The Night Terrors

I can’t remember when it started, my deep plunges into the depths of depression. I think it involved from the time I graduated from high school through my first few years of college. I had a very difficult time falling asleep. I have had tinnitus from a very early age, and that ringing in my ears was a constant companion.

Most nights I kept the radio on. I got bored with the music on the top 40 radio stations. However, even back then, before talk radio became a thing, there were mostly men on the radio didn’t play music but talked. Sometimes it was interesting. Sometimes it did the trick and put me to sleep. Other times, many nights nothing helped. My bedroom and a sliding door that led to the backyard. It was a perfect way for me to leave the house and walk. I would sometimes walk for hours when I should have been sleeping. Eventually the weariness would overcome me and bring me the relief of sleep.

That ringing in my ears has been with me all that time, even to this day. I’m in my 70s and in right now I’m thinking about that sound in my ears it has become louder.

I lived at home throughout my college years. My freshman year I thought I would be a math major. I liked the logic of algebra and geometry. However, I took my first math class and I had no idea the professor was saying. I tried reading the textbook and it was totally incomprehensible. I didn’t understand a thing, and I finished the first college-level math class with the D-.

Maybe that was the beginning of it. I was 17 years old and I had no plan B. I didn’t know what I wanted. What gave me a little bit of comfort present many of my classmates said the same thing. I like being outside. I thought I could be a forest ranger and work for the National Parks system. That wasn’t going to happen. San Jose State didn’t have a program for that.

While I was figuring out what I could do, but I could take up as a major, that I would study Spanish. My parents spoke Spanish almost all the time, so I heard it and understood it. I just could not make it come out of my mouth. There is a term for that in the study of language acquisition. It always bothered me so I thought I’d take up classes and maybe my parents’ language that was in my head would be able to come out of my mouth.

This was the mid-60s. The time when people were taking it to the streets. Cesar Chavez, antiwar protests, civil rights demonstrations, the Chicano movement, even the 6 o’clock news stirred my generation.

I was proud to be what I was and the Chicano movement hit me at the perfect time. I wanted to speak Spanish. I wanted to talk to my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. Eventually I had taken enough Spanish classes to have it as a minor. I kept taking more classes and then it became my major. Even now in my shyness I still have difficulties speaking in either language.

 

Nocturn

 

This night time passing,

This darkened dome that reigns upon us all

in our hour of fear,

This nightly milling of the stars,

Showers down upon us its blessed meteors of darkness,

moistens the sighted eye

and brings rest to the lidded redness.

 

This ghostly passing,

this darkened dimmed Iris

breathes welcome,

breathes welcome to the great and silent shadows.

 

This nocturnal passing that shields us from the sun,

Bids is welcome, safe harbour,

Safe entry into the hollows of wondrous dreams.

 

This is the time of darkness.

It is the time to drift into the heart of God,

to touch briefly into the meaning,

into the timeless,

until the dawning unravels in a splash of brilliant rays,

until the dawning conquers.

 

This is the time to settle among the night sounds,

to utter the most ancient prayer:

 

One more, one more.

This time.

This is the time,

Let there be

one more day.

Let the morning

bring surprise.

Let the sun glow upon us

one more,

one more time.

 

 

 

 

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Star Watch

In the Imperial Valley, my father, and I suppose many other people, stepped outside to enjoy the cooler evening air of a hot summer night. I was just a toddler but I remember. He would stand or sit on the front porch. I guess I followed him around like a puppy. He would light his pipe or roll a cigarette and count the stars until he was too drowsy to stay awake.
I wondered as I looked up at him, (and to) him, what was he thinking? He had lots of things to worry about. My mama was in the hospital with TB, fighting for her life. Sometimes he would come home from work and find the door wide open and nobody home, including myself.
Our family was falling apart and it must have been too much for him. Eventually he took us to our godparents. My two sisters and I went to Port Hueneme, CA to stay with my aunt and uncle. My brother went to stay with our grandmother in Oxnard, CA. My father stayed behind and worked. He spent everything he earned on paying the hospital bills.
Maybe he was hoping that the Great One Who Created Us All was in the skies place listening to his prayers.

sir

Sir Walter Raleigh in the Southern Sky

I stay up late and wake up early
The evening settles across the sky
It spreads out like a blanket,
As I sit here by my screen.

