Sunday, December 8, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 189: Fatty


Hard hands on your soft stomach,
dirt and grease on your shirt
as I pummeled you in the elementary school hall,
not letting you catch a breath,
pistons-in until you were red in the face
and grasping at my fists,
clutching at your stomach
whining for air, for a chance to cry.

Everyone called you Fatty,
even girls teased you,
fifth grader of a hundred-fifty pounds.
But you sat on my brother until he screamed,
made him twist and cry,
wouldn't let him breathe.

The feel of my hands in your stomach,
it was like pushing into foam rubber
in a good, white shirt
and I knocked you to the floor
and jumped on you as you screamed,
snot coming from your nose,
tears from your piggy eyes,
a whine from your lips, a cough,
punched you until I felt
the floor through your huge stomach.

You cried there, face on the dirty tile,
flushed with rage and humiliation
because I had been one of your only friends
and even now I can't say I'm sorry.
You were bigger than my brother, bigger than me.
but failed as a bully and everyone called you Fatty.

Everyone called you Fatty,
even I called you that
and now I can't remember any other name.
I was supposed to be your friend
but I'd never thought about why
you sat on younger kids.
It was only fifth grade and I didn't think.
For that and for not remembering your name,
Fatty -- for those things, I'm sorry.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 188: Imposter


On a pool deck I wandered,
late at night, in a crowd with other swimmers.
We stood, laughing, splashing ourselves
with water that stank
faintly of sweat and chemicals.
I glanced past a red-haired friend
to watch sixty reflections in the glass.

In the black mirror of the shelter wall
it was hard to make out faces
and yet I knew us by our bodies,
our sometimes-awkward motions, strained postures,
and I was startled to see,
among the apollonian figures,
an intruder, a misfit.

"Who is that stump?" I thought,
"that goat, that dwarf,
that bulldog half the height of others,
torso twice as wide?"
I slapped my forhead, amused.
and the reflection slapped itself.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 187: i am a nymph

i am a nymph

i am a nymph from the cave of Diana.
i saw Apollo overhead and did not warn my queen,
blew kisses to Collins
(because he smiled at where i stood).

i am a dryad in a woodless forest.
no one else saw Armstrong take his step.
the plain was bare (except for me)
when Aldrin locked the door to go.

i am a virgin in love with mortal men.
when Irwin came, i touched the small of his back
and did not turn him into a stag.
as Scott walked by, i stole an envelope from his pants pocket,
opened it later, and cried to find it empty.

i was the only bikini on the beach
when Young and Duke drove by.
how i longed for a ride in their buggy!
i would have taken them to the sargasso sea
and taught them how to float
but they did not whistle at me,
did not stop.  those boys.

i am the loneliest girl in the world.
(i pretended not to notice
when Apollo spurned my mistress.)
i would have sold my immortality for a kiss
but no one asked my name.

i sat near the old chariot, waiting,
when the mistress of the hunt awoke,
Artemis with her shield of blue,
lance of darkest night.  she lifted
one eyelid the size of my whole self,
moved her white, anorthosite lips
and asked why i had left her side.

i told her of the mortal men
and their flimsy, clever armor,
their hands like children's mittens,
their bodies like balloons.
i confessed my love and hope
though i feared the goddess's rage.

she did not curse me.
she did not raise her spear to smite the ground
but laughed, instead, and swore to me
they would never return.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 186: Cause for Celebration

Cause for Celebration

Like, sorry for drinking
the last bottle of champagne.
My memory is fuzzy but
I remember I couldn't taste it.

And sorry for fighting
with your friend
who's name I don't recall.
How did that start, anyway?
I have rug burns on my elbows
and a bruise on my forehead.

It's embarrassing that I was sick
although I managed to confine it
to your bathroom, my shirt, and one shoe.
I think I used up
all your paper towels.

Oh, and thanks for the shirt.
I don't remember you giving it to me
but you must have.  That was nice.

