Monthly Archives: April 2006

drinking water

she wasn’t paying attention
when all her planets slipped
out of orbit & started going
she was building
a better mousetrap
green pus
trying to be
a quantum mechanical particle
anything —
but paying attention.

so many distractions . . .
all those out of control fires
serial murder tv series
fathers going
postal, the endless plodding LA freeway
of the OJ white bronco chase,
the president’s dick
getting sucked, brad
with gwyneth, brad with jen,
brad with angelina jolie —
and what is angelina doing
at davos?

it’s true that one
out of seventeen americans believe
that christmas is the birth
of santa claus
that each day
30,000 children
of poverty belly

of diarrhea
caused by lack
of clean water

but she isn’t paying attention
even, as one of the lucky twelve
percent of the world’s humans who use
eighty-five percent of its water,
she’s addicted to news
print television radio computer —
but now she is so remote
even to herself
she may as well be stardust
trapped in frozen smoke
she feels
like her parts don’t fit

watch out
she’s gotten into the emergency
she’s overdosing
on prozac
she’s finding
in her paycheck
and here come all her planets
skipping & bouncing
flying back
in the right direction —
she’s filling every moment with her upturned
cheshire grin screwing others
and being screwed
in return

wendy shaffer

the death of poetry

osip mandelstahm wrote a school boy
verse about stalin
recited in a circle
of friends in his living room
and it ended his life
but no one cares
what we write
here in america
in the 1990’s

still, it feels like siberia here
even in summer
the few of us writing
just for ourselves
the masses eating up
doggerel rhymed to a beat
the academics cloistered
in the boring, the nonessential
the riddle

here, in america,
no one needs to execute poetry
because no one listens

that’s how well the system works

you were a big brick of a voice
laced aristocrat elite
vowels and consonants
intoning along the ridges
of poet listeners’ backbones
like some sermon man
from the upper country
and no one could ever forget
or forgive the years you spent
inside the old testament voice
pounding out the heat
your brick voice down
on all the sinners unwashed unsaved

one day you chased a friend in the street
talking loud about his fornicating
and naming names
for all our community to hear

later, he came to you playing
chess in the coffeehouse
and told you never never
to do that again
and you didn’t
but he never forgot he never forgave
the days you walked stern judgmental
mouthpiece for a barbaric god

in the mental hospital you said —
“why can’t they ever forget?
it’s been years since i was a christian”
(but later you whispered —
“don’t tell anyone
i’m still a christian”)
and i could see where the mystical god
still lived back in the back
of all the compartments of you
new testament soft and forgiving
plotting you a safe exit
to heaven
but i never thought you’d go there

tim —
where are you now?
i know about the little box in the ground
with your ashes and no name
but did jesus love come mix
with your spirit
taking you away from your real old
testament father
your lost believer wife
your children nailed in the old
testament love of this world of green pain
and betrayal

have you escaped?
or are you still hovering around,
the cold spot in my passenger seat

as i drive through the cemetery
i feel the chill beside me
and i’m afraid

peter said it was a shame
they couldn’t get your meds right
as if all this pain
could be reduced
to chemistry

i’m at cedar point
all day
i wanted to ride
the ferris wheel
now it’s dark
and the ferris wheel is stopped
the control panel is off —
all the buttons blinking crazy
the mechanic down on his knees
trying to get it right
i’m sitting on this bench
half an hour before the amusement
park closes
thinking of you
i’d miss all the other rides
for the chance
of sitting at the top
of the great star
to look out across the lights, the lake
the world my miniature
the great spirit including me
in the sky

i sit on the bench
watching the wheel of lights
turning in the center
the empty cage still

it won’t be fixed
before i have to leave

marjorie says you asked
her to kill herself
with you
said it would be cool
that people would be talking
for months

i can imagine
you laughing
at their stupidity
their shopping news lives
revolving around the event
of your transformation
but tim,
how romantic
was the actual passage?
inhaling vomit
alcohol and meds
your lungs refusing
to breathe
your kidneys shut down
on dialysis
tubes running in
and out of you
a parade of people looking down
on the joke of your consciouness
the way cars slow around a fresh wreck
straining for a glimpse
of blood
of their mortality

marjorie says you regained
consciousness twice
and ripped the tubes from your body
i know you were angry
i know you never imagined
how unromantic it could be

marjorie says you worked
the suicide hotline once


what did you say to those people?

this is the world where i still live
without you —
it’s lost and abandoned
as an eight year old boy
wailing in a doorway
on the streets of san cristobal
finally sleeping alone
on the sidewalk
with no cover

i am here
in san cristobal
and i don’t understand
why some of the children
are clean, their hair combed
tied tight back a shiny black
they’re wearing their school clothes
their white ankle socks
their maroon skirts
their button down white sweaters
bookbags on their backs
their parents are walking with them
to school
holding their hands

i don’t understand
why other children exist
in such poverty, without love
holes in their pants
the skin of their ass
showing through
their faces smudged and dirty
their eyes swimming in phlegm

i don’t understand
why some people are normal
from their first day of kindergarten
to their fifty thousand dollar a year life
while other people
like you and i
were never right
we can’t carry our pain

they couldn’t get the meds right
what medication
and how much would it take
to make this world right?

