Poems from BLOWOUT, University of Pittsburgh Press (2013)
FOURTH GRADE BOYFRIEND
In fourth grade, the fattest boy in class wrote me a love letter
that read, Welcome to this new school.
You are very pretty. I want to be your boyfriend. I didn’t like his plaid shirt
or his big melon head, so I crumpled up the note and ignored him.
Soon though I realized how hard it was to be the new girl
when the other girls had sleepovers to which I wasn’t invited
and the other boys were mean and spit in the water fountain.
A few weeks later I wrote back, Sorry it’s taken me so long to answer.
OK. I’ll be your girlfriend. He walked me home, showing me the shortcut
through the woods, the “umbrella graveyard” where kids abandoned
anything they were too ashamed to carry—out-of-date
lunchboxes, shirts and coats no longer in style. Umbrellas
which, he explained, were uncool, no matter what.
Sometimes a girl would change shoes on the path,
leaving the ugly ones she had to wear at home hanging
from their laces on a branch. The fat boy huffed and puffed
up the tiniest inclines. I did too—it was fall
and that’s when my asthma flared up. One time my nose started to bleed
and, because I didn’t have any tissues, the fat boy gave me
his science worksheet, then a big maple leaf, to catch the blood.
So what if he couldn’t dance? That was love.
* * *
YOU’RE LOOKING AT THE LOVE INTEREST
It’s a long story, but basically
I’m stuck in Lincoln, NE and need to get to Omaha
to catch my flight back to Fort Lauderdale.
The person who is supposed to pick me up
has overslept. When he doesn’t answer his cell phone,
I call the local cab company that can’t let its cars
leave Lincoln because of some law that takes
the person answering too long to explain. The next hotel shuttle
departs an hour from now and I will miss my flight
if I wait for it. The woman behind the desk says,
There’s one more option—a car service—but it’ll cost you.
I negotiate a price—$200 for an hour’s ride—and run
to the nearest ATM. I’m expecting a town car,
but a driver arrives in a pickup truck. I climb in
and the usual chitchat begins except I keep pressing him—
will I make my plane? You sure will, he says,
I used to drive this route all the time. Why was I in Omaha?
To give a lecture, I say.
A lecture about what? the driver asks.
I confess that I’m a poet.
Oh, so you read last night. You must be Denise.
My ex-wife was there. She’s a poet, too.
He describes her to me: long gray hair, red sweater.
She had the first question at the Q&A. What about Ted Kooser? he says.
Do you like his work? Yes! The driver’s favorite book of his:
Weather Central. We talk Nebraska poets: Hilda Raz, Weldon Kees.
The benefits of living here: cheap rent, good air.
His favorite writer of all time? Arthur Miller.
It’s a long shot, I say, but do you know Meghan Daum?
Before I tell him she writes prose,
his grin fills the rearview mirror.
Know her? he beams. You’re looking at the love interest!
I ask, You mean from The Quality of Life Report?
He confirms he’s indeed that guy. But aren’t you
supposed to be a carpenter? That’s what you are in her book.
He says Meghan has since talked him into taking work
on the side as a driver since he brought her back and forth
to the airport so many times. Besides, that’s a novel, he explains.
He assures me he’s only seventy percent as bad
as she made him out to be and tells me,
scene by scene, his version of the story.
But, hey, no hard feelings—he says he understands
why Meghan had to make him out to be a little bit of a jerk.
No conflict, no story, right? As long as he came across
as a sexy guy in the book, what the heck. I mean,
the ex in your poems probably isn’t as terrible
as he is on the page, he says, sliding into
the passenger drop off zone and hoisting my bag
to the curb. I wonder if he’s trying to tell me his ex-wife, the poet,
has written about him too. I’ll stay married two more years,
before my ex becomes the villain in my villanelle.
Run, the love interest says. You’re going to make it.
He checks the extra crumpled bills I put in his hand.
And his tip to me: Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.
* * *
As I unscrew the dead
60-watt bulb and shake
your bodies from the glass globe
into the trash, I feel
huge, like God
or science. As I screw in
the new sun, I blink,
descend, fold up
the stepladder. It’s time
to paint on new lips
and drive out
into the risky neon mist.