“On What Has Happened Here” poem written & read by Heather Lenz
Rob and Dan cranked up the music and sped down the Arizona freeway in a black Probe. It was a dry summer night outside of Tempe, as they headed toward one of their favorite bars, The Dog Run Saloon, in Apache Junction.
They were hoping to score by the end of the night, after women there consumed enough drinks to become oblivious to the fact that they both were jerks, who really cared nothing for their female counterparts, save for what their pretty faces and hourglass shapes could deliver.
Dan reached over from the passenger’s side and turned down the stereo. “Hey, Rob, whatever happened to that one bitch, Dana, that you were dating? She was pretty hot. You should have shared.”
Rob gave an arrogant chuckle and said, “I kicked her ass out of my trailer one night about two months ago after she mentioned something about me driving drunk. I told her to shut the hell up and swigged down more Tequila. She said she was leaving so I helped her out by grabbing the back of her neck and pushing her off my porch. Bitch got a broken nose, I think. Haven’t seen her since.”
Dan laughed. “Serves her right, I guess. Still, you could’ve at least shared before you broke her pretty nose, Asshole.”
They both laughed then, lit smokes and sped down the lonely desert road, toward their rowdy destination where women and booze would make them feel like somebodies for a night.
“Hey, what the hell! Slow down and pull over, man,” Dan demanded.
“Why?” Rob asked.
“You didn’t see that chick back there on the side of the road waving us down?” he bellowed. “From what I could tell, she looked hot, too. Turn around!”
“Hmm, well if she really is hot,” Rob replied, “I just might be her knight-in-shining-armor tonight. Bitches in distress are always turned on by guys that help them. Maybe we can share her if she wants to party,” he said with a sinister laugh.
Dan spun the car around and raced toward the female stranger. He’d gone about a quarter of a mile when they spotted her standing there leaning against a blue Ford Aspire. To her left was a small figure that appeared to be a girl, though they weren’t absolutely sure since two small hands covered the bent down head.
“Damn! She’s got a damn kid with her, I don’t want to deal with this shit, we’ve got to get to the bar,” Rob said to Dan. “Well it’s too late now,” replied Dan, “she sees us and there’s no one else on the road to help her. Maybe she can ditch the kid later and come party.”
Reluctantly and with a sigh, Rob pulled up behind the blue car and both of them got out. The Arizona moonlight beamed off the woman’s face and long, Auburn tresses. Dan caught a glimpse of her large eyes and gathered they were of a greenish hue. He noticed her shapely, tan legs beneath a pair of cutoff shorts and a snug, white tank top. “Kid or not,” he thought, “she is a fine piece of ass.”
“Hey, we saw you waving us down so we turned around,” Dan said to her, as Rob stood there silently exploring her figure with his eyes. “What’s the matter, did your car break down?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “and I need to get my little girl to the hospital right away. We were at my sister’s visiting and I think she may have ingested something poisonous. She keeps holding her nose saying that it is bleeding, but her nose is just fine. Whatever she got into must have made her start hallucinating on our way driving home. And then my damn car has to overheat! There’s hardly anyone on this freeway tonight, definitely not ones willing to stop, anyway. Please! Can you give us a ride to the hospital?” she pleaded, wringing her hands with tension and panic.
“Sure, we’ll give you a ride,” Rob answered. “The hospital is only about six miles from here, not too far out of our way.”
“Thank you so much,” the woman said. “I can give you some cash for fuel.” Rob couldn’t help but think of other things he’d like her to give him. “Too bad she has a brat on her hands,” he thought.
The four of them climbed into Rob’s car and headed down Superstition Freeway, toward the Banner Desert Medical Center, which was the closest one he knew of. The little girl with long, dark hair seemed more calm than her mother described. Rob glanced at her in the rearview mirror to see her quietly rocking back and forth, holding her head in her hands in such a way that none of her facial features were visible. He decided he’d feign interest in the child to get the mother’s attention and try to make her like him.
“What’s your little girl’s name and how old is she?”
“Her name is Dana. She’s seven years old,” she answered, as she stroked the back of the little girl’s head. Rob felt a slight tinge of guilt at the mention of the name. “And I’m Amy, by the way. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself sooner.”
