Beauty Walks a Razor’s Edge

I once sat for two hours watching him creep up on a skunk to catch a shot. I got lost around him, the way he stole time with a naturally sedated articulation and spread it out like night, talking about politics or to whatever was turning in his hands at the moment. Taking a drag, taking a sip, and sauntering back and forth with the pace of an old man on Sundays. I loved him. I envied him without jealousy.

published at Longridge Review

…My weariness amazes me
I am branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
and the ancient empty street’s
too dead for dreaming…
–Bob Dylan

He is standing at the end of the dock with a cigarette hanging from his dry lips. Late July sun is rising, warming his bare feet on the planks of warped wood–just inches above the water. His spirit belongs to older generations–an ancient part about him that sent him away from cities and busy people, never trying to chase or capture time. Maybe it was because of the rheumatoid arthritis; he had it since he was seven and now, at thirty-five, he’s found where he belongs–taking each day slow and steeped in chamomile, never knowing or planning for the next flare up.
He tinkers with cameras and foods and clay until they make sense in his hands, creating masterpieces in the long afternoons of tea and painkillers. On summer nights he sat outside his house, smoking in the dark, capturing fireflies with shutter modes, trying at it every time he noticed the camera buried somewhere on the counter.

He embodies that Beat-look–aged blue jeans worn thin at the knees and seat, torn and meticulously patched, fitted and worn white t-shirts, shaggy hair. He doesn’t go without his “old-man-hat.” He doesn’t give a damn about troubles or answers; he likes to watch the way things move and find their way. I once sat for two hours watching him creep up on a skunk to catch a shot. I got lost around him, the way he stole time with a naturally sedated articulation and spread it out like night, talking about politics or to whatever was turning in his hands at the moment. Taking a drag, taking a sip, and sauntering back and forth with the pace of an old man on Sundays. I loved him. I envied him without jealousy. I loved how he drew me into that world of his–like we were kids again behind that old red fence full of knots and spy holes, waiting for Spaghettios and blowing up frogs.
Mike has already had his hips, shoulders, ankles, and knees replaced. It comes and goes; it worsened when he reached his twenties. His bouts in his youth were shorter and he remained somehow elastic and tireless. I couldn’t keep up with him. Now they stretch and tear, and he gets so tired. When he cried to me I knew there was something so deep in him that I could never understand.


…I was in another lifetime
one of toil and blood,
I came in from the wilderness
a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya…
shelter from the storm…”

“Amos, I feel so fucking stupid, how I feel—but shit I don’t think I can do this again,” These are his words before another surgery. I silently cry too and tell him to find the Swimlot, and that Gram’s is watching over him. He always called while in Pre-Op.
I listened to him over the phone and watched him when we were together—amazed at how this wild boy had been defied by his own body. He was beautiful. Sometimes it got so bad he’d be in the hospital, worn away to his skeleton, his eyes protruding out of his hollow face. He was embarrassed when I saw him. Some days he couldn’t get out of bed, or turn doorknobs and steering wheels. But some days he could fish with me until the sky turned navy blue, and teach me again how to clean fish. His streaks of health, we learned, were becoming more and more sparse, but when he rounded back out into a healthy body, he picked up where he left off—as best as he could.


When his wrists are swollen, he fills space with dreams. He wants a sailboat, and he’s taking me away, out in the ocean. He tells me this as he sculpts his clay and I sit among my notebooks and laptop, writing the story I can never finish. Sonny Boy Williamson, Ali Farka Toure, and Billie Holiday take turns breezing through my yellow curtains, out my kitchen windows and down my stairs. I make him tea and tell him about the cherry blossom trees in Japan. He talks about oceans and masts and ropes while creating a sculpture with his very own, private signature—a kind of howling in metaphor in the sinews of his figures.

“Amos, we’re gonna do it someday. Man, just picture it—out on that water, the clearest, blue-green water. Just watching the sea and breathing in that air. And we’ll do just this, like we always have.”

…Not a word was spoke between us,
there was little risk involved,
…Try imagining a place
that’s always safe and warm…
”Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya
shelter from the storm…”

I think he started sculpting for two reasons: initially, he was left immobile and looking for things to help the time pass (he has also become a chef, he tailors his own clothes, plants gardens, fires his pottery), but I think he also came to a hard conclusion about his situation—optimism is bullshit, you have to take what you get and appreciate it. He wracks himself blind with depression when his body gets so weak and he is so ready to take on the world. He can’t work; he’s on disability. He lost Lindsey, the girl he wanted to marry. He became addicted to his pain meds and put himself into Detox. The American Arthritis Foundation did a full spread on him and his sculpting in their magazine.

