To whom it may concern: the reading at City Lights this Sunday in which I will be a participant starts at 5 pm and not 7:30 as I had thought and broadcast.




Darcie was my best friend at school and she was in the stratosphere. She had been chosen to read the part one of the ghosts in Lincoln in the Bardo on stage . George Saunders, the author himself, would read Lincoln. She had read the book even before it won the big prizes. She put a proud-humble tone in her voice when she told people this. Her voice often sounds as if she is auditioning for books on tape, hyper real. It’s intimidating and attractive and of course she knows it. She knows everything.

The other girls in our class envied us, I was fairly sure, that we were so close, but being around Darcie when she was swanning around this way was not particularly thrilling. I thought that since Mr. Saunders had spent most of the day at our school talking to the lit classes, the luster would dim, but the opposite was true. Darcie had maybe six lines at most, one of the obscure ghosts in the cemetery who natter in the background. That’s pretty much all the ghosts in the book do, stuck perpetually in the Bardo which as Mr. Saunders explained is a kind of vestibule between life on this earth and the serious hereafter.

Vestibule. A chill word. It has a religious quality. There’s a vestibule at St. Dominic’s where my grandfather’s funeral was held. I hope my grandfather is in some Bardo where they play pinochle all day. He would like that.

The ghosts in the book get agitated when Abraham Lincoln comes into the cemetery at night and goes into the crypt where his son is buried and lifts his son out of the casket and holds him. It’s revolting but more heartbreaking than anything. I don’t remember if the ghosts know he is the president or just a big lunk overcome by grief walking in the rain. There seems to be a bunch of rules in the Bardo I never did sort out. Lincoln’s son Willie keeps getting enmeshed in vines and the other ghosts, the ones who talk most, feel compelled to keep hacking him free. This vinous development makes for some tension but I couldn’t decide if the vines were consistent with the Bardo idea or just a convenience of the author, Mr. Saunders. The story doesn’t have a sniff of a plot otherwise.

The part of Willie, had anyone asked, was the one I would have liked to play, even though he’s a boy. All of the important ghosts are male, which seems to me a lack of imagination.

I don’t intend to disparage Mr. Saunders. He seemed playful, like my Uncle Rich, but in an adult way. Darcie kept prodding me, go up and talk to him but I didn’t know what to say. I could, I suppose, have asked about the vines but I didn’t think about that until later, naturally. Or why the characters were all such hapless males.

During the break after third period, after she had been singled out to be a reader, Darcie proclaimed, “He’s a total mensch.” I made my guess where mensch falls on the Venn Curve of attraction. South of God and north of Benedict Cumberbatch. Rare company however you situate him.

The reading went flawlessly. Mr. Saunders singled Darcie out for praise. Again. He must have sensed a vacuum when he got in its presence. Her diction was so crisp that any ghost stuck in a nearby Bardo could make out her plaintive words. And there may have been more than a few, since there were cemeteries all over this side of town a hundred years ago, a Catholic cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, a Protestant cemetery, and I suppose one for heathens.

I wish I had told Mr. Saunders that fact; he would have been interested. That when city got bigger, the living folk rousted the morbid rabble from their eternal slumbers and hauled them off to Colma. Colma: one ‘l’ from “coma,” a terrestrial Bardo between here and Silicon Valley. And he would have said something like, “The last frontier. Nobody left to steal land from but the dead.”

I would have mentioned how they didn’t get everybody, every body. A couple excavating for a wine cellar found a child’s coffin with a child in it. A girl. Unrotted because the coffin was so airtight, so they said. Lame. Fruit in tupperware gets mold in a week, even in the refrigerator. And meat turns color. They sampled DNA and found she had, has, a distant cousin in the Bay Area. I don’t know why, what they expected him to do with her.

I would have told him how in Buena Vista Park gravestones line the pathways. Here lies…the names too abraded to make out.

After the reading people lined up all the way to the back of the hall to have their books signed which didn’t surprise me. Clutching her inscribed book Darcie floated up the steps from the auditorium like the Blessed Virgin in her Glorious Assumption.

I admit, I was jealous.

Outside it was dark and there was a drizzle falling, punctuated by pancake drops from magnolia leaves. I thought of our pledge; Best Friends Forever. Lies. We weren’t going to make it to junior year.

She offered to share an Uber but I decided to walk home, knowing Dad would be frantic about my whereabouts. Bingo, he called the minute the Uber drove off. I didn’t pick up; a little sadistic, verily. Misery loves company. In my defense: Dad would have been a distraction.

