Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Use of Fay Wray in Employee Reviews

Let me try putting it another way.

It's like when Fay Wray
continues to struggle
to release herself
from Kong's hand
even though she has reached
a point of elevation
from which, if she did get free,
she would fall splat on the sidewalk
and remain there until she is hosed away.

Get me?

Let me put it another way.

You don't think ahead.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I say to the dog
you are not enough
And he says I know
but my chin is warm on your arm
and beggars can't be choosers

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nightmares. October 13, 2012. Burnsville, Minnesota.

Strobes, night turns to day and back to night again
in the blink of a huge cat-yellow eye
projected on a monster screen
hip-hop music deafening
I walked in by mistake but now I can't see an EXIT sign
isn't there supposed to be one by law?
The air conditioning--it's like a meat locker in here
I can't find the exit

Now I'm cold, so cold
The ground is cold and my bare feet
are like blocks of wood if blocks of wood could feel the cold
Anne Frank says something to me in Dutch but I don't understand Dutch
she edges away in the dark and I remember too late that Otto was German
and so Anne would speak at least as much German as I do
and so I go running and calling out "Anne!"
careful to make it two syllables
"Anne, ich bin Amerikanische" and I'm holding out a Hershey bar
until I trip over a small pile of stinking rags
and feel again that wave of grief when they tell you in sixth grade
that the diary has no volume II
but maybe she could have lived one more day
if I could have given her a fake-chocolate goddamned Hershey bar

It was a mistake to leave that Hershey bar on the counter
cockroaches the size of oysters
cockroaches will survive nuclear holocaust
and the planet won't be run by apes
it will be run by cockroaches
please let me die in the first white blinding blast
so I don't see the cockroaches everywhere
the cockroaches everywhere
the cockroaches crawling all over me in my bed

"Sleep with you? Love you? Live in a big house in Weston, Connecticut
with you?" says Christopher Plummer with barely masked disdain
circa Inside Daisy Clover Warner Brothers 1965
If there were any mercy in the universe
ugly women would have no capacity for love
they would not have light, soft hairs on their forearms
so sensitive to the brief, accidental touch of a man making his way
from the back of the elevator out on to the third floor
If there were any mercy in the world
ugly women would die young in pandemics epidemics and what the
Centers for Disease Control simply calls outbreaks
so that ugly women would never grow old enough to purchase
large beds and sleep in them a lifetime alone

Alone, falling, falling, ice like polyurethane on the concrete
the sound of bones breaking on concrete
I lift my face out of the red snow
manage to use my good arm to get my phone out of my pocket
only to remember that my Contacts folder is empty.

Monday, August 27, 2012

My Dog Holds the Universe in Place

I am under the weather
How I got under there I don't know
Maybe I moved with agility and grace
Probably I slipped

Anyway, under the weather I am
I did bits of tasks this morning, none of them well or accurately
I confused some things and dropped some other things
and made a sandwich just in time to not want it

I said to the dog "Heck with it, let's go to bed"
and he did not reply "In the middle of the day? Do those dishes first"
because he is not that kind of dog
I am sorry for people who have that kind of dog

So we went to bed
I slept fitfully and dreamed
I was chilled
I made kitten sounds in my throat when I exhaled
I was hot and then I was chilled again
At one point I half-woke up to find that I had pushed away all the bedclothes
and peeled away the fitted sheet and mattress pad
The only bedding still on the bed was the corner that was anchored under the dog's body
I've always suspected it and now I know for sure
My dog holds the universe in place

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Oyster crackers
tortillas, cut in triangles
white loaf, torn
wafers from a tiny round tin I coveted

I have seen all manner of Christs

My hands demurely folded
on my navel,
I stand near the altar
but not at the altar
since at the altar is reserved
for the one closer to God than I

When I rule the world
no soprano-ridden
Episcopal church choir
will be allowed to suck the life out of
negro spirituals

Now the one at the altar is raising the plate
the holy plate
it probably has a name in Latin
that we bobtailed Catholics carefully do not use

I have seen all manner of Christs

Today he is pita bread
with sunflower kernels

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Balsamic Vinegar

Like memorizing poetry in case you ever find yourself in prison,
it is good to store away in your mind images of green leaves
because one day soon they will fall
and also much-needed summer rain
because one day soon it will be goddamned black ice.

