Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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Learn to Fight

First of all, learn to fight,
was the bartender’s answer, maybe some headlocks
or a swift but deadly karate chop to the neck.
All the skills you’ve honed until now you realize
are useless, the blue sky not even
certainly blue, but cerulean, Piccaso-
Blue-Period-Blue. Reporters are writing op-eds
about mermaids, things they know nothing about.
Everyone is getting drunk on something, sometimes
every night. Where else to turn? Above, the crows
have their own shit to deal with. Walking the city streets
for hours, you compose in your mind beginnings
of letters: Dear lamppost. Dear homeless man. Dear multitude
of microscopic creatures burrowed into my eyelashes. Dear
post-bender cough, incurable hangover. Dear horrible gift
I cannot re-gift. Dear dog-eared pages whose value
I can’t and will never remember. Dear irrational fear of quicksand. Dear Earth’s
churning magma I will never see or smell. Dear men
steering subway trains at night. Dear the dark
dreams of those men. Dear cigarette butts left in bottles
I didn’t check before swigging. Dear occasional and uncontrollable
eye-twitch. Dear pockmark, chipped tooth. Dear lie
to cover up another lie. Someone must know how to conquer
these tests. Unfocus your eyes and the image in question
will appear. Remember: slugbugs, slip-n-slides,
how good you were at things. You turn corners, taxicabs
honking at pedestrians, at each other. At a fruit stand
an old woman tells you: every apple you pick up and put down
is left with just a little of your germs. You think, Few
would have been the more grammatical word. Few of your germs.
You have learned that it is worthwhile to control
your facial expressions, to appear
genuine at all times. You have learned to fill in fully and darkly
the bubbles, as exemplified by the diagram.
You’ve learned: two-day-minimum, liquor before beer,
You’ve learned: anopheles mosquito, mitochondria,
controversies about the shape of our universe.
At the crosswalk, someone has blacked out
with tape all the fingers but the middle one
on the red flashing hand. As you wander,
your mind enters through store windows
with hand grenades, exploding silently. The sun
looks like a gouged-out eye, something must be done.
At a grate leading down to the subway, you stop.
You suddenly become that grate itself,
then the thrashing of trains through the dark.
Further down, you become the stretched-out squeal
of brakes slowing trains. You remain this sound
as it travels back up
flecks of tunnel grime, corroded vents,
weaving through air ducts of the building above
towards the bright light of a room in which a piano concerto
plays loudly and a woman is perched facedown
on all fours, naked over the plush floor.
She is waiting for someone to come out of the shower.
On the street corner, looking around, you could not know
what goes on in rooms of buildings around you,
restrained as you are by what you can imagine.
You decide, for sure, you will never hear yourself say but in jest,
or at least not aloud, Let us give thanks,
or Let’s try harder to be better people.
You picture all the people you should never picture
during sex, knowing at some point you will. Your memory
flashes back to you and your brother
punching each other in the backyard to see
what it felt like, getting hit. So many tests, harder now. The honking
forms a surface of the city, a blanket with frayed holes.
Somewhere your germs are swimming about
on the surface of an apple a young girl bites into.
Somewhere a shower stops. The words Bless your heart
are being said over and over in church pews, hospital rooms,
rent-by-the-hour motels. Networks of trains
are here-and-now rushing through parts of the American landscape
no one, not anyone, has seen, hauling rubber,
petroleum, fully-assembled and ready-to-attach
doorknobs. You discern patterns in all this,
but nothing definitive. Not until you read it in a book
about boxing do you finally realize bum rush
is a term for rushing forward when your opponent isn’t looking,
so fast they wouldn’t see you even if they were.  

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