Dec 17, 2005

It happens like this...

It happens like this. She goes out at 5 a.m., with the regularity of the swiss train master, with game face, with her tail in high spiral, in scorpion attack configuration. Two hours pass. Something at the door. You open and she blows in with the cold. She's got a lamb's leg, with the fur, the hoof, the bone sticking out. It must be a little like coming across the remains of suicide bombers. The leg has a hideous smell. It's the bone sticking out, broken off — the rest of it could be stolen off the wall of a men's club. Get the fuck outta here, I say, and take it with you, but she's already gone. Her gang is outside, circling like bikers. I tell 'em she's nuts.

And then an hour later I hear the story about the therapist at the college. She's a hippy chick past 40 working with victims of panic attack. Two dead husbands, Iranian brothers mind you. She's here from Iowa with three kids. There's a fourth in Thailand. One here is 14, big as the Indian in the Coocoo's Nest. She used to play middle school football back in Sioux City, played tackle both ways and you look at her and you know she could. Maybe 5'10; 200; an immovable object and wears game face every day. She's also a cutter.

You could see that coming. She's always by herself. Wouldn't play volleyball although the girls all begged her. Sits, head down, on the hallway. The other day at Volubilis the teacher wanted to take a picture of the class. She didn't want to be in the picture. I told her, "you know it's not all about you." I shouldn't have said it and I apologized later. But somebody should tell her.

Someone asked her mother about it and her mother says, "It isn't so bad really, you should see her sister in Thailand. She's the real cutter."

Dec 13, 2005

Post Script to an execution

I got an email from my dear friend David Weir who, incidentally just wrote a wonderful piece for about what's left of Biloxi... He asked if I thought Barbara Becnel really did love Tookie. I wrote back:

Yes, I think she did love him. But how and why? It's a long story. I think he represented to her something pure, pure hatred, pure ghetto, pure black. She was none of those things. She was pale with white girl's hair, she was beige inside, she was soft and and academic and caught up in white middle class dramas and ambitions, and she began feeling a little odd about sitting pretty in her liberal lazy-boy, and so she looked around. How could I be different? How could I be pure something? And so suddenly he was there and he was pure bold and a physical presence to behold. So she took it, and she wrote the books not him, and she arranged the Nobel Prize, he had no idea what was going on, and she did the film and she arranged all the publicity and it was all B. And no doubt it was her idea to get married, although she raised holy hell when I told her I was writing that they were. She had Vernell C. call me right up and say, 'no, that ain't true. You musta miunderstood. Or maybe I got it wrong.' He did get it wrong. I was told by 3 others, at least one of whom was very reliable that they hitched up in the visitor's room. Eyewitness. It was common knowledge. But Barbara had something on Vernell and that's why he changed his story. Anyway, she got a lot out of her time with Tookie. One thing she got out of it was the sacred permission to be angry. (You'll forgive my hobby horse) She could be self righteous big time. And she did and she was. Angry as hell and no one could take that away from her. And so here were these two in pure anger and pure black and a folie a deux perhaps. I don't think she ever thought he was really innocent, although she said he was. But she knew better although at the same time she could accept a frame, she could begin to see the world his way, after all that time together. Perhaps, she really did believe he was innocent.... In the end, she needed his cause and he needed her humanity and each gave the other what the needed. But it wasn't enough. He didn't get enough humanity, not enough to crack his pride and save himself. She couldn't give him that because she didn't have quite enough herself, she had too much of her own pride... And from his side, he couldn't give her a child, I suppose, if that's what she wanted, something permanent, or maybe he was fine for her just where he was, that old truth of row wives, 'well at least you know where he is every night'... Anyway, they couldn't quite deliver for each and so now she's stuck with a legacy that will eventually be forgotten and he's free out there somewhere.....

Dec 12, 2005


I couldn't sleep. For whatever reason. And I wanted to mark this for, whatever reason. I know the man? I know his wife? I know her; I don't know him. But now there's less than 10 minutes to his execution. I interviewed TW several years ago. It was BB, his wife, I was interested in and she drew me through her webs. I wondered about this moment then...

She once told me, before the piece ran, 'if afterward I seem like someone you've never met, don't mind.' And sure enough when I saw her in the months and years later, in the visitor's area for death row, she went on a rant, saying how I'd betrayed her and Tookie. I never understood it. It was a shield she needed to show so I could tell her story, because she always needed to have that story told.

I never thought he was innocent as he claimed. I never heard from him any sign of redemption. None of the people I spoke with on Death Row ever heard that. But of course, his weakness should not become cause. His failings are no excuse.

Inside 6 minutes....

I read a few minutes ago on the Gate a quote from him, taken recently, in answer to a question about the people who have come to fight on his behalf and was he afraid: “Me fearing what I’m facing, what possible good is it going to do for me? How is that going to benefit me? If it’s my time to be executed, what’s all the ranting and raving going to do?”

Inside 3 minutes....

