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Mother’s bleeding her dead children
single-celled, invertebrate
born in the water of her womb
after the Word, below the light
amniotic deaths, sand and silt shrouds
mass graves of viscous black rot

Mother’s bleeding, her dead children
finned, feathered, furred
still in the water where life began
anointed by the exhumed hemorrhage
innocent sacrifice of awakening
your sleeping terrestrial siblings

Mother’s bleeding her, dead, children
thin-skinned, thick-headed
water and oil have never mixed
excuses confuse a simple choice
eat, drink, breathe where if her wounds drain dry?
return to her—or return to her
She will welcome you, either way

As the U.S. soccer team desperately played for an equalizer in the waning moments of extra time against Ghana, I thought that the outcome of the game and my reaction to it might make for an interesting essay. In fact, I was already quite certain of the general tone and themes that would be presented in a piece about either a win or a loss. They went something like this.

Scenario #1: Victory

In this version of the essay, Team U.S.A. ties the score and goes on to win in a penalty kick shootout. I describe the victory with cheesy, predictable platitudes such as: you have to keep on believing in yourself despite seemingly insurmountable odds and success ultimately trumps any hardships one must endure.

The essay then diverts into a deep, introspective tangent, in which I have the epiphany that life trudges forward with predictable monotony no matter how joyous a single accomplishment is. I go on to describe how unadorned moments comprise the essence of existence, not the occasional supernova of the ego. I end this section by stating a maxim, for example: After the flames of temporary glory have turned to ash, one must resume the search for contentedness in the small, poorly-lit corners of life.

This version of the essay concludes with me witnessing something outdoors, for instance, a bird landing on the feeder and pecking at the suet. I smile and bask in the enlightened perspective that no great achievement can replace such a moment of simple beauty and connectivity with the universe. And then winning a soccer match doesn’t seem so impressive anymore.

Scenario #2: Defeat

In this version of the essay, team U.S.A. loses. I am crestfallen, which prompts a comparison between following a sports team and being in a relationship. I talk about how, with both, there is a strong tendency to root your emotional well-being in an externality. Then, I equate winning with being in love and losing with heartbreak by writing something to the tune of: When times are good, you feast with the gods. In bad times, all the world casts long shadows. I complete the metaphor with a witty one-liner, such as: But with love and sport, even when you direct a string of obscenities at your beloved, throw the remote control at them and storm out of the room, vowing that this time you’re tuning out for good, you sheepishly return and give things another shot.

After a weak transitional paragraph, the piece assumes an angry tone and I lash out against the profit-driven, mainstream-media-controlled consumer culture. I construct a pointed argument about how the sporting industry is just bread and circuses and Team U.S.A. is a bunch of gladiators used to distract people from the issues that really matter.

I can barely contain my rage; I seethe and flecks of spittle fly from my mouth as I write about America being currently engaged in the longest war in its history, the thousands of lives that have been ruined by pedophilic priests, and the millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, among other topics.

In the following section, the tone shifts from angry to somber. I realize that, in a way, this loss is an awakening. I declare that I now understand the proper function of sport is to deflect reality and will never again buy into the corporate-hype advertising machine. The essay ends with me characterizing the masses as bovine for continuing to be duped by the sporting world’s high-production stagecraft.

Scenario #3: What actually happened

Team U.S.A. loses. My friend shuts the TV off quickly, before we are forced to see the other side’s victory celebration. We sit in tense, awkward silence for a few moments and I break it by saying, “Fuck it. Good thing I bet on Ghana.”

On the ride home I can tell I’m a little tipsy because whenever I drive drunk the car’s hood appears superimposed on the road. When I operate the vehicle in this state I’m not really driving, but rather guiding the hood in the appropriate direction.

I arrive home tired from drinking midday beers so I take a nap. When I awake the sting of defeat lingers. To deflect it, I go for a bike ride, channeling my frustration into climbing the biggest hill in the area. It is a 15 minute uphill charge of pain and sweat and grimacing.

Upon cresting the hill I turn right around and fly down at breakneck speed. I yell out, “Fuck you motherfuckers.” But I don’t really know who the motherfuckers are or why I’m mad at them.

As I’m riding I wish I had a pen and paper because I have a wonderful idea for an essay. I want to write about the absurdity of predicting how you’re going to feel about something before it happens.

