On Air Guitar, Lip Gloss and Flat Irons
The guy playing air guitar in the back corner
seat of this county bus—red Forty-Niner’s cap
pulled down over iPod ear buds, invisible
pick pinched between right thumb and pointer,
his left hand raised and trembling along
the ghost frets. I didn’t know people still
do that in their thirties, but there he is, auburn
goatee stubbled with gray, reminding me
of my first middle school dance where Tina
Colbert and I jammed with Eddie VanHalen,
our backs arched like willows in a rainstorm,
heads thrown side-to-side, arms windmilling
over our make-believe Stratocasters. Sure,
it seems sort of weird now, but at the time
it beat the alternatives: whispering behind
shell-cupped hands, or comparing lip gloss
flavors with the girls in the restroom line
where Keri Orton trailed her roll-on root beer
applicator under her nose, then wore a glistening
mustache all night because she liked the scent.
Sixth graders, we were on the verge of being
self-conscious about such things, and I felt sorry
for her, for not knowing how stupid that looked.
A few months later I learned that an average
make-up wearing woman will ingest the equivalent
of three tubes of lipstick a year simply by
licking her lips, which is why I’m still conflicted
about cosmetics. And flat irons. Standing in front
of a mirror for forty-five minutes each morning
I wonder What else could I do with all this time?
With all the collective time burned up by all
the flat irons in all the bathrooms in the world,
what could we do? Sometimes while the oils
smoke off my straightening hair, I think up poems,
like this one. But not today. No, today I’m riding
this bus around the downtown loop because
it makes my kids happy. There they are, sitting up
on their knees, gripping the back of the bench seat,
squealing over sightings of garbage trucks,
water fountains, and parking gates—the trifecta
for these two suburban boys who steal glances
at the air guitarist, but he has switched to drums
now, arms crossed at the wrist, hands tapping
his pretend sticks. Secretly I worry the boys will ask
what he’s doing. What would I say? Eyes closed,
knit cap bobbing, face blank as the velvet curtain
in his imaginary concert hall, he is the master of this
grand bus stage, a musician magician hammering
out of this moment so much more than what it is.
A Thousand Words for Goodbye
My love has blue stars needled
up her arm in the shape of no
constellation. Above that
an eight-paned window of dark
that might open for the right tools.
Maybe. From the street vendor
we bought even the rotting
blackberries. Walking home,
night fog, streetcars vibrating
concrete. And then my thumb
crushing that bruise of fruit
between her breasts, and then
of-spoiling. And then my tongue
traveling southward, and the salt
and then the tart and then those
hinges—did I hear them winging
open in the kitchen’s hot dark?
Turns out that rare Chilean wine
cost four bucks. Ciabatta and currant jam
served on a plaid blanket, on a cliff
named Land’s End. Fog horns
warned about the burnt orange bridge.
It was a matter of time. Frost turned
the tomato plants into brown-haired
witches. Through the peep hole’s fish eye,
her sad face and a sunflower plucked
from a bucket at the corner liquor store.
Midnight outside the library.
Beyond the streetlamp’s cone
of yellow light, first snow
fell like meteors, icy stars
tangling in the onyx braid
coiled on her shoulder.
I pinched a crystal, watched it
liquefy on my fingertip.
Heat burned dark circles
in the frozen windshield.
Exhaust piped out in clouds
through which she disappeared.
Your tea tree shampoo and a wet nest of hair
caught in the shower drain. Two rusted v’s
stained on the porcelain sink, bobby pin ghosts
from that first Halloween. The big bang of red sauce
dried on the kitchen wall. The chipped edges
of that mirror you kept promising to replace.
I invite her absence to tea.
We watch birch leaves burn
gold in November light.
They’re really more like spears
than hearts, she says. I still
love you, I confess, but it’s
like a paring blade hidden
in cedar-scented wool.
The second-hand jewelry box
pings out the Love Story theme
while the ballerina spins drunk
on her bent spring until the brass
key slows its counter-clockwise
revolution, and the girl who
forgives the ripped crinoline skirt,
the crooked red lips, stops her
own dance, pinches the key
and ratchets the crank for more.
The person I made you out to be
and the woman you thought I was
slow dance like holograms projected
on the gym floor, while you and I
sit on the bleachers, arguing
about the strangers we’ve become.
Tell me all the pop songs aren’t
peddling codependency, you say.
Tell me love is not impermanence
dressed up in fishnets and a kicky
new skirt, I reply. Silence
stretches her arms out and yawns.
Your dance-floor ghost lays her head
on my transparent shoulder. I press
my used-to-be lips to your wish-it-were mouth.
As if try again were a dance. As if the past
were a snow globe housing Las Vegas
newlyweds, their cracked grins more comic
than tragic. Each spring the hummingbird
returned to paste her nest in the elm
outside our window. They’re a symbol of joy,
you said. Nasturtiums flamed in half barrels,
kingfishers spiked the air with song, and god
help me, I almost believed you.
For weeks I watched your fingers
crease the foiled origami squares
with knife-blade precision. Cranes
with arrows for wings. Some days
a teacup steaming on the table
beside you, some late nights
your lipstick print on a highball
backlit by city lights. Always
you slid a needle through
the bird’s paper heart, beading
one after another on red cotton
thread. A thousand times.
The whole flock dangling from
our coved ceiling when I dreamed
you painting one word on each:
yes, no, sorry, please, then
the front door slamming shut,
then those birds bursting into flight.