When I was a young boy
I would get sick often and sometimes I was lucky enough
Amidst my bad luck
To be at grandma’s house
And I would go into her closet
And bring out that coarse blue blanket
And wrap myself in it,
Lying on her plastic-covered couch
As I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the sounds
Of her game shows and her soap opera “stories”,
Waking up in time for her soup and sandwich
Or the odd summer NY Mets West Coast day game
That came on at NY 4P.M.
When I was in her house there was never a raised voice
But there was many a foul word,
None directed toward me or hurled by me.
I was never questioned but I was always asked.
It was a kind of heaven
And has not been reproduced since
For more than moments.
I miss many who are gone
But there are none I miss in nearly the way
I miss Kathleen Mulligan-Hubert.
But not receiving it.
I’m not sure I asked for it but I think I did.
I don’t remember if I received it but if I did
I am sure my ex-wife threw it out when I wasn’t looking.
It’s cold here tonight and I just brought this brown quilt
Up over my head
But it does nothing.
It does nothing.
My bones are covered in ice
This New Love I try out—
It’s merely copied and pasted from long-dead
And glued haphazardly along my posterboard.
This New Love that fits worse than hand-me-
I strangle on it like a collar too tight.
I drown in it like a coat two sizes too large.
I wear it like clown shoes.
It slips down my ankles like socks that have lost
This New Love doesn’t feel like love at all to me.
It feels as forced as my smile.
I try to put its squareness into the round hole of
But it doesn’t fit, of course.
I crawl back into my shadow
And slink along the slums of night.
I put a ring on my finger to discourage all potential
Because I cannot trust myself to practice what I
It’s No Love that fits me best.
You wrote back to me
—a loaded quiver
on your back—
with the bow
making that sound
I was just thinking about when she was born
And I held her for the first time,
Singing the song to her for which she was named.
Singing it just to her;
Her and I having our opening moment
In the corner of the hospital room—
One of our too-few-moments
Before the ballast finally blew
And my marriage sunk at last—
And I was thinking about how
Ever since I first held her
I’ve spent most of the time I have left
Trying to hold onto her
With fingers slipperier
Than a greased eel.
I sang to her in a whisper while I held her
And looked into her eyes
That shone with need and newness.
I can still feel that moment
And see her face as calm as still water
But now my voice is nothing but gurgling cries—
Into the wilderness, up toward the rain that falls
Down the tunnel of a well without water.
Her face is now just something I see
When I close my eyes and try to recall her
While listening to that song.
Wondering how her voice must sound now
And listening to that song.
Trying to hold onto my sanity with fingers
slipperier than a greased eel
And listening to that song.
“I laid on the dune, I looked at the sky
on the beach…”
SITTING IN A FOLDING CHAIR AND WAITING
FOR THE SAME NUMBER ON THE SLIP
OF PAPER THEY GAVE ME TO FLASH ON
THE BOARD IN THE FRONT OF THE ROOM
SO I CAN DO WHAT I HAVE TO DO AND
MOVE ON TO THE NEXT THING
Left leg folded atop the right,
Contemplating this loose piece of rubber
Dangling from the sole of my sneaker.
My eyeglasses smudgy,
Perched crookedly on my forehead
As I read a book I have read twice before,
The eczema on my left hand
Looking like a nasty burn loathe to heal—
I have the leftovers from dinner in the car
As well as two twelve-packs of beer:
I can taste it all right now
As I sit in this chair
And write boring nonsense
In my madman scrawl,
Looking twice-a-minute at the clock,
The book open and face-down on my lap,
A bill for two tires purchased
Almost ten weeks ago
Sitting forgotten on the other side
Of the paper
As I scratch scratch scratch on it.
I continue writing nothing
To please no one,
Echoes of violins in my skull;
Remnants of the vision of you naked and smiling
Upon a bed we once shared without pretense,
Just as I am immersed in my reverie,
Sucking on your lower lip
And pressing my hardness against your thigh,
I hear a ding—
My left leg is numb
But I shake it off
As I walk toward the thin black lady
With her white hair in a bun
Who has B99 flashing over her workstation.
She smiles from behind her immaculate counter.
I smile back.
I bring my eyeglasses down to my nose
Where they squat haphazardly
As I hope this won’t take long
But it probably will.
SOMETIMES I CAN SMELL THE OCEAN
FROM WHERE I LIVE
Sometimes I can smell the ocean from where I live;
Coming out of my car in the rain, the fog, the early
After hauling boxes since midnight.
