A and W

Patty’s Charcoal Drive-In

 

First job. In tight black shorts
and a white bowling shirt, red lipstick
and bouncing ponytail, I present
each overflowing tray as if it were a banquet.
I’m sixteen and college-bound;
this job’s temporary as the summer sun,
but right now it’s the boundaries of my life.
After the first few nights of mixed orders
and missing cars, the work goes easily.
I take out the silver trays and hook them to the windows,
inhale the mingled smells of seared meat patties,
salty ketchup, rich sweet malteds.
The lure of grease drifts through the thick night air.
And it’s always summer at Patty’s Charcoal Drive-In—
carloads of blonde-and-tan girls
pull up next to red convertibles,
boys in black tee shirts and slick hair.
Everyone knows what they want.
And I wait on them, hoping for tips,
loose pieces of silver
flung carelessly as the stars.
Doo-wop music streams from the jukebox,
and each night repeats itself,
faithful as a steady date.
Towards 10 p.m., traffic dwindles.
We police the lot, pick up wrappers.
The dark pours down, sticky as Coke,
but the light from the kitchen
gleams like a beacon.
A breeze comes up, chasing papers
in the far corners of the darkened lot,
as if suddenly a cold wind had started to blow
straight at me from the future—
I read that in a Doris Lessing book—
but right now, purse fat with tips,
the moon sitting like a cheeseburger
on a flat black grill, this is enough.
Your order please.

Barbara Crooker

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Debris

This by William Brewer. The last two lines are perhaps the best of all –

 

Storms are generous.
Something so easy to surrender to,                                                                         sitting by the window,
and then you step out into the garden you were so bored of,
so bored of you hated it,
but now it needs you.

 

                                Twang of the rake’s metal tines biting at the dirt.
You destroy a little camp of mushrooms,
pull leaves into a pile,
are struck with wonder
when there rolls out
a little bird’s nest—
the garden’s brain.

 

                                       You want to hide in it.
Twigs, mud, spit, and woven in:
a magenta strip of Mylar balloon that glints when turned to the sun,
a sway of color you’ve seen before.

 

                                     You were a boy.
You told your grandfather you spotted a snake in the yard                               between the buckeyes.
He revved his weed whacker,
walked over,
conjured a rose mist from the grass
that swelled in the breeze, swirled together, grew dark,
shifting through fans of sun,
magenta, then plum, blush,                                                                                                                                     gone.

 

Smell of exhaust. Tannins of iced tea
you drank together on the porch later,
his spiked with Wild Turkey,
the tumbler resting on  his thigh,
the ice-sweat running off, smearing the dried snake juice,
pooling in a divot of scar tissue.

                 A souvenir, he called it,
from the winter spent sleeping in a hole in the ground in a Belgian              wood,
listening for German voices to start singing
so he knew he could sleep.

crumpled paper

I Want Those Words

It’s one of those nights. Those nights when a poem I am struggling to write is just out of reach. The frustration lies in sensing its potential, the piece it might become, if I can only find the exact words. Through a series of drafts I look for the words.

And wrote this meanwhile to try and express how it feels…

 

I Want Those Words

Sometimes the words are not enough not nearly
enough and the language stalls right there in front of me
like a runner,
gasping and giving up. If only I could
tease out another alphabet that would carry in it what
I yearn to say, struggle to say about the way the nurse
dismissed her cavalierly that day in mid-sentence
as if she didn’t exist,
my mom.

Not the road-weary dog-eared chewed-up
chewed-over words. Not the tried, true, tired ones.
Other words, so much better, pitch perfect words,
incandescent spellbinders that strung together
make the reader nod her head and lit from within
with that magical moment of understanding, say:
Yes that’s right, I know now.
I want those words.

The ones behind invisible iron curtains and years of
Catholic school and Catholic guilt and my own fear.
The ones I cannot summon to describe meeting him that day,
how even the way he walked toward me told me everything.
The ones muscular enough to tease out,
commandeer the most elusive of feelings.
I want those words.

The words I don’t know. The ones I don’t even know
I don’t know.
The words just out of reach. The finest words.
The sublime.
I want those words.

Jeff-Phillips-Reflection-in-Puddle

“My life was a gift that I wanted to return.”

She doesn’t combat topics like, ‘My daughter got into Yale’ with, ‘Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs.’

A “good day” means such widely different things for everyone, doesn’t it? Never more clearly rendered than in this poem. Within it I found such relatable stark truths about the state of depression, about its toll, that I haven’t read in recent memory. Well done, Kait.

