The Vagrant Sphinx OR The Glass Floor-Ceilings of the Lower Class

December 9, 2010

It was a late night in downtown Seattle and, staggering alone toward a familiar bus stop on 1st & Union, I cursed the rain. Half-jokingly, I shook my fist in the air, mumbling about my petty problems. Then, a strong hand grabbed my arm and whipped me around. In the space between pounding heartbeats, a disheveled old man howled in my face like a bleeding animal, his graying stubble standing on end like whiskers. I ripped my wet sleeve free from his grip, but he had already snatched fistfuls of wool around my zipper, jerking my ruddy face close enough to feel a sobering bog seeping past his lips. “It’s still a jungle, pretty boy,” he wheezed and immediately let me go.

From then until the bus stop, I only remember how slippery the concrete felt under my feet and the unnatural colors from traffic lights that spilled across the roads like neon paint as I darted across them. The whole ride home, I thought about what the old man meant. I think about it even now from time to time, and every time I come close to understanding, I’m ambushed by a sudden feeling of solitude and self-pity, like I’m putting on a suit to join a parade of dolls.


June 14, 2010

We carried our backpacks through bazaars on the edge of Patan without a destination.  The dirt road stretched out like a ladder to be scaled, its rungs carved by the wooden wheels of commerce.  Nepalese potteries and screen paintings of Katmandu sunsets gleamed behind bargainers waving to foreigners.  I stopped at a table of statues.  With fatigue, I ran my fingers over the fused beads of steel clumped on Buddha’s head, the color of dark tourmaline.  I paid for the figure and handed the elderly merchant an acrylic of the Temple of Lord Shiva I had worked on all of June.  She hovered her hands over the carved rose brick foundation, then the two tiered golden roof, then the silver doors.  She took one of my hands and her easy smile buoyed me in the buzzing world around me, humming of happiness displaced.

DSC_0492 by dorgel1.

Photo taken by dorgel1 on flickr


June 6, 2010

They released me from underground isolation in the summer of 1972.  The citizens’ group that demanded a second review of evidence against me cheered outside barbed wire as guards unlocked my cuffs.  The warden who that morning had dug his thumbnails into my throat now waved to the public and while flash bulbs sounded like gunshots the world seemed painted in different colors.  Burner-blue sky cordoned around me like a gas oven and humidity hung like volcanic ash.  An officer in brown and blue rolled my new sleeves down to cover the bruises, but I never looked at his face.  My eyes fixed on the ink-black sidearm in his holster.  The leather dimples in its handle caught sunlight like beads of sweat and I imagined jamming the barrel far back into his mouth, pulling my index finger back into a fist, and howling before lead ripped through me.

They shuffled me into a Volvo as rectangular as a coffin and the civilians rejoiced for justice served.