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The Wicker Chronicles: Essays, Poetry, Short Fiction
Monday, 16 May 2005

I very nearly lost my life toward the end of my first year of college. In some ways, I did lose it that day, and it would be many years before I would find it again.

It was about a month before the end of my second semester, and I had just turned 19. I had chosen to go to a private Christian university, one that many family members had also attended. It was a family thing, and I had been so excited to come and continue that tradition.

I was just coming to terms, and not well, with the undeniable fact that I was gay. I had grown up in a Christian home, so I knew from countless years of Sunday school and youth groups that homosexuals were going to burn in Hell. It's just the way things were. There wasn't any nice way around it.

But I wasn't like any of the gay people I saw on TV, or read about in the newspaper or in magazines. I was Christian, and this just couldn't be happening! I would pray and pray that somehow one morning I'd wake up and everything would be normal. I would fantasize about what it would be like to be straight, to be attracted to girls like all of the other guys, to go on and get married, have kids, etc. But I was me, and those were other people; I just couldn?t quite imagine what it would be like. Not really. I would lie in my bed at night and would whisper "Oh fuck, I'm gay"... What else could I do?

I grew increasingly inward as that first academic year passed. I just couldn't tell anyone else, any of my friends, family... it was just too big. I was too ashamed and scared. If anything, I felt like I was in constant danger of someone discovering my secret. Of someone noticing that I was different, and then figuring out why.

I finally had to talk to somebody about it, or go crazy. I opened up to a trusted professor, the only adult I felt safe with at the time. She was very empathetic and wise, and was a listening ear when that is what I needed most. But she also thought that it would help me if I spoke to the campus counselor. Someone who was a professional and who would be better equipped and trained to offer me advice. I agreed, because I wanted to believe that things were going to be ok. I was desperate for someone to tell me that I?d get through this, that it wasn?t the end of the world.

I visited the campus counselor several times. We talked about my family life, about why I was feeling so down, about how I thought I was gay. After what would be our last session, he proclaimed that he thought my primary problem was that I was depressed, and that he would like to put me on some trial anti-depressants. In his opinion, that would definitely clear matters up. But as he wasn't a medical doctor, he couldn't actually prescribe them to me himself. So he referred me to the campus doctor to fill the prescription.

I walked directly over to the campus doctor's office, energized to finally be doing something constructive about the way I felt. I was nervous, but I was happy too. Here I had worried that people would freak out, that I?d be rejected. But instead, my professor and the campus counselor had both been really kind and helpful. I walked into the doctor?s office distracted, my mind full of all the things that I would do when I felt better. Because I wanted to feel better. I wanted more than anything just to feel normal again.

I was shown to a little room by the receptionist, an older woman, and waited for the doctor. The receptionist had seemed, I don?t know, edgy when I?d said who I was and that I had an appointment. I didn?t think anything of it at the time. When the doctor came in, I shook his hand and we both sat down.

He said that he had received a call from the counselor, and had fit me in right away. He said this in a careful, precise way, each word enunciated very clearly. It?s how people speak when they want to be understood the first time, so they don?t have to repeat themselves. He looked me directly in the eyes and said, "I will only prescribe these anti-depressants to you if you promise me one thing."

"Okay, what's that?" I said.

"That you not come back to this school next semester. This school and community is no place for students like you, with... your problem." He emphasized the words "your problem" as if they were particularly loathsome and he could hardly bring himself to even refer to the "problem" I had. He was obviously referring to the fact that I was a homosexual.

He looked at me with cold, cold eyes, and then he turned and busied himself at a cabinet. He shoved a handful of sample packets at me, enough for a month or so, and a prescription for when those ran out. The economy of his movements, his terse words; he was mechanical and detached.

?Are we understood?? He said.

I was stunned, I didn?t know, didn?t know how to think, what to say.

?Yes,? I replied quietly.

"Good," he said.

