Barry Tebb |
Give me life at its most garish
Friday night in the Square, pink sequins dazzle
And dance on clubbers bare to the midriff
Young men in crisp shirts and pressed pants
‘Dress code smart’ gyrate to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
And sing along its lyrics to the throng of which I’m one
My shorts, shoulder bag and white beard
Making me stand out in the teeming swarm
Of teens and twenties this foetid Friday night
On my way from the ward where our son paces
And fulminates I throw myself into the drowning
Tide of Friday to be rescued by sheer normality.
The mill girl with her mates asks anxiously
"Are you on your own? Come and join us
What’s your name?" Age has driven my shyness away
As I join the crowd beneath the turning purple screens
Bannered ‘Orgasm lasts for ever’ and sip unending
Halves of bitter, as I circulate among the crowd,
Being complete in itself and out for a good night out,
A relief from factory, shop floor and market stall
Running from the reality of the ward where my son
Pounds the ledge with his fist and seems out to blast
My very existence with words like bullets.
The need to anaesthetise the pain resurfaces
Again and again.
In Leeds City Square where
Pugin’s church, the Black Prince and the Central Post Office
In its Edwardian grandeur are startled by the arching spumes
Or white water fountains and the steel barricades of Novotel
Rise from the ruins of a sixties office block.
I hurry past and join Boar Lane’s Friday crew
From Keighley and Dewsbury’s mills, hesitating
At the thought of being told I’m past my
Sell-by-date and turned away by the West Indian
Bouncers, black-suited and city-council badged
Who checked my bag but smiled at ‘The Lights of
Leeds’ and ‘Poets of Our Time’ tucked away as carefully as condoms-
Was it guns or drugs they were after
I wondered as I crossed the bare boards to the bar.
I stayed near the fruit machine which no-one played,
Where the crowd was thickest, the noise drowned out the pain
‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’ the chorus rang
The girls joined in but the young men knew
The words no more than me.
Dancing as we knew it
In the sixties has gone, you do your own thing
And follow the beat, hampered by my bag
I just kept going, letting the music and the crowd
Hold me, my camera eye moving in search, in search…
What I’m searching for I don’t know
Searching’s a way of life that has to grow
"All of us who are patients here are searchers after truth"
My son kept saying, his legs shaking from the side effects
Of God-knows- what, pacing the tiny ward kitchen cum smoking room,
Denouncing his ‘illegal section’ and ‘poisonous medication’
To an audience of one.
The prospect of TV, Seroxat and Diazepan fazed me:
I was beyond unravelling Meltzer on differentiation
Of self and object or Rosine Josef Perelberg on ‘Dreaming and Thinking’
Or even the simpler ‘Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States’
So I went out with West Yorkshire on a Friday night.
Nothing dramatic happened; perhaps I’m a little too used
To acute wards or worse where chairs fly across rooms,
Windows disintegrate and double doors are triple locked
And every nurse carries a white panic button and black pager
To pinpoint the moment’s crisis.
Normality was a bit of adrenaline,
A wild therapy that drew me in, sanity had won the night.
"Are you on your own, love? Come and join us"
People kept asking if I was alright and why
I had that damned great shoulder bag.
I was introduced
To three young men about to tie the knot, a handsome lothario
In his midforties winked at me constantly,
Dancing with practised ease with sixteen year olds
Who all seemed to know him and determined to show him.
Three hours passed in as many minutes and then the crowds
Disappeared to catch the last bus home.
The young aren’t
As black as they are painted, one I danced with reminded me
Of how Margaret would have been at sixteen
With straw gold hair Yeats would have immortalised.
People seemed to guess I was haunted by an inner demon
I’d tried to leave in the raftered lofts of City Square
But failed to.
Girls from sixteen to twenty six kept grabbing me
And making me dance and I found my teenage inhibitions
Gone at sixty-one and wildly gyrated to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
Egged on by the throng by the fruit machine and continuous
Thumbs-up signs from passing men.
I had to forgo
A cheerful group of Aussies were intent on taking me clubbing
"I’d get killed or turned into a pumpkin
If I get home after midnight" I quipped to their delight
But being there had somehow put things right.
Denise Duhamel |
At first she was sure it was just a bit of dried strawberry juice,
or a fleck of her mother's red nail polish that had flaked off
when she'd patted her daughter to sleep the night before.
But as she scrubbed, Snow felt a bump, something festering
under the surface, like a tapeworm curled up and living
in her left cheek.
Doc the Dwarf was no dermatologist
and besides Snow doesn't get to meet him in this version
because the mint leaves the tall doctor puts over her face
only make matters worse.
Snow and the Queen hope
against hope for chicken pox, measles, something
that would be gone quickly and not plague Snow's whole
If only freckles were red, she cried, if only
concealer really worked.
