Before today all I'd written for weeks were angsty emails with people I lovehate. Six people crushed me and so in a fit of anguishterror, I made the mistake of preemptively crushing someone else that didn't need to be crushed after all. She refused to reject me. Goddammit.
If pain makes us good artists, I should be churning out volumes. I'm not. I feel like everything I've tried to write has been, to be unavoidably cliche, uninspired. Until Goddammit and I sat on the porch talking wistfully about detox.
This is *not* a good poem. But it is, at least, inspired. "Good" can come from revision, inspiration can sometimes only come from daydreams of ancient heroine.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I was a child once
with the mind of a hen.
I should have stayed in his warm bed.
There, I had iron dreams. He gave me
useful veins. Someone else’s blood
stained the sheets. I regret going home.
That was the night I “turned it around.”
The roads were bad, black tar filled my mouth.
I was not sick yet (but perhaps it was a prophecy);
On the steering wheel
my sweaty hands shook the whole way.
behind my mahogany desk
a window opens to
oceans of white hyacinth
I am writing and the spines
of my books accuse me. I flip Anne Sexton
over and read glossy paperback that she was born,
she won the prize, and she committed suicide.
Why can’t we say "she died"? Red corsages
bloomed on both wrists and "she died."
Two days for her death
twenty-eight days for mine.
Sisyphus rolls my tombstone;
resurrection has been tedious.
I have dutifully carried the medallion (stamped
they gave me sitting in a steel folding-chair,
It’s not unlike the plastic car in Life
which you move around to remember your place;
I have two pink pegs and a blue one.
A million reasons to want a needle,
three reasons to avoid one.
Now I know the penalty
Scraping the bottom with my mirror and razor
was better than floating in cinder-block
office wall mediocrity.
(I would have made a fabulous junkie.
Dirty, desperate, stringy, but with wit!
We can’t all be good at everything.)
Who was it that saved me?
Brian was the boy, Judy was the girl,
Dan was the rich kid who lived on LSD
where we visited two or three times.
His father had two Himalayan cats, Persian carpets,
Columbian blow, and a Thai wife.
Melvin was the black guy. Todd was the redhead
who inked his initials on my wrist. And then there was Nick.
But we don’t talk about him. Because it never happened.
We pretend that I was never addicted. We open our mouths
to speak and when the words won’t come, we say it was nothing.
We pay our bills on time. We are on the PTA board.
We collect our plastic pegs and spin the spinner.
I still collect lighters. They make me feel prepared.
Others think I am winning.
After a Christmas dinner, Mother sent home a trunk.
You know the one: we all have one.
The one packed with “memorabilia.”
On December 26th, I opened my adolescence,
spread it over hardwood floors.
Signed rayon ribbon. Pressed flowers. The stink of decay.
I said it seemed foreign, but I never forgot
one crease in my character shoes.
Forever I recall the hum of sheet music,
playbills and posters, the rub of brass trophies.
Blue and white chenille letters covered my school jacket.
I wore hats.
I slept with an older boy named John,
who shaved his head and joined the Navy.
Mother took me to church;
I met Disciples in the parking lot.
The choir loft was tagged. I was made-in by twelve.
Who was it that saved me?
After graduation I worked in a factory.
Slabs of pink bubble gum packages
swam down rollered conveyor belts
like spawning salmon.
To the whir-hum-shunk of machinery,
I read a dog-eared and tattered copy of Hamlet
while watching robots glue corrugated boxes
stamped, "Wm. Wrigley Co., Chicago, IL 60608."
Cinnamon flavor days stung too much
to read. Nose, eyes, throat, skin, as red as the gum
churning in behemoth mixers.
And it never happened.
I looked at him every day over
packing, checking, chucking
It never happened.
Then, bags and vials and syringes filled
my imagination. A day-planner
would have been paper. My paycheck
went to smack. I wrecked my first car
on the backside of a Buick Regal.
I couldn’t envision registering for college let alone teaching in one.
Dan, the rich kid, went to college.
His hands were manicured and he had expensive glasses.
He taught me that college
was a good place to sell or score.
He taught me what happens when you
take drinks from boys.
But, after all, it didn’t happen,
the carpet, the blanket,
the others looking on.
So I stopped seeing the sailor
(who actually loved me); his eyes
were filled with marble admiration.
I hated it. I never told him, because
the pillow, the condom, the carpet never happened.
I told the glass pipe, but it already knew.
I told the tin foil, but it really didn’t care.
Then somebody saved me and I packed it all away.
Today I wear kaki. I haven’t been on a stage since graduation.
My piano is a thousand miles away
and I don’t write poetry.
Almost yesterday I regretted
not having pushed the plunger
just one more time.
Valleys of unconsciousness
could have adored me,
caressed me into oblivion.
I’d never know.