He left the room quickly and didn't look back. The receptionist stared at me on the way out, like one would at a circus freak or a car accident. She didn't say goodbye either.

I stepped out into the bright sun. It was a beautiful Spring day, but I didn't feel alive inside anymore. I walked and walked, too numb to think or cry, just replaying in my mind's eye how he and the receptionist had looked at me. How I was disgusting, a human-shaped bag full of dirt masquerading as a Christian, just pretending to be like everyone else. But they had found me out. His words had peeled away what little hope I had, the thin skin that I wore that kept me going.

I walked instinctively to one of my favorite places, a wooded area with railroad tracks running along a raised bed of grey gravel. I walked along the tracks, kicking stones, listening to the quiet, peaceful hum of bees and flies, the click and thrum of grasshoppers. I ambled about a half a mile, until I came to a part of the tracks that passed over a quiet road. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and stood there, feeling the wind and the sun, just being and feeling nothing.

Then the tracks started to vibrate, very quietly. The steel started to sing. It always sang when there was a train coming. You could feel it before you could hear it, soft trenors up through the soles of your shoes, the distant train running swiftly along the tracks. The unusual thing about this section of track though, was that the train comes around a tight bend right before the trestle, so if there's something on the tracks, it can't stop. It can't blow its horn. It can't slow down. It erupts from around the bend, a great bellowing wall of steel, all thunder and muscle. I could smell the creosote and tar from the railroad ties, the rusty tang of the hot steel in the sun, and now I could hear it coming. It was right there, around the bend. I could feel the deep vibrations in the air all around me.

But I just stood there, because nothing mattered anymore. I wasn't human. I was gay. What did it matter?

Then I saw the train, and something inside me snapped. A seal broke and instinct sprinted through me and I ran, RAN without thought, my cells reacting where my mind could not, would not. I don't know how, I don't remember clearly, but suddenly I was in the dust and gravel at the end of the trestle, beside the tracks, when the train thundered by, so loud that it blotted out the entire world. There was only train and thunder and hot, angry wind.

Then as suddenly as it came, it was gone. The steel tracks gently sang, softer and softer, a quickly fading lullaby after the storm. I was still there. Dusty and coughing and scared, but still alive. I looked at where I had been standing, off in the middle of the trestle, and I don't know how I had made it here in time. It didn't seem possible. But I did. Somehow.

At the time, this was small consolation. Now there was no one I could trust. No one was safe. I would never tell anyone else about this, about the doctor, about the anti-depressants, about my... problem. I would wait out these last few weeks of school as if nothing had ever happened, and then I would leave and never return. I would act more normal than the most normal of students. I would be perfect and happy and more Christian than ever before, but inside I was dead.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005 1:23 PM CDT
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Sunday, 10 April 2005

It's 3am.

Her flavor-of-the-week boyfriend runs screaming down the stairs, bellowing, "Crackwhore! You a crackwhore! Whore!"

He slams the front door, pulling on a t-shirt, stumbling down the street laughing and mumbling. He'll be back tomorrow, or not. I've seen this before. All of the neighbors have.

Or the time she called the cops on her 12-year old son for mouthing off to her and knocking over a lamp. She wanted the cops to take him away, take him out of her hair, her greased-back, jet-black mullet. She swaggered out of her apartment, stood there with one hand on her hip and the other pointing, "He no good! He dangerous! You take him away!"

The cops didn't take him away. He's 12. With no former complaints or case history. They said as much. He sped away on his bicycle, fast, faster, fastest, too fast to count the cracks in the sidewalk, transforming absolute details to a comforting grey blur.

She's been arrested for dealing crack. More than once. Police raided the apartment. Splinters of bright wood from the front door all over the front steps. Shiny white cops in black riot gear, like attack beetles thundering up the stairs. I could hear the duck quacking the entire time. Oh yes. They have a white duck. In a cage. I saw it once through their open window, flapping and dropping white feathers. White as blow.

