Keisha baby.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2009 by finepewterportraits

This is formatted a little strangely; please forgive that. It’s something I started a while back, in the first weeks of my study abroad in England. I didn’t have enough distance then, and even now, it’s less a piece of art than an example of the function my writing always takes: unloading. Still, it means something to me. Picking it back up was inspired by a post from Barbara Ganley, whose beautiful dog Finn recently passed away.

This is less a chronicle of how Keisha
died than a remembrance of some of the moments in that day.


I had wrestled with Fate for awhile
after her death.

Those words are jarring to write even

She was a good dog. And she was more
than a dog; she was family.

Everyone says that. But that’s one
thing that draws us together, isn’t it? After a breakup. When the
chips fall. Following a death. When nothing will be the same again.
Those are the times we come together, and it’s impossible to
begrudge anyone their cliches; their crutches; their choices.

But Fate interceded in the most awful
way, cutting her out of our lives, choosing that
day to cash in on the Inevitable.

it wasn’t that she was gone, although, who am I kidding? It was. But
the worst part was that the one person she loved the most, the
person with whom she’d grown to share so many similarities—of
character and otherwise—wasn’t there to say goodbye.

told me, after she died, that in the mornings, when he rose early,
the first thing he’d do was wait until he heard the beating of her
tail (gaining pace against the wall by her bed) to know she’d made
it through the night. And then she’d greet him, sometimes getting
up—lately, not— so pleased to see him. Sundays, he’d fry
her an egg… “for her coat,” but not really. Every other
day, they’d take their supplements together. Joint medication for
their arthritis. A coated aspirin for the pain. He’d bundle them up
in peanut butter and dab it on the end of a bone for her to eat.
Those were most mornings.

that one morning, when he rose early, I don’t know what he did. The
night before, he was frustrated and angry. She’d lost control and
made a mess in the house the last two days. He was overstressed
and frustrated, and he’d been mean the night before. She’d been
outside for most of it, old and afraid. And I was a story for another
day. But when I got home, there was no sign of him or her, and I
was scared too. The next morning, he rode away in the truck to
deliver the goods he was supposed to have done the day before.
Only the truck had broken down halfway there and his frustration had
mounted. So he was gone that fateful day.

no use in saying how it happened, except that it did, around 3:15 in
the afternoon, the day before I was scheduled to fly away to England
for a semester and not come home until it was done. She fell very
suddenly and only stood again one more time. For most of it, she lay
there panting, her breathing shallow and fast. She didn’t respond to
the tests I’d been conducting all summer, my scientific mind doing
the thing to which it was most accustomed: diagnosing a problem;
seeing how bad it really was. She didn’t respond to her nicknames, or
the tone of voice we reserved for getting her tail to wag. Her ears
didn’t perk to the sounds of my excited calls of “Chicken?”
Her favorite food. The thing that, all summer, when she’d looked like
she was sick or dying, she’d responded to. And while I was inside,
calling the vet, saying I think my dog is dying, she died.
Surrounded by family, but not by him. Not by the one person who’d
been with her for ten years, playing in the best of times, rubbing
her belly in the worst. Not by the person who did silly voices and
made her eggs and took the same old dog medication. Just by us, doing
the best we could, but not being enough.

called to tell him. All of us were crying. “Oh, God.” And
just like it always does, that said it for dad. The tone of voice
in those two words. The words following. “I’m sorry you had
to be there for it.” I wasn’t. I was sorry he couldn’t be. It
didn’t seem fair, to her or him.

he got back home, my niece cried into his stomach, and I think it’s
the first time I saw
cry. He looked like a ghoul, his mouth turned downward in the surest
sign of sorrow I had ever seen. It was the confirmation I’d had the
summer before, when all of my shit was collapsing, that sadness
isn’t histrionics or flair. Real sadness just is. He didn’t blubber
or shout. He just had some tears in his eyes and that look on his
face. His best friend had died.

the best deaths require ceremony. She’d gone without it when she
passed, but we were determined to do something for her in
remembrance. It was somewhat impromptu, the result of
to do something. My niece and I went to Wal-Mart to print out
pictures we’d taken of Keisha on our digital cameras. My sister
Tracy asked us to pick up a basket to put some of Keisha’s things
into; she’d reimburse us. We piled mementos into it. Everyone got
a copy of the pictures. My brother Troy—big Troy—had
carried her body onto the back porch and covered her with a tarp,
the only thing to keep her body apart from the ambivalent elements
of nature.

