Benedictions & Maledictions

Archived Poetry 

Michelle Brooks                                                                    www.michellespells.blogspot.com     

First published in Cold Mountain Review:

A Hotel Room in Baton Rouge

On the connecting flight from Dallas to Detroit, a
    woman with no teeth leaned close
and said, “I’m leaving this goddamn place. I’ve had it
   with my husband.” I nodded,
unable to think of one thing to say, wishing I’d had that
   fourth drink
at the Tex-Mex restaurant off the interstate where an
   hour earlier I’d sat
with my best friend who caught me up on the latest. In
   a hotel room in Baton Rouge, her
boyfriend broke down, crying because he couldn’t say “I
   love you.” “I remember
how excited he used to get. Why does it always go?” she
   asked, separating
my hair into three parts for a braid. I nodded then too,
   drunk, not saying anything.
“I can’t find what I’m looking for,” she said, rummaging
   around her purse before
pulling out a rubber band and tying up the loose ends
   before letting me go.

Starting to sober up on the plane, I lamented not having
   a window
seat, being trapped in the middle. The woman looked at
   my bare

hands and sighed. “You’re so lucky,” she said. I didn’t
   volunteer
anything about my own situation, which required me to
   fly back
and forth in long distance limbo, high phone bills, long
   nights waking
up wondering where I was and where I should be.
   “When it starts
you never know that it’s going to end like this,” she
   said. “He was my only one.”
I thought back to the first man I’d loved enough to
   suffer through a pap smear
in order to get on the pill, although he left me before I
   had the chance to take one.
Back then, even the scraping felt comfortable, something I
   was doing for love.                                                                       July 1, 2006 post

 

A List of Shit Not To Do

1. Clean your gun by sticking it in your mouth as people will whisper at the funeral, he wasn’t really cleaning his gun, you know.

2. Love more than one person.

3. Love anyone.

4. Pills on an empty stomach. At the funeral, people will whisper, she probably didn’t know how much she was taking.

5. Worry about everything.

6. Buy inspirational cards in pastel colors that talk of the futility of worrying. At the funeral, everyone will say, She was trying so hard to be positive. If there is a hell on earth, these people will read the personal notes you left in the cards. Be assured, there is a hell on earth.

7. Fantasize about your funeral. After all, you’re not getting an invitation, per se.

8. Clean your gun by sticking it in your mouth -- Oh, I already said that.              April 6, 2005 post

 

First published in bordersenses:

A Wife That Doesn’t Work

Here we are at the end of it -- this
is the part that often doesn’t go
well -- you know, the moment I
threaten to cut off your dick or kill
myself. So you have to be careful.
The tone is tricky. Too much sadness
and I’ll plead that we should be
together, that I could be your wife
that doesn’t work, the one who gave
up everything for you as well as she
can. Too little pain and I’ll feel
used, betrayed, and I could make my
presence known, the lump in her breast
that turns out to be malignant. You
and I have created kingdoms out
of the tiniest slivers of your life, and I
remember each generic hotel room, but
mostly I feel closest to you when you
are not with me. In those moments you
are the faintest hint of the moon instead
of a man in the shower, trying to erase me.
Marry me so I will not love you anymore.                         June 19, 2006 post

 

First published in Oberon:

Advent

How long until you don’t send a birthday card,
until you forget the date and think some time
in December, that month of such sweet
sadness that whispers to us of years past,
of hurried celebrations, the X in Christmas
when you’ve grown weary of spelling it out.
After all the presents have been revealed, what next?
You have been gone longer than you were around
and nothing changes, still the new year stretches
out like a question nobody wants to answer, all
champagne and streamers, the cheap party favors
that ruin easily and have to be cleaned up
the next morning, ordinary time slinking in,
making us wish for something to wish for again.             April 27, 2006 post

 

First published in Phoebe:

After Visiting Hours

A man with blood on his hands stares up
from a Shakespeare in the Park program
advertising MacBeth in the room where we kill
fime before ICU visiting hours. Next to us, a man holds the Times
and talks about his wife, how long it will take to reconstruct
her breasts. He says, “We’re talking veins and arteries. It’s not that easy.”

My sister and father engage him in conversation, but I haven’t washed my hair
in three days, and it’s starting to show. Yesterday, we were in this same
room waiting for news on my mother’s operation. “We couldn’t rebuild,”
her doctor said, a pretty blonde with a foreign last name. “Too much damage
from the radiation. But I think we got it all. No guarantees,
but things look good considering what we had to start.”
Fourteen hours after that day began, we returned to our cheap
hotel with the deathtrap elevator where we have open-ended reservations.

From the window, the entire medical district lights up with color
every night. When my father and I checked for messages,
two men worked the front desk and one motioned
to the newsman reporting twelve people dead from floods
in the Midwest, and the other man said, “What do you
expect? This is life; no one can stay forever.”

Now one day after, we can only go two at a time, so I stand
in the gleaming hallway until my father and sister come out.
You can only stay two minutes, but that’s long enough. After two,
I start to sob. My mother whispers, “If I knew how bad it was going to be,
I’d have never done it.” A nurse dressed in purple scrubs swabs her mouth with ice
and says, “She’ll be in her own room soon.” I wash my hands
with the anti-bacterial soap they make you use to leave the area under a sign
that lists the universal precautions, listening to noises and alarms
coming from distant places in the hospital that I’ve never seen.

After visiting hours, we eat dinner at a franchise
restaurant designed to simulate good times. I choke
down a bowl of baked potato soup while a family
walks in with two beautiful little girls and a boy with a blue
satchel, “Jonathan” stitched on the back in careful cursive.
Jonathan sits in a wheelchair, accompanied by a Hispanic woman who cuts
his salad into pieces and feeds him while the mother watches the World
Cup Soccer match on a big screen and the father talks to his girls about the shakes
they’ve ordered. “I’m just warning you,” says the youngest. “If I don’t like
this, I’m spitting it out.” At the end of the table, her brother eats without a word.    

                                                                                      July 27, 2006 post

 

First published in Quercus Review:

All We Know of Heaven

When you were here, it seemed enough.
Now are the days when every day is a death,
a reminder of all that is lost to us forever,
the black lights of grief, the punches that
did not telegraph themselves. Love breaks
your heart and is still not content. This is
all we know of heaven, that what we have
is never enough, that it has to be enough.                       May 8, 2006 post 

 

 Any Kind of Death

I’m ashamed of my teeth now --
they ache late into the night, have
trouble chewing big pieces of food.
Someday I might have to be identified
by these mangled friends like my
father was after his body was burned
beyond recognition. The coroner said,
teeth can survive any kind of death; it’s
life that ruins them. A man broke my
jaw many years ago and nothing was
ever the same. He’s probably choking
down his food just fine these days. Maybe
pieces get caught in his throat, send him
to slug down water, sputtering, I’m fine, I’ll
be okay in a minute
, to anyone who will listen.                                   May 2, 2006 post

 

First published in Gargoyle:

Anyone Could Do It

The phone rang, and she picked up her iron,
pressed it close to her face, the mistake
searing into her skin. Burns don’t heal
fast, the doctor told her. It didn’t. Worse,
having to explain all the time. Anyone
could do it and she had. Sometimes people
urged remedies to prevent scarring, for making
the skin smooth again, as if she’d picked
up a phone and asked them for their advice.                                     May 4, 2006 post

 

Anything You Want

A skinny man who had been dancing around without
a shirt in the back of the bar now shoves his way
into our conversation, now clothed, white t-shirt
hanging from his frame, wife by his side and starts
talking about baseball, his love for it and tears up
when he talks about the Detroit Tigers, God what
a wonderful town right now, do I understand what
he is saying and I nod while checking out the track
marks on his arms and his wife tells me that her
sister took her to Red Lobster and let her use $50
on her WIC card, saying get anything you want.
That's love, she says, and I smile and say, baseball
is emotional and Red Lobster is great, and anything
you want, well you can't beat that and then the game
comes on television and nobody says anything else,
it's the end of something, but what I don't know.                                    July 29, 2006 post   

 

Asshole of the Month

I never saw the famous cover itself,
only a picture of it covering the face
of a woman at a protest rally. Even
so, I could make out the beautiful
legs coming out of the meat grinder,
could read the quote -- Never again
will we hang a woman up like a piece
of meat
. The first Hustler I saw had
been discarded in the woods, not
something for show and tell at school,
but my friend and I knew it was something
boys liked, its pages stuck together after
a storm. We tried to open up the center-
fold, but all we managed to do was tear
the woman to soggy pieces, ruining something
forbidden and valuable or so we thought.                                        April 20, 2006 post

