Brunch doesn't go by without at least one person falling in love
with the waitress. I'd spend a lifetime listening to the specials.
If I had any say in the menu, I would order five extra minutes
of her time and talk about immense things like rain and the shape
of clouds -- one in particular I didn't stop adoring even after it changed
into a dog with one leg over a rock -- before the food arrives
and complexity overwhelms us both, trying to fit the plate
without knocking over the little tin of cream. If you saw how composed
the flap jacks were in the midst of all our struggle to make space,
you would understand. I am shameless. I would do anything
for a refill. When I say "please," I mean more,
and when I say "thanks," I mean thanks. I am filled
with gratitude to anyone who knows what to do
during a thunder shower. I used a newspaper to get this far.
I was told to lie down rather than stand
under an oak; I stood under a doorway. My tie
ruined, I waited, I rested against what brick hurt the least.
MY DAUGHTER, THE BOOKMARK
Bonita pulls the band around her head to show how one wears a mask
during an emergency. A book sits on my lap, its mouth is closed.
I have two lives: one in New York, another in Chicago. Excuse me
if I repeat myself, sometimes I can't remember what I just said.
In the book, a man suddenly forgot his name on the train to the office
one morning, he lost his briefcase, he held a cell phone for dear life.
I use a photo to keep page: a baby girl in a red dress, a stuffed yellow
to her left. The book sits on my lap, its mouth closed, the spine worn
from so much bending. Bonita has dark roots, she points
to the exit signs. I have only myself to blame for not paying attention.
I am thinking about the Greeks: their masks were made of flour paste,
woolen string held the colors up so the last row could see
the expression. One kind of play involved water, two acts were
surrounded by it, the third went down in flames -- it's a way to rebuild
what's exhausted. The man was found by cops curled in a fetal position
on the floor, drenched in sweat, clasping the cell phone to his chest.
I try to budget my life on a napkin, Bonita gives everyone a packet
of cashews, I live one month at a time. This much goes to the roof
over my head, this much to soap, this much to long distance phone calls
between the two cities. I worry whenever I leave one for the other,
its mouth is shut, I am afraid of missing a connection
from one flight to the next. I wouldn't know what to do
other than assume the position of my worst sin,
my head between my legs, thinking about what would have happened
if I didn't drag all three kinds of affection to the gate at once:
philia stuffed in a coat pocket, eros in a wallet, agape on my mind.
God forbid the color fades a bit, if a corner bends. Did I mention
Euripides -- his plots drifted, his pace dragged, he took potshots
at the gods, all of his characters were in one kind of pain or another.
My hands do nothing but argue, they complain if there's excess
baggage, they blister at the thought of weight. I carry no more
than one bag from place to place, cram four or five
lives in a small space: a wooden leg, a heart-shaped
box, an Italian tie, khakis with a coffee stain, a section
of a newspaper. Each one wears a different set of eyes, a hole serves
as pupil, it's a way to see. I use a photo to keep page.
ON BUSINESS FOR THREE DAYS IN INDIANA
All roads in Indianapolis lead
to Heaven with purgatorial stops
at a Marriott every twenty six miles,
third room from the elevator, fourth floor,
Do not Disturb on the inside knob,
coffee pot near the sink in the far corner,
a letter in longhand on the desk,
a census of words never said aloud,
too many to fit in a hotel envelope.
White starch long sleeve presses and hung
in the closet near the door, one tie
black with aqua swirls, a Paul Rodan,
the one grandma preferred, worn
to her burial, straightened in the back seat
before stepping onto the curb
at the marble steps of St. Lucy's,
standing in last place behind Anthony,
in front of him, his uncle, my father,
the left side of her casket hard, heavy,
beautiful on our shoulders.
(first appeared in The Melic Review)
PROVIDING THE ELEGY
Dog would rather dig a hole in the yard than run
around with the dead in his mouth. He is looking
to me for a hand. My face has color for the first time
this August. I start with two verbs picked up
in catholic school -- that was over twenty years ago
when anyone who mattered was blindfolded in Iran.
Deliver this bird, O Lord. Forgive the window
for its overwhelming clarity. I begin with the idea
that this sparrow made every effort to find a balance
between the world in which he lived and the private
life he carried from branch to branch. Who knew
that Carter was a poet. Who would have thought
Khomeini didn't want to wage war against women.
If I stare long enough into the light, I am convinced
the stress will make me weep, even if just a bit,
so something that imitates a feeling can be paid
and I can explain -- with an emotion borrowed
from my parents' dream, a hangover from their War
that involved the odd combination of fresh cut grass
and gasoline -- how it was sheer hope that made
the transition from inflation to voodoo easier
and not just the cool inflection of the actor who asked
Are you better of than you were four years ago.
