A chance so close to zero, zero’s a baby
pool shoved against your screen door
thirty-six thousand feet below this airplane
where a preschooler chokes on a pretzel.
Every passenger stands, clutching
their necks as the mother scrapes her finger
down the girl’s throat. “You’re living in despair,”
the psychiatrist said back home. Long after
she forgets she once stopped breathing,
the girl asks if a plane ever falls from the sky.
“Sometimes it does,” you say. “Sometimes it does.”
One in eleven million. And when she says,
“They’ll catch us, the yellow trees,” you see
the start of a ginkgo tunnel: You haven’t lost
a baby. You go to work, sell tires, rinse
your feet at dusk in your makeshift plastic
pond, where soon all the suns will float:
the bright petals you won’t win, but find.
Copyright © 2018 Kristin Robertson. Reprinted with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Autumn 2018.
A mouse went to see his mother. When his car broke down he bought a bike. When the bike wore out he bought skates. When the skates wore down he ran. He ran until his sneakers wore through. Then he walked. He walked and walked, almost walked his feet through so he bought new ones. His mother was happy to see him and said, "what nice new feet you have on." —paraphrase of a story in Mouse Tails by Arnold Lobel hey, listen, a bad thing happened to my friend's marriage, can't tell you only can tell my own story which so far isn't so bad: "Dad" and I stay married. so far. so good. so so. But it felt undoable. This lucky life every day, every day. every. day. (all the poetry books the goddamn same until one guys gets up and stuns the audience) Then, Joe Wenderoth, not by a long shot sober says, I promised my wife I wouldn't fuck anyone, to no one in particular and reads a poem about how Jesus has no penis. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist, attractive in a fatherly way, says libido question mark. And your libido? like a father, but not like mine, or my sons'— "fix it." My friend's almost written a good novel by which I mean finished which means I'd like to light myself on fire, on fire with envy, this isn't "desire" not what the Dr. meant by libido? I hope— not, it's just chemical: jealousy. boredom. lethargy. Books with prominent seraphs: their feet feet feet I am marching to the same be— other than the neuronic slave I thought anxiety made me do it, made me get up and carry forth, sally the children to school the poems dragged by little hands on their little seraphs to the page my marriage sustained, remaining energy: project #1, project #2, broken fixtures, summer plans, demand met, request granted, bunny noodles with and without cheesy at the same time, and the night time I insomnia these hours penning invisible letters— till it stopped. doc said: it's a syndrome. you've got it, classic. it's chemical, mental circuitry we've got a fix for this classic, I'm saying I can make it better. Everything was the same, then, but better. At night I slept. In the morning got up. Kids to school, husband still a fool- hardy spirit makes me pick a monday morning fight, snipe! I'll pay for that later I'm still a pain in the elbow from writing prose those shift+hold+letter, I'm still me less sleepy, crazy, I suppose less crazy-jealous just ha-ha now at Jesus' no penis his amazed at the other poet's kickass friend's novel I dream instead about the government makes me put stickers on my driver's license of family members who are Jews, and mine all are. Can they get us all? I escape with a beautiful light-haired man, blue-eyed day trader, gentile. gentle, gentle, mind encased in its blood-brain barrier from the harsh skull sleep, sleep and sleepy wake and want to sleep and sleep a steep dosage— "—chemical?" in my dreams now every man's mine, no- problem, perhaps my mind's a little plastic, malleable, not so fatal now the dose is engineered like that new genetic watercress to turn from green to red when planted over buried mines, nitrogen dioxide makes for early autumn red marks the spot where I must watch my step, up one half-step-dose specific— The psychiatrist's lived in NY so long he's of ambiguous religious— everyone's Jewish sometimes— writes: "up the dosage." now, when I'm late I just shrug it's my new improved style missed the train? I tug the two boys single file the platform a safe aisle between disasters, blithely I step, step, step-lively carefully, wisely. I sing silly ditties play I spy something pretty grey-brown-metal-filthy for a little city fun. Just one way to enjoy life's trials, mile after mile, lucky to have such dependable feet. you see, the rodents don't frighten I'm calm as can be expected to recover left to my one devivces I was twice as fast getting everywhere but where did that get me but there, that inevitable location more waiting, the rats there scurry, scurry, a