclining lounge chair covered in coarse medical paper, but she also made sure to let me know about the fertility-friendly lubricant that wouldn’t mess with my count, the dimmer switch “for mood lighting”, the pornography in the cupboard, and where to put my sample when I was done.

I would have given anything to be trying instead.

A few days later I got a call from another nurse.  She said that volume of the sample I produced looked good, the motility (movement of the sperm within the sample) was also good, but there was a problem.

There was a problem, yet her voice was so detached from the gravity of this news and the effect it was having upon me.  She would, I supposed, have more of these calls to make that afternoon, piled up in the days to come for as long as she cared to imagine.  

But there was a problem.

Conservatively speaking, she explained, there are usually at least fifteen million sperm swimming around in one millileter of ejaculate – occasionally even ten times that number.  Mine had sixteen.

“As in, six more than ten?”

It turns out that’s what sixteen means.

People will tell you that “it only takes one,” and, you know, I saw Look Who’s Talking, I know how it works, but on a line graph with 150 million on the top and zero on the bottom, sixteen is effectively zero.  All those “it only takes one” optimists might as well buy me a Powerball ticket while they’re at it – I’d spend my winnings on reproductive surgery.

I hadn’t expected this news. I was devastated. I walked the dog, shuffling through a gray day in my neighborhood, trying to get my head together. I passed by the gas station, busy with customers, and was aware of how disconnected we all are from the problems of others.

I think I knew that there were options available to me, I just hadn’t expected to need them, and wasn’t sure yet how I felt about them. More troubling than anything was the overwhelming knowledge that I had no idea what I was going to do.

The next day I was in a meeting at work and counted seventeen people in the room. One more than sixteen. My stomach was in my throat. Of course, it was a strange analogy to make, English department to sperm count, but that’s where my head was. At least there weren’t fifteen million, I guess.

The doctors encouraged me to go see a specialist. This proved to be problematic; my wife and I had been operating on a somewhat specific timeline, one that was predicated upon academic and professional responsibilities. We now found ourselves working within a rapidly closing window of time, and the specialist scheduled appointments two months out. After months of charting temperatures and mucus quality, and all that overwrought sex, this was a new level of anxiety I hadn’t anticipated.

And don’t think I can’t hear you, clucking away about the folly of trying to plan something like this down to the letter, how no one can control these sorts of things. I get it, I do, but the way our professional and academic lives were structured, it was going to be really awesome to have a baby during months A, B, and C, and infinitely more difficult to do so during months X, Y, and Z.

I realized that I had even fewer options than before, compounding my disappointment. I felt lost. Any move I made seemed to negate other, plausible-seeming moves. Seeing the specialist meant waiting an indeterminate amount of time for a baby. Not seeing a specialist meant not knowing what the problem was, effectively shutting down the family line. These facts, all of them new and unforeseen, required resolute action, a deliberate strength of purpose that I was decidedly lacking.

My wife, an excellent internet researcher, hit the trying-to-conceive message boards and pregnancy blogs, and the occasional real-deal medical website. We read about a couple who had struggled with infertility, ultimately settling on the mantra “baby in the house.” We took it to mean baby in the house by any means necessary, and hadn’t this been my goal from the beginning? This mantra was so simple, so obvious, we adopted it as our own. I felt very near to having the clarity I’d need to make a decision.

At this point, we also stumbled upon a probable cause for my near-sterility. When I was an infant, I had a hernia. I grew up hearing the story about how I was blue from the legs down, like a Smurf in reverse.  Our working theory, although never confirmed, is that when the doctors went in to fix me up, they may have accidentally snipped this, knotted that, and given me the inspiration for my upcoming children’s book, Daddy’s Tangled Apparatus. I was relieved to have something resembling an explanation, especially one that made so much sense.

Working on this assumption, we decided to pursue a sperm donor. More on this in a moment, but first I’d like to acknowledge that we were, in fact, working on an assumption, a theory, which was, in fact, never confirmed.

I think many people find this to be a reckless decision, like I gave up and quit on myself. Who knows, right? Maybe I could have been untangled, reattached, or otherwise had my fecundity restored. And I don’t want to be cavalier about this at all – it was an incredibly difficult decision to be sure. There was a lot of insecurity and second-guessing.

