Thursday, March 19, 2020

Gift Shop in the Dada Art Museum (2 a.m.)

Snowing outside, the night coming in 
blue and white 
through the gallery windows. 
Heavy snow, but dry inside in the dark 
all the paintings asleep
the night guard walking around on his usual path. 

But something new tonight. A light, a flash!
like a signal, unusual after midnight in here tonight
inside the museum.

The guard, in the middle of a yawn, freezes 
like that, moves toward the flash, mouth wide open. 

The halls zig zag like modern architecture,
white walls (even in the dark) go right then left, 
and the flash is now a smoldering yellow glow on the walls 
getting brighter as he tip-toes through the halls, gets closer.

The guard goes on and completes his yawn, 
comes out of the halls to the shiny glass windows of the gift shop
where the glow flickers like a campfire in the woods.
Or an upstairs window
on a snowy homecoming night. 

It’s a nightlight for sale. 
A Van Gogh (self portrait) nightlight. 

“Hi,” says the nightlight, 
as the guard enters the gift shop and goes into another yawn, 
a nervous yawn, 
the nervous yawn 
of a first date, or the first time 
he talks to a nightlight. 

But he recovers, and “Hi,” he says. 

“You're the guard, aren't you? It's good to meet you,” 
says Vincent. “I have a show coming here soon, it's good
to know that you’ll be here.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Van Gogh. But you know, well— 
it could be anybody doing what I do.”

“That’s untrue. Do you like it in here?”

“I do, a lot. It’s peaceful and safe. Especially on a snowy night.” 

“Oh, it’s snowing out there?” 

“Yes. And when I walk around in here, I want to do it too, 
I want to make a painting.” 

Van Gogh’s straw hat flashes even brighter yellow 
and he says, “Why don’t you?” 

“I think it’s too late for me to do that in life.” 

“And that is always untrue. I didn’t know that I 
was going to be in art galleries all over the world, let alone
become a nightlight,” says Vincent, looking the night guard 
in the eye. “Go on—when you walk around in here, live
in here, dream in here, stay in here, even when you go home.
But I think that you're already doing that, aren't you?”

The guard lives on the top floor of a carriage house 
around the corner from the museum, and as he listens to Van Gogh, 
he can see his new brushes, clean white canvases 
and his paint box, waiting for him back there in the dark.

He can also see that he left a window open by the bed, snow is getting in,
and that his just-off-work waitress girlfriend's paint-splattered foot
sticking out of the covers
is getting snowed on
but he feels that everything's going to be alright, after tonight. 

“I only sold one, you know,” says the nightlight. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Babies without borders

My own cold mother tried to deport me 
ten minutes after I came out of her. 
There I was, a puckish little preemie, 
and she just wanted to see my papers. 

(It takes a baby, a refugee right off the bat, 
to feel the crock of shit meanness of borders 
and border rules. Not that as a baby I was 
already cursing like a little sailor, or really 
knew the phrase crock of shit. Still ... ) 

Still ... now, as then—I'm proud of what even 
my best friends might call an “illegal” quality.

Ice melts, too, you know. You bet your preemie ass. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

In jail with Grandma

All hungover and woozy, I drove dizzy
through the woods
to Grandmother’s house.

After hugging and kissing her at the door,
getting down some of what she called her
“chipped-chocolate cookies,” a snootful of
her full-body perfume (Evening in Paris, via Kmart) treatment,
I ran for her bathroom, the walls in there

all jagged fragments of bargain table wallpaper
a weird combination of palm trees and stagecoaches
and Jesus in a frame over the toilet tank, and I threw it all up

half a case of Schlitz and homemade Betty Crocker cookies,
creating a sort of Cirque de Soleil effect on the bowl, wall,
and all over the floor.

I could hear Grandma Mabel’s jewelry clinking, she was
sneakily, discretely hovering outside the bathroom door.
“You ok in there, honey? You been honky-tonkin’ again?”

I wiped up my mess with a wet, pink washcloth and flung it
out the bathroom window to wash later, somewhere else,
if I remembered, and came out through the bathroom door.

“I’m a little drunk,” I said.
“Oh honey love, not again. Why?” she asked, pushing more cookies at me.

I told her why.