The mother and son also recently acquired a pitbull puppy, female, white with fresh pink lips, jumbly-stumbly as she tumbles down the front steps to pee on the cement.

I haven't heard the duck lately. I haven't seen the son lately either. Every day I hear screaming, muffled shouting, and then silence. Every day. I see lots of different men coming in and out of the building late at night or early in the morning. I see the white, unmarked truck that stops in the street, and the driver who runs a parcel up to whoever is keeping watch.

I see her hurrying down the sidewalk sometimes, white tennis shoes and flowerprint dresses, seemingly incongruent with her tight mullet and severe expression. Well maybe the geometry of my perceptions is fucked up, did I ever think of that? Because as white as the cops, the puppy, the duck, the truck, her shoes, so am I. And she is not.

I only see what I see, but I don't know. Know her. I don't even know her real name. I know what people call her, but that's never the same.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, 16 May 2005 12:36 PM CDT
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Friday, 4 March 2005
object lesson

I remember sitting with my friend Eugenia under the wide-boughed maple trees, while the other kids played on the jungle gym and the swings. You could smell the cedar chips and dust in the warm air, even over here in the green shade.

The leaves rustled in the light wind overhead, and she asked, "So what's going to happen to all of us? We didn't do anything wrong... did we?"

I didn't really have an answer for her, because I didn't know. But I still said, "It'll be okay. Somehow."

We sat there and listened to the wind and the creaking of the swings, and it was nice, just sitting there together. Comforting. Because we had to go back in eventually, to the adults and the teachers. To the weirdness, and not knowing why it was weird. Of knowing something was going on, and the confusing questions, and no one would explain anything to us. And above all the condescension. Because we were kids. Children.

We didn't understand what was going on when Mr. Carpenter would pay so much attention to Tina. She had strawberry blond hair and blue eyes, and she was taller than most of us. He would linger by her desk when he spoke to the class. She was shy and would blush, look down at the floor or her desk. He would massage her back, her shoulders, her neck, his hands and fingers brown and calloused against her fair skin. He would praise her work in class. And he was always looking at her. Gazing at her. Drinking her up. It made the rest of us feel... Left out. Jealous. Ugly. But it wasn't Tina's fault. She didn't want the attention. We could see her confusion, the embarrassment. His attention was like a heat lamp, you could feel it even with your eyes closed, dry and hot against her face, tightening the atmosphere of the room.

Then there was the incident with the boa constrictor. We had several class pets in different terrariums; an old brown toad that glowered in a corner, a black salamander that buried itself in mud and muck, and a large boa constrictor. At least 5 feet long, it was sinuous and alien and utterly strange. All the boys in the class, myself included, thought it was so, so cool.

Mr. Carpenter, as a reward for some academic achievement, arranged a pizza party for the class. I remember the pizza arriving in boxes, grease from the cheese soaking through the cardboard, and the rich, pungent taste of the red tomato sauce. We ate and ate, gorged ourselves and laughed and made jokes. I think Andrew, the class prankster, tried to feed some cheese to the salamander and the toad, but they weren't cooperative.

But Mr. Carpenter had a surprise for us. He said, "It's not fair that you have a party, and the boa constrictor doesn't get to share. So I brought him a pizza party of his own." With that, he revealed a cardboard box that made noises, scratching and scritching. He opened it, and we crowded around trying to get a closer look. Inside was a white rat with pink eyes, looking up at us and sniffing the air.

Quickly upending the box into the glass terrarium, our teacher watched the rat fall and then freeze, its whiskers extended and eyes wide, its nose quivering as it processed this new environment. Too late. The boa struck so quickly that we couldn't follow its movement, grasping the head of the rat with its mouth and then twisting its coils around the white, furred body, squeezing and squeezing, the rat squeaking once and then silent. Still the squeezing, the tightening, crushing, the ballooning of the rat's rear, and then a burst of bright red and guts as its innards were smeared out onto the inside of the glass, steaming as the snake began to swallow the rat whole.

