“Portland Isn’t Burning, America Is” by Leanne Grabel

I find it shocking how ugly America has become. And it’s getting uglier every day. It has to be that rank wave of bullshit crashing over us. You know what I mean. And you know where I stand. I’ve shouted and cried and mourned and burned every day for four years. This month I’m taking a recess–just before things really amp up, which is frightening to think of.    

I’m going to reminisce instead. I’m going to reminisce about going out to dinner. Remember going out to dinner? I don’t do it anymore. And I miss it.

Well, she’s certainly displaying her privilege. I can already hear you thinking this and saying this. I own my privilege. Right here. I do. I used to go out to dinner at least once a week. Sometimes twice. And I miss it. I’m tired of cooking.

This is  a story about going out to dinner from a new collection of graphic prose poetry/flash memoir. P.S. PORTLAND IS NOT BURNING! Never was.

Willamette River, Downtown Portland, Oregon, September 2, 2020. (Not burning.)

There is a small Italian restaurant two blocks from my house in Inner N.E. Portland. It’s been there for decades. My husband and I used to go there almost every Friday night. We haven’t been there since March. I see it’s reopened with tables outside. I do miss going out to dinner. But we still won’t go yet because . . .

We both believe in science.

I do recognize my privilege. But since I spend so much time worrying about, writing and drawing about the destruction of America, since I’m always trying to think up solutions for salvation, I have given myself permission to reminisce about something good–well, basically good–this month. And this story is true. All true.

Repeat: There is a small Italian restaurant two blocks from my house in Inner N.E. Portland. It’s been there for decades. My husband and I used to go there almost every Friday night.

We always sat in a little cubby by the bar. It only had enough room for one small table for two.

We always ordered a large Caesar salad with croutons on the side, gluten-free pasta for me, usually fettuccine, with browned butter, Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh parsley; pesto ravioli with a side of meatballs for him. And a bottle of Italian red. (I swear to you I have an actual gluten sensitivity. You know it’s very common in Jews. Our guts are just too damn old and worn out. And if you ask me, it’s not surprising.)

We always ended up talking about our marriage, no matter how the conversation started. For some reason, my husband only wanted to talk about our marriage while eating pasta and meatballs in the cubby on Friday nights.

Conversation, however, is just not either of our strong suits. My husband, in my opinion, gives speeches with little consideration for audience. He plans ahead instead of really listening. Sometimes it’s as if his ears just get up and leave the room.

My weakness is becoming irritable over his lack of clarity. I feel disdain and exasperation and begin to drip tone. Then he stops talking. And so do I. And that’s our verbal choreography. #sad #butnotthatunusual

Also, since we’re talking about it, he never looks at me when he talks. He stares off to the right. I say, “What are you looking at?” My tone is saturated with irritation and exasperation. This has been going on for 35 years. Then last week, he said, “I look to the right because it’s the only way I can concentrate. Looking at you distracts me.” Of course! I got it. I mean, I have to close my eyes when I go to live music. If my eyes are open, I look instead of listen. I got it.

Sight, when  you think about it, sits on the other senses like an older brother, like a bully. And nobody likes a bully.

I did celebrate our growth after this honest communication. I did.

But I rued that it took 35 years to get to the truth.

Sometimes when we were in the cubby, my husband would leer and whisper nasty things about what he wanted to do later. It was usually out of nowhere. And I always felt like a child and giggled childishly, often spitting out gluten-free pasta.

Then I’d go home and start searching for my playful libido again. “It has to be here somewhere,” I’d say and start retracing my steps. I miss this.

And by the way, this is a Tuesday poem. It’s a little embarrassed, as if having left its panties in the bathroom by mistake at a friend’s house right before her father went into the bathroom to take a shower.

These are the panties.


Leanne in LeiLeanne Grabel, MEd, is a writer, illustrator, performer & retired special education teacher. Grabel is the 2020 recipient of Soapstone’s Bread and Roses Award for contributions to women’s literature in the Pacific Northwest. Grabel teaches graphic flash memoir to adults in arts and senior centers throughout the Pacific Northwest. In love with mixing genres, she has written and produced numerous spoken-word multi-media shows, including The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression, and Anger: The Musical. Her poetry books include Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Short Poems by a Short Person; Badgirls (a collection of flash non-fiction & a theater piece); and Gold Shoes, a collection of graphic prose poems. Grabel has just completed Tainted Illustrated, an illustrated stretched memoir, which is being serialized in the OPIATE. She and her husband Steve Sander are the founders of Café Lena, Portland’s legendary poetry hub of the ’90s. ACM publishes Grabel’s work the second Thursday of the month.