16TH STREET MALL SHUTTLE
On the way home from riding the roller coaster
twice, once in the front car, still fizzy with thrill,
Emily sits down on the mall shuttle, then notices
a small black man, even older than she is,
standing, leaning on a cane. All other seats
are taken. She jumps up and offers him her seat.
“No, thanks,” he says with a wrinkled smile,
“but you could give me a blow job.
Do something that’s really useful.” She turns
her head. Above them a sign reads
“Cancer cures smoking.”
EMILY WRITES TO HER FATHER IN HEAVEN
Dear Dad, she writes,
It is dark autumn. I remember
your dramatic whispers on New Year’s Eve,
your hand cupped over your left ear:
“The year slinks away. Listen.
Can you hear it?” I listen
to gypsy music often these days, still
wanting to find that one song you used
to sing in the car. It is a haunting tune,
words full of tears of love or longing,
I can’t remember which. I remember
your vibrant baritone. I know
how to play the melody on my flute,
but haven’t been able to find the song
in everyday reality.
I know you wanted to be loved. You did
all you could to make this happen,
and I truly wanted to comply
and love. It simply never came to pass.
There was a barrier between us,
your occasional rage, my cautious mistrust
of you, your God, your Nazi past. You went
to Heaven fourteen years ago. I know
you went to Heaven. That was always
the plan. I never cried for you. At first
I waited for the tears to come.
After a few years I stopped waiting.
I have hundreds of pages of notes
about you, more than I had
for my dissertation before I decided
to drop out of school. I am bewildered
here. If I cannot love you, how can I
ever be good enough for life
and life be good enough for me?
A CHALLENGED SOUL
When she was ten, she had a glowing
moment of nobility. Anyone who asked
for anything at all, she resolved,
if she had it, she would give it.
How her young soul shimmered.
First test came at eleven, summer camp.
A zealous fellow camper asked
for contributions to a worthy cause.
Emily can’t remember what it was.
Bangladesh, Africa, something to do
with children and hunger most likely.
She had made plans already
for her small allowance, had felt rich,
expansive. She canceled plans and gave
what she had. She did not suffer exactly,
but forever after she disliked the girl
These days she takes a shortcut
through back alleys on her way to work.
She walks by broken bottles,
two or three times a mattress
labeled “bedbugs” by the dumpster
pungent with fish and other things.
This to avoid the sidewalk out front,
next to the Lutheran church
where a heavy man sits each morning
asking for spare change in exchange
for a smiling “God bless.”
Her soul feels dusty and defensive.