A Poem Always Loved, Never Truer

Love Song: I and Thou

BY ALAN DUGAN

Nothing is plumb, level, or square:

the studs are bowed, the joists

are shaky by nature, no piece fits

any other piece without a gap

or pinch, and bent nails

dance all over the surfacing

like maggots. By Christ

I am no carpenter. I built

the roof for myself, the walls

for myself, the floors

for myself, and got

hung up in it myself. I

danced with a purple thumb

at this house-warming, drunk

with my prime whiskey: rage.

Oh I spat rage’s nails

into the frame-up of my work:

it held. It settled plumb,

level, solid, square and true

for that great moment. Then

it screamed and went on through,

skewing as wrong the other way.

God damned it. This is hell,

but I planned it. I sawed it,

I nailed it, and I

will live in it until it kills me.

I can nail my left palm

to the left-hand crosspiece but

I can’t do everything myself.

I need a hand to nail the right,

a help, a love, a you, a wife.

Alan Dugan, “Love Song: I and Thou” from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. Copyright © 2001 by Alan Dugan. Reprinted by permission of Seven Stories Press, http://www.sevenstories.com. Source: Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry (Seven Stories Press, 2001)

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Mama Wolf

It was a good house for a breakdown;

A little too big

But with just the right kind of light.

I seem to remember a different view

Out the back bedroom window

Than the one I know is real,

But in the memory

There’s a giant elm tree

Reaching up to spread its arms

And protect that space

With the awful zebra gum striped wallpaper.

The truth is

The root of today’s evil

Is in that room

Where my children sat, alone,

Wondering when the doorknob would turn

And a friendly face would arrive

Bringing the promise of food

And dry diapers.

But I didn’t come

When they needed me.

I couldn’t bear to climb those stairs,

Look into those tiny faces

And pretend that I wasn’t the wolf

They needed protecting from.

There was no one for them,

Not even whispering leaves

Outside their window.

Dinner was often after dark

And their mother didn’t look at them,

Didn’t eat,

Just looked at the wall and cried

Until the dishes were ready to be washed.

Sign Posts Along the Way

Do you ever find it amusing

That in childhood

And adolescence

We were so quick to give in

To the throes of despair,

Horribly distraught

And convinced our lives were utterly unbearable,

Completely ruined

By the hiccups along our path;

But, in “adulthood”

When real tragedy strikes

And the weight of years of bad decisions,

Or unkindness,

Great injustices,

Crush our resolve and everything

We fought to build,

We tell ourselves not to be dramatic;

Imagining the embarrassment

Of expressing the depth

Of our devastation,

And learn instead, to live with the headaches that result

From holding our breath

So as to focus on resisting the pressure

Building at the backs of our eyes?

Little did we know,

When we were children

And dreamed of all we would do

With the freedom that comes with age,

Our dreams were illusion

Based on adult facades

Silently misrepresenting all life

To our tiny minds.

And the truth was,

Has always been, for most,

That “adulthood” doesn’t come with a starter pack

Of answers

And “Get Out Of Figuring This One Out Free” cards.

It’s simply the transition that occurs

When we learn,

Or have cause to feel,

Shame.

Guilt.

Obligation.

The pressure of making decisions,

Grave and life changing decisions

For ourselves

And those who dream

Of rising to our position

That we wish like hell

We could have somehow

Been lucky,

Or clever, enough

To avoid.

Destined

One can imagine

That there existed a rock and,

Compelled by a motherly urge,

She transformed herself into an egg

From which sprung a small feathered beast.

But as for the other

great rhetorical query,

There is a definite answer.

While love

And positive input,

The creation of beautiful memories,

And wholesome foods

All work together to form

A perfectly constructed

And warmly lined nest,

None of this is any match

For the tenacity,

The strict adherance to balance

The sheer violence,

Of nature.

All life leading to,

And made of,

all death.

