Bridal Path, Part V: Proofing

Friday evening drive up and away
from the city. Mile after mile
of highway, mile after mile
of dirt-road washboards, mile
after blissful mile of silence.

Bucket seat and pillow worked.
I left the window open to the cold.
And the stars had not forgotten
me, nor had I them. Then out of
the cab of the truck at first
light, off behind a stand of trees

to pee, then back to sit on
a log and warm up by the fire
before going down to explore
a strange lake whose perimeter
is almost perfectly circular.

Dawn by the fire, and only six words
said over those two days of being
out at home again. Three each. He
held up an enamel-on-steel Coleman
cup and asked me: Beer or coffee?
Those were his three. Mine were:

Coffee always. Thanks.

See Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Bridal March, Part IV: Kneading

So we’re gathered, the three of us,
around a tiny table with our choices
of soup, salad, fresh-baked bread.

I’m less uncomfortable than I’d
expected, actually. Or it could be
discomfort is becoming so familiar

after three and a half weeks stuck
in the city that a little bit more
awkwardness doesn’t even register.

My mind drifts, counting off how
much longer before I can drive
again, how long till I can trust

my shoulder enough to pitch a tent
and build a fire, how many more
nights I have to sleep upright,

how long until the stars the stars
the stars again unhazed by light
pollution. I’ve drifted, missed

something matchmaker colleague
said, pull myself back into present
company and moment, then realize:

I’m not just imagining the sense
of reassurance, I’m being comforted
by scent, something more than that

of coffee and fresh bread. I inhale
deeply, catch another taste of it:
just a hint of campfire fragrance

hovering like mist from the cuff
of the flannel shirt-sleeve nearest
to me. I close my eyes, breathe in

again, sweet sweet smoky freedom.
Open my eyes, join in the conversation,
just in time, because the man I’m

here to meet is asking me: Have you
ever been to Stoneman Lake? No, not
yet. I haven’t. Haven’t been out

for a few weeks. Maybe next time I
am able to leave the city I will go.
Matchmaker decides he has to explain

me: Her doctor told her no driving
until she heals from her injuries.
She was in a climbing accident.

Not an accident, exactly. (I correct
him, don’t want to leave the wrong
impression.) Not an accident, exactly.

More a decision, with a consequence.
That’s harsh. How long have you been
down? Four weeks. A little less.

Eleven days left. Counting. A spell
of quiet around the table, then an
invitation: I’m already planning on

driving up to Stoneman this weekend
if you’d like a ride that way. My ribs
begin to ache, my lungs get tight,

all of me with longing to escape
the city suffocation, population.
But what I say is not quite yes,

but rather: Kind of you to offer.
But I’m not quite back to where I’m
fit for camping. For eleven more

days I’m supposed to be sleeping
mostly upright in a chair. He offers:
My truck has bucket seats. You could

have the cab of the truck to yourself,
bucket seat and pillow do? And I
can’t help but open to the possibility,

but then: It probably would, but
still, I shouldn’t. Even if I were
to go, and managed to build a fire,

I’m not certain I could cover
it to dead-out with a shovel after,
and I’m not sure that I’d be able

to be useful or even be good company.
If you can make the seat and pillow
work for you, the rest’s no problem.

I’ll just pretend that you’re not there
at all. And matchmaker boy-scout ever-
ready hands him a piece of paper:

That’s PERFECT! Here’s her number.

See Part I, Part II and Part III.

Bridal March, Part III: Grinding

Back at the office, he keeps going
on about it, coming to my cubicle,
insistent: You have to meet him.

No. I don’t. Please go away and let
me be. He disappears, comes back
just a little later. With a daisy which

he’s decided to liberate from a bouquet
which someone left late yesterday
for someone else at the reception

desk. He hands it to me, and he
says: Just do it. Go on, just for fun.
Just pull of the petals and say it.

I beg your pardon? Are you asking
me to decapitate the daisy? And what’s
the “it” you’re wanting me to say?