 

First published in Rainbow Curve:

At Night, Everything Is Quiet

Shorter, cooler days were on the way, but first
Vacation Bible School, with the songs about building
your house on sand and rock, the accompanying hand
gestures about the results of such a project. I knew
a woman who built her house on a nest of copperheads.
In the evenings when the snakes were at their thickest,
she’d sit on her porch with her dog and a hoe. When
the dog found a snake, she’d pick up the hoe and chop
the snake’s head off, their decapitated bodies littering
the yard. By dark, everything was quiet and we could
pretend we were anywhere. How can you live here?
I asked one day, my mother far enough away not to yell
at me for being rude. It’s not bad all the time, she said.
It would take too much energy for me to move. Years
later, I would understand how it was to build before
you knew what lurked beneath the structure, no hope
of fight or flight, just the paralysis that comes
from keeping the danger at bay, waiting for a time
when it seemed you’d chosen well, that your house
was firm, days short enough to pretend that night
was all there was, all there would ever be.                                            April 23, 2006 post

 

Published in Chaffin Review:

Attention

You want Dick Clark, I'll show you
Dick Clark, Leland said and dropped
his pants. We kids ran to the kitchen
where our ancient babysitter Betsy stirred
instant mashed potatoes and waited
for the bologna to fry and announce
itself with a flying saucer shape. Just
ignore him, she told us. He wants
attention. The Lawrence Welk showed
played in the other room, and Leland walked
out the front door into another Saturday
night, peeling away in Betsy's champagne-
colored Pinto. We sat for dinner and said
a prayer, hoping that Leland would not
return that night. I was seven, Jimmy Carter
was president. I didn't know anything about
the energy crisis or his brother Billy's troubles.
Life was simple. Then again, it wasn't.                                        April 5, 2006 post

 

First published in Out of Line:

Beauty and the Beast

You eat and think, I’m still hungry
even though you’ve finished your
plate. It takes twenty minutes
for the brain to register fullness so
you wait for a feeling that never comes.
You get ready to go out in a dress
that most others could only dream
of wearing, take to the streets, skin
as thin as a Chinese lantern, holding
the shadows that others cast. It is
not so difficult to be anything –
the beloved, the not-so-beloved,
the doctor who says, there’s nothing
more to be done. Love is a many
splendored thing, except when you’re
involved. One thing becomes another
without warning, and you are left
with the grade-school hearts fluttering,
mandatory Valentines from everyone,
most of which end up in the trash.                           April 26, 2006 post

 

 First appeared in Out of Line:

"From the bottom of a pool/fixed stars govern a life." Sylvia Plath

Bedtime Stories

Men hide under cars, slash a woman's
tendons so she can't run, my mother
said. These were the days of John Wayne
Gacy and Henry Lee Lucas, making
a person believe you had to have three
names to kill. Or maybe not. Consider
Ted Bundy. In a few years, my mother
told me, you will look exactly like all
those girls he killed. I had long black
hair, haunted brown eyes, the palest
complexion. We'd play a game before
bed -- What would you do if?, each
scenario with just enough opportunity
to escape if you were smart and quick,
the final question always being, Are
all your windows locked? The door?                          April 1, 2006 post

 

First published in Long Shot:

Can You See It?

“They’re everywhere,” my friend’s grandmother says,
standing on her tiptoes in the gleaming kitchen. “Rats.
Your mother doesn’t believe me.” She hugs her bony
arms to her chest, rocking back and forth. My friend
tells her she’s fine, but her grandmother looks up
and says, “You’re not. You’re really fat.” She looks
over at me and gives me the once over. “And you’re
too skinny. Are you sick or something?” I am,
but not in the way she thinks. She snaps back
into her world, where the rats are running all
over the floor. “Can you see it,” she says. “There’s
a big one behind the refrigerator.” For a moment,
I know what it’s like to be her, emaciated and crazy,
seen by everyone with pity and disbelief.                                                  July 17, 2006 post

 

First published in Madison Review:

Chiggers

All that August I had them,
insects burrowing deep into my legs.
I itched until I bled, nails digging
into tanned skin while my best friend
and I watched Nadia Comaneci score
perfect tens. We wanted to be
her, tumbling through the air without
a mistake. In the evenings, we’d practice
cartwheels outside her dad’s trailer, careful
not to stray too far because we’d been warned
that a woman had been gang raped four trailers over.
After second shift, her dad would pull up, yelling
at us to get inside, Johnny Cash blaring from his truck,
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on.
When he saw my sores, he painted them
with fingernail polish, telling me that the chiggers
would suffocate and die. I remember his touch,
killing what was living, leaving only scars
that would stand out in the sun when the light was right.                   May 9, 2006 post

 

First published in Staplegun:

Crush

My pool manager, Marshall, used to throw me in the deep
end as a sign of affection, no matter how much I tried to
get away. Twice my age, twice my weight, and half
my hair, he would yell – you be the victim today, kiddo –
and I would endure it because I liked him and his kids
who stayed with him in the summer as part of a new
divorce arrangement. One of his sons followed me
around my stations, his first crush, until Marshall
came up and put his arms around me, saying, "What
do you think? Could she be your new stepmom?"
His son looked as if he’d been thrown in the deep
end without expecting it, and I laughed, the choked
sound of someone who had been underwater too long.                 April 11, 2006 post

 

Damage Deposit

We are forced to give back all our keys, even
the ones we made ourselves, instructed to leave
as few traces as we can, although there are stains
that won’t come out from parties that didn’t want
to end, shadows of white where pictures hung. I fear
we won’t get anything back, that we have been here
too long. After we leave for the last time, I realize
that I didn’t make a final check and have left a chain
and some garnet stones in a bathroom cabinet, gifts
that I never got a chance to wear, wondering who
will find them, red against all the worn antiseptic
white, the only evidence that things were not always
the way we left them before shutting the door for the last time.     July 22, 2006 post

 

Day of the Dead

He left long after all the trick-or-treaters,
long after her neighbors have cleared out
because of the fire he pulled. Dressed as one
of New York's finest, she let him in, and he
filmed her in different outfits, still as any
mannequin after the chloroform rag. She'd been
on his women to rape lists, stating he wanted
to take her down a notch. When the real
police found him, he slit his own throat,
and they saved him, despite his plea to let
him die. He'd been pretending to be a student,
but couldn't pull off the costume now that
Halloween was over. I thought about all
the outfits I'd adorned myself with over the years
for various men. I hadn't been drugged with
anything but the usual substances, and I'd been beautiful
or scary, a self-induced black-out here and there,
and in those moments I'm pretty sure I was both.                               July 6, 2006 post

 

First appeared in Bryant Literary Review:

Detroit

I did not know any better except to love
it, the bluish glow of televisions at night,
snow that fell like promises only to turn
dirty and gray. The downstairs landlords
put up a sign in the backyard saying, This
is paradise
and watched as our next-door
neighbor almost strangled his daughter, saying,
Bitch, this is your last chance. Sometimes
I thought about where else I had been, but
not often. The streets in the city were
complicated, changing names midway, leaving
you wondering what miracle might happen next.                              April 4, 2006 post

 

First published in New Zoo Poetry Review:

Dollar Days at Wal-Mart

My brother and his friends smeared shit on dollar bills
and waited. A few people noticed the money and bent
down to pick it up while my brother laughed until he
couldn’t breathe. An old woman didn’t even realize
what she had and stuffed a couple in her purse without
a second thought. They kept setting them out until
the police came and put all of the boys into the car,
the huge Wal-Mart getting smaller and smaller until
it might as well have not been there. "You sons of
bitches," the policeman said, "How would you like
it if you thought you found something wonderful
and it turned out to be fouled with someone’s feces?
I should rub your noses in it." The boys tried not
to laugh, but couldn’t stop themselves. Years
later, my brother would find himself with a life
he’d never dreamed of, the trashed out existence
of a man who’d never left the place he’d been born
to, and he’d remember the policeman’s words, a malediction
on a day he thought he would never stop laughing.                    March 31, 2006 post

 

First published in Plainsongs:

