Posts Tagged ‘poem’


RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—June 11

June 13, 2019

Arthur Russell
More On Cash

If you take a nickel from every person you meet,
you will soon be rich, and if you give a nickel to every person you meet,
and if you give a nickel to every person you meet,
you will soon be poor.
—A rich guy

We were a mercantile people, not honest per se,
not even significantly honest, 
but not completely lacking in honesty.
We were honest as plunderers,
fair as pirates, transparent as three-card monte dealers.

We stole from our employees. We stole from our customers.
We stole from the city, state and federal tax man,
from the water company, the electric utility, 
the telephone company, from our vendors, 
from our banks, from passersby, from the future, and from the past.  
We saw ourselves as street-smart operators.
We saw ourselves as even-handed merchants, buyers and sellers, 
but there was no one from whom we did not take.

We took stuff from people’s garbage.
We took stuff from their cars.
We saw the dishonesty of the world
and we wanted to be successful in it.
We did not strive to better ourselves 
or to better our neighbors.  
We only wanted the world to go on 
as it always had, with all of its beauty
and injustice and to leave us to our business.
We didn’t see what we did as evil.
We simply saw it as business, business, business,
and the rule of our business was simple and monolithic:
Everything is ok, as long as at the end 
of the day, we go home with all of the money.

All of the indignities we suffered—
the dirt, the cold, the working when sick,
the men who cursed you, the customers
who rode you, the arrogant cops 
and the filth in the pit, the patience
that was required and required and required—
were tolerable as long as we got the money.

The “everything” that was OK as long
as we went home with all of the money 
included the injustices of the world, 
the callous way we became with it,
the upside down and inside out,
the hopeless, the useless, and the bleak.
All of that, according to us, according to our creed, was OK, 
as long as we got the money, as long as we went home with it,

and when we got home with it, we would lay it out on the table,
folded, marked with pencil in the open spaces,
wrapped in rubber bands, packages 
of $450, $900, $800, $600, 
packages we made when we cleaned out the cashier,
tucked inside our tucked-in shirts
and carried to the office, and put in the safe 
and at the end of the day, after closing,
in the same way — tucked inside our shirts
or in supermarket bags folded to look like a newspaper 
you might carry under your arm.  

Cash and cash and more cash,
night after night, that we would take out
and examine at home, behind the curtained windows,
in the formal dining room with Early American furniture,
with blue on white tree-design wallpaper 
that was copied onto the curtain fabric;
we would empty out our shirts and inside pockets 
onto the dining room table, our fingers still dirty, 
our fingernails still dirty, our pants and faces set from work, 
and look at and count and flip the bills
so they all faced up (my dad) or down (my brother)
and count them down (my dad) or up (my brother)
and pick a clean bill for the top of the pile
and write on it with a pencil (my dad) 
or a pen (my brother) in the blank space how much,
and then stack it and separate it,
and stack it and pile it and pass some out 
and put the rest into hiding places in the ceilings and the floors and the walls 
and the floors and the walls 
and the pockets of coats in the attic
and in the cookie tin 
that was under several inches of dirt 
in the crawlspace under the front porch, 

or actually, sometimes, we put it 
in the safe in the closet in the master bedroom,
though not that often, because the safe
was more or less reserved for my mother’s jewelry 
and my father’s gold coins and little packages of diamonds,
one each, folded into doubled paper,
folded the same way cocaine used to come folded, 
each folded package with writing on the outside, 
saying the exact weight in hundredths of carats 
and the color and the clarity with letters like VS and VSS.

And, until they were outlawed, there were bearer bonds 
you’d keep in a safe deposit box where you also kept a pair of scissors,
go upstairs and cash in coupons with the teller.

Money was the family business. 
This fixation on making and keeping money,
in small amounts of cash, cash, cash, 
had been our family heritage for a hundred years.  
We were people who got into a thing and stayed with it for a long time.
We didn’t borrow money except from ourselves
and bought things from which we could make more money,
whether it be adding machines or real estate.

