10 March 2016

"Last Letter From Stalingrad, 1943"

Last Letter From Stalingrad, February 5 1943
by Peri Lyons, c 2016 all rights reserved

(Author's note: In 1976, a mailbag came to light in the archives of the US Army. It was filled with letters.
These letters were written by German soldiers. In 1943, the German army abandoned the soldiers it had left in Stalingrad, leaving them to die of exposure and starvation.. These letters were written by the men, when they knew no one was coming back for them. The ltters were never mailed.
I found these letters in a book, and, although of Austrian Jewish descent, I was moved by the words of men I grew up thinking of as enemies.
.This is a reimagining of one of those letters.Who this man was, and why was he was "avoided by men", I will never know.-PL))


Last Letter From Stalingrad

Dear Monica
There are four of us here
For the first time I have friends
other than my friends, the stars.
(I couldn't look up from my telescope, Monica.
Not then. You know why. I was avoided by men.
So I looked at the sky.)

This letter will take two weeks to reach you
It will all be over by then
Do not believe what you read in the papers
of what they say has happened here:
What are the judgments of others, to you and me?
Monica, the time is too serious now to joke:
You were always my best friend.

I have always thought in lightyears
But I felt in seconds.
On this beautiful night
Andromeda and Pegasus are right above my head
I have looked at them for a long time
I shall be very close to them soon
My peace I owe to the stars, Monica
Of which you are the most beautiful to me.

Around me everything is collapsing
An army is dying
Day and night are on fire
And four men busy themselves with their job
We measure temperatures
And report on cloud ceilings
Here too. I have much to do with the weather.

No one, no one will come for us, Monica
There is no one to come
The clouds are rather low this evening
They make a pattern I have not seen before

I want you to know my secret, Monica
No human being has ever died by my hand
I have never loaded my pistol
With live ammunition.
I should like to have counted stars
For another few decades
But I suppose nothing will come of that now.

I have always thought in lightyears
But I felt in seconds
On this beautiful night
Andromeda and Pegasus are right above my head
I have looked at them for a long time
I shall be very close to them soon
My peace I owe to the stars, Monica
Of which you are the most beautiful to me.

30 September 2015

Family Pictures

“Good heavens, she’s got a face like a catcher’s mitt,” said my father. 
He was peering unhelpfully over my shoulder, as I sat at the dining room table with a fraying cardboard box full of yellowing photographs spread out in front of me. 
“Sit up straight, you’ll wind up bent into a bow. Nobody wants a woman who can double as an archery tool.-Good HEAVENS, she’s ugly,” he said, picking up the thick, yellowed cardboard rectangle from where it lay in front of me. “Plain to see all the good looks came from your mother’s side of the family.” 
He held the picture up close and frowned at it. “This is your great grandmother, so don’t get too smug. You only dodged this bullet by a chromosome or two.”
“What was her name?” I asked. 
 He’d handed me back the picture, and I frowned at it myself, trying to make her face- broad, wide, and with an expression that could politely be described as “disagreeable”- connect to anyone I knew. It was tough. It wasn’t doable.
Dad was now reaching over my left shoulder to pick some pretzels out of the smooth oval wooden bowl in front of me. “Watch out for these”, he said, waving an admonitory pretzel at me. “They look harmless, but at 100 calories apiece, they’re lethal. Of course, by the time you gain the weight , the salt will have bloated you anyway. Win-win situation, really.” He chewed thoughtfully. “But they are good. Just watch yourself.”
I was impatient. “What was her NAME, please? And stop scolding me. I’m 123 pounds, for God’s sake. ” 
“Good thing you’re tall. That could be a deadly number if you were my mother’s height.” He looked off into the middle distance. “Did I ever tell you that she got so fat that she would fall off her feet? She would just be standing there, and boom. She was very vain about her feet. They were a size 2. Like bound feet, really. And SHE was 123 pounds, once.. And look what happened to her.” He leaned over me to grab some pretzels again. “And don’t be shrill, young lady. You’re one of nature’s contraltos. Shrill doesn’t suit you.. And  the catcher’s mitt's name..hmph..what was her name? Binah!", he said triumphantly. "Binah. I think. I remember it having "beans" in it. Not good for a name.”

“Bean-ah? I have a great grandmother named Beanah?? Who is really unattractive? 
This is not good.” I looked at the photo, and tried to match his tone.  "She can’t afford a bad name. Wow, she really DOES look like a catcher’s mitt. But ..wait, is this the one, the grandmother-"
-"GREAT grandmother."- said my father-
"-who was such was such a great baker that everyone came from neighboring shtetls for miles around to buy her stuff?” I asked.
“I think so. Yeah, yeah. Although God knows how they paid for anything. Nobody HAD anything. “I’ll give you two dusty rocks and a potato for that brownie.”Shtetl life was no month in the country. -Well,  it was, really. Just not a country you’d ever want to live in. “
I smiled. “Throw in a kidney and my first born son for the carrot cake.”, I said.

“BLASPHEMY!” My Dad recoiled in mock horror. “NEVER sell your first born child for health food! Carrot cake. You are not my child. Sachertorte, sure. Those pastry pig ears, of course. All butter and sugar.  But… Root vegetables with frosting on em? No. And not for you, if you don't want to take chances with those fat genes."

“Dad. Your mother was four ten and one twenty three. I’m FIVE ten and 123. AND I have really big feet.”

“You know, I never noticed that. But you do. “I Love You Honey But Your Feets Too Big,””, he warbled. “Is that Fats Waller?”

“Dad!!! What does “Binah” mean?”

He was already bored, walking away. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s Hebrew for “flatulence”. How would I know? I married the least Jewish girl on the planet. Your mother is truly the Shiksa’s Shiksa.” 

