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An Open Letter


Off and on through the years I’ve kept a pen pal of some kind. All women. The first was a neighboring girl I’d gone to elementary school with who’d gone off to college in Georgia. Then my birth mother after she’d left California and relocated to Louisiana and was open to writing. Then there was a kinda platonic girlfriend who lived out of town too far for us to manifest any intimacy, yet our conversations were great. She mailed me my first perfumed letter.

Mostly, I enjoyed writing another artist who lived in Seattle. For a while there, we’d exchange a letter every 18 months or so. This last January I spontaneously wrote a letter to her one non-productive afternoon at the office. Today, in preparation for a tech upgrade next week, I’ve been dumping unused files and found a draft of that letter. She never wrote back.


Dear _______

Last night was my final session of acupuncture. The pain I’d been saddled with for two straight months last year was gone. The week of my birthday I was slammed by severe pain in my left knee, awaking me at night when I could sleep at all. A crunchy, sentient pain that seemed to move and change agonies on a daily basis. After a couple of weeks limping to and from work, after buying my first cane just to attend a poetry reading in Sacramento, I made a doctor’s appointment. He x-rayed, yawned and with sniffing indifference diagnosed I was getting arthritis. He failed to offer so much as a ‘Get Well Soon’ card or even a article printed from called ‘Living With Pain’ or ‘Arthritis and Me’ or ‘Amputation at Home’… I was desperate to “fix” the problem as opposed to just covering it with a pretty blanket of dizzying pain meds—a prescription I couldn’t refill. What was I supposed to do about walking or pain after 12 nights of Prescription Advil? Turns out one of my Facebook friends is a sister who’s been practicing acupuncture for 23 years. I’d known her from my local poetry circles. You might like her: a Black Power version of Cher in dreds with a penchant for hoop earrings and heavy boots. Once while on the table, she told me how years ago she worked as an secretary at Motown and was asked to leave before a backroom orgy and how Edwin Starr grabbed her ass and she turned and smacked him only to be warned by her boss not to touch the stars.

Don’t touch the stars… How dare anyone use that in a sentence.

Have you ever had acupuncture? Its expensive even with her neighborly price break. But my doctor was Zero Help. I had to do something. After that first treatment, the pain was gone. Erased. I regained my walking speed and flexibility. So: last night I went for the last of 10 treatments. As usual, I slipped into a smock, lay on the table and she inserted a dozen needles along my legs, feet, ankles. 3rd Eye Center. Forearm. The sensation is close to that of a prick by cactus, then it dissolves; how there will be ripples across water as you drop a stone in, then stillness. She clicked on a heat lamp above me turning the room red, flipped off the ceiling light and left me to meditate for 30 minutes or so while music quietly played. I lay there and imagined dropping memories, frustrations, thoughts, pain like a dead rose losing petals.

How are you?? I miss you and the family and think of you often. My heart wept for _____ after reading on Facebook about losing his mom. It feels like all I’ve ever known is loss. I wanted to offer more than just sympathy and condolences and useless words… but I think what could anyone have offered me back then? I was simply dumb, numb. To this day.

And how my heart closed on my biological family and birth mother, who is still out there. Somewhere. Though I must tell you– I left her house and life like you’d leave a job that was unfulfilling. By giving me up at birth, didn’t she provide me a ‘choice’? An option B?

To say: Thanksgiving/Christmas for me are okay. Better than that, truthfully. Annually I brace for the impact of those holidays, but they come gently. For years I’ve had a standing invite over my friends house—its usually just him and his mom. Xmas I bought a bottle of Yamazaki whiskey and his mom and me killed it watching the Wilson Pickett episode of Behind The Music. She knitted a couple of skull caps for me. Often, there’s this conflict churning within me where I feel like a Holiday Floater, or temp worker. Those feelings are just my familiars. Habits. I honor being there, treated like family– free to spend the night and raid the icebox, even as I fail to trust Family© having lost so many over the years. I couldn’t tell her how one year I bit down into the lemon cake she’d made from her own grandmother’s handwritten recipe (“I felt her with me while I was cooking,” she’d said). I brought it home in my goodie bag, bit down into it and immediately burst into hot, uninterrupted tears. I had never wept so hard and so long—it was endless, fevered. At first I didn’t understand. Then it hit me: I hadn’t had this flavor in my mouth in more than 20 years. Check it: That Proust shit with the Madeline?!? That’s real talk. I quantum leapt into memories buried physically in my body by a mouthful of yellow cake. Akin to being punched in the stomach—I could only collapse onto the floor by the bed and wait until the storm passed.

