Delta Flight 659

Denise Duhamel - 1961-
—to Sean Penn

I'm writing this on a plane, Sean Penn,
with my black Pilot Razor ballpoint pen.
Ever since 9/11, I'm a nervous flyer. I leave my Pentium
Processor in Florida so TSA can't x-ray my stanzas, penetrate
my persona. Maybe this should be in iambic pentameter,
rather than this mock sestina, each line ending in a Penn

variant. I convinced myself the ticket to Baghdad was too expensive.
I contemplated going as a human shield. I read, in open-
mouthed shock, that your trip there was a $56,000 expenditure.
Is that true? I watched you on Larry King Live—his suspenders
and tie, your open collar. You saw the war's impending
mess. My husband gambled on my penumbra

of doubt. So you station yourself at a food silo in Iraq. What happens
to me if you get blown up? He begged me to stay home, be his Penelope.
I sit alone in coach, but last night I sat with four poets, depending
on one another as readers, in a Pittsburgh café. I tried to be your pen
pal in 1987, not because of your pensive
bad boy looks, but because of a poem you'd penned

that appeared in an issue of Frank. I still see the poet in you, Sean Penn.
You probably think fans like me are your penance
for your popularity, your star bulging into a pentagon
filled with witchy wanna-bes and penniless
poets who waddle toward your icy peninsula
of glamour like so many menacing penguins.

But honest, I come in peace, Sean Penn,
writing on my plane ride home. I want no part of your penthouse
or the snowy slopes of your Aspen.
I won't stalk you like the swirling grime cloud over Pig Pen.
I have no script or stupendous
novel I want you to option. I even like your wife, Robin Wright Penn.

I only want to keep myself busy on this flight, to tell you of four penny-
loafered poets in Pennsylvania
who, last night, chomping on primavera penne
pasta, pondered poetry, celebrity, Iraq, the penitentiary
of free speech. And how I reminded everyone that Sean Penn
once wrote a poem. I peer out the window, caress my lucky pendant:

Look, Sean Penn, the clouds are drawn with charcoal pencils.
The sky is opening like a child's first stab at penmanship.
The sun begins to ripen orange, then deepen. 

More by Denise Duhamel

Buying Stock

"...The use of condoms offers substantial protection, but does not guarantee total protection and that while there is no evidence that deep kissing has resulted in transfer of the virus, no one can say that such transmission would be absolutely impossible." --The Surgeon General, 1987

I know you won't mind if I ask you to put this on.
It's for your protection as well as mine--Wait.
Wait.  Here, before we rush into anything
I've bought a condom for each one of your fingers. And here--
just a minute--Open up.
I'll help you put this one on, over your tongue.
I was thinking:
If we leave these two rolled, you can wear them
as patches over your eyes. Partners have been known to cry,
shed tears, bodily fluids, at all this trust, at even the thought
of this closeness.

Sex with a Famous Poet

I had sex with a famous poet last night 
and when I rolled over and found myself beside him I shuddered 
because I was married to someone else, 
because I wasn't supposed to have been drinking,
because I was in fancy hotel room
I didn't recognize. I would have told you 
right off this was a dream, but recently 
a friend told me, write about a dream, 
lose a reader and I didn't want to lose you
right away. I wanted you to hear
that I didn't even like the poet in the dream, that he has 
four kids, the youngest one my age, and I find him 
rather unattractive, that I only met him once,
that is, in real life, and that was in a large group 
in which I barely spoke up. He disgusted me 
with his disparaging remarks about women.
He even used the word "Jap"
which I took as a direct insult to my husband who's Asian. 
When we were first dating, I told him
"You were talking in your sleep last night
and I listened, just to make sure you didn't 
call out anyone else's name." My future-husband said
that he couldn't be held responsible for his subconscious, 
which worried me, which made me think his dreams
were full of blond vixens in rabbit-fur bikinis.
but he said no, he dreamt mostly about boulders 
and the ocean and volcanoes, dangerous weather 
he witnessed but could do nothing to stop. 
And I said, "I dream only of you,"
which was romantic and silly and untrue. 
But I never thought I'd dream of another man--
my husband and I hadn't even had a fight,
my head tucked sweetly in his armpit, my arm 
around his belly, which lifted up and down
all night, gently like water in a lake.
If I passed that famous poet on the street,
he would walk by, famous in his sunglasses 
and blazer with the suede patches at the elbows, 
without so much as a glance in my direction.
I know you're probably curious about who the poet is, 
so I should tell you the clues I've left aren't 
accurate, that I've disguised his identity, 
that you shouldn't guess I bet it's him...
because you'll never guess correctly
and even if you do, I won't tell you that you have. 
I wouldn't want to embarrass a stranger 
who is, after all, probably a nice person, 
who was probably just having a bad day when I met him, 
who is probably growing a little tired of his fame--
which my husband and I perceive as enormous, 
but how much fame can an American poet 
really have, let's say, compared to a rock star 
or film director of equal talent? Not that much,
and the famous poet knows it, knows that he's not 
truly given his due. Knows that many 
of these young poets tugging on his sleeve 
are only pretending to have read all his books.
But he smiles anyway, tries to be helpful. 
I mean, this poet has to have some redeeming qualities, right? 
For instance, he writes a mean iambic. 
Otherwise, what was I doing in his arms.

Yes

According to Culture Shock:
A Guide to Customs and Etiquette 
of Filipinos, when my husband says yes,
he could also mean one of the following:
a.) I don't know.
b.) If you say so.
c.) If it will please you.
d.) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough
for you to realize I mean no.
You can imagine the confusion 
surrounding our movie dates, the laundry,
who will take out the garbage
and when. I remind him 
I'm an American, that all his yeses sound alike to me.        
I tell him here in America we have shrinks 
who can help him to be less of a people-pleaser. 
We have two-year-olds who love to scream "No!" 
when they don't get their way. I tell him, 
in America we have a popular book,
When I Say No I Feel Guilty.
"Should I get you a copy?" I ask.
He says yes, but I think he means
"If it will please you," i.e. "I won't read it."
"I'm trying," I tell him, "but you have to try too."
"Yes," he says, then makes tampo,
a sulking that the book Culture Shock describes as
"subliminal hostility . . . withdrawal of customary cheerfulness
in the presence of the one who has displeased" him.
The book says it's up to me to make things all right,
"to restore goodwill, not by talking the problem out,
but by showing concern about the wounded person's
well-being." Forget it, I think, even though I know
if I'm not nice, tampo can quickly escalate into nagdadabog--
foot stomping, grumbling, the slamming
of doors. Instead of talking to my husband, I storm off
to talk to my porcelain Kwan Yin,
the Chinese goddess of mercy
that I bought on Canal Street years before
my husband and I started dating.
"The real Kwan Yin is in Manila,"
he tells me. "She's called Nuestra Señora de Guia.
Her Asian features prove Christianity
was in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived."
My husband's telling me this
tells me he's sorry. Kwan Yin seems to wink,
congratulating me--my short prayer worked.
"Will you love me forever?" I ask,
then study his lips, wondering if I'll be able to decipher
what he means by his yes.