ESTOPPEL’S SYSTEM FOR PICKING LOTTO #S IN SOUTHEAST PORTLAND
Weather guy say it looks
like neon, those hazy red halos
limn the interstices with mist again. Highly unwise, this venture
into twilight without … prophylactic… on, borne like the news
of another instant millionaire named Bon…
within spitting distance of Gladstone tavern
a mud puddle flexes its forms, ten feet wide with bare
trees mirrored on its dun surface: branches tremble
there, like French onion soup imploding cherry Jello,
like every pointillistic yo-yo jiggle but what exactly
makes it ripple? Breeze? Or luck,
reflections that go so deep inside
and once removed even fossils
got tired, getting over.
19?… 28? … 22? … 33?
Yes, it looks very much like every sun … or
you, or me, which is to say a lonely lemon rind, not long for
rooftops, nevermind, nobody’s buddy; youth’s wasted
sonny whatever you thought to do
14 seconds ago make sure to pirouette
then let go, headed the other way, thirty
second and Clinton Avenue, and change it up, again, and
again: Milwaukie Boulevard to Yount, and Siskiyou: 10 may
work, or 39 sure, tip it back, subtract the stars like ceiling tiles
above an indigo marble in decline.
Back inside that Gladstone bar, a maid for now named
Darlene, or Delilah announces happy hour the way only
French guys say anniversary
in the mind, a row of sallow rounders staring into
beer steins, so many bull frogs hunting holy auguries,
neck sweat cigarette smoke and repeat, repeat: you are
blissfully broke, two and a half miles past Division street
where hope is a permutation of bike spokes it looks
like memory again, splash of red neon down around Reed
College on foot, on foot, it’s only sauntering speed … cross
walk into Clackamas county, and counting.
THE TRILOGY OF WELLS
……….A Different Kind Of Summer
They were at the summerhouse on the lake. Every year her father explained to her about the old well.
“You mustn’t climb up there or remove the cover. If you fall in, Sylvie, you can never, ever get out.”
The rounded, grey stones were surrounded by high weeds and briars. Once, she had seen a long black-silver snake slither around the base. Sylvie stayed far away from the well.
This summer, Sylvie’s mother would be commuting. She explained to her five year old daughter, commuters take the train into the city to work during the week and return at the weekend to be with their cherished, delightful daughters. Sylvie’s lower lip trembled.
During the time they spent at the lake her father was forever writing. In years past, she and her mother had gone for hikes, picnicked in the woods, and paddled around the lake in the old green canoe. On rainy days, they baked spice cookies, blueberry cream scones and played cards and board games.
This year Sylvie had brought tons of books to read, pads of paper, colored pencils and crayons to “make art happen” as her father said – still she was alone most of the time. There were no other children to play with, and even though her father walked with her twice a day, “like the family dog” as she’d heard her mother say to him, Sylvie was most often listless and bored.
It seemed that her parents filled most weekends with arguments this summer. Often after a fight her mother would search her out, grab her hand and run with Sylvie down the hill to the lake. There they would swim in their shorts and tee shirts. Lying on the dock, they deciphered cloud configurations until their clothes dried.
Several nights when she was in bed and supposed to be fast asleep she heard them shouting at each other – her mother crying in their room afterward.
Sylvie woke one Sunday night when her parents were having a louder than usual argument. She heard her mother scream, “No!” Afterward it was quiet. Sylvie was beginning to dream again when she heard the screen door on the porch slam. Still half asleep, she got up and peeked out the window. It was quite dark, but she thought she saw her father carrying something over his shoulder in the direction of the old well.
Sylvie rubbed at her eyes and dozed off. When she looked again, her father was gone and she could hear him pacing back and forth on the porch below her. She went to the top of the stairs and called out, “Daddy?”
Her father walked to the foot of the stairs and said, “Right here, Sylvie.”
“Why, she’s fallen asleep on the porch sofa. You get back in bed and we’ll be right up.”
Sylvie scuffed back to her room and crawled into her bed.
