I've been editing a poetry manuscript, and here are some poems that didn't make the cut. A few of these are decent. Some are awful. Most were published in journals that no longer exist.
Love is not a flower. Flowers smell sweet and invite bees; love,
when it’s done right, doesn’t smell sweet at all, more of a stale musk,
that most of us wash off as soon as we gather the strength
to go for a shower. Some flowers have thorns, and sometimes love
employs similar devices; though you would like to think this was a one-time thing
you just did in college because you were experimenting,
and just because you think about it from time to time in wistful tones,
doesn’t make it unhealthy.
Flowers take months to grow, properly. Love
rarely requires more than a half hour, though flowers don’t turn
sulky backs to you whenever you get a little too excited
thinking about your third grade science teacher, Mrs. Freemont,
who wore those stockings that only came up to her knees,
and sometimes when she bent over a student’s desk, her dress
would ride up a little and you could see the tops of them,
and even though she was in her late thirties, she still had damn fine legs;
then immediately fall asleep, dreaming of deep valleys
full of dull stumps covered by water that laps just at their tips.
Love will make you breakfast, though I can’t guarantee
the quality of the coffee, and though I used to have a friend
who, when he'd been drinking, would sneak into strangers’ gardens
and eat their roses, most of us don’t consider flowers a proper meal.
Flowers require cultivation, care, and love also needs attention,
but you can’t send flowers to themselves,
to make up for last night, with the thorns.
And if love sets you sneezing,
you’d best see someone about it.
At the end of the day, when you’ve suffered abuse
enough to break anyone, love will sit you down,
with a cup of tea, to watch old movies,
something with Jimmy Stewart, or Grace Kelly; whereas flowers
will never cancel their plans and stay home to water you.
* * *
The Neighbors' Weave
The vacant lot behind our house is
a carpet laid down for birds;
a green shag swaying in the slow ceiling fan breeze.
That and the blue white toothpaste clouds
settling in the porcelain sink of the sky
remind us this is someone else's home.
Buildings, like furniture placed oddly
to hide stains in a rug,
threaten the natural feng-shui of things–
the mirrored tops of lakes are forgotten, flower
beds are placed out of sight of doorways . . .
I wonder if the birds see our neighborhood
as a series of squatter shacks.
We throw out bread that the birds don't eat,
and water blueberries that they do
in a plot that's ours for now,
but someone else's when the lease is up.
Men are pulling the carpet up in the vacant lot;
revealing a clean scrubbed floor of dirt beneath,
waiting for someone to track cement across it.
* * *
Crouched above me like a gazelle
dipping its neck to drink – your thighs –
a yellow cream. I leaned up,
clamped my mouth to your sex.
It gave you pause. Your head
lifted and froze and you didn't make a sound.
It’s good that no matter the weight of days
that press us apart,
I still know how to make you quiet.
* * *
The People Below Us
could be studying the music they listen to
so loudly. They could be filling their minds,
not just their ears. They could be discussing
philosophy as they smoke pot on their balcony.
Maybe they have cancer, maybe the meds
keep them up late and the noise of living
is all that drowns out their dying. Or maybe
it's me, drowning, studying. Maybe I am learning
* * *
This house is as empty as a made bed
without her mind to imagine
the scurrying legs of ghosts
behind opened doors. I woke
to an un-ringing phone. Eleven blind steps
to the slap of skin on linoleum,
then six through the kitchen, hands
straining for the glass of the sliding door, then
the hard slap of concrete on toes tells me I’m outside.
Brittle prickles of grass, the moon
like a butter bowl, dribbling
its light down; the night tastes thick out here.
Dogs grunt sharp threats at the kids
who shove their noise at the sleeping world,
or maybe the wind sneaks unpleasant news
over the fences of their masters.
The sounds stick on my ears like pollen.
I take all of them back with me, inside
to a bed now too full
to sleep in, but with room enough to dream.
* * *
Scratching at the page of my notebook, I didn't notice
the wasp that flew in through a hole in my window screen,
until it crawled up the pillow on my bed.
Big red body, wings like hard candy, thick brown things;
I sat my notebook on the bed. The wasp crawled onto the page,
maybe hoping to make a nest from the failure
I’d been sweating over for days. It crawled three stanzas,
paused as I lifted the notebook, but there were two more to go.
I lowered the notebook,
let it crawl to the end, then I took it outside and let it go.
* * *
The Weight of Dust
Fall drops slow from the feathers
of the black birds gathered on power lines, waiting
for the last scraps of the garden,
waiting for us to taste our fair share of dust for the season.
After supper, we wander out with our evening beers
to inspect the soil, and write off the weekend to weeding.
At the store, I remember the mouse that took over
her old gloves in the storage building and buy her a new pair.
The first year we grew a garden, we averaged
about $5.00 per vegetable, with
expenses, with more deaths than Camus’ plague in Oran.
Now, most things live, most yield.
No matter what it cost, we wouldn’t set foot in the produce aisle
of the store, anymore; we’ve found that to acquire a proper pallet
one must whet it with dust and sweat.
