Dances with the Imagined by Basil Rosa

Ma, you should see this place. Gargantuan. Roaring and crooning like a puddle thumper on pay day, and in my neighborhood in particular it’s home to Ulysses a gay Pakistani male stripper who took me to a rally against nuclear power and turned me on to LSD and Simon and Garfunkel singing about a bridge over the East River. My hero Jim Morrison sings the “West is the best” and I agree, but I sometimes think he never got the gist of New York since it’s already 1979 and so dang hot and smelly here, you know?

New York fashions they set precedents for so many including me and in my lifetime I believe by living in the hurricane’s eye of this mercenary and influential culture that I will begin to see that flavors and precedents will always change, but enough of what I’m missing and won’t ever have and please excuse me, Ma, I have to find someone, a girl who’s closer to me, metaphysically speaking, of course, one my age who like me tends to smile too much and enjoys dressing in rags and talking to homeless street urchins.

This is what I say about New York – as if the Dame Manhatta cares. I say she tells me I think I know myself even though she tells me I’m always wrong. She tells me don’t say it, do it, and get tough, be an agent of change.

People are nasty creatures, Ma, I never really understood that until now, but rest assured I’m not hurting or dragging anyone down. I’m working hard filling salt shakers one granule at a time to keep my bosses fat and happy. I’m not New York, of course, I’m a hayseed and proud of it and I tell people just open me up and see what’s inside and they’ll come to living a better life. If they drive their wretched claws into my intestines, and some of them do, they’ll find that I’m hotter but cleaner than the fetid water of their Hudson River in August. I swear that from rooftop views that river bubbles as shiny and green as the head of a spastic lizard.

See, Ma, this is my time. These are my days. This place can lie, cheat and bully me all it wants, but she can’t have me. No one can. Except you, of course.


In your off-the-cuff way, Ma, you’d suggest that in seeking ourselves we must forget ourselves a while and I’d become your child again and together we’d suffer those oceanic mysteries which, however deeply we may have swum in them, we couldn’t fathom. Watching you fight death, I tell myself I’ve read poems, taught more than a few to the curious, the old, the uninitiated. I’ve written poems. How many? Who cares? I’m not counting. Maybe I’m not measuring up. Not one poem or maybe all of them have helped me see the road better where you may be walking on, how I could honor and better grasp your journey. You, after all, brought a blood beat into the poems that brought me into my blood beat and out of it — again and again and again.

Ma, it strikes me that each child born is the best new poem. A newborn is an absorbing of our human faith in each other and our will to endure and contribute. This thought leaves me confounded by ambiguities, elusive metaphors, a hunger, artful demands and an aching larger than the appetite I carry with me – endless, nameless, iridescent and unrelenting, be it by stars, sun, tide or eclipse – asking for what purpose I am here. But it’s your appetite too. It’s ours. Everyone’s. No one wants to die saying they didn’t give it all they had.

You, my mother, are dying. I refuse to believe it. I open my days as I end them – alone, worn out, prepared to rest and to begin again. Your voice, your eyes and all your echoes carry me. They rise from within to say there is no certain why behind the reasons.

I cannot face you. I stare out the hospital window.

Son, I am here for you just as you are here for and out of and all of and one of and each breath of me.


I’ve come up with a new portmanteau word: imagineered. I just love making up words. This one, a blend of engineer with imagine, I view as a by-product and a side effect of the abandoned monoculture that’s been replaced by a paradigm of fragmentation, a corporatized technological dominion, a wilderness full of lost souls seeking answers from introspection as cabals scheming ways to demoralize and subvert and hence control. One night, Ma, I plucked the sound of your voice, like it was the last chocolate-coated cherry in the Forrest Gump (your favorite movie) box of assorted bonbons I’d ever lay eyes on.

The sound of your voice, Ma. That powerful gravity in it. Those emotional surges with all their sonic vibrations that so often carried me away from all the obscene tintinnabulations of sumptuous turntable isms that tended to flood my sleep. Crazy, surreal, this life so mentholated,

its blood type (all words, all voices bleed) O-tropic-O-positive/almost negative, and I just one more commoner among suits and controllers, the thought monitors, the cancellers, those who see and decry all while I make friends with dyslexic street sweepers and cross-eyed bouncers who man velvet ropes at urban dance clubs when 2 a.m. rolls around and pimps start showing up.

