Featured Poet
Denise Duhamel
Denise Duhamel
The Guy Who Robbed Me
Sex with a Famous Poet
Barbie's Gyn Appointment
How Much is This Poem Going to Cost Me?
That's Entertainment

She had everything—a loft bed, a TV, a comforter, an unopened jar of jam in her fridge.  She had a job.  She went to work in her new coat.  She was shamelessly fat, chomping on a candy bar right on the street.  Every once in a while she put a dollar in my cup—big deal!—and she paused for a minute looking at me like she deserved some big, “Thank you, lady!”  She had everything, even a boyfriend who I saw get out of a cab with her once.  Oh yes, she even took the occasional cab to Avenue B. 

I knew her hours, it was easy.  I climbed her fire escape to the second floor and kicked over her plant.  I took the crowbar to the gate on her window and the cheap aluminum curled up like Christmas ribbon.  I was skinny enough to climb in after breaking only one V on the bars.  She hadn’t locked her window—New Yorkers never do since apartments are so stifling hot that, even in February, and people are always opening the windows for air.  Her jewelry was a tangled mess in its box.  I took the junk along with the real stuff, each luscious pearl, a drop that would later go into my arm.  I’d pawn her leather gloves for a better warmth that would spread through my chest.  I wrapped up her TV in her comforter.  I listened to a message on her answering machine—her mother—before I yanked the plug from the wall and took that too.  I left her phone behind, an ugly princess, so she could use it to call the police when she got back, around 8. I turned on her radio and toasted a bagel.  I took a dump and washed my hands with her soap.  I thought about taking a shower, but I was afraid to get my hair wet since it was so cold outside. When I twisted its lid, the jar of jam popped and let out a sweet sigh. I ate a few sticky spoonfuls. It took me two trips to get everything out. 

She passed me a few days later.  I was sitting on the corner of Fifth Street and A, near the Con Ed generator where it was warm.  She grinned her stupid grin at me.  I said, “Thank you!’ before she even reached into her purse.

Denise Duhamel


I had sex with a famous poet last night
and when I rolled over and found myself beside him I shuddered
because I was married to someone else,
because I wasn’t supposed to have been drinking,
because I was in fancy hotel room
I didn’t recognize.  I would have told you
right off this was a dream, but recently
a friend told me, write about a dream,
lose a reader and I didn’t want to lose you
right away.  I wanted you to hear
that I didn’t even like the poet in the dream, that he has
four kids, the youngest one my age, and I find him
rather unattractive, that I only met him once,
that is, in real life, and that was in a large group
in which I barely spoke up.  He disgusted me
with his disparaging remarks about women.
He even used the word “Jap”
which I took as a direct insult to my husband who's Asian.
When we were first dating, I told him
“You were talking in your sleep last night
and I listened, just to make sure you didn’t
call out anyone else’s name.”  My future-husband said
that he couldn’t be held responsible for his subconscious,
which worried me, which made me think his dreams
were full of blonde vixens in rabbit-fur bikinis,
but he said no, he dreamt mostly about boulders
and the ocean and volcanoes, dangerous weather
he witnessed but could do nothing to stop.
And I said, “I dream only of you,”
which was romantic and silly and untrue.
But I never thought I’d dream of another man--
my husband and I hadn’t even had a fight,
my head tucked sweetly in his armpit, my arm
around his belly, which lifted up and down
all night, gently like water in a lake.
If I passed that famous poet on the street,
he would walk by, famous in his sunglasses
and blazer with the suede patches at the elbows,
without so much as a glance in my direction.
I know you’re probably curious about who the poet is,
so I should tell you the clues I’ve left aren’t
accurate, that I’ve disguised his identity,
that you shouldn’t guess I bet it’s him...
because you’ll never guess correctly
and even if you do, I won’t tell you that you have.
I wouldn’t want to embarrass a stranger
who is, after all, probably a nice person,
who was probably just having a bad day when I met him,
who is probably growing a little tired of his fame--
which my husband and I perceive as enormous,
but how much fame can an American poet
really have, let’s say, compared to a rock star
or film director of equal talent?  Not that much,
and the famous poet knows it, knows that he’s not
truly given his due.  Knows that many
of these young poets tugging on his sleeve
are only pretending to have read all his books.
But he smiles anyway, tries to be helpful.
I mean, this poet has to have some redeeming qualities, right?
For instance, he writes a mean iambic.
Otherwise, what was I doing in his arms.

Denise Duhamel


Her high arches defy the stirrups
and her legs refuse to open wide.
She has no complaints,  cramps,
spottings, or flashes.  It doesn't hurt
when the doctor presses on her abdomen.
There's nowhere for him to take a pap smear,
but Barbie's gynecologist suggests a D and C,
a hysterectomy, then a biopsy, just to be sure.
Barbie rebels as her breasts refuse to give
under the weight of the mammogram machine's plate.
She doesn't own a nightie suitable
for hospital wear, she explains, as she refuses operations
and scrunches the disposable examining frock
into a ball.  She tosses it into the trash can
with relief.  Not even Barbie looks good
in that pale green.  She'll skip her follow-up appointment
on behalf of the rest of us who can't
and circle the globe, a tiny copy of The New Our Bodies,
Ourselves under her arm.  The book will fire her imagination,
each chapter a fashion doll's version of the best science fiction.