Soon came the pus, the yellow dots,
multiplying like pins in a pin cushion.
the greasy hair.
The Queen gave her daughter a razor
for her legs and a stick of underarm deodorant.
doodled through her teenage years—"Snow + ?" in Magic
Markered hearts all over her notebooks.
She was an average
student, a daydreamer who might have been a scholar
if she'd only applied herself.
She liked sappy music
and romance novels.
She liked pies and cake
instead of fruit.
The Queen remained the fairest in the land.
It was hard on Snow, having such a glamorous mom.
She rebelled by wearing torn shawls and baggy gowns.
Her mother would sometimes say, "Snow darling,
why don't you pull back your hair? Show those pretty eyes?"
or "Come on, I'll take you shopping.
staying in her safe room, looking out of her window
at the deer leaping across the lawn.
Or she'd practice
her dance moves with invisible princes.
And the Queen,
busy being Queen, didn't like to push it.
Denise Duhamel |
They decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin
over Ken's bulging neck socket.
His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend's body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance.
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips,
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls,
up until now, have done neither of them much good.
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body
under the weight of Ken's face.
He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite.
And she is imagining
she is somebody else-- maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.
The night had begun with Barbie getting angry
at finding Ken's blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch.
He was defensive and ashamed, especially about
not having the breath to inflate her.
But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work.
With their good memories
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth.
When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned.
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark,
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids.
Then, they let themselves go-- Soon Barbie was begging Ken
to try on her spandex miniskirt.
She showed him how
to pivot as though he was on a runway.
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her
on the kitcen table until she grew dizzy.
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.
Philip Levine |
The day comes slowly in the railyard
behind the ice factory.
It broods on
one cinder after another until each
glows like lead or the eye of a dog
possessed of no inner fire, the brown
and greasy pointer who raises his muzzle
a moment and sighing lets it thud
down on the loading dock.
In no time
the day has crossed two sets of tracks,
a semi-trailer with no tractor, and crawled
down three stories of the bottling plant
at the end of the alley.
It is now
less than five hours until mid-day
when nothing will be left in doubt,
each scrap of news, each banished carton,
each forgotten letter, its ink bled of lies,
will stare back at the one eye that sees
it all and never blinks.
But for now
there is water settling in a clean glass
on the shelf beside the razor, the slap
of bare feet on the floor above.
the scent of rivers borne across roof
after roof by winds without names,
the aroma of opened beds better left
closed, of mouths without teeth, of light
rustling among the mice droppings
at the back of a bin of potatoes.
The old man who sleeps among the cases
of empty bottles in a little nest of rags
and newspapers at the back of the plant
is not an old man.
He is twenty years
younger than I am now putting this down
in permanent ink on a yellow legal pad
during a crisp morning in October.
When he fell from a high pallet, his sleeve
caught on a nail and spread his arms
like a figure out of myth.
tore open on a spear of wood, and he
swore in French.
No, he didn't want
He wanted toilet paper
and a drink, which were fetched.
the tiny bottle of whisky to straighten
out his eyes and the toilet paper to clean
his pants, fouled in the fall, and he did
both with seven teenage boys looking on
in wonder and fear.
At last the blood
slowed and caked above his ear, and he
never once touched the wound.
in a voice no one could hear, he spoke
to himself, probably in French, and smoked
sitting back against a pallet, his legs
thrust out on the damp cement floor.
In his white coveralls, crisp and pressed,
Teddy the Polack told us a fat tit
would stop a toothache, two a headache.
He told it to anyone who asked, and grinned --
the small eyes watering at the corners --
as Alcibiades might have grinned
when at last he learned that love leads
even the body beloved to a moment
in the present when desire calms, the skin
glows, the soul takes the light of day,
even a working day in 1944.
For Baharozian at seventeen the present
was a gift.
Seeing my ashen face,
the cold sweats starting, he seated me
in a corner of the boxcar and did
both our jobs, stacking the full cases
neatly row upon row and whistling
the songs of Kate Smith.
In the bathroom
that night I posed naked before the mirror,
the new cross of hair staining my chest,
plunging to my groin.
That was Wednesday,
for every Wednesday ended in darkness.
One of those teenage boys was my brother.
That night as we lay in bed, the lights
out, we spoke of Froggy, of how at first
we thought he would die and how little
he seemed to care as the blood rose
to fill and overflow his ear.
the long day came over us and our breath
quieted and eased at last, and we slept.
When I close my eyes now his bare legs
glow before me again, pure and lovely
in their perfect whiteness, the buttocks
dimpled and firm.
I see again the rope
of his sex, unwrinkled, flushed and swaying,
the hard flat belly as he raises his shirt
to clean himself.