 

A Good Day

Kait Rokowski

Yesterday, I spent 60 dollars on groceries,
took the bus home,
carried both bags with two good arms back to my studio apartment
and cooked myself dinner.
You and I may have different definitions of a good day.
This week, I paid my rent and my credit card bill,
worked 60 hours between my two jobs,
only saw the sun on my cigarette breaks
and slept like a rock.
Flossed in the morning,
locked my door,
and remembered to buy eggs.
My mother is proud of me.
It is not the kind of pride she brags about at the golf course.
She doesn’t combat topics like, ”My daughter got into Yale”
with, ”Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs”
But she is proud.
See, she remembers what came before this.
The weeks where I forgot how to use my muscles,
how I would stay as silent as a thick fog for weeks.
She thought each phone call from an unknown number was the notice of my suicide.
These were the bad days.
My life was a gift that I wanted to return.
My head was a house of leaking faucets and burnt-out lightbulbs.
Depression, is a good lover.
So attentive; has this innate way of making everything about you.
And it is easy to forget that your bedroom is not the world,
That the dark shadows your pain casts is not mood-lighting.
It is easier to stay in this abusive relationship than fix the problems it has created.
Today, I slept in until 10,
cleaned every dish I own,
fought with the bank,
took care of paperwork.
You and I might have different definitions of adulthood.
I don’t work for salary, I didn’t graduate from college,
but I don’t speak for others anymore,
and I don’t regret anything I can’t genuinely apologize for.
And my mother is proud of me.
I burned down a house of depression,
I painted over murals of greyscale,
and it was hard to rewrite my life into one I wanted to live
But today, I want to live.
I didn’t salivate over sharp knives,
or envy the boy who tossed himself off the Brooklyn bridge.
I just cleaned my bathroom,
did the laundry,
called my brother.
Told him, “it was a good day.”

subway

Poetry Waits

Poetry waits patiently for the poet
as the molten glass
awaits the artist,
the microphone the singer.
the expectant groom, his bride.

Waits
for the moment the woman decides to leave
and the man does nothing to stop her.
The moment the bus driver accelerates
rather than wait for the runner,
for the subway doors to slam shut a second too soon.

Biding time,
watchful for the seemingly insignificant,
smallest movements
when our lives turns on a dime,
cocking its ear for the words that go unspoken,
only then setting to work,
preparing to speak volumes.

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Mail Still Comes

It is the thing you never expected.

Didn’t think to guard against.

Mail drops in through the slot a full year after

with his name on it.

It hits the ground with a gotcha. The one bullet remaining.

The one gaping mouth you forgot to shut.

Grief slipping in seamlessly through the front door

when you had worked so hard to seal up every crack.

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Me, Found

This would be a time capsule of me,

I’m talking me.

Not of the Western world circa 21st century

or even this particular zeitgeist extraordinaire.

 

To be unearthed in some distant space and time,

to disclose a definitive self-portrait

for the ones who follow.

 

I’d have to start with the coffee mug I drank from every morning for years

that reads Do No Harm But Take No Shit.

A box of Cheerios because I basically lived on them for 20 years.

My books of poetry, I know, predictable, but come on.

That is, if they still speak poetry.

Oh, and my drafts file on disk

if they still speak disk

because drafts sometimes speak louder than finished versions.

 

A vinyl 45 of I Want to be Bobby’s Girl protected by its original sturdy cardboard sleeve

to resurrect perfectly my teenaged longing skating on Saturday nights

inside freezing cold arenas praying underneath my breath

for someone to take my hand so we could go round together.

They’ll need my vintage Crossley Record Player too and can consider it my donation

to whatever brave new world they are in,

the inestimable value of which may, alas,

be entirely lost on them.

 

A black and white photo of me at six standing at the edge of a diving board

high above a crowded community swimming pool

because I felt the world was waiting for me then.

And it shows I wasn’t scared;

I wasn’t scared at all.

 

 

bride

Clearing away the detritus…

Among my favorite poets writing today: Tony Hoagland. Few do it better. Who else could unearth a parallel between a blossoming dogwood and a bride ripping off her dress? He inspires us all to dig down a little deeper, to not be complacent. And asks us to pay attention to the things that truly matter after we clear away all the detritus.

 

A Color of the Sky

 

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,

driving over the hills from work.

There are the dark parts on the road

when you pass through clumps of wood

and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,

but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.

 

I should call Marie and apologize

for being so boring at dinner last night,

but can I really promise not to be that way again?

And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing

in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

 

Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;

the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves

are full of infant chlorophyll,

the very tint of inexperience.

 

Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,

and on the highway overpass,

the only metaphysical vandal in America has written

MEMORY LOVES TIME

in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

 

Last night I dreamed of X again.

She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.

Years ago she penetrated me

but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,

I never got her out,

but now I’m glad.

 

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.

What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.

What I thought was an injustice

turned out to be a color of the sky.

 

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store

and the police station,

a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,

like a sudsy mug of beer;

like a bride ripping off her clothes,

 

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

 

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

It’s been doing that all week:

making beauty,

and throwing it away,

and making more.

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Life Has No Map

Only a series of cryptic signposts on dimly lit roads.

Crossroads aren’t even crossroads.

Just there to force decisions

before there is enough information.

 

The glass of the compass was stepped upon

thus true north is

anything but true.

We are forced to take our bearings from lesser guides,

the lady on the GPS with the grating monotone,

the priest in the pulpit who forgives nothing,

Dr. Phil and his rigorously toned wife,

who now comes complete with her own line of anti-aging skin care,

developed in laboratories deep beneath the earth’s crust.

 

Desperate for direction

we connect the vastly unconnected.

We begin thinking

the car’s software is speaking directly to us,

that the only true absolution lurks within a tiny wooden confessional

by way of an invisible voice,

that retinol has something, anything,

to do with happiness.