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June 26, 2015 Poetry


Elizabeth Ellen

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Snot Rockets

Tanja invited me to a craft show in Flint.
It was a Friday night and I didn’t have anything else to do.
I’d never been to a craft show.

I’d been to a gun and knife show with my boyfriend, Evan, when I was nineteen.
Evan wasn’t into guns but he had a collection of knives.
He also had a collection of skulls and a devil’s lock and wore a spur on one combat boot and liked the band Gwar.
(That was about all I could remember about Evan.)

It turned out the Flint craft show wasn’t in a big convention hall like the gun and knife show.
The Flint craft show was in a small café in downtown Flint called Lunch Café.
Tanja and Tanja’s brother Willow and I carried in Tanja’s ‘zines and set them up on an indoor picnic table.
Next to us a woman was displaying bookmark crosses made from actual books. I wanted to ask her what books but she wasn’t giving off a very friendly vibe.
Instead I stood next to Willow while he told me about a dream he’d had recently in which he had the words ‘thug life’ tattooed on his inner arm.
I looked and was surprised they weren’t there already. I could have sworn they were already there.

The first hour of the craft show was slow.
The woman who ran the craft show kept coming up and saying, “wait until seven thirty, things really pick up around seven thirty.”
It was only five fifteen.
Willow and I went for a walk to get food.
Someone had said there was a Mexican restaurant three blocks down.
We stopped at a corner, waited for the light.
There was a man waiting at the corner with us.
The man was in his late twenties and had a shaved head. I thought the man was attractive. We made eye contact. I may have smiled. (Inwardly it felt like I was smiling but outwardly it was so hard to tell.)
Just before the light turned, the man bent over and blew a snot rocket onto the ground. Then the man started walking as though nothing had happened.

“Did you see that?” I said, when the man was out of earshot.
“See what?” Willow said.
“That man just blew a snot rocket right next to us.”
“Oh yeah. Sometimes if your nose is running when you’re out walking you have to clear it.”
“On the sidewalk?” I said. I’d never had to clear my nose on the sidewalk.
“Yeah,” Willow said.
“Girls don’t clear their noses on sidewalks,” I said.
Willow didn’t say anything.
“What would you think if a girl blew her nose on the sidewalk?”
Willow didn’t say anything.
“A young, pretty girl,” I said.
Willow still didn’t say anything.
“Would you be turned off?” I said.
“I’m thinking,” Willow said.
Willow thought through our food ordering process and through our waiting for our food order process and most of the walk back to the Lunch Café.
“I guess I’d think it was funny,” Willow said, finally.
“You would?” I said.
“Yeah,” Willow said. “I think I’d just laugh.”

The three of us sat at the picnic table eating our burritos and nodding at people as they walked by.
A woman across from us was selling little tiny plastic cups of honey as a facial treatment. People seemed into the honey as facial treatment.
The woman next to us sold a bookmark.
A breastfeeding woman bought one of Tanja’s ‘zines.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the snot rocket conversation I’d had with Willow.
I thought maybe I was being too uptight.
I tried picturing myself blowing a snot rocket on the street while a man watched.
For some reason I pictured myself sitting on the stoop of a ‘brownstone,’ bent over with my head between my knees.
I didn’t know if this made it funnier or not.
I couldn’t picture the man’s reaction.
I’d never sat on the stoop of a brownstone. 
I don’t know why I pictured a brownstone.

At seven thirty it got busier, just like the host lady promised.
I didn’t have any more time to think about snot rockets.
I had to think about selling ‘zines. (It felt like it was 1992. I wanted to write ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on my arms with a Sharpie but Tanja said she didn’t have a Sharpie. I thought maybe she was just afraid of offending the host lady or the lady with the cross bookmarks.)

“Oh, I forgot,” Willow said. “The tattoo had stuff going through the words.”
“What stuff,” I said, thinking, please don’t say barbed wire.
“Like, snakes,” Willow said.
“Oh,” I said, not barbed wire. Maybe I was too uptight.

When the craft show was over we got in the front of Tanja’s truck.
We passed the courthouse where my husband and I signed our divorce papers.
We passed the hospital where my daughter was born.
We passed the library where I’d gone to see Robert Pinsky read.

