The Last Line Is a Killer

Would you believe it? McCormick bloomed
stronger than honey, quicker than spice—
an oak rocket in Heimlich benediction
on this: I think I’m made of plastic. Are you?
But, oh, that detour, short and sweet
against my inner thigh, if you can’t be good.
The old, sweet world—this one, the one where
I’m typing now—expires as we break and burn.
I check every few minutes to see such joy
on every face, but still don’t see snow
to play in. I would do this for any little boy, if
I were you; you already know that love is a
stereotype, the sound of our own breath
repeating our name, the invitation: Come
on down to think about other things
for a while if you can. Who tells her—this
shoulderblade sea cat, unequal bittersweet—
some small things just the same? The comfort
and style are beyond comparison. Your girl
of the houses (until I am flame-farewelled)
didn’t know you yet, wet fingers never ever
wrapped around your eyes that came with it.
(Gravel. That laugh. That flash of teeth.)
Bloom, and you’ll find berries on this plate
of chimpanzee sun. Blink once. Scratch.



For NaPoWriMo, Day 30. (Yes, 30.) Thank you so much, to everyone who stopped by this month! What can you expect to see here in May? Well, not a poem every day … BUT one per week, usually on Wednesday — and maybe some other thoughts on poetry, writing, and publishing in between. Stay with me! I’m not going away (just dialing things back a little). Hope to see you around …


I Think We All Know

Sometimes the sun is a ball of chimpanzees.
(We’re their distant cousins—we show up drunk
at all the family reunions.) Do you hear the pause
in their chattering? Do you see how they disapprove?
I feel no warmth from this kind of sun; I taste only
bitterness. It smells like we have been willfully
forgotten. Does it smell, instead, like the color of
lemon drops? In Portland, Oregon, there’s at least
one pinball machine with Elton John on it. The sun,
that orb of apes, loves and warms us in Chicago,
tells us conspiratorially how much it hates Portland.
But that’s not really important, whether chimpanzees
love us, hold us in any particular regard. YOLO! we
scream, because we cannot help ourselves and
because we know that’s what keeps our world
stitched together, not oozing and shifting under
our helpless feet. It’s time to acknowledge
the corn. The wet fence of hope demands that
we keep reaching for the stars, which is easy when
they’re lapping at our ankles, like the koi with whom
I sometimes play pinochle, euchre, or bridge. Twinkle
says the koi stars will become supernova bonobo suns
someday. But she’s only a malevolent leaf. I think
we all know the direction the koi are headed in; that’s
what all those star maps are for. But qu’est que c’est?
¿Quién es ese? The empty Scotch tape dispenser asks
pointed questions I cannot answer as the sun—the
chimpanzee sun—blinks once, scratches, considers.



For NaPoWriMo, Day 29.


Game Show Heaven

After so many decades in your living room, the game shows never forget: America is watching.
–Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune

If heaven is a game show, I like that.
That immortal shout of existence,
like a large and enthusiastic tornado.

How quaint it all seems, this sobering
dance party, this razzamatazz that
offers no insights. A glass of wine
relaxes me, whispers that I am still

young and pretty. Young and restless,
a colorful swirl of movement and frenzy.
Someday, I know, the puzzle will be
thrown out. Joy and tension, conquest

and defeat, all will dissolve in the jokes
and boogie music from the hidden powers
above. The mere truth of being here,
entering this wonderland at last, is

enough to drive you a little crazy. We
stand and sit, clap, clap more, clap
louder. We wait for lightning, to hear
our name, the invitation: Come on down.



For NaPoWriMo, Day 28.



The Skeleton to the Pumpkin, on the Porch


Trust me–don’t even look at
the place where you used to grow.
You’ll only make yourself sad.