With Mike, every moment was almost captured like a photo in my mind. In southern Wisconsin, he and his family lived in an old farmhouse atop one of many of the green rolling hills dotted by islands of looming trees. We were about fourteen then, watching the storms come in in panorama, lightning miles away, the sky purple and green and then that yellow Wizard of Oz-ish hue. We’d watch and then sneak back into the brush and smoke cigars.
I remember the time we raced to my house in another storm. He had about a block on me. I ran as fast as my short legs would let me, splashing through growing puddles in my PF Fliers. The seat of my cut-offs was slimy in mud—we’d gone hurdling down the muddy slopes of Suicide Hill and splashed into Bay City Crick. It was a jungle down there. The spray-painted remainders of ancient sewage canals were broken bridges that loomed over the stream and bury themselves into the wall of the ravine. I imagined hieroglyphics and secret codes whispering to us. When we crossed them, every step could have fallen away from us, so we silently made our way, testing each other for nerve. Then it started to pour. Rain showered down through the canopy of leaves and thunder cracked.
“Yes!” we screamed, and made our way up the muddy path. I kept slipping and sliding, grabbing for vines and thorny branches to pull myself up. Mike was just ahead of me. When I busted out of the scratching brambles and woods, Mike had spiked it down the street, racing me to my house.
The rain stung my skin. My wet ponytail slapped me in the face—side to side—as I pounded the sidewalk. The storm put that yellow shadow on everything, making the grass and lilacs blot in electric color. I saw his skinny legs leap up to the front porch, and he waited for me, panting and soaked through his white t-shirt.
“This is friggin’ awesome Amos!” We paced on the porch.
“Should we go back?” My heart was pounding.
The door opened and my older sister, Nikki, appeared through the gray wires of the screen door. “You guys are gonna be in trouble. When dad gets home he’s gonna see you all wet and you’re gonna get it.” She disappeared. Inside I heard Cindi Lauper singing the theme from The Goonies. We went in and sat down on the carpet, reeling with excitement. Thunder echoed down the avenue.

…Suddenly I turned around and she was standing there,
with silver bracelets on her wrists
and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully
and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya
shelter from the storm…

In a flash of chrome our banana-seat bikes tore us down Highway 2 towards the lake. The entire small town of Ashland swelled on a hill, rolling down into the point of it–the moody waters of Lake Superior. Pedaling downhill we took a short-cut behind Frankie’s Pizza where a gravel trail wound through the dense green. The crickets and cicadas filled our ears against the rush of air from our speed. And then, abruptly, the trees canopying over us cleared and there it was—the small field of thistle and weeds that led toward the stone ledge that dropped four feet to the water below.
Mike and I had no need for words. Our lazy summer days were filled with them. He was my cousin and my best friend, and to be eleven without permission is, I think, the last enchantment of childhood. We dropped our bikes and ran toward the ledge, the milkweed overwhelming us with that bitter wild scent. The blue sky seemed to span around us, leaving me and Mike in this world. His hazel eyes flecked in the sun as we grinned at each other and held hands. This was ours. This was our place. This was our moment; and we knew, somehow, that we’d never forget it.
Tank-tops, cut-off shorts, chucks and all—we swung our tanned our arms and counted out loud, looking only at each other, giddy.
I remember soaring through the fishy air, I remember the feel of his hand in mine, and then looking straight ahead at the same time we jumped into the cool, green water below, limitless.

