Saturday, May 28, 2016

Canary

I raised that spider plant from a sprig snipped
from my first landlady’s kitchen a decade before.
I lived in her attic, in a room the shape and color
of a stick of butter stretching the entire length
of her twin brick townhouse
I kept the little fingerling in a jar of water
until it sprouted roots, then transferred it
to a planter cradled in a sling of strung
cowry shells that I hung from the ceiling
of my next two apartments.
Then she came along, blazing and blinding
and before I knew it we had crammed  a U-Haul
full of my belongings and sped to where she lived
in Culver City.
The intrepid plant rode on the dash,
next to the one-eyed sock monkey I’d sewn myself
from a kit. When we finally made it
to Los Angeles, we were spent and left the U-Haul
parked on the street, planning to return it
the next day. I left the spider plant there
overnight, never suspecting that a single day
in the sun beneath the windshield
would be enough to fry it to a crisp.
I was more devastated than I should have been
Maybe subconsciously I recognized that this was
an omen, that this was only the first of the things
I’d dragged  along for three thousand miles
that would wither in the gaze of the unblinking
California sun.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lenny Lentil Gets Pinched

The plain girl I was convinced had been eying me all night
is being chatted up by a guy wearing a backwards baseball cap
and a t-shirt that reads OBEY, earlier today
I wandered into a record store and found a copy
of Unknown Country by the Clean, I left my copy behind in a box
years ago when I fled Culver City, earlier this evening
I went to a movie about Japanese hit men, the screen filled
with black and white rain and fire and crushed butterflies, now
I'm here at the bar and some guy's pit bull is running around
the parking lot with his leash trailing behind him, sometimes
it's comforting to walk into a big, clean chain store,
with its high ceilings and signs and stacks of shiny new
merchandise everywhere, noodle calls and we talk about
the meals our mothers used to make, pork chops and meatloaf
and hot dogs, all that childhood meat, I tell her I'm trying to get
today's poem done and she sends me a text with an idea
for a title: LENNY LENTIL GETS PINCHED, I'm not sure
what it means but I respond "lentils are the most poetic
of beans," and the guy with the pit bull will apparently
talk to anybody, pumping his fist in the air at
random moments, and I'm speeding toward the cul-de-sac
of drunken poetry, the kind that spins its wheels and blasts
the radio but doesn't actually get anywhere or say anything,
just flails its arms in the air and flaps its tongue around and
doesn't care if it mixes its metaphors, I try to  convince myself
the secret of the universe is hidden in the napkin dispenser
on my table, or maybe the one on the next table over,
it's hard to tell, they look identical, it's getting late
and the Friday night mud sucks at my shoes, the undertow
of the week presents some well-reasoned arguments for
giving up, the plain woman and her new friend leave, then
the remaining women leave too, leaving a terrible
ducking void behind them, neediness gropes with such
gentle tendrils I don't notice until I'm being squeezed so tight
I can barely breathe, I head out the door to face the snarl
and snap of the trap, the cloud of choking dust, the enormous
dog tongue of want that slurps the flesh from my bones

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Shuttle


          She brushes her stringy black hair away from her eyes, stares at the crystal doorknob lying on the coffee table. The knob came off in her hand when she tried to leave for the party and now she's sitting on the couch in her faded Dead Moon t-shirt, absently tracing the holes in her stockings as she waits for the locksmith. Her painted eyelashes encircle her bloodshot eyes like snipped stitches. She picks up the doorknob and watches the way the facets catch the light when she twists it, watches the smoke from her Marlboro curl around it. She's become half unraveled, and the thread of what used to be part of her lies in a tangle on the carpet. Every once in a while the cat comes by and bats at the pile for a while before dashing back into the bedroom to hide under the bed. She needs something to wind the thread around, so she can re-weave herself into a new tapestry. A brand new life on the loom, using the same drab colors except that in this new scene she's smiling, she's standing up straight instead of slouching, there's sunlight shining on her pale skin. She looks around the apartment for a suitable stick to use as a shuttle, a pencil or ruler or comb but she can't find anything so instead she knots the end of the string around the doorknob, then parting the curtains and opening the window, hurls it as hard as she can into the night.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rouet de Rats

How many worms burrowed into your eye?
Did you train those birds with the needle-fine beaks
to gently probe and pluck them out?
Did you sew those nets like I taught you?
Did you bait those traps?  Did you
sharpen the stakes? How long have you
stood beneath that hive with your
mouth open, waiting? How many
rouets de rats did you encounter,
tails knotted together, dragging their filthy
carcasses in one squirming heap through the dust?
Did you chart their progress, using their leavings
to predict your fortune?
When you grew hungry, did you mash
those little brown beetles into a
protein-rich paste like I asked you? No?
You never listen. That sheet of plywood
is still lying in the weeds by the side
of the road where I showed you. That
could have been a home-no, a palace- for us
but you refused to even flip it over
to see what's clinging to its underside.
Don't you understand how precarious
our perch is here, how close to toppling
this stack of dirty magazines really is?
One offhand comment, one mistimed joke
and tomorrow flies apart, the nest explodes
into flaming chunks filled with charred hornets
scrambling to escape the paper ruins

