jessevalentine.
Bob Lind - Cool Summer
14 plays

CROWN FOR A YOUNG MARRIAGE

By Mary Block

1.

I use the built-in fan now when I cook
things on the stove. I know that mold can sprout
between the tiles at night, so now I look
for it, and try my best to scrub it out.
I’ve found that dish soap cleans a diamond ring
ok, that protein stains like blood and beef
come out with MSG, that everything
we’ve tried to flush away is underneath
the house, just waiting for a heavy rain.
I’ve written several hundred awful lines
for you, and wondered what you stand to gain
by staying here, and wondered if I’d mind
in looking back on how I spent my life
if I was nothing else, but was a wife.

2.

If I was nothing else, but was a wife;
If I did nothing else, but could make meals
with scraps and pantry staples and a knife
I got when I was twenty-nine; if real
commitment (an abstract and noble word
before it tangles up with sacrifice)
turns out to mean a smaller life, less heard,
less heralded, less published, and less prized;
if after spending summer days indoors
for several years, and writing frightening verse
I’m eighty-odd and pale and little more
than what I am today, will I be worse
off than my single, roving poet friends?
I doubt it, but you’ll have to ask me then.

3.

I doubt it, but you’ll have to ask me then.
I doubt that I’ll be doddering and hunched
and wishing I could do it all again
because I felt I’d missed out on a bunch
of fellowships. And Christ, I love you. Christ
do I remember loneliness, and what
I did for scraps of evenings, what sufficed
for kindness. Offer me a life, a glut
of love, of undeserved reserves of grace
and nice interpretations of my faults.
I’ll still find ways to be unhappy. Face
the facts, though—I’m at home filling the salt
shakers, cleaning the microwave, unknown.
But staunchly, resolutely unalone.

4.

A staunchly, resolutely unalone
existence is a windfall, I’m aware.
My mother, widowed young, was on her own.
She sliced a single life out of a shared
one almost overnight. She’d been one thing
at dinner but by dawn was something new,
something that no one envied. Friends would bring
us things to heat up, casseroles and stews,
and whisper thanks to Jesus for their luck
as they drove home. Our quiet, giant house
was stuffed with silence. We watched TV, stuck
our fingers in the cakes. Without a spouse,
with grieving children eating on the floor,
my mother put a brick beside her door.

5.

My mother put a brick beside her door
to keep it open. If allowed to stay
inside her room, she thought, she might unmoor.
The hours gaped, a ceaseless chug of days
that pulled us forward, toward no one knew
exactly what. I watch you rinsing fish
fillets for dinner, polishing your shoes
and wonder if I’ll get to keep this. Wish
for independence, you might get it—trains
come rattling ’round their rails, a biker clicks
across a busy street. I can’t explain
the terror of a grieving child, the brick
beside her mother’s door, except to say
I’ve seen how things can change inside a day.

6.

I’ve seen how things can change inside a day—
a wife becomes a widow with a word;
a bride becomes a wife. A shiftless splay
of drunken Brooklyn evenings turns from blurred
attempts at living into life, a half-
drunk glass of wine forgotten by the bed.
We laugh at things that used to make us laugh,
we let the laundry bloom, collect the dead
bugs from the window. While we watch TV
you put your fingertip inside the scar,
a shiny crescent divot in my knee.
I stand behind you standing at the bar
to smell your collar while you order beers,
to taste the salt of sixty coming years.

7.

I taste the salt of sixty coming years,
our sprawling love asserted in a slough
of gritty flecks—that sour hope that we’re
among the ones who get to get old, tough
out poorer, sicker, worse times and ascend
into a halfness, gnarled together at
the joints. We swagger home before our friends
and watch the air get thick with breath and fat,
a midnight omelette on the stove. You shove
your hair across your shiny brow and I
am rupturing with love. And since I love
in circles like a broken bird I try
to keep this, look for things I’ve overlooked.
I use the built-in fan now when I cook.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy & The Cairo Gang - I'll Be Alright
36 plays

I LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC

By Paul Killebrew

Sometimes we blubbered through the fallout
of willful confusion in pants that didn’t fit the legs
we sawed off. We looked at each other and fell
forward and back, forward and back, a little bit
like dancing and a little like aggravated assault.
At times it seemed reasonable because it always
seems reasonable to accept whatever anxieties
or losses must accumulate in the face of what
we really wanted all along. In buildings and on
streets you could paint a few eyes on a face
and see the careless representation of brothers
and sisters making a family out of paint
and the gracious mistakes of seeing. Mistakes,
the essence of sight, could have been all we had
to go on anyway, and not for us to leave behind
what took us through the shower of dumbasses
with tact and a breath of elegance, even the hope
that later, when the streets cleared of agitated needlers
and the AC kicked on for good, we could sleep
on the clothes spangled outside the closet and find
a reason for closing the bedroom door on shadows
of pedantic radiation from thin margins of lamplight
always suggesting some other plot in some other bedroom,
tensions to splay us soon enough. And then it occurred
to you, or maybe it occurred to me, doesn’t matter, I think
actually someone called and said that anyone who doesn’t
leave something for you isn’t worth having, so maybe
now’s a good time to find a dapper little high school
where everyone can be a little less civil, and blessed
with selfishness, we could part the fingers interlocked
between us, make fists and get busy. Then intensity
fermented into green books of music, loud country music,
and I love country music. It rolled around my ears
in corridors where boredom had once been so irrefutable
and heavy, and I was happy and dancing and throwing
punches at pigeons and even hitting a few. But the romantic
arc never made it over the willful lack of conviction,
some gap between the faces on the heads we saw
pass our table in the sour-faced restaurant run by those
French people, okay a gap between that and the face
in the dream you had of your father, the one where you said
he stuffed a billy club down a duck’s throat and called
for another shot of Dewar’s. I expected you to take things
when you left, but not those things. Light diffuses
evenly across the kitchen, blood through my body,
and it’s sort of funny, but our whole thing fits between
two haircuts, like a roadtrip or something. I feel now
that I’ve been digested by time, and light would pool
into terrible reflections of my own back as I backed
into a mirror or performed some other forgetful jujitsu,
an effort to lose thoughts or patterns of thought,
but the light diffuses and you walk through it,
collide with little pieces of what ate you, get angry
and write long letters about how your hand can’t talk,
how the paper is so light and effortless when you hold it
how could you even know, you couldn’t even imagine
holding this light and ridiculous thing that my hand
brushed over in patterns it will later try to forget.
Then I taped my mouth shut and tried to whistle.
Leave me alone. Don’t call. Get lost, dumpster
of confusion. I know it’s never been that easy,
that from the eyes in your skull the black plastic bags
were suffocating the trees even though to me it was
more like a ballerina’s shadow had escaped and was dancing
through the branches frantically with desperate happiness
and cause for alarm. I guess either way something unsafe
and ridiculous was happening, and I guess we knew it,
I think we even talked about it, but I’ve been a little lonely
since I started writing my dissertation. It’s about class
consciousness among people who work behind registers.
And it’s interesting, there’s all kinds of different races
and classes and income levels represented in the world
of cashiers, but at the level of values we see predominantly
two classes, the complacent and the entitled, though many
cashiers are some measure of both. The complacent
are resigned to what they understand to be their position.
They’re courteous and reliable; class issues only arise
when people are rude to them, which they tend to handle fine,
though if they say anything about it afterwards, it tends to be
a cruel and brief dismissal not only of the occurrence,
but of the entire offending person. The entitled
have a very complicated expression of social hierarchy.
Because they see themselves in transition,
usually ascending, there’s this idea that their values won’t,
or can’t, find full expression from their current position
and so they don’t feel compelled to act in a way consistent
with their values, while at the same time they may expect
to be treated in accordance with those values. When people
are rude to them, they flip out. Basically today’s been pasted
together from the leavings of some green intensity
and cigarettes crowded at the back of the passive
classrooms of the skull. Will there be coffee
on the other side? Will there be ladies to walk up to you
on a plain old shit-for-brains day and ask you of Washington
Square Park, “Why is this on the map?” I like it when people
cock their heads a little when you talk. Seems elegant.
I tell them I’m not sure, but Henry James wrote something
complicated about it. Then these nice ladies with a telling lack
of accent move along into non-history and the bulk of our hours
waiting without a mind for restitution. I would surrender
our moist telephone calls and arthritic tribes of entitlement
if I knew who to give them up to. I never go anywhere            
or do anything slow because revision is only a function
of doubt. Well okay, maybe doubt and shame. Actually,
it’s just shame. Revision is a function of shame. But enough
of these dead people, we must rise like blood in April! Instead
here I am peeling seconds off the end of my life,
glass of water, frown on face, notebook open to the parade
of minutes and obvious as a daisycutter in the desert.
No more nights in the kitchen or bowls of macaroni,
no more misdemeanors with the microwave or blue orbs
whistling into my ear, no more cats meowing
at the television, no cigarettes on the patio, no more
blessings in drag. My schedule is totally blank this afternoon.
Gamble Rogers - Blood Mountain
43 plays
Roadside Graves - Outside
29 plays

ON BEING A CARPET INSTALLER

By James S. Proffitt

I hate looking up at everyone in this world from my tired, aching knees,
the way there are crooks and creaks in my joints and my spine and my mind.
How rough music and the Bob & Tom Show blares on the hard rock station
other installers tune into, and smoke rolling seat to seat, brain to brain
in the big van we pile into every morning six long days a week.
I like marijuana too, but at home writing poems and listening to John Lee Hooker.
I’d never have written a story like this with me in it, not thirty-six. Not ever.
I hate the term Mexican space shuttle: the portable toilets standing in mud,
and Mexican speed wrench: a hammer. The Mexicans I see seem to work hard
laying brick, pouring concrete and hanging drywall but speak a language
which quickly irritates stoned, hung-over carpet installers eager for lunch.
No one ever seems to know where we’re going—what city or town, state.
I want another life, like being a professor or scientist or independently wealthy.
I’ve thought a lot about such things, how my days would interact with the universe.
Walking through an orchard or a campus contemplating subjects larger than life.
Perusing grant applications I will consider from charities I might support.
Taking cabs or walking in rainstorms bar to bar in Manhattan with playwrights
and some poets or geniuses maybe, hoping a little might rub off on me.
Hoping I catch a break somewhere, meeting a person not asking if we do          side-jobs.
Someone not looking down at me or ignoring me or telling me the glue smells
like shit, the new carpet’s giving them a headache, could I please work more           quietly.
But the money’s good and the poems don’t pay any bills and bills, well, bills.