Would you like me to distract you
with another chorus of Dem bones,
dem bones, dem dry bones? Or

The worms crawl in, the worms
crawl out? We don’t know if it will be
worms for you, or a raccoon,

maybe a squirrel. I’m sorry I don’t
know a good song about your innards
being eaten. I’m sorry there’s not much

left to talk about. Have I told you that
sometimes I think I’m only pretend,
never had any flesh at all? Sometimes,

I remember the sounds of a factory.
Hey, do we even know for sure
that you grew on that vine? Maybe

you can’t be eaten, after all. Maybe
you’ll get packed away in the basement,
like me. My box is called Halloween Stuff.

Maybe you’ll spend winter, spring, summer
with me inside Halloween Stuff. It all depends
on this: I think I’m made of plastic. Are you?




For NaPoWriMo, Day 27.






To Whom Shall We Write Our Letter?

My dear ones all, we expect no hint
of any iceberg or other such calamity,
nor typhoons, floods, landslides,
nor any fractured bones. We expect
even our eggshell porcelain teacups
to remain, as ever, unharmed. These

are our expectations. Shall we be
surprised, insulted, injured when our
expectations are not met? To whom
shall we write our letter of complaint

as we break and burn?



For NaPoWriMo, Day 26.



Once, I Went to Walgreens



Once, I went to Walgreens
to replace my daughter’s Hot Huez hair chalk
because the blue chalk pan tumbled into the toilet
when my son was just looking at it.


Once, I went to Walgreens
to pick up some photos of my kids so I could
put them in Christmas cards that needed to be sent
Priority if they had any hope of getting there in time.
Somehow, my online order had not gone through,
and I felt hot and desperate, like everything was
ruined. I huffed at the nice employee–whose
fault this was not at all–and now I see her
there often, can’t let her see me.


Once, I went to Walgreens
and the panhandling lady
stationed outside told me
I looked great. I gave her
something for that. When
she said this on other days,
too, and I realized it was
only her patter, I tried
not to feel as if I’d just
been taken, had never
looked great at all.


Once, I went to Walgreens
and was told to Be well, but
somehow, it only made me
feel sicker and sadder
than I did before.


Once, I went to Walgreens
and the art school-looking cashier
asked me what my cinnamon supplement
was for. I told her it helps lower blood sugar.
I didn’t tell her that mine has been a little high
in my past couple rounds of bloodwork, and that
I fear this is the beginning of an internal collapse
that I could have prevented but chose not to,
or even now could reverse but choose not to
because I’m afraid it’s now a done deal, that
I’m headed, at last, for the world of lancets and
Glucerna. So many failures. She told me how she
loves to chew cinnamon sticks. I wanted to stay
there for a while, in her zone of judgment-free
curiosity. Someday, she might learn that it’s
rude to ask about people’s purchases, that
even the most innocent-looking basket
can be freighted with secret grief. But
it didn’t have to be that day, and I
don’t ever have to be the one
who tells her.



For NaPoWriMo, Day 25.


Read This Before It’s Suppressed


You know the lady with the beehive hairdo?
She also has a floating eyeball. If you can
grab it, look into it when you say hello,
she picks up a golden phone, whispers
that you’re all right. She knows your name
before you tell her, even if you never say it
except inside the walls of your mind.


In high school, one of the popular but nice girls
was in something called Job’s Daughters. Did the
initiation rite involve witnessing a pantomime
of suffering? She wore a lot of long, denim skirts;
I don’t know if this was a condition of belonging
or just a style choice. It was the late ’80s, after all.


Many important men
in American history
were Masons,
I’m sure.


My daughter was born
at Illinois Masonic. I hoped
for a tiny fez. They gave her
the standard knit hat–the kind
that seems impossibly small
years later, given that it once
enclosed your entire world.


The daily machinery of the body
is made of bricks: cells respiring,
growing or dying. Always a few
laddering off toward some
malignancy or other. In time,
you have too many bricks
and your reflexes are too slow.
The music speeds up, and then
there’s nothing left to hear.


I guess I’m no better or worse
a wall-builder than you are.
I guess we all leave some spaces
for the sun to come through.


I have a mortar that’s
stronger than honey.



For NaPoWriMo, Day 24.