……….Poking The Crow
When Lee-Lee climbed the rounded stones of the old well, shoved the rotting cover aside, and tumbled down into the black pepper darkness, Chris was six years old. His mother and her friend Lorena were sitting in the late afternoon shade on the front lawn. They drank sweet tea, smoked cigarettes and laughed a lot. Mama had told him to be a good boy, and watch his three-year-old sister.
First, he chased after Lee-Lee when she ran into the barn to watch the pigeons swoop in and out of the ragged hole in the shingled roof. Then he followed her around the meadow while she picked wild flowers and threw them away as they died. Next, she told Chris she was thirsty, so he took her through the back door into the kitchen. He gave her a sippy cup filled with cold water. She sat down on the floor to drink the water.
Chris waited for her, outside, near the back stoop. He spied a dead crow in the weeds underneath the kitchen window. He searched around the vast yard for a good, long stick to poke it with. When he finally found one, just the right thickness and length, he poked the bird until it rolled over. Chris threw up when he saw the white squiggly worms crawling all over the decaying flesh and feathers. He washed his face and hands with water from the garden hose on the side of the old farmhouse.
He forgot all about Lee-Lee. He will, however, remember the sound of her going farther and farther away, for the rest of his life.
……….And Charlie Said…
Charlie decided he’d better board up the old well on the far edge of his property. It smelled bad, had been dry for years and was an accident waiting to happen. His wife, Shirl, had been nagging him, seemed like forever, to seal it shut so nobody got hurt. She was gone for the afternoon – no doubt spending his money like it would reinvent itself on the drive home.
It was hotter than Hades today. Charlie could feel the sweat gluing his shirt and pants to his body. He ambled his way to the garage to get the wheelbarrow, nails, a hammer and several two by fours. Shirl’s yippy, aging poodle came snapping at his jeans as soon as he got close to the house. The creature had some sort of “separation anxiety” she called it. Bubbles – what the hell kind of name was that for a dog, anyway – couldn’t bear to be without Shirl for more than a few minutes. He gave the dog a kick with his work-booted foot and hollered, “G’wan, get outa here!”
Charlie collected everything he needed and then thought to grab a beer or two from the fridge in the kitchen. He drank them down, lickety split, and because they tasted so damn good, drank two more.
He wheeled the wood and other supplies down to the well. The dratted dog followed him, biting at his jeans and yapping the whole way. He noticed that the thing was limping a bit. Probably from when he’d booted him. Oh, there’d be hell to pay if Shirl came home and there was anything wrong with her precious “boy” Bubbles. Charlie ran at the dog and yelled “Git!” Bubbles stood his ground, bared his teeth and snarled at him. At first, Charlie laughed at the animal. Thing no bigger than a football, trying to show him what’s what. But when Bubbles ran at Charlie and nipped him high on the ankle, he was no longer amused. What with the heat of the day, the couple of beers and the nerve of the goddamn animal, he’d had it. He snatched up the little dog, snapped it’s neck in one quick motion, and threw it on the ground. “That’ll teach ya,” he mumbled at Bubbles.
Right away, Charlie knew he was in big trouble. Now what? Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he picked Bubbles up out of the weeds. He was dead, that was for sure. Charlie looked at the dog, looked at the well, and saw the perfect solution. He swept the cobwebs from the well opening and tossed the dog’s body in. It was a long time before he heard a soft, far away thump when it hit bottom.
He worked feverishly, sweat soaking his hair and clothing. He had to get the friggin’ well boarded up before his wife got home. When he had nailed the boards together to make the cover, Charlie began to look around for the biggest, heaviest rock he could find. When he spied a likely looking prospect, he loaded it into the wheelbarrow and wrestled it onto the boards.
Charlie raced back to the garage and replaced the hammer and nails. He hung the wheelbarrow on the hooks on the back wall. He closed the garage door, kicked off his shoes and stumbled up the stairs to the bathroom. In the few seconds it took him to strip off his clothes, he heard the rumble of the garage door opening. By the time Shirl got inside, he had shampooed his hair and washed himself clean. Charlie had just stepped out and was drying himself off when Shirl knocked on the bathroom door. She stuck her head in and said, “Charlie, have you seen Bubbles?”
