Posts Tagged ‘loss


keeping time by the moon

[Author’s note: It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. This one’s for T.]

Keeping Time by the Moon


He would not let me undress him. We would sit on the front steps of my 18th Street store-front loft in Pilsen shot-gunning a joint, our lips so close that a passerby might mistake it for a kiss—a smokin’ one at that—and we would watch the passing traffic all the while talking talking talking. We would sit close enough to each other that our legs and arms would be touching and I would turn and look into his eyes—were they brown or blue?  They were beautiful. And I’d stroke his cheek with the back of my hand, he was beautiful.

He would not let me undress him. The fable of our falling together has yet to surface, all I recall is that for a few weeks in the heat of a Chicago summer I was his dog. We did not make the scene, he did not meet my friends, although I told anyone who would listen how this beautiful boy and I were this close to fucking, but for the fact that he would not let me undress him. He lived with his sister in an ugly contemporary building on Dearborn just north of Division, perhaps the 1400 block, it looked like a layer cake, the concrete frosting being squeezed out between each layer of glass; you had to walk down a wide set of stairs to gain entrance to the lobby (like a subterranean car park) and up the elevator to their apartment.

He would not let me undress him. Their life seemed transitional, temporary, with two mattresses on the floor and clothing spilling out of suitcases and boxes with the detritus of life stacked in a corner. Did I take this as a warning? Of course not, I was smitten, bit, enthralled to his charms, he was, after all, beautiful. His beauty was such that women, men, and small animals (domestic and wild) would stop to watch him pass by, every one of them would have laid down their life for him without the slightest hesitation; he was that beautiful. Had you seen him you would have understood my dilemma.

He would not let me undress him. The time we were together was short, perhaps just a few weeks. My gut tells me we kissed, but I cannot confirm that as fact. He did not ask for money, although I gladly paid our way (food, drink, cover charges, cabs, bus- and train-fare) and I kept him stocked with the drugs of the day, but I did not feel like I was being used (well, perhaps a bit, but not enough for it to matter.) I could not have been but a couple of years older than he, so there was not the desperation of age motivating my desire to be with him.

He would not let me undress him. And just as my memory of our meeting is shrouded in the depths of those final months of my denouement, our parting is equally undefined. I believe that one day I went to his apartment and rang the bell and there was no answer. I may have sat on the steps leading down into that concrete bunker contemplating my infatuation (that libido thinking) and cursing myself for falling so hard for one so beautiful. Had anyone seen me sitting there that day, they would have known, just from the slump of my shoulders and the curve of my back, that I had been in love and had lost. He, nor his sister, ever surfaced again, not even in a dream, although I could, at this very moment, tell you exactly how beautiful he was.


He loved me. We did not date. We were not boyfriends. We did not exchange phone numbers. When we did see each other it would happen like this: I would be out with friends and he would be standing next to me like a wraith appearing out of the smoke of the bar. Everything about him was pleasing: intelligent, witty, pretty (in a man sort of way), deferential to my friends and my relationship with them.

He loved me. I did not love him; I do not know why I did not, love him. He did not pressure me to return his love. Quite the opposite, he rarely made mention of his devotion. I never said anything more than, “Shall we spend some time/sometime together?” He was always available to do so. If he had a job, I did not know what it was.

He loved me. You could see it in the way he stood next to me. Days after seeing us together, someone/a friend would comment, “He loves you. You can tell by the way he looks at you.” We would spend several days holed up in my loft, only occasionally going out for food/cigarettes/beer. Afterwards, we would sit on the bed facing each other, legs and arms intertwined and talk about it all (hopes, dreams, aspirations) as if we both loved each other. But I did not love him.

He loved me. At a point in time/in the future/months, perhaps a year or two after we first met, he stopped standing next to me unexpectedly. I don’t know when that happened, but I do remember thinking that he did not love me any longer. Alone/out at night, I would think of him/perhaps in the hope that the thought would conjure him up out of the smoke of the club. It did not. I may have loved him, but too late to make anything out of it other than what it was. He loved me.


His name was David and every few months between 1975 and 1979 we had hate sex. I would tell you that we had nothing in common, but I would be lying; it was that we were so similar that caused the friction. Neither of us could determine if he was too smart for me or if I was too smart for him. Likewise as innocent as the wheat in a spring field. We’d ignore each other for days that lasted the time between full moons and then fall together, shutting the door to the outside world, just the light from the window illuminating our writhing bodies. It was mysterious and arcane, fiction and truth, a fire in the forest.

There was a hollow at the base of his spine just before the rise of his ass that was as tender as moonlight, but his face was marked by adolescent acne, his hair kinky and light brown—he pulling at it all the while we’d be pressed up against each other (at work, at the bars, on the train, or walking down the street), “I hate you Robert,” he’d cry out as we quickly shed our clothes, “Let me kiss you,” I’d plead and he’d run into the hours of my life, tackle my day, and we would fall, fall, fall, disappearing in quilts and pillows, down toward the grunting of hate sex.

There came a time when the moon was new and we’d not seen each other for weeks, we’d circle each other, nod, and tip a beer bottle in hostile greeting, cruise some other men, make out in front of each other, the hours slipping away counted by the number of misfires, beard rash, ass grabs, and pisses in the john, our hate fueled by desire. We couldn’t have a conversation without arguing, hurting each other because we were fighting ourselves, we knew the weak spots and sought them out for the wickedest of barbs, St. Sebastian before he was the American Idol, a Coppertone Christ. We’d pierce each other’s heart, lip-locked and bodies socketed like nesting wrenches. God, it was marvelous.

I wonder if, when I realized I hadn’t seen him in some time, if at that same time he realized he hadn’t seen me either. That our moons rose and fell at different times, a tip of the world, its axis shifting, shuddering, memory fading until tonight when I went out on the last dog walk before bed and there was our moon and I cried out, “I hate you David, let’s fuck.”


You left without saying goodbye. The door whispered shut; you were down the stairs and on the sidewalk before, before, before (what?) the frost had a chance to melt in the early morning. No, no, not that.

You left without saying goodbye. The door whispered shut, the click of the key a tsk; you were down the stairs and on the sidewalk pulling the collar of your jacket up around your neck not so much against the frost of the early morning, but more of a defense against the ghost of the night, what you had left behind. (What had you left behind?)

You left without saying goodbye. Did you stop to look at me laying there, my lips slightly parted in that deep sleep when your soul rides in and out with every shallow breath (blown out, but caught in the intake of the next breath, you never lose it, your soul, it’s a joy ride,) Did you? No, no, probably not. You’re not that kind of sentimental fool, that’s why.

You left without saying goodbye. It could have been that I dreamt of your leaving, silently, still. The door whispered its goodbye to you as you pulled it closed behind you, the key clicked its tsk (that little snap, a breaking — in, out, gone) and you felt its coolness against your fingers/palming it into your front pocket, touching the coins, feeling the ridges of a quarter with your fingernail.

You left without saying goodbye. I did not know you had gone, even when I woke to find your side of the bed empty, one eye still shut against the dawn seeping in under the blinds and slipping down across the windowsill, spilling onto the floor in stripes, your pillow a memory of your head, face toward me, your breath sour/sweet. But that lasted until I didn’t hear you in the bathroom/kitchen/hallway, the door whispering its goodbye as you pulled it closed behind you, the key clicking its disapproval with a tsk.




