19 November, 2009

Arizona Sun

My mother calls me
and asks
if the sun is shining. That’s
how I know
it’s winter in Ohio
and the gray wooly clouds
have invaded her skies
like airships
in bad sci-fi remakes.
I hear the Midwestern chill
in the tone of her voice –
that certain tightness, that
particular unconscious act
of conservation. Lethargy in the face
of the arctic winds, the wet sticky snow,
the black ice on the roads and
the frost on the windshield; I remember
being old enough to turn on the car
so the engine would be warm enough
to run the heater and having to
scrape the windows so Mom or Dad
could brave the winter without feeling it
in their fingertips. But here

the sun always shines and it hardly ever rains
and the morning chill that moves in with the snowbirds
burns off by midday. Natives are easy to spot
because 60 degrees is too cold
and 50 degrees makes them
break out the laundered heavy jackets,
the pristine scarves and brightly colored boots
that would never survive
a morning after the snow trucks
pushed gray ugly slush
in front of the driveway.

When my mother calls
we talk about the weather
and she threatens to retire to the desert
or maybe to Florida because the beach
is nice sometimes. I tell her
Arizona doesn’t need any more snowbirds
that it’s crowded enough
with pensioners and the ones who were lucky enough
to retire and still be able to afford
a decent set of golf clubs, cable television,
and a nice little place in 55 and Older Community
guarded by big metal gates that don’t guard anything
but allow the management company or the realtor
to pad the price. I tell her
there’s no more west to lament and that
there are now more cowboys
to cry over and that
the beauty of the sunset
has been erased by neon lights and street lamps
and the never-ending lines of cars on choked interstates
and bypasses. I tell her
this is not a place
that’s beautiful at a distance; that
it requires a careful and myopic eye
to appreciate it
and the sun burns everything
except those quaint pictures
taken by tourists whose vision
was myopic to begin with.

She asks me
Do I like my work?
and I say
I like it fine, that
the writing is going fine. No, she says.
She means my job:
the one that pays, the one she can explain
to my relatives who thought me mad all those years ago
and to the people she runs into
who knew me when I was 10
before the itch set in
before the darkness took shape
and I became something
entirely different
from what was intended. I tell her
I want to quit. I say
The institution is dead,
the ideals evaporate under the sun and in the hands
of unimaginative bean counters. I tell her
writing is The Thing
and that someday
she will be the mother
of a famous writer; a famous poet
whose language echoes
the death and rebirth of scorched landscapes
and broken, abandoned dreams.

She chides me
semi-gently; for I have always been
her son the poet, the sensitive boy
born too fragile for the world, the
prodigal son who is never as lost
as it seems, but who, at the right moment,
will let himself be found – but only
for a blink—
just long enough
to fool her into hoping
I have finally grown up
and have finally become
a son she can brag about
in the same sentence
as my brother.

She tells me things she thinks
my Dad might say
if he were alive and if
I were still listening,
as it is in the world she makes
in her imagination. It frustrates me:
this attempt to direct me
when all I really wanted to talk about
was the weather and the seasons
and the palm trees that always appear
one day closer to dying
like an army of intentionally placed indigents
lining the streets. But it’s not in me
to tell her off. Besides, it won’t help.
People see what they want to see
and will make the world
whatever they want it to be
and mother’s generation
has shaped things quite conveniently
and she
though she loves me (as only a mother can)
will never see
the things I have seen
and she will never understand
where I have been
or who I am … unless,
perchance, she reads my poems
and allows herself, for a moment
to forget
I am her son. I tell her
I love her and I say
I will talk to her soon. Then
I hang up the phone and step outside to smoke.
(She hates when I smoke while talking to her.)
The sun is setting
and the sky is clear
and all the things
left unsaid fade
into the brief shadow
between sunset and
the dull illumination
of neon lights.

17 November, 2009

Pendleton Underground: Part 5 of 7

The final trouble came down to one hundred dollars.