You’re kidding! You’ve never asked
a daisy about the status of your love
life? Never pulled off petals one

by one while saying “He loves me…He
love me not…” one phrase for each
petal, to see where you wind up?

No. Never. Sorry. And it’s not likely
I’ll be amending that deficit in my
experience this morning. Thank you. Bye.

Oh, come on. Just this once. If not
for you, for me. If you do it, I’ll buy
you all your coffees, all next week.

I pull the first two petals off, but
improv on my lines and say: “He needs
me not…I need him not…” and then

the daisy’s rescued from me and my
evident lack of appreciation of other
possibilities. You just don’t get it,

he accuses. You are missing the point
entirely. It’s not about needing
anyone, not him, not you, not anyone.

The point is that this is an opportunity
you may never get again, once-in-a-life-time
chance to meet somebody you can stand.

I’m fatigued. I’m tired. Okay, whatever,
fine. Give me the daisy, if it will make
you happy enough to go away. Give me

the daisy, and tell me again what it is
I am supposed to say. He hands it to me,
and in my weakened state, extracts one

more agreement: if the daisy says “He loves
me” then I will, just one time and only
briefly, consent to meet the man in question.

I pull the petals. And Fibonacci’s judgment
in the matter doesn’t please me. But I
don’t generally back out of bets, dares,

or agreements. I sign off my machine, pick
up my things to catch the early bus back
home, unwilling but committed. We agree

to make it simple, lunch on a daytime
work-day, the three of us at some place
that has soup, salad, bread, and coffee.

I punch the security code in the panel
to exit the building, and he calls out after
me in parting: Don’t look so sulky. Trust

the daisy. It isn’t about need. It’s about
possibility. Just think: maybe, you’ll get
along okay. Maybe you could fall off rocks


After Dave Bonta’s “Bean counter.” See Part I and Part II.

Bridal March, Part II: Threshing & Sifting

In other words, still not wonderful enough.
Luisa A. Igloria, “By Hand

Not too surprising: doctor grounded
me from driving, from really using
that shoulder in much of any way. Told
me not to roll over on it in my sleep,
recommended sleeping upright, more
or less, in some sort of chair. Five
weeks. Stuck in the city. Sleeping
mostly less, upright mostly more.

Three AM, another week of double-
shifts. After fourteen hours of
monitoring software fixes outbound
over phone lines, I’m on meal break
with a coworker at the all-night
diner two blocks down the street.
More coffee. Much more coffee.

I don’t know how it is now, times
and technology have changed,
but used to be, the people working
for mainframe software companies
became, not quite like family, but
at least their own community, small
village in the middle of a city.

And every village has a matchmaker,
one or more, someone perhaps a little
nosy, or just hearts-and-starry eyed,
who thinks that everyone who isn’t
married or at least taking some
steps toward pairing up with someone
is in need. Across the table, self-
invited company, the matchmaker
is turning his attentions back to me.

What you need, he starts assuring
me, what would really make you
happy, is a man who’s stable, settled
into his career, one who is ready
to go house-shopping, get married,
get started on a family, a kid or
two or three. I stare at him blankly
for a while as if I do not understand
the language he is speaking.

And in truth, I don’t. Not really.
But I’m tired and it’s three AM
and watching amber numbers turning
over on a dumb computer monitor
for fourteen hours has weakened
my defenses. I don’t dodge his
assertion gracefully. I don’t dodge
at all. Instead, I dig into my
purse, retrieve two napkins
marked with tiny print in ink.

(Systems engineering, sorry. All
pipe-dreams must be designed
on napkins. End of story.)
I don’t gloss it up or make it
pretty, but say firmly: No. That’s
nothing close to what I need.
Not interested. Not aspiring.
I’ve assessed what it would take
for me to live with someone else
successfully long-term, the kind
of person it would have to be.