This last August our families camped together in Delta, Wisconsin. Deep in the forest on an inlet of Spirit Lake, all was black in and outside of my cabin at four in the morning. I woke up and waited for Mike to meet me at the screen door. I heard a whippoorwill. Pine and birch and a smoky oak soaked the atmosphere. It was chilly. I gathered my fishing pole and gear and waited on the porch in the dark. I lit a cigarette that glowed the rails and hanging life jackets in a blinking red. I could smell the pond scum still dripping from the vests. The lake was barely visible, lit by the moon and stars in hazy electricity behind the black pillars of trees. In the distance, I heard his steps crunching on the gravel. I saw a faint red glow bobbing towards me. I smelled kerosene and coffee.
“Holy shit, Ame, you got up.” His grin was a casual half-smirk but his eyes were alive—we hadn’t been able to do something like this together in a long time.
“Coffee.” His gear and thermos clanked together and he picked up some of the bait.
“Where’d you get that?”
He held up an ancient lantern, “Some rummage sale a long time ago. Works great.”
He led the way into the darkness. I couldn’t remember the last time I was outside when the only light for miles around was from the stars. We whispered to each other but stayed mostly quiet. I took in the smells and sounds and dark shapes and fresh air as much as I took in Mike, limping ahead of me in a red glow.
The surface of Spirit Lake was covered in thick wisps of steam that lent to its name. A fog drifted around the upturned rowboats and shaky dock that had been there since we were kids. The fog pooled and spread and slipped around us. We slinked into the rowboat and the warm water bogged and recoiled against the hollow tin. I watched Mike’s silhouette against the backdrop of scattered diamonds, turning down the lantern, barefoot on the dock. He handed me the coffee and poles and untied us. We dipped in and over the water. The oars screeched and creaked. We went slow, listening to the oars and to the fish that flopped from the surface. I told him I’d row. The night before, at the fire, I saw his wrists and ankles were swollen ends to his skinny limbs.
“Nah, maybe later.” He breathed in deep. A loon landed close to our boat and we watched it. Its call echoed across the black lake. We sat and fished.
“Hey Amos, you know what?” The cigarette between his lips smoked into his eyes and he squinted and rowed a ways, leaning back. “Even with all the pain, all the….shit, all that I can’t do and will never do—all the shit you’ve been through–all the fucking hell, you know? I don’t think I’d change a damn thing—about life.”
It was a common, out-of-nowhere comment, both of us always comfortable enough to speak our hearts and minds at random. But this time it stopped me. The water bogged against the side of the row boat; I could hear the blue gill slapping against each other in the krill.
My mind instantly went through a million conversations between us—both of us thinking we’d never make it—him physically, me mentally. All the tears and the begging for help from God, yet to each other, over the phone. The late-night conversations beginning with his cooking advice and my musical barrages, to astronomy and philosophy and what Gram’s death meant. I saw my best friend, hardened and beautiful, the wild, charming blond boy who forever steals my heart. He hadn’t broken, nothing was taken from him. He had grown into a man in such a short time, and I still believe there is nothing he can’t do. And he made me feel–in a large moment of my life–brave and strong, like a person of substance—like him.
He looked over at me, one eye still squinting in the smoke. He grinned, knowing I felt the gravity of this, too. He said, “I know you know what I mean. Man, I love ya, Amos.” He brought up the oars, I dropped anchor, and we fished until well passed dawn.

…I’m bound to cross the line
someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock
to when God and him were born
“Come in,” he said, “I’ll give ya
shelter from the storm…”


The Letters

(image by Squeekychic)



Erica’s in a rectangular room with one-hundred and four strangers–people sitting in a semicircle, some in chairs, some standing against the walls, all facing Sobonfu Some, “keeper of the rituals” of African spirituality, traveling the world on a healing mission. Sobonfu talks for a few hours and people ask questions, discussing grief and fear and abuse and loss and pain and where it comes from.  Erica explains this in a letter, and she is getting ready for a grief ritual, a “transformative experience” she writes, and I am instantly sucked in.
Three altars were set up, she wrote, the grief altar with a black cloth, to the left of that is the ancestor/strength altar with red cloth, and to the right, in blue, is the forgiveness altar.

