piyp day

piyp day
Poem In Your Pocket Day

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Any true poem should offer its reader paths through thought and intuition toward an altered awareness of his or her own life. I want my poems to speak directly to the reader. At the same time, I hope they complicate the thinking of anyone who reads them. My poems are out of a desire to ask questions, not to supply answers."

Steve Orlen
1942-2010

******************

THE TOOTHBRUSH

I’m trying to remember you without nostalgia
thieving your words and hoarding them
because all that I’m getting is the toothbrush
you carried in a mug every day
down the corridor heading for the men’s room
to commit a small act of resistance
against breakdown.

I always laughed:
you have the best hygiene of anyone
in the department, which was a joke
because the stink of cigarettes
surrounded you like the fry oil
of a prep cook. Still something like
tenderness inhered in the mug
and its rigid little daisy.

Here’s how we met: me on job interview
fresh from New England trying
not to sweat in desert heat,
you after friendly dinner with Gail
and studio tour and poetry talk
driving me downtown in some big junk car
with no AC saying Barrio Hollywood
and Hotel Congress and the Shanty.

Then came the test: the story about a whore
in Nogales who had a spider web
tattooed around her pussy. I’m sure that
was the word—offense was the point
and I understood implicit was the question
does your poetry trump your politics?

This was in those years when women
were correcting men as if sex
were a policy that could be rewritten
in a pencil stroke. I passed, laughing it off:
Oh my god you’re kidding that’s incredible.
A poet can find wonder anywhere
and I did wonder how strong a woman
had to be to take that kind of pain.

Here’s how we said goodbye: I came
to visit you, the nurse recalibrating
your drip as you asked, have I got any time?
And you, thumbs down, facing it.
I saw you catch your breath
hand to throat beneath the black t-shirt,
some event the hand would contain,
some moment of self-consolation,
like air was alien.

Aurelie called it
the weird majesty of death
that had come over all of us,
people gathering
in a circle, each face
reorganizing itself through
the eyes of another’s grief
as if to be animated
were to violate the pure encroachment
of the inanimate.

There was a kiss,
me walking you to the bathroom
and then to bed where you lay
in shuttered afternoon light,
others in the room, whatever privacy
once meant it meant no longer
and you seemed nothing but
this invitation to tenderness.

And what kiss was this—not familial peck,
not lovers’ open-mouthed encroachment,
not parental seal of approval but
the mouth opened by the final
so quiet need to say
there is nothing between us
that needs to be cleaned away.

Alison Hawthorne Deming
January 2011

Poet, teacher, friend.


Steve, You will be sorely missed.
We will carry your words with us ~

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