Taming the Ox - Five

The ox allows her
to run her hand along its back,
to touch the bridge of its nose.
Still, for no reason at all,
It bucks, and kicks, and snorts,
 knocking her to the ground,
where she cowers,
stunned and discouraged.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Free at Last

And then the night came when, awaken from a fitful sleep riddled with the reoccurring dream of worms that disintegrate before she can push them down the throats of her starving chicks, Bernadette blinked and saw what she thought must be a spirit from another time and place, twirling under the starry sky and singing.

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose, Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free!

But when the spirit swooped close to her nest exclaiming, "Chicks dig my Janis imitation," and then crashed into a freshly planted pole, Bernadette came to her senses.


Yiddish Lesson #5


In high school I had a particular way of dressing that drove my mother crazy.  My worst offense was the men's boxer shorts, since it appeared, to her, that I wasn't wearing any pants.  "But I'm wearing two pairs," I argued.  My mother failed to see the logic in that. My grandmother, on the other hand, didn't even see the boxer shorts, their very presence on her granddaughter's body beyond comprehension. She had other things to worry about.

Why are you wearing that shmata? You could be such a beautiful girl. Let me take you shopping.

But grandma, I just bought this shirt.

Just bought it?  Impossible! Who could sell such a thing?

It's vintage, Grandma.

Vintage?  You look like you just got off the boat.


Catching the Ox - Four

There is no end to the ox's cunning and strength.
She exhausts herself trying to catch it,
Nearly breaking her leg and neck.
Yet, it is only when she relinquishes all effort
That the ox wanders within her reach.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Still Stuck

"Can't a guy enjoy the rain from his doorway these days without everyone yakking about it?"


Seeing the Ox - Three

Suddenly, there it is right before her, 
like no dream, no photograph. 
She feels its heat, sees the sharpness of its horns.  
Now she senses, how close the ox roams.


Bigsley and Bernadette: PBB

"Too bad I wasn't the father," Bigsley called from his doorway when Bernadette landed by her nest, her beak full of worms.  "I don't have any fish in my lineage.  PBB, that's what I am.  Pure Bred Bird."


Finding Traces of the Ox - Two

She smells the thick musk of ox breath on the wind, 
she sees the ox's heavy tracks in the mud, 
she hears its fugacious bellow, 
and yet she believes it is something other.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Stuck

Between flights to catch worms, Bernadette urged Bigsley to fly over and have a closer look. "Don't worry, Baby. I can see just fine from here," Bigsley replied. "I know they seem harmless to you.  But years ago, I got attacked by one of those.  It's not the type of thing you ever get over, believe you me."


Bigsley and Bernadette - Big News

"They're here!" Bernadette called.

"Who?" grunted Bigsley. He hadn't left his couch in days.

"The chics!  They've hatched."  Bigsley didn't have the energy to say who cares.  "And you're the first to know," said Bernadette before flying off.

The first to know? . . . . Bigsley couldn't remember the last time he had been first at anything.

He leapt to follow Bernadette but was halted halfway out the door.


You Know It's a Party When. . .

A.   George arrives.

B.   The Iz buttons his top button.

C.  The rose colored glasses come out of the closet.


Music from Johanastan: Exhibit A

In the country of Johanastan, instead of weapons, people carry musical instruments.  When people meet, instead of Hello!, How are you?, What have you been up to?, they take harmonicas and castanets and bells and drums and flutes from their pockets, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and play. In this way, they communicate, learning things about each other that words can not convey.

Listen, for example, to the tuba player and the piccolo player, across the plaza, waiting for the trolley. Can't you hear the losses they have suffered and the new love they've discovered? And what about the woman playing oboe and the man playing bongos, over there at the cafe.  Clearly, they have their differences.

Like everywhere in the world, some people in Johanastan prefer to play alone, down by the river, or on the front stoop, while others enjoy playing in the park among friends.  And then there are those who head out everyday, looking forward to playing music with complete strangers.

Tad Neuhaus, guitar; Joanna Dane banjo

In Johanastan, no one can remember when they started playing music because everyone began as soon as they could hold a rattle.

Sometimes the music people play is beautiful and harmonious. Other times, it is dissonant, off tune, and nonrhythmic.  But to the people of Johanastan, that is not discouraging or irritating. It is just the way things are.


Jackson Pollock's "No.5, 1948": Sold for $140 Million

"Why is it," the man wondered aloud one day, "that abstract visual art is so widely lauded and accepted, whereas abstract audio art, is so readily shunned and marginalized?"

"Maybe," she replied, "because paintings don't make any noise."


If You Want to Give a Gift, Don't Expect a Thank You Note

You decide to give a friend a present, for no particular reason. Your generosity makes you giddy. You send the present, imagining your friend's delighted reaction. You know that she is going to love it and admire your good taste. You can't wait to hear from her.

