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Fake Merwins, Fat Dianes

The fat Dianes pray to child Buddhas
who sit at Whole Foods
eating sandwiches with fake Merwins.

Please save me, they say.
The Merwins are too old,
the Dianes too fat.

They walk down Broadway
past buildings
that are painted the wrong brown,

toward Asian women
with gray roots who ask,
“How old are you?”

She is turning in and out of herself
fat Diane
sitting alone in her bedroom

fat Diane,
a D.C. blonde caught in a power trap.
Never make a commitment,

never crack a smile.
You are a happy-go-lucky old lady
they are turning into a pedophile.

Diane is playing dodge ball,
Diane is having tea.
Diane has a lion face,
Diane is not the queen.

Merwin, Merwin where are you

One day Andy Warhol will take a photo of all this
and turn it into a Marilyn Monroe triptych
with pink and purple dots
and cheshire cat smiles,
an island where washing machines
curl into smoke bombs
and little shoes wait to be worn

I don’t know if Merwin walked by tonight
Will you cut the wires
Will you show me the detonator
where Vietnam war Vets make games
of door stoops and step landings.

I might slip once winter settles in
I might find my car full of smoke
The dents in my front door might detonate too,
but Merwin, Merwin where are you?

Everybody went, I thought I was going too.
The audience only knows what it needs
She’s fat or she’s skinny or she shits,
She parrots what the tests have already shown.

Slate bombs and firecrackers and jugs full of percolite
little stones
cars in ghost lights beneath fake trees
and blue glazed vases that tell where the arsenal sits
in the condo between the ladders where nobody lives

That’s what keeps you on air
That’s what keeps you on ride
When I step from my house
Who’s on my side

Now my car has black fingerprint dust
and they’ll leave it alone

The first hour they taped my mouth
The second hour they shook my skull
The third hour they blistered my breasts
and now I sit all alone

Even the lover in you cannot bring her home
A performance keyed up that no one can see
an audience that takes to trader chatter
partly somewhat sloppy and partly somewhat whole

pieces of my life taped together in a dress
rehearsal to the death
full-hour programming
I work or I don’t

I cannot breathe
I’ll always be a little late
but no more headaches and no more colds
A fake cigarette in a fake mask mouth
might need a smoke

Once we run out of colors
we’ll know we’re through
the script looks like the rainbow
You got old people
but mostly young

Insiders or outsiders none have defects
She’s not too affectionate
He doesn’t use his paws
He’s a piece of paper
they like to laugh and touch

Keyed up cats and no food dogs
I can make this amount of dirt turn to diarrhea dog shit
Your vagina blood is sprayed on paint
Members of the cult, you know what I mean
The minute you become gods you work without cameras

the minute you put on sneakers
you’re part of the camera-and-sneaker clan
Where a nice old lady sits on a bench
looking for slaphappy rainbows and slicked on skin
The nice couple on the pedestal
has made a request
to cornhusk it and bubble it a likeable best

where humorizing and glamorizing are paid by the hour
I pretend this just isn’t happening
I pretend if I don’t talk it all
she won’t notice
I just stand here and pose
like I did on the slide
as a child in 1975

I don’t believe in ratings
I just shake my dick

Or play a gay boy sick
It’s obvious who’s queer
It’s obvious who’s upset
I’ve decided enough is enough but I still get paid
by third-seat writers who work on the slade

If the signatures aren’t authentic
is the independence real
Jefferson and Adams, they had their fakes

Dozens will view it
I would like to see the show
I’d like to look at my show everyday
I’d like to be a bit easier around people
I’ll calm down now if you’ll please sedate me.

The night they tore old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
“La, la, la”

Old Hotels

I have a pair of opera glasses
gold rimmed in white ivory
that sit on a shelf in my bedroom
next to books I read as a child.
The glasses have a straight handle
long enough to fit in the hand of a delicate girl
who wears white gloves to the theater
to watch Rigoletto,
and has learned not to fidget.

Aaron heard once in a sermon that people are like buildings. They have walls and windows and doors. Most people know where their walls are and where the windows and doors fit in, but Aaron no longer had any sense of that.

He had a photo in his wallet he kept pulling out of his family when his brother was still alive. The boys are about eight and ten years old and stand next to their parents on the front porch of their house dressed for Easter Sunday. His mother wears a blue hat that matches her dress, and the boys and their father wear suits and ties.

Aaron stares at his family wondering who took the photo. The light on the house was brightest early in the morning, and they squint as the photo is taken. Had a neighbor come over, who would be there that time of day? The question popped around in Aaron’s brain like a pinball inside a machine. He closed his eyes trying to remember who took the shot.

