Monthly Archives: December 2006

There are Saints in the City (for Ralph Delaney)

There are saints in the city
Moving through the streets
Through sadness & shadow
No fiery chariot from the sky
Only an ordinary beat-up station wagon
Earthbound, moving toward the fires
Along the picket line at Greyhound
Where the homeless joining hands with strikers
Keep warm, keep watch, keep it together
Till out of the ordinary
No miracle of doves bringing peace
But carte blanche come love’s daily bread
As light as a bird in the hand
These are the saints who use the pot
That didn’t melt to make the soup
To take to the heart of the city
There at Public Square in the shadow of the Tower
Amid the rats, the abatements, the greed
They’ve weathered the cold midnight air
Yes, there are saints in the city
Moving through sadness & shadow
Through the projects with crayons & food
Looking, listening for beauty
For the art of the people
For the poetry of the soul, fired up
Hungering in poverty for the light of justice
How ironic, Ralph
In The Plain Dealer’s headline
You’re labeled a social worker
How often they
Along with administrators
Police, public officials
Hold attitudes that epitomize
An insensitivity toward the poor
That dehumanized spirit
You sought to overcome
They also call you
A friend of the poor
But if everyday
You eat with the poor
Sleep with the poor, walk
And talk, breathe with the poor
You are the poor, friendly or not
Come out of your coma, Ralph
Speak to us. We know if you could
Your first words would forgive
Your enemies and those who beat you
You’d wish to teach them to fight
Like Gandhi & King
Ralph, this may not be the right time
But we confess . . . you often bore us
With your constant talk about the poor
In jail, on the street, in the projects
Where you work, where you live
But Ralph, come back, bore us again
And this time, forgive your friends

Daniel Thompson

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the threat

you can end it before a kiss
you can end it after a kiss
you can end it during a kiss
just pull your tongue out
and snap your dreams in your feedbag
close the door on the three-legged myth
send it limping home
send it in a sidecar
motorcycle
down the leather highway
with no helmut
no seatbelt
blind inside its own screaming hair
you can end it
the power is sleeping
inside your lips
whatever they may be doing
you can end it
and i can take it
take its burnt carcass
and throw it in the wasted river
take it
choked placenta
raw tulip
aborted rain
and it won’t matter
what i do with it
go ahead
end it
end it during this kiss
end it with my thigh in your hand
end it in the middle
of this slow dance
that old catbird will still talk too much
lunch will still be served
go ahead
end it
i’m waiting
i’m waiting with my swollen raincloud
my warm lips and my spiral notebooks
you can end it
you can do it
you can end it during this kiss

wendy shaffer

no agenda

you’re looking for your mind
in a green bottle
you’re peeling off words
but the words don’t fit
try them on
this one’s too baggy
your meaning flaps around inside it
a white flag in the wind
but i’m the one
who’s surrendering
i surrender
to unwashed streets and headaches
every morning
to running water
water stunned
at a breakwall
water standing still
in a room full of smoke
water spiraling towards the center
of the earth

outside, a man is walking with his umbrella
carried in front of him
like a shield
i have so many shields
i can’t even tell you
who lives inside me
or what she wants
and i’m still getting rained on
you tell me
you don’t know what you want
that you have no agenda

let’s get out of this closed room
and walk through the drizzling rain
the buds are holding onto the branches
with the grip of infants
tiny green fists
i’m tired of opening poems
and finding corpses
dried blood
blood running public
in the streets
life goes on
let’s get out in the rain
we don’t need any umbrellas

wendy shaffer

mother

she’s a damaged little monster
in my prozac arms
she gets smaller every year
her soft little body
shrinking in the unbearable
tenderness of my brutal arms
while her personality grows,
spreads its black wings
and flies at me like a bat
aiming at my eyes
she says
i’ve wasted my life
she says
i deserved those black
and blue marks
my father gave me
when i was a child
i say nothing
waiting for her feathers
to ruffle down
waiting for a laugh
or a silly story
i don’t know why i visit her
i don’t know why i mean it
when i say
i love her
i don’t know who taught her
she could act that way
flapping her mouth
like a myna bird schizzing
jekyll-hyde paranoid defensive
attack beak and claws

maybe i love her
because the soft little monster
inside me wears her name
but i don’t feel
like a cruel featherweight flier
i feel like a wildcat
heavy with the muscle of converted pain
i can wait for hours
for a movement in the bush
a flutter of wings
and when my teeth break flesh
i know what i’m doing
i know the taste of blood
i know i’m responsible

wendy shaffer

the xmas tree

i didn’t want a xmas tree
i didn’t like the idea of all that green
cut down just to wait
with the garbage for the garbage man
two weeks later
i didn’t want him to steal the tree
but after he stole it
i wanted him to put it up
we left it out back on a pile
of old wood and branches and trash
six days with me dreaming
it in the house blinking
reds and greens and blues as mysterious
as brightly colored packages suspending surprise
but i wasn’t interested in xmas
i told him — go ahead
work on xmas
don’t get me a present
do what you want

when he finally borrowed
a tree stand he put it in the middle
of the room and we walked
around it for two days
like a mutant growth
it blocked the way
between the kitchen and the living room
i didn’t realize it was so big

the night i found out
he wasn’t as happy
with me as i was
with him the night he said
— i’m working second shift on xmas
and i cried
— you’re going to leave me alone on xmas!
and he got mad
— you said you weren’t interested
in xmas
that night
i woke at 5 am
and he was dancing around the tree
like a giant elf where he’d moved it
sniffing and tossing scarves
over the branches
— look
he said
— a star
for the top

lately i keep hearing my mother
say don’t get me a present
just be nice to me for one day
and i can’t believe
how this holiday hangs open
like a xmas stocking
each year waiting for me to stuff
it with brightly wrapped and ribboned
packages of shit

wendy shaffer

sex

it’s like opening your legs
for the garbage truck
you follow the tire tracks
to the place of your own shot rabbit sacrifice
and transformation
calling the name
of the public disposal system
the hunters are out there
in the woods this morning
they’re bringing down a fine batch
of buzzards
they’ll clip their wings
and serve them up in hot sauce

you’re wondering if you’ve lost your name
back there in the dirt
the hills of garbage
and you’re out there at dawn
on your hands & knees
sifting through someone else’s
used & useless shit
looking for the truth

wendy shaffer

the first time we slept together

the first time we slept together
we curled away from each other
at the same time
and put our heads between pillows.
you looked back over at me
and asked if i always slept like that
as if i were copying you.
we slept like that every night
for three years
curled up and hiding between pillows,
our feet sticking out.

our requirements for sleep
were exactly the same.
in all other things
i followed you
never stating my preference,
getting angrier
every day.
how sad —
our requirements for living
each day
were very different.

wendy shaffer

wendy shaffer

the pain comes in waves

the pain comes in waves
i’ll be walking down the street
or sitting in a car
or a restaurant
you know what i do now?
i go out to eat
alone
and somewhere between the peas
and the mashed potatoes
i get all choked up
it’s usually between the vegetables
and the fish
i start to cry
and people start to look at me
and i look back
and i’m all right
then i make it through the coffee
and that’s life for me
these days

that’s funny, isn’t it?

wendy shaffer

moving poem

you’re trying to untie a knot in the dark

the man on the street yells
DON’T FUCK WITH ME
into the receiver

it hurts to open your eyes

it hurts to lie down and dream

you’re riding an old schwinn
through a fairytale

6AM
someone across the street
is beating their dog
it sounds like a woman
screaming

the water is rising inside you
and you can’t let go

wendy shaffer