I see the night fall, I see my father
when I was small and
sheltered from the pain.
We were standing on our porch steps,
I was looking at his silhouette.

What must be the thoughts he was thinking?
I couldn’t tell out there in the dark.
The desert crickets began their chirping.
They were some where I could not see.
The Milky Way never seemed brighter
As I stood there by his side.

He lights his pipe
I can see it glowing.
It seems to help him think.
The heat of summer
seems to linger
Though the sun has long since gone.

The neighbors with their windows open.
I can hear their living sounds.
My brother sits inside reading
The night time chores have all been done.

Then my father starts to tell me
Where Orion rests tonight.
He moves across the southern skyways.
He fades away when the sun comes to rise.
Find him again tomorrow evening
and you’ll never be lost.

What was in his head? What was he thinking?
As we shared that silent time.
Sir Walter Raleigh filled his pipe bowl
I can smell it even now.

Back inside he tucks me in,
my big brother deep in sleep.
He makes his way to his lonely bedroom
And says “Good night” to the empty side.

San Jose, CA
3/20/2016

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Insomnia

I was a poor student in high school. By that I mean my grades were not all that good. I tried and I studied. I was not very good at note taking, and I hated reading. My father was always disappointed when I showed him my report cards. My teachers must’ve been kind to me when they gave me C’s.

Something strange and wonderful happened in my junior year of high school. I had a teacher who actually cared about his students. His name was Mr. Bonfilio. He was my biology teacher. The class required of us to read the textbook. That seems like an obvious thing but the book was thick and heavy, the type was small, and I had to do all that reading by the next day.

In addition to that we had to take notes from things that he wrote on the chalkboard. “Mr. B” came up to me one day after noticing how terribly I did the note taking.

“Do you need glasses?” He asked me. “You seem to be a bright young man but your grades are not reflecting that.”

I had that sensation that I jumped, out of an airplane without a parachute. I felt myself rushing to the ground. In an instant the truth of it came to me. Both my parents, my two sisters, my brother, all wore glasses and I was the only one who didn’t.

Right away he sent me to the nurse’s office. In those days each school actually had a full-time nurse. She wasted no time in setting up the eye chart. I couldn’t even see the eye chart. She wrote a note to my parents making it sound official, to get my eyes checked right away.

At the doctor’s office my mom chose a really unattractive pair for me. I hated them. I felt that I looked like a doofus. The ones I really wanted were too expensive she said. I didn’t want to look like a doofus so I only wore them when I was in class. I was really happy when they finally broke. I was then able to get a better looking pair.

The results were amazing. I was able to see the board. For the first time I saw what my teachers and friends really looked like. More importantly, my grades improved.

Then something else happened, I started to like reading. I loved the smell of new books. I liked Jack London so I tried reading everything he wrote. Many of his stories were over my head, by that I mean I didn’t understand them. I was still a boy. I knew Jack London lived in the Bay Area.

John Steinbeck wrote about the dust bowl, Monterey Peninsula, Salinas Valley. I thought it was amazing how he could make characters come alive in my mind. I tried reading everything he wrote.

I started reading the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. President Kennedy enjoyed reading them and made them popular. I read all of them. The books flooded in and piled on top of my desk. I couldn’t wait to turn the next page. I read the Three Musketeers and I didn’t want the story to end so I read more books by Dumas. I loved the stories by James Fennimore Cooper. I would read late into the night and fall asleep reading. I would even dream that I was reading. I was asleep but I dreamt that I was still reading, pages scrolled down before my eyes.