But my goal was to have a baby in the house, not to cultivate a biological legacy. Allowing that goal to really take primacy over everything else was very liberating, once I got there. Given the choice, I would have preferred not to have any infertility issues, but that preference didn’t seem worth putting my goal on hold indefinitely.

Not only that, but we have a lot of gay friends who are starting families.  Same-sex parents have no choice but to begin with a donor of some sort, and I’m not sure how productive it is for the non-biological parent to lament the lack of shared DNA once the baby arrives. Any self-pity others would foist upon me seemed strictly a function of straight privilege.

We began to research donor agencies so that we could begin to research donors. I was, of course, grateful for the chance to become a father at all, but less so when presented with the opportunity to pay thirty-five dollars for a silhouette of a potential donor’s face in profile.

Even so, there were some humorous moments in the selection process. Despite being a run-of-the-mill white guy, I have been told my entire life that I look Asian. The agency’s computers agreed – we submitted pictures of me in order to produce a list of potential donors whose offspring might resemble something I could create. The first guy on the list was 100% Chinese, the second 100% Vietnamese. Of course.

In the end we picked one whose heritage a little more closely aligned with our own, and after lugging liquid nitrogen tanks around from the garage to the trunk of the car to the doctor’s office, success! When my wife walked into the bedroom with a positive pregnancy test in her hand, it was the happiest moment in my life up to that point, and one I’ll never forget.

During the pregnancy we talked some about how I might react when the baby finally came. His in utero name was New Guy, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t feel any less connected to him than if he were the fruit of my own loins. Still, we both knew that this was one of those big life things for which you just can’t predict a reaction. Not until you’ve lived it.

I’m happy to report that after a long and difficult labor, my son finally arrived, and when he did, I cried tears of joy like never before. He’s seven weeks old now, and while there are difficult times, reflux-induced sleepless nights, diaper blowouts and moments of self-doubt and insecurity, I have no misgivings whatsoever about my decision. Quite the contrary, the levies of my heart are struggling against levels of love and joy I could never have imagined. He is altogether mine, and I am his daddy, and like parents everywhere, biological or otherwise, the task now falls to me to be the best parent that I can possibly be.

When we were selecting a donor, my plan was to use a donor for the first child so that we could get our family started, and then later on get checked out and possibly repaired. Since my son has arrived, however, I am dead set against that course of action, and hope to use the same donor a next time. Part of this is because this baby is exactly one hundred times cuter than anything I might have produced, but also because I can’t bear to think of him wondering someday if I love him less than his sibling because of biology. What’s more, as much as I hate to think about it, I have to acknowledge the possibility that there could be a stronger connection to a child who shared my biology, and that’s not something I’m willing to risk. I love my son too much.

It’s a taboo topic, to be sure, tied up as it is in notions of masculinity, virility, and manhood, and this upsets me. I have never thought for a second that my low sperm count made me less of a man. I don’t bring it up during casual conversation at cocktail parties (“well, you know we had to use a donor because I can barely make sperm”), mostly because I imagine it would make other people uncomfortable, but a little bit I wish I could. I love my son, and I wouldn’t know him otherwise, and that’s why I’m proud that we chose to use a donor. I look forward to having lots of conversations with him about all the different kinds of families in the world.

But maybe the rest of the world isn’t ready. In the meantime, back at the diner, a member of the staff says “Oh, you’re just so handsome like your daddy.”  And of course I know it’s me, but I still can’t help myself.  I pick up the car seat, smile wryly, and whisper, “Who is your daddy, anyway?”

Update August 2014

I'm not exactly sure what size or sort of audience these words will find once they're out in the world, but I haven't updated this blog in about a year, which is roughly 25% of its short life, so an update seems appropriate.

At the end of June my family said a tearful goodbye to the Twin Cities and headed west to Santa Ana, California. I've moved away from Minneapolis once before, in 2002, to Chicago, where I got married, and it was at a time when I was fairly rootless and, as such, portable. This time, though, we'd been living in Minneapolis for a decade, and saying goodbye to family, friends, and even our house was difficult.

I'm currently staying home with our young son and looking for work teaching high school English, a task I've made more difficult for myself via my stubborn insistence on teaching in a public school district (i.e., not private, not charter). That's a topic for another conversation, one in which I'd happily indulge for anyone who is interested, but for now, suffice it to say, it's tricky to feel too connected to a place in which my life hasn't yet really gotten going.