To call Brenda a vampire would be giving her too much credit; that would bestow on her a predatory instinct she fundamentally lacked. Even classifying her as a leech is an overstatement, though that would be an apt enough description. The thing that motivated her was fear – fear of rejection, fear being laughed at, fear of being alone. She’d been heckled and put down her entire life, which, instead of giving her something to overcome, merely shaped her into a spineless lump of insecurities. She didn’t think beyond what other people told her to think. Before she met Pendleton, she took her cue from her narrow-minded religious father, her self-righteous martyr mother, and her dimwitted brothers whose success in the world was admirable only because of its improbability. After she met Pendleton, her thoughts and words echoed his thoughts and words; then she gradually dug in and the relationship took on truly parasitic proportions. She gained strength and he, proportionally, began to diminish.

True, his health had been poor. Losing the ability to work and suffering under my ex-mother-in-law’s harpish and vindictive nature had worn him down over the years. His first heart attack happened when I was still married to his step-daughter. That heart attack changed everything; and even though it was subtle at first, I noticed how he just seemed to … slow down. He blamed the additional medications. The blood thinner made him bruise more easily and it also made him more sensitive to sunlight. The gray in his hair started to stand out in contrast to the hawk feather black it had always been. He gradually lost interest in things –even his junk jaunts. His reading habits changed and took on a more theological bent. Not being someone who felt the need to explain himself to anybody, he said nothing about any of these things.

The break up of his marriage seemed to rejuvenate him. He stopped taking all the medications and read up on homeopathic and herbal medicine. Vidalia onions, he told me, were good for blood pressure. Garlic was a natural anti-oxidant. Certain fruits and vegetables, in combination with the right herbs, could control heart disease.

I didn’t know that I believed him; but it seemed to work for him, so I didn’t say anything.

By the time he married Brenda, he’d managed to regain most of his former self, though his physical strength had continued to steadily decline. That was one of the reasons Red was so handy to keep around; he could pick up the slack whenever Pendleton got tired, and he thought nothing of it. He was nothing if not reliable – and Brenda always made sure he felt welcomed.

At the time of his marriage to Brenda, he lived in small A-frame cabin in the lower Appalachians, near the edge of Daniel Boone National Forest; that had been his dream for as long as I’d known him. And while the cabin wasn’t much to look at, it was everything he needed: a ten thousand gallon cistern and a simple kitchen. He took out the wood burning stove that came with it and had the old iron belly refurbished and installed. It was the primary source of heat in the winter and a constant source of satisfaction. “She always said it was a piece of junk,” he told me, referring to his ex-wife. “Well, look at it now.” With the right kind of planning, a person could live out there and avoid going into town for months at a time – even during the winter when it wasn’t uncommon to be snowed in for days and weeks on end.

Brenda liked the idea of the cabin, but the lack of certain creature comforts – like central air and heat – quickly got to her. After the first winter there she convinced Pendleton to leave the cabin and move into a nice modular home closer to town with city water, city gas, and weekly garbage pick up. The cabin then became a large storage shed for all of Brenda’s things that they didn’t have room for in the new place. But Pendleton didn’t like leaving the place empty. When Linda and I were between places (after making the mistake of moving in people we considered good friends) we all struck on the idea of us moving into the cabin. Pendleton told us (much to Brenda’s chagrin) that as long we took care of the place, kept the grass mowed, and paid our own utilities, we could live there rent free.

The mistake we made was actually moving in.

Life was okay for a couple of months. Linda and I settled in and cleaned the place up – which was no small task, since Pendleton and Brenda had let it go since the move to town. We moved things around, put a lot Brenda’s things either upstairs or in the airtight prefabricated storage building Pendleton had erected with the intention of using it as a workshop. Linda planted a little garden of peppers and tomatoes. I chopped wood to stock up for the winter and tried to keep the grass under control. That was mostly a futile effort. The mower was shot and the weed eater didn’t cut. Deer and rabbits decimated our tomatoes. Hornets moved in under the front porch. That summer it didn’t rain and the cistern nearly dried up.