world a.i.d.s. day 2012



in honor of mother’s day, a reading of roses are red, violets are blue (in which the author speaks with his mother about the long island medium)

mother’s day card from the author to his mother, 1962

it doesn’t seem possible, does it mother, that in just a few short days it will be 30 years since you left this world? how to account for the intervening years, then, the years that i wish i could have shared with you; the failures, the small triumphs, the love, and the sadness, the gossip, the weather, bill clinton, george w. bush, and a trip to france? in just a few paragraphs today there is no way we could cover all of that ground is there (water under a bridge, but actually more like virginia woolf wading into the rill that last time, her sweater pockets filled with rocks)? how then, to explain my life to you; all those little things in my life that  went undocumented because i could not call you on the phone and tell you, “i got the job!” or “i think you’ll like him, mom, he means the world to me.” the time pneumonia put me in the hospital, so sick there was concern that i might not make it through, the white cyclamen my boss sent to me sitting on the window sill of my room (all remembered with the hazy soft filter of time and morphine.)

and even more so than the peaks and valleys are the tiny little moments that you experience on a daily basis when the road is level, like when i was a teenager and you asked me what happened during my day and i would respond, “nothing.” those are the nothings that you do share eventually, unprompted, it spills out of you as we recount the week behind us, you on the stool in the kitchen under the wall phone, me, well me, wherever i was living at the time. how could we catch up on all that love? what of it, hmm?

please note the dish towel thrown jauntily over her shoulder. i have the same habit.

a few days ago, m. introduced me to the “long island medium”, a “reality” show (how to explain reality tv to you, you who left before its onslaught, lucky you) about a woman living on long island in new york who communicates with the dead. i wouldn’t have thought to bring it up were it not so close to this time marker, this anniversary of three decades without you, although it’s probably silly not to, all things considered, since your mother was as psychic as they come, but it appears that this woman really does talk to the dead. (if it’s not true, my hat’s off to the producers of this ‘unscripted’ show for pulling off such amazing acting turns from ordinary people.)

m. and i spent a lazy sunday afternoon and early evening watching, actually more like completely absorbed by, this phenomenon, this woman reaching out to strangers to tell them (she can’t seem to hold herself back from intruding on other people’s lives) that their loved ones are watching them, are with them when the grandchild was born, the birthday was celebrated, the high school graduation, the wedding, the death of another close relative, the dog that died.

ghosts always seemed to accompany us, seen here at christmas in california, 1968

the medium insists that she only shares happiness, and the people whose lives she touches seem to be at a point in their grieving where this interruption, this communication from their ghosts is most needed. she paints a picture of “the other side” as one of all roses and harps and eternal bliss where those who’ve left us frolic together, each and everyone coming together to watch over you, the living.

there are so many joyous tears and looks of incredulity at the minutiae she apparently knows about your intimate life that you can’t help but believe that she has touched on some element (the 5th? or was that just some silly movie with bruce willis and brad pitt?) that i have to ask you, mom, have you been here all along?

as lovely as that seems and as much as i would like to believe that you are here, now (and it’s true i may unconsciously believe that you are) it does not put you physically in front of me as much as i might yearn for that. if the long island medium were to communicate for you to me, yes, it may offer temporary succor, but the fact remains that i cannot call you up when i want to, to check in with you, how you’re feeling, that you had your hair cut and styled, bought a new dress, went out to dinner with your friends, volunteered at the local VFW for a food drive, drove up to jeff city for a doctor’s appointment by yourself, that the dogwood are blooming, a neighbor has a new dog that spends more time with you than with them.

all of that is gone. i accept that. and today, on mother’s day 2012, just a few days from when we laid you in the ground 30 years ago, it may be enough for me to know that you’re close by, watching and smiling, still in love with your son.


it’s the orchid, you *^&%@#!

