IT WAS AN IMPRESSIVE, crooked house situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean. From the edge, you could look down on the vast roll of the salty blue waves, and not only, you could hear the voices of the swimmers diving into the water from the piers. They were as tiny and distant as matchsticks. Of course, it was foggy up there on that street with a refreshing cool air, and there were a lot of such Victorian homes with glass windows, winding staircases. Out of the front of one emerged a certain actor of repute, a Mr. Pitt, best known perhaps for the turmoil in his personal life, but otherwise in high spirits as he stopped beneath the street lamp on the corner to chat with Constable Mahoney on patrol. Mahoney and Pitt eyed me as I came down from the opposite side of the way, hands in my pockets and whistling. I was surprised that Pitt recognized me and there was even warmth there, a kind of a common, “takes-one-to-know-one” rapport. Then I went on along the foggy street to the very end. My own home was poorly lit and cold inside. When I got in, Agnetha was there, with her child curled up in her lap. She was stroking the little girl’s head and eyeing me from behind her glasses. I knew it was cold, but I somehow could not provide for the two of them anyhow. There was just not enough wood for the large, white fireplace at the center of the home and, despite its location in an opulent neighborhood, we were still dirt poor and I was as tawdry and tarnished as a London chimneysweep. Agnetha was still kind to me and we sat a while as she stroked and consoled her forlorn daughter. I had promised them so much. I had promised them a home in the heights, but I had somehow neglected to provide for their warmth and comfort. So it was this kind of love then, a threadbare one. Agnetha pushed her button nose very close to my face, so close, but she refused to kiss me. I could smell her breath but she refused to commit with the deed. Agnetha had frozen up inside too, you see. She could get close to me, but in her core she was far off. “You absolutely must do something,” she said to me, as her freezing child whimpered beneath her staid, calm fingers. “Go rob a grocery store or even the First Republic Bank and then the First Bank of San Francisco. You can take out all the banks on Market Street, if you like. I don’t care,” she said, and tears began to roll away gently. “I don’t care if my husband is a criminal. Better a wealthy criminal than a poor writer!” Of course, I did no such thing. I turned up Market Street, found a music club in the Mission District and was promptly seduced by the violinist. Some half-Aleut girl from up the coast whose name I would bellow as she milked me raw in the wee hours in some hotel while the sea lions barked and humped in the bay twilight. And that’s how I forgot all about Agnetha, so sorry to say. I guess that big betrayal is on me, but, to be fair, the violinist didn’t ask for anything. Just words for her music. Real passion that. I’m not sure what became of Agnetha and the girl. I imagine they are still freezing up in that chilly house on the cliffs. Or maybe she has taken up with Pitt or Constable Mahoney? If so, I wish them the best.
IN A FRIGHTENING CATACLYSM, I returned to America, its amber waves of grain, hallowed shores, flags waving, fortified floating fortress of a nation, America, where at once a meeting of the five families is called in the Five Points, and Don Roberto, latest patriarch of the Mulberry Street bakers, with his slanting beret and fuzzy beard, Don Roberto counts off my offenses on the fat, flour-dusted fingers of his left or evil hand, sinistra, as the Italians say, and announces to the other heads of the families that I have been a bad Italian-American and therefore must be excommunicated! What else to do? The verdict is final. Fat Billy is there with his hands on my shoulders. He is laughing. “I told you so, I told you so,” Fat Billy says. I have done too many terrible things, and among the most terrible, left America. For this, there can be no forgiveness. I have been excommunicated, you see. It’s done. Outside I encounter Giuseppe, another old padrone of one of the forgotten Canal Street pizzeria clans. He sits beneath a tall, wind-bent Aruban tree. “Ah, Giustino, my friend,” says a sad and defeated Giuseppe. “I haven’t seen you in such a long time. Such a sad and long time, Giustino. Where have you been?” Giuseppe is sad too, too sad for words, for he too has also has been excommunicated. Something to do with experimenting with pineapple. Verboten. He looks up at the branches of the tree and sighs and as he does my feet lift from the ground. Soon they are above the tree and my head is full of purple night and stars. This is how I float away like a hot air balloon over the oceans to Europe, my soul full of cosmos and astral wind. This is how I am returned to my proper slice in the world // ONCE BACK, I am of course welcomed by a dozen nude women on a sandy beach who implore me to make films of them. They are writhing all over each other, breasts descending and rising, and there is good fun to be had hiding among the limbs. There is a carnival feel to the scene, and I come to feel some kind of love for women again, even after all the carnage. At an underground crypt, a wedding is held, the women and bridesmaids all bare-breasted, and later, staggering back from this naked Sports Illustrated-worthy European reverie, I encounter no other than the town mayor, Rando Liivamägi, who is busy consulting with a young man who is showing him a portfolio of artwork. “Come here,” says good-humored Liivamägi in his brown suit with his spectacles nearly dropping from his nose. “Come here, I want you to meet someone. Allow me to introduce Hr. Petrone.” No, it can’t be. “But there are only three men in the world with our name,” I tell the young man. “And now two of them live in Estonia,” he demurs. “But you will always be the Petrone,” he says to me. I am merely a Petrone,” he says. He smiles to the mayor and Liivamägi is pleased. “I am so glad you two finally had the chance to meet,” he says. “I have taken on your namesake as an artist for the city. He specializes in drawing portraits of plane crashes, fires, and automobile accidents.” He shows me pastel-colored drawings of women leaping from windows. They both smile. I walk away feeling disturbed. Very, very disturbed. // NOT LONG AFTER, I inevitably arrive at the island estate of the familiar writer of Once Upon a Time in England. She whose wet legs once wrapped themselves about my shoulders as she implored me to live up to my talent. (“You could be better,” she had once said. “You know you’re so much better than that.”) Yet she is stressed now and her child is hungry and her well-meaning young husband has to escort me out. He even drives me to the train station. A good-humored chap. To see that face of hers, goopy make-up dripping, clad in bathrobe, yellow hair messed like straw. She wouldn’t even look at me, but I have no fear. I still have my knapsack and my soul to keep me straight. I’ll be back and she will be back, and my energy will re-entwine with hers. Then all will be right and whole, yes. The peace of the world, blanketing warm. We can sleep wondering what all that commotion was. Excommunication? Bah! I’ve got better people to do now, places to go, and things to see. I’ve got the writer and she’s got me. A knapsack and a journal and the road before me. What else could you really want?
HOT RAVAGING ENERGY, as verdant, tropical, pungent and fertile as the floating gardens of Tenochtitlan. The Azteca’s bloody temple stone steps drip with human sacrifice, her lips scald you with hot chocolate, her skin is encrusted in golden flakes of sugar and maize. One must cultivate this feeling. One must navigate her floating gardens using flat-bottomed boats that glide across the surface of the well of skulls, the heaps of sacrificial bones and tiny colorful canal fish, the rows of golden maize glinting up in the sun like the teeth of the gods showing the way out, out through the darkness of the abyss, out into a sunshine world where one breathes to exist, where sex turns up red clay dust and all is in bloom, where the hand reaches down to feel its way through the tangled vegetable patches, the codex lips part to seep and drip like moisture from the old stone walls, away and away into the gardens, the wet lushness of under-foliage, until all is resplendent and shines polished like obsidian. This is how we lie down to sleep, under the moon of a place some call Mexico, beneath the high grasses and fruit trees. Here are the gardens where we drift and dream and make love entwined.