Wednesday, June 30, 2010

American Town

She is wearing glasses.
That is probably the first problem.
She also didn’t put her hair up.
No one wins Ms. Small Town America
without putting their long naturally wavy hair up.

They only ask the contestants two questions.
I tell my husband that I want one of them to stand up
and scream that it is 2010 and maybe we can stop
subjecting young girls to this kind of judgment
but I know even before the woman in front of me
shoots me a dirty look
that I’m talking to myself.

The blonde down the row will win.
She’s in a short blue dress. When the judges ask her
why she wants to be Ms. Small Town America
she talks about loving her town.
Her sweet little town.
Everyone cheered.
She’s going to win.

My girl doesn’t mention that.
She pushes her glasses up her nose.
She sniffs into the microphone.
And I think to myself,
Don’t worry girl.
You’ll be a poet one day.
And you’ll leave all this behind.
You’ll read Dorothy Parker and laugh.
You’ll find your way to Boston
and then farther on a plane to Istanbul.

You’ll never forget this moment,
when you don’t win,
but it will start to fade, like the tattoo
you’ll stamp on your lower back in five years
before you hitchhike out of this American town

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Water, Tons of It

The ice cubes don’t last long in the glasses.
I miss the sound of their clinking.
We keep the beers in the freezer and the
radio and television off.
We can’t hear it over the fans
which growl from the floor,
shaking in their fury to turn
casting about the tufts of fur
from the dying cats.
I’m trying, they seem to say.
We’re trying, but their little engine isn’t enough.
Dinners go unfinished.
This is like a mourning stage.
We talk about highs and lows
like diastolic and systolic readings.

This organism is weak.
I just want the moon to come up
to shine big and white
as if she could undo the heat of the sun
that never wants to set on time.
I want water,
tons of it,
till my heart floats,
till the gills grow
and my fingers prune and flipper.
I want to swim till I remember
where we came from
and wonder why we ever left
this cool abyss for that bleached sand.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Lake

You could be happy here,
or in a place like this, she tells me,
dipping her leg over the edge of the boat
her red toes flicking the water
as we bob past a little island of algae.
Their fronds wave little hellos and goodbyes
their tops just break the water
as a warning of what lies below.

I know, I tell her,
squinting in the sun to watch my husband
and his brother,
dive under water
and then come up,
shake their heads,
the drops of water flying.
They laugh
at something they both remember
or at nothing,
for no reason other than to laugh
and dive back down again.
Over and over again,
The water both warm and cool
and welcoming like coming back after a lifetime
of walking sun bleached land

Christ, do I know.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About The End

It goes in different directions. I try to stay away from the panic.
I think about Juneau. Or islands out there in the middle of the ocean.

I complain about New York City grocery stores and the weather.
We compare the places we have lived. But I don’t want to go back.
I want to go forward. Somewhere new.

This is what this time has been like. It is a vacuum. A non-space.
I don’t live here, no one lives here. Here we just wait.

We talk about selling off all our belongings. Leaving the apartment.
Storing the little that mattered. And walking. South first, then west.

Walking across America to see what there is left to see before the oceans become toxic and the people have all closed up and left for higher ground.

Just walking till we reached another land, another option. A place where the sand
feels like sand and not like the glass it is already trying so hard to be.

Then the cats meow. They curl around my feet and cry in the heat, so full of need.
And I worry we can’t go. We have so little but right now it seems we have taken on too much, the way a ship takes on water.

So then we talk about other things. Bluffing. Poker. We talk about chess and pawns.
Metamorphosis. We talk and talk to fill the hours before we know.

It is the universe, I tell you, telling us to move on. We talk about “better.” We use that word. You nod and sip your drink. We don’t talk about Europe. That part is too hard.

This is what we talk about when we talk about the end.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New York Grocery Stores

The girl tells me aisle four.
But it’s not in aisle four.
I’ve walked up and down aisle four
so many times, I feel like a soldier
defending her home. There is bleach.
There are paper towels and baggies.

There are pads.
But no tampons.

I try the next store.
And the one after that.

This is grocery shopping in New York City,
for those of you still wearing your patriotic 9/11 glasses
with the rosy tint of a clean Times Square.
This is my day to day.

So I settle for the bodega.
They have shelves that stretch to the ceiling.
I see one box up there. One old dusty box
that was probably the first box of tampons ever made
and think, fuck it, I’ll take what I can get.

I ask her. She climbs onto a cooler
but she can’t reach.

Let me get my boyfriend, she says.
He can’t reach either.
He gets his friend.

We are now, all four of us, crammed in this little store,
The friend uses a stick to knock things down.

This one, he says, as a packet of Stayfresh fall to the ground with a poof.
No, the tampax.
This one, as a box labeled “super” fall with a thud.
No, just the regular, I say. Just a regular sized girl here.
Which one? the friend asks.
The girl points to the regular. She’s trying to help.

This just keeps going on. Eventually they knock down the right one.
They go back outside to talk about basketball.
I pay and leave, not making eye contact.
There is still the wine store
where I will get ripped off.
I will come home, sweating in this rancid heat,
strip down and climb into a cold shower.

