Eulogy for One Still Living

There’s a quote I like by Howard Gossage. He was an advertising man in San Francisco back in the 50s and 60s, a period of time and a profession that’s inextricably linked with New York City and excess and self-indulgence because of the show Mad Men. But where Don Draper and Roger Sterling and all the other fictional mad men leaned into self-importance and the supposed importance of their work, Gossage had more noble aspirations, and that shows in this quote. Anyway, here it is. “Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man.”

If you know my mom’s personal history, you know that she’s a graduate of Stanford University. When she was there, she was very active in the Chicano student organization, MEChA. She protested, she picketed, she shouted.

My mother was a congressional intern in Washington DC the summer Nixon was to be impeached. After college, she attended the UC Berkeley School of Law. It was her father’s wish that she become a lawyer, something that he really wanted for himself, but that was not right for her.

In DC and in law school, and even amongst the other students at Stanford, my mother saw people who abstracted themselves from the work of serving others. They maintained an intellectual distance between themselves and those who most needed their aid and assistance. And this is not to say that there is not value in being a lawyer or a politician or a professor. Rather, it is only to say that for my mother, the oldest of nine children, the first in her family to receive a college education, a parental figure and a role model to her siblings and to their children and to their children’s children, it was not enough.

My mother has served the county of Alameda and its people for over 25 years now. In that time, she has helped countless children and families get the aid and assistance they need to make the most of their lives. She has been a protector, a counselor, a friend. She wore these titles not just because they were her job, but because to serve has been her vocation, her calling. There is no doubt in my mind that in another life, my mother could have been a lawyer, a representative, a senator, a tenured professor. But in this life, those professions were not active enough, were not hands-on enough. There was too much distance between herself and the people whose worlds needed changing.

The work was never easy. I grew up seeing the wear and tear it placed on my mother physically and spiritually. I don’t doubt that there were times when she questioned if it was worth it, if she could go on doing it, if it made any difference when cycles of abuse and poverty and neglect never resolved no matter how much work was put in. But I know that to her clients, to the people of Alameda county, her work, and the work all of you do, can mean everything. It’s not just the World with a capital W that you change, but many small worlds as well, thousands of them over the course of a career. For you, it was the only fitting work, and success was not measured in bills passed, or students taught, or cases won, but in lives saved.

And so now, as she’s retiring, I would tell her to rest, but I know that she won’t. Not for longer than it takes to recharge her batteries, to do some things for herself that she’s been putting off, and to travel a little bit.

After all, there are still many good years left to her, and there is still good work to be done.


On Having Turned Thirty Without Killing Myself

I have joked about suicide with the
Tastelessness of an overcooked steak, charred
Like a body burnt in the wreck of a
Car (the logical end result of nights
Spent drinking and a brain that backfires and
Bristles in the presence of speed limits)

Had I died, the real killer would not have
Been the bullet but the decisions that
Put me in the path of the gun, the sheer
Hubris that has often found me waltzing
‘Round a battlefield wearing a target
(I have kissed the lips of cliffs, flirted with
Fire, run cars red, toasted to broken glass)

But if I have let my laugh echo down
The cavernous depths of a barrel, I
Am grateful no monster emerged therewith

There are mountains unconquered, stories to
Tell, women to love. My work is not yet


Endoscopy

One night, my roommate walked in on me,
Knife in hand, cutting away
(I had a sliver of glass in my skin,
And it was easier to cut to the bone
Than to live with the sting)

The other day, I dropped a lead weight
On my foot, and as soon as I convinced myself
It wasn’t broken, I went back to work
(At four in the morning, when the ache
Had grown too great, I drilled through
A toe to relieve the pressure from the bruise)

(Which is all to say,
There is so much I have excised
From my life,
So much I have cut away for making me weak,
So little I hold onto after the first time it hurts me)

(Which is all to say,
For me to keep you so close to my heart,
I must want you more than I want my own blood)


Another Ghost Story

This is how I haunt myself: with creaking floorboards and rustling curtains in a house gone silent; with lights flickering in broken windows against a moonless sky; with laughter and sobbing and anger and joy in a space that has not known the warmth of life in years.

This is how I haunt myself: with superstition and ritual, asking cold entrails in an empty room if a ghost still loves me.


Confessions

I love you as a child, for though I have grown as large as the world, I remain a pup nestled in the crook of your arm.

I love you as the man you saw when you set your hands to clay and baked me in the kiln of your vision.

I love you for the future I could see in your skin, the shadows of your eyes, the shape of your lips, the warmth of your body.

I love you for the memories you hold, the folds and curves of your brain that make facts from the rumors of my existence.

I love you for the way you love another, and so doing, glow with a guiding green light for the lost souls of the Earth.

I love you because I can imagine the kisses I would lay upon your cheek, and though I would never dare, I can see so clearly the home they would find there.

I love you.


Reign XV

It was always two minutes to midnight
In our world, this green valley turned metal.
The promises broke like glass, bright and sharp,
Each point of light another jagged edge.
Leopard print and sequins aren’t Tyrian,
But in your hands, they are greater than gold
(The shame was never in going naked,
Only in blindly insisting you weren’t.)
“No gods, no masters, every man a king.”
We preached our creed with every breath we took,
Every night spent beating back entropy.
The world was ending, but we were dancing.
With pen and ink, blood and bone, I proclaim
The coronation of King No Future.


Reign XIV

The coronation of King No Future
Came on like a bad hangover: sudden
As a star collapsing into sutured existence,
Painful as a cracked skull and a broken
Heart, and just as inevitable. This
Is our life now, homeless and indebted,
Marginalized and indignant. Well, piss
On the world that left us here, abetted
The theft of our later days. Tiny hands
Force crowns of thorns on us all, begin to
Salute. They laugh, those new Charles IIs,
But the only royalty is us. So
We live like exiles looking for a fight.
(It was always two minutes to midnight.)


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