Monday, April 25, 2016


Randall Garrett


Performance and Artwork




Performance and Artwork


Deep Ellum Windows, Dallas


incl. Graveyard Swag, Can I Get an Amen, Club Yamantaka, 11:11 (Listening)

incl. Apocalypse Poem, Deluge Refuge, Maya on the Midway

incl. Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen (Love, Alienation, Lust)


Dallas, TX

Oak Cliff, Dallas

Randall Garrett is an artist, writer, instructor, and curator. His performance works explore questions of identity, both personal and collective. Using ritual and mythologies of the self, he navigates identifications based on gender, class, sexuality, and other cultural overlays. His works seamlessly mix performance, video, installation, costume design, sound, and spoken word. He has exhibited, curated, and performed in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New York, Miami, and Santa Fe. In 2000, he founded the critically recognized Plush Gallery, organizing over 75 exhibitions, and is currently Gallery Coordinator and an instructor in Arts and Humanities courses at El Centro College in Dallas.

Writing (2016)

WRITING (2016)

Sweet Honey in the Rock
- for Noah -
Sun shines bright in cool air skimming across a sunny desert landscape, to a we are swimming through the depths of the cool, green water. I stroke the surface with him on my back, as we swim into shallow water. Tiny pebbles massage my feet and we come to a rocky overhang, a smooth bluff looming above us. Lifting him up to stand on my shoulders, he reaches into the recessed spaces of the bluff, and pulls his arm out covered with golden honey. Tasting it, lingering and basking in the deliciousness, the honey cascades down his face and onto his body, dripping down to the water and me below. 
The Temple of My Heart 
If my heart were a temple, 
What kind of pilgrim would I invite in to pay homage? 
The ones who drop in from out of town, unannounced 
Lighting a candle and crossing themselves before they leave? 
Or the holy day crowds, stampeding in coughing and sneezing 
Kneeling down to receive me, their minds distracted by the week ahead? 
Or the mystic, deep in ecstatic contemplation of my glories, 
Exchanging blissful energies as they wave incense before my altar? 
What kind of pilgrim would I open my doors and reveal my glory to? 
To one and to all, the outer courts I'd reveal,
But to the holy of holies only a few will do. 
Litany (verse i) 
I love Andy, the way we collide like kids on a schoolyard playground. 
I love Kimberly, her voice sultry and seductive lifting me to another time and space. 
I love Ernest, when we dance it feels like being in the arms of an angel. 
I love Monica, a deer in the forest leaping through the fallen trees just out of reach. 
I love David, my twin star brother, wise and deep in the ways of the tantra. 
I love Stephanie, lost in the safe space of her loving heart, laughter and acceptance. 
I love Patrick, a hot mess of creative inspiration, intellect and worldly passion. 
I love Nero, though we’ve only met once, in her eyes I see my own creative search manifest. 
I love Reuben, riding high on the waves of conceptual knowledge and self-deprecation. 
I love Bethany, feeling her creativity, innocent and loving heart, especially in her absence. 
I love Noah, engaging the wisdom of the shadow self, funky bass, self-love and soul healing. 
I love Vanessa, wild child tossing my hair and taking me into the mosh pit of her energies. 
I love Bill, playing a fool to absurdity, and lifting my spirits as his guitar gently weeps. 
I love Melissa, doe eyed with words soft like molasses pouring through my ears and brain. 
I love Luis, his face framed in eyeliner and jewelry, passionate anger as Shiva the destroyer. 
I love Malika, holding hands as we watch the world burn to the ground outside our window. 
I love them all with a love that is true, and I love me, and I love you. 
Paradise is Burning 
In my paradise, a stream of water it flows, 
through the garden and out from the tree of life it grows. 
There, on those lovely shores I recline, 
with my yogis and yoginis, my deities and dakinis. 
Together we talk and we pray, we dance and we sing, 
And spent we collapse on the shores of the stream. 
And then from outside the walls, a cry we heard, “burn it down” they said, 
before they take us over, deceive us and our children are dead. 
A flaming arrow was shot, first one and then two, landing amidst the resplendence,
they battered down the walls, and with steely resolve pushed through the gate. 
Smoke and the sound of carnage arose from the garden, 
until nothing but ashes smouldered on the shores of the stream. 
And all grew quiet as the hordes moved on to other conflicts unresolved, 
In the garden nothing stirred, but raindrops fell like tears on the ashes there. 
And the yogis and yoginis, the deities and dakinis, 
Were nowhere to be found among the ruins. 
As up through the ashes a green shoot emerged, one and then two, 
and the rain and the sun it nourished and they grew. 
Round the Fires by the Shore
- for Noah -
circumstances they ebb and flow, 
the waters have been like this 
as long as anyone can remember 
people yeah they come and go, 
wearing away at the shore 
putting lines and stories on its face 
but high up on the beach sits a 
temple not made by hands where 
the flames of the true self reside 
i see the kids round fires in the night 
exchanging bottles and stories there 
a still place a refuge inside
they go out and surf those waves 
where the waters they crash 
and find new stories 
to bring back to the shore 
some stories of loss, 
hopes dashed on the rocks 
and others of gain, new 
treasures brought back 
to share with their friends 
in the lights that flicker 
you can see in their eyes 
the experiences they've had 
as together they laugh 
and sit round the fires 
of the temple by the shore
Explosions in the Sky
Lots of great conversations around freedom these last few days, all the differing perspectives and observations revealing so many varying realities.
From his experience, freedom revolved around autonomy, creative expression, and finding the confidence and safe space to express himself openly. He had learned early on the safety of practicing invisibility in a normative environment. And the judgement of others when he let his guard down.
But expression can never be happy in seclusion, for it is social by nature. And thus, to his point of view, freedom is expansive, challenging him to ever greater transparency and openness, not only with himself, but more importantly, with others.
All this crossed his mind as they got on the elevator, the mostly white guy with tattoos and a glossy new pedicure, following his black friends Dez and Trey, and the cute queer mixed race girl from the Indies.
RIding up to the roof to watch the fireworks, midway a white couple gets on, headed toward the laundry, the woman saying to her man as though he and his friends couldn't hear, "we should have taken the stairs".
Trey looks down knowingly at his friends, wry smile on his face, familiar with experience as the couple gets off, taking their dirty laundry with them. He and his friends ride up one more floor, walking out onto the deck, explosions in the sky as patriotic hymns play from the bandstand down below.
