"Protect Me You" excerpt*
There’s something I can’t see – a helicopter behind all the trees and everything. It’s a lazy description but there’s not much to say. All it is is sound and then it’s gone. But you’ve just fallen down on the grass. I thought this would be a nice place to sit in the afternoon. The cat shows up, black, looking out. When I’m surrounded by trees, a condition I’ve sought out pretty persistently throughout my life I think the thing I might like the most about them is this whisper like all the hair of the world passing through the tunnel of one single breath – if that is a form of percussion. This irregular hiss of trees and wind. I think it is my mother. And I am her son, and you are my dog.
Our relationship is part discomfort & humiliation and part devotion. Oh once upon a time I wanted a dog exactly as much as I wanted to be alive. Maybe I didn’t even want a dog then. I wanted to say I was alive. Even to be a dog would be enough and so if I could be seen wanting one and could begin asking for it incessantly -- if I could summon up asking in every possible manner. Please. Leaving notes under pillows and toilet seat covers. Did I want a dog, really. No I was a kid who was desperate to be seen in a state of desire & supplication. That was many years ago. I wanted to already be my yes. A positive child in a state of knowing & reaching out. Not for myself but towards a friend. The child was denied. In the manner of my family they said yes and then they said no. Somewhere there is a picture of this. A little boy in bangs and a plaid cotton shirt. (I remember it was red but the picture was taken with my father’s Polaroid land camera which only took black & white photos then which added to the beauty of them because the past is so often a place whose colors are only in my mind. How hard it would be to be a movie star. To be in full color in front of everyone. To be applauded and owned. Isn’t that like being a very good dog. You’re lashing out at photographers who are adamant about capturing you, your every movement again and again. I admit I’ve wanted to be a movie star to be seen in that disgraceful and hungry way – the buttered toast of everyone. There I am with my beautiful smile. A big piece of bread. Angry, covering my face. I held my dog in the black and white world and I knew that this was the moment I had wanted so keenly. To be still, to be fixed, to be sad. I was just like a little prayer card holding my dog. I would never know myself again as clearly. Did that dog go on to her death when we returned her to the ASPCA after that one long crying night that disturbed my mother to no end. A tree will push this way and that be permanent in its breath of time. It’s hardly the color it is, a white pole, some green some red. I would think a tree would know exactly what it was and be so peaceful. As long as she’s breathing a dog is not at rest. So I was a child who wanted a dog. I became myself. I certainly wasn’t thinking I wanted a dog the day we met. I was watching the rollers turn. I mean time. You have to touch on something repeatedly but what could it be? How could that happen if time was your problem. What could you touch?
That’s why I’m a poet. Even in the bathtub as a child I was syncopating my blubs because I didn’t know what to do with the light and the wetness and my mother and when would it stop. I had a horror of life’s never endingness which made me really hate art. Its spectacles. Rodeos. Circuses. People skating around on ice. And in the world on ponds. My feet hurt. And look -- all the trees have lost their leaves and are black. Isn’t it time to go in? It seems like the people around me wanted to do happy things and a child is supposed to be a little dog and bark happily in response – at the ice & the trees & the day. And now here it is all around us.
This morning I was reading in the paper how the governor of New Jersey a secret gay man had hired a poet of all the ludicrous persons on earth to be his director of homeland security. And then the poet realized the governor wanted him. How unabashedly corrupt of a governor to entice a total fool – a poet – practically a clown’s occupation to take care of the people of a state. The state of New Jersey at that. The governor wanted the poet to hold him and love him and kiss his toes. Possibly the governor wanted to exercise his dominance over the poet shoving his penis in the poet’s butt. I had already heard parts of this story, mostly about the governor’s secret gayness, but it seems like they saved this one tiny detail for the end. The fact that the young man was appointed to a position in which he could only reveal his incompetence – who could blame him for that. He was young after all. But the later, more laughable tidbit. Like the room stopped laughing and then the little dog lifts its butt and poops. Homeland security! How could a poet do that. How could a poet do that. Twice a fool. And twice the governor’s crime.
And speaking of such – now that we’ve seen really good photos of how really bad it was in New Orleans and we’ve seen also that even the man in charge there, Brownie, knew about horses, not safety, there were problems really much bigger than his unknowing, the unknowing is always getting larger, and we’ve looked at them all publicly together, and realize that there are always people of greater authority equally incompetent people like the president who owned a baseball team and laughed publicly at a woman, Aileen, he whinnied at her who was being sent (by him) just then to the electric chair – he mocked her.
And supposedly when he was governor, he actually improved schools that was his big claim but now we’ve learned that in fact the books were cooked, that’s all. And the schools got even worse under him and when he was a kid he used to blow up squirrels and he farts in front of his interns today – kids who went to good schools and studied hard – I’m not particularly impressed by those leadership types living or dead, maybe if one gets shot or mugged you see the kid’s picture in the paper and think – what a shame he or she got good grades. But say he survives - winds up delivering papers to the oval office and there’s the president laughing & farting. And you tried hard & he hadn’t and now he’s your boss and you’ve got to smell his farts. You’re a dog.