“I had a hot date with the head cheerleader two Friday nights ago but I didn’t
kiss her because I was too shy and awkward so she spread it all over school
that I'm gay, which is ok because some of my best friends are gay but not really true
because I wanted so much to kiss her, had been dreaming of it, even practicing, but I didn’t,
and she called off our date for Homecoming to go with the quarterback instead
(bigger muscles, better car, less alcoholic—the cheerleader had a point*), so
the night of the dance I drove to the 7-11 to buy a whole lot of beer and Annie Green Springs
and when the clerk asked for ID, I told him to fuck off, then the policeman behind me
kindly tapped my shoulder to calm down and I flipped him off, so I went to the
Prairie Village jail all night and the morning after Homecoming.”

Then I sat down in Grandma’s dining room and exhaled.

“Bless your heart,” Grandma Mabel said from the kitchen,
making me some Folgers coffee. She brought out the cups, sat down
and went into prayer posture. I went along with it. Why not?
First jail, now throwing up and praying.

But I felt hopeless, praying like that, and dull, drunk like that.
Nothing and no one on the Kansas horizon.
I saw my reflection in a glass cabinet full of Kennedy commemorative plates,
I saw myself looking as old as Mabel.

Or so I thought.

Because, the praying over, Grandma said something else, something very

“I see you looking at yourself,” she said, her full-to-the-brim
cup of coffee, on her finger
dangerously dangling
delinquently dripping
on her lap.

“What do you see, honey? A handsome young man, maybe?”

I looked back into the reflection of the Kennedy cabinet.
I was expecting to see a guy all messed up, lost, confused, wrong,
even bad. But I saw somebody else. So did Grandma.
Who didn't look old anymore. Whatever old is supposed to look like.

“Honey,” she said, “you’d look good in jail!

That was the beginning of Act 2, for me.

Grandma went back into the kitchen. She started laughing, laughter
a little bit raunchy for a grandmother, but she never was a woman into
labels or limitations. She said, from in there, sort of off stage—

“And you can bring that washcloth back in here, honey. We may be in the midwest,
but you don’t have to hide those kind of things from me.”

* This poem, written 45 years later, has a note to bring it up to date,
maybe irrelevant to the poetry, but here it is. The quarterback
is now a rich, pudgy Republican, in jail for sexual abuse and rape.
I'm not in jail, but Grandma was right. I looked good when I was.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Not gonna get held down

My meloncholy is all pink
but I spit out the seeds,
let the juice dribble down
on my shirt, and I’m not washing the shirt.

Come as you are
said the wise-ass but wise nurse
ten seconds after I was born.

I am going to take my tears
and wipe squeaky all my windows.

Nothing and no one is going to hold me down
this year, especially not me.

I’m not gonna get fucking held down
this year
or any other year
they throw at me.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Women charge in

Cast into the forest far above and beyond the castle walls

the expatriate from the patriarchy

rowdy, raunchy, relieved to be free
roughly swaddled in corduroy,
full of garlic and Perrier

laughs his ass off
up high in the fresh blue air, dripping green leaves,
and moist brown bark

as he watches the puny pipsqueak
(mental case, lower case) king
get dethroned

And though the forest has been a little DISenchanted

in the distance                                 he hears

the ringing of caravan bells,
the jingling of bridles,
and the pounding of horses
hooves through the trees

as women ride in
to take charge!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Billionaire Blues

Burying what they were born with
quickly taught to kiss ass, shove women,
men like needy little boys forever.
Money has no face.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The orphanage by the sea

I just drove down here from New York City
couldn’t get the time of day from my family
at that little family reunion, and may I tell you something?
I didn’t really want the whole watch, just the time.

So here I am at this friendly but seedy but clean
seaside motel at Virginia Beach, checking in for the night
or maybe longer. Probably longer, even my car
is giving me dirty looks.

Next, without even changing out of my highway Levis
or the sun to come up,
I’ll go jump in the ocean and float;
it’ll be so soothing to my
better but battered back
and soul.

After that, I’ll come back in here and get online,
I see they have a complimentary lobby computer
so old, the plastic so yellow, I can’t believe they still have it
or that I’m so behind the times that I need it,
and I’ll listen to John Denver all night.

For sweetness
for light
for life
for love
for possibilities
west of here
in a new family

I really will, don’t worry about me.
But first, the Atlantic Ocean.

All those family albums gone
all that scotch tape come undone
out with the tide.