I imagine her sitting there during Sobonfu’s talk, her head cocked to the side in a deep focus and secret pain she’s about to ’hare with strangers–I know her private bravery.  I think of the letter she wrote me years back about her journeys through Nepal and Europe, basically backpacking and doing housework for boarding.  She had saved up, left her job, and took a plane to Hawaii where she met Matt.  They traveled together, scraping by on a journey across the east, when she had a breakdown and locked herself in a bathroom for nearly a week in……..
In 1996 you would have found us jumping onto moving trains together near Lake Superior, back when trains still ran around the quieter parts of town and on the outskirts.  We’d take our bikes and get lost from dawn until dusk, walkman speakers wrapped around my handlebars playing Green Onions. We’d found mountains of sands before the cemetery out on Sanborn Avenue on the edge of town, and we’d climb up to the top and leap off, rolling and tumbling down.  The ridges looked like ancient, carved faces, and in middle school that’s what our essays and poems were about, huddled together in the cold little room of our Catholic School, in a class of thirteen, reading The Red Pony and writing.  We wore Airwalks and chucks, cut-offs and Nirvana tees.  We’d roller-blade before school to the grand hotel on the lake front and break into the pool and swim on hot summer mornings, and then head for school.  We followed the tracks once out past the Bay City Creek and rolling countryside spread out before us, rolling with a horizon of pines.  It began to sprinkle and then, to our amazement, the largest rainbow we’d ever seen arched over us from behind us, nearly over us, and then into the horizon.  We looked at each other and just knew–this was magic.  We did our handshake and said “Philly,” as w“ always”did.  We talked about our dreams, about the unknown, about music and philosophizing on our lives.  Sometimes we just walked and sang “California Dreaming” in two-part harmony.
She never said much about her mother and her own pain and confusion.  I never told her I was sexually abused and getting hit and mistreated at home.  It was like, when we were together, it was paradise–a real kind.  We were more ourselves and we were safe.  Safety was a thing I’d never known, ’nd to have it just blocks away changed me.  I grew braver.  Damn near fearless.  We both did.  And yet I wonder, if only we’d confided in e’ch other what was happening in our hearts and scaring us, maybe none of the bad would have happened.  Maybe I wouldn’t have broken h’r heart and humiliated her in front of our friends over a guy, leaving town with one of her best friends to a bigger city.  Maybe, if she’d only known my’fear and insecurity of men, my utter loneliness in my pain, and her in hers, maybe things would be different.  Yet I feel they’re meant to be ’his way, as fucked up and bittersweet as it is.  My connection to her was strong, stronger than any I’d ever known.  ’ knew, even then, she’d always be an important part of my life, a spirit I would judge everyone else’s by to check their w Read More

Habit of Silence

In the mornings, it was excused for sleepiness.  We’d pass each other in our own floor patterns and habits, maybe say good morning.,  My cigarette smoke leaked into the morning yellow on the back deck where I’d wake and listen.  Birds and wind and traffic and exhalations.  Then my brain would squeeze as the sun rose higher and the dreams cleared, knowing it was time for the day to begin, wondering how it would go, if it would last, if we’d changed.

We dressed at different hours–I, with the comfort of time suspended, unable to work and trying to heal–and he, in the rut of unemployment and agitated fingers buttoning his shirt.  The hush of clothes as we passed in the hallway to the bedroom, maybe a polite ‘excuse me’ to break the air.  I sought space at this time, for meditation and thought and perspective.  He sought with hot flesh and prodding fingers and a tired way to love me.  I couldn’t be touched.  The possibility of my lover touching me quite thin, as my skin was too awake and afraid.  I wondered if we had anything else to give–what was left to receive from each other when we needed such different things?  One day I had said “space, Justin, space…I need to be alone because I’m broken.  I need to take care of this mind”  and I could never tell him how my soul wept for him in loneliness.  I could never tell him he could have my soul if he tried to take it.

The year before, when I was healthy, he proposed through a poem he had written, down on one knee, his hands shaking.  I cried the moment I understood, and the ring glittered like snow; I was really loved.  We’d lay in silence together be and making love, our minds lax and limbs jello.  How I could love him then, in the floating hours of the day, and I told him through my fingertips how I loved him.  We’d laugh and touch our lips together.  We’d flirt with argument.  Later, in the kitchen Read More

An Essay and Poem Published!

My essay “Skinny Soul: A Glimpse into the Bin” and poem “About Grace” is published, out now, in the Fall 2011 issue of Des Moines Literary Journal The Abaton. check them out you can read it online! Sweet

Soul Thief

PTSD: A Glimpse into the Bin

Listen to Jason Mraz–Details in the Fabric:

