Readings

While tomorrow we will spend half of the time talking about how loss is sometimes a good thing, loss is generally something with associate with distress or unhappiness. 

I have always loved the piece below, by Robert Vaughan, for its explosive subtlety, nostalgia, and raw take on having one’s purity stolen.

Too Much Oxygen

I played tuba by default. None of the other brass players would switch. Something about the aperture. The tuba was huge, a lot to carry on/off a bus, and forget about placing it overhead. We didn’t have overheads anyhow, this was the 70s. The Waltons. Gas lines. Leisure Suits. This was the summer I was raped.

Tuba was familiar, had the same exact fingering as the trumpet valves, which I’d 

started in grade school. Mom wouldn’t let me practice in the house, said it rattled our screen windows. I’d sit on our back patio blowing bass notes toward our cow pasture. They’d stare at me, chewing their cud. Probably wondering when I’d stop making that awful racket. I like cows. They’re peaceful.

Strangers stopping at our fruit and vegetable stand got an earful while they looked for a ripe cucumber. That year the word “stranger” upped a notch. Maybe two.

In 8th grade, I switched to baritone horn. Again, the fingering was familiar, and blowing that tuba had been making me pass out. Too much oxygen. Our band leader, Mr. Marks said, “We’ll have to do something about that!” 

When he placed his hand on my shoulder, I flinched.

Holy Hell, right?

And this piece is pure gold, for so many reasons:

Here we have loss, quirk, humor, satire and so much more, all told in enthralling taut space:

Here is an amazing piece about loss (of many things), a yet a sense of redemption. Notice the spin on Dr. Seuss’s, “All The Places You Will Go”:

Cynthia Atkins @ Sheila-Na-Gig online

THE PLACE OF NO RETURN


When you put the headphones on, you see all
the roads compiled in your shoes. They follow
you to the places you will cease to go—First kiss,
tiny head pronouncing itself from your uterus.
Over here, on a large movie screen, a silhouette
of a couple embracing. The woman has vintage hair
and lipstick. Rape, your mother never spelled
it out—How can something be without a word for it?—
Never again play hopscotch or know yourself
as a virgin. Thrown on a bed, like a stuffed toy.
Folded maps and billboards sent us in the wrong direction.
Girls, you don’t own your own property, or your body.
Wars are started for no more than a pebble
being thrown on the wrong side
of history. The seasons turn like little girls
doing cartwheels. You could never do one,
even though you tried and tried in fields
and parking lots. There’s a silhouette of a couple
being pixelated on a large movie screen—
Out of gas, American cars are parked, teenagers
giving hickeys in crewneck sweaters, crooning
at black and white movies on the tiered
brick of bombed-out buildings.

This is beautiful and scary and thoughtful, with a shotgun blast last line:

https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/522/fear-and-love

Dorianne is my favorite poet ever, and I was lucky enough to meet her several years ago at AWP. There’s nothing of hers that doesn’t jolt me.

Death Comes to Me Again, A Girl

Death comes to me again, a girl in a cotton slip.
Barefoot, giggling. It’s not so terrible she tells me,
not like you think, all darkness and silence.

There are wind chimes and the smell of lemons.
Some days it rains. But more often the air
is dry and sweet. I sit beneath the staircase
built from hair and bone and listen
to the voices of the living.

I like it, she says, shaking the dust from her hair,
especially when they fight, and when they sing.

by Dorianne Laux

Abschieds Symphony
Dorianne Laux

Someone I love is dying, which is why,
when I turn the key in the ignition
and back the car out of the parking space
in the underground garage, and the radio
comes on, sudden and loud, something
by Haydn, a diminishing fugue, and maneuver
the car through the dimly lit tunnels
with their low ceilings, following the yellow arrows
stenciled at intervals on the gray cement walls,
I think of him, moving slowly through the last
hard days of his life and I can’t stop crying.
When I arrive at the toll gate I have to make myself
stop thinking as I dig in my pockets for the last
of my coins, turn to the attendant, indifferent
in his blue smock, his white hair curling like smoke
around his weathered neck, and say Thank you,
like an idiot, and drive into the blinding midday light.
Everything is hideously symbolic,
and everything reminds me of cancer:
the Chevron truck, its rounded underbelly
spattered with road grit and the sweat
of last night’s rain, the dumpster
behind the flower shop, its sprung lid
pressing down on dead wedding bouquets—
even the smell of something simple, coffee drifting
from the open door of a cafe and my eyes
glaze over, ache in their sockets.
For months now all I’ve wanted is the blessing
of inattention, to move carefully from room to room
in my small house, numb with forgetfulness.
To eat a bowl of cereal and not imagine him,
scrubbed thin and pale, unable to swallow.
How not to imagine the tumors
ripening beneath his skin, flesh
I have kissed, stroked with my fingertips,
pressed my belly and breasts against, some nights
so hard I thought I could enter him, open
his back at the spine like a door or a curtain
and slip in like a small fish between his ribs,
nudge the coral of his brain with my lips,
brushing over the blue coils of his bowels
with the fluted silk of my tail.
Death is not romantic. He is dying,
no matter how I see it, no matter
what I believe, that fact is stark
and one dimensional, atonal,
a black note on an empty staff.
My feet are cold, but not as cold as his,
and I hate this music that floods
the cramped insides of my car, my head,
slowing the world down with its
lurid majesty, transforming everything I see
into some sort of memorial to life,
no matter how ugly or senseless—
even the old Ford in front of me,
its battered rear end thinning to scallops of rust,
pumping black classical clouds of exhaust
into the shimmering air— even the tenacious
nasturtiums clinging to a fence, vine and bloom
of the insignificant, music spilling
from their open faces, spooling upward, past
the last rim of blue and into the still pool
of another galaxy, as if all that emptiness
were a place of benevolence, a destination,
a peace we could rise to.

Look what Poe does below, slaying monsters and personal demons, in so few words…

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were—I have not seen

As others saw—I could not bring

My passions from a common spring—

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow—I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone.

Edgar Allan Poe

Here’s a list of examples, all of which would make for compelling stories should you choose to mine from them:

Loss of…

Youth

Virginity (when, where, who, why then?) 

Health

Friendship (what happened to trigger the demise?) 

Marriage

A cherished heirloom or possession

Confidence (in someone close to you, or even loss of confidence in yourself regarding your ability to no longer do _____?)

Your child

A friend’s child

A home due to fire or flood

Good relationship with a relative (why?)

Trust (in your mate, your child, your teacher, pastor, coach, mentor