furry till the next train comes "up the dosage." Brown a first-cut brisket in hot Dutch oven after dusting with paprika. Remove. Sauté thickly sliced onions and add wine. (Sweet is better, lasts forever, never need a new bottle). Put the meat on onions, cover with tomato-sauce- onion-soup-mix mixture, cover. Back in a low oven many hours. The house smells like meat. My hair smells like meat. I'm a light unto the nation. I'm trying to get out of Egypt. This year, I'll be better. Joseph makes sense of the big man's dreams, is saved, saves his brothers those jealous boys who sold him sold them all as slaves. Seven years of plenty. Seven years of famine. He insomnias the nights counting up grains, storing, planning, for what? They say throw the small boys in the river (and mothers do so). Smite the sons (and fathers do it.) God says take off your shoes, this holy ground this pitiful, incombustible bush. Is God chemical? Enzymatic of our great need to chaos? We're unforgivable. People of the salted cheeks. Slap, turn, slap. To be chosen is to be unforgiving/ unforgiv- en, always chosen: be better. The Zuckers are a long line of obsessives. This served them well in war time saw it coming in time that unseeable thing they hoarded they ferried, schemed, paced, got the hell out figured out at night, insomnia, how to visa— now, if it happens again, I won't be ready I'm "better." The husband, a country club Jew from Denver, American intelligentsia will have to carry me out and he's no big man and I'm not a small girl how fast can the doctor switch the refugee gene back on? How fast can I get worse? Smart again and worse? Better to be alive than better. "...listen:" says the doctor, "sleeping isn't death. All children unlearn this fear you got confused thought thinking was the same as spinning—" Writes: "up the dosage." don't think. this refugee thing part of a syndrome fear of medication of being better... Truth is, the anti-obsessional medicine works wonders and drags me through life's course... About this time of year but years ago the priests spread rumors of blood libel. Jews huddled in basements accused of using Christian babes' blood to make unleavened bread. signs and wonders. Christ rises. Blood and body and babes. Basements and briskets and bread of afflictions. I am calm now with my pounds of meat made and frozen, my party schedule, my pills of liberation, my gentile dream-boy, American passport, my grey haired-psychiatrist, my blue- eyed son, my brown-eyed son, my poems on their pretty little fleet-feet, my big shot friends, olive-skinned husband, my right elbow on fire: fire inside deep in the nerve from too much carrying and word-mongering, smithery, bearing and tensing choosing to be better to live this real life this better orbit this Jack Kerouac never loved you like you wanted. Blake. Buddha. Only Jesus and that's his shtick, he loves everyone: smile! that's it, for the camera, blood pressure normal, better, you're a poster child for signs and wonders what a little chemistry does for the brain, blood, thought, hey, did you know that Pharaoh actually wanted to let them go? those multitude Jews but God hardened Pharaoh's heart against them [Jews] to prove his prowess show his signs, wonders, outstretched hand, until the dosage was a perfect ten and then some, sea closing up around those little chariots the men and horses while women on the far shore shook their tambourines. And then what? Forty years to get the smell of slavery off them. Because of this. Bloody Nile. My story one of the lucky. Escape hatch even from my own obsess— I am here because of this. Because of what my ancestors did for me to tell this story of the outstretched hand what it did for me this marked door and behind this red-marked door, around a corner a blue-eyed boy waits to love me up with his leavened bread, his slim body, professional detachment, medical advancements, forgive me my father's mother's father was the last in a long line of Rabbis—again! with this? This rhapsody of affliction and escape, the mind bobbing along in its watery safe. Be like everyone. Else. Indistinguishable but better than the other nations but that's what got us into this, Allen, no one writes these long-ass poems anymore. Now we're better, all better. All Christian. Kind.
Copyright © 2012 Rachel Zucker. First appeared in Columbia Poetry Review. Used with permission of the author.
I still taste you from the time you painted my tongue with your scarlet finger. It cured my heart of innocence, that single dose, and I have tasted it— the double truth—ever since: the bittersweet in the words I cannot speak but stick in my mouth like stones I've learned to talk around.
From The Double Truth, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by Chard deNiord. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.