--THERE’S ONLY ONE OF YOU ON EARTH
Having To Go
At night,insomnia pulling your hair again,
pinching your nostrils shut,
you levitate off the bed.
In the hall,
you tip toe like a wary wraith,
remembering there are landmines everywhere,
booby-traps and fishing line stretched tight
and low to snag your ankles.
If you make it to the bathroom
that means it’s just twelve steps
to the front door.
But you recall how its hinge
shrieks like an angry cat,
how the knob is sometimes glazed with acid.
Still, you understand
that the evening always
needs someone to blame,
even innocents or orphans,
and so you pee a slow,
calculated stream on the side of the bowl,
but don’t flush,
hoping you’re hydrated,
that your urine mimics the color of water.
And as you traipse back the way you came,
one foot lightly landing after the other,
as deft as a mime no one notices,
your mind hums pale and electric,
a grinding truck clutch,
a wood chipper spitting out slivers,
made-up noise to take the edge off,
sheer your nerves, help you
make it back to bed alive
so you can sleep, wake, and
do it all over again.
What I Did On My Summer Vacation
By age nine,you are good at keeping secrets.
You are also an expert liar.
For the assignment—
What I Did On My Summer Vacation—
you describe feasts at French and Italian restaurants,
a massive hotel swimming pool with a gushing fountain,
family card games that linger long after dusk.
You get a B- and that is terrific,
that is just fine.
The one girl who is brave enough to date you
asks what your parents are like.
You’ve been waiting your whole
young life for this question,
and so you don’t miss a beat.
You’re as smooth as water-soaked plastic at this point.
You say they’re your parents, sure, but really
they’re more like friends, only older.
This girl with wishing well dimples,
she takes your hand,
the very one that got stabbed by a steak knife
and tells you wide-eyed and sweetly,
“I knew you weren’t
as weird as everyone says.”
Lying in the upper bunk one night,staring out a rain-smudged window
while your brother punches his pillow below,
it strikes you--
the difference between your folks
Theirs, being any kid that is not in your family.
All this time you’ve had suspicions.
You’ve heard and seen things that seemed
macabre or mad, Helter Skelter.
But then there was always
that part of your brain
bullying the other half,
applying Chinese torture,
a Full Nelson,
warning you to say “Uncle” or else,
teaching you what comes from
second guessing or wanting better.
Yet here they are,
the stars outside your window,
gathered like a crew of glittering voyeurs,
taunting you to make
something of them for once.
And when you don’t—
because you’ve learned to trust nothing,
not even the universe--
one star winks
while another jeers
until the whole lot
is tittering, convulsing,
the sky turned into a tray of
shifting tinsel jewelry,
fake, you think,
like everything in your life.