………………..for Ernesto Cardenal
City Lights Bookstore, almost November, hot as a day in August,
looking for Homage to the American Indians, a book of poems by Ernesto Cardenal
I published thirty-five years ago, now out of print, my last copy lost
in the zig-zag of my inconstant life, but the store has only his new books,
Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems, 2009, and The Origin of Species, 2011,
neither I’ve heard of, but I own the one before, Cosmic Canticle, almost half of it read.
In the Pluriverse table of contents—“Trip to New York,” a poem I read first
in a safe house in San Carlos, on the verge of Lake Nicaragua waiting for the motorboat
to Solentiname, Ernesto’s religious/arts community later overrun in the 1979 revolution
by Somoza’s National Guard, which killed Laureado, Elbis, Alejandro, and too many more.
During September 1973, I lived on the island, invited by Ernesto
when we met for the first time in New York in the spring at Gotham Book Mart
(now out of business) and taxied to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
to celebrate the marriage of Phillip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………….It’s in my memory
of the poem, which I read eagerly standing in the poetry room, recalling how
I’d read it in Spanish in La Prensa, surprised by my name and a description of our meeting
and the wedding celebration and Napoleon and Jackie Chow, whom I have not forgotten,
he exotic Chinese/Nicaraguan, she simply beautiful as we sat on the lawn sipping punch,
but I could not find my name nor the story of our meeting in the English version,
nor any poems from Homage. I thought that publishing Ernesto’s first book in English
meant something, but I and the poems have been edited away, and our meeting, historic
for me, vanished, except in my memory, Ernesto wearing a white peasant’s shirt
(I wore them myself for awhile) and beret, clutching poems by Ginsberg.
No, I don’t speak much Spanish, I confessed, and even by September,
despite listening to tapes through the summer, I spoke almost none, which
disappointed both of us.
……………………………………The manuscript for Homage to the American Indians
arrived on my desk, an old-style fan-fold computer printout, wide with sprocket holes
down each side, alternating horizontal bands of white and gray, dot-matrix print.
I didn’t notice who had sent it, began to read the poems, different from anything I’d seen before.
I was the Social Sciences editor for The Johns Hopkins University Press
and had no business spending time with a book of poems, but I was also a poet
and could not help myself.
……………………………………….I sat in my office scheming how to convince the publisher
(a numbers not a word guy) we should do this book. We did not publish money-losing
books of poetry, and I was paid to think about economics and politics,
which people find easier to understand, poems not being fungible. Somehow, un milagro!
we published the book with original art by a young Nicaraguan painter, Dino Aranda,
one of whose works I bought and still own, hanging on the wall above the low Chinese table
that serves as my dining room table, which depicts a skeletal figure in an upright coffin,
buried in mixed media–both a dead man, perhaps killed in the Managua earthquake of 1972,
and a Nicaraguan prisoner under Somoza. I don’t know where Aranda is and can’t find any
information about him now.
…………………………………………I bought only The Origin of Species, pissed that I’d been edited
out of the other, but I joked about it with my friends–so who’s Ken Arnold
next to Daniel Berrigan and Napoleon Chow? I’d throw him out too,
but my name stays in this poem.
………………………………………………We had dinner at a new Basque restaurant around
the corner, just past the Hungry I strip club, not the Hungry i of the sixties.
Delicious food arrived on little plates.
………………………………………………………How ironic not to find a copy
of Homage to the American Indians at City Lights, since Lawrence Ferlinghetti
sent me the computer printout of the poems forwarded to him
from Argentina all those years ago–surprising because I did not know him.
Why me? I thought that book might change my life, and it did,
but not as I expected.
……………………………….In New York I took communion from Daniel Berrigan
in a crowded room in Cathedral House, passing a jug of Almaden wine,
which isn’t how Ernesto remembers it in his poem–and then later, communion
from Ernesto in the main house on Solentiname, consecrated rum and bread–
and began to think there was something to this Christianity, not the faith I abandoned
as an adolescent but the faith that gave birth to prophets like the Berrigans
and martyrs like Ernesto’s friends and radicalized the peasants on Solentiname who
invented and died for liberation theology.