He was on his way out the door. “I think I’ll drive to the Stop and Shop and get some Haagen Daazs."
It was ten pm, but we were used to his odd peregrinations. He was a a city boy, never got used to the suburbs.  He stopped in the doorway and turned around and looked at me, his eyes actually focussing on me, rather than doing what I thought of as his usual “periphery check”.

“That’s interesting. You know what?”

“What, Dad?”, I sighed, in that teenage way.

“I think you are my only Jewish child. “ He looked at me quizzically, and then, unexpectedly, came back and kissed the top of my head.

I was thrilled but was successful at hiding my happiness. Boy, break out the Taittinger, I thought. But I made sure not to let him see that.

“Remember dog food.”, I said, frowning at Binah’s photo, still.

“Your mother and her damned dogs. Now THAT’S a WASP thing. Don't understand that."

 He stood behind me, his hand still absentmindedly on my shoulder. I hardly dared breathe, lest I draw attention to his attention and break the magic. He stood completely still for a moment, and then chuckled.

“What? What?” I had to ask.The moment trembled in the air, half broken between us, but still present, before it would, as always, fall and shatter.

He shook himself, and removed his hand from the vicinity of my shoulder. “I was just thinking about how  your brother and his exquisite Irish Catholic socialite “Nancy Reagan was my Mom’s best friend” wife would react if they saw THAT face peering out from the bassinet."
"Wait, whose face? You mean, in December?"I asked.

" The catcher’s mitt. That face. Ha!” he said happily,”The Shtetl’s Revenge. Binah’s Back. --Alright, Miss Feet’s Too Big , do you want anything else? Dog food, ice cream…” 

He shuddered theatrically. “I refuse to BUY anything else. That’s a GHASTLY combination.”

He looked down at the photo in my hand.

“I will tell you this much, though. Ol’ Binah  would have had to have been a DAMNED good cook.”

“Um…Well, Dad, if you’re going to get ice cream, I guess I want-"

But it was too late, by seconds.

The screen door had already swung behind him then.  My handsome father, was gone.

08 June 2015

"Goddess" is such an overused word.

¨Goddess" is an overused word.

Look over here.


I am that girl 
The first and the middle and the last and the always girl.
Yes! -THAT one. 
The girl you had the crush on in kindergarten, your eyes sliding over to see
if I'd be
Your secret Valentine. 
I am the joy in that five year old's smile, always, for you, and,
I am her joy, she is me.

Today I cried, though. I  feel no goddess at all.

When I was away gathering wood for our hearth, she whispered to you
And you frowned and nodded and said " Yes that must be true"
And you both said "Go. We don't want you."

And now I feel small. 

I take out the bright mirror and the dark mirror,

The dark mirror sings
 "You are ugly, old one. You are wrong.
The dark mirror has a song like a lullaby buzzsaw. It sings
"Oh what I say is true,
The gifts you give are tainted. No one loves ,or could love, or WILL love, or HAS loved
 such a one as you."
I can feel my strength rain away. 
 I reach for the bright mirror too
The bright mirror says nothing, for the bright mirror is busy doing her own makeup
The bright mirror says "Am I as pretty as her? What can I do?"

Throw those mirrors away, sister . The only mirror here is you.

So? You gonna cry or you gonna play ball here or what?

We say together:

I will not let anyone steal my fire
You will not be my Prometheus
And if you do steal my fire, so what?
Stolen fire goes out and leaves you in the dark
My fire keeps replenishing. You cannot handle my real fire
For then you'd have to know that you have your own.


I am the singer in the storm.
I am my own medicine. I make this from all poisons . 

I love my own grace, wit and style  enough that you don't have to...but you will.

I promise
Ohhh you will.

I have the interdependence

 that is the true independence,
A bird entwined with the wind,
I have unlimited riches that are also yours
I am like a queen so entwined with her people
I am proud of the love of making songs
 that flows through me like I am the trout and the river too


I will be vulnerable ...but not foolish with it
Generous.. but not foolish with it
Foolish but not fucking stupid
If I am foolish we will laugh together
I laugh with you at the joke of our own being.

I am proud of the tender heart that nestles in my breast like a bird.

I am happy to be happy. Sad to be sad. 
But my emotions are my own.

My life? is is my own. Yes, I bend towards those I love, like a reed,

but then
I sway back to stand tall again
against the river
I am truth. Simple and in bloom.

I call in the spirits of my ancestors to surround me with family love.

AOnce they arrive, we open the door to friends:

I call in Hare Spirit, who always sees the joke
Who guides the seer in her tent and brings food and water
To the oracle in her cave
And jumps away fast, white tail mocking your slowness

 I call in Ant Spirit for working when I don't want to work particularly

Thank you and fuck you Ant Spirit.-No, really.

I call in Beautiful Oshun for love and abundance, 

I call in Wise Minerva for intelligence, 
and Probably Lesbian Artemis to protect me 
with her bow and slightly ironic arrows
I burn sugar for the Hungry Ghosts and they don't notice me in their greed for sweeties
Rush past me out  the side door, unbiting, full;
I am that Valentine filled with moonblood, 
I am the healer, skin against skin, breath combined to make me part of you
There has never been a such as I
I am the only one like this, made of mud and snot and orgasm and fireflies
Of mirrors light and dark, the spider and the spiderweb, 
I am the only one like this!

Throw back your head and let your throat reverberate with your yell

that you are the only you

And I will see you again at sunrise

And we will do this dance again
Daily, the same.. only?




17 February 2015

Everyone Loves Me But You

That plastic surgeon on Park Avenue
Wants to know if he can take me to a do
He's mighty handsome-
He can make me pretty, too!
Everyone loves me...but you.

That brilliant artist
Wants to paint me in the nude
His paintings hang
In the Metropolitan, dude
To refuse to be a nude muse to genius, would be rude..
But i do
I stay home at night and paint my toenails blue.
Cuz everyone loves me...but you.