Drop Your Shame at the Door

The mirror above the sink is made of metal or tin, like a baking sheet flipped over, bolted to the wall. I don’t resemble much in the scratched reflection. There is this pointy, hollow, puffy-faced woman with black circles around her eyes. I see a physical creature, held hostage. Far, far away I think I remember her, at least a trace, for a moment. And a deep saddness fills me–fills me up to the jagged edge of sweaty palms, a burning stomach, a fluttering in the chest. ‘Stop!’ the word careens through my mind ‘Jesus stop!’, up and down the roller coaster in my head. I think maybe I have to stop getting so close to that girl, because it brings out my disease–makes me nearly quit breathing–or I want to quit breathing. It makes me run for the nurse, who’ll give me a blanket to hold and lay me down on a heating pad and softly speak to me about the facts of PTSD. Facts calm me down. I won’t be able to breathe when I first lay down–I’ll close my eyes and scratch at my face for the blindfold I feel wrapped around my head. Then I’ll feel blood, hot and sticky, coming from some kind of hole on my cheek. She gives me a pill. I’ll smear the blood away and look at my hands at the peak of the flashback, and not see red fingers; no blood. And I can see; no blindfold. It’s all just my mind, like a dream. I’m shifting in and out of different planes of reality if I’m not dissociating. I have no control. The monster never reveals himself, just the shame arises and I am naked everywhere inside-out;skinless. I’m a little girl. Just another little face that cowers before a perverse hand and leaves this place. “Fear is not your monster. Don’t give it a name. We are here to show you that it’s not your monster, it’s your teacher.” I wash my hands. I am nauseous. I can’t get it away–this blood of mine on my hands.
Focus. I stop spinning in my head by saying aloud the word Focus. I can focus for about a minute. Sixty seconds of bliss as I touch the objects around me and describe them, which should supposedly help me from sliding off the ledge into dissociation. I stare out the thick window, I stare at my cot, my twisted white sheets, my balled up blanket I hold close at night like a teddy bear, my plastic pillows, my untouched books, an old journal that looks at me during the long afternoons. Then I’m speeding up, frantically saying as I grab at random “soft, smooth, hard, cool, squishy, solid, rock, concrete…” and my pace is what scares me back into a panic and I feel myself step away–in one, loud thunder-step she’s gone, leaving me empty again. I don’t stand a chance here, I think, the only place where there is help. And I sit and cry in an empty shell.
Days pass in what feels like a month. Happy New Year I laugh to myself. Just days, I say, just some days and I went so far. How do I travel so much in a few days, locked in one building, the mirage of help where the nurses sit in their glassed-in office, watching us, laughing, sharing chocolates and Christmas cookies and new diets. How many shifts went by for them? I’ve become dependent on Nurse Jo; she’s the one person I choose to show my absolute bottoms to, and she brings me back to the room in the quiet building under the street lights that reveal showers of snow, gently, outisde. At night, after supper, I stare out the glass door by my room. I stare at the soft knolls of rounded snow, imagine the buzz from the halogen street lights, the crumple of weightless snow singing to the ground. I can’t go out there and touch it. I think of the recycled generations and VIP’s that have spent the same kind of nights here. I cry (that’s about all I can do). Hard. I cry because I’d wanted someone to carry me, carry me like water–as Saenz says. But I’d run through their fingers. I cry because here I am trying to carry myself, and I’m just so tired; I have no faith left inside. No faith in tomorrow, or even the coming night when it gets bad. I realize how alone I am and that I’m falling with nothing to catch myself on. Am I destroyed? Did I blow it? Will I get her back? I stop crying and stiffen up. I’ll find her. On my own, dammit. I’ll get her back. I won’t carry myself. I’ll push myself. I’ll fight for her, because she was once so lovely. And I cry again, because it all just hurts and I have no defenses left.


          A palm reader told Nikki that you were caught in Limbo.  I listened to her guilty cry from the other end of the line and imagined you in a hazy purple space where only your eyes existed—looking away, stirring with something.  I imagined you in this blank, vast nothingness without form, waiting. 

            The night you fell and died on the floor of a bar, I was dancing in another city—wasted.  You used to pull us behind the tractor—us three bouncing in the wagon around and around the old farmhouse.  Grandpa sat at the kitchen window drinking Old Style, staring at the humming birds.  You breathed beer in our faces as you put band aids on our scrapes or shushed us until we forgot our hurts.  I searched for treasures in the dirt driveway—round beer tabs, pennies—beneath the pink blossoms that fell like snow from the apple trees.  You climbed one of them and roped a swing around one of the branches as we stood below, catching the petals on our eyelids.  I sat on your long lap of faded denim while you let me steer the old mower.  I held onto the skinny wheel, arms spanning its perimeter.    

