On a Theme by William Stafford
If I could be like Wallace Stevens,
I’d fold my clothes into the bureau
drawer instead of living
from a suitcase. I’d hang up my long
coat in the closet and really move
I’d cook food in my room on a hot
plate, then open up the window for
the neighbors. With my tongue
pursed like a stick, I’d push my ice
cream all the way down to the end,
so that even the last bite contained
both cone and cream.
This is What People Do
They move to Mukilteo and throw
pots or play on the senior soccer league.
They set up a weight room and deliver cellular
phones. They get proverbially married and
have hope for children, saying this generation
will be different. They watch Little House on
the Prairie and cry when Mary goes blind.
They get laid off from the oil company
and go back to art school. They have five
or six kids and wait while their wife has
schizophrenic episodes where she thinks
the oldest child is God. They retire to places
called Happy Acres and Leisure World.
They get hired by the Honolulu Fire Department
and moonlight as a Congressman. They buy
a house with a pool on Mount Washington,
then get a divorce. They have a brother with
pancreatic cancer. They recycle the garbage for
the entire building. They visit ground zero in
New York. They buy a $10,000 Italian
bed and furnish the flat in Sinatra’s orange.
They let their wife work in a bank and stay
home playing Scrabble and pretending to
write grants for Planned Parenthood. They
drive through snow storms in Palmdale
and install plants at the MGM in Las Vegas.
They live down the hall and do not answer
their phone. They are married for 18 years,
then take up with an old high school sweetheart
they found on the internet who stalks them.
They get restraining orders. They bail their
Japanese friends out of jail for DUIs and hear
about how they were tossed around in the cell.
They go to Little Tokyo and sleep in their car.
They rent a love nest in downtown Los Angeles
and walk to work. They go to the Queen Mary
once a month and run the ham radio room.
They turn 80 and have a surprise party thrown
for them at the Airport Marriott. They adopt
three cats and name them TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath
and Bartleby the Scrivener. They go to London
for New Year’s. They do not answer the phone
unless it rings twice, times eight. Their mailbox
is not emptied. They wait until the last
minute and show up at the Hollywood Bowl,
getting box seats for Tony Bennett, then go back
stage and meet Pete Samprass. They like
salami sandwiches, dry. They drink Korbel
and smoke Nat Sherman’s. They wish they lived
in New York City and did not have to drive.
They get belligerent in a pub called Dead Poets.
They wait in line for jazz at Smoke. They like Miles
Davis and not just because an ex-husband did.
They travel or they don’t. Everyone is always so happy
when they are finally alone. They do the Friday dance
in the kitchen while Sublime plays on the Bose stereo.
They call the police on the white cube truck parked
over night, every night in the parking lot in front of their
You start with a thousand
Pennies. Each night you count
Together as a couple.
You taking notes and making
Lists and her caring about what you think.
Nearly imperceptibly one time
There are 999. You don’t want
To seem ungrateful or narrow-minded,
So you let it go, you let it go,
Waiting long hours of weeks
For it to happen again, 998.
Years go by and the number holds
Diminished only slightly by small
Increments. Three lifetimes limp
Along on a muddy street and
There are 900. You deliver it out
Steadfast, convinced there’s a problem
But without enough evidence you’d
Lose in any draw down. You sit out
Centuries without a dance, milleniums
Of tangos and waltzes glance by
Until one day there aren’t any
Pennies at all. A ha, you say to yourself,
Already having been trained to make do
with less. Aha, you decide to point it out.
There used to be a thousand pennies
In this here jar, our nest egg, our heart beat.
And she turns to you, dead pan,
And says, “What jar?” as if all men are crazy
I look away. This is too credible.
None of me is drowning in this.
As if love were impossible to love.
None of me is drowning in this.
Running out of Matches
That night we cupped
like cigarettes in our palms.
My hand and the red light
that found its way there
held the night in check
as if I owned it
with the skull of my hands.
And the least a person can do
is admit to late rent, to admit
that you have more than air.
I think this instant of a father
calling, asking questions,
written off, as making you
What was I thinking?
Was it something I wanted
if only to mask the fear,
of getting caught in a diversion?
What did I want when you looked
at me that first night and reached
over our hands and, Lord, might
Now you are hiding in the corner,
dolling out change and why didn’t
you want to touch me after?
Me being the one with problems,
the one forced into saying it
first. No matter how bad it gets.
Without warning we have too much
rushing off and I just got home
— the roads drawn-out
by drafting your face, all
the drive home thinking.
about bits of straw
in my hands. We light
cigarette from cigarette,
you holding my wrists steady.
In the smoky air, we are candles,
holocausts coming to life
from the ends of half-smoked
beginnings. Sometimes it was
just like New Jerusalem, you
running bath water, setting
up a table with beer. We read
entire books aloud after we
pawned the TV, fixed your car.
Our miseries, open
for all to see, like unsolved
punched in the apartment wall.
Out in the dunks of Idaho
While I was waiting
To pick up my 75 Datsun at the garage,
I see a man who claimed he’d met Karl Marx.