I carry these napkins out with me
as a reminder, should I happen
to be tempted by a bit of gallantry
to give away my number in a bar.
There are minimums that would be
needed for it to even be considered,
and I really doubt the guy exists.

I unfold the specifications
for the myth, begin for the first
time ever to read them out
to someone, make clear why
I’m alone and always will be.
About money: needs to not be greedy,
see it mostly as a means, tend
more toward frugal than extravagant.

He needs to be able to cook
sufficiently to feed himself if
I’m not home, am still at work
or have decided to go out alone.
And that has got to be okay,
me going out alone. I have to
have a little time with friends,
and lots and lots of time in
solitary. He’s got to be able
to handle that, and to handle

his own laundry, and maybe most
importantly, he must have come to
some sort of understanding with
the planet, needs his own relationship
with whatever patch of earth
he works and walks and lives on,
an understanding with the sky
and dirt and all its other denizens.

And I don’t so much mean humans.
I don’t so much care if he even
ever speaks to them, including me.
But I need a man that can spend an
evening wakeful, watching long-
nose bats fly up to saguaro
blossoms. One who can sit by
a campfire till dawn without
speaking. One who can wander
in the desert, one who notices
which plants grow on which hill-
sides, which way dry washes flow.

One who can lose a map without
a panic, because it doesn’t
mean he’s lost himself. One who
understands that venom, rattler
spider scorpion, is not malicious
or evil, simply self-protection.
One who sees mankind’s pollution
also as a kind of toxin, and does
his best to minimize his impact.
One who doesn’t need to have TV
for entertainment. Hermit, mostly.

So you see: the only man I’d
want to be with is someone who
absolutely doesn’t need me. So
forget it. It won’t happen.
End of story. Cold scrambled
eggs are rubbery. And cooling
seems to have left them with an
unpleasant hint of green. I poke
what’s left of my breakfast
with a fork, decide against.

I look across the table to see
if my matchmaker-colleague is also
ready to leave. He’s frozen, his
fork is resting on the edge
of his mug of coffee, his bite
of pancake partly slipped into
the brew and getting soggy.
His mouth is open. What? I’ve
already folded up my myth-specs,
put them back into my purse,
pulled out my wallet. What?

That guy, he says. I look around.
What guy? THAT guy. That you wrote
down. He points at my purse with his
fork and the pancake submerges.

That guy, he says. I know him.

Read Bridal March, Part I: Scything.

Bridal March, Part I: Scything

Was it love at first sight?
The process of marriage began
long before there ever was
a sighting. Before falling
into love, there simply was

falling. And that did not
require his participation,
it happened before I was even
aware of his existence. Rare
Thursday afternoon and off

of work after having worked
three double shifts already,
and out by myself in the sand
and sandstone scrub-land up
north of the city, areas now

no doubt lined with residential
communities, paved streets
named after displaced cacti,
stucco pink adobe. But then,
it was empty, at least most so,

of humans. Roadrunner on
occasion, rattler, coyote.
Tiny pointy prints of a herd
of javelina. Empty. And a day
off. And a bit of flippancy,

of arrogance. Of course I had
my pack and climbing rope. But
the face was only twenty-five
feet, maybe thirty, not more
surely, and there was a bit

of angle to it, and many narrow
crevices that promised holds
for hands and feet. It seemed
a small thing, not worth
breaking in, wasting a brand-

new fifty-foot hank of roping.
And it was the desert, glaring
bright and I too was shiny,
alone among the wild things
in a moment of invincibility.

I began to climb, finding
hand- and foot-holds plenty,
climbing slowly. Too slow.
The sky began to darken
suddenly, and fat droplets

began to hit my back, my
pack, my hat. Two-thirds
of the way up the face, so
I continued, but the going
was not so easy, the crevices

were getting wet, the hand-
holds slick. I slipped
and felt light and heavy
all at once, curled and got
tucked just in time before

I hit. Landed on my shoulder
mostly. Dislocated instantly,
no question. Rolled and came
half up onto my feet. Barrel
cactus hook-thorn like an

upholstery needle through
the side of my knee. And fifty
feet of unused rope still in
the pack upon my back. Stood
up all the way. Eventually.