Dream Cruise

Working on his antique car, it exploded,
and he lay suspended between life
and death for months until he woke to what
remained. Before he went deaf from the pain
medication, he’d heard a few people say,
Wouldn’t it have been better if . . . He could
finish the thought, but instead drifted off into
visions of cars stretched for miles, him behind
the wheel of his gleaming machine, the envy
of everyone sitting on the side of Woodward Avenue,
a glittering mirage that they could only glimpse
for a moment before he became indistinguishable
from all the lucky ones that were driving the same road.                     April 18, 2006 post

 

Drill Team

The skinny ones like me went first,
those who didn’t worry about being
over their designated weight, the doctor’s
office scale recording every variation,
the only good thing was being less than
before. In the background, the other ones
locked themselves into bathroom stalls,
vomiting what they had left inside them,
stripping down to their bra and panties for
the final tally, the number that would decide
whether they would be allowed to dance
that week during half-time. I watched them,
teenagers that looked like women, hips,
thighs, and stretch marks. They dated boys,
went to parties, had abortions. Still a child,
I had sex with men twice my age, acted
the part long before I knew the lines, never
bled once a month like women always do
eventually, not that anyone could see anyway.                              May 24, 2006 post

 

 First published in Curbside Review:

Dubbed in Korean With Japanese Subtitles

Once a week, a few of my ex-boyfriends
would rent Kung-Fu movies, drink beer.
They were all buddies, you see, veterans
of the same war. I imagined them reliving
failed campaigns in the breaks between Bruce
Lee and Rolling Rock, my words repeated
with varying degrees of bitterness, but when
I asked a friend who also attended, he
said that they mostly avoided the subject
and watched whatever new they could find
on the racks. One night they rented a Jackie
Chan movie that was dubbed in Korean
with Japanese subtitles. Did they think
about returning it? I asked. At first, he says,
but after a few beers, they just wanted to see someone
get hurt even if they couldn’t understand why.                              April 29, 2006 post

 

First published in Poetry Motel:

Emergency

We were both looking at our hands when an epileptic
named Lawrence jumped
off the high dive and had a seizure, hitting his head on
the side of the board.
Ben dropped his cards and ran for the backboard,
knocking down
the chlorine canister we’d been using for a table, cards
all over the cement in his wake.

I’d had sex for the first time two days before, not
thinking
there would be anything more frightening happening
soon, not
wanting to see that person ever again. Calling the
ambulance
from the only pay phone, hands shaking, I said,
We have a possible spinal injury, watching the other
guards
put Lawrence on the backboard, remembering training,
pulling a weighted dummy from the deep end. Pretend
you don’t know what happened
, the instructor told us.

After it was over, nobody looked each other in the eye
as we mopped
the blood from the cement. I picked up the cards and
put them in the desk drawer,
not wanting to play any more games that day. You’ll get
used to it, Ben said,
as he set the chlorine canister upright. When it was my
turn on stand,
I closed my eyes for a minute behind sunglasses,
listening, unable to tell the difference
between the yells of the kids having fun and the ones
needing help.                                                                                  April 19, 2006 post

 

First published in River Oak Review:

Every Day

I wake up to a museum of your
not being here. Nothing surprises
me, and yet this does. You are
as real as yesterday and tomorrow.
It is only today that presents
a problem, something they’re out
of in the kitchen. I make do
with shots of whatever’s around
to pass the afternoon. Dark,
a question that can’t be answered,
comes to bury me, and I think
of something you once said, I miss
you every single day, a simple
phrase that breaks the heart. We
are never free from each other,
living in our various rooms, maybe,
dead even, and still thinking of you.                                               April 24, 2006 post

 

Keith Richards on Chuck Berry: "The more you find out about him, the less you know. . . "

First published in New England Poetry Anthology:

Every Lost Earring

He crushed the ceramic egg I’d given him for Christmas,
said the Gypsies believe eggs hold the soul and look
what’s happened to yours
. Even then, I knew he was
an asshole, and I held the Nuremberg trials for him each
year after I escaped, listing his sins in strident detail, the noose
always ready to slip from my neck to his, but it didn’t.
Then I practiced forgetting, every lost earring a Lazarus
come to tell of a former life on a different street. Make
of this what you will. Memory is a burn scar, the proud
flesh that rises above the rest, and strangers keep asking,
What did you do to yourself, exactly the right question,
but one you pay for and insurance won’t cover it all. Best
to go to a sliding scale, hope that no one can see you
this week, crack real eggs alone in the dim kitchen light,
ignore the occasional strand of blood in the yolk.                       July 30, 2006 post

 Everything Is Permitted

We drank to each other, every
shot going down easier than
the last. It’s the outside door
that’s the hardest to unlock
and after that, it’s like the sign
someone spray-painted on the wall
of the club – Everything Is Permitted,
and I knew that I would not leave until
the last credit had rolled. An old
friend of mine used to say,
Jack Daniels is my trigger, meaning
the one she loved above all others,
and I think about the night she broke
down and bought a bottle, opening
herself to all forms of destruction
because she couldn’t resist the one
that made her feel wrapped in love
and hope, that potent possibility
in every shot that went through her.                                          July 10, 2006 post

 

First published in bordersenses:

Everything Seems Dead

Everyone had lost something – a finger or toe,
friends, fluency, currency. Most still flew, though,
all that war training having some small part
in the other life. As a child, I feared being buried
alive above all else and made my father promise
to stab a stake of holly through my heart when
my time came to be lowered into the ground.
Instead of planning my funeral, my dad told
me I could ride in a helicopter with one of his
friends, who said, Everything seems so fucking
dead after Vietnam
. Don’t curse in front of the little
girl
, another guy said. She’s heard it before, he
replied. I nodded. Those were the days when I
saw a lot, understood little, much like now, I suppose.                           June 27, 2006 post

 

Fantasy

Tell me yours and spare no detail.
I am dining on men tonight. Do
you need a secretary to take down
your every brilliant word before you
even say it? A nurse to bathe those
parts that you could reach if it weren’t
for the iv? Love doesn’t matter here.
I’m not one of those women who is going
to make you say it. I’m whatever you
need, baby, until one night I beat you half
to death with a baseball bat I have hidden
under my bed in case of an intruder. No
one knows what can happen in the dark.                                 May 12, 2006 post

 

First published in poetrybay:

Fill in the Blanks

They don't work anymore, my mother
said of her pain pills. The body can get
used to anything and does, the years
dulling the ride, leaving only the need.
You'd think I could stop, she'd say, but
I already knew what it was to be attached
to something that did nothing for you,
swallowing the same pill day after day,
hope, that old ball and chain, leaving you
marking answers long after you realize
you won't be able to finish the test.                                           July 18, 2006 post

 

First published in The Circle:

Hank

The sky, gun-metal, reminds me you're not here.
Last night I dreamt that I'd watched you die
and could do nothing except be there, more than
reality, less than what I wanted.When I heard
the news, my Buddhist neighbors chanted your
name for an hour, their ritual for the dead. With
so much quiet, I can still hear your name through
my walls, thinking of all the times you'd said you
would have hated it entirely except for Hank
Williams, me thinking I'm so lonesome, I could cry.                  May 11, 2006 post

 

Gurnee Days in Waukegan

There are always fireworks, that's
a given and the horrible night surrounds
us. It's summer, after all, and what's
all that heat without an explosion? In
the bar, people leaf through the karoake
selection book while the dj plays "Girls,
Girls, Girls," not Motley Crue's best,
but it will do in a pinch. Not everything
can be "Shout at the Devil." A man, looking
like a beat-up Greg Allman, takes the floor,
and sings a song to his very short girlfriend
who can't stand without a cane. The song
is about water, holy water, and how it heals,
and one is supposed to take it as a metaphor
for the healing power of love. Not everything
is lost on me! The drinks aren't great, but
they're drinks. One takes what one can get
and one smiles, takes a big sip, relaxes into
the booth before the next explosion outside.                                        August 19, 2006 post

 

Hank Williams on the Night Shift in Branson

His show over, he dishes popcorn,
dispenses Cokes. He’s the 2 o’clock
legend, Elvis gets the night. This Hank
has to be at least seventy, already forty-one
years luckier than the man he impersonates.
Or maybe not -- the real Hank, drunk,
heartsick, riding in the back of a car
at night -- he didn’t have to serve food
and he sounded like no one but himself.                                 May 25, 2006 post