I will tell you we are moving.
I will tell you I hate this damn city.
You will apologize over the sound of the water,
pooling in the tub,

but right now,
I’m still on the street, in ninety degree heat
staring at the next block, which now has a chain
pharmacy store that I swear wasn’t there yesterday
Inside the cool air conditioning,
somewhere near an aisle four, I know there are
rows and rows of regular tampons
lined up like little soldiers ready to battle my period
and I think to myself,
after all that,
Doesn’t that fucking figure?

Monday, June 21, 2010


In the waning hours of spring,
the dj tells me that in Helsinki
the sun rose at 4:51 am
and won’t set again
till nearly midnight

on this, the solstice.
A day like that can never feel normal,
it could never be born and die,
like other days,
like this morning, your naked skin
cool against mine,
when you woke me,
with your body pressed to mine
full of need

in these death throws of a season.
No, there would be too many hours to fill.
Too many screaming hours,
full of minutes and seconds,
where the sun refuses to go down
and the cool relief of evening
when the light fades out
and you can finally,
after all this time,
stop shielding your eyes,
and remember that night is real
and not just something
you remembered from a dream.

I would go mad, I think
in a day like that,
but I would take a night that didn’t end.
The thought makes my knees go a little weak,
and I am back there and 14,
and waiting on the side of the lake,
for my chance to fall from the rope
from the black sky
through the black space
into all that black water.
Over and over again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bus Stop

They are waiting at the bus stop
two boys and a girl
and previously they were screaming,
racing back and forth between traffic
as if daring death was the best they could come up with
on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.

That is true youth, when even the ultimate stop
is still a flexible, tenuous boy muscle.

Now they are laughing
using that language we all once knew
but got to old to speak, their hands cupping their mouths,
their laugh like a donkey bray.

The old woman next to me, shakes her head.
She clicks her tongue with disgust
at the girls, in her too tight shirts
stretched over fat. She straightens her collar
in case no one noticed.

Pathetic, she said,
her white hair knotted tight except for one piece.
I wondered about the tendril that slipped lose
the untamable part of her
and floated up like a sea creature
each time a bus,
that none of us wanted, roared by.

Gross, she muttered again,
this time at the fat girl’s friend,
a Hispanic boy with tight jeans
and a lisp and limp and a fat lip
and everything he’ll ever love
stamped across his chest.

As I waited for you,
for that bus carrying you, to roll around the corner,
I felt the death of mothers and fathers
the ache and the pull and the tear
of a billion atoms splitting apart.
The sound stretching past where sound can go.

When did we all become so lonely?
When did we all strive to be in a world where others are not?
Did we work for this the way farmers tended the soil?
Was our skin so fertile that it grew there
like a fern, the big shaded fronds
of lonesomeness.
It has gone down our throats,
and coated our bellies
and now it is our only food.

Monday, June 14, 2010


-“for god’s sake look after our people”
Captain Robert Scott’s last journal entry

It’ll come to me, I said, when I’m not trying to think about it.
You nod, take a drink of your beer.
Don’t think about it, you tell me.

But I can’t. It’s right there, on the tip of my tongue.
Marcus? I say
but we both know that isn’t right.

We had spent the day in the city,
the first day off of work in what seemed like forever.
At the subway station we saw the ad for the Robert Scott exhibition.

I have a thing for explorers.
Scott didn’t make it.
Amundsen did. But he also ate his dogs as he went along.
For whatever that is worth.

There is a hard sound in it, you tell me.
I look around the bar,
watching people sit side by side, not speaking
their frantic thumbs thumbing flat screens.

We should ask someone to look it up for us, I say.
No, you say defiantly.
We’ll remember. Think about the book.

I know what book you mean. Scott’s partner,
the name we can’t think of, was a character in it.

Jake? I offer but we both shake our heads
knowing that isn’t right.

Things I know:
He knew he was dying.
He crawled away into the blinding darkness of all that snow.
He though Scott was crazy

Maybe I’m wrong about the last one.
We try to talk about other things.
We finish our beers and head out into the night.

On the train,
you say, “Titan”
and I spring up, nearly scream it,
Titus. Titus. His name was Titus. Captain Titus Oates.
You tell me we don’t need “no stinkin’ internet.”
And I can’t stop smiling.
Titus. Captain Titus Oates who’s last words to his team
were “I’m just going outside and I may be awhile” and
then he vanished in the blinding snow
or the blinding sun, either,
on that frozen wasteland.

But here, Captain,
Oh, here on this train,
without everyone’s favorite little gadget
that keeps making us stupider,
I remembered your name.

I remembered that later after you died, Scott, curled up in his sleeping bag,
next to the last two men, and they found them this way
eight months later.

Some facts can not, should not, be forgotten.
They should not be little passing interests,
another disposable piece of information
in this already too disposable culture.
They should be remembered,
frozen in your head for good,
like those men in the ice,
waiting on death or
infamy whichever came first.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Inspiration Arrives on a Hot Summer Night

I keep having these little fits these days,
usually at night.
It starts off with confessions of depression,
self diagnosed, of course
and proceeds to little tears.