……………………………………………………………..And so I was ordained twenty-five years later
in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
……………………………………………………….From a hammock on the guest house porch
I watch the afternoon rain sweep across Lake Nicaragua, while a Mexican poet
whose name I’ve forgotten reads his poems aloud, they like this one
in the manner of Ernesto’s exteriorismo.
REFLECTION OF A BUILDING
THE LIFE BUYER
The life buyer has a curious profession. It’s self-explanatory really, but the concept still throws people. The life buyer buys up people’s lives. He buys the whole lot. You go to him (he never comes to you) and tell him you want to sell your life. He evaluates what you have and cuts you a check. There’s no negotiation. And he doesn’t give you a new life.
The life buyer doesn’t work with formal contracts, but everything is binding. He’s kind enough to let you keep three items, as long as they meet his terms. After he assesses your life, he makes a list of three items. When he’s made his list, it’s your turn. You pick three items you want to keep, for whatever reason. No questions asked. If any of those items are on his list, you keep nothing and the check he gives you is for half the agreed upon sum. If your items aren’t on his list, you can take them and the check and one more item.
This whole process is futile for the seller. The items you pick are always on his list. That’s because the life buyer is all about the business. He’s not in this to lose money. Some people try to trick him as if it’s some game at which he can be duped. He can’t be duped. He invented the game and every rule of the game. Some wonder how he knows when he just met you moments before (an assessment never takes long). The truth is that he’s known you your whole lifetime. He’s been spending his own lifetime learning what you want to keep.
The life buyer is no hoarder. He doesn’t keep millions of possessions to himself. Nor does he want any of your possessions, although he did keep one small token from an otherwise uninteresting lot many years ago. What happens to the life buyer’s acquisitions you ask? They are redistributed, at a tidy profit, in a fashion much the same as he acquired them.
The life buyer lives in a modest house. He drives a small car. He never touches anything before he buys it, and he rarely touches it after.
When it’s the life buyer’s turn to have his life bought, it will sell for a handsome sum, but he won’t get to keep his three items either. He won’t even ask for them.
A STROKE OF LUCK
Four-leaf clovers squeezed between Webster’s
fine-print, where luck’s been lost for one hundred years–
found again in the off-chance our children’s children leave
their children the contents of this old farmhouse . . .
Wondering, while putting by a cache of Brussel sprouts,
if all the useless hours will add up to something?
No one wants to do this work. They say it’s lousy.
They have something better to do . . .
What occupies my heart depends upon this weedy garden . . .
Kneeing between the rows for hours overwhelms my miserable self . . .
Milk spilling . . .how quickly the tablecloth absorbs it all
without asking any questions. . .
You are my sons, my daughter– even with silver in your hair . . .
For no reason is reason enough. I’ve learned to float.
This, you’d say, is a stroke of luck.
CHANGE YOUR NAME, POETRY
You ought to change your name, poetry.
You’re one of those words like courage,
conjures difficulty up the road,
or mother, even more trying.
I had to put you at the end of the line, poetry,
because the minute you start something
someone has to walk or spit.
I had to say you stood for pudding,
onerous, enact, tryst, redound and yes,
among others, just to get you in here.
People are afraid of you. Afraid they’ll
have to learn another thing about gulls.
You’re like the Jew of art, ostracized,
apologetic when you get up to read,
promising brevity, ending with gratitude.
And what do they say about you -
something about sacrifice?
You ought to change your name, poetry.
THE LOVE ZONE
Our hotel bed in Monte Carlo is a super-sized King but we sleep close together towards the middle. He turns the room thermostat down low and we snuggle under the puffy down comforter. I have never had so many nights of good sleep. When I tell him this he says it’s because our sex is so great. He says it’s the best sex he’s ever had.
I’m surprised to hear this coming from him. Does that mean you love me? I’m thinking. I peek at him from the corner of my eye, as if he might read my mind. Of course he can’t. But I never look him full on when my mind is in a zone I think might disturb him. The love zone being one of those areas.
“Don’t you think it’s the best sex you’ve ever had?” he asks me.
I’m surprised again. He doesn’t usually reveal much. I want to say it’s right up there. Which is the total truth. I have had some pretty good sex in my life. But I know what I have to answer.
