..............19 sonnets from an apple basket
Prominent cheek bones, on the deck of her pastel condo,
high up, Claire runs a red comb through her hair, black
with just a minor encroachment of gray. From far out,
a Pacific breeze ruffles white the Sound water and stirs
some business papers beside her chair. Down there she sees a few
trivial gulls and sailboats and--vibrant capitalism, three huge ships:
a freighter from China stuffed with mattresses for the massive
Americans, a ferryboat, passengers bound for Bainbridge and TV,
and the wedding cake Princess, top-heavy, her pleasure sponges
no doubt drowsy from a big dose of rigatoni and red wine or
something. She dozes and dreams a rustle of rats in the attic, the
several stations of the crass, a basket full of death wishes & red
delicious apples, a priest--the beast who scooped her up--dead
in a dim room, a bullet wound in his forehead, oozing blood, red.
She awakens and her trigger finger itches. Claire Black,
recently widowed at fifty, leans over the railing of her deck,
cold now and in the dark. Should I inject my face with
bo-tox? Should I jump? But what if death is--even lonelier?
Maybe I wil inject my face with bo-tox and buy a small dog,
a Maltese, maybe two Malteses, male and female. I'll call
them Tess & D'Urberville, Derby for short. Yes, bo-tox and
two Malteses, but both male--Laurel and Hardy. O fuck, all
I need's a stiff drink. From a cabinet above the kitchen sink--
a tumbler, a fresh fifth of Bombay gin and two tiny bottles of
tonic water, Shweppes. Claire struggles unscrewing the Bombay.
Hot Christ! I don't need a man to screw: I need a man to unscrew
bottle caps. After a blast of gin, a TV dinner and a hot shower,
Claire, in a pink silk kimono, settles down for a family album hour.
Two more gin & tonics and Claire feels like a blathering mother so
she first phones her daughter Phoebe's friendly answering machine
in Omaha, and Phoebe's friendly answering machine (Claire sees
corn stalk or parrot green) cheerfully announces that Pheobe
has gone to church to eat corn on the cob, to sing some hymns and
to play a little bingo. Claire informs Phoebe's answering machine
that if she should ever return to church she'll be packing a pistol in
her Louis Vuitton, to drill a filthy raven between his twisted eyes.
Another blast from the bottle and baby daughter Annie's answering
machine (pantie pink) in Miami sings, breathlessly. Seems Annie's
fanny's on the back of her photographer fiance's Harley, and they're
touring gulf Katrina states on assignment for National Geographic.
Claire, now somewhat slurry, sings to Annie's pink machine that she
is torn between skydiving in Peru & scuba diving in the Caspian Sea.
Nuclear family business complete, Claire decides to connect
with her larger tribe: she flips on the TV. It will take a village
to polish off this bottle of gin, she thinks, as she riffles her deck
of channels, finally fixing on the Seattle Sonics versus the Phoenix
Suns. All those stunning men in silky shorts, so tall and nimble!
But what a waste. If only...if only they could break free, free at
last--God Almighty!--from that retarded basketball. She trembles
weeping while splashing a tumbler half full--or half empty?--
of gin and tonic, then wraps an Indian blanket around her tightly
and stumbles out onto the deck-those lights, those harbor lights!
Claire's eyes open at dawn. She crawls inside, drinks her last drink.
She dumps what remains of the Bombay gin into the kitchen sink
and mumbles: "Time to sell my eagle's nest high above the Sound
and live somewhere closer to the ground, maybe even under ground."
In a peachy Hawaiin surfer shirt, Red Feather--long black hair,
blue cotton headband--shuffles his homemade cards. He gazes
into, and through, Claire Black's eyes, places a card on each
of the nine points of an enneagram crudely sketched with red
magic marker on old cotton, and speaks, amused, hamming it up:
"Madam Black, I see shoes, shoes moving back and forth. I see
a man in black...but not Johnny Cash...I see a flash...not from
a camera...I see blood...from a head...not yours...I see your
"photo...a theater poster?...a postal wanted poster? Now cross
my palm with silver. Twenty bucks. I'm in serious need of fresh
buffalo meat. Would you like some advice?" Claire swoons and
nods. "Record your dreams in this specially blessed journal.
"A mere twenty bucks. I'm in serious need of a dog for my sled.
Mark your place with this red feather. It's free: I like your head."
Claire stands up, dizzy. With a grand theatrical gesture, Red Feather
hands her his business card--Have 3 Eyes; Will Travel--& a rather
filthy paperback copy of Steve La Berge's Lucid Dreaming. "Brother
Steve's a shaman--campus tribe, Stanford clan. Sacred smoke of cedar
"fire has purified this copy--twenty bucks. My squa needs a new bra."
