“Advice from the Experts” by Bill Knott

I lay down in the empty street and parked
My feet against the gutter’s curb while from
The building above a bunch of gawkers perched
Along its ledges urged me don’t, don’t jump.

Bill Knott, found on-line via the Poetry 180 project

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A special wave of thanks to Arne who suggested this poem for us via our Contact page while I was on hiatus. Feel free to submit your own favorite. 

“Little Beast” by Richard Siken

  1

An all-night barbeque. A dance on the courthouse lawn.
     The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night
is thinking. It’s thinking of love.
             It’s thinking of stabbing us to death
and leaving our bodies in a dumpster.
   That’s a nice touch, stains in the night, whiskey and kisses for everyone.

Tonight, by the freeway, a man eating fruit pie with a buckknife
    carves the likeness of his lover’s face into the motel wall. I like him
and I want to be like him, my hands no longer an afterthought.

  2

Someone once told me that explaining is an admission of failure.
    I’m sure you remember, I was on the phone with you, sweetheart.

  3

History repeats itself. Somebody says this.
    History throws its shadow over the beginning, over the desktop,
over the sock drawer with its socks, its hidden letters.
            History is a little man in a brown suit
    trying to define a room he is outside of.
I know history. There are many names in history
                  but none of them are ours.

  4

He had green eyes,
            so I wanted to sleep with him
    green eyes flecked with yellow, dried leaves on the surface of a pool–
You could drown in those eyes, I said.
              The fact of his pulse,
the way he pulled his body in, out of shyness or shame or a desire
    not to disturb the air around him.
Everyone could see the way his muscles worked,
            the way we look like animals,
                his skin barely keeping him inside.
      I wanted to take him home
and rough him up and get my hands inside him, drive my body into his
    like a crash test car.
              I wanted to be wanted and he was
very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving.
    You could drown in those eyes, I said,
                  so it’s summer, so it’s suicide,
so we’re helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool.

  5

It wasn’t until we were well past the middle of it
    that we realized
the old dull pain, whose stitched wrists and clammy fingers,
              far from being subverted,
had only slipped underneath us, freshly scrubbed.
          Mirrors and shop windows returned our faces to us,
      replete with the tight lips and the eyes that remained eyes
               and not the doorways we had hoped for.
His wounds healed, the skin a bit thicker than before,
    scars like train tracks on his arms and on his body underneath his shirt.

  6

We still groped for each other on the backstairs or in parked cars
                as the roads around us
grew glossy with ice and our breath softened the view through a glass
      already laced with frost,
but more frequently I was finding myself sleepless, and he was running out of
                lullabies.
But damn if there isn’t anything sexier
          than a slender boy with a handgun,
                  a fast car, a bottle of pills.

  7

What would you like? I’d like my money’s worth.
            Try explaining a life bundled with episodes of this—
      swallowing mud, swallowing glass, the smell of blood
on the first four knuckles.
              We pull our boots on with both hands
but we can’t punch ourselves awake and all I can do
        is stand on the curb and say Sorry
           about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.

I couldn’t get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.

~ Richard Siken, from Crush

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I tried to get the line formatting as close to Siken’s as possible. To see the poem in its original format, you may read it in a .pdf version of Crush HERE or buy the book on Amazon HERE.

A wave of thanks and gratitude to Josie F. who suggested this poem for us via our Contact page.

“Gate C22” by Ellen Bass

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

 

Ellen Bass, from The Human Line

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The poet reads her poem:

(both poem and video are available on her website.)

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A wave of thanks and gratitude to James R. who suggested this poem for us (along with some other great pieces that I may set up as a week at the end of July). Feel free to submit your own favorite poem via our Contact page. Thanks again James. 

“Breakfast Song” by Elizabeth Bishop (Reader Recommended)

My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue.
I kiss your funny face,
your coffee-flavored mouth.
Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I’ve grown accustomed to?
—Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it’s true.
It’s just the common case;
there’s nothing one can do.
My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.

 

“Breakfast Song” by Elizabeth Bishop, from Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

Reader Recommended: My heartfelt thanks to reader Usha S. who offered Bishop’s poem as a personal favorite. Usha was grateful for the Good News poem by Thich Nhat Hanh “especially after the last few days/weeks of horror around the world and the feeding of fear.” Usha was referring to the Paris bombings, but sadly, could be referring to any day as of late.