It happened so quickly. We were all in shock and the some of the girls started crying and the boys were quiet and Andrew was laughing, a nervous high laugh. Cheese and pizza and all forgotten, but that red tomato sauce, dripping from the pizza... and the rusty, pungent smell of blood... I couldn't eat pizza for a long time after that.

Mr. Carpenter laughed it off, taking swift control of the situation, and turned it into a lesson about predators and prey in the natural world. What was the big deal? Over the next couple of days, we watched the lump that was the rat, but now in the long belly of the boa. The blood in the terrarium grew its own white fuzz of mold, and the sated snake wasn't so cool to me anymore.

The tension in the classroom only increased as time went on. Something, something, something was wrong, wrong, wrong. He shouldn't be... looking at her like that. Shouldn't be... touching her that way. But he was just friendly, he was just our teacher, he was just Mr. Carpenter, goofy Mr. Carpenter... wasn't he? He told jokes and he was funny, he made it fun to learn, but... why was he doing these things?

I don't know who, but someone told another teacher. And all of a sudden there was the principal and the school counselor and someone who looked like a doctor maybe, and Mr. Carpenter wasn't there. We were all asked questions and it was scary and they made us feel uncomfortable, like we had done something wrong.

Did he ever touch us? Well, no, not really. Where did he touch you? But he didn't touch us. Did he touch Tina? Well, yes, but he just gave her backrubs. So he touched Tina? Yes, I guess, what do you mean by "touch"? When is touching more than touching? Why are all of you adults acting like we know what you're talking about when you won't explain what you really want to know?

Tina was crying, saying that she didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings and that she was sorry and she'd never do anything again and... And the adults stared and wrote things down on pads of paper and exchanged glances and sometimes they would leave the classroom and then come back. And then the principal told us that everything was alright, Mr. Carpenter was going to be gone for a while, we would get a new substitute teacher, nothing was wrong and there wasn't any reason to tell our parents. Or we could tell our parents if we wanted, but what was to tell? Tell your parents to call the principal if you want to make a fuss, but why make a fuss? There was nothing to make a fuss about. Nothing to make a fuss about. Nothing Nothing Nothing. Your substitute teacher will be fun, just you wait and see. And there will be a field trip, won't that be fun?

So the next day there was a substitute teacher. Then there was a field trip the day after that. We had extra long recess breaks over lunch for a couple of weeks too...

I'm sitting with my friend Eugenia in the shade, smelling the cedar chips and seeing the other kids laughing. I have a grass stain on the side of my jeans, but I don't care. If we don't think about what happened, concentrate on the fun, everything will be okay. Sitting and not talking is comforting and nice. The sky is bright blue and the clouds are moving fast and the wind is warm. If you just concentrate on the fun, everything will be okay again, somehow.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 1:37 PM CST
Updated: Monday, 7 March 2005 3:07 PM CST
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Thursday, 3 February 2005
so sweet, so cold

He has wild eyes, yellowed-white rolling around dark pupils, and crusted foam at the corners of his mouth.

This is his corner, his slab of concrete and snow, and he has boxing gloves on, a red one and a black one.

"HEEEEEEEY!" he yells at the people who pass him, avoiding his eyes. He lurches into their path, and they sidestep him with the mindless ease of professional pedestrians.

If he cut off his fingers and rattled them around in a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup, you know, instead of coin change, would you pay more attention?

What, exactly, would it take for you to wake up and actually *notice*?

When he digs in the dumpster behind the Quickmart, you've seen him, he remembers the time last winter when he found three Saltine crackers, and a perfect plum. A Trinity of carbs and a sweet, fat Buddha, filling a tiny void, feed me, feed me his stomach peeps, like a blind baby bird, forever needing, feed me.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, 24 June 2005 11:15 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 19 January 2005
nothing is as it seems

I find her on the roof clutching a thin blanket, shivering slightly, wet auburn hair plastered to the back of her neck. She's staring out over the city, and it's full of all things, but mostly darkness delineated by neon and stars.

