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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Edge of Night

But all I ever saw of that one was the commercial—
my mother’s only soap opera was All My Children,
every day at 1:00. Noon, when we lived in Minnesota,
which is where I first began to follow it, when poor
Nina was in the bank vault without her insulin,
held hostage during a robbery, and Erica was having
another round of marital problems, this time with Tom,
who (it seemed) only ever wanted to have a baby,
whether with this wife or the next. Did he have a baby
with Brooke, Erica’s do-gooder nemesis? (I forget, and
anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.) At the time when
I picked up the thread of the story, Erica was with Tom,
though my mother told me that would not last, and
she was right. There were two things my mother told me
not to tell my grandmother: that she smoked, and that
she watched a soap opera (even just one), though
my grandmother smoked like a chimney and, no fan
of soap operas herself, surely would have understood
the value of another daytime vice, a well-timed
respite, right at the edge of 1:00. Or noon.

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

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