 

First published in Convergence:

Hello, My Name Is

You leave the bar with a man you don’t
know. Never? Keep reading -- you’re
safe. Alone in Central Park, August,
a month of endings and this is yours.
Your killer claims that a cat scratched
him, then that you raped him, finally
that the whole incident was rough sex
gone too far, namely your dead body
under his. Who can dispute this? Not
you. You’re dead. Meanwhile, out
on bail, your killer goes to a party, chokes
a Barbie doll until her head pops off, says
Hello, my name is -- oops, I think I killed
her
. Laughs. Some of the other guests
laugh, others look down at their drinks.
One girl titters, says, You’re horrible, Robert,
slaps him on the arm. He turns, flashes
a smile, says not really that horrible, darling.                                   May 15, 2006 post

 

First published in Nerve Cowboy:

Hell’s Gate

From that height, the water feels like cement,
the cop told us, and we wondered how our friend
had climbed to the top to make the jump off the rock
cliffs that rose out of the lake. Our buddy had dealt
drugs for years, holding back the best, saying, I don’t
offer these to every swinging dick. We always took
what we wanted, abandoning him as soon as we could,
embarrassed by the hare-lip, afraid of getting caught.
Now divers searched for his body, swimming in a lake
rumored to be filled with man-sized catfish that would
keep getting bigger with every ounce of trash they ate.                  April 25, 2006 post

 

First appeared in Sulphur Springs Literary Review:

Hitchhiker

Time forgets or it doesn't,
the sound of a casket closing.
Not everything that dies is
dead. Once my mother picked
up a hitchhiker, a man on crutches
wearing a black trench coat.
Nothing was wrong with him,
she said. I didn't realize it until
he was in my car, too late. I never
stop my car, but sometimes he rides
with me, his coat in a ball in the back.

 

Honeymoon

I had one once, in San Francisco,
that mystical city that demands
you love it. My wedding ring felt
so heavy I’d hide it at night, buried
in a hotel drawer, looking at my
sleeping husband, wondering what
I had done. For a week, we wandered
the city, so different from Texas,
the only place I’d ever really lived.
On the last day, I saw a poster of two
beautiful men kissing. Underneath,
a caption cautioned everyone to practice
safe sex. You’d never see that in Texas,
I thought, and smiled. The world seemed
a little bigger. On the way back to the hotel
that night, I noticed someone had scrawled
faggots in blood red across the poster. The hell
everyone talked about had followed me, with no
hope of any rapture except the kind where
the blood ran from the faucets, a brief marriage.                                   July 16, 2006 post

 

Hope Chest for the Contemporary Single Girl

You start out hopeful, that's a given.
You dress better, say smarter things.
Hide the Prozac, the Paxil, the little
pills to take the edge off. You won't
be needing those little friends! Marvel
at how the dust on your computer sparkles.
How could you have missed this beauty?
You wait for those three words that will
change your everything, not "where's
the remote" or "get off me." The day
will come. Now someone else can plan
your elaborate yet tasteful funeral instead
of you dying alone eaten by your cats.
See -- everything does work out in the end!                            August 22, 2006 post

 

First appearing in Chicago Quarterly Review:

How to Own and Operate A Haunted House

Start with nothing and build from there.
It won’t take much to bring someone
around – a few masks, a small piece
of rope. Tell everyone what they are
feeling is something else, make sure
to forget what you actually used to create
the effects so that you won’t be tempted
to tell the truth about a peeled grape
masquerading as an eye. Silence becomes
whatever you fear. Use it when they
don’t expect and watch as people touch
each other without meaning to and scream
in knowing expectation of the next horror
they must face before the inevitable exit.                        June 14, 2006 post     

 

I Eat Here All the Time

Our establishment is clean, the waiter
says to my friend Hank. You will find
no bugs.
Hank looks up from his menu,
setting his magnifying glass aside and rolls
his mostly blind eyes at me, as if to say, not
this shit again. I know, Hank tells him, I eat
here all the time.
I remember in high school when
our French teacher taunted him during class.
Can you spot land with that eye-glass, Pop-Eye?
she’d ask almost every day. The next year
her husband dove into a pool and came back
up to the surface paralyzed from the neck down.
When he saw her wheel him around campus,
he’d take out his eyeglass and watch, saying
I think I can see land, Michelle, I think I see land.                 May 28, 2006 post

 

I’d Rather Be Shot

Don’t apologize if you are not sorry.
And don’t worry if you can’t feel
anything. Someone will be with you
shortly. Make yourself comfortable
because you might be here for a spell.
Don’t worry about the panic that grips
you when you lose your phone or your
heart. I will be, I am trying to be, any
day I shall be . . . What am I trying to say?
That, perhaps, there is power in the word,
if you can find the right one. Tell Mama
what you want, tell Mama what you need
,
sang Janis Joplin and look what she got for
her trouble. Or think of Gary Gilmore. When
given a choice between a hanging or a bullet,
he said, I’d rather be shot. And he was.                              May 22, 2006 post

 

First published in California Quarterly:

In This World, The World To Come

We didn’t notice the reliefs until we
were leaving, each station of the cross
in gold, a gold like love, that fever dream,
or grief, stretched out, fluid, big loss
seeping in slow strokes. If we were
to follow this until the end, Jesus
would be laid in the arms of his mother,
and we could ask for anything we wanted,
the wish at the thirteenth station never
denied. Would we want for anything?
Or would this be enough, that after
a great pain there is rest, consolation
in the arms of someone who, having seen
everything, cannot help but love you.                           April 30, 2006 post

 

Inside the Wax Museum

The House of Torture didn’t seem, well,
that frightening the second time through,
the wax figures, not at all real, except
for their eyes that followed you around
like your fears. You pass a man covered
in ants, one on a rack and you think
about all the things you wish you hadn’t
done, about all the hope people had for you.
Time changes everything except those old
fears that persist like love, only changing
their object, always returning you to yourself,
a place you understand, something that could scare
you no matter how many times you’d been there.            August 14, 2006 post

 

Interview

I’ve never been much to look at, she
said, so I’ve had to develop my mind.
Men aren’t crazy about that, they don’t
promise to leave their wives because you’re
so fucking smart. Because you’re asking,
I’ll say that I’m the apartment door you
pass each day on your way to somewhere
else and maybe sometimes I put up a wreath
that reminds you of the season and you think
that’s nice, you admire the effort in such
obviously depleted circumstances and you rush
past onto your love or your work or to get
something to eat. Are we finished here?                      May 16, 2006 post

 

I’ve Lived in Detroit For A Long Time

As a teenager, I’d dream of Philip Roth. Philip and I
would always be riding a train, talking about novels,
and New York City. Now I’m dreaming of Eminem,
and he’s not pissed off and angry like his songs, no
Eight Mile snarl that speaks of strip clubs and fights.
Instead, he talks about his love for his children, how
he can’t sleep without pills, the stresses of the road,
even offers me backstage passes to his show. We
share a bottle of cheap vodka, Mohawk, Detroit’s
finest. He tells me he likes the bullet around my
neck and asks what I do. When I tell him I’m a writer,
the edgy Eminem returns until I assure him that I’m
not a journalist and anyway, this is all a dream. He
relaxes, offers me more vodka. The city gleams before
us, and I wonder what I would write if this were real.
Would I tell his secrets or simply say, Detroit is not
the most beautiful city and yet you cannot help but
love it, especially at night when Eminem offers you
some vodka and doesn’t care that you’re nobody special.                July 7, 2006 post 

 

Joel Steinberg Leaves Prison and Hedda Nussbaum Goes Into Hiding

After everyone else has forgotten, he leaves
prison in a big white limo arranged by his
lawyer. She knows he hasn’t forgotten her,
their nights together awake for hours, doing
coke, the whispered intimacies that made
the beatings bearable. What’s a punch compared
to love? -- both prisons, no prom limos waiting
outside to whisk you away. And their child,
well, she tries not to think of her, the autopsy
calling her body a map of pain, and her own body,
so lovely once, wanted by no one now except him,
just the way he said it was and always would be.                             May 18, 2006 post

 

First published in Nerve Cowboy:

