The Albuqerque Interventions
“And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”
“Why Switzerland? What's this sudden interest
“I've no burning desire to go.
I was charmed by an e-mail.”
“You wouldn't consent to the free lessons.
People the world over spend
a fortune for the chance to ski
“Not that I wouldn't go.”
“I visited my brother at his private school in Lausanne.
That's where he got his French,
which served him well when they shot
that film about the Dionne Quints
“Five of a Kind . . .”
“That sounds right, though who can remember?”
“I'll always remember because I assumed the title
referred to an impossible poker hand.”
“And the Chan, set in Paris on the eve
of WWII. It was very dark.
Oh who the hell cares, but I tell you Mark
if my father had done a fraction for me
what he did for 'the boy,' Bert,
my life would have been substantially different.
If I'd been a boy, he might have spoiled me, literally
to death, as he did my brother.
I never saw Bert smile,
not even when he was riding high
for a few years during the Depression,
when he directed almost all of his films
and was pulling in $500 a week—a relative fortune—
when people were standing in bread lines.
I know it hurt my mother deeply
that he never sent us a penny.
He directed his first film at twenty-five.
Oh Bert was talented, no question, and who
knows, maybe he wouldn't have knocked himself off
if Dad hadn't butted in so much.
I married Sidney, to get you away
from my father's domineering presence.”
“You do know I was unwanted?”
“Was it that bad?”
“When I was conceived, Dad and Tatiana were together.
He had no interest in girls—in the idea of a daughter.
And he was probably miffed that my mother
used it as a last ditch effort to get him back.
If my mother hadn't died when I was sixteen,
and died so miserably because of her
stubborn adherence to her ill-placed belief
in Christian Science, I might have had
another life. Been less miserable.
Smiled more. Don't I have a nice smile?
(She bares her teeth.)
People tell me I have beautiful teeth.
But they don't often see them.
I got out of the habit of smiling after my mother died.
I had watched her skin turn green, I know now I should have called
rather than discuss it with her.
I should have called an ambulance the moment I recognized
that it wasn't a cold, that it would not pass.
But that's my life Mark, wrong decisions.
That's why my stomach blew up like I was pregnant
when you had the appendicitis.”
“Once I went to live with my father, it was all over.
My Dad did nothing but criticize.
He flogged me with newspapers if I came home
after midnight from a date.
And I was terribly shy to boot,
was terribly self-conscious about my breasts,
and my thin hips and legs made them protrude all the more.
And so I walked hunched over.
Men are lucky that they don't have to carry this—weight.
If I'd been a boy, at the very least he would have allowed me
to go to college.”
“You should have insisted.”
“About college? Oh sure.
That would have taken more courage than I had.
I wasn't the only one, a lot of powerful men
were afraid to stand up to Dad.
No one could argue with him.
He'd done everything, and knew everything.”
“That's easy for you to say.
Because I got you away from him in time.”
“You wanted your father's love.”
“Oh, I'm sure I did. And there was no one
to dissuade me. Only Bert took my side.
When he saw me pasting labels on perfume bottles
he said, 'this is no kind of work for my Marjy.'
And that's how I escaped that prison.
At least I got a good education at Julia Richmond
High. We probably learned more
than the kids learn in college today.
Like how to read and write.
Add. Subtract. Multiply.
Oh Julia Richmond was a fine school.
A public school for girls was a giant
step toward equality.
Do you know who graduated
around the same time as I did?”
“Betty Bacall and Judy Holliday.”
“And Patricia Highsmith.”
“I wasn't aware of that; I thought she was a Texas girl.”
“Of course I didn't know in advance that both your fathers
would turn out to be alcoholics, ok.
I married Sidney because I thought
'who could provide a better atmosphere for a child
than a Rabbi,' it never crossed my mind that this
Rabbi, who I'd only known to drink socially,
was another alcoholic.
I think you were about fifteen when Sidney
began to disappear after dinner.
There was a group in Salt Lake, all local mucky mucks.