I'm happy you're engaged, now.
That green sweater you gave her looked
as good as the ring, which was pretty.
I hope you enjoyed your party
and I hope I did, too.
I'll give you the shirt back tomorrow.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 185: Autumn of Life

Autumn of Life

Take the scythe, it's morning
and the lost, September clouds hang low.
We'll gather corn for breakfast
as the sun burns through the fog.
Crows cry unseen from the mist;
a bob-white answers from the field of uncut grass.

Crack open an ear of corn
and all of nature hears it.
Sparrows hush.  The crows return to perch.
There are golden threads in my hands
and golden strands on the edge of heaven.
The cloud is lifting. 
A gust of cold air blows over.
Here the angels come
to their own harvest.

- Originally published as "Scythe" in Frederick Arts

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 184: That's Okay

That's Okay

When I drink cheap beer and
shiver at the bitterness,
I think of you.
When I wonder about my best of friends,
my late-night talker,
my hand to hold,
it's you.

When I remember bodies together,
not sweaty or sexy,
just cool and naked,
lying on the sheets,
When I recall a head on my arm,
drool on my shoulder,
smell of morning air,
a silky head,
it's you, you.
It's you I think of
when I get lonely.  It's you I think of
when I'm in bed with others.
It was you when a woman rolled close
and asked me,
"What are you thinking?"
I had to leave her,
that woman.

When I go running late at night,
dog panting at my heels,
I feel light because of you.
When I overeat with relatives,
pressed upon with yams and gravy,
I say No more! because of you.
All these years I've remembered you,
so keen and sharp in waking hours and dreams,
and when we met again, your freckles and your beauty and
you're a full-grown woman now and
something in me just fell apart,
so happy and so sad all at once,
and the morning sun behind you,
shining from your bedroom glass,
from all the windows of your house,
blazing and sharp and cutting me;
let it cut, I thought,
and the light from blue-gray eyes,
a scratch, however deep, let it cut.

In your eyes I could see
I had lost you, never had you, except of course
as the friend you forever are,
full of joy and hug and glowing heart,
flowing up through the blue and gray.
It was a little awkward
and when you held my hand I trembled.
I was ill with joy and sorrow that day.
When we turned to leave,
when you closed your car door, I knew
it had been you,
it had never been you.

When my friends asked why I scowled,
when they got drunk with me,
swam with me,
took me on a roller coaster,
upside down through the sky,
it was you I saw.
When they took me to the ocean
and I jumped off the wharf,
they asked me if I felt fear
but no, I felt you.

Across the hundred miles I feel you
and worry you're embarrassed by
my awkwardness that day.
Don't be shy of all my shyness
or pained by all my pain.
Just give me time and all your friendship
and everything will be okay.
I had to write to tell you
everything will be okay
because everything will be, it will.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 183: Boys Nite

Boys Nite

A beer in the car is a good thing,
sweet and cool after a day in the office,
tart, sour, an end to tension,
an invitation to the coming party.

(Don’t crush the cans on your forehead
because your cheeks get wet
and your eyelashes stick.)

So I was wiping my face at the front door,
five cans of a six-pack dangling by a plastic ring
-- and no one answered my knock.
After another beer, I kicked, impatient, walked in,
wandered around the green carpet, hand on hip.
“Hey!”  Noise.  I followed it, descended into a smoky pit
down the stairs carpeted by candy wrappers and spare change.
Halfway to the bottom, I heard laughter
billowing out of the nimbus cloud.

“Hey, man!”

Sweaty, big-bellied friends in t-shirts
are good to have when your pack is heavy;
they lighten the load without being asked.
“Where are we headed?” I said,
because that's always our problem,
and threw the empty ring-tab
onto the overflow of trash.

A committee is a good way to reach decisions,
four mouths moving in unison,
eight arms rising high with the passion of the moment,
feet tapping with energy,
eyes watering from second-hand smoke
until everyone agrees it's been a hard day
and we all need more beer.

So into the car, me in the back,
kicking the suicide passenger in his ass,
making wishes on the change at my feet.
“Why don't you clean this heap?”
someone asks, and the driver explains
floor change is a family tradition.
“This way, I'm never broke.”

At the beer store, we have not quite enough
for a case, so the driver goes back
and scrapes the floor for quarters.
We get another six-pack
and everyone is impressed by his wisdom.

