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March 12, 2012 / Samuel DiPaola

Tell Me More

Tell me more.
I want to hear everything.
Don’t leave out a single moment.

You are in the woods.
The sound of your feet along the path floats up through the tops of the trees,
and the birds all stop to listen.

You pause to remove your shoes.
The ground is damp beneath your feet,
but you don’t mind,
and you continue on your way.

When you come to a puddle,
you walk straight through.
The mud splashes your legs
and you decide to remove your dress.

You place your clothes and shoes on a fallen tree trunk
and walk back to the puddle.
You kneel down,
and place your hands in the moist dirt.

The earth gets caught under your fingernails and you decide to roll in it.
Covered from head to foot,
you are now a deep shade of brown,
and you smile.

Contented,
you stand up,
walk over to the tree trunk to retrieve your clothes and shoes,
and you move on.

As the mud dries against your skin
it feels tight,
and you know the meaning
of what’s wrong and right.

The sound of your bare feet along the path floats up through the tops of the trees,
and the birds all stop to listen.

Tell me more.
I want to feel everything.
Don’t leave out a single moment.

February 12, 2012 / Samuel DiPaola

Empty Skies

When morning sun forgets to shine
And shadows cease to fall
I’ll look for you in empty skies
And listen for your call

February 2, 2012 / Samuel DiPaola

Strings

The earth spins round and round
and I see the strings.
I try to pull on one,
but then I’m afraid.
So I wrap it round my wrist
and decide to go for a ride.

January 28, 2012 / Samuel DiPaola

For Patty

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On Wednesday night I flew home from a work conference in Las Vegas, sick as a dog.  The morning had started out normally.  At 7:00 am, I went down to the meeting rooms for the last of the conference sessions.  Room checkout was not until 11:00 am, and the flight back to Minneapolis didn’t leave until 3:55 pm.  I poured myself a cup of black tea and assembled a small plate of assorted melon from the breakfast buffet.   The first two sessions went well, but by 10:30 am, my stomach was doing flip flops and I knew something was wrong.  I skipped the last session, checked out of my room and arrived at the airport by 1:30 pm with two of my colleagues.  Within an hour I was rushing to the men’s room to throw up.  I was flush, and fever was setting in.

The entire 3-hour flight home, I sat hugging myself in pain.  My whole body hurt and I was burning up.  To help cool myself down, I turned the air jet on above my head.  I could not get comfortable, and it was impossible to sleep.  By the second hour of the flight, we had hit a patch of bad turbulence and the flight attendants were told to return to their seats.  I was afraid to eat or drink anything, but at the same time I was dying of thirst.  It wasn’t until the third hour that I was able to get a glass of water.  By that point, I thought I was going to pass out, and was not looking forward to the long walk to baggage claim or the taxi ride home.  I kept watching the navigation screen on the movie viewer in front of my seat to see when we were going to land.  I also noticed the temperature at 30,000 feet was -56 degrees Fahrenheit.

The flight arrived in Minneapolis, on time, but we sat for an additional 10 minutes because they couldn’t get the airplane door open.   I thought to myself, “You have got to be kidding me!” I felt trapped and wanted to just get out.  20 minutes after exiting the plane, I located my luggage, flagged a taxi, and within 30 minutes I was home. My first thought was to brush my teeth.  It was 10:30 pm when I fell into bed, bringing to an end, possibly, one of the worst days of my life.

The next day, I called in sick from work, and stayed in bed till 10:30 am.  After a long hot shower, I went down stairs to make some dry toast and get something to drink.  It had been 24 hours since I had eaten anything, and thought I’d give it a try.  My wife had picked me up some ginger ale to help settle my stomach, and I was starting to feel better.

Since I had been gone for 4 days, the kitchen garbage was overflowing, as well as the trash cans in the bathroom and bedrooms.  I thought to myself that I should go empty the trash, but instead, decided to watch a TV show and rest for a bit.  By 12:20 pm I was cleaning the dishes in the sink and finally decided to gather up the trash to take out to the back alley.  I collected the trash from upstairs, combined it with the kitchen trash, and went outside without a coat, wearing my slippers. 