The final insult to everyone was that what little New Jersey had to protect itself with was a poet. There’s a little red up in the trees. And my dog wants to go upstairs. And I probably should let her have her way. Because she is dying.
Not only are her legs stiff but her joints are swollen and covered with sores. I don’t have another life partner. It’s almost five decades after the perfect photograph of my desire and because she’s pacing all over the house and slobbering her food the ants are swarming around her like candy. She’s a sweet dying clump. Today is the day when summer turns into fall. Surely the light is shorter or longer today. My planet is in some angle to the sun that people say this is September a beautiful month when it’s not too hot possibly the sweetest time of the year. There are already waves and waves of what I am saying. I’ve set something in motion I can return to again and again. Anywhere. Dogs begin barking. You have never been a barker unless you were left outside a café tied to a post, then you yelped like hell. You like company.
I do too. I’ve discovered I’m an essentially social person. I like to sit in groups, or move with them. I like when they all decide to go see some art or celebrate the number of years a person’s been on the planet. I even like when they all get loaded in honor of that. Though I get out of the room fast. I go for the rebounding energy of heys and hugs and awkward kisses and the opportunity to raise my flag and see it light up in your eye. Your flag tells me where I want to go next. It’s like the world I live in is a field of flags whapping and waving and I want to see them all waving. I want to stand in the crowd or the small group. I like the small and large crowds that talk about how they feel. Who listen to one another, who let the collective listening and talking build up a head of swarming energy that fills and delights us. These are actually the groups that showed me that I do like groups. I like to be alone. But then I need to talk to someone. I like God. When I was a child I was taught that there was someone listening and I chanced tiny hellos that frequently felt empty but longer conversations often silences felt like I was sitting in an enormous radio, like I had big earphones on when I felt separated from the world but turned into this show. And that’s where you came in. Whether you listen or not, you’re in there too. My dog. You’re a part of the great silent show of this morning’s sun. Turns out it was the most even day of the year, one of the two when dark and light counter balance each other. I have a round board in my house with balls underneath and I climb on while I’m waiting for water to boil or trying to escape the pressure inside, not God but a kind of weather I inhabit & control. I think it comes from Ireland which is why I feel I need to live there for a few years just to understand the minerals and substances that spawned me. I come from Poland too but I live with Poland. This is Poland. Ireland is the mystery, Ireland is gone but like magic, it calls me home. I get on the board in my house it’s in the kitchen so there’s a square window. When I was a child we lived across the street from the ocean. It was a perfect spot. I learned to make sandwiches for myself in that house. That was adolescence. Squeezing a pepper and making it spurt. Eating my own food with you. In the sun. At last my life had begun. I had one job which was to do the dishes after dinner with my young arms and there was a stone church outside the window its bell. Sounds spreading out and landing in the marsh.
Up on my board I look out the window in my kitchen. That animal glance is enough. To connect me to the first suns, the first light and jobs. To be in and out within the reach of square light. The round board at first seeks to confound me. One orientation is pure reaching forward so you attempt to not tip yourself, not quite jerking back but asking a wave not to curl and you beg by little movements of your hip. Another, the side to side orientation demands that you use some bell inside your crotch to ring in the middle so to speak and there is a glorious feeling of hip no dick sway it makes me want to dance, and my calves planted and working, working continually. I discovered a new direction the other day I mean I had always been aware that the board made me TALL. It was simply that and there were people I wanted to be tall around and I mostly accomplish that with boots but you know boots aren’t really for walking they’re for promenading so you’re going around in stilts in a way. You won’t fall but when you think about them, and for all the pleasure of being a little higher the tradeoff is your own absence from presence. You’re losing your own fealty to the ground. Which can’t be ignored. You lose your earth for your sky. When I’m on the board in my kitchen, when I get still, just for a click I am high – I think oh. . .
* I began writing about her (in earnest) while she was dying in San Diego and I realized I would become her/our memoirist. This excerpt from that memoir-in-progress was originally in "The Empty Page: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth" since “Protect Me You” is the title of one of their songs and the feeling seemed right to me. I was having dinner in New York one night with Kim and Thurston (of Sonic Youth) and Matias Viegener, writer friend from LA and I was talking about Rosie dying and both Kim and Matias suggested an animal communicator they had heard of, Dawn Allen, who might be worth it for me to speak to since I had become very curious about what was keeping Rosie alive and what she wanted. Dawn was incredible and our conversations with Rosie through Dawn fed the present of Rosie and the future of this memoir. Anyone interested in what their own animal thinks and feels should contact Dawn's Animal Connection. Link: http://www.dawnallen.org