Friday, May 13, 2016

Women You're

so good to us, us men
down in our holes,
going along with us
when we tell you we fell
but knowing the truth,
that we put ourselves 
down there. Dug
then jumped with no
pressure or prompting. 
Still, you never bring it up,
never remind us that the hole
is not all that deep
and that we could crawl out
anytime we wanted to. Instead
you lower a ladder, and if
we still insist on remaining
down here, you toss us
a bag of Doritos and a six pack
and some comic books until
we’re ready to come up.
Why do you do it?
Why don’t you just let us rot,
or fill the hole with water or sand
or just board the damn thing up
with us inside? Don’t you know
that every time you extend  
your hand you take the risk
of being pulled down here,
down here with us?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Transparent Blindfold

I suck deep into my skull
looking out through the eyes like peepholes
not wanting to see, not wanting to hear
the sound of bodies hitting the street
landing on the roofs of cars

Not wanting to know about the explosions
in the middle of the crowd
not wanting to see people ripped to bits
and thrown like scraps and rags,
their scattered pieces gathered into piles
and set on fire

Not wanting to see anyone tied to the bumper
and dragged through the dust
or dropped from a limb
or suspended upside down
or castrated, raped, gutted
I don’t want to know about
the crawlspace, the bloodied
mattress, the dumpster. 

I don't want to look into the eyes
of the last elephant, don't want to see
the bleached reefs, don't want to think about
the cities I love being underwater.
Instead I am going to sit here and stare
at the alliums, smell the lilacs and laugh
at the fuzzy baby animals 
frolicking among the daffodils.
I can’t think about gangrene
and leeches and all the things
that eat us from the inside out
I can't think about the collapse of the sun
even though I know that all these things
still dance in the corner of my eye
when I turn away

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wader

I had a staring contest
with a girl with a lazy eye
She was deep and dark like you

Her hand was cold and dry
against my face
Her mouth a zipper

Her skin was the color of the sky at dusk
cut by the black line of a rope
strung across the river.

She asked for my notebook
opened it to a blank page
whispered into it
and handed it back

When she was gone I opened it
and heard the sound
of gently lapping water

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Drag Queen in Taco Bell on Mother’s Day



I’m not here for the food but because Taco Bell was where we would go for dinner, my mother and I, back when I worked at the bookstore by the mall, before they closed, before I moved away. This one was remodeled a few years ago, which mainly meant they tore out half the booths and bolted a bunch of purple abstract paintings to the wall. A red star balloon bobs above a tiny table covered with a purple tablecloth upon which sits a vase of purple flowers and a sign that reads THIS LOCATION HIRING! with a clipboard full of applications beside it. In the booth ahead of me sits a tall drag queen with her back to me. I’m mesmerized by her wig, cascading down her back in a mass of auburn curls. She wears a brace on her arm for carpel tunnel. The tray before her is piled high with crumpled food wrappers.

I look around at my fellow customers, every one of them transfixed by their phones. There’s a man so obese I don’t know how he squeezed into his booth, or if he’ll be able to extricate himself. There are a couple of obvious drug dealers twitching over their dollar quesadillas. There are a couple of teenage girls with pink and green hair and an aging professor with papers spread across his table. There’s even a family who looks like they’re actually celebrating Mother’s Day here rather than fighting the mobs in the more respectable brunch spots, a disheveled husband and rotund mother with a little girl dressed in a tutu and tiara and wielding a glittery pink wand.

The drag queen gets up to go, lurching rather than strutting, her arms hanging heavily at her sides. I wonder about her mother, if she approves or disapproves of her son’s lifestyle, if she’s even alive. I  may not be living the life my mother would prefer I did, after all here I am eating lunch alone at a Taco Bell on Mother’s Day instead of spending it with her, and I know that she will always prefer my sister to me, but at least she doesn’t have to worry about me being a cross dresser, though who knows, if I was, maybe we would bond over talking about bras, spending the afternoon shopping for dresses together. Right after we finish our tacos.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Harvest

I step between the twitching, steaming heaps,
on the prowl for fresh additions
to my ever-changing form.
I am the one from many, my mask
a mirrorball whose every facet
reflects a sliver of each of your faces.
I slice and saw, staple and stitch, stuffing my chest
full of extra lungs and livers so that if one fails
I'll always carry a stockpile of replacements.
I hobble along on two mismatched legs,
keeping all my eyes out for a third.
But why not four, or six?
Why not scurry through the rubble
like a centipede with limbs of every size
and shape and color?
From my many crotches will blossom
a fleshy garden of pilfered pudenda.
From my back will sprout a bouquet
of Shiva arms spreading like a fan,
each clutching a scrap of paper
covered with your words, from which
I will assemble a patchwork elegy
then read it back to you
with your own mouths.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Love Boat

