Time Machine #2

I would go back to a time when you were mine.
A Sunday night, when we weren’t rushing to go somewhere,
or listening to something, or accidentally falling asleep like fully-clothed puppies. 
I would wait for a moment you were listening to me. Really listening.
Present, quiet, still. 
I’d say “Hi” and listen till I heard your steady voice, not the one that goes up an octave when you pretend.
I would look you in the eyes and tell you “One day you might not speak to me anymore.”
Past-you would protest this, say you couldn’t imagine a world where we didn’t speak to one another - 
I will give you that. I will not correct you. I will smile and say,
“On the crazy, absurd, off-chance that one day you might not speak to me anymore, I want you to know: I hope you are marvelously, wonderfully, desperately happy. I hope you adore someone who hears your full voice. I hope the life you have without me brings you joy. At my saddest and maddest and most confused: I will always love you.”  
You would hear me then, if you cannot hear me now. 
Someone else can go back and kill Hitler. 

Knees

The man with the power didn't put his hand on your knee at drinks. 
He put his hand on the knees of other women ordering other drinks. 
He asked them questions about careers, boyfriends, ambitions, hopes, 
Questions punctuated with that hand, 
another kind of "?" 
Never yours, though. 
He asked questions at your face, his hands asked nothing of your knee. 
After a while, your knees grew comfortable, at ease, even proud. 
They reveled sitting there, untouched. 
"This must be what men's knees feel like", they thought. 
Cocky knees. 
Those knees (who in most rooms expected they would go untouched) 
Liked how the man with power might touch other knees but certainly wouldn't touch them.
Maybe deference is more fun for knees than respect. 
"What fun it is to be the ones who got away" they smirked, imagining a rom-com instead of a fox-hunt. 

The man with the power had you jump through hoops. 
It felt good except for when it didn't, like most workouts. 
You were maybe even a little proud of what you accomplished. 
To be fair you were executing complicated acrobatics. 
Only agonizing on the occasions where you missed, toppled, 
Splayed on the carpet.
“How’d you end up there?” he’d ask, genuinely baffled, hoop still in hand.
These workouts are never something you want to do, but rewarding afterwards, when you’re done.
It feels nice to do well at something you’ve practiced so often. 
This is what they don't tell you: 
When you have trained for something your whole life, and that hoop appears -
It is almost impossible not to jump. 
It doesn't feel violent to jump. It feels like hitting snooze. 
Not jumping through the hoop, in fact, means ignoring every instinct for self-preservation. 
Not jumping means refusing to accept a cookie. 
Life is so hard already, why deny yourself a cookie? 

The man with the power reads your recent work. 
He says it is good. It is very good. 
You knew it was good but it feels even gooder if he thinks it's good.
"I was afraid to share it with you, to let anyone read it. This play is what actually scares me" you say. 
"You should be afraid to share this" he confides, "And that's how I know you're a real writer and I'm not. You're brave enough to write down what actually scares you. I've never written anything that scares me like this."
You wanted notes on this early draft but he wants to produce it, wants agents to see it, it's a vote of confidence, 
He is pushy because he believes in you. 
A wave of relief rumbles over you, the confidence that comes when a man with the power aligns his self-interest with yours. 

The man with the power comes to care for you, and you for him. 
His arms grow too tired to hold the hoops. Something is up with him.
This is a relief. You’ve grown too busy to jump. 
Except for every once in a while, 
Old habits, you know. 
You take care of each other in small ways over coffee meetings. 
Here is the space he gives you to talk about your breakup. 
Now is the time you allot him to feel odd about therapy. 
Hands can touch arms now, small brief punctuations. 
The "." at the end of phrases like, 
"That sounds hard." or "I’m not sure what to do next." or “Yeah.” 
Hands are so far from the realm of knees it's almost funny to imagine one there. 
The image does not compute. 

The man with the power is outed. 
He is removed. 
He is publicly shamed. 
You kneel and throw up all the cookies.
This hurts your knees.
All of the women hold hands. 
You weep for them. 
You weep with them? 
You wonder if you're allowed to weep with them. 
You'd imagined their knees. You'd forgotten to imagine their faces on their way home from drinks.
You wonder if a few things had gone differently, if you knew something different about his hands,
Would you have been weeping this whole time.

You touch your own knee. 
You imagine all the knees of all the girls who went to all the drinks. 
You decide to write down what actually scares you. 

You think of the man with the power, alone somewhere. 
He was always regular scary to you. Not real scary. 
The normal, low-grade hum of terror emanating off all of the men with all the power. 
Will they pull out hoops at any moment? 
Best to stretch beforehand, perform your mental aerobics, track those hands in your periphery without breaking eye contact. 
You trained for this, remember?
You were used to regular scary. 
You were good at regular scary.

"It is me" you write
"I scare me"
"I scare me"
"I scare me"
 

Beauty, Anyway

I let my yard overgrow
After years of grooming
Depressed
Me and the grass
It got bad for us both.

Yet from those snarling weeds and desperate crabgrass and thorny stickers
A bunch of wildflowers grew.
Because I couldn't take care of us,
Something wild, golden, and inevitable ruptured forth.
Beauty, anyway.