“It’s the best sex I ever had.” And the moment it comes out of me, hanging in the chilled hotel air, I start to love him so hard. So hard that it makes my chest feel heavy.
I don’t think he’s capable of return love.
Beyond long drapes covering the glass sliders, there’s a terrace looming high over the Mediterranean. It contains a pretty green table and two chairs. I think about getting out of the bed and going out into the warm balmy night. Sniffing the sea air that rises through the blackness. But that would disturb him.
When he’s making love to me, it feels like he loves me so hard. But then I think it’s just the sex talking through him.
He reaches out to pull me closer saying, “Are you warm enough?”
“I’m fine. This comforter is quite cozy.”
He kisses the top of my head.
Back in LA there’s a woman he dates on and off. Kara. I met her when I first met him, while I was dating his best friend. My friends back in New York think it sounds incestuous— all this switchy-swatchy coupling one of them called it. It’s not like that, I tell them. We don’t switchy-swatch. First I had the one, now I have the other.
My friends back home laugh like they don’t believe a word.
“I wonder if this mattress is a Beautyrest,” I say to him.
“What makes you think that?”
“Well I heard they make the best mattresses and this one is so nice.”
“No,” he says. “Mine at home is the best on the market. It’s custom. All hand made. You can’t buy a better mattress than mine. Didn’t you find it comfortable when you slept on it?”
He should try sleeping on mine. Mine is a pull-out convertible sofa. A metal bar under the mattress sticks in my back. It can be torturous at times. “All hand made?” I say.
“Umm…” He’s reaching for my ass squeezing it under the comforter. “You are very toned,” he says. Then climbs on top of me making me feel I’m so loved. All over again.
I often don’t shower. I sleep in my
to brush my teeth. I wake to
I have sat in the cafes
of Modigliani, Picasso, Miro.
If this were Paris and they were still alive, I couldn’t,
wouldn’t be the woman they’d sleep with. I’d be
the woman with the notebook, writing
in the corner, wishing I could sit with them and be
the kind of woman who could be their kind of woman.
I’ve seen people die of love.
woman jumped from their balcony
after his death.
I kept a Xerox
copy of his face
from a book
I found in high school: he was the only
man for me, though dead
In this humidity,
I can barely sleep.
We must write longer than
Our beauty holds, dreams are dashed,
sitting here, eating bland food, drinking coffee, writing
about you who shall never be for me.
I found one in the pocket of your denim shirt. The one you used to wear on Saturdays, flung on over just your tee shirt, relaxing on the porch. Writing sometimes, reading a book sometimes. Sometimes fast asleep.
Another in the top drawer of your dresser amongst your socks stacked up in rows and layers of color so that in dim morning light it wasn’t hard to pick out what you wanted.
Pieces of your heart are everywhere. I wondered why, after I’d gone through all your things there were some missing. It made me think that there were things about you I never knew. Women, maybe? Women you told me held no more than a cell of memory in your mind. I wondered if they held some pieces of your heart.
But then I found one in the Italian restaurant where we always went for pizza with the kids. And when I started looking I found more.
One was in your guitar case up in your boyhood bedroom at your mom’s. I found one under an old maple tree in their front yard. Each child of ours held a larger piece than any I had found so far and in our bedroom, in our bed, I found the biggest piece of all.
Finally there came a day when it was all together, all complete and whole. I reached inside the wound you left and raised it carefully behind my ribs and tucked it into place where mine had died.
SEVEN OLD LADIES
I asked seven old ladies if they thought it was a good idea to take blood pressure medicine
and four of them said NO NO don’t do that
and one of them said I miss dancing
and one of them said why?
and one of them said Why not?
and I said Why not?
Four of them said You know you are going to die anyway
One said sometimes I think that this place is a tiny box
One said her father cried when she bought him a watch
One said the sight of a candied apple made her sad
One more, because there were eight, sat in the lobby
and read the newspaper. He didn’t say anything but then
You know, I once kissed Greta Garbo
he said, I felt my heart skip a beat
but really, everyone says that. When
I say something, something about, say,
Greta Garbo, my love, I mean it. I do.