Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Just Cause for Termination

He read the email, scarcely able to believe his eyes.
“Oh, this will not stand!  This will not stand!”
He immediately began his reply,
tapping the faded keys furiously,
the invective appearing on the screen
but then being deleted for a more cutting turn of phrase,
like bubbles exploding in a pot of boiling water.
He had been working in this company far too long
to endure such condescension from some
23-year-old consulting associate named Debi
with her pouting mouth and blue eyeshadow.
She and the other 23-year-olds in the office
squealed in the hallways about Justin Bieber concerts
or whatever these young people talk about.
She didn’t even bother to cover up the harlot tattoos
covering her forearms and peeking out just above her breasts.
It didn’t take her long to learn all the infuriating phrases,
“Just checking in!” and “Going forward…”
He would have to explain to her in detail,
while copying her manager and his manager
and the vice president, for good measure,
exactly who he was and his status in this company.
There was a small voice in the back of his mind,
who warned him that his status in the company
was actually more that of a rodent in a kitchen,
who, having so far evaded capture and death,
was more or less tolerated,
as long as he remained invisible and silent.
This voice told him to let the whole matter go,
ignore Debi's patronizing tone
and comply with her request.
Defying this voice of reason,
he clicked on “send” with a flourish
and a pounding heart.

Shelf Stability

“Does pancake batter go bad?”
she asked me uncertainly.
She sniffed the container and shrugged.
This did not fill me with confidence.
I’m not much one for one-night stands to begin with,
and her apartment isn’t the cleanest,
but it didn’t matter as much last night
when it was dark, and I was drunk.
She’s making a lot of noise in the kitchen now,
pots and pans clanging,
something drops with a metallic clatter.
Her male tabby cat eyes me with quiet disdain
and licks its paw.
If you want to leave, the cat tells me,
just leave.
She’ll hardly notice.
No, I tell the cat,
that is not how I want to conduct myself.
I’ll eat these pancakes,
I’ll eat them and say they’re delicious.
These ready-made batters,
they’re probably made to survive a nuclear war.
It’ll be okay.
I’ll eat these pancakes and tell her I need to get going,
but I had a wonderful time,
and we should get together soon.
I mean, outside of work.
Of course we’ll see each other at work tomorrow!
But I mean, besides that.
Like dinner or coffee or something.
She emerges from the kitchen,
wild-haired and apologetic.
“I burned the pancakes,” she admits,
“But I found this bottle of whiskey.
Wanna shot?”
Um, okay?
She brandishes a bottle, a quarter full.
It’s not a label I recognize.
Is the bottle made of plastic?
There’s a burning in my chest,
and I wince as I gulp it down.
“Let’s go take a walk, cowboy.
Put some clothes on
and let’s go get some doughnuts.”
This is framed as an order, not a request.
I’m going to have to pay for them too.
She did this all last night,
didn’t carry a purse or a wallet
and seemed surprised that she had no money on her.


In the bone-chilling wind, the crunchy brown leaves
swirl around the feet of the elderly man who grieves
the loss of his wife, cancer and time being the thieves.
The priest had told him, “You’ll see her again if you only just believe.”
“There’s more to this life than what you can perceive.”
These platitudes have always been among his pet peeves.
He’d rather be broken-hearted than deceived.
He stops to scratch his nose with a red flannel sleeve.
Soon, he thought, he will be dust too—everything he had and everything he achieved.
But this was just the beginning of his story, the rest he couldn’t have ever conceived.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Rock Collection

When she was a child
with a strawberry blonde bowl hair cut
and tomboy clothes,
she kept a rock collection
in an orange Nike shoebox
that she stashed in her bedroom closet.
They were sparkling rose- and cream-colored jewels
or fossils of undiscovered dinosaurs
and igneous rocks, dug up from her grade school playground,
which she classified as evidence
that there had once been an ancient volcano in Griffith, Indiana.
One day, but she doesn’t remember when,
she realized that these rare and exquisite finds
were actually just landscaping stones from under the deck porch
and uninteresting chunks of coal.
Their value depreciated,
she released them back into the wild.


Write a poem about a phobia,
the prompt commanded,
which seemed more appealing to me
than to have to use all five of my goddamn senses
to describe the summer evenings of my childhood.
I can’t write a whole poem about vomit,
which is probably my strongest phobia.
Who would want to read it?
I suppose I could describe my terror
at the sight of a small gray mouse
darting unexpectedly across the back of my stove.
It seemed so much larger in my mind
than it did when we had caught it
in the live-catch trap.
(The only thing more terrifying in my mind
than knowing a live mouse is dancing across my food
is seeing a dead mouse on my kitchen floor,
so live-catch traps it is.)
I freed the creature in a field,
while holding a black leash
attached to an excited and confused Giza,
whom I had brought with me for protection and emotional support,
I screamed as I shook the mouse out of the black plastic trap,
and it scurried away.
I also have a horror of cassowaries.
This would be a rational fear if I lived in Australia,
less so in Schaumburg, Illinois.
When I was a young child with an outsized reading ability,
my mother bought me several volumes of the Charlie Brown ‘Cyclopedia.
Oddly, this children’s book mentioned that a cassowary
had the power to kill a man with a single kick.
This sounded me to me then as a terrible way to die,
and now, it’s not what I personally would choose
as a method of execution.
When I see this wild dinosaur bird in zoos
with its round black body,
furious eyes,
bright blue neck and angry red wattle, warning your doom,
the wedge-shaped casque on the top of its skull,
which I’m sure it uses to ram its head square into your chest,
powerful legs,
and those horrible man-killing claws on its feet,
I shudder a little,
respecting its power and ruthlessness.
They’re kind of the same thing as ostriches and emus,
if you think about it,
and an ostrich or an emu could certainly fuck you up,
but they don’t inspire the same primal fear
as the horrible cassowary,
God’s avian assassin.