Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Starving in the Land of Privilege

There was a time when I didn't know
I was privileged, and that might
have been when I walked forty blocks
in the New Orleans heat to apply for food stamps
when I was in my early 20s, and should have been
shopping for a rich white husband
to sequester me in an air conditioned mansion instead.
I was heckled the entire way by men
who stood on the perimeters of sidewalks
and offered to give me money for blow jobs
or just stared at my breasts for a few minutes
while making comments about how high they bounced.
I swiveled my entire body and averted my eyes
so I could no longer see how they looked at me,
with the same expression on their faces
as my own, when I stared at cheesecake
and boiled crab in the restaurant windows of the Quarter.
I hustled past them on my way to my waitress jobs
while wearing my unpressed white shirt and black pants
and carrying a folded apron underneath one of my arms,
always running a bit late because I hated to work.
I was fired almost weekly by managers
who thought I was too slow, or too friendly
or not friendly enough, or my shoes were the wrong color,
or I didn't wear a bra and hair spray, or I wouldn't
have sex with them, and then money disappeared from the till,
so I must have been the one who stole it.
I never stole anything, but I should have,
because at least I would have had the satisfaction
of knowing that I stuck it to them
and got away with a small chunk of the spoils,
but the truth is that I was laboring away
in an honest, though deeply resentful manner
carefully balancing platters of fried seafood
and gumbo and omelets and etouffee
on the ends of both of my bony forearms,
trying to make people smile so they would
give me a dollar, and not complain to the manager instead.
They complained anyway, because I didn't refill their water glasses
often enough, or I forgot their basket of rolls
or one of their meals didn't emerge from the kitchen
in a timely manner, or they were overcharged
by fifty cents, and they would draw huge lines
through the tip area on their credit card receipts
or write fat, bulging zeroes with slashes through them
or leave quarters for me in puddles of spilled beer.
They'd tell the manager they were never coming back again,
as if they'd ever had plans to do so in the first place,
and they weren't just going to go back home to their jobs
at oil refineries in Texas, or insurance offices in Omaha,
or wherever the hell they came from.
So I'd be out of a job again, and the next thing I knew
I was pleading for cash with some caseworker
who hated her job, but at least she had one
and she could stare across her desk at me
as if I was leprosy on a plate.
So now I am given to understand
that I was white and privileged the entire time,
and I just didn't realize that obvious fact-
and therefore should tread lightly around the egos
of everyone who didn't have my opportunities
and the sad truth is: I empathize deeply
with everyone who finds herself on the bottom,
regardless of the reason for her unfair placement
on the most rickety rungs of the economic ladder,
scrounging for the tiniest, moldiest crumbs
of the fat slices of cake the rich are devouring.
Just don't tell me that it was easy for me,
because you think I had it slightly better than you did,
because I'm not buying your story
and I can't afford the interest payments.
The same enemy has both of our heads
on a serving dish, with apples stuffed in our mouths
and steam pouring out from underneath the lid,
and if you are unable to see this,
then we have nothing to talk about
and I am just going back to the carnival routine,
and absolutely nothing will change for either of us.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cities Where You've Lived, As Boyfriends

Portland is your hipster boyfriend with a tongue ring, the one who is always stoned, the guy who can't be counted on for a commitment. He wants to have many other lovers, and doesn't care if you have them, too. Portland will get together with you when he feels like it, not the other way around. Portland insists that you be hyper-aware of popular culture, and treats you as if you are stupid if you are unable to keep pace with him. You won't be able to keep pace, because Portland lives for Doug Fir concerts, shots at the Sandy Hut, and standing in long lines for doughnuts and tacos while sporting a three-day beard growth. You and Portland have a stormy but loveless romance, and you finally leave him for Kalamazoo. When you see Portland again a few years later, you marvel about how much he has matured, and feel sad that the two of you met at the time that you did. Portland then acts like he wants you back, but he really doesn't.

Kalamazoo is the boyfriend who gets drunk, smashes your possessions, and steals your laptop so he can sell it to buy crack. Crack this week, and meth the next. Who's keeping track? Not you, because you're too exhausted to keep track. Kalamazoo wears saggy pants and has a crew cut, and is always lying on his back underneath his car, working on the engine with a cigarette protruding from his mouth. The engine will never be fixed, because Kalamazoo never has a job and doesn't have money for parts. Kalamazoo is always suspicious of your motives and thinks you're sneaking around, but he's the unfaithful one, not you. You don't care what he does, as long as it's not with you. Kalamazoo makes Portland look really, really good by comparison. You can't wait to get away from Kalamazoo, and you leave him in the gravel, staring at his defective car engine, while you split for Chicago.