lifted the tarp when it was dark and carried candles outside, each of
us holding one…even my young nephew, Dalton. We said our goodbyes.
For whatever reason—for the guilt I’d always felt at not being
a better owner when I was young; for the things I’d tried to do to
make up for it in the last summer I had with her; because of the way
she was always so stoic in the face of her mounting disability and
the loss of what she enjoyed the most—I said my goodbye,
“Keisha, you were better than any of us.” And that was
it. The candles dripped wax on the porch. We covered her under the
tarp and lifted her into our car and drove her to the pet
crematorium, almost impossible to get a hold of because apparently
dogs don’t die on Saturdays.


left for England and didn’t think much about it for the first few
days. But then I did, and I tried writing about it. I discovered how
bitter I was that he couldn’t be there for her when she died. That
the day before, Fate had made it so—that his van would break
down THAT one day and he’d be gone the day after. And so I held a
grudge for Fate, because he’d never apologized—not once—for
tearing a good man from his dog the day she needed him the most. The
day we’d discussed so many times, when he’d always been in the
picture. I held the grudge until a few weeks later, when I had a
phone call with my mother.

I tell you about the dream your father had the other day?”
Well, it was of Keisha. And he was in Goose Island”–Keisha’s
favorite place, a woodsy “haunt” where the deer roamed
free from fear of gunshots–“and there was a mist covering
the ground. He walked until he saw a gate in the middle of a
clearing. When he crossed through the gate, he heard a voice.”

voice had said he had five minutes. And then Keisha had walked out
into the clearing. And she’d told him everything she had to: that
she was fine. That she was free of pain. That her only pain was in
watching him suffer, so distraught at not having said goodbye, of
comforting her in her last moments. And she motioned to a spot in
the clearing where another dog stood, a Golden Retriever he and the
rest of the family had owned in his past. She said they were the best
of friends. He’d been waiting for her. All was well.

mother told me what my father never would have. That he’d woken up
and told her the dream and they’d cried together. And it was the
restoration I’d needed of my faith in Fate. It was the apology I’d
never gotten, but granted to the right person at the right time. It
was a soothing balm for a pain I held so close to me. It meant that
it all meant something. Our love for her. The ceremony of her
death. The pain we all felt. Such human feelings for a dog who
never really was. To a dog who was always more.


Jerusalem Bells

Posted in summer writing on July 23, 2008 by finepewterportraits

You’ve got one good quality: you appreciate good things in other people. In that way, people would say you have good taste.

You may be a festering pit yourself, but you’ve got this capacity for knowing the potential in others. If you could shed your baggage, you might make a good teacher. But who would take you as you are? You’re too judgmental. That’s the other thing: you’re judgmental, so the good people must be REALLY good. It’s a shame you don’t like art. You’d make a great critic.

You’re a lousy partner in a relationship, but you pick great partners to be with. You’re like the guy who picks the girl in the movies who desperately needs a makeover. You watched a movie once that spoofed that. The girl takes off her glasses and lets down her hair and suddenly she’s seriously hot shit. To you it’s not so different in real life. You wonder how other people don’t get it to let this girl fall through the cracks and into your hands. When you’re done molding her–when she’s discovered that she’s great at sex and sexy and only needs to let her hair down and take her glasses off–she’ll move on. But until then, you’ve got months of satisfaction before she realizes how much better she could do with someone of substance. You’re a great critic, but you’ve never created anything of your own.

It’s not so different with your friends. You’re a facilitator. You have good taste, and other people see that in you, and somehow they see the veneer and extrapolate too much, and you’re a “nice guy.” A funny guy. You’re a facilitator because you see the good in them and want to emulate it. And then the thing they had in them all along begins to blossom, and the good qualities they thought they saw in you, they borrow. After a while, they embody. Believe. They form a code based on a version of you that is better than you and impossible to attain. Not so long in the future, they abandon you, because the part of you they “borrowed”–the bullshit detector–alerts them to your scuminess. Until then, you borrow memories from them of times you had when you were similar, in the overlap between their growth and your good image. This sustains you until you find someone else who latches on to something you said that had promise. Maybe they’ll have the strength to finish your thought. Maybe they’ll grow.