Sneakers crunched acorns as I cut across the park
checking and rechecking the nearly illegible address
scribbled on the back of a Value Village receipt
Finally found the suburban two story house
on a quiet street all its lights blazing
Lashed to the railing of the porch a life preserver
with the words LOVE BOAT printed across it
Pushed through the crowd of skinny young kids
to find Gary half-sunk into a ratty leather couch, 
clutching a Rainier like his life depended on it. 
A young girl with gauzy wings handed me a tall boy 
and I cracked it gratefully, trying not to stare
at the copious amount of nubile flesh 
spilling from her outfit. She fluttered off 
and I asked, Where’s the music? Just as the carpet
began to shudder, the floorboards thumping
I’m gonna go down and watch, I said, and Gary 
hauled himself to his feet and followed me down 
the rickety cellar stairs.
The friends who had invited us had just started their set.
It was just the two of them molesting a pawn shop guitar
and whacking a Home Depot bucket while screaming in Spanish.
They were fantastic. The ceiling was low 
and there wasn’t much room to stand. 
We wedged ourselves behind the hot water heater
I dared Gary to touch a pipe and he did and pretended 
his hand was scalded. The band played all five of their songs 
then the crowd scattered and we went to get more drinks 
and the girl with the butterfly wings was there in the kitchen 
and we got to talking and she said she lived there
along with like six other kids and I asked, so why do you guys
call this place Love Boat? and she said she didn’t know,
it was called that when she moved in, and I asked, 
are you guys fans of the show, and she said, 
I have no idea what that is, because of course 
the television program had been off the air for ten years 
by the time she was born. 
Then we were swept back downstairs in the rush of bodies
for the second band, Rainbow Unicorn Apocalypse 
or something, I didn't see the butterfly girl or Gary,
just the mob, and three screaming girls in pants so tight 
they should explode, just fucking destroying their guitars,
tearing the veneer of irony to shreds, playing like the ship
was going down, because of course it was, and had been
for a long time, and I looked at my watch and realized 
I needed to catch the last bus back into town
and I ran upstairs to look for Gary, because I knew 
he needed to catch that same bus too, found him talking 
to an insanely sexy girl with a Mohawk
and I tugged his sleeve and pointed to my watch and he said oh shit
and chugged his beer and excused himself and we ran out through the dark,
babbling about how we felt so old, but Jesus 
those girls, and through some miracle we made the bus 
and flew through the night, not on the road any longer 
but hurtling through space, windows rattling,
recorded robot voice calling out the names of streets 
I’d never heard of as we zig zagged across this unfamiliar
section of town, these uncharted waters, 
standing on the bow of the ship straining our eyes 
for any sign of land out there in the dark.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Once the Venom Wears Off, Once the Swelling Goes Down


Cotton wad clogs the mouth of a glass test tube
The end of the world is right here, pinched between
my fingertips
Tongue itching to escape between your lips, slither
down the corridor of my throat. I still won't release
this excitable speck

It's not really a story, the picture is blurry and
the sound bad, you can hear voices murmuring
in the background the entire time, There is no
quiet, only the distant roar of locusts,
the muffled pop of bulbs across the desert

Nothing would grow for a mile around
Then, a tiny bubble of life
trying to expand before the winds picked up again

Drowning in a sea of shattered screens,
you whisper up through the cracks
It's not really a story, only an accumulation of details,
random actions jumbled together, cut power lines,
unscripted dialogue. A grain of sand
between my teeth, a whisker on my tongue.
We're all getting skinned and flipped inside out
while she's on her knees, grinning fiercely as
she scrubs at the blood.

It's not a story, it's just a collection of poems
we wrote about eating broken glass
even though there's nothing in our mouths
but bubble gum. I'm hanging upside down
waiting for the moths to start batting against
my luminescent skin. 
Stuff my mouth with cork and cotton
and remember that I am a test tube
and I contain the end of the world
in my clear glass belly

Sunday, May 1, 2016

You Don't Have to Stay Here (But You Can't Go Home)

I want to be the last bee in the bonnet
the last hornet in the nest
the last spider in the web
the last ant in the hill

I want to be the last rat on the sinking ship
the last moth beating its brains against
the last burnt-out bulb
The last cockroach nibbling at
the last stale crumbs in the back of
the ultimate cupboard

The last dog in the junkyard
The last sheep in the abattoir
The last shark in the soup
The last wisp of smoke rising from the pipe
The last car in the parking lot
You are going to have to have me forcibly ejected
You are going to have to physically drag me out
I want to be the last polar bear on Earth
with my ribs sticking out as I stagger across
the brown, dry tundra
I aim to be the last dead-eyed drunk left
in the bar, and you are going to have to 86 me
because there is no fucking way
I am leaving this planet
of my own free will