by Jill Summers
The survey is in, let’s add up all the numbers.
Now that we know how everyone feels we can
make a fresh start. Sometimes there’a big contrast
between old & new. You react to something
in the past by going to the opposite extreme. You
make up for your mistakes by going in another
direction. It could be that the new is the same
as the old, but at least for a while it “seems” different.
Soon enough the new becomes the old and the guy
in the outdoor restaurant under the palm trees
with his back to the ocean is singing a song by the
Eagles, while the waitress brings us a plate of
mahi mahi and some girls in hula skirts begin dancing
on a stage and someone throws a tomahawk into
the side of my head which is why I look strange,
talk strange, and are having what’s known in some
circles as a bad hair day, but which for me is just
business as usual.
I keep thinking I know something about people but then
someone does something to surprise me. Someone
who I thought I knew well acts in a way I never thought
imaginable. I’d like to act out of character for once
in my life, go against my instincts, redefine myself by
expanding the border around this person I think of as
“me.” There are lines I won’t cross, but what if I do? A
red light goes off, a danger signal, I lose my nerve.
I’m frightened of living with the consequences of what
I do but I hate the feeling of self-importance that makes
me think that I have the power to hurt anyone. The only
person you ever end up hurting is yourself. I need
someone to take my hand & help me cross the line.
Today we went early to our favorite restaurant,
La Fonda, drank beer & ate enchiladas. The person
at the next table was eating what looked like
the head of a fish, but it might have been a human
head, for all I know. The waiter, Ernesto, brought us
our food in record time. The outdoor garden was
crowded with American couples & Mexican families.
It was New Years Eve & the restaurant was closing
early. The sailboat on the horizon is still there.
The malacon is almost empty. The ferry to Mazatlan
is waiting to leave, an 18 hour ride across the Sea
of Cortez. I’d like to see Mazatlan, but not tonight.
Here’s the door of the church. How much does it cost to get in? There’s the priest at the door with a hat in his hand. Here’s the doctor with a clipboard, listening to your dreams. Yes, you can pay on a sliding scale, & no, you can’t kiss me on the lips when you say goodbye. You can’t even kiss me on the cheeks like they do in Paris. Strangers, fucking strangers, they kiss everybody on the street. Sex between doctors & patients is forbidden, or so they think. There’s a toll if you want to get in, just put your money in the slot. The correct change, please, there’s no money back guarantee. Follow the directions on the side of the package & you can’t go wrong. They give you the wrong number when no one’s listening. It’s not enough money to take anyone to court. Call my bluff if you don’t believe me.
We’ve been in the deserted city too long.
I dipped my cup in a watering hole & fell on my face.
He was frightened of seeing the elephant’s penis.
Place an order at the counter & hope for the best.
A gram of desire for breakfast;
gruel for lunch. Dinner on the town,
some place not too fancy.
Who’d you call cheap?
Disaster relief is always late
in coming, & when it arrives
no one knows what to do
Building a tent in your backyard
while they rebuild the house
might be one way of claiming
your place when it no longer
when you’ve sold your heart
to the first person
who says “yes.”
These poems originally appeared in MAKE #7, “Property Lines.”
Lewis Warsh is author of numerous books of poems, fiction, and autobiography including A Place in the Sun (Spuyten Duyvil, 2010), Inseparable, poems 1995-2005 (Granary, 2008), Touch of the Whip (Singing Horse, 2002) and The Origin of the World (Creative Arts, 2001). He is co-editor of The Angel Hair Anthology, editor and publisher of United Artists Books, and director of the MFA program in creative writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn.