Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I HONESTLY DON'T KNOW (rap) 4-28-11



I honestly don't know
which is worse y'all--
the bitchy grandiose fag
with the Hitler complex sermanizing
or the lazy ghetto-assed nigga
with the gimme gimme gimme
gimme gimme gimme gimme 'izing

Oh phashaw oh phashaw is me
I wanna elevate, recreate, syncopate and gravitate
to love, sweet love...but why can't I forget
that reject violent vile word--keeps poppin into my
poor old, poor 56-year old head
mind---24 hours a day--365 days a year...
part fear, part celebration, part do ya dare to hear
what I we dare to feel
all the feelings
this moment holds
as we roll
our eyes
and despise and go on our way
with our tender secret sweet dirty lies

If only I could sterilize
it away
but I've seen so much
of the bad men can do
All I know is
some children are born
from love to give life
and children are the
way to see light
and feel right
because they shine
like tiny stars
all day and night

Oh yeah Oh yeah...
the tender warmth of the warm spring day
when I see the frail two tender old ladies
small as children holding hands
and floating past me
in Westchester Square
It so tears me

It's a Bronx myth
I feel such confusion
when I see the hardness of the human heart
and the contusion
of feelings
that start with the babies and end with the squirrels
and the seagulls and the sparrows
(I won't say girls 'cause of them I'm afraid
with their vile violence all unfurled
riding the trains and screamin'
clutching their privates and fartin
oye--no--send me on my way aWAY
from those little trashy ho's
come what may!)

When I exit and walk down
from the hate train
and begin to feel alive again
(first recovering the numb
from all from all the man stain
and all the men I've had and done)

holding onto to what love particles that I-they-we-can grasp onto
and all the passing lives that we will pass into
and be born again anew
whew I say AH-CHOO...

I wish so I could have held onto
my Mama's hand today
Long enough, and relaxed enough
to say hey
Can you dig the color of those tulips?
 I've never seen
such tints of pink and yellow together
and did you ever taste
a sweet mint julip?
that color is obscenely beautiful
(she would never say that-blushing blushing)
and this weather...what a day to go sailing
or for a walk in the park...
can we just be
Glowing together in this human existence
'cause it's so damn dark
and I just need to feel ya
Can we just feel
a peace for a moment
for a moment-the pure unadulterated spark
that gave us life--this peace, this golden candle
so gently glowing and not blowin' against the dark?  
Can we just be showing
and funny and laughing and smiling
with the gloman
and with the love of our generations
come down to shine and
evolve so fine
I forgive you for the pain
I carry around in my heart
for the pain
that will kill me early surely

but it's okay
because I think
I finally got a vibe on the part
I was supposed to play
and it's me.
freely authentic and not quite so
not enough for the therapist's couch
not enough for the gay muscle queens who
slouch and dictate what feelings should be
shudder and reek of fear and
damned loathing

I need to wear a silver gold coating
of fine chain mail to protect myself
from the cold calculations
of the she male, he male
mailman who never delivers
on certain days
when he feels a yen
to fly like a wren
all over the streets
of 6th and A
where I have lived so long
and I'm now fading away

I need to give time
to volunteer
to offer some of my karma
to the old and the queer and the dear and the near
and the far
and the shining Shiva star
and the Buddha Christ
with the purple rice
and cuts down cholesterol so it is said
who truly knows the truth nowadays?
I honestly don't know--
I'm confused and tired
and ready for bed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