And he remembers someone saying one time, "freedom don't mean nothing until everybody's got some". He sings along with the songs in an exaggerated voice, "for where'er you go, you will always know, that those caissons go rolling along", sincere and parody all at once, and looks into his friends smiling faces in the colorful glow of the rockets red glare.
Rainbow in a Black and White World
White, white, white, white, white, white, white. 
White is the color of the new-fallen snow. 
Black, black, black, black, black, black, black.
Black is the night of lovers under a new moon sky.  
Brown, brown, brown, brown, brown, brown, brown.
Brown as the river mud squishes between your toes.  
Anthropology, criminology, ethnography, phrenology,
Oppressors and oppressed dance in revolutionary fervor.  
Separations, reparations, declarations, inhalations,
Fictitious fictions of nineteenth century pseudoscience flags unfurled.  
Boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, boy. 
Flags on a rocket ship shooting to the moon. 
Girl, girl, girl, girl, girl, girl, girl.
A meadow full of flowers shining in the sun. 
I'm a boy, I'm a girl, I'm a boy, I'm a girl.
I'm a rocket ship shooting from that meadow in the sun. 
Black clouds cross the sky, white hail stones dropping down,
Brown earth, crushed flowers, scattered petals on the ground,
The ice it melts, the clouds retreat,
A rainbow springs from mud beneath my feet.
Bereft of nuance and without sight, the world sees things in black and white.
Yes, I'll continue to expand my view, and maybe even challenge a thing or two.
Along the way, like Marvin Gaye, singin' "What's going on? What's going on?"
I tell you what's going on. A rainbow is forming above this stormy land,
A rainbow made up of us boys and us girls, and us boy girls too,
But you my friend and me it's true we see the rainbow, an expansive view.  
The black, the white, the brown, the me, the you.
At Water's Edge
working hard, harder than you should.
but that's the price you pay to dream,
the realization of imagination's spark.
a funeral pyre burns at water's edge,
the steps you take to enter the stream,
and before you know it the flow is become a holy river carrying you away
caught up in something good for once
something that feels like an old habit
from way before those distractions took hold in the back of your mind,
a corner turned a dark alley left behind.
your jewelry and makeup on point
as you slip into the water's invitation,
sadhus and temple dancers,
elephants and tigers adorned in sacred garments
follow you in procession along the muddy ghats
chasing yourself, rest in the stream
your truth your realizations your dreams.
Flowers on My Grave
Holding on tightly as the bouquet falls apart in your hands, petals dropping to the ground, those moments of caring too deeply. Yet nature is true to its calling, calling lost sinners come home.
A gandharva’s voice sings softly somewhere from the great beyond, “lay down all thought surrender to the void”. True nature says let go, let all return to the elements from which they are made. All of it, the memories, the joys and especially the pains.
Remember thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. But until that day, I'm gonna boogie, I'm gonna boogie oogie oogie til I just can't boogie no more.
You see, here's the thing. No matter how hard I try, this time around, I know you'll never love me just for who I am, in all my crazy, freaky goodness. And I’ll never be that man created in your image. It's taken forever, but I've learned to love myself, to water the flowers on my own grave, watching them bloom, wither and fade, and bloom again, and again.
So thanks for all you taught me, I guess this is where we leave it, leave it, leave it, nature having its way with us, scattered in ashes here on the charnel grounds. And love, love it goes on in those ashes blown to the winds. I will always remember you, until life picks up those pieces and makes them into something new.
The Aesthetics of Healing
The aesthetics of healing. 
The ascetics are reeling. 
Lip gloss and eyeliner in the mirror, 
Lips that say to yourself, "you're beautiful". 
The thrill of lust without sex. 
The ecstatic space of unresolved desire. 
The lure of the dance floor 
When you're feet won't follow your heart. 
The sound of blood in your veins, 
That rushes like water to the sea. 
The taste of a drink on your lips 
As you spit it out like poison. 
The comfort of a hand held close, 
An exchange of trust, eyes open now closed. 
The reverie of a long lost memory 
Dropping down as though from heaven. 
A beautiful voice from the dead 
That sings love songs in your head. 
Om shanti shanti, hallelu hallelu, 
The words unspoken are the ones that are true. 
Full moon hangs there in the chill night air, lighting the scene as though in a dreamlike haze. Its light piercing through to hidden places of the heart, a wound that deepens knowing naught else than to speak words sincere, words both open and true, saying fear not the motives of revelation toward that which you love. Like the nightshade which opens its flower only to that light, revealing its strange beauty oft kept hidden there in the darkness. It knows no other path nor calling than to be true to its very nature, which beckons it bask in that love which is its font of inspiration. What other face could turn its gaze other than that which calls its name? Open flower! Reveal thyself.
The Taste of His Love
I imagine him falling, stumbling there on the rough stone path, the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Sweat glistens on his skin in the mid day sun as he struggles back to his feet, shifting the heavy load he carries.
And I see her too, brown skin shining in the sun, watching her watching him, love in her eyes, magnified through my gaze.
I don't know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. But, Jesus loves me, this I know.
I see them, before the world took him away, back in the darkness, lying in a soft embrace, tender is the night.
Now I hold him, and he looks lovingly into my eyes as I stroke his face and kiss him softly on the cheek.
He draws me near and time dissolves into tears on my brow as I lay my head upon his bosom.
I don't know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. But, Jesus loves me, this I know.
For a moment I am his, music plays and time stands still, shadows dancing in candle light.
And just as sudden we are back in the hot sun as I struggle to regain my senses, caught between ecstacy and delirium.
People pushing to get a glimpse, I see him through the crowd, hanging there, suspended between heaven and earth.
I don't know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. But, Jesus loves me, this I know.
His body glistens as I press through the crowd there at his feet, and look into his eyes once more.
And I remember that night, washing his feet with my hair, tears mixing with the smell of precious oil.
Leaning toward him, I hold and kiss those feet, as sweat mixes with blood and grime, the taste of his love on my lips.
(Outro) Close your eyes, close your eyes and forget all about us tonight.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Writing (2015)