You and I see movies
You and I have dinner
You and I take long walks in the park...
You want to do at night, what most people do in daytime
I want to do what folks do after dark..
Can we just park??

The plastic surgeon wants to take me to the Philharmonic
The painter wants to fly me to the Louvre
And while I dog your footsteps till I'm almost catatonic
The writer gave me first editions of his entire oeuvre ...

Hmmm....Hmmm... Wait just a cotton picking minute....

Thursday? Dear I'd love to but I'll be at Lincoln Center
Friday I would love to, but I'm posing in the nude;
Saturday? We're going on a literary bender;
And Sunday? Gosh I hope I don't sound rude..
But the next few years there's just no time that's free...

Because everyone loves you
yes, every girl loves you..
I wish you all the best
But you hit "pause" so get some rest!..
Know how hard you studied but you never took the test;
So be free:
And do have a happy life,
But you won't have me as wife
Because everyone loves you
But me.

peri lyons 2015

09 February 2015

Five Things to Do Before Getting Outta Bed That Will Make You Happy

As a Practicing Lazy Person, getting out of bed has never been my strong point. I like being comfy and snoozy and warm- so much that my Mom had to have me induced, because I was three weeks late and not budging.. The doctors finally sat my Mom down and told her that the problem was, apparently, that her child was- gasp- a musician, so getting that kid out of ANYWHERE where she was getting free food, free rent and not being judged for napping, was going to require drastic measures.  Seriously: They'd already unplugged my amp, and I still wasn't budging. The pre-natal tests were very clear: I was going to stay in there well into my early twenties, unless serious measures were taken.

Decades later, I still don't like getting out of bed. I don't care if I have tickets to the circus, a date with Benedict Cumberbatch, and a guaranteed winning lottery ticket scheduled for later that day, because if I wake up in a bed with 800 thread count sheets, fluffy blankets, and, for preference, a scantily clad genius* with impure intentions, it's going to take Serious Measures to get me to Step Away From The Comfy.

So here are five things that actually work. Try these simple steps, and you will most likely have a great day. 

1) Remember who you love and who loves you.

There are a ton more people you love, than you think. It sounds sappy, but it's true.
I have a list I keep of people I adore, appreciate, am grateful to and for, and it's in a notebook next to my bed. I add to it every morning (after getting out of bed), when I'm doing my spiritual work, so the list keeps growing. Nice thing about "love"-that most folks don't think about-  is that it doesn't have to be A Really Big Deal, or reciprocated (though it probably is), or Legally Binding. It doesn't just have to be family and friends...it can be as simple as people you bump into every day who smile when they see you.It can be your pets, past and present. It can be your favorite diner waitress. It can be ex lovers for whom you still wish the best. It can be- it is!- anyone who makes you smile.
 I think about each one of them, and send them each love, appreciation, thanks, and good feelings. Then i think about people I know who love me. Sure, they may be delusional, and yes, I pay them, but it still counts. I think about the fact that I have people who will call to see if I'm okay if they haven't heard from me for a day or two, and only about half of them are debt collectors, is something that makes me feel really good. In fact, if you let yourself really open up to how much you are genuinely loved, it's euphoric.

2) Remember that you're awake and therefore probably alive. This is a VERY GOOD START.

It's a good sign when you wake up and you're NOT either surrounded by people wearing white robes and playing harps, or, alternately, screaming in agony while being engulfed in unquenchable eternal fire. It means that you get another day to either fuck up massively and still be forgiven, or, ideally, NOT fuck up and get some great work done. You might meet a great new friend. You might fall in love, or, if you are in love, fall in love more. Today might be the day you tell that person exactly but exactly how amazing you think he/she/other, is. Today might be the day he/she/other smiles and reaches out her arms and says "Of course ya do, ya big silly. Come here.."
Or..or..You might be in the right place at the right time to say the right thing and change someone's life for the better. You might write a song that will outlive you. You might exceed your known limits and inspire yourself and others. You might get smiled at by a baby. Someone might tell you you're beautiful. The world is so full of possibilities tat there isn't even a word in the English language to express it. In other words? It might be better than you think. Eventually? It always is.

Also, as someone who has almost died a few times, I can tell you that waking up alive is a much bigger deal than it can occasionally seem.

3) There will be breakfast.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but as someone who has gone hungry in my life, the fact that 2 bucks will get you coffee and a roll even if you're broke, is a great incentive to be happy. If you actually  live in a house with a kitchen and a full refrigerator, you are so fucking lucky that I don't know what to tell you, except "dude, enjoy that.". One or two of us have lsot everything and come back from that, and while that was no fun at all, it means that we (okay, I)  no longer take anything for granted, which means that I am grateful as hell for really small stuff, which means that I am one genuinely happy babe a great deal of the time. So "there will be breakfast" is my own personal shorthand for "there will be a billion chances to be grateful today"...and that, my dears, is seriously key.

4) Someone might make and bring you coffee.

I actually truly feel that this is one of the greatest joys in life. Without exaggeration. If someone gets up before you, makes you coffee the way you like it, and brings it to you in bed, then everything else in life is pretty much frosting, because this means  you are loved, you are cared for, you are thought about, and caffeine is involved. Make sure you thank the person involved in a sincere and possibly time consuming way. This is a PG rated essay, so we'll leave it at that, but...use your imagination.

5) if you have company, express physical and emotional  affection. If you don't, do it anyway.