Chicago was your first boyfriend. He's still standing in the yard of his four-flat, grilling something. He welcomes you back as if you've never been away, and asks what sort of beer you would like to have with your steak. Unlike Kalamazoo, Chicago always has money, and he is congenitally unable to think of much else, but you're oddly okay with this, at least for the time being. Chicago makes good steaks and the beer is always flowing. He sports a stylish, short haircut, wears nice suits, and has a job in the Loop. You don't really understand what he does for a living, but you don't care because he takes you out to eat in fancy restaurants and shows you off to his friends. He's a bit dull and routine-addicted, but that's not really his fault. It's just that you always felt claustrophobic in the relationship, so you eventually leave him for Tacoma.

Tacoma is much smarter than he looks, and that is a big part of his appeal. He's not as important or as fashionable as Portland or Chicago, but although he is rough around the edges, he's not nearly as menacing as Kalamazoo. Tacoma has steady, if menial employment. You'd be tempted to write him off as ordinary, but then he opens his mouth and says something surprisingly intelligent. Tacoma knows about many of the same things that Portland does, but isn't nearly as invested in advertising that fact. You find this endearing. He also treats you with a touching deference, as if he's actually glad to have you around, and would miss you if you left. You decide to settle down with Tacoma for awhile, and the two of you buy a three bedroom house with a fenced yard together, for a quarter of the price it would cost you to live with Seattle.

Seattle won't even answer your calls.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Open Letter to William Burroughs

You told us all

that naked lunch

is the moment when you discover

what is on the end

of every fork,

and I'd love to know

how you could possibly have

such a realization--

bitter old repressed and privileged

white man, addicted to heroin

and shooting your wife to death

completely by “accident”

in a drunken game of William Tell-

as if there were involuntary

flicks of the trigger finger

that lead mysteriously to death-

wow, how did THAT happen?!

And since your father

engaged in every imaginable type

of imperialistic shenanigans, 

you get to make

a video about evil white men

with a backdrop of thundering buffalo,

and you read out loud

in your trademark voice

that drips with contempt

like heated blobs of turpentine

as if it actually enraged you

that the leaders of the country

that gave you every possible advantage

are engaging in a little harmless genocide.


your own children are starving

and trying to commit suicide

while you're plotting your entry

into Gap videos during the nineties

and rehearsing your cameos

in Gus Van Sant movies

which depict you as a sage

ranting about the war on drugs

as if you were the first to know about it.

Yeah, tell me what is on the end

of every fork,

we're all dying to know each detail,

please share every

chunk of sagacity you can dredge

from your supremely self-centered brain

as you choose whether or not to dine

upon whatever is on

the end of your gilded silverware-

and who or what you can exploit

at any particular moment,

while the rest of us are just grateful

for whatever scraps you shove

in front of us.

