Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Kristen worked at a kiosk in the mall
for two and a half months.
She sold…no.
She attempted to sell…no.
She sat apathetically next to her kiosk,
which was filled with different types
of cheaply made “cell phone charms.”
And she mostly stared at her own phone,
ignoring the shoppers around her.
And this was partly why
she only worked there for two and a half months,
but that’s another story.
While Kristen labored at this kiosk,
she overheard only fractions
of hundreds of conversations every day
as people streamed past her

If he ever wants to see that child again…
I told her she was a whore, right in front of her mom…
And then the tumor was gone!  The doctors were…
I haven’t seen them at church in weeks…
My face is just so oily
Did you see that episode last night?  Oh my God!
I am very sensitive to beta-carotine because my liver…
He just looks like a stalker, don’t you think?
She came in well after her curfew, and I told her…
I found $3,000 under his mattress, and…
Jack’s friend told Olivia that you said…
I have no choice but to fire him after he…
I was like, isn’t anyone going to call the police?
I am never going to that pizza place again!
Her sister-in-law got wasted and ruined the wedding…
If I tell him, he’s just going to kill me!

It was a kaleidoscope of sounds and speech,
with Kristen as a silent witness.
She had no interest in leaving her stool
to follow any of these threads of conversation
to discern more context
or hear their resolution.
Except for one time
when she heard a deep voice
distinctly shout, “Kristen!”
She looked up sharply,
craned her neck in all directions,
but could not find the source of this salutation,
and slouched again in her stool.
Mall time moved slower than any other minute or hour,
and it was a beautiful day.


Selma ordered a large coffee
on the way to work that morning
because she had to be ready for a fight.
The day before, at 4:30 p.m.,
she had sent a very strongly worded email
to Monica, her manager,
and she cc’ed Jill, Monica’s manager.
“Per my last email,” it began,
and it used the phrase “going forward”
no fewer than three times.
She was proud that she had stood up for herself.
“They could fire me, see if I care!”
she mumbled aloud as she applied her lipstick
in the bathroom mirror that morning.

By the time she reached the parking lot,
her heart was pounding,
and she really had to pee.
Unfortunately, she ran into Monica
in the women’s restroom.
She searched Monica’s face
for some kind of reaction,
but Monica said “Good morning”
in a tired, mechanical way
and walked out.

Selma sat down,
feeling more awake
than she had in weeks,
and opened her email.
She saw a message from Patrick,
who was Jill’s manager.
“Can you see me today?” he asked.
“I’m free after 11:30.”
Selma’s stomach sank,
as her pulse raced.
Patrick was someone
she never worked with directly,
and the only reason he could
possibly be contacting her
was because Jill told him
about the email.
Oh, the damned email! 
Why did she write that stupid email?
She scanned her personal belongings,
hoping they could all fit
in a single white banker’s box.

Of course, she couldn’t focus on work.
She frantically refreshed her inbox,
looking for some kind of response
from Monica or Jill,
but they were electronically silent.
She texted her friends for support,
and they assured her
she was in the right,
and this company didn’t deserve her anyway.

Finally, at 11:30 a.m., she timidly tapped
on Patrick’s heavy wooden door,
and she heard a soft voice say, “Come in.”
Gulping nervously, she stepped in,
and he invited her to take a seat.
He engaged in some meaningless
rapport-making chit-chat
for approximately two minutes
and then told her he just wanted
to clear up a policy.
He then went into a lengthy
explanation of why it was best practice
for Monica to be a lazy, demanding bitch
all the time. 
Maybe not in those exact words.
But Monica’s way of working
was correct and appropriate
and not at all unfair to Selma,
and everyone in the company—
even Patrick!—
was subject to similar pressures.
and did Selma have any questions?
Selma did not.
She realized about halfway through
his speech that he was trying to placate her,
not fire her,
and she exhaled for the first time
in two and a half hours.

She returned to her desk,
her heart a little lighter.
Should she email an apology
to Monica and Jill?
No, probably best to drop it,
pretend that nothing had happened.
Then a little later,
when the caffeine faded,
she realized that nothing had happened,
and nothing would change.
Her imaginary flag of rebellion
was carefully folded up
and placed in a desk drawer,
under a free bank calendar from 2018
and a pack of neon pink sticky notes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Not Dead Yet

It was almost 7 o’clock when I went to the office;
I hoped I wouldn’t run into anyone working late.
But my boss was still there,
and I knew an awkward conversation was imminent.
I announced in a chipper voice, “I’m still alive!”
He looked exhausted, and his face was gray.
He accused me of being too calm.
Apparently my email of notification was too calm.
And he said I was in shock and just going through the motions.
Well, no shit, Brian.