Brenda began dropping by unannounced. At first, she brought Pendleton with her. Then she started showing up alone. She’d poke around the cabin and want to dig some stupid thing or another out of the attic or the storage shed. She made catty comments about the grass. When I pointed out that the mower was a piece of shit, she shrugged her oxen shoulders and said “You knew that when you moved in. Why don’t you fix it? It’s not like you pay rent.”

Naturally I understood the subtext. She knew damn well why I hadn’t tried to fix the mower; I wasn’t mechanically inclined. When I did try and fix something, it all when to shit and I ended up fucking it up worse than it had been to begin with. What she was REALLY saying was “Why don’t you act like a man and fix it?” I wasn’t sure how she had any real conception of men. The only other man to touch her before Pendleton was probably a drunken redneck who did it either on a dare or out of the same desperation that would have been equally served by a hole in the wall. Her dad wasn’t all that handy and none of her brothers especially liked getting their hands dirty. But because Pendleton was increasingly allowing her to conduct his business, I had to suffer her moralizing and condescension. Then Linda told me Brenda came around when I was gone, too, just (it seemed) to put me down.

One day, fueled by frustration, I tore into the mower. The piece of shit ended up in several pieces and I had no idea how to fix it or how to put the damned thing back together. So much for my manliness. After that I went to Pendleton and told him Brenda was dogging me to Linda behind my back.

“Relationships are hard enough,” I told him, “without OTHER PEOPLE making them more difficult.”

He nodded in agreement and said very little. All I really wanted him to do was say something to her about it. Or at least pretend he had some interest in how she was running his affairs. But he didn’t seem all that concerned. His complexion was going gray, and so was his hair. I didn’t know it then, but (at Brenda’s insistence) he started taking the meds again. The rest of our conversation was trivial. He was growing his hair and beard, which made him look even older. When I stopped by I had interrupted his reading; he was pouring over apocryphal texts and making arcane notes on yellow legal pads. I made sure to leave before Brenda got home in order to avoid a confrontation.

One week later, Linda and I came back from a grocery run and found an envelope stuck in the screen door.

“What’s that?” Linda asked, setting her bags down.

I had set mine down to open the envelope. It contained a letter:

“Dear Nick and Lynda,

“As you know, when you moved in to the cabin, you agreed to take care of the property and pay your own utilities in lew of rent. This was a very genrous offer, since you know we could rent it out for quiet a lot of money. But since you were family, we decided to extend our hospitality to you and Lynda and alow you to live there.

“But you have not lived up to your part of the agreemint. The grass hasn’t been cut in more than a month and when we have tried to get you to do something you find excuses not to.

“For this reason, we have decided to start charging you rent. You will pay us $100 on the first of each month, starting with this month or you will move so we can rent to someone who is more responsible.”

It was already the fifteenth; that meant we had to pay them immediately or get out. Pendleton’s signature was at the bottom of the letter, but I knew he hadn’t written it. It didn’t sound like him; besides, he knew how to spell Linda’s name. He’d been schooled to believe – like public schools used to teach but don’t anymore – that misspelled and misused words were an insult, only to the language but to the person who made the mistakes and the person forced to read them. It was clear that Brenda, whose abuse of the language was not only common but engrained through generations of neglect, had written the letter and the Pendleton had signed it. I wondered if he bothered to read it.

“What the fuck?!” I showed Linda the letter.

She quickly read it. “What the fuck?” she echoed, handing it back to me. “Where the hell is this coming from?”

“You know where,” I answered. “Give that dumb bitch a little power and she acts like she owns us.”

“But he signed it.”

“He didn’t write it.”

“How do you know?”

“I just KNOW.”

“What are we going to do?”

“We’re moving,” I said.


“Somewhere. Soon. Let them try and find somebody else to live here who’ll take care of it. Bitch. Cunt.” I turned to walk back out the door.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to tell them both to shove this letter up her fat ass!”