Meanwhile, the world is in chaos. Gaza. Iraq. Unaccompanied minors. Eric Garner. Robin Williams. Michael Brown. Probably a host of other terrible things I'm missing. It can be a dark place, this world, and a casual observer of this blog may wonder if I'm trying to make a cottage industry of poems about murdered teens.

But the world can be beautiful, too. It smells good here, nearly all the time. That's something. Really. There are a million plants that I've never seen before, and some (like jade) that I do recognize as houseplants are growing free and wild and giant here. That's something else. Standing in the ocean is a beautiful thing, and so is seeing dolphins or sea lions. 

I should write some poems about those things.

We should all, each of us, spend time focusing on some of those beautiful things in our own lives, in our own locales. It's therapeutic, and, lately, necessary.

But as we do, I think it's important not to take our eyes off of the ugliness, the injustices in the world. I think we have to hold those things in balance so that we can work to make the world more beautiful, to set things right.

It's maybe naive to think that an ad hoc manifesto on a wordpress poetry blog might have something to do with that, but I'm okay with that. I'm pretty good at balancing my naivete with a heavy helping of cynicism. 



I saw Dunbar's Mask in reverse:
black journalists don't choose the news
anymore than the rest of us.

A straight face can be hard to come by
when talking about black protesters,
majority-white police departments,
and efforts at community relations.

He imagined the press bulletin:
Terribly sorry about how we reacted
to how you reacted
when we shot and killed that kid.

This is not a justification.
I believe in stoicism
where the news is concerned.

But let's give the newsman his due.
He kept it together until he couldn't,
till it started to crust and sugar over.

And there, nearly imperceptible
at the corners of his mouth,
glass breaking in the night.


Digital Story: My Grandfather

Digital Story: My Grandfather

This (live link above) is a digital story I was able to create as a part of the Minnesota Writing Project's Invitational Summer Institute at the University of Minnesota. It's a fellowship, which I only mention because I was put on academic probation in the fall of 1996 at the same institution for being an idiot/poor attender. It feels good to be earning graduate credits now, and it feels even better to have been able to honor Gervase "Gerf" Daniels, a special guy in my life.

Sanford Florida Public Works

Sanford Florida Public Works

They’re ripping up the sidewalks,
cardinal calls drowned out
by jackhammers, bobcats.

You can’t weaponize a sidewalk
that isn’t there.
No more crime scene photographs,
no more guns discharged.

This is a peaceful place –
and don’t we all deserve
some peaceful ground
to stand on?

Soft and grassy,
surrounded by gates
a worn path in place of pavers.

A word of caution:

This is our life.
People not from around here
who make us so afraid
that we go towards them
instead of away –

They don’t get a warning shot.
This isn’t Tallahassee,
this is a peaceful place
where we do what needs doing.

Bring on the jackhammers:
We’ll walk on the grass
if we have to.



Animate an arrow on a map.
Imbued with all of the cultural sensitivity
of an Indiana Jones movie.

Launch in lush Laotian jungle,
cross continents and seas,
and split
like the forked tongue
of a serpent,
or a dragon,
upon reaching the Mississippi.

One end lands in Minneapolis,
calls itself Fong Lee,
and falls, one weekend
outside an elementary school
on the beleaguered North Side.

No saint, this Fong Lee,
or maybe he was,
or maybe it doesn't matter,
when chased on a bike
by cops in a squad car.

When rammed, run down,
when running like hell isn't enough.

When shot eight times.

And a gun recovered later
has no prints,
no bullets fired.
Official reports attribute it
to the late Fong Lee.

The arrow's other end
lands in Saint Paul,
on my roster.
This Fong Lee is quiet,
yet alive.

His shirt reads "I AM FONG LEE"

This one gets the joke
because he tells it,
but forgive his lack of laughter:
There's nothing funny
about having to know
that some kid with your moniker
and migratory history
was killed by cops
not fifteen miles away.

Indiana Jones only had snakes
and caricatures of Nazis
to contend with.
This shit is for real.

An animated arrow splits in two,
dead ends,
but cannot retract.
It must remain,
A red stain on a map. 

New poem after long hiatus... first draft... crowdsource workshop!


This poem sets up on the floor
no pretense, no bullshit
preferring a basement, 
eye level.

The secret handshake anyone can learn,
this poem is not interested
in selling
or in being sold.

