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.








Some, I forbid. Oak, metal. Why stay like a gilt tiger hat?
What farthest deeds to the marina
negate mere language? Men like effective
fair trade in sighs and love.

And a water star for vanishing
over our sternest furlough,
an oak rocket in Heimlich benediction.



For NaPoWriMo, Day 23. I haven’t been explaining the prompts here lately, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you to this poem.



Dirty McCormick

McCormick refused to take his bath.
He ran out naked, to see the stars.
One thing led to another, and he
decided to lie down, just stay

outside for a while. His father
brought him sandwiches. His mother
brought him a pillow. His little brother
brought him his favorite rocket ship.

No one cared that McCormick was dirty.
No one cared that McCormick was stinky.
They knew he’d come back inside …


And he did come back–several days later.
He thanked his father for the sandwiches,
his mother for the pillow (he forgot to
thank his brother for the rocket ship).

He told everyone what he saw–how the
moon licked his bedroom window at night,
how the possum ran along the back fence,
how the sun scrubbed the stars from the sky.

He showed them, too (and this was the
most surprising part) what had happened
as he lay there for all those days and nights.
Would you believe it? McCormick bloomed!


Felt like sketching him, for some reason. If I were to do it again, I’d have him holding something over his bits and pieces. As it is, I just drew extra dirt. Also, please tell me Shel Silverstein didn’t write a poem about a dirty kid who blooms, and I’ve subconsciously replicated it here. (This is for NaPoWriMo, Day 22, by the way.)


You, There

You, there, dreaming with your dick in your hand
here on April 21, 2014—all the trees just beginning
to bear down with their menace of bloom—

did you know that you look just like Marilyn Monroe,
or, if I squint, like Albert Einstein? But you’re no genius
of flesh. You live your life like a Hostess Sno-Ball,

soft and pink as a pair of testicles. Fuck being soft!
Let’s you and me just do some blow, watch the river
rise to kiss us like some simpering bitch. Clark Street

makes me sick with its tiki bars and celebrity chefs,
all that noise. Did you hear that Brad and Angelina
are going to have twins? I read it in Walgreens at

Clark and Lake, that taint of a corner. Imagine
his cock in her pussy again and again, just like
in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the movie that started

everything and nothing. Maybe some fucking
blue octopus from Australia will come over,
swim up all their assholes, kill the entire

grinning fam damily. But I love you! Do you
love me? I remember going to Disneyland
when I was five, the submarine ride with

that goddamn giant clam. And a mermaid—
maybe it was you. I don’t think we should
get high after all. I don’t think anything.

“Be well,” said the cashier at Walgreens.
“Be well,” said my hash pipe, settling itself
against my inner thigh, “if you can’t be good.”




For NaPoWriMo, Day 21. Questions? Complaints? Hey, read the prompt and click over to the list of requirements.