Then packed my way back out
to where I’d left my pick-up,
limping. Drove in the right
lane slowly with the flashers
on all the way back into town

and down to a orthopedic
surgery complex complete with
office, x-ray, physical therapy
facilities. I walked in torn
up and bloodied, asked about

the possibility of a work-in
appointment. This was a long
time ago, not like it is now…
and the doctor saw me. Cut
off my shirt with shears, gave

me a mouth-guard to bite down
on, shoved the shoulder back
in place, then sent me down
the hall for x-rays, then back
in after to discuss. Beyond

cracked ribs, not much. Doctor
asked what happened to me, and
I told him honestly, including
where it hurt worst: that
would be my ego, probably.

But if not for that falling, cutting
down of ego, scything and subsequent
binding of the middle of my body, it’s
possible, even probable I’d still
be spending all my off-days out,

climbing hiking sleeping all alone.

after Dave Bonta’s “Little Wedding Song

If She Practices Anemochory

Some sycamore trees, like
the ones that used to grow
along the road between
Jerusalem and Jericho, they
make small figs – almost
exclusively. In fact, I’ve only
ever heard of once when
a small tax collector was
picked from one of these.

Others, like the ones here
in Missouri growing around
old Hodgson Mill on Bryant
Creek, are really buttonwoods.
The fruit they make is not
a fig at all, more a desiccated
pom-pom, might once have
been red or blue or green,
something bright and sporting
stitched onto a clown-suit.

But I think your Fallen
Woman is most probably
from a European species,
a sycamore that makes no
fruit at all, only a samara,
helicopter, a seed that whirls
and twirls as it’s falling,
a seed that’s often called
a Spinning Jenny. I think
the Fallen Woman is most
likely one of this variety.

After Dave Bonta’s “Fallen Woman.” For a list of all the types of trees known as sycamores, see the Wikipedia.

Waiting for The Imaginary Man: Poem with refrain from Parra

You are late
again, the kind of late
that makes me pick up each

teaspoon from the dinner
table where the empty
plates are waiting, hold

it up to the window
and tilt to catch an ember
of the porch-light

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

When you are after
sunset, temperatures begin
to fall, droplets from

the roof begin to slow
until one stops, refuses
to drop at all, takes

root on the gutter
and all others following
after join the icicle

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

And the temperature
outside also slows the changing
of the digits on the stove-clock

from 742 to 744
each napkin on the table
goes through another evolution

refolded unfolded refolded
into two lilies, then two fish
and then a frog and turtle

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

I wrap my hand around
the glass of juice
I poured too early

find it no longer chilled,
and the mug of tea I brewed to warm
you when you walk in

has long since stopped steaming,
and I empty both
into the sink, refill the kettle

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

I open both kitchen curtains
wide so they do not
obstruct the view through

the window, the road that can’t
be seen at night until
you’ve turned off the county main

and the wet gleam
of your headlights begins
to will-o’-wisp this way

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road

Every time so far
you have been late like this
you’ve come home safe

and every time you have been
late like this, there is this erasing,
this hollowness, this

what would become
of everything if this time
you didn’t

after El hombre imaginario / The Imaginary Man by Nicanor Parra

Laundry Poem #10: Tailored to Fit

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems


recreate from these faults
and fears, fitter selves,
as lean years follow fat
from “Into a Rightness” by Teju Cole