 

Standing before me
is the naked beauty of possibility—
perfect eyes, perfect lips
perfect hot-and-fresh-off-the-griddle everything.
And I can’t even get up outta trouble’s gutter
to reach her.

’Cause all the wars raging through the world
all the famine, poverty, greed,
earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, and disease
got my soul stuck down here
in the gutter’s metaphysical infirmary
right alongside Mother Nature and all her woes,

and history with its terminal amnesia,
so bloated with regret and forgetfulness
it can’t even touch its toes.

And maybe that’s not the Grim Reaper
I’m glimpsing outta the corner of my eye.
Maybe it’s just me
slowly dying of loneliness.

Either way, I can’t find my way up
outta trouble’s gutter.

Yeah, there’s a S.W.A.T. team of linguists
shoving submachine guns and assault rifles
in my face, threatening to blow me away
if I refuse to physically conjugate
the verb,

“rise.”

Still I can’t get my ass up
outta trouble’s gutter.

Down here in trouble’s gutter
I can’t even get a conversation, let alone an amen
from God. Not by prayer, divine intervention,
cell phone, or Internet.

And oh so slinky, double-jointed
and full-breasted infinity
where are you now, when I need you
the most?

You, the one
once so versed in practicing
mirror-worthy aphrodisiacrobatics
before my eyes.

All the times
I risked my life
to prove my love for you
by writing heartfelt haikus
on the heads of speeding bullets.

But with you gone now
every day is just one more day of missing you.
And that’s a gravity that weighs me down.
That’s a gravity
Newton never took into consideration
when talking about how all things eventually fall,
like I’m falling now.

Falling hard.
Right on down into trouble’s gutter.

There was once a day
when I escaped the shadow of the Damned,
the shadow of Zero.
I’ve even mowed Satan’s lawn
without breaking a sweat.

But right now
I can’t find my way
outta trouble’s gutter.

Yet one of these days I’ll rise,
move like the finest of drugs
through the veins of night.
Until then, I’m just lying here in this gutter,
staring up at that night sky,
and it’s looking down at me
like I’m some wounded animal by the side of the road,
believing it’s offering me relief
when it shows up with a gun.

And oh, Saint Elation
I remember those days
when you’d jackhammer my brain to dust
and my heart would still pump
a boogaloo beat for you.

Steal my eyes
and I’d still see you as my one and only.
Rip off my ears
and I’d still hear the music in your every step.
Cut off my arms
and I’d still hold you with all my attention.
If I had no mouth
I’d still speak your name
through telepathy, semaphore, or Scrabble pieces.
Cut off my legs and
I’d still make my way to you by train,
dumb waiter, or levitation.

Yeah, somewhere there’s a gravestone
with my name on it.
Somewhere there’s a cloud
with my face on it.

Somewhere in my gut
there’s this radio that won’t stop playing.

It keeps saying:

“What’re you waiting for?
Get your ass up outta the gutter.
Move through life. And when you do,
do more than just imagine the lives of others.
Breathe their breath, beat their hearts.
Wear their faces.
Let your words be theirs, and their words yours.
And when you speak, speak loud and clear.

And when you speak,
speak only of strength, promise, and love.”

My all-time favorite quote comes from Steve Martin’s character in the film Grand Canyon: “You know what your problem is. It’s that you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” It’s my favorite because, for better or worse, I’m convinced it’s true. When word spread that James Cameron was assembling a team to solve the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, most laughed at what they thought was a pompous disconnect between real life and the CGI bombast of Avatar. I, however, turned my television up and thought, “Why, of course!”

Something about watching live feed of the oil billowing into the gulf reminds me of watching that first black scrawl of smoke unwinding in the clear Manhattan sky on the morning of September eleventh. My ribs ache with that same bracing-for-a-punch kind of dread that the repercussions of this moment will be life-long and life-altering, that as bad as it looks it’s about to get worse. I remember in the weeks after 9/11 one official said that we’d simply suffered from “a lack of imagination” and therefore could not anticipate something like this. At the same time others were saying 9/11 was like the most terrifying Hollywood films come true. Maybe our real problem is that we have the imagination, but we just don’t take it seriously.