And I feel terrible about it because
I watch you trying to make right what you can’t
make right.
What no one can make right.

You say good things.
You remind me that we aren’t a part of this whole system.

You talk to me about how when it’s all over
we’ll go travel the country, on foot.
We’ll walk through the Appalachians.
And what it will be like to come up on New Orleans over that long bridge.

I talk about Slab City like we are already citizens.
And this all makes us feel better.

And in the end you pull out that scene
where the old boxer tells his kid
that nothing hits harder than life.
You say this is the ‘big guns”
And we laugh and again I cry

and this time
because sometimes you need a better excuse
than weakness
and fear
and anger
something better than envy, even
we decide to blame
it on my period that won’t seem to show up.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making a Case for Envy

I heard somewhere that the punishment
in Hell
for Envy, is that you’ll be put a vat of freezing water
which right now,
in this hell that is my apartment,
on the 10th sweltering day in a row
with the sweat rolling down my back
and the skin on my legs itching.
and the couch feeling like a volcano
the wine and the water won’t stay cold
and now, a vat of freezing water
doesn’t seem so bad.

We have stopped talking for a moment
because I need a moment to breathe.
I have gone point by point through my life
and tallied up the things I don’t have.
I can feel the anger inside,
yet another sin. The punishment for that is dismemberment.

I try to keep track of these things just in case the church was right
though they all strike me as rather uncreative.

And I can’t help but wonder what the Devil
is getting off on. The destruction of the body or the soul?

But first there is envy, the green dog,
as I tally my misfortunes and the success of others.
Envy is linked to the moon, a known jealous lover.
A woman.

Envy is the opposite of charity, the wanting instead of the giving,
the need, the passion,
the thing that drives you, away from slothfulness,
yet another sin
and towards obtainment, probably soon to be a sin or at least close
enough to Pride, another sin.

I think about influence and drive.
I think about having and needing
and this morning, the whirl of the fans
the darkness of the room,
your mouth on my skin
and your cock in my hand
and I wonder what is so bad about wanting, after all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I see him on 3rd Avenue
on my way to buy beers
even though we said the wine was it.

He’s talking to his kid.
We don’t really talk
outside of the joint,
but I stop.
I say hi to him and his kid.
The kid, reluctantly, slaps me five.

He says he’s sorry about the other night.
About his behavior
And I tell him it was cool.
It wasn’t his fault,
that he slammed down his beer
and yelled that he just wanted one hour.
One hour.
Where no one was nagging him,
where things could just be cool.
One hour a day. That’s all he had.
He kept saying that part over again.
That was all he had.
Godamnit. One Hour.

And I understood. Cause sometimes,
that’s all we ever got.
Sometimes we got even less than that.

I told him not to worry about it.
He was right. Things were messed up in there.
That couple wouldn’t stop fighting.
Lately they were both always drunk
and ruining the vibe
and I want to tell him after he left that night
it only got worse.
I want to tell him next time,
come sit down on the other end of the bar with
my husband and I.
We’ll ignore all their bullshit.
We’ll talk about music and books like we do sometimes.
You’ll lend me a new novel
one that I would have never read
and my husband will burn you a couple cds.
It’s nice that way.
We’ll play songs on the jukebox and drum on the bar
You’ll buy us an beer and then we’ll return the favor.
We’ll stay away from the toxic.
Some people don’t know how to act.
They have no discretion.

But I don’t say any of this.
I just keep telling him it wasn’t his fault.
He tells his kid to say goodbye
and the kid does with a limp little wave,
squinting in the light.
As we go to leave
I turn back and say, “It’s just getting so fucked up in there,”
and I cringe.
I shouldn’t have said that.
I shouldn’t have mentioned it again.
I shouldn’t have talked about that whole other life
and those people and how sick and informal it’s all gotten
like we are all officers on a sinking ship.
But most of all
I shouldn’t have said fuck in front of his kid
and on my way to buy beers,
I think
what the hell do I know about discretion?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


All month we talked,
our heads pressed together in the heat of nights,
our hands gripping sweaty beer bottles in twilight
of waning days,
toes rubbing the back of calves in early morning light,
the talk then, just a murmur.
We told stories.
We answered questions.
We stepped all over each others sentences
- little bread crumb trails that we have spit
out and scatter with our sneakers–
we talk and talk, loud over the radio,
softly over the downy sun scented hair of the baby.

We talk.
We start at the beginning and if we get to the end
we start over again,
but usually someone comes along and we switch gears
like travelers pulling to the side of the road to switch drivers,
stopping for a stretch, our backs sweat soaked in this desert of language.

Sometimes we laughed.
Sometimes the words stuck like hard little triangles
in my throat and they didn’t want to come out.
Sometimes we had to type them out.
We talked through windows, the mesh pressed against your nose
and then over the food that was brought out in trays.
Over the wine, the beer, the water,
the gentle snore of a dozing grandfather.

We talked,
as if the words were bricks and we were building a fortress,
a wall, and a tomb, all at once
and nothing was going to change.
We could stay there forever
and later eat the words, and finally
die there.