The days proceed and no thank you note arrives. You imagine something must be wrong.  Perhaps the post office is to blame. More likely, your friend has had a terrible accident. You always did say she was foolish to rollerblade at her age. 

After three weeks without a word, you grow resentful. You begin to realize that this so called friend of yours isn't as great as everyone seems to think. She never returns your phone calls. She always has to be the one to decide where to go for drinks. And in those rare moments when she is not the center of attention, you can tell she really isn't listening to anything you are saying. What kind of person doesn't even have the decency to at least call and say the present arrived?  Even if she hates it, the least she can do is acknowledge it. After all, you spent an afternoon surfing the internet trying to find just the right thing. And it wasn't cheap either.  Of course, she expects the highest quality of everything. She always has. Good thing she married into wealth. 

No matter how badly it irks you, you refuse to call and ask about the gift.  After another week of thinking about it, you decide that since she doesn't appreciate the present, maybe you should just ask for it back. It really doesn't make sense for her to keep it if she isn't going to use it.  Even she would understand that.  She detests waste of any kind.  And you would actually use it. But when you finally call to ask for the present back, you are shocked when she gets offended and hangs up on you. Your friendship never fully recovers.


Franz Kafka High

I am lost in a large building with many identical hallways. All the hallways are lined with lockers and somewhere, in one of these hallways lined with lockers, is my locker. I have been to the locker and even put some books into the locker, but the locker is so inconveniently located that I never have time to get to it, and now I have no idea which hallway houses my locker and which locker houses my books. Even if I do find my locker, it won't help because I've forgotten the locker combination.

The hallways are full of swift students I've never seen before. I am much older than all the students but I am still a student because the office sent me a letter declaring that I am short of credits and need another semester to graduate. But I haven't gone to class because I don't have my books because they are in the locker I can not find.

Now it is finals. I have not studied. I have no idea where my classes meet nor who the teachers are. Often, I go to the office to try to find answers to my questions, to ask if they can help me find my locker and give me my locker combination so that I can get my books so that I can study for my finals. But there is always a long line at the office. I stand in the line during every passing period, but I never make it to the front of the line before the bell rings and the office door slams shut.

Suddenly, after many days, I am at the front of the line. An old balding woman standing on a step stool in order to see over the office counter, sneers at me. I tell her my problems. I tell her I was assigned a locker too far away from my classes to use and now I've forgotten where my locker is and that I can't go to class unless I find my locker because my books are in my locker. Even if I find my locker, I tell her, I can't remember the combination and even if I get the books, I can't remember where my classes are being held. With a grunt, she climbs from her step stool and limps down the administrators' corridor slipping behind a far off door that closes with a snap.

Now, the hallway is empty.  All the classroom doors are shut.  I can hear the teachers, muffled behind frosted glass, beginning their lessons. I panic. I am missing finals. The old woman does not return. I roam from one classroom to the next. Each is full of strangers. None is 6th hour math. One classroom is empty except for a gnarled one-armed teacher. I ask if this is 6th hour math. The teacher says that 6th hour math is over, that all the students have already finished their exams. I ask if I may take the exam.  The teacher says the exams are over. I explain that I must take the exam to graduate, that I must graduate because I am too old to be here and have to get on with other things. The teacher frowns, disgusted with me, but gives me an exam paper anyway.

I sit down, my heart pounding. But the exam makes no sense. I sit staring at nothing. Then the teacher calls my name. I look up. The teacher keeps calling my name, shaking an envelop, searching the room as if it is packed with students.  Finally, I raise my hand. The teacher glares at me, not believing I am who I claim to be. The teacher flings the envelop at me. The envelop is from the office and sealed with a wax stamp. I open the envelop and pull out a typewritten letter.  "Dear Valued Student," the letter reads. "Due to your continued carelessness and truancy, it will be required that you remain at this institution for two more years before being eligible for graduation. Please report to the office at once with your locker number and combination in order to receive your class assignments. Thank you for your cooperation. Your future is at stake."


*Editor's Note

It only took 23 read-throughs to realize I had written 
"interrupt" where I meant to write "interpret."



I make the mistake of bringing my husband to a poetry slam.  We sit near the front of a packed cafe. The first poet, a self-depricating high school English teacher, gets a lot of laughs, especially from my husband, the loudest laugher in the room. The second poet, a gaunt, angst ridden teen in the full throws of his first breakup, gets no laughs.  Except from my husband.  But because my husband is laughing, others in the audience get to giggling.  Whether they too are beginning to see the humor in the poem, or whether they are laughing at the guy who is laughing at the earnest poem, I do not know.

What I do know is that after the slam, the tall timorous youth confronts my husband.  His voice quivers as he declares, it wasn't cool, laughing at his poem.  My husband apologizes, agreeing it wasn't cool. But the poet grows more indignant explaining that it was a serious poem, not a funny poem and that you aren't supposed to laugh at serious poems.