Kentucky Derby Day at My Aunt’s House

Explaining why he took his girlfriend
back after she slept with his best
friend, my cousin said, I’m like Don Coyote –
I just keep charging windmills. I
tried not to laugh and resisted the urge
to correct him. Taking another sip
of my Mint Julip, I thought, You’re more
like Wylie Coyote, hammered with the same
bullshit schemes every time, but I have
been both Don and Wylie enough times
not to make the distinction. The Mint Julip
tastes sweet for a second, then the bitter
kick of bourbon. Each year our family
argues about how to make them, each
year they taste the same. It’s a tradition,
my mother says, you can’t watch the Derby
without drinking at least one. It doesn’t matter
if the mint leaves are bruised or crushed, I can’t
drink enough of other things to get the tastes
of the drink we all share out of my mouth.                                      April 21, 2006 post

 

Kiss

So once again hope is marred.
You are not what you thought
you would be. I saw a man
take a cookie off a rattlesnake’s
head without harm. When he
dared to kiss it, the snake kissed
back. Risk is an emergency room
full of people with their hearts
in their hands, thinking they might
have been luckier this time.                                                        August 21, 2006 post

 

 

 

Kitty Genovese Lives Here

When Kitty screamed, people heard, turned
on their lights to look. Some stayed in bed,
afraid of the night, imagining a lover’s
quarrel. No one could imagine the worst,
when the killer admitted in court -- Live women
didn’t do it for me anymore. She was alive
when he raped her, just not for very long, but it
must have felt like time had stopped. When I
recognized my rapist underneath his mask
and knew he wouldn’t kill me, I felt relieved
until much later, when I realized I had become
illuminated by a thing people would whisper
about, unable to understand enough to help.               June 9, 2006 post

 

First published in Red Owl Literary Review:

Last Conversations

We’d heard our old professor had hanged
himself the day after Christmas, and I told
my friend that I couldn’t imagine a violent
end by choice. He said, You never know
how much pain someone is in until it ends,
and I tried to ignore what I knew of my friend’s
life -- the windowless basement apartment,
the long cold days in Philadelphia, a city
where he’d been mugged, where he kept
a cigar box full of every charm that meant
something, his vision reduced to almost
nothing. He’d said we should ditch our
towns and try New York, and then he hung
up forever. He would have turned thirty-three
that year, the year he died, the age I am now.
We talked about everything, but I can’t
imagine what I would tell him about what it’s
like to be so alone, something he knew all about,
if the topic were to come up, which it won’t.                                           May 3, 2006 post

 

Late

None of us learned sign language even
though my grandmother was nearly
deaf after being boxed in the ears by my
grandfather after coming home late from
babysitting me. I could hear yelling through
the trailer window, and nobody knew what
to do so we drove away and left her there
with the only man she had ever loved. Even
then, I understood you couldn’t save someone
unless you were willing to crucify yourself.
Our car rolled over the gravel and onto a paved
road that led us to our house. It wasn’t much,
that house, with its long black bars covering
the windows, part decoration, part prison, but
it was a house, you see, and it didn’t move every
time the weather changed like the trailer did.                         June 6, 2006 post 

 

First published in Nerve Cowboy"

Late Afternoon in the Dementia Clinic

This could be anywhere for most of the people here –
the house where they grew up, their honeymoon, the first
day of work. Except it’s not. The workers count down
the sticky school day minutes before they escape
into slightly less predictable monotonies. As for me,
my husband has chosen this time to move his stuff out
of our house so I’m killing time by visiting a friend
before I can return to my gutted rooms and try and forget
what was once there. My friend plays Keno with two of the high-
functioning patients. I don’t know the object of this game so she
tells me that you roll the die and the person who gets the closest
to six wins the round. "Try it," she says. I shake my head.
"Come on. He’s lost almost every time, but he’s still playing."
I take the die and roll, but don’t come close. When it is time
for the next person to try, he takes the die and blows
on it for luck, then waits for someone to tell him how things turned out.      May 14, 2006 post

 

First published in St. Ann's Review:

Love One Another Constantly

Upon entering my grandparents’ trailer, my
grandfather would take me to the master
bedroom and say, This is granddaddy’s
pistol. It can kill you. Don’t touch it. He’d
slide it back under the pillow, satisfied
that he’d made his point. No one had to say
anything twice around there. In the midst
of their everyday staples -- karo syrup, Jack
Daniels, empty cans of Old Milwaukee --
stood a small statue of St. Francis, a relic
from my grandmother’s ancient childhood --
Love One Another Constantly -- burned
into the base. Since I couldn’t touch the gun,
I’d run my finger over the words in the dark
like a blind person, thinking what if this sense
was all I had left to me in the world, not realizing
that it was, that it would be, the words carved
into wood still as clear as my grandfather’s
warning, long after the grave had taken him.                               April 14, 2006 post

 

Love Suffers All Things

He hit me where I wouldn’t bruise
thinking, I suppose, that unseen
damage did not exist. Blessed are
those who believe without seeing,
the voice on the other end of the line,
a line being whatever you need --
something to save you by pulling
you back to shore, white powder
that takes you away from your pain,
a rope with which you can strangle
yourself. Do you love this line? Because
you will hear it over and over. Please
forgive me, I am sorry
. If you think
this is me, you are wrong. I have
never been hit where it doesn’t show.                                                August 6, 2006 post

 

Luminous, Infinite

I got busy shoveling dog shit, my friend
said about missing a party. It’s weird how
you forget stuff, she’d remarked in the same
tone she’d pronounce something luminous
or infinite. Something beautiful against
something ugly, she’d say about an arty
photograph, the story of my love life for
years. Her boyfriend had a cleft-palate and
had been kind and hopeful and rich. Love,
in its wondrousness, did not solve everything.                   July 21, 2006 post

 

Forthcoming in Raintown Review:

Make Yourself Small

God will come in later, of this I feel certain.
Let’s consider the nurse Richard Speck
didn’t kill, the one that he bound who still
managed to hide under a bed, only to find
all the others stabbed in the eyes and breasts.
You wanted details, right? Hide under
whatever you can find, make yourself small.
Everyone finds something horrible in time.
Best to close your eyes.  Keep them closed.                          April 3, 2006 post  

 

Making Love While Conscious

Open your door and nobody’s there. That’s
as good a place to start as any. Startle at sounds.
This part works especially well if you live
with someone. Forget he’s there. Be reminded.
Sometimes he sneaks up behind you and laughs.
You laugh too. Tell yourself that none of this
matters. Keep telling yourself this for as long
as it takes. As for the nights, act like you’re dying
for it to keep what’s left of the peace, make him
happy. And who knows anyway? Maybe you are.                   July 13, 2006 post

 

First published in Revolve:

Mary Remains Unmoved

I have grown afraid of soft things, the silks
that can make a woman beautiful, instead
preferring the hard wet concrete at the foot
of the Mary in the outdoor shrine, the fumbling
with candles in the cold, the way the wind conspires
to make lighting difficult. Last year a woman was
taken from this shrine and raped, and I never cease
to think about it when I ask Mary for favors, the way
a girl begs her mother -- Please don’t leave until I
fall asleep. No matter what I say, Mary remains
unmoved, her eyes toward Heaven, her feet entangled
by a stone snake, and I know that she has seen acts
that she wishes to forget, the work of the desperate
and the brutal. Forgiveness sounds great until you have
to do it over and over. You are so lovely, a man will
say, until you are not. I continue to light in the cold,
one eye on the Mother of God, the other on everything
outside, in each set of headlights, the world of possibility
by which a person can be blinded, if only for a moment.                              May 19, 2006 post

 

Mornings Are A Disappointment

My dad returned last night, told me
he hadn’t really died, that he’d been
in Holland, but he was fine -- couldn’t
I see for myself? And I could! I forgave
everything and threw my arms around
him like a little girl. Then I remembered
my friend Hank told me he’d faked his
death. Bastard! I yelled and drew him close.
Don’t wake up, I told myself, but I did. You
have to eventually. Mornings are all weak
light, getting dressed for work ever so slowly.                      June 3, 2006 post

 

First published in Spire Press:

Mustang Island

The rumor of horses persists
even though we never see
any. In the evenings, the girls
shave their legs in the Gulf
of Mexico, that comforting
warmth that makes every cut
sting. Sometimes the rain
comes down for days, but not
often enough to keep people
away from a beach that isn’t
exactly what you think it will be.                                         July 19, 2006 post

 

First published in Taproot::