I walked out the door before Linda could talk me out of it or calm me down. As I was getting in the car, I heard her tell me not to do anything I would regret later. Not likely, I thought. After everything we’d gone through – the years of friendship in spite of my ex, his ex, and everything that had passed in between us since I had turned eighteen – after almost ten years – all of it meant nothing, now that Brenda bent his ear and dug her pudgy claws into him.

I didn’t have to go far. Just as I was getting ready to pull out, they were coming up the drive. They brought Red with them. I guess Brenda wanted to make sure we saw the letter and she brought him along as a witness. Stupid twat. When I approached them, Red didn’t greet me with his usual smile and over wrought badly timed joke. Pendleton nodded at me, which was all he ever did anyway. Brenda was the first to talk.

“Red’s here to fix the mower,” she began, sounding glib.

I ignored her completely. Pendleton was still sitting in the passenger seat of the truck. When approached he rolled the window down. “What’s this?” I demanded.

“Did you read it?” he asked.

“Yeah, I read it. I tried to, anyway. What is this? If there was a problem, why didn’t YOU come and talk to me?”

“We tried,” Brenda broke in. “But every time…”

“Shut up,” I said, not looking at her. My eyes didn’t leave Pendleton’s face. He didn’t react; there was a time he would have at least tried to scare me. But there was none of that left in him. “I know you didn’t write this,” I said. “She did. And you signed it. Did YOU read it?”

He shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Yeah,” I repeated. “If you had a problem with me, you should have come to me. But instead, you let HER write me a goddamned letter? Really? After everything?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

Red was standing off to the side, watching. He was tense. He would want to jump in soon. I didn’t care, but I didn’t feel like dealing with anybody else. There was only one person who mattered. I tore the letter into four pieces and dropped them in Pendleton’s lap. “That’s what I think about that,” I said. “We’ll be out of her by the end of the week.”

“You don’t have to move,” Brenda tried to cut in.

I didn’t answer her. I was still looking at Pendleton for some sign. Something. Anything. There was nothing. I turned and walked back inside. Linda was sitting on the couch reading. I opened the fridge and took out a beer.

“How’d it go?” she asked.

I didn’t answer.

11 November, 2009

Blue-Eyed Dog

When I saw the corpse, it looked like it had been out all in the cold. It was – or it had been, at any rate – a retriever mutt. Short hair. Brownish coat. His pecker was hard and his mouth was locked in a permanent snarl. It looked like it looked up to meet the car head on and lost.

“Shouldn’ta been in the street,” Sammy said, and spat on the sidewalk, just to see if the goober would freeze. He was always so cool. Detached. We’d been friends since elementary school, and he was even cool back then. The only thing that ever seemed to affect him was the tightness of Marissa Hency’s shirt on any given day. Her freshman year she was a gangly little girl with mousy hair and big eyes that nobody noticed. But when she walked to the school building at the beginning of her sophomore year –our senior year – her tits crossed the entrance well ahead of her. Since then, the sight of her put Sammy into a dreamy-eyed frenzy and robbed him of the ability to speak coherently.

“Somebody should have tied him up,” Fremont added. He had the car, so he drove. Sammy parent’s wouldn’t let him drive one of theirs, and I totaled mine; Fremont was also a sophomore – a fact that Sammy often resented, since he was in the same homeroom as Marissa Hency – but he was a good kid. Super smart. He was in all the advanced classes and all the teachers loved him. The only thing that saved him from being bullied was the fact that his old man had been biker and taught him how to fight. He was also the school artist; people always wanted him to draw them pictures because they just knew he was going to be a famous artist someday.

“We can’t just leave him there,” I said. The dog was in the gutter across the street from Sammy’s house. The legs were stiff. The frost that had settled the night before was still covering his coat. It was still cold enough that I could see my breath when I talked.

“We gotta get to school,” Sammy said.