it seemed so simple.  a perfect idea with the perfect image to illustrate the point. what could go wrong, you might ask yourself.   and i’m not talking about myself in the third person, i’m actually talking about you.   yes, you.  sitting there in the comfort of your ________ or at the local __________ where the wireless is free and the ________ are beautiful/handsome or both.  you may even be at your local public ______, but that seems a stretch, perhaps too last century and possibly a little creepy anymore, besides who do you know that actually takes advantage of the knowledge available at the ________.  It’s been at least 20 years for me since i was inside one and then i rarely had any conversation with the _________ because i knew what i was after and how to use the dewey decimal system (god, do you remember?)  although i can conjure up the smell of old _____ and waxed linoleum and the quiet scratch of the ladder as it moved along its support system–the children’s area carpeted and all of the furniture scaled down to pint-size–which you wanted to go sit in as an adult, because, well just because, but the actual reason is that for one minute it would be comforting to be a child again and not have anxieties beating on the door of your adulthood (or do they pound?  mine come in a variety pack–like those individual servings of cereal that your mother used to buy–the cornflakes always the last to go because they didn’t have the sugar punch the others did. mea culpa the mixed metaphor btw.)

but instead, here you are as i said, in the comfort of your underwear (admit it) and if not that then, the comfort of somewhere else where all of the world’s knowledge (or so you’ve been told) is at your fingertips, which reminds me, when was the last time you actually got your hands dirty with dirt?  and had to use that odd little rasp that swings out from your nail clipper to clean underneath the nails and got a good whiff of loam up your nose or pollen from a faded rose as the petals, at your touch, dropped away from the stamen, one, two, three.  (that is still a question.)  that is just one example, there are so many others:  touch, listen, see, feel, smell (food, music, sex, art, skin, theater, words you have written, the touch of your lover’s hand in yours).

use it or lose it.   after all, it is the scariest of all admonitions, is it not? (that question is for both you and i.)  and then there is the keyboard that is the obstacle (albeit a necessary one).  do i cop out here and say, “what i’m saying is get out, experience life”, which seems too easy , too trite and not truly addressing what the problem, as i see it, is.  (was there a problem?  oh yes, it was where were the words going to come from?) and it’s not like i haven’t addressed this subject before and yet they do, don’t they?   show up eventually.  sometimes unintentionally, sometimes with purpose, the brother that never quite fit into the groove of the family, the wanderer who shows up on your doorstep, “hi, i was passing through and thought i’d drop by and say hello and see the kids,” and you open your arms and take him in.


what i remember (memorial day)

the military, in one way or another, was always the drumbeat keeping time in my family when i was growing up.  the year i turned 18 was the last year of the draft, and although my mother had suggested i enlist (career opportunities! great retirement package–should you survive left unsaid, but there was never a period at the end of that sentence–as there is in this one.)  my draft number was in the 300s (whew!), and off to college i went.

the author's mother enlists in the women's army corps 1950

my mother enlisted in the women’s army corps in 1950 after the demise of her second marriage to wyoming rancher, bill russell (i think it’s interesting that she’s noted as ‘miss’ evelyn h. russell), following a tradition set by her uncle (maynard high served in the navy in wwII and her half-brother, ralph jr., who had been in the navy after wwII.  what i want to know is why two land-locked men from wyoming joined the navy, but i digress.)

after basic training, she was posted to fort sheridan as a telephone operator (a previous life choice, better left for another time) where she met my father, a sargeant in the army.  (is this boring yet, this litany of where’s and when’s and who’s?  why should you care, you might be asking yourself about now, about robert’s mother’s military service, but to know this is to understand a little bit more about me–and after all, it is about me, i mean the blog is called ‘robert patrick’ for a reason.)

enlisting may have been the smartest thing my mother ever did for herself.  it got her away from the expectations of her family and put her, eventually, in a position to take control of her own destiny–as much as one is allowed to do that–but, she was able, after a time, to make her own decisions about how she led her life and with whom.

there is only a brief time in our life together when the military did not impact our lives, but so short as to be inconsequential.   after she and i moved to rapid city, she soon found a job at ellsworth air force base, where she worked for the next 17 years.   as it turns out, she was quite the object of desire among many an enlisted man (and some officers, too) at ellsworth, but one made a point of dogged pursuit and eventually proposed (she accepted!) and they lived happily ever after (well, mostly, her protracted duel with cancer a possible deterrent to their mutual happiness.)