in san cristobal
they’re celebrating
the virgin mary with fireworks
and parades

at the end of our street
we see a giant circle of light
wheeling above the roofs
we follow it through the darkness

it’s a ferris wheel
ancient, resting
on four long boards

the mexicans have to push it
to get it started

we stand there watching it
with another american couple
trying to decide if it’s safe
to ride

nobody gets on
we watch as the mexicans
close every seat

you are riding
your bicycle
your fat book of baudelaire

i’m driving through the cemetery

you’re reading poetry to me
poetry in the park

bury the memories

your hands
on young woman’s
making out
in your red truck
your new red truck
your new red business truck

thrashing on the floor

the phone
the phone
phone ringing
aspirating meds over

you were my tuning fork
you sounded the truest
part of me

the leaves in the cemetery
budding turning budding buried
in fairyland snow
while the television plays soaps
that bad script
bad acting
bad music
in the mental hospital
patients sitting around
like crash test dummies
while you, at the piano
classical, grand, immense
translate your emotion to music
your pain fills the ward
fills the word
unspoken word
unwritten unable to write


hooked up to life support

no voice

and i can’t write
i can’t live
in this world
turned inside out
like a blown out balloon
useless ornament
hanging in the corner of the room

you put your head in my lap
but my lap isn’t big enough
to hold your pain

i’m at the other end
of the line
the phone is ringing
and you can’t answer

this was our purpose —
to trap the living in words
to get a piece of god
down on paper
to tell the truth

we were alone
in the crush
of money changers
we were starving
for money
your hands in the dirt
and mine in the germy remnants
of other people’s food
but we continued to write
without acclaim

now that you’re dead
your perfect words
are just the dust
a dead man has left behind
they can’t answer the phone
or have a conversation
and i hate them

i should have been a banker

the last time i saw you
we were sitting on a shelf
behind the counter at brady’s
waiting for the sign-up poets
to finish
we were laughing at david
so young and impatient
his poems in his hand
i turned my back to you
“rub my back”
you said to daniel thompson
“see how she treats me?”
then you massaged my back
i just assumed
you would always be there
your large capable hands
working out the knots
i tied myself inside
i expected you
to always be there
you said
you would always love me

how can i survive
if you can’t?

you’re at your brother’s wedding
it’s wonderful
his wife is wonderful
his life is wonderful
you meet a woman
and dance all night long
like eighth graders
words are rushing through your brain
as fast as blood pumps through your veins

it’s been a year since you’ve been dead

back in ohio
the ferris wheel is turning again
i don’t have a reason
to frame your passage
out of my life
in words
but i do it anyway

i wait in line
i ride high up into the sky
i watch all the lives moving around below me
like rainbow colored ants
moving through time

wendy shaffer

not me

white girl growing up
in the fifties stripped
of deciduous & coniferous vitality
homogenous plopped
down like tract houses
on a parched surface
i hugged the bark & pulled
myself up the branches
beyond the giggles of barbie
her unresistant breasts pointing at ken
beyond the lessons from my mother
stuck in her own spotless sludge of suburbia
stuck in her own jaded morass of traded power —
white girl hearing
the language of bulldozers
framed in publicpressrelease-ease,
marraigeable marraigeable marraigeable
not me
white girl stick legged can’t
dance or laugh
too loud white gloves and knees
pressed together
not me
goodgirlspeak by rote
not me
how the 50’s clung
to those last whitegirl rules
putrid & false & stinking in starch
before the Pill came imploding
a tired plastic ettiquette
before breasts popped out
of their pointed brassieres
before reefer & janice & angela
breaking free
not me
not me
not me

wendy shaffer

waiting for the sea turtle

you’ve seen the sea turtle
you’ve touched her shell
now every night
fists swinging
you cross A1A to the beach
to show me the sea turtle
rocking sand over her eggs

she was like something you were afraid
to believe
moving out from the night waves

as we wait for the sea turtle
yellow lightning opens
the black sky
a full moon and a broken chaise lounge
two shells melded together back to back

this sorrow that has already lost you
this mooning for the skin of your penis
inside my womb
the salt spray of your semen
in the middle of my month
a consummation dissolving unbreakable shells

no sea turtle comes
no victorious swimmer
bright drops of blood on the white linoleum

i see her
huge shell angling up the beach
i’m alone
and run back to get you
it isn’t the chase, the pleasure
it’s the meeting
of sperm and egg
the slow night crawl up
from the waves
flippers tracing the sand
an ancient memory of birth

wendy shaffer

first love

after so many winters
there must be a spring
entering your vacant afternoons
the way a young black man
crosses into your back yard
for the first time
bringing you light
and your back yard is his back
yard is your yard
where god gets up before dawn
and plants tiny purple surprises
to astonish even your old age
where the dawn still cuts fresh
as adolescence

your heart still dribbles across the tar drive
where you were a young thing
with colt legs and pebbled skin
throwing jokes in the face of god
brash enough to believe
you would survive
you never thought one part of you
would stay firm as thirteen
year old breasts
while the rest of your life
crumbled into detritus
like your grandmother
who forgot her husband
forgot her children
and at age seventy
remembered only the love the war killed
when she was eighteen
got up from her rocker
and wept

there must be a spring
entering with melting footprints
the way a young black man
wearing a sky blue cotton jacket
steps across the thin layer of snow
covering your heart
and you blossom
like a sturdy wildflower
in the rain

and he won’t love you
with his hands
or his eyes
or his lust
he will only lay open
the heart of god
right there on your back porch
under the moonlight
and the streetlight
a gift you take into winter
when you no longer remember
the way he moved
into your life

wendy shaffer

baby romeo

white door to next door

yellow eyes


i’m sorry that
the stench of
these books has
made unbelievers
of all of you
i however would
like to say
with some authority
that i have
made my way
through the stench
and found my
way to the holy

russell vidrick