Poetry

“The Benjamin Franklin of Monogamy” by Jeffrey McDaniel.

Reminiscing in the drizzle of Portland, I notice
the ring that’s landed on your finger, a massive
insect of glitter, a chandelier shining at the end

of a long tunnel. Thirteen years ago, you hid the hurt
in your voice under a blanket and said there’s two kinds
of women—those you write poems about

and those you don’t. It’s true. I never brought you
a bouquet of sonnets, or served you haiku in bed.
My idea of courtship was tapping Jane’s Addiction

lyrics in Morse code on your window at three A.M.,
whiskey doing push-ups on my breath. But I worked
within the confines of my character, cast

as the bad boy in your life, the Magellan
of your dark side. We don’t have a past so much
as a bunch of electricity and liquor, power

never put to good use. What we had together
makes it sound like a virus, as if we caught
one another like colds, and desire was merely

a symptom that could be treated with soup
and lots of sex. Gliding beside you now,
I feel like the Benjamin Franklin of monogamy,

as if I invented it, but I’m still not immune
to your waterfall scent, still haven’t developed
antibodies for your smile. I don’t know how long

regret existed before humans stuck a word on it.
I don’t know how many paper towels it would take
to wipe up the Pacific Ocean, or why the light

of a candle being blown out travels faster
than the luminescence of one that’s just been lit,
but I do know that all our huffing and puffing

into each other’s ears—as if the brain was a trick
birthday candle—didn’t make the silence
any easier to navigate. I’m sorry all the kisses

I scrawled on your neck were written
in disappearing ink. Sometimes I thought of you
so hard one of your legs would pop out

of my ear hole, and when I was sleeping, you’d press
your face against the porthole of my submarine.
I’m sorry this poem has taken thirteen years

to reach you. I wish that just once, instead of skidding
off the shoulder blade’s precipice and joyriding
over flesh, we’d put our hands away like chocolate

to be saved for later, and deciphered the calligraphy
of each other’s eyelashes, translated a paragraph
from the volumes of what couldn’t be said.

Poetry

“Guidebook to Nowhere” by Jeffrey McDaniel.

I wear a patch
over my right eye.
Not because
it’s damaged.
I’m saving the eye
for a rainy day,
saving it from
all this crap.
One day I’ll
go to the desert,
and I’ll switch
the patch to my
left eye. And
I’ll only look
at cacti,and
butterflies, and
jackrabbits, but
never in the mirror
and never at
the sky, and like
this I’ll train
myself to see
the difference
between what’s real
and man-made.

Poetry

“Blessings from the Shrine Pit” by Jeffrey McDaniel.

You stumble in here wearing a blindfold
made out of beer wrappers and ladies’ underwear
with your palms out, swearing you’re looking
for god, but you’re not looking for a deity,
just something to hold onto, something
to get you through the night, a strip of masking tape
to slip over the lips of your demons. You say
you got no faith ’cause you held a pillow one night
and cried into it like it was one of god’s ears,
then got mad the next day ’cause nothing changed,
which was either proof he didn’t exist,
or was treating you like one of his bitches. God

will send you a signal, but it’s your job to see it.
God will meet you half-way, but he’s not
coming to your house and waiting out the front
while you fiddle in front of the mirror. God isn’t easy,
the way the devil is. The devil has hounds
sniffing the air, letting him know when you’re rolling
around in the sheets at three a.m. like a giant blister.
The devil will slither in through an air vent
with a flask of whisky in his sock and an envelope
of nude Polaroids of your ex. The devil
will smile with a mouthful of crack rocks for teeth.
God isn’t like that. You’re not gonna find god

sitting on your sofa with a forty of mouthwash
and a bunch of stubbed-out prayers in the ashtray.
You gotta hit the street and find a god that fits you.
You don’t want one of those gods with wings,
always fluttering around in the clouds like a ballerina.
You’re not one of them pretty people. You need
a god with housemaid knees so when your mind’s
flopping in the gutter he can bend right quick
and snap it up. A god with dirt under the fingernails
so he can dig his hands into that cracked
flowerpot of yours. A god with sunglasses
so he can see you the way you need to be seen.

Poetry

“The First Straw” by Jeffrey McDaniel.

I used to think love was two people sucking
on the same straw to see whose thirst was stronger,

but then I whiffed the crushed walnuts of your nape,
traced jackals in the snow-covered tombstones of your teeth.

I used to think love was a non-stop saxophone solo
in the lungs, till I hung with you like a pair of sneakers

from a phone line, and you promised to always smell
the rose in my kerosene. I used to think love was terminal

pelvic ballet, till you let me jog beside while you pedaled
all over hell on the menstrual bicycle, your tongue

ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts.
I used to think love was an old man smashing a mirror

over his knee, till you helped me carry the barbell
of my spirit back up the stairs after my car pirouetted

in the desert. You are my history book. I used to not believe
in fairy tales till I played the dunce in sheep’s clothing

and felt how perfectly your foot fit in the glass slipper
of my ass. But then duty wrapped its phone cord

around my ankle and yanked me across the continent.
And now there are three thousand miles between the u

and s in esophagus. And being without you is like standing
at a cement-filled wall with a roll of Yugoslavian nickels

and making a wish. Some days I miss you so much
I’d jump off the roof of your office building

just to catch a glimpse of you on the way down. I wish
we could trade left eyeballs, so we could always see

what the other sees. But you’re here, I’m there,
and we have only words, a nightly phone call – one chance

to mix feelings into syllables and pour into the receiver,
hope they don’t disassemble in that calculus of wire.