"I walked down to the park today, and watched the dogs playing," she says, pulling the blanket closer to her,
"And then I walked up Wicker Park Ave to Damen, and stood under the EL tracks. I watched the pigeons, and the street people. I watched the trains and the cars ebb and flow, the bicycles and skateboards. I watched all their thoughts and dreams go by like smoke. I could pluck them out of the air like feathers, and they were sad and beautiful, delicate and rough. It was too much."

I move to stand with her, put my hand gently on her shoulder, but she pulls away.

"So I flew to the top of the Coyote, and watched the sun set down into a cauldron of fire, pink and crimson and gold. I watched the traffic creep in and out on the expressways, and helicopters flit like gnats above them, looking for the juicy fruit of accidents. I watched a homeless man, the one who always waves half-eaten donuts, get hit by a UPS truck. I watched a young woman run home from work in tears, only to find that her apartment building had moved without leaving a forwarding address. I watched the trees in the park twine and untwine their branches, rocking squirrels to sleep and tenderly embracing birds. Nothing is as it seems. It was too much."

I move towards her again and say, softly, "Amelia, you need to come inside, it's cold out here."

She shakes her head gently and whispers, "Something is going to happen, something is happening, something did happen. I have to be here. I have to see."

I brought her two more thick blankets, some mittens and a scarf. I brought her a mug of hot green tea and honey. She accepted my offerings, and returned to her watching.


Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, 27 February 2005 8:21 PM CST
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Thursday, 16 December 2004

He says to me: You really had me thinking for a minute there, just maybe this would work; it was nice. The dog is asleep on the couch, but whimpers occasionally; he has an arthritic leg and it pains him. Or maybe he's just lonely.

She IMs: I don't talk about religion or politics. I gave up after the last election because you know what? They'll do anything to get into power, and it doesn't matter anymore how we vote. She says she's on her second pack of cloves. I can smell the cloying smoke through the keyboard.

The tattoo on his back is of an angel, I think, but you can't see the face. We watch Charlie Brown's Christmas Special, and we laugh when the adults "speak": Waah Waaah Wawh Woooh? Waah wahh wah. Because no matter how old you are, the adults still sound like that. The muscles in his back knot and unknot; the angel is pensive, shifting wings and shrouded face.

She walks directly out into oncoming traffic, and never gets hit. Ever. She just knows the pattern. If I were to follow her blindly across the street, I would die in seconds. I was not born knowing this urban rhythm. I don't know the seasons of neon. I can't trace the city lines on my palm.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, 27 February 2005 8:24 PM CST
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Saturday, 6 November 2004

in the sanctuary
hundreds of people open
their good books
and it's the sound of leaves
rustling in the tops of trees
and all I can think of
is wind and storm,
not love.

the whisper of prayers from
a thousand lips is
a mushroomcloud of moths fluttering
the silver dust from their wings
falling like ash.

the clap of a hundred raised hands
is the distant clatter
of mortars exploding,
all the killing done in
the name of Whatever
flavor of the week
we're worshipping.

and all the words they use
are bruised and faded,
bleached of worth;
He is hiding in the subtext,
behind tongues,
before birth.

who can hope to understand
the complex mess we've made
of earth?
not the books and not the lips
and not the hands
for He is hiding
and is deaf to our demands,
beyond tongues,
beyond death,
such amazing love
to let us live,
breath by labored breath?

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, 27 February 2005 8:26 PM CST
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Saturday, 30 October 2004

We're sitting at Karnival, watching the hipsters and trixies scurry by on the sidewalk outside. We're drinking coffee. Good, dark coffee in white ceramic mugs with hairline cracks running through the glaze.

Dana has her laptop open. She's distractedly maintaining a dying conversation via AIM, limping along with monosyllabic responses. She does this out of habit. It's almost become automatic. Her right hand punches out abbreviated messages, the left hand waves around while she's talking, ranting, pointing.

