Am not the productivity queen, though trying,
every bad habit I have is worse right now.
I’ve learned a new word—“recrudescence.” Wow
is that my life at 3 a.m. I keep thinking I’m dying
from the virus that makes my lips a little blue
but is not, not according to the test, the hot new sick.
You can learn a lot about a person in a pandemic,
but what you think you know might not be true.
I’ve been thinking about the shows I used to watch after school.
Who would and wouldn’t wear a mask because it was or wasn’t cool.
Leave it to Wally to be the most consistent.
The Beave would try but lose his in a minute.
The actor who played him just died—let’s take a second to grieve—
or really however long we need—but I think we can all agree
Eddie might wear his mask in front of June,
but he’d take it off the moment she left the room.
“Of course not dear,” Lovey says to her Mister
but she puts her mask back on when he looks away,
which is often, as unabsorbed as he is with her.
Dollar signs in his eyes and under his nails.
Who’s in Lovey’s eyes when she closes them?
She’s just smart enough to play dumb.
It’s not the rich man who sets her heart drumming.
It’s not her husband’s coconuts she’s rubbing.
Once more amusing myself takes an extra turn
as I’m sorting through what I’ve learned
in quarantine. It’s you I’m unhappy with, you
and your mask, or your lack of a mask, you make me rage, make me panic.
You can learn an awful lot about people in a pandemic,
but what you think you know might not be true.
Everything’s still crowded in my dreams, bathrooms the worst,
with people jammed in or lined up or knocking, “Can you hurry?
My little girl has really got to go.”
They’re chamber pots, implausible stalls, or holes
in the floor. I’m always just about to lose it
when I find a working toilet in a bank lobby.
So far, barely, at the last second, I make it.
I wake up relieved I haven’t soaked the sheets.
Last night: the closest one is full, the next
monitored by a woman I somehow know doesn’t like me.
I’m close to the parking lot. I just decide to leave.
I’m already late. Somehow this connects
to a storm brewing. It’s so dark all the streetlights
have come on. I get excited when I think of this lie:
“I’ll just tell them I thought it was already night.”
I dreamed I saw a Wooly dog descendant—
wiggle-butted, scruffy, ornery, clearly
one more in a long line of poodle-terrier mutts.
His owner said, “he’s a Rottweiler,” but
no way. Just too much Benji evident.
Black against the giant foxtail. Curly
in every way—tousled coat, bent tail,
wagging walk toward me when I called.
When I was little, we let our dogs run free
all day and shut them up at night. Also, we
got the girl dogs fixed, but not the boys.
Thus all the Wooly dogs in Southern Illinois.
Every single thing was looser then.
I was happy. My dogs were my best friends.
“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” Elizabeth Bishop
When I look at Real Estate in The New York Times,
I am charmed, absorbed by how small the spaces are
how much they cost, how light, how airy, how clever.
And oh! The things the owners say sometimes:
“It’s a modest little apartment but it’s so well done,”
(Barbara Barrie said) “It has brought me joy every day.”
But the odds for joy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan
are better than even, I’d guess. I really couldn’t say.
I am obsessed with other people’s homes.
I drive by houses and picture myself there.
Would I like it? Are the people inside happier
or sadder? Do they want to stay or go?
I think I could be happy anywhere.
I could be happy anywhere but here.
I suppose it’s possible that last line is true, but more likely it’s the poet in me having that line occur to me and going NICE TWIST. In any case, my house in small-town Wisco is pretty sweet sometimes:
The trees and hills are at that awkward point
of winter, snow on the ground but nowhere else,
a bald guy with new implants too spread-out
to be attractive. I can’t wait until it all melts.
I had a dream once of climbing a hill like that.
I stubbed my toe, looked down to see bright pink
instead of white—blood mixed with snow—I think
that’s why hills look like heads to me still. What
dream book should I consult for giant head with tender scalp and kicked-up bleeding crown?
I was part of a dream journaling experiment back then
and had a wicked crush on the therapist who led
the group. He had snake dreams. We all said
a snake means sex. He said no, not always. It doesn’t.
At 22, I was a nearly-manic mix of depressed
and horny and drank too much one time and tried to find
his house. I knew it was by a lake. If I found
his house, he didn’t answer the door. Which is good.
That night felt like a dream, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.
I almost never want to leave the street
where my dream is taking place, but things
move fast so I can’t linger. The other night
I was in Butte (I think) and everything
was Irish, St. Patrick this and Brigid that,
mint green signs and throbbing drums and drunk guys
and a sense that things were turning dangerous
and I was walking, not driving, down a very narrow street.
That’s it. That was the end. I wasn’t afraid.
A man I know who lost a tooth in Butte
(for real) has cancer. I dreamed about him last night.
A gallery show, collages of himself, most naked,
which he called “The Ravager_________.” Next to the cheese tray,
he was selling tiny brown cloverleafs he’d crocheted.
My family said I’d lost about two months
when I called to say I’d popped back up in time.
They were, in my opinion, a little too calm
about my reappearance. In their defense,
they’d gotten several calls from other mes
from other times. I hadn’t made it home
to them on any of those other times.
I set out, offering up a tiny “please.”
I can’t stop seeing my original descent,
a fall, as from a plane, no chute, convinced
I was about to die. Somehow I didn’t.
Wind held me up. Or magnets. Or just friction.
In any case, the grass I landed on
was softer than I can describe. Softer than
My cat, Callie, wondering if I’m going to kick her off the back porch, out of the dirty clothes. Not yet.
I love sleeping. I love dreaming. I love my dreamscapes. I love writing sonnets. I love Berryman’s dream songs. So–let’s see how many of these I can write? And how long will it take Callie to sleep so I can take a second picture, illustrating sleep?
What if the Little Drummer Boy grew up
to be Big Drummer Man, a butcher perhaps,
with skins aplenty to manhandle across the tops
of barrels and pots and one precious little cup
that someone drank some special wine out of,
(Jesus maybe, yes, that’s who it was),
so that all along the Via Dolorosa,
every single, sorrowful step, there rose a
tattoo (the skin kind is the second definition,
thank you very much), a pummeled out
percussion code, spelling with every beat
not “inadequacy,” but “indignation,
causing Mary to nod to the beat and from
up high the grown-up baby smiled at him?
I know the little drummer boy did his thing in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, but hear me out–any kid who plays a drum for a baby isn’t going to just GO AWAY, especially not after mother and child both encouraged him. I figure he stuck around and made a nuisance of himself, kept in touch, essentially stalked the holy family, drumming the whole time, and I picture them feeling about him the way I feel about the song–partly charmed, partly annoyed.
Not happy yet with the title. I considered these:
OK WHAT WISE GUY PUT A CROWN OF THORNS IN THE MANGER
WE CAN’T HELP SEEING A CROWN OF THORNS IN THE MANGER
ON THE HEAD OF THE BABY IN THE MANGER LIES A CROWN OF THORNS