“Like you give a shit about school,” Fremont said, smiling. “You’re just going to pass out behind the wrestling mats until lunch, anyway.”

Sammy gave him the finger. “Shut the fuck up.”

“We can’t leave him here.” I didn’t really care about school. Besides the fact that it was my senior year and I didn’t give a shit anyway, first bell was Introduction to Business, Ms. Stockdale’s class. She was a horrible teacher and it was a horrible class. She talked on and on and on about things like how to keep a balanced checkbook and about the nature of supply and demand. I took the class because I needed an elective and there weren’t any art classes; my only other option was a typing class that would have been worse torture than listening to Ms. Stockdale. I would have taken a shop class, if only to have an excuse to hang out with Sammy – but the guidance counselor made sure that none of the college-track kids, which I was, never got into any of the shop classes.

The dog wasn’t the first dead animal I’d ever seen; you grow up in a small town like New Leeds and you see a lot of dead animals. Mostly cats. Nobody really cared about cats. In the spring, squirrels and raccoons were regular road kills. More skunks in the summer. Far enough out of town, sometimes you’d see a deer get tagged by a speeding truck. There were plenty of stray dogs – but they were either adopted or shot or, sometimes, even poisoned. But they weren’t road kill very often.

“It’s DEAD,” Sammy rolled his eyes. “Who gives a shit? The road crew’ll come and pick him up in a couple of hours, anyway.”

Sammy was right; eventually somebody would call it in and the Road Department would send out a truck. They’d scrape him out of the gutter and take him to be incinerated. Animals that were owned or loved were generally buried. One of my cousins told me about a friend of theirs who had his dog stuffed; he had it made to look like it was curled up sleeping and then put in what had been the dog’s favorite corner. I thought that was disgusting; nobody would ever do that to a person. Why do it to a dog?

“How would YOU like it?” I asked Sammy, “if you were dead in the gutter and nobody gave a shit about you?”

Sammy spat on the sidewalk again and lit a cigarette; he wasn’t worried about getting caught because his parents had already left for work. “I wouldn’t care,” he said. “I wouldn’t care at all. “ So cool.

I bent down to take a closer look, and I patted the dog’s head. He’d had a hungry life and probably didn’t get petted that much; I could count a couple of his ribs. I looked at the dog’s snarling face again. One of the eyes was shut, like it had squinted – looking straight into oncoming headlights, probably. But the other eye was wide open. It was a lifeless grayish-blue color. It made me think of what I’d heard once about wolves having blue eyes; for some reason, it made me feel sadder than I already did.

“Don’t do that,” Sammy coughed. “Dead bodies carry disease. You’ll get one of those worms that crawls up your dick.”

“It’s too cold for that,” I said.

“Yeah,” Fremont agreed.

Sammy shot him another dirty look. Then he looked over at me. “Come on, Nick,” he said. “Let’s go. What’re you gonna do? Have a funeral for it?”

I looked up at Sammy. He looked like he was making a joke. I looked over at Fremont. He was looking at me. He nodded, and I nodded back.

“Jesus fucking CHRIST!” Sammy Scoffed. “Are you SHITTIN’ me? It’s not even your dog, man! What if the owner comes looking for it? Don’t you think THEY’D want to bury it?”

“No tags,” I said as I stood up. “No collar at all.” I looked around the head again. No blood, except right around the mouth. When I moved to stand between Sammy and Fremont, I felt the eye following me and I shuddered. Just a little.

“Not everyone buys tags,” Sammy said.

Fremont and I decided to take Sammy to school and come back for the dog. At first, he didn’t believe that we were really just dropping him off. He told us we’d end up getting in trouble. We ignored him.

“Whatever,” he muttered when he got out, slamming the door behind him. Fremont reached over and opened the door so I could get out of the back and sit in front. After I moved and closed the door we pulled out of the parking lot. Fremont said he had to stop at his house; he said his dad had some shovels we could use.

