Poems & Prose by Les

Take Off Our Shirts

Just last week both goldfish died.

Juliet meant to brush her hair seventy times but

she stopped at 25.

By the end of August, she’d stand on her surfboard,

a promise she’d written down.

Though it was hot, the heat had an unpleasant

vein of damp coolness through it.

They crouched at the shore, watched the tide

throw up styrofoam cups

When Juliet turned they kissed,

it felt counterintuitive. She thought she

might want him to leave so she could

think about him.

She rubbed sand and salt from her board:

An important moment.

What’s important? Dignity, justice perhaps,

though the former seems rare and the latter

might happen by coincidence. When the stars

are aligned.

She leaned her surfboard by the wall. Let it watch —

love was everyone’s cheap ticket ride.

Juliet’s room smelled like baby oil and sex wax.

Her hairbrush was where she’d left it,

by the goldfish bowl’s green sediment.

Let’s take off our shirts, Juliet said,

 she’d always wanted to say that.

He was wiry like barbed wire was, like she’d

seen Iggy Pop with no shirt on on television.

She brought him a teacup with water in it for

his cigarette ash.

Her room had mostly clothes on the floor, pictures

torn from Artforum.

You sleep on the floor too he said like he’d just

discovered they both had blue eyes.

 Roses

 Juliet’s hair reminds him:

The mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries

to the Egyptians as well.

People who say the beautiful are oblique to their beauty

are wrong: beauty makes the beautiful nervous.

To prove it. To keep it.

Ask Juliet: There’s conditions on it.

They couldn’t stay in the same room for hours.

It was nerves.

They couldn’t suffer the cross-brain static

plus their bodies. They couldn’t explain.

Never Explain: a motto they wanted tattooed.

This happened every sad dusk time

even if they turned on all the lights.

Well there was only one, and the bathroom light.

Or if they turned them all off.

Though cold they had the rule about socks are unamorous.

A big tree crowned the window two floors up.

“A California tree,” Juliet said.

Yeah green not palm.

Undiscipled by frost.

The tact tact tact of her shoes on the floor;

she ran rivers behind, the bathroom door. Kilometers

of toilet paper unfurled.

Later, he checked.

Flaubert wanted to write a book without words.

That’s how they wanted to talk.

Okay, she said putting her hat on.

They looked up its name in his millinery book.

Kind of cloche, and her shoes had

“boulevard” heels it said in that book there

beside the Roses names book on the floor.

Here’s one Souvenir de la Malmaison.

Heaven

There’s always a light on.

You grow used to being naked.

Your gratitude surpasses expectation.

Here you can smoke if you want

If you’re kind of nervous.

And kiss and kiss.

Really, what did you expect?

Colored scarves draped over lamps…

If you say, if I was king,

You would he. The trouble is: abstraction.

All these Gods walking around concourses,

Storefronts lit from inside

With ideas about allegory and evolution.

At the edge, where it all

Just drops off: the great fog.

How long have you been without air?

See, you can’t even imagine.

FLAGMAN

THE FLAGMAN signaled the cropduster plane so it sprayed evenly on the fields.

TOOLS OF THE FLAGMAN: A metal triangle of tubular steel three feet wide at the base. Flag (piece of cloth). The flagman’s flashlight at night.

FLAGMAN CLOTHES: Overalls.

THE FLAGMAN’S PROTECTION FROM SPRAY: paper mask never worn.

THE FLAGMAN’S JOB is to swivel the metal triangle and pace off the length of the field. Stop. Wave the flashlight or flag at the plane.

OBJECTIVE: fields evenly sprayed.

ANOTHER FLAGMAN did the same at the opposite end of the field.

THE CROPDUSTER’S BIPLANE flew low, lower, under the telephone wires as it sprayed.

DANGER! The flagman must throw himself down in the dirt when the biplane flies low overhead.

DEAD FLAGMEN stood, crouched or knelt, merely bent.

FLAGMAN APOCRYPHA: If you leaned over the triangle’s point you got driven into the steel. By the struts, or a wheel.

BAD FLAGMEN fell asleep in the dirt at the edge of the field.

THE FLAGMAN REMEMBERED the cropduster’s wife when she pulled down her pants or she pulled up her dress in any half hour they had anywhere.

THE FLAGMAN’S DESIRE was not to be a flagman, among other things.

THE LOADER was pulled by the truck that refueled the biplane; it poured dichlorodiphenyltrichlorethane.

NERVES OF THE FLAGMAN: Shot.

MANIFESTATIONS OF C4H4N2O2 POISONING — He had green-yellow nails, his eye twitched. His hands shook, though that could be the booze. Oh, and forgetfulness.

FLAGMAN MEALS: Chemicals stained his hands and the cheese sandwiches the cropduster’s wife made. She blew cigarette smoke toward the flammable sign as they leaned on the skulled, crossboned drums. She wiped mayonnaise from the flagman and cropduster’s mouths.

FLAGMAN’S PEACE: the dark fields. Lights from the farms and the plane were like stars flung at him. The smell of whatever was growing out there.