The weather application on my cell phone said that it was 38 deg. F., warm for a January day; and there was only about ½ inch of snow on the ground.  I walked through the back yard and opened the back gate.  The trash bin was on the front side of the detached garage.  I walked across the driveway to deposit the bag I was carrying.  It was at that point that I noticed my neighbor who had just pulled his truck into his parking spot across the alley.  I also noticed that it was recycling day, from seeing the row of brown grocery bags full of cans, glass and plastic bottles lined up along the front of his garage.  Yes, it was Thursday; the garbage collectors would be coming soon.

As I turned to leave, I saw my neighbor running to the side of the car parked next to his truck.  They were side-by-side, parked in front of his two-car garage.  His wife drove a Toyota and he drove a red truck that had a red cab on the back.  I could only see the front bumper of the Toyota since the red truck was blocking my view.  Suddenly, he began yelling in a panicked voice, “Damn it, Patty! What the hell have you done?  Oh my, God!  Call 911! Call 911.”

I didn’t even realize what was taking place.  I pulled my phone from my pocked and began dialing 911.  I said, “What’s wrong?” 

“She did it!  No, what have you done, Patty?  She attached a hose to the exhaust pipe.”

The next thing I saw was him wrenching the car door open and heaving out the body of his wife.  The interior of the car was covered in white residue from the carbon monoxide.  She was unconscious as he laid her down on the driveway pavement between the truck and the car.  When the 911 operator answered, I told them to send an ambulance because there was a woman unconscious in the alley.  I gave them the address and they said they were on their way. 

We waited 4 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.  My neighbor was beating on her chest and yelling. “Common, Patty, common.  No, no, this can’t be happening.  She has no pulse.”  He then got up and started banging his fists on the hood of the car.  “God, damn it! Oh, my God, Fuck you, Patty!  What have you done?”  By this point the next door neighbor had come outside to see what was happening.  I told her that Patty had attached a hose to the tail pipe and had asphyxiated herself in the car. 

We could now hear sirens coming from down the street.  I turned and saw the ambulance pulling into the alley.  It was followed by two police cars.  When the ambulance attendant got out of the vehicle, I told him that the woman had asphyxiated herself in the car and that she had no pulse.  I walked him around to where she was lying on the pavement.  Her husband was inconsolable, walking in circles on the other side of the car, wringing his hands and crying. “She was fine this morning.  I left at 9:30, and she was fine.”

The neighbor woman was also crying and holding her hand up to her mouth in disbelief.   At this point the teenage boy from next door came out to see what was happening, and we told him to go back inside and not to look.

The paramedics were unable to revive her.

The neighbor woman told me that Patty had been on and off medication for depression for the past year, and nothing seemed to be working.  She had recently found a job, and they thought everything was going to start getting better.  I asked where the kids were and she told me that their daughter was studying in Europe and that their son was now living in New York City.

Within 20 minutes there were three more police cars, and I was being asked by a police woman what had happened?  I told her that I came out to empty my garbage just as he discovered his wife in the car, and that I called 911.  She took down my name and number and thanked me for calling.  By this point three other neighbors were outside watching the events transpire, and the police were questioning them as well, as to what they may have seen or heard.  The one neighbor to their left said that he had gone out to the store at 12:05 pm, but didn’t notice anything.  He didn’t know if the car was running and didn’t see her.  We figured that she must have come out shortly after that and had been in that car for at least 15 minutes before her husband found her.

I went back into my house at 1:30, realizing that I didn’t have a jacket on, and was still wearing my slippers.  It took 3 hours for them to take her away in the ambulance and for the police to unblock the alley.  The trash collector was unable to pick up that day.  They were told by the police to back out and go around to the other side. 

At 4:30, I went outside again to look.  All was quiet.  The car had been towed and I felt an amazing sense of sadness for what had happened.  I kept hearing him say, “She was fine, at 9:30.  She was fine.”  I remember thinking the same thing about my son Alexander when he stopped breathing at 3 months old, and almost died.  I said the same thing to the doctors, “He was fine, this morning when I dropped him off at daycare.  He was happy, and playing, and fine.”  But it only takes less than 5 minutes to change all that.