I didn’t like the idea; but if anybody would understand, it would be Fremont’s mom. She was an artist and had a couple of poems published in this anthology made of leather with gold trim. I showed her some of my poems once; she gave me my first honest critique and encouraged me to keep writing. That meant a lot, so I was hoping she would understand why Fremont wasn’t at school.

I waited in the car while Fremont went inside. The frost was starting to thaw. What few leaves were left on the trees had fallen off during the night. It had been the first real frost of the year; that meant winter was coming. We’d probably end up living though another ugly, brown, snowless winter. The last time it had really snowed, I was eight or nine years old. They had to call off school – which hardly ever happened, before or since. (The Superintendent was one of those grumpy old fucks who told stories about walking to school uphill both ways in a blizzard. The parents all loved him and were just waiting for him to retire or die so they could name one of the school buildings after him.) Everybody had to stay home that day; it was so cold that it was even cold in the house with the heat one and Dad made me a cup of coffee to help stay warm. He loaded it down with cream and sugar. It had an awful taste. I didn’t try a cup of coffee again until after he died. I drank it black, like he did.

Fremont walked out of the front door carrying a ratty old blanket and two pairs of work gloves. “For the dog,” he said. “She doesn’t want us to touch him.”

“Right.” We went to the small unattached garage and found the shovels. Then we tossed them and the blanket in the backseat and drove back to where the dog was.

He was still there. Fremont pulled the car in the driveway nearest the corpse. It didn’t look like anybody was home.

“We should probably hurry,” he said.


When we got out, I grabbed the blanket, gloves, and shovels, and Fremont opened the trunk. We both put on a pair of gloves. Then we decided that the best thing to do was to put the blanket over the dog and try to roll it over so that the dog would be on top; that way we could carry it by holding on to the blanket. But the body was heavier than we thought; Fremont and I struggled to flip the dog out of the gutter without accidently breaking off one of its legs. The body was still stiff and felt frozen; the frost had started to melt, which left the fur a little wet and made it even harder to get a handle on the dog. Fremont was working the tale end, and I working the head. That eye stared at me the entire time. The whole operation took on determined air of desperation. There wasn’t any traffic, since everybody else was where they were supposed to be; but it was taking too long. A few cars passed by, but none of them even bothered to slow down. All those stories about the how close knit small towns are and how everybody is in everybody’s business must have been started by people who never lived in one. Unless you set something on fire, nobody notices anything.

After a few grunts and shoves we got the dog turned over. Then we each picked up our corners of the blanket and carried it over and set it down as carefully as we could in the trunk. When Fremont closed the lid, that eye was somehow still face up and looking straight at me.

The car heat felt good. “Where you want to go?” he asked.

“I don’t really know,” I confessed. “It should be someplace, you know… private. The woods or something. But we shouldn’t go too far. It’ll take too much time.”

He nodded in agreement. “I think I know a place.”

Suddenly I wanted a cigarette. I usually bummed one off Sammy in morning, but the dog distracted me and I forgot to ask. He didn’t offer, either. Damn him, I thought. Like he really cares about school. He won’t even see Marissa Hency in hallway until lunch.

Fremont drove towards the edge of town. I thought I knew where he was going, and when we got there, I was saw I was right. On the edge of town, next to the cemetery, there was a small patch of woods; you had to drive through the Baptist Church parking lot and down this one lane gravel road to get to it. The woods were next to this small field where the Baptists held outdoor summer revivals and Vacation Bible school functions. When we got to the clearing, Fremont drove right onto the grass clearing and parked next to the trees on the side closest to the cemetery.

“How are we gonna do this?” I asked, getting out.

“We carry the dog back,” he said, “then I come back for the shovels.”

After Fremont opened the trunk, he immediately grabbed the tale end, leaving me the eye. Again. I tried not to think about it watching me as our little procession made its way past the line of tree line, with its leafless limbs sticking up in the air. We walked ten or twelve yards until we came on a small clearing that had probably been a bum’s campsite at one time. There was a small circle of rocks somebody had used for a makeshift fire pit. We put the dog down and Fremont went and grabbed the shovels. It was starting to warm up, but the air was still chilly. If we were lucky, the ground wouldn’t be too frozen or full of rocks.