Willow was begging Tanja to stop at a hookah lounge.
I couldn’t stop thinking of the image of me sitting on a brownstone stoop, blowing a snot rocket between my knees.
I liked this image of me better.
We stopped for a light. A man stood on the corner beside a woman. The man smiled, he had no top teeth. He looked about fifty or sixty. He bent over the woman beside him. The woman was wearing sweatpants and an oversized Garfield sweatshirt. The woman was ten, fifteen years younger. I could imagine the woman blowing a snot rocket on the sidewalk. The man kissed her on the top of her head.

I liked this image a lot.


That’s not true. I remember a lot more.
I remember a lot of things.


Tanja and I were in a bar in my hometown.
It was the bar I had grown up in.
My childhood friend and her husband were there too.
There was a picture of Brutus, the Ohio State University mascot on the wall.
Tanja pointed to it and said, “What’s that? A potato?”
My childhood friend’s husband looked like he was going to pass out.
“No,” I said. “It’s not a potato.”
“A loaf of bread?” Tanja said.
“No,” I said. “It’s not a loaf of bread.”
This was a fun game we were playing. I didn’t want to stop playing the fun game.

Punk House

The Sunday after the craft show in Flint, Tanja said there was a craft show in Detroit.
I was interested to see what a craft show in Detroit would look like (now that I had something to compare it to).
Tanja said the craft show was from noon to five.
It was an hour drive; it was already one; I couldn’t make a decision.
I texted Tanja, “What’s it like there?”
“It’s a punk house,” Tanja texted back.
I didn’t know what a punk house was.
I pictured a lot of angry young men with high testosterone and angry young women wearing leather and lip piercings.

It was pouring rain and the streets were flooded and I almost turned around before I even got to the highway.
I decided to keep going because I liked listening to music alone in the car.
(It was the same reason I liked mowing the lawn and going for walks at eleven pm.)
I was wearing black cutoffs and a black Billabong tank top
I didn’t feel very punk but I didn’t feel very anything else either. 

I parked outside the house and walked inside.
I couldn’t hear or see anyone. I heard a man upstairs flush a toilet and cough.
I thought I had the wrong address.
I went back to my car to text Tanja.
Tanja met me on the sidewalk.
The craft show was in a garage-like enclosure around the side of the house.
Tanja was sharing a table with a young woman who made patches for jeans and jackets. The woman had rainbow-colored hair that was shaved on one side but she didn’t seem particularly angry. She was holding hands with a man in some sort of genie pant. The man’s hair was in a bun. He didn’t seem angry either.

“She tells everyone they’re made from stolen materials,” Tanja said. “That’s her main selling point.”
“I’m going to steal one,” I said.

The woman with rainbow hair and the man in genie pants were discussing religion with a nondescript man I can’t describe. The man in genie pants was saying something negative about Goodwill and Volunteers of America. (At least one of them was affiliated with a religion!)

He said, “I used to be open to religion, to everyone believing what they want, but now I’m, like, no, no way.”

I guess that was his idea of anger.

The woman with rainbow hair said, “Yeah, why do I need some invisbile ghost man in the sky to love me when I can love myself.”

I stopped listening. I felt duped by Tanja. Maybe I was too old. Maybe it was a generational thing. I couldn’t imagine any punk I’d ever heard of or met talking about loving themselves. (I wanted every person remotely related to the term ‘punk’ to be as self-loathing and self-hating as I was.)

I looked around the room. Everyone looked the same to me: similarly sized arm tattoos, tights with shorts, consciously minimal makeup, pale skin, brown hair, nondescript bodies…

People went outside to smoke. I didn’t understand why people went outside to smoke.

The table next to me was filled with pamphlets. I reached over and picked one up. It was very long and about living ‘off the grid.’  I couldn’t image anyone present living ‘off the grid.’

I didn’t understand why anyone was charging money for anything; why Tanja had to pay ten dollars for her table.

Everyone was very polite. I didn’t understand why everyone was so polite.  (No one talked to me.)

“Maybe it’s a misuse of the word ‘punk’,” Tanja said, when I brought up my questions/grievances. “Maybe they need a new word.”