I stood in the back yard as the sun was going down, and I noticed the empty spot in the driveway where the car had been.  And then I looked up, and I noticed the empty tree house in the tree in their backyard.  And I remembered how their kids would play in it, and how they would run around, all summer long, barefoot, laughing and teasing each other.  Patty would come over and pet our dog and give him treats.

As bad as I felt the night before, flying home from Las Vegas, I know I didn’t feel as bad as Patty must have felt.  And I could never conceive taking my own life.  I only hope that I never have to experience a pain as great as that.  The sadness I now feel is very heavy.  It’s as if a part of her soul attached itself to me when she was pulled out of that car.  She wanted to get out, just as I wanted to get out of the plane last night. 

I can only hope that she is now at peace.  May God take care of her, and her family as well.  And may her husband find in his heart a way to someday forgive her for what she has done.

December 5, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

Forever Silenced

If I have not been good enough,
then let the stars fall from heaven
to cloak me in a mantle of despair,
for burial and forever silenced.

November 28, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

Rice Krispies

I asked if she wanted pancakes, but she said no.
The syrup was not to her liking.
Truth be told, I preferred to lick it from her toes.
We settled for rice krispies – not exactly the same.
Morning light reflected off my cereal spoon,
and I was nearly blinded when the bathrobe slipped from her left shoulder.
I thought I glimpsed a view of heaven, if only for a brief moment.
Milk trailed down the corner of her mouth.
Tongue snaked out to catch stray droplets.
Our eyes met.
She ran the spoon around the edge of the bowl,
captured the last grains of bloated carcass,
and asked if she could have some more.
I poured what last I had, and smiled.

November 13, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

The Reflecting Glass

I love the sound of the window when it rattles in the wind.
My brain is jostled
and I am transported to my room as an infant,
listening to the bumps and grind of the world from my crib,
without a care or worry,
trying to make sense of this place,
and the strangeness of passers by
who distort their faces in the reflecting glass
to make me laugh.

October 9, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

Storm 2

The sun came through the open window.
The storm had past.
I was taking stock of the fact that the debris scattered along the lawn did not represent the entirety of my worldly possessions.
I looked for you, but you were gone.
Prior to the storm you told me that you loved me
and would never leave.
The impression you made on me was long lasting.
Interesting how impressions represent something from the past.
Because that is what you have become,
a past impression;
a mark produced by pressure.
Had I pressed too hard?
Oh, how foolish I was
to think that you actually meant what you said.
The first storm I blamed on external forces.
Surely, we were not to blame.
My friends didn’t like you.
They thought you were overbearing.
They didn’t believe that you really cared about me.
I always explained it away as,
You were under a lot of stress at work,
Or that your family was very controlling, and you were having a hard time.
She’s very different once you get to know her, I’d explain.
By the time storm 2 arrived,
I was starting to see cracks in the foundation,
and water was seeping into the basement.
I thought I would be bailing for weeks.
Fortunately the level crested,
and within a matter of days we were back to normal,
Or so I thought.

October 7, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

Storm

The wind is blowing outside
And my mind is stirring.
I walk to the window
And stare out at the rain filled streets.
Candle light reflects off the glass
And appears to dance to the rhythm of the night.
I run my finger along the trails of water
And imagine they are flowing to your source.
The smell of lavender awakens my senses
And I remember how you loved to run through a storm.
And I wait.

September 27, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

The Room

 

Chapter 1

Dream Journal

March 21, 1992

The room had no door, which is not to say that it was missing or off the hinges; it didn’t exist.  All four walls consisted of smooth plaster.  The men who trowelled them were truly artists; sculpting flat, smooth, perfection.    Machines may be able to create the same linear precise surfaces, but they would still lack the vision, life, and energy of man.  The walls sang, and the plaster moved continuously, never static, vibrating in syncopation, ebb and flow, to natural rhythms.

            The floors were hardwood, oak, stained to a medium red-brown pigment; each strip a fingerprint unto itself; such the beauty of wood grain.  The boards placed side by side made up a grand mosaic or pattern of what seemed to be brain waves, each representing lost memory, permanently etched out for future generations to someday decode and understand.

