I flip through Bukowski while Cat Power
plays in a San Francisco bookstore like no
time has passed since I was fifteen,
deciding what a poem was, or a writer,
or a drunk. Bukowski criticises poets,
praises dogs, scorns wine moms, young
ambitious men. I am mom age
now and the young men I love are sick
with irony or dead from drugs. A woman
in yoga this morning arched herself
sideways into half a heart, exhaling
negativity out. All that gunk. When I smoke
weed or drink a lot I think too much
about the past. My sober friends go on
retreats and I am still thinking about reaching
one mountain summit like I will be struck
finally with inspiration. What was wrong
with Bukowski? I mean this. In the sky,
a single cloud crouches above a house.
Bukowski writes, you wonder why
it’s so hard to go crazy — if you’re not
already crazy. Love is a dog from hell,
can you hear it barking? I spent New
Years on a boat with wary Californians,
resolution unfriendly. I cannot resolve
my inspiration, why it’s always so ugly.
The problem with California is I can’t find
a real problem with a state. I know what
was wrong with Bukowski and yet I am
almost always waiting alone in the poetry
section for the books to namaste their
way into my soul. I slip over muddy
rocks on this mountain top. What did
I run up here for? My adolescence?
Carvings in the redwoods? The windy
grass throwing itself across my path
as far as I can see, like an unchained
dog too loyal to flee? Love is a great
forward motion when it does not
disturb our peace.
You don’t know if you should laugh at my poems
now that I can’t stop writing to the dead. I say
what is romance without risk. I say we need
standards in our culture. I say Alexa, play “Highway
to Hell.” I speak more than I ever have. I am speaking
to the royal you. I stay inside most of the day but on the hike,
I tripped on a root and told the chihuahua at eye level
that it’s never too late to consider giving birth. I’ve heard
there are expected lifespans. I’ve said yes to no end. I am
getting better at directions because all curves cut across
the same skin. I am locating you in the poem. You tell me
I am more bite, less bark across a beer-stained picnic
table in a gravel backyard and it is easy to read
your tone. Too much specificity, you warn. I ask how
you can still talk. The Magnetic Fields album i sounds
throughout the house. I start all my sentences with me
and end them with readers chanting, pattern and variety.
I squish my letters down so they fit in my suitcase.
Your sock falls out. I am running away now.
And the mentors say don’t face your audience directly.
I tell them thanks for the warning, taking safety
pills all my life. The first song on the album is
“I die.” I leave the shower running. I reach for my
voice behind the curtain, pronouns slipping
on the tiles. I say, “I’m okay” just in case
you can hear me.