SELF PORTRAIT WITH OPEN WINDOW
If I shiver a little, it's from lying
so close to an open window and not
from the chill that comes
with late night thinking.
Tonight I think I will let myself be
a little more human than usual and go
over my early affections and wrongs.
I will carry an extra blanket with me
and two pillows, one for each life,
and set myself under a maple outside
a brick house. There's a Hallmark bauble
flush thin on a bedroom sill, an electric candle
under a paisley gown. It will be too dim to notice
how everything I adored years ago gained
weight or wrinkled a bit. I prefer the sycamore
over the maple: it breeds by breaking
a branch, its ka taken by mouth to fight ring worm,
its wood impervious to water. I am reminded of little
Zacchaeus who climbed one to catch a glimpse
of loveliness. One of my lives is jealous
of his greed; the other just fawns over his lunch
with Jesus, how Zacchaeus sat there
for hours with Him, discussing kindness and sin.
Give or take a month, that trinket in the window
will be replaced and I must once again go
out of the way to find another metaphor
for providence. I will argue
with myself over what things can be reduced
to a thread, what can be tied into a square knot
and what can be worn from place to place
around the ankle or bound to the wrist.
I will turn over every fifteen minutes
for fear my two lives will begin
to point the finger at one another.
TWENTY-SIX YEARS AFTER NIXON'S RESIGNATION
History has so far shown us only two roads to stability,
equilibrium and domination.
-- Henry Kissenger
Thank God the denture didn't fall
between all the cursing and tough love
that comes with losing a quarter. My hope
is that the newspaper near the pay phone
will star Clinton again, another Gore,
a shaven Reno, anything to make me leave
for the train ten minutes sooner
so that I won't be punished by Wandy
for stealing the ink off his newspaper.
I'll explain what happened to the change,
I'll swear I didn't inhale. I carry a bit
on Nixon - I've started to read
another one of his stories: he lost
his temper, he punched his wife
in the jaw, he got caught,
the cocksucker - one name
twenty five years of diplomacy taught
a girl with Behcet's, the cold sores ran
in her family, so did the dizziness.
I adore the way she forgets
the blister near the clit that ruined
her simple walking, the sympathetic limp
is what killed me. My other hope is that there
are two or three more here who feel
too much, who hurt on her behalf, who pray
someone finds a working phone, boils water, waits.
I couldn't tell if the the girl's expression was sheer
pain or just the odd giddiness that comes
with a catnap between subway stops.
I horrified the kid to her left by pulling
the teeth from my mouth, Clinton can't take
credit for paying the bill for that work.
Between the swollen jaw and the drool
and the caked blood, everyone thought
I was robbed: here's a tissue, here's a bottle
of water, here's a Hail Mary and a mea culpa.
They thought I was Kissinger, what threw them
I think were the black sags and slurred speech.
Henry's still alive, he's hiding at the Frick
in the corner below the Whistler. I'll bet
a dollar, two dollars - hell, I'll bet my first
born, a girl, she lives in England with her mom
now, she has a pudgy cheek, she's got a short fuse -
he just stands there, looking still
at the Harmony, the gloved hands that touch
his Cambodian, his ten percent, his detente.
Ford should've yanked Dick's wisdom
teeth, at least one to save face
that terrible season when maple falls
apart under stress though the pine
always forever and ever Amen stands
in the face of winter like a crazy Frenchman in need
of gas, governments have shut down for less -
ask my America, though my New York didn't
notice the ferry anchored between Ellis and Battery
for three days, my New Jersey didn't object
to the sycamore flagging traffic in Trenton
and my Allentown still had more cows than blacks
with health care. I suspect last winter killed one
of the landlord's two poodles, his coat did him in.
Before I stand, I'll think about that pay phone
in need of a dial tone; its bent ear and dirty mouth.
I can see it now: Henry buying salt to make change,
Dick calling the phone a Communist, and Haig
brutalizing the thing for two weeks straight.
I don't offer anymore, I just rise from the seat
and let a woman near the filthy pole fill the space
even if sleepiness has the better half of me.
At this rate, I'll catch a strain of flu
just to keep myself upright on the train,
it's a trade: three sniffles and phlegm
for a little equilibrium. Here's what I've done:
if it didn't involve chicken soup,
it involved over the counter medicine
that knocked me into next Wednesday,
I missed two fist fights over petroleum
and a governor who called the Times
reporter an ass hole - I could've said that
my mother had her teeth pulled, too,
in the sixth grade; the year escapes me.
She had her mouth undone by freshmen
at the University, they jammed a needle
in her gum wrong, she pissed
in the dentist's chair, she learned
at St. Lucy's on 103rd, she married
a man who pumped gas, she had
three kids and one grand-
daughter who lived in Chelmsford,
she kneads bread like no one.
Editor's Note: This poem first appeared in Exquisite Corpse