From the book of poems “Hurdy Gurdy”
Courtesy of Cleveland State University Poetry Center
I'll probably never die.
My life will just go on and on,
All of my life will be composed of days
where nobody in my city kisses or makes love,
days where a single black-winged butterfly
bothers a tall blue spruce,
where the air barely brushes the hair
on my wrists, where the sunlight
has nothing to do.
Sometimes I sit outside clipping my toenails,
and there's a glint of metal from a window
across the street and I think this is how
it'll end for me – I'll be fucking around
with my big toe and some frustrated dentist
with a Winchester will shove me out of this life
the way some dusty kid brushes a ladybug
off his knee. Some days I can feel the crosshairs
settling on a spot just behind my ear, the bullet
clearing one thin path through the wind: it's
afternoon, the smell of exhausts oils the air.
I see myself tipping over with this skinny river
of music inside my head, but I'm still here -
as far as I can see backwards, there I am
with this gang of hours growing behind me.
When I was about nine
two teenaged guys, Lonnie and his friend
who said he had a knife, took me down
to this place near the railroad tracks.
It was summer. My father was at work.
My mom was at the Food Fair steering a cart
that had one of those weeble-wobbling back wheels
that got on her nerves. When we reached
the thickest bunch of trees, they stopped
and I thought I was gonna get
stabbed. Lonnie's friend said, “Drop
your pants,” and when my red shorts hit
my sneakers he smiled, “Them too,”
meaning my dingy underwear with the
drunken elastic, and I stood there shrinking
with my T-shirt covering halfway to my knees.
My friends were back in the schoolyard
playing “Dead Block,” sliding jelly-jar tops
across the concrete, trying to get
to the twelfth box, trying not to land
on the skull in the middle, probably
not thinking of me at all. I thought
about how I wouldn't want to be found
dead without my pants on, how my parents
would be ashamed. :Lift up the shirt,” he said
and there I was, scared to death
with my thimble-sized jammy bald as a minnow,
while they laughed and pretended they were gonna
take my clothes and tie me to the tracks.
I won't ever die. I'm positive – especially
on days like this when I'm not even sure
if I'm sad or just a little run-down. Especially
when the chinaberry tree keeps letting one
pale yellow leaf fall, and up on a telephone wire
a mourning dove repeats five fluting sounds,
as if even that perfect sentence could explain
a single moment of this life.
I admit I wanted my body to be a saxophone -
I thought the air wanted to be music
and I wanted to make love like a sizzling angel,
like some sort of jazz god whose every note
was a glyph in the alphabet of fire – all the time.
I envy the dead their worry – free days -
no more roaches in the kitchen, no bigots,
obody smirking at your shoes, no more
waiting for some bonehead to call you back,
nobody wondering if you're married, no bills, no
changing your mind or needing a shower or wincing
at someone's sultry strut, no music for
setting the mood, no one to meet for lunch,
nobody stealing your wallet, no reason to be
nervous, no more mosquito bites, no allergies,
no Presidents, no nausea, no bad weather, and no more news
about people dying – but I'd rather be above ground
running the weeks always coming back
to Monday Mon – day like two notes
some crazed bird coos as it circles your life.
Sometimes, with the right morning, I go out.
I let the rain spell my body, and I think
about the stories, how they shine inside us,
how they must come together somewhere
and make no sense at all, but rather remind us
that once upon a time, we were real,
that all kinds of stuff happened,
and the result was our lives.
I was riding the XH bus to Germantown
Lutheran Academy – early spring I guess.
I was feeling a little blah because my parents
made me eat cream of wheat for breakfast
when I just wanted some cinnamon toast. Then,
at Washington Lane, a mob of Germantown High babes
got on. I was standing by the automatic door
halfway to the back, feeling more and more
like the private school eighth-grader I was,
when this really foxy white girl crowds in
sorta beside me, sorta in front of me, She's
wearing these fish-net stockings and a
black mini-skirt, and her hair was brown sneaking
toward blond. I had on my GLA blazer
and this cornball silver-green tie. She
smelled like strawberries and cigarettes.
At the next stop another bunch of people crammed in,
and suddenly her right hip was set firmly against
my left, I believed she would move to open
a small space between us, and when she didn't this
queasiness, like a flock of winged mice,
claimed me from belly to throat.
Until then, my only interracial moment
consisted of rubbing Karen Goldsmith's calf
on the pretense of touching the reddish birthmark
behind her knee. So being a weaselly little horntoad
of 13 with the vapors of smoke and fruit hazing my soul,
I eased my body bit by tiny bit leftward, holding
my breath until my jammy replaced my hip
against her – at which point she moved
smooth as a minute hand to the right.
That feeling, that feeling when I knew that she knew
she had pinned her butt gently against me -
well, I think about it sometimes now, especially
on days like this when the sidewalk is stoked
with summer and all the ants are running, when
no one in my city can be bothered with a kiss,
especially on days like this when I'm
right in the middle of living forever,
and a crowded bus blunders past and I see
the people packed inside pretending they
don't really see each other, pretending
they aren't seriously dying
to taste that strange communion, to feel that
nearly accidental spark pressed into their skin.
At the Cleveland State University Poetry Center
your can order Tim Seibles' books and also poetry books of other authors.