“No problem,” he replied, “you have a lot going on right now”.
Just then, the little girl raised her head and stared at Rob in the rearview mirror. Tere was just enough light for him to catch the color of her eyes, and they were so green that they almost appeared to glow like neon. He wondered in that moment if perhaps it was the pot he’d smoked earlier, messing with his head. He quickly turned his eyes back toward the road.
“Dana, do you want a drink of Mommy’s soda? How is your nose? You’re still holding it, Honey, but there’s no blood there at all.”
“Yes there is! It’s broken, it’s broken, smashed to bits. That boy pushed me! He pushed me far, far away down. I can’t even feel the earth anymore! And he called me bad names when I was always nice to him!” the little girl shouted.
“Dana, tell me what you got into at Aunt Cindy’s house. Did you drink or eat anything you weren’t supposed to, or take any of Aunt Cindy’s medicine? Tell mommy now, please!” The mother started to cry.
The little girl refused to say anything, but instead looked at Rob in the rearview mirror with angry, wild eyes and began spitting viciously at the back of his head. Rob inadvertently touched the back of his head to feel large globs of saliva accumulating in his well-groomed hair. His heart was pounding with fear. How could he be afraid of a sick little girl? he wondered. Just then, the little girl began to sing in a loud and mocking tone:
“Rob the nob is such a slob,
he has no heart and has no job,
He likes to beat and hurt and thrash,
Rob the nob is trailer-trash!”
Rob began to tremble and sweat as the mother tried to quiet the little girl, but she would not stop her taunting song and continued to spit at the back of Rob’s head inbetween singing the single, morbid verse.
“Man, speed it up, dammit,” shouted Dan to Rob, for he too, felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise at this point.
Rob pressed his foot harder on the gas pedal as his head began to swarm with panic and disbelief. Everything suddenly went dark. Then sirens, flashing lights. Then Rob outside in the Arizona night, being wheeled away on a gurney. He could feel the blood rushing from his nose. Pain everywhere, mixed with sensations of numbness.
“Hey,” he yelled to the paramedics, “my friend, my friend, where is he? Where’s that evil little girl? She’s evil! She’s evil! She caused this! She was in my car and she caused this! And her damned mother!”
“Sir, you need to calm down or we are going to have to restrain you. You’re seriously injured and we’re rushing you to the hospital along with your friend. Please lie back and try to relax. We’re here to take care of you.”
“But, but, the little girl! Her mother! Where are they? Keep them away from me! Please!” begged Rob.
“Sir, I think you are in shock and a bit delirious. We checked the vehicle and surrounding area thoroughly. We did not find a little girl or woman anywhere, just you and your friend.”
As the paramedics began to lift him into the ambulance, Rob glanced over toward the wreckage. There stood a little girl with long, dark hair and eyes an almost neon green. She smiled sweetly at him and waved, then turned to walk away.
Review of A Listening Thing by William Michaelian
“Why do we muzzle our children? Why do we put away our old people? Why do we persist in the notion that we do not have time to love and care for each other? Why are there people like Uncle Leo, who wait alone, year after year, for a glimmer of hope to enter their lives? I’ll tell you why. We are selfish. On top of that, we are afraid- afraid to live, afraid to die, afraid to be hurt, afraid to appear foolish- afraid to be.“ p.124 of A Listening Thing
The above quote is one of my favorite observations about life from the thoughts of the main character, Stephen Monroe, in William Michaelian’s 10th Anniversary Edition of ‘A Listening Thing’.
It is such observations, questions, and the character’s introspection that made me love this book. Many times I found myself thinking “yes, that’s exactly it, that’s the problem, that’s the heavy loneliness so many have to bear in life, that is the way I feel also”.
The main character, Stephen Monroe, is what many would call an average man. One of those people that many in life would probably pass by and not give a second thought. There are many such real characters in society; those with hum-drum jobs and lives, struggling financially, dealing with failed marriages and relationships with children or other family grown distant. Stephen seems a pretty basic individual when you first start reading, until he delves into his own heart and mind, looking at life with so much quiet desperation and unsolved questions. He is far from basic, despite his boring job as a typesetter and his somewhat hidden existence in the world.