I have an app called Valediction. I won’t tell you where I got it nor all that it does. I will tell you it can shift your emotions around like tectonic plates. I got under an awning, out of the suddenly pelting rain, and tapped into it.

A gangly man, hunched against the rainfall in a black overcoat and scuffed boots came toward me and when he got near he slowed down and gave me a long look. His bony cheekbones put his eyes into deep shade. His beard was tufted black and white, integrated.

He didn’t stop, thank God. Maybe seeing a wet, defenseless girl he was thinking about being a good Samaritan and concluded I was getting assistance on my own. Am I not still alive? Not all stories end in blood and rampage. There are comedies and romances.

He had rounded the corner on Jackson Street before the obvious dawned on me: it was President Lincoln. No question. I hurried over to Jackson Street but by then he had disappeared. I didn’t look for him too carefully. I wouldn’t have known what to say to him either. That I was sorry about Willie? I wished so much that Darcie had been with me and seen him too.

But she wasn’t and she wouldn’t be. Darcie Morgan. Fata morgana.

I tapped back into Valedictions, subhead Discard. The dropdown menu ranged alphabetically from Adieu to Viaticum. I chose Swan Song for its whiff of high art and wet feathers. I changed pronouns and sprinkled emoticons like graffiti and texted her, feeling her phone vibrate on her right thigh in the backseat of her Uber, even before it did.

The Hendersons Will All Be There

when Mr. Kite flies through the air…

I hope you will be too.

Upcoming reading from Hapless Males

Alley Cat Books,  3036 24th St., November 30, 7 p.m.

City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus, December 10, 7:30 p.m.


We Put the Christ in Christies

A Leonardo Sells for an Auction-High 450.3 Million Times, 11-15

Jesus. It’s so obvious. Irony is its own planet. What was that bit about the camel and the eye of a needle?

A disbeliever, airing doubts about the painting’s authenticity, wrote that this Christ doesn’t look like he could save a seat on the bus, much less save the world.

I had a similar reaction a few weeks ago after waiting in line for 45 minutes in Dogpatch for a view through a picket of cellphones. This was the guy who was going to do the heavy lifting? Save the world?

Taking it on face value is a idiotic mistake. It is a devotional painting. It’s not him, it’s him in us. As such, he becomes credible, this gowned and glowing young man with his ringlets. Haven’t we had it with hulking warriors?

But that could be an illusion. Maybe it is not devotional. Maybe it was, from the get-go, a transaction, a commission, the first contribution to the Everest of loot. HIGHEST PRICE EVER!

Adding to its cachet in a roundabout way is the somewhat dubious provenance. Maybe it’s a knockoff from the atelier. Christies only guarantees its true genuine Leonardo-ness for five years from sale date. That’s in the small print .Will I have to forfeit the glow I got from having stood in its presence when the doubters have sway?

Maybe the whole premise is topsyturvy. Maybe the world is not meant to be saved but, as W told us, to be shopped. Already Christmas slop fills the shops. Done yours yet?

What if the world does not and never did require saving, that it is, as Buddhists say, perfect as it is?  Weird as that sounds.

conveyances of the new city

google buses

cement trucks tweeting

Joovy X2

scooter twin stroller


blue bicycles buy Ford

luxury crossover

shopping carts


caffeinated bucks

gun fire trucks

You call that a pumpkin? (a seasonal tale)

My dad Leroy could have passed for normal. He had that slouch you see in men who have mowed the grass one summer too many. He would have liked a John Deere riding mower like the one Ted Powers used to terrorize small dogs but my mom put her foot down. Not until we had a lawn, she said, that looked worth mowing.

Ted Powers earned his 22-h.p. chariot. Would my dad Leroy have the commitment of Ted Powers to park his reason for existence in his driveway and scrape off the grass matted to its underbelly, and while he was at it, rub its flanks until it glistened like racehorse? He waxed it but then why not? Why wax one thing and not another?

Like it was in the realm of possibility, spending that kind of money. Our electricity was shut off a couple of months ago. It’s back on, but it goes to show. Leroy said it was a mix-up. Not to worry.

Leroy is not one to worry. He is still convinced his invention is going to make us a killing. I’ve been hearing about it for as long as I can remember. Every year he gets more secretive about it. He keeps the door his workshop locked, like somebody might steal his genius idea. It has something to do with vacuuming, or vacuums. Nothing practical, you can be sure.

In May we had one of those thunderstorms when the light is the color of weak broth you’re going to be cooked in. The upshot was a barrage of ice cannonballs wrecking all perennials not already wrecked by Mr. Powers’s John Deere. Windows busted, siding dented, shingles chewed up. Our big old cherry tree crashed the roof of the garage. There was far more sadness about the garage than the tree.

