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I finish the poem, my exhalation fading to silence over the microphone, and the people gathered in the eighth floor restaurant of the Walker Art Center break into an applause that carries me back to the table where my mother is sitting, beaming at me. A candle flickers on the table between us. She has a pen in her hand, and there are marks all over the program in front of her. I sit, blood thumping, heart rocking. They keep clapping and whistling, they’re looking at me; a hundred or so people clustered at tables around the white-walled restaurant. I glance over at the three judges who are scribbling on scraps of paper at a table in the center of the room. They are from the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe in New York City, and are by far the most fascinating-looking people in the place; a Latino man with wild, unkempt hair and black thick-framed glasses, a tall ebony-skinned woman with supermodel cheekbones and sleek hair pulled back into ponytail, a lighter-skinned woman with short dreads and a no-bullshit frown, silver bracelets around her wrists catching the dim light in the room and flashing it across the restaurant. I want so fiercely for them to like me.

Bob Holman, the Nuyorican’s director, stands at the microphone in his shabby brown suit with a fedora crumpled over his head. The applause fades. “Judges, scores, please?”

The woman in dreads holds up a card: 9.5.
The other woman does the same: 9.9.
A long moment as the man with the glasses drops his card, reaches to the floor, picks it up and turns it towards the restaurant. 10.

Wild applause. I smile in spite of myself. I feel my mother patting my back…a rapid staccato on my shoulder. My heart won’t stop thundering.

“It looks like there’s a tie,” Bob Homan says.

The restaurant collectively exhales “oooooooooohh,” followed by a wave of laughter.

“Which means a sudden death match with our top two poets; Michael McAllister and Black Q”.

Fuck, I think. Black Q is a young African-American boy who sits alone at a table in the corner. He smiles at no one. His poetry is sharp and quick like a bullet. Compared to him I am white trash.

“So guys, get your next poem ready.”

Next poem? I was told to bring just one. I grab my folder and flip through the few pages inside, panic chilling my blood. Fuck it, that was the only one I liked.

“Black Q, c’mon up.”

The boy walks to the microphone, chin thrust forward. As he begins I shuffle the five or so poems that I have in my hand, as if a good one will just appear. I can hear the boy’s words; and my heart falls a little. He’s too fucking good. Everyone will think I suck.

I don’t have any time. I scan each poem, over and over. Suddenly I see something in two poems that might work. A few stanzas here, another there. I will piece them together.

Black Q finishes, turns away from the microphone and stalks back to his table in the corner. Wild applause, whistles, whoops.

The judges are quick: 9.7, 10, 9.4.


I clutch the two poems in my hand, glance back at my mother, the woman who has come to every play, every reading I’ve ever done.

“Go,” she says.

I exhale, stand up. I watch the floor as I wind my way between the tables, up to the microphone.

My nerves are polka-dancing. I breathe in, picture the face and the body of the man I’ve written the poems about. It steadies me a bit.

I read. And the two poems, each cut in half, flow together. I look up when I finish, a moment hangs there, and I step back from the microphone. The applause comes, like a wave, like a storm. I walk through it, around the tables, to where my mother waits, her hands coming together again and again, her smile the only thing I can see. When I sit beside her she reaches up and does something she’s never done. She pats my head, her eyes squeezed tight above her smile. I laugh a little, and stare at the candle on our table. I savor the applause, squeeze every second out of it.

The judges are staring down at their cards. They take forever.

Then they come. 9.8. 9.9. 10.

I glance down at the program my mother is scribbling on. Columns of numbers, additions, averages. She looks up, grabs my shoulder. “You won,” she says.

Boys Don’t Cut

My mother has a good arm. The lime green Nerf football sails across the front yard, into my waiting arms. I don’t drop it. I squeeze it between my hands, run my fingers over the gouged tip and settle them over the raised bumps of the pretend-laces. I cock my skinny arm, bring the football back to my right ear, and fire it towards her. It wobbles a bit in mid-flight as it clears the sidewalk to our front door, the one that cuts our lawn in two. She laughs a little as it bumps against her chest and she traps it in her arms. I am twelve, and years later I will laugh over the fact that my lesbian mother was the one who threw the football around the yard with me, instead of my gay father, who by that time was settled into a basement-level studio apartment near the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. But at twelve there is no irony in the moment. At twelve I focus on catching and throwing the ball with an enthusiasm built from artifice and a desire to please. And a stronger desire not to look like a girl, on the neighborhood stage of our front lawn. I’d rather be inside, with a book. My mother and I both know this, as we both know that throwing the football is a only a gesture towards normalcy, something my family will never resemble. Maybe we both know it’s a lost cause.

