A Grave in Burbank

The dead have no use for us.

All we are are just a bunch of noisy, yammering bipeds. I came to this conclusion upon a trip to visit my dad’s grave. My dad was cremated so I’m not even sure if ‘grave’  is the right word. But he’s in the ground in a cemetery so I guess it is.

Forest Lawn is in Burbank, California, right behind Warner Brothers Studios. I don’t know why’d you want to spend eternity in Burbank, but that was his final wish (along with, please don’t let me die, I’m sure). After my older sister asked him what he’d like us to do with his ashes, expecting him to say ‘spread me out at sea’, he told us, “Somewhere by grandma, near a nice little tree.”

My dad is up the road from his mother and under a sweeping oak. The cemetery is a vibrant carpet of green grass with a cute white chapel at the bottom of a rolling hill. There’s no denying its serenity.

The sprawl of the San Fernando Valley is in the distance and seems like another world.  Millions of people sleeping in beds and driving in cars, wrapped up in a life that is equal parts limitless and fleeting. All the fucking going on. And fucking over.  Just a giant fuckfest. While all these dead people sleep.

The living are still going about it all wrong.

I got out of my Volvo and found my dad. They’re still in the process of creating the grave tablet so for now there’s nothing with his name on it to look at. All the other headstones are for people who’ve died a long time ago.

Not one year ago to the day.

I wondered who visits them? What do they say?

I wondered what I’m supposed to say.

I sat on the curb and tried not to look awkward, which is basically impossible in a cemetery. I stared at my feet and made sure to keep my new white high-tops out of the dirt. When the groundskeepers drove by in their jeeps, I didn’t know if I was supposed to wave or not. I felt silly worrying about my new white high-tops. Why do I even own a pair of white high tops? I walk too much for that.

There was a funeral procession making their way up the road. I waited for them to pass. A series of cars with the headlights on in the day. Shining for what? It’s all part of the business of burying the dead. The following of rituals so we can distract ourselves from what we’re really doing. With the solemn parade passed I returned to my own business.

I wanted him to know I cared. That I remembered. I came.

I began to talk. I started with work. I told him about the show I work on. I told him that I missed him, then I laughed out loud about talking out loud. Then I told him about Monkee, my cat. He was a veterinarian and cats were a soft spot for him. I told him how much I loved Monkee, and that sometimes I wish I could tell him about Monkee on the phone, because I forget he’s gone. And because that cat means so much to me. I got Monkee at a time I was losing control and adrift in a kind of self-loathing leaking raft and that little four-legged furball sorta brought me into port. That’s how I explained it.

We’re buddies… That little furball and me. He looks after me as much as I do him. Is it weird to think that a little bit of my dad lives in that cat? Or more like sometimes when I look at that ornery feline asshole I see him with my dad’s eyes.

How do you visit a grave and not think about the soul?

I mean: is he in that little demarcation of terra firma? Was he listening? Was some piece of his ear still working? Some speck of cochlea tingling?

Were we chit chatting in any way whatsoever?

If I were a free-floating soul, I wouldn’t hang out in Burbank. Although, I hear they’re getting a Shake Shack soon. No, wait, that’s Glendale. The whole Valley terrifies me. I want no part of it, living or dead. His last years were spent on cruise ships and in fine dinning halls…

I thought I was going to leave around 10 o’clock and still found myself there twenty minutes later. Then it was an hour later. The morning had slowly grown stubble and was becoming afternoon. I had nothing more to talk about. I just hung out and counted the leaves.

There was a nagging thought pin-balling through my brain. I didn’t really like the idea that maybe he’d get the impression he had to stick around Burbank. Like, he felt responsible to be here if I came back. I tried to explain that I can feel him everywhere. I don’t need to be here to see him.

He should really fly, now’s the time for it. I let him know it. But I still will come. I just won’t come for you, I’ll come for me.

I told him, “It is a nice little tree.”

The Little Delaware

6 feet of windblown glass.

Little holiday light.

An olive book of poems.
A necklace of magnets.

They say…
Don’t set sail with a man who never
sailed the mighty Mississippi.

I say…
If the wind is right, and the tide is high,
I might be the man to sail the little Delaware.

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Mr. Jenkins

There is a basil plant lost in the shadows. Once upon a time the family used it in fresh pasta sauce, now it wilts in the coming and going of a busy kitchen. Nobody has watered it so its leaves droop like the shoulders of a brow-beaten husband. The kids have gotten used to it so they no longer talk to it like it’s a pet, especially since they got Marxie, the stupid Golden Retriever. There’s no room for it to grow in its pot where it sits in the window looking out on a vast green world it knows nothing about. There are drawings the kids did on the fridge. It’s only piece of pride in the world is in the bottom corner a drawing of it lives, with the moniker Mr Jenkins written in purple crayon above it.

He never liked that name, always felt it sounded too formal, but now that poor basil plant wishes it were called it one more time. For old times sake.