If you are with another human, take as much time as you can and snuggle, cuddle, tickle, give compliments, and allow yourself to enjoy him/her/other in every way you can. I am a big believer in the incredible magical healing powers of sex, as much, as often and as joyously as possible, and am also NOT a big believer in coming up with reasons to avoid it. Set the alarm earlier. Try something new. Wake 'em up in a novel way. If you're alone, treat yourself with the same joy, physical expression of love and appreciation you'd give someone else. This also creates a space for someone amazing to enter your life...you're creating an energetic space for that! 
Studies have shown repeatedly that if you're sexual with your partner every single day, no matter what, it can literally double your happiness in the relationship. Even if you're with someone who, for physical reasons, can't have sex as you might normally define it, you can still be joyfully erotic with each other...and you'll be happily amazed at what miracles of healing can occur. 

Extra credit: 
Open yourself up to God, to The Big Love, or however you define it. You don't breathe you..Something Else does, and that Someone/Something loves, holds, supports, cherishes and nourishes you now and always has and always will. It could be science. It could be G-d. It could be gravity. It's definitely Love.

So. Who am I, Miss Nobody from Nowheresville, to give you advice?
Because, maybe....I'm happy. Didn't used to be. Hoo boy. Nope.

In the last five years, I have survived brain injury, heart failure, clinical depression,  tumors, reversal of fortune, and a fiance's suicide. (I also stubbed my toe once and got a C in algebra. IF you can imagine.) But for whatever reason, I seem to get happier every day, in bite size increments. 
Happiness is a discipline . It's easier and more comfortable to not choose happiness.It's easy to find reasons not to take chances in love, or life....you could get hurt, or fail.

The good news is, you WILL get hurt. You WILL fail. People, including me, including you, are crazy, selfish, untruthful...and also loving, kind beyond belief, and infinitely amazing. 

So get outta bed because there is a miracle in every cell of your body, in every molecule of your food, in every vibration of the energy your own perfectly necessary brand of love, emits as you walk around being a dope like the rest of us. A big, miracle creating,  unconsciously perfect dope. It's what we all are. It's funny and beautiful and sad and surprising and sbolutely, perfectly wonderful.

And while you're up?

Can I have a coffee, please? Milk and two sugars?

Go get em, Tiger.


05 October 2014

"the possum" fiction 2014 c Peri Lyons

"The Possum" 
                                                                     (For Jim, who didn't ask.)

I got my secondary education in country music when I was 25 and in rehab for coke and booze. Although I was a spoiled NYC brat, suddenly I was living in a halfway house, in a Bloomington, Minnesota converted convent, filled with other women who had just stalled out at the crossroads of "What The..?" and "Fuck St.". The place was haunted, too...there was a perverted ghost named "Henry", who used to spy on us in the showers. Only me and my Lakota Sioux roommate, Wanda Blue Day, could see him, but everyone could feel his weirdo pervert energy.  The halfway house was not a place you wanted to come back to, and with the exception of one time with a British duke at a Bastille Day party at the Dragignon palace of a Greek shipping magnate years later? I never, ever did coke again. 

At the halfway house, there was a sort of den mother, named -if memory serves, which it probably doesn't- Lorna, and she took a shine to me...no, not that way.-Well, not that she acted on, anyways.
Lorna had run I country music bar in the heart of Nashville, and when alcohol killed her husband, dried up her resources, and damn near removed her liver, she found a slightly cynical, chain-smoking God, and sobriety, and came to Minnesota to make her appliqu├ęd gingham toilet roll covers, in a country new. So to speak. 

I had come to Minnesota by way of Chicago, where i had heard country music, consciously, for the first time. Sure, it was on the radio, growing up-the first song I can ever remember loving when it came on the radio was "King of the Road"- (and the first song I can remember hating was Neil Diamond's "Crackling Rosie"- I asked my Dad is that was music, and he said "yes, why do you ask", and I said "but I like music, and I hate this')-but as the youngest kid in our family, I had passive taste in music. I listened to Dad's beloved Gilbert and Sullivan, "; my older brothers' "whatever we think might impress girls", which ranged from "Black Sabbath" to, very weirdly, "Jesus Christ Superstar"; and Pete Seeger, a mean old sonuvabitch who was a patient of my Dad's and had given us all of his records.  Boy, were we not a musical family.
 But then, in Chicago.I  waitressed at diner owned by a homesick Tennessee boy, and God help me, the jukebox in "Bill's Restaurant: Eat Here", changed my life. I had never heard Patsy Cline. I'd never heard George Jones. And sure, I'd heard Loretta...but I'd never LISTENED. 

I got fired from that diner for being so hungover from coke that my hands shook too much to pour coffee. But tellingly, the homesick Tennessean did NOT fire me when I stopped in the middle of my shift and made everyone shut up- customers, waitstaff, the 6'6" cook named Jemima- while I stood with my mouth open, listening. Afterwards, the homesick Tennessean said, "Darlin, you really NEVER heard "He Stopped Lovin her Today", before?"

No. I had not.

One night Lorna got a phone call. Her sister, whom Lorna referred to as "white trash"- was in trouble. Lorna, although herself a habitual Velveeta user, was plain ol regular blue collar, but her sister, now her sister had "married beneath her". and I got the distinct impression that  at this point, for  sister Ruthie, "white trash" was kind of ASPIRATIONAL. She had gone hillbilly with a vengeance, according to Lorna:  These were the kind of people whose daughter, born in October, was named September because dad gum it, she was due in September and they were too stubborn to change their minds about the name. Even at 15, September had an "oh God please don't ask me my name" expression on her  face all the time. I remember she had very small brown eyes, like raisins baked into dough.

Lorna hung up the phone- this was in the 80's- and got her stern "Going to whip you in the name of Jesus" look. This was a look she got when on a "mission to help fools", which last time Lorna checked, included pretty much everyone except Lorna. It narrowed her Dorothea Lange-subject-thin lips and Cherokee cheekbones, and gave her curly raven black mullet hairdo a sort of Avenging Angel look. She looked like a tattoo of something, but I wasn't sure what. Something angry, with justice.  Black and white. With maybe a Reb Flag banner.

