Wears multiple hats

Bowler, beanie, sombrero, cap,
ten gallon, and a fine ass fedora,

the hats I wear stacked high like
a Dr. Seussian pile of pancakes.
My neck sags, and inside my head’s
a three-ring short-circuit circus.

I’m a professional cockroach
capable of survival underneath
the soulless, energy-efficient
lights with a sensor that says
if I sit still long enough, life
will grow a shell and crab legs
that will scurry away from me.

Each time the room goes dark,
I come to my senses and rise
dramatically, like a staged mime.
What a forgettable performance,
they’ll say, as I tap my beret.

Basset hound

My grandfather’s soul is a shape shifter.
It knows where to go –
the chasm between two sleeping bodies
huddled in their own respective corners
on a queen size mattress,
leaving body imprints on memory foam.

In this life, my grandfather is a basset hound.
I know it’s him.
The man always had a thing for long ears
that can hear their way through the saddest cracks.

When he walks, he trips.
And we call it entertainment.
He doesn’t mind the laughter.

It helps when entertainers are aware
of how much they’re loved.

There are no holes in his droopy, slobbery love.

Oh how my grandfather yodels and cries
when we leave the house.
He can’t stand it and leaves oily trails
of snot on the sliding glass window.

He doesn’t care about the neighbors
who pound their broomsticks on the walls.
His howls don’t embarrass him.
He knows what he’s missing,
can describe vividly the pain and where it hurts.

I named my hound, Elvis,
which was my grandfather’s nickname.
He was a dirty martini kind of guy,
the version they couldn’t show on T.V.
He was graceless with olive breath
and spaghetti sauce stains on his sweaters.
But he knew how to dance, and all of the ladies
at the local library where I worked were smitten
whenever he tap danced their names in his words.

My grandfather hated going to the doctor.
He was stubborn and silent in sickness
until it boiled over and the toxic fluid
flooded his lungs and around his heart.
When they drained him, he was flat as cardboard.

Elvis and I cut through the park on our walks.
I think he likes the woodchips underneath his paws.
His large jowls flap in the crisp spring breeze,
and he jumps and takes chomps at wayward bugs,
and I’m grateful because I think they aim for me.

Sometimes at night, I take Elvis to the pond to feed ducks.
His fur is the same color as the reeds along the shore.
His watery, brown eyes look up at me, lathering my thoughts.
He breathes in deep a grass-scented silence.
I can tell he understands,
that he doesn’t know what comes next,
but it’s getting late, and he’s hungry,
and our favorite spots on the couch are cold.

Catharsis Christmas

All households have traditions, even if they’re formed out of desperation—
like having Christmas dinner at IHOP; the kids love it/don’t know any better.
In our household we painted wooden ornaments, listened to holiday mixed tapes.
One year we made a turkey and brought it to a stranger in a cramped trailer.
It was our way of returning favors, for things like the year the fire department
checked our family’s name off a list, filled our entire living room with presents.
People sometimes forget how hard it is to receive. Even if the clothes fit perfect,
we’re not sure they belong to us. We wear something else along with new clothes.
We knew it was the firefighters who filled our living room, not Santa, never Santa.
My mother had taught us to believe in goodness and miracles, but he wasn’t one.
I once played Gabriel for a Nativity play. I practiced my one line hundreds of times.
I spoke of “great joy” while closing my eyes. I let joy fill me and steam from my ears.
Angels come in all forms. They send messages. They whisper joy. They bring death.
Though now, I don’t have much use for angels, I still see things in light and darkness.
Oftentimes, thankfully, there’s a concept that sheds snow white, black coal duality.
It’s not happy or sad. There’s no name for it. Maybe if Christmas was like catharsis.

The seeds of screams

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

“One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.”

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Munch/resource/171

“This is where it picks up,” my brother says,
strumming his pant leg with long fingernails
lined in the dirt he’s been digging up for years.
He glances at me to see if I’m still watching
then peers at the lyrics he’s scribbled down—
four lines at a time about rising from ashes.

It’s anti-climactic when my brother screams.
To him, screaming is song and second language,
and as he teaches me I marvel at his proficiency.
The guttural sound erupts from a bubbling pit
in the diaphragm, rising from the gut quick as bile.
The acidity sits in the back of the throat, not burning,
but patiently waiting, stalking, until the mouth opens.

When he screams, his flesh remains the same pale
with a hint of peach. There is no crimson waterfall,
soft bleeding of pinks, or plum purple in his cheeks,
I see no pulsating veins bursting like fresh bruises.
His face does not contort into rage, disfigured hate.
He could be blowing candles out on a birthday cake.

Women of horror used to be called scream queens,
and I wonder what kind of primal cue it’d take for me
to emit a sharpness as blood-curdling and skin-liquefying.
Somewhere there’s a scientist with a lock box of screams
and an outdated psychologist who tells patients to relive
their pasts, rehash a few lashings in order to purge pain.

The same people who brought you into the world began
with a scream – a concoction of pleasure, pain, and relief.
And when a baby’s head protrudes from the womb, it’s harsh
and sweet. You break your mother, and she transcends sound,
feeling to reach infinite barriers, beyond pain of femininity.

Once when I was a kid, I was playing before I trapped myself
underneath a door that was yet to be attached to its doorway.
I squirmed in my winter coat, and the weight on top of me
stifled the cry of terror in my lungs; it was barely a whisper.
My mother had pulled the heavy mass off and showered me
in comfort, soothing coos to calm to my close-call tears.

Now the only time I attempt to scream is in dreaming.
I kick like a dog who can’t catch her unconscious assailant.
I wake up and my throat is hoarse, but there’s no memory.

“Before you scream, don’t just throw it out there, focus it,”
my brother tells me. “Then let it flow, give it room to breathe.”

So I gulp air, cradling my own wind close to me before I scream,
and when I do, I call out to all my silences and shake them
like branches of trees laundering seeds ready to be born.

Slippage

Image

Slippage

 

When I fumble my keys,

“clash” says the hardwood

floor, like the sound of quarters

slipping between the washing

machine, missing buttons tumble

against the dryer’s hot metal.

 

The rabbit cage rattles, picture

frames quake on my wall

beyond the neighbor’s door,

overcome with wind or rage.

A hard slam I can swallow

rumbles deep inside my chest.

 

A noodle plops like a flip-flop

on the kitchen tile. I bend, lift

it from the stick, fit it like a puzzle

piece in my mouth. It falls again.

 

I jumble my words when you

wipe your feet on “Welcome,”

rearrange them into a sloppy

question about your day.

 

You scratch your head, point

at the bruises on my knees.

“I slipped” I frame the phrase

on my lips, and it’s crooked.