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe
in elves. Just not the laundry-thieving
kind. The kind for which I’ve seen

the evidence with my own eyes, the ones
that live behind the laptop screen,
those whose existence is the busy

tailoring of the fabric of reality.
Virtual, that is. The ones they
call the -bots that wake each other

up to watch the moment I sign in,
who register each mouse-click, each
virtual location that I visit, who

read the poems as I’m typing them
and offer ads to fit. Once, I’d
considered ad-blocker, virtual

exterminator…but no more. Instead,
I am amused by their vigilance,
tenacity, perceptions, by the way

they work and the advertisements
that they show me. I do not click
to visit any of the ads or sites

suggested, but take time to appreciate
the talent evident in the selections.
Yesterday, comparing tables, laws,

and tax-charts. Two windows open:
2017 calculation for what portion
of social security is taxable. 2018

tax law bill to puzzle over the new
tables. I go a long time without
pressing any keyboard keys at all,

working the numbers on the calculator
trying to find any way to make
the money reach. I sigh, then bump

the mouse to wake up the screen
in time to catch a quarter-page ad
that’s sprung full-size from some

god’s forehead: the elves suggest:
I start to laugh and cannot stop,

then stand up in full salute. Indeed,
my elvish friends. Bravo! Indeed.
So lately I’ve been writing all these

poems about laundry. And the elves
are tearing strips from the fabric
of the universe and stitching them

together into the world of my dreams:
this morning, seven advertisements
for multi-packs of socks, an article picked

for me to read on ten ways to clean
my washer and dryer (THIS LIFE HACK

a local mechanic’s business card,
an advertisement for a yard sale.
Then more socks, and green detergents,

then more socks. And yes, you know.
Amen to this personal quilting
of the internet today, this tailored

vision of the world that I live in.
No more advertisements for cruises,
retirement communities, luxury SUVs.

No more airfare-deals, no more

No more ads for fitness programs, no
more miracle solutions, no more kale,
turmeric, and vinegar. Amen.

As in real-space, so in cyber. Live
on, small elves, keep tailoring, reminding
me that I can really

change the world
around me with no more than
words and washing.

Give Me Your Ravaged, Your Ruined

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems


Oh what charming ruins
the inhabitants must be—
snaggletoothed and ravaged
from “Provincial” by Dave Bonta

A bloodied sock, a nail-hole punched
through the sole of it. Mister
Cottonwood, please leave it here
with me. While you are away dancing
two days earlier than your doctor
recommends upon that foot you injured

sweeping up after the job at Mrs.
Blattner’s, I’d like to take that
sock and throw it, with its mate
(still whole but worn thin at heel
and toe), into the laundry. It is
a myth that there are elves that

live invisibly behind the scenes
in every laundry room. They’ve never
been in mine. (Perhaps they do exist
in other people’s dryers, that is not
for me to say…I can only speak
to the error of saying “every”.)

But here in this laundry room, there
are several piles of socks:

  • socks that are half of a pair, where
    they and their partners were separated
    in the hamper, and went through the wash
    in different loads (they are waiting)
  • socks that are widowed, their partners
    worn through, no longer strong enough
    to serve as barrier between tender
    foot-soles and tough footwear (they are
    waiting too, to be matched to another
    like them, similar in style and purpose,
    waiting to be re-paired)
  • socks that have fulfilled the purpose
    of their life as socks and can serve
    no further in that role (they are
    not to be discarded, they are waiting
    for some purpose they may serve).
    See, Mister Cottonwood? Your puncture
    will be washed, then will reside here.

A makeshift glove to cover the hand
that wipes fresh creek-mud off
the puppy’s feet? A soft lint-free cloth
for applying hoof-care liniment
to the pastured horse? A clean layer
between the bag of frozen peas-and-
carrots and the skin to prevent frost-
biting when an inconvenient twist

of the wrist has happened that needs
some short-term icing? A gathering
of several members of this sock-pile
community to be entrusted, one atop
the other, to protect the outdoor
spigots in the hardest part of winter?
A mini-mop for the kitchen floor when
the salsa’s boiling becomes exuberant?

Reincarnation happens here, Mister
Cottonwood. Do not discard any
candidates. All may be re-purposed.

In response to “Mrs. Blattner’s Window” by Joe Cottonwood, title a nod to Emma Lazarus.