Graveyard Swag (v. i.)

Trying to say something smart when there's nothing to add to the conversation.
Trying to practice equanimity, to remember this illusion, our own creation.
Beginning to hate, questions and doubts, beginning to love, more questions, more doubts.
Beginning again, again, again, twist and shout, echo, echo, faint, ever fainter, fade out.
Swagger wearing a scary mask, that hides a lack of self-confidence.
Swagger inspired to the task, that loves to flaunt it when you notice.
There is no need for you, for true, when I see my flag in the wind unfurl.
There is no me, there is no you, no place for art in this righteous world.
Power that pounds on your door, complicit, no sense of irony.
Power that gives itself away, that hates its place in history.
Violence, a pendulum that swings faster, in an ever quickening cycle.
Violence that cuts through flesh, through blood, words slicing, a revival.
Love that looks its enemy in the eye with an open heart and a smile.
Love from the sweet bye and bye, ready for the kill, or to hold you a while.
Can I Get An Amen

“Put away your mobile devices this morning and for a moment contemplate the potentialities of this world unfolding before you. White supremacist bigots toting guns outside of mosques signify the dying gasps of an historically monolithic power structure. The people will not remain silent to such foolishness.
“Like the politician demagogues they court, their voices becoming more shrill as its grip gives way to the future, a land of ethnic complexity, governed by the oppressed and open to the entire spectrum of all the magnificent colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and indigo. A rainbow shining down that asks, will the royal road to the future be a smooth one?
“Brothers and sisters I cannot say, but that these are moments of clarity. For every time a voice is raised in hatred it will reveal itself for what it is, and every time a little baby is born into this land, it will breath the air of change and new life as sure as the sun rises in the morning. Can I get an amen?”

