Friday, October 29, 2010

The Doctor

He rolls my sleeve up,
his face dour and downcast.

He tells me all about his money problems.
How patients never pay on time
and how he’s always behind the bills

The worst thing I did, he tells me, is start my own practice.

He runs his hand through his hair
and then uses them to pull my shirt away
and slide the stethoscope across my chest.

He asks me what I do for a living
and I tell him.
He nods. That’s good, he says.
You’ll always have a job.

Which makes me laugh.

At least you aren’t a doctor, he tells me.
Big mistake.

He puts the needle in my arm
and I watch my blood fill the vile
slowly at first,
and then gushing
so fast I think it will go everywhere,
fill this room, drown us both.

At the end of the appointment,
he puts out his hand and I take it.
He pulls me toward him, hugs me.
He holds on tight and says,
Take care of yourself. Please.

After, I think, what are we looking for?
What right do we have to be happy
after everything we have done
and with
and mostly, to each other?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Returning Your Things

He told me I was terrible at washing dishes,
held the fork up towards the dirty window.
See the egg, he said showing me the residue
painted on the tines.

I had to rewash them all, he says.
I don’t say anything
because last night

he talked about his ex-girlfriend
for so long he started to cry.

He told me how they were going to get married
and she packed up one day
while he was in class
and disappeared.

He suspects it was Arizona she went to,
and tells me when we graduate, we can go there too.

He pulls me close to him at night
just to have something to push away in the morning.

Later, I will come by when he is in class.
And leave his t-shirt with this roommate.

He’s just messed up, the roommate tells me.
I nod and hand over his things, wanting
to be anywhere but in this dirty hallway.

The living room is filled with
the blue grey light of the television,
that most unnatural light,
and it casts the roommate in silhouette.

You should have said yes when I asked you out, he tells me,
taking the t-shirt.
I can make you happy, he says.
He takes my hand,
rubs the inside of my wrist,
like a beloved pet
and puts it on his hard cock,

Come inside, he says.
Please! and then my name,
And then,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Power of Names

There is too much power in names, I think.

There is a change the moment the word
shakes loose like a rainstorm,
from your mouth.

Like when I was young and out
past the neighbor’s yard
farther into the woods.

There was broken light and the smell of wet damp leaves.
Dan was there, and we did not tread lightly, he and
my sister and I. We stomped through wet leaves,
wet leaves that belonged to us the way the world
belongs to the very young.
We sang loud,
keeping the darkness at bay.

The snake was there, heavy
and slick half its body under leaves.
We formed a wide semi-circle
as if coming in for the kill.

Dan held a stick.

I remember my fear.
Is it dead, my sister said.
No, Dan answered.
And we knew, at that moment, it was true.

We had to go forward, a sort of
manifest destiny of our woodland ownership,
the snake lying prostrate through the path,
tempting and begging.
We argued over who would go first.

And then there it was, like a bell,
like a salvation, my mother’s voice,
crossing the distance between my home
and this creature, cutting a swath through the air.

The sound of my name.

And I turned and ran, free.
This is the power of names.

But it works the other way too,
when we are older and I call your name,
the word coming together, shaking itself from me.
As you cross the street you
look back for a second.
And I say it again, desperate
and you nod a little but
you keep walking.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

These are the Things that Make a Nervous Breakdown

When I spotted the fly on my ham and cheese sandwich,
it already had one foot in the mustard.
He or she, I’m not sure,
but I jumped and waved it away.

Then when I picked up my glass,
my mouth still forming the words,
and lifted the glass to my lips,
there it was,

floating and dead,
in all that pale lemonade.

I scooped it out with a spoon,
dumped the dead fly down the sink.

and then poured the rest of the lemonade after it.

What? you asked,
Nothing. I said.
Just another thing.
Just another thing that can ruin a meal.

I stand at the sink
and listen to myself breathe,
a whistle sound, faint but there,
trailing the inhale
and trailing the exhale.
Trailing again.

I look down at my unpainted toes,
and they stare back up at me, like ten strange eyes.
For a moment, I wonder who they belong to.
They seem too far away to be my own feet
and just like that everything starts to come undone.
It will take awhile. It won’t fully happen until much later that night.
But this is where it began.
When it ends,
it ends,
I will remember that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dear Hank

I know we don’t talk much
and I tease my husband about you
and I hate that scene in the documentary
when you are so mean to Linda

But I just wanted to let you know,
the kids, they are still listening.
They still like your bluebird.
They read you online now,
they leave comments in 2010
about how much you mean to them.
See people don’t really talk these days,
everything is left online with horrible
spelling which, you might have liked, after all.
There are more little zines now, you
would have been an even bigger king now,
but still, what I’m saying is
they find you everywhere
and they too have a bluebird
like you had a bluebird
but they came too late
didn’t they?

All the same, I thought
you might like to know,
that even though
that typer has been quiet
for over a decade,
we still hear that whiny voice,
we still see those words.
It’s all still there,
right where you left it,
when you moved from
Hollywood and Western
down to San Pedro
to try to die in peace.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Interview

So both you and your husband get up at 5 o’clock in the morning? he says.
And what do you do?
What do you write?
Stories, poems, fiction,
failed novels.
What does he write?
Stories, poems, fiction,
failed novels.
Both of you? Every morning?
Yes. But no, we try for four out of five.
So you are exactly the same, he says.
You both get up, you keep the same schedule,
you write the same shit.
No, I say. We aren’t.
Well, what’s the difference? he says.