THE FLAGMAN PHILOSOPHIZES: He wanted what he didn’t want, he wanted not to want, to devolve into mineral sleep like Freud said we all did.

WHAT THE CROPDUSTER’S WIFE SAID: You’d think we could be someone else but we can’t.

THE FLAGMAN’S SOLACE: the bottle in his overalls.

WHY THE FLAGMAN DRANK is the flagman philosophizes.

IN THE FLAGMAN’S DIRT SLEEP, while he dreamed in the field, the biplane, off course, flew all over the place.

CORRECTION: He turned the triangle twelve times to catch up; how long had he not been awake?

Raw Pages:
each page was read out loud, one page at a time in his weekly classes, just as Les required of his students.

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Comments
  1. eireene says:

    Here’s an older story, not sure it’s here yet:

    Crew

    When we set out from Dearborn we’d already lost Kitty and Brad. They ran away sixty miles back. Which of us would dash next? Larry — every crew boss seemed to be called Larry — had already beaten half of us up. We had pulled hair and bruises on our arms, some of us had a black eye. Some motel rooms had blood on the bathroom tile.
    The clouds in the tri-state region piled up like another car wreck. We said, if it rains… then, so what? Then we’d hustle our magazines in wet clothes that would never quite dry.
    We owed or we were owed. We’d been on the road since the weather was fine near Dubuque. We’d been on the highway, expressway, turnpike so long we forgot when we first thought of the idea of it. Why we thought the idea was any good. Half of us had already slept with the other half. Half of us had needle marks. We’d all said “We’re raising money to win a contest for school” about eight thousand times. We’d held hands and prayed in a circle beside the van, even those who were skeptics about woo woo woo supernatural stuff. Even if our faith was conditional, improvised. Even those who believed God was bad, though hardly any of us thought that. We weren’t from the part of the country that thought like that much.
    But let’s face it we already weren’t angels when we started out. We came from the old broken home, trailer park; we came from dreamy drugland, we’d been losing our teeth to bad genes and our skin was already ruined from cheap meth. We had cracker accents, we couldn’t name four presidents, we couldn’t find Iraq on a map.
    We could have done better selling roses for Moonies at airports is what we sometimes said.
    How we went, where we went next, Larry had the one map. And you get notions on the road. Hard to keep our heads smart, to gear up our mouths for the pitch when our nighttime kissing lips were dry-spittled, cracked.
    Partnered, we tried yesterday’s partner’s tricks; soon we’d know everything that could be done in some nether motel or under some sparkled porcelain sky.
    Ringo, Big Girl, Jax, you come up with fanciful names, you take enough speed you get flinty ideas: we’d cash Larry’s travel advance, we’d write the home office for big bonuses; truth is we couldn’t see further than that. And how could all twelve of us keep our mouths shut? We who couldn’t stop talking all night. Who forgot our hometowns. Who believed the pictures in our brain that we told each other about: pharaohs or queens in a previous life, or some of us waited for spacemen to hover us home in their silver seed past the sun. The picture about how to make Larry die.
    That Larry who’d gone in the van for chocolate milk and donuts. Larry who’d gone to lie down at some plush Ramada with some girl who charged more than a pipe.
    We swallowed our drinks and our drugs and we made a circle in Room 10 and we pricked our fingers and drew blood and touched blood to blood. Some of us who were girls even cried. We could see this was cultish, so what?
    Meanwhile we wore each others’ headband and leather bracelet. Some of us couldn’t read what we sold, couldn’t fill out the forms. We fixed in the shower and pissed in the sink. A full moon rose over us like the fist of Sammy Hagar.
    The road, that’s America. Used to be, anyhow.
    Though there’s still empty land where the soil’s not too hard or there’s swamps or loose dirt or a bog. A million acres of night of the hunter dark forests and crags. There’s construction sites where they’d soon pour the concrete but not yet. How hard could it be – a blow to the head from behind.
    But we were befuddled by then, wiping and wiping our hands, picking scabs from our scabs. We were wired like alarms.
    We huddled in rain in Dearing to figure it out, those who had ponchos wore them, we weren’t umbrella types.
    Yet we’d had such high hopes when the weather was warm, we were so much cleaner when we started out. We wrote mom and dad if we had them to write. We wrote the parole board and bragged. We brushed our teeth good, our good teeth, some of us even flossed. We folded our clothes in the Laundromat. We split dimebags with the whores at the end of the hall, then we turned up Queensryche.
    Larry kept a pistol in his bag but we had pipes, wrenches, crowbars. We had our two dozen bare hands, if it came down to it. If some of us liked him so much, well, they could join him, we said.
    We knew we weren’t being too bright, but we weren’t completely stupid yet: if we were all in, then who’d dare rat us out?
    Isn’t America lovely, when you hit, and the rush.
    Oh, we knew what could go wrong. When anyone got away weren’t we wistful and jealous and proud. We said pussy, and punk, yet we yearned for the ones who escaped to become better versions of us. All of us just a thumb-ride away from the cardboard Marks-A-Lot sign, the third strike.