 

Waxing about Girls

We’re oscillating wildly while we fossilize in space
Oscar Wilde’s disappearing face chasing a ghost
through time and wasted satori growling and grousing
about the swings of tide and ego and pride while
we flicker like lambent flames searching for moths
holding on to rotting fence posts in deserts outposts
drinking whiskey and tripping daisies lazy afternoons
Eighteen years old wasting bottles of Boones
philosophizing about the moon and waxing about girls
in bedrooms and boys in basketball shorts I rode
a broken horse into a deserted town just to taste the
dark blood on the ground and scrounge for tinsel
to pin to my crown with a proper grin and bottle of gin
my heart fades fast in the collapsing afternoon
summer thunderstorms I come home and
rip the doorknob off…

Nutmeg

An Amber Rose by any other name…
might not be the same.

— You see, poetry can be funny.
My heart is a monkey wrench. Come tune me up, baby.
Life is a puppet show. Come put your hand up my ass.
I’m sixteen leagues deep with a Persol snorkel.
A leftover turkey thrown in the crock pot.
— You see, after it all, I’m going to fall.

Flail.
Drop sail.

I’m going to anchor in a port-o-call
court of law.

Drop trow
in a chop shop.

I’m a little nutmeg
looking for eggnog.

 

North Star

It’s the names we lose first when you love somebody.

It rattles my brain even now.

She had a date tattooed on her arm. She never told me what happened on that day. She had many tattoos. That’s the only one she didn’t talk about.

I didn’t talk much either.

Words grew more useless as time went on. We lobbed them every now and then just to keep the distance between us in sight, but what’s the point when they’re nothing but phantoms masquerading as explanation for the chaotic fracturing of the world around us. But that’s probably just the war talking.

And the crazy-colored clouds.

We met while the war was only one hundred miles away, and the sun shivered in sepia light warning of its coming, coloring all the dying pines ochre like Yellowstone cliffs. A tangerine splotched horizon. She was picking flowers from my garden and she ran away when I approached. Like a scared, stray dog. It’s only when I yelled that there were golden poppies in the back that she stopped. Her footprints molded into the quivering cement there fore-after.

She had no home and I had nobody. Sometimes the unfairness of it all works itself out. They say there are 12 million satellites in the sky. It’s somewhat magical to think one of them is watching you.

“I used to be a nurse,” she told me. “Before…”

“I’d rather not think about that.”

When I entered her it was like unlocking two doors with one key.

This was long ago.

There are still days where you can’t tell anything has changed. Where we sit on the porch and the breeze still brings with it the smell of the sea. Sometimes I feel like building a boat. Get my hair tossed by the spindrift.

We had nothing but time in common.

“Do you remember that show? The one with all the celebrities dancing?”

She was so crestfallen when I answered, ‘no.’

When things turned for the absolute worst we didn’t bother moving away. We stayed in the bones of those better times. Fending off the cold burning old newspapers. Occasionally a helicopter flew by but none of them ever landed. We survived on bananas and wild game.

I never learned the meaning of that tattoo. She kept it guarded like a bear cave…

“Everything is coming up roses,” she told me after a rainstorm flooded the basement. She was being funny. I had forgotten about laughing, how sometimes it hurt. There were swimming water snakes circling the staircase. My mind raced. Blood I thought dormant invaded my sense of disaster and returned my manhood to glory. I got so hard it poked through my denim coveralls. It fucking pointed at the North Star.

It was then that I knew everything was destroyed. But I still felt okay.

It was the oblivion I was counting on.

Banana Trees

I had made some comment about buying a house in Costa Rica. The cat was pushing out the door. The sun had just slid under the blankets for the night. We were waiting for Chinese Food to be delivered. I thought it was just maybe something to talk about. Maybe buying a house down there.

“You live in a dream,” she told me. As if it could be any other way, as if we’d want it any other way. I mean, what’s wrong with a forest canopy to keep you protected from the sun? I waited for her to make her point. “You’re… full of words,” she added, salty and pregnant with pause and nothing else.

“I’m just trying to stay on the surfboard, baby,” I told her, although I don’t surf and she knows I don’t surf, so she just looked at me with big disappointed pupils and I could see that her brain was making calculations so I backed off and waited for the receipt.

We’ve been trying, you know? The cycles and tests and everything. Still…

The bell rang and she grabbed the bags of Chinese Food while I pictured a little hammock on a porch and a summer rainstorm filling the air with succulent drafts.

I could hear her mumbling while she plated the food — which I never understood, it already comes in a container — about something with the cars and I wondered if it was really about the cars.

I have to move mine in the morning because it’s behind hers. We get the tickets for the street cleaning although they never come.

“Thanks for getting the food.”

“Uh-huh.”

I found something to watch on Hulu and we didn’t talk for a whole show. Watching time go by on a scrollbar. Measuring your life by the commercial breaks.

When it was over, she threw her napkin on her plate and said, “I’m done.”

I looked at her plate, she had barely touched it. “You didn’t like it?”

“No. I mean I’m done with this,” she said without trumpets or fanfare. She simply went into the kitchen and dumped her orange chicken and chow mein into the trashcan and walked out.

When I lifted the lid it looked like a bunch of gross worms had died in a twisted frenzy. And I kinda thought to myself, that’s kinda cool.

But I didn’t get around to telling her about the banana trees in the back. So that sucked.