"Where'd you get your red feathers?" Claire stammers. "From a
cardinal, but not at Rome--in Missoula." Claire's fingers now smell
like a Cascade Mountain campfire. She exits Red Feather's closet--
Red Feather, Registered Psychic on the door--in the back of the
Fremont New Age Bookstore (just below the Troll) and browses a bit,
buying a hunk of rose quartz and a fresh copy of Lucid Dreaming.
Claire wanders Fremont, and before sundown she rents a basement
studio apartment in an old building. Her windows--sidewalk level.
She sees shoes, shoes moving back & forth. Red Feather--you devil!
Saturday night and neon swirls in a Fremont tavern, The Cars
on the jukebox churn cream into butter, the bartenders--Lars
and Laura--draw multiple beers for the boys and girls, Dusty
throws a dart that misses the board, Nicole Rococo swats him
on the ass and everybody laughs. Out front, under lights, under
summer stars, Leona and the smokers gesture & smoke & pose
for the traffic. In back of the tavern, in the dark, Angelo parks
his Harley in the weedy lot, and with a big silver key, opens the
back door. Claire Black follows him down dark stairs, and
together they light a dozen candles on the long table that stands
surrounded by cases of wine and beer. Slowly more ghosts
file and fill up the chairs. It's Claire's first AA meeting: The
Saturday Midnight Fremont Free Monsters. Hanging on the wall--
their motto: The way up is the way down. Claire feels quite small.
Shadows and candlelight play on his face. "My name is Angelo, ex-
con, gypsy, joker, and I...We were out in the yard shooting hoops...
hard words...push & shove. I got stuck in the gut. as I lay dying,
blood pooling in the dirt, I saw--it's all a big joke. The world, the
"Earth--comedy central. God the father mother joker. I also saw,
not that we're all in the same boat, but that we're all parts of one
sailor. You, me, everybody, really just one sailor. Sounds corny,
I know, like a Beatles song." The meeting over, the ghosts drift up
and out like smoke. Claire declines to ride on Angelo's bike. "Angelo,
you're beautiful, and you and your beautiful bike make me feel like
seventeen. But I don't want to feel like seventeen. I want to feel
seventy, or a hundred & seventy. See you next Saturday. "Rarely
have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.
Most evenings, Claire reads: Kafka, Sam Beckett and Sylvia Plath.
Claire wakes at dawn, goes to the stove and boils water--Am I
dreaming?--for a pot of green tea loaded with honey. She records,
with words and small sketches, her dream: On a sinking ladder, she
tries to climb out of a sunken flower garden. Out her window she
sees shoes moving. Am I dreaming? She puts on her walking shoes
and begins her long day's walk towards night. Widdershins, she
circles Green Lake, observing the joggers: Some joggers are demons,
some are being chased by demons, while others--the unawakened
dead. Am I dreaming? Claire stops at a Greenlake Starbucks, sits at
a sidewalk table. Coming up the sidewalk--a pair of men, both bald.
They are taping posters to poles. One is very old and tall and slow
and white; the other, very young and short and quick and black.
A few feet from Claire's table, they stop and tape. The poster reads:
WANTED! The Amateur Avant Fremont Freakster Theater Needs...
...Actors And Actresses Any Age Or Size, Experience Useful But
Not Essential...Also, Anyone Willing To Help Backstage With
Props, Costumes, Sets, Lighting And Sound Or As Stage Hands,
Prompt And So On. Contact...Claire remembers her college
thespian career. Her senior year, she starred as Irene, in Ibsen''s
When We Dead Awaken. That freshman Gina stole the show
as Maja--bigger tits, bigger hips, bigger lips--that bitch! May
she freeze in Hell or Norway! Sundown, the following Thursday--
just a hint of Autumn quince in the air--Claire strolls down hill
to an old weathered barn--the Fremont Freakster Theater--near
the canal. Waiting to ham for the director, she chats with Troy--
seventeen, short, genius, black--who has put down his hammer.
"No, Claire, I didn't drop out: School interfered with my education.
I didn't run away: I kissed mom goodbye at the Greyhound Station."
"It was my 16th birthday, Cinco de Mayo. I tell you, Claire, I was
ecstatic to be exiting rust-belt Buffalo. My first day in Seattle,
Ocho de Mayo, I explored on Metro, and Fremont felt--just right.
I sat under the Troll awhile, then strolled on down to the canal.
