Lunch Poem

featured in the poetry forum January 15, 2018  :: 0 comments

All we had to worry about
was where to have lunch. We had
time, money, health, happiness. The pursuit
of lunch down a wide avenue
with restaurants on every corner
was all we had to worry about. And yet
you worried about everything
from war in the Middle East
to ISIS to sepsis to asteroids
to your daughter’s histrionic personality disorder
to climate change to trolls. Please pass
the arugula salad, I said.
There was a brief pause
as you watched me pile lettuce, pine nuts,
cherry tomatoes, slices of ripe avocado
onto my plate. Then you resumed worrying
about the polar bears, the deficit, the flu,
North Korea, Russia, nuclear winter
while I stared out the window
of a fine restaurant in a glass city
in the second decade of the 21st century
and chewed.

editors note:

Some can chew what others find hard to swallow – no worries. – mh clay

Visine

featured in the poetry forum November 30, 2016  :: 0 comments

My left eye is killing me,
I say to my wife. It could be
allergies, she says. It could be
my retina getting ready
to detach, I say, or glaucoma
or syphilis or cancer. Why
do you always have to jump
to your death? she says.
I don’t answer right away.
At the CVS, a whole aisle
of eye drops: drops for dry eyes,
drops for watery eyes, drops
for red and itchy eyes. My eyes
light on Visine and suddenly
I’m sixteen again and smoking
pot every day and trying to hide it
from my mother, cutting classes
left and right and writing
my stupid clever poems
about sex and trees and death.
There’s a poem in here just itching
to get out, I think as I tilt
my head back and squeeze:
two fat drops stinging as they go
to work. And how long before
Johnson & Johnson figured out
the reason for the precipitous jump
in sales? And how long before
I fell so far behind in high school
I ended up dropping out?
The truth is, I’ve been jumping
to my death all my life. Because
it’s good practice, I say to my wife.
And what about your eye, is it
still killing you? she says. No, I say,
but now my feet hurt. And also
my right knee. That could be
from all the jumping, she says.

editors note:

Hypochondria or soothsaying; if we’re gonna jump, gotta see. – mh clay

If Only Life Were Like Language

featured in the poetry forum September 9, 2015  :: 0 comments

and all the natural resources like words,
then the world would be
an unambiguously better place
because when you use a word
like apocalypse, say, it doesn’t then follow
that there is one less apocalypse to go around–
there are still an infinite number of apocalypses,
more than enough for everyone–and the more
people who use a language the more
the language grows rich and strong
and resourceful and ramifying
with new and far-out ways of saying things,
not to mention all the lexical borrowings that go on,
the exotic words and phrases, and the names–
names of people and horses and hurricanes
and hand creams and automobiles–
and the lists, praise be to God for the lists!
Which is just the opposite of the world,
with its dying rivers and dwindling resources
and endangered species list.
With words you can make stuff up out of nothing
which is more than you can say
for physics or chemistry or corn. Earth’s
the right place for language. I don’t know where
else you could invent an imaginary escape hatch
up and out of a dying world,
and take a little of the world with you
in your pockets, like the jingling coins of a realm,
or like the crepitating bits and pieces
of a beautiful intact dead language
for sprinkling over the smart lunch conversation
in the next.

editors note:

When all else is gone, open wide to eat them. Apocalypses for all! – mh clay

The Only Question

January 31, 2015  :: 0 comments

She was very beautiful.
Exceptionally beautiful.
Beautiful in the way of
certain sudden realizations,
like: My god, is it raining?
or: Look how huge the moon!

She was at the poetry reading.
My poetry reading. Just one among
many pretty undergraduates
until the Q&A. That was when
she raised her hand in the third row
and asked me: “What inspires you?”

What I should have said was:
“Beauty. Beauty inspires me.”
And left it at that. And let
the awkward silence speak
for itself while I stared at her
from up at the podium for perhaps

a whole minute, ignoring
the chair of the English Department
clearing his throat, the few diffuse
titters filling the room, the enormous
moon filling the big picture
window as my drenched gaze

fell on her, steadily, like a fine summer
rain falling on the second seat
in the third row. But what I said
a little dryly, was: “Literature. Great
literature inspires me.” And she looked
away. And hers was the only question.

My Underpants

featured in the poetry forum January 31, 2015  :: 0 comments

I found them on the bathroom floor
after my cousin and her boyfriend
left for Ithaca. They were green
with gold stripes and they weren’t
mine. I stood there for a long time
considering them. They weren’t
dirty but they weren’t exactly clean
either. They were unwashed.
But they weren’t unclean the way
a dead bird is unclean, or the way
an unsanctified thing or an unholy thing
is unclean. I picked them up, and did I
smell them? I want to say I smelled them.
I may have smelled them because
they weren’t unclean and they were undoubtedly
my cousin’s boyfriend’s and he is a good man,
not a holy man but a good man with a good
job in Ithaca, New York and an excellent beard.
Of course I thought about returning them,
sending them back in a mailer or small brown box,
and I thought about washing them,
though they weren’t mine and they weren’t
unclean, only unwashed, and they weren’t
sexy, only colorful. They were more colorful
than all of my underpants put together.
You will want to know I am wearing them
as I write this. Much time has elapsed
since that day in the bathroom. My cousin
and her boyfriend have gotten married.
I have gotten married myself. My wife
has no idea about the provenance
of the green underpants. She thinks they are mine.
She washes them with my underpants
and her underpants, and she puts them all
in a sweet-smelling pile on top of the dresser.
I think there is something a little holy
about a pile of clean underpants on top of a dresser.
I think that putting them away in a drawer
would be like putting your light under a bushel,
or like locking a bird up in a cage,
or like packing up a good green thing
in a small brown box
and sending it far, far away from you.