Club Yamantaka

Heavy rains subside as the full moon rises high above the landscape, littered with bottles and cans in pools of mud standing outside the club. Like used up bones and blood of some charnel ground, where stacks of the dead are offered in exchange for the living.
Your companion looks back your way, a fierce glimpse that for a moment seems the most wrathful of the Buddhas, fearful destroyer of death itself. "Come", he says, taking you by the hand and stepping through the muck along the broken sidewalk toward the scene ahead.
You pass by hordes, costumed in the half light, swept up in the mass of flesh and sensation, feeling the pleasures and pains all around as they press into you, pulled along imperceptibly toward the gaping mouth of a dark tunnel that swallows all takers. "What... what?", you ask as he pulls you along.
Entering, in deep shadows your guide puts his hand to your chest, and you feel your own beating heart, and the subtle beat of love that loosens chains, entanglements of fear and desire and attachment. He looks you in the eyes and whispers, "Trust".
Pulled into the darkened mouth of the club, propelled along by the mass of bodies, laughter and whispers give way to the struggle of bodies dancing and writhing through the sweaty haze and fiery hot lights of the club. You lose his hand, loose your way in the crowd.
Caught up in the insistent rhythm, your mind drifts along on layers of memory, traversing inner landscape of loves gained and lost, a revery of emotions until suddenly you feel yourself pulled down into the dancers, more piling on now a mosh pit of people sinking in, ploughed down into the earth itself, and as you go, wondering if you will sink in forever.
Then from above you feel the firm hand of your companion, lifting you up staggering through multitudes of those dancing, struggling, sinking past you into the miry clays of blood drenched earth opening up below.
And you grab their hands too, climbing up and pulling them along with you, a human mala chain, like the steady recitation of a mantra, coming up out of the pit below, as it continues to swallow the swarms of dancers.
He pulls you and the others out and away from this abyss. Your ferocious guide leading the way through the hazy dreamlike space, the lights and beats of the club pulling all around into the concluding death spiral of the dance floor.
He pulls you and your new companions out through the chaos of the club, through a back door into the alleyway, shrouded in fog but glowing as though lit by some internal light.
Seeing him clearly for the first time, his wide eyed intense expression framed by spiked hair horn-like in silhouette, you ask his name. "Yamantaka", is his reply.
Yamantaka, fearsome guide to free those of the ultimate and fearsome illusion, the jaws of death itself, slips back into the night as you and the others watch, and you gaze around, everything looking different in the new light and untold adventures that lay ahead.
Waves Breaking on the Shore
Swimming through the rolling surf, others bobbing there in the waves, buoyed up for a moment he tastes the wet saltiness in his mouth. White foam billows in the warm blue waters and then washes over him.
Touching ground and stepping on tiptoes, he eases forward, the waters becoming gradually shallower, as the brightness and warmth of the sun's rays permeate the scene all around.
Feeling the sand beneath his toes, he notices the little creatures that usually nibble at his feet are absent, and wonders what else about the scene has changed. Waves breaking on the shore as he turns and walks in, the surf rolling gently across his feet.
His steps take him through the shallow water, toward a concession stand across the way, people leaning on the counter ordering snacks and standing aimless in ankle deep surf, a young grill chef in sideburns and wearing a folding paper cap takes their orders.
Nearing them, he stirs, tossing like the waves and rolling over wakes up, pillows strewn about in the disheveled bed. His eyes adjust to the dark stillness of the room, and listening closely, he hears the fountain splashing outside in the courtyard downstairs.
Change is in the Air

This morning another of the funky old frame houses in my neighborhood bites the dust. A lifetime of memories gone in a couple of hours as the demolition crew clears the lot, making way for the next oversized modern McMansion, no doubt.

I haven't seen the diverse crew of bballers out on the court in the last week, their raucous moves punctuating the night air, mixing in with the sound of crickets chirping and frogs croaking.

They've been replaced by cop cars patrolling the silent streets, shining their spotlights to and fro, and into my eyes as I walk through the darkness, casual authority inquiring as to whether or not I belong.

