These Are Our Nightgowns

Light as a feather, stiff as a board.
Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror
or maybe peeking in the basement window.
Ghosts in the graveyard. The woman who
wore a velvet ribbon so her head wouldn’t fall off.
These are our nightgowns. We have eaten
all the pizza, ice cream, and not-quite Doritos.
We drank all the Big K red cream soda.
My sleeping bag is a roll of Lifesavers.
My head is next to your head. I don’t know
how we’ll ever sleep, but suddenly we do.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “light.”

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Antagonists

My teeth, because if a bit of popcorn hull was caught under one, maybe
they all had to go, and then where would I be? Toothless at age 5.

My own head, because if it hurt, didn’t that mean it was going to fall off?

Electricity. Couldn’t it come out of the outlet and shock me, even if
I didn’t touch the outlet? Or maybe one day, I would be too tempted,
go right up to one and stick a fork in there—and then I would deserve it.

The man who screamed in the Bon Marché department store once,
because he was scared of escalators. He became, somehow,
a classic villain, swirling his cape and twirling the ends of his mustache
if I didn’t accomplish something in time. The “something” involved
my record player and its stack of Disney read-along 45’s and books.
When we moved, he moved with us, invading my basement playroom
in our new house in Minnesota. He followed me because I needed him.

A witch doctor from Gilligan’s Island, and I was Gilligan. I needed
a shot from a giant needle because of a bite from a poisonous mosquito.
This, I called up while waiting, in perpetuity, for a penicillin shot
because I had an ear infection from the start of Minnesota to the end
and always threw up the pink liquid. We were in Ohio when I finally
mastered swallowing pills. Sometimes I can’t do things until I can.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “antagonist” or “protagonist.” Speaking of antagonist, I think WordPress is going to add line breaks where I didn’t intend them. But sometimes I have to write in longer lines anyway.

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Lettuce Pray, We Sometimes Said

For health and strength and daily food,
we give you thanks, O Lord.

In the manner of my family, this is how we
prayed before dinner every night, one of us

choosing that one or

God is great, God is good,
let us thank him for our food.
By his hand, we are fed,
thank him for our daily bread.

Or

Thank you for the world so sweet,
thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
thank you, God, for everything.

Or this one, from my brother’s preschool

Jesus Christ, help me today,
in all I think and do and say.

What can I tell you, except that it was
a sweet world that we made together,
table after table, kitchen or dining room,

house after house?

What can I tell you, except that I hold
this world, too, even now?

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “health.”

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Free Lunch

Is that what it was, the little movie ticket
I gave to the lunch lady every day
in the winter of 1980 and 1981, in the gym
where we did the Bunny Hop and watched
Otto the Auto and Bill Cosby safety films?

A movie ticket in exchange for canned corn,
rectangle pizza, a carton of milk. At home,
for a time, I know we had powdered milk—
my question (unasked, unanswered) is,

Were we poor?

My father, bricked into our mudroom by
stacks of boxes of resume paper, sitting at
my mother’s old red desk, answering ads
from magazines, often not knowing
what the job was, or where.

Or where.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “Free _____.”

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Cul de Sac

In Seattle, the middle was mounded with mulch;
my brother once dared me to walk up it barefoot.
Later, my father, in our rust-carpeted rec room,
tweezed out all my splinters, one by one.

My mother, to keep my mind off it, told me
to sing the ABCs. A to J, and then M, and then Z—
an impossible distance of tweezing, toe to heel,
one foot and then the other, as my brother,

in a shocked, dry whisper, said
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

In Dayton, the middle was open
for games of kickball, which I hated,
or spud, which I loved but can’t remember
how to play. Mostly, though, we roller skated,
my friend Jenni and me—around and around
in the middle, or across it to driveways,
each other’s, or even other people’s.

I had a jacket I was proud of: white
polyester satin, pastel rainbow-ribbed
at the neck, wrists and waist. Jenni and I

liked Olivia Newton-John, so that’s who I was:
a goddess angel queen on white skates,
flying across Xanadu, around and around.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “middle.”

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Possibly a Myth

Do I remember this correctly,
that one day, the genial driver of
the gifted program shorty bus,
feeling positively merry
and having extra time to kill,
detoured through our neighborhoods
on the way back to our school
from our one-day-a-week school?
I think she could not drop us off
at our houses, per regulation, but
it was thrilling, somehow:
My house next! Do mine next!
as we guided her with directions
we knew well even though we were
years away from driving. Something
illicit, almost, about a yellow school bus
in the cul de sac of Elmway Drive,
all of us waving at my windows,
in case my mother saw us, before
going to the next unsuspecting house.
It was something like pajama day
at school, maybe—a heady blend
of public life and private. Also,
there was this: That bus driver
liked us. We had suspected, but now
we knew—it was like a geode, how
a rock can crack open sometimes,
reveal a sparkle of gems that was
just waiting for us to see it.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “myth.”

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Clown-Shaped Light Switch

Suppose I oughta be going now.
Where? Oh, you know … just out.
Seems that the new little girl
don’t like clowns, said I was
scary. Suppose I was made to
cheer kids up, light the dark.
Suppose if I ain’t doing my job,
I’m just a bum—so I belong
out under the sky somewhere,
all broken up, still smiling
like a dumb old fool, maybe.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was to write a persona poem.

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Prime Meridian

What color is England today?
Purple, maybe, or beige—
not green, necessarily:
The imaginary line passes through
Gren-itch, not Green-witch.

If we pull down the United States map,
I can see the route we took to get here,
a slice across the top. What I remember
is the Rainier Beer commercial,
replaying it over and over in my head

in a motel room somewhere, making myself
sad and eerie over the slim chance
that I would ever hear it again:

Raaaaaaaaainieeeeeeerrrrr Beeeeeeeerrrrr

as a man on a motorcycle approached
the mountain we used to own.

I thought I wanted to tell you about
the hundreds of monarchs, squashed
on the grille of our Chevy Caprice Classic.
But they were not important yet;

I still wore the heartlessness of a child,
a metal exoskeleton around me as we
crossed a line we would never cross again,
not in the same way. Never going home.

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Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “prime.”

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