    But why gloomy thoughts? Soon we’d have cash, we’d be gangsta stars even though we were white. We’d get new tattoos with the name of our crew, our blue-inked sly wink across future bread lines; dead, we’d be identified.
    Now that we had a plan some of us fell in love madly, then suddenly not. Think about how many couplings of two you can make from a dozen; with six in a room, how many toilets and showers we clogged!
    True, some of us fell hard for someone. Some of us even carried her picture around. We thought ditch the crew in some northwestern town – large lakes in the street from rainfall; we held hands and whispered about it in front of the video store. But what chance did we stand away from our van’s crowdedness: the louder beating of twelve hearts. If you tore off a piece from the whole then wouldn’t it starve? Wind tore bright tears from our eyes and we couldn’t decide, the press and pull hands pushed and tugged. You could hardly catch your breath in this wind that ripped shouts and flung them along the sidewalk, if there was a sidewalk.
    Though daylight seemed narrower than our smiles, soon days would get warmer and dry, we could still change our minds.
    Meanwhile in the check cashing place they took twenty percent but we had enough left for another gold stud through our nose, in our lip, in some soft tender place if we still had one left and the pain jumped us up. When Larry said “hustle,” we jumped. On bad days, guilty, we slunk, chewed our teeth down to stubs. Lived on McFries and Red Bull and Big Gulps.
    Nevertheless, we were already spending the money from our Larry dead in our heads: we were dealers driving Escalades. If we had a home we were sending home fancy bath salts, belt buckles, gold-plated medallions. Even thinking about going back.
    Meanwhile we rolled by a thousand American flags and the white Jesus signs and the corporate car parks. We played tag with security guards, raced away three in a shopping cart. We sat in traffic in places there didn’t seem any reason for cars except that. With open containers in our lap, we waited for the snow plow.
    Who was the poet that said fantasies are rough fare for the heart? Lemmy from Motörhead?
    Anyhow, we honed our magazine scams, a purse by the door, the fast grab, the decoy who gabbed with white foam at her mouth while the other of us took the bedroom detour for whatever’s around; we wore baggy jackets and cleaned out the medicine chest, we grabbed the clothes on the floor, the Game Boy on the bed. Because didn’t we have to get by? Anyway look what people had, didn’t we too deserve that? Wasn’t that in the Bill of Rights? We shared what we took so didn’t that make it all right?
    That we sold magazines not even on our list: Gun Dressage, and Cheeks, and Larry the cruel father of us and what must you do to the father? There were precedents.
    We wanted our dreams to foretell how we’d act. Sleepless near Kalamazoo, we looked for portents in the clouded night stars.
    We said Larry Larry stop the van, Brandy’s gonna throw up. Twelve miles out from Danridge where we’d seen concrete trucks with their hoppers turning in the dawn, ready to pour the foundations for Paradise Homes, Eden Park.
    Larry! we called from where we held Brandy’s head, she’s having some kind of fit! We were putting our hands in her mouth so she wouldn’t swallow her tongue. It seemed so real it might have become that.
    We’d all have to take one good crack at his skull, spread the whacking around. Then the large concrete trucks with their churning insides would save us.
    But we weren’t all like you’d have thought; some of us listened to Sibelius on our stolen iPods, we went to libraries not only to sleep and get warm. Some of us read Shakespeare’s plays: alas poor Larry. Et tu, magazine crew.
    The lights on the construction poles had gone out but it wasn’t yet quite fully daylight, just enough to see by. The moon was a dilated telescope, pale, taking note, watching us.
    God bless us, we swung until our arms were too tired.
    We took off his clothes to burn them, we were so clever: one of us read this somewhere: we filed down his fingerprints with a nailfile.
    We carried him holding his arms and his legs so we wouldn’t leave dragged Larry tracks to the framed house on lot 69. We had shovels and picks and we’d use them like they were meant, the soil wasn’t too hard.
    Later we’d go door to door, to the Sunshine outdoor mall because, hey, nothing was wrong. We’d have our best afternoon yet.
    All we really wanted, if we’d thought about it – even those who longed for Jesus: maybe buy a small house, though we knew we wouldn’t get that.
    A cold wind blew down from the north, we gassed up the van with Larry’s Mastercard while we stepped foot to foot on thin ice, scared to look into each others’ eyes. Creeps, we crept. We wondered, those of us who loved Big Girl, for instance, how this might make love last.
    Too scared, we’d soon sell the van, split the cash, leave it at that. The value of Larry was one hundred sixty-six dollars and sixty-six cents in each of our slickers and coats, our greasy smooth-pocket Levis. See, we were scrupulous. Hardly enough for bus fare, the long ride to home towns while we split hairs between guilt and justified.
    Later, we’d think, if we got away, what did we really get away with. See, it was like sharing the needle, our beds that might yet do us in but so what? Our fists raised for some headbanger band at some Coliseum. Subscriptions held close to our chests safe and dry though we soaked on some rainy sidewalk, last night’s kisses bit so we wouldn’t forget. Like later we’d meet one of us in some liquor store parking lot in Fort Worth, some rehab, and we’d know that we’d done this together – that’s why.

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