My Husband’s Closet

Looking for what I could not imagine,
I found a dildo in my husband’s closet,
its harsh reality making me forget
what I came for. Is there a saint
to make you not know something?
I asked
my newly converted friend on the phone,
after telling my story. No, she said, but
Jack Daniels will do. God loves us
in many different ways
. I’m sure there
will be more, the Internet porn bills I’ll
find, that I will lose myself to his secrets
before I can stop. I once heard a man
at a party say, All men want to fuck
a woman who looks like a little girl
. I looked
down at my glass of red wine, almost
empty and went back for more even though
I knew I would be sick in the morning.                         June 18, 2006 post

 

"There's only three things, that's for sure -- taxes, death, and trouble." Marvin Gaye

Never Blend In

Marvin Gaye looks down upon me
in the grey Detroit rain, his luminous face
on a billboard for Hennessey. I drive
the chewed-up streets, the streets Marvin
drove while writing those perfect songs,
knowing I cannot write anything anyone
would want to hear. My songs say I am
a small petty person, that there is jealousy
in my heart, perhaps no love can last.
Marvin says, If I could build my whole world
around you, and when I look into his eyes far off
and sad, I think just maybe he already has.                              April 2, 2006 post

 

First published in Sulpher Spring Literary Review:

No Half-Measures

Your death was a time-release capsule.
For the first hour, I felt nothing
except the pain of being forced
to swallow something whole. No
half-measures here, no breaking
the pill into pieces, hiding it in ice-
cream. I walk around, seeing
everything and nothing at the same
time, unable to explain where I’ve been
Last things speak for themselves.                            May 16, 2006 post

 

First published in Curbside Review:

Party Lines

Sid likes me to fuck other guys,
says the costumed Nancy as she goes
from lap to lap at my brother’s Halloween
party. In two years they’ll be divorced
and she will fuck other guys, and Sid
won’t like it one damn bit. Instead,
he’ll become a vegan, lose his sex
drive to an overabundance of soy milk
and sit around the house they bought
wondering what went wrong. I’ll remind
him of the time she broke in on one of his
phone calls to me and said, “I think we
should split up.” We all sat listening to each
other breathe for a minute before she said, “Go
back to your conversation,” and hung up, but
neither of us could remember what we were
talking about before she came on the line.                                      May 29, 2006 post

 

First published in Floating Holiday:

Poison Ivy

She poured Clorox on her hands
and waited. The itching stopped,
replaced by a burn, then nothing.
Anything was better than the itch!
Soon her hands flashed bright
red, and she couldn't tell where
the rash began and she stopped.
It didn't end there. Her hands
cracked open. She wondered if she'd
changed her future with the new
lines, the possibility making her itch
even more, bleeding and hopeful.                               July 9, 2006 post

 

First published in Spire Magazine:

Psychic Fair, 1981

When I was ten, a man I didn't know
told me that I had been Nietzsche's lover,
had known my mother before my birth,
that I had been her mother. He held my
hand and said, you will not always feel this
way, and I wondered how he'd known
I didn't want to. After it was over, he took
my five dollars and I walked toward my
mother and her friend. We drifted out of past
lives and into the future, toward women
would could look at the lines on anyone's palm,
believing destiny, however forbidding, could
come down to this, our own hands.                                              April 15, 2006 post

 

First published in Bordersenses:

Raise The Flag

While exiting Panchos, a woman in a wheelchair
is accused of stealing soapillas in a small brown
paper bag she holds between her atrophied legs.
The counter woman wants to search her. You can
look away from this scene, the stringy hair,
the catheter bag, keep eating until you’re sick,
the point of this place being that you can get
whatever you want while you’re here, but you
can’t take any of it with you. Maybe you want
to help, pull out your wallet and give the woman
what you have which is nothing. You’ll have to put
this meal on your card which doesn’t have much
room on it or you wouldn’t be here, loading up
on cheap greasy food, all you can eat, and you can
only stand so much and maybe that’s the problem.                        May 27, 2006 post

 

Reconciliation

I have said I am sorry to you and to God,
for not loving enough or too much, and by
my third martini, I am asking Jesus to crucify
himself again for my sins as if He didn’t get
enough of that the first time, and I remember
a crucifix I once saw over a bed, the body
of Jesus was the cross, and how I focused
on His suffering instead of my own while
in the act of love or regret, what passes for
a connection, and then I excuse myself
and next to the restroom, there is a shelf full
of unopened gin bottles with the afternoon
light streaming through them, so beautiful,
and I stagger inside the ladies and throw up
all over the floor because I can’t find the toilet.
Deep obliteration has loveliness no one can take
away from you, I think, as I wash the vomit out
of my hair, telling myself that I can fix myself
up so that it looks like nothing has happened.                                 April 9, 2006 post

 

Satee

You don’t have to die for me to burn
myself alive. We’ve only just begun,
sang Karen Carpenter, years before
and after she starved herself, maybe
for love, certainly not for the things
she had, a bed full of stuffed animals,
Mickey and Minnie at the dead center,
hosts to that clean Disney paradise.
Did she hear voices like Joan of Arc?
Make no mistake, she carried death
in her songs. As for myself? I am no saint
and do not have a voice worth mentioning.
I have burned myself alive once or twice,
resurrected for another round. For love?
Who knows? But, oh, what a fire.                                                             May 5, 2006 post

 

Second Day Reported*

I have never told anyone this,
and I am not going to start now.
You won’t recognize me because
I’ve dyed my hair, and I don’t
answer to the same name. But
here’s something. This is the worst
story I have ever heard. Once a woman
was gang-raped in an apartment
where men kept streaming in and out
for hours, so many that she couldn’t
identify them all. She changed
everything she could so that they
wouldn’t recognize her, but in the end,
she became Apartment 206, and she
could never leave. Some women tell
themselves this place doesn’t exist,
that she doesn’t even exist. The men, well,
they know better, or so the saying goes.

* second day reported is a police term for rapes that aren't reported on the day the rape takes place.

 

First published in The Oak:

Shabby in the Light

This is what I know:
my secrets are not yours.
Even if I give them to you,
their value lies in hoarding,
magazine clippings I think
I’ll use to help decorate
a house I might own someday.
They look shabby in the light,
useless and thin as they flutter
from my hands to yours,
even when we’re being careful.                                                             May 13, 2006 post

 

First published in Tar Wolf Review:

Surprise Party

Already you wished you hadn't
eaten all the food on your plate,
those rich combinations weighing
heavy on your heart. Everything
was so good, the guests say, even
when it wasn't. Apply this to any
situation you want. Sometimes
the hostess will offer a cake, home-
made. She checks on it during dinner
with a butter knife and says to no one
in particular, When the blade comes
out clean, you know you're done.                                 July 15, 2006 post                                              

 

Tailhook

Every night the dark comes earlier.
Fumbling with my purse from the car
to the door, I hear the warnings -- wedge
your keys between your fingers, carry
lemon juice to squirt in his eyes, pick
up a handful of gravel to throw in his face.
Above all, run. Don’t get caught alone.
You know better. That’s how the world
becomes a gauntlet. Welcome to the Las
Vegas Hilton! Unless, of course, the men
label you a dog, unworthy to be assaulted,
telling each other “wave off,” meaning,
This bitch isn’t worthy to be touched, thrown
to the ground, stripped. For years, I lived
in an apartment where I had been raped. It
had a loft, and I was loathe to part with a loft.                                        May 21, 2006 post

 

First published in Poet's Lore:

Texas

Maybe you don't have any stories
like, I saw Stevie Ray Vaughn at a small
club right before he died. Maybe you saw
shitty cover bands, nothing to talk about --
you'd never be able to claim anything
from this godforsaken place except that you'd
been here and it was a little scary, all that space
to lose whatever passed for your life and what
did you do with your nights? Got loaded, like
a pistol, pretended nothing could harm you,
looking for trouble, but not really, like everyone
else we know, except you were in Texas.                                              April 13, 2006 post

 

First published in Eclipse:

The Difference Between Sex and Rough Sex

Two days before the first, my best friend Andrea wishes
strangers a Happy New Year, toasting every few minutes
to making men miserable while she watches her ex and his new
girlfriend kiss on the other side of the crowded bar. A Texas
swing band plays songs about sin and salvation, about love
and loss, the lead singer adorned with black flames on his jacket,
yelling, love changes every fucking thing. My younger sister
nurses a hot chocolate while Andrea slams shots of vodka laced
with lemon and sugar and complains about her bladder infection.
"I have to go all night," she says. "It's inconvenient."

