|Jan/Feb 2008 Poetry Special Feature|
OCD Patient Narrates the Picnic
We don't have a prayer's chance of making it through this meal.
An ant crosses the vinyl tablecloth, climbs on the blind man's arm
and sets him to shrieking. He says he was agoraphobic
before he went blind. Now he wants to go home again.
Complaints make the hypochondriac break out in hives.
He digs at his neck with a fork, which only lures
the girl with inverted nipples and a mutilated left arm
to want a fork of her own. She hasn't cut herself in weeks,
why should she keep eating with plastic?
The paranoid schizophrenic is pregnant again.
She blames her psychiatrist. The last time she gave birth
she saw exit signs in the delivery room,
but no one would allow her to leave the table.
The stretch marks on her abdomen prove what she says is true.
I distribute deviled eggs, pickles, ham sandwiches.
Pass around bottled soda and cups of ice cream.
While the others eat, I sit on my napkin and chew
a stalk of celery. It is the only clean food here.
Nights in Apt. 14
I count flyspecks on the ceiling.
There are thirty-seven, the same as last night.
Two more than the previous night.
The specks can be lumped into two basic groups:
the perfectly round, much like the graphite
stippling a pencil might make,
and the oblong smudges that remind me
of smeared mascara. The last time I cried,
we were in the movie theater on Broad.
You lured me there with the promise
of a film that wasn't even featured.
At least they serve food, you said.
I sat on a vinyl chair and ate greasy potato wedges,
while Al Pacino shot people in a random sort of way
that made me look at the exit sign with a new urgency.
Your eyes never left the screen. Mine filled with tears,
not over the lives lost, or the potatoes gone cold,
but because I knew I'd carry this disappointment
back to my room, where counting flyspecks
would become the prayer I use
to keep myself from answering the telephone.
Maybe prayer is overrated and oversimplified.
You state what you want, and God looks down at the disarray
to weigh what your requests are worth.
Even so, you use what's available. At least that's my motto.
My last love affair was doomed from the beginning.
We drove for hours and kept missing our exit.
Finally, we settled for another hotel,
one with pink sheets and paintings of farm animals
hung over the bed. In our room, a cow in a field.
I suddenly felt fat and unwanted.
Clyde placed his fingers on me, and I knew
he'd put on Latex gloves while I wasn't looking.
Sex was like an autopsy, only I hadn't died.
The probing went on forever, and the vinyl
mattress cover caused me to overheat.
I took my chances on God, started to pray
for a way out of this, but I knew I had a lot of explaining to do,
like what was the lure anyway, why had I agreed to sex
with a man who collected medical kits and had a wife
who impersonated Elvis? Just get me out of this,
I prayed, and I won't make the same mistake twice.