Friday, April 10, 2015


When I was in high school
I wrote an editorial column
for the weekly newspaper
in the small town where I resided.
It was my only chance at fame
because I despised all scholastic activities.
I had no desire to shake pom poms
or turn cartwheels
or engage in acts of civic improvement.
I hated team sports most of all
because they seemed like
a thinly veiled excuse for violence,
and I couldn't fathom the irrational hatred
towards people from other places
simply because they didn't have
the misfortune of being born
in the same town that we were forced to live in.
Our football team was called the Warriors
and the mascot was a tough girl
who dressed up like an Indian
with a feathered headdress and moccasins
and then ran around the field
to the beat of pounding drums.
Even worse were the pep rallies in the gymnasium
which always occurred after school
when I wanted to go home badly.
Clusters of students huddled in the bleachers
screaming at the top of their collective lungs,
and the loudest group had the dubious privilege
of fondling a large corduroy tomahawk
that the principal would hurl into the stands
as a kind of reward.
The students tossed the tomahawk back and forth,
stopping briefly to grasp it with both hands,
as if it were a talisman and had life-giving powers
that were vaguely phallic in nature.
After the ritual of groping ended
the principal dispersed the students
with an impatient wave of his hand,
while barking final instructions like
All right. Class ring pamphlets are in.
Boys get blue, girls get pink.
You are dismissed”
and then we stampeded for the exit like dazed cattle,
our feet pounding on the bleachers,
screaming loudly the instant the door was opened.
One afternoon, I thought it would be fun
to lampoon my fellow students' blood lust
with rows of sharply pointed words.
I wrote a column entitled
A Cynic's Guide to Pep Rallies”
which was published a few days later.
The reaction amongst my fellow students
could hardly have been more negative
if I'd set the school on fire--
in fact, I'm sure they would have liked that better.
There was talk of picketing the newspaper office,
but this failed to transpire.
An emergency pep rally was called
to rev up the lagging school spirit
to which I was pointedly not invited.
One of the quarterbacks intoned solemnly
that if our school lost the game that night,
the blame would rest upon my shoulders.
I was a bit afraid that everyone
would show up at my door with
flaming torches and pitchforks,
but the only person who came over
was the head cheerleader
who asked me whether I believed in God.
This struck me as laughable,
but then she really flattened me when
she looked at me directly and said,
"I bet you just sit in a chair
and figure out what is wrong with everything.”
In retrospect, I think
I would have preferred the torches and pitchforks
because it would have been over much more quickly,
but forty years later, I'm probably even worse,
and there are still so many flaws in everything.

Monday, June 2, 2014


They say depression is repressed anger
but it makes as much sense to say
that anger is repressed sadness,
since anger is so much easier,
making it someone else's fault
and not my own.
A weird kind of power
comes from this,
an energy to move against
the forces of gravity,
the forces that win in the end
because, like soldiers
they take their marching orders
from somebody else.
So I keep pushing
for as long as I can
to maintain an upright position-
to lie down
means that I'm willing
to give up early,
and I'm not willing
to give up at all.
Meanwhile, the footsteps
going up and down the stairs remind me
that in spite of all
of my useless protestations,
I will soon be moving,
moving as I have always done.

A Fair Exchange

Here's kind of a "found poem" made from random statuses, generated by Status Bot, which scrambles words and sentences that I have actually used in prior Facebook statuses and comments:


I traded a little jaunt into the latter showtime
of the vintage cars in the Vashon Highway in the sky
though I still think Seattle will do for a week of studio.
I traded a tarot reading for a guy
wearing a skirt and red tights,
hoisting a baby in one arm,
while snow was falling at the light coming over,
to get very far from tofu to take antibiotics.
I traded little paper cups and then went to tell them
that pot brownies sound like a good point,
while we were there at last.
I traded a regulator, because I can't remember.
I traded a vasectomy a long time ago.
I traded a sweet little swimming pool, though,
while looking around for mementos
of my own wanton self indulgence.
I traded a delicious meal of antibiotics.
I traded a benign child's beverage, dolled up with this photo.
I traded a couple of swims in a newt.
I traded a situation eerily similar to whatever I wanted
to consciousness without pain.
I traded a lot like a long time ago, already.
I traded a shock to me,
the moment has twelve houses,
and all of a quarter inch of money, even.
I traded a backpack, though, and Holland,
15 years ago still the clip,
soon to know that 54,000 people are here visiting.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cleaning Out My Closet

I had a dream about you many years ago,
or maybe it was only someone
who bore you a strong resemblance,
I can no longer remember.
The door was locked,
but you climbed inside anyway
by pushing open the transom.
I failed to engage
the tiny piece of metal that held
the clasp shut, and there you were again,
laughing as you squeezed your body
through the tiny opening
like a supernatural movie villain.
It was more irritating than terrifying,
but I knew that to let you in
would be the same awful mistake
that it had always been.
You'd sit on my floor,
break my toys carefully
and deliberately, one by one
while telling me that you were only
going to take one sip
of my glass of soda, so could
I please let you drink just a tiny bit?
I'd always say sure,
because I hated to see you thirsty.
You'd gulp down the entire glass
every time,
and leave me the backwash,
then apologize for your thirst.
That's your rendition
of our story, the one that never changes.
In the revised version,
I tell you to get your own soda,
and you disappear,
leaving me alone with the dolls
and all of the other unbroken toys
that I never asked for in the first place,
and then I fall asleep,
leaving my door unlocked.