he, (first name roy.  roy was the middle name of my father.  a coincidence?  i think not.) a life long enlister:  enlisted in the army and served in germany at the end of wwII, discharged from the army and enlisted in the marines and served in korea, discharged from the marines and enlisted in the air force and served two tours of vietnam, finally ending up at ellsworth and falling in love with my mother.  i’ll say this:  you would have never known he was or had been in the service; he was the gentlest and kindest man who loved my mother i had ever met.

did i mention that my grandfather on my father’s side had been in the army and served in europe during wwI where he suffered a head wound (part of his skull was blown away by shrapnel and had been replaced with a metal plate–a constant source of amazement for his grandchildren, “grandpa, may i touch the plate in your head?”  and he, as quiet and pleasant an individual you’d ever hope to meet, a barber with his own shop in south springfield, illinois, that he could walk to from home, it was literally around the corner, never complained — that we heard — and he would say, “touch it right here and you can feel the edge of it,” taking our small hands and placing them just so on the side of his bald head.   grandpa smoked a pipe and wore bow ties and if i ever find a picture of him to show you, you’ll think he stepped right out of grover’s corners or spoon river or possibly a norman rockwell painting for the cover of LIFE magazine.)

hollywood, u.s.a. feb. 14/44, chalk & graphite on paper by m.w. baxter

so.  when m. showed me this drawing yesterday at the long beach flea market i knew we had to have it.  look at his face and you’ll see the sadness, the sense of loss, and the world-weariness that emanates from his eyes and the set of his jaw, this young man drawn by someone (was it a dollar portrait on olvera street?) toward the end of the war.  there is a loneliness in his face (home-sickness, perhaps?) that fills me with sadness and compassion.

have i told you that i read the military obituaries that are posted each sunday in the l.a. times?  they move me so, these young lives cut short, their wives, husbands, children set loose from their love (i do want to believe that there is love lost, in spite of my own experience with a father in the military.)  it is the folly of man, is it not, that allows our youth to fight old men’s battles?  how else to explain their resolve to destroy these futures?  yes, i admire those who fight for us and yes, i rue their loss; losses that seem monumental to those who survive and inconsequential to those who prompt them.   there must be a better way.


at the intersection of time & memory

i am standing in the middle of this point in time.  & if you’ve ever been driving in the plains states (let’s say) on roads off the main highways, you will instantly understand what i mean by being in the middle of this point in time.  it is the point where the horizon line is so low & so far away no matter which way you turn that it’s quite possible that time stops.  you can see that the clouds (if there are any) are moving across the sky, but they do not represent the motion of time, they just are.

what has brought me to this point in time?  the abrupt introduction of the present into my memories.   as innocent as it may have been, it’s pushed me off course & i’m unable to gather myself together & drive back into the past (which is where i would like to be right now.)

it has diminished the size of the original memory & has saddened it even further than it was already (if that is possible, which i think it is; like wet cardboard.)  you have your childish memories & let’s say you’ve been away from wherever they may have taken place for many years.  on your return, the first thing you notice, as an adult now, is how small everything seems.   where once it was grand & elegant & XX, it is now small & worn & sized for those under 6 (if even.)

& it’s not only the size that’s has changed, it is also the light.  where it was once sun-bathed, it is now cloudy & dark (sinister in its change of weather.)  & although the sun of the past is the sun of today; the fact remains that i was using the old sun to reveal what little i could remember (not the facts necessarily, but the feelings, the emotions, the intent.)

i feel some remorse.  it’s possible that i may have snapped at this interloper (in writing; terse, impersonal, dismissive,) who has, unbidden, interjected today into my past.   i believe, though, that by writing about it, there is the outside chance that i’ll be able to look at as if i were at a crossroads on a gravel road in the great plains, the snort of cow shit fresh in my nostrils (possibly,) the wind (john cage silence) a pumice to my skin, peeling back the present & revealing the past once again (as it was? maybe not.  but possibly this new view will–we’ve decided to turn to the left at the crossroads, had you not surmised that by now–this new view will bring with it a fresh jolt of memory.)

