Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some Trees

The hatchet of day,
sun or varied clouds,
and the street yawns
with traffic.

There is so much
to be done
when you are away -
broad plots. Ha.

I paint my fingernails red
then become a typist,
which leaves the keyboard
looking like state's evidence.
My letters have never been
so brazen.

I read the storms
of other women's lives
out loud into a dark
bookstore. Sophie Behr
had it bad. Her husband,
Leo Tolstoy, read her diaries.
Rebecca Harding fell in love
and lost her story.

There is survival
by surrender,
or smoke and mirrors,
or even success.

My life is no magazine,
I live it.

So much open space
when you aren't here.
It's like a poem with no end,
one that just wanders
off into a field
of fig newtons for breakfast,
a yam for dinner.

This is the forest of today
without you. By nightfall,
I will stack it as firewood.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Walk Through Edwardsville

I live and work in a crumbling neighborhood. I've written about it countless times (at least a few on this blog in poem form or essay, and dozens of other writings in my journal entries). It kind of ticks me off to find myself writing about it, yet again. Place is a topic that haunts me. Not in a capital P Poetry Workshop sort of way, either. I'm not happily haunted by Edwardsville. I'm living in it.

I have a duplicitous relationship with this town. We have a bookstore here. People praise us. "It's so nice what you're doing here." Ok, great. What are we doing here? No one comes in to buy books. Those who read and want to own a book in this area either shop online, or at Barnes and Noble. People say, "The energy in here is so great," or "This is such a special place." The free book box gets stolen, and we put out a fresh one, but start taking it inside after we close up shop for the evening. We're willing to give books away in the daytime, but not at night? Night isn't trustworthy? I put a five dollar bill into Salvation Army bucket, but won't give a cent to the man who comes into the store asking for money. This town screams need, but I'm only willing to give what I want to give and on my own terms. What does that say about me as a person?

Today I took a walk thinking about my tangly feelings for this area. We want to move and we also have fierce pride in owning the bookstore here in the middle of a place where no one seems to care about words. Maybe we feel safer that way. Maybe it's time to move. Why have fierce pride over anything, really? It's probably unhealthy. There's something too precious about it all.

I walked into the laundromat I've never been inside. I've only ever seen it from the outside. I complain all the time about people just walking past our bookstore, and I've never been in my town laundromat. The tiles on the floor are lifting up and crunch underfoot, the air is humid with the lint of the dryers. The machines are "Compu-Dry II" models. I'm sure they shrink your clothes in binary code. No one was in there with me, but someone was earlier. They left a plaid blanket in one of the baskets. There are twenty vents on the side of the building, all pointing down at the ground.

In one of the houses on a one-way street behind our store, a parrot stares out the window. The owner of the double-wide keeps a collection of rain decayed religious statues in the little space of land between the front porch and the sidewalk. Jesus has no hands. St. Francis is riddled with pockmarks. A plastic sign is jammed into the dirt, "Please curb your dog."

There's a beautiful yellow labrador that rests at the front door of Empire Arcade and Amusements. He watches the traffic of Main Street.

The parrot, the dog, the bookstore owners.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ordinary Women

from “Striptease: the Untold Story of the Girlie Show” by Rachel Shteir

Ordinary women kiss
the rawest possible idea onstage –
the burlesque of the heart.

They take it off for just a song
or bubbles.

From a distance
it looks like a routine,
the viewer with a trace of envy
for all their self-reliance.

Ordinary women
push men to the sidelines
to find themselves,
smooth a stocking to elevate,
undress to the realm
of pure music.

A pretty girl is like a melody –
sort of,
or a war of form.

In other words,
there will always be an audience
where there is a bazaar of bare legs,
a little comedy, and plenty of fire
to swallow.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Try not to think about great writers
as you start your poem for the day.
Permit yourself one bite of Oreo.
Attempt to launch a metaphor.
Delete. Tea sip.

There’s apprehension even
in the quietest of ceremonies.
Little letters roar from their cages,
radiate a need for discipline –
the whip of responsibility.
Crack it.
Put down that cookie.

