We lived in pubs, draft 2.

We lived for late nights spent in pubs,

and I for one pub in particular, its red storefront

inviting, the Gaelic lettering white and illegible.

We were American students trying

to pass as locals in Irish bars,

where Guinness flowed freely and music

was traditional, enamored with the mystique

of bodhráns and bagpipes

instead of thudding bass and auto-tuned voices.

 

The boys spent flippant amounts of money

on beer and whiskey. They dogged the girls

who glued elbows to the bar,

batting eyelashes at Irishmen for want

of the sound of their measured voices

and the clink of ice

in glasses of anything that was not frothy beer.

 

I nestled in the crook between

the musician’s corner and the bar,

or perhaps between the students and the locals,

as if trying to straddle an invisible line.

My head tilted back against the wall, glass

and friends and chatter forgotten in the jaunty

reel of Ronan’s violin. Encouraged

by flirtatious, tipsy girls who zigzagged

back and forth between the bar and the restroom,

I chatted with a young accordion player

whose name was Gaelic and hard to pronounce.

 

We closed the pub down, I

and a few other girls who befriended

the bartenders and other musicians,

all of whom protested as we tried to help

clean up, collecting filmy, half-empty glasses

from every surface. I derived some small pleasure

from staying, four young women clustered

in a back corner of a dark pub

as the rest of the patrons emptied

into the frosty night.

 

As the night swelled into morning, I grew

inured to the rusty smell of Guinness

seeping through the entire pub,

through the walls, through our clothing,

into the songs sung by our new friends

swaying to the tune of the dark, frothy beer.

 

I fell in love with Irishmen who spoke of music

and words and the meeting of both, quoting poetry

and Joyce, quoting well and often.

As fingers of light brightened the floor

under shuttered windows, I fell in love

with Yeats’ stolen child.

Clove Cigarettes, draft 2

This went through pretty major revisions, so I want to keep both around. Let me know what you think!

Clove Cigarettes

The day my mom sat my younger sister

and me down to tell us that she smoked,

the windows were shoved wide open

to let in the summertime. I was eighteen

and laughing. I found the whole affair comical –

from Mom’s seriousness to the look of surprise

on my little sister’s stunned face –

because one of my close friends, a smoker

himself, had ratted Mom out months ago

after she asked him for a light. He’d said

he just couldn’t keep a secret from me

and so I knew, had been surprised, but then

the novelty had worn off and I’d forgotten.

We sat at the kitchen table and listened

as our mom said she’d been smoking off and on

for years; just cloves, she said, not real cigarettes.

She’d always espoused a firm belief

in the evils of nicotine and tobacco

yet here she was, telling us she lit up

to smoke away stress after long days at work,

as if this reasoning redeemed the act.

Her smoking was the perfect example

of the Do what I say, not what I do mindset

that ruled our house, repeated about speeding

tickets, curse words, and now, smoking.

She said that she couldn’t keep lying to us –

we were old enough to know the truth.

I laughed, marveling at how quickly I’d forgotten

what once seemed so earth-shattering, so unlike

the woman who was my mother,

and also a person. Mom cackled too,

when I explained why I was laughing.

But the look on my younger sister’s face

was one of shock, as if the world had lurched

beneath her feet. She watched as we shared this

mutual amusement without her, which she found

too upsetting to be funny. She blinked and opened

her mouth wide like a goldfish. Or maybe

she looked exactly like a young bird, open

mouth waiting for food from its mother.

She was the kind of young bird that falls

out of a tree because it can’t quite fly

yet, and is completely flabbergasted

to find that its spindly feet just touched ground.

Public Service Announcement:

Let me take a moment to step on a soapbox. It’s a little slippery and more than a bit bitchy, but I’ve been frustrated about this for quite a while and it merits being said. This is a public service announcement for all the girls I know who range from slightly insecure to unfortunately, ridiculously paranoid…

Ready?

I have not, nor will I ever, try to steal your boyfriend. Get off your high horse and at least meet me, say hi once or twice, before you decide that I’m enough of a threat to attempt to erase me from his life.

