Room 52 • Poetry Hotel
Four Poems / Jendi Reiter
OF MICE AND WOMEN
When I wore my red dress to the barn
I knew I'd be wasted —
them Dust Bowl drifters
can't tell a live one from a rabbit skin.
Some of us gals are just born foxes
and sharp or dumb, all hounds hunt the same —
the tail's what they come for,
soft as a redhead whore,
but no teeth, no vixen
barking like a bored wife on a dry farm.
When his dull mitts snagged my curls
I was a mouse caught in the thresher,
a little squeak, a little snap.
They were counting on him, I guess,
to save up dimes for a place
where the dirt never quits yielding.
After it my legs stuck out like two broke straws.
C'mon boys, I'm dead now but
pull the other one.
No one loves a creature so hard it dies
On Halloween there are no lies in the stores.
Not yet the turkeys in buckled hats thankfully
hopping toward the national fork
and knife, the feathered braves fading
with silent footfalls into history's woods,
erased from the cardboard pageants and football turf.
Not yet the wax apple cheeks and cotton beard
of the confessional franchise in every toy town,
the daddy actor sneaking kisses and milk
while children dream as they've been told.
On Halloween there is death on the calendar,
at last, the old lady taking a front-room chair,
unsung timekeeper of every holiday choir.
This is her one day to pull down the album
and coo over her resemblance to the grandchildren,
who learn too soon to be ashamed
to wear a crone's face on any regular morning.
On Halloween there is no loneliness
for motherless Frankenstein, no required bouquet
on the pine lid of Dracula's single bed,
his satisfied heart an empty chocolate box.
No witches circle the airports, caught
in snow delay en route to a dutiful dinner with parents
who kicked them out when their skin turned green.
On Halloween there is nothing to salute.
The flags of Pharaoh and Transylvania
contribute no colors to the explosions in the sky.
No one hands a man a harp instead of a potato
and asks for a sad joke song of the old country.
The oldest country is still ahead,
where twig fingers snap and beckon
to the bonfire's uniting dance.
50 YEARS LATER, A POETRY CRITIC BLOGS
ABOUT FINGERING HIS GIRLFRIEND
when she said she wasn't doing what she was
when her friendship was your waiting
you thought your futures tight as rubber bands
you thought her elbow was a nipple
when she stopped naked and cried for a dead uncle
when she wouldn't have learned till this writing
you gave a pal her fingered scent to sniff
you gave proof that someone had been fooled
when she told you but you didn't believe the ending
when unkindness was the only means she knew to close her legs
you say now the story is yours to open
you say now your remorse should be obvious
when casting doubt that she had an uncle
when death like a blood spot on white jeans is a timely excuse
you had feelings like rubber stretched to snapping
you had feelings that should interest everyone
when she didn't want what she wanted
when she'd been taught Yes was wicked and No was cruel
you did not notice anyone saying this
you did not notice her pussy was a room you were alone in
when you made it your showroom then
when you make it your confessional now
A more famous poet's best friend once said
if you don't risk sentimentality in a poem why bother.
Sentimentality is what we call feelings
that the writer is wholly inside of, but no one else is.
In that sense it's the safest poetry act, no risk of transmission.
Videos of masturbation will always get more clicks than poetry
about the world wars or Midwestern childhood or discovering radium
or even love,
which suggests that sentimentality is unfairly maligned.
It's only a quarter
to peep through the glory hole of the poem
at the man wincing and sighing at the feeling of himself,
and we do, though the moves are so generic
he could be rocking to earbud music, or taking a burning piss
because he went bare the last time, what a mistake.
Sentiment-discordant couples, now that's a risk.
Unlike what the health pamplets tell you,
it's usually the negative who converts the positive.
After enough unprotected encounters
the writer becomes immune to roses,
may go blind to the moon, contract
every stanza with ironic ampersands.
This poem is not like that.
It feels like real skin.
There's a space at the tip to catch your teardrops.
If used correctly, the risk of reading this poem is lower
than what you did last night. Go ahead, now,
no one is watching.