Snap pictures. Store up images. Tape up photo postcards all over the inside of your head.

When the dark comes, and it always comes, you will need those green leaves.

For instance, do not forget the look of shining hopefulness in the dog's eyes
when you took the bottle of balsamic vinegar from the cupboard.
The slight lick of the lips.
Unasked for, the perfect sit.

Laugh. This is the dog like no other. This is the dog you have made. This is you,

Click the shutter in your mind's eye.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Take note

Take note

There's one cherry tomato ripening on the vine
Freezer-chilled vinho verde is sharp on the tongue
The dog rests his chin on crossed paws

Take note of what's here

Crow on fence preaches an outraged sermon
Erratic clouds like heaven's craftswoman
threw handfuls of pillow stuffing out over the sky
The dog shifts position to follow the sun

Take note of what's here

(Quit noting what's not)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It is the not there

It is the not there
that is there
and that there
is so much more there
than the there
that is there
that is so not
meant to be there

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Ever wonder who it was who first said
to a roomful of people
"Let's go around the room and introduce ourselves!?

Let's go back in time to five minutes
before that moment, and kill him.

"Now, I'm going to ask you to go around the room one more time,
but this time tell us the name of your personal hero!"

Just once I wish someone would say Mussolini. And mean it.

The lady in the 4-inch stiletto heels will say Mother Teresa.
Dorothy Day. I was close.

The consultant
is an action kind of guy
you can tell this
because he rolls up the sleeves
of his dress shirt
as he prepares to get down to
(Will he say it? Yes, he does) brass tacks.

Now comes a little joke.

Very little.

Doughnut holes.
You can gauge the state of the nation's economy
by the size of the doughnuts offered at seminars.
Haven't seen a Long John in three years.

To the lady with the chopsticks in your hair:
we're done with brainstorming.
The brainstorming portion of the program has ended.
Take another doughnut hole and belt up.

"When you set a business or personal goal,
time it to coincide with a date you can't forget,
like the 1st of the month or the first Monday of each month!"

All this wisdom, and doughnut holes, too.

"Now we'll all write some goals using this method,
and then we'll go round and share.
Let's start with a personal goal!"

I will shave my legs on every presidential birthday.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How's the job going?" no one asked

"How's the new job going?" no one asked.
65 ring choices on a phone
that never rings.

It's been six months.
It's the only job I've ever had
where the hot water from the spigot on the coffee pot
is hot enough to brew my tea.
I hate it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mrs. Jesus Lanyard

Mrs. Jesus Lanyard daily chooses the chair
in the east corner of the coffee room
and props her book open
on the table in front of her
so that everyone coming in will see
the gold-toned
Holy Bible
printed on its genuine deluxe
imitation cowhide cover.

The widespread belief is that the book cover is false.
Some say porn.
Others say romance novels.
Accounts Payable swears she's been reading
the same book since the day Bing Crosby died.
The Thorn Birds, agrees Outreach and Innovation.
No, no, says all of Sales, it's Mein Kampf.
There is always one vote for Gregg’s Shorthand.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Definitions (poem)

Not at all unusual
to set the saucepan
with its layer of crusty rice
on the floor for the dog
his tongue faster than any dish scrubber

A bit eccentric
to say to the dog
with his head in the saucepan
Such a good boy
to clean this up for me
Such a good dog, aren't you?

Definitely weird
to brush the last two rice grains
off his muzzle into his mouth
and say to him
that was long grain white rice
instead of our usual brown
did you notice
do you have a preference

to wait for his answer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What I didn't say after saying "Oh, of course I remember you!" to an acquaintance from long ago

Yes, I remember you
Your breast, the left one I believe, used
to fall out of its container and hang
down to your waist

I used to keep a tally of how many hours would pass
before you'd put it back

One day morning passed, lunch passed, and still
your left nipple was pointed, one assumed, at the floor

"Do you think her bra strap breaks or something"
whispered my co-manager

"Every day?"
I whispered back

One day I snorted coffee with half and half up my nose
because it occurred to one of us
that it might be said
upon these occasions
that your right breast and your left breast
had had a falling out

Oh, sure, I remember you

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Pencil Pot and the Paper Cup

The red earthenware pencil pot
curls a sarcastic lip
at the paper cup
"I am permanent"
it says
"You are only momentary

"Ooh" says the Nalgene water bottle
"Good one" says the stapler
"Always so negative" says the holder
with three types of Scotch tape
"Fight! Fight! There's a fight!"
says the Keep Calm and Carry On mug

The paper cup lifts a determined chin
and says "When she knocks you over on to the floor
and she will one day
she will say she's going
to bring in some SuperGlue and glue you
back together again
But she'll forget
The fragments of you will end up in the
garbage can"

The red earthenware pencil pot
says "I don't know what you're so smug about
You'll be in that garbage can, too"

"Ah," says the paper cup
"The difference is that I knew it all along"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Monday Morning

Insufficient lavender
chides the performance improvement expert
who should floss her teeth after lunch
ooh this coffee is not good laughs the epidemiologist
secure in her ability to create a five-level chart about nothing
let's table this discussion until the next meeting
says the accountant who doesn't know that kelly green
makes her skin look sallow
I wish apple fritters were as good as I remember them being
says the man noted for inconsequentiality
to the woman wearing her name tag upside down
to express thinking outside the box
oh I agree say three people who weren't listening

The thing and its progression

the list of people
and the horses they rode in on
the number of robins
I say good morning to
the amount of time
between identifying the source
of the putrid odor
and emptying the garbage can
the hours the flute spends off the closet shelf

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Possibility of Wolves (poem)

Don't you find it a little strange
I say to the dog
that an armful of undies in the spin cycle
can sound like someone upstairs
is breaking up cement?

That is weird he says
but what perplexes me more
is that you keep my bag
of food in a cupboard
and dole it out twice a day
when anyone with a logical mind
would eat it all now rather than
risk it being stolen by wolves

Wolves in our kitchen
are highly unlikely
I say
I assure you that we needn't concern ourselves
with the possibility of wolves

I have always enjoyed the way
you speak with such authority
he says
even though I figured out early on
that you do it best when you have no clue
one must always concern oneself
with the possibility of wolves

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

To the Lady with the Bad Perm at the Dakota County Library

I learned good manners
in front of the television
watching My Three Sons
starring Fred MacMurray
and, as Uncle Charlie, William Demarest.

Obviously, you missed that series.

You think I'm nice
You think you can push me around
because I've got such good manners
I'd rather die
than make a scene in public.

But you should know this:
what is learned via television
goes only skin deep
a veneer.
Underneath I still am who I was
before My Three Sons
Father Knows Best
The Electric Company
taught me to say after you and please.

I come from an unbroken line of hate
in my family of darkness
we don't kill we maim
generation after generation
creating the shell-shocked mad
I carry the gene for rage.

Consider yourself warned.

Sorry about the perm.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Dirty Time of Year (poem)

"We grow tired of your foolishness,"
I say to the dog
who points his graying muzzle up
and smells the air as if to find
the source of the plural

The sky the color of sweatpants pocket lint
tiny branches at the top of the birch trees
tangle in the wind
the mourning birds hunch under the eaves
and keep themselves to themselves

"We grow tired of your foolishness,"
I say to the dog
who turns and lifts his leg on
an old variety of tall grass
forgotten before my birth
remembered in my middle-age

An empty can of chili without beans
sits in state in the melting ice
that spills over the curb
the wind blows
and two burrito wrappers, a plastic straw, and a panty liner
chase each other in a gusty circle

A dirty time of year
No season for the weary of heart

"We grow tired of your foolishness,"
I say to the dog
who replies,
"Well, let's go home then
and sit on the couch
I'll rest my chin on your left thigh"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Which I Explain to K____ Why I Can't Iron a Tablecloth Nicely (a story)

"It would only take you a minute to iron that tablecloth nicely," my friend K____ says in a Come Now tone.

Ah, would that were true, my friend.

Draw near and I will tell you the reason for my affliction.

When I was born the gods were invited to stop by and bestow upon me the Gifts they give to all infants. There was a potluck. In some cultures the gods just drop by to view the infant, make a few oracular statements, and bestow their Gifts. But I was born in a country called The Midwest where by the Dictator's decree all invitations include the words "There'll be a potluck. Bring a dish to share."

My birth occurred in that time of year when the Goddess of Spring starts skipping around saying things like "Don't you just love the little birdies singing tweet tweet in the treetops!" and the Goddess of Winter says "Shut the hell up, you hippy-dippy, or I'll snow." In my country we call this period of climatic instability The Month of March. No one remembers why. Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that if you're smart you keep your boots on because you never know when the Goddess of Spring will decide it's time for warm weather so the flowers can bloom and then the Goddess of Winter gets so annoyed she snows, with the result that red tulips poke out of snow-filled flower beds and everywhere you step you step in slush.

It just so happens I was part of a baby boom. The gods' social calendars were crammed with potlucks that season. Gods usually time their arrival at potlucks carefully. Come too early to a potluck and, god or not, you may get roped into putting out stacks of plates and pre-filling Mr. Coffee coffee filters. Gods also try to make sure they arrive after grace is said, especially if people are going to hold hands and sing the Johnny Appleseed song. Gods hate that.

The day I was born gods rushed from one potluck to another, taking two helpings of lasagna from the pan on their first turn through the line, complaining loudly about the toughness of the baklava, barely glancing at the newborn child before announcing "This child shall have the Gifts of Tax Accountancy and Always Knowing the Location of the Needle-Nosed Pliers," and then rushing off to the next baby's potluck.

With so many potlucks going on, some scheduling snafus were going to happen. Four of the gods who were invited to my potluck arrived late. Three of the gods over-booked themselves that day. They were at the celebration for Elizabeth Anne Engenthaler and had appropriated three serving spoons and the entire pan of cheesy scalloped potatoes with bits of Canadian bacon when they suddenly realized they were supposed to be at my grandmother's house for my celebration. Gods, as I've told you, time their arrivals at potlucks carefully. They don't like to be early, but they like to be first in the food line everywhere. So the three gods rushed out of the Engenthalers' house, which explains a lot about Elizabeth Anne Engenthaler. The fourth god was on her way to my grandmother's house, but forgot she was supposed to turn on I-90 and, instead, continued on 35E into the Principality of Albert Lea. She wasn't that far way; she still could have made it to my potluck in time. But the Principality of Albert Lea also is known as the Small Land of Many Taverns. Gods like taverns.

So these four gods arrived late at the potluck held to celebrate my birth. Now we come to the heart of my story and the source of my lifelong misfortune. These four gods arrived late at my potluck, and they found nothing left in the lasagna pans except hard, crusty bits at the corners. The ham bone was picked clean. The deviled eggs were only a memory. The mashed potatoes were long gone. The baklava pan was empty. Every white sugary filling on graham cracker crust dipped in milk chocolate and sprinkles bar had been eaten. There was a half-empty bottle of ketchup standing next to the platter that had held hot dogs and buns, but that was it.

Now remember, the three gods who had been at Elizabeth Anne Engenthaler's house had left without finishing the pan of cheesy scalloped potatoes with bits of Canadian bacon. The fourth god had had various liquid refreshments and a handful of Spanish peanuts. They were hungry. They looked forward to eating their fill at my grandmother's house. But they were too late. There was no food left for the gods.

Now you think one of my relatives could have, quick, jumped into the car and gone to the grocery store. Or knocked on the neighbor's door and asked if they had any fried chicken to spare for a Divine emergency? I mean, there were four hungry gods in the kitchen, looking very irritated, the smell of brimstone rising in the air, and no member of my family had the presence of mind to whip up six or eight boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, perhaps adding tuna and peas as suggested on the side of the box? No, nobody thought of that. But that's my family for you. No use in a crisis. Only good for hand-wringing at the time and then the post-disaster dramatic reenactments.