One year later, as the two of us are driving in her silver Toyota Corolla south through the Midwest, to her father’s house in Kansas, she decides I am good and trapped. She lowers the volume on the radio and turns to me with a smile. Oh shit, I think.

“Michael, do you have any questions about sex?”

I look away from her, stare down at the small black mouth of my grape soda can. “Um…no, I don’t think so,” I tell her.

“I just want you to know that if you ever have any questions about sex, or sexuality, that you can ask me. Are you sure you don’t have any questions?”

She knows. I stare through the windshield, focusing the entirety of my being on a Stuckey’s billboard in the distance as we crest a gentle, rolling hill. Hmm, how interesting, they have fried chicken family dinner specials. That sounds quite good right now. I want to be anywhere but in that car. I want to change the station to something a little more easy-listening. I want to just burn up and die right there; my ashes flying out the window and scattering over the waving golden stalks of wheat rushing past us on the side of the road.

“No,” I finally say, “no, I think I’m fine.” As though she were a waitress taking my order. No, I’m fine; thanks for the ketchup, now please leave me alone.


I wait until I’m eighteen to tell her. We’re sitting together in a trendy Italian restaurant in Uptown with white tablecloths and a pink neon sign on the mirrored wall over our table that spells out “Figlio” in cursive script. There’s a rosy light cast over us. A candle flickers among our plates and glasses. I’m old enough to appreciate mood lighting. A waiter passes us with a swan sculpted from tin foil perched upon his tray.

I wait until our waitress had taken our order and has retreated to a safe distance before I lean towards my mother and say, in a very low voice, “I think I may not be entirely straight.”

There’s a moment where nothing happens. The other diners clustered at tables around us must be talking about normal things, because their conversations haven’t stopped. Then she swallows, smiles at me, reaches for her iced tea. Years later she will tell me that her stomach dropped at those words, that she thought to herself, “Here we go.”

But that night at that table she just smiles. She clears her throat and says something, I can’t remember what. I can see her searching for the right words, the words a lesbian mom will say to her not-quite-straight son, the words that she probably thinks are crucial at that moment.

But all I can recall is the enormity of the words that had just passed my lips, and the awkward combination of relief and apprehension that flowed through me. That a mighty weight had been lifted from me, at the same time that padded bars had settled over my shoulders and locked me into the roller coaster that lay ahead. I had said it aloud. I was never going to be straight.


It wasn’t our first serious conversation at Figlio’s. I’m not sure what it was about that restaurant that encouraged confessions. Perhaps it was the only time the two of us were alone, away from my brother, away from the woman my mother had fallen in love with, the one who loved her own two children with a dedication that I will always envy. Perhaps it was just the dim lighting and the noise of dinner conversations all around us.

I am 14 and the two of us are sitting together. I am trying to enjoy one of the rare, unpredictable moments of mother-son camaraderie I will find with her that year. It is 1985 and the restaurant has just opened. Soon it will acquire a reputation as a yuppie hang-out, and people will tease you about going there. We split an order of their onion loaf, a fried, greasy mess that will only encourage the acne on my forehead. Luckily my haircut is firmly entrenched in 1985 as well. My long, dyed blonde bangs fall over my forehead and hang over one eye. My mother doesn’t like the bangs.

She asks me about school, and I reach across the table to tear off another hunk of onion loaf. I glance at her and see something in her face and I stop.

A moment passes. Then she says, “What happened to your hand?”

Damnit. Who was I fooling? It was just a matter of time till she noticed. No amount of long sleeves and adolescent subterfuge could hide the thirty lines I had carved into my skin with a razor, a week before.

I fall silent, stare down at the greasy pool of onion skins and the bright red ketchup stains across my white plate. I shrug.

“Michael,” she says.

“It’s nothing, really. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about it? Did you do that to your hand?”

I sigh and look up at her. “Yeah.” I look away again, out the window at the night street. It’s winter in Minneapolis. All the sidewalk tables are stored away. Snowdrifts glow blue in the gutters.

“Why? What…when? When did you do that? Recently?”