He gazes at no one
or nothing, but seems instead to look off
into a darkness I hadn't seen, a pool
of shadow that forms before his eyes,
in my memory now as solid as onyx.
I began this poem in the present
because nothing is past.
The ice factory,
the bottling plant, the cindered yard
all gave way to a low brick building
a block wide and windowless where they
designed gun mounts for personnel carriers
that never made it to Korea.
rises early, and on clear days he walks
to the corner to have toast and coffee.
Seventeen winters have melted into an earth
of stone, bottle caps, and old iron to carry
off the hard remains of Froggy Frenchman
without a blessing or a stone to bear it.
A little spar of him the size of a finger,
pointed and speckled as though blood-flaked,
washed ashore from Lake Erie near Buffalo
before the rest slipped down the falls out
into the St.
He could be at sea,
he could be part of an ocean, by now
he could even be home.
This morning I
rose later than usual in a great house
full of sunlight, but I believe it came
down step by step on each wet sheet
of wooden siding before it crawled
from the ceiling and touched my pillow
to waken me.
When I heave myself
out of this chair with a great groan of age
and stand shakily, the three mice still
in the wall.
From across the lots
the wind brings voices I can't make out,
scraps of song or sea sounds, daylight
breaking into dust, the perfume of waiting
rain, of onions and potatoes frying.
Maggie Estep |
My first job was when I was about 15.
I had met
a girl named Hope who became my best friend.
Hope and I were flunking math
class so we became speed freaks.
This honed our algebra skills and we quickly
became whiz kids.
For about 5 minutes.
Then, our brains started to fry
and we were just teenage speed freaks.
Then, we decided to to seek gainful employment.
We got hired on as part time maids at the Holiday Inn while a maid strike
We were scab maids on speed and we were coming to clean
We were subsequently fired for pilfering a Holiday Inn guest's quaalude
stash which we did only because we never thought someone would have the
nerve to call the front desk and say; THE MAIDS STOLE MY LUUDES MAN.
someone did - or so we surmised - because we were fired.
I supppose maybe we were fired because we never actually CLEANED but rather
just turned on the vacuum so it SOUNDED like we were cleaning as we picked
the pubic hairs off the sheets and out of the tub then passed out on the
bed and caught up on the sleep we'd missed from being up all night speeding.
When we got fired, we became waitresses at an International House of Pancakes.
We were much happier there.
Anne Sexton |
A born salesman,
my father made all his dough
by selling wool to Fieldcrest, Woolrich and Faribo.
A born talker,
he could sell one hundred wet-down bales
of that white stuff.
He could clock the miles and the sales
and make it pay.
At home each sentence he would utter
had first pleased the buyer who'd paid him off in butter.
had been tried over and over, at any rate,
on the man who was sold by the man who filled my plate.
My father hovered
over the Yorkshire pudding and the beef:
a peddler, a hawker, a merchant and an Indian chief.
Roosevelt! Willkie! and war!
How suddenly gauche I was
with my old-maid heart and my funny teenage applause.
Each night at home
my father was in love with maps
while the radio fought its battles with Nazis and Japs.
Except when he hid
in his bedroom on a three-day drunk,
he typed out complex itineraries, packed his trunk,
his matched luggage
and pocketed a confirmed reservation,
his heart already pushing over the red routes of the nation.
I sit at my desk
each night with no place to go,
opening thee wrinkled maps of Milwaukee and Buffalo,
the whole U.
its cemeteries, its arbitrary time zones,
through routes like small veins, capitals like small stones.
He died on the road,
his heart pushed from neck to back,
his white hanky signaling from the window of the Cadillac.
as blue-eyed as a picture book, sells wool:
boxes of card waste, laps and rovings he can pull
to the thread
and say Leicester, Rambouillet, Merino,
a half-blood, it's greasy and thick, yellow as old snow.
And when you drive off, my darling,
Yes, sir! Yes, sir! It's one for my dame,
your sample cases branded with my father's name,
your itinerary open,
its tolls ticking and greedy,
its highways built up like new loves, raw and speedy.
John Berryman |
I am the little man who smokes & smokes.
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am the king of the pool.
I am so wise I had my mouth sewn shut.
I am a government official & a goddamned fool.
I am a lady who takes jokes.
I am the enemy of the mind.
I am the auto salesman and lÃ³ve you.
I am a teenage cancer, with a plan.
I am the blackt-out man.
I am the woman powerful as a zoo.
I am two eyes screwed to my set, whose blindâ€”
It is the Fourth of July.
Collect: while the dying man,
forgone by you creator, who forgives,
is gasping 'Thomas Jefferson still lives'
in vain, in vain, in vain.
I am Henry Pussy-cat! My whiskers fly.