And they liked to drink, especially the priest,
and if I commented on his wobbly state when he returned
he'd snap 'what are you talking about, I've been out working.'”
“And what kind of work is that?”
“Who would think—a Rabbi!
Still I would like to have had a college education.
Though my mother didn't go to college and she translated Phaedra.
Into blank verse. For a WPA production.”
“I wish I could see a copy.”
“At least I went to business school and
attended the Art Students League
several nights a week;
that's where I studied with Mostel.
My father did not like that.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Oh didn't you know?
Dad was a great artist.”
“Come on Mom.”
“Well you saw the painting of the forest he did at nineteen.”
“And the dusky river scene with the dock.
Suffused with pearly light on the water.”
“I would have said daybreak not dusk.
But you never knew much about early hours.
I don't know which was worse, having to drag
you out of bed or having to prepare two breakfasts.”
“I never asked you to.”
“Anyway, everything came so easily to him.
He didn't need lessons. He taught himself.
He didn't say I couldn't take classes but he derided
the paintings I brought home.”
“It pains me to hear this.”
“Think of how it pains me. It pains me so much I could—”
“I wouldn't blame you.
My father said he fought with your father
about your art, said he tried to defend . . .”
“He did. But when he couldn't change either
Dad or me, he became very nasty.
Your father liked to mold people. This is not
a healthy approach to life.”
“Yeah. He used to say that all the time.
'I thought I could mold her,' meaning you.
I'd say, 'Why do you say it over and over, mold her, mold her . . .'”
“Ha ha. I'll bet he liked that. What did he say?”
“He said he had 'a Pygmalion complex.'”
“Aha! Always with the complexes. Do you think
these complexes attract nut cases like Charles?”
“I never knew how he meant what he was saying.”
“And it tore me apart that he spoke to you that way.
He liked to get a reaction. To put people on the defensive.”
“He was good at it.”
“Oh yeah. And where did it get him.”
“He was a complicated man.”
“I think your father tried to make himself appear
a lot more complicated than he was.”
“He was no enigma. He conned you into thinking he was one.”
“Mom. It's tactless of me to ask—”
“Oh who gives a fuck.”
“Why aren't you like this more often?”
“Like what. Funny. Witty. Perceptive. Shrewd.”
“Oh I don't know. A long time ago. I just gave up.
I mean what do I have to live for?”
“What does anyone have to live for?”
“Who should I have conversations with in this backwater?”
“You could have, you could still . . . -move back to New York.”
“What? To be broke all the time and unable
to go out on my own for four months a year.
I can't go out in the winter. My lungs.”
“When you talk this way
I don't know what to say.
I don't know how to respond,
Which doesn't mean
as I think you think it does
that I'm numb to your pain.”
“I don't think anything.”
“I don't understand why you gave up swimming.
You loved it so much and it kept you . . .”
“I know, I know. I loved nothing more
than being in the warm water,
but it became too much of a production,
getting undressed, and putting on the suit,
and afterwards I didn't have the strength
to get dressed . . .”
“You say you're depressed.”
“I know that.”
“But it's not all darkness.”
“That's the way my father
described his depression.
World without light.”
“But your father was a nut!
Without luck he would have lived
in darkness long before that.
Charles was a charlatan.
He had to drink because he was afraid
that people would see through his charade.”
“Maybe being on the edge
is what made him feel alive.”
“You make it sound like skiing.”
“That's a different kind of edge.
When I looked down, the mountain
sucked in its gut. The way space
curved made me nervous.”
“Nervous? You, nervous?”
“The most annoying thing you did
was to make me without a shell.”
“Nervous! You think I'm a case?
And maybe I am.
God knows, after all
I've been through. Back to
nervous. Tell me. When
are you not nervous.”
“When I'm in my work.”
“I asked you not about the Pollock interview
you read in one of my books.”
“Ok, in the trance state it induces . . .”
“Oh I thought you were always in a trance.
You know nothing about finance.
How anyone can attend college and not
take one practical course is beyond me,
absolutely beyond me, but then I
didn't go to college.”