            The chair sat near the center of the room.  There were no other furnishings aside from the three-legged side table to its right.  The chair’s upholstery was solid red, textured in a thick diagonal weave.  The arms were wide and flat; the cushions, thick.

            She sat; legs crossed right over left, and stared at me with a frozen intensity.

            Moonlight, passing through the only window, reflected off a fluted wine glass, sending star patterns and beams of light splashing to the floor and surrounding walls.  The glass -half-full -sat on the side table, inches from her hand.  A healthy bead of moisture clung to the upper rim, cemented by a small stain of red lipstick.  The slightest vibration should have sent it downward, splashing, but still it sat, looking out over the top edge, clearly observing the empty room, no longer hindered by the carnival mirror distortions of the glass interior.

Who was she, and how did I get myself into this situation?

June 23, 1992

I dreamt last night that I was dead.  But I wasn’t in heaven – I was in a restaurant bar.  There was a man delivering supplies who I knew from years past, but could not recollect his name.  Even the restaurant staff seemed to know me.  One of the waitresses passed by and told me that she was glad to see me – it had been years – she smiled – everyone seemed to be no older than thirty-five.

I sat at the bar holding a gin and tonic.  I knew I had come from work, but couldn’t remember any of the details.  In fact, none of my past memories were retrievable.  Did I have any place to go? No.  I didn’t have to be anywhere, and that was fine.  I was simply content with the surroundings and the familiarity of long lost friends.

I was wearing a black sports jacket, white shirt, black pants, and my Frey boots.  Everyone else was dressed in similar business casual, evening attire.  The waitress stopped by to tell me that dinner would be served in the dining room whenever I was ready.  I was told to take my time – there was no rush.  The truth was that I was waiting for someone, but I couldn’t remember who it was.  I just knew that I’d recognize her when I saw her – Lola – Yes! It was Lola. But that’s all I could recall at that moment.

The bartender was a woman.  She wore a white shirt, black vest, and black trousers.  She asked me if I needed a refill, and smiled.  I said, no, maybe later.  She nodded and turned to pour a beer from the tap for another customer.  The tap handles were all gold.  Even the mirrors along the back of the bar were gold-backed reflecting a warm inviting glow.  The bar was made of solid mahogany, with a gold rail running along the outside edge.  The beer was dark, with thick, creamy foam, and sweet smelling; as it poured the aroma of fresh gingerbread seemed to fill the room.

“So how long have you been here?”

I turned to my left.  She was sitting next to me, checking her face in a small, gold compact.  When done, she clicked it shut, and placed it inside of a black handbag sitting on the top of the bar in front of her.  The handbag appeared to be made of miniature beaded pearls, weaved into a tight fabric; the clasp resembled gold butterfly wings.

“Lola!” I said.

She smiled a smile that could light up the room and threw her arms around me.  I kissed her and asked, “What would you like to drink?” She said, “A vodka martini, with a bit of lemon peel.”

It was at this point the phone woke me.

End of dream journal

 

 When the phone rang I was still kissing Lola, and was not pleased by the disruption.  Getting back to where one left off was the hardest part.  I must write it down immediately before the details slip from my memory.  I quickly jotted down a few fast notes, and redialed the caller ID.

My sister had called.  It was to tell me that my grandmother had slipped in the kitchen while making morning coffee and hit her head.  The funeral was going to be in three days.  Until then, they were going to be laying her out in her living room.  She wanted it that way, according to old family tradition.  The problem was that no one wanted to stay in the house to watch over her until the burial.  The dead never seemed to bother me, so I agreed to watch over her and the house until she was ready for her last ride to the cemetery.

When I arrived the next day, friends and family were already lining up outside the house waiting to get in to pay their last respects.  I parked my car along the street, four houses down, took my bag from the trunk, and began walked up the sidewalk.  The neighborhood had been run down significantly since the last time I was there.  A little boy across the street was throwing rocks at the side of a red brick building.  The building had once been a popular neighborhood bar and grill, but had been long abandoned.  The old sign above the front entry was hanging half off as the rock ricocheted, causing it to clang like a gong.  The boy was dirty and barefoot, and stopped to stare at me with a curious intent.  I now realized it wasn’t the dead that my family should be so worried about.

