Aubade with Edits

Both terrible storytellers, both bad
            With a punchline

Too, bad with a tale—short, long
            Or otherwise. Both, a little bit

Of college & plenty of experience—
            My parents. Their hands told

On them, & their cooking enough
            To keep mouths too busy

For small talk but not for lies, gold plated
            Lies. “Yes, still waiting

For Jordans or a Walkman,
            & please, no knock-offs.” “No mom,

Not the fakes.” “No, it’s not the same
            As the others, dad.”

O edits, O tweaks that transcend
            Trouble—you, neither fake

Nor fib even when half-awake in the new
            Light when parents revise stories or future

Visions so a paycheck opens
            Wider than my busy-begging

Mouth. Edits, not lies when dad dies
            Alone, broke to the bone. His version

Better than all the unforeseen costs
            Death accrues. Edits, unheard

Requests or complaints from mom’s eyes.
            Her last-month-tongue entangled,

Unable to spin or spend even a nickel’s
            Worth of lies. O Edits, sun’s up cutting

Sleep & dream with light & heat.
            I do nothing while narratives move

Along the ceiling: I’m ok. I’m ok.
            I’m ok. Soon I will tell the lie

To the mirror, to my shoes & car
            Keys, to my kiss-goodbye love,

To my needling co-workers at lunch
             Time, & the commute home again. 

A kiss hello & a kiss for baby, too
            Until back to dream

When my dead parents visit
            With new things to say.

Epistemology of Laundry

this week’s last load of laundry has me stealing
my son’s precious teenage time    I reenact the duty

of my father and what comes hammering back
are trips with him    pushing his cart of dirties down

the street    his southern charm waving or shaking
hands—: bus driver    mailman    neighbors get

countless invites to dinner or a Saturday bbq
my father’s good morning darlin’ clanks & pings

as quarters spill into the bona fide grip
of the present    my son’s hands show signs

he’s ready for the tedious work ahead as he storms
through pile after pile    then his precision when offering

assistance to a stranger    this chore becomes a lesson
for the two of us    this shared work turns and tumbles  

neatly folds—: a fond memory

Related Poems

In That Other Fantasy Where We Live Forever

we were never caught

we partied the southwest, smoked it from L.A. to El Dorado
worked odd jobs between delusions of escape
drunk on the admonitions of parents, parsons & professors
driving faster than the road or law allowed.
our high-pitched laughter was young, heartless & disrespected
authority. we could be heard for miles in the night

the Grand Canyon of a new manhood.
womanhood discovered
like the first sighting of Mount Wilson

we rebelled against the southwestern wind

we got so naturally ripped, we sprouted wings,
crashed parties on the moon, and howled at the earth

we lived off love. It was all we had to eat

when you split you took all the wisdom
and left me the worry

Creation Story

In one version a drunken angel shapes us from river mud.
In another the tou-tou bird sings daylight into being.
In another we fall backward from the sky into the earth’s net.
The other day goldenrod.
The other day red on the tests; her cancer like sumac, back
             again, inching down the ravine.
It’s October. A kind of paradise.
Gold hills, black walnuts, a flurry of gulls on open water.
Pasture thistle, evening primrose. Crows.
The other day at the sink a plate shattered in my hand.
Her husband has waited all these years for her to die
            so he could marry her sister.
In another version he marries her best friend.
In another she lives, knows everything, but says nothing.
The chaplain told her years ago, in her first fear,
             that death for a person of faith was just a beginning.
In one version the god of violence eats everything.
In another the life god sells us down the river.
The beginning of what?
The other day the ash tree lost its leaves in a single afternoon.
What's coming is January, the lake iced finally over.
What’s coming is this much light through a hole this small.
I gave my students this assignment: Tell your entire life—
             birth to death—in five lines, like that poem we read.
You can see where this is going.
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State.
And she feels like a woman she saw one day, stooped and tying
             her shoes on an escalator.
Absorbed like that but on deadline.
In another version they talk everything over and agree—about
             the sister, about whether they have bodies in heaven.
The other day the sun in its box of sky, a going away gift.
In one version I told them to make the rhyme ABABA; in another
In Texas, an artist has cast every bone in the human body
             into chromium, and will bury one in every country
             until he runs out of countries.
Shiva destroys the world, then gives birth to it.
Lingam and Yoni, male and female.
“From my mother,” one student wrote, “I inherited an estate.”
“When I died,” wrote another, “I went somewhere. Who knows?”
At the lake’s edge the sumac god descends the hill, disappears
             into water, then climbs out the other side.
In one version, saw-toothed sunflower, closed gentian, asters—
             autumn flowers that must have been there when God
             raised his voice.
In one version a Japanese girl falls through the ice and is resurrected
             as an island.
Everything must have been there: the plate, the cancer, the little
             scimitar scar I’m working on, my student’s dead mother,
             black flak, the speck, the mass, the caul, crows in the ash.
In one version nobody dies.
In another, everyone.

Why Poetry Can Be Hard for Most People

Because speaking to the dead is not something you want to do
When you have other things to do in your day
Like take out the trash or use the vacuum
In the edge between the stove and cupboard
Because the rat is everywhere
Crawling around
Or more so walking
And it doesn’t even notice you
It has its own intentions
And is searching for that perfect bag of potato chips like you once were
Because life is no more important than eating
Or fucking
Or talking someone into fucking
Or talking someone into something
Or sleeping calmly and soundly
And all you can hope for are the people who put that calm in you
Or let you go into it with dignity
Because poetry reminds you
That there is no dignity
In living
You just muddle through and for what
Jack Jack you wrote to him
You wrote to all of us
I wasn’t even born
You wrote to me
A ball of red and green shifting sparks
In my parents’ eye
You wrote to me and I just listened
I listened I listened I tell you
And I came back
Poetry is hard for most people
Because of sound