Denise Duhamel


Barbie wonders if it's cheating
when she dreams of fashion doll boyfriends
Mattel never made for her to play with.
One with rastafarian dreadlocks—
spun with fuzz, not stiff
like the arcs of a plastic jello mold.
Another chubby and balding
with John Lennon glasses.
And a third with a big sexy nose
like Gerard Depardieu.
Still, she supposes, Ken is harmless enough.
His pecs kept at bay by her stiff unyielding breasts.
And there's nothing he can force on her
when she's not in the mood.
She remembers discontinued Midge's last words:
"Hey, Barbie, it's a marriage, don't knock it."
From the stack of boys' toys across the aisle,
GI Joe occasionally gives Barbie the eye,
though he's not exactly what she has in mind.
In her box, elastic bands hold back her arms
and the plastic overlay she peers through
distorts her view of the world.
It's not only a romantic fling she desires:
there are hot air balloon rides,
night school classes, charity work.
Barbie comforts herself
knowing she's not much different
from the rest of us, juggling gratitude,
ambition, passivity, and guilt.

Denise Duhamel


It's not something I like to burden my readers with as a rule,
the process of spending money for paper and paper clips, pens,
ink cartridges for the printer—never mind the computer itself
which is a whole other story. 
                                                 My favorite uncle
was watching Phil Donahue—the topic was computers I guess—
and a journalist on the panel said, "No writer today
can live without one."  My uncle called before the show was over
and offered to buy me my first computer.  I dyed my hair red
for the first time, just days before he died.  Some readers might think
that might be developed as a separate poem of its own, but since we're all
on tight budgets, I'll try to fit it in here:
                                                                 How I called all night
and he wouldn't answer his phone.  How my sister found him
early the next morning.  The tension over his will.
How my mother picked me up at the train station for the funeral,
crying into my shoulder—her dead older brother
who brought her a hula skirt from the South Pacific after the war,
who gave her away at her wedding since their father
had already passed on—before she suddenly got a grip on herself and said:
"What the hell have you done to your hair?"  My mother hates redheads
for some reason, always saying she would have drowned her kids
if any of them had been born strawberry blonde or auburn.
When I was little, my uncle used to live in the apartment downstairs.
That was before his wife died, very young,
so they never had a chance to have kids.  He told me he felt helpless,
it was like watching a dying little bird...
                                                               I pay for this poem in many ways.
Right now, as I write this, I could be at a job earning money
or, at the very least, looking at the help-wanted ads.  I could be writing
a screenplay, a novel that would maybe, just maybe, in the end pay for itself.
Sure "there are worse things I could do" as the slutty girl
sings in Grease, although it's not politically correct to call her that.
What do people say nowadays?  Sexually daring? 
I've always liked that character Rizzo—the way she finds out
she's not pregnant after all at the end of the movie,
calling her good news down to her friends
from the highest car on the Ferris wheel.
                                                                  I wish amusement parks
didn't have such high admission prices.  And, of course, I still like to eat.                                                                                                        Why just this morning I had a big bowl of cereal.  The box says
you can get sixteen servings, but my husband and I never get more than ten, 
which makes each serving about forty cents, not including the milk
or the banana or the glass of juice.  But without that fuel,
who says I could have written this same poem?  It may have been shorter
and even sadder, because I would have had a hunger headache
and not given it my best.
                    Then there's rent.  I can't write this poem outside
as there are no plugs for my computer, and certainly no
surge protectors.  I need to be comfortable--a sweat shirt and sweat pants,
which used to be cheaper before everyone started getting into fitness.
I need my glasses more than ever as I get older. 
Without insurance, I don't have to tell you how expensive they are.
I need a pair of warm socks and a place to sleep. 
Dreams are very important to poets.  I need recreation, escape, Hollywood movies. 
You may remember I made reference to one earlier called Grease,
lines 32-38 of this very poem.
                     It's not easy,
now that movies in New York are eight seventy-five.
You get in the theater and smell the buttered popcorn,
though everyone knows it's not really butter they use.
It's more like yellow-colored lard.  Any poet with heart trouble
best skip it.  But my husband and I smell it
and out come our wallets.  The concession stand uses so much salt
every moviegoer also needs a drink, and everyone knows
what those prices are like.  We say goodbye to another twelve bucks,
but that's just the beginning—
there are envelopes, bottles of Wite-Out, stamps, and disks.

Denise Duhamel

bio & credits
DENISE DUHAMEL was born in 1961 and is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry. Her most recent title is Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001). Her other titles currently in print are The Star-Spangled Banner, winner of the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize (1999); Kinky (1997); Girl Soldier (1996); How the Sky Fell (1996); and two co-authored volumes with Maureen Seaton: Oyl and Exquisite Politics.  A winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and the Poets & Writers' Writers Exchange Award, she has been anthologized widely, including three volumes of The Best American Poetry (1998, 1994, and 1993). She was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and educated at Emerson College (BFA) and Sarah Lawrence College (MFA). An assistant professor at Florida International University, she is the winner of a 2001 NEA in Poetry.

"...people expect me to put my hand up my own ass and turn myself inside out...or play Double Dutch with my colon...."

--Jim Carrey

For laughs, I sit on the whoopie cushion of my heart
and sip champagne through the straw my esophagus makes.
I toss my liver, a heavy frisbee, your way.
We play a game of jacks with my gall stones and spider veins.
I blow music through my stomach as though it were bagpipes.
I wear my bladder as a beret.
I hook my kidneys onto my thumbs, two wet maroon castanets.
My clitoris is a pink eraser. I slip my vagina out of myself--
it's nothing more than a kaleidoscope--
all the beads spin then fall into a flower-shape
the way June Taylor Dancers lie head to head,
their legs kicking open like petals.

Denise Duhamel
Editor's Note: "That's Entertainment" appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of The Adirondack Review. "The Guy Who Robbed Me" makes its debut in The Adirondack Review. All other poems are from Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001).