“Love,” the suicide passenger snorts.
“What is it, anyway?”
No one answers.  We crack open the case,
start the engine, and fall into thought.
And I think, This is sort of like love.

I mean, I have no idea where we're going
and neither does anyone else in the car
and really, it doesn't matter.
If I could stop time, I'd stop it in the car,
with this beer to my lips
and we'd never have to get anywhere
because for us, man, that’s the problem.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 182: Interstellar Waste

Inter-Stellar Waste

The boss was lizardish,
green and brown with a criminal record
but a regular guy, easy to work for.
He led the boys, Click-click and Dave,
from planet to planet;
and they picked up the crazy junk
no one else would touch;
neutron stars, strontium, powerful politicans,
acids, plague victims, antimatter,
and the odd corpse of a robot
which had failed in a bid for world conquest.

Click-click was the handler,
a black bug who hoped for better things,
like an end to Dave's abuse.
He begged to drive the truck but
the boss said "No, pilots need opposable thumbs.
It's in the union contract,"
so it was Dave who wove them through the web
of space and time, bottle in hand,
stubble on his jaw, complaining about his girlfriend,
wondering where his life had gone,
a thousand years off course
before anyone noticed.
They had to stop for directions twice
before they found the dump.

After Dave backed up the truck
and they jettisoned the load,
the boss swung them into orbit,
turned the oxygen to its highest,
and got them stoned on sweet air.
They felt like pals, then.

Click-click told them he would go
back to school for his degree.
The boss said, "Scum.
We're all just scum."
Dave stared into the black hole and
wondered aloud where everything had gone.

- Originally published in Beyond magazine

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 181: Old Rhinoceros Face

Old Rhinoceros Face Comes

Old rhinoceros face comes to her
in love, though he is from another star and she
is a plump, heavy-jowled gardener
always on her knees, breasts hanging down,
dressed in two or three shirts,
who speaks only Spanish.

Every day he comes to her,
ridiculous in his hot-blue spacesuit,
and brings her flowers
which she has never seen before.

Pinwheels and double-diamonds, half-hearts and bubbles,
hanging ivy which floats, hydrogen in the peduncles,
plants with crude, petal-blue eyes,
ones that sing like birds from their thick, brick pots.
She cries, "Vaya, vaya," spurns them all,
but still he comes.

She shakes her coal-black hair, wipes dust from her cheek.
He swings his arm around in circles.
He has no elbows.
Inside the crystal helmet his crinkled grey skin
grows white as he raises his voice.  He implores her,
bends down on a joint which is not a knee,
but she is firm.

"Nunca," to his proposal, "nunca" to other planets,
to gray-green skies, gnarled constellations,
to broken moons of silver, rings like a crown
-- "no, nunca" to spires on spaceships, to hopeless romance.
She is too old for all that
though, once, when he tried to give her a rose,
she smiled.

- Originally published in Beyond magazine

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 180: Memory's Cluttered Garden

Memory's Cluttered Garden

Back on its tarnished hinges
The gate of memory swings.
My soul wanders into the garden
And stubs my toes on things.
Stooped, I inspect an old nightmare.
Why did it once seem profound?
It's detritus from drug-addled college.
Who left this lying around?

Why do we save the tripe and debris?
Why not just laughter and bon ami?
The puddles of tears, the sweaty sheen of fears
Mar the landscapes of our memory.
Mental frost rots treasures on the vine;
Embarrassment over enlightenment burns;
A carefully tended rose withers on the stem;
Crabgrass grows over tender ferns.

We feed our blossoms wholesome water
And showers of laughter every night
But the sad truth of the garden is
Memory's buds flower stronger with fright.
Still this is an Eden of blossoms and surprises.
Still this place is precious and pure.
Pure what, I don't know, maybe pure clutter,
Or purely accident.  The past is unsure.

I swear I'll clean up the back yard
Some day when there's not so much rain
I'll weed out my memory's begonias
And plant fresh roses again.
For now I shut the gate of the garden
And turn my back on its noise
For it's better to live with the clutter
Than waste time with yesterday's toys.

-- A response to an old poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.