"You wanna go for a ride, honey?" she asked me.

As there was a curfew and I hadn't been out after dark for two months, and it was 9 PM, I said "HELL yeah," and raced after her, as she grabbed the car keys and strode out to the powder blue Impala. I figured we were going to drive to some Minnesota small town- they were all East Bumfuck, to a NY girl- and it sounded intriguing. Maybe Shane, her blonde sleepy eyed tomcat of a son, had diddled his Daddy's new girlfriend. Again. All I knew was, this was NOT Valley Cottage NY, I had never met people like this, and I wanted to watch. 

We drove in silence for a while. The streets got flatter and longer, and darker,and the sky spread out like it does when you  start to hit prairie, real prairie. We weren't going to Duluth, or Edina, or even the dreamily named "Saint Cloud".

"Lorna?" I finally asked. "Where we going?" 

"North Dakota", she said grimly. "Hang on."

What I remember about that night was not the crazed evangelical brother in law with the shot gun, who had decided that Revelations Chapter Six , was about to come to pass.As it turned out, he was disappointingly tame, longwinded and unloaded, shell wise. Lorna strode in and just took the gun away from him, as his family cowered in the corner. "Come on, Billy, don't be such a fucking pain in the  ass," was all she said.You could see he wanted to rebuke her for her profanity, I watched the thought occur to him and then die unsaid on his face. 
 She broke the shotgun open across her knee, peered into it, then blew down the barrel with scorn and contempt. I thought she was going to spit in it, but she just said "Didn't think so. Jesus." and walked out and tossed it into the trunk of the Impala. She came back in, and September got us some Country Time lemonade. And that was pretty much that.

What I remember about that night - the important thing, the big good thing, that stayed, after stupid family drama puffed itself into sheepish mumbling and half hearted apologies and recriminations, was this: and this
may not be accurate, because it was a landscape of dreams, and dreams, as we all know, slow time. and speed your soul up. What I remember is a knife hard sky, with stars streaming down like frozen gunshot, and Lorna's fierce  half Cherokee profile, as she put cassette after cassette into the car's tape deck. 
"What's this?" I ould ask, and she'd frown slightly.

"Listen," she said. "Just listen."

And apocrypha and starlight, Impala and apolocolypse, the chuggida-chuggida- noise that becomes hypnotic as the highway seams test the suspension, the twin lines of the highway, became one high appalachian chorus of the Carter Family, the only thing real that I kept from that night.

The only real thing.

25 November 2013

"The Comet " in memoriam U Roberto "Robin" Romano 1956-2013

The Comet                                        

I first met Robin at a "Justice For Farm Workers" benefit. My friend Maggie, who is lovely and brilliant and kind  and- rather importantly for this story-- as much of a tall girl as I am, had invited me, partly,because I am interested in justice for farm workers, partly because I have donated my services to be auctioned off for the cause, but mostly? because I really like parties.Also, Maggie shares the same delusion that happily married people everywhere share, which is that their unmarried friend would be happily married too, if their married friends take them to enough parties. As this is a delusion that often involves free wine and sometimes even snacks? Count me in.
She whispered in my ear, "Here comes Robin..he did that amazing documentary about chocolate-" but that was far as she got, because a very short, very charismatic and slightly pudgy whirlwind had just pulled up in front of us. Maggie and I both hover around 6 feet tall...Robin cavorted blithely on the sunnier slopes of 5'4 or so. He said, "Oh look! It's the twin towers!" and cackled madly.
Maggie introduced us, and I said, glibly, "Oh! You're the chocolate guy!"- Which I might not have said if I had known that his brilliant documentary "The Dark Side of Chocolate" was actually a compelling expose of child labor exploitation in Tanzanian cocoa fields. But ignorance is bliss. (-Except in retrospect, when ignorance involves a great deal of wincing. )
Robin was U Roberto Romano, one of the greatest documentarians, social justice voices, and photographers of our generation. At the time, all I knew was that we instantly seemed to be attracted to each other like those little black and white magnetic Scottie dogs one got in gumball machines when I was a kid. This was a bit odd, because in my former life,  my romantic path had been littered with Grade A Certified Prime Adonises, and Robin was not, at first glance, exactly the Apollo of Bellac...a head shorter, wearing what sometimes seemed to be three or four pairs of impatiently-pushed-up-reading glasses at a time, prematurely salt and pepper hair. In repose, his handsome face could look old beyond his years, and unfathomathomably sad ...but as his face was never IN repose, I wouldn't learn that till later. 
Instead, we started talking. And never stopped.
 I don't delude myself that it was my mind that brought him over to say hello to Maggie and to me...I was wearing sky high high heels and a black leather minidress. It's not like I had a sign over my head that said "Talk to me about Foucoult!" 
But after the first few minutes, we never bothered with small talk again. For one thing, my casual "What do YOU do?", was a question that acquired an interesting echo in the subtext of his answer, He didn't say  "I care passionately about helpless people who are exploited or hurt, and i do everything in my power to bring attention to the people, places, and situations involved, because sunlight is a great disinfectant", but  as he matter o factly talked about his documentaries-"The Harvest","The Dark Side of Chocolate", the great "Stolen Childhoods", et all... that passion was like a vibrating chord, behind the way he talked about his work.  -And he entranced me when, in answer to a similar question, I sheepishly murmured "I'm a, a, well, I'm an intuitive..." he looked at me with straightforward interest and said "And why are you embarrassed about that?"

We left the party speedily, when it became clear that we just needed to talk a lot, immediately, and possibly forever. We somehow landed in a West Village bistro without noticing where we were, and had garlicky mussels and inky red wine; talking avidly,both of us waving our hands to illustrate important points, interrupting each other...so utterly, mutually, happily absorbed, that we didn't notice the waiters had placed all the chairs but ours, upside down on the surrounding tables, and were smiling  indulgently,if wearily, at the two oblivious grownups acting like happy kids.