What could I tell her? That sometime in the last month I had started to carry a small, yellow box cutter with me, in the pocket of my musty black trench coat, the one she hated. That I couldn’t explain why, anymore than I could explain why I was in love with depressing bands and depressing songs and the color black. That I had cut myself following that fucked-up therapy session last week. The one where I dared to stick up for myself for the first time. Where I thought the presence of Darrel – our well-meaning, soft-spoken therapist who wore burgundy sweaters and brown corduroys – where I thought he could protect me.


“Tell your mother the truth,” he says, his gentle tone like nails on a chalkboard. I glance up at him. I don’t want to turn out like Darrell. I don’t want to grow up to wear sweaters and sit on molded plastic chairs in a florescent-lit room at night and encourage people to express their feelings.

I stare at the floor. Darrell rents out an elementary school classroom at night. Every week he has to search all over the building for adult-sized chairs for us. I stare at the brown and white tiles and follow the diamond patterns across the room, till they bring me to Darrel’s feet, to his brown loafers that are stained with white lines from the salt that everyone throws on their sidewalks to melt the ice.

“Sometimes you are abusive,” I say, looking up at her. Her arms are crossed tight over her chest, her mouth set in a hard white line. The small burning ball of courage jumps in my gut. I look at Darrel, who’s looking at her.

She nods, looks at Darrel, then at me. “I promise to work on that,” she says, her voice wavering a bit.

She waits till we’re alone in the car.

“I think you’re abusive!” she whines, mimicking me. She spins the wheel hard, and we tear around an icy corner. She repeats the line, screams it. I bite the inside of my mouth, my hands in my pockets clench in upon themselves. Fuck you, Darrel, I think, where the fuck are you now? She roars and rages some more…all the words slide together and fill the tiny car. I could open the door, I could throw myself out onto the slick street like a stunt man. Maybe I’d survive. Tears stream hot and unwelcome down my cheeks. I press my head against the cold of the side window, as if I could press myself into the shape of the car. I knock my head slowly against the glass, thunk thunk thunk.

She pulls, hysterical, into the lot of Lund’s grocery store. The car jolts roughly into an open spot. She slams the door on her way out. I stay put, though all I want is to disappear. But it’s very cold and there’s nowhere else to go. The minutes tick in the rapidly cooling car. She’s taken the fucking keys with her. A sleek, dark Jeep Cherokee pulls into the space beside me, and two teenage girls climb out. The driver glances at me. Her blonde bob curls perfectly along her chin. She looks away, laughs at something her friend is saying. Cars circle the lot, exhaust rising in the bitter cold. It is 6 pm, everyone is picking up dinner on their way home.

My hands are jammed into the pockets of my jacket. I squeeze the fingers of my right hand around the handle of the box cutter. I pull it from my pocket and press my thumb against the blade, just deep enough so that it leaves an indentation. I hold my left fist before me and with my right hand I slowly carve a shallow, inch-long mark onto the back of my hand. The blood wells up slowly and beads there. I make mark after mark, layering them, crossing them, there in that car in that parking lot, as people pass me, groceries in hand, chattering together. Years later ABC will show an after-school special on the epidemic of girls cutting themselves. It will be just one more humiliation.

From the dark, cold car I watch as a woman balances a bag on her hip and takes the hand of a small girl in a pink jacket. The little girl looks up at her, asks her a question. I’m too far away to hear the words, but I hear the woman’s patient tone, as if she’s repeating something, maybe the meal she will make tonight. The woman glances both ways as they step into the lot. The little girl holds the woman’s hand tight and jumps on the packed snow, a steam cloud billowing from her tiny mouth.

I Am Not Dogpoet

All this talk of quitting isn’t about quitting. An e-mail from a friend put it well: It was a liberating thought, like, “yeah, I don’t have to be tied to this, if I don’t want.” Which in turn frees me to show up at DogPoet in whatever way I want, and if it’s about kicking out awful rough drafts full of late-night musings instead of time-crafted stories of love and loss for awhile, well damnit it’s my DogPoet, man. I get to make up the rules here. And all my rules right now start with “Do”, not “Don’t”. I’m glad a few of you can still hang with that.

