Mastermind

We must be ever vigilant in the thoughts that go through our heads, especially in our reactions to current events. Here is a poem I wrote upon hearing of the death of the so-called mastermind of the Paris terrorist attack.
 
MASTERMIND

I saw the news flash on CNN —
Abdelhamid is dead—
and heard a voice inside me
rejoicing:
He is dead! He is dead!
His body mangled by bullets
and a nearby grenade,
he died not soon enough.
To call him mastermind
of the Paris massacre
makes him sound more important
than what he was—
just another cancer cell
in a metastasizing tumor.
Blind to everything but his belief,
he was master of nothing.
Relieved as I am to see
this murderous cell zapped
from the body of humanity,
I yet find myself looking back
at my thoughts, wondering
what kind of person it was
who could plot the deaths
of fellow humans as if
they were mere avatars
in a video game,
or whether he ever
looked up at the stars
and dreamed of a girl.
And I find myself wondering
what kind of mastermind it is
who this morning cheers
the death of a young man
who went so horribly wrong,
who once was human
before he blew it all up.

My Life as a Sperm

DSCN0535In their ongoing memory wars, memoirists seek to go ever deeper into their pasts, uncovering astonishing details about their first years of life. One writer recalls the intimate conversation she had, at two months old, with her mother and the family priest about whether the soul can enter heaven with heavily soiled diapers or if God prefers prosciutto or pepperoni pizza.

Not to be outdone, some writers claim to be able to recall their fetal memories as early as 30 weeks after conception. The severely limited social environment of the fetus, coupled with its lack of a comprehensive vocabulary, does pose challenges for the creative writer. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of partying going on, and your conversation with the outside world largely consists of kicking. One writer insists, however, that he first decided to become a rock ‘n’ roll drummer when he became habituated to his drunken dad’s late night pounding on the front door.

I must confess that I remember little from my earliest years, aside from bratty episodes when I would scream and cry in the department store to make my poor Aunt Mary buy me a toy elephant, or the way I could put on my “ain’t I lovable” act and con my dear grandmother out of almost anything. As for my fetus days, forget it—they’re a complete blank. But oddly enough, I do possess vivid recollections of my interior life just before conception.

True, there’s not enough stuff to fill a book. The whole thing lasted only a few days—just after I entered my mother’s womb—but oh what days they were! Looking back now, I have to say it was the most challenging time of my life, full of danger, excitement, and emotional triumphs.

I remember being a lonely guy at the time, despite the fact that I was surrounded by over 250 million other sperm. I dreamed of finding just the right egg to spend my life with, an egg who would understand me and not make fun of the fact that I was 175,000 times smaller than she was. I was determined to find her.

Up through the deep dark caverns I traveled, with only my raw courage to guide me. It was a perilous journey that few of us would survive. During the first few minutes, I had watched in horror as millions of my comrades died in writhing agony in the acid bath of the vaginal canal. Tony and Eddie—such great kidders—who were always good for a laugh. And who can forget George, who was always tripping on his own tail, or my best bud Frank? Damn, how I miss him! Then came that awful cervical mucus—like swimming in sewage—where many of the poorer swimmers drowned. So many good men died that day, and for what? The same reason I was there, still alive and swimming toward my dream. I was young and strong and knew that she was up there waiting for me.

My tail ached as I swam and jostled for position. On and on we swam, up through the cervix and uterus, in a grim marathon where only the strongest would survive. At that point, I was swimming on pure DNA. Though few of us who had started the race remained, I knew I could do it. As we got closer to the infamous fallopian tunnels, I could see some poor saps taking the wrong tube. Hate to admit it, but I was not sad to see them go. A few less competitors to get in my way.

Just as I was about to enter the tunnel, I felt her presence for the first time. It was if she were sending me a signal to guide me to her. I started swimming like an Olympic sperm.

Now the real trick in these marathons is to pace yourself. You don’t want to burn out too soon, and I still had one big obstacle to overcome.

So I purposely let some of the other sperm get ahead. Actually, I had paid them all off beforehand to pass the torch to me. The idea was for them to arrive at my beloved before I did and start breaking down her resistance with their enzymes. She was very sweet, but had developed a real wall around her.

Suddenly, there she was—the egg of my heart. The guys had done their job, and by the way that she looked at me I knew she felt the same about me. She was ready. In no time, I was in.

For a few blissful days, we traveled together down the fallopian tube. After about a week, the honeymoon was over and it was time to get attached in our new apartment. I wish I could remember more. I’m sure there were some very good times.

