Instructions for When You’re Alone in the House

Slide open the small tin of bubblegum lip balm.
Slide it shut, along its metal track. So good to hold,
a token that fits in your palm like a key in a lock.
Drink tiny shot glasses of toothpaste water
out of the cap of the toothpaste. Now you know
what drinking is, maybe, but the warning on the back
of the toothpaste says not to swallow it. Will you die?
The little roll-on of perfume, Dirty Kids brand, smells like
dandelions in the sun. What are you getting ready for?
It doesn’t matter. And then you read somewhere
about how sex actually works, not just The man puts
his penis inside the woman’s vagina, but how this occurs,
that it has to be hard, and big. How big? You practice
with a plastic bottle of Avon Sweet Honesty deodorant.
It hurts. You wonder how anyone gets ready
for anything like this.

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

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Mr. Sunshine

Nominal head of the Sunshine Family,
though it was your wife who did all the spinning.
I don’t remember what job you had, in the
hippie-dippy craft cottage you were supposed to live in.
I think my parents considered the cottage to be
a bridge too far. I was lucky to get the dolls of you,
your wife, your baby. You wore hiking boots, I recall,

jeans, a red turtleneck, and your eyes were
glittery, uncanny— little spooky gems in deep sockets.
This was probably Christmas of 1978, and in Seattle,
no one could help absorbing at least some of this
style, or way of being: My mother and I shopped
at a co-op, sometimes had lunch at a granola-type café
where I got frozen yogurt (a real novelty then).

It may have been called Something Sunshine
or Sunshine Something, too, and I am duty-bound
as a native (when you come right down to it)
to say that this is not the mismatch that it might seem,
for Seattle. I do recall the clear, bright summers.
The hydrofoil boat races on our lake. Anyway,

Mr. Sunshine, you moved with us several times,
making the cut somehow, again and again,
though I can’t imagine you’re anywhere now,
other than  a landfill in Columbus. Your baby,
I might still have somewhere. I have no idea

what ever became of your wife. As for you,
the last time I saw, you were in a plastic bin
in my father’s last basement, next to Donny Osmond,
also naked, without his female companion,

still smiling, still holding, if not his microphone,
then at least the stigmata (singular stigmato?)
from when he still had something to say. Or sing.

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

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WOEM

My fancy other grandma, who was never one for animals
and resolutely mis-called our cat Frisky or Frisco, not Frito,
at least once told my mother that we should get a new cat
instead of moving with our old one. I know it because
my mother told me this tale about her mother-in-law,
whom she did not hate, but toward whom she always felt
at least a bit of tension, remove. Oh, well. I was told.
Frito in her ancient (from the ’60s) wood and wire carrier,
saying WOEM—her distress call—or on a leash made of
clothesline, prowling my lap and looking out the window,
WOEM, and in the motel room, under a bed or else on it.
They were never mistakes, those moves. Cats are travelers,
despite what many people think. Only the last, short move
was a bad one, maybe, but we didn’t know until it was done.
She was, by then, like one of my mother’s hibiscus plants,
at home in our sunny Dayton living room, but in Columbus,
only darkness and fruitless seeking. Only WOEM, in that
last house.

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

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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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