Hometown Talk

No one can say how our town picked up this vocabulary.
We have spoken it for long as people have lived here.
It presses lightly against the teeth,
Slips free of our eager tongues.

It is easily imitated,
Yet rich to the point of bewilderment.
A thousand words alone for the wind.
This opens worlds no one wanted opened.

The meanings of many of our most common words
Are riddles rooted in antiquity
But with brand new misunderstandings.

Like the children’s game of Telephone
Unleashing the same sentence from one person
To the next, changing into a joke
With each giggled whisper.

But many are confused by this reckless lexicon,
Ending in real tragedies:
A flaming train wreck,
The fall of a person from a window,
Someone gasping for breath in the wrong hospital.

There have been attempts to compile and organize,
To teach simpler phrasing in our schools,
To, in general, parse things down a bit.

But our language has made its intentions clear:
To slowly crowd us out,
Leaving only our dangerous buildings,
Our impossible traffic signs.

We hoped, perhaps, once the older ones died,
The ones who spent days deciding how to articulate
The most trivial actions,
We would slowly forget.
But no one forgets anything.
Only the spellings change, and for no real reason.

I have a closet stacked with the only completed volumes
From our Community Dictionary Project –
Massive, doomed, the depressing smell of old paper.

Was there ever going to be a way
To write it all down,
To define it,
To agree on one way to pronounce
Even a simple adverb?

And our mouths run on without ceasing.

The Stand-Up Fabulist

I’m a stand-up fabulist; it’s a living. 
Once upon a time I was young,
Imagining how bad it would be
When my father got home,
How life would be different
If I just bought that thing.

The fantasies and nightmares piled up -
There weren’t enough closets,
And I forgot most of them.
The craziest ones I had no problem retelling
Until I felt ready to go on tour.

I drove into town after town,
Walked on the stages of a hundred motels,
Eager to begin talking to myself again.
I applauded myself from the usual table,
Breathing in that applause on stage like air.

Why it took so many years I don’t know.
But I discovered the motels
Were all owned by the same person -
Someone who looked enough like me
To arouse my suspicion.

And always just me at the one table –
Glancing restless at my watch,
Staring embarrassed into a gin and tonic.

I was bombing every night,
My fables trailing off 
Into a grocery list of lies.

One night, I stopped talking and listened.

For the first time, I heard things:

The clink of ice in a glass at the table
Where I sat watching me,
My own breathing in the nearly empty room,
The clatter of the central air system.

I walked off that stage, 
Went to my dressing room,
Looked in the mirror.

I saw only everything there was to see.

Brushing My Teeth

I am brushing my teeth.
I am giving the brushing and my teeth
My full attention.

My full attention is a precious gem -
Hard to cultivate, rare and elusive.

My mouth is surprised by my full attention.
It opens wide and offers itself
Like wood to a hungry fire.

I feel the toothbrush ride every ridge and crevice.
The tickle of the bristles on my gums.
My hand, vibrating with the brush’s buzz.
The tongue’s border where the gag begins and ends.
The sharpness of mint.

The toothbrush stops shaking.
We have made an offering to each other, 
As intimate as prayer.

January Morning

I awake from petty annoying dreams
I only remember by my displeasure.
The cats hover like birds of prey.
One side of the bed, empty now.

I lie in the dark, waiting for me to get up.
The bed barely needs making.
Opening the blinds, I watch
The back yard slowly assemble itself.

White sunshine emerges
In a gunmetal sky.
The world grinds into operation.

“You don’t have to do anything,”
The minister said.