The husband decapitates the piñata and the wife
snaps everybody’s head with everybody else’s head
inside her phone, every thinkable pair, like the colored
candies from probability math tests. Everything is
visual now, she says, and snaps. The husband and wife
say they like yellow and green and surprises. We eat
fajitas and pass the cards and the green teething device
around the circle. Mama can’t believe the Cinco de Mayo
theme. She sends snaps of her sweet wine on the Texas
porch and is not tacky. Look here, Baby J: nobody
knows what this day is. This day is the hottest one for
years of night. This day a year ago I stopped wearing the ring.
Last night I went to the potheads’ house on Windsor
Street and ate a bacon sandwich while they smoked
and watched closed captioned zombies. We exonerate such
abysmal dialogue in exchange for the hatchets. Blows
to the head will dead the undead truly. This day last year
Mama cried and sent a snap of boots on the Texas porch,
his and hers, and I drove down the mayhaw mountain.
Baby J, the Mexicans got independent in September.
There’s a bass clef tattooed behind my ear. You weren’t
there. A year ago on the mountain we canned your jelly
and listened to Johnny and June and then we were quiet
on your couch. Maybe that whole place would be Confederacy
or France or his and hers. Maybe we can hear better when
there’s nothing sounding. When the mariachis commence
their trumpeting I taste your shoulder sweat. Send me
a snap of the mayhaw berry that marbled your neck.
At the karaoke birthday I sing I’ve Got a Gal
Seven Feet Tall
and try to make my notes stretch to the moon.
Up here on the balcony patio
my friends drink whiskey and worry about trouble
shadowing me like a late
frost. I can hear what they think I can’t: She’s
had a rough year.
Seems like everybody has had. Like the three dudes
hauling ass and some serious
canned goods and a ham across the Gerbes lot.
One turned and smiled
at me and kept on running. I wondered should I
call the cops or do something.
Instead I pulled the Buick into a spot and said
out loud, Times are hard.
It’s the coldest May on record and nobody ever
heard this song before.
I know all the words. My great-grandmother
played only two songs
on the piano: “I’ve Got a Gal Seven Feet Tall”
and “Silent Night.”
When she turned seventy-five, she also turned
crazy and called our house
every three hours, altoing dreamily from the past.
One other time I heard
the song. That was at the Crescent Hotel during
the rough year.
In the breakfast room the pianola ghosted those
and I hummed along. I heard that the famous coach
and his sunglass girlfriend
hunkered at the Crescent from a scandal that shadowed
them the whole
Natural State. Times are hard. It was a rough year.
But if trouble
shadows me again, I don’t want to hide inside the slip
of moon. I want to run
outrageous jubilant across a daytime parking lot.
If I turn crazy, I hope
it’s the singing kind. Crazy like the full moon.
I hope it’s a crazy
so tall she sleeps with her head in the kitchen
and her feet in the hall.
Somewhere between Missouri and forever
This wine is making me awesome, say the woman’s rhinestones.
These Oklahoma songs are making us a twosome.
Frank Lloyd Wright can make a skyscraper out of triangles
and we can sit inside the room of what’s left over.
That falcon can stare majestic at our up-close faces
and then can stand on that Blue Jay and eat her.
Baby J. Call me Baby Doll again. Call me lover.
Call me Queen.
I’ll see your shitty hotel fantasy
and raise it four toes in your mouth;
I’ll cigarette your hip and poem your ear;
I’ll walk on the inside of you and your goddess myths;
I’ll sing the Kix Brooks high harmony
and not hear the humming from your brain.
And when Missouri comes back to me
like hunger, like a warning;
when Missouri prisms up the glass
like the clear pink yes of Sunday morning: I’ll exit.
This page has some issues, says Wikipedia.
Tone, like sexual predilection, is better understood
in retrospect. Distance multiplied by context equals
theta. Self-awareness is an acquired taste.
Theta is an acquired value and the answer
to the Help Page discrepancy. The engineers
make edits that go Mrθ. This puts me in mind of
a superhero or superfratboy or swampmonster.
My hometown on Wikipedia puts a person in mind
of a Super 8 and an alligator swimming with a whole
deer in its teeth. The engineers would like me to make
edits. Editing for discrepancies will put a person in
a higher bracket; and brackets, after all, can mean
the difference between a bridge that holds and a
fratboy without his Greek Week trophy. When
the handsome engineer goes We want to lock you down,
I laugh and go Hot, and he strictly looks uncomfortable.
Senses of humor, like commitment, can put a person
in mind of cutting and running. There’s more to intimacy
than meets the eye. There’s more to intimacy than
locking someone down in a hotel bathtub and
spitting on his face. There’s more to theta than meets
the minimum requirements for the position.
This page has some issues. That alligator isn’t growing
the economy. Now I’m the one keeping an open
The Turnpike Troubadours perform on Saturday,
but all Wednesday’s got is dollar slots and
Beneath the Planet of the Apes on TBS. At least
the Choctaw Casino Resort doesn’t seem to have
any diseases. When you’re on the Indian Nation
Turnpike, words like Ebola seem as out of place as
Native American. Your modern world is no good here.
