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