It is the lyric sheet passed out
at the outset,
because the words fucking matter,
a butterfly pressed in your pocket.

This poem is the moment there by the water heater
that you realized both your privilege and your potential









These are loud stanzas, and, okay,
a little abrasive,
but they know that's not enough.

They are also starry-eyed,
and why not?

Nothing good ever came
out of anything that wasn’t.

Voter ID

This isn't the most lyrical poem I've ever written, that's for sure, but as the debate about Voter ID rages on (it's on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in MN this year), I wanted to get at what I think the real problem is: racism.  Communities of color came out for Barack Obama in record numbers in 2008, and I think that there are some who would cynically move to do whatever they can to prevent a repeat of this in 2012, making those same communities pawns, once again, in a game they didn't consent to playing.  Like a lot of racism, this is of the unexamined variety -- voter ID advocates would never make the connection between redlining and the proposed amendment (after all, it isn't Obama's skin color they don't like, just his politics, and I have to say that I believe their sincerity in this) yet there it is, an attempt to further disenfranchise groups of people based on skin color and a socioeconomic status that is directly linked to policies of the past (e.g. redlining).  This kind of historical amnesia is very dangerous for our country.

Voter ID

We’re standing on maps left behind by our grandfathers,
covered in red lines and promises of financial solvency.
We’re the architects of a grand plan all our own.

We’ll make a man out of straw and call him voter fraud.
Ask him for identification – what’s the harm in that?
If he doesn’t have it, we deny the vote,
light him up as an example to others.

Use the maps to get it going –
we don’t need them anymore.

Behold, arms outstretched in supplication,
a burning beacon in the night,
a cross to light the way.

These are times of values.

Of course, that’s far too scathing a critique.
After all, we were very careful not to identify
those most likely not to have identification.
We never said anything
about poverty,
or transience,
or skin color,
or people groups voting in record numbers,

Electing the country’s first black president,
by a landslide.

That’s not what this is about.
We just want to make sure we know who you are.

What’s the harm in that?

The Texas GOP Weighs in on Higher Order Thinking Skills

This is based on the Texas Republican Party's 2012 Platform, excerpts from which you can read here

The Texas GOP Weighs in on Higher Order Thinking Skills

A magician (or a fancy waiter with a lot of flair)
yanks a tablecloth in one fluid motion.
Audiences gasp, convinced
the silver and china will be casualties
of this man’s caprice.

But that’s not the trick,
and our man is to be commended--
everything remains in place just so,
only a little lower.

I am neither waiter nor magician,
but a teacher; even so,
I take no joy in having to explain
the more obvious metaphors.

So ponder, please, (though of course not critically);
I’ll cut to the candid:
“Challenging the student’s fixed beliefs”
is my life’s calling,
not because I don’t respect them,
but because I think that someone should.

I am a teacher, and this is what I do.
Oppose this work,
and I am a revolutionary, too.

New Guy's Villanelle

I like writing poetry much more when I have a prescribed form to follow, so I've been playing with different forms lately.  This may or may not be the first villanelle I've ever written.  My wife and I are expecting our first child, a son, in May.  This one's for New Guy.


We will give you all that we are able
though so much is left outside of our control.
Soon you’ll take your own seat at the table.

We both know that soon this very day will
fall to memory, etchings on a scroll.
We will give you all that we are able.

Giving hope: for other days to wait till,
not knowing what they’ll overlap or hold.
Soon you’ll take your own seat at the table.

We know not how long your lungs will stay filled
or what you’ll say about us when you’re old;
we will give you all that we are able.

I imagine something brimming, something stable,
something glowing with an ember never cold…
soon you’ll take your own seat at the table

We can’t wait to meet you, let’s just say we’ll
never be the same (or so we’re told).
We will give you all that we are able –
soon you’ll have your own seat at the table

Sickbed Sestina

I believe that this is the first sestina I've ever written, and, I have discovered since, not a true sestina. Oh well. The end result is maybe a bit overly philosophical and plodding, but the process was pretty fun. Common and Very Common Nouns courtesy of Random Word Generator.


What does a half-filled glass of water represent?
What trite and useless lesson might it teach?
And can such aphorisms save a man
or woman’s beating shipwrecked heart enough
to buoy it toward something more complex?
Can mystery and meaning join with plot?