“Excuse me, ” a voice said.

Aaron turned to see John Mason, the teacher in the art class.

“I was wondering if these belong to you,” Mason said.

In his hands were the drawings Aaron had stashed beneath the couch. Aaron looked at the drawings, not knowing what to say.

“I don’t know why I’ve hung on to those,” Aaron said. “I hope you don’t mind. They aren’t even half finished. I sometimes draw in your class after I get off work.”

Mason looked from the drawings into Aaron’s face. It was as if two windows had been raised in two houses that had been standing next to each other for years. Aaron and Mason looked at each other wondering how they’d never met.

“One of the other teachers saw you leaving the classroom late one night. Do you have any more? Did you ever think of drawing larger?” Mason asked.

Mason’s students didn’t know how to fill a canvas or a page, but here was a man whose drawings ran off the edges of the paper.

“I was wondering who this is,” Mason said.

“That’s my father after we moved here, during the years he worked at the Tribune.”

Mason pulled out another drawing. “What would you have drawn in this corner if the paper had been wider?”

Aaron looked at a drawing of a room where clothes lay smoothed out on a dresser table.

“My mother,” Aaron said. “On the other side of the room was my mother.”

At first, Aaron begins finishing drawings left by students on the floor. He folds and unfolds pieces of paper into squares, finishing one square at a time.

A chin, a nose, a cheek, an eyebrow all become dark and light lines he smooths out into a face.

He looks at the still life objects on the studio table as if each thing is a person and has a small body wanting to be touched.

It is the first of October now, and the art building is chillier at night. Aaron walks through the city, watching cars pass on the highway and lies on the grass next to a lake listening to trains pass.

Mama is awake now crying herself to sleep again. “Maggie,” his father says, and her breathing slows while the train passes. Again it is his mother’s mind coming through the window, staring at the ceiling, watching the night as it quiets down. Slowly, the streetlights begin holding in their edges again.

Aaron had liked to draw trains as a boy. On Sunday mornings after church, he and Moses walked out behind their house where train tracks lead to small ponds near the town’s electric power plant.  When the boys weren’t fishing, they climbed coal piles next to the power plant or flattened their bodies against the station walls to feel the large generators vibrating inside.

Most men fished the lakes with boxes of tackle and flashy lures. Moses took a fishing rod and bits of corn or hot dogs in his pocket. Sometimes he snatched bread dough from the kitchen counter when his mother was baking.

“Sunfish and bass will eat anything,” he said, “but a carp has the mind of a man. They can hear you coming.” As he said this, Aaron saw a carp pass through the shallows on the edge of the lake. The fish turned its head as it swam through the lake grasses and looked at the two boys.

Moses looked at the fish and smiled. In its mouth were the barbs of the hooks. Its lips swelled with the tapered ends of the wire. Moses could feel the bright lines pulling at the edge of the fish’s mouth as if they were in his own.

Aaron woke up. He had fallen asleep by the lake. Once again he had dreamed his brother was a fish. Quick he’d run to the riverbank, but his brother would hide in the grasses beneath the water.

In the art studio, he moved his hands along the edges of the drawing paper, spreading the charcoal out with his thumbs as he finished a drawing of a boy holding a large fish.

Cedar Bluffs, Illinois

“Do you know what this is,” Moses asks. Aaron doesn’t know but won’t admit it to his older brother. “It’s a bull snake.”

Moses lifts his slingshot and shoots the snake with an alabaster marble. Angrily the snake shakes its side scales in a threatening rattle. “No quitsies,” the boys laugh.

The two boys are playing on cliffs near their home in southern Illinois. It is early morning. From the cliffs, you can see farms in the valley below. An open-cab combine moves slowly through a hayfield in the distance. The boys have slept on the cliffs all night in a tent made of bed sheets donated by their mother.

Moses stands on the edge of the cliff and looks through the trees below. Cottonwoods, elms, oaks, firs, cedars. The two must climb the cliffs at night to prevent Aaron from seeing below as he climbs. As the sun rises, Moses stands with his arms outstretched and stares through the jagged branches.

Even standing close to the edge scares Aaron. From his perch inside the tent, he looks at the thin tree trunks and imagines what it would be to put his foot on the top of each limb and balance from tree to tree. A dense smoke turns over in the fields, and the whole earth seems to move like a fish rolling through water.

This is the summer of 1978. A year later Moses is killed in a tractor accident. He is 16 years old. After they cut the clothes off the boy’s body, his mother keeps them in a drawer in the boys’ room, washing and drying them occasionally then smoothing the cloth out with her hands.

“That’s the only way to get the wrinkles out,” she says.