I can smell the damp and the salt, especially during
and after the rain,
But I never visit the sea.
It’s so close, but I don’t go there.
I don’t swim in her, I don’t even watch her raging
From the safety of the beach.
The smell fills my nose as I feel the blood pulse
in my eyes,
Picking up my dropped housekeys, shaking off
the humidity of a winter night
That is like a summer night: muggy, hazy, gross.
I feel dim and clueless as I enter the house, about
to get into bed without eating
To feel the blister on my toe throb under the blankets,
Thinking of her, always her,
My kids and her
Now so much farther from me than the ocean.
The ocean I sometimes smell in the rain
As I get in and out of my car
But never go to visit.
SITTING ON A BARSTOOL IN
THE CRAZY HORSE SALOON
I had a good time
And you seemed to
But eventually you seemed bored.
That is the way life goes.
Wanting is not always redeemed
And no one knows that with such surety
You really pounded down the drinks
And I liked you more
The more you spoke
Of your work and life,
Your opinions of the important and mundane.
I began putting my fingers through your spirals
of lovely blonde hair
And looking at your profile—both hair and face
as if painted
You didn’t seem to mind but also you didn’t react.
I imagined your naked body
Hanging in the haunted gallery of my mind
Like a Raphaelite nude along the dingy sadness
And rapture of my bed
As you imagined yourself somewhere dissimilar
While sending a message to your friend on the
Most likely about this weird but earnestly nice guy
Who made you uneasy
By staring oddly into your eyes and at your ear
That was deftly peeking from behind
Those beautiful spirals of blonde hair painted
Telling her it was not a terrible time
But you were glad the night was over.
The night I am thinking about
ON JEROME DAVID AND BEAUTY
I found a website called “Jerome David Salinger,
And it contained 22 of JD Salinger’s earliest
published short stories,
None of which I had ever read.
I hadn’t even thought about Salinger in years
Even though I read everything he ever wrote that
was available to me
So many years ago.
Why is it so easy to forget beauty exists?
I’ve just read the last story on the site
And I’m still amazed such wonder and beauty
remained hidden from me
And more amazed I never thought to seek it out.
I’m going to take a walk outside now.
I can hear the wind out there,
Calling me to the water and the trees.
Tonight there will be food and music
And then my big cool bed.
There is beauty bigger than this room,
As big as all of the world,
That I have yet to gaze upon.
Some of it is beautiful to many eyes
And some of it is beauty only I can see.
Much around me is ugly but beauty also exists.
Somewhere. Almost everywhere.
I’m going to find as much of it as I can.
There is a throbbing in my gums
Right where the wisdom tooth I own popped out
Almost 25 years ago
And, except for my tongue and my finger running
along it 20 times a day
I have been excellent at ignoring it
When I am not eating or drinking anything.
I think about WC Fields as The Dentist
And believe that dentistry has not evolved much
So I drink 20 beers
And I listen to The Kinks
While my throbbing gums are numb.
I go to bed thinking about little
Except the song “Muswell Hillbilly”
That kept playing one line over and over in my head
And the slight feeling in my gums
Where that rotten fucking wisdom tooth is poking out
But I can probably cover up that feeling
For a few more days
Until I can numb it again with 20 beers.
Don’t worry. I’ll pull it out
And eat that delicious Tylenol 3 or Percocet
Before it’s too late.
Saving the best for last, with
The Kinks on the Muzak
If I am extremely lucky.
Let an old man enjoy his pain.
Nothing lasts. Not even pain.
MERMAID IN A FISHBOWL
Mermaid in a fishbowl
That floats in the ocean,
Trying to make the best of it,
Swimming back and forth
With the sailors passing by,
Ogling from without
And wishing she were free.
Mermaid in a fishbowl
Looking out for that one sailor
With her face pressed to the glass.
That sailor has come and gone
With his hammer and chisel
But she was too afraid of the ocean
And his boat so rickety
And fulsome with splinters
She’s still afraid of the ocean
But time is running out
And there is only so much
One can stand
Of swimming in a circle.
Welcome back to the Kitchen, John, and thanks for your fine poetry! More can be heard from John Tustin at fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry, which contains links to his published poetry online.
Today at noon, you can Zoom Part Three of Artists Embassy International’s Dancing Poetry Festival. Then, tonight, Love Jones Spoken Word Show takes place in Sacramento. Click UPCOMING NORCAL EVENTS at the top of this column for details about these and other future poetry events in the NorCal area—and keep an eye on this link and on the Kitchen for happenings that might pop up during the week.
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