Our second date was impromptu, and not exactly a second date, as we had been talking, texting and writing each other almost hourly, since the moment we parted that night, if only because we had the exact same," S.J. Perelman Is My God" sense of humor, and neither of us was used to someone being equally quick and equally caustic. He had been away on a shoot, acting as cinematographer for a documentary about meditation being taught to kids in inner-city Baltimore.
Five days later he had texted me just as I was ending a session with a client. [-Some back story here: I am an Intuitive Consultant. A few years ago, I discovered a gift for being able to describe people, places and circumstances i would have no way of knowing about rationally,and for predicting events that hadn't yet happened, with an accuracy I both can't explain and am often a little embarrassed about. After being sanctioned by a kind article in "The New Yorker", which lent me a  social credibility not usually accorded to folks who pursue this vocation, I wound up opening up a fulltime "practice". I make no wild claims for metaphysics, or for possessing special powers from a nebulous "beyond"...I might just be reading microexpressions, or be a really good guesser..but I try to be ethical, non-"leading", and supportive: people seem to enjoy and get value from our time together.]

I arrived for our last minute lunch, still wearing what I had worn to the office: no makeup, hair scraped back higgledy piggledy into a schoolmarmish bun, and a floor length dress so modest that Amish women were stopping me on the street and saying, "Dear, we think you could show a LITTLE more flesh here.."
I could see that my new flame was a little taken aback..where was the vivid glamourpuss from earlier that week?
He was an avowed feminist, but he was also a guy, and a visual one. That's just how it was.
But ten minutes into that late dejeuner, we were laughing like five year olds who'd just balanced a bucket of whitewash over the schoolroom door: and some five minutes later, we realized two hours had gone by.
There was a moment of abashed silence: what the hell was going on here?
Then Robin said, with the same earnest intensity he always had when serious: "Look, I want our honeymoon to be in Saint Petersburg. I want to show you the harbor at sunrise, as the ferry pulls in." He took my hand and raised it to his lips, while holding my gaze. He wasn't smiling: rather, looking at me questioningly, and very seriously.
"Is that a proposal?", I asked. I was somewhat taken aback.
"Yes. It is. I want someone I can spend the remaining years talking to, who interests me. You have a wild mind and a great heart. Also, I think you're hell's bells beautiful. -Despite today's outfit, of course."
I was silent. So Robin said, "I am also completely smitten. Always will be. So there it is."
I thought for a minute. Neither of us had had a serious relationship for three or four years..my heart was behind glass, or, more accurately,  barbed wire, after a previous- and spectacularly illstarred -engagement. But when Robin and I met, there was instantly a feeling of, "Oh, THERE you are. What took you so damn long?"
So I said "Well okay then. You're on. On a "let's see" basis, but I'm up for it."
And we both grinned at each other. And got the check, so we could get on with this new life as soon as possible. I had a meeting to go to; he had to go see his mother, so we kissed and vanished in opposite, but ultimately reconcilable, directions.

Why? Where did this instant,bone deep familiarity, come from? Some reasons: we had had similar, although wildly different, lives, but we shared a sometimes inconvenient impatience with expectations or convention, or bullshit.We both possessed a very New York kind of class fluidity that makes one either an "insider" who faces out..or an ":outsider" who forever has his or her nose pressed against an invisible window looking in on unattainable but tantalizingly close treats and treasures..even when it seemed to others, that we were already in possession of some of these.We both had had some privilege: private schools, comfortable upbringings...and a family love of culture,art, ideas.  We were both from what I jokingly called "Semi-Semitic" families...we each had wildly disparate and farflung circles of friends, from teachers and busboys and cabdrivers to celebrity,and intellectual friends...we'd even dated members of the same literary American Royal family...and we each had chosen unconventional and difficult careers, driven by curiosity and a restless, or reckless, impulse to keep following the next step, of what felt the most true in each moment.

And we had the same interior altars, the same sacred things.The first poem he sent me, was a Cavafy poem I have framed on my desk, something he had no way of knowing. We quoted the same obscure Marx Brothers dialogue, loved the same weird paintings, even took similar photographs- although his were masterly, while mine were, uh, not. (With his typical bluntness, he once said, after perusing my photographs: "You have one of the best natural gifts for composition, I've ever seen. But your technique is for shit. No problem, I'll teach you.")  What he had, that I didn't even think about having till after until I met him, was a passionate and public commitment to social justice. I tend to operate on a more personal, local and random level- I'm the whackjob who has waded in and yanked the kids away from a parent beating them on the street, while a crowd of  sidewalk gawkers stood by and watched, as I got my wrist broken with a tire iron for my pains -but the kids were rescued...He was the guy who would face down the leaders of a child sex slave ring, rescue the kids, make the documentary...and eventually get kidnapped and tortured for his bravery.

He was. like many of the funniest people on the planet (of which he was one), deeply thoughtful, even melancholy,below the surface. Unexpectedly for such a Norman Mailer-ish alpha man (broad chested, bluegreen eyed, unapologetically male), he was wildly sensitive, and empathetic, and capable of a gentleness deeper than any I'd ever encountered. He was also completely enchanting with children...upon meeting my 3 year old friend Leo, he bowed gravely, and spoke to Leo as though he was a Very Important Personage. Leo was instantly Robin's acolyte, forever.

After our odd, alfresco agreement, we had a hard time, for a time, finding time to see each other...we were both caretaking elderly parents..I was moving back to NYC, and he lived mostly in a light filled house on a lake upstate, but when I fretted about not being able to come see him because of work, he texted, "There will be world enough and time. That's a promise...and I keep my promises."

It was a promise it was not in Robin's power, to keep.