* * *
The first day it was nothing a base with trunks twining out like branches
curling confused like days when time’s had too much to drink
Leaves the color of old girlfriends’ names forgotten so long the mind sees them
as nothing but a dull shade of regret and mauve the kind of thing
witnesses to violent crimes never remember but which writers of bad fiction
always purport great significance to in the minds of the victims
The second it was snakes swaying in the breeze of enthusiasm riding the drab
lawn like a comb over the earth’s bald spot
After the tour of the kitchen (All this will be new we’re redoing everything don’t
even look at what’s here now because it will all be different) the living room
replete with fireplace (Gas so all you have to do is flip a switch none of that messy
lighting the fire business) we finally noticed the tree outside the back
bedroom window (We’re landscaping all this all new grass) (I like the tree)
I commented for no real reason at all other than that I did
We’d seen other places one house by a very nice park we often drove to and
walked around once or twice to burn off a couple inches of guilt
Pricy was the problem quiet neighborhood (Are we quiet people?) She asked
One place out in the country had well water cows (Were those gunshots?)
I asked Then the owner showed up (You'll have to get used to me taking pot shots at skunks first thing in the mornings) (What exactly do you mean by morning?) (Oh 4:30 5) He said with a muddled look in his eyes like I’d said something suggestive about either his daughter or his truck but neither had trees
Somewhere in there it became a joshua tree though I’d never seen one
only read the liner notes of the U2 album of the same name and vaguely
remembered something about Canaan from the bible It seemed like what a
joshua tree should be wild vaguely reminiscent of an archetypal scene in a film I’d dreamed about for years I drove over after work snuck around back
thinking about the life we’d have here jushua tree in the back raised bed flower garden in the front smores over the fire porch sitting Canaan the sort of place you bore your children talking about when they go off to college
The fourth day we brought a friend to see left him standing after awhile near
the front while we laid our plans out on the air like blueprints Came back to see him talking to a neighbor about a case of domestic violence
across the street a car stolen a few days before I could tell he was mocking
us about our choice (It’s cheap) She said (You get what you pay for)
He said Back in the car on the way home I mentioned (Did you see that tree in the back?) (Yeah nice little red bud) He said I didn’t speak again for some time (The one by the park was nice) She said
* * *
4 Short Poems About Sex
My fiancé's room mate
on one of her last nights
in the apartment
told us a story
about her father
who fed his dog sausages at night,
then, once, he got drunk,
went to piss in the trees
behind his house
after feeding the dog,
and the dog, smelling the sausage
on the man's hands, enveloped
his penis, in its mouth, not doing damage
other than surprising him.
When I was fifteen,
the exterminator, in the process
of spraying the house, burst
into my bedroom, while I was
in his eyes for one moment
and he closed the door, but then
flung it back open a second later,
entered and proceeded to spray
my bedroom, while I sat rigid
covering myself with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue
from my brother,
until the man left, moments later
leaving the door slightly ajar.
Poor old Wesley got off work early
went home and found his wife
The next day Wesley told his boss
not to send him home early anymore.
The last night I sneaked into my father’s office
to call sex lines with Lawrence, my only
friend, on two way, listening to dirty stories, never realizing he
was doing what I
was doing until we called one
talking about a couple on a beach, pouring sand
in the girl’s ass; I started thinking
how much that would hurt, rub the skin
clean off. Then I heard Lawrence
* * *
To My Husband, When Making a Sandwich
Take the bread from the top of the fridge
and set it on the counter BEFORE opening.
Don't be afraid to use the sink.
Without spilling crumbs everywhere
remove the first two pieces
and re-close the bread using the twist-tie. Do NOT,
under ANY circumstances fold the plastic
back over the loaf, or staple it closed,
or leave it open. Use the twist-tie. That's
what it's for. If you've lost the twist-tie,
replace it from the baggie marked "Replacement
Twist-Ties," under the sink. Now, put
the bread back, open the fridge and find
the mayo. I've noticed in the past that you yell,
"where's the mayo," as you open the fridge
and that you find it just as I reach the kitchen.
Feel free to do this since you seem
to enjoy it. Now remove the mayo (notice
the squeeze bottle. DO NOT attempt to use the glass jar
of mayo, and if you would rather have mustard, I've
provided a squeeze bottle version of that too.)
The ham is in the crisper. (a crisper is a drawer
in the fridge) That 's okay if you can't find it,
I've littered single-serving baggies of ham throughout the fridge
just in case, so grab the first one
you see. CLOSE THE FRIDGE DOOR, and combine
all ingredients. Even though you know
you're on a diet, the chips are on top of the fridge
behind the bread. And for God's sake, go
and eat at the table. Do NOT stand in front
of the fridge. You're a big boy now.
And please use a napkin. When you've finished,
throw away the napkin. Do not put it
back in the napkin holder or rinse it out
or iron it; it's paper, just throw it away. Also,
please wipe the counter. I've left your sister's number
on the fridge if you have any questions.
Feel free to call her. I'll be back tomorrow.