Brighid in the Dumpster, Brân in the Bad Heroin


“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  –Oscar Wilde


He’s fumbling with a flashlight.

I’m drunk tonight, stumbling home.

I shouldn’t stop.

I stop.

He’s fumbling with the batteries, his movements erratic.  One into the slot with the spring (these fucking springs, he says) and then another but it slips and flies and it’s on the ground next to me.

I’m sitting on the ground next to him.  He’s beautiful, really.  Hairy, muscular, his face the sort one would wish to smile upon each morning.

He smells of piss and shit.  “You heard of dialysis?” he asks.

I nod, I light a cigarette, I give him one.

“I’ll need it when I’m 40,” he says.  “The heroin does that.  I can’t piss.”  And then he’s crawling on the ground looking for a battery.

“How old are you?,” I ask, trying to light his cigarette again.

“35,” he says, dropping his cigarette, twitching.  “I use everyday, but this shit’s bad, man.”

It is. He shouldn’t be twitching on heroin like this.

He shouldn’t have the energy of thirty suns and the focus of a child if it was what he though he was shooting.

“I think they cut it.  If I pass out–“(and here the batteries fly across the concrete),“– I don’t know, man.”


I went looking for something tonight, or someone.

Brân, actually.  Pulled 40 feathers out from a squirrel-gnawed stag vertebrae found near the Pagan Wall of Mont St. Odile.  Hid the feathers from my host’s cats, unwrapped the crow’s foot found at the foot of a Buddha.

Everything smelled of death, everything smelled of Brân, and I’m on the pavement near a busy intersection, sitting cross-legged, gathering batteries.

“It’s not like this usually,” he says.  His name is Mike.  I gave him my name first.  We’d met before, he was certain.  He was right, I suspected.

“I usually just crawl into bed when I shoot up.”

For the first time tonight, I’m relieved.  He’s got a bed, somewhere safe, somewhere besides this asphalt.

“Where’s home?” I ask.  “I can help you get there.”

Mike took awhile to answer.  He’d spent the last 20 minutes trying to put batteries into a flashlight, a stolen LED wand.  Four AAA batteries, tiny, miniscule in his muscular but swollen hands.

I didn’t press.  I picked up the batteries again, handing them back to him one at a time.”

“It’s just receipts, man!  It’s great. Clean. I just gotta get outta there by 7 in the morning.  I even wrote ‘em a thank-you card.”

Years of social work and decades of reading taught me to wait for the unraveling of a story.  You don’t push or prod or pull.  The words come in their time.  We are our own best narrators, even when jacked-up on bad heroin.

Mike and I jolted together at a sudden noise.  A taxi pulled up feet away, a man stepped out.  Bold, clean, well-dressed, young.  Probably another Amazon worker, or maybe Google.  All privilege and wealth and bliss.  Never a bad heroin trip.

The man sneered at us, likely 15 years our junior.  He was staring at a heroin-addict fumbling with a flashlight smelling of piss, and a punk sitting next to him on the pavement, smoking a cigarette.  We were trash on the street, nothing more.  Loathing and disgust lined his face as he turned from us.

Mike fumbled with the batteries some more.  I’d offered a few times, and he refused. His hands were the size of my face, he couldn’t bend his fingers.  Fluid retention, bad liver probably, bad kidneys definitely.

“You remember when you could just put batteries in?” he asked.  We were friends, it seemed.  Or comrades.  I’m honored by this, though I’ve had it easier than him.

“Yeah–” I start to answer, but the batteries fall out again, his oafish fingers failing to grip.  “Mike?”  I asked, slightly impatient.  “Can I help?”

He finally handed the thing to me.  He stood up, adjusting his jacket several times.  I slipped the third and fourth battery into the slots, replaced the cover, and turned it on.  Bright light-emitting diodes near-blinded me.  I handed it back to him, fingering the gnawed bone in my pocket.

“The dumpster’s soft with all the receipts,” he replied, apropos of our earlier conversation.  “I need this to see in there.”

I looked to where he pointed, a blue recycling dumpster.  “You sleep there?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, his spasms starting to slow.  “Fucking bad heroin.  I think there’s meth in it or something.”

As if on cue, an emergency vehicle drove by, run by the county. ‘Sobering Van,’ we call them.

It stopped, turned on its lights, and the guy in the passenger seat stepped out, his hands already gloved.

“Hey, Mike? he asked, walking towards us.  “You okay?”

Mike backed away, visibly composing himself, patting down his clothes and squaring his shoulders.  “I’m fine. They’re gonna put a catheter in me, I’m not going.  You ever had one of those stuck up your cock?”

The responder signed, shaking his head.  “Just checking you’re okay,” and then he looked at me.

I told him what I could, what I’d gathered.  I identified myself as a social worker, told the man about the bad heroin.

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “That’s not just heroin there.”

We both looked at Mike together, the terrified, beautiful man shaking involuntarily, his arms flailing.

“I’ll check up on him in an hour,” he told me, returning to the van.  He thanked me, though I’d done nothing.

Nothing at all.

I looked at Mike.  I looked at the dumpster.  I reached into my pocket, pulled out the gnawed bone which has held feathers for Brân on my altar this last year.  Bone from a dead deer on a temple mountain in Alsace, feathers from crows from everywhere, and a man, shaking, destroyed in this modern city, sleeping in a dumpster.

I stared.  I’d gone looking for my gods tonight, somewhere out on the streets, away from their altar.

And there was Brighid, there in that dumpster, the man’s hearth.

And here was Brân, here in that bad heroin, Mike’s confrontation with death, here with one of his bards despairing at his mediocre efforts.

I’m honored to serve gods small enough to care about the heroin-addict in the dumpster.

