Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sexual Deviance

He comes up to the second floor,
all whispers and muttering.
He’s sick, we all now that.

But he’s suddenly noticed me
even though I have been here for years.
He wants to know about Sexual Deviance.
Masturbation. Addiction.
He has skin mags in his pockets.
He shows me the photos.

“Is it pornography or art?”
he asks himself. I don’t answer.
I tell him to put that away.
I find the article he wants and print it out.

I stand there tight lipped and tell him,
it was time to go downstairs. The kids will be here soon.
Go downstairs.

He obliges, steps back like I might hurt him.
Then he goes to grab my arm,
he wants to know if the bracelet is for prayer
and what the tattoo means. He is muttering to himself,
telling himself, that it’s okay that he doesn’t know.

He wants to know how he can find out.
He says he should know. But how? He keeps repeating this.
I point at the elevator.
He goes downstairs.

They tell me I’m good with him.
Cause he’s like a child.
And I’m good with children.
When am I going to have children? they ask.

I sit there, noticing my hands shaking
and think to myself,
if one more person asks me that,
I’m going to throw up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

These Kinds of Stories

The setting was the R train.
Well really the platform beforehand
but mostly on the train.

These are the things that happen when you aren’t around.

I have music on. New music that sounds like the old music
I used to listen to when I was younger.
And he starts talking to me. I can see him out of the corner of my eye.

The train doors have closed. I realize I should have sat down.
He was staring on the platform too. Like he doesn’t need to blink.

He wants to know what time it is.
I pull out my watch and tell him.
I go to put the earplugs back in but he starts talking.

I listen to my music coming out of them,
sounding high pitched and tinny and far away.
Like warm rain falling on metal.

He tells me that he lost his phone.
He might be late for work.
He speaks so softly I can barely hear him.

I nod. Bring the headphones close to my ear again.
But he’s still talking and I’m afraid of being rude.
He puts his hand up. He doesn’t touch me.
Not yet.

He asks me if I ever noticed that sometimes there isn’t enough time
I ask him if he ever noticed that there is too much time.
He says he doesn’t understand. How can there be too much time?
I bring the headphones back up to my ear.
A new song has started. I can hear that.
But he touches me.

Grabs my arm.
And I shake him off.
I tell him not to touch me.
He says something really quietly.
I wonder if it was an apology.

And I think to myself. This is what always happens when you aren’t around.
And you always wonder why.
And it makes me laugh. I know you could snap this guy in half.
I want to tell him that.

The guy across from me is watching this play out.
But he isn’t going to do anything.
He’s already made that decision.
I hate him for it. What a coward, I think.

I put my headphones on and turn my face away.
The guy walks by me, stops so he is right in front of me.
So I can’t ignore him if I tried.
Then he heads down the train. Takes a seat.

He gets off the stop before me.
And I feel bad.
Because that is the way these scenarios go.
Maybe he just wanted to talk about time.
Maybe he was just making conversation with a girl on the train.

I tell you this story later, and I watch your jaw tighten.
You ask again why this always happens when you aren’t around. It makes you mad.
You tell me if I ever see him again on the train, to point him out. I nod.
I think of the guy in the seat, the one who watched and didn’t say anything.

Why, you ask to no one.
Because you weren’t around, I tell you.
Because my friend got grabbed while jogging.
Because that is what happens all over this city, when people aren’t watching.
There are these kinds of stories everywhere, collected by the masses.
Some end like mine, some end badly.
But they all happen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Falling Down

I made a promise,
that I would stop thinking of my life
as a holding pattern
between good news and bad news
or lately, being bad news and worse news.
And I will live in the moment for what it is. Not what I hope will come.

And I’m trying.
But it’s not easy on a Sunday night,
when you have left the room,

because of the neighbor’s television

and I’ve given up
rather dramatically

and listen to the mumble through the wall,
knowing she is old
and probably going deaf,
and how little compassion I really have. And how terrible that makes me.

I tell you later, in bed,
that this year has started out pretty bad.
Sad and frustrating, I describe it.
And the writing, which is all I’ve got most days,
is letting me down.

And you agree and we lay in bed,
not touching, staring at the ceiling
and I realize I probably lied.

Places can turn their back on you. Just like a person can.
It’s then when you realize that the foundation is bad
and rotting, that termites have fed through the ground
and you can see how the whole thing will look
when that last plank snaps and it falls like a dying thing.

I realize over and over again, with horror,
that there is no guarantee that any of this will work out.

And now, I don’t think I can live in this moment for very long.
I don’t think anyone should.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Queen's Girl

I keep writing the date backwards
so that I am skipping seven
or eight or nine years into the future.

If I could peel back the veil
I wonder what I would see
though at this point, I don’t think I should dare it.
I know better than to ask to see what I don’t understand.

Queen Elizabeth did these sorts of things.
She kept John Dee at her side,
to throw bones, and see past her own time
and it changed everything.

She saw herself tried and hung for treason,
for infidelity,
for being barren.
For childlessness.
For witchcraft.
For being an unmarried Woman.

Dee consulted every book he had in his library
of the Unwritten Stories
but they couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
So they took off the Queen’s corset and bra and panties
and dressed them on another woman
and they sent her out there to have that future

And Elizabeth led the Golden Age.
She was a magnificent Queen.

The other woman, she was hung
and quartered. Her head was spiked
not on London Bridge like the others
but on the Tower Wall,
so Elizabeth could see her own face, her other life, rotting out there.
The eyes, for as long as they lasted against the ravens,
stared right at the Queen’s window, still in shock to find herself
dressed in the Queens clothes and beheaded.

These are warnings. History is littered with them.
For the sake of your own eyes,
pay attention.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

House of Cards

-for Stephanie and Ed and their firstborn

I’m gathering the stories
like playing cards,
stacked up high,
others laid out by suit,
the one-eyed jack and the false king, side by side.

