MY MOTHER GETS DRESSED It is impossible for my mother to do even the simplest things for herself anymore so we do it together, get her dressed. I choose the clothes without zippers or buckles or straps, clothes that are simple but elegant, and easy to get into. Otherwise, it's just like every other day. After bathing, getting dressed. The stockings go on first. This time, it's the new ones, the special ones with opaque black triangles that she's never worn before, bought just two weeks ago at her favorite department store. We start with the heavy, careful stuff of the right toes into the stocking tip then a smooth yank past the knob of her ankle and over her cool, smooth calf then the other toe cool ankle, smooth calf up the legs and the pantyhose is coaxed to her waist. You're doing great, Mom, I tell her as we ease her body against mine, rest her whole weight against me to slide her black dress with the black empire collar over her head struggle her fingers through the dark tunnel of the sleeve. I reach from the outside deep into the dark for her hand, grasp where I can't see for her touch. You've got to help me a little here, Mom I tell her then her fingertips touch mine and we work her fingers through the sleeve's mouth together, then we rest, her weight against me before threading the other fingers, wrist, forearm, elbow, bicep and now over the head. I gentle the black dress over her breasts, thighs, bring her makeup to her, put some color on her skin. Green for her eyes. Coral for her lips. I get her black hat. She's ready for her company. I tell the two women in simple, elegant suits waiting outside the bedroom, come in. They tell me, She's beautiful. Yes, she is, I tell them. I leave as they carefully zip her into the black body bag. Three days later, I dream a large, green suitcase arrives. When I unzip it, my mother is inside. Her dress matches her eyeshadow, which matches the suitcase perfectly. She's wearing coral lipstick. "I'm here, " she says, smiling delightedly, waving and I wake up. Four days later, she comes home in a plastic black box that is heavier than it looks. In the middle of a meadow, I learn a naked more than naked. I learn a new way to hug as I tighten my fist around her body, my hand filled with her ashes and the small stones of bones. I squeeze her tight then open my hand and release her into the smallest, hottest sun, a dandelion screaming yellow at the sky.
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This week in live current events: your eyes. All power can be dangerous: Direct or alternating, you, socket to me. Plugged in and the grid is humming, this electricity, molecule-deep desire: particular friction, a charge strong enough to stop a heart or start it again; volt, re-volt- I shudder, I stutter, I start to life. I've got my ion you, copper-top, so watch how you conduct yourself. Here's today's newsflash: a battery of rolling blackouts in California, sudden, like lightning kisses: sudden, whitehot darkness and you're here, fumbling for that small switch with an urgent surge strong enough to kill lesser machines. Static makes hair raise, makes things cling, makes things rise like a gathering storm charging outside our darkened house and here I am: tempest, pouring out mouthfulls of tsunami on the ground, I've got that rain-soaked kite, that drenched key. You know what it's for, circuit-breaker, you know how to kiss until it's hertz.
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GONE TO STATIC it sounds better than it is, this business of surviving, making it through the wrong place at the wrong time and living to tell. when the talk shows and movie credits wear off, it's just me and my dumb luck. this morning I had that dream again: the one where I'm dead. I wake up and nothing's much different. everything's gone sepia, a dirty bourbon glass by the bed, you're still dead. I could stumble to the shower, scrub the luck of breath off my skin but it's futile. the killer always wins. it's just a matter of time. and I have time. I have grief and liquor to fill it. tonight, the liquor and I are talking to you. the liquor says, 'remember' and I fill in the rest, your hands, your smile. all those times. remember. tonight the liquor and I are telling you about our day. we made it out of bed. we miss you. we were surprised by the blood between our legs. we miss you. we made it to the video store, missing you. we stopped at the liquor store hoping the bourbon would stop the missing. there's always more bourbon, more missing tonight, when we got home, there was a stray cat at the door. she came in. she screams to be touched. she screams when I touch her. she's right at home. not me. the whisky is open the vcr is on. I'm running the film backwards and one by one you come back to me, all of you. your pulses stutter to a begin your eyes go from fixed to blink the knives come out of your chests, the chainsaws roar out from your legs your wounds seal over your t-cells multiply, your tumors shrink the maniac killer disappears it's just you and me and the bourbon and the movie flickering together and the air breathes us and I am home, I am lucky I am right before everything goes black
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As she bends for a Kleenex in the dark, I am thinking of other girls: the girl I loved who fell in love with a lion-she lost her head over it-we just necked a lot; of the girl who fell in love with the tightrope, got addicted to getting high wired and nothing else was enough; all the beautiful, damaged women who have come through my life and I wonder what would have happened if I'd met them sooner, what they were like before they were so badly wounded. All this time I thought I'd been kissing, but maybe I'm always doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, kissing dead girls in hopes that the heart will start again. Where there's breath, I've heard, there's hope.
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I KNEW IT WAS OVER when tonight you couldn't make the phone ring when you used to make the sun rise when trees used to throw themselves in front of you to be paper for love letters that was how i knew i had to do it swaddle the kids we never had against january's cold slice bundle them in winter clothes they never needed so i could drop them off at my mom's even though she lives on the other side of the country and at this late west coast hour is assuredly east coast sleeping peacefully her house was lit like a candle the way homes should be warm and golden and home and the kids ran in and jumped at the bichon frise named lucky that she never had they hugged the dog it wriggled and the kids were happy yours and mine the ones we never had and my mom was grand maternal, which is to say, with style that only comes when you've seen enough to know grace like when to pretend it's christmas or a birthday so she lit her voice with tiny lights and pretended she didn't see me crying as i drove away to the hotel connected to the bar where i ordered the cheapest whisky they had just because it shares your first name because they don't make a whisky called baby and i only thought what i got was what i ordered i toasted the hangover inevitable as sun that used to rise in your name i toasted the carnivals we never went to and the things you never won for me the ferris wheels we never kissed on and all the dreams between us that sat there like balloons on a carney's board waiting to explode with passion but slowly deflated hung slave under the pin- prick of a tack hung heads down like lovers when it doesn't work, like me at last call after too many cheap too many sweet too much whisky makes me sick, like the smell of cheap, like the smell of the dead like the cheap, dead flowers you never sent that i never threw out of the window of a car i never really owned
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All the black leather she needs is the E-Z boy recliner where her love is parked with one of his hands wrapped around a remote, the other, a bottle of beer. She's right. It's kinky. The way he doesn't look away from the TV, as her head bobs in his lap like a fisherman's float on a nature program, hectic with the pace his breath sets. His crotch swells under her mouth's prowess. He's such a sweetheart he waits until the commercials to come.
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I think that I have less conviction than ever that poetry matters - that poetry changes or saves anything or anyone. But, in fact, that's tremendously freeing. If it doesn't matter much, the stakes are lower and you can't really fail. It's insurrection. It's a tiny alphabet revolution. A secret. A psalm.
Poetry is a lousy form of activism; it doesn't really change much. And maybe we can point to one or two historical times when a poem has started a revolution or a rebellion or an uprising, but it doesn't happen that often, and if you put the number of poems next to the number of political acts, it would be pretty slim.