3-2-11, rewrite 3-15-12

            In August of 2010, I comforted my Mother by massaging her for nine days before she died of pancreatic cancer.
I worked at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, four years prior to this, doing massage on the family members of patients.  Before that I volunteered there, massaging dying people.
Beginning in January of 2007, every Wednesday for more than an hour, I would ride the six train from my 'hood downtown, in the East Village, eighteen stops uptown to the Bronx.  When I arrived there, I felt powerful and ready to work.  The lessons learned from massaging people involved with care-taking and loss has been invaluable.  Working at Calvary was humbling, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I thanked God every day my shift ended, that I was able to leave and rejoin the world of the living.  
While I was there, I got to see how people care for each other.  Giving comfort to those who are suffering is one of the most compassionate actions a person can do.  When we deal with our most vulnerable part, our own mortality, it has the potential to transform us, to bring out the best in us.  At Calvary, I saw people rise to their best by being strong, sometimes even heroic, as they took the elevators to the upper floors to care for and be with their dying loved ones.  Some held vigil, sleeping on cots or chairs for many nights.  I felt much of their sorrow, anger, helplessness, and also their strength.  What an honor it was for me to say to them "This is for you now, I'm giving my hands to you."  And God I pray that if I ever go that way, I have some hunky, hot male massaging me and telling me to breathe, let go and relax.
It was also often painfully depressing to pass by the rooms and see people dying by themselves, alone.  We think we feel lonely; we yearn for a lover, a dog, friends, and some sort of distraction from life's unending monotones.  But real loneliness is dying all alone.  Seeing all this could bring me to tears, inspire a burning need for a drink when I got home, or often, both.  When I asked Jill Cooperman, a social worker, and my supervisor at the time, if she had any advice for me on how to deal with the pain of being around death and dying, she said "Keep your mouth shut."  I thought this a rather odd, not to mention cold, hard answer.  But Jill was an odd woman, simultaneously warm and cold.  One moment (in public) she was ever-the-most charming, congenial, and comforting care-giver to the family members and patients;  The next, (in private) she would be swearing like a tranny hooker at all the messages in her voice mailbox, or neurotically rushing into the room where I provided treatment, eyes obsessively scrutinizing every detail, complaining that a file folder had been moved here, a box of tissues or a potted plant moved there.  After my four-year tenure, Jill was responsible for letting me go.  We had a mutual feeling of discomfort in each other's presence.  It was as if we were allergic to one another.  It was my first experience of seeing a caring social worker up front and personal, at her very best.  And worst.
At Calvary, I felt immediate fulfillment and gratification from doing massage, because I could see immediate relief from my touch.  I felt people relaxing when I transported them with my hands.  When I massaged people at Calvary, I lightened their load and they loved it.  Doing massage in a spa or gym, is being a service person.  There, massage is akin to doing manicures, facials, bikini waxing or electrolysis.  To quote one of my Calvary clients, "Waiting for the last breath can be exhausting."  Treatments at Calvary were beyond pampering.
At the end of my shift, I often rested by meditating in the harborage of the terrace or in one of the outdoor nooks to revive myself for the long subway ride home to the East Village.  There, death and dying always seemed miles away in the non-stop action of young people, artists, tourists, bars, and bands.  About the only unpleasant experience that ever happens to the majority of my very young neighbors is when they puke from drinking too much on Friday nights or during semester breaks.  Occasionally a drunken one will fall off a roof.
           Calvary provided me with a way to connect with my mother, when I became the family member helping her to cope with her illness.  She had about thirty days from the first symptom to the end.  Her illness was horrific.  Pancreatic cancer is one of the most monstrous because it's often asymptomatic.  By the time the patient feels something wrong, it's too late, moving with lightening speed to death.  It was good that the length of her suffering was brief.  She was a fighter, always athletic and active, so she insisted on trying at least one round of chemotherapy.
When I flew to Tucson, I spent the last nine days of her life with her.  For her chemo, we sat in a large room at the Cancer Center on Carondelet Drive.  There must have been more than 100 people in treatment.  Among the easy chairs, IV's and attentive nurses, I felt hopelessness for my Mother's chances, but I didn't let on.  I needed to be strong because she couldn't.  Before us on the monitor, "The Call of the Wild" with Clark Gable and Loretta Young was playing, as it did every Thursday.  Unlike the book, the film was mostly about Clark and Loretta, not Buck the dog's desire to reconnect with his primitive dog-self.
            When the film was over, a stunning young female dancer put in a DVD of a modern, romantic comedy.  She was the daughter of the forty-something patient next to us who had the same diagnosis as Mother.  For her, the treatment was working.  Her tumor was shrinking.  Her cancer in remission.
I didn't understand the rationale of giving aggressive treatment to a person of my Mom's age and condition, but I understood how she wanted a chance to fight.  Midway through the afternoon, I talked to the doctor in private.  I was crying at the time, as the difference between my Mother and the other patients was so obvious.  Her treatment appeared a kind of prolonged torture.  "Why is she here?  Why are you doing this?"  I asked.  "We don't chase people around with needles" said Dr. Taetle, " I had a ninety-year-old woman who got to live another year after her chemo."  Point taken.  But what kind of year of living was it, I wondered?
Throughout my last days with her, I often massaged her legs and feet.  She loved it, although I had to be very gentle.  I noticed that after a minute of massage, her edema would go down.  Besides her skin being so thin, there was also seeping from some open wounds, so gloves were required.  As soon as I stopped massaging her, the edema would immediately return.  Her liver wasn't functioning properly.  It frustrated me to see that my massage wasn't effective.  But it did provide comfort.  I gave her comfort when I massaged her.  Giving comfort is a kind of healing, both for the comforter and the dear one.  Thank God I got to see and experience  that I could give that way, to her.  And so lovely for her to feel it.  Even when a person is too far-gone to reap any health benefits, massage can help and heal.
            On the Sunday morning following the chemo, she called me into her bedroom.  "I've had enough," she said.  "Call that place, it's time."  I called that place, Odyssey Hospice, and that afternoon around 5 o'clock, they took her away.
We went there to see her a few hours later.  Those last moments remain so present in my memory; me massaging her feet…then my brother and I at her bedside...her telling us she would always love us both forever and ever...but now, she needed to be alone, to sleep.
Later, back in our mobile home, at Far Horizons East, I lay awake in the dark.  Around two a.m., the phone screamed.  Walking toward it I heard the last of the nurse's message and the hang up.  "Her breathing's could be if you wanted to come..."  I thought it was amazing how they could tell that.
I dressed quickly feeling numb, got into the car, and drove west toward Water Street.  Those long Tucson highways were so quiet.  I drove with the windows down in her big maroon Buick, the wind rushing in.  I felt lonely, anxious.  Would I get lost and not be able to find Odyssey House in the dark?  Who were the other people in those cars driving past me?  Were they going to work or coming home?  Were their mothers dying too?  It seemed appropriate for death to come now, like some creature racing toward my Mother through the desert's darkness.
I got there at 2:30 a.m.  There she was, still breathing.  I gently sat next to her bed.  There was no need to take her hand.  Did she know I was there?  She was never a very touchy-feely type of gal.  I smile remembering this.
Around 3:30 a.m., I saw a small movement in her throat like the fluttering of a tiny hummingbird.  She so loved watching them hover and feed on the sugar water that hung outside her trailer porch door every morning.  She talked to it in baby talk.  Was that fluttering in her throat her way of saying goodbye to me?  Or it was just an involuntary reflex, a letting go of the muscles?  The fluttering.  Her breathing stopped.  It was so quiet and loud.  That moment when everything changes.  On her face was an expression of ecstasy.  Was she looking down at this earth and all the life she'd lived?  Or was she looking forward to some new fabulous place?  I called the nurse.  We closed her eyes.  For a while, I stayed with her, meditating on her.  After a while I got up, moved closer, and kissed the top of her head.  "Goodbye my friend" I said.
She brought me into this world.  And I saw her out.  It's a gift to witness the last breath of your Mother.  It is sacred.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


(or Dead Cocks)


    I got off Eastchester Road in the Bronx, walking northeast on Waters Place past the methadone clinic and the Bronx Psychiatric hospital toward the Middletown Avenue subway stop on the local six train.  Just before Fink Avenue, I saw the little frozen hill.  It was perfect for sledding, sheer ice--dirty ice that is, with scattered ghetto garbage strewn all about.   To the left was rush hour traffic on the Hutchinsin River Parkway.   Cutting off the sidewalk and walking straightaway up the top of the hill, I stashed my back pack by the beginning of the concrete over pass.   Then I slipped on the damn ice--bumping my knee hard into the over pass.  Shit! it hurt but I could move it okay.

    I picked up a piece of cardboard and slid down the dirty ice hill, hooting and laughing.  I carefully walked back up the hill digging my Cherokee boots in like a mountain climber.  The sky was concrete grey and pale salmon.  I dislodged a fresh piece of cardboard, for there was a loose bundle of it at the top of the hill, filched from some one's recycling.  Sledding down, I hooted and laughed again.  A pretty Latin woman walked by, ignoring me.  I sensed that she knew I was playing.  I fantasized calling out for her to join me but didn't.  I picked up my original piece of cardboard and walked back up the hill.  A heavyset Latin male was walking a rotweiler, ignoring me.  The dog was enjoying itself rolling in something over and over again.  Feeling like the dog, I slid down the hill again, this time on a wide, black, cracked plastic bread tray--the kind they unload in carts off the trucks in the backs of parking lots for restocking the stores.  On the way down, the sled began listing to one side and halfway down capsized.  This was fun.

    I lay still on my back--deep breathing.  Bending one leg over the other and lowering both legs onto the ground, I stretched my back.   My knee way tender but okay.  I repeated this to the right and noticed there was a huge pile of hair a few feet from me.  I kicked at it, partially dislodging the dirty blond mess, then kicked again, harder, with both boots.  I stood up then and finding a discarded pen, I used it to lift up part of the hair like on CSI The Bronx.  Underneath was just more hair and dirty snow--no head.  I dropped pen and hair, then I noticed the tree.

    It was about twelve feet high and stood all by itself.  The traffic was getting thicker on the Hutchinsin--the air colder and darker.  The tree's bark had been stripped and the limbs sawed off close to the center giving it a weird stumpy appearance.  It was the only tree in the deserted, trash-strewn field.  As I got closer, I noticed the lines, the striations on the thick pale grey trunk.  The trunk was like pale stone and the lines were engraved in patterns covering the tree in long wavy outlines, curving here and there, running the entire length of the trunk, all around and even up to the sawed off limbs.   As I stared at the wavy lines I felt dizzy--they were psychedelic and appeared to be dancing.  I put my arms around the tree and hugged it then.  I asked it to take my heart tension, listening for signs of life.  Pulling back, at the base of the tree and to the left I saw the black plastic bag.   Two pairs of chicken legs were protruding, long, naked and curled with big pointy looking toe clawed feet.   The talons were sharp and a dull, dark cold red.  Not chickens, I though, but fighting cocks--the losers.  Their spurs--the valuable parts--removed, the bet gone bad, their bodies tossed out of a speeding car at night.  People...

Thursday, January 27, 2011


 I rode the ski lift up to the top of Mount Lemmon.  This is where I let her go.  I slit open the bag and poured out her ashes.  My mother's cremains were fine white pebbles and sand.  They spilled out into the air, flowing down onto a field of golden wildflowers.  A wind pushed some of them up into huge pillars of sunlight beaming through the pines.  There was a rushing sound as the bag emptied, moving like suspended crystals, the ashy clouds vanished then, in slow motion and sparkles.
            She lasted about thirty days.  The pain had started around mid-June.  Now it was July 5th, the tests came back, and she knew the results; cancerous nodes on her pancreas and liver.  When she told me, she sounded almost relieved, like she had won a race.  I knew from my work at a cancer hospital that once a patient gets this type and has these symptoms, by that time it's usually too late.  Stage Four.  She broke the news with a phone call while I was in Beads of Paradise on 17th St. holding various strands of mala beads.
"It's really fast," I said, "like lightning."  Then I cried, some of my tears falling on the beads.  "I need you to be strong Steve," she said.  I stopped crying.  I told her I would call her back and said goodbye.  I cried more as I rode on my bike down 17th Street toward the Westside Highway.  When I got to the Hudson River, I composed myself and called her again.  It was hot and charcoal dusty where I parked, near a huge boulder beneath a small tree, devoid of shade.  A shifty looking man walked by, staring at me.  Focusing on Mom, I listened and asked questions.  I told her I loved her and said goodbye.  I thought how much hotter it would be in Tucson, that I had never been there in August.  I thought about the desert, dying, and inconvenience.  I was afraid.
            When I flew out to Tucson, I had about nine days with her, days of intense sun and heat then every afternoon wind and rain thundering down, pounding the trailer like the twister in the Wizard of Oz.  Buckets of water flooding everything, making the swamp cooler leak onto the kitchen table and floor.  I had to put down pans and plastic pails.  Then, the sun came out again and transformed everything into a giant steam bath.  Some nights, desert winds rattled the blinds like metallic spiders creeping up the trailer's walls and over the roof.  She was very slow--on vicodin for the pain.  I fed her and bathed her.  I massaged her every day for short periods of time.  The effects of the massage were immediate, making the edema in her swollen, seeping legs go down.  But it was false hope, for as soon as I would stop, they immediately became swollen again.  I helped her get dressed in the morning and tucked her in at night like she did with me long ago.
She was always athletic and a fighter so she wanted to go for two rounds of chemotherapy.  We went for her first treatment to the cancer center on Carondelet Avenue.  In the waiting room I noticed how some of the other patients were laughing, and smiling.  One lady had lots of make-up on as if she was going out on the town.  I realized that she was one of the lucky ones, that she was winning.  I hated her.  Mom looked gray, frozen.   I was thinking about Buddha and Christ, I felt they were here.  I wanted them to be here.  A nice blond lady from billing appeared.  She invited us into her office.  She said she hated the heat and being in Arizona.  She explained what the charge would be for today's treatment.  She said this was really very reasonable, that some treatments cost thousands of dollars.  She asked us how we wanted to pay.  I began to cry.  My mother was stoic.  "You're a good son," the blond lady said.
Next came the treatment.  In a larger room, along with more than one hundred people, Mother was hooked up to an IV containing her medicine.  We all sat and watched "Call of the Wild" with Clark Gable and Loretta Young playing on a large screen.  While being pumped full of their chemo, some of the other patients were smiling, talking or quiet.  Most were couples. Some brought children.  Some were alone.
The treatment took five hours.  A gorgeous Latin nurse with hazel eyes and black hair walked us out and waited with my Mom while I got into the car.  The heat was burning inside and the plastic seats when I started the engine.  The horn got stuck and started a long, howling, penetrating wail.   I pounded the steering wheel with my fists and it stopped after about three minutes.  I pulled up and the nurse helped me get her into the car.  As we drove out of the parking lot, she complained about the horn.    She made no response. That was Wednesday.
On Thursday she had a bad reaction, lots of pain, and retching.  Then it passed and I put her back to bed for an afternoon nap.  Sunday morning she called me into her bedroom.  "It's time" she said, "I can't stand this."  I called Odyssey Hospice.  An hour later, Candy the nurse arrived.  She took Mom's vitals, spoke with her alone, then came out, sat at the table and started filling out forms.   She asked me if she could get a cold compress, that she was having hot flashes and not feeling so well herself.  I fixed a cold compress and gave it to her,  nursing the nurse.  We laughed about this later.
I thought I could handle everything but I was moving too fast like a cartoon and feeling numb.  I was acting the part of the diligent, caring son but at odd moments the mask would drop and crack, with small sobs coming out of my throat.  Candy asked me if I wanted a social worker.  I said yes, call her.
When Arianna from Odyssey hospice came, about an hour later, I crashed and burned.  Finally I was able to rest.  I sat down across from her at the kitchen table and took a breath in.  My "speeding up in time, super-Steve" mask began to crumble.  I cried and confessed to her that Mom had abused me sexually when I was a kid.  There, I dislodged it.  That simple fact, like a sharp, fine fish bone caught in my craw for oh so long.  What a relief to have someone listen.  What a relief to have a woman simply coo with loving compassionate sounds, as I let go of this taboo, unspeakable thing I'd been holding onto for so long.  And how inappropriate a thing to be saying about someone, when that same someone just happened to be dying in the next room.   Being around death forces you to your knees one moment.  The next, you're up and flying, (if you're lucky) rising from the ashes like a phoenix.  I think it's also that I'm semi-manic depressive.  Arianna said later,  "It takes a lot of energy to die; it takes a lot of energy to live and it takes a lot of energy to die."  That wisdom helped me make sense of the quiet drama unfolding that day with my mother and her last day on earth.
I wanted to keep Mom at home but Candy said it would be better to transport her to hospice to get stabilized.  The ambulance came about 5 o'clock to pick her up.  A few hours later I followed, along with my brother, Gregg and his girlfriend, Sandra.  As we arrived, the head nurse said "Your Mom's an understater with the pain, we determined that right away."  As I entered her room, two nurses were pricking her with pain medications, one on each side.  She looked different.  They had wet and combed her hair, parting it in the middle.  It was old lady style, dying style, it wasn't her style   I sat at the foot of her bed and massaged her feet, crying softly.  I had to move my chair back a few times as there was another patient behind a curtain in the room and people were passing back and forth.  I looked up at my brother and Sandra.  She was crying.  Then my brother was sitting by mother's bedside.  "What?  What?" he was saying to her.  I moved next to him leaning closer to her.  Then she said "I will you both... forever and ever.  Now I want to be sleep."
            Back at my mom’s trailer, alone, early that morning, about 2 a.m., the phone screamed.  The message from the nurse said, "Her breathing's changed--you better come."
            I dressed and drove to her in the night alone, not wanting my brother to share this.  I got there at 2:30 a.m. Monday.  She waited for me.  I sat next to her and watched her breath.  Around 3:30, her throat fluttered like a hummingbird and she took her last breath.  That little flutter was her saying goodbye.  She had a look of amazement on her face when we closed her eyes.  I meditated on her and stayed with her for a while.   Then I rose and kissed the top of her head.  "Goodbye my friend" I said.
I rode the ski lift up to the top of Mount Lemmon.  This is where I let her go.  I slit open the bag, pouring out her ashes.  The sparkling clouds they formed in the wind disappeared into the pine trees and over dancing, golden wildflowers below.  She loved this place.  She was free now.  So was I.

Monday, January 17, 2011

STORYTELLING @ The Center 1-9-11

with Martin Moran

1-9-11 at The Center

In this gathering of the Easton Mountain NYC based community there were about 50 men participating in a workshop on storytelling. Leading it was Martin Moran, B'way actor and author. He began by having us meditate for a few moments on listening and being fully present. We got to explore listening as a group experience. I found this helpful as it calmed my monkey mind and enabled me to ground myself. I became more present. It also distracted me from my typical performance anxiety. And my ego.

Moran then shared this little gem "The road to freedom is paved with compassion." This reminded us to have respect for and to be gentle with each other. It was a perfect opportunity to practice giving up judging myself and judging others--or at least minimize it. As a workshop facilitator, Moran showed strength, wit and gentle understanding. He was easy to watch and enjoy.

Moran then told us a moving story about the stormy relationship he had with his Stepmother . The story was ripe with images. One of the strongest being the moment when Moran was reaching out to wring his Stepmother's neck with rage during a fight with her on the day of his father's funeral. "A force took over my outstretched arms then. They lowered to the table and I gently touched her hand and covered it with mine...there was a long moment.  We stared at each other.  I noticed the bright green of her eyes.  The moment went on and on.  Then she spoke. "I know you lost your Daddy too."  Then we held each other.

During the workshop, we were made aware of certain tools to be used in effective storytelling;

1. Use of dialogue
2. Physical Descriptions of the setting for example, "the air in the room changing"
3. Physical Descriptions of the body "the bright green of her eyes"; how the narrator was feeling; how he perceived others feeling
4. Overall use of images
5. Lay out what happened with the facts KEEP IT SIMPLE
6. Keep it simple and strong
7. Avoid editorializing (unless it comes to dealing with your specific feelings...).

Grandparents Exercise
The group then broke into Smaller groups of five. We all took turns--3 minutes each, telling a story one of our Grandparents, male or female, living or dead. We had to talk about ourselves.

My Turn
At this point Moran asked for volunteers to tell their stories. We had three minutes each. The only rule being that we had to begin and end the story with the same sentence. The first man told his story as his Grandmother-still living, a holocaust survivor. The second man told the story of how he didn't become an architect--it was his coming out story. After he finished and the group comments were done I raised my hand. Moran called on me. "This is going to be really raw" I said. "It's okay" said Moran. I took a deep breath and began...

"As rode the ski lift up to the top of Mount Lemmon, I slit opened the bag and poured out her ashes out..." I didn't perform. I didn't act and thankfully-I didn't cry. I was a man telling the story of his Mother's last days. Three minutes. Done.

Moran thanked me and asked the group to call out some of the images. "Ski lift", "Mt. Lemmon" "Ashes" "Call of the Wild", "The Wizard of Oz". It was then that I cried and knew it was okay to do so. This was a success. This is why I had come today.