I knew then that I wanted to be a writer myself. That was such a terribly difficult threshold to cross. Somehow and I haven’t quite figured it out yet, how my self-esteem was destroyed. It did not help me at all when my feelings of depression went into a tailspin. That thought, that desire to write stayed within me and continues to this hour.

 

Wednesday Evening

The night sounds,

a single engine aloft,

the glow from the street lamps

dances through the undulating leaves.

A small circle brightens my pages.

I am in the shadows of my bedroom

and reading about Madame Bovary.

A night sound, and

I awaken from my trance

and examine on the ledges

other leaves that are me.

Henry Adams is there, still learning.

Bless me Ultima is a tale I wish I had written.

El Cid with sword in hand leads his people

in waging righteous war.

Balzac’s candle waxes and wanes,

while Azuela is trapped in his memories.

Pío breathes in solitude.

The Leatherstocking crosses the plain

while California burns.

Friday lends a hand

as D’Artagnan sips champagne.

Homer holds a place of honor,

next to Hoyle.

D.H. continues his human quest,

as Mr. London walks through Wolf House, head bowed.

The Third Reich haunts our collective guilt,

As the Admiral’s ships seek but never find.

Thornton Wilder will never grow old.

 

Thursday Morning

Tonight, as the cold seeps through the window,

as the sound of trucks from the highway fade away,

as the patter of the raindrops land softly on my window

like the ticking of my clock,

and as the smell of night ladens my eyelids,

I’ll awaken from my comfort and feel the winter disappear.

And I’ll curse myself for resting so peacefully

in the warmth of my words.

 

Well,

good night Madame Bovary,

I am looking for a home as well,

although mine is elsewhere,

yours is next to Dr. No.

 

 

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The Boy

One of my first jobs was with the Migrant Education Program. I was working at a small school in the hills east of Moss Landing. Most of my students there worked in the nearby strawberry farms. They would start working with their families as soon as it was light enough to see. Sometimes they would be working three to four hours before coming to school.

During my lunch breaks I often went to my car and ate my sandwich and read the morning paper. I had a thermos that kept the coffee warm, so I was comfortable out there. I was shy, so I was much more comfortable taking my lunch break out there.

One day the farmer across the road from the school led one of his steers to his pickup truck. He tied them to the tailgate and pulled out a rifle and shot the steer. In a very short time he began to slaughter the animal. He removed the hide quickly, rolled it up and tossed it into the truck. And very quickly cut it into manageable pieces. By the end of my lunch break his job was done and he drove off someplace with the truck load of meat.

I usually read the San Francisco Chronicle at that time. I was a fan of Herb Caen. He was a columnist. He wrote a lot of gossip and things happening in the San Francisco area. He called San Francisco “Baghdad by the Bay.” I haven’t checked but maybe some people still use that term.

Eugene Martinez

This leads me to that news clipping above. I read that brief article and the terrible thing that happened to him, and it just didn’t seem enough.

I started writing my own narrative. I’m very modest about being a poet, so I don’t want to say that I started writing a poem. When I finish my first draft, I thought I was a POC. I kept working on it. I was never satisfied with it. Finally, 16 years later I said it is finished.

I have posted this before, but this time I am including this introduction.

 

   The Boy Eugene Martinez

 

I remember November

And the day, and the cold fog clinging to my cheeks.

It was the day the black cars were waiting

With their headlights glowing,

The day the people were treading slowly

From the white and silent chapel.

Then Eugene came.

He was emerging into the vague light of the fog,

Floating silently in his bed of flowers,

Now beyond danger,

Beyond pain and memory,

Beyond the sounds of his mother weeping.

 

I remember that day,

And the slow moving headlights gliding past my vantage,

And the cold damp air dripping

Down my collar.

I followed quietly.

There was no sound save the crunch

Of gravel as I stepped, no sight but the white light

Of the covered sun.

I could not see his new home.

There was no sight of the priest

Hypnotized in prayer,

No sight of the mother pleading for a second chance.

No sight of the two boys who grabbed him

And beat him until his life gushed out.

