MAP #162-1 Theme: Partnered Poets

1. And now, consider the combustible quality in the poems Diane Fleming and Larry Thoren have woven together:

Five-Minute Romance by Larry Thoren

Disagreeable by Diane Fleming

Larry:

My fourth cup of coffee

I just sat there and stared into it,

just sat there and sipped it

between drags on my cigarette.

I nodded yes when

the waitress suddenly appeared

with her pot.

The kind of woman who waits tables

in the graveyard understands

silent men with blank faces.

I didn’t want to come out of my fog

but I did.

Diane:

I invite him to lunch. I think we hate each other. I've never met him. He

responded to my personal ad and he is married. I'm not sure how we can have

a relationship, but he tells me this can work-with the right attitude.

We meet at a Mexican restaurant. His skin is pockmarked; he looks sad. There

are many things we disagree about. One is -- his relationship to his wife. He

claims he cannot divorce her because she’s not a bad person. I guess only

bad people get divorces.

Larry:

She was pushing 40, I figured

just like me -

plenty of miles on her

and lots of them hard ones.

I studied her.

She was still a pretty girl.

I wondered how many knights in shining armor

had carried her off into the sunset,

only to dump her.

Used up and disillusioned once again,

in another coffee shop,

or another graveyard shift.

She looked up from her stack of napkins

and our eyes met

in a self-conscious glance,

and we both looked away quick.

But again, our eyes met

and held this time.

We looked deep

into each other.

It was impossible to look away.

Diane:

He says, “My wife and I, we never have sex. I go to prostitutes.”

Sometimes, I think I am Jesus. I act as though I am Jesus. I listen to the

most outrageous stories with compassion, without judgment. Why do I do this?

I'm not trying to be this way. Where other people see TROUBLE, I see

softness.

Now, he tells me about his sexual fantasies. It isn't as though he

fantasizes about me, not the real me. If he put the real me in his sex

stories, those stories would be full of everyday heartache. I say, "Why

don't you just tell your wife that you're not happy, that you need more

sex?"

He looks at me, astonished. How can I be so stupid? You don't just tell

people these things. You leak details slowly, in subtle painless pointless

ways.

Larry:

I began to groan inside

because I wanted to look away.

Because right then

she was all the lies

I’d been told by women

who didn’t know any better.

Just like me, they did the best they could.

But that didn’t change the fact

that they’d promised me their hearts

and other things

and didn’t deliver.

And I knew she was seeing the same in me.

She saw the carpenters,

the salesmen,

the cab drivers

with visions of grandeur

promising the same damned things

they wouldn’t give, couldn’t give

not because they didn’t want to,

but because they didn’t know how.

I could hear all the times she’d said

He’s a good man.

He treats me like a queen.

Here’s what he bought me the other day.

This time it’s different.

This one’s different than the rest.”

Diane:

We talk about HOMO SEX U ALITY-the big subject we discuss to avoid talking

about why we are here in the same room. Why isn't he with his wife, blasting

her with his secrets of prostitutes and dreams of divorce? Why am I here?

Why do I go down dead-end roads again and again, sometimes even building

houses and cities on those roads, establishing myself on a path that leads

nowhere? But here we are, talking about HOMO SEX U ALITY.

He says, "It's unnatural. You don't see it in nature-in other animals."

I say, "Well there are a lot of things you don't see in nature. How often do

animals get married? Do animals kiss? Do they send each other love letters?

Does a male dog beat and batter his bitch until she brings him his bone,

the big juicy bone that he loves, whenever he barks?"

But, I don't want to talk about his wife or gay people. I want to talk about

loneliness. That's what hangs here.

Larry:

I sat there feeling like shit

because I wanted to go over there

and tell her

the right kind of lies

just so I could

climb inside her britches with her

but the price of not sleeping alone

was too heavy these days

and I could tell she knew that too.

Our stare had started

with contempt and quiet rage

then went into a kind of desperate pleading.

Diane:

"Look," I say, "I'm lonely. My life is a long train ride of events uptown

and downtown. I'm either running away from something to save my life or I'm

running toward something in a desperate needy fever. I'm tired of it. I want

to get off the train and sit quietly, with someone or not, and watch the

water."

Larry:

My joints were stiff from

all that sitting.

I crawled from the booth

and left a dollar on the table.

At the cash register,

she gave me my change.

I said, “Thanks.”

She said, “Thank you.

Come back and see us.”

In the parking lot,

dawn was getting close.

I stood for a minute thinking how

I’d never look a graveyard

coffee shop waitress

dead in the eye again.

Diane:

He whispers, "I think this was a bad idea." I know this was a bad idea. He

leaves.

Larry:

I got into my truck

and headed north toward Waco.

I heard there was a big job

coming out of the ground up there

and they were needing hands

and they were paying scale.

Diane:

I know why he left. Who wants to know how lonely they really are? Who wants

to spend their time knowing this?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2. Next partners: Wendy Woodruff and Thom the World Poet

Moon

Round shining, full-bodied moon

I reach out to touch, hold you in my arms

Your spirit too great for me to surround

© Wendy Woodruff

What Do Men Want?

I want to reach into your very skin

Pull out all those red roses of dull pain

Make magic with you that will free you again

From ever desiring your own demise -

Bridge the silence between us

Let us start conversation

free up all possible solutions

Sing in the shower

and never regret

One birdswing of our life

Together.

