Now it’s pressure cookers taking lights
out, blowing limbs loose, tearing bricks
down like in the blizzard of ’78.
My city’s always in revision. Even I
edit myself, try not to exaggerate,
no all, no always just once I had
thought explosions near
the finish line meant Victory.
I didn’t grow up mannered
in the Commonwealth, no linen
napkins on my lap, but on paper
plates in Jamaica Plain. I know
how dirty half-melted snow
can get in certain corners
of Mattapan, fights start out,
windows stay broken, hate
crimes stay caked on the storefronts
Crack Territory. How much to buy
an endangered turtle in Chinatown?
And now it’s murder on Boylston
Street, one of Childhood’s
main drags. Even I was
dangerous once, late summer
overheating the cars too long.
I Have My Reasons
I hate boys, hate how
if I give one a flower
he’ll take it and pick
a flower for another girl
when he could’ve held
mine longer. I used to
eat cereal I didn’t like,
boxes of it, and watched
soap operas, one after
the other. I also want
to talk about the worst
thing anyone ever said
about me, worse than
anything my brother said
because it wasn’t said
by my brother.
Emma Rawels didn’t say
it to my face, someone told
me. She said it and I wouldn’t
look in the window to see
how I was looking. She said
that I looked like I was hit
in the face with a baseball.
I thought she meant I had
black eyes that wouldn’t go
away, a fat lip. Thought
she meant I slouched myself,
face down to the ground
like my body was a pile
instead of a person.
Isn’t everybody fruit
on the way to rotten?
I started showering twice
a day. I like the smell
of soap and sleeping
with the storm windows
open and my hair damp.
I wear armpit hair
instead of make up.
I have my reasons.
Bowling with the Regulars
The better-offs-in jail, the double-crossers,
the almost-but-not-quite Steinbeck
characters. The ones with the scars,
half an ear bit off out of love, ripped
skin on the knee due to reckless
rolling from lane to gutter.
I’m one spare and playing by the book.
Five frames of I like your hat, five frames
of I like it, too. Forgot my name again?
And flirting with the concept
that the jukebox is my one true friend.
I’m a vending machine, all King
Size and no Mr. Goodbars
and soon I’ll run out of laughs. So
long heyday-riffraff. So long unsure
and dangerous. So long ransom,
risk, and risk’s guarantee. So long
asking little. So long less.
Cool Hand Luke
For Paul Newman
A world shaker, a dead shot,
Luke, the first man ever
to get my attention.
I am hot tar and dry corn
shucks and he’s running
through in shackles. I like
a man who’s hard to break.
Luke digging the same hole
twice until he drops. Christ--
now even the movie screen’s
gone black. With me it’s always
Cool Hand Luke, the love story.
I used to ask
people to kick my
ass. I don’t do
Used to go over-
board every day,
refused to wear
No longer my hat
is an ace’s fit
that made me drawl,
made me laugh, made
me tremble. Sure.
Let me be from somewhere
: Montana, Alabama,
anywhere but snow
and all things seasonal
that never last.
I’m up from where
I’ve been. No rain,
no hiding, no hard hide
brim to keep me from
the heat-click stars.
Tied a whale’s tooth to a piece
of sinew for a lanyard, they
called me Mountain Girl.
When I wore an agate
it was Old Soul, One of a Kind,
the Last of My Kind, Calamity Jane.
Gypsy. Lefty. Isis because I study myths,
Hey, Doll Face, and gave me sound-
tracks, West Side Story, My Fair Lady.
a Hard Card, and when I collected
wood, men called me Keeper. Been
called Hater because it wasn’t hard.
Lover, Broad, Cracker, Score.
Been called Moral. Been
called Random. Been called
Sunshine. Been called Whore.
Two blind guys get on talking
to the driver, grinning at
the daybreak, feeling out the sun.
By Dallas, the man in the aisle,
jingles a canister of pills,
three for five to sleep. I sleep
through miles of homemade road signs,
strawberries next exit. At Burger King,
I watch a townie eating chicken.
The ketchup met the mustard on
the dance floor of his plate. I smoke
a smoke, pirate hot-sauce packets.
A dreadlock in Little Rock gives me
the window and a southern slow
drawl that works on me for a while.
Share my whiskey flask with its
hundred mouths stained on the rim.
I get off to stretch on Bourbon Street.
A woman hands me Creole food,
a drive-by van throws fresh socks stuffed
with a new bar of hotel soap
and a Jesus pamphlet. Let the penny decide:
heads, I take two mangoes; tails,
a blanket for the bus. I sleep through
Alabama. The flower peddler in the row over
tells me I’m an orchid, tells me I’m the greatest
secret. I tote myself like a sleeveless guitar.
The sun rises higher than I’ve ever been.
The driver points out the window
to the Atlantic in case we are
still thirsty. Everyone
going somewhere, I follow
myself to keep up.
The poems on this page were previously published in Romance with Small-Time Crooks, BlazeVOX Books (2013)