On the ride home, Andrea sits in the back while my sister drives,
six months with a license and still nervous. Andrea sticks
her head between the seats and says, "I gave that bastard a blow-job
almost every night for four years. That should be worth something."
My sister nods, keeping her eyes on the road. "Every night?" she asks,
her voice filled with disbelief. Andrea nods. "I even had rough
sex with him." My sister wants to know the difference between sex
and rough sex. "Ask your sister," Andrea says. "She knows."

I put my head in my hands, the streetlights becoming a blur. "All
sex,"I say, "is rough." We drive past hotels and restaurants, strip bars
and movie theaters. If you have the time, Frank's Gentlemens Club offers
the place where desire and destiny meet, plus a steak dinner, only $4.99.
It's all for sale, I'm thinking, when Andrea starts to cry. "Rough
sex leaves marks,"she says. Before long, she falls asleep, curled
up in the back with a jacket for a pillow. "Is she all right?" my sister asks.
"For now. She'll feel it in the morning," I say, watching Andrea struggle to get
comfortable, imprints lining her face where she rested on something that didn't give. 

-- June 22, 2006 post

 

First appeared in the New England Anthology:

The Evil Eye

To guard against it, one must give away
that which others want. The books warn
of jealously, rage, the way other people look
at your plate and wish they could order again.
In yoga class, I pick the spot next to the wall
because no one forces me to move as new
bodies enter, as I have gone as far as I can.
I have come here not to confess my sins
but rather because I no longer care what other
people think. Father, forgive me, I know
precisely what I have done and to whom, not
the bride of Christ, exactly, but it’s the best
I can do, an excuse my mother would never
accept. Things are funny until you see them
close up, like the one-armed dwarf at the gym,
trudging along the treadmill, not in search
of perfection, or anything approximate,
just the pounding each mile provides on a machine
that can take you nowhere for as long as you can stand.                    April 8, 2006 post

 

First published in Natural Bridge:

This Final Bath

Part of our job is to clean the bodies,
my sister told me. When someone dies,
we take care of them before the funeral
home arrives. She hadn’t known about it,
this final bath. Past all caring, you could
do anything you want, no need for gentle
gestures. Still she checks the water’s
temperature, out of habit or love, waiting
until it becomes warm enough not to be a shock.                              June 29, 2006 post

 

The Last Days of Our Pompeii

There was hope that things could be, if not
altered, perhaps the course not quite so
relentless, slow death in the end not
being quite slow enough. Our last night
together we watched Willie Nelson sing
at Billy Bob’s, and a woman stopped
with a basket of roses, a final gesture
of sweetness. I took them home where
they died quickly, so red they looked
black, dried blood clots, unchanging
in their message -- you can keep me, but
I will harden, I will dry up, I will become
something else, their only obligation in being
what they are, what they have ceased to be.                                      July 20, 2006 post

 

The Other Woman

There's always one, even when there's not:
the childhood sweetheart, the one that never
loved you, your mother's beautiful friend. Or
maybe there is someone, all flesh and blood,
and you see her around Christmas, that doomed
nostalgia that sends you running into her
bed, every meeting a child's peek-a-boo
game, Will I see you again? hanging
in the air like a noose while you search
for your clothese, reassemble yourself
without thought, noticing the colored
lights in someone else's window shining
all for you through no effort of your own.                  June 16, 2006 post

 

The Private Possession of Dangerous Reptiles

The cost, well, prohibitive.
Like most things, people don’t
understand the need. But once
a man named Garland brought
my mother a rattlesnake on a string
leash in a box lid. She put the snake
in the deep freeze where it lived for
weeks, among the loaves of Wonder
Bread, only its eyes telling me it
was alive, trying to exist on its weight
alone, like so many people I know.                                July 25, 2006 post

 

First published in Karamu:

The Thing You Hate

For my last appointment of the day, I met
with a man who owned a computer store in Grosse
Pointe. Halfway through the interview, he rolled up
his sleeves and showed me his scars. "I tried
to kill myself three times last year, but I don’t
know if you’ll want to put that in the article," he said.
I didn’t. Writing part-time for a pull-out advertisement
section of the EastSide Weekly as my second job, I never
got to handle the tough issues, just ended up dead
tired at the end of the day, wanting to go home.

Earlier, I’d gotten lost looking for a car wash
in downtown Detroit where the owner ranted
about capitalists for five minutes before letting me take
pictures of the building. "You become the thing
you hate," he said while I finished off my roll, wondering
if any of the shots would turn out. I didn’t want
to come back, already late from my lunch break
at my full-time job. Now the room was getting dark,
but the computer shop owner didn’t reach for the lights;
instead, he sat at his desk, sleeves rolled up, thoughtful.

He explained that he was trying to begin again, that he’d burned
some bridges in the past, but that was all behind him. "Sometimes
it’s good to get a new start," I said, even though I don’t believe
that. I never find it difficult to lie, given the right circumstances.
"I love this job," he said and smiled, rolling down his sleeves.
"I dream about programming at night." I dreamed about deadlines
I wasn’t meeting, things I’d forgotten, the continual exhaustion of someone
always ill-prepared and worried about being found out. "Can I see
the article before it’s in the paper?" he asked. "Sure," I said, knowing
I wouldn’t have a chance to drop it by, trying to leave before it got too late.      April 22, 2006 post

 

Dedicated to my dear friend Phyllis for letting me use her story and laughing when she read it, saying      "It seems way worse on paper!"  First published in Long Shot:

The Way You Look Tonight

My first date post-divorce was a set-up
with a friend of a friend who'd seen me sing
at a night club and thought I was pretty. He
took me to dinner and frowned when I
ordered a beer. Don't you want something
a little more ladylike? I didn't, so he
started to talk about a woman he'd broken
up with the week before. She was great.
I mean, she'd make me talk to her while
she was in the bathroom taking a dump.
She'd say, 'Everything else is fucking
fantasy. It doesn't get any realer than
this.'" The waiter sat down our drinks,
and I downed mine before the food came.
I couldn't wait to get home and drink
some more without having to get someone's
attention. My date paid for both of us, and I
asked him to stop at a party store on the way
home so I could finish what I started. "You're
not as pretty as I remembered,"he said. I paid
at the store before he had a chance to offer. He
fiddled with the radio on the way home, but I got out
of his car before he could find a song that he liked
well enough to listen to for more than a few seconds.                      April 10, 2006 post

 

First published in poetrybay:

The Whole Story

Sometimes I vomit in my dreams,
those silent hours during which anything
is possible. No matter. The day bleeds
into the night where we set our own limits,
rarely moving beyond the shabby confines
of the rooms we rent. Too often the answer
to the question, what’s new? really is
nothing. I want to know the whole story,
my mother would say when she suspected
I’d given her less, but there is none, only this.           April 28, 2006 post

 

There’s Room For Everyone

Under the mall’s fluorescent lights,
a man in a black trench coat struggles
with his oxygen while ordering the special,
the same thing I have in front of me,
bits of greasy chicken in bourbon sauce.
You look awful, my sister tells me. What
are you thinking? But I’m not, I just watch
the guy get his food and make his way
to sit down and eat. Almost every table is open.            June 28, 2006 post

 

Things I Didn't Want To See

I dreamt my mother returned from the dead
carrying a baby cobra in a take-out container.
Do you want to see? she asks, opens the styrofoam
box just a crack so I can tell it's moving. She
was always showing me things I didn't want to see.
Make no mistake; I'm glad she's back. The night
before she died, I slept on a couch in a maternity
ward waiting room. A nurse said to me,When you
hear a scream, it means a new life. When my
mother died,there was no sound, all the machines
had been turned off, the television muted. A janitor
mopped around her bed, my dad and sister cried.
After everyone cleared out, I held her body, already
changed, to my chest as she woud have never
allowed, and I listened for a scream, but none came.                 June 4, 2006 post

 

First published in Emrys Journal

This Is Probably Not What You Had In Mind When I Told You I Loved You

You enter with your heart behind your back.
Pick a hand, you say. I choose the right
one, which is to say the one that is actually
clutching something. Unwrapped, it bleeds
all over me, and I would like to be buried
where your heart once was before you handed
it to me. Your empty hands now dangle
by your sides. If you wash them, maybe we can eat.                      May 6, 2006 post