Admittedly, there was an incident or two in high school, but those incidents did NOT involve the young man you’re dating. You’d know because, those times when I tried, I succeeded. If I decided I’d wanted yours back then, I would have at least made a concerted effort and been somewhat successful. Define success whatever way you want, but it would have happened. And it is not going to happen now, years later. For goodness sakes, these are young men I have not seen in months or years! I really, really have no intention of stealing your boyfriend. I promise. The choices I made in high school that led to break ups were not good, and they’re decisions I’m sorry for, but I’ve made my peace with them. I can honestly say that I have never had any intention of stealing away the guys I know who have told me their girlfriends don’t like me/are slightly paranoid/think I love them secretly. The guys I date tend to shy away from that kind of crazy. Unfortunately, the wide span of boys I happen to be friends with and enjoy being around are not so particular.

I’m okay with that, honestly. It’s okay, I’m sure all the paranoid/slightly insecure girls in the world are very nice underneath. Everyone has their own separate set of issues to deal with and that’s perfectly alright. I’m sure if I got to know you I’d discover that you’re really witty, or we share a love of used bookstores, or perhaps you go to my favorite coffeeshop every Wednesday night. I already know you’re a wonderful girlfriend for my dear friend and a great fit for his life. I am not. There’s a reason I have been friends with him for six years and there’s an equally good reason that you’ve been his amazing girlfriend for three.

There’s a reason he called me to tell me he wanted to propose to you. That reason was not to make me jealous, I promise. He loves you. But I like being in his life too, and I think that you ought to give me a chance before phone numbers get deleted and people start disappearing from Facebook. At least take a good look at me before you tell him to get rid of me. And if you ask, and he does it? That action alone says you have him; you aren’t losing him to me anytime soon.

So can we all just chill out, please? I’m stubborn about keeping people in my life. Please give me a chance to keep ’em around.

Typewriters

Then, as I’m supposed to be writing this word poem (as mentioned in previous post), this idea pops out of nowhere and I’m going with it, and out pops this commentary on the digital age through my typewriters! And I really want to submit this for workshop, but it doesn’t use any of the words. Darn. So I don’t know what I’m going to do. Sigh. Here’s…

Typewriters

Curled up in my armchair, I try

to find words. Instead, endless

distractions parade across

the muted screen of my laptop

Music, news articles, chatting

with friends, a million and one ways

to put off shaping the words

that are truly important.

I want a working typewriter,

a straight up, no-nonsense word processor

that won’t play bootlegged reruns

of Friends. There’d be no options for

size or font, and no distractions

save the clickety-clack of inked

keys on the ribbon and the zing

as the lever’s pushed back.

A great, cast iron behemoth

lives in my room, found in the barn

behind an old antique store. It

no longer moves the way it ought, keys

sticking, no ink to be had. But

something in the aged, black Royal

reaches out at me. It will run

someday, soon, when I find the skills

or the parts to fix this ancient

hunk of metal. It lasted through

the roaring twenties and the Great

Depression that followed: I doubt

it minds a few more broken months.

There is another, a later

version unearthed from a yard sale,

made of the same awkward, taupe plastic

of the earliest computers.

Also a Royal, this one produced

Half a century after

my lovely black goliath. This

one is clearly a machine, while

the coal black metal giant

recalls a less mechanical age,

that forgotten era that lacked

cellular phones and touch screens.

The days of my old Royal were

more genuine, less synthetic

and fabricated than this digital

age of a thousand diversions.

I’d like to go back to writing

on a simple typewriter, one

that processes words and nothing else.

I could just type. I think I’d like that.

We lived in pubs.

This week our poetry was given a new limitation, one I’m not so fond of. We all wrote words on the board and Tita, my professor, circled seven that were interesting. We’re supposed to write a poem that uses as many as possible. I’ve been writing, and I used several in this, but something doesn’t seem quite right. Like…I’ve got a bigger idea here and I’m trying to paint a poem that captures the essence of my experience in Tig Coili’s, but I’m not quite sure that’s good enough. The words we had to use were: inure, zipper, dogged, zigzag, mystique, flippant, matrices, and derive. Here’s the poem I got out of it.

We lived in pubs.

 

We lived for late nights spent in pubs,

and I for one pub in particular, its red storefront

inviting, the Gaelic lettering white and illegible.

We were American students trying

to pass as locals in Irish bars,

where Guinness flowed freely and music

was traditional, enamored with the mystique

of bodhráns and bagpipes

instead of thudding bass and auto-tuned voices.