When I left Dallas, I knew it was for the last
time. Sometimes you keep on trying at a thing
until it cycles itself out of existence. Sometimes you
sit on a couch from the 70s and hold a hand and
nobody’s mad at anybody. When I left Dallas, it was
five o’clock and dark and the world hadn’t ended.
It’s too bad we can’t just gather up all that daylight
we’ve been saving and cash it in once humanity
is destroyed by primates or by a twisted single-strand,
or at least once we reach Oklahoma. I can never tell
who the good guys are when everybody can talk
and when the chimps’ clothes are fashion-forward.
Maybe everybody should be quarantined. Maybe some
endings mean it’s someone else’s turn at protagonist.
Maybe the Indians will finally win out in this sequel.
Tonight I hope I dream about another lifetime,
the one where I marry a troubadour who wears
a spacey cape with a sun emblazoned on it like an
ancient coin. Somewhere someone’s getting serenaded.
Somewhere someone’s rolling into tomorrow. The end
of the cycle just means you pull the lever again.
Willy says this after I say
I have one million furnitures.
Few brothers would drive
300 miles to collect a solitary
sister from the sprawling city
of saints and icehouses, and then
bring her back to small, sultry
Galveston. Willy’s rescues
usually involve more alarms
and fewer men closing doors.
The island eases up to the truck
sand-footed and damp.
I want to be seduced.
All the streets are named fish
and numbers and Willy says
which buildings will burn
like a flounder covered in barge oil.
People should come with
pre-incident plans. I will stay
a week, walk evenings through bursts
of oleander and sad bars
of Taps from a balcony
on Mackerel and 21st. I will cram
into a firefighter’s tiny island
apartment and sleep on an airbed
with two cats and all of the
fleas. I will sit on the back stairs
while Mama cries mistakes
and wedding veils into the phone
and the downstairs neighbor
throws fish heads onto the grass.
If it wasn’t for the furnitures,
I’d be drawing up my own pre-incidents.
I’d be learning all the cross streets
and high tides. I’d be gathering
a tremendous quivering bouquet
from the shallows and walking down
a narrow hallway to that sunset song.
A truck is sliding sideways down my street.
It isn’t funny, I know, but also it is,
and also a little bit beautiful,
like trucks were always meant to move this way,
sideways and slow and on the inch-thick ice.
The man I almost married, a singer, just sent me a song.
We haven’t talked in a long time. The song tells
how children feel on snow days, bright and sweet
and magic and forever. It is a beautiful song,
and also sad. He makes the words turn into
all the things. Into snow. Into whipped cream.
The words and world turn into a giant pie
and everybody feels in love and bright and everybody
doesn’t want the looming dark to come, ever.
It started snowing yesterday, while I was playing
the organ for a woman’s funeral. I had rehearsed
only three pages of the postlude, and so
was sight-reading by Movement II. I knew
everyone had left the sanctuary, but I kept playing,
kept reading, living in the bright white fullness.
Just notes and fingers. Just now and now and now.
I finished the piece and turned to look back
at the empty pews, and saw two things:
one, that it had started snowing;
and two, the woman in the open casket.
I didn’t feel unsettled or afraid.
My hands felt cold, and then I felt like laughing.
I think that maybe it will snow forever.
I think that maybe the truck will keep on sliding
forever and beautiful down the street. No:
I want those things. I want to want those things.
I want to jump into the big whip. I want
the singer’s sweet-sad dream to be my own.
I want the woman to wake up, suddenly,
smiling and clapping and calling out into
the humming light, please, please, an encore.
When I knot the fourth trash bag, my new flat screen says
another Polar Vortex. Last year’s Vortex trapped me two days
in an Oklahoma toll road town with Baby J. The Holiday Inn’s
broken fire alarm iced us out of our pretending and into
the brand new year’s white morning. José, I only knew you
from a distance, but somehow today I feel you listening. Today,
I’m making room for Christmas flat screens and stand mixers.
The screen says how many died from December drinking and then
from December weather. José, you died from December sadness
and then from a gunshot wound to the head. Great souls are always
mysteries. You would have tracked this Vortex with your antennaed Jeep,
would have heard a shift in the wind and known what was coming.
You could hear what others couldn’t, could make a piano sound
like silver-pure longing: more human than the human voice;
song before song existed. Last midnight at the silvery party, I met
a man in a spangled mask and said, “This stranger will warm my hand
in his silver pocket for the whole Vortex,” and then it was another year.
José, this is an elegy, because death is too small for a great soul.
This is all about pretending, about stepping into any other
weird hobby, or masquerade costume, or self. Like stepping into
the eye of a storm: everything suddenly still—only you, and then, music.
Originally trained as a pianist, Anne-Marie Thompson has taught music and writing at Johns Hopkins University, Lincoln University, and Westminster College. Her first poetry collection, Audiation, won the 2013 Donald Justice Prize. She works as a technical writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.