I enjoy the quiet, the night streets, the sound of basketballs bounced on concrete courts. Change is a constant, I understand. I also know it's alright to love what you love. And to enjoy it while you can. Change is in the air.

Notes on Suffering

To a greater or lesser extent, we all suffer. It's a natural aspect of existing in the material world. When in pain, we can choose whether to inflict our suffering on others, or to let it go and practice compassion. That's a choice which is available to us all.
Another choice we have is whether to remain ignorant to the suffering inflicted on others that is structural or institutional in nature. By cultivating ignorance, or worse yet silence, we support that collective suffering. Personal suffering is a by product of existence itself. On a collective level, however, it is a compound creation of all the solidified anger and retribution that has built up within the systems that perpetrate it. 
I don't know if, or how, these collective forms can be dismantled. However, I think there is a clue in how we respond to individual complaints. The only way I know of to understand another is to enter, as much as you are able, into their own perceptions and life experiences. In that way, you can begin to understand their point of view, in terms of both pleasures and pains.
You can also do this with yourself and your own suffering. Enter in, but without identification. Identification generates karma. You begin to identify with and believe that "I am" the pain, or "I am" the history, the distortions. Experiencing the commonality of suffering without identification brings liberation. You feel the sensations, whether of pain or pleasure, but also begin to let them pass through you like waves in the ocean, with the understanding that it is temporary, like all other phenomena.
Of course, I don't want to suffer, anymore than the next person does, or make light of how difficult it is to gain the perspective necessary to step out of it. I only hope that I can do so in peace when and as it visits me, and also to stand with and alongside those who have been stigmatized on an institutional level, and with my own experiences, too.
Tonight (Intro)

Tonight the park is quiet, the ball court well lit but empty, ghosts of the raucous nightly ballers echoing in the silence of the evening. And out on the edges in the darkness, locusts, crickets and other creatures of the night make percussive music with their own bodies as instruments. And walking through the grasses as though struck blind by night, you move faster, perhaps impelled by fear, struck by the whole dreamlike nature of waking moments such as this, or exhilarated by the terror of the unknown, a spiritual thrillseeker calling out the spirits to play hide and seek with you there. And raising your arms you chase them, caught up and pulled in deeper to the dream, even as you relish the cool breeze, pausing there for just a moment between two worlds.
Looking, Smiling, Laughing

Looking at this form, I laugh at how it is so particular to a certain time and place, and how earnest I can be about playing that role, sometimes to the point of being lost in it. But that's how it works, the immaterial taking on form to find expression, to play with all this physical and mental stuff, with each other. Being born into this world, into this body, with this history, this sex, and ethnicity, and genetics, and cultural conditioning, and privilege, and karma. Today I'm gonna try and remember that, and smile at the absurdity, and at all the others having their own variations on this same experience, and at myself looking back at me in the mirror.
Late Summer (Lucky)

Out walking this evening along the dry expanse of sun scorched grass, you feel the faintest hint of coolness in the air, mingled in with the otherwise solid wall of heat hanging there.

And looking back, you see an almost identical post about the same cool air from a couple of summers ago, and reflect on how lucky it is to be here right now, doing this again.

How lucky it is to be breathing this air every day, whether it's good times (yes indeed), bad times (thankfully not now), or sh*t times (times past) they all carry their own wisdom and beauty.

And even the scorching summer heat billows on with the subtlest clues of its own undoing, gusts of constant change and of rhythms repeated, and all one has to do is walk and breathe and feel its tingle on the sweat of your skin to know that yes, you are lucky indeed.
Destroy Our Nations

Many nights, maybe most nights, he dreamt of apocalypse. Sometimes he watched as massive storms, dark clouds moved in low over the horizon, or as cities on a mountainous landscape sat engulfed in flames. Other times it was human violence, tribes attacking one another, fighting to the death, or more personal, being taken hostage and watching third person as they finished him off.

He remembered the dream from a couple of weeks back, his car lights shining through the darkness as police lay face down on the asphalt parking lot, and swerving to turn away from the scene, lights illuminating through the glassed in entrance to the store, more bodies piled up just inside. Yet waking up each morning, somehow it always felt clean, a chance to start over, to begin again, like fresh snow covering a ruined landscape. He knew it was all ego play anyway, and the violence just a reminder of impermanence, how death continually swallows up form and choking on spirit, spits out the immaterial.