I remember the first time a blogger I read called it quits. I remember thinking “God, I can’t do that. DogPoet is who I am right now.” It reminds me of that scene in Madonna’s Truth or Dare (shut up, queens) where she’s backstage after a concert and Warren Beatty is trying to have a private conversation with her and she won’t let him send the cameraman away and he says “Right, well, what’s the point of living if you’re not on camera?” (He was being sarcastic. Just FYI)

It was starting to feel that way, in the beginning. No, not like I had a motley group of spoiled, bitchy back-up dancers clawing each other’s eyes out for my attention. It felt like I had to put everything out there, and by doing so I was being rilly honest and artistic. Well, then a few friends found DogPoet. Then my dad found DogPoet. And suddenly I had to think about consequences and other people’s feelings and really inconvenient things like that. Let me tell you right now, if you are new to blogging and have any intention of sticking around for any length of time this will happen to you. People will find you. It’s all part of the process, it’s our communal growing pain. Trust.

So yes, it was very liberating to think “I’m not DogPoet.” I have a great real life, away from the Internet and everything. And there are some things I am dying to tell you, to tell everyone, but I know enough to hold it close. At least for awhile. That’s pretty cool. Kind of grown-up and everything.

Better Than Jim

Boy, I hope that last post didn’t sound like little wolf-crying boy making a gesture at abandoning his friends just so he can hear them say “Shut up, kid; we love you.” I didn’t mean it that way.

Forgive me the rough and tumble; I gotta put something down, even if it sucks.

The little voice is sulking and playing coy. Fucker. I have a writing assignment due for my class on Wednesday. He needs to cut it out.

This keeps happening: I am drawn to a story from my past; a weekend, a month, a year: I kick out 2 or 3 pages of good writing, then hit a wall. Each story needs a story behind it; why did Michael do this? Because he did this over here, before. One step back requires another. I should just start at the beginning, you know, drooling baby DogPoet carted around the Midwest by two parents who were gay but didn’t know it yet. But it seems so, what? boring? obvious…the memories then are paler and thinner. Everyone had a rough childhood. I’d rather just hopscotch over my past, drawn by each story. Piece it together later.

Or maybe I should just fuck memoir (I hate that word; I mean, dude, I’m 31) and try something else. Isn’t memoir supposed to be dead? Wasn’t it the new pink was the new black was the new navy? Is it selfish? Or do I believe that the only life we can really know is our own?

How aout this: Michael, chill. Just kick it out. Don’t box it up.

Really, I’m very lazy and I would rather be watching television. Kidding.

There’s another reason I’m restless. I’ll tell you Friday.

When the fog fills my head, I like to defer to others:

“We plunder – sometimes with timidity, other times with cunning, or endurance, or speed, or power – but when we come back with shining objects, it is not we who were brilliant but the places to which we traveled. Maybe there was something in our blood that hinted those places might be out there. But anyone who has ever written or made something knows intimately how much luck and grace is involved; and when people – critics – start saying how fine a reader or writer is – well, I get annoyed when a reader or a writer starts believing that and forgets how much damn more mystery is involved.” – Rick Bass, “Brown Dog of the Yak”

“I don’t believe in being interested in some things because they are said to be important and interesting. I believe in being caught by it, somehow or another.” – Joseph Cambell, “The Power of Myth”

And this bit of brilliance from The Detox: ” I’ve edited my lowest life moments list. that time i tried to make my own pom pom socks…”

One of my personal favorites: white-knuckled, failed recovering alcoholic Michael gives up trying to stay sober another day in the summer of 2000 and crawls into a Minneapolis liquor store (there were four conveniently located within a block of my apartment). He grabs a bottle of Jim Beam and scuttles like a crab up to the cashier, some hipster chick with dyed black hair and a really small t-shirt, who takes the bottles, sighs, and says “Jack is so much better.”

You gotta laugh at life. Or you’ll wither up and die.

Divine Madness

I had the strangest thought yesterday. I was driving home from the gym, all sweaty and endorphined by my treadmill run at the end of a hard workout. Traffic came to a stop, I was sitting at the light, looking up the hill ahead of me. I had been thinking about e-mails, both answered and unanswered, and suddenly I thought I could just stop DogPoet.

Relief and fear rushed through me, filling all the empty caverns, fighting for territory. Relief that was like getting to put your clothes back on after a long physical in a very cold room; I could just…shut up for awhile. I could be quiet and thoughtful and let those thoughts take their natural course without broadcasting their every move like Howard Cosell. I could just…be me for awhile, and fuck the demands I place on myself to keep posting. It wasn’t such a strange thought, I mean most people don’t keep weblogs. Most people share their inner lives with their friends (if they’re lucky), not with cyberspace. And most of us have seen plenty of bloggers come and go, all with reasons of their own.