So the four gods didn't get any food. They got angry instead. They took it out on me, an innocent child. The four hungry gods left my grandmother's house without bestowing their Gifts. The fourth god stopped on the doorstep and looked back, feeling a little guilty. But then she remembered the deviled eggs she hadn't had. She was partial to deviled eggs. And she hardened her heart. All four gods shook the dust from their shoes and left without bestowing their Gifts upon me. They were the Gods of Dusting, Vacuuming, Ironing, and Putting Things Away Right After You Finish Using Them.

And, so, my dear K____, I can't iron that tablecloth nicely. Alas, I haven't the Gift.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Dog Has Never Been On a Balcony (poem)

My dog has never been on a balcony
until two weeks ago last Tuesday
Yet he knows that this outside
is not really outside
but an extension of inside
and, so, no lifting the leg

“How did you teach him that?”
asks an admirer

My smile conveys modesty
with just a touch
of when you’ve got it
you’ve got it

Actually, I’ve never taught my dog anything
except to walk badly on a leash
and to wait for the dollop of tartar sauce
to land on the plate
before eating his share
of the battered fish sticks

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Asked the Moon (poem)

I asked the moon
a Tuesday moon
backlit against a blue on blue quilted sky
if I might leave
there comes a time, I explained,
in case supportive material
was needed
for my application

The moon
backlit like the head of the actor playing Jesus
when Peter puts two and two together and makes five
the moon did not reply

O Moon, I asked again, in case
the apostrophe was the proper form
I once was educated
though you cannot see it now
in my dead eyes

O Moon, I said,
it is a sad weakness on my part
that I require permission

O Moon, I asked,
but there was no reply

Friday, January 20, 2012

R.I.P., John Banner (poem)

It was never my intention
to pay homage
to Sergeant Schultz
on Hogan's Heroes
in my choice of outerwear

But my warmest winter coat
is long and gray and wool
All I need is the helmet
to complete the look
R.I.P., John Banner

My Sergeant Schultz coat
has two large front pockets
big enough to hide strudel

Every snowstorm I say to myself
as I walk out the door
to brush a foot of snow
off my car
don't forget to close the flaps on your pockets first
so they don't get filled with snow

Every snowstorm I forget

Strangely heavy feeling as I walk into the house
a pool of water underneath the coat hook
the dog looks virtuous

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Three Meetings On Monday Morning (poem)

I will get up from this chair
smile pleasantly at the questioning faces
and walk out the conference room door
to find myself on the platform in good time
to catch the train that goes from Minnesota in winter
to Dublin in mid-springtime
with a stop for a slow lunch and a Dubonnet rouge
in a Paris cafe where once
I taught my lover that hazel is the word
for eyes not blue not green not gray not brown.

Friday, January 6, 2012

In My Defense, I Point Out That At Least I Wasn't Drinking Alone (poem)

The day with its claws well stuck in
What will loosen that hold?

The preferred potion
old as time
guaranteed to kill days and claws
warm together lemon, honey
warm the mug, too
add the whiskey
stir with spoon
fill the mug
drink it down

I'm sure I could find
for the skeptical.

Last night I carried
from Bloomington to Burnsville
in addition to my own
not insubstantial weight
a particularly large bird.

I told him birds are
not allowed inside the house.
I threatened him
with Dakota County Animal Control.
He rode me in through the door
his claws deep
in the back of my right shoulder.

I tried music.
I tried laughing
when the live audience laughed.
I tried a little leftover smoked turkey
and a nice glass of iced water.
I tried all the humane methods.

But there was nothing for it
but to resort to a poison
old as time.

The first one didn't work.
The second also failed.
The third I made
minus the lemon,
the honey,
the heating,
the mug,
the spoon.

I thought briefly
that I ought to give this variant recipe
a catchy name all its own.
But there's no need.
It already has one.