 

The boys spent flippant amounts of money

on beer and whiskey. They dogged the girls

who glued elbows to the bar,

batting eyelashes at Irishmen

for want of the sound of their measured voices and the clink of ice

in glasses of anything that was not frothy beer.

 

I nestled in the crook between

the musician’s corner and the bar,

head tilted back against the wall, glass

of Baileys forgotten in my enjoyment

of the bartender/musician’s violin. Encouraged

by flirtatious, tipsy girls who zigzagged

back and forth between the bar and the restroom,

I became acquainted with a young accordion player

whose name was Gaelic and hard to pronounce.

 

As the night wore on, I grew

inured to the rusty smell of Guinness

seeping through the entire pub,

through the walls, through our clothing.

We talked between music sets

Of everything Irish: of Yeats, Heaney,

traditional music, the profligate drinking,

the terrible education system, and my preference

for Baileys or Jameson but never Guinness.

 

We closed the pub down, I

and a few other girls who had befriended

bartenders and the other musicians,

all of whom protested as we tried to help

them clean up, collecting filmy, half-empty glasses from every corner.

I derived some small pleasure

from staying, four young women clustered

in a back corner of a dark bar

as the rest of the patrons emptied

into the frosty night.

The Fight

They were outside, fighting.

It was well past dusk, but the country stars

lit up the night

enough for him to see bright tears streak down

her pale moon of a face,

enough for her to see the weight

of unspeakable remorse tightly held in his shoulders.

 

They were outside her house, fighting.

He ought to have been there for supper

with her family.

He said he would be there

then canceled, last minute. Base called, he said.

I have to leave, he said. She said okay

and squeezed him tightly in one more hug that said goodbye.

 

They were in the dark, fighting

because he didn’t leave like he said

he had to, choosing instead

to spend his scant time with another. He ditched

dinner with her family and he got caught –

they always get caught, what does it matter how?

Choices, like affection, cannot be unmade or unchosen.

 

He drove over to make it right, to apologize.

She cried.

She yelled at him,

though she never yelled at him,

and he listened without argument or excuses

which was for him a rarity, to listen quietly.

 

He may have cried too.

She forgave his flippant indiscretion

because it wasn’t in her to hold tight

to the anger and hurt that she felt.

Or to the love she had felt.

She let all of it go: anger, hurt, love,

but she forgave him

too, the letting go of love merely a consequence

of some remnant of logic left in her.

Musings on Love…

This is just me, not for a class or of any particular literary worth. This is just me thinking.

Because I have this friend – one in particular but several who’ve had this experience – and she was dating a good guy. She fell in love and it was widely accepted by her family, her friends, and herself that she’d marry him. But they were apart for a while and things changed, and even after they moved in together, things got worse. They aren’t together anymore. She was sure he was the only one for her.

Please don’t get me wrong: this is not my story. This really is a friend of mine. Her experience just got me thinking about love and relationships and the expectations that come with those terms. There are expectations, whether we’re brave enough to admit that we have them or not. Every little girl wants to grow up and get married to a man who loves her truly. That’s okay, but sooner or later as we grow up I think we put that expectation on men before they’re ready for it.

My friend’s experience also made me strangely thankful that mine has not been like that. I feel lucky. I have felt love, the truest kind I know exists, and the walls of that relationship crumbled for all sorts of complicated reasons that can pretty much be boiled down to this: he was scared to try, and I was scared not to, and we both didn’t want to hurt the other by admitting these things. But that relationship was short. It was crazy and fast and completely unorthodox, but it was mercifully short. I may wish that I’d had him for longer, but how lucky am I, really? At least it was short. We didn’t drag it out and die slowly over three years.

As much as I am not over it, as messed up as I’ve been, and as much as love’s fist squeezes my chest sometimes, at least I didn’t have him for three years. We may stretch this thing out and I may stupidly try to be a part of his life, but at least I have no expectations. At least he has not given me reason to think that he wants to spend his life with me. I can’t imagine how awfully catatonic I’d be if we’d dated for years, moved in together, and I’d waited for him to pop the question as I watched him change from the man I loved into someone new, someone who no longer wanted me.

It may not be working, but we are still friends. His smile is still in my life. Perhaps we inflict small, petty cruelties upon each other, but they are so small, said almost apologetically, as though we both know that we say them only to protect ourselves. We say them so that, when he puts his arm around me or I go to hug him, there are still walls in place to keep our lips from meeting.

As much as I love him, I am so lucky.