Avatar photo

Scenes from a Single Life, 1985

“‘Tain’t natural to be lonesome.”
Our Town, Act II

At the Berkeley Psychic Institute, seven
students and one teacher watched the air
around my head to see what might appear
about past lives and contracts I had hidden
from my consciousness regarding children.
A boy and a girl, they finally said,
will come to you according to a pledge
you made one day before this incarnation,
but if circumstances aren’t right for them
to come, they understand and let you go
completely.  They know San Francisco’s
not a mecca for straight men, and then,
there’s the matter of your acting career,
how paying the rent is a daily fear.

Yes, paying the rent was a daily fear,
even in the Mission District, so I had three
temporary jobs, and one was giving out free
cigarettes in Union Square, and one nearly
got me fired for stealing a stapler
from the mailroom at Bechtel—an evil giant
known for its corruption, so I felt defiant
and judged myself the lesser transgressor.
Desperate times required desperate measures,
and Jean Valjean stole bread to feed
his sister’s children, right?  This pleased
my mind a bit, but I knew better:
women compensate by stealing, they say,
when perfect love doesn’t come their way.

Perfect love hasn’t come my way, I told
the Filipino lola on the bus,
who was knitting tiny booties and asked
if I had children.  And then taking hold
of my arm, squeezing very hard, she said,
You must have a child.  It can be with anybody,
that cab driver can do it, somebody
you see in Safeway.  Just go to bed
before too late.  You must.  God tells me this.
She shook me up so much, I missed my stop,
and walking back past Joe’s Ice Cream Shop,
I hoped to find a man who felt adrift
for living in a city childless and alone,
but lost my nerve and walked 10 blocks home.

Once I lost my nerve and walked home
from the Golden Gate Bridge.  I stopped
half way across, to let a bottle drop
into the water with a note to whom-
ever it concerned, the universe perhaps,
that things were tough, and I was lonely,
please send a special soul to find me,
not another actor or tipsy stand-up.
But holding the bottle over the edge,
I realized it would smash to pieces,
sending glass into birds and fishes,
an environmental sacrilege,
so I took my bottle home as fog rolled in.
The misted breeze felt soft on my skin.

The misted breeze would soften my skin,
moisturizing me back to age thirty,
I hoped, adding years of fertility,
keeping me fresh in my prime for him
whenever he showed up.  Or there were sperm
banks where my gay friend Michael went each
month to make some extra cash and reached
the point of bringing his own magazine to firm
the fella up, which made me cringe for thinking
how incidental was the impetus
to create new life and how anonymous
the father.  And perhaps I was falling
prey to some cultural idea of mother,
when Michael said it’s OK to be another?

But did that mean I’d be just another
single woman living in the city,
pretending not to notice pitying
glances when the irritated waiter
put me at the tiny table by the kitchen,
thinking how small a tip he’d make
and how overly long I’d probably take
with the book I brought as my companion?
And did the diners imagine me at home,
waiting for my life to start while watching
movie after movie and French-buffing
my nails?  Perhaps sitting by the phone?
They weren’t far off, I hated to admit.
In the world as it was, I was a misfit.

The world as it was put misfits on stage,
so I dressed in a skirt and went to audition
for a role in Our Town with my rendition
of Lady Macbeth who’d screw courage
to the sticking place, so as not to fail
and was cast as a woman who spoke
from the grave about how bad the townsfolk
were, except for weddings, which never failed
to make her cry.  Meanwhile, my actor brothers
dying of AIDS used extra makeup
to cover lesions before the curtain went up
and the show went on.  Nothing could cover
this backdrop of death, but at eight every night,
I took my place in our town, and it felt right.


  1. Laurie and Peter Katz on

    Beautifully captured a moment in time, a person of that time.

Join the conversation