In Russia, he said, Siberia.
He came to speak at a mechanics conference,
He said. There were purple ribbons and balloons
Decorating a stage of gray feathers.
In the middle of his talk he got out a sword
He said, and cut down the ribbons
In a brutal act of violence.
Eggplants, Marx voiced, Do not plant them,
They fool you, the sweet sweaty
Treasures. One day they are green
And shy, leafy even, then they pop!
He stabbed at a balloon.
The next day they are blown up
And taking over the garden.
The man in the garage was reading
A pornographic book while he told me about Marx,
With photos of large breasts, and I was young
With a short skirt I was protecting,
Trying to manage the hills where my car had
Just been stranded, then towed to without
Revealing my lack of underwear.
On the back of the book
Was a black and white photo of Karl Marx,
Smiling, bearded, as if to say, Yes,
I have cut men in two, and I have no dispute
with the world.
Sexing it Slow with Tom Jones and Margo
I was eight, going on seventy.
We ripped our way through Mickey Spillane
With helpless women tied to chairs
Blindfolded on the covers of paperbacks.
Then the T-Birds, roller-ball, those chicks knew
How to elbow and rough it up. We ate coffee
ice cream out of cantalopes, then lazed about
On the love seat. Tom Jones was up next, he
Even sounds like he is sweaty when he sings.
My grandmother gasped when he tossed
Over the handkerchief to a girl
In the audience. Last, we went for Lawrence Welk,
A quiet ending to our torrid girls blight out.
All summer, we played it that way. Margo sipping
High balls and fingering the mini Pall Malls
She got downtown for free. Sexing it slow
Is easy in the shadows
Of the LBC in the 1970’s. It was where I learned
In a Perfect World
Sellers would discount our dream
House by $30,000. We’d move in
And our cats would dance like twin
The celebrity at the corner table
Would buy me a café au lait and help
Get my manuscript published
By Copper Canyon.
I’d waltz in a circle and find Adirondack
Chairs for under $100, and they’d already
Be painted as orange as fruit
I’d win another writing grant and get
To stave off the real world
For another adult year.
British Petroleum Alaska would
Call about a job for 1,000 hours
Where I could commute
From my home office in Topanga.
Charles would pin me next
To the front door like prey
And he’d do the dishes after
We made wild zebra rug sex
To tango music.
I’d read two books a week, more
Than Thoreau. We’d stroll to Italy
And Portugal before the year is out.
I’d land front row box seats for
Playboy Jazz and cook a turkey
For Thanksgiving, we wouldn’t go
Out of town for the holidays.
One cool morning, I’d cruise out for
A ten-mile run, and it would be easy
Like a bosa nova.
The phone would ring and it would
Be my father, who after years of
Estrangement, would profess his love
As smooth as Fred Astaire.
Wait. No, this is my daydream.
It would be three way calling
And Margo and my mother
Audrey, would be eager
To hear all about what’s been
Going on in the marvelous
Scrap book of Millicent’s
Life since they went away.
We’d share a cantaloupe
With coffee ice cream.
All of us soft-shoeing it
Half the way there,
With a Pullman Porter,
All the way to Buffalo.
There Was a Part
Of something that made it OK
For you to smoke Marlboros first
In front of our parents, have a child
Barely into wedlock and cuss "Fuck,"
At mom on the front lawn in Kentucky
While we watched mealy-mouthed,
All impressed, clutching Peachie notebooks.
There was a part of something,
Big Sis, that paved the way for me
To talk to boys on the phone, to sit
Quietly like a student while you drank
Beer with grandpa Joe and smacked
Your lips. There was a part of something,
We admired, your lack of guilt--all the promises
And the special pet things we got, you found
Allusive, struggling in your own black sheep
Kind of way out of the forest of mental
Illness our family brought you into.
There was a part of something, that made you
A trail blazer, the hero who landed on his feet
In the middle of Iowa while we took our SATs
And married rich, blonde gay men. There was a part
Of something that you were the one to aspire to,
Talk gossip about and, ultimately, not be brave
Enough to be. There was a part of something,
Even when we accepted the sheepskin
And the badge of honor from The President
Of the United States of America, we were blindly,
Imagining what you would do in that same
Situation: the official helicopter, the mad man,
The serial killer in the corner, the stamp of LSD
On an end table at Motel 6. We knew you controlled
The secret world of courage in your fist.
The woman thought she would be good,
making sure he washed,
rescuing black stockings, wood pile
scraps. Finding theatre tickets
and collecting parking stubs.
She thought she would be good
at using his soap. Remembering
not to wear perfume and waking
up to call home. In the hotel,
hiding while the hot water ran,
her heart compact as plywood.
She thought she would be good
at belonging. The bulk of her time
a two-by -four dove-tailed into a corner,
getting the best he had to offer.
She thought she had a talent for being aloof.
On him, she made few demands.
When he was away, she imagined
his heart open, fearless
hands holding a piece of wood steady
while a diamond-point blade cut through.
© 2011 millicent borges