"Something drew me to this barn, where I met Stan, that old man
over there, hammering. Forget the director, Peter Pan: Stan's the
heart and brains of this enterprise. He was a hotshot New York
director in the '70s, a rising star, fast. Thought he deserved a little
"holiday in Poland, big mistake. In Warsaw he looked up mad Jerzy
Grotowski, bigger mistake, and joined one of Jerzy's theatrical, uh,
experiments. Stan and some other seeker suckers were driven deep
into the countryside, and dumped. Stan, distracted by some strange
"Polish flora, became separated from the group--lost, alone. Clear
night awhile--then rain, lightning & thunder. I felt like King Lear
"(Act IV, scene 4) at first, and that was theatrically charming, but
soon I felt like shit. A Polish farmer out shooting squirrels found me
the next morning, shivering under a Polish oak, in shock. I returned
to New York and attempted suicide, failed, & then attempted drugs,
"without success. So I moved to Seattle. It seemed like a nice place
to sleep. Stan's taught me everything about this moneky business--
backstage and front--and he gave me a valuable piece of advice:
Shun actors. Their brains are like vacant barns in which grotesque
"birds and creeping things come to nest. And I've managed to teach
Stan a little about computers. Mom got me a PC when I was six,
a gift from a rich lady whose house she was cleaning. At 14, I was
considered a prodigy hacker: I could see the cracks in the seams."
When her name is called, Claire tells the director, Mr. Peter Pan:
"Cancel my audition. Could I work backstage with Troy and Stan?"
Sunday night, night of the autumn equinox, Claire Black takes a
long bubble bath (total immersion) followed by a quick hot sower.
Her body covered with a clean cotton sheet, Claire curls up in bed,
rehearsing her Lucid Dreaming script. Sleep. Am I dreaming? Yes!
Claire, small as a sparrow, stretches her wings and ascends to the
sun, to the top of the Christ Tower, rose quartz pulsing with light.
Standing on the deck of his penthouse condo--Christ! He wears
Mexican sandals, 501s, a green cotton shirt with pearl buttons and
a dusty gold pinstripe fedora. He Smiles and says: "Claire, I know
what you're thinking: Christ looks like Crazy Horse. Who'd you
expect--Jim Caviezel? Now about that so-called priest. Go ahead,
off the son of a bitch. You've got my green light." His shirt turns
from green to yellow to red, then back to green again, but brighter.
Claire wakes at dawn, humming Ave Maria. She feels much lighter.
Claire gives Angelo 500 bucks and a kiss, and he gives her the cold
piece. "Yes, Angelo, I know the drill: point and squeeze. When we
first got married, my late husband Rusty, afraid of rapists, bought me
a .38 and taught me how to shoot it. After we got to know each other
"a little better, the pistol disappeared. Rusty wasn't the brightest
bulb on the Christmas tree, but he was no fool." Later, at the barn,
Claire says to old Stan: "Say, Pops, I'm going to be an old crone at a
Halloween party. Can you give me a few tips?" Stan, master of
props, gives her a cane from a Noh drama, bits of a crone costume
and a ragged wig from Yeats' play; and, touching her face, says:
"A little paint here, Claire, and you'll look like a hundred." Then
Claire asks Troy: "Troy, can you find a man? You might have to
"hack the Vatican. Can you hack the Vatican?" "Of course I can.
I can hack the Vatican. Tell me his name and I'll find the man."
Thursday, clear and sunny, Claire meets Troy for lunch, Kentucky
Fried, crispy, a picnic at the Troll. "I found your Father Yago. He
really gets around, to & fro, up & down, slums & jungles, jungles
and slums. It's like something's been chasing him for forty years,
"but, surprise, he's back in Seattle; and, next week, Allhallow's Eve,
he'll be at Blessed Bingo & the Beatles at his church in Rat City."
"Troy, you hacked the Vatican?" "Didn't have to. Yago plays
bloggo, has pages at MySpace. Yago likes to keep in touch."
Feeling foxy from the chicken and the rare, crips autumn weather,
Claire strolls from the Troll to the Fremont New Age Bookstore,
thinking: I'm coming to get you, Red Feather. But Red Feather
isn't there. There's a basket of red delicious apples on a chair, and
on his door, a note: Eat one, in remembrance of me. Don't worry:
be happy. Have gone to pick apples with my tribe in Wenatchee.
The bingo basket whirls. Beatles blare. Bending low, poking
with her cane, her appearance an amalgam of an ancient Mother
Superior & an old Irish-Japanese witch from Macbeth, Claire
enters the raucous bingo hall &, with mincing steps, heads straight
for Father Yago, who sits at the children's table slurping a hot
fudge sundae, a Notre Dame varsity sweater over his shirt & collar.