We ridiculed people who spent money on leisure and luxury:
watches, cars, vacation homes or trips abroad.  
We didn’t ridicule the fine things themselves, 
but we ridiculed the people who strove 
to have lobster 
because lobster 
was vanity.

We bought our cars standing on a street corner
or in some guy’s dirty little office just like ours
with the cash in our pockets.
We sent our kids to college with tuition money
from the cash register.  We took mortgages to buy houses,
but only to avoid the suspicion of the IRS,
then we paid the mortgages off as soon as caution allowed.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 28

May 30, 2019

Mary Ma
How To Stay In New Jersey

It’s a small state but there’s room.             
Make room. Bring a map to your desk
and get to work:

Run a red marker over
all the parking lots you purged in. 
Black top tucked behind  
restaurants and schools. Sometimes 
you’d stay in the driver’s seat
until you found a trash can. 
Cross out the trash cans and dumpsters 
on the main stretch of town.

Tear away the town where you were raped
and the town where your rapist lives.
Be careful with the latter or you may tear 
your own town, too.

Be gentle, the state looks smaller.

Take a pencil and circle the spaces you can

Circle every place you tried to sleep
when you couldn’t go home. Mall parking lots,
pharmacy parking lots, coffee shops, bleachers.

Erase that last one. Cross the bleachers out instead. 
They remind you of your stalker. 
Note the driveway where he jumped inside 
your moving car.

Don’t forget the Petco where your ex’s twin 
brother works. All you know is one of them
called you a whore. One of them
didn’t want you to work with other men, 
but you can’t tell them apart so assume 
both are dangerous. Go ahead and cross out Route 17.

Move your home away 
from the tear on the page 
and try again.

There are new malls here. New restaurants. New streets.
You don’t really need to use parking lots
any more.

Now look at all the state that’s left: 

You’ll fit
There’s room.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 21

May 23, 2019

Della Rowland

Maybe It Wasn’t A Golden Retriever

I was barely old enough to drive when Mom got sick in Sarasota 
on our first vacation after she divorced Dad.
I drove a thousand miles home 
in our white Chevy Impala convertible with red seats, 
straight through, no motel, with Mom slumped against the passenger-side door 
and my younger sisters and brother in the back seat 
with the top up the whole way.
During the night a blond streak crossed in front of the headlights, 
and I felt the two bumps under the tires on my side, the driver’s side. 
I slowed down to pull over but Mom, her voice dark 
and guttural, said, “Keep driving.” 

I did. But back there was the golden retriever
who was barking at the white and red convertible 
playing the chase game it was bound to lose some day 
whose face was turned toward the on-coming headlights, 
and now it was lying on the road, maybe beside the road, dead, 
I hoped, dead instantly I hoped,
not quivering in a ditch waiting 
for its owner to wake up the next morning 
and wonder where that danged dog was.

Maybe it wasn’t a golden retriever. Maybe I was remembering 
the dog I got when I was in third grade. 
I fell asleep in the back seat of our car 
on the way home from Granny and Grandpa’s one Sunday night, 
holding the puppy, my first pet, him asleep too, 
my arm over his fat belly,
my face next to his body
that smelled like a baby. 
Dad didn’t think we should sleep with our pets 
and hooked his leash to the clothesline at night.
One morning, the puppy was gone.
“Stolen,” Dad said. 
Mom said nothing.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 14

May 16, 2019

I Miss Wine  

Janet Kolstein

Red, white, rosé

Decanted and breathing or
straight from the bottle.
In plastic, in crystal.
Nose in a snifter.

With bread and cheese,
with people,
with tears.

Legs, with memories of the vine,
running down the sides of a glass.
Like rain on a window. 

Break-up medication. Artistic desperation. 
Anxiety soother, loosener of love/lust.

Sitting on the bed (the three of us) —
laughing so hard I missed my mouth
and spilled Sauvignon Blanc
all over my blouse.

Swishing it around
before it goes down,
a soft weight in my mouth —
slurring words
before they slip out.

Wine with a dartboard,
wine with reservations,
earthy, dry, complex, bright,
a tour of the world 
through the culture of grapes.

