The Nail-Biting Cure
My arms are stumps because I bite my nails.
I look great, like Venus de Milo.
My father warned me about this and
I refused to believe him.
Sleep comes haltingly, gasping for breath
In the apnea of surprise
The heat of supercharged lightning.
I strike out laughing, barely conscious,
With sticks and can-openers.
I have no need, I say. I can keep going
All night, thoughts buzzing into mirages.
The moon eggs me on.
That is just your trouble, the doctors say.
Fear is not the chopper with the searchlight.
It is accusing voices on the phone
Hissing and ranting. You deserve this, they say.
With absolute power, fear shouts from billboards,
Detonates movie-like explosions in yellow
And orange. Fear hides in white sound.
Drops of blood spoil the white carpet.
How dare you!
You ask if I have any faults.
So many blips I can’t talk about:
Speedy words, endless night without stars,
Unmoveable clutter of books and papers,
Quenchless thirst unmoved by Gatorade,
Bugs in the brain, perfumes from long ago.
But it’s time to answer, and I do.
Yeah, I say. I have one. I bite my nails.
Her tabby soul is boxed-in
Next to the bed where she goes to get away
Her high-pitched voice sounds
In the empty room with yellow walls
She falls asleep dreaming of mourning doves
Who sometimes fly to the window
Outside is where confusion is
Crowds of people, cars, weighty noises
She will not give them substance in her dreams
The light snaps off and the door closes
She feels the sides of her box
Knowing how safe it is
Tomatoes are nightshade
Toxins have been lurking in our salad
My friend pointed out dark berries
Deadly Nightshade, she said
The fruit of malicious desserts
The tomatoes of pupil dilation
Each restaurant serves red half-moons
That taste like gravelly ice
Nightshade berries taste like love, my friend said
Someone tired of a spouse could make
A fabulous dinner, luring their former beloved
Into another kind of bed
For seven year olds who want to make poison
There are antidotes on kitchen shelves
The children eat tomatoes for lunch at school
Though no one goes home sick
Everyone has wanted to poison someone sometime
It gets so dark at 5 PM.
We are standing at the bus stop, laughing
You in your small museum shirt and me in my white one
Our coats open over them.
We are talking about the tree frog show
On our way home from the doctor.
Soon enough we will have the salad I made
The cranberry and goat cheese one I put away for supper.
In your bath after dinner there will be a blue boat
With a bear sailing in it, looking out at the bubbles.
They’ve kept both of us from drowning.
There’s always the fear of the curtain shadows
The ones I say can’t hurt you, though other things can and do
The museum shirt will be clipped at the ER after a seizure
The shaking limbs, unseeing eyes, the longest three minutes.
Look, you say to me at the museum,
The orange and green tree frogs are all poisonous.
We watch them breathe in their terrariums.
The play of light makes them glimmer.
How do they handle them here, you ask,
Do they touch them in a special way?
The museum guide smiles and reassures us,
They’re not poisonous when they’re here
Because we change their diet.
Remnants of a Kinder World
The sun glazes each surface, pours out light.
Beyond the sky, the roads remember.
The old buildings, the children skipping, playing hopscotch.
They have moved to grayer neighborhoods,
The ones with empty lots and torn-up sidewalks.
They wind up sleeping on cots, dining in church basements
The courthouse façade glows in the late afternoon
But doesn’t give off anything that looks like justice.
Two older women wait for the bus, leaning on canes
Heads bowed. A man gets out of a black car
And curses as they speak in low tones.
They cannot wish fervently enough for home.
Think back to gentle winds
Old movie houses, tiny children
Running in the streets
Knowing to go home when the lights come on.
Cats peer out from low windows
Near bowls of grapes and oranges.
Your only wound has been bound up at the hospital.
Whole families sit on building stoops drinking tea
All your books are in the tall bookcase
Intact, no burnt pages.
The Whims of Sleep
Sleep no longer loves me.
The phone buzzes once, streaking lights
Across the ceiling. I sit up in bed,
Reading ice-cube promises in a crystal glass.
Star and moon cookies recline in a plate.
They are covered in white frosting
And sprinkled with silver dots.
I think of my red party dress.
I close the door and wait, shoes lost,
Bandage on my left little toe.
Will I grab the phone, listening carefully
To make sure the connection fits?
Insomnia builds character,
But what kind? Shadows shift.
The crystal glass trembles,
Catching the wind for a moment,
As the white curtain lifts in the dark.
Dots of light gather, as half my forehead,
My cheek, my right eye, ache with waiting.