he thinks “dana scully”
when a red haired woman runs the other way
into the night. “stop,
STOP” he yells after her. then nothing.
at home, the blue locker
of the refrigerator flies open
like a dislocated shoulder. too much,
he thinks. try being soft. try, he thinks,
extending the cabinet arms
as if they are those
of feeble naked women.
mostly though, he is thinking
of being useful, filing gray poupon mustard
and turkey and Lorraine swiss
into Kaiser rolls:
identical, robust and unfolded.
there is snow all around.
he puts each sandwich in a ziplock bag
and uses a sharpie to mark them out
as days. because he is that careful.
a den light is on
in the neighbors’ house
so he sees into the pink of their faces.
they are holding up the stray
that came loose in the alley last night.
it almost possible to glimpse
1 single yellow vein
of fear crossing over the cat’s eyes
or the husband’s lips shaping
the word “vaccination.” he is afraid for the cat,
afraid for himself
and everything. he unpeels friday and chews it
without pausing to part the bread or speak.
then saturday, sunday.
left open, the three plastic bags lie on the counter
like ice sculptures.
when he leaves them inert
and turns to the screen door
it may be because of the feline cold marking into him
or the face of the woman turning back. or only
how he is afraid of turning back into glass again.
Peter is not getting too wasted tonight. He wants to buy a guitar tomorrow.
He will drive towards Cleveland, past the broken backs of guard rails
bent in or betrayed by snow, the nostrils of litter or tire hair
thought into in the road.
The seller’s name is Frank. Frank is slowly giving away his belongings
to strangers on the Internet in exchange for petty cash.
He has two children who attend a religious school. Peter asks what I think of this.
I am afraid that Frank’s daughter may get a sexually transmitted disease.
There are so many problems with education in this country,
to speak not even of the larger, sparse pollination
of knowledge or experience.
“If Frank is a serial killer,” I say, “I think he is at least very well disguised.”
Tomorrow, I will wake up to say I am too tired
to make the drive. After Peter has left, I will sit,
thinking of Frank evacuating his furniture
into the garage, hiding folded bills in the cabinet
behind the tins of flour and spice. And, every night,
the same dream: driving into the desert,
that peristaltic glimpse of dust in the side view mirror.
This is the secret life he makes inside his own.
Maybe we are too quick to love nature for its clemency,
too afraid of being made impish.
I am trying to be as quiet as the frozen road, as fair
and indifferent to the story.
in which I have been granted permission to use the second person pronoun
“A sadness makes me its laundress.” I thought
in the bathroom just now. I am so stupid.
Actually, no. But I wish I were better at letting go of inexact things. I do not hate myself but I am sick of feeling blue, sick of “playing fast and loose”, looking for different moments to indicate the same sequential fracture.
Last night I nearly cried in the line of cars at the drive through pharmacy
thinking of your father salting ice off the drive way.
There was once when you were in the bathroom
and he smiled at me across the table at the diner,
and later, when you complained about your sandwich
I thought of his face then and how I knew
we both believed in the importance of kindness
and did not always have enough to say.
I don’t want him to consider me a cruel person.
There were many different endings, but in the one I remember best
I am carrying a trash bag of clothes from your apartment to mine.
It broke in front of a bodega. ‘Can I please have another bag?’ I asked the man.
‘No.’ he said. ‘You are so beautiful. You look Irish and Russian.’
I looked at my face in the surveillance camera to check. No, I was not
any more beautiful than I have been for all of my life.
‘Really, you cannot give me just one large bag?’
He shook his head, deliberate and uncooperative.
I guess it is true that worth dissolves as a measurement
or an experience or really anything other than a dense, small word.
I don’t understand why people ever choose not to help each other
or how there does not even exist one word that picks out this way of longing.
I reached into a cardboard box by the register
and felt an unripe avocado. I said “This is just so crappy.”
On a bench inside the mall yesterday, a boy and a girl were sitting facing each other.
“The thought of us not being together gives me a heart attack!” she said as my friend and I passed. (We did not wait long enough to laugh.)
Later my friend says “she seemed like a terrible person but she was probably being sincere” —which I think is the truth.
In spite of so much, I work hard at ‘goodness’. I have been told I am not a nice girl, or a polite one: that I am formidable, difficult, and selfish.
The truth is, well. this. We walked into Dillard’s after, stole bras and pieces of trite gaudy jewelry.
Driving away I made a joke that shoplifting, in addition to wasabi, is a good natural high.
In the dressing room I hid the tags in a vase underneath a pink silk scarf that was holding up a bouquet of plastic flowers. I felt so good.
The problem is I keep remembering this one moment
even though it’s no good for poetry: too lachrymose and shitty, weak,
I was sitting on his bed,
our knees were so close that they looked nervous and small to be together.
Something felt, or seemed pink, that wasn’t—
not the wall or my clothes or even cold
spilling into the pallor of our faces.
Another person had just thrown up on the floor of the bathroom
and lay down in it. He would be ok though, so we shut the door
behind him. I don’t know if he loved me then. He probably did.
I am trying not to hold onto the wrong things.
Now, a year has passed and I can feel my body is growing hyaline
when I stand in the shower. I throw it down like a bundle of twigs
and then pick it up again.
It’s simple really. The fact is: to get closer to one thing
you have to move away from something else.
Profile: Lucy Tiven