Monthly Archives: March 2006

life could be worse

life could be worse
your head could be
the size of a genetically enhanced
honeydew melon
and everyone might stare
at you
all the time
they weren’t looking at you

or you might be a young woman
in faded jeans
walking on payne avenue
west of east 55th
but you’re loping, you’re tilting
your knees are all crooked
and your walk goes up and down
in a haphazard disrythmic fashion

or you might be a woman
starving in a hot country
full of mosquitoes
your poor long thin breasts empty
of milk
your infant dying in your arms

life could be worse

you might be confused
about whether you were jesus
or elvis
and your most prized possession
might be hidden
in a garbage bag
in the shopping cart
you call home

life could be worse
spring might actually
never arrive
with its bright green buds
and its sporadic sunlight

life could definitely be worse
and even though love
never works out
you can usually get
one or two hugs
to get you through the day

just because you’ve been using
your faulty ideas of the future
to stay alive
and just because the first day
of the rest of your life
smells worse than a bunch of dead turkeys
lying in a field
it’s a fact
it’s a true fact
that life could be much much worse

wendy shaffer

falling angels

he likes it when an angel falls,
caught by two branches, blood
dripping into the forest of the projects

brutal, brutal
the world sprouts up around him

he tells me he’s a simple man
that he knows nothing
he gives me lies
like presents i’m afraid
to open

i ask him what he’s thinking
he says
my mind is clear

he walks where legions of birds
protect his sanity
his legs growing lovely and ripe

i want to bite his calves
and set the moonlight free

i want to live in the dream
where babies are safe
bundles of energy growing
in their sleep

that’s when daylight falls from the clouds
and i read my future
on the six o’clock news

the stars seemed so perfect in motion
our bodies fit so perfectly in the hazy slumber
of words bluffing words
calling and matched —
the perfect play

he tells me that humans
are a food source
for god
our souls a crop
he tells me
that he hasn’t met anyone new
in centuries

i want to swim
beyond the darkness
where his eyes sleep
and pull him out
into the light
i want him
to feel the sun
soaking beyond the boundaries
of his skin
i want him
to enjoy
being an animal

but he won’t leave the place
where he is god,
pining for nothingness

when i ask him what he’s thinking
he says
his mind is clearer now

i want him
but he won’t kiss me
he takes me inside
the blue angel’s fallen playground
he puts mirrors between myself
and my laughter
then watches me hang
wriggling inside my lust
like a crippled spider
trapped in an alien web

i sit on the far end of the couch
passive, where the pain comes in

my mind is clearing

i know that pain as the first fluid
i curled inside,
as the soothing red balm
that seals my splits

a pack of starlings stops
on my metal fence
singing hymns
for 15,000 motherless
american children

the incessant babbling tower of my ego

my mind clears

he tells me
he’s all smoke and mirrors

when i ask him
if i was happy
in the last century

he lies

i can’t wait behind his silence
the orchids sweating
a spider sleeping in my mouth

we are walking
past the place where the fingernail moon
scooped up our flirtation
and dropped it on the dinner plate
we are walking
where the wooly bears wriggle
without thought into danger
we continue to walk
until the miles fill us
and we turn back

i want to sit with him again
at the coffeehouse
and pick the clustered crumbs from his plate
one by one
dissolving in my mouth
too sweet
i want to incline my head
towards his and meet the smile
in his eyes with the smile in mine
as he tells me about naked parties,
blond witches dancing under the full moon,
the pleasure of unrequited love

for a moment
our minds were clear
then an angel fell
she ripped her wings on crooked branches
and we were transfixed
the way the blood continued to drip
drip into the steaming electronic waters
of america
i cried
but my tears were useless
while you held a rag
to her bleeding feathered head

we asked the angel
if her mind hurt
she said
my mind is a dull misty dream

all around us the fools climbed
on the flagship
honking their airhorns at mice
driving from bar to bar on the cluttered shore
welcoming any face that was not their face
as the enemy

that’s when i told you i loved you
and you told me you would never love me

but angels don’t die
even lucifer
swimming for centuries
in lakes of fire
won’t die

the angel flexes her wings from our grip
she anoints our upturned eyes
with blood as she flies
up where the sparrows are circling
against the encroaching storm night
circling wider and wider
around a tall smokestack
then diving in a line down
into the brick heat
of our imperfect world

that’s when i kiss the blood
from your forehead
and you touch two fingers to your lips
and then to mine

it’s the romance of the falling angels
where the possible becomes the perpetual
when souls refuse to die
it’s the romance of bleeding angels
angels diving into the future
pecking at scraps of warmth and imagination
it’s the romance that isn’t a romance
the melody echoing down through the projects
to the coffee bars
to the towpath
wild with grasshoppers and half crushed snakes

this poem refuses to end

this relationship refuses to resolve

i am still in the passenger seat
we are riding east
into the past
it’s a warm fuzzy place
where the rejection is so complete
that it’s perfectly safe
you stop at a desert and get out
you’re trying to catch the lizard
i wait
i wait and i watch
how your every move
bends my heart