When he didn't return my goodnight text, on Halloween, I thought---with the solipsism of the newly in love woman, and the insecurity of the no-longer-twenty-five-year-old-girl:  "oh, okay, I guess he's having second thoughts.." I was a little miffed, and retreated into an unwonted formality, in my next texts..none of which he answered. As the day, and then evening, and then morning, went by, I tried to talk back to my anxiety: he was busy, he "needed space"-(an abominable phrase, if not used in reference to astronauts)..take it easy, Per. Lighten up.
But I still had a feeling something was wrong..really, really wrong. My intuitive ability is not so hot when it comes to myself or those I love, but it's still strong enough that I had to fight back against a rising tide of absolute terror.
So I cast romantic dignity aside and texted, emailed and called. Over and over and over.
"Baby, just taking anything romantic off the table for a moment, for God's sake let me know you're alive, okay? Robin?...Darling...Please."

And finally, "Robin. Please. Answer..answer..ANSWER, Love."

No reply.

So when the phone rang on the morning of November 2nd, while I was a bit hungover from a Day of the Dead party the night before, I was somehow both prepared -and completely unprepared- for the voice on the phone...his best friend and caretaker, a woman he spoke of often with great warmth.

"Hi...is this Peri? You don't know me..I'm a friend of Robin's...I'm afraid I've got some bad news. You'd better sit down..."

Robin, the most wildly, vividly alive person I'd ever known, had killed himself. I still don't know how...in his car, medication...all I know is that he left my engagement ring in an envelope with my name and number and a heart on it. And a note that said "The body's in the garage."

He was 57 years old.

And so one life ends. And another life, the life we had been having such fun planning together, ended as well.


I have another life now, one that doesn't include two hundred texts traded daily between passionate, entranced and delightedly surprised, slightly middle-aged lovers, starting at 5 AM and ending at 10 in the evening. My life now doesn't include that dance between intimacy and shyness, an exploration of the gap between how well we understood each other already..and and how much more there was to know. I don't,these days, wake up to an image of sunrise on his lake,taken when he woke at dawn... a photo by one of the world's great photographers, the size of a postage stamp on my phone but still carrying the unsaid message of "I see this and I want you to see it the way I do. Because you do." I don't have four hour phone conversations, an adolescent ritual reinvented by two people who had lived long enough to be hurt, badly, and were trying to find out - sometimes tactfully, sometimes bluntly- if it was possible to love again without having one's soul injured...if this glimpsed and longed for-but-given-up-on possibility actually existed as solidly as it looked..if this one last  game was worth the candle, as the cardplayers of the 19th century used to say.

I've heard that a comet presages the death of kings. The night Robin died, there were meteorite showers, bright and visible even near the crowding-out light of the city we both loved and (sometimes) lived in.
Robin was someone who would have jeered at the cliche of "good night sweet prince", and perhaps especially at flights of angels singing anyone to his or her rest..."I'm a light sleeper, that would really be annoying,", he would have said. But he had an almost angelic compassion for the hurt, the exploited and the voiceless...and a near-demonic energy to carry out his work to help, to draw attention, to create a conscience, for those with , as his great documentary had called it.."Stolen Childhoods".

"People ask me, "how I can do this kind of work. How can I care, with life being so busy? How can I find the time to help? How do I do this? " And all I can think of to tell them is, "How can you NOT?"

He leaned back and looked at me, with a kind of baffled, hurt wonder.

"How can they not care?", he would ask.

 "How can they NOT?"


Peri Lyons. Brooklyn, NY, November 3, 2013

IMPORTANT POSTSCRIPT: Robin and Len Morris started a school in Kenya. If you were moved by this story, or even if you weren't- please visit http://www.kenyanschoolhouse.org/  and make a donation. It would make Robin happy, and it's a great place to start.

Maggie, Robin, Peri      "Justice For Farm Workers" Party,  Sept 2013  NYC

22 November 2013

The Rock Star, The Poet, The Dead Past, And Me

Woke up this morning to find that my wonderful friend Courtney Love had lost her phone; that the NY Times columnist Frank Bruni found it; and that his assistant, the lovely Isabella Moschen, saw my name in Courtney's phone, remembered I had dated her uncle, remembered I was a "celebrity psychic"(I love that phrase- it makes me want to run right out and purchase red flocked wallpaper) -and-voila!-mystery solved.
Courtney gets her phone back, Frank Bruni gets to be a hero (he already IS my hero: go read "Born Round"), and Isabella and I, who were bit players in the New York Magazine piece that Joe Coscarelli wrote for his "Intelligencer" column all of this celllphone superstar serendipity- found ourselves blinking in the unexpected spotlight when the whole thing went viral. Not just viral..by the end of the day, the piece had gone QUANTUM. Courtney Love's cellphone! Found by a respected New York Times columnist! SWho was obviously really pleased, in a sweet, even slightly starstruck way!
 It's fun, and as evanescent as the dew on a kitten's whiskers for those of us who AREN'T Courtney, so us non rock stars shan't take it too  tseriously..but still,honestly, FUN. (Grazie, Universe!)
Meanwhile, I got one jillion hits on my Facebook page, with people asking how and why Courtney Love had me on her phone. So:

Here's the delightful and- for those of you who only believe what you read in the media, and don't have the pleasure of knowing the Lady herself- probably rather surprising backstory.
For example, would you have thought that the world's most famous diva, would have befriended a non famous chick, because of shared interests in 19th century poetry and Buddhism?
-Nope, didn't think so. Read on, my little lily blossoms...read on!