But isn't this all about pride? Tookie''s pride and the governor's pride. American pride. No one willing to come down and be human. Not over the war, global warming, prisoners, you name it.... But Tookie is missing such a moment, if he were to come clean, assuming he did the crimes, and perhaps that's a bigger assumption than we would like to think, but...

Now inside two minutes....

but if he were to say finally, 'yes, I'm so sorry I did these things. And whether you kill me or not, nothing can make better the horror I've created...' Or whatever he could muster. Then he could have put the system in jeapordy, then the whole thing would start to shudder and shake....

Now, inside a minute....

When I spoke to him I could hardly hear and he was not friendly, he didn't want to go with my questions, he had what he wanted to say and that was it.... But now with a few seconds remaining, where is Barbara Becnel in all this....

And now it's done.... and the world is racing on its orbit, the first light here is showing, the assurance of another day is intact, and the man has got his freedom, the war goes on, Biloxi is still in ruin, and we are still stuck with our intellect and our pride and our awful and awesome ability to forget......

Dec 7, 2005

The Black-Eyed Angels of Paradise

I wrote this for the remains of the drama club. There are just two actors left. We did it for the talent show, a wild, rucous affair. All through it people booing or cheering. We won first place for a drama performance. There was only one other performance, that a play about a divorced teacher.

(a play in one scene)

Two black-eyed angels dancing in Paradise. With themselves, more than each other. One dances more vigorously than the other, lost in trance. The other seems reserved, but also on edge. She has a worried expression. From time to time she stops and looks around, then starts again, but reluctantly.

