Guidebook to Loving Me

[Prologue] I am uncomplicated, my instructions

written in invisible ink also useful for wrinkles

in the dark use a flashlight

[Rule one] tell me I am funny and smart

and beautiful

repeat every half hour

set your alarm

[Rule two] tell me you love me

alternate that with the other stuff

[Rule three] buy me a Mercedes.


I wanted a Mercedes ever since my father

bought one & let me drive him to the hospital

it was a cream puff


I keep this guide in the glovebox of my Mercedes

safe but accessible in case

you get hungry.

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Partying with Aunts

on Passover, my father puts on a gray

flannel suit, mama wears taffeta with a gentile pleated

skirt & Doris Day hair — she says I don’t want

to stay long — he is silent,

Rachel is his sister –

listen, all his sisters will be there

he has memories, tumble-down humble tenement Jews

on Delancy Street among the pushcarts

single boy in a slurry of females.

We park our Buick convertible

shined turquoise with leather seats

take an elevator to the fifth floor

ring the doorbell — wait

in the hallway & Uncle Louis opens up —

bright light inside, thick cooking smells

chattering voices & Perry Como sings.

Shalom Louis says in his ghetto Yiddish accent, reaches out

to squeeze my mother

she turns stiff, we crowd in.

Hello finally, Aunt Rachel cries

Oh my god says Aunt Esther who hugs us in turn

my mother says give her a kiss.

Esther is all red mouth, she is the youngest sister.

You’re late shouts Aunt Rita who waves from across the room

flounced in fancy green, all powdery white bosom, her arm

around Uncle Joe who borrowed

five hundred dollars last year from my father

but never paid it back. Oy you are so big says

perfumed Aunt Fanny as she bends over to embrace me — Uncle

Howard behind her sweats in blue serge and looks bored. Welcome whoops Aunt

Frieda all smiles and teeth and dark wig. The cousins are sitting on the floor

watching Arthur Murray. We swallow deep

breaths of gefilter fish & matzoh ball soup & kasha & roast

beef & chicken giblets & gravy & potato kugel & noodle

kugel & challah bread till it’s time to eat — spill sweet

wine on white embroidered tablecloths, card tables stretched from

kitchen through living room all the way to a bedroom door.

I listen to the aunts laughing in shrill voices, they bustle

about in the cramped rooms serving food. Mama at the far end

from me flirts with Uncle Joe and Howard drinks too much.

My father looks happy.

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My Audition

Okay, watch this amazing

act of duplicity and awe

be sure to applaud at the right time

stand up and clap and hoot and stomp

keep your eyes on me, lovers

of despair and disconnect, you native

speakers. I am draped in wife-beaters

and dancing in the aisles, in the ashes

raise your voice in shouts of adore

me, let me shake that ass and win

the big role, the star role;

surprise me with pomp.

I want a thousand cheerleaders and you

at my grave.

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I Fight Off an Army of Rats

despicable déclassé

jokers every one, fools with bony tails

lined up tin cups outstretched

to beg for alms looking for love

isn’t that sweet

I spit on you bastard buzzards

snatch your pound of flesh somewhere

elsewhere that other locust

foolish shuffle ruffle squeak squeal

snouts twitch lustful

tongues fetch retching out

go suckle bugs you creeping slugs

desperate foolish scrabbling scabs

just goes to show

enough rats and you lose

don’t matter how much smarter you are or

think you are

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Funeral Rights

I place a heavy urn of responsibility, just kidding

its a chow mein takeout carton,

onto the seat next to me

I’ve got a ticket on an expressionist

train rocketing through bucolic countryside

my hands clutch the earthly

remains of my mother. I try

to decide where to scatter my memories

of her. Some good, some snot as we speed

hellbent down the tracks.

I watch cows stock still-

born in the field landscape flies into the past

awash with nostalgia. I stretch out my arm

lean out the window, dangle the carton one

handed while hurricanes

whip and whisk the ashes uptown

and away, the whistle bellows hard and I remember

I still have my father’s ashes

just in case I want to do this again

but better.

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Writing in Bed

it wasn’t

really night, 4 a.m more

sleepdozing which is like

bulldozing but less earthy. I was

half awake fumbling poetry in my head

pounced on each word like a formaldehyde cat

in biology class

only to fall into a moment’s dream

startle awake seconds later to another word

strung along in sodden genius

in this dream

and this dream of poetry

I turned over in the sheets

curled right against his back

and mumbled a poem.

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I made a clean sweep

today, out with the husband, in

with a cat named Izzy who has promised

she will never pretend

everything is fucking fine when you know something

is wrong and you ask and ask in that querulous tone

of voice you hate to hear coming out of your mouth

she’d better keep

her word or I will bustle her right out the door


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Every Day is Mother’s Day

Some people of course

had mothers who hugged

crooning love, little trinkets

and sweets

of charm and adoration.

Some people

had grandparents

uncles aunts

with fat laps full

of kisses and stories, you know mine

mostly died prehistoric.

Some people had fathers, forgive

me, who smiled persisted

in fondness, who crowed

a little child with

pride and glow.

It makes me mad, I go to the store

buy a nice card

with flowers hearts

cats frolic

mail it to myself

carry the weight of indifference

to make up memories

every day.


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Rainy Daze

I am mad

today, indignant skyfemme

I sweep the house

turning on lightbulbs

accelerating music

till it syphons out the rain

on the tin roof

loud enough to make you crazy

because he left you, looked

you right in the eye (I mean me)

looked you smack in the face and said in a sober

voice that he didn’t love you

so you (or me if you want to get

technical) fell off the roof spattered like rain

deceased and crumbled and cried and played

Billie Holiday very noisily

to drown out your

(my) grief

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Hippie Story #6

back when me and Karl lived in a ramshackle hut

on the side of mountain buried in the woods

& drove a 1962 blue Chevy pick-up rusted

through in important places

we went to a party at a rich country

house fat with chintz sofas and curly

pink tongue spaniels, folks made their money

trading copper futures down New York way

I drank cocktails, Karl too, glasses

one after the other like skittling creatures

all downy and gulp

& when we got in the truck to go home

I fell right asleep

and only woke when

we shuddered to a stop and saw

by the headlights that our long dirt road had washed out

a wide crevasse down the middle

Karl fell out the truck door so dizzy

he had to hold onto the fender

I laughed till I was out of breath

the night was blackish blue, no moon

not a glimmer to see. I crept

sharply up the chill dark slope

Karl staggering behind me clutching tree to tree

until we arrived home

threw ourselves onto the horsehair mattress

in the morning we looked

at where we had walked skirting

chasms — exclaimed how we were still alive — god

protects drunks we agreed

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