Tonight, he channeled that energy, and standing there dancing with the mic in his hand, it felt exuberant, a celebration. Singing "destroy our nations... destroy our nations... destroy our nations... destroy our nations!", his friends joined in, the four of them shouting and pumping their fists in the air as the rest of the bar crowd looked on, bewildered at this interruption to their otherwise innocuous Friday night happy hour revels. Raucous, they left the scene behind, blasting out into the night, their chants growing louder and trailing off into the darkness and beyond.
Apocalypse Mask

Apocalypse cults wearing a mask
for fear of oppositions, of attractions
to the unknown, always taken to task
for seeds of the other that are sown,

For myths...
of heroic traumatized warrior savior deities,
of grown men killing in the name of god,
of a god that would kill all in retribution.

In the hope of prophetic usherings
of the destruction of an entire world,
seen by the apocalypse mind
unfurled and unready,

To let go of its tight grip,
to let go of racism and gender hatred,
to let go of narcissism and nationalism,
for fear can grip so tightly.

And fear can seem so real,
or fear can bring destruction,
but only of its own illusion and stature,
and only of its own illusionistic nature,

For illusion and fear are the mask,
and but a subset of reality and love,
of what is real and beyond concept of sin,
of what is hidden deep within.
Moon in Virgo

Symbols that show
the heart as it feels,
the throat as it speaks,
the head as it understands,
how it is now and always
a time of whispered endings,
of compassion and letting go,
of new beginnings, new adventures,
new learnings, new trusts.
And in the dim light, luck is smiling.
New Moon (Aquarius into Pisces)

Tonight the moon is an invisible disco ball against the night sky,
Moving from the air of Aquarius into water and Pisces.
Watching below, the Nagas, bearers of hidden wisdom,
And with them the children of the New Year, playful and laughing.

A smoky trail of sandalwood rises upward, to summon the deities,
And signify what if not new life, glamour, and attraction.
Moving across the waters, glowing green in the dim light,
Rippling up the chakras unto the fourth, Anahata.

Green malachite and quartz there for cleansing and clarity,
As eyes closed, you scry into esoteric darkness.
Visions coalesce and disperse in indeterminate space,
An image takes form, a woman determined, gazing out across the blue sky.

Her braided hair flowing, it gives way to a translucent heart of stone,
And now a lovely and playful dog, jumping, contorting joyously into the air.
As the visions fade into the warmth of a pot of lavender tea, and reflections,
On love, effortless and free, of giving and receiving and basking only in itself. 

11:11 (Listening)

New moon hanging there taunting,
Haunting saying what, what? Are you done?
Reflecting on his fatal attraction to that
Which is but distraction and the neglect
Of his own garden, and quickly gathered up
And rather rushed, all he can carry now
Throwing onto, into the fire and dropping
No hesitation no stopping, the bottle breaking
And his son calling, caring, the fire it burns,
Inside he yearns he yearns to speak
But listening is a such a special skill
For real for real they don't teach it now,
Cut deep, on broken glass and bleeding,
Seeing, it's 11:11 and there too, they see
Such is the nature of this tragicomedy,
That these, these angels those blessed ones,
Such listeners are they, from fathers to sons.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Biographical Writings (2015)