"Listen man," my husband says,  "You put your stuff out there, and that's great, but you can't control how people interpret* it.  I thought it was funny.  And that's not a bad thing.  It was just funny to me. So I laughed."  I try to explain to the kid that we've been married a long time and have wizened leathery hearts, that, at our age, heart-break poems take on a farcical hue.  This is not a satisfactory explanation, but the kid's friends, smartly, drag him away.  We watch him leave, hoping what we hope for all of us.  That he can take his pain and turn it into a fine piece of art (something about a churlish middle manager perhaps?), art that he will love, regardless of whether it makes people laugh or not.


Misbehaviors, (According to,) Who Hasn't, (Everyone)

Woody Allen writes on the same typewriter he's owned since he was eleven.  By the time he was seventeen he was making more money than his parents, writing jokes for newspapers. When he needs to cut and paste he uses a scissors and a stapler. Every Monday night he plays clarinet at a club. When Annie Hall won 4 Oscars, Woody Allen wasn't there because he was playing clarinet at the club. He was so ashamed of Manhattan that he offered to pay the studio not to release it. Larry David saw Take the Money and Run during army boot camp and thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.  Woody Allen's mother wears bright red lipstick and tells her son, if only she hadn't been so strict with him, maybe he would be a little (and here, she searches for the right word) softer. When he first started performing standup, he would get so nervous he would vomit.  Stardust Memories is his favorite of his films.  When it came out, following the wild success of Manhattan, the critics panned it. You thought you had seen every Woody Allen movie.  But you've never even heard of Stardust Memories.  You check it out of the library and watch it, engrossed, loving every moment.  Your husband falls asleep on the couch halfway through.  Whenever you watch a Woody Allen movie with him, (or whenever you mention Woody Allen to anyone for that matter), he (they) always says (say) the same thing. He married his step-daughter.  They can't get over it. You, on the other hand, don't particularly care. You love his movies, though not especially the early funny ones.


Bigsley and Bernadette: The Funk

Bigsley began to think that maybe it was him.  So Bernadette was sitting on a few eggs.  So what?  Why wouldn't she give him the time of day?  He had tried everything.  Serenading, flattery, bragging, bribery.  He even ignored her for an entire hour one day.  Still, nothing.  What was up with this chic? She thinks she is so much better than him, is that it?  Ha. And she's the one living in a tree!  If only he hadn't failed ornithology. If only his feathers weren't gray. If only he had listened to his mother and taken up migrating. If only he had satellite TV. Then, maybe he would be happy.  He opened another box of bird seed.


Paintings from Home


My mom was a painter, though she's never called herself that. She took painting lessons from Frank Sapousek on Wednesday nights. In the end, he went blind, or was it deaf?  Maybe he lost his legs. More likely no such thing ever happened except for in a story I made up about him. My dad likes to say painting class was mom's one night off a week.  She started painting when we were babies and stopped when I was in the third grade, the year she returned to teaching.  

For a while, I thought she was going to start painting again when she retired.  I don't know if she told me that or whether I got that idea from studying her paintings hung throughout our 51st Street house. At some point, she gave me her tackle box of oils.  She said that if she ever takes it up again, she'll buy new ones. When she retired, she did other things. 

I've moved her tackle box from one house to the next.  I've painted in acrylics and watercolors, media you can work with on the fly, but never oils that require a true investment of time.  On our last move, I opened my mom's tackle box. It smelled like a private world all her own.  I tried to decide what to do with it.  It was my mom who taught me not to be sentimental about such things.  I threw out all but a few brushes. 


Obituary Past Due

Marvin M. Mitchel, father, son, husband, flaneur was known as a dreamer.  Born to Morris and Marty Mitchels in a tiny one room dugout just outside Little Chute, he quickly learned to fend for himself. Even though he was the youngest, he fled the comfort of his family home before any of his numerous brothers and sisters.

Evading many a brush with death, he wandered the countryside, eventually finding his way to Appleton. There, he lived hand to mouth and roamed the alleys. He was particularly fond of City Park and spent much of his time there eavesdropping on a group of wayward bohemians. Soon he had a family but that didn't stop him from wondering, musing, questioning, scrambling for his life when need be. Where others his same age established habits and followed the norm, Mr. Mitchels was always searching for something, though he never knew exactly what.

When he went missing, family members did little to try to find him.  Soon he was forgotten. Whether or not he found what he was looking for, we will never know. "Life," Mr. Mitchels was fond of saying, "provides so few answers. Perhaps death provides them all."


Count Down

A. called today. 
He's coming home.
Been gone far too long,
Searching for some unknown. 
Three days till school. 
Sitting on the patio watching the sun shine,
Here I am,
Waiting for his return. 

Tad Neuhaus, guitar
Joanna Dane, flute