I’d been wanting to write to you for weeks, but truthfully, not much has been happening. With arthritis, I’ve been growing up. I got my first cannabis card. The only thing of value I voted for besides Obama. It struck me weird to go into this unmarked storefront in a desolate part of Oakland, stand at a glass counter with kids who skated to work and ask their opinions on sativa and indica while stamping my frequent buyer card. To be given a baggie of herb and a receipt and be told to Have A Good Night, Sir is wonderfully perverse. What would my mother have thought? Especially if I switched out her Pall Malls for a spliff?

And here: I wish I had stories of my love life or scandalous adventure or, yes, even intrigue. But my love life is degrading. It needs an exorcism. My 46 birthday I spent alone, horrified to realize I’m easing into old age without any real family, support or affection. I stare at on-line profiles feeling untenable longing and doubt. Somehow, I don’t think I make a great friend. I’m slightly uneasy in my own body. I don’t see myself being man-enough for a woman my age (Is it shameful for man to date a woman his own age… or am I expected to date younger? …And offer a younger woman …what??) and with women younger than me I feel like an incompetent molester. Without even a white van to toss anybody into the back of…

There was a scare, a hoax, last spring. My hopes were bolstered several days only to collapse like a hot cake clumsily jostled from the oven. For a few weeks I hung out with this one young woman, a poet and thereby learned I couldn’t get it up for anyone who can’t tell stories deeply and truthfully, and if they’re not together intellectually. The body is trivial and impermanent. What’s going on within? I couldn’t have collapsed harder than the night she stopped by my house briefly while I was watching Game of Thrones and her asking, genuinely: What’s That? Her being just ghetto enough to’ve never heard of either the book or show. That night I realized I have standards. There wasn’t enough Viagra on the planet to give me even a stiff neck.

Though: there’s one moment I wish I had a photo of. A moment God teased me with gently, but still a gift. Was it that same night she stopped by or another? She is a full sized model, muscular and not sloppy, hips broad but not crenulated. I like this: a woman I could nearly fold myself as one would fold a final secret into cake batter. Her body reminds me of the Southern Aunts I once loved. Anyway. I had a shot of whiskey I offered to her. I didn’t want to drink, happy as I was to take a earlier bong hit. I brought the bottle out of the kitchen and handed it to her. It was a good mouthful and barely worth pouring into a cup. Kill this for me, I offered. I stood above her, a table lamp placing her beneath a triangle of white light. She sat on my sofa, in a form fitting black mini-dress (had I ever seen her in anything but a mini-dress?) with her legs out and crossed on the coffee table. She shook the bottle asking if it was sure, and I nodded. She lifted the bottle to her mouth and that image—her body, shiny near edible thighs, black dress, and whisky bottle raised as a kind of baby bottle to her lips, was breathtaking to me. Funny, absurd, and ridiculously sexy simultaneously. I didn’t beg her to hold for a picture, model or not. Oh hell naw, she said when I told her what I was seeing, then laughed.

I hadn’t talked with her much since. This was before the arthritis slam. That last time, she was job hunting and came to my office here in the city. We ate and I kept pressing her for stories, to share anything. But she has a history of abuse. Was lightweight homeless. Sent me a text once asking if I’d still talk to her if she had to prostitute—which I’m not sure if she was serious or not. But I realized I needed someone to talk with me. I needed someone to be honest and engage. Don’t I do as much for others? But from what little she’s revealed, directly to me or inferred by her work, she has no right to trust dudes. And I realized I’d rather have nothing and be alone if I had to hang with someone who couldn’t tell me a story, who for self protective reasons couldn’t be Real. I couldn’t judge that. But I let go actively contacting her. And in the name of art and rent she’s kept busy. We haven’t talked for her looking for work (maybe) and chasing art (definitely).

So: in lieu of romance, I’ve been reading a lot – I’ve been studying Indian gurus and philosophy, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Krishnamurti, Autobiography of a Yogi, treatises on Non-duality advaita. I’ve been learning presence, mindfulness and Letting Go. “At some point, we must give up hope of ever having a better past.” I’m learning to leave experiences and not feel obligated to carry them. The past and future have the same qualities; a harmless dream. I’m learning to accept Now, not at face value but as Eternity. Love isn’t a validation from another, but accepting the comfort of self and sitting with the miracle and wonder of You. How gorgeous the colors when you can mix with another. How Love returns to you when you gaze at someone/something that can truthfully reflect.

Getting up from the acupuncture table I felt a great healing and peace. I told her, while she plucked needles from my legs as if quick pulling hairs, my body is going to miss this. I felt myself a huge hall clear of any furniture. I’m already missing those weekly trips. As I miss you, _____ and the kids. Same reasons: leaving that office, or your house I felt whole and at peace and cleansed and optimistic. I’d honor coming back to see you some weekend—for a tea or for Nothing. For any of the only three things that matter: love, love and love.

My best to you. My heart is yours. What’s been going on in your world. Please advise.

Lovingly, … Forevermore

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