It wasn’t too frozen; that would take a few more weeks. But we once we got past the thin layer of dead grass, the ground seemed to be more rock than dirt. Originally, we had intended to dig a six foot hole, like a real grave; but after about hour of digging, we realized it would take us longer than we had. I looked my watch; it was almost the middle of third period. We had to get to school by lunch or Sammy would never let us hear the end of it.

We dug the plot deep enough that he wouldn’t be bothered, and we left him wrapped in the blanket when we lowered him down. Somehow we’d managed to put him in there so that that damn eye was still staring up at me.

“Your mom won’t get upset about the blanket?” I asked.

Fremont shook his head. “She won’t want it back.”

Filling in the grave didn’t take nearly as much time as digging did, and when we were finished, we lined all the rocks, including those used for the fire pit, along the edges. Then we stood there for a couple of minutes.

“You want to say something?” Fremont asked.

“No,” I answered. I didn't want to say anything. There wasn’t anything to say; nothing anybody said over a grave was worth hearing, anyway. We stood there for another couple of minutes. Then we walked back across the tree line, got into Fremont’s car, and left. We returned the shovels and work gloves before we went to school, and Fremont’s mom made us scrub our hands raw before she let us go.

We reported to the office when we got to school. When I filled out my tardy slip, I wrote “buried a dog” as my reason. The secretary eyed me carefully, her gray eyes peering at me over the top of rhinestone speckled bifocals.

When we saw Sammy at lunch, he gave us shit. We ignored him. He talked and laughed and cracked jokes until Marissa Hency walked into the cafeteria. She was wearing a tight blue sweater.

09 November, 2009

Flip Flops at the Art Museum

The arrhythmic sound of my feet
smacking against my flip flops
echoes in the grand halls
of the art museum. We’ve
lost one another, as usual,
taking in the frenetically organized
collections to suit our own likes.
You take pictures, while, in my mind,
I’m stealing the things I like
for the memory palace under construction
(that looks suspiciously like the
the library from graduate school)
so that I can enjoy them all later
in solitude.

Most everyone else
wanders in crowds
like they’re on tours
being told about how
this painter
murdered his lover
or how that sculptor
suicided herself
as a martyr for feminism.

People who can’t make art try
to turn themselves into
their favorite artist’s creation
though none would ever claim it: wear
just the right clothes and
modular eye glasses, strike the pose as
pseudo-Warholian artifacts
among the Abstract Expressionists. The
surrealists are confused. Everyone’s
a lesbian around the Georgia O’Keefes.

The guards eyeball me as I wander the galleries
free form. My flip flops echo loud,
announcing my movements
and helping drown out
the hollow talk of the investor-patrons
and amateur critics
who paint their faces (obsessively staying within the lines)
with expressions of self-satisfaction and
deep, deep loathing. They watch me, too, as I flop by
unaffiliated. They distrust my well-worn hat,
the smell of cheap beer,
and the stench of my last cigar.

In one of the installations
(a dark closest with tiny twinkling lights)
I run into to a couple of kids
taking advantage of the dark space
to giggle and grope. He’s hoping
for good locker room talk. She’s expecting
a cable TV inspired adult romance.
They kiss loudly. It’s sloppy. I push
by them and back into the main gallery
littered with classics and moderns
and one or two contemporaries
(i.e. alive and poor) whose work
is political enough
to be installed near Rothko
and Chuck Close.

She finds me in front of the de Kooning
(not his best.) I hear her approaching. I know
it’s her by the sound of her flip flops. She’s
smiling and hugging her camera. Now
that there are two of us, the guards
have moved on. I hear the girl giggling, and
the echoes of well-fed conversations. I know
we’ll stop in the gift shop
on the way out,
and it will be that much longer
before I can smoke
or get something to drink.