post dated: 11/14/10

in the intervening moments between writing & waking, nothing has changed.


things i thought about while watering the garden

this rose color is particularly unique.  if you glance at it, you see it as red, but it’s not, it’s loaded with orange & just a dusting of violet/lavender (depending upon the light) which makes me think it is a beacon of color at the edge of a garden bed WARNING that you must be careful, mustn’t get too close, must pay attention to it (although it’s a small rose compared to the others that we’ve cultivated (even the potted ones.)  doesn’t it look like a mexican folklorical dancer’s dress with its ruffle-y petals & cute little turned up skirt?

this ground cover grows underneath the rose pictured above–it has taken years for it to spill over the brick border into the spaces between the patio pavers (i wonder if we’ll still live here when it has traveled the ten feet to the back door) it could be another eternity (i’m not sure how many i have in me.)

my mother died on may 25, 1982 just one month before her 66th birthday.  obviously devastated by her passing, although i had had some preparation (via my step-father & she) they tried to guide me to the eventuality/finality of it, but i was resistant & didn’t fully understand — how could she leave me?  she loved roses & every time one blooms i think of all the roses that have come before & may come after & how much i would like to have had time to share them with her (& so much else.)   every time one of my peers/friends/associates/acquaintances mentions their mother a little part of me cringes at the incongruity of life, it has no conscience & jealousy flares one last time, a dying ember in the grate.

sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy (sappy happy stupid song) there’s a little hanging of french glazed ceramic wall pockets on the atrium fence facing west which i’ve had the worst time getting something/anything to grow in, but finally stuck some broken off pieces of geranium in them et voila! they’ve taken hold along with some self-seeded lobelia from at least two if not three years ago & i couldn’t be happier with their sunny disposition & the happiness factor has tripled (bingo!)

the cymbidium orchids are so perfect they couldn’t possibly be real (unlike life with its imperfections & sudden losses & its serendipitous nature, all those things are only important to humans, it matters not to the rest of the natural world; fate has no part in the life of plants/other animals/rocks.  why should it for us?)

m. looked at this photo & said “what is that?” & just as quickly said “oh, that little air orchid.”  & unfortunately, it is the fate of this orchid (on its 5′ tall stem–because it never stops blooming, just reaching higher & higher, but the blossoms are so tiny & its cymbidium cousins, so gaudy in comparison, steal one’s attention that it does go unnoticed, except for the hummingbirds which are drawn to these delicacies & ignore the cymbidiums entirely, which might be a life lesson if one is paying attention.

…coming soon, my favorite rose one of my favorite roses (like children, you would never let them know who your favorite is — although you may have one — imagine the life of despair that one child might suffer if they knew) will be bursting into bloom.  it stands nearly 6′ tall (maybe taller) & is loaded with buds (a clock is ticking somewhere)

a veil on a hat adds an aura of mystery, a scrim in the theater reveals subtext & hidden agendas, a thin wash of white across a color field obscures the truth.  artists reveal their own truths, it is as they see it.

i try not to anthropomorphize but it seems to be human nature to force our emotions & thoughts on other life forms as if it would make us feel better, but i can’t not think this tree fern is happy, sparkling with water & sunshine & bobbing under the weight of the shower stream of water i’m brushing it with while i fumble with my other hand trying to turn on the camera, set it to macro & capture a fleeting drop of water (it makes me happy though)

at the end of the garden & the watering cycle (all the way around the house) a surprising bloom of iris hot yellow under the pinks & creams of two rose bushes, sunshine (a note on the sun:  have you noticed how flat the sun looks when wisps of fog float across it–a white disk/dot hanging in the sky?)

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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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