So if James Cameron says his work on The Abyss and The Titanic has given him ideas and introduced him to innovative deep-sea engineers and technologies and that he loves our planet as much as Pandora, why not let him give plugging the damn hole a try? At this point, until those relief wells are completed, it looks as if it’s either Cameron or that chintzy saw that snapped during the “cut and cap” procedure. I didn’t hear anyone laughing, by the way, when that relief-well plan was aped directly from this scene in There Will Be Bloodclick here.

In fact, lets just make James Cameron a little to-do list. First up, oil spill. And when he’s done with that, he can get busy thwarting any and all development towards the creation of a Skynet, beginning with that monkey that’s learned to control a robotic arm with his mind: here. I know where that leads. I’ve seen enough movies.


No one likes alligators, really. Most people appreciate them fried or turned into boots, but when they are real, alive, and sidling up to your fishing boat, they are less enjoyable. When you see an alligator in the water, you keep your distance. You don’t entice or antagonize it. You sure as hell don’t cast your fishing line thatway. In Louisiana, you grow up with a healthy respect for your toothy reptilian cousins. I fear no human being, but an alligator is one force I will not test.


This is where I grew up. I know it doesn’t mean anything to you. It matters to me, though, and all the reasons I can think of for you to care are insufficient. There’s seafood, alligators, oil, and the economy. But then there’s my home.  That blue-brown swirl spilling out of a little wet crack in the earth? Yes, that. That’s where I’m from.

It’s not really a spill. It’s more like a gusher. A deep wound. It’s like being stabbed in the belly while wearing your Sunday best, something your grandmother made for you, something irreplaceable.

It’s like hearing your first love got hit by a train and seeing photos of his mangled body on the news while the broadcasters banter about how this is going to be some awful PR for the railroad business, and there you are at home, sitting in the glow of your TV, screaming inside and unable to act. There you are – watching part of your life die on the evening news while everyone feels sorry for the killer. The murderer. Sick.

Sulphur is the dot where I lived for my first 18 years. From where I grew up, the gulf is about an hour’s drive. You put your boat in the water at Cameron, the grey stone jetties guide you out, until the floor of the Gulf drops off and finally it’s just you and that fine line of a horizon, bobbing along together. Only you don’t really get that kind of intimacy with the sky because it’s interrupted by oil rigs unless you go out pretty far.


When fishing, you may find the rigs useful, as you can tie your boat up to one — they keep you from drifting off aimlessly. And at the end of the day, a pod of porpoises may join you on your way back to shore. They’d swim right at the bow of your boat, just riding along, jumping, escorting you. They’re in the dolphin family, but they’re not the same as the widely loved bottlenose dolphin. Maybe they’re not as cute or as open to being domesticated. Maybe they’re too damn Cajun for that showbiz nonsense. But they, like everything else that makes its home in the Gulf, are threatened by this oil spill.

Every dark dot in the water is an oil rig.  You can see how close they are to the mainland. Close enough that if any one of them sprung a leak, the nearby shoreline would be destroyed.


The rig that actually collapsed was 50 miles from shore, near
Venice, LAThe oil has been drifting away from my hometown and toward Florida instead, and for that we feel lucky. Lucky, but far from thrilled. It’s like feeling grateful when a hurricane turns the other way or when the flood waters rise in someone else’s neighborhood. We can always say that wasn’t our fault. We can call it a natural disaster and say prayers and collect canned food to donate to those whose homes were destroyed in one of nature’s mood swings. This is the kind of thing you’re used to if you grew up on the Gulf Coast.

An oil rig, on the other hand? That’s our fault. That’s straight up, undeniable, human stupidity.

Even the canal in the woods, where my best friend and I used to trek on summer afternoons to feel like explorers, is connected to the oil-vulnerable Calcasieu River. There are so many waterways in Louisiana that some of them don’t even have names. They’re just “the canal” or “that little inlet,” but they are all connected. Every last one of them. Every little blue line on the map goes somewhere.

We human beings have become too sure of ourselves, and we need alligators. We need some animals left that scare the daylights out of us. Do you know what happens when an alligator gets its teeth around you? In Louisiana, we call it a death roll. When an alligator has you in a death roll, there is no escape unless something juicier strolls by. But I’m afraid an alligator has no defense against oil spills.

*Please note: I had help editing this essay from my amazing editor friend Ellie Di. She can be found on Twitter @Ellie_Di. She’s also the founder of The Wholestyle Network.