Poetry offers us a slant of light in a dark world. To quote Bukowski, “it may not be much light but / it beats the darkness.” Keep shining, Christy

“Convenience Stores” by Buddy Wakefield (Reader Favorite)

We both know the smell of a convenience store at 4 a.m. like the backs
of alotta hands.
She sells me trucker crack/Mini-Thins (it’s like Vivarin).
She doesn’t make me feel awkward about it.
She can tell it’s been a long drive and it’s only gonna get longer.
Offers me a free cup of coffee, but I never touch the stuff.
Besides, I’m gonna need more speed than that.

We notice each other’s smiles immediately.
It’s our favorite thing for people to notice—our smiles.
It’s all either one of us has to offer.
You can see it in the way our cheeks stretch out like arms
wanting nothing more than to say, “You are welcome here.”

She—
shows brittle nicotine teeth with spaces between each one.
Her fingers are bony, there’s no rings on’m, and she’d love to get’er nails
done someday.
One time she had’er hair fixed.
They took out the grease, made it real big on top, and feathered it.
She likes it like that.
She’ll never be fully informed on some things just like I will never understand
who really buys Moon Pies, or those rolling, wrinkled, dried-up sausages.
But then again, she’s been here a lot longer than me.
She’s seen everything
from men who grow dread locks out of their top lips
to children who look like cigarettes.

I give’er my money.
I wait for my change.
But I feel like there’s something more happening here.

I feel—
like a warm mop bucket and dingy tiles that’ll never come clean.
I feel like these freezers cannot be re-stocked often enough.
I feel like trash cans of candy wrappers
with soda pop dripping down the wrong side of the plastic.
I feel like everything just got computerized.
I feel like she was raised to say a LOT of stupid things about a color.
And I feel like if I were to identify myself as gay—
this conversation would stop.

It’s what I do.
I feel.
I get scared sometimes.
And I drive.

…But in 1 minute and 48 seconds I’m gonna walk outta here with a full tank of
gas, a bottle of Mini-Thins, and a pint of milk while there’s a woman still
trapped behind a formican counter somewhere in North Dakota who says she
wants nothing more than to hear my whole story, all 92,775 miles of it.

I can feel it though, y’all, she’s heard more opinions and trucker small talk than
Santa Claus has made kids happy, so I only find the nerve to tell’er the good
parts, that she’s the kindest thing to happen since Burlington, VT, and I wanna
leave it at that because men—who are not smart—have taken it farther, have
cradled her up like a nutcracker and made her feel as warm as a high school education
on the dusty back road, or a beer, in a coozy.

I feel like she’s been waiting here a long time for the one who’ll come 2-steppin’
through that door on 18 wheels without makin’er feel like it’s her job to
sweep up the nutshells alone when she’s done been cracked again, who won’t
tempt her to suck the wedding ring off his dick, but will show her— simply—
LOVE.

She doesn’t need me or any other man but she doesn’t know that either, and I’m
just hopin’ like crazy she doesn’t think I’m the one because the only time I’ll
ever see North Dakota again is in a Van Morrison song late (LATE) at night, I
promise.

Y’all, I feel like she’s 37 years old wearing 51 (badly), dying inside (like certain
kinds of dances around fires) to speak through you, a forest, if you weren’t so
taken with sparks.

But she was never given those words.
She has not been told she can definitely change the world.
She knows some folks do
but not in convenience stores
and NOT with lottery tickets
so
I finally ask’er what I’ve been feelin’ the entire time I’ve been standin’ there

still
gettin’ scared like I do sometimes
really (REALLY) ready to drive
I ask,

“Is this it for you?
Is this all you’ll ever do?”

Her smile
collapsed.

That tightly strapped-in pasty skin
went loose.

Her heart
fell crooked.

She said (not knowin’ my real name),
“I can tell, buddy, by the Mini Thins and the way ya drive—

we’re both taken with novelty.

We’ve both believed in mean gods.

We both spend our money on things that break too easily like…

people.

And I can tell
you think you’ve had it rough
so especially you should know…

It’s what I do,
I dream.
I get high sometimes.
And I’m gonna roll outta here one day.

I just might not get to drive.”

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

To learn more about Buddy, visit his website; view his anthology on Amazon; listen to his spoken work on Spotify.

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READER FAVORITE: Many thanks to James Rice who mentioned this as a favorite poem from the Words archives (we ran it here in July 2015; though it was originally published at Rattle Magazine, linked above.) James enjoys sharing poetry with his family and friends and said, “Poetry is a light that shines onto something deeper that adds to our inner lives.”

So true, James, so true. Keep shining and keep sharing. Love, Christy