I figured my expectations had been too high.
These just seemed like regular hipsters to me.
(Radiohead was playing on a boombox across from us.)
Hipsters with a faux hippie attitude.
Maybe I was being too harsh. (Maybe I was just angry.)

I didn’t think anyone here would blow snot rockets on the sidewalk.

But Tanja sold a lot of ‘zines. The punks loved Tanja’s ‘zines.


Third Eye Blind

We were still in the bar I’d grown up in in my hometown.
Earlier we’d been at the Elks Lodge drinking dollar beers.
(We weren’t members but someone – a drunk patron – had waved us in from the patio where he was smoking and the bartender had allowed us to stay.)
We’d gone to the bowling alley bar first but the bowling alley bar was closed now. You could get drinks from the main counter but it wasn’t the same as sitting at the bar.

Next to the Elks Lodge were a Laundromat and a karate studio.
It looked like a scene from Fight Club inside the karate studio.
There were fifteen to twenty men on the mats; they kept changing which man they singled out to circle/tag team.
We stood outside the window watching for a long time.
A woman wearing a pro-life shirt kept turning around and looking at us.
There were about forty other people watching with her, mostly women and children.
Eventually the pro-life woman came outside and stood next to us.
“They’re going for their black belts. Don’t worry. This is normal,” she said.
We nodded and she went back inside. I wondered which man was hers; if he was getting his black belt; if I’d gone to school with them.

At the bar I’d grown up in a man with a tattoo on his forearm that said ‘southpaw’ was talking to us.
I’d overheard a woman greeting him asking about his probation being recently lifted.
The man kept saying, “are you making fun of me?” to Tanja and me because we kept laughing.
I wondered if he had a black belt. (We weren’t making fun of him. We just couldn’t stop laughing.)
The man was extremely intoxicated. He kept leaning over our table, his cigarette dangerously close to our heads. He reminded me of every guy I had gone to high school with.
There was a high suicide rate in my hometown; a high rate of overdoses also.

Later we were trying to leave.
It was late and we still had to go to my friend’s house on the other side of town.
(My friend was reclusive. You couldn’t get her to leave her house to go to a bar anymore. You had to take a bottle of wine to her.)
The southpaw guy didn’t want us to go.
His leaning had increased to the point of…
He was telling us about his ex-wife, his kids.
We were making our gentle goodbyes, Tanja and me.
We stood up from the picnic table.
The southpaw guy’s eyes were …
We took a step away, looked back.
A new song came on the jukebox.
It was the one I always confuse with that other song by Oasis.
I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend
The entire bar erupted in song. .
Or, the girls throwing darts started singing.
Tanja and I started singing also.

“Okay,” we said.
“One more song,” we said.


Big Mistake

Today I found myself quoting the famous scene from Pretty Woman aloud in the car as though addressing a person who wasn’t there. Last week I heard myself recite the same lines while addressing myself. It’s hard to say which felt more applicable.


You Alone Decide What’s Real

Tanja and I were competing to see who had moved the most as a child.
“I know of at least fourteen places we lived before I was eighteen,” I said.
Tanja started naming places she had lived. She kept naming her grandma’s house over and over, between every place.
“You can’t count your grandma’s house more than once,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure if this was fair or not.
“Okay, “ Tanja said.
Not counting her grandma’s place more than once, Tanja named fourteen houses and apartments. Same as me. Tied!
Then I received a new text from my mom listing four more apartments we had lived in before the first place I could remember living.
“That makes eighteen places for me,” I said. “Eighteen different houses and apartments in eighteen years.”
I think if I had allowed Tanja to count all the times they had moved back in with her grandma, she would have easily beat me.
But I didn’t allow this.
And so I won. (I was the most fucked up!)
I thought about texting everyone in my contact list to tell them this. I would tell them this and then I would say, “Does that explain anything? LOL.” But then I remembered half the people in my contact list didn’t ever want to hear from me again.
I wondered how many people didn’t want to ever hear from Tanja.
I didn’t think it would be as many. I thought I would win that competition too. (I’m still the most fucked up!)
I thought about deleting the people who never wanted to hear from me again from my contact list but I couldn’t remember who those people were or I had a hard time saying goodbye or both.