            On the weekends that you had us, we’d wake you up on Sundays, jumping on your bed.  You were fresh smiles and morning kisses, reaching for us and laughing.  An itchy, beige blanket divided the one room we shared on the second floor of the farmhouse; it glowed in the sun that filtered through the yellow shade.  You were the kind of dad that waited until we were in the tub, covered in bubbles, before you came in to wash our hair.  I brought you a cassette tape of me singing Patsy Cline—I was five and knew all of her songs by heart.  You said you loved it and played it every time we came.  You took us out on a country ride in the brown boat of a car.  Nikki and I sat up front, Jodie sat in the back.  You held a beer and my door swung open when we drove through a pothole that made my feet hit the dash.  Gravel and green blurred by; Nikki held onto me and John Denver sang.  At dusk we’d walk through the fields where the broken barn fades and we’d weave around the hay bales high as mountains, taking turns holding your hands.  These were the years that sopped and soaked into your memory.  These were the girls you knew us by—toddlers clinging to your knees.

            You became persistent and sidetracked when, a short time later, we got a new last name.  You were being replaced.  We stopped calling you daddy.  We trailed behind you in the garden giggling your name “John, John, Daddy John”.  It was the only time we saw you mad and we giggled even harder.  Then we started seeing you every other weekend.  Then it was once a month.  Then maybe Easter.  They told us you were “slow” and “simple”.  We didn’t know what that meant; we knew you were like one of us, and you quietly did whatever we would say.  We knew you loved us.  You showed up crying and pleading after a few months had gone by, begging to take us for the next weekend.  They gave you another try, and we waited in our pretty dresses by the front window.  Mom watched us as the time slipped away “Goddamn him” and we went upstairs to change.  We were told what was wrong with you, “He’s…an alcoholic.”  “He’s…mentally slower than…”  “He’s…stuck.”  I had wished you would’ve understood what was wrong with me.  I wanted to crawl in your lap and tell you our new dad was the monster under my bed.  I’d imagine what you’d do—the look that might’ve flashed through your big blue eyes, the fall of your sheepish posture, broad shoulders sinking—you with your helpless hands, embarrassed; passive hands, scared, your brain slowly mushing into a sponge.  I learned you could never save me.  You slinked away to the bars for good, every day, at ten a.m.. 

            At fourteen I sought out your apartment on one lousy Sunday.  I knew you had been living out of your car but then moved in with your brother.  You didn’t know my face when you opened the door.  “You looking for Francis?” you asked politely.  Well it had been seven or eight years.  Frightened and nervous after I said my name, you offered me a quick seat at the little kitchen table.  I stared at its gray, marbled top and at the laundry and boxes and rotten food strewn about.  You caught hell though I didn’t really want to give it to you.  I had mixed up all your intentions and put them under my bed.

            Weeks later, I broke into your house in a fever.  I dashed up the stairs and found your bedroom where I rummaged through your things, not caring to put anything back.  I was disappointed to see you hadn’t thrown our things away.  Our pictures covered the cracked walls and the letters we’d sent you over the years lay in neat piles around a bare mattress.  You still had the cassette tape of me.  Auntie Carol later told me you played it all the time—in those lost years.  I knew that smell of you—I still do.  If filled the dank, yellow house with the lonely hallways.  I wanted you to come rushing for me.  You would’ve repeated things you’d heard like “there’s no such thing as monsters” and I would’ve persisted like a child that there was.  You’d be drunk.  You’d never fill that void.  I wanted to cry for you when I stole out the front door.

            We were in our twenties when we looked over at you in the funeral home.  Your lashes were long and waxen.  Your eyes bulged beneath their lids.  Your large hands with the bitten finger nails were gray.  Random thoughts shot through my mind in that cold room where they released all of the alcohol from you.  As your children, we were to go through your house and choose what we wanted.  They gave us your address and it took us to a different side of town, near the lake.  This place was hollow and empty aside from the trash.  No food, no laundry basket, no towels.  Old Style sat warm in the refrigerator.  The same clothes you wore when we were little still hung in the closet, reeking of you.  I kept a shirt.  An old, beige blanket was nailed up over the window.  Letters were found here and there in the laundry and newspapers across the floor.  I searched for treasures—keepsakes.  Beer tabs and pennies.

            You called me Salt because of my white-blond hair.  Nikki was Pepper.  Jodie was Paprika.  “I love yous’, I love yous girls” you used to always say.  You never tried to teach me to be tough—you always let me cry until I was better.  So alone, so alone, and did you realize that in the end?  Did you feel it in those short hours before you were drunk again?  Did your brain sop all that away?  The bartenders said you carried pictures of us three in your wallet and showed us to them every day, bragging about where we worked and how we were doing.  Somehow you kept up on us.  Nikki can’t stop holding your shirts.  She shouldn’t have paid the five bucks to the gypsy.