But then fear, of losing something. Of disappointing people. Of slipping back into that no-writing state; the state of emptiness and frustration. Of losing touch with the people I’ve met through DogPoet. Of losing the opportunity to meet even more. Of having nothing to look forward to when I boot up the computer. Of being, well, too normal.

DogPoet has arguably been the best thing I have done for myself in the last year. My sobriety, which came a year before, gave me DogPoet. Showed me how to take each day, and do a little something with it; write a little, ruminate, see what happens. Don’t aim for the novel, the book, today. Just…a little, here and there. Stretch the atrophied muscles, play with language. Vent.

There’s a funny little voice that plays behind my days when I’ve been writing. A voice that accompanies me everywhere; to work, to the gym, to the grocery store. Sometimes it is very quiet, sometimes it’s all I can hear. It’s a voice that constantly pours itself over the events of my life, attempting to find a language to contain and articulate them, a way into each experience. Like hands wrestling with a Rubix cube, it spins experience around, twists and turns it, trying to make it all fit. It feels a little like madness, but a divine madness.

During those six years that I was “blocked” there was no little voice. And life wasn’t nearly as entertaining without it. I don’t want to give up that little voice. I could write and not post it; but I know myself, I know I need little tricks to keep coming back to it. DogPoet is a pretty good trick.

I didn’t think this many people would be reading me when I began. Well, maybe I hoped. But I grew into it, as I grew into the blogging community, as I found kindred spirits and heroes and exchanged my first awkward e-mails with people who seemed much cooler and more self-confident than me.

I think that thought, of stopping, wasn’t the voice saying it’s time to move on, to try something else, to grow into the next phase of life. It was a cop-out.

It’s been hard to write lately, very hard. I’ve learned not to rely on inspiration. I mean, yeah, she’s great, but inspiration is a flakey bitch who shows up late and takes all the credit. Some of the best writing I’ve managed this year has been the result of sitting my thick-skulled, defiant self at the keyboard and forcing myself, in fits and starts, to pound something out. All the writers I admire give the same advice: write. So I’ve tried.

This is what’s happening: I am slowly, very slowly, waking up to a world, one that has always been there, but that I am just now seeing: I am rubbing my eyes and blinking in a state of mute awe. I don’t know how to write about it. Words are failing me. It has something to do with flow, and synchronicity, and all sorts of touchy-feely words like that. It’s feeling, in my gut, the connections between me and other people, some of them very new but so…perfect, in their own strange, particular ways. Connections like cords tying me to certain people, glowing cords that you can’t really see, at least not by staring at them.

It is something about everything starting to feel right. It is about sitting down for a simple cheeseburger dinner with a brand new friend and finding ourselves, two and a half hours later, laughing, finishing each other’s sentences, leaving a big tip for the scruffy-faced waiter. It is losing sleep one night, realizing that one of my sponsees in AA isn’t growing, he’s stagnating, and realizing that I needed to get out of his way, and let him find the right mentor. And it’s realizing, after hanging up the phone with him, that it’s all okay, it’s great even; it doesn’t mean I’m not a good sponsor; it means I’m growing up. It’s knowing without a doubt that I am the right guy for my other sponsee. It’s ending a friendship that took more out of me than it gave, and even more it’s standing my ground, when the old Michael is cringing, wanting to smooth everything over, willing to sacrifice the truth just so everybody feels good. And it is about finding someone who doesn’t live here but who accompanies me everywhere, walking with me, driving with me, eating, watching, laughing, fucking. Someone with his own art, someone who turns it all on for me. Someone who meets me halfway on everything, who doesn’t run away from the strange shape of my anxious, wheezing heart. And not knowing where we’re going or how to write about it, but knowing enough to quit worrying and enjoy the thrill of the ride.

I’ve always wanted DogPoet to feel right. I don’t know what the right DogPoet is for me, now. But I know that I’ll never figure it out if I just stop. I gotta keep it up, I gotta stay in the game.

