Mansplaining Poetry With Emily Dickinson
The good-looking English major with the muscles
and the slicked-back blonde hair
tells me that my poems are vulgar.
You can't be a woman who wants
to be taken seriously
and write poems like that.
To emphasize his point, he sends
me a poem by Emily Dickinson.
Dickinson who never left the fucking house.
Dickinson who loved in fear.
I hate Dickinson.
Her seclusion. Her pauses
and pleas for death.
I want to scream from the slanted roof
of the campus library—
You egotistical piece of shit!
Hope does not have feathers!
it is the streets of New Orleans on Ash Wednesday.
It is the teenage girl with the unopened pregnancy test
tucked in the long sleeve of her jacket.
It is the electrical storm that tears through the circuitry
of the brain and renders a dreaming woman
in a black dress stupid after a midnight kiss on New Year's Eve.
It is the last scrap of chaos
lying trampled and sick
at the bottom of Pandora's box
that she will gather into herself with cupped palms
like the final flickers of a dying fire in a wind storm.
It is an unraveling rope.
It is the bottom of the dark bottle.
It is a solid eight hours of good sleep.
It is the shining stained glass window
or the lapsed payment on
a landscaped cemetery plot.
I have no time for slanted truths.
Give me Sylvia's head in the oven while her children play down the hall.
Give me Anne's backseat, cigarettes and legs-spread-wide honesty.
Give me Lowell's shitty car-wrecked marriage.
Give me Bukowski's bluebird heart
and his whores and dark bars and Skid Row
summer breezes that stir lace curtains
while a drunk man at a typewriter
with the ugliest mug you've ever seen
gets his dick sucked
in the moonlight.
But please, do me a fucking favor
and keep your Dickinson to yourself.
Punk Rock Baptism
He drives us to the liquor store
on a Saturday night.
Inside the city limits, the streetlamps
shine through the car window and
wrap my wrist in bangles of light
where my palm rests on his thigh.
Black Flag is on the stereo,
rising above the small town silences,
blocks and blocks of brick houses
leaning into the full-bellied moon.
He takes my hand, laces his fingers
through mine and squeezes.
Rollins' voice booms from the speakers,
“We're born with a chance....
I'm gonna take my chance....
We're gonna rise above.”
The parking lot is nearly empty
as we pull in. All the lost souls
have found a place to rest tonight.
Down the street, the strip clubs
shine, a forest of pink neon
where the pretty cheerleaders
we went to high school with
have all gone to die.
It's been seven years since
I parked my old Mustang
on the concrete pad at the reservoir,
swallowed down two handfuls of pills
and a nameless bottle of vodka
like I was in some kind of mad love.
Two weeks before that, he'd slipped
a rope around his neck
and prayed for peace.
Once you lose yourself,
it is never exactly the same person
who comes back.
Inside, we pluck bottles of liquid fire
like flowers from the shelves,
and later, parked on the side of the road
with the hazard lights flashing,
we tangle and unravel again
and again. The steam of our breath
rises out of us like ghosts
of the people we could have been
if life had been kinder, and condenses
on the smooth glass of the rearview mirror,
gathering and swirling over our reflections
like rivers of holy water,
dragging us under, washing us clean.
In My Dream, I Was A Werewolf
The flowers were white
and grew down by the river
in the place where we undressed
and entered the black arc of the water
like passing through a portal
into another world.
Mosquitoes covered the slope
of the mountain with their savage whispers.
The radio played, and we danced
as Billie Holiday sang “Strange Fruit”
in her voice like summer gravel
against the soft pockets of our knees.
Hungry, we took the night by its throat, tore into it,
and even that was not enough.
When we kissed, my body was too small
a vessel to hold all of the wildness
that came flooding in. I sunk under
and folded like the river bank after a hard rain.
The white petals of the flowers floated
on the surface of the water
like summer stars.
My only wish was for you
to be happy. For you,
I cried out to God over and over.
Behind us, the paths
had already started to overgrow.
Everything that comes from the earth
will return to the earth.
I held my breath
and your tongue in my mouth,
watched your eyes close
like a cemetery gate.
An orange moon swung
half-full in the sky
like a hound's tooth washed
in animal blood.
I scarred the lines of your face
into my palms like pentagrams
so I could remember all of this
when I woke, because the truth
is as simple as a silver arrow of geese
cutting through the morning sky.
Nothing that passed
was ever meant to live.
The You I Remember
I have never kept photos
of the men I've loved.
I still see your faces
and frozen smiles just fine
each night through the gray
veil of ill and dreamless sleep.
If anyone asked,
I could draw a faithful map
of every freckle and mole
and the small creases
under each blue
or brown or hazel eye,
the way each pair of lips split
into a different fluted shape
before sex, and after.
I've charted your paths
through my mind
like an astronomer charts
the trajectories of comets
as they cross the night sky.
But when the years
have shed their sad coats
and passed by like freight trains
wailing their sad song into the night,
you are seated alone
or with your wife and children
at a table across from mine
in a restaurant we used
to come to every Saturday,
or we somehow brush shoulders
at the airport baggage claim
while reaching, mistakenly,
for the same dull black suitcase,
please don't be alarmed
if I say nothing at all
and turn my back to you
like a stranger in a subway car
at one in the morning.
You could never bethe you I remember.