 

First published in Bordersenses:

Those Days In Texas

When we got old,
we were going to live
on an island. I would
still have great legs,
and he would know
a thousand more blues
songs. We'd gossip, our
favorite past-time since
childhood, and he'd turn
a blind eye to my faults
which would be easy
since the doctors said
he'd be completely blind
by then anyway. When
we talked about this,
we lived next door to
each other in shitty one
bedroom apartments, walls
so thin you could hear
the wind even when it
wasn't blowing that hard.
He barely made it into his
thirties and died in another
cramped apartment, this one
in Philadelphia, and when I
think about those days
in Texas, poor as we were,
having nothing but our youth,
I'm pretty sure that was the island.                              June 8, 2006 post

 

To His Coy Mistress in Detroit

Some guy in line at CVS starts
babbling about the end times, rapture,
yelling, Do you want the news?
Do you see how everything is going
to hell?
The checker says, Fool, look
around you. The end times already
come and gone in Detroit, and we still
here.
I hand her the vodka that I’ve
been clutching as if it might save me,
if from myself if nothing else. End
times
, the checker says, I heard that
one before. Men always saying some
shit to get you into bed
, and I shake
my head and say, don’t I know it.                                May 23, 2006 post

 

First appeared in Slipstream:

Transubstantiation

Nothing is hidden here. There's
a special drain for the leftover blood
of Jesus. The bowls look like, well,
bowls, the water has not been blessed
yet. This is the chosen room where
the ordinary becomes extraordinary,
if one believes that is possible even.

Anything is possible. I once rode
in a car with tarantulas in pickle jars
rolling around underneath my feet.
Once frozen, they could take on any
form, become the center of a paperweight.
They were never to resurrect and nobody
wanted them to, their value in a death
they could not have possibly imagined.                                          April 16, 2006 post

 

First published in Chrysalis:

Vietnam on the Edge of West Texas

On the decommissioned army base on the outskirts
of town, a home for juvenile delinquents named
Edgemeade sat near blocks of cement with names
of Vietnamese villages on them. Not much happened
there since helicopter pilots trained to drop bombs
during the war, flying low to read the exotic-sounding
names that now served as make-out spots for local
teenagers looking for a place where they weren’t likely
to be disturbed. Sometimes the Edgemeade kids
would set fire to old barracks, sparks that went up
fast on the edge of West Texas. Even though there
wasn’t much to burn, it looked spectacular,
particularly if you were close. The concrete blocks
never suffered any damage; the villages stood intact
waiting for more couples to discover them –
Than Ke, Quang Ngai, Tri Binh – words
that didn’t sound like anything you’d ever understand
until you were there, places that you only went
to at night, lit by distant fires that left traces
of things that had long since been abandoned.                                May 10, 2006 post

 

 First published in Flint Hills Review:

Water Moccasins

He killed almost every one that summer at the lake,
severing the head from the body, the body jerking
for a while, then not. We couldn’t move on
until he defeated each threat to our paradise.
Near the end of the summer, I saw one drip from a tree,
but I didn’t say a word because I knew it would mean
the hoe, the fear and ugliness of its death, the disruption
of our entry into the water. From time to time, I’d look
up from my raft at the place the snake had been, wondering
where it had gone, close or far. That night, I shivered
and pulled closer to him, thinking I’d made a mistake not to draw
attention to the danger, could see it entering the house, a casual betrayal,
like a secret kiss that goes too far, the poisonings of love.                           July 12, 2006 post   

 

We Never Fight

I am sitting in my house thinking
about all the ways a person can die,
and I’m wondering if I put you in my
mouth and swallowed you whole would
you still exist or would my acid eat you
alive? So I call you and ask where you
are and you ask me the same question,
out of politeness or interest, I don’t know,
so I tell you the truth -- I am sitting at my
table. There is silence. It’s a table, you
see, and I really don’t know what else to say.           June 17, 2006 post

 

We Turn From the Joy of Living to Remembrances of the Dead

Even a drowned
wasp can sting,
provided you chance
upon it in the exact
right position. Like
most things, this is
only a matter of time.                                             August 5, 2006 post

 

What Everyone Carries

Whoever delivers the body is responsible
for the baggage, says the airline employee
as I fill out a description of what I’ve lost
which looks like what everyone carries. Only
the inside is different, each dress taken off
after a night that seemed as if it would never
end and then it did. I bought some of them
at a consignment shop from a woman who
pretended to like me, saying things like, Another
dress? Surely you need slacks for work. I told
her that I was a teacher and could wear whatever
I wanted. She didn’t buy it and maybe you don’t
either. I bought many dresses there over the years,
never trying them on in the store. They all fit my
body, the worn-out curves of it, the one with all
the lost baggage that someone I don’t know assures
me will all be delivered, like magic, to my door.                     June 7, 2006 post

 

What’s For Supper?

The Last Supper hung over us as we ate
instant mashed potatoes and pork chops,
Johnny Cash on the radio and he’s busted --
the bills are all due and the babies need shoes --
prisoners cheering him on in the background.
Things were tough all over, something we
said a lot in those days. No one used the word
grateful until they’d lost something valuable
and became aware of how much more there
was to lose. It could have been worse, something
else that got repeated a lot. For dessert, we’d
have vanilla ice-milk sprinkled with Nestle
Quik chocolate powder, and we were grateful.                       June 5, 2006 post

 

First published in Edgz Magazine:

When The Moon Is Blue For Once

When I die, I will be bathed in blue light
and I will ask no one for anything. Take
away the pain and see what you have
left. I have never known a thing to be
anything besides itself, but sometimes
a color is a color and the other thing,
the thing you’re not saying, and well,
I won’t ask you, and the dreams
of the dead where they just won’t
stop dying, what to make of those?
devotion, love -- we do what we can,
we hope, as they say, for the best.                                     April 17, 2006 post

 

First published in Confluence

Wherever We Go

We are everyone in our dreams, even
the dead or so say the books, the ones we turn
to when we struggle with the images
we can’t shake, 1001 Dream Meanings
and its variations. The smart ones forget
the meanings and play the numbers assigned
to each type of symbol, endless combinations
with their promise of money and possibility,
enough to cling to as the days pile
on top of each other like snow, making
everything more difficult and more beautiful.
Once a childhood friend said to me
of our small Texas hometown, Wherever
we go, we always know there’s somewhere
worse, and I thought of it as his parents
flew his body across the country to be buried
in the exact place he’d struggled so hard
to escape, a place where the snow comes
down so seldom as to be a miracle, covering
everything with a blinding white for only
a little while, just like when my friend was born
during a freak snowstorm in March. What
are the odds of that? he’d ask, but it wasn’t
a question. He died with his dreams, those small
moments where everything appears to glitter,
if only for a second before it all disappears.                                     May 20, 2006 post

 

 First published in Nomad's Choir:

Why I Hate Sunflowers

The only story my friend Hank’s dad ever
told in my presence involved them, him
spending a youthful summer chopping them
down for almost nothing. Hate them, he said.
Case closed. Vietnam had taken away most
of his words, freakish chance his son, who died
far away from home in Philadelphia. Guess I’ll
have to stop watching the Weather Channel, Hank’s
dad said at the funeral. I remembered the sunflower
story and thought I could hate them too, in solidarity.
The sun doesn’t impress me much and anything
becomes sad and ugly if you put your mind to it.                              May 26, 2006 post

 

First published in Illya's Honey:

You Can’t See It In This Picture

There’s a tiara on my head, but you can’t
see it since it’s been cut off. Not that it
matters. Linda Lovelace says if you watch
Deep Throat closely, you can see her
bruises. The pleasure is all mine, I say,
even when it isn’t. I can’t remember a
plot, but that’s beside the point. My
tiara is cheap, a child’s toy, and it breaks
without warning. I am not a child, but
I could be. Come closer. Or don’t.                                                     May 1, 2006 post

 

Your Comments Are Appreciated

We are in a hotel at check-out time
and you are the maid, vacuuming
in the next room, collecting the trash,
stripping the bed. Everything comes
to an end, and maybe your head is in your
hands and maybe it’s on a platter. What you
have given me can be put in a small box,
one that I can take with me should I
desire. When I ask you what you want
to eat at our last dinner date, you set
down the menu, tell me it doesn’t matter,
at all, everything tastes the same here.                                       June 25, 2006 post