Reserved angel: (Suddenly, she stops dancing) Wait.
Wild angel : What’s wrong?
R: It’s coming....
W:: What.
R:: (she pulls her arm down as though on the trigger on a bomb vest. They both stop dancing, wait, and grasp each other... Suddenly a thunderous explosion)
W: That was a big one.
R: It’s always a big one.....
W: Yes, but that was really big.
R: There’s going to be another....
W: There will always be another. (she starts dancing again)
R: No, but you know what I mean. When they wait for people to run out into the street or if the first bomb was just to clear an obstacle. (just then another thunderous explosion with a long echo. The angels hold each other until the echo has gone....)
W: What do you think it was?
R: I don’t care.
W: I just hope it's not another marketplace.
R: I don't want to know.
W: I do. (she kneels down and looks through a hole in the floor of paradise) Oh my God.
R: Don’t tell me.
W: It’s a hospital.
R: Keep it to yourself. (she begins dancing again, holding her ears, dancing languorously,)
W: In Mahmudiya. South of Baghdad.
R: How can anyone be left to kill in that place?
W: Children. Poor babies. Look at them all. ‘Yes, it’s alright. You’ll see. It’s alright. I know it’s scary, but you’re coming home.’
R: How many?
W: Dozens.
R: My heart breaks every time (she stops dancing, sobs, in a heart wrenching way.)
W: I know. But it’s God’s plan. You know that.
R: How many times can a heart break?
W: The number of times you can be a virgin....
R: I don't want to be a virgin anymore.
W: Don't think of it... Think of the bomber.
R: I don’t want to think of the bomber.
W: He’ll be here in a few minutes.
R: Welcome to paradise.
R: Poor baby.
R: Who is it now?
W: (looking out at the audience) A boy.
R: It’s always a boy.
W: No, remember there was that the Iraqi mother and the Palestinian girls and the black widows from Chechya, and almost that other one: Sajida, what-was-her-name?
R: al-Rishawi...
W: The wedding party in the hotel.
R: She had an ugly mouth.
W: And what do we suppose she was promised?
R: Husbands with full heads of hair.
W: Last minute marriage on earth, that’s all she got.
R: Do you think she did it?
W: consummated? No. Not even a little.
R: She was so ugly. No wonder.
W: (dancing again) Everything is beautiful in paradise.
R: But anyway why would you want to make love to someone you hardly know the night before they're going to blow themselves up?
W: The heart always finds a way.... And if not heart, then loins
R: Who is this one?
W: Hicham.
R: lots of Hichams lately.
W: This one is from Syria.
R: (shaking her head) Well, Hicham from Syria, get ready for the shock of your life. (turning away) I hate it.
W: Hate what?
R: I hate it.
W: When they know they’ve been tricked.... When they realize they will never be with the black-eyed....
R: When they realize where they’ll go instead.... I can’t think about it any more.
W: What do you expect? This Hicham, he wasn’t trying to bomb unbelievers; he walked into a hospital. He wanted to kill his own people. And why? Because of some elections, which I’ve never understood what all that’s about... It’s madness.
R: He’s the first victim.
W: Who? This Hicham?
R: Yes, he’s....
W: You ARE a virgin. Snap out of it.
R: What do they know, these kids.
W: There are rules.
R: Everybody knows that.
W: Anybody can read a book. What good is that?
R: Somebody tricked him. Some heartless jinn.
W: And that one will get what’s coming to him. As for this HIcham, I pity him but I don’t feel sorry. He had a choice.
R: Yes, but being imprisoned for all eternity?
(sounds of distant explosions)
W: Keep dancing. Aren’t you interested in pleasure?
R: I don’t remember.
W: C'mon.
R:C’mon what.
W: That’s our promise, that’s our hope.
R: I don’t remember.
W: Well you’re not supposed to, that’s the whole point.
R: What does it feel like?
W: Plaaaaaaaasure.... The kind you want more, more, more. Because at the end of it is oooooooooooooooooo....... ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh..... 000000000000... Yessssssssssssssssssssss.......
R: What’s getting into you these days?
W: If I want pleasure I’ll get it. It is written. i don't need license.
R: you’ve been abducted by Satan.
W: I don’t see him... Where is he? ‘Come and talk to me, Satan. Let’s sit down’.... You’re so uptight. P L E A S U R E... Remember you’re not on earth. You don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to worry that it’ll never happen or your parents will find out or if you do you’ll be forever untouchable.... You’re free, girl.
R: I don’t remember.
W; And you Don’t have to sew it up afterwards.
R: That’s true.
W: P L E A S U R E.
R: When was the last time I had any real pleasure?
W: You want real pleasure; I want unreal pleasure.
R: I want honest pleasure.
W: What is that?
R: The kind you get with a real man.
W: Oh God. Now's it's a 'real' man you want. What is a 'real' man?
R: A real man.
W: A hero. Oh God, don't get me started.
R: A man deserving.
W: I haven’t had many of those. But yes, alright. I guess I’d like to have a hero. About 6’2”, with lips like this (she French kisses the air...)
R: The warriors at the time of the prophet. Now those were great men. When they arrived, you could smell their horses and taste the desert. The stories they told. Now those were men!
W: Kaab b Sur at the Battle of the Camel. And Saladin, of course. Those are the ones I remember.
R: There were so many then. You could open yourself up to them, you could feel their courage and love them forever.
W: You shouldn't feel so much. That's the problem with perpetual virgins; the pain is always fresh. C’mon keep dancing.
R: (sarcastically) Don’t think about it.
W: What’s the choice?
(they keep dancing, until another deafening explosion)
R: Let’s stop for a minute. (she stops)
W: (Suddenly, she stops) Look, he’s here. Look.
R: He’s just a boy.
W: He’s a good looking boy.
R: Such a pity.
W: (yelling) What were you thinking?
R: You didn’t follow the rules...
W: You dummy. Don’t you see what you did. Look he's wearing a key!
R: You're right.
W: Look what that's got you, you idiot.
R: Where was your heart?
W: Where was your brain.... (to her) Why are men’s brains always between their legs or in their stomachs?
R: He didn’t know any better. Just desperate, that’s all.
W: Dumb as dirt, but cute. You have to say he’s cute.
R: He’s not my type.
W: (to the bomber) Hey, don’t you get it yet?
R: You can't come here.
W; What? (listening to him) (to her) He’s not happy is he..
R: It’s pathetic.
W: (yelling) You can’t come here. You did a very bad thing... (to herself) I know poor baby... You’re just a virgin like us....
R: Sure. This is the first time he’s ever died. What does he know?
W:I’m sorry... You can’t come.... What’s he saying?
R: Somebody promised, I can’t hear.
W: Well, get used to the real world.... But you’re cute. That should count for something....(she starts dancing again)
R: You can’t come. (loud explosions and louder music, now screaming) You can't come here. You can't come here....

Dec 4, 2005


Children tell this joke. There are two dogs. One, French; one, Moroccan. The French dog is a pimpernel, a fop; the Moroccan dog is like Lucy, sleak, unknowable, more animal than dog. The French dog is carrying a bone. The Moroccan dog, ever clever, says, "What's your name?" The French dog says, with much elaboration, "Pierre", and drops the bone. The Moroccan dog snaps it up. "What's your name?" asks the French dog, now miffed. "Azziz," says the Moroccan dog, grinning from ear to ear.....

Dec 3, 2005

Winter sleep

Black of winter has set in, with those heavy, long dreams. Weak narrative, shadow characters... little girl under pier; boy with darkened head rising up to catch a ball: Little kids awaiting baseball practice and across the way a gently grinning soldier, an enemy, deciding to hold fire at point blank range. Then in the hour of the wolf, it's as though everything could collapse just like that, every bit of confidence that you exist could fall in.

Such is death here, here and in these winter coffin sleeps. It's so close, just the slightest touch away. I keep thinking it's the volcano, or the hollow boulders outside the front door, something in the land itself. But then you get up and there's the smoke-mist floating above the town, darker stuff coming from the barracks, and there's the moor at your feet, everything appearing as always. And somewhere out in the moor, sitting with his coan, a middle aged man reciting the sound effects of war, long remembered from childhood.