At the new school, beginning seventh grade, he felt a mix of excitement and apprehension. Excitement at the sense of freedom, of moving from class to class each period, of walking through the maze like atrium to find his locker, of memorizing the combination on the lock, and turning it just right to feel the gears fall into place and open. Apprehension also at the freedom, of navigating the sea of kids that poured out into the hallways and lingered between classes, of the possibility someone might want to talk to him, of the unknown rules and the attraction of endless rows of books on view as he walked by the glassed in windows of the library.
Lunchtime in the cafeteria faced him with the choice of going through the hot meal line or the hamburger line. Plopping down forty-five cents at the register, he tried the hamburger line the first day, but could not bring himself to eat the disgusting patty of dried meat covered in raw onions sitting next to soggy wet, half-cooked fries. Next time a kid named Ricky offered to trade him his homemade lunch for a hot meal, saying it was a "lamb sandwich". It sounded good. Making the trade, Ricky finished the line by saying, "Spam lamb". Played for the fool, but he laughed it off.
He quickly learned he could spend lunchtime at the bandhall, practicing and mastering the etudes, short repetitive tunes he played on cornet. During band practice, he would disappear into the music, feeling it wash over him in waves of sound, and forgetting about being self-conscious for a moment. He felt for Cathy, the clarinet player who contracted an incurable bout of hiccups when she was called on by the band director to play a solo part. That was really the worst thing of all, to be singled out from the anonymity of the crowd, and so he cultivated his invisibility.
Little things gave him comfort, like eating a tasty Zero candy bar at second period break, or walking home through the old cemetery after class. No one else wanted to go there, after all. The striking blonde English teacher, Ms. Schriver, introduced him to the writings of Don Marquis, and he disappeared into the stories of Archy the cockroach and Mehitabel the cat, both of whom experienced humiliating incarnations after having once been human. And, just like that, he fell in love with reading, with the imaginary worlds a writer could conjure up out of thin air.
In music class one day, as they sang "This Land is Your Land", a girl fell to the ground, convulsing uncontrollably. Confused, he watched as the teacher held her, among the students crowding around trying to see what was going on. Teacher said the girl had "epilepsy", which seemed like something mystical, a secret esoteric power. Later in that same class, they put on a talent show, and he gained a small degree of self-confidence performing a simple card trick for the other kids.
His father had been gone that year, working out of state, and he spent his time after school at home alone, listening to the radio, drawing, or reading. The week before spring break, he overcame his fear and walked into the library, checking out "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" to read. As spring break dawned, he brought them along as he found himself on an overnight bus bound for Amarillo to visit his grandparents.
His mother had packed a box of pastries for he and his brother, and finishing one, he licked the moist sugar glaze from his fingertips and began reading. As the night progressed, lights flickering by on the highway, an older boy introduced himself from the shadows saying, "I'm Johnny, this is my sister Lisa", pointing to a younger girl in the next seat. He shook his head, continuing to stare out the window as the bus slowed down for a stop.
"Hey, you know what I like to do", Johnny said, winking as he motioned to the gasoline station outside. "Pump gas, I like to pump gas", making a quick back and forth motion with his hand down between his legs. He didn't really know what Johnny was talking about, but knew it was adult stuff. Like the feelings he got when he hid behind the couch looking at the underwear models in the Sears catalogue.
Spring arrived, and as he sat in the gym at the end of year school awards assembly, he heard himself being recognized as Best Band Member. Walking out on the gym floor to accept the award, hundreds of kids in the bleachers, it felt like a dream to be singled out like this. He liked that feeling even more than invisibility.
Just before school let out for the year, he went to the dentist and received an unwelcome gift, a mouthful of sharp metal braces. The pleasure of playing the cornet became painful, and he felt like a trick had been played on him. At the band hall on the last day of school, his mom picked him up, saying they would be moving to Amarillo for the summer. Looking back at the band director, he said, "I'll be back in the fall", feeling they would need him, and not yet realizing it was wishful thinking.
When they moved to the new town, his friends from back home came to visit once that summer, but that was it. No real friends, only an outlier here and there, one like himself who didn't have a crew to run with. There was Eddie the mixed race kid who would shoot hoops with him while the other students were off eating lunch and socializing. And Billy who liked boys and wore a big wrist watch that stood out on his pasty white arms. And Jack, who picked up dropped coins from the lunchroom floor and tried to hide the anger over his abusive stepfather behind his thick glasses. They would drop in and out of his day to day life, as he got moved around from class to class just trying to lay low and not be seen.
He always ate lunch alone, sitting as far away from the others as he could, watching the chaos of the lunchroom, people mingling in cliques, as the vice principal picked off the ones who stood out, hassling the brown kids with shaggy hair, reminding them of their place. Walking down the hallway to get his books from the locker, hoping the trouble makers wouldn't show up, but they always did, walking behind him, saying "hey dork, what'cha doin' dork?"
The end of school bell and walking home was a relief. He would duck around the gang of kids yelling "fight! fight!", as two particularly angry girls went at it out in the parking lot, and leave them behind, kicking the dust up on the gravel road as he let the day's anxiety roll off. Back home, he pulled out his pencil and stack of typing paper and went to work, drawing stories of his favorite comic book characters and their exploits.
When evening rolled around, he'd pull out a shiny record album and place it on the turntable, grooving to the music through his headphones. "I wish those days would... come back once more... why did those days ev... uh... have to go... 'cause I loved them so." Night would come, desolate and alone, and he knew that morning would come and he'd have to face school again.