Those who’ve read the ending, know the plot,
and can decode what symbols represent,
(the ones that are straightforward, not too complex)
and these we might well count upon to teach
us something – not quite all but quite enough
about the heart of woman and of man.

And who am I in all of this? A man
who ruminating on it hatched a plot
to etch the glass’s midpoint just enough
that drinkers decide what drops do represent
and maybe then they’ll all decide to teach
lessons arid, waterlogged, complex.

For is life empty? Full? A complex
of organisms making up a man
or woman waiting for the thing to teach
or data points that we forgot to plot?
Hold the film up to the light and represent
it in reverse and see if it’s enough.

Tip the water over, then we’ll teach
the lesson of having had more than enough
of forced compliance with a placid plot
of fearing the blurred edges and complex
paradoxes intrinsic in each man
and woman with all they represent.

This man hopes to muddle through a plot
at once complex and never quite enough
to represent what he could never teach.






Northern Poems

A photograph of a lake with trees.

I've been sitting on this Word document for the better part of a year, maybe even more, called Northern Poems.doc.  The idea, if I remember correctly, was to try to capture in verse something of the idea of Minnesota, whatever that is.  I think, to be honest, that it wasn't even Minnesota, necessarily, but that thing that we in the Twin Cities call "Up North."  It's a funny thing, really; if you look at a map of Minnesota, you'll see that the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area is located in the East-Central part of the state, and maybe even hovering just a little bit south of that designation.  That means that places like Hinckley or Lake Mille Lacs become "Up North," despite their considerable distance from what might be called Northern Minnesota.

Geographical innacuracies aside, there is something kind of wonderful about getting out of the city and pushing into that part of the state that is not prairie but woods and lakes.

I remember reading Tony Glover's liner notes on the Jayhawks' 1995 masterpiece Tomorrow the Green Grass something along the lines of "these songs are Minnesota" (if anybody can provide a link to these online I'd be grateful), and it changed the way that I listened to that record, which, for what it's worth, is still one of my favorite albums ever.

I don't expect these poems to gain such wide popularity and/or endurance, and I'm actually fairly insecure about my poetic dexterity, but even so, I offer these Northern Poems.

As a final note, the irony in these poems is that they seem to celebrate a certain warmer something than the seven degree temperature that's here today (which is to say nothing of the windchill, of course...).  I think fellow Minnesotans will agree that we endure winter in order that we might be able to breathe in the more temporal beauty of our state's more temperate months.

* * *

There is a juniper berry
between your thumb and forefinger
And birchbark in your voice.
I will build us a canoe.
Your laugh will be the oars,
Stirring up the depths
As we make our way.

In time this lake will freeze,
The snow upon its surface
Crunching under heavy boots.
At these temperatures,
No one questions the integrity of ice.

We will walk without purpose for a while,
And you will lay in the snow,
Arms and legs working together
To make a snow angel,
And your laugh will echo across the granite.♦


The air is wet and full of pine.
A tawny miracle stirs not twenty feet away.
Eyes meet, a question mark against birch and fir,
Answer: hooves push off for safety.♦

The lake dark and shimmery,
Sky reddening as the sun
Says, “this is all you get,
But not all there is.
Also: this is spectacular.”
We stand silently, a vigil
To its departure, emptying
As it goes.

You say, “well,
Should be getting back,”
And a spell that stretched
From the eastern shore of Elbow Lake
To a distant spot below the earth
Snaps, component parts
Lighting up the night like fireflies.

I say nothing, and we walk slowly
The worn path to the cabin.
“This is everything,” I say,
Hoping to stretch something.
The air is sweet with wildflowers, and
You laugh your laugh,
Which I also have to tell you is everything,
Say, “it is?” and kiss me under the porch light.♦

New Morning Poem

Astringent air blows in with morning,
Wet sand like witch hazel.
My breath lingers just there,
In the space between the workweek and a sunrise,
And in the distance, a loon.
In another second, both will disappear.♦

Marking Time

When the last of the whiskey is gone,
Secrets buried in the yard
Roll over to get comfortable.
You rub your bleary eyes,
View the world through ragged pouches,
And listen to the crickets.
A million little metronomes,
Keeping pace of life up here,
Restless legs more symphony than syndrome.

Sloshing spirits can’t bring him back
Forty-five years on,
But the crickets, tiny and dependable,
On the smell of the tall, wet, grass
Fold time in on itself.