More Shots

Here but not here. Here but elsewhere, too. My body, half my head in San Francisco, the other half somewhere else. Not where you live; no, you’re beautiful but I don’t picture walking the streets of your city. But if it came to that, sure, why not? Why wouldn’t I give it a shot? How many shots do we get, anyway? My mom died at 55. That’s not enough shots for me! I’ll always want more…and ain’t that the kicker? I want more rain-slicked streets and the smell of wet eucalyptus trees on my street. I want more notebooks filled with crap, with fumbling therapy-scrawlings springboarding me towards the land of the living. I want more evenings where the entire city outside my window is colored a pale blue. And nights like tonight, where the rain smudges the lights on the hills, the red pinpricks of tailights driving home, reflected in the wet asphalt. I want nights where I don’t sleep alone. I want more five-page e-mails and t-shirts soaked in sweat. Somewhere between here and there we meet; some ethereal territory where our dreamed-up arms and legs lock in WWF smack-down moves, and where our imaginary lips engage in heavy make-out sessions, when not telling goofy jokes to make the other laugh. Where I go when I read your words, where you go when you read mine.

Bizarre Love Triangles and Further Fun with Geometry

Common words and phrases from a journal I kept my first semester at college, in 1989, and frequency of use:

home (2)
drunk (2)
obsessed (2)
confusing (2)
frustrated (3)
game (3)
far away (3)
hormones (3)
depressing (4)
sex (4)
distracted (4)
attraction (4)
crying (4)
want attention (4)
cigarettes (4)
open (4)
heart (4)
I don’t know (4)
his eyes (5)
I wish (7)
hurt (8)
why am I (8)
relationship (9)
get over (9)
fuck (10)
insane (10)
hard (11)
God (12)
love (12)
I feel (13)
scared (16)
alone (20)
I want (25)
friend (35)

Number of times this weekend I had to get up and walk away from the very thin journal: 42 56

Easier Not to Care

The last time I engaged in a protest was the first and only time I was arrested. I was sixteen, fresh from my first trip to Léon, Nicaragua, in the middle of that sham of a revolution; the contra war. We all know who the contras were really fighting for. Reagan was president. Fucker. Perhaps most importantly, I had fallen in adolescent, closeted, clumsy love with an 17-year old Nicaraguan boy named Alfredo during my trip; a boy who spoke no English, who would tell me stories through a language made up of the Spanish I knew (not much) and charades, of a sort.

Added to my confusion was a sense of disgust and displacement upon arriving back in the States from a Third World country, and all of our dizzying, neon-lit abundance. Barbara Kingsolver described it well in Adah’s return to the U.S. from Africa in The Poisonwood Bible:

It is impossible to describe the shock of return. I recall that I stood for the longest time staring at a neatly painted yellow line on a neatly formed cement curb. Yellow yellow line. I pondered the human industry, the paint, the cement truck and concrete forms, all the resources that had gone into that one curb. For what? I could not think of the answer. So that no car would park there? Are there so many cars that America must be divided into places with and places without them? Was it always so, or did they multiply vastly, along with telephones and new shoes and transistor radios and cellophane-wrapped tomatoes, in our absence?

I was immediately homesick, not for home, but for my exchange family in Léon, who had been far more affectionate than my own family. I spent my entire high school years looking to belong in something. I tried Nicaragua, I tried high school rebels, I even tried hanging on the outskirts of the Disciples street gang my senior year. Nothing would really quite fit until I left home, and came out of the closet. But I had felt a sense of belonging in Nicaragua. Add to that my first full-blown infatuation, and all I could think about, write about, talk about, was going back.

While I saved my money for the airfare, the U.S. continued to fuck things up down there. I had never met anyone in Nicaragua who felt like the contras were fighting for them. Everyone I knew had sons drafted into the war against the contras; they had dead sons and brothers and husbands. They all asked me, all of them, to come home and tell Reagan to please, mister, cut it out.

I did my best. I gave educational lectures in schools around the area…I had a slide show set to a Cat Stevens song (oh yes, I did) that made everyone cry.

I went to protests. There were so many that spring. After all, the U.S. was threatening direct intervention; they were going to set up camp in Honduras, right across the border from Nicaragua. They were going to save the world for democracy. They were going to save us from the socialists.