On the drive home from Ohio we listened to Tanja’s Pandora station.
Tanja liked 90’s Alternative rock. (I liked it, too, but it was more surprising that Tanja liked it.)

She had a theory about each song we listened to.
For instance, she claimed the song ‘Closing Time’ was about a baby being born.
I listened to the lyrics.
The lyrics were clearly about finding a girl in a bar at the end of the night.
“That’s just the surface meaning,” Tanja said. “You have to listen to the deeper meaning,” she said.
I listened as deep as I could.
I didn’t hear anything about a baby being born.
I thought maybe Tanja was crazy. Or pulling my leg.
(It was often hard to tell with Tanja.)

Tanja said the song ‘The Freshman’ by The Verve Pipe was about a girl dying at a party. She said the guy in The Verve Pipe had heard the story from someone else. She said he wrote another song about how he felt bad writing about someone else’s story, but that song wasn’t popular so no one really heard it.

Tanja said something about the band Eve 6 but I don’t remember what she said.
I remember telling Tanja that Eve 6 sounded like the name of a female R&B group from the ‘90s, like SWV, not an alternative rock band.
Tanja disagreed.
Tanja seemed to feel strongly about Eve 6 so I let it go.

Tanja seemed to feel strongly about the band Tonic also but in a different way.
(I had never heard of Tonic, though I recognized the song.)
Tanja had a problem with their song, ‘If You Could Only See.’
(I’d never given the song much thought; had barely listened to the lyrics.)

“I just think the guy seems delusional; thinking this woman’s eyes actually change color, to a deeper shade of blue, when he’s around, or whatever…He just sounds obsessed. I imagine his friends are like, ‘dude, her eyes don’t change color. She doesn’t actually love you.’”

“But that’s why he’s saying that,” I said. “That’s why he’s like, ‘if you could only see,’ because he knows his friends don’t believe him but he wants them to see.”

Tanja made a face. Tanja had a problem with that song that wasn’t going to be cleared up in a five minute conversation in the car.

The one band/song I wanted Tanja to have a theory about, she didn’t.
Tanja didn’t have anything to say about Silverchair’s ‘Tomorrow.’
I couldn’t get over the lyrics.
I wanted to know why the water was so hard to drink or how that was a metaphor.
“Maybe it’s not a metaphor for anything,” Tanja said. “Maybe the water in Australia or wherever they’re from is literally hard to drink.”
I felt unsatisfied with this answer.
I couldn’t believe a person who thought ‘Closing Time’ was about the birth of a baby, didn’t have a theory about ‘Tomorrow.’

I felt duped by Tanja. I was beginning always to feel duped now by Tanja.

I didn’t understand why ‘Cumbersome’ never came on Tanja’s Pandora station. I kept waiting for ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’ to come on also. 

I felt a little duped.



We were on a rooftop in Brighton, Michigan.
(You’ve never heard of Brighton unless you live in Michigan.)
We’d just been told the restaurant didn’t serve tacos on the rooftop.
Nowhere on a sign or on the menu did it say this.
But this is what the waitress said, “You can’t get tacos on the rooftop,”
when Willow asked.
So no one got tacos. I guess we really wanted to sit on the rooftop.

We’d spent the day doing Internet searches and making calls to local wildlife centers.
Tanja and Willow had found three baby bats in the basement of their house the day before.
Tanja had tried feeding them some sort of mixture of water and salt and sugar she’d read about online.
(They’d actually found six baby bats in total but one was badly decomposed when they found it and one had died recently and the third had disappeared from the box Tanja left them in on the porch overnight.)
Our Internet searches and calls had led us to a woman in Brighton.
The woman had pulled each baby bat from the bag and held it without gloves, spread open its tiny wings.
It’d been hard to leave them.
(The smallest had a broken wing, the woman showed us. It was hardest to leave this one.)

There was a three pound burger on the menu
It was a sort of challenge. Your picture on the wall, a t-shirt.
Willow was considering it.
“It says you have to eat it in thirty minutes,” Tanja said.
“I think I can do it,” Willow said.
“I want to see you do it, but not when I have to drive you home,” I said.
“They don’t even give it to you free if you do it,” Tanja said.
It seemed like you should at least get the burger free if you ate it all in thirty minutes.

