west wash

never have i had a schedule like this: one that feels
do-this-every-day-til-you-die. the same 1.1 miles
to work, sometimes puddles sometimes ice.
i pass a section 8 apartment building and try
to say good morning to everyone who will look
me in the eye. maybe it is polite habit maybe
i am just trying to help. i pass the buildings between
nine and nine fifteen. the cast is often the same:
woman with daughter holding her backpack strap
in her hand, dragging the tired old bag behind her.
middle aged man walking ridiculous puff of a dog,
its screeches audible through headphones.
i smile at him too but hate that thing, a sorry excuse
for a pet. the man who looks barely older than me
with a face full of potholes. his lips look indented
where the cigarette sits. he paces while he smokes,
as if walking the same six sections of sidewalk
might counteract the tar and carcinogens. i take
an extra long step to avoid an uncapped needle.
i am wearing boots with soles as thick as a steak
but you can never be too careful. i say good morning
as i pass and he breathes out heavy, lungfuls of
smoke catch in my hair and i know the lady
who sits next to me at work will notice the smell.
i wonder if he will do this every day now. if i will say
good morning and he will douse me in cigarette stink.
another addition to the list of rituals that come
with this sort of living. lady-who-sits-beside-me will think
i’ve taken up smoking. perhaps i will take up smoking.
the only reason not to smoke is so people won’t think
you smoke—it can look unbearably cool. cigarettes
are unfair this way. if you already look like the bassist
for some up and coming, cigs can only make
you cooler. but if you are standing outside
section 8 housing with skin like a bad backroad,
the smoke smells terrible and nicotine nails
peel like old wall paper. it is not a life
i would choose. luckily it is not a choosing game.
maybe some morning i will step on the needle instead.


(Valentines Day)

it is the first day of the season of snowmelt.
the water rises from the concrete and
slips in through boot seams. i am walking
home from a job i don’t quite hate
and there are people on the sidewalks again,
their jackets unbuttoned hands
without gloves—i see a person’s ears
outside for the first time in months. i know
this is supposed to make me happy.
i wonder if i should stop one of these people
bare faces still all cracked skin
and tell them i’m not doing well. how do you say
it’s the season we remember this city
doesn’t suck, but i think winter
and i grew too close this year. it is only
a feeling. maybe things are going
too well, i just need to be taken down
a notch. maybe my brain is forgetting
to make the right stuff. a friend tells me
if my life was really as great as i say it is
i wouldn’t feel so shitty all the time.
you are feeling how you are feeling
for some reason, she says. my boots
are soaked and i don’t have the patience
for this. my face is salt wet. if anyone asks,
i will blame the trees dripping their melt.
it feels good to pretend anyone might ask.

the good stuff (revised)

when i wake to find the dog bowl
filled with the last of the hundred
dollar bourbon, i know it is a chance

for me to face how bad it has gotten.
i have had other chances. i am good
at deciding not today. i am good

i am good at staying underwater at holding
my nose and swallowing i am good i am okay
at other things. it is the art of looking

past myself. if i can just keep socks
in pairs, the dishwasher empty and
the liquor shelf stocked what more

could anyone want? there are enough
excuses to pick a different one for each
person that loves me. i’m just making the most

of my last few years of freedom. it is all about
balance. i eat vegetables most days
and run without stopping. i know my limits.

i focus on checking just enough boxes.
when i burn a hole in the table
lighting spilled moonshine

as a party trick, flower vase becomes
a permanent fixture. sometimes i misplace
a weekend and while i wait for it to show up

i decide if it is gone for good
i might as well lose the whole week.
recently i got packages i didn’t

recall ordering for six days in a row.
it was like i stole my own credit card
and sent myself presents. this way

that i am failing, almost every day now,
this way is not all bad. i still want to make
myself happy. now, make this into a game:

try to remember how the bourbon found
its way into the bowl. i am just keeping
things interesting. i have always

liked puzzles. the bowl is only half full.
i wonder how much the dog drank
where the dog is i wonder if he liked

the good stuff, if i tried to teach him how
to appreciate nice bourbon, how to roll
it around on the tongue like a marble, if

he picked up on the apricot, the oak wood,
molasses. it somehow makes it all
more excusable when you drink good liquor.

this remembering is a tough exercise. i am yelling
the dog’s name into the street. i am checking
the closet, the crawlspace. maybe he is better

without me. i see the night like bodies
through a shower curtain. i am jealous
of how the water shines flesh. instead

of playing the game now i am wishing
i was still so glossy. it is hard to stay
interested in things with no shine.


i set a fire in the sink and lay down for a nap.
sometimes a lighter and bits of plastic
are the best way to get a man’s
attention. it was the sink because i wanted him
scared for me for the dog for his precious
things but no real loss, i wanted it close to water.
sometimes he just needs the flame to see
what’s really going on. it was a nap because if i made
a critical mistake, picked an afternoon he decided to stay
late at work or his tire went flat on the way home
then maybe i’d be able to sleep through the whole thing,
through the neighbors hot-faced on their lawns
the dog whining at the door then settling
into an unbreathing smog sleep the trucks
like toys in front of this black cloud.
sometimes i can only tell him in smoke signals.

one bedroom

there is a romance in dinner alone,
lick every spatula clean and
add too much cardamom because
only you like that much spice.

slick with sweat over the stove,
worrying about what it’ll do to the cashmere
when you realize you are wearing
expensive clothes for an absent audience.

the oven heat touches your bare chest like
a breath. who knew how good it feels
to touch tomatoes to the inside of your arms,
the stickiness of seeded flesh.

turn on some sweet woman
over the speakers who will seduce you
into loving yourself. pour a glass of wine
into a coffee mug. eat slowly and congratulate
yourself on a job well done. when the food
is gone, think of other ways you know

how to feel pleasure. the song changes and
you decide you are just not full enough
i’d like to put my fingers on you

touch yourself beneath the dinner table,
hands nipped with the smell of garlic and
smoothed with olive oil, be 
you are getting crumbs everywhere


the good stuff

when i wake to find the dog bowl
filled with the last of the hundred
dollar bourbon, i know it is a chance

for me to face how bad it has gotten.
i try to remember how the bourbon
found its way into the bowl.

remembering is an exercise. i see the night
like bodies through a shower curtain.
i am jealous of how the water shines flesh.

eventually i recall only the thought
that the dog was so good, such
a perfect little creature, all spit

and heart and dirt,
surely he must deserve the good stuff.