it is the last lovely day of the fall
i have wasted so much paper
writing this poem

wendy shaffer

barbara & her magic vagina

barbara could shoot ice cubes
out her twat
she worked at a place called the nest
dirty little place
it wasn’t no bigger
maybe twice the size of this room
and they was naked
butt naked
for five dollars you could kiss with them strippers

after these girls got done dancing on the stage
they would come around and feel you
to feel if you were hard
it was all right
pretty all right

barbara had dark brown hair
but of course no hair downstairs
made her twat look like a thanksgiving turkey

she had some excess skin
where most normal women didn’t have it

her crotch lips looked like chewed up bubble gum

after she shot out the cubes
she sprayed whip cream
all over herself
and rubbed it in

young man
impressionable mind
that type of scenery —
never be the same

it was pretty unreal
because most of the girls there were pretty
except old barbara

i never did spend no five dollars at the nest

wendy shaffer


I’m going to have to tell you the whole story.
And it gets kind of weird.

I quit my job as third shift shift leader
because they wouldn’t give me my raise
and I was tired of the stress
and as I was leaving —
I was going to go work for my father in Michigan
and I was leaving work the last day —
the guy who had hired me, who’d been demoted
asked me if I needed any grass

so I drove out to his houseboat
and I got there at dusk
and it was like a black and white film noir movie
and I went into his houseboat
and he brings out a bag of parsley
and I said, You’ve gotta be kidding,
I know what grass looks like and
this is parsley

He said, I know, try it

it was soaked in DMT

And I immediately took the whole bag

As I walked back across the film noir black and white movie set
I went into a telephone booth to call my brother
and tell him what I’d scored for the trip to Michigan

I was getting ready to leave after the phone call,
and the wharf lights came on
all of a sudden I could see
the outside of the phone booth was just
covered in spiders

And I hate spiders

So I ran away

Real fast

Driving from Baltimore to Brahman, Michigan
with the DMT-soaked parsley,
I’m pretty sure that’s when the giant U appeared
and I know I got so paranoid
that when I got off the highway
I would drive through the area
to see what the PEOPLE look like

and then I’d go into my bag
and I’d make myself look like THEM

I had stopped by the side of the freeway
to have another toke

and a state trooper stopped at the
berm on the other side of the freeway —
probably to see if I was in trouble —
so then he turned on his light
and went down to see if I was in trouble,
to come back and see me

so I took off

next exit, I got off, I went across,
I got back on, and I sped
down the section of highway the cop car
had just been on

and when I got to where the cop
had been the cop was where I was
and he didn’t look happy about it

So we both took off again

I went down to the next exit
got off

I went and hid,
parked behind a dead service station

I just stayed there a while

he never found me

but smoking TOO much DMT and
driving too long,

I was getting this fantasy
that I was finally ESCAPING
BALTIMORE after all these years
and they were going to try and STOP me
and I had this vision that this
was going to appear, drop down
out of the air and STOMP ME

I was about as fried as I’d ever been

When I finally got to my folks’ trailor
in Michigan I couldn’t quite stretch
all the way up

I had been in the same position
driving for 13 hours from Baltimore to
Brahman so I walked in hunched over
and set down at the kitchen table
I put my arms down on top of the table,
looked at them and started talking

and gibberish came out

NOBODY, including me, had any
idea what I said

My father told me I should go look at myself
so I went into the bathroom
and I put my two hands down on the trailer sink
and leaned forward and stared into the mirror

and ripped the cabinet off the wall

my father was furious. Until he looked at it
and saw that it had been held down basically
by four really really big staples

This stuff was so good, this DMT,
everyone was so impressed.
I started calling it Radish Rust
and I went back to Baltimore
and that was probably
the only successful drug deal I’d done

after that
it went downhill

Kathy Ireland Smith & Steven B. Smith (a collaboration)


I was driving — I think at night —
thru the hills of Pennsylvania on the turnpike
and I’d taken a toke and all of a sudden
my vision blacked out I couldn’t see
and I said

Well that’s interesting,
but if you’re going to play this way you
have to tell me the rules, give me a clue —

and all of a sudden I could see a U.
This giant U appeared, like it’s odd,
I can’t tell you where it was but this
giant U appeared. And when the U
would start to tilt and go to the left,
I would tilt the wheel and make
it go back straight. And after a while
my vision came back in, and I could
see again, and I was right in my lane,
going around a corner, and I was right
where I was supposed to be!

I never panicked, never worried
but said OK if you’re gonna change
the rules you gotta give me a clue.

That might have been DMT. It all
gets confusing after a while.