Galaxy Flight to Midnight

First they fled out of Africa,
seeking new sources of food
or maybe a change of scenery.
Then they fled the ice sheets
and dire wolves haunting their dreams.
From hunger and drought they fled
over the Bering Strait and beyond.
From religious persecution they fled
to a New World of unbridled freedom.
From war, famine, and disease they fled
to whatever country would take them.
They fled the whips and chains
of Southern plantations to live
in crowded cities of the North,
as others fled the same cities
from immigrant hordes and dark races.
They fled into gated communities
to free themselves from parties
and viewpoints not their own.
They fled into space out of boredom
and because it was the last frontier.
Finally they fled from the earth itself,
in their luxury starship cruisers,
all the way to the center of the galaxy
and a big black hole
that swallowed them up,
every last one.

Originally published in Wilderness House Literary Review Fall 2015 (note: scroll down to second poem on page 3) http://www.whlreview.com/no-10.3/poetry/GeneTwaronite.pdf

My Interview with Terry Gross

DSCN0535I can say with considerable certainty that I will never be interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, unless perhaps I publish a string of blockbuster slasher/romance novels or become the first human male to give birth to a gorilla. Still, a man can dream. Here’s how it might go.

Terry: Today I am interviewing author Gene Twaronite, as part of our new series on writers you’ve never heard of. Hi, is this Gene? I’ll be doing the interview with you today.

Me: Yes, this is Gene. Wow, I can’t believe it’s really you! I’m so excited to be on your program. I’m a huge fan. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasized about ….

Terry: Yes, yes, let’s get on with it, shall we? Gene, could you tell us how you feel about the fact that you are currently ranked the nine millionth most popular author on Amazon, just behind Arthur Slobnick, who wrote a book of Christmas verse for his dog?

Me: Writing isn’t all about fame and money, Terry—is it OK if I call you that? It’s about expressing yourself, and sharing your words with others. It doesn’t matter how many books you sell or who’s heard of you. The important thing is that you’ve created something unique in the world. To quote a poem by Shel Silverstein: “Put something silly in the world that ain’t been there before.” And by the way, my rank this morning is actually 8,997,332, but who’s counting?

Terry: I’ve always loved that poem and yes, your stuff is pretty silly. So you don’t care that no one has heard of you and you make only a two-figure income? And please call me Ms. Gross.

Me: Sorry, Terry, I mean Ms. Gross. Well, sure, I wouldn’t mind selling a lot more books or receiving some literary acclaim. But it’s really about living an authentic life and putting your work out there. Long after I’m gone, my books will live on, bringing enjoyment to new generations of readers.

Terry: Gene, now don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s unlikely your books will live on if no one buys and reads them. They’ll just fade away in the cloud. You’ll be one more of the tens of millions of writers who aspired to fame and lost. Fifty years from now, no one will have heard of you. There will be no trace of your ever being here.

Me: Gee, Ms. Gross, you really know how to hurt a guy. Yet you say it in such an upbeat, caring voice.

Terry: Sorry, Gene—reality sucks. You and all the other authors out there need to hear the truth. You’re never going to be number one on Amazon. Stop living in a dream world. Maybe there are other things you could do.

Me: Excuse me, Ms. Gross, but when are you going to ask me about my books?

Terry: OK, we still have oodles of time to fill and as long as I’ve got you here, let me ask you about your first novel The Family That Wasn’t. Your main character John Boggle has this crazy hyphenated name: Bazukas-O’Reilly-Geronimo-Giovanni-Li Choy-Echeverria. Weren’t you worried about offending people with hyphenated names? It sounds like you’re making fun of them. Do you ever get complaints from them?

Me: Actually, I was trying to show why this family I had invented was so crazy that they insisted on keeping all those names. I wasn’t trying to make fun of anyone but these fictional characters. No one’s ever complained, but thanks to your question they probably will now.

Terry: Your sequel My Vacation in Hell must have been really tough to write. You show John Boggle being sexually abused by his fake Uncle Vinnie. The experiences you describe are so vivid. Tell me, were you ever sexually abused?

Me: You know, that’s the first thing my wife asked when she first read it. It’s as if she thought I couldn’t write such realistic scenes without actually having had the experience, and she’s my biggest fan. But no, to the best of my knowledge, I was never abused.

Terry: Still, you must have felt something as you wrote those disturbing sex scenes. I know that, as a writer, you have to project yourself into the life of your characters, to feel what they feel. Now you don’t have to answer this if it makes you uncomfortable in any way, but were you sexually aroused while writing them?

Me: OK, in the first place, it is perfectly possible to write about sex without getting physical. Second, I do find your question offensive. Is that something you ask all your guests? Did you ask Hillary or Bill O’Reilly about their sexual life?

Terry: Well, it does sometimes help to keep the conversation going. Sorry if I offended you, and no, I didn’t ask them that, but maybe I should have. Can just see the look on old Bill’s face. Well, I see our time is about up. Our guest was author Gene Twaronite. I really enjoyed talking to you, Gene. Could you tell us a little about your next book? Oops, sorry—out of time. Best of luck to you. Bye.