Getting Back at the Bullies of Junior High

featured in the poetry forum July 25, 2020  :: 0 comments

You were nothing but question marks,
pushy, bellying question marks, weren’t you? weren’t you?
with no contexts but your chesty, end-quote girlfriends,
turning up in my autobiography now, annoying

as typos. Why I oughta
delete you once and for all with one
stab of my little finger! And maybe I will!
But not before I’m done with you, not before

I’ve had some fun with you at your expense.
This is my turf now. My story. You could say
I’m God here, and you’re… whatever I say you are.
And I say you are nothing but little boldface punc-

tuation marks, come to an unfortunate end, sentenced
to eternity in this poem, which is kicking your butt
by making you the butt of every joke in it.
And I think it’s going to be a very long poem,

and I think it’s going to be published simultaneously
in many languages, and in all the best magazines
with the biggest readerships. And now I’m thinking
it will be the title poem of my next collection,

and also my Collected Works, to be published posthumously,
which I know is a big word for you, so let me tell you
what it means. It means I will be at peace, and you will be
still suffering eternal humiliation in this poem

which between you and me is beginning to bore me now. After all,
I have better things to do than waste my time
with your poem. Maybe I’ll just throw it out with you in it.
Maybe I’ll burn it. How about a little fire, question mark?

But it isn’t over until I say it’s over. And I say
it needs polishing. So go ahead, use your sleeve.
I’m going to sit over here now and take a nap.
It had better be brilliant when I wake up.

editors note:

Here they are, bested and beaten. Bully! – mh clay

Recycled Sestina

featured in the poetry forum May 5, 2020  :: 0 comments

It’s hard to feel good about
single-stream recycling

and those enormous receptacles
with the name Harvey written on them
trundling up and down the highway going
who knows where?

They remind me of that sestina
about recycling, the one with my name on it
and plastic, paper, glass, cardboard, aluminum, tin
thrown together in a kind of calibrated jumble
in every stanza,

each recycled end-word coming up
again and again, like in a tumble drier,
the whole thing revolving
around a single bad idea. It was garbage

and I never published it. But E.L. Harvey,
the waste management company with the big receptacles,
has other ideas. And Harvey is published on the broadside
of every truck in the fleet, all of them hauling around

the same questionable idea. I’m stuck here behind one now
in traffic going nowhere, thinking about
my poem. It all gets sent over to Asia, you know,
for processing. Then they send it back over here. Talk about

waste. Talk about pretense. I mean that would be like me
throwing away my sestina, then translating it
into Chinese. Then rehashing it here and putting
my name on it. Then waving it around in your face
like it was something to feel good about.

editors note:

When you think about it, we’re all recycled materials. Let’s self-regulate, Folks! – mh clay

Poem at the Breakfast Place

featured in the poetry forum August 12, 2019  :: 0 comments

The girl who rings me up at the breakfast place
is wearing a T shirt that says BREAKFAST SANDWICH
across her chest. “How’s the breakfast
sandwich?” I ask her, not looking at her breasts
because I am by nature a fearful and shy man
and because I like talking about things without referring to them
the way you sometimes can in poems. “It’s really good,” she says,
and gives me a smile that says she doesn’t
like poetry but likes this poem so far. “I would love
to have that breakfast sandwich every single morning
of my life,” I tell her as I give her the money
for my Earl Gray tea and apple cruller. “You must change
your order,” she says, misquoting the last line
of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” I look down at my cup,
my cruller oozing apple, then furtively at her lovely young
torso. “Life!” I correct her as she hands me my change,
frowning at me now, not with displeasure but
concentration, like she’s really trying to get this poem.

editors note:

It’s the most important meal of the day. – mh clay

Still Life with Bottle

featured in the poetry forum March 8, 2019  :: 0 comments

The empty bottle the wino left
has a beautiful shape to it,
you have to give him
that. Tall, curved, downright
voluptuous. He left it here
next to an empty pack of Kools
on this park bench as a gift for you–
the evidence of his work.
It must have taken him much
of the morning to polish off.
A kind of workmanship itself the way
it grew inside him as the bottle grew
empty, and he grew more and more
himself, glowing warmly
the way the light filling the bottle
suffuses it with a fugitive warmth
now that the sun is high and he
has departed, leaving his art
or his garbage here for you
to marvel at or deplore,
depending on your point of view.

editors note:

Every wino is an artist; every artist, a wino (not all wine flows from bottles). – mh clay

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