On the long walk back from the ballfield,
He strutted in the road, just next to the shoulder,
Tony Oliva will be Rookie of the Year.”
You, younger, afraid, dependent,
Straddled the seam between pavement and dirt,
Kicking a rock that you found by the park,
Trusted he was right.

Headlights now, and you want to yell “look out,”
To grab his waist, to pull him near you,
But he is gone, and they fall across the kitchen,
A million pieces of glass, future sands,
Upon which tomorrow’s insects scurry.♦


This island pulls radio
From Hibbing,
Some nights as far away
As the Cities,
North to International Falls,
Those clear nights,
You sit with CBC
Radio One
On your grandpa’s old transistor
Pale ale and a map
That came with the cabin.

How easy it seems,
Those clear nights,
To pack up the truck
And drift north,
Slipping undetected
Into a foreign land
The way radio floats
On the wind.

How many gas tanks,
How many portages
To Winnipegosis?
Or in the other direction
To the great Hudson Bay,
To the sea?

Greenland and Iceland
Become mere stones,
Breaking laws of physics,
Skipping across the surface
Of the sea
En route to Edinburgh,
To Ireland.

Grandpa’s transistor,
A six pack of beer
And a map,
And you’ve traveled the world
From a cramped lakeside room
That smells of mildew.♦


Amidst moss and wet leaves,
Little room for worry.
There’s the smell of the earth:
No small comfort.

Soil in the fingernails
Signals a day spent well.
The dock your father built,
Forgotten paperback
Left behind years ago,
Both weathered now.

Maybe it’s holy here,
Wooded sanctuary.
Amidst moss and wet leaves,
Holy moments.♦

Cellstories: 06/03/2010: Iron Horse

The luckiest man on the face of the earth

When I first moved to Chicago with my limited skill set and education, I got a job painting houses.  One of the two bosses, I found out later, had been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.  He received his diagnosis at just about the same time that I was hired, and I remember noticing a curled hand and some slurred speech.

His name was Ben Byer, he was very active in the Chicago theater scene (I saw him play Elvis at the Steppenwolf Theater once), and he fought hard to the end, even making a documentary about his illness called Indestructible. I've known quite a few people who have died, and it always seems to effect me in a different, unpredictable way each time.  I was especially struck by the cruelty of ALS, a disease that destroys the physical body while the mind remains sharp and intact throughout.

This is a story that I am particularly proud of, and, for what it's worth, would like to dedicate it to Ben Byer and to all of those whose lives are touched by ALS.  Thanks to Dan at Cellstories for running it.


Stepping out into the parking lot, the sunlight is blinding. The radio said that today’s is the warmest temperature on record for this date in May. I imagine a version of myself – more youthful, less aware – driving home with the windows down, blasting the first Weezer album through shitty factory speakers, singing along at the top of my lungs. Young Self gets home, calls up everyone he knows, and hosts an impromptu early summer barbecue. Real Self is struggling to get the car keys out of the front pocket of his jeans, his hand curled and non-responsive, the keys falling to the dusty pavement below. Real Self kicks the fender, slurs a curseword, and looks around humiliated before retrieving the keys with his good hand. He drives home and calls no one.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t sit home on the couch for hours, cell phone flipped open, almost calling every person I know. I do this. I sit there and sit there, first in the low, warm late afternoon sun, later in the cool purples and blues of twilight, and finally in the sad and lonely light of my phone. I almost call, but don’t know what to say, and each time think that maybe I can fix this, maybe this isn’t forever, maybe they can’t tell. And each time I almost get up to get my laptop, almost check every medical site I can think of, and each time hear the doctor say no known cure at this time, only stopgap measures.

The doctor was so nice, too. It would have been so much easier if he had been an asshole, or if he’d had bad breath. But he was warm, empathetic, and smelled like antibacterial soap, which is comforting, in its way. His eyes were deep pools of sorrow and apology, and I stared into them as he delivered the news, looking as though he were taking from me a boarding pass for a plane he knew would crash.