Kathy Ireland Smith & Steven B. Smith, a collaboration

another poem for tim calhoun, who died on valentine’s day, 1993

it’s a nice day for a dead man
to walk around the cemetary
and look at the sun on the wide butt
of a blue-jeaned girl
with long straight brown hair
topping the curve of her hips
and remember the days
when he had a body
when he had a penis
when his love was connected
to his penis
and everything was connected
to living
that would rumble
from his heart
out to any unsuspecting female
with a tenderness
in the pit of her natural wisdom

it’s a good day for dead men
who like the sun
bearing down
on the snow
over the frozen ground
covering their unmarked ashes

it’s a good day for a dead man
to stand up
in your heart
and exercise
his dead lungs
his dead words

while you carry your future around
in a coffin
and feel sorry for yourself
take a walk with a dead man
ask how hot
his love can burn

wendy shaffer

poem for tim calhoun

it’s sunday
and the sun rolls down
over coventry
squeezing out
all the air
and you don’t know
what sunday means
and you don’t feel the heat
and you aren’t sitting
in the coffeehouse
playing chess
or in your apartment
over turkey ridge
or at the basketball game
with your boys
or riding your bicycle across town
or reading baudelaire aloud
in the park to me
and you don’t answer your phone
and you don’t have a number
and you don’t tell me what’s wrong
with my poems anymore
and you don’t tell me what’s right
and i can’t reach you
where all your chessmen
have lain down
and given up the fight
where only your books wait
for your boys to grow old
where the basketball continues
without you
and baudelaire lies silent
in the binding
and i can’t walk down this street
without looking for you
i tell myself
you don’t exist anymore
the chess players go on
without you
but the game means nothing
to me

wendy shaffer


        for Katie Daley

i want to be you
i want my bones to soften
and melt into a voice
smooth and rich as honey on wheat bread
sometimes i’m all bone
breast bone
lemon bone
bone tool
picking in the folds of my brain
sometimes you can come into my arms
and hear the bones rattling
the bones of my dead
that i carry with me
from city to city
year after year
not given a proper burial
bones that whisper and scream in the night

i want to remove the thing
that carves into my cheeks
and put on your face
rolling into its own sorrow
rolling thick and sweet as a july night
on the mississippi river
i want to be you
to step inside your softness
that moves from the swollen mud
at the bottom of the slow dark river
to the crooning of the black night
to the layers and layers of thick sweet cream afternoon
without ever stopping
to disect the moment
into bones and muscle
dry sand and rock
that falls apart
that sits at a counter
trying to hold itself together
looking for a voice or a face
to wear long enough to get through
one more minute

i am outside
      my own bones
wanting to be you

so last night i stood alone
staring myself down
in the full length mirror
a long time
and i moved back into these bones
with their terrifying whiteness
their fractured memories
their rock strength
i moved back
into the marrow
back into the red blood cells
being born
one after another
into the blood shooting up and down
through my heart
scarlet as my lipstick
against my pale face
the lines carved in sweet lemon creme pie

wendy shaffer

a spiritual thing

sexuality is a spiritual thing
but he needs the key
he’s been checking
and all those buddhists were married
the monks made little trips
to the geisha house
and st. francis was doing everybody
the only one who claimed
he wasn’t doing anything
was jesus
and he knows jesus was doing something

sometimes he looks at me
sitting up in front of the room
and i look so pretty
with my make-up and red lips and red cheeks
and sometimes i’m sitting in my chair
with one of my legs up
wearing a skirt
and he knows people are wondering
what’s up between my legs
and that’s disgusting

it all depends on how he wakes up
he could wake up happy or sad or afraid
or horny
and it isn’t anyone specific he’s thinking about
he just wakes up horny

the only habit he has left is sex
and if that’s tooken away
they’ll make him a saint

wendy shaffer


I was so much in the flow in Brahman, Michigan.
I walked half a mile up to the highway, stuck out
my thumb, and a guy drove me all the way from
Brahman, Michigan to Chagrin Falls in Ohio. One
way, door-to-door

And during that time–DMT time–I had collaged
my notebook with word balloons from comic books
and at least twice on that time word balloons would
answer my questions, like one time I asked my
notebook What should I do now?

And a word balloon said, Well, now we eat

And later it was raining so I was high up
under a highway underpass, smoking DMT-soaked
parsley and reading one of my religious books
a small, black Brotherhood book

I looked up and it was still raining, and I looked
down and saw I had 20, 30 pages left to go and I said
Well, I’ll finish the book, and when I stop
the rain will stop, the sun will come out

I finished the book, rain stopped, sun came out

I stood up in laughter, said some sort of joke
to God, to reality, and it was at God’s expense,
and I stood up laughing

Lost my balance, and ended up sitting in a
puddle of rainwater

I made joke on God, God made joke on me
by getting my ass wet

On the way back–hitchhiking back–this
very attractive girl pulled over and picked me up
and she said, Oh shit, if you’re going to kill
me, kill me now

And then she explained that she was on
speed and she had to have somebody to talk to

And I said, I can help that, and I reached
down into my pack and she flinched,
and I pulled out my pipe and some marijuana,
and got her stoned

And she drove me all the way back to
Michigan and gave me her phone number
but at that point I was being faithful to
another man’s wife and never called her.
That was one of my regrets

Kathy Steve collab — Kathy Ireland Smith & Steven B. Smith