© Thom the World Poet

3. Brandon by David Meischen

She's all cheekbones and playful

swagger, jeans slung 'round hips

that strut the stuff she's stuffed

inside her shorts. She's Brandon now: He

is Brandon, so carelessly

at home inside these clothes,

this tender banter, this boy's life

the girls believe him

too, his husky sweetness--

they want to sip it slow

like bourbon, reaching for his belt

to unbuckle beneath a brazen moon.

© David Meischen

Artichoke by Scott Wiggerman

An artichoke is

the chart to this heart.

This heart is dangerous,

a thumping, thistly

fist of a thing,

a pumping, prickly

knot of green.

This heart is hidden,

its pulp protected

by spiny locks,

its pith secured

in a safety box.

This heart is demanding,

a convoluted, arduous

trail to venture,

a deep, delicious

delicacy to savor.

The art to this heart

is an artichoke.

© Scott Wiggerman

4. Sexy at Seventy by Sonya Feher

Today there is nothing. Today there is nothing

I want and I wonder what I'll look like at 70.

Will I be one of those women, bones

scaffolding for the breath? Will I

fill out like a worn balloon, in orange

polyester, allowing lumps where

I should be smooth?

Will I keep my figure or improve my skin

instead of an atomic suntan like the leather lady

in my dad's apartment complex, a blue string

bikini and bright Hawaiian print towel, below

her bony body, slathered in iodine and baby oil,

basted like a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Everyday the oven's opened with a metal

reflector to better cook her face, those special

plastic eye covers to protect her cataracts,

pointed toes with coral nail polish, lipstick

brighter than her towel, everything

preparing for a night at Bingo or the VA,

well, you get the idea.

I'll be one of those old women who wears

skirts too short, top that is tight, still firm-breasted,

perky, making people think I am sexual, wanting

to have sex, wanting, making men, the older ones

want me, my mauve lipstick to stain starched

collars, reminding my sons I am sexy at seventy.

Somehow no one speaks of this, much more

disturbed to outline the body of an old woman -

no longer fertile so no longer female? -

than a fifteen-year-old, like the girls I watch now

in my high school classroom in shirts, cut to

reveal a belly button, a rib; shirts exchanged for

maternity dresses she's growing into,

the same ones her daughter will wear at fifteen.

So it's okay to have sex when we're too young

to know how. We spend the bulk of our lives

twisting beds into jungle gyms trying to learn

how. But by the time our skin is textured

with experience and we have no choice

but to undress for each other slowly,

by the time we know how to be sexy,

we're not allowed -- the sex of teenagers

easier to accept than the desire of the old to keep.

I will keep.

© Sonya S. Feher

"Sexy at Seventy" was previously published in The Temple, Volume 3, No. 4.

Cancer by Mike Henry

I know it is his voice on the phone before I pick it up, "Hello, Michael," he says.

I hold the phone a little away from my face,

like I don't know what it is,

like I have never seen one before,

because I don't know what to say to the gaping silence.

I don't want to ask him how he's doing or what's new,

because I know nothing is.

So I ask him if he knows any good jokes,

"It's a wonderful life," he croaks in his telltale earthquake growl

and we laugh together about how that's a good one. Funny every time.

Pasha has cancer. His blood sours around the tumors,

knotted knuckles burying into pristine meat of muscle, slobbering

predators grawing away from the inside, tearing meat from

the bone leaving spare scraps clinging bravely like Texas

barbecue burned carbon black when paper

plates soak with blood and the sun adds insult.

I remember when I started reading poetry in Austin

and I walked into Chicago House

thin and arrogant, sweating vinegar and spitting bullshit,

thinking I didn't need those old guys and what do they got to say to me?

Pasha's words wound like smoke around my spine, drew my breath in quick,

destroyed me and built me back.

That was the first lesson you taught me, brother.

How tempting now to fall caterwauling

to lift my angry eyes and shout at the deaf sun,

wasn't it enough,

the spinal meningitis that crumpled him,

bent his back into a question and

made the years shuffle by to a dirge of slow consumption,

wasn't it enough

that doctors said we'll give you chemotherapy

and it'll either kill the cancer, or you?

Wasn't it enough

to trade pain for addiction, swap suffering

for martial arts and hallucinogens,

spirit sailing out of acid eyes to wrestle and rut,

as crystal meth yanks taut Christmas morning marionette strings?

Wasn't it enough

the terrible suffering shared by two? Teresa talks to the doctors and

they prescribe medicines that collide in her brain,

snap reality like saplings in a storm and paint her wrists

a stream of poppies spilling onto the bathroom tile

for Pasha to find her there,

Wasn't it enough?

Well, I guess not.

"I don't play my guitar anymore...

I don't write anymore, Michael."

The loss is a fist that reaches rudely into my chest

and I am selfish, I am sad

that your words might not sweep thunderstorms

into my thirsty ears anymore.

He tells me of the peyote ritual with a medicine man.

Not there for healing, but to make peace with

god and ancestors.

His failing voice chokes out visions of badgers bristling,

baring teeth, how it seemed... familiar.

He says he is not afraid of dying,

he is afraid of dying poorly,

not dying well. He doesn't

ask how much time he has left anymore

because he doesn't want to know.

He only hears about a new plague of

inoperable tumors up his spine,

and how words like cure and recovery ran

like cowards from the doctors' vocabularies long ago.

And me? I sit with the phone receiver

buzzing a monotone goodbye, my promise

to do better by my friend

who showed me that there are things

that you can write poems about, and things

that you have to write poems about.

© Mike Henry