(Aimee Mann can be heard in the background singing:
“You look like a perfect fit
For a girl in need of a tourniquet . . .”)
“Mark, what is that noise?
Why are you fiddling with the tape deck while I'm talking to you?
Turn that off, it's absolutely horrible.”
“I think it's beautiful.”
“It's horrible, turn it off, thank you, and stop
whatever you're doing, I just don't know
what is wrong with you, never did, never understood,
something I did, something I didn't do . . .”
“Do you want me to put on Anita O'Day.”
“No. I want your undivided attention and whenever I look
you're somewhere else . . .”
“Can we change the subject Mom?”
(“From the ranks of the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone.”)
(Lights dim, rustling of furniture.)
“I know about trances, why do you think
I did all that painting, gardening, and swimming.
I probably loved
gardening more than
I understood, that
was before there were
books about the deep
satisfaction caring for plants can
give people, would you like
to have a garden?”
“Yes. Now. Not before.”
“You might find it more
you could predict now.
The kid's almost grown.”
“You say the word 'kid' like it was something to be thrown away.”
“Well I don't know but the way you dote on him I've never seen . . .”
“Back to you Mom.
I was always in awe of your green thumb.
Your hands deep in the dirt of your potted plants.”
“I never knew that dear.
Never knew you cared.
Of course everyone else
who entered the house,
the first thing they noticed
was the green.
Everyone raved about my plants.
Oh I would have loved a real garden plot.
But it killed me to take care of that house,
so we lived in the apartments, and so did the plants,
but you can be sure they got plenty of southern exposure.”
“So what stopped you?”
“From what, dear?”
“From skiing in Utah.”
“Oh Mark I had terrible arthritis.
The osteo and the rheumatoid.
I can't bear to look at my hands.”
(Closes her eyes, holds out her knobbed fingers.)
“Even though it was nothing like this then,
I wasn't going to take up skiing at forty,
though I would have loved to. I loved the West.
That space. That air. That vastness.
Not because of measurable square miles.
Because of scale. Mountain heights and desert
depths. Or flatness. I never understood
why you were so wild for the desert.”
“The deceptive impassive stillness.
The plants conspiratorial.
The nearness of distant sounds.”
“You think keeping it watered is easy?”
“Easy is snow that melts into basins.
Basins that become the reservoirs of the cool,
clear water we sang about in Vegas.”
“Wild hotel, The Oasis.
Why couldn't we have stayed at The Sands.”
“You never change, do you? Always the fantasies.
Well in real life as opposed to reel life we weren't there on a vacation.
You may remember I was getting a divorce,
I put you in Day Care, so I chose something
modest and affordable.”
“I was just kidding.
Day Care, the bleak weedy back yards,
a goat tethered to a lone scrub oak, the kids in their own orbits,
“The Oasis was convenient for a long stay.
It had a kitchenette and it was next
door to The Flamingo so you could get your glam
fix by strolling across the parking lot.”
“I sure wanted to drive that white T-Bird
convertible with the red leather seats.
Just once, you know, around the parking lot.”
“I seem to remember you almost did.
You had that attendant in your pocket.
Making up songs as you strummed the ukulele
you never really learned how to play.”
“I knew how to play it.”
“Sounds aren't music. You sang over them.
But when you saw a Texan wearing
a white Stetson, string tie, and red snap button shirt,
you'd draw out the last word until something
else caught your fancy, like his white Caddy.
You were car crazy. No, just plain crazy.”
“Of course if you want a fancy car it helps
to have a real job, do you know how much the doctors
around here pull in now, they have separate cars
for all different types of driving,
town cars, jeeps, and two-seaters for when
they can leave the kids at home.”
“I know you know. But I don't know why you don't
do anything about it!”
“YOU'RE TELLING ME!”
“Can you calm down?”
“Oh sure. I mean why get upset now, when it's too late.
You should see how the kids dote on their parents down here.
I know a doctor who just built an addition on his house
so his wife's mother could live with them.”
So this is what she was angling for all along,
a room of her own in our house.