He began collecting the NFL pencils at school, hoping to get all 26 teams to have a complete set. One day in class, Louis Johnson, football player, tough, asked to borrow his pencil. When class was over, Louis kept the pencil, walking out of class. He was afraid to ask Louis for the pencil back, but wanted it, needed it for his collection. Walking up to Louis at his open locker, and looking up into his towering eyes, and said, "hey, I need my pencil back".
Louis looked down at him, baffled and said "huh?" This was the moment of truth, but he wanted that pencil back. Cocking his hand back, he delivered a hard frap with the middle finger to Louis' chest. "I want my pencil back." Louis stared down at him for what seemed like days, then slightly irritated, pulled out the pencil and handed it back to him.
The weekend rolled around and he breathed a sigh of relief at not having school for a couple of days. That was when he would take his two dogs, out for long walks, hours on end, out into the rolling plains, nothing but barbed wire, scrub cactus and occasional herds of cattle roaming the land. His dogs would take off after jackrabbits and run for miles, showing up an hour or so later foaming at the mouth. He loved the solitude, the expansive emptiness and could feel its correspondence to his own heart. Walking across the desolate land, he knew he would make it, that among the conflict, there was always refuge in that interior stillness.
Fourteen (Love, Alienation, Lust)
Alone in the new town, he walked the dirt roads to school, and learning to avoid the lunchtime bullies, would walk home to eat, then back to school just in time for fifth period. In ninth grade now, he still played the trumpet, but the braces he got a couple of years back added an element of pain onto the pleasure he found in practicing the scales and jazz licks.
There really were no friends in this desolate place, no one to let into his world, so he constructed his own, a fantasy place of love, and lust too. For the fall semester it came in the form of Teena, known as "Boom Boom", the olive-skinned, doe eyed girl with luscious lips who played in the woodwind section of band. Seconds turned into hours when he watched her assemble her clarinet and warm up for rehearsal.
And when the band took an end of semester trip to the city to watch the movie King Kong on the big screen, he fantasized that he was sitting next to her in the darkened theater, instead of her boyfriend Johnny, his arm around her miming the tragic ape on screen seeking romance and connection. On the bus ride back, to take his mind off of her he watched the other boys passing around and taking sips from a flask. When he got home, he drank a little mouthwash to see what it was like. The alcohol irritated his throat, as he shook his head, but felt a little more grown up anyway.
At the cafeteria after church one Sunday, the server looked right past him to the next person in line to take their order. It was then he realized he was invisible. And so he decided to work with that, to develop it as a mystical power. He cultivated this power at school to disappear from the bullies in the hallway, and at home, holding two mirrors together in the bathroom he looked into the tunnel they created and imagined himself disappearing into it.
On the weekend he walked over to the university across town, and spent hours in the library looking at the books on human sexuality. Whole new worlds of the imagination opened up. Delving into the Masters and Johnson studies, feeling flushed and the heat of excitement down below reading the clinical studies of guy on girl, guy on guy, girl on girl, girl on guy on girl, and all the exciting variety of expressive forms that all felt very new and adult to him.
He imagined himself taking part in these games, but really couldn't see doing any of that with anyone in real life. Although, he could certainly fantasize about it. At church staring at the lady with long curls in the choir loft, the mother of one of the kids in Sunday School, he imagined undressing her from the choir robe to see what lay beneath. And musing on imaginary sexual encounters while the preacher at Soul's Harbor, his grandmother's church, stood there on the stage railing on about how Jesus was coming back to judge them all for their sins. Maybe even coming back today to find him out as he sat there indulging the fantasies and trying to manage the uncontrollable tightening inside his polyester suit.
Sometimes he would take his trumpet to church, playing on stage with the rock band, following the lead of the electric guitar and drummer, as the singer banged along on the tambourine, singing, "can't nobody do me like Jesus, can't nobody do me like the lord". Then back home at night, on his trumpet practicing the songs they played, as fantasies of all manner of sexual couplings would crowd into his head, thoughts of getting it on with man and beast alike, heated scenes giving way to visionary nightmares from the preacher man, dreams of the end of the world, of Jesus coming back, angry and violent, of everything slipping into chaos around him.
And that's where the music came in to save him, the soothing sounds of the stereo and his new found love of records. Slipping on the headphones and singing along, "try not to get worried, try not to hold onto problems that upset you now". Now that felt right on the inside, and he really couldn't understand why Jesus wouldn't be down with getting it on too. And his thoughts moved to Jesus and Mary Magdalene making it, passion rising from where he laid his head on her bosom.
Spring came and he got the courage to sign up for track, but since he hadn't played on the football team in the fall, he had to practice running sprints by himself on the dirt track during PE class. Somehow his confidence grew, and he begin to stand up to the bullies when they messed with him. In art class, working on an ink drawing, Wayne, the kid at the desk next to him, knocked ink across his drawing. Feeling the anger rise, he dipped his ink pen in the well and threw it onto the other boy's work.
And pushing back from the desk, they went head to head as the teacher came to the back of the classroom and pulled them apart. She called the assistant principal, but he didn't care. He hated the mediocrity and hated them for ruining his artwork, and vowed to never give in, to never fit in to their world. It didn’t matter anyway, he told himself, he had a whole world inside his own head. And it came spilling out in sound and color on the pages of his artworks, the expression of his music.