 

I remember that day

In November, of 1974, when they found him

Under the bridge

As cold as the season’s dirt beneath him,

The moment he was made sightless,

soundless, unhearing;

the moment he was trapped forever

by the darkness.

And I remember how they found him.

He was sprinkled with sawdust, silent and still.

His skin was white in the light bath

Of the street lamp.

 

Two boys were captured.

They were ten and twelve.

They followed Eugene.

They followed his skipping.

They followed him quietly,

Out of his field of vision,

Following the money held tightly in his hands,

And the note to the grocer listing

Milk and eggs and bread.

The two boys were captured.

They found a board.

They brought it down

And down

And down,

Until Eugene no longer cared.

 

I remember Eugene.

I remember.

I remember how he turned his head whenever

I was speaking,

How he must have thought that

Every word I spoke was truth.

He asked me one time

“How many things are there to know?”

I stood there

Doubting the answers I could I could give him.

He waited.

I answered him quietly

Softly, when I was certain that no one else could hear.

“How many questions can you ask?”

 

 

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The Golden Gate

“Daddy, what is that?” She asked.

She was pointing to the island known as Alcatraz.

They were mid-span about the waters and the gulls.

“What is that?” She asked, this time

pointing to the long gray structure

known as the Bay Bridge.

“What are those?” She said,

pointing to the high rise spires of the city.

“And over there!”

Pointing to the sails, the ships, the boats

that passed gracefully below them.

“Where is our house?” She asked.

“Can we see it from here?” She said,

with little understanding.

The bay breeze whipped through her clothes,

the city lights, the city streets, shining like a promise.

“It is time to fly, Little One.” Her father told her

as he raised her slowly to his arms

and lifted gently.

He raised her above the railing.

He pushed her away quickly and sent her over the side.

He watched the surprise in her eyes as she sped down,

down to the dull green bay waters,

she flew down then sank from sight.

“I’ll be there soon.” He said as he wrestled with the railing

and tossed himself over,

tossed himself over,

toward the comfort of the swells,

and deep into their final moment.

 

(Based on an article from the San Francisco Chronicle)

 

 

 

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Morning Sickness

“Mama don’t go.”

Melvin’s words were simple.

They were brief but they rattled

terribly in his mother’s ears

long after.

Even unto this day,

those few words live long.

 

“I need you.”

He said.

His eyes had failed

to open that damp November dawning.

A fever and a restless night of sickly sleep

brought tears and need in the early morning gray.

 

“Please don’t go. I need you today.”

The words were desperately spoken as the boy’s

mother dressed herself and readied herself for the

commute and work.

 

“Mama’s stay, I’m feeling sick,

I am hot and cold and everything hurts.”

He needed to feel that he was worthy of her moments,

that he was worthy of her concern.

 

“Baby don’t cry, you know that I must leave.

You’ll be okay.”

She kissed him softly on his palid brow and

with the thorough and regretful longing, she left the room

and clicked the door behind her.

 

“Mama don’t go.”

She heard his voice again coming from behind the door.

“I’ll be home shortly.”

She told herself and him as she blended into traffic

and drove the tears from her eyes.

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Catharsis (Uncle Joe’s 1st heart break)

It was cold that day,

in late December, in 1965,

when the north wind storm bounced the car

and us inside it,

and cracked the clouds

and shook loose it’s moisture.

We sat there,

in our cozy privacy.

I sat there,

paralyzed from the temple down, and

enchanted by the sight of her knees, and

fearful of her coming words.

A mouth full of lava slipped down my throat.

Wavering specters danced upon the pavement.

The raindrops pelted the rooftop

then relaxed toward the ground.

I watched them,

I watched.

 

That site and sound again has passed before me

wrenching my focus, dislodging the glaucos sordes.

The sound I heard at age 17,

the sound of empty promise.

That sound again,

Of jetsome thoughts,

exhumes echoes fluid in form:

 

“Don’t change.” She said. “Please, don’t ever change.”

 

 

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