It’s the little things that frighten me,
not so much my mortality.
I mean, if I contemplate being sick enough to die,
that just seems ridiculous.
But it’s the anesthesia shot before the biopsies,
having to choke down barium before a CT scan,
nausea, diarrhea, hair loss, and other side effects,
the little unpleasantries and indignities of tests and treatment
that keep me awake at night.

This is the point where I remind everyone
that I’ll be okay.
It will eventually be okay.
Although I’ve beaten some spectacular odds to be here,
science seems to be on my side.
Early detection, no lymph node involvement.
I’m meeting with my surgeon tomorrow,
not even 48 hours after finding out my results.
Don’t worry too much.
Because it stresses me out when people are worrying about me.

I am going through the motions,
but what else can I do?
I am a body to be acted upon.
I have to just lie there and let other people do their thing.
I have to hope they’re kind and have a sense of humor.

I am too calm but not because I want to be your Brave Sick Friend,
flipping her wig and saying, “Take that, cancer!” with a wink
as some inspirational contemporary pop song plays.
No, to be calm is to be in control of the uncontrollable.
To steer the ship in the storm to a safe haven.
To drive the Crazy Bus with my passengers, Gnawing Anxiety
and her twin brother, Are You Shitting Me?


It was as though a sinister alien craft landed
in my church’s parking lot,
enormous rotating silver diamond.
For years it was a complete mystery
what went on inside,
other than a lot of spinning
and maybe someone getting sick.
One day, I gathered up all my courage
and joined the line for the ride,
probably as the result of some kind
of peer pressure.
Eventually it was my turn
to step inside the darkened interior
and stand in front of a red padded panel
on the wall.
I was terrified, of course,
but oddly comforted
by the Def Leppard song
being broadcast at deafening volumes.
Finally, we started to revolve,
faster and faster,
until we were stuck firmly to the walls.
We all climbed the rising padded panels
our spines and internal organs were glued to,
and some brave souls turned themselves
upside down for the duration.
But I closed my eyes,
focusing on Bon Jovi or Whitesnake.
I wouldn't be sick if I listened to the music.
Eventually the spinning slowed,
and our bodies slid back down,
feet back on the metal floor.
We exited the ride,
ears ringing,
eyes blinded by sunlight.


3:30 a.m.
Kaylee shuffled forlornly
down Broadway Street
in Nashville, Tennessee.
The expensive neon-lit
“honky tonks” for tourists
had finally silenced their deafening music
and shut their doors.
The only people left on the street
were the lost and the damned.
Kaylee’s mascara had run,
leaving dark streaks on her cheeks
where the tears had dried.
She was wearing her neon pink and bedazzled
“Shayla’s Bachelorette Nash Bash” t-shirt
over her vomit-stained jean shorts.
Her saucy pink cowboy hat,
purchased for $19.99 at a souvenir store,
was long gone.
She had one espadrille wedge sandal
and one dirty bare foot
with manicured lilac toenails.
Where had the other girls gone?
Where was Shayla,
her best friend, sorority sister,
keeper of secrets,
and dispenser of the sagest advice?
Someone had towered over her earlier,
frowning in disgust,
told her she was pathetic,
to “get her shit together.”
That hadn’t been Shayla, right?
She wouldn’t be that mean.
All those nights in college,
holding back Shayla’s hair
in the hideous Sigma Chi bathroom.
It couldn’t have been Shayla.
Probably was Tracie,
Shayla’s stuck-up cousin.
Clearly thought she was better
than everyone else,
only mentioned she was in med school  
Everyone else seemed nice.
Tracie probably called some Uber
before anyone noticed Kaylee was missing,
and it was a huge misunderstanding,
and everyone was worried sick,
everyone except that bitch Tracie.
A shirtless bearded man
suddenly accosted Kaylee
and offered a drink of fruit punch Powerade
from an open bottle.
He grinned, revealing a mouth
of yellow-gray rotten teeth.
She frowned and waved him away,
like he were a troublesome fly.
She walked forward
while looking backward
to make sure that this ghoul didn’t follow her
and then bumped into the navy blue uniform
of an unamused police officer.
“Whoops,” she replied.
The officer looked her slowly up and down,
asked her where her hotel was.
Kaylee had no answer to this impossible riddle,
so the officer had no choice
but to take her to the station
where she waited with other damsels in distress
for rescue.