You wonder how it will end for you. In the back of your mind you think that you have never seriously imagined yourself old. To do so would be depressing. You know that you’re incapable of growth. At this young age you feel retarded. Imagine 50. Your friends would have outpaced you in every conceivable way. They would have had major successes; houses; children. You see yourself in an apartment with debt. You don’t have promise. You lack potential. Potential is a thing for young men. When you reach a certain age, it’s squandered; and squandered potential is like an oil field burned out of spite. When you burn it you decide you want to be smiling, so at least you give the impression of wanting to be destroyed. Really you just want to be loved. But who would love you as you are?


Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2008 by finepewterportraits

It turns out I may have mommy issues.

He fingered its edges, rounded and bored to a clean economic aesthetic. His mother had hidden it from him, because of its connection to the past and to his father, and he had never seen it until that morning when his mother died and he cleaned out her closet and bedroom. It had rested at the top of the closet next to a circular box that held an old phonograph. It couldn’t have been that old; it wasn’t any older than his mother, and his mother had died prematurely of cancer, sixty-four. She had quit smoking at his behest when he was thirteen.

When she was fat and flustered, she would point at him and the color would rise in her cheeks, and she would say—her face an exaggerated kind of caricature of angry, her anger disproportionate to whatever he did—“I quit for you. I gained thirty pounds and you never thanked me.” He was never inclined to thank her in those moments. He knew she didn’t like to betray those pieces of herself.

Before she died she lost the thirty pounds and then some. Her slight jowls deflated, and the skin that was no longer weighted down hung limply. The whole time he didn’t grieve.

True that he felt for her, but mostly she didn’t talk about the pain, and he rarely found himself compelled to ask. The chemo was difficult. Her movement was stilted as it never had been, not in sixty-four years of wear and tear, nor fifty of real labor at the nursing home. He didn’t think on it, and he didn’t see the point in grieving. They were a unit, and he wasn’t ready to be separated from her. He had resolved to follow her.

He gazed at it and it seemed his father gazed at him in his reflection, dad who had only been around for the first four formative years of his childhood. He had struggled not to lose those memories, but his memory was poor, and his great tragedy was that he didn’t know where he came from, and his mother never said. When he gazed at it he felt like a part of a family. Nevermind that his mother was gone, and his father had never been. Without her help, he had no memory, and he had never created any memories for himself.

She was so proud of him, and she made no excuses for that, or for staying home with him for the first four formative years of his childhood, and they could have had a babysitter but they didn’t. She was not ashamed of working at the nursing home, even though she could have done anything. He was her greatest achievement.


100 words: the stupidest person you know (real or imagined)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 17, 2008 by finepewterportraits

You wonder what energizes these people, and then you see the crowd, and it all makes sense in that “REALLY?” way you have of asking questions you don’t want the answer to. You think, “It’s the people.” And it’s then that you stop wondering what she’s thinking but what THEY’RE thinking, and all sorts of questions emerge, like things involving accomplices and who really killed whom? You’ve got to wonder which is the bigger sin. You’ve got to wonder what they’re thinking.

Is it the spectacle that turns them on, or is it the fags they hate that drive them ever harder?

You’ll never know.

the difference is all the difference

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2008 by finepewterportraits

She isn’t a smart Midwestern woman. Those are the best, he thinks. They’re not prudish, because they’ve seen their drunk uncles’ dicks, but they’re still a little modest. They tend to brandish their sexuality less than the ones on the East Coast, who use it as a currency, a stepping stone to the corporate ladder or a vault into the splendors of the marriage bed, whose furnishings are discarded expensive robes and blouses. Midwestern girls just like to fuck, because they know they shouldn’t be ashamed. East Coast girls bite it down to get what they want, and for that they are brave.

This girl isn’t East Coast, either. She’s a dumbshit Midwestern girl, the kind who thinks they know everything for the cost of nothing. She struts mightily, and most of the girls she spends time with are impressed with her bravado, and can’t think to say anything about how full of shit she is. It’s only when she gets too big for her strained sweatpants that the girls think it isn’t right and tell her so, and then she’s nothing, just a small deflated version of her old fat self. Without her friends there to agree with her, she has nothing but herself. When that happens, she’s faced with two options: either scurrying away and finding another group to infect with her substance-less sputum, or sucking up her pride for the moment when they’ll take her back, and then slowly ingratiating herself on them again, slowly gaining confidence, slowly talking shit.

This is one of her favorite stories: “So I says to her, I says, ‘Dawn, that’s bullshit. Lois gets away with doing half the work of the rest of us, all because she’s on slight disability. And that’s bullshit too. Everyone knows Lois only got it because her husband’s on the board decides those things.”

She’s so pissed off and drunk she’s forgetting every second breath, and the words come out as gasping. “This job has done its toll on my body just as much as it has on hers. I told her, ‘Dawn, I’m getting fucked on my insurance, and my body—lifting these bodies off and onto hospital beds—it’s all a bunch of bullshit.’”

So Dawn says to her she’d better back down or she’s going to get fired, and Jennifer hauls back and slaps her in her face.

No. She doesn’t. She really would have liked to. That’s what she says when her friends ask, “Did you really?” Jennifer sometimes mixes up the facts and their supplements, those things she would have rather done than listened and not done shit.

She’s proud of the number of citations she’s gotten. Otherwise, she wouldn’t talk about them so much. When she does (and it’s almost everyday), there’s that dignified and heated tone, the words tumbling out too fast to be anything but self-righteous, and the love she has for her foolish self is most apparent when she talks about her butting heads with her superiors.

midwestern girls know how to fuck

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2008 by finepewterportraits

The beginnings of something?:

She isn’t a smart Midwestern woman. Those are the best, he thinks. They’re not prudish, because they’ve seen their drunk uncles’ dicks, but they’re still a little modest. They tend to brandish their sexuality less than the ones on the East Coast, who use it as a currency, a stepping stone to the corporate ladder or a vault into the splendors of the marriage bed, whose furnishings are discarded expensive robes and blouses. Midwestern girls just like to fuck, because they know they shouldn’t be ashamed. East Coast girls bite it down to get what they want, and for that they are brave.


Posted in summer writing on June 4, 2008 by finepewterportraits

I don’t know where this came from. I just started writing about Georgie, the figure of one of my earlier, weirder attempts at pseudopoetic form.

Georgie says to me to lean closer. When I do, he says, “Janet never knew anything about me.” He says it more tenderly than most old men say anything, unless they’re on their death bed, and then they’re suddenly devoid of masculinity, and the only thing that matters is that they’re touching a human hand, or feeding off of someone’s love embrace. Georgie is on his death bed.

He says to me, “Ronald, think about that. I knew her for thirty years, and the most we ever said was how pissed we were at one another. That was the common theme.”

To that I don’t answer. Georgie never seems to invite an answer. His words are proclamations. I think he thinks there are things to learn from his speech. I think he wants there to be. Instead, I stand stoically, and every so often I pat his hand, and when his grip becomes uncomfortably tight, I disentangle our hands and make a show of flicking the cord of his IV with my fingers, like they do on TV. For someone as bright as Georgie was in his day, I don’t know if he understands my discomfort, or if he is by now oblivious. Neither would surprise me; both speak to Georgie’s condition. In the former, he’s an ass, or just lonely; in the latter, he’s a little too numb to be alive.

“Yeah, Georgie?”
“Janet doesn’t clean my shit up anymore.”

Pause. Beat. Put your hand back in Georgie’s? Keep him from saying anything more…?

“She put me in this place so she wouldn’t have to clean up my shit. I read somewhere that true love is when the person you’ve been with forever is willing to clean up after you when you shit your pants. What does that say about us?”

I want to tell Georgie it means nothing. Cleaning up shit is dirty business. Not everyone is equipped for it. My own mother was a germaphobe; hated cleaning up after our messes. She made our father change our diapers. To this day I wonder how they had sex. Probably they used a condom, even after his vasectomy… Maybe we were adopted.

But that doesn’t wash with Janet. Janet was a nurse during the war. I don’t think there’s much that Janet hasn’t seen, and most of it had to have been worse than shit.

I think the simplest explanation is that Georgie slept around, and Janet always knew, and for a long time that was fine. She would wash his clothes, and listen to him bitch, and when he started to get sick, she would pick up his prescriptions at the pharmacy and agree with him when he thought the game show host on TV was sitting at the couch in their living room. But there was that demarcation line of disgusting things that Janet must have thought she didn’t have to deal with, and, in all fairness, probably shouldn’t have had to. Besides, the war’s long done.

To Georgie, that sort of thing shouldn’t offend. To Janet, it means everything. To Georgie, cleaning shit is love. To Janet, love is when your dick stays in your pants for more than five minutes. There’s a demarcation line.

I finger the IV bag for five minutes before I can think of anything to tell Georgie. He might be kind of an asshole, but he’s a dying man, and there’s going to be no real comfort in his remaining days. The progression of the illness means more than a loss of dignity: it means reckless, sweeping pain; the kind of pain that has no higher reason and survives as long as Georgie does. It’s the pain that worries Georgie most.

I tell him, “Dad,