Back at home, my bladder can hold no more. On the way to the bathroom I wonder how long it will be until I’m no longer able to perform such a simple task. I return, grab the laptop, and find my way to There is a picture of The Iron Horse smiling back at me. Dumb motherfucker obviously had no idea what was in store for him when this picture was taken. And then, even though it’s his disease that I’ve contracted, I somehow wind up feeling guilty: I’ve always been a baseball fan, but never knew that Gehrig was Number 4. Feeling now somewhat connected to the man, this seems like vital information. I watch his farewell speech over and over, struck by the hyperbole of terms like “bad break” and “luckiest man on the face of the earth.” I feel sick.

I stare off and eventually focus on the ceiling fan above me. I allow my eyes to follow the blades as they spin, and then to get lost in them, and for a moment I’m tricked into thinking that the motion has reversed, but then everything comes back into focus and it’s a trick I can’t sustain. I do this again and again, losing myself in the illusion, waiting and watching as the laws of physics are suspended and righted, lost and found.

I want a knife or a laser or a time machine, something to extract the reality of the moment somehow, to make it unreal. It definitely feels unreal. I want to lay on the floor and open my mouth, vomiting out all of the sickness until there is no trace left. I want to be eight again, playing baseball with my friends in the vacant lot across the street from my house, the sun casting long shadows across our improvised home plate. I want to go back and live inside that moment forever, fully appreciating it as I do.

I want to run, physically sprinting through the darkened streets of my neighborhood, and begin to pace around, looking for my running shoes, my keys. When I finally find my keys, I decide the running idea is stupid and that I should just drive and drive and drive, maybe north to the Iron Range and Canada and the frozen Arctic Circle, maybe south to Mexico, but somewhere, anywhere else, to a place where none of this is happening.

Something in my brain clicks and I realize that I  might be having a panic attack, veins awash with adrenaline and the sound of my pounding heart fills the chambers of my skull. I know this is unhealthy, remembering the time in college I punched through a dorm wall and had to pay a fine. I stop and breathe, my head between my knees, and finally, weak and ashamed, collapse onto the couch.

On TV there is a movie starring a man who is not George Burns, but should have been. He has been told that he has seven days to live, and must choose how best to spend them. It’s a movie I remember seeing some long ago Saturday afternoon in my dad’s basement as a kid. Not-George-Burns is in the capitals of Europe, the beaches of South America. He is with family, at the fourth birthday of a grandson. He is skydiving. He is not, this man that should be George Burns, concerning himself with the relative merits of taking massive amounts of antioxidants versus acupuncture and/or stem cell transplants as safeguards against the rapid degeneration of his body. Instead, this very forgettable actor is all smiles, checking off items on a list with smug satisfaction. I drink a lot of whiskey while I watch, stepping outside of myself as I do. I wonder how loss of physical control due to intoxication compares with the death of motor neurons that control voluntary movement. I wish my mind would shut the fuck up. I fall asleep before the movie ends.

My friend Brandon calls about an hour later. For a brief moment, I forget everything. Then, without thinking, I lay it all on the table.

“I’m dying, Brandon.”

“Yeah, we all are. Hey, those Twins tickets you got, were those for the sixteenth or seventeenth? I can’t remember and I need to put in for the time off work.”

I let it go. Brandon never really knew how to relate to anyone on much of an emotional level, and as a result, we were never really that close, but I think we both accept the friendship for what it is: we might go to a ballgame, get some drinks, help each other move, but it isn’t the kind of friendship either of us are expected to bring our feelings to. I have other people for that, and don’t lose a lot of sleep wondering whether or not Brandon does.

“The seventeenth. They were for the seventeenth.”

The idea of having tickets for something, standing plans of any kind, is strange. I’m still kind of lost in a whiskey fog, trying to follow Brandon’s story about a car accident, a spinout on 394 during the last snowstorm of the winter, but I still feel somehow as though I’ve already died, this afternoon, at the doctor’s office. The truth is, I’m still very much alive, very capable of going to a baseball game, and probably will, but after I hang up the phone I’m alone again with a treacherous body whose betrayal has already begun en masse. I want to be able to seriously consider suicide, and really do weigh the pros and cons of each method. In the end I can’t decide on one. I’m scared of what I might do in my state.

I get up and pace the apartment, unsure of where I’m going or for what purpose. I’m enraged, but quickly lose steam and make my way to my bed, where I sob and sob in a snotty, messy heap. I let loose, crying from somewhere deep within my chest, a place I haven’t accessed since my parents’ divorce. I was in the second grade. I cry until I can’t, and fall asleep, sideways and uncovered, just like in the old days, imagining again the disease leaving my body.