editors note:

Her: What were you wearing under there? Him: Under where? (Another mad missive from Paul on his page; the only question – check it out!) – mh

Ten or So

featured in the poetry forum November 18, 2013  :: 0 comments

My best friend’s older sister Jill
answers the door. “He’s not
here come on in.” It’s just
her and the dog, a kind of poodle cum
retriever that resembles Jill
in a way I can’t or don’t want to
put my finger on. It follows us
doggily into the den where we sit
down on the lime couch, collapses
in front of us on the floor, panting.
I cross my legs. “So when
is he coming home?” No answer.
Eyes on the dog, she unbuttons
first the second and then the third
of ten or so buttons on her blouse. “It’s hot
in here.” And then the fourth.
And then the fifth. She’s at the age
where she carries her new breasts around
like pert little deities seeking
rightful homage. I’m at the age
where I still say “and a half” after
my age, because I want the full
credit. But today I haven’t got
a clue. I stare straight ahead at the wall,
taking in peripherally the pink
dangle of the dog’s tongue, the pale
half breast that Jill has bared
down to the pink nipple. I can feel her,
febrile, panting, burning a hole
in the side of my face as I look
away, for the life of me. The life of me.

editors note:

Role reversal; a jumbled application of justice. Who goes to jail, who is the bait? – mh

I Say

featured in the poetry forum September 21, 2013  :: 0 comments

Let us not decry
the decline of the language,
dude.

Let the grammarians
and librarians
and Shakespearians

shake the tiny spears
of their red pens at us.

Let the letter writers
mourn the death of letter writing.

Let the virtuoso
conversationalists grumble
about their dwindling
number.

Let them all
chill. We still
got a handle
on the verbal,
baby.

And the language ain’t
dying. It’s cooking
with oil.

So I say, let us praise
on our geographic
tongues

this living gumbo,
this fine and thick
delicious and nutritious
mud

whence all the beautiful
and endangered species
spring, sprang,

sprung.

editors note:

This poet says rightly, our literary conventions are in a constant state of construction. – mh

The Untied Stales

July 26, 2012  :: 0 comments

of America, my daughter
has written above the map
of the lower forty-eight
a little carelessly,
transposing two letters,
forgetting to cross one t,
the map itself colored in
a little sloppily, dark crayon
spilling in from Canada
and bleeding into Mexico.
And how perfect is that?

Blues Harp

featured in the poetry forum July 26, 2012  :: 0 comments

More like a cross between a saxophone
and a five-alarm fire
than a Hohner harmonica
small enough to fit in the palm of her hand
or breast pocket. He was thinking
the fact that she even had breasts
was almost completely beside the point.
Almost. For he had never
heard anyone, much less a woman,
play harp like that. It was
powerful, intelligent, sexy,
downright athletic the way she ran
her tongue up and down it, sucking and blowing
into the bullet mike, Chicago-style,
trading licks with the rhythm guitarist
center-stage, bending the notes into
shapes that conjured up for him the beautiful
catastrophes of train wrecks. He wanted
to get her alone after the set, out behind
the club, and in the darkness whip out his
own harmonica, and play a long train with her,
show her his rhythms by starting out slow,
then building speed underneath her
while she whistled and steamed and moaned
on top, letting her juggle the high notes
like so many birds in the hand, so many
waves upon waves, while he chugged along
steady and low, running like clockwork, letting her
lead, letting her go, letting her, letting her, letting her.

editors note:

Blew it from blues to blue. Ooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, yesssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – mh

The Giving Tree

featured in the poetry forum May 5, 2012  :: 0 comments

My Aunt Hannah taught 2nd grade.
And after the first amputation
which was just a couple of toes
on her left foot, she came
to school carrying a silver cane,
and she let the kids use it
as a prop in their little skits,
and as a stickball bat at recess,
and to reach up into the tree
to rescue the kite. And the kids
were happy. But after the second
and third and fourth amputations—
this little piggy and his neighbor,
then the whole damn block, then up to the knee,
and then a year later all over again
on the other side of the street—
the kids had a different teacher.
And my Aunt Hannah came to school
in a silver wheelchair, and she let the kids
push her around in it. And some of them
sat in her lap as she read to them
at reading time. And they asked her
questions, unselfconsciously, the way
only kids will ask: What happened
to your legs? Where are the legs now?
How do you take a shower? How
do you drive a car? It was not unlike
show-and-tell, and my Aunt Hannah
was happy to answer. She even joked a little,
and slapped one stump and then the other,
so it looked like a flam on a pair of bongos,
or a rim shot after the punch line
of a bad joke in the Catskills.

editors note:

If that’s what is, best to embrace it. The kids will accept it and we’ll learn faster how to navigate the shower or drive the car. – mh