"There! Do you *see* what that girl is wearing who just walked by? Can you *believe* she left the house this morning *wearing* that? I would shoot myself. I swear. Never let me out in public if I look like that. Promise me." She's half serious. I let her out of her apartment on a consistent basis wearing fake fur and/or bowling shoes.

Our heroin-thin server-hipster slouches over to the table, feigning complete disinterest in life and our ability to tip her or not. But her attitude is a requirement here. In fact, it's a survival tactic. It drives away the yupsters and the trixies, who expect courteous, attentive service. Separating the wheat from the chaff, this cafe chooses its clientele, and chooses to keep its soul.

"Would ya like some more coffee?" she drawls, spilling coffee all over the table as she tops off our cups. It's little dramatic touches like that that keep me coming back for more.

Dana understands the way things work here, the social laws that govern Karnival. And really, the social laws that govern our neighborhood. This cafe is really just a microcosm, a representative sample of what's going on all over the city. Urban evolution. Neighborhoods change, populations move around, shift their buttcheeks from one street to another, tighten their belts from one block to the next. Usually, this takes the form of wealthier people picking where they want to live, and then driving away the people that already live there.

Is this how it's always been?

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 February 2005 8:30 PM CST
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Wednesday, 20 October 2004

If I wind back the clock of years and only look at the nights, a black flipbook that reveals the fuzzy, half-remembered fears of childhood and the immense virtual storehouse of the subconscious, a single night swimming in memory might look like this:

Moonlight. Grey clouds. Trees moving in wind, bending and swaying like kelp in a slow current. All is silent in my room, and the view is like watching TV with the sound turned off except for the sound of my breath. The glass in the windows is old, imperfect; the silver light throws strange shadows and blurred lines across the floor, even though the windows were just cleaned. How can something transparent hold shadows within itself?

Yet even in the between time of night, there's a tension here. In the air. Like an odorless, colorless gas it fills the house completely, right up to the attic, pressing up against the roof. I could pluck the night like a bowstring and hear it chirp, hear it sing.

It's a scent that one never forgets, a climate that I've left and will never return to. I've closed the book on those nights, but not before opening them up, examining their guts, and winnowing out the source of tension. Identifying him. Becoming aware of the shadows when he is seemingly transparent.

And transparency is all the rage. There, can you see his skeleton, his beating heart, his vulnerable belly, his pleading, innocent eyes? He's sorry you know. Ever so sorry. Sorry is soothing, sssssssssss, like the sea, lulling, repetitive, say your sorry and I'll take you back under my wing, sorry is balm and salve, sorry mends bones and bruises, sorry is sly and it lies. Sorry is snake and constricting, it whispers one thing and distracts with another, it tightens and cracks ribs, can you breathe? Can you believe? You can't? No worries. Because he's sorry.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 February 2005 10:14 PM CST
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Sunday, 17 October 2004
From October 2001

On Communion:


this is not disposable.

this is not disposable.

do not throw this away.

see this plastic communion
with throwaway cups.
see this safe, suburban grape juice
masquerading as wine.

but see,
this cup holds Life
more precious than rubies
more intimate than breath
more fully blood than blood
and this is not disposable.


this is not consumer-driven.

this is not consumer-driven.

do not consume and then drive away,

this bread is Memory and Body:
salt. flour. water. alchemy.
dissolved and digested,
then resurrected
in the deep engines of cells,
transforming matter into energy,
fuel to drive the mind and
fire the soul,
and so the Body broken is
burned and Risen whole.


this is not tradition.

this is not tradition.

do not do this easily.

these elements are ever new:
are supernova and Son.
the uncovered face of the Father.
the white-hot holiness of the Spirit.

do not tread lightly on this ground.

but do this.
do this in remembrance of me.
please do not do this easily.

Posted by blog/wicker_chronicles at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005 2:31 PM CDT
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