 The house had a silver, chain link fence around it.  I opened the latch on the front gate and let myself into the front yard.  I made my way past the line at the front door, and went around the side to the back entrance of the house.  The house did not have a back yard, just a concrete patio that butted up against another fence, behind which led up to the back steps of a Presbyterian church.  I made my way through the back door which led into the kitchen.  My sister was at the oven pulling out a tray of hors d’oeuvres.  She put the tray on the top of the stove, put down the oven mitt and reached out for a hug and kiss.

She said, “Well it’s about time! I was beginning to think you got lost again.”

I was indignant, “That hasn’t happened since I was 17 and I still can’t live it down.”

“Well, you never did have a good internal compass.”

I reached for the tray of hors d’oeuvres and she slapped my hand away, “Those are for the guests, go put your things in the upstairs bedroom, the room on the left.”  She pushed me out the open entryway into the living room, “and hurry back, I need you to fill the ice and get more wine and beer.”

When I walked into the living room, I realized that the house had a fresh, sweet smell to it, one I’ve remembered and loved all these years.  It was old, and lived in, and precious.  I took in the aroma like a breath of fresh air. 

My grandmother was laid out in the back parlor.  Both rooms, including the front living room, were already crowded with friends and family.  My Uncle Don walked up to me as soon as I entered the room.  “Dylan, good to see you, although I wish that it were under better circumstances.”   We shook hands, “Good to see you, Uncle Don.  I’ll be back down in a few minutes; I want to put my bag upstairs.”  I walked straight ahead to the hallway, and turned right to go up the stairs.

There were two bedrooms upstairs, one to the right, and one to the left of the landing.  I turned left, entered the room through the open door, and put my bag down on the large queen-size bed, just inside the entry to the left.  A side dresser sat beside the bed, so I took a few minutes to unpack some of my clothes, as well as hang some shirts and trousers in the small, corner closet.  The smell of moth balls filled the air as I opened drawers and doors.

The room had a single window to the right of the closet that looked out over the back church yard.  After hanging my trousers, I walked over to the window and moved the lace curtains aside to peer out.  The scene was quiet and still.  I was about to back away from the window when I noticed that something was sitting on the outside edge of the sill.  I unlocked the window and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge.  Obviously, it had been sealed shut from many years of paint.  Not to be dissuaded, I pulled a small pocket knife from my pocket and proceeded to run it along the inside edges of the frame.  I gave the window a few quick raps with my fist, and it came loose.  The window lifted with a groan and I reached out to pick up the object.  It was an old hypodermic needle.  I shook my head in disbelief and leaned out to see what else I could find.  A second floor roof overhang ran along the back side of the house, just a couple feet below my window.  I could see that the surface of the roof was littered with more abandoned hypodermics.  I was just about to pull my head inside when I stopped to notice another window to my right.

“What are you doing?”

The question startled me, and I hit my head on the window frame while coming back inside the room.

My sister was standing behind me.  I rubbed my head and said, “Just curious . . . look what I found.” I held up the hypodermic from the sill and said, “This neighborhood should be condemned!” then I turned to close the window behind me.  “Did you know there’s a window to the right of this room?”

She said, “Yeah, but you can’t get to it.  That part of the house was walled off years ago.”

“What?  How strange.  Why would they do that?”  The bedroom I was standing in was connected to a storage room on the wall just opposite the bed.  I walked up to the door and opened it.  The room was full of old furniture, dismantled bed frames and mattresses.  I looked to the left, to where the window should have been, but found only a blank wall.  The room stopped just three feet to the left of the door.  I pulled my head back and closed the storage room door.

“Why would someone wall off part of the house?”  I realized I was still holding the used hypodermic syringe and tossed it in the trash bin on the floor to my right.

“How should I know?” She said, sounding a bit irritated.  “Can you please come on down and help me?  We have a lot of people downstairs.”

 

Chapter 2

 To Be Continued