There's this bar we go to sometimes. It's called The Kingdom of Norway and it's very exclusive. In fact, it's so exclusive we've never been there. No one we know has ever been there and no one you know has ever been there either. If they say that they have, they're lying. But tonight—trust me—we're going. And after that we imagine it will be the type of bar we can say we sometimes go to.
There are three of us in the car, which is Matty's and is an old VW Rabbit. Matty is my roommate and he has been since college. Back then we called him Matty and he liked it. "Hey, Matty," we'd say. "What's up, Matty?" "How's it going, Matty?" "Matty, give us a high five."
I first saw Priscilla at the pawnshop, as the Arizona sun reddened the sky with a rash. It was just before closing. She looked Jamaican to me but maybe I was homesick. Still, something was familiar about her—the gapped teeth, the regal posture, the locked hair she'd tied in an upsweep that resembled a bird's nest. Respectable is how she struck me, unlike our usual female customers with the belly out and the low-rise jeans that show the top of their underwear, underwear that ain't even real, mind you, but the G-string chicks wear these days. When I first come to the States, only erotic dancers wore that sort of thing. Today, even the college girls that I've dated wear panty strings.
But Priscilla's skirt come to her knees. Her blouse was modest, a button-down loose-fitting deal which you never see on women today. That let me know it was not brand new. So I think, maybe her money is a little tight, maybe she spends her money on drugs. Carney, the shop owner, says this about many of our customers.
See the one with the dirty hair? he'll say leaning in close, She's a tweaker. She's here getting money to buy crystal meth.
Jared Witherspoon and Emily Berkeley stood in Sheremetevo II near the departures hall, Emily crying and Jared extremely aware that he wasn't. Emily's hand vaguely steadied her overpacked bags as she looked at Jared, her eyes clear and blue but red around the edges.
"You'll text me when you get in, won't you?" asked Jared with his hand on the skin above her jeans.
"I'll text you from Prague," she replied. "If that's okay."
Jared gave a small, solemn laugh that he gauged just right. "Of course it's okay, baby. Of course it is, my sweet little baby."
A familiar tickle in her pocket sent a shiver rippling up her spine. The small cell phone had vibrated every day for several years and she still felt like she was touching something paranormal every time she reached to check on it.
Checking the phone was an unnecessary habit. If someone was calling, her lilting ringtone would float from her pocket. It only vibrated when she received text messages, and she only received text messages from him.
She smiled at the small LCD screen, glowing green and black. "Unknown." She couldn't escape the paradox in that name. The messages sender was unknown, and yet she couldn't avoid feeling like she knew everything about him. Even calling Unknown a "him" was an assumption. Everything she knew was interpreted from the daily messages.
19 April 2009
Two loose pennies in a pocket
abandoned forever to the lint trap
dusty unders of a shelf
weed pushing up through a road crack
bum bundled on the corner begging
when it is everywhere
pause for the next heartbeat
16 April 2009
My sister's body is expanding to the open stretch of a meadow,
a mountain or shore or total Earth all balanced on her
two legs that months ago supported just one torso.
18 March 2009
Half or fast
asleep, two or three—
times my father pulls
up a wood chair and strums
the guitar, hums the bridge
over troubled water—
The winter it is past, and the simmer comes at last,
And the small birds sing on ev'ry tree:
The hearts of these are glad, but mine is very sad,
For my love is parted from me.
15 May 2009
If not art, why would our family villanelle
have been just Say it!, all arguments end-stopped
rhymes with ever and fend. Whatever else
explains this morning's layers of birdsong and wind?
15 March 2009
Even as the outside world wilts in peculiar
greens, the hideous green of rotten fruit
soft and paunchy about the neck,
how a body goes in time.
Do you remember the promise we made,
lying half-naked in the thick of April?
6 May 2009
to send into the world an account
my view of writing
among the rest
wet with the dew of repentance
not twenty years old
as there are so many unfeeling reports
I should have been free from her blood
9 May 2009
hands still reeking
a respite till the following day
where a greater number suffer
than in any other country
12 May 2009
a sniff of locomotives paws the tracks
steel horses bridled
by an enthusiastic crowd of Italians
a gangrene of professors
too long dealers in second-hand graveyards
2 March 2009
In July of last year my Hepatitis C
started up again. Maybe it come
from Vietnam, cause I was wounded
and had a blood transfusion in the army.
I don't know. One year I had a cold
and took aspirin and kept on working.
The next thing I know,
I can't breathe.
5 March 2009
I was so high that I sat on my porch
looking and looking at the streetlights glowing.
The whole world was new.
By Saturday, I'm evacuating,
putting eye drops in as I drive,
feeling like a rat for abandoning Catherine.
She'd said, "It'll turn. I'll be fine."
I gave up. Left her to her fate.
By the time I finished writing, you had disappeared inside me. An absence bounded by the imagined shape of your skin. The body only token of the thought that creates it, yet I counted years by those touches, those bruised moments of light. Plankton sparking in the suffocating cold. I opened the ocean's windows against the lateness of night up there…
Pull one off the track and you'll see: getting it back into the fridge is like pushing a wheelchair uphill in a stiff wind. We had eleven refrigerators in eleven houses in eleven cities. Now we have only their crispers, shaming us with bits of our old rind.
Descendant of Puritans, packing tape vouchsafes little intelligence of its overseas journeys. In the desk drawer it's mum,
set to do the job. As my father asks no questions of his breakfast: "It fills the stomach."
Prepare to bind mightily the flaps of your box. (Inside, some fragile thing afloat in shredded paper.)
5 April 2009
We looked at each other, then at the plate of tomatoes,
and you said, do we eat them?
Our neighbor was dead. Fallen over in her front hall.
She had brought us green tomatoes.
18 May 2009
And I think right now we are all
torturing each other. Daring Young Men on the Flying Trapeze.
Gentle Ponies. High Wire Daredevil. With such magnificence
in the world, it seems I would begin to believe something else.
Wind. Rain. All descriptions are masks. Sirens, right now,
screech through the air of this house. The gentle ponies were not
gentle at all.
Now the bright morning-star, Day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip, and the pale primrose.
Your skin's gone Mahler. I'm a toxin in your throbbing,
I'm spindle to your tumble & speak fluent blue heron
& not just with the radio, no. The white-handed gibbon
goading the night resounds in caged stages.
28 April 2009
I don't know how he does it, even how he
walks or holds a pool cue, as angry as he is.
Mine's like his scar,
but the footprint is the shape of a horse-hoof stamped into my back and chest,
25 April 2009
That he died in public makes it worse:
privacy folded inside out
like his black socks in the suitcase on the seat-rack.
It's like us to have imagined we could work in the car.
30 March 2009
In between murders,
the night sighs with rain. I keep thinking,
when I should be weeping. A plastic bag tangled
in the low shrubs. A grocery cart alone
in the parking lot. Close and closer—
After she left, I found the Collins glass of table wine on the windowsill. It counterweighed the nightbird's absence. After she left the second time, I lit a candle in our churchyard…
8 March 2009
in the weave of thick paper,
the dusty blood ring
of the wineglass.
The kiss-traced napkins
tossed in piles
like the wrappings of secrets,