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.

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(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.

how work kills you

his smile rate dwindles to two per hour.
mouth like a hyphen, he won’t open his
lips to kiss me. he is like this sometimes:
a fruit fly drowning in peach juice, a bottle with a letter
that won’t bite. i try to entice him into leaving
teeth marks, something they will use as a match
for the dental records. he grabs my ass and nudges
me out the door.

Johnson at State

escaping the office at
2 am my
hands bloodied with lipstick
i am relieved to
hit the sidewalks: kept free
of trash but cluttered with trashed
bodies

a two story urban utopia
cracks

a strawberry blonde with
little curls around her ears
throws her legs in front of her as
though hoping they’ll hit the ground,
her shirt cut nearly in half,
like the warmth of sugary Svedka suddenly made
her sexy in her skin,
her stomach stiff against the claws of october in the
midwest.

a shoe-less Latino man with
bags on his arms and
the rest of his belongings beneath his
eyes
shrieks in the street and
waves a hand that
seems to have forgotten some of its fingers.

the hunch backed man
inhabits his usual spot,
(one of the last remaining after the
city tried to bury the homeless still
mummified in their sleeping bags)
and reminds me
“the first joke is free,”

I wonder what he has
to
laugh about