At some point I make my way under the blankets. Dawn creeps slowly and softly into my room not long after. It comes without fanfare or invitation and just sits, like a stranger watching me sleep. At a certain point it’s too much. I get up.

The sky is blue like a robin’s egg, or a flame, promising another unseasonably warm day. My mind races as I begin to plan, but it doesn’t take long for me to realize this will be my first day living with the knowledge that – in a very real and not very metaphysical way – I am dying.

The first thought something might be wrong I was at work at the group home, bouncing a dodgeball down a long hallway. The hallway smelled like Folgers and copy toner. I remember thinking that it was the hallway for stinky black powders, and began to sniff the air for dirt and gunpowder. Terry, one of my clients, shot the ball back at me with all of his considerable strength – Terry could never play an actual basketball game, but I’ve seen him sink ten three-pointers in a row before, it’s really something – and as I went to block it I found I couldn’t fully open my right hand. I’ve since learned to do this, though it takes time and the help of my left hand. That day, though, the ball struck my hand, jamming my ring finger, ricocheting into Betsy’s head. She was seated nearby in her wheelchair, and she began to wail. Betsy is sort of medically fragile, and so I still feel terrible for having her seated so near our game, and worse still for my inability to catch a stupid dodge ball.

That was the first day I wondered. After fawning over Betsy, apologizing more than was probably necessary (let’s be honest – she’s always wailing about something), I walked outside to schedule a doctor’s appointment.

It was one of these late spring snowstorms. Big, slow flakes that don’t mean any harm, don’t want to bother anyone, just want to bring a little quiet into the world. It was barely cold enough to snow, and I was fairly happy to be away from the noise of the group home. I got the clinic’s recorded message right away. As I waited on the line, I remembered hearing somewhere that Frank Capra had corn flakes painted white to mimic snow in It’s a Wonderful Life. I tried to imagine cornflakes falling out of the sky, and just couldn’t picture it. I remember wishing that I could fall into the illusion of black and white film.

Brandon and I managed to cop some pretty good seats for the Twins game. I had forgotten about this until today, but here we are, lower level, five rows back, right along the first base line. It’s the last season they’ll play in the Metrodome, the only ballpark I’ve ever seen a baseball game in. I remember my dad used to talk about the old Metropolitan Stadium, the Met, where the Mall of America is now. “That was real baseball,” he used to say, “this indoor shit is ridiculous.” I’m trying to explain this to Brandon, about how my dad was kind of a badass. I go into this whole thing about how the original home plate is supposed to be somewhere in the mall, but I’ve never been able to find it.

“Dude, are you drunk already? We just got here – that’s not your first beer?” I realize I’ve been slurring my speech; I have been all day. I’ve also been talking a lot, about anything, because whenever I stop, all I can think about is how bad off I am. And then – and I know this is terrible, I can’t help it – I lay it all out for Brandon, right there during batting practice while Justin Morneau fires rocket after rocket into the cheap seats. I’m yelling, and pretty soon I’m sobbing, and poor Brandon has no clue what to do.  He just sits and stares into an empty beer cup that’s half-filled with spent sunflower seeds.

I get up and walk outside and sit on the steps of the Dome. There are people everywhere, which almost makes it easier to be by myself. Brandon, predictably, stays and watches the game. I sit and watch Twins fans walking back and forth, keeping my body as still as I can, not saying anything to anyone, just trying to feel it. I sit there for hours, feeling my mind working while my body does nothing. Occasionally I can hear the cheering crowd through the Dome’s fiberglass roof. I want to sit there for months, years, however long it takes. I don’t want to get up, to ever walk again, because I know there will come a time where that won’t work, where I will fall, where it will all fall down. It will be me in the group home, in hospice, in the ground. It’s all too much to take.

Across the street I see a homeless man I recognize as a downtown fixture. He’s been hanging around for as long as I can remember, charging passersby a fee to sign his trenchcoat. I assume this is how he supports his crack habit, though I’m not sure, and that’s probably not fair. I sit and see this man, quite convinced that he will still be here long after I’ve gone, still facing the reality of his situation in the most practical way he knows how. I wonder if either of us will get to see a game in the new stadium, imagining us drunk in the box seats at a Sox game, booing A. J. Pierzynski and high-fiving after a Joe Mauer homerun.