Twenty Six Years after Nixon's Resignation
History has so far shown us only two roads to stability,
equilibrium and domination.
Thank God the denture didn't fall
between all the cursing and tough love
that comes with losing a quarter. My hope
is that the newspaper near the pay phone
will star Clinton again, another Gore,
a shaven Reno, anything to make me leave
for the train ten minutes sooner
so that I won't be punished by Wandy
for stealing the ink off his newspaper.
I'll explain what happened to the change,
I'll swear I didn't inhale. I carry a bit
on Nixon - I've started to read
another one of his stories: he lost
his temper, he punched his wife
in the jaw, he got caught,
the cocksucker - one name
twenty five years of diplomacy taught
a girl with Behcet's, the cold sores ran
in her family, so did the dizziness.
I adore the way she forgets
the blister near the clit that ruined
her simple walking, the sympathetic limp
is what killed me. My other hope is that there
are two or three more here who feel
too much, who hurt on her behalf, who pray
someone finds a working phone, boils water, waits.
I couldn't tell if the girl's expression was sheer
pain or just the odd giddiness that comes
with a catnap between subway stops.
I horrified the kid to her left by pulling
the teeth from my mouth, Clinton can't take
credit for paying the bill for that work.
Between the swollen jaw and the drool
and the caked blood, everyone thought
I was robbed: here's a tissue, here's a bottle
of water, here's a Hail Mary and a mea culpa.
They thought I was Kissinger, what threw them
I think were the black sags and slurred speech.
Henry's still alive, he's hiding at the Frick
in the corner below the Whistler. I'll bet
a dollar, two dollars - hell, I'll bet my first
born, a girl, she lives in England with her mom
now, she has a pudgy cheek, she's got a short fuse -
he just stands there, looking still
at the Harmony, the gloved hands that touch
his Cambodian, his ten percent, his detente.
Ford should've yanked Dick's wisdom
teeth, at least one to save face
that terrible season when maple falls
apart under stress though the pine
always forever and ever Amen stands
in the face of winter like a crazy Frenchman in need
of gas, governments have shut down for less -
ask my America, though my New York didn't
notice the ferry anchored between Ellis and Battery
for three days, my New Jersey didn't object
to the sycamore flagging traffic in Trenton
and my Allentown still had more cows than blacks
with health care. I suspect last winter killed one
of the landlord's two poodles, his coat did him in.
Before I stand, I'll think about that pay phone
in need of a dial tone; its bent ear and dirty mouth.
I can see it now: Henry buying salt to make change,
Dick calling the phone a Communist, and Haig
brutalizing the thing for two weeks straight.
I don't offer anymore, I just rise from the seat
and let a woman near the filthy pole fill the space
even if sleepiness has the better half of me.
At this rate, I'll catch a strain of flu
just to keep myself upright on the train,
it's a trade: three sniffles and phlegm
for a little equilibrium. Here's what I've done:
if it didn't involve chicken soup,
it involved over the counter medicine
that knocked me into next Wednesday,
I missed two fist fights over petroleum
and a governor who called the Times
reporter an ass hole - I could've said that
my mother had her teeth pulled, too,
in the sixth grade; the year escapes me.
She had her mouth undone by freshmen
at the University, they jammed a needle
in her gum wrong, she pissed
in the dentist's chair, she learned
at St. Lucy's on 103rd, she married
a man who pumped gas, she had
three kids and one grand-
daughter who lived in Chelmsford,
she kneads bread like no one.
* first published in Exquisite Corpse
Becoming the Rake
I am an idiot for waiting this long. I cull the dead by hand
to clear space. September was nothing but trouble. I think
the seriousness hit me in the kitchen, discovering life
in a carton of kung pao shrimp and a quart of fried rice
growing roots in the corner of the fridge; or the elongated
florescent bulb above the sink that burnt out,
me arm deep in a mix of liquid soap and dirty plates;
or when my heel couldn't handle the mopped tile, how
the local news, business page and movie reviews scattered
in the air, my elbow and left hip absorbing the brunt
of the fall. I am doing this so everything makes sense, maybe
a spirit will overwhelm me. Then I will have no choice but to lie
down next to my pile of leaves, picking up where the dream left
off, the one where I am not keeping track of my receipts
to prove the expense, the one where I am not raising my voice
in the car over a wrong turn, the one where I am not desperate
for a glass of water to fight the burn that comes with a plate
of hot wings; but the one that started long before
gunpowder and the printing press, before God was nailed
to a board and before the world understood why a fig was good
for the heart and how a mushroom crippled the mind. I am
going back far enough to learn how to use my hands all over
again. The dream begins with two sticks. I turn my back
to the wind, I irritate one with the bark of another.
* first published in ACM (Another Chicago Magazine)
Catching Up with a Traveling Salesman
Who Sold a Cure for Everything
What in this town isn't dying of something. An ear of corn drying
on a porch, a moth head over heels for a light fixed above
the steps of the grocery store, worn horseshoe nails welded
together to make a lamp holder, and me, easily faint
with dreams of the neighbor's wife. Such a beautiful night to trespass
on a stranger's land, running past the scarecrow with one arm dangling
off the handle, flopping back and forth with the breeze. A pile of mail
at the front door, you would swear no one lived there if you didn't hear
opera through an open window and what sounded like an old man
doing his awful best to hit every note, even the impossible high ones.
Clearing the Table with Angel Feathers
The bus boy cleared the table
with angel feathers.
A minimum of fifteen pins
on her suspenders,
the waitress served slabs
of pork drenched
in "our famous Jack Daniels
glaze" with a stitched grin,
to the ultimate size,
eighteen ounces of goodness.
Smoking One More Cigarette with Maggie
Menthol between index and middle
without a fixed direction for North -
second hand bound for Pittsburgh,
a string headlong for Queens,
a piece ripped to shreds, vanished,
a Virginia Dare above Roanoke -
rising, splitting, God knows we did
after tipping the waitress,
her lung and black apron
deep washed in ground wing,
the French braid in her hair
composed, calm, an Indian summer
on its last leg, walking off,
Maggie following, stretching her leg first:
spine arched, elbow unlocked,
head bent down to flattened knee.
* first published in Conspire
Smoking One More.mp3
She removed the eyes,
every one of them
that looked up her skirt
from the sack.
Mashed with the same milk
used to keep the cat quiet.
Definitions of Faggot
Burke left at Gate 31, Newark to Singapore,
nicorette in shirt pocket, kissing Molly goodbye,
China already there:
gunpowder, printing press, suicide.
A tee-shirt Burke saw:
SINGAPORE - A FINE
CITY in caps, a dozen crimes
listed on back - spitting gum,
urinating in an elevator,
a stick figure to depict
fucking up the ass
got life, weed and horse
One-piece, black, strap over each shoulder,
wet pot belly pulled from the whirlpool:
leg lifted over ceramic edge, foot propped
on the first of three steps going down.
Burke's long gone, I watched Molly get out,
towel wrapped around waist, fingernail in mouth,
hair bound tight with rubber band,
four and twenty strands of blonde,
long, drenched and frayed at the end,
her eyes fixed hard on smoke
drawn from a white fag.
* first published in Exquisite Corpse