And I think about it.
He drinks coffee, I say.
And you don’t?
No, I hate that shit.
I drink tea.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hollywood Boulevard

Where are all the bars in this town, he asks me,
walking down Hollywood Boulevard.
Where are all the bars?

We pass the celebrity stars under our feet,
trod upon for fifty years.
Look, Rod Stewart, I say pointing.

I mean, he says, where do you go to get a drink?
Hank went to bars. Where are the bars?

Gone, I said, Just like Hank.
Look, I said, Marilyn Monroe.
And Chuck Jones.
And Bugs Bunny,
who is only a cartoon,
but then again, so are the rest of them.

This is one of the first times
we are off the highways,
off the 405 or the 101
or the 10 or the 110
or the other strips of concrete
that take you past,
not through,
this city.

Where can a man get a drink? he says.

Britney Spears, I said, and he snorts.
We get back to the lot and pull the car out,
the air warm, and smelling like pot.

We wait at the light and watch the people,
lined up across from the theatre, all the lights
and red carpets. They scream for another bald
actor who lifts his arm and waves limply.

And I wonder, where are all the bars in this town
as I wait and wait for what seems like forever
across from the throngs of fans, screaming
their cameras flashing and popping
and me, still waiting,
for the light to change.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Such a Good Day

It is not until later,
in San Diego,
that it started.

We found this great little joint,
called Star
and we sat with the black guys
and the Mexicans and listened to
No one bothered us.
We sat on the red leather seats,
our scotches in front of us.
We watched the Mexican bartender
laugh and dance and the old men laughed too.

When I got up to go to the bathroom
you said, Baby, be careful
and I said,
Careful? Baby, I’m home.
And this was the way it was.

But later that night,
I felt it along my back,
the creeping feeling.
You see, inside, there are tarantulas.
Things with hair and too many legs that are terrible all over.
They tumble inside me, falling and crawling over each other.
I carry them everywhere, even to the other side of the country.
And I just want them to be still.
You turn off the light,
and they scurry inside me,
their legs damp from the drink.
They hate the dark.
They want me to know that,
in this hotel room at night.
They want me to stay up with them.
And what choice do I have, really?
Even after such a good day,
when we found a good place for a drink
and a good meal
and had a good walk around by the water,
they are still there,
They chew on the inside of me with their fangs.
I want them to sleep but they won’t.
I beg them, to be still,
to be quiet.
To let me go, for just one night,
just one night
after such a good day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Searching for My Friends

We chase ghosts even when they only come
in the form of metal signs bolted to poles
in downtown LA.
We drive around and around, changing lanes,
trying to find a place to park
so that you can run out and take a picture
of John Fante Square,
in the last vestiges of Bunker Hill.

We chase ghosts, even when they are only
stones in the ground.
Our hands placed upon the grave,
the marker that said, there once was a man
who didn’t try,
who lived a life,
who wrote a life,
and we think
because we read his words that we
knew him too or hope we did
or think we do or hope we have
the kind of life that is really lived.

We chase ghosts,
slowing down on the sidewalk
to pass houses everyone else passes
every day without notice.
Old houses, stone houses, wood houses,
Stained with wind and dirt and new paint.
Hung with ugly decorations now.
They are our churches.
They held the lives of these people,
these people we think we knew,
or we hope we might have known
if fate had been a little less cruel with her timing.

We chase ghosts and take pictures,
of places they have just left,
spaces they once occupied,
when all they left behind are the ideas,
the words, the work.
No one likes these pictures,
“What is with all the houses?
What is with all the graves?”
They ask but they don’t understand.

Ghost chasing his hard work.
These people are real to me, you see,
more real than the people around me,
more real than people I have known
my whole life,
more real than the beggars and the millionaires
and the cops and the old ladies that
build this city.
These people, these dead people,
who still talk to me, who feel as though
they just stepped away for another six pack at the store
and will be back if you just wait, for a moment
on the couch on their front porch,
these people, you see,
they are my only real friends.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Take Off

They are changing my father’s pills.
This is the way the days are marked.
Sometimes, it is the only way I have
to count the heavy march of time,
Except for when I count it by take offs and landings
that I have survived,
the plane heaving all that weight upwards,
as if it were nothing
and not the miracle it is every day.

We measure time this way,
between the trips, the sickness,
the days that start with work
or a fight,
or by sleeping in.
We trod along, we hurt each other
without even knowing.

Some bury. Some birth.
Some pass their old loves
on street corners and look the other way,
breath caught for just a single moment,
tender remembrance and then the quick release of shame.
It is painful to be so close to another person.

We open and close our mouths,
the sound tumbling out. I watch out for snails
on my walks and hold my breath to keep all the planes in the air.

It is all too pointless and sad, I think,
these lives and deaths,
the cold coming still.
I pull the covers around me,
push up against you, the smell of your skin in the morning,
the sleep noises you make, and I wait and wait for the dawn.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Something is wrong, he says.
Something is wrong.

He goes to take off his seatbelt.
Stop, I tell him my hand on his. Everything is fine.
It’s just dark out.

The plane starts to shake.
Something is wrong, he says
and I see in his eyes that he believes it.

This is me, I think watching him. This is what I do.
This is what I usually say.
This is me and this time, I am him.

Later on the ground, waiting for the car,
he apologized.
I don’t know what happened, he said.
There was just so much water
and it took so long to land.

He is embarrassed.
It’s okay, I tell him.
Softer than I said it on the plane,
when I nearly shouted it.
As if shouting it would make it true.
It’s okay.

I don’t know what happened, he says again,
his fingers going through his long hair.
I watch him shift his weight and look down the road.
I don’t know, he says again, not even to me.
But I do.
I know exactly what happened.