I hope I am always small enough to care, too.





Maybe, Another Vein


Maybe another vein.

Some new device will come out, something which, for hours on end, will dull the bodily rage we feel after a third-of-day’s labor.  We’ll come home tired, driving across hot asphalt past ghosts of forests, over corpse of bison, elk, and ‘Indian,’ after hours of coding, or answering phones.  Level-voiced women and men will soothe us with promises of a bright weekend, great beach weather, they’ll advise, between cloying advertisements for Christmas sales and New Year’s parties.

Interspersed, the assurances–the President said this, Congress will do that. Arguments between themselves, left-hand right-hand both stroking the slicked-up phallus before glowing altars with new operating systems and lifted faces.

We’ll grumble to each other–she’s not doing what she promised, he’s violating the Constitution, never once daring to plumb the depths of mythic paper and civic religion because it’s Friday.

Prices rise for salad greens we don’t eat anyway, for apartments in neighborhoods we wouldn’t bother to live in.  Gas goes down and we have a little extra money, gas goes up and maybe we’ll take a bus.

Sorting bits of paper into green bins and bottles into blue, we’ll smile, having done enough.

Black man dead.  Another Black man dead.  Black kid dead. Muslim arrested, more Muslims arrested, a Black man shot a woman, a Black crowd burned a mom-and-pop shop.

New iPhone, though, and 2 more miles per gallon, and anyway the kids gotta go to practice, the mortgage’s gotta be paid.

Maybe we’ll find another vein.  The floods, the droughts, the landslides, the blizzards, the weather is always something, isn’t it?  New lightbulb to poison the ocean, don’t eat that fish if you’re pregnant, retirement might not be there.

We’ll cling. We’ll claw, grasp, choke and grab and clutch and cling to things supposed to be.  This is America, you know, this could be better but we’ll get there and how come they want to kill us?

Spirits scream from dying forests, but they’ll build some low-income housing to make up for it.  Rivers dead, but desalination plants will make it better.  Can’t get in that vein anymore, but there are others.  Between the toes so no one knows, like the time we didn’t sort paper from plastic in that bin.  Heated and injected into the thigh, if you really need the eye–you can always make due.

We’ll argue. Divine from the cards, from the stars, from the history book and the talk-shows, pundits and putrefaction but anyway, I’ve gotta go to work and how many jobs will that really make anyway?

Water shut-off in cities full of Black folk so we don’t care.  Water wars in Ireland but that’s so far away, water pumped from before the days of walking apes but we gotta grow our food, can’t just go without.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s another vein.

Choked streams, dead gods, mountains tumbled-down ’cause we can’t live like the poor.  Solar will save us, we’ll shout, desert priests staring into the sun.  Split some atoms, it’s worth some tumors, and here’s another famine but they’re darker than us again.

Coders still flushed with money arguing about public transit from their plastic condos, staring at screens like the grease-covered fingers of the immigrant behind the counter.  They’ll never be the same, they merit more because they use their brain and we’re all thumbing the same phones.

Barista and cook drunk-to-sleep, driver and builder slumped in soft chairs, kicking empty cans they’re too tired to recycle and anyway we know it’s too late.

Spirits screaming as they leave, gods silent as they withdraw, crops wilting in the fields, but man, maybe–there’s another vein.

Flickering fantasies of zombies because we can’t see the living-dead we churn out, the starving on our streets and raging behind the fences.  Mindless things, no sense, no hope, no reason could possibly birth such terror.

Slurp a coffee picked by their hands, throw on a shirt sewn by their fingers, scroll for a pick-up on phones they’ll never afford though they make them for you.  Cheer on the soldiers returning from their slaughter, grumble ’bout the taxes ensuring their submission, change the channel when you can’t watch their anger.

There’s gotta be another vein, asses wiped on flesh of forest, muscles toned in gyms like factories, doggy day-cares and organic juices and anyway you can’t always care.  Center, ground, breathe out that anxiousness, unsettled scores and open yourself to Spirit on your way to the Co-op and eat a little less.  Ethical flesh now and maybe more Kale, corpse-cock and face-lifts The Science will find a way.

Postpone death, put it off, prop them up. Put on a new cock, pull up the sags, smooth the skin and replace the bone. De-salt the sea, un-tar the sands. Here’s a hybrid, half-petrol half-coal; here’s a chimera, part-algae part-corn. Dam up the dying rivers, shore up the flooding seas.  Move money there, borrow credit there, shine LED’s against the shadow of death’s looming debt.  Find another well for water, another vein of coal.

Maybe we’ll find another vein.

Maybe there’s another vein.

Maybe, another.



Respectability Politics: Act Like The System So That The System Will Listen?

Rhyd Wildermuth:

The first salvo on Gods&Radicals is from Jason Thomas Pitzl, a damn fine essay. I’d normally have much to say, but his words (and the amassing comments) speak quite eloquently for themselves.

Hold tight your wands….

Originally posted on GODS & RADICALS:

“In the 21st century, respectability is fast shaping up to be the New Closet.” — Mark Simpson, The Guardian

“So what exactly are respectability politics? In short, they are an undefined yet understood set of ideas about how Black people should live positively and how we should define Black American culture. Ironically, they’re usually a huge hindrance to both.” — Maurice E Dolberry, A Line In The Sand

”The twenty-first-century version of the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism.” — Fredrick C. Harris, Dissent

“The goal of respectability politics may be noble, but the execution is flawed, damaging, and ineffective. By indulging in respectability politics, we acquiesce to the racially biased idea that the actions of individual black people are representative of the whole. We add to the pre-existing burdens of racism and sexism. And we fail to solve our problem, because we move the responsibility for eradicating race and…

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