And lately – with this whole war thing – the language machine
supporting it – I feel betrayed by the alphabet, like they’re

injecting strychnine into my vowels, infecting my consonants,
naming attack helicopters after shattered Indian tribes:

Apache, Blackhawk; and West Bank colonizers are settlers,
so Sharon is Davey Crockett, and Arafat: Geronimo,

and it’s the Wild West all over again. And I imagine Picasso
looking in a mirror, decorating his face in war paint,

washing his brushes in venom. And I think of Jenin
in all that rubble, and I feel like a Cyclops with two eyes,

like an anorexic with three mouths, like a scuba diver
in quicksand, like a shark with plastic vampire teeth,

like I’m the executioner’s fingernail trying to reason
with the hand. And I don’t know how to speak love

when the heart is a busted cup filling with spit and paste,
and the only sexual fantasy I have is busting

into the Pentagon with a bazooka-sized pen and blowing
open the minds of generals. And I comfort myself

with the thought that we’ll name our first child Jenin,
and her middle name will be Terezin, and we’ll teach her

how to glow in the dark, and how to swallow firecrackers,
and to never neglect the first straw; because no one

ever talks about the first straw, it’s always the last straw
that gets all the attention, but by then it’s way too late.

Poetry

“The First Straw” by Jeffrey McDaniel.

I used to think love was two people sucking
on the same straw to see whose thirst was stronger,

but then I whiffed the crushed walnuts of your nape,
traced jackals in the snow-covered tombstones of your teeth.

I used to think love was a non-stop saxophone solo
in the lungs, till I hung with you like a pair of sneakers

from a phone line, and you promised to always smell
the rose in my kerosene. I used to think love was terminal

pelvic ballet, till you let me jog beside while you pedaled
all over hell on the menstrual bicycle, your tongue

ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts.
I used to think love was an old man smashing a mirror

over his knee, till you helped me carry the barbell
of my spirit back up the stairs after my car pirouetted

in the desert. You are my history book. I used to not believe
in fairy tales till I played the dunce in sheep’s clothing

and felt how perfectly your foot fit in the glass slipper
of my ass. But then duty wrapped its phone cord

around my ankle and yanked me across the continent.
And now there are three thousand miles between the u

and s in esophagus. And being without you is like standing
at a cement-filled wall with a roll of Yugoslavian nickels

and making a wish. Some days I miss you so much
I’d jump off the roof of your office building

just to catch a glimpse of you on the way down. I wish
we could trade left eyeballs, so we could always see

what the other sees. But you’re here, I’m there,
and we have only words, a nightly phone call – one chance

to mix feelings into syllables and pour into the receiver,
hope they don’t disassemble in that calculus of wire.

And lately – with this whole war thing – the language machine
supporting it – I feel betrayed by the alphabet, like they’re

injecting strychnine into my vowels, infecting my consonants,
naming attack helicopters after shattered Indian tribes:

Apache, Blackhawk; and West Bank colonizers are settlers,
so Sharon is Davey Crockett, and Arafat: Geronimo,

and it’s the Wild West all over again. And I imagine Picasso
looking in a mirror, decorating his face in war paint,

washing his brushes in venom. And I think of Jenin
in all that rubble, and I feel like a Cyclops with two eyes,

like an anorexic with three mouths, like a scuba diver
in quicksand, like a shark with plastic vampire teeth,

like I’m the executioner’s fingernail trying to reason
with the hand. And I don’t know how to speak love

when the heart is a busted cup filling with spit and paste,
and the only sexual fantasy I have is busting

into the Pentagon with a bazooka-sized pen and blowing
open the minds of generals. And I comfort myself

with the thought that we’ll name our first child Jenin,
and her middle name will be Terezin, and we’ll teach her

how to glow in the dark, and how to swallow firecrackers,
and to never neglect the first straw; because no one

ever talks about the first straw, it’s always the last straw
that gets all the attention, but by then it’s way too late.

Poetry

“The Obvious” by Jeffrey McDaniel.

We didn’t deny the obvious,
but we didn’t entirely accept it either.
I mean, we said hello to it each morning
in the foyer. We patted its little head
as it made a mess in the backyard,
but we never nurtured it.

Many nights the obvious showed up
at our bedroom door, in its pajamas,
unable to sleep, in need of a hug,
and we just stared at it like an Armenian,
or even worse – hid beneath the covers
and pretended not to hear its tiny sobs.