Wednesday Mar 29

McDanielJeffrey Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of four books of poetry: The Endarkenment (U of Pittsburgh P, 2008), Alibi School, The Forgiveness Parade, and The Splinter Factory. His poetry is published in many anthologies, including Best American Poetry, New (American) Poets, and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Washington, DC, Commission for the Arts, and he teaches at Sarah Lawrence University.

Eliot Spitzer in Grad School

The fortune cookie says: the spotlight
will cradle you like a surrogate mother. Lord,
swaddle me in a blanket dipped in smallpox
so I can feel indigenous sin,
so I can open my mouth and bite
into the snake's Adam's apple. So much talk
of destiny, but what I want to know is
how it felt for Abe Lincoln
to be six years-old, dumping out
a jar of pennies on the log-cabin floor.
Did he notice anything familiar
about the bearded man staring back at him?
Do we only recognize our fate
when it grabs us by the collar
like a train conductor and shakes us awake
on the 7:45 White Plains Local, saying sir,
this is your stop. This really is your stop.
How many of us ignore fate's hand
brushing our cheeks and tumble
back into slumber? One side of a coin says:
you will do great things in your lifetime.
The other side reads: you will rain shame
upon your family. I flip the coin in the air,
as if only one of them can be true.
The Holy Itch

The Lord works in funny ways,
and one of them ways
is he turned the angels
into mosquitoes, and they come
buzzing just before dark,
the hour of heaven, and jab
little straws into your arms,
and suck out faucet drops of blood,
so they can study your cells.
That’s how the Lord stays
inside you, knows what
percentage of pig you got
splashing your blood. But not me.
My arms, calves, and abs
are covered with crushed garlic.
I got a trilogy of zapper lamps
hanging the porch. I’m sick
of God’s medicine being needled
into me, sick of the holy itch.
I sleep with a bug net
draped over my body,
chanting the phrase, Holy
is a bowling ball rolling through the rain.
Go away, God. Come back another day.
I am a bird plucking god’s minions,
like levitating gumdrops,
from an oil spill sky.
I am an extension cord of silence
whipping across your thighs.
I am your train pulling out
of the station. As you double
over and gasp on the platform,
I am the one with cupped hands,
catching your breath.
The High Heat

Hovering over a plate of spumoni in my kitchen,
I squeeze the handle of my spoon.
A hundred miles away in public housing
for seniors, my mother sets, twirls
into her wind-up, cocks her arm back
and unleashes a wad of bills she can’t pay
from a Home Shopping Network binge.
The wad of bills, miraculously amassed
without a credit card, hums up and in,
close enough to play violin on my chin.
I told you, no more curve balls, mom, I snarl,
kicking my cleats into the dirt for emphasis.
But I’m a curveball pitcher, she smiles,
adjusting her cap.
Legacy is a piece of toilet paper hanging out of your pants at a family reunion

You wake and find yellow traffic signs
with silhouettes of your face
plastered around the neighborhood.
The night before is scattered at your feet
like the shattered side window of a pick-up truck.
Your mind is a carpet, and memories
are all the crap you can’t scrub up,
like those nights as a kid with your mom,
watching home movies of your Irish ancestors
washing up on Ellis Island in their speedboats.
On the outside of a milk carton
is the name and face of your inner child.
Look inside the carton for clues
concerning the child’s whereabouts.
Yes, you were born the black sheep of the family.
Yes, your parents shaved off your wool coat
to pay for your brother’s piano lessons.
Reality is a bemusement park
you’re not allowed to leave, so spin
cotton candy from the strands
of your dead grandmother’s hair
and smile when you look at the sky—
someone really is laughing up there.