They are the stories I will tell you,
when you are born
and old enough to understand stories,

of family, and dark spaces,
of jealous kings, and what lurks under bridges,
of tracks traced in the snow, secret rings,
and sleeping women who don’t wake up.

And these stories will belong to you,
and you will carry them with you,
in the space that we all have in our ribcages,
where we keep the stories,

and if you are lucky,
you will remember them
as I have.
And they will feed you,
as they have fed me.

And you will stand at a street corner one day,
waiting for the bus,
a ticket clenched tight in your hand,
your coat in the other,
and you will wonder about these stories
why they were so fascinating
but you will also know, deep down inside,
a truth you aren’t able to say aloud.

And we will all be gone.
You will be older then, older than any of us are now,
and you will board the bus and the doors will hiss closed behind you,
and it will lurch forward
down a road you have always avoided
but are now, as ready as you will ever be to travel.

You will think they are your stories,
but in time you will realize it is what kept you alive.
I thought that too, in the days before you were named, but
they do not belong to anyone, these stories,
we belong to them.

You will take a seat on the bus, next to no one.
Your lips will move as if you are praying,
the machine will rattle forward and at that single moment
the story will start all over again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


“Can I call you back, hon,
I’m on the phone with your sister.”

He sounded funny.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” I said.

And he said, “I’ll call you back.”

I can hear my mother in the background
just barely over my thumping heart in my ears.
I watch my husband stand over me,
his arms crossed over his chest. His face tight.

How many times have we been here?
With bad news shuttled over a phone line between
the crackle and heat of the cell.
I am terrible at math but I calculate the chances
of more cancer. My mind races to remember
what the last scan said.

It spread, a voice in my head says. It’s happening again.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” I ask again, this time yelling,
as if deafness were the problem.

“I’m on the phone with your sister,” he says again,
also as if deafness were the problem.
He stutters just a bit when he says, “I’ll call you back.”

I hear my heart.
I hear my mother’s tiny voice.
I watch my husband.
I can not wait.

The record skips.
It happens all over again.
A part of my brain tells me,
this is Hell. This moment before knowing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Drowning

She was right, you know,
it is about getting through the time
in between time. That is the hard part.

That is the knife against bone part.
The chipping away at the clock.
Filling the moments late at night
and in early mornings,
through mid afternoon cups of tea.
And pulling, always pulling
apart everything that came before
and everything that isn’t coming yet.

It is a mess of journals,
tattered pages, shaky script
bleeding ink.
It is music, the same songs on repeat.
It is disease and infection,
vomiting and the harpy cry of sirens.
It is flights that will take you far from here.

It is not forgiveness, as they tell you,
it is not what the judges decree,
or the bartender offers
or the lover promises
or the priest can give you.

It is about the waiting,
for the next. For the good small thing.
It is filling in the blank spaces.
biting off all the fingernails
and not thinking about you.
And where you have gone.

It is a cabin in the woods,
stone, cobbled together roughly,
a door like an open mouth,
the wind like a scream past the windows.
It is a home. You see that now.
It is not the place you thought
it was when you were a child
and scared.

You are too grown now.
But still young enough to find the place
And you know how a drowning distorts the body.

Friday, January 8, 2010

There is Music, There is Beer

It all happened while I was waiting for you
and you were late
later than usual and I was trying not to worry.
The book in my hand,
the jukebox playing Lou Reed softly,
the drunk Russian next to me,
the sweating beer on the bar,
nearly finished.

The bartender asked me if I wanted another,
but he knows I am waiting for you,
so I glance at the door again cause you have never
been this late.
But I’m trying not to worry, see.

And I sneezed, as I often do
and a chorus of “bless you” and “Gesundheit”
echoed down the bar to me. It’s that sort of place.

And the Russian next to me says, “This is life.”
Almost to himself so I figure it was a proclamation.
A Fact. Yes, this is Life.
But he taps his index finger hard on the bar, next to my book
and says it again. He expects an answer, so I say

Because my wit is low these days.

And he sighs. I go back to my book and read.
The Russian stares at my breasts and occasionally shakes his head
like he’s dismissing a dangerous or ridiculous thought.

I don’t say anything.
This is before he gets loud. Cursing this country and his ex-wife.
This is before he wants to know why I fiddle with my hair when I read.
This is before he badgers me about my pocketwatch.
Before he wants to know if I have somewhere so important to go that
I can’t listen to an old man. He opens and closes his mouth
showing sharp yellow teeth. Like a badger.
This is before I tell him I am worried.
That I am on that edge where my brain is finding horrible things that could be keeping
you from being here tonight, where you are supposed to be because
it is Wednesday night and this is where we meet. Always.

This is way before you finally show up, angry and pale and throw down your bag.

This is before all of this.
Right now, He is just an old man.
And I am a woman.
There is music.
There is beer.
This is Life.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I have these lists that I have kept scrawled in journals
tucked in boxes, packed away under beds,
carved into the bathroom walls of apartments I no longer live in.
Left like little breadcrumbs to find me.

This is an undoing, this infernal upkeep
promises made to myself about the bone throwers
the open graves, the cold sheets, the flicker of the movie screen
behind my eyelids, the scratching and twitching, your nails on the window,
all the unrelenting questions from your ghost, but this year, I have had enough.

Maybe this will be the year of my undoing. My decaying.
After all it is January and we have started this cycle all over again.

I’m tired of all the waiting, you see.

So if anyone needs me, I’ll be outside, up on the roof of the building,
laying in the blanket of ice and snow, my hair dangling over the edge,
watching it grow long enough so that I can climb back down
and by then, you will all be gone and the spaces you occupied,
will be empty vacuums and in there and only there, I can get some sleep.