Courtney Love and I met 5 or 6 years ago, when my then-fiance was directing a play in Santa Monica. Now, many people direct plays, and some direct them in Santa Monica, but very few of the aforesaid worshippers at the altar of Thalia (who is, I hope, Goddess of the Theater- I would google it, but I can't be arsed, frankly)- have the good fortune of having discovered a riveting young actor named Sawyer Avery to star in it. Sawyer Avery played a high school kid who had an unfortunate dislike for his high school classmates, and an even more unfortunate affinity for guns. And Sawyer Avery could ACT. I don't mean "act pretty well for a 16 year old." I mean: he could seriously and indubitably act his intense, charismatic, 16 year old James Dean-ish butt off. Sawyer's father is also a hugely famous Hollywood genius, which is possibly why Oliver Stone and Courtney Love showed up to see my then-fiance's play, as said exfiance was friends with Oliver, and had worked quite successfully with him, in the past. But they stayed to see Sawyer. (Also, the exfiance was terrific, and the play was quite wellwritten.) 
Courtney and Oliver made quite an entrance..they walked ACROSS the stage (which was level with the floor, so it was actually completely understandable)..but it WAS after the play had STARTED, so frankly, it was kind of seriously badass. 
Also, Courtney's reputation at the time did not prepare me for the shock of how genuinely beautiful she is. -And this isn't a "friend of a star/must kiss ass" insincere compliment: I grew up around a ton of famous folks, and it's nice, but not compelling, the fame thing...so when I say she is genuinely, Carol- Lombard-beautiful in person, I mean just that. Flawless skin, huge green eyes, tall, with the elongated, almost stylized, slender figure of a 1940s model: wide shoulders, narrow hips, long legs. Anyway, the show went well, and was so entertaining that people actually managed to tear their eyes off the several seriously A List famous folk in the audience, for minutes at a time. -What was also interesting to me, sitting in the audience, was that, although there were people in that audience who were  so famous the folks in the adjoining seats actually physically burst into flame? It was La Love that every single person, was talking about, staring at, and pointing to. Such is the mystery of charisma.

Later, at the beginning of the seriously VIP afterparty, Courtney and I caught each other's eye, and we each,respectively, made the same mental note: "hmm, that seems like someone I'd get along with. Don't know why." -and then, we each  kept walking. Much later on, she mentioned that she'd liked me partially because I wasn't that young, wasn't that skinny, was idiosyncratically sttractive but not plastic surgery gorgeous...and my guy was a serious, goldplated catch...so what, she had wondered at the time,was UP with that? Could it be that, in LA, someone actually loved someone else for her MIND?  [Note: ( -Actually, he kinda did, and, as in most doomed relationships, we had a really, really good time-until we really, really didn't. -Anyway..)
She also made a mental note that my beyond Adonis boyfriend, might have a lot more substance than one suspected, if he could both write and star in a good play, AND have enough gravitas to not have the Young Trampy Girlfriend.
Courtney and I were somehow standing back to back at the party, in the middle of a scrum so tight that no one could move, or even figure out HOW to move. Then I felt someone tap me on the shoulder, in a friendly, impatient way. I turned my head--all that COULD be turned, in that claustrophobic party mob- and saw Courtney, close up as smooth faced as the dream of na porcelain doll. She was talking to someone, and also seemed to be snapping her fingers in a futile effort to remember something. Maybe that girl I saw before might know, know, was apparently her decisive thought, because her next move was to say to me,"Hey. What was the name of that poet? You know--19th century, English, wanted to be Shelley, died in an attic of arsenic at 18, killed himself, you know...Thomas something...Thomas, uh..."
"Thomas Chatterton," I supplied. "Killed himself over a plagiarism fraud, 1824." 
"Right! Right! Thanks..." she said, and turned back to her friend.
How, and why, she was talking about Thomas Chatterton - a poet even more obscure than he was deceased, which was saying something- at a party in Los Angeles- the world's MOST ahistorical city- was never explained. But it established a bond of sorts, and later that night we wound up talking enthusiasticallyfor a long time- we had shared passions for Buddhism, 1920s and 30's films, vintage couture, and scurrilous gossip. I was delighted to find that she had a mordant, dry, very British wit, and an eidetic memory...she could remember stuff thet Miss English Major here, had totally forgotten. In fact, she was really fucking smart. When at last the party wound to a close, and those of us who WEREN'T doing cocaine were starting to yawn (yup, neither she nor I partook- I have never seem her take drugs) she said " Great meeting you..Hey, I have an idea! Come chant with me..I'll have my driver pick you up at 2 tomorrow."
I limped home, my Louboutins having won their fight with my now warped-into-submission toes, and thought, "well, that was cool.Who knew? Live and learn."
[Note: I made a mental note, from that night on, to regard everything I read in entertainment media, as "guilty until proven innocent"..in other words, I stopped being a credulous consumer of gossip.-Except the British gossip mags, which are awesomely awesome and who cares if they're true?]

Dawn broke. And tomorrow came and went, but no driver, so I figured, "Well, that woulda been fun, but..oh well."
Went to sleep and, at 2 AM, the phone rang.
"Errrroo?" I answered..I am not a girl who wakes up easily.
"Miss Lyons? This is Courtney's driver...I'm here to take you to the Chateau."
"Roo..err..hey, what?? It's 2 AM!"
"That's right. She asked you if two was okay."
"Darlin, I must get my beauty sleep. Let's try again later," I said...and fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

So the next day I went to see her at the Chateau Marmont. To be continued....


29 June 2013

A Wimbledon Pome, or, U.S Open Your Heart, Baby!

Though tennis I know nothing of;
We ALL know "nothing" equals "love";
And all the sports fans know this call:
Love equals nothing much at all.

While poets tell us there's no cost:
It's"better" to "have loved and lost"-
The sportsfans tell you different, hon:
It's better to have loved- and WON.

Sportsfans and poets all agree
That love's a bigass mystery:
If love's a game, as seems to be?
-The heart's a crooked referee.

So though one loved and lost, it's true,
And played no games at all with you:
She's cut out sobbing in her gin-
Cuz next time? She will play- to WIN.