Daily Archives: February 28, 2010

Breath Mints

Everywhere I go
I carry two tinfoil wrappers
twisted shut,

each one the size of
a pack of gum,
each one holding part of

a collection
rendered in miniature,
a collection of all my friends.

The dead ones
in the right hand pocket,
the live ones in my left.  The dead ones

on my favored side,
the live ones carried offhand
as a backup.

When I need
to say something deep
I take a packet out

and open it, pop one,
freshen my speech
with another voice.

When I’m done,
I carefully pull that friend
from my tongue

and rewrap
for future use.  None of them
have ever complained

so I have to believe
it’s ok with them
that I use them this way.

The dead ones
have more time free of the pocket.
I think it’s good for them

to get out and be heard
even if their flavor
often darkens my words.

They at least
make me feel good.  The live ones
don’t come out as often

as they are frequently
unruly and crack my voice
a bit.  We can speak for ourselves

and be known that way,
they grumble. Therefore
I sometimes

take them all out at once,
put them all in my mouth
and shut up while they

talk to me from within.  I’m
kept informed that way, and so
think to honor them

by giving my full, sour attention
to their tastes.  I still prefer to
let the dead ones work for me while running

my tongue over my teeth
and recalling
what the live ones have taught me,

what they continue to teach me.
But I will not shift them
to the right hand pocket —

too risky.
The dead ones arm me better
with their settled opinions

that are sharper for having had
greater use.  It’s been suggested that
I mix the two, but I don’t know what

my reliably dead friends
who adore me would say
if they were to hear from those who know me now.

I don’t even know you, they might say.
I’m not sure I ever did.  And I’d hate that.
So I keep them tightly wrapped

and close at hand, the known quantity
always in easy,
subconscious reach.

Dead friends in the right hand pocket —
quick to come to my rescue
and make my words clean and fresh

with their voices frozen and cool
as breath mints.
Live ones in my left —

astringents, bitter favors
to be taken sparingly
for fear I might have to speak the truth.

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High Noon

he’s gunning
for anything that reminds him
of where he came from. 
let one word escape your lips
that feels familiar and he’ll
begin. the first stone is his altar
and the sound
of your own windows breaking
is his favorite hymn. 
your angry response
will be his excuse to feel
superior as he shows off something
he picked up along his way here,
twirling it in his hand.  he’s
threatening you, then himself,
depending on which way the barrel’s
facing at any given moment.  who will fall
when the trigger’s pulled is anyone’s guess,
but assume the worst happens —

who do you see on the ground?

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The New Cabaret

The laughter
of those who enter
a new cabaret
begins to change it.
Something in the air shivers,
like thin metal being shaken.
The space contracts
and expands. Soon, one voice rises
above the others, singing its way
into the woodwork, pushing the ceiling
up another story.  Applause,
and the heart of the room reaches out
for an embrace.
Everyone goes home
and the room is left
to slowly fall back into itself.

In the meantime, it swells and
shrinks with memory.  Perhaps
someone in attendance
brushed a corner molding
and left fabric behind,
or perhaps someone
moved by a word or a note
bit their lip and bled a small drop
into the floor. 

The room is not
the space it was. The people
who were there are not the people
they were. Only the actual moment of song
holds the distinction of remaining
static, by virtue of having passed
into history, no trace of it
in the framing and walls and paint.
Perfect, permanently free
of the burden of needing to be
refreshed when the club closes,
six months later,
for renovation
into another kind of space —
a boutique, a dry cleaner, a bistro.

This is the nature of such things:
they come and go, rooms hold
a little trace of their passing,
the rooms pass and change,
the people pass and change,
and only the music remains
in a place no one can move,
remodel, or demolish. 

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