Elegy With Privacy, Please
I was nude, my left leg
numb from sitting
on the toilet. My phone
shook my hand as
cold water leached
the shower curtain.
I read the message and looked
away. Pink mold survived
the third bleaching of the shower
curtain and someone precious
had not. I don’t know how many
gallons I wasted while I waited
to understand the second suicide
in as many years. Not enough
time. I need more
time. Even the pink flesh growing up
the plastic curtain retreated
back down its trellis in that moment
and seemed smaller. Downstairs,
the rattle of silverware discarded
in the sink and the clinking
of plates unstacking and the whirring
rotation of the microwave
wafted passed the interference
of the bathroom fan and shower’s flow.
How can breakfast be prepared
when news like this falls in your lap.
How can water still find its way up
the pipes and out the spigot.
How can I make this body clean.
I should not have juxtaposed
a dead friend and pink mold. But,
grief inhabits language, and
bad news has a way of finding me
when I am naked— it finds
everyone in a scene like this.
At the funeral, a young friend,
a boy scout in his troop,
maybe thirteen, wore
his uniform with merit
badges for fire-starting, first-aid,
climbing, canoeing, and camping.
He helped carry the closed casket.
That is what I hate the most:
The boy with the “lifesaving”
emblem on his chest
worrying about letting down
the boy above his shoulders.
After the ceremony I stopped
by a café for cinnamon brioche
French Toast while an old friend
was being covered with dirt.
I tried not to get syrup on
my tie or my scarf.
He stole my blanket
at a sleepover.
I fell asleep shivering,
clutching a pillow.
I woke up blanketed.
Joe, please take it back.
Artisanal Plate with Bug Bites
Tonight, like most nights, I am porcelain.
I’ve warned others about my fragility.
Bump me into the edge of a table
& I will shatter. Heat me up & cool
me down unnaturally & I will shatter.
If I see a tuition invoice I will fall into
shards & scatter for collection.
But toilets are porcelain and do not shatter!
Well, wise guy, toilets get shit in.
Mention the last boy who did his business—
his tousled dirty-blond head, his goofy
shuffle-run, how he spat my name
onto boiling concrete too hot for dog paws,
spat my name for the last time,
told me he had nothing against “gays”
& shunned my gaze & disavowed
a younger & malleable version of this
while I try to protect myself
with words like “disavow”
& I will spew shit & splatter.
I want to be what my grandmother calls
The Good China. It only comes out
for the best of company—
the preacher & his wife or
father’s business partner,
but I will be more exclusive.
Lock me in a glass case.
Do not eat on me. Do not
look through the glass.
Keep the broom & dustpan nearby.
Let me begin again. Today, I have a mosquito
bite on my forehead like a bloodsucker
tried to assassinate me. Chigger bites
pock my legs & thighs where I was careless in joy
& brushed grass away. It’s a myth that they burrow
into the skin & live inside. They simply inject
their enzymes, feed, & leave. I can’t blame
them. I have been scratching myself
in my room for hours. Someone else
is in the house & I have been a poor host.
In the Abandoned Dillard’s, I Assemble a Person
by pulling my hair off.
I set the brown ball beside the mannequin.
I peel my eyebrows, unplug my ears,
remove my eyes and place them on the dusty tile,
looking up at me (oh, how they itch)
The nose takes some wiggling
but pops off all the same.
Going out of business— everything must go!
Moving down, I unscrew my nipples.
Fingernails and toenails slide off.
The eyes do not have lids and cannot close.
They see escalators whirring softly,
ferrying their own weight, a fountain
watering itself as algae cements wishes
to the basin, and a boy blank.
The penis too— everything must go!
I’m afraid it’s time to peel the skin.
Starting from the navel, it stretches away.
I shake my body and step out of the shell.
I slide skin over the mannequin
and it eagerly receives its new fashions,
extending its arms over its head.
I fasten the nipples clockwise until they click.
Between two legs, I hang the balls and screw
in the shaft. I install the nose
with clinical precision. I blow the dust off
the eyeballs and push them into sockets
and I apply the lids. I blink
and look into my new mirror. The brows
stick on and waggle. Hair slides over
the scalp. The mannequin cannot speak
but he stretches the plastic and skin
into an unpracticed grin.
I am not alone in this Dillard’s!
Featureless, I help him down from the pedestal.
With new sense, he wanders
down aisles, selecting from a sparse
inventory a verdant but faded cardigan,
plaid boxers, short and skinny jeans,
and a pair of hiking boots. He retraces
my steps ignorant and impervious
to the glass wreckage, and emerges
shielding his eyes from the moon’s albedo
into an empty parking lot reclaimed
by roots and weeds and is lost.
After Rosecrantz & Gildenstern Are Dead
We drift down time, clutching at straws.
But what good’s a brick to a drowning man?
The drowning man is good for the brick,
as someone can share that sinking feeling.
The sinking feeling is good for the man
because it keeps him grounded.
If he isn’t grounded, he might flirt
with the barista at Starbucks.
But he won’t keep flirting. The brick’s back.
Sunday is back too, and Sunday is for sinking.
A friend had a dumb idea but no access
to anything but some herbal supplements.
I’m on the phone again. I look out my window
as I talk to his mother. There’s a boy across the street.
He throws a football to himself. He cheers.
He runs a victory lap around the cul-de-sac.
This has all happened before:
the confession, an urgent telephone call,
the strut towards the coffee bar,
revelations on Sunday, guilt on Sunday,
poetry where a friend might die.
(It’s couplets this time).
I’m tired of playing Horatio.
Give me a Hamlet where Rosencrantz
and Gildenstern get married. Where Claudius
is impeached. Fortinbras comes over for tea.
Ophelia goes for a dip in the river. She leaves
the brick with her clothes. The flow is gentle.
She floats on her back, exposed to the sun.
Nobody sees. Maybe she feels closer to God.