THAT NUTJOB WORD
At the meeting I said, We need to talk more about solitude.
Everyone looked at me like I was crazy.
I said, I am fucking crazy, yep, that’s right.
Then I remembered this dude who is actually crazy, Ned.
We were in a seminar together.
I said, Blake was a mortal nutjob
trying to piece together the tapestry of his mind
as the visions got better and better.
Afterwards, Ned said,
You can’t say that word.
I said, What word?
He said, That nutjob word.
Then he went into the bathroom
and looked into the mirror. There were dragons coming out of his eyes
that he tried to stuff back in
with toilet paper
but nothing worked
so he disappeared into the back of his own swallow
Solitude can kill you sometimes.
Sometimes, when you are all alone in the stillness of the evening,
sitting in your rocking chair after midnight,
the thing will come up behind you
with a leather belt
and choke the shit out of you.
Most times, it’ll just hold your hand
and you’ll hold its hand back.
You’ll be an active participant in your solitude.
That’s what I said at the meeting--
We need to be active participants in our solitude.
When I shut up
the trees from outside slid through the windows
like the dragons that slid out of Ned’s eyes.
But I was no nutjob
and did not need any tissues to fend them off.
They just came in quietly and sat beside me
listening with their tree ears
and their tree hearts
like we had done this a thousand times before.
ONE BIG IMMIGRANT ONE BIG IMMIGRATION
The ferry from Battery Park to Ellis Island did not make me cry.
Then I put my face into The Registry Room tile
and remembered the crocheted print of my grandmother at The Wall.
My wife asked if she’d ever been.
I could not say no or yes.
I had a Brian Blade ballad in my head.
But I was still on the ferry
and Natalie wanted to watch the waves.
Where are the dolphins?
Was the sea of New York Harbor
as dirty today
as it was when my wife’s grandfather looked over the rail?
He was 4 from Poland and had the rickets.
History is always a myth
even though it is the truth.
You have to remember your name is Dolphin, I say to Natalie,
even though it is Natalie.
You are always that smart and can swim thousands of miles
on your own
to get exactly where you need to be.
She looks at me like I am a madman from another world.
I put my face in the tile
to conjure the smell.
All that human stink.
All that 15-day steerage up in the funk.
No matter how bad it was,
I can hear Brian Blade’s Bluebird
falling out of my whole body onto the floor.
We are all boats.
We are all the inside of boats--
one big immigrant,
one big immigration
on The Lady Liberty,
The Ms. I Am Going To Get Some Action In This Damn Town If It Kills Me.
And there it is, New York,
that big sweatshop of cash and corruption,
across the harbor
waiting for me and my family to return
with the rest of the Asians and Germans,
the white ladies from Missouri,
the Muslims speaking French.
Everyone with a camera. Everyone with a charm bracelet.
I want to shout. We were here first!
But, that’s just because I am sad.
I have my face in the tile and it is weeping.
My wife’s grandfather is in there with me.
My grandmother. All of Poland—
the stink of poverty and piss.
Truth is, I am glad my kid gets to ride on this boat
and not the other boat.
I am glad I can play her Brian Blade
when we get home.
It’s right across the water
no matter how many steam ships I take
up The Henry Hudson Parkway
deep into the hills of New England
across the Atlantic
and into the shetls of Transylvania.
My face is in the tile
and no matter how bad it smells,
I know exactly the stink of nowhere
and it is very far away.
It could be 1981 in New Rochelle
with the wild ferns tearing up the turf.
I could be rolling down Lakeside Drive in my smashed up ‘72 VW hatchback
with the rusted out chassis listening to Steve Perry
glad none of my Grateful Dead boys
are in the backseat to give me shit.
Truth is, when I was 17, suburbia was an open road of lazy stupidness
that made me tingle.
Even now I miss the hills up and around Storer Drive,
the big hair girls who never gave me the time of day.
There were no Skinheads beating the shit out of Jews
or sewage pipes blasting waste into my living room.
There were no horny mailman or petty thieves
hiding in wait in the well quaffed bushes.
You wanted to leave your door unlocked,
you left your door unlocked
with your sun tanning sister half-naked in the backyard.
It was that easy.
Amy Radcliff wasn’t addicted to smack;
Naomi Green didn’t cut her arms;
Max Frankel played ball with his dad
and never got punched.
And mostly, what there was
Lots of it.
Came down my street without any bandages or gauze stuck to its face,
had nothing to do with The Lower East Side or the Verrazano Bridge.
Didn’t give a shit about rap music, the end of Disco.
It was a suburban wind full of honeysuckle, lilac
and every once in awhile,
a drunk uncle passed out in the basement
listening to his jukebox full Sinatra hits
with a bourbon in one hand,
and an afghan in the other.
For me, it was a drum-kit wind,
anthemic and pink,
driving around after midnight for hours,
the windows down, everything sentimental, everything quiet,
no one to tell me how hip to be,
how cruel, misanthropic or fantastic.
It was a boring wind, a Steve Perry wind,
a wind that lacked spitballs and dirt,
that even today
blows into my chest
with its sharp teeth blazing
and rips the dirty out of my lungs.
When I was in 6th grade some big dude on the other Little League team broke my leg. I played short, took the throw from the catcher and the kid just nailed my right tibia, snapped it in half. I am a huge New York Met fan and my father, somehow, got me a get well card signed by members of the 1976 team--Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Ed Kranepool, Jerry Grote, and, my favorite 2nd baseman, Felix Milan. Somewhere, somehow, that card got lost in the whirlwind of life. I wish I had that card. Right now it's just a souvenir of the mind.
Matthew Lippman is the author of four poetry collections, SALAMI JEW (Racing Form Press), AMERICAN CHEW, winner of The Burnside Review Book Prize (Burnside Review Book Press, 2013), MONKEY BARS (Typecast Publishing, 2010), and THE NEW YEAR OF YELLOW, winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize (Sarabande Books, 2007). He is the recipient of the 2014 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and The Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from THE AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW.