Impotent Paternal

By Conney


ebonney doesn’t
want to be my daughter
she has a better offer
divorce and lovers
compress DNA
‘tween daughters and fathers
daughters are orchids
that siphon
additional love
from unsuspecting
delicate offenders
teasing paternal ego
into submission
her will cast iron
a pair of capri’s
parading obstinate
hazel eyes
roll harder than
’64 Chevy Impala
on Crenshaw
she’s old enough for sex
and doesn’t return calls
she outgrew me
but not her mother
i’m an inconvenient
the thought after
that thought
lingering in childhood
photographs and artwork
no longer
a required subject
in her family library
she walks past me at church
during prayer time
wish she needed
more of me than currently

The other day I was amused to find my husband walking back and forth in front of our bedroom window without any clothes on.

As we live in a forest and are surrounded by trees, we are not overly concerned about the view into our windows. It’s not that we don’t have neighbors. We do. Our houses up here sit on 1-2 acre plots and back up against Roosevelt National Forest. But the trees between us do create a natural privacy border of sorts. And still, if somebody were looking, they could see us.

On one side of us is a beautiful modern cabin built only a few years ago. The man who built it went to high school with Scott’s mom and sometimes comes over for drinks. There are a lot of trees between us and him.

On the other side of us – the bedroom side – is a rather large home inhabited by a couple which has recently acquired a dog. I point out this seemingly banal detail only because we have received several phone calls from them to inform us that our dog was over there sitting at their back door. Once we got a call from them to let us know that our dog was “making footprints in [their] dirt” and that short of calling the sheriff, they didn’t know what to do.

I’m admittedly curious to see how this new dog of theirs fares.

For the past several years, the man in this couple – I’ll call him Dave – has been actively involved in thinning out the trees surrounding his house. As there are hundreds of trees on his property, this is no small task. In the nine years we’ve live here, we’ve grown accustomed to the loud buzz of his chainsaw as it chews its way through the lodge pole pines between his house and ours.

Scott and I like to joke that he pulls out the chainsaw whenever he and his wife are arguing. Or maybe he is sexually frustrated and can only find relief by hoisting heavy logs. But really, we have no idea why he is so hell-bent on razing his forest to the ground.

When he is finished disassembling the tree into branches and burnable split logs, he stacks them on one of several giant piles surrounding their home. I have heard him say that the reason he is thinning his trees is for fire mitigation purposes – as if a massive fire in the surrounding trees of our properties would stop short because of a few extra feet between house and trees. My father-in-law is a catastrophe adjuster and snickers at this idea. He once saw an adobe house in the middle of the California desert that had caught fire from embers that blew from several miles away. At any rate, the massive dried out woodpiles around his home would most certainly compensate for any gap left between his structure and the forest. Even burning through the wood during the winter, he has at least a 15-year supply of fuel out there. Possibly 20. We are talking about at least a dozen cords of wood, conservatively.

A few weeks ago I dreamt that I woke up to find that he had taken out all of the trees between us and that we could see into each other’s houses as clear as if we lived in a Denver McSuburb. A couple days later I awoke to find that the US Forestry Service was on the forest border thinning out trees at an alarming rate. The dream followed by the reality…it was sort of a Simon Smithson moment.

For several days they were out there raising up a mighty chorus of chainsaws. Every few minutes someone would shout and another tree would come crashing to the ground. I wanted to cry.

Occasionally, I would glance out the bedroom window to spot “Dave” next door staring wistfully toward the forest. I can’t be certain, but I think I spotted a glint of jealousy at the sheer chainsaw power so close, and yet so out of his reach.

Once I looked out to find that they had brought in a prison work crew to help them with the project. I am no genius, but it seemed odd to me that anyone would mix convicts and chainsaws. We made the kids go inside.

As this was happening, I was getting madder and madder at what they were doing to the forest. Our forest. We hike out there all of the time and know those woods well. They have become a part of our lives and daily experience. And now – because of a leftover George W. Bush policy – forests all over the nation that run along private property are being mowed down in the name of fire mitigation.

It sounds good: fire mitigation. But let’s be serious. If we have a forest fire behind our house, there will be no saving it. Our house is built from stone and cedar planks. We have a dried out shake roof from 1967. We have frequent lightning storms accompanied by upwards of 60 mph winds without a drop of moisture to be felt.


Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.


Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.

But even more to the point, the Forestry Service did not clean up after themselves. After glutting themselves on chainsaw grease and sawdust, they left the trees felled on the ground, stripped of their branches, which they then threw into giant 10 ft. piles.

Here is a picture of the piles they left:


Every 20 paces, you will run into another one. They are everywhere within the 200 yard cutting zone, which incidentally is not barren of trees – only thinned. They are giant bonfires waiting to happen. Branches waiting to kick up in one of our infamous windstorms and head straight toward our roof.

When my husband walks naked past the window for the 10th time in a row, he smiles smugly at me and winks. He knows he can’t stop the legacy of Bush and yet another poor policy decision. That glory train has already been set into motion. What he can do is hope that through the trees the neighbors catch a glimpse of his march. And when they see his raw determination, they will agree to put down the chainsaw and give a man some peace.


Way back in 1971, the strangest thing started happening to me.  Whenever I was tired or trying to sleep, it felt as though there were ants crawling in my legs.  I told the doctor.  He said it was all in my head.  Believe me when I say that I was carrying around enough crazy as it was; it didn’t help for people to also think I was imagining bizarre symptoms.  Over the years, I would mention the symptoms to doctors now and then but I always got the same “you must be a nutcase” reaction.

Finally, decades after it began, I went to the doctor when my mom was slowly killing herself on purpose.  I told him I thought I could get through her whole protracted suicide thing, raise five children, take care of the dogs and the cats, keep my husband mollified, get dinner on the table at 5:30PM every night, if he could just stop the ants crawling in my legs. I didn’t really have much hope, but still I was hoping he’d give me some pill that might help me cope.  Surprisingly, this doctor sent me to a sleep specialist and I got a small dose of medicine that is ordinarily given to Parkinson’s patients.  The sleep doctor gave a name to what I had: Restless Legs Syndrome. It really was inside my head.

RLS is a sleep disorder.  Whenever I was tired, or sitting in one place for a long time (such as an airplane or in bed trying to relax to go to sleep), I got the feeling that there were hundreds, even thousands, of ants crawling inside my legs.  I could stop it.  I had to get up and move around and it stopped.  The problem was that I couldn’t go back and relax in bed because the ants returned as soon as I stopped walking or dancing or doing the treadmill.  I barely got any sleep until I got my glorious medicine.

Another component of RLS is Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Here is this wrinkle: even after I took the medicine to combat the RLS, my legs or arms started kicking or flailing about, usually while asleep, but it could also happen when I was awake.  If PLMD didn’t wake me up, it still jiggered my sleep from a deeper stage to a shallower stage.  For this reason I woke up tired, even if I thought I slept. I took more amazing medicine for this.

Once, I was on an airplane bouncing my legs up and down in my seat as usual.  Suddenly my right arm flailed out and slapped the lady next to me right across the face.  She didn’t speak English.  It was awkward.

I just recently managed to cross into a whole new stage of the disease that I didn’t even know about before.  I don’t even know what to call it yet.  (I’d at least like an acronym.)  For now I’m going to call it New Muscle-Cramping Thing, or NMCT. When I have taken enough medicine to help stop the ants and the flailing, there is now the muscle- cramping component.  If I relax in front of the TV in the evening, for example, after a few minutes the muscles of my feet and toes and my hands and fingers will start going into painful spasm.  Now I’m on an outstanding medicine for that.

You would think that all of this would be enough sleep disorder for one person.

But no.  There’s Victor.

Victor is another of my sleep disorders.

Victor is buckets of fun when he is awake.  Just look at how sweet he looks!

Victor is very bossy in his sleep.  He’s been sleep-bossy for 41 years.

At least three times a week, Victor yells at me to do something while we are both asleep.  I sleep lightly, but since I am asleep and not thinking straight, I always think he is telling me to do something for a good reason.

“Sit up!”

I sit up and ask why I have to sit up, but he’s asleep.

“Get out!”

He pushes me right off the bed.

It’s a high bed.

I ask him what’s wrong, but he’s asleep.

“You don’t belong here!”

He shakes me angrily and hard.

I ask him what’s wrong, but he’s asleep.

“Dial 9-1-1!”

I leap off the bed and grab the phone.  I ask what I should tell the operator, but he’s asleep.

“Who do you think you are?”

He pokes his index finger in my chest repeatedly, seemingly furious.

I tell him I only think I’m me, but he’s asleep.

“Stop that right now!”

I ask stop what? but he’s asleep.

“You have no right to be here!”

I explain that I do, but he’s asleep.

“Where’s Irene?  Irene should be here!”

He pulls my arm until I’m sitting up.  I tell him I’m right here, but he’s asleep.

Last night it was:

“Get away from me!”

Victor shoved me right off the bed again.

Last night was a bit worse because I had thrown out my back several days before.

The landing wasn’t any fun.

Victor sleeps like a baby through it all.  He never remembers any of it.

Forty-one years.

I never get back to sleep.

There is no medicine for Victor Sleep Disorder, or VSD.


The book trailer for Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon’s acclaimed novel about the unlikely intersection of three disparate lives. The book, he says, “can trace its roots back to my childhood, to the stories and novels that I loved when I was a child. I grew up in a very tiny town in Western Nebraska, one of those villages of the great plains that grew up alongside the Union Pacific railroad line, with a tower of a grain elevator at the center and a little smatter of houses around it. Population, approximately 50.”