Apologia for Lechers
When you see the topless teenage girls
sunbathing in Mallorca, their grins
traveling towards the corresponding
teenage boys, who run and chortle
in that casual way that’s almost always an act,
you may say, good, let these young, lithe
beauties enjoy one another’s perfect bodies
and empty hearts, let them not be squandered
on the lapping, desperate love of some
old slob or needy woman.
You realize that blond is not a color but the way
no part of them is made of earth. All dust in them
has come from stars with trembling half-lives
that sing softly, there is no other moment.
They are stupid as deer which saves them
from the ugliness of philosophy,
rip tides in the Balearic,
its botulistic trash, which saves them
from the mistakes that thinking causes.
Or then again you might scan those legs,
those chests that have their own assertions against man’s
and nature’s laws, chests no one can govern,
and you might observe that they don’t know
how rare the girls they practice love on are.
And that boy who wets her lips
could be any other spearfishing from the jetty
for all she cares, because the world
is full of mirrors: sun gleam, water’s surface,
a best friend’s tinted glasses whose name
she won’t remember the summer after next,
and that makes it easy to see nothing at all.
You may see that, like victims of thirst
or ignorance, they’ll drink anything, take work
that amounts to slavery, buy lobster
from the factory store until their credit’s gone.
When the knock comes at the door, they’ll turn
to the middle of the bed where the disaster
of time will dawn in what last night was a lover.
They have never noticed anything before;
now everywhere they look the mirrors
distort tirelessly those sheer lines, those colors
that came in gaily from outer space
just to gad about a day and die,
that you and I saw on the beach, and pined.
By now you love them, want to save them
from the idiot in the bed, the coked-up
groupie in the bathroom. Why should they
never again make love to a slender boy
now they’ve discovered what one is?
If you could you would take one to Mallorca,
set a wide-brimmed hat upon her faded head,
turn her towards the jetty dripping gods
and say, It’s alright, my dear, go on.
At the hotel you order palo and watch
peasants batter octopi against the rocks.
Love in the Emergency Room
Homeless fall here as often as they are able
to sleep in the heart-starting fluorescent light beneath a single sheet
still as a urine cup.
Dan leans against the cot where I scream
and then grow brave on Percocet.
He is a normal person
except in the ways in which he is exceptional.
He struggles with when to replace undershirts
and runs standard derivatives on election results
from far-flung parts of Brazil;
this makes him truly normal.
I think he is wearing the suit in which he married me,
given to him by a friend moving to Russia who’d outgrown it.
The night he left we drank PBR in the only dive
in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two of them were lousy with languages
and complex insights into security policy.
Once I lay in the emergency room
trying to make St. Lucians tell me about their homes,
trying to remember some of “Omeros.”
But on any old day life feels that way:
people walk by as if I am not there, wearing
cares all over their bodies. Some have fallen in a heap
somewhere that can only be comfortable
if you’ve tried hell. Sometimes they take pity on me
and tell me a story. They like that, as people go, I require little pity;
it’s easier to be good. It’s never long
before they reveal some aperture into human suffering
that troubles them. They don’t know what to do
with the homeless who want turkey sandwiches,
to say nothing of their daughters.
I love them for being regular. I want to love the heap
which seems dead but is a person. I should lift him
in my arms and tell him what to do to change everything,
starting with personal hygiene, then college matriculation,
but my arm is broken and I have started screaming again
because an orderly made me move the ridiculous dress
I tripped on in the first place. I see now that no one
really has the full use of their arms. No one needs only one
turkey sandwich or night of clean sheets. Dan is normal,
but sometimes his talent makes him seem invulnerable.
I like that. Everybody likes that. My fingers sag. Even the air
is more than I can lift. My soul is not as limitless
as the color green in a forest renewed by rain. My body feels
more shatterable inside this polyester dress
meant to look like the robe of a Greek goddess but which
is clearly some factory-made shit from Macys.
My wisdom is like a coin in an inner pocket
that could not purchase a candy bar at a bus stop.
In memory, it is harder to tell who was the victim and who
the aggressor in my well-worn conflicts. Men have the habit
of trying to breach clothes which are meant to keep them out,
but this does not save them from streets or the floor,
or crippling pity for strangers. It’s even possible
that it means nothing at all. The face of the man
who gave Dan his suit before he moved to Moscow
is soft, sad, and sweet like Georgian wine.
He gained too much weight to wear the suit but the weight
brought things in him to the surface which made him beautiful.
He has a noise that means he finds something sad and funny,
and he gets better the later it is and the more everyone has drunk.
The world should be made nocturnal for him, and kind,
and less rigid and ignorant and redundant. Young,
I failed to see that to be extraordinary is a gift
granted to everyone who is loved. I didn’t know
that what was rare and valuable was the ordinary, the way
one leans into the cot, not heroic, not collapsing.
The bagel with cream cheese, the steady gait,
the one you love because he’s yours, like a plot of land,
like the moment you are born to your weird parents
to the one in which your heart finally gets over blood.
Bhagavad Gita in the Philly Airport
A woman with a faint Haitian accent asks me to look after her bags while she
goes to the bathroom. Or I’ve profiled her as Haitian because she has a soft (?)
Romance language-seeming accent and she is black.