“I wonder how the bats are doing,” Tanja said.
“I want to apprentice with her,” I said. “Learn everything about bats.”
“Me, too,” Tanja said.
In attempting to make the baby bats comfortable, we’d watched videos of how to care for them online.
In every video someone had swathed a baby bat in a blanket, stuck a small binky in its mouth.
We didn’t know where to get the small binky.
We didn’t think the woman would want to apprentice us.

Our burgers came. They were normal sized.
Country music was playing. I recognized all the songs.
“Country music is the saddest music there is,” Willow said.
“Where did you hear that,” I said. “Country music makes me happiest.”
Tanja didn’t have an opinion. Or if she had one she didn’t state it.
“More people commit suicide listening to country music than any other music,” Willow said.
“I don’t think that’s true,” I said.
“Where’d you hear that,” Tanja said.
Willow couldn’t cite where he’d heard that.

On the car drive home we were still talking about suicide.
Someone Willow knew back in California had just killed himself.
Someone Tanja knew, too.
Two different people, I mean, from the same town.
“More people die of suicide in this country than breast cancer,” I said.
“Really?” Tanja said.
“Also car related fatalities,” I said.
Tanja told us a story she’d heard that week about a teenage girl who’d jumped off a highway overpass after her father had publicly shamed her in a Youtube video.
“There’s an increase in the rise of suicides among men in their fifties and sixties,” I said.
“I can’t imagine ever being at that point,” Tanja said. “Where I thought the next day wouldn’t be better.”
I didn’t say anything. Maybe I’d been close to that point. I couldn’t imagine jumping off an overpass but I could imagine sitting in my car in the garage. I could imagine turning on a gas stove.

I felt somewhat duped by Tanja. It seemed impossible she’d never thought about suicide. It was hard for me to understand a person being alive, having not considered suicide.

I thought maybe if I could apprentice with the bat woman I would feel differently. I thought about all the tiny bats in the videos, swaddled next to each other, sucking on their binkies.

The woman had said the bat with the broken wing probably wouldn’t make it. It was so hard to leave it.


Jim Carrey

I was watching the Jerry Seinfeld Internet show -
‘Funny people drinking caffeinated drinks,’ or whatever.
I watched the Amy Schumer episode and she seemed nervous but still managed to say the word ‘vagina’ three times and then I saw that the most recent video was available and that it was Jim Carrey.
Right away Jim Carrey seemed manic in a way that reminded me of Robin Williams.
I felt uncomfortable right away (is what I’m saying).
I didn’t feel any better as the show progressed.
Everything Jim did screamed, ‘I am going to be the next celebrity to kill myself/I am not okay.’
He talked about being on a twenty-one day cleanse and leaving for some retreat where he wouldn’t be speaking for five days.
He didn’t eat at the diner with Jerry or drink coffee.
He drank hot water or tea and stood on his seat to drop the artificial sweetener he had brought with him into his cup.
Later he took Jerry to his art studio and there were seemingly a thousand tubes of paint.
All I could think of was that creepy video he’d made for Emma Stone a couple years back, the one in which he ‘jokingly’ asked her out but everyone – including Emma - knew he wasn’t really joking.
I felt like I could relate to Jim Carrey in that moment.
Maybe I just felt uncomfortable watching the episode because I didn’t want to relate to Jim Carrey.

After it ended I clicked on the Jimmy Fallon episode in the same way you watch a funny TV show or movie after watching a horror movie as a kid: so you can go to sleep.

Jimmy was kind of boring but at least I didn’t relate to him.

Things I Don’t Tell My Daughter

I break down sobbing at random moments now.//Today was the first day I felt comfortable enough on the drums to ‘just jam.’//I am probably not going to be okay.//Sometimes I listen to the same song on repeat for an hour and a half in the basement so I can go to sleep.//There is no alcohol in the house anymore because I don’t trust myself around alcohol anymore.//Sometimes I put my laptop under her bed before she gets home at night and take it out after she has left for work the next day.//I am not as strong as she thinks (but I am probably stronger than this).