Now here's what they won't tell you
What no one will tell you but me:
I've come to worship every golden petal
But I'd choose the other version.
The one where I get out of bed,
Where the grass doesn't lose its mind,
Where both of us are okay,
I'd choose that one every time. 

But I enjoy the flowers anyway.
I will enjoy beauty,
Any way.

There Are Only Seven Breakfast Foods

There are only seven breakfast foods
Combined and rearranged to form
An endless number of breakfasts
And I am tired of them all.

Not an endless number, I suppose,
When you turn it into an SAT question:

If Jan has
eggs
bacon
bread
avocado
milk
cereal
yogurt
(See Jan wake)
and can combine eggs and bacon to make an omelette;
(See Jan rollover)
and can combine bread and eggs to make an egg-in-the-hole;
(See Jan stare at wall and think)
and can place bacon and avocado on bread to make avocado toast;
(See Jan get up to pee)
and can combine milk and cereal for an out-the-door classic; 
(See Jan avoid what she has to do today)
or combine cereal on yogurt for a somewhat nicer parfait;
(See Jan stop)
or even soak bread in eggs and milk to make french toast;
(See Jan run)
and so on and so forth;
(Run Jan run) 
Then how many options does Jan have this morning?

Bukowski

I'm enjoying them,
but your beautiful words were never meant for me.
I think, as I dog-ear the page.

I have never been the little boy
watching outside a window
as a woman undoes her stockings
as if it were meant for me.

Yet I have spent my life reading all of the
Little Boys Watching Outside Windows as Women Undo Their Stockings
as if it were meant for Them.
(Kids on your block, Jackie Kerouac, Tommy Eliot, even lil' Billy Shakes)

Sometimes I have taken off my stockings
and felt all of the Little Boys watching
as if I were meant for Them.

But more often,
I have been the Little Girl at her window
watching
all the Little Boys outside other windows
watching
women undo their stockings,
knowing none of it was meant for them
and none of them were meant for me.

Perhaps this is the greatest difference between us
(aside from your fame and your talent and your everything else):
I can enjoy beautiful things even if they aren't meant for me. 
I have taught myself to enjoy
All of the beautiful things never meant for me.

TSA

I met an older couple in line for the TSA
Young enough to manage their suitcases onto a conveyer belt
Old enough that no one makes them take off their shoes.
She tells me about a Harvard psychologist who studies happiness and the power of positive thinking,
Have I heard of him?
I tell her I haven't, it sounds interesting.
She tries to spell his name,
I try to type it into my phone so she knows I mean it
But they rush us along, there is a line forming
My phone must join all other devices in the scanner. 
"Thank you" I say into her glowing face.
"Isn't she marvelous?" her husband replies.

On the other side of the scanning machine,
As I put on my shoes and they reassemble their bags,
She remembers his name: 
Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar
I rescue my phone, she spells as I type
I promise her I'll look him up.
Her blouse is mussed from the chaos of being searched
He fixes her upturned collar
"It's just me, your husband" he says,
His hand at the nape of her neck
"I know" she replies "I know my husband's touch."

I wonder if I asked them their secret,
If their eyes would twinkle in reply:
"Sex" or
"Communication" or
"Never going to bed angry" or
"The work of Harvard psychologist Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar" 

I wonder if their secret is actually putting up with too much,
Bending backwards too deeply, 
Contorting themselves into a fleshy, co-dependent submission.
I wonder if she'd give me some problematic advice that would destroy me
"Always have makeup on before he comes home" or
"Remember to let him feel like he's in charge."

I wonder how dark their dark years have been,
If this ready intimacy is the reward for losing and finding each other so many times.
Perhaps no one finds themselves truly invested
In the work of Harvard positivity psychologist Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar
Until they've had an affair or seven or worse.

But mostly I wonder if you'd ever let me love you like that
My hands at your collar
In the presence of a stranger
Holding up a line of travelers
"Isn't she marvelous?"
 

 

Canyons

When I was 9 my pet chick died
And it was clear to me that I was a murderer

Everyone told me that
While I had killed something, honey, I wasn't a murderer
Something about accidents, something something intentions

But I knew how words work
Words mean what they mean
Regardless of whether you want them applied to you or not

I hadn't yet developed that gulf grown-ups have
That cavernous expanse between what they do and who they are

The first time that friendly canyon fractured open in my mind
And sucked up one of my bad actions before it could make me a bad person
I debated grabbing a shovel and filling its gaping mouth
Before the relief set in.

Time Machine

When you ask someone if they could use a time machine, 
What would they do?
And they say “I would kill Hitler”
They are trying to tell you that they are generous and just.
What they are actually telling you is that they are a profound narcissist.

What do they think everyone else in WW2 was trying to do
Everyone was trying to kill Hitler
Several major world powers were working together to kill Hitler
And what they needed
Was not a 28 year old business analyst
And aspiring sommelier
From 2016.

If I had a time machine
I would go back in time
And tell people to pick another answer.