Curtains

I drink my coffee with heavy cream
like she taught me to love,
Every cup the perfect
cup.
And the art of the whimsically arranged windowsill
is a novelty I picked up
from her many eclectic homes.
We see sunlight in the same way,
Because of the unique darkness
we weathered,
Something only she
can understand with me.
This darkness is the cause
of our separation
despite being our common ground.
The strings between us
are razor wire;
We can follow them
to one another
but never make it
without bleeding fingers.
Once a sister
now a key
to reassembling a perfect portrait
of misery.

“People My Age “

I will never understand
Your inability to love.
Your wastefulness.
Your lack of gratitude.
Your inability to appreciate the shimmering details,
the small things
right before your eyes.
Your boredom.
Your insistence on misery,
for yourself
and everyone around you.
Your unwillingness to speak to your children
like real people
for any length,
or at all.
Your falseness.
Your lack of substance
and the way you fill in the gap with lies
and pretense
rather than effort.
Your facebook.
Your self obsession.
Your self loathing.
How you can be so self obsessed when you hate yourself
so much.
Why you just follow along,
with
all the trends,
the meaningless music,
the constant tv
and ever increasing
commercial breaks.
The sexualization
of everything.
Sluts.
Pretending that allowing
everyone to look at your
everything
is owning the skin you’re in.
Make up.
Shapewear.
Controlling the people you claim to love.
Not allowing your child’s other parent
to parent.
Letting your child be the parent.
Children and technology.
Children who can’t speak,
use a toilet,
use utensils,
but know how to operate a cell phone,
the remote,
a game controller,
netflix,
their parents.
Lack of imagination.
Schools catering to unparented children
because otherwise there would be no one
to cater to.
The “______ Lives Matter” game.
You don’t understand
that no lives matter
equally.
That all you have is you
and your limited perception.
That, as long as you refuse to acknowledge
how limited your knowledge and experiences are
you can never grow.
All that matters
is already right in front of you
but you insist
on pretending you’re headed for another life,
a future
you imagine
but that is in no way connected
to your present actions.
When did living like today is the last
boil down to
a frat party?

Pocketful of {Dead} Pets

I bury myself in caring for things
I may not be able to keep alive;
Was it my subconscious that wrote out “carrying” when I thought I meant
To say caring?
Do I focus my efforts on things
I see as redeemable?
The cat,
another in the dime a dozen story
of released kittens,
mangy,
bug ridden.
I left her to die,
with a litter of flea bitten young
when I realized I could barely even keep myself alive.
Then there was the puppy
who showed me how my eyes gleam red
in the face of things
I can’t control.
Poor mutt.
I’ll never have my own dog
again.
I did better with the bird
I found in the mouth of a cat,
dragging myself from bed at noon
to judiciously cut nuts and berries
into slivers, on a saucer,
and watch him eat
until every morsel had vanished.
He stayed with me until he was able to fly
and I was sad to realize
how badly I had wanted him
to stop depending on me.
There was another cat,
kicked
and thrown
by the neighborhood children.
My daughter told them I had taken their pet.
I refused to give her back,
but she got out
and was pregnant before she was a year old.
There was nothing I could do.
They started keeping her inside.
There are dog packs here
always seen
eating trash in the ditches.
I leave them alone.
At least they have each other,
often just pairs,
one small, one pit- no surprise.
I killed the infant mice
out of laziness
and cried for two days
at my abhorrent behaviour.
I decided I hate mice.
Vicious little bastards,
worse to one another
than my awful feeding schedule and lack of warmth
could ever be.
Maybe I saved them, after all.
Now I have a starling.
She’s so afraid
and I just want her to know that I love her,
with her twig thin legs
and immaculate claws.
My heart melts when she gapes at me
and fluffs up contentedly in my palm.
I want her to live forever.
We fed her the caterpillar we failed to feed.
I don’t know why it wouldn’t eat,
like the fifty some caterpillars we watched hatch yesterday,
walked about hunting on behalf of,
for very specific leaves.
Four courses we provided
and they’re having none of it.
Their mother only lived five days.
They were her only purpose.
She was beautiful and I don’t want
to end her legacy.
We won’t even get into the pets I had
as a child,
under my parents’ regime.

Disclaimer: If I made it sound like I killed my puppy, I didn’t. I gave her to a guy who named her Lilly and apparently taught her to ride a skateboard.