Seven Poems By Lauren Shapiro
On their way to the East Coast, the West Coast coyotes
mated with wolves and dogs. They didn’t do it
to improve their species. Who thinks like that?
When I was a girl, the doll with black curls and a lazy eye
had the best ideas because she could see inside her own head.
Sometimes the best thoughts are the simplest and the simplest
actions the most nuanced, like the shifting rock
that buried 33 miners a mile and a half down and showed
there are an infinite number of ways to torture the soul
with hopefulness. In business they say you have to sell yourself,
which is another way of proclaiming your value to the world
in fat letters on an invoice made out to no one.
Says the entrepreneur, Making pixelated hamburgers may seem
like a waste, but think how many times they will be eaten
in virtual restaurants around the world! Everyone has something to say
about love and impermanence and waste, about which is better,
wet or dry food, mutts or pure breeds.
Birds splat on the picture window, but what a view!
The debate shows only two sides, yes or no.
We’ve engineered all breeds of dog as candidates
for Best in Show. Now what’s to show?
He gave me his grandmother’s emerald engagement earrings
and said, “Don’t tell my mother.”
I gave him my grandfather’s ancient Roman coin
and said, “Don’t tell my father.”
Then he gave me his father’s war medal
and I gave him my mother’s Olympic trials trophy
and he gave me his mother’s Chanel suit
and I have him my father’s gold cuff links
and then we each stole cash from our parents
and threw it at each other in handfuls like leaves
and greedily picked it all up and laughed
and threw it again, this time with feeling
and we kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed like that forever
The Last Time I’ll Ever Do That
Want a description? There’s a prescriptive
for a squirrel who loses a tail, a pot talking
to a kettle, the finale of Weeds in which
another hysterical woman blames herself
for sucking up tragedy through a straw.
It’s a beautiful and intriguing straw, even
psychedelic. Likewise, the commercial
shows a woman escaping with a blindfold
in the back of a minivan, which is like burrowing
into a locker in the gym—no one can smell
your sweaty heart but you’re still ashamed.
Thing is, most of the time no one’s looking,
which is both a relief and cause for further paranoia—
no one can hear you fall like a tree in a forest
of trees with no ears. What were you doing
in a forest anyway, bro? The clip-on tie
allows for comfort while showing everyone—
what—exactly? They say getting shit on by a bird
is good luck, just like third time’s a charm
or the no-strike-out rule at the picnic,
which has you swinging and swinging.
You know, the ancient purple grapes of your soul
would make some fine wine. Next time
you’re near a crusher, consider it.
Life is mirrors pointed at other mirrors and then one day
your mom comes in and breaks them all.
She says her mother made her do it.
And her mother’s mother put rocks in the soup
and tied toys too high to reach.
Nobody knew that woman’s mother
but legend has it she wasn’t a woman at all
but a giant prehistoric mermaid. She did her best,
but her kind was never meant to survive the treacheries
of evolution. Oh, lighten up. So your parents got divorced,
and when they fought you went outside to play
but all your toys were hanging in a net at the top of a tree,
including the transformer truck you got for your birthday,
and there was a bird making a nest in it.
Why couldn’t you see any beauty in that?
A Strange Thing Happened on March 8th
All the lake-life that could swim approached shore. We could see them—the fish and the bottom dwellers and the frogs and the tiny lake worms—treading water and staring up at us, bulging, waiting. There was the pause before the speech but no speech. The rest of the lake was dark and the plants bloomed and bloomed into a forest so thick no life could swim through. They were stuck near the shore, those animals, sucking up oxygen and staring. In the end, the vertebrates and the invertebrates had to eat each other, from the smallest up until there were only a few mean fish and then they died too. Then the plants died and the lake was dark with soil and bones and the tubular remains of coontail and bladderwort. And the sun set and rose and it was March 9th and nothing had changed. Is this a parable? asked the boy. I was still grinding his knuckles into my palm. Everywhere, the world looked dark and uncertain. Let’s go home, I said. It’s just a sad story we can’t understand.
I Imagine Your Death
You put the platter in front of me
and without thinking I take a bite
it’s Christmas after all and we’re at the end
of a holiday movie
when I used to imagine your death
it was so cliché
I would picture your absence
like an underground tunnel
taking me into a lonely woodland clearing
where a single bird chirped her red song
but now I imagine your body
floating in the Quinnipiac River
with your wallet in a Ziploc duct-taped to your arm
now you are sprawled in an impossible star
by the pay station of the tallest parking garage
and some idiot finds you first
you are dredged from the bottom of the icy lake
where we used to take the dog each Sunday
but the dog is at home
there are so many ways
to be angry I mean
lonely when I open
the glass box on Christmas
it’s just air inside I mean
it’s all air inside the box is bursting
you have to think hard
to see anything at all
to see the air I mean
When the beautiful maiden disappeared in the alpine meadow
after first snow, her suitors formed a search party.
Her voice was like a fairy’s harp, said one man.
Her eyes were like blue wishing wells sparkling in the sun, said another.
Her lips were the most perfect twin apple slices, said a third.
Surely she did not mean to disappear, they agreed
as they lunched on blintzes and cured meat and whiskey.
Surely she got lost while out collecting the last lavender of the season.
Perhaps she meant to dry it into potpourri satchels, said one man.
Perhaps she was going to make scented candles, said another.
Or just use the lavender as centerpieces for a party, said a third.
Then they were quiet, each considering the perfections
of the maiden and the loss that was starting to take hold
in each of their minds. To them it seemed a deep loss
for it was the loss of an imagined future that mirrored but enlarged
that of their parents and that was built on comfort and beauty and ease,
like the alpine meadow in spring when all the maidens of the village
clad in colorful peasant dresses sang in one voice
and danced their peasant dances like a chain
made of the same common flower, the one without a name
that could be found blooming happily all over the mountain.
Lauren Shapiro is the author of Easy Math (Sarabande, 2013) and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University.