It was just another protest, for me. Downtown Minneapolis, after school one evening. A street blocked off in front of a federal building. Someone got carried away; a glass door was shattered, and within minutes a black line of police, clad in riot gear, stretched across the street a hundred yards away, like a line of poisonous insects. They advanced towards us, slowly, and who knows why I stayed there, with my friend Jenny, while all of our other friends drifted out of the way, up to the sidewalk. Someone grabbed my arm and we all linked together, and sat on the ground. I was in the first line of protesters, and the police were just a few feet away, riot sticks out. I watched, dumb-founded, as one cop struck me in the belly with his stick, as if in slow motion. Then chaos, me on my face on the street, hands looped together in a hard platic cord behind me, thrown into a dark van with others. Michael? Jenny called. Yeah, it’s me, I told her.

My father was not happy.

The world did not change after that. It only continued, and I learned a lot that spring and summer about politics and disillusionment, about feeling mute and powerless. Before my return trip to Léon, Alfredo was drafted into the war at the age of 17. During his first week his convoy was ambushed by the contras, and he was killed.

I had a hard time believing in protests after that. It was easier not to care.

I could have stayed home on Saturday, or gone to a movie. But I’ve been waking up every morning for awhile now and reading the headlines. Just when it seems like Bush has done the most outrageous offense ever, another morning comes and he ups the ante and everything is worse. And the papers and the news are all owned by the same three men, and we are being sold this war and told that if we don’t believe in it, then we are traitors. I don’t know yet what I can do, but I knew on Saturday that at least I could be a body. Someone I love said recently we are all needed, all of us.

And oh, how many bodies there were!

And while there were moments where I winced: thirty-year old chants, patchouli, incense, Joan Baez singing in Arabic…there were other moments where I felt alive and not alone…not crazy. I saw Martin Sheen and Amy Brenneman and Bonnie Raitt and Barbara Lee. I saw no end to the mass of people surrounding me; I saw people in trees and helicopters circling and tables of free organic food, with everyone respectfully taking their turn in line. I saw people winding their way through the crowd to get closer to the stage, saying excuse me, excuse me. I saw goofy hand-made signs and cops on the surrounding rooftops. I saw women climb on the shoulders of their friends, look back at the crowds behind them, and say Oh my God! You should see this.

I’m not crazy, I’m not alone. I could risk it; I could care again.

We do matter, all of us.

Can You Hold

– Is Paula there?

– Um, I don’t think I’ve seen her yet today…

– That’s okay. I can just….I can just talk to you.

– Okay.

– I think I…(voice tightens)…I think I need to put my dog down today.

– Okay.

– I had been talking to Paula about him…we’ve tried everything, we’ve had him for three years and I…I just can’t trust him anymore.

– Okay.

– He bit me today. Twice. When I was trying to put him in the car.

– Did he break skin?

 He drew blood, yes.

– I’m sorry.

– And he’s never had any bad experiences in the car or anything…no trauma. My husband and I have tried for three years to help him, we’ve done everything. And I’ve had bites and scratches and bruises.

– …

– And I have a toddler and a new baby now.

– Yes.

 And….I don’t know why I am telling you all this…

– That’s okay.

– I was going to sign him up for class…I sent in a check. Can you tear it up? My name is___.

– Yes, no problem.

– Thank you.

– I’m sorry you had to make such a difficult decision, but it sounds to me like you made the right one.

– …(cries).

– …

– Thank you. Okay, bye.

– Bye.


I found her check and registration form in the mail that day. Her dog’s name? “Boo Kitty.”


I have been grappling with memories, overwhelmed with the need to write about a specific time in my life and trying so hard to find a way into it, each attempt thwarted because it seems I need to go further back, over and over. Each moment needing a chapter of background info so that the present emotion/image has the right resonance or power. And because it happened when I was 18 and 19 and was so young and naive and stupid and depressed and hopeful and because I seemed to fuck up nearly every friendship/relationship I touched that year I don’t want to write about it; I don’t want to re-visit those old hurts, those old insecurities which today seem so…pointless. I don’t want to commit those fumbling catastrophes to paper and see my younger self in black and white. “Mikey, buddy,” I want to tell my 18-year old self, “don’t do that, don’t do that to yourself. It’s all gonna be okay. Don’t settle for that, c’mon, stand up for yourself, don’t be so fucking quiet all the time, laugh more and hang on, everything you want is coming, just not today.” But Mikey can’t hear me. He’s pouting over a broken heart or a bruised ego. He’s doing stupid things for attention from stupid men. The least he could do is help me out a little, remind me of a good detail or a bit of dialogue or a small sequence of events. But apparently that’s too much to ask.