“You do know how you first became
acquainted with desert sights?”
“When you were no more than . . .”
“I know, you don't have to tell me again.”
“Then you tell me.”
I. First Glimpse of Albuquerque
At three or four, I rose from my mother's lap
when the Big Chief chuffed into Albuquerque.
Urchins pushing cactus dolls and pincushions of themselves
crowded the tracks: I reached out, with yearning perhaps
beyond my years, and though my hand found glass—
discovered wandering—I felt drawn toward
the tentative architecture of the Spanish west
and the caressing syllables of the place-names.
Wandering: you have to learn it again every morning;
not to stumble—face flayed, windmilling arms—
like this old Indian in his Victorian
overcoat buttoned to the top in the hundred-degree oven
lurching onto the narrow two-lane highway north
of Cuba, where cars push 80.
Did he once—hawk fetishes? After Cuba,
I change my mind about stopping in Aztec.
II. The Return to Albuquerque
I have longed to be in the hills,
these Sandia hills,
and to look down at the sprawling lights
scattered like juniper and piñon,
cradled within the basin with human
habitation ordered and contained
by the plateau; held—cupped—
not rigidly, within ridges;
nurtured, even with this
low yearly rainfall.
What are you waking for
in the hour before dawn,
cracked bones scattered
like the lights of the city.
What are you asking for,
you who demand so much
from this life—wandering
in the desert of invention.
“I didn't know it effected you so deeply.”
“I told you.
I knew if I could go
further than I could go I would know
what lies on
solitude's other side.”
“You may have told me.
I don't know, I don't know.
But somehow you've erased
all the good times.”
“I've told you many times, how the sight of those
impoverished urchins tore me apart.”
“What was so special? You'd seen poverty.”
“That was later. After you remarried—”
“Then we knew poverty . . .
What the Gentiles call (raises forefinger) 'Ecclesiastical Poverty.'”
“That we were in it together and fate
had put me on the train with a future
to contemplate, and put them on the tracks,
beggary blocking out all other thoughts.”
“We never told you that money was everything.”
“It wasn't about money, it was about
possibility and the lack of it when I first
recognized how determined those children's
lives were before they'd begun to have lives.
Of course I may be wrong in point of fact.
But I identified the same profound absence of hope
in the faces of so many of the kids I came to know—
and in some cases love—in every school I attended.
I'm not saying they were doomed to humdrum
lives after high school, marriages that would
breed children while the couples became
passionless and estranged with nothing
to talk about, other than 'the game,'
what the Bulls or Bears were doing
to the Lions or the Tigers. . . .
Part of what I loved about Luke Douglas—”
(“Oh yeah, the little thing with the moss-green teeth
and ghastly freckles.”
“That's how you spoke of him always, yes.”)
“was the delight he took in small pleasures,
and yes children the age we were then,
ten, eleven, twelve, are like that,
but while basking in the warmth that emanated
from the letters he sent me at camp I'd look
at the privileged princes from Long Island
with their mohair cardigans and tapered slacks
who woke each day with a case of 'the gets' and 'got
everything,' TV's, air conditioners in their rooms,
sports cars the day they received their driver's licenses,
and wonder if it made them happier
than my friends at home whose lives were
improvisations against boredom,
on quiet streets that were there to be disrupted,
where there was more talk about what we wanted to do,
make a team, get a girl, than possessions.
And every day I had to endure a conceited, uncoordinated brat
carry his top-of-the-line Rawlings glove—
which he hadn't troubled to loosen up with a ball in an oiled
pocket under the mattress—pick his nose in right field
then take weak cuts at the ball when at bat.
Many were good at sports the small town kids never got to play,
or learn how to do, like tennis and swimming.
And I thought, I like knowing how to swim.
These pampered darlings did have something
that my friends from the heartland in large part lacked:
an assumption that the larger world would make room
for them unless they totally fucked up.”
“We couldn't afford to reward you with material things.
And your father was too cheap.”
“But he paid for camp, and I'm grateful,
because I loved those summers away.”