But I loved that tree. When I was young I lived in it. I built myself a platform up where the canopy got dense and I swear, nobody knew. Rocked by the sway, it’s where I spent summers.

Splayed over the garage and lawn, the tree was a no-hoper. Mr. Buford came with his chain saw and the old boys had themselves a good time of violence and wood chips. There was probably good lumber in that old tree if someone had a mind to care. By the time the chainsaw sputtered into quiet the yard was dusted in orange.

Sunlight claimed the garden. The burdock swelled, the dandelions constellated. The newly visible back corner where we threw kitchen scraps was a rebuke: these people have not evolved. My mom forbade chicken bones, now that she could see who was coming to dinner.

A plant with leaves as big as platters started to grow out of the scrap pile. Mom said it would hide the mess. Leroy said it was going to take over. Both of them were right. Leroy procrastinated . The Mariners were vying for a playoff spot. The day after the Mariners were eliminated he reached for his machete, hoping his shoulders would sustain the rampage.

Machete poised to strike, a flash of orange arrested his movement. Near the back fence poking out of the pool of leaves was the biggest pumpkin he ever saw. It was the size of a Rottweiler.

For the next month that pumpkin was our first household pet. In the late afternoon after school Leroy and I would visit it and debate when to pick it. Common sense, based on laziness, won the day. What were we going to do with it? Make a giant jack-o-lantern? Fifty pies? The leaves around it turned gray and crisp from frost and it lay there like a cyst, rotting from the bottom up. Nobody wanted to touch it. A November freeze took the starch out of it and it sagged but still it wouldn’t go away, a billboard for another thing our family failed at. Finally Leroy got out his shovel, dug a hole and gave it a civil burial.

In spring the grave sprouted fifteen youngsters. Leroy selected the most vigorous two and directed them in opposite directions. He bought fertilizer; he did research to figure out what blend of minerals pumpkins like best; he set up an irrigation system. If he had done as much for his kids, would I be dissing him now?

It was a magical day when spelunking he discovered a plump pumpkin hidden beneath a giant leaf. In a matter of days a host of others vied for attention, but the firstborn, racing ahead, got his affection. He culled the siblings, thinking they might divert nutrients for their own pitiful selves. And his baby grew, and grew. That’s what he started calling it, Baby. I was getting attached to it, too.

By late summer the question was, how was Leroy going to move it? He had decided it needed to be admired. He was going to take it to the county fair. Our wheelbarrow wasn’t big enough, too liable to teeter. Leroy built a pallet with roller-skate wheels. He constructed a rig with cables and pulleys and a canvas cradle. His biggest accomplishment was talking Mr. Powers into hitching a cable to his John Deere and putting his 22 horses to work. It was a sight, the canvas slapping together as it swaddled Baby, and Baby ascending higher and higher until Leroy could back the pickup under her. Then to applause, Baby was lowered into a cradle of straw. Leroy was a hero in the neighborhood.

We expected problems unloading the pumpkin at the fairgrounds but somebody made a call and a tractor with a front loader appeared and in minutes Baby was on a platform in the metal shed designated, Pride of the Garden.

We went home. The next day ribbons covered the walls like measles next to jars of pickles and clusters of beets, vases with mums and sunflowers, stuff you pull from the ditches on the country roads. Ribbons of all colors, green red, blue purple. Baby had a beige one. Honorable Mention. Pathetic words if ever there were. I asked one of my classmates, Niles in 4-H who showed sheep, if there was a reason our pumpkin was under-appreciated. “You call that a pumpkin?” he said, adding that the next barn over was devoted entirely to pumpkins. The real ones.

In that barn under spotlights were pumpkins big as my mom’s hatchback. Several had a sponsor, a seed company out of Missouri. The biggest one supposedly weighed more than a thousand pounds. It lounged on the ground like a tipsy hippo.

We didn’t pick up Baby after the fair was over, even though somebody left a couple of messages to do that.

It’s February. At supper tonight Leroy was dishing out Rocky Road ice cream and he said, “Did you know pumpkins can put on 40 pounds a day? The world record holder is over twenty-six hundred pounds. That’s a fact.”

“That’s sixty-five days exactly, no remainder,” I said. I want him, whatever he’s thinking, to think it’s possible.

When my bowl was empty, he gave me a second helping over my mom’s objections. She wants me lose weight, worried all of a sudden. We finished the whole half gallon.

The Sower

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

Emily Dickinson

Hold onto your heads.  http://greenpeacefilmfestival.org/en/les-films/les-films-en-competition-2017/biodiversite-ecosystemes/le-semeur/