The bird's heart, quiet like sleep, collapsed inward --
as if trying to protect a fortune found while sifting
through rice in the back lot of a Chinese restaurant:
an onion will be another man's water lily, or maybe
our greatest danger will be someone else's stupidity --
its limp wing looking like a sheaf of brown paper,
rolled over hardwood floor and taped down
to catch spackle, dried in the hole where a nail
once pinned two infant angels to the wall,
one with arms folded, the other with chin rested on hand,
their eyes raised to the top left of the frame, backs to Sistene
clouds piled, folded, rolling from one end of God to the other.
SAVING HACKENSACK, NEW JERSEY
For the last decade, I've done my best thinking
surrounded by ice. Depending on the season,
I have to fly a thousand miles north of this city
to find a little snow so I can sit for an hour
and think of skin, how it cracks in the cold,
how it breaks under pressure, how it bleeds.
When I return, I stand on a roof top
and count street lights until I am full of silence.
There's always a cat screaming for milk;
I hear everything, I have to live with this
even if a red cape isn't draped over my shoulders.
I'm holding a flower for dear life,
I don't know what kind, I should know
better than to mix affection with duty.
Forgive me, Lois, for my white shirt and stutter,
for the square-rimmed specs, for making you wait
by the hot dog vendor. I am a liar, I'm dying to talk,
I have a hundred stories - it's hard to believe
any of them - don't even get me started
on Hackensack. God knows what would've surfaced
if its iron lung was ripped open by explosives:
a stained handkerchief, a partial denture, a coffee
pot, a bowl without sugar, a limp wing, a cracked piece
of china, one sock, one shoe, a scorched mattress.
There would have been a little truth - for me at least - a little
rest from all of this jumping. I'm thinking about
what it's like to walk down Fifth Avenue -- any street,
really -- with a crutch, my balance
ruined by my own sweet failure.
(first appeared in Exquisite Corpse)
SELF PORTRAIT WITH OPEN WINDOW
If I shiver a little, it's from lying
so close to an open window and not
from the chill that comes
with late night thinking.
Tonight I think I will let myself be
a little more human than usual and go
over my early affections and wrongs.
I will carry an extra blanket with me
and two pillows, one for each life,
and set myself under a maple outside
a brick house. There's a Hallmark bauble
flush thin on a bedroom sill, an electric candle
under a paisley gown. It will be too dim to notice
how everything I adored years ago gained
weight or wrinkled a bit. I prefer the sycamore
over the maple: it breeds by breaking
a branch, its ka taken by mouth to fight ring worm,
its wood impervious to water. I am reminded of little
Zacchaeus who climbed one to catch a glimpse
of loveliness. One of my lives is jealous
of his greed; the other just fawns over his lunch
with Jesus, how Zacchaeus sat there
for hours with Him, discussing kindness and sin.
Give or take a month, that trinket in the window
will be replaced and I must once again go
out of the way to find another metaphor
for providence. I will argue
with myself over what things can be reduced
to a thread, what can be tied into a square knot
and what can be worn from place to place
around the ankle or bound to the wrist.
I will turn over every fifteen minutes
for fear my two lives will begin
to point the finger at one another.
WAITING WITH ALEXANDRIA FOR HER MOM
I didn't take the bus to Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania and sit
with Alexandria in a booth at Ruby Red's for nothing.
She had no idea how much I adored the ride - I carried
two books with me, one of them a dictionary, I didn't check
a word in it. I recited Lincoln. Of everyone that passed,
the kid in a mini-van made a point; with a finger he told me
to fuck myself. I think the white collar and the blue
tie pissed him off. I was trying to give one life a rest
and resume the other one, my top button was undone,
there's a start. I didn't understand how to open the window
in case of an emergency. I followed the lines along my palm,
one went back to New York, God knows where
the rest went. The other book had everything I needed
to know about protest - one man stitched his lips shut,
another tried to drive a nail through his own palm;
they were heading to ministry; no one there could be reached
for comment. I want to describe the mouth as "tender,"
I mean well, there aren't too many other ways
to explain the white sores along the gum that come
with a denture, my Four score and seven years slurred,
the tongue caught in a small nitch between the plate
and the roof whenever it shifted to roll an "r." I loved
one phrase in particular, I was attached.
FRANK MATAGRANO, born in New York, is the author of Moving Platform (Pudding House Publications, 2001). His second chapbook of poems, How to Breathe in Case the Plane Goes Down, won the National Looking Glass Poetry Award (Summer, 2001) and will be released in early 2002. He divides his time between Chicago and New York.