I was lonely, so I decided to get something to eat.
Restaurant awnings leaned out all along the street,
Like New Orleans whores...
I was a dainty and soft-spoken sailor, twirling my parasol in their midst.
They said, "Girl,
You don't fool us."
Being a poet is an odd thing.
One must mix stars with mud--
In a hotel room,
In the bathtub,
Wherever one happens to be.
This is why we are cousins to bootleggers,
And this is why our heads often feel as if they might explode,
Causing us to insist on silence.
In a deli on Cherry Road, near Catalpa Street,
I found Rod McKuen behind the counter, wearing a white apron and surrounded by fluttering women.
I was so surprised that I gave a start,
And my blade du jour, a silver double-edged knife made in Paris,
Fell out of my bible,
Where it had been nestled in the book of James.
It clattered to the floor,
And the women went quiet, some with their hands to their lips.
Rod McKuen stopped making a pastrami on Russian black, and looked up.
"I thought you were dead," I said.
His laughter was like a great fish jumping out of a lake,
And there I was,
A dull brown Selkie amid all the Mermaids.
So far, I have spoken about
Isolation, illegalities, seafaring, and hidden hungers.
It is prose, you'll say,
And that is when my little French souvenir comes home to my hand.
Shedding my seal skin, I emerge as a human woman, a Selkie, water dripping from every perfect limb.
The Mermaids fade back gently, like waves from a sunset beach.
Rod McKuen places a finished sandwich on a plate, wipes his large skilled hands on a clean towel, and melts us all with an easy, casual smile.
In that moment,
I could kiss him and never think of doing anything else.
But I have a class to teach.
In one smooth motion, I deliver my lesson like a love letter into a mailbox,
Up to its hilt in your heart, your guts, all that keeps you standing and breathing.
That is poetry.
That is how it should feel.
The best poetry is always beautiful, and always fatal.
Then I am dull and brown again.
Rod McKuen says, "What would you like, Miss?"
I have always liked him.
I lower my eyes and say, "Black forest ham and baby Swiss on baguette, please."
He turns to his work and, ever the gentleman, says nothing
Though I know he has noticed
My face with its