If you say you’re a writer,
you write, release the prisoners.
Let it hail an invention of claws,
let words thunder the landscape
so the townspeople have to send out
their distress signal. A whoop,
a holler, some kind of yawp.
If you’re lucky, they will.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Fowler's Fire

This book, outrageous with pages,
efficient with flames of tiny entries,
authorizes the use of the word
character, or confuses Latinate.
Italics release the tension
like a powerline slack in the breeze
of early spring. So much information
jettisoned above our heads.

This book is old,
this book is thick, this book –

Let’s look up the word love
instead of kissing.

It says:

Put down the book,
hold me, instead.
Let me show you
how to rewrite
the dictionary
with our bodies.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Women’s Imaging Center

I’ve checked in, handed over my insurance card,
worn no lotion. Smiled. Routine. I hope.
Other women hold folders,
nod their crossed feet,
palm a smartphone for comfort.

The television modulates between what we must buy
and what we must lose, flashes stripes of want.

For visits like these, or for tooth extractions,
I bring a favorite author. Today, it’s Updike.
Collected Stories. It’s an adze of a book.

Glasses out of their case, page turned,
I catch a glimpse of a man with a translucent patch
under his left eye. He waits for his wife to emerge
from the door that opens to a giant flower
of welcome, then shuts with a sealing hiss.

Updike describes his grandmother’s thimble,
then her nose –
one nostril was squeezed into a teardrop-shape,
and the other was a round black hole
through which she seized the air.

The phrase, the scent of cloth permeated with dried sunlight
causes tears to butter my cheeks. Glasses off.
Pretend to watch the television.

My name is called.
Top off, everything to the waistline,
and just put your belongings
in the locker. Bring your valuables.

I take Updike with me
to the new, smaller waiting room,
now with less magazines,
but a larger television.

I confirm my name, birthday,
date of my last period,
then walk into a wilderness
of white machinery where the beehive
of Updike’s thimble, the nostril,
and the dried sunlight follow.

When the test is over,
I step off the continent of pastel carpet
and take the first door to the right,
just to walk longer, inhale the February air.

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Poet’s Grocery List

“Hope bases vast premises on foolish accidents, and reads a word where in fact only a scribble exists.” -- John Updike

kosher salt
half and half
fuck it, heavy cream

Good luck at pinpointing
that airport pre-flight feeling.

trash bags and stickers

A 43 year old busboy at the diner
wipes the table, looks out at the craft
of clouds. What stripe is hope?


Crickets send up automatic monotony.

Silence as harvest.

frozen vegetables
her dull egg eyes

Frost bedizens the windshield.

fried rice
spicy tuna roll

swiss chard
Leon Redbone
Boulevard of Broken Dreams

The real is magic,
the magic is real.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Object Manipulation

for Joe

Here is this bag
for you to carry.
Now add possibility,
circumstance, a brick
of history. You’ll need
calculus for liftoff.

Step back,
inch forward,
fluid now,
plates, cups,
toss the torch,
roll a crystal
in the center
of your palm.
Did you iron
that shirt?

It’s common to drop
a prop
or two,
or twelve.
Diagrams help,
as do ladders.

It’s easy to lose
yourself in the pattern
of all that floats above you,
every cigarboxed emotion
a synchronous cloud.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Two Voices

The exercise limits
in the way most exercises do,
and it is also simple,
in the way virtue is simple,
the way steam
has that quiet love
for the kitchen ceiling.

Write two voices
without attribution,
golden, alone,
no description
or tone.

the surprise blindfold
at the birthday party,
your direction no longer true,
the target tacked to one of many
laughter kissed walls.
Kool-aid sulky lips.
Shag carpeted music.

That was so good.
So good.

Yes, it was.
You've been so distant lately.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


You find it difficult to keep your lips shut.

A hazard. Pushdown.

Fallen birches sash the embankment.

Then, the feeling of worn neon, weak wink.
How inaudible your own emotions are,
how peculiar.

A tiny portion of sadness lodges like a squeak
in a flute, or anger subtracts its own perforated edge.
The overcrowded boxcar of happiness just thunders.

You press the damper pedal, jam a thumb
into clay, pretend those trees won’t
blaze as logs in another fire.