It was your voice, Ma, that I heard on the night you died. Your voice was mine. My voice yours. Such linkage. Such gravitas. Such timbre. It unlocked all the gates within and let the tears start flowing. Now I feel I’ve cried too long. I’m turning myself off, at last, no longer a neon lure or an example of art glass seeking to mesmerize by showing off for all the global experts in their lab coats at their various operating tables.

There was a time, Ma, when I was perpetually awake to trends in the infotainment sector. Not any longer. I guess you could say I’ve imagineered myself yet again, and at last I’m catching up with who I’ll never be.


“Identity?” you would ask. Then you’d answer your own question, telling me, “Don’t make me laugh. And middle class? Do you even know that that means? I sure don’t.”

Then you’d laugh again, sounding that deep pain you held inside and all the derision you carried for the raw deals and the lousy hands that life had often dealt. Looking at you, I’d often think that no one had really been very nice to you as a girl.

Ma, I did hear you, but sometimes I thought you shouldn’t laugh. Not at me. It wasn’t like I didn’t try. I’d just decided I didn’t know who I was. I felt confused because on some days I really was a leggy super-model with more money than a Rothschild heir, not the sump pump and muddy basement that on most days people treated me as.

Don’t you see this now from your grave? I hope so.

I didn’t always know why I chose anything, but I did feel, you know. And this emotive energy, this lunging for desperate measures and quick fixes, I think I learned such urges by watching you practice them.

I heard them say I was pathetic, but I stopped listening to them. I kept myself busy asking myself when did I lose enough to realize I will never lose because I will never really win because none of this is a contest. It’s more of a dream scenario this life of ours, this fantasy of engaging intercourse and wealth and detachment and dandy little lies we rehearse and recite to each other while strolling in shorts and leather sandals on sunny strands outside the front doors of cabanas tucked into coastlines in a gloriously sun-drenched escape such as Malaga.

Invisible. Sturdy. Average. My best way to protect myself, to avoid all triggers and unwanted consequences is to remain indifferent to the pretentiousness of my own fears. None of my suffrage has ever been anyone else’s fault but my own.

There was no room left for idealism when I watched you, my dear life-giver, gradually going blind, no longer employed or able to drive, getting your visits each afternoon from a priest while Dad wavered nearby, trembling, anxious, wanting to show his support, looking run-down and faded and trying not to reveal the dejection that was setting torches to the last hopeful continent that lived within him.

Such titans you my dear parents turned out to be. Such honest unselfish and moral lives you led. Such laurels you earned, but God such beatings you took, as well.


We are expected to embrace the latest dance craze under rainbow flags, the new religion, skies of doo-dah-dah internationalism as if it wasn’t enough to know one’s neighbors in Mayberry and to leave it at that. Ma, it’s all changed. You wouldn’t recognize this place. So

much of what you venerated and maintained has been discarded or left to rot. I know you’d tell me such developments are inevitable and that change defines what life should be, but why do I think there must still be customs and approaches and moral norms that displace and counteract the effects of greed and hatred?

Do I want job security? I do. Then I should join the death squad on the front lines. Or else become a healer of the sick. Any place where the dead pile up is always the scene of much hiring. Pension benefits are paid that will keep me in clover if I survive my assigned tours. In the end, I’ll return home a hero.

The question of what really matters continues to haunt as I watch the shows of resistance from different platforms and wonder: Where have all these people come from? They fold their tents once the last vestiges of unspoiled land gets fenced off, surveyed, cleared, and all those who move away will change their addresses yet again and go to where cheap labor is in demand. Union busting is here. The service economy is here. Bring on the Technocrats whose children (if they bother to have any) will for the next century be far from glad to get paid to ask if overweight teens want extra fries with their super-sized shake.

Why am I even harping on about this to you? We all eat out of each other’s hands, whether we admit it or not. We all drive from one window to the next, our phones making it easier for us to lie to each other, to disgrace each other, to hide whenever possible from direct confrontation.

Yes, Ma, they’re all strangers now, not neighbors, and those are my eyes in each of your castle windows. Like you, I have only so much shame to express, and so I know I’m capable of any perverse form of duplicity.

Basil Rosa also writes as John Michael Flynn. His essay collection, How The Quiet Breathes, is available from New Meridian Arts. His short story collection, Vintage Vinyl Playlist, is available from Fomite. He blogs about different artists and destinations at [email protected]