Why soft? Are Romance languages softer than other languages, like German, or,
more to the point, African languages? or do I mean that the more different people
are from us (from Europeans) the more uncomfortable we feel, and that can be
described in physical, tactile terms? I can’t name a single African language,
except Arabic, which is imperial, and English, which is even worse imperial, and
Swahili, which is probably indirectly imperial, Europeans preferring
that Africans have a universal language to complain about them in, after all
they’ve done for them/we’ve done for them/ in our various variations on, mainly,
Latin, or other branches of the so-called “Indo-European” language,
which really hit the jackpot when people were swarming all over the contiguous
land-masses, the Volkerwanderung, wandering of nations, over the silk road or
some ur-silk road, from which we know as well as we know anything about those
long-ago times that tea and wine were discussed
because those words last almost intact in all the descended languages, and I
wonder whether Hungarians and Finns even picked up chai and vin because
apparently as far back as history goes, and longer, people needed their tea and
wine, stat, and who can blame them? Chai, vin, two things too important to risk
She could be French or Canadian, or something else completely; it’s not like I’m
some dead-shot with accents, and here I’ve gone and politicized it, turned it into
some post-colonial thing an undergrad would come up with in a paper about
House for Mr. Biswas.
And I’m too caught up in the developing battle between self-reproach and self-
defense to fully consider whether to look after her bags, which, let’s face it, I’m
going to agree to, although it’s expressly, constantly forbidden over the
loudspeaker when they’re not killing us with Fleetwood Mac.
This could be it. She is disaffected, radicalized, and why shouldn’t she be?
It’s always young men blowing things up—which is rich, she might say. You feel
like the world’s against you? Try being an older black woman, she should say to
the terrorists, who could all use a good talking-to. If anyone had the right to blow
up the Philadelphia airport, it would be this nice lady.
She must have profiled me too: white, not quite young, not yet old, dressed like
someone who would dress well if they could figure out how to easily and cheaply.
Was it my Danskos? Did she think, no one with shoes that heavy would attempt
theft. For there are many kinds of people who wear Danskos and they are all
united by this: they will fall if they run.
And they spent a lot of money on shoes which are ugly and last forever, so you
will spend like a decade wondering why you did it. Then you’ll get rid of them in
a fit and wonder why you did that, until you start to develop a spur on the back of
your foot because life is hard for women and you’re on your feet working just to
try to get by in this world,
and you repeat the cycle on Zappos one morning after the spur keeps you up all
night, and then you’re comfortable and somewhat uglier and if you do more than
trot you will twist the crap out of your ankle, which is fine with you, because you
don’t want to run anywhere, because you have to work every day just to afford
healthcare that carries a $6000 deductible, so you can’t afford to use the insurance
you can’t afford,
and every month there’s some mystifying problem with your birth control, like
they don’t carry it, or you’re in the wrong state, or the prescription’s up, or they
don’t work with that insurance card. At the CVS they’ve never heard of Vermont
or Bernie Sanders--they’re just trying to get by in this world, to pay off their loans
for pharmacy school. They wear Danskos, because they are medical professionals,
sort of, and that is one of the populations vulnerable to German shoes.
They, too, would make more understandable terrorists, but once again, this time in
Belgium, in the wee hours last night, it was young men, inheritors of the whole
damn earth, who tried to destroy it, destroy the tired people taking the metro
back and forth from work.
I bet there was a Hatian woman on one of those trains, with not only her own
life’s, but centuries’ worth of sorrows. It’s a vale of tears, they say, and
sometimes, when I have a view of a valley, I imagine a mist hanging in it made of
the tears of regular folks, and that all the people on earth are slogging through it,
like a massive herd of wildebeest, and are stained by those tears at best, and
drowned in them at worst, as some wildebeest always are as they try to ford
rivers, trying to make it by in this world, thirsty and hungry and simple as they are, as we are.
Her luggage does not explode. I hope she would choose someone else to blow up
or get arrested for illegally agreeing to watch her otherwise unattended bags, if
such were her intentions. I hope that, even though I racially profiled her as Hatian
and assumed she had a lot of sorrows and wrote a poem about it which is basically
a privileged white bullshit thing to do, that, like her, I was too nice to kill. One
wants to think so but knows there was never anyone too nice to kill, and there sure isn’t now.
I couldn’t report her, even if it was my duty or because they’re always prowling
around airports trying to arrest the innocent because catching terrorists is basically
impossible and trying to drives you crazy.
She wore a full denim outfit, and I realized that no one would bother to match
their clothes that perfectly if they also meant to blow up the Philly airport. She
was grateful, or at least polite, and both are unusual things these days. I fantasize
that the mural of flowering trees on the glass partition changes depending on the
life cycles of the real trees in Philadelphia, so it is not a coincidence that it depicts
a tulip tree this week and no other, when they are rich violet and magnificent.
I feel robbed that we have kicked so much out of our lives in order to make room
for panic, and I want her to come back and tell me her real story while we have
tea or wine like they’ve been doing since so long ago that terrorism was just
called might or marriage or war and the Gods would sometimes visit to explain why this is so,
which would take a really long time and would result in arguments so complex
and contradictory even Arjuna pretty much forgot them as soon as it was over.
We’re all prejudiced; I learned that in seventh grade, and from experience and
instinct I know we’re all a bunch of caffeine addicts and drink too much. Why not. It’s ok. I forgive us.
Jasmine V. Bailey’s first collection of poetry, Alexandria, was published by Carnegie Mellon in 2014 and won the Central New York Book Award, and her chapbook, Sleep and What Precedes It, won the 2009 Longleaf Press Chapbook Prize. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Carolina Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Crab Orchard Review, and the current issue of the minnesota review.