Stephen is a man who is world-weary and sees with a clear mind and heart the flaws in society and the lack of love, the silly titles that make some important and others invisible. He is distanced from his only son, which clearly bothers him, and is dealing with the fact of his wife’s departure and his displeasure with work and his life in general. He even deems himself a failure to some degree, but conveys in his deepest being that this is not really the case, that his unhappiness, though frustrating and depressing, is not without hope.
In actuality, Stephen is a man of much wisdom and emotion, and this is displayed repeatedly throughout the book. You basically have a man who is looking at himself straightforwardly and teetering on the edge of a society full of massive flaws and callous ways. His view of the world, though sad and rather pessimistic, is not without its observations of beauty or the possibility of change. He is also not a man blaming the world for his own flaws or failures, but takes great responsibility for much of how his life has turned out. He admits he is lost and perhaps even afraid. On page 125 he says ….“the world is a busy street, and I don’t know which way to turn. Maybe it doesn’t matter”.
Throughout the book you read of a seemingly ordinary man with much intelligence and heart, a man that is trying to listen and dreams of a world that also listens. How many of us, especially those that think and feel on a deeper level, cannot relate to such a character?
As an example of Stephen’s frustration and wisdom, one of my favorite excerpts from the book, on p. 29 is the following: “And who is the underdog? Those of us who are trampled on by society, or made to look awkward by people who, despite their wealth and influence, contribute nothing- those of us who are shoved into corners and under bridges because we were born at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, or to the wrong family- those of us who refuse to conform, and who have paid a tremendous price for our freedom, and who will never give it up- those of us who try and fail, then try again- those of us who laugh in the face of ridicule. Beyond that, the underdog is anyone who cares about what happens- to us, to the planet- and is willing to admit it, even if only to himself.”
So, it is not so much the storyline that kept my attention throughout the book, but the inner workings, thoughts and wisdom of the main character. Though the storyline is important, because eventually Stephen in all his loneliness does return to a place where he can receive love (however flawed), it is the depth of the character I find so mesmerizing, and exactly what makes this an excellent read. It says on p.27, “Uniformity may be cost effective, but it shrivels the spirit”. I think the story backs up that statement throughout, and leaves the reader with a deeper sense of self and the world, or at least a wish to achieve such.
The extensive interview with William Michaelian included in the 10th Anniversary Edition is also a great addition to the book, and gives a wonderful glimpse into the author himself.
Below is a link to purchase the book and a link to the author’s website:
‘A Listening Thing‘
4 AM here. Just returned from outside to smoke another cigarette I didn’t need. Amused briefly by the black cat sleeping on my chair outside. Decided to boil some water for tea since I can’t sleep anyway. At some point after tossing and turning you just give up. Can’t have my usual dark roast coffee since my coffee maker broke yesterday. And just when I trusted Black & Decker. I thought maybe I’d read or write poetry but too spent even for that. I think most poets sometimes get exhausted with themselves. The awareness, the intensity.
Virginia Woolf thought it important to write something every day- that even in the simplest of days there is something worth noting. I think this is true, I just don’t practice it often. Then I find myself wishing I had written down something my son did or said when he was five, or how a rainstorm felt on a particular Spring day. Even if not a poem or story or anything intriguing, just even a line or two about any given day or night. But even something simple can be difficult when dealing with self-exhaustion.
Yesterday it was a rainy summer day, nice and cool. As I was walking toward my balcony, there sat perched on the rail a large hawk I often see flying around. It was staring straight into my apartment and my mouth dropped in surprise. Then it swiftly flew away to a nearby tree…Which made me wish I had left the sliding glass door open, wondering if it might have entered my apartment as another bird did last Spring.
Last night I sat outside and cried. I despised myself for doing so and for feeling that way and wasn’t even sure of the root cause. I of course can name many internal struggles and sorrows, for myself and for others, but the tears washed over me suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere. Many might assume that poets can cry often and easily, but I do not find this to be the case with myself nor many other poets I’ve known. Perhaps because so many of them are shed through our pens rather than our eyes.
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