She croaks in his hear: "Father Yago, I have a bequest for the Holy
Church, gold and precious stones." With Claire on his arm, Father
Yago waddles down a dim hallway to an even dimmer room.
They sit at opposing desks. Claire looks in his eyes--nobody home.
Claire thinks: Father, you have sinned. Say half a Hail Mary,
quickly, & kiss your ass goodbye, you freak. Claire reaches in her
purse and feels the cold piece. She looks out her exit, the window--
crescent moon. A flash coincides with Sergeant Pepper's crescendo.
Next day, Mysterious Murder on the evening news. Bud, 300 pound
cabdriver, towers over ace reporter, Molly Chen. Scratching his butt,
Bud explains: "She was so old. I picked her up at Swedish and she
seemed Irish yet oddly Japanese and when we got to the church in
"Rat City she tipped me a quarter, barked, took it back and tipped
me a dime and then when I wasn't quick enough getting out to open
her door she called me a goddamned fool and poked me with her cane.
She must have been a hundred. You see, Molly, to live that long,
"one must be exceptionally mean. That's my theory." Claire, feeling
finally even after forty years, returns to the Church and, following
a date with jolly Bishop Tucker at Raty's Boat House (Friday, fish),
Claire makes arrangements to enter a retreat on the eastside of Lake
Washington (nine months official mourning), a convent for rich lay
ladies--flowers, ducks. Without delay, Claire begins writing a play.
Working title: Irene Contra Maja: a Tragedy. After subtracting
Ibsen's superfluous male characters from When We Dead Awaken,
Claire takes Irene and Maja and sets them in a ski lodge on Mt.
Shasta, where they battle supremacy, day & night, on the slopes
and in the bars. Feverishly, far into the night, Claire lack sits in her
cell at her PC, collaborating via e-mail with her co-conspirators, Troy
& Stan. They opt for a minimalist appraoch, but fast--Sam Beckett
fused with Kabuki. The frequent howls of laughter exploding from
Claire's cell distrub the nosy nuns & other inmates, and there is talk
of importing a specialist priest from Boston to perform an exorcism.
Fortunately, the final curtain drops (Irene, triumphant in a duel
fought with ski poles, plants Maja's body in a lodge pot, and sings
a concluding aria, crowing) before the exorcist arrives on the tarmac
at Sea-Tac. Claire Black splits the convent and she never looks back.
After an earthquake Fremont Freakster run, the play's performed on
Broadway. Stan, now awakened, declines to return to New York in
triumph, saying only:" Ah, fuck New York." Soon, Hollywood buys
the title. The movie, now a comedy, ends, not with a duel, but a duet
and a wedding. Jennifer Aniston, gradually looking more and more
like Humphrey Bogart, plays Irene with considerable flair. Angelina
Jolie as her bo-tox bride, Maja, is sultry enough, but a bit lazy. As
bride's maids, Brad Pitt & Tom Cruise star in hooker wigs and skirts.
Jack Black, in Papal drag, performs the Vatican wedding. Critics
predict Oscars. Meanwhile, far from the maddening Hollywood
hullabaloo, Troy, Stan and Claire are directing Bill Gates and
a bunch of jaded Microsoft executives in Grotowskian theatrical
happening involving skydiving and mountain climbing in Peru.
Newsweek headlines it: The Ascension Towards Machu Picchu.
About the author:
I live in Seattle. My poems have appeared in The Adirondack Review, Amarillo Bay, Chelsea, Curious Rooms, Exhibition, Exquisite Corpse, 4th Street, Iota, Pinstripe Fedora, Poetry Midwest, Puerto del Sol, Pulsar, Rattle, Shampoo Poetry, The Sun, Wicked Alice, Willard & Maple, and elsewhere. My chapbook, Her Bright Bottom, was recently released by Spankstra Press (Seattle).
Harvey Goldner: "When I was a child, my lesbian aunt, Suzanne, would spend a week or so every summer at my family's vacation home on Lake Wenatchee, here in Washington State. This was before the era of motorcycle helmets, and Suzanne would arrive on her blue Bugatti, her red hair streaming, flaming. While tossing back straight shots of my father's precious scotch, she would mesmerize my twin brother Phil and me by reading aloud her favorite poets, chiefly Elizabeth Bishop. Eventually, my brother Phil became an alcoholic & was killed in a motorcycle accident, and I began writing poems." (email@example.com)