Wednesday, April 24, 2013


As Jimmy headed out into the hall and on to the next room, Joan, the head nurse that evening, bustled down the hall toward him, smiling as ever.

“I wish I loved my job as much as you,” Jimmy told her and then, tilting his head toward the man’s room, asked, “What do we know about him?”

“Oh God, Jimmy, that poor soul.” Joan shook her head, an excess of empathy as always for lost ones like the John Doe. “This gal spotted him leaning against a tree as she walked over the Franklin bridge on her way to get a cup of coffee with a friend at one of those shops along the avenue there, or maybe it was down Riverside, but that don’t matter.” Joan had a tendency to ramble, but she was always friendly. “She didn’t think anything of it, the EMTs said. Maybe he was just looking at the winter day, you know it was nice and bright this morning, and she had no reason to think he was in any sort of trouble, but when she went home an hour later and he was still just sitting there she called 9-1-1.”

No one was sure how long he’d been sitting there. “He was bundled up pretty well,” Joan said, “and it was long enough for the cold to burn his cheek a bit, but not long enough for frostbite. The real mystery though is why he’s out so deeply and before you go thinking it’s drugs, the doctor said his pupils dilated normally.” The John Doe hadn’t suffered any kind of physical trauma from an assault or a fall and the only marks on his body were the shallow tracks of fingernail scratches on his shoulderblades. “But those are just the bloodmarks of passion.” Joan smiled fondly, some fine memory rising in her mind’s eye. “I’d recognize them anywhere.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

tell us who you are

strangely comforting?
Though it made no sense to tell a senseless man any and all manner of his dreams and woes, Jimmy Ess found himself talking to the John Doe as if that slight man, as sinewy and dried out as a twist of jerky, might wake up and tell Jimmy what he needed to do and how to do it. No one knew anything about the man. He was already so far down into some dark pool of unconsciousness when the EMTs brought him in that the docs didn’t dare guess what might be troubling him. Clueless as to his medical history and comforted by his vitals, which were strong enough all things considered, the docs tethered the man to a saline drip and put oxygen tubes up his nose, determining that unless anything more serious began to manifest itself, the best they could do was keep this strip of sinew hydrated and oxygenated.

“Call me a cynic,” Jimmy told the John Doe, “but I think the only reason they got this drip going is to limit their exposure to any liability that might come their way if your heart bursts and you die in the throes of some convulsive fit.” The man lay calmly under the blue hospital sheet. “It’s happened before,” Jimmy said. “Too often if you ask me.”

Listen to the lyrics!
The man’s impassive face, as slack and blank as any other insensible patient’s, struck Jimmy as tranquil for some reason, like the man had found rest in the comfort of some hard-won knowledge and, exhausted, was now just recharging. “You’ll be as dry as dust when you wake up, my friend,” Jimmy told the man  as he tipped the wastebasket into the trashbin he wheeled from room to room. “The saline plumps your cells, but those oxygen tubes are sandpaper on the throat. You’ll squawk like some kind of pink monkey-bird when you finally tell us who you are.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

call the moon

He slipped from the bedroom and navigated the cluttered hallway—Maggie’s easels and paintboxes took up a lot of space, even after she tried to tidy up, but he was good with that. Her work made her happy, portraits in oils or acrylics of families, children, treasured pets. Once in the living room he began to slip on his clothes. As he dressed the moon rose in his mind, full and shining. Drifting above the Earth, it waited for him and that’s what he would do right now, head for the moon. Taking a long walk to the river would clear his head and until the cold reached too deep into his bones, he would lean back against a tree there and wait for the grandmother to come looking for him. Nookomis, grandmother, is what the anishinaabeg call the moon in the original language, the one that slipped away from his family in his grandmother’s generation, hanging on now in just a handful of words and vague memories.

He eased the apartment door shut, heard the lock catch, then headed up the stairs and made his way outside. The cold night rushed into his warm lungs and made him cough. He’d sought after things like sleep long enough, so tonight he’d seek nothing and just walk. He made his way down the icy city sidewalks, heading for a place he knew in the woods below the Franklin Avenue bridge. It was a strange place, those city woods along the river. Tall trees grew dense along the bluff there and filtered some of the light and sound of the city away. The ground beneath them was littered with broken liquor bottles as well as beaver chewed stumps, and the tree trunks and the nearby bridge piers were tagged and re-tagged by spray can kids. “Is anyone happy here?” one kid had scrawled on a fallen tree in brown paint. At times, the area was peopled by drunks and raccoons and coyotes, while at other times it held the ghosts of suicides and the dark chatter of noisy crows. It was a place where seeming opposites became one another; what were the spray can kids if not chattering crows? Robinson often found it was the right place to be for an Indian who didn’t know what an Indian was, but he had never gone there on such a cold night before. Still, the cold was no matter so long as nookoomis found him.

Friday, April 5, 2013

evening star

Listen to this:                                                            

while reading this:

Even tonight, bedded in with Maggie and flush from an evening of love, her breath soft and gentle against his bare shoulder, Robinson knew sleep would evade him, knew that he would end up pacing the floor, marking time until Maggie woke up and emerged from the bedroom, smiling as she always did, running her hand through the tangle of her hair, trying to straighten it. There was something innocent in that tousled blonde mess that never failed to make him think of her naked with him and part of the power she had at that moment, in her smile, was that she didn’t even realize the hold she had on him. Sometimes warm tears rose in the corners of his eyes then and she always saw them. “Silly,” she’d say and thumb them out of his eye. “There’s no need for that.” Sometimes she kissed him then and sometimes she held him close. Earlier today she had tasted the wetness on her thumb with the tip of her tongue and, eyeing him slyly, led him back to bed.

Laying there afterwards, her hair sweetly tousled once more, she rolled over and propped her chin on his chest. He knew what was coming then. It was a question that arose every morning. “What did you see last night?” she asked. She always wanted to know what he had seen in the dark the night before. Some nights the images streamed through his mind so quickly he was only able to get the barest sense of what he was seeing. On other nights, an
image or two settled in gentle eddies that swirled around one another for hours. Last night had been an eddying night and as he described for her the sharp silver light of the evening star in a deep purple twilight, her eyes grew bright with interest and she began to probe him as to what he thought the purple twilight symbolized, what the evening star meant. “When we unlock what’s hidden in these images, Robbie,” she said, “we’ll know what keeps you awake at night.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Music must be a labor of love because for every one person earning a living picking at a guitar, scraping a bow across catgut, or pushing pure tone from the bell of some gleaming sax, there were a dozen or a hundred like Jimmy Ess who sleptwalk through thankless day jobs so that they could help a little with the bills, while their partner—Erika, in Jimmy’s case—made a decent enough living that anything he brought home wasn’t really needed and was more of a sop to soften the guilt someone might feel for his inability to make his music pay. The first four years that he and Erika were together had passed with her enthusiastic embrace of his dreams. “Write,” she said as she applied the mascara and lipstick that was the mask of the young professional woman. “Record,” she said as she gathered up her briefcase and hustled toward the door. “Get a gig,” she kissed him goodbye. It was romantic to have a musician boyfriend and after work happy hours were happy times. Her friends from work still dug music and enjoyed being around someone who walked outside of the world of bi-weekly paychecks and mandatory staff meetings, someone who’d never been inside a cubicle or had his internet monitored. They liked Jimmy because he made it seem like the glory days of their undergraduate lives were still near enough to touch.