When I was young, 
wine was my voluptuous roommate.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 7

May 10, 2019

Arthur Russell 


When I started writing stories, I’d be writing a story,   
and a good line would come to me, 
And I would laugh.  In my room, alone. 
I’d be delighted; and this laughter, typically the chuckling sort, 
but sometimes I would just fall out 
from how goddamned funny I was; 
like this one story where the protagonist is complaining about the deli counter man 
getting pickle juice on his pastrami sandwich, I slayed myself so hard, I think I wept a little. 

I think Moses must’ve fallen out when he wrote Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Damn, he must’ve cried onto his chisel from that one, 
little rust spots on his chisel where the tears fell.   

Or maybe it was not a joke at all. Maybe before he went up on Mr. Sinai, 
he caught Zipporah with Aaron, and he was wroth, 
but he had to go to work, so he couldn’t confront her,  
and he just added Thou shalt not commit adultery
in with the other commandments as a kind of personal message to her that  
I see what you’re doing, girlfriend, and I do not appreciate it.

And Zipporah’s like Really?  
Like who are you, Mr. Smack The Nile
With Your Staff And Make The Waters Part?  
Smack my Nile, why doncha?
Do you know how long I’ve gone without a little staff?  
My kids are on social security, that’s how long. I’m dying here.

Oh, are you taking suggestions for those tablets?
How about this one: “Thou shalt not forget to schtupp thine wife from time to time
or else some other guy will do it for you.  
You’re giving a whole new meaning to wandering in the wilderness.”

But that doesn’t happen anymore. 
I haven’t laughed while I was writing in something like 40 years. 
I just sit here in the quiet kitchen 
with the humming refrigerator and sometimes 
the sound of the garbage truck telling me  
it’s time to stop for the day, go take a shower, 
eat breakfast, get dressed. 


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Apr 30

May 2, 2019

Frank Rubino

The Old Whetstone

My brother and I fight about the Bible,
resting on an end table in his house, no joke,
beneath his handgun. The gun’s on top.
I pick it up. It’s heavy, black metal, 9mm Glock.
He generally wears it on his hip, even around the house.
Now, I’m admiring it as a well-made object.
Never look down the barrel of a gun! yells my brother.
And I fucking am, how embarrassing.
And do not say it is just a book! he says, when we get back to the Bible.

Newark to Seattle; drive through the pines,
past an acre lot stacked with used Fisher-Price playhouses.
A guy sells them out there in the drizzle on 101,
where somehow my brother’s grown a real gun on his side.

I know the roots of it, some.

We’re in our lunch truck; he’s in the middle, Dad’s driving,
wearing his Saint Christopher medal and a white t-shirt.
I’m trying to catch my face in the passenger side rear-view.
Always the same thought, the same eldest child dream:
Am I Superman? Am I the hero in this scene?
The mirror is the size of a bread loaf,
because the steering is so bad you need complete visibility.
The struts the mirror swings on are white,
and the mirror bolts onto the struts
with brackets welded to the back.

All the things in our life are made of the elements:
dirt, wood, screws, paint, batteries,
motor oil, blue Cub Scout knife,
conic pumping motor oil can with long needle spout—
crooked at the top— making throat singing noises,
glock glock, when pressed on the bottom,
and a drop is forced out on the whetstone
where you lay the Cub Scout blade
and move it in an arc to sharpen it.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Apr 23

April 29, 2019

Mary Ma 
For a year, I smell like guava or whatever Dove has to offer 

My roommate hates the smell of cigarettes,
doesn’t know I smoke.

I shower between two and four times a day,
short bursts of hot water on my bones.

We talk to each other about calories
the way we read about them online.

Neither of us get our periods
and that’s all we have in common.

We agree to stop keeping food in the room,
agree that we shouldn’t eat after 7 pm.

We sleep through our alarms so thoroughly
the other girls on our floor have to shut them off.

We get drunk enough to allow ourselves to eat
and that’s the only time we eat together.

We dig our heels in until

Andy tells me she is moving out.
Her best friend is on our floor too and
Andy says it just makes sense.

She leaves the next week and I buy
a second set of sheets

for the bare twin bed.


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